Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Talking About TaLK

   Hello everyone.

   So not much of an exciting post today, well... it is for me, but I just wanted to share some news with the people who read my blog and especially to those who liked to see my vlogs (video blogs) when I was travelling in Japan. If you haven't seen those, you can see them here.

   At the beginning of the semester I applied for a job (for lack of a better word) in south Korea teaching English through the TaLK program. When I applied I kind of did it more with the thought that, if I didn't do it, I might be missing out on an opportunity. I really didn't expect to be selected for the job at all really, but I know the importance of just trying things no matter what you may think might happen. (some people REALLY need to learn this lesson...) In the back of my mind I told myself I was probably not the most outstanding candidate on paper. I know that whatever I want to do, I can perform with the best no matter what, and that's not false bravado or bargain bin self-help book teaching. I really believe that anyone can perform with the best if they want to in anything they do. Not just myself. But how do you convince a stranger of that who is across the globe? Anyways I digress.

   After I went through the quite extensive process of tracking down documents, I had my application complete and... I waited... and waited some more. This, needless to say, only added to my doubts about being selected. But I just really wasn't getting my hopes up for anything. Finally last month I got a Skype interview which was a first for me. Everything seemed to go pretty well but still, anything could happen I knew, so I went about my life the same way, really not thinking about the TaLK program much.

   Now is where my story comes to the point where all that preparatory talk up there ^ seems to be worth something other than rambling.

   What I am trying to say with this post is that I got selected for the TaLK program along with 4 other students from UTSA. I feel honored to put things lightly. I really can't express how happy I am.

But what does this mean for my readers?

   Well put simply, I am going to Korea at the end of July. This means that those who read this blog because of travel interests will get to see more of that here. Those of you who read this because of photography, you will of course see a lot of that. But those who just enjoy my pretty face (I know there are a lot of you out there...) you will undoubtedly see more videos to come on this blog. The only reason I didn't blog after Japan was because everything up until now was pretty mundane and I don't think people really care to see that. If you do, then you are just weird like me, because I like very mundane blogs/vlogs too.

Maybe we should start a club.

Keep your eyeballs glued here. I'll be making a scene... in Korea!

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Beginning Photography Blunders

   If you like any of the photos I post on this blog, you are seeing the result of many years of practice. I did not get to where I am today overnight and I am surely not anywhere near my limit. I have tons and tons (and tons and tons and tons...) of stuff to learn about photography. I am nowhere near some of the masters of my craft, and I am willing to bet that even they would say they have room to learn. Photography is a massive and complex mix of science, technol
ogy, and art. Photography has evolved arguably far more than any one art form over it's history. It is impossible for one artist to have completely learned everything there is to know about photography. If in some way they have, then tomorrow I guarantee they will need to learn something new.

   What you are seeing me produce has come from a lot of practice and many many blunders. Now I am at the point where I am consistently producing a technically correct image almost every single frame, but this wasn't always the case.

   Look, getting out of auto mode on your camera is tough. I know this. Sometimes you may even ask yourself, "Why even bother?" I could argue against that forever but to some degree I can see where some people are coming from. Camera technology has come so far that for some people getting out of auto really isn't necessary. If you just want the image to remember your child's soccer game and not as a piece of art, then yes there is no point to getting out of auto. If you are not wanting to spend hours at the computer editing your image, then yes there is no point. There is nothing wrong with that. But if you want full control over every aspect of your photo and have the ability to make a conscious decision to bend and break some rules, then you need to get out of auto. There just simply is no other way.

   Other than when I had point and shoots that didn't allow manual controls, I never shot in auto. In fact my first SLR didn't even have a light meter, so auto was impossible on that camera. Some would argue this is the best way to start out in photography. I can argue for and against starting this way. On the one hand, I wasn't using the camera's auto settings as a crutch because there simply weren't any. But on the other hand, I wasn't even aware of the mistakes I was making. Let me explain a little bit.

   So my first SLR I bought off of eBay not even knowing anything about light meters or the lack thereof. I knew really nothing about cameras at all. I knew the basics of how to expose an image correctly and that was it. That small bit of information would prove to be highly useful but I did not really know it at the time. So when I got my camera I immediately went out and bought some rolls of film (I bought some 400 speed film not even knowing what the 400 meant), I located my shutter speed dial, and learned how to change the aperture on my lens. From school I remembered the relationship between the shutter speed and aperture but I had forgotten, or perhaps never learned, what film speed(ISO) brought to the equation. So that was my first blunder.

   Then comes my second blunder. On my shutter speed dial there is a little red x near the 1/60th spot. For some reason completely unknown to me I mistook this x to mean a "normal," or "all purpose," shutter speed. I reasoned that this x meant that if you leave it at this speed and the scene isn't too dark or too bright, you were pretty good. Looking back now I can't even believe I could think that and I have no idea where I got that idea from. So for most of my photos I was leaving my camera at 1/60th of a second and of course using the largest aperture I could which was f1.8. But here is where the real confusion starts to set in. When I took my camera out, I was taking it out on overcast days. I have always liked the quality of light that comes from an overcast day. It just does something for me. Even if the images are slightly under exposed, the mood is what I am looking for. So every time I went out, what should have been completely washed out images in bright sunlight, were actually fairly well exposed images. This simply added confidence to my "all purpose" shutter speed theory. Later I would start to see that I was wrong when I started to get back over exposed images because I was shooting in brighter sunny days.

   My list of blunders does not end there but you get the idea. It took me a lot of wasted rolls of film to understand that I was doing something wrong and I needed to change something. My point is however, I would have never made this mistake if I simply had an automatic mode (or a light meter for that matter). But if I had never made this mistake I would have never seen the importance of evaluating the light in a scene and then changing my settings.

   Not having a light meter or auto settings taught me how to look at a scene and guess my settings from there. I am not always 100% correct, but most of the time I can look at a scene, and guess within a stop over or under what my settings should be. This is absolutely invaluable with the type of photography I like to do. There is no way I could have learned this from leaving my camera in auto.
Blundered (unedited)

Not Blundered (unedited)

   So that's the point of this post. I want to say that auto settings are okay for certain situations. If you don't care about how your images look, you just want them to look reasonably good, then auto is a great way to do that. Also, if you are just beginning, being in auto is not bad per say. But a word of caution: do not rely on auto. If anything just rely on your light meter and your digital screen (for DSLRs). Getting an image wrong 3 times but seeing what is wrong with it is much better than never getting it wrong, but never having to think about your settings. If you are trying to advance your photography, GET OUT OF AUTO NOW. It is crippling you. If you don't know where to start, how about taking a look at my past Photo Basics posts? Links below. Go create a scene people!

Beginner Photo Basics posts:
Photo Basics: So Many Buttons
Photo Basics: Aperture
Photo Basics: Shutter Speed
Photo Basics: ISO
Photo Basics: Rule of Thirds

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Photo Basics: Rule of Thirds

   Hello everyone, back with another "Photo Basics" post and in this one I'll be going over a composition "rule," called the rule of thirds.

  These posts are meant for those interested in learning photography. I have other posts on the topic so please take a look.

Photo Basics: ISO
Photo Basics: Shutter Speed
Photo Basics: Aperture
Photo Basics: So Many Buttons

   Composition is important to master. When you have mastered your camera, can pre-visualize your settings, and feel comfortable with all the technical aspects of photography, composition will become the thing that is on your mind every time you think about an image. Once you understand it, your eye starts to see the world as a series of photographs from then on. Once you have gotten to this point, this is where your images start to stand out and creativity is born.

   When you read this post you will see the word "rules," thrown around a lot. Please understand that in any form of art there are no real rules, nor should there be. The "rule" of thirds should really be called the "guideline," of thirds simply because these rules are in place to be followed until the artist sees fit to break them. In other words you do not HAVE to follow these rules to create a good image. However when these rules are broken there should be creative intent behind it.

   That being said, following the rule of thirds will produce the results you are looking for more often than not, and it is very simple and powerful if used.

   "Ok Alex, so stop ranting and tell us what it is."

  The rule of thirds splits a photo, which is usually rectangular (square formats are also used but they are just not as common), into 3 equal sections horizontally and 3 vertically. Take this image for example. I have drawn red lines on it to show where the "thirds" are. Please forgive me if the sections are not equal, I just eye-balled it for demonstration.

   Basically where these dividing lines meet, that is where you want your subject to be. Notice that in this the speakers eyes are basically on the top horizontal and right vertical with the cross section almost completely on his closest eye.

   Our eyes naturally travel around an image in this fashion. We generally do not look at the center of an image first, instead we look at these cross sections. When you place your subject in one of these you are drawing your eye's attention to that subject. In this way, even if the background was cluttered with people or distracting things, your eyes would have an easy job of picking out what they should be looking at in the image.

   This is not limited by orientation of the photo either. It will work whether in a horizontal or vertical orientation. This is also not limited by subject matter. Here you see two of my own photos with people in them simply because that is the subject matter I look for, people. However here is also an example of an image not taken by me that shows where the horizon of a landscape was placed for dramatic effect. Here the horizon is in the bottom third of the photos to show a vast stretching landscape and big blue sky.
Photo NOT by me link below

   There are many other ways to use the rule of thirds, and many ways to break this rule. Try using the rule of thirds in your images and see how they transform from regular snapshots, to works of art worthy of a magazine. Really, its that powerful and the great thing is that it's easy to do. All you need to do is move your camera. Get out there and try it!

Horizon rule of thirds example:

Sunday, April 12, 2015

An Age Old Dilemma for the Creative People

   Excuse me while I brain dump for a bit. If I can't do that on my own blog every once in a while (more often than not) then what is the point? Enjoy my ramble... or don't.

   I've been thinking a lot about what direction I am taking my life and career goals. At the moment I am sitting at my post as a security guard with absolutely no one in sight and nothing to do for 12 hours on a weekend.

   I am not too far from 30, and looking back I am not too sure I ever had a plan for where I would be at that age. I did have a rough image in my head though. What that image entailed I am not too sure anymore but I do know that I thought things would be a bit different. That's not too abnormal I realize, but allow me to explain.

   I am not pushing 30 yet. I will be 25 this year but 5 years really isn't a long time in the grand scheme of things. Taking that all into account I started looking at where I am right now as far as career goals are concerned. For one I am still in school. If all goes according to plan I will still be in school for two years. So I will graduate at 27 more or less which is the first thing I did not imagine for myself.

   Some people may hear that I am graduating at 27 and think, "Well that's not a big deal," and I'd be inclined to agree. But sitting next to a person who is 19 and taking the same class is a bit unnerving for sure. It's not a huge thing for me but still something I think about. I know for sure that when I saw myself at this age, I was surely not in school. That's part of my dilemma. When I graduated high school I had no plans to go to college. I knew that my skills were skills that really didn't require a degree. Things like programming, photography, writing, etc. are skills that either come naturally or are learned through doing and less by being taught. I have always been one to teach myself rather than be taught. I just learn better that way somehow so I never saw a lot of value in a degree. Because of that, I didn't start college until late and I only did so because I found out I needed a degree to work abroad. Although I couldn't put it into words when I was 18, I knew I was a freelance sort of person. Which brings me to the main point of this brain dump.

   Don't get me wrong throughout any of this. I value work completely. I am not above it and I don't think anyone should feel that they are. But what kind of work people are more inclined to do is completely subjective. There is nothing wrong with being inclined to doing a plumber's labor just as there isn't anything wrong with being a doctor. In fact the U.S. has sort of made it to where those sorts of vocational jobs are frowned upon. We tend to forget, however, that those are really the people who make society what it is. Mike Rowe from "Dirty Jobs," has an absolutely awe inspiring TedTalk on this subject you should check out. But I digress.

   I have again started to look at my degree and what I have planned for my future. Currently I am pursuing a degree in Computer Science. I love computers. I love building them, I love programming, I love figuring out what was going through the minds of other programmers as they wrote some small obscure bit of code... But in the end do I see myself doing this as a career?

   I am the creative type. I suppose everyone has a little creativity in them, that's one of those things that makes us human. But there are two sorts of people. Those who have a lot of creativity and those who don't. Neither person is better than the other, just different. But for those who have the creative spirit, working a 9-5 is like caging a wild animal. It's torturous to put us in a room and have us do the same task over and over for hours at a time. We need freedom. Even freedom at the sacrifice of stability is far better to us than collecting a guaranteed paycheck at the end of the week. Again, I will not try and devalue those who need and want that structured 9-5 life. It suits a lot of people and without you we wouldn't have some of the things we take for granted today.

   Looking at my degree, I never really planned to work for the big software companies like Google or Facebook in the first place. That was never my goal. In fact the only reason I am getting a degree at all is so that I may work abroad. Well, that and I suppose some form of security. I am not as daring as some people who just completely take the leap without a parachute. But what my degree has to offer me in the future isn't really what I want. I did imagine myself being a free lance programmer, but thinking about it realistically, the chances of that happening aren't very high. I can see myself saying one day, "Okay I'll just work for Google for a few years until I can start my own company," and then end up stuck behind a cubicle marking the days until retirement. Some people want that, I don't. Some people value a sure and secure pension, I don't want that in the least.

   Have you heard the expression, "Starving artist"? That's the caveat to this whole brain dump. Not many creatives make it. We are few and because of that our skills are often misunderstood or devalued as doing nothing for society. In reality we just have a different skill set than the average person. But what do we do? Do we keep pushing our art and creativity in hopes of finding gold? Or do we hang up the canvas, stow away the camera, set down the pen and paper, and just grind out the years, caged and suffering, until we can retire? I don't feel that I am the first person to ever have this question come up. Quite the contrary. But still, the answer does not come easily, and more than likely not at all.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Take the Leap

Japanese Consul General Takaoka

   I have been a busy bee lately... Recently I have been covering events for the East Asia Institute of UTSA. I wanted to take a minute to share my experiences.

   People often wonder why they can't seem to catch that lucky break. I can completely understand that sentiment. I guess it really depends on what you consider to be a lucky break. Is it becoming CEO of a fortune 500 or getting the job at your local supermarket? This may seem like a long shot but they are kind of one in the same if you think about it. It all depends on the amount of work you put forward.

   Outside of one of my classes there is a board where different organizations and clubs post fliers for their events. One day I was checking this board as I so often do and I saw a flier announcing that a lecture would be given by the Consul General from Houston. Now, being that I am not at all politically inclined, I had half a mind to just pass this flier by. But I read the contact info at the
bottom and realized that it was the e-mail of the East Asia Institute(EAI) which I had already been in contact with prior for something else.

   At that moment a light bulb lit up in my head. I have been wanting to build a portfolio for some time and I really wanted to have some event photos. So I thought to myself, "Well, I know people from that office, it couldn't hurt to ask," and I contacted EAI to see if I could cover the event. This being a pretty important event I was expecting one of four answers back. "No we can't give you access," "No we already have a photographer," "Sure, just don't get in the way," or "Piss off!" Okay... maybe I was only really expecting one of three answers.

  The answer I got back however was one that I did not expect. Not only did I get a "yes" but I got a sort of full-access "yes." Full-access is a photographers golden ticket really. Having the freedom to capture any image your mind can think of is worth more than I can put into words. It ended up that prior to this they had done all the photography themselves with point and shoot cameras. That was all I needed to hear. I already had a plan of attack in mind and I was marching full pace towards the battle field. I knew that I had the opportunity to amaze and gain a future client, or fail and lose more than just EAI as a client. When you work in the creative industry, connections and word of mouth are everything. I had to make this count.

   So I did as I always do and gave 110% effort. It turned out that they loved the finished product. In fact they were so grateful that they have invited me to cover the rest of their events for the semester.

   In the end I gained a lot from this which I'd like to pass onto anyone who reads this. Not only am I confident that EAI will think of me in the future when they need an event covered, but I also realized something else. If I had simply passed that flier up, or perhaps got the idea to ask but never actually did so, I never would have had the opportunity to cover an event with a major government figure. Sure, EAI could have said no, but that saying, "You never know until you try," is cliche but accurate. Who knows what this opportunity will do for me in the future. As with all things, maybe it will do nothing. But if this gets me one contact, one job, one word of mouth recommendation, then it was all worth it.