In the dark night.

I saw it. I photographed it. I added to it.

That’s the story of this picture. But, what’s the story behind it? Taking chances.

I could say that a lot of my career was based on taking chances. I could say that I photographed on the edge.

The edge of what?

The edge of technical limitations. The edge of the city. Or, is it really the edge of madness?

I’m not mad. Or, crazy. Or, lacking in certain cautions. But, I do take chances. I didn’t always. I  was photojournalist. Pure and simple. My pictures were clean, sharp and well made. They had to be. That served those years of my career well.

After I moved on I found other mentors. Other photographic friends. They talked. I listened. With any luck at all, I grew.

One night, while walking in New York City, a friend and mentor, showed me how to expose for the night light and subjects. I made a picture that was just dripping with motion and energy. His exposure became my base exposure. Two Seconds at F5.6. Over the years, I modified that according to the scene and what I hoped to achieve.

That got easier in the digital age because F stops turned weird. Traditional numbers meant nothing. Gone were the days of, F2, F2.8, F4, F5.6, F8, F11, F16 and F22. Instead using the camera’s light meter and histogram, often you saw numbers like F9, F7.2 and so on. Precise light measurements. Checking the histogram told you if the exposure was correct from a light to dark balance.

That made pushing the edge easier. It also made it more time consuming. Photographers, still unused to digital capture, started checking the LCD on the back of their cameras. Not only did they check the exposure, but they check the subject for sharpness, contrast, and composition.

Experienced photographers who trusted their instincts didn’t look at the LCD, instead they created a term for it. Chimping. You can figure out why.

A curious thing happened with many of these chimping photographers. You’d think that the volume of their shoots would drop. Instead it rose. These guys still had no confidence in their work. They would shoot a non-moving subject that they could control, holding down the shutter release button, while making 500 pictures of the same thing.

That’s a big mistake.

There are a few ways to learn not to make that mistake.

Photograph a lot comes to mind. No. That doesn’t mean holding down the button. It means look for many subjects. If you want to play this game, limit yourself to only five images per scene. I know a photographer who limited himself to one image.

Create a way of working. One way is to make a picture per day. Do that for a year. I did that for a while. You learn a lot about yourself. You learn a lot about light. You learn a lot about subject matter. I liked it so much that my one year turned into two, then three. I stopped after my fifth year.

Find a mentor. I did that in my early newspaper years. I found a guy who was brutal. His first critiques could make a grown man cry. Little by little as I learned and grew, his critiques turned positive. When it was time move to a bigger newspaper, he recommended me for a job at a newspaper that was the sister paper to his paper.

There are other things you can do as well. Ask your mentor. That’s what I did.

Still, at 45 years on I still ask for advice.

Try it.

 


A wintery blending of a wonderful sky and pink Japonicas.

I didn’t know.

I didn’t know that when I photographed the Japonica trees a day or two ago that it would be my last chance. Normally the flowers would last another two or three weeks. But, we had a pretty bad storm this afternoon. Not only did we get a lot of rain, but we also had a lot of hail.

The hail knocked off about 95% of the Japonica’s flowery petals. I’m glad that I photographed the fully blooming trees when I did. Now THAT’S photographers luck.

The best thing about the storm is it that sits on the leading edge of a cold front. That’s good because the weather was starting to get a little too warm for this time of year. I like winter to feel like winter for more than a day.

The winds did something else.

They blew down the scaffolding at the yet to be completed Intercontinental Hotel near the river. Luckily, nobody got hurt, although a couple of cars were badly damaged. One was a taxi with passengers in the back. Once the riders got over the shock of having metal rain down upon them, they walked away without injuries.

As a friend of mine tweeted, “we are not so good at constructing tall buildings around here.”

Indeed.


The Cedars are growing brand new leaves.

Yes. Some winter.

When I made this picture, the air was cool. The sun was bright. And, new leaves were already showing on the Cedars around this place. Sheesh.

We had about five days of sub-40 degree weather. It’s possible that we could get more. I remember working on Mardi Gras Day in 30 degree weather when sleet and freezing rain was blowing around in the wind.

I think that’s highly unlikely.

I fear is that this mild winter is a prelude to a very hot summer. I’m hoping that things stay mild throughout the year. For instance, last year, we had a lightly cooler winter, but the summer temperatures never reached triple digits. That matters. Even if it’s only psychological, there is a big difference between 100 degrees and 99 degrees.

I’m taking no chances.

That’s why we are looking for a coolish place in which to hide out for a month or so of the summer. Or, we change our minds and go to work in other places. We’ll see.

Sorry that this post is mostly about the weather. I was surprised to see trees showing new leaves so early.

The picture. At first I left it alone. Almost no correction in post production. There was no way to help it without hurting it. Then, I decided to test some frames. Most were just okay. I came upon this one. I loved it. So, here it is.


Into the sky.

After yesterday, what’s left?

The tributes contained to pour in. A man in India created what looks like a sculpture that is a half basketball to memorialize Kobe. A friend of mine in the blogging world said that if you lived in Los Angeles… maybe, but he was given to the world.

Meanwhile, in the political word… never mind. To my way of thinking they are all little criminals or just criminals.

So.

Yesterday was a very busy day, but I had some gaps in my schedule so I went to a place called “the King Cake Hub,” and spent way to much money on sweet cakes. The store is also called “The Haunted Mansion,” during Halloween. What I learned later is that the building was actually a mortuary for the Jewish cemetery which is directly to the side and back of the building. Yesterday was Halocaust Remembrance Day or Yom HaShoah in Hebrew.

I did what I could. Luckily, I was carrying the baby Leica. I made what I consider to be real pictures. I photographed the cemetery, some stored stuff from the haunted mansion and made my way to Holt Cemetery which is sort of the Potter’s field of New Orleans.

I worked there for a little while. At one point I thought that my legs were out of shape because I felt like I was walking in mud. I looked down. And, I was. This cemetery is the stuff of halloween nightmares. There are some really early jazz musicians buried there, like Buddy Bolden. There are some criminals buried there too. One, whose grave I photographed, was Robert Charles. He was a serial killer who, as the police were chasing him, shot 26 people. When he was captured he was beaten to death, an act which started the 1920 race riots.

Then, I went to a meeting and then another meeting and, and, and…

Today isn’t quite so bad.

The picture. Another of my new settings was used to create the final version of the image. Since I try to keep my pictures fresh, and I haven’t processed my new work, I thought that I would show you last week’s work.

I am so torn between art and a kind of photojournalism that I often confuse myself. I went back to my muse, Ernst Haas, and read what he had to say. He didn’t address dual approaches, but he did address what was a big controversy at the time and is raising its ugly head again. Black and White v Color photography. He asked why can’t you do both and let the scene direct you to the appropriateness of the medium. Now you see where my philosophical approach comes from.

Why can’t you?


Upside down world.

The rain stopped earlier then predicted.

It didn’t matter. Water was flowing from America’s eyes. It started with a brief tweet referencing TMZ that said Kobe Bryant died in a helicopter crash. At first, there were disbelievers. Not me. I’m not a fan of TMZ-style journalism, but when this kind of horrible news breaks they are first and they are right. It only got worse. We know that five people died, including his 13 year old daughter, Gianna. We think there are four more dead and the pilot.

The entire world reacted. Athletes from every sport tweeted both their condolences and their admiration for the man. At the NFL All Star game, which is sort of a meaningless joke, many football players were upset. When the stadium announcer asked for a moment of silence the fans did that and then started chanting Kobe, Kobe, Kobe.

I could go on and tell you about his basketball career, but you can read or listen to that anywhere. I could tell you about his failings, but you can read that just about anywhere. To me that means he was a man. A normal man who succeeded and sometimes failed.

He was also just a basketball dad taking his daughter, her friend and her friend’s mom to a game. Like any of us. I know. Most of us don’t do it in a helicopter.

I followed his career pretty closely. I’m not a basketball fan, but I grew up near Los Angeles. I followed the Lakers in good times and in bad. I watched Kobe grow from your typical punkish teenager into a man. A good man. And, I am sad, Very, very sad.

My thoughts are with his wife and three remaining children. His youngest is six months old. I have no idea what it’s like to grieve, recover and work your way through that horrible emptiness.  My prayers — our prayers — are with them.

My thoughts are also with the musicians who are attending the Grammy Awards tonight. The Grammys are held in Staples Center, the house that Kobe built. This should be a night of joy and happiness. Instead, it is muted with most musicians saying something about him. The sadness won’t stop.

There’s nothing more for me to say.

Well, one more thing. I know a thing or two about helicopters. Witnesses say it landed upside down on its rotors. They said it seemed like the pilot was looking for a place to land. That’s not human error. That’s catastrophic failure. We’ll see.

The picture. I had already learned about the sad news, but I need to run an errand. I took the dog who sees things. She jumped out of the car and lead me straight to the scene. It seems appropriate for the day so I made the picture. In case you caught that, “Tonight,” I normally write in the morning but I had to get this out of my head. So I wrote at about 8:30p Sunday might.

Peace.

RIP Mamba 1978-2020


Looking into the light.

Looking into the light.

No. Not heading toward the light. That’s something else.

This means breaking one of the rules of photography, and in particular when you are using a digital camera. They tell you not to photograph directly into the sun. They also tell you that doing that with a digital camera will destroy the sensor. I suppose it might, if you left the shutter open for an hour or so. Who’s going to do that?

Besides, who is they?

For the 1/2000th of a second or so that it took to make this picture nothing bad will happen to the camera. But, something good will happen to the picture that you just made. Not only will you make a strong silhouette, but you’ll get some flare and even a bit of sun streaks into the sky.

All of that makes for a more interesting picture than a normal exposure would do. If you are like me, you aren’t done. You’ll also work on the picture a lot in post production to help make the finished image what you really want it to be.

This picture is a great example of how I see these days.


Machines pale in comparison.

Flying.

“If man were meant to fly he’d have wings.” That’s what they said at the dawn of air travel. I wonder what they’d say about this helicopter that doesn’t have wings.

Once upon a time when I actually worked for a living at a photo agency, I helped to create an archive called, “Big-Little,” for lack of a much better name.  Generally, the pictures in that file contained a little, tiny man-made subjects contrasted against the bigness of nature.  Just like this picture.

Once upon a time this picture would have sold well. It speaks to the grandness of nature, the freedom of flight and man’s place in nature. Now, the picture industry is about dead.

There are actually online portals — not to be confused with a  real photo agency — that photographers upload their work to in hopes of getting “found.” The owners of the portal give the work away for free. The picture user doesn’t have to credit the photographer and — get this — if the user modifies the picture in any way, that modified picture is the user’s picture. The user is free to use it, license it, for sell it outright.

How does that work? The photographer earns nothing. If the user decides not to credit him or her, the photographer stands no chance of getting “found.” Oh sure, the user knows who the photographer is, but the world doesn’t. By the way, WordPress is encouraging bloggers to use one of these portals.

While image libraries have been racing to the bottom for more than a decade, these portals just about kill whatever is left. I’m not ranting or complaining. It’s just the facts, ma’am,

Luckily, I have other revenue streams and I think that I can create a couple more. How positive is that? That’s my word. Positive.

The picture. I heard the beating blades of the helicopter. I located it in the sky and waited for it to come into my view. There was no luck involved. I know a thing or two about helicopters. Anybody can do this. Set yourself up and wait. When whatever you want to photograph passes through the scene that you want to capture, press the button. You don’t have to machine gun it. I made just three frames.

That was enough.


Shimmering, sparkling, and glowing.

On this winter solstice I thought it would be a good idea to close out autumn on a high note. Or, a golden note if you prefer.

I made this picture a couple of days ago. Yeah. I know, I said the trees where bare. This is Southeastern Louisiana. We live in a semi-tropical and swampy place. Nothing ever really comes to an end in nature. The Japonica trees are already blooming. Normally, that happens in February. I know that because it’s a Mardi Gras thing.

I broke a big rule in photography. They say never to shoot directly into the sun. My response is why? They say that it will hurt the sensor. No, it won’t. The exposure isn’t for minutes or even seconds. This image was made at 1/1,250th of a second. Besides, the sun is just peaking through the tree. It’s right about at the red area sort of in the center of the tree.

The effect wasn’t done in the computer. I did a little finishing post production. That’s all. The rest was done in-camera. I intentionally moved the camera so that I could create this effect. I do this stuff intuitively. You can do it too. Just very slowly drag the camera or phone in the direction you want the blur.

I’d like to photograph something to honor the solstice. You need little light for that. The weather is cold, gray, overcast, and rainy.

And, so it goes.


All fall down.

A long December.

For me it’s a time of review. Not just for 2019, but for the decade since 2020 is the start of a decade. It’s also just not only about me. It’s about the state of the planet. The state of being. And, it’s about the people that I’ve lost. The people who are no longer on this planet. And, it’s about one more trip around the planet.

It started with sports. Not playing, but reading about sports. A lot of writers were doing best of the decade sporting stories. That gave me an idea. What if I did my best ten pictures of the decade?

On one hand, it was fairly easy to pick my ten best. They have been signature pictures since the day I made them. On the other hand, the exercise was miserable. I made a lot of pictures in the last ten years. My kind of pictures. The ones that were more like photojournalism than art or nature.

Why miserable?

I’m ashamed to say that I haven’t been very productive over the last two years. Yes, sure, I’ve made a huge amount of my faux nature pictures. To me, they don’t count. That’s not what I do. I could write that off to being in pain, to being afraid of falling down in the middle of a second line, to being fairly depressed because of the pain and feeling like my career is winding down.

That’s not me.

I’ve always played through the pain. This pain is for the rest of my lifetime. So? I’ve always lived by Neil Young’s song, “Don’t be Denied.” I’ve got a fairly high threshold for pain. I’m not the guy who thinks that he’s dying when I catch a cold.

So?

They say that it’s not how you start, but how you finish. I’m going to do my level best at finishing so strong, you’ll just think I took a few years off for some unknown reason. Besides, there is just too much to do. Too much that I don’t want to leave undone.

One more thing. This year was the year of learning. I didn’t learn that much externally. But, I did internally. I looked into my past. At my beginnings. How I got to this place. There are some bad memories. But, there were some awfully great times.

Here’s one of both.

You know that I spent six years in Hong Kong, more if you count China. I used to manufacture books. I would close the process by doing a press check. We’d work night and day. We’d look at color quality. I learned the subtle art of compromise. I learned that perfection is for angels. Especially when we were printing 8 or 16 pages at a time. The red you want on one page is the red you don’t want on another page. But, the pages are being printed together. I had to figure out the balance. The difference.

So.

I was in Hong Kong for ten months without coming home at all. At the end of my time there, I went to Singapore to print one more book. This book was a co-production with an unreasonable partner. The book was very late coming off the press. The partner wanted to review every running sheet. I was in Singapore. They were in New York City. That meant a delay of two days for every one we were on press. The whole thing devolved into a long distance three way screaming match between me, them and my bosses who were on my side.

Finally, I just said screw it. I said I would send them the running pages. I printed the entire book and sent them a loosely gathered set of pages. They hit the roof. They wanted to make changes, not just in book quality, but in content. I replied the book is in the bindery. It’s done. Dead silence from the other end. I hung up and went about my business.

I was exhausted.

Up all night. Up early in the morning. Up during the day. That’ll exhaust you. But, I wasn’t done yet.

From Singapore I flew to Copenhagen via Zurich. I didn’t have to change planes. I slept through the stop. I slept until we were about an hour out of Denmark. The flight attendant fed me after saying that she tried to wake me but couldn’t. Exhausted.

When we landed I went straight to my little house. One room, with a sleeping area, a kitchen, sitting area and a world class bathroom. Like an Air BnB, but 20 years early. I took a shower and turned on the television. I found VH-1, mostly since I couldn’t understand the Danish stations.

The first thing I see is this guy singing and dancing. He’s wearing long beaded dreadlocks. He looks very happy. Adam Durwitz. Counting Crows. Playing and singing Mr. Jones. Remember that song? From the early 1990’s?

Oh, man. Did that ever make me sing and… dance.

Music saved me.

Oh, Copenhagen? I loved it. I could walk from my place to work in a design studio on a cobblestoned walking street. I could stop for a great breakfast and even better coffee along the way. It was early June. It fairly cold so I bought a jacket. I photographed constantly. Three weeks later, I left for home.

Finally.