You Have The Power (snapshots vs the power to create something interesting)

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Are you an artist with a camera or are you just a person who takes good photos? I’m writing this post for all the many people I meet that ask “how can I get my photos to look better?” And the answer is not to buy a better camera or a more expensive lens. Although buying better equipment does give you certain advantages it doesn’t make your images more interesting. That’s right… it doesn’t add one interesting thing to your photos and that is the answer. If you want photos that have a “wow factor” you need to create it.

Let’s just say for an example that a person goes to a birthday party with their camera and captures images of the party. The photos are all in focus and the lighting is good, but… well, they are just snapshots. There is no “wow” factor to the images. However if the person used rules of composing like leading lines and the rule of thirds they might have made the images more interesting. Changing angles and perspective can make an image more interesting too. The afore mentioned ideas are all easy tools to use and anyone from novice to pro could apply them. As a matter of fact a pro would apply them.

Second example I will use is; in my local area there are some old grist mills that provide a picturesque setting and a glimpse back in to the days of yesteryear. And of course people come from far and wide to try their hand at capturing a great image of an old mill. But for the most part all the photos look the same, there are just a few different spots to stand that give you a good view and where you can place a tripod. Then of course you also have tourists who are walking around the mill and they don’t look so pleasing in your photo. I’m at a friend’s house and I see pictures on her wall of the all the old mills in our area and I ask how did you get these images, they all look so awesome? One image had a beautiful long exposure effect on the sky and the water and another had a foggy mist all around the mill, but no tourists. She says “oh it’s very easy, just go there at daybreak.” Duh… Why didn’t I think of that!

So these are just two examples of you the photographer having the power to “create” rather than just taking a snapshot. And sometimes it is not as hard as it sounds. I equate it to a magic trick and we have all seen a trick performed and we try our hardest to figure out how the trick is done. Then if we are showed how the trick is done we realize it is not that hard at all and many times (not all) photography can be same. Not a trick of course, but just easy to do if we take the time to learn a few simple rules and put forth a little effort, after all nothing in life is easy and nothing is truly free.

For a third example I will use the power of editing software and I really do have to include software in the topic because post capture editing is something that is now available to anybody. In today’s photography world we all have the power to edit our images, even our phone cameras give us options for editing and most images that have the “wow” factor have some form of editing done to them and I’m not talking about full on editing using Photoshop, it can be just a cropping, sharpness or color correction. Sometimes “rule of thirds” plays a powerful part in the way the human eye perceives the image and just a minor cropping could make all the difference in the world between a snapshots and “I’ll hang this on my wall.”

So for my examples I have included two simple images from my own birthday party. I thought it would be interesting to capture the cake from the point of view a child would see it. The table is higher than most, you have to sit on stools, so a child would see the cake from this point of view. I also waited till Patty was placing a candle to show human interaction. Then there is the unplanned beer bottle and wine glass in the background. Then I used a “cross processed” editing technique that gave a truer feel than what the camera captured. I made the glow of the candles look like what I was seeing at the time I shot it.
The second image was taken looking over Patty’s shoulder as she was lighting the candles and again I used the cross processed look to keep the images consistently the same because they were shot just moments apart.

Would I hang these images on my wall? Probably not, but I would add them to my screen saver or digital photo frame. So I challenge all my novice photographer readers to take the time to make a one interesting image with whatever camera you have. FYI: these images were made with a Canon G-15 point & shoot (my wife’s camera) and the edits were done in Adobe Lightroom 6, no Photoshop at all. Editing time: 20 seconds per image.

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Photo of The Day (It doesn’t always come easy)

7 Bracket HDR at f/16 ISO 50 40mm

7 Bracket HDR at f/16 ISO 50 40mm

Here we see a replica Sanphet Maha Prasat temple. This replica is located at the open air museum Ancient SIam City just outside of Bangkok, Thailand.  An image like this does not come easy. Most people think you just set up a tripod and start shooting. Ok… so then what do you do about 100 plus tourists that are all mulling around? And what about the light poles that are so conveniently located as to ruin your image no matter what angle you shoot it from?

Well as for the tourists… it was a waiting game. I had the camera on the tripod and I was moving around from place to place and I noticed that the tourists would come in waves. So I found my spot and just waited. Still it was mostly luck.

Now the light post… that is a 2 hour tale in Photoshop using every skill I knew and even learning some new ones.

Eyes (path to the depths of our soul. )

Model Bree Arkham

Model Bree Arkham

Eyes are the path to the depths of our soul. All our passions, love, kindness and fears reside, as does our demons, perverted thoughts and our desires… Good and bad.

 

Three Element Composite Image (from the chipped paint, exposed bricks, open wood beams and beautiful hardwood floors, how could you not get a vibe to create.)

Three Element Composite (model Kendall Strampel-Hair & Makeup by Aryn Wilson)

In today’s edit we find Kendall on a dream like walkway. The edit of this image leans towards a “High Key” style although it is not a true black & white. I wanted a dreamy feel, but not that normal blurry or fuzzy look that most would use for a dreamy effect. Recently I have been working with creating fog although I did not use any of those techniques in this edit.

The image is a three element composite and if you have followed my posts since last September you will most likely know the main element of Kendall was shot in studio at the Iron Factory in Philadelphia. The “Iron Factory session” as I like to call it was an all-day studio shoot and Kendall put in a stellar performance with many great poses and facial expressions. We had a lot of fun and it was a very creative day that took place in a studio that puts off a very creative energy. Just to walk into that old factory gives a creative vibe, from the chipped paint, exposed bricks, open wood beams and beautiful hardwood floors, how could you not get a vibe to create.

The second element in this image is actually very dear to me. It is a covered walkway that leads up a mountain to Phra Maha Chedi Chai Mongkol (a Buddhist temple) on a mountain in the countryside near Roi Et, Thailand. I had been to this temple before and rather than ride the shuttle bus to the top of the mountain I like to hike to the top. The first time I visited this temple I entered from a different direction and I never knew there was this beautiful walk way that lead up the mountain. My wife and I started to walk up the road when I noticed this walkway. It is covered to protect from the sun or rain or you can walk on the top for a very scenic view and you can see for miles out across the Thai farmland. There were no people on the walk way at all and my wife and I walked slowly to the top. I stopped a few times along the way to capture some HDR sets of the walkway. After visiting the beautiful temple it was late in the day and we walked on the top of the walkway for our return down the mountain. As we walked down the sun was blood-red and setting quickly, the scene was very peaceful and serene as other family members caught up to us we all walked together and this made for a very memorable part of that day.

The third element is the scenery seen through the windows of the walkway. The walkway was shrouded with brush and trees, but while walking on the top of the walkway I captured images of the view looking out across the farmland and this is what is now seen when looking out the windows in this image.

After putting the elements together I finished with a high key dreamy feel.

Thanks so much for reading and have a great day.

I Never Wanted Reality (Disaster and destruction are real and people will stop and look extra-long every time.)

Forest Fog with model Kendall Strampel, makeup by Ambre'  Baxter, dress by designer Zhen Nymph.

Forest Fog with model Kendall Strampel, makeup by Ambre’ Baxter, dress by designer Zhen Nymph.

“A photograph is not reality—it is at best and illusion. It brings back memories, changes emotions, but it is not real and you can never achieve reality in a photograph.”  I never wanted to be a photographer and I know that can sound very confusing coming from a man who owns a camera and uses it almost every day. While I follow the steps and the actions of a photographer it was from the very beginning that I wanted to create something. But I was never quite sure what I was even thinking of, all I knew was the camera looked like something that I could have a lot of fun with. So I did start out as all photographers do and headed down the road of (dare I say it) “capturing moments in time.” I hate saying it because it is so cliché and I think I’m supposed say that phase as if I was saying something as prolific as “I have found the cure to all cancers.”  It is as cliché as using a lens aperture illustration in the “O” of the word photographer on your business card as about 80% of photographers do. Yes I’m different… does it make me better? No, it just means I’m different.

While I do have fun sapping the shutter to capture images of many things, whether I use my DSLR, my point & shoot or my mobile phone camera this is not what excites me. What excites me is using my DSLR as a tool to create an element for a final image; all the others are just photos. I noticed a long time ago like way back in film days when people had photo albums lying around and I would pick up a photo album and look through it. I would find myself leafing through the album looking at the snap shots and really the only thing interesting was seeing a photo of an uncle when he was young and had hair or maybe what somebody looked like when they were a young child. Most likely you yourself did the same, you leafed through the photos the same as most of us do now when we scroll through Facebook and just hit the “Like” icon. We tend to just look quickly and move on. Well that really bothered me. It really bothered me when somebody looked at my photo album sitting under the coffee table and said “oh… can I look at your photos?” acting somewhat interested, but yet they would quickly become less interested and start moving faster & faster as if it was a race to get to the end. I soon come to realize that they were not being rude but merely the photos are just not that interesting to them. Even now more than ever I think people are numb to photos because we all see so many. We look at more photos now than ever before. Having social media and cameras in our phones has kind of given us all “photo overload.”

I have posted in the past that in the beginning I started to get a vision of what I wanted to create and it was not a photograph, but more an image or an illustration and it was something more than merely pushing a shutter and saying “done.” I soon found that I could actually put some sort of a description to what I was trying to say or do. I wanted to create an image and not just “take a photo” as we so commonly call it. Simply put I wanted to create something “interesting,” I wanted to create something that would make people stop and look at that page in the photo album. Make them stop and just look. I don’t care if they say anything good or bad or indifferent, I just want them to stop and look. Reality doesn’t make people stop and look. Well… unless it is a train wreck or some horrible thing. Now I know you’re probably thinking “sexy,” people will stop and look at something sexy and you’re right. But the most show stopping sexy images are not “real” as the have most likely been touched with the powers of Photoshop or airbrushed as they called it a long time ago. Disaster and destruction are real and people will stop and look extra-long every time. …funny how that works.

I take flak from time to time about the fact that I use Photoshop and my creations are not “real,” but I don’t want real, nobody wants real. Real is not interesting. Look at all the crap people sit around re-posting on Facebook every day, a large amount of what gets re-posted or “shared” is Photoshopped and I’m not talking about your personal photos, but rather what I mean is the plethora of crap that people see as “real.” I could go on & on about the fake animal torture photos and the weird diseases photos and on & on.

I have to laugh at a photographer who once said to me “you’re not a real photographer because you use Photoshop to destroy the original image and mutilate it into something else.” Wow! That is quite a mouth full I thought to myself. My reply to this purist who showed nearly all his work in black & white was; I never claimed to be a photographer, my business card states I’m a “Photographic Artist” as does the home page of my website. As a matter-of-fact I always used the tag line “there are photographers and there is me.” And you my friend show most of your work in black & white whilst reality is seen in color. He was taken back a bit and it was all in fun. He said “well you have a camera and that makes you a photographer.” My reply; if I had a gun would that make me a criminal killer or a police officer? Or a gun dealer? My camera is merely a tool to create something.

So the credit for opening statement of this blog post goes to Joel Grimes. I seen it in a workbook that was handed out at one of his seminars that I attended and it really caught my eye.

Thanks so much for reading.

Retouching Images (but if you have that extra head growing out of your right shoulder well…)

 

Composite portrait.

Composite portrait.

Retouching is always a topic that generates interesting opinions, some people say it is bad and others like it and there are also those who do not know what exactly a “retoucher” is or what they do. So let’s talk first a little about how I retouch and when I retouch. Retouching goes beyond the basic editing of an image. A basic edit would be to maybe crop, adjust contrast & color and sharpening to be done at the end. However retouching goes a little or even a great deal further than just the basics.

The amount I retouch an image is based upon what photographic category the image is in or how the image will be used. Is the image a headshot or is the image a portrait? Or is the image going to be used for commercial purposes? Is it a composite or and illustration? As you can see there are many different categories and each one demands a different approach. So let’s look at the average portrait. Someone is paying me to photograph them, so we will have a short conversation about retouching and most of it will focus on blemishes and maybe scars. Essentially I tell them that “it is always ok to remove what should have never should have been there in the first place,” such as you wake up that morning and you have a pimple. Or maybe the person has a scratch on the hand. Then there are the choices I will make such as a stray hair across the face. Most times the client never sees it, but I see it in the post edit and it obviously has to be removed. So that is my basic retouching rule “if it shouldn’t be there it can be removed.” But if you have that extra head growing out of your right shoulder well… yeah that gets to stay, because how cool would that be lol. Now with all that said, I do have people who know what retouching is and they know I can do it and they ask for more than blemishes to be removed. They may have sought me out because they know I do retouching and they want or need a great headshot for business purposes. This then takes us to the next level as I call it, where we can soften skin, fix makeup, reduce age lines and spots, there can also be a little enhancing of eye color and removing red lines in the whites of the eyes. These techniques are often requested by a “paying” customer so I will accommodate accordingly. I don’t feel this is cheating, because someone is asking me to do it. Are they cheating? I really don’t think so, although I do think there is a line to be drawn in the sand with this kind of retouching. The line is essentially you do not want to make them look fake or totally turn them into something they are not. With that said, you must keep in mind that a good camera & lens can take a very detailed shot showing every single pore in the skin and if it is a close up shot we may want address this issue because our eyes do not see all this detail in real life. Example; I’m having coffee with a friend and she is sitting right across the table from me, most likely I’m never going to look at her face as close as I would in an 8×10 headshot. I mean, she is right there across the table from me drinking coffee and yes I see her clearly, but as normal humans we tend not to look at somebody that closely, even when we’re in close proximity. However when I freeze that look and put it on my monitor I see every little detail and knowing full well the photo is headed to the web or to be printed as an 8×10… well that is where the retouching is almost a must.

So let’s change it up a bit and look at the opinion of some purists who believe retouching is the red-headed stepchild of digital photography and Adobe Photoshop is akin to the anti-Christ. Believe me I have been blasted about retouching. I have had negative comments left on social media; I have had emails from both photographers & lay people telling me “real photographers don’t retouch” and I have been told right to my face that “retouching is like making something that was real a fake.” This of course is mostly referring to my composites and most times I let the comment roll off because most have no idea what is or was real and what is not. See when it comes to making a composite in Photoshop I view this work much the same as a movie. Movies have special effects and nobody really seems to have a problem with the special effect as they help enhance the movie and make it more interesting. So too retouching in photography can add enhancement to the image giving the viewer more pleasure or enjoyment, or maybe giving them fright. Or better yet making them think. After all this really is what an impactful image does, it makes you think, however some people do not want to think. In quoting Die Antwoord (South African Hip Hop artist) “People are unconscious, and you have to use your art as a shock machine to wake them up. Some people are too far gone. They’ll just keep asking, Is it real? Is it real?” Check out a music video from Die Antwoord and if it doesn’t make you think… well you might as well get in a grave because if nobody has told you… “Well my friend you are brain-dead.”

Retouching at a much higher level can lend creativity to the image and raise the viewing pleasure up to another level. Because in this age of digital cameras where anybody can take an awesome photograph there has to be something to rise up above and be better. What I mean by that statement is; today the only thing that limits a person from being able to take a really good photograph is your budget… you know it’s all about how much money you have. If you buy a $1200 camera body and a $2800 lens, your there. I know darn well any 12-year-old kid given the same camera and lens that I have in my bag right now could take a great shot, just as good as I or any other photographer could. But can he/she be creative? And I feel creativity is not just using shallow depth of field or the rule of thirds and all of the other things they teach in high school photography class. While all those rules are great and yes once you know them you can break them (oh how I hate that cliché) they are your foundation. Now it is what you do with light or no light that begins the real creative process. Then you add Photoshop as a tool and it is used to edit just about every image you see today. Unless it is a journalistic shot it is going to have some type of enhancement. Journalistic shots are like watching the news; there is no enhancing or special effects when we watch the news. News is dramatic enough and needs nothing added, it is life as the reporter is seeing it. But let’s say we turn on a movie and we see special effects and I’m not just talking about explosions and car chase scenes. The effects can be subtle, ever watch a situation comedy? Let’s go way back to one of my favorite TV shows of the 70’s (hey I’m old) M.A.S.H. was a really funny show with lots of humor. But it had a laugh track added. When a joke was told the fake audience would laugh and so would you. The show took place at a field hospital during the Korean War, so when you really think about it… an audience laughing in the background is a laughable subject by its self. So turning back to photography and retouching I really see retouching as the laugh track to help enhance the image. Photoshop is an amazing tool and the creativity is endless. While there are images that are clearly a Photoshop fabrication, such as the simple making an image of someone holding their head in their hand and this always gets a good laugh. However retouching is more subtle in most cases. It is usually more about color and depth and putting elements together in a way that… well they make you think. And not always in a crazy abstract way, but for me what I want the viewer to think is more along the lines of “wow that is an interesting scene” or “where is that place?” If I get a viewer to look at a composite portrait and think that the person in the portrait was really standing in front of my lens on that island in the Gulf of Thailand then I’m very pleased.

So as we can see there are many roads leading through the topic of retouching and it is in almost all forms of photography. There is not one “A” list celebrity in Hollywood that lets a photo be released without it first going to a retoucher. Actually it is their agents who care to most about the retouching because that bad image means bad press and in some way taints the brand that is that celebrity. I can’t confirm my source but I heard the other day that Kim Kardashian has a retoucher on retainer for $100k a year. Nothing she posts, be it from her iPhone or whatever, it first goes to the retoucher before it heads to social media. I still respect the opinion of the purists who do not like retouching and those who say they “only see in black & white” and all the other photography purists. But retouching for me is a big part of my creativity.

Thank you everybody for reading and have a great day.