Wednesday, October 5, 2016

A Photographer's World View ... needs both words and pictures

I always liked reading the Wall Street Journal, especially the feature story that ran on the right column, it still exists on the front page, but usually found at the bottom of the page. It was the Wall Street Journal that didn't see any need for photos. They used charts and the head shots of people quoted in the story were used as black & white engravings. Those were the days.

WSJ journal now runs photos. Color photos and today on page D-3 in Home & Digital they cover how a photographer travels the world to record women. Not glamour shots, not candid street shots, but environmental portraits. Polya Lesova's article, A Photographer's World View profiles 31 year old Romanian, Mihaela Noroc's Atlas of Beauty project.

Noroc is doing this all on her own. No assignment from a publication. No writer. She hopes to publish a book of photographs in 2017 and shares her work on Instagram where she has 178,000 followers!

Instead of selling the project to a book publisher, getting a grant or being hired by a publication, Noroc used crowdfunding to raise nearly $50,000! 

Thinking back to 1979 when Larry Eichel and I reported on refugees in Asia. A huge undertaking by the Philadelphia Inquirer that took Eichel six months traveling to nine countries. He then put in his photo assignment for me to go to four refugee camps and take photos. I covered the temporary housing, the rush for drinking water, portrait of on refugee showing how he used plastic bottles as a life jacket, etc. A terrific essay in words and pictures.

As a photojournalist I feel a story needs words and pictures to tell all the facts.

The story tells how she is focused on countries other than the United States and Europe where "in some conservative countries, women need to get permission from their husbands or another mail relative to be photographed."

In France they believe in the right to privacy you can't photograph anyone in public without their permission. Stock agencies needed a permission slip to go with any photo, this led to buying the same photo in Germany which doesn't have such strict laws.

It just strikes me that viewers should know more. How would Sharon Wohlmuth's Sister Sister book been received if it only had photos? Wohlmuth took some great portraits of the sisters together but the words helped tell the story and added meaning to the photos.

Times have changed, the Wall Street Journal reports on how Noroc travels with two backpacks. One for her cloths, another backpack with wheels for ONE DSLR camera, three lenses, laptop computer and a couple of external back-up hard-drives. I went to Thailand, Malaysia and Hong Kong with the Domke Bag that held 21mm, 35mm and two Leica cameras, then an 80-200mm zoom and 85mm F/1.8 for a non-motorized Nikon, plus a Minolta light-meter, Vivitar 285 strobe, lots of AA batteries, and 40 rolls of B&W film. Only the camera bag got x-rayed, so it was safe to pack the film in a suitcase. No cell phone, no computer.

I never got to see the photos till I returned to Philadelphia and developed the film.

This is covered in my new eBook, Professionally Branded, now available at Amazon.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Digital changed photojournalism, it forgot about the story.

This year, 2016, marks the 40th anniversary of the Domke Bag. Back then I wanted to make sure I had enough film for a couple of newspaper assignments. Always shot two rolls using two cameras, this was safe in case one camera malfunctioned and you didn't miss any shot stopping to change from wide-angle to telephoto lens. Often you never used up all the film, shooting less than 72 exposures.

Today the digital camera data cards hold many for exposures than the 36 exposure roll of film. Plus with film you had to develop it and that took time, loading onto stainless steel reels or waiting for two rolls to get pulled into an automatic developing machine.

The younger generation thought we got better shots with two cameras and filling up two rolls of film. The older 4x5 Speed Graphic generation got the picture taking simple four or five shots. The paper was only going to use one picture.

So watching the Photo Mechanic video on You Tube I'm shocked with how they start with renaming the files and making sure they have enough spaces for over 1000 images.

When I designed the Original Domke Bag in 1976, I wanted to make sure I had enough room for 15 of 20 rolls of film. 720 exposures! That was enough to cover several assignments, more than enough for one day! Enabled you to stop and rewind a partially exposed roll and load in a new one and expose at a different ISO, which would have to be developed separately.

Photo Mechanic is explaining how to keep track of thousands of images!  Promoting how it will save time. How about turning off the motor-drive and waiting for the key moment? Watch and think about the action. In sports my goal was to try to see how the game was going and look for photos that would show the record breaking run, tie-breaking touchdown. Not just take a photo on every play.

To tell the story we use to think a "picture page" was best with a large main photo and maybe 4 or 6 smaller shots to tell the beginning and end. Today with 60 images posted online they best shot is overlooked, nobody looks at all 60, they stop after looking at the first 3 or 4.

Has anyone done a study on how many photos people see in a "gallery."  Shooting still photos, I liked the challenge of trying to tell the story with one photo. ONE! The other shots published were secondary, showed details, or close-up. But front page photo told the story.

We desperately need photo editors to find the best shots, make the best shots load first, and make every picture different. Only one picture of the quarterback, one picture of the fans, etc.

No editing and you can't see what is unique and interesting, you have to read the story to find out and then maybe search for a picture that collaborates. Edit down and tell the story!

Monday, September 19, 2016

Inventor and/or Creator

It is interesting reflecting on the difference between say an inventor who creates new products: light bulbs, record player, camera bags, and a creator, who paints, writes, photographs. They are all creative, but are they all inventors?

Are they the same, see a need and try to solve it? I see myself as inventing a soft gadget bag for photographers, and shooting pictures for a photo assignment. As a photographer I was always trying to think up as many ways as possible to capture the scene. Change lenses, from the front, move to the side, look down, look up, be creative.

But cinematographer Joseph Walker invented the zoom lens to help him be more creative. At the Summer Olympics photographers were using remote cameras in creative ways.

It strikes me as interesting how many photographers have invented products from studio strobes to camera bags. I just published my story on how I invented a soft should bag for photographers who wanted something to work out of, not simply to store their gear.

Calling the book Branded Professional: By a Photographer for Photographers, it is an eBook. Everyone reads eBooks, right? Can be downloaded onto your smartphone, tablet or computer.

It starts with a need. Photographers knew they needed something, but how to make it? Home sewing machine didn't work, modifying a gas-mask bag didn't match photo gear. I was lucky to be at the right place at the right time when the Philadelphia Inquirer was willing to buy 22 bags. Industrial sewing shop was interested in sewing 25 bags, I thought I buy some extra bags to sell to friends.

Been reading Walker's 1984 autobiography, The Light on Her Face, and seeing all the products he invented. He solved a problem with fading out from a scene, finding a better way to sound proof noisy cameras, zoom lens, etc. It helped him be a better cameraman, and he was able license the ideas to manufactures.

The Inquirer went on strike and I just saw it as a part-time business.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

In 1990 Photo Retailers Vote on Favorite Products

It's finally time to throw some things away, going through a pile of clippings, photos and notes saved from my days as an entrepreneur. I stumble over the November 1990 issue of the trade publication, Photo Trade News. (It no longer exists.)

But back in 1990 all the camera store owners got a free copy once a month telling them of new products and the status of the industry.This was back in the film days and the dealers were voting on their favorite product.

The article ledes off with "35mm SLR retail under $400" and the winner is a Minolta Maxxum 5000I, Canon EOS 700 and Pentax SF-10. PDF then goes to those SLRs between $400 and $1000 which includes Nikon N8008, Minolta Maxxum 7000I and Canon EOS 10S.

The review moves to accessories grouping top three photo albusm, frames and carrying cases. Camera bag is a carrying case?

The top brands for dealers were Tamarac 605, Coast Oasis and the Domke F2 Original. With the brief description: "professional photographer Jim Domke designed the F2 and tailored it to the specifications of his colleagues. It continues to be an all-time favorite."

Made the first F2 in 1976 and here it is being picked in 1990! I don't know if the dealers are simply slow or it proves it was a steady seller. Don't see any mention of the Nikon F. Actually for the high end SLR, the dealers pick Nikon F4 "that continues the tradition of the F3" and Canon EOS 1. For Canon it was the new lens mount "as more EF lenses are introduced."

Working on an eBook: Professionally Branded: By a photographer for photographers. Which I hope to release on Kindle by late August. It has been a chance to reflect on how making the bag to work from, get the roll of film quickly, change lenses and not fight the camera bag.

Today you can still rank cameras at different price points, but they are all digital. There isn't a need for the "single-use camera" the smart phone fills that need. Accessories in 1990 were Cokin Filters, now we have Photoshop, Snapseed and Instagram. Minolta pioneered auto-focus auto-exposure camera stores liked the "creative expansion cards" that popped into the camera to help photographers shoot better sports, bracket or customize shots. This is back in the old film days!

First Kodak SLR launched around 1994 for $25,000. Nothing for the camera store, They were interested in "shutter camera" for under $150, or the "35mm shutter camera" for over $150. A new category was added, the "bridge" camera. Defined as a "new concept camera with 35-135mm zoom lens." With an anti-red-eye flash system and infrared remote control. Olympus, Ricoh and Chinon brands were featured.

Those were the days. My book Professionally Branded shares how business needs to find a niche, and get branded. I'd like to thank all the photographers who helped make this possible. Sharing ideas at trade shows and snail mail.
Advertisment: 1989 taken by passerby who was handed a camera by David Burnett in Buenos Aires, Argentina, covering Pope John Paul.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Instagram is weather art!?

Back before the internet, when the newspaper was the main way to find out what was happening. They needed photos to get readers attention, just like the website. Sort of.

The front page of the main section was always covered with wire photos, pictures taken from around the world by the Associated Press or United Press International. Even if the main local story was the real estate property tax increase, there was a national or international story with a a photo for the front page.

But the second section front page was only local news. It HAD to have a picture to attract readers into reading the stories. Often the photo editor didn't find out till 2 p.m.'s news meeting what stories were going to run in the next day's paper. The make-up editor wanted to know what photos were available to go with the stories. But maybe there were no photos!

This is when the photo editor rushed back and everyone in the photo department had to get out and find a photo and make the 7 p.m. deadline, That was the deadline for prepress, all articles and and photos finished. To layout the page the editor needed to know whether it was a horizontal or vertical photo ASAP. To play it safe many make-up editors would start laying out the page, which story on top, how many stories on the page and just putting a large square box in the center for the "weather art."

The newspaper was depending on the staff to find a local photo and make the deadline.

There are stories of photographers at the Topeka Capital Journal coming from different directions and ending up at the same playground. At the Philadelphia Inquirer there was a story of one photographer who simply had a stuffed squirrel in his trunk and then simply stuck it somewhere to reflect on the season or the weather. Story goes that he was trying to show how cold it was and put his squirrel on the edge of a metal drum that workers used to burn trash and get warm. Well the drum was hot and fell into the flames, the whole staff mourned.

Tourist in Colorado, by J.G.Domke
Photos that stood alone, no story, just a caption. Often, reflecting on the weather. How hot the day was, extreme cold, beautiful fall weather, warm spring day, flowers blooming, stormy weather, etc.

Instead of weather art, they could just be interesting, funny signs, or people working. Akira Suwa found that his best "weather art" were found when he wasn't working, the best way to find something was to run an errand. He was interested to stereo music and some of his best photos were found as he drove to the stereo store to look at a new speaker or turntable.

Today Instagram has become the "weather art." and old newspaper photographers like Ira Block have thousands of people who follow the photos he posts. Having worked for several newspapers he moved on to traveling the world doing a variety of stories for National Geographic where you have to find "weather art" everyday. His Instagram site, irablockphoto, has 251,000 followers!

The great thing is that you can capture things 24/7 that you find interesting with your smartphone, some of Block's images may be taken with his iPhone, but many are taken with his professional camera. But all shared on Instagram. Chronicling the day, weather art.

Following the tradition I still take weather art on Instagram too. Check out JimDomke.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Various traits make up being a photographer

Native American protest Bureau of Indian Affairs
Having met a lot of photographers at various trade shows, photographers stopping at the Domke Bag booth looking to meet their equipment needs. I occurs to me that photography is unique in the variety of photographers taking photos, compared to say painters or even writers. 

Youth tries being old, with aging body.
I see one type of photographer who is like the chief/cook preparing a meal. This could be the studio photographer or the still life photographer, who has an image form in their mind and then goes out to create it. This is also how in the film days you shot the photo, then developed it, maybe modified the developer, then had to make a print and like Eugene Smith and Ansel Adams manipulate the light to make the print. Ready to serve. 

Photography appeals to others who simply want to make the subject look good, portrait photographers are like beauticians. Recording how people want to look. Posed, lean forward to hide the saging skin under the chin, spot out wrinkles, etc. They are like the painter. Artists. 

I always thought of myself as a tour guide, as a journalist, guiding viewers at an event. Showing what was important and worth seeing. Looking for outstanding features that need to be notices.

It is interesting how the newspaper reporter realize how everyone forgets what they read yesterday, and are only interested in today's news. I always felt like a librarian who was recording events for future generations to use for research. Chronicle a moment and better understand life.

Hoping the images will motivate the viewer to action, I was very idealistic. In high school wondering what career to take I had considered becoming a pastor, a missionary. 

Photography is my way to reaching out and trying to guide people.