Brown's Owens River Campground...
What an idyllic place for camping and fishing! I got invited to go RV camping with my friends to this central California location near Mammoth Lakes. The campground is in the middle of a plain that's surrounded by snow-peaked mountains. Being about 7000 feet above sea level, it was hot during the day time as the sun shines directly down, and yet chilly at night. The ever-bending Owens River provided plenty of places for fishes to hide and for the fishermen to cast their lines. There's also an off-road track that we took advantage of. Besides the swarms of mosquitos and blood sucking flies, it was a great weekend.
It was the first time I took my son fishing, so he had a blast. While I don't feel the same attraction for fishing, it was a wonder to see how many kids can concentrate and stay quiet while patiently waiting, whom might be considered over-active or hyper in normal settings. Patience as a virtue is often awarded in fishing, as long as the river is well stocked ;-)
With such an expansive landscape, I saw no desire of switching lenses from the WATE. I heard someone said that landscape photography is basically photographing weather. It felt true here. The land is beautiful all day long, but you really need to wait for the right light and cloud formations to kick it up a notch. Ultimately, I'm just glad to be able to take the camera out again, after being a bit stagnant lately. For the whole set of images, [CLICK HERE].
There's no way out but through...
In an effort to take myself out of my current photography rut, I've started taking my camera to work. I leave it turned on during my commute, ready to snap at anything I see interesting. It's helping, I think. It forces me to observe more, think more, instead of just space out during the drive. I can't say the images are very interesting, but this will have to do until I find more chances to shoot more seriously.
I heard someone said "There's no way out but through", and I liked it. When you're stuck in something, whether it's a creative rut or depression or something else, sometimes there's no way to get to the other side except fighting your way through. You fight it by doing what you're suppose to do, or what you would do once you reach the other side. Just keep at it, and eventually you'll realize that it's by doing that things improve and breakthrough. Well, here's me... doing it...
Who's Taking the Picture?
Saw an interesting discussion in a photography forum tonight.... a guy was describing how he has an active child and he want a camera that has killer autofocus that can keep up with his son. Any modern DSLR camera would have been an easy answer, except they are rejected because he wanted something that is smaller so he can always carry it around and keep it handy. So the conversation revolved around which mirrorless camera had the fastest autofocus and how people tried various cameras under various situations and various camera failed to nail focus. It got me thinking... who's taking the picture?
It seems the camera took a lot of blames for missing the focus, so the logical next step is to find a better camera that won't fail. I think differently... I think they are relying too much on the camera to take the photo, and since we don't yet have artificial intelligence running in our cameras, they are bound to fail sometimes. They don't know exactly who you want in focus, what part of their body you want in focus and not in focus, and they're not tracking the subject you want to anticipate their movements. This is exactly what I learned after shooting with a manual focus camera like the M9 after a few months. You learn to relax the depth of field, you learn to move the camera with the moving subject, and you learn to anticipate their movement forward and backward with your focus so you can nail the shot even as they run toward you.
Of course, I don't nail the shot 100% of the time. However, when I fail to nail the focus, I knew it was my fault. No need to get another camera, I just need to practice more, or try a few extra exposures to be sure. Now looking back, I've been shooting the M9 for almost 3 years and the camera itself is over 5 years old, and to me, it's just as awesome of a camera as it was when I got it.
I heard a great quote by Craig Semetko in a Leica ad:
"For me, the Leica M is the path of least resistance between what I see on the street and a final print in my hand."
Instilling an Artistic Sense...
Kids are basically sheets of white papers. As parents, the burden is on us to introduce and guide the right elements so that they develop into beautiful paintings one day. There's a lot of attention paid on reading and writing in school, a little lesser on math than I would like, but seriously lacking in the areas of the arts.
My son tells me "I can't draw very good", and I want to tell him that he doesn't have to draw good, he just need to draw. I think kids are inherently creative because they don't yet know the artificial boundaries that we have placed around ourselves. They are more free to experiment, do as they like. Here's famous quote by Pablo Picasso: "It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child."
So, when I can, when I remember, I ask my son to draw something... anything. I think (hope) this would pay off in the long run...
How to become a photographer...
Yesterday, I read a letter by a famous photographer, Sergio Larrain to his nephew in 1982 about how to become a photographer. The first paragraph struck me the most: "First and foremost, you have to have a camera that fits you well, one that you like, because it’s about feeling comfortable with what you have in your hands: the equipment is key to any profession, and it should have nothing more than the strictly necessary features."
I think that mirrors how many feels about their Leica cameras. Besides being nice to look at and hold, it does one thing and does it really well. Without all the bells and whistles and offer full manual control to the photographer, one simply concentrate on the shot and the camera just get out of the way.
To read the full letter, it's [HERE].
This little camera has almost nothing going for it, except for its retro look. The LCD viewing screen so horrible that I can barely use it to frame shots. Apparently, it is always on ISO100 and the fastest shutter speed I've seen is 1/6 of a second. Autofocus does work, but I think the minimum distance from subject is at least 1 meter. I think most cellphones today take better pictures. That's what you'll most likely to read in camera gear forums. I often read about people's comments compare this camera/lens to that camera/lens, about how one gear is overly priced for its specs (mostly targeted at Leica), and how one cheaper camera performs better than an expensive camera, etc... It just makes me think, if that's all we cared about, doesn't it take the fun out of photography?
There's no way to measure the fun factor of this little camera. With all its handicaps, I find it challenging and rewarding to be able to produce a good looking shot from it. "Limitations breed creativity", a wise person has said before. You need to know what your gear can do, then work within those parameters to capture the best image you can. Here are some shots I took this morning while walking my son to kindergarten. So, whatever cameras you have, go out and shoot!
After One Year...
One year ago from yesterday, was the day that my M9 arrived at my front door and thus my journey begun. This incredible ride has met all of my expectation and more, in addition, the M9 and all the lenses I have accumulated along the way have never disappointed.
The famous Henri Cartier-Bresson (HCB) has said: "You first 10,000 photographs are your worst". I just checked the shutter counts and it seems that I have shot over 6,100 images in the past year. I definitely feel that here are still much to learn and explore. My framing and composition are still amateur at best, and my post-processing skill still leaves a lot to be desired and lacks my own style and signature. With that said, though, I have gotten lucky a few times, and that has been enough to fuel my passion and keeps me going. Discontent is a sign of ambition and a necessity of progress, let's see what the next year will bring!
I've gotten a fortune cookie that said: "Children are life's rewards." I'm not sure how long ago it was, but it's still held on my refrigerator door today by a magnet. Although the lottery numbers it also printed didn't make me a single dime, that sentence resonated with me.
Since the trip to Sequoia National Park, it's been a couple of busy weeks and I barely have time to take the M9 out of the bag. Tonight, I imported some files that are left on the card and scanned through few shots taken here and there throughout the week and found them... quite enjoyable, mostly shots of my son.
My friend, jonoslack (Jonathan Slack), said something that got me thinking: "If a photograph is interesting, nobody cares if it's technically good. If a photograph isn't interesting, nobody cares at all." Coincidentally, yesterday was Henri Cartier-Bresson's birthday and I wondered... when people viewed HCB's photographs, how many cared what gears he used, what aperture, and whether they had sharp focus or were they exposed properly? It's not something I care about when an image strikes me. How do I make my photos more "interesting"? So I did a little experiment... while my son was writing his letters and numbers, I tried to take some photos of him with different angles, orientation, and focus points.
Pictures lacking depth...
Exhibits in LACMA...
I read a great article in TOP (The Online Photogapher) website the other day: "In Defense of Depth". The author, John Kennerdell, challenges the readers to take pictures with deeper focus that demands greater composition and timing. He ends the article with: "Just don't be surprised if some day you look back on all that shallow-focus work and find yourself wishing you'd paid more attention to the third dimension. And don't ask me whose old photos I was looking at when I first began to realize that for myself."
Nowadays, especially with beginners like me, we love the shallow depth of field (DOF) and wild bokehs because it's "new" to us. We can't see bokehs with our eyes, and the shallow DOF is something we simply couldn't achieve with our point-and-shoot camera. So, we flock to it, admire it, inspired by it, and shoot a bunch of photographs with hardly anything in focus.
My Journey into Leica...
A path not to be taken lightly, not without reservations, and not without dedication, but the results can be sweet, OH SO SWEET! This is a documentation of my trials and tribulations into the world of Leica Rangefinder Photography, and I hope you'll enjoy coming along with me.