Life has been a bit hectic lately, with weeks of unending illness in our house (seems to be that way for everyone this year), the move, getting the house in order.
Oh, and a new baby on the way later this month.
So yeah, thing like unpacking boxes and making decisions about decorating? We’re putting those off.
In the meantime, we’re just trying to get through a week without a late-night sickness episode or a trip to the hospital. The kids take it all in stride, of course. They’re more concerned with where their toys are, and how much of a mess they can make. They don’t know that their parents are doing lots of planning, wondering, and worrying.
Finding a new groove takes a while when you move into a house. This time, it’s taking even longer. We’re still unpacking.
Last winter, off my big portrait project, I needed something to keep me entertained during these cold Michigan winter months. I needed a photo project to keep my mind and camera busy, and something that I could do inside.
When Sandhill Crane Vineyards invited me to be their featured artist for May, I felt like I needed to show some fresh work in their gallery. Wine would be fun. But what if I did more than wine still life photos? What if I made it bigger?
A few months back I was invited to speak to the Jackson Civic Art Association about the project. One of the members, Carrie Joers, dug my still life shots. More than liking them, she wanted to paint them, and figured a how-to session on setting up a still life setting would be good for her drawing and painting friends.
Here’s what I told the group in terms of restrictions and things to think about:
Look at good still life paintings and photos to get an idea of what you like. I started with the Dutch masters, and went through to good product photography. Keep an idea board (I used Pinterest).
Get yourself a theme. Doing random stuff is fun, but I found a theme (seasons, with food as the focus) easier to keep myself focused and organized. Pears go with winter, acorns go with fall, and colors matter, etc.
Look for materials and items around the house, and keep texture in mind (the more, the merrier). Figure out what you don’t have on hand, and then go bargain shopping: yard sales, thrift stores, stuff in your parents’ attic, that kind of thing. Fabrics, containers, decorations – all that stuff can be had for cheap. To get the fresh ingredients, I went grocery shopping.
Set up near a window for good light, and make your own backdrop. This was a lot of fun for me: I got to experiment with painting on a canvas, and setting a mood (here’s my simple set up at home).
Experiment and practice. Move stuff around. Try a bunch of shots. Take 50 photographs to find the one killer shot.
Challenge yourself. I went with one camera, one lens – and a 100mm macro lens at that. Set restrictions, stick to your theme, and don’t make it easy.
I’m making my slideshow (with notes) available as a download (PDF), since I can’t give my presentation to you, the reader. It should give you some background, some ideas, and some inspirational crumbs to follow.
In those “check out these photos from the 19X0s” articles, it’s often the background of the picture that’s the most interesting. The ways signs looked, the clothing people wore, the neon lights or the font on the side of a delivery truck.
What did the 1980s look like?
My wife recently shared a photo of her and her dad goofing around in the living room. People thought the photo was cute, but most of the discussion took place over the TV set in the background. Memories! Remember those old console TVs?
I think about this truism – that we’re often most interested in the background, not the subject, of photographs – every time I take photos of the kids in the living room, or the window signs in downtown Ann Arbor. In the future, we’ll look back on these photos and remember what our time looked like.
For every photo we make, we’re recording a little slice of history.
From looming billboards to glittering shop windows to the myriad distractions flowing through the pocket-sized screens we carry everywhere, vast and sophisticated efforts prod us to look in specific directions, at specific things, in specific ways. Taken together, they add up to a kind of war against seeing. I try to be part of the resistance.
Walker’s tips are all good strategies for design, writing, and photography exercises. What do you spot that’s interesting, new, or unseen? There’s a photo project in the making.
Notice things that aren’t meant to be noticed creatively – “attend to some recurring thing that is ubiquitous” Walker says – and you get one of those cataloging projects that are such a joy. For myself, that includes handmade yard sale signs. It’s a little thing, but it’s fun.
I decided to get off the mainstream wagon and search for modest streams with great and unique photos. Not that I think my photos are great and unique but, you have to do things differently in order to get different results. I just want to go back to the basics. Honestly, I’m tired of kayak on a lake and feet sticking out of a van photos. I mean, it’s all good photography but when you see the same thing over and over again, it becomes boring.
There is no perfect or ideal lens or focal length out there. Rather, it is about finding the lens or focal length which fits 80% of your needs. Psychologists call this “satisficing” (a mix between satisfying and sufficing). Rather than aiming for “perfect”, you aim for “good enough.” And by aiming for “good enough”, you are a lot happier and and satisfied than people who are “maximizers” and aim for “perfection.”
When I buy a Mac, I always go for the consumer, mid-range version. I bought an iBook, the consumer-grade notebook, and now I buy iMacs, the consumer-grade desktop. It’s nice to have a pro machine, but the combo of size, price, and capabilities make the mid-range Macs my go-to computers.
So it’s going to be with me and cameras. My Canon EOS M, the Canonet, the Olympus Trip 35, even the Fuji X100 I rented for a week – these are all consumer grade, small size, fixed lens (the 22mm never leaves my M) cameras, and they’re my favorite to take with me when I’m looking for ease of use and image quality.
Even with my Fuji X-E1, the 27mm pancake lens never left the front of that camera, and it was – in spirit – a fixed-lens compact camera, perfect for traveling.
As Kim says, these kinds of cameras (Sony makes one, as does Leica, Canon maybe be working on a full frame version, etc.) are good enough for most needs. Need to get closer? Move closer. Need a wider angle? Buy a 28mm version. For most people, 28-40mm is good enough for most situations, and most of the film compact cameras came with a 40-ish lens for a reason.
Also, you just can’t beat the size and portability. It’s the throw-it-in-the-front-seat-of-your-car situation: is the camera small enough to take with you on most daily commutes and travel? Will it fit in your commuter bag or purse? Is it unobtrusive, and is it easy to carry around?
Just as important: is it fun to use?
For these smaller, fixed-lens cameras, the answer is almost always “yes.”