Emergence | Looking Forward | Celebration

63 days.  That’s how long it has been since I’ve eaten in a restaurant, visited a friend, had a haircut, worked for a client, boarded a plane, gone to a movie, or sat and wrote in my favourite coffee shop.  

… just 63 days.

The world has changed a lot in that time frame though, hasn’t it?  We’ve been fortunate here in British Columbia, with a combination of strong leadership / good citizenship / and luck helping us avoid much of the tragedy that COVID-19 has brought to other parts of the world. 

During the early days of the lockdown I decided to relax and allow myself the space to just “be”.  It has been a strangely peaceful time, focused on family and artistic endeavours, but also one that has been largely recuperative physically, mentally, and creatively.  I have watched from afar, as an artist but also as a veteran health care worker, while heroic efforts were made by frontline workers, while armchair quarterbacks diminished those efforts through their cynicism, and while humanity showed its endless capacity for compassion and caring.  I have watched artists produce amazing new bodies of work, musicians play from their balconies to boost the morale of the people around them, and everyone come together nightly to show thanks for those who still work on the frontlines.  This is a time for the history books… that is for sure.

And now I find myself thinking about what life will look like moving forward.  What will I return to and continue doing?  What will I chose not to bring back into my life?  What am I the most excited about?  How can I best serve my family / friends / clients?

The world has changed, but I can’t help but feel optimistic that this pause is also an opportunity to shape our lives just a little bit… to give thought to what we want and to what we need to do moving forward.  They say that every cloud has a silver lining…. perhaps that is also the case here.

Photography never completely goes away though, right?  During the COVID-19 lockdown many of my Official Fujifilm X Photographer peers, myself included, produced videos for the Fujifilm community.  My video focused on how I approach shooting on the street, both philosophically and compositionally.  You can view the video on YouTube by clicking the image above.

Fujifilm Canada and I also continued our working relationship with the 2020 renewal of my status as an Official Fujifilm X Photographer.  Collaborating with this incredible company changed my life, both personally and professionally, so I am excited to continue supporting them and the artists who use their cameras.   

In closing:  I hope that you and your families are all doing well, and that we see each other out there very soon.  In celebration of my 2020 renewal, but also just in celebration of “life”, I’d like to end this post with a selection of my Fujifilm images.  This selection is varied, including some street photography, portraits, wedding photos, and cityscapes / landscapes that I have made with the Fujifilm X series over the years.  Some of these images go all the way back to the original Fujifilm FinePix X100!

Be safe everyone.  Talk soon.

Cheers,

Ian

What Will Your Verse Be?

The powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse.  What will your verse be?”

– Walt Whitman

“The meaning of life is to find your gift.  The purpose of life is to give it away.”

– Pablo Picasso

2020 is in full swing for most of us, the celebrations of New Year’s Eve already a distant memory.  I normally start each year energized, eager to plan out my year and attack new goals with intent and purpose.  My calendar fills with product launches, travel, presentations, podcasts, workshops, Skype sessions… and before I know it summer has arrived.

This year started out differently though.  Our usual cold, rainy days were followed by snow, causing power outages and blanketing the sky with lifeless grey clouds.  Productive planning sessions were replaced by contemplative periods, and most of my time has been spent writing, playing guitar, and walking the dog.

These have been slow days…. quiet days…. good days.

I initially attributed this different pace to my father’s recent passing, especially as it has only been 21 days since I delivered his eulogy, but more and more I am realizing that there is something bigger forming in my mind… a desire to do something special that is not yet defined.

The last few years have been incredibly productive:  I have reviewed a lot of gear, written almost 300 articles, guested or guest hosted on dozens of podcasts, delivered hundreds of presentations and taught thousands of students.  I cherish all of these things, with no intention of slowing down or stopping, so this desire isn’t because I am unsatisfied with the work that I am doing.  It is, rather, a desire to do something new… something… bigger.  I find myself constantly thinking of the quotes that I started this post with, especially this one:

“The powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse.  What will your verse be?”

I have always felt that my “verse” was the work that I do with my students.  I am a creator to be sure:  I love crafting a wonderful image, creating a well written essay, or nailing a song on my guitar.  But, I find more joy from seeing my students grow as artists.  It is what I live for.

I am realizing now, however, that the Create Forever project that I participated in last fall set off a huge period of intrinsic reflection… reflection focused on things like service to others and personal fulfillment.  I am sure that these feelings were compounded by many hours spent writing my father’s eulogy, where I spoke about his amazing life, his remarkable accomplishments, and his legacy.

So, it is time for me to write a new verse; not to replace what I am currently doing, but to build something new that can exist alongside my current work and contribute to this wonderful community of people that I am a part of.  It doesn’t need to change the world, but it definitely needs to be meaningful.

….

I am writing this post while sitting in my favourite coffee shop.  It is another rainy Vancouver day, and I am taking a break from reading a script that a film-maker and respected friend sent me.

The script is for a short film, an intensely personal project that tells the story of a loved one’s mental health struggles.  The story is told with passion, with love, and with an artistic vision that I hope to one day achieve in my own work.  In summary, it is brilliant.

This is a great example of what I am talking about:  My friend is writing a new verse in his powerful play, and it couldn’t be more awesome.  I am very proud of him.  And, I am inspired by him as well.

….

Have you ever felt like this?  Like there was something building inside of you… something that you just had to do or create?  If so, I would love to hear about it in the comments below, just as I absolutely plan on writing about my journey here on this site.

In the meantime of course, life goes on:  Soon you will see new work on this site from San Francisco and Los Angeles.  My street photography workshops in Vancouver and Toronto are filling up nicely, and I have many speaking engagements and weddings already booked.  I am sure that Fujifilm will release new equipment of course, which we will definitely discuss here as well.

The powerful play goes on and on though, doesn’t it?  And, it is time to write a new verse.

…what will it be?  What will your verse be for 2020?

Cheers,

Ian

What Lies Behind : Photographic Insights – Volume Five

“The eyes are the window to your soul.”

– William Shakespeare

The difference between an “ok” photograph and a great one is often a game of inches.  Consider a simple image of a couple standing at the alter during a wedding ceremony.  This photo can be bland, mundane even.  But, if you capture a moment when the couple glances at each other, smiling nervously with their eyes full of love, then that “ok” picture can become perfect.

Photography is often a game of inches.

Two of the things that consistently elevate photographs for me are emotion and eye contact (given that most of my photos have people in them).  Eye contact in street photography can be a controversial thing for some people; with many purists subscribing to the belief that it isn’t a street photograph if there is interaction between the photographer and the subject.  I care little for rules like this, however, and love it when my subject looks right into the lens as I click the shutter.  It doesn’t happen very often, but when it does I often find the resulting image to be a powerful one.

I took this photograph a few years ago, while I was wandering the streets of Los Angeles with fellow Official Fujifilm X Photographer Rinzi Ruiz.  We were walking slowly, enjoying a long conversation about photography, when I saw two things at the same time:  The first was this lady walking down the street, looking wonderful in her blue and pink outfit.  The second was the wall to my left, covered in blue and pink posters.  I am always looking for elements in a photograph that compliment or contrast with each other, so it was easy to see an image coming together as she walked towards us.

I crossed the street quickly, tweaking my Exposure Compensation slightly to adjust for the bright LA sunshine (my camera was in Aperture Priority Mode with Auto-ISO engaged).  I snapped a few candid frames as the lady entered the frame, but then she paused and looked directly at me.  I smiled, asked if I could make a quick portrait of her and, after a slight nod, clicked the shutter one more time (capturing the image you see above).  Within seconds she continued walking down the sidewalk, I rejoined Rinzi, and we made our way down the streets of Los Angeles looking for the next photo.

That night, as I was viewing the image on my iPad, I was struck by the intensity of her gaze.  The sunglasses definitely add a layer of mystery, but you can feel her looking directly into the lens.  It feels powerful, much more so than any of the candid photos where she was looking down the street.  This connection, this human connection, is something I love about street and portrait photography.

Post production was very quick for this image:  I elected to use a square crop to remove distracting elements on either side of the subject.  I also had to recover some bright highlights on the wall behind the subject, but the rest of the image is just Fujifilm’s Classic Chrome film simulation being awesome. 

I think that a few lessons can be learned from an image like this:

  1. Always be looking when you are out on the streets.  This day was about spending time with a peer while I was on vacation, but photo opportunities will always present themselves if you are tuned in to your environment.
  2. Don’t just take one image when you see a scene coming together, work it to increase your chances of getting the best image possible.  Here I shot an image from across the street, grabbed a few candid frames as I was finding my final composition, and finally took this one during our brief interaction.  Working the scene might mean trying different angles, different compositions, shooting it in black and white or dragging your shutter to create a sense of motion.  Much like shooting a portrait session, the first photo you take is rarely the best one.  Investing time into a great scene is worth it.
  3. Don’t be nervous around people.  It is common for new photographers to feel awkward photographing strangers, be it candidly on the street or in a more formal portrait setting.  But, the truth is that people are almost always wonderful, the world over, if you simply reach out to them and make a human connection.  There was a time in my life when I would have put the camera down and nervously looked away when this wonderful lady looked right at me, but that always resulted in a lost opportunity and a lost photograph.  Overcoming shyness and embracing the connection that comes from direct eye contact will only make your photographs better.

I wish I had been teaching the day I took this image.  The main subject is wonderful, the photo provided a compositional lesson about using colour palettes to tie a subject and background together, it was an opportunity to reinforce the power of direct eye contact, and I got to engage with a stranger on the street and ask to make her portrait.  The whole experience only took 2 or 3 minutes, but it is another in a long list of rewarding experiences that photography has gifted me.

Until next time!

Ian

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About this series:  

Ansel Adams once said:  

“The single most important component of a camera is the twelve inches behind it.”

This statement is absolutely true.  To quote David Hobby, “we should all strive to become thinking photographers.”  I love it when my students ask questions about a photograph because I can see their minds at work.  Sometimes these questions focus on how an image was made (the craft), sometimes they focus on why it was made (the vision), but they always show a student’s desire to improve their craft.

When I look at another photographer’s image I am interested in the photographer’s thought process:  What drew their eye in the first place?  What did they see in their mind?  What was their process for the creation of the image?  How did they go about achieving success?

With this in mind, I have spent the last year writing a book featuring my images and the stories behind them.  The book will come out later this year, but in the spirit of open source education I have decided to publish 2 dozen of these photos and essays here as well.  My hope is that everyone can benefit in a small way from this sharing of ideas, much like I have benefited from other photographers who shared with me.