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The Ruins

I loved the movie A Simple Plan, which was made from a book of the same name by Scott B. Smith, so when I heard he was writing a scary horror novel, I was pumped.  I think the first day The Ruins hit bookstore shelves, I bought it.

Now, this is Movie Title Wednesday and here I am talking about a friggin’ book! Well, of course The Ruins was made into a movie, and while it was a lot of fun to see it for those of us who are huge fans of the book, the film was just so-so. But if you aren’t into reading and just like a good popcorn horror flick, then check it out. The concept is fun, a little different than the norm.

However, if you love books, it’s a great read. If you don’t know this about me, I’m a huge book fan. I gobble them up. One year I discovered Dean Koontz and probably read 30 of his books in 12 months. I love that supernatural/sci-fi genre of storytelling.

This image has a bit of that feel to it for me. I think if you were walking up to this place by yourself, as the sun was going down…you’d probably get some chills, perhaps a few goosebumps, and likely turn around. Although I know a few of my urban explorer buddies would just whip out a couple of cannons and blaze ahead.

The building above is from my abandoned dog track series. My cohort Rick pointed out the actual track itself earlier in our outing, so I made sure to walk out there and see what I could see. Basically dirt and some cement borders that disappeared into overgrowth in a lot of spots. But looking back towards the building from the track was an awesome angle. You guys probably know how much I love roads and paths disappearing into the horizon, so this was kind of my money shot. Long, lost road, desert, broken glass windows…and of course, clouds in the sky.

Because for me, this shot would have been about 40% less exciting without the sky looking the way it did.

Lots more to come from the dog track…being there for around three hours was a perfect amount of time to just walk around slowly, see angles, explore and then even go back over it all one more time.

I like taking pictures

When I thought of the title of this blog post, I immediately remembered the guy from Idiocracy (a less well-known/liked movie from Mike Judge who brought us Office Space) who would say stuff like this in a really dumb voice:

“I like money.”

Also

“I can’t believe you like money too. We should hang out.”

What does that have to do with this blog post? Nothing really…other than the simplicity of the quotes. If you know about the movie at all, the plot revolves around a future society where people have so much done for them, that they’ve been dumbed down to the level of children.

In a way though, that kind of parallels my point, which you’ll see below. Kids keep it simple.

Since taking up photography, I’ve explored so many different aspects of the art. I remember the first 6-8 months doing nothing but perusing through thousands of photos on JPG Mag, or Flickr, learning what people like, learning what I like, seeing different techniques, styles and processing. I tried to do a 365 self-portrait project and got to about 60 days before realizing that wasn’t important to me anymore. It probably took until the end of last summer for me to narrow down who I was and what I liked to shoot.

That is still evolving, but I feel much more focused now. I know myself better. More importantly I think, I’m confident in what I shoot and how I shoot it.

As I explored, I grew to love HDR. It’s a tool I use probably 90% of the time on my landscape, storm and urbex images. I enjoy it, I have had a lot of success in it, but it’s not who I am.  I have no desire to be known as an “HDR Photographer.” I certainly wouldn’t mind people saying they love my technique, style and processing when it comes to HDR, but I’d like it to stop there.

Since HDR is kind of new (as in more mainstream now), fun and catchy, a lot of photogs are using it as a way to identify who they are. Flickr accounts, blogs, usernames, etc…they include the words “HDR” in everything so people know that’s what they do. And I believe some of that has contributed to the love/hate debate when it comes to HDR.

I guess my point is…you don’t see a lot of people declaring themselves “Color Photographers” or “B&W Photographers”…etc. They are just photographers.  Those of us who love HDR have to constantly fight against people who hate it. We struggle to get the point across that “HDR is just a tool in my bag“, nothing more. I hear that defense all the time. And it’s a good one because it’s true.

But then we go out and call ourselves HDR photographers. If it’s just a tool, why not call yourself a “10-Stop ND Filter Photog?

I’m certainly someone who would fall into this a lot. For awhile I put information under my pictures about how many brackets I took, if it was HDR or not, etc. Even having a Flickr collection saying “HDR” is something I’m re-thinking. Or using the little #HDR hashtag on Twitter. I dunno how I feel about that yet.

I just know we struggle to get HDR accepted as a normal part of photography, but then we go out of our way identify our photos and ourselves as HDR.

If we brought less attention to the fact that a photo is HDR and more to the composition of the photo itself…I believe it would benefit everyone. To me, composition is key and trumps everything else. If you have a photo that is composed well, then it doesn’t really matter how you process it, it’s going to be a great looking picture.

I think people just love a beautiful photograph or image. When I’ve shown my work at a gallery or the farmer’s market, 98% of people just comment on how much they love a photo, without any knowledge of it being HDR or something else. A few will of course ask why it’s so detailed and then I explain the processing techniques.

As photogs who use HDR, I think it’s kind of up to us to change the way it’s viewed by using it solely as a tool and then posting our pictures as they are.

Yes, there will of course be times where posting a photo kind of demands you explain how you processed it. I get that, and will undoubtedly do the same thing here and there. I realize it’s kind of fun to explain WHY you made a photo black and white, or chose to use HDR in this instance. I know on our blogs it’s even harder because we tend to have a lot more photographers looking for technical explanations for the things they see, but that’s totally fine if people have questions. Go ahead, answer them. But wouldn’t it be awesome to just display a photo and have it judged solely on how it looks without any pre-conceived notions? Talk more about WHY you took the photo and less about the processing aspects behind it?

This is just something that has been on my mind for the last month or two. My good friend Brian and I talked about some of this stuff before Christmas and he even eluded to the same thing in his post not too long ago. Be careful about being pigeonholed as a specific type of photographer…instead, keep it simple…just BE a photographer. The more and more you put yourself in a box, the harder it will be to climb out of it.

I shoot all kinds of stuff and process photos in many different ways. Weddings, kids, families, babies, parties, storms, landscapes, urban decay, B&W, color, HDR…my photography isn’t about just one thing…it’s about a wide range of subjects that boil down to one idea: I’m a photographer.

And truly…I just like taking pictures.

The missing leg

There is something magical about natural light. I’m still so young in photography, especially portraits, so sometimes using light is a challenge. But I know it’s something that can add an element to your photos that you can’t get otherwise. One guy who kind of inspired me a bit with the above photo and others I took on this day is Jacques Gude…who runs a blog called “Exposed by the Light.” When it comes to urban exploration, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better photographer who knows how to use light in these kinds of environments.

The idea of getting some of this light out at the dog track north of town was why I was kind of pushy about heading out there in the afternoon…because I knew which way the main windows faced.

I used the 50mm 1.4 on this shot, something I’m doing a lot more of lately. A lot. I love being able to setup on a tripod, click into live view, frame the shot and then play with the manual focus to see where I want my focal point to be and what kind of depth of field I’m getting.

Speaking of chairs…my  buddy Rick who was out there shooting with us posted his own chair shot today, one that I actually also photographed from the opposite angle. That image will drop at a later date. I love Rick’s image, he creates an awesome focal point on the chair itself, making it the center of the image where your eyes immediately get drawn to.

Also, I’ve gotten an amazing amount of comments and positive feedback on my “Window to the End of the World” photo from earlier this week. Thank you all so much for that, it’s been amazing. My buddy Scott Wood, who was also out there shooting with us, snagged a photo of me taking that Window image! It’s a great image, and kind of fun to see yourself in action, so check it out when you get a chance!

Waves over Phoenix

This is one of those sunrise shots where the textures of the clouds over the city outweigh the need to have color. I don’t normally like to use the same spot twice, especially if I’m shooting with the same lens in the same direction, but on this chilly morning there wasn’t enough time to get anywhere else but up high in this nearby parking garage on 7th street and McDowell.

I’m definitely on a black and white kick right now, I just love how it reduces a photo to the elements you want people to see, instead of being distracted by random bits of colors. Of course, color is important in a lot of places, but I also find it can take away from the main subject matter in some instances.

The color version of this was fine, but once I looked at it in B&W, I loved how the clouds turned into this giant, grey, textured wave over the city.

Bruges: The People

I love photographing people, obviously, or else I wouldn’t be doing photoshoots as often as I do! Even greater still is the candid shot of a person, of a couple, of a group of friends…doing whatever it is they are doing. Yesterday I posted a slideshow focused solely on Bruges: The City…but today I’m showing you the other pictures I took…the pictures of the people.

They may not be people who live there, although some are, but they are just people walking down those medieval streets, gazing in windows, snapping their own photos, taking a break by sitting down in a giant courtyard…whatever. I love those kinds of candid shots, but I have to say…toss in a backdrop like Bruges…and oh my…I could take pictures for days.

What I liked a lot about some of the shots later in the slideshow is that the streets were a lot more empty than what we started, which really allowed you to focus on just a few people, but fill up the rest of the frame with Bruges.

Like I said in my previous post…opening up a portrait photography business in Bruges would be unbelievable.

I hope you enjoy this little glimpse of Bruges and the people who wander her streets.

Vegas Baby…Vegas

As many of you may know about me, I love to shoot the weather with the best composition I can come up with in whatever situation arises…however, sometimes all you can do is run up to the top of a parking garage and snap photos of a monster storm and not care about anything else.

I was in Vegas two weeks ago during some good stormy weather, driving back to the airport with a colleague from another company, and I can’t even tell you how badly I wanted to pull the car over. I didn’t have a tripod or lightning trigger, but I would have done anything to get into a better position to shoot this thing.

However, as it ended up…this vantage point was awesome. I was lucky enough to have some time before my flight, so I got to the sixth floor of the employee parking garage (I guess) and was somehow not harassed by any security guards. Maybe it was the lack of a tripod, who knows.

Awesome storm though…and I couldn’t decide between two images I made from it. The top is an HDR from 3-railing-propped brackets…and the bottom is a single bracket with some processing done to it.

(BTW, if you don’t know where the quote “Vegas baby…Vegas” comes from, please go rent Swingers 🙂

Light and Shadow

I put some legwork into this one. I walked and walked and walked around this parking garage at 5:30am in the morning looking for the perfect symmetry of lights…one hidden, one not, but feeling like both of them were pointed directly at me. I found a similar scene elsewhere, but I didn’t like the lack of detail on the garage floor, so I kept looking for some awesome tire tracks that would appear as if they were coming from where I was standing. And, I mean, to get the reflection of shiny cement on the left, but a shadow on the right…well, that takes planning, practice and lots of trial and error.

Okay, whatever…I’m totally lying. This is what I see everyday at work the second I step out of my car. In fact, I think my camera fell out when I opened the door, hit the ground, fired off a bunch of brackets and I was like “Wow, these are pretty good Camera…well done.”

But seriously, I have been wanting to take some photos of this place in the early mornings and it’s finally dark enough still at 6am for it to be possible. I definitely was struck by the support beam blocking out one of the lights and creating this fantastic shadow.

Lesson for today is to make sure you take a look at where you “are” not where you could “be.” Sometimes I see the photos that friends take in exotic locations that I just can’t afford to get to. Like the coast of Oregon just as a small example. And while yes, I still want to go there someday, there is nothing better to pass the time until that happens by taking a look around you.

This photo is by no means the Pacific Northwest and the infamous Thor’s Well…but you know what, if you were standing by that sinkhole and had taken 100 photos of it…you might be thinking, “I really wish I could take a picture of a dark and stanky parking garage with some sweet shadows…”

Beat you to it man.

Power

In my head I see the word “power” represented three times in this image. I shot this a few weeks back during the severe storms we were having here in Arizona. My buddy Bryan was with me at this spot and we were just marveling over the thundering clouds, the speed of their movement and the sun exploding with rays everywhere.

I made several attempts to process this photo with HDR, but it never looked right and I ended up coming back to this version a few times.

So can you see the three forms of power in the photo yet?

Obviously, the powerlines right? I mean, that’s obvious. I love them in this shot. You’d figured with this awesome set of sunrays and a massive thunderstorm, you wouldn’t want anything in front of that scene. I dunno, it works here for me. The powerlines kind of disappear to the horizon and it brings a little depth to the photo.

Second form of power is the sun. Duh…probably the most powerful form of energy for many, many light years. I mean, just look at it.

The last one is the storm itself. It was building so fast and moving at a 50mph+ clip…you could just sense the raw power contained inside it. These storms packed high winds and damaging hail. Not something you normally see in these parts.

Definitely ended up being one of the best storm chasing days for me ever in Arizona.

Death and Birth

Simple scene. A desert hill, some foreground growth and a monsoon storm growing on the horizon. But that’s the simplicity I love sometimes. I tend to look for super dramatic, wide-angle, busy scenes…but occasionally I find the lack of drama just as awesome.

The main element in the foreground is a dead tree of some sort…it almost looks like a bird sitting on one of the right top branches, but I think it’s just a snapped branch. There are a few cacti and of course, the growing storm behind it all. I dig B&W and love silhouettes…I always find it amazing how a scene can change so much when you just darken it to shadows and nothing more. The shapes take on new life and suddenly form something entirely different.

Road to Perdition

I’ve decided that once a week (maybe on Wednesdays, who knows), I’m going to post an image that has a corresponding movie title. Why? Well, it came to me on a whim last night and that’s the way most things I do get started. First off, I love movies. Second, I think this will stretch my imagination a little bit. Heck, this may even lead to me taking a photograph specifically BECAUSE it reminds me of a movie. We’ll see.

Completely coincidentally, my buddy Brian posted an image today that was sort of inspired by the Lord of the Rings. I took it as an omen, or confirmation, when I woke up this morning that this was a good idea. I’m looking forward to this series.

Road to Perdition, a movie with Tom Hanks, really has nothing to do with this photo other than being the perfect title. Um, you got a road, and something fairly evil or damning looking lies ahead. I photographed this last year whilst in Toronto for work. I took a day trip exploring the areas west and north of Toronto and this was a little old, abandoned SOMETHING just off a road I was traveling down. Wasn’t sure if it was a barn or a house or what. I honestly didn’t want to get much closer to it, hence the reason I like this title so much. It was foreboding…scary, especially as this was in the quiet, wee hours of the morning with the sun having just risen. I’d be a horrible solo urban explorer…I get spooked too easily *grin*

I’ve been going back through old RAW brackets deleting stuff I wont ever use, but while doing that, I am finding photos I love that I never really processed. This is one of them. I knew right away it was going to be black and white, but I wont lie and say I wasn’t a little bit inspired by Bob Lussier’s photo posted  a few days ago. This is just a three-bracket HDR image, using Photomatix, CS5 and Nik software.