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I have very few of my photos on the walls, preferring watercolors and prints and because I have never gone out with a camera with the intention of creating something "wall worthy". The photos that have made it to the wall have done so mostly because they trigger memories of how they were captured as much as for what they depict.
The first digital shot that made it to the wall were shot in 2001 with the first digital camera I bought, a 2.1 MP Kodak DC290.
I was working in Manila when I got it and brought it everywhere, including a trip to the airport to drop off my wife's sister. On the way home we decided to stop at a tourist attraction called "Nyong Pilipino" which showcases, in replica, all the different cultures of the country which a variety of dialects and sub-cultures.. While there I saw a huge Bayon tree on a hill that reminded me of a shot Ansel Adams had taken of Edward Weston and I tried to recreate it...
Pulling it off required applying a good bit of technical knowledge. This is how it looked from shooting position with the camera zoomed wide....
Because the tree was on a hill I was forced to shoot upwards which distorts near/far size perspective. But I know the way to prevent that is to keep everything as close to the same distance as possible to the lens and to shoot from as far away as possible. So while in the photo it appears she is sitting ramrod straight up, she was actually bent way forward at the hips with her chin out over her knees
Shooting with the camera zoomed to the max put me as far away as possible which is another strategy to minimize near/far size distortion. In addition to being one of my favorite shots of her it reminds me of days shooting B&W using the zone system and that how in portraiture sometimes you need to exaggerate and manipulate a pose to make the result the camera captures look normal.
This shot was taken in the same place earlier in the day...
I worked in Manila in three different postings from '83-'87, '90-'95, and '99-'01 managing the US Information / State Department Global Publishing Center. We printed public diplomacy and English teaching materials shipped from Manila to every country with a U.S. diplomatic mission. Up to the mid-90s the main product were magazines along the lines of LIFE magazine containing original stories and reprints from U.S. periodicals produced in 15 different languages. I was there for the People Power Revolution, frequent coup attempts that followed, a 7.0 earthquake, Mt. Pinatubo, and typhoons that routinely flooded the city
Over the years I was there I saw the Makati business district grow and turn the city into a modern urban skyline, which inspired my to take the shot of it in the background above the "old Manila" stone bridge. Sitting between the bridge and the business district was the taxiway of the airport and I had to wait for the tail fin of a 747 to get out of the way to take the shot. While difficult to see, there is a guy on the bridge in a white shirt pointing his camera at me, taking a shot of his friends in front of him.
During my first and second tours I spend every other weekend at the beaches 3 hours south of Manila diving on a Banca boat like that and had one built to order during my second tour there, so there's a bit of nostalgia in these shots taken in 2001 with the DC290 in Puerto Galleria, Mindoro on a weekend trip. We had gone there to visit and for me to document photographically camp a Manila NGO that rehabilitated street kids had there to get them out of the city and the streets. My wife ran their medical clinic, I shot photos for them. I documented the entire trip PJ style and put it into a on-line slide show but only these two made it to the wall:
Puerto Galleria is sleepy little harbor town accessible via a hour long ferry ride from Luzon, the island where Manila is located. It a popular resort location for SCUBA diving and as a port of call for sailors. These aren't on the wall but show what it was like there, about as close to Margaritaville as you'll find in the Philippines...
Like the harbor shot above this one on the wall taken at a polo match at the Manila Polo Club started as a mistake, a shot where the camera's automatic focus was off and converted into an impressionist rendering with Photoshop filters. It was one of those shots I'd normally trash due to it's technical flaws but the color and composition appealed to me.
This one taken two frames previous captured the juxtaposition of new and old seen all over Manila at the time...
Not yet ready to jump into the DSLR money pit I upgraded instead in 2002 to a Minolta D7Hi. One of the characteristics of small sensor cameras is nearly unlimited DOF even at wide apertures this shot, taken on a trip to nearby Great Falls National Park in 2002 was as much a test of DOF wide open as any attempt at wall art, but it appeals to me because it captures the feeling of a walk in the woods late in the afternoon on a Fall day.
These shots from 2003 were taken in Branson, MO. The family who where my wife's World Vision sponsors, and who helped put her through medical school, run a fishing resort there. During a visit there I shot photos for their web site and brochures and got up early one morning, wandered around, and captured these...
The challenge technically was trying to capture the full tonal range in the extreme contrast of the lighting. I pulled it off in the first two shots by bouncing my flash up off the metal roof above me to boost the ambient fill naturally. The last shot was also flash assisted, mostly to try to create some specular highlights on the bird. It looked like this out of camera...
In 2004 with retirement on the horizon three years in the future I considered doing photography again for hire and to test the waters decided to get a set of Alien Bees and tune up the portrait skills learned working for Zucker in the early 70s. I'd only worked with studio lights few times previously, having learned portraiture via daylight as Zucker had taught me on the odd occasion someone I knew wanted a portrait, or shooting with a pair of speedlights.
My first subject was myself. In the process of trying to take a decent looking portrait of my very narrow very lopsided face I gained insights that I hadn't really considered before, such as the role of brain in filtering perception of what is seen and how various portrait strategies work by tricking the viewer into seeing the face is away that is more flattering than what they see in the bathroom mirror in the morning...
Like most apprentices I had followed Zucker's master guidance more or less by rote because it quite obviously worked. I understood the importance of selecting a flattering facial angle and lighting it well but applied those lessons over the years mostly to shooting candidly. But I did very few formal posed portraits after working for Zucker because I wasn't shooting for hire and because I portraiture pretty boring: offering little in the way of problem solving and technical challenges I like once one learns how to do it instinctively. After that it's more a matter of relating to the subject and keeping the technical stuff as simple as possible.
After lots of different shots at various angles I got the idea of shooting a mug shot style full face shot and mirroring the two sides. Until I did that I didn't realize how asymmetrical my face is. Once I recognized it looking back at old family photos I see some the same characteristic in my father and his father's photos.
The fact the thinner side when mirrored looked better gave me a clue which of the two oblique views was the more flattering. I found I needed to position the camera several feet over my head to hide the nostrils on my slightly upturned nose which are visible from eye level. Where I would normally shoot portraits out of habit from around 8ft. I found that shooting from 12ft. was more flattering for my thin face. I wound up sitting on a stool near the floor to get the camera on my tripod high enough above me...
The result of all that trial, error and thoughtful analysis was this result, which I felt was wall worthy...
I hang it in my studio to show people the magic camera angle and lighting can perform. I tell them. "Hey I can do this for me, just imagine how good I can make you look."
It conforms to most of the guidelines I learned from Zucker — such as the use of the flattering oblique angle, short lighting pattern and centered fill — but deviates from a precise 2/3 angle and the fact the ear hangs out on the far side. The ear thing is due to the fact the damn thing hangs out straight sideways on the left side of my head much more than the right side —when riding my bicycle I can tell how fast I'm going just from the sound of it flapping in the breeze. By comparison of every possible angle I realized that overall my face looked most balanced when the ear on the left hung out but wound up looking about the same size as the one on the right as is would on nose-at-camera full face view of a perfectly symmetrical face. I gave me a lot of new insights which I incorporated into perception based tutorials on my web site.
Putting this thread together made me realize I haven't hung a photo on the wall since 2004.
I didn't stop shooting but I switched job locations in 2004 and lost the dye sub proof system printer I had used to make my wall prints. We had replaced with a new one and had surplus supplies I used to make the prints. If it were not for that I might no have any photos on the wall.
Since then I've shot mostly for others on request — portraits and PJ stuff for church and family events— creating slide shows on-line rather than prints. When I shoot portraits for relatives and friends I just edit the files to print well at Costco and give them a CD because its easier. The process of shooting portraits for friends reminded my why I stopped doing photography for profit: I enjoy the shooting part, but not all other things that go into making a business out of it.
There is also a shortage of wall space. Most of mine are covered with watercolors and prints by Filipino artists I bought while working there.
Edited on Nov 20, 2011 at 02:53 AM · View previous versions