Songs About Photography

I thought I’d shift gears today and put up a list of photography-related songs just for fun. A couple of these are a bit of a stretch, admittedly. But really, would “Alice’s Restaurant” be the same without “twenty-seven 8X10 color glossy pictures with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one…”? We all need something to listen to while we’re working in Photoshop, right? And on the off chance you’ve got an afternoon to waste, the songs that have links attached go to YouTube, for your viewing/listening pleasure.


3X5 (John Mayer)

Alice’s Restaurant (Arlo Guthrie)

All the Negatives Have Been Destroyed (Spoon)

Camera (REM)

My Camera Never Lies (Bucks Fizz)

The Camera Eye (Rush)

The Camera Never Lies (Michael Franks)

The Cover of Rolling Stone (Dr. Hook)

Distant Camera (Neil Young)

Editions of You (Roxy Music)

Every Picture Tells a Story (Rod Stewart)

F Stop Blues (Jack Johnson)

Family Snapshot (Peter Gabriel)

Freeze Frame (J. Geils Band)

From a Photograph (Chris Whitley)

Gentlemen Take Polaroids (Japan)

Getting the Picture (Jimmy Buffet)

Girls on Film (Duran Duran)

Hey Ya (Outkast)

I Am a Camera (Buggles)

I Turn My Camera On (Spoon)

In My Room (Yaz)

Into the Lens (Yes)

Kamera (Wilco)

Kevin Carter (Manic Street Preachers)

Kodachrome (Paul Simon)

Life Through a Lens (Robbie Williams)

Local Boy in the Photograph (Stereophonics)

Miniature Secret Camera (Peter Murphy)

Paparazzi (Lady Gaga)

Peg (Steely Dan)

Photograph (Blue Rodeo)

Photograph (Jamie Cullum)

Photograph (Def Leppard)

Photograph (Johnny Mathis)

Photograph (Natalie Merchant & Michael Stipe)

Photograph (Nickelback)

Photograph (Ringo Starr)

Photograph (Weezer)

A Photograph of You (Depeche Mode)

Photographic (Depeche Mode)

Photographs and Memories (Jim Croce)

Picture Book (The Kinks)

Picture Postcard (Steve Hackett)

Picture This (Blondie)

Pictures (Statler Brothers)

Pictures of Lily (The Who)

Pictures of You (The Cure)

Please Just Take These Photos from My Hands (Snow Patrol)

Send a Picture of Mother (Johnny Cash)

Snapshot (Kinky)

Take a Picture (Filter)

Traces (The Association)

Turning Japanese (The Vapors)

Wishing (If I Had a Photograph) (Flock of Seagulls)


If I’ve missed something, drop me a line.

The Review: Little People in the City: The Street Art of Slinkachu

"Overpowered," by Slinkachu

It’s a bit of a challenge trying to pin down what, exactly, Slinkachu does. You could classify him as an installation artist, photographer, gentle provocateur, or even philosopher; each would be accurate in its own way, but even all of them, taken together, still somehow miss the whole that’s bigger than all those parts.

The method’s deceptively simple: take a miniature figurine (most of them look to be about HO scale), paint it, and then place it somewhere in the city, perhaps to be happened on by chance, and perhaps not. But then, installation art is not unlike real estate: it’s got (nearly) everything to do with location. Part of Slinkachu’s simple genius is putting his little people in very specific places to echo very specific predicaments faced by the world at large on a daily basis.

Little People in the City: The Street Art of Slinkachu documents several of the artist’s installations. The book, like the art, works on several levels, wherein lies a lot of its appeal. On the one hand, you can skim the book, as I did the first time, getting chuckles from photos that seem to have taken some visual cues from Gary Larson (filtered, at times, through a sense of melancholy that could easily have been borrowed from Edward Hopper). But there’s so much more than that.

For one thing, if it were just for the humor, the concept and the book itself would both wear pretty thin, pretty quickly. Taken as pure “surface,” it’s a pretty shallow artistic conceit. But then, on a second or third viewing, you realize there’s something else going on here. These installations, and the resultant photos, aren’t just of something, they’re also about something.

They’re also useful, for two reasons. First, it’s a much-needed reminder that it doesn’t need to be serious to be art. Humor is a vital part not just of life, but also of the creative process. Sometimes it’s useful as pure comic relief, and sometimes as a lure, or foil… something to draw you into a deeper meaning that lurks behind the laugh, or something to throw a bit of sadness or melancholy into sharper relief. Slinkachu does both here.

The second bit is the photography. There are a number of lessons you can draw from the photos, from exposure to many elements of good composition (such as paying attention to your backgrounds, or including something in the frame that gives a sense of scale to your photo).

The verdict? If you’re of a certain frame of mind (and sense of humor), this book’s worth checking out, or even owning. As to the artwork itself? I won’t belabor you with my interpretations of any of this stuff, or the feelings certain pieces did or didn’t arouse in me; that would, frankly, be the least interesting part of the whole enterprise, especially when the point is to crack open the pages and find your own experience and interpretations. Try it, and enjoy it.

Explore further: a link to Slinkachu’s main page, which in turn links to his website and blog.

Your purchases through the Amazon affiliate links in this post help keep The First 10,000 going. Thanks for your support!

The Lightning Rod Theory of Photographic Inspiration

Wow, that’s a mouthful. Let me explain:

You hear creative types talk about inspiration all the time. Sometimes, it’s because the muse is talking, the inspiration’s flowing, and it seems as though, artistically speaking, you’re a fount of useful and interesting ideas. Other times, of course, it’s because of the dreaded “block.” You and the muse aren’t on speaking terms, and as far as ideas go, someone might as well have shut off the spigot, because what was once a torrent of stuff now seems to have slowed to a miserly drip.

And think about how we talk about inspiration. It’s the “lightbulb moment,” a “bolt from the blue,” or the “shock” of recognition when it all comes together. Very charged language (pun partly intended)  for a feeling that, when it comes, can definitely be electric.

Let’s take that electrical metaphor a step further. If we’re waiting for that lightning bolt, like Ben Franklin flying his kite in the middle of a thunderstorm, it helps to remember that lightning — both the high-voltage, knock-your-shoes-and-socks-off variety, and the inspirational kind — tends to strike the tallest thing it can find.

Of course, unless you’re fixing to be electrocuted when a thunderstorm comes, you’re likely going to get your ass indoors, or find some cover. It only makes sense. But what works when it’s raining is counterproductive if you’re looking to get inspired; laying low, not getting out there and even taking the small risks, means the odds of a good flash of inspiration are pretty dramatically decreased.

A couple of days ago, I advised you to always have your camera with you. One reason, as I stated in that piece, is that you’re simply not going to get pictures if you don’t have your camera with you to make them. There’s another, more elemental, reason as well. Photography, I’ve found, can be a lot like exercise. The longer you don’t exercise, the harder it gets to exercise. If your only exertion is vacuuming the crumbs out of your bellybutton, it’s going to get difficult after a while to drag yourself off the couch, to say nothing of running a marathon. If, on the other hand, you’re active every day, it becomes much easier to stay that way.

Similarly (yes, there was a point to that bit), if you let your camera gather dust for days, weeks, or months on end, it becomes a lot more difficult with the passage of time to get out there and get photos that don’t look like they were a chore to make. You don’t need to have an angel on your shoulder to take good photos, but if you feel dull and uninspired, don’t be surprised if your photos reflect that. If you make photography a habit, you can make inspiration a habit as well.

Here’s what it all comes down to: photographing every day (or, if you came here by accident, doing whatever else it is you do, whether it’s writing, cooking, or interpretive dance) makes it stand taller in your consciousness, and gives those lightning flashes of inspiration something to strike. The longer you do this, don’t be surprised if those lightbulb moments become much more regular, and much less unpredictable.

Taking Better Self-Portraits

"Don't" #4: Don't go cutting your ear off, either. (Image: Public Domain)

You can take self-portraits for any number of reasons. Maybe you want something to put up on your Facebook or Twitter profile, maybe you want a good shot for that online dating site, or maybe you’re just some kind of narciss—never mind. Anyway, the point is, sometimes you need a picture of yourself, and there’s nobody else around to do the job. Today, I’ll be going over some very simple do’s and don’ts for better self-portraits.

  1. No “Arm’s Length” shots. All this does is add  foreshortening and make it look as though you’ve got ridiculously long arms. Needless to say, not a good look. You’re not a knuckle-dragger!
  2. No duckface. I don’t know what triggered the duckface epidemic, but suffice to say, it doesn’t look sexy, pouty, or attractive in any way. It just makes you look as though you’ve been lunching on lemons.
  3. No mirrors. Besides being a cliché, this is something that’s really better left to disgraced Congressmen.

Okay, so that’s the don’ts. Now the dos:

  1. Find a support. If you’re using an automatic compact (a.k.a. “point and shoot”), you can find a collapsible, highly portable tripod for about ten bucks. It’s not quite sturdy enough for an SLR, but it does fine for smaller cameras. In the absence of a tripod, set the camera on something else that’s flat, level, and not prone to falling over.
  2. Compose your shot. Pay attention to what’s going to be in the frame with you, keeping the background free of distractions. Set the camera either at eye level, or slightly above, since shooting from a low angle will give you multiple chins (whereas shooting from a high angle is handy if you’re trying to camouflage chins). Putting a mirror behind your camera’s LCD display can also give you a good idea of what everything’s going to look like in the frame before the photo’s made (hat tip: Photodoto).
  3. Use the camera’s timer function, set to a long interval (ten seconds or more) so you have time to get into position without looking rushed, or so the camera’s not taking multiple exposures of bits and pieces of you. If, on the other hand, the camera has a remote shutter release or cable release, use that for a greater degree of control.
  4. Focus. Try one shot from behind the camera using whatever method you’ll be using from step three to see how your camera focuses. If it needs to be done manually, put something where you’ll be sitting/standing as a reference; if the camera will autofocus, make sure the face recognition feature’s turned on (if your camera has one; most do these days) and let ‘er rip.
  5. If you’re shooting with a camera that allows control over aperture and shutter speed, make sure you’ve set an aperture that gives you enough depth of field that your whole face is in focus (otherwise you’ll have a sharp nose and the rest of you will be blurry) and a fast enough shutter speed that you won’t be a blurry mess if you happen to move at all as you’re taking the shot.
  6. Have fun. It’s not every day that you have a subject who’ll gladly submit to your every whim, is happy to experiment, and doesn’t mind taking a few dozen shots at a clip just to get that one “right” photo. Take full advantage!
  7. If all else fails, just have someone else take the darn picture.

 More don’ts: Lamebook

Rule 2: Always Have Your Camera

You never know when a photo opportunity will present itself...

Sooner or later, it’ll happen — if it hasn’t already. Maybe it’s a gorgeous sunset, maybe it’s a funny-looking beachgoer, or your kids/nieces/nephews/grandkids doing something silly or adorable… and you think to yourself, “Y’know, I really wish I had my camera.” And you might even try to recreate the image for friends and family, telling about the vivid colors, the breathtaking lighting… ’til you sound like someone trying to describe this great song they heard, only they can’t remember any of the words or hum any of the melody.

While it’s better to be mindful about your photography, and to take the time to properly frame and expose a shot, you can’t even do that if you haven’t got something with which to take the picture. This should be too obvious to have to mention, but anybody I know who’s even halfway serious about photography (including me) has missed one or more great shots because they didn’t have their camera with them.

And listen: we’re photographers, not fishermen. Fishermen have it easy (seasickness and the occasional accident with fishhooks aside); they can always talk about “the one that got away.” It’s part of the allure (pardon the pun) of fishing. But if you miss enough photos, after a while it feels less like something to brag about than it just feels like a drag.

There’s really no excuse for you not to have your camera with you. As I mentioned last week, nearly everyone has a camera now, whether it’s on your Crackberry, it’s an automatic compact, or it’s a DSLR. If you’ve already got the camera, have it with you.

As an aside: if your only camera is a DSLR, do yourself a favor and invest in something smaller. It doesn’t have to break the bank, nor does it even have to have all the bells and whistles. It just needs to take a good photograph, and be reasonably portable, since you’re not always going to want the bulk of a system camera hanging around your neck, tiring you out or drawing attention to you at times you may want to be a bit more discreet.

Just the same as a writer should always have a pen (you can always find something to write on) or an artist should always have a sketch pad, don’t wander out into the world, where all those photos are just waiting for you to notice them, without something — anything — to capture them. If you allow them to, images will never fail to sneak up on you and surprise you. But if the only place they exist is in your memory, it becomes much harder to share them later… and after all, the sharing’s the point, isn’t it?

Weekly News Roundup

Some news items from around the web this week (full text available at the websites linked below).

  • Nikon concept cameras displayed in France; Nikon D4 and D400 rumored for August ’11 (Nikon Rumors)
  • Leica M9-P, a “professional” variant of the M9 rangefinder, starts shipping. (Leica Rumors)
  • Hoya sells Pentax Imaging to Ricoh for $124.2 million; the first Lytro camera is due for the end of 2011; Olympus announces scads of new cameras and lenses (Photo Rumors)
  • Leaked specs for Canon G13 (Canon Rumors)
  • Panasonic G3 news and reviews trickling in (43Rumors)
  • New lenses from Tokina and Sigma, new software from DxO and Nik (DP Review)

Support Your Local Camera Shop!

Support your local diner while you're at it.

If you do a quick Google search, it’s pretty easy to find several thousand articles debating the merits of film versus digital photography (waters into which I’ll probably dip my own toe at some point). One thing that hasn’t gotten nearly as much attention – and should – is what the rise of digital photography has done to the local camera shop. If film seems an endangered species, your local camera shop is doubly so.

The advent of digital photography as a viable medium roughly corresponds to the advent of viable, trustworthy online shopping. Just as companies like Fujifilm and Kodak have sometimes struggled to adapt to the changes digital has wrought in the landscape, so too have small independent retailers found themselves on the losing end of a price war sparked by the likes of Amazon and Best Buy. In the past, I’ve purchased from both of these retailers

Let’s look at the pros and cons of buying locally versus buying online:

  • Price: This is one arena in which your local camera shop has difficulty competing. However, ask. Some will be flexible on pricing to the extent that they can, others may be willing to bundle an additional item or two if you’re making a big purchase. Besides, the savings you’ll get at your typical online retailer on newer items often won’t be that much. To pick just two examples at this writing*, the Fuji X100 retails at Amazon for $1,199.95, while the Canon Rebel T3i (body only) goes for $799.00. Over at my closest local camera shop, the Fuji is identically priced, and the Canon sells for a whopping 99 cents more. Some savings, huh?
  • Selection: Sure, Amazon carries a bit of everything. They can afford to, since they buy in massive quantities, and because the sales of items that move help to offset the stuff that doesn’t. Your local shop doesn’t generally have that luxury, so they’re not going to have every item from every brand. However, if it’s a brand with which they usually deal, ask if they’ll special order for you.
  • Knowledge: You tell me which is easier: sorting through a hundred reviews on Amazon (or talking to a salesperson in Wal Mart, who usually works in small appliances, but is filling in for the person in the camera department today, ’cause the girl who normally works cameras is subbing for someone in Automotive), or asking one person at a camera shop who’s either worked with a brand for years, or has at the very least been thoroughly trained on it?
  • Support: No matter how hard we try, how knowledgeable we are, or how much research we put in, nobody thinks to ask every question before they buy. Some questions aren’t covered in the manual. And some of them won’t come up ’til you’ve used the camera for a couple of months. Many local shops also offer classes for all levels of photographers that can help take your photography to the next level.
  • Try Before You Buy: Quality control is generally pretty tight at most camera manufacturers. However, sample variations do exist. In other words, it’s possible to get a lousy copy of a camera, lens, or just about anything else you use on or around your camera. If you want to try out that “nifty fifty” on your camera before you buy it to make sure it doesn’t have any issues, you’ll have a much easier time doing it at your local dealer than, say, walking into Target with your gear and asking them to try out one or more lenses.
  • Used Equipment: Maybe you’ve outgrown the 18-55mm kit lens that came with your camera and want to sell it, or maybe you just don’t feel like paying retail for the macro lens you’ve been waiting to get your sweaty paws on. If inspecting and testing new equipment is a good idea, for used equipment it’s mandatory. It’s easier to do this before purchasing than having to re-pack and return an item that wasn’t quite what the online seller or auctioneer said.
  • Rentals: Every so often, a particular project or assignment may call for a specific type of equipment that you may only need one time. If you can’t see the sense in buying something, and don’t have a friend or colleague from whom you can borrow, rental’s always an option. You can’t rent a body, lens, speedlight, or much of anything else from most online retailers. ‘Nuff said.

Camera equipment doesn’t come cheap, so it can be tempting to buy on price alone. When you stop to consider the rest of the picture, however, buying locally has quite a bit to recommend it. Support your local camera shop!

*July, 2011

Additional reading:

1001 Noisy Cameras’ “Support Your Local Camera Store Initiative”