‘You Can’t Handle The Truth”……or Can You?

279_RT8Ever want to know what unbiased people really think of those images your friends and family tell you are amazing and professional. Is the fear of having your best work critiqued by a professional in a specific field of photography, a road you are not ready to venture down. It was the path I chose long ago when I was trying to build a strong portfolio for my career in photojournalism It was one of the best moves I ever made and a humbling one too. I learned to trust the experience of those I sought out and accept their opinions without fear or ego getting in the way of furthering my career in photography.

If you admire the work of certain photographers and would respect their opinion of your work you must be willing to bare your photographers soul to them. Not an easy thing to do for most, but essential to move forward in the right direction and away from the false accolades your friends and family feel is their duty to throw at your feet. Did you really earn it? Maybe your images are deserving of praise but if they are only tested on Facebook you are not getting a true assessment of your work.

I have met numerous people who claim to be professional photographers and are usually the first to post every unedited, unprocessed or over-processed image via Facebook or iPhone hoping for a quick ‘Like’ from a friend or family member. This is ‘the fix’ that the majority of would be photographers seek out. That instant gratification and recognition that somehow reassures them that they have arrived as professional photographers.  The truth is that given the opportunity to have their photography critiqued by either a professional photographer or panel they will quickly back away so as not to be judged by established professionals in the photography community.

Purchasing an expensive camera system, to some,  justifies ‘professional’ status even though only the camera deserves it for most. Photography has become just another ‘tag’ people like to attribute to themselves for the ‘glam’ factor. Masquerading as a professional by association of the camera gear you own does not make one a great photographer. Having great images regardless of the gear you shoot with comes from within and there is no justification required.

I do not comment or ‘Like’ many images I see on social networks. When I am approached by an individual seeking some insight into photography I will always have a short conversation with them to assess which type of person I am dealing with. A ‘techy’ will always want to impress you with the gear they have, photography specs and the costs involved to acquiring the best equipment in their opinion . They actually think it matters to shoot with Canon or Nikon. The other I tend to avoid are the copycats. Photography ‘wanna-be’s’ to lazy to seek out their own locations and style and simply want you to draw them a map and guide them through duplicating your images. They don’t want to learn and are only interested in taking what you’ve created and making it there’s too.

To me photography is something create form the inside out. A personal inspiration with no agenda other than accomplishing the vision you initially sought after. The only person I seek for gratification is myself, and I am my own worst critic. Sharing my visions with friends and followers is the small gift I give without expectations.

Do not dismiss a critique if it is from someone that you respect as a professional or publication you admire. A mentor is an asset many amateur photographers are not humble enough to realize because ego gets in the way. I had a mentor when I began and value, to this day,  what I took away with me to get me to where I am today, some 25 years later in my profession.

Bottom line is that positive, or negative feedback is all relative to who it is coming from. Only you know if you are seeking a critique to grow as a photographer or simply a ‘ Like” to give you a fix.

Lost Your ‘Phojo”?

_MG_1326_7_8Just a a writer suffers from ‘writers block’ from time to time, photographers have periods when motivation and inspiration seem to take a hiatus.

For me this is a time to assess myself and see if I’m on the road I want to be on and make the necessary adjustments to regain my focus and reboot the creative and inspirational ‘phojo’  back to my own personal vision as a professional photographer.

Others might think the solution is to get out and force yourself to create one photograph per day. To me this is akin to a writer simply typing out random words each day in an effort to break through a dry spell. While this may help to pass the time and distract you until your passion, hopefully, returns,  I think it is a good time to step back and remember why it was that you wanted to become a photographer in the first place and what your goals were. Continuing to force yourself to shoot images that neither inspire you or fulfill the direction you want your style to evolve in does nothing to resolve the fact that you need to put yourself on that road that is calling you.

I’m not implying that one needs to pack-up their cameras for any period of time and simply not shoot, but rather to slow down and expand your thoughts beyond what you could shoot today, that likely will leave you feeling the same, and towards a project that inspires you before you even lift a camera. A project does not have to be a monumental body of work but should embody some forethought prior to it’s execution. Photographs with the intention to create images that you have already seen in your ‘mind eye’,  to utilize every aspect of your creativity and the execution thereof.

Choose a project or series that you can become passionate about. Don’t choose a subject that doesn’t inspire you simply because you like another photographers work. You like it because that is their passion and they executed it well. Find your own muse in photography and then explore everything that is available to help broaden your own vision and help you expand what you think you know into something that can drive  your  personal style. The more knowledge you can obtain the better the chances you will be able to achieve what your mind saw already but with a clearer view of what you want to accomplish.

My ‘phojo’ has returned with the sense of adventure that always fired me up to shoot and an understanding of what it was that may have caused it to take the hiatus it did.

When ‘Sharing’ Is More Like Stealing!

'the bicycle', Tuscany , Italy Ken McCurdy Photo

Have you noticed how many people on Facebook and Google+ are using other peoples photos, without crediting the photographer. Some would have you think the photo is theirs by simply re-posting it on there site void of any information from the original sourse. If you read the comments some actually take credit for the images when a follower acknowledges a great photo.

It seems some will go to great lengths to elevate their status on social media pages by re-posting great photographs that appear as their own work. A case in point is a person on Google+ who had a large number of followers due to a portfolio containing hundred of amazing photographs from around the world. Turns out they were not the creator of the photographs, and there was no credit given to the actual photographers either, although the original photographers name could have been included when re-posted. When you deliberately exclude the credit for a photographer or cite the original source it says a lot about the type of person you really are. Willing to do anything to appear popular, at any cost. Eventually this fraud was discovered and the person responsible was investigated and outed across the entire internet social community for there act, on every social network available. They systematically tried to erase themselves and create a new identity but was traced using software to track the photos over the internet and banned and shamed into ceasing the theft of others work for his glory. A reputation should not be taken lightly.

The only ‘effort’ it seems some will make to today is to use the hard work and dedication of another to set  themselves on a phoney soapbox as something they are not. It is a form of identity theft when your photography is used by another who claims it as there work. The time, dedication, travel and expertise encompassed into each image that is created are incorporated into what makes these photographs invaluable to the creator.

The internet is not a free license to ‘copy ‘or ‘download’ at will anything you want and claim it as your own simply because you post it on your social pages. There are written and unwritten codes of ethics that morally we should be obliged to follow in the internet social societies. Unfortunately it seems there are far to many who can’t resist the easy road to fame by stealing others work and claiming it as there own, which is the same if you imply that it is by excluding the original creators name.

Those who deliberately steal images for their own personal gain are being discovered and dealt with through the social pages (Google+, Facebook etc.),  photography sites (Flickr, 500px etc) and the courts in some cases after being sued. Then there are those who use others images to draw viewers to their social media page using images that will attract attention, but choose not to credit the photographer for the image they use. Ask yourself why someone else would want their image, quote or other creative work to promote you, if you are not willing to give them credit for it. If you are guilty of this, and your conscience will be your guide,  you have a choice to either continue benefiting personally off the work of others and not crediting those who you choose to borrow from, in which case the reprocussions can be severe. Or simply start acting morally and socially responsible on the internet when ‘sharing’ work that should be credited to its creators.

It is nice to find your work is being shared because people like your photography enough to look beyond the image at the creator of the work and credit them for it. It is another feeling completely to see your images on another persons site with no credit given to the photographer of the image you chose to re-post on your site. Even worse when you say ‘Thanks’ after a compliment is given for the photograph.

Citing the original source can be a simple as retaining the information regarding the author of the work when posting or searching the internet to find the creator of the work. The latter can be accomplished with  tools such as Google to reverse image search a particular photograph to find the source it originated from. This not only provides you with a link to other images created by the photographer but will let you ‘share’ the photograph responsibly on the internet.

The point is to make people aware that the general rules regarding an artists rights have not changed just because they are now available to a much broader audience through the internet. That being said peoples values and morals seem to have become much narrower in regards to other peoples photographic, artistic or intellectual property on the web. It’s time for everyone to start respecting the creative works of those that have shared their work on the internet. The last comment you want to see on your social page is the one from the creator of the work you could have credited before you posted it.

Elemental Photography

Approaching Storm, Rock Isle Lake - Ken Mccurdy

“It’s elementary, my dear Watson.” Sherlock Holmes couldn’t have been more accurate if he had been a photographer. Elements are the building blocks to a great photograph, but you first must be able to identify them.

Approaching photography with a wide perspective can open your eyes to a new way to visualize a scene. Can’t see the forest for the trees is a good analogy for the tunnel vision a photographer may encounter when they can’t see the scene for the elements. The ability to recognize and utilize all the elements that are present and some that could be modified are key to the ultimate success in capturing an image to its fullest potential. Developing a keen awareness for all the elements gives you the opportunity to incorporate them into your composition or not. Not seeing the elements is vastly different than choosing not to include them, or to what extent they are included  in your composition .

What is an ‘element’ ? By definition it is any of the four substances (earth, water, air, and fire) regarded as the fundamental constituents of the world in ancient and medieval philosophy.  In photography we can take it a bit farther and include anything that it pertinent to enhancing the mood, composition, flow or visual appeal of a photo. This also is true in excluding elements that will weaken your photographs.

To a photojournalist covering an event featuring a  speaker on a podium the elements might include the keynote speaker, the right position for lighting, a specific moment where a gesture or look captures the mood or tone,  or maybe a significant sign or poster behind them that could be included. These are all elements that you can either consider or not, but must be aware that they may be there for you to utilize.  There may also be elements like microphones or staging equipment, that a photographer may want to exclude from the composition to make the image cleaner or  less distracting. The message is that you must be aware of every element so you can formulate your vision properly.

The landscape photographer must also use the elements as an asset when possible to make a strong image.  Lighting. time of the year, weather conditions and the elements which help to compose the  mood of a photograph and have to be factored in before the photograph is captured. Elements can help the flow of your images through careful composition and an understanding of the way a human eye moves through a photograph to the focal point you have chosen for the viewer. Shapes and textures increase the feel to your photo and lit properly can add another dimension to your work. The time of day is an element that can be modified somewhat for mood and texture. While the weather conditions, like storm clouds,  wind or billowing clouds in a blue sky can add drama and a completely different feel to the same scene.

A photographers camera position, both laterally and vertically to his focal point will alter the view and perspective of a scene or subject. I would also suggest that your position is an element that should be recognized as key to the success of your photography. I always find it interesting when a photograph from another photographer, of a place I have also visited, is virtually within one square meter of where I stood for my photo and is composed almost identically with the elements provided. Of course this is only true if neither photographer has seen the others photo.

Only when a photographer is able to become aware of their surroundings and recognize the elements that are available to them,  will their choices be informed and decisive regarding every aspect of the image they are about to make. Photography is by definition a visual endeavor and you must open your eyes if your want to see the elements.

To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place… I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.

 Elliott Erwitt

Brent Butt hosts the SAM Awards -Ken McCurdy

Outthink your camera!

mill ruins, Italy

If you can think about an image more than your camera does then you will move forward in photography. When digital replaced analog in photography there was a sudden rush of people thinking the secret had been revealed and they could now enter the world of the professional photographer. That it was the digital camera that would elevate them to the next ‘rock star’ in the photography world.

The truth is that for most it is not happening and the realization is that it was never all about the camera but more about themselves. That new piece of gear is just a complex piece of technology that has no ‘minds eye’ or intention. It does not know where to stand or what time to be there or what to include or exclude from a composition to make it better. It knows nothing of timing and capturing that precise moment as it happens, not before or after. It is no more than a tool to a professional photographer. An instrument placed between the photographers eye and the scene they wish to capture, that’s all.

The camera has evolved since the first photographic image was taken in 1827 with a camera obscura and will continue to advance as technology progresses.  What is in front of the camera and behind it are the true secret to great photography. The ‘minds eye’ is where the vision, idea and plans for execution are born. Without intention there is only luck and chance to being in the right place at the right time and knowing what to do when you are there. The sun still rises and sets, the tides come in and out and the seasons change in front of the camera.

If you look at all the great photographers and the images produced over almost two centuries it can’t be all about the camera.  The instrument was invented and the photographer evolves from it. The same camera in two different hands does not create the same image. There is no instinct within the camera body.

I think the hardest point to instill in the amateur photographer is that they must look within for the great photographs and then utilize the camera to show the viewer that vision. Again and again they attempt to capture a moment without seeing the picture first in their head. The camera today has been given far to much responsibility in the production of outstanding photography due to the lack of understanding by the operator. Yes, the operator. It would be a better designation for some to call themselves a Nikon or Canon camera operator. Even then they know little about the functions of the system they choose. You cannot call yourself a photographer if you do nothing more than aim a camera. You contribute very little to the outcome when you consider the subject, camera and photographer are the key elements to all images and that the great photographs are what the photographer imagined and executed as he intended. If any of the elements are discarded the process will fail.  You must have a subject to photograph and a camera to capture the moment but first you have to make an effort to provide the creative input. The photographer has to in control of all the choices not the camera.

The modern DSLR camera today has given people a false sense that it has the capability of understanding the operators intent and knows how to compose and where to focus, transforming the operator into a successful photographer. I realize that society is moving farther away from learning a craft or trade that requires an effort and learning curve to be successful. The ‘quick fix’ least amount of effort mindset  is the mainstream today and I can’t see it changing in the near future. Good for those of us who still know that success comes from discipline, dedication , effort and the knowledge that you can always do more to improve.

Best advice for amateur photographers who want to improve. Turn off your auto focus until you learn where to focus. Use aperture or shutter priority only.  Understand the relationship between F-stops and depth of field and between shutter speed and desired effect. Shoot lots , edit later. Bracket when you can. Use the lowest ISO possible. Slow down and really look at what you see, then see the image you want to create in your mind. Finally, make the camera dance to your tune not its own.

By putting yourself in charge you will have total control over every aspect of the creation of an image and the right to call yourself a photographer.

‘There is nothing worse than a sharp photograph of a fuzzy idea.’

Kananaskis

The Camera Looks Both Ways

Buck

When are photographer immerses themselves into a project or subject they unknowingly reveal a piece of themselves to the viewer, allowing others a glimpse at something more than the photograph that is produced. A persons style can say a lot about them.

A  relaxed and natural portrait  comes from a mutual trust and respect by the photographer and the subject alike. Emotions in p0rtraits can be nervous and guarded by the subject and require a delicate sincere demeanor on the part of the photographer. We see the photo in our minds eye but not the person and a lack of people skills will rarely produce the vision you saw. Uncomfortable with the idea of being photographed or a lack of respect for the photographer and his/her approach show in the eyes and will not bring the inner person to the surface to be photographed.

The collaboration between a photographer and his/her subject, whether a landscape or a person, is a patient promise by the photographer to nurture a given opportunity until they see the true nature of the moment reveal itself.. This may involve returning to capture a landscape or earning the trust and respect of a person you wish to photograph. Patiently and professionally allowing the subject to get a glimpse of your inner self before they relax and are comfortable with you and your intentions.

Photographers without patience rarely take the time to see the real moments they seek. Instead, they capture technically good images of poorly executed ideas either because they lack the dedication to the craft or have not developed the non-technical skills to excel in their chosen field. There are photographers who can approach a stranger in the streets, in another country with a different language and still be able to capture the inner self of this person by the way they conduct themselves. While there are many who will not even have the courtesy to ask permission to photograph a subject simply because they are insecure with their people skills and unwilling to work at it. Sometimes you have to shoot first and ask later if the moment dictates it but you can’t work as a magazine photographer, regardless of your technical skills, without getting releases from your subject and that requires a personality that is approachable to strangers.

A good photojournalist has to develop fine tuned people skills and have the ability to interact with a wide variety of subjects under sometimes stressful or rushed circumstances. One’s ability to make a good first impression and earn the respect of the subject is key. But earning the respect is not the same as demanding it. I have seen many photographers who can provoke a negative response from the subject simply because of their lack of respect and aggressive pushy personality. Other photojournalists will not gain the respect of the subject because they show-up without a preconceived idea of what they want to accomplish, wasting time, and are unprofessional in the execution of the assignment. I have always had a vision in my mind of what I want to accomplish with an assignment before I even arrive. Whether I can achieve this is not important as I will be able to adapt to either a time constraint or the surroundings faster because I am mentally prepared and armed with an array of solutions from years of experience in similar or worse situations. While their are moments where you will have to be aggressive to a degree to accomplish an assignment, each must first be assessed quickly to determine the approach that will best help you succeed and then execute the task efficiently, timely and professionally. News paper assignments are like a box of chocolates in the sense that you never know what your going to get, how much time you have to eat it and who you have to eat it with.

Remember that your degree of success with a subject is directly related to the approach you take to accomplish what you have envisioned in your minds eye. Not all unsuccessful shoots are the result of a technical failure.

‘There are always two people in every picture:  the photographer and the viewer.’  ~Ansel Adams

Kerri : Portfolio shoot

The Skinny on Shooting ‘Fat’!

Old Course, St Andrews

Less than a decade ago the average National Geographic assignment would produce approximately 500-800 rolls of exposed film over a 2-4 week period. This translates to about 18,000 – 28,800 frames for a layout in the magazine that will publish only 10-15 photographs for the endeavor. Those images that are chosen owe at least some of their existence to the images that did not survive the edit, but were an integral part of the process that produces the great photographs of NG Magazine  Where a photographer would pack 50+ bricks of film on assignment, they now carry a fistful of 8-16 GB memory cards, a laptop for downloads and editing and a back-up hard drive for insurance. The volume of photographs are limitless with digital memory, so why are people still conservative when photographing with this reusable resource.

Professional photographers, on average, consider maybe 1.5%  to 1.7% of their images will be keepers. At last years Superbowl ,  approximately 16.000 images were shot by 12 photographers for Sports illustrated and only 75 were considered SI quality. Getting the great photos is a game of percentages and odds. You’re only after that one great image,  you may capture it in the first few shots or it may show-up after an hour of working the subject through.  When shooting ‘fat’ you are not aiming for a specific number of frames but rather resisting giving yourself a limit.  Ansel Adams is said to have left behind hundreds of negatives that he regarded as not up to his standards, just to get the few that embody his work as we know it. A good photographer is not measured by the volume of photos, but by the size of their computers Trash folder.

The mindset a ‘Fat’ shooter exercises allows them to work a situation to its fruition, explore every option and angle with a subject. This does not mean firing away randomly, hoping you catch something in the lens. There is never only one definitive way of photographing anything. I have seen new photos of many famous places and people where the photographer engaged the subject with a fresh approach, capturing a moment, emotion or scene in an interesting and unique way. This is not accomplished by sacrificing just a couple of  frames here and there, but by shooting with a blind eye for anything but your subject. Resist packing-up until you ask yourself what else you could do here and now, instead of wishing you had shot more later. A good photographer could shoot less frames to capture great photos, but doesn’t. Not letting-up until your camera won’t shoot only to realize the memory card is full, then continuing the shoot on another card puts you in the zone where outstanding photographs dwell. I am no stranger to quick in-camera edits when I have used all the memory available to me and still want more. Thankfully memory is relatively cheap and a 16 GB card is the same size as 8 GB in your pocket. If you let yourself become absorbed in the process it allows your mind to see and identify new possibilities and focus on little else until you are satisfied with your efforts or out of memory again.

There are those who choose to shoot JPEG (Joint Photographic Experts Group) files to maximize the amount of images that can be acquired. The Jpeg does have the advantage of smaller files, sufficient quality for many applications, are more easily transmitted and suit photographers with neither the time or inclination for post processing files. The downside is your photography will always fall short of the images potential. Then there are those not willing to shoot more than a couple frames of anything, usually from the same position and perspective. Somehow the idea of maximizing the quantity of captures available yet hording empty memory space, like it was a scarce commodity, is becoming commonplace, when the opposite could not be truer.

Why RAW (unprocessed digital negatives) instead of JPEG ? First, with digital memory there is no difference in cost to the user while they benefits are substantial in post processing. Of most importance is the fact that a JPEG is a degenerative file which discards information immediately to create smaller file sizes, while a TIFF (Tagged Image File Format), from a RAW file conversion is not a compressed file and contains all the data that the cameras chip recorded plus some additional information tagged on (i.e. sharp, settings) from the initial capture. What this means to a pro or serious amateur photographer is that in post he will have 65,536 levels of brightness with a 16 bit TIFF (from RAW) versus 256 level of brightness with a JPEG file, which the camera converts to 8 bit mode to reduce the files size. This is extremely important when working with shadows and highlights in any significant way. The bottom line is you can always convert a TIFF to a JPEG if you need to reduce the file size, but by shooting RAW you will have the advantage of working the image with all the information the camera initially recorded.

If you are going to shoot ‘fat’, editing is a necessary and vital part of the photography process.  A heavy shoot will increase the chance of capturing that one great photo and strong editing skills will allow you to process large volumes of images to find those gems in the rough. The hiking society I am affiliated with has a website where members can upload photos from hikes they attend. There are a few who shoot plenty of frames, 150 -200, but insist on uploading the entire unedited camera onto the website while most members upload an average of 10 select images. Members who log in to view the event photos are quickly overwhelmed with 250-300 photos. A seemingly endless barrage of boring repetitive images that bury interesting creative photography within it. Most ,including myself , can’t endure looking further than 20, as the essence of the event is lost. If the best were being saved for last they would never be seen. Less is more when you are trying to show your skills as a photographer, but to have a few great images sometimes requires shooting past the line most are content to stop at, selecting the few that stand out and deleting or archiving the rest. It takes less than 3 seconds to formulate an opinion of a photo and less than 10 images to evaluate the photographers skill and creativity. The saying, ‘your only as good as your worst shot’, is good advice before you seek viewers time.

The editing process has also been streamlined with software specific to the editing task. Although every photographer has there own work flow most will do a quick pre-edit, rotating images and quickly selecting, or flagging, those that immediately draw attention or were of importance. The second edit is where flagged images are opened and scrutinized, while similar photos are compared to further reduce the collection. Being your own worst critic is a tough hat to wear when editing your own work, but if can see some direction from the rejected images it is not all in vain.

How many times have we had to view someones unedited photos only to hear excuses like, ‘I don’t know why that ones there’, or ‘those are just more of the same’. It is only with an audience that these photographers suddenly realize we do not want to see uninspiring photography. The aim is to be able to show your best, not your best 10, then 30 satisfactory photos followed by 50 bad ones. To leave them wanting more rather than a poor opinion of your editing and photography skills. If you’re going to show a bad image to your viewers, in their eyes, you must think it’s good. You will be judged, better to do it to yourself while editing instead of by others later.

The skinny is to allow yourself the opportunity for great photography by utilizing all that is available to you to make the photos that deserve to be seen. Most of the shots that survive the edit are not frames one or two but images captured later when you engaged the subject from a different angle. See the opportunities and commit the time and digital memory necessary to maximize and exhaust your skills and creativity. Edit. Then edit again, and finally edit again honestly. If it’s not interesting now it won’t be any better when you show it to others.

Make it RAW! Shoot it ‘Fat’ and trim it later.

“I am always satisfied with the best.” -Oscar Wilde

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