A Perfect Storm

Photo © Bob Krist

The next leg of our trip, called Sacred Places of Asia, began in Java with a visit to the legendary Borobudur Temple.

This was a stop I was really relishing, since I’d never been here before. But after a sunny afternoon arrival and a quick visit to a minor temple, a perfect storm of photographic complications gathered today as we visited the main site.

First, it was dark, stormy, and pouring rain. That might have been enough to do me in, but then it happened that today, thousands of Javanese high school students were to overrun visit the site, swarming all over with their bright colored umbrellas and ponchos.

And as the photographic coup de grace, there was crew on top of the temple cleaning the stupas with high pressure hoses.

Oy! What did I do in a previous life to deserve this now? What must my karma must be to catch such a break?

Well, I did my best to avoid the kids (until I embraced their presence), and then hid the guy with the high pressure hose behind a stupa (those round pointy things) and just got the discharge from his hose. Kind of looks like fog, doesn’t it?

Add a little monochrome sepia treatment with the D90’s Retouch Menu and, damn, the picture is almost presentable!

For a look at more of Java, a batik factory, a couple of other temples and a faux HDR, hit the jump. (more…)

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Did a Stay-at-Home Mom Really Ruin Professional Photography?


We’re on our way to Java after some much needed R&R in Bangkok. It was there that I read the  recent article in the New York Times detailing the decline in photographers’ career prospects that is being whipped around photo circles like some kind of new gospel.

It’s the same old song we’ve heard since the dawn of microstock. Amateurs shoot millions of pictures and sell them for pennies a piece, commodifying the output, and vultures like Jonathan Klein of Getty make a folk hero out of a stay-at-home mom who’s shooting cool, creative pix of her kids because she doesn’t care what they sell for, it’s all found money to her. And that’s just the kind of contributor Klein needs to keep his shareholders happy and his shooters hungry.

Duh. What else is new?

Do I blame her? Certainly not, it’s a new marketplace, and from what I can see, she’s got a great eye (and professes a total ignorance of the basics of photography, so she is a hero to many—-not just Klein—-having attained great results and instant notoriety without quite knowing how or putting in the years of practice).

It’s the YouTube/Flickr model of instant artistic success. Why not dangle that as the new career model for photographers if you’re running a publicly held stock photo agency? You have about as much chance of succeeding in photography this way as you do winning a lottery, but that doesn’t stop billions from buying those tickets!

But if you’re tired of reading this same re-hashed obit for professional photography and want a really probing, far-reaching and intelligent analysis of the future of content producers, you have to pick up Jaron Lanier’s You Are Not a Gadget.

Lanier is a famous virtual reality pioneer and major thinker in the field. He’s also a musician, so much of what he references in terms of content is music, but just substitute “photographs” for “music” and you’ll get the gist.

For a quick read of some of Lanier’s thoughts on the future of creativity and why virtual sex may soon be better than the real thing, hit the jump. (more…)

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Buddhist Bhutan

Photo © Bob Krist

We landed without incident in Bhutan and that day, our group had a chance to actually photograph some chanting monks in a small temple in Paro. No flash allowed, and totally backlit. My histogram would have made a certified Photoshop guru weep.

But what can you do? You get the picture with the glow of enlightenment coming from behind them (yup, that’s what I’m calling it….you more technical types may call it “a ton of blown highlights”) or you don’t get the picture.

And of course, I had to shoot a couple of video clips too, so in the few minutes we had, I was busier than a one-legged man in a butt-kicking contest.

What is it about red (or orange) robed Buddhist monks that so fascinates us? Photographers, myself included, can’t get enough of them.

Photo editors, on the other hand, have had enough. My friend Dan Westergren, senior illustrations editor of National Geographic Traveler, says he just glazes over when he sees a preponderance of  monk pictures in a portfolio.

The thought being that these are often “how can you miss” situations, and don’t really illustrate your talents in tough situations. In other words, it’s easy exoticism.

That is a pitfall for us travel photographers, the tendency to rely on the exotic nature of the subject matter at the expense of working the situation for moment, composition, and all the other qualities that make can make pictures shot in Bayonne (the one in New Jersey) as compelling as those shot in Bhutan.

I’ve worked long and hard years (including a five-year stint covering Bayonne, Union City, and Hoboken), so I relish the occasional pitfall and feel I’ve earned my monk’s robes.

(So if you’re reading this post, Dan, I’m hoping you’ll remember me for my hard-working pictures of more mundane stories, like Driving Pennsylvania’s Scenic Route 6, and forgive me my exotic lapses:-)).

For more monks, though, hit the jump. (more…)

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