Principles of Photographic Improvisation – Contribute Something and Try Something
In my last post, I mentioned how I am reading The Soul of the Camera, the Photographer’s Place in Picture-Making by David duChemin, and I described his first of four “rules” or “principles” of photographic improvisation – agreeing or to say “yes” and not “no.” Today, I look at the second and third principles – Contribute Something, and Try Something.
To contribute something, you need to make the scene your own. DuChemin explains, ” Photography is not objective… We bring our own thoughts, opinions, points of view, and interest to the scen and to every single decision, from aperture to focal length to shutter speed to composition. We chose what to include and exclude. It’s not so much about what’s there as it’s about what I see and how I see it.”
Say you travel to a famous landmark or scene and want to photograph it. Don’t worry about how others have done so, make the scene you own. Sure, take that one composition that you’ve seen before, the shot the maybe even inspired you to come in the first place, but then explore the subject scene on you own, making your own compositions. Or as DeChemin says, “Own it. Add to it. Make every photograph you create a collaboration with what’s before you.”
This, I think, directly relates to the third principle, try something. DuChemin urges his reads to “take a risk and try something. Don’t just wonder what would happen if you moved the camera over to the right. Move it! Slow the shutter, use a wide lens. Listen to the questions, but don’t let them go without a response. And if the first answer doesn’t work, try again.”
It doesn’t even have to be a famous scene, just maybe one you’ve been to or photographed many times before. Do you take the same shot again and again? Perhaps. But to improvise, you’ve got to make it new again for you. Maybe try black and white, or shoot it with your phone instead of you DSLR, or shoot only high-key images, whatever! Sometimes to make it your own you need to try something different.
For example, for the past several years, I’ve been offering walking photo tours of downtown Seattle. These tours are great for my clients, as they see Seattle through fresh eyes. But I’ve seen it and shot it all before. It’s a real challenge for me to find something new. So on a couple trips, I pulled out the fish-eye lens. Now, a lot of what I shot didn’t work so well, but some of the images aren’t so bad. In fact, they are kind of fun, and definitely something I made my own by trying something I hadn’t done before, even after shooting the same places dozens of times before – such as Pioneer Square (above and below), the ferry terminal (below), and the waterfall garden (below). That is photographic improvisation.
A Visit to the Amazon Spheres
Last January, a new Seattle landmark opened – the Amazon spheres. Located in downtown Seattle on the Amazon campus, the spheres are three spherical conservatories created to give Amazon employees a bit of nature in which to work and relax. The spheres contain over 40,000 plants from cloud forests throughout the world. The spheres are three to four stories tall and formed by more than 2,600 panes of glass.
Last week, Tanya and I had the opportunity to visit the inside of the spheres as part of Amazon’s Take Your Parents to Work Day – our daughter Janelle works for Amazon. At the time, I only had my smart phone with me and all the images shown here from inside the spheres were captured with my phone. As it turned out, the following day, Tanya and I visited downtown Seattle again. This time I took my regular camera, and while Tanya did some shopping, I visited the spheres for some outside shots.
The spheres are a popular attraction, but if you want to visit the inside, you will need to do a little planning ahead. Visits are restricted to Amazon employees and their guests on Mondays through Fridays. The spheres are only open to the general public on the first and third Saturdays every month from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Further, reservations are required. Reservations can be made up to 30 days in advance at this website. Times available for the next opening on October 6th are already about half full; so if you want to visit, be sure to make your reservation well in advance.
The sphere website states that photography inside the domes is for personal use only and that flash and tripod use is prohibited. However, I asked one of the Amazon security personnel yesterday about tripods, and she said they are okay. I guess it pays to ask.
Quick Shot – Supermoon
If you read my last post, you know I was not optimistic about shooting the supermoon. As it turned out, though not 100%, I felt well enough to go out. And the weather actually did cooperate, sort of anyway. As you can see, I did get a shot of the supermoon over Seattle. While I am pleased with this image, it is not exactly the one I wanted. From my vantage point in Manchester, on the west side of Puget Sound from Seattle, the moon rose right next to the Space Needle. That is the shot I had hoped for. But there were clouds on the horizon and the moon was not visible until about half an hour after moon rise. In fact, I captured this shot 31 minutes after the moon rose. And, I do have to admit, the clouds did present some nice color to the shot.
Anyway, I thought you might like to see what I came up with. After shooting the moon this evening, I’m now thinking of trying for a lunar eclipse shot in the morning. Is it moon madness?
5 Years Ago – Seattle Moon
I haven’t had my camera out all month, and I’m going crazy. Last week had hoped to go out, but the flu interfered with my plans. I haven’t left the house since last Monday. I’m starting to feel better, and with just a few days left in January, perhaps I will be able to venture out yet. There is a supermoon and total lunar eclipse coming up on Wednesday after all (however, the weather report does not hold much promise). The pending supermoon made me think of some shots I took of the moon (though not a supermoon) five years ago. The weather forecast that day in January 2013 was also not so promising, but the day ended up being glorious, and I captured many good images that day including the one here.
If you do try to photograph the supermoon, remember that perhaps the best time to photograph the moon rise is the day before the full moon (in this case, Tuesday, not Wednesday). The day before the full moon, the moon will look just about as big, but it will rise before the sun sets, allowing an image like this one. On Tuesday, here in Tacoma, the moon will rise at 4:28 p.m. and be 99.6% full, while the sun will set at 5:09 p.m. So, provided the clouds part, if you go to West Seattle, you can capture an image like this (but with a bigger moon). If you wait until Wednesday, the moon will rise at 5:43 p.m. and still be 99.6% full (the actual 100% full moon occurs Wednesday morning), but the sun will set at 5:10 p.m.
Your other option is to photograph the moon setting. In that case, it is usually better to photograph the moon the day after the full moon, Thursday in this case when the moon will set 48 minutes after the sun rises and still be over 98% full. As far as the total lunar eclipse goes, the eclipse will be total from 4:51 a.m. to 6:07 a.m. on Wednesday. All the times given here are for Tacoma, and the actual moon rise, set, and eclipse times will likely be different for you. Timeanddate.com provides an excellent online resource for determining the eclipse timing.
With any luck – like the flu giving up its hold on my body and the ceaseless rain and cloud cover actually ceasing – this Tuesday or Thursday, I might have a chance to capture a supermoon. I’m not holding my breath, but I do wish you good luck in you lunar adventures this week.
Shooting Seattle with Airbnb
I’d like to announce I am now offering a photography shooting experience with Airbnb. Airbnb started offering “experiences” as well as home and room rentals last year, and Seattle was one of the first cities they chose to offer experiences in. In early spring, I read in a magazine about Airbnb offering experiences and thought I should apply to host a photography experience in Seattle. I thought about offering a walking photo tour of Seattle – starting a Pike Place Market, covering the waterfront and Pioneer Square, and ending in the International District.
After spending several weeks working on my application to host, I received an invitation to attend a new host seminar in Seattle. I met with the region representative from Airbnb along with about 10 other new hosts. We received instruction and help editing our experience descriptions. They also offered the services of a professional photographer to document my experience and use on my experience webpage (see link above).
Then it was a long wait. Finally, months after initially starting the process, my experience went live a week ago or so. By this time, of course, my summer had filled up and I don’t have many days I can offer it – right now, I’m only scheduled for three days in August. But I’ll be adding more days soon.
In anticipation of going live, I thought I should actually do a dry run since up to this time my timing of my offered experience was made up of a Google estimation of the time necessary to walk the route and my guess at time needed for photography. So on a recent Saturday, I headed up to Seattle to do a dry run with Tanya as my tour “guest.” It was good we did this, as I learned a few lessons I’ll put into action when I actually do my first tour next week. And we were lucky, we ended up in the International District right as Dragonfest was occurring. I was able to get right up in the action and capture the above shot of the dragon parade.
While I can’t offer Dragonfest every time on my photo experience, I do hope to show my guests some of my favorite shooting locations in the city. If you are traveling to Seattle, consider signing up for my experience, I’d love to show you the city.