The Horizon Matters

The cutest picture ever (to Corgi Geek fans, anyway) is making the rounds of the internet. I traced it back to the Geeks are Sexy website, but if anyone knows the photographer, holler and I'll slap up the appropriate attribution. I would have attributed this to a common every day FRAP (frantic random act of play) but they are carrying weapons, signifying something more dire. This claims to be a LARP, or live action role play, or perhaps a reenactment of one of the Welsh wars.... we hope. The Welsh may be finally ready to take back Wales and conquer the Western World while they're at it. All those loving Corgis may just be the first vanguard ... or this could be simply another skirmish in the Stubbies -v- Tails debate. 😉 Ok, so whether or not the Corgi army is battling for freedom is not really the point, you're wondering what this has to do with photography! This picture demonstrates something that I see a lot of times when we're in a hurry to take a picture, or only really paying attention to our subject matter or foreground, and that's the apparent tipping of the entire planet slightly to the left. In this case, if you straightened and cropped the picture in post you might cut something important out of the picture because it's pretty tightly framed, so it's better left alone. If you do have plenty of room around your subject this is something that can be fixed, you can level and then crop pictures in every photo editing software I know of, which means it's a really common problem, it's not just that you personally are a numskull. 🙂 I've done it a lot of times. We usually have one hand that is stronger than the other, so if you hold the camera with two hands it will often be tipped a little. Or the weight balance of the camera is a little off, and you just have to train your hand to feel how to properly hold it to make it level so that when you are in a hurry the motion is natural. Some cameras have a visual grid in the viewfinder that makes this easier to do, others don't. If there is the potential of it being a really cool picture, take several shots at varying distances so that you'll get something you can edit into what you wanted, then trash what didn't work out. And if you have to make excuses for your shot, it didn't work out. Toss it. Fix it, or Forget it. Do better next time. So now you'll get all picky about horizons, right? Ok, so now you have to learn the difference between a receding shore line or river bank. Sometimes they'll still just look sort of wrong to me. Here's a good example. So try to keep your horizon level as best you can, except when it's not. 😉 Now go do something fun, and don't forget to take pictures! Cheryl

Sexy, Grumpy, Feminine, or Masculine?

So I belong to a photography group on Facebook, and a lot of boudoir shots are posted there. Basically mostly nekkid ladies. Being a woman, I look at faces, rather than just the interplay of light and shadow on curves, so to speak. 😉 If any of you are going to do boudoir... please learn to pay attention to facial expressions. Yeah. That's that thing that happens *above* the shoulders. So many young ladies are trying for sexy and just end up looking grumpy. Or constipated. Or just plain uncomfortable. Soft lighting is not enough, you have to make your model comfortable, and really know how to read expressions, or you'll end up with a model that looks like you just offered her a dead mouse on a plate and she's trying to stay polite. If you are not going to take the time to be aware of what your model is feeling or portraying, stick to landscapes. It's very worth your while as a photographer to spend time learning body language as well as flattering posing. Weight on the leg closest to you means that hip is going to look huge, as we have discussed before. Crossed arms is a closed off-putting pose, for the most part, especially on a female. Shoulders square to the camera is masculine, but also somewhat confrontational. Your model may have an inviting smile, but the crossed arms subliminally say 'Not Open For Business.' If you were to turn her a little diagonal to the camera and have her bend her elbow, placing her hand on her hip, perhaps, it would be an open position, inviting. A whole different impression, one that most people couldn't put a finger on, but someone who does portraiture should know this stuff. A dropped shoulder toward the camera is feminine, so if you have a man that wants to look masculine, you better not pose him with a dropped shoulder or head flung back and his leg bent at the knee like he's being kissed a la 1940s movie style. And yes, I've seen it done in an engagement shoot. And for heavens sake when you take pictures of people don't have them sitting in a chair with the camera pointing straight at them and their legs apart. Just not good. It's called the toilet seat pose. Just a couple of thoughts.

Newest isn’t always best

Recently I talked to a young lady taking a photography course and all I kept hearing was how lousy the camera was, how it didn't do this, it didn't do that and she just couldn't do what she wanted and on and on. All this while never taking her camera off of the auto setting.  It's true, it wasn't the newest dSLR. It wasn't the high-end model. It also wasn't a Sony Mavica circa 1994 with a floppy drive. Even a dinosaur camera is better than no camera at all! After all, you could have a pencil and your memory, right?Even dinosaur cameras are better than non at all! Stop and think, be patient and figure out how to get what you want instead of throwing a floppy tantrum and quitting. The work-around you come up with yourself will teach you far more about photography than taking for granted that the camera should do it all, or that you can fix anything and everything in post processing rather than creating a strong image in camera. Don't have a grey card? Use your hand! Using that little jpeg only camera is going to teach you to remember to check your settings for every shot, and get your white balance setting right the first time, isn't it? 😉 That's right. Many of the guys who are truly brilliant photographers didn't start out with the newest equipment, they made do, and while they were making do they figured out alternative ways to do what they envisioned exactly because they didn't have perfect conditions and cool equipment. Or they simply had to make do because you can only pack so much stuff and there are always variables you can't control when you leave a studio environment. They invented new ways of doing things because they had to stop and think and really use their own creatiivity.Which first requires using that scary 'M' on your camera setting dial. I've also noticed that the truly top professional photographers are kind to their models, clients, and always give due credit to their service providers as well as their teachers, because none of us exist in a vacuum. That's something to keep in mind. What goes around comes around. Be kind even to the thankless.  🙂 Now get out there and shoot something. With a camera. 😉Cheryl

Dollars Aren’t The Only Way to Value Yourself

A recurring theme I see in many photography magazines are articles on making the leap from hobbyist to professional photographer. I understand most of us would like to make a few bucks to cover the cost of new equipment or programs, it is a spendy hobby, after all, so at some point or another we all play with the idea of marketing ourselves and/or our images... but I end up feeling a little bit sad when I see how some of these articles are written. They make it all sound so easy; but the fact is not everyone is cut out to go into business. I feel like our society is too quick to equate every skill to a dollar value, and if you don't charge money then it must be because you don't have enough skill to do so. The person with a business card must obviously be the better photographer/artist/name-that-skill, right? Yet we've all seen those photographs on the walls of local businesses that are appallingly dismal because all someone could think of was making money way before they had real photography skills. Then there's the senior portraits that are so unflattering or poorly executed that you just want to cry for the victim... um, client. If you've just started photography, or even if you've enjoyed it for awhile, please go find someone that will be truly honest with you, and show them some of your work. What they say may hurt your feelings, but please do. Contrast that with what you can find on Flickr: some of the most amazing things ever done by someone's mom or grandpa and it's 'just a hobby'. I think more of us need to free our minds from the push to value everything in dollars.  You can enjoy photography as a hobby and it's ok to be 'just' a hobbyist and never feel pressured to break out in a career. It will also help you far more in the long run to concentrate on artistic skills than on doing business. I'll tell you what, when you start worrying about making money with whatever your interests are, that's what it is, worry. Most of us don't need more of that in our lives, and when you take your hobby, the thing you do for fun and a break, and you have to do it to someone else's expectations and demands it changes a vital element of that enjoyment. If you are the type of person that likes those challenges, that's great, but if you're not someone that enjoys strife you are not less of a person, or less skilled as a photographer,  you are just smart enough to know yourself and not ruin what you love by twisting it into yet another sacrifice to Mammon. Understand, I'm not discouraging anyone from following their dream of being a paid photographer (unless they seriously need some more skills and understanding of the principles of design). I do think those magazine articles fill a need because they are usually pretty honest about how hard a job it really is and what it really takes to be a professional photographer. Those articles often give people who honestly have that drive a good starting place to build their future. They also give the rest of us a renewed respect for the designers of the photos and films we see in the media, and the amount of forethought that goes into even the smallest elements of those designs. Personally I love the 'behind the scenes' shots because that is when you realize how many lights and reflectors are involved in deceptively simple looking photographs, as well as the hours of photoshop work. Far from thinking that photographers  are some of the most overpaid professionals ever as some (not photography) magazines claim, the more you become aware of all the work  those individuals and teams do outside of that 8-16 hours that they're on their feet being polite and professional in sometimes very unfavorable conditions, the higher your respect for their skill level and work ethic rises. But you don't have to be a paid photographer to be a good photographer. Respect yourself outside of the dollar signs. The best value is your ability to bring joy to others, as well as yourself.

Documenting Danger

Today I had a cute little post all lined up telling a personal story of how photographers often enter a special kind of 'zone', and how  looking through a viewfinder takes us into a different reality where we act as if we're bulletproof and we forget everything around us while we're documenting what we're focused on. That story will wait for another day as I watch the horror at the Boston Marathon unfold, and I bite my lip and pray for all of those victimized today. As I watch the CNN coverage it strikes me how sometimes we photographers look bad to others or just nuts as we run toward a tragedy like this with our cameras clicking, rather than running far far away, or we take a stand and video the whole thing without regard for the reality that we're not wearing Kevlar and we're not immortal. I know many people can only think of the paparazzi aspect of this type of behavior, and granted, there are those photographers that assault us with images that I would rather not have seen and that just shouldn't be shared.  I appreciate when newscasters give us warning before sharing graphic images. Thanks for that. How do you judge what should be shared and what shouldn't? There's no forumula for that. I've been told by a former journalist that prior to the Reagan era deregulation  cameramen for the nighly news stations were very tightly censored as to the gore they could share. No crying widows, no puddles of blood. Sometimes I appreciate that time, because sometimes the graphic details are too much. I don't need to see the piles of bodies in Haiti, or dead children. Ok, having acknowledged the negative sensational aspects that are definitely there, there's another side to the matter. The documentation of the horrific realities of such events should help us to connect with our family of man on the other side of the world from us. It should help us feel, rather than just emotionally remove ourselves from events on a TV screen as if it was a movie. We need to remember that people are not different depending on their nationality or where they live. They're people. We are a human family. We're supposed to feel like we've been kicked in the gut after we see or hear of something like this. While we hate that feeling and would much rather spend our time seeing happy kittens on youtube, we need to take time out to mourn, to reflect on the realities we face in today's world, and what we need to do about it personally. Sometimes empathy means not taking the picture and honoring an individual's privacy, but sometimes that means taking the picture even when it's almost too much to take. A lot of things will be said about today, but the photos and film will capture the reality because a photographer had the courage to stand and face fear and document the truth. And maybe that truth will help prevent the next one, as authorities use the evidence gathered to pinpoint the realities of what happened. Here's to the courage of those who ran toward the explosions. The First Responders, Law Enforcement, the people who stopped to help each other escape, and those crazy cameramen and journalists.