Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Elements of Great Photography

What makes a picture a good picture? Focus? Rule of Thirds?
Lighting? There might be a little more to it than that.

This has been a great year. People have been preaching gloom and doom, but I've decided not to parrot what I'm hearing. I think the best thing to do is find your way through these times the best that I can. Teaching has taught me a lot.

I knew I knew a lot, but I didn't know what I knew until I decided to teach others. I want my students (and you) to think critically about photography.

Some have said photography is subjective. Subjective to what an opinion? Game over, man. what we need is, a measuring stick.

So what makes a photograph a great photograph? There needs to be some criteria, otherwise, you end up with: "I don't know but I'll know it when I see it."

I think most people learn "The Rule of Thirds" for basic composition, and most people try to get their images in focus. Yet there are a lot of pictures that are in focus and are composed with the subject right on a Crash Point, or intersection of The Rule, that aren't necessarily good pictures. The converse is also true.

There are other things to consider: Does the image have a theme or point of view? Does the image focus the viewer's attention on the subject of the photo? And finally, does the photograph simplify? Focus, Rule of Thirds, exposure, and lens selection are some of the tools that a photographer can use to accomplish these three points.

An image should have a message, theme, or point of view that is clearly communicated in the photograph. In my opinion the picture is like a story. The subject and verb need to agree.

The subject of the photo should be obvious. Lens selection not only makes an image more aesthetically pleasing, but a good lens choice will guide the viewer's eye to the subject.

And finally simplification. The photo should tell the tale and no more. Eliminate distractions and everything that doesn't add to the image's overall theme.

Whether you are a photographer or someone who enjoys photography, you can think critically of the images you are creating or viewing. If photography were subjective, Ansel Adams, Richard Avedon, Annie Leibovitz were pretty lucky for a long time.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Riding the Light (Rail)

"I don't care about Santa, Christmas or anything, just make sure I get to ride the train on Saturday," is what my wife, Susan told me a few weeks before Christmas. Perfect. I can be cheap for Christmas.

I'm a visually stimulated person and I once took a job as a page designer. It's the only time in my life that I felt paralyzed. I love finding pictures and creating images. So I turned a turned a train ride into a photographic exercise. It was fun.
It only took seven hours for a round trip train ride from Mesa, Arizona to Phoenix (and back).

Except for two people who cut the line after we had been waiting 45 minutes, everyone was cool. We got to chat with people who would have ordinarily been strangers on the freeway. I kept my photography to pretty much Susan. I've documented so many people's lives, I thought I would photograph her on her big outing. Click here to see the slideshow of our adventure.

Friday, December 26, 2008

The End is Near

It's the day after Christmas. We made it! Whew!

What a year. In spite of the gloom and doom of "the economic downturn," it was a great year. I learned a lot. Set some goals and plotted a course of action. Along the way I was able to create images for people that, according to them, exceeded their expectations.

In January of 2008 I started looking for a consultant. This has been one of the best business decisions I've made. Seriously. By working as a staff photographer in the news industry, I never had to deal with marketing. I realized that I didn't know: A) How to market. B) Who to market to. C) What a portfolio should look like.

Leslie Burns-Dell'Aqua was my first stop. By the time I was ready to work with her, she was off to Law School and unavailable. She was really nice and gave me a list of other consultants to check out. I ended up hiring Suzanne Sease in Richmond, Virginia. She was great! She edited my images, gave me some GREAT advice (and a marketing plan) and then handed me off to Nadine Stellavato Brown at Brand Envy in Seattle.

I can't say enough about Nadine and Suzanne. They were able to identify what needed to be shown and then polished it to a high gloss.

So what's left for 2008? Nothing. It's all been done. I've learned that to be a successful photographer, I need to be an even more successful marketer. In order to be more competitive, you need to understand who your competition is and then, not just compete, but win.

Author Seth Godin says that if you don't want to be the best, then you shouldn't even try. If you only want to be mediocre, what's the point?

Adversity builds character and crisis brings change. In that regard, this has been a great year and I hope that 2009 is a year where we all prosper because of what we did over the past twelve months.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Booked Book

In a Big Brown Van filled with Christmas Toys and other boxes, my portfolio is making its way home. This book is probably one of the finest books I've ever created. It's great because I had help with the editing and design. About all I had to do is step back, nod my head and smile. But the nicest thing is the richness of the prints in all of their 300 dpi glory.

It goes without saying that the portfolio is useless unless someone is looking at it. So, my job has been to get my book in front of people who know what they are looking at. Hi Def computer screens are nice, but in the end they are only 72 dpi. That's 228 pixels shy of optimal viewing. Even digital photography is best viewed as a print.

My goal is to make my portfolio more traveled than I (for a time).

Vanity Fair was the first to step up and ask to see it. They seem VERY organized and I have an appointment to ship it in January. In the mean time, I've been trying to show it locally.

Late in October REMEDY Chicago contacted me and said they didn't have anything currently in the works, but would like to see what I had going on. So I booked my Book a trip to Chicago and sent it on its way.

On Tuesday, Dave Sieren sent me an e-mail to let me know that he enjoyed my portfolio and that it was on it's way home. He said, "I agree that its always in everyone's best interest to see work in person rather than on a screen! Your images really are fantastic and I'll be keeping you in mind as projects come up in the new year." I think I've scored a hit.

I guess the point I'm trying to make is that while the Internet and other mediums are wonderful, you don't get to see the images in all of their glory. Another thing is that by seeing an artist's Book, you will be able to see how they value and invest in their work. If this is their "best work," how do they show it off?

My portfolio is printed on a very beautiful 100% cotton paper (that you cannot buy in Arizona) with archival ink that will last 300 years. The pages are in a beautiful Plexiglas cover from Lost Luggage which is shipped in an elegant black bag. I don't care how nice your monitor is, the in-person presentation beats out most Web sites any day.

If you are an art director or an art buyer or a photo editor, do yourself a favor and start calling in photographers' Books. Mine won't be available until February. Call or e-mail for an appointment. I would love to show it to you.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Prosperous Artist

Last week I was out of town for a serious family emergency. In the midst of the storm I received a truly wonderful e-mail from Rosh Sillars and Dean LaDouceur at ProsperousArtist.com. They said that I was their featured "Who's Creative" for Dec. 17. I didn't get to listen until today. They said a lot of nice things about my photography.

Their news was like having ice cream on a hot day. Very nice. Certainly appreciated.

As for the family emergency: It all worked out well and a full recovery will be made.



I received a call from Michelle Murray at Cree, Inc. in North Carolina. Cree offers lighting solutions for home and business and Michelle was in a bind. It was Monday and she needed photographs of her company's lighting that had been installed in a Burger King. She needed it by Wednesday or Thursday.

What's nice is, I was able to help Michelle — and before her deadline. I was on my way out of town but had enough time to shoot, process and ship via ftp before she came to work the next morning. We negotiated the terms and were off to the races.

I worked into the night and shipped the images sometime around 1 a.m. In the morning, Michelle had e-mailed and was praising my work. Along with the praise was an offer to increase the payment by 35%. (I swear I had to reread that part about five times.)

Because the pictures of the Burger King were so nice, she wanted to expand the usage and pay me more. I love my job.