In recent years I have photographed and hiked the Kumano kodo pilgrimage trail sacred to Shugendo Buddhism in Japan. I’ve walked long portions of the Camino de Santiago in Spain with my camera. I’ve taken photos to bring light to the near darkness in Son Doong, the world’s largest cave in Vietnam where fewer people have ventured than have been into space.
As a photography workshop leader, I’ve taught groups of photographers in the United States, France, and many other parts of the world. In the course of my travels when I meet people—and I love to chat with folks along the way—once it becomes known that I am a professional photographer, one question is pretty constant: What kind of photographer are you?
Generally, when folks ask me this question they are looking for a pretty straightforward answer. Sometimes I wish I could tell them “I photograph children for a portrait studio,” “I am an architectural photographer,” “I am a wedding photographer,” “I photograph jewelry,” or something similarly specific.
As I’ll explain later in this blog story, I’ve worked professionally in a number of photographic genres, back at the beginning of my first photography career in the days of analog, film photography.
No knowledge is ever wasted. It’s helpful to have the skillsets from the different photographic niches under my belt, as well as my experiences as a computer programmer, fine-art painter, and a writer. But none of these individually fit what I’ve been doing and what I have regarded as my current profession since the dawn of digital era.
I tell folks who ask that I am a Photographer as Poet. That’s of course the title of this blog story. Stay tuned: in this blog story I’ll tell you what I think being a Photographer as a Poet means, some of the history of how I’ve arrived at this profession and calling, and some words about what it means to have a professional practice as a photographic poet.
I’ve become so enamored of my job title of Photographer as Poet that I had an inkan—a Japanese “chop” or inked stamp that is sometimes used in place of a signature—created with the characters that roughly translate to this phrase. Sometimes I use my inkan to handstamp and decorate my prints, particularly those printed on Japanese washi.
What does it mean to be a “Photographer as Poet” professionally? This is often a follow-up question to “What kind of photographer are you?”
The Secrets to Properly Convert Your Images to Black & White with Viktor Fejes
There are a lot of ways to convert a color photo to B&W, but have you ever considered what goes into doing it with the highest level of control by harnessing some of Photoshop’s most powerful tools? If not, then join Viktor Fejes for a deep dive into how to properly convert your photos to B&W. No matter what method you use to convert to B&W you are always concerned with removing color, controlling contrast and tonality, and enhancing detail.
In this class Viktor steps you through his B&W workflow and demonstrates techniques for using adjustment layers, creating a LUT for re-use, dodging and burning, manipulating tonal values locally, bringing out detail, adding grain, and so much more to achieve that B&W mood you had in your minds eye from the start. You’ll come away with a new set of techniques and a greater understanding for the fundamentals of B&W conversions.
In Case You Missed It – Advanced Photoshop: The Psychology and Science Behind Color Grading
Join Viktor Fejes for an advanced look at essential elements of color theory. From understanding color models and the science of RGB, to how to apply this knowledge when performing practical tasks such as color correcting and color grading. Viktor starts with the fundamentals and works up to advanced techniques used in cinema. If you want to manipulate color at will, understand the reasons why, and make your images look fantastic while doing it, then this class is for you.
Did you ever feel creative block? Or found yourself feeling less excited by what you do?
Many times such feelings appear from creative stagnation, when you allow your creative process to settle into routine.
Personal and professional growth is an essential component for any photographer, as well as continuous source of inspiration. Such growth can and should be stimulated, by challenging yourself, broadening your horizons and allowing some downtime for free experiments without any pressure or expectations. Not just as means of acquiring better clients, but as a means to feel more confident and satisfied with our own work. But all the pressures from content-consumption and the race to get more visibility and business, makes us miss out on this crucial part of our self-expression.
Many creatives and photographers (read: almost all) go into the field for the love of photography and creation. Creating for the sake of creation, for the joy of the process and opportunity to self-express, is a human trait. However, when we make it our business, we inadvertently put speed limitations onto our creative engine.
Below I have given few steps within two major factors that contribute to growth and how you can apply them within your craft.
Bring Back The Fun
Authors like Daniel Pink have proven that introducing expected external reward or condition on our behaviour has a negative effect on motivation and dampens our creative drive.
When your work becomes contingent on external factors, including appreciation, your mind turns potential opportunity for fun into work, and creativity faces pressure. It is not just results that gets affected, but the joy from the process itself. It makes us feel the creative process is no longer “our own.” It is “for something else.”
Simply put, when you expect to be paid or evaluated, you enjoy the process less. How many times have you enjoyed doing chores if your parents asked you to? But how many times you found yourself cleaning up your place on a whim, as a way to unwind and enjoy it simply because it felt rewarding to take care of something that is your own.
In the same way, working as a photographer may affect how much we love photography.
To reduce this negative side effect, you need to allow yourself time and instances of “pure creation,” time just for you that brings back the fun, the game.
1) Have at least 2 days a month where the shoot you do is just for you.
Is there a lighting you wanted to try?
New camera technique?
It may be a personal project that you had in mind.
Those two days are “you time” to execute all the things you were planning or thinking of trying.
Make these days only about learning and practicing that new thing or executing your personal idea.
2) Have at least one freestyle day.
What is a freestyle day? It’s when you come on a shoot with no plan, no set rules or expectations of results.
Important criteria here is that you have to let go of all expectations, and I mean- ALL:
Do not plan on publishing your work or for anyone to see it.
If you work with models, make sure to take the model you are most comfortable with and who will be okay if you will not release the images. It does not mean that, if in the end of it, you will end up liking them, you can’t release them. But making sure while you shoot, you are not having the pressure of having to show it to anyone.
Just take your camera and submerge yourself into the process. Take photos as you feel like, even if some of them will end up not looking good.
At the end of such shoot you are guaranteed to remember all the reasons you picked up a camera in the first place and feel the pure joy of the process again.
3) One for yourself.
Make sure on every shoot you take at least one image that is shot a way you would have never shot. Something very different, weird. This is how you develop flexibility of mind and can discover unexpectedly good new ways of shooting.
You can try using items around you as props, from the light bulb cover to mobile phone surface, to almost anything you can find, but something that you did not expect to use. Our brains thrive on challenge.
At the same time, we are so used to “how it is usually done” that we rarely allow ourselves to approach things differently. The true uniqueness and creativity can come from breaking the norms of the “expected” and brings back the child-like curiosity towards putting objects to unintended use.
Do Not Stop Learning
1) Have a moodboard of techniques and light that you like.
Get into the studio and try to replicate that light. Don’t copy the frame and the shot, but just replicate the light. Without Googling the set up. It will bring enormous amounts of learning, and you will grow to understand lighting better and be comfortable with it.
When we focus on only the result and forget the process, we end up only scratching the surface of experience. We can never master it.
Creative growth requires understanding of how the back-end of techniques works. Once you understand how lighting flows and what difference changing it one way or the other makes, you will find yourself confident in trying to experiment with it. You will be able to come up with your own unique combinations and techniques.
2) Once a day, learn at least one new thing… no matter how small.
Watching a tutorial, reading few pages of a new book, deconstructing the light set-ups…there is a vast world of new thing to learn out there. In sight of a big goal, we forget that any big achievement consists of small daily victories we have, small steps towards that creative goal.
Similarly, these small daily learnings, lingering at the back of your mind, once acquired, can help you improve overall quality of your work, serve as an inspiration, broaden your creative horizons and add to the feeling of self-confidence.
Give yourself small challenges once in a while. Slay your dragon and feel like a hero.
It boosts your confidence, and that confidence, in turn, will make you more open to experiments and help you feel like you can do anything, no matter how hard.
For example, I once challenged myself to read at least 100 pages of a book every day for a week. By the end of that week I did not just feel more educated, I also felt excited to try new techniques as the confidence of that small victory gave me extra energy.
Each of these steps is closely connected with one another. They provide mutual support. And all together jump-start your creative engine making it a speedy joyride.
Hands On With The Canon 90D: Everything You Need To Know To Get Great Shots with Larry Becker
Get a hands on look at the Canon 90D with Larry Becker! The 90D is an amazingly powerful performance camera that’s packed with helpful modes and information for beginners and high end shooters alike. In this class Larry gets you started quickly with a few need to know items before digging into his recommended camera settings, the auto shooting modes, auto focus capabilities, how to get the most out of the creative shooting modes, a look at the video capabilities, and rounds it out with an explanation of the features and settings every 90D owner needs to know.
In Case You Missed It: Hands On With The Canon EOS R
Join Larry Becker to learn the ins and outs of the amazing Canon EOS R! Whether you just picked one up or are thinking about adding one to your kit, you’ll want to learn all the hidden features and pro tips that set this camera apart. From features such as programmable controls to flexible priority mode to shooting video, Larry teaches you how to set them up (and more!) and get the most out of them. Larry wraps up the class with three interviews with professional photographers, Joel Grimes, Roberto Valenzuela, and Rick Sammon who have a lot of insights to share from their early hands on experience with the EOS R.
The allure of street photography, at least for me, is rooted in a simple question. Can I create a great photograph that focuses on the most mundane and ordinary moments of public life? Am I capable of effectively photographing something that others would overlook or dismiss?
From my earliest years as a photographer, I knew it was possible. I saw the evidence in the work of great photographers like Bresson, Winogrand, DeCarava, Erwitt, Arbus, and others. In their photographs, I discovered my attraction to the world of the street with all its chaos, beauty and unpredictability.
There was a unique creative experience that I would find only on the street, rather than the controlled space of a studio. It was a palpable experience that sent a wave of excitement through my body when I thought of it. It took years to develop the skills needed to translate that visceral experience into an image. However, I was forever entranced by the magical potential of a street scene.
Street photography is more than just photographing strangers walking down a sidewalk. It is instead the practice of the art of observation. It is about what happens with my eyes and brain that determine my success. The camera is only of consequence because it confirms my observation and makes it permanent.
When I teach street photography, the biggest obstacle that must be surmounted is an inaccurate definition of what street photography is. It begins with the assumption that street photography is solely about walking up to a stranger and taking their photograph without permission. No wonder it elicits such feelings of anxiety of fear. That definition sabotages the photographer even before exposing a single frame. So, it’s important to let go of such a rigid and problematic definition, which only succeeds in self-defeat.
Instead, I suggest making street photography about seeing, making observations of the world, with or without, the presence of people. Instead of “assaulting” a stranger, see street photography as the pursuit of light and shadow, line and shape, color and gesture. Recognize and embrace the beauty to be found in the ordinary and the mundane.
Light & Shadow
Light and shadow is my starting point whenever I walk the streets. Regardless of the photographic genre that’s practiced, it often relies on the quality of light. That is no different for street photography.
Evaluating the quality of the light does more than just inform what ISO and aperture you use. It also reveals whether you can leverage high contrast light for a dramatic image or diffused light to create an image with a softer feel. Recognizing the quantity, quality and direction of light lead you to make both aesthetic and technical choices that directly inform the look and feel of your photograph. When you are aware of the light when making a photograph, you are preconceiving what the final result will look like. You are not leaving things to chance.
With a high-contrast scene, you can purposely expose for the highlights and render the shadows into deep black. Not only does this result in a punchy and striking black and white photograph, but it also obscures distractions that might be present in the shadows. It becomes both an aesthetic and practical choice born from the awareness of light and shadow.
Tip: Look for a high-contrast scene where light abruptly shifts to shadow. Shape a composition that leverages that contrast. Include an element in the brighter area to help draw attention to that area of the frame.
Line and Shape
Line and shape serve as the building blocks of composition. Whether lines and shapes are visible or implied, they become elements by which you compose the photograph within the confines of the photographic frame.
Artistic Macro Floral Photography Techniques with Jackie Kramer
Boost your creativity and have fun shooting artistic macro floral photographs with Jackie Kramer! Join Jackie in the Florida Botanical Gardens to learn how you can create stunning floral images of your own. In this class you will learn how to bring out character in a flower, what gear you’ll need, optimal camera settings, how to overcome challenges you’ll face in the field, how to capture textures and color washes you can use in post production, how to shoot in-camera multiple exposures, and so much more! Jackie wraps up the class with a series of lessons on her post production techniques to edit the photos and bring her vision to life.
In Case You Missed It: Creating Breathtaking Floral Images with Melanie Kern-Favilla
Join Melanie Kern-Favilla as she shares her secrets for creating stunning and dramatic still life photographs using natural light. In this class, you’ll learn how to recognize qualities of light, what gear is needed, how to create your own props and light modifiers, and how to choose the right flowers for your subjects. While Melanie works with flowers, she’ll teach you how to apply all of these techniques to any still life subject you choose. As an added bonus, make sure to check out the bonus lesson on macro snowflake photography! This class is perfect for anyone interested in macro photography.