Saturday, February 21, 2009

Treehopper Talk

I came across this podcast recently and it blew my mind. It isn't breaking news, in fact, it was first posted on NPR's website in 2006. It also has nothing to do –at least directly– with nature photography. However, after hearing it for the first time a couple of weeks ago I had to share it with you all. As it turns out, there is a researcher named Rex Cocroft who, with the backing of National Geographic, has been (at least in 06) studying insect communication within the Ecuadorian rain forest. Cocroft discovered that there is a lot more communication going on between insects than just the droning, buzzing sounds that most of us are familiar with. In fact, some species are having entire conversations all throughout the day and they sometimes even have to do I've listened to the podcast several times and it still fascinates me.

I think for the macro photographer, this is just one more validation of why this branch of nature photography is so important; there are simply way too many things about the 'smaller majority' –as Piotr Naskrecki puts it– that we simply don't know about that's worth discovering and documenting. Anyway, take a minute and listen and let me know what you think. There is also a part two, or follow-up to the podcast here. (The image on this post is (c) Rex Cocroft).

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Create a Digital Photo Portfolio: Part 2

A few months ago now, I submitted the first in a series of posts explaining one way to create a digital photography portfolio using Adobe InDesign and Adobe Acrobat. After much procrastination, I am finally posting the second installment of the series, which will touch on digital photography portfolio design, & layout tips. The next installment will deal with exporting and optimizing your pdf.

Originally, I had planned to go into a detailed discussion of how to create a layout from start to finish in InDesign. However, this has been covered so many times elsewhere that I have decided to skip that step and give you pointers that will hopefully be of use to you during the design process.

By the way, if you have any specific questions on this topic, please do not hesitate to ask and I'll do my best to help!

One of the biggest mistakes that I see folks make when preparing any kind of digital presentation is the addition of too much clutter in their layouts. I would recommend only adding a very small logo / your name, perhaps a short description in an 8-10pt font and, if needed, a very unobtrusive graphic element such as a bottom bar to each image page (at most). Remember, this presentation is about your photography and anything else that you add could potentially detract from your work! Be sure to make your photos the absolute focus of each page, regardless of what choice you make. I know this sounds simple but, believe me, people often have a hard time just letting the images breathe, so-to-speak, without cramming in unnecessary verbiage, buttons, etc. It is usually a good idea to have some type of resume’ and publishing sheet in the back of the presentation. However, if the reviewer isn’t impressed by your work, no resume’ will be good enough to seal-the-deal so start there first.

Another important factor to keep in mind is your choice of the colors that will be used in your layout. I would highly recommend sticking with neutral colors such as white, gray and black to frame your images. The same goes for your choices of font colors. Creativity is often confused with wackiness but believe me, in most cases, these two concepts vary greatly.

Finally, carefully select any fonts that will be used in your layout. Stick with traditional, easy to read fonts. I'm not saying that you need to use Times New Roman or Helvetica but stay away from the Comic Sans of the world. ‘Fun’ doesn't always equate with professional, sorry!

When you export a pdf from InDesign, files will often be automatically compressed depending on the export setting that you choose (I recommend Screen-Res unless it will be printed). If you know that you will be exporting a file primarily for monitor viewing only, there a couple of things that you can do to increase your odds of a nice looking image preview:

1.) Set your image to sRGB color mode in Photoshop or your favorite image editing software. You can often get away with exporting any image to a pdf, regardless of its color mode and have it look just fine, but why take the risk? If you set up the color modes of your images properly from the get-go you won't wonder how they will hold up when your potential client sees them. Although nothing is perfect in a digital environment, every little thing that you can control helps. I've written a detailed post on this topic here. You can choose to ignore the exporting and file size (dpi settings) on the linked post if you like as it was primarily written for exporting images for web.

2.) Scale your images to the size that they will be used in the layout. I must admit that I'm sometimes very lazy when it comes to this, but often, if you have a large number of pages in your pdf, this will help to dramatically reduce your file size. Having said this, try to keep your page count down as mentioned in part 1 of the series. Although, exporting a screen-res pdf will automatically reduce your images to 72dpi (the web and screen res standard), your images will typically be larger than if you would have just taken the time to scale down their physical dimensions. For example, if you know that your image is 5" x 7", why not go ahead and save a scaled down version of the file in question to 5" x 7"? Sure, you could always shrink it down in InDesign but sometimes this just adds extra, unneeded baggage to the image and your pdf.

I'll be posting part three in the near future which will go into ways to make your portfolio interactive. This has proven to be a popular thread and I don't want to keep you all waiting so long for the next installment.

Please ask questions if you have any!


Per a recent comment on this post, I have added three links on how to begin using InDesign below. Hope they help!

Link One | Link Two | Link Three

Thursday, February 12, 2009

ILCP Borderlands RAVE Blog

Several members of the International League of Conservation Photographers (or ILCP for short) are currently spending three weeks in the borderlands between the U.S. and Mexico in an effort to photograph the wild places, peoples, plants and animals being affected by the construction of the border wall. Over this relatively short period of time, the crew will putting all of their efforts towards building a portfolio of images that can be used to bring a new light to this situation that we in the U.S. are hearing so much about these days. Much is often said about the immigration issues that surround the wall's construction but little has been said about how it will affect things like animal migration and habitat fragmentation. To learn more about the RAVE, visit the ILCP's website.

If you are interested in following the progress of the team, they have set up a blog where you can not only see their location, but also samples of images that are being made each day.

Monday, February 9, 2009

SC Conservation Bank Needs a Deposit

I spent the last few days near Hampton, SC photographing several privately held properties that were protected, in part, through funding provided by the South Carolina Conservation Bank. These images are for an upcoming book which will be published in early summer of this year.

The purpose of the book will be to let South Carolinians know what the South Carolina Conservation Bank is all about and to attempt to garner new support for it from our state legislature. With the tough economic times that we are now facing in South Carolina, funding for the Conservation Bank has already been cut this year and several properties –totalling thousands of acres– that were about to be protected through conservation easements have now been lost (or put on hold) until the funding that is needed is once again available. All efforts should be made to guarantee that the momentum that the SCCB has been building over the past couple of years isn't lost.

On Sunday morning, I stood in front of this magnificent 26 acre duck pond that you see in the image above. My heart was filled with gratitude for the couple who decided to make the right decision to protect it for the long run. The pond was covered with wood ducks, wading birds and migratory songbirds which filled the air with their joyous music. As the morning began to warm up, the sound of a wide variety of frogs swelled up in a chorus that was nearly deafening.

Regardless of our economic situation, special places such as these much continue to be protected. If these habitats are lost, we will continue to lose our connection to creation and forget where came from; which, in my mind is much more devastating type of bankruptcy that no amount of money can ever resolve.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Documenting Marine Restoration

In early March I will begin working with The Nature Conservancy to document their marine restoration efforts along the South Carolina Coast. One of the primary goals of this project will be to restore oyster reefs and provide habitat for the 130 species which depend on the reefs for survival. This effort, which is being led by The Nature Conservancy in South Carolina's marine restoration specialist Joy Brown, is planned through 2011.

The purpose of my initial trip will be to make aerial images of the regions from Sewee Bay through Bulls Bay and up into the Santee River Delta. These images will be used to tell the story of the project and garner support from potential donors and the conservation community. However, as the project progresses, I will also be photographing volunteer efforts, those who harvest oysters and, of course, the oysters themselves. Additionally, I will work to photograph many of species that depend on these specialized eco-systems.

We only have one species of oyster here on the South Carolina coast, the Eastern oyster (Crassostrea virginica). Its numbers have been severely declining since the early colonial period and according to this source, some areas have retained only around one percent of their original populations today. Part of the decline has been due to detrimental harvesting practices where sediment (or shells) was not deposited back into reef; allowing it to deplete over time. This Nature Conservancy project will hopefully be a very positive step in the right direction towards restoring our oyster reefs here in South Carolina.

I look forward to sharing my images from the project with you all over the next few years. It should yield some very interesting results and I feel very fortunate to contribute this conservation effort in my own small way.