Veterans Day 2017

Happy Veterans Day to all of the veterans out there and thank you, sincerely, for your willingness to risk everything to serve your country.

This time last year I was privileged to provide the photo part of a wonderful tribute to veterans assembled by our Graphic Arts department under Candace Lopez and displayed in our photo program’s gallery.  I was honored to be a part of it.  The show is down but you can still order (or even just look at) the book of photos and the other sensational art work from that show by following this URL:

Speaking of books, I just turned in the materials to Lulu Press for a book that was never intended to be a book – my research on the future of professional photography and the impact that will and is having on vocational photo education such as we offer at San Diego City College.  But the research was fascinating and it kept growing… and growing… and growing.  You can check it out and, if you have any interest in such things, order a copy at this URL:

That project was what I had agreed to do in return for my sabbatical leave for Fall of 2017.  I think of myself as an image maker and not a writer.  And normally faculty in creative fields would put together a show of their work and I did think about that.  I even had a few ideas that would have been fun to do. But in this case I thought plenty of people had and were seeing my work, but the program was facing a triad of storms coming at it and I really wanted to address them so that somewhere at least, that warning bell had actually been rung whether or not anyone would ever pay attention to it.

That also gave me some time to do both some still shooting and some video work as you’ve seen in previous posts.  But in doing so and searching for some fun projects to do since my boredom threshold is so incredibly low, I did run into a situation I would never have anticipated.

Back in the day when I was producing industrial and corporate video I lost a project because the potential client saw an example in which the first client had picked a red color for the background of the graphics and text.  This potential client hated it and seemed to think that was the only color I could or would use and I was unable to convince them we could use any color we liked if, it turned out, we needed such stuff in his project.  I wrote it off thinking that if such was the mentality of the client I had actually just dodged a bullet.  But I assumed such thinking was limited to non-industry people who simply did not know any better.

I was wrong.

I just had an offer to help with a program project turned down because of the thinking that what I had done for some other purposes must be the limit of my capability and they, in their words, thought it impossible for me to change the “aesthetic” for their project even though the projects had totally different purposes and central topics.

Perhaps things have changed in the years I’ve been here teaching or, again, perhaps it IS California, after all, and I keep forgetting that.  But in my working day, it was the client and their specific, unique needs that ruled over how a final “deliverable” would look, i.e. the “aesthetic” of that project.  I was unaware that had changed.

In my day, both the stills world and video world, brochures or video for one client did not look like the brochure or video for another.  Engineering in Oklahoma did not get work that looked like that produced for a Call Center provider in Denver or an electrical services provider in Wyoming or a financial services company, again, in Denver.

While it is true that in the world of fine-art-style creation, whether traditional medium or photography is in use, at any given point in time an artist may have a discernable style or approach, at least until they have exhausted that set of artistic options and grown from it and moved on. Some never grow beyond a style and hit some sort of artistic/intellectual plateau… but that’s another topic entirely.

It is also true that if you are at the very top of the pile in the commercial world, you may develop a style that clients are drawn to and want you to do for them exactly as you did for someone else.  But for the 99% of real world commercial photo practitioners that is not the case. (And it certainly is not the case when you are starting out trying to get any and all work you can.)

You see, clients have this quaint idea that they know their target demographic and understand their product and so are in a position to have some major input into the “aesthetic” of how it is you will present their product to their potential customers.

At least the good ones do.  A client truly knowledgeable about their product and customers and what they want and need is a delight to work with.

Your job it to unleash your best ideas and skills to help them sell THEIR product to THEIR customers.  And that means you have to have the flexibility of skills AND aesthetics to make it work for their purposes not ones you think they ought to have.  You are there solely to provide value to them by increasing their sales sufficiently to pay them back more than you cost them.

I do not know a single successful working pro that does not understand that.  Consequently, I assumed that anyone who had even brushed up against the real commercial world would know that, much less people charged with teaching students about it.

Once again, I was wrong.

Selling your video services does have a major presentation problem.  In the stills world you not only have your “book” of examples, it is not at all hard to rough out some concept sketches to get the creative juices flowing and help the client start narrowing down their likes and needs and illustrate that a piece for one client does not have to look like a piece for another.   But in the video world that is enormously impractical and in reality, all you might have to show are actual examples — which may or may not be on target with the current potential client’s needs.  And those might actually, when speaking with someone that does not understand the process, work against you.

The solution will be pre-pre meetings/consultations to get a handle on the clients’ real needs and wants and then rough out either a loose script or even storyboard presented NOT as a final but as a starting point from which you and they will collaborate to hone in on the final approach.  You will, sometimes, need to do some education of the client to help get them on board.

But when their mind is already made up because they saw something of yours they did not like, and they are clueless that a commercial product they saw, still or motion, was created to please someone else not them, then my advice is to just let it go.  Working with a client that does not really trust in you to do what they need is a nightmare of micro-management and interference that very likely will doom anyone’s ability to produce a good piece.  Worse, you will not believe how insidious they will be in making their self-fulfilling prophesy (of your failure) come true and subtly (or not so subtly) sabotage the work at every opportunity.  

It will very likely become what we used to refer to as a “snakebit” project; one in which there is no way to win and all you can do is try to finish it will the least amount of damage to yourself and reputation.   Worse, the stress and irritation will show up in the finished product.  In the end they will never be really happy with it.  And, of course, it will be you that takes the blame for it and your reputation, especially when starting out, does not need that.  Nor does your blood pressure.

Trust me on this one…  They are not worth it.

So thank them for their time, smile, and walk away.  Don’t be disappointed, but breathe a sigh of relief and then go after the next project having learned an important lesson: there are “gigs” that you need to turn down no matter how desperate you are for a job.  This is a field where you are only as good as your last job so take the projects you can do with only the normal production pressures and not additional ones from a distrusting client that you somehow managed to talk into it.

That may be good salesmanship… but it almost never results in good work products. It is also important to realize that such behavior is almost never really about you or your work.  There is some other hidden agenda at play that you could never overcome because it would never be revealed.

One of the most important lessons to learn is when it is OK — and even preferable — to let it go, say “No” and walk away.



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Faded Glory, Part Two: Jacumba Trains to Bankhead Trees

Well, I ended the last post saying I’d have to go back…  I just didn’t expect it to be so soon.  But Friday morning, Lee Peterson and I were on the road back to Jacumba Springs to photograph the old trains there.  The day was heavily overcast in San Diego so from a light angle standpoint it didn’t matter what time we might get there.  But on the way east, the overcast became a full blown squall with dark clouds and intermittent rain.  Hmmmm… maybe this was going to turn bad but we were over halfway so might as well go on.

Once again, I had some specific video tests I had wanted to do.  I wanted, for example, to shoot both the Ursa and the Canon 5D Mk III DSLR and see what was involved, or even possible in terms of cutting the footage from the two very different cameras together.  I specifically was concerned about the color biases of the very different sensors and the difference in dynamic range.  But when we arrived the cloud cover was so thick it was almost monochromatic and very flat.  So that test plan evaporated on the spot. It had not been my intention for the day, but here I was thrust back into the world of stills and even further back into the world of monochrome images.

In addition to the thick overcast, the wind was cold and blowing quite hard.  Not to put too fine a point on it, but weather-wise it was really quite crappy out.  But an interesting thing happened.  Sometimes the most interesting shots can be found in the most inhospitable weather.   And here, it was as if the foul weather and the lack of tourists out prowling around and tossing their trash around there, told the spirits of the old cars it was safe to come out and play.

You could feel them, and it was obvious that what was called for was some old-time looking images.  So I put the Zenit 85mm brass barreled Petzval on the 5D Sr camera and the Lens-Baby 56mm “Velvet” old style ‘soft focus’ lens in my pocket and set off.  In my mind’s eye were a mix of old style albumen prints from the late 1800s crossed with the portrait styles flowing from early Petzval and Imagon lenses of the same period.  To use portrait terms, I wanted mostly close face shots and especially the “eyes” of the subject to reveal personalities and not full figure shots.

The incredibly flat light so condensed the contrast range it allowed me to capture every available tone without any effort so that in post I could literally “paint” the final images into existence to reveal my emotional response to them.  And the lack of light forced wide apertures (or in the case of the brass Petzval, wide aperture disks) so the shallow depth of field I was after was almost mandated.  Both of those lenses also have the characteristic astigmatism of the time where the distortion further from the center increases rapidly.  So the “fall off” of sharpness not only happens with the normal depth of field issue, but also happens center to edge, both controllable with aperture.

I was not interested in trying to document anything but rather to interpret it; to find elements that, in their own way, spoke for the whole.  However, let me begin by first showing you the “whole.”  Here is one of the old passenger cars we were photographing. This was actually one of my last shots and was taken during a point where the sun broke through the clouds.  It was taken with a Canon 24mm Tilt Shift lens. I’ll start with it however so you can see the type of material that yielded the remainder of the shots.

Railcar sepia 06 for blog

One of the old passenger cars sitting abandoned near the Jacumba Hot Springs railroad depot.  Shot with Canon 5DSr, 24mm T/S. (c) N. David King, All Rights Reserved.

OK, now back to the individual shots… The lighting and feel of the subjects and area suggested to me imagery that was more of a visual tone-poem so that was the goal.

Railcar paint 01 for blog

Detail of side paneling on old railroad car near Jacumba Hot Springs. (c) N. David King, All Rights Reserved.

Railcar paint 02 for blog

Details of paint on side of old railcar near Jacumba.  Even though it is near the desert, this area sees a wide range of conditions from blazing hot to cold and some years a lot of moisture.  Not great conditions for wood preservation. (c) N. David King, All Rights Reserved.

Broken Window for blog

Detail of broken window on old railcar near Jacumba. (c) N. David King, All Rights Reserved.

Best seat in the car for blog

The best seat in the car.  Interior of old railcar near Jacumba.  Someone had put  white wicker chairs in a couple of the cars (notice the one in the video in the previous post) and when a brief dagger of sunlight streaked across this one it really stood out.  (c) N. David King, All Rights Reserved.

Then the sun started to break through the passing storm.  It was like a signal to the spirits of that place that it was time to retreat back into the safety of the old cars and the entire “feel” of the place changed fairly rapidly.  For me, it destroyed the mood and the grip of that emotional response so though I tried to do a few final shots (including the first overview shot above), the moment was over.

OF course another reason to come to Jacumba Hot Springs was to enjoy the BBQ at Jay’s that Steve (Burns) had raved about.  So we finished shooting and headed over to the little restaurant.  It already had lots of customers which was a good sign.  I picked my selection and then discovered that until 12 noon, only breakfast is served.  It was just barely past 11….  So Lee ordered an Omelet and I ordered Bisquits and gravy.  Both of us decreed it to be the absolute best we had ever had!  Well now I really DO have to go again to try the BBQ.

Jacumba Hot Springs is on old Highway 80, so we decided to head back along the old route instead of going back up to the Freeway.  We were between the “towns” of Bankhead Springs and Boulevard when we went sailing through this tableau of brilliant red oaks.  Going too fast to just drop anchor, I turned around and went back.

California is not noted for its great Fall colors, that is a title New England has wrapped up pretty solidly.  True, it has some very nice golden Aspen up north in the Sierras but nothing like the great Aspen tunnels I’ve seen in Colorado.  But I’ve never seen anything quite like this…

Red Oak on Old 80 - 09 for blog

Pathway through grove near Bankhead Springs. (c) N. David King, All Rights Reserved.

Red Oak on Old 80 - 03 for blog

Leaf details of red oak grove. Here, up close, is what is creating all of the images in this set of photographs.  (c) N. David King, All Rights Reserved.

Red Oak on Old 80 - 05 for blog

This grove of trees wearing their fall colors was amazing.  Would this make a great jigsaw puzzle or what? (c) N. David King, All Rights Reserved.

Red Oak on Old 80 -01 for blog

The red was so intense it would have easily over-saturated in bright light.  The flat light was perfect for it.  A slight underexposure brought the colors all back to life.  (c) N. David King, All Rights Reserved.

Red Oak on Old 80 - 06 for blog

The textures were as interesting as the colors with the accents of yellow and even gray.                    (c) N. David King, All Rights Reserved.

Red Oak on Old 80 -07 for blog

I wonder if these leaves are jealous? (c) N. David King, All Rights Reserved.

Wow… what an interesting day visually.  From grim blustery weather along the old railroad tracks to the fairy forest of the brilliant red leaves.  And all on a day most of the would-be photographers would decide to stay home…




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Faded Glory on the Edge of the Desert

This weekend Steve Burns and I went to Jacumba Hot Springs, on the edge of the Anza-Borrego desert to see some old train cars on a private siding of the old Corrizo Gorge Railroad line.  I wanted to know for sure where they were so I could then come back and do an intro video for my Spring online course (once I had it written…). 

I also had a couple of other goals:  test and play a little with some accessories for my bear of a digital cinema camera, the Black Magic ‘Ursa’, and start collecting images with my simple little point-and-shot Canon S120. for a workshop for next year’s Del Mar fair I’ve been asked to do (I’m working my way down to doing some shots with my cell phone but it is harder than I thought to force myself to do that.)

Jacumba Hot Springs was, at one time, a major tourist destination for the elite because of the hot springs there.  It still has the hot springs, and a resort, but it has lost some of its former luster from the days when ritzy folks boarded the train on the coast for a few days “taking the waters” and seeking to rid themselves of a long list of ailments as well as to hobnob with the proper people.

I thought an hour or so there would be more than enough so we left early afternoon for the 2-hour drive.  Admittedly the afternoon light is probably the best, but an hour or so is not anywhere near enough.  I’m most definitely going back.

Since we thought we had all sorts of time our first stop was to tour the current Jacumba Hot Springs Spa and Resort.  A group from the coast doing their annual trek to the hot springs was there and they were definitely a lively group.  We also ran into part of their group while shooting at the old original bathhouse that had burned down years ago.    The walls of the bathhouse were still there since it is fairly hard to burn adobe.  It has now become a tagger’s pallet.  Remember Minor White’s dictum: See things not for what they are, but for what ELSE they are…

The resort itself was basically an adobe motel built around a hot springs pool with attached restaurant and bar.  Not fancy but it might be fun to come out for an over-nighter there.

The old railroad cars (along with some other rolling stock) is clearly private property.  Somewhere along this line is a parked passenger TRAIN.  Now THAT I’d like to find.  But these old cars were interesting.  It has been a long time since the ritzy folks in velvets and lace road in them to come out here to the edge of the desert.  I wonder if at night, when it is still and all the photographers leave (there were a number of others while we were there) they tell each other tales of their time on the line?  When they see someone approach them do the straighten up a little hoping it is someone ready to climb on board and rife off into yesterday with them.  Though others have obviously done so, I did not violate the “No Trespassing” signs but I wanted to, to touch the walls and see if any of that old pride and energy remained.

Anyway, our time was somewhat short but productive.  Here is a short (about a minute) collection of clips and shots.

For the techies in the audience, here is the data:

  • Video at Bathhouse:  Camera:  Black Magic Ursa, V II, 4.6K.  Lenses used were Sigma Cine 35mm and Canon EF lenses: 17-40mm wide angle zoom and an 8-15mm “fisheye” zoom.  Capture settings were ISO 400, Resolution was set to FHD (1080p), Format was ProRes 422/10-bit,  Frame Rate: 30 fps, Shutter Angle: 180 degrees,  Editing and grading done in Premiere Pro
  • Stills at Railroad Cars:  Canon S120 P&S set to JPG and processed in Photoshop. NOTE: ALL of the shots of the old passenger cars were stills from the Canon S120.  Video movement on them was created in Premiere Pro
  • Music: “Abandoned” Licensed through

One thing I learned was that trying to hand-hold the 16 lb. Ursa without a shoulder mount is very difficult, at least for an ancient guy like me.  Those shots are much easier with my shoulder mount Sony MC2500.  However the ProRes 10-bit footage has much more dynamic range and color depth to color grade. 

We did have one major disappointment.  There is a great (so we hear) BBQ place in town called Jay’s.  When we got there after shooting Jay was closing up… early.  It seemed it had been a GREAT day for him and he had completely sold out of food.  Good news for him but lousy news for us. 

Well, one more reason to go back!

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Portrait Session with the New College President

San Diego City College has a new college President, Dr. Ricky Shabazz.  It turns out, happily, that he really likes photography and the photo facilities.  So when the request came to do a portrait I was most anxious to oblige. 

The problem is that he already has a very nice “official style” color portrait/headshot taken by a district photographer (if I knew who did it I would credit them since it really is quite nice).  It really is perfect for most directory use, PR use in newsletters, that sort of thing.  The truth is I saw little chance of actually improving on that type of shot (especially since it is not something I normally do) so was initially at a loss and in a mild panic as to what to do to live up to the hype he apparently heard when he told people he was coming here to have me do his portrait.  Needing his support for our program, it seemed to me there was a lot potentially riding on this shoot and I had no clue what was needed or what he expected since I did not know what, if anything, he had seen of my work.

So I went online and did my homework to try to come up with some ideas.  Dr. Shabazz has an impressive background in academia, one would expect that of someone hired as a College President.   But two items caught my eye that went far deeper into his personality.  He had done work dealing with Native Americans — now there was something we could connect on.  Plus he was an AVID fisherman.  And not just any, run-of-the-mill kind of fisherman, mind you, he was into bass fishing — which any serious fisherman will tell you is a whole new game.  Seriously fishing for bass is a different mind set; bass are sneaky and masters of tangling you in the weeds and being able to let you think you’ve gotten them and at the last moment, doing a spectacular leap in the air and casually spitting out the hook.

Well, the obvious thing to do is go with him out to one of the local lakes with some fishing gear and do the shots there.  He would be completely at ease there and his spirit would be more open; fishing tends to do that to folks and bass fishing can be, at once, relaxing and focussing.  Unfortunately (and I’m telling you this for the educational value in it), I was so wrapped up in the other projects over this sabbatical semester, that I had put off the research for the portrait session until it was the day of the shoot… too late to change the plans.  So lesson number one, Grasshopper, is do your research as soon as you can to leave you some planning time. 

Did I do that…do what I preach to my students?  Nooooooo… of course not.  The shoot was scheduled for 4:30 and I was reading his bio data after lunch the same day.  NOT A GOOD PLAN and an even worse example for my students!!!  But now it was too late and he was coming to the studios. And due to his schedule we did not have much of a shoot window.

What to do, what to do??? 

I decided, literally on the drive in, that if I could not really produce a better PR headshot than the one he had, nor do a nice location-based portrait, I would go in a different direction and channel my inner adulation of all things Karsh (that would be Josuf Karsh.  If you don’t know his work look him up.  He was my starting hero and virtual mentor when I got into serious editorial portraiture). Karsh’s career went into warp drive with an iconic shot of Winston Churchill shot in a coat closet with 5 minutes available.  Now THERE is a score to shoot for.  I at least had about 15 minutes and a real studio, one of the great studios in our photo area at City.  

Karsh’s style of work was far more dramatic and atmospheric than the modern typical headshot.  It is also generally more revealing of the subject’s personality and it was 98% done with B&W large format (often 8×10) cameras for incredible detail.  I asked for the same studio I had shot the veterans’ portraits for that show last year to help me set the mental picture.  With the help of the lab tech, Adriana, I roughed in some dramatic lighting around a chair and got my Canon 5DSr ready with a Canon 70-200L f4.  I like that lens in the studio because the sweet spot is closer to the typical strobe required setting of around f8 to f11.  The f2.8 version would already be moving a couple of stops beyond its own best aperture and is much heavier.

Here is the lighting diagram I settled on once he had sat down.  While I tweaked the lights and made a couple of exposure test shots, we chatted a bit, and I begin to get a feel for his personality.

lighting-diagram-shabazz portrait

Dr, Shabazz is really a very open person and we seemed to hit it off right away – at least that is how it seemed to me.  After using the exposure tests to also test some angles and “looks” I knew what I wanted and simply went for it.  An open and engaged shot where you can see the seriousness of his position but the fun and openness in his eyes.  I initially had a top/hair light in place but it made it look too much like a “news anchor” shot so I turned it off.

I took a total of 11 frames counting test shots.  This one is number 11 and I knew it was the shot when I took it.  So since we were running out of time anyway there was no reason to do more.  First, let me show you the full RAW frame right out of the camera and then we’ll talk about editing it.

SDCC President Shabazz-201709290 11 RAW for blog

For this frame the lens was set at about 85-90mm and gave me a nice working distance that let me shoot under the Key Softbox to help avoid flare from the “kicker.”. The 50 megapixel sensor and the lens’s famous sharpness allowed me to stop worrying about crop knowing I had room to play with the large files of over 100 megabytes each.  The 35mm-style full frame would need to be cropped anyway for 16×20 or 20×24 prints so I concentrated on the lower part of the shot to leave a little room for some optional crops knowing the top would go away anyway.

Once I pulled the files into Camera RAW in preparation for final editing with Photoshop, I did the following:  I tweaked color balance on his white shirt collar (it felt a little cold to me since I had left the camera on daylight setting and the strobes are somewhat cooler).  I then assigned my camera’s color profile in  ACR.  dropped the highlights, brought up the shadows, cropped the picture to fit into a 16×20 aspect ratio and sent it to Photoshop.

I had shot it fairly flat/low contrast so that I could capture all of the tones knowing I can adjust all of that in post.  I always had in mind going to a black and white final (remember my “Karsh-like” concept) but the best way to do that is create a good color image first.  There was not all that much to do: boost the contrast a little, take the background down (I had really over lit it in the studio but there was no time to play with that once he got there; all my attention was on his expression and that lighting).  I was aware that in the camera monitor the background was too light but really gave it no other thought but to fix it in post.   After that, all that was left was to do some very subtle tweaks to remove lint on his jacket.  Our studios virtually rain lint but it could have been worse, he might have shown up in a dark jacket… By the way, despite the commonly expressed fear of the 5DSr showing moiré patterns due to the removal of the antialiasing filter to enhance detail, mine shows no more than any other digital camera.  His jacket was a real world test of that…

So that resulted in this initial color version.

SDCC President Shabazz-20170929-010 color edited for blog

THe color was OK, the blue contrasted nicely with the warm tones and his tie… but it did not resonate with my now firm concept and vision for the final.  Now it was time to really channel Karsh.  I converted it to black and white, then, using the “curves” function, boosted the contrast a little more. I then decided to bring the background tone down even more since the gray value was too close to the rest of the image.  

It was beginning to look good to me and as I had conceived it, but something subtle was off… it lacked some warmth and depth.  So I applied a subtle warm duotone, tweaked it with some light digital burning and dodging, and also very slightly (3-4 degrees) canted the head angle so it wasn’t so “stiff” … and that gave me this final.

SDCC President Shabazz-201709290 11 for blog

He emailed me that he really liked the shot.  Me too.  I think it really fits with and shows off his openness and friendliness but retains the professional status of a College President.  This is a serious guy with a fun side and I think that is hinted at in this shot.  I love the expression that can work for either, “Hi there, glad to see you…”  or “You can’t possibly believe what you just told me…”

But I am really anxiously waiting for the lake shot.  We talked about it and he wants to do it.  We’ll probably be able to go for it in December.  That will make a fun comparison.




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City College Photo Event with Jay Dickman

On Thursday evening, Sept 21, 2017, NelsonPhoto and Olympus sponsored an evening presentation by photographer and author Jay Dickman at City College.  Jay is an “Olympus Visionary” which is the Olympus version Canon’s “Master of Light” and similar exhalted titles bestowed by various camera and equipment manufacturers on examplarary photographers that use their equipment.   Held in the auditorium in our VTC building we had an audience of about 100 show up.  I’m officially on sabbatical leave this semester but was asked to be the faculty contact person for the event so there I was, trying to help set up and get the place ready for the event.

Jay Dickman at City

We had to call in the cavalry in the person of Sean, City’s  AV guru but he got things up and running fine… until… Jay showed up with a new MacBook Pro laptop.  I was a learning experience for me and not a positive one.  It seems although small and light weight (a LOT more convenient than my Alienware tank of a laptop) it ONLY had USB-C plugs in the body.  None of our connector/adapters worked.

Fortunately, Larry and Nancy were on their way from the store and were intercepted in time to stop and pick up a connector.  We thought we were saved.  Ah…. Not so fast Grasshopper…

We had thoroughly tested the projector system before he got there; it had been up and running fine, well as fine as an old VGA projector system could run.  But it handled sample stuff I brought top it and online stuff just fine using its own computer system at the “smart” podium.

But when Jay launched into his presentation and started showing his really delightful work from a life of journalism and travel (including some serious “conflict” assignments). A bizarre glitch occurred: in the middle of a slide about 15 minutes into the presentation, the red channel faded leaving a washed out blueish image.   That effect came and went for a while then simply settled in and stayed mostly blue washing out the rich warm colors in many of his images.  It was really a shame.  We were not sure what had caused it.  That had never happened before to any of the other slide shows and video using that projector on both its internal computer system and on a variety of laptops.

I am inclined to think the connector and dongle nonsense required by the MacBook was the problem but do not really know.

Fortunately the material, in many cases was well illustrated as much by the composition of the shot as by the real color so his points were not lost by the technical issues.  There was a lot of good material for students who attended and just regular photographers generally.  He stressed really knowing your camera and equipment so that you do not have to think about them. (Aside to my students… does that sound at all familiar????)

He also extolled the virtues of Olympus’s light weight and small form factor equipment to allow him to pack small and light for his continual travels all over the world.

He also made a compelling case for the power of the still image to hold the audience and remain in their emotional memory longer and more accurately than moving images.  I’m not sure I completely agree but the point was valid and well made.  In the professional/commercial world however, it is irrelevant as more and more commercial clients are demanding video because they are, perhaps, more in tuned with the younger generation’s and it ADD drenched need to stimulation making video sales pitches statistically far more successful than even the most beautifully wrought still images.

Even though I am a proponent and lover of video production, I find that to be sad and hope the still image never disappears entirely.  I agree with him about its power and, especially in a fine art sense, its place as a far more viable display piece.

But for working pros, we may be at the end of an era, especially in arenas such as sports, events, and photo-J assignments.  Professional video cameras are reaching the point where 4K and better capture can produce stunning still frames up to 11×14 with very little effort and have a much higher probability, at 30 frames per second, of capturing “the moment” if the photographer is well enough versed in the subject to start shooting a little early and well enough skilled with his equipment to set shutter angle and speed to capture the movement.

So, I managed to get our program’s entry into this field, “Photo 163: Motion Capture for Still Photographers” launched into the system so we will see how it goes this time.  Stay tuned for further developments…



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Yeah, you’re right, I’ve been incredibly remiss in keeping this blog even remotely up to date.  My excuses are legion, some of them even remotely, if coincidentally, connected to some obscure portion of the truth.  The bottom line is my mind has been elsewhere, like in the future… my future.  I came here sure this was the “last hurrah.”  I would use this time to teach, give back stuff that had been pounded into my thick skull of all of those years and miles and then fade to black behind a podium or tripod.

Now I’m not so sure.  But that is a discussion for another post.

Meantime, the Fall Semester started this past week and I was gleefully not there since I am on sabbatical for this semester.  But that doesn’t mean I’ve not been busy.  I gave a two part workshop through George’s Camera on shooting and producing video for still photographers.  That was fun and pretty well received but it did mean writing it from scratch which took a little time… and took me down some fun side paths along memory lane.

In August I conducted what has become my annual workshop to the Ancient Bristlecone Pines in California’s White Mountains.  The heavy snows pushed us into August and still the road to Patriarch’s Grove was blocked with a large snow drift.  The weather was overcast and dreary for most of it but that sort of turned the world into a gigantic light tent.  And there were occasional breaks in the clouds creating beautiful pools of light amid the gray.  It was too heavily overcast for good night shooting and it poured one evening so painting with light was not a topic we could pursue.  However this time I did make a sort of quasi-documentary, part show-and-tell for the participants, etc., a somewhat schizophrenic little number you can find on YouTube at this URL

I also have several other projects going on, one of them my “official” project to turn in as part of my sabbatical agreement.  It is a research project exploring the critical issue of just where the world of professional photography is headed in the next few years.  This is really important for our program if we are going to assert that we are preparing students for that “Real” world.  I believe I already know the answer but am now waiting the return of surveys and questionnaires so I can put some statistics to it for my presentation.

The truth is I think it will fall completely on deaf ears here.  The state, technically bankrupt, is trying to shore up the 4 year schools and is putting a full court press on us to increase class sizes and to increase “completions” which to them means a student spending two years then leaving with a degree and a transfer to one of the state’s 4 yr universities.  Of course students who want to enter the world of professional photography have no such interests or needs so that puts us in the cross-hairs (right alongside other vocational programs such as Cosmetology.

Nevertheless I’m hoping it might be of value SOMEWHERE so will try to publish it and might even serialize” it here.  I think the insight is valuable and would hate to see it go to waste as I expect it to do here.  More enrollment is the admin mantra but less money for teachers is making the obvious come true.  Why, when the state says we (education) have money again.  I’ll give you a hint.  We have two NEW Dean positions: one is the “Dean of Student Equity” whatever the Hell that is supposed to be, and we have a Dean for a strong workforce.  In my most demented state I could not have made that up…

Our unhappy solution to the unremitting push for more students per class has been to betray our long standing belief that online is NOT the proper way to teach photography and embrace that online world as best we can.  The only thing we have to show for that is now larger caps on our classes.  Admin is essentially clueless about what it takes in terms of time and technology to give engaging visual lectures and critique 40 students’ work online.  And they don’t care.  When I turn in the final research paper report, along with recommendations for some curriculum and program changes my best guess is they will have a heart attack and then simply turn it down.  Already I had one interim VP tell me we should quit this and simply start our own school.  If that didn’t tell us all we needed to know then we simply were not listening.

And you know what?  She was right… but it is not a practical solution for anyone.  Back in the day, The Darkroom, my business in Denver, was headed that way.  We had 26 courses and 22 instructors and were working on State Accreditation.  But I was younger then… boy was I ever.  Now I’m so “long in the tooth” that my incisors leave drag marks in the dirt.  For years I wanted to start a proper school for serious photographers but now I’ll leave that for a younger generation.  Besides, their world will be far different than mine ever was.  And even more to the point, I have another project that has my focus at the moment.

My “fun” project has been to create a proposal for a 10-episode series for cable TV modeled after Carl Sagan’s original series “Cosmos” but on photography and light.  It is, on one level a course in photography.  But on the other it is an examination of the science behind the art, exploring what IS our only tool, “light,” where does this miraculous “paint” for us come from, and how do photographers in different genres manipulate it to achieve their own unique visions for their work.  It will bring the worlds of astronomy, physics, chemistry, history, art, etc. into focus and show how they are all connected and fundamental to the creation of serious photography.

A script for the first episode has now garnered attention from several photo equipment manufacturers for sponsorship and product placement so we are well underway.  I’m hoping to get the first Episode, also our “pilot” shot before I start back with classes in late January.  I’m now a member of the Discovery Networks producers community and know that their normal fee for programming laid alongside our production budget shows a potential profit of about 37% on investment.  Now with the fundamental documents created and copyrighted it is time to turn attention to just that: funding.

The work for the online courses re-awakened my interest in video and film production with a vengeance, a sleeping tiger came roaring back to life.  I had forgotten how much I had grown to love adding elements of motion, sound… and TIME to my imagery.

And in my spare time…. being bored and all…

I spoke with the lead music professor at City about compositions for the series.  That led to an idea I had kicked around years ago but set aside for lack of any interested co-author: the creation of a combined visual and music piece where the two elements complement each other and are equal partners in the finished piece.  To be clear, NOT a case where the visuals illustrate the music such as in a music video or where the music brings richness to the visuals such as in a movie, but a piece of original music and original visual conceived TOGETHER around some theme.

I’m excited by that too.

And… I REALLY need to go visit my friend Jim, in Santa Fe.  I’m hoping that after this next week I’ll have all of the projects to a point where I can take a week off to do that.  Then back to the grindstone.

I’m going to have to go back to the classroom in Spring to take a vacation!

Meantime I’ll try to be better at keeping you all up on such goin’s on.  I said from the first post this was a sort of travel piece taking readers along on my travels whether defined as normal “travel” or virtual travels in cerebral and visceral realms.  The cool thing, for me, is that these projects may take me into ALL of those definitions.

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Final Judging for San Diego Fair 2017

Bright on early on Sunday the 21st a bunch of us gathered in the Photo Exhibition area of the Del Mar Fair Grounds for the 2nd tier judging of entrants for the 2017 international Juried Photography Exhibition.

It was a beautiful morning, and quite on the fairgrounds.  Workers were beginning to erect the stages and vendors starting to set up booths and eating concessions.

blog Fairgrounds stage set up 01

This is the Paddock area and in the center of the shot, one of the stages is being set up.

In a few weeks this will be a madhouse as fair goers descend on the grounds to see the exhibits, taste the latest in Fair Food (I can hardly wait to see what will be this years gross-out offering though it is hard to imagine topping deep fried butter…).  But the greenskeepers have been busy and flowers are everywhere at peak bloom.

blog Fairgrounds flowers 01

The judging went as per normal.  Here is a shot of a typical 3-juror panel to show you how it proceeds.

blog judging sequence

Here is a judging panel in action.  Sorry for the bizarre look; this was shot on my Canon P&S and I accidentally flicked the setting to one of the presets.  I don’t even know which one it was but it is NOT one I would choose on purpose…

The process is that the work to be judged is in the boxes (1) toward the back; a volunteer or helper then takes them one at a time and shows them to the panel (2) which renders its verdict whereupon the records keeper (3) records the data for that print.

The goal is to determine 1st through 4th place and some “honorable mention” images from among those images that passed Tier One oversight.  Unless some rules infraction is noted or the submitted print simply does not live up to the potential of the electronic version seen earlier, all others will hang n the exhibition hall floor.

Once all of the categories have been judges, the first place winners are laid out and the combined jurors then vote for “Best of Show.”  This year took about 4 ballots to get it down to two and a final round determined the winner. (Sorry you will have to go to the fair to check out the results.)

As usual I took my own notes plus chatted with other jurors to get their input on common problems to pass on to help you all in improving your photography as well as your chances for better showings in this and other exhibitions.  Sadly, the number one issue was…

READ THE RULES.  I’m not sure why this would be necessary to mention but it seems to be.  We disqualified a couple of images and downgraded a few others for the simple problem of ignoring the rules as laid out in the data sheets provided for those wanting to submit work.  And do pay attention to the categories.  If you get approved at Tier One for a color shot, do not THEN decide you like it better in Grayscale and turn it in, still in the color category, as a black and white image.

When the rules clearly state that a digital stoke around the image needs to be black or white, that does not include gold or tan even if it would be a better choice for color compatibility.

After nearly ever year’s judging, the coordinators and judges confer to see what mods might be made to the rules to reflect changing technologies and sometimes even evolving image trends.  No set of rules is perfect.  But for any given year, when the data sheets go out, THOSE ARE THE RULES.  Period. You cannot decide unilaterally that you are above them and expect anything other than to have your work kicked out.

FOCUS.   When some element (or elements) in your image need to be sharply focused, THEY NEED YO BE SHARPLY FOCUSED!  How many of you are aware that your electronic auto-focus lens may or may not come from the factory with dead-on focus capability.  Professional and pro-sumer cameras allow you to use software to correct for this so that what seems to be in focus in the viewfinder really IS in focus at the image plane.  This problem is far more prevalent that you may think and many vendors and manufacturers deny it altogether.  But just like ISO/Noise calibrations and sensor calibrations for color bias require your attention, so does this if it is giving you a problem.  It can happen for any lens but is much more common on zoom/variable focus lenses.  And is especially noticeable in macro/close up work were precise focusing is what makes or breaks the image.

It may look great on your camera monitor or on the screen but when sharp areas are critical, zoom in at 100% or more and check it out.  You may be surprised to see how often the focus is off a little but that is enough to kick you image down a peg or two at judging time.

SIZE.  Bigger is not always better, especially when you enlarge past the point where the file can properly resolve the detail.  Several prints would like great when seen across the judging area but when brought around for closer inspection simply fell apart.  You are far better off making a top quality 8×10 image mounted on the mandatory 16×20 mat than you are trying to do a full bleed 16×20 when all that does is show off file flaws.

FINAL PRINT QUALITY.  A printed image is NOT an electronic image.  The printing process, especially enlargements (as noted above) simply make errors and slip-shod editing more obvious.  There are really two issues here:  (a) Editing of the image and (b) printing of the final image.  Both have an effect on the look and quality of the final but are separate issues.

  • EDITING.  It was irritating how often we saw a reasonably well composed and well shot image that suffered from really shoddy editing.  I think there are two possible reasons for this, each with its own solution.
    • The first is that the photographer simply does not know what can or should be done to improve the image so has to real place to start.  No matter what tools you have available to you, if you do not know what you want to accomplish, those tools are worthless.  The more work you see the more opportunities you have to see good editing, to get inspiration and ideas.  And the more chances you have to apply that to your own work.
    • The second issue is that the photographer knows what they would like to do to improve the final image, they simply do not know the tools well enough to actually perform the appropriate edits
    • Both of these issues are resolved with education: learning more about the work being done by others, the potential artistic options available to you.  And there are classes and workshops flooding the place where you can learn to use the tools with expertise.
  • PRINTING.  Whether you are printing on your own printer or are using the services of some professional printer, it is your responsibility to either know how to properly profile your own printer and properly prepare you file for it, or to be able to direct, monitor, and oversee the work of another printer to guarantee the work quality.  Assuming your file is good, it is still up to you to spot and fix any color biases or mismatches, tonal issues and muddiness, and also any presentation issues.  The judges won’t know and do not care why a print is less than perfect when they are looking at them to determine acceptance or rejection.

So that’s it for this year.  Do try to get to the judges panel and/or critiques for input on how to improve your images; and come up to se the show.




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