Get Closer

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Very often I get asked, ‘what is one thing that I can do to improve my travel images or my photojournalism imagery?’  My answer: GET CLOSER.

 

When photographing most of us simply snap a shot from where we were standing and aim over at what we are interested in, maybe zooming. But do we take a few moments and actually get to see and know what we were looking over at?  Have you tried getting closer?  Let’s take a look at two main subjects that can often benefit with ‘getting closer’: people and scenes.

 

Here is a test for you to see if this theory applies to you.  Take a look at some of your more recent images.  Ask yourself out loud, or even ask a friend or stranger to look at your images and ask, “Would the main subject of this photo be stronger if I were closer physically?”

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By ‘physically’ I mean, well, physically and not simply with a longer zoom lens.  Long lenses are critical for a lot of work, especially when you can’t physically be closer in any way.  They can be great for ‘street shooting’ and of course for wildlife.  However the downside is they can flatten a shot or scene, and can also create a real sense of great distance from your subject.  They help us stay in our comfort zone, and also can seem to help stay in the subjects comfort zone too, (especially lions and grizzly bears, and Sean Penn!)  But take a look at your images again, and ask that question again.

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Here is your challenge.  The next time you are out with your camera, (which I hope is nearly always for you) use a 50mm lens or wider, and take the photo as you normally would.  Find the scene and subject that interests you and simply snap the photo that you ‘feel’ is how you would typically create.  Then start to ask yourself the question, “Can I be closer somehow?”  Then zoom with your feet.  Step in closer, don’t just twist that zoom barrel or switch to a longer lens.  Physically walk in closer and keep shooting.

 

You will probably feel a little weird, and almost invasive in a way, but endeavor to get closer physically.  You will notice if you are using a wider-angle lens that you will get quite a bit of distortion, but don’t worry about that at first. This is an exercise to simply get your body accustomed to be closer to things, and see how you can compose and craft a cool image.

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Once you get accustomed to physically being closer, then see if that distortion is harming your image, or helping it.  If it harms or looks to be too much, then slowly zoom the lens barrel and slowly back up.  You will see things begin to become more normal but be sure to not lose the essence of closeness to the subject and showing what helps to tell your story. Some distortion can be a good thing, or isn’t as harmful as you think.

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Typically when first challenging a photographer to get closer to people there is a fair amount of resistance and even some fear, or trepidation.  People can seem scary, can’t they? We are all aware of respecting a person’s privacy and their own ‘bubble of safety’.  I am very cautious when shooting to be respectful of this, as I want my subjects to trust me.  The more they trust me the more access they will give me: meaning time, attention, effort, or even allow me to physically be closer to them.  Typically the closer I can get, the better the images can be made.  It’s a team effort, and the more they trust me the easier it is to make stronger photos.  One of the things I find that works for me is to simply start a casual conversation with the person, and ask them questions about themselves.  You were thinking of photographing them for some reason.  How about conveying that reason, and ask them to teach you about who they are before you snap that photo?  It can be some of those elements of the person that you can ‘get closer’ on: their eyes, smile, hands, what they are working on, or simply a closer more intimate portrait of all of them.

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Once we get started or they allow me to photograph them, each question is 2-3 snaps of the shutter.  When it is all said and done, I have 20-30 images at least of the subject where they and I are close together or close to the action. It’s rarely, RARELY ever able to be just one frame, you have to shoot a few. Somewhere in there is the best shot. Usually, it’s closer than where I started, but not always the closest point entirely. When I flip through the images later I look for the one that helps me tell the complete story, in one frame. That’s why I shoot a bunch and play with being closer and stepping back.

 

All great journalists and travel shooters know that it is our job to help you the viewer, to look at an image and not just see what is happening out there, but what does it feel like to be there in the middle of it all.  My advice?  Get in the middle of it all and find out.  Be curious.

 

Now, get out there and get closer!

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– Alan M. Thornton – BPSOP Instructor

Alan Teaches:

Travel Photography

Travel Photography II

Lighting with Strobes

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“Light” is one of the most critical elements needed to craft a great photograph, though at times it can be one of the most difficult things to find or control to look exactly they way you wish it too. If we are fortunate there might be some great natural light out there, and we happen to be awake at 5:30 am to catch that great sunrise light. Or maybe you took Bobbi Lanes, “Portraits Unplugged” course, and learned how to craft and hone available light that you might be able to find.

So what happens when you don’t have that great available light, or more importantly, you want to sleep in?! No worries, strobes are here to save the day!

From food and still life, to portraits and products, strobes are here to help you to really take complete control, and master the craft of photography and light. Strobes are amazing because they allow you to dictate it’s feel and essence, and it’s brightness and contrast. They also allow you to make images when there is no light, or the weather is bad, or you just don’t want to leave the house! Lighting with strobes not only does all of that, but they also allow you to have complete control over creativity; you are calling all the shots. (I think they make you thinner too, not 100% on that one though, so don’t hold me to it.)

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…or you can capture a sense of action and intensity…

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…capture someone’s character and history…

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…or simply make a memorable portrait of a good friend and his baby son…

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Strobes can do all that, and so much more. Now, they do come at a price, (literally), and they also take a bit of time, training, and practice to understand and master. It might look like it’s too complex for you to take on, but we have a solution for that. BPSOP and I are pulling together to make a great Intro to Lighting with Strobes course to help you out with understanding how to use a studio strobe light, it’s modifiers, how to set them up, create your own home studio space on a budget, and how to get the right exposures and contrast! It’s a great course with a lot of fun, facts, and so much technical info you might need a forklift to handle it all! It’s very simple structure and format allows you to learn the technical aspects step by step, and the weekly assignments allow you to practice and try things out. Each week we get together for a critique and answer your questions, and help you lock in how to get those lights to do what you want. Our goal is to get you comfortable and confidant to get those lights out and to make some amazing images that look, feel, and say what you want them to! I hope you’ll join me!!

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Alan M Thornton – BPSOP Instructor

Alan Teaches:

Intro to Lighting with Strobes

Travel Photography I

Travel Photography II

The Top 5 Reasons You’re Not Happy With Your Prints

 

It isn’t always easy creating an ink-jet print that meets your expectations.  In fact it can be downright frustrating.  Here are my top 5 reason you may not be happy with your prints.

 

5) You’re trying to create a great print from a so-so file. 

A poorly exposed image, particularly an over-exposed image with blown highlights will be difficult or impossible to print.  Poor focus and camera shake induced blurriness can’t be corrected with any amount of Photoshop magic.  The image below contains a pretty extreme brightness range.  Careful exposure and processing can still produce a print that retains detail in the white clouds as well as detail in the important shadows.

Image 1

 

4) Your expectations are unreasonable. 

Out in the field, the range of brightness values can reach upwards of 1,000,000 to 1… meaning that the brightest sunlit areas can be up to 1,000,000 times brighter than the darkest shadows.  That’s a range of about 20 stops!  Your camera can’t capture a range this great;  your computer monitor can’t display a range this great, but most importantly, no paper and ink combination can reproduce a range of brightness values that comes anywhere close to this range.  So to deal with this, we have to take steps to reduce the brightness range when we can (setting aside HDR techniques for the moment, this means using reflectors or additional fill light, or using a graduated ND filter), expose carefully and correctly, and process the image files properly.

 

3) You may be over-processing your files, particularly by pushing the saturation levels too far.  

Once again the limiting factor here is the paper and ink combination you are using.  Coated papers can handle higher saturation than matte papers before blocking up: losing the subtle differences between the tones within an area of a single colour (think of the subtle shades of red in a Rose petal)

I loved the complementary colours in the image of this doorway in the Provencal town of Lourmarin.  At first these colours looked great on my monitor, but needed to be dialed back to produce a good print and avoid losing the shading variations in the yellows and the blues.

Lourmarin, France

Other than trial and error, the best way to gauge this is to learn to create and print from a soft-proof, (which I cover in my upcoming course, “The Art of Printing Your Art)

 

2) Your monitor brightness is too high.

This is a pretty common situation.  Most people have their computer monitors set far too bright for printing.  A monitor that is too bright will result in prints that are too dark,  (because you instinctively dial down the image brightness on your monitor in Photoshop or Lightroom to compensate).  If this is happening to you… turn down your monitor brightness!

 

1) You’re not calibrating and profiling you monitor

This is the big one.  Every computer monitor, even different examples of the same brand and model will reproduce colours differently than other monitors.  Lightroom and Photoshop need to know how your particular monitor reproduces colour.  With this information either of them can do the required colour transforms on-the-fly so that what you see in your prints ends up as close as possible to what you see on your monitor.

Despite these common problems, it’s actually pretty easy to create a great print; for most students, the missing ingredient is simply knowing a bit about what’s going on inside Photoshop or Lightroom, and then consistently following an appropriate workflow.

– Mark English – BPSOP Instructor

The Art of Printing and Selling Your Art begins October 9:  I hope to see you then!

Shooting for the Markets: Humans Impact on Nature

BPSOP instructor Charlie Borland is known for capturing beautiful shots in nature, but he also has to look at a lot of different ways to keep his business afloat!  Charlie shares with is some important tips that most nature photographers don’t think about!

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Navajo power plant near Page, AZ has been in the news off and on. Blamed for causing air pollution and haze in the Grand Canyon, this plant is supposedly slated for closing.

Outdoor and nature photographers are attracted to the beauty that Mother Nature provides! They seek to capture the great light, natural splendor, and breathtaking natural events. The goal is to create images that make viewers say “wow.”

 

But for those in the business of licensing images, it is even more important to create images that photo buyers need and will license and these are not always “wow” images.

 

While the market for breathtaking images is large there is also a market for images that show the less ‘pretty’ aspects of nature and the outdoors. And in particular, humans impact on nature.

 

These subjects are often overlooked as photographers strive to create only beautiful images that elicit warm responses from viewers. Yet, images that show mans impact on nature have a market for sure.

 

There are many publications and organizations dedicated to conservation, preserving the environment, and advocates of ethical land use. All of these are markets for stock images and even assignments.

 

Whether you are a conservation photographer dedicated to photographing for environmental causes or a nature photographer looking for a few marketable ideas, consider the less than beautiful side of outdoor photography.

 

These subjects can be air pollution, water pollution, garbage and litter, mining, deforestation, over-fishing, oil spills, nuclear an coal burning power plants, and so much more.

 

Many conservation photographers are valuable allies to environmental causes, but even for those who are not, there is still a market for images related to environmental issues. No matter which side of any cause you might be on, subjects that make the news often have a market for related images.

 

For example, if you are in the United States you are probably aware of the impending election. Within one parties platform has been calls to ‘gut environmental regulations.’ Whether that actually happens or not remains to be seen, but the idea here for outdoor photographer’s is that very suggestion of such action creates potential demand for images related to these subjects and causes. It’s best to be shooting now in anticipation for future needs.

 

Here are a few ideas:

LearnPhotography

This windblown garbage is strewn across the California desert.

PhotoTips

Forest clearcutting in the Pacific Northwest.

EditorialPhotography

Mining

NaturePhotography

Polluted discharge into a river

 

MotherEarth
A deposited soda can in the Yosemite back country. (I packed it out with me)

 

PhotoSchool
Stream bank damage from cattle

There are many, many images that can be captured and may eventually be newsworthy and subsequently very marketable. While on any road trip to make beautiful images, dont pass up an opportunity to capture the other side of nature, the less glamorous and less beautiful side of mans negative impact on nature.

Happy Shooting!
– Charlie Borland – BPSOP Instructor
Charlies Teaches:

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  • I've been a photographer for over 20 years, and thought I knew all the basics...along with some of the extras. However, over the past few months I've learned, through Stretching Your Frame of Mind, and the wonderful instructor, Joe Baraban....that all these years I've been taking pictures rather than "making" pictures. Through Joe's expert, involved, in-depth instruction, I've learned that there's always more to see than meets the eye! Every lesson is thorough and complete. And, as a bonus, Joe always sends along extra material so that you have a total understanding of the lesson at hand. He is totally accessible and responsive. His critiques leave nothing left to the imagination...and if you don't understand something, he is available through his personal email to clarify or answer any question you might have. I am currently taking Part II for the second time, and will most likely repeat it again and again. Every time I now pick up my camera to shoot something I see, Joe's words are in my head, and almost instantly I see something I missed the first time. The title of this course is exactly on target. At the end, you will definitely know how to stretch your frame mind and take your photographic skills up to a higher level. If I had to sum up the course and Joe Baraban in one word it would be"extraordinary". Read More
    Cathy Shotz Stretching Your Frame of Mind
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