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My buds over at LIFE.com asked me to come up with a list of common mistakes folks make when starting out with a camera in their hands. Okay. No shortage of material here, right? And they came to the right source, ’cause I’ve made every mistake, basic and advanced, that one could possibly think of. Hell, I’ve even invented some mistakes. But they did a nice job, matching historical photos from the voluminous LIFE library with my ramblings. They also edited, well, some of my more irreverent language, which, this being my blog, I include below:-)
Don’t take just one picture, or two….shoot lots….if it was exciting enough to you to put your camera to your eye to shoot a couple of photos, then it should remain exciting enough to shoot 20, or, even, 200. Remember, pixels are free. This isn’t film. You’re not running up a bill anymore at the local CVS.
When photographing a person, relate to that person. Don’t hide behind the camera. Get out from that cubbyhole behind the lens where it’s warm and dark and you feel hidden and get out there in that vulnerable zone in front of the lens, and share and participate in the adventure with them. Let them know they are in good hands, and this is important to you, and because you are going to work really hard to produce a good picture, it will therefore become important to them. Remember, if you’re not confident, and you are visibly uncomfortable, they will be too. And, no, this doesn’t mean I was naked when I shot this.
Remember, the camera is a machine. It does not have feelings, and it didn’t go to art school.
Try not to shoot outdoors in harsh, bright, high noon sun. (At least most of the time.) The sun is a big dog, and you don’t want to fight with the big dog.
Don’t shoot everything from eye level! Get high! Get low! Climb something. Lay down. Get a different perspective.
Carry a camera. As famed photog Jay Maisel says, it’s hard to take pictures without one. (Pictured above is Carl Mydans, my personal hero, and mentor. Carl said, very accurately, “The camera is the greatest force for social change in history.” He was right. Carl was a historian, an orator, a gentleman, a scholar, a teacher, and a photographer. He was a photographer perhaps least of these things, and he was a great photographer. When he put his camera to his eye, the pictures that resulted had the beating heart of decency and sympathy for the human condition.)
Get it right in the camera, don’t say I’ll fix that later. Photoshop is not an emergency room for grievously wounded pictures. Work hard in the field to master the camera, the lens and the techniques of shooting. Unless you like being a mushroom, sitting in your dark basement in front of a glowing screen for hours on end, trying to take the exposure from frame 101, the composition from frame 209, the expression from frame 333, and also eliminate the tree branch growing out of the bride’s elaborate hairdo that she spent a lot of money on. If it looks like a problem, it is. In other words, if you see something in your lcd that is bothersome, it won’t go away, it will just become more bothersome when you look at it on your home computer.
Move yer ass! (Another Jay-ism.) Zoom with your feet! Don’t stand there with all the energy and dynamism of a house plant. Move! The world moves, constantly. You must move with it. Zoom lenses are nice, but they don’t replace your legs.
Don’t forget to zero out your camera every day when you go out with it. Don’t use yesterday’s settings! You know, the ones that you programmed into the camera such as ISO 32,000 ’cause you were shooting in a coal mine. Reprogram the camera to a normal baseline and go from there.
Don’t think all the good pictures in the world live in Bali, or Antarctica. There are good pictures right under your nose. Shoot what and who you love. And shoot that which is easily accessible to you. If you constantly think you have to climb mountains or jump out of airplanes to get good pictures, it will become an impossible chore to pick up your camera.
And a few others….
If you’re unhappy, don’t keep shooting. A bad picture is a bad picture, no matter how many of them you shoot, or if you recompose vertically. Just stop, re-think, and go a different direction.
As my friend and fellow shooter Jim Richardson says, if you want your pictures to be better, stand in front of more interesting stuff.
Use your lens shade. Why is it on your lens, backwards? It’s there for a reason. Use it.
Have fun! This is not brain surgery, an admissions exam, or the stations of the cross.
Oh, and by the way, take the lens cap off:-)
Here in Iceland with some of the most international photographers I’ve ever had attend a single workshop. The ten participants came from the US, Canada, Libya, Israel, Spain, Australia and Singapore.
Working with some amazing talent each day, including Ingo (above), a local character, to say the least.
The above is one SB900, shot with a 600 f/4, 1.7TC, TTL line of sight, moon and background, available moon light.
I don’t use a ring flash too often, perhaps because I don’t get calls from the downtown “scene” magazines like Dirt, Slide, Raw and Did You Get Yours’ Today? too often. I have to face facts here. I’m in bed well before a whole bunch of people I wouldn’t recognize anyway start the nightly publicity prowl on the streets of New York.
(Always knew I wasn’t made for the celebrity grab shot scene. I was on assignment for People magazine to photograph entrepreneur Christopher Whittle at his home by Georgica Pond, which is just about the fanciest address in the Hamptons. We were gliding along in a small sailboat, when I heard a voice with a decidedly familiar English accent call “hullo” from a passing craft. I turned just as Paul McCartney eased on by. My jaw was down where my camera was, i.e., my lap.)
As a fill, the ring-a-ding works real well. Love it, and use it all the time around minus two. Used like this, it’s just a wink, a muted little alarm clock of a light, back there at the lens. It wakes the portrait up, gently. Use it as the only light, best give your subject a bomb suit. This isn’t the Brahms of light sources. More like Twisted Sister at full volume.
But, I’ve been doing a few Kelby tour stops of late, so at the one in Sacramento not too long ago, we changed things up a bit, and for subjects, invited the Battle Born Derby Demons of Reno, Nevada to join us. These ladies are not the type for a window lit portrait in the reading room, the one with the chintz curtains, and the Lladro figurines on every shelf. Time for a ring light!
Some background is perhaps in order. A few years ago, at the Santa Fe Photographic Workshops, I had a great, and memorable class. In the class were none other than Syl Arena of Pixsylated.com blogspot, and MD Welch, the Reno Kid, a photographer absolutely suited to photographing, well, roller derby ladies.
Meet Pistol Whip, Eden Brains, and Vanastee. They will kick your ass and be happy to leave roller wheel skid marks on your face. Thing is, behind the camera, you have a ton of fun while they are doing it.
Here they are with their beloved team photog, MD. He’s the one with the helmet, which, given the run of his general behavior, is appropriate attire. The ladies are, uh, having their way with him, I believe.
My thanks go out to the BBDD’s for making the trek from Reno to Sacramento, and livening up our tour stop there. Had some fun trying out a couple lighting configurations (like the above, which is a low light with a green rim….yikes) while the gracious and patient crowd had a laugh or two. The ladies even let me live……
Which is a good thing….writing this as I fly to Europe. We’ve been over the top of late with back to back to back commercial jobs. Heading off for another, with a great group of folks, and a super art director, whose patience and vision over a few location jobs together has made me a better shooter. Good work with good people. There is a God….even for photogs….more tk….
When asked, I’ve occasionally described shooting pictures, for me, as being akin to breathing. Something I just have to do. I accept the fact that there are many interruptions in the photographic breathing process that would not be tolerated or fortunate if they occurred in the natural breathing process, but suffice it to say, drawing air creatively and physically is very important to me, as they are to anyone who ever picks up a camera with serious intent.
So when I get the hiccups with my pictures, it gets me down. I spent two weeks recently getting a story off the ground for Nat Geo, and it was stressful, as always, in the photographic sense. This one was extremely stressful because of the physical risk involved. Thankfully, I had angels on my shoulders, and stayed safe, and managed some good frames along the way. My editor hasn’t seen it yet, so I may be apprised differently about these alleged good frames, but for now, for me, the pix are good to go. (Bill, my friend and editor, has a favorite phrase for pictures of mine that go away permanently during the edit process. He’ll say, “This one’s going to Toledo, Joe,” even if I argue vociferously for its’ inclusion. He tends to dispatch these unfortunate frames that will never, ever see the light of day, or the glow of a computer screen, or, God forbid, ink on paper with a malicious little chuckle and rueful “What exactly were you thinking?” kind of tilt of the head. As I always say, apologies to folks in Toledo, cause there’s evidently a suburb out there filled with my shitty pictures.)
Left that job, and had one day off before coming to Maine, where I’m winding down now after two weeks of teaching. Those damn days off. I think it was during that 24 hour period somebody let the air out of the tire. I mean, I’ve been teaching well, with good energy, but I couldn’t buy a picture over the last couple weeks. Last week, even my demo pictures on the first day of the class sucked. (A new low!)
So this week I was kind of determined to get something I could, for a moment, anyway, hang my photographic hat on. Luckily, Tom Sommo, a terrific young dancer, was modeling for my class, and for a demo, I lit up the boiler room in an old school. (The lights are out in the parking lot, for the most part.) Only shot 6 or 7 jumps, and I missed the mark on most of them, but did get a frame I like.
Amazing what just getting a decent picture can do for your spirits. He’s actually physically expressing through his dance what I needed to do at that moment, photographically. Get my eye into the camera, take a leap, make a picture. Breathing easier. More tk….
First off, many thanks to our sponsors for the workshops, Nikon, Adorama and the Bogen Corporation. Without them, their support, and the stuff they make for us to work with, these don’t happen. Happy and proud to have them with us for the adventure. Also, huge thanks to the staff. Lynn, Drew, Will, Lynda, Andrew, Mike, Holly, Syl, Trevi, and Lindsey. They were uniformly fantastic, and worked like crazy to pull off this series of crazy days. They all have huge amounts of talent in all areas of photography, from flash to Macs, to post, to grip work….you name it. And, most of them were there every day, so the amount of support available to a class of 14 or 15 folks every day was considerable.
And to our hardworking models! Many of them hailed from Emmanuel Modeling Agency, run by the irrepressible Aristeo. They were terrific, patient, and provided tons of beauty and drama in front of our lenses. They were polished and coiffed by Veronica and Nicole, perfectionists in the arts of makeup and hairstyling. More on them tk…..
Alas Nicole our hair stylist had virtually nothing to do when Kent Miller stepped in front of the lens. Kent’s a terrific shooter who, along with his wife Amy helped out with modeling chores for a couple of days. The two of them are below, with Kent, as always, finding a different angle.
And Bethany joined us as well. Kent and Amy are lit with a single Elinchrom 2400 ws unit, powered up full, and blasting through the windows. Below, Bethany is lit with a single SB900 out on the loading dock. All, as they say, food for thought.
This is a quickie post, due to fatigue, a glass of Merlot, and a looming 3:30 am pickup. What I’m gonna do is do a real wrap up post, some sketches, and a log of my favorite lighting approaches from the week. A few folks had some questions, so I’ll get after it presently. Write again from my usual office, an aisle seat on a Delta jet…..more tk…..