Brian Kaplan Review

A few weeks ago I was asked by Elin Spring if I would write a review of a show to post on her blog. I have done that, with pleasure, as her blog is wonderful and the show of photographs by Brian Kaplan is too.

The link to the review is:


Elin Spring Photography Blog


Topics: Review,Commentary

Permalink | Posted September 16, 2014

Guggenheim (again)

It's easy to stay humble when confronted with the issue of applying for a Guggenheim Fellowship. The subsequent rejection six months later also helps. At least it is for me as I have applied multiple times. It is a system that beats you down pretty well. Your ego would like to tell you that you are a major player. The rejected Guggenheim proposal has a way of confirming that you are not.

I applied last year, with what I thought was a strong proposal. In retrospect, of course, it looks flawed. My application is much simpler this year. Imagine being a reviewer. The panel considers about  4000 proposals. I want funds to carry out plans to photograph. Iceland, northern Scotland, coastal Italy... I want them all. It is "Please award me funds to allow me to go to these places and photograph, aerially and on the ground." Simple enough.

Going through a desk drawer just now, irony of ironies, I found this:

a postcard of Harry Callahan's, a photograph of an empty beach he made in 1972 on Cape Cod. Incidentally, he made his well known Cape Cod pictures while I was a student of his.

Harry wrote this on the back:

Postmarked 1992. So there I was, applying for a Guggenheim in 1992, 22 years ago, and here I am applying again now. 

For the Guggenheim you must submit the names of four people who will write on your behalf. 

I wrote about Harry's sponsoring me in another post, after I received a card from him ten years earlier:

Harry Callahan Postcard

Why subject myself to multiple defeats? Because I believe my work is worthy. I am photographing well, have great ideas, wonderful skills developed over 40 years of making pictures, and, although I am old, I am able physically still to do pretty much anything I want to. Finally, I believe I am making a contribution to the medium of photography that is significant. 

The Guggenheim application is due September 19, not so far away. I have been revising it and losing sleep over it for several months.

Am I hopeful? Yes. Am I resigned to failure? No, but I have a thick skin and will survive another rejection. Will I apply again? Every year I say I won't but then I do. 

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted September 15, 2014

Maine Vacation 5

For this one I am going to veer off topic just for one post and get technical a little. We'll stay with pictures I made at the Owl's Head Transportation Museum near Rockland, Maine but I want to write about using Live View and how it has improved my photography.

In a previous life before digital we practiced several rules about controlling depth of field and sharpness. One was setting for "hyper focal distance". This was a way to obtain as much sharpness as possible from foreground to background at a given aperture. That principle  can still apply but is much better seen and used now through using Live View.

So, in Maine Vacation 4 I showed many of the photographs I'd made inside the museum, of mostly cars but a few planes too. I didn't show some of those that weren't good enough. Of course, you say, why would you? Exactly. But one of the reasons many weren't "good enough" is that they weren't sharp where they needed to be. A DSLR, a long lens, a camera on a tripod, cable release, mirror locked up, waiting a few seconds before tripping the shutter, tripod on a concrete floor. You'd think they'd all be sharp, yes? Well, mostly they were, just not always where I wanted them to be.

This was because the depth of field was very shallow. In this picture above I focused on the bright shiny hood of the car and therefore the brass light is blurry. On review later I found this unacceptable, so rejected the picture.

This one of the race car driver is just plain blurry. No amount of post production sharpening or tweaking can correct this. This is "user error", simple enough. Why? The camera was moving a little, the shutter caused vibration, any number of reasons.

So, I went back the next day and made this picture using Live View.

I framed it a little differently the second time I shot it but I nailed the sharpness. Live View allows you to see the image on the back screen of the camera directly from the sensor. You can also zoom in to the part of the image you want focused. It is practically useless if you are hand holding and shooting quickly, but making pictures of things stationary on a tripod. it is almost essential.

Here's another example:

In this one, a miniature of the Wright Brothers first flight, I made the emphasis the little guy on the left. Bad idea. The whole right side of the plane is not sharp.

Here's the first redo:

(If you're looking at these on a your computer, you can make them larger by double clicking on the images.) You can clearly see that the center of the plane is now sharp, but because of very shallow depth of field, the little man on the left is blurry, as is the right side of the plane.

Here's the final:

Here I have it all. Increased sharpness across the picture where I wanted it. How? By stopping down the aperture, from f7.1 in the first one to f22 in the second. Done. I could see the depth of field increase as I adjusted the aperture with Live View turned on. Lest you think from now on that it is cool to just stop down all the way you might want to do a little research on "diffraction". This is where, yes, you get more sharpness in depth when you stop down, but what is held sharp isn't as sharp as if the lens were at a more optimal setting (usually closer to wide open, f8, 5.6, somewhere in there).

I often say to friends that perfection is illusive and it feels to me that part of my pursuit over my career as an artist has been to find perfection. Perfection in a photograph can be many things, of course: an incredible moment, sublime light, something frozen forever by a fast shutter, and so on. But one thing is for certain, for your picture not be to sharp where you'd intended it to be really diminishes the point and quality of your image. Using Live View can really help you obtain sharpness where you want it.

Thus endeth the lesson. Let me know if this was helpful. And also this ends my "Maine Vacation" series as I am headed home. Looks like I've got some printing to do.

Stay tuned.

Topics: Color,Digital,Northeast

Permalink | Posted September 8, 2014

Maine Vacation 4

In between riding a bike an hour or so every morning and kayaking while the weather holds and is warm, I've continued to photograph. This one will get us looking at what I did inside the Owl's Head Transportation Museum near Rockland, Maine.

I went back to work inside with a tripod. The staff at the Museum were great, saying as long as I didn't interfere with people looking at the exhibits I could photograph all I wanted. 

The Museum is big on cars, mostly older restored vehicles, and planes.

Several displays had mannequins sitting in as drivers or pilots, including one of the Wright brothers:

and this one:

But cars prevail.

Most sat lit with fairly low light by spots up on a ceiling way up there in this building which is an old airplane hanger. I always try to work with prevailing light in places like this but this was tricky as white balancing these was very challenging. 

Did I "hit" 100%? Not bloody likely.  I missed focus on some, and needed to rethink some that show potential where I framed wrong. Neal's motto: always go back if you can. I can and I did the the next morning.

After four days of working at the Museum, I was becoming something of a regular. Peter, at the front desk, would look at me with a wary eye, as though to say, "What's with this guy? He keeps coming back."

Next up, the last one from the Transportation Museum.


Topics: Color,Digital,Northeast

Permalink | Posted September 7, 2014

Maine Vacation 3

If you've been following the posts Maine Vacation 1 and 2 you know that, while this is definitely a good time, I am making pictures while here in Maine too. Photography's hold on me is deep enough that I seldom stop making pictures. After so many years in, it is hard to turn it off. 

For several days I have been a "regular" at the Owl's Head Transportation Museum near Rockland. The second day there I had fog:

Perhaps a little underwhelming, yes? I understand. This definitely is one of those times when I am envisioning the prints I will make from these. This is called "previsualization" in Adam's Zone System terminology and can be a very helpful concept to master when shooting. How will I want these prints to look? Thinking about that when making the pictures is often a very good idea. In this case, large fairly flat and with muted colors. Can't wait to see them as prints.

What's next? More from the Museum but the next couple of shoots I moved indoors to photograph things on display.

More Maine Vacation to come.

Stay tuned.

Topics: Color,Digital,Northeast

Permalink | Posted September 6, 2014