Project 2016

By Roger (7 February 2016)

We've talked, in the past, about how defining a project can help you grow as a photographer. I spent a couple of years traveling to Civil War re-enactments to mark the sesquicentennial. I made thousands of photographs, in a wide variety of conditions; I met many new people; and I learned quite a bit about my camera and post-processing. It was worth every minute I spent on it. In February 2015, Mark started his project on vineyards. (You can find his post here.) In short, we like to have active projects we're working.

A couple of weeks ago, I was talked into doing a 52 week challenge. You must take and post a photo every week. The moderator was pushing for a 365 day challenge, in which you post a photo every day for a year. (It's actually a 366 in 2016.) I didn't want to commit to that, but you can find many photos from the pool, on Flickr, here. There are, currently, 144 participants, and most have said they intend to do the 365.

You can still join the group, and it's free. You will need a Flickr account (also free). You can use any kind of camera, and your photo can be as simple as part of your life that day or week. There is no expectation of a weekly masterpiece. If you already have an account, just join the group, you'll be welcomed.

I know what many of you are thinking – “I don't want that kind of pressure.” Yeah, that was my first excuse to Jenny Stein, the organizer, too. My next excuse was that it was already near the end of January, and I didn't want to start late. She pushed that one aside, as well. There is no calendar requirement, either. (Sigh.) I could have kept coming up with excuses, but it was really pointless. Even without any kind of project, there is rarely a week that goes by where I don't make a photo. Why would posting it be so bad? Again, there is no expectation, beyond sharing with others in the group.

I have no particular theme for my weekly photos. My intent is to try new (for me) subject matter and experiment more. There will be be some travel and people, of course, but I'll try to overlap there, too. For example, my post for this week was from my granddaughter's birthday party. This is certainly no masterpiece, but it involved family photography with trying something different than my normal approach..

Party motion blur

The kids were running around, as they do. The party room was too dark for no flash, but a flash completely killed the mood and the wild lighting effects. Luckily, my family is accustomed to my strange requests. I had the birthday girl stand and twirl her light wand. I used rear curtain sync (the flash goes off at the end of exposure) and a very slow shutter speed. The sensor records the background, allowing the blur of the wand to record to the sensor. The flash (set on very low power) releases its light at the end of the exposure, which records Grace and keeps her from blurring. Just a little fun for the kids, who liked the blurred shots much more than my pictures of the actual party and the candids I made.

You can follow my 52 week challenge (here), and comments are always welcomed. But that won't help you move your photography forward, so consider joining the group or starting your own. You'll have more fun with that than thinking up your own excuses on why you can't do it.

A Project for the Year

Last week between work and some family stuff, the time just got away from me so I apologize for missing a blog. Each year Roger and I like to challenge ourselves to try and learn more and grow in our photography.  The last years Roger has taken on his Civil War Sesquicentennial project and I explored HDR processing.  In December I still hadn't figured out what I was going to do for this year, and as I was writing my schedule for blog topics, I was beginning to worry.   It isn't any secret to my friends and family that I really like wine. Finally during the first snowstorm of the season here in the cold dark depths of winter, I had a flash of brilliance.  OK, maybe not brilliance, but at least a small spark.  Over the years, I’ve shot quite a few photos in and around vineyards (over 700 actually), but they have been artifacts of visiting the wineries, not the reason for visiting.  

Cliff Lede Vineyards

Cliff Lede Vineyards

We are fortunate to live in the heart of the Virginia Wine country and to know quite a few of the owners and winemakers around us.  My plan for this year is quite simple, I am going to attempt to capture the entire annual cycle of 1 or 2 of my local vineyards.  Starting in the chill of the winter, when the vines are dormant, I want to follow the vines, the land, the events and the people throughout the year.   

Barboursville

Barboursville

.   Watching the buds develop in the spring and see as they ripen during the summer.

Every month I will revisit the land as the grapes are ready to harvest and then as they are processed into wine.  

I am going to try and build specific portfolios of images the owners will be pleased to display.  Fair warning, I will be sharing the process and my progress on the blog.  I hope the project will prove as interesting to you as I expect it to be for me.  

Change Your Approach

By Roger (23 October 2014)

When you shoot the same subject frequently, you can find many of your photos beginning to revert to a norm. Things begin to look too similar. Your photographs may not lose their quality, they just don't excite you as much. If you find this happening to you, it's time to change your approach to the subject – explore different facets of the subject; do something, anything, you haven't done recently. You don't want your photography to become boring to you. That is a sure sign it may be boring to your viewer.

One of my long-time projects, for the last couple of years, has been photographing the Civil War sesquicentennial re-enactments. The project continues until April 2015, when I will join the re-enactors at Appomattox, Va., where General Lee surrendered to General Grant, 150 years ago. As a guy who loves history and genealogy, this photo project has been lots of fun for me. However, over the last 24 months, I've shot many battlefield re-enactments, and I was beginning to become less interested in the results. I was making the photographs for my project, not for my enjoyment.

I realized I needed to do something differently. So, at this weekend's event at Cedar Creek Battlefield, near Middletown, Va., I concentrated on photographs other than the actual battle re-enactments. Not only did I get a better variety of photos, my fun meter slammed back into the green zone.

Formation on the ridgeline, Cedar Creek, Middletown, VA

Formation on the ridgeline, Cedar Creek, Middletown, VA

I arrived at the rolling hills of Middletown early, while the re-enactors were practicing their close order drill, prior to the arrival of regular visitors. With lots of clouds keeping down the light, I shot these guys up on a ridge from a much lower angle and got this nice silhouette. It isn't an extraordinary shot, but I got what I saw in my head, and that is always a kick.

Once I had my plan for the day, there were photographs everywhere I turned.

Young Re-enactor

Young Re-enactor

For many, these events are a family affair, and some of the re-enactors start a very young age. I had a chance to shoot several shots of this cute, little girl, waiting with her mother and friends. I sat on the ground to keep at her eye level and made this shot as she noticed me. She turned shy and hid behind her mother.

This was a big gathering of almost 7,000 re-enactors. Cedar Creek was an important battle, pitting Union General Philip Sheridan against Confederate General Jubal Early. The Confederates were eventually defeated, and the Union controlled the Shenandoah Valley until the end of the war.

On Saturday, before the battles, the Union boys held a mass formation and a pass in review. It was an impressive site. It took almost an hour for all of them to parade by. The reviewing general looked more like General Sherman (not possible because he was in Georgia, threatening Atlanta), but he cut quite a figure, just the same.

The General for the Review

The General for the Review

There were too many soldiers to fit in my lens, but I made many photos of parts of the formation and during the pass in review. For an old Army guy, they were just too good to pass up.

Pass in Review, Cedar Creek

Pass in Review, Cedar Creek

After the Union pass in review, it was time to head over to the Confederate camps to see what I could find there. The folks there were busy preparing for the upcoming battle. Women in the camps were mending uniforms; preparing for wounded that were soon to arrive; and discussing bits of the day's news.

In the Confederate camp

In the Confederate camp

The re-enactors live in period-correct tents and cook their meals over fires during the event. When they aren't engaged in the battles, they will happily give living history demonstrations of camp life. We discussed the facts and personalities of this battle. As always, I had no problems getting permission to make photos of them.

Confederate Infantryman

Confederate Infantryman

The camp included a photographer who was taking authentic tin-types and ferro-types, with a replica camera. He had a long line, waiting for the opportunity to pose. He developed the photos in the tent with the same type of chemicals Matthew Brady used 150 years ago. I watched several of the photo sessions.

After Mark's blog, last week, I had to make at least one toned photo to look like it was taken 150 years ago. I'm quite happy to create the effect in Lightroom, but it was impressive to watch the re-enactment photographer create the real thing.

Tin-types and Ferro-types while you wait

Tin-types and Ferro-types while you wait

North Carolina Confederate

North Carolina Confederate

The day went entirely too quickly. I wish I could have made it there for Sunday when the Confederates were going to conduct their parade. The different approach brought back my enthusiasm to see this project through to the end in April. I began this project with the idea I would photograph the battles, but it needed a more comprehensive approach. The Civil War impacted Americans far beyond the battlefields, and the re-enactors do a great job of showing us how life was lived in those times.

And I found some humor on the edges of the battlefield. Keep the fun in your photography.

We didn't have these kinds of rations when I was in the Army.

We didn't have these kinds of rations when I was in the Army.

Lend A Hand

By Roger (12 June 2014)

Mark and I helped out, this week, with the L-3 Cup, a charity golf tournament for Wounded Warriors. It's hard for a couple of retired military guys to refuse this charity, so we took the day off from work to hang out at the beautiful Piedmont Club and ride around in our golf carts – yes, we both had our own. Fortunately, they wanted us to use cameras, not golf clubs, since neither of us plays golf.

These kinds of events are pretty easy to photograph, since your primary responsibility is to get a photo of each team, the award ceremony, and some basic happy snaps of what happened during the day. We are capable of that. The sun was directly overhead, so the partly cloudy skies helped alleviate some of the harsh light out on the course.

"Get photos of every team."

"Get photos of every team."

Everyone expects you will get the basic shots, so your challenge is to provide them something that they wouldn't get with their camera phones. For golfers, the first thing that came to mind was the tee shot. Since this action happens so quickly, it would be blind luck to catch it on a camera phone. We both took the standard full-length shots, and then shifted a close-up shot. It doesn't have to be art, but you want to give them more than they requested.

"Fore!"

"Fore!"

The close-up shot was more challenging to get.

The close-up shot was more challenging to get.

You need some stock-type photos to help them set the mood when they create their slide show or brochures. Think about what the group will want for the wrap up. You'll want photos of the trophies, registration, people having a good time, and scenes that remind them of the day.  Not only will this provide a better result for your client, but it's good practice for you.

Out and about

Out and about

Ready to go to work

Ready to go to work

I always try to throw in some humorous shots. With every team posing for photos, someone is bound to goof off. You certainly want to keep them in a good mood, so don't scowl at them for slowing you down. Take the photo. It'll make them happy, and everyone can chuckle at the wrap up party. Remember, your attitude towards your subjects will be reflected back in your photos.  Happy and smiling is always better.

Happy folks make for better donations for charity.

Happy folks make for better donations for charity.

Every event in northern Virginia starts with a traffic jam.

Every event in northern Virginia starts with a traffic jam.

Of course, not all events are as easy as the open spaces of a golf course. You'll find it easier to be successful if you plan according to the client's schedule and shot list; look for ways to go beyond what is expected and add photos that they couldn't get (that's why they asked you); and get into the mood of the event. You can have fun and help a worthy cause.

We are strong believers in donating time and money to your favorite charities, and I've blogged about supporting the Wounded Warriors before when I went to The Intrepid Center, in San Antonio, a couple of years ago (here). Have you donated time and money to a worthy charitable group lately?

You always photograph the venue hosting the event

You always photograph the venue hosting the event