Kathy & I attended a jazz concert recently with two of our favorite jazz musicians. Afterwards we were talking about the music and how different a live performance is from the recorded music that we listen to at home. When we’re at home we tend to listen to “quiet” music – light jazz but also classical, guitar, piano, new age-y spa stuff. And it’s almost always instrumental. We find that vocal music interferes with our ability to think, especially when we are writing or reading. And if a live version of a tune comes on, I often skip it or remove it from the playlist.
Of course when we go to a live show we expect to be entertained. A lot of the music we listen to at home would put us and everyone else to sleep if we were to hear it at a live show.
The explanation I came up with has parallels with photography. Most of us spend our photographic time as observers, looking outward to see what there is and responding to it. We’ll sometimes be participants, such as at a wedding or baby shower. That is a little different because we are part of the action, rather than being outside looking in. But we take on a different role when we are participating in the action, and people respond differently to us when we are obviously taking pictures as opposed to an anonymous observer.
When I listen to music at home, I intend for it to support whatever I’d doing, which is usually to fade into the background. I am an observer but not actively involved in the performance. When I photograph, I generally try to be a part of that same background, observing and recording but not participating. On occasion I will photograph an event, and in that case my role changes. I am then part of the “performance” and an obvious participant. And there is a recognizable difference in the photographs that result from the two roles, in many ways like the difference between a recording and a live performance.
I had a conversation recently with my favorite bartender Brian about different versions of cocktails. I had asked him to make me a Negroni, because I had never had one before and I knew that “his” version would be a good example of what the drink was “supposed” to taste like. Brian likes to tweak ingredients and often makes his own. The classic Negroni is made with one part gin, one part vermouth rosso (red, semi-sweet), and one part Campari. Pretty basic, and if you made one with just the bargain basement variety of ingredients, you’ll get the classic cocktail. But add in Uncle Val’s Gin, Carpano Antico Vermouth, Aperol instead of Campari, and you kick it up a few notches. Brian’s comment to me was that when making a cocktail, if you didn’t start with good ingredients it didn’t matter what you did but just wouldn’t get a good drink.
I think a good photograph also needs to start with good ingredients. You can’t take a boring photograph and turn it in to something amazing using only software. I recently read a caption on Facebook that had me shaking my head:
“I processed the five image HDR via Photomatix Pro with deghosting, double tone-mapping, and a Photograph subset. Final editing in Nikon Capture NX2. This was a tricky situation as I was at the site at high noon when there was so much contrast and haze in the sky. I also did a Black & White subset adjustment to the final image as well.”
What that tells me is “I was there at the wrong time of day, the light was terrible but I took a photograph anyway, hoping I could turn it into something interesting in software.” What that tells me is that it was time to find something more interesting to shoot, or else go have some lunch.
Sorry, just a bit of a rant, but I had a really good bartender story and this seemed like a good way to tell it. Oh, and I also have a few new photos to share. Enjoy!
A group of co-workers and I often go out to lunch on Fridays. This past Friday we had a little larger group than usual, and while we were waiting for the elevator, one of the guys said, “gee, we may need to take a bus.” And I replied, “maybe we need to call an Uber.” The resulting exchange went something like this (paraphrased):
Me: We could call an Uber and have them bring a van.
40-Something Somewhat Tech Aware Guy: Have you used Uber?
50-Something Less Than Open Minded Guy: What the hell’s an Uber?
Me: I’ve used Uber several times, it’s great. Works well. You just pull up the app, it tells you where the nearest car is, tell it where you want to go and they come.
40-Something Privacy Sensitive Guy: How do you pay them? Do they have your credit card information?
60-Something Fox News Addict: Don’t you worry about getting kidnapped or murdered? What kind of background check do they do?
Elevator stops at another floor.
30-Something Hipster Guy gets on, someone we know. He hears the conversation and asks, “you guys talking about Uber? I work for them, good way to earn some extra money.”
We went on and took two cars. 50-Something Less Than Open Minded Guy wanted to drive because he doesn’t like to ride (also a Control Freak?) and 60-Something Fox News Addict drove (needed to get a Rush fix on the way).
That 30-second elevator conversation reminded me of how different our impressions of something can differ depending on our perspective. Our recent conversation about cameras is another example of how where we come from can impact our impression of something, our point of view and our opinion.
Kathy & I recently decided to take a long weekend to Waynesville, North Carolina, and I decided that it would be an excellent opportunity to try out the second of the two cameras that I have been wanting to try. While I wasn’t (and still am not) looking to replace my Canon gear, I have been wanting to try a few of the “state of the art” mirrorless cameras. I decided a while ago that of all the cameras to choose from, I was most likely to choose between the Fuji XT1 and the Olympus OMD EM1.
Back in January I rented a Fuji XT1 from Lensrentals and tried it out over a weekend in Charlotte. I wrote about the experience in a couple of posts, here and here. So for the weekend in Waynesville I decided to rent the other camera, an Olympus OMD EM1. Yes, I know the punctuation isn’t quite correct, but it’s too hard to get that alphabet soup arranged correctly!
Whenever the time comes to replace my current camera system, I know that my two priorities are going to be image quality and handling. The 5D Mark III checks all the boxes for image quality, and after 12+ years of using Canon DSLRs the handling and layout of the menus is second nature to me. My only real reason for giving that up would be to find comparable image quality and good handling in a camera that is smaller and lighter. I can get used to just about any menu system given enough time, so I’m not too concerned about that.
My impression from the Fuji was that I really liked the files. I felt like the image quality was very good, and that it would likely be a suitable replacement for the full sized DSLR. My only real objection was that the camera felt too small for my hands, and I never felt like I had a secure and comfortable grip on it. That could probably be solved with one of the accessory grips sold by Fuji and others, but I didn’t get a chance to include that in my rental. Since January, Fuji has also come out with a larger “pro” level lens that might give me something more substantial to hang on to.
Being a firm believer in Murphy’s Law, I had had a feeling that when I tried the Olympus I would really like how the camera handled but that I wouldn’t like the files as much. But I’ve been a fan of the more square aspect ratio of the 4/3 cameras since my 6×7 medium format days, so I knew that would be a plus. From the moment I opened the box, assembled the camera and lens and held it in my hands, I had the feeling that “this is it.” In fact, the entire weekend I was daydreaming about how I could get the Canon gear boxed up and sent off to trade it all in on the Olympus and a supply of lenses. I really liked the way it handled, and other than the 30 minutes I spent trying to figure out how to get the lens out of Manual Focus mode (little did I realize that the Olympus 12-40 has a “push-pull” clutch mechanism to change between auto and manual focus) and the well-documented frustration with the menu hierarchy, it was a breeze to use.
As luck would have it, I came home from a nice relaxing long weekend into a hectic week so my time to evaluate the files immediately was quite limited. I boxed up the camera and sent it back to Lensrentals, and downloaded the files to my computer. I snuck a quick peek at a few of the photos before heading off to bed, and was astonished to find that my initial impression was “yuck!” I even told Kathy – who had been patiently listening to me sing the praises of the Olympus all weekend – that my initial reaction was “leave your credit card in your wallet.” She was as surprised to hear it as I was to say it.
I’ve now had a chance to spend some quality time with the files in Lightroom, and my impression has improved significantly. I’m going to try to tread very carefully here, because (a) I’m only trying to describe my experience and am not trying to write a comprehensive review, (b) I know a lot of people whose photography and opinions I respect who use the Olympus, and I’m not trying to question anyone else’s opinion, and (c ) I am by no means a qualified camera tester.
In general I don’t find the image quality to be bad or anything, but my impression is that the files do not have the contrast, sharpness and color rendition that I get from my Canon cameras and that I saw in the Fuji files. They seem to be a little noisier than the Fuji files and I don’t feel that they have the dynamic range of the Canon or Fuji files. I suspect that this is due to the smaller sensor as much as anything. They seemed to require a little more sharpening and noise reduction than the Canon and Fuji files, and don’t seem to respond as well to large adjustments.
Admittedly I have not spent nearly as much time with either the Fuji or the Olympus files as I have with my Canon files, and I have processed a lot of Canon files over the years. I may have “gotten lucky” with the Fuji files, and given more time I might find the key to the Olympus files. But based on my limited experience with both of them if I had to make a choice I would probably have to choose the Fuji over the Olympus at this point in time. I would just need to find a solution to the lack of a grip, which I think would be pretty easy to accomplish.
I’ll undoubtedly have more to say on the subject over the next week or two, and I will certainly post some additional photos and commentary as I get to them. I might actually bring myself to make a purchase at some point in the near future. But we have a big trip coming up in June and there is no compelling reason to rock the boat. Kathy & I will be taking our first-ever trip to Colorado in June, and I’m planning to go with the tried and true Canon kit. I know it well, am confident that it will give me the results I want, and other than schlepping it through the airports we will be doing most of our travel by car, so the size and weight will not be as big of a factor.
If you were hoping for a little bias confirmation bias, sorry for the disappointment. 😉
In one of Brooks Jensen’s latest Lenswork podcasts titled “Your Photographic Will”, Brooks explores the idea of what to do with all of our photographs when we head for that big darkroom in the sky. Brooks raises some good points and has some interesting suggestions, including deciding whether we should give away, sell, donate or destroy our work while we are still around to do something personally with it.
I’ve always found such discussion to be somewhat presumptuous, since for most of the photographers I know, I can’t imagine that anyone, not even our families, is going to give a flip about our photographs when we’re gone. Heck, for the most part no one gives much of a flip about our photographs while we’re here!
There are a number of photographers these days who are making a significant enough contribution to photography that their work is important enough that they need to think about such things. Brooks is probably one of those photographers, if for no other reason than being the editor and publisher of one of the pre-eminent fine art photography magazines around. But for the most part, photography has become so ubiquitous and there are many photographers making reasonably good work these days. The chance of anyone’s work achieving whatever level of acclaim is necessary to be considered important enough to worry about is pretty slim.
As much as I enjoy printing, I have never made a darkroom print, so I don’t have an inventory of prints that I have made over the years. Heck, I’ve never even been in a darkroom with someone else developing or printing, let alone done my own! Most of the inkjet prints I have made over the years have gone directly into a frame, been shipped off to a customer or torn up and tossed in the trash. I don’t keep a ready supply of prints hanging around in boxes.
I’ve given some prints away to friends over the years, but I’ve always felt a little guilty giving someone a gift that they were going to need to spend money to have framed. In our previous house I had made and framed a number of prints, but I made a conscious decision when we moved to our new place to start from scratch. I did keep and hang a select few of those prints, but many of the prints were from my early days of printing and not of a quality that I considered to be worth hanging on to. So I tossed most of those in the trash and either repurposed the frames or took them to Goodwill.
Recently I have been making some new prints of some of my work for specific locations in our new home. I have a few more to make and plan to do a blog post about them when I’m done. But those are prints done for décor, not for sale to anyone else. I have made “test prints” on my own printer but then shipped the files off to be printed by a lab on canvas or wood. There may be a metal or glass print in my future, but we’ll have to find the right photograph and the right location.
So as far as my own “Photographic Will” there’s not much to get excited about. My camera gear is probably worth more than my inventory of photographs. Other than a few boxes and binders of slides and negatives, most of my “serious” photography is on a single hard drive, backed up in multiple places, of course!
One of Brooks’ suggestions that I really did like was the idea of producing a printed book or a series of books of our photographs. There are many places to have books made, and they could be given away to family and close friends now, while I can enjoy sharing with them. I like that idea and am currently thinking of a few ways I could present my photographs that was meaningful to me while at the same time was something that others could enjoy too.
I’m actually kind of glad that I don’t have a lot of stuff to keep track of or worry about. Kathy already thinks I have too much stuff, but by a lot of people’s standards I don’t have much at all. She is definitely glad that it is all contained in a single room of our house. Except of course for the prints that I’ve been hanging on the walls. For that I think she is happy, or at least she hasn’t told me to stop. Yet!
I was talking recently with a friend about some upcoming concerts here in Charlotte and what our interest was in attending them. Kathy and I love to see and hear live music, but find the cost of the tickets – especially for decent seats – and the crowds to be huge turn offs, so with rare exception we usually pass.
One of the recent announcements is for a jazz series, with several artists that I would like to see. Also just announced is a concert by Billy Joel. That would also be a great show, but based on prior events by big-name performers, chances are good that the cost of seats will be in excess of $100, but I’m just guessing. This runs counter to most people I know (shocker!) but I would be more likely to spend $100 (or $200 for both of us) on a nice dinner and/or a bottle of wine than on a concert, regardless of the performer. And I don’t part with that kind of money easily, so you get the gist.
At some point during the conversation it occurred to me that, for the most part, popular performers are those whose music has words. More often than not my preference is for music that doesn’t have words. And then I wondered how that translates to other parts of my life. For example, I tend to take photographs of scenes without people, but a large percentage of all the photographs taken on a given day – at least those not of food or cats – are photographs of people. I tend to seek peace and quiet, while a lot of people seem to like noise and drama. Different strokes, as they say.
This is not to suggest that music without words means that it has negative space. In most cases that is far from the truth. But I find that the introduction of words to music can be like people in a photograph. More often than not I prefer to leave them out.
The whole idea of negative space comes about when I think about my photographs. A lot of people are afraid of negative space, just like they are afraid of silence. But my favorite photographs are often those that have large areas of negative space. Not negative space in terms of “nothing,” but negative space in terms of sky or water or a solid color. Negative space, like silence, tends to make some people uncomfortable. I find it soothing and feel that it often adds balance. Not always, but often and under the right circumstances.
So what about those concerts? It’s too soon to tell but my guess is that we’ll opt for a few of the jazz concerts and skip the others. But who knows? We might decide that it is worth the money to see a big name like Billy Joel.
There’s a sign in front of a church that I pass by that is advertising for an upcoming “financial planning” seminar. The sign has a picture of some snake oil salesman-looking guy holding a bundle of cash and says “Normal is Broke, BE WEIRD!” I’m not sure what kind of financial planning seminar would be held in a church but I hope it doesn’t involve praying for more money. 😉
Right after I pass that church I get to the Walmart, which seems to be a much more popular place for people to spend their time and money, because Walmart is always packed and I only see people at the church on Sunday. Maybe the church needs to take marketing advice from Walmart and attract people there by having sales.
I guess it’s the whole “SALE!” thing that is on my mind, mostly. But it ties into the idea of financial planning because the two ideas seem to be diametrically opposed.
Because I don’t watch television, don’t listen to commercial radio, have Ad Blocker on my browser and stopped subscribing to the local “junk mail disguised as yesterday’s news” newspaper I am mostly insulated from all of the “it’s on sale” mentality that gets people all excited about Black Friday. But I hear people at work all the time making plans to go shopping on Friday because “they’re (whoever “they’re” is) is having a sale on (INSERT NAME OF ITEM HERE).
Kathy & I just don’t buy stuff. Other than trips to Lowe’s to buy the few things we have needed for our house, we buy food, wine and gasoline for the car. I will admit to making a few trips to Best Buy while I was rounding out my Sonos system, but that’s it. We went to Target a few weeks ago and bought a few things that we needed, and realized that was the first time we had been there since January. And it’s not because we shop somewhere else – I haven’t been inside a Walmart in probably 5 years!
Just for fun I pulled up Walmart’s (and this is not a slam at Walmart, they just make a convenient example) Black Friday ad and looked through it. In a 39-page ad, there isn’t a single thing I would buy now. It’s not that there isn’t anything I would have, but generally if there is something I need I already have it, and if I need to replace something I have, I usually can’t wait until it’s on sale!
Admittedly, some of the sales are pretty good. If you just happened to be in the market for Beats wireless headphones ($280 – really?) $149 is a pretty good price. I liked the idea of Skullcandy earbuds for $9, but if I needed a set I would already have some that I paid $18 for and wouldn’t be laying up extras “just in case.” About three quarters of the pages are for clothes and junk toys that I wouldn’t buy for anyone’s kid. And best of all, if you don’t have the money for all this stuff, they have special financing available! Take 24 months to pay for this year’s crap! What a deal!
I’ll admit that the excuse that a lot of people use is that they are buying Christmas gifts, and to a certain extent that is probably true. But I’m not as concerned about who the stuff is for as I am that people feel like they have to buy stuff at all, for them or for someone else.
Anyway, I’m really not judging. Really! Some people enjoy the thrill of the chase, some have money to burn and shop just for fun. I choose to do otherwise. So do what you want, buy what you need and remember to share some of your good fortune with others less fortunate than you. What am I doing for Black Friday? I usually go to work on that day since I often figure it’s a lousy day to waste a vacation day on. This year though we’ve decided to do something a little different on Black Friday. We’re going to the beach for the weekend. Have fun!
We live in an age of absolutes. We have political parties who won’t support another party’s position just because it isn’t theirs, even when it is right. If we choose to not support a given cause then we are considered to be against it, even though we might be generous contributors to some other cause. When we drive it seems we are either rushing down the road like we’re on our way to a fire, or sitting at a traffic light checking the messages on our phones that came since the last red light.
Our Subaru came with a gauge on the dashboard that gives a visual reference as to whether we are “using gas” or “saving gas.” “Using gas” goes all the way to the 6:00, or “minus” position, while “saving gas” goes to the 12:00 or “plus position. When I am driving down a level road at a reasonable speed, the needle is horizontal at the 9:00 position, which in goldilocks terms means “just right” territory. But the scale between all the way “plus” and all the way “minus” is a continuum. When we first bought the car I became fixated on that gauge, mostly because I was surprised at how often it was pegged to the “minus” position and how seldom it hovered in “plus” territory. Sometimes the gauge just has to go into the Minus zone, like when pulling away from a traffic light, merging onto a freeway or going up a hill. But other than that, I have adjusted how I use the accelerator in order to keep that needle from “hitting bottom” any more than necessary.
This will sound silly, but in many ways that gauge has literally changed my life. That visual reference has taught me that the gas pedal is a control, and not an on/off switch.
My son Kevin has a term for people who pay attention to things and people around us. He calls us “observers.” I like that term because it is descriptive but not a label. Being an observer is both a blessing and a curse. Being an observer lets us experience things around us that other people overlook, for all the various reasons that people overlook things. Being an observer also makes us see all the things that people do that make us angry. One of the things I observe is how often people appear to live their lives either “off” or “on.” And for me that often manifests itself in how people drive.
I see that little needle as an analogy for the way I live my life, and I guess I project it on others as I imagine them running around with their personal needles pegged on Minus. This feeling is especially prevalent on my drive to work in the morning, as we move from one stop light to the next, all of us ending up in the same place, just in a somewhat different order. Some people race to get to the light sooner, and just have to wait longer for it to change. Others roll up to the light just as it is getting ready to change, but it’s the same cars each time. I guess in many ways I’m playing the role of the tortoise vs. the hare, but I learned long ago that no one gives out prizes for being the first person into the office in the morning. And they don’t serve cocktails to those who are still in the office at 6:00. When I leave for the day, I do so with the confidence that it will be there when I get back. Right where I left it the day before. It’s funny how that works.
So where did the title come from? I was thinking about the fact that people seem to know only two settings on their cars – “go” and “stop.” I was thinking about the fact that I can choose how hard to press the gas pedal – that it is a control that allows me to add gas gradually instead of just mashing it to the floor, instead of an off/on switch with only two settings. And I choose to live my life somewhere between the Plus and Minus settings. Sometimes it’s OK to peg the needle one way or the other, but things seem to run more smoothly when I keep the needle in the middle. And I guess I just find myself happier when my personal needle spends more time on the Plus side of the scale than the Minus.
“I’ve got to conversations going on in my head,” he explains, a bemused smile deepening the creases around his eyes. “One says, ‘Hey, you’ve got a lot of stuff you want to do, man. Now’s the time, because you’re gonna kick the bucket pretty soon.’ The other says, ‘Oh, Jeff, you want to make the rest of your life a giant homework assignment? Just relax, man. Just relax.'”
– Jeff Bridges interview in AARP Magazine, Aug/Sep 2014
Words to live by, as far as I’m concerned. Kathy & I have spent a lot of time thinking about what comes “next,” as though it has to be something different from what we’ve done for the last 30+ years. But sometimes I wonder why. I’m not unhappy with what I’ve done, and if I never get to Europe or Antarctica I don’t think I will find my life somehow unfulfilled.
A lot of what we think and feel is due to the old “grass is greener on the other side” syndrome – that somehow something different will be magically better. And why is that?
Kathy & I attended a fantastic concert last evening by guitarist Tommy Emmanuel. For those who aren’t familiar, look him up and check out some of his recordings or videos. Regarded by many as the greatest living guitarist on the planet, his resume includes over 20 record albums and two Grammys. The dude can play!
Today, I got an e-mail from the concert promoters thanking us for attending and wanting to make sure we were aware of another acoustic guitar player that would be performing there soon and hoping we would attend. I’m sure he’s an excellent guitar player and I am fully aware that everyone needs to start somewhere. But this guy’s claim to fame, at least according to the promoters, is that he has received “over 20 million views collectively for his Youtube videos.”
That’s a lot of views, certainly. But I’d love to ask, “so what else has he done?” I suppose I’m missing the point, but it’s pretty amazing to me that someone’s Youtube videos qualifies him as a successful musician and one worth paying money to hear. I suppose we might decide to go, but at least I know I can see his videos to help me make the decision.