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These are a series of articles, blog style (last first) that were written from 2011 as a set of photo workshops. If you get something out of them I will be happy to have done them. Let me know if they're of some use or if you have anything specific you'd like me to talk about.

So scroll down to the bottom and start working.

Kim Taylor kataylor@180degreeimaging.com

Introduction to Photography

What if you were asked to write a book titled "An Introduction to Photography". What would you write?

Your chapters might include a history of photography but that would really be a history of the technological developments. To write a history of the uses of photography would be an exercise in frustration, photography was used for "everything" as soon as it was invented.

So a history of the technology. Start with... what, the image? The lens? The chemistry? OK let's not get into the camera obscura stuff, instead let's define photography as the creation of a... not permanent, a persistant image on a medium through the use of light, lens and chemistry... no that doesn't work for digital. Light, lens and information storage medium. Of course that lets out photograms (put leaves on sensitized paper or on a scanner). Image by light and storage medium... damn no that is still a problem for digital since there's no image on a hard drive, only information that can be used to create an image.

The creation of a persistant latent or actual image using light and a storage medium. There, now start with Wedgewood or Bayard or Niepce or Daguerre or Talbot as you wish.

So as soon as we had these technologies we had landscape and nude and travel and documentary and portrait as quick as someone could get equipment and subject together. Maybe after the technology we should split the book into chapters on the uses of photography.

Wow. That's like making a book on the uses of drawing, or painting or writing.

See that's the thing, photography isn't an object, it's a process, it's a medium of communication and so we now have to explain Marshall McLuhan's hot and cold media and medium as message... although that's a bit finely divided for an introduction so we can put off trying to explain McLuhan a while longer.

We could look at various media to see where photography is similar and different. Media defined as  communication between people includes writing, speach, and paintings of bison on cave walls. Information exchange between environment and us expands a bit into all the five senses, but I know of no particular information exchange between people using taste, touch or smell. At least nothing very sophisticated since a punch on the nose could be said to be communication of a sort, and the exchange of bodily fluids containing genetic material is certainly an information transfer, but it's a bit beyond our book on photography.

What is photography most like? Painting I would suspect, and we can use the mechanical production of the image as our difference between the two. We won't argue about splitting the two since we were asked to write about photography not visual imagery yes?

What's photography least like? Writing I would suggest, with speach somewhere closer to writing than to visual imagery. A visual image is subject to interpretation. If it wasn't we wouldn't have all these critics and professors writing books on how to read a photograph or a painting. Writing? Speach? not so easy to interpret. See that doesn't even sound right, we would usually say misinterpret if we talk about speach or writing. Further proof of the assumed exactness of writing might be our common frustration with English teachers who insist we interpret short stories or poetry their way. We resist that much more than we resist the art teacher telling us the cave paintings in Spain are appeals to the Gods. They were done 40,000 years ago, how do we know that? They might be directions to the nearest McDonald's equivalent for all we know. It's this very ambivalence that allows us to accept the different interpretation with ease. Prof says Gods, we put down Gods and pass the course, but I'm damned if I'm going to believe that Leonard Cohen's Susanne was a princess!

Mesopotamian writing is about keeping track of the goats, we're pretty sure about that, and when the Egyptians wrote about the gods on the pyramid walls, we're pretty sure that's what they were writing about, so our 5000 year experiment with writing seems to be more accurate than our 40,000 year experiment with imagery and I rest my case. A photograph needs a caption if we want to be sure folks get the same message we intend when we shoot it. Otherwise we have to be satisfied if we can communicate general feelings and emotions. Accuracy isn't a given.

So now we may have a way to get at our introduction to photography. We find the structure by looking at the other media that have been written about and use that template. We go to a book that is an introduction to painting. Or an introduction to speach or an introduction to writing.


You write it.

Oct 29, 2012
Point and Shoot Cameras

Canon A590I'm in mourning. I lost my beloved point and shoot to a Lake Huron wave. Not just any point and shoot, this was a Canon A590, the second that I've owned, the first being the one I took to Japan and left there with one of my instructors because he liked it. I found a second camera in a discount department store and was happy to have it. The best damned point and shoot camera Canon ever made and one they or someone else should remake!

This camera had an 8mp sensor (two more than are needed, work on light gathering rather than resolution people! Go for big sensors and low MP counts rather than just buying megapixels. How many of you display your shots at 24 by 36 inches on your hallway walls?)

The thing had full manual control, a decently slow shutter speed (could have used a bulb setting), an optical viewfinder, a really cool digital/optical lens multiplier thingie that I don't understand but seemed to boost the range without cropping. Look, it had most of the fun things I wanted, including the most important, a ring you could take off and install an adapter that allowed me to put a fisheye lens that screwed onto the filter ring.

Sure it was plastic, sure it turned out not to be very weather-sealed, but it went to Europe and back with my daughter and I didn't mind if it got scratched up in my bag. I carried it everywhere, so I want somebody to make this camera again, with the following extra demands... and don't tell me to buy a G15, I want a $150 camera not a point and shoot that costs what my SLR costs. As for the modern versions of the A-line from Canon, they have done nothing but take functions away, no manual control, no optical finder... I really hate it when I'm looking around for a used camera because the "new and improved" ones are less than the old ones.

My ideal point and shoot:
  • 6 megapixel, with really good low-light shooting. Make it a largish sensor.
  • A short zoom (4x is fine, like this one) with a constant f/2.8 or lower (I have an ancient 2mp Fuji with a long zoom that is an f/2.8. Damned nice lens!)
  • Full manual controls, including manual focus
  • I also want a pan-focus, a fixed focus setting for when I'm not going to mess around with the glacial focus system of a point and shoot.
  • Macro focus mode of course, I don't have the patience to wait for a focus search from infinity to minimum and back again.
  • Long shutter speeds, preferably up to 30 seconds plus bulb... bulb being push once to open, push again to close, or else put a thread on the release button so we can use plungers again.
  • An adapter ring so I can use my cheapie filter-ring-thread lenses
  • AA battery power. I'm not kidding about this, I'm so tired of having six chargers lined up on my shelf. The AA batteries fit in the grip and gave the thing a bit of weight, very nice.
  • Skip the on-board flash and put a hot shoe on it. Who uses the onboard flash? Not me but I'd love to be able to use a small swivel flash or a radio trigger.
  • I was just starting to use the movie function with the fisheye... that's what killed the little dear, I was doing fisheye movies of the waves. So a movie function is fine.
  • All the picture styles and white balance and colour settings were fine (as long as there's a custom white balance, which there was on the 590).
So you see, this "obsolete and discontinued" camera had pretty much everything I could ever ask for, and yet they left it all behind in their "improvements" to the line. Loyalty be damned, anyone who builds this camera again will have my business.

Using a Point and Shoot

Well, on to the lesson in point and shoot photography. In this case, we will assume that we're talking the lowest common denominator of cameras so no manual controls, no aperature or time controlled exposure, just the usual stuff.

When I started my photography career I used a point and shoot camera named a Brownie Hawkeye which was a medium format camera made by Kodak. It was owned by my mother and by thousands of other mothers and it had no controls at all. You pushed the button and wound the film on. It was fixed focus (it had a depth of field from about three feet to infinity) and fixed exposure (depending on the film speed, you used it best outdoors during the day). Mom's loved it because once you learned to load and wind it you were right there taking photos of the kids. Dads soon had a 35mm rangefinder with lots of controls and maybe even a light meter, but they were so busy messing with the controls Mom usually got the shots that we look at today. Even that Brownie could be messed with though, you could click the shutter without winding for a double or even a multiple exposure. Coolness. You could also buy a flash for it, the flashbulbs were a lot of fun for a kid let me tell you.

From that time on camera companies have been schizophrenically makeing cameras with more controls and then trying to take those controls away again with automatic modes or cameras with no modes at all. Dad buys the really expensive stuff but Mom is usually happy with the cheap, easy to use models and guess where most of the money comes from?

Nowadays, if you spent $400 on a point and shoot camera expecting $400 worth of photographic fun, it is often a frustrating exercise in trying to get more manual control of something that was not designed for it. Still, the companies often slip up and by careful use of the controls they do give you, you can sometimes get something out of the camera that approximates "control".

Let's start, here's your first steps along the way.

1. Read the manual. Seriously, I know you can get it to work by putting in the battery and pressing buttons until something happens, but if you wanted the default settings you wouldn't be reading this. Read the manual and find out what your camera can do, then go do all of them just to see what it looks like. You may never again use some of the stuff you try but that's fine, at least you will know just how much extra functionality your camera has.

2. Find the menu command to turn off your flash. Turn it off. Nothing is more sad than watching a dozen flashes go off in a stadium during a sports game. The flash reached about two rows forward of the camera and then faded to nothing. Got it turned off? Good now you can ignore all the information about red-eye reduction and removal from now on. Don't worry, we'll turn the flash back on in a while for one type of shot.

3. Find the auto setting, or preferably, the P(rogram) setting. Put it there. This will put your camera on "fixed focus fixed exposure but always good" mode. In other words, P does the exposure and focus work for you, it won't matter if you're on the beach or in candlelight indoors, your camera will likely get a decent shot in either place. Appreciate the auto exposure of your camera, you'll get decent shots without thinking about it, and so you can concentrate on what you're shooting rather than on what's in your hand. Please, no jokes about shooting what's in your hand OK?

4. Find the iso setting control and put it on auto. This will select the lowest iso for the light available. Lower iso means less digital noise in the shot. If you miss grain, crank the iso up to the top end of where your camera goes, you'll get "grain" which may or may not look good. Some of my cameras make grain that looks great, some not so much. For now, auto.

Right, that's you sorted for most shots you'll be doing on the street. Now for a bit of technique. First, point your camera at something you want to shoot and push the shutter button down half way. In a short time the camera should focus and the lines around your focus square in the viewfinder screen will go green. Keep your finger there, compose your image and push.... squeeze the shutter button the rest of the way down to take the shot. This pre-focus step also sets the exposure and vastly reduces the time between shutter press and picture snap.

Now, for some fancy stuff. Find a shot with lots of bright sky (with clouds or a tree or something) and some dark stuff by the ground. If you're on a street, face the light, step into the shadow and shoot the shadows and the sky.

Depending on what you've focused on some of your shot will be blown out (too bright) or hidden in shadow. it may be the wrong part of the shot so here's a trick or actually, two.

1. Focus on something the same distance away as what you want in focus, but either in the shadow or in the light. Your camera will adjust for the shadow if you focus there, or the sky if you focus there... you need something to be in the sky to focus the camera, the sky isn't "there" as far as a camera focus tool is concerned.

2. Find the EV button and learn how to move the exposure to the plus side (if you want the shadows to show up) or the minus side (if you want the sky to be exposed so you can see it. EV stands for Exposure Value and is measured in f-stops. We'll talk f-stop a bit later, for now just understand that plus f-stop means more light coming to the sensor which means blown out sky and shadows you can see.

Next step is to figure out how to control the shutter speed. Remember the P mode? That lets you dial the shutter speed up and down while keeping the exposure correct (by adjusting the aperature usually). Don't worry too much about this, just play with your camera and figure out how to move the shutter speed up or down. If you want to freeze action, use a faster shutter speed, if you want to blur motion, use a slower speed.

You've just learned how to adjust the exposure and the shutter speed, so you don't need to mess around with all the picture modes, trying to figure out what all those little icons mean or "shudder" reading the manual to find out.

You're ready to go forth and photograph stuff to see what it looks like photographed. (See Garry Winogrand)

Ah, back to that onboard flash. Get your friend to stand in front of the sun and take a shot. Now turn the flash on and take another shot. Cool huh, it's called fill flash and you could do the same thing by reflecting some of the sunlight back onto your friend's face but who carries a reflector around with them? Unless of course you're wearing a white jacket or have a nice silver emergency blanket in your back pocket.

Now you're thinking. Go read some stuff on composition and learn how to shift your camera to frame in an interesting way after you get that focus point nailed.

Sept 26, 2012
Motion Blur

motion blur

I've a few minutes to write something and noticed this shot so I thought I'd paste it up here. First motion blur I ever did was by accident, I was shooting my girlfriend back in the early '70s while she was skating in a dark arena. The old spotmatic had a 1.4 lens and it was wide open and tracking her as she went past. When the shots came back from the drugstore that blurred image really impressed me.

Simple in concept, you adjust so that you need a long exposure and then swing the camera with the subject as it moves by. In this day of massively high iso digital cameras it is a bit hard to do this. I bought a $20 variable density filter and used it to cut the noon-time beach light back so I could do a... just looked at the exif info... 1/8 second exposure at f5.6 (probably the widest aperature I could get on this kit zoom.)

The specific technique isn't important, just get the shutter slowed down somehow and track the movement. This is even more fun with digital cameras because you can see what you're getting right away.

Sept 13, 2012
The Nude as Genre

If the nude is, as Kenneth Clark says, a genre in itself, rather than the subject of the art, we can start to think of categories of nude art.

How about:

  • The shameful nude: Take photographs of people who are deeply ashamed to be naked.
  • The embarassed nude: Shots of models so obviously comfortable naked that the viewers are embarassed.
  • The covered nude: Underneath this I am naked!
  • The male gaze nude: High heels and stockings of course.
  • The implied nude: Work using models who want to be paid but don't want to admit the only paid model work for girls of their size is for nudes.
  • The classic nude: Snapshots of naked women.
  • The edgy nude: Snapshots of naked women with a red gel on a light.
  • The abstract nude: Shots resulting from cameras dropping from sweaty hands just as the shutter is released.
  • The landscape nude: We couldn't afford the studio rent this month.
  • The environmental nude: Green gel.
  • The narrative nude: Shots done with a telephone, a glass of spilled wine and a crying model.
  • The journalistic nude: Got a new remote controlled webcam!
  • The subconscious nude: Click the shutter, click the shutter, click the shutter. Otherwise known as the automatic-pencil-of-nature nude.

Apr 24, 2012
Workshop VI
Who Can You Name?
Shooting Artistic Fine-Art Nudes

I'm looking through a lot of how-to books on the nude that I acquired recently, and sadly, one of the common features of the genre is a whole lot of really forgettable photographs. Each and every one talks of artistic fine art and what they show is garage-level glamour.

There's nothing inherently wrong with the sort of nudes you will find in these books, but it's forgettable, gone in 30 seconds. The images are as bog-standard as the advice. Some folks go to a new town and eat at a chain restaurant because they don't want to be surprised...

Now, far be it from me to say "get a style" but really, at least hunt for something that isn't what every local photographer does when she shoots "boudoir" for the woman next door who's looking for something to give the husband on their ten year anniversary.


Eat at Joes Diner, home of the 50cent bumbleberry pie once in a while.

Can you name 10 nude photographers off the top of your head and picture their work?

OOOH, a LIST! .... Yuck it up folks.

I'll list them, top of my head so no particular order or even a complete list. I'll correct the spelling later and provide a shot found on the net and repeated here in the interest of fair use and education... although in the age of tumblr why bother trying to be copy-correct?

Below you'll find the word "partner" in places, this means wife, lover, otherwise involved romantically and or businessly. Go look these ten up on Google Images and see if you can't detect a certain point of view, a certain unique flavour you won't get at the local mall food-court.

1. Alfred Stieglitz: Shots of Georgia O'Keefe, his partner. The one that sticks in my mind is O'Keefe in front of a screen door.

Stieglitz Torso 1919

2. Bill Brandt: A wide angle police camera, a nude and a rocky beach.

Bill Brandt Nude East Sussex

3. Andrez Kertesz: A fun-house mirror.

Andrez Kertesz Distortion 40 1033

4. Man Ray: Are you kidding, what hasn't he done, what to pick? Let's pick solarization and Lee Miller, his partner.

Man Ray Lee Miller

5. Harry Callahan: And Eleanor, his partner.

Harry Callahan Eleanor Chicago 1948

6. Helmut Newton: Big Nudes and big supermodels. This is what most glamour guys have in their heads when they're shooting internet models I suspect.

Helmut Newton, Sie Kommen, Paris 1981

7. Erwin Blumenfeld: Wet silk.

Erwin Blumenfeld Nude with Veil

8. Frantisek Drtikol: Shape and Form

Frantisek Drtikol Akt 1929

9. Jan Sudek: A true "garage-studio" shooter who worked in his basement on images that would have got him thrown in jail if the authorities knew he was doing it. Partners and neighbours and others he trusted were subjects of his hand-tinted explorations of the human condition.

Jan Saudek

10. Rudolf Koppitz: Probably one of my very favourite nudes of all time, a real story-image from some dancers in 1926.

Rudolf Koppitz

So the first ten that popped into my head, what can we say about them. Many of them shot those they know well, their partners. It's difficult to come up with risky images with a stranger you've met on an internet modeling meetup site, about the best you can do is say "I want to shoot stuff like this picture on your portfolio" since you know he or she will do it. Stretching a little? Something risky? Best know your model a bit better than an email trail.

All the guys up there in the list shot women mostly, is this how it goes? Guys shooting girls they're sleeping with? That's what it needs?

Of course not, but it needs models who trust the artists because they're artists, not guys who use cameras to try and get laid (there's websites other than the modeling sites for that) or want to see real, live nekkid wimmin (go to the strip joint for that). As for only women models, how about men who shoot men?

Herb Ritts, Bruce Weber, Greg Gorman, Horst P. Horst, Robert Mapplethorpe.

Wow, those guys are as guilty of shooting the young and beautiful as any other fashion-related photographer. Access to the cut and the cute seems to mean cut and cute models. A Helmut Newton female looks a bit like a Herb Ritts male to me... all hail the white seamless! Irving Penn is one fashion photographer who resisted this temptation when he did his "Earthly Bodies".

Women who shoot men? Sally Mann and her partner Larry, Imogen Cunningham and Roi, her partner.

Look these names up and examine their work, is it memorable? What are they shooting? Obviously what interests them, but you shoot what interests you right? Interest might not be enough, finding something new to say, that's the ticket. OK I'll fill in the shots above so we can talk about them specifically.

Alfred Stieglitz

Oh, I see that shot sold for 1.3 million plus in 2006. I'm obviously not the only one who likes it. Stieglitz is a giant in the history of American photography, one of the folks who took photography out of the baby-photo-studios and into the art galleries. He was also influential in bringing Modern Art to the USA through his gallery 291. His life is worth a read if you have any interest in American Art, at least check out the Wikipedia entry. Torso was shot in the kitchen of a rural house with a hill in the background beyond a screen door. You don't need dozens of lights to do a memorable nude.

On the other hand, Steiglitz was as capable of cheesecake as the next guy with a camera. Check out this photo which, I suspect, will not sell for as much as Torso.

Stieglitz O'Keefe

Only on the net would that one float to the top.

Bill Brandt

Who would have thought of using a police crime scene camera, almost a pin-hole, to get a "mouse-eye view" of the nude? Brandt shot for 16 years with an antique camera to create his series of nudes in the '40s and '50s.

Andrez Kertesz

One burst of nude work in 1933, in a lifetime of photography, but what a burst. Taking a couple of funhouse mirrors, Kertesz produced one of the best-known series of nudes.

A lot of the notable nude photographers you'll see here have a large body of work outside their nudes. Having a wide range of subjects, and much experience will give a photographer the confidence to experiment while facing a nude model.

Man Ray

If ever there was the bohemian artist, May Ray might fit the bill, American ex-pat moved to Paris in the '20s and living the life that so many movies depict. In fact I can't believe there isn't a movie about this man who was a member of the "lost generation", photographer, painter, cinematographer and writer. Lee Miller left New York as a model and arrived on Man Ray's doorstep to become his assistant, model and partner before moving on to become a photojournalist in her own right.

Harry Callahan

Harry married Eleanor in 1936 and photographed her for the rest of their 63 year marriage. What further lesson do we need?

Helmut Newton

Tight bodied supermodel in high heels on a seamless white background being tough for the camera. It was done supremely well by Helmut 30 years ago, why am I still seeing attempts at this shot? One who did manage a good comment on the original was Leonard Nimoy who has been featured in the 180mag story This Is What I'm Doing.

Leonard Nimoy

Yes that Leonard Nimoy.

Erwin Blumenfeld

If anyone carried on the experimentation of Man Ray into the next generation of photographers it was Erwin Blumenfeld, his work is well worth a look for those who think that fashion/art photography is a new linkage.

Frantisek Drtikol

Drtikol is becoming better known but he languished for many years in obscurity, at least in my experience. If you look at my work for the past decade or so you may find some resonance here, I've long been fascinated by his combinations of simple shapes on the stage combined with models. I keep working at it, trying to find my own take. As Uncle Miltie once said, "If you're going to steal, steal from the best."

Jan Saudek

Is Saudek really the only living photographer in this list? Surely we should not get the idea that we need to be dead to be great, or even from Central Europe, as I look again over the list. Remember these were the first ten that popped into my head, but they have all made a big impression on me. One of my greatest delights was finding a well-worn copy of a book by Saudek in Czech behind some how-to silliness in a used  book store. As for male nudes from my original list, Jan does many.

Jan Saudek, female weapons, male weapons

Rudolf Koppitz

I didn't know which of his shots of dancers and nude to include so here's the second.

Rudolf Koppitz

Now that you're at the end of this article, think a little and see if you can't recall a few of the shots you just looked at. Now think if you can remember ten more shots from different photographers. Are any of the remembered shots what you might see on that modeling website?

Stop looking at the mediocre and start stealing from the best. Above all, don't listen to what you "should be doing" with regard to lighting, posing or what have you. Look at these shots again if you like them, or find ones you like better and look closely at the lighting. If you can "see" the lighting ask what that means. I like lighting, I make a lot of my shots all about the lighting. I should stop that if I want to do work like these we've looked at today.

Apr 23, 2012

Humans love lists. The top ten, the new year's resolution, the classification of life on earth, it's all lists.

How can we classify writing? Scientific, fiction, non-fiction, adult, teen, fantasy, philosophy, religious?

OK I just pulled those out of the air, can we do the same with the classification of the animal kingdom? How about photography?

Scientific: The classification of animals into genus and species of course, we're homo sapiens.

Fiction: Hippogriffs

Non-fiction: Cats

Adult: adult

Teen: teen
illegal porn

Fantasy: Pegasus (or purse dogs)
glamour photography (or porn yet again)

Philosophy: Orwell's "Animal Farm" or veganism
surrealism or dada

Religious: doves
shroud of Turin

So it's not too hard to find equivalances to these classification schemes in photography, that means we can take any theoretical analysis of writing or of animals and probably just substitute.

Ought to be a few dozen easy post-grad theses in there somewhere.

Apr 21, 2012
Photography and Writing.

I was reading a book at the studio today, and the author joins a long string of folks trying to explain what a photograph is, and how to look at it.

Honestly, I'm not sure why I keep reading these essays. We've been looking at photographs for over a hundred years and at paintings for hundreds before that, we certainly know how to do it. I've been exposed to images for my entire life, about five or six more than I have been exposed to written language so interpreting images isn't really a chore for me, or for anyone else.

Images are a language, a two dimensional "written" language that is a bit more universal than English or Chinese, but subject to the same local interpretation. By that I mean the word combinations or the image will mean a slightly different thing to someone in one social area compared to another. To be clear, swear words in England are not the same as those in the USA. Local slang will differ and so will the interpretation of various elements of a photograph. But every person on the planet can see a photograph and interpret it. Written language is more restricted in that only a certain subset of humans can read a particular language.

Thinking in a different language is supposed to engender a different set of ideas. I'm unilingual so I can't say if that is true or not, but if it is, it's a wonderful thing and I wish I was fluent in French as my daughter is. Funnily enough, my daughter can't tell me if she thinks differently for having two languages, she's had them so long she can't tell if there's another way of thinking from the way she does it. I see what she means, I can't tell you if I would be thinking different things in Japanese as compared to now even if I learned the language. Here's the theory for anyone interested http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linguistic_relativity

I doubt photography would be as useful as language for seeing different things, (assuming language is of course). A photograph of a Cambodian kid is pretty much the same as a photograph of a Canadian kid if it's taken by the same photographer. More likely would be to see a different world view if a Chinese kid was photographed by a Cambodian photographer and a Canadian photographer. The different viewpoint would be in the photographer rather than in the image content, the "text" of the photograph would more likely be different from two photographers rather than from one.

Rather a "duh" moment there I suppose.

We had a photo contest recently and the winner was a nude in nature with some mud-like substance on her. The theme was "balance" and I immediately said "nude in nature is not balance, it's reality, mud on girl is a bit obvious (messy/clean) and beside I don't like the way she's got her thumb in her fist". The other judges liked it and so I looked again, reading closely rather than skimming the shot. Well written (printed), OK now I saw a mano fico rather than an awkward fist. A baby born with a mano fico is said to be lucky so now we have a reference to birth and nature, man in balance in nature, we're born naked and wet and we die clothed and dried up... and so I continued for a while until someone shut me up. I later talked with the photographer and found out the mud was actually frozen paint and so this rather tough model was likely just clenching her fist after all, and with good reason.

As a writer may have a story or poem interpreted by the reader, so may a photographer have an image "read" in different ways by different viewers. It's all communication, all language. It follows then, that some photographs will be blatantly obvious (advertising shots come to mind) while others may be a bit more subtle in their message and some may simply be gibberish.

Tell a good story.

April 9, 2012
Shoot it in the Camera

Have been hanging around the U. Guelph photo arts club for a while as a member of the exec. An anachronistic bunch, the club is mostly concentrated on film with two nicely equipped (if antique) darkrooms that are about the same as they were when I worked in them in the late '70's. (I'm there for the studio of course, tiny but useable and there are ways of making a small space large.)

It's been rather interesting dredging up my old knowledge of silver photography, but most important for me to realize is that I have started to slip into the digital way of thinking. That's where you shoot everything to perfection, fully in focus, perfectly lit, in colour, blah blah blah just in case you change your mind later and decide to do something different from what you had in mind originally. Yikes, was a time when I didn't have any post processing choices beyond using different contrast paper and dodging or burning. Colour was something I painted on later.

shoot it in the cameraThis is a mistake. You don't provide more choices for yourself by shooting in raw at full pixel size with tack sharp focus and on a tripod, you cut yourself down to producing the same photos that everyone else does, and the only way for you to "improve" is to buy a camera with more megapixels and a bigger sensor, a heavier tripod and the latest editing software.

The simple problem is this, if you don't know what you want to see in the shot while you're shooting it, you aren't going to see anything different as you sit in your office chair in front of a monitor. I've been watching a few folks do their first nudes and having fun seeing them discover the images on their screens. While looking at nudes online I don't see the same experimentation, instead I see the same thing over and over, it's almost always a full body shot, nice lighting, well focused and all the other things you expect to see. I'm wondering if there's a question of rarity here... "I may not get a chance to shoot this girl again, or many more nudes, so I'd better do it right". And of course you end up with what you expect because what you expect is what you see all the time.

I try not to think that way, at least for nudes, and it works in my favour. Potential models who see my work see something that isn't what they expected, something that they'd like to participate in. There's really no shortage of nude models out there, just a shortage of those who don't see the point of doing something that's been done thousands of times before.

So shoot it in the camera, figure out how to do everything you want to do while you're shooting it, and save the fancy editing program for any fine tuning you need, instead of spending hours trying to find the image you had in your mind before you produced the one the engineers at Canon figured you wanted to make.

April 8, 2012

Workshop V: Posing

Let's assume you've considered all the movements and whatnot of photography and you're going to be working with people, that's what this workshop series is all about anyway, so it's a reasonable assumption. If you're going to be doing landscape photography you can skip this workshop, trees don't take well to posing instruction so you're going to have to be more concerned with finding the right viewpoint than making the mountains arrange themselves in pleasing shapes.


Remember you're going to be working with other people, it's always good to have a bit of an idea what you want to do when you get together, that way you don't waste each other's time.

When I teach a posing workshop it's offered to both photographers and models, and both can benefit from the information below, which is based on advice from other authors, my personal experience as a life model in a University, and my own photography of models. You should take all this to be advice which will get you the expected results, what most people find most pleasing. They are "the rules" of posing.

Learn the craft

Check out magazines for the poses. What works for those models will work for you. A photographic model has a set of short duration poses, like gesture drawing poses for an artist's model. Photographers rarely need a model to hold a pose for 50 seconds, let alone 50 minutes so consider what you're looking at when you study paintings and sculpture. Those models likely held their poses for minutes at a time.

Learn to recognize what mood and style the photograph has, and how that was achieved. Look at the position of the hands and feet, the eyes. Look at the clothing and think about how it was used to reinforce the pose. Be critical of what you look at, could you have done it better?

Make a clipping book

Keep tear sheets of the photographs you like, and those that give you ideas. Keep them handy and look at them often, there's no sense reinventing the wheel. If someone else has done the work why should you not build on their efforts?


Models, get in front of a mirror and practice the poses you think will work for you. Now invent some of your own, this is easier if you simply take some of the postures you normally use. If you're a dancer, dance and hold a position, if you do yoga, stretch and look at it, if you are a runner, sink into your pace and check what that looks like.

Now is the time to find your good and weak points, decide which features you should put forward and which you should keep in the background. Don't forget to make faces, learn how to give different expressions when called upon. Modeling is acting, you should know how to be angry, shy, sultry and sweet.

Move with grace

Pay attention to how you move from one pose to another, the smoother you get the better you will be as a model, it's often these transition movements that will actually make the best photograph. Photographers, watch your model carefully, check out the poses between poses and either catch them or ask the model to hold when it's right.

Exaggerate the makeup and clothes

The camera damps things down, remember to overdo the makeup a bit, and dress a bit more daringly than you might when going to work. Think theatre makeup, the kind onstage rather than the kind in the audience.

Makeup during the shoot

Models, check your makeup often, or ask someone to look if you think you've disturbed your makeup. Keep your lips moist by licking them regularly. If your mouth is open run your tongue over your teeth as well, to keep them moist and shiny. Photographers, don't forget to check the shine.


High heels make long shapely tapered legs with nicely curved calves. They make a more dramatic curve in the lower back that emphasizes the buttocks and the chest.


For beginning models especially, it's good to have a few props ready. Hands can do some strange things when left on their own, they generally settle down and behave if they're holding something. A model who has trouble standing in an interesting way might find it easier to lean against a stool. Each prop will give you new ideas for a pose, a new look for the image.

Makeup and hair

The studio should have, at a minimum, a makeup area with good lighting and a mirror. A place to wash up, an emergency brush, hair clips, pins, hairspray, gel, soap, mineral oil and various other items are often needed. Many models will forget to bring these things.

Check this link for a list of things a model should have with them. Information for models at any photoshoot


Good Side, Bad Side

Everyone has a few flaws, even if it's just a temporary facial blemish. Models, by concentrating on the other side of your face during a photoshoot you will reduce the amount of retouching needed. If your eyes are different sizes you can minimize the difference by turning the larger eye away from the camera in a 3/4 profile, this will mean the smaller eye appears larger because it's closer to the camera, and the descrepancy will even out. Crooked nose? Figure out which angle works best with your particular dent. Most people will want to put the narrower side of their face toward the camera which means if your nose bends to the right, use the right side of your face. This also makes your nose smaller.

Acting as a model

Every photograph tells a story, try to figure out what story you are telling with each shot and put that face on. If you are sitting on a chair and it's raining you might want to slump a bit, round your shoulders, hitch up your collar and drop your head to keep the water out of your eyes. On the other hand, when the sun comes out you will lift your head and feel the sun on your face, of course you'll smile.

Even if you're doing a product shot, holding up a bottle of shampoo, it's the best shampoo you've ever seen, you're just delighted with it! Make sure your body and face reflect your delight.

What style pose is it

Pay attention to what theme you're working on. Does the pose call for a direct gaze at the camera or should you be looking down and away. Should your arms be quiet and restful or active and reaching out?

Point those toes

When you point your toes all sorts of good things happen, your legs get longer, your calves get shapely, and if you're on the balls of your feet your posture gets better. Even if you're just doing headshots you should be aware of good posture. Standing flatfooted can also mean that your shoulders and head go dead. If you aren't wearing high heels, pretend you are by pointing your toes.

Unlock your knees

Just as you want to point your toes, you also want to keep your knees bent. This puts a curve into the leg, and keeps your posture alive. If you lock your knees the legs bend backward and the emphasis goes onto the thighs.

Head angles

A full on face shot makes for a round face. It's usually more flattering to turn to a slight angle. Learn how your face looks from a profile to a full face shot and all the angles in between. A good standard angle is a 3/4 shot, with both eyes visible to the camera.


For women they say it's always good to have the shoulders on an angle, and to tilt the head toward the near shoulder, aiming the head and the body in different angles also helps create interest in the shot.

Men should tilt their heads toward the far shoulder and keep their shoulders level.

I don't know why, try it and see what it looks like.


Don't be afraid to smile once in a while but remember that smiles cause lines on the face. A relaxed face with no smile or a very small quirk of the lip combined with alert and sparkling eyes can convey as much emotion as a full bore smile.

If it bends, bend it

Unlock your joints even when you're using them to support yourself. If you lock your elbow when you lean back on your arms the arm will bend backward and the shoulders will hunch up toward your head. Keep everything nicely curved in the direction we expect to see it bent.

If you're leaning on it, don't lean on it

Don't put weight on an arm that you're "leaning" on, instead hold yourself with your stomach muscles and rest the arm as if it's a prop. This will give you a "lighter than air" feeling. Be careful of leaning your head on your hand too, this can scrunch up your face. Fingertips not palms.

Separate whatever you can separate

Keep the fingers slightly apart and resist the temptation to make a fist, this can make it look like you're missing fingers. Move the arms slightly out from the body, move the legs slightly apart from each other. If you sit on the floor with your knees drawn up, pull one slightly further in than the other. Symmetry rarely looks good in a pose.


Hands deserve special mention as they're the second most interesting thing in the photo after the face. The flat surfaces of the hands will become exaggerated in a photo, show the edges instead. Don't point the fingers at the lens as this will give you fat fingers. As mentioned before, bend the joints and open the fingers a bit. Don't clutch at things or intertwine the fingers as this makes the fingers disappear.


When the photographer says he's going to shoot you, don't act like you're in front of a firing squad. Treat the camera as if it's a person you're having a conversation with. In fact the photographer will likely be mumbling into the back of the camera so pretend it's his face.

Make wavy lines

Women should be curvy, even in their posture. Move the hips one way, the shoulders the other, and tilt the head. Think of swaying lines running down through your body. This gives pleasing lines for the eye to follow in the photograph.

Lift your arms

The chest will rise, the stomach will get thinner, the torso will become longer. Similarly, move the elbows back to open the chest. Push the head upward (but keep the shoulders down). If you're sitting down, rock your hips forward to lift and expand the chest while reducing the stomach. You don't need to be wearing high heels to get that high heel effect.

Don't blink

Some models have a real talent for blinking as the shutter trips. Try to blink between exposures, you'll soon get into the rhythm of the photographer and will know when you can blink. As a general rule, when you set your pose, stop blinking, breath in, open the chest, lift the head and think of yourself as being lighter than air. For photographers who have to work with a blinker, try to time the shot for just after they blink.

Look at something

While we're on the eyes, make sure that you always look at something in the room, unfocused eyes are disturbing in a photograph unless you're working on the memento mori theme.

Hold that pose

If you've moved into a pose and the photographer suddenly starts to adjust equipment, don't move, he wants to get that shot. On the other hand, if he moves away from the camera to fiddle with lights or props you can relax a bit but don't move off your mark, he needs you in position while he fixes things.

Photographers, when you make an adjustment say "hold that pose please" or "relax but keep on your mark I need to fix the lights". Models don't read your mind until the fourth or fifth session.

What to shoot

Always think portfolio

Even if you're just doing a portrait you should think of doing a full portfolio type shoot, moving from headshots to full body length poses. It's a good idea to make it a habit to move from one extreme to another. Since most models will automatically arrive ready for a head shot, it's often easiest to move from there back to the full body shots. Why do they arrive ready for a head shot? Because they sat or stood in front of a mirror which only showed them the head, fixed their makeup and adjusted their jewlery and clothing. They're ready for the head shot.

Head shot

Always think of a tight, black and white head shot as if for an actor's portfolio. Get in close, make the lighting flattering but slightly dramatic, do full, three quarter and shallow silhouette shots at least. While you're doing this you can be getting acquainted with the face, and with the model. Next switch to colour (if you're shooting digital that just means switching your thinking since you'll likely convert colour to black and white later). You may want to bare the shoulders if the clothing is a bit distracting.

Head and shoulders

Shots from head to mid-chest are also done along with the tight head shot to bring the clothing into the image. There isn't a lot of posing to be done here, but remember to keep the head light, the shoulders down and relaxed, and to use the hands to best advantage.

3/4 length shots

From head to mid-thigh, this allows you to start working with poses while still staying simple and working with the face as well. In some ways the 3/4 length shot is the most complex. You can start changing outfits now, and using the props.

Full length shots

Here is where you start working with the body and the poses that involve the legs. You will want to alternate between full body and 3/4 shots as you make clothing and prop changes. It's also not a bad idea to sneak in some head shots once in a while. As the model holds a full length pose the head will come alive and the eyes will sparkle more often than when simply sitting in a chair.

Full length shots are used in a portfolio to show clients a model's body type. The pose should show the figure to best advantage, which usually means narrow hips and wide chest. These shots can be casual, jeans and t-shirt, or more formal clothing as long as it's body-shaping.


Once you start the wardrobe changes you need to think about the theme of each photograph. Think how disturbing it would be to see a model in lacy panties and a bra swinging a tennis racquet or taking dictation. Mind you, I'm sure you've seen those exact shots and they work because they are working against type.

For a model's portfolio you should try to get several different themes and make the model look as different, one from the other, as possible. This will show her range of characters and allow her to show that she can work in several different areas.

Formal wear

Think weddings and the opera. You'll need appropriate makeup and hair for these shots but they're good in a portfolio, often they can be combined with a casual shot to show the model's range.


Playful and daring. You can go with extreme makeup and poses here. It's often a good idea to turn up the music and let the model dance, just fit in with the music and pretend the strobes are, well, strobes.

Business corporate

This is sober and subdued but tasteful. Try to imagine walking or sitting around the office discussing work. Smiles will be small and laughter will be minimal but it isn't a serious situation. We like to work right?


Relax relax relax. Drape that leg over the arm of the chair if you're young. If you're older, drape the arm across the back of the couch and lean slightly to the side.


If you have a great body and it's tight, go for the bikini shot, otherwise a full length suit may be more flattering, especially one that shapes the body. If you're in a bikini for goodness sake remember that you're on the beach having fun, arms and legs all over the place. Police mug shots in swimsuits are not very interesting no matter how good you look.


A lot of lingerie is more concealing than a bikini but models are often self-conscious in their undies. Make sure the temperature of the studio is warm enough for comfort, and make sure the model feels comfortable. It's rarely a good idea to start the session with lingerie shots, especially if you've never worked with the model before. Mind you, if the model is not comfortable in lingerie, why are you shooting lingerie? The only reason I can think of is if she's paying you to shoot it, then she can be as nervous as she wants.


Modern "glamour" shots aren't the same as those of the 40s. Think pinup rather than high fashion. Glamour shots emphasize the chest and hips, the curves of the body. The model should, according to modern tastes, look directly at the camera. Posing with the arms up in the hair, chest out, legs crossed suggestively and looking up and away will give the shot an old fashioned feel.

Fine art

Fine art and nude work is more similar to posing for painting than it is to photography. Conventions will shift a bit and the poses will become more conservative as the model is asked to hold them for longer periods of time. As a model working in this field you should think about how you fit into the artwork rather than try to put your personality forward. You are part of the creation of a piece of art rather than the subject of that artwork.

Let's face it, once you're away from "glamour" and into "art" the model becomes less a person and more a prop to reflect light.

Fine art nude

Posing for fine art nudes is difficult. The lighting tends to be very directional and the image is much more about light, shadow and form than it is about the excitement of the body in action. Poses are long and require minute changes in position to catch light from this or that angle.

On the other hand, wardrobe and makeup are rarely a problem.

Fashion Model Shots

A special note here in case you are going for shots for a model to take to an agency for a look-see. Go back to the bikini and take four mug shots. Front, sides and back. That's it. The agency will see the smiles and how the model moves, what they need (and by the way they will usually have a t-shirt, a blank wall and a digital camera to take their own mug shots) is a record of the model's body.

Fixing problems

For Pale Skin

Pale skin will "blow out" easily with high contrast lighting, use a more even, lower-contrast lighting setup.

For Bald Men

Lower the camera position so you aren't shooting down onto the bald spot. Sidelight from the model's eye level rather than use a hair light from above.

Dark or light hair

If the model's hair is a different colour than the background beware of stray bits that will allow the background to show through, this will make the hair look messy or thin.

Round or Fat Faces

Shooting straight on gives the face it's widest look. Shoot 3/4 and light the face from the side away from the camera (short lighting) this will put the cheek facing the camera into shadow and further narrow the face. Most people have narrower chins than foreheads so shooting from a lower position may also help thin the face. Some people have very square jaws, these too benefit from 3/4 shots.

Thin faces

Shoot straight on and broaden the light.

Marks on the face

Wrinkles, scars, prominant pores and acne all benefit from a softer more even light. Concealer can help a lot to fill in problem areas, and the use of shadow can hide some scars. Of course it's also quite tempting to work on these problems digitally as well but the more you do in the studio, the less time you spend at the computer later.

Big ears

Ears that stick out can be treated like a round face, by shooting 3/4 or profile. They can also be hidden by the hair or put into shadow.

Different sized eyes

This is often addressed by putting the smaller eye forward, letting the natural tendancy for closer things to look bigger in the camera even out the size. This effect will be greater with wider angle lenses since they allow you to move closer to the subject, exaggerating the apparent size differences. On the other hand, you may want to pose the larger eye forward to take advantage of the preference for big eyes humans show. In this case you can throw the smaller eye into shadow.

Deep eyes

For people with prominent eyebrow ridges or deep set eyes, get some light into them by having the model look up, look into the light, or using a reflector or fill light from a low angle.

The nose

If a nose is big, you can minimize it by aiming it straight at the camera. It may also help to tilt it upward. Most people have a nose that's bent to one side or the other, use this to make the nose smaller by doing 3/4 shots from the side toward which it bends. A large nose can also be minimized by using a longer lens and backing away from the model. On the other hand a small nose is made bigger by shooting it from the side or shooting the profile away from the bend.

Double chin

Double chins can be minimized by stretching the neck upward and forward and leaning the head toward the camera. Shooting from a higher angle will also minimize the neck.

Glasses and jewlery

Check the lights to make sure you're not getting reflections from shiny objects that will distract from the photo.

Posing couples

Pose them in relation to each other, either looking at each other or both looking the same way. Bring them close together with lots of space around them for an intimate feeling. The more space between them the closer to divorce.

Posing groups

If you're shooting a group, it's "a group" so arrange the models in such a way that there's some sort of connection between them. Have them physically touch or visually overlap each other. Watch for people on the end who've been "cast out" and cut off from the group.

Remember those school pictures? Try not to arrange people according to height, let the differing head heights cluster into sub-groups to create some interest.

It's a good idea to try and get everyone wearing clothing that blends, perhaps ask the group to all wear light tops with dark pants. If someone shows up in hot pink and everyone else is in white, you'd better put the hot pink in the middle of the group, no wait, 1/3 of the way from one end.

Final comments and Assignment:

Having a hard time remembering all that? Don't worry about it. Your job now is to find seven people to pose for you near a bright north facing window (no direct sun). Shoot with your camera set on automatic, no flash. Stand well back and zoom in, stay to one side of the window, don't shoot directly at it. We're working on posing today, not camera technique so concentrate on the model, in fact, if you've got a tripod, set it up and use it to keep your feet from wandering away from your chosen position.

Look at your models hard, try to find a way to make them look as good as possible. You'll spot the flaws, it's your job to find the solutions. You can try asking them to "look around the room", to move their gaze from one place to another until you get shots from all angles. Now move out for 3/4 and full body shots, have them stand and look out the window, into the room etc. etc. and don't forget to give them a chair to lounge around in. Set the camera around head height or a bit lower in every situation, again we're not looking to replicate the internet lollypop head stock shot. (Wide angle, shoot from two steps up a ladder down onto their heads as they look up).

Check your photos afterward and see what you like. Simple as that. Now do it again and concentrate on the poses and angles you like best, see if you can replicate the look you want to see.

Jan 15, 2012
Workshop IV: Subject Matters

Indeed, subject does matter. What is it that you are going to photograph? If you've got something in mind that's great. Go shoot it now, and shoot it a lot.

For those who aren't sure, but you know you want to shoot something, lets think a bit about photography genre and see where that takes us.

Here's a couple of articles you might want to check out as we start this discussion.

Photographic Art Movements
Movements reconsidered


How do we classify photography? I can think of different classes of painting, the first that comes to mind is painting vs illustration. One being art and the other advertising I suppose. One you learn at University and one at College?

Can I list any pairs for photography?
  • Amateur vs Professional
  • Snapshots vs Photographs (amateur vs professional one presumes)
  • Digital vs Film (really? still?)
  • Commercial vs Art
  • Pictorial vs Straight
  • People vs Stuff (not people)
What's Amateur vs Professional? Actually I don't know beyond "don't get paid" and "get paid". A lot of discussion has been had over the years which assumes "professional" means some kind of seriousness but let's face it, we could as easily say that "professional" means "turn the crank" and point to companies that take school photos. You don't get much more professional than that, or much less "serious" if you're talking "art". Enough with the quotes, let's move on.

Snapshot vs Photograph? Again there's a seriousness factor usually assumed here. If we're going to use this pair of words, I'd prefer we talk about something shot quickly, "from the hip" as compared to something set up and more deliberately created. Think of wet-plate 8x10 photography and the roll-film fast capture images made possible by Mr. Eastman and his box brownie. Slow vs fast, complicated and technical vs Mom can take it. Is Julia Margaret Cameron's shot of Tennyson (a Photograph) better, more serious, more important than a snapshot of the first grandchild in her first hour out in the fresh air? Depends more on who's looking than on how the shot was made I think.

Digital vs Film? Huge difference here, but not in the end result, not artistically and not having that discussion here now. As a photographer you should use whatever you want to use and not fetishize your paintbrush.

Commercial vs Art: Do you want to take photographs for a client or for yourself? This is the assumption here, it's the equivalent to illustration vs painting (art). Of course it's as mucky a split as any other, great artists get commissions, commercial artists do work that is expressive of their own thoughts, desires and wishes to contribute to the cultural discussion of the society. But your question here is your primary reason for photographing, to make money or to make the photograph?

Pictorial vs Straight: This is an old split, you have read about it a bit in the articles listed above. Today I suppose the argument is "photoshopped" vs "in the camera". I would say I'm a bit in the straight category (don't do much post production at all) but I do a lot of abstract work with the camera itself and with lights that makes no attempt to record "the real world" so...

People vs Stuff: Portrait vs landscape/still life/macro/animal/ etc. Of course "stuff" can be subdivided forever.


Head online to any forum or blog on photography you hang out in and find us some more pairs for our list.

More Classification

Some Major classifications and their sub-classifications (more or less randomly listed)

Advertising Photography
  • Stock
    • signs
    • businessmen jumping in the air with their briefcases
    • people sneezing
    • babies
    • other stuff arond the house
  • Low Ad (Junk Mail)
  • High Ad (Magazines)
  • Lifestyle (see stock)
  • Catalogue (see the new sofa for your living-room)
Maybe stock should be in commercial photography, but it's my list and I figure more stock is used in ads than in newspaper articles. The rest is pretty clear, these are photographs of stuff to sell, or of happy smiling people who have just bought the stuff we're selling.

Commercial Photography
  • Fashion and Beauty (makeup)
  • Architectural and industrial
  • Food
  • Product
  • Calendar
  • Annual Reports and Business Portraits
Studio Photography (the local guys... the ones making a living)
  • Wedding
  • Baby
  • Portrait
  • School
  • Model Portfolio
  • Passport
Art Photography
  • US Landscape (Yosemite National Park, see snow-capped peak)
  • European Landscape (Typology, see 23 shots of water towers)
  • Street (snapshots of folks on the street being interesting)
  • Nude
    • Glamour (come hither looks and covered genitals)
    • Fine Art (go away looks and who cares, we were all born naked)
    • Abstract (what is that?)
    • Fetish (oh, how did I get tangled up in all this rope?)
    • Porn (you know it when you see it)
  • Portrait (see below)
  • Clique (friends doing naughty things)
  • Social Documentary (the homeless and other strangers being cold, hungry and dirty)
  • Gothic and Alternative (corsets and fake blood, tattoos and piercings.)
  • Gimmick Photography (tool fetish)
    • Polaroid (shoot anything, desaturate and add a yellow tint)
    • Toy camera (see polaroid, make sure edges are extra blurry)
    • Shift-Tilt focus (hey this boring city-scape looks like a toy model now)
    • Giant (wow that thing's wall-sized)
    • Megapixel (wow I can walk right up to that wall-sized photo and see little people)
  • Beautiful photography (stuff your mom likes)
    • Flowers
    • Sunsets
    • Trees
  • Feedback Photography (Flickr and the other modern camera clubs)
  • Anti-photography (people dead center in the shot, every-house on any-street)
Reportorial Photography
  • Newspaper/Documentary
  • Magazines
    • Travel
    • News/Documentary
    • Sport/Fitness
    • Geographic/Scientific
  • Music (cameras smuggled into a concert)
  • Citizen (anyone with a cell phone when things happen)
  • Self-reporting (Facebook)
Cute Animal Photography (yes it deserves a major classification all to itself simply on volume and popularity)

Classes of Portrait Photography
  1. Environmental portrait: You put the chemist into a lab coat and give them an erlenmeyer flask of coloured liquid to hold.
  2. Sports portrait: That's an environmental portrait with a baseball bat.
  3. Candid portrait: Otherwise known as a snapshot?
  4. Posed portrait: Not a snapshot because the subject is now posing for the camera.
  5. Black and white character portrait: You take their cigar away while they're posing and they scowl at you.
  6. Couple portrait: Two people in the shot, usually they're getting married.
  7. Group portrait: More than two people in the shot, either lined up with their baseball bats or cleverly assorted into small groupings on ladders and planks.
  8. Big Portrait: You get the old 24" Polaroid camera out and you centre their pimply face on a white background.
  9. Big Face: Get too damned close with the big Polaroid and their noses get outrageous... then slam on that unsharp mask.
  10. The Avedon... hell this is the same as 8 and 9.
Look admit it, you either isolate the face or you stick them in whatever background you assume defines them, it's as simple as that. Neither method has any chance of telling you who they are, or who you are.

And neither needs to. We're human beings, we like looking at faces in all their glorious variations.

While we're on the subject of lists:

The Good Photograph Explained

It's time to finally reveal what makes a good photograph. This is what I have learned on the net and from various magazines over the last couple of years.
  • It has to be straight from the camera
  • It has to be uncropped
  • It has to be sharp
  • It has to be full depth of field
  • It has to be Black and White
  • It has to have a straight horizon line
  • It has to be at the one and only correct f stop on the lens
  • That lens has to have good bokeh even though nothing is out of focus
  • It has to be a prime lens
  • It has to be on a Leica rangefinder
  • It has to be taken with a full frame sensor
  • That sensor has to be film
  • Preferably 8x10 film
  • It has to be printed with pigment inks on archival paper
  • That's just the proof, the print has to be silver gelatin
  • That's just the artist's proof, the actual print has to be platinum
  • Contact printed
  • Signed in pencil
  • It has to have a stamp that says it's untampered with
  • Except for all the usual darkroom things we always did
  • It has to be big, like wall sized
  • And red
  • And mounted on a light box
  • It has to use a movie set worth of lights and crew
  • It has to be taken in a small town
  • It has to feature an empty parking lot
  • It has to have garbage over there in the corner
  • It has to be taken at night
  • No kittens
  • Or flowers
  • Unless your name is Mapplethorpe
  • No point and shoot cameras
  • Unless your name is Teller
  • Or Richardson (the young one)
  • All studio shots must have a minimum of 5 lights
  • Main and fill light ratio is 1:1
  • And white seamless
  • Unless it's an avant guard edgy editorial for a European mag, and then use grey seamless
  • All shots of people must include the whole person, no cut off fingers or feet
  • All shots of women have to include lingerie, a hat and a cigar
  • With flat lighting and white seamless
  • All landscape pictures have to look like....
  • You know what, we've got "Moonrise Over Hernandez" so forget it, we're done with landscape photography, thank you for participating
  • Always remember, Shoot in raw, fix in post.

And that's what I know.


Figure out what you want to shoot and go shoot it a lot.

Jan 9, 2012
Workshop III: Looking at Photographs

As part of the workshop series I was going to suggest looking at lots and lots of photos online. Look for composition clues, for subject matter you like, for little tricks with light and colour you can use, and to see what "everybody likes".

While that isn't a bad idea, I often find that looking at too much photography online makes me numb. It's very difficult to concentrate when there's millions of images to flash through. We don't want to look at everything, we want to look at the good stuff. On the net what we often get is the promoted stuff, the stuff that the search engine algorithms pick up best.

From 2007: Having spent a lot of time on photo sharing and comparing websites, I have looked at a lot of thumbnail shots and I have started wondering just what that does to one's selective abilities.

By scanning through what are essentially colour contact sheets I suspect one may find a bias in the shots one chooses to look at more closely. This bias may even explain in part what images and artists float to the top of the rankings at those websites.

Does one develop a bias toward headshots, bright colours, strong, simple geometric shapes and high contrast combined with hyper-sharpened images? The thing is, I just can't see Jeff Wall, Edward Burtynsky or Thomas Struth being hits on a thumbnail-dominated web gallery.

I don't have a lesson here for myself except perhaps to remember "horses for courses", if you're looking for detail-rich large scale art, don't look at thumbnail sites.

Better to be a bit selective in what you're looking at I think. To find new work, I use several blogs, letting someone else sort through the net for me. To think about art I look at online art blogs, again letting curators and artists pre-select new work that I should pay attention to.

For your purposes, as beginning photographers, you should look to the masters. Find a few sites that deal with the history of photography and check out the images. http://masters-of-photography.com/ is a pretty good start.

No matter what you look at, you need to make up your own mind about it. You'll find text with a lot of these images and you should read it, but keep a skeptical eye out. There are those who would make this or that photographer a deity, but none of them are. Of much more importance is for you to find an iconic image that everyone tells you is great, but that you don't like much. Look at that one and try to figure out why you don't like it.

This will tell you a lot about what you want to shoot, and what you want to accomplish with your work.

From 2009: Look at Other Photos

There's the usual advice to any beginning photographer, either fine art, portrait, commercial or fashion. Look at lots of other photographers and lots of photographs.

Seeing that we swim in a sea of photographic images I really don't know how one would avoid looking at lots of photographs, but is it a good thing to do?

If one is a local baby and high school senior photographer I suppose one should look at what the local photographers are doing so as to make sure you live up to the expectations of the local clients. After all if someone is going to a studio to get one's photo taken, one expects a certain type of photograph.

Commercial photographers, architectural photographers, catalogue photographers will also want to check out the competition to see what is expected in their field. If a magazine never publishes out of focus black and white images of kitchen appliances, it would be handy to know that before submitting one's shots of same.

However, if one is looking for an individual voice, a unique vision, a personal style or a way to see one's life with a whole new meaning, I'd almost be tempted to say one should stop looking at other photographs. Someone else's work is not going to tell you how to be unique or how to have a new way of looking at things. You can't see something new by looking at something that has already been done.

Don't even think of going at it by the process of elimination, by the time you have looked at every photograph in the world so that you know what hasn't been done, someone will have done that shot behind your back.

No, the only reason to look at other photographs, if you want to contribute something of yourself to the cultural landscape, is to join the conversation. Look at the great photographs, the admired photographs, the photographs that the museum curators say are important photographs, and then add your own comments and criticisms, by way of your own photographs, to the discussion.


Look at a lot of photographs online and think about why you like or dislike them.


Please note that I have set up a series of workshops for 2012 so if you're in the area and want to drop in on them, I'd be delighted to see you.

my 2012 workshops: 180 photo workshops

Jan 6, 2012
Workshop II: Composition

So now you know how to use your camera. Start to take photographs and do it until you can forget about how to use the camera. The equipment is nothing, your eye is everything. By that I mean that as long as you're fooling around with your camera you are not a photographer, you're a gizmologist.

Lest you think it's worse now than "back then" check out A manual of photography  By Robert Hunt on Google Books. Written in 1852, it's all chemistry and equipment... but what fun it is to look through, all the old chemistry, the "real" stuff, not this post-Kodak easy silver gelatin stuff.

Put that SLR onto P mode, AWB and autoISO, turn on the autofocus and go shoot. Eventually you're going to find a situation where that stuff doesn't work. Don't panic, you know where all the bells and whistles are, you can get the shot you want by playing with the settings.

In the meantime, how are you going to take a good shot of whatever it is you're going to photograph?

Well they say you have to learn the rules. You'll find rules all over the net so let's see what we can find today. Off to the search engine!

  • Background: Consider the background, make it simple so as not to detract from the subject, make it complex so as to provide context for the subject. Pay attention to it, look at the corners of your viewfinder to see what's there before taking the shot... and miss the shot.
  • Balance: Have more than one focus in your image so that there is a pleasing counter to your main subject. See Main Subject, Simplicity.
  • Colour: Use colour to create emotion, to create a point of focus in an image. Me, I like black and white a lot. For about six minutes I liked that black and white with just one spot of colour in it thing, but now I don't.
  • Cropping: Make sure you get rid of everything in the frame that doesn't need to be there, crop down to your main subject. Nadar forbid you should "crop it in the camera" because that means that you won't be able to change from 5x7 prints to 8x10. Can't waste all that white space on the print paper can we?
  • Depth: Photographs are 2D so choose a composition that gives you the feelign of 3D. See leading lines. Of course if you're doing a proper modern portrait you want to use a ring flash and a blown out white background so there's no dimension at all in the face. Dimension means wrinkles.
  • Framing: Use the environment to frame the subject, use a windowframe to frame the view. It worked for Leonardo in the Mona Lisa, why not for us? Of course we're assuming that the photograph is not itself a frame.
  • Leading Lines: Have lines in the image that lead the viewer's eye into the photograph. Of course this implies you aren't going for a simple image or one with a dominating main subject.
  • Main Subject: Have a main subject, think about going in closer or making your main subject your only object in the frame. See Balance, Rhythm.
  • Ratio: Is the subject up and down (use vertical frame) or side to side (use horizontal frame). Hope you're not using a square format camera.
  • Rhythm: Use several objects in the frame to lead the viewer's eye around and keep his attention on the image. See main subject, simplicity.
  • Simplicity: Don't put too much in an image, keep it simple so that the viewer doesn't get confused or has to hunt for the meaning of the image. See rhythm.
  • Symmetry and Pattern: Repeating elements in your image will create interest. And detract from main subject and crop in and...
  • Texture: Use texture in the image to give the viewer a sense of depth and aliveness in the image. Combined with colour it can get overwhelming, but it does make some sense in black and white images.
  • Thirds: This is the biggie! You should put your horizon one third from the top or bottom of the frame, and your subject one third from the side... and best, one third from the top or bottom of the frame. Thus proving all those centered portraits that are the de-facto art-gallery fare these days are simply bad photographs.
  • Viewpoint: Get down to kid height to shoot kids, pick an unusual angle, perhaps up on a cliff to shoot down on a beach. Not everything needs to be taken from six feet above the ground, you could get a waist high viewfinder and shoot from the hip instead.

All of the above has been rather cynically commented on in italics but every one of the rules has its place in your "toolbox of creativity" oh dear

Here's a decent article on Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Composition_(visual_arts)

Those were all from the first three items to pop up on my search engine. You'll find hundreds more.

Also fun is an old camera manual, "shoot with the sun over your shoulder" and all that. The following is even older than mass-produced cameras and their manuals, being a selection from the book OF PHOTOGRAPHIC MANIPULATION TREATING OF THE PRACTICE OF THE ART AND ITS VARIOUS APPLICATIONS TO NATURE by Lake Price 1858 (Google Books again).


If there is one direction more than another in which we may look for greater artistic excellence and interest to be imparted to the photographic picture beside judicious selection and tasteful arrangement it will be by the process being so much accelerated by optical and chemical improvements that any dimension and class of picture may be taken instantaneously nor need we despair of witnessing this result when we see what progress a few past years have brought with them to this art.

The benefit to be derived from an instantaneous picture is equally great for every subject taken from nature by the camera with the exception of still life and mere geometrical architectural elevations here as everything is fixed and stationary the smallest possible apertures and longest desired exposures may be employed and in this direction we may presume that nothing more is to be expected. But astonishing as the quality of definition may be that under such conditions is obtained the result is often cold and mechanical from want of selection in the point of view and deficiency in qualities of composition of line and light and shade and therefore not possessing the interest that the smallest subject taken at the hedge side or on the sea beach would have.

In 1858 the photographer had head rests amongst their studio equipment, to keep the sitters motionless for the "30 to 50" seconds needed for the shots. Price speculated, however, on better chemistry and "instantaneous" pictures, but as you can see, even here the concern with composition was foremost in the photographer's mind. We read of subjects that were "cold and mechanical from want of selection in the point of view and deficiency in qualities of composition of line and light and shade". Please consider that even at the dawn of photography, it was assumed that photos should be selected and composed rather than being simply records of whatever was in front of the lens.


Shoot a lot of images trying to use the rules.

The thing to remember these days is that you've got a chimp-magnet (your review screen) and an unlimited number of shots to use. Go experiment and find some way to convey your personal vision. The rules should be like the camera, learned and then forgotten in that search for "the image".

One more thing, since we are heading toward the nude, I would recommend reading the following story on 180 magazine.


We will also come back to this story in our introduction to the nude.

Jan 4, 2012
Photo-manipulation Scale

Listening to a podcast out of England, I heard about a new endeavour to set up a way of rating the amount a photograph has been digitally manipulated. The idea is that there is concern about re-touching and manipulating images on such things as fashion magazines.

Fashion magazines?

Is there a person on this planet that believes what they see in a fashion magazine image? Is there anyone who does not believe that fashion models are stretched, squeezed, cleaned up and generally overhauled before their image hits the major covers?

Celebrities? Are you serious?

One of the folks interviewed was a retoucher and his comment was that the scale would be just about as useful as measuring the length of cigarette smoke and trying to determine the health impact that way.

Creating a manipulation scale is a grand instance of finding a cure and hunting for a disease. Something that is more common than one might think these days. We, as a species, are not gullible, we like seeing perfect people with perfect teeth, but we are not at risk of believing these people actually look like that, any more than we believe that politicians have our best interests at heart. I saw a photo of a US politician and thought "he looks like a reasonable guy", but of course I have absolutely no reason to believe that from his face, and my very next thought was just that.

To put a manipulation scale on advertising, or even on news images, would be just another piece of information clutter to ignore. The news is biased, and advertising is a carnival barker shouting at us to come see the Egress. To put this scale into practice would be to pretend otherwise.

Better, I think, to teach the kids to edit photos and assume "Joe Average" is as smart as the folks who want to save him from himself.

Jan 4, 2012
Objectification of Nude People

Do you think you are searching for something by taking so many pictures of yourself? Especially by objectifying yourself nude... why are you so comfortable with that? Do you think by controlling the poses in the images you are trying to regain control over your sexuality? Are you looking for empowerment?

This is a question asked of a female nude model somewhere on the net. It's the entire question so it's in context but it is still rather unclear to me. Let's examine the assumptions to see if we can understand the question.

First the key phrase "Especially by objectifying yourself nude..." This obviously assumes that if one is nude in a photograph one is objectified.

Objectification is to make an abstract concept into something concrete. With regard to humans, I suppose it's meant that we make humans into an object. Is it the nudity or the taking of photographs that makes this human into an object? The latter I suspect, being with or without clothing does nothing to our "thingness" unless being in a shower turns us into something unhuman. On the other hand, perhaps this model being without clothing makes the questioner consider the model as a thing. After all, they say that clothes make the man. If a naked model makes the questioner consider her an object, the questioning ought, rightly, be aimed back toward the questioner shouldn't it? It's not the model turning herself into an object, it's the viewer.

I see there is also a "sexual objectification" which said to be the treating of someone else as a sexual object. Again, the objectification is happening from the viewer toward the model. I cannot see how a model can turn herself into a sexual object (to herself) by taking her clothes off. The feeling of that cool breeze on bare skin? But again, how does one treat oneself as a sexual object? One has sex with oneself. Who is the object and who the one using that object for selfish orgasmic pleasure?

So we come to the taking of a photograph as the possible objectifying act. A photograph is an object, but the photograph is not the model, we have known this since 1929 when Rene Magritte created "The Treachery of Images" and wrote "this is not a pipe" (actually it was "Ceci n'est pas une pipe"). The model is not objectifying herself by taking a photograph of herself nude, she is creating an object, a photograph of herself nude. In this sense then, the question shows a simple confusion between the photographic object and the model.

Thinking further, a human IS an object. We are not an abstract concept, we are here, objects in the world, we cannot make or unmake our object-hood. We can, the argument goes, treat other people as "objects" but we must do that or we will bump our head against someone else's head the next time we walk down the sidewalk. It is not the act of treating others as objects that is the problem, it is treating them as something undeserving of respect, of being something without volition or consciousness. Can our model treat herself as something without respect by taking photographs of herself with no clothing on? This seems to be what the questioner is saying. He speaks for her motivations, her capability to do such a thing, he makes assumptions.

Unfortunately, we again come back to the questioner rather than the model. By assuming he understands the model he has robbed her of respect, and ignores her consciousness and her ability to interpret her world for herself. He objectifies her.

So we can move on to "
why are you so comfortable with that?"  Whose comfort should we be questioning? The model is obviously comfortable with taking the photos, the question is again, self-referential, why is the questioner not comfortable with her taking naked photographs of herself and posting them online.

I think the rest of the original question can also be turned toward the questioner, the assumptions behind the question have exposed feelings of objectification and powerlessness projected upon the model.

Why is the questioner asking this question? Is he religious? (Does his god say nakedness is wrong?) Is he uncomfortable with nakedness? Does he feel powerless without his power-suit? Or is it that he simply can't get past the sexual objectification of any woman who is nude.

A course of de-sensitization is probably called for, a good long bout of looking carefully at nude imagery until he starts to see the human behind the skin.

Jan 1, 2011
Workshop Ic: Introduction to the Camera Menu

Time for the menu.

My SLR has nine pages of menu settings, most of which I've never looked at or adjusted but we'll take a look at some of those I have found use for.

Quality: This is the size and "quality" of the shots, from large smooth to small jagged. There is also raw and raw plus jpeg. Most of these settings concern the production of .jpg files, which is what most of the net and most of us work with these days. There have been other graphics file systems but this seems to be the standard for now. The .jpg files are processed by the camera from the native image that is presented on the sensor into formats we can use. As I mentioned, I usually have the camera set down to 8mp and fine/smooth. The smooth/jagged makes some difference in the size of the files so must be related to how much compression is applied to the information.

Raw is what most people call the "native" file but of course it's not, raw files are a processed proprietary format that gives you more information than the jpg, but which also need to be further processed with an editing program. To shoot in raw and process later you are assuming that your editor has a better idea how to convert the files to .jpg than your camera company, or you are betting that you will want to tweak things later.

Assignment: Shoot raw and jpg

I suggest that if you have the skills now, (and if you do why are you reading this) for an assignment you shoot raw plus jpg for a few shoots, don't look at the jpg and process the raw files to what you want them to look like. Now go back and compare them to the jpeg files from the camera. I do this about once a year and the two files are never far enough apart to make me want to shoot in raw... in other words, what I see in the camera, what I set the camera to take, is what I want at the end of the process. That being the case, I see no reason to shoot raw unless it's a non-repeatable event.

Figure out your quality and set that.

Image review: this is the amount of time your photo is displayed on the back of the camera after you've taken it. This allows you to "chimp" to push the camera away from your face so you can check the image and then jam your eye back on the viewfinder thus making you look like a monkey or something.

The way one sees this term used online or by "prosumer" photographers you'd figure chimping was a bad thing. Talk to some long-time pros and you'll get an entirely different opinion. That instant review is the best thing that has ever happened to cameras for those who want to shoot what they see in their heads. Seriously. No other development in photography has ever been as useful to beginners and professionals alike, outside or in a studio, than the ability to see what you are getting. Do not turn this feature off, never turn this off. Use it, pay attention to what you're shooting and if it's not what you want to see, start playing with settings, lighting or what have you until you're seeing what you want to see on that display.

Or never take your eye away from the viewfinder and shoot raw so you can fix it all in post? There's an ipod app out there that makes you take 24 shots before letting you see them, just like the "good old days". I am shaking my head right now, I remember shooting my roll of 35 and having to wait until I developed them to see how I was doing... if I'd been able to "chimp" back when I was starting out I would have been in photo-heaven. Being able to take 700 shots in a session is the other half of that heaven.

Exposure Compensation: First up on the second page is Exposure Compensation / AEB. This is a way of setting an over and under exposure so that you can then take three shots in a row with a bracketing of exposure. This is great for doing HDR but even better for making sure you get a proper exposure on things like high school graduation shots. Put this one in the category of "save your ass" functions along with raw files.

Metering Mode: Evaluative, partial, spot and center-weighted average. As you can imagine, this changes how the camera determines exposure when you're in an automatic mode (anything other than manual). I'm usually on evaluative, use spot for when you want to get a single object exposed within the limits and you don't care about anything else or when you're doing/experiencing weird lighting and you don't want to hunt around for the correct manual exposure settings. From widest light sampling to narrowest it seems to be: evaluative, center-weighted average, partial and spot.

Custom White Balance: Really useful in difficult mixed lighting. Shoot something with no colour (white/grey/black), set camera white balance to custom, go to this menu command and set the custom colour balance.

Picture Style
: This is where you cange your custom picture styles so that you create .jpg files that match what you get after you futz around with the raw files in an editor for an hour.

ISO Auto: What range of iso values your auto iso uses.

Format: To format your sd card. It's like formating a disk on your computer.

File Numbering: Set it to continuous so you get the maximum difference between shot names from one week to the next. It's easier than you think to start mixing up files on the backup disks.

Auto power off, auto LCD off etc. Power saving is good.

Copyright functions:
Check to see if you can automagically stick your copyright information into the image files.

So, you have your assignment above, add to that a read through your manual and a look through your camera menu to see what all the other bells and whistles do.

Dec 31, 2011
Lytro Camera

OK so there's a new camera technology coming, it's a sensor that measures the direction and intensity of a beam of light rather than it's impact on a 2D sensor. This will allow users to change darned near everything in the shot which will be about 23mb.

Don't like the focus? Change it. Want three focus spots in the shot? Why not? Want to boost the light in some places and dial it back in others? I suspect it will be possible.

What this means, I suspect, is that you can walk into any environment, spin around with your lytro in your hand, get enough shots to cover the area and bam, you're all done. You can then spend a couple minutes on your computer and pick your focus and depth of field, fix your colours, do the HDR to end all HDR, and anything else you want.

In fact it will be easier than that, all you'll do is hit "auto" and the software will give you the agreed-upon best of everything, including hunting through the shot for the best composition.

It's going to be so easy! Much more easy than digital imaging now, which is ever so much more easy than the old manual film shooting we used to do where everything had to be decided before you tripped the shutter.

Eh... I'm guessing not. Much as the pixel peepers want more and more stuff from the photo editors, lens makers and camera manufacturers, it will always come down to the eye behind the camera. Who thinks about the camera that Man Ray used, or Robert Capa, or Thomas Struth? Well, who beside those who figure if they only had an 8x10 they could take shots like Ansel Adams.

Me, I won't be buying a Lytro any time soon, can't think of a single thing I'd use it for. I'm happy slapping a focus point on the focus point and not worrying about changing it later, I'm not going to want to change it later.

Dec 30, 2011
Light Painting

Anybody reading these workshop blogs? Let me know.

I looked back over a few of my old posts in this blog and a lot of them have to do with learning and technique and other fun stuff so if you're doing the workshops try reading back in the blog too.

Meanwhile, I'm not keen on writing another one today since I'm exhausted and my hands hurt. I've managed to develop arthritis in the base of my right index finger of all the stupid places, and that new handgrip that I bought online doesn't help much. I like my old cat-coller strap but I couldn't figure out how to attach it. Maybe I'll take the fancy hand-pad off the thing.

Eh, likely won't do anything more than take an aspirin next shoot I do.

light painting

Which brings me to this shot which required no holding of the camera at all. It was on a tripod and I walked over and pushed the button then walked back and painted my lovely model with an led work-light that has some cool properties. No problem with the arthritis, just the old knees on that tile-on-concrete floor.

It turns out that there is a website or seven with a history of light painting so easy pickings on the history, although mostly they define the technique as pointing a light at the camera. That's the stripy white line stuff behind the model.

Check out http://lightpaintingphotography.com/light-painting-history/ for a quick look at the history.

Me, I kind of prefer to paint the subject with the light, it gives a sort of non-directional, sort of internal glow to things, like a Caravaggio painting actually.

Or you can go with multidirectional light that is put wherever you want it.

Light painting outdoors

In this case we were using a 2M candlepower flashlight.

All you need to do these types of shot is a camera that will close down the aperature and open the shutter for long enough. A camera that does not work hard at getting high iso is best for this sort of thing. The key is to slow down that shutter speed.

Even a point and shoot will often give you several seconds if you can find the right mode. My Pentax w30 has a fireworks mode that is a four second exposure. Gotta be quick but you can do stuff with it. Combine that with an iso that can be set to 64 and you've got a pretty insensitive sensor. The shot above was done at 4 seconds, iso800 and f6.3 so the Pentax could do it easily.

My Canon A590 has a manual setting (love that camera, everything after it is "more" which means "useless" as far as I'm concerned) that lets me set 15 seconds and f8 at iso80 so that's pretty nice to work with in a dark room.

Best of course is an SLR with aperatures down to f22 or smaller, a neutral density filter if you need it, a remote trigger, lots of manual control of shutter times out to 30 seconds and then bulb (on my digirebel).

Go, play.

Dec 29, 2011
Workshop Ib: Introduction to the Camera

Camera back

OK here's the back of the camera with some more bells and whistles. On the left top you have the menu button, this turns on yet more bells and whistles that we'll get into later. The Disp button does similar stuff, turns on and changes the display. The little camera like symbol beside the viewfinder turns on the sensor-viewer for those who didn't buy the SLR for the viewfinder.... well OK it's also useful above your head, with the camera sitting on the ground and when you're using the movie function.

Right beside the viewfinder is a focus wheel so that you can use the finder without scratching up your glasses, put your eye up to the finder and turn the wheel until you are as focused as the autofocus is. Don't mess with other people's wheels, they'll figure their camera is busted.

The two buttons at the far right top are of variable use depending on whether you're shooting or looking at pictures... the "look at the pictures" button is the triangle button down beside the trash can button (picture into trash). As I said before, most of these things will be on your camera, but in different places. Canon can't even decide where to put them on their own various models. Back to the top right... when  you're looking at photos they zoom in and out. When you're shooting the outside button is how you change the focus point (inside the viewfinder you'll see a little red dot that lights up when it's in use, there are 9 in my camera, if you want more you buy a more expensive camera and of course we know already that more is better.

In fact I keep the focus points mostly to the one in the middle, it's the most useful to me in a dim studio since it's the most sensitive. If I'm doing a lot of portrait work I change the button to the one on the right, tilt the camera so that one's upward, and use that one to focus on the model's near eye. That way I don't take so many shots with the model's eye in the dead center of the photograph. (We'll talk about composition later I suspect).

When you're shooting the inside button makes a little asterisk * appear in the viewfinder. With careful attention you'll find that if you push the shutter button half way down (which focuses and does the exposure measurement) while keeping this button pushed, you can freeze your exposure and move the camera to a different framing.

Huh? Yeah I don't use it much either.... well OK I've used it once to try it out, it works. Here's how you would use it... on a beach, you change the metering to "spot" (woah, I was on spot metering... wonder how long I've been there, change your camera to evaluative right now, I just did) push the back button, put the center focus spot on the model's face (make sure she's got the sun behind her head) and push the shutter button down half way...

OK go back to the last workshop (Ia) and look at the top of the camera, the shutter button is the one in front of the wheel.

Now swing the view so that the model's near eye is exactly 1/3 of the way from the side and the top (composition rule), and push the button the rest of the way down. Your focus is on her eye and the exposure is for her face which should be pretty and the stuff behind her blown out like crazy.

Pushing that button half way to focus and then moving the camera to the composition you want is a very important point, can't imagine why I forgot it when we were on top, but now you know. It's how to focus and frame, and it also eliminates all the shutter lag you can eliminate easily. Shutter lag is when you push the shutter but the camera is still futzing around with the focus and exposure and other stuff and doesn't click until your kid has fallen off his bicycle on his first no-dad-holding ride.

Beside the picture viewing screen at the top is a genuinely useful button. When you're in P mode you can push this button and roll the wheel to set your exposure compensation. Remember the girl on the beach with the sun behind her? Rather than setting the spot meter etc. etc. you can roll the wheel and tell the camera to overexpose the picture by two or more. This will give you a well exposed face and a blown out background. Two what you ask? Two f-stops. An f-stop is an aperature thing, it's the relationship between the lens length and the aperature opening. An f-stop lets in twice as much light as the one that is one f-stop smaller.

OK OK, your aperature is f8 right? Now on my camera it's set up for three clicks per f-stop so I roll the wheel three to the right (I curl my finger) and the aperature value reads f11. Three more and it's f16.

So f11 is an f-stop or half as much light as f8. Don't worry about these numbers, they're really useful in the studio but not necessary right now. The series is 1.4 2  2.8  4  5.6  8  11  16  22 Look at each second one, they're doubles and halves, so all you need to know is 8 and 11 and you can generate the rest. They're ratios of something or other so they're weird.

Go back to the exposure compensation button and it's guage... meter thingie. It's scaled in +1, +2 or -1, -2 etc. That's up one f-stop or down one.

While we're at simple f-stop numbers, the exposure time is similarly easy, twice as much time is twice as much light on the sensor. Same with the iso, twice the iso is twice the sensitivity to the same amount of light.


Time: 2x is half the exposure (did I mention you should put a 1/X where X = the time(number) on this, so 1000 to 2000 is actually 1/1000 of a second to 1/2000 of a second, so twice the time (NUMBER) is half the exposure. Twice the time of course means 2X more light on the sensor... Clear?

ISO: 2x the iso is twice the sensitivity so iso 100 is half as sensitive as iso200 which is half as sensitive as iso400.

Exposure Compensation: +1 is twice as much light to the sensor as 0 and four times as much as -1

Aperature: f-stop 8 is 4 times as much light to the sensor as f16 because of that weird scale we talked about, but 8 to 16 is two f-stops so an f-stop up is half as much light (8 to 11). Remember time? Think of f-stops like that, 1/8 is bigger than 1/11

The following table has settings with exactly the same exposure. At least I hope it does, if it doesn't it's a test.

exposure compensation

Mind you, exposure compensation doesn't quite work like the other stuff but the theory should work for you. You can manually set the first three but exposure compensation really only works when the camera is doing some of the settings for you, when it's in a mode other than manual and then it adjusts f-stop, time and/or iso to give you an over or underexposure.

Another way to consider exposure compensation (exposure value) is the combination of the other three, so the first three combinations are the same EV, the fourth one is twice as much exposure, so you need to compensate by setting one down.... nah that doesn't really help, the EV of the fourth one is actually +1 unit compared to the others.... oh never mind.

And what is this exposure we're looking at? Back to the girl on the beach, her face should be somewhere in the middle of what the sensor can detect right? So you put the spot-meter point on her face and half a shutter press tells the camera to make it so this light value is half way through what the sensor can detect from can't (0) to too much (say 255). Film used to do about 5 f-stops so sensors are divided into 5 zones from 0 to 255. Eyes do what? About 11 stops? So "faster" film (iso400), was film that was more light sensitive (you set a faster time (1/1000 instead of 1/500)) so had a 5 f-stop sensitivity to a lower light range. Nobody ever made a film or sensor with an 11 stop range that I'm aware of.

Don't get me started on HDR go look it up and play with it yourself. Just remember that your printer doesn't print 11 f-stops and your monitor doesn't display 11 f-stops.

What's in the middle according to a grey scale? 18%. So anything you expose for will be a sort of middle grey, and that includes snow. Now you know why your snow always looks grey when you take pictures of it. So set your EV to +1 or higher and your snow-scape becomes white, you don't have to shoot raw and do a white point on the white snow in post production... unless you like doing that sort of thing.

Now if your scene is snow and buildings that are black, and it's about 50-50 switch your meter to evaluative or average or something and there's a chance the snow will come out white because the meter will make the exposure give you an average of middle grey for the whole frame.

Helpful yet? Right where were we... under the exposure compensation button is another of those "does a bunch of stuff" buttons so ignore that one. Then we come to the little cross. At the top is white balance. Click that one and you can pick from a range of options including daylight, tungsten, fluorescent and whatnot. Automatic is where you'll usually be.

White Balance

Look, I know you bought the SLR because you wanted the manual controls, but seriously, most of the time things like auto exposure and auto white balance are going to give you great results. These cameras really are smart, and 80% of your shots are going to turn out just like you want if you let them do their jobs. Go to AWB and come off of it only when you can't get a decent shot. Or ignore all of the WB buttons, shoot in raw and do it all in post.

One of those choices, however, is custom white balance and it's just a hoot. You shoot something that has no colour (usually it's white but it can be neutral grey or even black), then tell the camera to use that to set the white balance. It's finicky but sometimes gives you a much better white balance.

The camera store will sell you a fancy screw on filter to use to set your custom white balance, but I usually just grab a white plastic bag and pretend I'm smothering my lens. All the light sources filter through the white and average out... sort of. Try doing a white balance with a combination of blue LED, halogen and fluorescent bulbs. Give up? Switch to black and white.

You can also buy a neutral grey card or a white card to set your custom balance, or you can use a piece of paper.

Back in the days of film you got daylight (out in the sun) or indoor (balanced for incandescent lights) and then started messing around with coloured filters to try and do this stuff. Ugh.

OK fun time, still life shots with different white balance settings.

awb AWB
This is NOT short for Average White Band but I defy the 50 year old crowd to not see that every time they read it from now on.
daylight 5200K Daylight
shade 7000k Shade

So what's it doing? Putting in more red to counter the blue of open sky. No yellow sun means all blue sky.
cloudy 6000k Cloudy
Tungsten 3200K

Tungsten bulbs are red. Halogen desk lamps too, which is the light source I used.
Fluorescent 4000K

Green light means magenta to correct.

Camera flash is obviously what... 5500K? Compare to above.
custom image 1

Use a white sheet to set the balance.
Custom 1
custom image 2
Custom image 2

Blue wrapper.
custom 2
Custom 2

So green balances blue.
custom image 3
Custom image 3
Custom 3
Custom 3
custom image 4
Custom image 4

Custom 4
Custom 4

And blue balances red.

Change those settings and see what fun you can come up with. Here's a shoot with a custom setting on a point and shoot. http://180degreeimaging.com/180mag/0808/taylor/taylor.html

You can see how far you can force the custom white balance and get fun things happening.

On the left hand side of the cross is the self timer stuff. Pretty obvious.

On the right hand side of the cross is the autofocus stuff, I usually leave it at "one shot", figure out the rest of the settings but I presume one is a continuous focus of anything moving in the frame... set your dial on top to sport and you likely get this one. Read the manual if you're interested, I will if I need a weird focus solution.
The button at the bottom of the cross is "picture style" which is a set of different combinations of sharpness, contrast, saturation and colour tone (hue). Again stuff you can set here in three custom styles, or you can do it later with the raw file. Of special interest is the monochrome setting where you can do different filter effects and toning as well as set sharpness and contrast. Fun and a lot more instant gratification than working away over a hot computer later.

camera front

On the front of the camera is the "pop up the flash" button... useless most of the time, use that flash only when the situation calls for it... birthdays with your least favourite niece so you get ugly red-eye pictures... if you're Terry Richardson (you also have to trade in for a point and shoot).... if you want a fill flash. Fill flash? Stay on P, pop the flash and shoot that girl on the beach with the sun behind her. Let the camera take care of all the exposure stuff, it will turn on enough flash to light up her face, and then expose for the rest of the shot so you don't get a blown out background. The first fill-flash shot I ever saw blew my mind. Must have taken half a day with light meters and polaroids. You will have seen so many now it's just a ho-hum ad shot but there you go.

The buttons on the lens turn on and off the autofocus and optical stabilizer. Leave them on unless you really really miss your old Spotmatic II. (I miss mine but I'm damned if I'm paying for the film to run through it).

The big fat one by the white square is how you remove the lens so leave it alone.


Play with all the buttons.

Next time "THE MENU"

Dec 29, 2011
Workshop Ia: Introduction to the Camera

OK folks, I've had so many requests for workshops that I've decided to do some online. I won't promise anything.

The Camera

Let's assume you have bought yourself a nice SLR digital camera. I've had three Canon Rebels so we'll use mine, but all the bells and whistles will be found on just about any similar model from any manufacturer, it's a competitive market so they'll all have the same stuff.

[These guys just flog what they figure people want, which usually turns out to mean what the sales guys in the stores find easiest to shove at you. Megapixels... I was completely happy at 6 and I cranked this camera back to 8 from its usual 18. 18 MEGAPIXELS what the hell is that? Most of my stuff goes on the net, 2 megapixels is plenty for an 8x10 shot if the glass is decent... 18 is just stupid unless you're cropping the hell out of the file. Use your feet and save the "digital telephoto crop function" for the pictures of the mountain goats a mile away.

Same goes for raw files. If you learn to control your camera you don't need to go back to the "extra data" in the raw files to try and save a shot. OK shoot raw for wars and weddings, something you can't re-shoot but for everything else learn how to shoot what you want in the first place. But Raw is a selling point.

High ISO is a selling point, you gotta get those low-light shots right so you really need an iso of 128,000 right? And then you shoot in raw to make sure you save all that noise? So what happens when you set it to iso128,000 and then pop the flash because you're on green box? Oooooh you can't set the iso when you're in green box.... aha. So spend $8000 on an f1.2 lens, max out the iso and megapixels and shoot raw, that way you can shoot right through the lenscap instead of looking foolish that you left it on.

What I want is a 6 megapixel camera with the same size sensor as this one, and an iso that goes down to 25 along with a 1.4 lens. But you can't sell that stuff because it's not "more" it's "less".]

It's your job to find the controls and that's where your manual comes in. RTFM.

[OK ignore the bits about how to take good shots. I'm not interested in good shots (something you should keep in mind for later) I'm interested in interesting shots that I find interesting. You should be interested in shots you find interesting. Doesn't matter what I think about them, and that's something else you should keep in mind for later. I won't be doing any critiques unless you want me to tell you how close your shots are to what I like. Can't imagine what good that would do you though.]

camera top

OK here's the camera top. That's where the on off switch is, you likely know where it is on yours so we'll leave that. Next is the dial which is pretty common. The four switches marked M Av Tv and P are the ones we'll be talking most about, the other stuff certainly does things for you, but I rarely use them. The green square turns your SLR into a point and shoot complete with a pop-up flash. The next one says "flash off". I suspect this turns the flash off. Probably cranks up the iso too (we'll get there). After that is portrait, landscape, sports, night portrait, and movie. The one on the other side is for maximum depth of field.

[CA? I just noticed the CA and had to go look it up (yeah I really am that slack about the camera doodads). It's half way between green box and P they say... it's a mode you can customize so it's called custom auto. I just set mine up for no flash, blurred background, overexposed, monochrome and it's sort of cool... bah, resets itself when you turn it off... I'll play with it some day and see if I can make it stick.]

If you're taking snapshots of your kids at a soccer game, use sports. Why would you not? You'll likely get decent photos. Same if you're shooting a face at night. I just tried it, it popped the flash, cranked up the iso, slowed down the shutter (to capture the nice lights of the city behind the girl), and did an averaged exposure (it looked all over the frame and tried to balance everything). The flash would catch the nice red-eyed girl, and there would be something beside darkness behind her head.

night portrait

[I usually just do that stuff in my own head but if I was distracted... like if the girl wasn't a model and I had to actually talk to her, I'd probably just go to night portrait instead of playing with my settings for a couple of minutes and getting an off-camera flash set up. Do these things even give you red-eye these days?]

Assignment 1.

Here's your assignment. Turn on your camera and shoot something using all the different modes. Let the camera do the work, your job is to figure out what the difference between a night portrait and a plain old portrait is. Hint, it's not really the time of day. Now figure out what all the other modes are for and don't be afraid to spin the dial.

I'll talk about the lettered ones a bit. Manual is for studio work and maximum control of your shots. Av is aperature controlled autoexposure. You set the lens aperature (how much light comes through the lens to the sensor) and the camera sets the speed (how long the sensor is exposed to the light). Tv is time-locked, you set the time and the camera uses the aperature to make the exposure correct. On the rebel you roll that wheel just above the iso button to change either after setting the dial. P is where the camera sets speed and aperature and you can then change that by rolling the wheel. Try it out on your camera, figure out where the adjustment for P is displayed, and you should see that time (exposure) and aperature (f-stop) both change.

Why change it? Maybe you want to freeze motion, you crank up the speed (1/100 of a second is middling fast, 1/4000 of a second is really fast). Maybe you want a shallow depth of field, you crank open the aperature. f22 is really small, you get a big depth of field (it's easier to focus your eyes in a well-lit room when your iris is tiny) f2.8 is what passes for a wide aperature these days, f1.4 is a lot better and f0.95 would cost you a bazillion dollars and a hernia to lift the lens. Think of this as night blindness, when your eyes open up and all the stoplights and streetlamps get that nice fuzzy effect that just screams for an eye exam and driving glasses.

OK one more part of the exposure puzzle is iso or "film speed" or "sensor sensitivity"... oh just call it iso. That's the button on top there, and it usually pops up something on the display so that you can pick the iso. 80 is much less sensitive to light than 3200. The iso reading in the photo up there for night portrait was 400. That's not bad, back in the day I used to shoot indoors without flash using iso400 film and an f1.4 lens. I miss that lens, but I've got a nice f1.8 now so I shouldn't complain too much, not quite so "big" but I'm not paying hundreds of dollars more for the extra blur.

Lower iso usually means less noise in the photos, which is the digital equivalent of grain. No change there, sensitivity to light comes at the cost of detail in the photo, but these days, and because digital isn't film, an iso of 1600 on an SLR is just fine.

I have a point and shoot that is always set to black and white and 800 or 1600 iso, the noise looks enough like grain that it makes me happy and reminds me of shooting with HP5 which always seemed to be cheaper than tri-X.

Oh, for less bother, there's usually an auto iso you can choose along with the P setting. I'm usually there unless I'm in the studio or doing something cool.

OK I'm bored reading my own crud so off you go and try out the main wheel. See if you can figure out what each mode is doing. Next time we'll look at the rest of the controls.

Dec 28, 2011
Is Photography a Record?

Photographs slice off a bit of us. They remove time, they stop flow. What we see in a picture is a mask,  a death mask because they are not live. A photograph is never a record of a person.

People live too fast, too continuously for a photograph to capture them. Photos can record slow things like buildings, landscapes, things that have little movement, things that have less life.

The more a photograph is a record, the less life in what it is recording. Life is an average of all our twitches.

Folks say that paintings are fake, and photos are real, we use the word "photorealistic" for paintings that look like photos. I think that's wrong, a painting from life is full of the averaged twitches of ourselves, it's not a random grab of some strange quirk of the eyebrow or jerk of the ear. A painting represents the total time the artist has looked at the model. It's probably closer to his person than a photo could ever be.

Now with digital imaging folks claim that photographs are less real, less a record than they were in the good old analogue days. Crud. They were no more real in the era of silver than they are in the age of silicon. Photos are always fake, not even "one remove from reality" not "an abstraction from life". Photos don't have enough time information in them to be considered statistical, they're single point events. But if I use one of those skin-plasticating software programs to remove divots and zits from my daughter's face, I'm willing to bet that's a more realistic image of her than the moon-scapes I've done on occasion.

Why do those programs sell? Why do brides want them used?

Premeditation in a photograph, previsualization if you will, along with framing, means photography is a process of removing life from the world, of removing information. Even time-lapse photography is not real, it's simply too few samples over too long a time. Bean plants don't sprout and grow in minutes, they live in days. All those little jerks and twitches never happen. Beans don't move unless they're blown in the wind or dropped from the window-ledge.

Not my son

People don't have the expressions we see in photographs, our minds edit them. That is not a photograph of my son, or of his mother. My mind smooths out his rather warped grin, opens his eyes, gets rid of the blur, and fills in the rest of their faces. I don't know what those things there are, but I do rather like them "polaroided". Now that's a photo that reminds me of the stuff I took back in the day.

Still not my son

It's a curious thing that the less knowledge we have of being recorded, the less "real" our expression. I'm pretty sure the photo below is of my daughter, but model that she is, she's always aware of the camera when it's aimed at her.

Probably Lauren

For fondness of my life, I won't publish a shot of her talking, blinking and scratching her nose. It would be some other thing anyway.

Dec 27, 2011
HDR? What's That?

I just dropped into a camera review site and noticed a review for a book on HDR

HDR? Oh yes, High Dynamic Range... otherwise known as compress the range of the real world into something I can see on the monitor or on the paper. Essentially you take a shot for the bright end of the scene, and one for the dark end of the scene and then you combine those so you can see into the shadows and don't have any blown out areas.

Like I said, compress the range into something you can see all at the same time.

This is all fine, and it saves a lot of lighting on interior architecture shots if you can get away with it, that is, if you can convince a magazine editor that interiors really do look like they have no light sources coming in to the shadows and ...

Thing is, I've been away from the camera and software sites for a while and I haven't heard a thing about HDR. I can't say for sure but I'd be willing to bet that the average guy on the street doesn't know that a closed shadow or a blown out window with full sunlight coming through it is a problem.

If it gets a magazine shoot, great, but I'm not going to worry about it the next time I'm in a restaurant taking a photo of the birthday boy. That dark shadow with the mop and bucket can stay dark as far as I'm concerned.

Find a solution, then create the problem for the solution.

Of course, those who know me know that I'm often happy with blown out, unfocused, unsharp and "it came out of the camera that way" so take my wonderings with a grain of salt.

One that caught my eye from today's shoot.

Nov 22, 2011
Seamless White Paper

Avedon and Verushka, on white seamless
Richard Avedon and Verushka on seamless paper

Having been a member of a couple of photography studio collectives, I seem to keep battling this stuff.

It's not that I'm against it, really, it's just that I'm very tired of the attitude that a "studio" is a place where you have a white seamless paper unrolled and taped to the floor all the time. My current studio advertises that "we have seamless paper" and I feel a bit queasy every time I walk in the door and see the tattered, scuffed, dismal stuff waiting there for me.

So, um, what's it for? Are we using it to do "green screen" stuff, cutting out the model and putting him in front of a decent background? In the age of photoshop, I suspect yes, so ya put two background lights on it, and a big softbox on the model and you're a real studio photographer.

Originally, that plain background was to isolate the model from anything at all, to get rid of that "environment" that were used for "environmental portraits". It was to force the viewer to confront the face only, with no hint as to who or what. It was, in other words, a radical new idea.

Katherine Hepburn by Richard Avedon 1955
Deal with that portrait by Richard Avedon: 1955

You can find examples of "isolated" portraits a good many years before my time, with some of the earliest photographs being taken against a blank wall, but that's not really seamless, is it. The curve of seamless paper makes the background "limitless". With no clue to corners or distance, the model is supposed to hover in space.

Of course once you scuff it up the floor appears again, and if you use it in a 15 by 15 studio which is too small to get back far enough to do full-length portraits, you're really just using the stuff as a clean wall.

Look, like I said, I don't mind seamless paper, but it's been around for longer than I've been alive, Irving Penn and Richard Avedon were the big names using the technique and Penn started shooting in 1943. Both of them liked it so much they took backdrops out into the field to do images, Penn a portable studio and Avedon a roll of paper that he tacked up in the shade.

So, ermm, why are the 20-something photographers of today still so enthralled with a technique that was half a century old when the 21st started?

It's easy?

I don't know, I should ask them I suppose.

Meanwhile, I spend a lot of time trying to make the white seamless be something else.

Oct 17, 2011