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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Is Your Business a 'Non-Profit' organisation?

The digital era has turned photography into a commodity.There was a time when photography was mysterious, a skill to aspire towards, an art. Now, an image costs nothing to take, so it means nothing to own. Many of today's photographers are coming out of the woodwork with little understanding of light, lenswork and composition, adding a funky Lightroom preset that makes it look 'arty' and hoping that people will rave about their images on Facebook. No wonder professional photographers are struggling. The entire concept of the value of beautiful and masterful images by photographers who know their craft has been lost on the masses. Apparently, if you have a good camera, you can do it yourself. And yes, if you buy your pencils from the same place Shakespeare did, you can also pen a beautiful sonnet.
So, if you are a photographer who creates masterful images, or you are at least aspiring to that endeavour while in the meantime trying to make or supplement your income, you will need to know how to value your images yourself and then sell them confidently. This is why I have attached the image above.
Its a portrait of Lee Andrikopoulos. Along with his wife, Lorna, Lee runs a business called Instinctive Desires. He is one of the most inspirational and effective speakers I have heard on the subject of the emotional sale. While spending an afternoon recently in their home having lunch, Tash and I embarked upon a few portraits of them. What the heck....I am too lazy to get my lighting gear and backdrop out of the car, so why not drag it all into their living room and do a few portraits? After all, its fun too!
Well, thanks Lee and Lorna for using this one in your latest promotions for a seminar I hope I can attend. I am honoured!
If you are struggling to sell your work, it may be that you are struggling to value it yourself. It may be that you need the skills that enable others to value it as they should. If you can make this seminar, do so. If not, at least connect with this motivational couple and their business. You won't regret it.
For the seminar, click here

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Deliberate. Simple. Beautiful.

Dancer and model, Sarah Hardy, at Black Rock, Victoria, Australia.
One flash, camera left. Nikon D700 with Tamron 10-24 lens. 
Successful images often result from the combination of simple techniques which become something greater than the sum of their parts. It is the choices we make within that process that become the difference between failure and success, and can also be the difference in interpretation of a scene or its desired outcome. I have often been in places and times with fellow photographers who interpret the same scene completely differently. Nevertheless, it is the choice of techniques combined within each image that complete it successfully - or not.
In the years I have spent training photographers I have to admit that it is this process - the combination of techniques - that is the real learning curve. I suppose it is the same in every creative endeavour. What it means for the photographer is a deliberate series of decisions that come together to create the image - which until completed - is only seen only in the fog of the creative mind.

The real situation, captured on my iPhone
The image above is naturally a combination of these kinds of decisions. Allow me to elaborate. Light is the first choice, and because there was no light to sculpt this beautiful young dancer - the lovely Sarah Hardy - a single flash and wireless receiver were placed on a stand just out of frame. Naturally the exposure setting was established for the flash, which was then balanced to underexpose the ambient light.The next part of the process was lens choice. A Tamron 10-24 wide angle lens was used, and the lower viewpoint selected to empower Sarah and simultaneously include the cloudy sky. Sarah's pose was naturally a collaboration between photographer and dancer, she being the expert in dance and me being the one with the eye in the viewfinder. 
Without this simple combination of tools and processes, this image as you see it simply would not exist. And while each of these decisions and techniques is simple, it is a very deliberate process that combines the techniques and tools to result in a final image.

When I was a teenager, I worked in photo retail in Melbourne city. One day a customer walked into the store with a large Nikon F2AS, complete with its large and heavy motordrive attached, swung neck-breakingly across his chest. Over the top of its photomic head was a Dymo label he had printed that simply said "THINK". After 30 years I still remember that customer and that Dymo label. This photographer was reminding himself that every time he lifted his camera to his eye, his mental and creative processes needed to combine to create the image he desired. For him, this was not a haphazard process. It required him to think. It is that process, combined with knowledge, tools and experience, that creates the images in our cameras that, until the moment we press the shutter, dwell only in the misty backblocks of our creative mind.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Portraits that Matter to You...

You know how mechanics often have broken down cars, carpenters often have leaky roofs and painters often have scratched and dented walls? The same can often be said about photographers, who never seem to have beautiful portraits of the ones they love. Well, a few evenings ago we turned the TV off, set up a portable studio in our living room and took a few portraits of ourselves. A friend of mine recently gave me a beauty dish, so it was a great opportunity to try it out. 
I decided that for this portrait of Tash, my wife, I would use the diffusing sock that came with the beauty dish, just to soften the specular highlights a little. Add a hair light, a portable fan and her lovely, smiling face and Voila! A portrait is made! While there, we did portraits of Annabel, my stepdaughter and I even shot my mother-in-law....with a camera....OK? Don't call the cops just yet. The image above is the jpeg, pretty much straight out of camera, resized and watermarked in Picasa. 
If you are a photographer and you are reading this, thinking 'Ya know (insert your own name here), I don't have professional portraits of my husband, wife, partner, my children, my parents, my friends....',  well, here is an idea. Turn your TV off and spend an evening with a bit of lighting, a portable backdrop and your camera in hand. Its gotta be better than watching those stupid reality shows. This is YOUR reality. Capture it, honour it, live it.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Does One Size Fit All?

Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, USA. Tamron 10-24mm at 19mm.
In the fifteen or so years I have been running workshops and seminars, podcasts and presentations, there has been one constant issue that has featured among so many of those who have attended. This constant has been a lack of understanding of the nature and the true value of lenses and optical nuances. 

Now, let me make one thing very clear. I am not speaking of the technicalities of optics as I am not an expert in the field. Thats's for the guys in the white jackets. I am speaking of the benefit of lens perspective, angle of view, compression and depth of field. When it comes to creating successful, interesting, dynamic images, there are, in my opinion, few techniques which come close to the importance of the correct choice of focal length and f-stop.

Photographers will argue black and blue about lens sharpness, chromatic and spherical abberation, bokeh, blades and barrel distrotion. Blah, blah, blah. Yes these things are important, but there is a lot of snobbery in photography about technicalities, brands and types of lenses. Photographers will argue over the most ridiculous and irrelevant technicalities of lenses, little realising that they make little if any difference to the creative delivery of their images. Often these are the same photographers whose images are so ordinary and uninteresting that it wouldn't matter if they had used the bottoms of old Coke bottles inside a toilet roll. These days, if a lens is bad, its famous for being bad. This is especially true because of wonderful websites such as DPreview, and the internet in general. A lens manufacturer could not survive in this kind of environment if a lens was produced at a certain price and did not perform as expected.

A few short years ago I was in Patagonia running a photo tour on behalf of Darran Leal, a personal friend and well known Australian photographer and photography tutor. Tamron's Australian agent had recently asked me to try out their new Tamron 18-270 f3.5-6.3 zoom with vibration compensation. Having just acquired my Nikon D700, I knew I could not use it on that because the Tamron is designed for a crop sensor and not a 35mm size sensor. So I brought my trusty Fuji S5 and had it permanently fixed to that. I have never been a fan of superzooms, but I was pleasantly surprised with this lens' optical and physical performance. In fact, I was very pleasantly surprised. If I had to travel the world with one lens and one camera, I could see myself seriously contemplating this as the lens I would bring. The three images below show Cerro Torre in morning light, captured using the Tamron 18-270 f3.5-6.3 at its widest (which is approximately the 35mm equivalent of 24mm), then somewhere around 70mm, and then all the way to 270mm (which is the 35mm equivalent of approximately 405mm). I was impressed. I still am, and would happily trust that lens to take me around the world if it was all I could use. 
Cerro Torre, Patagonia. Tamron 18-270mm at 18mm. Exposure 1/800th, f10.

Cerro Torre, Patagonia. Tamron 18-270 at 70mm. Exposure 1/800th at f10
Cerro Torre, Patagonia. Tamron 18-270 at 270mm. Exposure 1/640th at f10.

Model: Sarah Hardy. Tamron 70-200 f2.8 at f2.8
But the fact remains that there is no such thing as a 'one size fits all' lens for photographers. Why would anyone want that anyway? To me, there is nothing more beautiful than a long lens with a wide aperture, such as a 70-200 f 2.8, for example. Even my trusty old Nikkor 85mm f1.8 is a gorgeous thing and I still love it after all these years. We are inseparable. While doing some portraits for a client the other day, I brought out my old manual focus Nikkor 135mm f2.8 because it was the ideal focal length for the situation. It is sharper than many new lenses I have used and much sharper than my newer AF Nikkor 180mm. I am certainly not going to bow to the discussions and debates about lenses that many photographers climb into. If a lens is good, its good. If it does the job well, I will use it, no matter the brand, the age or the technology. Lenses are the tunnels that allow and alter light. That is what they do. The rest is completely irrelevant. 

On the other end of that scale, I love a good wide angle, and have used everything from 14mm on my D700 to create images that I love for their unique perspective. Again, I have been impressed with my Sigma 14mm, very impressed with the Tamron 10-24mm and I love my  AF Nikkor 20mm f2.8 prime. Lenses that do their jobs are like excellent employees. Their names and physical attributes are nowhere near as important to your business as their abilities, their potential and their results. 

Playing cards in Baktapur, Nepal. Sigma 14mm.
Learning to 'see like lenses' is as valuable in the previsualisation process as composition, or any other technique. Generally I try not to officially judge at photography events, clubs and societies. I suppose its because I am not a big believer in the process. If I were, however, I would imagine that my greatest complaint would be that of poor lens choice or lens use. Lens use is a 'make or break' technique in the creation of our images which usually suffers to convenience rather than deliberate choice. Most photographers, I believe, fall foul of the old 'stand there and zoom' method as against choosing the lens that actually makes the image succeed and walking toward or back from the subject. Nothing kills an image more than lens laziness. If you are reading this and you would like me to elaborate, I would be happy to add more blog posts about lens choice and the fine art of 'seeing like lenses'. There are, in my opinion, few components of image creation that matter as much as focal length and f-stop.
My trusty 85mm Nikkor at f1.8, doing its thang...

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Takin' it to the Streets

There are some wonderful faces around. Just a walk through a city street will reveal faces by the dozn that you would love to capture. Well, why can't you? Is there anything stopping you? "Yes", you say. "I feel a bit apprehensive about asking them if I can photograph them."

These days, suspicion about a photographer's motives is not uncommon. Taking your camera to the beach or to the swimming pool to photograph your own children is tantamount to a criminal act as those who look on, eyebrows raised, wonder what you are really up to. It is sad situation and one which reveals that despite all our efforts, the wrong kind of people have won. The innocent are left to maneuvre their way around the simple act of photography because a sick few have ruined it for the rest of us.

But that does not mean that you can't photograph people in the streets. You can do so candidly, with a long lens - the ethics of which are entirely up to you. You can also do one simple but incredibly clever thing. You can engage them in the simple act of conversation. Has anyone ever heard of something called a 'greeting'?

Yes, establishing a rapport with an individual through conversation and honesty is not difficult. That only takes a few moments, and then you can pop the question. 

"Would you mind if I took a quick portrait of you?"

The worst thing that would probably happen would be a firm and unequivocal "No". And that's ok. No harm, no foul. Somewhere in the middle you may get an embarrassed question about why you would want to do so. Somewhere way up at the top of the list will often be an agreement. It may take a little explanation, but there is no harm in that either.

Successful photography requires much more than technical skills. It often requires that we step out of our comfort zones, take a risk and enable ourselves more with each experience, growing more confident, socially adept and strong with each image captured. Perhaps the lesser of the benefits will be the portraits you take.

But then again, maybe not. You may just create some timeless and beautiful works of art. You need only to ask.

The Life, Times and Images of photographer, Shelton Muller

Images on this blog are copyright Shelton Muller