Father's Day

Happy Father's Day, Pop. Love you and miss you. Glad we got to talk so long this morning. 

My Dad worked hard all his life. While growing up, he did three jobs to make sure we never went without. For 30 years he toiled on a General Motors assembly line. He taught me to work hard, keep my head down and keep going. It was a small life lesson he gave by example. 

When I moved to Pittsburgh, he came out to help turn the building I bought into a studio. He built walls, painted and assembled an Ikea kitchen unit. The later was the only time he got frustrated. But, doesn't everybody get that way with Ikea? 

For those few weeks, we bonded like never before. Christmas day came, and we realized the kitchen wasn't ready, and we had no food. Nothing was open in the small town of Ambridge except one bar. We went in and were the only customers. Telling the bartender our plight he offered to make us the only thing he had, spaghetti, so that became our Christmas dinner. 

The weeks I spent with him during the buildout will always be one of my favorite memories of my father.

 

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President Gerald Ford at the University of Michigan

I started out young. Very young. My first newspaper assignment came about when I was just 15 years old. Two years later, I was on staff and eager to prove myself. When word about President Gerald Ford coming back to his home state to speak at the University of Michigan, I convinced my editor we should cover the event. A few phone calls, a letter to the Secret Service and it was game on. 

On the day of the event, I arrived extra early to get my credentials and go through the bag check line. Once approved, all the press photographers were herded into a holding room to wait for the time we could enter the hall and take our positions on the photographer platform. 

The room was very crowded. We were elbow to elbow. Seemed like every newspaper in the state, no matter the size sent a photographer, and of course, the most prominent papers sent more than one. And here I was, a teenager with a press pass and my bosses Leicas around my neck. My eyes must have been as wide as saucers with excitement. 

Eventually, an older, veteran news photographer loaded with multiple Nikon cameras and long lenses came up beside me. He stared me up and down, smirking at the limited gear I had. Finally, he snarled, "Kinda young, aren't you?" Naive doesn't even come close to what happened next. In response to the old photographer's question, I beamed, "Yes! This is the first time I've ever shot a President!" 

Oops. OMG, what did I say!

I can imagine what the parting of the Red Sea looked like based on the mass of news photographers in that room who, upon hearing my response, immediately stepped back, leaving me alone in the center of the space. Well, not entirely alone, there was one other person, an enormous person, dressed in a dark suit and talking into his sleeve. He looked down at me, now shaking in my shoes, and said very sternly, "Son, we don't use that kind of jargon around the President of the United States." Gulp. I'm not sure at that moment if I turned snow white or beet red, but I know some color change occurred and time seemed to stand still as the immense Secret Service agent stared into my almost weeping eyes. Then, almost as if on cue, muffled laughter circled the room. The rest of the press corps thought it was quite amusing how far the new kid stuck his foot down his throat. With that, the agent gave me a slight wink and walked away. Lesson learned. And while this was my first time photographing a President, it wouldn't be my last.

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The Beauty is in the Details

If you always carry a camera you never have to go out to take pictures. 

Coming back from YM Camera in Boardman, OH yesterday, my friend Marc and I spotted this beauty, just waiting for our attention. The old Dodge was a pallet of aging layers of paint with a patina only a photographer could fancy. Small details are my love letter to this vintage vehicle, a splendor of Detroit's auto industry, once upon a time.

I could imagine being on the open road, cruising down Route 66, AM radio blasting Buddy Holly, while the hula girl was dancing on the dash. Oh, the memories that must be in this graceful Detroit chariot. 

From a technical standpoint, I had my standard kit with me, the one I call my "Walkabout." The one I bring on most daily trips here and there, is a Fujifilm X-Pro2 body, 18mm f/2, 23mm f/2, 50mm f/2 and one of my favorite lenses, the 55-200mm. I pack the kit in a Domke 805 bag. It was the 55-200mm lens I used on all of these images. 

  The circle of life – Fujifilm X-Pro2 w/55-200mm

The circle of life – Fujifilm X-Pro2 w/55-200mm

 Hula girl, dancing on the dashboard – Fujifilm X-Pro2 w/55-200mm

Hula girl, dancing on the dashboard– Fujifilm X-Pro2 w/55-200mm

 The Ram  – Fujifilm X-Pro2 w/55-200mm

The Ram – Fujifilm X-Pro2 w/55-200mm

 A badge of honor  – Fujifilm X-Pro2 w/55-200mm

A badge of honor – Fujifilm X-Pro2 w/55-200mm

Diagraming a photograph

Taking pictures is easy! Just point and push the button. 

Yeah, right.

The diagram below shows what goes through the mind of a photographer a nano-second before the shutter is released. With time, it becomes so second nature you forget you're doing it. You see it all without looking. It becomes a feeling. Or, as my mentor Joseph Costa once told me what his mentor told him, "you look through the viewfinder until that voice in your head kicks you in the ass and says, NOW!"

Breaking it down, line by line.

RED LINE: The first thing I saw was the spiral that starts at the wheel above the mechanics head, travels down at an angle to the wheel on the shelf and rotates around his hands and lands on the tire on the car in the background. I call this a 'modified Fibonacci spiral' (my term, not official).

GREEN LINE: Next comes the balance between different forms within the frame. The two wheels and the can and poster. While the sign itself is a different shape, the balance is still there. 

BLUE LINE: Speaking of balance, the negative space occupied by the refrigerator on the left and the concrete floor on the right are areas that balance each other within the photo. 

YELLOW LINE: The picture gains power with a strong diagonal line from the tire above center, through the angle of the mechanic's eyes and out the other side through the wheel on the right. The photo has a near perfect division between left and right sides with the subject's head almost dead center. Left and right side of the picture is balanced. Finally, if you draw a line through the space separating the refrigerator door from the freezer above and on through the top of the shelf in the background, it too divides the picture just right. The three lines also form a triangle, which further enhances the strength of the frame. 

Of course, all the graphics in the world can't make a weak image strong. The concentration on the mechanic's face as he works on the part in hands enhances the photo, as does the angle of the light streaming into the garage from the right. Put all the individual elements, lines, and graphics together, and the picture works. 

It's that simple, and that difficult. All done in the mind and heart of the photographer in a fraction of a moment, every day, on every assignment. 

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Black and White or Color?

Coke or Pepsi? Fritos or Doritos? If the answer was only that simple. But in some ways, it is. Personal preference plays into the decision. More importantly, how do you see the scene, how do you interpret the image, does color enhance or detract from the message you want to convey? These questions will help you decide, and only you can determine the outcome. Crowdsourcing for answers means you don't know, and if you don't, how can anyone else, it's your photograph.

Learn to see in both color and black and white. Learn to understand the difference between color harmony and visual harmony. How do you learn? Practice, practice and more practice. And study. Lot's of study.

Analyze the color masters and how they work, how they see. People like Joel Meyerowitz, Sam Able, Jay Maisel, William Albert Allard, and Alex Webb. Look deep at the black and white photographers; Matt Black, Ralph Gibson, Jacob Aue Sobol, Bill Brandt, Michael Kenna, and of course, Ansel Adams and Henri Cartier-Bresson. Compare and contrast their styles and vision. See how they compose, how they use tone, light, and shadow. 

I came upon this scene at a traffic light. As always, my camera was at the ready in the center console. All I need to do was frame the photo and wait for the moment to develop. What I wanted to capture was already clearly formed in my mind's eye, and thankfully it occurred before my light turned green. 

From the instant I spotted the scene I knew it would be a black and white photo. I saw the shadows and highlights and colors dancing in shades of black, white and greys. The yellow-greenish tint to the building and the red bus both turned neutral in my vision of a monochrome image. Color, in this case, would be distracting, confusing even, pulling attention away from the subject, and the story. Is the scene as a color photograph terrible? No. But in my vision, the black and white image is stronger. The monochrome tones and design elements graphically harmonize while in color they are confusing to the eye.

Defining your vision and style is a journey of many steps, and only you can walk the path.  

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Seeing

I see the world in graphic shapes. Squares and rectangles. Lines. Light and shadows. Adding a human element gives scale to my scene. The dynamic range of the Fuji sensors allows me to see into the darkness and retain detail in the highlights to reveal more detail. It's all there for the taking, the light, the shadows, and the shapes. Foreground to the background.

Fujifilm X-Pro2 | 12mm f/2.8 Zeiss Touit  

 

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X Marks the Spot

I need to give a big shout out to two outstanding people who recently helped save the day, and my bacon. Amy Maki and Stacey Moore work for Fuji and are my heroes. They didn't know me but came to the rescue when I needed to get two of my cameras repaired. They didn't have to reach out and help, but they did. Thank you so much.

I've been an evangelist for Fuji for some time. I'm not paid by them or anything like that; I use their gear. And when I find something that works, I tell people. Loudly. Let me explain why.

First, the files I get out of these cameras are outstanding. The image quality, color rendition, and file size work for all the professional applications I need. 

Next, Fuji cameras are a joy to use. The size, weight, and operation of the cameras are as close to that of a film camera as I've ever found in the digital realm. To me, that matters. There is more of a spiritual connection. It's a mind, body flow of creativity that is not interrupted by the awkward feel of my tools. It's is not the first time I've had such a connection. The Nikon F and Leica M cameras provided me the same experience. Not surprising, Nikon consulted a Zen master on the design of their first flagship SLR. 

The weight of the camera is perfect. I usually work with three bodies and lenses at a time. Fuji is not too big, not too small, just right to be carried all day without the typical fatigue associated with lugging multiple DSLRs around. I've worked this way for decades. It's incredible I can now do it without exhaustion or an aching back.

Fuji makes some of the best glass in the industry. Their large format lenses are legendary. They have taken that knowledge and transferred it to the digital side. As a result, the lenses are so sharp many have compared them to those created by a certain German company, especially in their f/2 line-up lovingly nicknamed "Fuji-crons."

A large number of naysayers point to what they believe is one of Fuji's major shortcoming – the APS sensor size. For those pixel peepers, all I can do is shrug my shoulders and ask, why? I've made prints up to 4x6 feet that are so vivid and tight you seem to walk into the image. I've shot billboards, annual reports, magazine covers, and dozens of other types of assignments. In each case the image quality, sharpness, and dynamic range exceeded expectations. For what I need, Fuji works.

While they are a relatively young entry into the digital market, they're growing, expanding their lens range, and best of all, they keep improving their cameras via firmware updates. Kaizen – continuous improvement, a long-term approach to work that systematically seeks to achieve small, incremental changes in processes to improve efficiency and quality. Fuji has embraced this philosophy with open arms to the benefit of consumers, amateur and professional alike. 

But, the bottom line is this; pick the camera that fits you and produces the images you demand. You can have all the gear in the world, but if you don't have a vision, you have nothing but a fancy camera. A pinprick in the bottom of an oatmeal box can produce a work of art in the hands of an artist.

 All I'm saying is Fuji fits my work, my style, and my heart. And maybe yours, too. And it doesn't hurt to have heroes out there watching your back, either. 

  Fuji X-E2 | 18-55mm "kit" lens. How much sharper does this need to be?

Fuji X-E2 | 18-55mm "kit" lens. How much sharper does this need to be?

  Fuji X-Pro2 | 18mm f/2 lens. Advertising photograph, color grading in post.

Fuji X-Pro2 | 18mm f/2 lens. Advertising photograph, color grading in post.

My brush with a Kennedy

Central Michigan University, in Mt. Pleasant, MI, hosted the 1975 Special Olympics International Games. It was a huge deal. Special Olympics founder, Eunice Kennedy Shriver was attending the event. I had just graduated from high school and was already working at the local daily newspaper.

During the opening ceremonies, I was assigned to cover stage events and speeches while our other photographer, Dale Atkins, roamed for more exciting pictures. I didn't care. Being just weeks out of high school and already living my dream as a newspaper photographer so who was I to complain.

As expected, I got the typical politician at the mic picture. Over and over and over again. Everyone who was anyone came out for the games. Finally, it was Mrs. Shriver's turn at the podium. By this time the light was high in the sky and extremely harsh. She was my money shot, the one the editor wanted for page one. I had to get this right. So I trained my brand new Nikon Ftn and 200mm f/4 Nikkor on her face. The successful picture came when she pushed her hair off her right ear. Her arm formed the perfect side of a triangle and provided for a dynamic composition. The editor loved it and ran it huge on page one the next morning.

When I saw the paper, I was thrilled. Well, for an hour or so. Seemed Mrs. Shriver did not like the picture. In fact, she hated it so much she called a friend, the owner, and publisher of the newspaper chain, and demanded I be fired, effective immediately. How dare I portray her with such course, wrinkled and unflattering skin! Forget the fact she spent most of her time on a sailboat in the ocean!

Thankfully, the editor had my back, so I didn't get fired. But I wasn't allowed to photograph Mrs. Shriver at any time during the games. In fact, I was told to stay clear of her, as far away as possible. So for the rest of the most significant event in local history, I was all but sidelined.

Looking back at those events today I laugh. My career nearly ended all because I made an honest, straightforward picture of a powerful and influential person, and they didn't like how they appeared. It was the first, but wouldn't be the last time I stepped on toes as a photojournalist.

 

 Eunice Kennedy Shriver speaking at the 1975 International Special Olympics opening ceremonies.

Eunice Kennedy Shriver speaking at the 1975 International Special Olympics opening ceremonies.

Eye See You!

Making a connection with your subject is paramount in creating an exciting and engaging portrait. Sometimes that connection comes from the most unlikely source. 

Commissioned by art director Amy Rajokivc thru the Dymun-Nelson agency, I was tasked to create a series of portrait images for the Heinz Endowments annual report. The job went along well with each person sharing their story and experience. The conversations went back and forth, with rapport quickly established. Then came the library. 

At the Homewood Library, we were photographing children in a reading program with their favorite book. Many of the children were somewhat shy at first, but I'm just a big kid so getting down at their level and letting my inner child take over did the trick. 

Then this little guy came in. From the moment he sat down he was beaming with a smile that could light up the room. Every time I looked into the finder of my Hasselblad, he let out a giggle or a loud squeal. Now, I knew I was good with kids, but he was way beyond anything I ever dreamed! Everybody on set was astonished. The expressions I was capturing were almost too much. The most dramatic reactions were coming every time I looked down in my camera. I was getting confused until he pointed and exclaimed "EYE!!!" He saw my eyeball reflected thru the lens of the Hasselblad, and it broke him up! We all had a great laugh and a great time. 

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Breathe

Some days you need to take time for yourself. A breather, a pause, a respite. Smell nature. Feel sand between your toes. Sit under a tree and listen to the leaves. Do whatever gives you peace. If you don't recharge your batteries, they die. If you don't renew yourself, well, I think you know my meaning. We all need to walk away for a day, a week, a few hours. Do whatever it takes to find your center. Keep yourself fresh so the light can shine from within you. 

I've been on a slow recharge for a few days. Yesterday, late afternoon was spent listening to trees and feeling the breeze around Lake Arthur. I needed to find my quiet. As I was leaving, this scene got my attention. It was the congruity of nature. Rock and trees, leaves and branches, light and dark all working together in harmony and peace. Mission accomplished.

  Rock face at Moraine State Park / Lake Arthur

Rock face at Moraine State Park / Lake Arthur