Category Archives: iPhoneography

butter candle vendor portrait Kathmandu Nepal copyright Aloha Lavina

Why do you make images?

The struggle between creative inception and audience imperatives revisits us at times, like a stealthy tomcat, which in Annie Dillard’s book The Pilgrim of Tinker Creek left bloody footprints on her chest while she slept. She only knew the cat’s night wanderings and fights through the visible prints on her body when she woke.

Like Dillard’s tomcat, the debate between what we create and how our creations survive when we release them into others’ attentions remind us of the boundaries between the visible and invisible facets of our images.

Recently, I experienced a “stuckness” in my image making; I was stuck in a composition that was someone else’s, and I could not seem to move from it. The polarity between creative inception and audience imperatives catapulted my motivation between the pressure of having to create something on the one hand, and on the other hand being immersed in pleasing an audience. Both poles seemed unattractive, and so I resorted to inertia. If I didn’t make any images, I didn’t have to deal with the tug of war inside.

Avoidance, though, has its costs. Discontent from not being creative, distracted wishing for the experience of creating something, questioning creative identity. Most compelling is to review past work and to remember projects that brought excitement in the past and the anticipation of embarking on a question or set of questions that would fuel a creative thrust.

So the past few days, I’ve had to have a long conversation with myself. Why didn’t I make images any more? How do I take the first step in unraveling a creative paralysis, and thereby set myself free? How do I quell a hunger to just make photos?

What I learned in this internal conversation came to light literally in an image today.

Copyright Aloha Lavina 2016. All rights reserved.

Copyright Aloha Lavina 2016. All rights reserved.

In this simple portrait, I realized that there is a compulsion to say what we want to in a visible way that which is invisible to the eyes of everyone else.

Let me submit a humble philosophy.

When I create portraits, the thing that I look for is the essence of a person.

Sometimes, it is what they do that makes this essence visible.

Dancer copyright Aloha Lavina.

Sometimes, it is their environment.

butter candle vendor portrait Kathmandu Nepal copyright Aloha Lavina

Other times, it is invisible in the image.

In portraits where the photographer is the focusing on interpretation rather than fact, mostly the fact is visible, but the interpretation takes a lot more craftsmanship – how do we portray a person’s attributes, the way we see them, in ways that are visible to everyone else?

In an essay on bridging the visible and invisible words, Yahia Lababidi removes the division between invisible and visible by adding the indivisible – that quality that implies a bridge between worlds. The photographer’s intention materialized in the image.

When we succeed, the audience is able to see what we mean. It becomes a conversation between the photographer in one place and the audience in another place. This conversation between viewer and image maker is the indivisible; we create impact on our audience in the impressions we leave in the audience’s minds as our images touches their perception.

I’ll be harsh on myself: the portrait I created today is not technically perfect. For example, some highlights are blown, albeit intentionally. This is because I wanted that halo of light around the face. And this is because the person I photographed appreciates illumination in thinking and in life.

Only one eye has a highlight, and she’s not staring at the lens, instead her attention is on something she’s reading and thinking about. In the literature on the language of eye positions, it might mean she is examining facets of her identity, reflecting on a potentially transformational idea.

Totally artistic intention. Totally invisible to you, the viewer.

And so perhaps I have failed in this image. Perhaps I have failed because the indivisible line between the invisible and visible is not as clearly drawn for the audience who is not able to know these things I have just explained.

But I also think of Yahia Lababidi’s statement in her essay, that “Bodies are like poems…only a fraction of their power resides in the skin of things.” If the mystery of the invisible nudges the viewer to wonder the significance of an image, does it fail?

Al Ghazali wrote, “This visible world is a trace of that invisible one and the former follows the latter like a shadow.” In the shadows of the photographer’s mind, there is always an intention, and whether or not we fail to make it visible is beside the point.

Because the reason why we make images isn’t just because of the results. The real push is to keep making images, to keep trying, because it is part of who we are.

Maria Rilke wrote, ”It is our task to imprint this temporary, perishable earth into ourselves, so deeply, so painfully and passionately, that its essence can rise again, invisible, inside of us.”

Our task is to keep trying.


macro with iPhone copyright Aloha Lavina

Why I Love iPhone Photography

I love point and shoot cameras.

They’re light, non-invasive, and they force you to think about the image before you make it.

But a step up is the smart phone with a camera that doubles up as a point and shoot. You can use it to make calls, connect in so many different ways, and if you’re the type who likes stylized photos—well, there’s an app for that.

When my old iPhone 3s died after I dropped it smack on its face, I ordered the iPhone 4s. As a smart phone user, I only ever used the iPhone to keep connected through Twitter and to check email while on the go, take visual notes, that sort of thing. It wasn’t until I read this great article about iPhone photography that I was convinced the iPhone was a great camera, too.

The first weekend I had the 4s, I took it out to an island off the coast of Pattaya on Thailand’s Eastern seaboard. But the phone was kind of a second string camera.

iPhone photo copyright Aloha Lavina 2012

Fish out of water, Koh Sark Thailand

I had a dSLR with me, so I mostly used that. But I did discover that Instagram had these nifty actions that could make images grungy, stylized pictures with a lot of atmosphere.

A week later, I left my dSLR at home as I traveled Northeast, and brought just the iPhone. The audacity of leaving my main camera behind felt funny. I always travel with the camera bag and its kilos of stuff. Now, I had a rectangular thingee in my pocket.

Here are some things I love about photography with the iPhone and the apps I bought last week.

1. It holds on to highlights and shadows really well. Amazingly, I was able to shoot complex, high contrast exposures.

iPhone photo in complex lighting copyright Aloha Lavina

Complex lighting? Piece of cake for the iPhone 4s.

2. I can do multiple exposures using an app called Pro HDR. This app allows you to take two exposures, but you have to hold very, very still while it does that. I was able to take a photo at night, and a man walking across the frame was captured twice.

iPhone photo multiple exposure copyright Aloha Lavina

Multiple exposure using the Pro HDR app.

3. The Pro HDR app also allowed me to take a long exposure of water. Because water was moving while the camera took two exposures, the water had that blur effect of a slow shutter.

iPhone photo slow shutter effect copyright Aloha Lavina

Slow shutter effect using the Pro HDR app.

4. To increase dynamic range, I used Snapseed. Snapseed imports your photo from the Library and has actions that can reveal shadows and highlights in great detail. I love this app for textured subjects.

IPhone photo shadows and highlights with textured subject copyright Aloha Lavina

Using Snapseed to get those shadows and highlights. Seedless. Juicy.

5. Moody images with vignette and grunge happen in Snapseed, too. Using the action for “Grunge” puts a vignette around the photo and adds texture. You can adjust how much of the effect you want.

iPhone photo using Snapseed to add Grunge copyright Aloha Lavina

Grunge using Snapseed.

Like all new toys, I couldn’t put the phone down. Everything became a potential image. The great thing about it was, I was no longer thinking of settings and lens selection. I was just thinking about how to make a good image with what I had.

And that was the most valuable thing I learned. I loved being an image maker again. Not having to worry about the settings and lens selection really freed me up to just think of the composition, color, and light.

macro with iPhone copyright Aloha Lavina

And it works with closeups!

Would I give up the dSLR for just the iPhone? Probably not. But now wherever I am, I’ve got a ready point and shoot ready to use.

And it takes calls, too.

Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That!

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