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Photo a Day Challenge: Day 7

Photo a Day Challenge: Day 7 - Cabazon Dinosaurs on Ilford Delta 100 FilmInconsiderate T-Rex - Cabazon, CA
Monday, August 19, 2013 at 3:42pm
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On the way to Palm Springs from Orange County or LA, you'll see a strange site off the side of the 10 Freeway. Rising above the desert are two huge dinosaurs - a t-rex and an apatosaurus. These are the Cabazon Dinosaurs. They are delightfully kitschy, utterly unusual, and actually somewhat famous. They've been featured in music videos and movies (Pee Wee's Big Adventure anyone?) and, according the website, are seen by over 12 million people each year.

I knew these Cabazon Dinosaurs were where I'd get my shot for day 7 of my photo a day challenge. I mean, come on, how often do you get to photograph life-size dinosaurs?

Rather than seek out the obvious shots, I wanted to focus on the more intimate weirdness of these structures. After spending quite a bit of time circling these dinosaurs in search of the right compositions, I started with a tight shot of the t-rex's leg "stepping over" the fence below it. I actually wanted this composition to look as though I was really just trying to photograph the palm tree and mountains behind it, but then this annoying dinosaur just happened to get in the shot right before I clicked the shutter. Like those bygone times when you'd get a roll of film back from the lab and start flipping through the prints only to find that some clueless out-of-it tourist stepped in front of your lens and ruined your perfect photo of the Golden Gate Bridge.

"Damn clueless dinosaur tourists always getting in to your shots. They don't even speak our language. God I hate dinosaurs!"

I then did a couple of compositions that I felt simply highlighted the randomness of these dinosaurs. I mean, really. Why are there giant dinosaurs out in the middle of the desert? It's not like this area is a hotbed of archeology. Such a non sequitur landmark.

I like this photo of the t-rex looking off in to the distance much more than I'm sure anyone else will. I like to think he's dreaming of bigger things, thinking about what could have been. Maybe he's thinking about going back to school to get his nursing degree or maybe he has big dreams of broadway. Either way, he's clearly a dreamer.

Photo a Day Challenge: Day 7 - Cabazon Dinosaurs on Ilford Delta 100 FilmT-Rex Dreams of Greater Things - Cabazon, CA
Monday, August 19, 2013 at 3:56pm
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Photo a Day Challenge: Day 7 - Cabazon Dinosaurs on Ilford Delta 100 FilmApatosaurus is Not Amused  - Cabazon, CA
Monday, August 19, 2013 at 3:50pm
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Read the backstory on this Photo A Day Challenge here. See previous days here.

Photo a Day Challenge: Day 6

Photo a Day Challenge: Day 6 - Girl in Hallway on Ilford Delta 100 FilmWoman Walking in Hallway - Palm Springs, CA
Sunday, August 18, 2013 at 9:13pm
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Oh man. Day 6 of my photo a day challenge was a frustrating one. My lovely lady and I had driven out to Palm Springs for a short getaway in the desert, and on this first day I'd made a couple of unsuccessful attempts to find my photo. First I drove around town desperately trying to get a better view of the nearby mountains and the dramatic clouds rising above. Buildings, buildings, power lines, buildings...I couldn't get a clear shot. So that was a wasted 30 minutes that I could have spent with my girlfriend instead. I came back to the hotel room frustrated.

But I wasn't ready to give up yet.

So a little bit later, I grabbed my camera again and started walking around the hotel. I was looking for reflections in the water feature surrounding the building, pattens in the building itself, interesting sparkles in a sprinkler. But nothing was working. I was trying to force a photo in an area and at a time when nothing was working. I was determined to not return to the hotel room until I could check that box on my agenda for "take a photo." But after another wasted half hour, I returned to the room in shame.

My brain was telling me to call it quits. "It's really not that big of a deal if you miss one day," my brain said. "It's not like you're getting paid to do this photo a day challenge anyway."

"Nay!" I protested. I wasn't about to fail at this challenge only 6 days in! I would make this work!

Then an idea hit me. My lady and I were getting ready to walk down to the bar for some drinks. I imagined walking behind her down the narrow hallways. I thought about the doors and carpet streaking past all around her. This was it. This was the composition I'd been looking for.

I knew it'd be a little tricky because I'd have to use a slow shutter to get the streak in the foreword motion. I'd have to walk behind her at just the right pace, taking light steps so as to avoid up-and-down vibrations. Plus, I wasn't sure exactly what shutter speed would be just right. Too slow and my subject would blur too much. Too fast and the motion wouldn't be obvious enough. Luckily, the design of my camera made this job a little easier than it would be with a DSLR or some other eye-level viewfinder camera. See, my medium format camera has a waist-level viewfinder. That means I look down into my camera held at or around waist level to compose my shots, rather than pulling it up to my eye like a DSLR. With my camera held down low coupled with its heft, I was able to keep the camera pretty steady as I walked.

I used a shutter speed of 1/8 of a second at f/4.5. I also opted for my wide angle lens to help exaggerate the motion. No filters were used.

Read the backstory on this Photo A Day Challenge here. See previous days here.

Photo a Day Challenge: Day 1

Photo a Day Challenge - Day 1 on Ilford Delta 100 FilmDoor, Window & Shadows - Irvine Ranch Historic Park
Tuesday, August 13, 2013 at 3:43pm
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I'm not the kind of photographer that takes pictures every day. I've gone whole months not taking a single photo. I tend to be more of the "I'm in picture-taking mode right now or I'm not" kind of photographer. I plan trips to be my designated picture-taking time, but you're unlikely to find me just casually taking pictures near home. I'm sure this is largely due to the fact that I prefer photographing natural landscapes but I live in Orange County, which is the poster child for destruction of open spaces and wildlands.

But recently, in the interest of expanding my creativity and challenging my skills as a photographer, I decided to give myself a "Photo a Day Challenge" wherein I had to take at least one picture every day for a month. But it wasn't as easy as take a picture a day and that's that. It was a challenge because I gave myself 3 strict rules to follow during this challenge. Those 3 rules were:

1. Take at least 1 photo a day, but no more than 4

Taking a photo a day is easy, but limiting yourself to just a few is tough. I wanted to limit the number of photos I took each day because I feel that the limitless nature of digital photography can make some photographers sloppy and uncreative. Some may disagree with that last statement and point out that digital has opened new worlds of creativity for shooters. Yes, but at the same time, how many hours have been wasted (by me alone) taking mediocre pictures because "hey it's free to take a digital photo, so why not?" I don't know about everyone else, but for me, if I know I can only take 3 or 4 photos, I'm going to really try and make each photo count. I won't waste time trying to make a lame subject work. If I limited myself to no more than 4 photos a day, I'd be forced to get creative rather than "spray and pray" that one turns out.

Now to be honest, I broke this rule a couple times but I generally held pretty strong to it. When I went to Joshua Tree National Park for one of the days, I allowed myself to take more pictures because the creative juices were really flowing that day and it was a unique circumstance. But outside of a couple of exceptions, I made sure I didn't take more than 4 photos in a day (usually no more than 2 actually).

And why 4 photos? Well, because on a single roll of medium format film, I can get 4 photos of 6x17 format. So in the event I wanted to do a panoramic, I wanted to give myself the option to finish off the entire roll on account of the fact that my panoramic camera is kind of a pain in the ass to leave unused film in.

2. Limit my tools to only medium format black and white film

As with the previous rule, this was in the interest of limiting my tools and options so as to encourage creativity. I'm a firm believer that being forced to work within limited confines often times brings out the best in artists. This idea was borne from years of teaching and studying other photographers' work. I've seen so many students come through my doors that have every possible tool available. They have money to burn and every lens you could want, but their photos are nothing unique. The photos might be well-executed and technically perfect, but nothing creative. While at the same time, I look at some shooters on the internet with no more experience or training who are getting absolutely phenomenal shots with just an old 35mm film camera and a 50mm lens.

Of course, some people are simply more talented artists than others and the tools used are not the issue. But I do believe that if you limit the tools available to an artist, he/she will be forced to turn on that right side of the brain. I definitely found this to be true in myself.

The reason I chose medium format film is two-fold. First, I just enjoy medium format film. I like the high-resolution, the detail, the camera, and its versatility. But I also liked that this would keep my shooting easier than 4x5 large format but more limited than 35mm film. And I went with black and white film because I felt this would further push my creative abilities. I'm not a veteran of B&W. Color is where I'm comfortable, so I thought it would be good to break out of my comfort zone.

And why film over digital? Come on...do you really have to ask?

3. Practice photographic celibacy

Photographic celibacy is an idea I stumbled upon from Cole Thompson (link). Cole Thompson is a very talented fine art B&W digital photographer who has the controversial idea that studying other photographers' work is not always healthy for artists. He talks about how he decided years ago to stop viewing other photographers' work in the interest of keeping his creative juices clean and untainted by subconscious copy-catting. This idea flies in the face of traditional thinking that one gets inspiration from viewing the work of your peers.

I tend to agree with Cole.

As I read Cole's thoughts on photographic celibacy, I realized that he was articulating exactly what I should have started doing years ago. I can't tell you how many times I've come across another photographer's work and spent hours examining their photos only to find myself bummed out and copying their style. I'm sure this isn't the case for everybody, but when I see another photographer's work that I feel is better than mine, I get a deep sense of discouragement and an irrational urge to start doing what they're doing. The ironic thing is that Cole Thompson's work was the most recent example of this. Thank God I stumbled upon his article on photographic celibacy while I was bumming out over his photos.

So for this photo a day challenge, I decided to practice photographic celibacy. No viewing other photographers' websites, no browsing Instagram or Flickr, no reading photography magazines or books. Of course, I made an exception for reviewing my students' assignments, but outside of that, it was total detachment from the photography community.

This rule of the challenge was without question the most refreshing and beneficial aspect of it all. I have now decided to adopt this idea permanently and I think it's the healthiest change I've ever made in my photography.

But I would like to put one modification on Cole's advice, if I may be so presumptuous. I would advise that this practice of photographic celibacy only be undertaken in the advanced stages of one's photography. When starting out, I agree with the status quo that studying other artists' work is important for inspiration and growth. Whether it's other photographers, painters, or sculptors, I think the stimulation in the beginning of your photographic career is vital. But once you get past that initial stage of copy-catting (it's taken me 13 years to get out of that stage), photographic celibacy may bring a new level of purity to your creativity.

Over the next 30 days, I will be posting my photos from my 30-day Photo a Day Challenge. I'll try to post a photo a day so that you can follow along chronologically just as I took them.

About This Photo

At top is the first photo from the series. I made this photo on Tuesday, August 13, 2013 at 3:43pm. My exposure settings were 1/125 at f/16 using my Mamiya RZ67 camera on Ilford Delta 100 film, no filters. This door is part of an old building at a park near my home in Irvine called the Irvine Ranch Historic Park. I've driven by this park nearly every week for the past 20 years, but have never ventured in. It took this photo a day challenge to get me inside and check out the scenery.

Boy am I glad I visited, because this has become my favorite place in Irvine. Why? Because it's one of the only places left in Irvine where historic buildings still stand. This park has several old buildings, a barn, and tons of appeal for me as a photographer. I love old doors and old architecture. Old buildings like this may be commonplace in other parts of the country, but in Orange County, they simply don't exist.

I returned to this park several times throughout the course of this challenge due to its proximity and photo ops. I enjoyed escaping the suburban culture for just a bit to photograph these magnificent buildings.