Posted tagged ‘camera’

Winter Stroll: Brooklyn Heights

February 10, 2009


Brooklyn Heights

Brooklyn Heights

Cold weather got you down? Need some motivation to get your camera out of the closet? A leisurely stroll through Brooklyn Heights may be just the ticket. This high-end bastion of brownstones, carriage houses and 19th Century mansions offers plenty of opportunities to shoot architecture. Winter makes a great time to shoot here because in the warmer months leaves from the neighborhood’s countless trees can obscure many façades.


Love Lane, Brooklyn Heights

Love Lane, Brooklyn Heights

One way to begin your walk is to take the M or R train to Court Street. Exit at Montague Street, the neighborhood’s main shopping strip, and walk towards the East River. You’ll soon cross Henry Street and then Hicks Street. Turning down either one will take you past some amazing residences. Be on the lookout for some small, charming alleyways, two which I detail in my book on pages 166-169.  

College Place, Brooklyn Heights

College Place, Brooklyn Heights

A Lawyer’s Perspective

February 9, 2009

Attorney Carolyn Wright specializes in legal issues concerning photographers. In her blog she weighs in on the copyright infringement claim made by AP against artist Shepard Fairey. My guess, for what it’s worth, is that in the coming days or weeks there will be some sort of settlement reached between the two.

I have to say that I’m on Fairey’s side in this one, though for three reasons. 1. My gut tells me it’s OK for a visual artist to draw inspiration, however literal it may be, from a copyrighted work if the resulting image is substantially different. 2. Although I agree that taking work off the web via Google image search can lead to all sorts of legal issues, the provenance of the image appears to have been unknown at the time Fairey downloaded it. 3. As a freelancer, Mannie Garcia, the photographer who captured the shot, will not receive a dime even if AP were to win a monetary judgement. Read a brief response from Garcia himself about the whole thing at PDN.

Mali, Part 3

February 6, 2009


Kundu Village, Mali

Kundu Village, Mali

Day 1 in Dogon Country

Today marks our first hike through Dogon country. Yanego, my guide, has been eager to share plenty of information about the region, its people and the significance of the locations we visit. We have passed precious few locals so far, but it’s obvious right away how strong familial bonds are here. The typical Dogon greeting begins with, “How are you?”, followed by inquiries into each and every family member. If the person is from a far away village and doesn’t know you so well, this may stop at your immediate family. But among friends a much more detailed greeting extends to your cousins, aunts, uncles, in-laws, etc; they all get an individual query. Once one person finishes this greeting, the recipient does the same. As you can imagine, this takes quite a while, so early on I learn to seek out a shady spot when another Dogon approaches my guide. 

From Sanga we hike 4 hours to the village of Kundu. The place is empty when we arrive, as everyone is out tending herds or working in the fields. The village is comprised mostly of four-walled mud structures with conical straw roofs (see photo above).

Larger dwellings have flat roofs that are used for drying grains. Tonight one of those roofs will double as accommodations. Because if I’ve learned one thing about rural Mali, it’s that sleeping outdoors is always 20 degrees cooler than being inside. If you can fend off the Malaria-bearing mosquitos you may even experience the odd breeze or two during the night.

The trekking here is no joke. Crossing the plains is brutal because the sun is beating down on you relentlessly. On the other hand, the shade provided when winding your way up the cliffs is tempered by the the fact that, well you are going up, sometimes on all fours. With a backpack full of camping gear, food supplies, and of course camera equipment, this is no mean feat. Speaking of gear, on this trip I’ve brought along my Wista 45VX field camera, tripod, 3 lenses, film, 4×5 and 6×9 holders, spot meter, and my trusty Fuji 690 rangefinder. Reaching Kundu is a welcome relief, in no small part because I can drop off my main backpack and load up with just my Kelty daypack loaded up with camera gear. This means schlepping 20 pounds instead of 50.

After a quick lunch of bread and tuna fish, we head off to explore some of the cliffside caves above the village. We follow a narrow footpath which zigzags up along the cliff face. Yanego directs me to a small cave opening. Crawling through on all fours for about 150 feet brings us to an overhang which looks directly down on Kundu and across the plain for miles. Beautiful. When I ask Yanego how he knows about this place, he shrugs and says he used to come here as a child to play. I spend the next two hours experimenting with different shots and perspectives with the view camera. Clouds are moving in and out, their shadows dotting the landscape. Shooting large format, by definition means you’re working slowly and Yanego is rather amazed at how few shots I am actually taking. I try to say something profound like the measure of a good photographer is not how often he shoots but when he shoots. Convncing? I don’t know, he just looks at me, smiles and lays back down while I duck under the focusing cloth.

After hiking back to the the village (going down is always easier than climbing up), it’s time to change into some dry clothes, sort out some gear for sleeping, and most importantly, purifiy another day’s supply of water. I’ve gone through 90 ounces of it today. I’m pretty tired. The lack of sleep during the previous few days is catching up to me and the day’s hike into Kundu would have been taxing even under the best of conditions. Keeping the energy and focus to actually shoot some images was getting rather difficult as the day wore on. After dinner, I plan on getting to bed early. We’re heading out at first light tomorrow.

Day 2

It’s 6:30pm and I’m eating a chocolate chip Cliff bar my wife threw in my bag as I left Bamako. I’m beyond exhaustion. Instead of traveling each day from village to village, this morning I told Yanego I wanted to make our base in Kundu for an additional night. The village architecture and environment is striking and I wanted to have more time to explore its immediate surroundings. Yanego advised against this plan because that meant doubling the mileage of our trek today. Any reasonable person would have taken heed from a man who actually lives here and knows the terrain, but as a photographer I was afraid of losing the opportunity to get at least a little familiar with this location before moving on. 

To my defense I was not thinking very clearly as last night provided only a couple of hours of sleep. Yanego and I set up a tarp on the roof, angling it from a nearby tree to the edge of the roof with rope and stakes. This gives me plenty of room to lay out my gear and drape mosquito netting above my sleeping bag. Just before midnight, a gentle, cooling breeze quickly turns into fairly strong gusts. Fearing an imminent rainstorm with his client alone on the roof, Yanego sends 4 boys scrambling up the roof to break down my tarp and move me and all my gear indoors. Well, I certainly appreciated the concern, and neither I nor my gear got rained on. But indoors under a stifling heat I was tossing and turning in deep pools of my own sweat.

It’s up bright and early at 6am, however, to prepare a breakfast of bread and jelly then clean and pack up the camera gear. We hike out headed towards the village of Youga, and spend the next 3 hours scrambling up and down cliff faces. The heat is just unbelievable. It’s like walking through an oven with a mask over your face. We catch a brief respite in the form of a passing morning shower, that of course caught us unprotected along the plains.  

Arriving on the outskirts of Youga’s main village I get my first up close views of Tellem architecture.

Tellem Architecture, Mali

Tellem Architecture, Mali

The Tellem were a pygmy tribe who settled this region around the eleventh century. Carved into the sides of the cliff face, these ancient structures once served as living quarters and graineries. Today, the Dogon use them for storage of harvests and as sacred burial sites.  Building these structures in such well-fortified and inaccessible locations would have certainly enabled the Tellem to detect approaching invaders on slave raids well in advance. By the sixteenth century, however, this race of people was completely wiped out, leaving no direct ancestors. They do occupy a revered status among the Dogon, as one could imagine. As you look at these fascinating dwellings it’s impossible not to have high regard for the people who built these and thrived in such an unforgiving environment.

Tellem Architecture #2, Mali

Tellem Architecture #2, Mali



Youga Cliffs, Mali

Youga Cliffs, Mali

The opportunities for great photographs are everywhere. Shots from below looking up into the cliff structures allow for a lot of tilt/shift/swing combinations on the view camera. Yangeo takes me to spots where I can also shoot from elevated positions looking directly across a cliff face. The adrenaline boost from setting up these shots is going a long way towards keeping me upright. But after the camera and lenses get packed up, I face the cold reality of my decision to maintain camp at Kundu. We are literally yards from the village of Youga, a place every bit as varied and interesting as Kundu. I could easily stay here and shoot lots of wonderful scenes. But our gear is back in Kundu, so it’s off on a 3 hour trek to get back there before nightfall. I resolve right here and now, never to go against Yanego’s advice about anything else.

Returning back to Kundu in early evening, I take stock of what has been an exhausting 11 hour day. Between hiking and photographing I think I had a total of 20 minutes of rest today, and that was spent forcing down what has quickly become stale bread with equally unappealing tuna fish. I went through another 100 ounces of water, so I’ll have to get started on pumping refills before it gets dark. I spray a healthy portion of DEET to ward off mosquitos and immediately feel a burning sensation on my neck, as I think the searing sun has started to make every inch of exposed skin a bit tender. I hope the sensation fades because mosquitos are simply everywhere and the last thing I want to come home with is Malaria.

But today’s shots make all of this seem worth it.

To be continued…

ICP Course: Black and White with Your DSLR

February 4, 2009

From Feb 14-15 I’m teaching a weekend workshop at ICP. Titled, Black and White With Your DSLR, this course lets you explore first-hand a b/w capture to print workflow using Adobe’s Lightroom 2. We start the day with an actual shooting assignment in midtown Manhattan. Back in the classroom we import, sort, edit, and finally print the images on Epson desktop printers. If you’ve ever had questions about Lightroom, shooting raw, or color to b/w conversions, this class is for you. ICP’s digital lab has just been updated with Epson 2880s in addition to a number of 3800s, so this is a great opportunity to work with the very latest offerings from Epson and Adobe. We will cover a lot of ground in a short period of time, so you’re sure to come away with a lot of info! If you have any questions about what the course will cover, please feel free to contact me.

Mali, Part 2

February 3, 2009


Djenne Market, Mali

Djenne Market, Mali

I got no sleep on the overnight bus ride from Bamako and have had precious little to eat. But I’m feeling pretty fresh, excited that I’m another step closer to reaching the famed Bandiagara cliffs. The taxi stand at Sévaré is just a hundred yards or so away from the bus station. As I arrive, a full car is just pulling off, but there’s an empty van on deck. 

The only catch (on this trip there always seems to be one) is that the driver wants 19 passengers before leaving. Right now, we’re only 3. So the driver heads off on foot with some of his buddies. Where he went I couldn’t say, but he must have had a good time because he doesn’t return for another 4 hours to an agitated crowd of passengers who have been roasting in oppressive sun and heat. With fares collected from all of us, we pack shoulder to shoulder in the van. Our first stop, less than 40 feet away, is to the gas station where he fills up the tank. No sense in paying for gas until you’re actually going to use it, I guess.

With an empty belly, and any remnants of my last shower thoroughly dissipated, we head off at the peak of midday heat on what turns out to be a 40 minute drive to the relatively large town of Bandiagara. 

Here, my immediate task is to, what else, arrange for a ride to Sanga, the main village  in Dogon country, and the jumping off point for visits by foreigners. There’s only one taxi driver in town. He’s got a 4-door hatchback which could comfortably seat 5, with room for luggage in the back. Besides myself, there are 3 other travelers looking for a ride. But the driver won’t leave until he has 9 passengers. Three hours later, with 9 of us aboard we set off for Sanga. What follows is  2 hours of bone rattling travel over rutted 4×4 track. An altogether miserable journey, during which, I might add, we pick up 3 additional passengers. I wonder if this could possibly be worth the effort.

Finally, exactly 24 hours after setting off from Bamako, I’ve arrived in Sanga, to a clean and well-kept tourist hotel. The staff is very friendly, the food is good, the room has a fan, and electricity is on from 6am-6pm. Paradise.

After polishing off an early dinner I look into making arrangements for a trek into the outlying Dogon villages. In order to preserve the authentic customs and traditional way of life that draws tourists in the first place, visitors are allowed to enter Dogon villages only under the escort of a registered guide. The hotel owner has recommended a young guide named Yanego, who comes by that evening to go over possible itineraries. We decide the best way to experience Dogon country and make photographs is to hike up and down the escarpment, traveling each day from village to village. During the day we will hike to good locations to photograph. I’ve described various shots I’d like to capture and Yanego has promised he can get me to the most appropriate locations, plus a few more he’s sure I will want to photograph.

The ancient dwellings of the Tellem along the escarpment predate the arrival of the Dogon people. Nestled inside the sandstone face of the cliffs, these cave-like structures are in ample shade, so there should be a lot of opportunities to shoot even during harsh mid-day light. We’ll head to the closest village each evening, ultimately making a loop which will bring us back to Sanga on the fifth day. These villages are situated along the lower reaches of the cliffs, facing the open plains, so the best shooting there will likely take place around dawn or sunset.

Once we negotiate a price (meaning he throws out a number and I say, “OK”), we go off to buy food supplies for the 5 day trip. We’ll be eating dinners in the local villages but breakfast and lunch must come along in my backpack. In a tiny hut, nondescript save for three shelves along the rear wall stocked with canned goods, matches, batteries and oddly enough, cotton swabs, I make my selections. For reasons I will question again and again over the next few days, I stock up on several cans of tuna fish that look they were imported during the ’70s. I grab a large can of jam as Yanego has a source for a supply of fresh bread for the trip. For liquids I’ve got two large water bottles, a CamelBak 100 oz. hydration bladder, and a compact water purifier to keep them all stocked.

In the morning we will head out early so we can reach the first village by lunchtime, drop off my camping gear and head out to photograph. So tonight, I’ll try for just my second full night of sleep on this whole trip.

To be continued…

Snow Sports at East River Park

February 2, 2009

Want to discover the appeal of halfpipes, shredding, and catching big air? Bring your camera and a long telephoto lens out to the East River Park for Winter  Jam NYC. On Thursday, February 5, there’s a pro snowboarding competition featuring Shaun White (ask your teenager, they’ll know him). Gates open at 3pm and you’ll want to arrive early for a spot close to the action. On Saturday, February 7, from 11am-4pm at the same location, there’s a full day of family snow events, games, and activities. Skis, snowshoes, and sledding tubes are provided. Both days’ events are free and open to the public.

Japan Photo Tour 2009

January 27, 2009


Village shrine in Nara

Village shrine in Nara

Update: For complete tour information and details, go here.

The details are still being finalized, but I’m happy to announce that in Fall 2009 I’ll be leading a 10 day photo tour of Japan. We’ll be concentrating our time between Tokyo and Kyoto, with stops in seaside rural villages along the way. We’ll be joined by my good friend and colleague, Japanese photographer, Hirotaka Kasuga, guaranteeing us access to unique settings and cultural insights normally difficult for foreigners to experience. This tour is an opportunity to work alongside motivated peers and receive one-on-one instruction in the field. We will also have equipment to conduct regular photo reviews culled from each day’s images. To enhance the value of this experience I will only be accepting a small number of participants. If you’d like to be notified by email as soon as pricing and logistics become available, please contact me.

Shoppers Guide: Cameras

January 27, 2009

When shopping for a new camera you have a staggering away of choices. Here’s a short video with some general tips and advice when trying to decide among the latest and greatest. We’re not talking here about $8k pro models but if Aunt Millie is asking you about megapixels and the differences between a compact camera vs a DSLR, point her to this video and she’ll at least have the basics covered.

Chinese New Year

January 23, 2009

Monday, January 26 is the start of the Chinese New Year. If you’re in New York City, this day marks the beginning of a number of photo-worthy events. On the 26th you can observe the traditional firecracker ceremony at Chatham Square. Why firecrackers? According to tradition, they’re used to drive away evil spirits. Not a bad way to start the year, if you ask me. 

The main event, however, is the annual parade through Chinatown, which I included in the NYC travel guide (pages 52-53 if your own a copy). The parade takes place on Sunday, February 1. Below is a brief slideshow of images from last year’s events. If these look enticing, grab your camera, a warm coat and go make some photos next week!

Learn Lighting and More

January 23, 2009

If you’re ready to move beyond the pop-up flash on your camera, there’s no better place to spend your time than at  Strobist. Pro shooter David Hobby has provided incredibly useful and well-written information to get you up to speed on lighting like the pros. Oh, and a backlog of content going back three years, including field reports from his assignments. A great site to visit regularly.


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