Are You Growing Your Craft?


I need to start out by apologizing for not having posted for several weeks.  Sometimes “stuff” gets in the way of what’s important.  One very relevant thing was that I did a guest post for Leanne Cole’s excellent site.  The topic was winter photography  The responses were numerous and positive so I am very grateful to Leanne for allowing me to guest.  In case you missed that posting, you can see it here.

I’ve enjoyed photography since I was a kid.  When I started out, I also learned some of the basics of processing, printing, etc.  Yes that was back in the film days.  Back then, there were not nearly as many opportunities to learn.  There were books and magazines, a limited number of classes, some clubs and if you were lucky mentoring and good old trial and error.  At that time, trial and error were expensive because film, chemicals, paper, etc. all added cost.

Some time back I wrote about the many types of photography.  Now the question is how well do you embrace them.  As a combination of artist and technician we photographers can only get better at our craft by practicing it. One thing that I have learned in doing just that is that each type of photography has its own unique characteristics and techniques.  Another fun thing I have learned is, to paraphrase Yogi Berra, the more you know, the more you know!

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My serious learning path started several years ago.  At that time, I was using my camera in auto or presets mode and capturing jpegs. (okay enough laughter)  I was also taking the pictures off the camera and that was that.  Then I started learning.  At first, it was about some post processing via books and websites.  Then I met some more skilled, experienced photographers who got me shooting in RAW either in aperture or full manual mode (I’m not going to get into a debate on Raw vs jpeg here).  They also got me to start processing via Lightroom and Photoshop.  That’s when my images started getting much better.  Let’s face it, mastering Photoshop is not a small task and while I’m nowhere near a “master”, I manage.

I started looking at pictures differently.  I would look at an image I liked and ask why I like it, what did the photographer do to make this image interesting, etc.  All of that led me to start looking at the different types of photography.  I must also include that in that time frame I joined our local photo club which also introduced me to new techniques and methods.  Truth be told, none of us will ever master all types of photography.  Much as I might like to, I doubt that I’ll ever be a high fashion photographer or that I’ll be creating images of the inside of living organisms among other things.

That doesn’t mean that many other types of photography are closed to me, or that I can’t benefit from learning techniques that work especially well in those areas.  Most of my early pictures were nature, family gatherings and “how I spent my summer vacation”.  I know that I have improved the images I take in these areas through a combination of practice and learnings.  I have also gotten into some new types of photography.

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The first of these was serious black and white.  A few years ago had you told me that I’d be loving B&W I’d have simply told you no way.  It has taken some time and practice as well as some excellent software (Silver Efex and BW Effects).  Some of the early results were nothing great.  Therein lies a big lesson, keep at it, be self critical and get constructive criticism.  I can’t overstate how important all three are.

Another area that I’ve gotten much more interested in is urban/street photography.  I had always admired good street photography.  Probably my first exposure to it was the iconic VJ Day Kiss.  What I love about street photography is that it gives me the opportunity to show people and life as they really are.  Showing them in black and white makes it easier to show the “essence” of the image.  Again what got me interested in trying my hand was a presentation on some key aspects of this specialty.  Ironically, many of my best “street” shots show in black and white.  That’s another benefit of growing in all directions._DSC0766BWCOu

One amusing side from the everything old is new again department is that lately I’m also experimenting some with square images.  Some cameras will shoot that way.  Mine doesn’t.  In the right circumstances, it creates some great results.

I’m not going to rant on about the other aspects beyond saying that I’ve gotten much better at portrait type shots as well as candids.  I’ve also learned a number of tricks and techniques in post processing that can help to turn a good image into something special.DSC_3801COu

I’ll finish up with perhaps the most important lesson of all.  Let the camera do as much of the work as possible.  I know this sounds really simple, but to most people it is anything but.  Today’s cameras are very sophisticated computers.  There’s a lot that they can do to improve on the images they capture.  Take the time to go through the manual, learn and understand how and when to use those features.  It’s a lot easier to get all those elements right in the camera than it is to get them in via post processing.

Please feel free to offer comments, provide constructive criticism or ask questions.  I love hearing from you.

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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?