Animalia. Funny things, those. All shapes and sizes. Covered in protective plating, some. Scales, shells, or film if undersea. Bare thin skin, if human. Many species come wrapped in some variation of fur or feathers. Some borrow, buy, or steal a covering - a sea snail in a conch shell and a supermodel wrapped in Dior apparently have the same desire to turn heads. Virtually every living thing covers up to protect against the forces of the universe that aims to wipe it out every second of every day.
UV, volcanoes, ice ages, plagues, sudden tectonic plate shifts, tsunamis, black holes, Lyme ticks, and fruitcake, it's a wonder we critters survive at all. And don't relax; here comes 2000-SG344.
But still, here we are, celebrating life - ladybugs, snow leopards, crocodiles, angel fish, geckos, corgis, and incorrigible Aunt Ursula, all resplendently adorned in a cacophony of crazy cover-ups.
So let's go COVER-UP hunting! Like Woodward and Bernstein, we'll root them out and expose them to the world!
Cover-ups are everywhere, and indeed, plants have them too. But adding flora to our fauna assignment just might be one straw too many for a two week exploration, so feel free to keep it simple. Or not.
You might want to focus on a single organism. Aphids, let's say. You'd want to grab your macro lens and a tripod, perhaps a small strobe or reflector to light the scene. Find a rosebush crawling with the little critters and get in close. Hey, they're not so scary after all. Amazing, actually. Beautiful, even. They're semi-translucent! Who knew?
Pets - you know we'll be seeing lots of those this assignment. But find a new and unusual point of view, one that you haven't photographed already. Make fur your subject - how can you showcase it? Need a soundtrack to work to? Ludwig Van has that covered for you - crank up Für Elise.
We have some bird shooters among us. How can you up your game? A longer lens? A blind? Tease a songbird into your hand? Or sneak up on a robin's nest with a cell phone camera?
We humans revel in cover-ups - hair on top if we're lucky, skin everywhere else, some scars to prove we've pushed a limit or two. We've earned every one of those wrinkles and splotches, as well as the ones that are still in the developer tray. Sometimes we slap some more cover-up on top of our natural covers, to cover the cover, and willingly pay top dollar for it. Sometimes it helps, sometimes not. Who's to say? The camera will if we won't.
You can't judge a book by its cover except when you can. Perhaps a cover-up reveals a truth rather than conceals it. Follow the clues, or symbols, or money, or thread until you find it.
Metaphorical cover-ups are fair game too. Who was that masked man? How many -gate prefixes has Watergate spawned? Who cares about Area 51? But what is Area 52 hiding? Who really killed JFK?
That's it - a simple assignment with a trillion rabbit holes. Cover cover-ups. Cover to cover.
COVER-UP will run for two weeks, from May 8 through May 21. Run for cover, then shoot it.
Splat. Red. Shattered. Slo-mo chaos.
The kids on the hot tar roof can scarcely contain themselves as they toss the watermelon over the edge. Eleven stories down a solemn wedding is taking place on the marble steps under the arch and this is the best idea ever to make mischief.
The melon gathers speed. It seems to fall forever, slowly turning like an oblong planet along its trajectory. It approaches the target - the sidewalk a few feet from the rapt guests.
Splat! Screaming! Heads jerking around! Chairs overturning! Ha ha! It worked!
Ah, to be an irresponsible kid again.*
It's an easy assumption that unexpected watermelon drops will garner a fair share of attention.
How about your photographs? Do they have the falling watermelon effect or do they just sit in the bin waiting for someone to come by, give them all a knuckle thump, and plop one at random in the shopping cart?
There's a word for the effect of gravitationally influenced watermelons: IMPACT. We want our photographs to splat in our viewers' eye and splash all over their pressed white shirts. We want our images to be remembered longer than a conversation; their stains should be permanent.
Several basic elements go into creating photographs with impact. We delve into one or another with every assignment. Creativity, story, technical expertise, and composition are four major limbs, with many more branches and twigs to climb once we start up the tree.
For this assignment, we're going right for the bullseye, the visual splat of an impactful photograph. Do what it takes to help your image find its voice, to make it sing, to splat in someone's eye. Your photograph might be profound, humorous, delicate, subtle, touching, difficult or easy on the eyes. An impactful photograph can wear many disguises but every one has soul if its teased out.
IMPACT will run for two weeks, from April 24 through May 7.
* This example was purely fictional. Really. Well, almost.
"Leap into the boundless and make it your home!" - Chuang-Tzu
The best things come in threes.
That sounds like a Klee Shay rule, but since rules are for authoritarian types like nuns and librarians, we'll call it a theme instead. Or a marketing ploy (like batteries sold in 3-packs when you need 2 or 4).
Or better, a plot device, adapted for our screen play. We'll call it Photograthree.
So is it true that the best things come in threes? Let's start a list...
Sure enough, the evidence points to a certain quality inherent in groups of three. Triangles are pretty tough to break, for example, as evidenced by Bucky's geodesic dome. The USA has three branches of government to keep it upright through good times and weird. Eve had three faces, which proves there's an exception to everything.
Two wrongs may make a right but two rights can't make a wrong. Nevertheless, three rights make a left. Go figure.
We can put the power of three to work in our photographs in a variety of ways, for example number of subjects, shapes or elements, colors, entendres, or even framing (e.g. a triptych).
We may pick three primary colors to work together; they can be any three colors. Primary doesn't necessarily mean RGB or RBY. Pick your own.
Select three shapes - a circle, triangle, and a square. How do they relate to each other when pushed around a blank canvas?
Two girls and a guy. Or vice versa. Two girls and a motorcyle. Two kids and a dog. A dog, a chicken, and a mad farmer. A cat, a Freudian psychiatrist, and Kevin Bacon. Bacon, bacon, and more bacon. This isn't rocket science, unless you're trying to get the third stage to separate at just the right moment.
Three levels of meaning, or a triple-entendre joke might take a little more thought and planning to get into visual form, but the payoff could be the most fun you'll have all week. It may echo. More than once.
Break a photo up into three pieces, then put them back together in a different way. Do a triple exposure, or blend three exposures to extend dynamic range. Composite three images into one.
If you're still skeptical about the power of three, consider this. The exposure triangle has three legs - aperture, shutter speed, and ISO sensitivity. Focusing has three modes - single, continuous, and manual. Metering can measure from full frame, center weight, or spot. If there is a "most important" number in photography, three has a strong claim to the title.
That's for starters. Put your three-sided pyramid hats on and come up with some triple-scoop photos. You're on third, it's the bottom of the ninth with two outs, the pitcher throws in the zone and the batter swings. It's your move.
TRIPLE THREAT will run for two weeks, from April 10 through April 23. I know, three weeks would make more sense, which is why we'll stick with two.
Extra credit: If you'd like to see a first-class street legend put the theme of threes to the test in his own work, here's a terrific YouTube viddy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RhViR3Iu2QE
Penk. Penk. Penk. The hollow metallic twang of aluminum bat to baseball. Every year, in the schoolyard out back, spring is announced by penk... penk... penk.
To my ear, aluminum sticks are soulless dead things, utilitarian, one step removed from metal fenceposts. Kids out there playing in the makeshift diamond have no idea how awful they are.
Until they hear the real thing.
Pock. Pock. Pock.
The solid rebound of a wooden bat - now there's a fine sound, ash on leather, percussive poetry, American swing, the harbinger of spring training.
Spring training. After the winter we've endured, we're ready to shake off the malaise and put our backs into some good workout basics - push-ups, squats, sprints, planks, up-and-downs, fielding drills, healthy nutrition, and the like.
Photographically speaking, of course.
Some of us still have the blahs. Maybe we've barely logged a shutter release since Thanksgiving. Remember all those aperture numbers and why they run in reverse? How your flash works? How to freeze a fastball? Not to mention the difficulty of coming up with a new idea or two.
Spring training can solve all that.
Practice workouts may start like this: equipment and sensor cleaning, battery replacement, lens alignment, aperture and shutter speed drills, focusing methods, composition and balance, psychology and attitude adjustments - even before we release a shutter. Just getting our equipment in hand and spread across a table can get us re-engaged.
When it comes time to click the shutter, spring training rescues us there too, one exercise at a time. Our brains gets rewired a little bit each time our bodies and spirits repeat a skill, until they no longer need prompting. Before we know it, we're out there shooting again for the sheer joy of it.
Spring training is the season to practice with no pressure; to strengthen the things that work, and experiment with the things that resist.
So for the next two weeks, we'll build our own spring training programs. What do you need most? Exercise that muscle repeatedly. Create your own exercises, do them daily, and keep the photos you come home with. Compare what you shoot in week two with the first ones in week one. Keep your workouts simple; the basics will never fail. Vary your workout between different topics, but do only one at a time. Pay attention, take notes, embrace the freedom to fail. Photography is not a contest in spite of the host of voices that try to convince you otherwise.
If you do the work, spring training will eliminate the penk from your life and replace it with pock. Just say no to penk. Just pock it. Smile when you hear it.
As you post your work, tell us what you're working on, how you are training yourself, and what muscles hurt the most. Someone else may pick up your thread and put it to work themselves. Spring training is contagious like that.
SPRING TRAINING will run two weeks, from March 27 through April 9. Happy pocking!
Have you ever used the video features of your camera? Not many of us still photographers do, even though we may make smartphone movies all the time. Why? Processing. Our little phones do all the heavy lifting for us.
Fortunately, that’s not the point of this assignment, which is motion. We don’t need to shoot video to display motion. Yes, we could punch the shutter release button 30 times per second ourselves, but we’d end up with a ton of still photographs along with carpal tunnel and painful blisters. That’s all video is - a huge stack of single frames displayed sequentially to trick us into seeing motion. But we can create "motion pictures" in many other ways, and sometimes even more creatively. Let’s explore some for this assignment.
By the way, if you want to shoot video for this assignment, by all means do so.
Suggesting motion with a single still photograph is easy; we do it all the time. Nearly all photographs include some kind of motion, sometimes obvious, other times subtle. Simply adjusting shutter speed is the simplest method of controlling the result. A fast shutter speed can trap a bird in flight or a baseball cracking off a bat. A slower speed might blur the background of a passing bicyclist as we pan to match his movement. An ultra-slow shutter with an ND filter can transform splashy waves into misty and mysterious zen calm. Camera and lens controls offer opportunity for more motion experiments than we’ve thought up yet.
Motion is relative. A speeding bullet and the passage of a shadow outside are on opposite ends of our normal motion spectrum. Both can be captured by our cameras with a little technical know-how and an application of patience. Adding a flash expands time; timelapse compresses it. Secrets of motion are revealed in each case.
Nothing we see through a viewfinder is really still. Matter is a 99.9999%* empty stage for atomic particlewaves to weave and bob their hypnotic quantum dance for our eyes. Light traveling at 186k mps bounces off surfaces and crashes into literally everything as it illuminates an apple, Fido, and that ridiculous lawyer billboard in the background. Is there any such thing as still photography?
Motion can be introspective, reflecting the photographer’s inner state. An agitated spirit will produce a different vision than one in a contemplative state. A photograph might “move” me, lifting me out of myself into another’s skin. One photograph may attract one person and repel another. Our inner sea may reflect our environment, as if walking with a happy crowd of people on a city street; or it may be out of sync, riding in the back of a temperature controlled limo listening to classical music as a riot wreaks havoc outside. And vice versa.
Motion might be abstracted - the tilt of a font, a bold color, a delicate gesture. A knowing wink may signal movement toward a shared secret, a glare may telegraph hostile intent. A line or a shape might trigger a memory way way back before we knew its name.
The most demanding and rewarding motion picture might employ e-motion. The etymology of emotion is from the Latin e- +movere = to move. If you wanna feel this assignment, you gotta move.
I have a notion that we live in an ocean of motion. Don't need no potion for devotion to motion.
We’ll shoot MOTION PICTURES for the next two weeks, from March 13 through March 26. You can wear a black beret and use a director’s chair if it makes you feel better. And as director, you get to interpret your motion picture any way you want.
*Approximately 0.0000000000000000000042 percent of the universe is matter, which means approximately 99.9999999999999999999952 percent of the universe is EMPTY space.