Articles by: Peter Poulides

Slow Down

One of the best ways to get better travel photos and enhance your own trip is to give your photography time.

If you’re in a hurry you’ll miss out on the time-stretching experience of having your camera on a tripod, just waiting for the nice light. Or framing up a side street and waiting for something interesting to happen. This is what National Geographic photographer Sam Abell calls “compose and wait”. It’s something that takes practice but can make a big difference in the quality and energy of your photos.

I framed up the sign and stairs and waited for some people to come up out of the Metro. I didn’t expect what looks like a choreographed move from a boy band video!

The real gift is that even if you don’t get a good shot every time, you’ve stopped and noticed what’s happening in that foreign place, even if it’s just photographing a row of shopping carts in a Walmart parking lot in Reno.

Booksellers on the Left Bank in Paris. I was waiting for the other pedestrian traffic to clear to get a shot of this perfectly styled shopper. As I did, I noticed the other photographer off to my right with a D810 and a 70-200mm lens. Then I heard her giving directions to the woman in the red dress. It was a setup, which would explain the picture perfect outfit!

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.

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.

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.

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.

michelle-thorma-full-moon-dallas-center-for-photography

Ciao from Italia!

Our Natural Light Portrait teacher, Patrizia Montanari, has been spending her summer in her home country of Italy. She sent us this note along with some of the photos she’s taken:

Dear Peter,

It’s been two months since I left Texas to visit Italy after four years of absence. It has been amazing and I found myself rediscovering this colorful and folkloristic country with new eyes. My journey so far has been interesting, challenging (as I am traveling with two small children), emotional and regenerating. I have a love-hate relationship with my home land, I appreciate the way it is and the way it will never be. Mostly I enjoy all it is giving me, the smell, the taste, the history, the family and the multitude of dialects, I am absorbing it all, and save it for my return to Texas.

As you know, before my departure I spoiled my self with a new camera, a Fujifilm X100T, which it has been my best friend since I landed in Milan. It’s a fantastic tool, it’s with me all the time and the quality of the images is sublime and never disappoints me.

I have been traveling all over Italy quite a lot and got so much inspiration from places and people. I have been taking trips to the Alps, the Riviera Ligure, the hills of Tuscany, the country side of Umbria and the gorgeous Island of Sicily. I have been bouncing from loving to photograph landscape to finding gorgeous light to photograph people. Location scouting requires no effort here and most of the time I am actually crying for a model.

I am grateful for the art of photography and what I am doing to preserve these memories, I am also grateful for hashtags, #lamiaitaly will always remind me of this wonderful trip.

I hope you are loving your Texas summer,
A presto, ciao
Patrizia

You can following Patrizia’s adventure on Instagram by following @patriziamontanari.

 

Patrizia Montanari, new teacher at DCP

Dallas Center for Photography, Patrizia Montanari

The big news for DCP is that Patrizia Montanari will be teaching our very popular Natural Light Portraits workshop starting in May. We first met Patrizia two years ago when she came in for a few one-on-one tutoring sessions with Peter to work on Lightroom and workflow issues. Originally born in Italy, Patrizia left at 24 and since then has lived in a variety of places including NYC, Amsterdam, Florence, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. She has called McKinney her home for the past three years and has started a blog called [On The Square] where she combines her passion for photography with her love for Historic Downtown McKinney.

A few months ago Money Magazine named McKinney, Texas as the number one best place to live in America. Patrizia and her husband were interviewed for the article:

The historic downtown houses a mix of art galleries, boutiques, and farm-to-table restaurants, as well as basics like a butcher, shoe repair, and farm-supplies stores. Mark Strange says that living downtown was a no-brainer for him, his wife, Patrizia Montanari, and their two young children. “It’s a mix of European, East Coast, and West Coast here,” adds Montanari, 36, a photographer. “You get culture and more country charm for less money than what you’d find in Dallas.”

We recently put Patrizia on the spot and asked her a few questions about her work and life.

Q: What is your favorite part about photography?
A: To be able to preserve memories and in some way stop time. Life is just too fast and it’s not always so simple to slow down and enjoy moments. The art of photography allows us to save memories, and to look back at the past and see things from different perspectives, I love that.

Q: What makes McKinney such an interesting subject for you?
A: McKinney screams Texas to me. It is a city with the feeling of a small town and it has a wonderful Historic Neighborhood. Finding inspiration in McKinney was effortless. I can see beauty even in the oldest and most forgotten building and I meet fascinating people every day.

Through my photography and my blog I am able to share their stories and it just makes me feel complete. I love to talk about anything interesting that I discover about the Historic Downtown and its amazing community and I love to showcase local businesses, artists or just cool people. I’ve created a McKinney greeting card collection that sells in selected retailers in the McKinney Downtown Square, and I also have an incredible amount of followers on my blog called “On The Square” Blog.

Q: How does your background in art influence your photography?
A: I consider myself an artist and a story teller and photography is one of my favorite mediums. My love for painting and drawing at one point of my life developed into photography. It’s an immediate and convenient way to communicate what I would have in the past with my paintings and drawings.

I really love to photograph people – they are my favorite subject. I am passionate about body details and I love to sketch those details, stare at them, and talk about them too. I look at people’s eyes and hands. I remember those details sometimes more than I remember what people say (it’s quite easy to get distracted since English is not my first language). When I paint or draw everything else switches off – it’s just me, my subject and my canvas. When I photograph, I feel the same. Nothing else exists and I am completely into the subject.

Q: What is your goal in photography?
A: My goal is to always improve myself as a photographer. I love to photograph people. I especially love to see their reactions when they are admiring a photo of themselves. They are exposed to a different perspective and they can see beauty in the photo.

Meeting with Peter at DCP a few months ago made me realize how connected my art is to my photography so I worked on merging these two passions and I now offer a unique product to my clients. I host monthly events in collaboration with Pavitra Organic Day Spa in Downtown McKinney called Pampering & Portraits. We promote them as relaxing and glamorous sessions born from the idea of combining a wellness experience with the art of photography, all in a unique, creative and sophisticated session for women of all ages. The portrait package includes a photography session with the option of commissioning a portrait painting.

Q: Why did you leave Italy?
A: Italy is a beautiful country. The history and the art are just amazing and the food is probably what I miss the most. But it wasn’t enough anymore, I needed to discover and travel and the United States gave me great opportunity to express myself and value myself more. Now my home is where my family is and my husband and children are here in McKinney. This is where my children will probably grow up and where we are going to create new memories.

Find out more about Patrizia’s work at www.patriziamontanari.com
The full article in Money Magazine

Review of the documentary “War Photographer”

(Note from Jillian: I am pretty sure we created DCP Movie Nights specifically to show War Photographer. Peter has been talking about this movie since the idea developed and we cannot wait to show this documentary about James Nachtwey.)

Without good photojournalists we would have few honest images of what goes on in the world. Think about that. These photographers are the ones who willingly go into zones of war, famine and human suffering. They bear witness and send back images so the rest of us, from a safe distance, can ask questions and come to conclusions of our own. Many of them die for their efforts. What Nachtwey brings to this tradition is compassion. His images, while often hard to look at, are about the humanity of his subjects.

I saw this movie for the first time five years ago in my living room. I remember sitting on my couch and not moving for an hour and a half. I had known James Nachtwey’s work for years. His were the images that often stopped me in my tracks and demanded more time, more involvement from me as the viewer. To watch him at work was a revelation. The director of the film attached two small cameras to Nachtwey’s own Canon camera, one pointed over his lens toward the action, the other pointed back at the photographer. It’s an immersive and dramatic technique that takes you into the field to directly experience this amazing photographer at work. As one reviewer said, “This is as close to being inside a photojournalist’s mind as it gets”.

Besides the exquisite visual elements of his photographs, this film is about Nachtwey’s struggle with the job itself. Mr. Nachtwey says of his own work “Every minute I was there, I wanted to flee. I did not want to see this. Would I cut and run, or would I deal with the responsibility of being there with a camera.” Fortunately for all of us, he stays and takes pictures.

To purchase a ticket visit Movie Night at DCP.

Boy in Frame

“Boy in Frame” from the documentary War Photographer.

 

Moldy Cameras

(This is an update and repost of an earlier article)

I have a collection of toy and cheap cameras that I started about 30 years ago. My rule for the first couple of years was that I wouldn’t spend more than a dollar. Sometimes I would find 5 or 6 at a thrift store. Then my family started looking for them. I still get a bag of garage sale cameras every Christmas from my brother.  I now have probably 500-600 cameras stashed in cardboard boxes on some industrial shelves at the studio.

For a while there has been a tiny leak in one of the concrete studio walls and I was dutifully collecting the water in a bucket. When I went to the studio yesterday during a downpour I discovered water dripping from a new place, right under the shelf that holds my collection. Turns out a trickle of water had been going into one of the boxes for the last few months. Unwrapping the cameras was gross and sad. I had to throw away about a half dozen, including a nice small wooden view camera that had fallen apart. The biggest shock was this Argus C3, which was in its original box. The box was a black, sodden, smelly mess. I’m guessing that the combination of water, darkness and the leather case made a perfect breeding ground for mold and mildew.

(Update)
When this originally happened, I set up a softbox and took some forensic photos as a document of this beautiful catastrophe. Those documentary images of moldy evidence have turned into some of my favorite photos. This is a lesson I’ve learned repeatedly, that I’m often really not qualified to judge or edit my photos at the time I take them. Time has a way of revealing the depth and meaning of a photo.

Does anyone still use a 56K modem? Adobe thinks so.