Wednesday, November 2, 2011

My lifelong photography journey

I received my first camera for Christmas when I was in the fourth grade. It was a 620 size Sawyer Nomad. I bought a 35mm Kodak Pony when I was in high school.

When I got to college I became more interested in photography. I was able to buy a 35mm Petri SLR and soon graduated to a Nikkormat. It was there that I set up a darkroom and became proficient with the mechanics of photography. I got very familiar with f-stops, shutter speeds, and film speeds. I bought more cameras and lenses and learned how they worked.

When I left college in 1971, I got a job at a camera store and was soon the store manager. I was able to go to trade shows and keep up on all the latest equipment and materials.

When I was 25 years old I opened a custom photo lab catering to professional photographers. I considered myself an expert on the technical issues surrounding photography. My pictures however, though technically good, were never what I hoped for in terms of artistic merit.

It was not until 1991 on a trip to Italy that I had a breakthrough of sorts. My wife and I spent a lot of time in museums and galleries and I began to see myself as an artist with a camera. I was using a Pentax 645 at the time. The pictures that I brought back from Italy were the best photographs I had ever made. I still have large photos of Italy in my house taken over twenty years ago.

It is significant to note that from the time that I started becoming serious about photography until I began making really good photographs was about 25 years. In the first half of the 1990’s, I produced some of my favorite photographs.

I sold the photo lab in 1996 and began perusing other interest. I would take pictures with my 35mm Canon and drop them off at a one-hour photo lab. When I picked them up, as often as not, I would thumb through them and toss them in a drawer or the trash can. I had forgotten that the reason I opened the photo lab back in1973 was the deplorable state of the photofinishing industry at the time, and nothing had really changed. I became so discouraged that I quit taking pictures all together.

In about 1998 I bought a Nikon slide scanner and an Epson printer and began scanning some old slides and negatives and making inkjet prints. They were wonderful and I realized that I still loved photography, but I had to have complete control of the process from the time I clicked the shutter until the prints were made if I was going to get acceptable results.

In 2001 I bought my first digital camera, an Olympus E-20. The camera was marvelous. I immediately put all my 35mm gear on eBay and haven’t shot a roll of film since.

Since then I have upgraded my digital cameras a couple of times and am now using a Pentax K20D.

In 2008 I decided to get back into photography as a full-time profession. Once again I am making photographs that I am proud of because I can control the whole process. With modern cameras, computers, and printers, this is something that I can do for many years in the future and leave a legacy of great photographs.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Blacks is black and white is white

A photo or video image is made up of all shades of gray from black to white and all the colors that go along with them. The goal is for the whites to be white and the blacks to be black with everything in the middle to be in the right place along the scale.

There are two general ways to do this. One is to start with a white surface such as white paper or canvas and build up pigment or ink to get to black. With good paper and high quality printers or paint, this works great. The opposite approach is to start with a black surface such as a TV or computer monitor and light it up to produce white. This also works very well. In each case how black the screen or how white the paper are big factors in the quality of the image.

A nearly impossible task is start with a white surface and try to light it to produce a whole range of tones from black to white. This is theoretically impossible and practically very difficult. Movie theaters are able to do this for all practical purposes by darkening the room so that the white screen looks black and then lighting it with the projector. Sometimes a silver screen could be used which is easier to make look black and is more reflective for the white areas, but reflective screens have their own problems such as stray reflections and directionality.

For this reason the use of video projectors in lighted rooms cannot produce images with an acceptable degree of tonal range no matter how powerful the projector.

I foresee that video projectors such as currently used will soon go the way of broadcast TV and wired telephones. LCD flat screen video monitors are a much better choice in most situations. The breakthrough that is needed is folding LCD screens. I presume that engineers are already working on this. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The pixel race is over

When digital photography first came on the scene, there was a big debate about how many pixels, or picture elements, it would take to make digital photography as good as film.

When the first one million pixel cameras (one-meg) came out it is was very encouraging because we could see that it was going to happen, digital was going to work. Before long two-meg cameras were here producing very good results. Five-meg cameras had the ability to surpass 35mm and were taking aim at medium format. My first digital camera was a five-meg Olympus which I have used to make beautify 16x20 and larger prints.

I like to think of the number of mega-pixels a camera has as being comparable to the horsepower of a car. A minimum amount is needed for sure, but horsepower does not determine the quality of the car or even how fast it will go. There are many other factors that are more important. It is the same with cameras.

It turns out that after a minimum of about 3 or 4 meg, the number of mega-pixels a camera has is of little value in determining the quality of the photos.

Now that most cameras have 7 or 8 million pixels or more, this is no longer a factor in quality. In fact many cell phones have 5-meg cameras built-in that produce very low quality pictures, I know, I have one. The quality of the lens and the electronics are much more important.

Of course the skill of the photography is really the bottom line in determining the quality of the photographs.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Hold it Steady

If your pictures are blurry or not as sharp as you would like, the most likely thing is camera movement. If you are firing a rifle at a target and you miss, the only thing that could have happened is you moved the gun.

Photography is the same, if you pictures are not sharp, there is a good chance that the camera moved. When I was in the photo-finishing business, the vast majority of the millions of photos I saw were degraded to some degree by camera movement.

When I show my large photographs at art shows or people come to my home or studio, they often ask how I get the pictures so sharp. Some people even ask what kind of special equipment I use to make 36 inch wide photos. When I tell them I just hold the camera steady, they think I am joking.

When I have one-on-one students, I often teach them how to hold the camera and to practice holding it steady to get better pictures.

Part of the problem is the design of the cameras. High performance cameras are designed to make them easier to hold steady with good hand-holds and viewfinders that can be pressed against your face for stability. Poorly designed cameras that must be held at arm's-length or are very light weight are very difficult to hold steady.

Just as a rifle is more accurate than a pistol, an eye contact viewfinder is much more accurate than a point & shoot camera with only an LCD screen. Some point and shoot cameras have optical viewfinders, but most don't.
Long lenses or zoom lenses zoomed in are harder to hold and low light, resulting in slower shutter speeds, increase the problem.

If you want sharper pictures, practice holding the camera steady or buy a camera that is easier to hold.

"Can I hold this camera steady?"and "Can I see the viewfinder in all situations?" are the most important questions to ask before buying a new camera.

If you are serious about making better photographs, call me to arrange for a day of one-on-one coaching. You can be a better photographer in just one day. The one day cost of $250 is still in affect.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Rule of Thirds

This is a series of free tips to help you become a better photographer.This week we will talk about the "Rule of Thirds."

Imagine the frame divided into vertical and horizontal thirds like a tic-tac-toe game. The sweet spots are along the lines and where the lines cross.When in doubt, try to put the most important part of the scene in these areas because that is the place our eyes naturallyfall first.

If you are making a portrait, it is a good idea to put the subjects eyes fall near the upper third line. See the cover of my book at the right.See the example below of our worship leader, Daniel Brymer.

This is not a hard and fast rule, but it is certainly a good place to start for an interesting composition.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Avoiding the "Bullseye"

I am starting a series of free tips to help you become a better photographer.

The first one concerns composition. Composition is nothing more than where you put the important parts of the picture in the frame. This implies that you know what is important and what isn't important to the picture, and place the subject accordingly. It also means that you are looking at the whole scene when you line up the shot.Putting the subject in the exact middle of the picture is what we call the "Bullseye syndrome." Ninety-five percent of the time this is exactly the wrong place for the main subject.

The main subject should be placed to one side a little or closer to the top or bottom, except in unusual situations.In the two photos below, the one on the right is more interesting because the person's head is off center and leaning toward the edge of the picture.The one on the left is static by comparison because the person's head and eyes are centered like a bullseye.

I intend to make this a weekly series, so stayed tuned for more tips and forward this to your camera toting friends.