Sunday, September 28, 2008

The angle that refreshes...

ORIGINAL POST: 12 Sept 2008

Immediately after the new pharmacy students receive their white coats in such a ceremonial manner, they all adjourn to the lobby for a group photo on the big spiral staircase.

There were probably 200 people gathered around with their digicams to get a shot at the group of 60 new students...

...this is where I go hunting for NOT that photo. My boss got it as good as its ever going to be and we don't need two.

So, new angles sometimes mean:

I often give myself a hard time about "finding the new angle" that most haven't thought of before... but I've recently come to the conclusion that it isn't about the "new angle".

Rant warning:
After all, how many millions of people out there with a camera turn the shot up at 45degrees and call it a "style"... or even worse, call it a "new angle"! Look through Flickr... look through Facebook... its honestly what people do! They tilt the camera one way or another and its a new "angle"... as if they're giving us the perspective of someone who wears only one very heavy earring.

Now tell me ONE editor or serious journalist that would run a photo tilted 40degrees...

But, all that said, I still strive to find a new angle. Sometimes, that means climbing up or down and finding it...

...but recently I've learned that its not all about "camera location" as it is about what you're trying to convey - the story you're trying to tell.

This photo will appear in the paper on Friday:

Amongst the 300 or more photos I took that day of the new students receiving their white lab coats, shaking the hand of the Dean, interacting with people during the reception... the photo that will be used and printed thousands of times does not even have the students in focus...

Just goes to show you, keep your eyes open for the things that aren't immediately visible. When you go to approach something "from a new angle" keep in mind the figurative as well as the literal.
Even if it is the little kid who takes his mum's digicam out to the front of the crowd? That, too, evidently makes for a feature shot.

Stay tuned,
~Noah D.

PS: There are two versions of the photo with the kid. Off the record: I would have picked the other one. (Shhh... don't tell...)

...and doing good things.

ORIGINAL POST: 7 Sept 2008

Humanity is rather odd. There are many people in the world who do things to be seen and praised for doing them.

There are people in every profession like this:
There are photographers who take photos for the sole reason for people to pat them on the back and say, "Wow! That's a great photo!"

There are athletes that play sports for the single reason to be idolized by young people.

There are musicians who do their thing only because they want people to ask for their autograph... or they want people to reach onto the stage to be touched by them as if their touch means anything at all.

There are preachers and people in the church who get up and speak with the intention of hearing themselves speak.

Then, there are those who you will never see in the papers. You will never see them in photographs on the AP/Getty/Reuters wire. In fact, they may be completely anonymous...

...and those are the people who I envy.

Before school started, the incoming freshmen arrive a few days early for a program called "New Student Impact." Well, as a photographer for the school, I naturally document as much as possible. Among the little icebreaker sessions and awkward "themed dinners" in the dining hall, the new students also have the opportunity to go out into the community and do a little community service.

Sure, there were the trash picker-uppers and the window washers, but there was also a certain group who went to a group home for mentally handicapped adults... to do anything... anything that needed to be done... or any service that they might be able to fulfill.

This is where I go.

They went there not quite expecting what they would be doing. I mean, what do you really do there?

So, they started outside... just cleaning the grounds and making the patio look nice.

But it wasn't long before they ventured inside.

After all, they were there for anything...


Whether it was reorganizing a closet, putting up a curtain, or vacuuming the floor, these guys took to their task without a single reservation.

As the freshmen did a few odd-jobs around the house they talked to the residents... not only talked but played cards, read to them, and discussed their favorite movies.

And these guys and girls were not forced to do it... they weren't required by anyone. It was in a schedule for a certain afternoon, but if they had not shown up, nobody would have known the difference...

...but because they showed up they made a difference.

They made a difference to the residents of that group home.

I would dare say they were missed as soon as they left.

I would also say it is a good thing to be missed when doing things such as this.

Nobody else knew that a dozen 18 and 19 year-olds did what they did one Saturday afternoon. Does it matter? To the residents it does.

It is good to do good for the sake of doing good.

Stay tuned,
~Noah D.

I forgot to say...

ORIGINAL POST: 30 Aug 2008

Oh, I was just about to head to bed when I found this photo - I forgot to say anything about it...

...I had even worked it and put it in the "special" folder on my desktop where blog-able photos go.

I was out being adventurous in the foothills of the Ozarks... well, I guess it was in the foothills... or out in the backwoods of Arkansas near the Ozarks...

It was my first full day with the 5D.

And that is all I have to say about that. Too busy these days. Gotta shoot at 11am tomorrow... and tomorrow afternoon sometime... and a bunch on Sunday... and...

Stay tuned,
~Noah D.

Back to school... back to school...


Not everyone is like me and has moved in and out of college dorm rooms and apartments and across the seas with all worldly possessions in tow... a dozen times.

For some, today was their first day "on their own". And for some parents, it was their first day a child went out from under their roof... begin their college careers.

I was there five years ago.

Its a pretty big step for those young kids.

Its a pretty big step for those parents!

But, I document life. This is a part of life - one of those "top ten life-changing experiences".

Yes, my friends... I'm back at it. You'll be seeing the posts pick up again. I've been here almost a week before the first freshman sets foot on campus... its actually quite fascinating to see it from my perspective.

I'll try to do my best at showing it to you... through my lens.

Like here... where it almost looks like the little brother was put outside with all the rest of the odds and ends.


I love the little details in life.

So, hang on. Busy weekend. Big events. Lots of photos.

Stay tuned,
~Noah D.

PS: I'm now official shooting cross-platform. Yep, the above picture was taken with a Canon 5D.

"The hills are alive..."


Yes, just like any photographer attempting to do a good job, one must spend an ample amount of time with the job to make sure he covers all his shots. Plenty of atmosphere... plenty of wide shots... plenty of tight shots... and plenty of those little obscure shots that defy classification.

Well, in the case of this last job, I spent so much time with it I began to almost feel like I belonged there.

As you might have figured out from the title (unless you thought I was talking about a horror movie), the job was to cover a play - Rogers and Hammerstein's "The Sound of Music".

Spend enough time with musical theater and it is inevitable... you will start to get the songs in your head: only fragments of the songs, of course... so its all the more frustrating.
I saw the entire play from start to finish at least 8 - possibly 9 - times. Or at least the equivalent in additional practices I attended.

Even before the costumes were completed, I was taking photos.

Part of the gig of being in the playbill as "Cast Photographer" includes taking photos for promotional stuff (such as posters and the front of the program) and local papers... as well as the photos of the cast that will appear in the lobby.

In a lighting test outtake, Chris gets comfortable in front of the camera.

But with all the contrived promotional stuff, I still got to do what I like to do best: record some real life stuff. And even though it is "just a play", there are some real-life elements to it.

Kayla and Chris Harper played Maria and the Captain. Yes, they share the same last name... because they're married. And if you don't know the story of "The Sound of Music"... well, too bad, because they end up together in the end.

See? There are cool little stories in the background of just about everything.

Speaking of cool stories, there are even stories with the props seen in this production. For instance, this Flag of the Third Reich:

This is not only a real Nazi flag from World War II, it flew aboard one of the most famous German battleships of all time the Admiral Graf Spee. The Admiral Graf Spee was sunk off the coast of South America in the Battle of the River Plate. After many of its officers and crew hid in South America, a certain officer befriended a local missionary there. As the missionary prepared to come back home some time after the war, the officer gave the missionary the flag that flew aboard the ship... mostly to get rid of any more evidence that he was connected to the Nazi's to avoid being found by the war-crimes tribunals that were searching for the rest of the crew in South America.

That missionary brought the flag back to America. Almost half a century later, here it is: the flag of the Admiral Graf Spee.

It doesn't get much more authentic than that, my friend.

There is no end to the little interpersonal details that begin to emerge from hanging around and photographing a huge and diverse cast like the one that appeared in this big production.

And you must put in the time. Sure, you can sit and get snapshots of the performance, but that's the view everyone sees! What is unique about that!?

Even the soccer mom with a digicam can get a shot from the audience - she just has to buy a ticket.

It is the week before where I prefer to be...

...when the bugs are still being worked out of the sound and lighting systems.

The cast was rather large - like 50 nuns or something...

A stage manager acts as a nun herder as they wait for their cue.

And not only nuns, but there are dozens of lead rolls, too!

I love pictures that are able to convey some sort of story:

I wonder if it is hot in the nun's costumes in August?

I think that answers it.

Because someone once said something about the world being a stage and all of us are the players... and my job is to document it.

And though we may not have any catchy music to get stuck on our brains...

...nor do we have any wireless microphones need their batteries changed during early practices... grand endings riding off into the sunset...

...or the mountains.

But it is sometimes fun to just suspend belief. Yeah, its a play, but there's real stuff going on behind the scenes. That's where I want to be.

And when it was all over, it was so fascinating: I had spent so much time with the cast and crew that it was hard not to feel a little sad for them singing "So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, goodbye" the last time and see the tears filling the eyes of the cast members. That wasn't acting... that's the real thing.

And the final bow...

They put quite a lot of their summer into this play. They did a spectacular job. I have seen quite a few plays from Broadway and the Fox Theatre and the Orpheum... and it was hard to believe these people weren't at all professional.

Anyways, so that explains my absence as of late.

I'm also back to working on editing photos from my 4 months overseas.

Why? you may ask...'ll see!


Stay tuned,
~Noah D.

A "moving wall" sort of seems like an oxymoron...

ORIGINAL POST: 15 July 2008

I've seen quite a few walls recently:

The Wall... (Wailing Wall, Western Wall)

...the Berlin Wall...

...or just a lot of pretty walls that hold up pretty buildings.

A few years back, I visited the Vietnam Memorial in D.C., and that was yet another wall. It didn't hold up anything, nor did it keep anything out... but much like the Western Wall many go there to remember.

This time, the wall came to us.

Something that some might consider a contradiction in terms, the "Moving Wall" has been on tour in the southeast this summer.
No, its not the real deal, of course. In fact, the thing is substantially scaled down to half the size of the original and built from a sort of composite metal/plastic substance supported from behind.

Anyways, it is definitely a nice gesture and, even for a town as small as mine, was well attended - at least enough to get the grass browned and marred from foot-traffic.

Quite serendipitously, we came upon the closing ceremonies yesterday (Monday) just in time to see it before it moved on.

Our mayor spoke...

...which, like many of these sort of things, is a speech of "thank you and thank you and thank you" - after all, re-election is coming up in November. Who can blame him?

And a guy I graduated with played taps...

...he works for the sheriff's office now.

I can only imagine how hot he must have been.

As cheesy as it may sound to some who have seen the REAL wall - which, might I add, is an extremely moving experience - it is a mighty nice gesture for those who are unable to ever see the real thing... the older couple that approached me right after the ceremony. She asked me about my camera: I can geek out about cameras like the best of them, but who wants to talk about stuff like THAT when I have a chance to talk about something far more important.

I found out they had lost a nephew in the Vietnam War...

Darwin Shelton was killed by friendly fire three weeks after he landed in Vietnam. He had grown up in my hometown, but had moved away shortly before the military got him for service.

Then I come to find out this couple knew my family well. She graduated high school with my grandmother and he knew my uncle and grandfather well.

Small world...

...but then again, we are in my little town. It is a small world all of its own.

So, the "Moving Wall" on a hot Monday afternoon in July...

...that is all.

~Noah D.

Someday it may be important that I pressed the shutter...


Sometimes when you don't develop film for a while, it is easy to forget what was on the rolls you took. In this case, it was quite a surprise...

...a couple rolls from before I left for my travels overseas...

...and more importantly - a lost roll from Israel!

But, alas, there is an inherent problem with living in the southeast in the summer.

Its hot.

Really hot.

So hot, in fact, that my tap water doesn't get below 76ºF - even at night... and that's a problem when a guy wants to develop some film. For the most part, it is the same thing that makes it so much fun. But, take the calculations for change in temperature with pushing 400 up a stop or two... and you've got a great mess on your hands!

But that's not why I'm writing now...

Still, I must admit, it wasn't until afterward that I figured out how much difference a few degrees can make... and that means I ruined some film...

...but what I DID get was a few great surprises that reminded me of the joys of doing things "old school"... developing film in a bathroom at night like some of the early masters.

(Only read this section if you're as much of a nerd as I.)
I honestly considered putting ice in my D-76 soup to try to cool it down four or five degrees, but if you've ever taken college chemistry, you'll learn that the "heat of change" of two substances tends to be rather abrupt then levels back out to whatever the ambient temperature is at a fairly regular rate.

Without going into too much scientific detail, the greatest problem comes if you change the temperature with ice then try to develop film something like Ilford HP5+ 400 pushed to 800 in D-76 mixed at 1:1 for 16 minutes at 20ºC (68ºF). Well, if the temperature of the room is also 73ºF, you have a very narrow window at 68ºF before the temperature rises up high enough for temperature compensation.

So, needless to say, things get messy. I sat with a thermometer, a pad of paper, and the temperature compensation chart from the Ilford website before each process began.

Not all were successes...

...but some weren't so bad.

Now that I've gotten that out of the way, how about some photos!?

Hearkening back to the day I attended the torch ceremony in Athens, Greece, I was surprised to see this roll come off the spool. It had images from Israel and Greece.

Ironically enough, almost none of the Chinese people there that day were actually from China. I heard a number that only a handful were permitted to make the trip and all the rest were refugees living in Athens in a semi-Chinatown.

That was fun...

...but even more incredible were the couple rolls from before Christmas. I was still at school...

...and it truly reminds me why I do what I do: it is important.

At a gathering before Christmas, my friends and I all got together for the first time since we graduate high school 4 years ago. Sitting there just taking few photos like this...

...I thought about how little of this we're going to remember in the years to come.

It won't be easy to forget the gathering itself; but it will be difficult to remember the little glances caught across the room in a quiet moment between myself and a good good friend.

Just like everyone always says, "We'll always be in touch!" around graduation time, who actually does for more than a few years.

I have friends scattered from Kentucky... New York City...

...and Colorado, California, and who knows where else!

We will all remember that time we saw the Olympic flame passed to the host country...

...but I bet you the following hours with good friends in the Plaka coffee shop will soon pass from your memory.

Its okay, though. I'm not being hard on human forgetfulness.

But it is about the connection...

...usually made with the eyes...

...for however brief a time...

...but just long enough to make the photo.

Maybe that is why photographers hate losing a roll of film. It is 12 or 24 or 36 moments in time that can never be retrieved... never be re-lived.

Like this one... dark its impossible to tell, but this is a lecture by National Geographic's Steve McCurry and one of the "unpublished" photos of the Afghan Girl.

I don't pretend to make such iconic photographs yet, but that was a perfect example of Henri Cartier-Bresson's "decisive moment". Mr. McCurry mentioned him quite a few times as one of his "favorite photographers" that he learned so much from.

Moments in time... aspect of video that is one of its downfalls: it may tell the story just as well, but when all means of playing said video fail, the photograph will remain.

Its the dangers of digital photography, too! When the computers crash, harddrives fail, CD's and DVD's break down... the real print will remain.

It is a testament to human frailty...

...find a video or some digital 1's and 0's in a drawer in a hundred years and tell me who this man was.

But because it is a print in silver, it will live on longer than any of us.

Am I being melodramatic?


But that's why I do this: it is important.

Someday, it may be important that I pressed the shutter at exactly that moment.

For instance:

Grandma's cooking. I don't have to "just remember"... I can see it.

Many of you may have been unaware about something that happened while I was overseas. I did not write about it here; I'd hate to be depressing in such a place.

...but let me just show you this:

The last photograph of my grandfather before he died... while I was in Europe. No, I wasn't able to come home for the funeral. But this photograph survives. Oddly enough, its on film. Real film. A man living in the 21st century having his final photo taken on film.

Iconic photograph? No. But extremely important, nevertheless.

Things like this are why I press the shutter. It is why I do what I do and strive to be fairly decent at it.

So, all in all, you'll almost never regret taking a photograph, but you'll often regret it if you don't.

Go out.

Take some photos...

...because someday it may be important to someone that photo exists.

Stay tuned,
~Noah D.

A week with the greats...

ORIGINAL POST: 24 June 2008

I never turn down an opportunity to learn something new - especially when it comes to photography... so, when my boss mentioned something about me coming along to the UPAA (University Photographer Association of America) 2008 Summer Symposium it did not take too much to persuade me.

And that was even before I learned who would be making an appearance!

But first, a few stories...

The UPAA symposium was held at Auburn University this year and it drew university photographers from all over the world - even as far as Australia, I think - and brought them all (about 80 of them) to learn and share their knowledge with the rest.

This, of course, includes classes and seminars as well as keynote speakers. Also, a print competition and a shoot-out sponsored by Nikon where the grand prize is a Nikon D300 and the amazing 17-55/2.8 - so, the stakes are pretty high. They also award their University Photographer of the Year a new Canon 40D. The UPAA Photographer of the Year is chosen based on points as voted on by all the other members over the course of the entire year... the most consistently good photographer usually comes out with this honor.

Anyways... on for the story.

For the Nikon shoot-out, we were dropped off at the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta...

...and given 3 or 4 hours to wander around with a theme in mind - the theme picked by the Nikon rep was "the Pause that Refreshes". Yep, pretty obscure... but that keeps everyone creative.

I just wandered around the aquarium for a few hours and enjoyed myself... I actually find them interesting, but I've been to too many of them. So, really, I wandered around in the dimness taking photos.

But then again, I don't usually haul around an entire bag of lenses either. So, I took advantage of the fact...

The 80-200/2.8 is getting a little lazy these days... I think the front element may be getting loose after being drug around Europe and the Middle East for 4 months.

Ah, digicams...

Speaking of digicams, I took up residence here for about 20min and just waited for photos to come my way...

One of the things our first speaker (Dave Martin, a photographer and editor from the Associated Press) talked about was being patient as a photographer. So, I figured I'd try it out...

...and, as it turned out, some of my favorite images came from that 20min sitting on that bench under this bubble...

...including the image that I was going to turn in for the Nikon shoot-out:

That's my take on "the pause that refreshes"... however, as a student member of the UPAA, I wasn't going to be able to compete in the Nikon shootout. This just let me compare myself to the things the pros shot.

No, I shant answer that aloud.

One addition to my bag, though, was my boss' 12-24/4.

I could REALLY get used to that thing... f/4 is a liiiiiittle dark for me, but made for some completely unique images. And, while I'm on the subject of wide angle, I got to play with the Nikon 10.5/2.8 ultra-wide prime a few days prior...

...which was absolutely ridiculous. I don't think I could justify spending almost US$700 for a lens that is kind of a gimmick. Yes, those beams on the ceiling WERE straight. It would take a while to get used to it, but I think it would be fun to play with... after I figured out how to NOT get my feet in every frame - seeing almost 180º on a single image takes some getting used to.

But I digress...

That night, a fellow shooter thought it would be a GREAT idea to get up at the crack of dawn and go drive out into the country and just take photos of whatever we find. It took me a while to realize he was talking about meeting at 5am... and he was serious!

So we did.

Jeff (my boss), Joe, and myself threw our lens bags in the car at 5:10am and went to driving. It wasn't long before the "golden hour" began, but first... we found a train...

...yes, my friends... ANYTHING we found, we shot.

This stop yielded only a few shots of blurry train cars for me, but Jeff fared better.

Oh, and then the "golden hour" began...

Gotta love lens flare...

...great big sensor dust spots.

But then we kept going down the road until we found Tuskegee, Alabama... just waking up to the early morning hours.

I would have given a small appendage for a neutral density filter, but oh well...

It is moments like these when I wonder what passers-by are thinking...

...a guy on his knees shooting through a fence at a house at 7 o'clock in the morning.


Tuskegee, Alabama, is a rather old town south of Auburn where historical buildings like these...

...are found everywhere.

And old buildings need to be renovated sometimes and worked on...

As I got out of the car, my boss had already headed out on his own down the street. I turned to Joe and said, "How much you want to bet Jeff is going to figure out a way to get on that boom-lift before we leave?"

"Nah..." Joe said - he had no faith.

Take this as foreshadowing what is to come:

"Hey! Isn't that the back side of the clock face!?" you ask.

In fact, it is.

Quite serendipitously, a paint crew pulled up a few minutes before and saw us taking photos all over the square.
"What are you guys doing?" one of them inquired.
Jeff explained that we were attending a symposium in Auburn and we were just out enjoying the countryside morning and taking photos as we went.
"What you REALLY need to do is go up to the clock-tower! There's great views from up there!"

It wasn't long before we were being ushered upstairs by one of the painters and the bailiff to unlock the storage closet where the stairs began.

...and wound up to the first floor of the clock tower where the drive mechanism sat.

Other than having a computerized back-up, the drive mechanism was assembled by the Seth Thomas Clock Company in 1906 and still runs after 102 years of service.

The next floor houses the clock faces and transmission that turns the hands of the four clock faces together:

Four gears. Four faces. Its truly amazing to me that a machine can still be running like this after 102 years of slowly turning the faces of these four clocks... day after day after day.

It kind of puts more depth to it if you think about it. Considering this is a clock... which tells time... its the only thing that outlasts us all... and this one has outlasted an entire century of history: two World Wars, a dozen presidents, entire generations come and gone... and this clock still sits here ticking away.

Above the transmission is the actual bell:

...and that's as far as you could go.

With only a few minutes to spare before the bell would be striking 8am - and we had no desire to be in the bell tower at THAT point - we made our way back down to the street and headed back to Auburn University...

...then, as if this morning would never end, we happened upon the historical Tuskegee Airfield where the famous Tuskegee Airmen trained and were based.

Google it if you don't know the history.

But then we made it back to Auburn at long last... we had been shooting for over 3.5 hours and it was only 8:45.

As for the rest of the symposium, we heard from Sports Illustrated's Bob Rosato as he came to us directly from Boston after shooting the championship game between the Lakers and the Celtics. In fact, he had to reschedule from Tuesday because of that game.

So, we heard from Michael Grecco, a Canon Explorer of Light.

If you see his images, you'll know that he is not just any photographer. Of course, his work is extremely produced, but there is a saving grace: he uses no Photoshop to manipulate the color or feel of an image. All the wild lighting arrangements are real... Even if you're like me and prefer available light, he's worth checking out - he's a mighty talented guy.

And the biggie - to me - was the great Steve McCurry from National Geographic. His portrait of the Afghan Girl is arguably one of the most famous images in all of NG's archives.

His stories were fascinating to me... and though I had only had a few hours of sleep the night before, I was riveted.

I do apologize: no photos from meeting him yet because I had the Leica M4-P. My Nikon was being cleaned by the service guy they brought in for us.

I'll be developing those rolls soon, I promise. I've taken quite a few. And there's at least a shot or two that I can't wait to see...


So that was that. My first major conference in the "real world" of photography. Its really exciting, I assure you, to be finally getting somewhere in all this education and everything.

This Fall is going to be just amazing! I'm doing something I love and I can't wait to do it! Whether its climbing up into the top of a clock tower in Tuskegee, Alabama, or walking through the ruins of Rome or listening to old photographers sharing war stories, I'm trying to make the most and best of every situation that comes my way. So it seems the same rules always apply just as they did in Europe: whatever happens its going to be good.

~Noah D.