Monday, April 21, 2014

How did your Easter family photo come out yesterday?

Fujifilm X-E2, 18-55mm, ISO 200, ƒ/8, 1/180, flash is set for -1 EV
If you look closely you will notice another family on the opposite side taking photos.  They get the direct sunlight. By standing on this side of the cross we were not staring into the sun and our faces were in the shade. All I did was to add fill-flash with the pop-up camera flash on camera. While not my preferred placement of a flash did work OK for this family photo after church.

The photo was taken at 12:34 pm. One of the worst times to take a portrait of people outside.

Fujifilm X-E2, 18-55mm, ISO 5000, ƒ/5, 1/500
Now last Thursday our family went to the Alive After Five event that we have from April till next fall every Thursday in downtown Roswell. After we ate at Mac McGees went strolled around and found these two Union Soldiers. I took this photo without a flash. The main difference is the time of day I took the photo. This is taken at 7:17 pm and the sun sets at 8:10 pm.  Due to the sun being below the buildings there was no direct sunlight—just tent light effect. This is where the whole sky is lighting the subject with equal light from all directions. Even under the hat the guys face is OK without a flash.

With off-camera flash 

Without flash
Remember that when taking pictures outside, especially during the midday sunlight, be sure and use a flash. Don't think of flash inside as much as outside.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Composition Tips from world renowned photojournalist Don Rutledge

Don Rutledge took this in 1967 inside the Arctic Circle. People are so comfortable with Don that he is able to be apart of the woodwork.
This is my favorite photo that Don Rutledge took. I have enjoyed seeing the world approximately 150+ countries and all of the United States without ever leaving my own home.  Most of the traveling was done with the help of The Commission Magazine and Missions USA.  Both of the magazines have won some of the highest awards in the country.  The Commission Magazine has placed third in magazines in the “Pictures of The Year” contest sponsored by the National Press Photographers Association in 1989 and 1990. CommissionStories a newer version of the magazine just won as Finalist for Magazine division of the Pictures of the Year contest behind National Geographic Magazine for 2014. Missions USA has earned similar awards.  These Southern Baptist magazines are in a league with National Geographic and Life Magazine for their photography and design.

The reason for their success can be tied greatly to Don Rutledge.  Prior to coming to work for these religious magazines Don was one of the staff photographers for the elite photography agency Black Star. During the 1950s until 1980s if you were to look for the credits of the photographers in the major magazines you would find Black Star the agency that handled getting their work published.

The shoeshine man had to be told by Don that John Howard Griffin was white and not black.  He could hardly believe that this man was really white. [by Don Rutledge]
One of the biggest news stories, which Don covered, was following and documenting John Howard Griffin who transformed himself with drugs and makeup from a white man into a black man. He would later write about his experience as a black man in the book Black Like Me.

"Don discovered these two youngsters who proudly displayed the results of their morning hunt.  In that section of Cincinnati, rats were not particularly difficult quarry to locate." [Walker Knight, See How Love Works]
Don's story is really a series of stories. Using the storytelling model I introduced in the last blog here is a short story of Don.

Don Rutledge knew he loved to take photos and looked and noticed the Black Star agency in all the magazines. He wanted to learn more and work for them. He contacted Howard Chapnick, the president of Black Star.

Howard asked for a portfolio, but Don didn't have one. So Don pitched story ideas which Howard liked. Howard pitched these to his clients and told Don one was interested. Before Howard had a deal Don had already shot the story and sent it to Howard.

Howard wrote back and told Don his mistake and also told him what was wrong or missing from that coverage. Don went ahead and went back and filled in those holes in the story and sent it to Black Star.

The client loved the package and requested Don for more coverages.

Volunteer Mike Edens taught these two pastors Mikhail Shehata Ghaly and Anwar Dakdouk MasterLife Discipleship training in Cyprus during 1984.  [photo by Don Rutledge]
When I got the chance to work with Don I jumped at it. This was for me the Luke Skywalker and Yoda opportunity for me.

Within the Frame

One of the lessons I learned from Don was to scan the edges of the frame. Make the most of the entire frame from edge to edge and from front to back.

If you look at the photos I have posted so far of Don's pay attention to two things: First how the edges include details and do not make sloppy by cutting off legs or other things in the frame. Second see how much layering is from front to back in all these photos.

Do you see all six people in the photo of the Eskimo family in the first photo. Notice how these are all over and Don has introduced the family, the social status and where they live in that one photo. He also has captured the excitement and happiness that they experience.

Take each photo and notice the edges and how people are anchoring the photos. Their feet are included, but not too much. The people are placed in context with the environment. The environment tells you a little about the people. The expressions of them show how much they love life.

Notice that had Don cropped in tighter to the shoeshine man and Howard Griffin you would not know he was a shoeshine man. You need the shoe polish and the foot rest to help tell the story.

In all these photos there is also just a little tension. Each photo has the reader asking some questions. The photos make you want to know more about each situation.

In the Philippines families cluster together for meal. [photo by Don Rutledge]
One trick Don used often was just including a sliver of light just to see beyond the initial scene. With the Eskimo family it is the tundra to the right. With the family in the Philippines it is the door and the floor that give you a sense of there is stuff beyond them. The photo of the men walking in Cyprus you can see beyond them the man walking away.

Notice in all these photos you have a sense of a problem facing the characters. The boys holding the rat is probably the most obvious, but each one you can feel the tension. You can also sense a victory over their situations.

Surgeon Tim Pennell was able to get five of his colleagues from Bowman Gray School of Medicine to commit weeks of vacation time and thousands of dollars to meet their Chinese counterparts. [photo by Don Rutledge]
Editors and presidents of organizations sought out Don to help tell their stories. They saw in Don's photos more than just a pleasing photo—they saw that Don was capturing the inner souls of people in ways others just didn't.

Don captured moments. President of the Foreign Mission Board Keith Parks said,
Although Don took hundreds of pictures, I hardly noticed because he did it in such an unobtrusive way.  When he put it all together he had really caught the highlights of the meeting and the impact that he wanted.  I just think that he is a first rate fellow from every measurement professional.  Of course, he can and does meet the highest standards of the secular world, and yet his deep spiritual commitment has caused him to give himself to the spiritual cause he believes rather than selling his skills to the highest bidder.  I just think that quality and character come through in his pictures.
Dan Beatty, the design editor of The Commission Magazine commented,
Don is the one person who has completely influenced the direction of the magazine. Before Don came we knew that there was a certain way we wanted to present the missions material in the magazine.  None of us had a firm grasp on what direction we should go to achieve our goals.  Don really provided the direction for us to go.  Don never expressed any strong feelings about—in a critique type way—on the magazine.  Just Don's presence and constant example of someone who always strives for the best is what guided us along. He was constantly putting us into contact with different individuals in the field of photojournalism and layout and design.  He felt these would be good influences on the magazine or influences that would help us along the road where we wanted to be with the publication.
I would not be doing what I am doing, at the level I am doing it if it hadn't been for Don. He is an example of consistency and integrity in a field where that is not always a constant with the different people that I've met.  He represented something that I wanted to achieve myself.  He has been the biggest influence that I can think of on me personally and the different photographers that I have worked with along with Don.  The thing that impressed me most with Don is his sensitivity and his regard for human beings.  I think that is what made him the asset that Dr. Parks was looking for in communicating about Foreign Missions to Southern Baptist and other people as well.  The dignity of the human being no matter what the situation is so very important to Don.  To me that is the real strength of Don's work.  

Don Rutledge spent his career photographing more than 150 countries and all 50 states.  He was published almost every single month of his career in magazines. Few photojournalists were more published on a regular basis in magazines more than Don. He died February 19, 2013 at the age of 82.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Is your life as a photographer a good story? Here is how to make it better.

To be the subject of a story that is compelling requires the subject to be called to a task that is outside their comfort zone. It is necessary for the subject's survival and to the benefit of others.

Donald Miller is a best-selling American author and public speaker based in Portland, Oregon. He writes a great deal about storyline on his blog here  Miller says that a story is a sense-making device. A good story brings about clarity whereas our normal lives seem disjointed.

Miller uses the parallel of music and how it parallels story. Sounds are just noise until they are put into a form. That form transforms the noise into music. A storyline is no different to Miller. The author has put together a series of events so as to be told through a set form.

This is the basic formula that not only Miller uses to tell many stories but movies like the Hunger Games and Star Wars used.

The very first thing that takes place for a character in a story is a conflict must happen or you will lose the audience.

When you are just enjoying your life and you are doing everything to keep some normalcy into your life this is a sure sign of a boring story.

Here in this sports photo of a quarterback being pursued by what looks like most of the defense and no one between them you have all the makings of the story, minus the ending. The character has a problem of getting tackled. He has trained up to now in practices and with a coaching staff to prepare for this moment. All this is implied with the school team uniform. The task is simple move the ball forward to keep the ball for your team or make a touchdown. The outcome is either a comedy or tragedy.

This is John Howard Griffin transformed as a black man while he was doing the research for his book Black Like Me. Sitting beside Griffin is the photographer Don Rutledge who followed him documenting his trials as a black man in the south. This was done in 1959 at the height of the Civil Rights Movement.

John Howard Griffin walking down street in New Orleans.
The two of them traveling together through the deep south for the book was extremely dangerous. Paul Guihard was a French journalist covering the Civil Rights Movement in the United States in the 1960s. He was murdered in rioting at the campus of the University of Mississippi in Oxford after James Meredith attempted to enroll at the all-white school. He was shot in the back at almost point-blank range by an unknown assailant near the Lyceum building. Guihard's case was closed without success and never re-investigated. In his last dispatch made the very same day, he had written "The Civil War has never ended."

Just taking on this project was a story in itself. Not only was Griffin a character in the story, Don Rutledge was also being transformed through the coverage.

I remember Don trying out new camera systems that would stretch him to learn the new system and in doing so it stretched his photography. He was always putting himself in new situations to capture new stories. By the end of his career he had traveled into more than 150+ countries of the world.


Some of the best stories are not the ones that are the big hit on New York Times best books or the blockbusters in Hollywood. The best stories are the ones that are most clearly told.

You see our lives are like run on sentences. What we do throughout our days are often not a great sequence for a story. It is quite disjointed.

A great story starts by establishing the hero of the story and the problem they face going forward.

The best way for you to grow is to get out of your comfort zone.

I am not qualified

Too often you will turn down great opportunities because you feel ill equipped. Hey that is the problem facing Luke Skywalker. He will go off and meet Yoda to train and have him help him with a game plan.
I bought this Dodge Viper model for $12 and then spent time lighting an all black car to make it interesting. This was my way of challenging myself for a day in the studio.
Find a problem

Step One—The first thing to grow as a photographer is to find a problem. maybe it is a story that is difficult or maybe it is getting a photo of something from an angle no one has done before. Whatever it is you need to have a problem you need to tackle.

Step Two—Find a guide to help you. This means you either find resources through reading, videos or maybe find someone who can teach you. Most likely the guide you look to will be someone who has been there and done that.

Step Three—Make an action plan on how you will go forward to deal with your problem.

Step Four—Take action. Don't procrastinate. Go and get your feet wet.

Step Five—Evaluate yourself. Was this a comedy or tragedy? It is a good story either way and you will learn something from it that will equip you to go forward. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

What's The Lighthouse for your career?

Fujifilm X-E2, 18-55mm, ISO 6400, ƒ/3.6, 1/300
The two main purposes of a lighthouse are to serve as a navigational aid and to warn boats of dangerous areas. It is like a traffic sign on the sea.

When you are at sea and trying to find your port having a lighthouse to help guide you will improve the success of locating your destination.

Nikon D4, 28-300mm, ISO 3200, ƒ/5.6, 1/8000
What can a photographer use as a lighthouse to help them navigate their career?

First you really need to know what you want to do with your photography. Who has the job that you want to do? That is the best question to start with on your journey.

You may be like millions of photographers who all want to work for National Geographic Magazine. The good thing about picking somewhere like this is you can actually meet those photographers. Most all of them teach classes and workshops where you can pay to pick their brain.

I know this because I did just that in the 1980s. I studied with Steve McCurry at the Maine Photographic Workshops in Rockport, Maine. Steve looked at everyone's work in our class and would answer any of our questions during our week with him.

The best part was he told us his career path. I quickly learned that one couldn't just duplicate those paths taken by previous photographers. He crossed over illegally into Afghanistan to get the photo of the lady on the cover of National Geographic Magazine and was sending his Kodachrome film to his sister, a school teacher, to then send on to the magazine. Prior to this he worked at a small newspaper a couple of years.

During my time with Steve McCurry and also with other photographers like Don Rutledge I soon learned there are things I needed to master to move my career along a path to success.

List of things one must master

  1. Master your Camera
  2. Master digital workflow
  3. Master Visual Composition
  4. Master Lighting
  5. Become an "EXPERT" on your subject
  6. Know your audience
  7. Create "UNIQUE" images

Master your Camera—This takes a while to truly be able to pick up your camera and make it do what you want it to do for you. This is the same as one who will be able to sit down at a concert piano and be able to play whatever music there is to play. I found with most photographers this will take around a five years.

Master Digital Workflow—This is everything that comes after the capture of the image to the client. We often refer to this as post processing. This is where you are understanding the color space that you are working in and what color space you are delivering your images for usage. This is where you are able to take the well exposed images you captured and then maximize the dynamic range for the outlet.

Master Visual Composition—This is where you are able to capture moments that communicate mood and message that you intended to capture.

Master Lighting—First you must recognize good light and be able to capture it. This is where you are putting yourself in the position to capture the best images of a subject. For example you are planning your shoot to take advantage of the natural daylight that will show off the subject in the best possible way to capture the mood and message you were wanting. Second, you know how to use artificial light to enhance the scene to create those moods and messaging the way you intended and not just the way it looks.

Become an "EXPERT" on the Subject—This is the number one and most important aspect on the list which can help set you apart from most any other photographer. I went on to seminary to get advanced degree in my subject matter to help me separate my knowledge of religion from that of many of my other photographer friends who enjoyed covering religion. After following and working at Georgia Tech for more than 10 years I pretty much knew the campus better than just about anyone. This helped me for covering sports, the classroom and research.

Know Your Audience—In business we talk about SUPPLY and DEMAND. While you may have lot of great images the thing that will determine you putting food on the table and a room over your head is DEMAND.  What is your audience interested in about the subject. Just like a good writer know the reading level of their audience so their text is written for that audience a photographer must understand enough about the audience to know how to engage them. Going off to war and photographing the grotesque can be a major mistake. You may need to filter how you cover the war so as to not have your audience avoid looking at the images.

Create "UNIQUE" images—If the people you are going to approach to buy your work could have shot the same image then what good are you to them? You need to surprize them in some way with images that they would not have taken themselves. Maybe the only difference is the way you light something and sometimes it may be quite elaborate remote camera that let you get a photo that is not possible without the special gear. Just remember to supply images that not everyone could easily do if they were there.

The reality is that it takes quite a bit more than talent alone. In fact, talent is only a small part of the equation. Tenacity, the ability to handle severe rejection, perseverance, and a good team are what get you to the next level.

You need to have others look at your work and help give you honest feedback.

When it comes to a successful career other things for consideration: your look, attitude, personality, style of photography, fan base, tear sheets, that certain intangible X factor, and most importantly, that undeniable outstanding portfolio.

It has been said that “practice makes perfect,” but in reality, that statement is incorrect — it should be rewritten to state that “perfect practice makes perfect.” Perfect practice is a form of rehearsal during which you remain cognizant and analyze what you are doing. For instance, are you delving into bad habits?

The more intentional you are in acquiring the skills necessary to capture the subject you are becoming an expert in will help set you up to just possibly have a life long career as a professional photographer. You must be committed enough that you are pouring your life into this career. 

Monday, April 14, 2014

How to fix the silhouetted subject when you want to see them

Fuji X-E2, 18-55mm, ISO 6400, ƒ/5.6, 1/15, Neewer TT850 flash with Neewer 433MHz Wireless 16 Channel Flash Remote Trigger @ 1/32 power 
This past weekend I was photographing Bottles and Cans performing at North Beach Bar & Grill on Tybee Island. There was no light on the band and therefore they were performing as a silhouette as the night went on.

I shot with an off-camera strobe that if you look at the table just in front of the band you will see a bright patch where the flash went off.

Fuji X-E2, 18-55mm, ISO 6400, ƒ/5, 1/15, Neewer TT850 flash with Neewer 433MHz Wireless 16 Channel Flash Remote Trigger @ 1/32 power 
As you can see by the flash being on the table it allowed me to have the light hit the singer under his hat as well as the other guys in the band wearing hats. This is what foot lights will also do at Broadway musicals.

This leads me to ask, Do your photos look like this sometimes? It is a good exposure and to correct the photo by opening up a stop or two for the faces will just wash out the color for the rest of the photograph.

Photography is writing with light. It is quite common that you will have to add light to a photograph to give emphasis to where you want the audience to look.

By just putting a flash off camera to the left I was able to not change the exposure, but put light on what was a silhouette of the subject. By using an off camera flash I was able to "reveal" the subject with the light.

To capture the clouds and all their glory in this photo makes those subjects close to the camera silhouetted.

By just adding a light to the subject in the foreground I am able to retain the clouds and the rich colors in the photograph, but now the subject is the person in the photograph and not the background.

I see photos like this all the time in recruiting guides for colleges. This is where the photographer is just capturing what anyone can do with even their smartphone.

Take the time and carry a light stand with a flash. Yes it is something more to carry, but look at the difference.

You are not going to balance a projected image and the speaker that often without using the off camera flash. Here I used the flash on the speaker to help me show they had a large enough crowd that they needed to project him.

If you don't have a way to do off camera flash you need to invest into something or you will always have what everyone else can get with their smartphone or point and shoot camera. Remember photography is writing with light. Take control and be the author of your photos.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

WiFi Solution for Nikon D4

Nikon has two WiFi solutions for the Nikon D4. One costs $1,000 and the other $877.  Also I have not had the best of luck with Nikon's WiFi solutions in the past and especially with the Nikon D2Xs.  I bought the Nikon system for $600 and it dropped out so often and was almost impossible to sync.

When I was at PhotoShop World in Atlanta this week I ran into my friend Gary S Chapman and he asked if I had seen the CamRanger booth?  I had not and then after he walked me over there I decided to buy one after their demonstration. Gary said he would wait on my review before buying one. Next gizmo we find he goes first.

The cost of the system was $299.98 and they had a special going for that price to toss in an extra battery and charger.

It comes with USB cable to connect to your camera [pick your camera when ordering for correct cord] and CAD5 cable for updates. Also comes with small bag that hangs on your camera strap.

The charger looks identical just minus the WiFi part.

CamRanger currently supports a large number of both Canon and Nikon cameras. To see the full list and see all the features for each camera go to this link and you will find your camera and what features will work with your particular model.

The CamRanger is supported by iOS devices, Android devices, Mac and Windows computers, and the Kindle. All of the following apps are free and will work universally with the CamRanger unit! The CamRanger can be registered with multiple devices and can be used with one device or computer at a time.

I have an Android phone, an iPad and a Macbook Pro that I would use with the CamRanger.  All work just fine.

My Settings

From shooting with the Nikon WiFi and also using EyeFi SD card I learned a few things that made me want to get the best performance out of the CamRanger. By the way had EyeFi made a card that would work in the Nikon D4 I would have never looked at the CamRanger, but they don't so here I am using the CamRanger system.

Shoot RAW+JPEG—You are sending files over from one device to another. The bigger the file the slower it will take. You could shoot just JPEGs, but I prefer speed and therefore would prefer the smallest JPEG I can use to preview on the iPad for example. But when I need the higher resolution image I now create that from the RAW file.

Small JPEG—Go to the menu and pick image size under the camera icon. Select Small and this will help give you the smallest file size.

I would also use basic rather than fine. I want creative directors and art directors to use my iPad and see the images as I shoot sometimes. This way they are not over my shoulder, but can see the results.

If I am just tweaking the settings I can turn off the WiFi and then when I am ready for them to start seeing images turn the system on.

It connects right away to the iPad once you set it up. The setup just has you go into the WiFi settings on your device and select the CamRanger. Then you put in your serial # as the password. Once you are connected you use the CamRanger App that you downloaded for free to connect.

Two Main Ways I Use It—In general when I just want someone to see the images I just shoot and the images pop up as thumbnails and as a big image.

You can set up the controls in the App to client mode, which is where they just see the image and can star rate it if they like. I changed the default setting to have Auto View on so the image displays big when it is shot. The thumbnails let you go back and see previous images.

If I were shooting a lot I might turn off the Auto View and let someone just click on those thumbnails they want to see big without my latest image popping up while they were trying to see another image.

The second way I like to use the system is in Live Mode. You select Live Mode from the app and not from the camera.

In both modes you can see the camera settings and change them, unless you have Client View turned on.

I think that the CamRanger from my tests performs as well if not better than anything I have used up to now for WiFi connection to my camera.

Why use WiFi?

I first need to tell you about how I shot tethered for years when doing portraits. The images popped up and then quickly they were all in the computer where the subject was able to pick their images. Once I had the camera on a table and my foot caught the cable. Well that was $600+ repair for a shattered lens.

So the primary reason I started using WiFi was for the same reason I prefer radios for triggering flashes—No Cords.

When I am doing portraits the lighting is controlled and making the step of processing a RAW image pretty much a waste of my time. So here I can just shoot the Large/Fine setting JPEG and be done with it. Yes it takes a few seconds longer, but all the images are loaded on the computer and I can give the client all the images at the end of the shoot.

Another great reason to use WiFi is when I teach. I like to show everyone as I am doing setups, with lights for example, what I am doing. With a large screen TV or projector I can shoot and immediately they see the results and the settings on my camera. Great way to learn studio lighting or location lighting.