Carroll Photography, A Vermont Photographer specializing in Senior Pictures, Family and Individual Portraits, as well as Commercial and Editorial Photography
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A Vermont Photographer's Thoughts

New Year thoughts…   December 31, 2009

My wish for all is a year where your dreams come true and you find joy and peace in whatever work you do.

Dog Drool on the lens….   December 19, 2009

Dog Drool on the lens….

Recently I have had several photo sessions with pets and their owners. I have photographed animals for years although I have never made it a specialty of mine. I love animals so I find a certain in joy in working them. Mostly I have photographed dogs, horses, and few cats. They are part of the image not the main attraction. A family might want their family dogs or cats in their photo. A high school student might want her horse in the photo or maybe someone wants to be photographed with their cat.

Animals add a different and unpredictable energy. Like kids. They love the attention but as photographer/director it isn’t easy to get them to do what you want them to do. It really becomes a matter of putting them in place or getting their owners to put them in place and being open to whatever they do. Its called controlling what you can and then see what happens. I am rarely disappointed. The expressions from dogs and cats range through all the human emotions we give them. During a recent session one of my canine subjects was alert and curious especially with the flashing lights and new stuff to smell. It wasn’t long however before I noticed a rather bored look in his eyes and demeanor. Looking at the images later his expression seemed to say…”are we done yet? I have places to go. Snacks to eat.” As I often do with children I cranked up my energy again and of course told him what a handsome dog he was. He of course knew I was right, and decided to perk up his ears just a little bit and feign interest. It was enough.

Animals can often dominate the session as well. During a recent session with a young woman and her horse, the horse decided she should be the center of attention. The two were next to each other but often the horse would nudge closer to the camera pushing her owner out of the frame. She was fascinated by my camera and the flash. Eventually the horse, like the dog, began to look bored until I had her owner walk her around and mix things up a bit. Exactly what I do with kids…come to think of it I have to do that with adults too. The best thing about animals is that like kids there is no pretension. The images reflect exactly where they are and how they feel at that exact moment. If you have read my earlier posts about how I feel about being photographed and how most of us feel then you can understand why that is so refreshing. Kids and animals have much to teach us. So real. So much fun to photograph. Still put them together in a small studio and at full energy and I might want to go back to photographing inanimate obects…that don’t shed or drool…or yell.

The other side of the lens   November 30, 2009

Most of the people I photograph have issues with being in front of the camera. Most are nervous, some very uncomfortable, and then, there are those who love it and don’t shy away from a camera. When I was younger being photographed was just part of family life. My Mother and Father both insisted on recording all important and unimportant events in our lives. I married a photographer so I often found myself once again being on the other side of the lens. As I have gotten older I am less comfortable with the process. Probably because what I see reminds me that I am changing. I have great empathy for those I place in front of my camera, and I spend much of my time ensuring that they are comfortable and at ease with themselves and me.

Yesterday I faced a photographer who was focused on getting what he saw or envisioned as he photographed. It was an uncomfortable and at times somewhat scary for me. The lens was very close and I was staring straight through the glass at my friend Nathan Farb. He was unrelenting. I realized at one point that my stomach was feeling a lot of tension. I didn’t know what to do with my face or what to feel. It was all I could do to keep myself still. I wanted Nathan to put down the camera and talk to me.

I presented quite a challenge. Fire a flash and I blink. Or I squint. I smile too much or make strange faces. Apparently my cross-eyedness was apparent too. I wanted him to let me know when he was taking the photo. Then I could keep my eyes open and compose myself. It didn’t really work. Nathan would make some suggestion,take a shot, look at the image and shake his head. We laughed at how hard it was to photograph me. The previous day while joining us for Thanksgiving Nathan had tried out his new camera and taken shots of other family members and friends. That evening he finally got to me but realized I was too tired for a photo session. The next morning when he sat me down I was still tired and incredibly self-conscious.

The session really wasn’t going well and I tried a few mental tricks to get myself upbeat and generate some energy in my expression. Nathan had something else in mind. He talked about how he saw me that day and how he saw my role in the family. His comments made me feel emotional and overwhelmed. Nathan took a shot. Nodded his head. He got his shot. I took a quick glimpse and saw a middle-aged woman with wrinkles under her eyes and around her mouth; disheveled hair and a slight double chin. She..whoops…I… looked like someone who carried the weight of the world on her shoulders. That is what Nathan was looking for that day. It was not how I wanted to be seen. Or how I imagine myself to look,but he was happy.

The Power of a Portrait   October 29, 2009

I often forget what power a simple portrait can have for my clients. Don’t know why I forget. My house is full of pictures of my son at different ages with his grandparents, his aunts and uncles, cousins, and his Dad and I. One look at any of these photos and I am transported back to that age-that moment. My parents are long gone as are my in-laws. My memory of them is very strong still, but when I look at old albums or at the photos on my walls, the memories are strengthened. Today, while looking through some old electronic files I found a scan of an old family photo from when I was three or four. I don’t remember it being taken. It was outdoors, I can see the edge of our old house, and we were all dressed up. I am sure my Mom would have insisted on that. She and Dad,looked handsome, standing proudly with their three children, everyone is smiling broadly, with two exceptions. I looked rather serious and my brother, dressed up in a suit, with his hair falling over his eyes, had a sly grin on his face. My sister was a clearly a teenager and in a beautiful dress I suspect my Mother made. I was also in a dress which may explain the frown, my sister often reminds me that I hated dressing up as a child. I would love to have know what was going on during the photo session and who took the photo. I loved seeing this image of my family during our life in the fifties when we were all together.

The images I have taken over the twenty five years as a photographer sit in albums, on tables, on walls, and these days in computer files or websites. They serve as a reminder of a particular time in someone’s life, or a particular person, a special event. They are simply, a record of our lives, frozen in time.

Their existence elicits emotions from joy to sorrow and everything in between. I have lost count of the times I have had people come up to me and tell me how precious or important that photo I took of their loved one is to them. I know there are people I have photographed that are no longer living. I can only hope that their portrait serves as some comfort for those left behind. I know that the portraits of babies and toddlers, and high school students I have taken serve as a record for their parents of that incredible experience called parenthood. Like me they look at pictures of their then young children and shake their heads and wonder where the time has gone. I feel incredibly privileged to be able to record people’s lives and have my work hold their memories.

I will write more about the power of portraits in a later blog. I want to send the old family portrait I found to my siblings and a newly found cousin.

The Kite Man   October 11, 2009

esterday I was reading one of my photo magazines and saw this picture of a woman flying a kite that was actually a man. Huh? It was a stylized image where a woman dressed in primary colors lay on bright green fake grass and looked up at a man who was attached to the string with a kite tail on his feet. He was dressed in white, behind was a blue sky with very puffy clouds, below were mountains covered in white, near the woman were many stuffed animals and in the foreground, tree branches. Some photographer was writing about how he used this shot for a promotional piece. I assumed he had set it up in a big studio and put the man on a wire with a huge blue background behind him and the clouds hanging from wires as well. The photographer not wanting to spend the money on that kind of set up was actually more creative than that. The Clouds and mountains were made out of cloth and stuffing and laid on the floor. The flying man was actually lying on the floor as well,arms outstretched as though he was flying, slightly propped up. The woman was actually lying on the floor with her legs on the wall next to her at an angle. The cute bunnies and animals were attached the wall. The only one who was elevated was the photographer who had to build scaffolding in his studio to get himself high enough to photograph the image. The photographer had used a simple trick of perspective to fool the viewer. It took a lot of work but it was effective.

Images like that always get me thinking about the power of photography and how easily our visual sense can be sent miscues. If someone looks like he is hanging in the air, then of course, he must be. I recently watched a movie that was set in Rome at the Vatican. The Vatican images was beautiful and I wondered how the filmmakers got permission to film there. Easy. They never set foot in Rome but shot most of it in a film studio in another country. Most of the Vatican shots were from still images assembled digitally within a computer.

The other night when I couldn’t sleep I watched a u-tube instructional video on photoshop where the retoucher took a shot of a woman in a bikini was who was somewhat overweight and made her look not quite model thin but close. Yesterday I did a simple retouch on a woman’s portrait by removing the wrinkles under eyes and along her mouth. She looked younger. I have used photo editing software to remove objects from a photo that I don’t want, to darken or lighten the background, to remove the background, to remove blemishes and reflections. Others more skilled than I can replace people, buildings, eyes, smooth textures, take twenty year years or twenty pounds off someone. All by digitally rearranging pixels in an image. Most of us look at images in the magazines and online and assume its been retouched and what we see may not be what was shot. I think we look at images these days with a cynical and critical eye expecting some deceit.

So when faced with an image like the kite man where the trick was brilliantly created in camera; or faced with a stunning landscape beautifully composed and printed by someone like Ansel Adams; or a simply lit, unflinchingly honest portrait by someone like Richard Avedon or Irving Penn; it is simply, refreshing and delightful to the eye.

Be Present and Aware   September 18, 2009

This morning I took a walk around a pond with a friend. It was listed as a 3 mile walk on mostly level ground. We thought it would be an easy and pleasant romp. Wrong. You know sometimes when hiking you need to cross a stream by hopping over a few rocks? Imagine doing that for about two thirds of the walk. Almost from the moment we stepped on the trail we were confronted with huge patches of deep mud that you either traversed by stepping from rock to rock or root to root. After we got through the mud section things dried out but we still walked through boulder fields and heavily rooted paths. There were a few smooth areas that allowed us to stretch our legs but most of the time we were stepping over,up, down, and hopping onto the next rock.

We had scheduled the walk to talk and catch up, but the conditions on the trail forced us to focus on where our feet were planted and to look ahead and figure next steps. We had to be totally present within our surroundings otherwise we would slip off a rock into the mud or trip over a root. Our world shrunk down to the rocks and woods a few steps ahead of us, the sound of water lapping at the shore, the smell of the pines, and at one point, the sound of the loons calling. We were completely focused and in the moment. I loved it.

I thought back to other activities that keep me in the present. Photography stands out for me. My attention is completely directed to the camera and the subject I am photographing. I am focused on making a connection with them at the same time I am checking exposure, lighting, framing, and the space around the subject. Behind the camera my world shrinks to the viewfinder ; talking;directing;checking for stray hairs or a misplaced collar. Finally, when the expression and the energy is right I press the shutter. During a photo session my senses are on alert and completely focused. If I let my mind wander I miss something and make a mistake. I have made them. The shutter dial doesn’t get turned to the right number, I forget to change the aperture or turn on a flash. I know the only way I can avoid mistakes is to concentrate and be there, present and aware. Energized. Even outside,photographing a landscape, I need to pay attention to what is around me, what is happening in front of my eyes.

During this morning’s walk my friend and I joked about the universe sending us life messages that we needed to pay attention to our surroundings. We had to be in the moment, watch where we were heading, or risk crashing. Those more aware than us might point out that there were probably lessons in there about moving forward despite obstacles and the best route forward may be a detour or a path less taken. Oh and sometimes its OK to step in the mud. I will settle for living in the present….and taking my camera with me the next time I hit Kettle Pond in Groton.

The frozen aperture   August 27, 2009

Last week I piled much of my photography gear(camera,tripods,lights,strobes,light stands,light modifier devices) and me into the car for a trip to Addison County for a family portrait outdoors. The family had a beautiful property and I chose several locations with shade with the intention of adding light. While I was busy chatting I set up a studio strobe with an umbrella shaped light box on it to soften the light. I was using the light for highlights and catchlights in the eyes. The idea is that I would balance for the existing light. Too much light and the background would go dark. I wanted the background, a blend of flowers and trees to be just a stop darker than the family. I took a reading with my light meter, after setting the flash, and then went to set the aperture and shutter speed on the camera. Unfortunately I couldn’t set the aperture, it was frozen at f11 and I wanted f5.6. I tried every control on the camera that is connected to the aperture, nothing worked. Finally I went back to the camera menu and cancelled all the settings I programmed in the camera. I spun the aperture dial hopefully and watched the 11 stubbornly remain in place. At that point I couldn’t keep the clients waiting any longer. I could only change exposure through the shutter and the flash setting. It took several shots before I adjusted both to get the desired effect. One of the reasons I love digital is the instant replay. With film I might have used a polaroid to test exposure. With digital I can see what the image looks like.

Since I was already doing something different with lighting I decided to add an on camera flash with a new light control tool that looks like a cloudy glass sitting over the flash. In reality it is a circular attachment made by photographer Gary Fong that creates a wonderful warm and diffused light that is incredibly flattering. That alone worked well for some spontaneous candids. I liked the look with the addition of the umbrella-diffused studio flash as well. Sixty images later and several different settings around the client’s house and we were done. Through it all I had managed to stay cool and have fun connecting with the family. Thanks to the digital playback I knew I had the images but I wasn’t happy thinking that I would have to send the camera out for repair either.

Back in the studio I downloaded the images and was pleased with how things turned out considering it could have been a disaster. The down side was that a f11 aperture even with the longer portrait lens did not give me the soft background look I like in a portrait. There was still too much sharpness in the background for my liking. On the upside the faces were sharp. Even the yellow lab looked good. Eventually I figured out how to clear all functions and by afternoon I had a fully functional camera again.

Of course I should have had a back up camera with me to switch out and use. When I used film I always brought two camera bodies with me, along with back up flashes and cords. To me the basic rule of location photography is that stuff happens, so be prepared. I hadn’t picked up a second digital camera since I switched completely to digital. My old one was stolen and I haven’t made the investment in a back up. Guess what I am doing next week? Seriously looking for a new camera. It never hurts to be prepared for the worst when it comes to photography. I will probably reread the manual for what seems like the 100th time and see what caused the freeze. Sigh. If it wasn’t for technical glitches the life of a photographer would be so much easier ;-)

Place determines art?   August 18, 2009

The other day I traveled to Jeffersonville with a friend to look at an exhibit of landscapes by Vermont artists. We saw some spectacular images in all types of media, from oil and pastel to colored pencil and yarn. The images were familiar in most cases. We saw the fields and Lake Champlain from the top of Mt. Philo; images of Mt. Mansfield and Camels Hump; farm fields and old barns;ponds in autumn and snow covered houses. The winning image in this juried show was of the ice breaking up on a river in spring. It was done in pastel and the detail and the lighting made it almost photographic. I wondered if I could have captured the luminosity of the image with my camera. My friend and I came away inspired.

Saturday I attended an event where a photographer was awarded recognition for his broad portfolio of work in a certain geographic area, and his dedication to the quality of life in the area. In his thank you speech he spoke, and I am paraphrasing, about the strong relationship of place and the art the artist creates. For example, the beauty and light of the Greek Isles, influenced and inspired artists in ancient times and today and is reflected in the art of that region. On the surface that statement seems obvious, but is it universal?

I don’t know. One could say the landscape artists I saw in Jeffersonville were clearly inspired by their environment in Vermont. If we placed them in NYC for a while and asked them to create landscapes again….would they all be cityscapes or would they be ‘Vermont-like’ landscapes? Does the Vermont landscape inspire me or you to take a certain type of image? My portraits don’t have any kind of slick,urban style to them. Is that because its not my style or because I have lived in rural settings most of my life? I can travel outside my environment and photograph new ones, but how much is my vision of these environments affected by the place I live in? What would have Monet’s paintings looked like had he been raised in Africa or America? Thoughts to ponder on this hot summer day.

What I am grateful for is that I live in a place like Vermont where there are so many iconic images to photograph and beautiful sights to see, even on my walk to the post office. I am also grateful that artists of all kinds have chosen to chosen to share their vision of this place.

Why carry them home when I can photograph them?   August 11, 2009

Why carry them home when I can photograph them?

Sunday I dropped off some framed prints at the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum. Every year they do an exhibit called Lake Champlain ‘Through the Lens”. The museum requests entries from photographers all over the state for images taken on and around Lake Champlain. The final exhibit shows a diverse collection of images from people to wildlife and of course, the scenic approach. I have entered before and usually contributed scenic lake shots from Charlotte Beach or the Burlington Waterfront. This year I tried something different. Still life. Still lifes are defined as a painting or drawing of a collection of objects usually showing contrasting shapes and textures. Obviously in my case I would photograph these objects. What objects did I choose? Rocks…yes rocks. Specifically the rocks on the beach in Charlotte, which is a typical Lake Champlain beach with schist,sandstone, and quartz, and other stones.

You have to understand that I am one of those who collect rocks. I have done that since I was little and still do. I often come back from the lake or a river with pockets of stones or rocks. They are all over my house. I probably should have been a geologist except I was attracted by the shape,color,and texture. The classification or type really never grabbed my attention and quite honestly doesn’t stay in my brain when someone tells me.

Back to the still lifes. One afternoon I went down to the beach with my camera and took photos of all the interesting stones and ledges that make up Charlotte Beach. It was a cloudy day so the light was soft with little shadow. There were plenty of shapes and colors and textures between the rocks and the vegetation to keep me occupied. As I shot I looked for diagonal lines and groupings of three to create tension in the image. There were some great logs that attracted my eye and of course, always, there was water. It was a wonderful afternoon finished with a brief swim in the lake.

It was much harder for me to edit these still lifes than editing a portrait or scenic. I am used to judging a portrait on the merits of lighting and the persons expression, or the energy I see in the eyes. In a scenic view I look for sharpness,lighting,composition. Obviously sharpness and composition was important, but did the tension created by the composition create a certain energy? As I looked at the images on the computer several caught my attention, but ultimately I only found two that I thought were strong enough to put in the exhibit. The first thing I discovered that it was important to have something in the image that gave a sense of perspective. It was easy to misunderstand the information in the shots without it. Composition and texture were also important. That is how you create ‘life’ or ‘energy’ with an image of inanimate objects. Lighting also adds another dimension.

The final images had color and texture and strong composition. I will be interested to see what the judges say. I am sure I will continuing my exploration of still lifes and rocks. Meanwhile I am happy to go photograph some living subjects. Although I have to admit the rocks never complained or moved. However they never laughed either.

We don’t always get juicy tomatoes…   August 6, 2009

I just completed the sad task of pulling all my tomato plants because they were hit with the real ugly blight that has been taking out tomatoes and potatoes in Vermont lately. I raised these plants from seed, carefully nursing them through the rain. I was so excited when the flowers appeared and then the fruit. When the gray spots first appeared on the lower leaves I removed them and tried fungicide. Tried another spraying two days ago but then this morning saw the fruits were covered in the same gray and brown. My dreams of juicy red and yellow tomatoes fresh from the garden died this afternoon as each large plant was thrown into the trash bag.

What does this have to with photography? The disappointment I was feeling of watching something I worked on since March destroyed reminded me of those times in the darkroom when I would spend hours trying to get a print I was satisfied with and I could hand off to a client. I would look forward to seeing the final dry print of the image, my reward for all the hours of processing and printing. Upon close inspection of the print I would find a scratch, or speck of dust, or maybe a chemical stain, and I would have to throw the print away and head back to the darkroom. Thank goodness it didn’t happen often. Often enough that I finally handed over the work to photo labs in the area. I wanted to spend my time taking pictures.

Most of us have experienced that frustration of working on something for a period of time, maybe putting our whole heart and soul into it, and seeing it fall apart or fail. Artists often come up with a concept, work on it and develop it, only to give up because it doesn’t fit their vision or it isn’t coming together. It is a risk they continually must take to succeed as an artist. As a photographer I have created an image on film or in digital with a particular end result in mind. I have spent hours in the studio or outside working on a particularly vision I have only to realize later that as an image it didn’t work. These days even digital editing can’t make a bad idea or bad technique great. I understand that failure is a possibility anytime I get behind the camera to shoot something. I can’t stop taking photos anymore than a painter can stop painting. Next year I will plant tomatoes again.

Animation, zest, energy….passion please…   July 29, 2009

I dislike most current fashion photography where the look seems to be about portraying pain and anger, or even worse, nothing at all. You know the look. There will be a gorgeous woman or man wearing a stunning outfit in a glamourous location and the model will be looking out of the frame, lips pursed in a frown, and eyes, mostly dead. It is as though the photographer or art director wants the model to disappear so the clothes dominate the image. Or maybe they are trying to create a supposed image that we have of glamorous people. I know that I immediately turn the page and refuse to look at the image or consider purchasing the clothing.( which is probably overpriced and out of my range anyway) If you want me or anyone to look at an image there has to be animation in the shot. I lean toward images that show joy or happiness so I can live momentarily with the illusion that if I buy that piece of clothing or that item I will be happy. I did say momentarily. However if I can’t have that I will settle for some sort of passion, some sense of life within the photo.

I know there is a lot of pain, suffering, and anger in life. I just don’t want to see it in advertising. Am I being dishonest because I only want to see joy and happiness in fashion photography or advertising? Please. Photography in advertising is all about illusion. It is all about creating or satisfying a desire within the viewer that leads them to purchase the item or buy into the lifestyle idea. There is nothing honest or real about advertising photography. I accept that when I look at an ad for clothing that it has been created by a skillful advertising photographer and a creative director to enhance the clothing and entice me to purchase that item. I get angry and feel shortchanged when great lighting and design is apparent in the image but the creators of the image treat the person wearing the clothing as a mannequin.

This need to see vitality and life portrayed in portraits influences my own work as a portrait photographer. I spend a lot of time before I pick up the camera connecting with my subject and putting them at ease. I create a comfortable atmosphere, radiating a calm confidence or a high energy attitude depending on the client. I don’t tell people to smile but I do mention that frowning tends to age people, especially women, about ten years.;-) A steady banter of stories and questions interspersed with directions tends to both create enthusiasm and ease and allows people to open up. Meanwhile my eye is focused on capturing those moments of passion and energy. The smiles for me are icing on the cake. Oh…and whether the body or face is directly facing the camera, I always make sure the eyes are looking out at the viewer. That is how you bring someone into the image. I love those portraits I create where joy or laughter is bubbling just below the surface and shows in the subject’s eyes or expression. That is a successful portrait.

Not too close   July 22, 2009

Warning! This entry doesn’t contain any photo tips, at least not any obvious ones. There may be some deep thoughts hidden in the post ;-)

My personal photography often focuses on details and close up views of the world around me. I like focusing on the flowers in my garden and examining the curves,lines and colors of lily, a hosta or a daisy. I like seeing the spots and the color patterns emerge when I bring the lens in focus. The patterns of leaves fascinate me. I am sure most people have seen close up images of flowers and plants in galleries and cards shops. It is interesting to me how photographers come in so tight…that the viewer loses sense of what she/he is looking at. The object ceases to be what it is. I have never liked getting that close. I need to retain some sense of what ever it is I am photographing. Some perspective. I often pull back from the way I framed a shot because I went in too close. Its like when you examine your life in those contemplative moods we all have once in a while and pull back when the examination becomes too close to revealing something too honest or painful. Or maybe I just don’t want to intrude.

As a portrait photographer I like framing people rather close up too. I like to focus on the face and eyes. That is where I find the energy and beauty of a person. I am willing to place people in their environment and include more of the person, but I still need to make their face the center of attention. Yet again I don’t like to get too close. Eyes without a smile. A mouth without the eyes or nose are too disconcerting for me. However, crop a portrait to the basic elements of the face and I am OK, unless there is no life or energy in the eyes or expression.(that is a subject for another post) I want to examine the details of life and people around me and see their beauty and maybe some of their imperfections as well. However I won’t get so close that I lose sight of who they are or what they seem to be.

Look at all angles…   July 21, 2009

I love triangles! And I am drawn to diagonals as well. Straight lines bore me unless there is another one crossing it at some point. No, I am not a geometry nerd, I am talking about composition. When photographing people individually or in small groups I look for angles. In an individual portrait I often have the subject lean toward the camera to create a line that is diagonal. Then I may tilt the head or move an arm so that other angles are formed. In family groupings I often place people so there are high points and lower points. If you look at many of my images you will find triangle shapes and diagonals adding energy and strength to the image. Recently I had to photograph some buildings under construction. In looking to find a way to add interest to one image I placed a set of roofing frames in the foreground at an angle so that your eye followed them to the building being constructed. Of course the roofing frames were triangles in themselves. To add some compositional strength to a photograph of a sunset over Lake Champlain, keep the horizon line level but find an angle where the shore line is diagonal and draws your eye to the sunset. Or place a dock or boat in the foreground. Composing this way creates tension and visual interest in a photograph. Angles are a great tool in directing the viewer’s eyes to the subject of the image.

The Enlightened Photographer   July 14, 2009

As a photographer I have a love/hate relationship with light. When I am outside walking or playing, the light as it falls on trees, objects, grass, and water usually fascinates me. I grab my camera and try to capture it, but often I just sit and stare. Especially if the light in the sky is unusual or dramatic. I am always pointing out to anyone that can hear me or cares…”look how that light falls on (fill in the blank)”. Except for my husband, another light appreciator, and a few friends, most people just look at me strangely.

However give me a bright glaring sun and the assignment to photograph an individual or group outside and you will hear me grumble about squinty eyes, harsh and impenetrable shadows, washed out colors, and light that is generally not flattering to the human face. I prefer overcast days with soft light that makes everyone look great. Since most of my senior high school and family portraiture work is outdoors I have obviously learned to make natural light and even bright sunny days work for me successfully. It is a constant battle. I schedule shoots in the ‘softer light’ part of the day (early morning or late afternoon) , face people away from the sun or place them in shadows and add light; use light modifiers that diffuse the harshness of the sun. During the years I have come up with more tools and the grudging realization that controlling the sunlight while difficult, is a necessary part of my work as a photographer.

That light, whether it is sunlight or the diffused flashes in my studio, shape,color, and define a face or an object. By nature, it illuminates. Without it I don’t have an image. Too much of it and I have an overexposed photograph or one that has too much contrast to be useable. To create a strong photograph I need to be able to control light and use it so that it flatters and enhances. Love it ..hate it…but I can’t work without it. Light.

Look, imagine, think, take pictures   July 13, 2009

There is a temptation with today’s digital cameras that have auto everything to just point and shoot at everything you see. Set the camera on auto and fire away. For most people that technique works fine and they are thrilled with good shots of their family or scenic shots of the latest vacation. However, if you want to get more out of your time behind the camera and yearn for more than good or OK family pictures it might be time for another approach.

I have a friend who spent much of his photographic career lugging a large 8 by 10 camera up into the Adirondack Mountains to capture amazing images of the wilderness area. For those who have never seen an 8 by 10 view camera, imagine a box with bellows and a lens in front, and glass in the back, and a slot to insert the film carrier. The film is the size of an 8 by 10 print and is expensive to process and print. The lens sits on a board in the front and can be shut down or opened up to regulate the amount of light hitting the film. There are focus adjustments and the bellows can be tilted and shifted to effect the sharpness of an image. In my friend’s camera there is no auto focus or auto exposure or program setting. There is no instant replay and no immediate feedback on whether you get the photo or not. No zoom lens either.

When my friend got to the spot he wanted to photograph, the camera would be set on a large solid tripod, he would compose the image through the glass in the back of the camera, and maybe take a light reading with his light meter, set the exposure, focus, prep his film backs, and wait. Having scouted the area before, he knew what he was looking for and how he wanted the image to look. Sometimes getting the image he wanted meant waiting for hours for the right light and then quickly taking 4 or 6 shots at slightly different exposures while the light was good. Often he would only get one or two exposures shot before the light changed. Understand taking the shots did not mean simply pressing his finger on the shutter. To take a picture means insert the film back, remove the dark slide, take your shot, put back the slide, adjust exposure, pull out film back, turn over and reinsert,(two pieces of film in each back) pull out dark slide, take picture, put back dark slide, and repeat.

The result of this slow and deliberate process were pictures of extraordinary detail,quality, and beauty. The images portray the Adirondack mountains,lakes,ponds, and streams with the most gorgeous light and depth. The success of these images have as much to do with his patience and attention to the details and craft of his profession as they do with his artistic vision.

I often think about his approach when I pick up my camera to take a shot. What do I want this image to look like?? What do I want to say? What do I have to do to capture the image I see, not just what is there? Should I use a tripod? Should I expose for a sharp image from front to back, or let the background go out of focus? In a portrait, do I want to focus on the subject’s eyes? What angle is the most flattering? You get the point. Our photography, no matter how advanced the tools we use and how quickly we can shoot, still benefits from a deliberate and thoughtful approach. It also benefits from using our imagination. Photography is not always about capturing what is there and seen by everyone, it is about capturing what you see that others may not.

In my last post I encouraged you to get to know your camera by taking lots of pictures of a single subject at different settings. Now that you understand what your camera does, find something to photograph, imagine how you want the photo to look, figure out how make the image look that away, and press the button.

Pick Up the Camera and Take Pictures   July 8, 2009

Almost every photo instructor and every magazine article I ever read says the same thing when it comes to becoming a better photographer. ”Pick up the camera and take pictures!”. Logical advice. The camera is the photographer’s tool and the best way to understand any tool is to use until it becomes completely familiar. During the old ‘film’ days it was also expensive advice unless you processed and printed your own film. However digital photography makes it incredibly easy to follow this advice. Take any point and shoot digital add a 2 mg memory card and go take 500 or more images of your child, a flower, a landscape, a sunset or anything that grabs your attention. You should figure out what you are doing after 500 images of the same subject. Delete the ones you don’t like and load the ones you do on the computer and go out and take more pictures.

Digital allows photographers to play and stretch their creativity. To be fair film did the same thing too but digital opens the process up to everyone no matter what your age or income level. The ability to see what you shot and compare with what you thought you saw or tried to capture, is an amazing way to learn and experiment. When I shot my portraits with film I had used my lighting set up and camera enough to know what the photo would look like when I shot certain poses and exposures. With digital I see as I shoot and can fine tune the poses and the lighting on the run. I have the flexibility to try something different with the client as we work through the sitting. Of course the downside is that instead of 3o images from a shoot, I may have 60 or 70.

When my husband, also a professional photographer, picked up a Canon Power Shot a few years ago, he read the instruction book and then started to take pictures. But unlike most normal people he would try a shot at one setting, then the same shot at another setting and so on…until he figured what every button and every setting on that camera did. He got that camera to do as much as any manual film camera we ever had. He keeps the camera with him and continues to play with it almost every day. It is, by the way, not a big SLR with lots of complex features, just a so called ‘point and shoot’, but he has taken some beautiful photographs because he knows the camera inside and out.

Pick up your camera, make sure the batteries are charged, put in a new memory card, look around, and take pictures.

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