Wednesday, December 01, 2010

New Documentary Photography Blog

I've started a new blog on Documentary Photography, and the first post asks the inevitable question:

What Would Walker Evans Do?

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Aye Aye IMDb

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Here's an interesting update on our film Blind Faith: A Film About Seeing. More precisely, on how IMDb works and why independent filmmakers might want to consider the importance of the least important thing: the credits.

Back in 2007, I worked with five of my pals in the brand-new Documentary Certificate program at The New School to create a 7-minute documentary on blind photographers.

As part of the International Documentary Challenge, we compressed the process of making a documentary down to five days.

There's the thing, though: we did everything the way you should.

There was (very fast) Production work, including handling a (tiny) budget, getting all the permissions and releases, arranging interviews, finding the right folks, etc. etc. There was some nice cinematography work (I shot the stop-motion sequences on the NYC street, for example). There was some (incredibly quick) post-production. We shared the tasks, and decided to credit the film as a collaboration. Everyone would get credit.

We arranged for a good score, as well. In fact, we won "Best Soundtrack" at the Doc Challenge finals, held at Hot Docs Film Fest in Toronto that year. I was proud that they recognized both our music and how it integrated with our edit and content.

So far, so good. Once the film started going places (Hot Docs, Big Sky Film Fest, Picture This Film Festival, etc.) I added it to That went fine. The credits went up.

But IMDb has a policy in place that they are a database of credits as they appear on the screen. It doesn't matter if you are actually the Producer or Cinematographer: unless there's a credit onscreen that says that, IMDb can revise the listing.

I don't disagree with that. That's what they have always said, and that seems good to me.

But there's the funny thing: Blind Faith went online at SnagFilms (see the video above). So, unlike many shorts that screen at a fest or two and then aren't seen, IMDb has a direct link from the listing to the online video. Cool.

But someone at IMDb had the time to watch the film, and our credits on the film are limited. If you watch it to the end, you'll see "A FILM BY" and then our six names. To us, that meant "everybody did everything" and that we were Directors and Producers and Editors and Cinematographers.

Not so fast, IMDb says. First, our Producer credits disappeared. And our Cinematographer credits. (There's no credit that says "camera" or "cinematography by" or "photography" visible. We did it, but it isn't on the titles page.) Then, the Editor credits.

More disappointingly, Joel Mumma is no longer credited as Composer, even though he was. He's now listed as appearing in the film (as "himself").

Ah well. Whatever.

But a lesson learned: as old school, mainstream and simplistic as it seems, add your full credits to the film. If you want to see your credit on IMDb, put it on the screen.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Best ... Bargain ... Ever: Panasonic GH1 at $500

The Panasonic GH2 will be released soon. It will probably be a little tough to get at first, but it will be on camera store shelves soon enough.

So stores that still have the Panasonic DMC-GH1 available have dropped the price to an unbelievable bargain level. It's a heck of a camera for the price, especially if your interest is working with DSLR video. (I've shot several projects with the GH1, and find it a very capable camera and the most flexible for documentary-style work.)

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Backgrounder on 12th and 3rd

Ah, the Web is a funny place. Things come and go.

A while back our short documentary 12th and 3rd in Brooklyn screened at the ASU Art Museum Short Film and Video Festival. This lead to an interview about the film with Arizona-based writer Cassandra Nicholson.

I was happy about the interview, as it gave a bit of background into how the film came to be and the process we followed to make it. Recently, however, the link I have for the interview stopped working -- so I assume it has gone to the Web Burial Ground and is no longer online anywhere.

On Monday, October 11th at 7 p.m. the film will screen once again, serving in support of the feature documentary Takedowns and Falls at the Film Courage Interactive Screening in Los Angeles. The format of the event sounds great -- they show two shorts, then a feature and put the emphasis on the filmmaking, interviewing the directors in Question and Answer sessions.

I can't attend, however, since I just moved to San Francisco. So, below I've rescued the text from the disappearing interview in hope that it will provide background on the film for anyone interested.

Cassandra Nicholson: Can you describe the extent of your role in the film? It appeared you had a small crew with you while you documented Brooklyn's Best. How big was your crew, and how did your crew members participate in the making of this film?

Ted Fisher: "12th and 3rd in Brooklyn" was made by a crew of three people. I had moved to New York only the year before, and in the fall of 2006 I went back to school at The New School to study documentary media. In the first few weeks of the program, I found myself very inspired and sent out an email inviting other students and a few friends to collaborate on a film about New York. I suggested looking for a stickball game -- I had heard it was a New York tradition, but I realized I had never seen it.

Maya Mumma, who was also in the program at The New School, and Iris Lee, a friend I had known from California, decided to participate. The three of us started in The Bronx. There's a street named "Stickball Avenue," and we arrived there and realized we'd come on the wrong day. We tried taping many different things, but didn't find what we needed. Later that day, a friend sent us a cellphone picture of a flyer announcing that "Brooklyn's Best" would play the very next day.

So the next morning the three of us went to the location in Brooklyn, and found a nearly abandoned street. We hung around a long time, and just about the time we were ready to give up, a car rolled up in front of us -- with some of the players. All three of us ran cameras, and we even got to play a little. Later, the players -- a great group of guys -- took us to their favorite bar.

CN: What is your education and experience, and how did it prepare you for taking on this project?

TF: I used to be a photography curator. My background is in photography and art -- I have an M.F.A. from Claremont Graduate University and a B.A. from Cal State San Bernardino. When I moved to New York, I discovered that the New School was starting a Graduate Certificate program in Documentary Media, and that seemed like the perfect way to get into documentary production. Much of my background in photography -- even the work that was aimed at "installation art" -- really came out of the documentary tradition. So our process on this film -- go and meet people and get a glimpse into their life -- seemed really natural.

CN: Your submission came from New York, New York. How did you find out about this quirky group of characters, and what inspired you to focus on their once-a-year reunion?

TF: Well, we arrived just hoping to see any signs that there was still stickball in New York. I had lived here one year and never run into it all. It was just a huge bonus that we accidently found great guys with roots in the community and history that went back decades. It was a very rich experience to get to hear their stories -- and see that they were hoping their kids would keep playing the game. We were lucky enough to find them on the day of their once-a-year reunion. Sometimes, that's how documentary goes -- you find something that is so much better than any fiction you might have imagined.

CN: If you ran into any problems or adversities while making your film, what were they, and how did you overcome them?

TF: Before we found "Brooklyn's Best" we had wandered around in both The Bronx and Brooklyn -- and found ourselves in a few places where cameras were not welcome. So when we found that location at 12th and 3rd, we had no idea if the guys playing there would accept us. Well, they took us right in -- even let us play -- and later took us to their favorite bar.

CN: "12th & 3rd in Brooklyn" has a rather unique, black-and-white style. How did filming and editing style play a part in your project?

TF: When we shot and edited the film, we were studying the history of documentary film. There's a whole tradition of gritty, New York docs that we had been looking at and that clearly had a big influence on our approach. Once we saw the site for the game, it seemed like a perfect match.

CN: What advice do you have for aspiring filmmakers, who are hoping to get over the first few creative or financial hurdles?

TF: Well, there does seem to be a lot of pressure put on aspiring filmmakers to feel they need top- of-the-line equipment, a huge crew and a big budget before shooting the first frame. But I've shown at a lot of film festivals and I've never had anyone who pulled me aside and wanted to talk production values. The thing that gets audiences excited is story -- and there's no reason you can't find a compelling story on a small budget. So my advice for any filmmaker is that there are times when it's most important to just go and do it and see what you can make out of whatever you manage to get. There's no perfect shoot in documentary, and that's actually a virture, in my opinion.

CN: I went to school for documentary filmmaking, so I have to say that your project was one of my favorites from the festival. Do you prefer producing documentaries over scripted films?

TF: Well, I love fiction film -- but I find that nothing matches real life for richness of material. That is, if you do a fantastic job imagining a world, writing characters into it, and finding a way to translate that vision onto the screen, you can make a terrific, nuanced and deep narrative film. But documentary always thrills me because if you just go out into the real world you'll find that there are profound and surprising stories already written there.

It's an intense challenge to find them and to work with them -- but the material that's there is already deep. Real characters have built-in mysteries, wants and needs and quirks -- and while one can write any ending you like for a fiction film, in documentary whatever happens, happens. I find myself more often surprised by documentaries than by fiction films, so that draws me to the field very strongly. I get the sense that while narrative cinema is very developed in our time, we are in some ways still early in the era of documentaries.

CN: Do you have any current projects in the works, or future projects you would like to get off the ground?

TF: Maya and I have worked together since this film on a few short documentaries. We also work separately on a lot of projects. The last time I saw Iris, she had gone back to school -- but I wouldn't be surprised if she makes some films in the future. I think the tougher goal in documentary production is to shift to making feature-length films. Making shorts has been fantastic practice for that -- but to me the future I'm hoping for is one of making full-length documentaries.

CN: Ultimately, where do you see yourself in five years?

TF: Well, I teach television production and editing, and I do a lot of freelance editing. I will probably continue all three types of work. But I'd like to be in a place where another channel in my life will be making documentaries, both short and feature length.

Friday, October 01, 2010

When is a Film Finished?

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So here's one of the problems of the digital era: when is a film finished?

In 2009, my co-filmmakers and I shot and edited Hoop Springs Eternal in five days as part of the International Documentary Challenge. We were disappointed the film didn't make it to the finals (we made it to the finals in 2007 and 2008) but were basically happy with the film.

Apparently, the Doc Challenge folks liked it enough to distribute it via SnagFilms, which is great.

But after living with the film a little, I decided to give it a recut. I took out almost a minute, changed the order of a few sequences, and essentially fixed issues we just couldn't address in the short edit time of the Challenge. I liked the recut better, and started submitting it to film festivals.

The recut version then screened at Olympia Film Festival, All Sports Los Angeles Film Festival, and Coney Island Film Festival (just this past Sunday).

Still, there are a few things I'd change in the recut edit. So is this film really the version on Snag? The version that made it to festival audiences? Or, if I polished it a touch further, would that be the "final" version of the film? Could we go and re-interview the film's characters (Loren Bidner and Miss Saturn, Jenny McGowan) in 2012 to see what's changed -- and revise the cut further?

Since digital work is inherently changeable, can we revise and revise and call it the same film?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

"Hoop" Screens This Sunday at Coney Island

Our short documentary Hoop Springs Eternal -- about two people who came to New York hoping to act who became professional Hula Hoopers along the way -- will screen this Sunday at 1 p.m. at the Coney Island Film Festival.

Buy your $6 advance tickets now, since the festival -- named one of the 25 Coolest Film Festivals by Moviemaker Magazine -- will probably sell out.

The film shows in Program 12.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Hint, Hint

Well, first there was New York Portraits. Then there was Los Angeles Portraits.

Above: a clue to the next site.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Coney Flix Picks Pics, Sells Tix

THE FAUX REAL: TRAILER! from Suzanne Hillinger on Vimeo.

New Yorkers: is it too early to buy your tickets to the screening of our short doc Hoop Springs Eternal at the Coney Island Film Festival? No: I'm hearing it's likely to sell out.

But wait: there's more.... The film is showing in Program 12 -- Sunday, September 26th at 1 p.m. -- with a fun block of films.

Among the highlights: Suzanne Hillinger's The Faux Real. Check out the trailer above, and then buy your tickets -- just $6 for advance sales.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Labor Day? Time for Brooklyn's Best

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

This film was shot four years ago on Labor Day.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Hoop Goes to Coney Island Film Fest

Our short documentary Hoop Springs Eternal will screen at the Coney Island Film Festival on Sunday, September 26th at 1 p.m. in Program 12.

Last year, Moviemaker Magazine named the festival one of the 25 Coolest Film Festivals.

If you'll be screening a film, attending the fest, or are just interested, I've started a Twitter list to follow filmmakers screening at the festival this year as well.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

"Hoop" To Visit Coney Island Film Festival

Just found out: our short doc Hoop Springs Eternal will screen in September at the Coney Island Film Festival. Details soon.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Four Years Ago

Four years ago I made my first post on this blog with Beginnings and Endings.

I then marked the 1839 anniversary of the announcement of the invention of photography with Happy 167th Birthday.

Now, I've moved from Manhattan, so -- while I'll keep this blog, after a bit of repurposing -- you can follow my California posts on Los Angeles Portraits.

One more city will be in the news, very soon, as well. Above: one of my last recent snaps in Manhattan.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Goodbye to Some of That

Last night we had a bit of a going away gathering.

One issue leaving the city raises: Will I need to change the name of this blog?

Above: an iPhone snapshot on Thompson near Bleecker.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

A Profile in Profiles

Was packing books into boxes for our move to California when I ran into this.

Friday, July 16, 2010

43rd Street

Shot a mini-documentary this week, near Grand Central Terminal and the Chrysler Building. It will be a long while before I get to putting it together, but it was a good time. Details sooner or later.

Above: an iPhone snapshot of the Chrysler Building, taken after a quick visit to 99-Cent Pizza.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Two Turntables, No Microphone

Went to see the Christian Marclay: Festival exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

It was entertaining enough, and we happened to catch it during "Screenplay" -- a performance with two turntabilists performing with a video work. Not sure I see enough of a distinction from an organist playing with a film -- or a pianist, or a theremin player -- on this one. There's just not enough of an aura to playing a turntable, in my opinion, to push this piece into the "needs-to-be-in-a-museum" category -- though it would be a fine match for any performance space.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Hoop Springs Eternal at All Sports Film Fest

Our short documentary Hoop Springs Eternal screens at 11 a.m. today at the All Sports Los Angeles Film Festival at Raleigh Studios' Fairbanks Theater. It's in "Short Series A."

The film features hoopers Jenny McGowan and Loren Bidner, and was made with Linda Goldman, Chris Corradino, and Maya Mumma. (If you happen to catch it, give it a rating at -- or even post a micro-review.)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


Over on my other blog there's a snap from Wall Street, so here's another from that same area.

Monday, June 21, 2010


Above: Jeremy's, the home of the very inexpensive 32-ounce beer -- served in a styrofoam cup. Try the fried clams.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Mermaid Parade 2010

My wife and I took the N train to Coney Island Saturday. Right off we noted a harshness to the crowds this year, for whatever reason, and soon enough thought about leaving. After standing near the parade route for a while we decided to back away to a less-crowded area. At that point, there must have been a sidewalk closed off, sending crowds streaming back at us. As the group clogged up in front of us, some decided the way out was to jump a chain link fence.

Once on the fence, one woman froze, uncertain how to get down safely on the other side. She sat atop the fence for a while, eventually completing the jump down after some "helpful" assistance. The crowd cheered when she finally made it.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


Last night I went to the Bronx Community College Film Festival, then walked back to the train along 23rd Street in the rain. Stopped for this snapshot.

Sunday, June 06, 2010


I'm much better looking in person. So much for the funhouse mirror.

On Thursday night, I taught Session One of my six-week Seriously Fun Photography course. We covered the basics on the three elements that make up photographic exposure, then touched on ways we can use these elements to control the look of our images.

Here are my notes from the session:


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. If you take a picture using f/8 and it seems a little too dark, switch to f/5.6. If you take a picture using f/8 and it is too bright, switch to f/11.

Shutter Speed:

The common shutter speeds:
1/1000th of a second
1 second.
Notice that the relationship of these shutter speed settings is also doubling (or halving) the amount of light that hits your sensor.

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.

P = Program
A = Aperture Priority
S = Shutter Priority
M = Manual
We also addressed confirming exposure by viewing the Histogram.

Above: an iPhone snapshot taken in a subway mirror.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Blind Faith

Watch more free documentaries Missed the screening at Limelight Film Showcase in Edmonton yesterday? You can see Blind Faith: A Film About Seeing online. "Snag" the player and put it on your blog. Rate the film on IMDB also, if you're registered there. Or, just watch it. It's free.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

If It's Thursday, This Must Be TV

As we near the end of the term, my television production students are starting to seem really professional in their approach. The last few shows have been very focused. Today's show needs to be done and out live (to tape) from start to finish in one hour, though. We'll see how they do....

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Screening Tonight in Arizona

My short documentary To Get to the Other Side screens at the ASU Art Museum Fourteenth Annual Short Film and Video Festival TONIGHT.

If you see the film (or if you've seen it previously) please sign in at IMDB.COM and give it a rating.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

ASU Art Museum Film & Video Festival Preview

This Saturday, my film To Get to the Other Side will screen at the ASU Art Museum Fourteenth Annual Short Film and Video Festival.

Above is a news video preview of the event,including a brief glimpse of 12th and 3rd in Brooklyn, which showed at last year's festival.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Scenarios, U.S.A.

Maura Minsky, Scenarios USA from Dowser on Vimeo.

Interested in Social Justice? Take a look at Dowser. I like the approach they are taking to "Social Change" and the people creating it. (I helped edit the video above.) Watch the video, then visit the Dowser site and introduce your friends to them.

Monday, March 29, 2010


I took my Seriously Fun Photography class over to The Highline on a cold and clear Saturday. There's a not a lot of in the way of flowers, yet, but the grass is beautiful and energetic.

This week is the last class of the current "Seriously" series. On Wednesday, a new Advanced Seriously Fun Photography is scheduled, so if you're interested get in touch with Hunter College Continuing Education today.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

So No One Can Sneak Up On You

There are a lot of different lenses out there. This, I'm not so sure of. I suppose it makes a panoramic image. I tried to ask its owner, but he was really not much help.

If you look closely, you'll see some members of my photo class and also my 24mm lens depicted in the reflector.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

How To Travel With Your Pet

I took my photo class to The Highline today. I packed a 24mm f/1.8 lens -- I like a challenge -- and we met at 20th Street and 10th Avenue. It never occurred to me that I should zip a dog into a suitcase and wheel it behind me, but I'm still new to this whole "New York" thing.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

East 75th

I guess I shouldn't be surprised, but I always am: there's a really strong impulse in the photo community to conform. It's never said out loud, but look around a bit and you'll get the picture.

You'd think it would be the opposite: "I see a lot of zigging, perhaps I'll zag." But it's not. Zigging leads to more zigging.

I could be wrong, but I feel like photographers a few decades back took more pride in being out of step with the trends. I also feel you saw more "weird" images, and more breaks from the expected.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Wide Angle Wednesday

In my last post, I mentioned how you might use a telephoto focal length to shoot a portrait of a person. It's usually a great idea.

Don't think I don't love wide-angle lenses, however. Again, of course, you have to work purposefully to use them well. Here's my main tip: don't leave your wide angle lens trying to do the thinking for you. If you just point it without using your eyes and brain, its main characteristic is that it will just lump everything together into a jumble. Sometimes, by chance, a fantastic jumble. More often, a confused jumble. It will include objects near and far, and without much relationship between these objects.

To use it at its most photographic, think flat or think deep.

The shot above -- just a snap from my iPhone from Tuesday, nothing special -- is about thinking flat. It's two large elements in relationship to each other. There's no jumbled confusion because the image has been conceived as a flat space. The relationship is "this shape against that shape." What's left out of the shot is more important than what's in.

An even more exciting way to use a wide-angle lens is take advantage of its depiction of space and get something in the foreground in relation to the rest of the image. That's really an idea that should be in your mind as soon as you move to wide focal lengths. Let something close fight with the large background. Put a person close to you and the space they exist in behind. Put an object close by and some sort of opposition behind. Let a visual story develop: this against that. Let the wide field of view show more than we're used to seeing (a repeated pattern, an overwhelming amount of something, a vast space) and give us a close element to make that pattern / space / aggregation seem even vaster.

Don't think of your widest lens as a way to "get everyone in the picture." Think of it as a way to depict depth.

One last note: play with what happens when you tilt the lens down. If you study some of the Garry Winogrand street photographs you'll find that he often used the strategy of getting right up to a person, using a wide focal length, and tilting the lens down a little. That puts the viewer right into the photographic subject's space -- a feeling quite different than that provided by the "normal" lens of Henri Cartier-Bresson's street photos.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Tuesday Tele Tip

Most DSLR cameras are sold with a "kit" lens included. That's usually a zoom lens, almost always with a focal length of 18-55mm or 18-70mm. That can be a useful lens, but often our first impulse in how to put it to work results in disaster. Here's what I mean:

I ask one student to photograph another. Almost every single time, the student will stand up, point the camera at the other student and -- without thinking -- zoom out. That leaves them a few feet away from their subject using a focal length of 18mm. The resulting portrait isn't great.

Here's the thing: an 18mm focal length provides an "expanded" space. To see this, stand in a corner of a room and look with your eyes. Now look through your camera with the 18mm focal length and look at the space: you'll get the impression of a much deeper space. Zoom to a longer focal length and you'll feel as if the space is more compressed.

That "expanded" space is not flattering to the human face, generally: there can be an impression of a larger nose and larger chin, for example. The "compression" a longer focal length provides tends to create a more flattering image. Take a look at the next magazine rack you walk past: most of the faces you'll see there tend to be photographically compressed.

Try a further experiment: using the 18mm focal length, frame a person from just above their head to just about the second button on their shirt. Take the shot. Now, move yourself backward, change your focal length to 55mm (or 70mm) and get that same "two-button closeup" framing. Take the shot.

Compare the two and you'll see: focal length can have a transformative effect on a face. The same person may look quite different in these two shots. Usually, the longer focal length is perceived as making a significantly more flattering portrait.

Also, notice that most likely you'll now be throwing the background out of focus when using this longer focal length, depending on the distance between you, the subject and the background.

So consider forcing yourself to automatically zoom to telephoto when you decide to take a picture of a person. That 55mm or 70mm length can work just fine -- but you have to decide that's what will work best and, as always, force yourself to take control of the photograph you are making.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Recent Good News

Two nice news briefs:

First, Mrs. New York Portraits passed her orals, meaning she's one step closer to her Ph.D. in Art History, specializing in the history of Photography. No more exams, no more classes, and a chance to now focus on her dissertation. And the stacks of books have (mostly) been moved out of way.

Second, I found out today that my short doc To Get to the Other Side will be screening at the ASU Art Museum Fourteenth Annual Short Film and Video Festival in April.

So a good start to March, overall.

Manual Mode Monday

This week I'm posting just a few hints for photographers. There's a tendency to focus on the complicated elements of the field and to forget the basics, so here are some reminders / tips for using a digital camera. These are all topics covered in my "Seriously Fun Photography" course at Hunter Continuing Education.

Using Manual Mode with a DSLR

One topic many photographers find confusing is how to work in manual mode on a digital SLR camera. Let's demystify it:

1. Turn the big knob on top of the camera to M.

2. Point the camera at your subject and press the shutter halfway down. You'll see in your viewfinder if the camera thinks you are underexposing or overexposing -- there's a little indicator that will let you know. (Your camera may have a little triangle, or a light or another indicator that tells you if it thinks you are over or under on your exposure.)

3. Your camera will either have two wheels -- one in front for your index finger and one on the back for your thumb -- or just a single wheel.

3a. If you have two wheels, turn one of them and notice if it is changing your shutter speed or aperture. Then turn the other. Now you know the two elements you are controlling in manual mode (you've already set your ISO setting).

3b. If you have one wheel on your camera, turn it and see if you are adjusting shutter speed or aperture. On most cameras, you then press and hold the "+/-" button (Canon) or the Exposure Compensation button "AE-L" (Nikon) and that will allow the wheel to adjust the other element. In other words, if you turn the wheel and it changes shutter speed, press the "+/-" button (Canon) or the Exposure Compensation button "AE-L" (Nikon) and now the wheel will adjust your aperture setting.

4. Adjust aperture or shutter speed until your camera's indicator is in the middle (or at zero).

5. Take the shot.

6. Then look on your viewscreen, and see if you've got it right.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Friday: Self Portrait with Bicycle Wheel

Above: last Friday at MoMa.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Thursday Theory

Picasso thought: "You'll feel a mix of lust and shame standing in front of this painting. You'll be attracted and repelled. It will disorient you, both spatially and morally."

Nah. People just take pictures of it as if it were a bowl of fruit.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Wednesday Whirls

What has happened in museums? No one is looking at the art. They're all taking terrible pictures of the art.

I do not understand. You can buy the museum's catalog, with good pictures in it. Maybe ... while you are there, standing between me and the painting, you could ... look at the painting?

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Tuesday Title Test

Ah. Black on black. It's an abstract painting by Ad Reinhardt, but what's the title? C'mon, you ... know ... this ... one. Look closely, you'll figure it out.

Post answers in the comments.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Malevich Monday

Ah. White on White. C'mon, you know this one. Post the correct title and year in the comments.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Sam Francis Sunday

Above: Friday Night at MoMA.

Thursday, February 25, 2010


Despite the bad weather we've had the last few days, I managed to make it over to Park Avenue and teach -- and now the first "Seriously Fun Photography" for 2010 class is ... ahem ... behind me.

That's good, as I continue to use a dumb acronym to force students to remember the three elements we need to master to understand and control exposure.

A. S. S.

That's right: we need to work with three related elements: Aperture, Shutter Speed, and Sensitivity.

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.

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.

At this point, we experimented with finding a good exposure for the lighting in our classroom. It turned out to be: f/2.8 and 1/125th of a second at ISO 1600.

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: we set our aperture at f/1.4 and and focused on the eyes of a person sitting close to us. Upon reviewing the photo, we found that the that the person sitting further behind was out of focus. So, to see how depth of field changes, we ran through the whole series of aperture settings available finding the person in the background more in focus as we changed our aperture -- f/2 to f/2.8 to f/4 to f/5.6 to f/8 to f/11 to f/16 to f/22.

Since we were in manual mode, we had to change the shutter speed to keep our exposure the same while we ran through these apertures.

But then we realized changing manual settings can be slow -- so we explored using "Shutter Priority" and "Aperture Priority" as a quicker way to choose the factor that is most important to us, and let the computer choose the other setting.

We learned that a faster way to try this experiment was to switch to Aperture Priority mode -- then, we would pick the aperture and the camera would select the shutter speed -- so when we changed aperture, the camera would change the shutter speed and we were able to keep the same exposure.

We finished our class with an experiment in learning to see the environment around us -- finding assigned alphabet letters in our seemingly boring classroom -- and then with a game of photographic "telephone" -- about learning to communicate complex ideas through visual images.

Our homework: shoot a manual exposure, getting the best exposure you can and then checking this by looking at the image's histogram.

Then: try a series of shutter speeds with a moving object -- such as a spinning umbrella, a bouncing basket ball, or a hula hoop.

Next week we'll begin to look at composition, framing, and related issues.

Above: an iPhone snapshot from Tuesday. In Manhattan, it's important to be able to coordinate animal prints in any weather.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

EgoFest Followup

Well, EgoFest was fun to follow from afar, and it seems like it must have been a blast to be there. Great to see a festival that is so focused on doing things right for the filmmakers and the audience.

I made a post linking all of the films screening at EgoFest -- or at least, all I could find -- to their pages. I did this for two reasons:

1. If you were there, you can give the filmmakers a rating. They really really want you to.

2. If you were not there, a good number of the films are viewable online, linked from the IMDB page -- so you can watch either the full film or a trailer and get a sense of what screened. And then give a rating.

So, go to it.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

World Freaking Premiere

My short documentary To Get to the Other Side is screening at EgoFest Film Festival today.

If you are there, enjoy the film (and the full day of programming -- over 40 shorts are screening). If you get a chance, sign in to and give my short film an honest rating.

If you are not there, but want to follow the day's events, you can follow 18 of the filmmakers on this Twitter list of EgoFest Filmmakers. (Or you can follow the hashtag #EgoFest or festival organizer Phil Holbrook.)

They say the question-and-answer sessions and the awards ceremony will be streaming, so be ready to watch live.

You can also follow me on Twitter for the latest updates.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Photo Class Postponed to Feb 25th

My Seriously Fun Photography class has had its start day postponed one week. That means you can still enroll if you like. (More details soon, or you can look at previous posts on this blog.)

Above: an iPhone snapshot from today at Bronx Community College.

Photography in the News, Please Do Not Shake It Edition

Are there any horribly inappropriate uses of instant photo technology in the news today?

I'm glad you asked. Of course there are.

Mortuary Techs Caught Head-Handed

"Mortuary technicians have been caught playing with the dead—and they even documented their deeds on Polaroid. According to the NY Post, the photos that have been released—allegedly by someone who was trying to blackmail the employees—were taken around 2004."

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Photography in the News, Shake It Edition

Is there any news from the world of photography involving a world-class collection of photographs being sold off piece-by-piece rather than going to a museum? Unfortunately, there is, so now's your chance to purchase one of the 1,200 items up for auction...

Sotheby's to Sell Off Polaroid Collection

"The bankrupt Polaroid company will be selling off the highlights of its photography collection. Sotheby's has scheduled the auction for June 21st and 22nd, following a six-day-long display filling the entirety of Sotheby's headquarters."

Thursday, February 11, 2010

In NYC? Take my Photo Course at Hunter CE

Photography sure can be fun. If only there were some sort of class about that, taught locally starting next Thursday.

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.

Course/Section: SERFUN/1 6 Session(s) 12 Hour(s) Tuition: $250.00
Day(s) Meet: Thursday Date: 02/18/10-03/25/10 Time: 06:00PM-08:00PM
Location: CS, 71 E 94 ST./
Instructor(s): FISHER, TED
You can register online at Continuing Education at Hunter College

Above: an iPhone snapshot taken today.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Yesterday ... and Today

What a difference 24 hours can make. Above: iPhone snapshots: yesterday at Bronx Community College and today in the Upper East Side.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Blind Faith Screening, Egofest Schedule Posted

Over on my other blog I've linked to two February screenings: Blind Faith: A Film About Seeing at Picture This Film Festival and the World Freaking Premiere of To Get to the Other Side at EgoFest Short Video Film Festival.

EgoFest has now posted a schedule of the films with my short documentary in Block 3. I really really wish I could go to both of these events.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

All About Ego, In At Least Two Senses

Back in October, I made a post about shooting a mini-documentary on the New York Marathon as it streamed through my neighborhood.

"I'm jotting this down because, as always, when I start a film (no matter how short or casual) it seems rather imaginary. It takes a while for anything to be gathered, anything to be put together, and for it to be shaped into anything at all. And then, if it is made into something watchable, there's a huge lag for it to go somewhere."
Later, on January 20th of this year, I posted a followup:
"It's done. It's six minutes and ten seconds long, and sort of quirky. I'm sending it off to a few festivals in tomorrow's mail. I'll post more details soon, and we'll see how it goes."
Well, the first results are back, and To Get to the Other Side is heading to EgoFest in Brainerd, MN, for a one-day program featuring about 40 shorts.

Cool. Soon enough, we'll find out if it makes a few other festival stops as well, but for now, back to work.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

TV Party Tonight

Today was the first day of the term for my Television Studio class. I hate to have students wait to get their hands on the equipment, so we went right into switching.

I set up three cameras, then got the students into pairs: a Director and a Technical Director. They would call what camera to prepare, then what camera to cut to.

"Ready Camera 3. Take Camera 3. Ready Camera 1. Take Camera 1."

It's relatively easy to direct that sort of live switching -- until the pressure is on and you are trying to time which shot should be up. So we set the clock for 60 seconds, and tried to bring the show in from black, follow a conversation (always deciding if we should see the speaker or the reaction shot) and then back out to black on the dot.

It's harder than it sounds, in a good way.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Photography in the News, Incessant Hack Edition

To be said in best Inigo Montoya voice: "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

Look, there's a long tradition relating to installation art. It means something. It's not just a word you can slap onto hackwork and expect it will improve it.

Spencer Tunick keeps doing the same thing. Over, and over. Often, when an artist does that, the work grows in context and gets deeper, more meaningful, getter. Not in this case. It's just the same thing over and over, and it becomes less interesting each time. Except he's taken to calling his snapshots "installations."

Tunick's work is now less remarkable than a Geico ad, and twice as annoying. I've written about his always-the-damn-same work previously, and I guess I can stop hoping it will ever stop, grow, improve or vary in the slightest.

Nude volunteers needed for Opera House strip

"New York photographer Spencer Tunick is looking for thousands of Australians to disrobe in the name of art on the steps of the Sydney Opera House."

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


Today was my first trip back to The Bronx in about a month. The new term starts this week, and I'm teaching a television production class and a combined Photoshop / After Effects class.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Photography in the News, Street Protest Edition

I think historians of the future will ignore most of what we say or write today and instead look at our actions. The fastest growing artform in our society is photography, yet it's become closely associated with our biggest cultural fears: terrorism, loss of privacy, and the abuse of children. Some undergrad in 2064, then, will likely have to write a paper or two about our changing relationship to photography on the street.

Are there any items in today's news related to that thought? I'm glad you asked, because there is in fact something you may find interesting:

Photographers protest against police use of anti-terror laws

"Trafalgar Square was lit up by flash bulbs this lunchtime as thousands of photographers demonstrated against police use of stop and search. The event was organised by the campaign group, I’m a photographer, not a terrorist, following a series of high-profile detentions of photographers under section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000. Official estimates indicate that around 2,000 amateur and professional photographers joined the protest."

Friday, January 22, 2010

Documentaries in the News, Pantsuit Edition

Well, it looks like there will be a bright shiny future for documentary filmmakers. As long you really want to be a corporate shill when you grow up.

That's right: one channel for influence peddling in the decade ahead will certainly be political documentaries funded by corporations. If you realize a particular candidate might restrict your Widget sales, just because they tend to be unsafe, unhealthy, unwholesome Widgets that maybe could use the tiniest bit of regulation, well: get a hit piece going. You probably only need to sway a small percentage of minds. So what a cost-effective way to buy an election: a whole fleet of "documentary" Swift Boats. A little fleet of films that "question" if that candidate isn't really hiding a taste for cannibalism, or a secret past filled with much, much worse. No real evidence needed.

You know, the type of film that wouldn't get out into the world without someone who benefits from creating fear, doubt and uncertainty wildly tossing distribution money around to clear the path ahead.

(Later, the opposition candidate -- who coincidentally supports a policy of complete deregulation of Widget production -- will say "I don't know why my opponent won't answer these charges of devouring children in Satanic rituals.")

You're probably way ahead of me here, because I know you keep up on your Supreme Court decisions. But just in case, let's review why a documentary film was at the heart of today's decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission to overturn limits for corporate spending for or against political candidates.

Citizens United used 'Hillary: The Movie' to take on McCain-Feingold

'David Bossie, a veteran Republican campaign operative who made his mark investigating the Clintons, thought his group could offer a conservative answer to Michael Moore's successful films. After Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" premiered in 2004, Bossie's Citizens United group released "Celsius 41.11."

And after it became clear that Bossie's longtime enemy Hillary Rodham Clinton would run for president, Citizens United released another flick: "Hillary: The Movie." Featuring a who's-who cast of right-wing commentators, the 2008 film takes viewers on a savaging journey through Clinton's scandals. The sole compliment about the then-senator comes from conservative firebrand Ann Coulter: "Looks good in a pantsuit."'
Follow the link, read the rest.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Hoop Springs Eternal

Here's our short documentary Hoop Springs Eternal. Enjoy, and share with your hooping friends. Feel free to embed it on a blog, Tweet it, Facebook it, or complain about it to your circle of friends.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Working with the Canon 7D

Redrock Captain Stubing - Setup from matt conway on Vimeo.

Matt Conway and Kirk Dilley completed the first interview on our new short documentary yesterday, shooting with a Canon 7D. I'll be posting a bit on the process soon (including specifics on file processing and sizes), but for those interested in this way of shooting, here's Matt showing his 7D setup.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Second Canon 7D Test

Back to the Grind from matt conway on Vimeo.

Today, Matt Conway and Kirk Dilley are scheduled to shoot the first interview session for a short documentary we're working on. They are using a Canon 7D for the project, and above you'll find another test shoot with the camera giving an idea of the look of the piece.

Monday, January 11, 2010

First Canon 7D Test

Redrock Captain Stubing Test from matt conway on Vimeo.

I'm remotely producing (and later will edit) a short documentary. It's interview-based, and it's being being shot in California.

So, big whoop. What's new about it?

Well, one thing that's new is that it will be shot on the Canon 7D. As you may know, a lot of folks are very excited about the possibilities DSLR cameras now offer for video. Since this can be particularly interesting for documentary, I've developed an idea for a short that I think is a good match for the strengths of the camera.

Above: a first test with the Canon. More soon, and thanks to Matt Conway and Kirk Dilley.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Chez Stacks

My wife is preparing for a very important step toward her Ph.D. Which means I currently live in the middle of huge stacks of books on the history of photography.

Which isn't so bad.

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch

On my other blog, I've posted a seven part series on Narration and Titling.

I know, I know: you can hardly control yourself and want to start to read that immediately.

Wait one second, though. Why have I posted it? That's because I'm editing a piece where narration and titling is central to the documentary. For a lot of people, partially because of the "virtuous" influence of Cinema Verite, voiceover and titling are sins. I can understand that view. But this just isn't that type of Doc.

So the question became: if I'm going to use these out-of-favor elements, what's the right way to use them? I went back and re-read a paper I wrote on the subject as a way of refreshing my ideas. That paper then became seven idea posts on the subject.

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Part Five

Part Six

Part Seven

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Behold the Power of Twitter

Back in the summer of 2008, I ordered Chinese food from our usual place on First Avenue and got a laugh when I received this fortune.

As you can imagine, I sort of forgot about that, eventually.

Then tonight, about a year-and-a-half later, I saw the following fortune posted by musician Ted Leo.

So, one can only speculate. Is there a disgruntled fortune-maker? Someone who grew up with dreams of being a writer, but because of poor spelling was only able to acquire a job in a fortune-making factory? Has a small typo been printed in a huge stack, inserted into fortune cookies all over the world for years?

Good luch figuring that one out.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Shake It Up: Photography in the News

I'm really from the "let it go, man, cause it's gone" school of thought. But not everyone is. Which is why this story of last-century's technology is in today's edition of Photography in the News.

CES: Polaroid film cameras come back

"Digital is the future, but the market has screamed for the return of Polaroid film," says Jon Pollock, Polaroid's chief marketing officer. The film is targeted toward artists and enthusiasts, and the cost per photo will be "pretty expensive," he acknowledges. No exact price was announced.

The re-introduction of film was made possible by a group of Polaroid fans in Denmark who call themselves the Impossible Project. They banded together to put a factory together to make the film again.
Apparently: not so impossible.

Think Outside the Box Office

It's fair to say that the hottest book in Documentary and Independent Filmmaking circles is currently Think Outside the Box Office: The Ultimate Guide to Film Distribution and Marketing for the Digital Era by Jon Reiss.

With everyone interested in how distribution models are changing––some would say collapsing, some would say evolving––it's a book that has come along at just the right time.

Wondering where you know that name from? Well, I used to show my students scenes from Better Living Through Circuitry, or you may have seen his more recent film Bomb It.

I don't own this one yet––where's the Kindle Edition?––but take a glance at the reviews on Amazon and you'll see it's highly recommended. If it suits your goals for filmmaking, buy it.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Not Up To Speed: Documentaries in the News

Pop quiz, hotshot.

There's a bomb in your theater. No, not a literal bomb. A bomb in the sense of a faux documentary. One of those anti-scientific gibberish-friendly films, allegedly filled with discredited arguments given by allegedly highly-paid Discovery Institute think-tankers, "finding" what they're allegedly paid to find. (Which is? "God did it." Writing abstracts for their "research" papers must be fairly simple, really. Allegedly.) You know the kind: the banana fits so well in your hand, it must have been designed to be there. That kind of bomb.

Once the Discovery Institute press release goes out, allegedly trying to make it sound like a Smithsonian sponsored event, the bomb is armed. If you show the film, somewhere down the road folks will say: part of the funding we gave you went to .... Intelligent Design documentary screenings? Then somewhere else, on an internet discussion board you don't really want to visit, someone will pause from posting about the government disclosure of aliens and post about the screening and how it shows even the Smithsonian doubts evolution. Which, they know, was really engineered by aliens, anyway.

But -- ha! -- here's the catch. If you slow this thing down, there will be a holy cry arising about how you're suppressing dissenting views. Whatsa matter, afraid someone will find out your whole Darwin thing doesn't even mention the shape of the banana?

So you're moving forward, 50 miles an hour, toward certain doom. If you drop below 50, the whole story blows up. What do you do? What do you do?

The L.A. Times has full story.

California Science Center is sued for canceling a film promoting intelligent design

L.A.'s California Science Center will start the new year defending itself in court for canceling a documentary film attacking Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. A lawsuit alleges that the state-owned center improperly bowed to pressure from the Smithsonian Institution, as well as e-mailed complaints from USC professors and others. It contends that the center violated both the 1st Amendment and a contract to rent the museum's Imax Theater when it canceled the screening of "Darwin's Dilemma: The Mystery of the Cambrian Fossil Record."