Comfort Zone

Over the past few months, I’ve begun to realize how much I really love taking photos of people. Taking a photo of someone I know well makes the whole process incredibly easy, as they’re already relaxed. I’ve also realized that street photography (think candid moments of total strangers) terrifies the hell out of me. I’ve been working on it with some of my smaller point and shoots, and occasionally my medium format cameras, but the whole thing is a little nerve wracking.

Shot with the Bronica ETRsi, Sunny 16, self developed and scanned. Fuji PRO400H

Shot with the Bronica ETRsi, Sunny 16, self developed and scanned. Fuji PRO400H

Street photography requires quick actions to capture the moment, and typically the image becomes more powerful when the subject of the photograph is in some way interacting with you.

But, I’m an introvert, so interacting with total strangers is an absolute no-no for me. I’d much rather just sit back and wait for something to unfold in front of me. As I think shows in the photo below, it works sometimes.

Just sat and waited. Canon Sure Shot. Kodak Portra 400.

Just sat and waited. Canon Sure Shot. Kodak Portra 400.

Another personality trait that I so graciously acquired, perfectionism. I hate failure, so if I don’t think I’ll succeed fully at something, I might quit at it halfway through just to avoid that failure. I’ve written about failure before, and also the benefits of recognizing those failures.

Performing in Madison, WI. Canon Sure Shot. Kodak Portra 400.

Performing in Madison, WI. Canon Sure Shot. Kodak Portra 400.

So to stick with the spirit of failing and pushing my personal boundaries, I’m going to give myself a challenge for the next thirty days. Take one portrait, of one stranger, each and every day. Just the thought of it makes me uncomfortable, which is exactly the reason I should, and need to do this. I’ve done weird little personal projects from time to time, but never anything so far out of my comfort zone.

It starts today, so expect to see another blog post pertaining to this one in about a month and a half. Until then, enjoy some more random photos :)

Canon Sure Shot. Kodak Portra 400.

Canon Sure Shot. Kodak Portra 400.

Canon Sure Shot. Kodak Portra 400.

Canon Sure Shot. Kodak Portra 400.

Canon Sure Shot. Kodak Portra 400.

Canon Sure Shot. Kodak Portra 400.

Drive and Direction

Every second or third Thursday, I go and see my therapist. I’ve been seeing him on and off for the past year and a half. He’s been absolutely instrumental in helping me with my direction, my personal issues, and life in general. He inspired this blog post, so, thank you Jeff.

Almost every person you meet along your way in life, has a passion of some sort. Some people have a passion for sewing, maybe painting. No matter the craft, bringing an idea into fruition is one of the most validating and rewarding things you can do. Holding something tangible, something real, that you made, it’s pure bliss.

At this very moment, I’m surrounded by different cameras, film I have developed myself, and photos I made are hanging on the wall. It’s clear to me that this is my passion. I love learning about the world around me, but this is the one thing that I have always come back to. It’s one of the few consistent things in my life (Miah of course is one), and sometimes that consistency provides solace in this hectic world of ours.

For the past two years, I’ve been trying to figure out how to turn this passion that I have into a career, something I can do day after day, and still be happy.

Jeff explained the situation as this (not exactly):

Passion is the engine, the fuel that makes the car go. People have the fuel, the energy, but they don’t always have the ability to direct themselves where they want to go. The steering wheel is that direction, it’s how you channel that passion.

47057295331_5f0edd5f1b_k.jpg

The artist’s dilemma, how do I make this my reality? When you’re starting at the bottom, you won’t just fall into success. You have to sit down, figure out a plan, and execute it. I’ve been slowly piecing together this steering wheel, so I can finally drive the car with the roaring engine, where I want. It’s slow, there’s lots of friction, it’s frustrating, but I’m figuring it out.

I applied for a part time job, making more money hourly, but will be working much fewer hours in total. In this particular situation, getting a new job and no longer working at my full-time gig is the catalyst that will kick my ass into the next step. It’s motivation to keep pressing forward; motivation to make my dreams a reality.

I’m on the right road, at least I think I am. Wherever it takes me, I’m excited to see where it goes.

Enjoying *Most* of the Process

There are multiple reasons I started shooting film again, but the biggest reason is that it slows me down and makes me more present in the moment. Shooting film is inherently a slow process, and since I started developing and scanning at home, it has become even slower. I’m learning to set aside an hour or two a week to develop film that has been sitting idly by for sometimes two months before I get to it.

Shooting is obviously my favorite part of the whole experience. Developing only takes about 20 minutes from start to finish, hanging to dry takes about two hours. I find the process of developing very therapeutic; I am fully engulfed in the moment, and it feels like my own form of meditation.

After the film has dried, I get to cutting it up into scannable sections to hopefully make it a little more efficient.

BUT, scanning is awful. It’s painfully slow, the software is buggy and reminiscent of early 2000’s Internet Explorer. It’s like someone designed the software back in ‘01 and failed to ever update the interface. Trying to edit within the scanning software feels like walking through the woods on an unknown trail, blindfolded. You take one step off the trail, kick a rock, trip and fall into a ditch. I’m only being slightly dramatic. Pull up the histogram to edit the blacks, mid-tones, and highlights, and what you see happening to your photo doesn’t make any sense compared to what you’re doing to the histogram. It’s incredibly inaccurate and doesn’t loan much confidence in the scanning program.

Epson V750 - Nothing PRO about it.

Epson V750 - Nothing PRO about it.

Another issue I had with scanning was the inability to leave the computer and software to run and go do something else. If you didn't keep clicking on the screen between every photo, it would stop. How incredibly efficient. After digging through a couple pages of Google results, I actually found out there is a solution to this stop-go issue I was having. I had to download another file which was separate from the main program, restart the whole software, and then it would scan continuously like it’s supposed to. I have no clue as to why they chose to keep those things separate instead of just including it in an update. But again, early 2000’s design.

Scanning does go quite a bit faster now, but it’s still the worst part of shooting film. If I have a professional lab do the scanning, I have to pay at least $20 a roll, and that adds up quickly with how much I shoot. Scanning at home is the more economic option, but my $300 scanner doesn’t quite give the quality that the professional lab’s $15,000 scanner is capable of.

If I try to push the scans too much while editing afterwards, they get some gnarly lines going up and down the frame. Everyone loves seeing lines going across the frame and spending 30+ minutes trying to edit them out right?

Unedited scan from an unnamed lab in Arizona. Notice the vertical lines across the entire image.

Unedited scan from an unnamed lab in Arizona. Notice the vertical lines across the entire image.

Any attempt to make the scanner do what it’s designed to do, and it’ll wreak havoc on the scans. I tried to apply the “Digital ICE” function to this picture to have the dust, scratches and other blobs removed from the photo. It didn’t work in the least bit, and honestly I think it made the entire scan worse than if I had kept it off like usual. These scans were a cluster from the beginning, as the lab I went to in Arizona mailed back the negatives on top of one another, which in the film world is a huge no-no. They stuck together, ready to rip off the emulsion from the negatives.

Thing is, just because there’s one awful part to shooting film, doesn’t mean I’ll stop anytime soon. The majority of the process is a blast, scanning just sucks. I leave the negatives under books for a couple days to help flatten them out anyways, and I’ve found myself doing that more often now that I’m scanning at home. Maybe one day I’ll be able to invest in a $15,000 scanner, but that ain’t happening for a long, long time. Until then, I’ll keep dealing with this crap shoot of a system.

The Case for an Expensive Tripod

Tripods, like cameras, lenses, and everything else in the world, come in a wide array of choices. Variety is the spice of life, but when it comes to anything photography related, things get quite blurred quickly. There are options ranging from the $25 Amazon Basics tripod, to a $1500 Really Right Stuff tripod. As the old adage goes, you get what you pay for. With tripods, that statement rings true in every single way.

I paid 80 dollars for my first tripod and head, and they worked the way I needed them to. As my gear collection and skill set expanded, I outgrew my tripod head. It couldn’t handle the weight of my larger lenses, nor could it spin horizontally like I needed when I got into panoramas. I ended up buying a new tripod head to mount onto the legs, spending another $100. That head worked great the last three years with the gear I had, but as my dive into medium format grew deeper and deeper (think holding two bricks worth of a camera), that tripod set up could no longer support my needs or my gear.

Size doesn’t always equate to increased stability, in this case it does.

Size doesn’t always equate to increased stability, in this case it does.

Every time I put my camera on that tripod and locked it up, the legs would bend, the ball head would slowly adjust itself, and my composition I worked so hard to get would end up shifting into whatever the tripod felt most comfortable with. Long exposure shots would get blurred because the tripod would blow and bend with the breeze. I can’t even begin to count the number of shots that got ruined because my gear was too much for the tripod.

Both tripods extended to max height.

Both tripods extended to max height.

With my trip coming up, I knew I needed something sturdier if I wanted my shots to turn out. It was painful, but I ended up shelling out around $800 total for Oben carbon fiber legs and an RRS ball head. The difference between the two set ups was clear the first time I set them up next to each other. I put my camera on the new set, locked it in, and proceeded to push down on the top of it to see what would happen. I couldn’t believe what happened; Not. A. Damn. Thing. It didn’t shift or bow, I was blown away.

Six pounds of metal on top of another five pounds of metal.

Six pounds of metal on top of another five pounds of metal.

Not only was the whole thing sturdier, it was friendlier to use. It’s quicker and easier to set up and take down. It’s weighs a whole lot more than my other tripod and head, but with more weight comes more security. I’m not saying to go spend $800 like I did, because honestly I’m kind of insane, but please spend more than you think you need to, because it will help in the long run as your needs grow.

“Your shots are only as sharp as your tripod allows them to be.” - No idea who said it but it’s a solid quote.