Articles Tagged: photography

The Mirror Tip from a Corporate Photographer

Steve Foxall is a well-known commercial and corporate photographer in Dallas. He shares studio space at DCP and we often see him packing and unpacking from location jobs. Recently he was loading up one of his bags and I noticed an interesting piece of gear and asked him about it:

Once I get my subjects on the set, I found that the most important thing is to be able to show them how they look and this is where the mirror comes into play. I actually have 3 different mirrors and they all cost 99 cents from the Dollar Store. One of them has a very fancy surround on it and it’s a good ice-breaker because it reminds me of the mirror that Amy Farah Fowler would use in The Big Bang Theory.  Another one has a red surround on it and the third one has a black surround with cracked glass.

I’ve kept the cracked one for the really stiff corporate clients who are going to say “Oh, the black one is actually cracked” and wonder why I’ve kept it!  It can also break the ice. The person will tell me that they are going to break the mirror and I’ve given them a broken mirror already.  It’s basically the most important thing because they can see the position of their hair and make little corrections to it. 

Photographing People

The question I get most often is “How do you handle shooting people? Should I ask permission or just take the picture?” This is a tough one and depends on so many things. In a public space like a street, square, festival or park I think it’s usually OK to shoot people without asking, up to the point where you are getting into their space or shooting something that might be embarrassing. This would depend a lot on local culture and norms. It might be much more acceptable in a European country, for example, than in a Middle Eastern country. Also be sensitive to the camera fatigue that many people must have when tourists and travelers find them interesting and shoot them all day long.

Sometimes you just have to be a little sneaky. One of the things I like about the newer mirrorless cameras is that many of them have a truly silent mode. The camera makes no noise at all which makes shooting unobtrusively so much easier. The flip screen on many cameras helps even more, allowing you to keep your eyes off the camera. I frequently line up the shot and then look in another direction, using my peripheral vision to wait for a good arrangement of elements before pushing the button.

The safest thing is to ask permission and then live with the answer. One thing I am against in almost all cases is paying money to shoot someone on the street unless they are a performer or you are on an organized trip and know that tipping is part of the deal. Paying people for pictures just perpetuates an unhealthy relationship between traveler and resident that dehumanizes both. Just my opinion.

Large public events are, of course, great places to photograph people. Not so much for the front-facing parades and shows, but for the behind the scenes chaos and moments that happen whenever that many people are in one place. The last photo below of a family unwinding after the official ceremonies was shot in Oslo during Norway’s National Day. There are so many cameras around those kind of events which gives the more serious photographer (you!) more freedom to shoot what looks interesting.

Tips for Entering Photo Contests from a Serial Submitter

Photo contests and juried competitions are a big part of the photographic community. Longtime DCP client Jill Jordan has navigated this scene and has had her work selected for several competitions. We asked her to share some tips on why it’s important to participate and how to hedge the odds in your favor:

There comes a time where a photographer asks, should I enter a contest? As an amateur photographer myself I get much pleasure out of making the best image I can given the lighting, situation, and setting. Dallas Center for Photography has made me a better photographer through workshops and teaching me to become my own worst critic. I get great enjoyment when I have created an image that is well composed with interesting subjects. Sometimes self-satisfaction is not enough. Posting my images to Instagram allows me to share more broadly. I get “likes” from various people whose motivation or understanding of photography is unknown. Contests can provide a sense of achievement when an image is selected by a known professional photographer with the added benefit of providing motivation to continue to improve skills. However, there are things to consider when entering a contest.

This image was the first one I got accepted into an exhibit. After spending a summer in the cool, isolating North Carolina mountains, I was eager to go shooting so I attended the Texas State Fair. I felt like I was melting in the heat and found I wasn’t alone. This poor steer handler was having trouble keeping the sweat out of his face. Clearly the steer wasn’t fazed.

The world of contests is seemingly endless these days. There are some local contests as well as international contests to enter. Using Google is a good place to find one. Nearly all contests charge a fee to submit anywhere from 1 to 5 images. The typical fee is currently is around $35. Contests will post the theme and a biography of the juror. Themes will vary from portraits to wildlife to landscape to street photography to black and white to… the list goes on. Often a small number of winners are selected along with a limited number of honorable mentions. Most, but not all, contests offer cash prizes. Selected images are then displayed in a physical exhibition for a period of 3-4 weeks.

Prior to entering a contest, I have found it helpful to do some research on the juror and their style. I will also review previous contest selections to see the types of images that have been selected. Things to look for are contests that favor more artistic photography versus documentary. Enter which best suits your craft and stick with the theme. Particular attention should be paid to the requirements for file naming and file size to assure your images will be accepted.

I’d noticed a large number of birds roosting in trees so I set out at sunrise to make my image. Suddenly they flew out together and I captured them in flight above the power lines. The clouds above added more layers and I received a second place award for it.

One of a juror’s responsibilities is to choose images that not only relate to the named theme but also complement each other while providing different styles. This is important when the images are displayed in a gallery to assure a cohesive experience for the viewers of the show. There are many fantastic images that don’t get selected because they just don’t fit in.

If your image is chosen, you will be notified by email. Each contest will have its own requirements for receiving the final print. Some will print your image for you for a cost. Some will frame your image in temporary frame for you while others will require you to send a framed image. All will have a short but sufficient time period to assure your print can arrive on time. Understanding these requirements and being prepared will ease the stress. Then comes the fun. You will be invited to the show opening at the gallery. If possible, I encourage you to attend. It is a great opportunity to tell the story behind your image to many interested people, and to meet the juror and other fellow photographers. Finally, of course, you will feel proud of work that undoubtedly was the result of your technical knowledge and creativity.

As part of a Sam Abell workshop assignment I had to find interesting images to make. I found this outside of a hair salon. The loving moment between the woman and her dog was the perfect gesture to capture. However this image was not accepted in a contest.

Should your image not be chosen, do not let it stop you from entering more. There can be hundreds or thousands of worthy entries. I’ve been fortunate to be chosen for some but not for others. When I’m not chosen, I just move on to the next contest. If you are thinking of entering a contest, I highly encourage you. If you’re not sure, I suggest giving it a try. Asking other photographers for help in choosing images can be helpful. Just give it a “shot” and you may be surprised to find yourself standing in front of your print in a gallery on opening night!

Jill Jordan

Instagram: @jilljordanimagery

You can also view her work in our Client Gallery here.

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!

Digital Photos to Printed Photo Books

I’m extremely excited to be joining the DCP team. I have been interested in cameras for as long as I can remember, probably because my dad always had his camera around his neck on most occasions while I was growing up. I remember dropping off the film with him at the local photo store and the anticipation of picking it up 24 hours later. Fast forward 20 years and I now have a digital camera of my own that accompanies me on my trips and on special occasions. I would call myself an amateur photographer who loves to capture memories.

When I am spending time with friends and want to share photos from a trip, it kills me to open my iPhone and search for the photos. Let’s be honest, it’s hard not to open the notification at the top of the screen while searching for the perfect photo that you think you remember taking sometime between January and May of 2013. Plus, it takes away time with loved ones! Besides, that little iPhone screen does not do justice to the large elephant who charged our safari vehicle on a recent trip to South Africa. I found myself overwhelmed with the 25,000 photos (and counting) available at my fingers tips, so I started making photo books that we keep on our coffee table and on our bookshelf.

Creating my first digital photo book for print reminded me of the mid-90s when scrap-booking was all the rage. Now the process is better because I like for things to be straight and pictures perfectly aligned which can be accomplished quickly on a computer.

A few tips for your photo book:

When I am on the plane home from a trip, I start going through the photos and picking my favorites. If a picture sparks a memory or brings a smile to my face, I put it in the ‘to be considered’ folder. After a few days of being home, I revisit the folder and start to be selective of the best photos that capture my storyline and what I want to remember.

Captions are your friend! While events are fresh in your mind, write captions that will jog your memory years down the road. In my first couple of photo books, I thought I would remember the details — the name of an island we were on and the name of the restaurant — but it was difficult without making notes soon after the experience. Looking back a few years later, I wish I had written down those details.

Somewhere in the Caribbean…. I wish I had captioned this.

Have fun with it! With so many pre-made formats available, you can drag and drop your photos and find the right combination to show off your adventure.

Let your personality show when you are in front of the camera. Those are the pictures that will spark the most memories when you look back on them.

You can use online services like Shutterfly, Snapfish or Blurb. Lightroom has a Blurb module built in which makes layout easy and lets you edit the photos once they are placed. Sometimes two photos that look good separately don’t look so good next to each other. Being able to click over to the Develop module and make adjustments is fast and easy. I personally love creating small series of photos. Maybe it’s of my husband and I trying to pull off the perfect jumping photo or a lion cub yawning in sequence. I also love having my strongest photos stand alone and make a statement. Lay-flat books are great for this exact reason!

The feeling of flipping through the pages of your finished book is rewarding and powerful. Call me old-fashioned but the element of having your photos being printed on the pages of a book bring the story to life which can’t be replicated the same way on a digital screen. Printing images is a part of digital photography that many people have abandoned and need to reconsider. The pages of a photo book make the experience real for family and friends to enjoy. Photo books also make the best gifts for family and friends. Take as little as 10-15 pictures from an experience you shared with someone and create a book to give as a gift. It is something that they will treasure for years to come.

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.