More on What Do You See

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

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

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


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

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

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


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


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


Taking vs Making


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.

Running an Online Business – Getting Things Done On Time

Picture of Bee on a Flower

If you are like me, most of your career has been spent working in the traditional business model: nine to five, Monday to Friday.  While that model has been the norm in many sectors for a hundred years or more, it has never been universal.  Think about farmers who need to work every day taking care of their animals, or the emergency workers who need to be able to respond whenever there is a need, or the retail workers who are on the job when yo are not making your shopping at convenient times possible. (Yes, I know there are lots of others.)

I have good news and bad news, running an online business frees you from the nine to five schedule!  The benefits are clear.  If it’s a particularly nice day and you want to go for a run, smell the flowers or whatever else, you can.  You won’t have customers standing outside your door at “opening” time, since your online store is always open.  The down side is that because your customers can always get to your store, it is always open.  This means that you need to be in a position to respond to emails on an almost 24/7 schedule.  You also have a much greater need to track and manage your inventory.  If you have outsourced fulfillment, tracking inventory is a bit simpler because you just need to be able to forecast how much you need and when.  If you do your own fulfillment and have options like expedited shipping, you must be able to meet that commitment or suffer the online consequences.

In the aggregate, the pros outweigh the cons.  Again assuming that you don’t have to physically make or ship the product, you can do most of your work anywhere you have an internet connection.  So with a little discipline, working vacations are a snap.  What tends to work best for most people is having a realistic albeit flexible schedule following an ABC approach.  Using this guideline, “A” tasks are those that must be done and done by a specific date/time (e.g. replenishing inventory, shipping merchandise or paying bills).  Yes paying bills.

The “B” activities are those that need to get done, but which have some flexibility.  Items in this category might include updating your website, finalizing changes to your product mix or upgrading non essential equipment.  All of these tasks need to be done.  The difference is pretty simple.  If it is just past Memorial Day (which is in late May for those outside the U.S.), there is no big penalty in getting your 4th of July special offers onto your website today, tomorrow or in five days.  You need to do it in enough time that you can tell your customers about it and get them to shop.  The same goes for you inventory.  While your suppliers may have deadlines for getting your order in, you know about that well in advance.

And finally, you get the “C” activities.  These are the “nice to do” activities.  The list here is huge, your particular business will determine what tasks fall into this category.  Because you have an online business, the need to paint or redecorate your office is a big example of a “C” activity.  While ultimately, you may think it is necessary to complete these tasks, when you get them done will not help your business to succeed.

Tasks can move up the scale, typically from “B” to “A”, based on deadlines.  They seldom move up from “C”.

If you want to take advantage of the flexibility your online business provides, you need to assure that you get your “A”s and “B”s under control.  I’ll talk more about long term planning in a future installment.  Planning out for more than a moth at this level is useless.  Start out with a calendar.  You decide if you want paper or digital, etc.  Block out your “A” tasks and when they need to be done (remember to add in snail mail times if needed).  If you have similar activities that fall due within a few days of each other, schedule them for the same time.  While you might earn an extra three or four cents interest delaying a payment a couple of days, the time it takes to go from one type of activity to another will kill that savings.  Once you have the “A”s scheduled, add in the “B”s and as there is time available, the “C”s.  Remember to leave time for the unexpected.  Now you’ve done the easy part.

This schedule is not an academic exercise that you hand in and you’re done.  The schedule is your work plan.  Keep it where you can easily reference it.  When you start your first work day, go over the activities you have scheduled for that day and be sure that you can get your “A”s done and your “B”s started.  Remember, if you have two weeks to get an order in it’s a “B”, with two days it becomes an “A”.  Starting with your second work day, your first task is to add any missed completions from the previous day. (Remember, just because it didn’t get done doesn’t mean it goes away!)  Helpful hint, try to get the most important items done first.  You never know what the day may bring, so if you need to get that tax remittance in today, do it first!

After a week or so, go over the past week’s schedule results (this is an “A” task).  See what went well and what kept getting carried forward.  Some things end up taking longer than we expect.  Some times we don’t budget enough time for unexpected things.  Based on this knowledge, revise your schedule,  A couple of things to keep in mind: your schedule is dynamic and you must be able to manage it to meet the key requirements of your business; on days when you have unused time, you can start on tasks you have scheduled for the next day!

With a little practice and diligence, you’ll become the master of your schedule which translates into more efficient use of your time ultimately freeing up more time for the things you want to do.