On Creativity and Taking Breaks from Shooting

Posted on 2 CommentsPosted in creativity, thoughts
One of my favorite photos from this spring - but don't think I create it if I'm not committed to shoot daily
One of my favorite photos from this spring – but don’t think I create it if I’m not committed to shoot daily

Earlier this year I decided that I want to be shooting every day. The goal was not so much to create a new photograph I’m proud of daily and that I would want to share with the world, because I don’t think it’s possible. Some days no matter how long you shoot, things just don’t work out. But I knew if I kept shooting daily, I will not only get better at using my camera (and shooting with Leica is still a learning process, even years later), but I will also get more creative and hopefully a better photographer.

While reading several books on creativity, I keep coming up with the concept of doing something creative every day – even if something small. Jerry Seinfeld apparently writes jokes every day, and the way he keeps track of it is through a calendar where he marks off the day he wrote jokes with a big far “X”. After a few consecutive days he doesn’t want to break that chain of Xs on his calendar, and this exercise becomes easier because you’re so invested into it.

After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain. Don’t break the chain.

I liked that idea, so I tried it for a while, starting in March. I wanted to focus on shooting my family, and building that set of images that I make of my own kids, my wife and documenting our life together. It’s a subject I care deeply about, and it’s also mostly available without any extra effort on my part except being there. At first it wasn’t easy to do because at least five days a week I’d come home after work and would not have the time to go anywhere and I had to take those pictures at or near my house. We’re so used to these surroundings that they always seem bland and boring. But after a while I keep finding new angles, new pockets of light, new things to shoot, all within our home – inside and outside in the front yard, back yard, etc. The days would get longer too so it helped that I could still get a good hour of light even if I came home at 7:30pm.

But then came a time in July when they stayed in Utah for 10 days and I came back to California. That’s when the chain broke and I stopped shooting daily.

To be honest, I feel like I needed that break. After 100 days of daily shooting, it became a chore and I no longer felt inspired by what I was doing. I started to repeat some of the shots that I felt worked out earlier. I heard the same from other photographers who make it a practice to shoot every day, but do need to take a break every once in a while. Elena Shumilova told me this exact same thing when we talked about it back in May – that she does make an effort to shoot every day, but a break is needed every few weeks or months to recharge the creative batteries.

After three weeks of not shooting my family much (and also shooting three weddings in that period, which wore me out even more), I feel like I’m ready to start another chain of daily shooting. But I think when it comes to photography, breaks can be very useful and needed.

On New Cameras

Posted on 2 CommentsPosted in leica, thoughts

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Ran into this quote by the Japanese photographer Nobuyoshi Araki that is found on the Tokyo Camera Style:

 

If you want to change your photographs, you need to change cameras. Changing cameras means that your photographs will change. A really good camera has something I suppose you might describe as its own distinctive aura.

 

I have certainly found this to be true throughout my years in photography. Upgrading to DSLR changed my photography. Further updating to a better DSLR changed it again. It’s not that my vision changed or pixels got so much better, but it is that I started to push myself harder every time, learning the new technology and new tools.

And his last point about cameras having a distinctive aura – very true as well. There’s definitely something magical about Leica – cameras and lenses. That’s what hit me immediately the first time I tried shooting with a Leica. Each image had a distinctive feel to it or a character. And the other tools had them as well. I can easily spot the difference between Leica and Voiglander lenses.

Change is as good as a rest.

Photographs as Gifts

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Few weeks ago my wife and friends of ours attended a lecture in San Francisco by Sally Mann where she discussed her new book, “Hold Still.” During the lecture she touched on a point raised in her book that good photographs are gifts. I found a quote on that topic in the book and have been thinking a lot about it.

Good photographs are gifts. … Taken for granted they don’t come. I set the camera up… and suspend myself in that familiar space about a foot above the ground where good photographs come. I wait there, breath suppressed, in that trance, that state of suspended animation, the moment before the frisson. ….

It has always worked before and the moment when it starts to come is unlike anything else: when it falls so perfectly into place, and Jesse [her daughter] cocks her hip and doesn’t move out of the 1 inch of focus I have: when the wind blows up just the right little tracery in the water behind the alligator. That moment possesses such a feeling of transcendence: it’s the ecstatic time: better than sex.

 

I don’t know if I agree that those moments are better than sex. But I agree with all her other points and it is how I often felt about what I considered my best photographs. I didn’t feel like there was anything special that I have done – but the elements aligned themselves at the perfect moment and I was lucky to release the shutter at that time.

I find that these moments come more often when I shoot a lot. But they don’t always come. Yet when they do, I feel grateful and it always makes me thirst for more of these moments even more.

Why I Switched to Leica

Posted on 11 CommentsPosted in leica, thoughts
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Obligatory Leica selfie

Earlier this week a friend asked me on Facebook why I switched to Leica brand for my photography. Given the size of the investment into Leica cameras and lenses, what advantages does Leica have that won me over?

I get this question quite regularly. There are so many options for photography today – starting with our phones that have great cameras, to more traditional compact cameras, DSLR, and to the trending mirrorless cameras sold by Sony, Fuji, Olympus and so forth. And, of course, film. So why pick that option over all others?

There were mainly two simple reasons why I switched all my gear to Leica.

Here’s the first reason… A couple of years ago I was on a work trip in Europe and I swung by Paris on my way home where I spent a few days by myself doing photography. I was walking around everywhere as I do in a big city, but after a day of carrying my big Nikon camera around, with lenses, tripod and all kinds of accessories my back was hurting and I got home earlier than I thought I would. The next day I decided to leave the bag behind and just to take pictures with my iPhone. This was fine and I loved what I was getting and how I could stay out and shoot all day without any fatigue.

But then I got back to the States and uploaded the pictures to my computer and boy was I shocked… They files looked terrible when blown up – not sharp, a lot of artifacts, and pretty much not usable for anything other than an iPhone. And on the big screen they looked nothing more than what they were – a bunch of phone snaps taken by a tourist. So here I was – just came back from Paris – and didn’t have any pictures I was happy with.

I realized this was also happening with the photography of my kids. I stopped taking pictures of them when we’d go outside. They’re all small and under the age of eight so they often need me to carry them when we’re out and about. I couldn’t do it well with a Nikon camera and the bag I had to carry with me. So I stopped taking pictures, which isn’t great because their childhood is passing by so fast. I got into photography wanting to take better pictures of my kids, and here I was, not taking any.

So I started looking at various systems and cameras that could deliver great image quality but that were small in size. Sony didn’t release A7 at that time, so I was mostly looking at Fuji and Olympus brands and their mirrorless lineup. I did own Fuji X100 at one time, but it only had one attached lens, and the image quality and experience with the camera weren’t as good as I could get from an SLR, so I sold it.

Now to the second reason… Then one day I started researching Leica and what they’ve done with their digital rangefinders because I kept reading reviews for Fuji and everyone always had to answer whether or not there were as good as Leica, or better, or worse (everyone usually said Fuji cameras were better…). One day I simply asked on Google+ – what did people think of Leica. Lots chimed in but one nice guy who I haven’t even met in person at that time answered and said I could just borrow his M9 for a weekend.

Well, of course!

That changed everything. The camera was exactly what I was looking for in terms of its size – small, light, compact but very well built. Unlike Fuji, the camera was super easy to figure out and operate. From the very first frames I took I was hooked to the images I was getting. They had something to them that looked magical. The color, or contrast, or sharpness, or… I really couldn’t put my finger on it. I still can’t. But I kept shooting all weekend long and captured what were some of my favorite images to this day.

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So few weeks after that I drove up to Camera West in Walnut Creek and good folks over there hooked me up with the new Leica M (type 240), which just came out.

I did my research, of course, prior to buying. I read up on the rich history of Leica cameras and lenses, I looked at the work of many, many Leica photographers. It turned out that majority of the most iconic images of the last century were captured with a Leica. I talked to my friend Sam at work who owned film Leica and was familiar with the brand. And I had to convince my wife that this was the purchase that was going to change my life.. Or “take better pictures of our kids” – the usual excuse in these kinds of situations. In fact, she made be give up the naming rights to our next child as part of our bargain. True story.

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But really – all it came down to was that (1) I found a camera that was small in size, but that deliveres amazing picture quality, and (2) the camera is incredibly fun to shoot with. Some people hate rangefinder experience or how manual Leicas are (there is no auto focus, for example). But for me – and now I’m two years into this experience – I just couldn’t stop shooting with the camera I could take everywhere with me.

It took some time for me to let go of my Nikon gear and I kept shooting weddings and families with it because that seemed easier and I was still learning the manual focus and other Leica tricks that take a while to get used to. But few weeks ago I sold all of my Nikon gear and I now shoot with Leica 100% of the time – my kids, my travels, the weddings, the families etc.

And two years later, Leica continues to impress me with the quality of images it delivers.

The images I shared here with this post – except the selfie one, I don’t think I take any of them unless I have a small camera I don’t mind bringing everywhere with me as I go hang out with my kids. And to me that proved to be the biggest benefit of being a Leica shooter – my production increased many times over, and hopefully that means I became a better photographer as a result.

Questions? Would love to answer any – hit me up in the comments.

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I’m a photographer because I’m a dad

Posted on 6 CommentsPosted in leica, thoughts
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Now my kids don’t even notice me with my camera. January, 2015.

I got into photography when I learned I was to become a dad.

It was the fall of 2006 and I was finishing last year of graduate school. I already had a job lined up and we knew we would be moving to Northern California. But yet it was still a hectic time because I was studying for the CPA exam and working part time.

I was surprised at the way my wife decided to tell me she was pregnant. She took the pregnancy test the night before and it sort of told her she might be pregnant but maybe it didn’t. So she went to see the doctor the next morning to take the real test. I was sitting in the Tanner Building at BYU and eating a sandwich in between classes when I got a text message that simply said “POSITIVE!”

That changed everything.

As we were getting ready to become parents, I kept wondering what should I do or not do to be a better man and to be a good dad to our kid. I wanted it to be my most important role in life and I wanted to be ready.

At the same time, every parent kept telling me that the time will fly by fast and it’s crazy how quickly those newborns become teenagers and then adults and they’re gone.

So I wanted to slow that time down and this is when I got the idea that I wanted to capture my children’s lives through photography.

This is when I bought my first SLR, Nikon D40. While my wife was still pregnant, I was shooting everything, learning this new craft. I shot buildings, lakes, mountains, people, and even flowers.

First picture of Maks - he was only couple of hours old. July, 2007.
First picture of Maks – he was only couple of hours old. July, 2007.

When Maks was born, I didn’t get out much and was shooting him every day for a while. The same thing happened with all four of my kids. In fact, with our latest one, Yuri, I knew he could be our last child (being the fourth!), so I asked the doctor if she would be OK if photographed the whole c-section delivery as it was taking place. She didn’t mind, and in fact, the Leica that I brought with me generated quite a bit of discussion among the doctors during surgery, scaring me a bit that I was distracting them.

Yuri taking his first breath. August, 2013.
Yuri taking his first breath. August, 2013.

But what came out was one of my favorite mini-projects, or photo essays I shot to this day. You can see it here.

Over the years I have shot all kinds of subjects. I was into landscape and seascape photography for a while, spending many sunsets in the mountains and at the coast. I had a period of time when architecture and geometric forms fascinated me. Most recently I got into street photography. And, of course, all this time I kept shooting portraits and weddings of my friends and family. For whatever reason, I just can’t say ‘no’ to such happy and important photography events, and I now shot over 30 weddings.

But as I look back over the last 9 years in photography, I can’t help but think that the photos I cherish the most are those I have taken of my own family. There’s a cliche saying in the world of photography – shoot what you love. I have thought that I love outdoors. I have thought that I love shadows and angles and tones. But when I open my archives and hundreds of thousands of pictures I have taken in the last decade, I mostly only look back at those pictures I have taken of my own family.

Becca meets Nadya for the first time. October, 2009.
Becca meets Nadya for the first time. October, 2009.

As beautiful as a good picture of a sunset or a moment on the street can be, nothing is as beautiful as the eyes of my own daughter looking at me. She’s growing up very fast, and I’m now trying to take photos daily, because yes, her childhood will pass by fast.

And the great benefit of all of this – I get to spend even more time with my own kids rather than away from them, as is the case with other type of photography.

Every day I feel honored and grateful to be a dad. And one of those things that I’m also grateful for is that my own kids allow me to create the art and our family history together with them.

 

Need to start blogging again

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I used to blog years ago. Then social media became big, I became a father of four, and my blogging life slowly died. Eventually the blog and content died too – although I have it somewhere on my hard drive.

Social media is still the place where I’m the most active on (mainly on Instagram, Facebook and sometimes on Twitter). But social media is good for short stuff, like a single photo, or a short update. It’s not good for things like essays, reviews, and general thoughts that we used blogs for in the past.

So I decided to try blogging again. Here I am going to explore various topics that dwell on my mind, but what I hope to focus on are three main subjects – creativity, photography, and Leica. Obviously, all three things intersect a lot, but I don’t want to write just about Leica, or just about photography, so I’ll leave that open and see how it goes.

Stick around, come back and give me some feedback!

Cheers!