iPhone 12 Pro

This is the first year I purchased the newest iPhone on launch day since I converted to iPhone over Android six years ago. It was a thrill to open that box and see the premium stainless steel, glass back, the ceramic shield screen and that third camera lens I have been drilling over for the past year ( I skipped the previous first release.) As first impressions go, this was love at first sight.

No, I have not raced out to test the latest HDR video, nor the Dolby Vision but it is clear to anyone that has one in their hand that this is the most premium iPhone ever and it is built to be used. My only cause for frowning is that the edges pick up and enhance my fingerprints. Well that is easily solved with the slim Otterbox shell I encased it with. I don’t want a case on it because it hides the design but concurrently, I want this device to last for more than a few years. It is going to get protected. And yes, for the first time in forever, I am content.. This is what I have waited years for, a device that is gorgeous, and future-proof.

I won’t go into all the technical details and design specifications, I’ll leave that for others to write about, but they are impressive. The processing chip and memory are faster, more than most laptops, including the Mac I am using to type this.

The three camera system in the iPhone 12 Pro deserve their own article here, and I am positive that will happen once I make the time to do a proper photo shoot with them. The 12 Pro has the ultra-wide lens, wide and telephotos lenses for various uses and sometimes, you can shoot with all three. Add on the Lidar scanner to offer true depth for my photographic subjects and compares with your basic DSLR camera and lenses. Truth be told, these cameras make up the number one reason why I have upgraded.

The second reason is the high speed 5G capability and those data speeds. My carrier lit up their network here a few weeks ago in anticipation for this release and I couldn’t be more pleased. Downloads are fast, streaming is uninterrupted and thanks to unlimited tethering to the hotspot, I am second-guessing the need for home internet service. The home service speed is maxed out at 50MBs whereas the iPhone 12’s 5G capabilities here are double, sometimes triple. If I lived in a larger city, make that 10 times the speed.

I can’t wait to discover more of this iPhone as the weeks go by, especially that camera system. More later on that, of course.

Photography: A New Hope

A constant comment I hear among my photographer peers is that they feel like they’re in a creative pit. They’re bored and uninspired. And yes, let’s be honest, I have as well. Who hasn’t?
I’ve found a few cures for the ailing inspiration in the past and am looking forward to implementing new ones as well.

I’ve been too comfortable and lazy. In the past I would eliminate technical setbacks with gear and software. So, I’ve sold all of my equipment. And then I changed to a new system to see how the other half did it. But over time I was still unsatisfied. Lesson learned: equipment doesn’t matter.

For now, I am exploring and re-learning analog. Don’t misunderstand, I still enjoy my DSLR but I’ll be using it less and may even sell that as well eventually. But when I allow my brain to go manual and take control over automatic this or that is when I like it best. I get creative. I have to think and plan. It isn’t easy. I don’t want it easy anymore. There are constraints and limitations with film photography that are different from digital. If going analog gets too complacent then I’ll try an instant camera or a toy camera.

What’s Next?

I’m questioning everything lately. Do I need my photography website? Do I need a place to show galleries and portfolios? Who will see it?
I’m not offering anything unique then the next photographer. I may have some great work displayed there but so will she and he. What can I do that will set my website apart from them? Why should you follow me in the future?

I’ve been enjoying the idea of real, honest to God, tangible products that you can touch. I’ve embraced the physical portfolios and it all started with the art show in September when I offered prints for sale. I had prints leftover and so they went into an album and it thrills me in a way that photography hasn’t in such a long time. I had prints made from some of my recent road trips and those too went into an album. Magical. Now that I’m shooting 35mm and instant, they have their own albums/journals.

When I get my shit together and organized, I’ll even self-publish photo books and zines. I had. A few printed off in the past but that was back when the self-publishing industry was getting started. The offerings have improved and I’m honestly looking forward to this. Again, if I can get it together.

Perhaps these ideas will help distinguish myself from the bored, uninspired photographer. Perhaps these ideas will help me get out of those negative, bored places as well. The visitors to my website may appreciate the distinction from a bored photographer shooting the same thing as the other 12 million people fighting for attention. By making tangible products, I’ll be happier. Even if it is for myself.

Waiting for a muse is just not realistic. She isn’t real. I’ve realized that inspiration rarely comes to you but instead it is something to pursue. Doing the work itself can be inspiring. Planning the projects, cultivating my ideas, projects and products can be very beneficial.

Creativity is difficult to obtain and maybe this is why so many people are bored and uninspired.

Hibernation

2019 was a great year for my portrait photography. There are so many creative, beautiful people out there and it was great to work with them but I need a break.

I’m hanging up the camera for portrait photography to focus on personal photography and reorganizing organizing my archives and portfolio.

I’m really looking forward to focus on writing. The days will be getting shorter and colder but I’ll be inside cranking out those words.

Khmer Empire Antiquities Part II

In May 2019 I had the opportunity to explore the Art Institute of Chicago and Field Museum to research and analyze the ancient Khmer empire artifacts from Cambodia as research for an upcoming book. It was my delight to explore similar artifacts from this Labor Day in Kansas City at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.

There are a few similarities but also unique findings as well. As in Chicago it was in Kansas City that the description of these artifacts are incorrect. Minor points to help the general public understand but my way of thinking says that breeds ignorance. Let’s accept them for what they are instead of pandering, shall we?

As always though, I am grateful for the chance to explore more about this culture that has intrigued me since 1993 when I first discovered a book tucked away in the archives of a university library.

A partial bas-relief describing the Churning of the Ocean of Milk.
Sugriva the monkey king (end) leads smaller gods in this work.
Seated Buddha meditating for seven weeks. The serpent king lifts him up to prevent him drowning during a flooding storm. The artifact hosted in Chicago is more complete with the serpent’s head raised above and covering Buddha from the rains.
A pillar fragment with a heavenly maiden or devata in sandstone.
The crown on her head resembles the towers of the Angor Wat temple.
Except for the docents, we had the Nelson Atkins museum to ourselves.

Flexibility and Patience

Aspen McDonald doing her thing

At some point in every portrait photographer’s career there will be a time when things just don’t work out according to the plan. Two characteristics will be very beneficial in getting around these situations; patience and flexibility. You also need to use what resources you have so the session won’t go to waste.

When my original plan to capture a model on roller skates through the park seemed like a good idea at the time, circumstances got in the way.

The golden hour should have been ideal but it was over an hour away. The lighting was complicated and scattered. The backdrop was beautiful in itself but was too distracting with the various trees, hills, rocks etc. Also, the surfaces to skate on were bumpy at best. Lastly, the model and her wardrobe was gorgeous but the backdrop did not compliment it at all.

Two lessons learned here

  1. Have an alternate nearby location.
  2. Make the most of what you got.

Even if I am working on a photo session and it all goes wrong, it is still worth making the most of the scene. You can walk away with something for your efforts and the model’s time. There were a few portraits to be proud of and to be honest, they actually came from the model’s suggestions on which area and poses we used. Again, remaining flexible and adapting helped salvage this photo session.

Photo Exercises

In order to take advantage of the benefits of a good photo walk, try some of these visual exercises as well.

  • Walk around shooting anything and everything. Don’t discriminate, keep your mind open
  • Focus on color, monochrome, texture, composition
  • If you shoot primarily with your camera, try your phone’s camera instead. Vice versa. Change it up.
  • Look for different color combos, shapes, curves, leading lines
  • Process your photos with different styles. Over-saturate, add shadows.
  • Use your flash to drastically change the outcome.

Any or all of these exercises could help you flex your artistic muscles

Photo Walk

Now that spring time is officially here, it is time to stand up, stretch, and get moving. What better way to ease into it than a walk with your camera?

Physical fitness is essential to your artistic fitness. In order for you to become a better photographer you must become a better person.

In other words, the more physically fit you are, the better artist you are. Think of it as photography therapy. When you prioritize your physical fitness, you can become more productive.

Walk. A lot.

Start lifting again.

Make your diet a priority

Sleep better

Limit alcohol intake

Feed your creativity by walking inside museums or galleries, walking around town with your camera or walk around public spaces.

The more you shoot, the more photographically fit you can become.

What better way to enjoy the fresh Spring air?

Why Portraits?

Someone asked me the other day what type of photography do I like to shoot. Immediately my response was “portraits.”

Why?

Because people are fascinating!

Because people have individual personalities and expressions.

Because people have stories to share.

Because people are intrigued by other people.

Ever go to a museum and notice we are drawn to portraits more often than any other subject? Because people back then are just like us. In the future, they will appreciate and absorb content about us.

This is why I focus on photographing people. 

A Simpler iPad Photo Workflow

Following up on my previous post about editing photos with the iPad and VSCO workflow, I wanted to add some even more simple tools. The iPad and it’s Photos app have some very basic editing tools and help simplify your workflow.  

When I import my images to the iPad from the Lightning SD card adapter I like to think of it as a contact sheet just like we used to use for film and a darkroom. When I review the thumbnails of these images I can tell almost instantly which are kept or to be discarded. And speaking of importing, lately I have been shooting more jpeg file format as opposed to RAW. Again, simplicity. When these everyday photos are just for my use and storage, I want to minimize the file size. Faster importing and lighter on the storage. Now when I shoot for clients, I will almost always shoot in both jpeg and RAW for the sharpest, best results. Moving on.

Every photographer’s goal is to get the image right in camera. While that isn’t always possible, it is possible to have fun and play with the lighting and filter tools. 

Adjust the lighting, exposure, shadows, saturation, contrast and more. Just explore and experiment with what looks good to you. Not for anyone else. For you. This is your time to play.

There is no such thing as the perfect processing technique. When playing with the process, take a look at the offered filters.
For color filters, I lean more toward the “Dramatic” look. For black and white I prefer the “Noir” look. If these don’t do it for you, I’d suggest looking at the filters in the VSCO app.


Be sure to fine tune your image with a careful crop and rotation. These can help eliminate background clutter and even a different perspective.


Another handy dandy feature is the Favorite button. These help me sort the best from the rest. When you favorite an image it’ll go into it’s own folder. From there I can process my fave images.

When the images are finalized I will usually distribute them to various places online like my websites, Flickr, VSCO and EyeEm. But before I do that, I ensure I have access using all of my devices such as the iPhone, iPad and my laptop. Your experiences will vary but for me, I keep it simple. I use the iOS Files app, iCloud backup and Microsoft’s OneDrive. Because…Windows.  

To wrap this up, the iPad for me is quickly becoming my default device for photo production. I am constantly tweaking and refining my experience to simply my workflow. 

iPad + VSCO Workflow

The advancement in digital photographic technology has come a long way, baby. When I acquired my first digital camera 18 years ago the post processing was minimal and the software was expensive. More recently, I’ve converted from a Nikon and Compact Flash adapter to desktop drive to an SD card to laptop situation. Why? Simplicity.

I am simplifying and tweaking my workflow all the time because I want to do more shooting as opposed to editing. Get me back out there!

Lugging a laptop around with all my photography gear is not ideal or even necessary anymore. With the technology improvements of the iPad it is becoming my go-to workhorse to catalog and process my images. Other benefits? 

– [ ] Speed. The iPad can load and process faster than a laptop and Adobe Lightroom
– [ ] Cost. A good iPad is cheaper than a laptop

So how do you get your RAW/JPEG images from your camera to your iPad?  Well, you could use the camera’s WiFi transfer feature. Or wait for them to load into your cloud drive and download them. For me? I prefer the $29 SD card adapter from Apple. This is one of the best, cheapest investments I have made. 

When I insert my SD card into the adapter and then into the iPad, the Photos Import module appears. You can choose to import all or select individual images.

To help keep me organized I add these photos to a new album such as this example here, After Dark.

VSCO, The Visual Supply Company

I am a big fan of this software. They have grown from a photo filter software app to a full fledged photographic community that could and should replace Instagram. They have both free and paid subscription model that allows them to avoid ads in their software. I pay $20 a *year* for their products as opposed to $10 a *month* for the Adobe photography plan. I just saved $100. Follow me there if you’d like: https://vsco.co/photodenbow

Now that I’ve opened the VSCO app to import my selected photos I can choose the presets to set the tone I want for my images. VSCO presets emulate actual film effects from Kodak, Fuji, Iilford, etc. They even have creative, fun presets.

After I’ve chosen the effects I can tweak individual settings such as saturation, hues, white balance etc. From there I will save to my VSCO feed or journal as well as download to the iPad. After that, do what you will with your finished product.


There is no perfect workflow for me because I am constantly tweaking it to keep it simple. Who knows? Maybe next month it will change again.