Zenfolio | Karen Commings StreetWise Photography | Blog
January February March April May (5) June (1) July August (1) September October November December
January February (1) March (2) April (3) May (1) June (1) July August September October November (1) December
January February March April May (1) June July August September October November December

Welcome to my blog. I use this mostly to toot my own horn but occasionally am inspired to write something about photography. Although I photograph regularly, I no longer write according to a schedule, so new posts here happen when the spirit moves me. Thank you for visiting and come back soon.


May 10, 2018

Well, I didn't make it into Pennsylvania Art of the State this year but I did have photos accepted into the Art Association of Harrisburg's 90th International juried show and the Delaplaine (Frederick, MD) National exhibit of 2018. I'm looking forward to ArtsFest in Harrisburg on Memorial Day Weekend as well as warm summer weather to get out photographing again. Winters have become harder for me in so many ways. My 71-year-old body just wants to stay wrapped in a blanket.

Miscellaneous Stuff

November 12, 2017

Gosh, time flies. It's almost Thanksgiving and i need to get busy and write something. I spent the summer working on a photo project and only minimal other things since then. But i did have a few acceptances:

2017 Invision Photographers Exhibit, Banana Factory, Bethlehem, PA, "The End of the Night"

2017 Open Call, Southeast Center for Photographic Art, Greenville, SC, "Untitled Carnival Photo"

2017 Art Association of Harrisburg member exhibit first place photography, "Mennonite Women"

Only One Shot

June 22, 2017

            These days, the number of shots a camera can do per second in burst mode is apparently a big selling point. I can see the advantage of using burst in certain types of photography such as sports, rodeos, auto races, or other fast moving events. Even some types of photojournalism could benefit from high-speed bursts.

            With street photography, though, I find burst mode unnecessary and impractical. One would think that it would be useful in street photography; people are often moving and catching them at the right moment is critical to getting the right shot. Although burst mode is not a camera feature I pay much attention to, I have tried it occasionally while on the streets. What happens to me, however, is that I raise the camera to take the initial image of an emotional or behavioral moment I observe. Then as the camera continues to fire away, I get shots as it’s being lowered again – blurred images of sidewalks, legs or feet. Not very useful or interesting. Although digital images don’t cost anything to take, process or develop, it’s a waste of time and space on the camera card not to mention the time it takes deleting unwanted images in post. And if I keep the camera to my eye as it fires, I run the risk of the subject in question seeing me. I’m not afraid of being noticed, but I don’t want to insert myself into the moment I’m trying to photograph. I’ll leave that tactic to the Bruce Gilden’s of the street photography world.

            Eric Kim, whose blog I read regularly (http://erickimphotography.com/blog/2013/01/07/timeless-lessons-street-photographers-can-learn-from-robert-franks-the-americans/), described the methods used by one of my favorite photographers, Robert Frank, whose book, The Americans, depicted rural America in the 1950s and was/is one of the most influential photography books of all time. “…when [Frank] had photographed cowboys at Madison square garden or socialites at the toy ball, he had made many exposures of the people and the scenes that interested him, no doubt hoping that an editor would find one of use. But now, with the knowledge that he had plenty of materials, a full year to work on [The Americans], and no one to please but himself, he responded more immediately and intuitively.”

            That sentiment is described more fully in the catalog essay about Robert Frank from Phillips Auction House Just days before reaching Louisiana where this iconic image Trolley, New Orleans was taken, [Frank] was arrested for suspicious activity. He found the experience humiliating, but it amplified his compassion and sharpened his perspective while he photographed "[I] became like a cop watching people, observing them, stealing." His photography style became casual, but acute, with constant movement, quoting his friend Allen Ginsberg "First thought, best thought. .... When one releases a second time, there is already a moment lost." (https://www.phillips.com/detail/ROBERT-FRANK/NY040215/209?fromSearch=rob&searchPage=2)

            Since Frank already channeled Ginsburg to give credence to his photographic style of shooting, let me channel Michael Vronsky (played by Robert DeNiro) in The Deer Hunter to illustrate mine. When on a hunting trip with his buddies, Vronsky gives them the following advice when shooting: “Only one shot. You have to think about one shot. One shot is what it's all about. A deer's gotta be taken with one shot.” What he meant was to aim swiftly and correctly to take the prey cleanly and without suffering. When shooting street, be conscious and aware of what is happening around you so that you can see moments as they unfold. Know your equipment and settings well enough to get the shot on the first try. Be ready mentally and have the camera set for light conditions and what you want your final image to look like (e.g. shallow or deep focus range, high or low key, grain or sharpness, etc.) If you’re pressing the shutter again and again, you not only miss the moment, you could potentially destroy it.


Tooting My Own Horn

May 24, 2017

     Once again, my photos appeared as a Merit Portfolio in Black & White magazine. Three images from my amusement park project are in issue 122.

At a special awards banquet, I received these honors for 2017 from the Harrisburg Camera Club:

           Digital Image of the Year for Shoshone Rest Stop

           2nd Place Print Photographer of  the Year

           3rd Place Digital Photographer of the Year

Getting Here from There

April 24, 2017

Getting Here from There

          About ten years ago, I attended the dedication ceremony of a house of meditation. A friend of mine had a DSLR and a movie camera. While he was filming the ceremony, he asked me to take candid photos of attendees using his DSLR. The camera, a Nikon D50, was set on auto so all I had to do was aim and shoot. I felt comfortable taking candid shots and have always seemed to grab them at just the right moment.

          I had not had a camera for a few years, having sold my Mamiya 35mm film camera on eBay. The Nikon felt comfortable to me and was easy to focus and shoot. Without doing research, I bought one for myself and, keeping the camera on Auto, continued for a couple of years taking candid shots of people and animals.

          Another friend from the House of Meditation had told me she joined the Harrisburg Camera Club and encouraged me to join and participate in their competitions. Of course, my photos were definitely not competition worthy at that time, but I found that listening to the judges’ critiques during the competitions to be a great learning experience. My knowledge of my camera and of photography progressed. And so did my desire to have more and more accessories for the Nikon. What started with a camera that came with an 18-55 lens grew to include a Sigma 18-200 lens, a Nikon 70-300 lens, a 28-80 Nikon lens, a flash attachment, a tripod, camera bag and finally, when I could no longer get what I perceived I wanted with the D50, a Nikon D7000, another faster lens, more filters and a larger camera bag, heavier tripod and ball head.

          Somewhere amid all the acquisitions and experiments, I realized that the photography I loved most was street photography. The event at the House of Meditation should have given me a clue. Photographing people when they were unaware of being photographed and catching them in interesting behaviors and interactions was what I enjoyed.

          I was never happy with the focusing of the D7000, and I found its size and weight too cumbersome for street photography. Talk about being obvious lugging that thing around. A heavy camera with a long lens says “professional photographer” even if you aren’t one. And I’m not getting any younger, so the weight around my neck or on my shoulder was painful within minutes.

          Then someone sent me a review of a new Fuji on the market, the X100s which I then acquired and found its size allowed me to inconspicuously take photos while in a crowd of people or on the street. The design in silver metal looks like an old range finder camera and it is the size of a point and shoot which doesn’t attract attention. It has a plethora of features the Nikon did not and it makes street photography so much easier.

          The D7000 and the D50 and the accoutrements I accumulated sat on the shelf until I sold them.

          I would like to say that I had no desire to acquire another camera, but I can’t. The X100s has a fixed lens and I wanted a camera with the same kind of features but with the ability to change lenses. Enter the Fuji XT1 with an 18-135mm lens. The two Fujis and one lens give me the ability to do all of the kinds of photography I like to do, provide me with enough pixels to enlarge photos to a size I want, and still be able to carry the cameras around the streets without drawing attention to myself or weighing me down. I have no desire to add lenses or flash attachments or filters or any other paraphernalia.

          Was it necessary for me to go through all of that photography gear to get to this point of being satisfied with what I now have and use? To accumulate all of it to discover I don’t need it or need something else? I’ll never know the answer to that, obviously. Changing technology seems to carry with it an addictive desire to constantly upgrade. But at what point do we “find ourselves” photographically and settle on the piece of equipment that allows us to do what we love? At what point do we discover we don’t need all that stuff ? When do we stop fearing the equipment status quo and just concentrate on becoming a better photographer? I hope I have reached my turning point.