So much of who we are and who we become is determined by those around us. Considering that proximity nowadays has become a safety concern, it's vital to understand that our thoughts, our behaviors, our demeanor are also a byproduct of what we're paying attention to either online, on TV, or social media in general.
As a parent, one can't help feel that we don't have much time to occupy ourselves physically or mentally to anything which means that when the opportunity comes around it's typically regarding something that's of value. Why would I want to waste my attention on just anything when I have very little of it to go around to begin with? At least that's my perspective.
I pay a lot of attention to topics on health, wellness, self-care, travel, investment, family, leadership, politics and so it's natural that I won't be caught up on the most recent chart-topping artist. At my current age, I feel so much more caught up in life than I ever did at any age simply because I stopped trying to pay attention to everything while still being cognizant that life is made up of so much more than the ingredients we choose to include in our plate.
Prior to COVID, I've attended my fair share of fitness based events in New York all of which have been absolutely thrilling to shoot. Not only have they served as a springboard to meet more professional trainers in the industry but also with it's ability to walk away inspired every single time by simply being around individuals who are an embodiment of what they preach.
Hilary Riftkin has been one of these inspiring trainers. After some scheduling challenges at the beginning, she reached out and booked me for a shoot which gladly accepted because it was to celebrate her birthday and the fact that it involved commuting to the town of Amagansett in Long Island which I've never been to. We chatted about life, the current state of the fitness industry and how much I admired her beautiful home!
Peggy Sirota is an America photographer who's work I feel I can easily scope out whenever I find myself reading a few of my favorite magazines on the iPad. Sirota has become one of the top entertainment photographers and her work her has been published in magazines like GQ, Shape, Esquire and Vanity Fair. From her portrait work, I invariably get this sense of authenticity, full of life and organic chemistry between her and the talent regardless of location and coincidently enough I came across this brief article in which she describes her artistic approach to what I see as an admirer to her beautiful work:
I don’t care whether I am shooting in studio or on location; I like both. It is more about the content, what the people are doing and how they feel in front of the camera. Where we are doesn’t really matter.
I like light that looks natural: in general I want the light to look believable. I like to catch people doing real things in a light that doesn’t look overly contrived. I want it to be a perfect moment that just happened!
Never feel like you have to do just one thing. The world will try to keep you in a box. Get a job. Work 40 years. Retire. Die. Try everything you want to try. Do everything you want to do. Be everything you want to be. When you do that, one life can feel like one hundred lives. Life's short, so go actually live it.
I don't know what it means to just go to work, come home and believe that's all I do. I'm fortunate to have developed a relationship with my camera, my photography and the people I've met along the way to remind me that my interest in life doesn't live within the timeframes of when I clock in and out at work. It shouldn't for you either. In the event that it does, I wrote about how you should have something in your life that's selfishly yours because I can assure you no one will come along offering you anything. If it doesn't come from you, you're doing yourself a disservice in not knowing what else you're capable of.
During these COVID times I made it my personal mission to educated myself more when it came to lighting a lot of which came mostly through YouTube videos and in going through a few portrait photo books I owned such as Hunks & Heroes by Jim Moore. After having ingested so much valuable information, I was beyond anxious to partner up with Elsa once again and practiced what I had learned because in the end it means nothing unless you get in there and make reality what only lives in your mind at the time.
There are people less qualified than you, doing the things you want to do, simply because they decide to believe in themselves. Period.
I'm positive I've heard versions of this quote in the past but not exactly phrased in this way and the reason I'm acknowledging it now is because I finally found it applicable to. There's so much more I'm wanting to accomplish from a creative perspective with my photography and while I like to think I'm always acting in a way that is consistent with where I want to go, I can't let fear stop me from visualizing what others have already conquered.
With photography being a very gear oriented craft, I aim not to get muddled in the notion that having the most equipment will in truth make me a better photographer. The real skill stems from habitual practice, reviewing the material, making notes on what worked, what completely missed the mark and as soon as one shoot is complete immediately having a vision and determination of what the next one would look like.
Buying anything is addicting but the downside to photography is that it’s a costly passion that can easily guide you to spending more than you can afford and need. I’m not going to tell you that gear doesn’t matter because is completely does but I think the most important question is how much of it do you need?
Define you Intentions
The gear and the process is the perfect combo of what matters. The real difficult part of photography isn’t knowing how to make the picture but in determining what picture to make and with that comes deciding what your real commitment to becoming a better photographer is.
I still consider myself a complete novice when it comes to ability, so I take any and every feedback I get in seeing what else I can do to gain experience and feedback. Perhaps not every photo you take will have that innate condition to stimulate someone but it’s acknowledging those intentions that will greatly enhance that chances that you will.
Frame the Picture
When we travel, even though Vanessa may not verbalize it, my wife’s expressions says it all in how irritated she may get when all I think about is photographing everything.
She loves reading the inscriptions to artwork in museums while I worry more about how to avoid reflections through the glass, or how to gain the best possible perspective or in making sure to adjust the ISO and shutter speed from place to place. It’s a thrill to photograph and visualize what the end result of each photo will look like already framed in our living room and that pretty much outlines what I think about before I shoot.
Finding the Story
The photographs that draw me in are always the ones accompanied with a good story. These are the ones that have a subtle or sometimes in-your-face subject matter that keeps you glancing and paying attention. Sometimes one photo alone won’t suffice to encapsulate how you envisioned something, so it’s ok to create a series of photos around your experience.
Photos that have this element makes you want to keep searching and imagining more of what you don’t necessarily see and trying to envision what else was around that wasn’t captured.
Honestly, the most important things to remember is that you feel that you have to take photos and being content with the camera you have now, upgrading as your experience does and from that great photographs will come.
Now more than ever as an artist, you and I can't afford to just be satisfied with creating what we love and allowing our work to speak for itself. Our story is quite possibly the most important part about who we are and we often leave that out. Our story is what brings people in and what makes others potentially support us in our journey.
I tell you this because as uncomfortable as it may be to stand in front of a camera rather than behind one, the value we'll get from self-exposure and putting ourselves out there can be life changing. It's not like we don't have the tools to do it. Instagram Stories alone could be that outlet. Regardless of which platform you choose, you'll be surprise to discover how much people want to know more about you but that suspicion won't be known until you do your part and show up. Do you know how excited I get when my favorite photographers share these beautiful insights about who they are, what they've been through which in returns sheds light as to why they approach their work the way they do? It's fascinating stuff that I drool over.
I wanted to share with you these 3 amazing short videos by Sean McCabe which sincerely gave me the confidence boost I needed to realize that our experiences, our stories, our opinions matter regardless of how much we try to convince yourself that they don't. Our stories may not impact every single person but that shouldn't be the goal either.
If you want to be an artist — it doesn’t matter what you study (or even if you study at all) — because no institution in the world can teach you to be more creative. You can learn the craft, but to create art — you need to learn how to be yourself, which is an incredibly intimate matter.
Nobody said that finding yourself as a creative would be easy. Like anything else in life there are exceptions but for the most part the reality is that to understand the type of work you wish to create you first need to learn more about yourself. It's the most important research you'll ever do, more so than any amount of time you put in trying to decide which equipment is "better".
At the beginning it's normal to model yourself and your work to someone else. It's how a lot of us learn and with time you begin to evolve, perspectives change, and you begin assessing what's important to you as an artist. What kind of work are you wiling to do or not do and why? You can't copy anyone else's answers because I can tell you that the answers are in you based on your interest and life experiences.
There's something captivating and magical about Cory's portrait work that I continuously draw inspiration from. There's moments in my own work where I may feel lost with how I may want to approach a subject and what usually clouds my creativity is overthinking everything other than being appreciative of the time I have with a person.
Is this the right lighting, the right lens, the right camera, the right backdrop and the list goes on and on. Yes, all the tools are important but not more than who you have in front of you and in this video I love how Cory dissects the most likely scenario for all of us in which our focus is directed towards the wrong thing:
"Most photographers are thinking about the distractions at the technical side...they end up having just 10% of that energy left to try and connect with that person and what they don't realize is that if you can't observe and connect and earn trust from your sitter then you're just doing a technical exercise at best. Portraits are all about humanity."
In the process of experimenting with FaceTime shoots during quarantine, I realized rather late that all the screenshots I was taking of people were not just photos that would eventually be imported into Lightroom Mobile fo editing but that they were also in essence Live Photos.
If the feature is activated on your iOS device, Live Photos enables you to record what happens 1.5 seconds before and after you take a picture all with movement and sound which is very neat. All this lead me to believe that there has to be an app that takes advantage of this capability and makes something clever out of it.
A quick search on the App Store and sure enough I came across Momento. The app takes your existing photos in your camera roll and automatically creates beautiful animated GIFs which you can tweak along with filters, color adjustments and even add music if that’s your thing. Without question there’s something nostalgic about the ability to relive and experience movement straight from a photo in those instances where taking video didn’t cross your mind.
When it comes to sharing these Momentos, I export the photos as a GIF when publishing on my website but for Instagram, I export them as a video. There is a premium membership option within Momento which I subscribed to because I love the app and I see myself utilizing it to incorporating some fun in my shoots when it comes to sharing the final work in whichever platform.
Travel isn't always pretty. It isn't always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that's OK. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.
After 2 years of Anthony Bourdain's passing, it still seems surreal that he's no longer with us in a time where his wisdom, his perspective and voice would have been greatly appreciated. In spite of that, I stumbled across a quote of his dating back to 2007 from his show No Reservations in which he describes the journey of travel but which also happens to have a strange resemblance to the COVID pandemic we're all experiencing and how we're slowly finding ourselves reaching the end of a new tunnel.