Archive for the 'photography' Category


An Explanation

Many of my friends often tell me, in regards to my photography, that I seem to always be in the right place at the right time, as if it were completely random.  Now, that does sometimes happen, but usually I have help.

You see, part of being a good photographer is knowing where “the right place” is, and when “the right time” is.  Predicting this kind of future can be a bit like playing darts while blindfolded.  It’s difficult, but if you do it long enough, your darts do start hitting closer to the center.

Take this photo, for instance:


This shot of a homeless man with his cup outstretched to the man covered with shopping bags on the most expensive street in Boston is one of my favourites.  Sadly, it could be composed a little better, but I literally had a split-second to get the shot, and I didn’t have enough time for fine-tuning.  I was walking down Newbury street, when about 200 feet ahead of me I saw this man and his two daughters (in the blue jackets ahead of him), and then about another 50 feet ahead of *them* I saw the homeless man.  I knew that this meant they would have to walk past him, and I was almost positive that there was the opportunity for a good shot.  Despite the sidewalk being relatively crowded, I started running down the street, and right as the man passed him, I fell down to one knee and clicked off a shot.  While the shot is far from perfect, I was definitely rewarded for my running.

For another example, take this photo:

Jindo Island Beauty

Now, my desk is positioned in front of my huge window in my apartment, and while it’s partly so that I have a nice view, it is also so that I can keep an eye on the light.  There’s both buildings and mountains in my panoramic view, and that gives me a decent idea of what the light conditions will be on different parts of the island.  If certain atmospheric conditions seem like they might be good soon, I head down and get on my bike.  Now, sometimes after work, I ride a little randomly around the island, looking for potential future shots.  When I head down to get on my bike, I start trying to remember those spots, and think about what the light will probably look like in 10/20/30 minutes, and think about where I can get to in that time.  In this case, I noticed that the sky was particularly blue, the sun was not yet setting but was low enough on the horizon to create nice shadows and add dimension to the clouds, and I knew that I could probably get a reflection off the river just outside of town.  So, I drove over there, walked about 200 yards, and took this shot, when I saw the farmer and his cow.  I used my flash with a hand-held bounce card to create some fill so as to get the flowers in the foreground properly exposed in addition to everything farther away, but that was about it, and I always carry an index card (for bouncing) in my bag, so it wasn’t something I prepared specially for that trip.

For one last example, I’ll give you my favourite reenacting shot:

Looks so real...

I took this shot at a private WWII reenactment in Kentucky that my Soviet unit attended.  We were under attack and I, being the medic, was not attacking, and instead was laying down in a gully.  Since I was not shooting with a gun, I decided that I should probably be shooting with my camera, and I turned towards the friend in front of me.  He was crouched down a few feet in front of me, ready to shoot at the approaching Germans.  I figured he would do *something* interesting soon, and I trained my camera on him, focused it, and waited with my finger holding the button half-depressed (so that the reaction time of my finger would be even faster).  About 5-8 seconds later, he jumped up to take a shot, and I clicked the button.  It was a little dark in the forest, which meant that my shutter was slower, creating the slight motion blue that I feel really makes this photo look like an original, rather than something taken a year ago.

So, there you have it.  That’s my take on being “in the right place at the right time”.  It is partially coincidental; I did not place the shopper or the homeless man on the street, I have no control over the weather, and I did not know if the enemy would get close enough for my friend to attempt to take a shot.  But, the key here is that I was paying attention to my surroundings, was thinking ahead of time (by anywhere between a few seconds to half an hour) to try and make an educated guess as to what shot I could potentially get, and then attempted to put myself in what I felt was the best position for a good shot.  Those three things really are at least half, in my opinion, of what goes into creating a good photo.


Listen and See

I like to go for walks in the evenings here, after work.  At that time of day, the light is usually beginning to gain that slightly golden tinge that signals the beginning of the winding-down of the day.  Jindo Eup, the town, is in a valley and the sun sets behind one of the mountain ridges a few miles from town, and so the sky stays light for quite awhile after the sun is no longer visible.  Most of the farmers are finished with their work for the day, so I can wander around un-harassed among the little dirt roads that crisscross the fields like a fishing net, with my camera on my back and my ipod piping music into my ears.

I am rarely without my ipod when I am out shooting.  I consider it as much a part of my requisite gear as my extra memory cards, or my lens-cleaner.  It is not that I find it difficult to shoot without also listening to music, but instead I find that music helps me to “see” the moments I shoot, before they happen.  It’s not that I can necessarily tell what is going to happen – it’s that I see the photo I want to take, in my mind’s eye, and then it is merely a matter of finding the right position and waiting for the scene to occur.  Sometimes it never does.  Regardless, people who know me well can sometimes figure out what kind of music I was listening to at the time simply by looking at my photographs.  Similarly, if I don’t have music, my work is often somewhat uninspired, and I generally even have to remind myself to shoot.  To me, my eyes and ears are not just organs for sensing different aspects of the world around me, the two are in fact very inter-connected.

I estimate that I spend, on average, 8-12 hours a day listening to music.  Music has always played a rather large part in my life.  I have spent most of my life surrounded by it.  When I was young, I had a toy which, if you were to rock back and forth on it while sitting on it, it would spin you around.  I would sit on that toy, with an old Sony Walkman in my lap and headphones on my head for hours on end, listening to The Yellow Submarine or Joshua Tree over and over and over again, in an almost trance-like state.  There exist countless photos of me on the damn thing, my blonde hair flailing out in every which way.  In middle school, I got a portable CD player.  I listened to it endlessly in the car, as I had previously with my Walkman.  Not only that, but I began taking it to bed.  I would lay awake at night, listening to soundtrack CDs (my favourites were Last of the Mohicans and Benny and Joon, both of which still top that list to this very day) over and over again, imagining whole stories to go along with the music.  Near the end of middle school, I actually began to sneak out of the house at night to go sit up in my tree house in the middle of the night to listen to music and watch the stars.  I was a weird kid.  Most parents would have been concerned about a 14 year old sneaking out at night to go be with boys; mine were concerned about me falling off the ridge of our roof while climbing around pretending to be a spy at 4am (at least, they would have been, had they known).

I become more observant when I’m listening to music.  My eyes tend to slightly un-focus, and so while nothing is in sharp focus, I get a better general picture of the world, and I notice small things, especially motion, far faster.  My reaction time also goes up incredibly, as does my ability to focus without exhausting myself.  Without music, I get tired after an hour and a half of driving.  With music, I have been known to drive for 18 hours at a stretch (with gas stops, of course).  Without music, the world seems dimmer, duller, less real.  The best way I can describe it is that when I have headphones on, the world feels like I’m in a movie.  When I don’t have music on…it feels like the monochrome world of 1950s sitcoms, only minus the funny neighbors with witty one-liners and the happy-go-lucky postman.  I honestly cannot imagine going through my life without music.  The world I experience when I don’t have music on is interminably dull.  I don’t know how others deal with it, frankly.  Sometimes I feel like the protagonist in Pleasantville; I experience the world in colors, and when you take away my music, I am stuck the real world – in grayscale.  But to me, the grayscale is unnatural, rather than the colors.  Frankly, it’s a miracle I have never gotten into drugs, all things considered.  Maybe music is my drug – it certainly alters my perception of the world.

I recently got a pair of wireless headphones.  Now, I never have to be without my music, as I cook, as I clean, hell, even as I sit on the toilet with my book.  Sometimes I listen to short stories on audiobook as I cook – last night I listened to Hemingway’s The Snows of Kilimanjaro while cooking zucchini for my spaghetti.  I have taken to wearing them even to bed.  They are cushioned, so they don’t hurt my ears when I lay on them, and this way, I can give the direction of my dreams a musical “nudge” as I drift off to sleep.  The playlist on the computer only lasts about 10 minutes, and it rarely takes me more than half that to fall asleep.  In the morning, I pick them up off the floor where they invariably fall during the night’s tossings and turnings, and stick them back on my head as I prepare for my day.  And so it begins again.

Over the years I have figured out that I can change my behavior in subtle but significant ways through music.  By listening to particular music before I have to complete a given task, I can shift my actions, even my deportment, to be more appropriate to the undertaking.  This has backfired a few times in recent years – after listening to aggressive, confident music, I have occasionally come off a bit too far on the side of self-assured and have been dismissed as cocky.  In general though, it has been a great help to me, and has aided me in getting through some difficult situations.  Usually it comes through in my personality, though sometimes it even has physical influence – in middle school I used to listen to fast music before running in a race.  When I was able to, I almost invariably came in first or second.  When I was unable to, I was somewhere near the back.  The power of mind over matter is truly amazing sometimes.

So, you see, I would have to argue that music has been and still is, quite possibly, the most influential force in my life.  My parents and various friends certainly have all played a major hand, but on the olympic platform of my life, music stands at the top, a gold medal around its neck.




Portrait of the Author

I realized that 1. I have not posted photos to this blog yet (though, considering the number that get posted to my other blogs, and the fact that I have two photoblogs, I think this one should be left mostly for writing) and 2. that most of you have no idea what I look like.  So, I figured that I should post a recent shot of myself.  This isn’t *recent*, but it was taken back in February, so it’s recent enough to serve, and I have always liked the shot:


Two New Blogs

So, I’ve been a bit bored lately, and I have started two photoblogs.  One is just a general photoblog of my best photos:  some travel, some abstract, some portraits, some reenacting, some nature.  It serves somewhat of a purpose as a very informal portfolio.  The other is a photoblog of my favourite photos from my reenacting.  Many of my most popular photos are from those events, and so I felt they deserved their own special display.

General Photoblog:  Freeze-Frame

Reenacting Photoblog:  The Past Reflected in the Present

Go check them out, and enjoy!

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