Archive for the ‘black and white’ Category

I traveled this month, a road trip from Colorado to California, and if you know me, I pack a variety of cameras.  I don’t go anywhere without at least one Leica.  And I brought a Rolleiflex for some portraits, and at the last minute put a 4×5 camera and some film and a changing bag into the car.

Plus the Nikon DSLR and three lenses, because I knew I would be picking up some freelance shoots in Los Angeles.

So, film, what is it good for?  On this trip, absolutely nothing / listen to me!

Because I was shooting street photos in Vegas and LA, and all along the way through Park City and Salt Lake City, Utah, and the Nikon with a 50mm or 20mm is perfect for that.  Quick and nimble.  Grab shots.  Instantly ready and can keep on shooting.

I came back home and put all the film back in the fridge.  Hopefully it enjoyed its trip.  But I thought about why I didn’t shoot any.  And it comes down to purpose.  I shoot film to MAKE photos.  To create a photo story on film or a portrait.  Film is for those family members and stories I want to make that are the most important to me.

For me, digital is best for grabbing shots–not making them, but TAKING them.  They are in front of me as a documentary photographer.  I’m not one to wait at one location for planets to align–elements to form a perfect composition in front of a mural, for example–that’s not my style of street photography.  I don’t stand still at all–I walk and watch and shoot when something grabs my attention.  When I see a story.  Then I grab a shot.

So, I guess you can tell what happened–I didn’t make any photographs.  I took images of the scenes before me.  Good documentary photos, but not made, taken.

That’s what digital excels at.

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A funny photo, a good street photo, but a documentary photograph taken, not made.  I was at the right place at the right time.  And had the reflexes to grab the shot.  But I didn’t create it.  Hence the use of digital medium, not film. (Nikon F610 50mm f1.2)

Film is for, I realize, creating something.  I don’t just pull out the 4×5 and see what catches my fancy.  Not at all.  I have to go out and create something.  That’s what that beautiful large negative is for.  Purposeful photography.  And photographs made on film take planning.  I can’t just show up in a town I don’t know and see something I can make a photograph of.

So, I end up taking photos of the scenes before me.

I’ve been working on some fine art images the last few months, and I realize the difference between a nature photo by an artist Sally Mann and one by a nature photographer John Fielder is that one is made, and one is taken.  To me, there is a world of a difference.

The artist must make something out of the materials at hand.  It’s about vision.  And how they turn their creation into their finished piece.  It may not be literal.  It may not be fully realistic.  Artists are visionaries.  What they show tells us about them.

The nature photographer captures the magic in the natural world, and depicts it in all its full wondrous splendor, colors saturated for maximum impact (and sales).  Technically perfect, bursting with color, nature taking all the credit for the display, the photographer taking all the credit for capturing it.  But it’s not fine art.  It’s commercial art.  What they show is a wonderful display piece in a family room that tells us about nature.

Most people would rather hang a Fielder.  I can appreciate that.  But there’s no denying the mastery of Mann’s artistry.  There’s currently a landscape exhibit at the Denver Art Museum through September 16th featuring a couple of her hand-printed images that are quite beautiful and the exhibit is well worth seeing.

For me, film is Mann.  Digital is Fielder.  One is for making art.  The other for creating a salable product. Mann’s may hang in galleries and museums, and private galleries of those who collect her work, but ultimately, Fielder has the image that most people would like over their mantle in their mountain home.  (If you want one, they’re available at his online gallery.)

It’s just that I don’t have a mountain home.  If I did, and I could afford it, I’d choose Mann’s.  (She’s also made a wonderful body of work photographing her family with a large format camera, and all her work inspires!  I don’t think digital could’ve made those photographs.)

Guess that’s why I bring film with me.  I never know what I may find to make.  And there is an amazing sense of accomplishment when the opportunity arises.   When the picture lends itself to film.  Film photography takes a plan.  I need to make better plans, because next time, I’m sure I will take the film cameras again.

There’s such a joy to making a Rolleiflex portrait.  Or one on 4×5.

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My Father, on film with my Rolleiflex, out to breakfast with me on my last road trip home.

Film, what is it good for, absolutely something–photographs I make!  But I have to have a goal and a plan to make them, otherwise, the film and film cameras are just along for the ride.

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I’m a journalist with a camera.  Or a storyteller with a camera.  I’ve come to realize photojournalism defines me.  My photography.  My approach to seeing the world.

I was listening to a podcast with a street photographer and she said she documents what makes her think of her childhood.  Another photographer said they are drawn to light and shadow.  Not me–I’m a story guy.  I want to capture the story of people wherever I find them.

I am the founder of the RoyStryker.com documentary photo project, and it’s all about capturing human stories in the U.S.  Because that’s who we are and that’ s what I see and seek out.

Interesting light is nice, but without a story leaves me feeling nothing.  Creamy bokeh and amazing technique are both worthless to me without content.  Because story is what I need, what I think most of us seek in a photograph.

Other street photographers look to juxtapose interesting elements–an advertisement and a person, a color pattern, or something that makes for a geometric image.  They’ll wait until the elements line up perfectly to get their shot.  Those are fun to look at, but I need story, too.  Otherwise, those are just people plucked and placed into the composition, but they may have no connection to it other than the photographer’s sense of humor.

I can’t stay put that long, a story may be around the next corner.

I’m teaching a street photography workshop this week, and the only thing I can possibly teach is to see people and look for stories.  Because that’s all I see, so it’s all I can help others see.  Like a photojournalist, find the story and document it with images.  Tell the story.

Two people walking with inner tubes is not that interesting, but the chivalry of this guy is what makes this photo a keeper. If you have to get your tube to the river, get a guy like this!  It’s serendipity that I would see them the moment they were crossing the river.  And that there’s another tuber in the river below.

Story.  It’s who we are.  It’s what we were.  It’s even in the word HiSTORY.

There’s no telling where it will appear next.  We just have to go out and look for it.  Wear comfortable shoes!

PEOPLE, PASSIONS, SUCCESSES & DREAMS

I’m working on a photography project where I put a question to people on the street. “What are you famous for?” Their answers can be current, or post-dated.

WhatAreYouFamousFor.com – (Follow here, the photographs are much better displayed than on Facebook.)

The question has made people consider what do they want to be known for. And what is fame? And when will they achieve their goal, if pressed for a date.

So far, I’ve met an NFL Tight End for the Pittsburgh Steelers, a Canadian National Cycling Champion, and a Theater Lighting Designer, a Pulitzer-winning Investigative Journalist and a National Geographic Photographer, among others.

Follow along if you want to get updates with the next famous people who I meet. Maybe I’ll get you and your “fame” into the project.

www.facebook.com/groups/whatareyoufamousfor/ is the FB group link for updates.

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I work as a professional photographer in Boulder, Colorado, shooting portraits, business headshots, and commercial projects for clients like the U.S. Air National Guard and U.S. Air Force, food and drink for Whitewave/Silk and American Homestead Meats, and event coverage for companies in the cable industry.

On a recent day off, I decided to take a stroll down to the Pearl Street Mall, the local outdoor shopping area in downtown Boulder, and figured I’d build my portraiture client list by photographing people on the mall, getting their email, and offering to send them a photograph. In the email, I asked them if I could add them to my email list where I offer tips to great phone photography (something they’re probably interested in) while promoting my services.

The truth is, while my business clients are regular users of photographs, many people sometimes think to do family portraits or couple portraits, but that’s where it ends, with a thought. They never actually order a portrait session.

OUT ON THE MALL FOR STREET PORTRAITS

On this day off from client work, I took out a Nikon DSLR that is 9 years old, a D90 which debuted in August 2008. Why I brought that instead of my D810 is that I wanted to shoot with a vintage 1970s-era lens, the Nikon 55mm f1.2 non-AI manual focus lens for the soft backgrounds it produces, since I would be working on a crowded outdoor mall, and the information at Nikonians.org about its lens compatibility with my digital bodies says:

NO!
Definitely do not use, for it may damage the camera body. Also, warranty will be void.

That didn’t sound promising. But I was determined. So, I mounted the lens on my backup body, a D7200, and it mounted but it was tight to attach and once attached, the aperture ring wouldn’t budge.  Hmmm.

That mount seemed ridiculously tight. It took a good strong twist to mount it. Definitely not a normal mount. I thought, I’ll do a test with it, and then another one with the old D90 that I had laying around, knowing that at f1.2, I wouldn’t be needing the latest sensor capability for low light performance–I’d be shooting at base ISO (200, in this case) since I was working outside wide open.

The test with the D90 looked as good as the D7200, though it was a 12mp image instead of a 24mp. Good enough for what I was working on. And if it damaged the body, oh well, not much lost since that’s not my go-to camera . (It looks like you can get a D90 these days for under $200.)

So, with that 55mm f1.2 Nikkor S-C extremely securely mounted, I hit the streets.

And then I approached people, folks who looked like they were in a good location to interrupt them. Sitting somewhere, or chatting in the shade. Here’s what I found and created, with the promise to send them each their portrait. psmfamilyBW-kennethwajda
This couple got two images, I liked them as a package. She replied: Thank you so much for the lovely portraits. What a great treat to meet you and let you make these portraits of Pieter and me. Yes, we have been in love since we met in the summer of 1965 in the Netherlands, where we grew up. I will certainly think of you when we need a beautiful family portrait when we are all together in Boulder for a happy family get together. I will also recommend you to our friends. Until we meet again. With warm wishes, Susanna.pearlolder
If I hadn’t made them, would they ever get made? It seems a shame that they might not, and I’m proud to have made them.pearlolder1
This guy was working on the mall. pearl6
These three were sitting in front of an ice cream shop, and looked like a photogenic trio.
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Visiting Boulder from Italy and very flattered to be photographed.
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She tagged me in this Instagram post.

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The ice cream on their faces were what drew me to them.pearl3
Someone was trying to get a photo of them with a phone, when I offered to shoot it for them.
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A couple out on the mall with their dog, who was too old to make it into the photo.
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A dapper man who engaged me in talk of photography.
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A couple of friends out for happy hour drinks.
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A grandpa and his grandson sharing a bit of time watching street performers.
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She wouldn’t hold still long enough to get the three of them in the same plane of focus, so this is the result.familypsm-1-kennethwajdaThey were heartily laughing, which is how I approached them: “I love your laugh.  Can I photograph you?”
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Another guy interested in talking about photography.michaelportrait-kennethwajda
She’s into photography and was talking about my camera, and her interest.
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A daughter and her father sharing a coffee break.

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Two friends cruising the mall, who I asked to photograph them together.
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The only one that I kept in color instead of black and white was a young woman at a local taco joint, while I was waiting for my burrito, who asked about my camera and mentioned that she likes photography. I asked her if I could take her portrait with the light coming through the broad windows of the shop.
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These were all made with a 9-year-old camera body, (a senior citizen of the camera world!), that no one into camera models would take seriously. I took care of that with a small piece of black gaffer tape over the model number. Problem solved!

The people who I photographed loved their portraits. I asked them to please tag me in any social media posts. And of course I included my contact card at the bottom or each of my emails. And now, I have their contact information for my growing list of contacts. These are new contacts to people who have now seen my work, who like my work, who may need anything from family photographs to business images–someone might be the CEO of a company.

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Portraiture is all about the connection to the subject in the image that we create, the emotion we draw out–not just the technical quality of the camera. I wrote this story because I think sometimes we feel we need the latest and greatest, and we really don’t.

It’s really not about the camera. We need something proficient for what we want to create. The D90 is from 2008 and the 55mm f1.2 is from 1972. Good gear matters, but it doesn’t have to be the latest in all cases.

It’s about creating art out of beautiful, wonderful subjects.  And these people certainly are.

Kenneth Wajda is a freelance commercial photographer and film producer in Boulder, Colorado. You can see more of his work at KennethWajda.com.

More people are experiencing the glut of photography. It’s everywhere, it’s instant, it’s disposable, and that’s exactly where it goes–away.

CHILDHOOD MEMORIES
I remember when I was a kid, we had professional portraits made every year, and our family would make family portraits that would line the wall alongside the staircase.

And all my friends, too, there were portraits of each of them and their family members up on the walls. What happened that we don’t value family portraits like that anymore?

SAD TALES OF LOSS
I’ve personally heard several examples in the last few months of people telling me they wished they had photographs that were better than the phone snaps they have of their kid when they were two. Or five or seven. Or in one case, of their grandma when she was 95.

At a recent conference, a manager for a major corporation told me that he didn’t know why they stopped doing family photos, they just haven’t for years.

A couple I was chatting with at a pub told me that in hindsight, they should have printed some of the better photos that they can’t find anymore.

And one person I met while documenting life out on the street said they wished they hadn’t thrown away all their parents slides after they digitized them, because now the disc won’t load and they’re taking it to a computer tech to try to retrieve the images.

The wonderful thing about the phone is you can shoot a million photos.
The terrible thing about the phone is you can shoot a million photos.

A PHOTOGRAPHIC DARK AGE
And those photos are disappearing. Far away.   Into some distant folder buried on some hard drive that people think they are saving them, but have no idea where they go.   Unedited photos that no one wants to go through. There are just too many!

Find me a photo of your grandparent or kid from just five years ago. Good luck.

I find this to be a sad time for photography, because many families are overindulging in low-quality snapshots, and only that. They are being led into a false sense that they’ve got their memories saved, and well-preserved, and that they have quality images.

They really don’t, and they’re not.

I PREFER MY FAMILY DARK AND BLURRY
I see lots of photos that get ‘likes’ on social media. Often they’re poor, blurry, dark, not a keeper in any sense of the word. But there are the likes. Lots of them.  And always the comment, “Great picture of you.” Really, you like to see them dark and out of focus?

It’s like the difference between cheap junk furniture from Wal-Mart versus fine furniture from an artisan woodworker–the photographs we’re choosing are cheap and not very good.   Functional, but low quality.

Many people who saved their photos to CDs or tapes over the last 20 years have had some amount of loss–either some discs won’t load anymore or the tapes don’t play, or they play with degradation through the images.  It’s threatening to become a real digital dark age.

PUTTING IT OFF
I know people who talk about wanting to get portraits made of their kids at every year, then figure they can wait a little bit, then the kid turns four, seven, ten, and then they realize they haven’t made any good portraits of them. I’m seeing this in my business, as people put off scheduling the sessions they used to book. Or if they do, they don’t even want prints, just the digital files.

I’ve actually had clients who’ve scheduled a portrait session, with prints included in the session fee, and they’ve never ordered them. They don’t see the point of a real photograph. I’ve sent them reminders that a print order comes with their photo session. But there’s no response. Nothing. Zero interest.

They see no value in the actual real, physical photographs.

And in five or ten or twenty years–some time in the very near future–those photos, even though they were made by me, a professional, will cease to exist as they get lost in the tidal wave of images. And buried in the sand by the digital undertow with all the rest.

I don’t see how they are ever going to make up for them. In fact, I know the answer. They’re not.

GIMME ALL THE FILES, JUST THE FILES
There are plenty of people who’ve picked up a digital SLR in the past few years and call themselves a photographer, who will shoot your family by a tree for very little money, and give you all the files.  They have no interest in photography as an art medium with a final product–an actual photograph–but only to shoot their camera and get paid for pushing the button.  You could print their photo dark with lines across the faces with an inkjet printer and they couldn’t care less.

The more I discuss this situation, the more I get people nodding in agreement. They concur too many photos is a problem. They say they know the quality is lower than they’d like.  And they admit to having lost a phone and thousands of pictures or knowing someone who has. But do they do anything and book a session?

No, they don’t. Because that I-have-a-phone-I-can-do-it-myself mentality persists.

AMERICA THE (LOOK) RICH
America looks rich, but isn’t. It just looks it. We think we have the best, but we buy the worst as long as it looks okay. That patio set in our backyard from Target, that’ll last a year or two then we’ll throw it away. Everything is disposable. Nothing is built to last. But it’s nice and cheap, and looks good for a little while.

There was a recent article in the Boston Globe where someone asked regarding school photographs, “Why does Picture Day still exist?”   That’s the mentality–that we have our phones and our snaps and they’re good enough.

Maybe I’m nostalgic, but I thought there was something to my folks ordering and framing photographs of us as we were growing up. I liked the way we each had something to remind us we were all vital parts of this family.

WHAT, ME DRESS UP?  ARE YOU KIDDING?
Now, to get people together for a family photograph, to suggest they come in for a formal studio portrait, I’ve had people tell me they can’t be bothered to dress up. They have some from the park they made themselves, and don’t really care about getting them done formally anymore.

I’m a film photographer who shoots legacy photographs on real film and I print photographs on real paper for framing and displaying in a home or other physical space.

I don’t understand the unwillingness to spend to photograph our families well.   Future generations are counting on it, and they will be surely disappointed by the lost pictures and bad snapshots.

Someone must still value the best in quality.  Someone who isn’t put off by the idea of dressing up.

YOUR FAMILY ARE ROCK STARS
If you’re a rock star or movie actor, and you’re being photographed by a professional photographer for a magazine spread, you don’t complain that you can’t wear your sneakers and t-shirt. You want to look your best.  You go to be your best. You dress up and feel your best. You’re a rock star, after all. Everyone knows the performer’s creed: “Look better than the rest of them!”

That’s my goal, to find those that see their families as worth the extra expense for a high-end studio, formal portrait that they will hang in their home, because they see their family as worth it. And that see me as the one photographer, an truly experienced professional, working in a special, unique way–not just another guy with a digital spray and pray camera, but with real film and quality lighting in an actual studio–that will actually preserve that memory and will truly capture them as they are.

With artistry.  And quality as the determining factor, not the cheapest price point as the basis for their decision.

The rest will have to hope to salvage that phone snap for a very long time.

 

If you like a daily affirmative talks about photography, take a look at my Inspiring Photo Talks Web Page with just that, photo talks.  Short, positive, fun talks about all things (mostly analog) photography.

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Not everyone demands top quality from a photographer. But as a professional with 30-years of experience as an award-winning published photojournalist, that’s all I offer. It certainly costs more, but you get the best quality and service.

If you don’t want that, please don’t call me.

I don’t hand over image files because I care that they are finished professionally and look their absolute best–after all, it’s my work. Yet there are many people with cameras who will give you all the images after the shoot, saying, “Do what you want, print them at home, I don’t care. I just like to shoot and walk away.” If that’s what you want, I ain’t your guy.

If you would prefer cheap and quick over professional quality, please don’t contact me. If you don’t see the difference between professional photography and amateurs with a camera and some software presets, I can’t show you.

Just like if you can’t feel the difference between driving a Mercedes and a Kia, I can’t help you. And if you think Denny’s tastes as good as a chef-prepared meal, I’ve probably got nothing for you.

But if you can, expect to get something more delicious than you even imagined! Portfolio: KennethWajda.com – Studio phone: 720.982.9237