Shooting in black and white can force you to stretch your art muscles in new ways. When you subtract the color from an image, you subtract an element of drama and emotion. Black-and-white photography makes you look at the composition of your photograph more closely, reconsider your subject matter, find ways to evoke mood without the aid of color. But I’m not going to tell you to shoot in black and white today. What I am going to tell you is that I’m not a fan of the black-and-white setting on most digital cameras. The setting simply doesn’t create true black and white. Continue reading
Here’s a secret: It’s entirely possible for you to walk all over your ex’s face today. I hope you’d never do that. But the technology exists to make it doable without your ex even knowing. That’s because you can now have digital images printed on darn near anything, including flip-flops. So, technically, you can walk on anyone (or anything) you’d like. Continue reading
It’s hard to believe DVDs were first introduced in America only 17 years ago. If anything exciting happened to you before 1997—and you were lucky enough to capture video of it—I have some bad news: That luck is running out. That’s because most VHS tapes have a life expectancy of between 10 and 25 years, after which they begin to quickly degrade. The good news is that you may still have time to save yours by transferring them 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.
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.
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.
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.
Back in the ‘80s, there was a great ad campaign for cassette tapes (anyone remember those?) put out by Memorex. It suggested their tapes made such high-quality recordings, a person might not realize they were recordings. “Is it real or is it Memorex?” was such a popular campaign; people started using the phrase to describe any fake that was convincing. These days we’ve got a new question for that situation, at least with photography: Is it real or is it Photoshop? The difference now is that it’s often harder to tell.
The rise of photo-editing software spurs the skeptic in us all. Almost any striking photo makes us question whether we’re seeing something from reality or something doctored up—perhaps even completely Frankensteined together—from the artist’s imagination. Skeptic is not a bad word here: Photographs are powerful forces, and when documenting (as with photojournalism) or influencing (as with fashion magazine covers), there’s a strong argument to have them vetted. One 2012 study even showed that our very own memories can be revised by doctored photographs. To think, a stealth Photoshopper could rewrite someone’s history!
On the brighter side, there are also studies that show how photography can reinforce accurate memories of real things in our lives. And ironically, this is where I think digital photo-processing, done right, can be a godsend—because, hey, sometimes photos become truer with a little doctoring. They might not tell the truth about the photographer’s raw camera skills, but they tell the truth about what the photographer saw. Particularly for amateur photographers, SOOC (straight out of camera) photographs don’t always do that. With photo-editing software, it’s possible to make corrective adjustments until the photograph comes to life in a way that makes the photographer go, “Ah-ha. Now, that’s what my mind saw.” Isn’t that the point? We want to remember what moved us, and why.
Maybe the question shouldn’t be “Is it real or is it Photoshop?” Photoshopping doesn’t necessarily make an image “not real.” Sometimes it can do quite the opposite. Maybe the question should really be Does it tell the truth?
If you can get your hands on a copy of it, I highly recommend reading a now out-of-print novel called The 79 Squares. In libraries, you’d find it shelved in the young adult fiction section. It tells the story of a 14-year-old delinquent and an old man he’s wronged. The penalty for the boy’s crime, determined by the old man, is that the boy must come to the elder’s house to study the garden, one square at a time. We’re talking all 79 squares of it. An unlikely friendship is forged as this punishment transforms into an experience of enlightenment for the troubled teen.
So, what’s all this got to do with photography? Well, just imagine spending a whole hour studying a 2’x2’ square of your yard, your garden, a park, or anywhere else in the natural world. What would it be like to look at each blade of grass? At every tiny insect? Does it sound like torture? It’s actually a form of meditation, a mental getaway, and a great way to find something beautiful to photograph. Sometimes the most awesome things are hard to see if you’re not really looking:
The age-old adage says we should stop and smell the roses. I say we also look at them—from the tiniest vein on a leaf to the smallest thorn on the stem. Slow down. Look closely. See what you (and your camera) have been missing.
Interested in getting even closer? Here are 6 quick tips for shooting macro photography:
- A good sturdy tripod is essential.
- A general rule of thumb is to use a maximum f-stop of f/16.
- Experiment with larger apertures to throw more of the subject out of focus, for artistic effect.
- Choose a simple background so that it doesn’t visually compete with the main subject.
- Use the fastest shutter speed possible and a ring flash or flash units if shooting at a low aperture.