Luck or Skill?

wet wake up
Since I almost always have a camera on me, I’ve become the default family event photographer. This is often a neat position to have but it gets risky when people start assuming that I’ll get the shot.

For general events and parties, this isn’t an issue. There’s never an incident around which the entire event hinges. But some events happen to be based around specific moments which are important to capture. Though I’m at the event to be at the event, not just record it, it’s become my responsibility to get the important shots.

I’ve been both lucky and good so far. In two baptisms I’ve gotten the important shot by waving a camera in auto-everything mode above my head. I’ve also been confident (or stupid) enough to take my digital SLR and its dodgy focus-confirmation system with fully-manual lenses to a number of can’t-miss events such as graduations or even my son’s birth.
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Hello World!
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I’m much more comfortable just taking candids of friends or family members at an event than I am having to take the photograph. At the same time, I have to admit that I’m probably the most-skilled person for the job so, if I don’t do it, there’s a good chance it doesn’t get done well, if at all. Just don’t ask me to do any weddings…

Auto-everything

getting big
Once I started shooting manual glass on my DSLR, I never thought I’d go back to auto-everything glass. While, as I mentioned earlier, the kit lens is really all that I need, I really do prefer zone focusing and the amount of control I get (and am forced to use) with manual glass. Whenever I shoot with either the 18-55mm kit lens or the 35mm AF lens, I find myself doing a lot more spray and pray rather than carefully considering my viewfinder.
Congrats Jessie!
fun times
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chacho
story time overload...
It was only a matter of time before I decided that my kit lens was actually the perfect lens for what I wanted to do. The more active Wat became, the more I found myself needing the 18mm length rather than the f/1.8. Especially when I’m on duty by myself.
tunnel!
al agua patos!
happy
easter egg hunt!
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As a result, I’m finding myself considering an upgrade to my kit lens. This is shocking. I really hate both the idea of a normal zoom and the concept of shooting in idiot mode. Yet I do both each weekend, all weekend. And as much as I enjoy the family photography, I find myself relishing the fully-manual stuff as soon as my weekday starts.

It’s very odd to find myself in the position where I think I should have better gear but I don’t actually covet that gear.

Time Capsules

I originally wrote this for our private, family-based blog but it’s relevant here as well.

One of the supposed disadvantages to shooting film is how it doesn’t mesh with the instant-gratification, instant-upload nature of the rest of our online lives. When everyone else can share photos within a day of taking them, waiting weeks or months to finish the roll, get it developed, and then scanned is an unnecessary amount of work.

This, however, is a large part of what I enjoy about shooting film. Especially when it comes to family/kid photos. It’s too easy to get caught up in the now and the new—just spending our time documenting and sharing each new development as it occurs. The time-delay of film forces me to remember and reflect.

From my most-recent roll.

jean jacket Wearing the jean jacket he got from his Grandma for Christmas
Santa Clara
February 2011

runrunrun Enjoying the sunny day
Santa Clara
February 2011

cabinetsBusy busy busy
Santa Clara
February 2011

cage boy Hoover Park
Redwood City
March 2011

cage boy Hoover Park
Redwood City
March 2011

With each of these, I’m forced to remember when I took it and figure out what was going on. There’s no EXIF information to help me. No time stamps or geotag information to give me hints. Part of the joy with looking through family photo albums is telling the stories that accompany the photos. Shooting film forces me to open that time capsule each time I finish a roll.

Editing

My previous post has me thinking about why I’m such a lousy editor of my own photos. I know not ruthless enough. At the same time, I obviously reject the concept that something has to have immediate interest in order to be worthwhile.

This makes being ruthless very difficult. I can see things I like in a lot of my photos (especially when it comes to family photos). I find myself being inclusive of things that are partially good rather than excluding those things which are partially bad.

I should probably spend the time every couple months to go back through my stream and edit things further. But I’d rather spend the time taking more photos.

Titles and Purpose

Museum titling is something I’ve always found to be interesting. This explains a lot of my fascination with Fred Wilson’s artwork and curation. The way we title and display things has huge repercussions on the way people view and react to them.

With my own photography, I get the chance to play with titling my own work. Whether it’s a title field in flickr or the file name I have to create when scanning, I’m now forced to come up with something as the name for each photo I take. I’m not the only one who struggles with this. Kip Praslowicz has a good rundown of the usual ways photographers title their photos—I think all of us who post photos online have used many, if not most, of his listed ways.

Kip’s list is really breaking down the numerous reasons people take or display photos (or any art). Each different title denotes a different intended audience for the photo—a different purpose for the piece. As someone juggling multiple photographic identities, I often end up with photographs which can fit into many different categories. The title and description I choose will depend on what purpose.

To revisit a previous example of a photo which fits in multiple categories:
time to go home
Family snapshot:
Rosina holding Walter during the only quiet moment we had—the wait for the hospital to get our discharge papers ready.

Art:
Kaiser Hospital, Santa Clara, 2009

I’m not sure why photography is treated the opposite of other artwork in museums. Most museums distinguish between art and craft by describing art through its content and craft through its purpose or provenance.

Brownie Hawkeye Flash

National Hotel

When we were cleaning out my grandmother’s house over 10 years ago, we discovered a bunch of old cameras: a Kodak Brownie 116 2A, a Kodak Art Deco 616 folder, and a Kodak Brownie Hawkeye Flash. At the time, we kept them because they were cool to look at. As my interest in photography has grown, I’ve determined to get them up and working—even if I’m only able to get a single roll out of them.

Converting the 116 and 616 cameras so they can take 120 film doesn’t look too difficult but it’s still a semi-involved project which I’ve been putting off. The Hawkeye on the other hand was really straightforward. Despite being a 620 camera, it can actually accommodate 120 film and only needs a 620 takeup spool.

The Hawkeye also satisfied other urges I’ve had regarding toy cameras, lo-fi photography, and pseudo-vintage looks. As much fun as I know I’d have with Hipstamatic or a Holga, I’m allergic to anything that trendy. A camera as old as my father (manufactured in the same month he was born!) does all that in a much more personal way.

After one roll, I was hooked.
self-portrait
sunken-2
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A lot of the appeal was that this was also my first experience with medium format. And a lot of the reason why I haven’t shot more rolls in the Hawkeye is that I quickly borrowed a YashicaMat 124G for “proper” 6×6 work.

I’ve since come to realize that the Hawkeye really sings with 100-speed black and white film—especially if you aim it at older structures.
motel capri
mercury
western motel
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City Center Motel
Mission Santa Clara
This isn’t to say that color work isn’t also fun. It’s just that I don’t feel the same excitement with my color results unless I really simplify my composition.
chris house
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pampas
Hawkeye landscapes are underwhelming. Thankfully, I live near by all kinds of old buildings and signs which are just calling for this camera.

Thoughts on translations

While this isn’t a parent blog, it’s impossible to think that that world won’t seep into posts here every once in a while. In this case, I’ve been surprised to find that my constant reading of children’s books over the past year has helped me really figure out exactly what my point of view is regarding translated texts. I’m also becoming even more picky regarding what makes a good translation.

Too often, translations just focus on translating the words and fail to capture the additional nuances of the text. This appears to be most apparent in children’s literature since the actual literal meaning of the words needs to be in balance with the rhyme, meter, and general tone of the overall book even more than it is with “grown-up” literature (“adult” literature being what’s sold in adult “bookstores”).

I’ve been consistently disappointed with the way that children’s classics are translated into Spanish. Buenas Noches Luna fails to capture the essense of Goodnight Moon and La Oruga Muy Hambrienta becomes a bear to read when compared to The Very Hungry Caterpillar. My realization after being frustrated with the translations? I prefer less-literal (or less-sensical) translations which manage to keep everything else that’s wonderful about the text.

My son will grow up being exposed to the British-English Harry Potters first. (If he likes them I’ll have to find the Canadian version of the movies.) He’ll get the original translation of The Little Prince once he’s a bit older. He’ll learn why it’s fantastic that the hero of El Hobbit is named Bilbo Bolsón. And he’ll have his choice of all kinds of translations of the classics when he goes to college.