Train your Eye

So I’m going to keep this post a bit short this week.  I just wanted to take a brief moment to point out some great educational opportunities for those interested in taking any photography classes around the Lehigh Valley.  Taking a class can be a good experience for those just starting out with an interest in the camera to experienced folks who want to refine a particular skill. The best class of course is to just get out there and shoot. No education will replace that, however, I’ve found that classes can be a rewarding way to user your time more wisely when you shoot and obtain a greater command of your camera.

Locally here in the Lehigh Valley we’ve got some great opportunities for those who want to sharpen their photography skills.

Artsquest – Artsquest in Bethlehem has classes that usually run for a month or so and typically start each quarter.  The current listing for photography classes can be found here.  Now’s a good time to sign up for classes as the spring classes start in March!

Dan’s Camera – Dan’s camera has several workshops and classes available. The current listing can be found here.

Cardinal Camera – Cardinal Camera offers classes as well.  The current listings can be found here.

The Baum School of Art – This school in Allentown offers adult classes and like Artsquest, usually has some offerings each quarter.  The current listing for the spring schedule can be found here.

Northampton Community College community offerings – There are some great community courses here offered.  The current listings can be found here.

As you can see, we’ve got quite an offering of photography education here in the Lehigh Valley!  Reply to this post if I’ve missed any classes and I’ll add it to the list.

The Lightroom Share for this week sort of sums up our February here in Pa.  Cold. Took this shot of my beautiful daughter playing out back after a recent snowfall.

Backup Your Backup

My son came to me earlier today with his laptop that seemed to be DOA.  It seemed to be stuck in some sort of infinite boot cycle.  He was pretty upset about it, mostly because of a research paper he’d been typing up and the possibility of loosing all his work.  He’s just in fifth grade, but found himself in the same boat as any one of us could be at any time.  I too was worried, not because of his paper, I had a backup of that on our network drive, I just did not want to spend a couple hours reformatting and rebuilding his laptop. Well, in the end I was able to coax the laptop back to life and it seems to be running fine right now.

My first digital Image 4-12-2003

But this whole thing got me thinking, what’s the best backup approach for your irreplaceable images?  I’ll be honest here, having my memories and keepsake images existing on my hard drive as 1’s and 0’s makes me a bit unsettled. There was something more tangible to appreciate back when I shot in film.  You had a nice stack of images you could store in an album or picture box. Now I’m soon coming up on my 10 year anniversary of shooting digital images.  The first image I took is of my son back on 4/12/2003 crawling on the floor in all it’s .5 megabit glory.  And here I am 10 years later, able to pull up that shot in about the same amount of time that it took me to type this sentence.  Now since I organize my pictures by date, admitably finding that particular image may have been cheating a bit, but it is a great example of a benefit with our digital lives, the speed at which we can access our images. The danger however is that these memorable images are one mistaken keystroke, one lightning strike, or one coffee spill away from extinction.

I’ve had my share of computer mishaps over the years and I’ve been around them most of my life. I knew well before 2003 the benefits of backing up your data and I’ve had to bring back to life many more computers than my son’s laptop this morning.  So I just wanted to share with you a simple approach to backups. This applies to any important file, however since this is my photography blog and really the most important files I own are my 10 years of family pictures, I’ll refer to pictures as the data.  The approach to saving your pictures is the 3-2-1 Rule. I’ve heard a lot of backup explanations, but think this one is the easiest to remember and apply. Peter Krogh has a very detailed write up of this on the American Society of Media Photographers site

The basic concept is this:

3 – Keep three copies of your important files (photos), one primary and two backups.
2 – It’s recommended that your files be on two different media types.  For example a hard drive or optical disk.
1 – One version of your backup needs to be at a different physical location or offline (or in the cloud).

So I’ve tried to operate using the above approach as best I can. I do deviate a bit from this approach by keeping all my files on hard drives in general. I don’t have the storage space or time to create DVD copies of all of my images.  At just under 5gb a pop, DVD’s are not going to cut it for the amount of output I’m getting from my camera shooting 16mb RAW images let alone trying to go back and get all my historical photo’s on a big stack of DVD’s.  So I operate this way, I have my primary images in split between my computer and a synology NAS drive. I keep my more current pictures on my computer, but only for the current year. My primary copies of my historical shots are on my NAS drive along with other media (video’s and music).  I then have my first backup of these primary files on external drives which are connected to my computer and NAS drive.  These backups happen automatically, set it and forget it. For my second, offsite backup I use Crashplan, which is a cloud storage solution.  This serves the purpose of having my files in another location in case of a disaster like my house burning to the ground.  I’ve been happy with it, however I’m considering not renewing my subscription at the end of the month and instead using that money to invest in another synology device which I can put in a different location and back up my files to it over the internet.  I’ll provide an update on what I end up doing there.

So that’s my gameplan. It’s not overly complicated, however it does require some thought and investment.  I’d encourage you to do an audit of how you store your files. How confident are you that your photo’s will be around 10 years from now?  Nothing is certain in life, however by implementing the 3-2-1 Rule toward my backups, I hope to minimize the loss of irreplaceable files and sleep a little better at night.

The Lightbox Share for this post is an image from Elliott Erwitt, I’m planning on doing a post about him later on, but I look at his images often for inspiration. The image below comes from Magnum Photo’s. Check them out if you want to see some great photography from around the world.

Elliott Erwitt


Lost and Found

Vivian Maier –

Today, I want to share a photographer’s story.  Some you may have heard of the photographer Vivian Maier and are familiar with the particulars of her story, for those of you who don’t quite recognize the name, you’re in for a treat.

Vivian’s story is fascinating to me.  Vivian Maier is considered one of the great street photographers of her day. Her images capture daily life of New York City and Chicago in the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s.  Decades where there was significant change in our society including the civil rights movement, war protests, and the youthful emergence of the Baby Boomer generation.  She had a gift for capturing life from the blue collar perspective. Her great library of work preserves the every day life from those pivotal decades, contrary to what my perception is of that historical period of our nation. I have images of the civil rights protests and marches, woodstock, and the Vietnam war protests all fused together in my head. She’s balanced me for this with her work. The crazy thing is, she was completely undiscovered until 2007, when her work was auctioned off due to unpaid rent at a storage facility.  I won’t go into all the particulars of her life and what little we actually know about her.  To get the full story, you can visit this research article on the official website of her work here. She took an amazing amount of photos, most of which have not yet been developed or archived. What peaked my interest about this whole thing is the main narrative. Here you have a photographer who quite literally was an unknown in her lifetime.

Untitled, Undated –

I’ve been thinking a lot about Vivian’s story in the context of today’s world.  With the influx of inexpensive digital cameras over the past several years, it’s never been easier to get out there and take a shot. This coupled with facebook, pinterest, google+ and the like (including the website of which you are currently visiting – thank you), you can make yourself into a billboard of images, strewn out for the world to see, benefiting from the immediate feedback of your peers. See my post here on communities like this completely devoted to image posting and feedback garnishing on Google+.  Now contrast this craziness with Vivian. I have this image of her in my mind, wondering the streets of Chicago with her camera, not thinking of her next shot in terms of notoriety, but just doing it for the love of the image.  I imagine her capturing these moments in time for herself, knowing the value of each and being sure of her craft. I don’t claim to know her actual intentions or have any special insight. I’m not sure if we’ll ever know her true intent for her photo’s. But, there’s just something about the quality of her work and being completely unknown that makes me hesitant to think that if she was young and doing all of this now, would she be using these sites and getting her name out there? I think she would just be confidently snapping away her shots and archiving her work just for the shear love of the craft.  That’s just my humble option.

If you have any interest at all in street photography, Vivian Maier should definitely be on your short list of inspirations. If you don’t know much about street photography, check out her images.  I’ve listed the main collections of her images below.  Lastly, if you could care less about any of this, it’s still worth a read to learn how she was discovered on the below sites. Amazing.

The Maloof collection
The Goldstein collection

The Lightbox Share this week is a collection of my own humble attempt at some street photography during one warm afternoon in October (it’s February in Bethlehem, PA right now, any other time than now is warm) at Celtic Fest downtown.  The whole project is located here with a sample image below.


The Never Ending Contest

PBS 39 studios

PBS 39 studios

Have you ever had a dream where you are franticly trying to arrive somewhere, get to a destination, and think that your almost there only to find out your at the opposite end of where you need to be and you have to start over once you get there, and this whole weight of the process is drowning you?  We’ll I’ve never experienced this but it sure sounds interesting and matches my post title. Along these same lines of never ending attainment there exists a photo contest here in the Lehigh Valley called ‘Capture Greater Lehigh Valley‘ which is sponsored by PBS 39 and Cardinal Camera.  The contest runs through the end of March and culminates in the creation of a photo book from selected pictures and a grand prize cash award. There are also some challenges along the way to compete in to keep things interesting. Theres a picture of a house challenge, a smile challenge, and kids cartoon characters challenge.  Yes, you too can partake in pictures of cartoon characters with kids!

I joined this motley crew of photographers back in October of last year and have been submitting my little bundle of photo’s to this contest website sporadically over the past four months.  Anyone can submit pictures, and I’ve seen everything from snapshots with date tags on the image to beefed up photoshop powerhouses.  There’s even one shot of massive 50 ft imposed cartoon mushrooms and flowers sprouting up next to the bethlehem steel blast furnaces.  It’s been a very odd mixture of images, however in this mixture is a story of photographers from all walks of life around the valley providing a window into their lives through pictures.  I don’t know anyone personally in this contest, however I’ve voted on enough pictures…

ok one fact here needs sharing to help this post along – yes you submit your own photo’s but also you  vote on others photo’s if you like them or not.  You don’t really know how your photo is doing in the thumbs up or thumbs down game, you can just see how many total votes you got on a picture. So you don’t really get a sense of direct rejection, rather you can peruse the categories listings of ‘popular’ photographs to see how well your photo is faring in general to get the gist of how it’s doing. And if your gathering from these details that I may be a bit addicted to this whole thing, that I may be willing to concede.

Back to my point, even though I don’t know anyone personally, I’ve voted on enough pictures over the past several months that you ‘get to know’ each photographers passion and what they enjoy.  “Photographer A” really likes to take shots of sunsets and flowers and trees and brooks and more trees etc., or “Photographer B” has an crazy obsession with HDR, or “Photographer C” really, really has a thing for birds (ok if you like bird photography, about half the submissions on this site are a pictures of birds – You’d love it).  But really that’s what’s so great about the site, people are posting what they are interested in and not what they are getting paid to do.  Most all the folks that submit are not professional photographers, but just enthousiasts who want to take better pictures like myself. It’s a unique microcosm, a snapshot in time (forgive the awful pun) of what the Lehigh Valley is all about, what folks are into.

I’ve recently thought a bit about what this is doing to my own photography, this slight obsession of mine.  On the positive side, I know it’s helped me want to get out and take pictures.  When my submissions lag – I know I’ve not been out there taking shots and that makes me itchy to get out there with my camera.  I know also it has helped me plan what I want to go out and photograph.  I’ve got a growing list of things I want to take shots of as I look through the categories and think through what would be interesting to shoot.  The negative side to this contest is that it’s been a LONG road.  It’s taken up a lot of my thought creatively and I’m not sure if that’s been a good thing.  I hope in the end I’m trying to be true to my instincts on what I like about a shot vs trying to guess what would play well with the audience.  But for now I’ll just chalk it up to a good motivational experience, one that includes looking at a lot of bird pictures.

If you like photography, live in the ‘Greater Lehigh Valley’ and this piques your interest, check it out.

The Lightbox Share for this post is a sample of 10 random submissions I’ve made to the site below.

Cold. Cold. Cold.

So here I go with the 2nd installment from Jonathan’s lightbox.  And folks – it is cold this week. Wind chill temps have been in the single digits all week, and I’m going a bit stir crazy here around the house.  Even worse than being housebound for so long is that I’ve not been able to get out and take pics for a couple weeks now.  The schedule has been a bit crazy lately, and this combined with the weather, has made it difficult to get out and shoot.

So to get my photography fix, one thing I’ve been enjoying recently has been checking out the photo communities in google+.  I’ve not really used google+ since it came online and have stuck with mostly facebook for my social media experience, however I’ve recently discovered new communities that have been sprouting up at google+ devoted to photography.  These groups are awesome for photographers to share and critique work online.  It’s been a great new tool I’ve been using to train my ‘eye’ on what work I like, why I like it, what I don’t like, etc.  All this helps tune the thought process and uncover how and why we choose to take the pics we do.  Since I’ve not been able to be out there, taking my own shots, it’s been great to look through all these different shots from photographers all over the world, and think through what makes the photograph work.  It’s kind of like reverse engineering Ken Rockwell’s F.A.R.T (check it out) technique on someone else’s capture.  This is a pale substitution for taking my own pics, but it works.  Plus being able to do this online is a lot better on my pocketbook than buying a bunch of photo books.  Don’t get me wrong, nothing beats a curling up with a good photo book and having that image in your hand, however being exposed to the sheer volume of submissions in these groups is awesome.

Here’s a listing of some interesting google+ communities that I’ve been combing through the last couple weeks –

Street Photographers – This is a great spot to see postings from street photographers from all over the world.
Black and White Fine Art Photography – Some of the shots people post in here are crazy good.  The photo’s here are geared towards more artistic vision vs photojournalism or raw street photography.
Black and White Photography – Here you get all sorts of B&W photography. The variety really helps to think through the process I was referring to above, where you ask yourself why image A appeals to you over image B, and finding this out helps determine if it’s something I do in my own photography or aspire to do.
Light Box – This is a more recent community I’ve found. The great thing about this community is that it is designed to get a large number of critiques on submitted photo’s vs just a quick google +1. It’s sort of a game that was developed with the community where a member has to 1st critique a 15 photos in the group before being able to post work.  When the photo is posted, you can get your picture in the ‘lightbox’ for the day if other members of the group critique 10 ‘saves’ or your shot does not make it if instead you get 10 ‘delete’s 1st.  This is a bit intimidating, as the photographers that take part in this are VERY good.

The Lightbox Share for this post is one of my own. A little bit of self promotion. One of the projects I put on the site is called ‘Doors of Higher Learning’.  It currently contains images of doors from Lehigh University.  Now I did not set out to take pics of these doors, however, at the time I was on campus to take some architecture shots, it was such an overcast, grey day outside that the contrast between the door and wall was interesting to me. I don’t think the shots are that interesting on their own, however taken as a series, could be more unique.  It’s not like I have a huge affinity for fancy doors, however I do think it tells a story to see these in a series.  I like the idea of doing a series, and had planned to do a series of shots at christmas on these christmas city arts and crafts booths downtown, however I did not have time to get enough of them.  You can see one shot like this under the ‘Christmas City’ project. I plan to take more shots like these at some local colleges – Moravian, Muhlenberg, Lafayette, Cedar Crest.  Any suggestions on some unique buildings on these campuses would be  appreciated.  Here’s a shot of the entry to the Packard Laboratory, part of the Computer Science and Engineering department at Lehigh.  I tried checking out if the statues were of any specific historical figures, but did not see any info on it.  If anyone knows would appreciate knowing the story behind them.