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Shooting Connemara with Peter Skelton

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There are many instances where I think too much devotion and credit is given to social media. One of my biggest pet peeves is seeing “activist” groups on Facebook try to get “likes” to change the world. That’s nice, I guess, in terms of raising awareness. But there is a difference between the social capital found in the virtual world and IRL (in real life)…

Early in the day, it was hard to get some good light.
Early in the day, it was hard to get some good light.

What does it really mean for an amateur photoblogger to have x amount of followers? It’s easy to answer that in light of a professional photography: money plays. But none of my artwork is for sale; I’m not in it for the money. So what is to be gained from networking online? Facebook friends, Twitter and Instagram followers, and whoever reads this on WordPress -only a few of these individuals engage with me face to face. I don’t find these types of relationships to be as gratifying as real-world relationships. I hope that doesn’t offend anyone, but in terms of a healthy lifestyle, I think that physical contacts are superior. But in the instance where those superficial followers can become real-world acquaintances, I think social media can be incredibly valuable.

I wanted to see how much temperature editing I could get away with; definitely over did it.
I wanted to see how much temperature editing I could get away with; definitely over did it.

In the months leading up to my departure for Ireland, I was going through different online social mediums to find local photographers to follow. I stalked their photos and got some destinations in mind. There are plenty of photo opportunities throughout the Irish countryside and that became more apparent the more I got out and shot. But while researching, I noticed that most photographers were based somewhere and not in Galway. Then I found “Galway Pete,” whose work I fell in love with the moment I checked out his online portfolio. Maybe I’m still a newbie in terms of photography, but when I see someone’s work that I admire, I really do think, “Wow! I’d love to shoot around with this guy, see how they work, what equipment they use etc.” Again, despite how much I’ve learned online, I think there is something valuable about a hands-on approach to photography.

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For anyone not familiar with Ireland, it’s not the easiest country to get around with a limited and expensive bus system. Apparently, in the past few years, the major motorways that were constructed amount to small roads back in America. These “improvements” don’t really do much in terms of increasing accessibility, but I guess they reduce the time between major urban areas, which are basically Dublin, Galway, and Cork. So finding a local “fixer” was a priority upon arriving here. After some re-tweeting, liking, and generic Twitter conversations, I had contacted Peter and set a date to go out and shoot Connemara. It might strike Americans as odd at how easy and familiar that process seems. But Ireland is such a small country that people really are who they say they are. That “have your guard up” mentality is quite unnecessary here; I guess it’s because communities are so tightly knit.

I didn't truly know what macro photography was until I got a chance to use Peter's 100mm macro lens!
I didn’t truly know what macro photography was until I got a chance to use Peter’s 100mm macro lens!

We headed out of Galway into some pretty relentless rain. There are many attitudes that photographers can have when they interact. In some circles, unfortunately, I detect a lot of condescension, probably due to competition. But Peter was really comfortable with how he shot and was completely open to sharing his opinions on equipment, techniques, and his general philosophy when it comes to photography. I think it’s the last part that comes through in a face-to-face relationship. Sure, online you can view someone’s portfolio, and I guess ultimately, this is what matters if you want pictures. But it’d be pretty miserable if a bride’s wedding photographer was a jerk and ruined her day.

The money shot from the day. I knew these were the exact edits I wanted as I snapped away.
The money shot from the day. I knew these were the exact edits I wanted as I snapped away.

I really got the best of both worlds: great photographer and Irishman. Having a local show you around is something I’ve recently learned to treasure after some extensive traveling. I’ve been reading up on art and photography and relationships are what the more keen artists denote as important in their process. Two pieces of advice that Peter shared with me, (and I hope he doesn’t mind me repeating!) really stuck out to me. The first was to never shoot what another photographer dictates as the right way. His wording didn’t really make this tip as much of an absolute that I am making it out to be. But if you’re motivated by someone else’s mindset, or anything other than your own internal drive, then are you really an artist? This is definitely different from motivation or a passive type of influence. But it brings me to his second point: amateurs have the potential to create better work than the pros. I thought this was an interesting tidbit, just because so many people incorrectly assume that the most expensive equipment, which presumably pros have better access to with their photo-related income, churn out the best shots. The relationships that many pros make are, well, professional. And that basically means the motivation is profession driven –ahem, money. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. But it’s definitely in this category of online, virtual, and financial.

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Despite the poor weather, I think Peter and I got a few good shots. I went a little crazy with the edits, just because Connemara itself is a really wild landscape. I want to give a huge (virtual) thank you to Peter for the nearly perfect day! Be sure to check out his website and to follow him on Twitter! If your work is great, you’re bound to get a re-tweet at the very least.

Dust Spots, Self-Portraits, and More Posts

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Well, my time here in Ireland has flown by and I am staring down the last month I have left abroad. In retrospect, my workflow didn’t translate all too well when I started traveling, hence, I didn’t have too many posts. What posts I did have were compromised of low-res iPhone shots. That’s nice to an extent, but now I have a lot of work to catch up on, starting with the insane amount of RAW files I have sitting on a hard drive.

Dust spots. I am incredibly angry at how many dust spots there are on my sensor. I was treating this used Canon 5D like a baby and was even using one of those nasal spray devices to clean the sensor with air and gravity…I know for a fact the dust wasn’t from my lenses. So even after today’s cleaning, I was still disappointed to find the usual suspects in the same spots. Any photographers out there know what I should do? I don’t have any sufficient cleaning supplies, besides what I’d use on my lens.

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I have been alone a whole lot on this trip, something I did not anticipate valuing as much as I do now. But in most cases, I didn’t bring my bulky tripod. So in order to shoot these self-portraits, a new sub-genre I’ve become found of after visiting so many art museums throughout Europe, I had to prop my camera on whatever I could. Then, with the 10 second timer counting down, I’d have to dart to my desired position, with the focus locked on wherever my butt would be. For the above shot, I slipped into the lake a few times; even though the image was shot with a 50mm (close to what our eyes see), I think I was further away from the camera than it seems. So I really had to rush out before the timer went off and compose myself quickly.

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Family members wanted me to be in some of the photos I was taking, but the awkwardly spaced iPhone selfie was not appropriate for what I wanted to capture. In both instances, these images were intended to portray the feeling got while being there instead of what the viewer him/herself sees when viewing the photograph.

With that being said, I’m looking forward to getting back to posting more routinely!

Pano’s and a Long Rant

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Well, I haven’t posted in awhile because I have been getting into the swing of things here. Since I have been gradually accepting Galway as my new home, I’ve decided that I would choose to live here, regardless of studying or not. I haven’t been to Seattle, but I am assuming that the rainy weather here is similar to that northwest climate. Ireland is more European than it is American, as obvious as that may seem due to its place in the EU. Maybe I was misled by the study abroad advisors or rather, my subconscious made generalizations. But I thought that the English language would bridge the cultural gap between countries. This isn’t the case. Galway is urban for the Irish, but it functions like a village. I write this as I look out into the docks. I’ve watched cargo ships unload and then take on new shipments; it makes me think of a small, fairytale port city. (Maybe ___ from recently watching the Hobbit?) America is too young to have any fairytale, archaic aspects to its culture. Well, it did. But Europeans killed that off (or confined them to reservations) and none of that is preserved mainstream. In any case, Irish culture has been historically practiced and is evident in the daily rituals of the locals. The same could be said (maybe) for the US, but Wal-mart doesn’t have a castle inside of it. (Apparently, inside a shopping mall, the structure of a castle wall is part of the building’s foundation).

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The Docks-This might be one of my favourite images I’ve taken so far. My apartment is behind the large, green boat. This was actually the first time I’ve been walking around this side of the Docks, just because there isn’t too much activity over here. Or so I thought. There might be more areas to explore, but it’s fairly “industrial.”

Taking some classes that focus on Irish history, politics, and culture, it’s becoming more apparent that the Irish are a fighting people. They’re hungry for some positive freedom in the new global age. I’ve come to that conclusion based on several observations at my university. First of all, basic liberties that Americans take for granted are still a novelty. (I guess Americans recently have been challenging their freedoms in the past decade, which is coincidentally the opposite direction Ireland is headed). By that, I mean America is redefining various interpretations of the Bill of Rights/Constitution whereas the Irish are just now experiencing some seemingly basic liberties for the first time. Regardless of anyone’s stance on these liberties, I personally think it’s quite fascinating to know that a developed country like Ireland has finally gotten around to legalizing divorce. I’m not blind to the historical, constitutional connection between the Church and State here, which recently (as many of y’all know) has been under the magnifying glass to say the least. And I don’t consider the implications of Ireland’s past as not relevant to why this country is so far behind America in terms of these liberties. But all of this made me recognize that the US truly was innovative in terms of rights and liberties given to its citizens. This brings me to my second point: because Ireland is just now experiencing something like the American Civil Rights era crossed with the Second Constitutional Congress in 1776, the citizens are hungrier than Americans.

Eyre Square-This is about a three minute walk from my apartment. It's the city centre (for the most part).
Eyre Square-This is about a three minute walk from my apartment. It’s the city centre (for the most part).

I used that term twice because it captures the extent to which the Irish folk get after it in this world. This competitive, global job market is no place for the American anymore. (I will  surely write a piece on that at some point as much of the structure of the education system here is on mind. So anyone that is offended by that, or would like to hear the extent of my position, anticipate a nice manifesto soon). In short, Ireland does not have much of a national job market. University students have a more globally conscious outlook on their futures. Consequently, they are more competitive in their academics. Or more simply, they are just brighter students. I’ve heard variations of this throughout all the levels of my American education: “I haven’t read a full textbook before.” Whether or not that is true in every student’s instance, American education is certainly becoming more about the “cutting edge”, or should I say “cutting corners” curriculum. In other words, we’re just lazy. Look at the combination of the current status of the US national job market, immigration reform, and obesity epidemic. (We’re toast!) Obviously, there are jobs availabe in the US for hungry immigrants that aren’t afraid of working hard. The Irish were never afraid of hard work; that is as historically true as it is now evident in today’s society.

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Again, part of my daily commute along the River Corrib.

I think that’s enough of a rant today. This is my photoblog! So I apologize for anyone that came here just to view the photos…If that is the case, you can follow my daily posts on Instagram/Twitter; both handles @jvierephoto.

I did some urban exploring (urbex) and found some grungy, abandoned area, slid through a chain-linked fence, jumped over some broken glass, scaled a gravel mountain all to get this shot.
I did some urban exploring (urbex) and found some grungy, abandoned area, slid through a chain-linked fence, jumped over some broken glass, scaled a gravel mountain all to get this shot.

Moved and Busy

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I guess my posts will be getting shorter now that I am back into the grind of being a student. It doesn’t mean I will be shooting less. I’ve watching various Youtube clips about different photographers and their styles; reading up while I have down time.

Still water reflections at sunset.
Still water reflections at sunset.

Now that initial shine of being in a foreign country has started to wear off, I am starting to get a little homesick. There are certainly some things that I took for granted back in the States: if you “have” internet access, that means you actually have it. Back home, food is processed (and probably more unhealthy) so that it lasts longer; buying groceries on a daily basis is nice because the produce and seafood is definitely fresh here. But I feel like I am spending more if I am spending at a more frequent rate, even though each payment isn’t as high as a bulk purchase like back at home.

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A man etches a chalk message on Shop Street as children watch. This is possibly one of my favourite street shots so far.

Another thing, which is a positive aspect, but it will still take me awhile to get use to; island culture. It’s true, Ireland is an island. I was moved to an apartment looking on the bay/docks. So now I find myself listening to Jack Johnson as I write this because when the sun shines, I feel like I’m at the beach. But with the island lifestyle comes this off-putting mentality of nonchalance and its subsequent disorganization. For someone that has lived in Philadelphia, certain things annoy me. (There, I said it). Cross walks, in the rare instance there are painted lines at a street intersection, don’t mean anything for a pedestrian. Galway City doesn’t have very straight roads either, or so it seems to me when I am trying to get from point A to point B. The “grid” on Mapquest is deceiving; there aren’t a lot of direct lines, which undoubtedly represents Irish life. But the upside of all this is no road rage. I don’t know how but there quite simply is nothing of the sort you see in the States. The long, snaking routes I take to my destinations are along the River Corrib and different canals. It’s quite a lovely commute. So I feel as if I need to detox from fuming Philadelphia and not only say that I like these differences, but actually embrace them as a part of daily life. I hope to internalize the daily grind not in some disgruntled (Philadelphian) mindset in which I have to do this. But I sincerely want to enjoy them. Once I get my iPhone up and running, those small things will be posted more frequently.

I like the small seat contraption that this guy has set up. These street sign holders and cashiers are both seated; different than America I thought, ironically.
I like the small seat contraption that this guy has set up. These street sign holders and cashiers are both seated; different than America I thought, ironically.

New Found Passion: The Street

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So despite having no way of processing images the way I would like to, I still went out to shoot. I admit that I have a long journey ahead in terms of fully learning photography; it’s a never ending process. Street photography is something I just do not understand. So it subsequently goes to the top of my to-do list. I’ve been looking at some books, magazines, websites -and I don’t get the medium. Lugging around a Canon 5D with a huge battery pack doesn’t really help me blend in either. There is a type of stage fright that you can get when you put the viewfinder to your eye; some people will glare back at you through the lens, other people will turn to look at what your photographic eye is seeing, and others just walk on by, oblivious to your presence.

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I went after the street performers. They were a clear subject, easy to shoot, and willing to be photographed. (Or, because they’re very hard core performers and don’t stop their music for anyone or anything, I was able to shoot and get away with it…)I made eye contact with majority of them from across the way, and they either nodded or smiled. I am shooting with a 50mm, which is close to what the eye sees (on its own). So I am challenged to get in close to the scene. But I am a people person, so I don’t mind it.

Well, like writing, you just need to put the pen to the paper in order to get the creative process started. That’s certainly easier said then done. I resorted back to my photography instincts; use the rule of thirds, aperture/shutter speed, ISO and white balance etc. But the most useful instinct that I fell back on, and is probably in the truest sense an “instinct,” was following the light. Sure, photographers don’t “need” light because of flash and camera technology. But I was thinking of this in more of an abstract manner; light will create a scene that I have to find and capture.

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I was excited when I realized that I got this shot framed so well. (None of these images have been modified-they’re just the JPEGs straight of the camera). This bassist was playing some really beautiful tunes that hummed throughout this intersection. As you can see, people stop to listen, but are usually preoccupied with something else, and look quite weird facing away from the performer.

As soon as I realized that truth, it became easier to put my camera to my eye and snap away. And then, once I started feeling the beat of Galway, which is hard not feel with a street performer on every corner, I got addicted. Very addicted, very quickly. I’ve been writing a lot about how the Irish and the Americans differ in culture and daily life. But I want(ed) to capture that. There are so many movements that create lines and temporary scenes that your eye only sees for a moment. Well, not even that for those of us that walk around with our heads in our phones…

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This performer was my favourite. He had a strong voice, which all performers seem to have by necessity, but his really rang out. I found myself utilizing a slower shutter speed to freeze movements. It was a good challenge to lock focus on my subjects with no one in front of me and then actually release the shutter when the scene is created.

Everyone has eyes; (metaphysically) we have the ability to see our surroundings on many different levels. So it’s up to us what we want to perceive. (It is NO coincidence that I just walked away from a French Phenomenology class. That has everything to do with my language about perceiving and seeing; how we grasp the world around us).

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I thought this was going to be my favourite. But now that I am seeing it on a bigger screen, I don’t think so. There are so many things that occur in just one second. What I wanted to capture was the guy reaching for the girl’s hand with the sun lighting each of them. But I was a bit off and the focus wasn’t right.

Still Figuring Things Out

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I still need to get my computer situation together. I guess I assumed too much in thinking there would be Macs, running CC, readily available for university students. (Nice going St. Joe’s; having all the high tech stuff!) In terms of photos, I have scouted a lot of good areas to shoot when the weather permits. Since my workflow has been on hold, due to the computer situation, I haven’t been shooting as much. Unfortunately, I also think I am roughly three hours behind in terms of catching up on time zones.

Can't wait to edit these shots. I didn't have a tripod. But I love this area. It's perfect for me as a photographer; tight, winding streets and beautiful sceneries along the water.
Can’t wait to edit these shots. I didn’t have a tripod. But I love this area. It’s perfect for me as a photographer; tight, winding streets and beautiful sceneries along the water.

But in any case, I have been loving it here so far! I went to a gym a ways down the road from where I live with some room mates. So that allowed for me to see more possible areas to shoot. Eyre Square seems to be a good place to shoot street photography. But I won’t lie, Irish folk have a really intimidating demeanour. Coming from Philadelphia, that’s saying something. The major difference is, once you open your mouth to an Irishman, he’s likely to be personable and welcoming. Philadelphia –eh how do I put this gently? The City of Brotherly Love is more of a “f*** you” mentality; “What are you doing talking to me?” Sure it has a community feel to it, but that only exists between acquaintances, not random people. It’s odd that a lot of Irish immigrants moved to Philadelphia throughout the 18th century (and obviously later). The Irish hardened, outward appearance turned into something more while assimilating into the “blue-collar” American that resides now in Philadelphia. Galway is fascinating in terms of displaying the hierarchies of the Irish workforce. Obviously, it attracts a lot of commuters as any “city” might. But there are some observations I have made that certainly differ than the good ole American (Protestant) work ethic.

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River Corrib headed towards the Atlantic. My apartment is about 3 minutes to the left in this shot.

For starters, the hours on restaurants and shops don’t indicate a 40 hour work week. With the high prices for drinks, which is obviously a major factor in the Irish social sphere, it is odd that all the social classes seem to go out. I don’t know what minimum wage is here, or how the welfare system works, (though I am taking classes on that!) But the work week just strikes as me as unbalanced when compared to the degree people entertain a social life. Galway is the “big city.” So I guess to some degree, in comparison, people would go into Philadelphia, aware that they are going to pay more to socialize.

But on the other hand, the cost of living doesn’t seem to be incredibly high. In terms of housing and food, the prices are lower than back home. Not only that, there definitely seems to be missing classes on the social hierarchy ladder. To be clear, I think that Ireland’s scale ranges from low-working class to professionals (or a a lower end upper class) while America clearly has that 1% and sliding scale below it. I don’t know if I just haven’t seen the wealthier parts of Ireland, but I am assuming that an island cannot have as many huge estates as America’s 1% can have.

Yes, these are images from my first shoot. I have more on the card. I just can't get them off until I know I have a better workflow at hand.
Yes, these are images from my first shoot. I have more on the card. I just can’t get them off until I know I have a better workflow at hand.

It must have something to do with status. Irish people, at least in Galway, don’t measure status the same way we do. Sure, there is style, which is maybe more of a “thing” the urban community partakes in here. And yes, people spend a considerable amount at pubs. But it’s not really for show. In the back of my mind, I have large, multimillion dollar estates embedded in the category of non-utilitarian properties. Ugly, brick, six bedroom houses for a family of four. That can’t be for utility’s sake; that’s just status (i.e. gluttony). Cars are another example of this. There are nice European brands here. But why was there a Mercedes taxi on the street? Isn’t that what daddy’s little girl drives back in America?

Getting to know the architecture here, I can see that there are wealthier neighbourhoods outside of the city limits. Yet somehow, every class seems to enter the city for the pub scene. The fashion fads here are difficult to discern. There’s a lot of make up, which to me, makes the female population look a little monotonous. The male situation isn’t much better. Maybe a peacoat signals for classy? Who knows?

Hope no one was offended by my mental meanderings…All I can say is that Ireland is still frustratingly foreign. By that I simply mean that so much seems the same on the surface. But if you pay attention to some of the details, you can’t easily put your finger on the differences that you know that are there. So I just jot my observations and reflections with no intention but to try and make some sense of it all.

Get A Quicky Before Class

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There are so many differences between here and back home. I’ve been keeping track of a few oddities that my senses are drawn to; they’re mildly entertaining. Irish things first and their American counterparts follow:

Innocent Smoothies vs. Naked Smoothies (har har har)

Cashiers at grocery stores sit vs. stand

Gaelic next to English vs. Spanish next to English on signs

I have more to share. But those are some of the first that I saw when I was out on my own. Here are some more pictures I snapped. Again, no editing as of yet, so I apologize for a dirty lens filter.

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This is a really great walking area. I’m not sure what the place is called, but I was shooting with a smaller lens, so the background wasn’t in focus. There’s a lighthouse all the way at the end. I’m also unsure of what the land mass in the background is called. Looking to the sun to get a general sense of direction isn’t too helpful here. I know I am looking to the west because it’s the sunset. But earlier in the day, the sun rises incredibly late, and sets incredibly early. So I don’t think it’s as accurate to use…

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This is looking back at Galway City. Again, the lens wasn’t really for the city; it was more or less just to walk around. (I didn’t realize I’d be getting all this on my first outing). But you can make out the cathedral on the far left. NUIGalway (my university) is a little ways beyond that.

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That’s Salthill, looking in the other direction. It’s more of a residential area. It would be closer to what may look architecturally more “normal” in relation to America. But even that may be a stretch.

More will come but I got class now! Still looking for a computer to handle RAW files…that way I can make some good photographs great.