Sunday, February 27, 2011

Three Stages of Composition

Stage One: "Literal" Snapshot – making photographs to simply describe what you see. 

Typical Snapshot
Typical Snapshot

A snapshot is popularly defined as a photograph that is "shot" spontaneously and quickly, most often without artistic or journalistic intent. Snapshots are commonly considered to be technically "imperfect" or amateurish--out of focus or poorly framed or composed.
Snap shot - this time with an off camera flash at 45 degrees
We all start with the literal snapshot and often revisit this stage of photography. These literal snapshots are primarily taken for the photographer. These photos are "memory joggers." They help you remember the moment.

Inside snap shot without flash

Inside snap shot with flash at 45 degrees
Believe it or not there are many "professional" photographers who never move beyond this point. Since the bride and groom were there with the photographer, the literal snapshots are like "memory joggers" for them as well.

Another place I see this is my church. After a team comes back from their mission trip they show their photos the team laughs because they get the "inside joke." While not always a joke it is another memory jogger and not a photo that communicates to the audience.
When a photographer realizes that other photographers are getting better looking photos than they do, they often move to stage two.

Stage Two: "Artistic" Snapshot - making aesthetically pleasing pictures that enhance what you saw
Inside photo with flash at 45 degrees and the photographer simplified the background giving more attention to the subject.
In this stage the photographer is aware of visual composition, exposure and how to do things like control their depth-of-field and/or freezing a subject or blurring the background.

This is where a photographer thinks about being sure the subject is well composed.

Not everyone is able to see the difference in their own photos to get to stage two, but believe me most everyone can see the difference between a "literal snapshot" and an "artistic snapshot."

I have written in previous newsletters about composition, lighting and framing and therefore encourage you to review those articles.

Stage Three: "Expressive" Images - images made for public, rather than private meanings. Expressive photography, like all art, offers universal, and often metaphorical, statements.
Ansel Adams said it best, "There are always two people in every picture: the photographer and the viewer." Once you realize this and want the audience to feel about the subject as you do then you want to move beyond just the "rules of composition."
Subject in her room. Main light off to the side out of the camera view to highlight the subject and draw you to her.
 Expressive photography interprets, rather than describes, what we see to others.

There are three aspects to Expressive Photography, see the diagram. All three need to be present for the photo to be more than a "artistic snapshot."
Subject close to camera and her room around her. Light off to the right lighting her to draw more emphasis on her.
Abstraction removes literal, descriptive clutter and hones an image down to its essence and encourages unlimited thinking. In music this might be the difference of listening to music that has no words in the tune.

Your mind is free to explore your thoughts. However, if the music has words in the music then it is less abstract even if the words are not sung. Hearing Amazing Grace played even without the words will put a more literal thought and therefore is not unlimited as the abstract music.

If the photo moves too far into just abstraction then the other parts of the triangle become weakened and the photo becomes just an "artistic snapshot."
Tension presents elements that seem to be at odds with their context and creates contrasts and juxtapositions that stimulate both the emotions and the imagination. This is where the photographer helps create a mood within the photo. They may use composition, lighting and exposure or in combination to help move the photo beyond just documenting the moment to an interpretation of the moment. Under expose a little and you create darkness or gloom. Over expose and you may create lightness and lighten the mood.

After photographing my daughter in different locations I started to write this newsletter. My wife called out to me "Stanley you've got to see Chelle." Of course I had to add another photo after seeing her in a tree playing her guitar. Some of the best photos are when you catch the subject doing what they like best.
Human values convey the emotions, beliefs, traditions and knowledge that we understand and share as humans. Genuine smiles communicate across all language barriers, just as frowns and anger will. We often say this is one of the most critical factors of the portrait. What are the three most important things of a portrait?—1) Expression 2) Expression and 3) Expression.

To make expressive photos you must first, ask yourself what it is you want to express through your image(s). How do you feel about your subject?

I like to boil this down to "Why?" Why should anyone in your audience care about what you want them to see?

Journalists are trained to ask: Who, What, Where, When, How and Why. In my opinion the hook of the story often is resting on the Why.

If you failed to ask yourself why you are making this photograph—rest assured that your audience will not know either.

I would love for you to have a chance to comment on which photos you think above are your favorite photos and why? Do any of them work as "Expressive" images?

Friday, February 25, 2011

Pop the Hood

I bought a Toyota Tercel many years ago. Like every car that I bought the car salesman popped the hood and let me see what was under there. With old cars you look for signs of good maintenance.

After I bought the car I was invited back to the dealership for a training session in their service department. They had pizza and drinks for us. They walked us around and then had us take a seat as they went through some basic things that will help us get the best performance from our cars.

They had an engine setup to run in front of us where they dropped the oil pan. Most engines would seize up under this experiment, but they wanted to show the type of oil they use on our vehicles help them perform.

Years later when I wanted to upgrade to a bigger and newer car I was a raving fan of the Toyota and that dealership.

Dan Cathy, the president of Chick-fil-A, is encouraging all of his operators to pop their hood. Customers are now being taken on backstage tours of the kitchen. They get to see how fresh the food is and what top brands of food they use. You will see fresh chicken, Dole Pineapples, Hershey Chocolate, Oreo Cookies and more when you tour their kitchens.

They have been doing this for about a year and some of their operators are excited about the results. They have noticed that these backstage kitchen tours create Raving Fans faster than anything they have done before. Why? If you ever worked in a fast food place you would understand why.

What is it we can take away from these examples? First of all people do notice the difference between good and bad and being sure your product is the best that you can deliver will help separate you from your competition.

Second you need to do like the Toyota dealership, reach out to your customers and help them enjoy your product even more.

If you do everything I suggested you are up their with the greatest of the used car dealers. They pop the hood and they want you to come back and will give you good even great service.

What is the indication you have given the top service. Your customers think of you as their family. This is when you are no longer seeing your customers as your meal ticket. You see them not as people who help you meet your bills.

The key to making this happen is popping your hood. Learning to be more transparent with folks is the best way to make lifelong friends. This is when your intentions are not hidden. It is when you are really thinking about how to make their day better.

When your customers look under your hood will they find a heart?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Spending time with President Jimmy Carter

I just recently I spent the day with former President Jimmy Carter. I was even able to tweet that he was my seat warmer that day. What a really exciting time it was for me to work with The Carter Center. President Carter is the Founder of The Carter Center.

I was covering International Campaign to Eradicate Guinea Worm which the Carter Center is the leader in worldwide. There are only 3 countries left in the world before it is defeated. The last major disease defeated like this was small pox back in 1978 during President Carter's presidency.

I really enjoyed the event since everyone was so excited about the progress of the campaign. I could tell President Carter was very pleased. He was so easy to photograph and gracious to his guests from all over the world.

While I am always concentrating on getting the best expressions and moments with people interacting to help tell the story in the most effective way, I am also looking for graphically interesting angles to add a little interest. I liked the ceiling here in the press conference.

The logo for the Guinea Worm looked so similar to their staircase at the Carter Center that I not only thought it was a cool graphic, it also tied into the event with the look of the Guinea Worm being twisted onto a stick. (Carter Center Logo Below)

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Come and Visit vs. Go and Tell: Secret to Growing a Business

The Little Red Church on the Big Island of Hawaii
Last week during a devotional time Derek Schoenhoff, Pastor of The Little Red Church, on the Big Island of Hawaii asked who authorized the temple? He opened my eyes to how much man wanted the buildings and not God.

Today many churches have this idea of inviting people to their programs at their buildings. Ya'll come now. Come and visit has become the mantra.

This is not the only thing that turns us inward. Many of us understand that Jesus died for us. The problem with continuing down this road of thought is that we can become very self-centered.

Rick Warren starts his Purpose Driven book with "It's not all about you." Derek Schoenhoff is reminding us of Jesus last words to his disciples to "Go and tell."

What I have discovered the past few years when it comes to business, I too had become very self-serving and asking folks to come and visit my website. Come and find me.

The more I read the scriptures the more I learn about a God who came to earth to serve rather than to be served. He asked us to do the same.

What I have been doing the past couple of years is exploring how to be a servant to my clients. First of all you need to know this is quite difficult and I continue to fail in my efforts, but I do believe I am starting to see this is the path to success.

Jesus told us to go the second mile, but in order to do so we have had to already gone the first mile.

So, what I have learned is for most of my career I focused on making better pictures. If you build it they will come. What I have learned watching many of my friends careers falling apart is most folks know the difference between bad and good photography and very few the difference between good and great.

Why didn't they know how much better I was than who they were using for their photography? My work was better than most, but there were others better than me. What was strange was those who I thought had better work than me were also struggling. Those whose work was OK were flourishing.

So, this past year I finally had a moment when it clicked. People know the difference also between good and bad service, but also most of them all knew the difference between good and great service. Even more amazing was people were paying top dollar for that service treatment.

People pay for the experience as much as for the product. If you have been trying to build a better widget and figure the world will come and buy--they may, but you will build a better business when you have focused outward. Going to them and doing whatever it takes to make their lives better and more comfortable.

Those most relevant in social media are those who share and are focused not on themselves but others. Do you want to grow your business--then focus on service, no matter what your widget is.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

I am digitally distinct! Visit