Studio Portraiture Workshop

Class Portrait 1  Class 2

This past Sunday I lead the first day of a two-day workshop discussing posing and lighting. I hadn’t planned on undertaking any workshops this early in the year, but I had been getting requests from several excited photographers who are out there getting ready for spring and summer portrait sessions.

I finally made the decision to proceed when my friend Dave Monsees, owner of the Versatile Photography Studio near Kamloops, mentioned that photographers renting his studio told him they needed help in lighting couples. They lamented that most tutorials available were only about photographing one person.

I am sure if they browsed the internet they would have found what they were looking for, but working with live models is a lot more fun than reading articles and looking at pictures, so I hired two up-and-coming local models that fit that request perfectly.

In previous posts I have stated how I enjoy the enlivened interaction that happens when students of photography participate in active learning. So when I started getting requests that I offer  another session I crossed my fingers and hoped for an early spring, booked that large local studio, and hired two models.

During a workshop my job is to present information on the subject, and keep things going. I don’t like to be a demonstrator on stage and I rarely pick up a camera during the workshops I lead, unless it is to take a snapshot or two of photographers in action. And besides, when I finally let the workshop participants apply what we had discussed, there wasn’t room for me anyway.

The workshop dealt with modifying and placing light. We employed one, then two, and then three lights; and modified the light first with umbrellas, then changed to a softbox and reflector to create shadow, and, of course, that classic and compelling “Rembrandt lighting” effect.

This was an advanced workshop and I limited participation to seven photographers. As with all my workshops, my main goal is to help participants gain an understanding of how to use light. I want them to consider the “quality” of light instead of the “quantity” of light. I lecture to them that they should use light to “flatter” their subjects as opposed to only “illuminating” them.

I think that studying the mechanics of lighting includes two additional aspects, which are (1) experience, and (2) the willingness to step beyond lazily pointing a camera in a light filled room or out in the sunshine. Posing a model, or in our case, two models, seems to me to be more about engaging with the subject and being comfortable with telling someone how you want them to look. I once heard a photographer say that he never posed people because he thought is was rude to tell adults what to do. I can’t comment on that fellow’s work, maybe he was really lucky, but I expect there were lots of missed shots. I suppose he would disagree, or just plain ignore the words of award winning Dallas, Texas photographer, Caroline Mueller when she says, “What I look for in pictures (that) I take: eyes, hands, head tilt, body language, background, and use of space.”

I believe those photographers that are successful at portrait photography don’t hide behind their camera, but they start with a plan and are good at engaging, explaining, and demonstrating what their vision for the session is.

Now I am really looking forward to next Sunday. The few images I have seen so far are great and I am certain spending another day (this time with speedlights out-of-doors in the failing afternoon light) helping and watching each photographer’s progress is going to be a lot of fun.

class 3  class 4

 

Thanks in advance for your comments, John

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com

Judging Photography

Ben-&-Dave-judging

Exhibition judges Ben and Dave.

 

I have written about judging photography previously, and I have also used the following quote by John Loengard, who worked as a photographer for Life, for Time, and for People magazines.                         “It is not important if photographs are “good.” It’s important that they are interesting”.

I agree with that statement and when I was asked to be part of the jury committee for a local exhibition by members of the Kamloops Photo Arts Club it was Loengard’s words that I first thought of.   I looked forward to a firsthand look at submissions and wasn’t let down by the interesting and creative work.

They entitled the upcoming juried exhibit of photographs taken within British Columbia as “Wild and Wet” and described it as displaying the impact of water on the environment and residents of this region.

To me, the poorest photographs are those that don’t speak to us, it’s those photographs appear boring. I think the viewer should feel something, should feel a level of emotion when they look at the images. A good photograph is one that creates an emotional response.

As I looked at the photographs I asked myself the following five questions that I think are questions any serious photographer should think about, as they are about to press the shutter.

  1. Is there a clear center of interest? In a successful photo, the viewer can immediately identify the subject.
  1. Is the image composed well? There should be a sense of overall organization.
  1. Is the focus tack sharp and is the exposure appropriate? With the exception of photos that intentionally show motion or soft-focus images (both should be obvious), tack-sharp focus is the first thing viewers’ notice about an image.
  1. Does the photo tell a story? The difference between a photograph one remembers and one that is easily forgotten depends on whether the photo tells a story.
  1. Is the approach creative? Creativity in an image involves more than predictable techniques and perspective. The creative photographer handles the subject in extraordinary ways that the viewer normally would not have seen.

I joined photographers Dave Snyder and Ben Verwey in an interesting discussion of the images as we reviewed the photographs. All the show’s photographs are worth taking the time to view and I look forward to the exhibition that will be held from March 12 until April 1, 2015. As this was to be a juried show, we ranked each submission and selected those that, in our opinion, stood out from the rest.

Whether readers attend this exhibition or any other, my suggestion to take along my guidelines and see how they apply. Then think about how the photographs appeal you. Are the photographs interesting and engaging? Do they capture a moment in time and what do they communicate to you the viewer.

I look forward to your comments. Thanks, John

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com

Photographing the Winter Garden

Outdoor lighting kit  Clematis

Erigron  Erigron b

Winter blown bullrush

Step Ladder

 

Sunday was one of those “let’s see how many small jobs I can do” days. One would think there is no chance of being bored on a day like that, but I finally decided it was time to relax and sat down with a glass of wine, and enjoyed lunch with my wife and listened to some jazz.

As I made my way from one chore to another I kept looking at the snow in the garden and wondering if there was an opportunity waiting to make a photo or two, but I pushed along thinking “maybe later”.   However, as I started on my second glass of wine I complained that the outside light was gray and flat and that maybe I should just forget it. Could that have been the wine talking, or that I am just lazy?

Ever one to keep me on my toes, my wife, Linda, reminded me of a lecture we once attended by Canadian photographer, and author, Sherman Hines. (I recommend readers check him out) As she remembered Hines had said something like; “there is always something to photograph when the weather is poor, look for the small stuff”. There was the challenge. I left the room to get my camera.

The snow was getting wet on the plus 1 degree C afternoon so I decide to leave my tripod behind and mounted my wife’s 70-180mm AF macro on my camera. That unique, fun to use lens is the only true zoom Micro (macro) lens ever made by Nikon. And I get to borrow it anytime, well, almost anytime.

I got my camera and put together my lighting for what would be an excursion to search out the intimate features poking through the snow in my wife’s garden.

I attached a flash on a stand and chose a shoot-through umbrella. I could have connected a wireless sender and receiver, but I decided to use a TTL camera-to-flash cord that would allow the camera’s computer to direct the flash to provide the correct exposure for the close-up kind of subjects I would be photographing.

Although I had complained about the limited light on the heavy overcast day, I knew it would be perfect for my sojourn through the garden. I could easily meter the ambient light, then under expose slightly so the flash would become the main light instead of the hazy sun. The modified light from a shoot-through umbrella is even across the image with a gradual transition from highlights to midtones to shadows, or a soft light.

I stuck the stand through the snow and easily positioned the flash. And unlike a snowless landscape, the snow kept the stand steady no matter the angle. All I had to do was choose an angle and release the shutter. That particular zoom lens allows for a constant macro at every focal length. It was pretty neat and easy.

I choose to photograph that garden in every season. I know there are many photographers that only take pictures of plants when they are in bloom and prefer colourful representations. However, spring, summer, fall, winter, snow, rain, sunny, or overcast, I find that our garden is filled with ever changing subjects that always offer something new and I expect that Sherman Hines surely would approve. My advise to photographers that think they must wait for inspiring weather before their next garden safari, is to take Mr. Hines’ advice, because there is always something to photograph when the weather is poor, just get up close and look for the small stuff.

I enjoy everyone’s comments. Thanks, John

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com

 

 

 

 

 

Photography as a Fine Art

Orchid-2

I have discussed this topic before, but after a conversation I had about an upcoming photography exhibition in Kamloops with one of the judges and, of course, the heated debate now raging about that $6.5M photo of a canyon, I thought I would revisit it.

Wikipedia’s on-line encyclopedia says, “Fine art photography is photography created in accordance with the vision of the artist as photographer. Fine art photography stands in contrast to representational photography, such as photojournalism, which provides a documentary visual account of specific subjects and events, literally re-presenting objective reality rather than the subjective intent of the photographer; and commercial photography, the primary focus of which is to advertise products or services”.

Photography as art has changed since its beginnings in the mid 1800s, and, in my opinion, with the increased interest in photography because of the ease of making photographs since digital technology became the mainstay, photography as an art interests more and more people.

That art may be nothing more than a screensaver on one’s computer display. Some photographers go further and it is not unusual to see a personal photograph, or one of a friend, framed and hanging on the walls in someone’s home.

I have been interested in photography as an artistic medium for a very long time and have attended many exhibitions of artistic world-renowned photographers. And I think Wikipedia’s definition is worth noting because it separates what it declares as fine art photography from photojournalism and commercial photography, classifications that could divide those photographers in new ways for me.

By the middle of the nineteenth century photographers felt their art should be held in the same exalted status that painters claimed for theirs. Their contention was that it’s the photographer, not the camera that makes the picture. The goal was, and still may be, to convince not only the art community, but also those interested in creative arts that photography is art. Then, as now, the discussion was about whether the different aspects of photography, commercial, photojournalistic, or those created only as personal creative vision should be considered art.

The question photographers can ask is, whether the photograph’s goal is as “visual support”, to “sell a product”, as a “documentary”, or as a creative vision?

I have come to think that definitions like those of Wikipedia’s have changed. Maybe it is the way modern viewers see and use photography. That quickly-snapped portrait of a favorite pet displayed in the owner’s home probably needs an explanation to go along with it, but is cherished enough to be included with the rest of the owner’s art even though art scholars would disagree.

Remember, photographers are still contending with those critics that hold that only painting and sculpture are art and that photography is but a technology. For me the lines have become blurred, and I see photography as an artistic medium equal to others, although I am not altogether secure in categorizing any photographer’s work.

Debates like those in The Guardian newspaper, http://petapixel.com/2014/12/11/columnists-guardian-debate-whether-not-photography-art/ are fun, but in the end forget that the camera is just a tool, absolutely a high technology tool for sure, but a tool just the same, that helps any person to be creative and photographers only need to decide on their own particular style, and what, as Wikipedia states, is “created to fulfill the creative vision of the artist”. What that vision is should be entirely up to the photographer and the audience for whom the image is produced.

 

I always look forward to readers comments. Thanks, John

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com

 

 

 

 

A Photographer’s Walk on Snowshoes

Snoeshoeing-2

Wind-swept-field-2

 

forgotten-barn-2

Tracks-2-

 

Almost a year ago to the day I wrote that I looked forward to enough snow-pack on the hills to snowshoe in, and as then, after a morning of shoveling a deep path to my chicken coops, clearing the driveway, and another path to the front porch, I was again taking my first winter hike up to the high meadow above my home.

Last year my January walk up into the meadow’s deep snow was on a sunless, stormy day. And I recall setting a high ISO so I could get a shutterspeed that would let me handhold my camera, and then returning home in a snowstorm.

This time I mounted a light-weight, 18-105mm lens on my camera, stuck an old tea towel in my pocket in case I got my camera wet from the snow, and headed out in the balmy minus 3C day under a bright, almost-cloudless, blue sky. And instead of struggling with low, flat light, my ISO was set at 400; and I added a polarizing filter to darken the skies, increase the contrast in the scene, and suppress glare from the surface of the bright white snow.

I trekked up the hill, and as I had so many times before photographed everything. When I stroll up into that long meadow I rarely see animals, however, they are surely there hiding, and I did hear a snort from something as it moved through the trees, and when I began to cross the meadow a crow cried a warning to hidden watchers, then everything quieted, and the only sound was from my snowshoes and my camera shutter as I photographed the Thompson River valley far below and the tracks I made through the meadow.

My last article was entitled, “What Makes Photographers Happy?” Photographers wrote me noting that, “there is nothing like a new lens” or “fun day with my clients”, and I can’t agree more. I must include the words of three bloggers that sent their comments to me: Northern Desert photography, Nature Photography by Martin Ryer and Jane Lurie Photography.

The first from blogger Northern Desert says that happiness is “The process of being out in nature searching for the shot, be it landscape or wildlife. I love the post processing, editing job. So fun to see what you can do with software. Love talking with and interacting with other photographers about photography.”

I also had to pause and think a moment about the words of blogger Martin Ryer who wrote about when he has“…results that exceed or even completely differ from any preconceptions I may have had. It’s when this happens that I feel myself entranced by all of the possibilities that photography offers.”

Blogger Jane Lurie’s comment is delightful, “…I’m very happy when my final result is actually what I conceived in my head when I saw the shot. Capturing that small moment in time is a beautiful thing.”

What great thoughts on photographic happiness and I agree with everyone.  As for me, I will include the following from philosopher and theologian, Paul Tillich, who wrote, ” Language…has created the word ‘loneliness’ to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word ‘solitude ‘ to express the glory of being alone.”   To those words I will add that my quiet, solitary walk and photo excursion on snowshoes made me happy.

As always, I look forward to your comments. Thanks, John

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com

What Makes Photographers Happy?

Jada-2

I have read that there are 12 states of happiness. What they are, or how “happiness” is determined and is then defined, is beyond me, but I did find a short article that said to be happy people need to “anticipate with pleasure, savor the moment, express happiness, and reflect on happy memories”.

I know there are times and things that make me happy. Nevertheless, there are moments that no matter what my surroundings are, or the circumstances, I am just not happy. And I am sure I am not the only one that gets in a bad mood (or good mood for that matter) without knowing why.

I doubt one can find any studies on the states of happiness for photographers. So while readers think about what makes them happy I’m going to delve into that mysterious state.  Is it happiness about how things like camera equipment make them feel, or about how circumstances such as creating a good photograph make them feel? Most photographers are devastated when they receive a poor review on a picture, so there is lots of ego involved in their happiness. And I know that sitting around with other photographers talking about anything photographic is just plain blissful for me.

I don’t know any social scientists that I can call up, and I haven’t discussed happiness with any philosophers. However, I have always felt that photographers have a culture of their own. There are those who might argue that concept, but I am absolutely convinced that it is so. I constantly interact with other photographers in online forums, blogs, or talk to them personally, and those photographers are always ready and willing to tell me when they are happy or not.

Some are actually more interested in the technology of photography then the actual process of making pictures. I recall a guy that was happiest when he found a problem with a piece of photography equipment. He delighted in making test after test to find if a particular camera matched what the manufacturer or other photographers claimed. I’m disappointed when something doesn’t work as described, but this fellow would actually be down right cheery.

I had a friend that spent all his spare time wandering back roads. He’d show up at my shop with a grin as wide as all outdoors and stick his ipad or ipone on the counter for me to scroll through and happily describe how he photographed that hawk on the wire, the owl on a fence post or that eagle fishing on the river bank. What made him happy weren’t his pictures as much as his process of making pictures.

I know photographers that are continually changing equipment. Not because they find problems with what they own, or because their equipment is limiting, but because they read something, or talked to someone, about a new addition from their manufacturer of choice, and can’t live with out it. They excitedly talk about how wonderful that new piece of equipment is. I know their choices don’t so much meet a practical need as an emotional one, but they make it easy for me, and anyone else they talk to, to observe how darned happy they are with their new camera, or lens, and with, for that matter, everything they own.

This exciting medium has many levels and outlets to make one happy. There are portrait photographers, wildlife photographers, scenic and landscape photographers, sports photographers, baby photographers, those that specialize in plant photography and, of course, many more, each with differing sets of skills, and, to my mind, their own states of happiness. I don’t know if photographers have twelve states of happiness, or only the four I found in that short article, but I will say that I meet lots of people that are happy to be doing photography, and being involved with it in their own, very personal, way.

Care to comment on what makes ya happy?

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com

Photography in the Fog

Farm & Pond in fog 2

Moving cows in fog 2

Horse in Snow 2

Owl on wire 2

 

Pritchard above the fog 2

The past snowfall gave us a grand depth of a bit over two feet. That exciting event included hours of shoveling and roads that were pretty much closed to driving for a while. I wonder why we “dig” dirt and “shovel” snow? Hmm…I remove the dirt from the hole and remove the snow from the walk. Yep, it’s the same thing as far as I can tell.  Both activities use the same tool and make my back tired.

Our yard now has deep three-foot deep trenches dug out and shoveled clear by me that lead to all the important locations. Basement door to chicken coops, front door to the car, and car to the road; however, I also made trails for the feral cats so they can come to the door for the food we leave them.

When the days of soft, cold snow finally ended, everything quickly warmed up and a suddenly a thick, damp fog settled in.

My first thought was to get out my snowshoes and head up into the hills surrounding our home. I mentioned that to my wife, but not in the mood for trudging through the snow she suggested we get our cameras and go for a drive around the now foggy neighborhood in Pritchard instead. So we bundled up, grabbed our cameras and took off.

Our car is perfectly equipped for photography with beanbags. Just set them in the window and nestle the lens on them to reduce camera shake when using our long lenses. However, on this day my wife set aside her 150-500mm, and decided her light weight 70-300mm would be better suited for the foggy landscape, and I chose my 24-70mm. But it’s good to always have the beanbags in our car even if we don’t need them.

Fog is a tricky business because contrast is all but lost and the moving mist reduces sharpness. Everything is so flat that it’s hard to get definition.

I enjoy fog and recall the imagery of a poem from Carl Sandburg.

“The fog comes

on little cat feet.

It sits looking

over harbor and city

on silent haunches

and then moves on.”

I think that description is pretty good and I enjoyed how the fog obscured my view of things in the distance and created a mystical looking world as I drove along our snow covered rural road.

Years ago when photographers were making exposures of foggy landscapes with film the best way to increase contrast was to use yellow, orange, or sometimes red filters. We could also over-develop the film, or as a last resort process it in hot chemicals. There were also filters that could be used while printing to reduce the tonal values, and some specialized chemicals would help also increase the contrast. All that was lots of work and if you screwed up the negative…well, you were screwed.

Today we have software like Photoshop (and lots of other programs available that are just as good) to help us out in those flat, foggy conditions, and when Linda and I drove off into the whispering fog I knew I would be spending a short time sitting at my computer increasing the contrast and reducing the grey tonal values.

It is now all so easy and it doesn’t take much time. As I sat manipulating the hazy images I thought about all the hours I used to put into producing our photographs. We have it pretty good these days.

Fog is fun in which to shoot. All one has to do is find subjects that are distinctive enough to be understood through the quietly creeping and silent fog. My suggestion is instead of drinking your chocolate and staring out the window on the next foggy morning waiting for the sun to come out, get your camera, go out, and see what you can do.

As always, I really appreciate your comments. Thanks, John

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com