© 2003, Richard Lotman Brown, All Rights Reserved
Funny thing. Creating a portfolio
of pristine city images, I recalled lessons learned from the comedy
business and applied them to photography. Additionally, by finding fresh
perspectives in, oftentimes, ordinary or limited settings, the camera
became a tool for limitless self-expression. I was able to build confidence
and enrich my life. I hope that while shooting urban landscapes (or
whatever strikes your eye) you might experience the same rewards.
I began my recent 15 years in the entertainment business learning from
hours spent at the Friars Club with then reigning president, octogenarian,
Milton Berle. He said, "Know who you are, what you are doing,
and why you are doing it." Through time spent with Charles Joffe
(personal manager for Woody Allen, David Letterman, and Robin Williams),
I learned, clearly, his one word mantra, "focus."
Then, as a personal manager
myself, I helped actors, writers, and comedians find their uniqueness.
I came to believe that the most truthful voice came from within the "performing
artist." Together, the client and I eventually discovered the ruby
slippers that had been there all along. Berle had reiterated this perspective,
offering, "Don't play for the band!"
Customize Your Journey
For any visual artist and fine-art photographer, this means forgetting
about the critics and letting go of the demons. Using the camera, you
have the chance to design and fine-tune your own custom journey. Ideally,
you can do so while finding inspiration right in your backyard or back
streets. Your pictures may look nothing like these. That's even
Look forward to enjoying a
passionate pursuit. Be willing to take new risks. Before you do, take
a minute or two to set some artistic goals and to be technically aware.
Who, What, Why
Think, now. Shoot, later. It is a matter of guiding the creative process.
Begin with some simple, relaxing introspection. Who are you these days?
Height and weight, unimportant. Then, remember the ideas or passing fantasies
you had in mind when you first started using your camera. What do you
want to say with your new or old friend? Why are these expressions important
Your vision may not be realized
for some time or it may change along the way. However, having a brief
conversation with yourself before you begin each shoot will pay dividends.
It will not only increase the chances of getting the results you want
but will also give you a sense of accomplishment along the way.
In my case, after guiding other artists, I was ready to reclaim my own
free spirit. I began with a desire to find shapes, observing them as I
might have first seen them as a young child. Unlike my more youthful visions,
however, I was now more willing to explore the imperfections created by
light and shadows. This added character to the work.
I also wanted to put myself through photography boot camp. I dropped myself
only a few minutes from any current living space. Then, the internal commander
shouted, "Go find the shot. This is all you have to work with. Come
out with the prize!"
In each session, I try to find the zone which draws first from intuition
and, afterward, from logic. When you begin, know that your picture is
there, somewhere. Locate the shot through feel and internal trust. Then,
compose it with your rational brain. Edit within the camera, grounding
each piece with a central story.
The "focal point" of each of my images is often narrow. I
worked toward saying the most with the least amount of elements. For me,
it raised the stakes. In a given setting, it affords me the chance to
share a distinct view that may have been missed by a passerby. Unexpectedly,
elegance came from presenting the unadorned.
Consider a working definition
of "focus" to be commitment and consistency. Your interpretation
may not be as minimal as these images are--most important is the
clarity of your point of view. Before you move on to another idea, apply
your current perspective to enough different settings that it becomes
Discover conflict. The artistic themes in a visual dialectic, of contrast
and juxtaposition, are infinite. For example, find surprising spots of
foliage within the concrete jungle. Shoot the intersections of old and
new. Or, locate the angles in front of urban settings that make people
look very tall, or very small. Start with specifics: doors and entryways,
roofs, horizontal views of alleys--or just shoot pink.
Technical consistency will help give you a professional look and assure
your success as an artist. If it helps you tell a better story, break
the rules. Just break them the same way every time. I combine both traditional
and unconventional techniques.
I still shoot with film. Black and white film keeps my eye on composition.
I most often use my 35mm Canon; sometimes a medium format Mamiya. I prefer
Agfa 25 (harder to find), Ilford 50, and, for evening or night, Kodak's
I generally stop the lens
down, aiming for a deep depth of field. I hope for one or two keepers
per roll of 36 exposures. I like to shoot AE, aperture priority, overriding
it in special circumstances. In stopped-down shooting, a slower shutter
speed is often required. Using the tripod, even when the shutter speed
is not restrictive, assures the sharpness of my images. It also forces
me to relax, setting up each individual shot.
Most often, I use autofocus.
This gives me one less issue with which to deal. The results are satisfactory.
With the increased depth of field, I generally end up with an image whose
few chosen elements are, relatively, in sharp focus.
I use color when the color is an important part of the picture. I like
saturated colors offered by Agfa's Ultra 50 (discontinued, replaced
with Ultra 100), Fuji's Fujichrome 50, and Kodak's Ektachrome
E100 VS. I believe Agfa is the warmest film to the middle colors; Ektachrome
is the warmest to blues.
I usually shoot one stop over,
developing at the rated ISO, or pulled one stop. Occasionally, I have
used contrast filters. Ideally, and less orthodox, I shoot to enable prints
whose gray scale includes both pure black and pure white. I scan negatives
and slides and print from Photoshop 7.0 to an Epson 7600. I use Photoshop
to present the original intent of the shot. My guiding thought is: "How
would I print the image in a conventional darkroom?" This translates
into minimal alterations of the original picture.
For all aspects, the main point is, "Keep it simple."