Saturday, March 28, 2009

Silly Rule Number 19

Silly rule # 19:
Heads can be shown in profile, or in a 3/4 turn. Nothing in between.
My response:
Are you kidding me? Where do these requirements get started? Certainly they don't come from the masterpieces in museums that everyone bows to.
My guess is that memes are involved. Memes, to save time for you two people who are interested enough to look it up, was a word invented by Richard Dawkins in 1976, and refers to the contagious imitation of ideas. It's an oversimplification, but I have to move on.
There are an infinite number of positions for the head in a portrait. To limit it to a couple, besides full frontal is an atrocity. It would be like limiting all words to one or two syllables. What? Screw that!
Where a head ends up in a photograph often depends on the moment. If the moment is more important, and it often is, then let it be. Judge the moment and not the turn of the head. What an arbitrary and silly way to see things!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Silly Rule Number 43

Pardon me while I take the rules out of numerical sequence. My nature is to deal with what's on my mind, not necessarily what's next on some arbitrary list.
Rule 43:
In the woods, the worst thing you can wear in a picture is white.
My response:
But a bride in the park, in the woods, among the trees, and even sprawled in the leaves and dirt, is somehow okay. And on the beach, OMG, white is practically required. How "od". It gets confusing. What if there were, say, a palm tree on the beach, and the subject was not a bride? The palm is a tree. Should someone wear white or not? What if there were enough palms to qualify as a forest? What then? What. the. hell. then?
As usual, arbitrary rules end up getting in trouble.
Who starts these rules? Often it’s a really nice image that people like enough to try to copy. And they copy without understanding what it was they liked in the first place.
Carefully copying van Gogh's paint strokes will not make you a van Gogh.
After a hundred people copy a style, it starts becoming popular. It develops a force of its own, pulling more and more unsuspecting suckers into its vortex.
Soon, the bride looks good in the woods lying sprawled in the dirt. People only look good at the beach if they’re wearing white. No “navy” blue. Not near the water. Anything else in the woods will not conform to the paradigm formed in the minds of programmed people.
Soon, the “in” people will condemn your work for not forming the same paradigms in your mind. They will look at you funny, and shun you.
We can’t have that, now, can we? CAN WE!!! No. We are all too lonely, and need all the friends we can get. (sigh)

Monday, March 23, 2009

Photography's 97 Silly Rules

Everywhere I go, it seems, except for two recent trips to Wal-Mart, people ask me, "Where are all those rules I hear judges keep talking about?" Or, "I'd sure like to get my hands on a list of them rules BEFORE I make my competition prints."
I told a lot of them that I'd try to follow the judges around and make a list of all the rules they talked about.
So I did.
I love making lists, and I collected 97 of their rules before they got wise to me. After that, they'd shut up whenever I walked into a room where they were pontificating about some formula for beauty or some such nonsense.
I won't give all 97 at once, because I'm just too wordy and you just won't have the time, but here's number one, and I'll put up more shortly.

Silly Rule Number 1: First you must learn the rules before you can break them.

Here is Fred's response:
No, you don't. After you learn them, they become a part OF you. Trying to break a rule after it’s part of you is like trying to intentionally break your leg. Very few are capable of it. Getting rid of a rule once it's become a part of your taste is like trying to switch from a food you love to a food you hate. Very few can do it. It's like trying to self-amputate. Very few can do it. Of course, I know that you the reader can, but nobody ELSE can that I know of. Not even me, not completely, and I’m really sore about it. I respected people who told me that. They meant well, though.

In the world of rules,
There are no rules...
Only fools.
- Ogden Nash

Sunday, March 22, 2009


Three teenage boys laid a board across a homeless man's chest in the park and stood on it until he was dead.
When later asked why they did it, one boy said, "Because he was ugly."
Another said that he couldn't stand the shirt he was wearing. "It was one of those awful stripey things."
The third boy never did like to talk much.
Beauty is very important to popular culture. How they define beauty varies from time to time and from culture to culture. One thing remains constant though. The more adolescent the taste, the more narrowly defined beauty becomes. As you work to convert photography into money, as you work to convert knowledge into wisdom, try to broaden your definitions of beauty. Broaden your limits. Doing so will remove more of your limitations. True beauty is infinite and everywhere. Only ignorance will cause beauty to be defined, and the smaller the mind, the more narrowly defined beauty becomes.
I'll tell you one thing though - next time I go into town, I'll be a little more thoughtful about which shirt I wear.

Lighting - an explanation of my rules

My two simple lighting rules may appear at first glance to be simplistic. That's because they are simplistic.
Do I have no respect for good lighting? I sure do. I have drooled over some pictures that had nothing going on except for some magnificent light. The photographers probably knew it, too, but didn't care. I didn't care, and I'm glad they didn't care.
I've rarely been known for my mastery of light, although I've had a few pictures that had nice light. My photos often deal with intentional shadows more than intentional light. In many circles these are seen as two separate things, and only the light is important. I think that distinction is rather od. (Sometimes I enjoy spelling odd in an od way. It can, on occasion, give me a little shiver of deliciousness.)
Do I preach one thing and do another? Yes.
I rarely stay with two simple rules of lighting. In my studio I often had 20 to 40 lights going at once. I did an image once that had 83 different lighting situations, all accumulated over a three-month period on a single 4x5 negative. (A national print judge, during a taped critique, said that I should be thankful that I had a lab that could do such superb work. I did have a lab that did superb work, but this print was a simple, straightforward, machine print. Economy.)
So am I a hypocrite? Call me anything you like, but let me explain something first. I have watched many photographers work. The best ones spend very little time fiddling with their lights and equipment. The worst ones fiddle and fiddle and fiddle some more. I watch the subject wilt in the process - sometimes literally. The moment fades. The cheese dries out. The flowers droop. The smile disappears into something resembling a locked jaw. Muscle tone weakens. Joints stiffen. Eyes glaze over. Attitude fades and a lesser one takes its place. Things that should be starched wilt. Things that should be soft harden.
Anyone who has ever said, "Hold it, hold it, hold it," while they tinker one more time with the kick light will almost certainly have a well-exposed piece of crap.
Play with the light if you must. I usually do. Just understand what I finally figured out:
1 - Sure, photography is writing with light, but it is rarely ABOUT the light. It is about the moment, the story inside a moment. Don't stretch that moment into a danged hour and a half while you fiddle around. The moment will be gone. And the one you try to recreate with your perfect light will be a fake one, a lie. Truth is beauty.
2. A perfect image rarely presents itself as a gift. What we see almost always has defects. The more experience we get, the more things we find that need fixing. Fix them if you must, but realize that you are making an exchange. Be very careful about that exchange.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Image in the Blog Banner

The image above was shot directly into the sun, well after sunrise. There was still fog. Normally the sun in this situation would destroy any chance of recording the scene by overpowering the exposure.
So what I did was hold a board horizontally across the sky with one hand and the camera in the other. I carefully let the sun peek just a fraction of itself under the board. I wanted the sun there, not gone. The balancing act did the trick.
Sunrises don't always have to come up over the mountains or something - sometimes they can come up under something.
Thinking creatively is often nothing more than saying to yourself that a problem can be solved and then going about finding a way to do it.
People often say that I like to be different. I don't really. It just often appears to be a goal of mine because my results appear different, but it's never a reason for doing what I do.
Doing something "to be different," in my opinion, is adolescent.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Fred's Rules for Lighting

I suppose you should read the previous blog to give this one context, but regardless, here goes:
Fred's Lighting Rule #1. If it's important, put some light on it.
Fred's Lighting Rule #2. If it's not important, put some shadow on it.
You're welcome.

Lighting Rules

This post will be dedicated to Danielle and some others who have not bothered with the rules, for whatever reasons, but who have still produced magnificent photographic and artistic results.
Lighting Rule #1. There must be detail in the highlights.
Lighting Rule #2. There must be detail in the shadows.
Lighting Rule #3. There must be sufficient contrast in the image that it doesn't produce a gray-ish appearance.
Lighting Rule #4. Women and children under three should be photographed with soft light.
Lighting Rule #5. Men and diamonds must be photographed with hard light.
Lighting Rule #6. Women with wrinkles should be softened with extra soft light.
Lighting Rule #7. Men with beards should be sharpened with extra hard light, and perhaps titled, "Old Salt."
Lighting Rule #8. Kicker lighting should not hit the nose.
Lighting Rule #9. Kicker light should not overpower the cheek.
Lighting Rule #9. Back-lighting should not be stronger than the key light, and especially not equal to the fill.
Lighting Rule #10. Lighting should accentuate the face.
Lighting Rule #11. Lighting should never allow the viewer an opportunity to imagine that the intent of the photograph was meant for anything other than to reveal what the face looks like.
Lighting Rule #12. Light should always come from above.
Lighting Rule #13. Nature only has one light source. I was told this one by a judge who condemned what he counted to be five light sources in one of my outdoor images. I had shot the image with about a 500mm Hasselblad lens, and had no lighting or reflectors of my own to modify what I saw, only what nature provided. Some people need to get out more often.
Lighting Rule #?. (More to come. Feel free to send Fred your own, whether it's a rule that you follow, a rule you think is silly, or a rule that you abhor.)

Personally, I have no lighting rules in my photography. I have two guidelines that I follow, however:
Fred's Lighting Guideline #1. If it's important, put some light on it.
Fred's Lighting Guideline #2. If it's not important, put it in some shadow. My first clue toward this end was with painters, not photographers. They would often leave canvas blank where nothing important was going on. Idiots, on the other hand, tried to cover every square millimeter with some kind of color.
This is why bagpipes never caught on very well. There are no spaces between the sounds.

I sometimes find myself breaking my own guidelines.
I find myself laughing at the rules all the time.

Sunday, March 8, 2009


All the newest digital stuff is great. It will help great artists create more great art. It will help mediocre artists make more mediocrity. It will help highly productive people become even more productive. It will help lazy people get through their day with less effort.
But it will not make a single artist. Digital is collectively just another set of tools. It makes for a bigger toolbox, a better workshop, and a more versatile ability for those who desire it.
It will help the great become even greater. It will help the average become more mediocre. It will help the silly to turn out even more really bad crap.
But it will not make a single artist.
And that's okay.

A Facebook Conversation About Portraits

Facebook is a wonderful forum to discuss things. You can walk away when it starts getting cloudy. You don't have to write OR READ a lot of words.
Here's one about portraits (occasionally modified for added clarification only):

It starts with my daily Profile Update - the one that starts out for you by saying, "Fred is...."

Fred is wondering, after a 13 year hiatus, why in the heck he suddenly wants to do a portrait.

(Friend): portrait of whom?

(Fred): Someone from long ago.

(Another friend): Old habits are hard to break, eh?

(Fred): It has nothing to do with old habits being hard to break. I think 13 years is sufficient time to conclude that this is not "an old habit," and even if it were an old habit, 13 years should be sufficient time to conclude it to be broken.

(Friend One): portraits are really about yourself, but you knew that right?

(Fred): There is a difference between a portrait and a self-portrait. The talent of a professional (commercial) portraitist is to tell a story about the subject and to stay the hell out of the picture. Of course, this is impossible, but should be held to a minimum. And, of course, I am not referring to those people who come to an artist, whether camera, brush, chisel, etc., to obtain their art and then requesting that the artist use them as the subject.

(Fred) And this question should be clarified long before the portrait session begins.
I think for the portraitist to automatically assume any portrait they do is basically a self-portrait is vain and rude.

(End of Facebook conversation)

Here's a conversation I had in the past with a potential customer:

(Customer, which I will refer to as client because the word is shorter): I'd like to book a portrait session with you.
(Fred): Who will the pictures (I was a photographer at the time.) be primarily for?
(Client): Primarily I want them for myself, for posterity, and perhaps a few for friends and family as gifts.
(Fred): Do you want this to be a documentary image or are you looking more for the art?
(Client): The art. I want you to do your thing.
(Fred): Do you want to be in the final image?
(Client): Huh? Oh, un, yeah. I guess, uh, yeah. That would be nice.
(Fred): Do you want to be recognized in the image? In other words, do you want your face to show, stuff like that?
(Client): Well, I thought so, but now I don't know. I guess I was just thinking like that out of habit.
(Fred): I'm not too keen on habitual thoughts.
(Client, laughing): I should have known. I guess that's why I came to you.
(Fred): So you're looking for art more than likeness?
(Client): Yes! That's exactly what I mean.

Here's another:
(Client): I come to git my kid's pitcher tooken.
(Fred): Okay.

Here's another:
(Client): I'd like to make an appointment for my three-year-old daughter.
(Fred): What kind of portrait are you looking for?
(Client): I want a nice remember what she looks like at this know, I want one every year around her birthday. I don't need anything artsy, but I want something good. You know, not just what she looks like, but something that shows her personality...who she really is.
(Fred): I understand.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Stolen Photographs

Few people know this, but on the last day of my career, I had 500 eight by ten prints stolen. I had spend the final year selecting those photographs and having them custom printed. They were to represent the best of my career, for me and for those who wished to know.
I set them out for public viewing at the auction, where I sold everything there was, lock, stock, and barrel. Negatives, files, business, equipment, paintings, books, frames, sets, backgrounds, etc. Forty cameras, including the Sinar P2. Cherry. The auction was to empty my plate in preparation for going into solitude for a year in the wilderness - a spiritual quest that I had been planning for 34 years.
Someone laid their coat over the whole stack and walked out.
The approximated $10,000 cost is negligible compared to the total damage done.
Whoever did it should know that stealing is wrong.
Whoever did it should know that stealing my lifetime achievements is rude. Stealing my career's best, after they had at that point become irreplaceable, is beyond the pale.
Whoever did it should know that when I find him, I will very likely k*** him.

(For the lawyer types out there, here is some fine print. One word that comes to mind that could possibly be k***ing can be done with a boot. The thief should draw his own conclusions this matter and what my intent behind the asterisks is, and at his own peril.)

Friday, March 6, 2009

Listening to the Birth of an Image

The oddest thing, hearing a part of me pounding out orders to other parts.
Today it happened again. After a while I have learned to pay attention. This instruction was to make a portrait. I haven't done one officially in 13 years. I never said I never would again. Maybe I should have.
This is not one of those "Oh, gosh, what do I want to do next? Maybe I'd like to...." types of feelings. This one is full out. They are not common. And they get my attention when they do pop up.
I say pop up. I know where they come from. They come from my subconscious. The images are often complete, and when I get one, all I have to do is go do it. And I can't stop until I'm done. This is not a desire - this is a have-to.
Seemingly out of nowhere, and my heart's pounding. Odd. Interesting. Very odd.
I watch it form from nothing. I know what my friends will say for a while: "Fred, you're in a daze again. You're walking around and around. Say something."
And I've heard others tell others, "Leave him alone, he's busy inside."
A few have said, "I like to watch the wheels in his head turning." Or, "I know that look on your face, Fred. I can see the gears turning faster and faster. It's exciting."

Sorry I had to write this here, but I had to see the words this time, someplace more official than in a notebook or a box of notes. Somehow there are words involved in the image. This is new.
This time, I want to watch.