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.

Keep On Learning, or How To Improve the Craft


I’ve spent most of my professional life in the (computer) tech world.  That is an environment  where change is constant and the need to enhance existing skills and acquire new ones is never ending.  I’ve gotten pretty good at identifying what new skills to gain and resources for enhancing those I have, so I figured doing something similar with my photo skills would be similar…WRONG!

While many of the computer technical skills are also a craft, all you need is the right code (and don’t get me started on what constitutes “right”) to do what is needed.  At one level, this may apply to photography where the “how” of camera mechanics doesn’t change although the terms used by different manufacturers may.  To a certain extent the same applies to the software for getting the most out of your images.  Where it differs is that photography is also about the art of the image.

If I am going to put together a website, I (or someone who has actual graphic art talent) can do a layout from which the web page can be built.  From there, it’s just a matter of fine tuning of colors, spacing, etc.  With a photograph it just doesn’t work that way.  Take a dozen photographers, show them the same subject and ask them to photograph it, you will get twelve very different images.  Angles, lighting, composition, colors, post processing, etc. will allow each photographer to show how s/he sees that subject.  Having said that, there are still a lot of things about what makes a good photograph that apply to all images.  That is where things get different for me.

Having started the photo website, I looked into a number of photo clubs.  I settled on two, one because it meets very close to my home and the other because it is just about nature photography, something I really like.  Both clubs are very open and welcoming.  What is really helpful to me is that in both clubs, the people are open and friendly, willing to share what they know about something that we are all passionate about.

I know that there is only one way to improve a skill, practice and lots of it.  Unlike software development, working with images requires constructive criticism and feedback from both typical viewers and knowledgeable critics.  With a little coaxing and disclaiming getting offended by honest input, family and friends can be a great source for the former.  Finding the later is not so easy.  Yes I could enroll in a formal program to improve those skills and get feedback from the instructor, but I don’t have the time or inclination for that.

Through the Hillsborough Digital Photo Club, I was fortunate enough to meet Jim Roselli of Artistic Efex.  Jim’s knowledge of photography, from setting up a shot to actually getting the shot as well as post processing and printing seems to be limitless.  What’s more, he has been incredibly generous in sharing his knowledge with me.  So far I have only gotten a small taste, but it has made a significant difference in how I am seeing and capturing images.  I’m still learning the post processing tools, so I haven’t been able to take advantage of all his pearls of wisdom in that arena.  Jim and his partner Jim LaSalla produce incredible images across various media.  Take a look here to see what I mean. (P.S. the website doesn’t really do justice to many of the images!)

One nice thing about digital photography is that it is much easier to manage images, both in the camera as well as post processing than was the case with film.  Having said that, with the myriad of options available, digital photography has become its own discipline.  I still have a lot to learn and I’m hopeful that as I gain more knowledge and experience my images will reflect that.