Why your photography isn't getting any better.

I am really lucky in the grand scheme of photography. I like my high-school self, move between genres and different groups of people easily. Sometimes I am hanging out with portrait photographers, urbex photographers, or walking the streets with mobile only photographers. I’ve had a lot of good conversations with landscape photographers, and documentarians. Hell I will even hang out with video guys even though most of them are just plain assholes. What I am trying to say is, I interact with lots of different photographers and at lots of different skill levels of photography.

Which gets me to my point. There is a point.

What cuts across genres of all photographers young or old is their obsession with gear. The latest EOS R camera. Is it 4k 120 frames they ask? I am switching to Sony, their cameras are incredible with low light, she adds. I want to make the move to a different system, he says. It is literally everywhere and I partially blame the big corporations for all releasing new systems this year.

But here is the thing. I have a little theory which won’t make some of you very happy. I think that the obsession over gear or switching systems and the amount you obsess over is inversely proportional to your success.

If I had to graph it it would look like this:

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The first reason, and this might sting a little, is this obsession with gear gives you an excuse, a free pass to blame the issues in your equipment for you photography shortcomings. Think about a stone mason blaming a hammer for not being able to split a stone in the right spot. It sounds ludicrous.

The second reason is that this gear obsession keeps you from doing the actual work you need to do to get better. The real work of photography is practice, training your eye. But almost everyone I talk to is waiting to practice till they get the right lens, the right camera.

Now this is when people start mumbling under their breath, that they need a certain sensor size, or 14 stops of dynamic range.

But I want to counter with a simple visualization. All photography really is, is placing a postage stamp sized image sensor in front of a scene. Think about that for a minute. Just letting photons hit a small bit of light sensitive cells about the size of a matchbook. Now strip away all the frame, lenses and everything else until your holding just that sensor in your shaky little hand. Now look out in front of that sensor and know that for every degree you turn it you get a good or a bad photograph. Thats where the real work is. Turning that little light sensitive plane in front of something that someone actually cares about, that they want to see. That they need to see.

Think about holding that sensor in your hand the next time you buy your new camera, and think about it 6 months after you bought the latest greatest thing. In the end, it won’t change, but what you hold it in front of, and what angle you hold it will.

Abandoned Artist's Studio

I guess I’m not sure where to start. I guess I’ll start with our fixer, “J.”

I reached out to “J” over instagram for a cool little find he had posted. From the images and videos he shared it looked to be an abandoned artists studio perched above a river. From the artifacts I saw in the video I knew two things. One it was pretty much untouched, and two it would not stay that way for long. If Jordan and I wanted to preserve anything we had to do it before kids tore that place apart.

Jordan and I got up super early Saturday morning and drove the 90 minutes to pick up J. Of course Jordan and I were chatting so I missed the exit. We picked up J a bit late but headed right to the location. We scrambled through a scary looking basement and climbed up a set of metal ladders with a bit of an acrobatic move.

What we found was an abandoned hydro-electric station on the river turned art studio by a truly remarkable man. He was a pilot, architect, art Professor, color theorist, and hammer collector. His paintings are on display at MoMa. He designed and built a synagogue and a home. He also flew over Nagasaki days after the bomb dropped and survived in the ocean with his crew for 6 days on a raft.

I could go on and on about the good things, but this man also had tragedy in his life. He lost his daughter at age 29 from a freak accident after the car she was driving hit a horse that escaped its pen. He outlived his wife and most of the others he knew. He lived till the ripe old age of 96.

I am still in awe.

I found lots of books about Bresson and Brassai in his studio so I processed these images dark and mostly in black and white as I think the late professor would have liked.It seemed fitting. Click on the images below to see them larger.

When should you post-process your images?

Some photographers come home after a shoot and dive right into their images to edit and post them as quickly as possible. Their images hit instagram almost immediately. In this instantaneous world this seems like almost a no brainer, or is it?

Professional photographer Ben Long advocate to sit on your images and wait to edit them. He likes to wait to edit which helps him disconnect from his images and look at them in a more objective light. When you edit right away he argues, you are too emotionally attached and therefore make mistakes when judging the merit of your images.

I tend to take a balanced approach and try to look at the images and flag my best images but then revisit them at a later date. My editing timeline tends to follow this trajectory:

Directly after the shoot/that evening: Import and backup my images. I also rate the images and pick my keepers. I tend to also edit a few of the best images and post them.

A few days later: I dive in a bit deeper to the keepers and the top 5-10 images. I usually post a few more to social media and work on the images that need a bit more photoshop or heavy processing as time allows.

Winter time: During our long winters here in Syracuse I tend to revisit large projects and try to take more of a creative approach. I will try more adventurous edits and try pushing the processing to a heavier look. Sometime I will get inspired by a certain look or video and try to push my processing in that direction and see what happens. This is my opportunity to get creative and wild in my processing and I tend to create virtual copies in Lightroom and try editing a few different ways.

What do you do for editing? I would love to hear about your process in the comments below!

Below are a few of the images I have been reworking from our Italy trip in 2013 using a heavy handed black and white style to emphasize line and shape. Our days in Venice were very dreary and the clouds and rain made shooting difficult, therefore the editing was very difficult in color and had a moodiness throughout. This style of editing lends a hand to that moodiness.

Double Exposure

Learned that Canon cameras had a double exposure feature last week and decided to go out and try it today on a nature hike. For a canon I believe it is the fourth from the left menu item about halfway down. Super easy, take a shot, then take the second and in a few seconds it is blended together!

Abandoned Car Dealership

Our first urbex stop was a bust so we stopped at this abandoned car dealership today.

Click the images to enlarge them.

Story behind the photo: “The Worst Day of My Life”

"The winter of my discontent" is how I should frame this story, because that’s the capital “T" truth. I was living in Oswego in a small, barely heated, basement apartment. I thought I was going to freeze to death, and used every burner on the electric range as my fireplace. My friends had all moved home, or gotten lives and there I was- alone- in a sterile, unfinished apartment that used to be a computer store. After teaching, I would return home to the same plain white walls as my classroom, cold from the bluish tint of florescent lights. I was commuting everyday in brutal snowstorms, to Liverpool, and some-what teaching. I say some-what teaching because it was survival, plain and simple. The teacher part was killing me. I was imprisoned in a small room with four desks, thirty kids, no books, no tools, no supplies. Basically, all the things a Technology Education teacher needs to survive.. I had none. The best part was that I student taught the exact same group of kids a few months earlier, but now I did not have the soft, warm protection of the master teacher. I was fresh meat and they smelled the blood. The kids hated me, and I was starting to think they were right and I was wrong. I screamed, I pleaded, I guilted, but mostly I was ashamed. Forty minutes later the cycle would repeat. It wasn’t that I didn’t try, but teaching was the first thing in my life that didn’t work by thinking it through and working hard. Every other problem in my life I steamrolled by either ingenuity or sheer volume of hard work. Neither worked. I learned my first hard lesson: you can’t manipulate the human condition.

     The day this picture was taken was the bottom of a series of events that reached the depths of all I had. I had thanked God for the snow day, as hours earlier I had decided that if something didn’t happen soon I was going to have to make a change. The scariest moment in your life is real clarity without options, and I got all I needed that morning. We had received a huge amount of snowfall overnight and there was so much snow the piles were above the roof of my truck. The family next door woke me with their snowblower, and I grabbed a shovel and a camera to capture the ridiculous amount of snow we had. As I stood there admiring my shoveling job the neighbors dog walked over and stared up at me, peering into my soul. He lingered, staring up at me, and I snapped this picture. If you look close enough you can see a reflection of me in 2004, in his eyes.

     I’m not sure what he saw, or what he understood from looking at me. But minutes later the sun came out, and my life slowly started to change. Shortly after, I moved to Liverpool, got a personal trainer, and connected with some friends. I always think back to that day, to that dog, and wonder why he needed to see me hit the bottom, why he needed to see it in my eyes to be sure. I’m not sure I received any guidance that day, but I definitely knew someone was watching out for me.

 

 

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And like that, She's gone.

LeMoyne Manor was one of those explores that is right under your nose as you're searching the internet for abandoned buildings. I had driven by it every single day, dropping my daughter off at daycare. So glad Jordan and I got to tour the building a few times before it came down. 

The property was steeped in history. Built as a mansion by the famous architect Ward Wellington Ward in 1916 it was a beautiful property overlooking the lake. Later it became a banquet hall and motel where many people in CNY had their wedding. In the 1990's the property also served as a halfway house for recovering drug and alcohol addicts. Plans for the space include retail and luxury apartments starting in 2019.

Scroll down for more images.

 

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 From: www.syracusethenandnow.com

From: www.syracusethenandnow.com

The universe conspired in your favor.

I tend to go on a lot of tangents, and lately, maybe it's my age but I have been listening to and reading a lot of philosophy. Whether it be Alan Watts, Wayne Dyer, or Bucky Fuller I am fully engrossed into it now in my life. Why at this point in my life am I falling down this rabbit hole is a whole other story.

The kicker is, and maybe this is just my own glasses I am viewing the work through, but they all seem to have the same message. I keep getting the same lesson.

The big idea said many ways is:

1. The universe is rigged in your favor. 

2. The universe is conspiring to fulfill your wishes.

3. Stop trying so hard and just let it happen. 

So this brings me to this set of photographs. I went down to the city to continue my Syracuse street project and I decided that instead of hunting for street photos I would fish for them. This involves finding a cool scene or location and waiting for interesting people to walk through it. This is definitely different than the way I typically do street photography, where I typically hunt for images by walking many blocks looking for interesting things to photograph.

I found a cool scene with a set of stairs and sun peeking down the alley just to the south of the courthouse. I set up on a small bench and just waited with my camera. The problem was everybody who was coming through the scene was taking a ramp down instead of the stairs I wanted them too.

As I sat longer, I started to give up. I checked my watch. But in my mind this idea that the universe was rigged in my favor kept coming back to me. So I gave it more time. 

About the time I said, "OK I will give it five more minutes and I will move on," a national grid truck pulled up onto the sidewalk blocking the other ramp, even going to so far as to put cones up. It was magic! Now people were forced down my set of stairs and I sat there shooting pictures every few moments in glorious succession.

So here are the photos from that outing and a few more to explain the space. I threw a few others in from the day at the end of this series.

 

 

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A love story and an education.

I crossed out the 2018 as soon as I did the math for the new dishwasher. The small crayon drawing of our future camper had been hanging on our fridge for 3-4 years and we looked weekly at Craigslist but at this point, it was over.

Our pocketbooks were exhausted because we were deep into a bathroom remodel, it was the end of summer, and our dishwasher finally threw in the towel. 

All we were looking for was a used Rockwood Roo, 19' or less, with a dinette and couch, in incredible condition.  

No big deal, nothing specific! 

The problem was after searching season after season, people either held on to the Roo's or they were destroyed. We had looked at a few with holes in the floor, soft spots or complete water damage. I just didn't want another headache.

On Tuesday night at 11 pm I spotted Mike's Roo, and it could not be in better condition. It was almost too perfect. I emailed and set up a time to see it the next day. Unbeknowst to Jen, I also booked a one night stay camping trip, because I just knew we were going to buy it. 

That Saturday afternoon we pulled into Fillmore Glen State Park, for our first camper experience. It was more of a, "OK we need to figure this being a camper person thing out, kinda trip."  I kept referencing the huge pile of user guides and manuals for each system. We packed simple- hotdogs and smores and those tiny little boxed camping cereals- and headed off. Everything went amazingly well and we had figured out each system, and on Sunday we headed home, but unfortunately our education was not over. 

Just after I said, "Wow, look at how bad the roads are as soon as you get to Syracuse," I heard a loud boom, and the trailer swerved. We hit a huge pothole and it blew the tire and rim apart. I limped to an offramp but could not get off the highway so I had to change it while the cars on 81 blew by us. Everybody was ok, but that tire and rim have seen better days.

I guess we got a thorough education. Here are the images from that trip.

 

Freestyle Sunday Drive

Another free style shooting day that ended checking almost every box.

I was able to do some landscape photography, and also find an abandoned building and get some outside shots of it. I filled up with gas station coffee and I focused my efforts on the area around Montezuma Wildlife Area, Mentz, and Port Byron. 

 

Irishman

I walked past him and instantly noticed the pipe. I paused knowing I had to ask for a portrait, and cataloged for a connection.

3, 2, 1, Go.

"I don't see too many people smoking pipes around here anymore."

He laughed.

My old roommate was Irish and smoked a pipe every Sunday and the smell was the same so I lead with that. He agreed to a photo and said he too was an Irishman and loved his pipe.

Nice guy. Took it this morning on our Sunday walk.

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Story behind the photos: True Texas

We were driving around Crawford Texas with the GPS off just enjoying the gravel roads and the beautiful scenery. Our Jeeps AC unit was struggling to try to compete with the 102 degree heat outside. The earth was dry and parched except for small masses of low trees like mesquite and live oak. Each homestead was landmarked by fencing and some type of large metal gate. 

Every once and awhile a truck would pass us and the white stone gravel would create a cloud that carried off long in the distance. More vehicles than not were large pickups with lifted tires and cattle catchers on the front. I looked deeply into each cab hoping to see a cowboy, but they were just regular looking people, going about their day.

I had my small fuji x100t with me, and Jen was driving letting me jump out to get pictures whenever I spotted something. Just about the moment she said something I was wishing for- a truly Texas picture. I was thinking of what would really sum up our time driving and the ideas of gravel roads, long fence lines, or big iron gates moved through my mind. A second later I was thinking about symbols of Texas and, of course, my first thought was of a longhorn. Sadly all we had been seeing were horses or traditional dairy cows and they were mostly way out in the fields or hiding under the low trees.

A second later she said, "Um, there is a cow back there with big horns."

"Really?" I said. "Let's go back and see it, I was just thinking how cool it would be to see one."

She turned around and we saw this big guy and I shot maybe 10 photos of him as he posed. What I loved was how perfectly framed he was, with dark foliage in the back and a small delicate tree above him that was perfectly lit by the sun. The tree was almost glowing and he stood perfectly still as I shot a few images. I need to keep processing these images but I got a few I am happy with.

Photo story - Texas - Anniversary trip

My wife and I started a tradition 6 years ago where instead of gifts for our anniversary we would alternate planning a secret trip for the other person. We alternate every year and this year was Jen's year to plan. This year she picked Austin, Texas and the surrounding areas as I have talked about going to Texas since we started watching the Fixer Upper show on HGTV. I wasn't really enamored by the show, as much as those cut away shots of the wide open countryside. Here are the images we took in Austin, Waco, Crawford, McGregor, and Taylor, Texas. Each section has a small description above it.

First a few big ideas:

1. Austin is hot in the summer. Like, really hot, above 100 everyday, sometimes 110. Our Uber drivers said stay inside between 1-6 pm and bring water everywhere. We napped.

2. Austin is about food trucks, and live music, and you can find them almost anywhere, at almost any time.

3. Austin is also known for bats. They have the largest population of urban brown bats in the country and seeing them leave at dusk from under a bridge is spectacular. PRO TIP: Go to the Four Seasons hotel and sit outside under the live oaks and drink till dusk, then walk down to one of the floating docks to watch them fly out. It's awesome.

4. Austin has a lot of HefeWeizen beer. It's light and fruit forward, so a few local people said it was very popular for the hot summer days. I really liked one called Live Oak.

 

 

Our Hotel - A small boutique hotel called the Heywood in East Austin - great location, amazing attention to detail. Minimalist modern.

Our day in Waco at Magnolia. Notes:

1. Waco is huge and so are the lines at Magnolia unless you go in the off season, like we did. We got up at 5:30 am to drive in and had a plan.  A cop working crowd control I talked to said the worst time to go is between Thanksgiving and Christmas. We tried to get into the Magnolia breakfast spot in Waco but the line was 2-4 hours long at 10:00am.

2. Magnolia is smaller than we thought and isn't in the actual silos. Most of it is a shopping experience, with some food trucks and outdoor activities. The bakery was good, but again that line.

3. The cheapest thing at the Silos is a coffee cup at 18 dollars, so be prepared to pay for your experience.

4. The Dr. Pepper museum and some antique shops are right around the corner so that is nice.

5. Parking is available in the gravel lot behind the silos, but get there early if you want a spot.

6. Joanna's vision for the space was and is incredible, while there wasn't much for me to do besides shop, I did marvel at her designing an old industrial space into the destination that it has become. Impressive.

My favorite part of the whole trip was turning off the GPS in the rental Jeep and heading out to Crawford, McGregor, and Taylor, Texas. Small towns with gravel roads after gravel roads. Such a nice afternoon. Jen and I took turns driving as I hopped out taking pictures. We got lunch in McGregor and it was straight out of a movie set. I had fried chicken and lemon icebox pie, of course. Here are some shots from that day:

 

On our last day- and our anniversary- I got up early to shoot some street images of the Mexican neighborhood where our hotel was, then we drank French press on the porch. After it got too hot we headed to Barton Springs where a natural spring creates a reservoir for the locals to cool off in the constant 68 degree waters. The water is a cold contrast to the heat, as everyday we were there it was between 100-104 degrees.