My Second Favorite Color

If you would have asked me my favorite color at age 8, I would have said, "green."

Not sure why; I just liked it. This remained true until I was 16 and bought my first car, an oxidized blue VW bug. Then green was relegated to second position. But it has remained there ever since.

If you visit The Digital Story and The Nimble Photographer websites, they are bathed in my second favorite color. There's a reason for that.

Green is alive. Most healthy plants are green. Photosynthesis is active. Green is good.

The color of conversation, renewable resources,  and recycling is green. Nobody wants to be a part of the rust movement.

Each day I attempt to embrace what my second favorite color represents. I walk to the bank instead of driving. The studio is open in the morning to air out, and closed when the afternoon heats up. I boil a small amount of water to wash dishes, and keep an eye on how much electricity I'm using. I travel light whenever possible.

The Nimble Photographer was born out of the concept of using less.

With my solar panels, twig-burning stove, and camping gear, I've wondered how long I could last if the infrastructure shut down. I hope I never find out.

I have faith that our technology will keep us one step ahead of our problems. Maybe we can innovate our way out of our shortcomings.

Which returns me to my favorite color: blue. Why does blue remain on top after all these years? It's simple.

To me, blue represents hope.

-Derrick

The Artist Inside

Theresa has a day job, as many do, managing people and budgets.

On weekends, she sits on her bed, legs straight out, typing a novel on the computer that rests lightly on her lap. Only family and a few friends know that she's an artist. And her work is brilliant.

Everyone has someone else inside - an athlete, a criminal, a mechanic, a chef. Sometimes they try to hide this other personality, and other times they can't wait for the world to discover it.

But of all these possibilities, I find the artist most compelling. 

The trap that unknown artists often fall into, is the desire to become known. Ironically, it's fame that destroys art.  And for this reason, I think modern social sites are better than we realize.

Why? 

Because they provide an audience for our art without the poison of fame. Unlike pregnancy, you can to be a little famous. It only takes a few hundred people interested in your artistry to make it all seem worthwhile. 

You can continue to create without the noxious cloud of fame blocking the very light that inspires you.  The artist inside might not have a publisher, but she does have a community. And that community hangs on her every word.

When we look back upon this period in our history, it may be recognized as one of the great times of creativity ever.  Millions of unknown artists speaking to friends, family, and community without the self-consciousness of becoming front page fodder.

Yes, an unlucky few will have fame thrust upon them.  But the great majority will be free to create openly for those who love and truly care about

the artist inside. 

-Derrick

Don't Be Afraid

Photography is changing faster than ever.

And for many, change means disruption - old habits are broken, rituals are lost.

So far in 2014, we've learned that a new, unknown app called Photos will eventually replace Aperture and iPhoto. We're still a year away from having to make any measurable decision about what to do, yet photographers are bolting for the exits like students at a recess bell.

I've had readers "unLike me because I deceived them by championing Aperture." 

But wait, there's more.

The decline of DSLR popularity, the endless surge of social media, and the love affair with mobile phone photography... all of these harbingers of yet more change to come.

Here's the thing: you don't have to switch from Aperture, sell your DSLR, start an Instagram account, or buy an iPhone. You can stand pat. You can even go in reverse and set up a chemical darkroom and shoot film. People might think you're cool.

And if you do want to catch an innovation wave to two, there are lots of folks like me here to help. 

I've never been one to say, "ditch everything you love and switch to this." I respect the history of photography. My work stands on the shoulders of others.

When someone asks me for career advice, I always have one answer: do what you love. I say the same to photographers. Use the tools you like and pursue subjects that interest you. Turn off the news if you have to.

If you doggedly follow your passion,

everything else takes care of itself.

-Derrick

Fill Flash

When people ask me, "What's the one thing I can do to improve my pictures?"

I answer: "Fill flash."

I've been thinking a lot about this technique lately. Mainly, because I don't know if I would have survived the last couple weeks without it.

I've mentioned on the TDS podcast that I'm in the middle of a big project with a local credit union. It's a series of outdoor portraits in various locations throughout Northern California.

I've faced two major challenges, and one has led to the other. The first is balancing a variety of schedules for the photo shoots. Since the subjects are not professional models, we have to squeeze our sessions in to what little time is available for them.

As it's turned out, we're shooting in mid-to-late afternoon light. In August, that's some pretty contrasty stuff. Which leads me to my second challenge, getting great portraits in harsh light.

I've depended on my trusty friend, fill flash, to survive. If you want to see the rig I'm using, take a look at this article that I just published on c't Digital Photography MagazineThe Low-Tech Solution to Wireless Fill Flash.

The thing about using flash is that it's counter-intuitive for beginning photographers. I turn off the flash when the light is low (going with fast lenses and ambient illumination), and I turn it on outdoors for portraits when it's incredibly bright. Nuts, right?

Not really. The flash evens out those terrible facial shadows when the sun is high. My other favorite scenario is for sunset portraits. A little pop of light on the subject with a colorful sky is truly magical. 

So if someone asks you, what is the one thing they can do to improve their photography?

You know what to say.

-Derrick

The Castaway Cafe

A photocopied menu for the Castaway Cafe fell out of my shoe this morning. 

It was 6am, and I was looking down the sight of a 12-hour day, most of it challenging. I'm not sure how this memory from Maui got in my shoe. But there it was. 

And it made me smile.  

We had breakfast there. It was a perfect morning seasoned with  light breezes and blue skies. We enjoyed our food outside, beneath a couple palm trees. I remember saying, "I never want to leave this place." 

But of course I had to. 

This has been a tough week. But this morning made it just a little better.  

Thanks to a folded menu that slid out of my shoe, 

from the Castaway Cafe.  

 -Derrick

 

Taking the Picture Is the Easiest Part

What a life! Just taking pictures all day. Doesn't everyone want to be a photographer?

That's true if you don't need money. But if you want to be paid for your work, photography isn't that much different than any other business.

For example, here are the highlights from my current ToDo list for a corporate project:

  • Schedule meetings to define parameters and responsibilities
  • Negotiate agreements for the different aspects of the project
  • Corral approvals for the desired locations and find out the requirements
  • Apply for permits and request liability insurance endorsements for each
  • Assemble production team, define their responsibilities and negotiate pay
  • Collect signed W4 forms from each team member
  • Coordinate schedules for shooting locations, participants, client, and production team
  • Prepare and test equipment used for the project
  • Organize model releases and shot lists
  • Find props, purchase snacks, and approve wardrobe
  • Secure backup locations for each shoot
  • Figure out what you've forgotten to do, then do it at the last minute

And when everything is in place, take the picture.

I like the last step best.

-Derrick

Insatiable Instagram

I'm not 22 years old with a curvy figure and long, flowing hair.

And yet, I'm still having a blast sharing my photos on Instagram. Over the last two years, the ritual of finding an image for my daily post has made me a better photographer. And to be honest, I'm having more fun than ever.

I've tried to figure out what the hook is. The more I think about it, the more Instagram reminds me of photography as an 12-year old kid with an Instamatic. I would shoot anything that looked interesting: friends, pets, home, vacation, cars, bikes, toys, food, family - everything was fair game.

Then photography got serious. It had to have meaning.

Those were probably my worst images. They were analogous to adolescent poetry, feigning profundity, yet transparently superficial.

Blech!

Let's, instead, take a picture of the cat chasing its tail. Now that's life. And that's the joy that Instagram has returned to my images. Not only can I shoot and share anything I want, so can everyone else.

My Instagram page ranges from alcoholic beverages, to silly signs, to colorful sunsets, to yes, my cat. No apologies for any of it.

And when it's time for serious photography (these days thankfully the paying kind with clients), I feel more creative, spontaneous, and yes... free.

You won't see many selfies on my page. Quite honestly, I'm a bit too old for that. But you'll see practically everything else.

And that's why I just can't get enough of it.

-Derrick

 

After All That

I have been all over the world with my iPhone.

I've sailed the English Channel, hopped out of British cabs, endured numerous buses, snorkeled off the coast of Maui, lounged around a pool sipping lava flows, and even dropped my iOS device from the top row of high school gym bleachers. And through all of this, the 5S survived.

That charmed life ended abruptly earlier this week.

The inocoulous task of cleaning diving gear led to an accidental, and extended, submersion under water. The iPhone was dead.

The 5S was my fourth iPhone, and my first fatality. I still use unlocked 3GS and 4S models as international travel communicators. The original iPhone is a dedicated music player at the house. Oh sure, it has a few bumps and scratches, but it's alive.

Not the 5S. 

After a little research, I learned that Apple will replace my iPhone for $269. I simply submitted a service request online, Apple transmitted my shipping information to UPS, and the next day I walked into a UPS store with phone in hand and said, "here."

24 hours later, I received an email from Apple stating they have received my device. The day after that they shipped me a replacement.

I hate the $269 non-budged expense. But the demise of the 5S was my own doing. And I think that Apple replacing a $800 mobile phone for $269, no questions asked, is reasonable. Plus the process was pain-free.

I will probably never, ever, drop my iPhone in water again. But I have to admit...

I wish all companies would cover my mistakes so gracefully.

-Derrick

Outside the Mixing Bowl

If you stay long enough, even the asylum begins to feel normal.

This must be a coping mechanism. That's my only explanation. How else could you rationalize our ability to deal with angry drivers, rude service personnel, ladder climbing coworkers, and people who are more than a few cards short of a full deck? 

We do it because we have to. 

The problem is, when you leave the mix for a period of time, coming back isn't quite so easy. Most of us experience this phenomenon when we return from vacation. 

I think the first day back at work is a profoundly sobering experience. I don't know if this has happened to you, but I've literally stood there, watched, then slowly backed away from the door.

I'm not sure if this is an argument for, or against, extended vacations. The argument for is quite simple: you find your sense of well being.  The argument against is... well there really isn't one, is there?

So once a year, we regain our vision before sliding back into the mixing bowl.  The beaters begin to spin. But with battered eyes we look ahead...

To the next two weeks of sanity on the books.

-Derrick

Postcard Photography

Personally, I think postcards get a bad rap from serious photographers.

if you're new to a destination, visit the local souvenir shop and browse the postcard rack. In just a few minutes, you'll see all of the iconic views of the area. You could use this information as starting points for your own work. (Plus, you might want to purchase a few extra to send to Mom who never really understood your artsy images.) 

Once you find the spot where a postcard picture was captured, start out by recording your own version. They're excellent for reference, title slides, and for those who appreciate less adventuresome artwork. 

i don't know if you've ever had this happen to you. But I've presented a series of my favorite shots from a location with one or two postcard types thrown in, only to have the viewer remark, "Ooh, that one's nice!" 

Sigh. 

Despite these minor setbacks, don't stop shooting once you've captured the obvious. Push forward and make that scene your own.

Do it, even if you're the only one who will appreciate an alternative view of an iconic subject. 

Consider it your own personal postcard.

-Derrick

Long Exposures

One of the most interesting techniques in photography is to leave the shutter open and see what happens.

Generally speaking, this is not a midday activity, which is part of the reason why I like it. Long exposures work better when the sun has long passed its zenith, or has disappeared all together. Early morning, twilight, moonlight, overcast, indoors... these are great long exposure situations. 

I've been using a feature on my Olympus OM-D called Live Time for for these situations. I place the camera on a tripod and use my iPhone to control it. This is easy because the OM-D E-M10 has built-in WiFi that talks to the iOS app, Olympus Image Share.  

I line up the composition, activate the shutter release with the iPhone, then watch the image slowly come to life on the iPhone screen. When it looks the way I want, I tap the button again to close the shutter.  And the image is captured.

This is the closest thing I've experienced in digital photography to watching a photograph come to life in a tray of developer. I don't miss the chemical darkroom. But I do miss that moment of magic.

This sensation is amplified with the effect produced by the long exposure. Water becomes a foggy blanket draped across glistening rocks. Moving people dissolve from hard, edgy creatures to translucent ghosts. The world becomes a softer place when framed by long exposures. 

It's not that I despise the harsh light of reality. 

But sometimes I need a break from it. 

-Derrick

Yes, Cuba

On Jan. 17, I fly into Miami in preparation for a second flight to Havana.

Yes, Cuba.

I'm the Photo Guide for an 8-day field trip that includes Havana, Cienfuegos, and Trinidad. We'll be photographing Old Havana’s baroque and neoclassical architecture, its artists and businessmen, and the nightlife made famous by the Buena Vista Social Club.

I'm mentioning this now in case you've ever had designs on visiting Cuba. This field trip is organized by the same folks who I have worked with on many trips all over the world, including my recent photo shoot in Europe.

We'll have a professional bilingual Cuban guide; two tour managers, and myself. The overall group is limited to 26 participants. Once we land in Miami, transportation, housing, and meals are covered. They also arrange for our Cuban visa and health insurance.

If you're interested, you can find out more here.

It's going to be quite an adventure.

-DS

Board Shorts

Packing for Hawaii is the easiest job in the world.

I've had some complicated trips lately. My upcoming adventure to Maui won't be one of them. 

Three pairs of board shorts, 6 T-shirts, 2 button-up colorful Hawaiian shirts, 1 pair of long pants for the obligatory night out at a real restaurant, sun block, aloe, cap, shades, flippers, mask, and snorkel. It the only destination I know of where underwear is optional. (Seriously, who wears boxers in Hawaii?)

Even my technical gear is easier. No laptop. iPad mini, underwater compact camera, mirrorless camera, iPhone, headphones, and lots of music. 

I'll probably spend more time in the pool this year than the ocean. I'm looking forward to further mending my dislocated shoulder. Water seems like the perfect solution.

While in Maui, I'll be posting pictures and sharing anecdotes. But there won't be many travel tips this time around. In fact, there's only one travel tip I can think of: Whatever you do...

Don't miss the plane.

-Derrick

 

Crazy Intuition

Yesterday was unbelievable, and beyond just the news.

Yes, Apple officially announced that they would no longer be developing Aperture. That's a headline that certainly impacts me, and many in our community. But it's the way that it all unfolded that amazes me.

I woke up around 4 am. This has been my normal waking time since returning from London a few days ago. I stayed in bed for a bit thinking about the day ahead. I call this my checklist exercise.

Out of nowhere, two ideas came to me. First, I need to check-in with my contact at Apple. Don't know why; it's just time to do so. Second, I should write a note to my partner at lynda.com to start a discussion about the new Photos app that will be landing in early 2015. I'd been thinking about it since the WWDC keynote.

About 5 am, I wrote Jim at lynda saying that I'm excited about Photos and that I'd love to do some training on it. I mentioned that I'm going to call Apple later this morning to get the ball rolling. I asked, "Do you want to be in on this?"

Jim replied shortly thereafter, "Yes!"

Around 9am I called Apple. No answer, so I left a voicemail saying that I'd like to chat about photography. About 30 minutes later, I received a call from Apple PR. (Apple PR is the official voice and the safest way for everyone to communicate.)

"We have some background information for you and an official statement."

"Oh, OK."

"There will be no new development of Aperture."

"Oh. Looks like I should get a piece ready for Monday."

"You're probably going to want to post earlier than that."

"OH."

I quickly published the official statement on The Digital Story, then sent a note to Jim at lynda. The rest of the day was consumed with news around Aperture and iPhoto merging into the new Photos app. Friday is normally a slow news day. Not this week.

Hours earlier, at 4 am, I was simply collecting ideas for the day's ToDo list. I really had no measure of their weight. Consciously, I was totally clueless about the day ahead. Subconsciously? Who knows?

Crazy intuition.

-Derrick

 

My Old Passport

The dreaded month is almost here.

My passport expires in March, 2015. Soon I will have to start the process of applying for a new one.

I don't want to.

This passport has been with me to Mexico, South America, Canada, Iceland, Germany, England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, China, Japan, and South Korea. It is filled with stamps and visas from all over the world.

When I enter customs, the official has to  flip pages to find an open spot for a new stamp. I like that. I like thinking about my visits to all of those places, the people I've met, and the photos I've taken.

This was the passport in my pocket when I stood at Ground Zero in Nagasaki and thought about all those lives. It was with me at the 2008 Beijing Olympics where I photographed the most impressive opening ceremonies I've ever seen. I had that same passport with me as we navigated the Panama Canal with only inches to spare on each side of the ship.

I don't want to give it up. I don't want a hole punched through my last decade. It should be allowed to live, just as the memories do that are associated with it.

My first stamp in the new passport will most likely be Havana, Cuba this coming January. Not a bad start. 

But I'd much prefer that Havana join my other adventures.

What a blessing it's been to meet all those people.

-Derrick