This City’s on Fire

On the way to a friend’s house in Southfield, MI, I drove over an intersection with good visibility and saw a plume of smoke on the horizon.  Thinking it would be something close, small, and insignificant, I picked up my buddy and we went to check it out.  (We are photographers after all).

Well, as we were heading in the direction of the smoke, we realized it must be bigger than I thought because we didn’t seem to be getting closer.  Turns out it was actually 20 miles away.

From what I gather, it was an abandoned factory complex on Detroit’s West Side and the PD have no idea what happened.

To reiterate the scale, we met up with a volunteer firefighter from a northern suburb.  He was there because he saw the fire from Auburn hills – almost 40 miles away.

Here are some of the shots.

– Jon

One Giant Movie Set

It’s been kind of hit-and-miss with the nice days in Michigan this spring.  Now, I’m not really one to mind rain, but my camera seems to have a rather noticeable aversion to it.  Last week summer came out of nowhere and hasn’t shown signs of leaving.  That paired with a bit of free time, I journeyed into downtown Pontiac for a bit of photography.

If you aren’t local to Metro Detroit, I’ll understand if you don’t really know much about Pontiac.  Let me explain it like so:  If they were looking for somewhere to film “I Am Legend,”  Pontiac wouldn’t even need CGI or set design.  I suppose that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the point.  “Desolate” is a good word  for this situation.

I like to refer to Pontiac as Detroit v2.0.  In addition to the lack of anything redeeming, the city seems to be headed toward 2 extremes of a spectrum.  On one hand, artists and galleries are making their way downtown and creating a kind of depressing version of Ferndale-Corktown.  Also, by my count, there are half a dozen locally well-known nightclubs.  There’s also Erebus, a rather famous haunted house.

On the other hand the city is like a ghetto.  Nearly all the schools have closed, which forced the assimilation of multiple schools under one roof and has resulted in more than a handful of gang brawls, including shootings and the like.  Driving around, I feel like perhaps 1 in 7 buildings is abandoned or in need of demolishing.  A good 80% of the businesses that are still open are all lumped into a 3-block stretch of a single street.  I even drove past the homeless shelter yesterday and noticed there was a special parking area just for female staff members (it’s well-lit and right next to an entrance).

Even the cops left.  Seriously – last year the Pontiac PD was decommissioned.  The city is now paroled by State PD.

I’ve always liked Pontiac and I don’t want to say it’s hopeless, but when I see news articles about the “revitalization of Pontiac,” I usually just ignore them and move on.  Detroit has a fighting chance – enough people care and are actively trying to improve the city.  Pontiac isn’t really getting the same energy.

Well, scattered among the vast seas of parking lots, there are quite a few grand structures that deserve some photographic attention.  So, I suppose I’ve found my new project.  Here are a few of my favorite shots so far.  They will be on my fine art site and available for purchase after I feel I’ve really sunk my teeth into the project.

– Jon

Big-Time Post Production

I’d like to follow up my post from a couple weeks ago regarding retouching and the general process of “Photoshopping.”  To be clear this is not really part 2 of that post series.  That will be on it’s way in a few days.  This is more so the other end of the argument.

While it’s the best possible choice to get things right in-camera, sometimes it’s just not an option.  By just not an option, I mean nowhere remotely close to an option.  A good example is advertisement photography.

You probably know that no product or service is ever the same as you see it in an ad.  EVER.  If you disagree, I’d like you to compare your Whopper you’ll be having for lunch with the one on the menu.  Sure – this is slightly different issue.  That burger never existed in the first place – it was made out of mashed potatoes and spackle before the picture was even taken.  Instead, let’s focus on something clearly different than the original picture.

You’ve probably seen this video:

That’s an issue that happens more than you’d think/more than you’d like to know/ALL THE TIME.

However, there is one reason to justify such an obscene level of post production – finances.  Sometimes it’s just impractical to fly a model to outer Mongolia.  If there’s a small budget, if time constraints are fundamentally impossible, or if the picture of the setting already exists – sometimes the picture can be stitched together later.  Now, I know what you (might) be saying: “Where’s the photographic skill?  isn’t that just going to breakdown to someone drawing on a computer until the final image looks ‘good enough’ ?”

Not really.

Sure -there’s a descent amount of isolating, some burning/dodging, and a handful of trial and error.  BUT…

The picture still HAS to be correct in camera.  In many ways, it has to be “more correct” than a normal picture.  It all comes down to my favorite part of photography:  LIGHT.

If the background was photographed outside at sunset and the person/object was shot in a black studio with on-board flash, the color, angle of light, depth of field, and separation will look completely wrong .  So many factors have to be considered, I feel this type of post production absolutely qualifies as “good photography.”

Of course, I’m always open to comments and varying opinions.

That said – here’s a small sampling of some “image combination” I started as a side project a number of months ago.  Let me know what you think!

– Jon

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