Working with models

After having worked with portrait models for a little less than a year I would like to write about my approach and my experiences. 

When I shoot portraits I am currently limited to outdoor areas because I don’t have a studio and no lighting equipment. Apart from depending on the weather this does not seem a major disadvantage to me. I can work with natural light and using the streets and parks for shooting certainly works for me.  I would still like to have a place where I can create light and where I can set the atmosphere and have shooting conditions that I can determine myself. Maybe a little later,  currently I travel so much between Greece and New Zealand that it does not make sense to have a studio in one place anyway. 

But I mainly wanted to write about working with models. I currently only work with people that are no professional models. They are people that I either find in the streets or friends or acquaintances of mine. In other words, my models have only limited or no shooting experience which means that I should direct them and tell them what to do and how to pose.  And exactly that I don’t do. Very purposefully I don’t give them directions as to how to move, to strike a pose or to show a certain facial expression.   The reason is that I am interested in finding out who my models are as a person and I am trying to capture this person when I shoot. Poses or directions would only distract and lead us away from my goal. 

I tell my models before the shooting that I am not going to tell them what to do and how to behave. Instead of giving instructions I start having a talk with them. I ask them about their lives, about ideas, attitudes, things that they love or dislike. And I tell my story, tell them who I am, what I do, how I have developed my photography. It often develops into an exchange of experiences, of life stories and opinions. I learn a lot about my models and I love getting to know them a little. 

I do tell my models where I want us to go, where I think the light is good and what kind of backdrop I like and want to shoot them in. But from the moment we find a place it is mainly a situation of interaction and shooting the model during this interaction. A disadvantage is that during talking faces are very difficult to shoot, often features are distorted or eyes half closed. So I need to wait for little breaks between the interaction. This is actually nice because often I find that emotions from the last topic or sentences remain in the faces of my models which enhances their facial expression.  

It often is also interesting to watch with the camera what a person is doing with a certain situation. A few days ago I went with my model Ioanna to a long open air stairs in the neighborhood of Exarchia in Athens. From the stairs you have a look from above over a part of Athens. Ioanna sat down on the stairs spontaneously and watched the city with a kind of far away glance in her eyes. This coincided nicely with the talk we had about her traveling and living in many different places. And the pictures that I could take had a very special and particular mood.

Ioanna with the “far away glance” in her eyes

Ioanna with the “far away glance” in her eyes


Keeping the situation open and letting the model develop within this situation is something that I like very much. We create a little human laboratory situation where the interaction between photographer and model and the environment become the basis for visual story telling. 

Is it possible to grasp “the essence” of a person in a single picture? The question is more if we can even talk about “the “ essence of a human being. Every situation, every social interaction evokes a particular atmosphere which influences the mood of a model and his or her facial expression. Yes, there are recurring traits of character that we can try to find and to depict. But reducing a person on one single picture appears to be very difficult and even a bold task to me.  However, maybe that will change if I develop more experience over the time. 

During one photo shoot I take between 200 and 300 pictures of my model in different locations. I take about two hours for this task, a time that my (unpaid) models are usually willing to dedicate to the experience. Later when culling, curating and processing the pictures I reduce the number to 10 to 15 pictures that I process. After the processing I send the final JPEG versions of the images to my models via WeTransfer, together with a big thank you. 

I find the human interaction between myself and my models interesting and fascinating. This allows me to dip into the lives of people that I don’t know and have never met before. And it appears that even sometimes some lasting relationships or friendships can develop. This experience is at least as important as the photographic one and the pictures that we can create together.  

Motion blur (revised version)

I have been experimenting with motion blur (or intentional camera movement, ICM as it is called) for a while. You achieve this effect by using a relatively long exposure time (1/25 second or slower) and moving your camera in a planned and coordinated way when pressing the shutter release. Technically it is not easy to produce meaningful pictures because you need to calculate the visual path of the camera and the position of the object that you are aiming at. So consequently you often get pictures that do not show what you have envisaged. 

And to be clear. Motion blur does not mean that you shoot randomly into a crowd or at still objects. In order to achieve good pictures you should have a clear idea or vision of what you want to capture, which expression to achieve and how to move your camera to obtain your result. Otherwise you end up with chaotic pictures that don’t have any meaning or good visual impact. 

It took me a few attempts to get this ensemble right. Particularly the ducks posed a challenge.

It took me a few attempts to get this ensemble right. Particularly the ducks posed a challenge.


In Tokyo I returned to the technique of motion blur. An important reason was that I was not overly happy with the expression of my “still pictures” that I had taken in the first two days in the city. So I decided to take the plunge and shoot ICM only for the rest of my stay. That gave me the opportunity of trying out this style in many shots and to improve my technique. 

To my mind motion blur pictures have a deeper, a different expression than still photos. I find that they reveal a “reality behind the reality” that you can hardly find in the usual images with quick shutter release. Particularly when shooting people I find that their faces show treats that express something of their character that you only find when you use long exposure. 

Signs and gestures. Serendipity certainly plays a role, particularly in situations when you have “one shot” only. Here it played out very nicely for me.

Signs and gestures. Serendipity certainly plays a role, particularly in situations when you have “one shot” only. Here it played out very nicely for me.

 

I believe that motion blur is more demanding (and revealing) for the viewer too. As the viewer of these pictures you need to take more time.  A motion blur picture does not reveal its whole meaning at first glance, it requires the viewer to look longer and deeper.  As not all details are clearly visible the viewer’s imagination needs to add missing pieces. The missing clarity or details need to be filled up and this can only be done by the viewer’s mind.  In that way the viewer continues the story of the picture on his own mind.  Letting the overall impression sink in, letting the subconscious process what the eye sees may indeed reveal a deeper reality.

Of course any good or meaningful photograph requires the viewer to take time and to be present. And it makes him or her telling a story on their mind. However do I think that in motion blur pictures patience on the side of the viewer reveals more details and more meaning. The viewer actually needs to immerse himself deeper into what is happening in the picture. 

I know that motion blur “is not for everyone”. But this holds good for any type of artistic expression. You will always find people loving and others disliking a certain way of expressing something artistically. From that perspective motion blur is not different from any other photographic or artistic style. It is one way of expressing yourself. And to me it is a very appropriate way.

Flickr is regrettably not the ideal medium for motion blur. Viewers “flick” through the pictures very rapidly, spending hardly longer than 3 seconds on one image. Like any other social media platform Flickr is made for instant consumption and we as the producers and consumers at the same time usually  comply with this intention. I tend not to show all my ICM work on Flickr as it feels not always appropriate. Some pieces I show on my website only and I hope that the different, more private environment helps viewers to slow down and to take time for the work.

ICM is a very interesting and “different” way of making photographs. I will certainly continue following this path.

D850 and Sigma Art 50mm f/1.4

Looking at my photographic days in Tokyo I need to discuss the combination of the Nikon D850 camera with the Sigma Art 50mm f/1.4 lens, particularly for motion blur photography.

I have to admit that I had a difficult and problematic relationship with this 50mm lens. 50mm is not my favourite focal length. For street photography it appears to narrow for me, it does not cover the scene sufficiently for my taste and thus deprives me of creating compositions that I like. For portrait the lens is too wide. I prefer staying a little further away from my model which I find less intimidating for the person at the other end of the lens. Working with 85mm or the 70-200mm zoom also gives a nicer background bokeh.

In Tokyo I used initially the 70-200mm lens for motion blur street portraits. But I realised that due to the narrow focal length I missed quite a few shots and depended a lot on luck and serendipity. And later when watching the pictures on my computer I realised that the shots with this lens looked a little smeary to a degree that I disliked the results.

For the second part of my stay I changed the lens and used the Sigma 50mm instead. And man, this was a revelation. The rendering of this lens is crisp, motion blur causes beautiful lines, the colours are also beautiful and easy to work with. And doing the blur stuff was of course much easier with this wider lens than with the 70-200mm zoom. So I am really smitten with the Sigma lens and it seems that our relationship has good chances to recover.

A word to the D850. I have praised it already just a few days after buying it. This camera is incredibly versatile. You can try anything with it and the results seem to be very convincing. I love shooting portraits with her, results are predictable and reliable. Same now with my motion blur attempts. The files are great, I can process them easily, they never fall apart, even if I try extraordinary things in pp. I can clearly confirm my first impression. This camera is amazing and in hindsight I bless my crooked old D800 for having given up its spirit.

I will use bothD850 and Sigma Art 50mm in combination in the future and I am looking forward to the results.

Motion Blur

I have been experimenting with motion blur (or intentional camera movement, ICM as it is called) in the past. You achieve this effect by using a relatively long exposure time (1/25 second or slower) and moving your camera in a planned and coordinated way when pressing the shutter release. Technically it is not easy to produce meaningful pictures because you need to calculate the visual path of the camera and the position of the object that you are aiming at. So consequently you often get pictures that do not show what you have envisaged. 

And to be clear. Motion blur does not mean that you shoot randomly into a crowd or at still objects. In order to achieve good pictures you should have a clear idea of what you want to capture and how to move your camera. Otherwise you end up with chaotic pictures that don’t have any meaning or good visual impact. 

In Tokyo I returned to the technique of motion blur. An important reason was that I was not overly happy with the expression of my “still pictures” that I had taken in the first two days in the city. So I decided to take the plunge and shoot ICM only for the rest of my stay. That gave me the opportunity of trying out this technique in many shots and to improve my technique. 

_DSC7436-1*.jpg

To my mind motion blur pictures have a deeper, a different expression than still photos. I find that they reveal a “reality behind the reality” that you can hardly find in the usual images with quick shutter release. Particularly when shooting people I find that their faces show treats that express something of their character that you only find when you use long exposure. 

_DSC6692-1.jpg


As the viewer of these pictures you need to take more time too. Following the lines, looking into each corner of the picture helps you getting the full expression of the picture. Letting the overall impression sink in, letting your subconscious process what you see may indeed reveal a deeper reality. Of course this applies on any photograph, however do I think that in motion blur pictures, patience on the side of the viewer reveals more details and more meaning. It feels as if I as the viewer immerse myself deeper into what is happening in the picture. 

Flickr is not the ideal medium for motion blur. We “flick” through the pictures very rapidly, spending hardly longer than 3 seconds on one image. But maybe sometimes it would be good to slow down and to force ourselves into a deeper experience with the pictures that we regard. Motion blur is a good occasion to start this attempt.


Tokyo

Just a few days ago I returned to Athens from New Zealand where I stayed for three months. On my way back I spent five days in Tokyo. This was triggered by my wish to meet my Flickr friend Stefan Speidel for the first time. Stefan is a great photographer, a searching one, a rangefinder storyteller who uses his camera to create visual poetry. Please take a look at his beautiful Flickr stream at https://www.flickr.com/photos/rifugio_bobo.

I had never been to Tokyo or Japan before. I read only a little about the city before going there. I read that it is huge, overwhelming, that it has all in all 30 million inhabitants. But I did not prepare for a tourist run in the city, I wanted to keep an open mind, particularly for my photography. And I let Stefan do the work of showing me around in the first two days. He did a marvelous job.... :-)

And it’s true - Tokyo  is  overwhelming. People nearly everywhere. Subways, busses, public spaces, everything is full of people. For me one of the crucial questions became how it is like to be permanently part of the masses in such a moloch city. How do you maintain your individuality if you dissolve into the mass every day? And as a photographer - how do I capture this situation of the individual person becoming part of this mass of people? In the coming days I will write a little about that journey and about my answer to the question. 

_DSC7682-3.jpg



Part of this mass phenomenon in Tokyo is the traffic. The individual motorized traffic is not as dense as you might think. Tokyo’s public transport is brilliant and reliable, you have no need to sit in a car and try to survive traffic jams. With the metro and railway system plus some bus links you can go literally everywhere, so no need for using a car. But of course, there are huge crowds jammed into each carriage of the metro, particularly during rush hours. So the real question is how you survive the journey to work in a packed subway carriage. 

But my stay was not only about the mass phenomenon. I also discovered the poetry of the cherry blossom time. I was fortunate to be in Tokyo at the end of the four weeks in March and April when in the parks and alleys the cherry trees blossom. My hotel was in the suburb of Nezu, close to Ueno park wehere you find a beautiful alley full of cherry trees. And there are many other places with orchards and alleys that change into a rosé and white symphony of blossoms every spring. 

Architecture became the third theme during the stay. As a modern megalopolis Tokyo has many high rise building. I visited the areas around Tokyo station and the neighborhood of Roppongi. Both places are very good for shooting architecture and playing with light and shapes. And of course you can also take pictures of human beings that get visually lost between high rise buildings and on large empty squares. 

I had only 5 days. But the pictures I created will keep me busy for weeks. It was really, really fascinating. 

Purposeful on Flickr

I have written about Flickr a few times, particularly about the change of direction the company has taken and the lack of inclusion of its members by the board and CEO of the company. This time I would like to write about my own attitude towards posting pictures on this platform. The reason is that this attitude has changed quite purposefully and that at the same time I am suffering from this change.

In the past Flickr used to be a place where I wanted to post pictures that I wanted many people to see and fave. And in a way this is still the case and I will explain what kind of problem this causes.

My personal photographic journey has gone from trying to developing a style of my own to realising that although I believe I have a style I am not willing or able to confine my photography to one subject, one theme, one successful way of using technical means. I have developed the ability of determining how the outcome of a picture will be if I use x or y camera, technique, processing. But this ability does not satisfy me. I am not happy to repeat things again and again in order to refine them. I want to try out new things, I want to walk on treacherous ground, I want for example to see how processing an average JPEG picture leads to a different meaning of the picture knowing well that the outcome is not a “brilliant” work.

Although I would never be so bold to compare myself with him, I like and admire Irving Penn for the diversity in his work. I would not go so far to say that I try to follow his steps but at least is he a good example of a photographer who kept searching in many different fields.
https://irvingpenn.org/biography

Maybe I am even too lazy to try to return to a certain place, a certain technique in order to achieve similar results. I probably lack the determination of putting myself through this refinement process. The result is that I try out new things again and again and that sometimes the technical quality of my pictures suffers. I recognise this, I acknowledge this but I don’t want to change this, at least not at this point in time.

Of course the consequence is that people who as viewers expect a certain type of pictures get disappointed and stop faving and following. And there it hurts a little although I know that this is self-inflicted.

Flickr has become an experimentation lab for me, a place where I play and try out things. I “dare” posting pictures that are not necessarily “nice” or sophisticated and as a consequence I suffer lack of love... :-)

But for the moment that’s the way to go.

From Snapshot to Metaphor

Recently I went to a party in Invercargill where parents and their children around the age of 15 to 20 celebrated together. It was a nice party and everybody had a lot of fun. I had my iPhone with me and started shooting some pictures of people dancing and I caught a few shots that were a little blurry and grainy due to the low light. All in all they were average party pictures that I did not pay very much attention to.

IMG_1276.JPG

Some weeks later I bumped into these pictures again when reviewing the iPhone shots on my computer. And here I realised that at least some of the pictures had a quality that I had not observed when skimming them superficially. To me it appeared that some of these pictures exuded the essence of what being young means. Being free, being oblivious of the surroundings, just captivated by music and the own movements. The pictures were still not very good snapshots but I could see something deeper in them.

So I took one of these pictures and started processing it. And step by step it changed into what I had seen in it before. To me it became the humble epitome of what being young can mean. Technically this picture has plenty of flaws and I am not even convinced that it is a “good” picture. But to me it has the quality of elevating a mundane scene into a metaphorical quality.

I certainly admit that this is just me, the way my own mind works and that I would not sell this image as a piece of major art. But to me it is a nice example of what we see in a picture and how we are able to transform our vision into something real existing.

IMG_1276-04.jpg

Smile!

What happens when somebody becomes aware that somebody else is trying to take a photo of him or her? Well - they smile. It as a nearly inevitable reaction.

Smiling is a signal to the environment, in this case the photographer, that we are benevolent, not aggressive, not annoyed, willing to accept that somebody creates a copy of us in a little machine. It shows friendliness and openness. 

And now we photographers struggle with a stereotype. No, we don’t want our “model” to switch on the smile. We want you raw, unchanged, deep within yourself. We want you as ”natural” as possible. We don’t want you to behave as if we were photographing you. 

Isn’t that absurd? The photographer wants to get away from the stereotype of smiling and cheeeeesing people and he ends up exactly in the next trap that is that non-smiling is more natural, deeper, more authentic. 

Who decides if a smile is not authentic and a stoic facial expression is? Who tells me that a smile does not lead into the soul of that particular person? Who finds smiles boring and deceptive?

I believe that we as human beings have a certain repertoire of behaviors, a certain way of expressing feelings and that indeed, we are as human beings similar to each other. At least communication styles within certain cultures are alike because that is the only way of understanding each other. Showing a smile is a universal communicative message that is particularly used when people do not know each other very well as it happens in many photographic situations. 

And I am not talking about the photographer coercing his victims into a fake grimace. I am talking about the natural reaction of a person that is confronted with an unusual situation, with the desire of somebody who wants to show him or her by pointing a device at them. 

So let them smile! Let them express themselves. Let them use the physical language that is part of our universal code. And if we really get to know them better, if we have created a little bit of trust it might still be time to take pictures that show a more serious face. Is it deeper? Is it better? Who knows....



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.