Who is the master of color photojournalism?

Some of the books by William Albert Allard that I own.
What is right? Simply put, it is any assignment in which the photographer has a significant spiritual stake…spiritually driven work constitutes the core of a photographer’s contribution to culture. – William Albert Allard – on the right photo assignment., Photographic Essay (American Photographer Master Series)

If you need some inspiration and want to learn from one of the all time best photojournalists, then you need to discover William Albert Allard.

Be sure and visit his website http://www.williamalbertallard.com/

Very few photojournalists have the ability to gain the access as Allard has done throughout his career. He started in 1964 by talking his way into the Amish community and capturing some of the most intimate photos ever taken of a culture that shuns photography.

I first discovered his work when I would open my families subscription to National Geographic Magazine. His imagery captured my attention and later I would study his work so much that I slowly discovered how his style worked.

First of all the best thing about the books and especially his latest book William Albert Allard: Five Decades is his honesty.  When I first met him he was more distant than when I encountered him later in his career. After you read the books you start to understand that he made some mistakes that he regretted, but learned from.

Allard has published 6 books.  Here is a link to them for you.

What is special about Allard is he is probably the only photographer I know that his entire career was spent working with color and being published in color.

What amazed me through all the years was how Allard would shave an exposure by small amounts to change the colors and therefore affect the mood of the photograph. By just underexposing or overexposing an image you can change the mood.  I learned this from all those years of being so absorbed by his work.

I think the best pictures are often on the edges of any situation, I don’t find photographing the situation nearly as interesting as photographing the edges. ~William Albert Allard

Allard really makes you feel like you are peeking in on some really intimate moments. So intimate are these moments that you start to wonder how did he gain the trust of the people to let him even in the room.

I have heard William Allard speak numerous times and have watched every piece of video with him in it that I can get my hands on. I can tell you he could tell you every secret of his and still no one could do what Allard does.

I think the main reason his photos are so powerful is his access. How he gets that access is all about something so innate that I doubt even he can articulate. He takes for granted how he doesn’t work his way into someone’s life as much as Allard is invited into their lives.

After you meet him there is something that makes you want to know more about him.

If a subject has a delicate surface to it, you do not want to go charging in there. You need to establish some kind of presence and understanding. I will say, ‘Try to forget I’m here. I won’t ask you to pose, I won’t ask you to do anything.’ It’s important that I just be allowed to be around, to be present. Photographing people requires a willingness to be rejected. So, I think the best approach is to be honest and direct. Very often, I tell them, “You don’t know me. There’s no reason why you should trust me…the only thing I can promise is that I’ll try to do the most honest work I can. Ultimately, it comes down to somehow being able to instill confidence. I don’t think you can bullshit your way into that, because a lot of these people can see through walls. If you want to photograph people, you’d better know something about them. [Allard often credits “Serendipity” for the success of his pictures.] I like to explore, to be sensitive to the rhythms of the moment. Exploration means seeking out what I think is there, and yet often finding something finer, something closer to the center, that no amount of research could have led me to. I tend to react more than direct. You have to be receptive [to your subject]. You have to care. You can’t do good work if you don’t care. That’s not necessarily a strength, but it gives you strength. – William Albert Allard, Photographic Essay (American Photographer Master Series) by William Albert Allard

Allard has made a living studying people and capturing them with his camera. Another way Allard uses these skills is in community theater as an actor. Allard is able to not just observe but take these observations and become a character.

If you don’t own William Allard’s books and you are wanting to photograph people you are missing the best possible photojournalist of our times.

4 Mistakes I Avoid Today

I like to arrive early and scout possible camera angles to use later. Nikon D3, Nikkor 14-24mm, ISO 6400, f/4, 1/200

This is the time of year for Christmas parties and New Year events.  Through the years I have screwed up and here are some things I now avoid.

1) Arrive on time

If a client asks you to arrive at a certain time, it may be right at the time of the event, giving you no time to scout the location. Always arrive early to give yourself some time to look around and know where some good camera angles might exist later in the event.

While I found a good angle, I later tried it and it wasn’t as spectacular as I thought it would be. I did however shoot from this angle with a different lens later. Nikon D3, Nikkor 14-24mm, ISO 6400, f/4, 1/100

2) Don’t get caught off guard

If I can I always bring more than I will need, because I have been burned more times than I can count.  Over the years I have bought a lens or two that I don’t use a lot, but the costs of renting them over and over verses the time I do use them made sense to buy them.  Having a backup flash helped me this year when my SB900 got over heated and later needed repair. I am glad I had the SB800 there to continue to get the photos.

Some things that I recommend in that list of items to have:

  1. Backup camera
  2. Backup lens or two. 
  3. Backup Flash
  4. Extra Fresh batteries
  5. Tripod
While I had to go to bed early so Santa would come when I was young, now I had to be ready at a moments notice to get the photo of Santa coming down the elevator.  I could of been up five floors when this happened or just under the elevator, but no matter where I was that night, until he came down I had to be in position with a lens to get the shot. Nikon D3S, Nikkor 24-120mm, ISO 12,800, f/5.3, 1/80

 3) Relying on available light

I started shooting years ago and prided myself on shooting in almost any situation without a flash.  As it says in the Bible pride comes before the fall.

Proverbs 16:18 “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.”

Using a flash to be sure you see your subjects face is important at times. I now use the flash to be sure I am not cursing myself as I am trying to fix it in post.

Where the pianist was sitting and how the light was on his face before I added the flash made him more to be a silhouette than anything else. My trusty “Voice Activated Light Stands” (my daughter or wife usually) pointed my Nikon Speedlight SB900 with the Radio Poppers PX radio system helping relay my Nikon Speedlight SU800 signal to the flash for TTL off camera flash. I balanced it to the room light.  Nikon D3S, Nikkor 24-120mm, ISO 2000, f/5.3, 1/60.

4) I’ll Fix it later in Post

If you look closely you will notice I used two of my “Voice Activated Light Stands” for this photo. I had no idea if there was going to be one or more folks with Santa getting an award. I had my wife and daughter holding the Nikon Speedlights off to the camera on either side pointed at the subjects. By the way to not look light just a lot of light I had one light turned up a stop more than the other to give some shape to the faces. The cool thing is with the Nikon Speedlight SU800 I was doing this from my camera and never had to go over to the “VALS” and change the power on the flashes themselves. Nikon D3S, Nikkor 24-120mm, ISO 12800, f/5.6, 1/400.

I cannot tell you how many times I have sat at my computer and wish I had done something with the lighting in the camera. You cannot fix everything in post. You have got to do everything possible to get the best possible image in the camera. Your goal should be that you have nothing to do to the RAW image other than convert it to a JPEG for the client. Anything more than this is compensating for a reason that you were unable to get it in the camera.

I used two of my “Voice Activated Light Stands” for this photo. Nikon D3S, Nikkor 24-120mm, ISO 10000, f/4.8, 1/320.