Category Archives: Photography

Some of Pete Souza’s very best work

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In an attempt to cheer me up a bit at the end of a rough week, Bryan Caskey sent me this link. As the page explains,

The White House’s Pete Souza Has Shot Nearly 2M Photos of Obama, Here are 55 of His Favorites

I’ve long appreciated Souza’s work. You see it here on the blog from time to time, often illustrating my Open Threads — even when it has nothing to do the topics in the thread — partly because I like them, and partly because they’re in the public domain and I can use them without being sued.

Anyway, here are a few that particularly appealed to me out of the 55.

Thanks, Bryan…

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This is why I liked Reuters’ photo service

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By the time I started working at newspapers in the ’70s, The Associated Press had become so dominant that about all most people saw of UPI was the unmistakable visage of Helen Thomas at White House press briefings.

In all the subsequent years, I only worked at one paper that subscribed to UPI — The Wichita Eagle-Beacon (now just “Wichita Eagle”).

I appreciated that for one reason — the photos. Time and time again, the photos that came crawling out of our UPI machine were better than the ones AP sent us from the same events.

I knew this because it was part of my job to make such critical comparisons. I was the news editor, which meant I was in charge of the paper from 6 p.m. until the last page went to bed after 1 in the morning. I was also the guy who made most final decisions on what made it into the news pages of the paper and how it was played. That included choosing all the photos, from what our staff photographers offered to the wire services.

And what I learned was that the AP laserphotos got the job done, but their UPI counterparts tended to have a certain je ne sais quoi that made them special. This was due, as I recall it, to the fact that Reuters was included in the package. Those Reuters photogs really had an eye.

For that reason, one night when the UPI photo machine broke down, I spent an hour or two on the phone with a technician in Oklahoma City as he talked me through the steps to fix it (AP would have had someone in town, but UPI’s nearest office was in the next state).

This must have been a rare night when I was fully staffed, and therefore didn’t have to lay out the front page and oversee production of the A section myself. So I learned a new skill. This was an error that I committed over and over in my career — learning how to do something that no one else in the newsroom knew how to do. So whenever that machine broke down again — which it did frequently — I had to fix it if I wanted those excellent Reuters photos.

Anyway, I got to thinking about all that when I saw the above photo from the protests in Baton Rouge the other day.

It was special enough that The Washington Post did a whole separate story about this one Reuters photo:

Jonathan Bachman was snapping pictures of protesters yelling at the officers when he turned and saw her.

The woman in the summer dress didn’t seem to look at the two officers as they ran toward her. Instead, she seemed to look beyond them — even as they arrested her.

“She just stood there and made her stand,” the Reuters photographer told BuzzFeed. “I was just happy to be able to capture something like that.”

Bachman’s powerful photo quickly went viral….

Yeah, it’s good. Every other service got the obligatory photos of people being arrested and such, but Reuter’s Johathan Bachman got this. Good job.

Fortunately for the Eagle, they don’t need that old laserphoto machine anymore to get such shots. If not for the Web, they’d be in trouble, because the repairman is here in Columbia…

General, you might want to spread your troops out a bit

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Ran across this photo when the U.S. Army Tweeted it out in celebration of National Selfie Day — which apparently is a thing — earlier this week.

It shows Gen. Robert B. Abrams, commander of U.S. Army Forces Command at Fort Bragg, posing with some of his troops.

All I could think was that in a combat situation — and the way they’re decked out it certainly looks like a combat situation — a formation like this would be suicidal. One mortar round, and that’s it.

I’d just feel a lot better if they were spread out in a proper skirmish line.

Beyond that, it just looks ridiculous… it sort of cracked me up.

I never knew this photo existed in color

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I was startled to find the above image in my WashPost app over the weekend.

Startled because I had no idea that a color version of the photo existed.

You see the more familiar version below. While they are almost identical, aside from the color in the one above, they aren’t quite. I imagine they were shot by different cameras that were right next to each other, in the same split-second (although it’s possible that they’re from the same camera and exposed a tiny fraction of a second apart, with the black-and-white version printed from a color negative — but that seems less likely).

But they’re definitely not from the same negative. Note the position of his right elbow — it’s markedly different in relation to the waistband of his trunks. A more dramatic difference — the bald photographer at ringside is seen directly between Clay’s (this is before he was Ali) legs in the color photo, and is off to the side of his right leg in the the black-and-white.

Bottom line, though, which photo do you like better? A silly question, perhaps, but bear with me.

You might say the color one, as it gives you more information.

But I prefer the black-and-white. It just seems more… legit. It’s history, and one thinks of legitimate photos of history as being black-and-white — particularly specific photos one has already seen in black-and-white.

Also, at the time, it was news. And news photos were in black and white back then. (The color one, according to the credit, was taken by Neil Leifer for Sports Illustrated — which unlike newspapers at the time, used color photos.)

Color seems… fake somehow. Like it was a re-enactment. Or like a colorized version of “Casablanca.”

It’s not a rational response, I’ll admit. But that’s how I responded to it…

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Is Google Maps cool, or what?

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Any of y’all using Windows 10? I am, on both of my laptops, and it’s working fairly well for me.

I have one small complaint — the lockscreen offers these wonderful photographs, and I enjoy looking at them and all, but I want to know more. What am I looking at? Where and how was it taken? And so forth…Ballentine - Warthen Ad

Well, this afternoon, I outfoxed it. The lockscreen gave me the image above, and I knew that was London by the glimpse of the Tower Bridge. So I decided to find it on Google Maps, using the Streetview feature.

And it worked! Even though that’s not technically a street, but a pedestrian area.

I thought at first that it was taken from the City side of the river. I remember some building angles like that from when I walked in that area back in December 2010. But then I spotted, on the south side of the Thames, the distinctive building that’s visible just before the Tower Bridge.

That’s City Hall, as it turns out.

Anyway, once I saw that, it only took a couple of seconds to place myself virtually in almost the same spot as the photographer.

Google Maps is just awesome. We may not have flying cars, but Maps provides us with something amazing that I could not even have imagined when I was a kid.

The future has turned out to be fairly impressive after all…

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Does high-resolution digital photography call for a new journalistic ethic?

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This is a tough topic for a couple of reasons. First, it ventures into the sensitive area that Donald Trump stomped all over with his gross comments about Carly Fiorina — the area in which women are unfairly judged by their appearance.

Second, I can’t really show you what I’m talking about on a standard-resolution PC. You sort of need the Retina display of a late-model iPad. Since I can’t see what I’m talking about at my end on this machine, I doubt that you can, either. (You can sort of, but not quite, see what I mean if you click on the above image, then click again to enlarge it. But it’s not the same.)

But I thought I’d try to raise it anyway.

Over the weekend, I was scrolling through the stories in the Washington Post app on my iPad, and paused on this story (at least, that’s what includes this photo when I look back — I think originally it was something else) about Hillary Clinton, which featured the above photo full-screen. And my first thought was, “That’s not fair.”

The resolution in this moderate close-up was just ridiculously good. It’s not just that it showed every line in the face of a 67-year-old woman in an unguarded moment, unlit by a smile or any other sort of expression. It’s that I could practically see the grains in her makeup. It was just way, way too up close and personal.

And it occurred to me that, had I been the editor in charge of preparing that story for tablet publication, I would have paused, and thought, “Don’t we have something a little less intrusive?” Not something flattering, necessarily, just something neutral.

Something else occurred to me this morning when I was looking around for a photo of a male candidate where you could see the TV makeup on him with this kind of detail — and it occurred to me that I have not seen a photo like that anywhere. There are closeups, such as the one below of a sweaty Bernie Sanders — but none with obvious makeup, which we all know they sometimes wear. (And I was looking for that because I think it was the fact that I could see all of her makeup in such detail that made it seem so invasive.)

I don’t know where I’m going with this, except that photography as detailed as what we have today with high-end digital cameras — and sometimes just with iPhones — raises new questions of editorial propriety.

The last couple of weekends, I’ve been digitizing some old slides from back in the ’70s, and I’ve been scanning them at a rather ridiculous resolution — 4800 dpi — in order not to lose any detail. And I’ve learned something — there just wasn’t that much detail in 35mm photography, at least not like what I’ve grown accustomed to with even garden-variety digital images.

And occasionally, this extreme increase in detail raises questions about how much is enough, and whether there is such a thing as too much…

Bernie at Benedict

Counterculture heroes, or, Back when radical was chic

Ginsberg

I think Ginsberg was sitting among us in the amphitheater waiting to be introduced here.

 

Several years ago, my wife gave me a scanner with an attachment for scanning negatives and slides. I had wanted this in order to start digitizing my vast stash of 35mm film from several decades of personal and professional photography.

I’ve never really undertaken the task systematically. The idea of trying to match up separate strips of film in glassine envelopes even to the point of getting them together in their actual rolls, much less trying to assign dates to each roll to get them in chronological order, is just too Herculean. Especially since scanning a single exposure at sufficient resolution to ensure good enlargements takes a couple of minutes.

But I do leaf through my negatives randomly from time to time and blow up a forgotten image from long ago. I was doing so over the weekend, and ran across these images from about 1973 or ’74.

Here you see two counterculture heroes of that generation, both of whom were participants in a speaker series at Southwestern at Memphis, now known as Rhodes College. We have Allen Ginsberg of “Howl” fame, and Daniel Ellsberg of the Pentagon Papers. This was when my wife and I were students at neighboring Memphis State University, now known as University of Memphis. (What is it about Memphis and constantly changing the names of colleges?)

At least this shot of Ellsberg was in focus.

At least this shot of Ellsberg was in focus.

No, I don’t think Southwestern had a rule that your name had to end in “sberg” for you to speak there. But both were very much counterculture heroes at the time — Ginsberg as a writer and (more importantly) as the biggest surviving light of the Beat Generation, Ellsberg as the antiwar activist and forerunner of Julian Assange and Edward Snowden.

Not that they were heroes to me, mind you. But I was a student journalist, and they were big newsmakers. So I showed up, with my camera. (Also, my wife reminds me, the young woman who was our maid of honor in our wedding had been involved in bringing Ginsberg to the campus. I don’t know whether she was involved with Ellsberg.)

Also, the Beats loomed large in the legend of my wife and I getting together. We met at a party (at Southwestern, actually) that my wife and the future maid of honor were having for mutual friends who were getting married. During the party, J and I discovered that she was reading a Jack Kerouac biography even as I was reading On the Road for the first time. And the rest is history. (I had had that copy of On the Road for a couple of years, but had waited until that moment to read it.)

By this time, Kerouac and Cassady had been dead for years, so Ginsberg was the best we could do.

Anyway… I got to thinking about these photos this morning when I was reading this interesting review of a book, Days of Rage, about the violent fringes of American radicalism during that period. If you can get past the WSJ’s pay wall, you might want to check it out.

No, there’s no one-to-one comparison here. Compared to the likes of Bill Ayers (the Obama buddy!), Bernardine Dohrn and Terry Robbins, Ellsberg and Ginsberg were relatively tame. I mean, they didn’t want to blow anybody up or anything. What we had on that Memphis campus was more like “Days of Mild, Trendy Disaffection” than “Rage.”

But it still reminded me of these pictures, so I thought I’d share…

When I shot this, I thought I had an awesome picture -- I had caught Ellsberg looking RIGHT AT ME in the wings. Only later did I see that he was out of focus. Ah, the limitations of real film and manual-focus SLRs...

When I shot this, I thought I had an awesome picture — I had caught Ellsberg looking RIGHT AT ME in the wings. Only later did I see that he was out of focus. Ah, the limitations of real film and manual-focus SLRs…

 

My grainy picture of Bob Dylan and The Band, 1974

Dylan and The Band 1974

Yesterday, I was plowing through a box of old prints looking for something else, and ran across the image above. The little red crop marks in the margins tell me that this ran in The Helmsman, the student newspaper at Memphis State University (now University of Memphis), possibly with a review by me.

I don’t remember writing such a review, but I do remember the concert — one of the best ever. I wish I could have gotten a better picture. But with Tri-X film and my old Yashica SLR, this was about as good as I was going to get, with the detail in Bob Dylan’s face sort of blowing out because of the spotlight. I seem to recall developing and printing it myself, and not being able to get it better than this. (In those days you couldn’t just click “sharpen” in PhotoShop; you had to have skills, but eventually physical limitations were physical limitations — you had what you had on the negative, and could only do so much with the print.) I suspect we ran the image fairly small in the paper so you couldn’t see how bad it was. It would have been even better to run the whole image, instead of cropping it down to Dylan (leaving out Robbie Robertson, Levon Helm and the top of Garth Hudson’s large head). Don’t know who made that decision…

I shot this at the Mid-South Coliseum in Memphis on the night of January 23, 1974. The show was everything a fan could wish for — lots of Band material, plenty of Dylan. Dylan even did an acoustic set with guitar and harmonica, in a sort of bluish spotlight, and I remember having this weird disconnect looking at him: He looked so much like the cover of the greatest hits album that I couldn’t quite convince myself that this was real, and I was here. It was odd.

Anyway, I was referring to this show when I wrote this comment several months ago:

When I think of the way a band ought to look, this is the image in my mind. Almost this EXACT image, as I saw The Band and Dylan together on this same tour, in Memphis in 1974.

Ever since then, whenever I’ve contemplated the absurd extremes of costume donned by performers — from Bowie in his Ziggy phase to KISS to Devo to Lady Gaga, or for that matter going back to the way Brian Epstein dressed up the Beatles — I’ve pictured this, and thought, this is the way a band should look. Nothing should distract from the music.

It’s an ultimately cool, casual, timeless look. They could be graduate assistants, or guys sitting on a bench outside a saloon in the Old West. I had cultivated much this same look since my high school days. I bought myself a Navy blue tweed jacket with muted reddish pinstripes running through it that to me looked EXACTLY like what the guys in the Band — or for that matter, Butch Cassidy or Sundance — might wear. I wore it with a U.S. Navy dungaree work shirt that my Dad had given me, and jeans, and scruffy suede desert boots (like the ones Art Garfunkel is wearing in this picture).

Come to think of it, I’ve never really abandoned that look. Today, I’m wearing a vaguely green corduroy jacket with a charcoal-gray sweater vest over an unstarched sport shirt, with olive green chinos that are fraying at the cuffs.

It’s what I think is cool. And comfortable…

So when I ran across the picture, I thought I’d share it.

I know what, lads! Try walking the OTHER way now…

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Ran across the above image on Pinterest today.

Seems a bit off, doesn’t it? Here’s what they were reaching for.

The website the Pin linked to didn’t offer any information beyond the headline, “Abbey Road Album Cover Outtakes.” You’d think there be a word or two about the photographer, etc.

But no. In this increasingly image-oriented world, too often we only get the pictures.

But I went and found this info elsewhere:

Iain Macmillan was a freelance photographer and a friend to John Lennon and Yoko Ono. He used a Hasselblad camera with a 50mm wide-angle lens, aperture f22, at 1/500 seconds.

Prior to the shoot, Paul McCartney had sketched his ideas for the cover, to which Macmillan added a more detailed illustration….

A policeman held up the traffic as Macmillan, from a stepladder positioned in the middle of the road, took six shots as the group walked across the zebra crossing just outside the studio.

The Beatles crossed the road a number of times while Macmillan photographed them. 8 August was a hot day in north London, and for four of the six photographs McCartney walked barefoot; for the other two he wore sandals.

Shortly after the shoot, McCartney studied the transparencies and chose the fifth one for the album cover. It was the only one when all four Beatles were walking in time. It also satisfied The Beatles’ desire for the world to see them walking away from the studios they had spent so much of the last seven years inside….

Of course, we are left to guess whether that’s accurate. But it sounds right. Notice how Paul was driving everything? By the end, he was the only one interested in doing things together as Beatles…

What?!? You don’t think people got THIRSTY in 1924?

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ADCO‘s clients sometimes wonder why we want to make sure to have our own Brian Murrell present on photo or video shoots to direct the proceedings.

This is why. Even the best photographers and videographers, sticklers for detail, can make a mistake. It helps to have an independent (and skilled) eye overseeing the proceedings.

This mistake is painful. You know that everybody concerned strained to get every tiny detail exactly right — the costumes, the hairstyles, the fireplace, the vases, the clock.

And they almost succeeded. But then later had to remove this photo, taken with such loving care to promote the upcoming fifth season, from “Downton Abbey’s” Facebook page.

All because somebody involved was thirsty…

Back when my two youngest were ‘the little girls’

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My youngest daughter, the one who’s in Thailand now, adopted the above image as her new profile picture on Facebook. As I said in response, this is one of my favorite pictures I ever shot — perhaps one of my favorites that I ever saw.

It shows my two youngest. This was back when they were known in the family as “the little girls.” We had the three “big kids” who were close together in age, then a five-year gap, then the little girls.

Now they’re grown, like the big kids.

This was also back when I was still using my Nikon 8008, an awesome camera that now sits in a drawer because dealing with film is such an expensive hassle. I used to shoot black-and-white all the time — this was probably shot either on Tri-X or T-Max — which I would develop at home, and make my own prints. I would close off a bathroom that had no windows, set up my enlarger, put towels down at the crack under the door, and spend a whole Saturday printing.

This is one of those prints. The resolution is a little soft (actually, we would have referred to focus and grain rather than “resolution”), but that’s the way it was with 400 ASA film with ambient light indoors. But that’s one of the things that makes the picture work.

Tempus fugit.

Another freaky photo makes the front of the WSJ

Turkey

Is it HDR? Was a lot of work done on it in PhotoShop? I don’t know. But there was another fairly freaky photo of unrest abroad gracing the front page of The Wall Street Journal today.

Maybe it was just a lucky shot, under unusual lighting conditions. But it comes across as either unreal or hyper-real, more like a painting than a photo (a significant factor in this impression is the amount of detail in the underlit face of the man at left). The image is grainier than the ones I noted earlier from Ukraine, which makes it seem even less like a photo.

I see that in this country, there’s a debate going on among folks who still have MSM jobs about the propriety of using High-Dynamic-Range images. (Near as I can understand, with HDR your camera takes several exposures of the same frame at the same time, with different exposures. Then you can take the best parts of each of those exposures to produce something that is more like what the human eye sees, if not better. With conventional photography, if you have a backlit subject, you have to decide whether to expose for the dark subject in the foreground — causing the background to white out in an explosion of light — or the background, which makes the subject in the foreground go dark. As I understand, HDR frees you from making the choice.)

Is the same debate going on among those who shoot breaking news abroad? Will we be told if they are using these processes? Should we be?

Hey, State paper! I took that picture!

Campbell

I called up this story over at thestate.com, about how Mike Campbell is going to run for lieutenant governor (again), and Henry McMaster might, too.

Imagine my surprise to see a photo I shot of Campbell years ago — during his last run for the same office.

It was taken in the board room, and with the little Canon camera I used to use. It had a tilting viewscreen, so that I could hold it down on the table, unobstrusively, and glance down at the screen to aim and focus the shot. You can see me doing it in this photo of me with Barack Obama.

I miss that little camera, which quit working after a photo session with the twins in the surf at the beach. I haven’t been able to find another in that price range with the handy tilting window, which allowed for candids I couldn’t have gotten otherwise.

Not sure how The State had that picture, since I always kept the photos on my laptop. I must have used it in a print edition one time. (Normally, my photos only appeared on my blog, as did this one.)

Anyway, it looks like my contributions to the paper continue, despite my absence…

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Another realer-than-real photo, this one in black and white

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Remember the photos of protests in the Ukraine that I noted seemed more intensely real than a photograph could be? (Burl said they probably looked like that because of the HDR process, and I think he’s probably right.)

This photo of LIndsey Graham meeting and greeting had a similar quality, I thought.

Graham aide Kevin Bishop — that’s him in the center of the photo — tweeted it out earlier this week with the comment, “Proud member of #TeamGraham! pic.twitter.com/x1RnKRb8MR.”

I wrote to him to say, “Nice picture. I like the lighting. Is it staged, or candid?”

“Candid,” he replied.

And I suppose it would be. I don’t think they would have struck those particular poses and expressions in a staged shot.

But there’s something about the light that makes it look staged, and professionally so, as though a movie director were involved. And the black-and-white adds to the effect.

It seems like a Dewar’s profile kind of print ad, or something like that.

See what I mean? Or is it just me?