Plaza de Armas, Lima | Fuji XT1

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If you ever find yourself in Lima and looking for a place for street photography, Plaza de Armas is a great place to go. This is the main plaza at the center of downtown Lima, surrounded by the Government Palace, the Cathedral of Lima, the Archibishop’s Palace, and the Municipal Palace. Yes, it’s a bit touristy and you’re definitely not getting the whole local Peruvian flavor when you go there. However, many people do actually just hang out at the plaza, whether if be families, tourists or stray dogs.

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Something which I’ve never encountered before until travelling to Peru are “official” photographers which I assume are hired by the city to help people take inclusive group photos either using people’s cameras or their own. I assume if the official photographer uses his own camera, they’ll try to sell the picture to the people. 

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There is a long pedestrian only boulevard at the end of the plaza where you’ll find surprisingly few stores which sell touristy souvenirs but instead sell touristy food.

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Not sure why this woman held that pose, but she was there for at least a minute, then moved along. Maybe she knew I was taking her photo. Maybe the XT1 wasn’t as inconspicuous as I thought.

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One thing I noticed as I wandered around was the there are alot of kids. You’d get the child shopping with his grandparents.

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The modern, young family laughing while their child falls on his face.

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The chess whiz figuring out how to beat his dad. Again.

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And the hustler. I’ve been to Peru six times now and I’ll never get use to seeing so many kids hustling for a living selling snacks, souvenirs, performing dance routines, or shoeshines. And not once did I see an able bodied child sit on a street corner and beg for money. I’m not sure under what circumstance they need to do this, whether their family forces them to or they’re out their on their own, but it breaks my heart every time I see these kids.

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If you want a diversity of subjects to photograph Plaza de Armas is one place you should visit if you’re in Lima. And the XT1 was a great camera to capture these moments with.

I’ve had the XT1 for since it was first released and I never enjoyed a digital camera as much as I have the XT1. By now you’re probably read countless reviews telling all the great features, all the advantages and disadvantages of the camera and I don’t want to take up space and repeat them all. I just want to say that for me, the XT1 is a great camera to have with me at all times, whether its day to day at home taking pictures of my family or out wandering the streets of Peru. It’s light, compact (I only have the Fuji 18mm and 35mm lens) and well built, especially with the benefit of weather sealing. Oh, and I can’t forget about the dials! I live on dials on a camera and the XT1 has all the important ones I need, as dials. Aperture, shutter speed, exposure compensation, and new on the XT1, ISO! I’m not a fan of Auto ISO, although I’m sure it works great on the XT1 as some have said, but I’d like to have as much control as I can with a camera and having the ISO button makes life so much easier compared to either diving into a menu or, like some other X cameras, press a Function button, then turn a scroll wheel.

And one great feature which I never thought I’d enjoy using is the LCD flip screen. Most of the above photos I’d flip down the LCD screen 90 degrees and use it as a waist lever finder. People generally view people taking photos by whether they hold the camera up to their eye, or directly in front of their face. When holding the camera slightly down and in front of you, it looks like you’re just viewing photos on your camera. By using this method, I feel more comfortable getting closer to my subject without them noticing I’m taking their photo.

Fuji has been doing great things with their X line of cameras and the XT1 is another great addition. With Fuji’s history of supporting its X cameras with firmware updates long after their release, I’m confident that the XT1 will be a very capable and up to date camera for years to come.

* The images above were taken with the Fujinon 18mm f/2.0 and 35mm f/1.4 lenses. Edits to the images above include brightness adjustments and croppping of select images.

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Contax T2

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This was one camera that had been on my radar for a long time but for one reason or another never got around to purchase. Everyone I know that has one loves it but I just felt that the size of it was holding me back. I like my P&S film cameras to be very compact and I use my Ricoh GR1v or Olympus Stylus Epic as the standard measurement of compactness. I was actually looking at the Contax T3 at first, but from some friends’ experiences, the camera was a bit too small and also the control layout was not as intuitive as the T2. Then one night while browsing eBay (which I highly suggest against doing as the will is weakest at night and unintended buying could easily happen) I saw a listing for a Jet Black Contax T2 with a great Buy It Now price. Thus, I bought it now.

The Contax T2 was introduced in 1990 as a luxury point and shoot camera aimed at the professional photographer and luxury minded hobbyist. One of the main standout features of the T2 is its amazing multi-coated Carl Zeiss 38mm f/2.8 lens comprising of 5 elements and 4 groups. This is a well built camera; titanium construction (hence the “T”), dials and controls that feel solid and tight with well defined clicks.

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The aperture settings are controlled by a ring around the camera lens barrel. The camera is Aperture Priority when set at f/2.8 and has the ability to manual focus using the focus distance dial on the top plate of the camera.

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One control which is a plus for me is that by default the camera’s flash is turned off until you choose to engage the flash. There are other point and shoots which resets its flash-off setting every time you turn off the camera, at which time when you power-on the camera, you have to remember to turn the flash off (Leica Minilux, I’m looking at you here).

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In use, the T2 feels great in the hands especially with the rubberized finger grip on the front of the camera. Half-press the shutter to focus and take the exposure reading. Hold at half-press to lock focus and exposure and fully press to take the photo. Looking through the viewfinder gives you all the pertinent information such as frame lines, shutter speeds vertically on the left hand side and focus confirmation, using arrows to show distance and a green dot when subject is in focus.

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The T2 is slightly larger than a Ricoh GR1 and although you could use one hand to operate and shoot the camera, it feels more secure to use both hands most likely due to it’s weight more than its size.

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There are several different color combinations Contax released with the T2, with the Champagne Silver and Titanium Black being the most common and the Jet Black and the Gold plated versions being the more rare versions. Being one that loves black cameras, I picked up a Jet Black T2.

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The T2 has been my go-to film camera for the past little while. With its compact size and excellent lens, the T2 is a great all round, carry-around-everywhere camera. I find that the 38mm focal length, while not the most ideal for me as I prefer 50mm, it is better than the 35mm focal length of my Olympus Stylus Epic and much more usable, for me, than the 28mm of my Ricoh GR1v. If you are in the market for a luxury compact film point and shoot, you definitely cannot go wrong with the Contax T2.

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* Prices range from low $300’s for the Champagne Silver to low $400’s for the Titanium Black, high $400’s for the Gold plated versions, and low $500’s for the Jet Black versions.

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Ryan Johnson

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To be successful in anything, you need two things. One, a great partner or spouse that will support you and your vision. Two, luck. Pure dumb luck. As Ryan Johnson will tell you, these two things, among others, have had a big impact in his ever growing photography career.

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How did you get started in photography?

In High School I got my father’s Canon AE-1, which he had forever but never really used. I started doing photography classes in High School, where they still taught film photography. They had a dark room and taught you how to do black and white and how to print as well. And so it was really much more of an art form than just learning how to take the picture. You’re learning from start to finish and that’s part of the process that I still love. You take the picture and you watch it through til the end. And that’s where my passion really began.

Were you on the yearbook committee?

No I wasn’t! (both laugh) I got to the point where I took photography classes for three years and by the third year the teacher who taught the course, who was also a great photographer herself, walked into class and told me “We don’t really have a curriculum for you so how about you figure out what you want to do and I’ll grade you on it.” (both laugh)

Nice!

So it was basically an independent study class but she helped me come up with some ideas of shoots and what I wanted to do and kinda let me go. And it was probably the most freeing and most growth I’ve had just because it was all mine from start to finish. I had to think up the idea and watch it through to the end. And that, that piece stuck with me the most. And the whole development process has stuck with me also. When I started doing it professionally, digital cameras had started to come out and I thought, like everyone did, it’s a simple, quick and easy way to do what I love. And it was. But the problem was that I was never satisfied with the look. And I was never satisfied with… I had to do a lot of Photoshopping at the time to get it to the look I wanted and that’s when I decided to go back to film. And that’s when I went to FIND (Film Is Not Dead workshop). That opened my eyes in that you can do film photography and make it into a viable option for professionals. That really sparked the fire in me again because I became complacent with photography and I felt I just couldn’t do what I wanted to do. That’s when I really picked it back up again and ran with it.

How was your journey like from being in love with photography to making photography your profession?

I think like a lot of photographers you start thinking that “Hey, I can make some money on the side. This could be a great side career.” And I was going to school for Sports Medicine and Physical Therapy and I had started to work at a bank because the hours were great to go to college and work. I started doing shoots for friends and family and a few weddings here and there. Then the job I was in, I was falling in into better and better positions as I was with the bank longer. I was going from teller to banker to loan officer. I was starting to work for an international foreign exchange market trading bank and I was doing a lot more in the financial world than I thought I was going to! (both laugh) And it kinda took over and in my head I was thinking, “Some people don’t choose their career, the career chooses them” and so on. But I still loved photography but never thought I could make a living out of it. And there was that voice in the back of my head saying “Yeah, photography is great but you could never support a family with it.” And that held me back from doing it. I went to FIND in 2010 and at that point I had a real struggle in that I had a fantastic paying job, was married and we were thinking of starting a family. But I just wasn’t happy with my career. We were making great money but it was just torture going into work everyday. I was doing weddings on the side and that part of the business was slowly growing. One day I went in for a quarterly review at my job. And everything was fine. I had two offices, one in the city and one out close to our house. My review was in downtown and when I came out of the review and driving back to my other office, I pulled to the side of the road, called my wife and told her “I can’t do this anymore.” If I’m ever going to make a run at this (photography) as a business, this is the time. We don’t have kids, my wife had a great job, we have good insurance through my wife’s work if we needed it. It’s the perfect time. She reluctantly said yes (both laugh). I think she knew this day would probably come but I think it came faster than she had thought it would. For me too, it was kind of an awakening moment that this had to happen now. I turned the car around, went back to the office and quit… put in my two weeks. It’s funny, it’s kind of like the whole idea that I felt like I was in two worlds and couldn’t give myself fully to either one. I quit in the Spring and in that Fall… my wife is a big Giants fan and they won the World Series, they were interviewing one of the players, you know Brian Wilson?

Yeah, the guy with the big beard.

Yeah, him. They were interviewing him and he said when he was in school he went into his Advisor’s and Counsellor’s office and they asked him “So what do you want to go to college for? What do you want to be in your life?” and he said “I want to be a pitcher.” And the Advisors were “Yeah, but not everyone… people need something to fall back on.” And Brian Wilson said “No, I’m going to be a pitcher. That’s why I’m here.” And he said the Advisors got really frustrated with him but they didn’t realize that in his mind, you can’t do one or the other. If you want to be a pitcher, be a pitcher. And that interview stuck in my head for months and it just kinda got the ball rolling and felt the same way. If I wanted to be a photographer, I just gotta do it. That was in 2011 and now, here I am. (both laugh)

Has it been easy? No, not at all. We took a huge paycut with me quitting and it’s been very difficult. But I’d much rather stress and work 24 hours and struggle for something I believe in and I care about rather than worry about whether the bank I’m working for will fail or not. I don’t have that emotional connection with that career. Whatever business I was starting in, whether it be photography or whatever, owning my own business and running it myself felt right. For my personality, it just works.  I will kill myself for this business whereas when I’m working for somebody else, I could care less. (both laugh)

Has having a finance background/ experience helped you with running your own business? Because that part seems to be the most frustrating for a lot of photographers.

It does. I’m not a financial genius by any means (both laugh) but it definitely does help you with the idea that when you get paid, you need to say this money goes here and there, and not just be happy you have money. (both laugh) Just be able to run a business because I think a lot of photographers get stuck on the fact that they’re photographers and they forget the business side. And I’ve fallen into that pit a lot where you just say “I just want to go out and shoot! I don’t care about my website or the marketing. I just want to shoot!” And a lot of the workshops I’ve been to don’t really talk… FIND was great and all and I’ll forever be happy I went because it opened my eyes that you can do this as a business. You can survive and you can succeed. But I’ve never been to a workshop that actually talked about the nuts and bolts of being a business owner. And I think that’s one thing that’s lacking in photography workshops that are around. They all talk about your vision and the art. But none of them actually say “Business sucks!” (both laugh) Most creatives find it very hard to do both. Unless you have someone that does it for you, you’re going to have to do it yourself. You’re doing what you love probably 10% of the time. The rest of the time is business. I think that a lot of people fail in this business because they jump in and don’t realize the business issue and they get burnt out. And that for me is the biggest stumbling block. Although I have a background in finance, it helps in running a business but also not the entire piece of the puzzle (both laugh). I’ve been doing this full time for almost three years…

That’s really good!

Well… (both laugh) I think I’m lucky because my wife has been so supportive. She’s been… she believes in the dream that this can work. And I don’t think a lot of people have that depth… that help. I would not be here if she hadn’t been so patient and understanding as to where we… we see the same vision for this business and want it to grow and it means that money is tight sometimes. Money is hard. Sometimes we’re running on one paycheck. And even though I’ll do a job, with all the expenses and everything, we end up coming out even sometimes. It’s all part of the growing pains of growing a business. She’s also in finance… she’s a practice manager for a Financial Planner. So she basically runs a business already for him. And that helps in that she has the perspective of what it takes to get things rolling. And though I’m sure I’ve made my share of mistakes in the business world (both laugh) you learn from your mistakes, pick yourself up and keep on going. It’s been a rough three years but I’m feeling that it’s coming to fruition.

That’s great! So is most of your business in Utah or do you travel quite a bit?

This past year most of my business has been out of Utah. I’ve had two weddings here in Utah and the rest of it has been outside. I love Utah and we both had thought about moving to other places but when it comes down to it, Utah has so much to offer and hopefully my job gives me the ability to travel so I don’t have to be somewhere else. And having been given the opportunity to work with Sundance has been a great help for us financially when we needed it so it’s kinda hard for us to think about going somewhere else. (both laugh)

How did you get involved with Sundance?

Dumb luck. (both laugh) Pure dumb luck. I really have no idea. Somebody likes me I guess. (both laugh) Like everyone back in the day, I had a Flickr page. I think I still have it? (both laugh) They called me in the Spring of 2012 and just out of the blue, I have no idea how you get connected with Sundance, the director of marketing called me and said “We’re from Sundance and we want to meet with you.” And at first I was like “Yeah, right. Ok, what are you selling?” (both laugh) “No, we’re really from Sundance and we’d like to meet with you about doing some photography for us.” Tell me where and when I’ll be there! Funny thing was that I just had back surgery and they called me the week after. I was in bed and I was like “I’ll be there!” Whatever I need to do, I don’t care! (both laugh)

Yeah, just shoot me up with whatever numbs the pain!

Hahaha. Right. So I went up there and they’re always looking for new talent and somehow they’ve come across my Flickr page and it wasn’t updated. But they kinda really liked the feel of my photos, had me in for an interview and that’s how it started. (both laugh) And its been a fun, crazy ride ever since then. It’s a very different way of working, with Sundance.

How is it different?

In the basic sense its event photography. But what they do in the summer time, they run workshops for new filmmakers up here at the resort. They bring these new filmmakers in and help them learn the ropes of working in the system. Most of these filmmakers, composers, etc have made movies and films and they’ve done everything themselves. It’s very indie project. And this is to teach them how to take that and work as a team. Work with cinematographers, producers, and show them the ropes in getting their stuff into the mainstream. And it’s really cool and so what I do for them is more documentary photography. I’m going up and document the process they’re going through. It’s a little on set photography, a little bit straight documentary and a little bit event photography all meshed into one. It’s really fun and really great to meet all these artists who are in… they’re in the same path as you are and seeing them finding their way… these people are amazingly talented. These are the future Steven Spielbergs… these are people who know their stuff and are going to be doing great things and so many of them are so nice and humble and happy to be there. Its great to be with them and know them and document their process. Its amazing to see the creative juices flowing.

Do they inspire you for your photography?

They’ve inspired to for my own photography but inspired me to… I love photography and my dream is photography but if I were to say what my biggest dream is, is to direct a movie. Ever since I was little and knew who Steven Spielberg was, he’s been my idol. I know it’s cliché to say that but you grew up watching these movies that draw you in and put you in this world that you’ve never even thought of and its another one of those things that I’m a kid from Utah and I don’t even know how I’d become a film director and going up to Sundance, and it’s another one of those things that opened my eyes to say you can do whatever you want to do. You just have to work for it. And I came back from the film festival this year and I was like I’m surrounded by so many talented people… why aren’t we doing this? (both laugh) Why aren’t we making a movie? And that kinda got the ball rolling. That’s years down the road and something on the horizon that I want to move towards.

Is there a story that you want to make? Anything boiling underneath you want to get out?

My brother in law actually went to school as an English Literature major and we’re working together and always bouncing ideas off each other. We haven’t found the right one yet but that’s kind of our collaboration. I came back from Sundance and I called him immediately and was like “We’re going to make a move.” And he was like “Ok.” (both laugh) I asked him “You have any stories?” and he said “You know I have a few outlines” So we’ve kinda been working through that.

At least now through Sundance you have a good knowledge of what you need to do get a movie going.

And that’s been the beauty for me. They think I’m just there as the photographer but I’m there as the nerd who’s been watching movies his whole life and I don’t have to pay to be here. I’m just listening to you people and soaking it in! (both laugh)

So you’re getting paid to learn as well as shoot!

Yeah! (both laugh) Definitely… that’s perfect for me.

Getting back to your photography, is there any other type of photography you’re interested in, or thinking of branching out towards, besides weddings?

I do love… it’s very hard because when I came into photography, people don’t go into it saying “I want to be a wedding photographer.” I think for most people that’s the last thing on their mind. And even after my first few weddings I though “You know, this isn’t for me.” I was having trouble connecting. And the truth of it was that the second I started shooting film, it changed my perspective on everything. Its funny because on my website you don’t see that say I shoot film. Anywhere. And I’ve gotten a lot of flack from that.

Really? Why?

You know, from friends that we both share (both laugh), they say you shoot film and should be proud of it… stand behind it. And I think the only place I do say it is on Instagram but if you went to my website, it doesn’t say it at all. And its not because I’m ashamed or afraid clients won’t hire me. Its just… I understand the need for digital. Before I started shooting for Sundance, I didn’t shoot digital at all. And because the turnaround times they needed, I had to shoot digital. So I bought my first digital camera, in seven years, in 2012. (both laugh)

Wow.

Haha. Yeah. And I had to start shooting digitally and at first it was a nightmare. I actually got anxiety shooting digital.

Really?

Yeah because it stressed me out to be able to see it immediately. Shooting film, and this is why I love shooting film, film helps me to connect so much more because I understand it. It has a latitude, has forgiveness. And that’s the funny thing, is that people think shooting film is so hard, but its so not. And it gives me a freedom to let go. I take a reading and I just go. I mean I’ve been shooting film now for 3-4 years so now I know the film, I’ve found the films I like, I know pretty much how they’d react in certain lighting situations. Whereas shooting digital for me is very… you have to nail it. You have to get a good exposure to not blow your lights or muddy your darks. It’s like shooting slide film! (both laugh) When I started shooting digital again I was freaking out because I couldn’t handle the stress of nailing the shot and it felt like it made me disconnect from what I’m shooting because I was so focused on getting that shot right. It wasn’t until this Spring that I became comfortable with shooting digital. And when I went down for the Film Show in Las Vegas, Tanja Lippert talked a little bit about shooting in camera without a meter. She was talking about it based on shooting black and whites in film. But the way I was looking at it was she was speaking to me about shooting digital. And I just kinda tweaked it and use it as part of my digital workflow now and it totally changed the way I shoot. It’s much more calming now. (both laugh)

So did you put black tape over the LCD screen?

I did at one point. (both laugh) I really did! But I found I can’t do that because like film I can’t take one reading and go. I have to constantly take a reading because the slightest change in light will change the shot. Whereas with film, you take a reading for an area and just go with it. So with digital, I was seeing I was getting a good shot here, then I’d turn and the other one would be either blown out or totally dark. And I hate shooting in RAW. (both laugh) I am the laziest photographer ever! (both laugh) I hate shooting in RAW because I hate the extra step in converting. So shooting JPEG I try to do as much in camera as I can because I just hate sitting infront of the computer hours on end. (both laugh) I feel like that’s been to my benefit slowly because it makes me try to get it right the first time. But I’d much rather be able to spend time with the people I love instead of editing.

Do you try to shoot and edit your digital photos look like film? Or you say this is my digital look and that’s my film work.

I try and get it as close as possible but I know that its not going to be close. I’ve gone through stages where I was ok with it not being the same and then getting really annoyed that its not looking the same. (both laugh) But I’ve come to the realization that with all the filters like VSCO and the Mastin…  I haven’t used Kirk Mastin’s yet but I’ve heard they’re great and I’ve been wanting to try them… but there’s so much out there and the technology is not exact yet. I did a family shoot… this was the one I had wanted to throw my computer out the window… I did a family shoot where I was shooting Portra 400 and then some digital and was just trying to match those together was a nightmare. We were in open shade in a park and the green casts that were in the film… I could get the grass to look right but then the skin was off. Then I’d get the skin to look right, but the grass was off. And it was a nightmare! (both laugh) And I came to the realization that especially with Portra 160 and 400, there’s a Cyan hint in the film that is a nightmare to recreate in digital. And it was at that point I finally said I’m going to get it as close as possible but I need to let go of it not being exactly the same. I have a slight perfectionist problem. (both laugh)

That’s a good thing if you’re an artist, right?

Yeah… (hesitantly speaking) It was a good thing when I was working at film lab. Now, not so much. (both laugh) It’s very hard to go from 3 years doing your own film to now having to trust a lab to do it. I understand it’s a two way conversation. I need to be talking to them and providing feedback but, especially with the Frontier… I know that machine forwards and backwards, and sometimes I shake my screen and scream “IT’S NOT THAT HARD!” “I’VE SCANNED ON THAT MACHINE BEFORE!” (both laugh) But I just need to breathe and let go. My father was an airline pilot and there are steps and processes with that. He’s very much a perfectionist and that’s where I get it from. But I realize I just need to breathe. (both laugh)

Which lab do you use now?

I’m in between using Indie and the FIND Lab. Don’t tell anyone. (both laugh) With the FIND Lab, and having worked with both Noelle Reynolds and Becky Earl, I trust them implicitly with my film. And I know that having sat next to Noelle Reynolds scanning, she’s mindblowing. She’s better than me, and that’s on my own stuff. I took pride that I was a damn good scanner but Noelle is amazing. And its hard for me to not use her because she’s that good. So right now 80% of the time I’m sending it to the FIND Lab, until now. My brother in law and I just bought a Pakon scanner.

How are those?

Amazing!

Those are the ones that only scan 35mm right?

Yeah, it’s only 35 and its sad for me because I’m a medium format whore. (both laugh) But its… I’m impressed.

And they’re not that expensive either!

No they’re not! They’re $200 and when they were brand new they were $3,000! And all the technology that Kodak put into these scanners, its impressive. You can get a pretty decent 8x10 size scans . You take your film to Costco and get it developed for a $1.00 come back and in 5 minutes you have mind blowing scans. It’s totally worth it.

Is it easy to use? Cause I have an Epson V700 and it’s a pain to scan.

Its super easy to use. It runs like a bulk load scanner on a Frontier. You feed it in one end and it runs it through. It basically runs a continuous scan of the whole roll, then cuts them out. Does it all by itself in the software. And the skin tones… I was skeptical when we first got it because its so small. It’s smaller than a flatbed. It’s… hold on a second (goes and grabs his Pakon and shows it on screen)

That’s it??

That’s it. It just feeds through here and rolls it out over here. And its 5 minutes. Its fast.

5 minutes a roll?

Yeah. For a roll of 36, 5 minutes. You know Michael Ash Smith?

Yup.

He was here visiting us and he was the one who sold us on it. He has two of them. He said they are amazing and cheap. You need to get one before everyone else gets one and the prices go up! (both laugh) Apparently some company just found some in a warehouse somewhere and refurbished them and are now selling them. The only issue we have with it is that it only runs on a Windows XP system. We have it on our Mac…

With the dual OS systems…

That’s what we’re doing. And its working perfectly. We’re really surprised by it. And it has digital ICE, dust free… it’s incredible.

Sorry, I’m just going on-line and buying one now. (both laugh)

You should! You should do it right now. I will add you to that Facebook group. I’m going to do it right now. (both laugh) Well it’s funny because we got added to the group by Michael and its hilarious to see who’s already in there. (both laugh) Because we got added in and we’re like “Oh hi everyone! I see this is a big secret group here!” (both laugh)

So how do you see your business growing over the next few years?

When I got in the business I wasn’t expecting to shoot weddings. Then I started shooting film and realized I can shoot a wedding how I wanted to. And the best day of my life was that I could turn people down… tell a client that “You know, you’re not the client for me. Let me introduce you to someone who you’ll mesh with better.” And it was a freeing moment and it made me come to really love weddings. Not only do I love weddings because there’s so much emotion to capture in one day and you’re doing so many different types of photography in one event… it’s fun. And I have a great time doing it. And maybe it’s because I’m lucky to have had the clients I’ve had. They’ve just been really genuine fun people to work with. And I’m just hoping to grow that bigger and to do more work. I mean I’d love to expand to do more editorial or fashion/product photography. But if I were to continue only to do weddings, I’d be totally happy. I really enjoy it and the people I’ve met doing wedding photography and the friends I’ve made in this little corner of film and wedding photography is great.

What have you done to grow your business over the last several years? Because you hear a lot of photographers have trouble getting started and get clients.

Getting the clients I wanted has been the biggest nightmare of my business experience. And I’m not sure if its because photographers don’t want to give you the nitty gritty details in fear of you stealing clients, which I think is a myth of itself. But I’ve never been to workshop that tells you “This is how you get clients.” I could tell people all day long how I get my clients but as I’ve found, every photography business is different and what works for me may not work for you. And what’s worked for other people hasn’t worked for me. The biggest thing I’ve done to really grow my business is to become friends with other photographers. It sounds counterintuitive (both laugh), but its not. And this is why… you get out there, you start meeting people and start talking to people. You become friends with people and when somebody gets double booked, they’re far more likely to refer this client, who’s awesome and wants to work with them, to a friend. Because they know you, they know your photography and they know you’re good. They don’t’ want to send this person to some random photographer down the street. And I think that’s one of the most overlooked thing is we’re not, as photographers, disconnected. We’re very much in this little world, especially in wedding photography. And you can’t … I can’t say you can’t do it because there are people who’ve done it (both laugh)… but I think it’s harder to be that lone wolf. You need to make friends. You need to get to know other photographers in your area, even out of your area. You need to know planners, florists, anyone. You not only need to know them, but you need to become friends with them. You need to find the people you get along with and work with them. And that’s the biggest help because when these people get jobs and they need someone to help them out on it, they’re going to call you. I feel like people overlook that and I’m not sure if people want to keep all the jobs to themselves or not. I get that times are hard sometimes and it all becomes about money. But I feel in the long run, if you’re a genuine person, and you’re genuinely putting yourself out there and be friendly and be kind to other people, it comes back to you. I mean not purposely doing it and hope it comes back to you, but just become friends with people. It’s a nicer way of saying “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.” It is what it is, but if you’re doing that with friends, you’re happier doing it.

Do you second shoot with any photographers?

No, I only recently started second shooting. I’ve only second shot with Ashley Kelemen and that’s it. I think that only has to do with the fact that we work really well together. Our photography is very similar but our vision is very much the same… how we work with clients and our attitude towards an event or business. Our first time working together was seamless. And it was the first time I’ve been in a situation in a wedding where we could both say “You get this, I’ll get that.” And we were totally ok with it because we knew it’d turn out ok. So three years in and I’ve only really done any second shooting and its probably another mistake on my part. (both laugh) More second shooting! (both laugh) I do it more for the enjoyment to hanging out with people I get along with. Second shooting doesn’t pay really well but its just fun to get out especially when you don’t have something on the calendar. And second shooting is stress free. (both laugh)

Have you done a lot of workshops besides FIND?

I’ve done a few but probably the best workshop I did besides FIND was the Film Show and that ended up being something none of us expected.

How was that experience like?

It was amazing. It really was. When it came up and Ryan Muirhead told me about it… the fortunate thing is I live in an area where so amazing photographers are within arm’s reach and I’ve been lucky enough to become really good friends with a lot of them. When Ryan told me about the Film Show and they were opening it up for guests and assistant producers he told me it’d be 10 days in Vegas, it was going to be him and Tia, Tanja, Jan and Jonas. I was like that is beyond any workshop! I mean I spent the same amount of money on FIND as I did on the Film Show. And the Film Show was 10 days. When I looked at it that way… it was a no brainer. And I was going to spend 10 days in Vegas with some really cool people. I mean I’d pay that money just to hang out with them! But we’re actually going to do some fun stuff. I was in from the get go… I was probably the first one to sign up. (both laugh) We got down there and it became much more of a personal experience than a workshop. We all really connected. It’s crazy to think we had 19 people down there and all of us got along. We all stayed friends. We stay connected through social media and talk all the time. I mean these are people from all over the world. And it was a really great and personal experience. And so not like a workshop! (both laugh) It became people talk about what makes them tick and being genuine people and living a genuine life instead of trying to be the next great photographer. If you just try to be the best version of you, that will happen. People gravitate to others who are good people. If you’re just striving to be a good person and do the best work you can do, people will want to work with you. And it’s been true. A lot of us has been surprised at how many doors have opened just from changing an attitude of what we’re putting out there and changing our perspective on our own art and not criticizing ourselves too much. It was a really interesting 10 days. It was a blast. We laughed and cried… it was almost like a 10 day therapy session to be honest. And it was so worth it.

I got lucky enough to assist Jonas when they did the wedding so that was insane. I followed Jonas’ work for like forever and out of all the hosts going down there I was like I love everyone but I don’t know what I’d get with Jonas. (both laugh) From his on-line presence sometimes…. You get down there and meet him and he’s so humble, so nice. He’s very straight forward and tells it like it is. And I respect that. I would much rather someone tell me like it is than sugar coat it. Unfortunately on line that can get misconstrued as self-centered… but he’s such a nice guy. And working with him is amazing because to see the way he processes an event. Him shooting an event blew my mind because he’ll take a picture, but he’ll never focus on that picture more than he needs to. He’ll take the picture and then he’s off looking around for the next shot. He’s not just waiting for something to happen but he’s looking for something to happen. That was really amazing, to see him and all of them, work. They had 5 photographers shooting that wedding and everyone had a different style and different way of working. And it was really cool to see and how they brought all that together.

Do you know if they’ll do a third season?

I’m not sure. But it has been interesting to watch it. I watched the first two episodes and didn’t watch it for a long time afterwards because it was so different from my experience. The way that it was edited, not that it was bad, but our experience was so personal that seeing in on the screen is not as connecting with us. And I feel that other people who went have the same feeling. I like the show and they do a good job. I hope they do another year and would love to be involved somehow.

When you watch the show, that’s the show. But sometimes the more interesting stuff happens behind the scenes or are edited out.

They have parts of the behind the scenes things, but now its behind a log in, which is sad because part of the reason I think Season 1 did so well was because it was so personal but also had a lot of education. For this season, I think it lacked a little bit of the education and that’s the part they put behind the login where you now have to pay for. When you go behind the login, there’s the one they put on YouTube which is the one hour show, and behind the login there’s the director’s cut and those ones are seriously like two and a half hours long because it has the show they put out plus all the teaching and education. And I really wished they hadn’t done that because I feel like that’ll lose them some viewers. Yes, people like Ryan and all the hosts but they go there to learn as well. And if you take away that ability, and I understand they need to make money, but they need to figure out a way to do that without hurting their viewership. I’ve read through the comments and many said that this season was lacking in education. There was a lot of emotion there, but lacking in education and the education pieces were behind the login and that was sad. If they had run it more like Creative Live where if you see it live, its free and if you want to see it again, you’ll have to pay for it. And if they had advertised it like that, I think people would’ve been ok with that. And they never really advertised the videos behind the login piece.

Yeah, this is the first time I’ve heard of the login/ paywall.

So you have to go to the Frame Network site to see all that. And I don’t feel like they did a good job in putting it out there and people were blindsided by that. If they had advertised it better, it would’ve been better accepted.

Have you thought of teaching a workshop yourself?

I don’t know. It’s really hard to say Yes because I feel like I have so many ideas to add to workshops that are lacking and I have a notebook of things written down that if I ever have a workshop, these are things I’ll include. Unless you’re trying to copy someone, everyone has their own nuances and I think you can teach a workshop that talks about finding your vision and voice and also gives you the nuts and bolts on how to do that… like telling you how long it took me to find the exact black and white formula because it fits my work. (both laugh) You go through a year to test different developers and film that you finally find a blend you like. I think that’s harder to teach people because its not like tying a tiny little bow and saying “Perfect.” It’s a process.

And that’s the thing… a lot of it is experimenting and trial and error. And people don’t want to put in the time and money and effort. They just want someone to tell them you should shoot this camera, this film and use this lab. And that’s it. That’s how its done.

I’d love to open up a lab. I think that it could be done so much cheaper than it is. I think the cost of developing and scanning is much less… I feel like a lot of labs are just taking advantage because they can. There are some smaller labs that are opening up but people are still generally using Indie, FIND and Richards (Richard Photo Lab). There’s not a huge price different between Richards and FIND. Indie offers a cheaper version but its not corrected. I just feel like, especially if we’re wanting a community of film photographers to grow, we need to offer a viable, cheaper alternative for that to happen. People aren’t going to shoot film at the prices they have to pay. The only reason I was able to shoot film for three years up until now, now that I can afford to do it, is that I worked at the lab and I could do it myself. If I had not had that, it wouldn’t have happened. There are people who would shoot film if they could. And that’s another one of those dreams I see down the road. I would love to open a lab just for the sole fact of creating a community where people can come do it themselves, learn how to do it, or send us film to do it cheaper. I’ve thought about different price points for professional grade stuff and for people just starting out. But I don’t want it to have a huge difference in quality. When you’re learning you still want good quality product and don’t want to get your film back and be all crap then think you’re a crap photographer. That’s another one of those pipe dreams. (both laugh)

Hey, several years ago you had a dream of wanting to be a professional photographer and here you are!

Yeah! It’s one of those things that I’m lucky to have people around me who believe in me and believe in the stuff I do that to the point where I can say tomorrow “We should do this.” And they would say yes. Its just finding the money to get the materials to do it.

The next phase in your career!

Yeah. I love scanning and the process. I don’t mind running a lab but I’m a photographer first. I have people in my life who want to run a lab as well, but I want to have that option for people to use and not spend their life savings trying to shoot film. (both laugh)

Ok, last question… Any tips for people that want to get into photography full time?

Don’t give up. That’s the biggest thing, that people give up too early. People get into the business and get frustrated that things aren’t going taking off. Or they get stressed out and stretched too thin or take on more than they can. The biggest reason why people fail in art and especially in the photography business is they give up on it too soon. People look at photography and think its such a glamorous idea that it would be so much fun to do. But once they start doing it, they realize it’s a lot more work than they thought it was. There are a lot of people that burn out from that. I think there are some people who are meant to be photographers and some that are not. If you put in the work and time and just try to put yourself out there and do the best work you can, people will notice. The waiting phase for people to notice you is the toughest part because as artists we like to have people notice us. That’s the one piece of advice I got and its suck with me. It’s not easy and very hard to be a professional but don’t give up on it.

* You can find Ryan on the internets at the following:

Ryan’s Website

Ryan’s Blog

Ryan’s Facebook Page

Ryan’s Twiiter

Ryan’s Instagram

Ryan’s Other Instagram

Ryan’s Yet Another Instagram!

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Fuji Instax Mini 90 Neo Classic

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Since the introduction of the X100, Fuji has been building its X brand cameras with excellent image quality in a remarkably classic and simple design. Fuji has used the same design influence with their newest Instax camera, the Instax Mini 90 Neo Classic. The Instax line of cameras were always designed on the fun side of things… round and bulbous lines and available in different and often bright colors.

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The Neo Classic uses the classic colors of silver and black to give this camera a retro look. The camera’s functionality is pretty basic, but there are a few cool features that make the Neo Classic more than just a simple instant camera.

- Bulb exposure

- Double exposures

- Different shooting modes including:

  • Macro mode
  • Kids mode – allows to shoot fast moving subjects
  • Party mode – ideal for low light shooting

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To select the different modes, there’s a mode dial by the lens barrel, which while not very ergonomically useful, it’s still a nice little touch of detail. You can also use the Mode button on the back of the camera.

Other features include:

- Self timer

- Two shutter release buttons, for Portrait or Landscape photos

- Automatically detects the brightness of the surrounding light and adjusts the amount of flash and shutter speed to optimize photo quality

- Rechargeable battery system

The viewfinder is tiny! At 0.37x magnification, it’s difficult to get a good look without my eyelashes getting in the way. It does however have a target spot and even has parallax adjustment for macro mode!

The camera has a simple Fujinon 60mm f/12.7 lens with 2 elements. It produces nice clean images, for an instant camera.

I was surprised how fast and quiet it turns on and off since the lens protrudes and retracts from the body of the camera and with the lens cover opening and closing.

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The rechargeable battery can shoot 10 packs of film (or 100 images) with one charge which seems to be quite a bit. The fact is that it might take you a while to shoot 100 images, meaning that the camera will be sitting unused a lot of times and slowly draining the battery. So if the camera hasn’t been used for an extended period of time, you need to make sure the battery is fully charged, unlike the other Instax cameras where it uses AA batteries that holds its charges better and also easily purchased anywhere in the world. Last checked, a third party rechargeable battery (NP-45) for the Neo Classic costs $3.45 or it be worthwhile to pick up a few of these if you’re ever thinking of going on a trip with this camera.

Overall, it’s a pretty basic camera with features you don’t really need to use but are helpful if you want to take a bit more time in creating your instant photos. There’s something special about being able to hold a print of a photo you just took and physically passing it around to everyone in the room. Or use it as a bookmark in your journal or favorite novel. Thanks to companies like Fuji for still keeping instant film alive and still making instant cameras for the masses.

* I purchased my Neo Classic from a reseller in Japan as the cameras were released in late September 2013. Fuji plans on releasing the Neo Classic in North America in November 2013. If you really need to have yours now, look through eBay but a word of caution… there are many resellers for these cameras with different Buy It Now prices but also different shipping costs. Shop around and find the best deal. For more info, head on over to the Fujifilm website.

** I just found out that Adorama is selling them now. You can find it here.

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Hawaii | Nikon FM3a

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With Hawaii having such awesome light, there’s no way I wasn’t going to bring a film camera with me but as usual, the battle begins to decide which camera to bring? On this type of vacation, my main priority is to relax and enjoy my time with my family. There’ll be no photo walks, street photography, landscape/ seascape sessions. It’s just us, the beach and the pool. As such I need a camera that’ll not get in the way by its size and weight. That means no medium format this time around. Also I pretty much wanted to set the camera to Auto, but still have the ability to manually take over from time to time. As such, the Nikon FM3a fit the bill. To me, the FM3a is like the swiss army knife for manual focus film SLR’s. It can do everything an SLR can, except for autofocus of course, but also lightweight and robust enough to handle the bumps and knocks of travelling. I wasn’t afraid of taking the camera with me into the pool, the ocean, the beach, the luau… pretty much anywhere we went, the FM3a came along.

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* In 2001 Nikon introduces the FM3a, a small manual focusing film SLR. Nikon packed many features that was put into their FE and F series cameras into the FM3a to make it their best all round manual focusing film SLR ever.

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One of the coolest features about the FM3a is its hybrid shutter, a first for Nikon, which consists of an electrically controlled shutter in Aperture Priority mode and a mechanical shutter for Manual Exposure mode, making it a full featured film SLR which can be operated battery free at all shutter speeds.

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It’s amazing to think that a large company like Nikon would have invested the time, effort and money to create this unique hybrid shutter given that the writing was on the wall for film cameras at this time. Nikon continued to produce the FM3a until 2006.

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The build quality is excellent with the top and bottom plates made of brass. It’s not overly heavy and I actually find that it’s a bit lighter than my Leica MP, given the fact that the FM3a is jam packed with film camera technology compared to the MP, that’s quite a feat.

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The metering system uses a center weighted system and analogue needles in the viewfinder indicating exposure settings. I love the analogue needles because it tells you exactly if you’re over/under exposed without having to remember dots or arrow indicators like in other cameras.

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Another feature I love about the FM3a is the rangefinder focusing patch implemented in addition to the usual SLR “is the image in focus?” focusing system. With the rangefinder patch system in that it tells me precisely and easily when an image is in focus.

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When introduced in 2001, the FM3a retailed about $820 (96,000 yen). I bought mine 6 months ago from KEH in EX condition for $525. That gives the FM3a a 36% depreciation rate over 12 years. Now if Nikon can take the same leap it did with the FM3a with a digital version of this camera instead of fiddling around with small sensor cameras no one really wants (ahem V1), it will definitely have a hit on their hands.

** Film stock used in Hawaii was Kodak Portra 160 and developed and scanned by the great folks at Caribou Film Lab.

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What’s Old is New Again | Fuji X Pro 1

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The best way to really get to know a camera is to take it on a trip as your only camera and that’s what I did with the Fuji X Pro 1. I’ve always liked the Fuji X Pro 1 since its introduction but early reviews were mixed, with the main complaints being the sluggish auto focus (“AF”). A year and a half and three firmware updates later, Fuji has transformed the X Pro 1 into an entirely new camera with, among other things, a vastly improved AF and improved manual focusing by introducing focus peaking. With a week to go before a trip to Peru, I found a used X Pro 1 and a Fuji 35mm f/1.4 on KEH for a real bargain, had it shipped express and received the camera with 1 day before departure. The controls and menu had a similar feel to my X100 so handling the X Pro 1 came naturally for me, with little time required to familiarize myself with the camera. I quickly updated the firmware, charged the battery, formatted the memory card and I was off to catch my plane. Normally I hate waiting at the airport but this gave me time to go through the camera and customize the camera’s settings to my liking. Once that was done, I started testing out the camera at the airport terminal.

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I was really impressed by how responsive the camera is, with no noticeable AF lag or hunt whatsoever. It’s not as quick to focus as a DSLR or even my Olympus OM-D, but it shouldn’t be compared to those cameras because it’s a totally different animal. If you’re not shooting sports, this camera will be fine. I’m sure this could even keep up with fast moving kids. 

Once in Lima, I’d use my spare time to take the camera out for little walkabouts. What was surprising about the X Pro 1 to me was how light weight it was. I had imagined it would’ve been as heavy as a Leica M6, but the X Pro 1’s weight seems comparable to the X100. It doesn’t mean that it’s built cheap. On the contrary, it feels like a really solid camera. The weight factor is huge because I carried this camera around all day on several occasions and never once did I get tired from it.

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The AF was quick to respond and never once did I miss a shot. Even in low light, the camera didn’t have any issues focusing.

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The Fujinon 35mm f/1.4 lens is a great lens… sharp all around and light weight, just like the X Pro 1. I’m use to shooting 50mm so this camera and lens combo is perfect for me. 

Although the Fuji X Pro 1 is about a year and a half old, Fuji has done a tremendous job updating this camera, improving on several areas which users had complaints about when first introduced. With camera manufacturers coming out with new cameras every year or two, it makes the used digital camera market much more attractive. You don’t necessarily need the latest and greatest but what once was the latest and greatest are now great bargains.

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Observe and Learn | Fuji X100

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I’m amazed at what my son learns from just observation. Having a small collection of cameras littered around the house has given my son ample opportunity to observe how I shoot and how I handle my cameras. He’s noticed that if there’ no LCD on the back of the camera, he won’t ask to see the photo I took because he knows its a film camera. He seldom asks people to pose but will instead take the candid shot. I’ve given him my Holga and although I haven’t yet put film in it for him, he puts in his own film… a Lego block. After taking several shots, he’ll remove the back, take out the old Lego block and replace it with a new one. He doesn’t like to have his picture taken now, but will instead want to be the one taking the photo. Whenever there’s a birthday cake or a group photo, he’ll reach for his Holg and try to get his own shot. One day, I’ll load some film into his Holga and see what he’s actually taking. For now, I’m having too much fun seeing his little journey into photography. More importantly, I’m learning that to be the best dad I can be to him, my actions around him play just as an important part as my words.

* I’m still impressed by how several firmware upgrades has made the X100 from a slow unresponsive camera into one that can keep up with an active child. To me, Fuji continues to be a leader among camera manufacturers in providing its customers with improvements, via firmware, that a) improves the performance of its cameras, and b) improvements that their users actually demand.

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Susan Yee

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A talented photographer. An awesome dancer. And an all around cool California girl. Here’s Susan’s story…

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I was in Nicaragua shooting a wedding so I’m kinda adjusting back to regular life! It was such a simpler life over there and now there’s technology and all that. (both laugh)

How did you get started in photography?

Basically, it was one of those things… I was in graphic design in college and I had to take a photography class. It was one of those things that I really fell in love with. It was a black and white film class and I loved the process of it, to tangibly create these images. Being in graphic design you have to make things up out of your head and while I’m an imaginative person, I found it much easier to find things and capitalize on the beauty of that. I fell in love with that process and ended up switching to photography not long after. I’ve always had an interest in photography. Growing up, I’d always take my parent’s film camera and take pictures of trees, flowers, sunsets, and my parents, being Asian, would yell at me “Why are you wasting film!” (both laugh) “You should be taking pictures of people!” (both laugh) But in my mind back then, people were posed like “Smile!” “Cheese!”… what was so interesting about that? (both laugh)

Did you grow up in San Diego?

No, I grew up in Northern California, in Sacramento and I moved here just after graduating from college.

Why San Diego?

Well, my boyfriend moved down here first and it was one of those things where…. I lived in Sacramento my entire life and it was one of those “Why not?” things. I visited San Diego once before back in high school and though it would be cool to live here, but never thought it would actually happen. So it was kinda cool that it actually happened. And now I’ve been here for 8 years.

How did you get into dance photography?

My history with dance is long going. I’ve always loved dance for as long as I can remember. I was the quintessential girl who wanted to be a ballerina when she grew up. And I wanted to dance so bad but my parents were not too keen on it. It wasn’t until high school that I received actual training and that was because I joined the color guard and in that I began learning dance. That was my first real introduction into it. I love performing… that’s probably the biggest part why I love dance. I use to put on little shows for my family… I loved to perform. (both laugh) And that fed into wanting to take more classes on my own. It wasn’t until college that I was able to finally take a proper dance class, a ballet class. I just loved it! And at the same time…. I was just old! (both laugh) In the dance world, I was considered old…. I started so late… all these things.

So when I got into photography, I had in the back of my head that I wanted to photograph dancers but I initially started my career in weddings, to make money but also because I enjoyed it. Early on, I put an ad in Craigslist for dance subjects, but at the same time I thought “What am I going to do with this?” (both laugh) There were a bunch of replies but I really didn’t know where to go with it, so I just didn’t reply. At the time, I didn’t really have a vision for it other than “Oh, I want to photograph dancers!” To me I didn’t feel like that was enough. I was still taking dance classes along the way, but I was going back and forth about it, like I loved it but I was too old for it.

Was it just the age issue that you were struggling with?

Age and skill level. The really talented dancers start when they’re really young, like 2-3 years old or so. No one really ever discouraged me or anything… it was more of an internal battle I was having. I thought to myself and realized that dance is such a big part of my life. (pauses) Dancers in general are really…. (pauses) Wait. I need to get a grasp on what I want to say… (both laugh)

Have you ever thought about dance like this before?

Yes I have and I’m realizing that I’m telling you my life story about dance when I could’ve just gave you a quick answer! (both laugh)

No, no… I love this. I enjoy hearing people’s stories and that’s one main reason I do this. I mean, you see people’s photos all the time and, for me, I want to know the reasons behind why they shoot what they do.

For me, I realize I had to dance. I had a need for it and that was my biggest realization. There’s something deep inside me… I don’t know how to describe or explain it. I just have to. I have to move. The days where I feel terrible about myself, like being lazy, and when I dance, I feel way better after. I always felt not just better physically, but I get an emotional high from it… an emotional release in a way. I recognize that in me and I thought there are probably people out there like me, with an emotional need to dance. At this point, I wanted to photograph dancers again. I saw a void in dance photography. Not a complete void, but a lot of the dance photography you see are very posed. Like, “Leap!” “Jump!” so they show a lot of technique, which is awesome. But to me, because I connect on such an emotional level and not on a technical level, I thought I wanted to photograph what it feels like to dance, not what it looks like. I just wanted to capture something more tangible to me, which dug a bit deeper into it, to show what it means for a dancer to dance. It was interesting because that was my first goal. So I started photographing people, local dancers I knew and through the process, things started uncovering themselves. I have two active projects going on and one is called Movement from Within and that’s the one that shows what it means for a dancer to dance. And dancers started giving me feedback on it, saying “I really feel a lot more solid of myself.” During the photo shoots, I direct them but more emotional direction. Direct them how to feel by asking them a lot of questions and just talking with them and just dig in.

How has your vision for dance photography evolved since you started?

Over the years I’ve realized that it’s not about the technique. What I try to connect to is that deep need from within from dancers, especially dancers that pursue it as an adult because there’s a deep need there. When you’re young and start dance, it’s usually because of your parents or it’s recreational. But when you’re an adult and you start to pursue it, there’s a need… a passion for it. My goal is to capture that passion and need. And in that process it reveals so much about the dancer to themselves and to the world. I got people responding to my photographs saying that it makes the dancer more human. It makes them realize that dancers are human too.

I guess because the only time an audience sees a dancer is when they’re performing.

Yeah, they only see a facet of it. The really talented dancers are the ones that can draw more out of themselves and put it out on the table and let others see that vulnerability. Not everybody can do that but not because they’re not capable of it, a lot of times they don’t know how. In a way, and from what some dancers have told me, my shoots have helped them perform better. A lot of times people don’t ask themselves those questions that I may ask. I ask a lot of questions that really make them think… it’s an interesting process and something the dancers never expect. In the dance world, there’s an expectation of being perfect, obviously. They expect to be impressive. And of course they expect it from themselves. But the way I approach it, I’m not expecting perfection whatsoever. It’s almost weird for the dancers to hear that from someone.

When people are instructing or teaching, it’s all about technique since that what a class usually is and focuses on. The emotional side doesn’t get developed. When you’re young, you don’t have the life experience to emote from. The older a dancer is there’s more depth to their performance because their life experience has added to their character.

How does your choice of gear effect what you shoot?

That’s a good question because my current journey with film started a couple years ago. I shot digital most of my career so I thought of trying to mesh my dance shoots with film. The thing with that is I shoot a ton in a dance shoot and I can’t do that with film… that’d be massively expensive. So I tried to shoot some film in a recent shoot but using a different approach than how I shoot digitally. I started shooting dancers in another way, which is focused on more technical aspects but at the same time I wanted to keep that idea of having the spirit of the dancer…. That’s still a work in progress (both laugh). With Movement from Within, I still shoot it mainly with digital. I started with two individual projects and it seems like they’re merging into one. On one of the last shots I did, I kind of did a little of both projects in the same session. So maybe me photographing dancers is kind of like exploring things and really wanting to capture them in an interesting way and exploring things deeper rather than seeing what’s on the surface. But at the same time I want beautiful images. And it’s hard with film. I always had a finger on film since my college days. Obviously the film movement with Jose Villa and Jonathan Canlas really brought it to the forefront and when I saw their work and saw it was shot on film, I thought I should give it a try again. There’s a sense of tangibleness when the image is captured on film instead of a screen or a chip.

What other subjects do you shoot besides dance?

I do shoot weddings, portraits and travel. And I recently had an interesting trip in Nicaragua.

Why was that?

Well, I over-packed for one.

Who doesn’t? (both laugh)

I know. I tried to bring too many cameras as well. I shot mainly with my Canon AE-1 when I wasn’t shooting the wedding. And not being able to speak the language while at the same time explaining to Nicaragua airport security I didn’t want my films x-rayed. I probably should’ve learned some Spanish before my travel. (both laugh) That’s one lesson for everybody travelling to a foreign country… learn to say “Can I have my film hand checked.” (both laugh)

Or at least Google Translate it and write it down.

Yes! I tried to use hand gestures (Susan showing her hand gestures on screen) (both laugh) Yeah, so that’s a fail for me. They said it would be fine, but I was… Oh my God!!!! (both laugh)

How did you come up with the name of your business?

This ties into me shooting dancers! Before, I had another business name which was something that no longer worked for me anymore.

What was your original business name?

It was based off my Chinese name, which translated is Ocean Tsunami. Which was really cool but I picked that name before the tsunami happened in Asia (both laugh). So I had to change it! (both laugh) For some reason I didn’t want to use my personal name so I had to think of a really interesting name. I was cycling all these words and phrases and adding photography at the end and see how’d it come out. One day my friend and I were tossing some ideas around and I think I had said to her en pointe photography, like the ballet term en pointe meaning when the ballerina is standing on her toe.

Ah… that all makes sense now!

(both laugh) And so that’s how it came about. And it would be spelled in the French way. And my friend really liked it and that was the first time she reacted very positively to a name. So I let it sink and sit for a bit and it really spoke to me on two levels, on the dance level and on the French level since I love French things. To me it felt like a part of me without it being my name.

[We then proceed to talk about Asian languages, how Susan, when she was younger, thought San Francisco was just one big Chinatown, and how the Dim Sum in Northern California is sooooo much better than San Diego, things that took us way off topic.]

Who are your inspirations in photography and dance?

I’ve recently realized that music is a big influence and not so much any specific music, but music that makes me feel and fuels me. When it comes to dance, it makes me want to move. When it comes to photography, when I have music going and I’m taking photos, I’m way more in the zone than without music. And that’s hard to do on location (both laugh).

Put on some headphones or bring a boom box.

You know, I actually thought about that, putting on some headphones or a little speaker. Music just really puts me into a zone to create.

My surroundings really inspire me. I’m always looking around for connections in my surroundings and environment. But yes… my surroundings, environment and music. Music I think is what connects everything for me… it brings me present.

Any particular artist you listen to at the moment?

Right now I’m really into Daughter from the UK. She has an amazing voice and something about their music really makes me want to move. One of my big dance breakthroughs came from one of her songs. I took a dance class which used one of her songs and it was one of those classes that everything just clicked for me. I just felt free to express and create. Not every class is like that for me so to me that was a milestone and it was because I could connect with her music I was able to do that. And another band I listen to a lot right now are The Lumineers just because I’m actually a part of a dance company right now and they’re doing a performance in October that’s going to be set to their album.

Very cool!

The project is very exciting and I’m super thrilled to be a part of it. To be a part of a dance company was one of my life goals, which ties back to my original goal of wanting to be a dancer but thought I was too old. Many people have bucket lists and one item on my bucket list was to be in a dance company and I didn’t know if I could do that. Technical skills, availability, age… I didn’t know if that would be a possibility. But then I met these two great women during this yoga rock climbing retreat. They were dancers who just moved from Brooklyn and had wanted to start a dance company here. I told them about my journey with dance and they told me “You should totally audition.” I was, really? (both laugh). So I did and I got in! We had our first show in June and we have the Lumineers show in October. Have you watched the movie Across the Universe?

I caught glimpses of it while my wife was watching it.

It was a story put together through Beatles songs and basically that’s what we’re doing, setting a story to the Lumineers songs except we’re not going doing any singing (both laugh) and it’ll just be dancing and acting.

When is that taking place and where?

That’ll be in October and in San Diego. The company is called [the] movement initiative. They’re just all great and talented people and they inspire me too, watching them create. I just love watching people in the creative process. Being a part of this dance company was a big bucket list for me and it’s just so awesome to be a part of it.

Where do you see your photography heading over the next few years?

I would really love to see how I can reach more people with my dance photography projects. And somehow figure out a way that’s sustainable. Right now I’m doing it for the love of it and that should be it, but I wonder how I can make this sustainable? I want to keep on doing this to reach more people. I’ll still keep shooting weddings and I love that and will continue on doing it. When I first started this dance project, I never knew what the next step would be until it shows up. I’d love to do a gallery show or be featured somewhere but it would just be awesome to reach a bigger audience, especially to non-dancers to show them a different side of dance. I just love working with dancers… and artists in general because they understand the process.

Are there any more dance bucket list items?

Well, being part of a dance company was the biggest one. But one which I did achieve was being able to go en pointe a couple years back and I’m 31 now so when people say they’re too old for it, I would say no way! Who cares how old you are. I don’t know… maybe perform on a Broadway musical (both laugh). No way.

Well, thank you very much for doing this. It’s been so awesome to finally talk with you and to get to know you.

Thank you for taking the time to do this and having an interest in my dance photography. 

 

* You can find more of Susan on:

 Susan’s Website

 enpointe Photography

 Susan’s Twitter

 Susan’s Instagram

 Susan’s Tumblr

** Photo of Susan by Heather Perera

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Tips | Traveling with Film and Gear

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Many people new to film always have a minor anxiety attack when they travel by air with film for the fist time due to the unknown effects of the airport security’s x-ray scanners on film.

The TSA suggests that photographic film should be packed with your carry-on luggage and any film with speeds above ISO 800 can request to have their film hand checked by a transportation security officer.

Kodak suggests that lead-lined carrying bags are not no longer practical these days because if the inspector can’t see through the bag, they might increase the intensity of the x-rays until they can, thus causing more radiation hitting the film.

I travel a couple times a year for work and for vacation and always bring some film with me. I’ve always packed my film in my carry-on backpack but have never asked for a hand check because it’s too much of a hassle. Transportation security officers are humans, not robots, so every one will react differently. Some will be pleasant and abide by your request, some will make life difficult. And not once had I had any issues with my film being damaged.

As to what camera I bring, it’s always a combination of two of the following: Leica MP, Nikon FM3A, Fuji X100 or Mamiya 6. Many people always ask what camera they should bring on vacation and I always say bring one that you’re most comfortable with but also one that doesn’t weigh you down. Be free to enjoy your vacation and be in the moment.

I asked a few of my talented photographer friends to see what they do when travelling with gear:

Will Fisher Always take out the film from its boxes and keep them in a separate ziplock bag. Easiest way to get through the handcheck process.

Amber Snow Just send film through the scanner if it’s ISO800 and below to avoid the hassle. It’ll be fine. And I usually limit myself to one camera and one film type… I like constraints and simplicity!

Abbie McFarland A good camera bag is worth its weight in gold! And bring a simple camera setup to reduce alot of headaches.

Ashley Kelemen Take more film and less gear than you think you need.

Kristopher Orr Forget all the other formats… 35mm is all you need!

D’Arcy Benincosa I will mark on my film how many times its been through the x-ray scanner as I travel alot. I’ll use those films first because repeated exposure to x-rays does the film harm. Also limit yourself to two cameras so you can actually enjoy your vacation.

Yan Palmer Travelling with gear is annoying. Avoid it. Just kidding of course! I have my film in a backpack with films ISO800+ in a separate ziplock bag. When I ask for a handcheck with a smile, they never once not happily obliged.

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Jonathan Daniel Frey

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Thanks for doing this!

Thanks. I’m really honored that you’d ask me.

I’ve always liked your work, especially your video work on Vimeo. 

Thanks. They’re really passion projects if you want to call it that. I don’t have hobbies, so I do stuff with the intent of eventually making money one way or the other (both laugh). Its just how I view it. So the passion projects I try to either enter and win festivals or get distribution or theatrical release.

What’s the ratio between your photography and video work?

It’s probably 50/50 right now. I’m putting together a quote for photography and then sent another company a quote for photography. And today I was on the phone with a hospital about doing video work. Just when I think this is going to be the year of videography, it kind of evens out.

Did you start in photography first, or video?

I started in photography. I did weddings. I picked up a camera after college and took some pictures of a family and it turned out all right and wondered if I can make money doing this.  So a year later I was doing full time wedding photography. You know wedding photography is beautiful and wonderful and I really enjoyed the portraits and interacting with the bride and groom one-on-one… that’s what I cherished most about doing it. But I realized that wasn’t the path I wanted to carve out for myself. So slowly but surely I stopped investing, emotionally and energy-wise, in weddings and kind of stopped and pulled back from them. Then in 2010 I approached a university that was trying to start a project in Zambia and I asked if there’s a way we can collaborate in terms of photography. We met up four months later and had ideas of fundraising and get me over there but they also needed some video work and asked if that’s something I could do. I thought “Well, its probably something I could figure out…”

But up to that point, you’ve never done video work before.

No, never done video before. So I bought a camera that could shoot video and started applying everything I knew about photography towards motion, in terms of how I lite it and how I perceived people and perceived scenes and started doing what I’d like to call motion portraits. If my pictures were in motion, this is how they’d look like. So we went to Zambia to do some promotional documentary work for this university and that kind of got me hooked. I started doing more projects and I started doing work for this non-profit. Another big video project came along and I thought this was more along the lines of what I wanted to do. So I’ve been doing both videography and photography since 2008.

Were you exposed to photography when you were younger, while you were growing up?

No, not really. I went to Europe in 2007 before my senior year in university and I had never had a camera or owned one before. My sister gave me a point and shoot and I was going around, by myself, and loving it. I never had the thought “Oh, I’m going to be a photographer now!” but more like “Oh, this is fun.” And capturing all these moments in my trip. I had a friend in school that had a DSLR and in my senior year I asked if I could take it around and take some nicer pictures of the campus. He said sure and then did something to the camera, I’m not sure, and the pictures turned out all right. I said I gotta get one of these for myself so thus after school I bought a camera and took it everywhere and loved it.

How did your photography change from starting out by shooting weddings to now?

Part of it was a career decision. When I made the decision to stop shooting weddings, I had to publicly say it. So I put it out there… made a blog post about it. Because if I didn’t say it and own it, then I was always going to do it and fall back to it and not push myself to do other work. Not that wedding photography is easy by any stretch of the imagination. I just knew that it could be a rut for me personally. There’s people that do it and love it, amazingly talented at it and their businesses are spectacular. But I just knew that wasn’t for me. It was really until a year ago I started doing little commercial projects, trying to make some contacts and meeting people around the city, reaching out to them… networking, to try to push my work towards the commercial side. It’s really only been this year that I’m getting the work I want to. Or at least say, I’m being paid the amount I want to be paid for the commercial work. Because like everything, your confidence is at a certain point, your capabilities are at a certain point and your charge accordingly. So I had to learn a lot about lighting and I couldn’t just say I’m going to only be a natural light photographer for commercial work because I’d lose a lot of business if I was going to limit myself to that. And shooting film, it makes it more tricky to do test shots. So I just applied myself, kept renting equipment to learn how to use it and experimented, to have some confidence. When clients ask me this is what we need, can you do this, I can say “Yes, I can totally do that.”

Did you take any workshops or was it just all self-learning and experimenting?

You know, I did Film Is Not Dead a couple of years ago and at that point I didn’t realize it was more for digital photographers wanting to get into film. I was already shooting film at that point, but it was great as I got to meet and connect with people , obviously here I am with you, and that was the biggest asset from that. But in terms of other workshops… no, nothing. So it was kind of a falling forward… failing forward, trial and error… make mistakes and learn how to move forward from them and not let those mistakes drag me down. I’ve made a lot of mistakes. I’ve had to cut my take by half once because of a mistake I made. I owned up to it… it sucks, but I knew the client would appreciate it if I gave this much back to them due to my error. Part of it too was to understand my capabilities and know how much I could do and try to not take on too much, or agree to a quicker turn around. I’m pretty close to understanding my boundaries and limits. And understanding how to run a business and managing time and your free time and everything. I never thought I’d be doing this. I thought I’d just go to grad school and write boring books (both laugh) and here I am running a business and doing photography and videography.

I go back and forth sometimes where it would be nice to not run a business. At this rate, I’m happy to be doing it. I know now what I want to do and that’s to make films, theatrical films. So its easy for me to say oh, just take a 9-5 job and I don’t have to worry about getting new business and concentrate on film making. But then I lose all my flexibility. I love that I can say “You  know, I’m going to sleep in today.” (both laugh) At the rate I’m going now, I’ll probably have to hire people to help out.

You do everything yourself now?

I mean I bring in contract assistants for projects but at this rate, I have to have someone. I’m going crazy. For me, its taking ownership of my work and pride in it. So if I let someone else in that creativity development, I feel like I’m losing out on something. Part of it too is being able to trust other individuals and not worry that they’re going to steal business because it is a competitive business and there’s not too many commercial photographers in Indianapolis. It’s kind of a nerve-wracking thing to do it. I’ll probably just need an office manager more than anything. I had an intern once but it didn’t work out very well so I’ve been a little weary about hiring new people.

That’s the non-glamorous part of being self-employed but you also need to recognize the point where you need to bring in some help or else you’d go crazy managing the business while affecting your creativity, which brings in the business to begin with.

How do you come up with your projects, or find your clients?

Part of it is just meeting people and in Indianapolis… it’s a funny city. It’s the 12th largest city in the US but its really spread out. Bu the downtown area is like a city within a city so it’s like a small town. Good and bad, it is my own decision, but I stand out like a sore thumb because there’s not a lot of men walking around town wearing suits and ties and a mustache. It’s flip flop heaven now. (both laugh) There’s not much stake put into fashion here. Actually it’s not even really about fashion, but just making yourself presentable. It’s a small community in the downtown area so you constantly run into people you know. I did one film, Kipp Normand, a local artist here. It’s done really well at a few festivals and so that’s brought me some notoriety. And Kip as well, since he’s local. So people would say “Oh, I saw that Kip. He’s great!”(both laugh).

Isn’t that a good thing?

No, it’s great and I’m thankful for it. But I don’t have any anonymity in the city. Some of that I want in a bigger city. But that’s how I get business, is meeting people and talking to people. Finding out what their needs are. And not being a jerk… which is a huge thing. And I’m interested in what people are saying. And admitting when I’m wrong. And when mistakes are made, own up to it. I was really nervous when I screwed up on that one project, and it was my first project with them. I sent them an apology and owned up to it immediately with the mistake I did and told them how I’d take care of it in terms of compensation. They were really cool and appreciated that I owned up to it. They still wanted to do work with me and were going to send more work my way. That was really comforting.

Ok, getting back to fashion. How did you, growing up in a flip flop mad city, become so stylish? (both laugh)

That’s a good question. There was always some interest in middle school and high school. I didn’t have money growing up. Well, I still don’t have money now (both laugh). I didn’t come from a wealthy family and part of the county I grew up in, called Hamilton County, is the 5th wealthiest county in the nation. Everyone I went to school with had Abercrombie and Fitch, their winter vests were crazy expensive. And I got my clothes from Coles or Wal-Mart. So I always tried to make do with what I had. I tried to look at what everyone else was wearing and I tried to match that. There were other times when I thought “I just want to look nice!” and I have small recollections where I was in high school and thought I want to wear a tie and jacket today. Maybe it was because I saw someone on TV wearing it and it looked cool. So that kind of stuck with me. And in college, I just wore a lot of cardigans and acted like I was a 65 year old (both laugh). And once I started shooting weddings and having to dress up so much, I realized I liked braces suspenders and wore that a lot with bow ties, which I don’t wear anymore. Sometimes I’d go through phases of dressing professionally outside of the wedding day like when meeting with clients. My clothes were not very tailored then and didn’t fit very well so I’d get frustrated with that. It wasn’t really until last Fall that things finally clicked with me. How I describe it is as UPS, unique personal style, which is not my own term. For a man you should figure out what your consistent style is before the age of 30. And I was like “Ah Ha! I just figured it out!” (both laugh) I’m a young professional in the downtown area and I should dress like that. Some people think I sleep in ties and a suit. I don’t’ understand why people have that notion.

They don’t see you at home or anything, right? (both laugh)

Yes! I mean I don’t wear a tie every day, but Indianapolis views everything on the extreme. Like, oh, you have a moustache so you must be a Neo Nazi.

Are you serious???

Totally. Or I’ve been called a Hipster. Or things like that. If you stick out, and its easy to stick out here because everyone just goes with the flow, then there are consequences. Which is kind of silly. But it’s a small town. So if you have a small town mentality, it kind of makes more sense of why the city is the way it is. So if you easy to work with, everyone will know that. If you’re a horrible person, everyone will know. So I’m young and single here and the dating scene is very interesting here. Its like high school but with a higher maturity factor. Everyone knows everything about everyone here, including your dating history. I mean its a fun city, with great food and restaurants.

How did you end up on GQ?

Haha. Ok… I was in London staying with Kjrsten (a mutual friend) and her awesome family and it was during London Fashion Week. She and I said let’s go down and see if we can get in to anything and check it out. So we went and you can just walk into the venues. Of course you need passes to see shows though, which we got to see some of the non-main fashion house shows. But there was a lot of people there just dressed to the nines, and not in a good way. People were just wearing stuff to wear stuff, to get noticed. So Kjrsten and I walk in and within 30 seconds a fashion blogger stopped me and asked if they could take my photo. So they finished and someone else immediately came up and asked me “Do you mind staying right there so I can take your photograph.” Uh… sure. And then a third person came up and did the same thing. We walked maybe 100 ft and it happened again, another three people came up. Within 10 minutes maybe 7 photographers asked for my photo. I thought “Ok, this is interesting.” And Kjrsten was loving it, thinking this was great! She said, “Should we just stop, turn around and walk again, the opposite way?” (both laugh). So we’re hanging out and trying to get passes to the main show based on blogging statistics and what not. We almost met the qualifications but didn’t get into anything so we decided to go eat. We sit down and I feel a tap on my shoulder and the woman was like “Before you make an order, do you mind stepping outside with me? I shoot for GQ and I’d to photograph you.” “Sure… food can wait! Let’s do this!” (both laugh) That was a nice surprise.

(Here’s the link for you curious folks!)

I guess that doesn’t happen in Indianapolis.

No… GQ doesn’t come out here (both laugh) But I was also featured in a  magazine here.

Ok, let’s bring it back to photography and your work. Where do you see your work headed in the next few years. What kind of projects do you want to work on?

You know, that’s a great question. In terms of photography, I’m still figuring out where I want my work to go. Videography, or film, obviously I know where I want that to go.

Where’s that?

That’s just making, writing and shooting my own films. I finished a script recently and started the fund raising portion of that. I’m writing a script with my brother and hopefully shoot it this summer. And I want to make movies. That’s the gist of it. Making that short documentary whetted my appetite for film making  and I think the cinematography aspect of it comes easy for me. It’s been an easy transition for me because of photography. And of course I want it to be successful. I want to be strategic in how I do projects and not view them as passion projects, but view them as a business.

Photography… I don’t know. I don’t’ want to abandon it because there’s something unique about stills. Everyone says it and it’s a cliché but there’s this moment captured and it’s there. It speaks for itself. You don’t have any other word associated with it. I mean it could be a photo essay, but without those, you just have the image itself and that’s so powerful. And photography will always have that, that one instance whether its created or fictional or documentary. It’s able to do that in a split second.

I think for me, I’ve been experimenting with photo abstraction. I’d really like to push my art. I was approached by an art dealer recently that was interested and we’ve been having a conversation for what it’d look like for him to start carrying my work. Maybe something will come out that, maybe it won’t. It was nice to have that though.

Are there any directors that inspire you and your film making?

Terrence Malik, even before I knew who we was, that’s kind of how I’d do those motion portraits and the kind of style I would do them. Now that I know his work, I can totally relate to that. The other director is Romain Gavras… really talented director. I found him because he did some really great Adidas commercials and saw more of this work from there. And he did the M.I.A. music video Bad Girls and I really loved how he shot that. I see these people as where I want my work to be.

Ok, here’s my last question… do you think there’s a difference between Cinema and Movies?

I have two different categories. There’s Hollywood and what they do. Because they have the money, they dictate where industries go. Like with technology, because they can make money off it… and this sounds like I’m talking politics, it’s now their incentive to push out this technology to make people embrace it to make sure its successful. So Hollywood, or the like, is interested in the bottom line, the shareholders. So if they can cut costs, they’ll do it. As a result, I don’t like Hollywood in general. They make a lot of entertaining movies. It’s amazing what their budget is… the amount of money they spend on film. It’s ironic that budgets are getting bigger but they’re cutting out film for digital.

Then there’s independent films and filmmakers. They do it because they love it and they want to tell good stories. And the hope is to be successful and get some money from it. And if you’re some small time guy, you’re hoping for that big break. So yes, there’s definitely a difference with the bottom-line driven enterprise and you have the independents that’ll do what it takes to get a good story out there.

Well, this has been great to finally talk with you. We need to definitely do this again.

I’d like to do this again, but do the flip side and learn more about you. I feel like I just blabbered for a good amount of time today.

* You can find more of Jonathan on:

 Jonathan’s Website

 Jonathan’s Twitter

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A Day in NYC | Leica M8

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Some folks like to get away, take a holiday from the neighborhood. Hop a flight to Miami beach or to Hollywood. But I’m taking the Greyhound on the Hudson River Line. I’m in a New York state of mind. - BIlly Joel 

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* I was browsing through an old backup hard drive today and came across these photos which I took back in 2008. It was our first time visiting NYC and having the M8 with me was great. For me, NYC and a Leica just goes together due to some of the great street photographers’ influences like Winograd and Meyerowitz. The M8 was my first foray into Leica and although the camera had its flaws, it was still a good camera that produced nice files. It’s really hard to justify buying a used M8 these days as there are many other cameras, at a lower price point, that perform better than the M8 in almost every way. But if you must have a digital rangefinder, the M8 is a good entry point. There’s also the Epson R-D1, which I recently owned for a brief time, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Although the R-D1 is a really nice looking camera, especially the analogue dials and “film” advance lever, the files from its 6MP sensor is just not up to snuff for 2013. 

I lived with the M8 and a Summarit 35mm f/2.5 for three years and it served me well in all types of shooting conditions. I would definitely love to get back into a digital M. Leica is suppose to announce a new smaller M camera in June 2013, which slots in between the M240 and the X2. If this camera is an interchangeable camera that takes M lenses, then it could be a very intriguing choice.

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Limitations | Leica MP

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Do you really need ISO1600? 3200? 6400? For those working photographers who constantly shoot in low light, yes. For us the rest of us… I’m not sure. I was heading down to the Indian Market in Lima knowing that I had half a roll of Tri-X remaining in my Leica which I had been metering at ISO400. It was going to be night time and dark at the market and I had no other choice but to keep things at ISO400. Having this limitation was actually a breath of fresh air as I forced myself to hunt for good light. I had to get off my lazy butt and not rely on a camera’s high ISO capabilities, or in the case pushing the film one or two stops as I normally would. Most of the photos were taken at 1/15th, some at 1/8th, and with the Leica, that’s not a problem. Sometimes having limitations is a good thing.

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Kelbert McFarland

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I’ve known Kelbert for a short time with our social network interactions. He’s one of those genuinely nice people and although I know he’s a great photographer, what I didn’t know was that he’s also a very talented musician! While we didn’t get to perform a duet or perform with two pianos like BIlly Joel and Elton John, we did have a nice chat.

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How’d you get into photography?

Well, my story is funny. I only got into photography because I hated so much of what I saw as it relates to wedding photography in Tulsa, Oklahoma. So I just thought to myself I’m going to call my father, ask him to mail me his old film camera and I’m going to start taking pictures myself and we’ll see what happens. That’s where it all began. Where I completely fell in love with photography was in Europe, in Poland.

Were you on vacation or on business?

No, I was working. I’m a musician too. So I was playing the piano for a mission’s retreat and took my dad’s Nikon and would just wake up in the mornings and go shoot and walk the streets by myself. And that’s where I connected with photography.

Was you Dad into photography when you were growing up?

Well, my father was into a bit, but not enough for me to take note. It was always around me, but I never thought I’d consider i’d be a photographer.  I mean it still feels a bit tricky to even hear myself say I’m a photographer.

What exactly was it in Poland that triggered your love of photography?

Well, there was so much to capture there… the beauty of Europe and old world Europe. Also just having… I don’t know… something just happened to me with the camera. Knowing that the image I’m seeing through this viewfinder is being permanently fixed on film, just really did something for me.

So once you came back from that trip, what happened next?

I contacted my friend Nicholas Horton, who lives here in Tulsa, who I’ve always called my mentor, and basically just said “You have to teach me!” (both laugh) Well, I actually talked to him a bit before because when I first got the camera, I knew nothing about photography, about film. All I knew was I wasn’t going to do digital because that was what everyone else was shooting and that was what was giving them permission to call themselves photographers. I didn’t want that same ease of permission, so that’s why I wanted to shoot film. Not because I thought that film was superior or beautiful; I found that out later. Ok, I shouldn’t say superior, but… (both laugh) I found out the beauty of film later and I found out later when Nicholas later referred me to different photographers, I realized that the images just had something special about them. So after that trip, I came back and knew just enough to get some proper exposures on some of the images and I had Nick teach me. I asked all kinds of questions. I was introduced to the Film Shooters group on Facebook years ago and I connected with a guy called Evan Baines, who was at the time a photographer in Nashville, and asked him all kinds of questions. Took the risk to send a message to Ryan Muirhead and asked him questions… you know, I just asked questions. I still am asking questions to this day. Actually I asked Ryan a question this morning! (both laugh)

Are you doing photography full time now?

Yeah, I recently have just come off the road. I was travelling quite a bit for the last couple of years but now I’m pursuing photography full time.

What kind of photography are you pursuing?

I’m doing weddings, portraits. I’ll do families. I will pretty much do close to anything, but not quite anything. (both laugh)

Have you seen the wedding photography landscape change in where you are since you started photography?

No. It’s still pretty bad. (both laugh) It’s rough.

So what exactly is it that’s fueled you to try and change wedding photography in Tulsa?

Well, I’ve always said I want to take pictures where someone can look back at them 20 years from now and still remember the moment, enjoy the moment, not question the moment. I felt like if someone took a look at themselves 20 years from now, laying down on a train track, they’d say “Why in the world are we laying down on a train track?” (both laugh) Or why am I in a dumpster and peeking my head around the corner?

It’s that bad?

Yeah. It was the gimmicks and silly shots that got to me.  They wore me out. I mean, I don’t like the word artsy… I’ve always been a artist, but as far as being a musician, doing interior design… I’ve always trusted my taste level so I assume that would transfer into photography if it was there for music, or design, or colors. I assume I’d have some type of ability to compose a shot and have it at some type of sophisticated level. I hope. (both laugh)

How did you get into music?

Hmm… my mother’s side of the family is very musical. We’ve always had music in the home and I just kinda fell into playing the piano. I’m self-taught and started playing in 6th grade and just stuck with it.

So what kind of music do you play?

I have a couple of CD’s that just are instrumental. Just instrumental, laid back piano music. Kind of what you’d be playing in the background at work. So I play that. I play at a lot of churches, so I guess you’d consider that contemporary worship music. And I write my own music. I’ve been basically playing most of my life. I’ve been training my ear to hear… I don’t read sheet music really well as I play by ear. I began to develop my ear on purpose. I developed my voice on purpose and began to sing more in high school. And I began to play for churches when I moved to Tulsa. I actually played a lot at churches back home. I was born and raised in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

What were your musical influences growing up?

Oh man, most of them are gospel artists, as well as Ella Fitzgerald. She is my favorite. I think she is by far the greatest singer that has ever walked the planet. She has the most ability… I mean you just want to slap her and say “How do you do that?” (both laugh) Its just not right for someone to be that talented. (both laugh) Its like when I see some of Ryan Muirhead and Mitch Issels’ photos. When I first started shooting I looked at Mitch’s black and white and thought “He is not of this world!” (both laugh) I can’t shoot like that! You see so many people… I’ll get back to your music question… but you see so many people get the Contax, the Fuji 400h, try to find some sunlight and do the whole Jose Villa thing… I just think, I’m not in California. I am not charging the money to get those amazingly gorgeous people. (both laugh) So I can’t shoot like him either.

So my musical influences are Ella Fitzgerald, Walter Hawkins. As far as pianists are concerned, I love a jazz artist called Oscar Peterson. There’s a friend of mine here called Patrick Vandiver who I’ve learned to play a lot from.  The Clark Sisters, a gospel group. I love all of that and at the same time I love a guy called Matt Redmond. He’s one of my favorite song writers. My best friend here Symon Hajjar.  So just a couple of different influences. I love music.  Oh, Antonio Carlos Jobim, kinda the father of Brazillian jazz. I love music. A lot.

I see similarities in how you learned to play piano, self-taught, and your photography, self-taught. Just hearing your stories… you have this drive to learn and not afraid to ask. That’s a big thing… just ask. You don’t have to spend a couple thousand dollars on workshops where people just hang out.

I’ve never been afraid to ask and I will continue and always ask questions. I think that’s the only way to learn. I’m not much into the workshops. Google in itself is a workshop. And if you surround yourself with people that are better than you and more brilliant than you are (both laugh), then you’re good. In our community, I feel that film photography community is pretty small, you have the Josh Gull’s, who has all this technical knowledge… I don’t need that. I’ll just ask Josh Gull! (both laugh) So I will use the space in my brain to capture something else and if I have technical questions, I’ll ask Josh, or ask someone else… like the Brothers Wright. I choose my battles. (both laugh)

So what do you shoot with right now?

My favorite camera is my Nikon, the one my father gave me. My Nikon FE. And then I have a Mamiya RZ and a Contax 35mm RTS3. A little Leica point and shoot. And a Contax T2, [I have] a friend who was borrowing it for a long time and I just asked for it back to see if I can connect with it. If it doesn’t, I’m sending it back to him.

Did you have to go through a lot of different cameras to find the ones you’re comfortable with?

No… I don’t have patience to that. I connect most with my Nikon. And Nicholas made me buy the RZ 67 because he wanted to convince me that medium format was the way to go. So I did buy one for a good price and had it for at least four months before I even shot one image. I’m pretty true to what I learned on and what I connect with. All the images I feel like I’ve gotten the most comments on have been shot with my Nikon. That little simple 35mm in my bag over there.

Why do you think that is?

Because I trust it. I trust that camera and I am one with the camera. It is not in the way. All of the technical elements of it, all the dials and knobs, none of that is in the way when I’m shooting. I’m very familiar with it and very aware that it is an extension of what my eye is seeing. I capture things very well with it.

Has your photographic vision evolved since you first started?

I think so. I definitely am trying to define my style/ taste/ vision. Its no more to say “Ok, stand right there and…” CLICK. I know that I love capturing things in the moment. Like you made a comment in reference to the picture of my mother and nephew I posted on Facebook. I don’t know how they were unaware, but they were totally unaware I was there and… I like that. I really like photography like that. I tend to lean towards that. I don’t shoot models. I haven’t gone into that. I think that’s in a world all unto itself and I’m not ready for it. I just love portraits more than anything. I love expressions on people’s faces. I love capture those moments and even for myself, go back and look at those images and live in that moment again. I remember a lot of the shots I take because its meaningful to me. Photography is extremely meaningful to me. It’s kind of why I did the film thing because I just want to be surrounded by the moment. I mean if I have the viewfinder in front of me… that LCD thing, I can’t… I don’t’ shoot the same. I don’t own a digital camera except for my iPhone and its because the images are just not good. (both laugh) I don’t do well at all on digital. I just don’t know how to do that.

I mean I thought about trying to get a digital camera for convenience. But I just can’t, for me personally. There is a place for it, definitely. But for me personally, every time I click the shutter, a piece of my soul is evaporating into the ethers. (both laugh) I can’t afford to lose that much of my soul… I need it! (both laugh)

That’s a very poetic way of putting it.

I just can’t do it. A funny story… I was just in a wedding in Boston. And there’s this little girl under a tree and she was just throwing around these petals… leaves falling from a tree basically. I caught her, with one click of the shutter. And the hired photographer was there, she walked up about two or three seconds after I caught that moment. She saw what was happening and all of a sudden she was like… 10 or 15 clicks. I mean how do you even shoot that thing that fast? Then she asked her to do it again and she took another 10 to 15 more shots. So the friend that was with me, I said I’m very curious to see what my one shot looks like compared to hers. Again, not to be, I’m not trying to sound prideful or anything. But to me, that one shot, that one moment, meant the world to me. And I got those scans back today and saw it. And thankfully it was exposed properly and it was sharp.

You’ll have to email me that photo. I’m curious to see it now (both laugh). Its great that you took that one shot to capture it, but also remember the moment. Whereas for that photographer, she probably has 20-30 pictures of very minuet changes of the same moment. I’d go crazy trying to edit something like that.

Yeah, me too. I’d have to ask myself, of those 20-30 images, which one actually means something to me. And there’s no answer for that because it was all, it was all technical. I mean for me, like piano, film and my analogue cameras, I feel them. They speak back to me. With piano, I play acoustic piano. I love playing acoustic piano over digital pianos because acoustic pianos has a life. Has a soul. It was made by the hands of man, you know. It has materials that was made by the hands of God. Whereas a digital piano, or keyboard as they call them, I’m just playing something that’s just dead. It doesn’t respond. It doesn’t give back to me. When I’m shooting film and a film camera, I feel like its giving back to me. Everything I put into it, I feel like its giving back. When I shoot with someone’s digital camera, I get nothing back. The only thing is that camera is demanding that I remove myself from the moment and look at the little screen. Then get back to the moment, and then that camera demands I look at the screen, you know? So its like… so rude, to me. (both laugh) The camera is so rude, that it requires I look and see if it captured correctly.

I’ve never heard film vs digital articulated like that before, but it makes total sense.

Yeah, I’m a different one. (both laugh)

So you think your musical influences how you approach photography, or do you find it totally separate?

That’s a good question… (pause). I don’t think my music influences my photography or vice versa. I think they all are expressions from my heart and my soul. So they tend to be similar expressions because they come from me. So music is a way for me to express a certain emotion or feeling or capture a moment, even when I’m playing for someone. For instances, if I’m playing for a speaker or preacher, I am forever trying to play what I hear them saying. So for me, it is the same way when I’m taking an image. I am trying to forever capture a moment just as it is being played out in the universe, in nature. So I feel like they’re extremely similar because they are both expressions from my heart, and that’s the only way I know how to express myself. Even with the words I say, I’m forever trying to wrap the proper words around the moment, to use the correct analogies to express the moment, feelings or thoughts. I don’t like to devalue moments in life. Like when I’m playing for a preacher, I would imagine that what he’s saying means something to him at the time. So I’m going to do my best to play the best music that can accompany his words at that time. And at a wedding, and when someone has put out their resources to put out a beautiful event, I don’t want to just document it in a haphazard way. I want to put all of my soul and emotions and creativity into capturing that event in the most beautiful way possible as it is happening. I feel like the quality of my piano playing or my photography has a lot to do with the quality of the moment. For me, its all about the people and very little about the surroundings. Some others might be more interested in the location or details. For me, I love people. I feel that people were put on this earth to, as scripture says, to be fruitful and multiply and work the land.

Given that, do you tend to shy away from clients with that give you negative vibes? Or have you been pretty lucky with good clients?

I think I’ve been pretty fortunate to have good people as clients. And let’s be honest, I’m not busy enough to even be extremely picky. I’m still so new to this… I’m not your guy to ask those questions. (both laugh) But I am a guy who’s able to ask enough questions to locate someone’s heart. And when I can find their heart and hear that, then I’m in, so to speak. I try to find out what matters to you. If I can talk past the details, the fluff, the Pinterest decorations, and find their heart, then I’m good.

Where do you see yourself a couple years down the line, with your photography and your music?

With both, I do hope and trust that my sphere of influences increases. I would love to share way more than I do. I love to create music again. I haven’t really written like I have before because I’ve been surrounded by really good writers. Often times with me, if I’m surrounded by someone who’s writing something I need to say, I’ll let that be my voice. But at the same time, the more I live, the more I find I have something to say that no one else could ever say. That’s where I plan to go with my music and to use the tools available to me, like social media/ social networks, SoundCloud, Bandcamp… all these avenues to let people hear my music.

And whereas photography is concerned, this is just a journey, and I’m happy to be on this journey. If it carries me to… I mean right now I just want to go to Utah and meet some people. (both laugh)

Yeah, it seems like there’s quite a big pool of photographic talent there.

Yeah, its like what’s in the water? They just breed them. (both laugh) Jeff Yates, I want to meet him. And Ryan Muirhead and Mitch Issel… just a number of people there. That’s not far off. I’m gonna make a trip out there. I would like to endeavor to bring back sophistication in imaging capturing and kind of take the whimsicalness out of it, what I call silly shots, and take those out. I would like to continue to make images that people can look back on 20,30,40,50 years from now and be proud of looking back at that moment and know why that time was so good. You just look at the image and think “That was good!” I would like to eventually get to the point where I’m helping and teaching others to see differently. I’m curious to see what I could do more with engagement shoots. I feel like that’s apart of all the packages now, but to be honest, I feel like a lot of those shots are looking all the same now too. I wonder if we should take them out of nature, out of the fields and put them back in a more familiar environment. I wonder how it would be like to photograph… and don’t anyone take my ideas (both laugh), but photograph a couple making breakfast in the morning and sitting down at the table and having breakfast. It’s the storytelling I’m interested in. I need dialogue. I need something to capture that says something. Like in music I need to play out something. It’s not just hitting random notes or clicking the shutter. If it did , I’d just go out and shoot digital (both laugh). I need something to say. I need a story. As a grow, I want to continue to know what the story is in situations.

I’ll end of with this last question… Does gear matter to you?

(Pause) Not like it does to others! (both laugh) That’s the short answer. It matters because it is the tool that I use to document a moment. But for me, it ends right there. I am satisfied with my gear. Even with my music, I’ve never been the guy that wanted to get all the new keyboards that come out. I’m extremely happy with an old upright beautiful piano. I’ve been in photography a few years and I’ve seen the cycle of going from the Contax 645 to the RZ, to the Pentax, to the Hasselblad… you know, just a viscous cycle. And I don’t want to get caught up in that. I’d rather my one or two tools and get to really know them well and go out and shoot. The day my closet is full of gear is the day I’ve lost my soul (both laugh). And I’ve exchanged it for steel and motar! (both laugh) That’s just me. Others really live off of that and love it. And I love hearing it… to a degree. After a while, it’s a bit much (both laugh).

Well, thanks again so much for doing this and its truly been a pleasure to have finally talked with you instead of just commented on various forums.

You’re welcome and it’s been a lot of fun. Next time, I’ll have to interview you!

* Photo by Trent Brown

** You can find more of Kelbert on:

 Kelbert’s Photography Website

 Kelbert’s Music Website

 Kelbert’s Facebook Page

 Kelbert’s Instagram

 Kelbert’s Tumblr

 Kelbert’s Twitter

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Ashley Kelemen

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So how would you spell your vomit sound?

B-L-R-O-W-R-G-H is probably the best way to spell it (both laughing)

And with that my interview began with Ashley. In a mere two years, she’s transformed herself from working in the fashion industry in New York to an amazing wedding and travel photographer living in San Diego.

Tell me about phorgy and how that came about?

Alright, so phorgy… Heather Perera, who I’m sure you know, decided she wanted to do a retreat with a lot of people she didn’t know. She wanted to expose herself to other artists that approach things differently and she invited some people she really wanted to meet. I think she started with The Brothers Wright and Ryan Muirhead and Kristen Genna, one of the girls I know down here (in San Diego), and a handful of other people…Kristen Genna actually added me as I didn’t know who Heather was. And so the group kinda started in Facebook and people talked about… well, the term phorgy came about through some indecent conversation obviously (both laugh) and so we planned 5 days, just a bunch of film nerds shooting in the desert. And then the Indie Film Lab guys were like “Oh, we’re doing a road trip cross country in an RV… “ and we’re like “Oh come stay in our driveway!” so they came with Ryan and… there were like 18 of us in this tiny little three bedroom house, so it was amazing! Yeah, so it was pretty much the coolest thing ever. It was really fun!

Are you guys going to try to make this an annual event?

Yes, yes. The problem was it was a pretty big group…from a social perspective it was kinda hard to get so many people to pay attention to each other. And we Instagrammed it and all our friends in the photo industry were like “I’m coming next time!” and I’m like uhhh…. I don’t know. It would’ve been hard to fit more people. So, we’ll see what happens. But we’re definitely planning on doing this yearly and then a a smaller group of us, like in random pockets we’ll do small scale stuff as well. We really bonded, like… a lot of the girls were from a small of pocket of film shooters here in San Diego with me like Susan Yee, Kristin Genna, Teresa Heath…we’re good friends with Michael Ash Smith, Mike Rousseau and Heather… its just a really good cool group!

It looked really fun and the images you all posted from it were amazing!

Yeah, we’re all dying to get our film back!

Nice… So how did you get into photography?

Uh… so I… it was kinda a weird story. So I was working in fashion in New York and I one day I was just in some sort of rut so I started a Tumblr account and started taking street photos in New York with my iPhone. And I kinda built up a pretty big following on Tumblr and got to know quite a lot of photographers there. And one of them, who I’m close with, she actually lives in the Phillipines, and she urged me to get a real camera so I bought a little crop sensor digital Canon and a 50mm 1.8. And again, pretty much street photography for the first six months. So I started on digital and then… you know Alice Gao in New York, she’s a big editorial photographer? She’s one of my good friends, and she shot film and had a Contax and kinda just started talking to me about it. So I bought a Canon 35mm and started shooting film and I was kinda screwed (both laugh). She ruined my life (laughing). And so I definitely got more into film that way. And my husband and I traveled a lot so I started, with my Tumblr, focusing on street and travel photography so started doing a lot of different stuff with that. And, you know, I did what everyone else did, started shooting my friends.  And then one night I stayed up too late and had some wine and bid on a Contax 645 on eBay (both laugh) and had to break it to my husband the next day (both laugh).  So got my Contax six months before we were going to quite our jobs and go travel… so we had no money and I dropped $2,300 on a stupid camera (both laugh) and that was kinda where my work started taking on more of a portraiture turn. And shooting medium format… all of a sudden I saw people differently. With the Contax I started doing a lot more portraits, couples and stuff like that. When we moved out here, I was dead set on not being a wedding photographer! (both laugh)

Why was that?

I don’t know… I got married really young and was never that into weddings and didn’t think it was something I cared about. But I did some second shooting when I got out here and was like “Oh my god. I love weddings so much now!” I’m such a convert!  Maybe I didn’t realize what a romantic I was…so yeah, I love weddings and don’t want to shoot anything else. It was kind of an interesting path. I’ve only been shooting for two and a half years.

Yeah, I was just about to ask when did you actually start… two and a half years? That’s really good.

Yeah, I’m on a fast trajectory. So I got my digital camera on October 2010 and then I started shooting film six months after that and kinda sped through it. Because I knew I wasn’t happy with what I was doing in my career and I just put all my energy into that. And that was pretty much all I was doing outside of work.

Were you exposed to photography when you were a child? Like your family influence you or anything?

No, not at all actually. I’ve always been interested. I think I was kinda… I was never in creative stuff growing up. I was always a math and science kinda girl. And I think I thought I wasn’t creative… I don’t know why. We moved around a lot growing up. I never really got into anything. I was always really jealous of photographers…stupid stuff, like I tried to be on the yearbook committee and things like that but then we’d move and I wouldn’t be on the yearbook committee… just little things. I’ve always been interested in it and never pursued it at all. So then literally the day after I picked up a camera, I was like… I’m screwed. It was all I wanted to do. So I never grew up artistic. I was never one of those people that were like “At 13, I knew what I wanted to do!” (both laugh) I was 27 when I picked up a camera.

What made you and your husband quit your jobs and travel for 4 months in Asia?

I mean who doesn’t want to do that! (both laugh) Well… so we studied abroad… let me back up. My family has always travelled a lot. I went to Africa for the first time when I was 13. We use to drive to Mexico and go camping…plus you know, we went all through Europe. My husband had never done much travelling and we studied abroad in London together and then went backpacking in Europe for a few weeks and got him hooked on it. Travel and photography… like I picked the two most expensive things in the world (both laugh). When we got married, we always knew we wanted to take time off, but you know… career takes over and blah, blah, blah. We were living in Manhattan, making a lot of money. Spending a lot of money (both laugh) and working a lot and doing things you do in New York. But we’re very outdoorsy. We’ve always wanted more of a relaxed, outdoorsy kinda lifestyle. We realized New York probably wasn’t where we were going to stay. It just wasn’t long term for us, as much as we loved it.

How long were you living in New York then?

We were only in the city of 5 years, and before then 3 years outside it, commuting in… so, ugh (both laugh). I love Manhattan… I’m not dissing it in any way and its perfect for some people, but we are just outdoorsy people. So a few years ago we took a vacation to Hawaii, just to chill, and decided while we were there to talk a little bit bigger picture of what we wanted with our lives.  Decided we wanted to move somewhere that had a different pace of life. Originally we were talking about Nashville… don’t ask… I really like horses, I don’t know. Anyways… (both laugh) Then I told him, I had just started getting into photography at that point, and I was like, I kinda have this little fantasy of wanting to do that for a career and he was like… sure. We were realizing at that point we wanted to take some time off and move somewhere and start fresh. So we started saving up, saved for a year and a half. Basically cut our expenses in Manhattan in half and started eating a lot of Ramen noodles… yeah. And we saved up tens of thousands of dollars and…we quit our jobs in December 2011 and we went to Asia for 4 months and it was one of those situations where we thought, oh Southeast Asia… it’s cheap, it’s fun, it’s a good thing to do when you’re young… we’ll check it off of our list since we kinda want to go everywhere. So we went and we loved it and now we want to move there. It was ridiculous… It was amazing. While we were there, we realized we didn’t want to pin ourselves down in one place, which Nashville would kinda be a settling down place. So instead we came back, got in the car and drove to California. And now we’re living here (both laugh)… yeah!

So in terms of camera gear and film gear you brought on your trip… what did you bring?

(Big sigh) So this was hard… and I’ll probably tell you I made some mistakes. I knew I didn’t want to take my Contax, first of all. It would’ve been too heavy. I knew I wanted to shoot quickly and we were going to be on the go, go, go. And I knew I didn’t want to take gear that I’d be crushed if I lost it, you know? So I took my old digital, my original, which was just a Canon Rebel and I decided I needed an all-in-one lens so I took the kit lens, which is by far the biggest mistake I ever made. It was such a… can I say shit?

(Both laugh) Sure! I’ll write it in. (both laugh)

Well, yes… it was shit. That was a mistake. So that was what I took for my digital and then I just took a 50mm 1.4 that’d go on my Canon EOS3 so I could shoot film. And because of that shit lens I probably ended up shooting 80% film through the trip and any digital I did shoot, I hate. All of it. Except for when I picked up the 50mm on it. I think the number one thing is its worth taking a lens that you’re a little scared to break and its worth taking a couple lenses so… you know 4 months is a long time to travel with all this gear so I was trying to streamline. But as a prime shooter, that was huge. So I think if I had to do it over I’d take different digital gear, but with my EOS3 I had my 50mm on it the whole time that’s what I ended up shooting the most with. And I took some other peripheral cameras like a GoPro. We scuba dive a lot so we took it underwater. And an iPhone. And then I just took the hugest bag of film. I mean it wasn’t as much as some people would’ve taken, like 80 rolls, which doesn’t sound like enough.

Wait… just 80 rolls?

I mean I could’ve bought more if I needed to but I wanted to strike a balance between being able to shoot as much as I wanted and really trying to be present. I didn’t want to be focusing everyday with “Oh my god, I didn’t get that picture!” You know we really wanted to BE there. With film, I wasn’t even able to shoot all of it… probably shot 50 rolls. But I mean a lot of days we were out on a boat, you’re underwater, some place shady. Like on a one week vacation you take a lot because you’re experiencing a place for the first time. But we went through every country in Southeast Asia and it was a little overwhelming to shoot the same laneway furniture throughout the whole trip (both laugh). So I did my best to document it with the billion photos I’m still going through. but I shot less than you would’ve thought for a trip like this.

As most film shooting travelers always ask, how did you pack your film because some are always scared about the dreaded airport x-ray scanners.

You know I lived in constant fear of heat damage because Southeast Asia is so freakin’ hot. There were a couple of different things to deal with that. For my bag, I took a Timbuktu messenger because they’re super waterproof , the cameras fit in there and the sack of film, I’d say 40% of the time, I had the whole sack with me because I was too nervous to leave it in the hotel room where the temperature wasn’t controlled. And I didn’t want it baking anywhere so I took it with me, unless we were in an air conditioned hotel… which was rare. And I made sure I didn’t leave my bag out in the sun. I’d say about half way through our trip when we got to Malaysia, I was nervous… we kept going through airport after airport. Most of the time they’d hand check it for me, which was amazing. I mean I did not have trouble. But there were a couple of bigger airports, going into Kuala Lumpur and going into Bangkok, it just had to be done. So I started getting nervous about damage to all the film I had already shot. So when we got to Kuala Lumpur, we shipped everything I shot back to Indie Film Lab from KL. I was like, let’s get it done and get it safe so if something happened during the rest of the trip, at least I’d have these. So I got my scans back from the first half of the trip when we were in Indonesia so that was amazing. Yeah. So at the end, if I was comfortable, the film would be comfortable and I never left it out on the bus, or anything like that. I think heat damage was what I was most concerned about. And it’s so humid there also. I took it in a gallon ziplock, which was super fancy (both laugh) but I never zipped it. I wanted it kinda open so no condensation would build up. I’d say once a week I’d take it out to not keep it in the bag and tried my best to keep it comfortable… it sounds like I’m talking about a baby (both laugh)

Yeah… don’t let it cry. Burp it after meals.

Yeah, yeah (both laugh) For the most part it was sunny and hot but sometimes it’d get super rainy. We were in Borneo and we were in a bird sanctuary and it was absolutely downpouring  so I just took my digital and all those photos sucked (both laugh). Oh, it was the lens… I’m not trashing digital, but it was the shitty lens (both laugh).

So do you have all your film back from the trip?

All my film is back and Indie did the most incredible job. And I made a 200 page Artifact Uprising book, all shot on film. And it was pretty ridiculous.

How long did it take for you to make the book, to even choose, to edit the images for what went in the book.

It was choosing the images that took a long time so I was super lazy about it. On my blog, I blog every two weeks for a Travel Thursday post and I’m working my way through Asia right now. So coming up I’m in Indonesia… I’m gonna be so depressed when it’s over. So what I was doing was every time I’d blog, that’s when I would edit that location, cull it down and tuck it into a folder for the book. So I was slowly building it except that I wanted to order a copy of the book for our parents for Christmas and in October I was like I knew I wasn’t going to finish on time. So I spent a week mass editing everything… it was terrible. But I got it done in time for Christmas so now it’s great, everything is edited. It took… we got back last May 2012 and it took me until the end of October to finish everything. Well, we were also moving.

Tell me your experience about Artifact Uprising.

I love those girls so much! So obviously the company is out there, and I had heard good things about them and as soon as I got back I was like, yeah, that’s the way to go. So I built it… the process of building the book was emotional. This trip was such a huge thing for us… its one of those things you do once in your life. I wanted to book to be perfect. The girls were just so supportive… I finished the book and they asked me to use my images for some samples. And as a relatively new photographer, to have that kind of support is really amazing. This was the first year I was at WPPI and they had my samples at their booth. So that was pretty cool. They really stand for something and their prices are reasonable and easy to work with. They care about what they’re doing and are focused on sustainability. And right now Earth Day is coming up and they’re a doing sustainability project.. they’re always trying to erase their carbon footprint, so now for Earth Day they’re planting a tree for every book printed, so I ordered three!

Would you ever sell your book, putting your book out there for the public to purchase?

Sure… if you want (both laugh). The problem is because its such a massive book. Its not the kind of thing I could sell for $40. It’d be more like $150 or so. I mean if someone wants a custom one, they can call me to talk about it (both laugh). Right now, it’s a limited edition so we have one and each of our parents has one. But yeah, that’d be pretty sweet.

So what kind of camera gear do you have now?

Well… I’m not a gear hoarder. I tend to find something I love and stick with it. So right now I have my Contax and what I shoot with 80% of the time… safety zone. I’m getting back in to 35mm… I still have my EOS3. We hired Yan (DDKMP) and she got me really excited again about 35mm and I’ve been shooting it more with my safety zone 50mm, more than with my 24-70mm. And in terms of digital, I have a Canon 5d classic… not a Mark 2, I’m not that fancy yet (both laugh). And 95% of the time I’m shooting with my Canon 50L. Like I said, we recently moved so we’re in a gear hold right now but I’d say in the next three months I’ll be getting a Mark 3 and probably a 35L ‘cause I’m definitely a prime girl. And in terms of peripheral stuff, I just got an SX-70 and, oh my god, so in love. I had a 600 and I hated it and it just wasn’t for me. So I’ve been shooting a ridiculous amount of Polaroids. Oh, and my second biggest regret about the trip was not taking my Instax because I would’ve had such a ridiculous time with the Instax in Asia. Like fun, instant shots. Anyway, so my SX-70 I’m using a lot right now and I have a Yashica MAT… I’m still not friends with square format and working on it. It’s just not how I see. (pause) What else do I have? (pause) I have my old digital… I don’t use it and I’m gonna get rid of it soon. (pause) I told you, I’m not a gear whore! (both laugh) Abbie McFarland (a mutual gear hoarding friend) has me beat by like ten times! (both laugh) She has like everything… a Leica, a Rollei. She has an RZ (Mamiya) which I’m dying to get. Josh Moates let me use his RZ with a Polaroid (then shows me a Polaroid she took with it). Yeah, I picked up his RZ and I was like “I need this!” So I’m hoping to get one soon.

I had an RZ but it was just too big. It basically lived in the house.

It’s not for clients. I just want to take it out and play with it. The clink… KA CHUNK! When I shot that I was like “Yes!” (both laugh). 645 works for me but I definitely want to try out 6x7. I know Ryan Muirhead swears by the Pentax and I think Kia (Kia Gregory, another mutual friend) just bought his. I’d like to try 6x7 but 645 is kinda really how I see. I’m not a square shooter, like I said, at this point. I need a better digital for night reception shooting… so that’s my first priority. Because the 5d classic only goes up to ISO1600, so it’s kinda brutal.

How do you see your photography and business heading in the next few years?

Well, a couple things. I had a moment, right after Joshua Tree, I’ve been doing the very pretty, Fuji 400h, pastel thing and it’s kinda what I’m known for, like a billion other people right now. And it’s not… I’m kinda going in the wrong direction with my look. It’s beautiful and I get the appeal, the whole pastel thing, but internally I’m not that perfect, pretty kinda person. So on the trip I started experimenting more with Portra and pushing 160 and getting some different looks… I’m a complete convert. Now I’m actually rebuilding how I do things with a different film, which is weird. So I kinda see my work taking on more of an edge. Obviously its wedding photography so the focus is gonna be on pretty, but I think I’m moving away from cute and more towards sexy (both laugh). I know it sounds kinda cheesy, but I see my look going to a more edgier direction. I’m really pumped about it!

From a business perspective… everyone knows the first two years in wedding photography is slow and then it steamrolls. So I’m just working on getting things featured, making contacts in the industry. I think I started out my prices at a much better place than most people do when they first start and I’m proud of that and have more of a successful trajectory long term. And having a business background has been really helpful because I approach things with a different mind than say a young photographer who’s just art focused. Hopefully in two years I’ll be shooting the weddings I love, making some money and making art.

Have you ever thought of doing travel photograph?

I think I’ll always been doing travel photography! (both laugh) I have a little travel print gallery on my Instaproofs site. My husband said to me, after giving me a little kiss, “Who’s gonna buy them?” (both laugh)

But do you promote that as part of your business?

No… I mean I do with my Travel Thursdays post and often link to it. But I think travel photography is so personal. It either has to aspirational or nostalgic. If someone doesn’t care about the places you’ve been, then its hard. I mean the best places I’ve been to on my trip, no one really knows about. Because travel is such an important and personal thing to me, I’m just going to continue to shoot the way I see… it’s not commercial and not the kind of thing you see on National Geographic. But if someone is interested in that… my work is out there. Everyone talks about the importance of personal work and travel photography is definitely my personal work. I will always be doing it. I just don’t know I’ll ever make a living out of it (both laugh).

Anymore big travel plans?

Well, we’re big tennis fans! We’ve been to the US Open in New York and to Wimbledon in London. We camped overnight to get center court tickets! I was 8 rows behind Roger Federer so that was nice. And for only $30! Well, they don’t sell those tickets. You have to earn it. Camp in a tent overnight and it’s yours! So next up is the French Open. We’ve been to Paris before, but I’ve been so heartbroken that I didn’t find photography earlier ‘cause I’ve been to Africa twice, all over Europe and I don’t have any pictures of them. I’m excited to hopefully revisit some stuff now that I can actually shoot it. So Paris will be fun for that. Let’s see… I have  a list of everywhere I want to go.

Wait, you have a list posted?

Yeah (then looks at a board by her desk) So Paris is next and we’ll try to make a detour to Nice. Our next big, big trip on our list is Australia, I’m not sure when that’ll happen but we need a solid three weeks of time to make this work because the beginning of the trip will be the end of the Australian Open which is the end of January. But the rainy season at the Great Barrier Reef is ending at that time. So we basically need a safety buffer to be able to dive the reef over there. So we need a solid three weeks so we can start in Melbourne and work our way up to the reef over the three weeks. Yeah, we’re always thinking (both laugh). Ummm… Machu Picchu is on our short list actually. And Budapest…. Why do I have Budapest? (pause) Oh, my husband’s Hungarian so we’re hoping to visit there (both laugh). Our normal goal is to leave the country every year. Obviously after Asia we had to take a little break.  But the best thing I saw in Asia  were so many people backpacking with young children and it’s so easy. Everything is pretty chill, like you have a kid, throw them on your back, and you go! So I don’t feel we have to slow down any time soon, which is cool. I’m hoping to get back to Africa in the next five years.

So… tips on travelling with gear.

Well, I think the number one thing is… you have to find a balance between taking gear you’re not scared will get damaged and taking gear that will allow you to take the pictures you want. And that was my biggest mistake. I should’ve taken more of a risk with my lenses so that the images came out exactly how I wanted them to. I feel like from a film perspective I was fine with a 35mm camera and a 50mm lens. But I’d say the number one thing is, yeah you don’t want to take all your L lenses and your Contax and all that. Like you want to be able to leave it with some random guy at the side of the road, which I did more than once.

Haha… really?

Yeah…. People in Indonesia and Malaysia were so trustworthy. We’d just leave our bags and they were fine (both laugh). But don’t take my word on that, or else you’re gonna get robbed! So take gear that allows you to be creative and to make the work you want to make, while not being stupid. And with film, don’t be scared of it. For the most part, most border crossings, they’re cool. I mean be human and talk to people and you can generally get away without getting your film scanned. I didn’t take any Illford or high speed film. It all depends… I have heard a lot of bad things about Mexico and I didn’t have any problems getting my film hand checked last time I went.

So do you make a big deal about getting your film hand checked after a border guard refuses?

I mean there were a couple times… I probably got it scanned three times in four months and I went through Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, so three times wasn’t bad. If they gave me trouble I’m not going to lie… I might’ve pulled the “about to cry” thing a couple times (both laugh), which I don’t think will help the guys but it worked for me. When we were going through Borneo and they gave me a hard time, I’m not gonna mess with that. You have to pick your battles, you know? For the most part people are cool, but you’ll know when you can push it and when not to.

If you can have one camera forever…

Oh my god…. I gotta say Contax. I know that’s the safe answer, but that’s my camera.

So you’ll take it when you travel next time?

I mean, four months in Southeast Asia… still probably a no, just from a convenience perspective. But no question, if I’m spending a week or two somewhere, then yes. It’ll go to Paris. It’ll go to Australia. Definitely. As a photographer, we care about the images more than anything, so yeah, it’s coming.

Finally, to end… does gear matter?

I always think that’s a good question. Gear matters, but only as far as it’ll let you create what you see in your head. I think if you don’t have vision, it doesn’t matter. Someone that doesn’t have vision can pick up a Contax and it’s not gonna feel special. Or they can pick up a Leica or whatever it is. So it only counts as much as you have something in your head and have a need to feel to create. And then, gear also matters in that you have to find what works for you. Is not the best or the most popular but you have to touch different things in order to find what matches up to what you see in your head.

Well, with that, thanks for your time! It was awesome chatting with you.

Thanks! It was so much pressure following up Ryan and Josh. I’m mean I’m the first girl, then those two. But thanks. It was so much fun.

* You can find more of Ashley on:

 Ashley’s Website

 Ashley’s Facebook

 Wiseash Tumblr

 Ashley’s Twitter

** Photo by Josh Moates

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Night Life | Ricoh GR1v

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I didn’t know what to expect when I went to La Candelaria in the Barranco District of Lima. All I knew was that there’ll be performances of various Peruvian dances. What I got instead was The Lawrence Welk Show on steroids. An MC lead the way throughout the night’s festivities and in between the amazing dance routines by the house dancers, the live band played while anyone from the audience can jump on stage and dance. So between 10pm and 3am, we watched, danced, drank, and danced some more. It’s definitely a great experience and a must stop if you ever find yourself in Lima.

It stared with some traditional Peruvian dancing…

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Followed by a bit of Salsa….

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Followed by an Inca ceremonial dance.

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The live house band was lead by a Peruvian version of Sting.

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A couple of good friends that I went with.

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There were alot of seniors who jumped on stage to dance. This guy here, he went up to boogie EVERY SINGLE SONG. He’d sing along while dancing the night away. He definitely had more energy than I did.

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Another band and audience takes the stage for a little circle dance.

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I knew I was going to hit the night life this trip so I brought my Ricoh GR1v with me mainly because of its compact size and built in flash. I also wasn’t going to fiddle around with manual focusing my Leica when intoxicated. With the Ricoh GR1v, I set the dial to P (Program) mode, set the flash to Forced On and let the camera take care of the rest. And looking at the images I got back, I’m very impressed. Nothing was over/underexposed (I scanned these on my Epson V700 and lightly played with the Shadows and Darks in Lightroom) and save a few motion/intoxication blurred photos, everything was in focus.

Overall, this is a great camera for a night on the town when you don’t want your camera to get in the way of party time and that will give you great images to remember.

* Photos shot with the Ricoh GR1v, shot on Kodak Tri-X 400 rated Normal and scanned on the Epson V700.

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