A Commitment to Becoming a Better Photographer

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To follow up on my previous post I thought that I’d share some of the things that I’d done to improve my photography and hopefully they may be useful to you. At the time I did all of this stuff I felt that I was a late starter and wanted to accelerate my learning as much as I could. This meant using the expertise and experience of photographers that I liked to quickly get a solid foundation. Please do chime in with your thoughts and comments too.

1. Find your true calling. Work out what appeals to you, what repels you. Start a scrap book real or virtual of images that appeal to you. Make a list of common attributes – color or black and white, landscape, portraiture, wildlife, fashion, wedding, dig a bit deeper what else do these have in common, what differentiates them.

2. Find a mentor. Have you found yourself gravitating to one or two photographers? Study what they’ve done and how they got the shots you particularly admire. Of course if they’re alive today they probably teaching workshops – take a workshop with them and get some advice from your photographic hero. Not only will you get some insight into how they achieve their signature works but you’ll also get some feedback on your own work.

3. Get the right gear. Figuring out what gear your heros are using to get the shots you admire and get the same stuff. Somethings you’ll want to buy now, others you should rent. But without getting the gear to get the shot you won’t get the shot. A good example for landscape photographers is a rock solid tripod – get a good one and it will last you for years.

4. Do what your heros do to get the shot. When I was at Alison Shaw’s Workshop on Martha’s Vineyard in 2009 I was bemoaning my lack of progress to Alison’s assistant Donna Foster. Donna quickly pointed out that there was a progression to my work but that my biggest problem was that I wasn’t shooting in the best light and that if I wanted to improve I should find some time to get out early or late and shoot when the light is good.

5. Get feedback on your work. There are a number of ways to get comments on your work I prefer one on one portfolio reviews with someone who is going to be brutally frank. Feedback from workshop instructors is also very useful, as can be comments from friends whose opinion you trust and value.

I hope that you found this useful. I’d be delighted to hear what you’ve done to improve.

Friday Inspiration: Jerry Uelsmann

Jerry Uelsmann is well known for his masterful photo-composites that are achieved in the traditional darkroom. While it is true that this kind of composite can now readily be created with the help of Photoshop, for me, few are able to create the kind of surreal masterpieces that Jerry has been able to produce over the years.

I plan to visit the exhibition of Jerry’s work ‘The Mind’s Eye: 50 Years of Photography by Jerry Uelsmann’ at the Peabody Essex Museum in the coming weeks. Check it out on-line here and read the Boston Globe review here.

Listen to Jerry talk about his photographic process in the video below:

For the full length video of Jerry discussing his work visit http://www.maurofiorese.it/ and also see his interview with Randi Lynn beach of PixChannel

25 Photography Books I’d Take to a Desert Island

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As you can probably tell from the photo above, my book collection is getting a little out of control. While I would have a hard time paring it down and parting with any of the books I thought that it would be a fun exercise to select 25 ‘how-to’ books to hang on to. I decided to select a set of ‘how-to’ style of books. Some a very practical nuts and bolts of how to use Lightroom or Photoshop, some point the way ‘how-to’ using examples from the authors, some feature exercises designed to help you find your way of capturing images, some ask more questions than they answer and finally some help with talking about your work and sharing it with the world. These are all books that I still find useful, although not necessarily ones that I would recommend to someone who’s just picked up a camera. I’m sure this would be different to your list and would be happy to hear what you would have included. A ‘top ten’ from my collection of art books, monographs etc. in the coming weeks.

Scott Kelby’s 7-Point Sytem for Photoshop CS3
Adobe Photoshop Lightroom – Martin Evening
Adobe Photoshop Lightroom – Scott Kelby
Adobe Photoshop CS5 for Photographers- Martin Evening
Adobe Photoshop CS5 for Photographers: The Ultimate Workshop

Adobe Photoshop Masterclass: John Paul Caponigro
Welcome to Oz
The Photoshop Darkroom
George DeWolfe’s Digital Photography Fine Print Workshop
B&W Printing: Creating the Digital Master Print

The Photographer’s Eye
The Photographer’s Vision
The Photographer’s Mind

Visual Poetry
Photographing Childhood

Within the Frame
Visionmongers

The Moment it Clicks
Examples: The Making of 40 Photographs

Landscape Within
Landscape Beyond
Finding the Picture

Criticizing Photographs
Why Photographs Work
Publish Your Photography Book

The Circular Journey from Vision to Print

It struck me over the weekend that the path to realizing our vision, whether that’s on the computer monitor or on paper for the old school folks, is circular. I’ve been mulling over technical skills and aesthetic choices over the last couple of weeks resulting in the postings last week regarding conversion to black and white and also getting a better understanding of our sense of aesthetics. The final image to me then is a result of combining these with creativity. Simply put:

Realized Vision = Aesthetic Choices + Creativity + Technical Skills

I often feel that many of the initial photographs in a series are the result of happy accidents, either in the field when I just try something for the sake of it or when I’m back in front of the computer when again I play the game of ‘what happens if I do ….’. Taking that experience and then repeating it in different circumstances and situations then allows me to build that series. Whether it’s playing around with toy camera effects, shooting in black and white, or shooting long exposures all have been informed by what’s gone before. Having a better sense of the possibilities, particularly for post-processing of my images, means that I am ever more aware of possibilities for my photography.

Contrast Masks: An Initial Foray

The more I photograph the more I become aware of what I want to achieve with a particular photograph. Often when a photograph fails to wow me it’s not because I didn’t get the composition right but rather it is because it doesn’t leap of the page in the way that I think it should. My big struggle has been that I couldn’t quite put my finger on what the problem is it not sharp enough, not saturated enough not enough contrast. What?

I’ve never been much of a student of history but I do enjoy understanding how other people work and what tools they use. Watching the Christopher Burkett video I posted recently there was the mention of his use of contrast masks and the impact these have on his images. So why not give that a go?

Using ‘The Google’ I found this tutorial on the use of digital contrast masks on the luminous landscape website. Just following the tutorial as described I was able to take the image from last week from this:

to this:

Which with some final tweaks becomes this:


What do you think? Seems like an improvement to me.

If something’s worth doing it’s worth doing to excess. I’ve subsequently tried this technique out on 20 or so images with varying degrees of success. The contrast mask, not too surprisingly, reduces contrast which may not be the appropriate fix for all of my images. I’m starting to have a sense of where this technique will work for my photographs, generally for images that I take within 10 – 15 mins of sunrise and will try this out before I do any heavy lifting in photoshop. Try it out for yourself and let me know how things turn out.