Digital Photography – A Real Stimulus Package

My grandparents, aunts and uncles at Christmas in the 60’s

Ebenezer Scrooge would have loved digital photography.

Before his ever-faithful nephew gave him a digital camera Old Ebenezer would say, “Bah! Humbug! Every time I press that button it cost me money. And for what, fuzzy photos for future memories, assuming I want to remember any past Christmas.” (I know, I know, there weren’t any cameras in Victorian England… I’m just making a point here.)

Scrooge was right; back in the jolly of days of photographing Christmas with film it did cost us money every time we pushed that button. This had a great influence on how we made photos.

My family’s roots have a good amount of Scotch-Irish Penny-pinching heritage. Maybe your family used the camera like we did. We could squeeze a whole year of events on one roll.

In order to get as much for our film money as we could we wouldn’t waist a shot. We’d dress everyone in their Sunday best, make sure the sun was shining on their faces, backup to include as much as possible, have everyone look at the camera and say cheese. Then the one taking the picture says, “Ready, one, two, three …” then snap the shutter… once.

At Christmas we all gathered at our grandparent’s house. For the annual Family Christmas Photo we’d pull the sofa out from the wall, fill the sofa with the grandparents and grandkids and arrange everyone else – by height – behind the sofa. Next we put the camera on a tripod and set the self-timer. This was an important event so we’d take two shots to be sure we had it.


That’s me on the far left with all my cousins.

Ebenezer, before he got his digital, would have been pleased, well, at least he would have appreciated the economy of it all.

Now I don’t want to imply that digital photography is cheaper. You’ve got to buy a digital camera. While the simpler ones can be inexpensive, if you get serious about it, the cost of a whoop-t-do SLR digital camera can make you whish we were back in the days of film.

Next you need a computer, but most of us have one already. Then you need some software, but unless you’re serious about your photography you can get by with the software that comes with the camera.

However, the cost to shoot one photo is the same as making hundreds of photos when it comes to digital. Now we can take lots and lots of photos, pick the best ones and delete the rest.

This Christmas instead of having everyone stop what he or she is doing and look at the camera (or line-up behind the sofa) just photograph them as they are. Take photos of people interacting with each other this holiday season. Isn’t this why we look forward to this time of year—rekindling of relationships?


My daughter reacting to a present at her birthday party.

This season look at the edges of that LCD (screen) on the back of the camera just before you shoot. Do you need the back of Uncle Henry’s baldhead in the corner of the picture? Is that Aunt Mary’s foot sticking in the side? Do I need it in this picture? If my subject is my grandmother on the other side of the crowded room do I need all those folks facing all directions between my camera and her? Maybe I should zoom in or move closer or both.

But what if you do want the Christmas tree in the photo with the family? Move around and find an angle where the main subject is obvious and the complimentary subjects don’t take over the photo. Try being sure the main subject is closer to the camera and the other things are further away is one way.

Remember when people are talking—someone is listening. Be sure to take many photos so you can capture not just the enthusiasm of the talker, but also the interest (or not) of the listener. Wait for the conversation to switch and the roles reverse and make more photos.

Make pictures of people cooking, relaxing, in conversation with each other. Take photos of the outings to the ice rink, skiing, or whatever your traditions may be this season rather than just the posed shots.

Over time and through the years you will see some patterns. I had an uncle who took photos of my Dad each Christmas with his car. For several years my uncle made pictures of my Dad with his head under the hood of whatever car he had that year. It made a funny series when my uncle put them together in a slide show for the family one year. Here is David working on his Ford, here he is working on his Chevy, here his is with a new car…

So why is digital photography a real stimulus package? Because even Scrooge would take many more photos with his digital camera since it no longer cost more each time the button is pushed.

This digital stimulus package will improve your family photos and with no additional cost to take lots of pictures so you can edit down and just keep the good ones.

Keep your camera battery charged and remember to get those photos off the camera and into the computer so you can make even more memorable moments this holiday season.

Happy Holidays!

Learning from the Masters

Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery…
Last week someone said to me, “I love the Rembrandt lighting you used in the portrait of our CEO.” A day or so after that a photographer friend of mine mentioned that she could see Eugene Smith’s influence in my photography.
Well, I don’t mind telling you I felt really good. Those familiar with the work of Eugene Smith know how flattered I felt.
As my interest in photography developed (pardon the pun) I became fascinated with the work of great photographers. I studied their work until I felt I knew why they were considered Greats.
Several years into the profession I was privileged to work with Don Rutledge; an extraordinary photographer. Don had an encyclopedic knowledge of photographers both legendary and contemporary. 
 “Writers,” Don would say, “can talk at length about famous writers, but most photographers don’t know anything about the greats in our field. How can they expect to learn if they don’t study”?
An interest in learning from the masters can turn a trip to an art museum or a stroll through local art galleries into an exhilarating adventure.
What kind lighting did the painter use: Was it midday sun, window light or was it a single candle creating the mood?
Why did the artist choose this moment, that expression, those surroundings? This is a fascinating study and it all comes back to you as you are composing a photo a few days or even years later.
Just studying what was done alone doesn’t help much. It is necessary to learn how to replicate what you’ve learned. This knowledge along with your own way of “seeing” will one day result in your own style.
The best advice I ever received about developing a style of my own was, “Don’t worry about it.” That’s easy for some well-established pro to say to a fledging photographer.
However, he was right. Sure enough, someday someone will say how much they like your style. Don’t say, “Oh wow! I didn’t even know I had a style.” Be cool.
The style we see in other’s work is usually apparent in the way they handle (1) Lighting, (2) Composition and (3) the Moment.
Lighting creates mood. The warm light of an evening campfire sets the mood. What do we include in the photo we are about to make? What do we exclude? Is the girl facing the fire lost in thought when we shoot or is she looking into the shadows the texture of her skin catching the light? Do we wait to see her eyes or capture that tilt of her head that seems to say so much?
I cut my teeth in photography using the available light. It was a good five years before I started experimenting with studio lights. This was a good because I learned to see what is natural and then I learned to duplicate it with artificial lights.
Making a photograph that grabs the attention of the viewer is a good thing, but learning how to hold that attention can take time. Something that holds attention is called “the decisive moment.”
It’s easy to know the decisive moment in sports photography. A basket is made or the pass is caught. Knowing the decisive moment and capturing it with the camera is not exactly the same thing, but the capturing part can be learned.
At first glance a committee sitting around a conference table brings to mind all the excitement and action of a chess match. However, there is action there to capture just as in a sports event albeit more like golf than rugby. Still, there are pivotal moments that tell the story of what is transpiring in the meeting.
Some of the photographers I’ve studied and continue to study are: James Nachtwey, William Albert Allard, Sebastião Salgado, Dave Black, Eugene Smith, Carolyn Cole, Joanna Pinneo and Don Rutledge.

Google these names and check them out yourself. If you know of others whose work you appreciate please send me an email and let me know who they are. I am always looking to improve and grow.

Three Useful Doohickeys

Some communications professionals shoot their own pictures instead of hiring a professional photographer.

Whatever the reason for doing it themselves here are a few things they need to watch for and correct: 1 – Is the color correct? 2 – Are there dust spots in the pictures? 3 – Are the photos truly sharp?

Let’s look at these potential problems and see how to avoid them.

Number One:

Color calibrate the computer used when working with the photographs.

Here is a list of just a packages that will do the job:

* Pantone huey – $89

* Spyder3Express Color Calibration System – $89

* X-Rite Eye-One Display LT Color Management Solution – $139

ColorSpace Chart

Calibrating a monitor is adjusting it to a known color
space. There are a few different color spaces that are standards. The figure to the left gives a few. All devices have tolerances. Calibrating is basically adjusting the monitor to the closest known factor. The software places a color target on the monitor and uses the hardware sensor to read the color and make the adjustments automatically.

A CRT monitor (similar to older TVs) must be calibrated more often than a LCD flat screen. For a good illustration as to why monitors should be calibrated step into a store showing the same signal on several TVs and look at the variety of colors.

Now that the monitor is calibrated adjustments made to the pictures themselves will be more accurate in color, contrast and brightness. Calibration also cuts the number of surprises emerging from a printer.
Sensor ScopeNumber Two:

Cameras with interchangeable lenses (SLRs) need to have the sensor cleaned of dust. Many local camera stores offer this service for about $50.

I use the Delkins Sensor Scope Kit to service my cameras
myself. It comes with a magnifier that lets you see the dust on the
sensor once the mirror is locked up for cleaning. (See the illustration
on right) Here is a link to their website
There is a video on how to clean your sensor.

Clean sensors saves a lot of time spent in PhotoShop just repairing the
damage caused by dust. Often, with dirty sensors, a dust spot will be
almost impossible to remove with the software.


Number Three:
The last step – calibrate your lenses. No matter what camera/lens you buy, it’s almost certainly been mass-produced.

Even with the close tolerances adhered to by the better manufacturers; it is rare that perfection is achieved. If the camera body is “off” by a fraction and so is the lens the combination produces an image that is
soft. To be sure this is not the case the lens must be calibrated.

One tool for this is the LensAlign that sells for $179.

Here is a video for you to see how this works:

If all this takes more time and effort than is practical perhaps the communications professional should just hire me and let me worry about (and take care of) all this for them.

Shooting a Sphere Panoramic

This is a photo of me taken by my Uncle Knolan Benfield while I was shooting a Sphere Panoramic.

This shows the tripod head with the camera, special head and camera with 16mm lens. Here is the shot from this:

Clayton State University Center

Here are a few more for you to see:

Winshape Retreat – Courtyard

Winshape Retreat – Lower Patios

Georgia Tech College of Management Courtyard

LeCraw Auditorium at Georgia Tech


[vimeo w=549&h=309]
My friend Tony Messano talks about what he looks for when he hires a photographer in this video clip. Here is his website
The difference between two parties who compromise or collaborate is huge.
Compromising leads to disappointment with all parties. When the parties come together they have a creative idea or solution for a problem. Each party wants their idea out there more than the other one. In this scenario a watered down version of both ideas emerge. In the end no one is satisfied with the solution.
Collaboration isn’t about negotiating solutions. It starts where the parties come together and listening to each other. They are open to new ideas. This is where everyone realizes that alone no one gets their ideas implemented, but by partnering with others they can accomplish their goals.
Rowing is a good illustration on how to collaborate. It is the oldest intercollegiate sport in the United States.
The Harvard-Yale Boat Race or Harvard-Yale Regatta is an annual rowing race between Yale and Harvard universities. It is America’s oldest collegiate athletic competition. It takes place each year on Thames River, New London, Connecticut.
In this sport the team must work together. Each person has to stay in sync with his teammates. For me it is the perfect picture of collaboration.
If just one person is out of sync the team suffers.
When a client hires me they expect collaboration and not compromise. Trust is the foundation of this process. You must first trust to your clients, lower your barriers and be exposed.

Listen. Take notes while listening to the client. Note taking prevents you from responding to quickly with your ideas. Active listening means you ask questions to clarify and be sure you have their perspective. You may want to paraphrase their idea and ask if you have it right.
The key is understanding what they want to accomplish. You need to also listen and learn where they have very little room for flexibility. When the client feels like you know what they want and the parameters they are under you have the necessary information to be able to collaborate.
Meeting and exceeding the client’s expectations is easy, if you listen and check with the client to be sure you understand their project.
Many clients will have done an excellent job articulating their project from the very beginning. You still need to explore with them to understand how much flexibility they have. You still need to articulate their project in your own words. Skip this step and you will experience friction with the client.
All things being equal, people want to do business with their friends. True friends collaborate rather than compromise.

The Ten-Thousand Rule

Malcolm Gladwell tells us The Ten-Thousand Rule is a key component to how successful we are.

In his book Outliers Gladwell points to a 1990s study of violinists done by psychologist K. Anders Ericsson.

Ericsson and his colleagues divided the violinists at Berlin’s elite Academy of Music into three groups: great players, good players and those unlikely to play professionally and intended to be school teachers. The different groupings of musicians were asked. “How many hours have you practiced since you first started playing?”

Most of the fiddlers began when they were about five. By the age of twenty the great players had put in ten thousand practice hours; the good students about eight thousand and the future music teachers had fiddled around for four thousand hours.

In his book Gladwell relates how the Beatles, Bill Gates, Bill Joy and other extraordinarily successful people have not only put in the ten thousand hours perfecting their craft, but they have done so in a astonishingly short time.

Gladwell makes it clear that there is a threshold one must meet to complete in almost any field. He uses basketball players and IQ scores as examples.

Nearly all basketball players are over six feet tall.
But the taller players are not necessarily the better players. However, to compete it will be difficult if you are not at least six feet tall.

There is a correlation between the six-foot threshold and an IQ of one hundred twenty. A one hundred twenty IQ is about the threshold for graduate school or other advanced learning. Just as being tall doesn’t bring success to basketball players having an IQ of two hundred or higher does not automatically insure success. However, there is a definite cut-off point for success in any business.

This holds true in the field of photography as well. David Lyman, the founder of The Maine Workshop, began each class with a discussion on creativity. Lyman says it is essential to “marry the intellect and the heart with the hands.”

He talks about how important persistence is to success and states that it takes about ten years to refine the craft of photography.

How do you get to be invited to play at Carnegie Hall? — by practice, practice, practice.

Bobby Fisher became a chess grandmaster in less than ten years, but it was close. It took him nine years.

Great artists are indeed talented, but talent can be wasted. The masters of their crafts combined their talent with the thousands of hours of work at the canvas, the instrument, the camera or the free-throw line. The Masters put in the ten thousand hours or more essential to master their chosen playing field.

This is good news for any aspiring professional photographer, rock star or whatever. Want to be one of the greatest in your field? – then put in the time. Ten thousand hours is a lot of time, but over the ten years it takes to perfect a task it breaks-down to fewer than three hours a day even if you’re Bobby Fisher.

Five Characteristic of Success

1. Persistence It takes about 10 years or 10,000 hours to refine a craft. Woody Allen says just showing up is 90%. The successful show up prepared. Watch out for the Draculas out there. They drain your time and you. Get rid of them.

2. Be Nice

3. Your Resources
Four people you need to get to know.
1. Teacher

2. Coach

3. Facilitators

4. Mentors

4. Be Skilled in Your Craft

5. Talent — Aptitude for the Profession

Earl Nightingale says that we can become an expert in our field in as little as five years. Malcolm Gladwell tells us the Great Players put in ten years. The trip of ten thousand hours can begin now.

Don’t just talk to your audience—Engage them

I’m sure you are familiar with the concept of the “elevator speech.” The idea is that — if you are asked what you do for a living or what your company does — you should be able to give a complete, compelling answer in the time it takes to ride an elevator to your destination.

But what about when you have the opportunity to speak to a group for more than the length of an elevator ride — say, 30 minutes or an hour? Does that mean you can just relax and let yourself ramble?

Quite the contrary.

Don’t Talk — TeachYou should still be able to boil down your presentation in a simple statement; you should have an elevator speech that explains what you’re going to teach your audience and why it’s worth listening to. And then you must move beyond simply talking if you want to continue to engage your audience.

For example, if I were speaking to photographers about social networking, I would start with a simple premise — that the key to successful social networking is to listen. I would then organize my talk around the different ways to listen, would provide demonstrations to help make my points, and would engage the audience in discussion.

Why would I take this approach, rather than simply lecturing the audience?

Take a look at the illustration above from the National Training Lab in Bethel, Maine. It shows how information taught through different methods is retained by students or other audiences.

As you can see, just talking to an audience doesn’t do much to educate them. Even if the audience member takes notes during a lecture or presentation and reads them back later, he or she still only retains 10 percent of what was taught. If you demonstrate what you’re talking about and then engage your audience in discussion, however, retention jumps to 50 percent.

When your audience has an opportunity to “practice by doing” — e.g., homework — retention increases to 75 percent. And since “teaching others” is the most effective learning method, you can see why educators like to put students in small groups and ask them to present a project to the class.

It’s also why teaching photography (or anything else) is a great way to learn a subject you know even better.

Simple or Complex?

Another factor to consider when you are teaching — particularly if it’s in a classroom, over a period of time — is how simple or complex your material is. We all understand how easy it is to walk on a flat surface, but to climb a mountain takes more work.

Good teachers understand that there are stages of learning. Here are the six basic stages, listed from the most rudimentary to the highest levels of comprehension:
1. Knowledge (memorizing, recalling)
2. Comprehension (expressing ideas in new forms)
3. Application (transfer of learning to a new situation)
4. Analysis (breaking a communication down into its parts)
5. Synthesis (creating something new by putting parts together)
6. Evaluation (judging value based on standards)

When you think about these stages of learning, it’s easy to see why you might have struggled with some of your teachers growing up, as I did. Too many teachers are stuck at stage 1 or 2 in their teaching methods, but expect you to somehow get to stage 5 or 6 when it’s exam time.

Engage, Engage, EngageWhether you are making a 30-minute presentation to colleagues in your profession, or teaching a semester-long course to college students, success begins and ends with your ability to engage your audience.

One of my favorite examples of effective teaching is from “The Sound of Music.” In the movie, Maria tells the children, “When you know the notes to sing, you can sing most anything.” Then she finds creative ways to engage them in the joy of music, again and again.

So don’t teach by talking. Teach by engaging.

Informative or Just Eye Candy?

Before our children could even read, they could identify restaurants by their logo. Our oldest son was in the back seat singing “… the Simpsons,” when he saw a sky with a lot of cumulus clouds. Most everyone involved in communications understands how the audience is enticed by images.

Sometimes logos conjure up other thoughts. For many folks ATT’s logo is called the “death star.” This is another topic for another time though.

For many people working as communicator for corporations, nonprofits, or in the media they see the visual as the “hook” to their written story. The concept of using visuals as “eye candy” is a way to make you stop and at least start to read the article.

Love her or hate her, Catherine Zeta-Jones helped shape the image of T-Mobile during her first run with the company. To celebrate the launch of their Mobile Makeover advertising campaign, she’s back again. The ads use her as the “eye candy.”

No question this works in advertising, but how does it go over with corporate communications or journalism?

My opinion is that those that use imagery as “eye candy” are like the tabloids or car magazines with women on the hood of the car. This approach must work or these types of media wouldn’t be doing so well financially. However, they are not taken seriously for their content.

You can use the imagery as the message itself and not just a hook. In journalistic example are the photos of the Twin Towers being hit by the airplanes or on fire? Michael Phelps touching the wall first with others still behind him is another example.

In journalistic media we also see visual “hooks.” We see mug shots which accompany an article, but tell us nothing about what the story is about. How is this a hook? On sports pages peak action moments showing the looser looking like they won is a hook.

I’ve learned the best images leave the viewer asking a question. “Why are the Twin Towers on fire?” is the question people asked when they turned on their televisions. It kept us glued to the coverage to understand and help us heal. Is this the photo of Michael Phelps winning the 8th gold medal or what race is it?

We can learn from the “eye candy” photography. If the image is interesting and has visual impact it will hook the reader. You need to surprise your audience. I have talked about this in past e.newsletters. Getting a unique perspective like a worm’s eye view or the bird’s eye view is a great “hook.” Making photos from the standing position straight on all the time is what amateurs do. You can make an informative intriguing image of most content to help tell the story with your images.

I shoot for different audiences. I often shoot for Associated Press, magazines, corporate publications, websites, college recruiting and alumni publications, and many other mediums.

When I shoot for AP, I must tell the story in one photo. I must shoot tight, which means close-up and filling the frame. The users of AP images may run the picture really small and will not want to use the photo if it isn’t close-up. It needs to have impact. They may run it on a front page of a paper to help tell the story, and sell the newspaper.

At an event where an AP photographer is there and I am there shooting for a magazine, I have to take a different approach. By the time a magazine comes out the readers will have seen the AP images of the event. My coverage must be more than one impactful image. I have a variety of angles, from close-up, to medium and overall shots of the story. I will use lighting to help influence the image even more.
I am shooting a lot of multimedia packages lately which require 30 – 60 images for a 2-minute piece to run on a website. I need photos like I would do for a magazine, and I need transition photos. I need photos of noises you may hear in the audio to help the audience understand those noises are seagulls in the background near the subject. You still need strong images, but they can help tell the story and compliment the audio.

Most communicators today are using the same content in multiple places. They send out a printed newsletter, post it on a blog, put it on a website, or send out an e.Newsletter . All of the pieces point to the website where more content and images can be placed, than before this existed.

If you do a good job of telling the story using visuals you will now have just started telling your story. That’s right—just started. People like to be in dialogue and comment on your stories on-line. This outlet wasn’t available in print.

In the most recent Scientific American Magazine there was an article on Celiac Disease. When you went to their website the article was there as well, but now will comments like this, “The illustrations in this article delivered to my mailbox today, allow the complexities of the science of gluten intolerance to be easily understood by everyone.” Here is a link for you

Is your material getting as many comments as this article? Are your visuals helping your audience to understand the topic? Using visuals effectively and not just as a visual “hook” will improve how your message is communicated.

Stanley is available as a consultant to help you improve your visual communication for your organization. Give him a call or email him to set up a time for him to work with your team.