9.10.2013

I went to the remnants of the Berlin Wall.



I went to the part of the Berlin Wall that was preserved and made into an ongoing project with murals from artists from around the world. The artists have created all kinds of works dealing with freedom and barriers. The ones that spoke to me most clearly are the murals which illustrate other walls around the world. Walls in Palestine, the Texas-Mexico boarder and the walls between north and south Korea.

I was trying to find some way to illustrate the wall but I'm not a landscape landscape artist and I generally mess up compositions that have huge horizontal sweeps. I started looking for human elements to juxtapose with the Wall.

These are quick shots done quickly but I think it would be wonderful to come back and do a series of images on a few cold, grey and overcast days when the light is less direct and the feeling of it all is quieter.

I like the two images above but I'm including the image below because the bill board was so disturbing and so inappropriately placed. I would ask if there are no limits to the vulgarity of advertising but I already know the answer. I used to work in the industry....

The billboard is across the four lane street on the other side of the wall. That it seems to be an addition to the top of the wall speaks to its enormous size.

Shot at f11 for more depth of field...

Camera: Samsung Galaxy NX.

9.09.2013

I'm back from Berlin and I learned a lot of stuff. I don't even know where to start...

All images from the Samsung Galaxy NX camera.
0. Whatever plans you make an airline will probably mess them up...

My wife always thinks that things will work out just fine and she sometimes teases me for being so pessimistic about things like scheduling, arriving early so I always arrive on time and also for having multiple back up plans. Need to be somewhere far away in a short amount of time? I think you need to worry about everything from possible weather intervention to human incompetence. And you can never pad the schedule with enough time to take care of all the human incompetence you'll run across when you travel...

Case in point was my travel to Berlin. I got to the airport way, way early. Good thing as my original flight had been cancelled. I worked with United to get re-booked (on Labor Day...) on an American flight and I got the last available seat. What if I had come to the airport "on time"? Go early. Be ready to shift.


1. I hate the electronic (fake) keyboard on my iPad.

I finally tumbled over the line that separates spare from under-equipped when hubris pushed me to go on this trip to Berlin with only a naked iPad as an all around blogging and post processing tool. It might have worked if I had been smart enough to pack a small, Apple bluetooth keyboard. But I didn't and the blogging gods dropped by every night, after our late dinners, to mock me and use their powers to make letters become other letters. Letters I had no intention of using.... I vow never to travel without a full on keyboard again. I'm sure my blogs looked like Jackson Pollock's mother's quilts by the time they got sucked out on to the world wide web. Ouch. Lesson one: the keyboard is always mandatory!

2. Lonely Hunter, Better Hunt.

I was in Berlin as both a guest and part of a group. As such I felt a certain obligation to stay with the group (for the most part) and share in the activities.... And I learned again, as I rode on a little tour bus to a town two hours away, that I am fickle, irascible and hardwired to want to do all photography on my own schedule, in my own way and in as much solitude from other photographers as imaginable. 
Why is this such a hard lesson for me to permanently learn?  I was talking about this to a photographer I met in Berlin and he laughed and referred me to an article called, "Lonely Hunter, Better Hunt."  When I told him that I'd written that piece he laughed again. This time AT me. Note to self: Very little good creative work (or any other kinds or work) are done in groups. Be especially mindful not to go with groups where the majority of people enjoy landscapes and city skyline photography if you are resolutely a people photographer. It's like putting the javelinas in with the vicious leopards... Hunt alone and you get to eat everything you run down. Go with the group and everyone gnaws on the same carcass.

3. Street Shooting takes time for acclimation.

You can't just drop into a different city or different culture and start shooting good stuff. You need to feel the rhythm and the emotional spacing of a city's inhabitants. That means you've got to spend a day or two warming up your brains, your empathy glands and your skin thickness potential. I'm glad I got into Berlin a day early and left a day after the group. The warm-up time is conducive to good shots. You have to have an understanding of just where you fit into the whole milieu to know how to shoot someplace new.Ostensibly, in the perfect world you would stay long enough to know your way around physically and culturally but not so long as to loose your fascination with the new. A big city like Berlin? I think you need about three leisurely weeks to really get up to speed and be good at street shooting there. I could be wrong. Maybe you need a year.....

4. Start shooting....Now!

So you land somewhere and you're totally whacked out by time changes, lack of sleep, dehydration and frustration and you have some choices. You can surrender and try to go to bed. You can get drunk and feel even worse or you can brush it all off and take your camera and your favorite lens and head out the door of your hotel and go looking for something fun to shoot. I walked five minutes from my base and stumbled on to this light show. I may hate these images a month from now but they got me out exploring and sampling and of course looking for the classic lovers in the park in a picturesque embrace...

5. It's tough to learn a brand new camera and 
a brand new paradigm in two days of shooting 
with no manual....

But that's no excuse. If the sensor is good and the optics are good a competent photographer should be able to do good work. I was working with a camera that hasn't been launched in our market yet. I wish I could blame my short comings as a photographer on some foible or other of the camera but the reality is that the sensor and lenses are great and I immediately defaulted to what I knew: Set the exposure manually, set the ISO manually, set the color balance manually. Now the only parameters that should be challenging to someone who's been doing this for thirty years should be the camera's ability to focus and my ability to find an interesting composition and find the perfect moment to snap the shutter. 

A camera may have a thousand new features but if you want to hit the ground shooting you need only master the stuff above. That puts the onus right back onto the artist. My quick review of the pre-issue version of the Samsung Galaxy NX I was shooting with? I love the color and consistency of the image files. Great sensor. Great (really great) lenses. Everything else I'll figure out. If you have to blame the camera for something it may be that you didn't come with the human element fully engaged. Suck it up and shoot.

6. The Best Way To See A City Is To Walk It.

It was a revelation to me. But one I've had again and again. Like the movie, "Groundhog Day." You see best when you are fully engaged. Mentally and physically fully engaged. When we drove around in a mini tour bus and disgorged to look at some area or monument it all seemed so...disconnected. But if I walked to a destination not only would I find a dozen great things to photograph along the way but I felt organically connected to the destination once I got there. 

I covered a lot of ground on foot this past Friday. I basically walked from my hotel through the major central park (Tiergarten) and through most of the historical parts of the town and I felt so connected and inserted. I could stop, turn around, shoot and then continue in such a fluid and satisfying way. And since I like to watch people and document the flow of humanity I didn't really need to be in any special place physically. I just needed to be in part of the flow, humanly. And what better way to get into that mental state than to be actually, physically immersed? Added benefit? Nine hours of steady walking will keep you trim and fit...
7. We love to talk about all kinds of esoteric lenses but
when push comes to shove the range covered by
the normal kit lens is really, mostly all we need....

I know, I know. You shoot sports. You shoot NFL football games. You shoot soccer. You desperately need the long, fast glass. But the rest of us mostly make documentations of our lives in unhurried and thoughtful photographs of the world around us, and most of the time we're unconsciously happy to be in the range of 18-55mm (on an APS-C camera). I can count the times I wished I'd been able to use a 400 mm f2.8 lens on one finger. And that fisheye lens they invented to study cloud patterns? I never wanted one of those, ever. When I walked around Berlin I'd stick the 16mm lens on the front of my camera because I thought I should shoot it but it really never felt long enough for me to be able to make a good composition of the stuff I liked to see. 

At the other end of the spectrum I was smart enough to leave the 85mm 1.4 lens at home because I knew it would so long that for quick snaps in the street it would require me to know how a composition was going to come together seconds before it ever happened. I may be a good photographer but I'm no clairvoyant Henri Cartier-Bresson. In point of fact, nearly all the time I was happy to have the small but potent kit lens on my camera or, in low light, the 30mm f2 lens. They just feel right to me. They seem to match the way I see unless I'm trying to shoe horn my vision into someone else's style.
8. When I'm in the testing phase with a camera I take a lot of
"snapshots." You can understand that this is part of a process or you
can stick bottle rockets (fire crackers)  up your nostrils and light em...

I don't know about you but 99% of the images I end up shooting don't work as great art. Or even good art. But they are effective documents. You should be able to look at images that I post and see if a camera has the quality levels you need. I'd love to hit it out of the ball park every time my forefinger glances across the shutter button but, sadly, it was not meant to be. I am not that gifted. Most of the images in this blog were shot over the course of five short days in Berlin. Some of the time I spent there was at a trade show or in events. When you distill it down I had maybe ten or twelve hours of hands on time to really shoot with a new camera. I think I was able to nail focus and exposure for those images but sometimes you have to wait around for art or wait around even longer for inspiration... 

I'm sure you would do a better job (Mr. Anonymous Commenter) but I am just a flawed human and rarely am able to operate above the 90% mark. 

I hope the rest of my readers will be able to look through the work and discern what I was trying to do and why. I wanted to put a new camera through the paces and show what it was able to do. Is that art? Probably not.  Does it fulfill a purpose? Maybe.  Was it fun? You bet.

9. Juxtapositions are fun.

10. Photographing people in restaurants means you have to get the right seating...

I've noticed a self-serving pattern in my life. If I'm out to eat with a friend, acquaintance or even a family member I find myself always seating myself with my back to the prevailing window. It's not that I don't enjoy gazing out into the big world, it's more that I'm greedy to get the best light onto the faces of people I'm dining with. In Berlin on day we headed to a Chinese restaurant as a group. I found myself maneuvering myself into the seat that was at the perfect opposite angle to the light falling on the two Korean photographers I was with. These two guys really like photographing their food so they enjoyed the nice backlighting that their table position afforded them. I chose my position because, as Derek Zoolander would say, I'm a face guy.  I was thrilled to get angled ambient light across both of their faces and a nice was of ambient light interwoven with the restaurant's lights in the background areas. If you would work as a portrait photographer then choose your restaurant seat accordingly. You might miss the view of the outside world but you'll be rewarded with better light on your intended subjects....

11. Pack light. Because you'll be the one who has to carry all this crap...

I left a lot of stuff at home on this trip. I overstepped a bit when it came to writing tools. I left with just an iPad and while the software was fine I was sorely disappointed in my ability to get used to the virtual keyboard. I could have handled the weight and size of a blue tooth keyboard. Maybe even a 13 inch Mac Pro....

I also didn't bring multiple camera bodies, fast, fat and heavy lenses, tripods, flashes or other gizmos. And I'm thrilled because I believe it is human nature to adapt quickly to the tools instead of pining away for stuff we didn't bring along. My bag felt so light compared to my recent forays with full frame camera tools and their associated lenses. Don't discount this logic until you've needed to carry your camera bag for a couple of 12 hour days.... The difference between six pounds and thirteen pounds can be astounding. If you don't absolutely need it-----leave it at home.

12. Wanna get invited back? Shoot some stuff for your hosts.


This ersatz fashion show at one of the trade show halls made me laugh.
I kept thinking of Derek Zoolander, the male model in the movie, "Zoolander."
Being from Texas my first thought was, "do they make that outfit in camo?"

And here the designer explains his inspiration. I didn't listen carefully but think it had to 
do with oatmeal and an affinity for early TV episodes of Star Trek....


When on a date be sure to treat your friend to "the red carpet."
The Concert Hall steps.


We interrupted our elegant outdoor dinner to rush over and shoot some quick stuff at magic hour.
Just because we could....
13. The bottom line? Always think about what you want  to shoot.

I know myself pretty well and while I can appreciate all kinds of photography I know that I shoot like a writer, not like a painter or a traditional artist. I like images that tell stories more than I like images that show off a new way of seeing something. I like the story over the flourish and I like the present more than the wrapping. So I look for an image that can incapsulate a story. A short hand approach to the narrative using imagery instead of words.

It's easy to be side-tracked by what other people are doing---especially if they are getting lots of positive feedback. But you really have to be loyal to the visions of the things at your artistic core. I know I'll never be a landscape photographer but I've never met anyone whose story didn't interest me. I've never been to a city that didn't yield up straight forward visual documents of beauty just based on representing what was there.

I'll never be a photographer who coats my images in a style to make a visual point but I hope my successful images reflect my years of experience in life and my curiosity in knowing what makes people who are different from me tick.

I guess that's one of the lessons I re-learned in Berlin last week. More to come tomorrow.  

Also, I'm saving up my cash for my upcoming trip to Tokyo. My target date is November second. I'd start a Kickstarter campaign for myself if that didn't seem so narcissistic to me. Besides, I still have tons of frequent flyer miles to use up before they go stale. Thanks to Christian for helping me get ready.

Hope you are happy and well.



















9.07.2013

Damn. Last day in Berlin.

I stayed an extra day so I could really see the city. On foot, with no guides, no bus and no entourage. Just the way the photo gods intended. God, what a gorgeous, wonderful and friendly city.... Goodbye Austin, I'd move here tomorrow if I could......maybe I can.......hmmmmmmmm.


All taken with the Samsung Galaxy NX camera. Uploaded straight from the camera. No post processing possible. See you Monday ......

9.06.2013

One more image before I quit for the day.....

Dusk.  We were eating outside at fabulous restaurant called The Refugium when I noticed magic hour had arrived. I excused myself from the table to take a few snaps.

Samsung Galaxy NX with the smallish 30mm f2.

Abusing the equipment. It's a learning process....


I was walking up a street with the sun blasting right into my eyes like a wild beam from a rogue 18,000 watt HMI light gone wild and mean. But the scene ahead looked kind of cool and fraught with a chaotic potential so I thought,"what the hell?" And started banging away, shooting into the glare, through the dust and the traffic. I was using the Galaxy NX camera from Samsung and the18-55mm kit lens - stopped down for more diffraction. Oh, and I was playing with the vignette flirt, just to add insult to injury.

In the end I must say that I really like this one and it's the perfect argument in favor OG an EVF ....
I could more easily see all of the good badness I was hoping for.  The camera abused me back a few times by being too slow to AF but after tossing a few threats back and forth we called a truce and went on shooting....


I went to Samsung's trade show venue today.



Can you believe they had a 112 inch flat screen TV? That's for the Texan that has a Rolls Royce pick-up truck...

I also saw the groovy new watch,hundreds of new cell phones and a gaggle of tablets. They had the equivalent of two football fields of pristine, clean space and when we sauntered in at three in the afternoon it was jammed packed with lots of bright young people playing with the toys....

I think that's good for everyone...

Anyway, I shoot this cute trade show representative with the 60mm macro on the Samsung Galaxt NX camera. I've started using auto  ISO and find that it works well in most situation. When it doesn't work you go old school and switch to manual or you learn to ride that exposure comp dial......

Tomorrow is a full day of me shooting for all alone. Just the way the photo gods intended.

Nighty-night

9.05.2013

My Korean photographer friends and host introduce me To their cuisine... And to rice wine and beer.


I spent the day shooting around Dresden and Leipzig and I'm coming home with many technically good files. The jpeg files out of the Galaxy NX are color neutral, saturated and sharp. We can argue the artistic merits next week when I've had time to edit down and do some post processing to some of my files...

When I got back here to the hotel I turned on the camera, opened the microSD card folder right on the camera and starting reviewing the files on the giant rear screen. No computer needed. I selected seven and sent them directly to Google+ DURING The review process. They uploaded directly using the hotel's wi-fi network. 

As soon as I hit send on the camera I turned my attention to pecking out these two blogs on my second generation iPad. Once the camera completed my requested upload to Google+ the camera went back to it's automatic task of sending all of my big image files to Drop Box for back-up and sharing. With a hundred or so hipsters slamming the hotel's network well into the night my upload of 450 nine megabyte files might take all night. But I don't need to care, I'll stick the camera on a USB charger and not only will my flies be transferred but when that nasty alarm clock goes off tomorrow early the battery will have a fresh charge. Seems like pretty cool multitasking to me.

Which in some vague way brings up our dinner Korean technology workers at tables on sides of us. We fried stuff at our table and washed down each helping with rice wine mixed with beer. That may be why my typing looks all crooked.

Tomorrow we'll head over to the IFA show and see what's happening...if the rice wine doesn't get me first.

Day three with the new Samsung Galaxy in Germany.

Today I went to Dresden and Leipzig with my new friends from Samsung. Dresden was never on my radar but I'm so glad I got to go there. The city is gorgeous and I spent way too much time photographing sculpture. And architecture. 

I did a total reset on the camera last night and in many ways it was a totally different machine. Much quicker and more certain in auto focusing and quicker coming back to life.

I spent most of the day shooting with the kit lens because it's good and the range lends itself to  the kinds of subjects I was shooting. A more exhaustive report when I get back home, get some of the Korean rice wine out of my system and stop trying (futilely) that I can type a blog on an iPad....

















9.04.2013

In Berlin with Samsung, a handful of photgraphers and a brand new camera.





And so, I've made it to Berlin after a long, tiring and frustrating flight that should have taken about eleven hours but stretched into the better part of 20.  I was greeted at the airport in Berlin and whisked to what is now my all time favorite hotel, Motel One on Urania Strasse. The rooms are small, clean and functional but the public part is hip, modern, collegial and comfortable. Breakfast this morning felt like my times in big college dorms: cool young people intermixed with more experienced but equally cool people. The lobby bar is opened 24 hours and nothing feels pretentious or overpriced.

Today my sponsor for the trip, Samsung, arranged for about eight of us to take a tour through the historics parts of the city (more on that in my next post) and we were given ample time to cruise around on our own and snap away to our heart's desires.

ON TO THE CAMERA

If you are a frequent reader you probably know that Samsung sent me a copy of their newest, and ostensibly coolest,,camera: THE SAMSUNG GALAXY NX. I am writing this in the commodious lobby at 1am and my camera is upstairs in my room, on my pillow uploading 325 new files to Dropbox. You can set up the camera to auto share or automatically upload everything you shoot to Dropbox. The camera comes with a 50 gigabyte account on that sharing service free for a year.

How is the camera performing? it's a mixed bag to be honest. The sensor part and the imaging processing add up to beautiful images. Easily on par with images from any of the Sony, Canon or Olympus cameras I've owned or tested. I'm having a few teething problems that are slowing own my spontaneous street shooting. I hesitate to mention them as I am sure a round or two of firmware revs will fix them( and Samsung is hardly the first camera maker whose product had a glitch or two at launch) but I've always shot straight with my readers and you should know what I'm experiencing.

The camera is slow to start up as it's actually launching a software OS. My solution is to turn the power management down so the system is always live. Bring extra batteries. It's currently too slow when switching between rear screen to EVF. Also, there is no way to choose only to use the EVF so you'll have situations where you know you want to be in EVF mode but have to go through the process of bringing the camera up to you eye and then waiting for the view to switch.

All in all it's a beautiful file generator and the perfect kind of camera for people who work slowly, methodically and one frame at a time. In it's current iteration it's a great studio shooter's camera but I wouldn't want to shoot fast action with it. 

I do love that it's doing some drudgery for me and getting my images up into the cloud.

Don't take my comments on the operational aspects of the camera as a scathing critique or the last word. I've only had the camera in my"shooting Hans" for a few days and it generally takes me a lot of time to get up to speed with new gear.

I'll try to unlock more of the camera's secrets tomorrow but it's late and I'm tired...

One another note, Berlin is incredibly. I love this city!!!!  And Samsung is a great host. They seem to understand that photographers work best with a good supply of tasty food, excellent coffee and satisfying red wine. Yeah, I know there's good beer here I'm abstaining from that. You can have too many hobbies...

9.01.2013

Spending Sunday doing last minute billing and obsessive packing...

My wife nailed it. I have too much anxiety traveling because I spent so much time traveling for big, nail biting jobs back in the 1980's, 1990's and the early part of this century. Nearly every trip was a production nightmare that required me to hit the ground running, work to a tight schedule and then be off to the next location without a hitch. Our peak travel experience was about 23 weeks of travel in 2000 and a almost that much in 1999. Part of the routine was to hit the airport with a pocket full of $20's for the Skycaps. We traveled with enough gear to light just about anything and enough medium format film cameras to make sure we could get the shot even if the first three cameras failed.

Things have calmed down quite a bit as the digital age has matured. Clients are less willing than before to fly photographers hither and yon, and when we do fly we can make due with lots less gear. Think more along the lines of two much smaller cameras, a small assortment of zooms and a bucket of radio triggered speed lights.

The biggest difference is probably losing the hassle of carting a hundred rolls of film around at a time and begging to keep them out of the x-ray machines. When you add in the lead lined bags we used to protect the film the weight and bulk really added up.

The last few times I flew for jobs I carried just a bare bones digital camera system with lenses and some extra batteries. Everything else was shipped ahead. And for the Craftsy.com course in Denver I brought one large Domke bag onto the plane with me and sent three cases of stuff with UPS. Nearly 200 pounds worth...

But flying has just gotten crappier and crappier. I'm flying out on Labor Day so I'm arriving at the airport two and a half hours before my flight. The Austin airport gets crazy.  I'm flying out of the country so I can't do a complete  online check in 24 hours in advance. A machine or a person has to look at my passport before I get my boarding stuff. You get to buy your meal in the air. Oh boy.

I'm supposed to consider this trip a fun and carefree jaunt but something in my brain won't let go. I've got a gear packing list in front of me. I've got multiple sets of batteries on the chargers so I can hit the ground running. I'm adding apps to my iPad to increase the flexibility of my communications and file manipulation options. I've tested my test camera with over 500 exposures. I have Google Maps for destinations in and around Berlin.

I have a travel folder with all the travel details and contact names. I have a camera bag toothbrush and a suitcase toothbrush.

It's all just too much. Once you've traveled as an obsessive/compulsive professional perfectionist with teutonic time intensity perspective I think it may be impossible to go back to a sleepier and more relaxed method of traveling.

How did the gear list pan out? One Samsung Galaxy NX camera body. One Samsung NX300 camera body. 16mm, 30mm, 60mm 2.8 Macro, 18-55mm kit lens. That's it. I'm leaving the 85mm 1.4 behind. It's too long for most of what I want to shoot and it's too heavy. It's also the one lens that, in this situation, could use OIS but doesn't offer it. I'm happy shooting the 60. If I need to get closer I do know how to crop.  I'm also leaving the 18-200 behind. Also too big. And the long end really can make a photographer both lazy and removed. As it is I've got a pared down shoulder bag I don't mind carrying through a few airports.

My next blog should be from the road. Or the sky. Or whatever...

Studio Portrait Lighting