Tag Archives: Techniques and Styles

Musings on choosing your peer group

The few paragraphs below came about on Facebook in a private group I belong to called Photographers Unleashed. This is a place for photographers to hang out, ask questions, get critiques and complain all in the safety of a private area. It’s also an invitational group so one needs to be invited to join. Someone needs to think enough of you and your work that they think you can be part of the group. It’s a nice compliment when a friend does think this of you. We have a huge range of experience and talent but the overall common features are we all are passionate about photography and we want to improve both as a photographer and as an artist.

This story starts a few days ago when one of the younger photographers posted he was quitting the group and in a nutshell, he felt that he was being picked on and expectations were too high. He didnt say it that way outright but the message was there between the lines.

Getting older does have a benefit or two and one of them is to say what needs to be said without fear. It’s the idea of ” I really dont care what you think because there is nothing you can do that has not already been done, said or put on me”. Older also means (most times) that one has learned a lesson or two along the way. So when I read this post from this photographer, I sat down and wrote a short but heartfelt piece that only an older and more experience person could write. Several people commented on my words but I never did hear from the young photographer. He probably views me as more of a jerk right now but then when I was his age, I probably would have done the same thing. I just hope he read it anyways and took it to heart.

It was suggested to me to re- post it on a blog and I thought it sounded like a good idea. So here it is.

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You dont grow unless you stretch beyond your comfort level and if you dont do that, you become stagnant which is a terrible fate for any artist. Natural talent will carry you only so far, at some point you need a teachers and a community. If the community does it’s job right, they will support you and help you grow but that does not mean it’s always compliments.

More often than not, it’s something that hurts because we as artists tend to impart our images with a great deal of emotional energy. So when someone says something critical about an image that we think is hot shit, it stings all the more no matter how true the comment is. All artists are guilty of this at one time or another and we all have to learn to live with it and somehow process it and grow from it. You can grow or you can run.. not much else is available in the choice categories. As (name withheld) said, its the critical comments that really can add directiion to your path by showing you where you *need* to grow.

I put the word *need* in stars because it’s subjective but it serves to illuminate a point. I use critical comments all the time to act as a guide post as it were to help me see beyond my personal likes, dislikes, baggage etc and to get a glimpse of how other people see my work. Sometimes they see far better than I do because I’m too involved in the work, it’s too personal and almost impossible to pull back enough to see a bit of truth.

And yes, sometimes it stings.. alot. But, it’s a rare time I really let it get under my skin for any length of time. Note I said for any length of time, as it ALWAYS gets under my skin when someone is critical of my work. After all, photography is an extension of one’s self to a degree. But I can honestly say that in the past few years, after I learned to let go of of the emotional attachment and really listen to what was said, I’ve grown. Sometimes just a touch, other times it’s like the lightbulb going off.

You lose all of this support structure by hiding away from your peers or another way to say it, by hiding from those who would be critical of your work. It’s far easier to be somewhere where there is platitudes and accolades on how pure your work is, how cool it is and so on. But, the road less traveled is generally the better way to success. The path with resistance will make you grow and become a better person/photographer/friend . You just have to choose it and embrace it know that while it will hurt now and then, overall you will be in a far better place.

We can’t make you stay and we certainly wont beg but we would miss you and your contribution to the group. I personally wish you well on your path wherever it leads to.

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Shooting Portraits with vintage cameras and film

Who says film is dead? Not by a long shot around here. I just got a roll of 120 Ektacolor Kodak Pro 160 film back from the lab and scanned in a few of the negs. I shot this roll of film using my 1958 Yashica model D TLR (Twin Lens Reflex) camera. This camera is older than I am by a few years and after 90 dollars for refurbishing, it takes awesome pictures with that great vintage depth of field and “feel” to the picture.

 

Portrait using Yashica 120 film camera and adjusted with photoshop CS5This picture was taken out the front door of my house and I took two of them since the girls would not sit still and were goofing around.  So it’s a bit of a marriage of modern software using CS5 Photoshop and vintage film. I did a head swap on the center subject and did some basic color balancing and sharpening.  But that is pretty much it and what you see is what came out of the camera.

It only takes a few days to get the film back from the lab and then I load up my Epson 4990 and scan away. Once the film is scanned, I treat it like any other digital film with one exception, I do not run any noise reduction software on it. The grain of the film is a significant part of the charm of the look and feel of film and I dont want to loose that to overly agressive software.

The one thing that a photographer who is not used to with film is the wide exposure range. What normally would abruptly blow out is a nice gradual blowout and even then, you can still pull back detail that a digital file just will not  have available.  The key difference is that film is analog and has several stops of latitude (except slide film) where as digital has about three stops, maybe four stops on a really good day and IF you are shooting RAW. This is why when I first starting shooting digital in 99, I had some issues with getting my exposures correct. I was used to shooting for the shadow details since I could always bring the highlights back with more printing time for that part. Digital required me to shoot for the highlights since when the numbers hit 255, there was nothing left, not even a trace unlike a film negative.

This is probably the biggest gotcha for anyone new to film who has only shot digital. It is a small but critical item for the photographer to know and to remember as they switch around from film to digital and back. But, as you can see, when you get it nailed, you get some really cool images. Long live film 🙂

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Posted in editing software, equipment, film, Hardware, lenses, photography, Restoration, technique Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Playing director on a shoot

One skill that any photographer of people needs to work on and constantly improve, is the ability to direct clients/models/subjects to be where you want them, how they need to look and generally for them to feel comfortable with you. After all, you are shoving a camera in their face and most normally people are not used to that sort of thing. Professional models are more used to it but even they only give you what you ask of them.

A few years ago I would have never put myself down as a “people person” or a photographer that enjoyed shooting portraits. My how things have changed over the years. I used to shoot anything except people and now I tend to shoot just people with other things on occasion. I just had a client give me what I consider to be one of the best compliments in a long time when she said I was “a very relaxed photographer and a great people person”. On this one shoot I had adults and a child to work with and I had a ball with them.

High Key Child

High Key Child

The relaxed photographer comment showed in the images. My clients were happy and really having fun with each other and part of this was I was gently directing them where and how to be. To really get good images, you need to connect with your client. Standing behind your camera and just shooting without any direction or encouragement is a recipe for a disaster of a shoot. This is true even for a professional model. They need to know what is expected just as much as a average joe client. Sometimes even more so.
In the case of my little client here, I had connected with her about her stuffed bunny and I had let her rummage through my collection of AA batteries. I took a few fast shots of her goofing and let her see the preview screen and after a bit of time, she was used to be me being there and taking pictures. When I goofed around with her, I got very natural smiles and great expressions. When the parent were sent the proofs, they were thrilled as you can imagine.

 

Along with the personal connection, you need to tell your subject how to move, pose or look. They WANT your direction, you are the EXPERT and if you have made the personal connection, they TRUST you. Along with direction, running feedback for the subject is most of the time a good thing. Especially for non-professionals who are not sure of themselves or if they are doing what you asked. This “patter” is one of the most important skills a photographer can have.

Another “skill” you must have is the ability to make it look like “you meant to do that”. Very few things unsettle a client more than the photographer wandering around mumbling to themselves, looking lost, fumbling with equipment or looking at the camera view screen and going “oh sh*t”. You really need to know what you are doing, how you are going to do it and when you are going to do it. Or at least act like you. There isa quote from a set of commercials with celebrities  saying “never let them see you sweat” and that is so true in photography. You need to, no, must project confidence in yourself and how you make images in order for the client to be comfortable and to trust you. Dont mistake arrogance for confidence, there is a difference. If you are arrogant, you come off as a jerk and with confidence, you are someone that they can trust.
Happy Family

So after an hour or so, I was able to shoot this image of my clients and have everybody relaxed and interaction at a very natural level. It shows in the image with the body language and how everyone is comfortable with each other in this moment.

These types of directing and interaction people skills are something you need to learn and to practice. Salesmen know this and use it all the time. Watch a good salesman at work with a customer, they make the customer comfortable and feel relaxed around them. As a photographer, having good people skills is just or even more important than having that new hot shot 200mm F.28 super portrait lens. If you clients can not relax around you, it will show in every single picture you take.

So relax a bit, loosen up and enjoy the time with your clients instead of viewing it as drudgery.

PS – a friend of mine had some really good thoughts on this also:

Thomas Churchwell “Do not let the escort take control of the shoot. The first 15 minutes will always be your worse pictures even if they are great. The Tension and anxiety will take about 15 minutes before the models stops her posing that she knows are winners and relax enough to be herself. If you act as though your not there to be impressed but to have a good time then you will get a more pliable model who will stop trying to impress you and start being your muse.”

Thomas makes a very good point that when you are the director, YOU are the director, not the escort, not the model, not the friend, YOU are. Your images will sink or swim by how well you do your job not just as a photographer but as a director.

 

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