A Toronto Photography Blog.

East Don River, Toronto

East Don River, Toronto

Permalink 04/12/14 16:24, by robert, Categories: Fun , Tags: black and white, fine art, landscape, toronto

All Is Not Lost

All Is Lost movie poster

I was a big fan of the movie Margin Call which had a huge all-star cast and made about ten cents at the box office. It was written and directed by first timer J. C. Chandor. I should have noticed when Chandor released a second film last year but I didn't. It's not surprising I didn't notice because I'm often pretty clueless about what's getting released and what isn't. I used to pay attention, but not anymore, because most modern movies just aren't worth the effort.

Chandor's second release came last fall with All Is Lost starring Robert Redford, and quite literally only Robert Redford. He's the only guy in the whole movie, which makes the inclusion of a cast roll at the end amusing, and purposely so. The story couldn't be much simpler: a man is sailing the Indian Ocean by himself and his yacht is rammed by a stray floating cargo container. The man's electronic gear is water damaged and ruined and his boat crippled, and he's left to try to navigate himself to safety.

There are only three lines of dialogue in the whole film. All Is Lost is pure cinema, though it's not, as I've seen at least one reviewer state, experimental cinema. The story is always moving forward, and never meanders into any self-indulgent interludes. While it can be taken as a straight ahead survival story (more on this later), the fact that is so simple in construction while taking place on such a large canvas makes it possible to plausibly apply almost any sort of thematic interpretation. This is aided by the fact we know nothing about our hero. Why is he sailing alone? What kind of life does he lead on shore, and what kind of life has he had? The almost purely visual nature of the narrative also creates endless suspense because not only do we not know our hero's past, we have to constantly guess what he's up to as we watch in real time. Why he's taking each step, removing each box, stowing each bit of gear.

I'll admit I'm no sailor, and I'm aware that some yachting buffs take issue with the movie's accuracy. However their gripes seem small to me, and it's a mistake to take the movie too literally. A movie is always a movie, after all. I am disappointed that many viewers (as opposed to reviewers) tend to dislike the film. It may very well be the kind of material that sharply divides people.

One moral though is that I guess I'm wrong to no longer pay attention to what's being released. They do still make great movies...even if no one goes to see them.

Permalink 03/28/14 14:51, by robert, Categories: Fun, Movies , Tags: commentary, movie reviews

Window Frost 1

Window Frost 1

Permalink 01/28/14 21:34, by robert, Categories: Fun, In real life , Tags: black and white, fine art, toronto, winter

Improve Your Photography with This One Weird Trick

Take more photographs.

That's it. That's all there is to it. Except it's not quite as simple as it seems.

Photographs are constructed images. They aren't snapshots. Take more photographs does not mean to walk around constantly firing off shots of everything you see, the 'spray and pray'  philosophy. It means you must look at what's around you and construct a worthwhile image out of what you're seeing. Then you take it, or, if you will, capture it.

If you're a landscape photographer this means capturing that scenic vista at the exact moment when the light, and mist, and the clouds, and whatever else is or isn't there, add up to the perfect image.

If you're a street photographer it means capturing the precise moment when your subject demonstrates or reveals something about the human condition.

If you're a portrait photographer it means knowing your subject well enough that you can capture the moment when they show who they really are.

Some photographers don't just capture the world, they create their own. For instance, food photographers and fashion photographers know what they want to see and then, more or less, they build it. They hunt down the props and talent they require and then they capture what they've constructed so it can be shared with others.

Take more photographs doesn't mean spending more time editing your images. Don't edit your images at all, not even to crop or to adjust the exposure. Nail everything in your head. Then capture it with your camera. Construct a photograph and then take it. If you do it right, everything that should be there already will be there, and everything that isn't, won't be.

Take more photographs this way and you will become a better photographer. You can add all the fancy stuff later.

Permalink 01/11/14 19:34, by robert, Categories: Background , Tags: commentary, instructional, photography

Ice Ice Baby

Morning After Ice Storm, Toronto

Sunday morning after the Great Toronto Ice Storm of 2013, sans electricity.

Permalink 12/24/13 13:17, by robert, Categories: News , Tags: toronto ice storm, urban landscape, winter

In Defence of Ken Rockwell

It's hard to say who the most hated person on the internets is, but in the world of photography at least, it's a fair bet to say Ken Rockwell ranks Public Enemy Number 1. Lots of people hate his guts.

If you are somehow unfamiliar with the man, the thumbs-downs aren't hard to find. You can catalogue thousands of snide comments and criticisms of Rockwell on posting boards across dozens of photography-related websites, and dedicated, full-on semi-pro assaults like this one. It's not always fair to summarize, but probably the biggest gripes against him are:

  1. He has no idea what he's talking about.
  2. He's a crummy photographer.
  3. He favors Nikon gear over Canon.
  4. He changes his mind a lot.
  5. He runs his website just to make money.

Let's look at these in turn.

  1. He has no idea what he's talking about.----------->Rockwell is an engineer by trade, and holds two U.S. Patents. Whenever he reviews a lens he provides exact measurements about distortion that you can use for corrections in Photoshop. So, realistically, he sort of has some idea what he's talking about. Technical matters aside, he also wrote this famous essay, which stands as an inspiring and insightful analysis of what it takes to be a good photographer.
  2. He's a crummy photographer.----------->The judgement of art is always going to be largely subjective. If they were unaware of him, would most people really think William Eggleston's work is great photography? (I don't). Rockwell has taken images like this. But even if he'd never shot a frame that was remotely worthwhile, realise that being a great or even good photographer is a full-time job, and his job is really his website (see below), not taking photographs. Expecting him to produce masterworks all the time is unfair.
  3. He favors Nikon gear over Canon.-----------> He used to, he was a Nikon guy. He doesn't anymore. A simple check of his website will confirm this. In fact, I believe he currently rates the Canon 5D MkIII as the best DSLR.
  4. He changes his mind a lot.----------->Okay, you got me on that one. He changes his mind a lot. GUILTY.
  5. He runs his website just to make money.----------->This is the most ridiculous criticism by far, and leads me to ask the question: Why else would you expect him to run his website? As a tribute to his dogs? Don't you do your job in order to get paid? Rockwell says he maintains his website just for fun but also admits it's his primary way of providing income for his family. His website is his job. So, yes, he does it for the money. Get over it.

Is Ken Rockwell perfect? No one's perfect. Do I always agree with him? No. But so what?

So lay off Ken Rockwell. Please. I'm asking nicely.

DISCLAIMER: Though he claims he never responds to email I have written Rockwell twice in the past and he's responded graciously both times. I only mention this because some are sure to read this and conclude I'm secretly in league with Ken Rockwell, or that I'm his cousin, and it's also possible the NSA will still have a record of these emails and want to come after me for some obscure FTC violation. But the fact is, beyond two short emails, I have no connection with Ken Rockwell whatsoever.

Permalink 12/06/13 15:22, by robert, Categories: News, On the web , Tags: commentary, opinion

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