Monday, June 30, 2008

Impressionistic Landscape Workshop Follow-Up

Over the weekend, I was privileged to wrap-up a two day photo-workshop called "The Impressionistic Landscape." I couldn't have asked for a better group and they were all very receptive to my ideas for improving right-brain thinking, regardless of how kooky they (the ideas) might've seemed at first. On day one, we learned about the history of Impressionism and studied the works of contemporary photographers who use Impressionistic techniques in their imagery today. These included Freeman Patterson, Jim Brandenburg and William Neill. On day two, we met at Keowee-Toxaway State Park for some hands-on exercises in the field.

The overlying purpose of the class wasn't as much about creating clones of these great photographers as to teach the participants how to have a willingness to approaching their subject matter in different ways. In the end, many of the students ended up with some really nice 'keeper' images and I certainly came away feeling thankful to have an opportunity to get out and shoot with so many nice –and talented– people.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

High ISO Tapestry Effect

I have been experimenting with a technique that allows me to use the graininess of a high ISO along with a shallow depth-of-field to create a tapestry effect in certain images. This image of a deer, taken in my backyard, is only the beginning in what I hope will be an intriguing set of images. Its subtlety draws me in but I'm not completely sure whether or not this photo is overdone. The jury is still out but there is something that intrigues me about it.

To create this effect I basically turned by ISO to its highest setting (in this case 1600), set my lens to its widest aperture and slightly underexposed the shot by setting the camera to a very high shutter speed. The resulting image was then converted to sepia (or a duotone) in photoshop. Before converting the image to sepia, the image looked really terrible but once the color mode is altered the distracting noise becomes a textural element that creates character in the photo. However, I have seen master photographers like Jim Brandenburg make very successful color images using a high-ISO at low-light.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Visiting a Carolina Bay

I received this nice e-mail from Mike Busam of Cincinatti, Ohio in which he describes his recent trip to the Lewis Ocean Bay Heritage Preserve near Conway, South Carolina . We had a chance to correspond about the preserve after he read this post that I wrote a couple of weeks ago. The preserve is just one of the many relatively "unknown" natural areas in South Carolina that should be a "must see" for anyone interested in unique natural history.

"Clay, greetings... Thanks again for the advice and information for
visiting Lewis Ocean Bay Heritage Preserve. I went out on Monday, June 9. Unfortunately, I only had a couple hours, but it was a *great* couple of hours, so I can't complain. I followed your advice and checked out the sites along the road. I didn't go too far off the road because I'm unfamiliar with the area and didn't want to be the "dope from Ohio who gets lost in the pocosins," etc.

I particularly enjoyed the bird life--plenty of Brown-headed
Nuthatches, lots of Pine Warblers, a few Blue Grosbeaks, and then a
Prothonotary and Northern Parula along a narrow creek/wetland that the road cuts through. What a neat array of habitats and birds and plants in one location! Carolinians probably yawn when they see or hear about bears, but we don't have many in SW Ohio, so even the Black Bear tracks in the parking lot near the gazebo at the entrance were interesting to me.

I saw a number of Palamedes Swallowtails, which I've never seen
before, and I took some photos of what might be a Zarucco Duskywing, one of which I attached. If I saw this bug in Ohio, I'd probably call it a Wild Indigo, but the habitat and location make me wonder if it's a Zarucco? I only had a little pocket digital, so I couldn't very close to the skipper.

I had one more question for you regarding the pine trees at Lewis
Ocean Bay. Are those Longleaf Pines? It seems like they're managing
for that kind of system out there--I saw a few areas that have been
burned and logged, or so it seemed, and I saw a couple young trees
that sure looked like what I've read Longleaf Pines should look like,
but I wasn't sure if I wasn't just confusing Loblolly and Slash Pines,
etc, for Longleaf. I understand that the Longleaf was largely
destroyed in the southeast and replaced years ago by Loblolly and
Slash, among other pines. In any case, the sound of the light breeze
going through those trees was neat to hear. The pine trees really
amplify even a modest breeze.

I'm certainly sold on that area, though. The next time we're in South Carolina, I'll certainly visit it again. It's a gem. I can't help but notice all the development around it, which is too bad. In that sense, it's just like all my favorite sites here in southwestern Ohio—lots of development knocking at the door. Hopefully, that 9300 acres will remain safe.

Thanks again for the information. It was very helpful. I studied the
plants you mentioned and it made my brief visit there all the more
interesting, since I had some idea of what to look for."

Take care,
---Mike Busam
Cincinnati, Ohio

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Create a Digital Photo Portfolio: Part 1

In this series, I am going to present an overview of how to create a digital photography portfolio using Adobe InDesign, Photoshop and Acrobat Professional.

Several years ago, photographers who were interested in getting published or showing work in a gallery were required to present a portfolio of slides or prints to potential clients. However today, digital portfolios created with programs such as Adobe InDesign are becoming the norm. This is especially true for preliminary viewing of work. Unfortunately, many photographers use this new approach as an excuse to cast off the time and effort that they used to spend on creating a nice presentation. Large file sizes, awkward transitions and poor color management ring-out like beacons to savy editors and art directors who often see hundreds of portfolios over the span of a given year.

*Note: The workflow that I use for preparing a digital presentation is typically: 1) Lay out text and images in Adobe InDesign,2) Prep images for final file in Adobe Photoshop 3) Export pdf 4) Optimize pdf in Adobe Acrobat

Step One – Selecting Images for your Portfolio

Everyone is not cut out to be a good graphic designer. The good news is that there are few simple rules that you can follow to make your digital portfolio better.

1) Limit the Number of Images: Don't try to cram every single image that you have ever made in your career into your portfolio. If you've only got five strong images that represent your body of work then send five. For gallery and publication promotion try to limit the number of images in the group to between 10-15. If you have 10 really strong images this will typically be enough to peak the interest of the viewer who may then request to see more.

2) Consider a Theme-Based Portfolio: Although it is often a good idea to show that you have a wide-range of different looking images, these days, many photographers are being selected for their particular styles even if the subject matter varies. One could make the argument that the stock photography market of today is so flooded that individual styles can often be one of the only things to differentiate your work from the masses.

3) Limit the Amount of Copy in the Layout: Other than a brief introduction, biography of the artist and short captions to accompany your photos, too much copy in a digital portfolio may be distracting. If your images can't wow the viewer without a long explanation then you should reconsider the images that you have chosen to include.

Now, you're ready for the design and layout process in InDesign. Stay tuned for Part Two of this series.

Friday, June 6, 2008

10 Tips for a Successful Photography Workshop

Over the last couple of years I have begun to lead more and more photo workshops. Each time I work with a group I always strive –and feel great pressure, honestly– for each participant to come away with something worthwhile. In order to do that, I've had to work hard to develop techniques that can apply to a wide range of students. When I first started out, I found it difficult to find any info on developing photographic workshops. In order to help other beginners, here are five goals that I strive for in my workshops.

1) Students first: Although it maybe tempting to spend a great deal of time speaking about your own accomplishments, show restraint. This is especially true if you aren’t a well-known photo veteren. There is a difference between a lecture and a workshop and students are generally in your workshop because they want to learn how make better images or, as Freeman Patterson puts it, “Improve the quality of their lives through photography.” However, students may enjoy hearing about your experiences more if you can relate them to particular exercises as a way to provide context.

2) Allow students to influence the direction of the class: I believe that all workshops need to have some sort of outline and pre-planned direction. Instructors need to do their homework so that the students are able to have the best experience possible during the workshop. However, the class roster may consist of folks who just want to learn how to use their cameras better and if this happens to be the case, I would urge you to "go with it." Some students just aren't at the place where they are ready for abstract, artistic concepts.

3) “Be There” for your students: While it is nice to be able to make images while your students are shooting in the field –especially if the images will be used for a lesson– getting carried away with personal image-making in an inspiring location robs students of the valuable instruction time that they surely signed up for. But, I must add that there is fine line between hovering and helping. Allowing students to work together and have ample shooting time alone is certainly a sensitivity skill that is gained through experience.

4) You can’t please everybody!: When it comes to leading a group in any situation there is almost always going to be a couple of folks who are naturally higher-maintenance and harder to please than the rest of their classmates. Although it is often difficult, avoid spending the majority of your time attempting to appease the unappeasable. This isn’t to say that students who are struggling should be ignored but rather that if a participant comes to your workshop with a bad-attitude that day you need to realize that there is only so much that you can do to make their experience better. Good workshops are comprised up of teamwork between students, teachers and the environment that they are focusing on.

5) Teach them to see: Encourage students to learn how to “See” and not just make a technically correct exposure. Although everyone is not destined to be in the pages of National Geographic we all have experiences in our lives that are worth capturing. Having sensitivity to the best times to shoot will ultimately increase the quality (and experience) of the images that students make.

7) Ask for Input: Allow students to critique your workshop / class when it over. Ask them to be brutally honest and remember that suggestions for improvement are better than praise so…don’t be so sensitive!!! ☺

8) Create a Community: One of the fringe benefits of photo workshops is getting to know other photographers who are interested in the same types of things as you are. Create a database of students and allow them to inform you if they would like their e-mail address to be shared with others. This is a great way for participants to build lasting friendships and share ideas for years after the class is over.

9) Follow up with notes: When I first began to lead photo workshops, I would begin the class by handing out notes for the class. However, I began to realize that many of my students were either losing them during the class or destroying them by cramming the pages into their bags. So, I decided to start sending out a follow-up e-mail with a pdf of the notes. By doing this, I have legitimate reason to follow-up with students and I have received positive feedback from folks that this is a great way to refresh their memory about what we covered in the class.

10) Exhibit a passion for what you are doing: One of the best ways to inspire students is to show them that you have a passion for photography and your subject matter. Enthusiasm is infectious. Believe me, if you attempt to teach a class without a love for what you are doing it will be very obvious to your students and, as a result, it will be very difficult for them to become excited. Although we all have to pay our bills, there are enough photo topics out there that you will surely be able to find something that is exciting to you. If not, you shouldn’t be teaching a class. Remind yourself that you too were once a beginner and how important the role models in your early career were to you.

Hope this helps. I am still learning and have a long way to go so if any of you have any tips of your own please share!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Aboard the Amphibian Ark

In response to the sheer number of extinct and endangered species of amphibians being threatened by development, climate change and pathogenic outbreaks, a group of biologists have put a rescue plan into play known as the "Amphibian Ark." Similar in concept to a seed bank, the Ark team collects species of amphibians, which are at risk, and houses them until re-release into the wild is deemed safe.

In the past decade there has been an increase in amphibian die-off and mutation due to a variety of factors including the chytrid fungus, the origin of which still remains a subject of debate. The group, which has been publicized by celebrity biologist Jeff Corwin, has created some innovative ways to get donors involved including a recent contest to name a recently discovered species of Osornophryne frog from Ecuador.