Sunday, September 28, 2008

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 180ยบ 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.

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