Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Book

A screenshot of a proposed page. 

In October of 2011 I was contacted by my old Social Studies teacher to help him compile an anthology of work to send off to Joseph Boyden in response to a project he did that related to his book, Three Day Road. I was too busy to give it serious thought while I was at university, but with the summer well underway, I knew it was time to put the hammer down.

Like most people, I had little prior experience when it came to compiling an anthology. Not only that, I would have to learn about layouts, fonts, publishing, and the nitty gritty parts of the printing process in a very short period of time. I guess I’m not just a generalist in the photo area.

When I was given this task, Adobe had not announced Lightroom 4 yet, so I had no idea that a Book Module would be included. I thought that I would have to learn InDesign in a few weeks and do it that way. Thankfully, I could use Lightroom now and learn InDesign later. It would be a mostly photo-based coffee table book format anyway, which worked well within the software’s limitations. It is very difficult to do even the simplest things, as you sometimes need to work around the tools rather than with the tools. It is the price for initial simplicity. Locking users into pre-made templates can be a pain as well. 

Of course, the project is still in progress, so I can’t say too much about it. It’s been keeping me busy for a few weeks now, and especially over the past week. Like many of the projects that originate from that particular teacher, it is occasionally frustrating and always time consuming. However, I think I will learn a lot from this experience. If it’s good enough to put an ISBN number on it, it would be an interesting addition to my resume.
Rest assured, there will be another post about it when I’m done.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The LAMY Logo


(Before you freak out that this isn't a photo-related post, there's a set up shot at the bottom for gearheads. I haven't forgotten about you.)

I am a bit of a pen geek. I am by no means a collector, and I don’t have the money to spend on the serious pens (i.e., anything over $30). I am a big fan of high value products, though, and LAMY is known for some very good, reasonably inexpensive writing utensils. The Safari line of pens (including the Vista and the AL-Star) is what they’re best known for, of course. My blue plastic Safari fountain pen has gotten me through an entire year of university rather splendidly, but that is a review for another day. Instead, I’d like to focus on the LAMY Logo ballpoint pen, in particular the stainless steel version. This example was a gift from Japan, and long story short, I’m quite pleased with it.

Each Lamy product is known for its workmanship, and this one is no exception. Though it is far more expensive than most student pens (at $12-$16) it is something that you will keep for a lifetime, and will bring you joy each time you use it for the price of a few coffees. The clip is not a cheap plastic bit to be snapped off at a moment’s notice, but rather a spring-loaded affair that really demonstrates the attention to detail during the design process. When the button is pressed, the click is audible, and the spring inside feels substantial. It inspires a lot of confidence. That being said, if you are a compulsive pen-clicker, those beside you will quickly tire of the sound. I suppose it is like the shutter sound of a Nikon camera — satisfying, but rather noticeable.

The attention to detail carries into the assembly. Sometimes, when spring-loaded pens are disassembled, the miniscule spring inside explodes out of the pen with such force that it is carried across the room. If this happens in a crowded lecture hall, it might never be found again, rendering the pen useless. This cannot happen with the Lamy Logo. The spring is permanently installed inside the tip of the pen, and cannot be easily removed. The pen cleanly separates into three distinct pieces, no more, no less.

The black Lamy M16 cartridge inside is smooth, but not quite as smooth as my usual ballpoint pen, the disposable Staedtler Ball 432 in blue. It is the most satisfying ballpoint pen I’ve ever used, for the exorbitant price of $0.50. Light, extremely comfortable, and smooth as can be (I have a fondness for triangularly-shaped pen barrels). The Staedtler is the second-most effortless writing tool I’ve ever used, apart from the Safari on good paper. I’m sure the gold-nibbed fountain pens would be a revelation, but alas, that level of writing satisfaction will only be experienced by me after a comfortable accumulation of wealth.

So why would I bother with a ballpoint if I enjoy fountain pens so much? I reach for it when the paper I use does not lend itself to fountain pen ink. Copy paper and the lined paper inside UVic exam booklets come to mind. I don’t exert much pressure when I write, so that could be the reason for my preference. Still, the Logo seems to me like the sort of pen that could be handed to clients to sign contracts. It is the ideal pen to accompany a suit. The silver finish is fit for any occasion and sure beats a hotel pen or some other disposable. The slim barrel doesn’t take up much room. It isn’t flashy, but it’s impressive and it makes a statement. Maybe I’ll use it as a tie clip and see if anyone notices...

Setup for LAMY Logo

Click the photo for the setup info.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Caturday (V)

Caturday (V) by hwongphoto
Caturday (V), a photo by hwongphoto on Flickr.

Sadly, this may be my past Caturday post for a while until I find more cats.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

What's Your Thing?

Dr. Richard Hebda

An old YTV commercial that I saw in the '90's (and still see today) asks, "What's Your Thing"? For some of those kids, it was bugs or magic. For Dr. Richard Hebda, it's ancient environments and plants. A few minutes with the man is all that's needed to figure out that he's really enthusiastic about what he does. A job as a curator suits him. Peat deposits are his thing, pictures are mine.

When I'm not taking making pictures of cats, I'm a shooter and occasional writer for my university's paper, The Martlet. On that Thursday morning, I was both. I put on a brave face before walking into the fossil collection, but I had just woken up an hour before and had to call a taxi to get there on time. I brought all the gear I needed, but overloaded myself. I forgot my written interview questions at home. The shot I thought would be the cover (and formatted as the cover) didn't end up being used. Such is the life of a photojournalist. It makes your deodorant work overtime, but it's worth it. Usually I hate flying by the seat of my pants, but when I have a camera with me, suddenly it seems OK.

The story is about the new Dinosaur exhibition that's happening at the Royal BC Museum, one that's sure to draw a crowd. It's a show from the American Museum of Natural History that uses new tools to look at old bones. University students and preschoolers should take note. The older students will appreciate the biomechanics, the younger students will like the huge skeletons they've got. I'm going to the press preview of the exhibit tomorrow, and I can't wait. A dinosaur skeleton hasn't been in the RBCM for a few years now, and it'll be interesting to see what's different between Dragon Bones and this exhibit. That was one of the questions I asked him...

That reminds me - I ended up remembering the questions I wrote down, but he went well beyond them, which made him the perfect interview subject. Nothing's worse than asking questions and getting terse yes/no replies. I guess I treat interviews like I treat PJ work. It gets better when it doesn't go according to plan.

Read the original article here:

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Caturday (IV)

Caturday (IV) by hwongphoto
Caturday (IV), a photo by hwongphoto on Flickr.

I can't believe I forgot last week. Well, I remembered on Tuesday, but CaTuesday really doesn't sound as good.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Ethics of Street Photography

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been struggling with the idea of shooting on the street from an ethical standpoint. Let me backtrack. A few weeks ago, I watched a video on Kelby Training called “A Day with Jay Maisel”, where the master color photographer took Scott around New York on a photo walk, dispensing tips and life advice that could only come from years of field and life experience. Jay has built much of his career shooting on the street, and by that I mean candid photographs of strangers in public places. He has a way with people, and it is obvious that he is curious and genuinely interested in the people around him. His style is not too invasive (in comparison with some very aggressive shooters), and he often asks for permission before shooting, even though his gruff exterior and New York roots would suggest that he do otherwise. Sometimes this could be as much as a friendly wave or nod. Other times it is a real conversation.


I decided to “walk like Jay” and carry a single camera with a telephoto lens to a tourist haunt in my home town for an hour or two of people watching. I encountered no resistance, and ended up with a few decent pictures. I noticed quite a few were of young people, either enjoying themselves or deep in thought. There were a few shots of old people as well, relaxing with a bag of Cheezies. Over the years, I’ve become reasonably talented at going unnoticed with a camera, even a large one with a motor drive and a long lens. However, as I picked and flagged inside Lightroom, I started to have doubts about what I did.

There is no denying that being a photographer involves an invasion of space, an intrusion into the life of someone else. It is sort of like observing absolute zero in that the mere act of observation changes the situation enough to render it different than it would have been had the observer not been there. When the subject does not have a reasonable expectation to be photographed, it matters even more. No celebrity expects privacy at a red carpet event where they are meant to be paraded to the adoring masses. However, a street photographer is often invisible, and the reasonable expectation of privacy that you expect in public (yes, even in the era of social media) is being violated in the name of artistic expression.


Of all street photographs, it is those of children that inspire the most emotionally-charged debates around privacy. In fact, a photo of a child that I took stoked my discomfort and inspired this post. “Peeping Toms” and pedophiles are loathed for good reasons, and while a parent might not jump to conclusions so quickly, my presence (if noticed) would certainly arouse suspicion. It is unfortunate as children often make the most interesting subjects. They are not tempered by social conventions and their actions and expressions are genuine in every way, making them ideal subjects. They are also vulnerable, and the horror stories of exploited children and perverted adults are not easily forgotten in this day and age. Many of us have been trained to be distrustful of others, and to assume that they have ulterior motives as a means of protection. I know I have.


I understand how unsettling it can be when someone like me, a private citizen, finds a picture of myself online shot by a stranger. Imagine seeing a photo of your child online while she was at play. Some parents would be interested or amused. Many others, in this paranoid child-proof world, would be upset. Some years ago, I was asked by a woman if I would pose for her after playing a concert. The adults responsible for me at the time found it creepy, as did I. I immediately thought that she had an ulterior motive of some kind. The mere thought that a potential subject might think that I meant harm as a photographer is extremely frightening to me.

One thing I have not addressed is consent. If I asked the parent of child I thought was visually arresting if I had their permission to document her and post the results for the world to see, I would have no qualms doing so. If it was good, I’d hype it and post a link as soon as possible. However, this is often not possible, as awareness can alter a scene irreversibly. In addition, I find myself uncomfortable and unable to approach those I do not know. It simply is not in my nature to do so. Whatever my private discomforts are about taking a stranger’s photo, it would beat the public embarrassment of potentially being thought of as a creep. The lady at the concert asked for permission, didn’t get it, and will be forever remembered by me as kind of creepy. I don’t know if I could handle that. I feel guilty thinking of her this way, but I can’t help it. Maybe it was the tone of her voice, or some sort of preconceived notion (for I know nothing about her) that aroused my suspicions. I guess I’ll never know if the concern was warranted.


I’ve often skirted around this issue by shooting people’s backs while “on the street”. Somehow, a shot of the back of someone’s head doesn’t invade their privacy so much, while a likeness does. The subject could be anyone, and the added anonymity gives me comfort. However, this tactic can’t be used all the time. Besides, “the eyes are the window to the soul”, and it is no surprise that the greatest portraits of people usually show their faces. That insight into the emotions of the subject, the act of exposing one’s self for the world to see, provides endless fascination for me and for anyone who appreciates a candid photograph of any sort.

Giving Darth Fiddler His Dues

Perhaps I feel discomfort because I know I have not given anything back to my anonymous subjects. I feel selfish not telling them and not sharing a positive experience that hinges on their actions. Sometimes having your photo taken by a stranger could be the highlight of their day. Jay’s subjects seem to feel that way. Would sharing the joy that I feel with those I photograph rid me of this discomfort? Is ridding myself of this discomfort worth risking rejection and potential anger, however misplaced? I guess it wouldn’t hurt to try. If I want to progress as a shooter, I’ll definitely have to get over those fears. If I can do that by the end of the summer and nothing else, I will have succeeded beyond my wildest dreams. I welcome any comments and thoughts on this. I think it is a discussion worth having.