Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Interesting Backgrounds can be found Everywhere

The background of a photo is nearly as critical as the main subject because the background should set the stage for the main subject. When looking for a background, I look for one that doesn't distract from the subject, but compliments the subject. For example, if the subject has bright clothing, a more muted background helps bring the subject out and vice versa.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Refining your photos and Bringing out your subject

In order to pull in your viewer, you need to have an interesting subject. Not only must you find an interesting subject, it is necessary that you photograph it in such a way that actually is interesting. How does one make an appealing photograph that catches the eye? Here are several hints or suggestions I hope you find useful:

1. Fill the frame with the subject. If you have an interesting subject, then you should display it. It frustrates your viewer when the subject that he or she finds so interesting is so small! Also, when you fill the image frame with your subject, you are cutting out the clutter that detracts from it which brings us to...

2. Cut the clutter. The worse thing you can have in your image is clutter because it takes the viewer's eye away from what you intended them to see. The best way to cut clutter is to carefully frame your subject which involves finding different angle, background, lighting, etc. Flowers for example can be difficult because of surrounding vegetation gets in the way and finding the best angle can at times be quite challenging. Capturing an interesting shot many a time will necessitate the need to work more patiently and carefully.

3. Be patient, be passionate, and persevere! Last weekend, I lead a workshop and we went to a seemingly boring area. After meticulously searching all over the place, one lady found a small face on a pole about 2"-3" tall - who would have guessed! When you find an interesting subject, it's not so often that you will stumble upon the best possible lighting and angle. Generally, you will have to "work" the camera to you get something satisfactory.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Israel: An exploration of people, culture, and conflict

I am not about to write a political piece and while yes, I do have strong opinions, this is more about a photographic approach to documenting a country that I have personal ties.

When I went to Israel this summer, I packed 4 cameras: a digital Nikon D300, Zenza Bronica Medium format film camera, an auto-focus film Nikon SLR, and a Yashica TLR Medium format film camera. In the end, I ended up using the medium format cameras the most because they were light and the Yashica was particularly quiet and unsuspecting. With film cameras, I make each photo count and when I got my film returned to me after development, I was thoroughly please with the shots I made.

Lesson: Bring at most two cameras - one if possible. It's awful to have to carry a bag around if you don't have to!

My goal was to capture the heart of the country. In order to capture the heart of the country, I needed to capture those every day moments of normalcy. As a tourist, it's not an easy thing to distinguish between what's normal interaction and what false interaction. The citizens respond differently when they're walking up and down the street than when you are at a merchant's store. Living in one neighborhood allowed me to really get a feel for the area and the people who constitute it. I knew what was happening and when - as if it were my neighborhood back home.

Lesson: If you want to capture who someone really is, you might just have to get to know them.

Capturing the well-known pictures of the Islamic dome in Jerusalem wouldn't have done this project justice. If I am only showing you what you have already seen, then I am not contributing to expanding your perspectives. I know I needed people to see just what a normal country is so that when you look at my book, you can "Hmm... this reminds me of where I live or place I know."

Lesson: Contribute - show a side that usually isn't seen.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Take only the Best: Show only the Best

Take only the Best: Show only the Best

Someone was remarked, "All the photos you take are really wonderful!" Really, are all the photos I take really that great? I doubt it - No, I know that not all of them are that great; however, I am not bashing this person. I want to bring up a certain point - if you want to look good, there are several tips to follow:

1. Take only the best photos

2. Show only the best photos
3. Dump the rest.

Take only the best photos:

When you shoot, be critical of what you shoot. Some shots just weren't meant to be. When you do not need to shoot a ton of photos, it is best not to set your camera to multiple photo shooting. For several reasons:

1. It will be a pain and time consuming to go through all of them
2. Your card fills up faster (if you're using digital)
3. Your efforts will be hit and miss - you're "praying and spraying"

Instead of firing off a ton of photos, ask yourself a few questions:

1. Does this shot honestly serve my purposes?
2. Could this shot be even better within reason of the circumstances?
3. What other angles can I explore?
4. How is the lighting? What can I do to maximize the lighting?
5. Whatever else you can think of....

A well thought out photo tends to be a better photo and sometimes spontaneity can be great - being ready just allows you to capture that moment much better.

Show only the best photos:

If there is a hard lesson to learn, it is that people really, honestly don't care to look at all of your or my photos. Honestly, I do not want to see every single photo you took. I want to see your best because they will give me a greater impression. This is harsh, but once you've mastered weeding out the not so good photos, your audience will praise you more and appreciate your work a lot more.

If I shoot 100 photos in a session which is normal (75-150), then I will choose about the 20-30 top photos. Most of the photos will get between a 3-4 star rating out of 5, but the Fives are the ones that go beyond just nice and into the realm of "awesome" or something that invokes an audible sign of satisfaction. Art can be a private thing, but if you are showing people, you are
showing your work to impress/give an impression - in this case, less really is more.

Dump the rest. Seriously.

Dump the rest... seriously. There honestly is no time to look at work that didn't make the cut. Save one or two for nostalgia or something, but the best thing you can do is de-clutter your computer with photos you never look at. I have thousands and thousands of photos - I honestly don't have the time to go through them, that's why I post up my favorite 5-7 photos from each shoot. Doing it this way relieves me from the effort of worrying about the old ones. It might be hard at first to dump your beloved memories, but after a while you will feel the weight lifted off of you and your hard drive will thank you many time over.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Things I Learned From My Trip To Israel

Don’t carry a ton of equipment:

I brought 4 cameras this trip – A Nikon D300 digital SLR, a film Nikon SLR, a Yashica 635 (medium format twin lens reflex), a Bronica SQ-A (medium format SLR) with a whole host of lenses. And which did I use the most? I used the Yashica, 50% of the time, the D300 40% of the time, and the Bronica the remaining 10%. I didn’t use the other Nikon at all. I liked the Yashica the most because of its quiet operation allowing me to take candid photos. Because many people in Israel had never seen a twin lens camera, a lot of curious people would stop me to ask me “Hamatzlama adayin ovedet?” (The camera still works?) And I replied, “Of course… I don’t have it with me for nothing!” Just wearing the camera made my subjects come to me of which most were friendly people. The ordinary camera made me look like a normal tourist – so when I want to get willing subjects, I just don my old 1960s Yashica and go to the street. If you have an old, unique camera, fire it up and take it for a spin – you’ll draw attention giving you the perfect chance to interact with people.

Use one lens if you can help it:

One beautiful thing about my Yashica is that there are essentially no accessories, so I never need to worry about buying another lens! Today, we’re all looking forward to buying the next lens and getting the next latest gizmo for our iPods and iPhones. So to have a device which is an all-in-one package that is entirely mechanical saves me the trouble and worry of having to thinking about how many batteries to bring along, which lenses to bring, etc.
However, the Nikon was not so simple. I brought several lenses: 50mm 1.8, 80-200 2.8, 18-70mm 3.5-4.5, and 35-70mm 2.8 Nikkor lenses. In the end, the 18-70mm Nikkor proved to be the lens I used the most because of its zoom range and faster than usual aperture. It’s really just a royal pain to have to carry around one bag or shove a lens into a pants’ pocket in the situation I might need it. To save my sanity, I just brought a versatile lens that did 85%-90% of what my other lenses could do. I didn’t have quite the fast aperture for low light situations, but if I really needed, I could boost my ISO. After all, the subject matters more than some grain in the image. The 80-200mm lens would draw too much attention to me and was rather unwieldy to carry around all day. The 50mm was great for low light, but what if I wanted to get close? Forget it. So for the zoon range, the lightweight, and relatively quicker aperture the 18-70mm was the lens of choice. In the end, having only one lens allowed me to concentrate on my photography without wasting time and energy carrying and changing lenses.

Shoot with a purpose:
My goal as a photographer was document Israel and portray it the way I saw it – as a normal every day country where people live mostly as we Americans live. Having a vision guided me. I learned a verse from the Proverbs that goes beyond religious boundaries; "Without a vision, a nation will perish." Have a vision and move forward.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Making the Most of What You Have

Most of us can admit that we all want that new something. Whether it's a new camera or lens, we are all looking forward to getting something new. Take some time to reflect and ask yourself, "How much is too much and when will I ever be satisfied?" I have personally experienced the feeling of wanting the next and best. My parents would always ask me, "Will this finally satisfy you?" and I'd always reply "yes", but it was never enough. Years later, I have finally come to realize when enough is enough.

So what is the connection to photography? Be satisfied because rarely it's our equipment that prohibits us from creating great photography. I brought 4 cameras to Israel because I might need them all, but I've really only used two of those cameras extensively - my D300 and my Yashica 635 twin reflex medium format film camera. I love the Yashica because it only has one lens. I don't have to worry about what if I had a different lens because there is only one. It's liberating to have that 80mm lens (50mm lens on 35mm film) because I can just focus on what I do have instead of what I don't have and all the wonderful photos I could be making with the lens I don't have. I brought 4 lenses for my Nikon D300, but yet the 18-70mm Nikkor lens is what I use 90-95% of the time because it's just so flexible.

Plenty of people question as to what to bring, but my philosophy now is to just bring your favorite lens and don't look back. Not only will you save time and energy not having to carry everything and keep track of it, you'll always protect yourself from going mentally insane and stressing. A few days ago on the beach, I did something very liberating - I set the camera to automatic (P mode) and just shot... the shots came out just fine. So just grab your one camera with your favorite lens, go out and explore, and have a good time. Focus on creating, not overloading.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Learning to See Light and Textures

Light and Texture

One way to become good at photography, is to learn how to see light and texture. I shoot black and white film and sometimes digitally to hone in my ability to see light and texture. The reason for which I use black and white is because I find color distracting - it's another element and it's easier to concentrate when you have less elements. Even when I work on color images in Adobe Lightroom, I first convert to black and white, work on the tones and contrast, then convert it back to color. Doing it this way allows me to ensure that the lighting within the photo is good. Color just distracts my eyes and I just see better in black and white.

Black and white is also a distortion of life. It again just boils everything to the bone - light and texture. I'm not telling you to shoot only in black and white, I'm asking you to get out and try new things. Photography concerns itself with lighting and as photographers, we too must concern ourselves with lighting.

Returning to the idea of boiling things down, black and white really has forced me to look harder at composition and textures within a photo. I also come to understand the limits of my digital camera in that I can't capture all the variations in the lighting in the scene. When I view black and work, I find myself forced to look at the essence of the subject.