“Windows to the Soul”

Reynaldo Cifuentes Velazquez, president of Café Justo – a coffee cooperative. He lives in Salvador Urbina, Mexico.
According to Dr. Martin Seligman, author of Authentic Happiness, there are two kinds of smiles, the “Duchenne smile” and the “Pan American” smile. Here is how Seligman describes the two smiles, “The first called Duchenne smile (after its discoverer Guillaume Duchenne) is genuine. The corners of the mouth turn up and the skin around the corners of your eyes crinkles (the crow’s feet). …The other smile, called the Pan American smile (after the flight attendants in television ads for now-defunct airline), is inauthentic.”
A Genuine Smile Goes a “Long Way,” was published by Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D in Mind Publication in 2002. Studying a high school year book researcher’s divided the class photos into the Duchenne and Pan American smiles, which by the way was almost 50/50. Then they followed up with the two groups at age 27, 43 and 52 and asked about their marriage and life satisfaction.
Father Flor Maria Rigoni is a missionary with the San Carlos Scalabrini and works in the town of Tapachula, Chiapas, Mexico. The pastoral mission of the Scalabrinians is the care of migrants.

The results showed that those with Duchenne smiles were more likely to be married and stay married. The finding was that a habit of genuine smiling may contribute to happiness and better adjustment in life. The researchers considered good looks and found this had no bearing, but genuine Duchenne smile did effect ones happiness in life.

Few people are more beautiful than those with a warm and natural (Duchenne) smile.
As a photographer I have learned how to recognize a natural smile and know how to get it most of the time out of subjects most of the time. Personally I cannot produce a genuine smile on command – yet.
Olga Sánchez Martínez runs an amputee shelter in Tapachula, Chiapas, Mexico.

A trick models use to learn how to control their face expressions and to get the eyes to be expressive is to look in the mirror and use a handkerchief to cover everything below the eyes. Before this can be effective you must know what you are looking for in expressions of the eyes.

Tyra Banks, the famous model and TV producer of America’s Next Top Model tell how to learn to smile with your eyes. She did a video for the NY Times Magazine on fame, her career and what every model needs to know. She talks about seven types of smiles in the video.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EdLZNeM3CH8]

Tyra says a big mistake people make is smiling with your mouth and not your eyes.
The muscles used to smile with the eyes are involuntary and normally only become engage in an authentic smile.
Photographer can help people to smile for the camera, but only about 50% of the folks will present that genuine Duchenne smile on command. So what do you do for the rest of the folks?
Luis “Pelayo” Manuel Diaz Perez, enjoys the hammick during an afternoon rain in Salvador Urbina, Chiapas, Mexico. Pelayo is a coffee grower and part of www.justcoffee.org a cooperative making it possible for the members to stay in Mexico with their families rather than migrating north.
A real smile arises from your own personal joy. A photographer must get the subject to think about subjects that make them happy. That’s why a pre-session consultation is important. During a consultation it’s easy to discover the makes them smile naturally. Perhaps it is their families or their hobbies. You’ll spot the genuine smile while talking with them. Just make notes and use the subjects when you photograph them. A trick I use is to ask them to tell me the name of the person they have just been talking about; invariably it brings a smile not only to their mouth, but the eyes smile, also.
Remember what Tyra Banks demonstrated where the eyes were smiling and not necessarily was it a big teeth smile to be a real smile.
After a while you will be able to get more than just the Duchenne smile but maybe all the 275 smiles that Tyra eluded to. Most research shows more than 50 types of smiles.

Tommy Bassett, tri-founder of www.justcoffee.org enjoying visit to El Aguila, Mexico to meet with the coffee growers.
Aaron Sorkin, “The West Wing” had Leo say to Bartlett “Act as if ye have faith, and faith shall be given to you. To put it another way, fake it till you make it.” It might just be a biblical principle. The writer of Hebrews 13:7 says, “Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.”
The windows to your soul are your eyes so learn to smile with them and not just your mouth, because people are drawn to people who exude happiness.
To many people a smile in a photograph is like location in real estate – it is the most important part of the deal.

Visual presentations for NGOs

Stanley Teaching
photo by Dennis Fahringer
If a picture is indeed worth a thousand words then a slide show is an entire book.
We’ve all endured dull evenings sitting in the dark looking at someone’s mind-numbing pictures of something they thought we would enjoy.
A slide show audience is usually a captive one; there is no escape. We owe it to those watching to present an interesting, educating even entertaining presentation.
Planning prior to the trip will change a deadly dose of the dulls into a motivating experience for the viewers.
We want know exactly what we will encounter when we arrive at the shoot, but there are some time-honored questions we’ll need to answer in order to tell the NGO’s story.
Listed below are a few guidelines that can help make a visual presentation people will appreciate and with a message they will understand.
Remember the purpose of the presentation: The presentation is to help the non-government organization. In any group, likely to see he presentation, there are possibilities for support for the NGO.
What is the GOAL?
It is to motivate people to action — be it prayer, giving or by becoming involved.
What is the REAL SUBJECT?
It’s people. Not buildings, wells, machinery nor the land. It is okay to photograph these things without people, but this shouldn’t be the focus. Present the NGO in human terms.
Who is the AUDIENCE?
Is it business people, civic clubs, the NGO’s support base, faith groups, agencies that give out grants? Make a list before the trip and look for tie-ins to these groups.
What’s the BUDGET?
What are the travel and post-production expenses? List other cost such as website.

Stay Specific:

Everything can’t be told. Pick the powerful images and subjects.
Perhaps show how the NGO has impacted a person or family. This approach helps the audience connect with those the NGO helps.

Use a storyline to arrange your coverage.

  1. Give an Overview of the Country
    1. Show the town
    2. Show the market place (show faces, how the people dress, their jobs)
  2. Highlight the work of the NGO
    1. Show a family
      1. Group photograph (dinner table)
      2. Individuals
    2. Show the NEEDS
      1. Why do they need the services of the NGO?
      2. What is being provided that meets a need: water, food and shelter?
    3. Show how the audience can support the NGO
      1. How they can volunteer
      2. Financial
        1. Equipment
        2. A Project
        3. Ongoing support of a person or family
  3. Specific Guidelines:
    1. Hold a visual on the screen for no more than ten seconds.
    2. Two to three seconds a shot is long enough for today’s TV and Internet savvy audience.
    3. A two to three minute presentation is ideal for the web. When presenting to a group give short presentations mixing these with a personal story or two. Allow time for questions.
    4. Write for the ear. Use short sentences.
    5. Record an interview and use sections of it in the presentation. People telling their story adds authenticity.
  1. DON’T
    1. Use too many pictures
    2. Show photos with exposure problems, with heads cut off or that need explaining. A picture should tell it’s own story.
  2. DO!!
    1. EDIT, EDIT, EDIT. Show the only the best.
    2. Use recorded script.
    3. KEEP IT SIMPLE!!!!!
  3. NOTES:
    1. Visual presentations are easy to update.
    2. Presentations should be tailored to fit the audience.
    3. Visual presentations can be used to get support for an NGO; also the NGO can use the presentation itself.
    4. Leave people wanting more. 

The Psychology of the Wide-Angle Lens

Some folks choose a telephoto lens to see how close a subject can appear to be – to say a bear, for instance. These same people doubtlessly chose a wide-angle lens so they can get-it-all-in the picture, usually a landscape picture.

If these people studied the work of professional photographers they would probably be surprised to find that the pros do just the opposite. A professional photographer picks the lens (tool) to use based on what that tool will allow him to do. It is the same for a professional carpenter; he picks a tool to carry out a certain task.

Get Closer 

Robert Capa, a famous war photographer once said, “If you pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” Mr. Capa wasn’t advocating the use of longer lenses, he was telling us to physically get closer, to become more involved and intimate with our subjects.

A telephoto lens and a wide-angle lens help us to tell the same story in different ways. The choice of which lens is like a writer choosing which words to use. It depends on what needs to be said.

A telephoto lens not only brings subjects closer to the viewer, it makes objects in the photograph appear closer together than in reality. A wide-angle lens does the opposite. Objects appear further apart than in reality.

Keeping the rendition of special reality in mind consider perhaps the most creative or powerful use of a wide-angle lens; when you are especially close to someone with a wide-angle lens a lot of the surroundings are included. This is great. The viewer sees not only the subject, but their environment as well.

Move closer with your feet
By using our feet and not just our zoom lenses to approach a subject we are able to make “environmental” portraits. We can now show what they look like and were they are and/or what they are doing. It is now easy for our viewers to relate to our subjects. The photo carries a great deal of information.

I love to show where someone works and what he or she does for a living. By getting close, the subject is predominate and not a little speck in the middle of a photo.

I can have the person pause whatever they are doing and just casually look at the camera and if I time it just right I can show them at ease with a pleasant expression. Being so close the photo becomes personal with the viewer because I became personal with the subject. You can’t communicate what you do not experience with the camera.

Why is a photo usually better when you are closer to the subject? The wider the lens the more you get this feeling of being there.

Problems to avoid
There are a couple of problems to be aware of in working with wide-angles this close to a subject.

1) It is difficult to use a wide-angle lens in tight without distortion of people and the surroundings. The wider the lens the more pronounced this problem. A moderately wide lens like a 28 mm is much easier to use than an extreme wide-angle like a 20 mm or wider. Of course, the wider lenses seem to help with creativity – when used correctly.

We’ve all seen shots where the walls look as if they are falling forward or backward or the clock on the wall and the place on the table are ovals instead of circles. This type of distortion, converging lines, can be used for good, but rarely; the general rule is to avoid these distortions. Practice helps.

Keep the subject out of the corners of the picture to avoid bending their head or body out of shape. Keep them out of the center as well since this creates a negative tension (but may be that’s what you want). Using the super wide-angle lenses is a real balancing act. Nothing is cut and dried in creative work and that’s why two photographers can cover the same story and their pictures will be nothing alike.

2) Another problem, if these weren’t enough, with up close and personal wide-angle shots has nothing to do with technical evils. Working this close to someone can make you awfully uncomfortable. This feeling will transfer to the up close person causing another problem.

To avoid this “in your face” quandary, remember some of these tricks to keep you comfortable while close.

Tips on getting people to relax
First, tell them what you are going to do and get their permission before you move in for the shot. A funny thing happens when you do this—they usually get a little excited, are cooperative and feel like they are a part of the making of the photograph rather than just the subject.

Second, they understand that you (and/or your client) consider them valuable and that you think enough of them that you want their picture. You want to include them in the project.

Third, most people (regardless of what they may say) are flattered when they are asked to be in a photo, however, they need help to make it enjoyable.

Using a telephoto lens you can make a great head and shoulders portrait with good perspective, but it can be too selective, to narrow a view, to tell a story about a person. It is possible and it depends on what you want to say and the circumstances of the shoot.

Working close to people with wide-angle lenses tells their story in an intimate and personal way.

Watch the distortion, the composition, the projecting of uncomfortable feeling to your subject as a result of working so close, use the background to help tell the story, keep your eye on the ball, your shoulder to the wheel, tote that barrel, lift that bail, load sixteen tons and if all this seems to freak you out—call me. When the pipes are clogged or the water heater leaks I get freaked out. That’s why I call a plumber.

Photographing Fireworks

Good fireworks photos have one thing in common – good foregrounds.

The fireworks are way up in the sky, of course, but what you put between you and the fireworks can make the difference between an okay photograph and a great shot.

During the 1976 Bicentennial Celebration at New York harbor some photographers used the Statue of Liberty in the foreground of their fireworks pictures. In Philadelphia some photographed the fireworks in the sky over Independence Hall. These pictures truly captured the mood and meaning of the celebrations because of the foregrounds chosen. 


The most difficult part of using a foreground is balancing the exposure between it and the fireworks themselves. Since it is impossible to know the correct or preferred exposure for the fireworks it is impossible to know in advance how to balance the exposure for the foreground. While this may be done “on the spot” an assistant or two would be necessary because of shortness of time of the fireworks show. To solve this problem use a foreground object that will work as a silhouette.


Prior to the event try to find out where the fireworks will be launched. Then visit the site before the show and look around. Sometimes the best location could be really far away and shot with a telephoto lens.

Pick your spot carefully because there will not be time to move once the excitement begins.

It’s hard to know how high the fireworks will go before they explode or how big they will be when they do. So after the first couple of shots check the composition. Make sure it’s not too loose and the fireworks are too small or too tight that they are going outside the frame. 

Equipment and Exposure 

A sturdy tripod and a cable or remote release are needed for successful fireworks photographs.

Start with the camera on the lowest ISO (100 or less). Set the aperture at ƒ/8 or ƒ/11 and the shutter speed on bulb (this keeps the shutter open for as long as the shutter release is held down; hence the need or a cable or remote release to avoid camera shake).

A small flashlight is a nice addition to you equipment for the shoot.

Take a shot or two then check the exposure. It should be close, but tweaking it a little should make the colors pop.


As soon as you hear the sound of the firework being launched open the shutter and hold it open for two or three bursts before releasing it. Blues don’t photograph as well as reds or greens, so hold the shutter open longer for a blue burst. For different effects change the length of time the shutter is open.

Out of around one hundred shots of a typical show twenty or so should be excellent photos.

The really cool thing about this – an expensive camera isn’t needed. Any camera that accepts a shutter or remote release, can be set to “bulb” and has a tripod socket should work. Many of the point and shoot cameras will work nicely.

So check it out before show. Find a spot with a workable foreground. Take a plethora of pictures. Isn’t digital great – no film cost!