Thursday, April 24, 2014

Insta-Who?

As i continue the exploration of my new "space phone" as a viable tool for expression i have also maintained a respectful distance from the hype of instagram, its social implications and flurry of filtrations. It is not that i am opposed to instagram in theory or even the use of filters per se, but i think i need to see if this phone camera is fully capable of straight picture making first before i venture into the fray…then again, i might never jump on the insta-wagon. So far i can say that i am enjoying the "camera at hand" concept even if i am not always satisfied with the results. It does push me to make more images, good or bad. Sometimes the camera surprises me with the quality of its output. Other times i just can't convince its automatic functions to do what i am thinking or seeing. But isn't that often the case? Still, it is the camera at hand. I just wish the damn thing would stop ringing when i'm trying to make pictures? ;-)   


 Collapse of Western Civilization ~ ©David Sorcher 2014

Though i am committed to the straight photo for the time being that doesn't mean that i am always looking at straight subjects. You've probably figured out this is shot through the glass block windows of my basement. I've always loved spacial distortion they cause. 


Shadow-Selfie ~ ©David Sorcher 2014

OK, so maybe not completely straight photography…I suppose one might consider B&W conversation as a kind of filter. Both the camera in the phone as well as instagram offer B&W filters, but there is certainly an advantage to doing it in photoshop where you can control the percent levels in each of the color channels and subtly effect the tonal range of the final image as well as endlessly adjustment the tint. 
I've been doing a lot of these shadow-selflies of late, which kind of feel like a throw back to earlier days in my photography. Maybe it's because i am working with a new camera format here that i feel drawn back to make these primal, neophyte images.  

Easter Sunday Avenue ~ ©David Sorcher 2014

If you have seen much of my work you know that i often like to work in a polyptych format. Nothing about the functions of the iPhone camera is going to change that. The camera recorded nice saturated color on my later afternoon walk on Easter Sunday. Certainly this is one of those times when i ordinarily would not have had a camera and saw something i wanted to capture. 

Cellar Door ~ ©David Sorcher 2014

I toyed with this in both color and B& W and this won. Since i shot this at home i could easily have gone inside for the DSLR, but instead took the lazy option. And i suppose that is a question which nags me about all this. Is this really the lazy option? If i shot this with my big camera would it be better? Would it be different? Will i find myself re-shooting these ideas later on a larger format? 

Picit & Friend ~ ©David Sorcher 2014

I have to say that the image quality even under less than ideal lighting conditions is better than one might expect with a tiny lens and sensor. Remember that megapixel count alone does not guarantee good resolution and the size of the iPhone sensor is not nearly as large as a full-frame DSLR. I'm not making large prints here, but it certainly doesn't look too bad on the web.

Daffodils for the Dead ~ ©David Sorcher 2014

Part of the trick with getting the sharpest results with this particle camera is shooting the right subject in the right light. While the camera may handle questionable light well, it excels in particularly good light. The late afternoon sun on these daffodils in Spring Grove Cemetery was just right for bringing out the optimum sharpness and color the camera can provide. Though i'm sure i will still be packing my D4 for my next trip to Nova Scotia. 

The Baron's Razors ~ ©David Sorcher 2014

When i think about it, this close-up still life of antique straight razors might actually be best approached with a large format camera. That certainly would have been the accepted fashion of thinking amongst photographers back in the day when it was all film and wet work and one of our most important practical choices was negative size. A 4x5 approach would have also offered me the options of swings and tilts to control prospect and depth of field as well as a much finer resolution in the resulting negative. Large format was the preferred choice of the still life photographer. One might argue that the quality gap between making an an iPhone photo instead of a DSLR image is similar to that of 35mm vs. 4x5. Frankly, i'm pretty sure that a 4x5 image negative in this case would be far superior to the DSLR in terms of quality and control. But of course, i don't own a 4x5, so i defaulted to the camera at hand. Not too shoddy after all, i think. :-)   




Monday, April 14, 2014

The Camera at Hand

There is an old saying that the very best camera is the one you actually have with you at any given photographic moment. I have to admit to being a bit of a gear head when it comes to cameras though. From the very beginnings of my interest in photography i have also been fascinated by the mechanics of the art and have developed a strong appreciation for the finer things when it comes to equipment. That said, the saying still holds true. You don't need a high end DSLR to make good pictures or even a DSLR at all. What you do need is vision, an understanding of composition and the recognition of the possibilities of light. You also need to be able to discern the limitation of whatever device you are using to capture your images and work within those boundaries to create the best image your equipment is capable of producing.
To that end i am continuing to explore the possibilities of iPhone photography. It is, after all, the camera that i always seem to have with me at all times. After my first post of images from my phone a couple of weeks ago i had a flurry of encouragement from all my instagramming friends. Frankly, i personally remain somewhat skeptical of this medium for myself. It's not that i don't believe it has a place as a form of expression, though it is quite obviously overrun with wannabes who think that simply adding a cool pre-set filter instantly makes the most mundane and poorly executed images somehow "art". While i do know true instagram artists who really make the most of the medium i still wonder whether it is something i really want to explore and develop on my own. In the meantime, though, i will still continue to capture images with my phone, if for no other reason than the simple fact that it was the only camera on hand at the time.
©David Sorcher 2014

©David Sorcher 2014

©David Sorcher 2014

©David Sorcher 2014

©David Sorcher 2014

©David Sorcher 2014

©David Sorcher 2014

©David Sorcher 2014

©David Sorcher 2014

All the above images were shot on a single, beautiful spring afternoon last Friday. They were processed through photoshop, though little was done other than some minor levels adjustments and unsharp mask.  I have yet to explore the every growing world of phone camera filtration, so until then, #nofilter. ;-) 



     

Friday, April 4, 2014

Anatomy of a Location Portrait Session

While i generally reserve this blog for more personal projects i also like to present some of my assignment work here from time to time and relate my experiences with these shoots.
I had the pleasure of shooting Rocky Boiman for Cincy Magazine last month (you can read the article HERE). An ex-NFL linebacker who played for the Titans, Steelers and Chiefs and earned his Super Bowl ring as a Colt in Super Bowl XLI, Rocky is currently pursuing a career as football color commentator and has also been active in local politics.
I have always enjoyed doing environmental portraiture, much more so than studio work. From my perspective being able to incorporate aspects of a subject's personal space in their portrait adds so much to our understanding of that person in the final photographs. People also tend to be more comfortable and at ease in their own environment so theoretically that should led to a more relaxed and honest image. Of course it adds all kinds of new challenges to the shoot as well. I am walking in cold, having never physically met the subject before and having absolutely no idea what that environment will look like. What will the nature light be like if any? Will the space be neat or cluttered? What personal items will be available that can enhance the shot without looking forced or kitschy? What equipment/lenses will i need to handle the space? Enter the unknown…
In this case we can also add that i was not quite sure going in exactly what aspect of Rocky's life the article was going to feature. Were they more interested in his past career as linebacker, his current career as a color commentator or his involvement in local politics? I had spoken to the writer earlier that week, but never had an opportunity to see the article he was writing before the shoot, so this wasn't really clear to me. My best bet was to cover my bases as best i could (yes, i do realize i just used a baseball metaphor in reference to a football player).

©David Sorcher 2014

I must say, i was quite impressed when i arrived at the home, a modest mansion of sorts at the end of a long driveway atop of a hill with glorious views. It was a new home for Rocky, his wife Kelli and their brand new son Beau and fortunately the rooms had nice, soft, natural light coming in through the windows on all sides of the house. I had brought some lighting gear, of course, but i do really prefer to use natural light when it is appropriate and available. 
After making a quick survey of the house for good set locations and determining just how much time Rocky actually had for me (he could give me an hour) we got started in his study. This seemed like the best spot for a shot that might hint at his political aspirations. So i tried framing him up against the map in the background while he sat on the edge of his desk. The rich, dark woods and room tones seemed to emphasis this aspect of Rocky's life quite well. The light is from the window to the left with a white reflector as a shadow fill. I got lucky with that as serious dark rain was forecast for later that day, but when i arrived a hazy-sun sky was still throwing an adequate amount of light into the room. 

©David Sorcher 2014

It also seemed a good bet to put at least some emphasis on Rocky's family life. They were happy to do this as they hadn't really had any official photos done of the family since Beau's arrival. Little Beau wasn't exactly the most cooperative subject, but we all did our best to work with his fidgetiness and i think this one didn't turn out too bad. Getting one person to look good in a photo is often difficult on its own. Two people is, of course, just a bit harder. Add a third and make that third an infant…well, you see where i'm going. It probably took more time for this family portrait that any of the others. Kudos to grandma, by the way, who stood behind me attempting to focus young Beau's attention in one spot for at least a second or two. 

©David Sorcher 2014

We finished up the shoot in Rocky's "man cave" in the basement. I had communicated prior to the day that i would be interested in working some memorabilia from his glory days in football into some of the shots, including his Super Bowl championship ring. I was a little worried that this idea wouldn't work out when he told me that much of that stuff was still in boxes from the move, but i was pleasantly surprised to find most of his trophy room set up when i arrived.   

©David Sorcher 2014

Since the house cuts into a hill the basement had glass doors out to the backyard so i was able to make use of the windows for my key light again. The background was getting lost, though, in the dark corner of the room and i also felt i needed some kind of accent lighting on the left side of Rocky's face, so i set up a white translucent umbrella and shot two speedlights (Nikon sb-900 and sb-910 triggered with the su-800 ) through it. I also used a reflector to fill in the area between the key light and the strobe for a smoother transition. I hate lugging around heavy and bulky studio equipment on a location shoot like this, especially when i'm not working with an assistant. Set-up and break down times are time consuming and i'm not convinced the larger lights would really do that much of a better job in this situation. Big lighting equipment can also seem invasive in a subjects home as well as distracting.  

©David Sorcher 2014

I ended the shoot with this headshot, showing off his Super Bowl ring (and, of course, his rugged good looks) with his Colts #50 jersey framed in the background. It wasn't until later that i realized what a perfect complimentary contrast the room colors made with his striking red hair. Just for full disclosure here, Rocky does not wear this ostentatious ring around on a daily basis, but retrieved it from a safety deposit box for the sake of the photos. He told me that he did wear it for about a week after the Super Bowl victory back in 2006 and who would fault him for that?  
All in all i was quite pleased with my final results. You just never know what you are going to walk into no matter how much you prepare. Frankly i was a little worried from my pre-shoot research as i could not find many off-field photos of Rocky on line that i thought were very good leading me to wonder if he might be a little stiff in front of the camera. Sometime you get a subject that just can't relax no matter what you do and that always shows through in the final images. But aside from being a really nice guy Rocky handled himself like a pro which always makes our job as the photographer just a little bit easier.  

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Almost Insta-Instagrams

©David Sorcher 2014

Okay, so i finally folded and got myself one of them new fangled "space" phones. I had been nursing (and despising) my old flip phone for some time and the opportunity to step up presented itself. I have always had a reluctance to embracing new technology and i'm usually slow to change. My decision to move into smart phone tech was not, however, fueled by any strong desire to text, instagram, monitor my email or any of the myriad of mind-numbing games and activities one can engage in to zombify one's existence in this modern age. In a world where personal, eye-to-eye conversation with friends is quickly becoming passé (even when standing in the SAME room) i remain solidly opposed to following the sheep herd with its face stuck firmly in its phone screens while real-time life is going on all around them. 
So what did fuel this drastic step? Recently i took an Enquirer assignment and just before the event i was asked if i could send a photo of the crowd immediately from the scene. I realized that i just didn't have the tech to do that. Without a guaranteed hotspot i would not be able to send the photo from my computer. Without a phone capable of taking a reasonably good quality photo i couldn't even send that from the phone. So as with most of my technological leaps this one was driven by the simple need to be capable of doing the job.    

©David Sorcher 2014

Of course as a photographer i would be silly not to explore the photographic possibilities of my new "space" phone. Honestly, i am very hesitant to opening an Instagram account and not fully convinced that i really need to join that culture. This is not a slight of Instagram per se. Like any visual medium there is both good and bad out there. It is a new format on the photo scene that creates its own niche through its limitations, immediacy and presentation style. I kind of liken it to the SX-70 polaroids of the new millennium. I have at least one friend that i have regularly encouraged to create a book of her Instagrams because they are just that good. She has mastered the form. Still, i'm not sure that instagramming is for me anymore than, say, large format photography.  

©David Sorcher 2014

I call these "almost insta-instagrams" because i have emailed the shots from my phone to myself and then run them through photoshop before posting them here. That certain takes a bit of the "insta" out of the equation. It also sidesteps the mandatory square format of Instagram and takes the use of the pre-set filters off the table. I actually find the camera in this phone (iPhone 5c) quite impressive for what it is though i have my doubts that it can truly serve as the compact everyday camera i've been searching for to do my street work. But it can certainly serve in a pinch when an image presents itself and no other camera is available.

©David Sorcher 2014

©David Sorcher 2014

The camera's automatic features do seem to handle difficult lighting situations such as in these backlit shots fairly well. 

©David Sorcher 2014

The little lens in this thing if pretty sharp and shows nice texture and detail. Of course this is all in good light. I don't have high hopes for great results in low light situations. 

©David Sorcher 2014

I wonder is there is a certain kind of subject matter that suits cell phone photography well. It occurs to be that mundane objects photograph well with this format, especially when presented in filtered Instagram form. No filter here, of course, but hopefully that makes sense to someone out there. 

©David Sorcher 2014

Geometric forms of light and shadow are the obvious subject here. This is an image i might try to reproduce with the D4 just to have a higher quality file of it. It worries me that i might want to do that with every "good" image i take with the phone. The files are certainly good for internet use, but it would be silly to compare it to what you can get out of a full frame DSLR when it comes to making prints. The phone actually handled this high contrast situation well, probably because my white house acted as a giant reflector to open up the shadow areas a bit. One of the obvious downfalls of the camera is no manual control and very often shadow detail gets lost in high contrast situations like this. But then, it is really a phone in the end, isn't it. 

©David Sorcher 2014

And sometimes that lack of shadow detail works well for an image, as in this shot of Jack emerging from the darkness. I'm still not sure what this will all mean for my photography. Sure, i will be able to visually express myself now in those times when i have left my big DSLR beasts at home, but i don't really feel like iPhone photography is a viable option for the vast majority of my serious work. But the phone will certainly help me with other aspects of my job such as providing a mobile hotspot for file transmissions as well as allowing me to make a quick photo grab of a scene when necessary for immediate emailing. As for signing up for an Instagram account…well, i think i'll leave that decision for another day.  


Thursday, March 27, 2014

Time Machine

©David Sorcher 2014

I was shooting the Gatsby Gala, a roaring twenties themed party for the Junior league, when there it was, sitting on a pedestal as a party prop, a time machine to another century. Despite the era it was meant to invoke, many may not realize that the Speed Graphic was actually in production in some form from 1912 all the way up until 1973. Though the 35mm camera has been around nearly as long (the first Leica prototypes date to 1913 and went into production in 1924) press photographers looked to the Speed Graphic as the main workhorse of the trade for years and it was common equipment for photojournalists well into the 1960s. Well many at least. They were bulky, heavy and slow and only allowed a single sheet of film at a time (later adapters held six sheets). Still, many press photographers like Weegee made their mark with these bigger format camera. The great and ever combative documentarian W. Eugene Smith, however, was fired from Newsweek in 1939 because he refused to use anything but his 35mm cameras. Smith was convinced these smaller, faster roll film cameras were the future of photojournalism. But these big, beautiful beasts, the dependable Speed Graphics, still held their place in the battery of photojournalism for more than two decades after that before the industry finally accepted that the compact and stealthy 35mm cameras could indeed produce acceptable quality images for print. 
As the last rays of the setting sun glinted off this classic machine and cast my shadow against the wall i felt like i was caught in a moment between time. I raised my camera for a shot. There i was photographing this piece of photographic history with my Nikon D4, skipping entirely past the era of 35mm film cameras with my digital wonder in hand. And what comes next? Putting aside the advent of instagrams from smart phones which may begrudgingly have at least some journalistic applications, where do we go from here? Cell phones certainly can't do the full job of the photojournalist today. I find myself already exploring the possibilities of the new generation of mirrorless cameras. Though much smaller by comparison to the Speed Graphic, my D4 is still a bit of a beast in its own right. As someone who cut his photographic teeth street shooting with a handy little Leica rangefinder i miss the days when i could raise my camera to take a shot without everybody noticing the equipment first. The size of most mirrorless cameras bring a bit of stealth back to the shooter and perhaps will allow me to slide under the radar again in places where a full-size digital might be a bit of an albatross around my neck.  
Certainly professional camera equipment will continue to evolve. One can only wonder how long our full-size digitals will hold sway in the field before the next new thing takes over. Yes, i do resist change, especially when i am so heavily invested in the present paradigm. One thing for sure…technology evolves exponentially. It moves faster with every decade, every year, every minute, every second. It is extremely doubtful that professional digital cameras in their present form will hold out as the mainstay of the industry anywhere near as long as the more than half century reign of the Speed Graphic. That remains an accomplishment worthy of note.      

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Behind the Woodshed


OK, perhaps not quite the "woodshed", but it sounds so much more poetic than "garage", doesn't it? After working up a morning restaurant shoot yesterday i found myself being summoned by the early inklings of spring and the desire to do something a bit more creative with my camera than beer and burger shots. Not really feeling like venturing far, i turned to my own backyard and found myself being lured back behind, and eventually up on to, the garage.
(Be sure to click on images for an enlarged gallery view)  

©David Sorcher 2014

It was the first time i had been up on my garage roof. Though not really a great height it provided a unique perspective that i had not viewed before. I found myself thinking in polyptychs again, specifically diptychs, piecing together final images in my mind as i shot. 


©David Sorcher 2014

The spot behind the garage is a convergence of three garages with this huge tree stump at the center. We had the rest of this tree taken down after the top end of it broke off and pierced the roof during hurricane Ike in 2008. I have mused about carving its remains into a great wooden throne. 

©David Sorcher 2014

There was a feast of texture to be found in the late afternoon sun atop that stump as shadow flowed into line and line back into shadow.

©David Sorcher 2014

I am very much a fan of the single image and the decisive moment. Still, i find the exploration of polyptych presentations very exciting as an alternative way of seeing and interpreting my world. From the crown of my garage i can show multiple viewpoints of the same experience, hopefully in a manner that is compositionally cohesive as a singular entity. 

©David Sorcher 2014

Piecing together polyptychs is like connecting puzzle pieces, connecting lines and forms, paying attention to alternating colors/tones and directional flow and, of course, maintaining some kind of contextual relationship between the separate images to ensure that together they work to leave an impression of singularity.  

©David Sorcher 2014

Forgotten fences stretched and intertwined with a bulging tree trunk seemed best conveyed here in classic b&w and singular image form.  


©David Sorcher 2014

I'll leave you with this shadow-self portrait from my perch atop the stump. It's so nice to get a higher perspective on the world at times, even if it is only a small step up. Maybe i'll try my house roof on the next nice, sunny day in the neighborhood. 



Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Slippin' Through the Alley…

©David Sorcher 2014

Ah, the finicky weather of March. Yesterday it was sunny and 70º, today it's in the thirties and raining. So glad i got outside when i did. Cincinnati is a town with some great alleys. My neighborhood of Northside in particular has some of my favorites. These alleys once saw a lot of use as back entrances to homes, but now they are largely ignored. I continue my exploration of Northside down some roads less traveled by…

©David Sorcher 2014

Of course, i need to get to an alley first. With the late afternoon sun providing some nice light and shadow play i found some images along the main drag of Hamilton Ave. hard to ignore. 

©David Sorcher 2014

I was drawn by the color combo here, almost a primary relationship (though the dress on the right is a bit green/blue). 

©David Sorcher 2014

Park Chili is a bit of an institution in Northside, though i must admit i have never eaten there. But i do love the architecture of this building and its classic signage. 

©David Sorcher 2014

As i was crouching to shoot the hood ornament on this rusty old Jaguar the car owner called out to me "Hey, why are you taking a picture of that car?" I gave him the only answer i know, "Because i'm a photographer." It seemed to satisfy him.

©David Sorcher 2014

This was my target alley, one i have never walked before, but had taken notice of the night before. It just seemed inviting, don't you think?

©David Sorcher 2014

These alleys once provide off street access to homes, but that access has mostly been sealed off, i suppose for security purposes. Driveways and gates are now walled or fenced off. 

©David Sorcher 2014

Old garages stand mostly unused and in disrepair. 

©David Sorcher 2014

Nature meets metal and loses. This old tree trunk clings to the chain link fence it grew up into as it now rots away.

©David Sorcher 2014

Another old garage that might now be used for storage, but is no longer used for vehicles. 

©David Sorcher 2014

Re-purposed Coke bottles hang is a backyard as bird feeders. 

©David Sorcher 2014

Northside native artwork decorates a post. A totem or a warning?

©David Sorcher 2014

Where there is an "in" there is also an "out" and i found a few more images on my way home from the alley shoot. 
©David Sorcher 2014

My parting shot for the day of the Park Cafe and now shuttered old Safe-A-Lot store. Contrails in the sky seemed a prediction of the gray, cold day to follow, but there was surely a sense of spring in the air this day.