An Outlet for Creativity

I am pleased to be one of the featured artists in the latest issue of Literary Orphans, an online literary publication. As a photographer, I am always looking for outlets for my work. As an independent photographer who does not make a living as a photographer, that is not an easy thing to accomplish.

Literary Orphans is a fresh approach to provide an outlet for writers and photographers. By the magic of the Internet, the online zine aggregates and publishes work by artists who want to be seen and read. I wish them the best.

Pen F – Sweet for the Street

A few months ago I bought a used Lumix GF1 body for $125. The camera was introduced by Panasonic almost eight years ago. It’s a twelve megapixel Micro Four Thirds design that still has some great attributes for the street. I bought it to determine whether or not I want to commit to Micro Four Thirds for street photography since there are many features of the camera designs that make them well suited for that purpose. Along with the camera body, I bought an M. Zuiko 25mm f1.8 prime lens that I reasoned could be used with another Micro Four Thirds camera if I decided to go in that direction.

A couple of months passed and I enjoyed using the GF1 on the street. The size is perfect and I don’t experience neck pain any more from carrying the huge DSLR. The design of the camera makes it easy to change the shooting parameters that I use all of the time: aperture, ISO, exposure compensation, and focus point, to name a few. Among the shortcomings is that the twelve megapixels doesn’t support the crops that I like to use to make fine adjustments to composition. My opinion is that if, for example, I need to straighten an image to get a dominant line perpendicular or horizontal, I will also need a few extra pixels so that I have something left over after the crop to remove the white wedges at all of the corners after rotating the image.

Along came the twenty megapixel Olympus Pen F. It is slightly larger than my GF1, but a huge improvement in shutter response and ISO performance. I won’t go into a full review of the camera here since many others have done a very good job of that. I want to specifically talk about my impressions of the camera as a street photography tool after using it for the first time.

My first impression came as I took it out of the box.  It is a beautifully crafted camera. I purchased the silver and black version rather than the all black because I thought the silver gave it more of a retro appearance. It is comfortable in my hands and the buttons and knobs have a solid feel.

Olympus Pen F Micro Four Thirds Camera

Before my first shoot, I sat down with the Pen F Instruction Manual and my new camera to set all of my street defaults. Since I like to have a lot of control, I turn off the auto ISO, setting my default to ISO 1600. I stick with the default matrix metering (Digital ESP Metering) and use continuous autofocus (C-AF). I set the aperture wide open for aperture priority shooting. The file format is set for RAW RGB.

On the street the camera powers up quickly, ready for shooting. The touch screen makes it very easy to select the focus point. On the GF1 and my DSLR, it was necessary to use the arrow buttons to move the focus point. Now all I need to do is touch the screen where I want to place the focus point. I use this feature instead of letting the camera select the focus point automatically because I don’t want to trust the camera to always do it correctly. An optional feature is to not only place the focus point, but also to focus and shoot without touching the shutter release button. The Pen F allows adjustment of the size of the focus point, which is handy for more dynamic situations where your aim may not be precise and need a larger target.

Shooting is fast: the shutter response is very good and the sequential shot rate is up to 20 fps using the electronic shutter and 10 fps using the mechanical shutter. I found the electronic shutter difficult to use because there is no feedback. When you press the shutter release the camera rips off images at a mind-numbing speed, but you get no idea how many images you are shooting. The real advantage of the electronic shutter is that it is perfectly silent. Most of the time, however, I prefer the mechanical shutter because I can hear the clicks. The mechanical shutter response is also very good so that you can rip images at a high rate using successive shutter presses.

One last feature of the Pen F that I like a lot is the creative dial on the front of the camera body. There are five settings: MONO (Monochrome Profile Control), COLOR (Color Profile Control), camera default, ART (Art Filter), and CRT (Color Creator). The only one that I want to mention is some detail is MONO since my finished work is normally black and white. There are three monochrome profiles to choose, each with grain and color filter options. My favorite is the Monochrome 2 profile that simulates Kodak Tri-X film.

The camera automatically shoots RAW+JPEG when the creative dial is used so that you get both the color image and the processed JPEG. The JPEG results are quite good and the only reason that I would do my own processing might be to achieve a stylistic appearance. I really can’t think of a good example except that I like to have the RAW file in case I don’t like the camera processing.

After the first shoot with the Pen F, I am delighted with the camera and can’t wait to take it on another trip to the street.

It’s Time to Compete

I have entered my first photography competition to try to get more visibility for my work. This is the first time that I have ventured away from the Internet where I have this blog site, Facebook, Adobe Behance, and Flickr pages. I have worked hard on my Internet presence, but the Internet is not a place where a photographer can get honest feedback. That hasn’t been a deterrent or demotivation because I enjoy what I’m doing. Self-assessment over the past several months has provided some growth for me, but now it’s time to get the critical review of experts assessing my work.

I joined the Professional Photographer’s Association of Massachusetts since the organization seems to align well with my goals. Membership opens the possibility of competing with professionals and, importantly, being judged by a panel of professionals who are certified as judges. I’m hoping to get to know some of the members as well, although many are studio photographers who are building a business on photography. My studio is the street and some people don’t even want me to take their picture. That’s not a good business model.

That sounds like a chasm, but I think we also have a lot in common as photographers. Many of the same composition and technical skills are required in the studio of the street. One of the differences is that I can’t control the elements of lighting, the dress and expressions of the people in my images, or the background as a studio photographer can. I still need to know how to use those elements to my advantage to capture images that have impact. I probably delete more images than they do because of those uncontrollable elements.

Soon after joining, I began to study the rules for the 2017 PPAM Photographic Image Competition. Images could be submitted either as prints or digital files. I chose digital because I didn’t have enough time to deal with print quality issues. Most of my images are black and white and I was still in the process of evaluating commercially available black and white printing. There were several competition categories to enter and I chose “Illustrative”, a broad classification where street photos would be appropriate, and “Album”, a category where I thought that I could present a series of images to tell a story.

This was all foreign territory and there was unfamiliar terminology that I needed to understand so that I would be compliant with the rules. I reached out to one of the competition co-chairs with some questions and she referred me to Nancy Green who responded to me directly with an email. Nancy is an accomplished professional who is also an international judge. As my mentor for the competition, she reviewed my work and clarified some of the rules. Her critique helped me to improve the composition of the images that I planned to submit. I made slight adjustments that helped to eliminate distractions and focus on the message being conveyed by each image. These are things that I can apply more broadly to many other images. They are important enough that they could be the subject of another post in the future.

I would have missed the “Presentation” element of the images entirely without her help. The Presentation is a digital matte board designed by the photographer to complement the image. Nancy provided a link to her video on the creation of presentation for an image. I designed a simple off-white matte with a faux bevel on the inside using her technique. My work is black and white and I wanted something very simple that complimented the images rather than distracted from them.

Creating an album was more than I could manage and I decided not to enter that category. There were format requirements and there was creative work that I did not anticipate. In the future, one of my street projects may be suitable as an album, but it will require planning in advance of the shooting and shooting an appropriate series of images. I have at least three series that I’ve done, but none have enough of the correct kind of images to adequately tell a story as an album.

My first impressions of the PPAM are very good. My experiences with Nancy Green were great and I’m impressed by the PPAM culture of sharing and helping. I hope that I have something to give in return. I submitted six black and white street images into the Illustrative category and will now wait for the results. My expectations for an award are not high because of the level of competition. My expectations for critical review are high and I expect to learn things that will improve my images for the next round. In the meantime, see you on the street.

Using Creative Commons

When I began to post my photographic images on the Internet, I researched copyrights and found that it was easy to apply an unregistered copyright to an image. All you need to do is use the copyright symbol followed by the year of origin and your name. At the time, ownership of the images and the right to control their use were my concerns. I thought that copyright was the only alternative.

There are two practical problems with using copyrights. First, enforcing a copyright relies on the integrity of the entity that wants to use the image. Placing an image on the Internet and making it available to search engines makes it available to the world seems to invite an infringement. In that scenario, if someone misuses an image, how in the world will I necessarily discover the infringement of the copyright? Second, my interpretation of information on the U.S. Copyright Office web site is that an unregistered copyright may not provide the desired level of protection, including recovery of damages.

The alternative that I use is Creative Commons. The protection of my work still relies on the integrity of the entity seeking to use it, but it makes compliance much easier. I give up my “right” to compensation, but retain the right to be recognized as the creator. The entity that desires to use my work needs only to attribute the work to me and conform to other terms and conditions of the specific Creative Commons license. I am more likely to have my work used under these conditions and all I really desire is recognition. The other terms and conditions that can be specified under Creative Commons control further distribution and adaptation by the licensee.

Recently I discovered a peril of Creative Commons. I received a message on Flickr from the Corporate Accountability Lab asking for confirmation of the Creative Commons licensing terms and conditions for a specific image that belongs to me. The image was taken at the Occupy Inauguration Boston protests on 20 February 2017, conducted on the Boston Common. In this day of sometimes unfathomable sensitivities, it is easy to attribute a motive to me for posting them. The Web site stated, “As a non-profit organization we rely upon the generosity of our donors, both our fiscal donors and our creative donors.”

I am flattered that they like my image, but was not so happy that I was identified as a donor to the organization. As a street photographer, I capture events as they happen and my opinion doesn’t count. My opinion is not the point: the point is the image itself. They are free to use my image, but I objected to the implication that I support their mission. They were responsive to my concern and updated the wording.

In spite of this annoyance, I will continue to use Creative Commons licensing. It gives me the best chance of getting what I desire most with my images: recognition. My images give me a lot of satisfaction for their own sake, but I like to think that if someone else likes them well enough to reuse them, the work gets attributed to me.