Saturday, October 23, 2010

Interview with Joe Reifer - Part Two

Last week I published the first part of my interview with Bay Area night photographer Joe Reifer.  Here is part two of our interview.

I know you’ve invested a lot of time learning about the RAW processing work flow, and especially sharpening techniques.
Processing a RAW file to look good online is getting easier and easier. Printing is much more demanding. I use Lightroom for 80-90% of my workflow, and go to Photoshop to use masks and more detailed local adjustments. My processing goal is to create an image or print that has an open look, but still reads as night.
Photoshop is useful for stacking images for long star trails, and compositing images where the light painting wasn't quite right. Getting the shot right in the camera is ideal, but some of these techniques allow for greater productivity in the field. Troy Paiva and I talk about this balancing act in our workshops.
Photo by Joe Reifer

What was the biggest mistake you ever made while shooting?
A few years back I drove to the Mojave and shot a few hot nights in a junkyard, and didn't use in-camera noise reduction. The temperature was in the high-70's [Fahrenheit], and most exposures were in the 4-6 minute range. I didn't bring a laptop on this trip to review images. When I got home I loaded the images on to my computer, and it looked like someone poured salt into the sky there was so much noise.
When the temperature in the 50's or below, noise reduction is typically not necessary on a current dSLR with a CMOS sensor. You just end up cutting your productivity and battery life in half. When it's in the 60's, you may or may not need noise reduction. Depends on your camera and exposure length. If it's still 70 degrees at midnight you better be using noise reduction. The hotter the ambient temperature, the more noise.

That’s very interesting. I’ve never used in-camera noise reduction. But then, I’ve never shot in the desert. How does ICNR compare against post-processing NR such as Noise Ninja?
In-camera noise reduction offers better results than handling noise in post-processing. A few hot pixels are no big deal, but the white salt noise in images with a lot of sky are particularly problematic to remove in post. Any sort of noise reduction in post-processing is a trade off between loss of detail, and noise removal. The dark frame subtraction utilized in the camera does not have this compromise. Of course, in-camera noise reduction can cut your battery life and productivity in half unless you're shooting with multiple cameras.

So many people are suddenly interested in urban exploration. Do you thing that the recent popularity of UrbEx is a benefit to night photography of abandoned buildings? Or is it a going to create a problem?
I don't think the interest in UrbEx is sudden. People have been exploring ruins forever. What's relatively new is the huge amount of information available online. Instead of hitting the library for ghost town books and vintage maps before a trip, now we've got Google Earth on an iPhone.

Photo by Joe Reifer
We've seen what has happened at Byron Hot Springs just east of the Oakland area.
Night photography and UrbEx aren't what destroyed Byron Hot Springs. The spread of location information online leads to all sorts of people visiting a site: vandals, copper thieves, drunken teenagers.
Over the last 2 years I shot at a location with photographers Riki Feldmann and Stephen Walsh, who rarely post work online. I agreed not to post any photos of the site before it was torn down. Although there were signs of scrappers pulling metal out of a few places, there were few signs of any other vandalism. If location details and images had been posted online, the increased visitation may have been harmful to the site. More importantly, the artistic impact of the work would have been diluted.
The show of work from this location runs November 5-30th at the Pacific Pinball Museum in Alameda, CA. The opening is on November 5th: Dark Resort: A Nocturnal Survey of Lake Berryessa in Transition.

A lot of urban explorers say they enjoy the adrenaline rush of sneaking into a location, and then trying not to get caught. Do you prefer to sneak in? Or get permission?
This question gets asked a lot. Permission is best if possible. Everything else requires some sort of risk assessment. I'm not doing this for the adrenaline rush. I just want to absorb the atmosphere and make some images.

Do you have any desire to go visit Detroit or anywhere in the Rust Belt?
I'm glad people are photographing Detroit so I can see it. I'm not interested in being a tourist somewhere for a few days and then presenting the images in the context of the rest of my night work. If I was going to photograph Detroit, I'd need to move there for a year. Photographing closer to home has helped me create a more cohesive body of work.
Julia Solis has been photographing Detroit for a long time, and bought a house there. Jeff Brouws is an interesting photographer who was based in San Francisco for a long time and then moved to the Rust Belt to photograph. His book Approaching Nowhere is amazing.
Some photographers get what I call Burtynsky-itis: the desire to photograph the biggest, most shocking and impressive example of a subject. I'm typically interested in more subtle subjects. I usually prefer to invite the viewer into the photograph instead of hitting them over the head with it.

Does the American Southwest have enough to keep you interested for a long time? Or would you like the chance to shoot somewhere else?
I'd like to do more exploring in Nevada, and do some work in Arizona and New Mexico. And there's still a lot more to shoot in the Mojave. Time and money are the limiters for most photographers getting to shoot in interesting places.

Photo by Joe Reifer

At this point, are you more interested in shooting new locations? What about revisiting old locations and reshooting them? And how important is the documentary aspect to your night photography work.
Documenting a location over time can often reveal some fascinating insights into the process of decay. A mix of new and old locations seems to work pretty well for planning each full moon. My work is documentary with a touch of the surreal. In Szarkowski's construct of Mirrors and Windows I'm mostly a window.

Any plans to publish a book?
I was very excited about the idea of print-on-demand, but got discouraged when I saw the printing quality, especially for night work. Night photography is very difficult to print because you're often dealing with a wide gamut of blue and cyan tones in the sky, and the tricky transition area of the dark zones into areas of black with no detail. I'll be keeping an eye on the technology as it improves.
In the mean time, folios might be an interesting alternative. Any of these options require packaging and marketing your work. That's not the reason I'm doing night photography. Time is limited. I'd much rather be out in the middle of the desert shooting rusty stuff under a full moon than engaging in endless self-promotion. If Gerhard Steidl calls me up, sure, I'll publish a book.

A lot of people get excited about night photography, they start producing some good work, then after a year of so, they burn out and we never hear from them again.
Same as any other hobby. People like trying new stuff. I do hear what you're saying about the attrition rate with night photography though. The basics of night photography are easy. Finding subjects to shoot, light painting, and making a consistent body of interesting work is not easy.

What about the cold? And the boredom? Some people have told me they didn’t realize how much time it took standing around in the dark with nothing to do.
Night photography isn't for everyone. Neither is mountain climbing. Or cricket.

Photo by Joe Reifer

You've already photographed some junkyards, plenty of abandoned buildings, and even an aircraft junkyard. What new challenges are you looking for?
Well, I've taken a few months off from shooting vehicles. I love old cars, but I don't consider myself a car photographer. I'm interested in looking at any sort of location, architecture, object, or place that is in the bardo state between abandoned and gone. What insights can we draw by studying a place during this transitional time between the end of one thing and the beginning of another thing.

Any plans for the upcoming year?
I'll be a guest instructor at the Nocturnes Death Valley workshop from November 19-21. Next Spring Troy Paiva and I will hopefully do another Pearsonville workshop. Photographers who are interested in workshops can sign up for the workshop notification list to make sure they don't miss out.
Beyond the shows and workshops, I'm trying to figure out how to cobble together a living teaching photography and Photoshop, and working part-time. But that's a rant for another day. I just want to go to cool places and take photos.

To see more of Joe's work, please visit his website.  To learn more about the Pearsonville Workshops as well as some of Joe's other workshops, please visit the his workshop webpage.


Blogger Tuga7 said...

great serie of shots! Nice work!

1:45 PM  
Blogger said...

Nice :)


12:02 PM  
Blogger said...

Nice interview!


12:02 PM  

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