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Looking Forward to Spring…cleaning

Is it Clean!?

Self Portrait – 2007
© Doug van Kampen, 2011 :: All Rights Reserved

Often times as photographers, we go to great lengths to make photographs.  It should come at no surprise that our gear takes a beating throughout the  course of the year – in and out of the car, in and out of the bag, getting dropped, dust storms, and the occasional dusty highway.  Hopefully that dusty highway leads somewhere special, somewhere that great photographs are made.  But through all of that, it can be easy to forget that much like ourselves, our gear needs a bit of maintenance from time-to-time.  The reality of it is simple and doesn’t take long at all, especially given the technology available to us nowadays.  Spring cleaning is upon us…

There’s always that one day, usually at the end of the winter, that you wake up and your ears are filled with the most beautiful melody of birds outside the window.  Here in Maine, however, we’re still expecting snow this coming week…

Holding to the distinct possibility of warmer weather heading our way, I like to use this time of year to prepare for what could conceivably be one of the most colorful spring seasons on record.  Why wouldn’t you want to start out the season with fully functioning gear that will carry you through the spring, summer, and heading into fall?  You wouldn’t.

If I could make a few recommendations for spring cleaning, the least of your worries will be the cleanliness of your gear and it’s ability to catalyze your vision as a photographer over the next few months:

  1. Send your camera and/or lenses to be serviced (usually this includes a full diagnostic, any firmware updates (if available), a sensor and body cleaning, and a function test to include focus, mirror, etc.  You can find more information below (for both Nikon or Canon).  You can do this yourself, but I strongly caution anyone attempting to clean their sensor without the knowledge to do so.  ***BE SURE TO SEND YOUR CAMERA TO AN AUTHORIZED SERVICE CENTER***
  2. Format all of your memory cards using both the utilities available online from the manufacturer AND in camera.
  3. Clean, according to the manufacturers instructions, all lens filters to include graduated neutral density, neutral density, UV, etc.  Basic rule of thumb is that if light passes through it during an exposure, clean it!
  4. Lenses: Light passes through it, clean it.  DO NOT USE: Canned Air (it contains oils that can damage the nano-coatings used in the manufacture of optical glass elements), paper towels, toilet paper, newspaper, Windex, etc.  DO USE: Micro-Fiber, Lens Paper, Sensor Swabs (cut into small strips and put on the end of a toothpick to get those hard to reach areas where the lens and the camera body come together), Photographic Cleaning Solution (available from Photographic Solutions)
  5. Replace/repair worn gear: straps, gaskets, memory cards (too many times in and out of the camera can wear out the receiving pins).
  6. Eyepiece:  this is something that tends to get neglected more than any other part of a D-SLR. Clean as per manufacturers instructions or industry standards.
  7. General rule of thumb – if you swab any part of the camera and it comes out dirty, it probably needs more thorough attention, additionally, the oils from your hands can be extremely corrosive.  Keep that in mind when cleaning – I recommend using either cotton photographic print handling or nitrile gloves while you’re cleaning your gear.

Nikon USA Services:
https://repair.nikonusa.com/ProductEntry

Canon USA Services:
http://www.usa.canon.com/cusa/consumer?pageKeyCode=onlineRepairLanding

Though this is a condensed guide to cleaning your gear, I hope you found the information useful.  If so, I would love to hear from you!  I can be contacted on Facebook and Twitter for questions.  Have a wonderful week! -DvK

Lost

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“Lost” – North Atlantic Ocean, Somewhere off the Coast of Newfoundland
© Doug van Kampen, 2014 :: All Rights Reserved

In all of my travels around the world, I have not only seen some amazing things and places, I have seen desperation on the faces of people who could have potentially been lost at sea.  I am reminded how incredibly enormous the ocean is, how plentiful it’s bounty can be, and how incredibly small we are as humans out on its vastness.  Fortunately enough in my travels to the Bering Sea in Alaska, the Tasman Sea in the Southern Hemisphere, and everywhere in between, there have been more tales that end well than those that have not.

The image above illustrates how incredibly small you would appear to a SAR (Search And Rescue) helicopter (pictured actual size in the left of the frame), should you become lost.  The helicopter pictured is roughly the size of a city bus and the average human in the water is roughly the size of a watermelon, given that only the top of the head and part of the shoulders remain not submerged.  Factor in the sea-state (with a wind above 11 knots, white caps form on open ocean) and you are [mostly] invisible.  In water such as this with a temperature 32˚F (0˚C), you have four(4) minutes without any sort of life-saving equipment such as a mustang or gumby suit.  With the suit, you have a few more hours and if your lucky, you have some sort of signaling device such as smoke flares or marker dye and you know when to use it.

When people ask me what we usually site people for on the open ocean, the answer does vary depending on the mission, but for the most part, its having the proper safety equipment to save their life and the lives of their crew in the event their vessel is in peril at sea.

I have seen the ocean go from a calm, welcoming, and bountiful resource to a cold, unforgiving, and churning mass of water that will swallow anything that is unprepared to adapt to it.  It is in those moments that I think about those that have been lost and those that have witnessed her fury and lived to tell about it.  Be safe out there and always remember, one hand for the ship! -DvK

“All Dressed Up and Nowhere to Go” – Portland Head Light, Cape Elizabeth, Maine

"All Dressed Up and Nowhere to Go" - Portland Head Light, Cape Elizabeth, Maine

“All Dressed Up and Nowhere to Go” – Portland Head Light, Cape Elizabeth, Maine
© Doug van Kampen, 2014 :: All Rights Reserved

Wow, what a morning!  The first photograph made in 2014 and I’m already excited to share this part of the country with the rest of you, looking forward to new commitments, looking forward to making a ton of new friends in the community of extremely talented photographers in New England.

It seems that around every corner lies a new adventure and a new place to discover in what is quickly becoming the most favorite place in the country I have ever lived.  It could be 30˚F below zero and as long as the sun is shining, it’s all good!  Fortunately enough, photographers in New England are, for the most part, willing to share what they know about the area and clue me in to what looks good at different times of the year.

This morning was no exception.  Waking at 0545 and stepping outside yielded a temperature of -18˚F here at the house in Brunswick, ME.  Upon arriving at Portland Head Light with my good friend Ben Williamson, we were greeted by a beautiful scene, with virtually no one around.  It is the first time I have ever seen Portland Head Light so quiet, so desolate, so peaceful.  The scene that continued to unfold in front of us is something that I will remember for years to come.

Sea smoke abounded as the waves crashed around the cliffs and the sound of the rocks tumbling under the frigid ocean reminded me of my Summers as a youth spent in Carlsbad, California…just a bit colder.  The winter sun gently made its appearance and bathed the scene in some of the most flattering light I have ever seen.

I consider it a wonderful privilege to share this with you…

Be safe out there my friends. -DvK

New Years Resolution? You’ll Never Know…

I never even imagined that life could be as rewarding as it has been this past year.  I won’t even begin to list the places I’ve traveled, what I’ve experienced while away and at home in both Washington and Maine, or the different challenges I’ve faced in both life and the job I’ve had for the past 20 years of my life.  The importance of how all these fit together paints a picture of success as far as another year in my life is concerned.  There are some things I’ve been successful at as well as some things I’ve failed at – what matters is that I’ve learned from both…

Turning 40 this year still doesn’t seem real, mostly because I can remember my parents turning 40 and how I felt about being an adult when they did.  I recently had someone comment on how they envied me for having such a wonderful opportunity to see the world in the way that I have, both with my family and without them.  Often, people have continued this conversation by asking if I keep a journal.  I offer an idea to people that brings some of the strangest looks I’ve ever received to date.  I simply reply, “The images I make are my journal…”

Having witnessed much of my world through the viewfinder of a camera, it can be compared to hearing a song on the radio, or smelling something that takes you back to a place you have once been.  With photography, I remember what I was doing, how I felt, and the effort it often took to get whatever was in front of me, in front of me.  Simply, photography takes work.  I often require the most attentive amount of concentration, and yield some of the most rewarding results.  I have been witness to people of the world at their very best…and their very worst.  I’ve seen so much of the world, but more of our great country in the last year…and with the one’s I love so, so much…my family.

Those who know me have been witness to my lack of new years resolutions over the years.  That being said, there will be a couple resolutions this year, maybe even a few, but none will be published.  What I want for me, my family, and the rest of my life will always and forever be private, but wonderfully, you all will always be a part of in the most wonderful way.  Just keep doing what you all do, keep it real, if you will, stay true to where your heart guides you, and always remember to smile.  Find something you want to become better at, something attainable, something realistic…and realize it, write it down, and devote your time and love to the process.  I’ll give you three guesses the direction my work is going…

No matter how much we talk, family or not, know that my silence doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten about you but rather, my family and my friends continue to make the story of my life, the photograph of my life, that much better.  Thank you! -DvK (New Years Eve – 2013)

:: The below images are in no particular order and are merely a snapshot of the last year as a whole ::

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:: Jeralynn Luhan, Master Potter – Taos Pueblo, NM ::

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:: “Dwelling” – Taos Pueblo, NM ::

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:: “Bustle” – Times Square, NYC ::

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:: Mary Ober, 94 – Olsen House, Cushing, ME. ::

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:: “Sunburst” – Quebec City, Quebec, Canada ::

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:: “Birch Trees” – Harpswell, ME. ::

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“Ready for Winter” – Fort Knox, ME. ::

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:: Chris Tanguay, Master Craftsman – Freeport, ME. ::

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:: Lobster Boat Stored for Winter – Highway 1, Freeport, ME. ::

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:: “Farmer’s Pride” – Brunswick, ME. ::

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:: Doug and Corrie van Kampen, Fall 2013 – Maine ::

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:: Family – New York, NY ::

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:: “The Man in Red” – Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY. ::

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:: “Urban” – Garment District, New York, NY. ::

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:: Coit Tower – San Francisco, CA. ::

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:: “Man in the Fog” – Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, CA. ::

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:: “Lamp Posts” – Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, Ca. ::

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:: “Up River” – Cuercovado National Park, Costa Rica ::

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:: Moon Rise – Camden Harbor, Camden, ME. ::

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:: Curtis Island Light – Camden Harbor, Camden, ME. ::

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:: “the Filtered Light of Fall” – North Woods, ME. ::

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:: Portland Head Light – Portland, ME. ::

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:: Pavones Beach (Home of the longest left wave in the world) – Pavones, Costa Rica ::

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:: “Hume” – CGC Midgett (WHEC-726) – Arctic Ocean ::

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:: “Cousins” – Post Alley, Seattle, WA. ::

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:: Jeff Engelhardt – Post Alley, Seattle, WA. ::

“The Splendor of it All” – Cuckolds Light, Maine

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“The Splendor of it All” – Cuckolds Light, Maine
© Doug van Kampen, 2013 :: All Rights Reserved

Among the other photographers I know, there has been a great deal of conversation about social media and the effect it has on the one think that keeps us sane as creatives.  We all agreed that we often internalize the question and action we have all grown to despise, “What will generate the most “likes” on Facebook or other social media outlets, followed by the action of doing just that.  David DuChemin writes about shooting with your heart and shooting what you love…something that is surely lacking among this new generation of social media photographer.  Granted the ability for the everyday person with an iPhone to make compelling images is there, but I believe people with the intention of shooting for the masses have completely missed the point of why we fell in love with photography in the first place.  Some people draw, some paint, some write poetry, some go so far as to journal their daily lives.  Me?  Photography is my journal, my poetry, and my peace.

From the second I laid eyes on a white sheet of paper being transformed into a photograph, I was transfixed, with an inability to speak or adequately form the words to describe what I felt.  Part of the magic was, and has always been, the act of capturing a moment in time that will, for all intents and purposes, never happen again.  I am throughly convinced that when I die, God will give mew the most elaborate slideshow of the images I have made with my eyes…those that could never be captured on any paper, screen, and the like.  I will become transfixed again, with my eyes somewhere entirely different, where all of this won’t matter.

The point I’m trying to make in all of this is that you, no matter what your skill level, no matter what equipment you use, no matter what your musings are, have a duty behind the lens to shoot with your heart.  Don’t concern yourself with what others are doing.  Be progressive.  Study.  Contemplate what challenges in your craft you must overcome…the challenges you must overcome.  If “likes” are what you desire, then so be it.  But please my friends, never sell yourself out for a show that you’ll never see again and fill your life with images that you’d never want to see in your slideshow.  Stay creative, be in love with your craft, and always ask yourself, “why?” -DvK

Lost Arts Project – Dry Stone Wall Building

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Chris Tanguay – Certified Master Craftsman
© Doug van Kampen, 2013 :: All Rights Reserved

Very near and dear to my heart, the lost arts project has been on the back burner for some time now.  Showcasing the talents of Master Craftsman from around the world, this project has been in the making for about a year and required a locale in which it’s pursuit was viable.  Relying on the kindness and diligence from the Freeport Historical Society, here in Maine, I was given the opportunity to spend two days learning and photographing the art of dry stone wall building.  An art that has been used for centuries the world over, with some of the best examples in both Europe and North America, Dry Stone Wall building is not simply placing stones atop each other to form walls, but is a series of methods that have been developed over many years to not only retain livestock from within family plots and farms, but to outline the boundaries of family farms both here and abroad.  Organizations such as the Dry Stone Walling Association of Great Britain and the Dry Stone Walling Conservancy of Kentucky certify and issue Master Craftsman certificates to those in and around the world that make the cut and can demonstrate proficiency in this art.  Tests of this nature are often timed, consisting of rebuilding sections of walls within a given time frame, something that would prove extremely vital should your livelihood depend on containing your livestock with a given plot of land.

Chris Tanguay holds certificates with the Dry Stone Walling Association of Great Britain (think really old walls in Scotland that only he can work on) and the Dry Stone Walling Conservancy of Kentucky.  Both being extremely prestigious accolades, they represent years of study and dedication to the art.

The point of this project is to bring awareness to some of the most fascinating people on our planet.  This month it’s Dry Stone Walling, but next month it could be Blacksmithing, or Stained Glass Art, or even better, a Timber Frame Home Carpenter.  The idea is to bring you something you’ve never heard of before.  Now granted, some of you out there enjoy this sort of thing, so a Farrier (a specialist in equine hoof care) may not be too far reaching for your knowledge.

Story telling through portraiture is one of the most profound disciplines any photographer can undertake.  It forces you to get out of your comfort zone and see what others don’t.  It makes you appreciate how we all got here, and how hard life use to be. -DvK

 

“Under the Waxing Moon” – Brunswick, Maine, USA


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“Under the Waxing Moon” – Granite Farm, Brunswick, Maine, USA
© Doug van Kampen, 2013 :: All Rights Reserved

This is a spot that I’ve been wanting to make an image of since I’ve moved here.  Each time the light was good, it seemed that there was something else going on or I couldn’t make it out there in time – the life of a busy Dad who likes to stay involved with his family. ;)  Putting some serious thought into the Fuji X-E1 and what it can do under dynamic lighting conditions, I set out this evening with this image in my minds eye.  Still fine tuning the sweet spot in the lens and adjusting to the aperture priority shooting mode, I am still continually amazed at it’s capabilities.  Everything from it’s ease of use, to it’s in-camera RAW editing feature, has me exploring new areas of creativity.  All-in-all, since acquiring it, I’ve been nothing but impressed.

Even though the Fuji is a new addition to my toolbox, refining my vision as a photographer has become a much more important part of my work lately.  Having new areas to explore and constantly learning new processing techniques have been paramount lately, lending new ideas and new ways to create and shoot on the fly, without worrying about gear and hauling an 8 pound camera around.

Oh, and for those interested in the details, this image was made using the Fuji X-E1, fitted with a XF18-55mmF2.8-4 R LM OIS lens, a Lee foundation kit, and a Singh-Ray 0.3 Reverse GND.  Post processing done in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5.2, Adobe Photoshop CC, and Nik Color Efex 4.  Enjoy the frame! -DvK

We Don’t Make Time to get Outside…

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“Autumn Rush” – Highway 134, Maine, USA
© Doug van Kampen, 2013 :: All Rights Reserved

So, as many of you have already guessed, I’ve been spending a bit of time outside as of late and have been witness to some of the most spectacular displays of color New England has to offer.  In doing so, it is normally twice a week, when I have the opportunity to bring my girls to school, after which time I take about a half hour in and around my home here in Brunswick to make images of the morning light and the way it lays on the surrounding landscape and landmarks alike.  This morning, I couldn’t get over the number of cars on the road, making their way to the way most make their living, a 9 to 5 job.

How many minutes would it take each morning to stop, if even for a couple minutes, to take in the surrounding scenery in the area you live? Five minutes, maybe ten?  My point is, is that we as a whole don’t take the time to “stop and smell the roses” much less learn to appreciate new things in the environment in which we live.  We have all become such ‘slaves to the hormone, body and soul’ (words from “Animate” by RUSH)  We rarely, if at all, teach our children to appreciate the world around them and instead become caught up in the multitude of distractions in our everyday lives.  I will admit, I’ve fallen victim to this one as well; there’s just so much going on the world today and my A.D.D. brain loves things that are shiny!  Facebook, Twitter, etc.  Appreciating the outdoors begins with a choice, a choice to head outdoors and see whats out there…I assure you, there is *so* much to see and do, you could spend your whole life exploring.  The only thing that’s stopping you is well, you.  Five or ten minutes a day, that’s all you really need! -DvK

“Autumn Splendor” – Mount Blue State Park, Maine, USA

Autumn Splendor

“Autumn Splendor” – Mount Blue State Park, Maine, USA
© Doug van Kampen, 2013 :: All Rights Reserved

I had a great conversation with another local photographer today and we arrived at the subject of vignettes on images.  He said that another fellow shooter had remarked that they (vignettes) were a sign of cheap or inexpensive gear and that expensive gear corrects the issue of vignetting images and creates a more pure image.  That being said, we both arrived at the conclusion that a vignette, although overdone a good deal of the time, can and does serve a purpose to direct the eye through and image, much in the same way a darkroom technician would do with various pucks and cardboard cut-outs under a Bessemer enlarger.

Ansel Adams, who was extremely well known for his abilities as a darkroom technician, had an innate ability to direct the eye through an image much in the same way we use the digital tools available to us today.  The key difference being that the art of the print took much longer during his tenure as a photographer in the f/64 group and during his life.

It saddens me to know that people, through their intentions may serve a good purpose, get hung up on the idea that gear and stuff has the ability to make our images better.  This is wrong on so many levels as demonstrated by so many talented and devoted photographers of our time.  Take for example the Magnum Photographers – during WWII, many war photographers in this prestigious group found it nearly impossible to develop their film through normal avenues, so they resorted to developing their negatives in latrines and the only water-like substance they could find…their own urine.  They often went days without food or adequate sleep, slept right along soldiers, or worse yet, were killed during the pursuit of the frame. New gear?  There wasn’t any.  They worked with what they had and produced some of the most iconic images of our time.

So now I ask you this, do you seek to produce iconic images, or do you get hung up on the details that no one truly cares about in the pursuit of an image that truly moves the soul, can make one weep at the sight of it, or brings the viewer right along a trip down memory lane?  Do you study…carefully…the work of those you admire, those that made images before you or are making images currently?  What does a beautiful image look like to you and what elements should or would it have?

People see a fancy new camera and often times their first remark is, “That camera must take great pictures!”

I feel that I fail to answer this question with adequacy.  It’s not the camera…it’s knowing where to be, knowing how to be, and knowing when to press. -DvK

“Keeping it Rural” – Maine, USA

Keeping it Rural

“Keeping it Rural - Maine, USA
© Doug van Kampen, 2013 :: All Rights Reserved

“O Hushed October morning mild…” – Robert Frost, “October”

As the days wane from a hot to cold, and the leaves begin to fall here in New England, I am reminded of a time in my life which seemed to last forever. In my youth, I asked myself if I would ever get big like those around me. It seemed unimaginable and all too unattainable. I learned at a very early age to appreciate the natural world around me, I learned temperance, I learned to be at peace…things that have been forgotten with my age that I would most surely like to get back to. There have been several things in my life lately that have made me come back to the place I once was, but only for short glimpses into a past that has nearly been forgotten. It is not too often that we get to experience things that make us really want to change – I’ve experienced joy from a complete stranger, patience from my family, and a profound respect and love for the natural world from a person I barely know. How did I ever steer away from all such wonderful things, especially on a level that was so easily attainable in my past?  I’m older, but not “old”, let me work on that for a bit and get back to you.

For now, please enjoy this image made just the other day here in the beautiful state of Maine.  Since I have nothing to compare this Fall to, I hope I’m not disappointed in the years to come.  The foliage this year is the best I’ve ever seen…it does help having a great guide!  Enjoy the weekend friends! -DvK