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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 –!/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

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 website or by contacting me directly at

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 and the Honduras project on 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.


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 . You can also learn more about Design4Kids at .

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.

Photography at the Washington Auto Show

Thursday, February 4th, 2010

Just finished a week of photography covering the Washington Auto Show. This assignment is for the client who produces the show itself, and is largely public relations oriented. We shoot the special events that go on during the show, as well as the day-to-day activities, the public enjoying the auto displays, checking out the new cars.

In some ways PR photography can be one of the most challenging to make interesting, as the subject is often someone speaking at a podium in front of a group. Sometimes the speaker is the shot – a notable who’s presence is the newsworthy event. Other times having the speaker in context with a display showing the topic of his talk helps provide creative elements for a photo.

In one of the more interesting displays at this show, one of the auto makers had a cut-away car with the body shell split down the middle. The two halves spread open revealing the interior, frame, engine and all the insides of the car. The show attendees could get in the car, with a product specialist, and the body closed, all while the specialist described the many features of the vehicle.

It looked great, and would have been an easy capture in video, but getting still photos that described the process provided a bit of a challenge. Open, the body halves and interior looked like a static display, and closed it just looked like a car. A single shot of the vehicle closing still looked like a static display.

I used post processing in Photoshop to help solve this one. I set up the camera on a steady tripod, and did a series of shots. The first was the display open, with the people inside. I then shot several exposures of the car closing, until it was completely closed. Each individual shot looked like this:


I first tried using the PhotoMerge tool to see what happened, but as I suspected it would, it just ended up with the open and closed frames merged together.

 I then opened each photo in Photoshop, and one at a time dragged each successive shot onto the next. I created a Layer Mask and with a low opacity brush erased some of the area where the car was closing in the underlying frame. That was flattened and dragged onto the next closing frame, and the process repeated. The final image looks like this:

This is a process very similar to the one I use when combining exposures of architectural interiors, and with a little practice it’s actually quite simple. The students who take my classes discover that it’s simpler and quicker to do this than to describe it!

Introducing The Principles of Exposure

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

D4K3 003We began the day with the less experienced kids in the group, and introduced them to the basics of exposure control – aperture, shutter and ISO, and the relationships between them. These kids have worked with digital point & shoot cameras and have a respectable grounding in composition, and this shows them how to get consistent, predictable results in their photos.

We had them shoot a bracket from -2 to +2 and then showed them how to import their images into Lightroom and make adjustments to their photos, recovering much of their under- and over-exposed frames.

It’s exciting to see the lights come on when the concepts sink in and they “get it”. Ana, one of the girls from “the city” (as Guatemala City is know down here) observed that the shot she liked best wasn’t the “correct” metered exposure – recognizing that having the skills to control the exposure allows you to interpret your image the way you visualize the final result.

Next we repeated the two classes with the more experienced members of the group. While most of them claimed to understand the use of aperture and shutter, it was clear that they all had only a little experience in applying the concepts of manual exposure control in their photos. Once they realized what they really can do by making the camera do what they want, they got totally into the process as well.

Tomorrow is an “excursion day” – no structured classes, but rather a creative play day, with activities that allow the kids to apply and practice the concepts and techniques they’re learning this week. Can’t wait to see what they come up with!

Re-Photographing The Familiar

Monday, July 13th, 2009

In contrast to the week in Guatemala, where everything was new and exciting, I’ve just returned from a long holiday weekend spent with family at a lake we’ve been visiting for the past nine or ten years.


We go at about the same time each year (around July 4th), stay at the same house we’ve stayed at each year, and after that much time it all has the look and feel of familiarity that we all find in our own every day surroundings.

(c) 2009 Stu Estler

(c) 2009 Stu Estler



Now don’t get me wrong – it’s a beautiful location, it’s great to spend time together with the family, and there’s plenty to do at and around the lake. It’s hardly a boring vacation.


But after this long, I found myself working much harder to find new and different photo ops. Being a bit laid slowed down by an injury this year kept me from being as active and from ranging as far afield as I usually do, and that certainly played a part.


One of the first reactions in a place like this is to zone in on the beauty of the place and the ever-changing scene unfolding as weather moves up, down and across the lake.


But after ten years, I found myself thinking, “OK, so I don’t have a photo of the lake with THAT particular cloud formation, but I’ve got eleven dozen with cloud formations that look an awfully lot like that one.”


Of course, there will always be the shots of family and our activities, which are a never-ending source of subject matter. When we look back, it’s those pictures that keep the memories of those wonderful times alive.


We may always go up to the airport for the Fourth of July Pancake Breakfast, but this is probably the only time that I’ll see my niece’s son – would that be my grand-nephew? I’m still confused about all that stuff – probably the only time I’ll catch him surveying his handiwork on his pancake breakfast like this.

(c) 2009 Stu Estler

(c) 2009 Stu Estler



In fact there was barely time to lift the camera and press the shutter before the moment was gone. No time to carefully compose, and avoid the bright orange shirt behind him. A bit of localized saturation and tone reduction helped reduce that a little – believe me, that shirt must be neon international orange!


When the exciting becomes the ordinary, it’s helpful to go back to the basics, and take a look at things through different eyes.


Are you used to framing grand, sweeping panoramas? Switch to a long lens and take a much closer look at things. Concentrate on design, on color, on form instead of on what the subject is.


Select a particular focal length lens – even if it’s a particular setting on a zoom lens – and shoot everything, near and far, with that lens.


Get closer to your subject, for more intimate shots of people than the comfortable distance you may be used to shooting at.

(c) 2009 Stu Estler

(c) 2009 Stu Estler

In the end, it was on the last morning there, sitting by the water having coffee, that the patterns of light through the water, painting the rocks below, gave me some of my most successful photos.


There’s always something new to see no mater how familiar a subject is. It just takes looking at it from a different point of view.

Shootin’ In The Rain In Guatemala

Sunday, June 28th, 2009
Vulcan San Pedro Accross Lago de Atitlan (c) 2009 Stu Estler

Vulcan San Pedro Accross Lago de Atitlan (c) 2009 Stu Estler

High ISO’s and wide open apertures were the order of the day much of the time here in Santiago de Atitlan.

Our Workshop Leader Jeff Speigner (c) 2009 Stu Estler

Our Workshop Leader Jeff Speigner (c) 2009 Stu Estler

Lots of clouds and light rain making way for the deluge of water as the skies opened up once or twice a day, tempered by a few breaks in the clouds here and there. After all, it is the rainy season.

(c) 2009 Stu Estler

(c) 2009 Stu Estler

The ebb and flow of weather shrouded volcano San Pedro across the lake in an ever-changing veil of mist and clouds.

(c) 2009 Stu Estler

(c) 2009 Stu Estler

Of course, the last two days were clear and bright in the morning, as if word of our imminent departure had spread, and the beauty of Guatemala was enticing us to return soon.


 View of San Pedro From My Room (c) 2009 Stu Estler

View of San Pedro From My Room (c) 2009 Stu Estler

As the morning passes, the warming air gives birth to rings of clouds halfway up the slope. By noon a tremendous cap of billowing cumulous clouds gives the mountain the appearance of a new eruption – even though it’s been dormant for 40,000 years.

The great white and grey mushroom cap foretells the afternoon’s weather – torrential thunderstorms.

imap-001-blogThe weather taught new photographers and reacquainted we veteran instructors with the beauty and peacefulness of the soft light that embraces every subject when photographing in the rain.


(c) 2009 Stu Estler

(c) 2009 Stu Estler

Colors that become washed out in bright sunlight are vibrant and saturated. The brilliant flowers growing everywhere burst from the lush blanket of green that defines the landscape. Everything glistens in the wetness crafting reflections not to be found when photographing on a clear, dry day.

I was prepared for the wetness there – I knew it was the rainy season. I did my homework and so anticipated the beauty of the environment and culture.



(c) 2009 Stu Estler

(c) 2009 Stu Estler

What has completely blown me away has been the incredible talent of these kids! I felt humbled being there teaching them photography.




(c) 2009 Stu Estler

(c) 2009 Stu Estler


Although they vary in experience and skill levels, their creativity, energy and ability is amazing.

(c) 2009 Stu Estler

(c) 2009 Stu Estler


To see what we’ve been up to take a look at

(c) 2009 Stu Estler

(c) 2009 Stu Estler

The next workshop is already scheduled for early December. New volunteers with specialties in photography, design and the arts are eagerly welcome! Check the Design4Kids website and keep looking right here for more info.

I’m told December is sunny and dry!

Design4Kids Photography & Design Workshop

Tuesday, June 9th, 2009

Just a week and a day to the beginning of the 2009 Design4Kids workshop in Santiago de Atitlan, Guatemala. This year’s “dream team” of volunteer instructors has been assembled and is ready to go.


Started by FotoKids founder Nancy McGirr, this is the second Design4Kids workshop and the third workshop with the young people in Santiago. They continue to learn and develop their photography and graphic design talents with the purpose of operating their own design studio in the Atitlan area.


As in the past, the group will receive a real assignment from an actual client, and they will determine the client’s needs, design the concept and create the project. The team of volunteers is made up of commercial artists, graphic designers and photographers who will guide them along in the process.


The kids will be polishing their skills in design, photography and Photoshop, and along the way, they’ll develop and expand their creative talents, and learn possibility thinking that will teach them new ways of looking at themselves, the world and their own potential.

There’s more about the project and the team at and a complete overview of the Fotokids organization at