Category: DCP

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.

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.

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

 

 

 

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

Ed Kashi Near and Far Workshop

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Photojournalist Ed Kashi spent four days at DCP teaching his Near and Far Workshop where participants exercised their story telling muscles by photographing topics close to home. Ed is president of the VII Photo Agency and is best known for his long form photo essays which bring awareness and explore a situation or a problem. Some of his current work includes an in depth look at Chronic Kidney Disease in Central America in sugar cane workers. His work has been published in publications such as National Geographic, Time, Newsweek and The New York Times Magazine.

During the four days, students had the opportunity to develop an idea for a photo essay, shoot, edit and present a complete story. Projects ranged from an afternoon at a gun range, to preparation for a ballet performance to the life inside an apartment complex of Burmese immigrants. Ed provided guidance on how to approach each situation and taught how to develop a body of work that clearly communicates the story. During a group editing session led by Ed, each participant’s story was pieced together to form a cohesive, engaging photo essay.

Here’s what some of our students had to say about the workshop:

“I find myself falling to the rut of only taking meaningful pictures while on vacation. The concept that you don’t have to go far from home to capture great images was speaking directly to me.” – Tracy Allard

“I was forced to do a lot of fast work in order to get the pictures I needed. This experience game me the confidence to do future project down the road.” – Cristian Heredia

“Ed was very easy to talk to and relate with which made asking questions and seeking guidance easier. His critiques were direct which I like and made sense to me and made it easier for me to dissect my own work.” – Robert Moore

Here’s Tracy Allard’s finished photo essay “Home on the Range”:

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

DCP’s first movie night

Last night was our first DCP Movie Night and it was a lot of fun. We ate some pizza, watched the excellent documentary Annie Leibovitz : Life Through a Lens, and then had a lively discussion about the movie, her work and how it related to our experiences as photographers. The documentary did a great job showing Annie’s importance as a portrait photographer. Her ability to connect with the subject and create compelling images continues to have her stand out as one of the best portrait photographers of our time.

Our new projector and sound system made this a real cinematic experience and we’re planning to do these every month or so. Our next one is Monday, January 26th where we will be screening the documentary War Photographer which follows James Nachtwey who is best known for his work in war torn countries.

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A Social Media Design tool

As the Spot begins its journey into the overwhelming world of social media, I have been thumbing (is that term applicable to online browsing?) through an infinite number of articles about the subject.  It can be exhausting sifting through such a huge amount of information but when you find something worthwhile, it’s like striking gold.

Case in point: this amazing infographic that maps out social media design information, including precise images sizes for every major platform. Special thanks to the team at alltwitter for spending the time to do this.  You have saved me an enormous amount of time and research.

Click the image below to view blue prints for Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, Linkedin, Instagram and Youtube.

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Hey, that’s my architect!

Over the past few months I’ve been working on an expansion plan for The Spot Studio that would add a dedicated 2o x 50 ft upstairs classroom space. In my search for an architect I was very fortunate to be recommended to Mahbuba Khan. She has brought insight and creativity to a tough project and may be even more obsessed than I am about getting it just right. Today I found out that she was awarded Young Architect of the Year by the Dallas chapter of the American Institute of Architects. AIA announcement

Congratulations, Mahbuba!

 

Here are a couple of renderings of the proposed project. This room will be above the cyclorama wall and will be cantilevered out over the main studio space.

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