Working Photographer looks at the turbulent world of editorial photography through the eyes of someone been working at it for forty years -- and hopes to stay active for a lot longer. A quarter of a century at National Geographic has taught me to stay nimble and keep growing. That's what this blog is about.
Without intention. Without plans. Like bees in a hive, humans create patterns on the land from their labors and toils, from their gatherings and their solitudes, from calculations and mere necessity. Without design great order emerges, from mundane tasks subtle grace arises. No blueprint is necessary. But the beauty is no less a miracle for the lack of a plan or a planner.
Chaos seems to rule our daily lives. The blizzard of problems, events, meetings, small triumphs, frustrations, chance encounters, dreaded confrontations, long-for moments of loving and bliss –– all of it overwhelms us and we are often left wondering what it all means. But from one step removed, just a few thousand feet in the air, the patterns are revealed. Somehow, in each little step of life, we make something larger, something more permanent that we intended, and something more orderly that we knew.
It is worth considering and it may even be comforting, if only for a few moments.
Chicago as the clouds drifted in from the lake.
Stromness in Orkney, Scotland, a very old whaling village in the North Sea.
The abandoned village on Hirta, St. Kilda, Scotland.
When it comes to lighting you could do worse than take a masters class from Dave Black. Or you could just do what I have been doing today -- read his blog. This time I've been mining the great ideas he's been developing on using small strobes to light big venues, relying on the incredible high ISO performance of the Nikon D3S. Just amazing and worth studying in detail.
Just back from Peru and I got the news from David Schloss that the Aperture workflow video we shot back in March is now available for download on the MacCreate site.
Now this pretty much falls under the heading of shameless self promotion anyway, so while I'm at it I might as well drop the other shoe -- or two. Not only is this a plug for me and Aperture, it's also a plug for Scotland and single malt whiskies to boot.
You see, when David suggested we do an instructional video about my Aperture workflow I said sure. But then I asked him where he wanted to do it and said it might have to wait since I was going to Scotland soon. David's answer was immediate: "Why not do it in Scotland?" Well really, why not?
The more I thought about it the more I became convinced he was right and we just ought to go on a whisky distillery road trip through Scotland, photographing and doing workflow along the way. We'd see some great Scottish countryside, visit some historic distilleries, and just have a hell of a time. Which is pretty much how it worked out. Starting in Orkney we visited the ancient stone circle, The Ring of Brodgar, spent an afternoon at Highland Park and got lucky when we discovered a hapless bridegroom-to-be enduring an Orkney tradition -- a blackening.
Then down by ferry to Balblair where the whisky gushing out of cask nearly shorted out my lights and on to Glenfiddich where we saw every aspect of the distillers art, including a classic cooperage. Along the way I had to keep the workflow going (not easy when I was sitting in the bar at the Craigellachie Hotel surrounded by 700 single malts!) Which is the real point of the video, detailing how I work with Aperture on the road to keep track of thousands of images, organize my work, caption and keyword the pictures and just generally do all the things that make pictures valuable. I really have to get the system down pat so I can spend the maximum time shooting. When I'm in Scotland I don't want to waster time sitting in a hotel room staring at my computer.
My good friend Jim Turner was along, ostensibly to help with lighting and general brainstorming, but actually getting ever deeper into the legend and lore of whisky country. Now that I think about it this really was one of my better schemes. (And nobody survives in the world of photography these days without a few good schemes.)
David's Maccreate site has a nice sample clip. I hope you enjoy it. And if the video gives anyone a hand up with the task of digital workflow I'll consider it work well done, maybe even worth a wee dram for a toast. Slainte!
Worth reading today is Mike Johnston's post over on The Online Photographer about photographer Judith Fox.
Her new book, I Still Do: Loving and Living with Alzheimer's, chronicles her ongoing life and love with her husband who suffers from the disease that steals our loved ones a little bit at a time.
Working Photographer is also about working pictures. I'm always interested when I see someone putting pictures to work in their life and Judith Fox has done just that. But I'm also drawn to this work because of the long goodbye we had with my own father. So I know it's hard.
So good luck Judith. And thank you Mike for bring worthy things to our attention, day after day.
Photographers like me are a weird bunch. Are you like me? Does your heart race when you hear about a new dual flash stand adapter that will hold two SB-800's in perfect alignment with the shaft of an umbrella? Does finding the perfect sync chord make you salivate? If so, you are are a sick puppy, too.
And if so then you should know about Michael Bass Designs. Finding this site is like walking into a great hardware store that has every bolt and nail you could ever want, plus a few brand new kerosene lanterns and horse collars left over from 1892, the year they opened. (Didn't SNL do a skit about one of those places?) It's a fun place to poke around, even if it's only to marvel at some of the semi-arcane stuff that some genius thought up. Then you have to put on your thinking cap and wonder "Now just how does that work?" and "Now when is it that I want to do that?" But mostly it's just good because Michael Bass has a whole lot of stuff that is "just what I needed." One last note. This is not a highly automated e-commerce site. It's Michael Bass himself and it's very personal. He'll try to help you find what you need. Read through his welcome to understand what he can do. And be nice! Find it here: http://michaelbass.blogspot.com/
With any luck our audience in Atlanta tomorrow won't look anything like these poor, bored schoolgirls in Ireland.
Catherine Karnow and I will be at it again in the morning, teaching our Passion for Travel seminar for National Geographic Traveler at the Georgia Tech Global Learning Center. It will be a full day loaded with travel photography tips, one of those days where I feel like I'm preaching to the choir because everybody in attendance already loves travel and photography. Which means we can get down and grovel in f-stops and shutter speeds all we want and never have to apologize to bored spouses. And if anybody starts nodding off or their eyes start glazing over I'll just launch into a rousing discussion of copyright law or a detailed explanation of relative merits of aperture vs. shutter priority. That'll keep 'em awake, by golly. If any of you are in attendance tomorrow, be sure to come by and say hello. (Wish I could figure out some scheme to get back to Ireland!)
Well, there's luck, good luck and then there's just plain dumb luck. (And, by the way, I'll take all the blind dumb luck I can get if it looks like this.)
We got the latter when we turned the corner in Kirkwall, Orkney a couple of weeks ago and saw the poor bloke wrapped up on a light pole by the harbor.
We'd just picked up David Schloss at the airport to begin a few days of shooting. David had never been to Orkney and wasn't exactly sure why we had brought him all this way to a tiny band of islands out on the far northeast edge of Scotland. ("Couldn't we do some great photography a little closer to Edinburgh?", he seemed to be thinking.)
Then we saw the "blackening". This uniquely Orcadian (as Orkney folk call themselves) tradition takes the bachelor party to bizarre extremes. The lads collar the hapless groom-to-be, drench him in treacle or some other gooey concoction and ride him around town for several hours on the back of a lorry (that's a truck to us) with scant respect for his dignity. Strapping him to a light pole with package wrapper seems to be an innovation of breathtaking brilliance. The lads are clever, even if they are drunk.
I'd seen a blackening years before when I photographed Orkney for National Geographic. But this was over the top. His fiancee was putting on the public face of sympathy but I suspect she was having an inner laugh all the while.
And David was instantly convinced! We had come to the right place. He's a full blown fan of Orkney now. He couldn't get enough video and I had the trusty D3X cranked up. (Nothing like capturing scenes like this in really high resolution. When you see something like this is 24 megapixels really enough?)
It was a great way to start our travels. You'll be able to see more of our trip through Scotland and Whisky Country when David has his soon-to-be-posted Aperture workflow video posted on MacCreate, here: http://maccreate.com/
And keep your eye for the next blackening you see. You should be so lucky. But then you'd have to be in Orkney.