The Beauty of the Slideshow — Now Available to Everyone

Even before the Internet, I appreciated the slideshow. I created presentations with multiple projectors and audio, and I was always impressed with what the combined media could communicate. Even compared to video — where you move right through a moment so quickly you can miss the subtlety of it — the slideshow has its unique charms.

The problem, in the old days, was that you had to have the audience present to deliver the program; it was a lot of work for a small number of people. The printed page reached a much larger audience.

Today, with the Web becoming the leader in delivering the news, we are no longer limited to printed words and still images on the page. Rather than publishing a quote, we can deliver audio of the interviews and the experience, giving a story authenticity in a way that we couldn’t achieve before. We can create slideshows for everyone — to watch whenever they choose.

Those in radio, like NPR, are increasingly the keynote speakers at today’s journalism conferences. They are teaching their print-media brethren how to gather audio to improve the multimedia content on their Web sites.

For a while now, I have been working on gathering audio. I learned very quickly you need a good digital recorder and an excellent microphone. It also didn’t take long to realize if you don’t have your headphones on when you are recording, you will be surprised later at what you picked up or didn’t pick up.

I did one of my multimedia projects at a petting farm; my goal was to capture everything naturally. It was fun capturing the sounds of the animals and hearing Farmer Sue talk to her guests.

Later, I decided I wanted to put together a slideshow that helped to communicate what I do best — capturing the moment. Here’s that presentation.

Most recently, I have been in the Yucatan photographing the mission projects my church has been working on for the past 12 years. A small handful of members — electricians, plumbers and other skilled workers — work side by side with the locals to build churches, camps and water wells. Here you can see and hear the results of this project.

Two Reasons People Take Photos

This is an example of the type of photo the grandmother showed me on the plane, except I am closer than she was with her camera.

Sometime back while flying out of Dallas I was sitting by a sweet little grandmother. She had been visiting her grandchildren and was eager to talk about them. She showed me a snapshot of a red dot in the middle of someone’s front yard. The red dot (at least to her) was a compelling photograph of her granddaughter in a little red dress my new friend had made for the child.

All I could see was a red dot, but the grandmother could see, in her mind’s eye, the beautiful little girl and her handmade red dress. If I had made photographs like that one, while I was on my assignment, it would have been the last time I ever worked for that client!

That grandmother held a snapshot that was a memory jogger for her and those who already knew the little girl. A photograph that can communicate to anyone is something else altogether.

If my assignment had included that child I would have needed to show the cute little daughter up close enough for anyone to see for themselves how charming she was and perhaps through body language the child could let the viewer know how proud she was of her new dress.

I believe there are two main reasons people make photos:

  1. People take pictures to please themselves
  2. People take pictures to communicate something to others

Making photos for ourselves is pretty easy. We know right away if the photo was successful. Either we like it or we don’t. If we don’t like it we probably can figure out what would make it better. Photos we take for ourselves belong into the category of snapshots. They are intended for the family photo album to hold memories of vacations, birthdays and other of life’s special events.

One year I decided to help my father transfer the family movies to video. It was a pretty crude setup, but it worked. We projected the movies onto a screen and video taped them while our family watched the old movies. The video camera captured the comments we made as we watched the old films. The funny thing is every time we watch these videos together, the same comments are made by the family and we catch ourselves laughing at how these old pictures always trigger the same responses.

As I think back I realized that the older films, the ones made before I was born, don’t do much for me. You just had to be there for these snapshots to work.

Okay, so if we want our photos to communicate we must consider another person’s point of view. How can we attract and hold the attention of our audience? One way to learn to do this is by studying the work of photographers whose work does just that.

I suggest aiming for the top. If you like sports then open Sports Illustrated and study the photos. Ask yourself and others why these photos work. If you enjoy travel photography study National Geographic, Southern Living or other magazines that do a good job keeping paying audience.

There are some key elements that keep the viewer’s attention. Editorial photographers try to stop the viewer with their photographs. They want the photo to spark curiosity; to make us read the caption under the photo. A good caption will make us want to read the story.

Here I got much closer, simplified the background and all the color tones are in the brown family making for a nice monotone image.

Here are some of the key elements that distinguish a good photo from a snapshot:

Stopping power. The world is full of visuals vying for out attention. There are photos on products, TV, magazines, newspapers, the web… everywhere pictures, pictures and more pictures!

I believe the key is to show our audience something different. Most snapshots are shot from standing height and way too far away. Get down to the ground for a worms eye view or get up on something for a bird’s eye view. Get a lot closer. This will give our photo a little stopping power. It’s out of the ordinary. It’s a surprise.

Communication of purpose. Getting the attention must be followed by good content. People want to be amused, entertained or learn something from a photograph. We need to think about why we are taking a picture. If we aren’t sure, no one else will be either and we’ve made another snapshot.

Emotional impact or mood. Some folks can just tell stories better than others. The same is true with making photos, but we will make better photos if we consider how to bring more drama into them. The key to creating emotional impact is to first experience the emotions we wish to convey. We need to have a genuine interest in the subjects we photograph.

Our photos need to be technically correct, that’s understood, just as a musician is expected to at least play the right notes. But if the photo doesn’t draw the viewer in and move them in some way it’s like listening to a machine perform Chopin. What we choose to include or exclude makes up the graphical elements that can catch the viewer’s attention.

Remember a technically competent photograph often is no more than a technically competent snapshot and quite boring. Of course we must be sure the camera’s settings are correct, but this is only the beginning. We need to look for a new perspective, look for another point of view so that people will want to see more of our pictures rather than looking for ways to get out of enduring more snapshots.

How to Make the Most of a Mentor

Don Rutledge editing a coverage.

“I have three treasures which I hold and keep. The first is mercy, for from mercy comes courage. The second is frugality, from which comes generosity to others. The third is humility, for from it comes leadership.” — Master Po

“Strange treasures. How shall I hold them and keep them? Memory?” — Caine

“No, Grasshopper, not in memory, but in your deeds.” — Master Po

What makes a great mentor is an inquisitive student. I often think of the old TV series Kung Fu, where the main character has flashbacks to his childhood, asking many questions of his master. We do not see the master pressing the boy so much as we see the young boy seeking out the master’s wisdom. If you truly want to learn and are open to criticism, you can learn a great deal from a mentor.

I watched one of my mentors, Don Rutledge, mentor many people. I was privileged to work with Don and down the hall from his office. Don Rutledge was a staff photographer for Black Star and later worked covering missionaries around the world for Christian magazines. He traveled throughout the United States and in more than 150 countries.

Inside the Artic Circle, Alaska, an Eskimo family waits for visitors to arrive at their home. (photo by: Don Rutledge)

I watched, noticing that no matter who came by, Don made the time to sit down with the person and talk. They would bring their portfolios and mostly just want a job doing what he was doing. Most were just using Don; some were so bold as to go to Black Star trying to take his job. Many went on to prosperous careers but never called to thank Don — either for his wise counsel or his generosity in providing industry contacts.

Like everyone else, I sat down with Don and had him review my work. But where I gained the most valuable insight was when Don invited me to come along on some of his shoots. We took trips together where I would just watch him work and occasionally hand him a lens. This is where I was able to learn from a master of the craft.

John Howard Griffin changed his skin color to black for the research for his book Black Like Me. (Photo by: Don Rutledge)

I watched as Don would get out of the car and introduce himself to the subject. He would talk for a while with the person in a casual conversation, which was really an interview. He was listening and learning all he could. What would make a good photograph? What would be good quotes for the story? And by the way — his cameras were either in the car or in his bag during this time.

After each story, during our car ride back I would ask lots of questions and learn even more about what Don was thinking as he was working. When the contact sheets came back from the lab, we would go over the photos again. I only knew of a few photographers who sat down and looked through Don’s contact sheets and learned from him how he worked. Most were only interested in guidance about their own work; they didn’t know what they were missing.

A child in an urban poor area of Ohio confronts us with the realities of his life–his trophy of the streets. (Photo by: Don Rutledge)

When looking for a mentor, find someone who is at the top of the industry and has a personality and work that you admire. Show them your work on a regular basis and ask for advice. Ask if you can watch them work, and ask to help them. Most importantly, become friends with them for a lifetime; don’t just use people for your career development. And finally — give back, by mentoring someone yourself.

Don and his wife Lucy just couple years ago

“But Master, how do I not contend with a man that would contend with me?” — Caine

“In a heart that is one with nature, though the body contends, there is no violence, and in the heart that is not one with nature, though the body be at rest, there is always violence. Be, therefore, like the prow of a boat. It cleaves water, yet it leaves in its wake water unbroken.” — Master Po

How did I learn about Don? My uncle Knolan Benfield worked with him from 1969 to 1979. Knolan told me so much about Don that when I met him I thought I already knew him. Don had impacted Knolan’s work and improved his photography.

My master’s thesis was on Don Rutledge; you can read it here. It will take a minute to load.

What I learned from Don changed my life. Today I teach at colleges and workshops and, like Don, I am willing to help anyone, because Don showed me it was important. Ultimately, I learned why Don had given so much. It was because in giving we receive so much ourselves.

New Venture


I am helping a good friend of mine, Chris Gooley, market his software Photocore. It is an online database for people to store their images and search their images. They can give access to clients and friends through passwords and keep records of who visits their website and what they see and download.

We are in the beta versions of the software now and you can see it by going to my website www.StanleyLeary.com and clicking on . We hope to have this were you can license your images 24/7 365 days a year while you do your own thing. People can log on agree to a license and pay you for using your images.

Another function will be to order prints online. These two functions will help photographers turn their images which normally sit on their computer or in a drawer into profits.

I am going to be presenting this software to companies and individuals. If you would like a personal demonstration give me a call. Believe me PhotoCore is the most efficient way for photographers and agencies to catalogue and search their images from any where in the world.

Just what’s in the viewfinder

On my last trip abroad to Haiti I realized not knowing the language keeps me focused on just looking for images. This is great in many respects because I am trying to understand what is going on by watching visual cues and listening to the tone in people’s voices.
Since I do not really have language to clue me in about what is taking place, I am really more focused on what I should have been doing for years. I am seeing the situation my viewers will be seeing it. They cannot hear the conversations through the printed pages or on the web.
I spent a lot of time looking for interesting visuals because I had no idea what they were saying. I would smile and nod to those who I made eye contact with. Amazing how close I felt to people when I couldn’t talk to them.
This has helped to remind me the audience cannot hear and pick up on what is going on in a still image. I must really look for those moments which communicate visually intimate moments which bring the viewer closer. Photos get better when I realize I must concentrate on what is in the viewfinder. Sure understanding what is going on can help me anticipate better, but the end results still must be what is in the frame of the viewfinder.

Team Photos

Nikon D2X, Nikon 24-120mm ƒ/3.5-5.6, ISO 100, ƒ/16, 1/200

There are many ways to approach team photos for posters. For Georgia Tech’s football team the theme for the 2006 year is “Take Your Best Shot.” We made the photos at a boxing gym. What really made the photo was the players getting into the concept.

I have always thought people look their best with pleasant expressions or smiles in portraits. However, getting male athletes to smile has proven difficult in the past years. They all want to look tough and having an attitude like we see on MTV.

We embraced their attitude and what they want to portray about themselves in this photo. I think it works because it is a peak into their dreams.

Nikon D2X, Nikon 24-120mm ƒ/3.5-5.6, ISO 100, ƒ/14, 1/8

Women athletes smile much more than their male counterparts. They enjoy being the princess or queen for the day. Here they are on top of Atlanta with the Skyline behind them. It is like the last photo of the Disney movies where the Prince and Princess ride off into their kingdom. Their kingdom is Atlanta in this photo.

Cades Cove – Personal Retreat

Knolan Benfield, my uncle and professional photographer, and I took a few days to do what we love to do—photograph wildlife in Cades Cove.
“It is great to take time like this to put all those years of honing your craft to make a living and then spend some time shooting for yourself like this,” Knolan commented just before we finished our time in the Great Smoky National Park this past week.
When I first picked up the camera I shot for myself and it was a lot of fun. I then pursued this as a career. Over the years I knew I could do a better job, so I continued to go the workshops, seminars, read books and did a lot of self assignment tests to sharpen my skills.
It had been a while since I spent time photographing nature like this—back when all I shot was film. I would shoot and then look at the back of the camera, evaluating the image. I would pull up the histogram and look to see if it could be improved. We played with different white balance settings to see the outcomes of our efforts.
We just had fun.
Only another photographer would put up with all of our long shoots with 1 deer and a tripod. Most of our friends would think “haven’t you got enough already?”
What I noticed the most was the memories in my mind of conversations, bears we saw that turned and went in the woods before we could get our camera up and funny moments rejuvenate the soul.
I hope I do not take as long between this adventure and the next time I just shoot for myself.