Sunday, November 10, 2013

Two people in every photo - beyond the snapshot

Ansel Adams and I have a lot in common. (well, maybe we have a little in common. I'm ok with that.) Much of my early work in photography was devoid of people in the photos. I photographed landscapes, wildlife, insects, flowers... even my vacation and travel photos did not include people. I received frequent comments about why I didn't photograph people, as if the primary purpose of a photo is to document people or that photos without people are somehow less meaningful or useful or complete. Perhaps there was a fear that there was something Freudian in the fact that I didn't care to photograph people.

Actually, I did photograph people. Lots of people. In high school and part of college I worked for a motorcycle newspaper and photographed a lot of racers and crowds; I did engagement photos and portraits. But my favorite photography excursions at the time were not the ones that involved people.

I started to see my role in photography as being a messenger of sorts, a role that reflects a quote attributed to Edgar Degas:  "Art is not what you see, but what you make others see."

My purpose was, and still is, to help others see, regardless of what the subject might be - see the beauty in a natural scene they may never experience; see a  fleeting moment that will never occur again; see the essential nature of something they may look at only with a cursory glance;

see something more or less ordinary in a compelling new way, even better if that new way pushes the limits of stereotypes or emphasizes an aspect of nature that is a little offbeat...

like a huge bear gently sitting in a field of dandelions.... 
see different layers of things, the curves and symmetry of a scene rather than just the obvious; see things in the way that enables penetration of the soul, not just looking at a particular scene but feeling that same sense of awe that inspired the photograph.

This is where I am delighted to share a vision with Adams: “To the complaint, 'There are no people in these photographs,' I respond, There are always two people: the photographer and the viewer.” 

I wish I had said that.

It emphasizes a critical aspect of photography that makes it a legitimate art form (something else that often is called into question).  And it offers a key strategy for raising the quality of the photos we take.

Art is about emotion. Good and bad. It provokes, incites, stimulates, sometimes repulses, but ideally makes the viewer think and feel and wonder and want to enter into the narrative that exists in every photo. It changes people, if they will let it.

Keeping that in mind can be key to elevating the usual snapshot to a photograph you can be proud of. Asking yourself, why do I want this photo? What am I trying to convey? What do I want to think or feel years from now when I look at this again? Will I look at this again? In each moment there is the potential for a photograph that can be closer to art. A photograph that bridges the gap between the two people who are always there in each image, photographer and viewer.

The same applies even when we are creating photos of people.  Even though the subject is a person, there is always a viewer who is absent and with whom we are interacting through our photos. We need to ask - what do I want to accomplish here? What do I want this photo to communicate? What will they cherish years from now or want to remember from this outing? Who is this person, and how do I capture that?

Thinking about the people involved, the photographer and the viewer, can raise your own photography to a totally new level. We might not be Ansel Adams, but our photos can talk with our own unique voices. All we have to do is keep in mind the people who are present in every photo.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Senior Photos - a very special time!

Senior photos come at a very important time, the celebration of the completion of High School and the excitement about what lies ahead. As a photographer, I am privileged to be a part of many significant life events and grateful that I get to share in these important moments.

I had the wonderful opportunity to spend a recent Sunday afternoon with two delightful women, Kaleigh and Kaylee. Both seniors put a lot of thought into what they wanted their photos to convey and brought along wardrobe changes and props that fit their personalities. 

Of course, sometimes the settings aren't planned and a dash of spontaneity can be a good thing.

See a few more photos from this fun outing below.


We had a great time traveling the Sandia Crest scenic byway taking advantage of the beautiful settings along that road and basking in the gorgeous fall colors.

Off camera flash, triggered wirelessly, and reflectors can provide a simulated studio experience in the middle of the forest.

Whether you are a high school senior or a senior way past that time, an outdoor portrait session can be great fun. As these photos show, we all had a wonderful time on Sunday. Thank you both for letting me capture this important occasion for you!

Oh, yeah, and the adorable yorkie Maylay was an important part of the action, too!


Thursday, October 3, 2013

Some tips for photographing, and enjoying, Balloon Fiesta

I thought I would provide just a few tips that might help readers who are headed to Balloon Fiesta. Whether a professional, an amateur, a cell phone camera buff, or anything in between, the Fiesta is an amazing experience and an incredible playground for photographers. Many people dream of atttending this event for much of their lives. I know I did. Now, I get to live here and experience this event multiple times in addition to watching many balloons overhead while I enjoy the uncrowded comfort of my patio. But there is nothing like being there, although the experience can be a little overwhelming with so much going on, so many interesting people and balloons, and so much stimulation for the senses. So here are a few ideas to help you get the most from the experience. I will dispense with the usual "go early, dress in layers" even though that really is very good advice. It is quite chilly in the desert at 5 a.m. and the cool weather always makes an even stronger appearance during Fiesta. As for the photography, I hope you will find these tips helpful.

1. Spend a little time looking at balloon photos on the web. What catches your eye? What works and what doesn't in the photos you see? Make mental, or even written notes to help you make the most of your photo outing at Fiesta.

2.  Keep the whole experience in mind - people, pilots, balloons, vendors, food, "zebras" (the "officials" who help ensure safe launches). There is a lot happening, and while the Fiesta is about balloons (and balloonists), the people, how the gondolas are decorated, the process of preparing the balloons, etc., everything about the Fiesta is photo-worthy. When the day is over, you'll be glad you captured some of the sights other than just the balloons. Some of the people are every bit as exciting and colorful as the brightest balloon!

3.  Consider making a plan, especially if you are serious about photography. What do you want to have captured in your photos when you leave? This will help to keep a focus on all aspects of the Fiesta, the different shapes and types of balloons, preparations, etc. Been there before? What do you want to emphasize this time. Review your portfolio. What do you want more of? What is missing? What was so cool you just have to capture it again?

4.  Be prepared for anything.  In other words, be aware of what is happening around you and be ready to change your approach if you see something really interesting going on close by.  Two ways in which great photographs happen is by putting thought into each capture and by being in the right place at the right time and able to capture a fleeting image sharply and quickly. Sometimes we can plan for great images based on where the light will be, what we expect to be happening, time of year and time of day, etc. Sometimes that eagle or black bear or person with the jewel bedecked balloon and matching crew just happens to be lifting off right behind us and we didn't notice because we were looking at the cool Creamland cow being inflated in front of us.  Be ready to capture the sparkles and the spontaneity of the Fiesta. There will be lots of opportunity to take your time and be thoughtful about your photos, and also many fleeting moments that only someone quick on the camera draw will capture.  If you make a plan as suggested in #3, be prepared to deviate from it based on what is happening around you.

5.  Be patient and steady.  While the wonders of software can do a lot to correct photo mistakes made in the field, there is no cure for camera shake.  None. That blur will be there forever. So take your time, hold your camera steady, and S Q U E E Z E the shutter release.  It is so easy to get on the field and just start clicking off photos. But the launches go on for awhile, and there will be plenty of balloons, especially on mass ascension days. There is no need to rush. Take your time and you will create better photos.

6.  Pay attention to details.  Wait for the pilot or crew to turn to face you. The balloons are fabulous, but the whole scene is so much more alive if it doesn't involve just the backs of people's heads. Be careful what is in and what is left out of the image. Are there wires obstructing someone's face or a tower or light pole dissecting the image? Are you casting a shadow on the image? A little change of angle or a few seconds more of time can make a lot of difference in your photos.

7.  Mix it up. Take close ups, wide, zoom in, zoom out, people, balloons, zebras, etc. Get close to the balloons to avoid having people obstructing your photo and also for some cool closeup shots of the riggings, crew, etc. Get wide shots of a lot of balloons up in the air, balloons just lifting, many aloft already, whatever. Get multiple balloons in one frame to provide context and a sense of what the experience was like for you. Fiesta is a huge event for sight and sound and color. Experience it, and photograph it, in a variety of ways.

8. It bears repeating. Dress in layers. And dress warmly. Take lots of memory cards, be prepared for wide and zoom. Gloves that allow you to work the camera are critical. Cut the fingertips out of some old ones if needed. Charge the battery. And take an extra. Or two. This might be a once in a lifetime experience. You don't want to miss out on the photos because your battery ran out of juice. Be prepared to do a lot of walking if you want and are able. Fiesta park is over 200 acres. You don't have to walk it all, but you might want to if you can.

9.  Change perspective. Try different field locations for different angles of view, different balloons, balloons against different backgrounds. The Sandias to one side, the incredible New Mexico blue sky to the other. Don't get stuck in one location.

10.  Tech tips.  For the serious photographer who uses manual settings, be sure to know your camera so you can change settings quickly.  Manual is a good bet as some situations will require higher shutter speeds to deal with balloon movement and others might call for a shallow depth of field. Spot metering on your primary subject can be a good way to go as often you will be photographing balloons against bright blue open skies that can throw exposure settings off.  Higher shutter speeds will give you a little safety against the camera shake that can occur when the adrenalin starts going.

11. Put the camera down periodically. What? But this is a blog about photography. Whaddya mean put the camera down?  Especially if you are new to the Fiesta, take some time every now and then to just experience it all. Your photos will have a lot more meaning for you if you have personal experience that is brought to life again when you look at them. It will also give you a chance to look around, take in the many different things happening and different sights, and decide what to photograph next.

Photos can be so powerful in helping us re-live a situation or event. That re-living is so much stronger if you actually live it the first time. Take it in, seize the moment, and enjoy the heck out of your Fiesta experience!  If you've got any questions or want some tips, just post a comment and I'll get back to you.

Enjoy Fiesta and your time in Albuquerque!

Friday, August 23, 2013

It's not the camera

There is something about photography that can grab you by both sides of the brain and the heart all at the same time if you let it.  That is one of the things I like about it so much.  There definitely is a technical angle about optics and light and managing it all, and clearly there is a creative, artistic element as well.  You can tell when the neurons hooked to all of those centers are firing at once. If you are the photographer, and you feel that, and see the results of your own work, you are hooked. You might spend more or less time with a camera in your hand at various stages of your life. But that sensation is always lurking, waiting for a chance to spring back to life...

I suppose some people manage to avoid being so captured by photography, but perhaps they have their own passions. There should always be some passion in life for something. I feel fortunate that I have a number of passions, and photography definitely is one of those. I don't always have the time to spend on it that I would like, but I am reminded that the passion is there when I get a camera in my hands and start feeling the grip, the texture, the weight and then I feel my heart flutter a bit.

I was reminded of that passion, and the role of the photographer who holds the camera, recently when I acquired an Olympus OM-D. I decided to go retro (that is a great term for people in my age group who don't like thinking antique or just plain old. Suddenly, we, and all the stuff in our closets, are very stylish and trendy. OK, maybe we aren't but our stuff sure is). I got the black and silver version because it reminded me of my old Pentax. How I loved that Pentax. I spent years photographing motocross races across the state of Georgia and beyond with a Pentax SP 500. Yes, that is correct. I photographed motorcycle races with a camera with no autofocus, match-needle metering, a ground glass focusing screen, and a top shutter speed of 1/500. And a 50mm 1.4 lens.  Screw on. But the screw mount wasn't that much of an inconvenience because I only had one lens for most of those years.  Hard to believe when I think about what is considered a starter camera kit these days. 

With a 50mm lens you have to get really, dangerously close to some very fast moving motorcycles. Very dangerously close.  Did I mention dangerous? And fast.  At minimum, you eat a lot of dust. Thick red dust, in this case.  At best, you get some amazing photos and you really learn how to handle a camera and how photography works. I covered the races for a motorcycle newspaper that published not only my writing but lots of my dangerously close photos of very fast moving motorcycles and proudly smiling trophy winners, all created with that old Pentax. That thing was built like a tank. I spent years coated with red clay dust and the camera innards were clean as a whistle. I wish I still had it. I "upgraded" for a newer version with more bells and whistles and fancier technology years later and always regretted it. I've seen the SP 500 on Ebay and had to fight the urge...

So back to the Olympus. It is quite a bit smaller, and definitely lighter weight, not much bigger than my favorite coffee mug, actually. But when I held it, I thought back  to that old Pentax, the one that got me hooked, that black and silver gleaming under the New Mexico sun. Maybe the reminiscence was helped by the fact that there is plenty of dust here, too, even if it isn't red.  The Olympus can do things I couldn't have dreamed of in my Pentax days. So I made the decision not to read the manual (those who know me well are in shock after reading that, I'm sure).  Figuring out the basic controls was easy. It feels different enough from my regular gear that I am using it as if it were a completely new tool, to see things in new ways.  I want to recapture some of the creative, just the camera-hands-eyes combination that served me so well in my Pentax days when there wasn't anything automatic to work with and just that one lens that led me dangerously close to very fast moving objects.  I can taste the dust again just thinking about it. I look forward to feeling more of that passion for what it is like to create a really good photo.  Good photographers all know it is not the camera that makes the difference.  This camera can do a lot, but I am looking forward to discovering more about what I can do.  

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Stop! Don't Shoot!

Just reading the title should get the point across. The casual use of the word "shoot" among photographers is more than a little inappropriate. And a lot annoying. As a wildlife/nature photographer, the fine art arm of my work, the idea of shooting anything is repulsive. I probably don't need to point out that the same sentiment applies to portraits and events that I (don't shoot) photograph. Get a couple of photographers together and you'd think it was the O K Corral. "What are you shooting these days?" Which could mean subject matter, or it could mean equipment being used. "Oh, I was out shooting some birds at the refuge last weekend." Pity the innocent bystander who has to listen to all this talk about shooting birds, or perhaps the knowledgeable conservationist who knows that "shooting" is not allowed in the refuge. Imagine a call to the warden to report someone was "shooting" birds there.

Here's another reply I've overheard. "I shot my nephew. He's a senior this year." Let's hope that someone overhearing that conversation does not mistake this for a bizarre coming of age ritual. The Satere-Mawe, an Amazonian tribe, does use bullet ants for a coming of age ritual as boys in the tribe become men. But even they don't refer to it as "shooting," though they would be more justified than photographers given what the bite of a bullet ant is supposed to feel like. I never want to find out. And I certainly never want to be shot. With anything.

I am definitely an outsider in this regard among my photographer colleagues and friends. I cringe when I hear of anything being shot. And I will continue to respond to questions about "what are you shooting these days" with reference to "I recently photographed..." or "I've been working with some new lenses..."  or "I'm a Canon user." I will never say that I "shot" or "am shooting" anything. It seems in bad taste, especially in the current social context. I hope the day doesn't come when I am so complacent at the thought of anything being shot that I don't cringe at least a little at hearing this, even when I know the context. 

Health care workers realized this a long time ago and stopped talking about giving "shots," opting for more professional, and accurate, terminology.  A "shot" is not reasonable slang for "injection" or immunization. Shots don't belong there; shots belong in discussion involving weapons, where all the meanings of "shot" can be understood in context. And I suspect "shots" will continue to be part of bar language for some time as well. I don't see that one changing. But I really wish photographers would stop all the shooting.

If you are looking for someone to photograph your portrait, ceremony, event, or farm, drop me a line.  I'd love to talk with you. And you can be sure I won't be shooting anything. 

Monday, July 29, 2013

Everyone has a camera - why hire a pro?

There truly is a Facebook page for everything. I recently came across "Why hire a professional photographer" on Facebook, something I have spent a lot of time discussing with people and thought it would make a good blog post. Professional photographers, especially the ones trying to grow a business, have a lot of challenges these days. Everyone has a camera now.  Some of those cameras result in some really nice photos. And some people even know how to use those cameras well and do some processing on those photos to create nifty effects that make the photos look like they were taken in the 1930s, or to increase the intensity of the colors, or even look like it was taken under water. These days, it doesn't take a pro to make the subject of a photo look 30 pounds thinner. Who wouldn't want that? So why pay for it?

The same reasons you wouldn't hire your neighbor to fill a tooth. He (or she) probably has a power drill, right? Or even a Dremel, which looks a lot like a dentist drill. What's the difference? In this situation it is rather obvious. A wrong move means a lot of pain, real physical pain. But the results can be the same hiring someone inexperienced to take photos of an important, once in a lifetime event, or to create lasting memories of a loved one or even your prized goat. Losing that chance can be painful in a different sort of way.

So what does a pro provide? A pro puts her reputation on the line everytime she takes a photo. The cost of the service isn't based on materials or equipment, it is based on skill, and learning, and continuing education, and talent, and, perhaps most of all, passion! A pro doesn't take photos, she makes them. A pro can take ridiculous lighting situations, uncooperative subjects, chaotic environments and produce stellar images that will make you gleam with joy whenever you look at them and share them with others. A pro doesn't get lucky shots; a pro creates ideal photographic situations out of the otherwise abysmal. A pro has equipment that makes that possible, and knows how to maximize the equipment for the best images. A pro provides a service that she can deliver and follow through on without relying on luck. Got plans for fantastic late afternoon light for a family portrait but now it is raining on your parade? No problem. A pro can deal with it.  A pro knows terrific locations and how to access them for photos if needed, and how to get the permits. In the realm of fine art, a pro creates images of things you may have looked at every day, but gets you to see them differently, or to appreciate the nuances of the ordinary in a creative and expressive way (future blog - is photography an Art?). A pro can listen to your description of what you want, no matter how abstract that might be, and work with you to formulate a plan to produce the images you have dreamed of. A pro is prepared for anything. A pro has years of experience and study and is constantly learning and improving the art and the craft of photography. A pro cringes when someone comments on her work and says "Lucky shot!" because she knows what went into getting that capture. Note that a lot of pros are "he" also. My second cameras are all "he" - these are the people who are backups for events and weddings and make it possible for a photographer to be exactly where she (or he) should be at any specific time. This is something else that distinguishes a pro. My second cameras are a great bunch of guys! I second for them sometimes, too. We get along quite well.

If those are the characteristics you want for your photos, hire a pro, not just some friend with a cool camera. In the photography world, we talk about "Uncle Bob" - the guy with the nifty camera who is available to photograph anything, any time. Free. or at least really cheap. There is a Facebook page for Uncle Bob Photography, also, that says it all. Check it out. A pro might do some volunteer work on occasion, such as donating services for a charitable organization. I enjoy donating services for a good cause. like to benefit the city, animal shelters, food pantries, or the elderly. But a pro has a portfolio and more self-respect and appreciation for the art form than to do the work for free.  A pro notices what is in the background, who has their eyes closed or a crooked collar or a tree growing out of someone's head in the once in a lifetime family portrait. A pro doesn't rely on Photoshop to fix errors in the original capture. A pro does know how to use software, selectively, to help you look your very best, and also knows when to stop.  A pro has integrity.   Or should. There are codes of ethics for pros in most fields. Photography has several, actually, depending on the organization and specialty.  Not all pros are right for every job. Hire a pro with integrity and passion but who also "gets" you, your vision, and the work you want done and can help you formulate that photographic plan for your event or family situation.

What you pay for is talent, skill, dedication, and passion when you hire a pro. Photos capture fleeting moments in time. Over the last few years I have had the opportunity to revisit some places I had been before and sought out some of the same vistas and locations I photographed earlier. Even though there may have been only a year or two that passed between visits, those scenes I photographed on the first visit no longer existed. Sometimes it was because of development, sometimes because of the cycles of nature or, often, because time really is fleeting.  They were there geographically; but the flora, the fog, the skies, the clouds, the colors-- that scene is no longer there. Nature and landscape and fine art photos capture fleeting moments, just as lifestyle, portrait, and event photography do. It is true that we shall not pass this way again. So when you want to capture the memories and those precious moments on the way, be sure to take a pro along.    

Sunday, July 28, 2013

I had a blog once...

I had a blog in WordPress some time ago. It was a great way to share comments, experiences, ideas, etc., and to tell you what I was working on as time passed. It got to the point that I was spending more time deleting spam comments than I was posting and reading legitimate comments. The work also changed - I moved and reformed my company as a solo act in New Mexico. Now, with things slowly settling in, it is time to start again.

I will use this space to discuss my work, photography, give photographic tips, share with you the people I have come across who have done good work for me such as printers and framers, and also to engage in dialogue with anyone who cares to chat about such things.  We could go on for some time just discussing the state of photoshop, the adjustment of photos, Adobe's new pricing model, and when is a photo no longer a photo? 

For now, I just want to welcome you to my website, to my blog, and tell you I look forward to sharing some of my photo ideas with you in the future. Thanks for reading!