Shooting Musicians

In the past few months I got involved into taking pictures of musicians. Starting point was that I met a group of street musicians in the streets of Athens. I asked them if they were ok with me taking some pictures of them. They agreed and subsequently I met them again, attended some of their scheduled concerts and took some portraits of some of them.

From there on it snowballed and I got deeper involved in the scene with a few musicians being interested in me taking their pictures. A week ago I could attend a radio contest show with the blues guitarist and singer Tom Yosi and his band. I could take pictures of their preparation for the concert and of the event itself. Here is the link to Tom’s Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/thanasis.klabanos

Taking pictures of musicians is special. It is artistically satisfying. And I will tell you why. Musicians live their passion. They love what they do. They love their music and they love the social interaction that ensues from it. And all this shows in their faces. Musicians are people that are ‘easy’ to shoot because they have a lot of expression on their faces.

 Tom Yosi in concert at red fm in Athens

Tom Yosi in concert at red fm in Athens

I have made the experience that during concerts musicians live their music. They dive into it. And every twist and turn of the music often shows in their faces. So it is an adventure to follow them during a concert and to capture what the music does to them and to their facial expression.

 Ηώ Δάδα singing at Dafni café in Athens

Ηώ Δάδα singing at Dafni café in Athens

Shooting during concerts in cafes and bars (and that is what I do mainly at the moment) is photographically a big challenge. The light is crap (as you see in the picture above), most of the time there is no stage light at all and you can be glad if you find a ceiling light that illuminates the scene in a random way. Not easy to shoot good pictures that way.

With the radio concert it was a little different. This happened on a stage at the broadcast centre where they had professional equipment and also stage light. However the lighting was actually far away from anything you could call professional. This was radio and not a TV show.

Anyway - the experience of getting involved into Athen’s music scene, of having the opportunity of taking pictures of musicians on stage and privately and of encountering their love and passion for their art is providing big joy to me. I hope that this will continue and that I will be able to expand on it. And I also hope that the interruptions by me working (I need to earn money, and I can’t do this with my photography) will not have too bad an influence on this development.

I have been waiting for this kind of photography for years. Now it is happening and I am very happy.



Becoming Pro

I have become Pro. Flickr Pro. This means that I am going to pay 50,- Dollars per year (and a discounted 35,- for the first year) to prevent Flickr from deleting my images that are above the maximum of 1000 that Flickr allows for a free account.

I have been thinking about this for a while. And considering that I am so critical of Flickrs new policy and that I have just written a rant about this a few days ago, you may wonder how this happened. Am I a hypocrite?

Well, I decided to stay with Flickr because it is my social basis for photography. I have met many people here that I communicate with via Flickr. I love the exchange of comments and ideas about pictures. I use Flickr to test my pictures and to see how the response of my followers is (although I have to admit that I often don’t understand their reasoning for faving and not faving pictures, but that is another topic). And I want to maintain the opportunity of interacting with certain people that I like and whose work I want to follow.

Are there alternatives? Yes, theoretically there are alternatives. 500 px provide a very nice platform with high quality photographers posting their pictures there. Instagram has a huge base of people showing their work and posting social news. But on these platforms (that I actually have subscribed to as a free member) I don’t have the social interaction with the people that I “collected” over the past 5 years. And that is the main reason to stay with Flickr.

From a photographic perspective quality is probably better on 500 px. From a social perspective Instagram has probably more diversity. But I won’t find my “old Flickr friends” there. And that is the reason why I am staying.

I still don’t agree with Flickr’s random change of policies. I loathe the fact that they are threatening to delete art. I am worried that my beloved ****Contrasted Gallery is going to die or at least take a severe blow because hundreds of pictures will be deleted from it. And I find it ridiculous that I need to pay a ransom in order to prevent Flickr from deleting parts of my own collection (although I can afford the amount, this is not the reason).

But I am going to stay for at least the next year. I will observe how Flickr develops. I will see if the change of policy causes the expected further drain of creativity from it. And I will re-consider things after one year. I am still pissed off. And I don’t think I am a hypocrite.

Flickr Kills Art

For the last year and a half I have been one of the curators of ****Contrasted Gallery. ****CG is an online project, founded more than 10 years ago by Manuel Diumenjó. He and his co-curators invite on a monthly basis interesting artists to exhibit a collection of their Flickr pictures at ****CG.

Technically ****CG is a Flickr group where only curators have the right to ‘admit’ pictures. We invite artists, discuss with them their work and ask them to chose up to 50 pictures that they want to exhibit for one month. After the show the pictures remain in the gallery so that interested people always have the opportunity of reviewing artistic work that has been accumulated in over 10 years. So it has become a fascinating place where artistic photography is shown.

And now comes Flickr. And threatens to delete all pictures above 1000 of all its members that have not become Pro. Do you have an idea what that means? According to Manuel’s estimation between 60 and 70% of all pictures that have been accumulated at ****CG over the years will be deleted. Gone! Forever!

So Flickr is not only urging people to decide if they want their own collection of pictures to be deleted if they don’t pay the ransom, they also destroy pro-actively art and the work people have put into this over the last decade. This is a scandal!

Art needs to be protected from barbarians of all kind. Art cannot be “deleted”. The attitude behind this is awful. This is close to fascist behaviour. A company that is deleting art has not understood its responsibility.

Here is the link to ****Contrasted Gallery. If you click the links on the left han side you get to the respective exhibition of an artist. https://www.flickr.com/groups/contrasted_gallery/discuss/

If you think that Flickr’s new policy needs a change, particularly in order to prevent the destruction of art, write them, swamp them with requests! Here is the link to the Flickr help page for this topic: www.flickr.com/help/forum/en-us/72157702923034264/ 

The Purpose of a Portfolio

My portrait work is taking up speed. Recently I have been in touch with a few people who are interested in their portraits being taken (Thank you so much for your help, Ηώ!). So I am having portrait sessions planned and scheduled over the coming weeks. Parts of that work is intended to create pictures that my subjects will use for their personal portfolios. I would not call that “professional work”, but it is in some way different from the free wheeling street portrait shooting that I have been doing in the past weeks and months.

And now I am wondering how to define what we call “portfolio”. This question is actually new to me. In the past I shot what I liked, posted my pictures on Flickr and grouped the ones that I deemed the best on my website under certain headlines like “Urban”, “Landscape”, “Bodyscapes” etc. And I think this is certainly a valid way of creating a portfolio.

With me shooting more portraits now, I am realising that this way of publishing things doesn’t work so well anymore. This is probably particularly the case as I am getting invited to shoot on certain events or for certain purposes. I could certainly easily create a category on my website under the headline “Portraits”. But somehow I hesitate doing this.

On the one hand I am asking myself if my portraits are good enough for making them public. But my hesitation has to do with much more than just the question “what is quality?” or “is this picture good enough”? It very much has to do with the purpose of the pictures. When you start working with people that have a certain intention with the pictures you take, you realise that the purpose of the shooting changes, at least it does it for me. In the past I was shooting merely for myself. I was the person who decided every single artistic detail of the picture and also what to do with the eventual result.

When you shoot people on request the purpose changes. I find myself in the situation that pictures that have a certain context (let’s say a folk music concert) are liked by the people that were around at that time. They invited me to shoot there. They want to find themselves well represented with what they do and how they look like during that occasion. And I have to decide if I think that the pictures are technically and artistically good enough to present them to the people that asked me to shoot. On Flickr or my website these pictures would probably not appeal to viewers because they thrive by their context.

This is a new situation for me, one that I find very interesting. In contrast to taking street portraits shooting pictures that you have been invited for has a completely different feel. It is a little closer to professional photographic work where you are only successful and can only charge your customers if they are happy with the results, otherwise you will lose your customers. This puts a little more pressure on me but I actually enjoy this. I enjoy feeling the need to get better and to prove that my photography can satisfy the requirements of my ‘customers’.

It seems that from shooting only for myself I am changing to shooting with and for other people. And so the question of portfolio and to whom to show my work has to be answered anew.

Flickr is Dead!

Today I received the information from Flickr directly on my account that from February 2019 the company will delete all pictures above the number of 1000 of all members - unless we are willing to become “pros” and pay 50,- US Dollars ransom per year.

The company that promised its members in the past that we could upload all our pictures up to 1 TB for free so that we would not need to worry about the safety of our precious images is now threatening to cull everything above 1000 unless we pay them.

In other words: they are threatening to destroy the collection of all people that believed in the words, offers and the goodwill of this company. There are many people on Flickr that have created a collection over many years and that have put a lot of energy and love into this. And the collection of each member is unique. It is an expression of our photographic development over the years. And all this a steal cold company is going to destroy unless we feed them with extra money.

There was hope that things would improve with Flickr after it had been taken over by the new owners Smug Mug. Previously Flickr had taken a severe downturn after the mother company Yahoo had been taken over by new owners. But now it turns out that the new owners see Flickr as their new cash cow. They blackmail members to pay to avoid their collection being destroyed. This is Piracy. This is deception. This is undermining trust. And this is dishonest.

If this is really going to happen I will stop using Flickr. I will not delete my account immediately because I want to maintain my social contacts that I have collected over the years. But I will stop using Flickr as the place to show my pictures.

I am not accepting to be blackmailed. I am not willing to pay money for people who don’t give a toss for previous promises and don’t care about the things their users have created over the years. And I despise this expression of raw capitalism.

FLICKR IS DEAD!!!

D850

Over the last months my first Nikon camera, the D800 started to fade away. There were issues with the metering, then pixel damage to the sensor and eventually autofocus was not working anymore. Well, actually focusing didn’t work at all, with none of my lenses and the Nikon specialized service in Brisbane that I left the camera with, could not fix this.

So I had to decide to buy a new camera. This was an expense I had not been expecting and I think that after five years one of those “modern” cameras should not fail. But maybe my expectations are a little bit old fashioned in that way. 

Confronted with the need to make a decision my mind veered off into the direction of buying this wonderful minimalistic Leica SL camera. Amazing performance, most wonderful lenses, clear and easy to understand menus. Leica have been producing my dream cameras for a long time. If only I had the money for this... 

So I had to say farewell to the amazing viewfinder, the 3D rendering and the minimalist form language of the body and focus on what is achievable. And achievable was to buy the successor camera of the D800. 

If you compare the outside appearance of the D850 to the Leica SL you clearly see huge differences. Where you see on the one the sophistication of a minimalist form language you find on the other side a mass product. The shapes of the Nikon are complaisant but not more than that.

And like all modern cameras the rear, top and even front of the D850 are covered with buttons and dials that give you the choice of a plethora of functions that you will never ever need in your life as a photographer. 

Mind you - a camera is supposed to collect light and to transfer it to a sensor chip or film. Full stop. I don’t need a million processing apps inside of my camera, I don’t need shooting banks (what the hell is that supposed to be anyway?), I probably don’t even need automated metering. The only thing that I find really useful is autofocus although even that is not really needed supposed you have a good viewfinder with reliable focusing aids, which is regrettably not the case in most modern cameras anymore. For that reason I also don’t need focus peeking. 

So with a sigh and the feeling of un-acquaintance (if such a word exists) I decided to order a D850 from eBay. I would certainly prefer buying my camera from a local camera dealer but the price difference between eBay or Amazon and local shops is so significant (in my case it was a thousand British pounds) that I could not resist. 

A few weeks ago I received my new camera. I opened the box to unpacked it, nothing spectacular, Nikon clearly have not joined the Apple induced unpacking hype yet. After charging, inserting a card and reading parts of the manual (over 300 ! difficult to understand pages) I took some probatory shots. And surprisingly holding the camera felt different. My hands liked it, it gave me the feeling as if this camera belonged there, something I had never experienced with my old D800. The camera just felt right in my hands. 

And this feeling continued when I took the camera out for a shooting session for the first time. I thoroughly enjoyed holding this thing and shooting it. Even using he buttons and dials was a nice haptic experience. 

That I hadn’t expected. I loved my new camera. And it encouraged me to use it. Just the way it sits in my hands gives me the feeling that I want to make pictures with it. 

I have read about this phenomenon before, about the ability of certain cameras to make the photographer use it. But this in a Nikon? But it actually happened. And even when I added a relatively heavy 70-200mm f/4.0 lens which makes handling the camera more difficult, the feeling of having a nice tool persisted. 

And the results have surprised me too. The pictures that I can create are of great technical quality. The files are easy to use and to process on the computer. They can take a lot of processing without falling apart. And the overall picture quality is clearly better than that of my D800. 

And so when I go out now, I take my camera with me with the knowledge that taking pictures has become a more sensual process for me that I enjoy even more and that I enjoy watching and processing my pictures. What more can you expect from a camera? And the Leica dream? Yes, of course it is still there and unfulfilled. However, it has become a little less haunting. 

black and white

Yesterday I have been working on a street portrait picture of a beautiful woman. I processed this picture for hours in color, changed the skin color slightly, applied some frequency separation to clean and smoothen her skin (a technique I just had learned a few days ago), played with background luminosity and colors and created several versions of this one picture.

_DSC1159-FS5*.jpg



I was quite chuffed with myself because I had learned how to do these things in Photoshop (although I am certainly far away from mastery). And still, I had the feeling that something is missing. Maybe I over-processed my picture? Maybe I did not know exactly how to relate color and luminosity to each other? Maybe I am just not good enough? I couldn’t put my finger exactly on it but it felt as if something was wrong.

And then I just converted the picture into b&w. And I loved it. I loved the tones, the light fall-off between main subject and background, the skin texture (although there is clearly space for improvement). I loved the lines of her face and the blurred ones of the background. I loved the expression of the picture and her portrait. I really loved her in black and white.

_DSC1159-FS-B&W3*.jpg



So what? Do I need more proficiency at processing color pictures? More learning? More understanding of how to interpret a picture during post-processing? Yep, all of this, sure. I need to learn a lot. But maybe I just have to admit that I am a black and white photographer... :-)

Shooting Portraits - the story of a long journey

Shooting portraits has ever been my dream. A dream that I barely fulfilled until now. And the main reason is that I didn’t dare doing it. I found the interaction between photographer and potential model quite difficult. In other words - I was too shy to approach people. And the idea of ‘directing’ somebody in a photoshoot felt nearly intimidating.

In the past years I have developed a little bit of chuzpe by starting to shoot street photos in Athens. On a good day I could shoot people and expose myself to the adventure of becoming part of the scenery in Athens city centre.

Eventually I started trying to find other photographers that shoot portraits and to collaborate with them. That however did not lead very far. We never got to the point of shooting together.

And then my Nikon D800 broke. And I had to decide how I wanted to replace it. Having these beautiful ideas of a Leica SL on my mind (and not the money to fulfil them) it seemed a little sobering to eventually decide to buy the latest successor model of the D800, the D850. But when I used this camera for the very first time something very unusual and unexpected happened, something that never happened with the D800 before: it clicked. I connected to this camera. And just a few days after receiving the camera I put my 85mm prime lens on it and went out to the city to shoot people.

 Ηώ and her friends playing in the streets of Athens

Ηώ and her friends playing in the streets of Athens

And I really enjoyed it. I found a group of street musicians that were playing for tourists in Athens’s street restaurants. And I easily approached them, asked them if I could shoot them at work, they agreed and co-operated nicely. It was nice and easy and from there I made an appointment with the singer of this group and some friends of hers for a portrait session. This session has also happened in the meantime and I and I believe my models also enjoyed this thoroughly.

_DSC0473-1**.jpg


I have now bought a 70-200mm f/4.0 zoom for portrait purposes. I got it used from Ebay and apart from the zoom ring being a little too loose this lens seems to be in good shape. I just used it during a public event in Athens. And again I approached people, asked them if I could take pictures of them and took a few portrait shots. I am actually sort of enjoying the interactive aspect of this kind of photography. Talking to people, learning a little about them and making pictures of them, it all becomes a nice and interesting experience.


_DSC0712-1*.jpg

So what has changed? And why is this approach all of a sudden possible? I don’t know exactly. It is most likely a combination of reasons. On my photographic way I have probably dealt with this question so many times and my wish had become so strong that I was eventually ready to start doing it. On the other hand it seems that the new camera and my connection to it has also helped.

Having read a lot about portrait photography in the past months and having viewed pictures of many portrait photographers has certainly also helped. Particularly the work of Peter Lindbergh has done something for me. He has an interesting very simple style of b&w portrait and fashion photography that has impressed me a lot. I think I have learned a few things just by watching his pictures. Here is the link to his website:
http://www.peterlindbergh.com

So after all it seems that I have eventually arrived at portrait photography. The next steps will be consolidating, shooting more, meeting people and finding out how I can create quality pictures. And I am looking for ideas for projects. Yes - a journey. A fascinating one.



About Photoshop (again) - The Pen Tool

I have complained about Photoshop many times. That I find it counter-intuitive and that my brain doesn't work its way and that I hate it. True. I don't think that that will ever change. But on the other hand it is without doubt the most versatile and productive processing tool that we have in photography. And for that reason it is difficult to ignore it entirely. 

In the past weeks I have taken a few online tutorials and I have tried out some new things on my pictures. On Youtube I found a tutorial channel called Pixlimperfect. They have great tutorials for people who need every basic step of a Photoshop tool explained, exactly what I need. 

The most important thing that I have discovered there is a tutorial about the Pen Tool. 
https://m.youtube.com/watch?list=PLj40xStto51QOIeAlaICeE1hsTETost6s&v=5kAQUNFZJXY
For the very first time I am able to make halfway precise selections. All other tools, particularly all types of lasso tools I just can't work out. With lassos I never get the selection right and the fumbling with these selections drives me nuts. Using Quick mask is nice if you want to change an area where you don't need a very precise selection but for creating exact lines I don't find it very helpful. 

The pen tool however is clean and neat and not very difficult to use. I still need to learn how to create very precise curves but for the beginning I am happy with the result. 

Eventually it boils down to the fact that in processing you want to manipulate certain well defined parts of an image in order to change the impression (or expression) of that picture. And in order to make selective changes you need to be able to make precise selections that you can then manipulate. For PS pros this is common knowledge but for me it was important to discover the power of local manipulation. The Pen Tool helps me with that. 

I can only recommend the tutorial series by Piximperfect. Here is the link to their channel. https://m.youtube.com/channel/UCMrvLMUITAImCHMOhX88PYQ   And of course this is my very subjective opinion. You may come to very different conclusions. And maybe you are a PS wizard anyway.... :-)

Taking Part in Competitions  - Interview between the left and right brain of a photographer

(This morning my left brain told me that it wanted to know more about my motives to participate in photo competitions. I agreed to divulge a little information and so they sent an interviewer. He focussed mainly on talking to the right hemisphere but of course I am not entirely sure who he talked to. Have a look at the transcript of this interview.)

So you are participating in a photography competition. Could you explain to me why? 

Well, I am actually participating in two competitions. One is a landscape photography competition by Blankwall Gallery in Athens. http://www.blankwallgallery.com 
I am participating with a long exposure landscape picture from Invercargill, New Zealand. 

The other one is the annual street photography contest at LensCulture, a website that promotes photography by publishing articles about photographers and showing their pictures and books as well as organizing exhibitions and competitions. 
https://www.lensculture.com
And here I am participating with a series of five long exposure motion blur street shots. 

Ok. Now tell me why! 

I think participating in competitions helps me understand a better way where I am at with my photography. Is my work good and interesting enough to compare itself with other photographers' work? Does my work get chosen? Do I have a chance of winning a competitions (which I currently don't believe)? 

Ah, you want to win. So you want to become famous then? 

Well, if I wan and if I became known in the photographic world I would not mind that....
But my current goal is to compare my work with that of other photographers, to receive input from exposing my pictures to a jury and to learn. The LensCulture competition includes a feedback by a professional photographer about the quality of your work. 

Well, if it's about the feedback you could meet some photographers at your place and ask them for feedback. You don't need a competition for that. 

OK, yes, I want people to look at my pictures and I want them to tell me that they are interesting. Are you happy now? 

Well, as long as you are honest with what you are saying I am happy. 

I think that it is a mixture of finding feedback that helps me shooting better pictures and the encouragement that you want and need to carry on and work on the quality of your images. 
In the past year I have found that I want to focus on two photographic subjects that I want to expand on. One is working with motion blur and the other one is taking tripod based night pictures of urban environments. It is good to know what I want to do, now I want a feedback about the quality and where I am at with my work. 

Sounds honest. Good. 

In case I get a "honorable mention" or something it would mean an encouragement and a boost for me. 

So you will stop if you fail?

By any means, no! I will carry on shooting and posting and I will show my better work on my website as before. But it would be nice to be recognized, wouldn't it?

Thank you very much for participating in this little interview and for giving mainly honest answers.

(And I really think that this guy from the left side was bloody impertinent and indiscreet with his questions, wasn't he...??)

Why Do I Shoot?

Every now and then I start asking myself this question -  why do I shoot?  Why do I post?  What is the purpose? Why do I show my pictures on Flickr? Why do I have a website? 

Yeah, I like being liked. Yeah, I love collecting faves. Yeah, I want to be "successful".  Really?

Finding expression. That is the answer. Finding meaning. Adding something to my life that I wouldn't have otherwise. Being creative. Being expansive. Finding new ways of seeing myself. Trying to hit the ceiling. Trying to break it. Trying to overcome my own obstacles.

And dancing with my demons. Taming them. Using them. Getting acquainted to them. And finding a better way of living with them. Creating art can be therapeutic and can help to be in balance.

And being liked? Well. Yes. That too. That too. And hoping that this is not too much in the way of the other reasons for shooting. 

About Re-Interpreting Art in Photography

You have a walk through an art exhibition. Let's say the big documenta14 exhibition in Athens. And graciously they allow you to take pictures. "No flash lights!" Of course.

And you take some pictures of work that you find interesting. You take pictures the way you think it represents this art the best way. You chose the POV (point of view), the angle, the exposure to complement the oeuvre.

 

 The Chess Society by Bili Bidjocka  documenta14, Athens School of Fine Arts

The Chess Society by Bili Bidjocka  documenta14, Athens School of Fine Arts

 

And whilst you are taking these pictures the piece of art is doing something with you. It makes you aware of its presence. It occupies your mind. You start thinking about the meaning of this piece of art. You start asking how the picture that you are taking interacts with this piece of art. You start interpreting this piece of art by taking a picture. You are getting involved into the process of creating a little piece of art yourself. You create art about art. With the help of photography. With the help of your mind and your camera. So it becomes a little piece of your own. Your own creation.

Does it? Is this picture your own? Do you become the creator of art? By just taking a picture of a piece of art? Can you call yourself an artist because you interpret somebody else's art? I am not sure.

I personally feel that I am changing the perception of this particular piece of art by taking a picture my way. I get into a dialogue with this piece of art. I try to find answers to its message. So from that perspective I regard myself as the creator of a new piece of art.

But am I really? I don't know. I will leave this to you to decide. And maybe you comment on it and tell me your opinion. 

About Darkness in Photography

Shooting light is not possible. Only darkness makes us see. And yet there is the question how much darkness there should be. Do we want light darkness or in other words light greys if we talk about black and white photography? Or do we want deep darkness or in other words strong contrast? Or do we even chose a darkness that leaves barely any light, a darkness that swallows nearly everything? 

What do we want to express? How is our mood? How dark or bright do we perceive our lives and ourselves? Is the use of darkness in photography an expression of how we see life, how we judge the quality of life? Light is life. But darkness is too.

Does darkness represent the demons in us, tamed when we approach them in photography? Or is light in deep darkness maybe the expression of the slightest subtleties of hope and so an expression of vitality and deep positive feelings?

I work with darkness in my photography. I am fascinated by it. I find tiny little bits of light in deep darkness highly attractive. My heart opens when I watch the minimal subtle light that makes us see not more than just the shapes of forms. It makes my phantasy rave, gives me the thrill of the unknown that I can fill with my own thoughts and feelings.

Yes, darkness also has a scary aspect. The darkness of the unknown can be terrorizing. Maybe something evil hides in the darkness that I cannot discern and that jeopardizes me and my life? Maybe the darkness in a picture represents the dark side within myself, in my soul? Maybe I can see the abyss but not gaze to its ground? Darkness can make me shudder. Darkness can be threatening. But by inflicting this threat on us, darkness also exudes a thrill.

It is a game. An experiment. An experiment with our own nature and personality when we take pictures. When we impose our own taste on the frame and what it expresses.

And that is the fascination of processing pictures. When taking the picture with my camera I have a real environment, a scene that allows a limited number of interpretations. Processing a picture gives me the opportunity of widening my options, of adding new meaning by interpreting what I find in my original image. 

Processing is interpretation. Is enhancement. Is adding meaning. And that is when I process a picture into dark. I imprint on this picture my interpretation of a meaning of darkness. And I give others the opportunity of reading me through my picture.

Yes, please read the darkness in my soul. But be aware of the gate keeper.

CURATING

I have been asked to become one of the curators of the online photographic gallery ****Contrasted Gallery on Flickr.  https://www.flickr.com/groups/contrasted_gallery/pool/

Contrasted Gallery is an exhibition project founded by Manuel Diumenjó in 2007. The gallery exhibits interesting artistic pictures by photographers that post their pictures on a Flickr stream. Currently three curators share the task of finding artists and asking them if they are interested in showing their pictures in this online gallery. The curators are free to decide who they invite and which criteria they apply with regard to their choice.

So all of a sudden I find myself in the situation that I need not only to find an artist every three months who wants to exhibit his work but I also (and that is the trickier part) need to define my own criteria of quality that make me approach a photographer and ask him or her.

It is similar to my question in my last blog. What are the criteria for taking or processing a picture? In this case it is the question how I define "artistry" and "well taken" and "interesting". And honestly - I don't know. I have likings and dislikes. I have moments when a picture or a picture gallery appeals to me, speaks to me and other moments when this doesn't happen. As a decision making criteria this doesn't seem very strong.

Yes, criteria like composition and use of light I take into account. Is it a picture that tells a story? Is the whole gallery able to captivate the viewer? Am I interested in watching the next picture and discover what t is all about? Does the photographer communicate with his subjects (and if it is even on a remote and virtual basis)? Does he or she communicate with his viewers?

What I don't apply are criteria of so called "modern photography". I made once in New Zealand an experience with a gallerist that I had approached with the question if he was interested in exhibiting some of my pictures. He declined my request with the reasoning that my pictures did not exude the feel of modern photography and that it was stuck in the 80s. I pondered about this for a long time and I could really, really not find out what exactly he meant. Sure, some photography deals with the latest social and political dvelopments. The photographers that are represented by the Magnum group work that way, and they do it brilliantly. But other photography is timeless, does not refer to certain new socio-geographical developments. I have come to the conclusion that this criterium is nonsense, at least for my own decision making.

So I approach artists whose pictures "speak to me". I apply my subjective criteria. I get into an dialogue with the artist and his work. And if I am able to maintain this dialogue for a while and if the overall work communicates a message that captivates me I invite them.

I am currently working with the Brazilian photographer Zé Lobarto. Zé creates beautiful street photography where each single picture tells a story of light, lines and drama. But I don't want to ramble. I want to attract your attention to this amazing artist and make you follow this link to his Flickr stream. Yes, exactly this one. Click!  https://www.flickr.com/photos/ze_lobato/

And on 10 June, when the exhibition opens I will add here the link to his work at ****Contrasted Gallery.

The first exhibition that I have curated was with pictures of the German photographer Stefan Speidel who has been living in Tokyo for the past 30 years. His strong black and white pictures of Japan and Japanese life and culture give an impression of how life shapes the view of expats who have to embrace their new environment. And external view from inside. I find it fascinating.
https://www.flickr.com/photos/rifugio_bobo

I am captivated. By them. By their work. And by choosing artists and applying my own very subjective criteria. I love it!

The Processing Workflow

I had recently a request to explain my workflow in post-processing and how I get to my final results. So I thought I could write this up and post it on the blog. I actually don't think that photographers should make secrets out of their way of working. At least not in the amateur field. In that way I fully agree with Eric Kim who discloses everything about his way of picture taking and processing in his blog. A very worthwhile blog by the way, just take a look.  http://erickimphotography.com/blog/

First of all I shoot RAW. Raw files are so much more versatile and malleable. JPEGs don't give half the opportunities of making changes and influencing  mood and expression during the processing workflow. And that is what we want when we process pictures. We want them to look 'better' and from my perspective I want to give my pictures an expression that represents the feelings that I want to create. RAWs are bigger and you fill your hard drive quicker but I think if it is about picture quality this aspect doesn't count. 

I save my files in Capture 1. I have changed from Lightroom to C1 about a year ago. This was mainly because the LR app was so big and clunky that it slowed down my old Mac computer. C1 works much faster on my laptop. But I had other reasons as well. C1 has features that you don't find on LR, for example the very nice layer tool where you can 'paint-select' certain areas of the picture that you want to process locally. This is similar to working with layers in Photoshop but to my mind more intuitive. And colours look better when processed in C1 than in Lightroom. This is an important reason for many photographers to change to C1 but not as important to me as I mainly create b&w pictures. 

In C1 I create a duplicate of my picture file before doing any processing. I then work on the double. So I can always go back to my original and start over again if I am not happy with the outcome of my first processing. This first step is important to me because C1 doesn't provide a processing history. So you can't go back some steps in the processing list and start again from that point. I find this a real disadvantage with C1 and I don't understand why the C1 people have not added this relatively simple feature to the software. 

It is by the way also possible in C1 to re-create the original version of the picture file during the editing process but I prefer having the original right from the beginning. 

Because C1 doesn't provide a processing history I always create a so called new 'clone variant' of my picture when I make processing steps that could mess up my already processed picture or if I think there could be two different ways of processing the picture from a certain point in my workflow. 

Back to the workflow.

1. I create a duplicate in C1.

2. I do the cropping in C1 before I take further processing steps. So I  have a better feeling for the final picture. Re-cropping at a later stage is of course always possible. 

3. For conversion to b&w I then export the picture to Silver Efex (SE) Pro. I find the b&w files that Silver Efex produces more pleasing to my eye than the ones that C1 creates. 

4. In SE I nearly always use one of the presets that the software provides for a starting point. But I have also created some presets of my own. Presets are only a starting point, I usually tend to make many changes to the preset in order to achieve the effect that I desire. 

It is worth playing with brightness and soft contrast, you can achieve interesting results by just playing with these two features that have opposite effects on the file. But all brightness/contrast/structure sliders are worth trying as well as the tonal curve. Over the time I have developed a feeling for which effect I can expect from  which slider so that my processing has become more purposeful and less random. But finding out this has taken quite a while and a lot of try and error. Good thing is that Silver Efex has a history panel with a list where you can always go back some steps and start over agin from that point if you have messed up your picture. 

Some of the SE presets come with grain but I nearly always change the grain strength and coarseness during my processing. To my mind the Silver Efex grain is the most beautiful grain of all softwares I have worked with until now. So using the grain sliders is an important part of my workflow. 

Silver Efex also provides frames and tints and vignetting. I find the vignetting very effective, clearly more effective than the one in C1. You can define the centre point of the vignetting and change strength and size. When working with presets it is important to be aware that many presets add a certain amount of vignetting that you might want to change for your own purposes. Tints I rarely use but that is certainly a matter of taste. And the frames are somewhat annoying because if you really want to use a frame (do you really...?) and you create it in Silver Efex you can later not crop the picture anymore without destroying the frame. This is because the frame has become a part of the picture the moment you export the file back to C1. 

5. I then save the picture back to C1.

The following steps depend on what I want to achieve with my pictures and what kind of changes I would like to make further on.

6. I continue processing the picture in C1. If I want to make some simple adjustments like some local adjustments with the layer brush as previously described or sharpen or increase or decrease clarity I will do that in C1. Also working with levels and curves to adjust tonality particularly in the greys can well be done in C1. 

If however I want to make some more complex adjustments or play with distortions and blurring I take he next step and export the picture to Photoshop.

7. Export to Photoshop
Here you can work with layers (I hate layers! I find them completely counterintuitive but they are handy to make non destructive changes that you can switch on and off and tweak as often as you like). In order to use layers in an effective way you need to learn how to select certain areas of your picture in Photoshop for example with the 'Quick selection tool'. This is something that you should learn from a tutorial on YouTube or the Adobe website. It's too complex for me to explain here. 

The same with using luminosity masks. They are a very elegant way of selecting areas of your picture according to luminosity differences. I read and watched many tutorials and found the whole topic very difficult to understand. Eventually I ended up buying Greg Benze's Lumenzia, a pre-fabricated luminosity mask tool that is very well done. I have not used it in a comprehensive way but it's great to make local adjustments avoiding the look as if it was "photoshopped". This is clearly well invested money. The link is https://gregbenzphotography.com/lumenzia/

Very helpful in Photoshop is the Camera Raw tool. You go to the 'Filters' menu and click 'convert to smart filters'. By doing so you enable the function of using all filters in a non-destructive way that can be revisited and changed as long as you have the picture in PS. You can then click in the filters menus the 'Camera Raw' tool. This is essentially the same tool that you find in Lightroom in order to process your picture with some local adjustments like gradient tool and radial filter tool. Particularly the latter together with some brush adjustments can be very handy to make local adjustments like creating light streaks or enhancing local contrast. As usual you need to play with the tools to get a feeling for what is possible or not and how you can make the desired changes. 

When you are in the smart filters section anyway you can take a look at the blur galleries. I am not very experienced with them yet but apparently you can create some nice artistic effects with blurring the picture. I clearly don't like artificial peripheral blur in order to emphasize the focus on the main subject of a picture. But using blur for creating artistic effects particularly in abstract pictures I find nice. 

The last thing that I do in Photoshop is fixing blemishes like dirt on the picture from a dirty sensor or lens. The spot removal tool in C1 is not good at all, the 'spot healing brush' tool in PS however is brilliant. I sometimes import pictures to PS only for the purpose of fixing dirt and dust etc. It's worth the step. 

7. Then I re-save the picture back to C1. And from there I create a JPEG that I save on my external hard drive in a special section.  Done. :-)

By the way I tend to sharpen my picture already somewhere during the editing process and not at the end of the whole process. Reason is that particularly when you have grain in the picture a tiny little bit of over sharpening can ruin the picture. So working with the already sharpened picture can save you this worry. But many other people do that differently, that is just me.... :-)


You can of course re-export a picture from C1 to SE or PS if you find some things that you would like to improve. C1 creates a new variant every time you export a picture to a different software so that you don't lose the version that you exported. When saving back from SE or PS these apps save the picture in the previously created variant of C1. 

That is a short description of my workflow. I am very interested in your experience and what you do and leave and how you achieve your results. There are so many ways of skinning the cat in post-processing that there is always a lot to learn. Just give me a feedback if you like.

Indeterminacy - criteria in street photography

What is it that makes some of us take pictures? What makes us take pictures of random strangers? Why do we shoot? Why do we shoot street? And what can we express by doing this? And what are our artistic criteria? If there are any. 

When I shoot in the streets I cannot determine what I will shoot. I have to accept what I see and decide in an instant if I want to take this picture or not. And  now I am wondering about the criteria. What is it that makes me/us take this particular picture? An interesting face? A posture, a movement that attract our attention? An overall composition that attracts and pleases the eye? Yep. All that. We use our aesthetical sense to decide what we want to shoot. And we also use experience and technical know how. 

But what if we take a different approach? What if we let chance decide what to shoot? Just hold the camera. And shoot. A random person. A face. Take a picture every 30 seconds of the person that passes by at exactly that moment. Change the criteria. Change the decision making. And work with what is available and not what is on our mind. 

 

Chance operation...?

And then later at home - doing the usual processing or leaving this to chance? Enhancing expression or just accepting what we found? Let our taste decide or leave it open and don't care about 'the strength' or 'expression' of a picture. And again - what are the criteria? I do it the way I like it.  Sure. True. But why? Are my likings very strong arguments or criteria? Why am I doing it exactly that way?  What leads me to use certain processing steps? And why am I not happy to leave this to chance as well (and I am not happy the relinquish my personal taste and decision making)? 

"Enhanced" or not....?

 

Why am I asking all these questions? Take a look here.  
https://www.slideshare.net/HiroshiNocum/chance-music

Or here.
http://johncage.org

I recently read a book about John Cage, the ground breaking modern composer that introduced chance operations to composing music. Cage did away with conventional composition criteria and found a way of 'liberating' music from form and aesthetical criteria. He called that the principal of indeterminacy. Of course he was controversial. And of course he was commercially not the most successful componist. But he had a huge impact on the development of modern music and art in general. 

So John Cage has taught me something. About art. About our way of making decisions when we create. A piece of music, a poem or a photograph. I learned that I need to take a look at my personal decision making. At my criteria. At why I do or leave certain things. He taught me to be more conscious with my decisions. And I learned that not always what we find 'nice' is the right thing in a creation process. 
So do I want to continue with using my internal criteria of 'niceness' in the future? Or can I accept other ways of creating and processing pictures, for example the criteria of pure chance? 

So - what is beauty? What is art? What is photography? Not new these questions. But still relevant. And the answers can look different when we think about why we do things the way we do them. 

Favomania

Flickr members (and probably those of other photo sharing social communities as well) are addicted to faves. We want that our pictures are appreciated. We want to be faved. We want to be loved. Pleaaase....!!!

And because we count our love in numbers there are these very special people that apply very special tricks in order to gain more faves (and feel more loved or important or what....??). The more people you follow, the more follow you, the more faves you get. That's probably the train of thought. And so some of these individuals easily gather 50.000 people they follow. Great. And very personal. Or at least you could fave randomly. Don't care if you really like the pic, but fave it and you will be faved back. And in addition you could post your picture to 150 (well, better 180) Flickr groups that you have never visited before and where you would never ever fave any picture of any other poor fave craving Flickerista. And there are these interesting people who only fave you after you have faved a picture of theirs. Reciprocal limited love you might call this. And then the ones that appeal to their followers: "Please fave me...!" "On Flickr and as you are just doing it anyway please carry on on my 500px, Instagram, Tumblr, Facebook and Twitter account!" And the crown of Favomania is to gauge the Flickr Explore algorithm and to post a picture that you guess meets all criteria for being explored. The pinnacle of sophistication! 

Well - we are all so inventive when it comes to being faved. And of course everybody knows that the number of faves is not to the least in any way any kind of representation of the quality of the work that we display. There are wonderful artistic works out there with 17 faves (or less) and many 130+ pics are artistically - well - just crap. 

So why the hell do we want it? Probably because we are little innocent children that want others in our sandpit to tell us that our little sandcastle is the nicest in the whole wide world. 

And the emancipation process takes a while. And it hurts. Because when you realise that you are fave addicted and that you want to get off this addiction and if you change your behaviour, your fave numbers drop. I know it. I did it. I stopped reposting my pictures. I am limiting my group postings to 15. And I am posting pictures because of artistic reasons knowing that fave numbers will be low. I went on turkey. And I am trying to regain my pride. 

Greetings. From the sandpit. From addict to addict. From artist to artist.

Colours

Most of my pictures are in black and white. And this is for two main reasons. Firstly I think I can express myself a better way by creating contrasty black and white images. They come naturally to me and represent quite well what I want to express. Secondly (and that is at least equally important) this has to do with the fact that I find colour images more difficult to process and due to a lack of precessing skills on my side I just can't get them the way I want them. 

The latter is something that I am certainly not happy about. You don't want your artistic expression to be limited by lack of technical skills. And there is a clear need to fix this problem. In the past I have been struggling to use Photoshop mainly because it is not intuitive to me. I just couldn't retain the information of how to use certain tools because the workflow and particularly the logic of layer masks just doesn't make sense to me. 

And it seems that recently I've got a better grip on how to process pictures in PS. Maybe this is because they have developed their software further and have made it a little more user friendly. Maybe watching dozens of tutorials had an effect on my mind. Now I can even enjoy using certain tools like 'hue/saturation' adjustment layers. And Capture One provides quite a few great options for colour processing anyway.  

The result is that I have been trying it again and in the past days I have processed some colour pictures with results that are at least kind of acceptable. 

With regard to artistic expression I have clearly not yet found my purpose. What exactly do I want to say in a colour picture? It is obvious to me that I want to continue shooting and processing dark and contrasty pictures. I feel at home with this type of photography.  And eventually it is probably about developing series of pictures similar to the way I work with monochromes.

Some months ago I discovered the photographer Rémy Soubanère on Flickr. He is my current hero of dark colour photography. I love his pictures and the way he processes them. I don't want to emulate or copy his style but I find him highly inspirational. Here is the link to his Flickr page. https://www.flickr.com/photos/remysoubanere
And his website  http://remysoubanere.com

 As a result of all this I will be posting some colour pictures that I have taken and processed in the past few weeks. That's a starting point. And then we will see. 

Capture One

I had enough of Lightroom. After the recent upgrade to LR 6.2 I could not work with this software anymore. The laptop got completely stuck and each single processing step took ridiculous 3 to 5 minutes. And it also felt as if the computer slowed down in other programs too. I have to admit that my MacBook is now 8 years old and certainly not the fastest computer on earth. But this kind of slow-down was new to me.

Taking a look at the web and viewing articles of hundreds of frustrated users confirmed my suspicion. Lightroom is a bulky piece of software that gets harder to utilize with every upgrade they make.  

To get my computer going again I deleted LR from my MacBook, removed also the two older versions that I had accumulated over the time and went to Phase One's website and uploaded a trial version of their Capture One software. First impression when uploading - it's sleeker than Lightroom, it has 400MB instead of 1400MB that LR has. And thus it's running clearly faster and smoother.

I had read about C1 some weeks ago and that many people who have enough of LR consider this as a very valid alternative. And not only because it's quicker and less bulky but first of all because of better image quality, particularly in colour images.

So now I am reading the instruction and I'm trying to get my head around how to use it. To me it's not counter-intuitive as many people have written. However I still need to understand its workflow and idiosyncrasies.

My first impression is that I can work with it. The structure of the software makes sense to me. I don't know about image quality and the final results as I have not done a whole processing cycle yet.

What I clearly miss is a history panel where I can go several steps back and start at a point of my processing history that I can define. C1 does not seem to have this tool.

It would be great to hear from people who use C1 and who can compare LR and C1. What do you prefer? And why? Please write me either a comment here or an email (Flickr email or c_ms@gmx.de) or send me a Facebook comment.