I haven’t organized the lessons from shooting this event, so I’ll start by sharing some of my favorite shots and worry about the lessons later.
On the first evening of the Ojai Storytelling Festival, I made a couple of good images, and they more or less ruined the rest of the festival for me, photographically speaking.
Those of you familiar with my past festival work can see the problem: terrific lighting, timing, and gesture, right? I’m there to document the event, but these pictures approach the quality of real photographs. When I finished processing these, the other couple of hundred images from Thursday evening went straight to the delete file, even though in the past I probably would have used five or ten of them.
I shot about 1500 frames throughout the festival, but failed to produce images as compelling (to me) as the two above. Sure, I got some good pictures to document who performed at the 2013 festival, but I set a higher standard for myself, and I failed to meet it. There’s an important lesson here, but I confess that I haven’t figured it out yet…
We interrupt our regularly scheduled search for the perfect walk-around lens to bring you a brief tale of coastal real estate as observed on my recent visit to Bolsa Chica Wetlands Preserve.
*Apologies to Dante Alighieri
Before you criticize my cavalier approach to decision-making, remember that this is the premier blog for lazy, disorganized, impatient photographers. Below are some pictures I took with the 105 f/2.8 Micro since the previous blog post, and below them I explain why the 105 has been eliminated from contention.
So, here we have a drunken bee, a pretty flower, a very large beet wearing Peepers, and Lord Greystoke’s official portrait. And these images conclusively prove why the 105 f/2.8 cannot be my walk-around lens! How so, you might ask. Well I’ll tell you. The flowers are in my backyard, the beet is in the kitchen, and the cat was sitting on my wife, on the sofa. The 105 is one of my favorite lenses, as I discussed here, but I’ve gone for a couple of walks this week and did not carry a camera. Why? Because the 105 is big and heavy and I didn’t feel like hauling it around.
This proves two things: 1) I’m a wimp, and 2) I can disqualify quite a few of my lenses, including the 11-16 f/2.8 and 70-200 f/2.8. I might also disqualify the 17-55 f/2.8, which is probably as heavy as the 105. (I’d look up their respective weights, but please refer to the first sentence of this post). All of my lenses are optically worthwhile; that’s why I own them. What I’ve realized during this test is that for me, a walk-around lens has to be a lens that I don’t have to think twice about hauling on a six-mile saunter when there’s no particular photo purpose in mind. From my current collection, that leaves only two or possibly three contenders: the 35 f/2.0, the 50 f/1.8, and, because it’s so nice I might make a weight exception, the 85 f/1.4.
I also realize that I should not have sold my 60 f/2.8 micro, because there’s a REASON it was my walk-around lens for so many years, being both versatile and compact. Well, live and learn…
Lately I’ve been carrying too much gear everywhere, and as any experienced amateur will tell you, one shoots less when overburdened. Back in my film days, and early in my digital era, I found myself out and about with nothing but a 60mm f/2.8 Micro-Nikkor. It was my go-to walk-around lens, and I shot everything with it.
Right now, I don’t have a go-to walk-around lens. When I have an assignment, I bring lenses appropriate to the task. But I think that not having a walk-around lens, one that I know intimately and can see through before I raise the camera to my eye, is a problem. In fact, it may be the reason that I’m not walking around, making pictures.
So I have decided to select one, and I’m going to spend the next few weeks going on one-lens excursions to see what excites and inspires me when I’m feeling dull and uninspired.
First up, in honor of that old 60mm Micro-Nikkor, is my 105mm f/2.8 Micro-Nikkor. I roamed the backyard with it a couple of weekends ago, and this post includes some of the images, although not a good sampling of the lens’ versatility. I will make it my walk-around lens for the next couple of weeks and see what happens. After that, I think I’ll try the 35mm f/2.0. Dang, this is going to be fun…
Claud Mann and I had been chatting at the picnic table behind the house that is home to the Orfalea Foundation, where we work on the School Food Initiative. Reentering the building, we saw the plate of lemon slices on the kitchen counter in the bright, mid-morning light.
“..And me without a camera,” I said. Then we both pulled out our iPhones.
Some people are just drawn to interesting light. But no two people see it the same way.
Somehow I find the differences in these photos very uplifting. The chef used the light to show the food; the photographer used the food to counterpoint the light. There we stood, seeing the same thing, from our own eyes. And we made what we chose to make of it.
Last month, Kevin Wynn spoke to the Ojai Photography Club about his approach to portraiture. He listed light, angle, focal length, and connection/communication as the factors he considers when creating his images, and I find his images singularly powerful.
I’ve been thinking about Kevin’s words and images a lot, but when I shot this a couple of weeks ago it reminded me that however important the other factors are at any given time, connection can trump them all.
I knew Sheri Vogan in high school, and I was madly in love with her, but don’t tell her that, because I sure never did. Even though we had our own respective girl- and boy-friends in high school, we just had a buoyant chemistry and joyousness in one another’s company.
We even have a weird photographic past. A photo studio solicited on campus for models for an Indian Motorcycle advertising campaign (in about 1974 or 1975). They held auditions for two days, and dozens of student couples tried out for the gig. As the photographer came into the activities office to sign out before leaving campus, he found Sheri and I sharing the Activities’ Director’s chair – competitively, and bantering like Beatrice and Benedict. He offered us the gig on the spot. And we spent an afternoon doing a terrible job modeling for the photo shoot, but it meant a lot to me to have that special time with Sheri.
Anyway, about twenty-five or thirty years later… Sheri came to Ojai for a spa weekend, looked me up, and we met for lunch. And we talked for hours. Perhaps you are lucky enough to have a friend like this, someone you can see after years apart, and it’s as if you pick up the conversation mid-sentence. Another two years passed, and Sheri visited Ojai again. We met for dinner, we talked for hours, and I snapped the picture above.
I was out and about in deprivation mode: one lens, one body, black and white. We were just chatting away in her hotel room after dinner and a bottle (or so) of wine, and mid-conversation I just picked up the camera and started firing away. Now, a lot of people I know – people I’ve known longer than I’ve known Sheri – would have flinched or resisted somehow. We just kept chatting while I was taking pictures. That’s how comfortable we are together.
Sheri and I are both happily married, if not to each other, so there was no funny business. But the photo both affirms and questions Kevin’s hierarchy for portraiture. The side lighting, provided by a table lamp, is evocative. The angle, slightly below as I melted in my drunken comfort into a chair in front of the fireplace, is just askew enough to be noticed. The focal length and distance to subject isolate her Mona Lisa smile pretty well, yes? But that Mona Lisa Smile – that’s what makes this a special picture to me. That’s the smile of a woman who trusts the man who is taking her picture. And trust is the greatest connection of all. Lighting, Angle, Focal Length, and Connection all matter, but without Connection you might get a picture and miss the photograph altogether.