The Ladder Series

1955 Chevy

Pentax K-01 | Pentax DA 50mm f/1.8 | f/4.5 | 1/800 | ISO 100 | June, 2014

If you’ve seen any automotive photography you’ve probably seen people shoot from a standard, standing, average point of view. If the person has been shooting a while, they will go down and get those low shots. Then really low, then straight on the ground worm’s eye point of view shots. But, honestly, where do you go from there?

Up. That’s where. I started taking ladders to car shows. It’s been great, I’ve made a whole series of shots from up on my ladder. You get some weird looks, sure, but what artist doesn’t?

The ladder itself isn’t that tall. My fear is that I will lose my balance and fall onto somebody’s sweet ride and get then the shit kicked out of me. So, it’s a medium sized step ladder. But it does help in getting shots like this.

This picture was a huge step forward for me. I finally broke through that wall of just trying to make the vehicle look good, to trying to make a finished picture. It is one of the few pictures I have that I would love to see printed large, matted and framed and exhibited in a gallery.


On The Importance Of Background Checks

I don’t believe I’ve done any tutorial posts on this blog.  Mostly because I still feel like I’m learning something new every day.  Understand, I’ve been doing photography for a very long time now.  I’m old school, I’ve processed & developed film, developed color prints in a color darkroom, had my work in multiple shows.  I’ve studied, and worked hard to hone my craft.

I didn’t just wander into the camera section of Target and decide to take up photography.

That said, it’s a whole next level from knowing something enough to do it yourself, to knowing something well enough to teach others.  Don’t believe that “Those who can’t do, teach” crap.  The best teachers know their stuff a hundred times better than those who simply “do”.

I’m still not sure if I can teach how to take a decent photograph.  But today I’ll share some tips with you about how not to screw it up so much.

One word: backgrounds.

In my opinion, photographs are ruined by crappy backgrounds more than any other factor.  Bad lighting, missed timing, they’re nothing compared to a bad background.  And it’s such an easy thing to fix.  You don’t need a pro-level camera and a thousand dollar lens to make good choices about your background.

Here’s a comparison: look at this picture of a boss Mach 1:

Ford Mach 1

This was taken with my always trustworthy Canon A1000 Powershot point and shoot camera.  If you’ve been around car shows at all, you’ve seen this shot.  Heck, you’ve probably taken this shot.  There are a lot of things we can talk about here, but for me, what totally ruins this shot is the background.  First, there are about a dozen cars randomly strewn around back there.  Then, as always with car shows, you’ve got people just milling about without any purpose in your shot.  In short, everything behind the subject is a distraction.

Now, how about this, taken at the same show with the exact same camera:

1932 Ford 2

That is a 100% better photograph.  Here’s some of the choices I made:

1) Isolate your subject.  The biggest question you have to ask yourself is, “What am I taking a picture of?”  Whether it is a person, a building, a cat or a car, you need to make sure you understand what the focus of the photograph should be.  That doesn’t mean that it has to be in the dead center of the frame, but it does mean that you need to do whatever you can to reduce or take away anything that will distract the viewer from your main subject.

2) Change your point of view.  Most photos you have ever seen were taken from an eye-level perspective.  Boring, boring, boring, boring.  Try getting down a bit.  This should also help you isolate your subject by reducing the view of what’s behind your subject.  And, it’s a good way to get a unique perspective.

3) Try to find connections between the foreground and background.  Take a look at the first photo again.  As I said, there is no connection between the car and the background.  Now, take a look at the second.  Both cars have bright, warm colors, both have shiny chrome and both have the similar curves of the fender and the grill.  Here, there are a number of things that connect the foreground and the background.  Obviously, much of the time when you are out shooting you cannot control the placement of things, but you can walk around and look to see what’s what.  Sometimes connections are right there, and sometimes it takes an effort to see them.  But if you work at it, you can usually get something that compliments your subject rather than distracts from it.

4) Be patient.  I can’t emphasize this enough, especially if you are shooting in a public place.  People will often wander into your shot.  If you can, if at all possible, wait until they wander right back out again.  A great photo can last a lifetime, it’s worth it to wait a few minutes to make sure you get it right.

Remember friends, it’s important to check your backgrounds.

Here endth the lesson.






Some Notes On Style

Ford Bronco

All of my pictures look the same.  And that’s not a bad thing.

Fair enough, they don’t look exactly the same, not always.  But, like many great artists, I have developed a specific visual language which helps me explore a litany of recurring themes within my work.  That’s fancy/schmancy art-speak for “I have a certain schtick that’s my go-to composition.”  Basically.

It’s usually a profile of cars, trucks or other vehicles in front of buildings or other objects. You can see it in this previous blog post, and you can really see it in this set I created on my flickr page.

Profiles Of Cars And Other Vehicles

Profiles Of Cars And Other Vehicles

Again, this isn’t a bad thing.  As I have said many times before, I come from a Fine Art background.  I repeat that often because it is how I view most of what I do here.  When I was a kid, I started drawing cars.  I did this for two reasons.  First, there was a magazine at the time called CARtoons, which was just that; cartoons about cars, motorcycles, vans, and other cool stuff.  Artists like George Trosley, Shawn Kerri, Dave Deal and others really sparked my imagination and inspired me to take up drawing.  The other reason was, if I gave cool drawings of cars to bullies, they would leave me alone.  Basically.

So, I spent my childhood drawing cars, motorcycles, vans and other cool stuff.  In high school, I expanded out to people.  In college, I expanded out to Fine Art.  And, after many years of dedication, I started to develop a style.  Which is cool.  You can usually tell an artists work by their style.  I know my Picasso from my Pissaro, my Caravaggio from my Cassatt, even my Manet from my Monet.   I can tell a Franz Klein from a Clyfford Still from a dozen paces.  Why?  Because they all have their own certain style.

Photographers, like artists, often develop their own style as well, but it simply isn’t as widely discussed like it is in Fine Art circles.  We talk about gear more than style.  We often obsess with how to get that “perfect” exposure, without thinking that sometimes “perfect” isn’t actually the right choice.  Too often a photographers goal is to get all the technical details right, without capturing the substance.  Or the heart.

If photographers do develop their own style, it is more often the result of circumstance rather than any artistic forethought.  Maybe they only use a certain camera/lens combo that gets a specific result.  Maybe they can only afford old school lenses, which often have miles more character than much newer lens, which might be razor sharp but totally lacking in soul.  Maybe they only take macro pictures of summer fruit. Maybe they are just stuck on a specific Lightroom Preset that they just can’t get out of.  Who knows.  The point is, I don’t believe there are many photographers out there who consciously pursue their own style.

Geo Metro

I know I have a style.  My style.  I do have recurring themes in my work.  I do have a visual vocabulary I work from.  I have ideas in my head that I want to bring into being.  I see issues that I want to try to make people think about in a different way.  It’s why I went into the Fine Arts instead of the Graphic Arts.  I could have made a living as a Graphic Artists, I know it.  But I didn’t want to make a living simply making catsup bottles look good.  Yes, that’s an oversimplification of the job, but not by much.

And that’s why, partly, I think it is going to be difficult for me to ever make any money from this photography lark.  I still don’t want to make catsup bottles look good.

But, if you need a picture of the profile of a car against a building, you’re damn right I’m your go to guy.


American Slipper

When I was in art school, my emphasis was in Drawing and Painting, and my painting style leaned very heavily on Abstract Expressionism.  But, there was also a large part of my work that was also interested in using text within my paintings.  Artists like Barbara Kruger and Jenny Holzer really influenced me, forcing me to think about multiple layers and connections through different visual clues, both words and pictures.  And using words as pictures.

Seeing is believing

When I started getting into photography, I almost immediately began taking pictures of street signs, urban scenes and gritty cityscapes.  Subject matter far removed from my usual forays into abstraction and non-objective painting.  Because, honestly, that stuff fascinates me.  I grew up in suburbia and I’ve spent my life trying to understand it, quantify it, depict it.  And try to make it interesting to other people.  And, try to make it beautiful to other people.

So, I’ve been happy to have my photography stick to depicting straight realism.  Every once in a while, however, I do get my artsy-fartsy groove on.

I don’t pursue it as much as I would like to because, frankly, I’m pretty hard on myself, and a lot of the time these simply just don’t work.  But, then, that’s art isn’t it.  We keep sketchbooks for a reason, to work out things before you really commit to them.  And, also, a lot of the time these simply just don’t work.  It’s an extremely fine line between expressing something profound in art, and just being obtuse.  Or being clever simply for the sake of being clever.  Art is complicated.  I have a love/hate relationship with it.

I thought I would share some of my experiments.  These are the ones that made the cut, the ones I allow to see the light of day.  I’m actually kinda proud of these, if I’m honest.  Especially the Cadillac/Holiday Motel mash-up, I think that’s could easily be the cover of a dime store pulp-fiction novel.  What happens in Vegas, is usually a lot better in a red Cadillac convertible and a cheap motel.

Holiday Motel HDR

The Mind Is A Perfect Prison