Tags: Daila Lama, Florida Keys, J. N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Mahatma Gandhi, Photoguru, Sanibel Island, Sean Arbabi's career, travel photography, Veterans Day
“You don’t make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved.” -Ansel Adams
We see the world around us through the filters of our life’s experiences - all the things he mentioned influence us to some degree, and that forms how we interpret the world around us. That’s why our vision is uniquely ours.
The combination of influential factors for creative photography is different for each of us. When I think about the people I have loved, in various ways, they are/were outdoor-loving, natural, adventurers, in love with the beauty of nature and experiencing it. My father took the whole family on great vacations when I was growing up, but always to a place where we would then hike up mountains, canoe lakes or rivers, and camp in nature.
The photographers I favored were those that shared their vision of nature’s wonders through their pictures, or they love of cultures/places. The music I grew up with was an eclectic mix, -church, folk, classical, rock, jazz, reggae, and “new age.” The instruments that spoke to me were piano, violin, guitar, sax, and drums, to name a few.
When I think about putting a piece of music to my images in a slide show, it’s most often a piano piece, or guitar, in the new age genre or possibly classical or light jazz. When I’m photographing, I typically don’t play music, but if I did, it would likely be new age or classical, something that keeps me in the peace of nature. When I travel, I listen to the local music, as it helps place me there, it immerses me in the culture perhaps a bit more, and I believe that helps me see more deeply.
The books that I resonated with were often books that expressed the beauty of nature, the wonders of places, or ones with an environmental message. These formed the basis for my passion towards capturing nature’s beauty/drama. (Yeah, I read series of historical fiction, steamy romance, and espionage, but those were escapes, flashes in the pan for entertainment).
As I write this post, spontaneously, I can see where all my experiences have indeed influenced how I see the world around me. It has helped me form my own unique vision, and that continues to this day. Take some time to look at your photography, and think on your own life’s experiences, and how they might be showing up in the work that you create.
Editor's Note: Expand your creative photography horizons in Brenda Tharp's excellent online hoto course: Creating Visual Impact.
The images are inspiring and motivating, and just plain great to look at ... and are selected from entries into BetterPhoto's monthly photography contest.
It's been a while :-) but here's an update! Our nine Newfoundland puppies are all doing fantastic at about 4 1/2 months old. From a birth weight of 1 1/2 to 2 pounds, they now check in at 53 to 74 pounds! My wife Mary and I kept two - a male and female - and the other seven are thriving at their new homes.
Here are now-and-then pics of our male Newfie pup, Fritz.
Following is Fritz at sunset ... 4 1/2 months and 70 pounds. Note: He's not quite half-size yet!! :-) ... with an expected adult weight of about 160-170 pounds.
From my previous blog, here's Fritz at 3 weeks old and 5 pounds:
Thanks, Kerry Drager
Greetings from the California countryside! Our Newfoundland pups - all nine of them! - are doing well at 3 weeks old. From a birth weight of 1 1/2 to 2 pounds, they now check in at 4 to 5 pounds. (See my previous post for more details.)
For the portraits below, my "studio" included soft window light (i.e., no flash and no direct sunlight), an old blue blanket draped over a living room chair, and two very appropriate props: a BetterPhoto.com squishy camera and a BetterPhoto.com coffee mug.
I shot each image with a 50mm lens on a full-frame D-SLR, and the settings were f6.7, 1/100th second, and ISO 800. Help was provided by my wife Mary, the official breeder in our family, and my stepdaughter Kristin, the official puppy wrangler - an essential assistant for any puppy photography adventure :-) The top pic shows a gray male ready for action. In the middle shot, a gray female is barely awake. And in the bottom image, a black male enjoys a close encounter with the (empty) BP mug.
Until my next puppy report, have fun with your own photography!
Thanks, Kerry Drager
Out in the California countryside, we are the proud "parents" of nine healthy Newfoundland puppies! My wife Mary is the breeder, but events like this seem to involve anyone who happens to be nearby - especially someone with a camera :-)
I took the accompanying photo the other day when the pups were 1 day old. The litter includes five black (very common) and four gray (very rare) puppies, each weighing 1 1/2 to 2 pounds at birth ... a verrrrry long way from their eventual 100-plus-pound adult size!
For this image, I selected a prop - a BetterPhoto coffee mug, naturally! - plus window light as the light source. A wide aperture (f/4) and high ISO (800) provided a shutter speed fast enough (1/250th second) to easily hand-hold the camera with a 105 macro lens. Of course, it helps to have an expert assistant (my stepdaughter, Kristin), who chose a puppy that was sound asleep - so no squirming, bouncing, squeeking, or squawking! The fact that a gray puppy was selected, instead of a difficult-to-record black one, was no accident either.
With tight close-ups, focusing decisions are crucial. With most pet and people portraits, the eyes have it. But, sleeping aside, these puppies won't open their eyes until they're a few weeks old. Can't beat the nose as a key focal point.
By the way, Newf puppies do seem to look better with age :-) so stay tuned!
Thanks, Kerry Drager
The Brief Anatomy of a Mistake
It seems to be human nature to be dismayed at having made mistakes. Botching a capture in a fleeting moment is a missed opportunity, and certainly we are right to be a little mad at ourselves for not being properly prepared. Ruining a print because you set up a file incorrectly is costly, but curable.
While it may be disappointing not to make the perfect image, no one ever learned a thing by being perfect. The reality is: every mistake is an opportunity...an opportunity to learn and to enhance your skills. In fact, it could almost be argued that if you don’t make mistakes, you’ll never learn, expand your horizons, and improve.
All mistakes aren't good (for example, dropping your digital camera in the ocean while out at sea), but all come with a lesson. There are mistakes you will be able to learn more and less from. There are times when the risk of mistakes will ‘cost’ more. The best mistakes are those that come with the least dreadful impact.
Looked at in the right way, the opportunity created by making a mistake is potential for learning and the true joy of pure accomplishment.
What to Do When You Make a Mistake
When you make a mistake -- whatever it is -- it isn't time to sit back and lament; it is time to sit up and take notice. It may also be a moment to congratulate yourself for trying new things and not being afraid of confronting what you don't already know.
When a mistake happens:
The first is both the easiest and hardest of these steps. People like to blame themselves or someone else and distract from the sense that something merely happened. Forgo the blame as there’s nothing positive there. The next two steps are where it counts. Look at the event and what went wrong, research or ask questions about the things you don’t understand, and make a plan for avoiding the same thing happening again. You can write down your answers, and keep a notebook to keep track if it helps. All you want to do is plan to avoid making that same mistake again. The plans can be trivial or complex.
Often you’ll be tempted to lean on the advice of others that they gained from experience, and that can be a good thing by helping you avoid making terrible blunders. As long as you digest the suggestions and lessons it helps; it helps less so if you take anyone’s word for granted. Practice what you read in tutorials, lessons and books before you assume you really understand it. And when you practice allow yourself to explore at the fringes where things might just go wrong and that’s where you’ll learn.
Mistakes can come in shooting, in choosing a lens, in working with or against the light, in shooting too few frames, choosing the wrong exposure. You'll see them in bad choices for tools you use in Adobe Photoshop or Photoshop Elements). Don’t be afraid of making the mistakes, of posting them to your gallery, of showing them to people who might help let you know what went wrong or offer opinions. That is research. Opinions will vary as will solutions, and your preferences and techniques for avoiding the mistakes will expand as your experience grows. As your list of mistakes grows it is something you can wear like a scarf or badge of courage and show off in the experience you've gained. Mistakes accumulate with hard work, and experience. You make more of them as you challenge yourself with new styles, ideas and techniques. The more of them you make, the better they will make your images.
If your goal is to be a better photographer, don’t make mistakes, revel in them.
The Entertainer and the Entertained
Magicians in their magic acts are entertainers. They perform mystical feats designed specifically to cleverly trick us -- those being entertained -- into believing something miraculous is happening when they waive their wand or perform an incantation. Deep down, we know it is somehow explainable, but we want to be entertained, suspend our disbelief, and enjoy the show. We may half-heartedly try to figure out what really happened behind the scenes, but in a way, perhaps, we almost don't want to know: it might ruin the illusion and we'd no longer be entertained. The entertainer practices his craft building the clever and believable deception, and the entertained soak it in without thinking all too hard. That is the difference between the entertainer and the entertained.
Photoshop and Magic
People beginning to edit images with Photoshop and Elements often scour the menus looking for the tool that will do something spectacular to their images believing great images are just a few clicks away. It is almost as if they want the program to entertain them with an element of magic or a fantasic feat of mind reading. Photoshop and Elements have lots of tools whose behavior may seem mysterious and unexplainable at first, at least one named specifically 'Magic Wand', but regretfully there are no 'magic' tools that read your mind. No matter how clever the implementation of a function or how well it seems to work there is never anything 'magic' about a tool itself. There is a calculation -- however complex -- that drives any tool application. The behavior can be described and predicted, no matter how we might resist knowing.
To Be the Magician
A true magician doesn't waive a wand and hope magic will happen -- imagine what would happen to a magician doing that on stage. The magician knows the secrets of the tricks and what goes on behind the scenes, utilizing props and tools with purpose to craft the perfect deception. Likewise, the imaging magician, must be a master of the tools and craft of post-processing. Just clicking a filter or auto function and being elated or disappointed by the result isn't mastering Photoshop and Elements, it is being entertained. Being entertained can be pleasing at times, but generally it is not how you make a magical image. The tools themselves have no way to see and evaluate the images they work on except as a calculation. They are lifeless props and props never make magic either.
Magicians practice their craft and develop their art, and you will want to do the same to achieve desired results with your post-processing in Photoshop. Changes do not have to be mystical, spectacular or flamboyant to get the most from your images, and post-processing is only a portion of the photographic craft. There is a place for being both the entertainer and the entertained, the magician and the audience. Learn and be awed by other people's craft, but strive to understand the magic of their images like a magician in the audience watching the craft of the magician on stage.
To Learn More
My courses teach the timeless fundamentals for Photoshop and Elements that you'll use as the core of your craft. I talk about magic tools in my Photoshop 101 class...namely the "read my mind" and "do it for me" tools: mythical tools designed in the minds of users hoping there is an easier way. But it is the only mention of magic tools in my courses. You get practical methodology for Correcting and Enhancing Your Images, solid techniques for matching your images on your Monitor and In Print, and advanced exploration of
Layers: Photoshop's Most Powerful Tool. Each is a facet of the tools you have to master to perfect your image editing craft. My latest book, The Adobe Photoshop Layers Book, is the perfect companion to these courses.
Coming from a writing background (I have an MFA in Fiction Writing), I find it is interesting to note the overlap and comparison of thinking about composition of images and composition of prose. The common quote "a picture is worth a thousand words" comes to mind. Interestingly it is said one of the 'rules' of photography is that images should tell a story. If it is true, who should be more likely to have an interest in photography than someone who has studied fiction writing...I find my experiences with writing help me see my progress through photography more clearly.
Writing At College
Taking writing courses was a confounding joy. I might be handed an assignment to write a story, and might be inspired immediately to write a poem. With the suggestion that I write a poem, I might be at no short hand to write prose. Other students I know would claim to get the much-romanced 'writer's block', often meaning they couldn't come up with anything interesting to fulfill an assignment. While my reaction to assignments may just have been some perverse part of my nature, the imposed task would fill with obligation, rigidity and expectation...and I could find respite in doing almost anything but the task at hand. I enjoyed discovery and creativity; it was simply more fun to explore writing to whatever end than to perform a task.
The upshot of structured courses was that while I was compelled to complete the necessary work to conform to the expectations, I wrote probably twice as much unstructured work in addition to the formal assignments. To stave off verbal constipation, I made a habit of keeping a scratch book (and still do) where I was free to experiment and explore words. In the abstract paths, scraps, and unfinished pieces may not be my best work and material, and much I've never shared or published, but some inevitably filtered back into other finished work, and it is still where I do my most intense learning.
And After College...
Later, continuing down a lawless path, I taught college English for several years, and tested ideas from my own learning, using my students like guinea pigs. I tried to abandon rules entirely as part of the curriculum -- rules, I reasoned, were something no one really cared for, and college students should have had their fill by the time they met me -- so I had my students exploring writing itself rather than tethering them to the rule book. They wrote a lot, improved tremendously by following their interests, and seemed to allow themselves to enjoy the experience of writing which, in turn, helped them learn from it, often coming in a back-handed way to the rules -- whether they recognized them or not.
Choosing Your Rules
The best of rules, when you know them, become simple, helpful guidelines built on common sense: suggestions as to what will achieve success with relative consistency. While anyone can resist rules, the essence of rules can't totally be ignored. Rules of writing attach meaning to words and without that reference writing would never convey an intended meaning; likewise, you can't take a picture without light in the absolute dark. Rules may not fit your perspective as you hear them, but they may have other meanings, and more fitting, creative, and personally meaningful interpretations. For example, the rule of thirds really says to me: "don't be boring", which can lead to a lot more than 4 suggested options.
There are all sorts of writings, just like there are all sorts of photos. Some photos might tell a story, and might seem more like a poem, a story, or even a novel -- and some may only be meant to be snippets, scraps, experiments, and vehicles for learning. If you following the rule that each shot needs to be a story as an imperative, you may hold yourself back from capturing some less structured frames, experimenting and exploring possibilities, and learning from and enjoying your time taking pictures. In other words, you will do well to follow the rule of trying to tell stories with your images -- so long as it doesn't oblige you to try and squeeze impossible imagery from an inappropriate scene when you might, instead, happily snap the shutter to learn some nuance about light, shadow, shutter speed, or color that may later help you 'tell a story' in better conditions.
Pear Stems. Shot when I found my camera in hand and some interesting light after dinner.
Practicing Lawless Photography
At times, when you are frozen, looking for the ultimate shot in a dramatic scene that is being elusive, it may help to put the rules out of your head a moment and just look through the viewfinder. Snap off some frames without expectations, move in and away, tilt the camera, shoot portrait and landscape, change your lens...Think of as many rules as you can while doing it, and break every one -- for a reason if you can think of one, or just because. After you shoot a series, view the results to see if anything you shot suggests a direction, and then use that suggestion and refine the result. You can always use rules first if you feel naked -- or you may find you follow them more naturally as you shoot view and refine.
When you first open up an image in Photoshop, it may seem like nothing special. But almost always there is something more in my captures than what initially pops up in Photoshop. As Jim Miotke said in his introduction to his interview with me on betterphoto radio, you can often have a lot of interpretive and creative control with your images and find something quite different than what you originally see using the digital darkroom (Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, or other image editing software). While I enjoy photography, what makes the journey really complete for me is exploring what I can do with what I have captured during image editing to make the most out of the results.
For example, on a recent trip to Nantucket, I had combed some lightly tread beaches in my early morning walks along the shoreline, and found some fairly sun-bleached snail shells that were large and whole. After returning home with them, and later that evening, I tried arranging them and shooting a bunch of exposures just toying with shape, shadow, depth-of-field and various lenses on an old picnic table.
When the trip was over and I reviewed the images, none seemed terribly special immediately. I could make out muted colors that would probably have been more brilliant had I used a spray bottle to mist the shells. But even so, I selected a few images out of the bunch to play with like the one here...
I knew I could punch up muted color, enhance the dynamics range of the images, fiddle with effects for local and global contrast, enhance sharpening and softness, and push the limits of what the images kept hidden in the captures. Using techniques that I teach in all of my courses (Photoshop 101, Color Management for Digital Photographers, Correct and Enhance Your Images, and Leveraging Layers) I did just that, and started to see results. I ended up finding several images that were keepers in the bunch.
Once you know how to explore an image to redefine the color, tone and dynamics, you can make even flat images spring to life. It requires a little effort to learn the modern, digital darkroom, but the creative levels that it unleashes are well worth the effort. As my skills continue to grow in image editing (even after 15+ years of full-time use), editing and adjusting captured images has become as much an exploration and adventure as the capturing. I unravel and adorn each image as a unique object, exploring its intricacies in post-processing to create a finished piece.