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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.

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.


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 .

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.

Lessons On People Photos From The Class

Monday, April 5th, 2010

We’ve just completed the first six-week session of e-mail classes. The students enjoy the flexibility of doing the work on their own schedule, and the results have been quite dramatic.

We had two classes going during the winter session. “Master Your SLR” is a beginner class for people who are just starting to learn about photography beyond pointing, pressing the button and letting the camera do the rest. We cover the basics of taking control of your pictures and getting the kind of results you want, consistently and predictably.

“Develop Your Creativity” moves beyond the basics, and takes a more in-depth look at the fundamentals of light, composition and design. The concepts we cover in this class are applicable to shooting with any type of camera, as long as you understand how to use it. Most of the students at this level tend to have moved up to an SLR to take maximum advantage of being in complete control of their photos.

One of the early lessons looked at how the direction of light falling on your subject – front lighting, side lighting or back lighting – affects your image.

While shot as an example of front lighting, one photo stood out because of its apparent simplicity revealing quite a few layers of complexity in our response to it. The photo was taken by Kathy Ma, and she’s allowed me to use it here to share with you.

There’s great use of negative space and color contrast. By framing so that there’s more room behind him than in front, the feel is that he’s moving out of the image rather than into it. With his face turned away from the camera, there is a sense of aloofness, of disassociation from the photographer or viewer. It actually creates quite a few possible responses, layered on each other and each revealed as you look at it more.

Probably more than any other subject, when we photograph people the subject itself becomes the dominant element in the image. With most other subject – landscapes, architecture, “things” – the viewer is more aware, either consciously or subconsciously, of how light and design elements affect the image.

When we – people – see photos of other people, we tend to focus on the person, because this is a subject we instinctively feel we understand and want to know more about. All of the other aspects of the photograph – light, design – are just as meaningful and important in creating and directing the viewer’s response, but they tend to become secondary to the subject, at least at a conscious level.

Yet when given appropriate attention, the design and light elements create that “a-ah” response that sets a people image above the rest. The really great portrait/people shooters like Annie Leibowitz and Arnold Newman know this and use it.

A classic is Newman’s portrait of Igor Stravinsky at his piano. The shape of the piano dominates the area of the image, augmented by the contrast of the white background, yet Stravinsky, just in the corner of the image, is clearly what the photo is all about. If you’re not familiar with Arnold Newman’s work you definitely owe it to yourself to look some up.

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

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 www.design4kids.org

(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!

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!

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!