Thursday, December 31, 2009

Credit Where Credit's Due, And Other Places Too

New Year's Eve tends to bring out best-of-year (or best-of-decade) lists, resolutions, goals, and self-appraisals. I'm not big on reading any of those, so I won't write them. I do want to note something that occurs to me when I look back at the year, however, and its implications.

One year ago, despite having made a lot of short films that were juried into festivals, I did not appear on imdb.com at all. In part, this was because I was (and remain) anti-Hollywood. As often as my films appeared in festivals, they also showed in museum or gallery exhibitions (and sometimes in public art works) and to my mind, that was a more prestigious venue. I liked reading imdb.com pages, but didn't want to be part of it. I felt choosing not to participate made sense.

This year, however, as more of my films made it out to the festival circuit (and one onto DVD and others to other types of distribution) it occurred to me that it was probably the best way to give these films a bit of respect. I honestly couldn't remember when some had been made, or where they'd shown, and realized imdb made sense simply as a public record.

So, now I'm on imdb.com, and my upcoming films and credits will show there. I'm participating.

Here's the weird part, though: where I previously ignored it, I now notice if someone posts a link to their imdb.com credits and I read them. I don't judge anyone by that, I just find it interesting.

The upshot: I find myself knowing a bit more about what people do. If they focus on directing, or cinematography, or writing, or editing, or if they work with others or alone. And it's put me into an oddly collaborative mood. Where I've tended to think of filmmaking as all one piece, I now see some virtue in taking a role. I find myself thinking "I should send a screenplay" to this person, or "I'd edit something" for someone else.

I don't know if anything will come of that thought, but it is one noticeable change over the last year. And it will be interesting to look back in a year and see where things are when 2011 approaches.

Photography in the News, Polanski Edition

Are there any stories about photography in the news? Do these stories involve a famous director and underage teenagers? Well, sort of, yes.

Roman Polanski is finally going to trial. Except, not for rape or fleeing jail time. Not for being friends with Bernard-Henri Lévy. (Apparently that's legal, if ill-advised.) Before any of that can make it to court, the French judicial system will be asked to determine if photographers penetrated a special area, or repeatedly inserted their long lenses into a very sensitive zone.

Roman Polanski sues photographers for 'invading privacy' during Swiss house arrest

"In a test case which will have worldwide implications, Polanksi's lawyers will argue that even a self-confessed sex offender on bail has a right to privacy, especially as he is staying with his wife and their two teenage children. The pictures were all taken on public land outside the chalet, which has been used regularly by Polanski since he fled to Europe in 1978 after admitting unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl."
We'll see how this turns out. If they lose the case, should the photographers simply flee the country?

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Twenty Thousand Portraits

20,558 (Twenty Thousand Portraits) from Ted Fisher on Vimeo.

Back in 2001, I was involved in a photography project that involved gathering thousands of portraits at the Los Angeles County Fair. Later, the images were databased and became part of several photography installation pieces and public art videos. I'll post the full story sometime in the new year, but for now, here's the video, made in 2002.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Goodbye, Less-Than-Zeros

Well, that was quite a decade.

I hold a lot of unpopular opinions. I don't think any of the Star Wars films are good. I think Hip Hop has been boring since Kool Moe Dee's "Go See The Doctor" fell off the charts. I think "The Hero's Journey" is a pointless structural form. I've never watched "American Idol." I think greed is bad.

That doesn't mean we can't all get along. Perhaps we can agree that this decade didn't go well, overall.

Now, we might disagree on the reasons. I mean, I might blame things on unending and ineffective war, de-emphasis of education as a national value, a refusal to regulate or prosecute corporations and an expansion of business interests into war profiteering, the dismantling of both human rights and personal freedoms, an increased sense of entitlement and infantilism in youth culture and the collapse of reasoned argument.

You might blame other things.

Still, we can agree things haven't been exactly perfect, right? That the false assurances given loudly over those with sensible reservations, maybe, haven't proven true and that failure has had serious consequences and costs?

I mean, there weren't any Weapons of Mass Destruction found. The market didn't self-correct. Cutting the top layer of taxes never trickled down. Letting big pharma advertise and teaching to the test left an overmedicated generation that can't pay attention, can't think clearly, doesn't know when the Civil War happened, and thinks "loose" means to not win. People are telling me Reagan was great, I should steal music and movies, sell harder, cut corners wherever possible. They are telling me various places should be turned into glass parking lots and that we're number one. That health insurance is communism, that religion adds up to more than a fantasy, that an argument for denying people equal rights is right here, in this book.

I disagree.

I mean, even Karl Rove's wife has figured it out. Lies aren't likely to turn into anything good. There's a limit.

At the same time, other people seemingly on another side of the spectrum are telling me that wishing will make it so. There's this law of attraction, and the universe is a hologram, and there are no coincidences, and we make our own reality, OMMMMMM, and fixing ourselves spiritually will make things ... right.

I disagree.

Fantasy is as sad on the left as on the right, demonization and irrationality are even sadder when worn by that "team." Stop with the Chopra quotes -- the man doesn't even believe in evolution, don't look to him for advice. Stop with the pretend-corporatization. The Huffington Post is not a newspaper, has no editorial standards, and just wants you to click on the ads. They are quite happy to post an article about an actress who lifts her leg over her head -- content is just a tool to page views. Stop with the pretend-political "movements" -- Move-On soaked up your donations and energy, tried an ineffective strategy, and hasn't shortened our time at war by a single day.

People are telling me Clinton was great, that this is now the "right" war, that you can't have health care or rights for everyone because there's only ... a 60-40 supermajority vote split ... and we'll have to wait until ... a date to be named later.

I disagree.

I'm rooting for the best newspapers over the blogs. I'm rooting for things not to be "free" by default -- if maybe sometimes free by choice. I'm hoping people get past their sense that down-to-earth is better than smart or effective. Elite is a good thing, not a bad thing, and Bush never could finish that line about getting fooled again with a straight face. I'm rooting against pretend-tough and for real strength. Against cartoons and for books.

That's a hard sell, I know.

I went to lunch with a group of fellow students right after the Berlin Wall fell. The sense of excitement was palpable. I slowly noticed, though, as I listened to people tell me what they expected would happen, that they were generally uninformed. I was for the enthusiasm, but ... you can tell when someone is talking about something they don't really understand in any real sense. My opinion -- that the world would quickly become more complicated and that the concept of "An End To History" was foolish -- was very unpopular.

My sense is that we're at a similar moment as we approach 2010. There's a sense of a bad time passing; everyone seems to agree. I'm hoping to see a sense of willingness to work toward something. I don't see it yet, but maybe I'll be surprised.

(With apologies to Bret Easton Ellis.)

Monday, December 28, 2009

Who and Where, but Why is Still Pending



I sometimes forget that my various online outlets aren't always connected, and that it isn't always obvious that I post in more than one place. So a quick bit of linkage:

My other blog is Actualities and I usually make documentary-related posts there.

My main site is tedfisher.com, and that includes my filmography and c.v. and a way to contact me. I'll be adding some new material and a new section in 2010.

My IMDB page includes links to my films and other projects I've worked on.

Some of my films are on vimeo.com also.

You can find me on Twitter as well.

No, I'm not on Facebook, or LinkedIn, and no, I'm not this guy, even though bing.com thinks so.

Above: an iPhone snap taken at Hunter College last week, looking uptown in Manhattan.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Photography in the News

It's been a while since I've done a "Photography in the News" update. That's because 2009 really got into a rut with three repeating stories:

  1. celebrity beats paparazzi for taking photos
  2. police arrest photographer for taking photos
  3. photographer dies

A bit depressing, really. So, what might cheer us up? Are there any stories on Photography in the recent news, maybe something involving exotic animals? Why yes, yes there are:

Orangutan becomes hit snapper
"Nonja's handiwork has been viewed by tens of thousands of fans after keepers at Vienna's Schoenbrunn zoo in Austria gave her a digital camera and set up a Facebook page for her. Snaps from the digital camera, which issues fruit treats whenever a picture is taken, are uploaded instantly over a WiFi link."
Spanish artist in hot water over fake photo claims
"Jose Luis Rodriguez's stunning image of a wolf leaping a gate, entitled Storybook Wolf, won first prize in the prestigious Veolia Environment Wildlife Photographer Of The Year competition but has supposedly broken competition rules as the wolf in question lived in captivity."

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Notebook on Santas and Elves (2007)

Notebook on Santas and Elves from Ted Fisher on Vimeo.

Here's an 18-minute documentary I made in 2007. Please give it a rating at IMDB. The title is inspired by Wim Wenders film "Notebook on Cities and Clothes."

12th and 3rd in Brooklyn (2006)

12th and 3rd in Brooklyn from Ted Fisher on Vimeo.

Here's a short doc, made with Iris Lee and Maya Mumma. Please give it a rating at IMDB.

Scan (2003)

Scan from Ted Fisher on Vimeo.

"Scan" screened at Rooftop Films in the 2003 "Home Movies" program. It uses documentary materials.

Larry in Relation to the Ground (2002)

Larry in Relation to the Ground from Ted Fisher on Vimeo.

This is a short documentary I made in 2002. Please give it a rating at IMDB.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Zeno (2001)

Zeno from Ted Fisher on Vimeo.

This was made back in 2001, shot at the elementary school I had attended many years before.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Winding Down, Frantically



I'm trying to finish ... everything. Edit: done. Then another edit. Then my last editing class. Then my last online classes, grades turned in. Very little sleep.

Tonight I taught my last photo class for the year. For the decade, if you think that 2009 is the last year of the decade. (Which I don't, but that post will have to wait....)

Monday, December 14, 2009

Free To Good Home

Here are some things I think you should watch, online and free. But, you know, it's a free country. Did I mention free?

Zeno (2001)
Larry in Relation to the Ground (2002)
12th and 3rd in Brooklyn (2006)
Notebook on Santas and Elves (2007)

Or, you know, just bookmark them for later. Or embed the Vimeo player somewhere. Or give them a vote, at IMDB or at Vimeo. Or something. Whatever. Free.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Times Square



Took my Seriously Fun Photography class on a little outdoors shoot. Here's a grab shot taken Thursday night.

Discarded Santa Suit, Upper East Side



Did SantaCon roll up York Avenue, or did someone have a Christmas disaster? I don't know.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

For Santacon

Notebook on Santas and Elves from Ted Fisher on Vimeo.

In honor of SantaCon, here's an 18-minute documentary I made in 2007. Please give it a rating at IMDB.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Bryant Park



Actual DSLR photos soon, but for now, here's an iPhone snap from tonight's photo class visit to Bryant Park. It's like a mini photo-lab -- you can experiment with shutter speed, depth of field, panning, exposure.... Next week: students bring their final portfolios.

A Few Short Docs

A few of my short docs, recently posted, free and online:

Zeno

Larry in Relation to the Ground

Notebook on Santas and Elves

Enjoy.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

12th and 3rd in Brooklyn

12th and 3rd in Brooklyn from Ted Fisher on Vimeo.

Here's a short documentary I made with Iris Lee and Maya Mumma in 2006. Enjoy. Please give it a rating at IMDB.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Check Back In Two Weeks



Sometimes subway images are an ongoing process. On the left, November 18th. On the right, today.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Revealing Form, Texture And Shape



At the end of my photo class last week we finished a session on lighting people, then tried a quick experiment to see how light can be used to create texture.

My students worked with a medium softbox and a reflector and explored ways to reveal an interesting space around three small rings, and to reveal the detail in the rings. One of the keys was to realise how important directionality is as a property of light. We wanted soft light, but we still wanted to create shape and reveal form.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Le Beaujolais Nouveau Est Bon



It pairs well with tofurkey, actually. (Above shot with a 90mm f/2.8 today.)

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Return of The Nude Man Playing Tuba In A Tub



Yep. Ceiling leak. Seems somehow disastrously familiar.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

From The Mailbox



Got a pleasant note from the folks at Olympia Film Festival tonight. It said:

Everyone had a ton of fun with Hoop Springs Eternal. Thanks for letting us show it!

Nice.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Good Work, New York




First, the subway stairwell handrail was broken, then a few days later it was repaired. Great.

See how easy that was? If someone knocks something over, consider putting the exact same thing back up in its place, and fast. Don't wait a decade, have meetings, politicize the process, and leave an open hole. Better yet: go ahead with putting up something significantly better -- but do it fast, like when the Pre-Parthenon was destroyed.

See? Art history has valuable lessons in it.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Change and Turnover



I haven't really paid attention to the many people who say the decade is ending. I tend to think that since we start counting with "one" and not "zero" the first year of the millennium was 2001. Meaning 2010 is part of the decade, not the start of the next one.

As 2000 approached, I kept telling people: "Nope. Not the start of the millennium. That will be 2001." I said it a lot. Then I won a photography contest, and the prize was a "Kodak Millennium 2000" camera.

New Friends Are Silver, Old Friends Are Phallic





I tend to snap away with the iPhone. Anything on the ground or wall is fair game. Sometimes, however, I'm not sure what to do with these images. Today, a pairing: an image in gold found on a Manhattan wall, an image in silver from The Bronx.

Soap Opera Ending



Above, an iPhone snapshot from The Bronx.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Advanced Seriously Fun Photography, Week 2



In last night's Advanced Seriously Fun Photography class our main goal was to really tune in and see light. We looked at the qualities of light, then tried to apply that to how the camera sees light. A few ideas became obvious right away: because the eye opens up when it looks at dark areas and closes down when it looks at bright areas, usually the camera records a more contrasty version of a scene than our eye sees. Dark tones become darker, falling into solid black, and light areas may burn out in a photograph even though our eye can preserve detail in the same scene.

We started our exploration by making a purposefully "bad" shot -- taking a person into tricky or unflattering light and trying a photograph there. We noticed where light falls on the human face, and it creates a shape (for better or worse). We then followed that up by trying to "repair" the light in that spot. We added a reflector to fill in shadow areas, or used fill flash to try to better light the subject.

Fill flash can be tough, and we struggled with it. That's not a problem: it's tough for photographers at every level. We again practiced methods of balancing ambient light and on-camera flash, and we looked at what happens when we're able to bounce light off a ceiling or wall. We also tried bouncing off a reflector or using a reflector as diffusion material.

We attempted to understand the qualities of light: hard light versus soft light, the directionality of light, the color of light, and then tried an experiment in seeing how we could "short" light a person's face. Our basic technique here was to put the subject in a position where they turned slightly to the right or left. We then looked at which cheek was "leading" (toward the camera) and experimented in giving that cheek more light or deemphasizing it by letting shadow fall on it. This clearly changed the shape of the face as read in the photograph.

We also looked a bit at how focal length effects the face: we compared the same framing of a face at medium and telephoto focal lengths and realizing that longer focal lengths appear to compress or flatten the features.

We also tried to put all these elements together for a casual portrait, trying to train our eyes to see the light, while still choosing a good framing, appropriate focal length and maintaining a relationship with our portrait subject.

In the end, however, our goal was to stop projecting our expectations of what we'd see and really see the light present. As well, this was a lead in to next week, when we will be using studio lighting and trying to really see and control light.

Our homework was to shoot one portrait of this type, using natural light or adding flash as needed.

Watch, Vote, Comment



Follow the above video to SnagFilms, if you're in the mood. You're votes and comments are appreciated.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

How About No?



I find that people project their own ideas on me all the time. Perhaps I make that easy: they figure I want whatever it is that they want. Generally I don't.

Above: an overhead mirror at Hunter on Monday.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Connecting A Sony To Studio Lighting

Studio lighting is generally triggered by a cable that has a "PC" connector on one end -- the end that connects to your camera -- and a guitar-plug connector on the other that connects to a monolight or the power pack for a studio lighting kit. At one time, that "PC" connector was fairly universal, provided on even entry-level SLR cameras.

In the era of digital cameras, the PC connector -- not anything to do with personal computers, just an older electrical connector used for decades in camera equipment -- has become a "pro" feature and is not usually available on entry-level DSLR cameras, and not even on some of the midline cameras.

You can compensate by putting a radio trigger on your camera's hotshoe, or triggering the studio lights by using your on-camera flash in a way that hits the lighting kits sensor.

It's best, however, to get an adaptor that will let you work directly with the PC cable. And it isn't expensive. For Sony DSLR's the way to go is the Seagull SC-5 Hot Shoe Flash Adapter to PC and Standard Hot Shoes for Sony Alpha / Minolta Maxxum Cameras. You slide it onto your flash hot shoe, and it has a PC connector on the side. Plug in the PC cable there and you can use studio strobes anywhere.



Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Words, Words, Words

Here are two links about the documentary process. Also something or other about me in there as well. (You can read it as a drinking game, if you like: every time I go on too long about a point, take a drink. When I say something overserious about the documentary process, take a drink.)

What goes into making a documentary?

Honesty and documentary film making

Monday, November 09, 2009

Prose On Park Avenue Purple Post



A long while back I was walking to a meeting on Park Avenue when I ended up behind a nice couple. The woman had purple hair, so out of reflex I snapped a photo with my iPhone. There wasn't much to it, just a snap.

Today, again on Park, I found myself behind the same couple. "No need to take a picture," I thought. "I've already got one."

That's when a woman walked toward us, also with purple hair.

So I whipped my phone up near eye level and took the shot.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Advanced Photography, Week One



Last night I taught the first session of Advanced Seriously Fun Photography.

We started by developing our goals for the class. I tailor the class to the people taking it, so we have some freedom with choosing topics and how we learn those. After some review of technical basics (I'll put that at the end of this post) we explored a range of possibilities using shutter speed. We worked at figuring out the correct exposure in our dimly lit classroom, and then realized that for a still life we could overcome that by using longer shutter speeds. Of course, below 1/60th of a second we found that handheld shots can soften or blur, so we started using a tripod. By using slower shutter speeds, we were able to shoot a still life even at f/16 or f/22.

Then we explored how much blur a pen falling off a desk would have at various slow shutter speeds. We then figured out how fast we could push the shutter speed to freeze the pen -- under the existing available light conditions. In our dark classroom, we found the limit on one of our cameras was an exposure of 1/500th of a second at f/5.6 and ISO 3200.

We then learned that this control over shutter speed was very helpful if we were going to try to balance on-camera flash with an exposure for the background. So we went through a process of determining a good manual exposure for a background, then adding flash to a shot to light our subject. After a bit, we were able to control both: we could make our ambient exposure one stop dark and adjust flash compensation, and that gave us good control over both our subject and the ambient background.

We later tried "dragging the flash" -- holding the exposure lock button in a dim situation and letting the camera use a slower shutter speed. This helped us to quickly get a balance between the background exposure and our subject.

Next we explored the amount of blurring that shutter speeds allow. We started with exploring someone walking as we tried 1/30th of a second and 1/15th of a second. We then added flash to this and discovered how a trail was created, and then how we could control where the trail was by using second-curtain or rear-curtain sync.

Then we spun umbrellas at varying speeds and explored slower shutter speeds in relation to the amount of blur. We also explored using fill flash on a person to fill-in areas where ambient lighting was leaving heavy shadows.

After clarifying the techniques available to us changing shutter speed, and a few basics on adding flash, as a last technical experiment, we lined everyone up in the hallway and explored how we could use aperture to control depth-of-field, taking a range of shots from f/5.6 to f/22.

The homework for this week is to explore that ambient / flash balance. You can hear Ted talking about this subject here: Ted explaining matching flash and ambient lighting.

Also, try out your own version of our Depth-of-Field experiment.

The photographers to research this week are Mary Ellen Mark and Elliott Erwitt.

BACKGROUND:

We learned that to control exposure, we need to work with three related elements: Aperture, Shutter Speed, and Sensitivity.

Aperture:
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
1/500th
1/250th
1/125th
1/60th
1/30th
1/15th
1/8th
1/4th
1/2
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.

Sensitivity:
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.

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 use a lens that goes to f/1.4 for this -- 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.

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.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

News Flash

Our short film Hoop Springs Eternal will be screening at Olympia Film Festival on Thursday, November 12th, sometime around 9:45 p.m.

And I've just learned our documentary short Blind Faith: A Film About Seeing will screen at Picture This Film Festival in February 2010 in Calgary. Apparently the film won Honourable Mention in the Documentary under 10 minutes category.

Any good news is appreciated these days.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Last Call, 6-Week Advanced Photo Class

Sorry to be all commercial-like, but this is probably the last chance to register for my Advanced Seriously Fun Photography class at Hunter Continuing Education. It's scheduled to start November 5th, and held at 94th Street and Park Avenue, fairly close to the 6 train.

The way to see the listing and register is to go to this interface and type "photography" into the search box.

"SERIOUSLY FUN PHOTOGRAPHY ADVANCED
Ready to stretch your creativity, and master the techniques you need for your photography? In this advanced photography class, we will address three topic areas of intermediate / advanced photography technique -- chosen by the students during our first session -- and we will have three special class photography sessions. (These sessions may include a class photo shoot, a museum / gallery / auction house visit, and a studio lighting shoot.) Students will also prepare a small portfolio project over the six weeks of the course, with a critique session in our last week.

Course/Section: SERFUNII/1 6 Session(s) 12 Hour(s) Tuition: $250.00
Day(s) Meet: Thursday Date: 11/05/09-12/17/09 Time: 06:00PM-08:00PM
Location: CS, 71 E 94 ST./
Instructor(s): FISHER, TED

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Meanwhile, On Actualities

On my Actualities blog, a few new posts: on a new project, an editing lesson, some editing skills and some editing ideas.

It's all about editing, I suppose.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Advanced Photo Class, Register Now

My Advanced Seriously Fun Photography class starts at Hunter Continuing Education starts November 5th. So, register now.

They've changed the Web site, so the way to see the listing and register is to go to this interface and type "photography" into the search box.

"SERIOUSLY FUN PHOTOGRAPHY ADVANCED
Ready to stretch your creativity, and master the techniques you need for your photography? In this advanced photography class, we will address three topic areas of intermediate / advanced photography technique -- chosen by the students during our first session -- and we will have three special class photography sessions. (These sessions may include a class photo shoot, a museum / gallery / auction house visit, and a studio lighting shoot.) Students will also prepare a small portfolio project over the six weeks of the course, with a critique session in our last week.

Course/Section: SERFUNII/1 6 Session(s) 12 Hour(s) Tuition: $250.00
Day(s) Meet: Thursday Date: 11/05/09-12/17/09 Time: 06:00PM-08:00PM
Location: CS, 71 E 94 ST./
Instructor(s): FISHER, TED

Friday, October 23, 2009

Friday At The Met: The Americans



I've taken many of my photo classes through Robert Frank's The Americans over the years, page by page. We look at it for sequencing concepts, for ideas on a documentary approach, and just because it's a good book.

So, nothing shocking to me in the Met's installation. But it's great nonetheless.

The highlight: one of the contact sheets reveals Frank shot four times when he saw a combination of the American flag, the front of a building, and women in the windows. He then shot a few attempts at something else, and came back for one last shot: and that final shot is the iconic image that's first in the book.




Quick Note On Balancing Flash and Ambient Exposure

Last night in my Seriously Fun Photography class we tried balancing on-camera flash and ambient light. A few notes on that:

1. First, let's set a manual exposure based on the ambient light available. For example, in the low-light conditions of a classroom at night, we found a reasonable exposure was around a sensitivity setting of ISO 1600, a shutter speed of 1/60th and an aperture of F/5.6. I tend to recommend dropping this exposure one stop -- after all, you may want your main subject to "pop" and the background to be a little darker. So switch to manual mode, and set an exposure that is about one stop underexposed.

2. Now pop up your on camera flash. Check the flash mode: "fill flash" will give you the best balance between subject and background. There's also a "flash compensation" setting, so if you are finding your flash is overexposing the subject, set the flash compensation to -1 or -2. Take the shot, and look how the subject and background are balancing.

3. For a more sophisticated take, consider "dragging the shutter" -- using a shutter speed that's a bit slower (for example, try 1/15th of a second). The flash will freeze the main subject, and the slow shutter may create a more interesting background to the shot. You can even purposefully move the camera to create a little bit more interest in the background -- you might get streaking lights or an overall warmly lit look.

In general, good compact cameras and good DSLR cameras do a reasonable job of balancing subject and background when handled this way, but usually you'll want to dial that flash compensation down a stop.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Advanced Relief On 88th Street



I saw that someone had left a bottle of "Advanced Relief" on the iron gate of the church, and it struck me as a strange thing. You would have to reach up to put something there.

Ten hours later, it was still there. Not moved in the slightest.

I'll look the next time I go past.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Bronx, Looking Toward Manhattan



That light-grey speck in the distance? The Chrysler Building. Or have they changed the name, now that it's been sold?

A Tree Grows In Not Exactly Brooklyn



I snapped this while walking in The Bronx because it's unusual to see a tree branch growing out of a building, but also because it reminded me of:

Nature Photography, More or Less.

Photographer, Upper East Side



I'm generally not a fan of shots taken from behind people. It tends toward the exploitive, and tends to feel unconnected as well. Still, once in a while there's one I think works. Maybe it's the light streaming past.

For some reason, I thought this guy was a tourist. Maybe not. What was he so intent on photographing, up in the sky? I don't know: I snapped this with my iPhone and continued home. I'm usually fairly tuned in, but this time I just never thought to look.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Booked

My friend Doug McCulloh was in town for a few days. You should probably buy his books:





Friday, October 16, 2009

Oh, Snap



Had a good studio lighting session in Seriously Fun Photography. Above: what happens when a strobe fires while taking an iPhone snapshot.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Adobe Photoshop For iPhone



Above: I took a snap of a micro pumpkin patch on 89th Street this evening. It was a great opportunity to test out Adobe's Photoshop for iPhone.

Here's the process: I clicked on the Photoshop icon, and it asked if I wanted to take a photo or use an existing image. I chose the image, then used the crop tool to take out some unneeded detail, turned the saturation slider to plus 10, turned the exposure adjustment up a little, and chose to exit and save. That's it. The photo appeared in my phone's photo library and was ready to post. The original is at left.

It's a very simple app, it's free, and it does the basics. Not bad at all.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Sunday In The Park With Joel

Is there any news from the world of photography? Tons of it. Joel Meyerowitz in NYC parks, for one.

Documentary Photographer Turns His Lens on City Parks

In the latest phase of his career, Mr. Meyerowitz, 71, has turned his lens onto nature and wildlife in city parks, in a project evocative of the work of the artists and writers hired by the Works Progress Administration during the New Deal. The city’s Department of Parks and Recreation has commissioned a series of expansive photographs of city green spaces from Mr. Meyerowitz. The resulting works — 90 photographs — are now on view in an exhibition, “Legacy: The Preservation of Wilderness in New York City Parks,” that opened on Friday at the Museum of the City of New York."

Touching Retouching

Great article about students in Baltimore who salvage photographs, then use Photoshop to restore them. I think there's something in my eye.

High school students try to save neighbors' memories

"The Patapsco photography class was spending part of Monday afternoon examining their first batch of work: photos from the flooded basement of Jane Haines. Haines lives in Logan Village, one of the communities affected last month by a main break that sent water gushing into more than 100 homes in the Dundalk area. Throughout this month, the students are offering to digitally restore photographs ruined in the deluge."

Monday, October 12, 2009

Eggnog All Around



As of this weekend, stores were ready. Break out the Santa suits.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

34th Street Revisited



Friday evening I found myself standing in the same spot where the end of Blind Faith: A Film About Seeing was filmed.

Above: an iPhone snap from that spot.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Speaking Of Snapshots



Above: an iPhone snapshot on 91st Street earlier this evening.

The Snapshot Gap

All those U.S. presidents who had brush-clearing as a hobby, take note: there are better ways to spend your time away from starting pointless wars.

Dmitry Medvedev, Russia's Photographer-in-Chief?

"A wide shot of a rising moon, a macro close-up of an icy branch and flames dancing in the darkness are a small taste of the photos in a large collection of personal photography by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev the Kremlin has posted online."

Seriously Fun Photography, Session Two

Last Thursday night was the second session of Seriously Fun Photography

We reviewed what we learned Week One then thought again about the relationship between aperture 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, to make a photo where a person is in focus but the background is out of focus, we did the following:

1. Set your zoom lens toward telephoto -- 50mm or longer -- or use a telephoto lens. 90mm would be an excellent choice.

2. Set your aperature toward f/2 -- on most basic zoom lenses, you might only be able to go to f/3.5 or f/4 or f/5.6, but that's okay. If you can get closer to f/2, that will work even better.

3. Position yourself, your subject, and the background. Generally, you should be close to your subject and the background should be far away to achieve this result.
We experimented, and soon everyone was able to produce a photo with the subject in focus and the background somewhat out of focus. This is a great way to emphasize the main subject of the photograph.

We then went on to begin the long and complicated process of thinking about compositional strategies. For example, we introduced the "rule of thirds" -- which I have posts on here and here and here.

We then looked at how to create a relationship in a photo -- between a subject and the negative space around them, between two or three people, and in various other senses.

Nearer the end of class, we looked at ways to think about the space we are photographing in and how this can change / work with our compositional idea.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Color On The Street



Thursday night I teach my photo class at Hunter Extension. I've asked the students to tune in to color during the week, so I've tried to as well. Here's an iPhone snapshot from this morning, probably taken at 1st Avenue and 89th Street.

Call It "Barking Mad"

In these difficult economic times, newspapers like to give their readers a glimpse at alternative, wacky careers. You know, like photography.

How hard is it to photograph a wedding?

"The memorable shots from Marc and Sylvia Day's wedding are unusual, to say the least. Decapitated guests, a ceremony hardly visible through the gloom, and random close-ups of... not the bouquet, or a snatched kiss, but of carriage wheels."
The noisy art of pooch photography
"When the gadgets don’t work, Schwartz mimicks animals, woofing, mooing, clucking, sometimes resorting to bogus sneezing and the occasional raspberry; whatever it takes to garner cooperation from his subjects, who tend to be preoccupied by their surroundings."
I like the idea of a situation comedy about a pet photographer forced in hard times to shoot weddings -- keeping the tactic of making animal noises, of course -- or maybe something on the world's worst wedding photographer. More likely: a reality show where pet photographers and wedding photographers switch jobs for the day.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Photography In The News

Brian Duffy, for most people who follow photography, is not the first name to come to mind. Say "David Bailey" and a particular place and time and attitude will come to mind. But Duffy?

He was right there, though, part of the "Terrible Trio" with Bailey and Terence Donovan. Swinging London. Picture David Hemmings in Blow Up. So why isn't he remembered?

For one: he quit photography. Also: he burnt quite a bit of his work.

Why would you burn your life's work?

"One morning I came into work, my assistant said we haven't got any toilet paper. I was employing four staff, was managing director, head of this organisation and my decision was on toilet paper. At that moment I cracked. Later that day I burned something, then I went into burning mode. I got reported and the council came round. "They were in a big bin. I was making a lot of smoke. Negatives don't burn easily. They make a hell of a lot of smoke."

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Happy Holidays



It's October. Duane Reade is ready.

Documentary Digital Distribution Dollars Delineated

Scott Kirsner has an article and followup on the current state of independent film distribution through online venues -- and actually provides some hard numbers to consider.

The numbers:

One of the most popular documentaries on iTunes brought in over $100,000 from downloads; Apple gives a 70/30 revenue split. Typical results are more like $1,000 per title over a year, however.

Netflix pays a flat annual fee; one source claims the one-year rate ranges from $1,000 to $10,000 for the "Watch Instantly" streaming service.

Hulu is bringing in 6 million unique visitors each month, but mostly for the mainstream material, not the indy material.

SnagFilms appears small next to Hulu, but its distribution model (you "snag" the film and put it on your own site) means it's probably larger than initial reports; it also feeds some documentaries to Hulu.

The most significant point, I think, is just hinted at in the article: indie films, especially documentaries, now need a smartly timed release cycle. Get the film into festivals, get the media talking about it, then find a way to sell viewings in a cycled release: maybe $9.99 early, then at lower rates as the cycle cools. Maybe the long tail is DVD sales, maybe it's pennies per click via advertisements inserted into "free" viewings. Theatrical release or a cable purchase can happen in the middle, but this hasn't been a great year for that, really.

Indies still looking for Internet equation
'One thing the Internet has clearly changed, observes distribution consultant Adam Chapnick, is access to an audience. "But having easy access to the global audience doesn't get anyone to see your movie," he says. A solid marketing strategy, whether traditional or digital, is still essential.'
An Update on the State of Indie Film Online
'Rick Allen, CEO of doc-streaming network Snagfilms, takes issue with the traffic figures I cited in the story, supplied by Compete.com. Compete says the Snagfilms site gets about 100,000 unique visitors a month, compared to about six million for Hulu. Allen accurately points out that some of Hulu's most popular full-length films actually come from Snag (like 'The Future of Food' and 'Super-Size Me.') And he argues that a lot of Snagfilms content is viewed on other sites, describing Snag as "a massively sub-distributed network."'
By the way, did I mention you can see Blind Faith: A Film About Seeing on SnagFilms? For "free" -- so watch it over and over.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Update on Polanski Doc

On my other blog, there's a little more on the revelations about that documentary on Polanski. Less Hypothetically

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

“The director of the documentary told me..."

Marcia Clark reports that David Wells lied in Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired.

Polanski's Lost Alibi

'“I lied,” Wells told me yesterday, referring to his comments in the movie that he told the judge how he could renege on a plea bargain agreement and send Polanski back to jail after he had been released from a 42-day psychiatric evaluation—the heart of Polanski’s claims of prosecutorial and judicial misconduct. “I know I shouldn’t have done it, but I did. The director of the documentary told me it would never air in the States. I thought it made a better story if I said I’d told the judge what to do.”'
Will this change the position of the 100+ directors who have signed the petition supporting freeing Polanski?

Besides removing one of the arguments those supporting Polanski have used, it leaves one curious about the process of interviewing Wells. Will the production of the documentary become a discussion in the -- already overflowing -- set of ethical questions documentarians face?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Carl Schurz Park



I always forget Carl Schurz Park is one block from our apartment. Mrs. New York Portraits and I went for a walk at sundown tonight, through the park and then along East 78th Street. I'm not sure why I like 78th so much, but it feels very neighborhoody to me.

Above: an iPhone snapshot, looking toward the Queensboro Bridge.

Polanski Update

I posted yesterday that Facts Matter in the Polanski case. Since then, many incredible directors, authors, and others I respect have come out in support of Mr. Polanski.

I am still correct, and they are still wrong -- no matter how wonderful they are in all other ways..

I am embarrassed that they have come out in support of this man's actions, as support for an admitted child rapist is a stain on their reputations. I believe the facts will be revealed. I expect some of them may have signed the petition based on their misperception that this was a charge related to consensual sex. A thirteen year old cannot give consent -- and the court testimony reveals she said no, told Mr. Polanski to stop, and resisted in other ways.

There's much more to this, but I want to repost fact one, a fact you can check yourself and decide for yourself: Go and read the victim's testimony, starting on page 26 and count how many times the 13 YEAR OLD GIRL said "NO" and "STOP" and indicated she did not want to stay or for Polanski to continue.

I think that is rape. You may feel otherwise, but I think that's clear.

Whoopi Goldberg doesn't seem to think so, and she is wrong. As are Salman Rushdie, Milan Kundera, Mike Nichols, Claude Lanzmann and Woody Allen.

I'm aware of what seems to be judicial misconduct regarding the sentence. Please note -- not judicial misconduct while determining the facts. Mr. Polanski admitted the facts of the case.

I think Mr. Polanski should appeal because of what happened with the sentencing. Perhaps he will be given time served, perhaps he will be given a substantial sentence. He does not get to decide -- a judge or jury does.

Even if he were given no further time to serve, the facts of the case will not change: the evidence says he drugged and raped a 13-year-old girl. There were six charges against him, the outcome was a plea agreement to a lesser charge.

I am embarrassed for those speaking out for him. He committed a crime, and fled when he did not like the sentence he would receive. He did not stay and begin an appeal, he did not argue his case in the media, he fled. And now he's been apprehended. It's a matter for the courts, not for film directors and television hosts -- especially if they have not read the facts of the case.

Yes, I've seen the documentary on the matter. As always, I'm for documentaries on difficult issues. Yes, I'm aware his victim does not want him to serve more time.

But the main point here -- that smart people are signing a very stupid petition, calling for the release of a man who fled sentencing and who did not serve the time decided by the state of California for a crime he admits committing -- stands. Mr. Polanski, by his own admission, committed very serious acts. I cannot support his inability to be man enough to stand up to the charges and I cannot support this misguided petition in his name.

Facts Matter

Facts are simple and facts are straight
Facts are lazy and facts are late
Facts all come with points of view
Facts don't do what I want them to

-- Talking Heads, 1980
Here's the thing. I love film people. In general, they're very smart. Maybe, though, sometimes, when it's so easy to get the attention of the media, they are a little impatient with inconvenient facts. So I feel very bad about the report that people I think are great filmmakers -- Wim Wenders, Wong Kar Wai, Wes Anderson, Tom Tykwer among others -- have (according to news reports) signed a petition demanding the "immediate release of Roman Polanski."

To start the discussion, here are two sources:

Over 100 In Film Community Sign Polanski Petition
'Wong Kar Wai, Harmony Korine, Stephen Frears, Alexander Payne, Michael Mann, Wim Wenders, Tilda Swinton, Julian Schnabel, and Pedro Almodovar are among the 100 and counting film industry figures who have signed the petition, coordinated from France by the SACD, an organization which represents performance and visual artists.'

Top directors rally around Polanski
'Posters were stuck on the cinema where Polanski had been due to receive his award, declaring "Free Polanski" and "No extradition". The director pleaded guilty three decades ago to having sex with a 13-year-old girl. His lawyer said Monday he had refused to be extradited from Switzerland to the United States. The 76-year-old fled the US in 1978 before sentencing on a charge in the underage sex case. He has never returned, even missing the Oscar award for "The Pianist" in 2003. France's Society of Film Directors also voiced concern the arrest "could have disastrous consequences for freedom of expression across the world".'
I firmly believe these directors are on the wrong side of this.

Go and read the victim's testimony, starting on page 26 and count how many times the 13 YEAR OLD GIRL said "NO" and "STOP" and indicated she did not want to stay or for Polanski to continue. I'm not a lawyer or a judge, but I believe that's rape.

The Swiss Directors Association petition refers to this "a case of morals" and, in fact, the case was plead to "a felony count of unlawful sexual intercourse" -- but read that transcript and be clear this is not a case where a rock band's groupie turned out to be 17 and 1/2 to everyone's surprise. It's a case where there seems to be coercion, force, and the knowledge that the victim is 13. Remember that in a plea bargain, the procedure generally moves toward agreement on a lesser charge -- in this case, it seems, to avoid forcing a 13-year-old rape victim to testify.

As another source explains:

Reminder: Roman Polanski raped a child
"Before we discuss how awesome his movies are or what the now-deceased judge did wrong at his trial, let's take a moment to recall that according to the victim's grand jury testimony, Roman Polanski instructed her to get into a jacuzzi naked, refused to take her home when she begged to go, began kissing her even though she said no and asked him to stop; performed cunnilingus on her as she said no and asked him to stop; put his penis in her vagina as she said no and asked him to stop; asked if he could penetrate her anally, to which she replied, "No," then went ahead and did it anyway, until he had an orgasm.

...

The point is that drugging and raping a child, then leaving the country before you can be sentenced for it, is behavior our society should not -- and at least in theory, does not -- tolerate, no matter how famous, wealthy or well-connected you are, no matter how old you were when you finally got caught, no matter what your victim says about it now, no matter how mature she looked at 13, no matter how pushy her mother was, and no matter how many really swell movies you've made."
I think the petition-signers have one point: an arrest like this at a film festival is shameful. If that's where the petition stopped, I might understand. But the arrest is fugitive Polanski's shame -- if you choose to run from the law, you bring this upon the festival. This is not a case of political amnesty from repressive dictatorship. If, as so many of these directors seem to think, Polanski can show judicial misconduct -- then do so.

Of course, then one will need the facts to back that up.

Friday, September 25, 2009

William Eggleston on SnagFilms



One of my students brought up William Eggleston. And ... here he is.

(You have to be in the right mood for this. In a way, that's true about Eggleston's work as well.)

Friday Film



I mentioned this film in class last night, so ... here it is.

Blind Faith: A Film About Seeing follows the Seeing With Photography Collective, a group of blind photographers working in New York. (You need Flash installed to see the video player above.)

Click the player above, or you can also see the film at: SnagFilms. (If you click "snag this film" you can embed it on any site.)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Rhymes With Class



Well, the first "Seriously Fun Photography" class is all behind me now.

We learned that to control exposure, we need to work with three related elements: Aperture, Shutter Speed, and Sensitivity.

Aperture:
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
1/500th
1/250th
1/125th
1/60th
1/30th
1/15th
1/8th
1/4th
1/2
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.

Sensitivity:
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.

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 use a lens that goes to f/1.4 for this -- 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.

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.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

De Chirico In The Bronx



This term I'm teaching one class in The Bronx instead of two. Which means instead of a trip north, a class, a break, a class, and a trip down to 86th Street, my day is train / class / train.

I like that significantly less, and it messes up my schedule, wipes out what remains of my energy and makes it hard to get everything done. Still, it's not a bad commute -- just long enough I can read a bit on the train.

Above: an iPhone snap from today.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Followed By Bad

So Festival A emails during the summer: "Please send Film X for our consideration."

"Huh," I say. "I didn't think that was a good match for that fest, but they must have some programming idea going if they've asked for it. I'll send it in. Maybe they'll go for it. That's really exciting."

The very next day, Festival B emails: "We'd like to see Film X -- we think it might be a match for a program we're putting together."

"Well, alright," I say. "It does seem like a match there. Never heard of them before, but it looks like it could be a good event. How exciting. Everyone wants Film X."

Dissolve to: Months later. Festival A emails: no thanks.

Cut to: Five minutes later. Festival B emails: no thanks.

That's how it goes. I then look at what films have been chosen:

"Ah, that one is good, and that one. Don't know the rest.... Wait. There's that one short film that's been screening at every fest I've been in recently. It's made by a filmmaker who has completed and sold multiple feature films. It's in -- in the Amateur Production category? What the heck?"

Did the filmmaker enter it in the "Amateur" category? Did the fest look at it and say "this is a great amateur production!" and select it? I guess I'll never know.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Good News



My Seriously Fun Photography class is a go. We meet for our first session Thursday night.

It's walking distance from my apartment, and we keep everything low-stress and high-fun. So I'm looking forward to it. (An advanced class is scheduled to start in six weeks, also, if enough people enroll.)

Above: an iPhone snap from today.

On University Avenue



Above: an iPhone snap from today in The Bronx.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Updating

I'm updating http://tedfisher.com/. I've made many, many Web sites, but I always forget to update my own.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Documentaries in the News

John Cage once told this story:

Artists talk a lot about freedom. So, recalling the expression “free as a bird,” Morton Feldman went to a park one day and spent some time watching our feathered friends. When he came back, he said, “You know? They’re not free: they’re fighting over bits of food.”
There's a sense, as the distribution system for documentaries seems to slowly implode, that there's a glut of content. So, a lot of documentarians are fighting over bits of food.

With the wind blowing in that direction, the Los Angeles Times asks:

Ken Burns: Was a backlash inevitable?
"While Burns is one of the best known and most watched documentarian of recent times, he has also acquired his share of detractors. Though he's generally respected by critics and scholars, a backlash has been building, dismissing him as middlebrow, charging that he's repeating himself, that he's too earnest, too dark or naively patriotic."

Friday, September 18, 2009

Law And Order



Had to go to the Court House today. They happened to be shooting Law and Order at the front of the building. Snapped this iPhone pic as I walked in.

A Golden Age For Shorts?

On my other blog I have a post up about Docunomics looking at how penny-per-view and "long tail" models add up, or don't. It started me thinking, though, about how this might change the way we think about feature films and short films.

Basically, for online distributors, the model is to put a commercial at the beginning of the video. In a short film, that's very simple: you watch a 15 second (sometimes longer!) commercial then see the short film. In a sense, that's the most direct translation of the original free television model, with the added bonus for viewers of choosing what they see and when, and the added bonus for advertisers in that they can precisely target an audience.

In feature-length films, however, it gets a little trickier. Generally, there's an ad at the beginning, then sometimes 4 or 5 ads inserted into breaking points in the film. If someone doesn't watch the later ones, there's no payment for those.

Well, think that through: a feature film, unless made as a no-budget effort with everything deferred, has a huge production budget. For narrative film, that's in the millions, for big-budget documentary that's in the 100,000s, for small-budget documentary -- if you are honestly counting everyone's deferred salary -- in the 10,000s.

Still, to an advertiser, one view is one view. If a 3-minute short gets someone to watch one ad, and the feature length film only gets someone to watch 5 ads, there's an interesting advantage to the short. Someone who made 5 incredibly-popular shorts could in theory match the online advertising revenue of one feature film.

Of course, good features become juggernauts: they get written about in the media, gain fans, get reviews, get nominated for awards. They are marketed, and -- usually, but not always -- cycle through film festivals, DVD sales, broadcast and DVD rental before going online. So the online ad money is icing on the cake.

It's interesting, though, that some advantages appear in this model for short films: many people are comfortable watching a short online, but don't want to spend 90 minutes hunched over a computer or wearing headphones. Someone not specifically looking for a film would certainly be more likely to impulse-watch a short than a feature, as well.

So while traditionally short films have been seen as a "training" area of filmmaking -- lower production cost in time, money and other resources, but less interest in general and usually no DVD sales except in collections (where the revenue is then split many ways) -- an ad view is an ad view, and online that might mean making many shorts could be a viable production model.

These are interesting times, no question.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Dektol, Google, Squabble?

Danny Lyon has a few words about his books The Bikeriders, The Destruction of Lower Manhattan, and Conversations with the Dead showing up online.

Under Google’s new rules, Conversations with the Dead could be scanned and put on line by Google without even contacting me. Many photo book makers are torn between standing up for their rights, and “being left out” by the Ruler of the Internet.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Linear



Today I taught a class in linear editing. That means tape decks, not computers. It's a good step in the learning process: it forces people to organize and think before cutting. It's slow, though, and challenging, and leaves little room for changing your mind or experimenting. At one time, that was video editing.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Latest Book Re-read

I teach both online and in person. In person, I see the frowns when I say "... and finish the Walter Murch book by Wednesday, there will be a quiz."

C'mon, people -- the main part of the book is only 72 pages. It's in big type. It's in a friendly style.

So I've just re-read it, and highly recommend it for anyone interested in the big ideas behind editing -- and some very good practical advice.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Big Three Oh Oh

My other blog just hit a milestone. In fact, there are several posts there you might like to see: on Documentary Ethics, on HD cameras, and on the Olympia Film Festival.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Hoop Springs Eternal Going To Olympia Film Festival

Just confirmed: our short film "Hoop Springs Eternal" will screen in November at the Olympia Film Festival. More soon.

Robert Frank and Helen Levitt at Film Forum

I hope to be able to go and see An American Journey: In Robert Frank's Footsteps when it shows at Film Forum at the end of the month. Included in the program is a short film by Helen Levitt.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Title Says It All

These Photographs Were Taken By Dogs

I like the last one.

The Twittering Class

My second venture onto Twitter has, so far, been more enjoyable. I'm not completely convinced of it's value, but I do now think you can use it without too much annoyance.

Sometimes, that's enough of a goal.

Still, I find myself seeing people looking at their phone instead of their friend, or walking-while-texting, or otherwise not seeing what's around them. I think they may be missing the point.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Photo Class at Hunter



My Seriously Fun Photography class starts at Hunter Continuing Education September 17th. If enough people sign up. So tell your friends.

Go to this interface and type "photography" into the search box. (That will also reveal the advanced class I'll be teaching later in the season.)

"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.

6 Session(s) 12 Hour(s) Tuition: $250.00 Meet: Thursday
Date: 09/17/09-10/22/09 Time: 06:00PM-08:00PM
Location: CS, 71 E 94 ST./ Instructor(s): FISHER, TED"
Above: an iPhone snapshot, today on 89th Street.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Blind Faith: A Film About Seeing



Blind Faith: A Film About Seeing follows the Seeing With Photography Collective, a group of blind photographers working in New York. (You need Flash installed to see the video player above.)

Click the player above, or you can also see the film at: SnagFilms. (If you click "snag this film" you can embed it on any site.)

Day for Night

Every once in a while I realize there's a film I should have seen, but somehow missed. Fortunately, our local video store is on the corner, less than 50 yards away. So a very easy, very worthwhile walk means I have Truffaut's film in hand. I'll report back on it after a close viewing.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Report from Rooftop



Enjoyed the screening at Rooftop. "Notebook" played well, causing steady chuckling and a few bigger laughs. The word for the evening: quirky.

Above: free beer at Fontana's after the screening.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Notebook at Rooftops



Tonight, I'll be at the Storms Expected screening.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Screening "Notebook" Saturday Night

Saturday night I will be at Storms Expected showing Notebook on Santas and Elves. Rooftop Films puts together great programs, so I expect it will be a fun time. Also, there's an open bar, and Mrs. New York Portraits tells me that Raderberger is a fine beer, perfect for LES rooftop screenings.

STORMS EXPECTED (short films)
Venue: On the Open Road Rooftop above New Design High School
Address: 350 Grand St. @ Essex (Lower East Side, Manhattan)
Directions: F/J/M/Z to Essex/Delancey
Rain: In the event of rain the show will be held indoors at the same location
8:00PM: Doors open
8:30PM: Live music presented by Sound Fix Records
9:00PM: Films
11:30PM-1:00AM: After-party: Open Bar at Fontana’s (105 Eldridge St. @ Grand) Courtesy of Radeberger Pilsner
Tickets: $9 at the door or online at www.rooftopfilms.com

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Be Gentle, Slow Down



I've had to slow down, for a number of reasons. It's important to get things in order and focus on the most important things. It does seem like the law of averages is not currently on my side, but perhaps that will change.

A related note: Am I back on Twitter, which I've previously likened to a cocktail party for people with earplugs? (Picture everyone standing alone, shouting at intervals, and rarely listening to anything except their own insights on how much more important making a brand is than making art.)

Well, yes.

I have a screening coming up this Saturday, two films currently on Snagfilms, and a Continuing Ed class to promote. While I am struggling to catch up with everything -- and, at the same time, very purposefully trying to avoid overwork and the difficulties it causes -- it seems important to make myself easy to find. For whatever that's worth. So follow me there, but keep in mind I'm only following people I know in "real life" or that I have a lot in common with. I can't, at the moment, focus on too many things at once or in the midst of noise. I think I'm supposed to be adding quiet, and I'm not sure how that's done.

Above: an iPhone snap. Very busy street, turned to the side and saw this. Luckily, since it is the iPhone, the door didn't move.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

iPhoning It In



Chris Corradino has an iPhone Gallery up, so I thought I would post a quick snap from mine. I find the iPhone is great for buildings, items on the ground, and anything that will wait a very long time.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Seriously Fun Photography September 17th

My Seriously Fun Photography class starts at Hunter Continuing Education starts September 17th. So, register now.

They've changed the Web site, so the way to see the listing and register is to go to this interface and type "photography" into the search box. (That will also reveal the advanced class I'll be teaching later in the season.)

"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.

6 Session(s) 12 Hour(s) Tuition: $250.00 Meet: Thursday
Date: 09/17/09-10/22/09 Time: 06:00PM-08:00PM
Location: CS, 71 E 94 ST./ Instructor(s): FISHER, TED"