Invest in Preparedness with a Point-and-Shoot Camera

The making of great photographs requires an investment. We need a camera, computer, software and, possibly, we need to attend classes to learn how to use all this equipment.

Should we buy a Mac or a PC? Which camera should we buy — Nikon, Canon, Leica, Hasselblad? Which workshops or photo books do we require? We’ll need to read reviews of these products before making the investments.

However, the No. 1 investment a photographer can make isn’t about gear or training. It’s to invest your time and, as the Boy Scouts put it, “be prepared.”

Always Ready

National Geographic photographer Jim Brandenburg moved to the forest edge in order to have more time photographing wolves and other animals. He wanted to be ready when the time came to make those outstanding photos.

National Geographic photographers and writers usually spend three months on an assignment. They take a break in the middle of the shoot, come home and review their work. This gives them time to pause and reflect, so they can go back and fill in any gaps or expand parts of the coverage.

We can’t always devote three months waiting for great photo ops, but like Jim Brandenburg, we can be ready when the time comes.

How? By always having a camera with us.
Point and Shoot

The problem, of course, is that the size, weight and bulk of the best-we-could-buy camera we own, not to mention the ancillary gear, can make that difficult.

That’s why many professional photographers have invested in point-and-shoot cameras. These small, pocket-sized cameras are as tiny as the old Kodak Disc cameras introduced back in 1982. Today’s point-and-shoots have resolutions that rival the medium format film cameras, enabling you to enlarge to mural-size prints.

About a month ago, I bought a Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5 — and I have been busy learning all that it can do ever since. In the process, I have rediscovered the excitement I felt when I first began taking pictures.

It is so small, I now carry it everywhere. While waiting for my food at restaurants, I enjoy playing with the camera’s cool macro mode. It is fun just photographing saltshakers and other small objects on the table. Discovering interesting compositions and watching how the light affects these objects is a joy.

The depth of field is much greater than with larger 35 mm digital cameras. The ƒ-stop of the ƒ/3.3 on my little Lumix (wide open) compares approximately to ƒ/22 on a 35 mm.

On the other extreme, this little camera has a 10 to one zoom! That’s equivalent to a 300 mm lens, and it fits in my shirt pocket. A 300 mm lens for a 35 mm camera weighs six pounds and is over 10 inches long.

At times during the past month, I have wondered why I have all this professional gear at all — because I am able to do so much with this little camera.

Pros and Cons

As I’ve used it more, however, I’ve gotten a clearer sense of the pros and cons.

For example, even with vibration reduction, these cameras are exceptionally tricky to hold steady. A tripod is a great help.

Additionally, for most of these cameras, obtaining a shallow depth-of-field is impossible. My advice: learn to live with it.

The camera manuals are not written as they are for traditional cameras, either. You will need to not only read the manual, but practice what it preaches using all the available functions to discover what each mode will do. These cameras have many modes that take some time to understand.
Having said all this, I’ve found that carrying this camera helps me to see and make photos more often; it fine-tunes the eye.

Of course, carrying a camera all the time can cause some minor problems with your family. As my son joked last night as I took his photo at a restaurant, “It’s like having your own personal paparazzi!”

Don’t forget anything


It is critical when I go on photo shoots that I remember anything I might need. It is very frustrating when you are on a photo shoot to realize what you need you not only own, but you left it at home. Backups are also very important. You need a backup camera, lenses, flashes, backgrounds and the list goes on.

Tomorrow I have two major executive photo shoots. In the morning I will be photographing the Executive Committee of Chick-fil-A and in the afternoon the CEO of Merial.

Not only doing I have equipment packed and ready I will have two photo assistants to help me through the day. I need to have eyes on each flash to be sure it is working throughout the photo shoot. I need people helping me make the clients feel they are being taken care of in every possible way.

I need assistants also to help me unpack all this gear and set it up and then take it all down and pack it back into the van.

They key to being successful is like being a good boy scout–be prepared.

Spring is here

Returning on Friday evening from Virginia from Spring Break I noticed more and more blooms as we got closer to home. As I was taking our luggage in the front door I heard little chirping out of the bush as I walked in. Up higher than me in the bush was a female cardinal sitting on her eggs.

Tomorrow is Easter where we celebrate Jesus who defeated death for us. It is a time of rebirth for so many and seeing the Cardinal attending her duties as mom is such a pleasant thing to see today.

What about the audience?


Figure 1 We start young enjoying images and expressing ourselves this way.


Back in June 2006 I wrote about Effective Multimedia piece (link)

As professional communicators we usually determined who our audience is, but have we considered how the how they learn?

Today 69% of Americans are visual learners. That only leaves 31% who learn from press releases, articles and other words-alone means of communication. Here is some research on the subject: (link to article)

Successful visual communication is measured not only by aesthetic, but also by the audience’s comprehension. Visual communicators know how to use images to create a sense of tranquility or a feeling of foreboding and tension and everything in between.



Figure 2 My typical gear for a multimedia piece is quite simple. I have other lenses and microphones, but this is the core equipment needed.

Combining the visual and audio compounds and improves the learning process. Picture a photograph of a landscape (pun intended). Photos taken as the light plays over it through the day, the evening and into the night awaken different emotional feelings in the viewer.

Just as changing light impacts a scene so do changes in audio will affect words. The same sentence read by several people using different emphasis and voice inflections can totally change the meaning of the sentence.

Combine these two powerful forms of communication and the outcome is magnified as compared to either one alone.

Many times the still image is more powerful than the moving image simply because it IS still… it “captures the moment.” But there are times when the movement is most powerful.

It takes more time to produce video images than still images. Therefore video images are more expensive. Gathering audio without video is much easier and cheaper. Recording in really close with an inexpensive microphone and recorder only requires one person. To obtain the same quality in a video requires a special microphone and usually two people – more money.

A BIG advantage of multimedia is one person can make the photos and then the same person can do an interview and combine it with the images for the final presentation.

The time and costs are much less than for a video production. As a rule it costs about three to five times more to produce a two to ten minute piece in video than audio/still photo (multimedia) project.

Forget costs for a moment. The New York Times, The Washington Post and even National Public Radio have discovered—the multimedia piece is effective.

Since the web has become the central nervous system for many organizations using the printed word alone is not the most effective medium to communicate with today’s audience.



Figure 3 Photo Tip: Take photos right around dusk and dawn of lighted signs and buildings for a more dramatic look.

Here are a few other reasons for using multimedia (still images and audio) instead of video. A two-minute package for the web for a multimedia package might be about five to seven meg file. The same length of video is thirty to fifty meg file. If you have space issues or the bandwidth of your audience is small video may just be impractical.

The multimedia package file is smaller than video, but the image size isn’t. Usually, the video screen isn’t large enough and the frame rate isn’t high enough on the Web to capture the nuances of emotion that make some talking-head interviews on television compelling. The composition needs to be is shot tight and show faces mainly.

However, the still image can be larger and still capture the nuances of emotion. Video over the web is supplying at least fifteen frames a second or 1800 images for a two minute video verses a two minute multimedia package will have thirty to sixty frames total on average.

If: (1) 69% of the audience learns visually.

(2) More people can view a multimedia package than video.

(3) More audience is reached regularly with a multimedia package.

(4) While video is effective, it isn’t as effective on the web as on TV if the audience doesn’t have a really high-speed connection.

(5) While text is easier to deliver over the web—whose reading it?

Conclusion: Choose multimedia not because it cost less, but because it is often more effective.

Here is an example I did recently for Chick-fil-A http://www.stanleylearystoryteller.com/DaddyDaughter

Artist Thomas Swanston

The past two days I was in what I would call Spring Training. The corporate communications staff at Chick-fil-A got together for a retreat at Serenbe. Serenbe is a planned community that is a community of people living in a community of trees.

So we had a retreat there to go over what we call our play book. How we engage with our clients so we become partners with them in their communication. The end result is because we come along side of them we help them find a stronger voice for their passions and stories. We also discovered sometimes we help them discover the diamonds in the rough of their fields.

We divided into teams and talked to some of the businesses in town for our workshop where we were able to practice our play. My group worked with the artist Thomas Swanston of http://www.studioswan.com.

We realized his work was outstanding, but thought we could help him tell the story of why he creates his art. This is our first attempt with the artist where he tells us in his own words why he paints as he does.

http://www.stanleylearystoryteller.com/swanston/soundslider.swf?size=2&format=xml&embed_width=400&embed_height=300

Celebrations & Concerns


One of the really cool things my Sunday School class does each Sunday is to start the class off with Celebrations and Concerns. We take as much time as we need on this. Usually anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes where everyone is invited to give us some celebration or concern.

What I like most about this is knowing the real reason we come together is for a relationship with each other and ultimately to God. So by sharing with each other we take the time to build our relationships. We end each Celebration and Concern time with prayer. We take all these we write on our board each week and pray for them.

Also, each week someone writes all this down and sends an email blast out to our class. If you were there or missed the class you get a friendly reminder about out prayer list. I figure for most of our class we take a moment and pray again for those on the list.

For me this is worship and one of the biggest reasons I am involved in a faith community. Having a personal relationship with people and time with God.

Teaching is a great way to learn

After Tiger Woods won the Master’s the first time he felt he could still improve his game. Tiger went back to the fundamentals of the game; he worked on his swing.

Tiger is not the only professional athlete practicing the fundamentals of his game. Each year major-league baseball teams begin spring training where they discipline themselves in the fundamentals of baseball. They’re doing pretty much what those kids in little league are doing – practicing the basics.

How often do professionals, other than athletes, revisit the fundamentals of their profession? Teachers are taught how students learn. This enables them to pass on the essentials of a subject in a way that their students understand them. To do this a teacher must know their subject extremely well. I stumbled upon the genuine benefits of being plunged back into the nuts and bolts of photography when I started teaching what I do to college students.

In the past few weeks I’ve had the pleasure teaching others the basics of lighting and business practices for photography. At the Art Institute of Atlanta I worked with those pursuing photography as a profession. Later, teaching in Kona, Hawaii at the University of Nations Photography Program, I taught students from all over the world who were learning to communicate visually. In Fort Worth, at The Southwestern Photojournalism Conference, I spoke to a group of my peers about business practices in photography. I was the one who learned the most in these places. Teaching your profession requires a lot of thought about how you do what you do. In every profession there are those who know enough to “get by” and in their jobs. Some of these folks probably don’t know why certain things work – just know they do. Odds are they’ve never tried to teach anyone what they do (and let’s hope they don’t).

I received my masters in communications from a school where program was in the education department. We communications majors were required to take classes in teaching. We studied how people learn at different ages. They helped us learn how to package information so that it communicated to a particular audience. In 1985, while working with a missionary organization, I was assigned to teach missionaries how to take better pictures and put together interesting slide shows. I have taught in colleges, to camera clubs and other groups ever since those early days. Over the years I have had to find effective ways to present the fundamentals and help people improve their skills with their cameras.

I believe teaching is one of the best ways to improve in this, and probably any other, profession. It’s up-close and personal. If you spot a puzzled expression in the class you know you didn’t get some point across to that person.

If, as a professional communicator, you see that puzzled expression in meetings with clients or in committee meetings and you think you might be seeing it too often, maybe it’s time to teach.

Learning how to teach the basics of communication can’t help but improve your professional skills and it just might help you get that important point across to your client or that significant committee.

(Photo credit top Dennis Fahringer, middle Morris Abernathy, bottom Dennis Fahringer)

The Psychology of the Telephoto Lens

Nikon D3S, ISO 200, f/5.6, 1/125, & 300mm using a Alienbees 1600 Flash for fill flash.

“What I need is a telephoto lens.” We’ve all said this. It doesn’t take long to discover we can’t get close enough to our subjects with a “normal” lens.

If you have kids in sports or the performing arts or if your interest is photographing birds or wild animals either rules or common sense keep our subjects just too far away for interesting photos without a long lens.

Professional photographers reach for their telephoto lenses for the same reason – to fill the frame with the subject.

If they can, the professional photographer may use their longer lenses to tie a subject to its soundings. In an earlier blog post (here) I talked about using wide-angle lenses to show a person in their environment. This can still be accomplished with the use of remote control cameras put in place prior to an event. A remotely controlled camera taking pictures up close of a lion feeding on a carcass beats than risking your life.

Depth-of-field

One of the most creative tools a photographer has is controlling depth-of-field. Depth-of-field is simply the area in focus in front of and behind the point focused of focus. Telephoto lenses have shallow depth-of-field as compared to wide-angle lenses. With either lens the smaller the f-stop (f/16 vs. f/8) the deeper the depth-of-field. Of course, the reverse is true. With either type of lens the depth-of-field is shallower the more open the f-number (f/4 vs. f/5.6).

Nikon D3S, ISO 200, f/1.4, 1/1600, & 85mm using a Nikon SB900 off camera triggered by Nikon SU800 for fill flash.
This is a crop of the above photograph.  You can see the tip of the nose and just behind the eyes are out of focus.  This is what we call a shallow depth of field.

By controlling (limiting) the depth-of-field you can force the viewer ‘s attention to only what you want them to see. Take a picture of a football receiver catching the ball. If everything was sharp (large depth-of-field) it would be difficult to distinguish the main subject from everything. However, if the same picture were made using a telephoto lens with a shallow depth-of-field The player and the ball would “pop.”  You would have isolated the player and the ball from the rest of the picture, thus calling attention to what you want the viewer to see.

Portrait photographers use medium telephoto lenses to call attention to the face and not the background both in indoor and outdoor portraits.

When you increase the depth-of-field with a telephoto lens, more in focus from front to back of the photo, it will make things appear close together from foreground to the background. The wide-angle lens makes things appear farther apart. Objects in a photograph made with a telephoto lens make those objects appear closer together than in “real life.” The longer (more powerful) the lens the closer together they will appear as well as closer to you. It’s a powerful tool. You can use it to make all kinds of statements.

Sports

Nikon D2X, ISO 200, f/4, 1/1000, & 840mm

A sports photographer may use this technique to show a baseball pitcher in his windup; the scoreboard in the background shows a full count and the bottom of the 9th; You can see, again from the score board brought up close behind the pitcher that it is a no-hitter. Now that’s a story telling and powerful photograph all because of the creative use of telephoto lenses and selective focus.

If the photographer had used a shallow depth-of-field you couldn’t read the scoreboard or if a wide-angle lens was used the scoreboard would have been too far away to read.

Nikon D2X, ISO 400, f/6.3, 1/2500, & 840mm

In portrait photography a medium telephoto lens shows faces in a normal perspective as compared to the distortion a wide-angle lens. A moderate telephoto lens of say 80mm to 100mm lens on a 35mm camera will put you about five to seven feet from the subject for a head and shoulder’s photograph.


Wildlife

When photographing wildlife the rule of thumb is to use a minimum of 300 mm lens to fill the frame. You don’t want to be five to seven feet from wildlife. That’s why wildlife photographers use 400mm, 500mm, 600mm or even as long as 800mm lenses.

When you begin to shop for a telephoto lens you’ll find many choices for the same focal length lens. Nikon makes lenses that cost a few hundred dollars on to up to $25,000. The ƒ-stop (aperture) is a big factor in the cost. The lower the number (faster the lens) the more expensive and heavier the lens. 

Fast Lens

There are two advantages to the faster lenses. First of all the faster lenses, like ƒ/2.8, allow taking photos in less light. This is important for the wildlife photographer in the woods at dawn or dusk when the animals are out. 

Nikon D2X, ISO 400, f/2.8, 1/1000, & 400mm

The second advantage of the faster lenses – they allow for more shallow depth-of-field.

It is possible to rent these longer, faster lenses from some rental houses in major cities instead of buying them.

Before mounting a lens on your camera ask yourself, “What do I want to say with this picture? What effect will help me to communicate this message to my audience?

What lens will it be?

When you reach for a telephoto lens, it may be for more than just to make the subject appear closer. Just as wide-angle lenses not only include more stuff, any lens is a tool that can be used to make your point.