When Photoshopping Hurts – A Lesson in Photography Feelings

Last year, a 14-year-old girl started a petition to demand that Seventeen magazine stop Photoshopping the models who grace its pages. She’d had enough, saying young girls deserved to see real bodies and real faces as they struggle to love their own physical appearances. In 2010, the actress Emily Blunt was quoted in Los Angeles Times Magazine as saying that she once instructed a photographer not to Photoshop her into looking thinner.

“I can understand there are things like shadows they need to fix after a shoot,” she said, “but it’s unfair to represent an image of yourself if it’s not true.”

After seeing herself digitally thinned for a mass-market magazine, Actress Shailene Woodley was recently quoted as saying she strives to have only realistic images of herself in print.

“That’s BS,” she said. “That’s not what I really look like.”

Photoshop Photography Kate Moss Compared

Kate Moss – Before and after

Years ago, a friend of mine attended a holiday party at her work. Some of the images from the party were later posted to the company’s website, and right away, she noticed that she didn’t look quite like herself in them: Her thighs were thinner, her teeth were whiter, and some of the wrinkles on her 50-something face had clearly been airbrushed out. Worse, not everyone in the pictures appeared to have been altered. Even as she envied this more youthful and svelte version of herself, she also felt hurt—and judged. Someone was sending a message: You’d look better if you were thinner, had whiter teeth, and were less wrinkled. Thanks a lot, right?

Professional photographers use Photoshop all the time, especially to improve composition. But when it comes to altering the subjects’ physical appearance, the rules of engagement have yet to be set in stone. Should permission be sought? How much is too much? Should you stick to erasing flyaway hairs and giant zits? If it’s okay to shave off a little thigh curve, is it also okay to add a bigger bust line?

I see a distinct overlap between Photoshop and plastic surgery—that is, with many of the same questions at play. Do you strive to make your subjects look like themselves, just better? What does it mean, to look better? Most important, why are we doing it at all? It’s a complicated discussion, and as photographers, we should all be part of it. Clearly photographers now hold some collective sway over body ideals and, therefore, body image. We best be careful how we use it. Your thoughts?



Circle of Life: Transferring Your Photo and Video Memories to DVD

Ah, the circle of life. People usually think of it as a poetic phrase to help kids stomach the brutality of the food chain, no pun intended. In the video and photography business, I think of it as that little donut-shaped wonder called the DVD. It’s amazing what can be contained on that little circle, truly whole lifetimes of images, including those taken decades and decades before computers were so much as a twinkle in your eye.

We have a video-conversion service here Lawrence Photo. It’s not just about converting an 8 mm film of your grandparents having a snowball fight, though that’s certainly possible and important to do. It’s not just about transferring footage of your son’s homecoming football game off that dust-collecting VHS tape in your basement, though you should do that, too. No, it’s for more than just moving images. Video conversion also includes transferring stills—those beautiful memories you’ve captured on prints, slides, and digital images.   Get them on a DVD, and you can preserve them longer and easily make copies to your heart’s content.

Scan photos and videos to DVD at Lawrence Photo

It can take less than a dozen years for magnetic tape to deteriorate into a haze, so I certainly don’t wish to downplay the importance of transferring your videos. I just want to point out that your stills could use that same kind of TLC via DVD, as well. Father Time has no mercy on photographs. He weakens their colors and changes their hues. He washes them out as the decades pile up. Scan them into your computer, upload them to a cloud service, and not only have you got yourself a Band-Aid but also you’ve got memories that are harder to lose and easier to share.

With the low costs of digital photography, the advent of smart-phone cameras, and the age of inexpensive point-and-shoots, we take more photographs than ever. The down side is that we also print far fewer of them, and in the end, forget far more of them over time. Dig through those boxes and pore through those digital files. Bring the images to us, and we’ll give you back a true circle of life.

Shooting with Flare: Photographing into the Sun

In photography, light equals life. Sometimes it also equals lens flare. Flare refers to light scattered within the lens that reduces contrast and creates bright streaks on the image. Photographers used to think of it as an amateur mistake. These days, it’s earned its place as an artistic technique, but a lot of people are uncertain how to do it. Maybe that’s why, in our shop, we really don’t see a lot of flare photography. It’s a pleasant surprise when customers share it with us:

Photography with Sun Flare

Courtesy Sherri Pendley Nicholas

We’d love to help more people succeed at flare photography, so let’s talk about the type achieved using sunlight. Obviously, shooting with your camera pointed at the sun can lead to silhouetting, high contrast, blown-out highlights, or overly saturated colors. The workarounds aren’t all that complicated:

  • Use manual mode so you can compensate for the backlight and avoid silhouettes. If a person is your subject, try setting the exposure for their skin.
  • It’s easier on your back, knees, retinas, and camera if you shoot early in the morning or late in the afternoon, when the sun is positioned lower in the sky and not at its most intense.
  • If you do shoot mid-day, position yourself low to the ground and/or use a wide-angle lens and dial down the aperture to f/8. A lens hood is advisable.
  • To better show off bursts of sun rays and spots, position the sun in a corner of the frame or coming in from the side instead of the center.
  • Focusing is a big challenge when photographing into the sun. Try auto-focusing on your subject with them blocking the sun, locking that focus in, and then moving yourself until you have the shot composed to your liking before you take it. Another trick is to use a higher aperture, which gives you some latitude if your focus isn’t perfect.
  • Preserve your retinas! To be on the safe side, try putting the camera on a tripod, pointing it in the general direction you want to shoot, taking a shot, and then viewing the results on your camera’s LCD screen—then make adjustments and keep snapping pictures this way until you get what you want. If you have a digital SLR camera, try using Live View to compose the shot.

In addition to worrying about their retinas, many people worry that shooting into the sun will ruin a camera’s sensor. The manuals that accompany many cameras do explicitly recommend not pointing your lens directly at a high-intensity light source, but the general consensus among photographers is that you have to work pretty hard to damage your sensor. And unless you are taking ridiculously long exposures directly into the sun, you should be fine. If you’re concerned about the risks, or if you just want a simple workaround, there are apps and software that can pretty decently simulate flare. Try LensFlare, an app for iPhone and iPad—not as satisfying as mastering the technique in real time, but they’ll do in a pinch.

So, what do you say? Ready to tame the sun to do your bidding? We hope you’ll share your results, as well as any additional insights that might help others master this technique!

Beyond Crowdsourcing: Boosting Your Photography Skills the Old-Fashioned Way

Well, you’ve done it again. Another underwhelming photograph. What are you doing wrong? How the heck can you conquer this art anyway? Do you feel like you’ve maxed out on learning, that you’ve hit a brick wall when it comes to taking better pictures? Before you throw your hands up (or your camera down), take a step back and look where you’ve been mining for help. Is it possible you’re just stuck in a crowdsourcing frame of mind?

If you use the web to improve upon your photo skills—obviously you do, considering the headline of what you’re reading right now—then you’ve used crowdsourcing. Of course, crowdsourcing means tapping into a wider community to accomplish, learn, or solve something. People tend to think of popular sites like Wikipedia and WikiHow when they think about crowdsourcing, but really the web itself could be viewed as one gigantic crowdsourcing platform. Everyone’s throwing their thoughts, opinions, ideas, and information into one gigantic stew, and anyone with Internet access can ladle it out.

Lomg Night Exposure Photography

Long night exposure YVR Airport, Vancouver
Copyright All rights reserved by Joshua Cairns

In most crowdsourcing situations, white noise abounds. This is sure true with crowdsourcing for photography help. Everyone’s got an opinion, and it’s often hard to tweeze out whose opinions deserve weight and aren’t full of, well, you know what. You can get a better feel for whose opinions matter by looking at crowdsourced conversations between other photographers who show their work when they comment, as is done on this photography board on Reddit. At any rate, I’m all for crowdsourcing—to a point.

There’s a saying: If the only tool you have is a hammer, then every problem starts to look like a nail. In other words, if you use just one tool (e.g., the crowdsourcing facet of the Internet) to solve your problems (e.g., the issues in your underwhelming photographs), you’re sorely limiting yourself. Photography is a hands-on activity. You can read about it all you want on the Internet, but there’s really nothing like having a living, breathing expert by your side to help you improve upon your technical skills. What am I driving at? Take a class! Not an online class, mind you, but an in-person, bring-your-camera, no-distractions, hands-on kind of class.

Chances are good that the brick wall you see between you and great photography skills is not really a wall at all. It’s probably just a speed bump, one that has nothing to do with the limits of your technical or artistic prowess and everything to do with limits of crowdsourcing. Yeah, that speed bump is probably just the edge of the Internet, and waiting for you beyond it are real people ready to help you become a real photographer in the real world in real time.

3 Reasons Why You Should Shoot on Film

Using film in a camera for photographsDo you ever shoot on film? You don’t have to be a hipster, and it’s not about being retro. (I’d say there’s really no such thing as the “rebirth of film,” as I’ve sometimes heard it called: The practice never died.) That film has taken a backseat to digital photography is undeniable—and understandable—but shooting on film from time to time is good for you, too. Here’s why:

“Spray and Pray” Can Cloud the Way. Indiscriminately firing a sea of bullets toward a target might work in a war zone, but approaching photography with the same reckless abandon can be a bad habit. I get why it’s helpful in many situations, but I think it’s all too easy to do even when you don’t need it, just because you can. After all, unlike with film, you’re not spending money on every shot you take. As a result, you often exercise less restraint and less thoughtfulness. When you shoot on film, you have a finite number of shots you can take, and they’re each going to cost you a little something in real cash. That really does make you stop and think harder about how to set up your shot for the best results, and the payoff can be really great.

Memories Are for Your Brain, Not Your Computer. For the very reason I just described, it’s easy to fill up your computer’s memory with a colossal amount of digital photo files. What about the actual memories contained in those photographs? There are so many to choose from, you don’t print most of them. Then you end up rarely if ever looking at them again, since most people print only a small percentage of the digital photographs they take. Then, well, you forget them. Of all the photographs you have stored on your computer, how many have you actually had printed? When you shoot film, you have to have to get prints or you’ll never see the fruits of your labor. Having a photograph printed into something you can hold in your hand, set out on your mantel, touch in a photo album—it just brings it alive and ignites your memory in a way that sharing it on Instagram never will.

Everyone Loves Opening a Package. I swear, there’s nothing like the excitement of picking up that little envelope of just-developed photographs. When’s the last time you did that? I’m not talking about picking up a few enlargements. I’m talking about a whole pack of prints. What you are opening is a stack of memories as well as a personal review of your work. It’s different than looking at the image on a screen, where you can Photoshop it to death to make it right. It’s seeing your work in its final and permanent incarnation, something that really forces you to look at your work and see the patterns in your execution of the camera—especially those you might want to change.

I love my digital camera as much as the next person. But shooting on film can be good for the heart and mind at both ends of the process, from the time you set up your shot to the moment you pick up your photos. Give it a whirl. And remember, you can still share the best of those shots just the way you would share your digital photos—we both develop film and scan it and prints for digital storage (and sharing!).