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Two Weeks of Photo Classes!

Sunday, January 17th, 2010

Wow, it’s been a busy week, with another coming right along.

Last Saturday started it off with the Kids & Parents Photo Class. The introductory class was geared toward the kids – 11 to 15 year olds – and the parents came along to share the experience and learn alongside each other. Of course, with today’s tech-savvy kids, it’s likely that they were explaining it again to the parents that evening!

We went over the basics of using their cameras – point & shoots – and a little on light and composition. Next we all went outside and practiced what they learned. Then we came back in the classroom and looked at some photo editing techniques, using software like Google’s Picasa.

The parents told me that the kids went home and took photos all afternoon!

That was followed up during the week with the first of two Home Photography Clinics, this one held in Potomac, Maryland, aimed at professionals in the real estate industry who take their own photos for their listings.

While I still make my living as an architectural photographer, it’s obvious that every photo of every home on the market doesn’t justify a budget of hiring a professional like myself. Many clients over the years have asked about how to take better photos themselves, so I’ve put together a two-day workshop to teach some tips and techniques for improving their photos, without all the expensive and complex equipment that I use.

We started with camera basics – many people at this level are using their cameras on the totally automatic settings, and just taking the camera off “the green” and learning how to control it yourself goes a long way towards improving your results.

We talked a bit about equipment – at least an entry-level SLR is really best – plus adding a wide angle lens and a hot shoe flash to allow bouncing and diffusing light.

And of course using a tripod! I’m a big proponent of using a tripod for just about any photo situation you can. It makes it much easier to get sharp pictures in any condition, and frees you up from worrying about too-slow shutter speeds and too-high and noisy ISO’s.

Then we talked about the qualities and colors of light, and how they all play a key role in the success of a photo. Light should always be the first consideration, not an afterthought.

We followed that up with a look at some basics of composition and design elements, like the Rule of Thirds and using lines – especially the power of diagonal lines – to move the eye through the picture and capture the viewer’s attention.

The first day finished up with some considerations and techniques especially useful for architectural-type shooting. We talked about perspective distortion and parallel lines. And about how to tame the typical ultra-high contrast lighting situations found when photographing interiors.

The second day began with the participants practicing the techniques learned on day one. I hold the workshops in a house to give the students an opportunity to try these techniques right away and ask questions.

Finally we went over some very useful post processing methods that make life in the digital age so much easier.

Shooting in RAW is the first thing to consider to make the process of adjusting images on the computer easier and more efficient. This is another reason for choosing an SLR – even most of the entry level models have RAW capture, while only some advanced digital and few point & shoots allow this.

White balancing an interior space illuminated by mixed light sources can be a time-consuming and complicated task with film and even when shooting JPEGS in camera. With Raw processing it becomes a one-click process, with maybe a little slider adjustment to fine tune things. True, some RAW processing software like Adobe Camera Raw allows white balance adjustments on JPEGS, but this feature is often not found on the more economical entry-level programs.

While critical perspective control is still best done with specialty PC lenses (or a view camera), the ability to quickly adjust for keystoning in programs like Photoshop will instantly take photos of both exteriors and interiors up to a level far above the average real estate listing snapshots.

And the ability to bracket exposures and combine them in post-processing is a tremendously useful means of overcoming too-contrasty lighting conditions. With a bit of practice it soon becomes a quick and simple method of taming extreme highlights and shadows, without the greater learning curve and specialty software required for true HDR images.

Everyone who participated was truly excited to start using their new-found skills, and this week we’ll repeat the workshop with another group in Northern Virginia. Those students are already calling with eager questions and requests!

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!

Springtime Photos In DC

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

Spring is a great time of year. I’m not a big fan of winter’s short days, cold weather and gray-brown scenery, and the explosion of color and life that comes in the spring rejuvenates the soul.  Of course, it does come along with the infamous Mid-Atlantic explosion of pollen – good grief, what a season this one is turning into!

(c) 2009 Stu Estler

(c) 2009 Stu Estler

It’s spring again, and also time for a quarterly project I‘ve been doing for 23 years with one long-time client.





Sneezin’ and wheezin’ aside, it always amazes me how the landscape can go from a barren, desolate winterscape to a lush, green jungle-like blanket in just a month. In fact I just drove up along Canal Rd., coming out of DC along the Potomac, and the grass along side the road that hasn’t been cut yet is wheat-field high and has seed heads! In early May!


Since this particular client is a major real estate firm, and the project is a magazine featuring their high-end properties, the change is especially welcome. Everyplace looks better in a full dress of azaleas, dogwoods and greening trees.


Now if we could just get this week of rain to let up . . .


Cover Photo in Home & Design

Wednesday, April 15th, 2009

(c) 2008 Stu Estler

(c) 2008 Stu Estler




(c) 2008 Stu Estler

(c) 2008 Stu Estler

The May-June issue of Home & Design magazine ( that just hit the newsstands features my photos on the cover and in the cover story on an amazing penthouse unit at the Watergate in Washington, DC.


 The unit was once owned by Elizabeth Taylor and Senator John Warner, and has sweeping views of Washington and the Potomac River. The interior has been magnificently renovated by architect Errol M. Adels.


It features a central gallery with limestone tile, mosaic inlays and ne0-classical cast pilasters. The living room has floor-to-ceiling windows that wrap around for a panoramic view of the city. It features birch inlays in the walls and an incredible French marble fireplace.


As you can imagine, I was like a kid in a candy store as I went to work photographing such a fabulous home. The delight I get in creating images that capture the essence of the space and décor and the satisfaction from mastering the challenges that can be presented is what drives me to excel. I really do get “in the zone” when I have the opportunity to play like this.


The apartment’s owner, Leslie Train Westreich is a warm wonderful person and a was a joy to work with. Meeting and getting to know such delightful people is as much a part of the pleasure I receive from these projects as is the fulfillment of unleashing my own creativity.

Fotokids Photography & Design Workshop In Guatemala

Thursday, March 26th, 2009

Isn’t it interesting how one little thing can make a dramatic change in your life and the lives of others?


For some time now I have had a goal to work with young people to help them realize and develop their potential, using photography as the tool to stimulate and awaken their creative abilities. I have no experience in working in or with this type of organization, and have struggled with the logistics of creating one on my own.


A close friend and colleague of mine, who knows that I am developing an online course to teach basic and advanced photography (, saw a post on a forum he follows that he thought might interest me, and forwarded it.


The post was a request from a fellow creative – a photographer by avocation and a graphic designer by profession – looking for a few more volunteers to help teach a workshop with an organization called Fotokids ( The group works in Guatemala teaching young people to develop their personal abilities and professional skills in photography and graphic design. They are doing the very thing I want to do!


As you can imagine, when you see an opportunity for something you so strongly desire handed to you, you waste no time, and immediately take advantage of it.


The week-long workshop in June will have the kids begin with a real project from a real client, and take it from concept through to delivery. I’ll be teaching photography and Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop techniques, which is the software the kids currently use. Here’s a link to their blog, which tells about the workshop:


There is absolutely no doubt that his is a fantastic opportunity to share my knowledge and give to these kids, and I’m certain that I will learn and receive even more from them and sharing this experience with them.


I believe that there are two lessons in this: that when you truly believe and focus on the things you want, you attract them to you – often in ways you never expected – and that the way to make a dramatic change in your life – and to positively affect the lives of others – is to take action when you are presented with an opportunity.


Right now the only things for certain are the dates – June 17-25, 2009 – and the location – Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala. Stay tuned.