Thursday, September 12, 2013


Decades ago I used to travel with a camera bag filled with Nikon bodies, lens, filters and all sorts of film. My equipment was never out of reach no matter where we went or how cumbersome or intrusive my photography habit was. I was consumed and still believe that the best way to learn about photography was to shoot as much as you could. In the world of film there was a lot more to be learned and manipulated in the taking of a picture. Now in order to have your photography stand out the creativity is more focused on the after process, the manipulation of the photograph. I was never an Ansel Adams and I never progressed beyond the 35mm stage but I still appreciated my f-stops and shutter speeds. As film did its slow fade into non-existence I packed my Nikons in an old leather suitcase and relegated them to the back of my closet. Sentimentality has kept them around, carting them from one successive new home's back closet to another. After a considerable hiatus from shooting and a huge disdain for the digital world I finally had to succumb and bought a point-and-shoot so I could supplement my new found joy: blogging, with imagery to support my words. I thought I was doing pretty good until I started seeing the clarity and definition my daughter was getting with her iPhone snaps as opposed to the soft and grainy images I was turning out with my more cumbersome equipment. The added benefit of having the iPhone not only take pictures but holy cow you could also talk on the damn thing made me recently relinquish my little point-and-shoot and my flip-top phone for an iPhone. I did this just in time for our trip to Italy and much to the chagrin of my family I'm now as obsessive about shooting anything and everything, with my iPhone.
During the trip I progressed to the point where I learned how to embarrass both Rick and Emmy with my constant shutterbug antics. I've made them force smiles when smiling wasn't what they had in mind. I've caught them at embarrassing moments where they've told me that they'd kill me if I let anyone see that picture. I've forced them to wait before they sated their palettes so I could take a picture of their entrée in its pristine untouched photo perfect state.
I've heard more sighs of frustration like the slow squeaky seep of air from a deflating balloon caused by my request for just one more picture. "If you could move just a little to the left, now turn your head slightly away from the camera and if you could maybe take about two steps back, or..." In those moments you can see the daggers in their eyes if you look close enough.
More to my families liking is when they just turn me lose telling me to go into town by myself and stay as long as I like shooting whatever catches my eye. Secretly, it's when I have more fun anyway without having to worry about anyone's complaining about how much time I'm taking going to a particular vantage point for the right shot I know I want to take.
I'm still dealing with the mechanics of my iPhone. I frequently pick up the iPhone to take a picture with the phone facing in the wrong direction. I've, in a rush of excitement, turned the video camera on when I thought I was taking a still, and I can't master the aspect of selfies. There's something about holding it at the right angle so my nose doesn't look like it belongs to Jimmy Durante and my eyes have dwindled to the size of tiny black peas. I've never been a big talker so my iPhone does most of its work as a camera rather than a phone or any other kind of communication devise. For those reasons I've yet to invest in any apps and I'm constantly amazed as I glance over the shoulders of fellow subway commuters to see them wasting their time on video games and solitaire. I really don't get it.
I know photography has changed dramatically since the not too distant days of film. Everyone now fancies himself or herself a photographer and with these new cameras where so much is automatic it's a lot easier for someone with an eye to hang out that shingle of "photographer". What is distinguishing me from my daughter right now is she has been working with what happens after you snap the picture. Her work with photos in post-production sets her work apart from mine in ways I don't know I'll ever be able to master.
So for right now what I'm working on is how to use the iPhone for night photography. I'm such a neophyte I can't offer a lot of advice but I am coming up with some insights. I'm not comfortable with the flash on the iPhone. It never ceases to astound me at how many flashbulbs are going off at a nighttime stadium event. What the heck do people think they are going to be able to illuminate with that tiny flash. God can light up the sky with a flash of lightening but no little iPhone is going to light up the Meadowlands. Turn the flash off.
That said you aren't going to be able to clearly light up an entire table full of guests at an outdoor dinner without the aid of a lot of artificial light.
You need to choose smaller vignettes or individuals who happen to have a pool of light by them.
Look for low contrast. If you have a strong light source like you'll find in Times Square you can't get both the unlit crowds and the lights in the same picture. You need to find a place where everything has relatively similar light level.
Streetlights and spotlights can provide a dramatic look. I tend to try and off-balance the images and the source of the light rather than going straight on and symmetrical. There's a dynamic and power to the composition and a mystery to what you can't see.
From the perspective of looking from the outside in you can indicate night but focus on the interior scene. This is something that doesn't happen during the day. The warmth of artificial night light doesn't have to compete with sunlight and without using a flash you don't destroy the moment or have your subjects raise their hands in protest. Does that sound a little peeping Tomish?
With real outside dining you need a tremendous amount of assistance of electrified light and then you have to fight not letting the light overpower the scene.
Of course, with all of this it doesn't hurt to have such beautiful subjects both human
and inanimate to work with. Suggestions here are greatly appreciated.

This is totally crazy but I entered Jauntaroo's travel writer contest. Apparently, if you can get people to like you, you can increase your chances for being selected. Here's the link. Give me a shot. Thanks

The Lights of the World Trade
Steven Rappos, Photographer
Taken with his iPhone

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