Monday, April 07, 2014

KEEP IT CLEAN, PLEASE

LensPen pro camera cleaning kit.

Please tell me that you don't use the bottom of your t-shirt or worse, your actual shirt as your primary method of keeping your lens clean?

Whether you own your photographic equipment or it is provided to you through your employer, it pays to keep it clean and cared for. And probably the number one cleaning task that you perform every time you pull out your camera is to clean the front element of your lens.

I always have a microfiber cloth handy and until now it has been the sole way I've kept my lenses clean. And I suppose I've been aware of the LensPen pro camera cleaning kit for some time and really don't have a good explanation on why I never tried it.

While you can purchase them individually, I opted for the DSLR pro kit which features all three LensPens; the original LensPen for lenses, FilterKlear for lens filters and the MicroPro for viewfinders. Also included is a microfiber cloth which doubles as a carrying pouch.

How does it work? The LensPen consists of the cleaning tip on one end and a retractable brush on the other. Use the brush to remove particles and dust from the lens surface before using the cleaning tip to wipe away fingerprints, smudges and the like. The instructions recommend wiping the lens surface using a smooth circular motion.

And while the LensPen was easy to use and did a good job of cleaning all my lenses, I found the real surprise was the MicroPro, or the smallest of the set. If you have ever tried to clean the viewfinder of a camera you will soon find the MicroPro will become your favorite of the set. I've tried cotton swabs, microfiber clothes and nothing works as well for this task as the the MicroPro does.

Maybe now it's time to order a sensor cleaning kit, something else I've been putting off for far too long.


Monday, March 03, 2014

BEYOND THE RULE OF THIRDS - THOUGHTS ON COMPOSITION

Composition wise, this photograph taken at the Lincoln Memorial sums up this blog post in one photograph.
Composition wise, this photograph taken at the Lincoln Memorial sums up this blog post in one photograph.
I have been thinking about composition lately and wondering if there was more to it than the rule of thirds.* More to the point, how do I articulate composition beyond the rule of thirds.
Com•po•si•tion noun  : The way something is put together or arranged : the combination of parts or elements that make up something.
Every lecture on composition I've ever heard discusses the rule of thirds. Heck, the one semester I taught the basic photography course at Temple University it was the first thing I talked about after shutter speeds and f-stops. And it seemed to come up over and over even when I was teaching advanced classes.

We are all are aware of composition even if we don't know it. Why does some art appeal to us and something very similar does not? I bet in many cases it comes down to composition or as the above definition states, the arrangement of elements.

Think three-dimensionally. This photograph of passengers entering the Foggy Bottom metro uses the three diagonal lines of the escalators to draw you in and keep you there.
Think three-dimensionally. In this photograph of passengers entering the Foggy Bottom metro I used the rule of thirds to both place the subjects in upper right and the three diagonal lines of the escalators to draw you in to the frame.
But as my mind wondered I thought there had to be something beyond the rule of thirds. And how could I share what it is I think I understand about composition to new photographers or to photographers looking to improve. That's when I began to think of the rule of thirds as a two-dimensional concept.

So what if we went beyond two-dimensions and thought in terms of three-dimensions. What is it that draws you into a photograph? If the rule of thirds looks at the 2D surface, then it makes sense to me that the third dimension looks into the photograph from foreground to background. Think in terms of depth or layers, terms you might already be familiar with. Again, just trying to think differently.

Rule of thirds across and into the photograph is what makes this photograph of the St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in Arlington, Va., so appealing to me.
Rule of thirds across and into the photograph is what makes this photograph of the St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in Arlington, Va., so appealing to me.
Could there a fourth-dimension in our photographs? Maybe when you wrap a subject in light or add a vignette in post production you create that fourth-dimension.

And remember to understand the rules of composition, or any rules in photography, means you can break them. I know there are some photographers that never learned the rules and yet continue to create wonderful images because they just have a sense of composition.

When you see a photograph or piece of art you like, study the composition. Over time as you take photographs you will instinctively put into practice good composition habits without even thinking about it. And as people begin to admire your work, even photographs of the mundane like my examples here, you will begin to understand why. Good composition. It will be ours, and other photographers, secret.

* The rule of thirds is a concept in which a photographic frame is divided in nine imaginary sections creating points where those lines intersect. Placing a subject at one of those points, essentially off center,  generally makes for a more pleasing image.
Dividing a photo frame in nine imaginary sections creates points of interest.
Rule of thirds example.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

5 TIPS TO GET YOU OUT SHOOTING

Cornfield
This sun flare photo was featured on Flickr's blog as part of a Flickr Friday project and now is one of my most popular photographs on the service with over 2,000 views and favorited 47 times.
Do you find yourself with a desire to head out shooting but are really stuck for inspiration? Maybe you have a new camera or lens and want to put them through the paces and make wonderful photographs but can't think of anything compelling to shoot. Or worse, maybe you have a mental block and just can't visualize yourself taking photos.

First, let's understand that this happens to everyone, professionals, amateurs and all levels in between. There are some days you just aren't feeling it. And it's easy to think just pick up the camera, get out there and shoot, but that really isn't an answer or you would not have to read any further.

Professional photographers can normally push through those thoughts and so can you with these helpful tips to get your creative photographic juices flowing.

1. The reason professional photographers push through those thoughts is because the fear of returning from an assignment without a usable image forces them to. So why not start by simply giving yourself an assignment. It can be anything from pretending you are a National Geographic photographer sent to document a location or making a commitment to show others your results. How would a Geographic photographer approach a subject? And nothing motivates a professional more than having to show images to their editor following an assignment so think who could play the role of editor in your life.

I was looking for a reason to get out of the house, so I headed to Glen Echo Park in Maryland, a location I've been wanting to photograph for some time. Once there I decided my theme would be the Victorian architecture and while I don't think I captured any particularly compelling images, I know it is a location I will return to again.
2. Pick a theme. It could be anything from shadows, color, texture or something broader like weather, love, aging. This theme allows you to begin really observing the environment around you. And maybe while searching for photographs to fit that theme, you begin to see something else that catches your eye. Keep an open mind, but if you can stick to your original theme it really forces you to "see."

3. Participate in an online photo community and look for assignments there such as Flickr Friday or Instagram's Weekend Hashtag Project. In this case you don't even have to pick a theme yourself. For instance, every Friday Instagram's community team picks a theme and provides a hashtag so you just shoot and post the photos. Find out if there is a Google Plus Drink & Click photo walk in your area or any photo walk for that matter. Or just find a friend who also is looking for a reason to get out and shoot and get together.

Ceiling Stamp
Photograph taken with my cell phone at the U.S. Postal Museum in Washington, D.C. as part of an Instagram Hashtag Project. #WHPsentbymail. I don't have a big presence on Instagram, but this photo drew eight likes and I picked up followers.
4. Think beyond that one day with your camera and look for longer term projects. Is there something in the news that sparks your interest or are you a member of a group or club that is looking for someone to document their activities. These projects keep you thinking long term and will have you looking forward to shooting every chance you get. It is still helpful to set goals along the way and sharing your work will help you refine the project.

5. Think about a technique you want to get better at and develop a photo shoot around that. You can watch tutorials on the web all day long, but if you never attempt to try them, then nothing is gained. Say you just watched a video on shooting portraits with off camera flash, then grab a friend and get out there and try it. Both Adorama and B & H have YouTube channels that offer great tips for photographers at all levels. Additionally, sites such as Creative Live, Kelbyone and whole host of others are available to find both instruction and inspiration.

Arlington, Va. WWPW 2013
I find myself returning often to Rosslyn in Arlington, Va., where i'm drawn by the shadows, shapes and architecture. This photo was taken during the 2013 Scott Kelby Worldwide Photo Walk I led and subsequently was featured on Ibaroinex Perello's YouTube channel on finding the extraordinary in the ordinary.
So even if you find yourself going to the same location over and over again, I hope that following some of the tips I've offered will force you to get out and shoot, force you to dust off that camera and most importantly force you see differently.

Anything that gets you out of the house with a camera in hand means that there is a potential for wonderful photographs and the potential for you to improve.

Remember that even if you don't take any photographs that thrill you each time you are out shooting, you've lost nothing, except the guilt of not trying.

Monday, February 10, 2014

DECISIONS, DECISIONS... WELL YOU GET THE POINT

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FLIP celebrating 50 years of operations by "flipping."
As photographers we have to make decisions and choices all of the time. Decisions such as camera and lens choice, f-stop and shutter speed, white balance, RAW or JPEG and a whole host of other things that go into making pictures.

Admit it, this is what you were thinking when you read the title, right?

And you would be right that for 90% of my assignments these are the biggest photographic decisions I make. But they are certainly not the toughest decisions. Given time and experience those decisions start to become second nature. The toughest decisions I have to make is where I'm going to photograph from.

Two assignments come to mind, but there have been many others over the years.


The first was an assignment to photograph the Navy's Floating Instrument Platform (FLIP) off the coast of San Diego, Calif., where I was given the choice between riding aboard FLIP or riding aboard a tug carrying media and VIPs. My first instinct was to ride aboard FLIP because that would be the cool thing to do. Very few people get that opportunity and it's something I've wanted to do since I started working at the Office of Naval Research. But deep down I knew that I needed to get photos and video of FLIP, well flipping, and that would not have been possible if I were aboard.

131106-N-PO203-226
It would not have been possible to capture this photograph if I choose to ride aboard. the best case would be that I could do both, but that is not always possible.
Then just recently I was assigned to photograph the Navy's only manned airship, or blimp, located at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md. Like FLIP, I've wanted to ride in this for some time and thought I would finally get the opportunity. But again I had to make a tough decision; am I going to get the best photos of the blimp from inside the blimp?  And like FLIP, I wanted to be aboard because that would be a very cool thing to do, but I knew that the best chance to photograph the blimp was to stay on the ground.

We make photographic decisions all the time, but the easy ones really are camera and lens, f-stop and shutter speed and all those other things you thought really mattered.

When I reflect on these two assignments, I know I made the right decisions and the images speak for themselves. In the case of FLIP, the video has been used by Discovery Channel, National Geographic and others and the photos continue to get published even one year later, most recently by the weather channel.

Navy Airship by John F. Williams on 500px.com
Photo of the Navy's airship that has been added to my portfolio on 500px.
Too soon to tell if the blimp photos will take off, but I'm very happy with the results and even used one in my portfolio. That's when the right decision pays off.

So is there ever a way to be in two places at one time? You might have noticed if you watched the FLIP video that there is onboard footage shot as FLIP transitions from the horizontal to vertical position. I did have the opportunity to mount a GoPro camera aboard and then coordinated with an on board scientist to trigger the camera just before operations began. He came through which proves that it is possible to be in two places at once, virtually at least.

You can also use a remote trigger on a second camera if you are close enough. If you are too far away to trigger a remote, then set the camera's timer to fire a frame at certain intervals. Who knows, you may get lucky as I did when I set a GoPro to shoot one frame every 30 seconds during a satellite launch in Kodiak, Alaska. I was three miles away when the image was made.
Two places at one time. GoPro camera allows me to capture launch while I'm three miles away with a 600mm.
Two places at one time. GoPro camera allows me to capture launch while I'm three miles away with a 600mm.



Thursday, January 30, 2014

INSTAGRAM - IT'S HIP TO BE SQUARE

My first Instagram photo. It would be 17 months until I posted again. #CellPhone #Filter #Frame
My first Instagram photo. It would be 17 months until I posted again. #CellPhone #Filter #Frame
I admit I'm late to the Instagram party and think I've figured out why.

It wasn't because I don't dig the square format, I do. I don't mind filters and frames don't scare me.

And it wasn't the fact that four of the top ten followed accounts are either Kardasians or Jenners, half sisters to the Kardasians, female pop stars Beyonce, Rhianna and Taylor Swift, then Justin Beiber and finally Ariana Grande, someone I've never heard off. *

I think the real reason I was late is that I could never choose a side in the debate about what type of photos get posted to the site.

This photo was taken with a FujiX100s, processed in Instagram. #Camera #Filter
This photo was taken with a FujiX100s, processed in Instagram. #Camera #Filter
Not the photograph's genre, but do you post photos taken with a professional DSLR camera and post processed, or as the instant in Instagram suggests, do you post photos taken with a mobile device only. Don't think that is a hot topic? A quick search of the Internet will open your eyes. **

I joined the service and posted my first photo taken with my cell phone on April 11, 2012. The next photo taken 17 months later (yes almost a year-and-a-half later), again with my cell phone, came on November 23, 2013.

Then for reasons I can't explain, the next 11 photos, the last of which was posted on December 31, were all re purposed photographs taken with either a DSLR or my Fuji X100s and post processed.

Then came a bit of self examination. Is this how I wanted to use Instagram? Did I want to join photographers that shared photos this way. After all I reasoned that I'm already sharing my camera photos on Flickr and additionally sharing my favorites on 500px.

The start of a New Year and the start of becoming a regular Instagram contributor. #CellPhone #NoFilter
The start of a New Year and the start of becoming a regular Instagram contributor. #CellPhone #NoFilter
So for my next two photos I returned to using my cell phone. The first of these taken on January 1st while covering the Mummers Parade in Philadelphia was a disaster for several reasons, mostly due to my cell phone and a crashing app. For the other reason you can read about in a previous blog post.

The most recent image before I started writing this post was taken again with my cell phone on January 9th, and is of a donut. More typical of photos on Instagram? Now it was a maple glazed bourbon bacon donut, but was I now fully committed to using only a cell phone and was this how I was going to start off the New Year as an Instagramer?

Finally if I told you I just upgraded to a Samsung Galaxy S4then you know I've answered my own question. Yes, I'm going to only post photos taken with my cell phone. Does that make me an Instagram purest? Does anyone really care? After all I only have 12 followers and only posted 15 photos in nearly two years.

Final photo before this blog post. #CellPhone #NoFilter
Final photo before this blog post, but not the last. #CellPhone #NoFilter
I enjoy seeing creative photography, so if I see a cool photo on Instagram that clearly was taken with a DSLR it really doesn't matter to me. And I won't take the radical move of unfollowing these Instagram "impostors" either. Just know that if you post in this fashion there is a Hipster with an iPhone somewhere shedding a tear.

* The 10 Most Followed People on Inastagram: Should You Follow Them Too? By Joshua Lockhart.
** Should You Post Photos on Instagram that Were Shoot on a Digital SLR? By Dan Havlik.