Data Backup on the Road

Data on an SD or CF memory card is pretty safe. If you won’t be traveling long you could just take enough cards to handle the number of photos you’ll shoot and download them when you come back. Memory cards are cheap and don’t crash often, but they are pretty easy to lose. I’m not a fan of huge capacity cards for two reasons. If one does get corrupted you run the risk of losing all your photos. The more important reason is that if you’re shooting on a card that holds thousands of photos, you’re likely to make it through a whole week or trip before you fill one up. That means that your camera, which is the likeliest thing to get stolen that you’re carrying with you, has all your precious photo memories in it. If your camera is lost or stolen the pictures go with it. I prefer to have several cards of smaller capacity and leave the extra cards in the hotel room in plain sight. If they’re tucked away in your camera bag they are likely to be stolen along with everything else. A little paranoia can pay off when protecting digital files.

Get a good memory card holder or wallet. My favorite by far is the Pixel Pocket Rocket by Think Tank. It comes in two sizes, one for CF and one for SD cards. It folds over, holds your cards securely, holds business cards and has a fob with a clip. This is a great idea and one that gives me a lot of peace of mind. I clip that thing to a ring on my camera bag or loop in my jacket and don’t have to worry about accidentally dropping all my memory cards in a river or through a subway grate.

Favorite memory card holder: Pixel Pocket Rocket by Think | Favorite storage device: Samsung T5

If you want to backup your data while you’re traveling, there’s a temptation to just download them into your laptop, then reformat the card and shoot some more. Don’t do this! You have moved your data from a very secure, low theft device like a memory card to the spinning hard drive or SSD memory in your shiny, more-likely-to-be-stolen laptop. If you want to use your laptop, either keep the data on the cards as well or take an external hard drive with you to backup the files on. My favorite storage device is the Samsung T5. It’s available in .5, 1 and 2TB. They are much more expensive than external hard drives but they are tiny, lightweight, fast and completely not prone to physical crashes the way hard drives are. The laptop and hard drive shouldn’t be in the same bag at the same time to avoid a total loss in case of theft. Data backup maxim: Data should be stored in at least two places at all times, and one of those should be in another location.

Beyond Pretty Part 2: Finding Your People

It’s been a year so I thought I’d update the 5,000 people that read this blog. 😊

Shortly after I published the first part of my story, I found Clickin Moms. It’s an online community of women photographers where you can talk about your experiences and photos, swap tips and tricks and take classes. Our Director encouraged me to share my journey in the forums. I chatted with some people who helped me put a name to what I was falling in love with – family documentary photography. My ah-ha moment!

I used to think people posted sink bath photos to show off their fancy subway tiles. Then I had a baby who refuses to bathe any other way.

I spent the next several months combing Instagram hashtags and collectives on this topic. Over time I’ve found my people. Here are just a couple of the photographers that are at the top of my inspiration list:

  1. Jessica Thompson
  2. Ginger Unzueta
  3. Terra Fondriest

Before Instagram put photos in the palm of your hand, people have always looked to the masters in their genre to learn and be inspired. And inspiration doesn’t mean replication. Especially in family documentary photography, you don’t have to worry about copying them unless you’re going to travel to their house and follow their family around. That’s a tad too creepy even for me.

Although nothing is too creepy for my daughter. A little Diane Arbus influence here.

But seeing how other photographers capture their world helps you to view your experience a little differently. It doesn’t happen overnight. But keep your eyes open for your people. Use the hashtag feature on Instagram. Start broad and find photos you like. Look at their hashtags and drill down to more refined communities. You’re going to find a lot of crap and a lot of bots. But ignore those and keep going. You’ll eventually discover pictures that are so damn good that you put your phone down for the night because you’re angry you never even thought of that shot. But don’t stop – keep shooting and keep looking at photos. It’s all part of the journey.

Who’s your Instagram inspiration? Or maybe they are on a different site? Or no site at all, you’ve just been lurking outside their studio. However you found them, share them with us. Message us on Instagram or Facebook or even shoot us an email from our Contact form.

I was even brave enough to try out a little off camera flash. It worked on this image, not sure why or how, but it worked! I was going for a British royalty family photo look.

The Tripod 20% Rule

I often get asked if it’s worth carrying a tripod while traveling. I’d say yes! The next question is, which one?

If you haven’t done any low light photography, then you’re missing some of the most satisfying experiences as a photographer. At the very least take a mini table top tripod with you. The best two I’ve found for DSLR and large compact cameras are both by Manfrotto. The model 709 costs about $50 and fits in a deep pocket. The step up from there is to buy a kit of the 209 legs but with the larger Manfrotto 492 Mini Ball Head. That combo is sold by B&H Camera online for about $85 and is something I never travel without. These little guys have gotten expensive over the last couple of years but B&H also carries less expensive ones made by Oben. The TT-50 is the smaller one and runs about $25. The TT-100 is the slightly larger one and runs $35. A small tripod is usable on any flat surface and good metal ones like the Manfrotto or Oben can also be pushed up against a wall or column to do vertical long exposures. If you shoot with a pocket camera you should absolutely have a tiny table top tripod with you. You can find them at camera stores and at Target and Walmart.

A tiny table top tripod from Target and the resulting shot. This allows you to drop the ISO and stay away from the high noise that compact cameras are notorious for.

If you want a larger tripod, remember to buy one that you’ll actually carry with you. There’s a whole world of tripods out there, but if you spend less than about $150 you’ll probably be replacing it sooner than later. We have found a good rule of thumb is that you should plan to spend about 20% of the cost of your camera and biggest lens on a tripod. It’s worth investing in one that you’ll keep for years. Try to find one that comes up to your standing height but is small enough to pack and light enough to carry around. Shorter people have an advantage here since the taller the tripod, the heavier and more expensive it tends to be.

Geeking out a bit with the gear plus the resulting shot. If you’re going to do night shooting Peter recommends a Petzl style headlamp with the red LED.

I’d recommend a good, light weight ball head instead of a traditional pan/tilt head. They are more compact, quicker to use and pack smaller. Also get a good quick release system. Trying to get a camera screwed off and on of a tripod will shave years off your sanity.

Remember whenever you’re shooting on a tripod turn off your vibration reduction or image stabilization. If you don’t, the pictures will be blurry. On DSLRs this is usually a dedicated switch on the lens. On mirrorless cameras it is sometimes a menu setting.

Tripods are also really helpful for panoramas. Even though long exposures weren’t required for this photo, having a panorama head with an offset plate allowed the foreground in this photo to be properly stitched.

Beyond Pretty: The evolution of my visual literacy

When I joined the staff at Dallas Center for Photography in December 2015, I’d been shooting regularly for about 5 years. Mostly of my dogs and later my child and occasionally for friends with poor vision and cheap taste in photography. I enjoyed taking pictures. I had a gut instinct as to what I thought looked good but I would never classify myself as a “photographer” or claim to have any real knowledge of the subject.

I also had no shame.

I spent a lot of time looking at pictures but found myself lacking the ability to describe what I liked about them. They’re just…pretty! I could spend hours drooling over Dog Breath Photography’s portfolio. And how fun are these images from Loose Leashes?! (I told you I loved dog photography!) After my daughter was born I gravitated towards mommy bloggers who shared their parenting experience with both candid and posed visuals.

But as I immersed myself in the photographic world that DCP opened up to me, something unexpected happened. Instead of being inspired by all of these incredibly creative people, I was confused and insecure. I put my camera down for almost 6 months.

I was seeing images from both professional and beginner photographers that had real depth. My photo of my daughter looked nothing like the stunning portraits that came out of our natural light classes. I was also being exposed to genres of photography that I never really paid much attention. When I accompanied the street photography workshop and tried to capture some street scenes, I didn’t know what the hell to focus on. I felt like I was constantly failing.

After trying for 20 minutes on Halloween to get a pretty picture of Hannah in her costume, this is what I got. I was disappointed because you can’t see her face and considered the whole shoot a failure. When I showed it to Peter he completely disagreed. He explained that it’s strong because it captured her personality perfectly and was a moment any parent could relate to.

By the end of 2016 I had two key realizations. The first was when I realized what’s been holding me back from truly appreciating some photos: my ego and its default reaction of judging. When I am looking at a photograph displayed on a gallery wall my brain wants to quickly dismiss it as “there’s nothing special about that” and not really SEE the picture. But if I’ll turn that voice off for a second, I’ll notice there is a lot more to that photo. Sometimes it’s the interesting compositional elements or it’s capturing a unique experience that only the photographer had access to at that moment in time. As Peter once told me, comparison is the killer of creativity.

Not all intimate family portraits have to be taken outside during golden hour.

My next important discovery was realizing I was developing a vocabulary to describe the photos I was seeing. Sitting in on National Geographic photographer Sam Abell’s image critique gave me my first words to describe how a strong image comes together. I’ve been lucky enough to spend many hours discussing and dissecting photography with Peter. So now instead of a photo just being pretty, I appreciate the lighting, the defined spaces of the subjects or the photographer’s ability to capture the decisive moment in that event.

10 minutes into naptime.

I also started exploring photojournalistic style photography with the work of photographers such as Ed Kashi and Dorothea Lange. I’ve been moved to tears more times looking at Dorothea’s photos of migrant farm families and Japanese internment camps than in the entire year I had the movie E.T. on constant repeat. These photos are far from pretty. They are intense, emotional and necessary.

Fast forward another few months and I’m still frozen. I’m now intimidated by these photojournalists being able to capture impeccably composed photos amidst chaos and disaster and I still can’t figure out where to point my camera. And then Dorothea spoke to me. OK, she spoke to everyone watching that American Masters episode on PBS but it truly resonated with me.

In her early 20’s Dorothea was a successful and busy portrait photographer in San Francisco. When the Great Depression began to take hold of our country, soup lines developed in the streets below her studio. Looking down at this scene one day she said “I will set myself a big problem. I will go there, I will photograph this thing, I will come back, and develop it. I will print it, and I will mount it and I will put it on the wall, all in twenty-four hours. I will do this, to see if I can just grab a hunk of lightning.”

Even during our daily rituals I’m learning to see the details.

So that’s what I’ll do. I will look outside my window and photograph what I see. With constraints from family life, daily commitments and social anxieties, I won’t be traveling to exotic places or immersing myself in the important movements of our current society. But there are still pictures to be taken from my role as a mother, my activities at DCP and every place I may stop in between. I will take these photos, I will process them and although most will not get printed and mounted, I will likely post them on Instagram which is basically the modern equivalent but with a lot less chemicals. I will do this, to see if I can just grab a hunk of lightning. I’ll settle for a spark.

I’ll even allow myself to capture the un-pretty.

Preview of Really at Undermain Theatre

We were approached by Undermain Theatre about their new play, Really by Jackie Sibblies Drury. It uses photography as a main theme and they thought we might want to let our clients know about the play. So I went to the preview performance on April 14.

Photography does play a prominent role, in fact, it felt as if it were the fourth character in the play. The three actors are excellent and the story of their relationships is unveiled in a series of emotional interactions and moments. The handling of a camera, fidgeting with lights and talking about photography are woven throughout the drama, sometimes as just busy work, other times as punctuation to the dialog.

I think the play should be seen by anyone who has adopted photography as part of their lives. There is almost no technical dialog about the photographic process here. What the author has done is far more difficult and challenging. She has used photography as a way to explore the very nature of reality and truth. I left the theater in a bit of a fog, in a good way. As a photographer, I’m increasingly aware of my  lifelong attempts to freeze moments and control reality as well as the constant judgment of whether I am good enough. Those thoughts and emotions also apply to relationships. I think Really has done an intriguing job of weaving those two tendencies together.

The Art & Business of Food Blogging

In early September Lauren Palmer was scrolling through Facebook and a familiar picture popped up on a friend’s feed. It was a picture of pastel macarons. Macarons she had purchased. They were sitting on one of her plates; on her dining room table; looking as gorgeous as they would had they come from Ladurée, Mad Macs or some other exquisite bakery–not the frozen section of Trader Joe’s where she had actually found them.

The picture-shot by her beloved friend and photographer, Patrizia Montanari, was promoting a class Patrizia would teach for Dallas Center for Photography called The Art and Business of Food Blogging. The Art and Business. Business. The title resonated with Lauren. We asked her to share her experience with us:

I’m not a food blogger per se. Well, not just a food blogger. My website, The Art of Living Beautifully, is an online lifeStyle hub where fashion, entertaining and yes food intertwine to inspire. This non-tech creative started a website in 2014 and has literally been tripping forward for 2 years, not knowing how to get there or even where she was going, but the determination to continue creating each week has outweighed the logic. The most difficult part though? Not knowing what I don’t know.

I signed up for the workshop where Patrizia would teach photography, Coryanne Ettiene owner of Ettiene Culinary Market would teach the business side of food blogging, and Rebecca White creator of A Pleasant Little Kitchen and foodie contributor for The Dallas Morning News would share her knowledge of the art of food styling.

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Photo Credit: Lauren Palmer

Five minutes till 9:00 I arrived at Ettiene Market with 10 other bloggers. I watched as they unloaded camera bags and lenses and sexy little MacBook Pros–I had shoved my tiny Olympus in my purse with a small notebook and my ancient laptop which weighs approximately 9 pounds. Class began on time in Coryanne’s market. It truly was the ideal setting to absorb foodie inspiration: French cup towels, cast iron pots with a golden hue, giant tea cups branded DARLING and SUGAR stacked in haphazard towers. It is rustic and honest and a home cook’s dreamy-est dream.

“I’m in the mood to receive a check for $6000 today” Coryanne said. I smiled. I liked her already. She began her segment by encouraging us to treat our blogs like a business, not just a hobby or creative outlet. Seek collaborators, fill in gaps, look for opportunities, reach out, do the work, diversify, be authentic, honest and open, take chances. Success doesn’t just happen for bloggers. We have to create it, look for it and be smart about it. She told me things I didn’t know, while reminding me of parts that I did, but had just forgotten.  Her knowledge was vast. Her experience, coveted. Her involvement in this workshop was priceless.

Patrizia took over after Coryanne and gave us a quick lesson on camera anatomy. Light, color, composition, story-telling–these are the components that make a great photograph, she told us in her lovely Italian accent. Also remember light is the other subject of the image. Be very aware of it and use it to your advantage. She was even able to demonstrate photo editing in Lightroom, all the while encouraging us to develop our eye and see our photographs differently.

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Photo Credit: Lauren Palmer

Market Street Supermarket graciously provided lunch for the attendees, which we could also use as subjects for practice. We spread out, ate and took a few shots before Rebecca White began her words on food styling–which for me was the most fun part of the day. I had no idea that photographs should be well thought out before hand, and that they should communicate your brand as well as show a particular food. It shouldn’t be just a picture of spaghetti. The picture of spaghetti should also tell what makes your blog unique: moody, colorful, glamorous, simple, kid-friendly etc…Rebecca had so many ideas and tips on how to create photographs that become your own personal thumbprint.

By the end of the day, I was overflowing with knowledge and fearful I would forget some of the precious wisdom I had just attained. I was also exhausted and starving. On my way to grab some Thai food take-out before heading home, I used what brain power I had left to process the day. The biggest takeaway I had was the simple reminder to seek help if you struggle somewhere. Look to places like Dallas Center for Photography for guidance. Take a class. Engage in a workshop and meet others who are in your same shoes. As bloggers and photographers our jobs can feel so lonely, so isolated. My day at Ettiene Market was a refreshing change to my typical island of one work day. Thank you DCP. Thank you to Coryanne and Rebecca. E grazie mille por la tua amicizia Patrizia.

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Lauren Palmer

www.theartoflivingbeautifully.net

Instagram: @theartoflivingbeautifully

 

 

 

How to shoot the full moon

There is a full moon tonight and I encourage you to go out and shoot at sunset and beyond. It’s going to be a beautiful, rain free evening! At full moon the moonrise and sunset happen together so you’ll get the huge glowing orb of the moon just above the horizon while the foreground will still be lit by the dusk of the fading sun.

Use a tripod and a remote release if you have one. If you don’t have a remote, use the self timer to help the camera settle down before the exposure. Experiment with different White Balance settings on your cameras. If you’re shooting raw you can play with white balance later in software. On some cameras there will be a dedicated WB button. On many Nikons you get to the WB setting by pressing the “i” button twice on the back. That gets you into the “Info” display which lets you set a lot of the most important functions on your camera without having to dive into the menus, where you could be lost for hours. On many Canons the equivalent button is “Q” which stands for “Quickset”.

Look on the left side of your lens. Most of you will have a button that either says VR (Vibration Reduction on Nikon) or IS (Image Stabilization on Canon). Turn that to the OFF position when you’re on a tripod. It sounds weird, but leaving it on will actually cause your images to be blurred. The VR/IS system is trying to neutralize vibration in the camera and when it’s on a tripod and nice and stable, the vibration of the shutter itself will “wake up” the VR/IS system and cause image blur. **Remember to turn it back ON when you’re through shooting tonight.

For exposure mode, if you’re still new to DSLR cameras I would try the P or Program mode. It will work well when the moon is low on the horizon and there is still color in the sky. Don’t use the full Auto mode or the flash will keep popping up. When the moon gets a little higher and the foreground is darker then the auto modes won’t work very well any more. The metering system will be confused by all of the dark sky and you’ll get a blank white circle for the moon with no features. If you’re a little more advanced then try the M (Manual) exposure mode, adjusting aperture and shutter speed until the metering marker is in the middle. Try a shot, then adjust to get the look you want. This would be a good time to play with Spot Metering as well. Put the metering spot right on the moon and use that exposure.

Here’s a good discussion on the topic from one of my favorite photo websites: http://www.cambridgeincolour.com/forums/thread24905.htm

Have fun. If you get something good we’d love to see it.

Here is a nice shot from Michelle Thoma who tried this out during another full moon.

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Preview of the DMA’s Concentrations 60: Lucie Stahl

 

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This morning I had the pleasure of attending Dallas Museum of Art’s Press Preview for Concentrations 60: Lucie Stahl. I wasn’t sure what to expect from a scanner artist but it was close enough to photography that I wanted to know more.

Stahl uses a flatbed scanner to create large format images of items such as food, magazine clippings and trash. The results are fascinating and have a very tactile quality. I really enjoyed her image titled Identity which consisted of a Coca-Cola can, flowers, Lucie’s hands and some unknown liquid. Her method of coating the print in resin made it seem as though the strange red liquid was going to drip right off the wall onto the gallery floor. According to the DMA, “Stahl’s work plays with the notion of liquidity in its many forms – from finance to bodily fluids to the malleability of gender, identity, and images.”

Lucie Stahl Identity, 2015 Inkjet print, aluminum, epoxy resin

Lucie Stahl
Identity, 2015
Inkjet print, aluminum, epoxy resin

Creating art using scanners is actually a really fun and easy thing to do. The images you create can be blown up to huge proportions and are still very sharp. You can use flowers, household objects or even faces. Here’s a helpful how-to on scannography.

Even if you’re not ready to start scanning I certainly recommend checking out Concentrations 60: Lucie Stahl. The exhibit opens Friday, September 16, 2016 and runs until March 12, 2017. Admission is free. Visit the DMA website for complete details.

Sometimes Photoshop is just too complicated for a simple job

Have you ever wanted to make a nice graphic for a presentation or social media but using Photoshop seemed like too much work? I’ve found an easier option. Canva is a free graphic design platform that allows anyone to create beautiful and engaging designs.

I appreciate that they offer dozens of pre-sized templates for social media sites such as Facebook and Pinterest. I’ve used it to make party invitations, flyers, and even Christmas cards. When I’m struggling to come up with a design idea I like to browse their sample layouts for inspiration. Canva also offers free tutorials to help spark your creativity.

At DCP I’ve been using Canva to create easily sharable graphics to announce upcoming events and classes. Here’s an example of one I created for the Photo Swap Meet. I used one of our photos for the background image and then added text on top. Resizing text is simple- you just click the text you want and make your change. To ensure the text was readable, I layered a transparent square between the text and the background. It would have taken me half a day to find that object in Photoshop. In Canva you just click the icon for shapes and then you have a huge selection to drag and drop into your design.

Click here to check out Canva for yourself. And definitely take advantage of the Design School, it really helps break down the basics of good graphic design.

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Sam Abell Image Critique

This past October National Geographic photographer Sam Abell returned to DCP for an afternoon of image critiques. Sam started his presentation by sharing some of his life’s work and explaining why these specific images meant the most to him. His biggest message was to take the photos that are most important to you. As he flipped through the slideshow he shared stories of his artistic search and intimately described some of the most difficult times in his photographic life.

After his presentation, Sam turned his insight towards the work of the students. Over the next hour and a half Sam critiqued two to three images of each of the 24 participants. Photos ranged from travel photography to geometric landscapes to intimate portraits. Sam’s comments included what he liked about each image and gave suggestions on how he may have photographed the situation differently to make the image stronger. He encouraged students to slow down and compose the image and then wait for the action to happen. He shared that the photos that work well are the ones where the subject’s head is above the horizon line and they have their own space and room to tell the story.

Whenever Sam is working with images he always wants the projector to be placed so his shadow can enter into the frame. There is something magical about watching him step into an image and use his hands to call out details, crop out something he finds distracting or point out some small change that would make the image more powerful. By entering into the photograph he can clearly communicate the concept he is wanting to illustrate.

Here are a few images of Sam critiquing photographs along with the students’ comments about the experience:

Sam Abell critiques Frank Richards’ Photo

Sam Abell critiquing Frank Richards' photo

“Sam has an uncanny ability to hone in on the essence of an image – commenting both on what makes an image work and how it might be improved. I do not normally shoot photojournalistic type images like Sam’s but have been able to easily apply the principles he teaches to my work. I like that he focuses on a few powerful concepts that can be easily grasped and when successfully applied have really improved my work.” – Frank Richards

 

Sam Abell critiques Tracy Allard’s Photo

Sam Abell critiquing Tracy Allard's photo

“I like that Sam sees value in many types of images; not just landscape, or portrait etc. I learn from every image that he critiques. He’s really made me think about what makes an image “mine”. I am still trying to find my voice and style but I think I’m getting closer the more that I’m exposed to.” – Tracy Allard

 

Sam Abell critiques Neil Resnik’s Photo

Sam Abell critiquing Neil Resnik's photo

“I was fascinated by his ability to look at a picture and point out things about the composition that I would never notice. For example he would point out the little spaces between subjects or the space at the top of a photo and how it made a difference in the photo. Sam’s critique of my work was very affirming. It was helpful to see my photos through the eyes of another with his skill.” – Neil Resnik

 

Sam Abell critiques Robert Moore’s Photo

Sam Abell critiquing Robert Moore's photo

“I enjoyed Sam talking about his own story, his own struggle trying to be “commercial” and yet be true to himself. Connecting his work images with his personal outlook on life was very touching.” – Robert Moore