Photos From our Treeplanting Cameo

We took Audrey and the Westfalia up to the clearcuts around 70 Mile for a brief visit to a friend’s planting crew. Jane experimented with planting with a baby strapped on. I took the opportunity to take some photos of people actually planting in their land, while not under pressure to be planting in mine.

I also took the opportunity to shoot treeplanting with a serious prime lens — my dad sent it for baby portraiture, but frankly 55mm is better suited to the cut block then the nursery. On the down side, I don’t know how to use a serious prime lens. But it was fun.

A small gallery of photos: Planting ’12.

Hotham Sound Kayaking Review

jane's review and taping procedure


My Photo On Treeplanting Book Cover

I’m pleased to report that a photo of mine is going to be used on the cover of this new book:

Eating Dirt cover

That’s Jane schlepping in across the scree slope at the top of a truly nasty block on the Bluebird road outside of Creston. Looks pretty good to me. And I like the font.

The book is by Charlotte Gill and presumably has its roots in this award-winning short story. It should be out in a few months. I gather there’s a lot of back-and-forth in book publishing, all of which takes time.

East Van is for Local Photographers (Maybe)

Eric Fischer used the locations of geotagged photos on Flickr to make a series of city maps he calls The Geotaggers’s World Atlas. Then he got even cleverer and figured out which of the photos came from locals and which came from tourists, based on the time lag in between photographs. The result is a new set of maps called Locals and Tourists.

Here’s Vancouver:

Red dots are photos from tourists, blue dots are from locals, and yellow are cases where Eric’s algorithm wasn’t able to conclusively differentiate. I notice two things.

  1. Vancouver is the 9th city on the list of 96. And according to Eric, he ordered them “by the number of pictures taken by locals”. So Vancouverites like to take photos of their city. (Although I suppose it depends on how big the other cities in the project were). Compare for instance with Las Vegas.
  2. Everything east of downtown belongs to the locals. Clark, Commercial, East Hastings, 2nd and for some reason Heatley are thick bands of solid blue.


Except that I don’t entirely trust point #2. It just doesn’t make sense that Heatley would outshine Broadway as a go-to destination for photographers. Here’s what I think is happening: there aren’t actually that many people who go on blanket photo missions, then do the geeky work of linking their imagery output to GPS tracks and uploading them in bulk to flickr. Those few photomatic enthusiasts are driving the apparent patterns. That theory is anecdotally supported by this comment from Roland.

It’s a striking differential nonetheless. Next time I find myself visiting a new city, an interesting project would be to track down the places that the locals think are worthy of camera action, but don’t usually get much interest from foreign photogs.

A Few Treeplanting Photos

I’ve posted a few photos from my current little treeplanting contract. One more shift to go.

forgive the cliche

The Decline of Pro Photography?

The New York Times has an interesting article up on the diminishing prospects of professional photographers. They suggest that the downturn in newspaper and magazines has combined with a rise in semi-pro stock photography to thwart those who make a daily living taking photographs.

“Mr. Eich and Ms. Pruitt illustrate the huge shake-up in photography during the last decade. Amateurs, happy to accept small checks for snapshots of children and sunsets, have increasing opportunities to make money on photos but are underpricing professional photographers and leaving them with limited career options. Professionals are also being hurt because magazines and newspapers are cutting pages or shutting altogether.”

For Photographers, the Image of a Shrinking Path
Stephanie Clifford, New York Times

If that’s the case then it’s okay and not okay. It’s okay because this change is coming from a general expansion in quality and quantity of photography. Omelettes and eggs, as they say. It’s not okay because losing a career is a nasty thing. I suspect that career turnover is going to be something that people are increasingly going to have to deal with as both business innovation and environmental change speeds up. We probably need to get better in general at losing jobs and transitioning to new ones without so much stigma or financial distress, especially for the 40+ crowd. For now, professional photographers may have some real angst.

That said, my guess is that we won’t see professional photography decline in profile, even if the ranks are thinned. There may be more weddings shot by family friends, newspapers (or whatever replaces them) may rely more on bystander-cell-phone photography, and regional nature and travel magazines might include more submission from readers. But aspirant semi-pros are going to find that really eye-buggingly good photography still requires a depth of technical know-how that goes beyond artistic sensibilities, as well as a methodically induced luck that requires 40 hours a week to acquire. Just because you buy a sweet DSLR with a wicked Auto setting doesn’t mean that a giant leopard seal is going to try and feed you, nor that you will have the reflexes to compose, meter and shoot should it do so.

As more amateur and semi-pro photographers get their hands on the means of quality photo production, the standards for great photography will increase. But if you as a high-end photographer can consistently meet those rising standards on demand, some rich entity is likely going to be willing to pay you for that. What’s more, I’ve heard photographers liken their condition post-wedding-shoot to “being kicked to death in a pub brawl”. So there’s probably still going to be some non-zero demand for pro wedding photography, which is the bread and butter of the industry.

I’m guessing we’re going to see the long-tail of photography get longer, but I bet the head will get taller, even if there is a painful down-curving of the middle.

How To Recover 1927 Kodak Film From Irvine’s Resting Place on Everest

Should you find yourself needing to recover exposed film from a 1924 Kodak camera in indeterminate condition due to its having lain next to a dead body in the snowblasted extremis of the 8000m alpine for a century, this gentlemen has prepared some notes on the subject:

A127 Film: Care & Developing Suggestions (via SciAm)

“5. Recognize that once you have the camera, try to calm down. As long as you can keep it cold, speed is no longer of the essence. It is much more important to follow the procedure correctly and slowly than to screw-up quickly. If you have to wait a few days to make an unobtrusive exit from Base Camp, do so.”

advertisement for the VPK courtesy of Mario Groleau

3 Rules for Photography

It’s easy to take shots at someone else’s photography editorial, it’s much harder to offer something useful of one’s own. And I’m at a particular disadvantage because I’m not much of a photographer. Whatever that instinctual knack for effective composition is that marks really good photographers, I ain’t got it. Yet I’ve still managed to take a few photos that I find satisfying, and I occasionally get asked how I get photos to “look like that”. I won’t answer that how-to question in this post, because I think what people are typically asking is for technical specifics around image quality. I can address technical stuff in a latter post — it’s actually a pretty standard set of camera settings and processing steps. What I want to do here is address how it is that, as a photographic middler, I still sometimes get nice overall photos.

There are 3 rules that work for me. In order from most to least important, they are:

  1. Go interesting places.

    This includes interesting people. I suppose you can take pleasant macro shots which decontextualize commonplace objects in playful and startling ways without even leaving the house. But I don’t like that kind of photography. I like photographs that aggressively contextualize interesting things and people in interesting contexts. I like photos that tell a sudden story, but only if it’s an interesting story. Those stories are almost exclusively in interesting places, or at least around interesting people.

    lost balloon at Fuera Lucio protest in Quito

  2. Have a camera with you.

    On average, bigger more expensive cameras tend to take better photos under a wider range of conditions. So take the biggest camera you can carry easily enough, and the most expensive camera you can afford to lose. Don’t take a camera which will slow you down, or which you’ll keep packed away for fear of loss or damage or theft. If that means taking a rinky dink little compact, great. I’ve had some success with disposables carried in zip loc bags. Sure, this would be a better photo if I’d had a better camera, but if I’d held out for a better camera, I wouldn’t have had one with me.

    Brett giving directions to the helicopter over his head

  3. Take a photo.

    This rule is probably obsolete now — there was a time when people were reticent about pressing the shutter button, but we’re so far post-film that whatever fear folks had of committing to a shot, it’s mostly gone. Hooray! And there’s far more forgettable photographs surging along the fiber optic pipelines now because of that digital flamboyance. And there’s far more genius there too, because of it. People take risks, get immediate feedback, and learn faster because they photograph more. Except my dad, but he’s coming along. Super technically competent photographers know almost exactly how a photo is going to turn out before they shoot, but you’re not super techically competent, so take a flyer on what’s in front of you. Don’t take a photo if you think it will alienate your subject, or get in between you and the experience of being in an interesting place. Otherwise, do.

    Never got around to submitting this to The Express.

Of course I don’t follow those rules, I just find that I get results when I do happen to be following them.

So What’s It All About Ken?

Photography spaz Ken Rockwell is a leading light of the photography blogging scene, and lords knows has plenty to say about photography. Mostly, I’ve noticed, about what photography is not about.

First and foremost, it’s not about your camera. “Your equipment DOES NOT affect the quality of your image.” Emphasis his. For example.

It might just be about lenses , but not very many. It’s not about lens caps.

It’s not about tripods. Or bags.

It’s not particularly about software (he still uses iView and Photoshop proper, god help him), nor does a fast computer help. And colour management isn’t useful for managing colour. Incidentally, his site looks kind of washed out until I apply colour management to my screen.

Megapixels don’t matter, with which I am in absolute agreement.

Frankly, nothing new is good.

It’s not about shooting raw. In fact, this whole digital thing is for suckers. “Shoot film, which I also find to be far less of a hassle than dicking around with raw files”. He’s serious.

And as of last week, perhaps having run low on things for photography not to be about, it’s not about your subject.

“Here’s another secret: in photographic art, it’s never about the subject. It’s always about the underlying compositional structure. Subjects that may be there are chosen because they support or create a structure, not the other way around.”

And that folks is why there is so much boring, de-contextualized, disengaging but technically competent fluff in the “interesting” category at Flickr.

By the way, I highly recommend Ken Rockwell’s site for his digital camera recommendations, which tend to be pragmatic, concise and on-the-money in a way that no other photography site I’m aware of manages. Somehow, it’s about the camera.

A Photo A Day From My Tarsands Housemate

Three weeks a month my housemate is away at the tar sands, working on terraforming the planet, and occasionally taking photos in the process. Now some of those are going into a new Blipfoto daily journal: keepin it boreal.

“Thursday 7 January 2010: Dozer Steam

It is getting harder and harder as the nights get colder to take those prolonged exposure shots in -40 degrees but I’m getting the hang of it. I jumped out of the truck and blasted of like 10 shots without really looking or focusing properly before my hands and my poor camera lost their agility. This one turned out not so bad.”

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