Confessions of a Serial Over Processor

I think that it is human nature, when we learn something new, the last aspect we master is moderation!  That is not something that is limited to photography, but I will try to stay in that arena.

One of the real benefits of the technology now at our fingertips is the ease with which we can do incredible work.  Clearly, the main tool is Photoshop.  Because Photoshop is such a dominant force there are lots of extra tools we can use with it to create spectacular images.  To me one of the hardest things to master, and I don’t claim to have fully done that, is the balance between too little and too much.

By now, I think we all understand the concept of letting the camera do as much work as possible.  With a good capture, the post processing needs are less both in quantity and complexity.  There are so many ways that we can work an image.  Each of them can make that image better, or worse.

Following is a short trip through some of the adjustments and techniques that I have managed to overuse:

Temperature: That lovely kelvin number that seems to range an image from blue to red.  For many images small changes to the temperature allow you to go from sunny to cloudy, etc.  Then come the people pictures.  These get real tricky.  Cool an image down too much and your subject looks like they’ve never seen the sun.  Warm it too much and they look like they are totally over made up, affected by a fever or rash, or worse!  Here is an example.  This was shot by one of my mentors who is a top portrait photographer.  The first has the temperature “as shot”.  The other two use standard preset temperatures, tungsten and shade.


Need I say more?

Sharpness:  Good sharpening is a wonderful tool for turning what is a two dimensional medium into three dimensions.  Good sharpening needs to be applied judiciously to selected parts of the image.  That will bring out the features you want to highlight, draw the viewer’s attention to a specific part of that image or even change the emphasis of that image.  It is truly rare that an image will not benefit from some sharpening.  Too much sharpening, either applied uniformly to the entire image or too strong has everything “screaming” at you.

Here’s an example of the difference sharpening can make.  I really like the image.  I hope you can tell which one may be a bit too sharp.


Of course, there are those who would say that a heavy hand on sharpening is just “my style”!  I’ll leave any decision on that up to you.

Saturation:  This is another adjustment where the amount can be construed as part of an individual style.  The reality is that under saturating is really obvious.  One way to create a black and white from a color image is to totally desaturate it!  The other extreme is colors totally blown out almost to the point of distortion.  Those of us who remember the days when psychedelic first happened can remember colors like electric day glow orange that never looked real and were hard on the eyes.  That’s what over saturating can do.  I’m not often guilty of unintentional over saturation.  Here’s an example of where I did that, but intentionally.


I don’t think there is any question about over saturation.  We had an assignment for our club critiques to try things “outside of your comfort zone”.  This clearly fit that bill.  (side note…the cyclist just happened to come into the picture as I snapped it, there is no way I could have planned that!)

HDR: The idea behind HDR is to get multiple shots of the same image at different shutter speeds.  That allows you to get one or more shots that emphasize the brights and highlights, the mid tones and the shadows and darks.  You then merge the images together.  You have to use software for this.  When well done, HDR produces some incredible images.  Truth be told, I still struggle a lot doing these images.  Yes, you can also process a single image via HDR with the same possible pros and cons.  HDR software provides a lot of options for tweaking your image.  These tools are probably the easiest to overuse.  Again there are some folks who think that obvious overuse of HDR is cool.  Here’s an example of how bad/wrong an image can go.  I shot this in Rockport, MA.  Rockport was a serious art colony for a long time and the iconic scene one painted was called Motif #1.


The first image is fairly close to what things actually looked like.  The second image has a lot of aspects blown out, there are artifacts jumping out all over, many of the edges have shadows around them, in other words…yeech!

Add-ins: Add-in tools for Photoshop are designed to allow the photographer to more easily do certain adjustments.  The one I use the most is Silver Efex for converting to black and white.  There are a huge number of these add-ins, including HDR tools.  When used judiciously, these tools can really take a lot of the work out of enhancing an image.  If you are not observant when using them, you run the risk of so over exaggerating one or more aspects of the image that it becomes unrecognizable.

The bottom line, the tools we have at our disposal today are terrific.  They allow us to do incredible things with our images.  The best example I can use to emphasize the two aspects is to think of power tools ( you know drills, saws, routers, etc.)  Used properly, they let me build some really neat “stuff”.  Used improperly, you’ll probably have to call me “lefty”!

Events…When You’re Shooting Where Someone Else Is Working

This is a topic that has irked me for some time, so I’m going to vent and express my opinions…

Several years ago, we were invited to a wedding where I was asked to take some candids.  I mentioned this to one of my mentors who asked if a wedding photographer had been hired.  When I said yes, he cautioned me to be careful as there are any number of wedding photographers who have been known to walk out if they see others coming with “serious” gear.  I initially had mixed feelings about such a reaction.  As it turned out, the couple hadn’t engaged anyone to video the actual ceremony, so I volunteered.

When we got to the venue, I introduced myself to the “official” photographers.  I also explained that I would be shooting video during the ceremony and told them if I was in their way for a shot to tell me and I’d move.  They seemed to appreciate it.  We are very old friends with one side of the wedding, so on a couple of occasions, when I saw what was a must get shot, I would point it out to one of the working photographers.  I always got a thank you, and made a conscious effort not to be a know it all or a pest.

A year or two later, we were at another wedding where we knew one side for a long time.  One of the groom’s relatives is an amateur photographer who believes in the big numbers theory of photography.  If you’re not familiar with this theory, it goes like this…don’t worry about the rules of composition, exposure, etc.  Take enough pictures and you’ll get a few good ones.  So this person proceeded to shove their way into every possible scenario, including getting in the way when the pros were setting up the standard wedding party shots.  I have to give the pros a lot of credit for dealing with it very diplomatically.

More recently, I was asked to shoot a bridal shower.  The bride and one of my daughters have been best friends since they were little girls.  Of course I said yes, and it was done gratis.  I got hit with the same silliness.  One or two of the guests had their cameras and were just about throwing elbows to get me out of the way for their shots.  Fortunately, I have strong ribs.

I’ve even heard of weddings, in particular, where they actually had to stop the ceremony and “ask” people to sit down and get their phones out of the way so that the video and still pros could do their jobs.  Wouldn’t you just love to have the pictures of you walking down the aisle with your family and friends blocked by people’s phones?

I didn’t make up any of the above!  When I go to any event where someone is being paid to shoot the event, I make it a point to stay away from their shots.  Further, as an invited guest, I probably have more insight into relationships among the other guests and what might make a good memories type shot of people outside the very immediate family, wedding party, etc.  When I can, I get the folks who are working get the shot, but that isn’t always possible.  I don’t come away from these events with hundreds of shots.  Rather I get those shots that I think will be well received.  These shots are often outside of the typical event shots.

At one wedding, part of the ceremony was for the bride and groom to put a lock on a heavy chain.  The lock had two keys so they each took one and the tossed them into the pond around the venue.  It was a very sweet little part of the ceremony.  When everyone had moved away from there, I went back and got some shots of that lock.  A few weeks later, the bride and groom got an extra gift…we had that shot put on note cards.  We heard that they loved them.


As I recall, this phenomenon of everyone taking pictures at weddings, etc. started in the pre digital days.  We would go to an event and there would be disposable cameras on the tables.  The guests were encouraged to take pictures with them and turn the cameras in when they left.  Remember, in those days we used film and getting the images out of the camera typically cost money.

We have reached a point where we need to set out the etiquette for guests taking pictures.  I’d like to propose the following which could be given to guests as they arrive:

We are looking forward to sharing with you.  We do ask that you observe these simple requests when taking pictures, video, audio, etc.  Please stay in your seat during the ceremony.  Please keep any cameras, phones or other recording devices within the confines of your seat during the ceremony.  We have hired the services of professional photographers and videographers to record the event for us.  Please do not interfere with their work.  Let them do their jobs the same way that you would appreciate others letting you do your work.  Please respect others’ privacy, if they do not want to be in a picture or video don’t include them.  If you decide to post pictures, videos, etc. online, please make sure that those in them agree.  As a guest you have no rights to sell any images, videos, etc. for profit without first getting permission of everyone in them!

So what’s your opinion?  What are your experiences with shooting at events as either the paid photographer or a guest?  I’d love to see a small discussion starting.

(Editorial note:  This post is light on images as the shots from events all involve family and friends who are not always big on having more pictures of them posted online)

Taking A Walk Through History

We recently spent some time with friends in Virginia.  While there we visited the Frontier Culture Museum in Staunton, VA.  We are big fans of historical restorations and have visited many of them.  The Frontier Culture Museum is different from any that I’ve been to.  It traces the routes of early America from where the settlers originated and then follows development through the nineteenth century.  There is an emphasis on sharing both the conditions that existed in the various locales as well as how the people from each location contributed to the growth and development of America.

The walk through history starts in the “old countries”.  One thing that makes this museum special is that the first origin is in Africa to document what home was like for those who were forced to come here.

Picture of an 18th century west African family house

This house is part of a walled family compound.  They’ve had some problems with the wall as the weather in that part of Virginia is quite different from Africa.  You can see some black plastic covering a part of the wall in need of repair.  The guide here was not in period costume.  She was very well informed and I learned plenty form her.  She was actually cooking time and place appropriate food on a small fire when we were there.  We found the same in several other locations.

From there we moved to an English farm from the seventeenth century.  The building looks to be a cross between ramshackle and sturdy.

Picture of an 18th Century English farm house

We learned that this house would have belonged to a reasonably successful person.  The unusual color is from some of the local building materials and pigments.  The room on the second floor with the window is the master bedroom.  It was a bit cramped to get a good shot, so I ended up taking three and stitching them together in my first pano.

Picture of the master bedroom in the 18th century English farm house

The English farm included some sheep, a pond with ducks and some other livestock.  From there, we followed the path to the Irish section.  First we cam onto the Irish Forge.  This is also an eighteenth century building.  the style of architecture and overall affluence are very different.

18th century Irish forge

This is a working forge.  Unfortunately the blacksmith was on a break when we got there.  I’ve long been fascinated by the way the old smiths worked and what it took to make things that we consider cheap and disposable.  Just up the path from the forge is the Irish farm house.  Again, this is typical of the conditions for most Irish farmers of the period.  This house consisted of just two rooms, one where the family lived, worked, ate, slept, etc. The other had a loom where they wove flax into cloth.

Inside the Irish farm house

Yes, I’ll admit it, I did “play” with some HDR on this shot.  The character interpreter in this house was very interesting.  He explained how a combination of weather and greedy landlords forced many an Irish farmer to come the “the colonies” out of economic need.  This farm had cows, pigs and sheep among other animals.

The final Old World farm was the German one.  This is another eighteenth century farm.  The farmers in this type of farm were again more affluent than those we saw in the Irish farm.  This house had several rooms.

The 18th century German farm house

The very friendly “hausfrau” explained how the inheritance laws in Germany resulted in many Germans needing to come here.  In those days, each of the heirs got and equal share of the farm.  After a couple of generations, that would divide a farm into parcels that were too small to support a family.  Notice the difference in the quality and style of furnishings here as opposed to the Irish farm.

We then, symbolically, crossed the Atlantic.  The first family settlement we came to was native American.  This settlement had suffered from weather and fire damage.  I was very disappointed with the shots I took there, so I’m not including any.  The representative there, while not in costume was very knowledgeable about the native Americans in that area and was directing the rebuilding efforts.

The first American-European exhibit was from the 1740s.  This log cabin reminded me of the Irish farm in terms of the simplicity and rustic nature.

1740s American log cabin

Another part of me also thinks of Abe Lincoln studying by the fire…yes I know he would have done that in Illinois.  Either way, this house looked to be strictly functional with few luxuries.  Notice, no windows!

The final exhibit was a grouping of three buildings, two farms from the mid nineteenth century and a school house.  These last two farm houses were much larger and showed how far people had come both technically and economically.

Picture of the 1820s farm house

This is the 1820s farm house.  We were told by the character interpreter that it was actually built in two parts.  Regardless, it is quite large and spacious. The rooms inside are larger and more open than the older farms.  The final farm is from the 1850s.  We did not see that much change in the thirty years between the two.  At that time, the women were still cooking over an open fire.

Picture of a woman cooking over a fire in the 1850s house

This lady was really cooking!  The food smelled very good.  I thought it interesting that with all the other advancements at these farms, they didn’t have a cooking stove.

This was a quicky preview of what there is to see.  It is far from all encompassing.

The museum has a very nice visitor’s center which includes an informative film describing the various exhibits.  There are numerous artifacts from the several periods on display in the visitor center.  For those who must have a souvenir, yes there is a gift shop too. The gift shop sells some of the best fudge you’ll ever eat.

The Frontier Culture Museum is one of those jewels that more people should know about.  They do a terrific job of showing where ALL Americans come from.  If you’re going anywhere near there you should seriously consider a visit.

Full disclosure… I have no interest, financial or otherwise in the Frontier Culture Museum.  I am not being paid to write this.  For that matter, they don’t know that I am writing this post about them!

Yes, It’s Okay To Play!

When I was in school, the great sage advice was to find a job/career where you can do what you love.  That way you’re not working but having fun.  It sounds good, but jobs like that are very hard to find.  I did try.  The mattress companies told me that they weren’t looking for testers!

I have worked at jobs that I really enjoyed.  Somehow, those are the jobs that were transitory.  If you’ve been following my posts, you know that I am currently working at being a photographer.  Yes, I love photography, and have since I was a kid.  I don’t have delusions that I will be the next great photographer.  I do think that I can bring some joy to others with my images and would like to make that self supporting.

I recently started working freelance doing real estate photography.  You know those shots that are now standard whenever a home is for sale.  I’ll be honest, this is not they type of photography I aspire to.  It is photography, I do get paid for taking pictures and learn some new tricks and techniques.

One of the requirements for doing the real estate work is that I need to shoot with a 10mm lens.  If you’re not seriously into photography, 10mm is an extreme wide angle lens and can be prone to distortions.  I ordered the new lens (Tamron 10-24) and it came very quickly.  I’ve been shooting through the same camera long enough that it didn’t take any time to put everything together and have the lens ready to go.

I decided that before doing any real estate work I should take the new lens out for a spin.  To put it another way, go out and play for the afternoon.  I didn’t have any specifics in mind.  I just packed up the camera, etc. and went to one of our local towns where I haven’t done much shooting.  This was to be a walking adventure so I left the tripod at home.

When I go out shooting, I’m not constantly checking my images in the camera.  Yes I do check the built in histogram periodically to be sure I’m getting good exposure.  On this little outing, I spent more time checking images to see how the lens worked.  The widest lens that I had used was 28mm, so I figured how much of a difference can 18mm make?  An amazing difference.  I’m used to the idea that if I’m shooting and there is a pole or some other “truly meaningful” thing to the left or right, no problem.  The Tamron has a 109 degree angle of view.  That’s pretty close to anything in front of the camera, so I had to adjust how i position myself relative to the subject.  The other thing I noticed immediately is the distortion.   I’m used to my Nikon lenses that are very accurate in terms of WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get).

image looking down a street with converging buildings
Tunnel view

I’ve always wondered how to achieve this effect.  After taking some shots elsewhere, I came to this pedestrian plaza and took a few shots from one knee.  I really like how the pavement and buildings all seem to converge to the back/center of the image.  I do so love the law of unintended consequences!

As kids, the reason that we play is because we have fun.  Of course, while doing that we learn all kinds of things.  Clearly I was getting the maximum benefit of my play.

I continued walking.  I soon came on the county courthouse.  The original building is one of those great classic court buildings.  Again, I was amazed at how close I had to get to the building to only get what I wanted into the image.

Courthouse straight on view
Courthouse straight on view

On this image, I did use Photoshop to take out the distortion.  I’m totally amazed at how much is in the image.  In another few weeks the trees will be in full bloom making a shot like this impossible.  I was fortunate that it was a fairly sunny day so I got the nice blue sky and some interesting clouds.  I suspect that the lens had something to do with the clouds appearing to be focused around the top of the courthouse.  With my Nikon 28-300 lens a shot like this would have needed two or three exposures stitched together as a pano.

There is the obligatory artillery piece outside the courthouse, just off to the right of this image.  Feeling emboldened by the early results, I decided to go to the corner to take a three quarters shot.

Courthouse three quarters view
Courthouse three quarters view

Okay, I admit it, I need some more practice straightening some of the distortion.  I still like the result.  There is so much captured in this image, I’m amazed at what this lens can do.

I’ll spare you the step by step descriptions.  Eventually I found myself at the railroad station.  I took some shots as I went up to the platform.  What I really wanted to play with was the long view down the tracks.  My earlier shots had me thinking that I could get some really interesting shots.

color image on the railroad platform
Looking west on the railroad platform

Needless to say, I wasn’t disappointed.  The building rooflines, the tracks and yellow warning strips provide some great leading lines.  I didn’t do much with the distortion on these images.  Having taken the shots under the station roof facing west, I went to the other end of the platform to take some shots looking east.

Black and white on the railroad platform
Looking east on the railroad platform

Once again I got some really “neat” effects.  The light poles start to create that leading line into the station.  If you look carefully, you can see a very full parking lot off to the right and of course the tacks going off into infinity.

I wish I could spend more time playing and getting these results.  To be honest, there were also a lot of images that did not come out nearly as well as the ones above.  That’s the thing about playing, sometimes you win and sometimes you don’t.  The real fun is in the trying and learning.  My advice to you, go out and play, it’s fun and can be very rewarding!

Are You Growing Your Craft?

I need to start out by apologizing for not having posted for several weeks.  Sometimes “stuff” gets in the way of what’s important.  One very relevant thing was that I did a guest post for Leanne Cole’s excellent site.  The topic was winter photography  The responses were numerous and positive so I am very grateful to Leanne for allowing me to guest.  In case you missed that posting, you can see it here.

I’ve enjoyed photography since I was a kid.  When I started out, I also learned some of the basics of processing, printing, etc.  Yes that was back in the film days.  Back then, there were not nearly as many opportunities to learn.  There were books and magazines, a limited number of classes, some clubs and if you were lucky mentoring and good old trial and error.  At that time, trial and error were expensive because film, chemicals, paper, etc. all added cost.

Some time back I wrote about the many types of photography.  Now the question is how well do you embrace them.  As a combination of artist and technician we photographers can only get better at our craft by practicing it. One thing that I have learned in doing just that is that each type of photography has its own unique characteristics and techniques.  Another fun thing I have learned is, to paraphrase Yogi Berra, the more you know, the more you know!


My serious learning path started several years ago.  At that time, I was using my camera in auto or presets mode and capturing jpegs. (okay enough laughter)  I was also taking the pictures off the camera and that was that.  Then I started learning.  At first, it was about some post processing via books and websites.  Then I met some more skilled, experienced photographers who got me shooting in RAW either in aperture or full manual mode (I’m not going to get into a debate on Raw vs jpeg here).  They also got me to start processing via Lightroom and Photoshop.  That’s when my images started getting much better.  Let’s face it, mastering Photoshop is not a small task and while I’m nowhere near a “master”, I manage.

I started looking at pictures differently.  I would look at an image I liked and ask why I like it, what did the photographer do to make this image interesting, etc.  All of that led me to start looking at the different types of photography.  I must also include that in that time frame I joined our local photo club which also introduced me to new techniques and methods.  Truth be told, none of us will ever master all types of photography.  Much as I might like to, I doubt that I’ll ever be a high fashion photographer or that I’ll be creating images of the inside of living organisms among other things.

That doesn’t mean that many other types of photography are closed to me, or that I can’t benefit from learning techniques that work especially well in those areas.  Most of my early pictures were nature, family gatherings and “how I spent my summer vacation”.  I know that I have improved the images I take in these areas through a combination of practice and learnings.  I have also gotten into some new types of photography.


The first of these was serious black and white.  A few years ago had you told me that I’d be loving B&W I’d have simply told you no way.  It has taken some time and practice as well as some excellent software (Silver Efex and BW Effects).  Some of the early results were nothing great.  Therein lies a big lesson, keep at it, be self critical and get constructive criticism.  I can’t overstate how important all three are.

Another area that I’ve gotten much more interested in is urban/street photography.  I had always admired good street photography.  Probably my first exposure to it was the iconic VJ Day Kiss.  What I love about street photography is that it gives me the opportunity to show people and life as they really are.  Showing them in black and white makes it easier to show the “essence” of the image.  Again what got me interested in trying my hand was a presentation on some key aspects of this specialty.  Ironically, many of my best “street” shots show in black and white.  That’s another benefit of growing in all directions._DSC0766BWCOu

One amusing side from the everything old is new again department is that lately I’m also experimenting some with square images.  Some cameras will shoot that way.  Mine doesn’t.  In the right circumstances, it creates some great results.

I’m not going to rant on about the other aspects beyond saying that I’ve gotten much better at portrait type shots as well as candids.  I’ve also learned a number of tricks and techniques in post processing that can help to turn a good image into something special.DSC_3801COu

I’ll finish up with perhaps the most important lesson of all.  Let the camera do as much of the work as possible.  I know this sounds really simple, but to most people it is anything but.  Today’s cameras are very sophisticated computers.  There’s a lot that they can do to improve on the images they capture.  Take the time to go through the manual, learn and understand how and when to use those features.  It’s a lot easier to get all those elements right in the camera than it is to get them in via post processing.

Please feel free to offer comments, provide constructive criticism or ask questions.  I love hearing from you.

Making the World a Better Place

We’ve taken lots of shots, had some that we thought were the greatest thing since Ansel Adams and worked diligently to grow our craft.  If you’ve been lucky, you’ve also managed to sell some of your work.  But there is another side to all these beautiful images.

Photography is an art form that brings beauty, reality, information and emotion to the world.  Unlike most other art forms, producing copies of a great photo is pretty straight forward.  If you’re talking digital, it takes a few mouse clicks.  If you’re talking prints, it takes a bit more, but it’s still not a long involved and tedious process.  By comparison think of what it takes for a visual artist to do numbered prints.  (If you are not familiar with printmaking, check here.)

I am a strong believer in sharing, giving back, helping others, doing what I can to make the world a better place.  As photographers, we have a unique opportunity to accomplish good with our cameras, our skill and our time.  There are many different ways to do this.  I’m not proposing one over another.  What I get out of doing good works with my images is that warm feeling when people are able to benefit from my actions.  Think in terms of donating to charity or volunteering at a soup kitchen.

Here are a few of the ways that I’m aware of where people are using their images for the good of others.

At the top of the list is one of my mentors, Jim LaSala.  Jim is one of the truly gifted photographers out there.  He has dedicated countless hours to documenting the plight of the Haitian people since the earthquake several years ago. His images are some of the finest photographs you will ever see, both artistically and technically.  He has made any number of trips there at his own expense, because as far as he is concerned, it is the right thing to do.

A number of my friends volunteer to be photographers for specific charities or charitable events.  I know a number of photographers who volunteer to take pictures at big charity events (think Susan B. Koman walks for the cure).  They will spend all day, often under less than ideal conditions taking pictures that are either given to the subjects or sold back to the subjects by the charity as a fund raiser.

One friend has been the official photographer for the local Cub Scout Pine box Derby.  I know he got started because he had a grandson in the Cub Scout pack.  Since then he likes to tell us how thrilled the kids are to see high quality images of the cars that they have worked so hard to build.

Our photo club is working on a couple of initiatives.  We have a number of shows and exhibits each year.  For these shows, the images are typically 16 x 20 inches or bigger, matted and framed.  We all enjoy participating in the shows.  When the show season is over we are faced with the question, now what do I do with them.  To answer that, we’ve started a program where local charities can choose from a variety of donated, framed prints to use in their fundraising activities.

We are also putting together a portrait day in concert with four local charities.  The idea is that we will provide the photographers, cameras, lights, backdrops, etc.  The charities will publicize the event to their members and supporters.  There is a charge for each sitting which is paid directly to the charity.  In return, the supporter gets a high quality 5×7 print as well as a hi res digital file of the image.

Okay, so at this point you are probably saying talk is cheap, what am I doing?  I’m on the committee that is putting the shoots together. Working with one other member we started the pictures for charity pitch.  As the club webmaster, I also manage getting the images online so that the charities can see them.  (cheap self promotion time) If you take a look at my website, you’ll see that I tell anyone wanting to use my images for educational, religious, spiritual purposes, or to promote yoga (another of my passions) should contact me as I am honored to have my images used for those purposes.

I’ve been going on retreat to the same Jesuit retreat house for a very long time.  I’ve managed to get some wonderful images of meaningful places around the house and property.  I’ve shared any number of those images with the house.  Last year, I decided to go a step farther.  I started making 3×5 cards using some of these images and give them anonymously to my fellow retreatants.  They are laid out on a table with a sign saying please take on or two.  Every year, they “sell out”.  Each year as I get more images, I create new cards.  Here’s a sample.

Picture of a stained glass window

If you ask people who go on retreat to this house what are your favorite places/things in the house, this window is almost always one of the top things mentioned.  I don’t get paid for  the cards, in fact I incur a small cost because I print them.  What I get back from them is seeing how much they are enjoyed.  Several of my fellows go out of their way to thank me and tell me how much they enjoy them and how meaningful they are.

We are always hearing about the bad and the ugly in the world.  We are overloaded with tacky selfies and mealies (is that a word) that have us asking what made the poster think anyone is interested in it.  As serious photographers, we have the opportunity to not only bring some beauty to the world, we have the opportunity to help those less fortunate than ourselves.

It’s Supposed To Be Fun!

Picture of the Molly Malone statue in Dublin

A wise person once told us to do what you love, because then it never seems to be work!  That was one of the rationales for my embarking on this journey into photography.

I’ve always enjoyed photography.  No matter how much I try, I can’t narrow down why into one thing.  Some of the reasons…it gives me and my total lack of visual arts talent the chance to create beautiful images, people seem to enjoy what I produce, so giving them that joy makes me happy, there’s some combination of the artist and technician…you get the idea.

I got my first real camera when I was thirteen, a lot of years ago.  Back then, we shot film because there was noting else.  I learned some basic darkroom techniques with black and white and had a lot of fun with it.  I took a number of pictures that were printed for family and friends and always got nice “thank yous” and “how nice”.

The first image that got me that warm, I did something nice, feeling was a black and white candid I got of my best friend’s father.  I did all the processing and printing (the printing left something to be desired) and gave the only print to my friend’s mother.  She put the picture in a frame and to this day it is still on display after various moves.

Fast forward a number of years.  When I was in my twenties I bought a Nikormat.  I wanted a “serious” 35mm SLR, but wasn’t ready to spend the money on the Nikon F.  That was when I started trying to be a bit more serious.  i can remember being out with my wife (then girlfriend) and her lamenting about how many shots was I going to take of the same thing?  For me that was learning, understanding how the different settings impact the picture.

All that practice paid off.  I got some very memorable pictures of our kids growing up.  What better use for a camera?  Was that fun? You bet!

Then came digital.  After playing with it for several years, I started getting more serious.  I spent more time taking the shots, got some serious glass, etc.  When I joined our local photo club, I also got serious software for post processing.

Throughout the process, I was learning and having fun.  Yes there have been times when I’ve struggled with deadlines, getting the annual calendars ready, preparing for shows, getting event pictures processed and out.  I’m sure you’ve had the same experience.  There have also been the frustrations over why I couldn’t get the image to look exactly as I thought it should. Through all of it, I’ve kept on learning and it remains fun.  That’s the important thing.

As you may know, in addition to photography, I’ve been involved with yoga for a number of years.  Each summer I go to “Yoga Camp” for fun and to get my PDUs to maintain my teaching certifications.  I bring camera gear to these for a number of reasons.  I can video the presentations so that I can review them later.  I also try to get some good shots of my fellow campers that I share with them.  Anyway, a couple of years ago, I was chatting with one of my fellow yogis.  He saw me working on the days images.  What he told me was that he had been a professional studio photographer for many years.  By his description of the work he did he was quite good and successful.  My obvious question to him was why had he left the profession.  His answer, “it stopped being fun”!

The image at the top of this post is one I took of the Molly Malone statue in Dublin.  This shot is multiple fun.  First it reminds me of a fun trip to Ireland, then the characters in it are having fun and finally, I’ve worked on it any number of times as my skill set has grown and I like it better and better.

More on What Do You See

In this post, I want to talk about seeing one thing, light!  Like it or not, photography is about light more than anything else.  If you doubt that, try taking a picture in a totally dark room, what do you get…total black aka nothing.  I’m going to touch on a number of aspects of light.  Each of these topics can cover volumes, so if anything I mention piques your curiosity, please do your own follow up research.

The first thing to understand about light is that our eyes are much better at perceiving and interpreting it than any of our cameras.  Yes the cameras are getting better, but they still have a long way to go.  To use a little techno speech, our eyes are analog devices, that is they see light along a continuous spectrum that we think of as visible light.  Our digital cameras need to break colors down into numbers.  The camera has three color sensors.  Each pixel registers a certain amount of red, blue and green.  Each of these is translated into a number from 0 to 255.  (Yes I know 16 bit goes up to 65,000)  When all three have a value of zero you get white, when they are all 255 you get black.  When all three have the same value other than 0 or 255, you get shades of gray.  It is the blending of the three values that produce all the colors your camera captures.

What’s your angle: Where is your light source?  For simplicity, let’s consider just the free one, the sun.  The angle of the sun to the horizon is hugely important.  There are photographers who will only shoot outdoors when the sun is close to the horizon.  The hour or so before the sun rises and after it sets are known as blue light.  The hour starting when the sun rises and ending when it sets are golden light.  These produce some incredible images, strictly because the angle of the light interacts with elements in the atmosphere to create these wonderful colors.  The following image is an example of golden light at sunset.


You can see all the beautiful colors in the sky which make shooting in this light so special.  Notice, that without filters or blending exposures, the capture of the great light in the sky causes most of the rest of the image to be under exposed!  You can’t see much detail on the couple on the beach, but in this case, I don’t think you need to.  The message or sentiment is clearly there.

The opposite of this light is the bright of day.  Whether shooting around noon when the sun is pretty much overhead or earlier/later with the sun in full view creates some very different light.  In this light, it is easy for colors to wash out and the image to be high contrast.  The farther from noon one gets in this light, the more you start to see shadows.  Shooting in this light can be tricky.  You need to understand what it is you are likely to get and work accordingly.  Shots in this light often convert well to black and white.

Following are two versions of the same shot.  It was taken mid afternoon on a clear bright day.  I had to do a bunch of post processing to offset the bright sunshine.  Interestingly, there’s been some discussion among my colleagues and friends as to whether the shot works better with or without the three people walking in the surf.


Here’s the same shot converted into Black and White.  To me, while I know that these two are the same shot, they strike me as two completely different images conveying different messages and meanings.


Well, I’ve once again gone on and on.  There’s still plenty to talk about on the subject of light and a few other things about seeing like the camera.  I may start interspersing these with some other topics in the weeks ahead.  As always, I’d love to get your comments and feedback on this or any of my postings.

What Do You See?

One of the hardest things about learning to be a real photographer is learning to see what the camera  sees.  The amusing side of this is the old portrayal of a Hollywood type making an open box with his thumbs and forefingers and trying to frame a shot.  While these portrayals are usually done for comedic effect, there is a point to it.  The human eye sees a lot more than most cameras do!

I’m sure we’ve all had the experience of thinking we’ve taken a great shot only to take the image off the camera and groan.  What’s the reason, there are many.  I’ll start looking at some of them, and if there’s too many for one posting, I’ll spread it over two or more:

Look in the Corners:  When composing an image, we tend to look at the main part of the image.  Take the time to look at more than just what’s in the center of your view.  There are a number of threads on Facebook, etc. that just love to show these kinds of goofs.  (I’ll let you research those)  The classics are things like a loving couple walking down the street only to have a truck in the background with wording or pictures that distract the viewer and effectively ruin the image.  Clearly there are limits on how effectively you can do this depending on the type of shooting you are doing.  If you’re working on scenic, nature shots, there’s little excuse.  On the other hand if you’re doing candids at a wedding, it can be very hard to get the happy couple and not Uncle Harry doing something silly close by.

I don’t have an Uncle Harry, so I’ll use the following as an example.


I took this shot some years ago.  We had planted peppers and my wife wanted some pictures.  Okay, there is a picture of the yellow pepper growing.  There is also way too much “stuff” in the shot.  The hummingbird feeder, or at least part of it dropping in from the top, the road and parked cars in the background.  You get the point.  I don’t have a “good” version of this one.

I Can See for Miles: How often have you taken a shot of some really nice flowers from five or more feet away?  The result is usually the flowers are very pretty and very lost in the bigger image.  I usually try to fill most of the frame with whatever it is I am trying capture.  There is a but to this.  When taking portraits, macros, sports and other action type shots yes, you need some space.  For action shots to convey movement there needs to be space to the direction of the action (e.g. don’t have the front wheel of the bicycle at the edge of the shot!).  If you’re doing big views, landscapes, etc., yes you need to fill the frame.

Let’s use the following shot as an example:


In this shot I was looking to get the long view across the ice with the many details and reflections.  If I was trying to get the large pine tree and the details around it, I failed miserably.  Now let’s consider actually getting that tree.


This image does a much better job capturing that tree.  What I wanted to convey was not just here is a tree, but put it in its natural setting and make it clear that it’s winter and that the sun is setting.  I’d like to think I accomplished that.

So, I’ve babbled on enough to get through two areas.  In the next installment, I’ll continue looking at learning to see like the camera.  Please feel free to add any of your experiences, goofs or techniques in this area.

The Eye of the Beholder

One of the really hard lessons we all need to learn is that everybody sees things differently.  I’m not talking about my seeing something and calling it a tree while you call it a peanut butter sandwich.  The reality is that we all have different experiences and education which significantly influences how we see things.

As a photographer, I always try to capture meaningful images.  Yes, what is meaningful?  If all I am trying to do is capture images for myself, the job is easy…shoot what I like, end of story.  Most of us need to have a broader view.  In some cases it’s because that’s what your customer wants, perhaps you’ve been asked to capture a family function or something else where many others are looking to you to record an event in a way that will be meaningful to many people.

Perhaps my first lesson in this arena came quite a few years ago when I was best man for a college buddy.  While the groom and I were waiting in the church, the photographer came to get shots of the groom.  The photographer really wanted to take some shots of the groom with his chin resting in his hand, looking whimsically skyward.  There might have been some poses that were more atypical of the groom, but we couldn’t think of any.  My buddy made it very clear to the photographer those shots were not going to happen!

One thing that I do like to do is to create several versions of the same image through differences in their treatment and ask a group of people one question…which do you like best and why?  The amusing part to this exercise is that there is almost never a consensus on one image or one reason why!

Following are three versions of the same image.  I took the shot about a year ago in the morning golden light.  The setting is on the grounds of a retreat house where I have been going every January for many years, so I always try to get shots that capture the spiritual feel of the place.

What I ask of you is to leave a comment telling me which you prefer and why.  (If you don’t like any, that’s fine, please tell me why.)  Depending on how many people read and respond, you might find it interesting to check back a couple of days after you post your preferences.

The first image is the original color image.  That is followed by two black and white treatments.  For simplicity’s sake, let’s call them 1, 2 and 3 starting with the color version.

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Taking this theme farther, we get into the idea of photographing people.  I know there is a very strong branch of photography around glamour shots.  These can be for magazine covers, product endorsements or publicity for the subject.  To me that category of image only shows a very superficial view of the person.  Those images are in the same category as the Barbie doll!  They are typically processed to remove some editor’s definition of every flaw, blemish and imperfection.  While they show that stylized ideal, to me they are not real!

To me the real art and beauty in photographing people comes in capturing the inner beauty and personality of the subject.  In many cases the person or image would be an absolute fail in terms of the mass market idea of beauty.  To me, however, that is the real beauty.

Capturing this kind of beauty, and again everyone sees it differently, is very different than how one gets the glamour shots.  I find that the way I get the best results is shooting candids, often from a distance so that the subject does not even know that they are bing photographed.  Yes I know there are huge discussions out there on the pros and cons of this, but that’s a topic for a different posting.  Almost everyone changes when they know that they are being photographed.  This is not so much based on deep rooted vanity so much as an inbred reaction from our society.

So what brings out the inner beauty?  First and foremost, the eyes.  Remember the old saying that the eyes are a window to the soul?  In this case that is absolutely true.  The eyes convey feeling, expression, mood and so much more.  The structure of the face, its features and complexities are the other big component.  In this environment, the nose typically is not the result of plastic surgery, often the glamour folks would scream that it needs that!  Is the skin smooth and flawless?  Not at all.  Life creates wrinkles, creases and blemishes.  Some would call them character lines.  These are the things that distinguish us.  They show that we have experienced life, both the ups and the downs and how they have effected us.  All of these little pieces help to convey a sense of dignity that tell our individual stories better than all the make up and retouching in the world.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about.


This gentleman is one of my favorite subjects.  Take a good look at the image.  Is this classically beautiful? No. Does the face tell many stories of a life? Absolutely.  To me what makes this image special is the way it conveys a quite dignity.  I will leave it up to you to put your own story around this image.  That’s one of the great things about this type of shot.  To me images like this (even if I haven’t made them) are the kind that can pull at your heart strings, no words required.  That is one of the truly great things that a well made image can do better than almost anything else.