Thursday, November 15, 2007


I have spent the last several Thanksgivings with Dave's family, and every year we do the same thing. Dinner, drink, clean. It is fun, but is your fairly average run of the mill turkey day. Last year, in the middle of dinner, and after several bottles of champagne were passed around, we started talking about what we could do to spice Thanksgiving up a little bit. I don't remember exactly how it came about, but we started talking about traveling, and how wouldn't it be so great if we went to Vienna for Thanksgiving. Oh yeah, we said, waist deep in the bubbly, that would be grand. We could get an apartment, avoid the tourist crowds, and enjoy the city. Oh yes, we said, that would be great. Vienna is so pretty, we could go to the Opera, and oh the shopping, Vienna has the best department, la, la, drunken dreaming. You know how that goes. Then I glanced across the table and got that look from Dave, that look I know so well. It was the same look he gave me many years ago when we were daydreaming about quitting our jobs and traveling abroad. It was that same look he gave me when I told him I wanted to change career paths and become a photographer. I know that look because sometimes it is like staring in the mirror. It is the hey, this might be crazy, but we can make it happen look. I love that look.

So we are leaving tomorrow. A week long Viennese adventure with the family. I found an apartment in the city center that will fit the whole clan. Luckily his family is small, unlike the football team I have back in Boston. We have a direct flight, major score. We have a fireplace. It is going to be snowing. The Christmas markets open next week. It still might be really crazy, but we are doing it anyway.

I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving! I'll be back in a week.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Don't Stop Believen'

Forgive me, I listened to Journey on the way home tonight. I have had an amazing day. Amazing as in, holy crap, I hope I remember this feeling for a long time. We had our creative workshop tonight, you know the one I blogged about the other day. And let's just say that if I could have scripted how this would go, I wouldn't have thought of how it really happened. I selected two pictures, which was very difficult for me. I wanted two pictures that were very different. When the whole thing started I felt like I was going to vomit. I was wicked nervous. We scrolled through every one's images as a slide show, rated them, then went back to talk about them individually. The first image of mine was one I took this past weekend (this is where I should link to it, I'll get to that later). When he started to talk about the image he said that there was so much that we could talk about. He mentioned the depth of field, and how the background was slightly out of focus. He mentioned that it looked like it told a story. He said that the composition was strong, it captured a moment, and the light and texture were great. Then he went on to say, and I quote, "It captured a sense of humanity." Hello? Please, when I die, write on my tombstone that for one picture Joe National Geographic photographer said that I captured a sense of humanity. (And since my sister's are so demanding, here is the first shot)


We moved on, and started selecting photos from the group to talk about. Students kept selecting images, and we discussed all sorts of photography related issues. Then the moment happened. That moment. You know that moment. That moment so great that I had to write it down. Joe National Geographic pointed to my second image, mine, and said, "I'm dying to talk about this one." Pinch me. Stab me. Something, anything, is this happening? He said all sorts of groovy stuff about it. He used words like exotic, solemn, and ambiguous. And he used them in a good way. Now, I know he is just one person, but he wasn't talking about every one's pictures this way. He had some tough love for people. For me, the best part is that someone with a really great eye had great things to say about my work. I love you people, you know that. You often have awesome things to say about my pictures, and I appreciate that. But it is the first time that someone at this level of expertise has critiqued my work. And it was grand slam. I am floating. It was a good day.

And here is the second.
The Wall of El Morro

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Under Pressure

I just got an email from school, and found out that this week we have our first creative process workshop. This means that we get to have our work evaluated by our program director. We each get to show him two shots, and he will talk about their strengths and weaknesses in front of the whole group. I met him only once, for about a nanosecond, but the man has an amazing eye. He just happens to have been shooting for National Geographic for the last 25 years, so no pressure for me yeah. Yikes. How the heck am I going to pick two pictures? This feels kind of like those dreams where you are standing in a room full of people with no clothes on, only Gisele is standing next to me this time. Maybe I should just show him that last horse picture and call it a day.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

You used to be able to bring your kids into Rite Aid

I stopped into the pharmacy tonight on my way to a shoot so I could grab a coke. This display was in the back of the store, high up on the wall, dead center. You couldn't miss it.

I took over 400 photos tonight. People were paying me to take those shots, and I think some of them came out fantastic. However, this shot might be my favorite of the evening.

Guys only want girlfriends who have skills.

I am waist deep in photography related projects, and I couldn't be happier about it. My second class just finished, and I have so much information about my camera settings, shooting, computer editing, printing, and web applications that I am bursting to use them all. My program rocks, and is very hands on. I love the practicality of it all. These are the first classes I have taken since Junior High School shop that have been this practical. (And for the record, I was the first one in my eighth grade machine shop class to take my engine apart and put it back together. I am mentioning this because the only glory that ever came from that task I completed over seventeen years ago is being able to mention it at any given opportunity.) Anyway, the photography is a very different experience from any other classes I have taken. Don't get me wrong, I love talking about theories, ideas, themes, interpretations, meanings, and connections. Heck, I practically majored in bullshitting as an undergrad. But at some point it is just nice to be able to stop thinking and writing, and start doing. You know? Now I have skills, mad skills.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Photo Tips

I've been wanting to write some simple photography tips for a while, and since I think some of you might be interested here goes nothing. Now, I am not an expert yet...yet, give me a few more months. These are basic, very simple things you can do to make your photos better. It is not meant to be a comprehensive guide, more like some fun tricks you should try. Oh, and they are meant to pass the Mom test. There aren't so complicated that my mother couldn't do them. Love ya Ma, but you know what I mean.

1. Take lots of pictures. Everyone, and I do mean everyone, takes bad pictures. Some people get lucky and take a few good ones in between the bad ones. The more you take the better. You think you have the shot of your sister holding her baby? Take an extra to be sure. Most of us are using digital now, and cost is not an issue like it was with film. People move, things can change, take another shot to be sure.

2. Get closer. Do you think you are close enough? Wrong, get closer. Don't get up people's noses, but make sure your subject is taking up the majority of the space in your image. In 5 years no one is going to care what Aunt Petunia's wallpaper looked like, but they will want to see Aunt Petunia. Get closer.

3. Get level with your subject. Are you shooting kids? (hehe) Get on their level. Squat down, get on your knees, whatever you have to do but try to look at things from their perspective. Same with dogs. Just mix up the way you look at things and you never know what you might find. Do you have bad knees? Get the kid to stand on something. And what kid will pass up the chance to stand on your furniture?

4. Use the basic settings on your camera. I know, I know, you shoot in auto, point and click and have no idea what all those little pictures mean. I am not leading you down the road of aperture settings and shutter speeds, remember this should be Mom proof. Go get your digital camera. Go ahead, I will wait. OK, got it? Cool. Now most point and shoots, and entry level SLR's, will have built in settings that will allow you to specify what kind of picture you are taking. These are often on your dial, and are mini pictures. You may see a face, a flower, a mountain, a bright sun, or someone running. If they are not on your dial they may be somewhere on your interface. Try menu, or scene selection. On my $100 Nikon Coolpix, there are 13 different settings, and they are under the menu button. Obviously each camera is different, but these setting are all very similar. The best part is, they could not be more obvious. Gee, I am shooting my friend Sally, do I choose the face or the moon?

Without getting too technical, these setting will change the way your camera looks at your subject. By choosing the face, Sally with be much clearer, and the background will be slightly blurred. For example:


See how Jack's face is the focus of the picture? This was taken in the face setting. Also, see how close I got? If you want everything in your photo to be in focus, say for a landscape, or a photo of your house, choose the mountain setting. For a narrow focus on something close up, choose the flower setting. Make sense? This is a very, very simple thing to do once you find it and get used to it. It will really jazz up your pictures, I promise.

5. Take an extra second and think before you click. Is my finger out of the way? Am I close enough? Does it look like that lamp is coming out of Uncle Jimmy's head? Am I close enough? Do I like the background? Am I close enough? Is there another angle that would look better? Are people looking at me? The questions could go on, but the point is to think about what you want your final product to look like. The other day at lunch I was taking some shots of my friends, and realized after the first shot that there were dirty plates and soda glasses in the picture. We stopped, took the extra second to move the stuff, and now I have pictures of my friends without all that extra clutter. Sometimes that little bit of extra thought is all you need to make things better.

6. Use your editing program. I don't care which program you like, there are so many out there, but you should be using it to make basic changes. Picassa is the most user friendly program I have found, and will allow you to do the simplest tasks with ease. Now, I am not expecting you to master Photoshop, but you should be able to figure out how to crop and get rid of red eye. Perhaps it is because in pictures it often looks like the back of my brain is on fire, but nothing irritates me more than red eye. OK, A-Rod irritates me more than red eye, but that is about it. Get rid of it! It takes about 30 seconds, and your pictures will look so much better.

7. Bring an extra battery. You never know when you will need it.

I could go on, but this is a good start. Let me know how it works out, or if you have any questions.