Saturday, December 22, 2012

Breaking the rules?


Talk to an expert (fill in occupation) to explain an aspect of their work and they'll tell you how easy such-and-such is. Most jobs become so routine after you have been doing them for a while that you forget how difficult it was when you first started out.

For example, a friend of mine, who is also into four wheeling like I am, is a mechanic. He has been turning wrenches for so long I swear he teethed on them as an infant. When we talk about Jeep modifications he rambles on explaining how you can do this or you can do that while the whole time I'm nodding my head in polite agreement. My understanding of engines and suspension systems is basic at most so I can follow some of what he is saying, but if I had to do anything he describes on my own--let's just say it would be a series of very expensive experiments.

The reason I mention this is because learning photography is much like learning to modify a Jeep. You have to know the fundamentals before you can advance to the bigger stuff. That is why I shake my head whenever I read a photographer's blog or watch a YouTube tutorial and the presenter comes out with. "you can do this, or you can do that, there are no real rules here." Another one I shake my head at is, "If you want to stand out from the rest you have to break the rules."

Really? No rules? Break the rules? I can rattle off half a dozen rules they have applied to their "no rules" image they showcase. When you think about it, every time they break a rule they are actually applying another rule. But, to steal a line form Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean, "They aren't so much as rules, per se. More like guidelines."

Friday, December 21, 2012

Giant colorful sunflowers make great props



I was shopping at Michael's, a local art and craft supply store, the other day when I spotted these rather large and colorful artificial sunflowers. Because I was shopping for my day job my mind was not on photography. The first thought that came to my mind when I saw these was, "how gaudy, who would ever buy these things?"

Then it occurred to me that they would make fantastic props for children and infant portraits. I paused long enough to capture this shot with my cell phone. While I don't do portraits I'm sure there are plenty of others in the group that does. So if you are looking for some really great flower props, here they are. Michael's is on the Post road in Milford near the Post Mall.

This led me to think about my own search for props. Obviously since I do food and jewelry my needs are different but the process is the same. Being a big DIY guy I also try to look at conventional items in an unconventional way. This has almost become a habit for me.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

BTS - Cutting Board


Duck_348
My New Year's resolution is to get my portfolio organized and filled out more with the kind of work I want to do. I have been procrastinating enough and it's high time I got serious with my work. My goal for 2013 is to actively pursue clients to increase my workflow.

To that end I have been setting up some product and food shots in my studio in order to create content for my portfolio. This cutting board is one I just finished shooting so I thought I would share the setup with you.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Ask the Pro Q&A - John Ross on Photo Retouching


In the past I have mentioned that in order to go from a snap shooter to a good photographer you have to edit your images with some kind of photo editor. While some may argue if you work at getting it right in the camera you won't need to 'photo shop'* the image. I disagree. All images will benefit from some type of correcting whether it is to increase saturation on an otherwise dull image or boost up the black levels to make an image pop. Making these corrections elevates an image from a snapshot to a photo. (Well, not the only thing...)

If you want to go from a mediocre photographer to a good photographer you will take your editing to the next level. That means spending a little more time with the software to tweak the image to a level that regular camera users don't bother with. While it is time consuming--specially if you are not fluent with the editors--the results are worth it and if you are aspiring to go pro it is a necessity.

But, if you are looking to really stand above the rest you need to seek out professional image retouching services.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Art and technology - dual sides of photography


Scientists are technical by nature. After all, they have to deal with data that must be carefully recorded in order to be replicated. Science is objective, structured and methodology paves the road for results.

Artists tend to be the antithesis to that rigorous type of thinking, often relying on feeling and flow with plenty of room for interpretation. Results are subjective and different people will interpret artistic work differently.

Both disciplines have their set of rules and, once understood, can be manipulated according to the desired results. Regardless of all that, we can definitely state that science and art are polar opposites in the way our brain deals with them. We can also state that photography definitely has a foot in the realms of both science and art.

The reason I bring this up is because I had an interesting conversation with JD, a group member I had the good fortune of going to the American Model Photo Shoot in NYC.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

American Photo Model Shoot - Review


American Photography Magazine, along with Sigma Corporation, hosted their annual Model Shoot in New York City this past Saturday. The event opened with registration at 8am and continued until the modeling lights were shut down at 4pm. It made for a long, exhausting day of shooting that was by far one of the most fun experiences I've had. It was also a frustrating experience.

It was fun and exciting because I had the opportunity to shoot New York models in New York. Not that being New York models or taking photos in New York somehow make the models or the photos any better. Frankly, they weren't any more professional or beautiful than models I have shot here in Connecticut. However, I do love getting into the city and for me, personally, that was one of the reasons for attending this event.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Snapshot



When the muse stops whispering


"My name is J_ and I am looking for new locations for family portraits in the area. I've taken pictures in town, around the walking trails, at the park and beach. I've even taken pictures at the (insert landmark here)... but I am bored and would like to try a new location. Do you have any recommendations?"

I thought I would share this email with you because we, as photographers, have been there. Probably more than once. It feels like that little muse of inspiration has stopped whispering in our ears and suddenly everything we do seems uninspired.

While at first glance the above request seems straight forward, there are several layers that I feel can be addressed. On the surface I could easily reply back with any number of places I have come across in the past or perhaps some suggestions based on feedback from others. However, I feel any list would be arbitrary as there are so many factors involved; previous visits, personal taste, her family's tastes, photogenically pleasing locales, time of season, distance and travel time, accessibility, how common the location is, and many other considerations.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Snapshot



A moment of embarrassment a lifetime of memories


Anyone who has ever held up a camera to snap a photo of someone has heard these words;

"Please don't. I look awful!"

"Put that camera down. I hate having my picture taken."

These, and other similar remarks, are usually followed with some desperate move to block, or otherwise obscure, the lens. The resulting image is a failed attempt at what could have been a nicer picture. All because the subject felt self-conscious or embarrassed by being in front of the camera.

Friday, October 19, 2012

You must have a really good camera!



"Those are great photos. You must have a really good camera!"

CLICK, CLICK... BANG!!!

As frustrating as it is, that is the current mentality of most of today's photo consumers. But before you go and unload a couple of rounds into their skull stop and think about why we are experiencing this mindset.

Before dismissing the commentator as some brain-dead ignoramus who can't tell good art from bad let us analyze the problem. In my opinion it is not (entirely) because they are slow of thought it is because they have been conditioned with that response. This conditioning comes from two areas; technical advancement and advertising hype built around our current social environment.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Roger Williams Zoo - a MPG meet up


Last year I had the opportunity to view photos taken at Providence's Roger Williams Zoo. In particular the eagles they have on display there. I love eagles. I draw them all the time as they are a perpetual favorite tattoo theme. I knew then, as I looked at all the wonderful photos, that it was a place I had to visit. And so we did.

As with the previous couple of weekends, it threatened to rain. I kept a close eye on the weather in Providence and took a gamble that it would hold off until at least closing time. Well, it almost did. Unfortunately it was damp and threatening enough to scare off almost everyone that signed up to go.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Poi Fire Dancing - a MPG meet up


There is a mystical allure connected with fire. Something about it attracts us to it. It mesmerizes and dares us to challenge it. It can't be fully controlled but it doesn't stop us from trying to do so. Ultimately you will get burned by it. It's unavoidable.

When the opportunity to create a meet up with performers who routinely challenge fire came my way, I had to jump at it. Photographing fire adds another layer of challenge to the whole control issue yet there is a safety in knowing there is some separation between us, as photographer, and the heat of the flames.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Boston's Quincy Market and Salem - a MPG meet up


There is something about the history and architecture of Boston that is appealing and not just on a photographic level. Thinking back on my high school history classes it is a humbling experience to know that our modern American history had a major turning point on the very same streets and buildings that we visit today.

Diane and I have been to Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market many times in the past. Nevertheless, I always seem to find something new and interesting to look at and explore. That is one reason I enjoy returning to Boston on these types of day trips.

Saturday's journey to Boston proved to be quite enjoyable even with the threat of rain. Fortunately it eventually held off and created the most perfect light for a photo expedition.

Are CF cards going by the wayside?


I love my compact flash cards. I have two Canon dSLR cameras and they both take CF cards. My little point and shoot, however, takes the smaller SD cards. While they are smaller and I can see the pros of using them to save space, I am more prone to loosing an SD card than I am a CF card.

I prefer the larger size of the CF cards. They have a solid feel to them without having to worry about being too gentle with their handling. I can shove them in my pocket knowing they'll be safe.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Amateur mistake, professional embarrassment


Mistakes happen. They are unavoidable. Yet there is nothing like that 'duh' feeling when you make a rookie mistake. Take, for instance, this past weekend's photo shoot.

We had a wonderful weekend with two back-to-back events; one in Boston on Saturday and the second in the picturesque Litchfield Hills on Sunday. Wanting to travel light for Sunday's shoot I grabbed my camera and a single lens, a tripod and a monopod (since we were going to be photographing fire) and my flash. What I did forget was my sync cord for my flash (not a problem) and my extra memory cards (big problem).

Yeah, I hear you groaning with understanding. However, when you are an instructor and group moderator who is always telling members to, "don't forget your extra memory cards and batteries!", this mistake can be very embarrassing.

So, in closing, I will let you walk away with this lesson. Make sure you double and triple check your gear before walking out the door. Had this been a paying gig I can just imagine the anger and frustration from the customer.

Now I have to go sit in the corner with my dunce cap.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Understanding the photography pyramid


When I teach workshops I often mention that learning the skills required to be a good photographer is like building a pyramid. Like the pyramid, education requires a strong foundation to build upon. Without that foundation you can not build upwards or the whole structure falls down around your head.

With photography I divide this pyramid into three levels in which each successive level is built upon the one below it. Each level in turn contains many building blocks that help expand and strengthen the structure.

As you can see in the illustration at right, each level is centered around a specific element of photography. The base level is the camera and as it moves up in levels it expands to your subject and then finally your art. Let's take a closer look at each level.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Slow climb to building a solid reputation


I have a great business as a tattoo artist. I have loyal customers, a stellar reputation and solid street cred amongst many of my peers. Thinking back on how I have achieved this I realize it was a slow climb to my success. It did not just happen overnight.

The same is true in the photography business. It's not like one day you hang a sign outside your door and, presto, you have a thriving business. It requires a lot of work, a lot of patience and a lot of time. The key to building a business, however, can be narrowed down to a single word; reputation. No other aspect holds as much value in business as that one word.

Monday, September 17, 2012

BTS - Medicine bottle shoot


I have been slowly building up a collection of medicine bottles for a series of medical stock photo shoots. Looking for props is both challenging and fun. Specially props that have to look like prescription pills but without a brand look. Fortunately there are plenty of supplements and generic brands out there to keep me supplied.

I also wanted to play around with a new DIY shooting table I built a couple of weeks ago, my shooting table 2.0. My first attempt is rather shaky and flimsy but I was working with what I could readily find. Sometimes you have to spend some coin to make a good product, even if it's a do-it-yourself project. But that's for another post.

Lastly, I wanted to play around with some LED continuous lights. I had picked up a few different sizes and strengths to play around with some of my jewelry shots (LED's have a way of making gems sparkle) so I figured since I had them... Well, here is the result of my efforts.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

5 steps to finding your photographic signature


In the previous article, Your photographic language, part 2, I mention several recognizably famous photographers; Ansel Adams, Anne Geddes and Annie Liebovitz. In the article I use these photographers as examples of how an experienced artist uses visual language within the medium of photography. Their creations are more than the sum of the parts that create the scene, they tell a story, instill emotion and take us to a different place spiritually.

The interesting thing is that once you get to know these artists (or your own favorite artist) through their work, their photos become instantly recognizable as being theirs. You see a cute baby wearing a flower or animal costume set in this fantastical setting of flowers, you know it belongs to Anne Geddes. Likewise, if you look at a storm cloud breaking over a majestic valley of Yosemitte rendered in stunning black and white tones you instantly say, "that's an Ansel Adams photo."

These are signature looks that have been created and honed through years of hard work and dedication to a craft. It is also something many artists strive to accomplish in their own art. But there is a process and if you follow that process you will begin developing your own signature.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Your photographic language, part 2


Vis-su-al Lan-guage - noun ( vi-zhe-wel lan-gwij )
  1. something (as a graphic) that appeals to the sight and is used as a system of communication of ideas or concepts
  2. the notion that colors, shapes and forms have intrinsic meaning within a given society that words are not needed in expressing those meanings
Previously we discussed photographic language as a series of industry specific definitions that make communication among peers easier to comprehend (Your photographic language, part 1). Through the use of clearly defined terms we can understand lessons and concepts that deal with photography effectively making conversation easier.

The other side of the coin is what is termed visual language and that is a much tougher language to learn. Visual language does not deal in words that have clearly defined definitions. It deals with impalpable concepts such as mood and feelings and perceptions. It is the mastery over this language that defines the true artist and separates them from the novice. But what is this visual language and how can we learn it?

Sunday, September 2, 2012

BTS - Glass Buffer shoot


In the last article we talked about using an existing product used for one purpose and modifying it for another. In this case, a skin cleaning machine is repurposed as a glass and metal cleaning buffer.

In that post I introduced the product with the image shown at right. In this post we will go behind the scenes in how I created it.

DIY Glass Buffer


Polishing a small mirror with the buffer
As a product photographer I have collected an assortment of props, backgrounds and miscellaneous stuff for use in my shots. One material that shows up a lot is glass. Glass drinkware, glass mirrors, plate glass surfaces, a glass fish tank and now my brand new see-through product shooting table. That doesn't include the countless other shiny surfaces I have to deal with. If you have ever tried photographing reflective surfaces you know how much of a pain they can be. They show off dust and fingerprints with a vengeance.

There is no way of getting around it. If you photograph these items you will be polishing them first. What a pain. If there was only an easier way of doing this. Fortunately, there is. Here's what I came up with.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Your photographic language, part 1


Lan-guage - noun ( lan-gwij )
  1. a systematic means of communicating ideas or feelings by the use of conventionalized signs, sounds, gestures, or marks having an understood meaning
  2. the vocabulary and phraseology belonging to an art or a department of knowledge
When talking about language in photography there are two areas that have their own  vocabulary; the technical aspect of photography and the artistic side or visual language. In this article we will talk about ways in which to expand our technical vocabulary.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Press pass - A phony IDea


One of the topics I see come up every once in a while on photo blogs and forums is the use of a phony press identification card to gain access to events. The idea is simple enough and, on the surface, sounds harmless enough. It also doesn't require a lot of clever skills to create a fake press ID.

A few questions came to mind while reading some of these blogs and forums.  What are some of the most common types of identification cards? Why would you want to have a fake press ID? What are the repercussions of using that fake ID? What are the laws governing identification cards in general? Here are a few points I discovered in my search for some of these answers.

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