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Design4Kids InFocus

Monday, January 6th, 2014

_MG_1140Those of you who have been long-time members and readers are aware of the work I do with the Design4Kids Workshops working with Fotokids, the world-renowned program developing the creative drive and thinking in the disadvantaged youth of Guatemala.

I met Nancy McGirr, the director of Fotokids about four and a half years ago when a “coincidental” encounter put me in contact with Jeff Speigner, a graphic designer who had met Nancy a year earlier and had just developed the fledgling Design4Kids project. The story of that “coincidence” is a whole post in itself, and a monumental example of the Law of Attraction in action.

Design4Kids is a group of graphic designers, photographers and professionals from various areas of experience who have come together to help teach business-based skills to the Fotokids students, furthering their quest to create a positive, meaningful life for themselves and their loved ones. The for-profit design firm, Jakaramba, is now well into its third year, a result in great degree of the Design4Kids program.

This week I’m back in Guatemala to teach what will be the first of a departure from our usually graphic design and photography related, client oriented workshop projects. I’ll be the sole mentor working with Nancy and Linda Morales teaching advanced photography skills and portfolio development to a group of some of the more advanced Fotokids students in Santiago Atitlan. Linda, by the way is a former Fotokids student and is now one of the program’s chief instructors. She’s a highly accomplished artist and educator.

Design4Kids InFocus kicked off Sunday in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala. After introductions all around, the workshop opened with the instructors sharing their work with the students and a review of student work. The core theme of the workshop is portfolio development, and additional photography.

Monday. Our first full day of instruction began with Linda teaching the basics of the dSLR followed by my lesson on using reflectors to modify light and control contrast.

The nine students, with an average age of 13 years, are already experienced and talented photographers. This first photography-only centered Design4Kids workshop promises to be and exciting time.

I’ll be posting daily updates on our Facebook page, www.facebook.com/design4kids so go ahead and “like” our page to receive updates on the workshop and what the kids are doing. You can check out some of our previous workshops there too. You can also see more info on Design4Kids at www.design4kids.org.

And you definitely want to see the whole Fotokids story at www.fotokids.org.

Be sure to like our page, www.facebook.com/design4kids, and tell the people you know all about it too.

Hasta pronto.

 

 

 

 

Photographers and Designers Gathering For Design4Kids 8

Friday, November 9th, 2012

Photographers and Graphic Designers will get together tomorrow, November 10th inAntigua Guatemala for the eights Design4Kids design & photo workshop.

In addition to most of our regulars we have a few new mentors this time, and an entirely new group of students. Seems the previous group we’ve worked with for the past four years have done so well they’ve all gone on to teaching at Fotokids, and to working professionally in the field.

This workshop will be a departure from the familiar in another way – rather than going out to Santiago Atitlan as we have in the past, D4K8 will take place inAntigua,Guatemala, the charming former capital city of the country, resurrected from the ruins of a number of earthquakes over the past centuries.

And speaking of earthquakes, for those of you who follow the news outside our own little bubble here in theUS, the quake on Wednesday did most of its damage in the west of the country. While it was felt in Antigua andGuatemala   City, the damage there was minor if any, with no significant injuries.

All of our hearts go out to the families and friends of the 48 people who lost their lives and the many who are injured and now homeless in the areas in and aroundSan Marcos.

As in the past I’ll do my best to post a few updates during the workshop in the upcoming week, technology and time allowing.

You can find out more about Fotokids and Design4Kids at www.fotokids.org  and www.design4kids.org . And if you’re a Facebook user, check Fotokids’ and Design4Kids’ pages there for more live updates on the workshop.

Candid Street Photography and an HDR Workshop at Design4Kids7

Friday, January 20th, 2012

Thursday the Design4Kids group took a break from workshop classes. Each workshop includes an excursion day, giving everyone an opportunity for a bit of sightseeing and the chance to take some photos in a new environment. Along the way we all learn a little more about the area and its people.

The morning saw everyone pile into one of the many water taxis that ply Lago Atitlan, and take the short trip around Vulcan San Pedro to the small town ofSan Juanla Laguna. This small pueblo is the home of many of the local artists and traditional textile cooperatives.

The first thing we see is the result of the torrential rains of a year ago, which caused the lake level to raise by nearly two meters. The water has remained at this new level, and the entire first block of town, previously filled with waterfront shops is now half submerged.

This is a scene repeated all around the lake, and most local businesses have relocated to higher ground and reopened.

There were great opportunities for candid street photography, and the majority of the people here seem quite open to being photographed. Of course there is always the occasional shy subject. The town itself provides a backdrop for creative photography of all kinds.

After returning to our workshop base at la Posada Santiago, Moe Murdock held a great drawing workshop, which was followed by an impromptu mini-class in HDR –HighDynamicRange– photography.

We discussed the entire process of planning your photograph for HDR processing, making the series of exposures and then combining yhem in HDR software.

There are nearly limitless variations of processing options, from very photo-like with expanded shadow and highlight range to the highly graphic look of exaggerated tone-mapping. Of course the kids latched on to the way-out there look right away!

Photos of the day’s activities are posted on the Design4Kids Facebook page – http://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/Design4Kids

Tomorrow is the final day of the workshop. The graphic design projects are due, and the lesson plans for teaching the digital SLR camera will be presented. Preliminary work looks very good!

- Stu Estler

Reviewing Digital SLR Camera Basics

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

We’ve completed the first phase of Design4Kids7, reviewing and refreshing the basics of using the digital SLR cameras with the classes.

Since these students have come up through Fotokids for ten and more years, they began with film SLR cameras. Most already have a pretty good understanding of concepts such as depth of field and capturing motion effects, and the exercises they’ve completed are useful to reinforce what they know.

A few need a little more study and practice. The beginning digital camera work at the school uses point and shoot cameras, much like many people like you. While the basics of photography apply to all types of cameras, the step up to the SLR allows a much greater degree of control in applying these concepts.

The concept of the assignment here was to think of ten or more ways to create blur in a photo.

The most obvious, moving the camera and not focusing properly were of course represented, but everyone went well beyond those, usually considered mistakes, to illustrating concepts such as selective depth of field, using a slow shutter to blur subject movement and panning the moving subject.

To see what they’ve been up to chekc out Design4Kid’s Facebook page – http://www.facebook.com/Design4Kids?ref=ts

Now it’s time for the classes to put what they know into lesson plans that will allow them to effectively teach what they know to their students, realizing that the young people they work with learn differently than adults.

We’re anxious to see what they come up with!

Design4Kids 7 Photography & Design Workshop – Teaching the Teachers

Sunday, January 8th, 2012

Just one week until we’re in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala for the Design4Kids 7 Workshop! No one could have imagined four years ago that this would grow from a vague idea that we could do something positive here to become an institution that we as instructors look forward to as much as the students.

This will be a very special workshop. All of our Fotokids students who will attend are no longer “the kids”. This group is made up of graduates of the Fotokids program, all now in college and all currently teaching the new generation of Foto“kids”.

Veterans Jeff Speigner, Eric Lolkema and myself will be joined once again by Moe Murdock, who is destined to become another of our regulars. Our objective in this workshop is twofold.

On the Graphic Design side, Jeff and Moe will be working with the group to further develop and refine the Jakaramba design studio identity, the fully operational (and profitable) business that was born of the Design4Kids project.

Moe, the incredibly talented illustrator who stole the show last June at Design4Kids 6 has promised to conduct at least one session on how he performs his illustration magic on paper and in computer. I’m personally looking forward to learning all I can from that lesson, right alongside our Fotokids bunch.

On the Photography side, Eric and I will be working with the Fotokids students/now teachers to develop and improve their lesson plans for teaching topics such as using the digital SLR, using fill flash and more advanced exercises in Depth of Field, Motion Effects and working with the color of light.

A little better technology and hopefully improved internet reliability at La Posada Santiago where we stay and work from will perhaps allow regular updates from the workshop, so stay tuned!

- Stu Estler

Getting to the (Focus) Point

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

When we talk about using the aperture to control depth of field during our Photo Walks, Classes and Workshops, we specify focusing on a particular point in your composition. The depth of field extends in front of and behind that point.

Not too surprisingly, many of you who are just learning your camera are not familiar with setting it up so that you control what the camera focuses on!

Left on its own at the default settings, with all focus points active, the camera is programmed to focus on the closest object it finds in the frame. This is not always where you want to focus.

You do have a way to select a specific focus point. As usual, how you do this differs from camera brand to camera brand (and sometimes model).

On all Canon SLRs that I’ve used this is done by pressing the far right button on the upper back of the body. Canon amazingly calls this the “AF Point Selection” button – mark the day, this may be the only time you find anything described that clearly!

You’ll need to half-press the shutter to activate the meter – to “wake up” the camera – first. When you press the AF point selection button you’ll see all focus points lighted in the viewfinder and on some models also displayed on the LCD screen. You then use the front control wheel to move through the focus points to select the one you want.

On Nikons, (sigh) it depends. On most models you go into the Menu, to AF Area Mode and select Single Point. Then use the Multi-Selector (up, down, right and left arrows on the back) to move the focus point to the desired position. (Note- some Canons allow you to do this as well as select with the front control wheel.) If this doesn’t work for your model it’s time to look in the manual.

For other brands, Sony seems to mostly follow Nikon’s arrangement, Pentax follows Canon’s and the others – well, this is again the time to “go to the book”. We’ve all agreed that the camera manual is not ideally read like a novel. But it is useful as a reference when you know what you’re looking for.

How many options of points you have will depend on the model camera you are using. Typically the higher-end (as in, more expensive) the model, the more points you’ll have available.

For most shooting it isn’t critical which one you select as you can still half-press to focus and then re-compose. I usually use the center point unless I know I’ll be regularly looking in a particular part of the frame. The idea is you now have control over where the camera focuses by placing that point on your subject.

Of course all of the above applies to SLRs. The many point & shoots, advanced digitals and now the mirror-less interchangeable-lens models all have their own language. Some point & shoots don’t have the option to select the focus point, others do. Pretty much all the advanced digitals and MIL models have it. Again you’ll want to see your manual for your particular model.

While there are always exceptions and for some types of fast-moving subjects having all focus points active can be desirable, for most day-to-day walk around photography I recommend always having a single focus point active, allowing you to put the focus exactly where you want it.

Hope this helps make things clearer. (Don’t you really miss my bad puns during the off season?) See you on the next Photo Walk!

- Stu Estler

www.premierphototours.com

After The Storm – In The Digital Age

Sunday, August 28th, 2011

It’s late Sunday morning and all that’s left of Hurricane Irene here in Darnestown is a healthy breeze. I’m watching the edge of the cloud line and the blue sky beyond to the west continue to slip closer and closer.

Here in upper Mongomery County Maryland just northwest of Washington, DC we’ve weathered the shorn quite well a few branches down here and there and the obligatory power outage. Even that only lasted about eight hours, so maybe PEPCO really is doing a better job as promised. We’ll see how they do in the harder-hit areas.

No cable back yet so no distraction from the incessant draw of Internet on any of three computers.

Which gives me time to reflect on the difference eight years makes, since Hurricane Isabelle came through in 2003.

She came straight up the Bay so we felt the effects of hurricane winds even here. More damage, power out for five days. I have a well here, so no power=no well pump=no water. While those around me on city and county water complained about cold showers I longed for one.

Got kind of creative after a bit. Ran a garden hose over to my neighbor’s outdoor spigot (they on county water) hooked it up to my spigot and back-filled my water system from theirs. (if you’re ever tempted to try this be sure to shut the valve to your well first!)

The smell and taste of chlorine was never so exquisite!

This time, wiser and more experienced, I had 30 gallon-bottles of tap water in reserve, plus four 5-gallon buckets plus a full bathtub! Used all of one gallon bottle before the power came back on.

Technology was different then too. Eight years ago I had a totally film-based photography business. (I was one of the die-hards – got my first digital camera in January 2004)

No Internet presence then, no website and certainly no web-based business. So no power and no Internet just meant the inconvenience of no email for a few days

No smartphone either. Now here I am writing this entirely through the iPhone posting it and getting word out everywhere. May be a formatting glitch or two – we’ll see.

Yes I realize that’s old news to most of you, but it’s still a revelation considering the relatively brief span of time.

Well, the sun is out and the day becons. Hope all of you who were or still are in the path of the storm are well.

Had to cancel our Annapolis Photo Walk yesterday – hopefully all will be back to some semblance of normal for Tuesday’s Walk.

Quite the week here. Earthquakes, hurricane – what’s next, maybe asteroids? Stay well!

Learning to Truly See Through The Lens

Saturday, March 12th, 2011

A student in an upcoming photo walk recently asked a great question – and it caused me to start thinking of introducing this idea early in the learning process, rather than save it for advanced classes.

She has a DX format SLR (1.5 crop factor from 35mm full frame), and she asked “should I just bring my 35mm f1.8 or do you think I should bring the 18-55mm kit lens too?”

Here is what I replied:

“Back in ‘the day’ when I started out learning photography (when you projected the image through the lens onto a rock and then chiseled it out on the stone) everyone began with a 35mm camera and a 50mm “standard” lens. The first thing we wanted was more lenses, and at that time (early 80’s) zooms were still “amateur” quality, and serious photographers used primes.

Zooms have improved now to the point where they’re the “standard” lens, and few people rely on a single prime lens for their shooting.

As a student, having the single focal length to use caused us to become more aware of the relationship of lens-to-subject, of composition; we learned to use the “two-step zoom” (you use your feet move closer to or farther from the subject). In my advance classes I give an assignment where the student must use just one focal length for all of their shots. It’s OK to use a zoom lens if that’s all they have, but they must choose a focal length and stay with it for the entire assignment.

It causes you to become much more attuned to your subject, more aware of composition and light, to think more creatively and explore the possibilities of framing and composition more fully. I believe some of that is lost with the availability of zoom lenses and the ease of changing focal length rather than working with the image and the subject.

So, if you’re up for it, I’d say use the 35mm, and if it’s convenient maybe bring the kit lens along just in case you’re really not happy with what’s going on with using the prime. “

So what lens do you shoot? Do you rely on the technology and availability of quality zoom lenses to just rack the focal length in and out to suit your preferences for the shot, or are you intimately aware of the relationship each focal length has in the perspective and point of view it produces with your subject

70mm Lens

Henri Cartier-Bresson, one of the best-known and well respected photographers of the 20th century is famous for using his M-Leica and 35mm lens for the majority of his photographs.  It’s not about the camera. It’s about the eye and the creative mind behind it.

Think about using just a single focal length lens – whether a prime, or just restricting yourself to a single focal length setting on your zoom. Become thoroughly familiar with all the possibilities and restrictions of that lens. Concentrate on making the best images possible with that focal length. Then, once you’ve become intimately accustomed to that view, choose another focal length, and do the same with it.

16mm Lens

It doesn’t have to be the “normal” 50mm or equivalent field of view. Some people are more comfortable seeing the world from a wide angle viewpoint, while others look for the close detail of a longer lens.

There’s no right and wrong answer here, and no single “ideal” focal length lens. But learning to truly understand the feel and possibilities of each will certainly improve your creative bag of tricks.

The Magic Hour

Sunday, February 27th, 2011

We kicked-off the Premier Photo Tours Photo Walk series Saturday morning with a sunrise walk in Annapolis, MD. Our intrepid walkers braved the below-freezing early morning temperatures to experience the magic that only happens before sunrise in the early morning hours.

The sky was mostly cloudy, with just a thin sliver of clear air on the eastern horizon – a near perfect for some amazing colors.

We gathered about 45 minutes before sunrise, and the sky was just beginning to show a bit of color along the horizon. The light changes constantly and quickly at this time of day, and as we talked and set up our tripods to frame that perfect shot we were all aware of the growing color breaking through the thin cloud laver.

While the timing differs depending on your location, here in the Mid-Atlantic we’re on the 38 to 39 degree north latitude, and about 20 minutes before sunrise is when the real light show begins. The reverse is true in the evening, as the last colors fade around 25 minutes after sunset.

The first shot here was at around 6:30am – about 15 minutes before sunrise, as the first wash of sunlight turns the edge of the cloud layer a neon red. Just a few minutes before sunrise the rays of the sun fan out along the cloud. Then, as the sun tops the edge of the horizon, her reflection dances across the waters of the Severn River.

It’s a bit odd that an event that happens every day, as predictable as, well, as the sunrise still causes such an intense sense of awe and majesty. Yet every day the show is a bit different and every minute of the morning the view changes.

We almost felt a bit sorry for all those snuggled securely in bed at that hour, blissfully unaware of the glorious show nature was providing us.

Design4Kids Honduras Photo Workshop Wrap Up

Sunday, February 13th, 2011

Well, as usual, the internet speed and availability down in Honduras kept me from updating live as I’d hoped to. So here’s a review of the workshop.

We arrived in Las Mangas just an hour after power returned following three days of their having no electricity, no water, nada. It’s the rainy season in Caribbean Honduras, and the La Ceiba and Rio Congrejal area had just received the most rain since Hurricane Mitch inundated much of Central America in 1998. The river had swelled to extreme levels, closing the road up to Las Mangas for several days.

Carmiña and David and their crew, our hosts at El Encanto Doña Lydia made quick work of the cleanup and we were comfortably settled in by Saturday evening.

My colleague Eric Lolkema and I had come by bus from Antigua, Guatemala on Saturday, and the rest of our mentors arrived Sunday afternoon. The students and staff got together Sunday evening to meet, learn about each other, and get a quick overview of the workshop ahead.

Our initial theme was to work with a client, as is the typical Design4Kids workshop format, this time producing a photographic rather than a graphic design project. A last minute change of plans for the planned client caused us to have to reevaluate this strategy. By the end of the day Monday we realized that our plan of introducing the students to the use of dSLR’s and controlling the cameras manually would be more effective without the additional pressure of trying to shoot for a client project.

Eric Lolkema demonstrates a creative motion technique

Eric's final result

 

The Guaruma students participating in the workshop were all experienced and talented photographers, but had exclusively used the school’s point & shoot cameras for all of their photography up until this time. Our objective was to bring them to the next level, integrating their conceptual knowledge of creative photography with the greater ability to control your results that using an SLR in Manual mode provides. The week consisted of classroom presentations and practical assignments showing the students the proper use of the Aperture/Shutter relationship, learning to read and interpret the camera’s Light Meter, and the creative use of depth of Field and Motion effects. We finished up with an introduction to the use of fill-flash and reflectors to augment available light for greater image control.

By workshop’s end we instructors realized that a week was not sufficient to bring these students up to being fully confident with all aspects of using and controlling their new cameras. Our review of their final assignment work revealed that the ability to take a photograph creatively with a fully automatic camera does not immediately transform into the technical skills required to control the camera on your own.

The good news is that these kids are already accomplished creative photographers, and the seeds have been sown for their continued growth to Mastering Their SLRs. They’ve begun to realize the advanced level of creative control that exists when you are in complete control of the photographic process.

Dates for the next Design4kids workshop, back in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala have been set, for the week of June 26th through July 2nd, 2011. More information can be found on the www.design4kids.org website or by contacting me directly at stu@thephotomentor.com