Category Archives Guest Blogger

An Introduction
Let’s get formalities out of the way because I want to talk about things bigger than me when given a Scott Kelby Soapbox.  My name is Sam Spratt and I am a 23 year-old illustrator who focuses on realism. I’ve had the pleasure of making paintings for a mess of major publications, websites, celebrities, corporations, and oddly enough, even a few photographers (the profession which brought about the decline of illustration) such as David Hobby, Joe McNally, Lara Jade, and my good friend, that guy who did the Twilight poster. To watch some examples of how I sketch, render, and paint things, you can follow this link. Obligatory preamble complete. Now let’s move on.

The New Old
I am a knowing hypocrite. I roll my eyes at the Instagram-ification of photography - slapping vintage filters on digital photographs to make them appear old and organic. I loathe the skeuomorphic interfaces in Apple’s user-experience design - digital leather-trimmed calendar apps, paper textured digital notepads, and synthetic camera click sounds trying to make something "classical" which should be as clean and minimal as the aluminum hardware it rests in. Yet… I’m a painter of the digital variety, who has built a career off of translating techniques and concepts learned through Baroque-era oil painting courses into a modern medium. Pixels have replaced pigment for me, but they’re pushed around just the same.

Maybe it’s not as simple as swiping through some preset effects and slapping filters on filters over my every meal with a button press, but the core idea is the same: art and technology are converging into a Kurzweil-esque singularity and we look over our shoulders to build something on top of what came before it.

New mediums don’t always replace the old ones. Anyone who has ever used Photoshop knows that the tools aren’t the manifestations of mere synthetic coding robots, they’re explicitly modeled for usability after old-medium artistic techniques and workflows.

With every new iteration, software simultaneously distances itself from where it came from with new capabilities, as well as shifts the entry-point to older techniques, making them even more accessible. There will be a point in the not too distant future, when cameras pick up anything we can see and anything we don’t — ISO, megapixel, aperture, and shutterspeed will be irrelevant buzzwords. The boom of point-and-shoot, iPhone photography has already made them feel like dusty terminology.  Eventually, painting, as outlandish as it may sound, will be dictated by what we think and imagine rather than what we can physically execute. We’re moving more and more towards a world where the ground floor to creating great artwork is being lowered through technology, and every facet of life is manipulated and designed.  Even chest hair.

It’s amazing how frightened artists can be of their "fields" converging with technology. People lambasted the latest Final Cut Pro video editing software for "dumbing down pro features," but more so - it was threatening. It enabled mere rookies to access very intuitive and easy-to-use controls and to execute things which would have been incredibly complicated mere years ago. We have hipsters who call themselves "purists" for everything. I am a painter who uses a Wacom stylus. A person who digitally paints with only a mouse looks down on the stylus because it’s "easier." People who do any digital painting are looked down on by digital photographers who are looked down on by manual photographers who are looked down on by traditional painters who are looked down on by writers, who are looked down on by writers with typewriters who are looked down on by writers with pens who are looked down on by writers with feathers and ink, all of whom are looked down on by street artists because everything sucks if it doesn’t have an obvious political message and is plastered over a public wall.  All of whom, of course, are looked down on by commercial artists.

It’s not that technology gets rid of previous mediums, it builds upon them, and I think it’s incredibly important that this continues because "art" has just about the loosest definition of any word. We literally live in a world where our own blood and excrement can belong in a museum if it’s wrapped in a sound bite explaining its purported depth and profundity.  Without new tools and techniques driving creativity in new generations, we will continue to just point to anything and declare it as high art.

When I paint digitally, I am granted an enormous amount of control. CTRL+Z can wipe away my mistakes, thousands of settings, sliders, rulers, guides, layers, and paths can assist in my ability to manipulate the medium. However, despite the thousands of tools available, I limit myself to only a few, simply because those are the ones that express my techniques and education in traditional painting. The only times I hit "undo" is when I smack my entire face into my keyboard from looking at YouTube comments, everything else I consider to be mistakes worth working over. It builds character (as every dad ever would say). I’m not trying to make my life harder by limiting myself.  After all, the difficulty of your medium doesn’t elevate it.  But I believe that as art and technology get all up inside one another, it’s important to be wary of the visual gimmick babies which rise up along the way.

3D, HDR, Tilt-shift, multiple-exposure, lens flare⦠these are some buzzwords which mostly pertain to the worlds of photography and video, but they run in parallel with illustration. Many artists look for visual hooks, something that brings individuation or "edge" to their work. It’s marketable, I’ll give it that, but it’s also transient when your style is no more than a fashion trend. In college, I had a teacher who told me something along the lines of: "Sam, design trends, fads, and gimmicks come and go, realism/classicism and the genres bent off of it won’t always be popular, they won’t always sell well, but they have always and likely will always be here to stay." This stuck with me - not just on the illustrative plane, but looking at the photographers I’ve been able to work with, they ride down a similar path, working within the framework of reality. Bending the rules, but not breaking them just to find a "different" gimmick.

I was skeptical about continuing down this road. After all, most painters are taught realism initially and then they push into other styles. "Why would someone hire me to paint their portrait when they could get someone to take a picture that is quicker, more accurate, and possibly less expensive?" I thought. But in the two years I’ve been working, I’ve realized that speed, accuracy, and cost are shockingly relative terms.

Speed
A commissioned portrait typically takes at least 20 hours for me. Far more than it takes for someone to take a photo and edit it. However, I don’t require advanced lighting setups, assistants, hair and make-up, a specific location, expensive equipment, and taking thousands of photos to eventually select just one. A recent client, Donald Glover, had a packed schedule, as most celebrities do — I sidestepped this and met him out on the town.  I simply pulled him aside for 5 minutes, and snapped a few reference pictures from different angles in the dim light of the club with an entry-level DSLR.  And that was the extent of time I required of him or anyone else — the rest was Whisky. It still took many hours to paint, but the time and resources didn’t come from the client.

Accuracy
I work hard to try to capture a decent likeness. It’s no photograph, but with my limitations in technical ability at this stage in my life, I try to make up for in treatment and character. There’s no tutorial for these things, just practice. Where capturing individual pores and exact anatomy fall short, painting allows flexibility in accuracy. When I get reference, the lighting is irrelevant as the reference is to understand the form. I shoot around the figure rather than from one angle, so that I can learn their anatomy and how light hits it. Learning each person as a three dimensional entity enables client direction like "I’d like my eyes less happy." Vague? Not really. When we smile, every muscle in our face adjusts slightly. Making eyes less happy involves being able to re-paint eye-lids, eye-brows, adjusting forehead crinkles, lowering cheeks, uncurling lips, and dozens of other tiny nuances. If my reference is of someone with their mouth open, and they want it closed, it takes some thinking.  But it can be done. The detachment from direct realism, that wiggle-room freed up by color treatment, loose brushstrokes, and texture, lets things like this flow naturally in a painting environment, while in photo manipulation/re-touching, such a thing can easily be botched and unrealistic.

Cost
Much like the relative displacement of time, cost works similarly. I charge more for a single image than most traditional commercial photographers (at my level of exposure) would, but people pay for the imagery and the rights, nothing else. There is no division or expenditures for location, production, sets, equipment, assistants, retouchers, etc. If someone wants the Sahara desert, some velociraptors, and spaceships in the background, painters get to just make those things up. It requires only one person's time and energy, rather than the coordination of entire teams and sets.  As you can imagine, the economics of one person over many can be vastly different.

Connection
All of the pros and cons of the aforementioned mediums and technologies meet at the same place with the same question: How do you share them with the world? Well, since you’re reading this, you are probably familiar with The Internet. The Internet is the single most powerful tool available to the public. It wasn’t always that way, but right now, I can get on my computer, in any area of the world with a connection, and I can share my work, my thoughts, news, ideas, and process with anyone who cares to listen. I can put a single image online and track it as it virally trickles and booms across various websites - finding its way into millions of eyeballs.

I don’t believe that anyone with an Internet connection can find success, but I do believe that the barriers which separate someone who wants it and who can have it are largely diminished by the web. Anyone who is willing to treat their craft like they’re a doctor or a lawyer, putting in exhaustive hours like their creative job matters just as much as any other, I believe they can find success.  I firmly believe that we live in a time where actual effort met with a basic understanding of social media can sustain us. There are always excuses. Timing, connections, and luck are words people love to throw around for reasons why they haven’t found a footing. With the Web at your finger-tips, those factors are greatly reduced. It’s you, your work, your commitment to improving it, and the power to share it. It’s not an instantaneous process nor one that fits into quick-fix culture, but it’s one where your name can be found and explode through "likes" and "retweets" instead of yearly contests/awards and knowing just the right people.

Closure
We live in a digital renaissance that many disregard because of gossip blogs and cat .gifs. However, technology has allowed generations, new and old, to find ways to create fresh and exciting things from both revolutionary and evolutionary methodologies, and share them in unprecedented ways. Within a single piece of software, I have infinite canvases, brushes, colors, and layers. Nothing has to dry. Nothing has to be coated or prepped. When I pick up my stylus, I waste no time on the monotony of tertiary painting elements — they have been synthesized and streamlined into nearly instantaneous aspects of my work flow allowing me to jump in and create.

There are simple advantages of digital mediums which aren’t up for debate, but within every fiber of the toolset, the tablet, and the software, lies a foundation built by traditional painters, and for that reason, it’s important to not look back at what came before as obsolete. Technology and art are converging — what we can make, and how we make it are expanding at a rapid pace — but old mediums aren’t simply dying.

Why? Because not everything old is broken. I can’t achieve the smell, texture, and true organic nature of oil paint. No amount of slapped-on filters can make a digital photo look like a true tintype. No preset font looks quite like hand-written pen and ink calligraphy. That’s not permanent. Eventually, consumer printers will be able to print the three dimensional depth and texture maps along with a painting. Fully simulated chemicals and physics will enable digital ink to bleed and flow naturally while photos become instantaneously exposed and treated as if in a real dark room. These things aren’t unrealistic, they’re ideas built on readily-available technologies.

Do new mediums carry a stigma? Of course. Very rarely does the digital world find its way into the realms of “high art”, but it is trickling in as digital artists develop new ways to assign pseudo-symbolism to what we do.

Perhaps there’s no grand symbolism to my work to elevate it to the elusive “high art” status, I can’t say there are any deep emotions or bursting geysers of self-expression, and my concepts are typically one-note and surface-level⦠but to say why I make things in this way with this medium for one simple reason:

I’m obsessed with the future and will likely spend my life hurdling towards it, always looking over my shoulder.

You can see more of Sam’s work at SamSpratt.com, keep up with him on his blog, find him on Facebook, and follow him on Twitter.

A couple of different ways of looking at the Olympics

My partner Lucinda Marland and I were chatting a couple of years ago about the London 2012 Olympic Games and how we could get involved. We came up with a plan to shoot environmental portraits of Britain’s oldest Olympic Gold medalists, we felt that today’s youth obsessed society either overlooked or had forgotten about their achievements.

We spent the next two years reaching out to the Gold medalists and we managed to shoot all 14 of them (they had a combined age of over a thousand years). It culminated in an exhibition overlooking the London 2012 Olympic stadiums earlier this year. In fact if you are in London at the moment a selection of them are on display in the John Lewis store, Oxford street.

With my new found interest in the Olympics my eye caught the furore regarding Joe Klamar’s Team USA photographs.

I really can be quite unsympathetic when I see bad photography.

Particularly when it is by a ‘Pro’ working for a major and world renowned organisation.

When I first became aware of the furore surrounding these shots, I really was pretty astounded by what I saw, and despite all the excuses from his photo editor the pictures are, apart from a couple of exceptions, pretty rotten.

Nothing can really put into words what is wrong with them, lighting, execution, concept.

They are, in my opinion less than optimum…..

As I’m sure Joe Klamar (whom I have never met, nor do I have any connection with) would readily admit to, over a beer perhaps.

If you are expecting me to join in giving Joe Klamar a verbal lashing, which in my mind has been similar to the stoning scene in ‘The Life of Brian’ where all the women are wearing fake beards, well think again.

I have committed similar photo crimes to Joe and so very much worse too.

Let me explain.

The photos are generally indefensible until you read his account of the assignment.

‘I was under the impression that I was going to be photographing athletes on a stage or during press conference where I would take their headshots for our archives [and] I really had no idea that there would be a possibility for setting up a studio’.

I have seen some pretty strong comments from all comers.

But I would ask any of them to consider this.

What would you have done?

It’s all very well winning ‘blah, blah’ photo of the month with some unforced photo of something you like to shoot and had some kind of control or input in.

With the possibility of planning too.

Joe was sent on the equivalent of a photo suicide mission.

Without wishing to play the blame game, one could look elsewhere.

What brief was he given?

Most of my photo apocolypses have been set up by either poor briefing (ie not telling the photographer what they were getting into) or when I have not listened to the brief properly.

I have no idea which it was but these are scenarios which are possibilities.

The comment which cropped up often was ‘I could have done better with my iPhone, and in the right conditions I dare say we all could.

And there is the rub, in the right conditions.

Consider the excellent American baseball team photos by Nick Laham, shot on an iPhone in the restroom, seemingly against the odds but there was some form of preparation, note the KinoFlo’s (I LOVE them!), and I’m prepared to wager he was not fighting with every other news organisation to get the shot either.

The difference between an amateur and a pro is that as a pro you HAVE to take a photo as someone is paying you.

You don’t have the luxury of an amateur  of choosing when to pick the camera up or indeed what you shoot.

Imagine it was you who was sent to shoot this super high profile assignment unprepared, not knowing what the possibilities were, and having all the wrong gear.

On the AFP blog, Joe tells how he arrived with 2 bodies, 3 lenses and one flash unit……….oh dear.

After the wave of nausea had swept over you and, providing you were still standing, you would have to come up with some sort of plan, and quickly.

You might have done better than he did or you may have cracked under the pressure and done even worse.

He shot something which was not his finest moment, though I do actually like the shot of the guy with the dreads.

There is a native American saying which we could all do well to pay heed to ‘Never judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes.’

http://youtu.be/zwDNkST83oI

You can see more of Drew’s work at Drew.it, keep up with him on his blog, and follow him on Twitter.

Hey everyone, RC here. Just wanted to share something that one of our Photoshop Guys did recently that I thought was just too cool!

http://youtu.be/Q5EDBe7Eduw

Hands down Corey Barker is one of the most talented #Photoshop artists out there. With all of the Olympics fever coming around, Corey wanted to see if he could re-create the entire olympics logo, right inside of Photoshop. He took a timelapse of it, and I think its a wonderful 2 and a half minutes of watching the guy work. Thanks for the inspiration, Corey!

We were flattered and honored when asked to write a guest blog – and, we were told, we could write about whatever we wanted. But, we wondered, why us? What could we possibly have to say to the readers of this blog?

Visitors to our photo gallery frequently ask us, “are you THE photographer?” (that may be flattering, but not if you happen to have photographs from the early 1900’s on exhibit); or, “are you A photographer?” (“no, we leave that to the experts”). Truth be told, besides taking pictures of our children when they were young, we have no real camera experience whatsoever and could not by any stretch be considered “photographers.” So, stop here if you want technical advice or news on the latest digital accessory, plug-in, or wiz-bang program.

As gallerists concentrating on photojournalism, what we do know is that the way a great photograph can capture time, emotions, and experience is what makes photography a unique art form. There is a certain mystery about a photograph that captivates viewers and causes them to pause in thought and remembrance, and maybe, just maybe, change the way they think.

Throughout our careers we have been privileged to know, or to have known, many committed photographers who have created a visual record of the times we all live in. Within each of these beings exists a drive and a determination to tell the story. At the very beginning of our careers, Alfred Eisenstaedt told us that the photographer's job "is to find and catch the storytelling moment." And that is how we have looked at photographs ever since.

So we decided to take this opportunity to acknowledge the dedicated photojournalists who have been, and continue to be, there to bring the voices and the images of the people to us all through photographs. And, in the process, we’ll affirm the place for storytelling in the 21st Century.

To some, the single image seems almost “quaint,” if not obsolete, in today’s world. We are told that video, multi-media, and “platforms” are the way to tell stories. And, we are bombarded by images throughout our daily routine: photos are sent instantly by mobile phone; the internet is literally saturated with every image conceivable; and the pictures on the TV news and in newspapers and magazines are almost an afterthought. So, is there a place for the story of the single image?

We were too young to remember, at that time, the published pictures of the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, but rather have memories of those events from the reactions of adults around us at the time. Today, photographs of these leaders connect generations not only with their causes and ideals, but with the tragic and violent end to these leader’s lives – all of which were captured on camera.

However, we do remember vividly the daily publication of photographs from the Vietnam War, and the nightly footage on television news. These images communicated the stark reality of war in a way words could never describe. We could not fully comprehend the politics and issues of that war, but because of those photographs, we came to understand what war was.

(Consider that for the past 10 years, the world has seen very little from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Can you cite “iconic” images of these wars, as compared to the now-classic images from World War II and Vietnam? Photojournalists from many leading news organizations have of course been covering the conflict, and what has been missing from the newspapers will be presented in the forthcoming book by Michael Kamber, Photojournalists on War, a groundbreaking new visual and oral history of America's nine-year conflict in the Middle East. We recommend that everyone get this book – there are a few limited edition copies left.)

In the 1980’s, we were extremely fortunate to get to know the great Life photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt. At one of our first meetings, he shuffled through stacks of prints and history came alive before our eyes: Goebbels, Hitler, Mussolini, Einstein, Oppenheimer, Churchill, the Kennedys, and everyday people and extraordinary locations of the 20th century – frozen forever in a single frame. Eisie introduced us to Carl Mydans, who once wrote: “Sometimes people have asked me why I devoted so much of my life to covering these terrible scenes, these disasters, these wars.  The answer always has been that what I am doing is important, and that’s why I am here. I am making a record of historic times.” (If you are not familiar with Mydans’ photographs, you owe it to yourself to find out about one of the most unheralded photojournalists of all time.)

Our course was set, and for decades now we have worked to enhance the understanding of photojournalism and promote the work of photojournalists in print form. In the beginning, many photographers were nothing short of incredulous; completely unconvinced that anyone would care to see their pictures outside of a magazine or newspaper. It continues to be our unwavering belief that history lives on beyond newsprint.

Perhaps it is the same with every generation, but the challenges humanity as a whole faces today seem to be enormous. From the politics of your local hometown, to the platform of the national stage, to the innumerable issues facing people and countries world-wide, these are tumultuous times. Yet at the same time, if one so chooses, it is very easy to simply block out the inconvenient truths of our time, or to blame it on “the other side”. Of course the world is more complex than that, and there are thousands of dedicated photojournalists covering critical issues and events in every corner of the world right at this very moment, some at great peril and personal risk. The stories their pictures tell are critical to helping us all confront and understand complex issues. Their photographs will be a record for historians in the future and will inform future generations of events that shaped the world they inherited.

And despite what you may have heard, these pictures are out there to be seen. Even sometimes in newspapers and magazines (The Guardian and Telegraph not only publish good photo stories, but have dedicated sections for photography on their websites.) Find out about some of the important work being done at photo agencies such as NOOR and VII Photo, to name just a couple; and collectives such as Facing Change: Documenting America; and by all means be sure to check out TIME’s LightBox and Photojournalismlinks. Sometimes, to see, one has to look.

Our current exhibition presents photographs of select human rights struggles, and the exhibition has affirmed our steadfast belief in the power of a photograph. The exhibit’s press release stated “Photographers in this exhibition illustrate the power of photography to inform, persuade, enlighten and enrich the viewer’s life.” Visitors to the gallery may not know what to expect when entering, and some have whirled about to face the front desk and exclaim “This is serious!” Today a gentleman said to us, “Well, I’ve seen some beautiful paintings, but this makes you think”. We have seen parents quietly explaining the situation behind a photograph to their children, we have seen people softly weeping, we have been asked “why do you show this?” and the quiet of the gallery has occasionally been startled by someone gasping “Oh my God!”

It is this quality that has caused photography to become the main medium of our times. It is this “storytelling moment” that in fact defines photojournalism. Joe McNally wrote “What I truly believe about a powerful picture is that after viewing it, you are never the same. You have been changed, forever. You might not realize it at that moment, but you are.” And we think that is exactly correct.

So, as we started, we take this opportunity to acknowledge the dedicated photojournalists who have been, and continue to be, there to bring the voices and the images of the people to us all through photographs. We honor your commitment and service to humanity. The word “story” is often misunderstood to mean a “tale” or a fictional narrative; but its actual definition is simply “history.” Let us all open our eyes, and see the stories that form our collective history.

You can see more at MonroeGallery.com, keep up with them on their blog, follow them on Twitter, or just stop by the gallery when you’re in Santa Fe!

WOW! Pretty much the words that came out of my mouth when I was asked to write for Guest Blog Wednesday. For those who don't know me I am Josh Bradley, and like Mike Wiacek I am not a full time photographer, but I am heading back in that direction slowly but surely. I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to work as Moose Peterson's assistant for a little over 2 years and learned more in that time about photography than some folks do in 10 years.

As photographers we are always learning with every click of the shutter. We learn to see light in new ways, how to get just a bit lower to the ground so that your subject is larger than life, and most importantly we learn how to tell stories. After all, that is what we are. We are storytellers of moments in time. From the images of star trails with long exposure telling the story of the Earth spinning through space, or at 1/1000th of a second freezing the moment a sprinter crosses the finish line, they are all stories.

So in recent times I have found a new story to tell that that has been in the making for the past year. I live in California in a small mountain community. It's a community that is one filled with lots of animal lovers. Most of the area has ranches with horses, dogs, goats, and the list can go on and on.

One thing that this community also has is a place called Marley's Mutts Dog Rescue. For those who don't know me I am a dog person. I have 4 of my own (all rescues from shelters), and as I am writing this I have one laying under my feet and another trying to get his head scratched (so if there are typos in this post, blame him!). This rescue has been around since 2009, and I have become involved with it doing the photography for all the dogs that are rescued from shelters since late 2010. In the time that I have been helping there have been 200+ dogs rescued with a grand total of 500+ since the rescue opened.

One day I asked the director of the rescue, Zach Skow, "How bad is it at the shelter now?" The next time I visited, he asked me to bring my camera. Suffice to say when I got there I was overwhelmed by the sight.

At that moment this new story started being told. I am calling it "The Abandoned Project" and it tells the stories of dogs in kill shelters. I photographed that day for about an hour. There were hundreds of dogs there to photograph, but I honestly couldn't take it anymore.

The knowledge that most of these dogs weren't going to be around in 3-4 days was heartbreaking. Plus, knowing I may be one of the last people they see that paid them any attention or gave them any type of affection was too much. To give you some perspective, 17,188 dogs came through the county shelter where I was photographing. Of those 17,188 dogs, 10,814 were euthanized.

So I am doing this project and telling this story to put a face to these numbers. It is not easy and the only thing that makes it remotely bearable is that every time we go, we bring back 2 or 3 dogs to the rescue to give them another chance at life, and find them new homes.

The end to the story I am telling is almost done, and I am hoping that bringing awareness to this plight helps reduce the number of dogs in shelters all over. Because I know that if this is going on where I live it has to be going on in other places as well. Even if it was just one other town that had the same statistics, that is one town too many.

For all the photographers out there I will say this in closing. Never EVER stop telling the stories of the world. Photograph and bring light to the dark places so that other people can tell your story and pass it on.

Check out more of Marley's Mutts on Facebook
Follow Josh at his Blog on Facebook, or over on Twitter

Scarcity. Do you panic when you confront it, or do you embrace it?  I believe the span of your imagination is directly related to scarcity.  As photographers, we have all been in a situation during a shoot where the conditions are not ideal.   For example, the location is not desirable, the subjects are not "beautiful" or most of your gear is not with you.  Under these less than desirable conditions, our human nature is to wish we had what we don't.  We think in terms of "If I only hadâ¦..,I would be able toâ¦.."(Complete the sentence).  But what if you are at a paid shoot, you must still come through at the level your clients know you can achieve.  Your clients are only concerned with the end product, not the reasons why you couldn't do what you normally do.  Now, the stage is set for your imagination and creativity to be stretched.  After coming to terms with what you have to work with, the brain will switch from "routine" mindset to a "creator" mindset, a switch that doesn't happen very often.  It is uncomfortable to work under conditions we are not used to.  Therefore, we subconsciously avoid unpredictability and the unknown as much as we can.

How we can use scarcity to sharpen our creativity
A marathon runner's endurance is a photographer's creativity.  Both heavily rely on these vital elements to succeed in their fields.  When a runner goes for a run, the goal is to reach that pivotal point where the body is begging the runner to stop and rest.  This is point is the "golden window".  That's precisely the time, when the athlete needs to push throw and fight his irresistible urge to stop and rest.  I call this point in time the golden window, because if one pushes through and continues to run, that person will achieve an increase of endurance.  Next time that person runs, they will be able to run further and faster than ever before.  As photographers, we don't need to push through exhaustion to gain endurance but we do need to surpass scarcity to gain creativity.  The good news is; we don't have to wait for scarcity to occur naturally, we can make it happen! Once or twice a week, pick one or two specific issues you would like to address.  Limit your self on what you will be working on to keep it specific and easy to remember.   If you are working on finessing your posing techniques, choose only one pose to work on for particular exercise.  Using only one pose, create different variations of that pose.  You could also keep the pose intact, and create different variations by changing only the light.  By limiting yourself to only one pose, you force your brain to think differently than what you are used to.  This is precisely that of thinking that makes your head hurt, but the results is an increase of our ability to think creatively.   These exercises don't have to be limited to posing; you can also do them by limiting your equipment on a shoot, perhaps only use one lens.  My favorite kind is location-based scarcity.  In other words, I do a practice photo shoot in a very small area and I must find every angle possible and use the objects around me to create a successful photo shoot within that space.

Example Exercise #1 (incorporating Geometry)
I have always been intrigued at how geometry in our environment influences the visual impact of a photograph.  Geometry can turn an ordinary photograph into a fascinating one.   The fact is geometry is all around us.  Not a minute could go by where people are not exposed to some sort of geometry.  This fact compelled me to train my eye to be more geometry sensitive.  The exercise is quite simple but the results have been remarkable.  I normally take a walk everyday to stay in some sort of shape, and I let my mind wonder for the duration of the walk.  Instead of daydreaming, I began looking for circular shapes, squares and triangles in my route.  I was surprised at how the walk I take every day, suddenly felt brand new to me again.  Clearly the objects in my route have not changed, but my perspective has.  I keep this game up when ever I take a casual walk.  In this photo, I noticed the strong presence of the green square in this scene in the town of Segovia, Spain.

This is just one of hundreds of examples of how I ignore the rest of the scene to train my eye to notice the geometry around me with higher sensitivity.


You can clearly see the influence geometry has in this photograph taken in Chicago.  The squared frames jumped at me from my training and I placed the groom in the reflection from the mirror on the left to create balance in the photograph.


This time, was the circular lamp that grabbed my attention to capture this couple lying in the sun in Paris.  I used the circular lamp for two reasons, to create depth, and also to balance the photograph.  Imagine this photo without the circular lamp; it wouldn't have been nearly as interesting.


In the previous photographs, the geometry in the environment was pretty obvious, however in this photograph of the couple embracing in Central Park, the arch over their head in the background formed by the rows of trees was much more subtle.  This is where training comes in very handy.  Had I not done my geometry sensitivity training, I would have completely missed this beautiful arch and walked right passed it.

Using scarcity to master the best use of your lenses
In this section, I am referring to limiting the amount of lenses you bring with you to only one or two lenses for a training photo shoot.  Most of us buy every lens we can afford, but rarely do we take the time to really bring out the strengths and know the weaknesses of each of our lenses.  To be able to know when is the best time to bring out the ultra-wide angle lens vs. a medium range lens such as the 24-70mm. requires a keen understanding of how these two lenses will behave differently in the environment you intent to use them in.  Most likely both lenses will do the job just fine, but one of them would have been a better choice than the other to create a higher level of visual impact.  The question is which one and why?

Understanding your lenses Exercise
To find out, I created another exercise where I would leave all my lenses at home except for two, the 16-35mm f/2.8 and the 24-70mm f/2.8.  I went ahead and shot hundreds of photos of people going about their day, architecture, landscapes, etc.   What I learned from reviewing the photos was that if there are strong lines or bold geometry in the environment, than the 16-35mm f/2.8 would exaggerate these lines and shapes greatly and create a much more interesting photo than the 24-70mm f/2.8.  However, if these strong shapes were not present in the environment and the focus was more on the people, than the 24-70mm f/2.8 was the better choice.  I repeated this exercise with all my lenses using only two at a time.

Understanding your lenses exercise results


This photo was taken at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles.  You can see the strong lines leading up to the couple.  However, because this photo was taken with the 70-200mm f/2.8 lens, it fails to really bring out the strength of those leading lines.  In fact, the 70-200mm f/2.8 is such a bad choice for this photo, that it makes those lines more of a distraction than an asset.


Now look what difference it makes to chose the right lens for the right place.  Because of my practice sessions described above, I knew that the 16-35mm f/2.8 lens would be the best fit to exaggerate the length of those leading lines creating a very dynamic photograph.


This photograph really exemplifies the importance of understanding when to pull out what lens.  During a wedding in Beverly Hills, I was faced with this typical stale scene.  To an untrained eye, this scene is exactly what I just described, boring.  However, thanks to the practice sessions, I noticed the circular forms created by the parasols.  Notice how I mentioned the shape before I describe what the object actually is.  That's because to a photographer, the shape that objects make is far more important than what that object actually is.  Because I know that if I have circles in my scene, I can exaggerate those circles using an extreme wide-angle lens resulting in this image:

The moral of the story here is that by training ourselves through limiting our tools or our locations or the poses we want to master, we will eventually be able to see photographic potential in locations where others simple cannot.  Posing will become an extension of the mood we want to create instead of using most of our energy dealing with technical problems with our posing.  The effort this level of skill requires pays off 1000 fold in our work and the rest of our careers.

THE BOOK: PICTURE PERFECT PRACTICE
If you are interested in learning more about training yourself, you can pick up a copy of my book Picture Perfect Practice, which focuses on precisely this empirical and fascinating topic.  The book can be purchased here.

You can see mor of Roberto’s work at RobertoValenzuelaPhotography.com and follow him on Twitter.

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