Thursday, June 24, 2010

Lynn Barr's Amazing Choreography

Two weeks ago I had the privilege of photographing the amazing choreography of Lynn Barr and her fantastic dance troupe. Lynn had put together a series of pieces around the theme of walls, which she called (in Italian) "Muri" Walls. She has an outstanding capacity put forth ideas in gestural, iconic, condensed form combining dance and theater, featuring both dance pieces and spoken skits. One of the elements that makes her work so appealing to me as a photographer is her use of stationery lighting, rather than spotlights that follow her dancers. Her lighting creates a more sculptural effect, as the dancers are illuminated from the side and rear, in addition to the front. She also uses unconventional techniques, such as dancing with flashlights (subject: torture), blue backlit screens, and emphasizing the huge shadows behind the dancers. Check out her work at

Mermaid Parade, Coney Island, June 19, 2010

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THE MERMAID PARADE in Coney Island on the Saturday closest to the start of summer, is a grand festival of joy in the body, in the sun, in friendship and good feeling. It draws crush crowds along the main drag of Coney Island from 2 to 4:30 pm, and ends up with most of the crowd moving up to the boardwalk and beach. There's a ribbon cutting ceremony featuring the celebrity king of the parade, who was Lou Reed this year, officially opening the summer season.
But the outstanding draw of the parade is the imagination of the home-made costumes (or lack thereof) by the marchers. All manner of sea creature is represented, with a definite tilt towards mermaids in all their sexiness, including a reliable cohort of pirates. There's always a political edge to the parade, which in years past has favored the preservation of Coney Island as a wide open playground. This year, however, the issue was much more serious: the BP oil spill. A number of people besmirched their costumes with oil-looking stains, and many carried signs reproaching BP for its arrogant carelessness.
Here's a selection of photos from the parade. You can find a more complete selection at, where you can also order prints. And my collection from last year (when it rained) is still up.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

After Dark, Minneapolis—Photo Super-Seminar

I just returned from After Dark, a fabulous three-day photographic event in Minneapolis, run by master photographer Dave Junion, from Wausau, Wisconsin (the first photo). Junion assembles 30 photographic experts, the mentors, and attracted 200 participants, all professional photographers, for three days of intensive learning, shooting, and discussing, using tons of high-end equipment supplied by Larsen lighting and Canon—which lends its cameras and lenses. The whole thing takes place at the Hyatt, Minneapolis, which offers 38,000 square feet in two humongous halls, one for seminars and seated demonstrations, the other containing nine complete photo studios for hands-on work. The participants are encouraged to practice what they learn on their own, and can even borrow equipment to take outside "after dark," using the streets, parks and alleyways of Minneapolis as the setting. There was a lot of emphasis placed on outdoor portraits with various types of lighting, above all off-camera flash, which was especially useful in photographing high school seniors and engagement couples. Other topics included pet and maternity photography, high-end weddings, boudoir photography, creating realistic-looking environments (like a beach) in the studio, children, families, posing, sales, and social media marketing.
The outstanding quality of the event was the accessibility of the mentors. Everyone was extremely friendly and approachable and seemed as though they couldn't do enough to help. It was wonderful having access to such productive and successful minds in this field. I came away inspired, feeling I had learned things that would save me enormous amounts of time and effort, but also that I could repeat the whole thing and learn an entirely different body of knowledge. There's much more than any one person can take in. Many participants attend more than one of them.
I may end up helping Dave to bring the program to New York. He's already done it in Miami, Nashville and Austin and plans them for Portland, Oregon, September 12-15 and New Orleans, November 7-10. For further information go to

Monday, April 26, 2010

More on the BBG's Tulips

Since I can only show five images at a time, here is the real meat of the tulip glories. Both sides of the flower bed was lined with photographers, speaking a wide range of languages. Note the searing beauty of the tiger tulips in their death throes.

Brooklyn Botanical Gardens: NYC's Horticultural Gem

I try to make it over the to the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens in early spring before the leaves grow larger than the cherry blossoms. In years past the last week in April was plenty of time—even up until May 1. But a visit this past Saturday turned out to be about a week late! After a magnificent entrance, with wisteria in full bloom on the trellis paths perfuming the air, passing the spectrum of pansies, and looking over the lilac grove, I discovered that the cherry blossoms over the Japanese pond were all but gone, and the leaves on the other cherry trees were already quite large. The petals were snowing down. The magnolias were also finished and the daffodils were practically all gone. The tulips, however, the pride of the gardens, were in full bloom for the most part, which is breathtaking. Only the tiger tulips, those with the rough edges, were nearing their end, but they are at their most spectacular at this moment, with petals splayed and shapes contorted into floral death agonies, a riot of form.
The visit was certainly satisfying, but we had missed the peak. Spring had come at least two weeks earlier than two years ago—a very rapid change indeed.

Monday, April 19, 2010

PHOTO-TIP: Photographing in direct sunlight

When you take your camera out on a sunny day in the country (or wherever), have you ever noticed that pictures of people tend to turn out to be disappointing? People are squinting into the sun and shadows cast by noses and under eyes are too deep. Professional photographers know that direct sunlight is the least flattering light source for people. A small light source like the sun casts harsh shadows, and its intensity makes people squint. Cloudy days are much more flattering, and we try to recreate those conditions with big soft boxes in our studios. Yet there are still ways to make the best of sunny days.

1. Get into some shade. This may be the easiest, if shade is available. The the sky is your light source, which is much softer. Just be aware that your photos may have a bluish cast to them from the sky. This will be even more true after the sun goes down, when the only light around is very very blue. Sometimes a reflector will help here—and this can be anything: a piece of newspaper, someone holding a towel, anything bright.

2. Bring your subjects near a source of reflected light—such as a building, a bright rock, anything painted in a light color, or even a bush of bright colored flowers, like forsythia. Then photograph them with this light and their faces away from the sun. This is a trick I learned from New Hampshire photographer Steve Bedell. He says he doesn't use reflectors when he uses this method.

3. Finally, if all else fails, photograph your subjects against the sun, with someone's head blocking the sun. Be sure to expose for the face and not the surrounding sky. This may require you to get into exposure compensation and add as much as two stops to your exposure. All point-and-shoots have exposure compensation, but you usually have to get there through the menu. Read your manual and find out how to do it. It can be very valuable and has many applications. You'll completely blow out the sky, which will turn up white, even if it's blue, but you'll get a relaxed, non-squinting face. The accompanying example combines #s 2 and 3, and the light source was a forsythia bush in Central Park.

Putnam Manor Dinner Dance

After an especially wet winter, my neighborhood association, the Putnam Manor Civic Association, held its annual dinner dance at the gorgeous Solar do Minho Portuguese restaurant in Roselle Park, April 17, 2010. I was the official photographer, but also a neighbor. What a fun group! The people who didn't mind looking silly clearly had the most fun, and the food was delicious. It started off with a Portuguese paella, some fried seafood cakes and calamari, salad or soup, then several main courses, including a chicken français, and a wonderfully tender beef in a cream sauce. Desert was flan/creme caramel in two forms: as a ring mold, and as exquisite short dough cups. One needed self-control to keep from eating five of them. Leo de Oca and I provided photo/video evocations of the beauties of our neighborhood, Leo with a sensitive spring tour, and mine was a four-season account that featured an ice storm, a large hawk in my back yard, the Christmas decorations in the snow, and this exuberant early spring. We had a great live band during dinner and a skilled DJ on his laptop for the dancing. Here's a dynamic slide show that attempts to capture the spirit of the evening.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

New "Baby"

I finally did it: bought myself a full-frame digital SLR: the Canon 5D Mark II. At 21 megapixels it offers twice as much detail as my 40D, which was already pretty good. Photographic detail is sensuous. We try to enhance it with sharpening, but it's not quite the same thing. I've noticed the work of photographers using full-frame cameras, and there is an extra quality of richness to their images—that I didn't miss until I saw it. I'm thinking of what this baby will do with those rock faces that make me drool, all that geology I've been in love with for years will now be worshipped at a higher level.

And this camera features HD video as well—just like my daughter's point-and-shoots. OK, so it took the professional cameras a while to come up with it, but imagine a moving image through a super wide angle (or even fisheye) lens! The point is not to take feature-length movies with it, just 6–8 second clips that add the astonishing element of movement into a well-composed otherwise still photograph. So far the medium for this fusion has to be the computer screen. Now there's a company that integrates these mini-movies right in with your stills in slide shows. It's called Phvusion (for Photo-Video Fusion), and their software enables a number of special effects for your videos, similar to iPhoto's special effects. One thing the 5D Mark II will not do is change focus automatically once the video starts. So you may have to keep your hand on the barrel, or else invest several hundred dollars in a fine-focus mechanism, a small wheel that attaches to the camera. Changing the plane of focus is one of the best subtle uses for movement in an otherwise still photograph.

I'm glad I kept my Sigma 17–35mm f/2.8 lens around, which works just fine with this camera, although the autofocus is a bit slow at times. And the camera works like a dream with the Canon 70–200mm f/2.8 IS lens, that every wedding photographer now owns. Its "native" normal zoom lens is the 24–105mm f/4 IS lens. Notice that this lens is slightly more wide angle than the 17–85mm digital zoom for the half-frame cameras, but less telephoto. In a short jaunt through my flowering neighborhood, I found myself switching to my 70–300mm zoom more readily than I would have with any of my half-frame cameras, so there is a bit more work involved. I may just break down and buy myself a point-and-shoot for everyday social shooting. A number of my photo gurus have one.

The Professional Photographers Association Joint Convention—NJ & NY in Albany, March 25–28, 2010

Although Albany is no Atlantic City, where the New Jersey Professional Photographers Association had its convention last year, the rich program that was the result of combining forces of both states’ organizations more than made up for the absence of our world center of taffy, boardwalk, casinos and sea foam. Moreover, the setting in the Desmond Hotel and Conference Center, was ideal—and picture perfect (see below). The facility offers two indoor courtyards surrounded by charming architectural façades, with its meeting rooms off to the sides. One courtyard has its swimming pool; the other was perfect for our lunches. Service was excellent—staff seemed always ready to go out of their way to help.

The most powerful overall benefit of this convention was to provide seminars that literally put attendees on the cutting edge of communications, technology and marketing in our field, presented by the very people who are making them a reality. Friday morning, after Jaron Horrocks’ provocative session on using Graphic Authority’s hip drop-and-drag collages as marketing pieces, Vanessa Joy and Rob Adams absolutely blew me away with their presentation of “Photo Fusion.” Having no idea what this was when I sat down, I turned to my neighbor behind me to ask his opinion of the full-frame Canon 5D Mark II (with HD video) verses the much less expensive half-frame 50D. He was equally tempted by both cameras, but Vanessa and Rob’s presentation nailed the question, with the insight that the technology has preceded our photographic technique. Why did I need to pay extra for the 5D Mark II’s video? (I have a separate video camera.) The answer is Photo Fusion, or “Phvusion”—integrating subtle video into a still presentation. With so much image transmission on the computer screen, Vanessa and Joy have created a program that easily integrates stills and brief (6-8 second) videos (with special effects) in presentation documents—stand alone slide shows, Facebook, websites, and Animoto (see below). The idea is to compose the a still photograph, but capture video—so the bride in the classic portrait blinks; the water ripples, the toast glass is raised, etc. A novelty? Sure, but the technology is there (and has been in the consumer point-and-shoots for some time), but the moment is ripe for innovative photographers to give themselves a boost with it. I shared my fantasy with Rob of an actual wedding album with embedded video (not a flip book), and he said, “Give it ten years.”
After a delicious buffet lunch, which enabled us New Jerseyans to meet photographers from the far reaches of New York State (Thousand Islands, anyone?) Matthew Jordan Smith offered an inspiring talk on keeping our excitement hot, making our clients love us, dreaming big, and reading the right books (e.g. Selling the Invisible by Harry Beckwith). That afternoon offered a generous session by Kalen Henderson and Michael Barton called “Right Brain, Left Brain.” Henderson offered very practical advice to enhance studio profits (liking hiring a hairdresser for senior girls, or offering accordian books @ 3 for $15). Barton then took over, revealing secrets of making very cool images by overlaying subtle textures and pencil sketches ( That evening master NY photographer Ken Sklute shared his secrets for capturing his compelling scenics (“orange filter over flash for portrait fill at sunset”; “use a hat for a shutter for fireworks”) and presented a slide show of his work.
The weekend days started early, with three choices during the 7–8 am hour. While Dave Swoboda took a group around the covered outdoor settings of the magnificent Desmond Hotel, finding ideal places for portraiture; Eric Wessman gave a seminar on Lightroom, and background creator Laura Bautell gave the first of two talks on the creative use of muslin (“drape over chairs or other props”; "bunch up into ball jar rings for dramatic folds”). Starting Saturday multiple seminars were scheduled for the same hour, so attendees had to make difficult choices. In the next slot—2 1/2 hours—I regretfully foresook Dori Arnold’s seminar on photographing children and Al Audelman’s on Photoshop layers and ended up in the lecture by Michael and Tina Timmons rather vaguely titled “Making the Most of Your Photographic Talents.” It turned out to be an ideal choice for me: a step-by-step guide to sellings scenics and art pieces (“illustrative,” according to Print Competition lingo) to businesses and institutions. (Most of mine end up shelved in albums, that I admit to being a bit overeager to show to relatives.) The Timmons duo covered how to make the most banal Main Streets compete with Currier and Ives through the use of Nik, Lucis and Topaz software, thereby flattering the local business owners. They advised that ladies rest rooms are always in need of floral images (and men’s of car racing, etc.); and that we should leave no real estate office, hospital (& doctor’s office), hotel or golf club unvisited—virtually any business. The big companies change their art every six years or so. And Mike provided a needed guide to pricing—the profits are in volume here. We’re appealing less to vanity than to business needs.
The Trade Show finally opened at noon, and it was over twice as large as ours was last year in Atlantic City, featuring the usual suspects of album companies plus some newcomers touting tempting introductory specials, as well as three frame companies and three background companies! The most engaging of these was a hippyesque duo, Todd Rigione & Judi Looyenga (that's them in the photo, emerging from their backgrounds), from South Dakota who paint canvas backgrounds that turn out to be real abstract art pieces ( I recommended to Judi that she apply to be in next year’s Outsider Art Fair in New York, and she answered my questions about background painting and invited me to do some with her at some point. This will finally bring out my yearning inner painter, I'm sure. I’ve already started searching for raw canvas. I also signed up for Animoto (finally!)—the hyperdynamic MTV-like slide show generator that is designed to make seniors weak in the knees. We’ll see.
Tthere was a modest room dedicated to New York State’s print competition. A visit there was instructive, since one saw excellent technique both in capture and in printing. I suppose it’s reassuring to know that the Pictorialism of the great age of Stieglitz and Kertesz (pre-World War I) is alive and well and in color in state print competitions—especially since Mike and Tina Timmons (see above) outlined so well how to make money with this aesthetic.
That afternoon Barry Rankin’s seminar on Classical Portraiture competed with Dan Burkholder’s on High Dyanmic Range, and I chose the latter, which was another eye-opener. HDR is much more complex than I thought, and Burkholder supplied essential tips covering, for example, alignment algorithms, Photomatix, and Melancholytron filters, and offering insights such as that HDR melds the best midtones from several images, while remarking in passing that cell phone photography is the “Holga of the 21st century.”
That night the main event was the New York organization’s theme party: “Cruising the Northeast on the Good ship Photo-pop.” The dress was a mixture of Hawaiian and Caribbean, with enough lais to go around. With roastbeef stations and circulating hors-d’oeuvres, there was a plenty of food and a cash bar. A DJ finally permitted the photographers to git down, rather than having to photograph the festivities—and we can shake our booties.
The future belongs to the cyberadept in this biz, so attendees fought hangovers to flock to Emily Schlipf’s 7 am Saturday morning seminar, “The Facebook Formula: Getting REAL Results.” Given that the average age of the membership must be over 50, Facebook is still a novelty to most of us, and I for one, can always use coaching. Schlimpf recommends putting virtually our whole professional life—in brief spurts, with images—on Facebook, “friending” every client at the time of booking; tagging the client with a status update 48 hours before the gig; tagging the client with a slideshow a week afterwards, and again with a more extensive one three weeks later. Discipline! The networking possibilities are huge, and we’re just leaving money on the table not doing it!
The last seminar I attended was the salty Steve Bedell’s no-nonsense route to success with seniors. Bedell is one of those small town photogs (from Dover, NuHampsha, as he spelled it on the screen) who has become the go-to guy for a whole region. Among the many valuable tips he offered was how to photograph outdoors without reflectors, even in direct sunlight (illuminate your subject with the light bouncing off something—a big rock, a building, anything—and shoot into the sun, if need be, hiding it behind the subject’s head); and how to structure your pricing with packages and incentives so the client is motivated to by more. He, like the rest of the speakers, was very generous with his advice and invited all participants to receive his blog posts. This is really the spirit of our organizations—generosity in helping each other, with the knowledge that there is plenty of business to go around.
I had to leave after that, regretfully missing that afternoon’s fare, but I had taken in enough information to enrich my techniques, boost my presentations and expand my business many times over, in addition to making many new friends and valuable contacts. Now to get back to work!

Welcome to my Photography Blog

Thanks for checking out my new photography blog. Here I intend to talk about a whole range of photo issues, from aesthetics and fine art photography, to weddings and portraits, to technical and equipment issues, to travel and discoveries. I welcome responses, contributions and questions.

Rather than having separate blogs for wedding and portrait clients on one hand, and photo professional colleagues on the other, I'm taking the risk of creating a single blog for a whole range of readers. For the non-pros some of the discussions may seem abstruse, and for the pros some may seem obvious, but I hope you'll just skip over what doesn't interest you and look for what does.

Photography has given me joy practically my whole life—through at least three other careers—and I've finally ended up in photography as a profession. There's nothing I'd rather do (though I love to do a lot of other things, too), and I finally had to admit it. But I've also found that the more one knows or inquires about the world, the richer one's photography is. This sounds like a truism, but it's also my way of saying that I don't regret doing all the other things I've done—taught college English, French, Italian and jazz history; played jazz piano, recorded and made music software; written tons of reviews both in music and art, and tried to understand history and science from a gee whiz perspective.

I've also learned that, although it once tried to be, photography today is far from a transparent medium. It transforms what it captures and represents, sometimes blatently, sometimes subtlely. With the spread of good digital point-and-shoot cameras and passable cell phone cameras (the Holgas of the 21st Century, says Dan Burkholder), everybody these days takes pictures. It's no longer a big deal to record what you see. The trick is to have it resemble what you imagine, and then go from there. The perpetual fascination of photography is that it mediates that constantly shifting interface between the real and the imagined. (And now that we have computer programs that replicate manually and automatically various painting and drawing styles, we can avail ourselves of some of the most powerful tools of hand-graphic artists to move away from literal reality and toward the iconic and mythical.) We can use pieces of the real to express our imaginings, and condition our capture of a discovered piece of the real with the myriad of tools now available to bring our images closer to what we imagine.

But even remaining in the realm of the apparently literal, the obviously photographic, we still create fictional versions of reality, as French theorist Jean-Claude Lemagny points out in his probing book La Matière, l'ombre, la fiction (Matter, shadow, fiction). We work our images to draw our own meanings out of those shadows of matter that our lenses cast on our sensors. First we have to mediate the difference between a sensor with its limited range (about five stops) and the huge range of our eyes (about 20 stops—each stop being a power of two in light intensity). Add the power and limitations of the frame with its compositional principles; and then the subtle elements of contrast and detail. One could say that all this effort goes to bringing the image on paper (or on screen) closer to the reality that we notice, since noticing is an act of mind through the eye, whereas a camera is a simple though powerful eye. Perhaps 85% of the art of photography is doing just this: learning how to bring the captured image close to the noticed perception. And the more we educate our eyes, through, among other things. the study of other people's masterful images, the more we will notice and challenge ourselves to capture or create.

I'll be posting some of my best images on this blog, and I invite your comments and suggestions. Thanks for visiting!