Sunday, February 20, 2011

Chasing the Dragon

Chasing the Dragon

I've been falling apart all week: doom cold, threw a filling and had a piece of tooth fall out, and then the humidifier in my apnea machine broke and I sneezed so much on Friday my ribs were sore today.

Naturally, the only cure was to go talk a walk in the rain and shoot some pictures.

The big event today was the Chinese New Year Parade -- weirdly, it was about two weeks after the actual New Year (though I approve of Mardi Gras-like multi-week holidays as a matter of general principle). I got a little carried away shooting some of the Market Street locals out with their umbrellas, so I showed up with about fifteen minutes before the parade started.

Brad over at Citysnaps had some good advice -- the best shots were probably with the 'prep' phase of the parade, where everyone was getting assembled and had their guard down. Not only are people in a different frame of mind when they're marching, unless you've got the equivalent of a press pass, you can expect to have intermittent access to the actual parade as it rolls by (the cops rousted us from a median on Market Street, since naturally we couldn't be trusted to stand on a patch of sidewalk without a guard).

I got a decent, though not great spot on Geary near the connection with Market, and was shooting people as they walked by. IMHO, pretty boring photos -- largely documentary stuff, made a little more challenging by the colors of the parade getting a little sapped by being in the rainy twilight hour.

I decided to do something a little different with this shot, and tried to pan with the motion of the dragon as the kids ran past me. Fair warning: I kind of suck at panning. But to the extent it works, its because of the jagged line of that dragon and because I was following the lead girl and trying to get her sharp. As a bonus, it actually had a little more magic in B&W, which was surprising to me, since I was all set to go color for with all the reds and yellows in the parade. (You can see a color version here for comparison).

One that note, bed time -- hopefully some of you were out there shooting the hell out of that parade.

Thursday, February 17, 2011



Shot this walking through the Mission on Tuesday on my way to Taqueria Cancun (love their super quesadillas!). The sort of chaos and general disarray of this scene appeals to me, though I think the lack of contrast is going to nag at me for a while.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011



I haven't had a lot of chance to work on photos -- busy with work, Valentine's Day, and then a monster head cold that's lasted the better part of a week. I had the day off today, so I decided to wander around SF a bit. Got a few hours in before I felt zonked again, but I shot this on market. Like "Picnic on Union Square", I think this one is driven by a kind of triangular composition of the people that appeals to me.

Friday, February 11, 2011



Snapped this near the French Market in New Orleans. Lots of panhandlers in New Orleans, most of them with some sort of schtick -- didn't get to hear this guy's pitch, but the looks of the people he's hitting up say it all.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Material Girl

Material Girl

For the time I was on Market on Saturday, it was hard, blasting light everywhere. The smarter thing to do is to probably walk away from light like this, but I'm persnickety and kept trying anyway. Eventually got this little moment, which I liked since the bricks were kicking up enough light to act as a bit of a reflector for fill.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Picnic on Union Square

Picnic on Union Square

I went up to the city on Saturday for some photos, and wasn't super happy with the results. For most of the day, it felt like I was fighting the light (hot and hard). Got a few shots of a pro-Egypt protest by Civic Center, then came back to Union Square.

The second time I saw the Henri Cartier-Bresson exhibition at SF Moma, I noted one really important fact: Here was a man who really, really, really loved to photograph picnics. So, picnics were weirdly in the back of my head all day, and I actually came upon some people having lunch at the corner of Union Square. Very happy with the composition, though I don't so much like the default presentation on Flickr (the image works best viewed larger).

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Top 12, 2010

In an earlier post, I mentioned that I was going to go through my photos and produce a 'best of' set of about ten of my favorites. It took a little longer than I thought (perhaps because I uploaded 2,500 photos in 2011?), but it was a useful exercise for me.

Here's a little blurb I wrote by way of introduction on our photography@ list at work:


"Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst."
                                             – Henri Cartier-Bresson

I'm no HCB; I felt like my first 100,000 photos were my worst, but I can happily say that as I come up on my third anniversary of owning an SLR, I feel more things clicking.

I also have a clearer idea what I'm trying to do.

I believe that there is a universe of moments all around us. Some of these moments almost anybody can see, and they cluster in a great big majestic swath of time -- stuff like a sunset over Market Street; a steady juxtaposition of old and new; or the architecture of modernism triumphant. These can be great and awesome, but I find that these vistas are less of interest to me than an entirely different class of moment.

I believe that as we drift (some, perhaps, are dragged -- others, pushed?) through life, we are surrounded by little slivers of beauty which persist only for a moment. Blink once, and they're gone. Don't even blink, and you might actually see one.

The most miraculous thing about a camera is that it opens you up to this world of minute moments -- both in its capacity to capture such instants, and because it necessitates teaching yourself a way of seeing which is outside of your day to day experience. These moments have always been there, but it took a camera to let us see them for what they really are. The camera can allow us to capture a scene that some artist should paint, but never would without a camera to see it.

I don't always (or even generally) capture these moments, but I find that when I do, I feel like that I have discovered something. Sometimes I have to chip away a bit (maybe with the crop tool), or remove the extraneous (color), but there is the impression that what is there was somehow waiting to be found.

And that's the type of photo I like best.


Without further ado, here's my top 12 for the year:

And, to see where I was coming from, here was my top 100:


Many of the photos from this blog were in the top 100, but a number of shots crept in that weren't normally posted here just because I tend to emphasize street photography (which is my favorite) and portraits (my second favorite type of photography) on the blog.


I could write a lot about these photos, but I think it's better now to just thank everyone who helped -- all my long suffering friends [and their pets] who for the last few years have let me photograph them over and over (some of whom now pause like a hunted animal at the click of the shutter), and also all the photographers on the internet who are inspiration to anyone doing my type of photography. The Bay Area is lousy with great photographers, and it's a pleasure to see a steady stream of amazing shots from my home.

And of course, my girlfriend deserves the most praise of all -- for inspiring (and putting up with) me. During the time we've been together, I've brought a tripod on our first fancy date, rushed to the edge of the water near her family's vacation home to photograph an alligator, snuck away at night to photograph downtown Las Vegas, and even fired away in the French Laundry when they bought out the foie gras.

She took it all in stride -- thanks B. :)


The remaining question after conducting an exercise like this is 'What next?'.

At the beginning of last year, I made a few goals:

  • Take more street photographs (and get better at them)
  • Do a few projects
  • Make a place to highlight my favorite photos away from the flotsam and jetsam of Flickr

The good news is, I think I've done all these things, even the part about getting better. Looking back over just a year, I think I can see a definite improvement -- if nothing else, getting a lot better with using my primes with a wider perspective (28mm, 35mm), and stepping away from longer lenses with which I was producing consistent if not eye-opening shots.

I'm not sure where I should go next. I'm pretty happy with my weekend trips up to San Francisco to shoot on the streets, along with hitting the right sort of events (I think of them as the ones 'with character') at key times and dates. "Walking the beat" with my camera on the weekend has slowly begun to give me a set of street photos I really like -- maybe the next step is collecting some of those in a book or a showing somewhere?