Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Biggest mistake made by photographers

The hardest assignments for me are the most personal ones to cover for our family. While I want to just sit back and enjoy, I also want to be sure these milestones in our family life has been documented.

When I arrive to cover an event I am often setting up strobes to be sure I get good light on the people's faces. For this event I setup two strobes off to the sides to be sure the speakers had good light on them.

This photo was taken without the flashes going off, so I have circled where they are in the room. The flash on the left is the Nikon SB-800 and the one on the right is my Nikon SB-900.

They are both on the Pocketwizard TT5. I am using Manfrotto 5001B Nano Black Light Stand - 6.2' (1.9m) I chose this light stand because of how small it folds up [19.3" (49cm)] for easy travel through airports. To connect the Pocketwizard TT5 to the lightstand I am using Interfit Metal Umbrella Bracket with Adjustable Flash Shoe.

To trigger the flashes I am using the Pocketwizard TT1 with the AC3 to control the flash output on the TTL setting. This way the camera sensor is helping determine the flash output of the flashes.

I guess you can see this is a little involved over just pulling out the camera and shooting some available light photos or even using an on-camera flash. I want the photos to look great, not just usable. I am documenting the most important events in our family history. My family will cherish these photos much more than if I had great photos of the President of the United States.

Here are some of the photos from our event celebrating my wife getting the 2014 Pioneering Ministry Award from Columbia Theological Seminary for her work doing chaplaincy work with journalists, Citadel parents and now military families.

What is the biggest mistake made by photographers? Photographers often put more effort into covering events for clients and not enough into their own families. What is the most important?

While your clients will pay the bills, the photos you do of your friends and family events are the ones you will be most remembered for doing.

You know what happens when you do this consistently? Your clients start getting your best coverage as well—they are now treated as family. Every business should be doing the very same thing for their families, treating them with your best efforts.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Graduation is an event, so what's the story

If after four or more years of high school or college this is the photo you pull the camera out for and then put it away you will be sorely disappointed.

We often put way too much emphasis on the event and not enough on the story. The story for college graduation starts long ago many times. There are many ways to tell the story, but the celebration story can be a series of images which at least capture more than one moment.

When all the hats are thrown in the air at a military school at the end of graduation most of the hats stay on the floor. Those students are tired of wearing their cover.

My daughter really wanted to have her brother's hat from The Citadel. We couldn't find the hat at all. We looked and looked. What we thought might be two or three minutes turned into a lot more time.

When my step son asked his younger sister what she was doing he just walked across the floor and in less than a minute found his hat and gave it to his sister.

This was one of the many stories we had through the weekend.

We took some family photos to show we were all there for the big day. We were all excited that our son had graduated.

Here he is with one of his best friends while he was in school. We remember him coming home and asking what is it with New Jersey. Well his mother is from there and I went to junior and high school there as well.

As you can see there is another story of another relationship I was capturing that weekend. Hopefully you are seeing that sometimes you need some words with the pictures to complete the story.

The Long Gray Line—Pat Conroy wrote about his experiences at The Citadel and being part of the Long Gray Line. The Long Gray Line refers to the men and women who have graduated from the South Carolina Corps of Cadets. Seniors march single file across Summerall Field in their final parade as cadets.

While not a story, I did put the photos together in a slide show for us to remember the weekend events.

I believe a series of images will do a better job than one photo to capture the event more completely. Maybe you can interview your graduate on video and combine this with photos of their time at college and if you capture why they came to this college and what they learned from the experience you will have a story.

You could also put this together in a book. We did this with our son when he graduated from high school.

You can take a photo or you can try and capture the story through a series of photos. I hope you see that the photo of the back of the head of a graduate pales as compared to the complete package.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

How not to be a creepy photographer, but a pleasant photographer

Stanley was invited into the home of the subject to get this intimate photo of her sewing.
The Creepy Photographer

There are basically two types of “Creepy Photographers”: Intentional and unintentional.

Intentional Creepy Photographer 
The photos they take are for their personal use rather than public consumption
They objectify their subject
Use photography as way to use people for personal benefit
Often lack empathy for their subjects
Hypersensitive to criticism
Envious and competitive
Feel entitled
Unintentional Creepy Photographer
Take photos for their personal use rather than public consumption
Lacking social-skills
Fail to connect with subject
Shoot without ever getting permission
Failure to pick up on cues from people
Cannot bring themselves to introduce themselves to subjects
Take photos without a purpose
Photo of Stanley talking with a subject before he photographs them. Photo by Ken Touchton
How not to be that Creepy Photographer

I really can't help the truly creepy photographer. They tend to be true narcissists. If you're like me, you get into disputes with narcissists over their casual dishonesty and cruelty to other people. Trying to reform narcissists by reasoning with them or by appealing to their better nature is about as effective as spitting in the ocean. What you see is what you get: they have no better nature. The fundamental problem here is that narcissists lack empathy.

Here is a list of tips for the unintentionally creepy photographer that I think will help you be likeable or even a loveable photographer.
Introduce yourself as much as possible. A small conversation introducing you is the best but even using body language to ask permission to photograph someone will get better results.
Photograph with the purpose and intention to share your photos with others. If this is a hobby then create an online gallery where you can share this with the subjects and those that you are targeting as your audience.
Become a blogger. Share your photos and thoughts with the world. You may end up with a theme or subject that is the dominant overtime.
Carry business cards. Even as an amateur photographer having a card with your name and contact information will help you open up doors. I recommend having a website, blog, email and phone number to share with the subjects.
Eye contact is very important. Be sure you look people in the eye and hold that eye contact not just when you talk but when you listen.
Smile a lot. A genuine smile and not a fake smile. Show the people you are excited to meet them and enjoy what you do.
Speak enthusiastically with people. Tell them why you think they make a great subject and how much you enjoy meeting them.
Share your photos with them. If you give them your business card they can contact you and you can easily send them a photo or two that they could enjoy. Emailing a photo is one of the best ways to celebrate and thank them.
While there are many people who will give you tips on how to shoot “street photography” without ever having to ask permission or introduce yourself to a subject, I can tell you from personal experience those photos often pale to the photos where the photographer has taken the time to introduce themselves and tried to get to know the subject.

Behind the scenes of a fashion show where the models were able to meet "Pip" season 2 of the hit TV Show The Voice finalist.

Invitation Only

The best parties I like attend are where there is some exclusivity. These are usually the parties where you are invited as a guest and the hostess takes care of you. Weddings are a great example of where the family invites their closest friends to celebrate with them.

One of the best parts to the wedding is the sharing of stories and friends remembering the growth of a relationship. I enjoy the seeing of coming together of two sets of friends and family from the groom’s side and the bride’s side getting to know each other.

Stanley is inside the stretch limo photographing the bride and bridesmaids in a toast on the way to the wedding.

Its really cool it is to be invited into people's lives and get to see how they live, work and play. Seth Godin talks about getting permission from people in his book Permission Marketing: Turning Strangers Into Friends And Friends Into Customers.
“Real permission is different from presumed or legalistic permission. Permission is like dating. You don't start by asking for the sale at first impression. You earn the right, over time, bit by bit.”
While Godin is talking about marketing this applies to photographing people just as much.

Overtime people if you stop showing up, people complain, they ask where you went. That is when you know you are not a creepy photographer, people want you back in their lives.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

#1 mistake made with multimedia/video

Our teaching team for our International Missions Photography Workshop in Lisbon, Portugal started to prioritize the subjects we are teaching and the number one technical mistake we see most often made in multimedia projects has to do with poor sound.

Your audience will tolerate poor quality images more than they will tolerate poor audio in a multimedia presentation.

Before you can teach people how to make better audio for their projects you need to address having a good microphone.

Simple Solution

You need to get the microphone as close as you can to the source for the best recording. Recording with a DSLR or video camera's built in microphone requires you to be on top of someone to get a good recording of them during an interview.

Clipping an lavalier microphone on their clothing as close to their mouth will give you the best consistent results. Having a wireless system so you don't have cables all over and having to pack a lot of extension cables is the best way to go.

Today you can easily sync an audio recording with your video recording in post production with today's software. Be sure to clap when all the recording devices are rolling and then you can easily line up the spikes in the software.  I would go even so far as to say clapping 2 or 3 times will make it even easier.

Align the two tracks using the spikes

So what do your record with? My number one recommendation is based on the assumption that most of those taking our workshop will have a smartphone. The second assumption is there is no need to spend a lot of money on recording gear, but rather buy those things that will compliment what you already have in your bag.

For about $60 you can buy the RØDE smartLav microphone that is designed to work with a smartphone.  If you look in the top photo you will notice the 1/8 plug has 4 connections rather than the typical 2 or 3 connections. This design makes the microphone work with your smartphone.

You can use the microphone with any recording App you have on your phone and for those with a iPhone there is the RØDE Rec App. There are many Apps to choose from for Android and the iPhones. You want to use a recorder that you control the gain setting. Auto Gain setting is what you want to avoid.

Practice, Practice, Practice

After you buy the gear test it over and over. Practice recording with your video and the audio. You need to get used to starting and stopping them together. You need to practice always having claps.

The reason the standard for movies has been the clapboard. You show this in the video so you can match the sound spike of the clap to the visual. Just clapping your hands together in the frame of the camera will also work.

Practice putting those clips together in the software. You need to practice getting the sound file from your smartphone to your computer. You can email it or use something like Evernote or dropbox to transfer the file.

Put those files in a software like iMovie, Final Cut Pro X or Adobe Premier and practice lining up the two files. You may find out that the auto sync will not always work because the sound is so faint on the camera as compared to your smartphone recording.

Practice any type of recording scenario that you might want to use. You may want to do interviews where people are sitting still or maybe they are walking towards you. Just always practice before you do this on the job when you must have the sound for the project.

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.