Apr 29, 2009

Coming soon: D9000 with Auto-Awesome

Okay, so apparently we can shoot video and pluck the best frame out of it for an Esquire cover. Wow!

And by 'Wow!', I mean:

"Wow! I have officially arrived in "Fogieland" - the retirement villa I used to mock when I was young, and equal parts arrogant and ignorant. "

I never wanted to arrive here, because in Fogieland (formerly Fogiewoodland) you spend a lot of your time on a wooden porch, rocking beside other fogies.

While filling your pipe, you tell anyone within Miracle-Earshot that you used to slosh hand-rolled spools of Tri-X in vats of pure cancer D76, and methodically dodge and burn prints with your gnarled hands until you got one snap that approached reasonable. (The equivalent of smashing out a noir thriller from your Underwood while smoking Luckys under a bare bulb, basically.)

There is a place for Fogiedom - once you've put in your time. God knows, I haven't. For instance, Joe McNally isn't old - despite his comedic efforts to indicate otherwise - but his experience gives him carte blanche to wax eloquently about stuff that practically harkens back to a time when reporters stashed a "press" card into their fedoras to gain access to the Joe Louis fight.  

But these days it's possible for even 18 year-olds to feel jaded, when confronted with something as amazing as the Red One. Never mind 40 year-olds like me. In my day, you shot stills - and not many of them. You certainly didn't slam 500 jpegs onto a ten-dollar flash card, autolevel the flagged ones in Lightroom before uploading to Flickr, then Twittering the link. I used to sweat over the same stupid print for 2 hours and hope that the tedium would somehow temper the mediocrity. It never quite did, but when I walked out of the darkroom with that 8x10, I admit that I felt proud. 

Looking back, I feel the pride differently - in a "glad I learned the hard way" kind of way. The way you recall a borderline-psycho hottie you may have dated a couple of times. The old photo can make you slightly nostalgic, but there's a reason you don't miss her.

I always feel like a poseur talking about film, because that is what "purists" do a lot of these days... when they run out of reasons to diss the D3x and Photoshop. Yet most of us over thirty did some time in a darkroom... friends of mine still do, God bless them. Not only did we endure it, but we relished the clandestine and Masonic feel of it. That's what real photographers did. Every furtive session under the red light made you feel you were in a different league than the hack who trotted his Kodak disc-film into Sooters to get two-for-one prints.

A few years ago, some loser robbed my wife's jewelry and my film equipment. Don't tell my wife, but that was one of the best days of my life. With the insurance money, I got a D70s and an SB600. Pow! Born-again  photographer. Never looked back.  

Digital rocks, and Paul Simon is safe - I will never take his Kodachrome away. I'll even sell him a pack. Has it made me a better photographer? Damn right, because now I shoot all the time. [Cue SFX: 1 million monkeys typing.] Granted, no one's putting my stuff in the AGO, but I sure get a lot more complements and sell a lot more prints. I'm also trying crazier stuff. After the novelty of your infinite Polaroid wears off, you're kind of forced to.

But there's something very un-breathtaking to me about the Red camera; and this is where true Fogiedom kicks in: knowing for sure that you've caught the shot, the look, the expression, without even trying. Henri Cartier-Bresson isn't coming back from the grave or anything, but if everybody can screen-capture "the moment" from a five minute video shoot, some (more) magic is gone.

The AutoAwesome direction of photography reminds me, embarrassingly, of those Star Trek replicators. In the 23rd century, you could get everything you ever wanted: Earl Grey, a Rolex, a D5 mounted with a 10-400mm f/0.2 lens. Consumerism stealthily replaced by - if not Marxism, then Lennon-ism. Imagine no possessions... Imagine the same nylon uniform. Imagine never going to the washroom, and always having a crappy spacescape hanging on your wall, right beside the window that looks into space.

In Trekland there was no poverty and no wealth. Life was about self improvement (and remembering to always delete your cookies after you used the Holodeck).

There has never been a substitute for lighting and composition, but I'm guessing that sooner or later your camera will take in all visual information, and let you light, compose, and depth-of-field it after the fact. No artistic vision of your own? There'll be an algorithm for that, depending on who you'd like to emulate. I suspect it'll be as crappy as those "oil paint" actions in Photoshop, but people will use it.

So, if everyone can take a good photo, then who is great? And, does anyone need to be great? Or famous? Yes. But I'd argue that fame is by far the most overrated commodity in the world. One of the worst things to happen to photography is also the best: the instant ability to research the work of others and the accompanying urge to run your own stuff up the flagpole (so that desk-jockeys and pixel-peepers can rip it down).

The point is, we should always push our limits but allow ourselves to be happy with the good stuff we've shot, regardless of the gear, and - most importantly - the opinion of others.

Apr 28, 2009

What if...

... you went to bed 30 minutes early every night, instead of wishing you could snooze 30 minutes every morning?

... you traded fifteen minutes of TV every night for tidying up the house?

... you did ten push-ups and sit-ups every time there was a commercial break?

... instead of buying that shiny new piece of gear, you shot a great family portrait with the gear you already have, and treated everyone in the picture to dinner?

... for every hour you spent poring over photo blogs... you actually shot and uploaded one solid photo to your own.

... for every book you read by a photographer, you made a photo-book for yourself and put it out on the coffee table for everyone to see - and critique.

... you could trade every minute that you've ever wasted on 'Nikon vs. Canon', 'JPEG vs. RAW', and 'Mac vs. PC'... for a minute of debating what your next shoot will be.

... instead of wishing you were a better writer / photographer / guitar player - you wished your hands didn't hurt so much from writing, shooting and playing.

Apr 23, 2009

Full Boats (and when to bail).

Note: this article was originally written for Chill magazine, and is available online, here.

Pop quiz: Who's more respectable - an investment banker or a professional poker player? Well, if you got burned in the recent market-meltdown, I'm guessing you'd vote for the guy who gambles with his own money. Am I right?

Did you ever notice that anyone who does something fun for a living has to add 'professional' to his title? 

Professional comedian...  professional baseball player... professional poker player. As far as I'm concerned, if you can actually pay your mortgage with trips, flushes and full boats; you've already impressed me more than any adjective will. 

Rounders - card players who live off their winnings - do exist. You've just probably never met one. And much like professional baseball players, you better believe there's more to it than 'fun'. Just as some people are born to hit dingers over the left-field wall, others were born to compete at the real World Series. And like the chosen few who make it to 'the show', true rounders do something the other guys won't: they practice 'til it hurts, and they treat it like a job.  Which leaves the rest of us fish: garage-league losers who will happily go all-in on a busted straight, because the next game is two whole weeks away. 

A recent stat indicated that 70% of Canadian men think they have "above average" intelligence. That explains a few things, wouldn't you agree? As an admittedly below-average poker player, I've read a lot of books and scanned a few dozen web sites, trying to figure out why I'm not carrying my winnings around in Loblaws bags yet.  I decided to ask some pros, and if you ever want to be humbled, have a seat with a professional card sharp... then be prepared for a dash of cold water while you're eating crow. 

He might win all your money, too. Did I mention that?

I recently spent an evening with the two guys behind www.OutstandingPoker.com. Tim (27) and Errol (26) are kind of like the Canadian odd couple. They're friends, they share an apartment, and they love playing poker. But Tim is mainly onto online, while Errol prefers getting up close and personal. They definitely agree on one thing: there's a reason why a huge majority of players consistently lose money. A little thing called discipline. 

Here's their advice, if you're interested. (If you're not, they'd be more than happy if you'd pull up a chair sometime.)
  1. Match your bankroll to your skill level. Play with an amount you're comfortable with, and don't play with money you need in your pocket right now.
  2. Play at table stakes that are suited to your bankroll. They recommend about 1/15th to 1/30th of your bankroll as a single buy-in for a cash game. It keeps the stress - and inevitable swings - manageable.
  3. Be patient. Play the right hands, against the right players from the right table position. If you're just playing your cards, the other guys are playing you.
  4. Don't chase losses. If you're down significantly, and risk going 'on tilt', leave the game. The cards will be there tomorrow.
Sounds simple, right? Well, if people listened to 'simple', why are there so many diets out there? 'Eat Less and Exercise' is still the best diet in the world. Too bad nobody's listening.

And just as every diet promises to 'melt', 'burn' and 'blow torch' fat from your body, every poker site claims you will 'flatten', 'crush', and 'dominate'  those schools of fish out there, so long as you buy their 'unbeatable' system. But you know what they say, if you can't spot the sucker in the first half hour at the table, you are the sucker.  If they're so dang smart, why don't they make themselves rich by actually playing? Well, some do.

Daniel Negreanu is Canada's best-known poker celebrity - you've probably seen him on High Stakes Poker, happily raising Sammy Farha with seven-deuce offsuit. He has a Kreskin-like ability to guess what other players are holding, and could probably take you to the felt without even looking at his cards. His site, www.fullcontactpoker.com, is crammed with great free advice and links to his virtual training site, www.pokervt.com. The guy knows his stuff, and he's certainly proved his skill.

"But he's rich", you say. "I only play $10 games, for cryin' out loud!"

True, D-Neg can toss chips around like an old man throwing birdseed. But he's willing to go back to his roots, just to prove a point. Negreanu is currently taunting naysayers with his personal "$10 - $100,000 Challenge". He started with a $10 buy-in, and plans to turn it into 10 stacks of high society. Umm... Dan? I'll stake you five bucks.

The first thing a bad player will tell you is that at low-limit tables, players don't respect the mathematical odds. It's true. Online donkeys always seem to spike their flush on the river, when they had no business being in the hand in the first place. But Negreanu says, "If you can't beat the micro limit games, you aren't going to beat the higher limit games.  They are really easy to beat since you can win by playing pretty robotic and don't have to worry about bluffing at all." In other words, by using discipline.

Which brings us back to Tim and Errol.

I watched Tim play six games simultaneously. He had about $5,000 in play, was browsing through a couple of other poker apps, and was answering my bonehead questions to boot. I was operating a tape-recorder - without chewing gum, I might add - and still couldn't keep track of his game.  Tim and Errol suggest starting small. One table, grinding out a bankroll bit by bit, using aggression and position, and above all... checking out their website! They have scores of videos showing their actual online play, explaining the reasoning behind every decision. These guys are real-world players, on the same tables you and I play at. 

Like I said, Errol prefers live games with real people. He regularly travels to Vegas, Atlantic City and Niagara Falls to extract money from Matt Damon-wannabes. Why travel? I ask. You have a computer right in your bedroom. Simple, says Errol.  The players are actually worse - especially the tourists who come for the weekend; dying to put the skills they've learned on ESPN to the test. You can almost smell the blood in the water.

To be fair, there really is no substitute for chatting with real players, raking in real chips, spotting tells... and then looking some shark straight in the eye and saying "I'm all in, pal". 

But Ontario isn't Nevada. You just can't cab over to some neighbourhood poker room and start playing strangers for money. Trying to find a legit table game can leave you more frustrated than a squirrel with a nut allergy. There's an easy solution, though. Check out Fallsview or Casino Niagara. They have the "largest and most popular" poker room in Ontario - with tables starting at $1/$2. You're going to see some world-class poker - along with some that will be much kinder to your stack, if you're patient.  The falls are right outside, there's player comps, and if you're lucky you might even end up heads-up with yours truly. Tip: when I have pocket aces, I giggle like Baby Elmo on nitrous oxide.

Remember, just because you drove all the way to Niagara Falls does not give you license to go on-tilt the first time some donk sucks out a straight-flush on the river.  The whole point of a game is to enjoy yourself. If you don't have the emotional control, you're better off finding a barrel and a guy with box of nails. "Know your limit, play within it." Best advice out there.

*I am known to poker buddies as Mimico Muck for trashing the winning hand, thinking I didn't have to show it.

Apr 17, 2009

Shooting with Sam

Spent a quick evening with Sam Javanrouh of Daily Dose of Imagery, shooting from the Bathurst St. bridge over the CN tracks at Front Street. This was a selfishly initiated video shoot for a Citytv ID... those 10 second station-breaks that fill the gap between programs.

Sam is about the nicest guy you'd ever want to meet, let alone shoot with. He is free-flowing with information, and genuinely interested in your input. I'm really getting the feeling - through guys like Joe McNally, David Hobby and Scott Kelby - that professional mastery is a major precursor to confidence and amiability. (Although nothing will ever reverse Kelby's hard-wired geekiness.)

This was as friendly a Canon/Nikon summit as you're likely to witness. We each ended up coveting each other's bodies cameras. Sam has a theory that we all prefer other people's shutter sound. Guilty - although listening to my D700* after 3 years with a D70 is roughly analogous to waking up with Scarlett Johansson after a ten-year marriage to Martha Raye, denture-wearer. The setting "Continuous High" on this camera is about as on-the-nose as it gets. 

I haven't seen his final prints, but even his untouched LCD images blew my processed stuff out of the water. He has a tripod-like control over camera shake, and his pans are flawless; no doubt from years of slow tracking - what else - cyclists. 

My photos are here.

Sam is exhibiting at Contact from May 7th to 31st.

Apr 15, 2009

In my country...

While visiting the Democratic Republic of Jeremy, please be advised of the following:
  • Brownies do not have icing. It's a brownie for crying out loud.

  • The Prime Minister must commence all sessions with an arm-wrestle.

  • People do not need a countdown to the yellow light. They need to get out of my way.

  • Surprise parties are a well-respected art-form, eligible for federal funding.

  • The TTC chair gets no car... forever.

  • There are no 'eject' buttons on remotes.

  • Parliament can be dissolved at any time...  in warm water.

  • All criticism of McDonalds is directed toward Burger King one month per year, and Arby's for a week. 

  • People who say "cool beans" are subject to death by cool beans.

  • Wine snobs are subject to snap audits. Failure to accurately identify price-range within $1 revokes all adjective privileges for one year.

  • The current decade is referred to as 'Prince'.