Circling Back

I was going to call this blog “Waiting It Out”, but the term that Chris Johns, the Editor of the National Geographic and a photographer uses is “circling back”.

What Chris means by this is that the perfect time to capture the subject in front of you may not be now. It may happen in a few minutes, a few hours, days or never. The important thing is to have faith that this particular subject will make a fine photograph, because it speaks to you as being something of importance.

Baobob Leopard

One and a Half Hours

Snow Fence no shadows

15 Min. Later

Snow fence no shadow

At Seashore

This does not mean the subject is “newsworthy”, an amazing scene, or a fantastic event. It just speaks to you. This gives it importance. And if it is really important, are you ready to walk away because the light isn’t right, the subjects aren’t in place or you need to be someplace else?

 

Fred Maroon, a fine Washington, DC photographer said, “There is always another plane”. It is a good way of saying that many great images take patience to make them.

Ginos in Brooklyn

Four Days

During all of my workshops I spend some time talking about managing one’s photographic expectations. If you are with a non-photographer or on a tour or heavily scheduled, you have little opportunity to hang back and wait.

 

And it can be tiresome waiting at a particular location for hours – especially with wildlife, as the moment you were waiting for generally happens very quickly and you cannot stay focused (pun intended) for long time periods. Frans Lanting, a terrific wildlife photographer was once asked how he stays focused to make those wonderful shots. His answer? “Ninety five percent of the time I miss it!”

Plane Crash

Two Seconds!

To keep fresh, do as Chris Johns says and circle back. Leave that location for a bit and then come back to it. But remember to return, as perseverance pays. An article was once done or several of the photographers at National Geographic and after the author interviewed us she entitled the article “A Terrifying Dedication.”

Moon over Smith Fence

Five Months

 

Throughout this blog I have posted a number of images with captions that indicate the “wait times” necessary to capture the image.

Join me for a domestic or international workshop where there is a continuing conversation on subjects like this.

 

 

 

 

 

Local Knowledge Enhances Your Travel Photos

Many times when we are traveling we are in someone else’s control. This can be a good thing, as when we are on a vacation we are not interested in dealing with the minutia of our trip. On the other hand, if a tour is “prepackaged”, chances for unique photography are diminished.

Here is my take on packages. You pay an extra 15 to 20 % to have a company put together a tour for you. Normally, on this tour you will be with others that you do not know (sometimes, in the case of cruise ships, thousands that you do not know).

The tour operators set an “all inclusive” agenda and include the major sites, but usually this means that you will be informed of where you will stay, when to get up, when the transportation leaves the hotel, when the transportation leaves the attraction, etc. You could customize the trip with the tour operators, but the cost may be prohibitive, as they are able to get “group rates” with larger numbers of tourists following the same itinerary. A guided tour is usually homogenized and abbreviated to fit what the tour operator feels is best for their clients, with little input from the client.

Many people think that Bed and Breakfasts are sub-par to hotels. Au contraire! They will help integrate you into the general community at the locale where you are staying. The proprietors will give you tips on places to eat, what cultural events are taking place, etc. Best of all, if you want them to, they will engage you at breakfast or in the evening to discuss history and local politics, problems in their country and the perceived differences between their county and yours. The conversation will also help break down the stereotypes that you may have about their city/country. Invigorating!

Look for Local Connections

“My daughter is in the Peace Corps in Bangwanaland, and loves it!” This comes from an acquaintance of yours. So, what is her email address? Would she mind if you contacted her about local conditions/customs? Does she know a local guide and/or a great place to stay?

A friend says, “I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro two years ago”. You say, I am going in October. Can I have lunch with you and find out some of the “dos and don’ts”? Perhaps you can stay with a friend that they know. Implicit in your request can be the possibility that they can stay with you while visiting your town.

Personal Examples

Following are several illustrations of how a local helped me in my quest for unique subject matter to photograph.

Tango

All Night Tango Dancing

We arrived at our Bed and Breakfast in Buenos Aires and during the course of the conversation with our host, we asked about a particular café that featured tango dancing. He said that he knew of the place, but it was a bit touristy. “Tonight, I am going to a community center where I am learning how to dance the milonga, and they also teach tango. Why don’t you ride the local bus with me and take a class? A tango band arrives at 11:00 PM and we dance until 4:00AM” Of course it was marvelous.

Lava tube

Suck ‘Em Up Lava Tube

I was on assignment in Hawaii and I needed to photograph a lava tube that entered the water. Ancient Hawaiians used these caves for rituals and burials. Where could I find a tube that had a somewhat restricted entrance but had plenty of light? My local contact said that I should check out the “Suck ‘Em Up” lava tube. Hmmm..Why do they call it that? Come to find out that if you are too close to the surface in a particular area of the tube, you get sucked out through the blowhole at the top! A fine image, but you had to know where to go.

Lion Cubs

Lion Cubs in the Serengeti

On a recent Photo Safari, we were watching a lioness and her cubs for nearly an hour. She started to lick them, one at a time. The guide from Duma Explorer, Wilson Shange, said that because of that behavior, she was either going to take them down to the river, or bring them over to lie in the shade of our truck. Within two minutes, she got up and took them to the river.

 

Blue Whale

Blue Whale Blowing

We were searching for blue whales in the Loreto Bay in Baja, Mexico. After some time, we found a male and moved near him, only to watch him sound. The boatman/guide immediately set his watch for 10 minutes. He then moved our small panga into the general area where he thought the whale would surface and killed the boat engine. After 9 and half minutes from when he set his watch, he started the engine. At the ten-minute mark, the whale surfaced nearby and we raced to the location for several minutes of photography until the whale sounded. The guide set his watch for 10 minutes, and we moved to where he thought the whale would surface.

Patagonian sunrise

Sunrise in Patagonia

In Patagonia, we were on the last day of the famous “W” hike in Torres del Paine National Park. The hutmaster said that we needed to get up at 4:30AM and he would have a cold breakfast set for us. Then we needed to climb about 2,500 feet to arrive at a viewpoint overlooking the mountain and a glacial pool. At 6:05 AM we completed the climb and five minutes later were rewarded with a spectacular sunrise.

Many tourists who are succumbing to a package tour, or do not engage the locals are not able to capture images that are not hidden, but local knowledge is necessary for a stranger to find them.

Engage the population to enhance your travel photography experiences.

Star Light, Star Bright

Star photography has been a long-time enigma for photographers, and it still is for cinema-photographers. We can easily see a wonderful array of millions of celestial objects on clear nights,but photographing them has been difficult as they are pinpricks of light in a black sky and they are moving, so long time exposures are necessary.

There are four ways to shoot the stars, two have been around for a long time, and two are now possible with digital photography. They are: star trails; “one shot” star images; time-lapse photography and star tracking. I will address each technique, but there are a few consonants that are applicable to all four.

 

1. Altitude. It is not by chance that the major observatories of the world are at high altitudes. If you are at 10,000 feet, the atmosphere is less dense. The air is not “thinner”, but having less density in the atmosphere means that you can “see through it” better. Less humidity also helps, as there are fewer water particles to shoot through. This is why the desert areas of the American Southwest are favorite places for night sky photographers – 8,000 feet above sea level, clear and dry.

2. Light Pollution. More and more locations have extraneous light that “pollutes” the dark night sky and in turn “pollutes” your images. The atmosphere near cities literally glows on the horizon. The International Dark-Sky Association is fighting to preserve the night, but with more of us on earth it is an uphill battle. In addition, the airplanes flying though your frame near a city will not help to produce a “clean” image. To find the best locations for your photo of the stars, see Jonathan Tomshine’s Dark Sky Finder.
The moon will also affect your star images. The best star photography is done on a moonless, cloudless, still night.

3. Tripod. It may seem obvious, but a sturdy tripod is necessary. Set up the shot when there is still light, then come back to your tripod hours later with a headlamp or flashlight. Make sure the tripod is in a secure place, or your gear may walk.

Now for the four methods of taking star photographs.

Star Trails

Star Trails in Maine

Star Trails. These consist of concentric circles around the North Star (Polaris). They are almost always done with wide-angle lenses that capture the maximum amount of sky.
Prepare your camera for this type of photograph by going into the camera’s menu and turning off the LCD (saves battery power) and if you are NOT going to “stack” the final photograph (more on this later) turn the “high ISO noise reduction” feature on. Locate your eyepiece shutter. In some cases there is a manual one on your camera strap. If you do not have a remote release for the shutter, set the shutter release to a 2 second delay to eliminate shake. Set the shutter speed on “Bulb”. And make sure your camera battery is fully charged.
To take an image similar to David Harp’s Maine Coast photograph, locate Polaris and place it in your frame. If you want a terrestrial object in the foreground, make sure it is far enough away from the lens so that your focus will be on “infinity” regardless of the f-stop. Sharp tree leaves (as in David’s picture) are only accomplished on a calm night. Set the ISO on 400 and the aperture wide open (i.e. f2.8). Block the eyepiece and then open the shutter and leave it open for 30 seconds or so. Review the resultant image. Some stars will obviously leave a brighter trail than others. Look for the dimmer stars, as you want many tracks in this type of photograph. Make adjustments in the ISO and try another. If it is to your liking and you want longer tracks, decrease the ISO and lengthen the exposure.
Some photographers want longer tracks but not the long exposures that produce “noise” in their pictures. They take many shorter exposures (with the noise reduction camera software turned off) and then “stack” the images in Adobe After Effects or Photoshop.

The Chess Queen and the Milky Way

The Chess Queen and the Milky Way

One Shot. Higher ISOs on today’s digital cameras (Sony’s A7 has an ISO of 409600!) allow photographers to capture the night sky with very little movement in the stars. The more sophisticated cameras combine high ISOs with noise reduction to produce “grain-free” pictures The camera preparations are the same as for photographing Star Trails.
Here is how to make an image similar to the one of the Chess Queen and the Milky Way. It is almost imperative that the one shot star picture has a foreground subject. You can find one in the daylight, but the very best of this kind of image has the Milky Way in it, as this part of the night sky is very arresting in a “one shot”. The Milky Way is a look at the edge of our galaxy, where many, many stars are “stacked”. You need to see it to position it in the frame. Lighting terrestrial objects can be a challenge, especially if they are a distance from the camera. Also, very little light is needed to expose these objects, as your ISO and exposure will be set for the stars. For the Chess Queen, a flashlight with 3 layers of tissue over the light was used, and the formation was “painted” for only a part of the entire exposure.
Set your camera to 3200 or 6400 ISO with the aperture on your camera wide open. Take a 20 second time exposure painting the foreground. Sophisticated cameras will spend another 10 seconds or so to process out the noise. Check out the resultant picture. Too much light on the foreground object? Not enough stars? Adjust the length of the exposure, but try not to go beyond thirty seconds or you will get noticeable star movement.

Time Lapse Skies. Video has a difficult time with stars, because to capture motion the video cameras expose 30 frames a second. Eventually the ISOs and software will allow it, but for now time lapse is the way to go. I won’t spend much time on the technique in this blog, but with high-end digital 35mm cameras, tracking devices and post processing, a compelling moving video can be made. Dustin Ferrell has been a pioneer in this technology and he has shared his expertise in a web tutorial. The second part of the tutorial is a technical treatise on post processing the images, but the first part displays his results and they are spellbinding and worth watching.

Andromeda

Jacob Ber’s Andromeda

Piggybacking on a Telescope. You can make a photograph by shooting through a telescope, but perhaps you are an astronomer creating an image rather than a photographer with a camera.
More sophisticated telescopes use motors and computers to track celestial objects. If you already have a telescope on an equatorial mounting and you know how to correctly polar align the mount, you can let the camera and lens ride piggyback on top of the telescope and shoot longer-exposure wide-field photos.
An equatorial mounting has one axis-aligned parallel to the axis of rotation of the Earth and is called the polar axis. The other axis is called the declination axis. This axis allows movement of the scope at right angles to the polar axis. Movements in these two axes together permit aiming the scope at any part of the sky. Once an object is found, both axes are locked down, and just the polar axis turns to track the object. Got it? If you are REALLY interested go here.
As primarily a still photographer, perhaps you can find an astronomer and ask him politely to piggyback your camera on his telescope.
The photos of outer space are fascinating! NASA has a website that features an “Image of the Day” gallery. On July 30, a high school student, Jacob Bers, took the Image of the Day -Andromeda, a “nearby” galaxy. It has hundreds of billions of stars. OK. Enough of having our minds boggled.

Experiment. A few nights ago, there was a moonless, still, clear night behind my house. I face 500+ acres of open space with no lights, so I set up to shoot the stars over an island. To my chagrin, when I went out in the middle of the night to photograph, clouds had moved in. Since I was already set to shoot, I went ahead. To my surprise, the island and clouds were illuminated by a distant marina (by the long exposure), but you can still see the stars!

Stars and Clouds over the Island

Stars and clouds over the island

I hope this blog will help you when you see the starry night and say, “I wonder how I can photograph this?’

Want to tap the expertise of a National Geographic photographer? Consider joining me on my upcoming workshop in the Serengeti. The cost has been reduced for last minute sign ups.

Sunrise , Sunset

The previous blog concerned photographing the moon, and following this extra-terrestrial theme, here is a blog about photographing the sun. I used to say that perhaps 15% of all photographs were of sunsets, but with the advent of smart phones and selfies, this percentage has declined dramatically.

Unlike moon photography, determining the location of the sunrises and sunsets is relatively easy, as the location is visible for some time prior to the actual event. Here are some tips for creating excellent sun images:

Sun Halo

Sun Halo in Florida

1. NEVER look directly into the sun, especially through a telephoto lens. This is a great way to permanently damage your retinas. When aiming the camera, frame what you want above or below where the sun is, and then move the camera up or down to include the sun. If you do look through the lens, look anywhere in the frame but at the sun. Reflections of the sun off of the water also count.

Some cameras have a depth-of-field preview button next to the lens. You can configure the lens for the smallest aperture and use this button to look through the camera at the sun with minimum exposure, but it’s still dangerous.

2. As the sun sinks (or rises) into the atmosphere, a phenomenon similar to moonrises and moonsets occurs. When it is on the horizon, the color of the sun varies. This is because you are looking at the sun through much more atmosphere than when it is overhead. Dust in the air or photographing the sunset just after a rain can affect the color dramatically.

Christmas Clouds

Christmas Clouds

3. Clouds can help. The color of the clouds just after sunset or before sunrise can mitigate the intensity of the direct sun and add dimension to your image. No clouds create a situation where there is little drama in your sunset picture.

4. “Mask” the sun. Use atmospheric conditions such as fog, smog or haze to create “filters” where the sun is much more distinguishable and appears with definition rather than as a white orb. Other objects in your frame will have more character with a masked sun.

5. At sunrise or sunset, objects on earth will be silhouetted, as you are looking directly into your only light source and it is bright. Take your exposure reading off of the brightest parts of your framed picture, otherwise the resultant photograph will looked “washed out”. For sunsets with a fantastic array of multicolored clouds, position the horizon in the bottom third of the frame for maximum effect. You can use reflectors to bounce back some of the light, or use flash to “fill in” the light on subjects close to the camera (like people). Off-camera flash is desirable. With many cameras you can adjust the intensity of the flash so that your subjects are not extremely overexposed against a coal-black background.

Geese in Fog

Geese in Fog

6. We have seen many sunsets where the actual location is a mystery. The sun in Nova Scotia is the same as the sun in Costa Rica. Make yours different by including identifying objects such as lobster boats or palm trees.

7. Turn around. Sometimes the way the light at dawn or dusk strikes the landscape is much more interesting than just shooting another sunset.

8. Long shadows during the “golden hour” prior to sunset “model” the subject, creating a more three-dimensional effect for your actual two-dimensional image. Take advantage. You can still shoot the actual sunset.

 

White Mt Sunset

White Mountains Sunset

Additional tip: You can adjust the exposure on your iPhone by tapping the area where you want the best exposure, – i.e. the sun, or the foreground. You can instantly see how the resultant image will be affected.

Want to have a hands-on photographic experience? Join me on one of my international photography tours. Go here, or back to the menu bar and select “Workshops”.

 

 

Shoot the Moon

About once a month in the evening, barring clouds, a full moon appears in the Eastern sky. The sighting inspires poets, astronomers, lovers and photographers.

This blog is appropriate, as on July 12 we experienced a “Super Moon”, where the elliptical orbit of the moon brings it closest to earth and, according to NASA, a full moon at perigee (closest point) is up to 14% larger and 30% brighter than one at its farthest point, or apogee. We will have an even bigger Super Moon to photograph on August 10, 2014.

Here are some tips for shooting the moon:

Waves and Moon

Seascape in Outer Banks NC

1. The full moon is bright. For your camera exposure, use a similar one to what you would use when you photograph something on earth in bright sunlight. The natural color of the moon is a light grey and reflects sunlight very well.

2. Make sure you take your exposure setting off the moon, not the surroundings. If you don’t, the moon will appear as a white “hole” in the sky. Do not use auto exposure here!

3. Photograph the moon the night before the actual full moon. I call this night the “photographer’s moon”. The reason for doing this is that the moon looks full, but rises right after sunset, At this time, there is enough ambient light on “earth objects”, and the moon will be about the same exposure as these objects. Now the moon is located in a position showing where you are taking the picture. Note the seascape and mountains in the illustrations here. Don’t worry about the moon not being a full moon – it will look full in your photographs.

Mauna Loa Moon

500mm Lens – Hawaii

4. Long super telephoto lenses increase the relative size of the moon compared to the landscape and can add to dramatic effect. Make sure you have a small enough aperture (f stop) to have both the stuff on earth and the moon in focus. Obviously, the moon will be focused at “infinity”. You will need a sturdy tripod when using these lenses.

5. Make sure your shutter speed is at least a thirtieth of a second, preferably faster. The moon moves more quickly than you think, and with slower shutter speeds you will experience blurring moons in your pictures.

6. When it is on the horizon, the color of the moon varies. We refer to “harvest moons” or “red moons”, etc. This is because you are looking at the moon through much more atmosphere than when the moon is overhead. Dust in the air or just after a rain can affect the color of the moon dramatically.

iPhone Screen

Smart Phone App

7. So where will the moon rise? You can use apps or websites on your smart phone to figure this out. I use the app The Photographer’s Ephemeris, where I can designate my location and seen not only the latitude, longitude and elevation where I am at, but immediately see times of sunrise, sunset, moonrise, moonset and the compass directions of each.

Then I use the compass in my smart phone to visually locate where on the horizon the moon will rise on that particular evening. I look through the camera and move back and forth, right and left, so that the spot on the horizon where moonrise will happen is composed within my “earth” frame. I’m ready! Also note that the moonrise on each successive night is quite a few compass points away from the previous one.

8. What if your foreground subject is facing to the west? Look at your moonset direction and get up early in the morning and photograph the moonset at dawn.

Want to have a hands-on photographic experience? Join me on one of my international photography tours. Go here, or back to the menu bar and select “Workshops”.

Smith Island Moonscape

Smith Island Maryland

 

Many, Many “Decisive Moments”

One overarching benefit of digital technology is the ability to recreate work with complete fidelity – in other words new works are exactly the same as the original. This benefit, coupled with the merging and warping of imagery is changing still photography. Several important developments are already here, and other are innovations are not far behind.

1. Stills from video. Panasonic has just announced their LUMIX FZ1000 camera, available late this month. It’s a long zoom camera (28-400mm equivalent) with 4K video capabilities for $900. According to Thomas Curley, Business Development Manager for LUMIX Professional Services, Panasonic North America, “The most amazing thing about it is that you can shoot a video clip (in 4K) then ‘in camera’ select a frame for the video and save it as a 8 megapixel Jpg that is suitable for printing. Nothing like this has existed until now and it is going to change how we take pictures.”

Tom is on to something here. I think that this is the first of many video/still cameras to come. With the LZ1000 you can preview the video frames on the LCD panel and then select the frame(s) that you want to convert to 8 megapixel still(s). Check out this video of what the camera can do. WIFI is also available on this camera to transmit your photographs immediately onto the web via a smart phone or an iPad.

Think three years out. The LZ1000 has a 20.1 megapixel sensor. Will they or other camera manufacturers find a way to wrangle out a 15 megapixel still or even higher res image? Bet on it.

2. HDR video. High Dynamic Range is a fancy term for combining several frames of a subject that have huge differences in exposure. The result is an image that pushes the dynamic range (specular highlights to deep shadows) of the subject toward the middle so that nothing is blown out or unreadable in the shadow area. Many still cameras now have this feature where a “burst” of frames are taken at a variety of exposures. In camera, or in post processing the images are merged together.

In video, this is difficult, as the dang thing keeps taking moving frames at 30 fps (frames per second). Now Red cameras and Magic Lantern software have come up with ways to double the frames at 60 fps with different exposures and then merge them in post production.

3. Auto focus for video. Rule of thumb: do not turn on auto focus on a DSLR when shooting video or the viewer may have an extended bout of sea sickness as the camera is constantly refocusing. Videographers have always been able to mask slight out of focus frames with motion and sound. But what happens when you pull an 8 megapixel still from the video? The resultant still can’t handle sharpness issues.

Now Andra and several other software manufacturers offer follow-focus for DSLR video. They run the application through an iPad and are able to make “focus pulls” on the fly with accuracy.

4. Helicopters and drones. Small, unmanned helicopters have been a staple for feature films and TV productions for 10 years. They are expensive, but can be programmed with GPS to fly the exact same flight again and again.

CopterStudios, a California-based company, uses a “pilot” for the remote controlled helicopter; a camera operator, who uses an IR remote control to adjust camera functions; and a set coordinator, who works with the director or producer to plan the shots.

The director or producer can watch the video in real time on a monitor on the set. SD video is transmitted from the JVC camera via a live video microwave downlink to a directional patch antenna, which feeds the reference monitor on set.
See their stunning demo video.

OK, so helicopters are pricey, but enter the drones. Drones DJI announced that it is working on an update of its S1000 Octocopter, a pro-level drone capable of carrying pro cameras such as a Canon 5D Mark III. That model should be ready in a few months and is expected to cost thousands of dollars, but may be very appealing to professional photographers and videographers.

At the present time, drones are banned from many National Parks and the Federal Aviation Administration (FFA) forbids commercial use. Under congressional order, the FAA must open national airspace to commercial and civilian drones by the end of 2015. The agency is in the process of determining the regulations for a drone license.

ADDENDUM ADDED

Grand Prismatic

Grand Prismatic Geyser

Reuters reported that a tourist seeking to take pictures of Yellowstone National Park crashed a camera-equipped drone into its largest hot spring, on Saturday, August 2. It was not clear if the drone that crashed into Grand Prismatic Spring damaged the prized geothermal feature when it sank into its depths, and officials were still trying to decide whether to remove it.

“What we have to determine is whether the presence of this radio-controlled recreational aircraft poses a threat to that unique resource,” park spokesman Al Nash said of the Grand Prismatic, the third-largest hot spring in the world and a top attraction for the roughly 3 million visitors who flock to Yellowstone each year.

The park is puzzling over how to find the drone and extract it without damaging the hot spring, which is 370 feet in diameter, more than 121 feet deep and known for its brilliant colors caused by bacteria and minerals in the water.

OK, so what does this mean for the still photographer?

First, not many people will be shooting still photographs – not even the professionals. If a client wants stills, why wouldn’t you shoot video where you can pick out the frame where the eyes are not closed, the action is at it’s height and the exposure and focus are right on? In addition, why would a client want to hire both a still photographer and a videographer?

So it is not “goodbye still photography”, but it will be “goodbye still photographer”, as we move to a video-centric world. Art photographers may still want to use still cameras, much the same as many of them today want to still use film. I have to make a living, and what is described above is, in my estimation, what will transpire in the near future. Get ready.

Fireworks on the Fourth – A Photo “How To”

Tomorrow will be the annual “fireworks fest” as we celebrate the country’s anniversary.

Here are some quick tips on taking pictures of fireworks.

1. Put the camera on the “manual” setting so you can dictate a slow shutter speed (below an eighth of a second – better a least a half a second). This will keep the fireworks from getting “clipped”, where the burst is not allowed to finish and is truncated.

Fireworks on Bastille Day

Bastille Day

2. With the slow shutter speed, you probably will need a tripod. Sometimes you can rest the camera on something and get away with a slightly shorter exposure, such as the one here of Bastille Day (France’s big fireworks day). The area was jammed with people, but I was standing next to a tree which helped steady the camera. Make sure you have “image stabilization” on.

3. The fireworks are a lot brighter than you think. You will probably be shooting at f11 or higher at an ISO of 100. After the first big burst, check your LCD and see whether you need to adjust your f stop.

4. To be very steady, use a remote trigger, or if you don’t have one, set the camera timer on 2 seconds so you can get away from the shutter button and allow the camera to stop vibrating.

5. If there is a steady bright light in your frame (like a streetlight), try to keep it out. A very bright, constant light can ruin your picture.

6. Try to include silhouettes of people or lit buildings in your image for locators.

7. Experiment. Most all fireworks images look similar. This one, by David Harp, was shot off a tripod, but from a anchored boat. The resultant image looks like palm trees!

David Harp's Fireworks

From a Boat

Want to tap the expertise of a National Geographic photographer? Consider joining me on my upcoming workshop in Tanzania.

Photo Contests and Museum Submissions

Recently, I have had some success with several photo contests and acceptances for museum exhibits. Besides the price of the entry fee, entering these venues involves a bit of effort. Whether it is a contest or a submission, it is important to read the rules. Then read them again.
Here is my take on contests and museums.

Photo Contests

Ward Museum

Best in Division, Ward Museum Photo Festival

There are many photo contests held by diverse groups that have a vested interest in the contest — communities, organizations, businesses, art associations, etc. Generally these contests have categories and within the categories a first, second, third and honorable mentions. And a “best of show” is generally given.

When entering any photo contest, it is very important to understand the intellectual property issues. Almost all contests declare that the submitter of the image owns the copyright (assuming that they created the picture).

The rub comes in the terms of entry. Most contests require the submitter to agree to allow the owners of the contest to license the image. Upon reading the restrictions of the license, you may be amazed. As an example, following is the National Wildlife Federation’s contestant entry agreement:

“Entrants retain ownership and all other rights to future use of the photographs they enter except for the following: Your entry to the contest constitutes your agreement to allow your entered photographs—and your name, occupation, city, state, country of residence and Entry Information. … you grant to NWF and its licensees the perpetual, worldwide non-exclusive license to reproduce, distribute, display and create derivative works of the

KIFA first place

First Place, Portrait, KIFA

entry (along with a name credit) in connection with the NWPC and promotion for the NWPC, in any media now or hereafter known. Entrants also agree to the use oftheir entered photos in the National Wildlife magazine’s online Photo of the Week and Caption Contest features.”

Note that they do not discriminate the winners from the entrants. All entries have these restrictions.

Some contests have more egregious rules. Many want that “ perpetual, worldwide non-exclusive license to reproduce, distribute, display and create derivative works of the entry… in any media now or hereafter known” to be applied to any usage – in effect collecting images that they do not have to pay for. These pictures then become a repository that they are free to use- any way they want to with impunity.

Read these terms for all of your contest entries, just so you know where you stand.

Museums

Juried exhibits are the way the best museums amass a collective show, in contrast to a one-person show. These exhibits are usually themed (e.g. realism, abstraction, politics, landscapes, etc.)

Hand Stand

MFA Gallery, Focal Point Photography

Submissions are similar to photo contests, with entry fees; rules of size; signed and numbered; etc. There are three major differences from photo contests: 1) The juror determines the show; 2) the museum honors your copyright and at most asks for permission to use the photo only to publicize the show; and 3) the awards are “Certificates of Distinction” and perhaps a best of show. All are “winners” and they are not ranked against one another.

Interestingly, I have found that in submitting to museums or entering photo contests, the value of my work depended on the juror or, in the case of photo contests, the judge. They have biases in art as do we all. Scoping out the judge before you enter is not a superfluous thing to do. It is imperative that you understand where they are coming from. In my experience, many museum jurors are experts in painting mediums but do not understand photographic art and consequently make some clichéd selections.

Some contests are erratic. Deal with it. I entered the plane crash picture that is featured on my homepage in the “Magazine Photographer of the Year” contest. It was thrown out because it was the only one in the “Spot News” category.

Winged Reflection

Mitchell Gallery, Less is More

Presentation is important . If the entry rules state that you should enter a jpg, make sure that it is in RGB and the resolution is 96 dpi or slightly more. Remember, this is where your piece will be judged.

The real value of these contests for you, the photographer, is recognition; and better than that, a pause in your photographic pursuits where you discover the images that you are proud of.

Photography and Civil Rights — Yesterday and Today

To commemorate 50 years since the passing of the Civil Rights Act, an exhibit called “The Movement: Bob Adelman and Civil Rights Era Photography” is at the Museum of Art in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

AdlemanThe extent of Bob’s show is formidable, showing African American living conditions in the South in the 1960’s, voter registration efforts (left), freedom marches, sit-ins, and Martin Luther King‘s speech at the Washington Monument. Charlton Heston was in the audience!

I was reminded of a discussion between Julian Bond and Danny Lyon at the  National Geographic seminar this year where Danny talked about his civil rights photography. Julian reiterated that Martin Luther King and other leaders of groups such as the Congress for Racial Equality (CORE), the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) actively recruited photographers to document the civil rights conditions in the United States. Julian told us that King said “We have enough lawyers, we need photographers.”

Many young photographers took up the challenge, including Charles Moore, Dan Budnik, James KaralesLeonard Freed, and Danny and Bob. With several others, they created a legacy of the times. Many of these pictures are iconic — demonstrators blasted by water hoses in Birmingham, school desegregation in Montgomery, sit-ins in Greensboro, and aides pointing to where James Earl Ray fired the shot that killed Martin Luther King at the Lorraine Motel.

After I saw Bob Adelman’s exhibit, it dawned on me that we are witnessing a similar situation happening in the US today. Several Supreme Court decisions in the past two years have changed the landscape. One nullified the the 1965 law that required lawmakers in states with a history of discriminating against minority voters to get federal permission before changing voting rules. Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act had required federal review of new voting rules in 15 states, most of them in the South. Between 1982 and 2006, the Justice Department blocked more than 700 voting changes on the basis that the changes were discriminatory.

Mother Jones Magazine looked at how many of these 15 states passed or implemented voting restrictions after Section 5 was invalidated by the Supreme Court compared to the states that were not covered by the law. They found that 8 of the 15 states, or 53 percent, passed or implemented voting restrictions since June 25, 2013 compared to 3 of 35 states that were not covered under Section 5—or less than 9 percent.

The other Supreme Court decision upheld portions of the Arizona immigration law S.B. 1070 (specifically Section 2(B)) on whether the law unconstitutionally invaded the federal government’s exclusive prerogative to set immigration policy. The justices found that it was not clear whether Arizona was supplanting or supporting federal policy by requiring state law enforcement to demand immigration papers from anyone stopped, detained or arrested in the state whom officers reasonably suspect is in the country without authorization.

Many people (including some justices on the Supreme Court) believe that the civil rights battles of the 1960’s secured these rights for posterity. Civil rights organizations think otherwise and point out numerous recent state house reversals of our “inalienable rights”.

The photographs I see appearing in the media that relate to these recent decisions are mostly one-offs of demonstrations or politicians that are supposedly speaking about the issues. I say “supposedly” as it is impossible in a still photo to know what they are addressing – (Arizona S.B. 1070? Voting rights legislation in North Carolina?)

Where are the in-depth photo essays that give viewers visceral reactions to these subjects? I have searched the web for such photographic stories and have found none. If you, dear reader, know of any, please leave a comment and I will include them in this post.

Getty Images Allows Social Media Usage

Huge news was made a week ago in the online photography business. Getty Images announced that they were allowing that many of the pictures on their website that are for sale now will be available for anyone for “non-commercial use”.

Until I investigated, it gave me pause, as I am represented by Getty through National Geographic, and surely did not want my images out there without payment. After all, I am a professional photographer who makes my living selling images.

Some websites such as petapixel.com decried Getty’s actions saying, “…in the end, this represents Getty throwing in the towel when it comes to non-commercial use of its images. They’ve lost this war, and rather than fight the hoards of people on the Internet who pull their images without watermark or credit and use them all over the place, Getty has created a legal use avenue that they believe will “benefit [their] content creators.”

In looking into the “embedding” process that Getty uses, I found that they are relying on a company that they acquired called PicScout. The software they use is sophisticated enough so that even a fragment of the embedded image is identified. According to Maura Mulvihill, National Geographic Society’s Image Collection Vice President and Director, Getty plans to use the PicScout software to crawl the web for violators of the terms of service that were agreed to when they were downloaded.

Here is an embedded Getty image. Click on it and it will take you to the Getty site where the picture is located.

It is interesting that I can “screen grab” this image and eliminate the information below the picture. Can they Getty still track the image?  I don’t know. Below right is a screen grab of the image taken from Getty’s site.

Getty Screen grabWhile Director of Imaging at National Geographic, I had several  software companies demonstrate their ability to survey the web and find sites that used NGS pictures illegally. My question always was, “Who will be the cop?” Their answer was NGS. We did not have the legal resources to do so.

Maura says that PicScout will contact the violators and negotiate a payment to Getty. What happens if a violator refuses to pay? Obviously Getty can’t hire all the lawyers in the world, so I would guess it depends on how grievous (read $$$) of an offense has occurred.  BTW, you can obtain the services of PicScout if you so desire.

You may have noticed that on this site that I have a link to National Geographic Creative where NG Image Sales sells my images, and you can also buy scenic/art photography directly from this website. The difference is that my pictures that Geographic sells (and receives a portion of the proceeds) are editorial and commercial in nature and the NGS clients are corporations, ad agencies or large volume users. NGS is not interested in selling to individual consumers — for them it is not worthwhile to spend the effort on such a small one-time sale.

The jury is still out on the Getty decision. A screen grab of an image on the web is still very easy. Today, not many people want a high resolution image to print – they want a lo res to send immediately to their friends. And that is why you don’t see many of my best pictures on my Instagram or Facebook feeds.