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Fotokids Coming to DC!

Tuesday, February 10th, 2015

By now you’ve all read about my passion for the Fotokids project and our Design4Kids workshops in Guatemala. A number of you have expressed interest but weren’t sure how to become involved. Here’s a fantastic opportunity.

_MG_1211Fotokids founder and director Nancy McGirr and Executive Director Evelyn Mancilla will be right here in Washington, DC for a fundraiser benefit on Thursday March 12th. The reception is being held from 5:30-7:30pm at The Podesta Group, 1001 G St. NW, Suite 1000 W, Washington, DC 20001, convenient to the Metro Center Metro stop.


Come meet Nancy and Evelyn, and hear how Fotokids has been transforming the lives of at-risk children for over 23 years. Perhaps now more than ever, at a time when many of the youth of Guatemala live with a sense of hopelessness and are even fleeing their homes out of fear, Fotokids is helping their students develop a belief in their ability to control and change their lives, and the lives of others.

While employing photography as a vehicle to develop creative thinking and self-worth, the true results go far beyond the ability to take a good photo. Many of the “first generation” of Fotokids students are now in university or have graduated, and are working in fields such as engineering, journalism, architecture and education. They’re sharing their experience, helping empower the new generation one child at a time, effecting change in their social and economic struggle the only way it can truly be changed – at the source.

By helping develop self confidence, self worth and a belief in their future, Fotokids is truly changing lives and saving these young people.

Read Evelyn’s latest article that appeared recently in the David Rockefeller’s Center for Latin America Revista at Harvard, in which she shares how Fotokids has directly impacted her life:


It appears that there may be more to photography than selfies and grumpy cats. A lot more. Imagine. Who knew?

Please come join us on March 12th, 5:30-7:30. RSVP to jennie@quantumgovernance.net or call 443.253.7478 by March 6th. See you there!

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.

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

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.

“Letter to the Student of Painting”

Monday, April 12th, 2010

One of the number of blogs and newsletters I follow is Robert Genn’s Twice-Weekly Letter, available from his site, www.painterskeys.com . I find his quotes, comments and insights easily translate from painting to photography. In addition to his newsletter, his site is a great source of inspirational and enlightening quotes from the art world.

His recent post was a letter from Robert Philip Brooks, a painter and teacher in North Carolina. I found it equally appropriate for the developing photographer, and felt that it was worth sharing. I’ve reprinted it here with his permission.

“Painter Charles Philip Brooks runs a teaching studio in North Carolina. He focuses on the American Tonalist and Impressionist schools of painting. Recently he sent me a letter he’d written for his student Laurie Gayle. I soon realized his letter was a classic, so I asked him if we could give it a wider reading. I think you’ll find it worthwhile.”

“Letter to the Student of Painting”

“Your day contains a great measure of freedom. Your responsibility as a painter is here within the walls of the studio and in the setting of the landscape. You have the opportunity to exercise genuine mastery at every step, and it is in this spirit of grand possibility that I hope you will reflect on the advice made plain here.

Do not grieve too long for the troubles of the outside world. There is important work to be done here. We can best express our care for all others by attending to our work well.

Allow yourself the peace of purpose and the knowledge that to make another attempt with the brush is a noble thing. If you accept the discipline of the truest principles of art, then yours is the reward of an unbroken line of tradition.

Therefore, you may earnestly free your mind of all heartaches, sadness, and transitory despairs. Creation is above these things.

Your vocation is as real and as true as any other. Those who denounce the artist as idle manifest a deep ignorance of the nature of art. Have faith that the civilized will somewhere, at some time, value your well-wrought works. It is a miracle that the world keeps its havens for art and yet it does. Know that to create art is to do a necessary piece of work. The most noble pleasures and measureless joys result from such endeavors. True art is undeniable and it is a gift for all humanity.

The threefold responsibility of the artist is: to creation, to individual talent, and to humanity. For creation – the whole of nature – we must cultivate prayerful awe. This is our source of work and our refuge as well. We should seek harmony with nature. For the individual talent – long hours and years of steady industry hope to find our abilities fulfilled, our minds, hearts, and hands put to valuable service. In this way, we maintain the sanctity of art. Lastly, we make to humanity a willing gift of all we do. Our control over the material world lasts only a lingering moment and it takes a generous soul to build the ambition of a lifetime and then to hand it over in trust to the future.

Painting requires the bravery of solitude. Painting requires disciplined labor. To be a painter is to search the world with a benevolent eye for every subtle beauty that the infinite world offers.

Here is the opportunity to give your honest effort and to add in any small way to the legacy of art. Cultivate patience in your heart and you will improve. Learn to see well and your hand will become sure.

No pain or doubt can invade the honest soul engaged in the communion of creation. We artists must love the world with our deepest selves and forgive it at every turn.

To paint even a little passage with a measure of quality is to achieve a life’s triumph.

Spend your days wisely with the best thoughts and works of those who have walked the road before you. Search their paths, their timeless inspirations, and the lineage of their genius. Learn your craft well and your talent will mature into its full possibility. Keep an obedient heart before nature. She is the master above all other masters. Nature is the concrete manifestation of all that remains true and sublime. Let us always be thankful for her abundance and hopeful that we might approach her in our art. Nature will renew every generation of painters, ready to illuminate the minds of those who practice the art with what is calm, rational, beautiful, sublime, and eternal.

Such is the purity of your vocation. Treat every moment before the easel as a quick and tender opportunity. Invest your most noble self. Give your most noble self. To be a painter is to enjoy a precious state of life.” (Charles Philip Brooks)

Taking A Different Look At Things

Saturday, August 29th, 2009

It’s been a long month since I’ve posted here. Been a crazy busy time, shooting a project for a client and preparing for the launch of The Photo Mentor course.

We met for our first class session on Thursday, August 27th. Since part of the idea behind this class is the development of an online course, we meet for one hour each week and a portion of the class is delivered to each member via email.

Everyone received the preliminary lesson online, then on Thursday we met at a local business-retail-entertainment center, which has a lake, attractions for kids and adults and is a bonanza of visual stimulation and photo opportunities. What better way to stir up a little creativity!?

After a short introduction here’s the assignment everyone did: roam around the center and photograph whatever appealed to their eye. There are a multitude of opportunities to photograph people, things, animals, scenery and buildings at this place. Sounds overly simple doesn’t it?

Here’s the real meat of the assignment. Instead of just wandering around shooting one or two pictures of everything, really take the time to concentrate on just a few subjects. Engage your creative mind and look for every possible way to shoot the same subject.


Students at the photo mentor classStart by thinking about both horizontal and vertical compositions. Try getting close, as well as backing up and getting a wider view.

Instead of just standing and shooting from your own eye level, try to get above your subject. And below. Even try laying down and shooting from ground level.

When taking pictures of people – and animals – this is especially effective. We’re all used to seeing the world from our eye level, our perspective. How about kneeling down and photographing kids eye-to-eye at their level. It’s probably been a long time since you looked at everything from their perspective. 

The whole idea is to get out of your routine way of looking at the world, breaking those habits and making yourself think and see things differently.

The students are now emailing me their photos. We’ll critique their photos and share everyone’s results with each other, so everyone can learn and grow.

So if you’re feeling stuck and bored with your pictures, and are looking to expand your thinking outside of the everyday routine box. Give this a try – whatever your subject.

Just be forewarned – once you do, you may find things don’t all fit back inside that box!

Stu Estler

Back To (Teaching) The Basics of Photography

Sunday, July 26th, 2009
(c) 2007 Stu Estler

(c) 2007 Stu Estler

Have you ever wondered why it is that two people, standing side-by-side, even with the same cameras, can each take a photo of the same subject? One takes a dramatic, emotionally-charged image, while the other’s photos are … dull, uninteresting – you just don’t get that emotional “aha” that you get from really great photos, that feeling of becoming drawn in and becoming part of the picture.

In the 25 plus years I’ve been a professional photographer so many people have asked me how to improve their photos, that I’ve taken all of the knowledge, experience, techniques and tricks that I’ve leaned over my photography career and put it all together in a photo course.




Here are some of the things I cover:

  • Have you ever taken a great shot, and thought “wow, how do I do that again?” You’ll learn how to use all those controls and settings on your camera so that you are able to reliably and easily get consistent results from your photos.
  • Imagine how the impact of little differences in framing and composition can have a dramatic effect on the impact of your photo. You discover how to compose your pictures to capture and lead your viewer’s emotions.
  • We’ll look at design elements in a photograph, how they affect your photos and why they’re such a critical cornerstone in taking really great pictures.
  •  You’ll learn how to see and understand all about light – front lighting, side lighting, back lighting, the color of light, how different times of day makes a difference … remember, photography is all about light. Even the word photography means “drawing with light”.

The course is a self-directed, self-paced program, delivered online via email and a website where you download your weekly lesson. I’m close to releasing the online course, but first I want to fine-tune it to be sure I’m on the right track with what everyone’s looking for.

Before this course goes live, it’s important that I’m certain my students are achieving the success they desire.

What I’ve decided to do is put together a class – a live face-to-face class – as a Beta-test to put the finishing touches on the course.

I’ll get input from all of the members to learn exactly what is most important – what you’d like to learn to help improve your photography.

 We’ll meet for an hour once a week, for six weeks, partly on location where I can demonstrate and you can practice techniques, and partly inside where we can review photos and see examples.

 Now, since you’re reading this photo blog, I’m guessing you have some kind of an interest in photography. So how about chiming in and helping me out?

What three things are you most interested in learning about photography? Doesn’t matter if you’re a working pro or a new beginner. Those of us who are working pros all know the way we got here is through constantly learning. And if you are a pro, what are people asking you?

(c) 2009 Stu Estler

(c) 2009 Stu Estler

This will also help us develop the program for the next Design4Kids workshop in Guatemala this December. So even if you can’t come along and volunteer this time, you can still participate in helping out the kids.


So go ahead and leave a short (or long) answer in the comments below.

I realize it’s kind of hard to find – it’s buried at the end of each post, as “responses”. I’m still looking for a template I like that handles comments better, haven’t found one yet. Any ideas there are welcome, too!


P.S.  – If you’re in the Washington DC area and would like more info on the live class, let me know how to contact you.

Wide Angle Wonders

Tuesday, June 16th, 2009

(c) 2009 Stu Estler

(c) 2009 Stu Estler

During my Kentucky trip, the question came up about wide angle and ultra-wide angle lenses. As I mentioned in the last update, some shots require as long a lens as possible – and sometimes that’s still not enough.



I do lots of shooting with wide angles in my work, and because of that I’ve become used to seeing the “wide view”, and tend to favor the wide angle look in a lot of my personal work.


One thing wide angles don’t do well is individual portraits. In order to fill the frame it’s necessary to get close in to the subject, and at close distances wide angles will create all sorts of distortion – especially to faces! Not very flattering.


On the other hand, for shots of larger groups, and especially large groups in tight spaces, wide angles are the answer. Since you’re shooting at a more normal distance, each individual is not as close to the lens, and distortion is minimal or not an issue.


Wides, and especially ultra-wides, are essential in shooting interiors when you want to capture the entire space. And they can be great for sweeping landscapes too.  The key to using wide angle lenses without getting weird distortions is not to have any part of the subject too close to the lens.


However, in art, and that includes photography, there are no hard, fast rules, and sometimes using the distortion effect from wide angles creates an unusual, interesting viewpoint.


Take a look at these photos of the sculptures at Lexington’s Thoroughbred Park, a small fountain and sculpture area on a downtown corner. The opening photo above was taken with a 16mm (equivalent) lens.


Just a quick mention of equivalent focal lengths. Even though digital has become the standard for photography, there are numerous digital sensor sizes, and one factor that determines whether a specific focal length lens will give a wide, normal or telephoto field of view is the relationship to the size of the sensor.


There’s a lot more to it, and I’ll go more into depth on that another time, but for now it’s enough to know that relative focal lengths are still quoted as the equivalent field of view to a 35mm frame (or a “full-frame” digital sensor, which is the same dimensions as 35mm film).

(c) 2009 Stu Estler

(c) 2009 Stu Estler






Anyway, back to the horses. While walking up to the sculptures, I took this overall view from behind the fountain. Not very interesting composition and lots of clutter from the street behind, but it documents the site. Could still make you do a double-take if you came up on it not expecting what is there.



Since the fountain was being used as a wading pool by a number of families and small kids, I wanted to eliminate that from my composition and concentrate on the horses.

(c) 2009 Stu Estler

(c) 2009 Stu Estler






The first shot from in front is at normal standing height, using about a 45mm lens – within the 40-55mm “normal” range. It avoids the clutter and confusion from the waders, but the sculptures still get a little lost in the trees behind them.

(c) 2009 Stu Estler

(c) 2009 Stu Estler






Next, I knelt down from the same spot with the same focal-length lens, giving a different perspective and getting more sky behind the sculptures. Not a bad shot and it works pretty well.



But I wanted to really exaggerate the look and feel of the running thoroughbreds, so I chose to use the ultra-wide 16mm.


The resulting view (the opening photo above) was taken just a few feet in front of the lead horses in the sculpture, kneeling down and looking up. It accentuates the feeling of being in the middle of the track as the horses rush by (and over!) you. The distortion of the lead horses amplifies the feeling.


I’m a big fan of working a subject form all vantage points, using different lenses and compositions. Sometimes the strangest view turns out to be the most interesting!

The Magic Of Photography At Twilight

Tuesday, May 26th, 2009

(c) 2009 Stu Estler

(c) 2009 Stu Estler

I’ve gotten way behind in updates! First two weeks of rain nearly every day (didn’t know that Washington, DC had a rainy season, did you?) then running like crazy trying to catch up and make the deadline for this project. Now more rain!




While soft, overcast light and even rain can provide an environment for wonderful photographs, the client on this project wants “pretty sunny days and blue skies”. Not unreasonable. The subjects – luxury homes – do tend to look their best in good weather. And clear to partly-clear skies give the most dramatic background for my favorite time of day for photography – twilight.


That magic time between darkness and light gives life to amazing images. The combination of the cool blue fading sunlight and the warm glow of incandescent lights in the buildings make this the prime time for architectural photography.


There are two times of day for this effect – dawn and dusk – though it can be a challenge to convince clients to open their doors to set the interior lights for the shot in the early morning hours. Especially now as we approach mid-summer and the solstice, which means at this latitude the light begins to come up by 5:30am.


The quality of the early morning light is different, too, cooler than the late day light of dusk. Shooting from the beginning light of dawn until sunrise creates dramatic photos, but the favorite twilight time is dusk.


I’m still constantly delighted by the swiftness of the changing light. Exposing minute-by-minute yields a different look in each shot. Just after sunset the daylight is still the dominant light source, yielding even, shadow-less light with just the faintest glow from the artificial lights in and around a building.


As the daylight fades the balance shifts until that magic moment when natural and artificial light balance, creating a warm inviting glow from within against a perfect blue background.


Then – blink! – and it’s over. The natural light disappears and the night takes over. Time for dinner and a glass of wine!

Jazz Fest in New Orleans

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009

Photo (c) John Glenn

Photo (c) John Glenn

It’s that time of year again, when New Orleans welcomes the world to hear the city sing it’s soul song. The Jazz and Heritage Festival is a two-weekend event, typically held on the last weekend of April and the first weekend of May. It begins this Friday, April 24th and continues through May 3rd.









 Jazz, Zydeco, Gospel and all manner of music fills not only the fairgrounds during the festival but venues large and small throughout the town for the entire event.


Unfortunately, due to other commitments I won’t be able to be there this year, but my good friend, John Glenn www.jglennphotography.com , a tremendously talented photographer now based in Atlanta will be, as he has for the past 18 years, recording the visual story of the festival and the city in a way no one else can.


In recent years John has had a show in the lobby of the International House Hotel www.IHhotel.com, his home base in New Orleans throughout the festival week, with receptions on each weekend. A portion of the proceeds from print sales go to the New Orleans Musicians Clinic.


John will be hosting receptions at the International House on Friday April 24th and Friday May 1st. They’re always a great event and feature – of course – great musical entertainment as well as a chance to view his work and meet the artist.


John’s invited me to extend an open invitation to all of you to stop in, meet him and see his work. Now this means getting to New Orleans, and since you’ll already be there J, you definitely want to check out the music and good times at the festival!


You can learn more about John’s work on his site and here in this press release:



 There’s more info on Jazz Fest at www.nojazzfest.com


There’s still time to get there and while I won’t be there in body this year my spirit will be, and next year I’ll be back and meet you all down there!