Photo Stories

3 Reasons Photographers Should Ride A Cargo Bike

There's a revolution taking place, perhaps you've heard.  As more people choose bicycles instead of cars, cargo bikes are becoming the new minivan.  Moms and dads use cargo bikes to take their kids places, for running errands, and so much more.

Out for a ride with the boys

Out for a ride with the boys

I'm a dad who's in the kid haulin' cargo bike category taking my boys to and from daycare every day on my way to work and before heading home.  I love running errands on my bike, and stopping occasionally to take pictures.  I ride it so much so that my family is a one car household.

My steed is an old Specialized Rock Hopper, circa 1990, with a Xtracycle LEAP making it a longtail cargo bike.  With it, I can haul just about anything.  The bike can, supposedly, carry up to 400 pounds.  I once had close to 200 pounds on it, which made it a bit difficult to control.  Just because it can carry a lot of weight doesn't mean I want it to.  At some point it just gets ridiculous. 

But enough about me and my bike.  Let's get to the reasons why every photographer should ride a cargo bike (at least some of the time).

1. It can take you places your car can't

You wake up one day and think, "Hey, I'll go to the mountains and take some landscape pictures, but I don't want the same picture everyone else has from the side of the road.  I know, I'll walk from the trailhead to a quiet overlook."   

You get your gear together and start packing the car when an epiphany strikes, "What the %&#@ am I thinking!  All this gear is heavy."

Cargo bike to the rescue!  Walking takes a long time.  Biking is fast, efficient, and quiet.  Load the bike with your gear, some food, maybe a cooler with a few special beverages, and enjoy the ride.  In a short while you arrive to your spot and do what you came to do, make great photographs of beautiful places.  

2. A cargo bike frees you from making tough choices

Photography is hard because of the tough choices you have to make.  Which lenses should you bring?  Should you carry a tripod?  What about all the other miscellaneous items like extra batteries, lighting, and a laptop?  Studio work is easy.  Everything is there.  While out and about all day, your gear gets heavy. 

Who wants to leave a lens at home just because you don't feel like carrying it, or whether you should take your tripod for that "just in case" moment.  If you can't get your gear there you can't take the shot, so it's time to load the cargo bike and go.

3. It's like walking but better

The beauty of walking when shooting street photography is that you're in the moment and at the ready to take the shot when you see it.  Riding a bike is just as easy.  As you come rolling past and see the picture you've been looking for you stop, pull out your camera, and capture the image.

But why on a cargo bike and not just any ole bike?  Simple, as you are out running errands, taking your kids to school, or commuting to work you can stop when you see something you want to take a picture of and capture it.

Yeah, you can do that while driving, but do you?  I never do.  Driving is such a hassle. 

Picture this (sorry for the pun), you are driving and you see something you want to photograph.  You are in the left lane, so you need to get to the right, find a place a few blocks down to turn, stop and park.

You get out of your car, walk back to where you saw the shot, and when you get there it looks completely different because you were going past at 50 miles per hour.  You shrug your shoulders.  RUMPH!  And walk back. 

That scenario will never happen because you will never stop.  It's too much of a hassle, and when driving you are in a different frame of mind when compared to riding a bike.  While driving you want to make time, you have a point A to point B mentality.  Everything in between be damned.

Now consider the same scenario while riding your cargo bike.   You're riding home with a load of groceries and takeout.  The sunlight falling between two buildings catches your eye and you think, "Someone walking into the light from the shadows would make for a great silhouette.  I think I'll stop!"

And so you do, right where you see it.  The bike takes you on your errands, and provides you with options.  You can easily stop, whip out your camera, and start shooting.  No need to find a place to put your sheet metal bubble.  You are in a different frame of mind.  Rather than raging through town in your car you are aware of your surroundings, and willing to stop and be a member of your greater community. 

Bonus

Riding cargo bikes is just plain fun.  People far and wide will want to talk with you about it.  I can't tell you how many times someone waved at me and my boys just to say hi.  It's disarming.  In other words, it's more human.

People may be more open to you taking street portraits of them as you now have a relationship instead of cruising past inside of a car aggravated because these squishy obstacles are in your way.

So, there you have it.  A bike, and especially a cargo bike, can make you a better photographer because the biggest challenge to making great photos is gaining access to the people and places where you capture them. 

Start the conversation.  How has a bike gained you access to something that a car couldn't?  Bonus points if you were on a cargo bike.

Why I Hate Digital Photography

I recently watched a documentary on Netflix about the end of Polaroid film called, Time Zero | The Last Year of Polaroid Film. It was an insightful and emotional documentary. The end of Polaroid film was the end of an era in photography, and everyone over the age of 20 has had some experience with it.

The documentary got me thinking about how digital cameras have changed photography. Today, just about everyone has a camera in their pocket. This allows people to take snapshots all day without thinking about composition, lighting, or whether they will become a cherished relic.

Photographs Without Intent

With easy access to the camera in their pocket people take too many pictures that are quickly forgotten. Film cameras required you to think about every shot because every shot had a cost of, let's say, 50 cents.

With digital that's not the case. Because every digital picture is free people take less care when composing, when thinking about the settings, the lighting, or any of it. Today, you take a shot, look at it, make adjustments, take another, wash, rinse, repeat. 

Then there is the guy who motor drives every picture. I cringe when I hear machine gun fire coming from someone's camera when there's no action. You can't possibly frame the shot with proper focus when rattling off 10 frames every time you press the shutter.

Film forced you to slow down and think about what you were doing. You couldn't afford to miss the shot because you only had 36 frames per roll, plus the monetary cost.

You can miss shot after shot with digital and it doesn't matter. Just take another one. The only problem is that you leave with too many pictures and only a few keepers. Whereas, if you just slow down and shoot with intent you walk away with fewer bad images, which leads to the next reason why I hate digital photography.

Sorting Through the Junk

After you snap a thousand photos from the day's shoot it's time to sift through everything looking for the keepers. All these pictures require a computer, hard drives, multiple storage points, multiple copies of your library, photo editing software, time to organize, tag, and name your photos, time to edit your pictures, and so on.

After a few years you will have terabytes with tens of thousands of images that you need to make searchable otherwise you may never find them again. As your library grows your computer's hard drive rapidly fills. When it does, you need to move your photo library to an external hard drive. Then over time that one will fill, and when it does you need to buy a larger hard drive, a NAS, or whatever it takes to store what are mostly mediocre snapshots. 

To battle this problem you need a detailed workflow to quickly clear the clutter so you can find the good shots, edit your images, and share to social media.

After every thing is imported and sorted through you are faced with the decision of how you should organize it all. Do you rename every photo? If so, do you rename them so you know which camera you used? What naming scheme should you use so you can easily search for the images? Should you organize by event, chronologically, or just leave the image name that the camera assigns? Does it even matter?

All of this presents yet another problem - sitting in front of your computer for hours. You sit in front of one at work, you sit writing emails, you sit when you video call with the grandparents, when trolling Facebook, reading this article, and everything else you do on your computer. With thousands of photos it's just more seat time.

Sharing Your Images

How often have you seen someone's Flickr, Instagram, or Facebook page filled with hundreds of pictures taken of the same event. People don't discriminate the good from the bad. They believe that every picture of their kid is a masterpiece, so they share everything they take. 

If I can impart one thing it is this, select only the best image(s) and share those. If you think that 50 of the 1000 you took are amazing then choose the best 5 of those 50 to share. Most often, one or two good images a day are enough. When you flood people with everything the good one's get lost in the clutter.

Backing Up

Backing up all of your data is another inherent problem of digital. You don't want to lose those irreplaceable pictures of grandma blowing out 100 candles to a dead hard drive or accidental deletion. To avoid these problems you need multiple backups of everything with at least one off site. All of these hard drives and backups come at both a monetary and time cost.

Then over the years you purchase new cameras with larger file sizes. This requires more computing power, more RAM, and more hard drive space. Again, all of this comes at both a financial and time cost.

Digital is Not Tangible

Digital images, whether on your phone, tablet, computer, or TV are sterile with little thought put toward presentation. When you show people images that are mounted in a photo album you write little blurbs, you make them into a collage, group like images with like images, place them in a timeline to represent one's life, scrapbook, and so much more.

Much of this can be done with a computer, but it takes time and skill, and the end product is less than personal. There is nothing to hold, nothing to embrace, nothing to cherish. 30 years later there is nothing to discover hidden away in the back of a closet to stir old memories, to have and to hold. The life of a photo on the Internet is only a few seconds, if that.

Yes, old prints fade and slides become oxidized, but that adds to the treasure. When photos are taken with intent the memory is seared into your brain. You remember the smells, the time of day, the feeling of your new sweater against your skin. Those images take you back to the moment they were taken. In your mind you are a kid again playing with your favorite doll, or train set.

Those grainy, and slightly out of focus images are endearing. It's all you have of those moments gone by. They are something to be cherished. Compare that with digital. You take thousands of snapshots because the cost is nothing. Then they hide on your hard drive where only you know they exist.

Too Complicated

The Camera itself presents another problem. Your digital camera is a small computer, and overtime it will become obsolete like any other computer. In a few short years you will need to buy a new one. 

Then there are all the different formats. Should you shoot RAW, JPEG, TIFF, or something else? Which color space should you use? What about white balance? You need to have a working knowledge of computers, digital imaging, proprietary software, and it all needs to be up to date.

A film camera, on the other hand, is just a light box that exposes film. Yes, there have been updates to film cameras, but you can still take great photographs with an old one. Whereas, an old digital camera will leave your images as less desired.

Are you a good photographer or a good image editor?

This brings me to the final point. Are the digital images you see actually what was captured by the photographer? Or are good photographers merely good image editors?

A photographer may take a mediocre picture that is poorly framed under exposed with a distracting background, but after hours of manipulation he creates a nice picture. The problem however, is that the photo you see is not what was captured.

And don't get me started on High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography. On the surface they look cool, but there are no shadows, no emotion, no grit. All those things that create a compelling photo are missing. Yes, HDR can make for some amazing pieces of art, but they are completely manipulated.

Conclusion

I shoot digital like everyone else, but there are so many headaches attached to it that it makes me a conservative photographer. With digital I still think about my shots, the framing, and the settings. If I can't get the image properly framed, or it doesn't appear how I imagine it to be I won't push the shutter button. Why waste the shot?

Who wants to sift through hundreds of shitty photos just to find one gem that you captured by accident? I don't, and you shouldn't either. Take pride in the images you create. Cover the screen on the back of the camera, anticipate the shot, and photograph quality.

Film was certainly a simpler time, especially Polaroid film. And though I hate digital, I also love it. I know that sounds odd, but we all have personal conflicts.

My Favorite Photography Podcasts (Part 2)

I listen to a lot of podcasts about all sorts of topics, and last week I reviewed three of my favorite photography podcasts. Today, in no particular order, I will round out my list.

The Candid Frame

The Candid Frame is by far the most sophisticated photography podcast I listen to. It is hosted by Ibarionex Perello, and he has the calm soothing voice of an NPR host. Ibarionex is a Los Angeles based photographer who interviews some of the world's most influential photographers at the top of their game. 

He has a YouTube channel by the same name where he humbly critiques photographs with a keen eye imparting his knowledge and experience onto the viewer. He discusses angles, lines, framing, emotion and the details that you don't initially see until he points them out. His reviews are insightful, and when you are finished watching a critique, or listening to an interview you are amped and motivated to go out and shoot.

His interviews will make you rethink your life with how you got to where you are. So many of the photographers he interviews have inspiring stories. Each week I live vicariously though them and dream about exotic expeditions working for Nat Geo, photographing portraits of world leaders, or whatever makes for an amazing photography career.

How these people became who they are seems so simple... in hindsight. But what you need to really think about are the sacrifices many of them made early on, and continue to make, that allowed them to get to where they are now.  I'm not so sure I have, or ever had, their tenacity to stick with something so difficult as to make it as one of the world's most influential photographers, but I do enjoy listening to Ibarionex's soft spoken perspective on photography.

Fro Knows Photo

I check Jared Polin's site once in a while to hear good info about the business of photography, and I do enjoy watching how he works through a photo shoot. Though he has good information, I am not a fan of his personality. He's a bit loud and obnoxious. Plus, that hair (his fro) is brutal, and his I Shoot RAW shirts are ridiculous.

This podcast is actually a YouTube channel that he links to from his website. Fro puts out random videos all the time and his weekly podcast, Raw Talk, is released every Monday. The podcast is decent. He and his cronies talk about the week's photo news, and he'll answer listener questions about anything photography related. He sometimes conducts interviews with other photographers and entrepreneurs, and then he does some gameshow stuff which is the point I turn it off.  

Jared covers a variety of topics, which is what keeps me coming back. You never know what he will talk about from week to week. He critiques listener photos and photography websites, he reviews gear, and there's his Raw Talk podcast, to name a few.

Along with discussions about the business side of photography, Fro also has a mountain of beginner information. If you are new to photography his site is a great place to start, but the more advanced enthusiast photographer is often ignored. I would guess that for every photographer making money there are thousands who don't and just shoot as a hobby, and it's these photographers who don't get much attention.

This is most notable when Jared does website reviews.  He tends to focus on the pro photographer with how their site is set up for clients and business, and on rare occasions he will he critique a hobbyist's website. 

He also (mostly) ignores the mirrorless side of photography. It's all DSLR all the time. Fro states that he will review Sony, Panasonic, Fuji, etc. when they send him gear. Geez man, rent a camera with lenses, review it, then send it all back. The world is moving in the direction of light mirrorless cameras, and I would argue a large number of photographers use mirrorless cameras.

Overall, Fro has good info about the pro and beginner sides of photography, but misses the middle, which is where most photographers reside. Regardless, I'll still tune in to watch the topic du jour.

Of the many podcasts I listen to these two photography podcasts, along with the previous three, are among my favorites. After reading this list which one's did I miss? Let me know, as I'm always open for a fresh perspectives.

My Favorite Photography Podcasts (Part 1)

I listen to a lot of podcasts about all sorts of topics such as cycling, economics, science, and comedic news to name a few, but this is a photography website, so here is my list, in no particular order, of the photography podcasts I listen to.

This Week In Photo (TWIP)

TWIP is a weekly staple of mine. New episodes are released every Thursday, and the host, Frederik Van Johnson and his guests, discuss the past week's photo news stories. They also answer questions from listeners and give their 'weekly picks' that can be anything photography related. 

Like everything, some episodes are better than others, but overall it's a solid show. The format is your typical Skype call-in discussion that so many of these types of podcasts use. There is both an audio and video version of the show, but the video comes out a couple of days after the audio... I think. I listen to the audio version each week, so I couldn't tell you the quality of the video.

One annoying aspect of the show is when they discuss a piece of gear, and hold it up to the camera for everyone to see. Apparently they forgot this is an audio podcast. I'm sure some people watch the video, but when working in the yard, driving, riding my bike, or whatever, I listen. I'm sure most people listen instead of watch, too.

Some of the guests, like Doug Kaye and Shiv Verma, have a great perspective and are humble photographers. Others, like Scott Bourne, not so much. Though I haven't heard him on in a long time. Maybe Frederik felt the same.

I think the show leans a little too much toward gear talk, however. New gear is low hanging fruit for photography discussions, but I doubt most photographers care about flying drones, or $7,000 pro camera bodies. People of course, do fly drones and use expensive cameras, but I doubt the average listener does. 

The direction I would prefer to see the show move is discussions surrounding photographic principles rather than megapixel talk. I do enjoy their controversial discussions, however. They recently debated whether or not Steve Jobs should be inducted to the photography hall of fame with arguments for and against. That's the stuff I enjoy because there is no definitive answer, and someone who argues well can help you form your opinion about the topic. However, telling me about a screen that increased from 3 inches to 3.2 inches is boring. 

Overall, I enjoy their discussions even if they are about gear. They often give you nuggets of information that is usable and actionable that I apply to my own photography.

This Week In Photo - Family

Jenny Stein, as she states each week, is a mom with a camera who loves photographing her family, and she always has a clever and unique introduction to her show. I enjoy her podcast because, well, I have a family. I love making great photos of them, and this podcast helps me do that. 

TWIP-Family is released every Tuesday, and each week Jenny interviews a photographer who may be a pro, but is often an enthusiast to gain an insightful look into their world with how it relates to family photography. One thing her guests all have in common is making great photographs, regardless of whether they get paid or not. 

I began listening to this podcast since episode one, and since the beginning Jenny has mentioned that she participated in a yearlong "365 Project" with her brother and some friends a few years ago. She talks about 365 projects so much that I decided to start my own at the beginning of this year. Jenny has a TWIP-Family Flickr group for her listeners to share their daily photos, and as of this writing I have about 100 days left until the end of the year and the end of my project. It's been a long one, but one I'm glad I am doing.

This podcast is done in a casual conversation style, and most of her guests are great. Like episodes of all podcasts, some are better than others, but overall I've learned a lot about photographing my kids, my family, and people in general. The show is light on gear talk, moderate on the business side of things, but always informative on various techniques often bringing in the human side of photography. 

Too many photography podcasts, websites, and blogs miss that point. After all, photography involves people. It isn't necessarily about how you look, but how you feel. It's important to remember that the camera sees both ways. It not only captures an image of someone with emotions, but it shows what the photographer saw, it expresses how he or she felt about their subject, and can represent the mood the photographer was in.  Even if a person is not in the frame the photographer is. Each week I look forward to this podcast and it's varying topics around family photography.

This Week In Photo - Street Focus

Bonjour! Here is a third podcast from the TWIP network. Valérie Jardin, the host, is a French street photographer who lives in Minneapolis, MN.  She often engages in a bit of humble bragging when she tells her listeners how she is jet lagged from her world travels, or how she missed a photography show because she was in Paris. Life is rough, I understand. 

Aside from that minor annoyance, Valérie has wonderful guests with insightful thoughts about how to make great street photos. She produces two types of episodes. The first is the type I enjoy. She will interview guests who discuss the principles of street photography with tips and strategies about making great street photos. 

She produces another type of show where she interviews photographers who discusses street photography in some specific city of the world. I usually don't listen to those episodes because I don't find them relevant. I suppose if you live in the city they are talking about, or if you plan to visit that particular city it makes sense to listen. Otherwise I don't find it interesting because I'm not familiar with those cities and feel lost in the conversation.

One thing I would recommend is to record the 'Streets of the World' episodes in a video format. Since photography is a visual medium it would make sense to show photos of the city they are discussing and it would be more engaging if you could see what they were talking about. Street Focus is released on Thursday's. 

One thing most photography podcasts have in common is promoting their workshops, books, print sales, photo walk meet-ups, Patreon campaigns, or whatever. I understand they have a business, and want to make money, but when you listen week after week their ads get old. Unfortunately, like television and radio, these annoyances are the price of free content. Otherwise paying a subscription to listen would surely impact their audience size, and they may not exist otherwise.

I listen to too many photography podcasts to give them all a comprehensive review in one article. I'll round out my list next week, but in the meantime I'd like to hear about the photography podcasts you enjoy.

Update: Two days after this article published Valérie Jardin announced that her show is ending. Great timing, eh? She had a 104 episode run, but she is not hanging up podcasting, however. Rather, she is moving her show to her own website calling it Hit the Streets with Valérie Jardin.  She indicated on her last episode of Street Focus that her format will change a bit. After I listen to a number of episodes I'll update my review of her podcast. 

Frederik Van Johnson, on this past week's TWIP episode, indicated that Street Focus will continue with a new host. I'm curious, and looking forward to how it will be. 

Annoying Photography Practices

I see terrible photographs all the time and everywhere. The following, in no particular order, are the one's I notice most.

Photographing kids from the standing position - I see this one all the time and everywhere. People who post pictures of their kids on Facebook seem to be the biggest offenders. Bend your knees, and get down at their level and on their plane.  You look at kids all day from an adult perspective. We all know that view. Get low, lay down, shoot up at them, and get a perspective that actually shows your kids (and animals) in a flattering way, and within the environment. They're your kids, make them look as cute as you think they are. People will notice and appreciate your efforts even though they may not recognize what you did or why.

Just say no to this perspective!

Just say no to this perspective!

Bend your knees and get on their level

Bend your knees and get on their level

Shooting video in portrait mode - If you shoot a video with your cell phone in portrait mode then you may as well hang your TV on end. This is another big offender seen all the time on Facebook. How many movies have you seen in the theater with the screen hung in portrait view? None, that's how many. Turn your camera to landscape orientation. That's "sideways" and enjoy better videos. You're welcome.

There's no clear subject in your picture - A picture with a ton of shit going on is confusing. You don't know what to look at, and your eye is not drawn anywhere. In really busy pictures you don't know who or what is the subject, or what story you are trying to tell. Find a subject and make that your focal point telling your photo story. Get closer if you have to. Change your angle, talk to people. Ask to take their picture*. A good photograph is all about composition, story telling, and having a clear subject. 

Other than chaos, I have no idea what I found interesting.

Other than chaos, I have no idea what I found interesting.

Posting/sharing blurry images - If an image is blurry delete it. I don't care how cute their smile is, it's blurry. Share only tack sharp images, and stop posting blurry pictures on Facebook. No need to elaborate further. Just say no to blurry pictures! Don't confuse a blurry photograph with motion blur. When done right blur can add an artful touch.

Quick Tip: Every time you photograph someone always focus on the eye nearest you. You can learn more about making tack sharp photos here.

Motion blur adds an element of interest.

Motion blur adds an element of interest.

Over processing an image - Shifting the color correcting sliders all the way to the left or right does not equate to art. Crazy over processed HDR (high dynamic range) images are awful. Trey Ratcliff does HDR well, but few people can. Subtly is the key to a great image.

No image processing - Take a few minutes to retouch your photos and make them come to life. You took them, you want to share them, so why post a flat toned and poorly contrasted picture. None of your friends will share a crappy image. They will however, share something beautiful that stirs emotion. Or better yet, try processing in black and white.

Crooked water - Water does not stay put when it's angled. No, it runs downhill. Crooked horizons don't make sense. Get your lines straight. The same goes for Dutch angles. Your pictures aren't a Batman episode. If you're like me and can't make your lines straight then correct them in post. All image editing software can straighten what's crooked. Not much else to say about it.

At least it's angled in the direction the water is flowing.

At least it's angled in the direction the water is flowing.

 But this one is better.

 But this one is better.

Pictures of watches - If you create a nice image of your old watch, great! Just make sure the hour and minute hands are at the 10 and 2 positions. It's uniform, it frames the watch manufacturer's name, and just makes sense. Next time you see a photo of a watch that has the hands at some random spot you will now know why it looks odd. It's like driving... 10 and 2 people.

Distracting objects at the edges of the frame - Before you snap a picture look at the edges. Is something there that will distract the viewer from your subject? There is? Then move in closer. Change your angle of view, or move the object out of the way and try again. Clean edges keep the focal point on your subject.

Distracting

Distracting

Not Distracting

Not Distracting

Overly cropped images - Now this one is not too bad, but it's one you want to be aware of when cropping an image. Straightening an image or cropping in slightly to remove a distracting object is okay. Just note that a 24 megapixel sensor when not cropped is showing you 24 megapixels. If you crop half the picture it is still the same dimensional size, but now with only 12 megapixels. If you crop further, it may only be 8 mega pixels.

This is the same when you zoom with a smartphone camera. Digital zoom does not zoom. Rather, it crops the image. So your 8mp cameraphone becomes a 4mp image if you zoom 2x. If you need to zoom then stop being lazy and use your feet to walk closer.

Why should you care? Because you want a sharp image. When you crop you remove resolution, and you increase the size of the pixels making your photograph more pixelated. Pixelation is different from grain. A grainy image when, shooting at a high ISO, is fine. Pixelation is not fine.

Do your self a favor and practice getting it right in the camera. Perhaps you need to crop later in post, but study the reasons you are cropping in the first place. Learn what you did right and wrong and how you can improve. Then apply those lessons to the next picture.

All of these things annoy me, and I'm sure I missed a few. Learn the basics to good picture taking and your friends and family will love you for it. I'm done. Now go out and take a picture.

* If you take someone's picture on the street give them your email so they can contact you and you can send them the image later. Another idea is to have a personal business card with your name and email address on it. Take their photo then hand them the card. It's a nice way to meet new people, it helps create community, and it will help improve your photography skills.