ReBlog of Past Tense: Film’s Special Quality

I noticed this article on Andy Beel’s blog feed today, a short discussion on why film still has a place in so many of our hearts.

The original article, written by Kenneth Wajda, describes the feeling that film embodies that makes a film image mean more to use than a digital image.  Not necessarily true for everyone, but there are times when I grow weary of all of the super-saturated, ultra-sharp images that crop up in every possible form of media.

Here’s an interesting perspective about film vs digital imaging. Film looks like past tense, and digital looks like present tense. Here’s an example that everyone will instantly understand. If I switch on the TV and the movie The Natural or Angels In the Outfield, or Bull Durham or any other baseball movie is on, in a scene of game action, no one will see the players and think they are watching the sports highlights. They can tell it looks like a movie, and not video from today’s MLB broadcast of your team, whatever city you’re in. It looks like a movie, like it was recorded and saved some time ago. Past tense.

Digital imaging looks like present tense, like surveillance footage, really. Just what you shot is exactly what you got.

Film has a dreamy, slightly soft quality, that looks like a moment stored, saved from the past. That’s . . .

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Tuan Pham – Photography as Zen Art

My friend Tuan Pham is at it again.  Back by popular demand he is providing his class Photography as Zen Art again at the National Arboretum throughout September and one running in October.

The National Arboretum only updates their website quarterly, so the class will not be posted there until September, but the link will work once they update it.  Here is their write-up that should be posted soon:

Workshop: Photography as Zen Art

September 13, 20, 27 and October 11 (4 sessions)

9:00 am – 12:00 pm

Using the Arboretum collections as inspiration, enhance your photographic vision and produce more meaningful images with lessons from this four-session workshop. Built upon the common denominator of photography and Zen – wise attention – this program incorporates several Zen creative practices, including relaxed awareness, mindfulness of perception, seeing with one eye, and more. These techniques enable you to find beauty wherever you are, loosen the grip of preoccupations and attachments, and capture images that reflect your true nature. For more class details, call the instructor at 703-855-9888. Required: digital camera, tripod, and means of sending digital images. Registration required.

The last class filled up fast, if you or someone you know might be interested.

Tuan is a lifelong practitioner of Buddhist meditation and his creativity in photography exploded when he began to apply the concept of “wise attention” to his practice of photography.  His story about how he discovered the beauty in his “photographs of nothing” is both entertaining and enlightening.  Traveling all that distance to produce photographs that he could have created anywhere is an amusing reminder of the beauty that surrounds us every day.

Tuan’s photography is now not only technically sound, it is emotive.  He has modified his perception so that he is not taking photographs of beautiful things, he is taking beautiful photographs of things.  It seems like a subtle linguistic difference, but the difference in his work is substantial.

A student, who must have been in the class with me this last spring, wrote this testimonial after the class.

Don’t forget to register in advance!  There are usually no seats available at the door.

Zen TTL Poster

More on The Beauty of Things

Zen Art Poster by Tuan PhamTuan Pham’s presentation of Zen Through the Lens is coming up at the National Arboretum on Saturday, February 8th from 10:00 am to 12:oo pm.

This is a great opportunity to learn from a master of relaxed attentiveness.  This style allows Tuan to produce one-of-a-kind images that are not only technically strong, but demonstrate an artistic subtlety.

Simplicity and visual design are apparent throughout Tuan’s portfolio and he is eager to teach others to produce art with their camera.

Close-up Photography at VPS

Lying in the snow beneath the jungle gym I was reliving the days of my childhood, where my biggest concern was whether we’d be having brussel sprouts with dinner.

As I was putting together the Close-up Photography presentation for the Vienna Photographic Society I felt that I needed to add some new work that demonstrated the abstraction of photographs.  The pieces of the whole that reflect what actually attracted you in the first place.

Playground Straight Out of the Camera

I chose to spend some time at a playground near my house after a fresh blanket of snow.  Playgrounds are full of unique shapes and bright colors that are incredibly fun.  Bright blues and yellows were the choice for this playground.

As I work a larger scene like this, I follow a principle laid out in “Contemplative Photography” and discussed with Tuan Pham at length.  I work on silencing my inner monolog and removing myself from my hectic life and schedule.  And to concentrate my thoughts on what brought me to this place on this day.  Some deeply suppressed flash of inspiration that caused me to choose this location and this subject.

I also practice something that I learned in high school related to weight lifting.  Our PE teachers called it lifting “everything that you can, plus one.”  The theory was that if you lifted until you could not lift the weight again, after putting the weight down and resting for 1/2 a second, you could lift it again.  In photography this means that I will work a subject until I am completely drained of ideas about how/what to shoot.  I’ll sit down for a few minutes and review what I have so far, then I’ll go back and work the subject some more.  Often my most compelling work will come after I’ve taken that break.

Playground Detail
Playground Detail – Straight Out of the Camera

I find the simple contrast of warm and cool colors to be extremely soothing, and I favor simple designs with few shapes/elements.  I believe these designs are much more straight-forward and appeal to a larger segment of society.

The image to the left brings two different concepts to mind for me.  The first is a wave flowing from right to left, preparing to crash onto the beach.  The other is a shark’s fin swimming from left to right.  Depending on your point of view, this image could produce a wonderful visualization of a day at the beach, or our worst nightmare, the thought of a shark hunting us down.

Back to the point of the post, I will be giving a presentation on Close-up Photography at the Vienna Photographic Society on Wednesday, 5 February at 7:30 PM.

An Abstract Photography Presentation at MPC

“Could you speak at our club about Abstract photography on <insert date here>?” is the question that I am hearing more and more frequently.  Clearly Joe Miller’s impact on our local area camera clubs is becoming more tangible.

McLean Photography Club

has invited me to speak at their club on Abstract photography and provide critiques of club members’ images on January 8, 2014.  Two other clubs invited me to do something similar the same week, with the same subject.  I believe that the cause of all this excitement over Abstract photography has a direct correlation with the annual Joseph Miller Abstract Photography Exhibit, which will be celebrating its 4th year in 2014.

As the popularity of that event has grown, so has interest in the programs that I had developed discussing abstract imagery and visual design.  As a reformed “hater” of abstract art I feel that I have a special relationship with abstracts.  And I try to help people understand the elements that make an abstract art, particularly as it relates to how lines, shapes colors, texture and perspective affect our perception of art.

Image of Composition VIII by Wassily Kandinsky
Composition VIII – Wassily Kandinsky

Ed Knepley has written several blog posts about abstract photography recently, he tells me that they do not attract nearly as many visitors as his posts on technique.  Ed and I have differing opinions about the use of post processing in photography, but the articles are all well written and persuasive.  In particular, Ed refers to a book written by Kandinsky in this post, of which I had never heard before,  Point and Line to Plane.

Kandinsky’s quote, “Objects damage pictures,” is a constant reminder to me that subjective imagery can be as effective as objective imagery.

So am I being pigeon holed into an Abstract Photographer, perhaps.  But I could think of a lot worse reputations to have.

The Beauty of Things

My good friend Tuan Pham will be conducting a workshop and presentation at the National Arboretum in Washington DC in early 2014.   His presentation, “Beauty of Things Insubstantial, Insignificant and Untouchable” represents his Buddhist approach to photography and life in general.  His workshop is called “In Search of Artistic Personality” and will meet five consecutive Saturdays.

Beauty of Things by Tuan PhamBeauty of Things Insubstantial, Insignificant and Untouchable

Tuan’s Buddhist background has helped him develop a contemplative approach toward photography, mixing meditation and Wise Attention to see the beauty in things that others are willing to walk past.  This approach makes Tuan’s photography simple and compelling.  Tuan will share his methods for training your eyes and cultivating your mind to perceive your surroundings in an unbiased way; freeing you to create memorable images with a much deeper meaning.  Tuan is a life-long practitioner of mindful meditation and applies those principles to his photography.  The National Arboretum is one of Tuan’s favorite sites for nature photography, please join him for this unique opportunity to learn from one of our areas most accomplished amateur photographers.


8 February, 2014


10:00 am to 12:00 pm


United States National Arboretum

3501 New York Avenue, NE; Washington, D. C. 20002-1958

Tel: 202-245-2726    Fax: 202-245-4575

In Search of Artistic Personality

The workshop that Tuan will be leading will meet at the arboretum during the spring.  As of today, the workshop is still unscheduled.  Stay tuned for additional information.

Tuan’s teaching style is such that anyone with a camera, be it a DSLR, Point and Shoot or camera phone will be able to take advantage of his workshop.

Everyday Abstracts

I presented a brief version of an earlier presentation titled Everyday Abstracts at the National Institute of Health Camera Club this week.  I had the opportunity to judge their Abstract themed competition on the same night and I was very impressed by both the quality and breadth of their work.  I was also pleased with their patience, as my early comments were so long that I made it a VERY late night for everyone.

Photoshop Actions

reverse-4After the presentation portion of evening, several people had requested a copy of the presentation, which I promised to post here on my website so that people could easily access the presentation and the references to the Photoshop Actions that I mentioned during the presentation.  These actions are free to use and greatly simplify the repetitive tasks of creating montages from digital images.

The image at the right was the starting point and by applying a Reverse Montage effect, which was based on a technique that I was taught for slide film produced the featured image.  Taking 2 copies of the same image, both overexposed about 1 stop and putting them in the same slide mount, with one of them flipped over.

The affect of this treatment is highly saturated colors on a perfectly symmetrical composition.  As a by product, almost any image becomes an abstract.  This is one of my favorite techniques, and I will take many images of areas with strong graphic lines to produce an image based on line, shape and color.

Creating abstract photographs is something that I do routinely because it allows me to express some creativity and create something that comes completely from my mind.  Even with a “found abstract,” the way that the image is cropped, exposed and the depth of field all play an important and expressive role.

Presenting at NIH Camera Club

Space ShotI will be giving a short presentation and judging at the National Institute of Health Camera Club on Tuesday, November 12 at 6:45 PM.  The presentation I will be giving is called Everyday Abstracts, and discusses some of the Hows as well as the Whys of my abstract photography.

It is my considered opinion that we, as photographers, spend far too much time discussing how to take photographs and far too little time on why we take photographs.  Part of the reason we do this is because it is easier to discuss the quantifiable values associated with our images than to relate our own feelings about them.  However I believe that the real reason we take photographs is emotional.  We are attracted to the subject matter and our photographs are an attempt to relate that emotional response to others.

When we take a photograph, we use composition, focus, depth of field and shutter speed in an attempt to convey that emotion.

In abstract photography, there is no strong subject matter to carry an image so we have to rely on tenants of visual design.  Lines, shapes, colors, textures and perspective must convey that feeling.


Both of the images associated with this post are [true] macro photographs of glass.  One was shot with colored gels, and the other in front of a computer monitor.  In both cases the colored light is projected through the glass and edges of the glass produce the refraction and create the lines, shapes and colors.


But the why is that I find abstract, curved shapes very appealing.  I also like a contrast of warm and cool colors.  As I was taking these photographs, I specifically chose warm and cool, and I used curved lines, a shallow depth of field and soft focus to give the images a soft, ethereal glow rather than harsh, strong lines.  For these specific images, those techniques felt better to me than the sharply focused lines.

Abstract images typically do not have a true up, down, left or right.  We may orient them the way that we shot them, but there is nothing stopping us from rotating and/or flipping the images to produce a different feel.  There is no right way to orient them so we can do as we please.  For the blue and orange image, I recall that the champagne glass that I was shooting was actually upright, which indicates that I rotated the image 180°.  That orientation feels best to me for the following reasons:  The orange line goes from a broad base to a narrow peak; the curve rises up an over from the lower left to the upper right; and, the dark blue curve feels better lower in the picture space than it does higher.

In the end I believe that we all need to shoot images that make us happy.  If we can make others feel things in our photographs it is great, but it is a distant second to being personally satisfied with our own work.

Judging at the 6th Annual Claude Moore Park Photography Expo

Natural History Museum ElephantI had the honor of being one of a panel of three judges for the 6th Annual Claude Moore Park Photography Expo that was on display Saturday, 28 September 2013.

The images this year were really outstanding, so it was especially nice to have additional judges to discuss the images and get a different perspective, something that rarely happens in most competitions.  The monthly club competitions that I get to judge require that no one discuss the images with the judge to avoid any swaying of opinions.

This expo has four classes of entrants and five categories of images in all but one class, so 16 separate categories to judge.  Fortunately there were only about 230 images (a record for this exposition), so it didn’t take all afternoon to judge.  Also, we had plenty of room to spread out all of the images (for a given class/category) and view them side-by-side.  This helped make the evaluations much more effective.  We also used the sticker system, so everyone got to pick their favorite n images, quickly ranking them by the ones that everyone liked, then two or one.  So sometimes an image that I would have picked as the sole judge would end up not getting an award, but overall I think that the awards were given to more universally appealing images.

I’d like to thank Gerry D’Onofrio (Expo Coordinator), Nora May (Judge) and Lynn Ezell (Judge), Dora Ramirez (Gerry’s Better Half and Hostess Extraordinaire) and Joe Ellis (Expo Creator).  You all did a great job!

Self-Publishing Artist Books w/ Lauren Henkin

Photoworks is hosting an innovative and artistic workshop with Master Photographer Lauren Henkin on Saturday, September 21 — from 10 AM – 4 PM.  The workshop is titled SELF-PUBLISHING ARTIST BOOKS, and is the perfect introduction for photographers who are interested in preserving or sharing or marketing their images.

Self-Publishing Artist Books with Master Photographer Lauren Henkin

DATE:  Saturday, September 21
TIME:  10am - 4pm (includes 1 hour lunch)
COST:  $225 (includes a comprehensive resource manual)
REGISTRATION LINK:  Self-Publishing Artist Books
QUESTIONS?  Contact Lauren Henkin at lauren AT laurenhenkin DOT com

Image of Photo BookBook publishing for photographers has exploded over the last few years.  Expanded options for printing have enabled artists to consider publishing their own works, through both traditional and handmade processes. There is now a level playing field between established photographers and amateurs and emerging artists, enabling anyone to craft their work specifically for a book.  While most of the focus on self-publishing has centered on available print-on-demand services, creating books produced directly by the artist offers an even wider array of control, options, and methods, making it an attractive option to expand the artist’s storytelling capabilities.  For example, when self-publishing, the artist can take a more active role in choosing the paper, layout, method of binding, and even work with other artists within the bookmaking community.  By viewing sample books and case studies and hearing in-depth descriptions of the steps required to complete a book project, participants of this 1-day introductory seminar will leave with the inspiration and resources to begin their project.  All of the following material will be presented as general topics, but also within the context of Henkin’s own experiences in self-publishing.

Topics covered will include:

  • Why self publish?
  • Advantages and challenges of self publishing
  • Types of Publications
  • Determining specifications for your project
  • Collaborating with other artists
  • Financing your book
  • Marketing and distribution
  • Case Studies: How others are doing it
  • Resources to complete your project