Saturday, October 23, 2010

Critiquing Chuck: 2

As I often mention, I love Chuck's work. In this post, I'll talk about a few shots I've selected of his and offer my critique on them. Unlike the last "critiquing chuck" post, these were chosen because of a running theme.

On these first two shots (below), the boys are gathered in and around an armchair by the window, focusing intensely. Chuck has shared pictures of his living room (think back to the last post of the couch and frames on the wall, etc) and has even stated himself that it isn't very big. Yet if you study the many shots he's taken there, they don't feel redundant or "tired". How is that?

The first shot is a bit more complex than the others in this post. There are two equally interesting subjects with divergent lines of interest. There are two distinct expressions and emotions conveyed here as well. The composition is very straightforward but nicely incorporates the important elements, omitting items which would clutter or detract from the scene. The second image is similar but Chuck is slightly farther away from the boys. These two images look to have been taken around the same time with the same focal length (I didn't view metadata, so I might be wrong on this) yet tell two parts of a larger story of a slow morning. The details are wonderful: the object of attention, the game system, is prominent, the over-sized watch, the "bed head", wife beater and boxer briefs.

This image below was taken in the same exact chair as the shots above but from an oblique angle, rather than straight on. I love the blanket which engulfs his little body. I love the light from the large window splashing all over him. I love the squished cheek where his hand meets his cheek from underneath the blanket.

To continue our "one angle of the living room" theme: Below is an older image of Chuck's but there are several things to love about it. Chuck uses the clutter in the room to his advantage. Kids make messes and can be messy. Why try to portray an immaculate house in your images if it isn't ALWAYS truly immaculate? I find these kinds of images endearing, personally, and have plenty of "clutter" images myself. Again, the same chair is in the background (as the other shots) but the angle is slightly different and the composition has a different feel to it. What is most interesting, and should be, are the expressions of those boys, both intently watching the television screen. It offers a quiet moment among the busy-ness and loud natures of most young boys.

What really makes these shots work is not brilliant composition (although, they're well composed images), it's not lighting (hard to beat window light, though), and it's not the gear he used (though Chuck uses stellar gear): what made these shots work is the story they contain and the expressions of his little subjects. They're interesting. They're telling. They're endearing....and they're not even my kids (sadly, i haven't met this famous family).

There are many things that CAN make a great photograph but what consistently makes a good image work is emotion, expression, gestures, etc., things which are telling of the subject. Learn from Chuck. All of the things he does well pale in comparison to his ability to capture genuine emotions and moments which tell a story about his subjects (in this case, family). With all of the terminology and technique and gear relating to photography, it can be quite overwhelming. Chuck's solution for a majority of his shots is the 1ds2 camera body and the 35L. Simplicity. What we should value, above all else, is content in an image. Hopefully, the simplicity and beauty of these images above display that principle well.

Thanks for letting me use your images, Chuck. Hope this is useful, guys.


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Expanding your family photojournalism

hey guys-something i alluded to a few posts back was shooting outside of your immediate family-we've primarily talked about capturing our own son(s) or daughter(s) but FPJ can include so much more-personally, i enjoy photographing my boys as they interact in places outside of our home-it's a nice change in venue and more family members (as potential subjects) offer opportunities for a range of unique interactions and moments, not to mention more complex and layered images-my family also enjoys my perspective on our family gatherings-just apply the same approach we've discussed in searching for moments, carefully composing, being patient, etc.-it's also great practice to get out and try to create shots-here are some i've taken with my extended family with a few notes:

something i love to do is take a unique angle on an image-their mom wanted them to "cheese" for the camera-I make a very intentional and conscious decision not to ask my children to smile-instead, i took a very different angle with a 50mm lens and waited for the expression i wanted

our family rents a club house (because there are so many of us) every Easter with a playground in back-the girls were playing on the playground and i decided i really wanted a shot as they ascended the stairs-i liked the spacing between the girls and tilted my camera (slightly) to enhance the sense of movement-the moment i released the shutter was important to me here-a second or two earlier and they wouldn't have filled the frame (right to left)-a second later and i would have "amputated" a hand or two

this shot, like many of mine, comes from studying and observing my subjects-i watched her play for a while, trying to position myself well in preparation for a shot-as she climbed through the opening, i saw something and quickly composed-as she grabbed the rail and leaned to her right, i snapped the shutter-you can teach yourself to be in the right place at the right time and to anticipate moments-i highly encourage this discipline

this was at a small gathering for a birthday party-my grandmother is in the foreground-i shot from an angle that layered them and gave each person their own distinctive space in the image-i chose to focus on my cousin here and use my grandmother as a natural framing element, giving both context and interpretation to my cousin's laughter

something i very consciously set out to do and continue is that i take my camera to my grandmother's every time i visit-i want to document her, capture the wonderful personality I've grown up with, and capture the essence of who she is-no small task but i can tell her story cumulatively-one thing i love about her is her sense of humor-i like the composition here, it's simple and nothing advanced or brilliant (though notice that even with a straight forward comp like this, i still tried to keep separation between my grandmother and cousin behind her)-the content is what makes this shot special, the genuine moment of laughter that i've experienced a thousand times

the angle was important to me here-the girls were doing acrobatics on the swing set and a standard, straight forward shot wouldn't convey that as well-i also like the motion blur and softness to the image-it all conveys action and motion and something fleeting that i was fortunate to capture

there are several things happening here at once-i really like that in an image-it tells its own story

something i love about the photography is its ability to stop a moment or an expression, for that matter-there's an intensity in her gaze-in this instance, i don't provide the person she was gazing towards-i like the mystery of leaving out that element-it's open to interpretation by any given viewer-plus, who says only "smiling kid shots" are worth shooting?

i really hope this encourages you to take your photography to your family (not just your camera to someone's house, if that makes sense)-document things that capture your family as they truly are, their quirks, their personalities, etc-we have a unique perspective that can contribute to how people see themselves and how they remember their lives-help shape that-you and your family will greatly value that over the years

thanks for stopping by, guys/gals


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Displaying Your Family Photojournalism

First and foremost, I'd like to sincerely thank Daniel for stepping up and maintaining this blog over the past few months. Life threw a curveball my way and I had to refocus some energy in other places.

Ok, so you've been reading our blog and I have no doubt that your photos are improving. So what should you do with those great shots?!

1. I urge you to print your digital files semi-reguarly! I had a conversation with the great wedding photojournalist, Evan Baines about the boxes of photographs that we all have from our childhood. Think about it, our parents shot FILM, maybe 24-36 photos at a time. The film was brought to a lab and the end result were PRINTS. When I look through these photographs, I do not judge composition, light, or other technical aspects of the photo. I simply enjoy them. All too often (and I am guilty of this myself) we let our digital files STAY DIGITAL. Or we'll only print our 'best'. Print the middle of the road shots as well! Your children will appreciate them in 20/30/50 years. For great online labs, I can recommend or (I love their matte finish).

2. Albums. You can go in many directions here: a) Take your prints and buy a 4x6 album and make your own. b) Take advantage of the digital age and create a digital album. Most printmakers offer various digital books. c) Old school. You can take a 12x12 album without the pre slotted plastic sleeves and buy photo corners and archival tape and create a nice, clean, photo album that will be fully custom.

3. Family Photojournalism as ART! Frame your favorite/best photos and make a display! There are so many amazing products on the market now (canvas, acrylic pressed prints, fine art, etc) that you really cannot lose! Chose which ever type of print/look you desire and hang it in your family room!

Personally, I have always loved the look of a gallery style wall. But I was always aware of how costly custom framing is! As a solution, I purchased 12 'decent' 12x16 black metal frames (on sale). But in order to give my 'gallery wall' a custom look, I paid for custom cut mats (each one was around $9) cut to the various sizes of my prints. All prints were made on an Epson 2400 with Velvet Fine Art paper. I tried to print at 'odd' sizes so there was some variety in the uniform look. I would estimate that the total cost of framing/matting the series below was about $300.

This is the current set up. The photos have not been switched out in 4 years. I am in the process of printing new prints.

Thanks all for stopping by!


Monday, September 13, 2010

Book Review: Sebastiao Salgado

Something I've been meaning to do for a while is share books that I've found influential. If you don't know who this guy is, you need to. There are many, many photographers that I've studied and continue to study, but one of the most influential photographers for me has been Sebastiao Salgado, a Brazilian documentary photographer. His work covers multiple continents, though much of the book I'm sharing is concentrated in South America and Africa. Here's a short review of his book, An Uncertain Grace, with some insight into what I got out of it myself.

First of all, if you're able to/willing to pick this book up from the library or even off (etc), I'd encourage you to read the essays. While the pictures can teach you a great deal about how a photographer approaches his subjects, the way he composes his shots, what he chooses to include and exclude from a photo, and what moments he/she deemed worthy to press the shutter for, the essays will teach you an equally important skill: how to talk and think about photography. This is a skill that is underrated and often neglected to make space for learning Photoshop and Lightroom tricks and blog stalking. Being able to talk about why you like a photo or why you do not can help you to analyze photographs more deeply. It can also aid you in "seeing" in a whole new way. Over time, the language of photography will become inbedded into your skull and you will learn to shoot more from "feel," requiring less thought and analysis during the moment. (Essentially, it will be more/less second nature over time) That's why I read the essays in my photo books and why I would encourage you to do the same. The author's perspective will also help you to appreciate the photos on a level (often) surpassing your own. It often includes insight behind the photos and what the photographer went through to get the photos, though rarely mentioning anything about the technicals.

Sebastiao's work is very raw. He doesn't attempt to glamorize his subjects or their surroundings. He shoots in black and white, which lends itself to an evocative, yet almost surreal quality. Through his work and Sam Abell's, to name a couple, I have grown fond of darker, moodier images and exposures.

Sebastiao's moodiness is accompanied by a quietness, a stillness that seems to reach into the subject's soul and capture something about who that person is. In reading it (and I have several times now), I come away with a sense that I've actually been the places he has. That is another thing to learn by studying this book: how to use context to speak about your subject and how to incorporate setting without allowing it to overwhelm your subject.

If you have the chance to look this book up, I highly recommend it. You never know which photographers will change your life. There are many I like but only a handful that truly changed the way I see. This is one of them. Try it one on for size.

"An Uncertain Grace" by Sebastiao Salgado (I included a few images to whet your appetite)

Thanks, guys


Thursday, August 12, 2010

Summer Vacation Part 2

As promised, here is part 2 of vacations. You'll notice some similarities between this set and the last, partly due to the fact that this is the same cabin as last year in the Smoky Mountains. Same drill as last week, some shots with some explanation. You'll see a little environmental portraiture in this which is unusual for me.

On the way home, we spent several hours at the Knoxville Zoo, also in East Tennessee. Those shots are interspersed into this set.

Gonna go ahead and get the environmental portraits out of the way.

As much as I dislike the 5d2, I have to admit live view and iso 6400 are quite handy (and clean). This shot was actually taken at dusk at iso 12800 f/1.4 1/30. The goal is to get the shot. Worry about noise and technicals later.

In these next two, you'll notice another recurrent theme, which is basic layering. I frame my boys using both foreground and background elements when there are no other natural frames available. Rather than follow the trend of automatically incorporating tons of negative space, I choose to complement my subject with context. Both can be effective, but negative space rarely tells a story. You'll also notice that I love to capture my boys during a contemplative moment (i.e., lost in thought, distracted, etc).

Again, very basic framing, using the bucket to provide context. To me, the bucket sits there quietly, unused, while the boys dance as the bucket's background.

I love 50mm. I took an angle that allowed the railing to run through the frame diagonally. Even simple compositions such as this can benefit from leading lines that are subtle yet effectively draw the eye to the subject.

As much as I like to layer (and usually do), sometimes I go for symmetry and simplicity instead. In this shot, I liked the animals on the wall and used them to frame my son.

What I like about this is the dynamic of Henry looking across and out of the frame. I framed it and waited for him to do something like that. If he were looking out toward the rhino exhibit (to camera left), his gaze would have led out of the frame along with mommy in the background. Because he's looking back into the frame while she's looking the other way, there is a slight tension to the image and the eye is able to bounce around the frame without ever being "led out" of it.

Simple example of natural framing, using the doorway and the light's rapid falloff which I love.

I like the complexity of this image. If you like complex and dense (but visually organized) street photography, check out Alex Webb. He shoots for Magnum Photos and is an amazing talent. This shot has that type of complexity, while maintaining separation between the multiple subjects and their movements. Also notice that while everyone is moving about, Isaac's eyes are on the camera.

I thought I saw A LOT of shots while in this toy store. There seemed to be myriad opportunities but I never could make it work. I was a little frustrated at my failure. As we descended the stairs, I noticed the spiral from above, quickly framed, guessed exposure and snapped a shot.

Here is another example of a series I tried to shoot and felt I was failing. Carousels are frustrating to shoot because they're so visually busy and during the day, your sensor can't register the dyanmic range between the shadows and highlights. I finally knelt down and tried to simplify things, eliminating many of the issues my other shots were having.

These next two show two ways I approached a similar shot and angle.

A lot of pictures but a busy few days. So, be encouraged to bring your camera more places. Think through your shots and exposures and capture something unique. I'm excited for my boys to look back on these shots in 10 or 20 years from now. Thanks for stopping by, guys.


Summer Vacation: Part 1

Well, summer's at an end and school's begun. If we were lucky, we got to take a vacation away from work and the grind of daily life. It might be tempting to leave the camera at "get away." But think what you'd be missing. Documenting a family event or outing can offer a plethora of visual opportunities. There are stories to be told. There is scenery which differs greatly from your living room or front yard. It's a wonderful challenge and a chance to capture images that may never present themselves again. (this applies to zoo trips, park outings, etc., not just vacations)

This post is part 1 in a short series on summer vacation. The past two years, my family and I have traveled to East Tennessee and stayed in a cabin tucked in the Smoky Mountains. This post covers last year's vacation. The next one will cover this year's. The goal is to give you a sample of how I cover/document my family vacations with a few notes and encourage you to do the same.

On the way to the cabin, we stopped in a hotel. The boys weren't very good at being "quiet." The next four shots cover that experience.

This boy fought sleep for about an hour and a half. We were quite relieved when we were able to get him to to go down. Plus, I love sleeping pictures. It's a recurrent theme in my family PJ work.

What to do when your oldest wakes up at 5 AM? How about cartoons and powdered donuts? Notice the very slight tilt to the right. Subtle tilt can add a dynamic quality to an image, if not overused or too obvious or exaggerated.

The tunnel provided an interesting visual but if shot straight on, would appear at a bright circle with rapid falloff. Instead, I shot at a slightly oblique angle so that the tunnel would curve out of the frame and give the viewer a sense of where Henry had come from.

This kind of picture takes itself. Notice the sleeping bear on the other side of the glass.

It was later in the day. We had walked all over a rather large zoo and everyone was bushed. I was able to tell two stories simultaneously. And by shooting a somewhat oblique angle, I provided a little more depth to the image (with two distinct layers of content).

The context makes this shot. I could have grabbed a closeup or head shot but the rocks and brush behind him give the photo a rustic quality and sense of place that I like.

These are the kinds of moments I love to capture. Again, we have a sense of place. It was a beautiful, sweeping area. I would consider this a landscape with people in it.

This shot was easy to capture. I had to choose my angle to show just enough of his face (the eyes are the most important feature) and watch him play. This kind of image is more elemental than literal. By focusing on the context and playful eyes, it becomes an image more about childhood fun, even when it's nothing more than a bathtub.

Grandma calmed him down and rocked him to sleep...with Gus (teddy bear). Her hands were my focus, as the shot is more about her comfort than anything else. The hands and her gaze were the key features that I wanted to capture. The exaggerated wide angle (while being careful not to distort too greatly), makes the hands more prominent.

These are just a few highlights of last year's trip. It's not important to have 50 or even 100 superb shots. 15 good images is plenty IF they're really good (and that's a judgment call, there). Spend time capturing one good image per event. If you get more than that...great! That image will live on as a family classic. Quality, not quantity. Even if you don't take the camera out very much, your family will be able to look back fondly on their past, long after the details have faded from memory.

Thanks for sticking around the blog, guys. Your comments are always welcome and highly valued.