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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Can You Present Your Images?


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It’s all well and good to be able to create great images and post them on the web, your wall or wherever.  There comes a time when you might actually need to stand up and present some part of your work to a group of people.  This can be an informal gathering, a club meeting, or maybe at your own show!

I am fortunate, that standing up in front of a group and presenting has always come easy to me.  For others it can be incredibly intimidating. I know a number of great photographers who would rather be boiled in oil than get up in front of an audience and talk about their work.  This is a huge shame for both sides.  The audience is deprived of seeing some great art and the photographer loses the opportunity to share their work and possibly make a sale or two.

Earlier this year, our photo club started including portfolio presentations into some our monthly meetings.  A few times a year two members present a small portfolio of their work to the club.  The presentations contain about ten images and run for about thirty minutes.  We also ask all presenters to create a brief document describing the portfolio and images that can go on the club website with the portfolio so that others can see the images and read the document along with it.

Being a blabber mouth, I volunteered to go first.  For me, the hardest parts were:  deciding on the theme for the presentation, choosing which images to use and ordering the images in some coherent way.

Deciding on a theme or topic is never easy.  Our images tend to be shot based on where we are and when.  Presenting a portfolio can match to that in some cases, but not always.  When starting out, I tried to come up with categories for which I know that I had images.  The old grade school favorite “How I Spent My Sumer Vacation” is always possible and fits nicely with a few sets of shots.  Others like presentations on wildlife, architecture, etc. will go across lots of images and timeframes.

I settled on a half dozen topics and then started selecting possible candidate images.  Lightroom collections are a great tool for making this process smooth and easy.  Once I had the categories and collections, I started taking a critical look at each collection to see which one(s) had the best potential.  That ultimately led me to one.  The hardest part was done.

Now came the question, which ten from the fifty or so images in the collection would I use?  Again Lightroom collections functionality helped a lot since I can easily rearrange the images in a collection.  I just kept moving images around with the stronger candidates to the left.  That got me to my eleven images.

With all that done, now came ordering them for presentation.  There are some guidelines that help here.  In most cases, find a way to tell a story(s) with the images.  Doing so will enable you to easily group the images and fine sort them to meet your story.  In most cases, you don’t want to shock your audience, so if you have images ranging from cuddly chicks to wartime atrocities, try to go stepwise from one extreme to the other.  Another trick is to mix your orientations so that you aren’t showing all portrait and then all landscape.

Putting the presentation was a lot of work.  I did the presentation and it was really well received by a critical audience.  It was definitely a worthwhile experience.  I encourage all serious photographers to master this skill.

Enough of all that.  Onto the actual presentation.  All the images will be shown below along with some descriptions.  You can see them as a slide show on our club website.  You can also read the accompanying descriptive document.

As you may have guessed from the image announcing this post, I did a presentation on Black and White photography.  I’ll skip the opening descriptors that include thanks to those who have helped me and some thoughts on why I like black and white.  Here we go…

Irish Farm Equipment
Irish Farm Equipment

The first few images were taken on a trip to Ireland.  This image was taken atop the Cliffs of Moher.  I was struck by two things which got me to take the shot.  First, no more then thirty yards behind me was the edge of the cliffs and sheer drop a few hundred feet to the Atlantic.  The other was the timelessness of the setting.  There were no tractors to be seen, but the rusting bit in the foreground could have been around since horses were used.  Once I had the image and a good look at it, taking it to black and white just enhanced the timeless aspect.

End of Pier
End of Pier

This shot was taken in Doolan, Ireland, just below the cliffs.  What originally struck me was the absurdity of the notice.  Clearly the end of the pier was there.  The more I thought about it, the message made sense.  Along the coast, fog is common.  In a thick fog it is quite possible that someone could come to the end of the pier without being able to see it until too late.  I shot this on a very dreary, windy, rainy day so there wasn’t a lot of color.  Black and white shows it best.

Sligo Derelict
Sligo Derelict

We were leaving Sligo having visited W.B. Yates’ grave and the church next to it.  As we went along the coast, we spotted this old boat sitting on its side along the shore.  I got plenty of shots, despite the foul weather (look carefully and you’ll see the raindrops hitting the water).  When I did the post processing and was showing my wife what I had, she told me that this one has to be black and white.  She was so right.  There is some color in the original, but taking it to black and white really increases the impact of both the boat and the weather.

Gloucester Fisherman
Gloucester Fisherman

Keeping with the maritime thread, we come back to the U.S.A.  Gloucester MA to be specific.  This is the fisherman’s memorial.  It is a famous statue that sits along the water’s edge to remember all those who lost their lives plying that trade.  Gloucester is the oldest fishing port in America, so there are a lot of men being remembered.  This image is in black and white because it helps bring out the impact of the statue wile remaining somber and respectful.

Bird on a Fence
Bird on a Fence

 Like Neil Diamond, I’m New York City born and raised.  My mom still lives in the neighborhood in northern Manhattan where I grew up.  A was walking up Cabrini Boulevard approaching Fort Tryon park when I saw this little guy.  The whole idea of wildlife in New York always strikes me as an oxymoron.  Needless to say, very shortly after I shot this image, he flew away.  What you cannot easily see, due to a short depth of field is the pile of trash behind him, so New York!

Schoolyard Basketball
Schoolyard Basketball

Schools in New York all have some type of open area where the kids can play.  This is much more significant in the city schools than in the suburbs or country since there are not a lot of safe places where kids can play without the fear of dodging cars.  I was walking down Fort Washington Avenue passing the school yard at P.S. 187, where I graduated from sixth grade.  I heard some kids playing and turned around just in time to snap several shots of the ball approaching the hoop (six frames a second can come in handy).  The basket was good!  I didn’t move the ball in post processing.  Again, taking out the color totally changed the shot to something that hits home at a visceral level.

Walk Sign
Walk Sign

I’m still not sure what it was that first got me to take this shot.  I was facing east coming up 187th street towards Cabrini Boulevard.  I’ve crossed that intersection more times than I care to consider.  Something just struck me about what I was seeing.  The obvious is the crossing sign.  As I worked on the image, I kept seeing more details.  The window behind is most certainly a child’s room, the reflection of the traffic light in the window, the gradual focus sharpening along the wall to the left.  Sometimes, the shots we think are nothing turnout to be just the opposite.

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This is one of my favorite images.  The location is at the the northern end of Fort Washington Avenue and is the start of the #4 (that’s number four, no hashtag!) bus.  Okay now they call it the M4.  I’ve seen people gathering at this spot since I was a small child.  Over the years, the details of those waiting have changed, as has some of the amenities.  Where there was once just a sign announcing the stop, there is now a shelter and a bench.  Look at all the different people, what they are doing, what they are paying attention to.  To me this image is a near perfect representation of city life.  I’ve shown this image in color and black and white to a number of people.  The majority agree that in this shot color is a distraction.

Arthur Avenue
Arthur Avenue

Arthur Avenue in the Bronx is the current, and probably last, “little Italy” neighborhood in New York.  The original area in Manhattan has been taken over mostly by Chinatown and gentrification.  There are only two blocks left of that neighborhood and they are a total tourist trap.  Arthur Avenue still has a lot of shops selling all sorts of merchandise from Italy or food stuffs of Italian origin.  You can still hear Italian spoken, perhaps more than English!  We were on a shopping trip and my wife was in one of the stores.  It was pretty crowded so I decided to wait outside.  I happened to see this gentleman walking down the street.  He strikes me as a classic image of someone I’d expect to see in this neighborhood now or fifty or more years ago. (Okay, fifty years ago the cane would probably be wooden.)

Reading
Reading

We’re back in Gloucester.  It was a bright sunny day in early September.  We were walking along the docks.  I happened to turn around at one point and see this woman.  I don’t know if she was ever aware that I took the shot.  That’s actually one of the really important things in capturing candids, they are completely unposed.  I showed this at one of our photo club meetings and it had a very high “awww” factor.  Sometime I’ll need to write a posting about the “awww” factor.  Yes I could have cropped it in to eliminate the fence on the right, but I think that adds something as the shadows are all pointing to her.

Endless Love
Endless Love

 This is my wife’s all time favorite of all the images I’ve done.  This is once again on Fort Washington Avenue in upper Manhattan.  To put this in other contexts, the basketball shot was taken maybe thirty yards behind them as the school yard is to their right.  This is another of those timeless images.  I can make an educated guess at the ethnicity of the couple, but that doesn’t matter.  They have clearly been together for a long time and seen their share of good and bad.  They are clearly close and very comfortable with each other.  How comfortable, I’ll bet they aren’t even aware that they are walking in step together!  Yes, this has an “awww” factor that is off the charts.

That’s the portfolio.  Thank you for making your way to the end.  I hope you enjoyed at least a few of the shots.  I’m always open to comments and constructive criticism.

Small Changes, Big Impacts, Do You See What I See


DSC_4581BWuCO I took the shot above on a recent vacation.  Clearly not in New Jersey in December.  The shot was taken in color, but from the start I was planning it to be in black and white.  No this will not be another of those lengthy rants about how much better, more artistic, true to the craft, etc. black and white is.  Truth be told, there are advantages and benefits to most of the contemporary ways of presenting an image.

I liked the end result as shown here.  I won’t get into all the details around that.  Suffice it to say that to me, the primary focus is on the boy and his sand castle.  From there, the eye is drawn to the three people walking in the surf which draws the eye farther down the beach.  The people in the far distance simply add to the feel of a day at the beach.

Our local photo club is atypical from most in that our charter specifically eliminates competitions within the club.  Our mission is to educate both the members and the greater community about photography.  Due to that very nice piece of our make up, we can submit up to two images per meeting for analytical critique.  These critiques are lead by one of our two mentor pros, are open to all members to add their comments and are an incredible learning vehicle.  When the images come up for critique, there is usually nothing to indicate who the photographer is.

I submitted this shot at a recent meeting.  The comments were generally favorable, pointing out what I had done well and what I might do better.  Several of the members were quick to point out that the boy has a “wedgie”, something that I hadn’t noticed.  The pros were focused more on the three people walking in the surf saying that they are a distraction.  One of our mentors is really big on birds in shots like this to the point that it is a running joke during critiques.  Needless to say, I did pass that test.

After the club meetings, I normally try to apply the critiques I’ve received to the images that I submitted.  This was no exception.  The following day, I opened a copy of the image and took out the three people.  Here’s the result.

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I know there are many photographers who think taking the people out is a betrayal to the art and craft as I am no longer showing what the camera caught.  When dealing with serious photo journalism, I agree.  When talking about photography as art, that’s a totally different realm.

Regardless of ones opinion on realism, I hope that we can all agree that the image looks very different.  I find that the re-editted version is also an image that I am proud of.  This second image, to me, has a very different look, feel and story.  I sent copies of both pictures to a friend in the club who was at the meeting and asked for her reaction.  I reiterated to her that I am open to honest critique whether negative or positive, but please don’t just say, “great shot” or “this is no good” without telling me why.

Her reaction was that they are two very different, but very good presentations.  Whereas the first mage tends to capture a somewhat typical day at the beach with lots of people and activity, the second one is much more focused on the boy and the sand castle.  The surf and the bird provide enough distraction so that the upper right part of the image doesn’t get boring, but there really isn’t much in the image to draw the eye away from the main focus which is the boy and sand castle.

So what did I really do?  I changed perhaps five per cent of the image (I didn’t measure so please don’t start that debate).  The part that I changed was not a big up front component to the image.  Looking at the two side by side, there is a huge difference in the feel, impact, and reaction to the picture.

Small changes don’t have to be just about taking things out or adding them.  When preparing for an exhibit, one of the pictures I was going to use had an element that was crowded next to a couple of others.  Someone suggested that I move it over just enough to create some space between the elements.  We won’t get into the work involved to do it, but the net effect was that when the move was complete, the resulting image was much more powerful.  It was also very well received.

There can also be an amusing side to making small changes.  Among my interests, is yoga.  I’ve been practicing and teaching for a long time.  I go to “yoga camp” most summers.  At one of these camps I got a really good shot of one of my “fellow campers” in a handstand.  We really liked the pose, but the background left  much to be desired.  At times like this, you have to love Photoshop.  I cut her out of the original shot and added her into a much better scenic shot, an open field with flowers around and hills in the background.  I was very happy with the result and sent her a jpeg.  Just after I sent it I was looking a little closer and realized that I had committed one of the cardinal sins (think telephone pole growing out of the subject’s head).  Since she was in a handstand, I wasn’t worried about her head.  Her legs were in a T and I managed to place her such that it appeared that a bush was growing, yep there.  Moving her over slightly corrected that and we had a good laugh over it.  She has since used the shot in promoting her teaching.

Of course, there is a down side.  I won’t start arguing what separates small changes from big ones.  When making these changes, you do need to be careful not to over do it.  I suspect that we’ve all seen HDR shots where the effects have been totally overdone such that the HDR becomes the focus of the picture, not the subject itself.  The same goes for things like saturation.  Going a little overboard on the right image can make a big positive change.  Going that little bit farther and the shot is ruined for pretty much everyone other than those who are color blind.

The moral of all this, to me, is…don’t be afraid to make changes, try things a little different.  Assuming you try them on a copy, you can always delete it if you don’t like it.  Look at your changes critically, be open to what the change does to the image in terms of the message int conveys, the story it tells.  Your final result may be very different from the original picture, and that can be terrific.

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?

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.

Taking vs Making


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It may seem like a small thing, but I have noticed that most of the professional photographers I look up to refer to making a picture/image/photograph.  By contrast, most others refer to taking a picture.  So what’s the difference?

Taking a picture is a straight forward process.  To many people that process is get out your phone/camera, see something you want a picture of, push the button and then upload/share it.  Facebook, Instagram, etc. are loaded with such pictures.  Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with such pictures, they help to convey an immediate image.

Making a picture is a very different process.  Yes it starts out with getting out a camera (it can even be the one in your phone!).  From there, the process moves in a very different direction.  When making an image, the photographer spends the time needed to understand the subject not just, okay that’s a nice (pick something) that could be a great subject.  Now come the questions… How to capture that subject in a way that shows it best; what is the light and how does it impact the subject; what about the surroundings, keep them in focus or not…and the list goes on.  When making an image we often scout out the location in advance to find the best spot.  When going to capture the image, we will get there well before the time comes for actually hitting the shutter so that when the light is just right we are ready.

I am a firm believer in capturing multiple shots.  With today’s digital technology there is no cost to it.  Besides, it often happens that the second, third or whatever shot turns out to be the best.  In other scenarios, we capture two, three or more shots with slight variations in settings so that we capture the full spectrum of that image.

That brings us to the other part of the making process, post processing.  With digital photography, the computer has replaced the darkroom.  In the film days, there were drop off sites where you could leave your film for processing and come back in a day or two to get your prints.  There were also custom labs where you could get the work done.  It cost more and took longer, but the difference was obvious.  Under most circumstances, you can take a picture from your camera and be done… taking a picture.  When making a picture, it gets tweaked, polished and finished with any number of digital tools like Lightroom and Photoshop.  In the case where we took a series of shots with different settings, the software will combine them so that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.  To be clear, I’m not talking about creating an image in Photoshop, rather using Photoshop to make the image something special.

One of my mentors keeps telling us to let the camera do as much work as possible.  What he means is that the better the quality of the image coming out of the camera, the easier it will be to post process it and the greater the likelihood that the end result will be something you can be proud of.  I always try to follow this advise…with varying levels of success!

To give you a concrete example…I take a lot of shots at Duke Farms here in Hillsborough.  It is a wonderful education center that is open to the public for free.  On the property is an old barn known as the Hay Barn.  Go to the site for details.  Lots of people take pictures of the Hay Barn.  I have my fair share of them too.  When most people show me their shots I ask one question, where are the faces?  They usually give me a puzzled look or ask if I’ve taken my medicine.  Then I explain that when taken from the correct angle in the right light, you can see faces in the the wall (see the accompanying picture).  When I show them they understand what I’m talking about.  When I explain how it’s done, in most cases, the eyes start to glaze.  The difference between taking and making.

Photography Is Plural


The more time I spend working to perfect my craft, the more I realize that because I am improving in one type of photography , I still have a long way to go with many others.  According to the professional and serious amateur photographers who will always give me honest feedback, I’m getting pretty good at certain types of images.  These include black and white, candids, birds, bugs, macro and intimate scenics.  You can see examples in my galleries.  I have spent a lot of time taking these shots, post processing them and soliciting constructive feedback.

I can take adequate shots at some sporting events if I can get close enough.  I’ve done some okay big landscapes.  Portraits I have a long way to go. Photography is a craft.  As with many crafts it takes time, dedication, practice and teaching to continue to improve.  As one of my mentors explains it, the structure of continuing improvement is a pyramid.  When you start out there are lots of things that need to be done.  Exposure is often off, depth of field needs to be understood and applied, composition needs improvement and the list goes on.  As we gain more knowledge and apply it there are fewer things that need improvement and they are often less obvious and harder to master.

One of the ironies is that while some of these skills are readily transferable across photographic genres, many are not.  As an example, let’s look at portrait photography.  There are many little “tricks of the trade” when it comes to posing the subject for the best outcome.  While I’d love to be able to apply them to birds and flowers, so far my efforts have been in vain.  The same thing applies to lighting.  The lighting in a fine portrait is a very complex subject.  Many is the beginner who allows the flash on their camera to pop up and then wonder at the mediocre picture it produces.  How the lighting is applied not only determines if the portrait is “good” but also the message it conveys.

I have been doing a lot more urban/street photography as well as trying some fun things.  Here in Central New Jersey we are fortunate to have an annual hot air balloon festival.  The balloons come in a wide variety of sizes, shapes and colors.  Many of them fall into the category that I call whimsical.  They are shaped like cartoon characters, castles, I’ve even seen a hot air space shuttle.  These can make for some great fun shots that I take with a tripod mounted camera usually with a good amount of time to set up and compose the image.  On the other hand, street photography is almost the opposite.  Scenes come and go very quickly (okay there are some that are just there).  Seeing those scenes is not as easy as it looks.  First you need to learn to work with a hand held camera using one of the priority modes.  I usually use aperture mode and let the camera figure out the shutter speed based on F stop and ISO.  Then there is the need to do quick composition since most subjects are not going to hold a pose for you.  I have lots of pictures that I put in my “I Cried Because I Had No Shoes” collection (the rest of the line is “and then I met a man who had no feet).  Yes the image looks really nice, but a key part is chopped off, often the subject’s feet because I wasn’t paying enough attention to the whole frame.

One of the hardest things in street photography is taking someone’s pictures when they know you are taking it.  This normally requires approaching a complete stranger and asking for permission, not something I do easily.  It can get more complex asking for permission to publish the picture and getting a release.

Having taken the shots post processing can be just as tricky.  As I said earlier I love black and white.  It has taken me quite a while to develop an eye for images that will work well in black and white.  The way that an image is processed makes a huge difference in its effect and impact.  Understanding how to do that processing again is not a one size fits all proposition.  Yes many photographers develop a style, but style is constantly being revised and improved with every image.

Out of curiosity, I recently took a shot that I was quite pleased with in its color rendering and converted it to black and white.  I then posted it via a few venues asking viewers which they preferred and why.  The results came in almost evenly split!  (they are the image for this posting)  The simple lesson from that experiment is that no matter how much I may like an image in one rendering or genre, that’s only my opinion and many other people will have different opinions.

The real lesson to be learned here is that if you are just starting out in photography, learn your lessons one at a time.  You cannot master all styles, genres, etc. at the outset.  Find first what you enjoy shooting and then grow your craft from _DSC3234-1CombineduCO-LRthere.  At some point in the process you will start to find other types of images that you enjoy taking and naturally grow your craft.  The other thing to remember is that not every photographer will excel in every style or genre.  That’s fine too.

To me if the photography isn’t fun, why bother with it a all!