Friday Inspiration: Arturo Chapa

Horse and Rider

Over the past few weeks I’ve been thinking about, and continue to think about, book design. What are the elements of a good photobook? I have lots of photobooks to look at and I continue to work through them identifying the elements that work and don’t seem to work.

I was very interested to hear the discussion that Michael Reichmann had with book designer Arturo Chapa regarding the preparation of Reichmann’s 20 year retrospective book, the proceeds of which will be used to seed the charitable foundation ‘The Luminous Endowment for photographers’.

Chapa has a number of interesting things to say about his philosophy of designing books. The most pertinent for me was his assertion that you shouldn’t see the design. If the book is well designed you just see the images. You don’t see the design, you don’t notice the quality, you just see and remember the images. It’s all in support of the content. Check out the video below for more about how Arturo Chapa thinks about book design and manages the process of getting the book printed to the standard that he demands.

Making the Book: Michael Reichmann – a 20 year Photographic Retrospective from The Luminous Landscape on Vimeo.

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.

Close to Home

I’ve been reading, or rather, re-reading Stuart Sipahigil’s e-book ‘close to home’ in the last few days. Stuart makes a compelling argument that you often don’t have to look much further than your own backyard to make engaging photographs. Granted I would love my backyard to look like his – see page 10 in the e-book for an example – but I am fortunate to live in New England, an amazing part of the world. We take home for granted and stop seeing what is in front of us everyday and as a result miss opportunities to hone our craft without having to travel thousands of miles. This practice stands you in good stead when you do travel and have an opportunity to make photographs that you would have otherwise been unable to make.

William Neill in a recent post on the luminous landscape blog articulates this point nicely. I think I live in a great place, just south of Boston in the heart of New England. William Neill has live in or very close to Yosemite for over 25 years. Yet it took many visits over the course of a number of years for him to begin to make images that were unique and expressed what he felt. What particularly rings true for me is that the better you know and understand your subject the more likely you are to make a unique image. Focusing on subjects close to home allows us to visit frequently, to experiment with making images at different times of the day, different seasons and different weathers. Making it more likely that you’ll capture the essence of the place.

Stuart describes an exercise in his book of limiting your self to a particular area ‘Close to Home’ in an effort to spark the creative juices. My reaction to Stuart’s exercise rather than to initiate such a project, was to think about how far from home I consider still to be close. I’ve been shooting close to home for the last 3 or so years.  I attended a workshop in Acadia NP and while I had a good time, I didn’t end up with many images that I was happy with.  I realized that I needed to put some time in behind the camera if I’m to stand a chance of getting the images that I hope to make.  After 3 years of working the same subjects in different seasons, weather and light, I now feel that I’m likely to get reasonable images when I venture farther afield.  The time is right for me to expand what I consider to be my home territory. After some consideration I decided that for me ‘home’ is now up to an hours drive or about 50 miles for morning shoots and perhaps 2 hours or 100 miles for evening shoots. This gives me an enormous range of potential subjects that I could explore. To help me focus I am going to begin a couple of projects – one of which is to get more images of Boston. Even though I live close to the city and travel there every day, I have very few images that go beyond the standard tourist shots. This is the year that I will work to build my Boston portfolio – watch this space!