Thursday, January 20, 2011

Chapters of stories focuses shooting

In shooting sporting events, there are so many compostions to consider. Deciding where and what to shoot is one of my greatest challenge as a photographer. It's easy to take on a photo opportunity and approach it as I've done it in the past. But the more I shoot and the more I learn about what I'm doing, I trying harder to consider the stories I'm wishing to tell. Many stories and better yet, many different chapters. As told through my lens from some recent events, here's a mix of chapters to sports stories.

Isolated and simple. Shooting single subject with a simple background is a wonderful way to present an athlete. An image that isolates the individual and includes the pure image of the athletic performance tells a story that often suggests precision, striving for perfection and focus that is all in the context of personal dedication and sacrifice. 

Pairings. Sometimes photos show great pairings; one-on-one, mano-mano, or girlo-girlo! As self composed the athletes may be, these shots often represent two forces coming together. One's going to get and one's going to give. Best shots are not when one athlete is dominating another, but when there's that ultimate back and forth struggle, when one wins one battle and the other the next. 

Opposing forces. While it's often preferable to capture the faces of the clashing titans, that's not necessarily required. The sheer physicality of athletes forcing their wills upon one another can just as effectively tell a compelling story of struggle and striving for dominance in a pairing. 

Instants. There are times when a sporting event has a single instant that without a photograph passes as a flashing moment in time. The start of a race, the pivot of balance in a wrestling match, the tip of a ball, the stretching reach of a first baseman. These instants are can be game changers, but may just be routine plays. It's hard to always tell the difference until what elapses just following that instant. 

Boosters. It's wonderful to help include the story about the place and context and what got us all here. Regardless of what level of sport, most athletes could not be where they are without the support of families, teachers and friends. Interestingly, last year while at a dinner for some US Ski Team atletes, one of the Olympians said just this when she and thanked all those who supported her for allowing her to be so selfish, for without them letting her be so self absorbed she would not be there. Fans, organizers and volunteers often make it possible for these contests between athletes take place. They are definitely an important chapter in the story of sports. 

There are so many more chapters and stories. But I find it helpful to think about these different angles to storytelling with photography. 

Monday, November 22, 2010

Writing with light beyond the photograph

Break down the word photograph and you get photo = light plus graph = write. So it's about writing with light. A story. Hopefully, a compelling one.

But what happens when we take a photo and go beyond the actual image that's been taken? Is it still a photograph? 

As photographers, we all do post-production; color correct, crop, touch-up and enhance a graphic file to meet our needs or liking. Even photojournalists, who are held to the most strict standards of not altering the content of their images, do post. So it's undeniable that there's a blurry line, or in our digital world, blurry pixels that purely define what constitutes a photograph. Ethics drives the photojournalist. Creativity and expression would seem to compel the rest of our shots.

When I capture the "ah ha" shot, the 5-star photograph, that's often an easy call. Leave that file alone and publish or print it as is. (Even the idea of printing "as is" not even a reality when I consider the countless choices in color settings, not to mention optional printing substrates.)

But what about those photo files that didn't turn out so nearly perfect? what about the shots that I really like the composition but feel like there's still more that could be done to express an idea?  For me, I like to play in Photoshop, poking around creating layers with different affect. I know little about PS and am not a graphic artist. But I find mixing and meshing options often surprise and once in awhile delight. So every so often I'll post the played with image in the gallery with the other shots because I like what came of them. To my amazement, last week one of these altered shots sold! 

Being a person open to feedback, that sale served as a bit of an encouragement to play more. Not because I want to sell more images per se, but because it suggested that perhaps others appreciate the storytelling of photography in a different, more abstract way.  It prompted me to think more about pursuing a project that I initiated a few weeks back with a local coffee-bike shop about hanging some of my stuff. I've been thinking about giving this a try. And I've been encouraged by a friend Matt Schillerberg who's hung his photos at a gallery for the world to see.

I have to admit that the idea of doing this is both easy, as in who the heck gives a darn, just do what you want to do, and at the same time terrifying, as in who the hell do you think you are? After all, I'm not a graphic artist, don't have any "style" to bridge the images.

But that brings me back to the definition of photography. Seems I need to figure out what story it is I'm trying to "write" with the "light" of these images.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Who do I shoot for?

Having just posted a couple hundred shots from a weekend ultimate frisbee tournament in Seattle, I find myself going back to the "View Stats" pages. My web site shows a line graph of the daily hits, lists the photos by number of visits, sizes and all sorts of info. Being the data junkie I can be, I love this feature. I love the feedback. I'm thrilled to see over the past four weeks I've reached almost 100,000 hits. (96,158 to be exact, but the day's not over!)

But I've got to admit, it's got me asking myself, "Who am I shooting for?"

That question was yelled to me once at a high school football game. "Hey, Mr. Cameraman! Who are you shooting for?"

"You!" was my immediate response.

It was sincere because I knew the person yelling to me was a parent. I know the parents of high school students I shoot are especially appreciative of the action shots. Realistically, most of these high school athletes are at the pinnacle of their athletic careers. And that's pretty cool.

And most of the kids I shoot are at Minneapolis public schools. Lots of these kids are in schools with a majority of the students living in poverty. Yes, even here in Minneapolis, we have abject poverty. These kids don't get many pictures taken of them. And as a result, many of the pictures or stories we tend to hear about them aren't good ones. Things are often not as bad as things seem, but when kids going to our schools are surrounded by negative stories and pictures, we as a society tend to quickly believe them, and generalize about them. It's sad because in doing work with the branding of high schools (what I am working during my days these days), the whole issue of adolescents and young adults establishing their own self identities is paramount in these formative years.

Kids need to see and hear good things about them for them gain an emotional readiness to learn. Emotional readiness means these kids are motivated to learn rather than motivated to protect themselves from situations they perceive as threatening their self or their social image. And most of us who have experienced adolescence can attest to the importance of social image in high school.

So to answer my opening question, I take a lot of pictures to help project a positive message to kids who don't often get it. The shots are placed on the web site free for download for electronic purposes because I want these kids to use them in their social media. To project a positive image of themselves. And to get the shots of these kids on the local news media web sites, like GameFaceMN the Minneapolis Star Tribune high school sports web site where I post many shots.

But I know I take them for myself too. Otherwise, how could I explain the great trip out to Seattle this past week?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


One of the assignments for my photo class was to create a self portrait. I have to admit, this was a bit of a challenging one. Being on the shooting side of the lens, I find myself comfortable doing the view finding. When the view is turned back on myself, when I was supposed to reveal myself from the outside in, well that was new. I tried a number of versions, including this one shadow in a field, "Out Standing in My Field." I liked the way the shape created an "A." Outstanding.

But I don't really feel that way. Not yet. I'm still a novice at this photography thing. So I pressed on.

"Closer." That was the image I ended up with for the assignment. I liked the idea because in many way taking photographs brings me closer to who and what I shoot.

After taking a season long series of shots of teams, I get to know the players, their tendencies, their approach to their sport. After spending a series of days in a neighborhood, I become familiar and comfortable with my surroundings and what's happening. Heck, stare at landscape long enough and watch the light change in front of my eyes, I feel more connected to it.

But looking through the lens can only bring me so close to my subject. Photographing might bring me closer, but that closeness is admittedly a bit, shall I say, distorted. Actually being close to something or someone is not a one-way connection. Relationships are two-way. They require both give and take.

My self portrait says to me that photography is a great catalyst to bring me to places where I may not otherwise visit. It gives me the opportunity to encounter people I may not otherwise meet. And while it brings me in proximity of who or what I am shooting, I appreciate that its one-way direction takes me only so close.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

What light is inside of you?

As I lined up my camera to focus on taking a shot of the band Ryan Paul and the Ardent ( at last week's Art Crank opening, a guy next to me with his camera looked over and said, "Oh, oh. Competition."

I could only respond, "Never."

The thought that another guy (or gal) with camera shooting the same subject might be believed to be competition, I just don't see it that way. I guess I might understand how someone might, but if I was able to take some time to talk about this with this guy, I would hope he'd gain a new perspective on two of us shooting side by side.

To be sure, I understand competition is not foreign concept. Not in life. Not even in creativity. Working in advertising for some 15 years of my checkered career, I fully get the idea of winners and losers. You win accounts. You lose accounts. And much of that is hinged on an ability to come up with creative approaches and executions.

While working in ad agencies, I admit I wasn't even on the "creative side." Ha. That is what they call it. Either you're on the creative, account, production or media "side" of an agency. Talk about competition. It exists within an agency, much less between agencies. And I realize there are even winners versus losers within creative staffs of an agency. Some agencies even pit creative teams against one another to win accounts or presentations to clients.

So I get it when the concept of competition is applied to creativity.

But it seems to me, competition is more genuinely an internal thing. Those committed, fixated or obsessed with reaching the pinnacle of what we are doing are looking for more than beating the other guy or gal. No, we're looking for reaching our own peak. We're our greatest critic. We look at others' work not not with jealousy nor envy, but rather as inspiration and perhaps motivation. Pushing ourselves because we see that someone has created something that so beautifully, so eloquently, so effectively has expressed their own self or their interpretation of an idea or thought.

When I see that, I can't help but think, "Wow. How can I do that?"

When shooting side by side, I realize that each of us has a unique perspective on the very same subject. Hey, I know I can't say it as well as Wilco says it. I'll just share it and say to myself, "Wow. How can I do that?"

What Light (Wilco)

If you feel like singing a song
And you want other people to sing along
Just sing what you feel
Don't let anyone say it's wrong

And if you're trying to paint a picture
But you're not sure which colors belong
Just paint what you see
Don't let anyone say it's wrong

And if you're strung out like a kite
Or stung awake in the night
It's alright to be frightened

When there's a light (what light)
There's a light (one light)
There's a light (white light)
Inside of you

If you think you might need somebody
To pick you up when you drag
Don't loose sight of yourself
Don't let anyone change your bag

And if the whole world's singing your songs
And all of your paintings have been hung
Just remember what was yours is everyone's from now on

And that's not wrong or right
But you can struggle with it all you like
You'll only get uptight

Because there's a light (what light)
There's a light (one light)
There's a light (white light)
There's a light (what light)
There's a light (one light)
There's a light (white light)
There's a light (what light)
There's a light (one light)
There's a light (white light)
There's a light (what light)
There's a light (one light)
There's a light (white light)
Inside of you

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The hole that makes us whole

Today's post comes with gratitude to fellow photographer and blogger Mitch Rossow ( I asked Mitch for some perspective on a studio shoot I'll be doing tomorrow.

Shooting in a studio new territory for me, but thanks to a willing subject (competitive biker Camilla), a helpful studio (Mpls Photo Center) and Mitch who gave me some insights on studio lighting, I will venture into this shoot tomorrow. Nothing ventured nothing gained.

My conversation with Mitch included talking about what it is to shoot. That is, there is actually a point of time in doing photography when the shooter is actually
not working.

That time non-working time is the fraction of time, perhaps ranging from 1/8000th of a second to maybe 30-seconds long, when the shutter is open. (Of course, technically there are exceptions, like when doing slash and flash or shutter dragging, but let's stay with the conventional argument here.)

We laughed at this concept. The idea that the time the photographer is not working is the time fraction of time the shutter is open. It sounded almost absurd. Is a copywriter not working with each keystroke? Is a surgeon not fully engaged in their work with the precise cut of a scalpel? Is a salesperson not working with flow of their words to address a customer's concerns?

The idea that the photographer is not working when the shutter is open, we agreed was more like the sharpshooter's release of the trigger. Once the bullet is out of the chamber, there's little else that can be done to redirect the bullet. Rather, all the time that is spent surrounding the pressing of the shutter, that's work time. Getting in the right place. Setting up the background. Assessing and making adjustments for the light sources. Creating rapport with a subject. Seeing the action develop in front of you and being ready to shoot at the precise moment the action or feeling unfolds. Not to mention all of the post shoot work. Those are the industrious work times for a photographer.

Minneapolis being named this week as #1 bike city in the country draws another analogy. The act of photography is like a wheel. The rim, the spokes and the hub. They're all critical components of a wheel. But what makes a wheel truly functional is the hole in the middle. Without the hole, the void, the negative space of the object, one could not place the axle and employ the wheel to serve to move objects.

Today, I celebrate the hole in the wheel, the void, the negative space, the open shutter. In a perverse way, it gives meaning to what we do.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

May your life's blur be behind you.

April 1st. Life seems a blur with how fast time passes.

Even if this feels like the best time of the year, coming out of fun in the snow and heading into fun in the sun, the laps click along.

Spent some of the morning updating the f/go shooting event calendar. Ultimate Player's Association disk Westerns are in Seattle this spring. Would love to figure out a way to make that happen. Velodrome season's already well started out in California and it won't be long here in Minnesota before the sound of those wheels rolling across the wood slatted banks will echo. And of course there's baseball, track & field, rugby and all the regular sporting events with their calendar reminders popping up.

This entry will be a quick one for today. Wanted to post this image I was working on for my photo class. A composition from the previously posted shot that I believe captures the beauty of motion I witnessed and even for a few moments experienced skiing last weekend. Might do more with it, or just leave it as is. Was a good exercise in learning some new techniques on PhotoShop.

While I'm a bit sad to see the ski season end, I'll just keep focused on the present and future. And hope I can keep life's blur behind me.