Category Archives: Fine Art Photography

Website update

If you get tired of reading about photography, and want to see some photographs, I’ve just updated my main website:

The old night galleries are gone, as are the portrait galleries. There are about a dozen new night images, and 12 street images posted for your enjoyment. The image size has been increased from 300 pixels high to over 400 pixels high. These are some of my favorite images shot during 2006. As always, if you are interested in a print please contact me via email.

I’ll be writing a post soon about my goals for 2007.

Going big I: Big fine art prints

Last weekend I dropped by the studio of John Vias, a Berkeley based night photographer. We had an interesting conversation about fine art photography, with a focus on presentation and marketing issues. John talked about a marketing seminar he attended awhile back where the presenter discussed barriers that customers use to not buy your work. One of the big hurdles in the artistic medium of photography is the potential customer saying “I could have taken that.”

I spend a lot of time finding unique locations to shoot, and then make long exposures at night, sometimes applying additional lighting with flashlights or strobes. I’d like to think the “I could have taken that” barrier doesn’t apply too much. But during open studios this year, a lot of the questions I received were about night photography technique and locations. While most people were probably just curious about these details, I wonder if some people were trying to create barriers?

John learned at the marketing seminar that print size can be an effective way to reduce the “I could have taken that” syndrome. Most regular folks get 4×6″ prints from the drugstore, and maybe an occasional 8×10″ print to be framed. John’s big prints are 24×30″, and they look fantastic. John’s found that even if people don’t want to buy the biggest size, having a few on display will help sell your medium sized prints.

This echoes a story that photographer Jay Watson told me years ago — one of his photography professors had this advice about selling fine art prints: “make it big, and make it red.” Sounds crazy until you see Edward Burtynsky‘s amazing 40×50″ prints, or Andreas Gursky‘s gigantic prints, many of them in the 8 feet by 10 feet range.

Now these fellows are surely using large format cameras to print this big. Yes, there are some long winded discussions on photography message boards about the guy who made a poster sized print from his 20D and it looks great. If you’re going to print huge and can’t afford a 39 megapixel back that costs more than a new car, the best option seems to be medium format on a high end scanner, or large format.

My standard print size used to be 8×12″, but I soon realized this was too small. My current standard is a 12×18″ print framed to 18×24″. My comfort zone with the Canon 5D ends at about a 20×30″ print. Yes you can print bigger and make it look pretty good. Heck, you could put the damn thing on a billboard, but there is no comparison to the level of detail available in a big print from a 4×5 camera.

The technology cycle of digital SLRs is much like computers. You may be hypnotized into wanting a new one every 2-3 years. At a certain point with your photography, you may want to make some really big prints. Is a 1×1.5″ sensor going to cut it for a 30×40″ print? The enlargement factor with 35mm is about 30 times, whereas a 6×7 negative is about 12 times, and a 4×5 negative is about 8 times. Pardon my inexact math, but you get the idea. Simply put, the bigger the negative or sensor size, the bigger your maximum print size.

I’ll continue to explore some of the equipment choices that will allow big prints over the next few days.

Fort Cronkhite

Electric Mushroom -- by Joe Reifer

Electric Mushroom — by Joe Reifer

Today I went hiking above Fort Cronkhite, in the Marin Headlands North of San Francisco. There is a former Nike Missile Site on Wolf Ridge, which is about a 2 mile hike each way, with 900 feet of elevation gain. The weather was quite nice for November, and the views were spectacular. Jef Poskanzer has a fantastic web guide to the Nike Missile Sites of the San Francisco Bay Area. Ed Thelen’s site also offers a ton of detailed information on Nike sites.

While many of the Nike sites are rather barren today, there are a few that still have interesting buildings including Wolf Ridge, Sweeney Ridge, and Fort Barry. Fort Barry has been restored, and offers tours on the first Sunday of each month. Apparently you can even ride the bomb elevator!

For those interested in scouting photo locations, there is a really great map and guide to the seacoast fortifications of the Golden Gate. One side features a large map showing the type of weapons that were used at each location. The locations are also color coded by time period, from the Spanish-Mexican era through the Cold War. This great resource cost an exorbitant $1.50 at the Golden Gate National Park Store in the Embarcadero Center.

Sincere: The Great Pumpkin

Sidewalk ghosts -- by Joe Reifer

Sidewalk ghosts — by Joe Reifer

Last night was the 40th anniversary of the animated Peanuts show It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown! Last year as I was preparing for a photography trip to Death Valley, I watched the show and it inspired the ghost series that I worked on almost every full moon for the previous year. It was fun to watch it again last night.

I featured 5 ghost images at open studios, and it was interesting to hear the reactions. Little kids made the Halloween connection and enjoyed the images. The adult response was mixed. The most popular question was “how did you do that?” I had a copy of the Great Pumpkin book that spelled it out quite clearly, but there was still some head scratching. Many people wanted to confirm that this wasn’t a Photoshop trick, at which point they were assured that everything was done during the exposure. There’s a little more information about the technique and inspiration on the about section of my main website.

While the framed images did get a lot of interest, nothing really sold except the “ghostcard” sets. These are 5×7″ postcard sets of the 5 ghost images from the show, each with a short explanation of the image on the reverse side. There are only a few sets left — it’s $20 for the set, and shipping is free.