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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

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!

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

Premier Photo Tours on Groupon!

Tuesday, 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!

Design4Kids 5.6 Honduras Photo Workshop Update

Tuesday, 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?

Wednesday, 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 For The Greatest Impact

Tuesday, 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.

Photo Classes In Honduras

Saturday, June 12th, 2010

After a delayed flight leg from Houston, Eric and I arrived in Guatemala City at about 10:00pm Monday.  Checked into our hotel (the Barcelo – quite nice) at about 11:00pm, checked out at 4:00am to get to the bus station – making our stay about $20 an hour!

Tuesday was an all-day bus ride from Guatemala City to La Ceiba, Honduras. Fourteen hours, with a bus change and layover of 2 hours in San Pedro, Honduras. Met our cab driver in La Ceiba and took the 45-minute ride up the dirt road to Las Mangas.

After disembarking in San Pedro my iphone was “disappeared” – slipped out of my pocket in the seat, and I was off the bus before I realized it. A “search” by the bus service personnel turned up nothing. Mysteriously I was not allowed back on to look for myself.

So much for keeping in touch by email – all of my contacts were on the phone, not yet in this new computer. Hopefully I’ll be able to restore everything from the backup when I return and get a replacement.

The next two days were spent teaching photo classes to the students at Guaruma, the school project here. Originally started as a photography school for the children in Las Mangas, the project now has expanded to include environmental awareness studies and English, and has a second location about 5 kilometers farther up the mountain in El Pital.

The project we created for the kids was a simulated magazine cover, to teach the students awareness of shooting pictures for a specific format and subject, and then laying out the cover with their photos in Photoshop.

Wednesday we met up with Guaruma’s assistant director, Chris Poliquin and the school’s English teacher, Erin Coutts. That day we worked with the students in Las Mangas, and the theme of their assignment was “form and color in nature”. We took a walk along the nature trails that Guaruma maintains up the road and across the river just outside town. CB

The kids here are very much into macro photography, and their sensitivity and awareness of their environment is great to see. A few leaves on the jungle floor become a carefully composed still life, often displaying the subtle interplay of muted greens and browns, other times exploding in the vibrant colors of jungle flowers.

And insects – Oui! They have a critical eye for the smallest creature resting on a leaf or poised on the end of a branch, and work their subjects like a fashion photographer working with their model. Incredible shots of what others might think of as mundane and perhaps something to be dismissed and avoided.

After shooting their photos, we returned to the school where they loaded them onto the computers and learned how to combine the images in Photoshop into a template Eric created as the cover layout.

Then they played with changing type colors and fonts, moving type around the page, and learned how working with layers simplifies so many things. The students were excited to discover what they could do in the program and quickly realized how these techniques could be used with other projects.

Thursday we went up the road to El Pital and worked with the students up there. Neither of these “towns” are even wide spots in the road, but El Pital is a bit more “rustic”. There’s no nature trail there and the focus of their shoot was portraiture of the townspeople.

After some pointers on the do’s – and don’ts – of taking people pictures along with an explanation of how to shoot for a specific format, we unleashed this gaggle of paparazzi on the town.

While a few held back and preferred the comfort of using each other as subjects, most were quick to engage people they met (of course in this town, everyone knows each other) and ask to take their picture. Most were willing subjects and enjoyed working with the kids.

After corralling everyone and herding them back to the classroom, the kids went through the same process of putting their photos into the “cover” template. This group was a bit less computer-savvy than the Las Mangas kids, but nonetheless picked up the concepts and techniques pretty quickly.

This project gives the students an opportunity to learn practice skills that they’ll be able to apply to all of their photography as they move forward in developing their skills.

Design4Kids IV Photo & Graphic Design Workshop

Sunday, May 30th, 2010

The fourth Design4Kids workshop begins June 17th in Santiago de Atitlan, Guatemala. This one has been dubbed “The Master Class” and will be made up of the senior students of previous workshops. In addition to classes in photography and graphic design, we’ll have a stronger emphasis on marketing and small business practices ready to be applied to Jakaramba, the design studio born of the workshops and our parent group, FotoKids.

All of the members of the Jakaramba studio will be participating in the workshop. Up to now their clients have been primarily local and regional non-profit organizations, and they’ve worked on smaller projects. We hope they’ll come away from the workshop with a clear direction for the studio and a solid marketing plan, ready to take their business to the next level.

The client for this workshop will be FotoKids itself, and the project a self-published book to be used for promotion and fund-raising. Plans for the he book are to include an overview of the Fotokids project, feature photographs by FotoKids students, and to touch on the beauty and challenges of Guatemala.

Additional customizable chapters will include bios on individual students, coverage of the Design4Kids project and a look at Jakaramba.

Instructors for this workshop will be Design4Kids director Jeff Speigner, teaching graphic design, Cathy Shea teaching marketing, and Eric Lollkema and myself teaching photography. I’ll also be working with Cathy to interject the small business, target marketing approach with her big business marketing skills and experience.

Eric and I will be arriving a week early and making a side trip to Honduras, where we’ll be teaching photo classes for several days at Guaruma, the Honduras branch of Fotokids.

An interesting side note I’ve recently learned is that while it is currently the rainy season in Guatemala, with moderate temperatures and daily storms, Honduras, right next door but on the Caribbean coast, is in their dry season, with hot sunny days and temps near 100! Quite a climate variance in a area the size of the Carolinas!

Check in regularly – I’ll be providing periodic updates during the trip – internet connections permitting.