Saturday, November 30, 2019

Creative Expression 2014-2019

In my last post, I discussed changes in my camera kit and computer and impacts to my time and efficiency. Here, I'll discuss content.

Quantity and Expression

When I publish photos, especially on Facebook, I think of my artistic expression in both the individual photos and the albums as a whole. Is that a little pompous? Maybe. But in choosing the photos and deciding how to break up the albums, I try to find themes.

I think a theme or focus is most clearly expressed through a small (10-50 photos) set. It shows the discipline to make the difficult choices necessary to whittle down a set. I have a lot of respect and admiration for those photographers I've seen that can do this.

Assessing "good" or "bad" photos is pretty subjective/personal. That aside, it's pretty quick/easy to cull the "bad" photos. But with each of the "good" photos, I think I caught a moment the subject and/or their friends would enjoy, or I might be inclined to keep a photo if it's the only one I have of someone in a given contest. I'll refer to this as "coverage." It's too easy for me to get attached to these photos, but with 3000-4000, it expresses little more than "I had a camera at the event and took a lot of photos."

The next stage of selection is much harder, looking for the "great" photos and cull the photos that are only "good." This stage of selection is the most time consuming and is emotionally draining, spending days trying to be maximally critical, looking for reasons to discard "good" photos. I've never gotten the sets as small as I think they should have been - approximately 2500 shots, still a far cry from 50.

In recent years as a practical matter, It is faster for me to edit a larger set of photos than to spend the time trying to reduce the set to the "great" photos. For example, this year (2019) at Camp Hollywood, I published about 3000 photos on smugmug and about 935 on Facebook. I think this is about 10x or 20x too many. The overall album is unfocused and any "great" shots I might have had get lost in a sea of mediocrity.

Sometimes, I think about what a smaller set would even look like. Out of what I released on Facebook, it would mean rejecting 17 or 18 out of 19, which is hard to imagine doing. But offhand, maybe a set of 50 would either look like the Tongues album(expressing joy and a sense of humor - though I don't think the Tongues album works without the context of the larger set) or maybe like my 2019 Facebook cover photo, that used about 50.

Changes in Shooting Style

2014 Shooting from standing eye level
2018 Shooting from the ground
In the last 5 years, I don't think my general shooting style has changed much. The main thing is making more of an effort to shoot from low to the ground (learned from B-House). It's a more dramatic shot. (And in the case of Camp Hollywood, has a better chance of getting the upper "Camp Hollywood" banner in the shot.

For example (to the right), compare shots of the Atomic Cherry Bombs shot from eye level compared to shot from the ground.

My change was that in Team and Showcase, I got more assertive about staking out a spot in front of the judges. (Off to one side, but either in front of one judge or negotiating removal of one unused chair.) One logistical issue was that really NO ONE wants me there and I feel very much in the way. Also, when I'm crouched over my camera for half an hour, inevitably, my abs will painfully cramp up during one of the teams/couples.

During Prelims, there's less need to be shooting from the front. In fact, the judges wander around, often to the stage in back, so sometimes the action is actually back there. Sometimes, I prefer to shoot from the stage (on the ground). Instead of getting an empty stage of mic stands in the background, I get faces of the audience.

In the early days, I liked to have two lenses ready at all times so I used two cameras: one on a tripod and one around my neck. Though I still do this, in 2019, I found that I didn't really use camera 2 very often. This makes processing and publishing a little bit easier because it is difficult to manage and merge two concurrent numbering schemes from the two cameras.
Similarly, I personally prefer the aesthetic of a landscape-oriented shot, so I just don't generally shoot with the camera portrait-oriented, nor do I edit a photo to crop portrait oriented. This makes it less of a hassle to use different watermarks for a handful of portrait-oriented shots.

Somewhat a non-sequitur, but one thing that has remained the same is when I shot social dances with a flash, I usually used a CTO or half-CTO gel on the flash to get the color closer to the background lights.

Expression in Editing

Editing Camp Hollywood was pretty extreme in 2014 (see my blog posts that year). For each photo, I painted custom mattes to tone down the highlights and backgrounds and other custom mattes to brighten and saturate the main subjects. It was very rewarding and made the shot better, but it's just too time consuming, so I haven't done it since 2014.

One minor change in my editing Camp Hollywood was the saturation levels. Earlier, I didn't want the yellow and red banners (and the yellow walls) to overpower the shot so across the board, I reduced the saturation, and further desaturated the reds and yellows. Looking back, I think this made the shots a little dreary overall.

Starting with year 20 (2017), I went the other direction and raised the saturation to bring more of a happy feeling to the photos. At first, I think I wound up making them too yellow, but eventually found a balance next year. This really had no effect on my processing time.

In 2019, the Camp Hollywood ballroom got renovated so it required a little adjustment:
  • I spent a little extra time on Friday watching floor trials to preview ballroom lighting. 
  • The color temperature used to be around 2300-2400 (a yellow, yellow room), but is now cooler, more like 2650-2750.
  • I think I used to tint it a little(+8) toward magenta (un-green), and now I tint it a little more (around +12)
  • The ballroom can get a bit brighter, like about 2 stops. (This is great!)
I did the best I could with what I had, but spent Friday and some of Saturday tuning my base import preset. The lighting is much more cool and florescent now: Really, the change in color temperature is just something different to adjust to; it's neither good nor bad, and didn't take a lot of extra time. Artistically though, I pretty much settled in with the bright/saturated look with the clarity cranked up. The challenge in 2019 was getting a consistent look from a starting image with different lighting/color.

Inspiration Weekend Projects

I use Inspiration Weekend to experiment a little bit. It's a medium sized weekend as far as competitions go, so it has enough content to come up with a theme, but is not as overwhelming as the bigger competition weekends.

  • 2014 - I decided to process the entire set Black&White. My focus was to use value and texture to compose the shot without getting distracted by color. Also, I think I was getting a little bit frustrated by the primary lighting being often dominated by a saturated magenta, which tended to clip in Tungsten settings.
  • 2016 - I bought a new Lytro Light Field camera (see earlier blog entries for more details). I was experimenting with new technology that ultimately was a mistake. It was a horrible camera with horrible software and eventually Lytro actually went out of business and took their viewer with them.
  •  2018 - I returned to Black&White with the additional constraint that I would shoot exclusively with the 70-200mm lens (sacrificing wide shots, but great detail for closeups). Also, while I still edited the photos for value and texture, I chose not to crop/rotate any of them. Additionally, this was the most disciplined I'd ever been in keeping the set down to 112 photos.
  • 2019 - I wanted to try something different and shoot inspired by a Jerry Almonte/Ryan Swift lecture where Jerry described his behind-the-scenes approach to shooting an event. I tried to apply this idea, trying to convey the feeling of a participant instead of observer. What this came down to is shooting a lot of behind-the-scenes in the side room, and shooting from the stage out at the audience. At the same time, trying to keep the colors in the theme of Inspiration Weekend.

This isn't so much an evolution as trying different things. The last one (2019) was especially difficult. To be in the position to get the shots I was going for, it meant missing a lot of the shots that I'm used to getting, and I'm still torn on which I consider more rewarding or interesting. It's worth trying this approach again, but I don't know if it's really me.


It has been a constant struggle to whittle down a set of photos to the essential ones, and I don't think I've ever really succeeded, and I consider my albums weaker for it.

In recent years, I needed to compromise artistically to just get done faster. I don't have time to do the more extensive editing of 2014, and I don't have the time or discipline to just reject enough photos to craft a coherent narrative or theme.

Sometimes simplifying the set(choosing only 1 camera or orientation) can make the processing go slightly faster. But overall, I have not made significant improvements in efficiency

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