On Shooting

3 ways to deal with Failure/Mistakes

I have made some pretty big mistakes in life. Not going to the doctor for a big issue, overlooking important dates, not trying hard enough and etc. We have all been there and people have failed in larger and bigger ways than me and survived. I wanted to write this to describe how I dealt with some big failures and how it could it help you deal with them as well. 

1. Reframe failure 

I used to believe that failure was a sign that you did something wrong. My goal in photography is to take good photos. Hopefully I can do this over and over and suddenly become a good photographer someday. What if the good photo wasn't the challenge though? What if the challenge was growth? 

The truth of the matter is that understanding development comes from failure. People begin to get better when they fail, they move towards failure, they discover something as a result of failing, they fail again, they discover something else, they fail again, they discover something else. So the model for personal development is antithetical to the model for professional success. - Milton Glaser 

This quote from Milton Glaser changed how I looked at photography and failure. If you want to grow in photography or anything else there needs to a steady stream of learning and failure. Maybe I someday I will master the ability to walk into a tattoo shop and shoot amazing pictures. If I only focus on this I'm pretty sure I will eventually get better but it doesn't mean I will grow, to do that I'll need to push myself to make mistakes and take bad shots.

You have a couple of ways to look at bad shots now. One is that you went for something and it didn't work out. The other is that these shots are signs that you are growing and not being complacent. 

2. You aren't your failures 

I'm not the greatest person with feedback. I usually personalize my work and creations as ways to measure myself. If this photograph is bad it's because I'm not a good photographer and can't take good shots. If you fall into this came realize you are not alone. <link to clip on PBS> https://youtu.be/2LNiJK3rK9s?t=1m9s

Last week I was in a work meeting and gave out an idea. My boss ripped into it, for a good five minutes. My boss and I think through talking so we we're both realizing why it was a bad idea and how it would be seen from different angles. The shocking part for me was how well I handled it. I expected myself to upset or hurt but found myself treating the idea as a totally independent thing outside of myself. It was so damn freeing. 

You aren't your shots, or what you say, or the failures you had, or what people think, or what you own/wear/live/have access to. You are you. And unless you are a terrible human being who does things to purposely hurt and harm others, then you are perfectly fine. As a whole you are more than your qualifiers and achievements. Just because a photo is bad or report is wrong does not make you less worthy or flawed. If you never took another photo in your life it wouldn't make you less of person either. 

Stepping back and realizing that what you have done is not you and does not represent the entireness of your worth is a healthier way to think about your work and life. I haven't fully mastered this yet but I hope I can always remember it. 

3. Without a Net 

IN high school I played tennis. I was never great and lost a lot but it was important to my life. I remember a really important discussion I had with my coach about teammate and me. 

"The difference between you and him is that you don't play with a net. You know that if you fall or fail you'll there is net there you won't die. And maybe you do crash, it's not that bad you can always get back up" 

It's weird what stays in your mind as you grow older but I've always remembered this quote when taking risks. The worst thing that can happen isn't that bad and even if it is bad you can probably survive it. This doesn't mean I'm skydiving pretty soon but I've developed an ability to walk into some pretty weird situations to see how they'll play out.

I'll push hard on things and take weird turns because I like not knowing how this will end. All of these things allow me to be in places and take pictures where I would of never expected. 

Failures and mistakes are a large part of getting better. Looking at them in new ways, realizing they don't represent you and being realistic about consequences has helped me take more risks. For the past couple of years I've been pretty complacent with work and art and now it's all a bit hairy and difficult. It's stressful at times not knowing how everything will work out but I'm so glad to be in a situation where the ending isn't pre-written and I always know I'm growing.

My Favorite Photo

My favorite photo is more about chance than the image. It was from my brother's birthday party when he was 11, guessing from the candles. His best friends had come over and we had purchased a Baskin Robin's Ice Cream cake. At the time the best cake a kid could have. 


The reason it's my favorite photo is because I didn't process the roll until 2010, nearly 10 years after it was shot. It should have been lost to time, decay and carelessness. It survived though and it's a perfect little moment. He's about to blow out the candles, Donald is laughing and our cousin is waiting. That's the thing about this photo and photography. This photo literally brought back a memory I forgot and now can cherish forever. 

Why I Stick with Prime Lenses

If you bought a camera up until the late 1990's the lens you were probably getting was a fixed lens, usually 50mm. It wasn't until autofocus in SLR cameras not only got better but cheaper and zoom lenses utilized this autofocus did consumers really clamor for zoom lenses.

Zoom lenses are a really interesting engineering problem. In order to have a lens that can focus as wide as 35mm and as far as 70mm you're going to need to make some sacrifices. First the aperture is going to need to be higher to keep the size of the lens down, you'll notice most zoom lenses with a low fixed aperture are really expensive and much larger than standard zoom lenses. Secondly you can't have sharpness throughout the range, so you can shoot at 35mm and 70mm but the image quality usually differs between the two. All these critiques are technical and about tradeoffs but what really turns me off from zooms is how they are typically used. 

With a zoom lens you can cheat a bit more. Many years ago I was living in Boston for graduate school and went to go see the Boston Marathon. I sat on a corner with my friends cheering and taking a bunch of pictures. With my zoom lens and good view I could snap away, zoom a little in here and zoom a bit out later.  

These shots came out fine, I captured the event but the biggest issue is I didn't move. I sat in one place the whole time. And that is why primes and especially a 50mm lens, closest to actual human field of view, was so instrumental in my development as a photographer. In order to get closer with a prime you have to physically move in and out of a shot. If I wanted to get closer to a runner I'd have to stand in the street a bit. If I wanted a wider shot, I'd have to go back and possibly climb some stairs. 

This act of moving opens up options too. Now I'm in the street, maybe I can crouch a bit to to get a different angle? Maybe I should go over to that bench and get an overhead shot? This is how I learned to use my legs and position to develop different shots.

The physical act of moving toward a subject and away from a subject changes the images too. Getting a tattoo shot five feet away and one foot away are totally different things and encroaching on different personal boundaries. Being that close because you have to adds a tension to the image that otherwise would not be there. 

There are always exceptions. You can get a really good zoom lens, like a 24-70 F2.8 to overcome the issues with cheaper zooms. For professional sports and fashion photographers who work in confined fix spaces most are sporting 70-200mm F2.8 that comes at a pretty high cost. 

Photographers with zooms can actively think about moving around more and using different positions too. The trap of zooms is that using it to get closer and farther made me focus on one aspect of the image, distance. Using a fixed lens made me think about movement and relation to a subject. I saw my photography get more creative and more personal the more I used fixed lenses. Instead of sitting in one spot and capturing the world with a zoom, with a fixed I had to physically approach if I wanted to get closer. It get's your butt out of your seats and out of your comfort zones.

Shooting more is Shooting Better

I started out this year trying to shoot a roll a week. A quarter way through they year I'm still on track and shooting a bit extra, in case I have a busy weekend or week. As I read more about art making and photography, projects like this can lead to large impacts on work. Take this story from Art & Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland. 

The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the "quantity" group: fifty pound of pots rated an "A", forty pounds a "B", and so on. Those being graded on "quality", however, needed to produce only one pot - albeit a perfect one - to get an "A".
Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the "quantity" group was busily churning out piles of work - and learning from their mistakes - the "quality" group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.

Shooting more is going to make your photography improve. Ironically I shoot more now with film than I ever did with digital. With film having a set number of shots, a roll of 24 or 36 a week, is an easy thing to track. I just need to leave the house with a camera, a light meter and a roll to keep the streak going. Shooting a thousand shots in one sitting with digital isn't the goal here but shooting 100 shots a week for ten weeks is. 

Shooting like this every week also keeps my brain in gear and always on the lookout for photos. Once it became a habit I find more things that interest me and more techniques I want to try. Imagine if you had to eat a pound of chicken a week for a year, if you didn't find some new recipes you would get pretty bored.

The most important part is shooting when you don't feel like it. There will be those cloudy days where the weather is blah and nothing is going on. I literally drive to corner or walk around and just start snapping. The images may not be amazing but are always better than I expected. The act of shooting all the time and making mistakes teaches you more than waiting for the perfect subject or set of conditions to happen. I can't control the perfect shooting conditions but I can prepare myself to be ready and better when they come around. 

Visual Attractions, Letting your Photographic Instincts Guide You

On the weekends I like to do photowalks by myself. Sometimes I'll have a specific goal like shooting at sunset to learn how to use shadows better, a la Alex Webb. Most of the time I define an area I have noticed from my car or randomly pick a spot to walk around and take pictures. 

My goal here is twofold, get better at shooting anywhere and finding out what my eye is naturally attracted to. I'll walk around the area and be open with what I shoot. As long as I feel like shooting it, I'll take the picture. It can be trash, cracks in the sidewalk and silly lettering. The goal is to scratch the visual itch.

Over a year I found I was drawn to colored poles. The common large electrical/communication poles around town. Austin hasn't buried their lines yet and you will see the poles carrying power and cable everywhere. Austin being Austin, people paint and decorate the poles and I must of noticed and started capturing them. Once I started seeing the pattern I leaned into it and am now actively trying to capture these poles.

Stepping back that all sounds silly. Why shoot poles? There must be millions of other things that are easier and more interesting to shoot. Poles though, when no one was watching was what I naturally shot and drawn to. A few photographers made careers by shooting collections of sweaty people smooshed against subway windows, faces extremely close to the camera or a fire fighter training facility outside of an office window. All those in retrospect sound silly too. 

I'm not shooting poles to make a book or to be famous. I'm doing it to find out what makes me tick and tap into whatever could interest me. I didn't want to my interest to be something that sounds interesting to others or gets a lot of likes on Instagram. My images and natural tendencies made themselves clear, poles it is.

You Suck Until You Don't 

There are a lot of great quotes about grinding away at difficult goals and dreams until you finally break through. My favorite quote is the one the San Antonio Spurs have adopted.

When nothing seems to help, I go and look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that blow that did it, but all that had gone before. -Jacob Riis

I've seen this quote come to fruition personally. When I first started yoga I went to class and felt uncoordinated and foolish. My thoughts at the time: I can't do all these moves, my body isn't built for this and I'm not sure this is for me. I'm not one to quit so I gave it six months. Progress was slow and fickle, you would move forward a little and then back. I kept at it. 

One year into the practice things clicked. My body adjusted and my mind adapted. Poses and techniques I couldn't dream of doing a year before were being pulled off and I was growing into my practice. The stone had cracked.

With photography it's the same. Out of 100 shots I find 1-2 that I like. My inner critique still exists: more photos can be direct, I dawdle on weird things (feet, street poles and bricks) and I fall back on similar patterns. I'm always working through these and other feelings that the images aren't good enough and where is this path taking me.

I don't let it stop me though. I remember that I enjoy it and right now I'm hammering away at the stone. My rolls of film landing on the object with a hard thud but no signs of a crack. Eventually I'll wear it down, eventually I'll break it open and rejoice. Right now I have to be ok with the process, the hammering and knowing it'll work out. 

Short Trip Travel Gear and Why

I'm on a short trip outside of town for a few days. Here is the gear I brought and why.

  • Leica IIF - I bought this on a whim and want to see what shooting with an early Leica is like. So far, very quirky but super portable and capable.
  • Canon ELPH LT - Dan let's finish this roll soon. 
  • Extra APS roll too - Dan let's start and finish this roll soon too, so you can send to darkroom and push both rolls two stops. 
  • 3 rolls Superia, 1 Agfa Vista 200, 1 Kodak Gold 200 - I'm a fan cheap color film but I'm realizing shooting on 36 exposure rolls makes more economic sense. 
  • Scissors - I need to cut the film leader a bit so it will load in the Leica. Annoying.
  • Sekonic L-308s - My favorite meter.

In general I like to pack really light and shoot any chance I can. The Leica IIF is compact enough to fit in my pocket and very capable. It may become my only travel camera if I can live with the quirks and image quality. 

I'm Sorry, I Have to Take This Photo

I have a lot of habits. Brushing my teeth and flossing everyday is a good one. Waiting too long to fix something is a bad one. I also have a photography habit that is fun and potentially awkward. If I see a picture I want to take, I don't allow myself to walk away. I have to take the shot. 

I started doing this after I read The Photographer's Playbook (highly recommend) and specifically this quote by Eliot Porter. 

"You can't ever go back really, and get the same picture that you saw because when you go back it's not there anymore. The sun is different. The atmosphere is different. So one should never put off taking the picture if you see something. I found that out."

Here are a bunch that I have taken, and if you can find a pattern please let me know what it is. These aren't planned photowalks where I have a camera but daily moments where something catches my eye and I stop and grab my phone, click. 

This habit has made shooting easier too. It makes me trust my gut and develops my nerve to stop almost anywhere to take a picture. The middle of a street, in a crowd and even in a bathroom are all fair game.

Whenever I doubt and wonder that this may not be a good shot, I remind myself that it's better to take a shot and know it's bad than to wonder if it would have ever been good. I have a phone that can take more photos than I can ever imagine but if I'm not taking the photos I want to, why even carry it around? Other than Twitter, Instagram, Podcasts, Google Maps, Visual Voicemail...

A Simple Way to Describe Your Photography and Find New Ideas Too

It's hard to talk about your own work. It used to feel self serving and too introspective but recently I made up a fun exercise that helps. I used a simple sentence to describe some classic photographers and found you could use it to describe your own work and best of all create new projects and ideas as well. 

It's a simple formula: 

- NAME is known for shooting SUBJECT in a NAME OF STYLE. The images are most commonly described as THREE ADJECTIVES

This sounds simple and it is. Here are some examples of photographers I love. 


- Diane Arbus is known for shooting people on the edge of society in a documentary style. The images are most commonly described as humanizing, evocative and disturbing. 

- Chikako is known for shooting flowers in a dreamlike style. The images are most commonly described as painterly, organic and hypnotic. 


- Susan Meiselas is known for shooting Latin American conflict in a documentary style. The images are most commonly described as raw, emotional and close to the action. 

Using the same formula and describing my tattoo project in this way is pretty easy too. 

- Dan Dao is known for shooting tattoo artists in a documentary style. The images are most commonly described as natural, personal and straightforward. 

Secondly using this same formula you can remix parts to find new styles and approaches to things. Take the Diane Arbus description and change "people on the edge of society" to "softball players" or "pet snakes". You can take that style and description and use it as a framework for approaching a new subject. Maybe the images would be duds but it can get you thinking in new ways. How would Arbus shoot a softball catcher?

Photographers and artists can't reinvent the wheel on every project but they can remix ideas and subjects in new styles. This simple word play exercise really helped me define my work and gives me endless options for projects in the future. I hope you're ready for...

Dan Dao is known for shooting taco trucks in a macro photography style. The images are most commonly described as bright, colorful and yummy. 

Shooting to Remember

After graduate school I had all day to do nothing. I had moved back with my parents and would spend my day looking for jobs and  taking pictures with a Nikon D40. I took more pictures during that year off than any other year of my life. 

A lot of the photos were aimless and of subjects you bought a DSLR to shoot. People, flowers, travels and trying to exploit bokeh as much as you can. F1.8 and fast shutter speeds were my best friends. I didn't think too hard about composition or the images being special, it was shooting for pure enjoyment. 

Although the images weren't great, I still love these pictures. I captured all the small and big things that happened that year. I can go back in those images and remember where I was and what it felt like then. Currently my joy in photography is different, working at building my work and getting better at photography. These images remind me photography can also be about capturing everything around you as a time capsule. As time goes by I hope I can get all those little details back. 

Gordy's Camera Strap

Camera straps are something I really don't fuss over. I'm not a huge fan of straps being a fashion statement or being treated as something more important than just an item that helps you not drop your camera. But, if you're in the market and looking for one I couldn't recommend Gordy's camera strap enough. 

Wrist Strap, Photo from Gordy's Camera Straps

Wrist Strap, Photo from Gordy's Camera Straps

I currently have three of them, two wrist straps (20$ each) and a neck strap (30$). They are made with high quality leather and I've used them for years without any issues. 

When you first use it the leather is bit stiff and it takes a while to for the leather to break in, after that it's extremely soft and comfortable. Because the strap isn't camera or system specific you can use it on almost anything as well. While they look pretty simple they hold a lot of weight and have performed extremely well with all sorts of gear for me. 

A camera strap isn't going to make your photography better but having a good strap is going to give you peace of mind. As I lean over edges, shoot off sides of boats and put my camera in terrible situations I've always been confident my Gordy's strap won't fail my camera or me. 

Double Exing like DBloomsday

Having a style that is recognizable is one of my goals as a photographer. Among the #believeinfilm community Jon Wilkening, Maite Pons, Chikako and David Allan have images you can spot a mile away. With David, aka DBloomsday, he's taken double exposures of buildings, people and scenes and woven them into great images. David is also an inspiration for me as someone who stuck to a style against normal conventions and praise. When you see tweets like this early last year and the success he's had since it's a cruel reminder of how being true to yourself and making images people like aren't always connected. 

I wanted to try my hand at his style. There were two good reasons too, I had rented a Canon A-1 for a review and hit had a dedicated double-exposure mode and secondly I'd recently read an article about performing the technique that made it sound way too easy. 

I loaded up the camera with FP4 and set the exposure compensation for -1. My goal was to overlay two similar images and have the overlaps create a geometrically double exposed area. Shooting was tricky and it took me a couple of shots to get comfortable with the double exposure latch on the A-1. I would shoot my first image, trigger the latch, advance the shutter but not the film, take a second shot and finally advance the shutter. I went for really simple geometric patterns: vertical overlay, horizontal overlay and a 90 degree flip. 

Getting the images back it was interesting to see what worked and what didn't. Images that worked had a defined overlap that was more confined and distinct. When the overlap was total or incomplete the images came out looking flat. As a whole the roll was much more experimental and loose than my typical roll. The hard part is that I'm not totally sure how to recreate the images that worked other than to reverse engineer how those specific shapes and patterns worked. My limited successes were purely random.
David owns this style and technique and turned randomness into consistency. My attempts were a nice dip into the water but it will take many more roles and deconstructing to become proficient at it. That's going to be true of any style I want to learn. I appreciate David's work even more now after trying it. It's not a totally random process but you need to be ok with a lot of failure at first. And when it's that hard to pull off you gotta be really dedicated or really delusional to succeed. I'm pretty sure he's both. 

Shooting on Friday the 13th the local Tattoo Holiday

Friday the 13th is a fun day in Austin. Tattoo shops open  all day and all night to give special discounts for small tattoos. I take the day off from work and went to visit a few shops to hopefully take a bunch of images. 

I have been reviewing my images for an updated copy of my zine/book and have realized I need more variety of shots. One of my goals for the day is to shoot more than just people tattooing but the feel and energy of the shop. How do people move through it? Who moves through it? What is the shop about? This is something I'll actively think about going from shop to shop. 

2:00 PM - 4:00 PM Black Dagger 

I revisit shops often because I'm comfortable with the people there and have a good idea of what I can shoot and how to do it. When you enter a scene for the first time you lose a roll getting a feel of the place and understanding the light. Maybe this will change over time but for me that first roll is usually very fast and gets my nerves out. 

Black Dagger is a great shop with really awesome artists. They have a really open format and a few closed rooms, which are harder to shoot in. I use the open layout and a borrowed chair to kind of zoom in and out of shots. I'm comfortable with most the guys so I can get up close without either of us being uncomfortable. Usually when both the tattooer and I are comfortable so is the customer.

I spend most of my two hours at the shop shooting with a 40mm lens trying to capture a wider scene and interactions between people. I also go for the shots I always go for, portraits and standard documentary, but everything goes well and it's a comfortable and loose situation. After about 4 rolls I leave for the next shop.

4:00 PM - 5:30 PM A Million Tattoo

One of the tattooers I know from another shop invites me over and it's my first time there. Going to a new shop the first time is always dicey but having access helps. I've done the cold call thing and that is brutal on both sides. 

When I enter I'm pretty sure that most people know why I am there but I'm also pretty sure most people aren't 100% on board.   So I avoid the people who don't want pictures and move on. I find an empty seat and start to just take pictures sitting in that one spot. The traffic at A Million is great with stations being turned over every 20 minutes. This is perfect for me and let's me get in a bunch of shots and angles since the scene is literally shifting all the time.

The hard part is that I really can't move around and nobody is trying to make it easier for me. They are grinding away and I need to stay out of the way. But it's still super fun and challenging. From my one spot I switch to a 50mm lens and break a open 360 scene into smaller and smaller scenes. Shoes that are perfectly aligned, people waiting and looking and people getting prepped. These things sounds so mundane but when you're deep into a project it's really impactful to have these in-between moments. 

I do have one disaster though, I over-wind a HP5 roll in the Leica. I know it happens and I go to the bathroom to try and get the film out of the camera. Losing the roll isn't terrible since it's my first roll in the shop but I have some good images from Black Dagger on it as well. I do my best to strip the roll from the camera and wrap the butchered roll in white non-light proof napkins and put it into my bag. I shoot about 3 more rolls and head back to drop off film. It's a little awkward but I'm happy with the number and type of shots I get. 

5:30-7:30 PM Crash 

I go back to film developer to drop off the rolls for development. I tell them about the HP5 and we agree to develop and see what happens, my hopes are low but I'm always amazed at how much salvaging they can do for me. 
Heading home I plan on getting a quick nap and dinner but end up resting for an hour before I go to my last shop. 

7:30 - 11:30 PM Royal Legion 

Royal Legion has a crew and space that I really trust. Like most shops it's open but being so close to Spider House Cafe they get a different clientele and atmosphere that makes shooting there special. I show up and awkwardly hang out in the doorway taking pretty conservative images. Ray, the owner, kinda yells at me to get into the scene and be active. 

Tattooers are artists and they know artists need to get pushed to get better. This shop more than others expects me to try new things and have less boundaries. It's no surprise I spend a lot of time shooting there and getting a really weird mix of shots. I go back to the 40mm due to the small room size and just blast away. 

People flow into and out of Royal Legion in waves. In four hours I see a small storm pass through, a wide range of people flow in to peek around and hang out, everyone grabbing dinner and everyone having a good time. It's a wild few hours and I get shots of much more variety and closeness than I do at the other shops. 

It's also where I get a little bit tired and end up "just shooting". This mode for me is post peak concentration and almost brainstorming shots with your camera. You're not trying to nail anything in particular but literally shooting at anything that is even remotely interesting. Click-click-click, rolls start flowing out of the camera. I'm still unsure if this is a good place to be but I do know it's getting close to closing time for me. 

11:30 Home

I arrive home pretty exhausted after a really long day of shooting. Moving forward I'll carry a light proof film canister and a film retriever since the over wind scenario was so hair raising. Shooting-wise it was a great day and I'm happy with the variety and number of shots I got. I shot about 12 rolls which is about 200-300 images, I'll get them back in a few weeks but for now I've survived another Friday the 13th and am totally looking forward to the next one. 

Don't Buy a Collapsible Leica Lens with Haze

Recently I saw a too good to be true deal on a Leica 50mm F2.8 Elmar lens. It was a M Mount and collapsible, which would be a good compliment to my 50mm Summicron DR that is heavy but very precise. The only issue is that it had haze behind the front element but for $160 it was a small risk for a potentially great lens. 

The Culprit: 50mm F2.8 Elmar, you can see the haze too.&nbsp;  Photo is from  Used Photo Pro  who graciously accepted my return too.&nbsp;

The Culprit: 50mm F2.8 Elmar, you can see the haze too. 

Photo is from Used Photo Pro who graciously accepted my return too. 

Fix Old Cameras has always warned me that haze can't be taken lightly, it can either be really easy or ruin the lens. Most of my experiences with hazy lenses has been really easy. You open up the lens, use some alcohol to wipe away the haze and you're on your way. But older collapsible Leica's have a known issue where the oils in the aperture blades evaporate over time and etch lens. Etched is not haze, it looks like haze but is more like running sandpaper over the element. This ruins lenses. 
At first I thought no big deal, let's put a couple of rolls through and see what comes out. Surprisingly it handled some situations really well and really bombed on others. Direct light made it extremely soft and almost unusable. When light didn't hit the lens directly it took some amazingly sharp and clear images. I waffled over keeping it but David Hancock woke me up, "Return it. There are ones out there without unfixable haze. If you want that look with a future lens, grab a UV filter and scratch it up." This had me walking back from the cliff. 

Collapsible Leica lenses are an enticing bargain. They're cheap, easily found and sometimes a great value. But turn down any one you see with haze. Every Leica repair person I contacted wouldn't even take a look at it. I thought I could live with it too, but it's not fun to shoot with something your always going to worry about.

How I Got Access

Working on the Tattoo Project over this last year I've discovered if there is one thing that can make your photography better it's access. Increased access to the things that you want to shoot allow you to be more intimate with the subject and increase your chances of getting the shots that you want. 

Great Wave, Austin, TX&nbsp;

Great Wave, Austin, TX 

When I started the tattoo project I knew I wanted to take pictures of tattoo culture in Austin. I have never had a tattoo and never stepped into a shop before. On a sunny Saturday I walked into Great Wave Tattoo down the street and asked them if I could take pictures. I was sweaty, super nervous and pretty damn sure they would say no. A guy was getting tattooed naked on a table, they asked if he was cool with it and he said, "sure". Now, I was on. I collected myself the best I could and took some images I'm really proud of. 

Ben Sieber at work.&nbsp;

Ben Sieber at work. 

Working this same way, I went into 3 more shops. Literally walking up and asking if I could take pictures. Each time I was nervous and expected rejection and each time they said yes. With a couple of shops under my belt I started using those experiences to gain access to other shops. I smartened up and sent out an e-mail telling people what I wanted to do and some of the images I had done. To date, I was kicked out of only one shop and had another shop say no in e-mail. 

You learn so many things along the way too. How the shops are run. Why different shops have different styles, setups, standards and rules. You start to pickup the language and understand the community and the players. You start to become a part of the community yourself. When this began I never imagined these things happening but it has been a great gift and helped me understand the industry and subject better. 

Austin Tattoo Convention&nbsp;

Austin Tattoo Convention 

I've been thinking about what the next project is going to be, a crazy idea is to go all around the world to take pictures of restaurants and the people working in them. If you asked me early last year how the hell could I pull something like this off I would of told you I don't have a clue. But after my experience with the tattoo project the plan is much simpler. I'd go to couple of places in town show them my images and ask to shoot. I'd send them prints after I left and ask them for references. I go to those places to shoot and slowly expand my access. After I'd saturated Austin I'd ask San Antonio if I could shoot there for a weekend/week and do the same thing. I'd turn that work into a zine/book/project. I'd go to more cities. 

All of this sounds pretty pie in the sky and simple but it's worked so far. It's also a lot of hard work and risk of being flat out rejected. There is no way around that part of it. For me, it's about getting out there, belonging to a community and trying to do it justice. I wish I would of started earlier. 

When a Project Changes

After reading David Hurn's On Being a Photographer, I got inspired to tackle a photography project. Using his rules: the project would be in my own city, looking at one subject and diving deeply into it. I picked two, tattoos and murals. While both projects have taught me a lot about photography, the mural project really changed how I viewed my images. 

The idea of the mural project was simple, there are bunch of murals in Austin I would go out and document them. It's an accessible project since murals are in public places I wouldn't need any permission to take the photos. Austin is also a hot bed of murals and more great ones were popping up all the time. Recently, I visited Denver I saw that the mural phenomena wasn't just bound to Austin, in neighborhoods that were transitioning from undesirable to "up and coming" you were bound to find some colorful murals. 

Willie is a crowd pleaser

Willie is a crowd pleaser

When I posted my pictures of the murals on Instagram I was surprised to see the response was good. Before my page had been a mish-mash of my film experiments and random shots of anything I thought was cool. While this approach sounds pretty normal I was looking to build some sort of cohesion and uniformity to the images. Focusing on just taking images of murals gave my page more structure and recognition. 

So I went out and took more mural photos and the likes and comments increased. Murals are designed to catch the eye with color and design, so they're a great fit for Instagram.

But the deeper I got into the project the harder it became to find murals. Austin has about 10 really famous murals and about a couple hundred other ones that were a lot less recognizable. It's getting into this second tier of murals where things changed for me and the project. As I dug deeper, I started following mural artists to see where the newest murals in town were so I could get new content. A few months ago, I saw on an artist's Instagram of some new murals he had done behind a tattoo shop. I went a few days later to take my pictures of those same murals with the intent on putting them on Instagram as well. Those images though didn't feel right and still haven't posted them. 

The artist's post

The artist's post

My interpretation.&nbsp;

My interpretation. 

Why? Well, these artists are extremely talented and the murals they make can take upwards of days and weeks to complete. After they are finished they take a photo to capture and share it. I felt a bit weird to show up at the tail end of their hard work and take my picture to post for likes. I hadn't done anything other than knowing where it was and going there. Of course as a photographer I could most likely take a better image of the mural than the artist, but that didn't feel like it justified it. It still wasn't my work to get credit for. 

Maybe I'm thinking too much about problem that doesn't really exist. What if they like to have people take pictures of their work and share it?  I haven't asked any of them but it did make me think about what I was doing. Was I making my own art or just literally copying others? 

What next? I plan on taking a few more mural images and then turning them into either a zine or a small book, A Mural Guide to Austin. The work I put into the project was fun and the images are great and should be shared. For the murals that most people don't know it'll help publicize them too. But any ideas of a long term project or passion for mural photography is gone. I'll finish up the series and call it a day. 

This experience  did teach me good lessons. First, people really enjoy colorful and interesting things, it sounds obvious but I was really surprised. I've decided that for the next few month I would focus on taking picture of colors that caught my eye, be it a building, lamp post or coffee cup. It would be a different project and something where the photos would come from my vision and not someone else's. It's also a little vague and will allow me to experiment and not be tied down to one subject matter. 

Secondly, learning something about yourself isn't always the easiest thing but it's always important to allow things to change you and your vision. While the relationship I have with those mural photos is now different it's taught me some important lessons about how I view art and the relationship I want to have with it.