Friday, June 27, 2008

Bubble Battle Arms Race

I was thinking back to previous Bubble Battles and I realized there has been an escalation and proliferation of bubble technology. Some people had those little pink rings you blow bubbles through, but they were outnumbered by fancier loops, other types of plastic things you dip and swing, bubble pistols of all types and a variety of cannon-like bubble producers.

And of course The Gazooka.

Coney Island Last Saturday

I still haven't sorted my photos from last weekend's shoot. Still, while sampling them I grabbed this one, which intrigues me. I'm not sure why. It could be the arrangement of the receding lines, it could be the color, it could be the hand appearing by chance, also in yellow. Sometimes there are photos that I reconsider over and over -- do I like this one, or not? -- and I suspect this is that type of image.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Photo Chick: Reflectors and Light Tents

A while back, producing for meant it really didn't matter what your original looked like: published it would like kinda crappy. Now they've added that "watch in high quality" link, and suddenly videos can look reasonably good. Not pristine, but not that bad.

Here's a video I helped with. It's part one of three. It includes Shirley, the world's most fantastic mannequin head.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Must Have Dropped It By Accident

The text of that flyer? It says "Want a job in TV and Film Production?"

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Next Year, Double That

A while back I watched a documentary which used a lot of 1970s news coverage of a trial. The swarm of photographers -- large, but small compared to popular trials today -- all carried two or three cameras around their necks. Usually this meant one shooting color film, one shooting black and white, and each with a different focal length. Carrying four cameras seemed reasonable.

Today, photographers carry one camera body and stick a superzoom on the front. At least reasonable ones do. I spent Saturday carrying one body, set to color and using a 90mm lens, and another body set to black and white with a 20mm lens.

An Important Distinction

That says hugs, not Huggies.

Just Not After Labor Day

Maybe this guy only dresses like this once a year. But probably not.

I mean, I don't think you can buy just one diaper. I think they come in packs. And once the pack is open, there are more diapers, just sitting there, waiting to be worn. Sooner or later, some event is going to seem diaper-appropriate. "Well," you might think, "at least I'll be cool. It's pretty hot today." Or: "White goes with everything, really."

Monday, June 23, 2008

Only In Threes

The thing I'm always interested in is human nature. When the subject comes up, people often want to talk about the great moral quandaries, or whether humans are innately good or evil. Me, I think that a garden's a garden, and it really depends on how it's tended.

So I end up most interested in the small things, like how people play.

Now Officially Officially Summer

I have been so busy lately that I no longer lose track of months. Now I lose track of entire seasons.

Perhaps You Do Spit in the Wind

Yeah, yeah, speeding bullet. Now get back behind the barrier.

Waiting for the Train with Yellow and Orange Decor

Saturday I went to two events -- details to follow sometime soon -- and most likely shot about 2,000 images. I've been too busy for any sorting yet, but I thought I'd start posting a few that stuck in my mind....

Sunday, June 22, 2008

First Day of Summer

This is a rose petal, lit by sunlight streaming down a Manhattan street. People walked past it, over it, and around it, as if it were invisible.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Britney 1, Paparazzo 0

Are there any stories about inconsequential pop "stars" running over "photographers"? Well, when aren't there?

Britney Spears avoids charges in car accident

Prosecutors said the video, which circulated on the Internet, does not show the photographer's foot being run over. But Shidler added that, "the only way the victim's foot could have been where the video indicates it to be was by the victim placing it in that location."

Monday, June 16, 2008

Photography in the News

Are there any photo-related stories bouncing around the net about people sneaking into the background of your photos and totally ruining them?

Yes, there's one you might like. It's not NSFW, but I would call a few of the photos slightly suggestive. So if you work at the Vatican, you know what to do.

Photobombers: Ruining Your Pictures, One Click at a Time

"Although often photographed, his kind remains a mystery. Who is this random man? Where did he come from, and what are his motivations? One golden moment of genius and then, in a flash, he's gone. Wonder at his antics in this gallery of great photobomber moments."

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Seriously Fun Photography, Week 2

In our second session of Seriously Fun Photography, we reviewed what we learned in Week One by considering how we would shoot in various situations and discussed what aperture, shutter speed, ISO setting and lens focal length might be appropriate in each situation. This type of thinking is good to do before any photo session.

Then we decided to start applying our general knowledge about the relationship between apertures and depth of field. While we start to get the idea when we say "f/2 -- shallow depth of field and f/22 - deep depth of field" actually trying this out in with some real world shots is always a good experiment.

So we set up an experiment that can be repeated at home: set your camera on a table or a tripod, and in front of it arrange people or objects in a receding line. Put the first person or thing just 3 feet away from the lens, and have the furthest be at least 12 feet away. Now set the widest aperture you can -- I used a lens that goes to f/1.4 for this session -- and focus on the closest person or object. You'll probably find that the people / objects behind that are out of focus. Now run through the whole series of aperture settings you have available (you'll probably want to be in "aperture priority mode" so that the camera sets the corresponding shutter speed for an acceptable exposure. Or you can set that yourself). Try this and compare each shot -- more and more will be in focus until you should be able to get everyone in focus.

Now, keep in mind there's one other factor here -- the focal length you shoot with. Usually the effect of getting a main subject in focus and the background out of focus is much easier to achieve if you use a lens of at least 50mm or set as zoom to 50mm focal length or a more telephoto setting.

Many photographers think that "telephoto lenses have shallow depth of field and wide angle lenses have deep depth of field" -- it turns out that isn't exactly true, but for pragmatic purposes it isn't a bad way to think. If the goal is a sharp subject and a blurry background -- grab a 90mm or set your zoom lens about there.

(For a discussion on why the wide focal lens = deep depth of field idea isn't precisely true, read Do wide-angle lenses give you greater depth of field than long lenses?.)

Another thing that comes up at this point: some lenses allow your camera to reach to f/1.4 or f/2 or f/2.8, but many times the "kit lens" zoom that comes with a DSLR or the zoom lens built into a compact camera will not go to that wide-open an aperture. And to further add to the confusion: many common lenses that go from 18mm to 55mm (or 70mm) let you go to f/3.5 when using the widest focal length (18mm) but only to f/5.6 when you are using the long end of the lens (55mm or 70mm). That's just how those lenses are built.

Now, once we know a technique to control depth of field -- go towards f/2 to get a sharp person, blurry background or toward f/22 to get subject and background both focuses -- we want to think about why we would do it. Well, it's that kind of control that lets us emphasize or deemphasize what a viewer sees in a photograph, so we want to master it so we can control our images. Need to photograph a person against a cluttered, distracting background? Use selective focus. Need to show that a person has kids but keep the emphasis on the person? Use selective focus to make the kids visible but de-emphasized.

In this same mode of thinking, we then went on to begin the long and complicated process of thinking about composition. We started with the idea of framing. Putting a subject within another shape is a very usable technique -- and one that is worth studying in Robert Frank: The Americans. So we tried a bit of that, and then began to notice that -- in looking at such a shot -- we need to notice what is happening at the edges of our frame. Are the edges including and excluding what we choose? Can we align the edges of our frame with the lines that invariable exist in rooms and other spaces?

From this we began thinking about compositional strategies. For example, we introduced the "rule of thirds" -- which I have posts on here and here and here.

We also started asking questions like -- how could we arrange two people in the frame?

By the way, it looks like they are offering a second summer session of this course starting July 17th: Seriously Fun Photography. I'm hoping enough people sign up -- Thursday night is turning out to be a good time for the class.

Thursday, June 12, 2008


My little Kodak Easyshare V570 worked fine at the Webbys. The next day, however, I saw something was clearly wrong. That's not some interesting experiment in abstraction on the screen. That's just how the screen looks now.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


Well, we already knew the Frugal Traveler won a Webby in the "Travel" category for "Online Film & Video."

What we didn't know: that the bar at the afterparty would be quite so lovely.

Sunday, June 08, 2008


The best thing about those people who tear away at ads in the subway is that sometimes they are accidently very good at it.

Seriously, Week 1

This week was the first class of my six-week "Seriously Fun Photography" class. So what did we cover?

We learned that to control exposure, we need to work with three related elements:

This is the ISO "speed" of a digital sensor or of film. ISO 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600 and 3200 are available on many cameras (but not all), and you should take some test shots with yours to find out if the higher ISO settings are usable or not. Figure out the fastest ISO speed you find produces acceptable shots on your camera -- you'll need to switch to it sooner or later. Notice that each ISO speed is twice as sensitive (or half as sensitive) as the next.

The f/stops to memorize are f/1.4, f/2, f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6, f/8, f/11, f/16, f/22. If you forget these, make two columns, and at the top of the left one write 1.4 and at the top of the right one write 2.0. Now double each number as you go down the column (rounding off when needed). Changing one stop lets in twice as much light (or half as much, depending on which direction you go. f/2 lets in a lot of light, f/22 lets in very little light. So if you took a picture using f/8 and it seemed a little too dark, you would switch to f/5.6. If you took a picture using f/8 and it seemed a little too bright, you'd switch to f/11.

Shutter Speed:
The common shutter speeds are:
1/1000th of a second
1 second.

-- As a rule of thumb, if you are moving and you're subject is moving, you'll want to be shooting at 1/1000th of a second to get a sharp picture.

-- If you are still but the subject is moving along, it would be good to be at 1/250th or faster.

-- If you and the subject are both relatively still, you can probably handhold the camera as slow as 1/60th, but slower than that and you'll get a soft picture because of camera shake caused by pressing the shutter.

-- At speeds that are slower, you'll need a tripod to steady the camera, and probably want to trigger it using the self-timer or a release.

-- Many decent cameras have higher shutter speeds, and these are very useful for action or sports.

Notice that the relationship of these shutter speed settings is also doubling (or halving) the amount of light that hits your sensor.

So, from a technical standpoint, as we approach any photo situation we'll want to decide on an ISO setting, a shutter speed and an aperture. The three are interrelated and all use a doubling / halving system so it is easy to calculate how to change them when needed.

We also started considering focal length: We learned that:

-- on a 35 mm film camera, a 20mm lens is very wide, and that on a digital APS-C sensor it is wide.

-- on a 35mm film camera, a 50mm focal length lens feels like it sees about the same as your eye and is considered "standard." on an APS-C sensor as you have on most DSLR cameras, a 50mm lens is slightly telephoto -- very good for basic portraiture.

-- on a 35mm film camera, a 90mm lens is telephoto and would be very good for portraits. on a DSLR it is even longer and works great for making a flattering portrait.

For sports or similar shooting, we'd want to be able to go to 200mm or 300mm in focal length. For some architectural photography, or in other cases where we need to go really wide, we might need to to get something like a 10-20mm superwide zoom.

We found that shooting with a wide-angle focal length (like the 18mm length common on "kit lenses") most space seemed to "expand" compared to what our eyes see. Switch to a telephoto length made the space seem to "compress."

At the end of the class we tried an experiment where we tried making some portraits using our new knowledge of focal lengths. We shot a photo of a person using a wide focal length, standard focal length and telephoto focal length. Then we repeated that but moved our position so that the framing on the person stayed the same in all three shots.

The Signs Stay On

Another thing that's kept me busy has been editing. The up side? I got to see what the Times Square area looks like at 4 a.m. on a Wednesday, when it isn't full of people.

Tudor City

Those little teensy dots on top of the roof with the Tudor City sign? They're having a photo shoot. I kept seeing a flash but had to grab my pocket camera and zoom in before I could tell what was going on.

Luckily, They Matched The Color Scheme

One of the things that has kept me busy this year, of course, has been teaching editing at Bronx Community College. It's been great, and I'll be there again in the fall.

Above is an image I made while waiting for a train in The Bronx: four pristine crullers, sitting alongside the subway track, arranged like musical notes. I looked around, but there was no sign of the backstory. They were just there.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Years of Therapy Ahead

"Look, if you're going to take him to the park, you're going to have to keep an eye on him."

"Yeah, yeah."

"I mean it. He'll run off. He's done it before."

"Yeah, I got a plan."

Helpful New York Tip #6

If you are going to go around the city tagging your street name on everything, make sure people read it the way you intend it. I asked three people about this one, and no one said "Foreplay." They all said 4-ply, like the toilet paper.

Always do the proper test marketing before promoting your street name. It's a media-savvy city.

Been Quite Busy

I'll return to blogging regularly now. I've been a bit too busy. Editing, teaching, advising, and making the occasional photograph can really take up your week.

If only there were some way I could avoid the stress of being overbooked and sprinting from task to task. I'll have to think about it.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

But Seriously

Once again, it's time for my class for Continuing Education at Hunter College: Seriously Fun Photography.

Here's the course description:

Seriously Fun Photography

Build on the basics and master the skills and ideas advanced photographers use in a fun, low-pressure class. Open to anyone able to shoot a photo and import it into a computer (and welcoming advanced students as well), in this class we'll use the digital camera as a fast way to learn the essentials of photography. We'll learn-by-doing, exploring professional techniques while creating a portfolio project (on any topic of your choice) to show your advanced skills. If you've always been interested in photography, but have put off becoming great at it, this is your chance.

Instructor: Ted Fisher
THU 6:00:PM - 8:00:PM
Location: 71 E 94th St. CS
06/05 - 07/10 Sessions: 6
Tuition: $250.00