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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

What are your Instinctive Desires?

Lee Andrikopoulos of Instinctive Desires. Nikon D700, Nikkor 85mm. Photek Softlighter.
Lee, being unusually demure...
The title of this blog post not intended to be controversial, or some kind of double entendre. It is a simple question that each of us needs to examine in life. What do we really want? The easy answer to all of that is....success. 

'Success' is an interesting concept. It is a personal concept that many equate to financial wealth. That is a part of everyone's idea to some degree I imagine, as life in this world without money is impossible. Life without enough money is difficult. But the endless pursuit of it is equally inane and difficult. 

For photographers, success has to do with both creativity and financial return. For most I would also imagine that it would include other, very personal rewards that vary from person to person. But if photography is your profession of choice, your desired career, you will need to know more than just the technicalities and creativities of each image. For you to make money, you will need to know how to firstly value and ultimately sell your work. 

This is where Lee and Lorna Andrikopoulos of Instinctive Desires come in. There are some great photography workshop companies around, but who is going to teach you how to sell those wonderful images that you have learned to take? Who is going to help you to value your work and present that value with confidence to customers who have become used to the commodity that photography has become? Lee and Lorna at Instinctive Desires, that's who. That is what they specialise in and one look at their website will convince you of that. Their courses and consultations have dramatically improved the financial returns and successful workflows of the photographers whom they have assisted. 

We spent a fun filled afternoon with Lee and Lorna at their home on Sunday. It was an afternoon 14 months in the making and their hospitality knew no bounds. We ate goat and corned beef, potatoes, pumpkin and cauliflower, drank wine and giggled incessantly. Tash had promised to update Lorna's portrait so we brought out the Bowens flash heads and the fold out backdrop in their living room. When Tash was finished with Lorna, we decided it was Lee's turn. He is rather crazy...but that's fine with us. So are we, really. 

If you have read this post and you live in Australia, you would be wise to contact Lee and Lorna. If you live in another country and read this post, you would be wise to contact Lee and Lorna at Instinctive Desires. I am sure that they can hop on a plane and come to you, especially if you live in some beautiful and exotic location and there is access to red wine. Either way, your business will never be the same, and your skills in the viewing room will result in high sales and higher profits. 

Oh, and the pretty face on their website and Facebook banner....that's my wife.
Yeah... I just had to put that in.
Yeah...its the Mona Leesa....


Pennsylvania, USA. IPhone and Pixlromatic
No, this strange title is not a new app from the wonderful library of apps available from iTunes. Rather, it is my way of saying that photographers have so many wonderful tools these days to keep their vision alive. Carrying a camera with you these days is no different to carrying your phone, and with it, so many wonderful applications for shooting, post processing and uploading. I don't intend to make this particular blog post about that as I am sure that you already are very aware of what can be done and probably know more apps than I do. Instagram, Hipstamatic,Pixlromatic, True, I will stop there. I will be typing all day if I continue.
Hobart, Tasmania. iPhone and Hipstamatic

But what it does mean is that there is never a reason for not being able to create and reinfuse your creativity. Now, more than ever, you are empowered to create at any opportunity. The photograph above was taken while driving to Newark Airport through Pennsylvania.  It was a quick roadside stop to capture a rusting, old Chevy abandoned to time and space. The photograph left was taken while walking through Hobart, Tasmania. The photograph below - a walk through a small town in Pennsylvania. Each image was taken using my iPhone 4 and then processed in camera.

Once upon a time, taking a photograph with a phone went against every natural inclination in my soul. The quality was terrible and yet so many memorable moments were being captured using phones. This is not my feeling now. While I still believe in quality and the need to capture special moments and events, I have come to see that the changes made in cameraphone technology are such that these concerns no longer apply. I also still believe in the DSLR, and always will. Its just that - to be honest - I don't always have one with me.

Wedding photographer Jerry Ghionis has even shot wedding images with his iPhone and won awards for the them. While there are those who would say that he could capture great wedding photographs with a coffee mug and two pieces of sticky tape, it nonetheless indicates the possibilities of the technology and the quality possible in our phones. More than that, however, is the fact that we are always enabled to create in the moment while being assured that our images are high quality. There is no reason then for our photography to enter into a period of creative block simply because we have been 'stuck for time', as it were. These days we can take wonderful images just walking around, catching the train to work or simply sitting in your kitchen. That being the case, our eyes continue to 'see', and we can continue to capture.
Pennsylvania, USA. iPhone

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Fun is Just Good Business...

Johann and Kyoko. Photography: Living in Pictures 
Thank you Natasha, Shelton and Black Tulip For The AMAZING Photo shoot last night! You Guys made it such a wonderful experience. Thank you from the bottom of my heart :)
- Johann Nogueira.

If you are going to undertake photography as a profession - even on a part time basis - it should be enjoyable for you. That almost goes without saying. Once you stop having fun, enjoying the creativity and the many other enjoyable aspects of photography that coincide, much of the reason you started the process initially is lost. Sure, every business has its stresses and challenges, but photography should be fun - for you. But what about those whom you photograph? Should it be fun for them? Absolutely. And that, my friends, is just good business, if nothing else.
Tash and I were honoured to have our friend Johann Nogueira and his partner, Kyoko, in our home for a meal last night. Johann is without doubt the most entrepreneurial person I have ever met. He is just plain smart, heading a very successful company called Nogueira Alliance. He has been a friend of Tash's since they first met about two years ago. He has also recently been working on the Living in Pictures (the new business I have joined my wife in) website. As of this writing it is  incomplete, but we are very happy. Very happy indeed. And very grateful.

Johann is one of the nicest fellows I have ever met and his girlfriend Kyoko is simply delightful. It was a joy to create some portraits of them last night over a glass of wine, more than a few hearty laughs and even a little bit of guitar accompaniment - if you want to call what I play 'accompaniment'... Anyway... Johann works in many corporate fields, but his approach and style is casual and friendly. Nevertheless, every business person needs to have a professional portrait of themselves taken for their Linkedin site, Facebook, their own website - among many other things. In this regard Johann is certainly no exception. The only problem is, he has never enjoyed the process and so has shied away from it. That being the case, the few portraits portraits of him have not represented the Johann I know. More than that, they don't represent the Johann he himself knows.

A photographer who specialises in people photography needs to do more than just light and shoot. His or her job is to find the person they are capturing - not just in shape or form, but in character. How do they do that? They do that by being more than just a person with the camera. They do that by being communicative, relaxed, humourous and thoroughly at ease with themselves and the entire process. There is nothing more unnerving than leaving something important in the hands of someone you in whom you are not entirely confident. Yourself - your portraits, wedding photographs - any of those important events and representations of yourself, are very important. So not only should you be skilled at what you do technically, you need to be skilled at helping the person be themselves in that moment. By so doing, you enable yourself andyour subject to find the person that needs to be captured and presented to the world. That is as much a part of the skill of capture as lighting, composition, lens perspective or any other aspect of photography itself. As much as any technical skill, it should be learned and honed.

The fun we had last night captured Johann's attention to the point where he asked if this is what we do at every shoot. Tash and I just looked at each other and smiled. "Yuhuh!" we said laughingly. For the photographer, that is not only a great job, it is also just plain good business. If you deliver an enjoyable experience along with a quality product, your chances of success are thus multplied. 

Thank you Johann and Kyoko. You were so much fun!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Being a Duck...

Susan and Billy at Butleigh Wootten.

I knew it was a little crazy, but I really wanted to do it. When Susan and Billy asked me to photograph their wedding, which would be held on the 7th of May, 2011, I knew it could be difficult, but I couldn't say no. I knew it would be difficult because I was getting married the day after, and then heading off to the US with my wife the day after that for a working honeymoon. Nonetheless, I wanted to be Susan and Billy's photographer. Their wedding, I knew, would be a beautiful event, and it would be held at one of my favourite Melbourne wedding venues, Butleigh Wootten. I just couldn't say no.

The original idea was that Tash would shoot the wedding with me. But, as you know, the best laid plans of mice and men....Tash woke up the day before our own wedding with a screaming headache. Her back and neck were very badly out of place and needed some quick fixing. Thanks to our friend John Matthews, a soft tissue therapist who saved our day, Tash was just fine for the wedding. But on Susan and Billy's wedding day, she was out of action.

So, I headed off to their wedding with a good friend of mine as an assistant. He knew nothing about photography, but was willing to do and be whatever I needed him to do and be. And I was extremely grateful. He was actually quite awesome, I have to say.

Now, I have photographed weddings on my own many times, but not being as young as I used to be I like to have someone along these days to keep my brain fresh, and even help with the physically demanding aspects of the day. But having Tash along would have had the added benefit of another photographer. She is quite an amazing wedding photographer in her own right. She would say she has been well trained, but you can't train vision. She has a unique and wonderfully creative vision. But...suddenly the entire creative onus was on myself alone.

So, with Tash's back and nexk pain on my mind, my own wedding still requiring some finishing touches for  the next day and then three weeks of workshops to run in the US to be run directly thereafter, it would be understandable if my mind was whirring just a little. To top it off, I had forgotten all my Nikon batteries for my D700 and the one in my camera was getting lower....and lower....Can you blame me? I had a lot on my mind...(Excuses, excuses...I know...)

When these things happen to a photographer - especially a wedding photographer - nothing can be manifest to the bride and groom. They do not need to know. They also have much on their mind, and they don't need your issues on top of the natural concerns every couple has on their wedding day. They have every right to simply enjoy their day, and they don't need to know what your problems are.

As I have often taught at wedding workshops - you simply have to be a duck. For all concerned, you are sailing along smoothly on top of the water while all along you are privately paddling like crazy underneath. To be anything less than a duck would be unprofessional. Whatever is going on in your life, it is irrelevant to this event, this moment, this bride and groom. Leave it at home, and be a duck.

Thanks Susan and Billy for the honour it was to be a part of your wonderful wedding day.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Photek Softlighter

Our friend "Retro" under the glow of the Photek Softlighter. Nikon D700, Tamron SP 90mm Macro
If Annie Liebovitz can use it on a shoot with Keith Richards, so can I - except that I am not on a shoot with Keith Richards.  This gentleman above (well, 'gentleman' might be pushing it but he's a great guy...) is an old friend of Tash's. His name is Ray, but everyone calls him Retro. That's how he likes it. Anyway...he popped around for dinner the other evening and seeing as we had only just purchased the Photek Softlighter from my friend Leo at Image Melbourne, Retro became our first -slightly coerced, slightly not - subject under its magical glow.

The Photek Sofltighter is not an umbrella, but it is. Its not a softbox, but it is. It is a mix of both in a way, and I really love what it does. The light from the flash head is reflected - just like umbrella lighting, but its diffused through a scrim - just like a softbox. Its specular highlights are soft, but evident, and used close to the face is beautifully soft, with smooth transition zones and very even light. Further back, say five or six feet, it is still soft and even light, but with a little added punch. Watch Jenn Photo's Youtube Video here if you like...

The first time you attach it to your flash head it can be a little bit difficult as the elasticised opening for your reflector is central, but of course your flash head is rarely centrally placed in any umbrella because the shaft usually runs along the flash head body. But once you have the hang of it, as it were, you can get that baby ready in a minute or so. Even if it takes you a few minutes at first, the light is worth the effort. I can see that I will be using this inexpensive and quite lovely light modifier for much of my studio potraiture.

If you are in Australia, like I am, you can purchase your own Photek Softlighter at Image Melbourne. Simply click here. Its under $150, and worth every cent. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Its a Lens, Baby!

A newspaper stand near Grand Central Station, New York. Nikon D700, Lens Baby Edge 80 Optic
I have always loved the art of manipulating and deliberately employing depth of field. In my photography I find that I have two working modes in that regard - either lots of it, or almost none at all. You will rarely find me working with an aperture of f8 or 5.6, unless I am in the studio, or I have reason to ensure sharpness through layers of people in a group - that kind of thing. Because I shoot people mostly, I find myself more often than not in the wider aperture arena.

So, as you can imagine, the new LensBaby Edge 80 is a fascinating new way for me to further explore the possibilities with depth of field. Now, I can not only minimise or maximise it....I can bend it and warp it as I see fit. Oh yeah. I am going to love that. Hey, I already do!

Walking the streets of New York in May gave me an opportunity to try out the Lens Baby without worrying too much about the consequences of making a mistake. While I love street shooting and don't want to make mistakes, no one was paying for the images and Glynn and I were walking the lengths and breadths of New York for the fun of photography, nothing else. We walked about 100 blocks that day in search of images for ourselves. Sore legs? Check. Great photographs? Well, we thought so. Either way, it was a wonderful opportunity for me to try out the new LensBaby Edge 80 that had made its way into my LowePro Pro Roller.

9th Street Billy. Nikon D700 and LensBaby Edge 80

We met many wonderful people that day as we interacted with them and photographed them. Street shooting is about being candid, or being completely and confidently interactive. So, in that endeavour we encountered buskers, waiters, film makers and  conspiracy theorists. Yes, New York has its share of interesting characters. Among these is 9th Street Billy, who engaged us in conversations about life, art, music and....well, a myriad of other things. While he spoke I clicked away, bending and shaping the LensBaby Edge 80 as best I could while he moved through his life lessons. Working with the LensBaby is never easy, although Glynn and I discovered that it works more easily with a 35mm sensor than a crop sensor camera. (Note that I refuse to use the term "full frame' with regard to my D700's sensor. All cameras are essentially 'full frame'.) There is less room for error with cameras that have a larger sensor and if there is one thing about the LensBaby Edge 80, it can be a sensitive little beastie. This is especially the case when you open it right up. With its 2.8 aperture wide open you need only move a millimetre and your sharpness is off, especially at closer proximities. For this reason, I have experimented using f4 and even 5.6 for portraits, which is a strange thing for me to do. Whatever you do, make sure you know how to use it well before you commit to paid work with it. You may find yourself dismayed at first, but as with all things, practice makes perfect.

Times Square, New York. Nikon D700
with the LensBaby Edge 80
The other thing to remember is that the natural rules of depth of field also apply, so the further you are from your subjects the less likely you are to have them out of focus. I found portraits difficult, but street scenes easier, simply due to the distance involved. Anything I captured at a distance was pretty sharp, but those close, tight portraits were more difficult. The 80mm focal length can work well with both portraits and larger expanses within the frame. At close range, though, you need to take your time. No matter what you are shooting, before you leave the scene or change composition, ensure that the sharp bits in your pictures are actually sharp!

In the 15 or so years I have run workshops, photo tours and seminars, I have always endeavoured to teach methods and techniques of in-camera capture that highlight the subject. Essentially, successful photography is about this very pursuit, not leaving the viewer to question the reason or intent of the image. These techniques have naturally included tight composition, using depth of field, lens perspective, metering techniques and prioritising light over location. Now, with the LensBaby Edge 80, I have found another means  of highlighting the subject that I am looking very much forward to exploring and employing - Light Bending. I have much to learn about the LensBaby Edge 80 Optic, but its something I am really looking forward to doing. In fact, I would love to shoot an entire wedding with the thing, but would never do so on a commissioned wedding of my own. I would be too afraid of losing those essential images to my inexperience with this beautiful new toy. I would also imagine that any bride or groom in their right mind would find two or three hundred 'lightbent' images of their wedding a little tiresome, perhaps a tad overdone. A dozen would be more than enough. Darnitall.

So...if you have a place for a third wheel at a wedding you're shooting soon....can I come along and experiment with the LensBaby? Hmmmm?

The busy streets of New York have their tenants. Nikon D700, jpeg in monochrome setting, LensBaby Edge 80

Monday, July 16, 2012

Challenging Yourself...

Taken on film using a Petri rangefinder camera. Hanoi, Vietnam, 2002.
It was ten years ago, but I remember it well. I was at the annual Camberwell Photography Flea Market. It was a Sunday morning and I was there hunting for bargains like everyone else. What Nikon lenses could I get for my F90x and my F801 - the two main Nikon bodies I used at the time? Lovely cameras, both of them. I knew that I would soon be leading my second photo tour through Vietnam and maybe there was an extra lens or accessory I could take along with me to try out. I went from stall to stall and browsed eagerly for that illusive bargain. There were many to be had, but nothing that stood out for me.

Then, something caught my eye. It was a Petri Rangefinder, in mint condition, probably about 50 years old. It was in its original leather case. Curiously, I asked the fellow behind the stall "How much is the Petri?". "Thirty five", he said. Not really knowing why, but strangely drawn to this lovely little thing, I didn't even haggle. It was mine.

It had a fixed 45mm f 2.8 lens, rangefinder focussing and no meter at all. I knew that to take any photograph with it I would have to revert to skills I hadn't used since I first started learning photography in my elective photography class in high school. For instance, it had been a long time since I had 'gut metered', taking a look at a scene and applying the old 'sunny 16' method of metering. Rangefinder focussing was also something I had not had much experience with, but I had learned manual focussing on my Minoltas and Mamiyas long before I went Nikon. 

What drew me to this camera was precisely the things I was concerned about - metering, focussing, setting manual exposures for every image. I was confined to one focal length every time I raised the camera to my eye, and it was relatively wide-angle focal length at that. In other words, I fell in love with the idea of a challenge - again. I had become so used to the automations of my Nikons that I had lost touch with the intricacies and challenges of creating the image. It had all become so much easier. Now, I wanted to return to my younger years and the challenges that had once bamboozled me to see how far I may have come.

I took the camera to Vietnam for the tour, loaded only with black and white film. Every exposure was a guess, using only the 'sunny 16' rule as a guide as the selenium cell meter that came with it and sat perched in the camera's flash shoe was not only broken, it would not have been particularly accurate. I had to focus using the ghostly yellow rangefinder imaging through the viewfinder and remember that when I was close to a subject that I had to compensate for parallax error. Each image required a fair amount of thought - and I loved it. Upon returning from Vietnam I was not only pleased with the overall accuracy of my guesswork, I was very pleased with the quality that the camera itself had produced as light travelled through the lens and aperture/leaf shutter and on to the film. 

These days, I, like almost every other photographer, I shoot digitally. I check the screen with each image I take and use it as a starting reference point for my results. My metering is provided by the camera and I have several modes and settings, tweaks and options for every image produced therein. But there are times I am tempted to see if I still have 'it', that wonderful ability to produce images from the gut like the Petri forced me to do in Vietnam. Such abilities were present as everyday necessities in the working and creative lives of my photography legends from years past - W.Eugene Smith, Robert Capa, Margaret Bourke-White, Gordon Parks, Ansel Adams and Henri Cartier-Bresson - among many others. I could never claim to wear their mantles, but I can do my best to replicate their skill and experience. Perhaps one day I will have the courage to put a piece of gaffer tape over the screen of my D700 and go out shooting for fun without the benefits of that instant digital revelation of success or failure. In so doing I would at least be returning to my film shooting days. I don't think I have the courage to push it further back than that....

Friday, July 13, 2012

Here Comes the Judge

Sometimes we make things much more complex than is necessary. Portraits often fit into this category. There is a tendency on the part of photographers to tell too much of the story, including too many details, locations, backgrounds and other distractions. A portrait is usually the simple capture of a person, and usually the person is enough. Nothing more need be said. This is Judge Rapoport. While recently in Allentown running workshops, his son, Jed became model and awesome automobile supplier all in one. When his Dad came by to say "Hello" and check out the action, it was impossible to avoid taking a portrait of him. Moving him into some soft, even light and using a Tamron 70-200 at 200mm at f2.8, I composed tightly and quickly created this simple portrait. I chose to use the D700's inbuilt monochrome jpeg setting and highlight the one important element in the frame - Judge Rapoport. Minimum depth of field combined with lens compression come together to simplify everything within the frame. In all, the image took seconds to create. Sometimes that's all you have. Sometimes that's all you need.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Endings, Beginnings...

As many of you may know, I have decided to leave Creative Photo Workshops. Life is a series of beginnings and endings, and this is no different. I remember some excellent advice that my friend, John Swainston once imparted to me some years ago when I was leaving one publishing company and beginning one of my own. I was naturally concerned, but his advice rang true and granted me a courageous passage. He said "Shelton, just make sure you are walking toward something and not away from it." Taking that to heart, here I am again, on the cusp of a new part of my journey within my career. Along with my wife, I am going to be returning to the work of photography, and I am looking very much forward to it. 

Leaving Creative Photo Workshops does not mean an end to the business. Glynn has and will continue to run workshops in his own inimitable style, and the principles of teaching photography that made CPW so popular will no doubt remain. I wish him every success. The teacher in me will also continue in some way, shape or form, and what that will be remains to be seen. But I will always try to help other photographers in whatever way I can. For me, that is extremely rewarding. Apart from its personal rewards, I also find that teaching the various aspects of photography that I have over the years has improved my own abilities and vision and I encourage every photographer to share their knowledge for both  personal and creative rewards. Don't be afraid of it. Find out for yourself the gift of sharing your knowledge - to whatever degree you have attained it - with others. 
So, this last week has seen me do my last workshop with Glynn. It was a two-day wedding workshop, and I enjoyed it very much. Once again we battled weather and time to teach whatever is possible in those two days. It is impossible to teach each and every aspect or difficulty of wedding photography, but some of the techniques shared and imparted over the two days are the kinds of things that can truly make a difference between 'happy snaps at a wedding' and some truly creative and memorable images. Not wanting to take much time out from the customers to take pictures, I didn't take too many myself over the two days, but I have included some images from the workshop. 

Glynn, old buddy, I wish you every success with CPW and thank you from my heart for being my friend and partner these last three and a bit years. Mate, its been fun. Thanks for your friendship, your innovation and your many acts of kindness. 

The Life, Times and Images of photographer, Shelton Muller

Images on this blog are copyright Shelton Muller