Many times when I’m out making images I come across something that just begs for me to really take notice. Not that I’m not taking notice of most everything around me all the time, but I love those moments when something really stands out. That happened yesterday, at the National Building Museum in Washington DC, in a stairwell. If you visit the museum be sure to go up to the third floor so you don’t miss a very enjoyable view of the Great Hall. You will also want to see the stairwell.

Green Coaster

Stairwell, National Building Museum

US Capitol at Dawn

Stairwell, National Building Museum

From my time studying Architectural History, I remember that the architect Mies van der Rohe said that “God is in the details” when talking about the idea of “Less is more.” I have often thought that is an interesting point of view. With the advent of smoked glass skyscrapers less really did become more and the details became more important that ever but I’m getting way off track!

I took notice of the ceiling of the stairwell when I was walking around on the third floor. The light coming in through the large windows that face north bathing the vaulted ceiling and all its warn tones in an almost magical light. When I got home and started looking at the images from the day this one immediately stood out. After processing the image, one question came to mind “How would this look in black and white?” I remember when I was shooting film and had only one camera, I whished for the day when it was easy to go from color to black and white or to have two cameras, one for black and white and the other for color. Now we can make one image and process that images so we have both.

Once we have both we are left with an important choice, which one should we show? Sometimes it’s a no brainer, one obviously looks better than the other, problem solved. Unfortunately that is not the case in this instance so I have chosen to show them both.  Sometimes not being able to make a decision is a good thing!

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I need to take more showers. Well, not because I’m stinky or anything, but because I get some of my best ideas for images when I’m in the shower. After many, many years of taking showers the process has become a bit automatic. Start at my head end at my feet and hit all the bits in between. It’s a bit like breathing, I don’t have to think about it most of the time. Because I don’t have to think about what I’m doing, my mind shifts in neutral. This is where the ideas start because my mind never stays in neutral for very long.

Thoughts wonder in and out of my mind. A color, a place or an object and my mind builds an image around that starting point. I may get an image that I have been having trouble visualizing. I may get something completely new. I may get something that needs to be refined. Whatever I get I mull it over to see if there is a final image that I would like to make. Mind you, quite often my mind is off thinking about everything else that I need to do that day and no images come to mind at all. The days that ideas do come always feel a bit magical.

When I get out of the shower I write down and sketch a fairly detailed description of the image or images I came up with. I have been keeping notebooks of image ideas for many years. I have some notebooks that go back to the early 80’s. Some of the ideas I have already used for creating images and other ones I haven’t used yet. A few of the ideas I have gone back to a few times to put a new twist on them. I think every photographer should have a notebook of image idea in one form or another. All of mind are proper notebooks because I like flipping through the pages and seeing my ideas from the past. Quite often in reviewing ideas I find interesting combinations of ideas that become new images.

Take more showers, keep notebooks do whatever works for you to get and keep more image ideas. Then you can use those ideas at those times when you want to create an image but you are completely blocked.

When you are working in Photoshop or any other app that has a bunch of pallets do you wish for more screen space than you currently have? Reading books about Photoshop I am often envious of the dual displays many people use. I did have an iMac that I connected to a second display. That computer is now in the basement. I use it while I’m shooting with the camera tethered to the computer. It’s an older iMac that does not meet the requirements for the latest OS X. I miss the extra screen space that a second monitor gives.

I guess I should say that I did miss that extra screen area. This morning I read the “Tech Connection” column by Marc Saltzman in February’s Costco Connect magazine. The headline read “Tricking out your new tablet.” My wife pointed it out to me. The fourth item caught my eye, “Use it as a second monitor.” Now there is an idea! I know you might be thinking people have been doing that for a while now and you would be right. I wondered if that was possible but everything I could find online said it was not possible. Be careful what you search for online! If you don’t ask the right question you may never find the answers you need. There is an app for that!

It’s called Air Display. Who knew? Anyway, it seems that I am a bit behind the times, this has been out for a while. Air Display is from Avatron Software, Inc. and is available in both iPad and Android flavors for $9.99. Well worth the price! You install the app and when you run it for the first time it walks you through downloading the Air Display Host app for your PC or Mac. Once that is installed restart your computer and you are ready to go. In just a couple of clicks I was up and running with a second monitor! Now when I’m using Photoshop I can have the computer’s monitor filled with the image that I’m working on and have all my palettes on my tablet. You will see in the app reviews many comments about the lag time moving the cursor around on the tablet. I find the lag time to be a minor irritation but having extra monitor real estate for $10, I can live with it!

Desktop with Galaxy Note 10.1 as second monitor.

Desktop with Galaxy Note 10.1 as second monitor.

Sunday, in the Hart Community Center in Fredericksburg, VA I talked for a little over six hours! I set up a series of seminars, six total, about different photography related subjects. The plan: start at 10 am end at 4 pm, each seminar would be 45 minutes (including questions and answers) with a 15 minute break. It sounded pretty good. I got started on time and one seminar run into another. At 1pm or so, I really don’t remember, I did take a short break, maybe 10 minutes, to have a drink and a granola bar. While I was having my snack I did talk to a few people but I let them do most of the talking. Then I was off again! Before long it was 4pm. Time to pack up and go home.

I guess it was good that time went by so quickly. There was a bit of a snag during one seminar about Photoshop Layers. As happens in live demonstrations, Photoshop didn’t want to work the way I wanted it to. Oh well, a quick change of course and everything worked out. There were a lot of questions and everyone seemed to enjoy the seminars. But talking for six straight hours? On the drive home my throat was sore and I felt dehydrated. I started thinking about it and I realized that I had talked just about non-stop.

You have to understand something. As a child I was the one who never asked to get up in front of the class. I did only when absolutely necessary and usually under severe duress! All the way through school, even in college, I did not want to stand out. I guess this shows what a turn around someone can make when they truly find something they love and want to talk about it.

I love photography and I love talking about it! I love teaching photography and I live for those “light bulb” moments when someone finally understands something that has been giving them fits as they tried to figure it out. I’m not sure if I will ever set up a day to talk about photography for six straight hours again. Now I know that I can but I’m not sure I will want to.

Thank you to all who came out Sunday! I hope you enjoyed the day. But I have one request… don’t let me talk for six hours anytime soon!

Misinformation

I read about photography, a lot. I can read a book or magazine about photography or photo processing from cover to cover with no problem. With most any other genre of books I tend to get bored and put them down half way through, never to open them again. Books by Stephen King have been the notable exception. While I was leafing through a magazine yesterday, I came across an article about photography so I skimmed through it. It had some good information in it until I got to one line. I had to read that one line three times. You see this article was written by a well know author of photography books and was targeted at “new photographers.”

This part of the article listed three ways to help you hold your camera still in low light situations. The three tips listed are spot on. Here is the part I had to read three times:  “If you have tried all three and you’re still getting blurry photos, raise your camera’s ISO setting, which increases your camera’s shutter speed, until your photos look nice and sharp.” Can you spot the reason I had to read it three times? On the surface it sounds like good information but it is not, it is misleading, especially for a new photographer.

Here’s the problem, ISO never has and never will “increase your camera’s shutter speed.” ISO does one thing and one thing only. ISO controls how sensitive the camera’s sensor it to light. That is all it does. This was true with film and it is also true with digital cameras. Changing the ISO on a digital camera or putting a different ISO film into a film camera will not change the camera’s shutter speed. Shutter speed and ISO are two completely different parts of the exposure triangle. ISO, Shutter Speed and Aperture make up the three parts of the exposure triangle. If you change one, you have to change one or both of the others if the lighting conditions stay the same and you want the overall exposure to stay the same.

Automatic modes on today’s cameras are great. I use aperture priority mode 95% of the time when I’m not working in a studio. In aperture priority mode, when I change the ISO does the shutter speed change? Yes it does. Did the ISO change the Shutter Speed? No it did not. There is a big difference! The shutter speed changes because the camera was forced to choose a new shutter speed based on the camera’s light meter and the fact that the camera is set to aperture priority and the lighting conditions did not change. If the camera is set to manual mode does changing the ISO change the shutter speed? No, you have to change the shutter speed based on what the camera’s light meter tells you if you want a similar exposure.

You might be thinking that I’m splitting hairs here and that’s fine. What is important here in this is very basic information all photographers should know. ISO, Shutter Speed and Aperture control three very different things. Each one is completely independent of the others and changing one does not change another. Changing one changes the overall exposure of the image. That is all it will do. I have been wondering why, when talking about ISO in the classes I teach, there is this confusion about the ISO changing the shutter speed. Now, I guess I know.

Chasing Rabbits

Fog

Have you ever tried to catch a rabbit? It’s not easy, even in an enclosed space. Now how about catching one of several rabbits in that same space? Not very easy or next to impossible? That’s the way I feel when I read someone saying that I should choose a photographic speciality. How can I eliminate so many different subjects in favor of only a few or even one. Every now and then, in the course of a conversation of what we like to photograph, someone in the group will say that I have quite a varied group of subjects and styles on my website RealityDefined.com. While this is true and I admit that I need to sort through and update my site, I see no real reason to limit what I photograph to one particular area or subject.

Deep In Thought

I guess you could say that for a while I specialized in creating images for textbook illustration. That’s what I did for thirty or more textbooks. I loved those projects and I loved seeing the textbooks once they were published. But that was not everything I wanted to make images of. I never wanted a “real” job and that is what photography has given me. A chance to do projects that I wanted to do and enjoyed doing like the textbook work. Being a photographer meant that I could also do personal projects. That is where chasing rabbits comes in.

Baseball on white backgroundFor me, there are just too many different things to photograph and too many different ways to photograph them. Yes, a nice coherent portfolio is great and I applaud photographers who put them together but I guess, like having a “real” job, that’s just not for me. I guess it’s a matter of to many subjects/styles and too little time. After 30+ years of loving photography I haven’t done everything I want to do yet. So, I’ll keep chasing rabbits. Creating those images that I have in my mind. Someday I just might find that one niche that fills all the creative needs that I have and I won’t want to photograph anything else. For now, don’t bet on it.

Cori and the Pumpkin Lane Ends Smoke #1 Match bursting into flame

Soft Boiled Eggs

This morning I thought I’d have some soft boiled eggs. I haven’t had them in a while so I looked up cook times and followed the suggestions. Commenting on the photos used with the post about cooking soft boiled eggs, the person posting the recipe said to remove the shells before serving, something that I thought was a bit off. You see, my wife is British and every time I’ve had soft boiled eggs they have been served in an egg cup. I like egg cups! No need to fully remove the shell before serving just use a small sugar spoon, remove enough to get going and dig right in!
Boiling Eggs
While I was eating my first egg the sun was coming in through the sliding glass door to our deck. The nice direct sunlight made the yellow of the egg yolk burst into color. It helped that the plate that the eggcup was on was a nice bright blue so the yellow of the yolk really popped. What a sight to see when you are enjoying your breakfast! Then a cloud pass in front of the sun and softened the light and brought out details on the egg, shell, eggcup and plate that were not as easy to see in the harsh direct light.

After seeing this I remembered what someone once said at a class I was teaching. “I read online that food should be shot on a white background to show off the food.” Mind you that class was walkabout class in DC and had nothing to do with photographing food. My initial thought was how boring. My second thought was, that I could not remember one time, in 18 months of working is a studio where we did a lot of food photography, had we ever shot food on a white background. Here at our house our countertops are mostly black with white and grey flecks of color. The plate is bright blue. The eggcup has a gold rim and a print of a dutch boy riding a bike on a white background. The wheat toast was a bunch of nice warm brown tones. Nothing I was looking at was white except for the eggshell, the egg white and the background of the eggcup.

My point here is this, in food photography, as in other photography let the light do the work for you. Change the quality of the light and the feel of the image changes. Use props and backgrounds to help tell the story you want to tell. Don’t get stuck thinking you have to shoot this subject this way because someone online said you have to. Play around! Besides, playing around is one of the big reasons we fell in love with photography in the first place?

For those of you who are thinking “where are the photos of what you saw?” Well, I was paying attention to the light. Storing the look and feel of the light in my memory banks for future use. Besides, I hate cold soft boiled eggs!

Tuesday morning I was in Silver Spring , Maryland for the Create Now World Tour. This was a free event hosted by Adobe to promote the Creative Cloud. I like going to events like this especially when they are free. There are only two stops in the U.S. left on the tour for this year, New York and Seattle (both still have space available). If you are in the UK there are two stops scheduled for Edinburgh (space still available) and Bristol (sold out).

Terry White, Paul Trani and David Helmly showed a sell out crowd many of the new features of some of the Creative Cloud apps. After watching the show I could not wait to get home and play with some of the cool tools they were showing us. As is typical after a day at these shows, by the time I got home I could not remember how to do much of what I saw at the show. I did remember one thing that helped me remember almost everything I saw that morning, Adobe TV. I have visited Adobe TV in the past but now I could relive what they showed us.

Both Terry and Paul have videos showing exactly what they showed at Create Now. I haven’t checked out David’s videos yet but I plan to. You might be thinking, “Well I didn’t miss much” and maybe you are right, but watching someone do this stuff live certainly made an impression on me. Watching the videos brings back and reinforces what I saw because, like I said, I couldn’t remember how to do much of what I saw when I got home. Having those videos to watch is a nice bonus on an already great day. If you are in one of the three cities left on the tour for this year register and go! You won’t regret it.

A Studio

For some time now I have wanted to have a studio. I didn’t always want one for several reasons. Over the past couple of years I have been thinking about having a studio more and more. Back when I was working as a photographer’s assistant one photographer gave me a pretty solid piece of advice: “When you have a studio, the tail starts to wag the dog.” Meaning, as he explained, you might end up taking every job, even ones you hate, just to pay the rent. Taking every job that comes along just to pay the rent was not why I wanted to be in photography. That has been in the back of my mind since then.

I have often said that I would not get a studio unless I had six months of rent and expenses in the bank. That is so I could stay open even if I had no paying clients for six months. Well I don’t know about you but getting $12,000 to $15,000 in the bank hasn’t happened for me. But now I’m thinking about a studio more and more. I like to teach and many people have been asking about studio lighting classes or pinup classes. Things I would like to teach but without a studio teaching those classes would not be very easy. So, I have started to look for a studio.

Am I in any hurry to get a studio? Not really. As with most things I believe, you get what you need not necessarily what you want. I think the Stones said something like that in one of their songs. Anyway, if you see a post in the next few months about me getting a studio you will know it happened. If you don’t see such a post, then maybe I’m still thinking about it. Photography is something I have enjoyed for many years and I don’t want getting a studio to change that!

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