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Category Archives: On the Job
Photographers like alleys in the same irrational way that cats like empty boxes. We can’t pass one up. So, of course, I was purring with excitement when San Francisco filmmakers Donna LoCicero and Robert Campos told me they lived in a South of Market alley.
I was photographing them for Marin Magazine in connection with their film, 3 Still Standing, a documentary about three comedians — Will Durst, Johnny Steele and Larry “Bubbles” Brown — who were contemporaries of Robin Williams and Dana Carvey but never achieved the success the latter two did. The film is opening at the Mill Valley Film Festival.
As I parked down the block from their home (parking in Soma!!!) I was already looking for places to make the picture, but LoCicero and Campos — being both visual pros and busy people — already had scoped their neighborhood. The next alley over, they said, had a couple of options, one dark and one lighter.
We schlepped the gear — one light, a heavy battery and a C-stand — set up by a black corrugated wall, shot for while and then moved up the street in front of the yellow wall you see above. Couldn’t have been easier — pre-selected backgrounds, subjects who schlep and two people with a good sense of humor.
In 30 minutes, we were done.
The magazine used the shot below against the black wall. I like the yellow one above a bit more. The vertical (in the slideshow) is a behind-the-scenes snap for those of you who like to see that thing.
A few months ago, I interviewed and photographed a cheery, avuncular, 70-year-old doctor named James Simon (below) who was the flight surgeon at a small airfield in Marin, Gnoss Field in Novato.
Today, Dr. Simon found himself on the front page of the local paper, the Marin Independent Journal, as the lead character in a tale of what police said was road rage gone bad.
Simon was arrested after allegedly shooting a man who had followed him and his wife home in Corte Madera after some sort of altercation on Paradise Drive, a two-lane, tree-lined road that leads to some of Marin’s tonier homes..
The victim, whose name was not released, apparently tried to drive into the Simon’s garage as he was closing the door. According to police, Simon went in his home, returned with a .357 magnum, fired a warning shot into the air and then two bullets into the victim’s abdomen.
The victim survived, Simon was arrested and we await the story behind the story.
Corte Madera Mayor Michael Lappert, a reserve cop and one of the first officers on the scene (and coincidentally a one-time patient of Simon’s), summed it up:
“It’s a bad thing all around. If there’s anything to learn from this, it’s that road rage can only have a bad ending.”
(Here’s the Marin Magazine piece I did on Simon).
Not all psychics are alike. But then some of you already knew that, didn’t you? It was a lesson I learned when I recently photographed several psychics and tarot card readers — they prefer the term “intuitives” — for Marin Magazine.
When I got the assignment, I was thinking flowing robes, lots of jewelry, candles, you know, exotic. Except for Jetara Sehart, below, who does tarot readings under the name of Angel Counsel and certainly looks the part (complete with crystal ball), that’s not what I found.
Then there was Zorica Gojkovic, above, who has a Ph.D. in English, provides counseling under the name The Time of Light, and loves to read mysteries and Westerns when she’s not gazing into the future. Zorica looked like my Aunt Helen, as “normal” as could be. I did my best to add a bit of mystery to her with the photo (which is not the one the magazine used).
Here’s the story. Take a look.
I dropped by the Marin County Board of Supervisors yesterday to photograph the newest board member, Katie Rice, for Marin Magazine. After I made the pictures I needed of her, I hung around to take in some of a contentious hearing on a countywide affordable housing plan.
There’s no need to go into details about the plan here (much ink and many pixels have been devoted to it), but the debate struck me as a common one — a liberal plea for housing for residents and workers who aren’t hedge fund managers or lawyers vs. a NIMBY-esque argument that low-cost, high-density housing would mean more traffic, not enough tax revenue from the news residents to support local services and environmental dangers.
The crowd — on both sides — didn’t fit the Marin stereotypes. There were no yoga pants, few facelifts and more than several walkers. It was not the haves vs. the have-nots. It was the have-less vs. the have-no-so-much. Those who feared the new housing lived in Marin’s more middle-class neighborhoods — Marinwood, Tam Valley and Strawberry (well, not so middle-class for the latter). Those who argued for it lived in those locales as well, but also in Marin City and Hamilton.
For me, it was a chance to put faces on an abstract argument, which is always a reminder that all these policy debates in the end effect the lives of real people.
The meeting opened on a high note — several of them actually — with an a capella song about “there’s a lot of love in Marin” by local sax player and singer Richard Howell. That was the last sign of love for the afternoon.
There was no vote. That’s scheduled for next week. (More photos here).
I recently photographed Gavin Newsom for Marin Magazine and took advantage of the opportunity to make some images for myself after I’d gotten what I thought the magazine needed.
Newsom, the current lieutenant governor of California and a former mayor of San Francisco, was pushing his book, Citizenville. I’ve photographed him before at several public events and he is photogenic and very camera aware so it is difficult to capture him even momentarily out of character.
During the interview with writer Stephanie Martin in a bright corner of Murray Circle, the restaurant at Cavallo Point in Sausalito, I used the strong daylight streaming through a pair of large windows and the rich warmth of the walls. Those are the images the magazine used and you can see them below in the slide show or on the pages of the article. The color was so intense I had to take out quite a bit of the yellow.
For myself, though, I wanted something darker, so in the five minutes I had with Newsom between the end of the interview and his departure I photographed him with the harsher light of a single oct0box hung over his head. Later, I converted one of my favorite frames into black and white, which you see above. The other black-and-shot shot (below) was lit with the window light and I think it works better in monotone than in color.
Ever since returning from the Mary Ellen Mark workshop in February, I’ve been working more with black and white conversions and very much liking the effect. As much as I love the excitement color can bring to an image, I feel that it can also distract from the subject.
With Newsom, a man who knows he is working the camera, black-and-white seemed to penetrate his shell a little deeper. What do you think?
An aside: Last year, I photographed Newsom’s wife, Jennifer, in my studio. Here’s a video of me doing the shoot.
I had the opportunity recently to photograph two of my favorite things — farms and food. Writer Mimi Towle put together a feature on San Francisco restaurants that use the organic food of Marin County to create their menus, and I photographed both ends of the food chain. (Here’s the story).
The story featured four farms, four restaurants and four dishes. Today, I’m posting the shots from the restaurants. Later, I’ll follow up with those from the farms.
The restaurants and their dishes are:
- State Bird — Sweet corn and chive short stack (above), topped with melted Cowgirl Creamery Mt. Tam cheese. (I ate three of these after the shoot!)
- Slanted Door — Manila clams with green garlic puree (garlic from Allstar Organics).
- Michael Mina San Francisco — Early Girl tomatoes and grilled octupus (tomatoes from County Line Harvest).
- Ristobar — Fresh summer salad (strawberries from Fresh Run Farm).
All the food was photographed on location. I love shooting in restaurants because they — and their crews — remind me of my newspaper days. Both restaurants and newspapers operate under deadlines, are staffed with idiosyncratic people who are drawn to pressure and shut it all down at the end of day only to start fresh the next.
(Be sure to take a look at my cookbook, Organic Marin, Recipes from Farm to Table, which celebrates the organic growers of Marin.)
John Kostecki is the brains behind the boat. As the tactician for Larry Ellison’s 2013 America’s Cup team, the 48-year-old world champion sailor is the guy who will be plotting the course when the team’s 72-foot catamaran races this summer on San Francisco Bay.
I photographed Kostecki at Oracle Team USA’s headquarters off lower Third Street in San Francisco. When Kostecki told me to meet him at the team “shed,” I envisioned some shanty-like building sitting dockside along the water. Wrong. The “shed” is massive warehouse on Pier 80 whose size dwarfs the 44-foot hulls of the catamarans team used last summer for preliminary races.
As I usually do, I had little time to make a picture, and went with one light and a wide lens. I wanted to highlight Kostecki, of course, but also show the spaciousness of the shed.
Here’s the interview by Stephanie Martin of Kostecki in Marin Magazine.
Many of us are pigs. Sadly. We toss our plastic bottles, takeout containers and other trash out of our cars, inconsiderate of the environmental damage it does, the aesthetic blight it causes and the cost to to clean it up.
I spent some time walking a section of U.S. Highway 101 in Marin County with a crew from the Conservation Corps North Bay (CCNB) for a story in Marin Magazine about how, even in the wealthiest of the Bay Area’s counties, motorists use public roadways as their private dumping grounds.
The CCNB crews consist of young men and women who were born into challenging lives and, with the help of the Corps and the sweat of their brows, are turning them around.
Next time you’re about to dump your double-decaf-mocha-grande cup out of the car window, think about who has to clean up your mess.
For 10 years, a group of elderly residents of Northern California’s hippest retirement community, The Redwoods in Mill Valley, have gathered every Friday afternoon at 4 o’clock on the street corner in front of their complex to demand peace over war.
Mill Valley Seniors for Peace, as they call themselves, began the weekly demonstration in protest of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in the spring of 2003. It has continued without interruption, through the winter’s rain, the summer’s fog and the inevitable deaths that occur in a group whose members include several who are well into their 90s.
As street theater, they are rowdy and spirited and impossible to ignore, yet, reflecting their generation, they are also respectful, polite and welcoming to strangers (and strange photographers) who stop to chat with them or take their pictures.
Led musically by Rolly Mulvey (above), an 85-year-old retired paper salesman who strums a 12-string guitar that is short a few strings, the group gathers for hour, some standing, some sitting, some in wheel chairs, to sing songs of Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie, to applaud passing motorists who honk in support, and to remind all of us, in a greater sense, that passion, commitment and action are not the provenance of only the young.
I’ve photographed these folks several times over the decade they’ve taken to the corner, including once for a Marin Magazine feature on The Redwoods. (Here’s a PDF of the story).
For that ariycle I not only photographed the weekly demonstration (see the photo below), but made portraits of the seniors themselves (left.).
Bill Usher, the grandfatherly-looking gentleman in the upper right, is one of the group’s founding members. He was 91 when I took that picture. Today he is 95 and still out there on that corner. He told Marin Magazine, which ran a one-pager on the group to mark its 10th anniversary: “We live right here. And we’ haven’t missed a Friday since January of ’03, when Bush talked about a war against Iraq.”
Earlier, in the 2008 story, Usher said,
“I feel strongly about it. If I could talk to President Bush, I’d tell him 9/11 was justification for invading Afghanistan but our going into Iraq was wrong in the first place. We took our eye off the ball. It was a terrible, terrible mistake.”
For the photograph this time I tried something different. I brought my Profoto pack with me and hung a beauty dish above the group as they sang, beat drums and waved signs. I wanted a photo that was as bright and animated and full of life as the Seniors for Peace are. I was happy with the results.
She was delightful. As she talked with writer Mimi Towle, Brenda mugged for the camera, sketched some drawings on a large pad she’d brought with her and generally kept us all in laughter — mimicking, for example, her heroine’s (Merida) stance with a bow and arrow.
Merida, by the way, is based on Chapman’s 13-year-old daughter, Emma, a student at Mill Valley Middle School. She told the Marin Independent Journal in an article published today that when her daughter was younger …
“… She was so strong-willed, challenging me every step of the way. Honestly, I never did that to my mom. It was old school in my house growing up. But my daughter took over my life. I’d be going to work thinking about the morning I had with her. It evolved into channeling that energy into creating something positive around it.”
Congratulations to Brenda.
The key to looking good in a photograph – aside from being biologically blessed with an attractive array of DNA — is being relaxed. That’s why I like pointing my camera at broadcasters and actors. They’re used to being in front the lens. They know how to hold themselves, how to smile and how to wait (which is important during a shoot because there always seems to be a lot waiting — for something technical, for the makeup, for everyone to say what they need to say.)
Nothing much phases them. Ordinary people — meaning you and I — get nervous when they wait or, say, there’s a computer glitch (which happens regularly these days with tethered shooting). Oh, oh, they think, the photographer’s having a problem and I’m going to look terrible.
That doesn’t happen with pros like Claudia Cowan, Fox News’ San Francisco reporter. I photographed her for a Q&A with Marin Magazine (here’s the story). She brought a couple of dresses, several hats and the other important thing for this kind of glammy photo with a lot of lights — a makeup artist, a good one like Christina Flach.
Christina and I worked together once before — only that time it was more personal. I photographed her husband, ex-tennis pro Ken Flach, who hung up his racket to open a barbecue joint, Best Lil’ Porkhouse in San Rafael.
My work is small time compared to much of what Christina does — TV ads, print campaigns, etc. — so she was as cool as Claudia, which makes my job pretty easy. All I need to do is get the lights right, make sure the cords are connected and push a shutter button a hundred times or so.
Working with pros makes me look even more professional.
(See Claudia and Christina together in the gallery photos below).
I love Christmas lights. What’s outside a house during the holidays says a lot about who’s inside. Are they garish? Tasteful? Excessive? Subdued? Artistic? Do their lights have a message? Something religious, something commercial or maybe just: “Peace.”
Last December I photographed dozens of homes, houseboats, trees and yards in Marin County festooned with lights, mechanical Santas and inflated snowmen. Some, such as the single peace sign on a driveway gate, made me wistful. Others, such at the Mill Valley home above, made me marvel at the creativity of its decorators. And a few, such as a Mill Valley waterfront home ablaze with thousands of lights (see the slideshow) made me wonder about sanity of the people who lived there. (They turned out to be a wonderful older couple — here’s their story.)
Marin Magazine collected a dozen or so of the shots and ran them in the December issue. Here’s the layout.
Merry Christmas, all.
Far out on the edge of the Canal, past the blocks crammed corner-to-corner with parked cars, beyond the rows of sagging apartment houses packed with immigrants, on the other side of the new Mi Pueblo grocery, where Mexicans and Guatemalans and Salvordorans shop for sheets of chicharron, fat plugs of quesillo and other foods that make home seem less distant, far the from busy intersection where broad-backed men line up for day labor, not near any of those things, but on the long, low flat of fill that stretches to the Bay and one day will hold some brand of box store if the city fathers have their way but for today, at least, sits empty, they’re building a garden.
The Canal Community Garden, located on a quarter-acre of city land at Bellam Boulevard and Windward Way, is an array of 5-foot-by-10-foot, redwood-rimmed beds that, come next year, will abound with organic, herbs, fruits, vegetables and flowers, each plot the labor of someone whose desire to extract bounty from the land overcame the unlikelihood that they’d ever be able to do it in a place as infertile as the Canal.
Work on the garden began in September. Seeds go in the soil in February. When the first harvest comes, the urban farmers and gardeners of the Canal should thank The Trust for Public Land and the Canal Alliance for making it happen.
I was there on Saturday, talking with a Philip Vitale of the Trust for Public Land, the project manager. He filled me in: a budget of more than $600,000; 92 garden plots of various sizes; a greenhouse for sprouting; a storage shed with lockers; a central space for classes and education; and, centering it all, a circular mosaic celebrating the overlap of art, food and community.
The mosaic came together while I watched. Oakland artist Rachel Rodi, the designer, and a half-dozen other women worked shoulder-to-should around a rectangular table, cutting sheets of blue, purple and green tile into shards of many shapes, laying beads of glue on the pieces and inserting them into the unfinished mosaic. It was a jigsaw puzzle with a twist: There were no pieces until someone made them.
The Canal Community Garden is the successor to one that was lost to the expansion of the Pickleweed Community Center in 2005. Since then, said Vitale, The Trust for Public Land has worked on a replacement. Partnering with the Canal Alliance, the neighborhood’s primary social service and advocacy organization, was key to the success of the project and ensures ongoing management of the garden, he said.
Daniel Werner, an AmeriCorps VISTA staffer on loan to Canal Alliance, is the garden coordinator. (To learn more about the garden or to apply for a plot, contact Werner at firstname.lastname@example.org, 415-306-0428.
I showed up at the garden on Saturday to scratch an itch, one that’s festered in the years I’ve been out newspaper journalism — a desire to feel the connection to community I felt when I first fell into photojournalism and, then, reporting.
As many did, I wandered into journalism by accident, but once there found enchantment and intrigue in the stories of ordinary people. I began as a photographer and loved capturing the faces of people with the camera. When I started writing, I became addicted to the interview, the act of questioning and asking why and how and who. I was nosy and I guess was needy and the conversation satisfied both.
Eventually, I let many of those things slip away. I managed people instead of photographing them. I wrote memos instead of stories. I looked far ahead and missed what was in front of me. I’d succeeded in the business of journalism, but I’d stopped honoring the passion that brought me to it in the first place.
Now, I’m, if not wiser, certainly older. I don’t confuse ambition with passion any longer. I recognize the difference between what I must do and what I love to do. I admire more the great storytellers, visual and written, and the work they do to bring those stories to us. And, perhaps with some regret – because we all have just a little, don’t we? – I wish I had made more of an effort to become one of them.
I didn’t, though, so I do this – stop by an empty city lot on a cold fall afternoon to meet a group of good-minded people who are building a garden, an enterprise that enriches the neighborhood, elevates the common welfare and rewards them with the individual satisfaction. I take some pictures, I ask a few questions, I find a small story and I share it. It is journalism with the smallest “J” possible. Not hard-hitting. Not world-changing. Not much of anything really other than a thin slice of truth, a small dollop of daily life, and a healthy reminder to myself that this is who I once was – and who I can be again.
Immigration is not an abstraction. Beyond the policy debate and political posturing are real people who make their way to the United States in search of opportunity, their bodies ready to work, their minds intent on success and their hearts filled with dreams of better lives for their children.
Four years ago, I spoke with some of those children, boys and girls — sons and daughters of immigrants from Mexico and Central America — enrolled in a Canal Alliance education program about their future. Their stories and their pictures ran in Marin Magazine under the headline “Sueños de Niños,” dreams of children. Recently, I talked with six of them again, all young women now, some in high school, some in college, one already a mother. Their dreams have changed and so have they.
Here are their stories from 2012.
Here are their stories from 2008.
The photos below are from this year. Inset into each is the photo from 2008.
On April 14 the Low Speed Chase, a 38-foot yacht named after the infamous televised police pursuit of O.J. Simpson, set off from San Francisco Bay for the Farallones Islands, a jagged outcropping of rock 27 miles out in the Pacific, as part of the annual Full Crew Farallones Race, an and out-and-back competition known to test the skills of even the most experienced sailors.
Eight souls were aboard the Low Speed Chase. Three returned to shore alive. The death of the other five crew members — one of the worse U.S. yachting tragedies — and the confluence of massive seas and miniscule course miscalculations that led to the foundering of the Low Speed Chase is well documented. (See a video of ocean conditions at the time). What was originally missing were the personal stories of those who survived, plucked from the sea and the shoals of the Farallones to sail another day.
That gap was filled in part by Bryan Chong, one of the three survivors. The 38-year-old Tiburon father and tech company vice president first told his story to Latitude 38, the voice of the Bay Area yachting community, and later, more extensively, to writer Jennifer Woodlief, an investigative sports reporter, author and former Sports Illustrated scribe.
Woodlief, who also lives in Tiburon, used Chong’s account at the heart of her 6,000-word accounting of the tragedy, which Marin Magazine published in two parts in its October and November 2012 issues. (Part 1, Part 2).
I acted as photo editor on the story, getting shots made by San Francisco Chronicle photographer Brant Ward from Polaris, by the U.S. Coast Guard and by Sophie Webb, a Farallones researcher who was on the island and witnessed the Coast Guard Rescue of the survivors.
I also photographed Chong on a gray, damp August morning at the San Francisco Yacht Club in Belvedere, making the photo you see here. Woodlief, who was very pregnant at the time with her fourth child, wrangled a light-stand for me as we all stood on the wobbly dock.
In the 30 minutes we were together, Chong was relaxed and at ease. We didn’t talk about crash. I didn’t ask him what thoughts were in his head when he was in awash in the ocean. Woodlief did, though, and here is part of her account:
“Bryan experience the the helpless sensation of losing his breath while accidentally swallowing mouthfuls of water. He thought about giving up, he thought about his wife and baby son. … Time after time Bryan pulled himself up to safety just as waves pitched over him and hurled him backward, locking him underwater. ‘It was so steep and the waves kept hitting me,’ he says. ‘It was a constant struggle to get on the rocks.’
Read the whole story.
Sweetwater, the resurrected music club in downtown Mill Valley, was its usual early evening scene — a Lululemon-clad smattering of late lunchers lingering in the outside patio, handsome families arriving for early dinners, clogging the entrance with strollers and dogs, and aging hipsters making their daily migration up the block from Peet’s as they transitioned their intake from caffeine to booze.
I was there to photograph John Goddard, who for 40 years was the proprietor of Village Music, the revered record store that closed a few years back, victim of Mill Valley’s morph from hippie haven to hedge fund heaven and, some say, last remaining vestige of a Marin County better known for its creative spirit than its stratospheric housing prices. John was coming with Monroe and Gillian Grisman, brother and sister, children of mandolinist (and Jerry Garcia collaborator) David Grisman, and makers of Village Music: Last of the Great Music Stores, a film that would debut at the Mill Valley Film Festival and about which Dan Jewett of Marin Magazine was writing a story.
I’d hoped to photograph the three of them on the patio with Sweetwater in the background. One look at the crowd told me that wasn’t going to happen. At minimum, an unfortunate incident with a weak-bladdered Golden Retriever a couple of years ago taught me never to leave lighting gear exposed in the presence of dogs.
Inside the front door, though,wrapping along one wall of Sweetwater’s small cafe, was a yellow banquette, its leatherette shiny and bright against the building’s red brick wall. There, in the corner, beneath a window was my spot.
Another lesson I’ve learned: Don’t ask permission. I told the hostess — politely — what I was doing and brought in a pack, a stand and a light, moved some tables out of the way, did a test shot and was ready in a couple of minutes.
Goddard and the Grismans showed shortly thereafter. Everyone knew them, so it took me a while to get them inside. I wanted to get this done because folks were filling the tables and I was losing my shooting space (and probably the patience of the waitresses).
Once they were seated, it went quickly. I made some safe shots first — as I always do to ensure I’ve got something — and then played with the window above them, changed lenses to the 17, climbed on a chair and made a few frames from above. My clambering either amused or frightened my subjects. I’m not sure which. But it resulted in this frame, my favorite from the day.
(Here’s the shot that ran in the magazine.)
I just voted and am feeling more American than usual. To spread the democratic spirit — and to inspire your apathetic keister up off the couch if hasn’t voted yet — I offer this collection of stars and stripes, which I shot for Marin Magazine for its July issue.
You may be surprised, as I was, by how widely the flag is displayed here in one of the nation’s most notoriously liberal counties, although truthfully its does fly more frequently in the cul-de-sacs of surburban Novato and than in redwood canyons of hipster Mill Valley.
Flags are symbols, interpreted differently by each of us. For some the American flag signifies liberty, for others oppression. Four years ago, Barack Obama used its colors to communicate hope. This election, Mitt Romney wrapped his opposition in it.
In its earliest iterations the American flag represented individual freedom and collective self-determination. Freedom is now a politically charged word, hijacked by conservatives who wield it as a cudgel against those who question their values and sneered at by liberals who dismiss it as the refuge of small minds.
On this day, when we vote, something so many of the world’s people can’t do in a meaningful way, let’s embrace the flag as a symbol of opportunity — to make a choice, to live as we please, to speak our minds — something I hope we can all agree upon.
Now that we’re one day shy of the first day of Fall, I’m getting around to sharing some of the photos I made this Summer — and this is one of my favorites: Vivienne Harr, an 8-year-old Fairfax girl who set up a lemonade stand in a local park and with the help of her social media savvy dad, Eric Harr, has raised more than $30,000 (and counting) to combat child slavery.
Vivienne has drawn plenty of media attention. She’s as cute as they come, her organic mint-infused lemonade is tart and tasty, and her story is a compelling one: A photograph of two Nepalese children carrying heavy slabs of rock, taken by Marin photographer Lisa Kristine in her book Slavery, inspired young Vivienne to do something. She launched a web site (makeastandlemonade.com), opened her stand in Doc Edgar Park in Fairfax and set a goal of taking in $150,000 to be donated to Not For Sale, a anti-slavery organization. (How terrible is it that as this point of human history there is even a need for an “anti-slavery” group?)
One of the shots I made ran with this short feature in Marin Magazine.
Whenever I teach, as I’m doing this summer in a short class on action photography at The Image Flow in Mill Valley, I find two things to be the most challenging: Explaining to others what I do instinctively in a way they understand and not knowing what the students don’t know.
The first forces me to think in granular terms about what I do with the camera — and why. For example, one student asked me why I usually use ISO 400 as my base setting when most digital cameras have ISO settings lower than that. Well, I answered, somewhat lamely, it’s because I grew up on Tri-X, Kodak’s legendary black-and-white film. It had an ASA of 400 and my earliest lessons about light and manual exposure were learned using that number as a base — and those lessons still work today. In other words, it’s a habit, albeit one that serves me well.
The second challenge is more difficult. What each student knows about photography in general and the intricacies of their own camera in particular varies widely.
Most, not surprisingly, came to photography in the digital age and with cameras so advanced and so automatic that they skipped the need to studdy the basics of photography, so they have a poor understanding of the connections between light and exposure, between shutter speed and aperture, and between focal length and depth of field.
They all have inexpensive lenses that in a short twist of the barrel leap rom wide-angle to telephoto, so they’ve never had to master the physical art of moving through a scene with prime lenses in order to change the point of view or to get closer to or farther from a subject.
Because of these gaps, each time I attempt to explain something more advanced, such as capturing the fleetness of a runner with a pan or freezing the motion of boy on bike in a half-pipe, it opens the door to a more basic discussion about the principles behind the technique and where to find the buttons and dials on a particular brand of camera in order to get the technical stuff right.
For this reason, I learn along with my students. I learn about my own habits (good and bad), I learn how different types of cameras work (even their Nikons don’t function as mine does) and, most importantly, I learn I need patience in order to succeed — and that’s a lesson that applies to photography as well as teaching.
Hey, Tim, I’m often asked, what’s the secret to killer lighting? (Really, it happens all the time).
They’re thinking I’m going to say expensive Swedish strobes (got ‘em) or compact, go-anywhere Nikon speedlights (got those, too) or even a hand-painted, Avedonish backdrop like Annie uses (don’t have that).
Wrong. Wrong. And wronger.
What I tell them is this: The secret to killer lighting is a stand-in — someone to be in front of the camera while you fiddle with the power or feather the softbox or pile sandbags on the stands because you’re doing an outdoor shoot in gale-force winds.
Sometimes the stand-in can be an assistant, someone you’re actually paying, such as photographer John Truong, left, posing with the Lark Theater behind him in preparation for a shot of the movie-house’s owner (here’s the final shot).
Other times the stand-in might be a writer you’re on assignment with, such as Nate Seltenrich of Oakland, above, who occupied the velvet couch for me inside Terrapin Crossroads in San Rafael while we waited for Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh and his wife, Jill. (Writers are generally less thrilled about standing in than assistants.)
Oftentimes, the stand-in might be a somewhat reluctant PR person (whom I won’t show for fear of losing future favor) or and even more reluctant spouse (ditto).
Who the stand-in is really doesn’t matter as long as they have the patience to hang in there until you get the lighting just right — that is, killer — so when the actual subject shows up (often someone with no patience whatsoever) you can make his or her picture straight off just like the professional you are.