March 24, 2009 Published by . Leave your thoughts

I was just up in Whitewater, WI filming some interviews at someone’s house and saw this light switch cover in their kitchen. I had to snap a quick photo of it because it was just so pretty and I wanted to remember it.

I wonder what part of the brain it is, or even if there is a part of a person’s brain that makes them want to use an opportunity such as having a light switch cover to display art. Where did this thing come from? Who was the first person to look at their light switch cover and say “boooorr-ing,” and paint it pretty colors?

Dr. Camera asks: AIG- how does it make you feel?

March 19, 2009 Published by . Leave your thoughts

There are probably a million blog posts out there this week about AIG using their Federal bailout money to give their executives bonuses so they can buy more toys, and how angry that makes us taxpayers… So I’m going to try not to rant about that. Instead, I will display how I feel about it through a photo. (While resisting the temptation to just take a photo of my middle finger.)

I’ve flipped through my negative sleeves and then finally turned to my digital libraries and found a photo I took a while ago that expresses my mood when I read about greedy corporations. It’s a photo of someone peeking into a dumpster. I chose it because I think that when our taxes and our Federal financial situation are helping the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, we’re going to end up with such a class divide in this country that you either throw your food into a dumpster, or you find your food in one.

I’ve been known to take walks down alleys here and there for some fun dumpster-diving. I think it should be an official sport in the Olympics, actually. I found a perfectly good glass cabinet once and it’s still in my kitchen holding my spices and Tupperware. I also picked up an old window once and turned it into a little art project- taking the glass out, sanding the many layers of paint down, and then using it as a picture frame. Looks neat.

Most photographers or thrifty artists rely on thrift stores, alleys, and curbs for their supplies- especially tree-huggers like me who would rather re-use an old chair than see it slowly degrade in a landfill. (Who would throw away a perfectly good chair if you can sit on it without falling over? I’ve never seen a chair so ugly that I won’t even put my butt on it. Are we Americans really that snobbish?)

I guess if I have a point to this rambing, it’s that I hope there never comes a day when all of the thrifty dumster-diving artists out there ever stop looking in garbages for fun art supplies and start looking for food. I started re-reading some Studds Terkel books on the Great Depression… for tips on how to survive. Just in case.

Michelle in Chicago Redeye

March 12, 2009 Published by . 1 Comment

Today, I woke up to several phone calls, emails, and text messages from friends laughing at me. Yes, they were laughing. My photo was on the cover of the Redeye- the entertainment publication of the Chicago Tribune, which is free and known for being picked up by commuters to learn about what Britney is doing and to pass the time on the train with some soduko or a crossword puzzle.

I learned today, that if you see someone you know on the cover of a newspaper, you laugh at them. Don’t get me wrong- they weren’t making fun of me- when you see something you didn’t expect while on your daily commute, you can’t help but grab your belly and laugh. Of course, they congratulated me and I thanked them… though I didn’t feel like I did anything difficult. A reporter emailed me a few weeks ago, asked me some questions, sent a staff photographer over, snapped some photos in the freezing cold without my coat on, and that was it. Not hard work at all. Except for the freezing cold photo session, I guess.

I know this is a blog about photography, so I should let everyone know (if you don’t pick up the Redeye) that I’m also an independent filmmaker. I’ve been making independent short and feature films for some time, and have co-founded a production company called Brown Finch Films, where we’re working on several feature-length documentaries.

Primarily I work as the cinematographer, which makes sense if I’m also a photographer. Some people ask me if there’s a big difference in filming movies compared to taking still photos. My short answer is, “yes. When you shoot someone with a movie camera, you can hear them fart. You can’t with a still camera.”

But I think my old cinematography professor from college summed it up best when he said, “Michelle, movies is just moving pictures. Photos in motion, but photos are photos. If the photos in the movie look like shit, the movie is shit too.” I plan on cutting out the article and mailing it to him where he now lives in Bulgaria. He might be the only other person to recognize the camera I’m holding in the cover photo… Which is a 16mm Soviet made Krasnogorsk-3, for all you other nerds like me.

Rainy day project

March 7, 2009 Published by . Leave your thoughts

Yesterday was a gorgeous day for Chicago in March: 65 degrees outside! It was so refreshing after months of snow and below freezing temperatures that I saw people just standing around outside and finding every excuse they could just to stand outside for a few minutes to enjoy the warmth. Some people looked confused. They were like pre-springtime zombies.

My boyfriend and I took the opportunity to walk around outside a bit and do some thrifting at a resale shop. We came across bags and bags of sewing thread and bobbins. I think he said something like, “jackpot.” Of course, he’s a fashion design student so all that thread for $5 was an amazing find and totally useful.

I have an antique sewing machine in my apartment collecting dust as a “conversation piece.” The conversations usually go like this:

“Wow, is that an old sewing machine?”

Today has been slimy and rainy outside, so I decided to make it a true rainy Saturday and do some crafty little things. I dragged out my lights and the heavy sewing machine (with a heavy wrought iron base, mind you) and played with the spools of thread and bobbins and made myself a photo. I’ll include the setup of the shot, so you can see that I used fishing line to get the bobbins to float in midair like that. I’m only half magician.

I’m going to finish the rainy Saturday by making some banana muffins now.

"Standard" vs. "Artistic" headshots

March 5, 2009 Published by . Leave your thoughts

The general “rule” for photographers when lighting a headshot is to light it evenly, diffuse it nicely, and keep shadows to a minimum. The idea is to take a portrait of someone that shows every inch of their face- because that’s what a headshot is– a photograph of a person that is a clear representation of what they look like, to help casting directors, agents and anyone looking at the photo know who that person is.

So most of the headshots I take are very bright and lit rather simply and minimally. But that can get boring for me. I didn’t spend all that money on cameras, strobes, grids, and fancy electronics to take high school portraits, did I?

To keep me happy as a photographer, I like to try new things and get a little creative with the lighting. After all, “rules” should be in quotation marks, because if you know what they are and why they’re there, can’t you try breaking them now and then?

So here’s the challenge: make a headshot more interesting with a more dynamic lighting setup, but still be true to the headshot’s main purpose: to be a clear representation of a person. When you start changing lighting and angles in a photograph, a person’s face can appear a little different than it did in the photo before. Our faces are 3D and photos are 2D, so any change in angles and representation will make a person look slightly different… which we don’t want in a headshot– a photo of someone that doesn’t look like them.

I was taking headshots for Hannah yesterday, and after taking a majority of the photos in a more “standard” headshot lighting setup, I changed the lighting to make the headshots more “artistic.” Hannah asked which would be better for a casting agent.

Good question.

My only answer is whichever photo you are more comfortable giving, and which one you feel looks more like you at your best. If the more “artistic” or interesting-looking headshot still conveys your look, your style, and your attitude, then print that sucker and hand it out. But if you’re more comfortable with a “standard” look, then go with that. Some may say that the “artistic-looking” headshots will give you a leg up on a casting director’s desk– if the photo pops, then the person pops too, right? Others might say it’s a gamble. But I think as long as a headshot is doing its job, then it’s already a winner.