who invented Wedding Photography?

if I knew what hatred felt like, then perhaps I can say: I hate wedding photography. then, a few seconds later I would say that I love it because of the people involved.

I am not sure that I experience anything as draining as photographing a wedding. of course, the weddings that I have photographed are very low-key. the groom** makes it very clear that they are not interested in many photos — which may be, or not, what they mean, but it is good to hear. so, I think to myself: "great, this is going to be easy."

perhaps what is fatiguing is trying to achieve the "zen" of observing, imagining and composing, while at the same time anticipating what comes next. perhaps this is something that comes with a bit of practice, and even then, it must require a type of uncommon talent. 

in no instance have I been asked for "classic" photos: the poses de rigueur that constitute the foundation of a dream wedding as indoctrinated by countless wedding albums. for one, I rarely like to tell people what to do: I just observe, imagine and compose. because of this, I must say upfront to any request for wedding photography that I will not be doing those kind of photographs, though I certainly can give it a try and hope that the orchestration — the weak point in execution — somehow comes together. 

the biggest stress about wedding photography is to have the critical photos turn up in the way imagined. there is no correction in post-processing that can help the critical photos gone wrong. ok, there are some ways to recover something if one is adept to altering what was imagined, though this is not something to anticipate.

in the digital age, the results can be anticipated to be available faster than quick. something I tried in this instance was to create a small set of draft-work photos that sampled the entire span of photos taken, and to apply commercial presets, instead of processing them in my custom way (as shown in the slideshow below, and the book at Blurb). so the, I applied presets from VSCO Film 03/04 and uploaded the drafts to Dunked [ link ]. it is interesting the difference, and how after a week of "sitting on the photos", the presentation was varied, with some photos changed to colour from black & white.

the stress always turn to elation while looking at the results. that is because, even when people are recent acquaintances, by the time the wedding is done, a level of empathy has been developed and the photos are a way to re-live the wedding with that empathy in place. it makes the presentation of the photos so much easier to perform.

a selection: the wedding took place on 10 March 2014 and San Francisco's City Hall. in keeping with modern aesthetics, the first photo is from a phone, and the album is online. no trees have been harmed in the distribution of these photos. yet.

** this is for the weddings for which I have been hired as a first photographer.

[ ps ] on a personal note, this wedding was significant in that I had not voted since the disappointment with Clinton in 1992. however, because of the close polling for Proposition 8, and wanting to enjoy a vote for Obama, I registered and voted in the 2008 election. it did not have the immediate result I hoped, because of what turned out to be out-of-state meddling, but I like to think that this wedding was a reward for that vote... and all the Jury Duty calls I have received since.


all photos are up for view at the Blurb store [ link ]:

a website for photographers: what does it take?

a few days ago there was flickr's 10th anniversary, and the site has made quite a splash — good and bad — with their recent changes.

granted, flickr was not designed for photographers. rather, it was designed as a web-based shoebox. to this day, it serves that purpose with very few glitches, more so at present when one Terabyte of storage is allowed for free. 

however, people have a knack to cast websites into their own needs. likely with the advent of the democratization of photography — thanks to digital cameras, and the boom of the internet to a wider audience — flickr was able to serve as the gathering place for people that wanted to pursue photography beyond a shoebox holder.

unfortunately, flickr would break at the seams. the site never really pursued a photo-centric presentation of one's work:

  1. photos were cropped to a square thumbnail at the center without user selection.
  2. an emphasis on meaningless statistics, such as views/faves.
  3. a one-solution-to-all approach to explore the site via Explore page.
  4. dormant development/update of groups, which still has a late-90s functionality.

some of these failures are easy to fix, but others may require a site overhaul. one of the great difficulties with users appropriating the site to their needs was the high-levels of confusion that was created. for example, Explore is not a sort of critical/curated selection, but rather a social-metrics based photo selection that does not have a correlation to merit. but this confusion generated so many of the site's ills. elsewhere, groups such as the (infamous) Help Forum and Flickr Central gave the impression of official involvement, with users being confused for employees. more recently, even in the rollout of major changes, there was a failure to explain these changes. most sites make a short video to explain the changes/clicks and how the functions being rolled out work into a vision. instead, the site's changes had some good (bigger images, no more thumbnails), and great failings: no cohesive design, but one (seemingly) driven by ideas on coding prowess. it also showed that flickr was trying to follow the evolution taking place at other sites, rather than pursue a vision that was based on its years of experience.

for all of these failings, during the golden years, many photographers managed to learn in their own way and propel themselves within, and outside, of the internet. a number of groups, such as Utata, provided a sensible instigation to do more than take photos that were hoped to make it to Explore.

so then, in personally having been on the site since 2005, and active (uploading) through 2009**, what would be the features that would make for a good photography site? by this, I do not mean a we-are-all-artists site, but one that fosters the art of photography, and not a social site with photographs as its currency: the currency should be the pursuit of photography, not the photographs themselves. here are some notions:

forgo all metrics, but allow for some tracking features.

most sites these days provide means to use tools such as Google Analytics, and that should be useful to photographers, if they want it. if the photo pages gets a lot of views from a website that may have, without permission/attribution, linked to the photo, then it is good to be alerted. views and faves counts are useless because of their unreliability, and lack of control (e.g., people are not at the site at all hours, it is the nature of a global base).

remove the contests/competition

the idea of a ranking algorithm in photography is antithetical to the pursuit of photography, and drives an unhealthy pursuit for attention. it is rather clear that this is also what drives traffic/users to a site, and it is an easy temptation to make a site profitable.

devise a site-exploring algorithm

with the hype over big data, one of its perfect uses is to tailor the site's exploring for a given user. on flickr, there was the Greasemonkey script that would show one's contacts faves. provided one would add contacts on the merits of their photographs, rather an a social passive-aggressive duty, then the script offers a superior result to a socio-metrics based algorithm.

be big and small

a big site is great for exploring its photos, but useless for promoting one's photography needs: one is overwhelmed if not lost (e.g., 500px's lack of groups). a structure for groups and discussion is essential to the site, and rather than anarchy (as in flickr), something grows with time. in this instance, lessons learned from many discussion-based sites can be adopted.

love the comments, hate the comments

the user must be given control over comments on the a photo page. many comments are vapid ("Great Capture!"), others are passive-aggressive cut-and-paste useless words with links to their pages. Instagram and 500px have taken measures towards this problem, while flickr still allows HTML tags to be part of comments. in some ways, the user has to be fearless in "curating" the comments on a photo page.


on the one end there is the fiasco of MySpace customization, and on another, there is the unwelcome rigidity from flickr. yet, Tumblr thrives relatively well. a site can control the templates and their customization features, and with time allow for users to apply their CSS talents to make further template designs.

precise site management groups

while it is very unlikely that flickr's programmers designed the site, the impression gathered is that of an absent design team: any sort of integrated aesthetics are absent, and instead it is about what can be done with today's software, and what other sites are doing. it is imperative that the user experience be given the utmost effort towards a sensible design and functionality. 


as part of the process to learn photography, one must be able to pursue the means to curate series of photographs. flickr has provided this functionality through their Gallery pages, though it has to be made possible to energize them and make them points of interaction and discussion. a greater power for its use would require access to photos outside the site, and this is a harder problem to solve. presently, Tumblr offer such an opportunity, while an integrated functionality to a site offers greater potential.

in general terms, the new site developers would have to overcome the hi-tech malaise of "flickr killer" mentality. even for less photographic-centric sites, this thinking requires a replication of flickr-features, which may not be of service towards a successful site.

in closing, the design of a site such as this requires quite a bit of algorithmic and social know-how that builds on the usage of the sites developed so far. there is also a major problem to solve about the financial success of such a site. ideally, the site should have a sizeable functionality be free, with some customization at a fee. yet, it is unclear if a "free+" site could survive financially. further, the structure of how to balance user feedback and the "lynch mob" activity that besieges the Help Forum on flickr has to be avoided. also, users cannot be confused for the site's staff. this is not to imply that a group can be structured, clearly, that it is a user-based to assist with questions.

the simplest question, once all the ideas are in place: is there a need for such a site?

[ link ] comments can be made on facebook post

** I was encouraged by the changes rolled out on May 2013, but the execution was extremely flawed, and soon after beginning some uploading frenzy, it had to stop.

hell is other people: how photography can be difficult for a photographer

the current internet boom and the way that it is being carved — like apps and micro social networks — still leaves a general trend with insidious persistency: the democratization of certain art forms, and the talents that are lost.

the starting premise has to be that at any time, true talent is rare. this notion would not have been difficult to accept a few decades ago, and could have eroded with time, and now fully distorted under the bubbles of the internet. however, if thirty years ago it was easy to accept that 3.17% of the population was talented at photography, then nothing has changed to increase that rarity. there is no technology that can (arguably) affect an innate talent. yes, technology has increased the number of people that can be competent at a craft, but that is not the same as being... well, creative within that craft. « Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere » said Albert Einstein, and in creativity, we are looking for the (rare) presence of imagination. at the same time, we can welcome the increase availability of the "logician" that can execute the craft.

a casual perusal of social networks demonstrates that there is a given currency within a site to draw attention. in the case of photography, we can point to flickr, Instagram or 500px as sites where a photograph is the social currency for attention. in some instances, the photograph is not a means to pursue art, and in other cases, the originator does pursue a form of art to be validated by the social interaction. unlike "old media", there is no curator to filter the art. this can be viewed as a freedom gained by the internet, but Andrew Keen argues otherwise [ link to YouTube interview]:

« ... problem with democratization: it's so soft, so ordinary, so lacking in innovation, so unshocking. [...] so the democratization ethos of the internet is of ordinariness... of boredom... of garbage... of shit. »
Andrew Keen

and in this context, Moby expands with [ link to YouTube interview ] the insidious democracy offered by the internet :

« sacrificing rare creativity that has depth for ubiquitous creativity that's very shallow »

in no instance do they offer a solution, and a solution would not be easy to forment, as in the assertion from Andrew Keen that we need the curator of the pre-internet age. and thus, for the photographer with a talent that could have been brought to prominence in the old system, it is now to be lost in a sea of shit.

Jörg M. Colberg offers the following modification on a Thomas Mann quote about writers:

« a photographer is a person for whom photographing is more difficult than it is for other people »

in which it means to Mr. Colberg that: « Photographers, stop whining about Instagram or the "flood of images." It's hard to be a photographer not because of any of that. It's because what it means being a photographer. » and there is a point to this: a photographer should be so busy with their quest and fostering of their rare talent, that what happens on the internet should not play into their concern with their pursuit.

while the quote is quite fundamental to the pursuits of a photographer, there is the problem for those people that pursue photography as profession to highlight their talent: there is a sea of shit still happening, with a complacent/vapid mass which lends credence to the idea that likes/faves/followers correlate with talent.

thus, we are still left with Jean-Paul Sartre's notion that "hell is other people." or should we modify it too for the photographer world?

personally, I am lucky to be in a position where photography is a tool for an inner quest, which does not rely on the externals of the past — seeking representation — or the present: navigating a vapid sea of complacency and quid pro quo magnification via passive-aggressiveness "social actions." however, this trend is one that piques my interest as many other ways that the masses trivialize what is good photography to maximize the inclusion of a greater number of people under some misperception that there is more talent available under the guises of technological advances.

"pontificators of grandeur**" are relegated to blogging, or curating, but with a lesser effect due to a "tl;dr" audience that processes too much information. on the other hand, there does not seem to be a means to coalesce those people that can educate, and properly curate bodies of work, to offer a new means of utilizing the internet to sustain the discovery of talent within photography. instead, there are the bubbles of the "internet photography" and the "gallery photographer." the latter seem to use the internet solely as a means of advertising, rather than a tool to further the foundations of its pursuits.

** this label came to mind in a snark-reply to one of the famous internet "photographers", and I am still fond of the term: it is endearing in some ways.

[ link ] a nice discussion has happened on this article on facebook (public post)

concert photography & the "decompressing" moment

there are many changes that digital photography is bringing to photography genres, and a very noticeable one is concert photography. the high ISO performance of modern sensor, the compactness of cameras, and the aspiration of many to get "the shot" at a concert has drastically changed the experience to those attending concerts — with, or without, cameras.

I never took concert photos with film, so I am in that group of people polluting the concert venues, and definitely started looking for "the shot" — whatever that means. the first self-inflicted disturbance of my concert-going experience was the idea of audio recording. after a while, getting annoyed at the "talkers" really impacted my enjoyment of the concert experience. however, taking photos seem to be much less intrusive.

Judge Smith, London, 2005 by Kodiak Xyza

in having an allergy towards big venues, then it also became a challenge of how to take photos (starting in about 2005, at a Judge Smith concert in London) in such dimly lit clubs. this technical challenge, plus the increase in "concert photographers" disturbing others, began to inform my approach. at the time, I was not taking portraits of any note — still avoiding people in my photos, actually. 

Bill Callahan, San Francisco, Oct 2007 by Kodiak Xyza

Matt Berninger (The National) at The Troubadour, Los Angeles, 2006 Oct by Kodiak Xyza

by 2007, things started to come together. a set of aesthetics, and "principles" began to develop, and the first pleasing result came at a Bill Callahan (Smog) concert. in October of that year, he played The Independent in San Francisco, and there was a clear "callahan" moment. although taken before the Bill Callahan photo, at a concert at The Troubadour in Los Angeles, there were similar moments by Matt Berninger of The National that I could not recognize at the time, but did in revisiting the photos years after. in both instances, there was something about a pause between songs, and at times, a pause within the song. in some ways, these moments were more like a portrait, rather than what I call a Kerrrang! moment.

there were "problems" if I wanted to promote the concert photos: I took my time to process the photos — namely a delay before I looked at them — and the photos that I liked were not like what I saw elsewhere in style. the style being developed by the use of digital cameras was that of overly bright, overly saturated, long depth of field, and overly sharpened wide-angle crotch/face shots. 

perhaps the missing link between what I saw in online concert photos, and what was happening with my camera, is the photo by Pennie Smith of Paul Simonon that made the cover of the The Clash's seminal London Calling. a definite Kerrrang! moment, coupled to all the effects transmitted by a performer which belies an impression of the music being played. it is with some humour that, like much of the commentary in today's comments about photos, she considered the photo not to be good enough for the album cover because it was out of focus.

Paul Simonon  by  Pennie Smith  at the New York Palladium in 1979

Paul Simonon by Pennie Smith at the New York Palladium in 1979

Winfred E. Eye at El Rio, San Francisco 2009 by Kodiak Xyza

in the ensuing years, I was able to attend a few concerts by Oakland's Winfred E. Eye. they played at small venues in San Francisco, and the lighting situation was rather poor. the lens had to be used wide open (ƒ1.4, or ƒ1.2), the shutter speed struggled to be above 1/30s, and I had to be close to the stage due wider-than-usual lenses to be used. the aesthetics got further changed because I began to notice that I could not track the focus with the performer. the solution? focus on the microphone that was stationary, since the bands' singers also played the guitar.

in 2011, I was fortunate enough to attend a rare reunion concert by Sad Lovers and Giants. during some correspondence with singer Garçe Allard about the photos I took, there was a question about what I sought with my concert photos. for me, even to this day, the best concert photo I have taken was of Garçe, at some swanky small Berlin venue. I finally managed to express what was it that I sought in a concert photograph in a mail to him:

« this photograph is what I strive for in concert photography, and I am so glad to have caught it. while I enjoy the "energetic" concert photo as anyone else, I like that "decompression" moment of a performer, which happens ever so rarely, and few performers can express it as well as the moment of energy. wonderful that you wear your emotions while performing in such a full range.  »

Garçe Allard (Sad Lovers and Giants), Berlin, 2011 by Kodiak Xyza

while it is hardly rot work, concert photography is the search for the Decompression Moment, and to keep the camera focused on the microphone. the good thing is that, when it actually happens, it is typically in-between songs, and that is when it least disturbs the audience to wield out the camera. 

another element in my concert photography is to pick a spot and stay put. beyond the use of flash, and all the arms raised throughout a concert, the worst thing is to keep moving through the concert, and on the front row, to make way for "the concert photographer". 

• [ linkSad Lovers and Giants: they are featured in a retrospective on The Big Takeover issues #73 and #74. the photo above may be included.

on the way to a pinhole

I think photography should be unrestricted in ideas — and categorization being a red herring — with cameras not really creating any limitation to capturing what we want.

ok, so in the real world, we have to contend with myriad of limitations due to the physics of the camera/lens. coincidentally, the limitations in cameras, and/or film, is what also generated what I see as the "Language of Photography", where we attach emotions to imperfections, such as (excessive) grain, B&W, sepia, and vignetting.

vignetting is a funky imperfection: we intuit the appeal, but more often than not it can be overbearing. Holga cameras seem to inflict an alluring type of vignetting, and so can pinhole. 

with the release of Pinwide, by Wanderlust Cameras [ link ], profiting from the advantages of digital photography, I was able to plunge into trying this “restrictive” form of photography. I was getting used to putting some boundaries into mobile photography already, such as keeping all the processing within the phone’s apps, and so it was good to see what would happen with pinhole.

in particular, Pinwide brings about three key restrictions: a wide angle view (22mm equivalent); vignetting; and uniform softness. the latter is a feature in pinhole, in that the depth-of-field is infinite. however, because of the sensor size of Micro 4/3rds cameras, and the super high f-stop (> f-192), diffractions will soften the photo. [ link ]

while mobile photography has some restrictions, pinhole offers some that I rarely visit in my photography. namely, I am not a fan of wide angle lenses as they can easily lead to clichéd-wow photographs — at least when I use them. I am used to applying a depth-of-field to my advantage; and vignetting rarely has an application to enhance the presentation because I am not trying to call attention to the center of the frame.

it was clear from sampling photos on flickr, for example, that pinhole was not an “every moment” photographic recording. yes, photography is fun, but also interesting to apply the perceived format, presentation and characteristics to a given topic/subject as we see artistically fit.

what was most unexpected was the ease of knowing how to apply pinhole to certain styles of photography I was pursuing, as well as taking me to some that I had not had any interest.

it is not difficult to realize that I would bring over from pinhole to mobile photography some of these characteristics. for example, the tall “hedges” at Versailles were photographed with three cameras, and here is the pinhole result:

pinhole photograph at  Versailles , France (by  Kodiak Xyza )

pinhole photograph at Versailles, France (by Kodiak Xyza)

the distance from the main subject is “far” because I did not want to create a distortion with the wide angle view on the main subject**. the camera needs to be set at true level, and preferably, if there is a strong horizon, set to the middle. (in post processing, the horizon bend can be undone with “pincushion” correction.) with any other camera, I can approach the subject closer, and work with another composition, for an alternate effect. for example, in this mobile photo:

mobile photograph processed with VSCOcam (by  Kodiak Xyza )

mobile photograph processed with VSCOcam (by Kodiak Xyza)

yet, a softness and vignetting was applied to this photo, as recalled from the impression of a pinhole photo. the two photos were taken moments apart.

the three “classifications” of pinhole photographs linked below is the result of the application of the three main restrictions to a way of seeing. landscape is an area of photography that I do not pursue, but pinhole seems to bring an interest towards it, namely, because I do not see much of it. 

there are many more ways to approach pinhole photography, like the inclusion of long-exposure required at low ISO settings. additionally, using medium format film, and all the care it demands, can also create a wonderful pinhole photographs outside of what I have been able to explore so far. one such excellent approach is what Jacqueline Walters has done with her Traces series [ link ].

** this is not a “rule”, but sometimes it applies. at other times, I want to use the wide-angle distortion to create a surrealism akin to German Expressionism [ link ]. for example:

applying the wide angle distortions in  Pinwide  to create a distorted scale akin to  German Expressionism  [  Dom  &  Hauptbahnhof , Köln, Germany ] (by  Kodiak Xyza )

applying the wide angle distortions in Pinwide to create a distorted scale akin to German Expressionism [ Dom & Hauptbahnhof, Köln, Germany ] (by Kodiak Xyza)

 photo resources

•• Pinwide photos in land/sea-scapes [ link ]
•• Pinwide photos in city & architecture [ link ]
•• Pinwide photo in abstractions [ link ]
•• Jacqueline Walters’ Traces series [ link ]

the internet in the workflow (part 1)

what to do with so many sites to share one's work? it can be a crazy chase to join so many sites, to garner more views/faves/comments. 

one answer, which may cure the sense of madness, but not really actively help with increasing the audience: incorporate the internet into the workflow that weans all of the photos into the essential ones. 

the internet used to be a simple means for sharing one’s photographic work. the professional always had a destination website, which drew visitors from established sources, and for most everyone else a Photo Interest** site was sufficient.

the interaction may have been like the flow example for flickr. uploading a photo to flickr had many sources for interaction, and the results had many uses. there was a way to garner some feedback on the work; get additional exposure to one’s work that would not be possible with a personal portfolio website. it was not rare to notice that people were contacted for use of a photo, or hired for a photo shoot. there were articles about flickr's superstars.

a one-site use for improving one's photography.

a couple of years after the rise of flickr as the site for photo-sharing, photography had exploded in popularity thanks to digital photography, and so did the number of alternative sites, while other established sites (e.g., p-base) stayed on, and in the meantime flickr imploded. popularity-driven photography moved to Instagram, as the mobile phone drove more people into photography, while flickr reverted to being a shoebox, as originally intended. 

many approaches-to, or interests-in, photography remain viable through a single platform. Instagram is such the case for many people using photos for social attention, and marketing by commercial firms seem to have found a way to use Instagram and their popular uses. Twitter is pushing into this area of photography, and 500px has become a home for yet another style of photography.

a question for a class of photographers is: which site to replace flickr? or, at least, to help with their next step in photography. the answer may be the internet itself, rather than a site. not the simplest of solution, but definitely a bit sane.  how can the internet be used to further one’s photography, without having to chase websites and assess a social critical mass?

the most singular benefit I had for uploading work to a social site was that of revisiting a photo, thus causing a re-examination of the work. this become important as Lightroom became much more powerful, and it became more efficient to work on photos closer to an evolving vision. 

thus, the use of the internet can be split into two processes: Passive Soliciting and Active Thinning. in the second part to this post, what and how of these two processes are detailed, though they can be summarized as follows:

  • the idea is to use the photo-sharing sites to leave photos as bait — to “go fishing” for results from searches, and whatever interaction is left at the site. this is a form of Passive Soliciting.
  • a big effort by a photographer is to thin-out one’s work to make for strong portfolio. Active Thinning is effected through a gathering of photos into projects, which can be uploaded to non-social sites, and pursue this process over a period of time.

there is more work, in terms of uploading to sites, but that remains less of a concern with fast broadband connection, and removing any urgency to upload daily, or at certain times that maximize the usage of the site by one's contacts. 

PART 2 [ link

** flickr never was a photo-centric site, since the presentation of the photos were not the most important function of the site. Smugmug was/is definitely more photo-centric.