Wall Art

I held a Photographic Art Garage Sale today at my home. And it was literally a Garage Sale:

This taught me a few things. First, how important it is to have prints made of your photos. The tactile experience of holding a print is something special. Prints go on walls and add something when they do. Prints do not get lost when a hard drive crashes. They do not need batteries. They can be seen by many people at once. They have a certain value that an LCD display cannot approach.

Also, it reminded me that there is benefit in starting a wall art collection and adding to it over the years. Add a little here and a little there and before you know it you have a great collection. And it is “a little bit here, a little bit there” because there is a cost involved in prints, especially in framing.

Third, I was reminded how nice a wall looks with prints. Even my garage wall. Any wall livens up with prints, and its character changes completely when you switch the prints around. And the more you have, the more switching around you can do. Do not keep the same prints in the same place forever.

Fourth, I learned again how taste differs and how you cannot argue over taste. Sold prints included:

A sailboat and three urban scenes: Old Stockholm, Toronto under construction, and Utrecht. I can see the attraction of putting major cities on your wall in suburbia. But there are some prints I think are great that attracted no-one; conversely, there was a lot of attention for some photos I thought interesting.

In fact most people looked at the black and white photos, but bought colour photos. perhaps B/W is more artistic, but colour fits better in most people’s homes.

In conclusion, prints have something special, and I strongly recommend you buy, make, and shoot for prints.  You will not regret it.

Did you miss the sale? If you live in the Toronto area, come for a private viewing: the prints are still available.



The Camera Puts On Ten Pounds

…or so it is said, in the case of TV, where the camera does really put on ten pounds. Why? Because TV is made with wide angle lenses.

To illustrate this, let’s make a portrait using a 200mm lens:

An undistorted view of the subject. Now let’s zoom out to 35mm. But then, wait….  the subject will be small, very small. So we will have to get closer to keep the subject the same size. It is that closeness that causes the subsequent distortion:

All distorted, and again, this is not because of the wide angle; it is because of the closeness that the wide angle necessitates. That is why we say:

“Do not use a wide angle lens for portraits”.

What we really mean is:

“Do not use a wide angle lens for portraits where the subject is large, because then you’ll have to be too close and you’ll get distortion as a result of that closeness.”

That does not sound quite so punchy though, does it?

Sometimes we can use that distortion for a deliberate comical effect:

I suppose the one thing you may want ti take away from all this is: know your lenses and when to use which one. Pay attention in particular to:

  1. Depth of field.
  2. Perspective distortion.
  3. Susceptibility to (or resistance to) motion blur.

All three of these have something to do with focal length. When you are learning photography, it is your job to figure out in which way.


Less is more.

Sometimes, simple is all you need. Like in this headshot:

This shot is simple in many ways:

  • Shot with simple camera settings: f/5.6, 1/125 sec, 400 ISO.
  • I am using just one flash on camera, aimed 45 degrees up, behind me. The catch lights are the circle that my flash throws onto the ceiling.
  • The flash is using TTL (automatic flash metering, in other words). Of course since this is a high key scene, I set flash compensation to +2 stops.
  • I am filling the frame. Yes, cutting off the head is allowed.
  • The pose is a simple one, as is the composition.
  • The location is a simple white bathroom: smaller is great since it allows great bounce without the high ISO values you would otherwise need.
  • The dress is a simple white shirt, against a simple white background.

All this “simple”, combined with the right model and a razor-sharp (obscenely sharp, some might say; look at full size) 85mm f/1.2 lens, makes for a good shot. No studio complexity needed in this case; no pocketwizards, no complicated anything. Simple does it; less is more.

So if anyone tells you “you cannot do this, you need more equipment”: it ain’t necessarily so!


Art Discussion, Continued

After yesterday’s post, a reader left a comment (and you are all invited to leave comments and engage in discussion on this blog!) that I consider interesting enough to republish, and to answer/discuss, here today.

1. “More please! please! this stretch into art and feeling is terrific and welcomed in your subject matter here on speedlighter.

>>Do you see them? And do you feel them ?<<
Well no. I have no awareness of Hopper. where do I go to gain more of this, just the museum? But you have provided one here. More please! please!

2. You have written about IP and ownership before. How are you able to post a Hopper photo on your site? no (c), no reference, no link?”

Great, let me answer those in turn.

First, art. Yes, I think photography is part craft and part art, and the art component is something we do not talk about quite enough. Photography is not about bits and bytes and f-numbers. Those are just tools. It is about what you do with them.

Photography is a serious art form. My favourite artistic photographers include such people asNan Goldin, Annie Leibowitz, Mike Disfarmer, Sally Mann, Edward Weston, Richard Avedon, Diane Arbus, Andreas Gursky, Jan Saudek: their images fire up my imagination, speak to my emotions; evoke places and times; and that is what art is supposed to do.

And for painters, Hopper comes an easy number one for me. This is entirely personal, of course, but there is no painter whose work speaks to me more than Hopper. You have not heard of him? I bet you have seen Night Hawks, his most famous painting:

Can you feel the alienation and loneliness?

To learn more about Edward Hopper, my first stop would be here, and of course Google. In general, as a photographer, I recommend you also look at paintings, go to museums, read about art. The various arts have much in common, after all.

Why do these artists resonate with me? I do not know, but I do try to analyze that a little. Part of the fun.

And me? Do I produce art?

I think that is the wrong question; or at least it is one that I do not feel qualified to answer. I do try to put feeling into my work. Like into this self portrait:

…and into my art nudes, like these three examples:


“Panta Rhei”

“Nude Against Drywall in Garage”

And into shots like these two:

“Sailboat on Lake Ontario”, 2013

“Bicycle in Schoonhoven”, 2013

…and there’s much (much) more. I occasionally showcase some of it on www.michaelsmuse.com.

Am I comparing myself to those greats? No, of course not. Comparisons are not useful, anyway: what counts in my work is that it touches me. And if it does that, it has achieved its goal. If anyone else likes it too, that’s great. If someone wants to call it art, good. If not, fine. I do these for me. Or perhaps more accurately, for having done it. Creating an artistic photo is a satisfaction all of and by itself. A tree falling, and I was there to hear it fall.

Finally, then, copyright. On some, or perhaps all, of Hopper’s work, copyright has run out and has not been renewed. But it’s a moot point, because it is generally agreed that under the right circumstances, art can be used under Fair Use rules, and I am sure that this, a teaching blog, constitutes exactly the right circumstances. Hence, no problem.

Analyzing which artists of the past or present inspire you can be a very useful exercise for a photographer.


Seat of the muses

The muses inspire us, and we each have our own muses and inspirations. My inspirations include the work of painters, notably John Singer Sargent and Edward Hopper, two American painters of, respectively, the 19th/20th and 20th century.

Here’s a Hopper, “Morning”:

And when I say I am inspired by Hopper, I mean not that I copy him, but that he evokes certain feelings (like a combination of “alienation” and “nostalgia”), and places, and times in me. Hopper is an easy artist to admire.

But it is also easy to recognize similarities. Like in this recent photo:

The moment I took that I was struck by the many obvious similarities to the above Hopper: similarities in shapes, colours, and subject; even in mood.

Do you see them? And do you feel them like I do? Perhaps, and perhaps not. The first one is a good thing: that is what learning art is all about. The second one, feeling them a I do, is not necessary, not even desirable: we should not all be struck by the same things.

But seeing them, that is what “learning” art is about. And appreciating the basis of good art, like simplicity. Since the above picture is art, not photojournalistic, I feel free to make changes in post-production. What change did I make to this picture? I removed a line in front of the subject’s face:

Can you see how distracting that is? So the objective part of creating art is that sort of thing: no-one can argue with me that that line is not distracting: it should go. The subjective part is the appreciation of the art itself, and there we can differ.

Oh, and that “seat of the muses” in the title? That is what “museum” means, and that is where you will find Hopper and Singer Sargent; and that is where you can go for inspiration.