A Clean Style

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I recently bought a pack of VSCO filters. I have yet to use any of them.

For those who don’t know, VSCO are post-processing filters that replicate a selection of the best and most popular film photography from back in the day. It supposedly gives modern digital photography a vintage film look.

Normally I like this look. Filters like VSCO and others get flack from some photographers because they believe it is a lazy post-processing technique, or that people are simply using these filters to copy popular Instagram or Tumblr looks without developing their own style.

From what I understand, most good photographers can uses these preset filters as a starting point only, and then alter and adjust as needed until they have something that matches their own style, or the needs of a client.  VSCO is just another tool in the toolbox.

I take back my original statement: I have used one VSCO filters a total of four times.  Here is one example.

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I started with a filter that simulated old Tri-X black and white film, and tweeked until I got something I liked.

But, for some reason, I just can’t bring myself to do that with other photographs, especially photographs of people.

I like a simple style. I have tried to cultivate a simple style.  I have worked very hard to never rely on fancy edits or post-processing trickery.  From searching for basic geometric shapes that exist in suburbia air-conditionerlight-pole-shadowsuburban-mailbox

to trying to get the cleanest, straightforward shots of cars and other cool stuff, I like to think of my style as bare bones, letting the objects and colors speak for themselves.

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Sometimes I watch cooking shows.  I don’t cook, but my wife does, which means when she is watching cooking shows, I’m watching cooking shows.  While never actually learning how to cook, I have learned one thing from watching cooking shows; when you start with really great ingredients, a good cut of beef or fresh vegetables, you don’t need to do a lot to them to make a great meal.  If the ingredients are delicious to start with, you’re most of the way there.  In fact, pouring heavy sauces or using too many spices over good ingredients can actually serve to wreck a decent meal.

This is how I approach my photography.  I want to start off with something great in camera.

This doesn’t mean I don’t do post-processing work.  It means I work to make sure my post-processing work isn’t noticed.  Sharpening, gradations, dodging & burning, cloning, curves adjustments, these are all tools in my toolbox that help me create the best final image possible.  But my goal is never to draw attention to these edits. My goal is to make sure you, the viewer, never notice them.  I can do several dozens of tweeks, adjustments and changes to a final image, hundreds even, and my hope is that you’ll never be the wiser.

I like a clean style.

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Flickr

So, now that I’ve got Generator Photography up and running, it is really gaining momentum.

As of now, I’ve got 3 places I post photographs for GP; Facebook, 500px and the main Generator Photography website.

The order I post to these is this: Facebook = everything. 500px = the really good ones.

I’m leaving my main site as a portfolio site. 7 Galleries, only 24 shots max in each Gallery. It should actually be less than that, but I’m ok with it for now.

The problem I’m having with that arrangement is this; photos look like crap on facebook. I swear the loss of sharpness and quality is criminal. But, hey, you get what you pay for.

And, as an aside, can I just say the photos on 500px look FABULOUS! Anyway…

I’m uploading all these pics to facebook, and I’m thinking, I really want people to see these, but in a non “looks like crap on facebook” way.  What are my options?  What other photo sharing site can I use?  Well, there’s Google+, but I just can’t get into Google+.  I hear all the stories about how wonderful it is, but to me it’s just really close to 500px, and I’ve already got a 500px account.  Which leaves Flickr.

I love Flickr.  I think all the “Flickr is dead” talk is totally wrong, I see a lot of really vibrant, thriving communities, I see a really solid photo sharing format, and I’m excited about the future of this site.   Problem is, I already have a Flickr account.  One I’ve had since 2009.  It is under my original nom de plume, ponyrojo.

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That was my icon.  The story goes like this: Many years ago I wanted to open up a coffee shop called The Pony Espresso. I totally stole that name, btw. However, it soon became obvious that I was never going to get off my duff and make that happen. Therefore, I began to think about different applications for that name, and the idea of “Pony” started to creep into different aspects of my artwork.

If I remember, in the deep, dark past when I was on AOL (Remember THIS SOUND, kids?) I was actually pony.blanco. But that’s just not as cool as pony.rojo.

When I started to really get serious about photography again, I had no plan, no blueprint for what I wanted to achieve. I just knew I had to do something, anything, to get my creative groove back.  And opening a Flickr account was a great place to start.  And my ponyrojo account has been a significant part of my development.

I would love for GP to have it’s own flickr page, so I can upload everything there, and have my photos look much better than they currently look on facebook. Then, maybe I could also direct people to flickr.com/people/generatorphotography as a bonus, instead of my current ponyrojo account, which would just be confusing.

However, what I don’t want to do is manually re-upload all of my photos to that new account. I would just rather automatically transfer photos from one account to another.

Is that possible?

From the Flickr FAQ page:

“We’re sorry, but it is not possible to change the personalized web address of an account once it has been set. Flickr has a firm policy on this in order to maintain data, metadata, and link integrity.

If you absolutely have to have a different personalized URL, you will need to create a brand new Flickr account and set the new URL there. You will then have to manually re-upload all of your photos to that new account. (Please note that there is no way to automatically transfer photos from one account to another.)”

If I’m honest, I really don’t think they are sorry. But I digress.

At this point, if I want GP to have a flickr account, what are my options? 1. Pay for a 2nd flickr account.

That’s a non starter. I’m already paying for this account and my 500px account. Granted, that’s not a lot per year, but as a struggling punk photographer, head of a single income family, that’s just too much.

Also, I’m not sure that the redundancy between the two accounts would be desirable. I’m trying to work smarter, not harder.

2. Downsize my ponyrojo account to a free account and pay for a GP account. That’s also a non-starter for two reasons. First, the free accounts only show the 200 most recent photos, and I’ve got, as of this writing, over 6,700 pictures in 137 sets spanning over 6+ years. I’m not saying that all of those are great photos and worthy of saving, but many are really interesting documents of specific places during specific times. And, every day I get views from the length and breadth of my photostream.

3. Cancel my ponyrojo account outright, and just pay for a GP flickr account. Again, that would involve nuking my current photostream and re-uploading a gawd-awful amount of photos, not to mention the re-tagging, re-mapping, re-writing descriptions and re-organizing into new sets. No. Thank. You.  Plus, I don’t want to lose all the great contacts I’ve met in the years I’ve been on flickr.

So, for now, I think the best thing to do is to just change my account name, leave all the photos up, and let everyone browse the holiday snaps I took on my vacation in Norway back in August, 2007, right along with what I’m doing right now, right this minute.

Let everyone see the progress I’ve made as a photographer, and as an artist.  Let people see all my work I did way back with those point and shoot cameras, back when I would go on a photowalk and bring back 500+ photographs.  Actually, maybe that’s good for people to see.  Who knows.

If anyone has any comments or other suggestions, please let me know.

Otherwise, Generator Photography, meet ponyrojoPonyrojo, meet Generator Photography.

And welcome everyone to my Flickr page.  Where, if the photos look like crap, it’s all down to me.  And not facebook.

My Best Advice

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This is probably the worst photograph I’ve ever taken.  I say “probably” because I’m sure that if someone trawled through all my work there is a chance that they could dig up something even more awful.

But not by much.  And, besides, this is the one that sticks in my head.  This is a horrible photograph.

It was taken not that long ago, December of 2009 in fact, at First Friday, a local even held once a month in Las Vegas’ own burgeoning Arts District.  I like to go down there and try to capture as many of the interesting characters and performers as possible.  My success rate is very low.  But, it used to be a lot worse.

I can say that I have improved a lot since then.  There are several factors for this.  One is that I have been shooting almost constantly since I got back into photography back in aught seven.  Henri Cartier-Bresson famously said “Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.”  Indeed.  By the benefit of simply shooting almost daily, I have been able to develop my eye, know my gear so much better, and generally be in more situations where I can capture that magic in better and more knowledgeable ways.  I still get lucky, but I feel like I’m creating my own luck more and more.

But there is one other factor that has been very important in my development as a photographer.

Now, I usually don’t give advice.  Whenever someone asks me for advice, I try to dodge and weave and leave the question hanging.  Mostly, I’m afraid that if the person follows my advice, and it all goes horribly wrong, they will come limping back, pointing their finger at me and shouting in a loud voice, “I followed your advice, and NOW LOOK WHAT HAPPENED!”  It’s a nightmare.

But, today, I will give you some advice.  My best advice, actually.  This isn’t just for photographers either, the best advice for anyone involved in the arts, from woodworking to songwriting to dance.

My best advice is this: You will never improve as an artist if all people do is kiss your ass.

There, I said it.

It is a huge temptation these days.  Our social media structures are mostly slanted to having “followers”, ever notice that?  And, for the most part, “followers” don’t tend to challenge their leaders.  All too often I see people, especially photographers for some reason, who put up work only to have every single response be outstanding, unrivaled praise.  Regardless of the quality of the photograph.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I want as many “followers” as I can get.  My desire is to have Generator Photography become as big as I can grow it.  But if I post crap, I want people to call me out on it.

I have been blessed to be a part of several online groups who have really put me through the wringer, but in very helpful ways.  I have sought out individuals and groups with whom I can share my work and I know I will get honest feedback.  Or, groups that pushed me to get out of my comfort zone, people who forced me to stretch myself and my work.

So, here is my advice.

Seek out people who can give you honest criticism.  Ideally, they will be people who are better than you, or people whose work you admire.

Seek out people who can give you constructive criticism.  This is hugely important.  You can go into pretty much any photography forum and there will be people there who will say, “You’re a moron and your photography sucks.”  Well, both of those statements might be true, but it doesn’t really help much.  Look for people who will instead comment about your composition, or your post processing choices.  People who can offer up different options, like how you should have shot with “this” lens, or maybe used a different shutter speed to get a better result.  People who can see through your own limitations and try to offer ways to help you break through them.

Seek out people who will push you.  People who won’t be satisfied when you are just getting lazy and posting crap.  Proverbs 27:6 says “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.”  Indeed.  Friends don’t let friends get by with mediocre work.

There is also, however, one important caveat.

Learn to be discerning about the comments on your work.  For instance, I’m a sucker for technical advice, because I think that is an area of knowledge where I feel I’m weak.  So, if someone wants to tell me I should be shooting at f/5.6 instead of f/1.8, and lists a couple of reasons why, I’m all ears.  Or, if someone wants to give me lighting advice, or gives me tips on adjusting my white balance, I’m all ears.

However, if someone tells me that I shoot boring things, well now we have a problem.  I know I don’t shoot the most exciting subject matter.  But I have a vision for my art.  And what I want to to bring that vision into reality the best way possible.  I may take pictures of boring things, but I never want to take a boring photograph.

Suburban Mailbox At Night

I know that the subject matter might be boring to some, it’s just a suburban mailbox.

But, because of what I’ve learned about things like composition and post processing, and because of all the help so many talented people have given me over these past years, I can say that this is probably the best photograph I’ve ever taken.  Of a mailbox, anyway.

Don’t settle, people.  Get out there and tell great stories, and make great art.

My new mat cutter, Wikipedia, and what you might be missing out on.

Golden framed

Ok, it’s a crummy photo.  You would think, being a photographer, I would be able to do better than this, right?  Bro, do you even focus?  Ideally, I would have had set up some decent lights, or taken this during the day. But, in my defense, I’m more excited about sharing than actually putting this shot into any portfolio.

12×18 print, matted and framed in an 18×24 frame.  Bitchin’.

Here’s the thing; I bought a proper mat cutter.  I mean, Proper.  32 inch cutting capacity, fixed guiderail, can cut up to a 4 1/2 inch border.  OMG.  See, I’m so excited about it that it’s making me write like a tweet from a 13 year old girl.  WTF?

I love cutting mats and framing pics.  If you have read my bio you know I come from a drawing and painting background.  I used to build my own stretcher frames, buy canvas by the roll and stretch and prime my own canvases.  I swear, I came to love that process more than than painting itself.  And, in a way, I feel that way about matting and framing photographs.

Matting a photograph is actually very important.  From Wikipedia: “One of the most important functions is that it separates the glass from the art or document being framed; this is primarily important because any condensation that develops on the inside of the glass can be transferred to the piece if they are not separated, resulting in water damage, mold or mildew. Photos should also be separated from the glass because the surface of photographs is particularly easy to damage.”  So, there’s that.

It also makes it look cool.  It separates the picture from it’s surroundings, makes it stand out.

I’m excited about this picture for two reasons.  First, it has a mat with totally straight cuts.  For the life of me, I couldn’t get a cut straight from my old mat cutter.  It was horrible.  This?  Sweet, straight cuts.  And the blade went through the mat like buttah.

Second, at 12×18, this is the largest print I’ve ever ordered.  I know that’s not much for many people, but its a pretty big milestone for me.

The Box Office 05.07.10 03This is from May, 2010, at The Box Office Gallery, smack dab in the Arts District, downtown Las Vegas.  I had the privilege to show my work there over several months in the spring and summer of that year.  It was such a revelation to see my art set up and displayed in real life.

The prints there are smaller, 8×10’s mostly.  At the time I had only been shooting with my Canon Powershot A1000 point and shoot camera.  Still, I’m very impressed with what I was able to achieve with what I had.  And I had several people compliment me, especially after we talked about my equipment.  Or, lack thereof.  Once, when I said that I should have been using a “better” camera, this guy looked me straight in the eye and said, “A sharp tool does not a craftsman make.”  Truth.  I have never forgotten that.

But, now, I’ve got the opportunity to print bigger, and with my new, proper mat cutter, I’ve got the opportunity to show better.  God in Heaven, I love that cutter.

Oh yeah, and then there’s the photographs themselves.  Hopefully those have improved as well.

Listen up: if you are not printing your photographs, regardless of size, you don’t know what you are missing.  If all you are doing is merely sharing your work on facebook, instagram, flickr, or whatever, and not producing it here in the real world, you are cheating yourself.  And all the others who could also experience your work.

There are very few feelings as great as holding your own art in your own hands.  It is magic.