Thursday, December 28, 2006

Happy Night Holidays

I've been working on some end-of-the-year and Christmas-stocking blog posts. But due to lots of seasonal obligations, I haven't been able to finish any of them.

(photo: Deborah Rourke)

Before anyone loses the post-Christmas spirit, I'd like to share this photograph with everyone. It was taken by Deborah Rourke. I was looking for a night photograph that captures the season spirit, without using the cliched photograph of a house overwhelmed by Christmas lights. I think this shot is wonderful because it has the traditional season icons of lights in the shape of a tree. Most importantly, it seems to capture the feeling of a comfortable home, but also a sense of isolation. I love that lone lightpost towards the end of the pier.

As for the holiday season blog posts that I've been working on, somehow I'll have to work them in to next year's non-seasonal posts. The next full moon is Wednesday, January 3rd. But I'll be traveling that week, so I probably won't shoot under the full moon in January (that just means I'll have to do at least one make-up shoot someother time in the year).

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Setting Your Night Photography Goals

New Year’s is coming up very soon. It’s the time of year when many people set their resolutions for the upcoming year. But resolutions are just a wimpy form of proper personal goals. That’s why most people don’t follow through with them.

These are example of wimpy goals (Actually, they’re not even goals. They’re wishes):

“I’m going to get into shape this year”.

“I’m going to lose weight”.

These are not goals because the outcome is not defined in specifics. They’re also not measurable. They’re also not defined within a specific timeframe (they’re also usually not written down). If they don’t meet these three tests, they’re not good goals. That’s why they usually fail. Sorry for being so blunt.

Here’s another wimpy “goal”:

“I’m going to be a better photographer.”

This is kind of goal that comes from people who spend more time sitting around reading photography magazines than they spend shooting.

Now that I’ve got the Bah-Humbug stuff off my chest, let me come back down to Earth. Goal setting is simply one of the most powerful tools to help you accomplish things in life. Goal setting can make you into a better night photographer.

In Unlimited Power, Anthony Robbins presents some amazing evidence of long-term studies of people who live by goal-setting (you’ve probably seen Anthony Robbins on TV… He’s the giant guy with the huge white teeth who’s on informercials at 3 o’clock in the morning). In On Being A Photographer, David Hurn discusses the importance of designing a clearly-articulated “working plan” for photographers. In Letting Go of the Camera, Brooks Jensen talks about the importance of working towards clearly-defined, completable project goals. Jensen argues that if you don’t complete projects in the form of prints, a portfolio or a show, then you’re really just a a person who takes photographs, not a photographer.

(Anthony Robbins. This guy is *WAY* too wound up to be a
night photographer, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t
listen to what he says)

The gist of all of these books is that well-defined goals keep you focused on how to spend your time and energy, and they keep you moving towards one or more objectives. Well-defined goals must be written in terms of specific objectives (Bad: “I’m going to be a better night photographer”. Good: “I’m going to photograph at night at least once per month for the following year”); they must be constrained by a specific timeframe; and they must be measurable. For example, photographer’s goals might be defined in terms of photographing a specific set of locations, a specific number of times, over a specific period of time. They could be as simple as setting a goal of photographing one specific location that you’ve been putting off for the past five years.

(Goal #4: Spend one night in 2006 shooting Skaggs Island
This one almost got me spending a night in jail)

Uber photographer/blogger Thomas Hawk has a great photography goal. It’s simple, clear, specific and measurable (knowing what I know about Thomas, he probably has even more specific goals, but this is all that he’s sharing with us):

“My statement as an artist is to outdo New York’s Little
Angel Angelo Rizzuto, who between 1952 and 1966 documented
New York City with over 60,000 photos.”

One of my goals for last year was to get my butt down to the abandoned army base Fort Ord (which I had been eyeing for seven years) and photograph it before it got demolished I gave myself until March 31, 2006 to complete this goal. In January, I contacted someone who seemed to be an expert on the area, got my butt down there, and spent a few afternoons shooting everything possible. Only a few months after I started visiting Fort Ord, the demolition seemed to move into high gear. By the end of this year, most of the base is now gone. Thank-you Anthony Robbins!

(Goal #13: Spend one night in 2006 photographingMare Island
Three weeks after I wrote this goal, I got invited to join
The Nocturnes
to swarm all over
Mare Island shooting at night)

Another of my goals for 2006 was to complete a video interview with Steve Harper, and release the revised version of “Night of the Living Photographers”, as well as the entire interview of Steve, by the end of December. With less than two weeks left in December, the revised NOTLP was completed in October, and the entire interview video of Steve just went out to my staff of expert reviewers two days ago.

My point isn’t to drone on about all of the wonderful things I’ve accomplished in the past year. The truth is, most of them are only significant to me, and some of them I failed to accomplish. The point is that for me, working within a framework of year-by-year goals keeps me focused on working towards a few specific photography projects, and it prevents me from wasting my weekends thinking, “Hmm… what should I photograph today? Another cat?”

And if I haven’t put you all to sleep by now, I could share my photography goals for 2007. But then you’d probably never visit this blog again. It’s OK to keep your goals to yourself. The important thing is that you have them, that you use them, and that you stick to them.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Sutro Baths

Photographing Sutro Baths in San Francisco has always been a challenge for me. The remnants of Adolph Sutro's saltwater swimming pools can still be visited day and night. The cement foundation of the baths and some associated buildings are located right up against the seawall, just below the Cliff House restaurant. It's a photographer's dream. In fact, during the 1980's and '90's, it was one of the prime shooting locations for students of Steve Harper's classes at the Academy of Art College. I've tried to shoot at Sutro at night on five different occasions. Three of those occasions were ruined by bad weather. During the summer it's often cloudy, foggy, cold, damp and windy at night. It was only last year that I learned that the prime season for shooting at Sutro is the late Fall and early Winter. Most people who live in San Francisco already knew that, but I live forty miles south of the City.

("Sutro Hell", 2006)

I've only had two successful trips to Sutro at night. One was in October of 2005. The other was earlier this month (2006). On my last trip to Sutro I shot with Mark Jaremko. While Mark was conducting some side-by-side experiments to analyze dark frame subtraction on various high-end digital cameras, I spent most of the night reshooting a small cement staircase from different angles with a flashlight.

In the past, most of my gel-lighting night photography has been done with a hand-held flash. But over the past few months I've begun to really appreciate the advantages of working with a flashlight, instead of a flash. One advantage of the flashlight is that you can see how the angle of the light adds to or deletes the texture in the object (with a flash, I have to close my eyes and press the button, otherwise I'm blind for the next two or three minutes... I don't get to see the result until the exposure is complete). The other advantage of lighting with a flashlight is that I feel that I'm interacting with the subject. It's not quite as visceral as finger painting, but it's good enough to keep me entertained for the evening.

In the photograph above, the island in the distance is lit with the floodlights of the restaurant beyond the left frame. I lit the cement wall with a flashlight covered with a red gel. It took me a number of attempts before I found the best angle to point the flashlight in order to bring out the texture in the cement, without lighting up the standing area on top of the seawall. For me, the best part about using a flashlight in this shot was being able to control the amount of light on staircase in the upper-left.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Holga Factor

It's easy to get caught on the "better equipment leads to better photographs" treadmill. Last weekend I was sorting out my camara closet. I may not have the best equipment, but I seem to have an awful lot of what I do have. Maybe I should think about upgrading my camera body? It works fine for me, but it is over four years old [sounds of shock fill the audience]. It's so old that readers don't even post messages to the DPReview forum about it anymore.

What's better than seeing an outstanding night photograph taken with a sub-$899 camera? The answer: seeing an outstanding night photograph taken with a sub-$20 camera!
(photo: Susanne Friedrich)

Joe Reifer posted this great shot of Sutro Baths taken by San Francisco night photographer Susanne Friedrich. As Joe points out, the Holga is a plastic medium format camera. The lenses quality is atrocious. That's why photographers love them.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

William Gedney

A few years ago I came across the photography of William Gedney. Gedney worked from the 1950's through the 1980's traveling across the US photographing people in a style that reminded me of the FSA photographers during the Great Depression. Duke University has archived Gedney's photographs, which includes over 700 night photographs taken between 1954 and 1984.

(photo: William Gedney)

The Cross Country Night category also includes some additional shots of San Francisco. When I first visited this site a few years ago, the first San Francisco night photograph that I found was a shot of the coffee shop where fellow night photographer Mike Quinn had a permanent installation of his night photographs (strangely enough, I can't find that photograph on this website, anymore). Gedney considered calling his night series "The Single Future of the Night". The Duke university website also includes a lot of Gedney's personal writings.

Thanks to Consientious, once again, for reminding me about Gedney's website.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Jules Spinatsch

Jules Spinatsch has done some interesting work photographing snow at night. The project is called Snow Management, because it includes snowplows and snow-making machines that you find at ski resorts.

(photo: Jules Spinatsch)

Unfortunately, his work is presented in PDF format, not HTML, nor one of the HTML variants, such as PHP. PDF allows the artist to present his work looking more like a book, lets the reader print out the entire presentation, and prevents readers from downloading individual images. But it's also slow to download, and annoying to navigate through on a computer. But I give him credit for trying something different.

Found on Conscientious.

Friday, December 01, 2006

TOP Shows Us His Night Stuff

For years, Mike Johnston has been one of my A-list photography writers. For the past year he has been editing The Online Photographer, one of my three must-read daily photography blogs. My day doesn't get off to a good start if I can't read his blog while slurping down my morning coffee.

Today he shows us his night stuff.

(photo: Mike Johnston)

One of the great things about the internet is the ability to share photographs with photographers from all over the world. This means that we can see the world through their eyes. And it usually means that we can see the places that visit or where they live. Mike's shot is a great example of that. He lives in Wisconsin, and he gets snow. I live in California, and I don't get snow.

I wish I could photograph freshly-fallen snow at night. But, usually, I can't do that. I'm glad that I have the opportunity to see his freshly-fallen snow night photographs. Thanks for sharing it, Mike!