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Are all photographers terrible travel companions? How I balanced family time and photography in New York

Family holidays can be a minefield for any photographer.  We all know that we should be switching off and relaxing with our loved ones but it is not that easy is it?  Whether we set off on a summer holiday, a weekend jaunt, or a mid-week city break, the family holiday is a balancing act I struggle to reconcile.  As such you can imagine the dreadful combination of joy and terror that overcame me when my wife, my daughter and I finally plumped for a weeklong trip to New York.

The Met Museum New York

I know from previous trips together that I am a terrible travel companion.  I constantly find myself distracted, tense and wandering off to search for possible photo opportunities.  Unfortunately, my photography brain makes relaxation very difficult because I always seem to find something to shoot and it is impossible to watch any potential opportunity slide by.  I knew it would be especially difficult on this trip, how could any photographer with a love of the urban environment resist the allure of New York?

I know that I cannot go on like this and in the weeks leading up to our trip I decided to put a plan in place to help ease my stress.  This began when I narrowed down my kit to a minimum, taking only my Fujifilm x-t2 and two prime lenses – the 23mm f2 and my 50mm f2.  I also decided to sacrifice my tripod and shoot everything handheld.  I genuinely considered ditching all of my photography gear and taking only a smartphone thinking it would eliminate my anxiety about ‘doing photography' but I could not do it.  New York was too great a location to miss.

New York is so vast that an itinerary is essential for most visitors.  Creating an itinerary was a great way to help me plan my shots and discover locations nearby.  Iconic New York sites such as the Empire State or the Chrysler Building are obvious starting points and it was a simple task to research the surrounding area using Google Maps’ Street View feature.  This was a great way to walk the streets of New York and see what was close by before we even departed the UK.  Simple steps like this helped to control any urge to wander off and snap away unprompted.  I even went so far as creating a ‘New York locations’ map on Google Maps containing over seventy possible points of interest.  So whenever I had some spare time I could nip off and back again with minimal fuss.

Architecture Ney York Reflections

Limiting my photo gear and planning our locations meant I was able to ease my anxiety about missing any shots I had in mind.  It also meant I had to accept my limitations and work within them.  I knew night and long exposure photography would be difficult without a tripod and I could hardly expect my wife and daughter to visit the sites at sunset or sunrise solely so I could get the best light.  The vast majority of my photography was actually shot in the harsh midday sun and I had to adapt to these conditions as best as I could.  This often meant I would try out a contrasty black and white shot, seek out spots in the shade, or head indoors and make what I could there.

Reacting to weather and light is essential in photography and it is the main reason I took such limited kit. Reducing the options I had enabled me to react to my surroundings, compose my image, and shoot quickly.  It is one of the main reasons I prefer primes when travelling.  I find the limitation of using a prime lens can actually be liberating as I have less options to consider when shooting.

One World Trade Centre.jpg

I don’t know if I will ever truly manage the delicate balancing act of the family holiday. There is a constant battle between my photography brain and my rational brain.  The rational side tells me to relax, slow down, and enjoy the experience.  Unfortunately, it often loses out to my photography side which always compels me to seek that one last shot.  Perhaps one day my rational brain will stand tall and overpower the selfishness of my photography brain and my much longed for stress free holiday will finally happen. Perhaps.

Bored with perfection: why I had to create a new style for my urban and architecture photography

I initially moved to mirrorless around a year ago in order to find a camera system that was light weight and could be used in the city with minimal fuss; a system that left me a more nimble, responsive photographer.  This is hardly a revelation and I am sure this is the exact reason a lot of photographers ditched their heavy dslr and lenses for a mirrorless set-up.  For me, the switch to mirrorless ran parallel with my desire to create a new style of photography too.

I love architecture and I love photography but I have to admit sometimes architecture photography leaves a little cold.  To be honest, I have always found perfection a little boring (not just in photography!) and to a large degree, architectural photography is often too perfect for me.

I have been wrestling with this in my own photography and have been trying to create a style that focuses on architecture but embraces more of a ‘street photography’ aesthetic.  I love the immediacy of street photography, its imperfections, the grain, the way it captures the essence of a moment.

Zaha Hadid apartments The Highline

After purchasing John Comazzi’s excellent Balthazar Korab: Architect of Photography book a few months back I finally became convinced that this was the direction I wanted to go in, or at the very least, a style I had to experiment with.

It had been obvious to me that my style has been undergoing change recently, most notably in the amount of black and white work I am creating.  This certainly wasn’t a deliberate choice and I cannot really say why I began doing this.  Nonetheless, it is a definite theme in my work that has occurred completely organically.  All I know is that I want my photography to look less perfect in order to capture the ‘spirit’ of the building, place or environment I am photographing.  At this stage, I do not even know if I am even capable of this but it is something I need to try and achieve.

Reflections at the Highline

Perhaps it was my visit to New York where I finally realised that the big city is not a place of perfection.  In such a ridiculously busy environment that looking to achieve perfect images often resulted in me missing out on numerous other photo opportunities, or I felt I was creating images that just seemed to lack something.

I would be interested to know if any other photographers have felt like this and felt compelled to change their style of photography.  Is this something we all go through in order to find our voice as a photographer?  Please feel free to comment below.

Architecture photographers will find all the inspiration they ever need in Balthazar Korab: Architect of Photography

Balthazar Korab: Architect of Photography by John Comazzi is a book all architecture photographers should own.  No question.  Within his photographs Korab shows a mastery of his art that any architecture photographer should aspire toward.

Comazzi’s wonderful book includes over 200 of Korab’s photographs which are mostly in black and white although there is peppering of colour work included.

Eero Saarinen’s TWA Terminal at JFK Airport, New York, 1965 - Balthazar Korab

Eero Saarinen’s TWA Terminal at JFK Airport, New York, 1965 - Balthazar Korab

Korab’s photographic style (if it can be called such) is rooted in the mid-century modernist architecture that he so often photographed.  Sharp lines, elongated curves and ultra clean concrete surfaces are all in evidence. His greatest images capture the beauty of architecture as well as the essence of time and place.

I absolutely love this shot. In many ways it is a street photography image. The rear wing in the foreground really ties the image to the 1960s. Korab has managed to create an architecture photograph which beautifully captures time and place.

I absolutely love this shot. In many ways it is a street photography image. The rear wing in the foreground really ties the image to the 1960s. Korab has managed to create an architecture photograph which beautifully captures time and place.

It would be foolish to say Korab had a single style, far from it.  There are nods to minimalism (see his shot of the Jefferson Expansion Memorial), an approach which really emphasises its arch in all its glory.  In contrast there is a definite street aesthetic to some of his work.  This is particularly true of his images taken at Lake Shore Drive Apartments (above) and Northside Middle School (below).  These are fantastic pictures that show a photographer willing to experiment with style.  It is genuinely inspiring to see work from one of the greatest architecture photographers that shows is there is more than one way to shoot architecture.

Another shot with a definite street photography aesthetic. I love that person in the foreground is polishing off their ice cream before going in to school

Another shot with a definite street photography aesthetic. I love that person in the foreground is polishing off their ice cream before going in to school

Balthazar Korab: Architect of Photography really is a must own for any photographer who any interest in architecture and urban photography.  His ability to create awe inspiring photography is obvious but for me it was his willingness to experiment with different styles that was most intriguing.  Something we should all aim for in our own work. 

Dulles International Airport Terminal, Chantilly, Virginia, circa 1963

Dulles International Airport Terminal, Chantilly, Virginia, circa 1963

You see more of Balthazar Korab’s work here

More information about Balthazar Korab: Architect of Photography can be found here

You can also check out my book shelf for book recommendations

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DETAILS:

Title: Balthazar Korab: Architect of Photography. Author: John Comazzi. Format: Paperback. Size: 8 × 10 in (20.3 × 25.4 cm). Pages: 192pp. Illustrations: 20 color, 200 b/w. ISBN: 9781616891961. Publisher: Princeton Architectural Press.

Break free from the tyranny of perfect sharpness and learn to love vintage lenses: the Auto Chinon 35mm 2.8

I am starting to really enjoy trying out these vintage lenses on the Fujifilm X-T2.  The ability to easily pick up a lot of vintage lenses very cheaply means I can experiment with various focal lengths without forking out a fortune each time I want a new lens.  I managed to pick up the Auto Chinon 35mm 2.8 for about £20, so even if I tried the lens and hated it I could easily sell it on again with minimal loss.  Hopefully.

Abstract photography Science Centre Glasgow.jpg

I actually bought the lens on eBay a few months but just never got round to using it until recently.  It is a pretty decent copy with no obvious marks on the lens elements.  As expected the Chinon is a wee bit heavier than my modern Fujifilm primes but no real issue.  The aperture ring is nice and clicky so it was simple to select whatever aperture I needed.  The focus ring is also very smooth and worked well.

What I love about using vintage lenses is that they free me from the tyranny of perfect sharpness – certainly with cheaper lenses like this I will not achieve that anyway – but I find this means I am more willing to experiment with composition, textures, blur and abstraction.  I have also found myself shooting far more black and white photography (as I am sure you will be able to tell from the sample photos).

Textures on gravestone at Necropolis.jpg

I have only taken this lens out to use on two occasions but what struck me immediately was how awkward it felt using the 35mm focal length.  Most of my photography is taken at 23mm or below so 35mm just felt a bit off.  It took me at least 30 minutes before I felt I was ‘seeing’ properly with the lens.  This another reason I like trying out these lens as I can take myself out of my comfort zone by using focal lengths that I do not normally use.

The Auto Chinon is a nice lens.  For me, it worked especially well as a black and white lens.  The tonal range seemed pretty good to my eyes although it did lack contrast.  It also seemed to work very well in conjunction with Acros film simulations on the X-T2.  Colours were not particularly vibrant, although to be perfectly honest on both occasions the weather was dull and overcast meaning there was a dearth of colour available anyway.  At a price of around £20 the Auto Chinon 35mm 2.8 is a lens that is definitely worth seeking out.

Glasgow Science Centre exterior.jpg

If you any questions or comments regarding this lens please comment below.

For more information about the Auto Chinon 35mm 2.8 click here.