Photographing Eyes: A Mother’s Day Gift She’ll Never Forget

Many moons ago, I met a photographer at a Seattle street festival who peddled portraits of eyes. Festival-goers were paying her $25 or $30 a pop to have her photograph their eyeballs in extreme close-up. There wasn’t so much as an eyelash in her photographs, just iris and pupil, and the images were simply gorgeous. She also did collage-style family portraits. By that, I mean collections showcasing whole families’ eyeballs. (One family even included their parrot’s eyeball in their collage!)

I hadn’t fully grasped before that day how breathtaking the human eye is. Each one had so much depth, color, and complexity. Don’t even get me started on the detail. Ever since, I’ve been captivated by any photograph that’s all about the eyes. They don’t even have to be in extreme close-up. Take, for example, this iconic cover from the June 1985 issue of National Geographic:

1985-afghan-girl-national-geographic1

Copyright: National Geographic

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A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words

Our community suffered a great loss earlier this week with the unexpected passing of Joe Brauberger. Joe was a generous man and gifted photographer who taught courses not only at Lawrence but also at Ozarks Tech Community College. He loved all things photography and was quite gifted at helping others master their cameras. Joe was also the man behind the website/blog Thousand Word Photography. Today, I think it’s apropos to talk about those proverbial thousand words, the ones a picture is said to be worth.

Since sensory things are processed in the front of the brain, and visual things are processed in the back, I find it interesting that a photograph can trigger both visual and sensory experiences. For example, I have this photograph from a horribly hot Ozarks summer when I was a little kid, and it always triggers a memory of the sound of cicadas buzzing. It’s like I can hear those bugs when I see that photograph. To me, it’s like looking at the sound of the sun. Come to think of it, I can also taste the chlorine and exactly remember the sensation of sweat trickling down my forehead after I dried off from swimming. That’s what a photograph can do.

Recently a customer brought in a very large panoramic landscape shot in sepia. Its scale was impressive, but there wasn’t anything that really stood out about the subject matter. No pretty sky. No interesting architecture. No unusual shadows or lighting or curious events. Just a really wide photograph of a town that could be anywhere. The customer was so excited to have it matted and framed.

sepia toned panoramic of a city landscape

“This is a turn-of-the-century photo of my hometown,” she explained. “It’s a ghost town now, and I know it’s not much to look at, but here is where I went to high school, and here is the old county courthouse where I fell down the steps and skinned my knees, and here is the hotel that burned down when I was a kid, the one where Teddy Roosevelt once stayed. And over here is the Hanging Tree. Oh, I used to get a shiver down my spine when we drove by that thing!”

And there it was, her thousand words captured in an image. She did a literal shiver when she pointed at the tree. She cringed when she talked about her skinned knees. I asked her if she’d ever written something out to describe what was in the photograph. She looked at me like I was nuts. Of course she hadn’t. The photograph was for her own pleasure, a thing that with one look could conjure pages and pages of stories in her mind. The whole point was that she didn’t need to write them down. She felt them when she looked at the photograph.

My wish for anyone who picks up a camera is that you will find ways to tell your own stories with that camera—who you are, where you came from, what you find beautiful, where you’ve been, what matters to you in life. It’s the great pleasure of photography, telling tales without saying a word. I’m talking about images that are packed with words, that will light up your whole brain when you look at them later. What will your thousands of words be?

Honoring the Fallen with Our Cameras

I find that some of the most beautiful photographs are those of other people’s artwork –of sculptures, for example, or of museum installations. But one type of artwork we too easily forget is artwork is the memorial, particularly when a memorial is more architectural than sculptural.

Think of Maya Lin’s winning design of the Vietnam War Memorial. At the time, the 21-year-old college student’s design was unlike any other war memorial conceived before it. Considered unconventional, it even sparked some controversy that dragged Lin into a hearing before Congress.

Controversy aside, Lin’s unconventional design helped make the Vietnam War Memorial one of the most photographed memorials in the world. Save for the bronze statuary added as a result of a Congressional compromise, the memorial is but a long, receding, black wall engraved with the names of fallen soldiers, not organized in any particular way. Lin designed it this way with the rationale that those who visited the wall would have to search to find the name of someone they sought, the act being a sort of metaphor for a battlefield search for a fallen comrade.Photographing Memorials

Much of the photography taken at the memorial is of people, young and old, searching for names on the walls—touching the engravings and with their own faces reflected against the smooth black stone. It makes for some incredibly poignant photography. As I see it, the memorial is an artwork, and the photography of the memorial and of people interacting with the memorial offers a second layer of art. Such photographs are another way in which people can engage with the memorial and be reminded of sacrifices, tragedies, and incredible loss that should never be forgotten. They are an art of their own.

This week marks the twelfth anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks. The wounds are still very fresh with this national day of remembrance, and I’m moved as I read and hear of a great many ways in which people plan to honor it—from lighting a candle to volunteering for a good cause to traveling to that incredible memorial at the site of the fallen towers, in New York City.  I think one way that photographers, in particular, can mark the day is to get out and make photographs of the way it’s being honored. Capture those images that get to the soul of the matter. Use your camera to truly see the memorials—both those that stand in stone and those that exist within the human spirit.

The School Photos Conundrum

Cowlicks, unnatural smiles, stiffly tilted heads, boring backdrops—school photos have been a sort of annual rite of passage for generations, and their season is once again upon us. The thing is, many parents are foregoing what feels more and more like an obligatory fundraising purchase. They instead go to professional photography studios, shoot their own photos, or feel content with not having a formal headshot taken of their child every year. I can’t help but wonder if they aren’t missing something.

School Photos for Yearbook

Professional photographs have their place, to be sure, but there is something sentimental about a line-up of a person’s lifetime of school photos. Every kid has a reaction to “Picture Day” and, moreover, to the act of being formally photographed in front of their peers by a stranger ordering them to say cheese. Over the years, they might move through stages of being totally self-unaware to totally self-conscious, from clowning to beaming, from shy to confident. And without their parents on the scene to coach and hover, they’re kind of on their own deciding how to best present themselves for posterity. School pictures may not be a way of getting gorgeous shots of children, but they’re a way of cataloging their experience with Picture Day itself. Frankly, sometimes the accumulated results are just hilarious.

Whether you buy the school pictures or not, however, I think it’s a great idea to try your own hand at capturing some shots of your child before they head out in the morning for Picture Day. Here are three tips for doing that:

  1. Engage them. Ask your child some open-ended questions while you’re snapping pictures. As they get caught up in the conversation, they’re more likely to relax and focus less on the fact that they’re being photographed. Then you also stand a better chance of capturing what you love about their spirit in the images, not just their physical appearance.
  2. Take turns. It can be helpful to loosen up kids’ nerves or irritation, to let them take a turn at photographing and directing you. Let them decide how they want you to sit and how they want you framed. When they see the results of their work, they tend to get more excited about the camera-play in general. Besides, turnabout is fair play!
  3. Loosen up. One of the biggest complaints parents have about Picture Day photos is that the children look stiff and unnatural. Well, kids tend to feel stiff and unnatural when they’re asked to pose. Try letting them roam or play a bit while you sit off to the side, preferably way off to the side with a telephoto lens. If you’re not right in their face, they’re more likely to loosen up. Plus, using the telephoto lens will make for less distortion.

Like “First Day of School,” “Spring Break,” and “Test Day,” there’s something about the words “Picture Day” that are oh-so-elementary to the school experience. I can’t help but be sentimental about them. For many schools, they are also an important fundraiser, another reason not to be too quick about dismissing them. Yet I still say you should make sure the minimally paid photographer who has less than a minute or two with your child isn’t the only one to capture the day. Seize the opportunity to photograph your child in all their Picture Day splendor!

What Does Photography Mean to You?

The title should cause some sort of emotion. What does photography really mean to you? Does it mean snapping pictures of everyday life? Does it mean capturing moments in time for memories? Does it mean taking the time to set up a scene because you have a vision of what something should look like? Does it mean creating a piece of art and using not just a camera but the extra tools out there now to enhance and make pictures seem more alive?

Photography as Art

Photo by Craig Hill

There is no right answer for this. Pictures, photos, cameras, imaging, subjects, lighting, tripods, and lenses…none of this really matters until you decide what photography means TO YOU!

What does it mean to us? Expression of emotion. A photo, like a piece of art, is supposed to draw out an emotion. Just like the title of this blog was supposed to make you feel something, a photograph should stir something within. What that is will be different for many people.

Before you take that step into photography, decide what it means for you…it can be a life changing decision that might mean a lifetime of love for something that could become more than just a hobby.

Let’s Come Together!

hummingbird

Photo taken by Beth Luther

We are proud members of the Photo Marketing Association and were very excited when they announced a new place for photographers, imagers, enthusiasts to come together to share ideas.

It’s called The Big Photo Show.  As PMA mentions in their most recent news release about the project, this is the place for “photo enthusiasts, professional photographers, photo retailers, imaging labs and manufacturers to meet, learn and grow together.”

For photo lovers like us, this news is great because we always believe that we can learn something new from others every time we pick up our cameras and snap a picture. There is no “right” way to get that “perfect photo” and even we can learn something from novice photographers!

The Big Photo Show will combine live events and online community “gatherings”. The first event is just 6 months away in Los Angeles. The online community can be found here, at this link! What’s really great about this online community is that you can make it what you want it to be. Get news, enter photos into a contest and learn from your peers or some of the best in the business!

We hope you will join us in that community!

Oktoberfest in the Ozarks

Lawrence Photo-to-GO!

Fun with friends with Lawrence Photo-to-GO!

Saturday October 6th should be a fun-filled day in Downtown Springfield as we join with everyone to celebrate Oktoberfest in the Ozarks! You can’t go wrong with live music, food and, of course, beer!
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