Decided to write, shoot, and edit a film in a day to see where I was on the path of film-making. I have a long, long way to go but learned a few big lessons with this one.
Properly expose your footage in the field or else.
The SL2’s dynamic range is quite limited so a circular polarizer in the snow is absolutely essential.
I need more B Roll to use for the edit.
I learned how to color grade but had such terrible footage it was impossible.
Even though I wrote a script I had a hard time with the story timeline and did not follow it super well. Visualizing the shots would help.
My thumbnail should be me, so I am going to try to draw the thumbnails and see where that gets me.
I can’t tell if this house is abandoned or not. I keep going up to it, and trying to see if anyone lives there. Sometimes I get the sense they do and other times, nothing. I guess I will just keep trying.
I had a Monday afternoon meeting cancelled so I decided to change my clothes and head down to the city to shoot a bit of street with the old fuji x100t. I missed a ton of moments because I of course forgot my memory card and had to shoot a bit and then download to my phone to free up space. I snuck into Cafe Kubal to edit and post a few and warm up. All in all it was an enjoyable afternoon.
My family didn’t really say much about him anymore, but that wasn’t really unusual.
Grandpa owned a dark blue dump truck, and a green backhoe that used to sit under an old walnut tree at my grandma’s house. In the summer the leaves would flip and roll in the wind and the light would shimmer on that truck, but grandpa didn’t live there. I remember thinking about how lonely that backhoe must have been, chained up to that homemade trailer with no one around to use it. I think Grandpa died when I was nine.
On Sunday mornings when we would visit him he would get me a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup and I would sit and eat it right on the corner of his bar. He would take me into the kitchen to show me the French fry cutting machine followed by lifting the cover on the ice machine to marvel at all the ice. I would pull the handles on the cigarette machine, and shoot the shuffleboard puck down the alley on the fresh shuffleboard wax from the night before. The bar he owned had a lot of stories, I’m told, and almost always smelled like cigarettes and spilt beer.
I didn’t really know grandpa well, but in pictures we have, he put me on his tractor and is showing me how to dig. He would take bar debts in trade sometimes, and the farm equipment he got was everywhere on my grandma’s farm. As I grew up I learned how to operate on most of that equipment, and somehow, I think part of my landscape business hinges on those machines he left behind when he died.
Today that old bar is falling in on itself, long since abandoned, and I am afraid it won’t be there much longer. I wanted to go back inside one more time and look at the place that gave me so many fuzzy vignettes. I can remember the space, the smells, and the small physical details, but I can’t remember him.
At a gas station up the road I bought two Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and brought them back with me in my camera bag.
After I had finished up shooting pictures, I used my finger to write “thanks” in the dust on the old bar and left a Reese’s right in the spot I used to sit. I walked out and happily ate the other one on the ride home and marveled at how complex and interwoven life is.
Another testament to the fuji x100t today. This is the best dam dad camera you could ever have. With no lens changes to worry about you are free to create. Some simple edits in Lightroom but straight from camera jpegs shot in mostly classic chrome and a few others. So in love with shooting a camera that makes me want to shoot.
We have been talking about going back to stay at the Lincklaen house in Cazenovia and hiking in the art park in the winter for the last few years but sadly we just talked. I always like to get Jen an experience for Christmas so thought this would be the perfect time. Mom and Dad watched Tessa and Jen and I walked the shops, had tea, and a nice dinner, followed by drinks at the 7 Stone Steps Tavern. We looked on the walls in the tavern for the carvings of our names, and read and relaxed most of the night. We were able to get the wedding suite for the night, so it was nice to be back and talk about our wedding and all the little happenings that day. I took out my fuji x100t and set it to the fuji monochrome film emulation and shot a few of our trip. The best part of this camera is when you go through your images, you simply don’t have to process them. This Fuji is the best non-film-film camera I have ever owned!
I called Jordan to ask if he wanted a big box of booze, because he’s younger and still has a functioning social life, unlike Jen and I. He laughed and said yes, and then paused and said, “Oh yeah, it’s Tuesday.”
He knows Tuesdays are a special night in the Stein household. Tuesdays in the winter in our house are called “Minimalism night.”
Now before I start this, I should warn you that we are certainly not minimalists. If you walked into my office or into our closets you certainly would know for sure we aren’t even close. We just like some of the ideas and started a few years ago trying to adopt a few of the practices. Jen calls it a work in progress.
Each Tuesday is pretty unexciting. We set a timer for an hour and go through the house picking one area a night. Tonight we focused on the basement. We spent an hour working together to get rid of clutter and take unused items to the Rescue Mission and also to clean up and get rid of things that we don’t want. Our biggest innovation is that at the end of the hour, one of us drives the load of unused things to the Rescue Mission right away so we are not tempted to let it sit for a week and then put it back.
A few things I have gleaned from these Tuesday nights:
Starting the process is really hard, and some nights I just don’t feel like it. But, after you get 30 minutes in you really get into it and we find we often go over our hour time limit.
I am amazed at the shit that we collect even when we think we are being so intentional about buying stuff. Seriously- if you add up all the dollars you waste as the stuff goes out the door you start to get sad.
By doing these Tuesday nights we tend to look at things more critically when we buy things. I can see in my head now a vision of me throwing that thing out on a Minimalism Tuesday, and I often will put the item back.
Jen has shared with me lately that shopping is a whole different experience for her. She goes in for the things she needs and leaves with only what’s on her list.
The big clean outs on Tuesday nights seem to make our lives more efficient in general. I find there is almost a speed increase because I am not wading through stuff, or finding ways to store and catalog it.
We are far from perfect at this and we still kick ourselves for bringing useless crap into our house. For example, our pantry gets cleaned out and then a month later it needs it again.
We may never master this idea, but it is actually kinda fun to participate in, and learn about our habits in the process.
For so many years I had thought that I had mastered all I could about the technical side of photography and that to go farther I just had to see new things to get more pictures, always upping the ante.
What I learned in 2018 is that I need to revisit the basics and slow down to appreciate the finer details and let those items speak for themselves. I think a good rule of thumb is when you think you have everything mastered you must know you know next to nothing. Like a cocky alarm when you reach a creative plateau, you have to know that your stuck. I made a few very large changes to my workflow this year, and actually got away from a modern process and get back to basics and wow, what a difference. Excited to unlearn some “modern” habits and get back to simplicity and focusing on the bedrock of good photography.
I sat down and interviewed my wife tonight to practice with some new audio gear and had a nice conversation over some peppermint tea.
I get this question all the time, so I thought I would chat tonight about why I always chuckle when I hear someone ask this question, and more importantly what question you should be asking yourself.
Listen to the story behind the photo below!
A really dark edit from a walk with my friend Terry down in the city. I took this at the corner of the Everson as some birds were flying over.
Three years ago, Thanksgiving day, I crawled through a hole in barbed wire fence, and I haven’t been the same ever since.
I thought about it a lot on the 3 hour drive down.
If these places were easier to get into would I still do it? If they made that abandoned house into a museum, I bet I would come up with an excuse to not go. But here I am breathing black mold and asbestos, chasing something that no one worships, at least not anymore.
We walked back into the real world around 3:00p.m. and my legs burned. I tried to clean the mushed ceiling tile goo off my pants and shoes in the diner bathroom. I washed my hands and black rivers danced down the drain. I went with the greek plate and ate like I hadn’t seen food in years. I always liked a place that went in heavy with Feta.
I finished and kicked my leg out of the booth and sat sideways as I watched Jordan relish in his French dip. That food could have been dog shit or delicacy but we couldn’t tell because of the soft fuzziness of the afterglow. I looked around and kept trying to readjust my eyes, my brain in some deep processing loop. I feel drunk.
We had walked for 7 hours straight, up and down dilapidated towers, and across a sleeping giant. In and out, up and down. I had never even seen a squash court up close, let alone a marble penthouse bathroom, but I did today.
Flash light, shutter click. Flash light. Next room.
“Wait, be quiet.” I held my finger straight up and swirled it when I knew it was time to vacate, not making a sound. We left quickly, and quietly.
“Nevermind, it’s an animal.”
After awhile your visual sense shuts down. You just shutter click and go through the motions. You hope all that practice just becomes muscle memory. Can photography even be that, you wonder?
When you lay down at night you absorb into the mattress, you fall halfway down. Like a marshmallow soft after a campfire. Your body rings like an ear does with tinnitus, except this is the universe calling out.
Your alarm goes off, piercing the darkness in some nondescript hotel.
And you do it again.
Below are a few of the images from our last big urbex outing!
6. Story behind the photo: "Light at the End of the Tunnel” Great pictures never happen when you expect it, rarely when you need them, and never, ever, when you are desperate for success. Brad and I had parked and walked into Beaver Lake on a brisk fall Saturday. I got out of the truck, packed in my gear, and grabbed my tripod. The lesson that day- at least what I had planned- was using tripods, fall foliage, and using macro lenses. At least that is what I wanted to teach him. I, of course, would learn a different lesson altogether. Photography, like a lot of other disciplines, can’t be pushed from within you. You simply can’t force out good work. There has to be a flow to it. That flow starts in your mind in a way that is hard to summarize in writing because it comes from the part of the brain that is non-verbal. My secret weapon that day was not tripods, filters, or specialized gear. It could not be packed in my bag. It was in my mind and in my heart. I have found through tons of photo outings that if my mind is in the wrong place, I miss the great pictures or they simply don’t appear to me. I am almost positive it is because, when I’m not in the right mindset, I can’t see what is beautiful. That day, early before our meeting, I got up just like I always do, went downstairs and walked over to the microwave and set the timer for 20 minutes. I walked over in the darkness and sat in my favorite chair, red pillow tucked behind my head as it is countless times. I leaned my head back, got comfortable, and tried to clear my mind. I focused on my breath, the area just below my nose and just above my lip. Deep and clear I pulled in air, holding it in and slowing my breath. Clearing my mind is tough for me; I am constantly strategizing, constantly worrying, always thinking about what’s next. This fog is the kiss of death for something creative like photography. At first I struggled to think of nothing, to let my mind sit empty. After a few minutes it cleared. I reached a point between my thoughts, where true calm exists. I sat for twenty minutes until the timer broke the silence. I came out of my self induced trance and my body felt numb, but very relaxed. I was happy, confident, and aware. On the days I clear my mind, I always have great success making photos. We walked to our first spot and my open mind gave me this shot, the trees, the colors, the lines. I saw the light at the end of the tunnel, maybe because it was supposed to be, or maybe because I could see it clearly- either way, I was glad I got that lesson.
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:
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.
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.
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.
I’d participate more,
If it wasn’t for my people.
They follow as if they know.
When they care,
numerically, it shows.
Likes, dings, streaks,
quantity you know.
My eyes always swiping,
Looking to convey my deepest throws.
Wish I was, who I was,
someone who knows.
It’s ok. Every last ounce of wit.
If life ignores, my feed will get.