The Magic Hour

Written by stuestler on 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

Written by stuestler on 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

 

Baby It’s Cold Out There

Written by stuestler on January 2nd, 2011

Some of you have observed that the winter Premier Photo Tours schedule is rather “light”. That’s because you, like me have indicated that you’d rather be somewhere inside and warm in the winter. (Honduras should be nice and hot and humid – I can’t think of a better way to spend January!)

However, there are times when winter provides rich photography opportunities. But there are special considerations for cold weather shooting.

Obviously dressing for the weather is paramount – I won’t belabor the details of that. I will mention that the little chemical hand warming packs, either in your gloves or pockets, are a wonderful thing! Especially since after 25 years of shooting I’ve yet to find gloves that are truly useable with all functions of a camera.

Your camera can also get rather testy in cold weather. This is especially true in the all-electronic digital age.

Batteries will lose their charge more quickly when cold, whether in the camera or waiting in reserve. Be sure everything is fully charged before venturing out, and it’s best to carry your spare batteries in a pocket where they will get help from your body warmth. This of course assumes that you actually have body warmth when outdoors in the cold. (Did I mention I’m not a great fan of cold weather?)

Condensation is also a consideration. Bringing your camera out from the warm, comfortable, moister, somewhat less dry, barely more humid indoor air into the dry mind-numbingly cold outdoors can cause condensation to form on many of your camera’s parts, including the lens.

The best thing to do is allow the camera to cool down a bit, closed, power off, in the case. This will allow a gradual acclimation to the colder and dryer air. Unfortunately using this technique on your body is totally useless.

Opening your camera immediately can cause condensation to form on the lens, and can even cause condensation on electronics, causing all sorts of weird things to happen. The condensation issue is especially true of dSLRs when changing lenses, but point & shoots, which typically are not as weather sealed as the higher end dSLRs, are also subject.

Back in “The Day” we had to do the same thing with our film, as condensation on the film will cause moisture spotting that cannot be removed. While not as much a factor with digital memory cards, moisture can cause imperfect connections on electronic surfaces. And of course, if you do still happen to shoot film, the rules haven’t changed.

The reverse – warming the camera gradually – is true when you come to your senses and go back inside. And you may be wondering, doesn’t the same thing happen in extremely hot, humid conditions, especially when going from an air conditioned environment to the natural steamy outdoors?

Yes it does, but your fingers aren’t turning purple and breaking off while you wait.

We’re now TWELVE DAYS past the winter solstice. The days are getting longer and longer. Spring MUST be just around the corner!

Design4Kids Update

Meanwhile back here in January we’re anxiously awaiting the Design4Kids photography workshop in Las Mangas, Honduras from January 16th through the 22nd.

Fellow photographer Eric Lolkema from Amsterdam and I will be meeting up in Antigua, Guatemala first for a week of full-emersion Spanish language training at one of the fine schools there.” Poco y poco” my Spanish is coming along. We’ll also be laying the groundwork for a future Premier Photo Tours workshop in this vibrant town, the former colonial capital of Guatemala.

Then it’s over to Honduras where we meet up with Design4Kids director Jeff Speigner and two new members of our volunteer cadre for a week of working with the kids at Guaruma, the Honduras branch of Nancy McGirr’s Guatemala City based Fotokids. These after-school photography programs have developed a number of incredibly talented photographers.

Up to now the students at Guaruma have mostly been trained in the art of photography. This workshop will give them a taste of the commercial side, with a local Eco-tourism lodge as a client. The project for the week will be for the kids to develop a body of photographs for the lodge’s promotional materials.

Having sent several days with these young photographers last June, I’m anticipating some exciting results. I’ll do my best to post updates here and on the blog, however internet connections in Las Mangas tend to be slow when available at all, so please bear with me!

Save The Date!

Finally, plans are coming together for the Cape May, NJ photo weekend. Preliminary dates are October 7th – 9th, subject to finalizing. We’re planning to hold the workshop in concert with the town’s Victorian Week, so this will be a double dose of fertile photography subjects! Stay tuned for more details!

 

Shaping Up Your Composition

Written by stuestler on December 28th, 2010

We’ve looked at lines and how they create movement or tranquility in your photos. Remember, lines can be literal – the visual edge of something in your picture – or implied, such as the line of sight of a person in your photo.

As we’re approaching the start of the Design4Kids 5.6 workshop in Honduras, everyone is busy putting together our lesson plans for the students. One of the great things about teaching photography is that you regularly revisit and review ideas and concepts that have become second nature, and causes you to see them in a fresh perspective.

With that in mind. I thoug I’d continue on the review of the basic elements of design in photography.

The next design elements to consider are shapes. Just like lines, shapes can be literal objects – formed by closed lined into circles, triangles, rectangles or an abstract – or created by an area of tone or color, or by a pattern of similar objects.

Our minds use shape to help us indentify and understand our world. We recognize familiar shapes and respond to stored emotional responses we’ve associated with those shapes. Creating shapes with pattern, color and tone can cause our imaginations to make similar associations even when the literal subject has nothing to do with the shape. Ever laid on your back in the grass on a warm summer day and looked for familiar shapes in cloud formations?

You can even us shape to cause an emotional response that is very different from what would normally be associated with the object itself. This technique is especially useful to create abstract images from otherwise familiar subjects, and create a dynamic photo from what may appear at face value to be an uninteresting subject.

Keep in mind – the spaces in between shapes are shapes in themselves. Being aware of and using the figure and ground interplay, of the positive and negative space, will give your photos another level of emotional energy.

Remember – each of the tips we talk about here are all part of a complete picture. As you become familiar with them and use them in your photos you see the shift in visual energy.

A great way to practice these different elements to cause them to become second nature in your photography is to take each one and shoot self-assignments with them. This is the technique we use in the Photo Mentor classes and our Premier Photo Tours workshops. The more you practice these elements that combine to create an emotional image the more they become a subconscious part of each photo you see. Your photos automatically improve as you absorb each lesson.

 

Premier Photo Tours on Groupon!

Written by stuestler on December 21st, 2010

OK, I try to avoid crass commercialism here (as opposed to honest capitalism!) but I’m going to put this out there this time.

Those of you who’ve followed this site for some time have no doubt noticed the changes of late. I’m ramping up activity on my travel workshops and local photo walks, and have created Premier Photo Tours as an entity to coordinate it all.

It’s actually a logical outgrowth of the Photo Mentor classes and workshops, with the increased benefit of being able to learn and experimant hands-on in an environment that stimulates your creativity. Having the interaction of fellow phographers also adds to the “brainstorming” and sharing of ideas and techniques.

Well, today and now tomorrow – December 21 and 22 – I’m running an offer as a daily deal on Groupon, the social media buying site. You get the opportunity to try new services and products at significant savings, and we get the opportunity to give you an amazing experience that keeps you coming back for more.

If you’re not familiar with Groupon, or if you’re in a market outside of the metropolitan Washington, DC area, you can see the offer here: http://www.groupon.com/r/uu7103555

It’s a great opportunity to get together, learn and share a bit of photography lore, and meet each other. Even if you’re outside the DC area, think about taking advantage of it for when you’re visiting the area. Plus, I’ve made the voucher good for all Photo Mentor classes as well, and for upcoming travel workshops where we’ll just about all be coming from somewhere else!

 

It’s All Greek To Me

Written by stuestler on December 20th, 2010

There’s an ongoing debate amongst experienced photographers about which is more important to photography – light or composition. I side with the camp that says it all begins with light.

Light is the fundamental element in photography. The word itself is a combination of the Greek “photos” – light – and “graphos” – draw. Photography is drawing with light. Without light there is no photograph.

And how you use light in your photos makes all the difference in your results.

Light has four characteristics – quality, direction, color and quantity or intensity. All are part of the creative process in making your pictures, whether you use them intentionally or ignore them and hope for the best. Obviously, learning these characteristics and giving them some thought in crafting your images will yield the best results.

Front lighting is, as the name suggests, light that is coming from in front of the subject. It will usually illuminate all of the subject evenly, but this can cause a “flat” look, without a sense of depth.

Back lighting is light coming from behind the subject. It will light the areas around the subject but leave the subject itself dark – this is how you make a silhouette – or, if you expose for the subject, the surrounding areas will be overexposed.

Side lighting is essentially any light coming from a direction other than directly in front of or directly behind the subject. Side lighting gives the greatest sense of depth as it lights some part of the subject while leaving others in shadow. Shadows help our brains recognize dimension and give a three-dimensional sense to a two-dimensional object like a photo.

The quality of the light is determined by the type of source – whether it comes from a small point, creating a hard light with deep shadows, all the way to an even, overcast type of illumination where the light is coming from every direction, softening or eliminating shadows.

Color of light ranges from warm to cool, depending on the time of day and sky conditions for sunlight, and on the type of light with artificial lighting.  Your camera typically “white balances” to give as neutral a color cast as possible, but you can control your white balance to get the kind of effect and mood you want in your pictures.

While quantity is usually determined by getting the “correct” exposure, using over- or under-exposure creatively to emphasize a certain element in your subject can dramatically affect the mood of your photo.

Becoming a student of light causes you to see your world more vibrantly and helps gives your photos life. There’s obviously much more to the subject of light than the brief introduction here – on fact, learning about light is a big part of our introductory classes and continues to be a significant element in all of the Photo Mentor classes and workshops, as well as the information you discover on our Premier Photo Tours.

 

Design4Kids 5.6 Honduras Photo Workshop Update

Written by stuestler on December 14th, 2010

We’re just a month away from the start of the Design4Kids 5.6 workshop being held from January 16th through January 22nd, 2011 in Las Mangas, Honduras. The client has been selected, final course content is being completed, travel plans have been made.

The “5.6” number of our fifth Design4Kids Workshop honors the key difference of this event. Unlike the four previous workshops held in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala, where photography has been included as a part of the curriculum that was concentrated on graphic design and a graphics project, this week will shift its focus (pun entirely intended) to photography as the primary project.

The kids at Guaruma in Las Mangas, an affiliate school overseen and funded by Fotokids, have been studying photography at various levels, but have little in the way of a graphic design background, and even less in the way of graphics software and graphic design-capable computers. Thus, we felt that our first workshop here in Honduras would be more effectively spent in expanding and refining their photo skills.

The client will be one of the local travel lodges here along the Rio Congrejal, an area emphasizing eco-tourism and honoring its rich and diverse environment. The kids, ages 13 to 19, will learn how to move from simply walking around with a camera to planning , coordinating and effectively executing a photography project for a specific purpose, providing photographs to specific guidelines.

Along the way we’ll introduce them to the advanced capabilities of SLR cameras – their experience up to now as been almost entirely with point & shoot digitals. Take a look at their photos at www.guaruma.org and the Honduras project on www.fotokids.org and you quickly realize that photography is not about the tools but the skills and creative vision of the photographer. They’ve produced an amazing body of work.

As always, I fully expect to come away from this week having gained far more that I give, and working with all these kids is always an incredibly enriching, rewarding experience.

THERE’S STILL TIME!

Although we’re just four and a half weeks away from our kick-off, there’s still time to get involved. We have just one opening still available for a motivated individual to participate as a mentor in the workshop. While having photographic skills is valuable, even more essential is the willingness to give of yourself and a desire to enrich the lives of others. No matter what professional or technical skills you possess, the life skills and knowledge that you impart on the kids here are invaluable to their ultimate success in life. To learn more and become a part of our dedicated crew, email me personally at stu@thephotomentor.com . You can also learn more about Design4Kids at www.Design4Kids.org .

 

Are Point & Shoot Cameras Really Going The Way Of Film Cameras?

Written by stuestler on December 8th, 2010

Saw an article yesterday on Yahoo news that predicted the end of the point & shoot camera as we know it today. The claim is that more casual photo-takers are turning to their cell-phone cameras and leaving their point & shoots at home.

As a serious photographer I’ve long said that my ideal compact camera – device, really – would be a truly full-featured camera built into a smart phone. The current iPhone4 and its competitors have a decent basic camera, and can do quite a lot when combined with the many apps available for post-processing.

But they still lack the zoom range, ISO options and exposure control features that most mid-level and up point & shoot cameras have. For someone used to shooting with a full-frame dSLR, often on Manual to have complete control of the results, those are necessities for me, not options.

But for the mass-camera market, those people who want a snapshot of people and places and events happening right now in their lives, without too much concern for high-level image quality and no thought of commercial use or even longevity for their pictures, the convenience of having the cell phone and camera all in one and with them all the time trumps the improved quality of their point & shoot.

I’ve found myself less concerned with not having a separate camera with me everywhere all the time, now that I have the current generation smart phone camera always available. It doesn’t take the place of a serious camera for “real” photography, but it certainly gives new meaning to the old adage of “f8 and be there”.

I’m curious to learn how you feel about this – are you becoming more prone to relying on our phone camera, or is a separate, full-function camera still a must for all occasions for you? Give us your perspective in the comments section. And if you’d like to read the full article on Yahoo, you can find it here: http://finance.yahoo.com/news/In-Smartphone-Era-nytimes-1102949571.html?x=0

 

Composing Your Photos Within The Lines

Written by stuestler on December 6th, 2010

While preparing our teaching project for the upcoming Design4Kids workshop in Honduras – just a month away now – the concept of design elements came up. While most of the kids there have already been introduced to the basics, we realized that it would be quite valuable to review them and demonstrate how universal these elements are in all design and art – both two- and three-dimensional.

An experienced photographer has likely internalized the concepts of line, shape, form, color and tone and while we may not consciously focus on them when crafting our image, you’re constantly aware of them at a subconscious level. Reviewing them from time to time is valuable to refresh your conscious awareness and to stimulate your creative thought process.

If you’re new to photography realize that these essential elements of design are the building blocks you use to create dynamic, compelling photographs.

Let’s take them individually, and the best way to become completely comfortable with these ideas is to practice them by focusing on using them in your photos.

A single Point is the most elemental design component. Not often found in photographing the real world, we’ll talk a bit more about point in future discussions on Shape.

As soon as you introduce two or more points, you create a Line, and this is by far the most common and basic element we encounter in designing photographs.

Lines can be horizontal, vertical, diagonal, straight or curved. And they can be an actual line, such as a horizon, the edge of a wall or table, or implied lines such as the placement of two objects and the way the eye is drawn from one to the other.

Horizontal and vertical lines tend to create a sense of stability, of foundation and strength. Diagonal lines are much more dynamic, creating a sense of movement ant drawing your viewer’s eye through your photo and to your subject.

Converging diagonals give a visual impression of depth and of being present in the image. They reinforce the sense of scale you have in the real world, where objects closer to you appear larger than those farther away.

And curving lines give a feeling of motion and a graceful path through your picture.

Paying attention to lines and how they affect your viewer’s interest in your photo causes a much more emotional connection.

 

Composing For The Greatest Impact

Written by stuestler on November 30th, 2010

As we come into the holiday season this is the time all the cameras come out to record those hapy family get-togethers. And with a little thought, those photos of family and friends can be much more interesting than the too often seen straight-on, quick grab snapshot.

A common tendency I see among beginning photographers is to point the camera at what they want to take a photo of, center the subject in the frame and take the picture. The thing is, a dead-centered composition is often not the best choice. While it may get the job done of recording the subject, there’s likely to be little else there to capture and hold the viewer’s imagination

With all visual art, which includes photography, the movement of the viewer’s eye through the image has a lot to do with creating energy and emotional involvement. And THAT’s what makes your pictures unforgettable.

One of the oldest compositional concepts in art is the ‘Rule of Thirds”. Very simply, it says that you “draw” two vertical lines on your image to divide it into equal thirds vertically, and also two horizontal lines to divide it into equal thirds horizontally. Some cameras even have a setting which will project this grid on your LCD and/or viewfinder.

The ideal place to locate your subject(s) is where these lines intersect. This creates a more effective balance in your image and helps cause the viewer’s eye to move thorough the picture instead of staying in one spot, saying “OK, I’ve seen what there is to see” and moving on to something else.

One important thing – remember to think of the Rule of Thirds more as a “suggestion” than a “rule”. The use of lines, shapes, color, tone and of course the subject itself all affect how the eye navigates your picture and causes the viewer to become involved as well. We’ll look at all of these individually in upcoming installments.