black and white photography

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You can choose from a lot of different lenses and cameras combinations. One mean, lean, street-shootin machine combo was the Voigtlander R4M and Zeiss 21mm 2.8 Biogon. I sold them off earlier this year (the lens and body separately of course to increase the value). This was from a roll of film I found lying around that hadn’t been developed quite yet. Seeing these fruits makes me miss her.

She was sold to purchase the Mamiya RZ67 Pro ii; a massive studio-oriented camera that is antithetical to the rapid fire shooting that a small rangefinder will allow. This is also a bid to further remove myself from 35mm film and dive deeper into 120mm. My Hasselblad SWC should be able to provide some of the same types of images (almost same field of view but square format, shallower DOF and different ergonomics). This is making me want to go on a walk!

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I am still in the 35mm film world though. Below is my trusty Nikon F3HP with 35mm lens. A gift from my brother, she’ll never be sold.

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Its amazing to learn more about a person who has achieved incredible things.  Vivian Maier is, I think, quite possibly the best street portraitist who ever lived.  Better than Bresson you ask?  Undoubtedly!  Bresson was a fantastic street photographer who was able to find incredible symmetries.  But he is not known for his portraits.  Vivian made incredible street portraits, and I would put her against the best.

That said, I am not so interested in talking about why her work is of superior quality, you can be the judge of that.  What I am interested in here is the how.  She is the greatest street portraitist for a reason and I think some of the below characteristics came together to form the perfect storm of a woman primed to accomplish such feats.

She’s a foreigner.  She was a transplant from the southern French countryside with no family.  This otherness enabled objectivity, perspective and intrigue.  The eye of the traveler is one that ever wanders.

She’s not intimidating.  You need to be discreet to shoot in the street.  In a street photography workshop I attended, the best shooter of them all was a 4 foot tall Asian girl.  Just think of who would get angry at her for taking their photo?  People were probably delighted!  When I (a six foot tall caucasian) shoot people and am caught, I just look like a jerk.

She focused on using only one camera – the Rolleiflex with an 80mm lens.  Imagine… using the same camera and lens for 40 years.  Studio photographers can switch equipment with the coming and going of the tides.  Switching between this equipment has minimal impact on them.  It’s not about the tools.  Street photographers require the camera to be an appendage.  A tool that is a living, unconscious extension of themselves.  40-50 years with one camera and one lens brought this unconscious relationship to exist.  Her mind’s eye merged with the viewfinders.  She probably saw things as a 6×6 square format.

She was a tough cookie, who was anything but social.  Personal relationships probably got in the way of her photography.  But what liberation!  To not have to worry about other’s incisive opinions and  influences.  Her anti-social behavior gave her the ability to be an individual in a true sense.  Also, being in solitude allows one to focus.  From my own personal experience, I have tried going out with friends and even strangers to shoot on the street.  But it doesn’t work.  I am distracted from my goal.  To be a good street photographer, you need to be alone on the street.

She practiced her solitude daily and began to cherish it.  She felt the need to take photos for herself.   This was an intensely private joy she experienced.  In the immortal words of Joel Meyerowitz “you can make prints out of this and share this… but at a certain point if you’ve done it long enough… you don’t really have to.  It’s for you.  It’s just for you.”  She felt the need to take photos for herself.  The need for sharing simply wasn’t there.

And while she lacked family in the typical sense of the term, the photos made her family.  Vivian surrounded herself with intimate moments with strangers.  She got close and saw people for who they were; humans.  What is family but deep emotional connection with others?  This humanity is evident throughout her portraiture.  Those strangers caught in a strange land doing strange work, they were her brothers and sisters.

Would she have wanted everyone to know who she was and her history (forensic history at that!)?  An emphatic no.  But her life and work shows us the special sauce required to make a great street photographer.

Take heed my friends.

-J

I never really mentioned it, but I’ve changed some of the style of shooting I’ve done over the past couple of months.  Partly due to the desire for new projects, partly due to the shooting of medium format.  I have slowed down, caught less candid snapshots, and focused more on a series or body of work than I have in the past.

Previously, I would shoot anything came my way.  This usually made for a bunch of shots on a roll that seemed to be randomly thrown in there.  There was little rhyme or reason to it (the only consistency being black and white film most of the time, the locations and my style of shooting).

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Not to say that everything I am doing now has a strict rhyme or reason. But one thing that has been a marker of my recent work is the shooting of fewer portraits.  I always thought portraits were the best but now I want to get good shots of both portraits and landscapes.  So I have focused more on landscapes.

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Portraits are beautiful and I will always love a good one.  But I feel like it’s almost cheating a bit.  Landscapes are tougher to get a good photo out of because they require more interesting subject matter (in my humble opining).

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The ultimate goal of course is to be able to grab both great portraits, landscapes and potentially the combination thereof?

Cheers,

J


photo (14)My newly purchased (used) Pentax 67 and 165mm LS Lens :-)!

I love old film cameras.  Their like swiss watches… except you can make art with them!

Because I’ve purchased my fair share of them, I think it only fair to share some secrets regarding the purchase and maintenance of classic cameras.

So you followed the guidelines for buying a used camera.  Now what to do once you bring her home?  Clean her out!

IMG_0010-9Seals? We no need no stinking seals!

While cameras from the 70’s and 80’s are very reliable, even moreso than their new age counterparts, one thing that always messes things up is the foam seals that are used.  These seals degrade over time… and eventually become a funky black gunk.  But the seals provide a very real and important purpose… to ‘seal’ out light from the camera box.

If the seals degrade and light comes into the camera, then you get light leaks.  Want some illustration?  Just take a gander at the upper right hand corner of the above photo.  Notice the big blob of ungainly white light coming into the frame on the ladies face?  That my friend shows you that your camera is leaky…  And it’s time to patch her up and make her right.

photo (9)Pentax 67 Optical Viewfinder

So how do we stop the leaks?  Well replace the seals!  And the first part to replacing the seals, is to get rid of the old ones.

Above you can see that gooey nasty black crud that’s surrounding the bottom part of the viewfinder.  Mind you, this tutorial will describe how to remove the seals on the optical viewfinder of the Pentax 67, but really, all light seals are the same so go ahead and use these instructions for removing the seals in other cameras (and in the camera bodies too).

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Here are my tools:

  • Toothpicks (skewers are better as they are thicker and stronger)
  • Q-Tips
  • Paper Towels
  • Mineral Spirits (other chemicals to remove adhesives will work as well… Goo-Gone etc)

Step #1.  Identify and Attack.

Find the seals that need to be replaced and start applying Mineral Spirits with a Q-Tip.

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Because Mineral spirits and other similar chemicals evaporate quickly, a few different appliques will be necessary to loosen the adhesive underside.  Notice the glossy shine of the chemicals on the above viewfinder.

So we identified where we need to remove the gunk… but… Oh No!  The gunk spread!

photo (10)This is the Pentax 67 body and focusing screen (focusing screen in the center in white).  Notice around the edges of the screen is the gunk!  It transferred from the viewfinder to the camera body!  That rascally gunk  needs to git outta der so we can have clean viewing!

So we have identified two places where the gunk is.  Apply the mineral spirits to the body as well!

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Now start scraping.  This is the tough part.  And can take some time.

You have to scrape off the goo with the backend of a skewer or toothpick.  With the skewer, the blunt end is good for the majority of the work, the pointy part for the nooks and crannies.  Now apply more mineral spirits… Wash, rinse and repeat.  Eventually your work station looks kind of like this:

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But you would rather have that crap out of your camera than inside of it right?  Agreements all around.  And some hugs.

One word of caution – mineral spirits and Goo Gone are liquid and can get into places you don’t want them to.  A perfect example is getting into the vewfinder.  After I cleaned out the viewfinder I put it all back together and found a hazy patch in the middle of the screen!  I was really worried… but after some investigation I found that there was condensation on the inside of the viewfinder (so it wasn’t the lens or the focusing screen… phew!).

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That tiny patch in the middle was much bigger about 5 minutes before… but over time the condensation went away.  This is important to think about when choosing a chemical.  Mineral spirits evaporate quickly, and in this case, that is a very good thing.

So now your camera should be without gunky crap, which is nice.  And you’ve gotten over the toughest part, so kudos to you.  But now you have to replace the seals.  And that, my friend, is for another blog post :-).

Happy (light leak free) shooting!

-J

Naturally, in New York City, you want to shoot upward.  There’s a whole lot happening “up there”.  But the results?  Not always so good.

Why?  The man’s hands above are larger than they should be (proportional to his body).  This is perspective distortion and it can’t be helped (all lenses do it).  Another issue is that the lines of the building in the back make it look like it is going to fall over.  Mind you, no distortion is 100% bad, you can use it to your advantage… but most of the time pointing the camera up doesn’t work that well for me (unless carefully thought out).

Here’s an example that does work:

Things feel natural in the above photo.  The framelines of the image mesh well with the lines in the photo.  A contrary illustration being the first shot in this post (the building should be standing up straight… not diagonally).

To further the argument, let’s look at some photos in the subway.  I took the next shot with the camera pointed slightly upward:

Compare that with this adjusted shot:

Notice the difference?  The second shot is the same as the first except with a horizontal transformation in post-processing.  The top of the photo was compressed, the bottom elongated.

Now look at the edges of the second photo – notice how the pillars in the subway match the lines of the frame of the photo.  Which feels better to you?  To my eye, the second (post-processed version) is better.

Now the frustrating thing is that you sometimes want to shoot upwards to get other elements.  In particular, I wanted to get someone walking along the top corridor in the above shot.  So I shot upwards.  Well… sometimes you have to.  But keep in mind what it is doing.

Happy shoot!

J

Simplifying your life can really teach you what matters. Imagine everyone got rid of the dish washing machine, car, computer, television, espresso machine and alcohol cabinet. America’s obesity problems and alcoholism would probably decrease and thereby increase our standard of living! Easy peasy!

Well maybe throwing out your modern conveniences is not so easy. But simplifying your photos is! This is the first lesson in taking better pictures and the first thing that amateurs should focus on. So imagine yourself a stripper and take off all of the extraneous fluff until you get to the bare essentials.

Photography has often been referred to as an art of reduction, so here are some tips about things to avoid:

1) Don’t photograph crowds. Focus on one individual.

In shooting street photography, it is really tough to shoot crowds unless you can find some way of making the crowd form some kind of pattern (if everyone is wearing a uniform for example). Normally a crowd is filled with people wearing different colored clothing and this just gives you a hodge-podge that is not that appealing.

Focus on shooting one individual that stands out from the crowd. This brings focus to your photo.

2) Take out multiple and conflicting lines. Focus on one or two lines.

Too many lines, or too many conflicting lines can be confusing to the eye. Remember this is about “visual comfort”.

3) Take out color. Shoot black and white.

There’s a reason black and white photography is so popular. It strips out the unnecessary complications of color! Taking away color allows the eye to focus on facial features, patterns, lines and shade gradations in an easier way than color does.

4) Take out text/brands/logos.

I have written about this subject here. Text is a major focal point and a major distraction. Brands make photos seem like advertisements. Stay away!

5) Shoot fast aperture and shallow depth of field.

By having the background out of focus, it brings focus to that which is sharp. In the majority of cases this should be a face.

6) Stay away from crazy camera angles and shoot at the height of your subject’s face.

This is a comfortable perspective for the viewer as we normally see others at eye level (unless you’re 4 years old).

7) Make portraits.

Making images of buildings is overrated (and very difficult to be successful at). Everyone comes to NYC to look at buildings. Look at the people you’ve come across and photograph them.

So those are some simple starting rules for street photography. These practices work for me so read through them and see which ones suite your fancy. Then incorporate!

Happy Shooting!
J