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Post-Processing: The Final Phase of Studio Product Photography

22 Apr

For the final installation of this series we will be exploring the third and final cog to the product photography studio. We will discuss the system that will allow you to catalog and edit your images to get them web ready in a hurry. For this we are going to deploy Lightroom. I am sure that there are other programs that can be inserted here since we are only doing some minor adjustments and renaming. If you have Lightroom fire it up and follow along.

SHOOTING TETHERED

I like to shoot tethered whenever I work in studio for a few reasons. The first being that I can see the image I just shot on a large monitor. I can zoom in and see details that are difficult to get to on the back of a camera screen. The second reason is that I have all the shots automatically sorted into the correct folders.

SETUP THE TETHER

To get started with tethering in Lightroom go to File > Tethered Capture > Start Tether Capture.

Studio product photography processing 01

From there you will enter the tethered settings. I always put the product name as the session name, in this case “Stan Lee” since I am shooting action figures. Next is the naming, I let the filename remain the part number (or product name) but add a number sequence to the end. You can do whatever works for you to differentiate the shots.

Next choose the location where you want Lightroom to store your images. In this case I am going to have all of the shots go into the folder for my client “XYZ” so I make a folder called “XYZ Product Images”. Lastly add the metadata information, in this case my contact and copyright information. Then hit OK.

Studio product photography processing 02

Next you will get a little display that you can position anywhere on your Lightroom screen, I like to put it up at the top. It shows that the camera is connected.

*TIP* If nothing is showing up check that you camera is turned on and that the cable is connected. If that fails, reboot your camera, reboot Lightroom and remove and reconnect the cable. This usually clears up 99% of tether issues. Below the camera make is the part number and the rest of your camera settings.

Studio product photography processing 03

(You can read all about my camera setting on my other DPS article here; Tips for Fast and Effective Studio Product Photography. Now that you have your tether capture all setup you can begin taking photos.

Studio product photography processing 04

THE PHOTO SHOOT

For this shoot my client wants two angles of this Stan Lee action figure. So I use our basic lighting setup (discussed in this article; Equipment Tips for Quick and Efficient Studio Product Photography) and take the first shot.

Let’s take a look at this shot in Lightroom Develop module. Hit the D key to enter the develop module, or click Develop at the top of Lightroom. Make sure your clipping detection is turned on by hitting the J key.

Studio product photography processing 05

What I am trying to accomplish here is to blow out the background. If it were blown out we would be showing red (clipped) in Lightroom. We aren’t seeing that, which means I need to decrease the shutter speed to let in more light. Let’s try 1/3 of a stop for a bit more additional light and shoot again.

Studio product photography processing 06

Set the exposure

Now we are cooking with fire. All of our subsequent shots will be dialled in making less work. It is not necessary to have the entire background clipping. In fact, for some subjects it will likely mean you have lost a ton of contrast in the image. This amount of red is okay for this subject.

Keep in mind white and reflective products will become overexposed must sooner than darker ones, so set your exposure accordingly. Even if you have zero red on the background it is okay, there Lightroom tools that will make quick work of the background. But remember that every bit of extra work you do later in Lightroom costs time so try to get it right in camera.

*TIP* With this product photography studio setup it is so easy to get many product angles in such a short amount of time. It’s always wiser to shoot extra angles now rather than have a client ask for others later. Now that we have four angles of Stan Lee let’s switch to the next product.

Change the product

Studio product photography processing 07

Click the little gear icon on the tether tool which will bring up the Tether Capture Settings and you can change your session name to the new product number, in this case, “Wookiee”. Hit the tab key twice, because, as you can see the sequence number is retained from the last shot and it reads shot number 5. Hit the number 1 key and then hit OK or Enter.

You are now setup to take the next shot and all of these new images will go into the “Wookie” folder but stay in the main project for XYZ Products.

Studio product photography processing 08

Just as before, we will take four angles for the client to make sure we have enough.

Studio product photography processing 09

If we expand the navigator pane you can see that we have two product folders, “Stan Lee” and “Wookie” and there are four images in each. We can view all the images by selecting the “XYZ Product Images” folder. We are now done with the tether tool so you can close it.

Studio product photography processing 10

THE EDIT

Typically this is where I will grab all the images from the shoot and export them as small files for client proofs. The client chooses the images they want and then we edit those. Let’s pretend they’ve already given us their list and begin the edits.

Make the background white

Hit the D key to enter the develop module, or click Develop at the top of Lightroom. The first thing I like to do is make sure that the background is blown out (pure white with no detail). To do this, make sure your clipping highlight feature is turned on, (hit J on the keyboard if it’s not).

Since our shot could use a little help at the bottom we will increase the whites with an adjustment brush. Hit the K key and with a new brush enter +1.00 on exposure and +40 on whites (I have saved this preset as its own brush called “blowout”). Turn on Auto Mask, it does a good job of keeping these settings from inadvertently bleeding onto the subject if you get a little too close. Now simply paint the white background and it will clip the whites. If it doesn’t, finish painting, then add a new brush and paint again.

Studio product photograph processing 11

Global adjustments

Hit your K key once more to return to image adjustments. Turn off clipping highlights by hitting the J key. This helps you to focus on the subject during the adjustments. For this image I added +20 contrast, -30 blacks, +30 clarity and +20 saturation.

You can easily sync these settings to the rest of the product image by bringing up the filmstrip at the bottom of Lightroom. If you don’t see your filmstrip, click the little up arrow at the bottom of the develop module. Now select your first image, hold you Shift key and click the last image. Click the Sync button in Lightroom to apply the settings to all the selected images.

Studio product processing 12

We will select Basic Tone, Clarity and Color to sync just those effects to the rest of the images.

Studio product processing 13

Click Synchronize and the rest of the products will get the same adjustments. Keep in mind you still need to go back to each image and ensure their backgrounds are properly clipped as well. You can use the Adjustment Brush feature as before. Our Stan Lee products are now on completely white backgrounds and they look great.

Alternate method

For the Wookie products I will show you a slightly faster albeit sometimes not as accurate method. Enter the Develop module, and instead of using an Adjustment Brush let’s see if the Whites slider will clip the background. For this image I added +93 to the Whites slider.

Studio product processing 14

Worked like a charm. Now let’s finish giving this little guy some additional love. I added +20 contrast, -30 blacks, and +20 clarity. Additionally I added some sharpness found in the Detail pane. This time, when we select all of our Wookie products and synchronize I will click the Check All button.

Studio product processing 15

When I do a quick look at the rest of my Wookie products they all look great. These are ready to export and it took me less than two minutes to edit all four images.

Studio product processing 16

Studio product processing 17

Studio product processing 18

Conclusion

Assuming you already have a calibrated monitor, the only other thing you might want to do is add a custom color profile for you camera to Lightroom. This will ensure that your product colors remain true, which is very important. You can see how to do that with this dPS article; How to Use the X-Rite ColorChecker Passport to Obtain Perfect Color.

This concludes my three part series for studio photography and how to inject some speed into it. I hope you enjoyed it. Thank you for reading.

The post Post-Processing: The Final Phase of Studio Product Photography by Jacob Macias appeared first on Digital Photography School.


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Essential Equipment for Long Exposure Photography

22 Apr

Normally, I say that equipment is not important, at least not for those just getting started with photography. Until you know how to master the camera, equipment shouldn’t be the main focus. You don’t need to worry about having the best equipment or things you don’t actually need. However, to achieve certain techniques or effects, having the right equipment is essential. Long Exposure Photography is one of these techniques where some additional equipment is needed.

equipment for long exposure photography

Let’s jump straight to it and look at what I consider to be essential equipment for long exposure photography:

Camera with Manual and Bulb Mode

Okay, so this one might be a given. It’s obvious that you’ll need a camera to take an image. However, to be able to use a slow shutter speed (which is what long exposure photography is all about), you need a camera that allows you to manually adjust the ISO, aperture and shutter speed.

Since you are working with different shutter speeds it’s essential that you’re able to adjust these settings yourself, so you can then control the quality of your image. Even though most compact cameras do have this opportunity now, I highly recommend using a DSLR (or mirrorless) camera if you don’t already. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, an entry level camera will do just fine.

bulb mode

Nikon D800 Bulb Mode

Bulb Mode is another option that it’s beneficial for your camera to have. While it’s not essential, it allows you to take exposures that are longer than 30 seconds. Most DSLR cameras have a maximum shutter speed of 30 seconds so if you want to use an exposure longer than that, you need to be in Bulb Mode. 

With this mode selected (it’s located different places on different cameras), you can expose an image for as long as you want. Basically, as long as you hold the shutter button triggered, the camera continues to take the image. I’ll come back to a neat trick to avoid pushing the button for several seconds or minutes in a bit.

A Tripod

I consider a tripod to be essential for any type of landscape photography but when dealing with slow shutter speeds, it’s hard to work without one. Some of you might comment that you can just lean the camera on a fence or lay it on a rock but that really limits your flexibility and, of course, the stability of your camera.

The reason I always travel with a tripod is because I normally work with images that have a shutter speed just too slow to capture handheld. Plus even if I’m not, I have the option.

This image wouldn’t be possible without a tripod.

You don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on the best tripods available but avoid getting the cheapest aluminum ones from the local electronic shop. Make sure that the tripod you choose is sturdy enough to be used in a river with rushing water, or when the weather is windy.

Exposure times of anywhere between 1/4th of a second to multiple minutes is common with long exposure photography. It goes without saying that you’re not able to get a sharp handheld image when using a shutter speed of 30 seconds. By using a tripod you make it possible to work with such long exposures and capture great, sharp images.

Neutral density filters

I’ve previously explained how to do long exposure photography without filters, so why do I now say they are essential? It’s quite simple – the quality of your images will be much higher.

Before explaining why I consider neutral density filters to be essential for long exposure photography, let’s quickly look at what they are:

  • Neutral density filters are darkened filters that are placed in front of the lens, requiring a slower shutter speed for the same amount of light to reach the sensor.
  • There are two systems available: screw-in and drop-in or square filters.
  • The filters come in different strengths (3-stop, 6-stop, 10-stop, etc.) which describes how much you need to lengthen the exposure time to maintain a well-exposed image.

NiSi 6-Stop ND Filter in front of my Nikkor 14-24mm

There are many filters to choose from on the market and it seems like new brands appear all the time. Personally, I’ve been using LEE Filters, NiSi Filters and B+W. NiSi has become my go-to choice these days as their filters don’t have a visible color cast (which is a common issue with these types of filters). LEE is known for its strong blue color cast and B+W had a very dominant red tone. These are relatively easy to fix in Adobe Lightroom or Camera RAW but I prefer to get as much as possible right in the camera.

Why are ND Filters essential for long exposure photography?

As mentioned, these filters require you to lengthen the exposure time for the same amount of light to reach the camera’s sensor in order to get a well-exposed image. The filters are darkened and their strength dictates how much you need to slow down the shutter speed. Compared to doing this without filters, using an ND filter allows you to use a much longer exposure times while still maintaining optimal quality (the sharpest aperture of your lens).

equipment for long exposure photography

Nikon D800 w/ Nikkor 16-35mm f/4 @ ISO100 – f/11 – 241 seconds.

It wouldn’t have been possible to capture an image with a 241-second shutter speed, without using an ND filter in the conditions present when I took the image above. You might be able to reach such an exposure time at night but not during a sunset. Without a filter, I might have gotten a 1-second exposure, which would look completely different with an overall lower quality. By placing a dark ND filter in front of my lens (the NiSi 10-stop) I was able to use a very long exposure and capture some of the beautiful motion going on in the sky as well as soften the surface of the lake.

Remote shutter

I’ll admit it right away, a remote shutter isn’t essential to achieve a long exposure but it is going to make the process much easier (I feel naked when mine is left behind)!

I’ve previously written an article where I compared using a Delayed Shutter and Remote Shutter, so I won’t go into the details of which is better here. What I will mention, however, is that when doing long exposure photography you often have to work with quickly changing elements (such as rushing waves). In these scenarios, you want to be able to capture the image at the exact moment the moving element is where you want it to be and can’t afford to wait an additional two seconds (for the self-timer to go off).

equipment for long exposure

A remote shutter was used to capture the exact moment the waves went over the rock

The image above represents one of these scenarios. As the tide was rising, the formations of the waves were constantly changing. I knew that I wanted to capture the exact moment the water started running down the left side rock and to be able to do that, I needed a remote shutter. Had I used the built-in delayed shutter (with a delay of two seconds) I would most likely have missed that exact moment, even though I could have tried to predict the moment of impact.

For Bulb Mode

Another benefit of using a remote shutter for long exposure photography is that most of them have a shutter lock function, which is going to save you a lot of hassle when working in Bulb Mode. Rather than manually holding the shutter button (and causing a visible camera shake) for minutes, you can lock up the shutter with a remote release.

remote shutter

Remote Cable Release

You don’t need to purchase the most expensive release out there (they can be surprisingly pricey) just make sure that it’s something that won’t break right away and one that has the opportunity to lock up the shutter. Note: make sure to get one that is compatible with your camera model.

Cardboard to cover the viewfinder

My last recommendation is something that many articles forget to mention. You need something to cover the viewfinder! Many cameras have this as built-in function and have a sort of “curtain” that you can close. But there are still many cameras that don’t have this option. If your camera doesn’t, make sure that you bring a piece of cardboard, or similar, that you can use to block the viewfinder during a long exposure. This is to avoid any unwanted light leaks as you see in the image below.

camera light leak

I forgot to block my viewfinder so my two-minute exposure looked like this.

Conclusion

While there are many other accessories available to make long exposure photography easier, these are the ones I consider to be essential. Do you have any others to add to the list?


The-Ultimate-Guide-to-Long-Exposure-Photography-eBookIf you want to learn more about Long Exposure Photography I’ve shared everything I know in my eBook The Ultimate Guide to Long Exposure Photography. This eBook is for those who are ready to take their images to the next level and expand their creative vision.

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7 Tips for Urban Landscape Photography

22 Apr

When you ask people what is landscape photography they have no trouble defining it. But ask what urban landscape photography is and you will get conflicting answers. People have an idea, but often don’t really understand what it is, or how to go about doing it. One of the first things to do is work out what it is, and then how you can do your own urban landscapes.

7 Tips for Urban Landscape Photography

Urban landscape photograph, taken in the early evening from a rooftop looking back towards the city.

What is urban landscape photography?

Before you can start taking specific urban landscape images it is good if you understand what it is. If urban refers to cities and towns, then it is generally understood that landscapes of these would be defined as that. Any image within those places where humans live, work and play would be considered in that category.

Cities are very popular for this kind of photography. You will find that many of you are already doing urban landscapes, especially when you travel. However, when you ask others what it is you are often told cityscapes. Yes they are, but there is so much more to the genre than that.

Here are seven tips to help you get better urban landscapes and, hopefully, help you to understand what it is as well.

1 – Street photography

Street photography can fall into two categories, one is street portraits, and the other looks more at the scene and what is going on. The first is not what you would typically find in urban landscapes, but the second is.

Look for scenes where people are, groups, or individuals, but place them in their environment so you get a context of where they are and what is happening. You could photograph people shopping and take a look at consumerism. Perhaps go to sporting events and photograph how people carry on at them. There are parks where people may be sitting on their own with no one around. Anywhere that people hang out is going to make for some interesting urban landscape photography.

7 Tips for Urban Landscape Photography

A street scene showing the landscape and what people are doing in it.

2 – From above

There are many ways to photograph above the city now. You can see the tops of the buildings looking straight down to the streets below. You can get amazing views that are unique.

Observation decks allow you to look down onto the city. They aren’t always easy to shoot from, as you sometimes have to take photos through glass or some sort of security mesh.

Another way is a helicopter ride over a city. It is an option that many cities offer now. You can take a 15-minute ride if you want to pay for it. If you are lucky to live somewhere like Melbourne, you can also take early morning balloon rides over the city. You will get some views of the city that are available no other way.

7 Tips for Urban Landscape Photography

A view from above, this was taken from Eureka Deck, an observation deck looking over Melbourne.

3 – Long exposure photography

Without a doubt, there aren’t many types of photography that long exposures don’t suit. You can use it for individual buildings or for groups and streets. It allows you to create some magical scenes.

The most common one that people think of is using Neutral Density filters so you can get very long exposures, anything from 30-seconds to several minutes. They can help create movement with getting blurred clouds, or you can remove people and cars from streets. You can get some interesting effects with the filters. Whether you use it for one building or many, and over water you will get some different images.

7 Tips for Urban Landscape Photography

A long exposure of Melbourne taken across the river.

4 – Night photography and light trails

Night photography is another way. Urban environments are great when the sun goes down. As the lights come on you can get a completely different view. The camera will pick up a lot more than you can see with your eyes. Depending on how bright or dim it is you may be able to take some exposures for a minute to two, even longer.

You can also get great light trails at night. Look for interesting streets that have some great buildings in the background that you can use when capturing the trails.

7 Tips for Urban Landscape Photography

Light trails of cars moving around captured during the night.

5 – Interesting architecture

Every city strives to build interesting buildings. Architects like to show off as much as anyone. No matter where you are, see if you can find the most interesting structures to photograph.

You could figure out why a building was designed for an area; if there is something unique about it. Churches were often built on hills so the congregations were still looking up to them when they weren’t attending.

Look for buildings that are nestled in with others that are very different. Perhaps there is an old building somewhere that is surrounded by new ones. Scenes like that can give your images an interesting story.

7 Tips for Urban Landscape Photography

One of the most distinctive buildings in Melbourne, Flinders Street Station.

6 – Weather and seasons

People often forget how a city or town can look completely different in each season and how the weather can change it as well. If you only go to a place once, you don’t get a lot of choices. But if you live or visit them often then you can get a wide variety of shots when you photograph it at other times and in various conditions.

Throughout the year, the seasons will give you numerous opportunities to get scenes that are unique to that time. Autumn will have the colors, so any trees in the streets or parks can make them colorful. Winter will have people rugged up against the cold and public places are empty. In summer everyone is in lighter clothing and those same spaces are filled with people. Consider what sort of photos you want and then choose the season accordingly.

Rain, hail or shine, well perhaps not hail, but each will give your urban landscape a distinct look. The weather is not something you can control but you can take advantage of it. Photos of cities that are white from the snow can be magical. Rain will make all the surfaces reflective and make it look bigger and shinier. Don’t underestimate how much bad weather can make your photos that bit different.

7 Tips for Urban Landscape Photography

Rain has given Hosier Lane a shiny appearance.

7 – Leading lines

Bridges are beautiful, but they can be used for so much more than traveling. They can be the perfect way to help your viewer enter your image. Leading lines are fantastic for helping your audience know where you want them to look. Though bridges are one type, there are lots of others as well.

Really anything that will lead people into an image will work. Look for roads that enter and leave cities and towns. Using the light trails of cars or other vehicles can be great for the same thing. Don’t just think road and bridges, consider train tracks, a moving bus, anything that will take or point your viewer to the area where you want them to focus.

7 Tips for Urban Landscape Photography

Using the bridge as a leading line to take you into the early morning light in Melbourne.

Taking the tips

You don’t have to do all of these, but using one or a few will help you get good urban landscape photography images. Consider what you are taking and think about the environment around you. Make the most of it and give your images a purpose.

Share your urban landscape photography in the comments below!

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Frederik Buyckx named Sony World Photography Awards 2017 Photographer of the Year

21 Apr

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Belgian photographer Frederik Buyckx has been named the Sony World Photography Awards 2017 Photographer of the Year. Buyckx is a freelance photographer for the Belgian newspaper De Standaard and will receive the $ 25,000 prize for his winning series of images entitle ‘Whiteout’, which was shot in the Balkans, Scandinavia and Central Asia, all remote areas where people often live in isolation and in close contact with nature.

“There is a peculiar transformation of nature when winter comes, when snow and ice start to dominate the landscape and when humans and animals have to deal with the extreme weather,” Buyckx says. “The series investigates this struggle against disappearance.”

Chosen from the winners of the Awards’ 10 Professional categories, Chair of Judges Zelda Cheatle said of Buyckx’s images: “I have chosen a series of landscapes so that we may return to the essence of looking at photography. Landscape is often overlooked but it is central to our existence. These are beautiful pictures made by a serious photographer, and they are to be enjoyed.”

This year the contest received more 227,000 entries from 183 countries, making it the world’s largest photography competition. An exhibition of all winning and shortlisted images and a selection of rare photographs by British photographer Martin Parr, who is this year’s recipient of the Outstanding Contribution to Photography prize, will run at Somerset House in London from now until 7 May. 

The annual Sony World Photography Awards are free to enter and open to all photographers. The 2018 Sony World Photography Awards open for entries on 1 June 2017. You can find the full list of of this year’s winners below and see a selection of shortlisted and winning images on the World Photography Organisation website. 

Professional  Category Winners and Finalists

An expert panel of international judges were challenged to find the best photography series (between 5-10 images) across the ten Professional categories. The winning and finalist photographers are:

Architecture winner: Dongni, China
2nd – Julien Chatelin, France / 3rd – Diego Mayon, Italy

Conceptual winner – Sabine Cattaneo, Switzerland
2nd – Gao Peng, China / 3rd – Alexander Anufriev, Russian Federation

Contemporary Issues winner – Tasneem Alsultan, Saudi Arabia
2nd – Li Sony, China / 3rd – Lorzenzo Maccotta, Italy

Current Affairs & News winner – Alessio Romenzi, Italy
2nd – Joe Raedle, United States / 3rd – Ivor Prickett, Ireland

Daily Life winner: Sandra Hoyn, Germany
2nd – Christina Simons, Iceland / 3rd – Alice Cannara Malan, Italy

Landscape winner: Frederik Buyckx, Belgium
2nd – Kurt Tong, United Kingdom / 3rd – Peter Franck, Landscape

Natural World winner: Will Burrard-Lucas, United Kingdom
2nd – Ami Vitale, United States / 3rd – Christian Vizl, Mexico

Portraiture winner: George Mayer, Russian Federation
2nd – Romina Ressia, Argentina / 3rd – Ren shi Chen, China

Still Life winner: Henry Agudelo , Columbia
2nd – Shinya Masuda, Japan / 3rd – Christoffer Askman, Denmark

Sport winner: Yuan Peng, China
2nd – Eduard Korniyenko, Russian Federation / 3rd – Jason O’Brien, Australia

OPEN PHOTOGRAPHER OF THE YEAR – Alexander Vinogradov, Russia
YOUTH PHOTOGRAPHER OF THE YEAR – Katelyn Wang, US
STUDENT PHOTOGRAPHER OF THE YEAR – Michelle Daiana Gentile, Argentina

Articles: Digital Photography Review (dpreview.com)

 
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A Passion for Wrecks and Images Give a Photography Enthusiast a Second Career

21 Apr

photography-wrecks

Image: Pongsatorn Sukhum

Pongsatorn Sukhum was on his way to becoming a professional photographer. A long-time camera enthusiast, he took a year off college while studying in the UK to work in a studio that shot advertising photography. He then moved into editorial photography, shooting for travel magazines and building up a collection of underwater stock images that combined his love of photography with his passion for Scuba diving. In the mid-nineties, his work was shown in a group exhibition in his native Thailand. Today, Pongsatorn runs an engineering business in Bangkok but his continued work in underwater photography, and in particular, his images of World War II wrecks off the coast of Thailand are an example of how talented enthusiasts can keep their professions while maintaining their passion for image-making and even contributing to the preservation of the subjects they love to shoot.

Pongsatorn now produces fine art prints of his photography which he sells through his website. But publications call him whenever they need images to complement their editorials on wrecks in the region and he is still commissioned occasionally for advertising work. If he’s not working on an engineering project, he’ll dive one or two weekends each month and when he’s not on the water, he’ll find time each week to process images and research ships.

Artistry Meets Expertise

That demand for professional imagery from a photographer who only works in the profession part-time continues for a couple of reasons. The quality of Pongsatorn’s photographs is certainly one factor. Pongsatorn may not be a full-time photographer but his images are professional quality. He shoots in black and white to convey the sense of being in an environment in which color has been stripped away by the water, and to convey the mood at the depths where the ships rest.

“I feel that the characteristics of high-speed b/w film faithfully capture the light and ambiance at these great depths,” he told us by email. “I also believe that entering the water loaded with b/w film is a mindset.”

The result is a collection of atmospheric shots in which the fragility and graceful lines of the diver are set against the solidity of a slowly decaying steel hulk placed in front of a backdrop of silty grays.

But the continued demand among buyers for Pongsatorn’s skills can also be put down to his expertise. Underwater photography is demanding. Photographers have to be skilled in diving as well as in image-making. They need to understand their equipment and the environment as well as the subject of the shoot.

“Underwater, we can’t change lenses, add filters, or replace batteries so advanced planning is required,” says Pongsatorn. “Familiarity with the layout of the wreck is crucial to avoid delays associated with orientation.”

Pongsatorn keeps a collection of construction blueprints related to the wreck he’s about to shoot, as well as sketches that he updates regularly. Before the dive, those plans are transferred to a waterproof slate for use underwater so that he’s not trying to communicate a new idea to a co-diver or assistant while they’re swimming. The choice of shots, too, poses a range of different problems. Wide angle images mean keeping other divers and their bubbles away from the scene long enough for Pongsatorn to get his shots. That’s not usually an issue when shooting wrecks that aren’t popular dive sites but for well-known locations, Pongsatorn usually pleads for a ten-minute head start. Before some shoots, he’s even asked the Thai Navy to cordon off a wreck for a day.

While underwater photographers don’t have the same daylight worries as landscape photographers, they do have to cope with other challenges. Weather conditions can restrict accessibility to remote sites to certain times of the year, and sediment raised by the actions of a swimming photographer can reduce visibility.

“This happens frequently as the wrecks are naturally on the sea bed (with the exception of the so-called vertical wreck) where there is a great deal of sediment just waiting to be disturbed,” says Pongsatorn. “Diver buoyancy control and proper finning techniques need to be practiced.”

Learn How to Fin

Often, the constraints of time and the limitations of depth mean that Pongsatorn can only make one or two dives to a low-lying wreck on any given day. Some dive profiles, he says, are so deep that he’ll only be able to stay at the site for as little as five minutes.

“As you can imagine, deep wreck photography is a very low-yield activity. However, these challenges make it exciting and create opportunities for some truly creative work.”

For other photographers looking to specialize in underwater photography, Pongsatorn notes that while no official training is required, there are numerous basic courses and workshops available that will explain how light behaves underwater and how to set up and look after equipment. Photographers who happen to live in tropical areas can start by photographing clown fish, he recommends, as they’re easy to find and tend to stay in one place. Once they’ve mastered finning and have control over their stability, photographers can pick a subject and study its behavior.

Most important though is to respect the environment in which you’re shooting. On his blog, Pongsatorn has highlighted campaigns for shark preservation and attacked dive operators who remove artifacts from the wrecks they visit.

“There are several operators who specifically set out to loot. It’s in their literature. They abuse the legal loopholes and lack of enforcement. It’s sad to see all these artifacts being hauled up day after day. These people need to be educated.”

Similarly, divers who venture into a wreck exhale bubbles which can get trapped below decks and under bulkheads. In time, these air pockets corrode the metal and exert an upward pressure on the metal plates, causing them to collapse, Pongsatorn warns.

It’s that kind of knowledge and that level of concern that combines with creativity and artistry to produce images that are attractive to buyers — both of art prints and for commercial use. Find a subject for which you feel passionate enough to want to study and understand completely, bring to it your photography skills, and you also won’t need to give up the day job to earn money from your photography.


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7 Secrets of Black and White Photography

20 Apr

We’ve all heard it … “to master black and white photography you must learning to see in black and white” – but just how do you do that?

It can sometimes seem like actually learning to see in black and white is a skill for only the chosen few. But trust us, it’s for you too!

Here are seven (not-so-secret-anymore) secrets that will help you train your brain and expand your eye for the art of black and white photography.

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How to Use Colored Gels for Creative Off-Camera Flash Photography

17 Apr

Diving into off-camera flash photography opens up a world of exciting, new and creative possibilities. Besides giving you the option to shape and control the light in your image with a flash unit, you can also use colored gels to modify the color of your scene to add either a subtle creative touch or a more dramatic impact.

off-camera flash using a blue colored gel

A man playing electric guitar lit creatively by an off-camera flash colored blue.

This guide will help you to get started using off-camera flash and colored gels to bring your photography to the next level!

What are colored gels and how are they used?

Colored gels (sometimes called color filters or lighting gels) are thin pieces of colored transparent material. They can be fitted over the top of your flash unit to modify the color of the light.

Examples of colored gels that can be used to modify the color of light from off-camera flashes

A small example of the variety of colored gels available.

Often, the reason for using a colored gel is to tone of the flash so that it matches the color (white balance) of the room. For example, a typical camera flash fired in a room lit by tungsten light bulbs will appear much bluer against the orange ambient background light. By covering the flash with a gel that is tinted orange, you can make the flash match the existing lighting conditions so that all sources contribute the same color to your final image.

Attaching the colored gels to your flash

A gel can be attached to a flash in a number of ways. Perhaps the most common method for portable flash units is with a velcro strap that wraps around the flash tube. If you’re in a real pinch, you could even simply use a piece of tape. Just make sure that the gel completely covers the flash so that it completely modifies that color of the light.

Note: Magmod makes a system to do just that – read Suzi Pratt’s overview of Magmod options here.

  • Magmod Basic Kit on Amazon including attachment device and gels – $ 89.95 (are a bit more durable and will last longer than the gels).
  • Honl Photo Speed Strap – $ 10.95
  • Honl gel kits – around $ 19.95
A red colored gel filter covering an off-camera flash unit

A red gel has been attached snugly to the flash unit and will now change the color of the light from the flash to red.

A sideview of a colored gel fitted over a flash unit, attached by a Velcro strap

A view of the Honl Photo Speed Strap, which uses velcro to allows you to quickly and easily attach a color gel to your flash unit.

Gels come in a wide variety of colors and are very inexpensive, which makes it easy to get started experimenting with this fun style of photography. Also, they can continue to be used even if they are scratched or folded. You only need to replace a gel if it has a rip or a small hole.

Once you have your off-camera flash or multiple speedlight units ready, you can begin to get creative!

Using colored gels with a dark background

When getting started, one of the best ways to get a sense of how to use color gels is by taking pictures in a dark room. This gives you full control over the light throughout the scene. Creating a dark background doesn’t have anything to do with putting up black curtains or finding a wall that is painted black – it’s all about controlling where the light spills.

First, you’ll want to find a medium to large sized room. Dim the lights so that you can produce a perfectly black image without flash (available room light only). Place your subject a fair distance away from the far wall. By directing the light from your flash units only towards your subject and away from the wall behind them, you can create a completely black background.

To add just a hint of color, put a color gel only on your secondary flash. The key (main) light provides adequate lighting for the subject, while the secondary flash adds drama, intrigue, and style to the photo.

A man plays guitar with a burst of blue color from the flash behind him

This photo was taken with two flashes – the one in the front hitting him is not tinted with any color, the one behind him is gelled blue. Light from the blue-tinted flash has been allowed to “spill” towards the camera lens, created the colored lens flare effect.

Once you’ve mastered this straight-forward style of shot, you can start to mix and match colors for unexpected and fascinating results.

Getting creative with color

Color plays an incredibly vital role in telling a story or establishing a mood. We are all familiar with typical color associations – yellow represents happiness, red represents anger, blue represents sadness, and so on.

With a variety of color choices at your fingertips, you can craft a precise feeling or mood in your images simply by adding a colored gel over your flash unit.

A portrait of a man taken with a light from a flash that has been tinted blue

This image was lit by a single flash with a blue colored gel to give it a mood of introspection and melancholy.

It is important to visualize the final image you intend to create, otherwise, your shot can quickly turn into a jumble of mismatched colors.

Remember that you can also color more than just the subject. Firing a colored flash at the background wall can instantly update it, which is perfect for adding some variety to studio-style portrait shots.

An image of a man with a lightsaber, made possible through a red colour placed over an off-camera flash unit

Since lightsabers haven’t been invented yet, an off-camera flash that has been covered with a red color gel provides the distinctive glow for this image. The lightsaber itself was added later in Photoshop.

How understanding color can help you create drama

Once you start playing with color, it helps to have an understanding of how and why certain colors work better together than others.

Colorwheel

You can apply even some basic knowledge from a color wheel to get a sense of how you can create bold and vibrant color pairs. For example, colors directly opposite each other on the color wheel are called complementary colors, as they pair together very well. Knowing this you can mix blue and orange for a dramatic shot. Many Hollywood movies use color theory to help make their footage more vivid.

Or, you can break the rules for more surprising and unexpected results!

A man holding a guitar, lit by light from blue and red colored gels on off-camera flashes

Blue and red create a strong contrast, which adds a feeling of tension and drama to this image.

Once you get comfortable with controlling and creating colored light, your creative options are endless. For example, you can use a flash tinted orange to recreate the glow of a sunset. You can also begin mixing and matching with ambient light conditions, which is much trickier but can be very rewarding.

You’ll be surprised how much a thin sheet of colored plastic can transform your photography!

Some important tips to remember

  • Darker color gels, such as deep reds or blues, block a portion of the light that the flash gives off. When working with these colors you will need to increase the amount of flash power compared to when you use flash on its on.
  • If you don’t have a full set of colors, you can layer two colored gels over top of each other. For example, blue and red colored gels can be combined to make purple. Remember that doubling them up will block even more light and require additional flash power.
  • You can use any traditional flash modifiers, such as umbrellas and soft boxes, along with color gels in order to soften or shape the light that is produced.
  • Experiment and play! Even if it seems intimidating or complicated at first, trial and error is a fantastic way to learn a new skill or technique that you can add to your repertoire.

Please share your questions, comments and images shot with colored gels below.

The post How to Use Colored Gels for Creative Off-Camera Flash Photography by Frank Myrland appeared first on Digital Photography School.


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7 Ways to Become More Spontaneous with Your Street Photography

16 Apr

As you become more experienced and comfortable doing street photography, you will notice that the way you shoot will begin to change. You will notice more, focus more on what you like, and your work will improve significantly. At this point, it can be important to embrace spontaneity in the way that you shoot.

street photography NYC

So often the first shot of a scene that you take will be the best, for reasons I can’t explain, except that your gut and instinct are something to embrace with this type of photography. The more experienced you become, the more vital they will be.

Here are some tips that have helped me to shoot in a more spontaneous fashion.

1. Choose your camera settings so that you can forget about them

The first step is to figure out your camera settings so that you can forget about them. You don’t want to worry about your camera or changing settings as you’re shooting. When you’re feeling good, it often feels like the camera isn’t there.street photography

If it’s a shady day and the lighting is consistent, then it’s easy to choose your settings and not have to worry about them. But it becomes tough when you are shooting in direct sunlight, where some areas are lit with extreme light and others are in the shadows.

For these situations, what I will do is change my camera to Aperture Priority mode, around f/8, and I will put my ISO up high, to around 1600. I will make sure that when I point my camera at shady areas it will still give me a fast enough shutter speed, like 1/250th of a second, to freeze motion in people. Then, when I point the camera in sunny areas, the shutter speed will be something insane, maybe 1/1000th or more of a second.

Obviously, these settings are not perfect for sunny areas since the ISO is high, but with newer cameras, ISOs of 1600 look beautiful. I prefer to shoot with these settings because it allows me to forget about my settings regardless of what light I walk into. It makes the day much more fun and relaxing, and I can spend more energy looking around.

2. Slow down and shoot quick

street photography NYC

When I work with newer photographers, I often seeing them run from place to place, searching for that elusive spectacular moment, as if the more ground they cover will yield more of those moments. Those moments will occur whether you are moving fast or not. Except when you are moving fast, you’re not focusing on the area that you’re in at the moment. There are interesting photos everywhere, particularly in places that you might have previously disregarded.

The slower you move, the faster you will be able to react when something happens. By increasing your awareness, you will allow yourself to be more spontaneous. You will have more gut feelings to follow. This will allow you to react much quicker when actually capturing the photograph.

3. Spend more time looking with your eyes than the viewfinder

street photography scene

In street photography, your eyes should be the real viewfinder. Focus your energy on looking around. It’s actually hard to do, especially if you are easily distracted or going from place to place. Notice the potential for something to happen with your eyes and get in position, then the viewfinder and camera will follow. But it should almost feel like the camera isn’t there – the hard work is done before you even bring it up to your eye.

4. Figure out how to take good photographs anywhere

street photography - garbage

Stop taking things for granted. The more you think an area will not provide you with a good photograph, the more you should try to get a good one there. Much of the time you’ll get nothing, but you will be surprised how often this works out, and it’s a fantastic way to train your eye.

This will also allow you to create unique and interesting photographs. By shooting in areas where not many others photograph, your good shots will be unexpected. They will stand out.

5. Go with your gut

street photography - crosswalk

We’ve talked a lot about going with your gut already, but what does that really mean? When you’re out there shooting, you’re going to get feelings that moments are about to happen. Most people wait to actually see something happen before they shoot, and often the moment has disappeared by then.

When you feel something good is about to occur, capture the moment in a quick and spontaneous way. Go for it instinctively – use your instincts to your advantage and develop them. While many of these shots will turn out to be nothing, when you hit one at the perfect moment, you will be left with an incredible image that you could not have captured otherwise. Be spontaneous.

6. Don’t worry about perfection

street photography

It is common for newer photographers to worry about cutting people’s feet off, something getting in the way, or the shot being skewed. I have heard so many comments about wishing that a person, group, or object wasn’t in the background or in a certain location. This is, of course, important stuff to consider. But when I hear these comments being made, I detect that the reason they find these things annoying is because they ruin the perfection of the image.

Have you ever shown an image to someone and the first thing they notice is this random background detail that’s barely noticeable? This is part of having too much focus on perfection, and it can drive you crazy. You’re trying to get the most perfect and clean image possible, and that is rarely possible in street photography. You take what is given to you, and an interesting moment is an interesting moment.

Street photography is supposed to feel real, and so many of those imperfections can add to that feeling of it being a spontaneous moment. They can improve an image just as much as they can ruin it. Try to embrace these imperfections when you can as being part of a real and special moment.

7. Don’t be afraid to take weird photographs

street photography - weird

These photographs are for you. You don’t need to take photographs that appeal to everyone, and not everything has to be perfect, grand, and pleasing. Capture photos that are not standard, off in some way, and weird. Focus on what interests you and try to foster that. This is where the voice in your work will begin to shine.

The post 7 Ways to Become More Spontaneous with Your Street Photography by James Maher appeared first on Digital Photography School.


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How to Build a Travel Photography Portfolio

15 Apr

Building a photography portfolio can be a scary proposition, as it forces you to choose images that best represent you as an artist and creator, whilst also demonstrating your technical skill and storytelling ability. Developing a travel photography portfolio is no different.

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However, developing a portfolio is an exercise that has many benefits, both from a personal growth as well as professional perspective.

Unlike many areas of photography, there are some extra considerations for a travel specific portfolio. The main difference with travel photography, as opposed to specializing in weddings, events, or commercial, for example, is that there is a far greater need for you to be flexible in your approach to image making while allowing for the huge variety of subject matter one would normally encounter.

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Start planning your portfolio before you travel

This, of course, comes down to why you want to develop a portfolio of work and who you are aiming to show it to. I have always found this can shift depending on whether I am planning an exhibition, developing a book, building a stock library, showing work to an editor, planning a photography tour and marketing to potential attendees, or simply showing friends and family a new place I have been fortunate enough to visit and photograph. All are valid reasons to develop a travel photography portfolio. If you keep these options in mind before you travel, you are more likely to return with images that can be used across multiple platforms and for different reasons.

The consideration here is you may need to have multiple portfolios depending on to whom and where you are marketing. This is a key factor to consider before traveling as it will shape your approach to image making while on your trip. Having said this, it is also great to stay open to potential opportunities that may present themselves in the future by having covered a subject or place well.

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One of the biggest lessons I have learned is to stay completely open to any possibility. This is especially true when visiting destinations that are expensive or difficult to get to, which ultimately means it may be a while before I return, or perhaps not at all. This means that when you are shooting in this situation, make the absolute most of your time. Be open to possible image usage across multiple platforms and for many reasons. This is best done with thorough research for all possible uses of images from the location you are visiting.

What if you aren’t traveling soon?

So how do you start in building your portfolio if you are not planning to travel? Your local area is an excellent place to create content, and for many reasons, some of which I have listed below:

  • You build your skills working in different and changing lighting conditions.
  • Learn how to deal with bad weather while still coming home with images that describe a place well.
  • You learn how to show a destination through images. The goal being to give people who have not been there an understanding of this destination.
  • You are able to visit during different seasons, times, and weather conditions with ease.
  • Research the most common images available for that area. This is handy if your aim is to build a stock library for editorial or commercial use. Then push yourself to photograph this area in a new creative way.
  • You develop your ability to work with local organizations and businesses to help you get the images you need.
  • Build your understanding of the process of storytelling with your images from a destination.
  • You will further your understanding and knowledge of your camera gear and the photographic process before you are looking at an unrepeatable moment. There is nothing worse than a once in a lifetime image opportunity and not having the confidence or ability to capture it well with a camera.

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Now do the same at a destination

Transferring this process to travel destinations is no different. However, the importance of thorough research before you leave is far more critical as you will not know a travel destination as well as your local area. While it is important to have a plan of attack before you land, remain open to opportunities that may arise during your travels.

It is also important to travel to different destinations that have a variety of cultural backgrounds, landscapes, architectural styles, and ultimately photography opportunities. This will further help diversify your images which can then be presented in your travel photography portfolio.

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Your first trip

Your initial trip can be considered the most important as it will be your first opportunity to build a library of images. I always recommend making your journey as long as possible, across different destinations, to help you get a wide variety of images.

While traveling I look for eight main areas of subject matter:

  1. Landscape
  2. Portrait
  3. Wildlife
  4. Food
  5. Architecture
  6. Culture
  7. Transport
  8. Local events, festivals and activities

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Not every destination will give you the opportunity to photograph all of the above options. However, I have found over the years these will give you the best chance of showing that destination and what it would be like to be there.

If you were to make a list of potential images of your local area or any destination based on the list above, you can easily build a large library that shows it in a comprehensive way. As well, taking into account different demographics of people will further build your portfolio of images to show any destination in a more comprehensive fashion. For example, budget accommodation through to more expensive options.

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Diversify

Diversity is also of key importance for your work, especially if you are visiting a location that receives a lot of tourist traffic, all with cameras in hand. Here are some key points to consider to build diversity into your work, regardless of where it will end up.

  • Visit during different times of the day than the norm.
  • If the weather goes bad, keep taking photographs.
  • Use a full range of focal lengths for each subject.
  • Try to shoot from an elevated position as well as crouch down low to help give different perspectives.
  • Be completely proficient in all lighting conditions so you are able to deal with them no matter what scenario.
  • Experiment with filming as well as stills. There is a huge demand for footage and video content.
  • Document the process of traveling.
  • Put people into your photographs, whether it be yourself, your friends and family, or people you meet along the way.
  • Be sure to always photograph the less exciting, day to day elements of travel as well. You never know where these could be used in the future.

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Hone your skills

It is important to have developed your ability before you go traveling to not feel a lack of confidence should a fantastic photographic opportunity arise. Practice, practice and more practice is critical for any area of photography. However, the extra cost and competitiveness of the travel photography industry mean you need to be highly proficient before you go traveling in order to make the most of the opportunities that will arise.

Travel is far from cheap and easy. Your time away should best be used creating content. So again, it is important to feel confident in your gear and process before you go to maximize this time away. While there are cheaper destinations to visit, it is still a resource hungry activity. Learning how to shoot efficiently when opportunities arise means you will further add to your diversity of images as well as your versatility and ability for future opportunities.

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Culling

Once home, the process of selecting images can begin. Again, look for a variety of images and subject matter that best show your ability, both technical and artistic. Try to avoid images that look similar or show the same subject more than once. Pick only your strongest work and focus your selection based on use. Images for an art instillation are going to be very different to images for stock of local transport or architecture. Having someone review your work with fresh eyes is also an option to consider.

Printing your images, even at smaller sizes can be a great way to finalize a selection of work. It allows you to interact with the images differently as well as being able to view them under different lighting sources to ensure your edits are the best possible. You are able to lay the images out offline to see how well they work as a series or collection, something that is very difficult to do on a computer screen.

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Conclusion

Remember, the more you get outside taking images, the more you can develop an understanding and skill level in working in all weather and lighting situations as well as working with people from different places and cultures. Practice, practice, practice.

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Blue Earth Alliance: Collaboration is key for photography that makes a difference

14 Apr

Blue Earth Alliance: Collaboration is key for photography that makes a difference

Natalie Fobes on assignment in Russia for National Geographic. Fobes is an award-winning photographer who founded the nonprofit Blue Earth Alliance in order to work with photographers to share their stories.

“You don’t have to travel overseas to make a difference with your photography. Your world starts outside your front door,” says Natalie Fobes, a Seattle-based photographer with a resume many photographers dream of. Assignments for major magazines including National Geographic, dozens of awards as well as being a finalist for a Pulitzer, a photography instructor with courses on Lynda.com, and now a successful wedding and commercial photography business in Seattle, Washington where she lives with her family.

It all might sound a little intimidating, but spend just a few minutes in conversation with Fobes and you’ll come to understand not only her passion for the power of photography, but how much she wants to help other photographers succeed.

Almost 22 years ago Fobes formed the non-profit Blue Earth Alliance, along with fellow photographer Phil Borges and attorney Malcolm Edwards, who provided legal guidance. The philosophy behind Blue Earth Alliance is simple – photography and filmmaking can lead to positive change.

DPReview had the opportunity to talk with Fobes about Blue Earth Alliance, the impact of photography and the mission of Blue Earth Alliance.

Blue Earth Alliance: Collaboration is key for photography that makes a difference

The opportunity to share her photographs and the difficulty in finding funding lead Fobes to collaborate and begin Blue Earth Alliance. Photo by Natalie Fobes.

Blue Earth Alliance was formed almost 22 years ago to help photographers. Why did you feel it was needed?

I had just had a book published, had spent 10 years traveling the Pacific Rim and was doing well and I was approached to put together a traveling exhibit. It was expensive to put on the exhibit and hard to find sponsors. I was told if I had been a 501(c)(3) sponsors could help, and I learned other photographers were having similar problems. We saw the media landscape was changing and it was going to get harder to do long documentary projects.

I think the underlying philosophy of Blue Earth Alliance is we feel an individual can make a difference in this world. There are so many things that need attention:  the environment, disappearing cultures, social issues or a local situation. These are all things that matter in our lives, no matter if you live in a small town or in New York City or Seattle. By raising awareness of these issues, you can make a difference; you can make a change. It’s a very high level look, but I think that no matter who you are — whether you’re a professional photographer or advanced amateur — you recognize the power of photography.

Blue Earth Alliance: Collaboration is key for photography that makes a difference

Photojournalist Tom Reese spotlights the devastation of toxic waste in his project, “Choosing Hope: Reclaiming The Duwamish River.” Photo by Tom Reese.

Can you explain how Blue Earth Alliance works with photographers who become sponsored?

First, I need to be very clear:  Blue Earth does not provide direct funding or grants. That is a common misconception about Blue Earth. The biggest service Blue Earth provides is fiscal sponsorship. This is a huge asset to individual photographers and filmmakers since when we accept a project for sponsorship we extend our 501(c)(3) status to it. The photographer/filmmaker can then apply for grants from organizations and foundations that only donate to a 501(c)(3). After 21 years, we have a great reputation with funders for sponsoring worthwhile projects. Blue Earth provides a vetted seal of approval for donors.

Sometimes photographers and filmmakers just need encouragement for their projects. More than one photographer has mentioned that when Blue Earth selected their project for sponsorship, it encouraged and inspired them to continue their work.

Blue Earth Alliance: Collaboration is key for photography that makes a difference

Daniel Beltra’s project has documented conservation around the planet. He has shot on all seven continents, many of his photographs are shot from the air. Photo by Daniel Beltra.

Blue Earth Alliance has sponsored more than 134 photography and filmmaking projects over the last two decades. Can you reflect on a few that have had an impact?

We have had had many, but a couple that stand out. These projects can start the conversation, even raise the visibility of some of these issues. One was a really long term project by the late Gary Braasch. He came on board in the late 90’s, early 2000 and was talking about global warming before it became popular. It was important work in that it elevated the conversation because of his photography and his dedication.

Another is Subhankar Banerjee and his story about the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and how important it was to keep that area pristine. He had worked at Boeing and had no professional photography experience. He came to us and wanted to do this project and applied for sponsorship.

He spent a couple of years in the Arctic and showed how beautiful it was even when some senators were calling it a frozen wasteland. The Preserve is one of the last pristine areas of that particular environment and there was a lot of discussion about oil, a lot of senators wanted to open it out to oil exploration. He also contracted with a number of museums including the Smithsonian to exhibit his work from this project. In one of the Senate debates about drilling in the refuge Senator Boxer held up his book.

Blue Earth Alliance: Collaboration is key for photography that makes a difference

Katherine Jack’s project with Blue Earth Alliance is documenting life in the Palawan Sea, in the Philippines and how changes to our marine ecosystem is affecting the life of the Palawan residents.

What are the steps a photographer would need to take to get support from Blue Earth Alliance? What are the criteria that makes a project worthwhile?

Blue Earth accepts project proposals twice a year: January 20 and July 20. The submission requirements can be found on our website. In a proposal we look for a clear description of the project, a unique viewpoint or topic and clarity around how the project fits within the Blue Earth mission. Having a project with a 501c3 status does not mean that money magically appears. Finding funding can be difficult, and it takes time to thoughtfully research funders and write grants.

When we review our project proposals one of the first things I look at their budget to see if they know what they are doing financially.

We have a responsibility to make sure funds are used as they should be. One of the first things I look for is are the photographers paying themselves, through a stipend. We are too important not to pay ourselves.

Blue Earth wants our project photographer/filmmakers to succeed, and we scrutinize all proposals in order in ensure that likelihood.

Blue Earth Alliance: Collaboration is key for photography that makes a difference

Greg Constantine’s decade-long project, Nowhere People, focuses on the plight of people forced from their homes, without citizenship and looks at the challenges of their daily lives and their future. Photo by Greg Constantine.

What advice do you have to photographers who are looking for a way to use their photography to make a difference?

Photographers and filmmakers should try to form coalitions with other like-minded people and organizations. I believe in the strength of an individual. But I believe in the power that comes when individuals come together for a common goal.

Photographers and filmmakers also need to realize that one grant will seldom fund their entire project. They should apply for many: large, small and in-between. For my first long-term project I used my savings, a grant and assignments to fund it.

It’s imperative to create a coalition of funders. Funders like to see support from other organizations when considering an application. They see it as a third-party endorsement of the photographer/filmmaker and the project. It’s true that success leads to success.

Photographers and filmmakers often forget, or are afraid of, including friends and family in their fundraising efforts. People are often more likely to give a donation to someone they know. Crowd-sourcing websites make fundraising campaigns much easier than in the past.

If a photographer doesn’t believe they can make a difference then they won’t.

Blue Earth Alliance: Collaboration is key for photography that makes a difference

Natalie Fobe’s captured the extensive damage of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound while on a three month assignment for National Geographic. Photo by Natalie Fobes.

Your photography has included extensive work around the Pacific Salmon, wildlife and landscapes. What are you most proud of?

I think probably the work that may have had the most impact on society was the Exxon Valdez oil spill in. That was also the hardest story I photographed because of the difficulty of the working conditions and getting access. And the chaos, the chaos of the spill and the emotional impact of the destruction of the environment. The horrible pain that the animals and birds suffered and the people too.

This happened in a beautiful pristine area that was home and sustenance for the native Alaskans but also the commercial fishermen and townspeople who lived there.

Blue Earth Alliance: Collaboration is key for photography that makes a difference

Annie Musselman’s first project with Blue Earth Alliance focused on the delicate balance of human impact on wild animals. Her project Wolf Haven documents animals in sanctuaries. Photo by Annie Musselman.

What does the future hold for Blue Earth Alliance?

We are an organization with a passionate and dedicated board that donates thousands of hours each year to our mission.

We hold an annual conference “Collaborations for Cause.” This will be held in May 5-6, 2017, in Seattle. The goal of Collaborations for Cause is to put non-profits, educators, communications professionals and visual storytellers in the same room for education, inspiration and networking. Presentations and interviews of our past speakers can be viewed at photowings.org.

Our conference supports our mission to form a coalition of non-profits and visual storytellers. We hope that our photographers’ projects educate the public about important issues. Simply: we want our projects to change the world for the better.

Blue Earth Alliance: Collaboration is key for photography that makes a difference

Photographer Tim Matsui’s project focused on human trafficking and lead to the film, ‘Leaving the Life’ as well as working with King County Government in Washington State to create policy around human trafficking. Photo by Tim Matsui.

DPReview also spoke with Tim Matsui, a photographer who has worked on two projects in conjunction with Blue Earth Alliance. He explains how the organization helped him to make a difference with his photography.

I first went to Blue Earth because I was ‘just a photographer’ and unable to apply to many foundation grants or other funding opportunities. I was doing grassroots fundraisers, silent auctions, even burger-beer events with local businesses willing to support my work with their proceeds. Old school.

Leaving the Life is my second project with Blue Earth. My first one, over a decade ago, used documentary multimedia—when slide projectors and dissolve units were still a thing—to create dialog about the lasting effects of sexual violence on individuals and communities.

Being accepted at that time was not only validating of the social justice work I felt compelled to do, but it opened the door to foundation grants and private donations; something I knew very little about.

The learning curve was steep, but I was no longer ‘just a photographer.’ I was in the company of others who were much more accomplished than myself. I had access to their knowledge and this helped me understand how I could increase the impact and reach of my work.

Years later, when I realized Leaving the Life and The Long Night could create impact, I reapplied to Blue Earth. This allowed me to receive a grant from The Fledgling Fund. That grant lead to the policy work I’ve done with King County government.

In fact, it was a screening of The Long Night at Collaborations for Cause where I met a King County employee who became instrumental in my work with King County. Without her, I doubt that two-year journey would have come to fruition.

Blue Earth continues to support my work as I’m now looking for investors for a follow up film to The Long Night— these are people who see their return on investment not as financial renumeration, but policy change. And through Blue Earth I’ve had the opportunity to share what I’ve learned about using film to support social and policy change. Blue Earth is grassroots, created and run by photojournalists, and helping stories have impact is woven into the fabric of the organization. That matters to me.


Blue Earth Alliance’s Collaborations for Cause takes place May 5th and 6th in Seattle. You can find the speaker schedule and registration information online at blueearth.org.

Articles: Digital Photography Review (dpreview.com)

 
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