Sunday, September 27, 2009

Photography on the 'Net: the Unsolicited Critique

While I consider myself to be a tolerant and somewhat thick-skinned type personality, I've started to notice a growing trend in the online photography community that has forced me to create this self-fulfilling rant.

Over the years, I have become quite the stalker of photography related information on the internet. I myself have my own photography website, a Flickr account, a blog (duh), a Facebook account and on and on and on and on... I also read as many as 10 different photography blogs a week to stay informed on the latest technologies but also to learn from some really talented photographers out there. With the advent of the internet it has become so easy to display your work, to learn and to share your knowledge with others. This is where I've become a little disgruntled with the community.

First, let me make this statement. I absolutely have no problems with the critiquing of one's work. It helps us to grow as professionals and to perfect our craft. However what does irk me is when someone critiques another person's work when it wasn't asked for. I do realize that when you post a photo on the internet it can become a host to a menagerie of abuses. They can be stolen, used without your permission or any compensation and anyone can comment anything they want about it (generally speaking). In my humble opinion though, I believe this boils down to manners ...or the lack thereof.

When someone posts a photo of theirs on a public forum such as Flickr, Photobucket or Facebook, usually its because: they are somewhat proud of it, they want to share it with their friends/family, they are documenting a moment in time, they want to provide an educational resource or they simply want to show their work. Most of these public places where you can post your images, also have comments sections so that you can tell the creator what you think of the work.

Now while I agree that if you are going to post your work in these "public forums" you should be willing to accept the fact that some (or dreadfully) all of the comments you receive may not be positive. Personally, I have never minded a negative critique, but I don't think its appropriate to do so, unless a request for an honest critique has been made by the poster.

I think that most of the time, if someone has posted a photo on the internet, its because they thought it was reasonably good and liked it for some reason or another. Its been my practice that if I like a photo that someone has posted for whatever reason (and especially if they're a friend or someone who is just starting out in photography), I try to say at least something positive about that photo. I think it makes people feel good about themselves and builds a little confidence, even if its a comment as simple as "Awesome!" I try to be more constructive in my comments too if I can. If I don't like the photo, then I simply don't look at it, or don't leave a comment, unless that person is requesting a critique of their work. Even then, I try to find something I like about the photo, before stating what I think could be better about the photo.

I am constantly amazed at the rudeness of people who post negative critiques about other people's work, especially when it was not asked for. As hokey as this sounds, my momma always told me, if you don't have anything nice to say, then don't say anything at all. Personally, I think this is a philosophy to live by. It seems that good manners these days are not something that is practiced and its a shame. Why be negative to people and lower their self-esteem? There are ways to communicate with people without being demeaning. Almost all of the "public forums" that are out there, have a method to direct message someone without making it public. If you feel you need to critique someone's work, than for pete's sake, try that method first. Who knows, you might even make a new friend!

Photography to me, is an art. Just like any other medium of art, there are going to be works you like, and works you don't. Some people like different styles, techniques, subject matters and just do it to have fun. To say that you don't like a certain style or technique is quite fine (the world would be boring if we all liked the same things) but to negatively comment on someone's work, or about someone's work just because you don't personally like that style is in poor taste imho.

If you're a person who finds the need to critique others, then there are groups specifically for that. If someone is asking for a critique in a public forum, then do your best to be honest, but try to be polite and positive at the same time and keep in mind that while you may have skin as thick as leather, other people may not. With all the negativity in this world, why add to it? We can all get along and learn from each other without stepping on each others toes.

Don Giannatti of Lighting Essentials fame (known as Wizwow on Flickr), a photographer who's work and skill I really admire, summed my thoughts up best in a Flickr discussion group recently so I thought I'd share his insight:

"...I rarely critique work without having discussed the image with the photographer first. And I never offer unsolicited critique. I really wouldn't know where to start.

Without knowing the purpose of the photograph, the intentions of the photographer, the genre or style of his/her work, and whether they thought the image successful, what would I say?

Too dark? For
Need more space to the top? For who... me?

Critique without knowing the intentions, style and perspective of the viewer is not critique, it is initializing a set of personal parameters that one brings totally externally to the image.

And one can make images that mean nothing to one person and the world to another. What makes a good photograph is what one brings to the image as viewing it. Photography runs the gamut of styles from the nearly focused, deeply moody, dark and underexposed imagery of Matt Mahurin to the digital fantasy of Tim Tadder to the beautifully stark realism of Dan Winters.

Would we judge Mahurin's work with the same set of critiques as we would Winters? Surely not.

There is a famous Flickr page that can be found archived somewhere (I am getting to the airport now) that shows the absolutely incredible critique of Henri Cartier Bresson's "The Bicyclist". The image, acclaimed the world over and I believe is the highest paid image at Sotheby's, gets crucified by Flickrites for being in black and white and slightly out of focus and 'why vertical... and on and on.

So while I will occasionally note that I really like some image, I do not nor will I ever, offer negative comments. I don't know what good it does, and without a discussion back and forth it is simply "I woulda done it this way..." and of course that isn't critique. I would rather keep my mouth shut and be thought a boor."

I couldn't agree with him more! Ok, that's my rant for the year, and the next post will be something worth reading ...not just me venting. =)

Keep in mind, this is just my opinion, and its ok if yours differ ...just realize that I am right and you are wrong. ;)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Cool stuff...

I just love What the Duck!

Cool stuff from surfing the net over the last two weeks...

1. Google Analytics for Photographers download by Photoshelter on how to use one of the internet's most powerful tools

2. Photography Now ...a cool place to view a lot of great photographer's works, including some of the masters

3. this one was a very interesting read! Copyright Myths De-Bunked

4. Ever wanted to learn how to photograph bats? well then, check this out!

5. My favorite word RESOURCES! 50 Free Resources to Improve your Photography Skills

6. For anyone who would like to have a free resource to make your own lighting diagrams of your photography sessions, check out this link ...the best I've seen to date

7. All the smart guys are at MIT ...this is too cool!

that's it for now!

P.S. ...McNally finds the first red tree in the States (osmotically through Moose Peterson)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

What Moves You!

Ride On!

Have fun with your projects even if they don't turn out completely like you wanted. That's what I figured out while trying to complete the Strobist Boot Camp II, Assignment 4.

The assignment this time around was What Moves You literally. The subject matter was transportation and could be any form. Since I didn't have access to a speeder bike (my first choice), I found a friend with a really nice bike who volunteered to model for me.

I thought about the shot for several days in advance and had it planned down to the angle I wanted to shoot it from, how I wanted to light it, the background and the contrast of color.

So my friend met me and my significant other (my full time VAL and artistic consultant) at a nice open parking lot. When I first arrived, I misjudged where the sun would be setting and right off had to reposition how I wanted to shoot. No biggie. Then I set up my lights and had my buddy make slow circles around me on his bike as I tried panning shots of him as he drove thru my lighting setup.

The color was pretty drab outside so I switched my camera to Tungsten white balance which gave the background a nice blue hue. Then, I underexposed the ambient ever so slightly to give me a richer color. For my key light, I added a full cut of CTO to bring the light back to a normal looking white, then added another 1/2 cut to add just a slight bit of warmth. For my fill light, I decided to leave it un-gelled for a little contrast and had this light 1 stop lower than my key light.
my key light accidentally didn't go off in this shot, but I thought it was pretty cool!

Immediately I figured out the cross lighting pattern I originally setup was garbage. At least it wasn't having the effect I thought it would, so rather than torment myself over it, I analyzed the shots I had so far and felt a different light placement would look better so I just moved my fill light to camera left. My key light was camera right and popped another test shot. This looked much better!

I was dragging my shutter to create a little motion blur, and to get the angle I wanted, I was lying on the ground. This made it rather hard for me to determine when was the right time to pop the shutter since I couldn't see when my subject was in the target zone of my lighting. So Jenn, my VAL and best gal, stood behind me to let me know when the bike was in my target zone.

Ok, now I'm getting some shots. I was a little frustrated in using continuous focus on my D300 because it seemed I never got the sharp point I was looking for be honest, this technique has eluded me for quite some time. I thought this would be the best way to focus on a moving subject. Maybe it is... but it wasn't for me. I switched to single point focusing and actually had no problems keeping my subject in focus.

So after all of the frustration and changes I had to make to what I thought was a very well thought out plan, I still ended up with some shots I liked, tried a few different things and my VAL even got to go for a ride.

Long story short, don't be disgruntled if what you had planned turns to mush. Just go with the flow and keep shooting, something good is bound to happen. This was a learning experience for me and a fun project, even if I didn't get the photos that I had etched in my mind before the shoot.

On a side note, if anyone has any pointers on using continuous focus on the D300, please give a shout out in the comments ...I needs me an ed-u-muh-cation!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Gear Shot!

Gear shot

Someone recently noticed the ludicrous amount of spices I have and asked me why I have so many. My reply, in short, was "can you ever really have too many?" That's pretty much the way I feel about my collection of photography equipment as well.

Most of the stuff I have may seem like overkill, but honestly, I use just about every piece of equipment I have on a regular basis. That being said, I don't always use everything I have all at once, but if the need arises, I'm prepared for the situation. Having so many duplicates of things may seem like overkill to some, but actually, having exact duplicates of things I use on a regular basis just acts as an insurance policy. If a particular piece of hardware breaks, if batteries die, if a stand gets driven over by a TARC bus and so on and so forth, I can simply grab a replacement and keep shooting.

With flashes in particular, its important to have at least two of the exact same type. If you're shooting on location, and for whatever reason one stops working, its nice (not to mention efficient) to be able to grab another one and keep shooting. Ask any wedding photographer, location photographer or even a studio photographer and I can bet you most of them have backups of everything they regularly use.

I digress.

I took the above shot for a project in my girlfriend's Flickr group called the Artist's Eyes. The project was to take a photo of something that defines who you are. Since I'm sorta notoriously known for hefting around a truck load of speed lights and gear whenever I go out and shoot, I thought this shot seemed appropriate.

However, I can't take credit for the idea as it is actually my attempt at duplicating a shot I saw in Joe McNally's latest book, The Hot Shoe Diaries: Big Light from Small Flashes. I don't have nearly the amount of cool techy stuff that he does, nor the skill to represent it so stylishly as he did, but I liked it and wanted to try it out for my self.

While the shot might look difficult, it actually couldn't be simpler. I dialed in an aperture that I thought would give me the best depth of field for the shot. Then I adjusted my shutter speed to get an even exposure according to my D300's built in sensor, then dropped that shutter speed a few stops below that to under expose it just a bit.

I set my on camera pop-up flash to commander mode and "--" which means it won't contribute any light to the shot, it will just trigger the other flashes. Then I set all of the flashes (a mix of SB-800s and SB-600s) to TTL in camera on group A. I also made sure to position the sensor on each flash so that it would see the signal from my pop up flash. I then arranged the flashes in a manner that would light the entire area fairly evenly and took a test shot.

BING! All of the flashes fired and gave a pretty good even dispersal of light but I thought I could use just a little more fill light, so I placed another SB-600 out of frame camera left, and pointed it towards the ceiling. I set this flash to manual, at 1/8 power and group B. By using a different group than the lights in the shot, I could control the different output of my lights in the shot, and my fill light from my camera. Then I took another test shot...

Almost there! It still looks just a tad bit dark for my taste, so rather than adjust any of the flashes in the shot, I dialed +0.7 compensation on the camera which is a global setting affecting the flash and the camera exposure. This made the scene just a little brighter with just an adjustment in camera.

The final specs: f/11 at 1/5 sec ISO 400. I also used a tripod on this, but with all of the flashes, I could have just as easily hand held it.

This seems like a much lengthier process in writing than it really is. Actually taking the shot only took about 5 minutes. Organizing everything for the shot took a little more time than that. =)

Thursday, September 3, 2009

War Shooter and McNally

I stumbled across two great articles today and wanted to share...

The first one is by award winning Teru Kuwayama on how to be shooting in war zones and not get yourself shot. I have no desire whatsoever to do this kind of photography, but I highly respect those that put their own lives on the line to bring the world news and stories.

Number two, for those of you who don't have Joe McNally's latest book The Hot Shoe Diaries, Digital Photo Pro recently did a Q&A style interview with him where he posts a few shots and takes excerpts from his book to describe how he took them. Good, good reading here ...if you haven't picked up his book yet and you get into off camera lighting, then you are really missing out! Do yourself a favor and GET IT!