What is the Best?

Every year I go through all of the images I shot and pick out the 10 I like best.  It is pretty easy to get down to twenty or so, just by selecting all of the images marked as picks and then weeding through those.   I pull out all of the ones of my family and then it gets tougher.  It is hard, because there is no “right” answer.  Our perceptions of any art, are personal and subjective.  Usually I ask my family to go through my top 25 and make their picks, but that is more to understand what appeals to them.  That might influence what and how I shoot next year, but rarely does it push me one way or another for what I include in my list. These three images wound up as my top 3 favorites for the year.

Young Fiesta Dancer

Young Fiesta Dancer

Sunset from Clingman's Dome

Sunset from Clingman's Dome

Late Afternoon Last Rays of Light

Late Afternoon Last Rays of Light

When I have completed my listing, I then try something even harder.  In December, the Photoshop instructor and commercial photographer Jim DiVitale lost his battle with cancer.  He hosted one of my favorite Photoshop World Events, which had nothing to do with Photoshop.  It was a panel of some of the best photographers in the world, showing off their work.  As the host, he included a portfolio of his work as well and it took me a while to grow to appreciate the quality and artistry of his stuff, as he shot a lot of pure commercial, often product based work. That’s not what I shoot, so I tended to just kind of skim over his stuff.  One year, I really looked at his work and recognized how good it really was.   http://www.jimdivitale.net/f169019865  and http://www.divitalephotography.com/#  

Fall

Fall

At Photoshop World, they offer an opportunity to have one of the staff review your portfolio.   As it turned out, I drew Mr. DiVitale and it was a very interesting experience.  He took a look at my photos and said they were good work, but what story did they tell?   We talked for the 15 minutes allocated on how to really put together a portfolio, and how you always need to be asking this one simple question—“Is this photograph good enough to replace one in my portfolio?”  As a commercial guy and as an art director, he felt strongly that you need to show off only your best work, and that your portfolio, should have no more than 10 images.  So every year, you should be asking yourself that question and if the answer is no, none of the images I shot are better than what I have already done, then you need to be thinking “why not?”   If your work is not getting better, then what are you going to do about it?  

That question is what drives me to keep shooting.  Art is not a competition, unless it is against yourself.  Can you capture what your mind sees when you look through that viewfinder?  Are your pictures better than they were yesterday, last week, and last year?  

Why Not Photoshop World?

By Mark

Usually about this time of the year Roger and I start beating the drum for people to go and attend Photoshop World.  I’ve been 11 straight years and Roger for 10.  This year, we made the difficult decision not to go.  Enrollment is open, and if you haven’t been before and really want to pack a lot of learning into a few days, it is a good place to begin.   We have watched it change over the last few years and this year are going to do something different.  We have watched with concern as the National Association of Photoshop Professionals (NAPP) transformed into Kelby Media Group and then into Kelby One.  Scott is a fantastic instructor and author, but the organization really started to shift and be all about Scott, and not about the training.  

This spring, they made a radical shift and terminated all of the Photoshop Guys, who really carried the creative load.  RC Concepcion, Pete Collins, Brad Moore, and Corey Barker, all were let go on the same sad day.   The Original crew of Matt Kloskowski and Dave Cross had already departed.   Some of the best instructors had also stopped attending or announced they were choosing to not come this year.

o what are we going to do instead?   Well one of the things both Roger and I loved about PSW is the chance to get out and shoot things you normally don’t have access to.  Events such as the live model shoot, put on by Westcott, the Precon photo shoots with heroes like Moose Peterson and Joe McNally were the highlights of the week.

Last year, in Vegas we even went out a day early in order to visit the Neon Graveyard museum, just to force ourselves to take the camera out and use it. 

We knew that Bill Fortney, another renowned photographer was holding a seminar in the Great Smoky Mountains in the fall.  What we didn’t know was just how fast it would sell out—our mistake.  Well he leads photographers out into the woods and they shoot at both the dawn’s early light and at twilight’s last gleaming.  They process and critique photos during the day and then start over the next day.  We figured, heck we can do that ourselves.   We are going to head off into the fall woods and try to capture the magic of the changing colors.   

We also are going to do some people photography, but haven’t quite figured out where yet.   For us, it is a matter of just spending a few days concentrating on making better pictures.  After all this time learning Lightroom and Photoshop, what we have discovered over and over again, is that you have to dedicate time to practicing what you have learned or it goes away. 

Building Your Personal Portfolio

By Mark

I’m sorry but no one wants to look at hundreds of your pictures.  As a photographer you want to demonstrate to others that you can go beyond getting snapshots into focus and have them properly exposed.  You want to showcase that you have a style and an opinion.  Even before you start thinking about becoming a “professional”, you need to start thinking about how you represent yourself to a stranger.  A good crisp portfolio is one of the first tools you want to build.

What makes a good portfolio? You need to make some choices before you really can answer that question.  What platform do you intend to use to show people.  Increasingly, a tablet or other electronic medium is the standard.  If you are going to print it, you need to think about the aspect.  You don’t want them to have to flip the booklet back and forth.  

You may also want to consider using some “Fine Art” poster styles.  These can be printed from the Print module in LR, but that is another blog. 

The first rule is that every photo needs to be one that people automatically react to when you show it to them. Obviously the reaction you want is “Wow”.  

This is one of my favorite photos, because I love the contrast of color, texture and lines.  Unfortunately most people go “Oh a rusty roof, that’s nice”, so it is not in my portfolio.

The second rule is that you need to continually relook and refresh it.  You have to be your harshest critic.  Nothing that is almost good enough should make it.   

This HDR image I shot in Maine last year is bright and interesting, but I think the station wagon in the bottom right corner is unneeded and distracting detail. 

The third rule is that you have to think about how you group and order your images.  You really do want to stack the deck with your best images up first.  You can arrange them by theme, by subjects (not too many please) but avoid lumping them in chronological order.   

Mine are arranged by color scheme, from hotter to cooler winding up with my black and whites.  

Lastly you want to keep the numbers down to 10-15.  You want them asking to see more, not looking for the nearest exit.

So go through your best images and put together your own best of the best.  Ask people you know for their opinions and then be very brave and ask people you don’t know.    

“Real Photographers always…”

A great friend of mine, whose family might blame me for hooking her on photography, was having some troubles with her camera.  We walked through some questions on the ISO settings, and we discussed some things to check out.  In the course of our online chat, she said it was so frustrating that she was thinking of just going back to Program mode and giving up on manual.   She seemed very surprised when I told her that I shoot mostly on Aperture priority and not in manual mode.   She had been listening to those photo snobs who try to tell you that unless you are constantly tweaking your controls in manual, you aren’t a real photographer.     I don’t pick up a camera to play with controls, I use it to match what I see in my mind, what I see in my viewfinder with what comes out at the end. 

Back in the day (A Wednesday, for those keeping track) when cameras had no brains, manual was the only way to shoot.  It was certainly how I learned.  Today though, we aren’t really using cameras.  We are holding very advanced computers, designed by experts who understand light, image processing and photography.   I absolutely agree that photographers need to intimately understand the relationship between shutter speed, aperture, ISO in getting a good exposure.   But if you understand those things and your camera controls, you can focus on your subject more than on your camera.  In selecting either Aperture or Shutter priority modes, you have already made the most important decision for that image.  

Aperture Priority to get the table in focus

Aperture Priority to get the table in focus

Shutter priority to slow down the water on the rocks

Shutter priority to slow down the water on the rocks

You have determined that depth of field or the speed of the subject is what you need to get that image.  They are going to give you a nice evenly exposed picture, but we know that is not enough.  OK, how about controlling your metering mode.  Just choosing point focus versus area focus completely changes how the camera sees the light.  Then overriding those settings in ±1/3 increments with the exposure compensation gives me the precise control I need. 

Don’t let anyone tell you what a “real” photographer does; unless it is to capture great images which freeze moments in time, reveal emotion and tell your audience how the world looks to you.  

Shutter priority and yes that was cold

Shutter priority and yes that was cold

Aperture priority to make the background soft as this baby enjoyed the Christmas concert

Aperture priority to make the background soft as this baby enjoyed the Christmas concert