Monday, February 28, 2011

Guest Blogger: Kathleen Murray

Today I have a guest post from photographer Kathleen Murray. I've gotten to know Kathleen over the past several months when she and some of her friends moved into our Midtown Memphis bungalow. I'm inspired by the work of these artists (three photographers and one painter) and Kathleen is no exception. She loves photography and seems to put her heart and soul into her work. Take a few minutes to read her post and I bet you'll be inspired, too! Then, check out her work by clicking her links at the end of this post.

Hello world!
Thank you Leslie for giving me the opportunity to guest write for your blog! And thank you readers for reading and responding!

Credibility, for what it’s worth; here’s a bit about myself:
I began my interest in photography at an early age: in the fourth grade I won first place in a 4-H photography contest locally, regionally and in the state for a photo that I inadvertently double exposed. That is where it all began; my curiosity was peaked! From there my parents allowed me to continue to follow this curiosity by entering a summer art program offered to kids at a local college. I took photography in the mornings, and drawing in the afternoon. I cannot draw to this day, but what I learned in those mornings has fueled the fire for what I now do. 

I was the girl with the camera, who blew through 35mm film like it was going out of style, (little did I know, it would begin to a few years later). College hit, and I was able to EXPERIENCE the DARKROOM. A new love was found. Then, digital became popular, and I jumped on board. I completed my Bachelor of Arts degree majoring in Sociology, with a minor in photojournalism. I was the photo technician on campus for three years and a student photographer for the school for two, I was quickly bumped from photo editor of our college's newspaper to the managing editor my final semester in school. As a photojournalist, I have been able to participate in the photographic coverage of disaster relief during hurricanes, tornadoes and severe flooding.

Upon graduation, I ventured off to graduate school seeking an MFA in art photography, after a year of schooling, moved to Texas where I spent yet another year as a photographer in a communications department. Years after graduating with my bachelor's degree from college, I returned to my alma matter to teach art photography as an adjunct professor and program director. After two years of teaching (a total of 18 photo classes) I have temporarily put teaching on hold to finish graduate school, which is where I am currently.

A few unrelated, though related thoughts on the overall theme of gaining ideas for photo shoots and growing in one’s own photography:

It’s really quite amazing to learn about all the photographers that have gone before you! Maybe some of these names are familiar…maybe not…(If not…PLEASE do yourself a favor and do a little research! Who knows…maybe it’ll give you some inspiration.) Have you ever heard of...
  • W. Eugene Smith
  • Alfred Stieglitz
  • Edward Steichen
  • Gordon Parks
  • Margaret Bourke-White
  • Dorthea Lange
  • Robert Capa
  • Cornell Capa
  • Diane Arbus
  • Eadweard Muybridge
  • Thomas Eakins
  • Etianne Marey
  • Harold Edgerton
  • Walker Evans
  • Jacob Riis
  • Irving Penn
  • Ansel Adams
  • Henri Cartier-Bresson
  • L.J.M. Daguerre
  • Avedon
  • O. Winston Link
  • Gjon Mili
  • Joseph Nicephore Niepce
This list is just a sampler of AMAZING photographers who have paved the way for you to do what you are doing, or what you’d like to be doing.

Knowing the history of photography is also knowing about contemporary photographers! History is ongoing correct? Do you know...
  • Joe McNally
  • Jeremy Cowart
  • Esther Havens
  • Chase Jarvis
  • Tokihiro Sato
  • Mary Ellen Mark
  • Hiroshi Sugimoto
  • Tim Walker
  • Sebastiao Salgado
  • Alec Soth
  • Annie Leibovitz
  • James Nachtwey
  • Gregory Crewdson
  • Sally Mann
  • Nikki S. Lee
  • Zena Holloway
  • Laurie Simmons
  • Larry Fink
  • Shizuka Yokomizo
  • Jeff Wall
  • Robert and Shana Parke-Harrison
  • John Coplans
  • Michael Kenna
  • Duane Michals
  • Lorna Simpson
  • Eve Sonneman
When looking at the work of these photographers, ask yourself:
  • Why are you attracted to certain images? 
  • Why are you not attracted certain ones? 
  • Why is this photographer important in the world of photography? 
  • What can I learn from this photographer and their body of work, or methodology of photographing? Try to decipher what type of photographic equipment they were using and WHY.
My former college professor Jim continually reminded me to “Explore!” It’s something that I enjoy doing to this day, with and without my camera. When you are learning about photography, especially early on, it’s important to have your camera on you at all times. It’s also very important to go slow enough to ask questions of what and how you are shooting, that way you are learning as you work. And hey, it’s totally okay to experiment! In fact…it’s always encouraged!

The key is to slow down enough to question what is working and what is not working. Then move around and keep shooting. In today’s digital world, it’s easy to rapidly shoot off thousands of images and hit with maybe one or two good images. To be consistently hitting the mark with great images takes time and refinement.

Revisit the basics! If you are feeling good with where you are at as a photographer, try limiting yourself to 24 or 36 images with NO deleting for a shoot. It’s the equivalent of shooting a standard roll of 35mm film…anyone remember those? They are getting harder and harder to find. This is a great challenge even for the most skilled photographer.

Prepare, then, GO with what you know—the flow, don’t force it.
In fact, to prepare mentally for photo shoots, I like to revisit some inspirational images that I have acquired over the years. I keep a folder on my computer of images (currently at nearly 8,000 images) that I have found from friend’s photo websites, from blogs, from anywhere online really. These images are filled with color palettes that are aesthetically pleasing to my own current taste, images that are where I’d like to take my photography, images with interesting perspectives on classic images, and images with fresh, creative ideas.  I’m not one to duplicate images in my folder, but I try to adapt them to my own style and technique of shooting. The worst thing I see when looking through portfolios are images that feel forced and overly created and manipulated. I’m definitely one to appreciate the more natural feeling images…no matter how staged or directed they may have actually been.

Remember, it’s not about the camera and equipment, it’s about the persons behind and in front of the camera that matter most.
There are times to pick up the camera and shoot, and times to set the camera down and focus on establishing and maintaining a good rapport with who or what may be in front of your lens. You must be sensitive and aware of the situation you may be in to whether or not you should be the active photographer with camera up, or camera down. In either situation, you must active and your ears must be OPEN. There are always going to pictures missed, but it’s whether you get the essential story-telling images that count. Some of the most story-telling images are the ones that occur before and after the “main event”.

OKAY. Go prepare, do your homework, be an active photographer with open, attentive ears and eyes.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes, which I painted years ago as an undergrad student on the wall of my photo classroom, that I later taught in, “The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.”—Dorthea Lange.

Here’s to seeing differently!
@fotoeditor on Instagram

Monday, February 21, 2011

Volunteering = Good

The one thing that supercharges me as a photographer is being able to photograph the things I love. For me, these things are related to social issues. For this reason, when I was recently asked to photograph the third-annual Homeless Connect event here in Bozeman, I readily agreed. This event was held at a local downtown church and the purpose was to offer a variety of free services to those who are either homeless or at risk of being homeless. The services offered ranged from massages and haircuts to eye and dental check-ups. The amount of volunteers giving their time at the event was incredible! 

Dr. Jody Fink gives a free eye exam to a patron at the Homeless Connect 2011 event
A patron receives a free dental exam from Kaye Rittal
You know all about what "they" say about volunteering, right? I know you know, and I don't have statistics to spit out to back up these claims but volunteers are happier, live longer, and make more money. Oh wait...maybe not so much on that last one...but you get the point. Volunteering = good.

When I view photographs made by others I often wonder if the photographer obtained permission first. So in case you're wondering, I made sure to get each person's written permission prior to photographing them at the event.

Do you volunteer? If so, do you volunteer within the arena of your career or do you choose to volunteer with something totally unrelated? What supercharges you?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Tips on Posing for Photographs

One challenge I deal with as a portrait photographer is helping people feel comfortable in front of the camera. The majority of people do not like to be photographed and often complain that they never like photographs of themselves. I like to think that I can help those I photograph to overcome this by first making them comfortable with me as their photographer, and then posing them in a way that is most flattering for them.

What do you do when you are the subject and the photographer (professional or not) doesn't pose you? Today I thought I'd offer a little advice (to women especially) on posing for photographs - whether you are the one being photographed or if you are the photographer. There are no hard and fast rules to posing subjects but there are a couple of tips that usually produce a more flattering portrait, especially for women. Go ahead, try them out in front of a mirror and see what you think!

1. The first tip is to make sure your shoulders are pushed down and back. This action alone should cause you to be more aware of your posture and will elongate your neck.

2. Next, stick your neck out, just a little, so that your chin is pointed out slightly. Now, this probably feels very awkward but it will also elongate your neck, giving you a little more separation between your head and shoulders. The effect is especially flattering because it has a slimming effect.

3. Now, on to the arms - You will want your arms slightly out from your body so the upper part of your arm doesn't flatten out. You can try putting your hands on your hips, in your pockets, around someone, etc, but remember to also keep your shoulders back. Also, creating a little space between your arm (elbow) and body will allow the camera to see your waist.

4. Lastly, you can try angling your shoulders. This lessens the width of your shoulders slightly but can also give a nice angle in the photograph that leads the viewer's eye into the image. Sometimes you may want a photograph straight-on but this is just another idea to try. 

Now, go ahead and try them out! You can either stand in front of a mirror, or have a friend snap a few pics of you (or use the self-timer on your camera). Be sure to take a few images of how you would normally pose (without the suggestions I listed) and then a few incorporating the above tips in your pose.

What do you think? Did these tips make a difference for you?

Monday, February 7, 2011

How To Get More Accurate Color in Your Images, Part 2

This is Part 2 of this blog post which is geared more towards serious amateurs and photographers who want to improve their color management. Go here for Part 1.

Ok photographers and wanna-be photographers: after the last post on the benefits of having the tools for a good color management workflow, I'm just going to jump right in with you.

I'm assuming you've bought a "nice" digital camera, perhaps the one with the most number of pixels for your budgeted price range, and maybe you threw a "kit lens" on that expensive camera. This will not be earth-shattering for most of you, and some of you may disagree with me, but here's how I feel about the importance of your camera equipment (in order of least to most important):

1. SLR Camera body (if you're only going for the number of pixels as your basis for "good", you need to read this or this) - only buy what you're going to use. There are a number of point and shoots now that can produce amazing photographs. Go ahead and buy what you think you'll need for the size & quality of work you plan to produce, but read the manual.

2. Lens - When I mentioned the "kit" lens, that's the lens that often comes with a it's a kit that allows you to immediately start photographing with the camera right of out of the box. However, to me, the lens (or "glass" as many pros call it) is MORE important than the camera body. The lens is at the start of being able to produce crisp images with accurate color.

3. COLOR MANAGEMENT TOOLS/ WORKFLOW! - Ok, so maybe this is equally as important as the lens, or maybe slightly less than, but either's an integral part to taking your images to the next level.

What do I mean by "color management workflow"? I mean that you begin to think about the color of your images from the moment you click the shutter all the way until you send it off to print. Here's my process:

1. Set the white balance on my camera for the lighting conditions.
2. Photograph the X-Rite Color Checker Passport with the correct exposure, filling at least the center of the screen with the passport.
3. Import that image into my photo editing software of choice (I use Lightroom 3 although this can also be done in Photoshop by a different process). 
4. In Lightroom, go to the Development module, click on the white balance eye dropper under the "Basic" menu, the click on the bottom right white square on the passport. This will not work well if you have over or underexposed the image.
4. Select the image of the passport, select File - Export with Preset - Color Checker Passport.
5. Make sure the image is still selected, scroll down to "Camera Calibration" on the right side of the module, and select the profile you created for the Passport and lighting conditions you used. 
6. Once all of the images are in Lightroom, you can sync them all by selecting all the images, clicking "Sync" at the bottom right of the Development module, and clicking "white balance" and "calibration".

For a video tutorial on this method, including how to use Photoshop instead of Lightroom, go here. This video is just under an hour long and the first half is about using Lightroom and the second half goes into using Photoshop. After watching, let me know if you're not convinced that you should start using the Color Checker Passport.

As professionals, or "emerging professionals", part of our job description should be to educate our clients about what we can offer compared to Joe Friend who has a nice camera. Having unparalleled management and control over the color in our images is one way to do that.

Did I miss anything? What things do you include in your color management workflow?

What things do you do to set yourself apart as a professional and how do you educate your clients about those things?