Posts Tagged ‘photoblogger’

Interview with Rachel James of aandedijk

Rachel James is the photographer behind aandedijk, brownglasses, and 28mm.


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PetaPixel: Could you tell me a little about yourself?

Rachel James: I’m a thirty-two year old American who has been living in the Netherlands for 11-years. My husband and I run a new media company in which I am a User Experience Designer. I also make a living as a wedding and portrait photographer. Two of my most successful websites have been brownglasses.com and 28mm.org. I now sporadically photoblog at aandedijk.com.

PP: Why did you move to the Netherlands?

RJ: I met my husband in 1997 via his online journal (the predecessor to what we now know as weblogs). After e-mailing and chatting via ICQ, I realized that he was my soulmate, the one, and flew to the Netherlands to meet him. I’ve been here ever since.

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PP: How did you first get into photography?

RJ: My father is an avid photographer. I can’t remember a time when there weren’t rolls and rolls of 120 film in the vegetable crisper. Photography was important in our family as I was growing up. We, my sister… my mom… all had cameras and used them often. That I eventually became a photographer is really no surprise.
What was your first camera, and what do you use now?

My first camera was a 110 camera from K-Mart. I used it for years, until the camera was lost during one of our many moves. My current work cameras are a Nikon F100 and Nikon D300. Nothing extravagant, but at the end of the day, they help me get the job done. For play I use primarily a Polaroid 680 SLR, Holga, Lomo-CA, and Leica M6. I was recently given a Norita 66 that I’ve fallen completely in love with.

PP: Do you find yourself shooting more with film or more with digital? If you had to stick with one, which would it be and why?

RJ: Commissioned work is done digitally. The work I do for exhibitions and for myself is shoot on film. I’m a film lover and will always be. Take a Polaroid for example. There is no DNG… no negative. I can’t manipulate the EXIF data. It’s an unique original. There is trust and honesty in that. As long as there is film to be bought, I will be shooting with it.

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PP: Can you tell us a little bit about your favorite pieces of gear and why you like them?

RJ: That would be, hands down, my Polaroid SLR 680 and SX-70. Ansel Adams said, “It is unfortunate that so many photographers have thought of the Land (Polaroid) camera as a ‘toy’…The process has revolutionized the art and craft of photography”. I couldn’t agree with more. I look at the Polaroids I’ve taken over the years, over and over again. I’m slightly obsessed. I realize this.

PP: Is there any gear on your wishlist?

RJ: NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G ED and a Hasselblad 500C/M chrome. I forsee the Hasselblad being added sooner to my gear collection than the lens though.

PP: What type of photography are you most interested in?

RJ: Portraiture. Meeting new and interesting people is what inspires me to photograph, and my photography is a way for me to keep meeting new, interesting people. It’s a cycle that helps keep my work fresh. In a way, a lot of what I do is self-portraiture, as I tend photograph people who interest me, people I see myself in, or at the very least, like me, stick out from the crowd.

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PP: What is your goal in photography?

RJ: I have a number of business goals (profits, clients, projects, exhibitions, etc), but ultimately, I want create photographs that serve as a documentation of the life I live and the people I meet.

PP: What does Aan de dijk mean?

RJ: Aan de dijk is a prepositional phrase in Dutch. Translated into English it would mean something along the lines of “Along the dike”. You pronounce it phonetically as on duh dike. In a sentence, you would use it to refer to where something is located. I live in the historical city center of Ravenstein, an old fortified city built along a dike and the river Meuse/Maas. My domain name refers to that.

PP: What is street photography like in the Netherlands? Are people friendly and open to having their photographs taken by a stranger?

RJ: It’s quite relaxed if your respect peoples privacy and abide by the law. People and law enforcement tend to let you do your thing. Occasionally someone will do a double take when I’m bent over photographing what they assume to be trash. In Amsterdam, where I learned the art of street photography, occasionally someone running a market stand would make a fuss if I photographed their wares. Moroccan and Turkish women don’t tend to like to be photographed. They give a clear signal which I respect. There’s a difference between someone who is photographing on a professional level and someone who’s doing it just for fun or as a casual hobby. And people see that, I think.

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PP: How do you go about photographing strangers?

RJ: When I first started photographing strangers, I did it from a far. Kind of stealth like. An instructor at the Photo Academy in Amsterdam urged me to stop using my zoom lenses and move closer to my subject. While he wasn’t referring solely to street portraits, it was advice I’ve did take to heart. I don’t own a single lens over 85mm. So these days when I photograph strangers, I’m open about it and shoot from only a couple of meters away. You have to be confident, friendly, and professional. I’ll take a shot ,and then smile really big. The person in question usually awkwardly smiles back and keeps on walking. If the someone turns away when I aim the camera, I’ll walk up closer and ask if I can photograph them. Usually they’ll what to know why and why them. There have been only a handful of strangers that I haven’t been able to photograph. Flattery really works wonders. Oh yeah and smiling. You can get away with almost anything as long as you smile while doing it.

PP: Do you have any memorable or awkward experiences while doing street photography?

RJ: I suppose one of the most memorable experiences happened while I was in Paris a few years back. Two children kept pestering me about giving them money. When I sat down to reload my Polaroid they hovered around me, begging. I aimed the Polaroid at them and took a shot. When the boys tried to grab the Polaroid from me, a friend stepped in between. I quickly took two more shots while my friend scolded the boys and gave the two extra Polaroids to them.

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PP: What would you consider to be the most important things you’ve learned since starting out in photography? How have they impacted your work?

RJ: To properly set-up and use Photoshop actions and Lightroom Presets. Batch editing saves not only time, but in the end money.

PP: Would you recommend a new photographer start out with film or digital? Why?

RJ: Think about what kind of photographer (fashion, sport, documentary, fine art) you want to be and choose the camera accordingly. To me it’s shouldn’t be about film -or- digital, but about the tool that best fits the job. This idea that it should be one or the other, or that film has no more place in the digital age is just silly. Far too much emphasis is put on the camera. In the end, it all boils down to the print. How you get there is your own business.

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PP: What personal advice could you give an aspiring photographer who is looking to improve their photographs?

Learn to look critically at your work. Many beginning photographers tend to not know how to edit properly. And I don’t mean just in Photoshop. I mean knowing how to pick that “it” shot. By understanding what’s not working in a particular photograph, helps you in turn to photograph the same situation better.
Could you tell me a little about how to take photographs? (your mindset, your technique, your process, how many rolls you shoot in one sitting, etc…)

RJ: Hmm.. well… I tend to have a clear idea of what I want to photograph and how I’m going to go about doing it. Whether it’s a commissioned assignment of whether I’m just shooting for my own personal pleasure. I don’t really have any special techniques. I love shallow depth of field and try to always do everything with available light. The most difficult choice is what camera to use. For a commission, it will almost always be digital, but when I’m shooting for my own personal pleasure, I always seem leave the camera I should have brought with me at home. Murphy’s Law, I suppose.

PP: What is the hardest thing about shooting weddings?

RJ: Getting started. If you haven’t been a shooting assistant for an already established wedding photographer or if you haven’t been lucky enough to successfully shoot a wedding or two from a friend, building up your portfolio will be the hardest thing about shooting weddings.

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PP: What is something about wedding photography that most people don’t know?

RJ: While wedding photography is a serious business, it’s also just a lot of fun, especially if you love being photographing people. How could you NOT have fun when everyone is enjoying such a festive event.

PP: Can you briefly walk us through your workflow?

RJ: My workflow for digital and film is essentially the same, except for the fact that the film goes off to a lab where it’s developed and immediately scanned to disc. So basically it all begins with importing files into Lightroom. Files are arranged into folders according to their shooting date. I keyword and I apply a preset I created that adjusts the white balance, saturation, calibration, lens vignetting, and exposure. Then I quickly sort out all the duds and duplicate shots. After some further adjustments made on a per photo basis. Lastly, I export JPG’s in the working color space appropriate for the final result (sRGB for internet use, Adobe RGB for print).

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PP: Who are some photographers you follow online?

RJ: Heather Champ, Lorissa Shepstone, Fredrick Olssen, Jim Green, Sophie Thouvenin, Valerie Cochran, Brigitte Heinsch, Andrew Newson, Rion Nakaya, Matt Armendariz, Justin Ouellette, Alison Garnett, Andrew Kopietz, and many of the people found here and here continually inspire me.

PP: Who is one person you would choose to see interviewed by PetaPixel?

RJ: Lorissa Shepstone.

PP: Anything else you would like to say to PetaPixel readers?

RJ: There will always be those with “better” gear than you. Learn to work with what you’ve got. Develop your own style and forget the rules.

Interview with Daniel Cuthbert of Hmmm

Daniel Cuthbert is the photoblogger behind Hmmm.


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PetaPixel: Could you tell me a little about yourself?

Daniel Cuthbert: Born in the UK, grew up in South Africa (during the Apartheid years), left in 95 and since lived all over the world. I’ve had a few careers, namely a chef, a milkman (in the UK, for a grand total of 1 week before I couldn’t handle the hours anymore) and most recently that of a legal computer hacker (the good type).

PP: How did you first get into photography?

DC: I won’t do the usual spiel of saying I was born with a camera in my hand, that’s so clichéd. :)

I was in NYC at the time and had a small Sony point and shoot and a very good friend of mine, who is a creative director for a very well known ad agency, enjoyed the street images I had shot and said I should look at a few photographers like Eggleston and Winogrand.

I took his advice and a whole new world opened up for me. It was amazing to see how to properly take an image, not the type I was taking at the time and I pretty much decided there and then to learn how to compose and do it right.

PP: What is your goal in photography?

DC: I love telling stories.

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PP: What was your first camera?

DC: Nikon 2FAS (my old man’s).

PP: What equipment do you use now?

DC: Right now I’ve kept it dead simple. I did go down the route of having loads of cameras, but felt it wasn’t helping me so I sold them all. I now shoot with a Rollei 6008 Integral and my two Leicas (M6/M8).

PP: Can you tell me a little about your Leicas?

DC: I swapped my Canon 1d mkII with 50mm, 85mm, 70-200mm, 28mm and assorted batteries and stuff for the M6 and Summicron lens. The M8 was purchased from a good friend of mine, conflict photographer Jason P Howe (http://conflictpics.com/).

The benefit of the M system is that the camera isn’t in your face. What I mean by this is that with the Canon, or indeed Nikons, you look like a pap/press photographer. Big bodies, even bigger lenses, it becomes hard to not get noticed. With my M6 and M8, I just blend in and it does make a difference. I was able to get this shot of a Cocaine dealer bagging up before New Years Eve because he didn’t notice me taking the shot, I doubt I would have got the same shot with the canon as it’s too in your face.

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The M8 I love. I know many harp on about how the 5dmkII can shoot in the dark, but to be honest I don’t shoot in the dark so don’t need that capability. The quality of the sensor is amazing however, and it suits my workflow.

PP: Is there any gear on your wishlist?

DC: Not really to be honest I’d like a wider angle lens for my Rollei, I was thinking a 40mm or 50mm lens, but haven’t gotten round to looking for one yet. I really have tried to keep my setup as minimal as possible. The only thing that might sway that is if a Mamiya 7II comes along at a great price…

PP: What are some of the countries you’ve photographed in?

DC: The list is very long these days, but ones that stand out are:

Ukraine (and Chernobyl) — I visited the region for the 20th anniversary of the disaster, before the world’s press agencies and spent 2 days inside Pripyat and surrounding Chernobyl. It was -20 on most days and I was outside for a good part of 10 hours a day. The whole area is an amazing place, like time has stood still.

Cambodia — Cambodia is a country awash with change. A couple of years ago tourism wasn’t a big thing. It was full of journos, NGO workers and their big SUVs and extravagant lifestyles and a few photographers. Now it’s a top destination for anyone wanting to see a fantastic country recovering from a terrible past.

Russia — There is something about Russia, can’t put my finger on why I loved being there, but I will be returning next year to do a longer documentary about the region

Thailand — Oh Thailand, so much fun I decided to live there for two years and had some of the best times. Truly an amazing country

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PP: How were they different or similar to each other?

DC: I think it was the people. Each country had a past event that had defined the people, and this made for a more interesting outlook on life.

PP: When and why did you start Hmmm?

DC: It was started in 2004 as a reason for me to force myself to learn to see and take better pictures. About that time, the photoblog scene was exploding, so it was good to see fellow photographers learning. I’ve since become good friends with a few of them, namely Frisky (Faisal) and a few others.

PP: Where do you get your photographs developed?

DC: For the most, I do them myself. When time is of an issue, the local lab here in Durban, South Africa, does them and I then scan using my Macon.

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PP: Why do you shoot film rather than digital? Have you shot much with digital before?

DC: I shoot with what ever does the job for me. I did have mostly digital, Canon 1d with the usual arrangement of lenses, but found it was too big and really attracted attention to me when I was using it. Also I got annoyed with the amount of post production needed when shooting digital on the Canons. In a mad state I sold them all and got a Leica M6 with 50mm Summicron and haven’t looked back.

For fashion work, it is mainly digital medium format. Clients love to have that instant feedback during a shoot. This actually makes it harder as you have 10 people telling you how to do it behind your back. Right now I have a healthy balance of film and digital with a Rollei 6008 and Leica M6/M8 and they seem to work well with my workflow.

PP: Would you recommend that a beginning photographer start with film or digital? Why?

DC: I think start with what you are comfortable with. I’m bored of the arms race that is the DSLR game right now. Everyone tries to keep up with this model and that model, yet all seem to take rather boring pics. How about getting a camera, any camera and really learning how to use it. Make mistakes, learn from them and enjoy yourself. That 5 year old digital camera is still good, still can produce good files. Remember that camera companies don’t want you to buy older stuff, it hurts their bottom line.

Going back to the question about film or digital, I think with film you are more disciplined. You have 36 exposures (35mm) or 12 (120), so you generally think more about the shot. However, with digital you get instant feedback, which is also good when learning. Use both.

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PP: Are there any personal tricks you’ve picked up along the way that have helped you in your photography?

DC: Biggest trick so far is stop worrying what others think about your photography. Find something you really enjoy doing and let it happen, that’s the best trick. Oh and you can never have enough jiffy bags in a camera bag, I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve had to put all the gear in them when I’ve been caught out in the rain.

PP: What is a typical workday life for you?

DC: Admin, chasing up people, speaking to picture editors, dropping images off here and there. I spend most of the time doing the necessary stuff required to shoot projects. I’m also completing my Masters in Photojournalism and Documentary Photography over at the LCC in London, so that takes up a big chunk of time.

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PP: Can you tell me about your workflow?

DC: Both pretty much the same. Film is processed and then scanned by me using my Imacon Flextight scanner. Once the raw scans are completed, I import them into Aperture and tag/organise them. I love Aperture for this one feature. Unlike other programs that require you to create/maintain the folders yourself, Aperture does it for you and you have the ability to have multiple backup destinations at the click of a mouse. Once inside Aperture I only try and do slight post processing. Levels, contrast and cropping.

If I’m shooting fashion/beauty, that’s another workflow all together. I scan/process the raw files, work out which ones are to be used and then liaise with my retoucher, who’s based in Argentina and then work out what we are doing with them as per the clients requirements.

PP: How much and how often do you shoot?

DC: Not as much as I used to, but now I’m trying to do more quality than quantity. I’m putting together the final plans for a new project looking at homelessness in Southern Africa, from the perspective of a black family and white family. This is requiring more research than usual, so it’s eating into the shooting time.

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PP: How do you go about shooting?

DC: Good question!

Disclaimer, this might not be the best method at all, but it’s worked for me.

I think film, especially medium format, has really taught me to think more about the composition. When I look through the viewfinder, I try and ensure the whole frame is how I want it. I hate having to go through 10 of the same frames in Aperture, so I make sure it’s about as close to what I had in my head as I wanted. What I love about rangefinders is that you see more than the frame, this means I can easily see what is happening outside of what the frame lines give, which helps.

I try and take 1 shot per view. If this was a portrait for my People of Durban series (http://peopleofdurban.co.za) I’d say it would normally be 3 shots for that person. Each showing an environmental portrait, a 3/4 portrait and a head shot. This way I have a good selection of shots to use.

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PP: Who are some photographers you follow online?

DC: Faisal, Marco Vernaschi, Guy Batey, Simon Bates, and Kai Z Feng.

PP: Who is one person you would like to see interviewed on PetaPixel?

DC: Well you’ve already set the standard with previous guests, so I’d love to see Guy Batey put under the spotlight.

PP: Anything else you’d like to say to PetaPixel readers?

DC: “Find a subject you care about. Something that moves you. Something which stirs your rawest emotions. And then have patience.”

Mark Power, Magnum Photographer

Interview with Shannon Richardson of electrolite

Shannon Richardson is the photographer behind electrolite, a photoblog that won the “Best Black and White Photography” award at the 2007 Photobloggies.


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PetaPixel: Could you tell me a little about yourself?

Shannon Richardson: Lets see. I am a commercial / advertising photographer based in Amarillo, TX. I’ve been working in that field for the last 14 years.

PP: How did you first get interested in photography?

SR: I guess it started when I was a kid. I had a Brownie camera was given to me and I played around with that as well as Super 8 movie cameras. As a teenager I made short films and that got too expensive so I became more involved with still photography. My first 35mm camera was a Pentax K100. I took a journalism class in high school and learned to develop film and print in the darkroom.

I got more serious and moved to medium format photography with a Pentax 645 in 1990. Then from there I shot only in MF black and white photography. A few years later I worked for an advertising agency and got my foot in the door doing commercial work and started my own photography business.

As digital cameras began to be the standard for commercial work, I sold off my Mamiya RZ67 and bought a Hasselblad 503CW to concentrate on my personal work.

PP: Do you use the Hasselblad 503CW with both a film and digital back?

I only shoot film in my Hasselblad. My digital work is done with Nikon cameras.

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PP: What equipment do you use nowadays? Anything besides the 503CW?

SR: Occasionally I shoot with a Holga or vintage Diana, but that’s it.

PP: How was the transition from your Mamiya to your Hasselblad?

SR: The Mamyia was too bulky to carry around and was not getting much use since most of my commercial work was being shot with digital SLRs. I had always wanted a Hasselblad. I love the square image it makes.

PP: When did you start your photoblog “electrolite”?

SR: Four years ago. It seemed there were quite a few appearing back then and I decided it would be a good project for me. It has motivated me and I’m amazed I’ve kept it going this long.

What’s the story behind the name “electrolite”?

electrolite is the name of one of my favorite R.E.M. songs. I wanted something simple and sort of ambiguous. It was the first title that surfaced when I started putting the photoblog together.

PP: What kind of photographs do you post to it?

SR: Most of my personal work from several projects I’m working on. Of course the majority of it is black and white photography. I don’t shoot much color but every now and then one makes an appearance.

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PP: Do you take color photographs and convert them to black and white in post-processing?

SR: No I shoot mainly on Tri-X 320, which I develop myself. If I shoot color film its Portra 400.

PP: Could you tell me about your workflow?

SR: Well I shoot on 120 film that I develop myself. From there I scan the negative and do in photoshop what I’d do in the darkroom – dodge, burn and adjust contrast. My goal is to make my online images match the warmtone paper I print on when I do get into the darkroom and print.

The cost of printing on real photographic paper has gotten expensive so the digital darkroom just makes sense. I save the real darkroom for portfolio and gallery prints.

PP: Where do you develop? Is it at home?

SR: In my darkroom at my studio.

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PP: What are some personal tricks you’ve learned regarding portraiture?

SR: Hmmm I guess the biggest thing is overcoming the fear of approaching strangers to ask them if I can photograph them. That never goes away. I took a Santa Fe Photographic Workshop a few years back and my instructor who has been photographing for years said the same thing.

I think what works for me is that I appear harmless. I’m not tall or imposing so I think that helps. Most people seem flattered that I want to photograph them. I normally approach them and say I’m a photographer and would like to take a few images. They ask why and I’ll usually say I’m working on a project that they fit into. If they appear apprehensive when I first ask sometimes I’ll just say I’m a photography student working on an assignment for class and that usually disarms them.

It’s a constant struggle though to put myself out there. But its part of why I photograph.

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PP: Do you have any memorable or awkward experiences with photographing strangers?

SR: It’s always awkward. The most recent memorable experience was this cowboy I shot by the cowboy motel. I had seen him earlier in the week in downtown and wanted to photograph him but of course I didn’t have my camera. I hate when that happens because it’s an opportunity that will never happen again. But later that week on Saturday I was driving near the motel looking for things to shoot and I look up an see him walking across the parking lot on his way to the motel. I quickly pulled in and got out before he got away.

He was quite the character and had no problem getting his permission to take some photographs. He invited to his room at the motel, so I followed him in and visited for a while. Thats the first time I’ve had an 2nd chance at a missed photo opportunity. But I think it worked out better this way.

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PP: Can you tell me about your shooting process?

SR: Well most of the time I’m working from what I come across. I try to have my camera with me the majority of the time. Sometimes I know what I’m looking for i.e. a project I’m shooting, but then a lot of the time I simply just stumble onto a situation that I wasn’t expecting. I call these moments happy accidents.

And of course shooting with a Hasselblad you get 12 shots and everything is manual. I try to make every shot count. You have to think about what you’re doing and you don’t get instant feedback. Its a very in the moment kind of thing.

So the whole experience of putting myself in an awkward position of photographing people I don’t know and going with what happens creates a rush and a high. Then I can’t wait to get back and develop the film. Yes it’s all very intoxicating.

PP: What are some personal tips you have for an aspiring photographer to improve their craft?

SR: Study the history of photography. See what others have done. Going to a gallery and looking at the work is inspiring. Also push your comfort zone a little bit. Try shooting different subject matter than what you usually do. It’s a good eye opener and motivator.

And of course its not the equipment, its the photographer that makes the photograph.

PP: What’s the hardest part about your job?

SR: Professionally and personally it’s staying motivated. Oh and lugging the equipment around.

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PP: What are some challenges you’ve faced along the way?

SR: I guess on the photoblog the biggest thing has been keeping it going. Like I mentioned before motivation can be hard. I started the blog to do just that – keep me shooting for myself. For the most part it has been successful in doing that, but sometimes I feel like I’ve run out of the things to shoot.

A big challenge professionally has been learning to do the business part of the job. It’s no fun and most professional photographers will tell you that. Plus self-promotion is an endless endeavor as well.

PP: What do you wish you had known before you started doing photography professionally?

SR: Oh, that it’s not as glamorous as one might think it is. It’s hard work but I can’t imagine doing anything else.

PP: Would you recommend film or digital as the first medium for a new photographer? Why?

SR: I’d recommend shooting film. Unlike digital you really need to learn how to use the camera manually and understand how to properly expose film. To see light and how to capture it. Plus the whole aspect of being mindful of what you’re doing as you shoot. Of course there is no instant feedback. You have to wait and see what you have after the film is developed. That’s where the happy accidents appear. It bothers me that learning to photograph this way seems to be getting lost in the digital age. Shooting digital is like being on autopilot and firing off shots as if it were a machine gun.

I believe digital has its purpose. I’m just a film guy.

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PP: Who are some photographers you regularly follow online?

SR: Well I follow quite a few on flickr. As far as photoblogs go I keep up with gotreadgo, hello, no traces, terror kitten and my lucky life. Two of my all time favorites have called it quits – making happy and travis ruse.

PP: Who is one person you would like to see interviewed on PetaPixel?

SR: I think tread would be a great interview. He combines excellent photography and writing. I think he has some of the best writing on any photoblog I’ve ever come across.

PP: Any final thoughts you’d like to leave with PetaPixel readers?

SR: Well I’d really like to thank everyone who has been looking at my images on electrolite over the past 4 years and for all the great comments and questions as well. Anyone out there wanting to start their own photoblog the best thing you can do is just get it going. Put your work out there. And those who have have been keeping a photoblog going, I hope you keep at it. I enjoy seeing your photographs.

Interview with Joseph Holmes of joe’s nyc

Joseph O. Holmes is the photographer behind joe’s nyc, an award winning photoblog that won “Best Photojournalism” at the 2005 Photobloggies.


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PetaPixel: Could you tell me a little about yourself?

Joseph Holmes: I grew up in a little manufacturing town in rural Pennsylvania, a kind of Mayberry RFD, where my father had a long career as an engineer in the town’s factory and my grandfather was the town’s Episcopal priest. It was a idyllic childhood; I hung out on farms and swam in creeks, and I was a Boy Scout. But I left for college and eventually lived in cities like Washington DC, Philadelphia, and New York, and I discovered that I really thrived in urban environments. I’ve now live in Brooklyn, NY, for going on 25 years and New York City is in my blood. My wife and I have two teenage children.

At times I’ve been a Legal Aid Criminal Appeals attorney in New York City, a prize-winning (if unproduced) screenwriter, and a published writer of short stories. For a short time I was adjunct faculty at NYU’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies, teaching digital photography. I also make a cameo appearance in Gogol Bordello’s “American Wedding” video.

PP: How did you first get into photography?

JH: My father was an avid photographer and he had a Leica M3 and a Rolleiflex SLR when I was young. When I was old enough to want to use his cameras, he sold the Leica and bought a Miranda Sensorex SLR with a built-in light meter, which he knew would be easier to learn and use, and then he taught me how to develop film and use our home darkroom. Once I started printing my own photos, I was completely hooked (though it’s now been probably more than 30 years since I’ve done any darkroom work).

PP: Are your children interested in photography as well?

JH: My son sometimes takes my wife’s trusty FM2 on tour with his band, and scans the negatives. And my daughter is interested in photography from the other end of the lens — she’s seriously into fashion and makeup and modeling and so we often do a fashion shoot at home in an improvised studio, as she models her latest creations and makeup. You can see some of the results on my Flickr pages.

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PP: What is your goal in photography?

JH: My goal is to continue to explore and learn. Photography isn’t a journey with a final destination, it’s a life-long process of discovery. That sounds corny, but it’s important: photography is infinitely deep, and becoming a photographer never ends. I’m a beginner, and that’s something I embrace, not rush away from.

PP: What was your first camera?

JH: Once I was headed off to college, I left the Miranda home for the rest of the family and I bought myself a used Yashica 35mm rangefinder with 50mm lens and built-in light meter; I found I really liked rangefinder focusing. I was still shooting exclusively Tri-X pan 400 ASA film. A few years later I bought my first Nikon, a brand new FM and 50mm lens, continuing to shoot B&W. I was intrigued by color film, but I found I wasn’t yet ready to wrap my mind around that extra dimension, so I continued to shoot B&W for many years.

PP: What equipment do you use now?

JH: In 2003 I discovered digital photography with a point and shoot camera, and when Nikon came out with the D70 — the first really affordable digital SLR — I jumped on it. I’ve since worked my way up through the D80. D200, D300, and now shoot exclusively with the Nikon D700. I love the latest Nikon lenses, and I often carry the 17-35mm f/2.8 and the 24-70mm f/2.8. My favorite primes are the Nikon 50mm f/1.4D and the 85mm f/1.8. I have a few other lenses that don’t leave the house as often, like the heavy 70-200mm f/2.8.

Moving up to the D700 was wonderful, not just because it’s got incredibly low noise at high-ISOs, but also because the full-frame sensor means I’m back on familiar ground, where a 50mm lens is really a 50mm lens. My eyes still think in those 35mm film terms.

PP: What do you do for a living, and how do you fund your photography?

JH: In the last couple years I’ve turned to photography full time. People might be familiar with my more visible work: on my Web sites and at 20×200, as well as in galleries (I’m represented by Jen Bekman in Manhattan and wallspace in Seattle, and I also have an upcoming 2-person show in Pittsburgh). But I also I do event photography for some regular clients, random freelance work, and image licensing (look for two Random House book covers coming out this fall).

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PP: How does one become represented by a gallery?

JH: I can’t tell you how it works for most people. In my case, I had a new project in the fall of 2005 that really excited me (the amnh series ), so I entered Jen Bekman’s Hey, Hot Shot competition, partly because one of the prizes is representation by Jen. I had entered before without any luck, but this time around the amnh series won one of the slots in the Hey, Hot Shot show.

Though I wasn’t ultimately picked for representation, I was really encouraged by Jen’s reaction to my work, and we got along really well. So about a year later, I submitted images from my new Workspace project. Not only did I win another slot, but at the end of the year Jen selected me as one of four photographers to be represented, and I’ve been working with Jen and her fantastic crew ever since. You can see some of my prints on Jen’s 20×200 project.

I’m sure there’s a lesson in persistence there. You can’t let rejection stop you from continuing to create and show your work. No matter how long you’ve been working, there’s always another rejection around the corner; it’s just part of the landscape.

I became represented by Crista Dix’s wallspace gallery in Seattle in a similar way. In the fall of 2006 I submitted images from my amnh series to wallspace’s annual “In a New Direction” show, and I was selected. Crista contacted me after the show came down and offered to represent me. My solo show at wallspace last October, “Under | Exposed,” included prints from three of my projects: Workspace, CBGB, and amnh.

PP: Where do you buy your gear from?

JH: I jump on the train and head into Manhattan to buy my cameras and lenses at either B&H Photo or Adorama. I find both of those stores reliable. I occasionally pick up something used on eBay or one of the photography forums, but I prefer new equipment since I count on the warranties.

PP: What’s on your wishlist?

JH: I had a fisheye lens, the Nikon 10.5mm f/2.8, for my DX Nikons, but I sold it because it doesn’t work on my full-frame D700. Though I didn’t use it often, there were times when nothing else would do. I miss it. Another lens I sold was the incredible Nikon 28mm f/1.4. This legendary lens is long out of production and selling it allowed me to afford the D700, but I’d love to have a super-fast wide prime like that again. I’m hoping Nikon comes out with a replacement. Other than those, I’m very happy with my one camera and my three or four favorite lenses.

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PP: Would you recommend a film or a digital camera for one’s first camera? Why?

JH: I recommend film for at least the first year or two.

Digital is wonderful, and I very seldom shoot film these days, but if you start out with film, you learn a much more deliberate and intentional way of making photos. With film, you’re forced to work much more thoughtfully and you develop good habits — you can’t depend on continuous shooting mode, for example, to catch the right moment. If you’ve got only 24 or 36 shots in a roll, you’re going to slow down to make each shot count; you’re going to learn not only which shots to take, but which ones to pass up. And ideally you’ll be ordering prints from each roll, so that you’re confronted with exactly how you’ve framed and exposed each image; with digital, importing shots right into your editing software, you’ll fall into the trap of easy cropping and correcting, and you’ll never deal with bad shooting habits. A wise person once said, Shoot as if Photoshop didn’t exist.

Digital is very seductive because, when you’re ready for it, it’s incredibly liberating. Digital photography released a whole side of my abilities that I’d kept in check when I was paying for each and every shutter click. But as much as I love digital, I’m very glad I spent decades shooting film. I never crop images, for example, and I credit my years of shooting film for teaching me how to frame.

I have a lot of friends who made the backward switch from digital to film, and they get all excited, becoming converts, proselytizing the Word of Film to the deluded digital masses. Film Rules, Digital Sucks. But 95% of them started out with digital, only switching to film later. Of course they’re enthralled — they’re discovering a much more contemplative way of capturing an image, and they’re just now going through the very important lessons that film forces on you. What I very seldom see is that kind of proselytizing from photographers who grew up shooting film. When I made the switch to digital, I brought all those lessons with me.

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PP: Can you describe your workflow?

JH: Unless I’m working on a short deadline for a client who requires jpegs, I only shoot only in RAW.

I dump the images from my compact flash card directly into Apple’s Aperture, and spend a few minutes deleting the obvious mistakes, key-wording them, and star-ranking them.

Aperture is the final repository and catalog for all my original RAW files. My Aperture catalog currently holds about 97,000 image files. After I add new images, I back up the Aperture vault to a second, internal hard drive; I also back up the vault to an offsite hard drive at least once a week.

Next I export the images I want to continue to work with and open them in DxO Tools for some automatic correction. I use only two of DxO’s tools: I find the app is excellent at correcting lens distortion and chromatic aberration; I can do a better job in Photoshop with everything else.

From there, I bring the image files into Photoshop CS4 (passing through Adobe Camera Raw for a little white balance tweak). I occasionally do a lot of work in Photoshop, but most of the time all that’s needed is a little contrast and saturation bump (in adjustment layers). Then, if the image is headed for my photoblog, I use a Photoshop Action to flatten and resize to 950 pixels wide or high, use Unsharp Mask to sharpen for the Web, and then save as a jpeg file with an sRGB color profile. If I want to preserve an image for later printing at large sizes, I’ll save the full-size image with all its layers in Photoshop format so that I can always go back and do more (or less) work on it. I print images up to 17″ x 25″ on my Epson 3800 inkjet printer, usually on Museo Silver Rag paper.

PP: What is it like to shoot on the streets of New York City? How is it similar and different to other places you’ve been to?

JH: It’s hard to compare New York to other cities, since it takes a lot of time to really know a city. But New York is more than enough for me — it has an infinite number of unique neighborhoods, each one its own small town. I’ve been shooting in Manhattan and Brooklyn for years, now, and I’ve barely scratched the surface.

What I seek out — in New York or anywhere — are streets that reveal the people who live and work and play there. In New York, people’s lives and work are right there in your face — in the storefronts, in the machine shops and bakeries that roll open their back doors in the warm weather, in the hand-painted signs and facades, in the small industries glimpsed through windows, in the groups of people who pull up chairs on the sidewalk to hold court or barbecue. Many of the older cities in the US seem to share this — Philadelphia, Baltimore, San Francisco — though I haven’t spent enough time to know how they compare.

In Paris, on the other hand, street life feels very controlled, expression feels suppressed, at least in the neighborhoods I’ve visited. The architecture is beautiful, but it doesn’t reveal the lives of the people who live there. I find it difficult to make interesting photos in Paris.

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PP: Do you have any personal tricks for doing street photography?

JH: I don’t do much classic or traditional street photography any more. At a certain point I felt I had said everything I wanted to say in that vein and had nothing new to contribute. These days I’m more interested in urban landscapes or microscapes.

But when I was really into street photography, my techniques changed month by month; I explored new ideas all the time.

For a while I set myself a goal of shooting strangers as close as possible, using wider and wider lenses, even a fisheye for a while, and moving in really tight. A wide angle lens gives you no choice but to get close, and the result is an image that moves the viewer right into someone’s intimate, personal space. A telephoto lens, on the other hand, broadcasts a chilly distance; it feels safe, uninvolved.

My philosophy was to treat street photography cinematically. I believe that we’re all accustomed to the way movies are shot, by an invisible camera intimately observing the action or conversation. My goal was to duplicate that feeling, shooting strangers as if they were actors in my movie, as if my camera were invisible. I occasionally succeeded, and when it worked, it was very effective.

PP: Are there any memorable or awkward experiences you’ve had while shooting strangers?

JH: Only a couple awkward moments.

Inspired by Martin Parr, I once decided to try using a flash with my street photography, and I headed down to the site of the World Trade Center, where I thought I’d capture the men who (illegally) sell souvenir exploitation booklets with titles like “Tragedy!” For some reason it didn’t occur to me that those guys are a little sensitive about being photographed, and I was followed for a couple blocks by a man who harangued me in an accent I couldn’t place. That was the end of my flash experiment.

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PP: How often do you shoot? Can you describe your shooting methodology?

JH: To feed my daily photoblog, joe’s nyc, I always carry a camera, and I shoot almost every day. You know how it goes — the day I leave my camera home is the day I stumble across the once-in-a-lifetime sight. Some of my favorite images and most popular prints came about because I happened to have my camera with me. So I carry it everywhere. I feel naked without it.

But for specific projects like my Workspace series, of course it’s a much more deliberate process. All the Workspace shots are carefully planned, and involve getting to know the workspace owner, repeat visits, and finally bringing my camera and tripod and accessories to make the images. I sometimes go back to reshoot a space, and I’ve gone back to add portraits for some of the spaces.

One thing I’ve discovered recently is how important it is to get to know a lens intimately. Whenever I buy a new lens, I’m infatuated with it — I use it all the time, and it becomes my All! Time! Favorite! But it turns out that’s a very important stage. After using a lens all day every day for weeks, I get to know exactly what to expect from it. I know how it’s going to frame, I know its characteristics, and I know what it’s not going to do.

It came home to me one day when I spotted a scene I thought would make a good shot. But as I lifted my camera, I realized that I actually had a different lens mounted on my camera than I thought. And suddenly, the scene in front of me changed; my vision zoomed to frame the world differently. It was almost a physical reaction. That was when I realized how intensely I envision what my lens sees. It’s kind of creepy, actually.

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PP: What advice do you have for aspiring photographers who are looking to improve their work?

JH: It’s really important to get out to see other photographers’ prints — see good photographers showing real prints hanging on walls, not images on Flickr or photoblogs or in magazine. This is important on so many levels.

I’ll never forget the day I walked through a Tucson exhibition of classic prints by some of the great 20th century New York photographers, and it jumped out at me that these people were not afraid of shadows. These great photographers used deep, featureless shadows as critical elements of composition. At that moment I realized how Photoshop has led us to believe that we need to pull detail from every shadow. (And let’s not even talk about HDR.) Looking at those prints altered the way I process and print my own images, and even the way I shoot.

But it’s not just educational — looking at prints is nourishing, replenishing. It’s energizing. I come away from a good show with an irresistible urge to go out and shoot. And seeing good photos makes me happy.

Finally, it’s important to see prints by good photographers you don’t like. It took me quite a while to appreciate Lee Friedlander, for example. After seeing his prints time and again, something finally snapped into place for me. His strange and wonderful book “Cherry Blossom Time in Japan,” for example, is a deep well of inspiration. Friedlander didn’t break the rules; it’s as if he was born without them.

PP: Were there any specific things you learned that caused huge leaps in the quality of your photography?

JH: I was once invited to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade from the enormous windows of Jazz at Lincoln Center, fives stories above Columbus Circle, and I thought I’d take the most amazing photos. But after an hour up there, I couldn’t get a single interesting shot. It just wasn’t happening. I finally gave up, put away my camera, and sat down, only to look up and see what I’d been missing the whole time: across the room against the windows was a row of silhouettes apparently looking out over the late autumn leaves of Central Park. The scene had nothing whatsoever to do with a parade. And so I got out my camera and took what became one of my favorite shots.

I’ve never forgotten the lesson I learned that day: It’s not about what it’s about. That is, I thought it was about the parade. It wasn’t. I have to remind myself that I’m not a photojournalist — I have no obligation to document a scene or an event. My job is to look around for an image that will make me happy. Sometimes I come home with a wonderful picture that’s 180 degrees from what I thought I’d be shooting. Sometimes I come home with a corny or sentimental image that only I love. Sometimes I come home empty handed. It doesn’t matter — it’s not about what it’s about.

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PP: Who are some photographers whose work you follow online?

JH: Most of my favorite photographers retired their photoblogs, so I can no longer follow folks like Eliot Shepard, Raul Gutierrez, and Keith Kin Yan (though all still post some shots on Flickr). Of those still posting to a photoblog, I keep an eye on my friends Bob and Alison in Toronto, New Yorker Jake, Rion in London, and Kathleen in rural Pennsylvania, among others.

PP: Who is one person you would like to see interviewed on PetaPixel?

JH: You’ve already talked to so many of my favorites, so you’ve made the choice easy: I’d like to hear what Bob of No Traces has to say.

PP: Anything else you’d like to leave PetaPixel readers with?

JH: It’s too easy to say no; life gets very interesting when your default answer is yes. My son Julian, a musician, sets a great example for that philosophy. It keeps him and his band moving into more and more interesting things, because Julian is always ready to say, Why not? Let’s do it.

I’ve accepted requests to shoot all sorts of things in the last few years, including some very routine jobs — events, installations, art reproduction, posed head shots. And no matter how simple or boring or elementary the task appeared to be, I’ve always taken something away and become a better photographer in ways I didn’t predict.

Each image comes from all the images that came before, and informs all the images to come.

Interview with Sam Javanrouh of daily dose of imagery

Sam Javanrouh is the photographer behind daily dose of imagery, a photoblog that has won Best Photoblog and Photoblog of the Year in numerous publications.


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PetaPixel: Could you tell us a little about yourself?

Sam Javanrouh: My name is Sam Javanrouh. I was born in Tehran, Iran and lived most of my life there. I finished university in Tehran in French Literature, but was always fascinated by movies and cameras since I was a kid. My father is a cinematographer so I’ve been around cameras from 8mm to 35mm Arri film cameras as well as many types of SLRs. My first camera as a kid was one of those Kodak cartridge 110 film cameras that I loved. But I didn’t own a serious camera until I came to Canada. My first one was a Nikon CP950 Digital Camera in 2000.

I moved to Toronto, Canada in 1999 when I was 26 years old. In Iran I worked as graphic designer and started doing 3D animation and Motion Graphics a few years before moving to Canada. I continued in that field in Canada and currently work as Creative Director at Optix Digital Pictures, a post production and visual effects company.

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PP: How strong is the Toronto photoblogging community right now? Can you tell us about it?

SJ: Toronto has one of the strongest photoblogging communities out there. There are many great photographers here and blogging is very strong as well. There might be a few reasons for it. First Toronto is a very online city. The cold winters could play a part in that! Also the fact that Toronto is a very multi-cultural city, maybe the leader in the world, means that there is a very diverse range of point of views in the city. The leads to many interesting neighborhoods and varied urban sceneries that are not very apparent if you’re just a visitor in Toronto. It’s a city of hidden treasures and not a city of big landmarks. Another reason might be the extreme weather. You shoot a scene in July and you shoot the same scene in February and they look completely different. The beach in winter looks like a scene from Antarctica and in summer looks like a scene from a Fellini movie. Whatever the reason, Toronto’s photoblogging community started very early and has been going strong ever since.

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PP: How did you first get into photography?

SJ: My father is a cinematographer and he took to the set of his movies and later on I worked as his assistant so I was exposed early to world of cameras. I used to take behind the scenes photos for movies and TV shows I worked on, but it wasn’t until I came to Canada that I took photography a little more seriously.

PP: Can you tell us about your first camera?

SJ: My first camera was a Kodak Pocket 110 cartridge camera, I think it was Kodak Tele – Ektralite 40.

My mother bought it for me when I was 8 or something I loved it. But then after that I didn’t own a camera up until 1999 when I got my first digital Camera a Nikon Coolpix 950. Between those times though, I used my father Minolta SLR or my friend’s Canon AE-1 occasionally.

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PP: What’s in your gear bag now?

SJ: I have a few gear bags now! I have one that is mostly for when I’m on the bike which included a Canon 5D Mark II with a wide zoom, either a 17-40L or a Sigma 10-24 plus the Canon EF50mm f1.4 lens and sometimes a EF100 f2.8 Macro. I also always carry a point & shoot camera on me, even when I’m just going to the grocery store. At the moment my favorite P&S cam is Panasonic LX3.

When I’m going out for walking around and shooting photos, I carry my bigger bag which can fit a telephoto zoom which in my case is EF70-200 f4L plus one of my favorite lenses which is EF 200mm f2.8L. I also carry a PCLIX, which is an intervalometer and shutter release unit at all times. If I have room I carry my fisheye lens with panorama head to shoot some 360 panoramas.

PP: What’s your favorite body and lens?

SJ: Currently my favorite body is 5D Mark II and for lens I like many to point only one. I do love the pics shot with the EF200 f2.8 and I also love the super wide results of the Sigma 12-24.

PP: What’s on your wishlist?

SJ: That’s the problem with photography, there is always something you want, it’s never ending! I really like fast prime lenses, which are generally very expensive so it’s no wonder they’d be in my wish list, like the Canon EF85 L f1.2, EF24 L 1.4 and EF14 L f2.8. I also really enjoy tilt/shift photography so the four Canon TS-E lenses are very attractive. And now with the addition of video to the new DSLR cameras, I feel the need for a video rig for 5D Mark II like the ones from Redrock or Zacuto. Oh, and a Litepanels Micro Pro wouldn’t hurt either.

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PP: Has it been hard posting a quality photo a day for so many years? How do you keep it up?

SJ: It’s been definitely challenging. I sometimes can’t believe it myself that I’ve been doing this for almost 6 years. Sometimes I feel really lost and don’t know what to post and it gets really hard to find something worth posting. It’s interesting though that when I look back many photos on the site reflect how I felt in that day or at that time. And then there are days that I sit down and process ten images that I’m happy with and I can breathe for a few days. But when you’re talking about posting photos daily for years, there are definitely posts that are, for the lack of a better word, fillers, and then there some that are winners. It’s pretty much impossible to produce something amazing everyday, and sometimes it gets frustrating when people have very high expectation from you. But overall it’s very rewarding, when you push yourself on a daily basis you’ll have to come up with new ideas and try new things that you might not normally try otherwise. For example I’ve experimented with adobe flash to add a level of interactivity and also posted interactive panoramas and time-lapse photography to vary my posts.

PP: How many fan emails do you get on a regular basis?

SJ: It varies, depending on what I post and the day of the week. I get somewhere from 10 to 50 emails a day. Some email with questions regarding my site and photos, some are very kind and thank me for the daily photos and some are professional inquiries.

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PP: What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced since you started your photoblog?

SJ: My photoblog started in 2003 as a fun side project. I had only a handful of visitors daily for the first month, but suddenly my number of visitors skyrocketed to thousands a day which slowly transformed my photoblog into something bigger than a small side hobby. My biggest challenges are: Keeping the site interesting for my visitors on a daily basis over the years, and with that balancing my time between my full time job, having a family and keeping up with all the daily feedback from the site. I work in an animation company which in itself is not a 9 to 5 job and I have to work many long hours, and my site requires at least a few hours a day so you can imagine how challenging everyday can be. And I have a three-month daughter now, so you do the math! But at the end of the day my blog has been and continues to be an amazing experience.

PP: After so many years of shooting, how much disk space have you used? How do you archive all of your photographs?

SJ: Right now my photos archive is around 3TB on 1TB drives. I have mirrors of those drives as backups. But after upgrading to 5D Mark II the size of RAW files got much bigger which means the size of the backup drives increase faster. My processing drives are two 1.5TB internal SATA drives. I save my PSD files and my current archive on these drives since they’re faster than external USB drives.

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PP: Can you tell me about your workflow?

SJ: I shoot RAW exclusively. After shooting, the first thing I do is ingesting the photos using Camerabits Photo Mechanic. I use Photo Mechanic to attach my copyright info and all IPTC metadata including keywords to files. I set PM to also rename my photos to add the sort-able date and time before the filename. Then I use PM to browse through shots and tag and rate and select my shots and delete files (which is rare, I keep almost all my photos).

Next I import all photos in Adobe Lightroom, which reads all the info attached by PM. You might ask why I don’t LR to ingest and attach IPTC. It’s a valid question since LR can do all that too, but the short and simple answer is speed. Photo Mechanic is many times faster than any other software I’ve ever tested when it comes to browsing RAW files. The JPG extraction from RAW files is also lightning fast in PM.

I do most of my processing in Lightroom. I still however use Phase One occasionally, since I find the speed and final quality is superior but I absolutely love the workflow in Lightroom. If I need to create an HTML photo gallery for clients I use Lightroom but if I want it to happen really fast I use Photo Mechanic.

After processing in Lightroom I continue editing the file in Photoshop, where I finalize my processing and then resizing for web and sharpening.

For catalogue and indexing of my final JPG files I use Microsoft Expression Media (formerly i-view media). That’s where I attach the GPS info to photos as well. I use to use RoboGeo, but after the addition of location tagging in the new version of MS Expression Media I don’t need to anymore.

Surprisingly I get this question more than anything else: “Why do you use Windows and not Mac?” The short answer is I use applications so it doesn’t matter what OS. And I’ve been comfortable with Windows for many years and also I use many apps on it that don’t exist on Mac.

As for video workflow, I import the video files with photos using PM and then convert the files to Cineform Avi files with NeoScene. This produces larger files, but they are much faster to work with in Adobe After Effects and Premiere. MS Expression Media also supports video files so it fits in greatly in my workflow.

I have a brief video of my workflow here.

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PP: If you had the opportunity to shoot anything, what would you most like to photograph?

SJ: I love cityscapes, urban and street scenes, architecture and landscapes. My dream is to travel to all corners of the world and photograph places and people. One of my regrets is that I didn’t take photography seriously when I was in Iran and I’d love to go back and only travel the country exclusively to take photos.

I also love to shoot in abandoned places and decaying factories, building, etc.

PP: Who are your favorite photographers and photobloggers?

This is one of those questions that are very hard to answer since there are too many to count. I always remember afterwards that I missed many people. But here goes.

Probably two people that influenced me most are Horst Hamann and Raymond Depardon. Hamann’s book Vertical New York was probably the main reason I went out and bought my first digital camera. I discovered Depardon years later and his book Errance is one my favourite photo books of all time. Joe McNally is another photographer that hugely inspires me. In my opinion he’s the perfect photographer, he shoots practically any subject anywhere in the world and he’s not afraid to try new things and continues to challenge himself. And the fact that he’s very active online (his blog is one of my favorite photography sites) makes him even better. I’d love to attend one of his workshops one day. When people ask me why I shoot so many different subjects and don’t stick to one style of photography, my answer is what’s wrong with that? Look at Joe McNally!

Other photographers I love include Steve McCurry, Reza, Gregory Crewdson, Andreas Gursky, many Magnum photographers like Martin Parr, and the list goes on. Classic photographers like Henri Cartier Bresson, Walker Evans, Andreas Kertesz and Robert Frank might seem too obvious to name but they never cease to inspire.

Then there are the new generation of photographers which I found through flickr and other photography sites that are immense sources of inspiration like Chase Jarvis, Jeremy Cowart, David Hobby and so many more.

Same goes for photobloggers, there are so many amazing photobloggers out there that is almost overwhelming. To name a few, I hugely admire the works of Miles Storey (mute), David Nightingale (chromasia), Jessyel Gonzales (dailysnap), Jonathan Day Reiner (18% grey), Tanja Tiziana (double crossed), Kathleen Connaly (Durham Township), Jonathan Greenwald (Shrued), Istoica and many more.

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PP: If you could see one person interviewed on PetaPixel, who would it be?

SJ: I would love to read an interview with Joe McNally or Chase Jarvis. Great photographers, great people. Always an inspiration.

Interview with Gayla Trail of Making Happy

Gayla Trail is photographer behind Making Happy. She is also the founder of Fluffco and You Grow Girl.


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PetaPixel: Can you tell me a little about yourself?

Gayla Trail: I’m 35, I’m a garden communicator, which means that I write and speak about gardening for a living. I also take photos of gardens and plants. I used to do graphic design for a living but most design work is now done primarily in conjunction with the gardening work.

I live in Toronto, Canada with my partner Davin who is also a photographer and graphic designer.

PP: How did you first become interested in photography?

GT: I bought a Polaroid One-Step from a thrift shop when I was 18, but sadly could not afford to buy much film for it. I went on to take a couple of photography classes while doing a Fine Art Degree, including non-silver photography which I really enjoyed.

Despite that and some dabbling with digital cameras after university, I would say that my interest only really took off sometime in 2003, shortly after starting Making Happy.

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PP: Do you exclusively work with film?

GT: No. Although I have a hierarchy in my head with film at the top. I consider the film photos to be the “real” photos. I use digital primarily for work. It is used out of necessity but I would use film all of the time if I could.

PP: What is it that you love about medium format? Why do you shoot medium rather than 35mm?

GT: I have an affinity for squares and prefer to compose within that shape. I think this is because square photos allow you to get more height into the shot without making a very long rectangular, which is what you get when you turn 35mm sideways.

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PP: Why did you end Making Happy after five years?

GT: There were a number of reasons. One was that I felt I was becoming too locked into that format (photoblogging) and wanted to push myself to try something different. That required making some space. The great thing about websites like that is that in some ways there is no definitive beginning or end. This can allow you to go where you don’t expect to go and build something one day at a time with less pressure or intimidation. The problem is that it can go on forever.

I wanted to get back to making art with a defined beginning and end. I needed to force myself to edit in a way that went beyond, “I like this today.” When I started the site I needed that open-ended freedom. Over time I felt that the space and time dedicated to it was keeping me from challenging myself in other ways.

PP: Any chance Making Happy will make a comeback anytime soon?

GT: I don’t think so. I’ve had another online photo project in mind for a while but it has been shelved due to a new book and an enormous workload over the last year. That project will not be a blog but will definitely have a beginning and end in a defined number of parts. the62steps.

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PP: Can you give an estimate as to how much money your photography hobby costs?

GT: Ha! No idea. I keep myself in a safe little bubble of denial about that. I try to keep it in check and allow myself to splash out on film in exceptional circumstances. Since the digital stuff is primarily work I keep that separate.

PP: What do you consider the most important technical element of photography that aspiring photographers should focus on mastering?

GT: I have got to be the worst person to ask about technical stuff. Bring up the word technical and my eyes immediately start to glaze over. I feel like a fraud offering any advice in that regard.

I think this is why box cameras were what got me back into photography. Going back to the basics and understanding light without worrying about f-stops. All you have to worry about is distance, composition, and holding the camera steady. I learned more from exploring box cameras than I did in school. From there I was able to move back up into the technical stuff with ease.

Mastering? I’d say work on figuring out what you want to photograph and composition. The technical stuff is secondary.

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PP: Can you briefly explain what a box camera is and how it differs from other cameras?

GT: The box cameras I am talking about are older model cameras that often held 616, 620, or 120 film. It’s literally just a box that holds film and has a lens, a shutter, and a viewfinder. Often times that doesn’t work very well. No focus or aperture, although I have seen a few with a version of both. In general they are really simple cameras. And yet there is still a lot of room for experimentation. A pinhole camera is a box camera without the lens.

PP: How do you go about taking a photo? Can you walk us through your mental process?

GT: I don’t know how to answer this question. Not as a process. Here’s all I’ve managed to work out:

This is very different depending on the photo I am taking. The work photos are much more conscious. I did a lot of set up shots for work in the last year, which involved styling the shots. That involved another step in itself because I often had to prepare all of the aspects of the “sets” beforehand. If I am taking a portrait of someone it is also much more conscious because I am really concerned about not making those pictures so much about me. The other photos, the ones I call the “real” photos are much more unconscious. I would describe that process as meditation in motion. And while I can’t meditate sitting still, my experiences here function in the same way, clearing my mind. All of the same steps are going on in my head, but I have no idea how I would lay that out as a process.

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PP: What equipment do you use these days?

GT: My favourite camera is a Hasselblad 500 C/M. I have two lenses for this: a 120mm and a 60mm. I bought the camera as a kit from someone I know and that’s what came with it. I still regularly use my crappy, falling to pieces, has exploded several times Great Wall DF-. How that thing is still working is a small miracle and the product of much taping and jigging with coat hangers, etc. I love my SX-70 Alpha 1 camera to bits but haven’t had any film to take pictures in about 6 months.

I still take my Horizon 202 panoramic out now and again and just bought an older, metal model too. There are lots of others but those are my go-to cameras.

PP: How often do you shoot?

GT: I take photos everyday or very nearly everyday.

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PP: What advice do you have for an aspiring photographer?

GT: Not to get too hung up about gear. You can take a good picture with any old piece of shit. Yes, the equipment does matter when you’ve got a specific idea in mind, but it’s by no means the be all and end all. A lot of people seem to think that the can’t be a photographer without the “right equipment.”

I am also often asked about taking a class. I can’t answer that question for everyone, but I will say that I learned TONS more by just experimenting on my own than I ever did taking classes.

PP: Do you follow any photographers online? If so, who?

GT: Shannon Richardson, Zoe Strauss, Miles, Therese Brown, and Andrew Newson.

PP: If you could see one person interviewed on PetaPixel, who would it be?

GT: Of the photobloggers, Shannon Richardson.

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PP: Anything else you’d like to say to PetaPixel readers?

GT: It sounds so silly but really to just get out there and take pictures and try not to get hung up on having the right equipment or doing things the right way. I don’t think there is any one right way to do anything. And some of the best results come from totally screwing up and doing things wrong.

Take chances. Photography is very subjective and personal in a lot of ways. The photographs I like best both from myself and other photographers are emotional and individual. Try not to worry about what other people think about your photos too much and instead trust your intuition.

Interview with Pierre Pallez of hotpixel

Pierre Pallez is the photoblogger behind hotpixel.


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PetaPixel: Can you tell me a little about yourself?

Pierre Pallez: I live in Switzerland, 40 yrs old, 2 kids 7 and 11, my day job is IT analyst. I have a passion for images, since I was a kid. I think I somehow went into photography through amateur astronomy. I built my own digital CCD camera, and the programs to read images from it myself first, then moved on to digital photography because that was too much work. I find “normal” photography much more rewarding.

Apart from that, I like cooking, reading, listening to music, spend time with my family and friends, etc.

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PP: How did you build your own digital camera?

PP: That was back in 1998 or so. I built a CCD camera designed specially for astronomy, out of a kit that was popular amongst amateur CCD photographers back then. To give you and idea, this thing was 0.4 megapixels, and it took 20s to read a frame over the parallel port of a PC at the time. It was cooled 40 degrees Celsius below ambient temp and used a humongous power supply. When I switched over to a DSLR that was over 6MP and could write an color image to disk within tenths of a second it just blew my socks off.

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PP: You took that photo with the camera?

PP: No, but with a more elaborated CCD camera. Digital imaging in astronomy is still not easy today, but 10 years ago it was even harder. A good thing about it is it teaches you a lot about technology and, maybe most importantly you get to learn to be patient. The image I sent to you was shot through an H-alpha filter, which lets through only a tiny amount of light, it’s like a big ND filter. I think the combined exposure time was 3 hours for this image, and it’s far from perfect.

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PP: How did you first get started in photography?

PP: I had a film camera when I was a kid, then I got myself a used Nikon SLR with a 50mm lens. I loved it but the cost of film processing was too high for me, so I was not using it too much. Then in 2003, I went into a shop and got myself an EOS300D. That was one of the 1st DSLRs, and really it got me back into the hobby.

I had a blog at the time, and I started posting pictures. Some people went oooh-aaah, and I thought they were just being nice. But then, I started to get feedback from some artists, and they were encouraging me. So I continued.

I was lucky enough to have nice people around me to help me out, whether internet friends or real people. My wife kept encouraging me. I also had a lot of support from a colleague and from some artists friends of mine; they helped me a lot getting forward. Some of them were very helpful in providing critique of my images.

So I created a separate website and posted some images on it. I wanted to find out whether all those people were right about my pictures when they were saying some of them were quite good, or were just being nice. So I started participating in photo contests, and put some images to the test. And I scored a few wins. I know it doesn’t mean much at all, but it was encouraging at the time. All it proved is that some other people I didn’t know liked my pictures, not just my friends. So I kept working on it, read piles of books, stalked every photographer I could meet, etc.

Photography is a virus. Once you get the bug, you’re toast :)

And then I wanted to learn lighting techniques. I attended some courses and workshops, including at the broncolor factory. When I enrolled for a one -week lighting course there, I didn’t know those guys were actually manufacturing the rolls-royce of lighting gear, I picked them up because that was the only lighting course that was close to where I live.

Many people in the course I attended traveled as far as from Dubai or Chicago, and I was the only amateur guy in there :) So I felt really like a privileged man to have this type of course close to where I live….

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PP: What equipment do you currently use?

PP: Canon 5d mark II and a bunch of lenses. Hasselbald x-pan panoramic camera 45mm and 90mm lenses. Holga. Elichrom studio strobes. Vivitar and canon hotshoe flashes triggered by pocket wizards. And many doo-dads.

Equipment is secondary. The guy behind the camera makes the image and is supposed to be in control. What gear you use to create the image does not matter, you can make incredible stuff with inexpensive gear if you want to. A camera is a tool, so for me the best tool I have found so far is this, and it varies all the time. I also had a used hasselblad 500c/m, but the cost of film processing and the time scanning rolls of it were too much for me, so I sold it recently.

PP: Could you tell us about some of your favorite lenses and why you like them?

PP: Canon 24-70 L, Canon 70-200mm L 2.8 IS, Canon 105mm macro f2.8, Canon TS-E 90mm f 2.8, and Canon 50mm f1.4.

The 24-70 is a great all-around lens and is always in my bag. I always take either the 50mm f1.4 or the 85mm f1.2 with me. I take the other ones out for specific situations. The 70-200mm is very sharp and contrasty, the 85 can be really soft when you want it to be, great for portraits and at f1.2 it’s really a light bucket. The ts-e is a killer for panorama shots that I stitch together. I’ve done one in Paris that is over 150 megapixels with it, and it’s really really crisp. This ts-e is a normal manual focus lens if you don’t use its tilt-shift controls, it works also great for portraits. I dig portraits that are shot at either 85, 90, or 105mm focal length. There must be some law of optics that make portraits especially pleasing at this focal range and that I don’t know about :)

I just looked in my archive, and it seems 70% of my shots went through the 24-70 lens. I just love it, but it’s heavy.

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PP: What is your favorite type of photography?

PP: I dunno. I’d say in this order: portrait, landscape, macro, studio. I dig studio lighting quite a bit at the moment. And I like to use flashes to explore lighting possibilities. I have no preference, really, but it seems I like either pure uncluttered landscapes, or human interaction.

I also like to capture what is usually unseen. hi-speed photography, long exposures at night, double exposures, 2nd curtain sync, etc. or extremely long exposures of the night sky. I like challenges :)

PP: Can you tell me about your workflow?

PP: All images end up into lightroom2, they’re tagged, selected. The keepers are flagged as such, and then I do minor adjustments to them. Crop, or adjust levels etc. Nothing much. I’m not that good with post-processing in Photoshop, so it’s usually levels adjustments and a tad of sharpening if it helps, but not much. I wouldn’t know how to more with it to save my life, so one thing I don’t do is shoot something and say “I’ll fix it in Photoshop later” .

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PP: What do you look for and focus on when photographing? What makes a good photograph in your opinion?

PP: I was asked exactly this a while ago, and it’s hard to answer. Sometimes, you know you’ve snapped a great photo the moment you click the shutter. Maybe more so when you’re kind of doing some photo-journalism, and captured some action. But, for the images that you invent, design, create, or think through, whatever you want to call the process, it’s different. In my case, if I can think of a title for an image I am in the process of shooting, then I know it might end up as a keeper.

If I shoot something with no particular intention, then I know when I press the shutter it has a good chance of being thrashed when I get home. You can get some nice surprises from time to time, but my personal ratio is darn weak. If I have time, what I try to do is watch, think, then maybe shoot or maybe not if I don’t think it would end up as a good pic. Sometimes I go out for hours and don’t shoot one frame. If I don’t see something I feel like photographing, I don’t do it. We get to decide what we want to show in our pictures, no ?

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PP: What is your goal in photography?

PP: Wow. There’s a lot of debate about what photography is. I think cartier-bresson said that photography was about freezing a moment in time, which he surely did. I guess that’s what a lot of people tend to go for. Whether it’s capturing some fleeting expression in a portrait, or freezing motion with a hi-speed photo, you want to show something compelling. My hunch is that a good photo is one that I shoot and I can say to myself: I don’t know how to do better that this.

I try to be a perfectionist, and it’s hard not to settle for what I think is good enough. But in the end all we guys can do is do our best with the tools and the knowledge we have at the time we shoot. So that’s not easy to set a goal.

The events we cross, the people we meet, the conditions we live in, the tools we have all determine up to an extent what our goal is, not us. I think I like photos with a content. If I can make a picture that touches people’s minds, then I’d be happy with it.

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PP: Who are your favorite photographers?

PP: I lived in France for 30 years, so I’ve been influenced by cartier-bresson, doisneau, dieuzaide and many many others. I like the work of robert capa, raymond depardon, james nachtwey and other war photographers too. Salgado, berengo-gardin, ansel adams, eisenstaedt, weston, and so many others I can’t quote.

I like BW photography quite a bit. There’s a quote I like a lot “if you want to take a photo of someone take it in color. If you want to take a pic of their soul, shoot them in black and white”. Don’t know if that’s why I like BW photographers a lot, but there you go. I’d shoot more BW if my kids were not asking for color. :)

PP: Do you follow any modern photographers online?

PP: Of course, there are shmuzillions of them out there. I like diane varner, kat from durhamtownship, round-here was a great inspiration, chromasia, sam javanrouh, notraces, kea, etc, moodaholic, and about a million more.

PP: Who would you like to see interviewed on PetaPixel?

PP: Diane varner.

PP: Anything else you’d like to say to PetaPixel readers?

PP: Have fun, take it easy and enjoy clickin’

By the way – a plug to joe macnally, one of my favs at the moment. I recommend his book, the moment it clicks. A great read.

Also in the plug department : strobist.com – a gold mine for anyone out there trying to understand lighting without getting bankrupt. Get your flash off-camera, guys, it will really change the way you see and photograph things.

Interview with Valerie J. Cochran of your waitress

Valerie J. Cochran is the photoblogger behind your waitress.

Portrait by Bill Vaccaro.


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PetaPixel: Could you tell me a little about yourself?

Valerie J. Cochran: The question I most often get asked is ‘Are you really a waitress?’. So yes, I am a real waitress. I’ve worked in the restaurant industry off and on since my first summer job at the age of 15.

I grew up in a small town in Missouri. After high school I moved to Georgia to attend the Savannah College of Art and Design where I studied photography until the financial laws were changed. Then I moved back to Missouri and studied Comparative Literature. That led me to California in 2001 and UC Berkeley where I studied for a short spell. Berkeley the college did not agree with me, yet the Bay Area felt like home. Today I live and work in beautiful Oakland, California.

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PP: When did you first get into photography, and what was your first camera?

VC: When I was a little girl I loved shooting Polaroid’s of my family with my dad’s Land Camera. It was magic to watch them develop! I also had a Kodak 110 camera. I had it for years and took it everywhere. My first serious camera was also my dad’s. It was a Pentax ME slr with a 35mm lens. I used it in all through art school.

PP: What equipment do you use now?

VC: Today I shoot only analog. My main camera is a Canon AE-1 with a 50mm f/1.4 lens. Recently I was gifted a Canon AE-1 Program camera with a 28mm lens which I have taken out a few times. Other cameras include: Holga 120N, Shakey’s Pizza Diana Clone, Kodak Brownie, Fisheye 2 35mm from lomography.com, and disposables. I love shooting disposables!

PP: Where do you develop your film?

VC: The cheapest place. Drugstores for everyday C-41 and local photo labs for black and white. Then when I do prints for exhibition or for sale, I have a pro lab scan my original negatives. I detest scanning! I’m ok with letting the pros take care of that end. I am grateful to have darkroom experience though. I keep saying I’m going to build one in my bathroom, but I’ve been saying that for years. One day… maybe I just will.

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PP: When and why did you start your photoblog?

VC: Your Waitress began five years ago after a bad shift at work. I was managing a restaurant and working 80 hours a week. A guest of the restaurant was a bit belligerent after a few cocktails and I told her we could no longer serve her drinks. Then she proceeded to list all of her accomplishments and asked when I was going to become a ‘real person’. A waitress in her eyes was just a servant. I got a bit upset.

Later that night I decided to start a ‘rant blog’ and write about mean restaurant patrons. I deleted the post in the morning but kept the blog. A few days later I found a box of pictures I had taken at SCAD. One self-portrait in particular caught my eye. Who was that girl and what happened to her dreams?

A few days later I started scanning some old pics and changed my site title to ‘Your Waitress Photos’. Then I started taking pictures around my neighborhood with a digital camera, a Fuji FinePix A201. I started anonymously, only using your_waitress for my name, as a protest to those who felt service people had nothing to offer. I went back to film when my digital camera broke. By then, I had a few followers and was hooked on not only photoblogging, but also on having a creative outlet back in my life.

PP: Do you still have that self-portrait that caught your eye?

VC: Yes, I shared it on the first version of my photoblog for my birthday in 2004.

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I use it as a profile pic in places such as Twitter, since it is the beginning of my current photographic journey. It was taken in the fall of 1992 in my apartment on Oglethorpe Avenue in Savannah, Georgia. I was 19 years old.

PP: How do you go about taking portraits of strangers?

VC: That is the second most asked question I get. I used to be terrified of shooting people. I was worried about offending them or invading their privacy. However, I kept finding myself drawn to people and wanting to take their photograph.

The first true street portrait I took was of a man named Michael (just like you) in Berkeley. I had already spoken to him a few times and had given him some change for food as he was homeless. I was walking around my block with my camera and passed him sitting in a doorway. He smiled and said hello as I walked by. After a few steps past I came back and told him my dilemma. I wanted to start taking street portraits but was afraid. He agreed to be my first. I only took one frame of him because I was so nervous! It worked though. After that I got more courage and starting asking other people I had met before. That is how I started, with people in my neighborhood.

PP: Could you share that first street portrait with us?

I would be honored to share it.

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This shot of Michael was taken with my old Fuji FinePix A201 on Dwight Way in Berkeley. It was originally posted at the first version of your waitress photos on August 26, 2004.

PP: Do you have any memorable or awkward experiences with street photography?

VC: I have only been yelled at seriously for taking a picture once. I was shooting a veteran in downtown San Francisco, and a woman walking across the street was worried I was shooting her. I tried to explain that I was only taking a photo of the man, and just had to walk away.

A few times I have almost been hit by cars, usually taxis. That may be my doom one day – stepping off a curb while trying to focus a shot and being run over by a taxi. I’ve also been bumped and pushed in protests usually by police. Nothing too serious though. You just have to stand your ground out there and make your presence known.

The most memorable moments are the strangers I have met along the way. Last month in New York I met an amazing event photographer, Louis Mendes. I talked about the experience a bit on my photoblog. I will never forget that day.

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PP: Are there any tricks of the trade regarding street photography that you’ve picked up over the years?

VC: What works for me is to be visible and honest about taking pictures. Some other wonderful photographers are great at being sneaky. I am not sneaky. I always keep my camera out and try to look like I belong there. When approaching a subject for a street portrait, I don’t ask right away if I can take their picture. I smile, and say hello first. Then I try to talk to them. I don’t just want their picture, I want to know a bit about them as well. I love meeting people, and working as a waitress has helped. I have to talk to strangers everyday. Once I got over my own fears, I learned to focus on helping my subjects get over their fears. People get nervous with a camera in their face. I do take pictures of people without asking but I am still very visible. They know I am there, even if it isn’t obvious in the shot. Waiting for the moment, to shoot a frame, when people get used to you being there might be my trick.

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PP: What do you consider to be the most important skill or technique in taking pictures that aspiring photographers should focus on mastering?

VC: If I only get one then it would be: Shoot often!

I obviously don’t think you have to have the most expensive gear to be a good photographer. A person behind the lens of a decent camera shooting something they are passionate about will do just fine. Get to know your camera. Trust it. When you take a picture you like, figure out what you did right and repeat. Then take some chances, try some new film, and you will find your way.

PP: What’s on your wish list?

VC: It might be cliche, but I have dreamed of owning a Hasselblad 501CM for many years. A dear friend had one when I lived in Kansas City. He was kind enough to let me shoot it a few times and I have wanted one ever since. Also, that darkroom I mentioned before would go together nicely with the Hasselblad since medium format is much more expensive to develop commercially.

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PP: What do you wish you had known when you had just started your waitress?

VC: I’m not sure honestly. Maybe I should have gotten the domain from the beginning instead of restarting the photoblog, twice. I have no major regrets. The surprise of the journey is part of the fun.

PP: What are some of the most challenging aspects of what you do?

VC: As a photographer? Shooting on the street creates different conditions that are not always ideal for photography. In a studio you can fix the light to your needs, on the street you take what you get and do your best. Just getting out there though is the hardest part. Most challenges I face, like all the other areas of life, come from within. Inspiration can be fleeting. That is one reason I have never tried to be a photo-a-day photoblogger. When I have something interesting to share on the photoblog, I post. When I am not shooting, I don’t. I no longer feel the need to ever ‘feed the blog’. I fell into that trap a few times in the beginning, now I understand that breaks are good.

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PP: This is unrelated to photography, but is there anything about being a waitress that most people don’t know or realize? Also, if you could broadcast a message to the world on behalf of all waiters and waitresses, what would you say?

VC: Yes, people are crazy. If you understand that in the beginning, you will be a great waiter/waitress! Of course, that applies especially to people in the restaurant business. I do love my job. I enjoy taking care of people. I love learning about different cuisines, wines, liquors, napkin folds, etc. The best part about waiting tables is that each shift is a new beginning. You get to start with a clean slate and rarely have to take your work home with you. A bad shift can be erased by a good talk with your coworkers over a cold beer at the end of it.

As for the second question: If you treat people the way you wanted to be treated, everyone will benefit. A boss of mine used to say: Sugar goes a lot farther than salt. Also, tip more than you think you should for great service. I’m sure all my fellow servers would agree to that last bit.

PP: You’ve shot in quite a few different cities. Which stand out to you? How are they similar and different?

VC: Travel is always inspiring. Even across the Bay Bridge to San Francisco. New Orleans is my favorite city. I was there in 2005 a few months before Katrina hit. The people and vibe of NOLA are like no other. It is truly magical, and the night shots I brought back are still some of my favorites. Chicago was fun! I grew up in the Midwest but had never spent time in Chicago. Wandering around an abandoned candy factory with my fellow photogs, what more could you want? My most recent trip was to NYC, also for the first time, last month. I shot 43 rolls of film that week. New York is a pilgrimage for any street photography or cinema or literature fan. To finally walk those streets that have been ingrained into our culture, was amazing! Plus the people were extremely friendly, which surprised me a bit. It is the little things that make them different, like how New Yorkers don’t wait for red lights to cross the street. Those are the things you remember.

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PP: Who are some photographers you follow online?

VC: I have met several of my photoblogging heroes and have a gallery of them in my 86 list. A few I haven’t met but have followed for years include: Rion Nakaya, Rachel James, Juan Buhler, Markus Hartel, and Susan Burnstine.

PP: Who is one person you would choose to see interviewed on PetaPixel?

VC: Juan Buhler.

PP: Anything you’d like to leave PetaPixel readers with?

VC: I would just like to thank them for making it to the end of the interview! Oh, and shoot often.

Interview with Fredrik Olsson of smudo.org

Fredrik Olsson is the photoblogger behind smudo.org.


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PetaPixel: Could you tell me about yourself?

Fredrik Olsson: I’m Fredrik. I live in Stockholm, Sweden with my wife and two kids.

I guess the thing anyone meeting me for the first time says is “gosh, you’re tall!” :) Wow, it’s hard to talk about myself like this… I like music, not playing, but listening to. I like to take pictures. I’m overall a fairly happy dude.

For a living, I’m a researcher in language technology and information access. My current professional interest is in how to make advanced information access techniques available to a broader public. Spare time-wise, I like to hang out with my kids and family, and, of course, to take pictures. :)

PP: How tall are you?

FO: 204 cm (6 foot 7 according to google).

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PP: How did your interest in photography start?

FO: I’m not really sure. I’ve always liked to draw and paint. At some point I borrowed my mother-in-law’s Pentax Spotmatic F. I think it was in 2000 or 2001. The next thing I knew, I had signed up for an evening course in photography. That was in 2002. From then on, I’m stuck. :) But I still don’t remembering taking the decision of signing up to that course.

PP: Is there any meaning behind the name “smudo”?

FO: Yes, a rather silly one. A decade or so ago, some friends of mine used it as an expression to mock someone who was a little bit too clever for his own good… as in “hey smudo!”. It’s an acronym for “super mega ultra dukt-olle”.

Well, I guess the first part is clear. Nowadays, I don’t think of it as being an acronym. Just the name of my site. I cling on to it since I like the sound of it, and that it sounds like an actual word, but isn’t.

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PP: Do you prefer film or digital?

FO: Wow. That’s a hard one! There’s something special with film, for sure. But I more often than not end up using my digital gear. I’d say I prefer film, but if I had to make a one-time decision, it’d be digital. What I find attractive with film is the process of taking pictures, that each and every exposure is there, not deletable, and that it forces me to spend more time to think before pressing the shutter.

Recently, I picked up a Polaroid sx-70, a camera that I’ve been looking to get for a long time. I pretty much find that one to combine the best of both worlds, in a sense; it’s instant feedback, but the sheer cost of pressing the shutter requires me to be very certain about what I want to capture and how to do it.

PP: Isn’t your time with the sx-70 ticking though, since Polaroid retired their film?

FO: Yes, definitely! I’ll get me some more packs of film, then I’ll see what happens. Maybe me and the sx-70 won’t last more very long, or it’ll be a camera that I’ll use on very special occasions only in the future.

PP: Can you list some of the gear you currently use?

FO: Um. Nikon d700 + various lenses, Polaroid sx-70, Lomo lc-a, Holga, Fuji f200exr.

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PP: Which are your favorite lenses and why?

FO: As for now, I’m really fond of the 105/1.8. I got it recently, and haven’t really come to grips with it yet. It appears to be a great portrait lens, and I particularly like the shallow DoF it is able to produce. For the same reason, I really like the 50/1.4. That said, the lens that I use most often, is the Tamron 28-75/2.8; I like it because it is lightweight, fast, and delivers reasonably good image quality… it manages to keep up with them kids at home and it’s a good walk-around lens.

PP: What type of photography do you enjoy the most?

FO: Turning everyday moments and situations into something that I (and hopefully others) enjoy looking at. Snapshots with a twist. Photography that selectively samples the things enjoyable in life.

PP: When did you start your photoblog?

FO: I made the first post on July 3, 2003, so it’s been six years next week.

PP: What has been the most challenging thing you’ve faced since starting smudo.org?

FO: Blog-wise? To keep the blog personal without flaunting the privacy of my near and dear. From working with information access and the Internet, I know that what goes on the internet, stays on the internet; I want my kids to be able to actively make the decision regarding their presence on the web when they’re old enough. Other than that, I think the most challenging thing about running a blog, of any kind, is to keep posting on a somewhat regular basis.

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PP: Have you wanted to quit at times? If so, what kept you going?

FO: I’ve thought about quitting, but not for long. The thing is, I’m very bad at quitting things. :)

Seriously, without the blog and the social interaction it has entailed, I probably wouldn’t be doing photography. So, no blog, no photography; and I find it hard to think of a life without photography.

PP: How much does post-processing play a role in your photography?

FO: Oh, a big role, I’d say. About half the work is in post. That doesn’t mean I end up doing many edits, but in thought, the post processing plays a great role. Let’s say that I allow post processing to be half of the image creation. I usually don’t do other things in post than I couldn’t have done in a wet lab.

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PP: Can you describe your workflow?

FO: I’m shooting in jpg (fine) and raw. Offload the images to the computer, sorting them based on date offloaded. I use iview mediapro for looking at and cataloging the images (it’s a discontinued software, so it doesn’t handle d700 raw files, but my computer is old and can’t cope with anything newer). After the selection process, I fire up my very old copy of Photoshop (or bibble if converting from raw) and do whatever edits I find appropriate (levels and curves mostly, maybe some (de)saturation), resize for web, unsharp mask and save. That’s about it. I try to keep the images backed-up on at least two different external drives.

PP: Let’s say a genie gave you the opportunity to photograph anything. Can you describe that dream situation or location?

FO: In any situation? Wow. I need to ponder that for a while…

What comes to mind, having kids of my own, would be to take photos and mental notes from the point of view of a child. The first few years, we, as kids, remember nothing from. But the same years are the ones that the parents perhaps cherish the most. It’d be interesting to keep memories of those years; What were we thinking about? What situations influenced us?

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PP: Do you have any advice for aspiring photographers who are looking to get where you are?

FO: Keep shooting. Carry a camera at all times. Be active on discussion forums and on sites like flickr.

PP: What are the biggest influences on your work?

FO: I’ve chosen not to delve into the world of classical photography. So I know almost nothing about the Great Ones… which is sort of weird given my day-job as a researcher. :)

Thus I can’t really say what inspires me in terms of the history of photography. I’d have to say that my biggest influences include what I see, read and hear about in the media. Tt’s vague, I know. Sorry for not being able to come up with a proper answer.

I follow people on flickr and through their photoblogs; Those are my main inspiration.

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PP: Who are your favorite photographers?

FO: there are a number of photobloggers that I follow; I’ll list some of those…

John, sannah, justin, radio.urugay, raul, …

There’s a whole bunch of great sites out there… I’ve listed some of them on my links page, and I continuously add images I like to my flickr favorites.

PP: Who is one person you would like to see interviewed on PetaPixel?

FO: John of orbit1.com.

PP: Any final things you’d like to leave PetaPixel readers with?

FO: Stay (trigger) happy!

Interview with Phil Bebbington of terrorkitten

Phil Bebbington is the photoblogger behind terrorkitten.


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PetaPixel: Could you tell me a little about yourself?

Phil Bebbington: Well, my name is Phil Bebbington, I’m 51 and from the beautiful georgian city of Bath in the UK. I have been taking photos since about 1976, and blogging for about 3 years. I was a police officer for many years although I’m not sure what that has to do about anything. I have taken breaks in photography over the years but have been fairly focused on it now for about 8 or 9 years.

PP: What do you do for a living?

PB: I am retired – working part time doing this and that to supplement my income.

PP: How did you first get into photography?

PB: I don’t remember exactly, I know it was 1976 and I saw a camera for sale in a local store – it just seemed to catch my attention. I saved for it and started shooting – the rest is history.

PP: Do you primarily shoot film or digital?

PB: I shoot film.

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PP: How come you haven’t transitioned to digital when so many photographers have?

PB: I like the pace of film – I enjoy the fact I cannot see what I am shooting. It slows me down, I have to have confidence in what I am doing – there is no point in shooting two shots as I cannot see the first. It gives me time to think, to look, it gives me confidence and assurance in my ability. All I have is my exposure meter and the camera, all the decisions are mine.

I also feel more comfortable with a tried and tested system. We know how long film lasts given good storage. I know that a negative, even if tramped into the ground, will yield an image – I have had digital images break down and lost for ever.

I’m not saying one is better than the other… I just feel comfortable with film. I feel it gives me the best of both worlds.

PP: How did the digital images break down?

PB: Just commercial scans that when I tried to access would not let me read them. You never get that issue with film.

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PP: What equipment do you use these days?

PB: Many. My main camera and the one I love is my Hasselblad SWC (wide angled fixed lens) – I also use a Holga on a regular basis as well as other Hasselblads. I would say however that most of my work is with the Hassdelblad SWC and the Holga.

PP: How many cameras and lenses do you own?

PB: I would say 10 or 12 cameras including Polaroids and a few extra lenses.

PP: Is there anything on your wish list?

PB: Not really – I guess a nice medium format panoramic camera but I’m not sure how much I would use it. I probably have too many cameras already.

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PP: Have you received any formal training in photography, or are you entirely self taught?

PB: Totally self taught.

PP: What are your thoughts on digital photography and where photography in general is headed?

PB: Generally I think photography is headed down the digital route, which I don’t have a problem with. I feel film has a place but will probably occupy a niche market.

My worry with digital is the snapshot side – the guy in the street that used to take snap shots used to have the films developed and then threw the negs into a tin and there they sat – to all intent and purposes 36 negs with one or two of use – of course the whole set told the story because we didn’t sling the bad ones.

With digital however, we photograph our sons birthday, look at the photos, delete the bad ones and keep the couple of good ones and so the story is gone as the story was the good and the bad – my worry is the loss of the documentary photography done by the guy in the street!

We may not feel the effects of that for 30 years.

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PP: Any thoughts on the announcement by Kodak today that they will be retiring Kodachrome film?

PB: Any loss of any film is a sad day – the films available now is shrinking by the day – sad yet inevitable I feel.

PP: What’s your favorite film?

PB: My favourite is Fuji Provia 100, however developing has become costly and difficult so now I use Fuji 160C or Kodak 160VC.

PP: Where do you develop your film? Do you do it yourself?

PB: No, I use a local lab – they are few and far between for 120 film – perhaps when the local one stops I may have to do it myself.

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PP: How often and how much do you shoot?

PB: Most days I look for shots. I shoot in two ways: my daily routine is with the Holga, and other projects with the Hasselblad SWC – mainly because the portability of the Holga allows me to carry it at all times.

PP: What is your goal in photography?

PB: For more people to see the photography I am pleased with. I shoot mainly for me so promoting myself I find difficult and a chore as I see little worth in it – still, positive reactions are nice and I guess I wouldn’t have an online presence if I didn’t want to show people.

To perhaps one day be represented by a gallery would be nice – I guess the ultimate aim is not to make money but for it to be self financing. Yeah, self financing would be very nice.

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PP: What has been the biggest challenge since starting your photoblog?

PB: My biggest challenge perhaps has been making my photography match the way I think – for years the two seemed out of kilter. I felt I was taking photos but not seeing – the day I started seeing, it started to make sense.

PP: As an aside, why did you choose the name “terrorkitten” for your photoblog?

PB: Well – the blog was originally a gallery of types – I thought it would be good to choose a domain name that at least made people look and perhaps to wonder what the web site was about. Nothing more than that really.

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PP: Who are some photographers you keep up with online?

PB: No Traces, The F Blog, pinkie style, electrolite, and lenscratch.

PP: If you could choose one person to be interviewed on PetaPixel, who would it be?

PB: Angie Harris at pinkie style.

PP: Anything else you’d like to say to PetaPixel’s readers?

PB: Sheesh! Not really – you have made me think that’s for sure, and I have enjoyed it tremendously.