Being on the Other Side of the Camera


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If you’re like me, you spend a lot of time behind the camera, taking pictures of others.  Being the photographer does have some advantages.  One disadvantage is that while I have lots of shots of other people, there aren’t many shots of me.

I recently realized that I needed a head shot for use on some social sites where such things matter.  As far as I know there are two ways to get these shots, do them yourself or ask someone.  As anyone who knows me will attest, I’m no fan of the classic “selfie”.  I put my camera on the tripod, set everything for taking the shot and with remote in hand got to work.  After a number of efforts and a fair amount of suppressed giggling by my wife, I gave up on “shooting myself” because based on the results that’s what I wanted to do!.

Plan B…I called one of the pros who mentor our photo club and asked if he would do me a favor and snap a few shots of me against one of the white studio walls, using my camera.  I was clear that I wasn’t looking for a portrait shoot with the requisite lighting and all that goes with it.  He said sure, come on over.

When I got there, he and his partner (both named Jim) were there.  They both stopped what they were doing and the next thing I knew the lights were coming out, there was a neutral background behind me and I was sitting on a stool with one foot on a footrest being posed.  One of the Jims is one of the best portrait photographers out there.  Of course, he was giving directions, taking the shots, etc.  I knew it was pointless to protest that this was way more than I was looking for.  Being serious professionals, anything they shoot will be done right or not at all.

When we were done, I thanked them most profusely and came home to take care of post processing.  Yes even when the best photographer in the world is taking the shots, images captured in RAW need some work.  Of course, there were a number of very nice shots (considering the subject).

I’ve worked on a lot of shots of others portrait, groups, candids, etc.  But somehow, seeing myself looking out at me from the screen was very different.  Yes I did do a little retouching, the same as I would for anyone.  No, I didn’t totally alter my appearance, it really looks like me.  The other challenge was putting a background behind me.  I know the technicals for doing that.  However, figuring out what background, colors, theme, etc. is something that I’ve never been very good at.  I finally got all the pieces in place and am pleased with the result.

I’ve gotten some very nice, positive feedback on the shots, so it was clearly worth the effort.  No, I’m not going to post the results here.  The image at the top is just a caricature of my reaction when people ask for it!  (It was taken at this year’s NJ Festival of Ballooning)

What about you?  What are your experiences with pictures of yourself?

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The Best Place To Shoot And How


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One thing I encounter very regularly is photographers lamenting that if they lived near <pick a famous scenic place> their work would look much better…WRONG! (I’d user more colorful language but this is not an adults only page!)  Yes, it would be wonderful if I could just walk out my door into the High Sierras, but just like having the most expensive camera available won’t make you a great photographer, living close by famous subjects won’t either.

Among the things that make iconic shots we get, subject, lighting, composition, you know them all too.  But the part that many people forget is that photography while an art is also a craft.  The only way to improve that craft is by practice.  Wherever you live, there are great shots to be taken.  The advantage that “locals” have is that they get to take those shots over and over again.  Doing that accomplishes several things.  It provides a body of work on a single subject, it allows the photographer to work with different angles and compositions and just as important it lets you discover the best light and other conditions.

I live in central New Jersey.  Some folks feel sorry for me for that.  We don’t have grand high peaks or iconic seashores here.  That’s okay.  We do have plenty of open spaces, farm land and lots of other scenery.  One of my favorite places to shoot is at Duke Farms.  That was the private estate of Doris Duke.  In her will, she left as an environmental learning center that is open to the public free of charge.  When I first went there camera in hand, let’s just say the results were less then spectacular.  Since then I’ve been there in all seasons and varying times of day.  Now, people come to me for advise on when and where to shoot at “Dukes”.  Earlier this year, two of my friends put together an exhibit of pictures of and about natural New Jersey.  The exhibit NJ 350 Elements was hosted at Duke Farms.  More spectacular, this was a juried show where the winning images were printed on satin 60″ x 40″ and displayed outdoors!  The picture at the top of this posting is my submission that was part of the exhibit.  Even more exciting, Duke Farms has commissioned prints of the three images in the show that depicted different parts of their facility (including mine).

I grew up in northern Manhattan.  I am in “the old neighborhood” quite often.  Yes the ethnicity has evolved and what types of stores are there has changed.  But beyond that, it’s remarkably like it was when I was a kid.  It was prowling around that neighborhood with y camera that I started taking urban and street shots.  Some folks tell me that I’m actually getting better at it!  The shot below is an example of how much change stays the same.

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The other side of where to shoot and when is all about being prepared.  Ask any top professional about what they do to prepare for a shoot somewhere away from home, and I’ll bet you get the same answer over and over.  DO YOUR HOMEWORK! If you are going to go on a special vacation to somewhere exotic, will you just go to a travel site and randomly pick a destination?  Probably not.  If you are planning a trip to somewhere that you don’t know and probably won’t get back to often, do your research.  In today’s environment, it’s a lot easier than it used to be.  Go online and find out about interesting places wherever you are going.  Check the blogs and online groups.  Most people are happy to share.  Look for photos of interesting places.  Pay special attention to not just the place, but also time of day, exposure, angles, etc. so that you have some idea of what works and what doesn’t.

Once you have that work done, plan where you want to be and when.  Remember to check for ideal shooting times where you are going.  Remember, just because evening golden light may start around 4 PM at home, doesn’t mean that’s when it will happen where you are going.

Something thing to keep in mind about iconic shots is that you are probably not going to be alone trying to take that shot.  I’ve heard countless tales of photographers who got up before dawn, hauled a ton of gear to be in the perfect spot for a shot, only to find that fifty or a hundred others were already there and filling every good vantage point.

Make sure that your plans are flexible!  If you want to get great outdoor shots, plan on some of the time having adverse weather.  That can be a blessing or a curse, you need to decide which and adjust your schedule accordingly.

Above all, be a realist!  The more practice you have shooting, the greater the likelihood that you will come home with pictures that make you proud.  Take plenty of pictures.  It may sound like common sense, but many people don’t.  If your camera has repeat modes for shooting, use it.  You’d be surprised at the differences you will find in three shots taken at five or six frames per second.

Earlier this year we spent a very nice day walking around Savanah, GA.  The trip to Savanah was pretty spur of the moment so I didn’t have a lot of time to prepare.  Instead I relied on what has worked for me in other cities.  I came away pleased with the results.  Following is an example.

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What it really comes down to is this.  Do you want to be a “me too” photographer?  If so, follow the crowd, take the same shots that everyone else does.  If you want to be a real photographer, someone who views photography as a means to document their view and present it as their art, go off the beaten path.  The first time the great scenes were photographed, they were new and novel and marvelous.  Go out and find your iconic scenes, discover your art and use them to tell your story.

So now, to answer the trick question about the title of this post…the best place to shoot and how is (drum roll please)…wherever you are!  The how is just as simple.  The rules of good photography don’t change, use them, apply them and you’ll get the shots that you want.