Mind The Gap

Ira Glass on Storytelling from David Shiyang Liu on Vimeo.

I have a couple of photography related book projects that should see the light of day by the end of the year and need to prepare the files for printing. To that end over the last week I’ve started aggregating the materials that I’ll need to start teaching myself the rudiments of InDesign. Now I’m feeling a little overwhelmed and stalling beginning the learning process.

I love books, so much so that my kids have asked me on more than one occasion whether I’m going to open a library, and being in a position to make my own is an amazing opportunity. But here’s the thing, I’ve spent a long time learning how to make my camera do what I want it to do which meant a long period of knowing what it was that I liked but not being able to get there – the Ira Glass video above is an apt description of this gap.

Does this apply to book design? Certainly, there are lots of tiny decisions that have to be made from small typographic questions such as whether or not to use ‘&’ in the title and what font to use to larger layout questions. Without getting these right the result will be jarring even if you couldn’t quite put your finger on what the problem is. Your work will suffer by how it’s presented.

While the answer of course is to make lots of books and test them in a safe environment, what to do for projects where you don’t have the time for those cycles of improvement?

I’m tempted to look for a book designer that I can work with to help me bring my first projects to life while I learn the rudiments of the software and the design process so that the books that I make present my work in the strongest way possible. What would you do?

Friday Inspiration: Moby – ‘Creativity and Freedom to Fail’

Today for a change of pace I thought that I’d share Moby‘s recent presentation to the LA Creative Mornings group. His topic was ‘Creativity and Freedom to Fail’. Lots of good nuggets here for everyone involved in the creative process.

Why Do You Photograph?

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If you’ve been following along here, in the last few weeks we’ve been digging in to identify our purpose, the big why that is the underlying reason for the choices that we make in life. A touchstone that helps guide us through difficult decisions.

Before I leave this topic for a little while I could help but ask a final question. Why do you photograph? Perhaps related is how does your photography support your big why?

Now I’m not thinking about what kind of photography, sports, documentary, editorial, fine art etc., or what you photograph but why do you do the thing that you’ve chosen to do.

There are lots of reasons that people photograph, to capture the essence of a person or a pet, to make other people feel emotion, to preserve significant moments, to create something, as a meditative practice. The list goes on.

Making the connection between your photography and your big why can help identify new photography projects, bring existing photographic projects into focus, give a sense of direction to your work and also a reason to keep going when you’re wondering is it worth it. Additionally, as we’ve discussed previously understand why helps guide your decision making and help make sense of the myriad of options you have for spend your most precious resource of all – time.

My Evolving Sensor Cleaning Method

Ever wonder how the camera manufacturers clean sensors? I have. Skip to min 13:20 in this video to take a look at what the Leica folks use.

My method for cleaning my gear has largely been informed by what I was taught by Moose Peterson in his DLWS workshops.

The simple process that I was following until very recently was to:

  • use the camera’s self cleaning system, which sometimes actually works(!)
  • use a blower to get rid biggish loose bits of dust
  • use a brush such as the Arctic butterfly to remove what wasn’t removed by the blower

If I decided that there were just too many dust spots remaining after a couple of passes with the brush I would then go ahead with ‘wet cleaning’. I used to think that wet cleaning was ‘one pass and your done’ but with practice I realize that it’s not unusual to need 3 or 4 passes with the sensor swabs to get the sensor clean. Occasionally, as was the case on a recent trip, during the initial wet cleaning I manage to drag oil from around the sensor on to the sensor itself and then have to do an even more rigorous cleaning. Visible Dust have a couple of different solvents for wet cleaning that I use. I generally start with VDust plus and then go to Smear Away if I need to.

As an aside, Visible Dust products are expensive and with the need for multiple passes for wet cleaning it’s easy to blow $20 or more in a single cleaning session. That can be a real pain in the wallet if you need to clean your sensor at the end of every day or before every shoot. Because of this many people are switching to Copper Hill products which offer a cheaper option for swabs that involves making up the swab yourself. I tried their products way back when and was never satisfied with how the swab went together. In this video from Moose it looks like Copper Hill redesigned the handle and now the swabs are easier to assemble.

So what’s changed with my process? I’m now incorporating the sensor gel stick that you saw in the Leica video above into my ‘dry’ cleaning method. While I could probably skip the arctic butterfly, and probably will, as I get more comfortable with the sticky pad I’m still using the brush prior to using the . Moose mentions that he didn’t get a year out of his sensor gel stick, so that’s something to keep in mind.

Check out the instructional video below for a how-to tutorial with the sticky pad.

Friday Inspiration: Thomas Moran

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It’s always surprising to me how there is a common thread between the things that catch my attention. I’d been looking at the work of Turner in recent weeks and in the course of that exploration read of his influence on the Hudson River School painter Thomas Moran. I was recently fortunate enough to be in a position to have access to to a couple of great books, ‘Thomas Moran: Artist of the Mountains’ by Thurman Wilkins and the National Gallery of Art book ‘Thomas Moran’ and was able to spend some more time reading about the influence of Turner on Moran’s work. The Wilkins book is quite dense and was something of a labor to get through, even though I only had time to read the sections on the intersection of Moran and Turner’s work. Moran spent time in London studying the work of Turner, learning the fundamentals of Turner’s technique such that he was able to make high-quality copies of the masterworks. This exploration of the use of light and color that began with emulating the work of Turner remained with Moran even as he developed his own distinct style.

Moran is perhaps most famous for his paintings of the american west and particularly of Yellowstone which were instrumental in making the case for the creation of Yellowstone National Park. It wasn’t these images that caught my eye but rather the ones that represented Shoshone Falls. The Shoshone falls when Moran painted them were considered to be unexplored by painters, although long recognized to be second only to Niagara Falls in magnificence. The section on the falls in the National Gallery book is particularly interesting. I was surprised to read that the painting of the falls at the top of the page was the last of his large panoramic landscapes and remained unsold at his death. My interest in the Shosone falls was piqued because it was the subject of another one of my favorite photographers Thomas Joshua Cooper. I’ve mentioned Cooper on the blog previously in a couple of posts first here and then here. His interpretation of the Shoshone falls can be seen in his book Shoshone Falls. A book that I’m going to revisit soon.

Check out the discuss of Thomas Moran’s work in the video below:

Eliminating Distractions: Edit Ruthlessly

If you’ve gone through the exercise to unearth you why or crafted a mission statement you should have a better sense of what is important to you. So here’s a question, how much of the stuff in your life actually supports your mission, actively contributes to what you’re trying to achieve? How much is left over commitments to old hobbies that lost their luster a long time ago. This can be true on multiple levels, physical and emotion. Patterns of behavior that don’t fit with who you want to become, to what you want to achieve.

Fortunately with your newly crafted mission it’s easy to edit the things in your life so that everything that you do points you in a forward direction. Starting this editing process can be overwhelming but it needn’t be. You just have to start. Start by taking an inventory of your commitments. What still fits what doesn’t. Bow out gracefully from those things that are taking time away from what you’d rather be doing. Think about what you should be adding that will move you towards your goals. Finding a supportive community to share your work with and receive feedback from can be an important step forward for any artist.

Reducing the physical clutter in your life can be remarkably freeing and result in bursts of creativity. This can be a simple as taking 10 minutes to work on a specific area – your desk, the kitchen counter could be good places to start. Places where you have to move things around before you are able to start working are strong indicators of the need to optimize that work area.

Take stock of the things that come into your life – magazine subscriptions from discarded hobbies are a major source of clutter for me, not dealing with the mail as it came in also overwhelmed me when I first moved to the US. Books can also be another problem for some, clothes for others.

Removing these distractions to free up space and time to focus on the things that are important will have a meaningful impact on moving you towards your goals.

Memory Matters

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I’ve been nerding out looking at memory cards over the last week or so. Although in principal I don’t need ‘fast memory’ cards the latest gadgets always catch my eye. So it was with these Lexar cards that are 1066x, sounds faster than my 300x cards but 1066 times what. It turns out this is in reference to the speed of the original CD-ROM of 150 KB/sec. So cards that are rated 300x have sustained write speeds of 45Mb/s and cards that are rated 1006 will have write speeds of ~160Mb/s. To me this seems important in two places – if you’re shooting fast action such as sports or chasing your kids around and when you’re downloading the cards where faster cards will download faster.

It seems that even with the faster cards for the long exposures that I take at the fringes of the day the write time is roughly equivalent to the length of the exposure. So a 20 second exposure will mean a 20 second write. While I know I ought to be more relaxed about it that can seem like an awfully long time between shots.

The other thing that I’m trying to balance in addition to write time is how large should the card be. I like to have enough memory cards on hand so that when I go off shooting for a couple of days I don’t have to reformat any of the cards. This gives me a third back up in addition to storage on my hard drives. I have typically settled on 16GB cards as a good size, I get a good number of images per card – often a morning or an afternoons shoot per card – without it being too many that if I were to lose the card or if it were to crash I wouldn’t have lost the entire trip.