The big, wide world of photography

photo of passport and nikon camera, with filson bag

You don’t have to go to the four corners of the globe to find good photographs. However, there is something uniquely exhilarating about photographing virgin territory. When you explore new places with your camera every photograph is a discovery. Every click of the shutter is like unearthing a new fossil or an unknown society. You are more than a photographer you are an anthropologist, an archaeologist.

Few places are left on earth that human beings haven’t explored. But that takes nothing away from the thrill one gets from one’s own discoveries. Documenting those discoveries with the camera lifts our spirits and stokes our inquisitiveness. It pushes us to seek and find more.

Durango, COolorado. At the train station, Jeremy Wade Shockley photographs Rachel Klein-Kircher.

At the train station, Jeremy Wade Shockley photographs Rachel Klein-Kircher.

Whether it’s 300 miles down the coast or on the other side of the planet, traveling to new lands stimulates your inner Indiana Jones. Adventure is around the next bend. Everything is new and different. The people, the food, the music, the art. The geology and the landscape. All there for you to discover for yourself. To fill your brain and broaden your mind; to stimulate your curiosity. It may not be a first for humanity but it’s a first for you!

That adrenaline rush, that increased heart rate, those hairs standing up on the back of your neck…that is real.

Telephone post, cable and electric wires. On the road, somewhere in Colorado.

On the road.

So what are you waiting for? Pack up the camera gear and get to discovering.

 

For The Love Of Photography

I love photography. But I’m not sure I can tell you why.

The act of organizing the camera gear before heading out. The trip to the location. Arriving and getting started. Looking for photographs. Finding photographs. Shooting. Shooting more. Looking for more. The occasional peek at the LCD screen. Love it. Love it all.

I love shooting scenics. I love shooting wildlife. I love shooting life in the city. I love shooting portraits, studio and environmental. I love shooting events, Pride parades, weddings, bat mitzvahs. I love shooting skateboarders, kayakers… adventurers. I love the challenge of trying a new style. I love the never ending search for the perfect composition… or look… or moment.

I love the solitude of walking the banks of a river in the pre-dawn light… others love the crazed camaraderie of a press scrum.

The sound of the shutter, the sharp “click” as the lens locks into place, the flash of light I catch out of the corner of my eye when the on-board strobe fires. Love it.

I love the the look on peoples faces when I show them the image on the back of the camera. I love when I find a “Wow!” photograph I’d inexplicably passed over in my archives.

When I’m looking through the viewfinder and I’m not thinking, just doing. When everything is happening and I’m just trying to keep up. When I’m deep in the zone dancing that dance, staying with it, trying not to get in the way, but move closer, now step back, bob and weave, check the edges of the frame, shoot, shoot, shoot… it’s hard to describe the feeling in that moment, but I’ll never tire of it.

Garry Winogrand was once asked about his philosophy of photography. He said, “I photograph to find out what something will look like photographed.”

That’s perfect. If there is a more honest, unpretentious approach to photography I haven’t heard it. Who doesn’t want to see what their favorite person, place or thing looks like photographed? That’s what it is, isn’t it?

Photography is its own reward.

 

The Photographer’s Footwear

I was meeting a friend in the city for dinner. For reasons I can’t remember I arrived a couple hours early, but hey, I was cool with that because Street Photography! I wasn’t super dressed up, but you know, a little nicer than just t-shirt, jeans and tennis shoes. I spent about two hours walking around DC looking for photographs. I had on nice shoes. Not nice as in comfortable; nice as in good looking, sporty. An hour or so into my strolling I noticed my feet were sore. But I shook it off… hey, feet get sore! Photos need taking! I ambled on.

It wasn’t until the next day I came to understand the foolishness of walking around for two hours on pavement and cement in sporty looking boat shoes with little to no support. Plantar fasciitis. It took a few weeks for the pain to go away, because, you know… I have to walk everyday… on my feet. But going out to make photographs eventually stop being painful. From now on I aim to keep it that way.

To make quality photographs, you need quality footwear.

teva sandals, quality footwear

When the image you hoped for doesn’t materialize

From far above the river I saw this great blue heron standing still on the rocks below. It was right on the river’s edge, waiting patiently for a passing meal. I carefully made my way down over fallen tree limbs and loose rocks. As I got closer I would stop occasionally and make a few photographs. After about five minutes I’d edge myself closer and wait and shoot some more. Then scoot a little closer still. I eventually got myself into a good position about 15 to 20 feet away.

From the moment I first saw the heron I imagined a photo of a good size fish struggling in that stiletto beak. I waited over an hour, sitting uncomfortably on solid rock, hoping for the bird to snag a catfish or bass from the water. There were several attempts, yet each came up empty. From my perch above I could see the occasional shadow of a fish swim by, but the heron either didn’t see it or it was too far out of reach to even try.

At one point another heron landed nearby. It was apparently just a little too close for comfort and this one chased it off. Then as it made its way back to its fishing spot I made this shot. Ultimately, other obligations made it impossible to stay any longer so I never got the fish-in-beak shot. But I’ll be back. And so will the herons. I’ll get the shot. Just going to take some patience.

Great blue heron at the potomac river near great falls, Virginia.

Sometimes the image you hoped for doesn’t materialize.
But that shouldn’t mean you come away with nothing.

 

 

Instagram’s problem with Women

I love Instagram.  It’s a wonderful place to showcase some of your work, create your own personal gallery, get social, interact with other photographers, editors, and curators, keep up to date with family. It’s a great platform. However…

Last week I was reminded of Instagram’s weird issue with women. As I was scrolling through my Instagram feed I came across a photo by Jocelyn Bain Hogg of the photo cooperative VII. The model in the photo is using a kitchen knife to cut off a tag from her dress. And, as you can see, her breasts are exposed. As you can also see there are two “X”s over her nipples. No they are not two pieces of tape applied to the nipples by the model herself, they are digitally added to the image so that it can pass muster for the censors at Instagram. That’s right, one of the worlds most respected photo agencies has to degrade itself and have an employee put little “X”s over the nipples in an image just so they can post it to Instagram.

My friend and colleague, Lisa Hogben, posted a self portrait couple years back showing off her damaged shoulder, bruised and broken in a skiing accident. She made the photo just after a shower and as it happens you could see one breast and nipple. She posted it to our PRISM Instagram account and it was up only a short time before Instagram took it down with a warning of being banned from the platform if similar photos are posted. Lisa later posted the same photo (see below) on her personal IG account but this time with a black strip across the breast. This, the Instagram censors allowed. As Lisa pointed out however this only seems to make the image seem seedier than it really is. How is this a win for Instagram…for any of us?

It takes no time at all to find on Instagram young women, many of whom look as if they’re barely old enough to drive, in little to no clothing, in comically obvious sexualized positions, but as there is no nipple showing there is no censorship. Now think about that. Two adult women in two thoughtful, mature photographs that happen to show nipples, they get the humiliating treatment of censorship. But doe-eyed, hyper-sexualized young women? That’s A-OK.

Again, this attitude toward women from Instagram is not new. The hashtag #freethenipple is one of the most popular hashtags (over 3.6 million posts so far) due to the prudishness regularly exhibited by the censors. But it is still an infantile, degrading attitude.

It’s long past time for Instagram to grow up.

 

Photo by #JocelynBainHogg / @VIIPhoto. Click on the link in our profile to buy the print! Anouska de Georgiou, singer, songwriter, actress, model and 'It Girl', customizes her party dress by cutting off the label with a kitchen knife inside her apartment in London's trendy Portobello Road before Sir Elton John's summer party in Notting Hill, London, England in June 2005. To celebrate the agency's fifteen year anniversary, VII is offering a very special edition of our VII #printsale — iconic prints for just $100. Each 8×10 photograph is hand-signed by the photographer. They are printed on #Fuji Crystal Archive Paper at New York City's top photographic lab and are beautifully backed and sleeved in fully archival materials. Each print is embossed with the VII logo, and comes with a certificate of authenticity printed on museum quality acid-free paper. The sale ends on June 7, so click on the link in our profile to shop now!

A post shared by VII Photo (@viiphoto) on

Don’t listen to the snobs, the pop-up flash is not an amateur’s tool.

I think it’s unfortunate that you can still find people out there bad mouthing the built-in or pop-up flash as a feature only “amateurs” use. They think a true “pro” would never waste their time with it. I think that’s snobbish and self defeating. Don’t listen to them.

The pop-up flash is an important and useful tool.

Fill Flash: Portrait in a non-formal portrait setting. Main light coming from window, camera right. One side of face lit, other side shadow. Dial down the pop-up flash to -1.3 EV. I find this puts just the right amount of light in there. Catch light in the eyes. It just fills in, doesn’t overwhelm. ( -1.3 EV worked for me in this case. Do some experimenting and see what works best for you.)

Portrait of John. Fuji X100S. 1/125 sec f 5.6. Built in flash fired at -1.3 (I believe!) Fills in shadow side of face just a touch. Small catch light in eyes.

Portrait of John. Fuji X100S. 1/125 sec f 5.6. Built in flash fired at -1.3 (I believe!)
Fills in shadow side of face just a touch. Small catch light in eyes.

 

Main Flash: Flowers in the shade. Sure, lovely colors. But flip the flash up, dial it down to about -0.3 EV and shoot. All those colors will now pop. More vibrant than without.

Flowers without flash.

Flowers without flash. Fine image. Nice colors.

Flowers with flash.

Flowers with flash. A little more vibrant.

Modified: This is useful for all kinds of flash/strobe photography, so I thought I’d toss it in here for a little extra tip. Using gaffer tape or, as I do, small strips of velcro, affix a 1/4 CTO gel to the flash and you get a more natural color temperature. Not that cold bluish/white color. It’s a slightly warmer tone and is usually very pleasing. I like this for almost everything, but definitely when shooting people.

Amber gel affixed to the pop-up flash of a Nikon D700 using custom cut velcro strips.

Amber gel affixed to the pop-up flash of a Nikon D700 using custom cut velcro strips.

Getting creative: Follow this link to a previous post on how to get an off camera soft-box look using your pop-up flash, a spoon and a white piece of paper (or–in this case–the back of an 8X10 print)!

Skateboard photography with the Nikon D750

Is the D750 the best all around Nikon ever? Maybe. Just maybe. It is for sure a damn good camera that can do pretty much all I need it to.

I shoot a wide variety of subjects. Landscapes, portraits, action, and much more. And for the last few months I’ve put this fine camera seriously through its paces.

Do I have quibbles? Sure. Nothing’s perfect, and I’ll probably tackle some of that on another day. But for now I want to focus (heh-heh!) on the positives.

It is lightweight, has a deep, comfortable grip, and produces amazing files. But what has stood out the most for me is the remarkably fast and accurate focusing system. I have spent most of my digital life with a D200 and D700, both more than serviceable cameras. But the difference with focusing between them and D750 is stunning.

I’ve been doing a lot of skate photography lately. Much of it at dusk and in the evening under less than ideal lighting conditions. But I’m happy to report the hit and miss ratio has been heavy on the hit side. The focus tracking in continuous mode impresses for sure. I tend to use group area focusing most of the time with action, but I’ve used single focus points before and still usually get the shot.

I’ve been using mostly Nikkor lenses: 35mm f2, 17-35mm f2.8 and 70-200mm f2.8. I will note that these are all older models. There are newer, more advanced version of these lenses that no doubt have better focusing mechanisms. But I regularly nail the shots with these old guys.

A few examples:

Wes Bell at the Kennedy Center Open House. Finding a Line skate park.

Nikkor 17-35mm f2.8. Shot at f4 and 1/40th sec. Shoe-mounted SB800. No gel. Dusk.

finding a line. daryl grier, skater designer for Tout Noir, flying!

Nikkor 35mm f2. Shot at f5.6 and 1/8th sec. Shoe mounted SB800 with 1/2 CTO gel attached. Night.

finding a line. grinding. close up of skateboarder grinding.

Nikkor 17-35mm f2.8. Shot at f8 and 1/25th sec. Shoe-mounted SB800 with 1/2 CTO gel attached. Dusk.

The focusing system on the D750 isn’t as advanced as the D500 or the D5, but man it’s hard to see where it’s lacking! It more than takes care of my needs.

(Rumor has it an upgrade to this 2 ½ year old camera is in the offing — maybe as soon as July!? — so things can only get even better, right?)

*Fingers crossed*

John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Open House.

Skateboarding and opera all under the same roof? Sure! Why not?

On May 27th the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC treated the city to an open house event celebrating the 100th birthday of John F. Kennedy. My wife and I spent the day and a good part of the evening down there taking in all we could. We visited with friends and we soaked up the sights and sounds. Ate good food and made a few photographs. The entire Center was open and in use.

Thousands of people visited throughout the day and were treated to — among other things — acrobats, dancers, DJs and live music — Hip Hop, blues, alt-rock — and of course a killer skate session at the Finding A Line skate park in the front plaza of the Center.

It was an amazing event open and free to the public. How they were able to pull that off I have no idea, but good on them for doing it.

So here’s to more events like this one. And here’s to the the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts for being bold enough to blend a great variety of artists and performers with skate culture. As you’ll see below, it worked out pretty well!

Audience participation.

Teaching the Piedmont Blues with the Archie Edwards Blues Foundation.

Jammin’. Washboard, fiddle, and guitar.

Little rebel.

Member of the vertical dance troup, Bandaloop.

Photographing the skaters.

Ben Ashworth. The driving force behind the Finding a Line skate community.

Ben Ashworth. The driving force behind the Finding a Line skate community.

Silhouetted skater gettin’ some air.

The JoGo Project. Donvonte McCoy on trumpet.

The JoGo Project with Donvonte McCoy on trumpet.

Revelers.

Kathleen Macias on the finding a line ramp at the kennedy center open house. Washington dc

Skater chick.

brandon lee padayao at the kennedy center open house skate park.

Skater dude.

professional skater jennifer soto gets some air at the finding a line skate park at the kennedy center in Washington dc.

Jennifer Soto flying.

Southern Landscapes, Opening Reception

Many thanks to Elizabeth Avedon, Nancy McCrary and Laura Adams at Brickworks Gallery for putting together this wonderful exhibition. Couldn’t be more proud to have one of my photographs included. And as I hope these images will attest, the opening reception was a true hit. If you’re anywhere near Atlanta the Southern Landscapes exhibit will be on display till the end of March. 

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Southern Landscapes exhibition at brickworks art gallery in atlanta, GA.

 

 

Yours truly.

michael kircher at brickworks gallery in Atlanta, GA.

Photo by Rachel Klein-Kircher

90% of your Instagram followers do not like your photos.

Go to your Instagram page. Take the last 20 images and average out the number of “likes”. Divide that number by the number of followers you have. That number will probably be somewhere around 0.10. That’s the average percentage of people who “like” your photos. About 10%. Doesn’t matter if you’re a famous photographer or a well known photographic organization. Doesn’t matter if you have 400 followers or 400,000.

After all that time chasing “likes” and followers, about 90% of your followers won’t “like” your photos. Now, it may be that they truly don’t like your stuff; it’s not compelling enough to even garner a simple double tap on the screen. But more than likely it’s because they didn’t even see your photograph because they too are chasing “likes” and followers. They too think more is better. They follow a ton of people in the hopes that those people will blindly follow them back. And your one in 2,000 photos on that person’s IG feed is going to get lost!

These people want to look at the number at the top of their IG page and see that it is greater than their friend’s and acquaintances because, you know… winning! They console themselves that the photo they posted earlier today has 150 “likes”, 25 more than the picture they posted yesterday. Yet the reality is the vast majority of their followers won’t “like”, won’t see their photographs.

My point in pointing this out is to give you a different way to think about social media and followers and likers and all that stuff. For me it comes down to quality over quantity. The vast majority of people I follow are people whose work or art I admire, and am genuinely interested in watching it evolve. I would hope people follow me for the same reasons. I don’t follow someone simply because they followed me. I don’t do “like-for-likes”. I appreciate it when I see someone new has decided to follow me. But I will still take the time to look at their page and see if it’s something I’m interested in before I click “follow.” And often I don’t. Sometimes those people continue to follow me and many times they take back their follow. Which is fine because they weren’t really interested in my stuff in the first place.

Yes, we all have friends and family we follow because they’re friends and family. I do like to keep up with all the nieces and nephews! But for me Instagram is mostly for the art, for the photographs. It’s my own personally curated gallery. A place where I can view interesting, powerful, and unique photography. It’s not a competition for “likes”.

What I’m getting at here is don’t waste your energy chasing those numbers. Because they really don’t mean anything. Or, I should say, they don’t quite mean what we once thought they meant. Follow who you want. “Like” what you genuinely like. Post photographs that mean something to you, that are true to your artistic spirit. The followers will come. You’ll still only see “likes” from about 10% of them, but they’ll be more meaningful.