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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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.