Lessons from Instagram

Hello blogging friends. I’ve been out of the blogosphere for nearly a year now and it’s only because I’ve been so busy. My little business, Page One Power has taken off and is keeping most of my mental powers occupied. My children, all five of them, like to consume the remaining bits of energy I have when I get back from work and then my wife hopes for a second wind from me every night at 9PM when everyone is asleep.

I’ve missed blogging. It helped me discharge my creative energy and allowed me to show off my photography.

Since I stopped writing last August two new trends have emerged in the social media frenzy of today; Pinterest and Instagram. I mostly ignore Pinterest, it holds little interest for me but Instagram has been wildly amusing. I shoot with my iphone and post for friends to see. There is only one problem with the new Instagram habit…

I went on a fantastic backpacking trip with my son, Jack last weekend. We flew up to Seattle and drove over to Olympic National Park to hike on the Hoh river trail. The adventure was full, fun and noteworthy. Jack is 11 and his favorite thing to do is burn stuff. He spent almost 7 hours one day burning logs in the campfire. I thought he would get bored eventually but the pyromania of the 1980’s that my pals and I had is alive and well in the 2010’s.

Anyways, I opted to not bring along one of my most trusted companions, my Rolleiflex. It’s a little bulky and I refuse to use it without a tripod. I thought that I could shoot with my iphone and print when I get back. I took some great pictures and was excited to see what the finished prints would look like on my Epson 4880 printer.

Upon printing the photos I was disturbingly disturbed. The quality is poor, extremely poor when compared to my Rolleiflex. I guess I should have known but the photos are so enchanting on the iphone screen I left logic behind in favor of ease.

To be fair, I love the photos on the iphone/Instagram but I’m old school. I like paper photos. Now the trip that I’ll never do again with the 11 year old who looks older each morning will not go into my files as paper photos. It makes me sad…

Another lesson I’ve learned from Instagram is that non-photographer people are much better photographers with it then they were with other types of cameras. I see some fantastic, sensitive images come along in my Instagram stream. Why is that?

Natural light. Very few photos have used the flash and natural light prevails on Instagram. That automatically helps things.

There isn’t a zoom lens to mess up a photo. People are discovering what I’ve known for years. You don’t need a 15-900mm zoom to get great photos! In fact, a prime (fixed focal length) lens frees you up to focus on the content and ignore the gizmodoness of a fancy zoom.

People are shooting a lot. That helps too. Practice makes perfect.

I think Instagram is a great tool to share your lives with others but I really don’t like that the photos are such low quality that printing them isn’t feasible. I guess you can’t get it all.

I’ve attached the Instagram images from my trip with Jack to this post. Many of you have already seen them on Instagram and facebook but here they are.

Camping Hoh River Olympic National Park Backpacking

He burned logs for 7 hours straight.

Mt. Tom Creek Campground Hoh river trail Olympic National Park

Our camp site

Forks Washington sign

We drove straight through Forks, WA. Saw a guy selling “Twilight” firewood.

Olympic National Park Hoh RIver Trail

Jack took every opportunity to stand on a downed log

Crescent Lake near Forks Wa

Crescent lake near Forks, WA

Crescent Lake near Forks Washington Olympic National Park

Crescent lake again

Hanging in the tent

Old growth cedar tree olympic national park

In front of an old growth cedar tree that fell down

downtown seattle, wa from the ferry

Coming into downtown Seattle on the ferry

space needle

 

 

Sisters

2 girls in a hot wheels jeep

Sisters together

My father in Law told me that your siblings are the people you have the longest and most consistent relationship with. I think he’s right.

So when I look at this photo of Kim and Grace at ages 1 and 3 I think of the hundreds or thousands of moments that they’ll spend together that could span 10 decades. It’s awesome, isn’t it?

-Photo taken with my trusty Rolleiflex FX onto Portra 160 film.

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7 Tips to Better Photography of Your Kids

10 year old boy on his bmx bike

Growin' up

I taught a photo class this spring. I tried my best to give the students valuable information. Most of the students were interested in getting better photography of their children. I do a lot of photography of my family and have tried every type of location, light, situation and camera. I’ve learned a lot over the 13 years that I’ve been photographing my own children. I’ve learned a lot about what I like to shoot and how I like to do it. Like anything in life, my photography has been a journey. I’ve distilled my lessons into what I feel are my 7 major philosophies with shooting my children and family.

#1 Wait and be ready

I don’t force photography into my family life. I’m ready to shoot all the time but I wait for the right moment. I learned this principle from my surfing days; wait for the good waves. If the light is bad I don’t shoot. If I can’t get what I want in a photograph I don’t shoot. If I don’t see it I let the moment pass. I wait for the right time, it always comes.

If you want to adopt this philosophy you have to be waiting, not forgetting. Keep your camera handy. I keep mine on a tripod in my bedroom. I can be shooting within seconds if things are perfect for a photo.

#2 Include context

I used to follow the “less is more” line of thought. Years ago I always zoomed in closely on my kids faces. Now my older kids have hundreds of detailed close ups. What I learned later was that those photographs are boring. Well, not boring, but close to boring. I’ve learned that 10 years from now the house, the chairs, the books and everything that supports the image builds a lot of value into the image. Photography is a generous medium. Let it embrace your images.

I also learned that including adults in the image of kids are often more interesting than the kids are. Maybe it’s just me.

There is a balance, though. Too much context can be crazy. My post looking at trampolines shows an example of an image that shows a good amount of context.

#3 Shoot non-events

I used to pull out my camera whenever we’d go to the zoo and to the amusement park and to grandmas birthday party. Now if the light is good and I see opportunities I’ll shoot. If things aren’t good I don’t shoot. I don’t worry about it because usually there are 5 other people with cameras that will cover big events anyhow.

I like to shoot when things are good for photography. The light has to be good and I have to “see” the images in my mind. If those conditions exist I’ll take photos. I do make exceptions if my wife really wants a good photo of something. I’ve also learned how to set up a birthday party in a location and time that is ideal for photography. Kimi’s birthday party this year is a perfect example of setting up the shoot for success.

Bathtime, bedtime, homework, reading, talking, hanging out, and ordinary old daily activities are what I shoot now.

#4 I shoot film

Noone shoots film anymore. I know that  it’s out of everyone’s life and for a lot of good reasons; it’s expensive and you have to wait for the film to come back from the lab. I shot digital for three years (2003-2006). It was hard to switch back to film after shooting digital because I got used to instant gratification. I switched back to film because I reviewed my files and discovered that all my photography was better with film. I’m not sure exactly why but I think it’s because I shoot more carefully when a little money is on the line with each click.

I’ve thought a lot about the digital vs. film discussion and have come to four conclusions:

1. My photography is better because I shoot more carefully. Each image has a little weight behind it because I had to buy the film and processing. I also go slower and act more methodically with my Rolleiflex FX (my film camera of choice). Therefore the images are better.

2. The skin tones look incredible. Kodak and Fuji spent nearly 150 years and billions of dollars developing color film. The current stock of portra 160 was just released earlier this year (2011). It’s incredible stuff. The skin tones are delicate and rich. I just don’t find that quality with digital imaging yet. People have made photoshop filters to mimic the look of film for years now. The easiest way to get the look of film is to actually shoot film.

3.Film is much more permanent than digital files. When I shoot film I get paper photographs, negatives and digital scans. In my last portrait studio we made reprints from old negatives originally shot in the 60’s and 70’s. The prints looked brilliant. Almost like new. Color negatives are incredibly dependable. Contrast that with some of the images I shot digitally just 5 years ago. Some of them have stripes through them or look broken. It’s just that I like the permanence of film. When I get my film processed I get a CD with scans.

4.I like paper photographs. The digital photograph usually only lives on the hard drive. Paper photographs are going the way of the phone book and printed book. I still like to sort them and look at them and put them in a box. Photography has always been the print to me.

#5 Smiles are overrated

Of course we want to see our loved ones happy. But if you think about it how often do we walk around with a big, goofy smile on our faces? People have many moods and the smiling face is only one of those moods. I actually prefer a dramatic, moody expression to a fake smile. It says so much more. A post I did earlier this year of my wife Samantha would be entirely ruined with a big grin. Smiles are definitely overrated.

#6 Look for anchors

I’ve used up a lot of film trying to capture my kids running, jumping, crawling, etc… I’ve rarely gotten a good photo of them doing these things. These days I look for times when they’re anchored before I pull out the camera. They need to sitting or lying down or at least immobilized before I pull out the camera. If you go through my portfolio you’ll see what I mean.

#7 Work Hard

It’s cliche to say work hard but it’s the only way good photography happens. If you go lazy on your photographic pursuit it’ll stop. It is literally a perfect reflection of the effort you put into it. Many times I’ve had to force myself to get the camera out and shoot. But I’ve learned that I’m always glad that I did.

As my journey progresses I’m sure to change and add to this list. But for now it suits me just fine.

– Photo taken with my Rolleiflex FX onto Portra 160 film on a gorgeous afternoon in Boise, Idaho.

 

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The Worlds Youngest Stalker

1 year old in highchair

Where's she going?

For a few months Sam had a stalker. It was her daughter, Kimi.

During this time Sam always had Kimi at her feet. Unless Kimi could see Sam she didn’t feel good so she chased her all day. Sam didn’t mind but if had been me I think I would have hid just to get a little peace.

When Sam wanted to hand Kimi off to me she’d swat my hands away and grip tightly to Sams hair. In the morning or after nap time if I was the one who went to get her up she cried in disappointment. The disappointed look on her face was truly sad.

It lasted only a couple of months. Now she’s only a “semi-stalker”.

In this photo I watched Kimi watch Sam go outside into the backyard. It was incredible how focused she was on Sam. Kimi was a model of focused determination throughout her stalker phase.

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Babysitting your cousin can be tough

asleep while babysitting

Babysitting can be boring

One afternoon I found Kimi’s cousin, Wes, babysitting her. I took a photo to commemorate the moment for all of us to enjoy.

Babysitting is tough, I’m one of the worst babysitters ever so I have compassion upon those that fall asleep while doing their job.

The best babysitting story that I personally know is when my pal Christian was “supposed” to be babysitting his 2 year old son. He was dozing off on the sofa when he got whacked in the face with a wet toilet brush that his son had found in the bathroom. Talk about a wake up call.

–Shot onto Portra 160 film with my Rolleiflex FX. Exposure unknown.

Reading books to two kids

Mother reading books to two kids

Part of Sam's day

When school is in session and the three oldest kids are gone to school all day Sam is always with these two. They follow her around like little ducklings. It’s pretty darn cute. One morning in May she was reading a book to both of them. I had to get a photo with my Rolleiflex.

These two little girls comprise the second wave of little kids in my family. The first wave has grown up past the little kid stage now. The first wave of little kids went from ’98 to ’05. It was a difficult time for me. I was mostly grouchy through that time. It seemed to drag on forever. I was working really hard and taking care of three little kids put me over the edge quite often. Suddenly they grew up to be big kids and now all I have to remember them with is photography and what my weak memory can call up occasionally.

A lot of the photography of my older kids is close up pictures of their faces and “portrait” style photography. I have some photography of them interacting with Sam or myself but mostly close ups isolating them from their environment. I’ve looked back many times at those photographs. I learned that the images that I really enjoy from that time period have a lot of context around the kids. Context like our old cars, old houses, furniture, the atmosphere, Grandmas, Grandpas, Aunts, Uncles, friends and other things that help me remember so much more than just their cute faces. I also learned that the photographs of the adults with the kids are as interesting, if not more interesting than the photography of just the kids.

So this time around I’m trying to include more context and environment in my photography. I hope it comes across nicely.

–Image taken onto Portra 160 film with my Rolleiflex FX. Exposure 30th at 5.6

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Jake the Golden Retriever Puppy

Golden Retriever Puppy

Jake the Golden Retriever Puppy

My Bro-in Law got a new dog. It’s a Golden Retriever puppy named Jake. I had forgotten his name but lucky for me his name is on his tag prominently displayed around his neck. I’m not a dog person, so I’m not used to seeing puppies and little Jake blew me away. He looks like a fake stuffed dog, but he’s not fake, he’s real. I marveled at the perfection of his creation and then responded in the only way I knew how; I took a photo with my Rolleiflex FX.

I just thought it was a cool picture that everyone might benefit from seeing.

–Photograph shot onto Portra 160 film with a Rolleiflex FX camera in June 2011.

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Kimi’s one year old birthday party

one year old birthday party

Kimi's big day

one year old birthday party opening presents

Opening presents

giant cupcake

Kimi's giant cupcake

Eating her first cake

eating a giant cupcake

Kimi enjoying her giant cupcake

Kimi actually turned one years old last month (June 2011). She has a small circle of friends. Grandmas, Grandpas, Aunts, Uncles, Mom, Dad, and her siblings. It’s a small group, but a passionate one. We really love her.

Kimi is our last baby so each little milestone is a little emotional for both Sam and I. It’s very gratifying to see all of my kids together and know that they’re all here with Sam and I safely and that we’re in the throes of raising them. It’s humbling, actually.

Happy Birthday Kimi! We love you.

 

— All images shot with onto Portra 160 film with a Rolleiflex FX. Film processed at Millers Lab.

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How do you sleep when you’re scared?

3 year old girl in crib

Safe in the closet

For some time now Grace has chosen to sleep in two places. She goes to sleep in her parents closet and then sleeps in her bedroom from 10PM til 7 when she wakes up seeking food and entertainment.

She feels safe sleeping under our clothing. She loves to be carried up to her bed at night by her Dad. She told me yesterday that being carried upstairs is fun.

I don’t mind her habit. It’s cute, photogenic and makes for a great blog post.

-Image shot onto tri-x film with my Canon eos 1n camera then processed and printed by Graces dad in his darkroom.

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Pit stop in Beaver Utah with my Rolleiflex FX

Beaver Utah

Just relaxing on the grass

When we take a road trip with our 5 kids we drive until at least three kids are crying at once. Then we stop for a break. Living in Boise, Idaho means that no matter which direction you are traveling – North, South, East or West – the options for stopping at a place that has ammenities are few. Boise is an urban island whose closest city is Salt Lake City, 350 miles away.

People living in Boise are not interconnected with other local cities. We’re a close community because of this. When you fly into Boise from any direction all you see is sagebrush and mountains until the last 5 minutes of the flight when the airplane is circling the airport.

On this trip we were actually south of Salt Lake City on our way to Saint George, Utah. We stopped in Beaver, Utah and found a patch of grass. This piece of grass was between Wendy’s and the freeway.

It’s amazing how much better my kids act after a short stop like this one. We were on the grass for about 15 minutes.

Climbing the tower next to wendys in beaver utah

Climbing the tower next to Wendys

Sitting in the grass in Beaver, Utah

Sitting in the grass

 

Sam and her three little girls looking at a ladybug in Burley Idaho

Ladybug in Burley Idaho

Sam and her three girls

On a drive to Utah in March we were forced to make a stop in Burley, Idaho. On our road trips I only stop if three kids are crying at once. Burley is just over 2 hours out of Boise so we made a stop to relieve the suffering in the van. It’s always windy in Burley. The wind was whipping along at 20 MPH on this day. The kids love to run into and with the wind. While not running Lily found a tiny Ladybug and showed it to Sam. Grace and Kimi also found themselves interested in the tiny bug.

On our road trip stops I feel the urge to get out of the van and shoot. I keep my Rolleiflex in its bag between the driver and passenger seats for just this type of occasion. Here’s another image from a road trip stop last summer.

roadtrip stop in snowville utah

Stop on a roadtrip summer 2010

 

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Barbie Birthday Cake 3rd Birthday

Grace wanted a Barbie Birthday for months leading up to her party. When asked about her party she’d speak in keywords  [cake, glitter, presents, fun, barbie birthday, plates, and so forth]. Sam was the good mom and made a barbie birthday cake. Her sister, a professional cake decorator put the finishing touches on it just before the party. Grace loved it, 3 year olds are very cute.

barbiebirthdaycake

Does she like it? Yes.

Barbiebirthdaycake

Looking at the cake.

She was so excited about the party that she didn’t sleep much the day leading up to the party and she ate nothing all day. She was completely overwhelmed with anticipation. She was tired and mellow.

One more look at the barbie birthday cake

Happy birthday, Grace

3 year old birthday party

Fun time opening presents

Happy birthday Grace. We love having you in our family.

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How to deal with mysterious and painful armpit rashes

The Snake river at Swan Falls reservoir

I had a decision to make this morning.

I’m at a convention in Anaheim. It’s more humid here than my Idaho home.

It’s never happened before but I got massive rashes under my armpits. I don’t know why it happened but they’re like little big red devils under my armpits. OUCH!

It’s like you’ve got strawberry jam schmeered in your armpits. My Brother says.

They’ve developed over the last couple of days and last night I had to sleep with my arms over my head to keep the pain at bay.

Here’s the decision I had to make.

Put on deodorant and suffer personal discomfort and pain

or

Leave the deodorant off and afflict the people around me with body odor.

I put the deodorant on and winced. Now I’m keeping my arms at my sides all day. Maybe I should have not done the deodorant thing and kept my arms at my sides.

The photograph above was taken at a beautiful location just south of Boise, Swan Falls Reservoir. Photograph above taken with Rolleiflex FX onto Portra 160 film.

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Looking at Trampolines

Looking at the computer

It makes perfect sense to me; all the clutter around the three main subjects in this photo.

The photo behind Sam’s head is from a photo trip back in ’98 it’s a door in SoHo in NYC. I printed it in my basement darkroom the same year. I had to print at night and cleaned it with a hose while hanging it on the backyard clothes line.

The black mound of fabric behind Lily is my 8×10 camera draped with it’s dark cloth. I keep it handy for the moments when spectacular light strikes.

The stack of black squares on the desk in front of Lily are 5 super 8 movie cartridges I’ve shot the last year waiting to be mailed to the lab. I’ve got a box of super 8 movies that I’ve been shooting since ’97. A few times a year we sit in the dark watching the movies flicker. I love watching real movie film being projected through a projector.

My light meter is in the front center of the scene out of focus right next to my wallet. (That light meter ends up in more photos then I wish it would).

Lily and Sam are looking at trampolines. Kimi, not knowing anything about much just enjoys sitting on her mom’s lap.

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Carotenodermia and Easter Sunday

Happy Easter with a 9 month old

Sam asked me to take a picture on Easter morning. Lucky for me I have a portrait studio in the garage.

Kimi’s nose is orange. Graces nose did the same thing. It’s a harmless condition called carotenodermia, that presents as a conspicuous orange skin tint arising from deposition of the carotenoid in the outermost layer of the epidermis.

They say it’s from eating too much beta-carotene. Kimi eats large quantities of sweet potatoes, carrots and squash. She’s the healthiest eater in the house.

It’s cute to me.

I took portraits of Lily and Grace too.

Grace in her new Easter dress.

Lily too