Michele McCormick Photography: Blog https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog en-us (C) Michele McCormick Photography (Michele McCormick Photography) Mon, 16 Mar 2020 06:50:00 GMT Mon, 16 Mar 2020 06:50:00 GMT https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/img/s/v-12/u47584621-o127323482-50.jpg Michele McCormick Photography: Blog https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog 92 120 Capturing the Moment https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2015/10/capturing-the-moment It has been a while since I posted a blog - in fact, an embarrassingly long time.  Life intervened, and kept my focus elsewhere.  The photography has been there, but the energy to write about it in an expressive way has been absent.  Now, that energy has returned, and I am capturing it and moving forward, much as one might capture a particular image, and then advance.

The photo illustrating this blog is an example of just such a moment. It was shot in Yolo County, on a ranch opened to artists for one day, as part of Yolo County's marvelous program, Yolo Arts and Ag. To be honest, I didn't see much potential when I arrived at this particular location.  Bales of hay, some paint-faded buildings, a stand of olive trees and a few animals.

But I walked around the corner of a barn - a shed, really - and there stood this horse. His presence caught me completely by surprise. I lifted the camera, took the shot as I saw it at first instant, and then paused to reflect for a moment. Shutter speed, aperture, depth of field, white balance, ISO, composition, best angle of the sun - all these thoughts began running through my head. What were the opportunities presented here? 

As fleeting as those thoughts were, they still took too long.  In that bare scrape of a moment, the horse withdrew back into the shadows, the opportunity was gone, and I had exactly one image.  Would it be anything at all worthwhile?  I would only know when I looked at it back in my digital lab.

Indeed, in my opinion, there is something there.  A zen horse, balanced against theshadows, in a mask that is interpreted in many ways. The simple fact is it is a flymask to protect him from bothersome insects. He can see perfectly well. But viewers see this mask in many ways. Masked HorseMasked Horse

Quiet as he is, this horse speaks volumes to some people. He has been on exhibit a few times, and he evokes reaction. For me, this spells success.  And it is the way of photography that this success, a powerful image, came out of a fleeting capture that was unplanned and almost instinctual. 

Writing about him today was also unplanned, and almost instinctual.  But it feels right, and so I look forward to the next story I will have to tell, and to creating another image which will also speak to those who see it.

(Michele McCormick Photography) Yolo Yolo Arts and Ag composition creative vision flymask horse learn michele mccormick photographic vision photography https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2015/10/capturing-the-moment Sun, 18 Oct 2015 00:29:59 GMT
Photography: Show It! https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2013/3/photography-show-it      This week has brought a bit of chaos to my life. My desk is littered with experimental prints. Shards of foam core are everywhere, along with random slices of mat board. Three disassembled frames lean up against the stairs. A T-square, chunk of plywood and a variety of knives and tools are spread about. Somewhere there are some pencils, if I could only find even one.

     It was always my plan to do some exhibits in 2013. The idea was a slow ramp up and gradual entry into this arena. I am new to show participation, with little idea of what to expect, what opportunities make most sense for me, how to do all this the smart way. Which is why my thought was to go about it with deliberation. That way, I could profit from each experience as I moved on to the next.

     But plans don't always unfold with such precision.

     It all started just fine. A series of five images was accepted for show at an area Chamber of Commerce later this year.  There's an opportunity to enter two images in an exhibit at an area performing arts center in May. Two images were accepted into a juried exhibit opening in April. All well and good. Then . . .

     An artist unexpectedly dropped out of a nearby event. Artwork is needed for many venues, and will be on display for several weeks. A friend suggested the curator take a look at my work. And suddenly, I have an opportunity to show 20 images, with three weeks notice. Am I really ready for this? I'm not sure. But I do know that an opportunity of this nature may not come again. And so I am busily printing, cutting mats, and generally scrambling to prepare my images. It's a grand learning experience. And good skill development for what is to come. Namely, a studio tour in June, that will require another group of top quality images.

     At the same time, I am feeling the heat of the deadline to submit images for consideration to the California State Fair. And I am eager to submit images for review to a very fine Art in Public Places program.

     Is all this the smartest way to move my photography forward? I don't know. I hope so. I look forward to sharing insights from these experiences. What I do know is that there are many very fine photographers whose work resides primarily on their computers. It remains a personal pleasure to them. But after a thirty year career in public relations, I tend to be a person who is all about sharing and communication. And that instinct has come to apply to my photography as well.

     So there's no doubt that I want to share my work. The greater quandary is in sharing it wisely. How does one know when it's time to begin sharing one's work? How does one know when the quality level is there? And how does one discern the standards of fine art in photography? It seems likely that there is no moment of perfect clarity. Rather, the circumstances just come together, and the thing to do is plunge on in.

     That's the whirlwind that's enveloped me for the moment. Whatever happens next . . . I'll report back.

     In the meantime, if you're interested in seeing more of my work, click here to visit my website.



(Michele McCormick Photography) California state fair bare feet fine art photography learn photography michele mccormick photography participating in photography exhibits photography photography exhibit triathlete https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2013/3/photography-show-it Mon, 25 Mar 2013 18:44:55 GMT
Dimensions of Photography https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2013/3/dimensions-of-photography      Photography is often referred to as a two-dimensional form, but this is a misnomer. At least, it is a misnomer in regards to the dimensions photography occupies in life.

     Talk to any experienced photographer and they will tell you that the moment when the photo is actually taken is only the first sliver of what is involved in making, rather than taking, a photograph.  How many dimensions can we uncover? The deeper you delve into the art, the craft and the technology, the more layers unfold.

     I find photography is much like learning a foreign language. At first, you learn a few basics. You can greet, ask about the weather, understand simple directions. Yes! I am speaking French! But then there comes that moment when someone asks you for an opinion. Or you feel a need to speak in the conditional (if I had known, I would have . . . ). Or you are desperate to explain an issue (I made my reservation last August, but it may be in my sister's name . . . )

     And suddenly you realize that you do not speak French at all. There is much much more to be learned.

     Photography is like that. Only more so.

     First, we learn to operate a digital camera. Even today's "point and shoot" cameras offer options and choices which require some level of understanding. There is that joyful moment - hooray! I can take pictures.

     But "taking" and "making" pictures are not the same. And so there is a hunger to learn a bit more. How to find the best vantage point. How to compose an image with some originality. And gradually . . . what about the lighting? Speedlights or constant fluorescents? How do I balance them? How do I arrange them?

     So now the image is in my camera, I can look at it on my computer or smartphone, I can share it with others. But. It doesn't really look that great. Can it be improved? Of course!

     The world of photo optimization is one which can be easy or a lifelong study. From the beautiful simplicity of Snapseed to the seemingly infinite possibilities of PhotoShop, there is no limit to the learning that can occur, or the time that it can occupy.

     Once the image is ideal, or at least adequately pleasing, there is the question of what to do with it. Exhibit it on a website? Or take it yet another step and learn to print it. That means studying papers, so that you choose the one which best matches the photographic qualities of your image. It also means calibrating your monitor, understanding inks, and discovering the language that links your computer to your printer, so that the image you see on your screen will emerge from your printer exactly so.

     And finally, now that the glorious image exists in a tactile way, it must be properly displayed. Which brings us to the world of framing, rag mats and foamboard, an ability to cut mats and an understanding of archival principles.

     The final step is exhibition, and that truly is a universe all its own.

     Few people take up photography with all these levels in mind. But for many of us, that first inclination to take camera in hand, with however a casual end in mind, is the first step on a road that is endlessly fascinating. It has taken some time, but I have come to feel that all these elements are keystones in the photographic process. I am simply driven to immerse myself.

     Some days, it feels like the process of achieving comfort with all these dimensions will be endless. And it may well be.

     But so are the rewards.




(Michele McCormick Photography) creative vision elements of photography learn photography passion for photography photography https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2013/3/dimensions-of-photography Tue, 12 Mar 2013 22:07:17 GMT
Photography: Playtime https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2013/2/photography-playtime      I'm a huge fan of Sacramento photographer Tim Engle. As our mutual friend social media exemplar Thomas Dodson likes to point out, Tim doesn't just talk about it, he actually does it all.

     Whether for his clients or for the photographer-fans he mentors through his Meetup group Click Monkeys, Tim demonstrates a versatility and energy for photography that is exceeded only by his enthusiasm for sharing. And he makes it all look so easy. How does he do that?

     Part of it, of course, gets to years of experience, of having done a lot and made more than a few mistakes along the way. The other part, equally important, is an ongoing excitement about the act of photography, and an interest in experimenting and playing, and just seeing what comes out in the end.

     At this point in his career, Tim has some photo playtime advantages not available to all of us - among them, a fine studio, and a seemingly infinite lineup of beautiful young models who are eager to be photographed by him. It's always fun to see his latest work, the moods and madness his creative brain has conjured up.

     Participating in his workshops is an excellent way to catch the creative spirit. But that doesn't mean any of us must wait for an event to exercise the photographic muscles.

     Personally, I have two studios and a variety of sets. There's the garage, where I can open the main door and turn the whole place into one huge lightbox. Then there's the card table in my office. Enhancing sidelight from a glass door makes it the ideal spot for shooting food. Add a speedlight and I've created a  most satisfactory product display set.

     The fact is it doesn't take much to create interesting photographic venues in a variety of locations, all scant seconds from my desk.

     All that's lacking is a model. I was pondering this challenge earlier this week, when I suddenly realized I have a most interesting model right at hand. It is a circa 1920 Model 1 Remington portable manual typewriter. The first such ever made.

     According to the Wall Street Journal, vintage typewriters are suddenly all the rage. Ergo, the perfect model.

     And so my Remington and I spent a fascinating afternoon together. I cleaned off my oak desk - the perfect vintage background - and shot the old machine with four lenses and a variety of lighting set-ups. I tried to see what I could do with shadows, with a macro lens, with the reflections of keys on the shiny metal typewriter body. Two hours flew by in a nanosecond.

     I had such fun. I learned a few things. Among them, when I viewed the images I learned I had not exhausted all the possibilities, and I hadn't quite captured the machine as I had hoped. So it could be Model 1 and I are in for some more fun times.

     Because I also learned what every child already knows - the best way to learn is to play.




(Michele McCormick Photography) antique typewriter casual studio creative photography improve photography learn photography photographic studio at home photography photography as playtime typewriter https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2013/2/photography-playtime Thu, 28 Feb 2013 01:43:19 GMT
Photography: Freestyling https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2013/2/photography-freestyling      OK, it's time to admit it publicly: I am a huge fan of American Pickers. I am amazed by the volume of junk some collectors accumulate. I am astounded by the way it seems to rule their lives. And I am beyond impressed with Mike and Frank's ability to sift through the detritus and dross, and discover items that will have real value for the right person.

     I especially like it when they have no particular lead to follow, and instead set off to do what they call "freestyling" - cruising the back roads in search of spontaneous opportunities.

     Freestyling is an attitude, and it's definitely one that has a place in my photographic life.

     Most of the time, my photo ops and expeditions are well planned. OK, make that moderately well-planned. By which I mean I am out in pursuit of something I have envisioned in advance. It may be a sunset, a person, a location or an object. I've thought about the tools I'll need in my bag, the circumstances I'm likely to encounter, the challenges that may present.

     It's not unusual for me to shift gears along the way. More than once I've sought sandhill cranes in the dawn light, only to discover that the birds and I have different ideas about ideal roosting locations. So an intended bird shoot may turn into a sunrise photo op, or a great time to find beautiful reflections of weeds in water.

     Those experiences are all about flexibility and opportunism. Freestyling is something else.

     Recently, my husband and I had to make an unanticipated trip to Illinois to help with a family matter. Central Illinois in January means miles of flat, unscenic farmland, ground that is frozen and unlovely, hazy days and minimal outdoor activity. The agricultural area is remote, the scenic opportunities limited at best.

     And so, of course, as I grabbed my suitcase and tossed in a few wintry items, I also made sure the camera bag was ready to go. On this trip, I would most certainly be freestyling.

     What does that look like? It looks like Frank and Mike, with me riding shotgun as my husband drove us to the various places we needed to be. On the road I peered at this and that, and I began to notice things. Barns. An abandoned house. A yard full of rusting farm equipment. A zigzag pattern on a frosty window.

      I wondered what some of those things would look like at sunset or at dawn. I bought chemical hand and foot warmers and persuaded my husband to come out with me in the 16-degree morning at 6 a.m. so we could find out. And as I got a sense of interesting things, I asked some questions. What else would be cool to photograph?

     Well, I was told, there is this covered bridge about ten miles from here, built in the 1800's . . . would that be interesting? Indeed it would.

     And so I took a few pictures, none of which I had in mind as the trip began. They are the opportunities which presented. I am becoming more and more convinced that for the photographer with eyes and awareness, they are there in every situation.

     Freestyling. I like it.

     To see more of my Illinois images, click here.


(Michele McCormick Photography) Illinois agriculture farmland freestyling heartland learning photography michelemccormickphotography.com photo opportunities photography https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2013/2/photography-freestyling Fri, 22 Feb 2013 21:32:18 GMT
The Etiquette of Food Photography https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2013/2/the-etiquette-of-food-photography       What is it with the urge to photograph food? We do it to record a meal, to illustrate a particular food success or failure, to create a beautiful and enticing image, or just to make our friends jealous of the terrific time we are having.     

     But suddenly, food photography is an entirely new arena of controversy. Or so The New York Times reports.

     To be honest, it's a little unclear to me if this is a serious issue, or if it's a matter of a desperate reporter seeking something, anything, to write about. That said, not all elements of this story are in doubt. There's no question that a lot of people do photograph their food. The mock iPhone 5 ad on this subject is one of the funniest videos making the rounds these days. It's also fair to say that reactions to these images range from something beyond boredom to utter disgust. Furthermore, there's no escaping the fact that, when they are taken in restaurants, the process of taking these photos can be highly annoying to chefs, waitstaff, fellow diners and tablemates.

     All that said, I plead guilty guilty guilty. I love to photograph my food. Doesn't matter if it was created and plated by my husband, by my catering friend at Barcellona Bites, or by a current favorite restaurant - in the case of the photo below, Taste. Photographing food is an arena of its own, and one in which I am working to develop a serious expertise.

     That means taking pictures of food in a variety of locales and settings. And it means doing so without alienating anyone around me, or interfering with their experience.  At home, I experiment with natural and artificial lighting, I try different table settings, and I fuss a bit with the food, to make sure each element is at its best.

     In restaurants, it's a different story. My rules:

     1. Take a window seat whenever possible, for the greatest likeliehood of a nice scrape of light across the food.

     2. Never use any form of flash.

     3. Shoot with a wide angle lens, to discreetly get the shot close up. Never stand to take a shot.  Avoid moving your chair, if possible.

     4. Don't touch or tinker with the food, yours or anyone else's, though it may be necessary to move items on the table to get them out of the shot.

     5. Positioning a fork or knife is OK.

     6. Take a light reading before the food arrives, so you can shoot quickly when it does come.

     7. Do it all in one minute, two minutes maximum.

     8. If it looks like the circumstances are just a bit too difficult, give it up.

     In other words, protect the privilege of taking these often wonderful images by keeping it as low key and discreet as possible. And . . . . bon appetit!

     To see more images of the food I love, visit my gallery, Delicious.





(Michele McCormick Photography) Taste Restaurant barcellona bites creative photography etiquette of food photography food photography how to photograph food learning photography michele mccormick photography michelemccormickphotography.com photography https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2013/2/the-etiquette-of-food-photography Tue, 05 Feb 2013 18:53:08 GMT
Photography: Chasing the Moon https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2013/1/photography-chasing-the-moon      Everyone loves a beautiful sunrise or sunset shot, and why not? These scenes can be extraordinarily beautiful.  And beyond that, they are not that difficult to achieve. After all, the sun rises and sets every single day. There is no end of opportunity to practice.

      The moon is a different story. It takes a very special endeavor to capture those fabulous shots of the full moon rising or setting. The best opportunity occurs just twice in each lunar cycle, on the one morning and the one evening when the sun and moon rise or set at virtually the same time. At the special time, the sun provides just a bit of golden illumination, so that landscape elements can be discerned, while the moon glows with all its character. Any more sunlight, and the moon is washed out. Any less, and the moon is a bright circle in a black sky.

    The lighting is magical at those times when sun and moon rising and setting times coincide.  On other days, the rising and setting times of the moon and sun are so far apart - sometimes by hours - that this kind of opportunity simply isn't available.

     Happily, there are any number of apps that provide these times, as well as reminder apps that send out automatic notifications. So it's easy to learn when the ideal moment will occur and plan ahead.

     But even the best laid plans can go awry if other factors are not considered. I am sorry to say this has happened to me more than once.

     I am fortunate to live in a wonderfully scenic area. I live in Folsom, and an impressive array of scenic lakes and bridges are just minutes from my house. On one recent morning I decided to take advantage of that location and shoot early morning pictures of the moon setting in the west just as the sun was rising in the east. I went down to Folsom State Recreation Area's beautiful Negro Bar, where I have taken some lovely dawn shots in the morning. The river runs to the west at the point, and I had visions of a spectacular scene.

     But I had forgotten a crucial fact. The earth turns on an axis. The moon spins around it at changing angles. And so while it's true that the moon rises in the east and sets in the west, it does so at angles that vary throughout the year.

     While the angle of the sun's rising and setting also changes, the quandary is less difficult. Watch the sun throughout the day, and you have a good sense of where it will set. Watch the sky in the early morning, and the dawn glow reveals its location. And, as we all know, the sun is big and bold every single day. There are lots of opportunities to seek the perfect shot.

     The moon is a bit more subtle. And while I was up early enough to get get a sense of its trajectory before it set, I didn't realize that, from my planned location, the moon would not only _not_ set over the river, it would also be obscured by rising bluffs well in advance of its actual setting time. So as it turned out, my pre-dawn escapade on a Sunday morning turned out to be for naught.

     Or . . . . not. I used the opportunity to get a bit more education. I scouted some other vantage points that might work in the dawn hours. And I came home and Googled up a solution. Yes, there is an app, The Photographer's Ephemeris, which provides detailed tracking of the sky and other information on natural lighting conditions throughout the day. Among key features, it shows the precise trajectory of the sun and moon on maps of locations around the globe. At $8.99, it feels like a potential bargain.

     I have 29 days to get comfortable with it - and I will report back here. In the meantime, there's nothing wrong with continuing to work on those sunset shots as well.


(Michele McCormick Photography) full moon how to photograph the moon learning photography michele mccormick photography blog shoot the moon https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2013/1/photography-chasing-the-moon Sun, 27 Jan 2013 23:11:22 GMT
Photography: Get the Focus https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2013/1/photography-get-the-focus      When it comes to photography, there are few experiences more hideously disappointing than loading your images onto your computer, only to discover that your fabulous pix, so beautifully composed and perfectly exposed, are not in focus.

     Tack sharp is the standard of excellence, the holy grail of all photographers. It should be easy to achieve - anyone with a DSLR has auto focus, right? And yet it is all too easy to go wrong.

     But before we get into more detail, let's just say right up front: yes, Photoshop and Lightroom do have sharpening features, yes there are things that can be done in post processing. But those solutions are not perfect. Better to get it right in the field.

     Why is it such a problem, and what are the most common causes of soft focus? There are several.

     One reason the problem occurs is because our LCDs lie to us. Amazing as it is that you can immediately view your image in a format that is three inches square or even larger, that simply is not large enough.  Zooming in helps, but it won't tell you with absolute certainty whether your image meets the tack sharp standard. You will only know that once you've viewed your image on a full screen at a one-to-one ratio.

     And so, it's easy to feel confident that the results are good, and perhaps forego some basic precautions. After all, if you're experienced and you know how to hold your camera solidly, you can certainly shoot handheld at 1/30th of a second or perhaps even a little slower, right? Maybe. Or maybe not so much.

     So what does cause softness?

     Camera shake is number one. The tiniest camera movements are immensely magnified when your images are blown up. The longer your lens, the greater the magnification of the problem. This is an issue that will never go away, but it's also one that is not difficult to correct. There are two solutions.

     One is to simply increase your shutter speed. If you're shooting a full-frame camera handheld, at a minimum your shutter speed should equal your focal length. If you're shooting a cropped frame, make that one-and-a-half times.

     Conditions won't let you shoot that fast? No problem - use a tripod. If fact, whenever in doubt - use a tripod. Make certain it is rock steady. Use a remote or cable release to ensure you don't cause camera motion when you press the shutter button. If you don't have one of those, simply set your camera for timed shutter release.

     But maybe you have a different issue - were you correctly focused to begin with? If your camera offers you a multiple focus point option, you may want to try using just a single focus point.  That way, you know for certain the key element of the photograph will definitely be in focus. If you're shooting wildlife or portraits, for example, that would be the eyes.  In dark situations, it can be difficult to be certain your focus is precise. Carry a small flashlight to ensure you're focusing on the key element of your image.

     Be sure your shutter speed is adequate. If you want to freeze a fast-moving object - say players in a football game, a flying bird or racing horse - you'll need at least a 1/1000th of a second exposure to get a perfectly focused freeze. Know your subject, and experiment with the best shutter speeds to be sure you get the image you want.

     Don't forget to think carefully about your depth of field. If it's too narrow, key areas of your image may well be out of focus.

     You may ask yourself, if my photo is just a little soft will anyone really notice? The answer is yes, they will.

     All of which is not to say there's no place for blur in outstanding photographs. Of course there is - in panning shots, in mood shots, in shots meant to convey action, along with many other creative approaches.

     The key is to have absolute control over the results of your photography. Tack sharp when it should be, and control over other effects so they'll emerge exactly as you envision.


(Michele McCormick Photography) creative vision elements of a successful photograph how to ensure your photographs are in focus how to focus how to get your pictures in focus learn photography photographic vision photography successful photography tack sharp https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2013/1/photography-get-the-focus Tue, 08 Jan 2013 22:55:23 GMT
Photography: Shoot it Now https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2013/1/photography-shoot-it-now      The photo below was taken at 7 a.m. one morning when I had everything but photography on my mind.

     I was thinking, instead, about our houseguest with whom I was about to take a morning power walk. I was thinking about the breakfast my husband had planned to make for us, and the fact that we didn't want to be late. I was thinking about the extra care I needed to give my dog, who recently had surgery. I was thinking about the unusual cold snap which had left frost everywhere. And I was thinking I should just quickly run out and grab the newspapers.

     But when I did step outside, I took one look at the sky, and all other thoughts left my mind. Instead, I ran inside to grab my camera and tripod. I told our guest I'd be ready to head out in just a few moments, but first I needed to take a couple of pictures. "Really?" he said. "Now?"

     Yes. Now. Because I have learned from painful experience that the best moment to capture any image is now - the moment I see it.

     It embarrasses me to think about the many times I've seen an opportunity and thought - I'll get that shot another time. But even routine shots are never quite the same the next time. The sun does not rise and set in just the same place each day. The clouds are always different. The laughing child who was so exuberant and photogenic one afternoon is simply not in the mood the next day.

     Many of the best travel photographers say they get their greatest shots because they return to the same place, again and again, in order to be present when those perfect moments occur.

     Not long ago I was driving home from an afternoon of errands when I suddenly noticed the sky was filled with fabulous cloud formations. It seemed to me that they would be even better as the sun set, and so I felt I had plenty of time to head home, grab the camera, and drive to a nearby vantage point.

     But I was utterly wrong. The clouds turned gray as the sun set. The vantage point was polluted with high tension lines. The beauty I had seen was not to be captured that day, at least not by me.

     Of course it isn't possible to capture every opportunity. But my resolution going forward is to recognize the fact that each opportunity is unique, and that it may never again present itself in exactly that way. And so I must consciously make my choice. I can do my best to be prepared, and take full advantage of spontaneous opportunities. Or I can recognize that in certain circumstances, I'm simply not prepared or not able to photograph that day's gift.

     The beauty of the universe around us is that there truly is an infinite array of possibilities. Each is unique, and will never be precisely repeated. That is both the glory and the frustration of photography.

(Michele McCormick Photography) key to capturing unique images learn photography philosophy of photography photography unique image https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2013/1/photography-shoot-it-now Sat, 05 Jan 2013 01:52:38 GMT
Photography: Resolve to Protect Your Images https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2012/12/photography-resolve-to-protect-your-images      A year ago, I did something very smart. I attended a seminar on copyright information for photographers, put on by California Lawyers for the Arts.  Earlier this month, I did something just as wise - I attended the seminar for a second time, to make sure I had fully absorbed all the information correctly.

     Speaker Amitai Schwartz was excellent. He is both an attorney and an outstanding photographer who understood his audience perfectly.  While his presentation focused on copyright, and model and property releases, it also reinforced my awareness that there are many ways to protect our images - and we should be cognizant of all of them.

     The topic is timely for me personally. Recently, a well-meaning friend shared a photo I had taken of her with a third person. That individual thought the image would be a good illustration for an article she had been assigned, and submitted it to the publication without my knowledge. The happy ending to that story is that the publication recognized my metadata in the photo, contacted me, and we negotiated a one-time use fee.

     So our photos can circulate in many ways. There is no absolute means of ensuring that your photo will never be used without your knowledge or permission. But there are steps you can take to reduce that possibility, and to ensure you have the ability to seek redress if it does occur.

    Here are five key tips.

 1.    Include your metadata on all images. Your processing software allows you to include as much information as you wish to share. At a minimum, include your copyright information and one or more means of contacting you, such as e-mail and phone numbers.  

2.     Share with care.  We all enjoy sharing images on the web and in social media. Upload small files - nice to see online, but not much use for professional purposes. Set them for 72 dpi, which also limits other uses

3.     Always include your watermark.  The question here is one of scale. Do you make it big and obvious, which makes it hard to fully appreciate the image, or do you keep it more subtle. In my own case, I choose subtle. The photo can still be enjoyed, but the message is there - this image is my property

4.     Document your images' permitted uses.  We all shoot under many different scenarios, ranging from contract assignments, to paid photo sessions, time for pix and even practice sessions. If you'll be providing images to your subjects, be sure and document what uses are appropriate. This works both ways, of course - if the work is paid for hire, you may not be allowed to use it, although I always try to seek at least portfolio permission. If you're shooting a friend or model for practice, I make it clear that they may have unlimited personal or personal marketing use of the images, but no third party or commercial use is allowed without my express permission and involvement

5.     Copyright your images.  Finally, and most importantly, if you plan to use your photographs professionally, do go through the process of  formally copyrighting your images.  As I learned from Amitai's terrific presentation, under US law your images are technically copyrighted the moment you press the shutter. Unfortunately, that standard gives you little redress if your photos are used without your knowledge -  you would have to actually prove exactly how much revenue you have lost because of the misuse.

       Copyrighting your images with the US Copyright office gives you far higher levels of protection and redress. There are many myths about what it means to copyright your photos - that you can seal a disk in an envelope and mail it to yourself, for instance.  In fact, the only actual way is to register your images with the Copyright office.

       It isn't a difficult process, though it does take a bit of time. Simply go to the Copyright Office website, and follow the instructions for registering artwork with the Electronic Copyright Office (eCO). You'll fill out a form, establish an account, and pay a fee of $35 to upload and copyright an unlimited number of images. While the system is easy to use, it does require you to enter the name of each image individually - that is the time-consuming part. I typically copyright about 300 to 400 images each time, uploading small files that are 500K or smaller.

       It takes the Copyright Office some weeks or even months to mail you an actual certificate of copyright, but in the meantime your submission is assigned a file number, so you are protected in case any issues arise in the interim

       Depending on the volume of work you produce, in may be reasonable to go through this process once a month, once a quarter, or a couple of times a year. Certainly the peace of mind, and protection you gain make it well worth the effort and modest cost.

       Follow these simple steps to photographic stress reduction, and enjoy a happy New Year!





(Michele McCormick Photography) copyright document photo uses how to copyright your photographs how to protect your photographs permitted photo uses photography share your photos safely simple steps to protect your photographs watermark your photographs https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2012/12/photography-resolve-to-protect-your-images Wed, 19 Dec 2012 18:57:54 GMT
Photography: Selling Dreams https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2012/12/photography-selling-dreams      I spent Tuesday of this week at a Scott Kelby seminar in Sacramento. For $99, I was one of some 500 photographers who spent the day elbow-to-elbow in a large conference room, watching a presentation on Lightroom 4 by Matt Kloskowski.

     There is no doubt about it: the presentation was excellent. And well it should be - Kloskowski has given the seminar dozens of times. He is a terrific and entertaining presenter, fine photographer and fully knowledgeable about Lightroom. And yet, something about the day made me uneasy.

     Let's put it like this: while Scott Kelby's books were among the first I bought when I got serious about photography, and I've watched many of his online tutorials, the seminar was the first time it dawned on me that the affable Mr. Kelby is more than a helpful photographer. He is the head of an immensely successful enterprise which offers books, DVDs, seminars, conferences, services, the works.  His surrogates offer highly-attended seminars on a variety of photographic topics all around the nation.

     At this seminar, along with the instruction on Lightroom, there was an ongoing undercurrent of sell - for $99, join his organization, NAPP, for ongoing access to seminars, tutorials and insider info. Buy the latest books and DVDs. Become, in short, a member of the Kelby universe and stay on top of everything you need to know to be a fine photographer.

     I do not mean this as a criticism of Kelby. I am a capitalist! He is the most successful in this realm, but he is not alone. Photographers have become a lucrative target for a mega industry of seminars, software, equipment and travel.

    Today's top professional photographers have recognized there is real revenue to be made from - and let's not mince words here - people like me who are, at least for now, photographer wannabes.

     I've been a part of this for a couple of years now, but something about this seminar, perhaps its scale and slickness, stopped me in my tracks.  I suddenly realized I was there in two capacities. As a student, and as meat for the machine.

     There is no question that excellence in photography requires on-going learning. We need to understand the artistic elements, such as composition and subject, and technical subjects, including the operation of complex cameras, editing software and printing. There's a lot to know, and there is ongoing change.

     But what has struck me is that there is a  mega industry out there with the hidden agenda of convincing us all that the learning never ends, that there is a depth of knowledge we can never achieve. And so we must go on photographer-led trips, buy new software, take classes to learn how to use it, and seek feedback on further improvement. Not to do so is to risk failure.

     All of this is true to a degree, but each of us must step back and ask to what degree it is true for us as unique individuals.

     Take the software. There's Photomatix, Topaz, Nik and many more, all offering amazing enhancement opportunities. There is an implication that any good photographer is capable in all of these, but I am growing less certain about that. Ultra-enhanced images appear in marketing presentations, online "wow-me" galleries, and photography club competitions. Where else? I am not sure. But I'm suddenly aware that this is an important question.

     I certainly have a lot of learning ahead of me. I do it best in smaller seminars offered by groups like Sacramento's Viewpoint Gallery or through photographers like Terry Nathan whose work and teaching style I admire.  I am thinking more carefully about my own goals. Is it to be part of a group? To share images with friends or online? To do fine art? Editorial work? Stock?

     My own clear understanding of these questions will help me interact effectively with the big machine out there whose business is to foster a society of photographers who yearn to learn. That machine can definitely offer value, but for those who wish to become something more than photographic acolytes, it must be managed with care.

     I left the seminar to take rainy night photos of one of the area's most-holiday-decorated homes. Back behind the lens of my camera, I felt more at ease than I had all day.


(Michele McCormick Photography) Matt Koslowski Photographers Scott Kelby business of photography cult of photography learn photography lightroom lightroom 4 marketing to photographers photography seminars https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2012/12/photography-selling-dreams Wed, 05 Dec 2012 19:32:02 GMT
Photography: Picture the Child https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2012/11/photography-picture-the-child      Olivia Benz is only five years old, but she is a model and actress with an active portfolio including a recent booking in a national TV commercial. It was a great pleasure to have the opportunity to spend an afternoon photographing Olivia along with her mother, actress Jessica Benz

     But consummate professional that she may be, there is still no forgetting a key factor when it came to shooting Olivia: she is five years old. So her Mom and I did some special planning in advance to help ensure our time together would be fun for Olivia and rewarding photographically as well.

     We started with the shared philosophy that the day must be all about Olivia. It was important to be sure that she was having fun, and that the whole experience of being photographed remain enjoyable fun for her in all regards. So we talked about things she might like to do - in her case, she likes to color, to dance and to eat cookies!

     Throughout the afternoon, we gave Olivia a full voice, in fact a guiding voice, in what we would be doing next. We started with some easy ideas, to get comfortable together. Olivia likes to smile and happy headshots were a good launch. We were so mobile that I didn't use a tripod, but I'd definitely recommend a tripod and cable or remote release whenever possible - to get the photographer out from behind the camera and into as much interaction and dialog with the child as possible.

     We made up little games to make posing more fun. We played hide-and-seek behind a tree. I asked Olivia to close her eyes and bow her head and then see if she could surprise me when she looked up quickly. I showed her the pictures as I took them.

     We moved fairly rapidly between activities. When she declared "Let's do something more fun!" that's exactly what we did. And so we played in the front yard, she rocked wildly with her mother, and she whispered special secrets into her mother's ear. She cuddled her beloved dog, danced in her beautiful tutu, and at the end of the day came the special treat - fresh baked chocolate cookies made with her mother. Along the way, Olivia took the occasional break to change clothes, to watch me photograph Jess or set up my lights in a new way.

     Olivia kept me on my toes - and on my knees and flat on my stomach on her family room floor. Along with ideas for activities to ensure she was happy and engaged, I tried to keep in mind that cuteness alone doesn't make terrific images. A creative approach, and creative angles would go a long way to making Olivia's photo session a successful one.

     When Olivia showed signs of flagging we ended the session promptly. And not a moment too soon, as Jess and I agreed it had been a whirlwind afternoon.

     This level of activity might not be right for every child. And there are certainly many who would run out of patience and of steam long before the three-hour session that Olivia worked through. But a few key points will work for any child. Most important is to ensure that the session truly is based on what's fun for the child. Remember that this child is a person, and engage them as fully as possible - that photographer/subject rapport will always shine through. And finally, keep the creative approach in mind. The child's inherent cuteness is only a starting point.

     Did all this work for us? You be the judge.

     To see more images of Olivia, click here.



(Michele McCormick Photography) child photography elements of a successful photography how to photograph a child learning photography photography working with photography models https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2012/11/photography-picture-the-child Wed, 28 Nov 2012 23:05:11 GMT
Photography: Protecting Your Work https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2012/11/photography-protecting-your-work      I've just spent a lovely afternoon doing what photographers most love to do: typing.

     On to the truth - the typing I was doing is, in fact, not at all what photographers love to do. But it is what we must do if we care about our work.

     The typing I refer to was a long list of file names. The bottom line is that if you care about your photographic work, you protect it by registering it with the US Copyright office. It costs $35 to register a virtually unlimited number of images, through a fairly simple process. Fill out a form, pay the money, and upload the images. The only catch is that each image must be individually named. Therefore, there is a bit of typing involved. But if you want to talk about value, this is it.

     Last year I was fortunate enough to attend a seminar on copyright and model release issues presented by attorney/photographer Amitai Schwartz through California Lawyers for the Arts.

     Schwarz did a great job of making a few things very clear. First, it is true that when you click the shutter on your camera, under US law you officially hold the copyright of that photo. Unfortunately, when it comes to the practical matter of protecting your work, that means very little.

     The same is true of posting a copyright notice on your images. While that serves as an alert, it provides you with very little protection. Should someone use your images without your protection, your only recourse would be to show how much they have profited from that use.

     Other myths on copyright abound. I once attended a class in which the instructor informed us that photographers can protect themselves by mailing a DVD of images to themselves, and keeping it sealed. There are also services which claim if you mail them your images, they will keep them sealed and provide copyright protection.

     Schwarz made it clear that none of this is true. The one true method of assuring copyright protection, and of having the opportunity to successfully seek some level of compensation for copyright violation, is to actually register your images with the US Copyright office.

     The truth is, it isn't difficult to do, it's just tedious. Today, I spent a bit more than two hours, and $35, registering about 400 images.

     Do I copyright every image I create? No. But I rank the ones I think may have the potential for future use or value, and once a quarter I make a submission. To date I have copyrighted about 1,000 images, and my intention is to make this a regular element of my photographic routine.

     Last month, while in Italy, I had a lot of fun shooting photographs of streetcars gliding by in the rain. An example is below. You might like it, or you might not. But however one feels about it, be aware that it is mine, registered and protected. In an era when it is all too easy to scoop images up from a variety of online sources . . . that makes me feel just a little bit better about sharing the images I love.


(Michele McCormick Photography) copyright copyright protection learn photography photographic copyright photography https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2012/11/photography-protecting-your-work Sat, 17 Nov 2012 02:26:06 GMT
Photography: Taking It on the Road https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2012/11/photography-taking-it-on-the-road      It seems that life should be so easy for the travel photographer. You visit wonderful places, you snap great pictures of amazing sights, you head home with a flashcard full of wondrous images. If only.

     In fact, the travel photographer - or the traveling photographer - is bedeviled with an ongoing onslaught of challenges. Some are predictable, and others just spring out of nowhere. On a recent trip to Italy I faced circumstances that ranged from a change in operating hours, making it impossible to visit a key site, to a steady four days of rain, to the fact that major portions of an impressive cathedral are currently under repair and covered in scaffolding.

     When you're planning a significant journey, with arrangements that must be made weeks or months in advance, there is simply no way to be prepared for every eventuality. Not to mention the fact that, no matter how industrious one may be, it is impossible to be at every key location during the most magical hours at dawn and dusk.

     Which is why, when you ask many travel photographers how they happened to capture a particularly extraordinary shot, the answer is likely to be some version of, "I went there again and again over a period of years."

     All that said, one cannot toss away all the opportunities of an important trip just because of a little rain, or scaffolding or a cranky portiere. Instead, we rethink, come up with a different approach, and come away with images that are every bit as satisfying, if not more so for their unexpectedness.

     And of course, on top of employing personal creativity to the max, we also make like Boy Scouts and go prepared.

     To that degree, I give my equipment a lot of thought. It's one thing to pile it all into a car and head for the mountains near home. It's another to get on a plane to places far more distant. When I went to Europe, here's what I took:

     A roomy camera bag that is 30 years old, doesn't look much like a camera bag, and definitely doesn't look as if it contains anything of value.

     Two lenses. A 28-300 zoom, and 16-35mm wide angle. Between the two of them, there is little I can't capture.

     A tripod. While I have a terrific RRS tripod, at 7 pounds it doesn't travel well. For hiking and trips, I have a Benro Travel Angel with built-in ballhead. 2.9 pounds, folds down to 16 inches, and comes with a very practical carry bag.

     A Wolverine for on-the-road backup. I don't reformat flashcards until the images are on the big computer at home - but the Wolverine gives me immediate backup. It gets packed in the suitcase, the flashcards go with me on the plane. I might lose one or the other, but am most unlikely to lose both.

     Several cheap spare showercaps that I've picked up in various hotels. Perfect for those rainy days.

     Extra pairs of cheap readers - I always have a pair of these glasses on a leash around my neck.

     Two flashcard holders. A black one for flashcards that are ready to use. A red one (stop!) for those that hold current images.

     And that's about it. With this equipment, I came home from Italy with plenty of fine images, despite the hurdles that major trips always seem to include.  Those images include the rainy day HDR shot of the Ponte di Alpini in Bassano del Grappa you see below - a shot that was only possible because I had my tripod with me at all times.

(Michele McCormick Photography) elements of a successful photograph learn photography michele mccormick photography photography travel photography travel photography equipment https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2012/11/photography-taking-it-on-the-road Wed, 07 Nov 2012 21:39:21 GMT
This Photographer's Journey https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2012/10/this-photographers-journey      Nearly two years into the adventure seems like a good point to stop and assess how it's going.

     First a little background: the journey actually began in 1960, when I was handed my first Brownie camera. OK, let's bump that up to 1968, when I studied Radio,TV and Film at Northwestern University. That course of study included still photography work, and I thoroughly immersed myself. A few years after college I spent some time as a freelance writer, accumulating a portfolio of more than a thousand articles published in a wide variety of magazines and newspapers. Many of them were illustrated with photographs shot with a Nikon I still own today.

     Then there was a hiatus of about 30 years, until one day in 2010, going through clutter in the garage, I came across a box of images I created in 1970. And I was hooked all over again.

     But the world has changed a lot since then, and I have had - and still have - much to learn. Looking back over the past two years I can see, with much relief, that there has been progress.

     I started with classes at the local recreation center to learn how to use the Nikon D5000 my husband gave me as a hint that I should retire from the business I had worked in for decades and spend my time following my own desires. I've also taken numerous classes from Sacramento's outstanding Viewpoint Photographic Gallery, which attracts outstanding instructors.

     For two years, I've attended the California Photo Festival, an absolute cornucopia of photographic learning. All of these experiences have taught me that there are specific instructors I admire, and whose workshops and seminars I will specifically seek out going forward. They include Hal Schmitt, Reed Hoffman, Terry Nathan and Rick Sammon, among others. Each of these is not only an outstanding photographer, but a passionate instructor. As I learn more, it is ever more important to me to think carefully about who my teachers are.

     I've also been active with the Sierra Camera Club, submitting images to their monthly competitions in nature, travel and general categories, which are all critiqued by an ongoing series of invited judges. I don't always agree with their comments, but I do always gain some new level of insight.

     I believe that these activities, along with participation in a variety of photographic meetup groups, have all been immensely helpful. The problem, as with any serious endeavor, is that the more I learn the more there is to learn.

     So, at this point, where am I?

     I am growing. Two years ago, my photographic journey had no clear direction. Today I can say that I am interested in editorial photography for publications, in stock photography and in fine art. Those are three broad areas, but they give me more focus than when I began.

     I am entrepreneurial by nature, so making photography at least a small enterprise is part of the journey. To that end, I launched a website and a Facebook artist page. I have done some portrait work, had images appear on business websites, a calendar, a university periodical and a city magazine. I have signed a RM contract with age fotostock - that last being a significant milestone for me.

     So there is a slow liftoff. But there is much more to come.

     Overall, what is most wonderful and amazing is the incredibly talented company I have on this journey. It is humbling. One of my resolutions going forward is to spend much more time examining and appreciating the work, not only of the greats - from Henri Cartier-Bresson to Annie Liebowitz - but of the people I meet in classes and on outings. I am continually awed by the images they make.

     Going forward, of course, I will continue to share experiences through this blog, and images through my website. Thank you for taking the time to take a look.

     And for a last look backward, the image below is from my college portfolio, war protest, spring of 1970.

(Michele McCormick Photography) 1970 war protest best photographers california photo festival hal schmitt learning photography michele mccormick photography photography journey photography teachers reed hoffman rick sammon terry nathan https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2012/10/this-photographers-journey Sun, 21 Oct 2012 16:58:30 GMT
Photography: A Model Experience https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2012/10/photography-a-model-experience      Scientific studies on eye movement have shown that there are two elements of any photograph which will immediately draw a viewer's interest - the written word, or a human face or form. No matter the intent of your photo, or what its major, compelling elements may be, if there is a sign in the background, or a tiny human figure to the side of your glorious landscape, that is where the eye will go.

     Which makes it all the more important to understand how best to photograph those items when they are the objects of primary interest. That said, as fun as it may be to shoot written words (and I have a pile of highly entertaining signs from a trip to China), most of us have a greater interest in photographing people.

     And that takes us to the next level of consideration. Namely, which people? Most of us are fully capable of shooting a well-realized business portrait, but it's boring. For practice, fun, or remuneration, we shoot environmental portraits, which are more interesting. We take street shots, event shots, and images of family and friends. And, if you're like me, at some point you recognize that if you really want to learn to shoot people, and to be as creative as possible, it's important to learn to work with professional models.

     Why? Because they will give you their time and attention, either for money or for trade of time-for-photos. And because professional models understand the nuances of posing, the relationship between photographer and model, and the unselfconscious professional approach that is key to success in any photographic session.

     This past week I was fortunate enough to attend the California Photo Festival put on each year by LightWorkshops in Los Ossos. There, in the space of a few days I had the opportunity to work with models in a variety of situations, ranging from classic portraiture, to a Playboy-style shoot, to fine art nude photography.

     A few key tips:

     1. Understand how to keep the session fully respectful and professional. If you must touch your model, whether to slightly adjust hair or fix a turn-up collar, ask the model's permission first.

     2. Do your best to make sure the model is comfortable. Adjust the room temperature if this is feasible with your shoot. Provide water and snacks. Modeling is harder work than it may appear - let your model know you're open to taking breaks as needed.

     3. Study posing in advance. You can Google up a wealth of posing suggestions, whether for males, females, couples or families. Have some ideas in mind before the model arrives. Don't hesitate to ask your model for thoughts as well . . . but remember that it is your role to art direct the shoot to success.

     4. Have your lighting configured in advance of the model's arrival. Test it out by shooting a friend, family member, or time-delayed shot of yourself. Even if you're shooting outdoors or in natural light, take test shots in advance.

     5. Be sure to give the model instructions on how to dress, and what particular look you are going for. It's fine to ask him or her to bring several different outfit selections.

     6.  Show the model how the images are turning out throughout the shoot, and share the excitement of your positive results.

     7.  Keep the energy level up with lots of positive feedback - the model cannot read your mind. If things are going well, share your thoughts. If something different is needed, express it in a positive way.

     8.  Be effusive in your thanks and appreciation, and share photos promptly if you have promised to do so. A top notch model is a treasure, and strong, positive relationships between models and photographers are highly beneficial to both, no matter what your current career levels may be.

     Above all - have fun!

     And to see more of the fun I had this past week, visit my Food to Nude gallery, for images with models and more.



(Michele McCormick Photography) fashion guide how learning model models photography posing professional to with work https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2012/10/photography-a-model-experience Thu, 18 Oct 2012 18:49:00 GMT
Photography: When the Light is Right https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2012/10/photography-when-the-light-is-right      Photography is all about the light. And not just any light. We all know that the key to the most wonderful outdoor photography is to shoot at those perfect times of day: the hour right around dawn, and the gorgeous pre and post sunset moments.

     The light at those times is at its most soft and beautiful, there are no harsh shadows. Whether you're shooting a landscape, a person, or a bug - it's sure to look its best.

     This weekend I took a workshop from the terrific photographer and UC Davis professor Terry Nathan, and we had a good discussion on just this subject. His view is that there are opportunities at every time of day, and I am coming around to his perspective. It is true that noontime photography offers its own challenges. But I like to think that for most challenges there is a solution, and perhaps even a creative opportunity.

     I'm a shadow fan, for instance. The hours when terrific shadows can be found extend far deeper into the day than the golden hours of dusk and dawn. And as noon approaches, it might be time to think macro, or to find some light-evening shade.

     On the other side of the clock, we all know that darkness can also be a photographer's friend. Few things are cooler than the images that emerge from longer exposures taken in so-called "utter darkness".

     Terry's workshop took place in the high Sierra, just as the fall colors were beginning to gain drama. It took place from 9 a.m. to 1:30. We walked around a barren, rock-strewn area, and shot interesting, granite-punctuated landscapes. We walked up a hillside and shot colorful aspens, their leaves backlit by the high sun. And we experimented with macro shots of barbed wire and nails in the boards of a crumbling old corral.

     We talked a lot about composition, and the diversity of photo opportunities within a very short range. But we had no complaints about the light we were dealing with. It was easy to find things to photograph wonderfully.

     The bottom line is pretty obvious. You are where you are, when you are there. You cannot be everywhere at dawn or dusk. Certainly there are images that are most wonderfully captured in that light, and in an ideal world, you can plan to be at the right spot with the best possible lighting condition. But wherever you are, and whatever the light, there is almost surely an image that can be ideally captured for that place and time.

     I would like to see the aspen colors at dawn or dusk, but this weekend I saw those brilliant yellow trees throughout the day. I shot the picture below at about 2 in the afternoon. Would it have been better at another time of day? It would certainly have been different.

     Like so many of life's activities, photography has rules. And as is always the case, breaking the rules can lead to a good result. Photography is all about the light, and exploring ways to make it work for you, at any time of day, is a big part of the creative joy of this captivating pursuit.





(Michele McCormick Photography) creative vision elements of a succesful photograph golden hour learning photography photographic composition photography https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2012/10/photography-when-the-light-is-right Tue, 09 Oct 2012 13:56:34 GMT
Photography: Keywords to Success https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2012/10/photography-keywords-to-success      A few weeks ago, I responded to a request for photos from Image Brief. Image Brief is a service that puts photographers together with clients who are seeking very specific photographs on very short notice. The idea is that somewhere in the world, there must be a photographer who has that photograph of a red-haired woman standing on a Tahitian beach with a starfish in her hand, while wearing an Indian sarong. Or something along those lines.

     This particular request was a bit more mundane - the client was seeking an image of a man in his sixties, pensively looking off into the distance. I had a few photographs I thought came close to this description, and I sent them off. Alas, none was selected.

     But this week, as I was doing some portfolio clean-up, I came across the photo below. Good grief. It came far closer to meeting the requested brief than anything I had sent - why hadn't I upped my chances by including it?

     The simple and embarrassing answer is that I hadn't found it because it wasn't properly keyworded. In fact, the only keyword on the file until yesterday was "Mendocino". I had thought of this as a family photo, and really hadn't considered that it might be right for any other use. Silly me.

     I've talked before about the vital importance of editing photos - by which I mean rigorously deleting images you know are not top quality, or potentially usable in some way.

     But the second step in this workflow is even more important, and that is keywording your photographs. Keywording is the first, and perhaps most essential step in ensuring you can quickly access photos that meet a specific need or criteria.

     Read my lips on this: you can't make use of your images if you can't find them.

     No matter how rigorously you edit, it's amazing how quickly a catalog builds up into the many thousands of images. And no matter how memorable a shooting session may be, in a few weeks, or a few months, or a couple of years from now, other memories will crowd it out.

     And, of course, you are not the only one who will use your keywords to find your photos. If you've got a Search Engine Optimization strategy, or you're selling to stock agencies, or you have your own website - you'll want others to easily be able to locate images of interest. And they are most likely to do that with a keyword search.

     Proper keywording is an art that I admit I am still developing. And yes, there are keywording software programs, but these are a bit controversial. Many can insert keywords that are not precise. Your clients may well be quite annoyed to search for "wine bottle" and come up with a photo that only shows broken glass.

     But while keywording should be accurate, remember that it can also refer to the mood or impact of the photo, its shape, and such elements as predominant colors.  How many keywords should each photo be assigned? Many professionals consider ten a minimum number, others think of twenty as the ground floor, and it's not uncommon to find images with dozens of keywords.

     How did I ultimately keyword the photo below? Here's my starting list:

     Don, watching, older man, seated man, binoculars, thoughtful, pensive, watching, Mendocino, wooden stairs, senior, birdwatching, concern, California, deck, steps, jeans, casual, vertical

     I'm still thinking on additional words to add. If you have ideas - let me know!


(Michele McCormick Photography) keyword keywording photographs manage your photographs organize your photographs photography photography workflow https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2012/10/photography-keywords-to-success Wed, 03 Oct 2012 17:21:53 GMT
Photographing the Erotic Fruit https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2012/9/photographing-the-erotic-fruit      You don't have to read D.H. Lawrence' poem, Figs, to know that figs are the most erotic fruit - although it certainly helps.

     Figs are also among the most visually interesting fruits. Pale and somber on the outside, fleshy, colorful and multi-textured on the inside. How best to capture all that in a mere two-dimensional photograph? I had to give it a try.

     Two things inspired my effort. First, I've recently acquired a 200mm macro lens. It's an interesting beast, which renders detail wonderfully while offering serious depth of field challenges. Common wisdom has it that wider lenses, in the 10mm to 24mm range work best for food. So I decided to try it both ways.

     And I was also inspired by the season. Fresh figs are available in my area of California for only a few short weeks each year, and then they are utterly and completely gone. As the famous poet makes clear, fresh figs cannot be preserved. So if I was to take on the challenge, now would definitely be the time.

    Luckily for me, our farmer's market provided a box of good-looking purple figs, which I set up in my home studio. That studio consists of a card table. I topped it with some scraps of foam core, and used bits of pvc pipe, a hanger, a white trash bag and a flashlight to fashion a light box.

     Next was the matter of composition. I tried a single fig. Boring. I tried cutting a fig in quarters as Lawrence suggests, but that just looked strange. I balanced the figs together in groups, I layered slices, I tried single slices, figs half cut, and a variety of combinations. In short, I found fig composition to be a bit more of a challenge than I had anticipated.

     The wide angle compositions never quite spoke to me, but the long lens was a recipe for fig beauty. I shot at an ISO of 200, with a f-stop of 32 to maximize the depth of field. The exposure was three full seconds.

     I also played with the flashlight, creating variations in the shadows and brightness on the fruit.

     After some three hours of experimenting and shooting, I had a few images I liked, and a delicious feast of figs. The photo below is one of my favorites. Have I captured the essence, appeal and mystery of this wonderful fruit? Tell me what you think.

     As for me, if this weekend's farmer's market yields another basket of figs, I may well try further. Eroticism is in the eye of each individual, but for me, there is no doubt that fig fascination is ongoing.


(Michele McCormick Photography) composition cuisine fig fig photography food photography fruit gourmet photography photograph fruit photography https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2012/9/photographing-the-erotic-fruit Wed, 26 Sep 2012 01:30:30 GMT
Photography: In the Night https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2012/9/photography-in-the-night      There is little that is more fun than night photography. Given a little extra time, the camera sees images and settings in far different ways than the eye - which is, after all, nearly blind in the dark.  Colors, textures, dimensions emerge. They may be far different from what one has imagined or planned for. The experience of capturing such images can be an inspiring solitude, or raucously social. However it is undertaken, it is always revelatory and satisfying.

     I recently had a chance to do some night sky photography at Lassen Volcanic national park. For three nights in a row, I stationed myself in the middle of a vast open field, with the lights of Drakesbad a dim presence several hundred yards away, and no other illumination for miles in any direction.

     It was the new moon, so the Milky Way was clearly visible to the naked eye, though not so clearly or colorfully as it would emerge in photos. And in trying to capture this sky at its most wonderful, I learned a few things.

     First, have the right equipment. Obviously, a tripod, for long exposures. A headlamp is a useful light, since it leaves the hands free. I complemented it with a tiny spotlight to adjust camera settings. A good quality flashlight would be useful for light painting. And I used a wide angle lens - 16mm for almost every shot.

     Second, know the rules. Or at least, one key rule - the rule of 600. The focal length of your lens, divided into 600, yields the maximum number of exposure seconds before the stars begin to move and blur. It is one thing if you are hoping for star trails and planning on very long exposures. If you want a crisp shot of the sky, the rule of 600 . . . . rules.

     Third, take lots of test shots. In the dark, it can be very difficult to compose your shot. Plan on taking lots of test shots of shorter duration, simply to see what is in the picture. My 16mm focal length meant that branches I'd thought were plenty far away had a habit of wandering into the edges of my image.

     Fourth, be aware: infinity may not be as absolute a setting on your camera as you would wish. I started with my lens set in the dead center of that lazy eight, but made slight adjustments and then magnified to see what kind of crispness I was really getting. Don't take infinity for granted - I am here to testify that many shots that seem as crisp as could be in that little LCD on the back of the camera are disappointingly fuzzy on the big computer screen. Experiment to find the sweet spot for you.

     Fifth and finally, be sure to recheck all your camera settings before you go out again. There are the obvious changes. Your 4000 ISO for night shooting may not work so well in the daytime. Your lens and camera, set to manual for the night, may need to be returned to auto for daytime shooting. But the biggest issue is the changes you may have made unawares. In the deep darkness, it is easy to change settings you never intended to touch.

     Did I get some terrific sky images? You tell me - click here to see my night sky and other images from Lassen. All I can say is - I was enthralled with this new moon night shooting experience, and I can't wait to do it again.



(Michele McCormick Photography) learn photography learning photography night photography photography sky photography https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2012/9/photography-in-the-night Tue, 18 Sep 2012 03:33:20 GMT
Photography: Finding the Passion https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2012/9/photography-finding-the-passion      I'm currently reading an interesting book by Daniel Pink, called Drive.  The book talks about what actually motivates people. And it turns out people aren't really most motivated by money, awards or recognition. What really gets people energized is an intrinsic motivation - the inner desire to simply be doing something for its own sake.

     When an individual becomes immersed in that kind of activity, to the extent that they are thoroughly engaged, perhaps even lose track of time, Pink refers to it as being in the "flow".

     Those of us who have a passion for photography understand that concept perfectly. We've all had the experience of being so thoroughly wrapped up in a shooting experience that the time literally flies. Or so fully immersed in processing that we are completely undistracted for hours at a time. That is the greatest joy of photography - to have the ability to pursue that aspect of photography which captivates us to the greatest extent. It is why we cheerfully arise at ungodly hours to catch the perfect light for that sunrise or nature shot. The rewards are so utterly satisfying.

     Alas, not all photography experiences meet this wonderful standard. Professional photographers who make their living at this craft must sometimes make allowances. In photography there is the art, there is the passion, there are the opportunities that absolutely put you into the flow. And sometimes there is simply the work that must be done.

     I recently participated in a fun and enlightening workshop at San Francisco's Four Seasons Hotel. Along with a small group, I photographed food, hotel rooms and meeting rooms at this exceptional facility. I learned some interesting things about photography for the hospitality industry. And I learned some things about myself.

     While I came away with a nice selection of images - click here for the gallery - I did feel a bit of frustration. There is much about the hotel that is beautiful and interesting. But our assignment was to create some images that the hotel might actually want to use in its marketing campaign. They needed to show certain rooms in a certain way. And I found that interesting as a practical exercise, but unexciting as a photographer. I wanted off the leash to capture some of the wonderful images I felt I was missing.

     That was not to happen. But the experience was enlightening. I am interested in many types of photography, and in ensuring that I have the skills to carry off the requirement of the moment. That is the practicality of life. But at the same time, I am learning more and more about what really excites me and involves me as a photographer, and how to create those kinds of photographic opportunities.

     Is it possible to bring the passion and the practicality together completely? Maybe. Or not. But as long as the vision is there and the pursuit is understood . . . a photographic life can be very good.

     The pictures I liked best from my day at Four Seasons are not likely to be used in a hotel marketing campaign. But the pleasure I got in capturing them was its own reward. I was in the flow, and there is nothing better.


(Michele McCormick Photography) Four Seasons Photography creative vision learning photography passion for photography photographic passion photographic vision https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2012/9/photography-finding-the-passion Tue, 11 Sep 2012 02:10:16 GMT
Nature Photography: On Its Own Schedule https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2012/9/nature-photography-on-its-own-schedule      On a recent Sunday morning my cell phone rang with an interesting opportunity - a friend who lives in the country had found a dead deer on his property the evening before. With the rising sun, the turkey vultures were circling. Might this be an interesting photo opportunity?

     Without a doubt!

     But there was a problem. I was already in my car, on the way to an immutable commitment. The deer would be nothing but a sad memory by the time I was free. My thoughtful friend had an idea - he would put a tarp over the carcass, and uncover it when I arrived. We agreed I'd show up about five o'clock.

     My idea, as you might imagine, was that the light would be just a bit softer by that hour.

     I arrived to find what seemed to me to be ideal circumstances. The vultures had been circling en masse all afternoon, eager to get at the hidden deer. The carcass now lay in rough grass about 30 yards from my friend's back fence. I had a slightly elevated position from which to view it, with trees and a scenic lake beyond.  I set up my tripod, and waited. And waited. No vultures flew. The dead deer lay undisturbed. As darkness descended I gave up and hatched a new plan.

     It seemed the vultures had gone to roost, but they would surely be out in the morning - assuming the deer wasn't consumed by creatures of the night. I would return the next morning at 6:30 a.m.

     And so I did. Amazingly, the dead deer appeared to have been untouched overnight. For a long time there were no vultures. A shy coyote circled and circled and peeked out occasionally. At about 8:30 a.m., one vulture lit in a nearby tree. He was joined by another. At about 10 a.m. five more of the big birds appeared, and began circling and swooping all about. The coyote continued to peer through the dense dry grasses.

     At one point two of vultures landed and began to feed, but as I moved towards my ready camera on its tripod, they flew quickly away.

     I began to get the picture - just not the one I was hoping for. My assumption had been that the birds, which regularly frequent the area, were at least somewhat accustomed to human presence. That a low-key approach, and patient waiting to get them accustomed to the concept of my harmless presence would be adequate. But I was sadly mistaken.

     By 11:30 am., I gave up in the certainty that the birds would absolutely outwait me to the bitter end.  I left with some fun pictures of a praying mantis, some tomato vine shots with possibilities, an interesting picture of a wooden sculpture, and, painfully, an image or two of an immensely patient turkey vulture, drying his wings and watching me with a gaze that betrayed just the slightest trace of mockery.


(Michele McCormick Photography) Photography elements of a successful photograph how to photograph wildlife how to shoot nature learn photography nature photography photography and patience turkey buzzard turkey vulture vulture wildlife photography https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2012/9/nature-photography-on-its-own-schedule Tue, 04 Sep 2012 20:54:26 GMT
The Fine Art of Photography https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2012/8/the-fine-art-of-photography      Anytime I mention that I am a photographer, there is an inevitable question: what sort of photography do you do?

     That is a more difficult question than it may seem. The opportunities for photographic endeavors and career directions are almost limitless.  From fashion photography to news photography, to specialists in food, portraits, weddings, sports, wildlife, commercial products, industrial devices and more . . . the list goes on.  

     And then, there is also the fine art of photography.

     I recently had an opportunity to exhibit an image - one image - at the Blue Line Gallery in Roseville, California. The curator of the exhibit was kind enough to take a look at my website, and make a suggestion as to which image I should include.  His choice surprised me. It would certainly not have been my first pick.

     So when I went to the gallery to deliver the image, I brought along a couple of others as well, just in case. But his opinion did not change, and he generously took some time to talk with me about photography in general, and fine art photography in particular.

    My own photography is largely editorial in style. He had no quibble with that, but for his gallery, he said he was looking for something more. Images that make one wonder, images that stretch and engage the mind. It isn't enough, he felt, to portray a subject. In that case, the viewer observes, takes in, and then moves on. Fine art photography should stimulate a deeper level of thinking.

     We often say that successful images tell a story. Perhaps another way of looking at it is that fine art images lead the viewer into an element of a story, but leave him poised with his own thoughts of how that story may unfold.

    Everyone knows, of course, that some of the photography we view today as fine art was originally more editorial in nature. The amazing photography of Dorthea Lange was originally commissioned by the US Government to document the lives of migrant workers in the 1930's. Today, we look at those images and see something far deeper than "documentation". We see the immense character of people struggling to survive in the most difficult of times.

     Even the work of the great Ansel Adams may be fairly viewed as the documentation of wonderful places. But he accomplished this in a way that takes the thoughtul viewer beyond those places, and into another realm of wonder.

     My conversation with the curator has left me thinking about my own photography in a new way. I like an editorial style of photography, and that will continue to be an important emphasis in my photographic identity. But I am thinking more about the art of my work, looking at images in a new way. I realize I would like to create images will do more than impress the viewer with beauty, accuracy, a slap of emotion or the thrill of recognition.

    Instead, I am thinking it would be wonderful to create images that will leave the viewer with his or own thoughts - thoughts that could go in directions I never imagined or intended, and create an experience that lasts far beyond the few seconds any image may hold a person's attention.



(Michele McCormick Photography) Ansel Adams Dorthea Lange artistic photography covered bikepath fences fine art great photography learn photography photography when photography is art https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2012/8/the-fine-art-of-photography Fri, 31 Aug 2012 02:01:00 GMT
Photography: 1,000-to-One https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2012/8/photography-1-000-to-one      Photoshop, LightRoom, Topaz, Photomatix - those are just a few of the image enhancement and manipulation programs that enable today's photographers to unleash their creative vision, and realize images that would have been nigh-to-impossible to create only a few short years ago. As amazing and easy to use as today's technology may be, each of these programs shares one significant drawback. Each of them takes time.

     How important is that time? It all depends on your objectives and your market. If you are established in the fine art or creative market, then spending an hour, or a day, processing an image to ensure it perfectly represents your creative message is all a part of the game. But if you're shooting for stock, editorial, or client-specific work such as a wedding, the passage of time is your greatest enemy.

     I try to do a little of both, but there's no doubt that for now my work is predominantly editorial.

     And last weekend was a prime example of the key role that time plays. 

     At 6:30 a.m. on Sunday morning I was at Folsom's Nimbus Flat State Park, shooting a triathlon. My real purpose was to get some experience shooting action with my new D800. By 10:30, I had shot more than 1,000 images, and I was almost as whipped as the triathletes themselves. I headed home to see how the images looked on the big screen.

     My first step was the ruthless editing I try to employ in these situations, especially since I had done a lot of shooting in continuous mode. Using LightRoom, I trashed anything that was out-of-focus, had irretrievably bad lighting, where the athlete had run out of the image, or that I just felt was not going to work, with or without adjustment. I also quickly reviewed the continuous sequences, quicked picked the one or two best, and trashed those that were totally duplicative.

     Then I went back and flagged the images I thought had possibiities. I wound up with fewer than 100 images. From those I easily whittled it down to 50 that I felt might be suitable for my website gallery. I eliminated several that seemed too similar. With 20-plus images remaining, I felt I had a good selection. These shots each required only minimal cropping and light adjustments, and voila. I posted a Triathlon Gallery.

     Looking at it with a fresh eye the next morning, I decided the gallery was short on swimming images. And so I added one more.

     Examining that image more closely, I realized it just might meet the criteria for Sacramento Magazine's monthly featured photo called "The Big Picture." So I sent it off - and within an hour had the response every photographer likes to see . . . "You nailed it."

     Given the subject matter and the magazine's monthly schedule, that timing was right on the edge. Another week, and I would likely have been too late.

     All that said, it is still fun to go back and see what kind of manipulation might make the photos more fun. And so, pleased as I am with the editorial quality of the images I shot, I still couldn't resist a bit of play with the image below.



(Michele McCormick Photography) creative vision learn photography photo editing photo sales photography photoshop https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2012/8/photography-1-000-to-one Fri, 24 Aug 2012 16:57:30 GMT
Photography: Right Brain Left Brain https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2012/8/photography-right-brain-left-brain      Is there any artistic endeavor which engages the brain so totally as does photography?

     I like to think of it as my creative outlet. Certainly there is no doubt that photography is artistry. And based on the images photographers create - ranging from the wonderful to the startling - there is no doubt that the best photographers enjoy and express unlimited creativity.

     But that said . . . there is another side to this work as well. 

     That realization hit me solidly last week, as I had to put the joy of right brain activity aside for a few days of solid left brain focus. To reiterate what every photographer knows only too well: there is a lot more to this work than the snapping of pretty pictures.

     The happy news is that I got a new camera at last, finally actually holding in my hands the Nikon D800 I've been lusting for since early this year. That acquisition produced initial happiness, followed by a serious bout of manual-reading, feature-googling, and practice manipulation with a highly sophisticated piece of equipment. The saying goes that it's very unwise to fall in love with something that cannot love you back, and that is particularly true in this case.

     The D800 is terrific, but it's also different. That means, time spent understanding the menus, learning the external functions, becoming accustomed to the heft, and experimenting with a whole set of new focal options.

     Though we're still getting acquainted, the first foray with my new true love went quite well. Right up to the moment when I returned home and attempted to load the images into Lightroom.  Lightroom said: I don't think so.

     I like to think the panic than ensued was relatively brief. A few e-mails and an endurable session of googling later, I had learned that it would be necessary to update my software - not a favorite activity but often an essential one. I accomplished that without too much pain, only to learn (to no surprise by this time) that naturally various plug-ins would also need to be upgraded.

     I won't say more about those experiences, exception to mention that I am not much of a techie, and so the tasks that would have taken a 10-year-old 15 minutes or so took me just a little bit longer.

     In the midst of all this, I learned that I have a fine opportunity to show an image in an important area gallery. Which inspired to learn a skill that's been on my back burner for too long, mat cutting.

     This tale could go on, but I'll stop here, point more than sufficiently made.

     My lovely friend, the artist Mya Louw, tells me that this right brain left brain challenge is true for all artists, but I am not so sure. This week's photo of her studio (taken with the thrilling new camera!) is meant to convey that transition, that movement of tools and materials into art.  I understand that all artists must think in terms of mathematics and the practical properties of their materials.

     But is there another artistic pursuit that so fully engages right brain and left as does photography?

     I find it seriously hard to believe.





(Michele McCormick Photography) creative vision creativity learning photography left brain photography right brain https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2012/8/photography-right-brain-left-brain Wed, 15 Aug 2012 01:16:06 GMT
Photography: It's All in a Name https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2012/7/photography-its-all-in-a-name      The photograph below is of a Sierra mountain wildflower commonly known as scarlet gilia, and whose Latin name is ipomopsis aggregata.  I know that, not because I am a wildflower expert, but because I spent an hour or so scouring the web for information after taking the picture. In other words, it took me a lot longer to get the information about the flower than it did to create the image.

     And yet, that research must be done. No matter how pretty the picture, it isn't of much use without the details. 

     There are three powerful reasons for this.

     First is that there is little point in having a fabulous image if no one can find it.  Every photograph in your collection should be fully keyworded. The accurate common and Latin names of flowers, birds, bugs, plants, animals and anything else that is identifiable by species, genre or style, simply must be included. Prospective buyers of photographs often have highly specific needs. If your photograph isn't fully labelled, it will never surface in their search.

     The second critical factor is that many stock agencies, publications and other photography clients require extensive keywording, including identification data. Some specify a number of keywords, ranging from ten to twenty. All expect accurate identification details to be included in that. Unless your photos are intended solely for your own viewing pleasure, the keywording process is an essential element of your workflow.

     And finally, the third factor is that you must be able to find these images within your own collection. It could be that at the moment you have only a dozen or so photographs of "yellow mountain flowers". But believe me, that number is going to grow. At some point you are going to want to put your hands on the picture of Ranunculus eschscholzia (Alpine Buttercup) that you just know is in there somewhere amongst the daisies.

     All that said, just how do you accomplish identification? With experience and knowledge, it becomes easier. But if you are just starting, you will have to count on doing a little web-trolling. There are wonderful sites for wildflowers, like sierrawildflowers.org; sites for insects, like bugs.net, and a host of butterfly identification sites, including Western California Butterfly Garden.

     Alas, none of these research sites, no matter how wonderful, will do the work for you. If photographing bugs is what you're all about, your expertise will grow. But in the meantime, plan on spending some time gathering the correct details. This is an investment that will absolutely pay off.

     Create your own resource list as you go along - it will become one of the most important tools of the trade. Get into the habit of identifying and labelling your successful images soon after you take them. As time goes on, you'll realize that this information is as critical to your image as the elements that make it technically successful.

(Michele McCormick Photography) composition elements of a successful photography keywording learning photography managing your photographs photography scarlet gilia sierra wildflower wildflower https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2012/7/photography-its-all-in-a-name Mon, 30 Jul 2012 22:22:44 GMT
Photography: When the Light is Not Perfect https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2012/7/photography-when-the-light-is-not-perfect      I recently spent a fine day hiking in the Sierra Mountains. There were tons of wildflowers, fabulous views, pristeen streams . . . and one decrepit old barn.

     What is it about old buildings, junkyards, and deteriorating cars that catches a photographer's fancy? It's hard to say, but there's no doubt that we all love those things. And while I have a wealth of shots of beautiful views and flowers to sort through, none of them feels particularly original. The images are nice, but they've all been done.

     And so the barn truly caught my fancy. It was just a bit down the path, sitting in a meadow accessible only by a rutted trail. It has an air of disuse and has fallen into significant disrepair. There are traces of red paint remaining on the roof. The boards are weathered, the interior dim, and cracked and fallen boards allow streams of light to enter.

     I walked around, in and through the barn, and photographed it from every conceivable angle.  There were two challenges. First, I was there at absolutely the wrong time of day. Mid-afternoon, with the sun at its peak, the exact hour when knowledgeable photographers will tell you to go home, shoot in the studio, come back at dusk or dawn - or at any hour when your shadow is longer than you are tall. The shorter the shadow, the harsher the light.

     But sometimes we have to deal with things as they are. Which brings me to the second challenge - the interior of the barn, with its ancient worn boards and views out into the bright meadow cried out for an HDR image. But I had no tripod on the long hike. I'm comfortable with improvising for long exposures, but HDR is another matter.

     So I made do in a few ways. I shot the barn from all angles, looking for shaded areas that might work. I used a polarizing filter to deepen the blue sky. And I shot the enticing interior at a variety of exposures.  Back at my desk, I played with LightRoom to create the HDR effect I didn't have the equipment to produce for real.

    For now, I rather like this image. But I am also making plans to go back and try it another way . . . a different time of day, and the right equipment to take the shot I'm now imagining.  The barn is a good two hours from my home, so it may be a while before I get there, but when I do I'll have a plan.

    Hey - it's old, it's decaying, it's filled with character, and I am drawn to photograph it again like a fly is drawn to honey.


(Michele McCormick Photography) HDR barn learning photography photographic lighting photography sierra https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2012/7/photography-when-the-light-is-not-perfect Thu, 19 Jul 2012 01:59:34 GMT
Photography Equipment https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2012/7/photography-equipment      My current camera is a Nikon D5000, given to me by my husband two-and-a-half years ago. He told me to think of it as a "starter" camera. It wasn't of course - my starter camera was the box Brownie I was given in 1960, to be followed a few years later by a Pentax model, and a series of film-shooting Nikons.

     But this far into my partnership with the D5000, I am aware that I'd like something a bit . . . more?  That despite the fact that I am still learning all of its capabilities and potential. And I know it has interesting features, such as in-camera photo manipulation, that I have not exercised.  But it also has some key shortcomings.

     It is a crop-frame camera, a concept I didn't understand very well at the time I received it. It shoots a painfully slow burst four-frames-per-second, which makes it tough to get the calibre of dog agility photos I'd like to capture. It does not have a built-in command mode for external flash. And while there's an attachment I could get to pick up that feature, it feels more like a workaround when a true solution is available.

     So in February, I decided to step up and order, not just a better camera, but a camera I felt would meet all my needs for years to come. That would be Nikon's new D800, priced at about $3,000 - without any lenses. Costly, but I decided that it would make sense to look at it, not as an extravagance but an investment.

     Evidently, I am not the only one who holds that view, because six months later I am still waiting for my new camera. The demand has far outstripped anything Nikon anticipated.

     So I continue to work with the D5000, and to recognize that the reality is, its capabilities do meet all reasonable needs, even on a professional level.

     A few weeks back I was visiting the website of outstanding Sacramento photographer Anne Williams. Under one of her images, someone had commented, "If I had your equipment, I could take pictures like these too!"

     If only it were so. But it isn't. Terrific photographers have something more going for them than mere fantastic equipment. The wonderful photographer David H. Wells shoots with a pair of small Olympics that he carries about in a canvas tote, the better to be as unobtrusive as possible on his photo expeditions. And we all know that many wonderful images are being created today through the rapidly emerging and evolving art of iPhotography.

     In fact, the photo below was taken with my iPhone, and enhanced in Instagram. It is a personal favorite. Why did I choose to shoot such an iconic scene with my iPhone? The answer is obvious - that's the camera I had with me at the time.

     Like so many photographers, I'm a huge fan of Ken Rockwell. I love to read everything he has to say about photography, and he is my equipment guru. But there is truth in ancient wisdom, and it is absolutely true that the best camera for any shot is the camera that you actually have with you at that moment.

     Yes, I am eager to own a D800. I scan my e-mail every day for updates from B&H.  But in the meantime, I really have no reason to complain. The camera I do have is quite a good one.  If there is any inadequacy in my photography, the problem is not with my equipment.


(Michele McCormick Photography) D5000 D800 Nikon camera iPhone photographic equipment photography https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2012/7/photography-equipment Tue, 10 Jul 2012 20:49:45 GMT
Shooting a Cold One https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2012/7/shooting-a-cold-one      I'm not much of a beer drinker myself, but when I think of Independence Day, I must confess, both ribs and beer come to mind. Which also brought to mind the thought that any photographer worth her salt ought to be able to take a decent picture of a tall cold one. How hard could it be?

     It turns out, thought it's not too difficult, there is a bit more involved than I originally anticipated.

     First, of course, I had to buy some beer. And the current Budweiser cans, with their  bright red, white and blue motif, seemed just perfect. My plan was to shoot the beer in the cans, then in a glass outdoors in a natural setting, then inside in my makeshift home studio.

     To put the end of the story first - I should have bought more beer!

     Fortunately, I gained some terrific tips, thanks to a Google search, and so was able to maximize my resources.

     First, I got my props set up outdoors, put my camera in place on a tripod and adjusted light settings before I actually loaded ice into the cooler. Ice does not last long on a hot day. Condensation on a cold glass also evaporates quickly. And a head of foam on a beer dissipates more rapidly than I had ever realized.

    I loaded the beers into the cooler, arranged them artistically, and took a few test shots. They looked most unappealing. Why? I had forgotten to spray them. Without that enticing chilled appearance condensation provides, the beer was not so very inviting. As it developed, I sprayed the cans frequently, and experimented with shots ranging from extreme close-ups with zoom, to shots of the cooler in an outdoor setting.

     Now it was time for the outdoor glass shot.  I poured the beer in the center of the glass from a slight height for maximum foam. Next step was to spray the glass for that look of condensation, but here's a key tip: cover the portion of the glass that is foam, as condensation doesn't naturally form there. So this simple shot kept me busy - covering the top of the glass and the stem, spraying condensation, and taking shots before the foam dissipated.

     Here's another tip: if the foam does dissipate, pour in about a teaspoon of plain table salt and it will regenerate. But this required some patience. The foaming process gives the beer a cloudy look, and there are only a few brief seconds when the beer is relatively clear, the foam is just so, and of course, the condensation is just right.

     Indoors, the set up was a little different. I stayed with natural light to avoid the reflections a flash or speedlight might create. A piece of white cardstock placed behind the glass gave the beer a bright look against a dark background. Once again, I was working against the clock with foam and condensation and, sadly, a limited number of beers.

     Below is one of the resulting shots. You can see more in my Recently Added Gallery.

     Did I capture the essence of an inviting cold beer? Let me know . . . . and now I think I'll go open a cold one for my own purposes!


(Michele McCormick Photography) Budweiser beer cold one how to photograph beer photography https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2012/7/shooting-a-cold-one Thu, 05 Jul 2012 00:12:00 GMT
Photography: An Endless Array of Tools https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2012/6/photography-an-endless-array-of-tools      Sometimes, a photo perplexes me. I shoot because something seems to be of interest, to have visual potential . . . but when I see it on the large computer screen, it's clear that I've somehow failed to convey the crux of the matter. Or perhaps I've even missed it entirely.

     Other times, a particular image has appeal, but doesn't feel successful.

     And then there are those images that clearly offer further depths of potential. Yes, it works fine as a straightforward image, but I can imagine a variety of renditions, each of which has its own particular appeal.

     My style is primarily editorial and journalistic. My approach is all about capturing the world as it is, perhaps with just a touch of fine tuning. But sometimes it's also fun to play. And today's technology has broadened the play options to a mind-boggling extent.

     Beyond PhotoShop and LightRoom there is a seemingly endless and ever-expanding array of special programs, applets, and plug-ins that allow even the most simple-minded among us to delve into some pretty exciting creative opportunities.

     This is one reason why photography is an endeavor of constant learning. Just as we begin to become familiar with the technologies that make new creative direction possible . . . more new technology emerges. On the one hand, it is exciting and mind boggling. On the other, now that I know how the tricks take place, effects that once impressed me now leave me cold. Yes, the photographer had to decide to apply B&W Grunge Factor Level 2 through Purple Glasses. It worked nicely. Next photo, please.

     Not every disappointing image has the potential to morph into something wonderful with just the help of a bit of techno-play. But some do.

     The image below is an example of such play. These water boxes, which I suspect may be meter boxes, appear at regular intervals through Folsom's Old Town area. They are boring. But the one with the colorful cups on top caught my eye. Is there a little story here?   As viewed on my large computer screen, the answer seemed to be . . . not really. And yet I couldn't quite give it up. Enter Topaz Adjust and Spicify. A little zip, a little punch, and . . . I like it ever so much better.

     Not likely an award winner, but still. An image that was nothing is now at least, a little something.  Such explorations and experimentations are a big part of what makes photography so endlessly fascinating.



(Michele McCormick Photography) LightRoom PhotoShop Topaz creative vision learning photography photographic vision photography plug-ins https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2012/6/photography-an-endless-array-of-tools Wed, 27 Jun 2012 21:47:11 GMT
Photography: A Burst of Balloons https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2012/6/photography-a-burst-of-balloons      Sometimes a photographic experience is almost overwhelming. Faced with an incredible array of image opportunity, it's entirely possible to feel nearly frozen. Which way to move first? What decisions must be made immediately?

     That's how I felt at the Sonoma Hot Air Balloon Festival. Confusion was no doubt enhanced by the fact that I got up at 3:45 a.m. to ensure a timely arrival for the Dawn Patrol - a group of hot air balloons that would rise in the pre-dawn darkness, brightly lit by the propane tanks that heat the air within them.

     The question that was causing me the greatest conflict was a classic one: to carry the tripod or not? On the one hand, the darkness offered wonderful opportunities for long exposure night photography. A tripod is essential for that. But on the other hand, there would be lots of action, moments when I would want to move quickly and have maximum maneuverability. There was a case to be made for both approaches.

     I went with the no-tripod option, because I felt I had a solution in my back pocket. I would shoot in bursts.

     Some weeks ago, I attended a seminar offered through Click Monkeys, a Sacramento meetup group. The presenter offered a technique for achieving sharp photos at very slow speeds: hold your camera as steadily as possible, hold your breath to avoid body motion, and shoot a burst. The likelihood is that one of those shots will be sharply focused.

     I've found the technique works well - the shot below was taken at 1/15th of a second. While the figures aren't tack sharp, the balloon itself is, and I like the sense of motion.

     Beyond that, I've found that burst is useful in so many situations it is now my standard setting. I use it for panning shots, for zoom, for fast action, for situations where there is movement. Real life happens in a flash, and there are momentary expressions, movements, compositions, that last only for a rare instant. Burst makes is more likely they will be captured.

     I'm sure that each of us has had occasion to be surprised when we first see our pictures on the large computer screen. There are so many elements that simply can't quite be discerned on the little LCD screen, and many of them are happy surprises indeed.

     Of course, the downside of burst is that it creates a lot of images. And so my first task after any photo shoot is to quickly edit the images, so I am left with a selection of successful shots.

     While burst is a favored setting, it is not a permanent setting. There are certainly situations for which it doesn't make sense. But more and more, when it comes to burst, I find I am most likely to ask myself "why not?"

     And so, for the Sonoma Hot Air Balloon Festival, I stayed in burst all morning. Take a look at my Hot Air Balloon Gallery and let me know if you think I made the right decision.

(Michele McCormick Photography) burst mode hot air balloons learn photography night photography photography https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2012/6/photography-a-burst-of-balloons Wed, 20 Jun 2012 00:24:52 GMT
Photography: The Virtue of Ruthless Editing https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2012/6/photography-the-virtue-of-ruthless-editing      First, an issue of semantics. It is easy to mistake "editing" for "processing".  "Processing" a photo refers to the use of Photoshop, LightRoom, or a similar enhancement program to change a photo, or ensure it is at its best.

     "Editing" is the procedure of winnowing out those photos that don't make the grade. That winnowing, when done at its most serious, often means deleting them from your camera,  your computer system, and your life. Editing can be painful indeed. But the fact is, it only hurts for a moment, and the benefits will stay with you forever.

     The key benefit is that a carefully edited catalog of photos is one you know contains images that represent your work at its best. You can manage them, you can find them readily, and you don't have to constantly re-review images to verify if they're up to snuff.

     My workflow looks like this:

     1.  Whenever possible, delete no-go images off the camera before downloading to the computer. These might be trial shots, missed shots, way out of focus shots - anything that tiny LCD shows me is never going to make the grade.

     2.  After each upload a quick review of images to delete out the ones I know can't work. Poor focus, bad lighting, or other non-correctible issues all mean a picture has to go.

     3.  A closer look to identify the best. Ideally, I like to have a vertical and a horizontal of keeper shots. I ask myself the hard questions about whether or not an image is all it can be. Sometimes a photo is almost there, but in my heart I know that too much grain, improper depth of field, a loss of definition in key areas should all be killers.

     That said, I confess to having a heart for certain images. LightRoom offers ratings that include flags, and rankings of one to five stars. The best photographers sometimes decide that there's no reason to keep anything that isn't five stars.  I can't quite go there.

     As my own code, I give pictures that I love for personal reasons a two-star rating. These aren't images I would put in my portfolio, but I would certainly share them with friends and family.

     I also have some unrated photos that I keep for other reasons. They may serve as a reminder - how will I do a better job of capturing that shot the next time? Or they may serve as an example of something that didn't quite work.  And then, I don't mind admitting, there are the images that just leave me feeling uncertain. Is this good enough to keep? Could I play with it in Topaz or Photomax and turn it into something interesting?

     When I have spare time, I like to go back through my catalog and look at images with a fresh eye. Time helps me grow less fond of certain ones, and opens up the eye to the possibilities of others. Like the image below.  It has been on my iffy list for a while now.  As you're improving your photography by hardening your heart to the reality of your images, help me do the same.  Tell me what you think.  Keep or toss?

(Michele McCormick Photography) editing photographs how to edit photographs photography processing photographs https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2012/6/photography-the-virtue-of-ruthless-editing Tue, 12 Jun 2012 17:27:55 GMT
Photography: Shoot the Dog https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2012/6/photography-shoot-the-dog      This week's photography assignment taught me yet another essential key lesson: if at all possible, bring along a helper.  I had the opportunity to do so, and passing it up was a big mistake.

     Brimi the Icelandic Sheepdog is a beautiful animal, a breed still infrequently found in the U.S. At seven months of age, he is just beginning a competitive career that includes showing in conformation, tracking and obedience. His owner, Carol, wanted images that might work for calendar and specialty breed publications. So she needs to illustrate him properly stacked, show off highlights such as his beautiful tail, and of course, capture a portrait that truly conveys his delightful personality.

     We met at a large park in late afternoon. We had hopes that the setting sun would highlight his brilliant color, and that the park would be nearly empty at the late hour. We were wrong on both counts.

     While the light was good, clouds largely obscured the golden rays we had hoped for. But I was prepared - I had brought flash equipment and a gold reflector, enabling us to create our own ideal light. But with just two of us, the reflector was on a stationary mount, and persuading Brimi to remain properly positioned in front of it for more than seconds at a time was just a bit of a challenge. An extra pair of hands would have been a significant help.

     We also discovered that the hour of our adventure was also a favorite time of day for dog walkers, joggers, and other active patrons of the park.

     Among other elements, fine dog images depend on two key factors - beautiful catchlights in the eyes, and absolutely no sign of any collar or lead. We wanted action shots, and still shots. We were armed with tempting treats and toys for Brimi to chase and retrieve. But we over-estimated his obedience abilities just a bit - counting on him to remain in a sit-stay and then come when called from 60 or 70 feet away might have been a good plan had we been alone in the park.  As it was, Brimi found the opportunity to race after joggers, and bound joyfully towards other dogs to be a bit too much of a temptation.

     And so our session was conducted in a frenzy of containing an exuberant dog and ongoing adjustment for lighting conditions that were changing by the second.  In other words - a typical environmental photo shoot.

    Was it successful? I think so, as these shots may illustrate. To see more images of Brimi, and other dogs, visit the Dog Gallery on my website.

(Michele McCormick Photography) Pet photography dog dog photography elements of a successful photograph icelandic sheepdog photography https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2012/6/photography-shoot-the-dog Tue, 05 Jun 2012 23:39:00 GMT
Photography: Capturing Life in Real Time https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2012/5/photography-the-challenge-of-control     If there is a mantra for photography, it is that photographs are all about capturing the light. Learning to capture light in a way that is both technically competent and beautiful is a key challenge.

     And yet, it is just one of the many challenges that photographers face.  I would posit that learning to make fine images in situations in which there is minimal control is its own universe of challenge.

     For me, a current, repeating issue is that life simply happens too fast, and I am not always prepared.  I am trying to do better, but it isn't always easy.  And this problem arises at times when it is least expected.

     The studio shot, for example, should offer few if any time issues. You have a set-up, simple or complex though it be, and you have a subject or subjects. What I have discovered, however, is that if the subject is a human being who does not happen to be a professional model, the quicker the photo session goes, the better the result. The average person gets bored with being photographed surprisingly quickly. And that boredom is likely to be evident in the photos.

     There are often unexpected time challenges. Below is an image of some mushrooms I took at a San Francisco market this week. It should have been so easy - mushrooms don't get bored, and they move very little.  Whoops. Oh yes they do, since they were for sale, some were snapped away before I could capture the image as I wished. A difficult lighting situation, action all around me, shoppers removing my lovely still lifes, and a companion who reminded me we had a ferry to catch all added up to a series of shooting challenges it was difficult to overcome.

     With no tripod and no flash, I couldn't achieve the depth of field I would have preferred, and am still reflecting on whether or not this image is successful.  For comparison, a mini studio shot I took of mushrooms later that evening created a different kind of mood.

     The second shot below, a bar scene in the lively Ferry Building, had time and subject issues as well. I was intrigued by the juxtaposition of the wine glasses and the cell phones, but the happy couple was so pleased to be photographed that they wished to pose - by lifting their glasses in a toast. I had to wait a bit until they became bored with me, and resumed a more normal position.

     The bottom line here is one I anticipate returning to time and again: why is it so hard to actually capture the wonderful images I see around me? The answers are many: the light is bad, the moment happens too quickly, I have the wrong equipment for the circumstance, and at times, I confess, I am  just flat out inept.

     All of which add up to a challenge which I'm certain can, at least occasionally, be conquered. I surely intend to keep trying.


(Michele McCormick Photography) challenges of photography learning photography photographic vision photography https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2012/5/photography-the-challenge-of-control Tue, 29 May 2012 21:44:36 GMT
Finding Your Photographic Voice https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2012/5/finding-your-photographic-voice      This past week I had the privilege of taking a daylong seminar from Huntington Witherill, the accomplished fine art photographer who studied with the greats, including Ansel Adams, and established his own wonderful record of accomplishment.

     The seminar was to offer information on how photographers can establish a market presence.  But the area of discussion that impressed me most was a discussion of the importance of finding one's own photographic voice.  This is something to which every photographer, and indeed, every artist, can easily relate.

     Witherill explained that we often begin by copying famous styles, to gain a foundation of technical and aesthetic expertise, and from there we move on to discover and explore an individual vision.  This process must happen for every artist, for there are as many unique visions as there are individuals. It is that voyage of discovery that is actually the most exciting part of exploring the artistic experience.

     People often ask me to tell them what type of photographer I am.  I am still discovering that mystery.  I explained to a man seated near me that I enjoy photographing golf courses and scenes among other subjects. He showed me his work - wonderful artistic images of iPhone images he had taken in traffic and then enlarged and manipulated using a variety of software programs in innovative ways. The results were beautiful.  And the two of us couldn't be more different than Edward Weston and Cindy Sherman.

     I've also spent some time this week exploring the FaceBook pages and websites of a number of women photographers from around the globe. It's a fascinating and enlightening exercise to take a look at the work of these talented individuals, and it is exceptionally helpful in understanding how a photographic voice unfolds.

     Of course, there are often extraneous circumstances. It is the blessing and curse of many successful photographers to develop great commercial viability in an arena, be it weddings, portraits or news photography, that may not be the most personally rewarding.  Photographers all yearn for the opportunity to create images that are artistically and emotionally satisfying.  And what exactly does that mean?

     I am still uncovering that mystery. This week was also the occasion of the rare annular eclipse.  I did not have the equipment to photograph it, and I knew that wonderful photographs would abound, so I wasn't too disappointed.  But it also occurred to me that there might be other opportunities. And the photograph below was the result - an unusual and intriguing play of light in my very own bathroom, at the height of the eclipse. Something about it captured my attention, and I ran for the camera.

     And so the voyage of discovery continues.

(Michele McCormick Photography) Huntington Witherill creative vision establishing a photography presence photographic vision photographic voice photography unique photographic vision https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2012/5/finding-your-photographic-voice Tue, 22 May 2012 17:39:57 GMT
An Eyeful of Images https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2012/5/an-eyeful-of-images The joy, challenge, and, occasionally the great frustration of photography is that once  you take it up, you begin to see wonderful images everywhere. From the exotic to the mundane, the world offers an infinity of possibilities and opportunities. And there is simply no way to capture everything you see.

For some reason, this past week has turned into a grand example of opportunities missed . . . and a few that were successfully realized.

First, there was the bald eagle that flew over my head as I sat on my back deck. It is the first time I have ever seen a bald eagle within 150 miles of my home, and it was an exciting experience. He carried a large fish, and took up a perch about 200 yards away, where crows and turkey vultures flew about him, and occasionally dive bombed. I ran for the camera, whipped out a borrowed 300mm lens, and shot away. Alas, it was still too far. I have photos that document the fact that he was there . . . and that's about it.

Next, a foothills friend told me her yard has been full of hundreds of butterflies at all hours of the day. I went in the early a.m., but the butterflies were not yet out.  So I went again in the early afternoon, and they had mostly moved on. There were a few, always moving astonishingly quickly. The result was a series of disappointing images. On the bright side, I found an excellent butterfly website, a wonderful resource for anyone who cares to register and identify a specific butterfly. There I learned that the slightly out-of-focus pictures I achieved were of a California Pipevine Swallowtail. Nice to know!

Then there was my plan to photograph the adorable goslings which are currently found almost everywhere on my favorite golf course. This was also an educational expedition. The babies and their parents could care less about golfers, but try point a camera at them and it's a different story. A mix of early morning light, sparkling dewy grass, dark adults, pale babies, and spitting protective parents all combined to ensure another foray in frustration.

But the week was not a total loss. There was that beautiful moon. My plan was to shoot it from Folsom's antique walking bridge. And I found that the dawn light created not just a chance to shoot the setting moon, but wonderful light on the beautiful bridges I had long been planning to photograph.

And then there is the serendipity of simply being out and about with the camera. I was about to head home from my disappointing early morning foray to the golf course, when an unanticipated image caught my eye. Not a bald eagle. Not an adorable gosling. Not even a delicate fluttering butterfly. Just a cat, waiting or guarding or perhaps even decidedly posing for me. Not the greatest image, but one that caught my attention and my eye, and lifted my spirit more than a little. Just one of the small joys that makes the journey of photography so full of wonderful rewards.

(Michele McCormick Photography) capturing image challenge of photography great photography joy of photography photography https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2012/5/an-eyeful-of-images Tue, 08 May 2012 17:08:37 GMT
Shoot the Shoes https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2012/5/shoot-the-shoes      Sometimes it's easy to predict that a subject will be photographically interesting.  Other times . . . not so much.

     A fun and interesting trip to antebellum homes and a Civil War battlefield in the deep South produced some good images, but fewer than I would have anticipated.  Conversely, while pulling into my driveway one evening, the sight of the dirty old running shoes my husband had worn that day really caught my attention. Something about the way the exterior house light illuminated them created an image that I found fascinating and irresistible.

     Yes, interesting as I believed it was, the photo of those shoes in that light didn't satisfy my interest. I wondered how the shoes would look in a time exposure in complete darkness. I wondered how they would look in the afternoon sun. And what if I used a flash? So I took those pictures. And yet I am not finished.

     I haven't really captured them in a true "golden" light, and I'm not exactly sure when I'll be able to capture that light in this setting. Because I am determined that the funky old shoes must be photographed in the exact same spot. I'm also wondering how they'll look in a full moon, and that opportunity is still a few days away.

     Oh, and this is just the beginning. I have some very interesting software from Topaz, and I haven't even begun to experiment with the interesting effects those might produce.

     We know that photography is all about the light, and somehow the funky shoes have excited my interest in exploring these options with a single subject. I believe the shoes are interesting, and they tell a tale. Also - exceptionally important - they do not change, so I can play with them over time. And they never ever complain.

     Photography is about the light, but of course it is also about experimenting and about passion. Why do the shoes do it for me? Impossible to say objectively.

     Below are four photos that I consider interesting. And here is one fact I can state with some certainty: you haven't seen the last of the shoes.


(Michele McCormick Photography) creative vision elements of a successful photograph great photography close to home night photography objects photographed in different lighting old shoes photography understanding light https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2012/5/shoot-the-shoes Wed, 02 May 2012 17:40:24 GMT
The Ordinary is Extraordinary https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2012/4/the-ordinary-is-extraordinary      Every week I get solicitations for photography trips - trips to places as far as India or Alaska, as exotic as Indian diggings or undersea diving, or as accessible as hikes in the nearby Sierra and festivals throughout the region.  Last year I found the California Photo Festival to be a terrific learning experience, and I plan to attend again in October 2012. I also enjoy Meetup group expeditions throughout the area - it is always fascinating to see the diversity of images captured by people who are in the same place at the same time.

     But as interesting as these opportunities may be, they leave me a bit wary. I am still almost overwhelmed by the photographic images available within a very tight radius of the desk at which I currently sit.

     A few days ago I returned from a trip to Mississippi and Tennessee, visiting antebellum homes, a Civil War battlefield and Elvis Presley's home at Graceland. I'm still sorting through those images, but I believe I came away with a few good ones. And yet, they were not necessarily the most exciting photographs I have taken of late.

     Driving home from an evening out this week, I was struck by the interest of a most ordinary sight - my husband's dirty work sneakers, left out to dry by the garage. For days I have been asking him to put this eyesore away. But in the darkness of night, with our home's exterior lighting shining on them, they took on a new level of interest. I ran for the camera.  And, I instructed my husband not to move the hideous things until I have had a chance to photograph them in every possible light.

     In that very same vein, I found myself suddenly reaching for the camera as I played with my young puppy, to teach him a few things about human interaction. My older dog, Spur, sat imprisoned in his x-pen, gazing at us most mournfully. It was a shot I could not plan, could not create on demand . . . and I had to have it.

     One moral of this story is, yes, we must all make like Boy Scouts and "be prepared." The other is that, as wonderful as photographic trips and adventures may be, there are extraordinary, compelling images right under our very noses. I'm convinced that tuning in to those will help me build a portfolio that is uniquely mine, just as it will ensure I am best prepared to apply my own creative vision when I do head out into the big broad world.



(Michele McCormick Photography) travel photography creative vision great photography close to home photography schnauzer https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2012/4/the-ordinary-is-extraordinary Wed, 25 Apr 2012 21:57:49 GMT
The Possibilities of High ISO https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2012/4/the-possibilities-of-high-iso      First, I admit straight off - the action photo below is not perfect. Nonetheless, it is one result of a fun experiment with shooting at high ISO.  My problem is a simple one - I like to photograph dog sports, some of these take place indoors, and flash is not an option.  This particular panning shot was taken at an ISO of 3000 with a shutter speed of 1/80th sec.

     Earlier this week, I attended a fine ClickMonkeys workshop, with expert photographer Art Suwangsan, on the topic of shooting at high ISO. I know it's possible to shoot at ISO's of 3000 and upwards, and Art gave great insight into the equipment and post processing that makes that an option. But the key point he made, was that he routinely shoots handheld at shutter speeds as low as 1/15th sec. Wow!

     The secret he said, is to stand steady, hold your breath, and shoot a burst of three images.  One those, he explained, is likely to come at a moment when your heart is not beating, and to therefore be still and sharp.

     It's exciting to have an opportunity to try out new ideas, and I did so over the following days at a dog show at the Cal Expo in Sacramento.  The image below is a panning shot, 3000 ISO and 1/50th of a second. It isn't perfect, and yet I think it does a good job of capturing the moment.

     Other, still photos were even more successful.  If you like our furry friends, take a look at them in the dog gallery on my webpage at Michele McCormick Photography.

     But in general, there are lots of tricks to fine photography. Every one I can add to my repertoire creates an exciting new world of possibilities.

(Michele McCormick Photography) https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2012/4/the-possibilities-of-high-iso Sat, 14 Apr 2012 01:37:34 GMT
How Photographers _Really_ Spend Their Time https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2012/4/how-photographers-_really_-spend-their-time      Diving into the process of establishing a photography enterprise is a blast - by which I mean that I am feeling blasted.  I have a strong background in small business, an ever-expanding expertise in photography, and a passion that provides me with ongoing energy. Nonetheless, I could use even more.

     As daunting as it may be to keep on top of the latest essential software, and run down an ever-growing list of leads, the real skill I must master is the classic:  time management.

    I thought I was a realist, but evidently . . . I have miles to go!

    My original plan was simple:  shoot at least one day a week, probably spend two editing, processing, organizing photos, a day of marketing outreach to prospects, a day of education and training, and a . . . whoops.  I'm running out of days.

     This new reality all came crashing home to me at a recent lunch with the charming and energetic Tina Reynolds of Uptown Studios. Yes, I have a FaceBook page, a FaceBook artists page, a LinkedIn page and a Twitter presence, along with this blog. But am I managing them effectively?  Tina knows I could do better and she had some great ideas. 

     My original concept was to shoot great photos that would speak for themselves. But to whom? If they're not seen by the right audience, then they're simply not seen, and my business will die on the vine.  Given my long career in public relations, I know how important this is.  And so my latest endeavors include a concerted effort to gather as much information about efficiencies in communication as possible. 

     That said, there is certainly a long and ever-expanding list of photo shoot opportunities I cannot resist. The photo below came out of shooting session with golfer Eric McIntosh. It wasn't on the shoot list I had prepared, and landscape opportunities weren't part of my thinking for the day.  But when I saw the scene I couldn't resist. And now I'm making sure that at least a few others have a chance to see it as well.

     The quest for time management - assuming I can't find a way to simply create more time! - is going to be an ongoing one. Photography is actually an amalgamation of many different activities. As I discover clues to how to bring the whole package together, you can be sure I'll include them here!



(Michele McCormick Photography) creating a photography business golf photography photography photography business time management https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2012/4/how-photographers-_really_-spend-their-time Tue, 10 Apr 2012 19:07:00 GMT
Shooting the Golf Player https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2012/4/shooting-the-golf-player      I've been planning to do a player shoot at Granite Bay Golf Club for some weeks, but the weather has been against me. Rain, wind and cloudy conditions have caused me to cancel again and again.  The upside of the delay is that it gave me more time to think about the shots, what I hoped to capture and how I would do it.

     Yesterday, my volunteer model, Eric McIntosh, and I went out to the course and had more fun than either of us had anticipated. I had planned for some specific shots - there are two ponds on the course, and in the late afternoon each one offers some possibilities for images with reflections. I also knew I wanted some of the classic shots. The golfer posed in a finish, the thoughtful look of concentration that precedes an important shot, the spew of sand out of a deep trap.

     I knew Eric would be an outstanding model because he is an excellent golfer, and he is tall and lean; an ideal look for the reflection shots.

     What I didn't anticipate was the fact that he would contribute some terrific shot ideas, and that he possesses a level of skill to deliver image opportunities beyond anything I could have anticipated. I'm still processing the shots and look forward to updating the golf gallery. Eric was able to offer great ball pop-up shots, and he gave me the confidence to stand in places that might have put me in danger had I been working with the average duffer.

     We did encounter some challenges. The course is being aerated so putting shots were out, there was equipment on a couple of normally beautiful fairways, and shortly after six, clouds that had been picturesque earlier turned a little too threatening for the sunset shots I had planned. So Eric and I will be going out again to expand this portion of my portfolio.

     My passions for golf and photography mesh perfectly. It is truly energizing to combine them. I look forward to updating my Golf Gallery with photos of the day, and sharing that link with you.

(Michele McCormick Photography) golf golf photography golfer photograph golf photography https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2012/4/shooting-the-golf-player Thu, 05 Apr 2012 18:25:53 GMT
Photo Studio Fun https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2012/3/photo-studio-fun     There's little that's more fun that working in a photo studio. Experimenting with lighting, special effects, and enjoying the level of control in a studio situation is just about exhilarating. 

     The problem is: who can afford a studio? Even though rental rates can be reasonable, the rental experience is still costly for those not operating on specific assignments, and not generally terribly convenient.

     Despite the challenge, I have a studio.  In fact, I have two studios.  No wait, make that three.


     The first studio has a huge lightbox, incredibility flexibility, and it is impressively large.  It is my garage.  The south-facing garage door produces perfect, shadowless indirect light throughout the day.  Various colored jersey sheets bought at outlets or on sale make ideal backgrounds, when clipped to the shelves along the back wall of the garage. Add a dark sheet on the floor to block unwanted reflections, one speedlight, a diffuser and a reflector or two, and I have the perfect set-up for portraits and other people or animal shots.

     All I have to do is persuade my husband to park his car in the driveway for an afternoon - and I'm set!

     My second studio, for shooting small objects, is even more convenient.  It consists of a card table, a pair of twisted hangers, a white trash bag and a flashlight.  The hangers are twisted together to create a tent form for the bag.  The flashlight shines through, and voila! A very lovely lightbox. The tiny circuitboard below, which measures about 2 by 3 inches, was shot with this set-up.

     Finally, I have a special studio for shooting flower portraits. It is in my home office, which happily has a line of windows along the north wall only. I place a light stand perpendicular to the window, and use it to suspend a fleecy black blank behind my card table. The sidelight and black background produce wonderful results.

     While these three simple set-ups provide a wealth of photographic opportunity which I have just begin to mine, I am not yet satisfied. I'm looking at my home environment in a whole new way - what are the possibilities?

     There's no doubt that travel to exotic locales for photography is exciting, but it's also true that discovering the photo options at hand is its own amazing journey.

(Michele McCormick Photography) build photo studio at home how to create photo studio photo studio photography https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2012/3/photo-studio-fun Tue, 27 Mar 2012 17:15:11 GMT
(Photographic) Practice Makes Perfect https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2012/3/-photographic-practice-makes-perfect      Probably one of the most-asked questions in the photography world is: How the heck did he/she get that shot?  There are as many answers as there are photographers, but there is one consistent element. Very few wonderful photographs are one-time deals.

     By that I mean that the photographer has worked hard to understand his subject and has revisited it time and time again. The best travel photographers visit favorite sites over the years. Their most outstanding images represent a knowledge of the place, an understanding of the light at different hours of the day and different times of the year, a clear expectation of what they may encounter at a given photo shoot, and the technical capability to realize it. All that, and of course, a constant preparedness to capture the serendipitous moment that may result in an extraordinary capture.

     This knowledge of subject is even more important when it comes to sports or activity photography.  These days, it's easy to buy a fabulous camera and amazing lens. So lots of people, theoretically, have the technical capability to capture wonderful action shots. But that is only part of the story. The real skill is not in following the action, but in anticipating it. That requires a profound understanding, not just of a sport, but of its players, their style, the momentum of the game, and the best way to tell the story. Does this shot need to be crisp or will a slow shutter speed show movement in a way that adds excitement?

     Ergo, the title of this blog. Practice is essential. There are three elements to great action shots, and each of them takes time.

          Technical capability



     Love?  I add that, because I think there is no way to dedicate oneself to success in action photography without being a true fan of the action.  And there's nothing better than an ability to meld one's deepest interests with photography.  In my own case, that means I am working on mastering the photography of golf, and of various forms of dog competition. I love 'em both, I understand them to some degree, and I am eager to tell the story.

     Clearly, there is far more to photography than meets the eye. And that is exactly what makes it so gosh-darned compelling.



(Michele McCormick Photography) action photography elements elements of a successful photograph golf photography photography sports photography https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2012/3/-photographic-practice-makes-perfect Thu, 22 Mar 2012 19:11:12 GMT
In Photography, Details Make the Difference https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2012/3/in-photography-details-make-the-difference      There are several truisms in photography. We don't take photographs, we make them. Photography is all about learning to see the light. Details make the difference.

     I am still at that stage in which I am struggling to truly "see" everything that is going on.  It is easy to become so focused on one aspect of the image - proper composition, depth of field, challenges of lighting - that other elements are overlooked. A too-bright earring. A pole growing out of someone's head. A collar that is woefully askew.  Of course, many of these things can be fixed later in LightRoom or PhotoShop, but better to get them right in the first place.

     Sometimes the surprises are pleasant ones. An expression that is just exactly right, or a composition of elements that works even more wonderfully on the big screen than it does on the little LCD monitor, even viewed with the helpful Hoodman. Learning to "see" all these things in advance, and truly understand how the final image will emerge, is at the heart of expert photography. We all like to think we are growing in that direction.

     Because these details do make an enormous difference. 

     I recently went on an expedition to The Grace Foundation, which provides a home for rescue horses and other domestic animals.  The afternoon was so rich with photographic opportunity that the day was almost overwhelming.  Nonetheless, I was eager for the late afternoon sun, because I felt it would present some wonderful opportunities for backlighting.  Strolling down one pathway I turned a corner and saw the first image below. It was exactly the kind of scene I had been hoping to find.  I took the shot, checked my camera, and was happy. Everything seemed just right.

     And yet . . . . I stayed to watch the horse and to see what else might happen, what other opportunities there might be. One thing that happened is that as the sun lowered, I had an issue with lens glare, which I resolved by using an important tool I always carry - my baseball cap - to block the direct rays. 

    Then the horse moved just slightly, and I shot the second image. Looking at them now, my opinion is that it is far superior to the first photograph. The arc of the horse's back and neck, the white blaze lined up with the white socks, and the vertical orientation all combine to create a image that has a deeper level of balance and harmony.  It is one of those images I will be proud of for a long time to come.

    The moral of the story isn't "keep shooting". It is keep looking. Teach yourself to see. Be ready for the nuance that changes everything. My goal is develop a far more finely tuned awareness of these nuances. That is what the journey is all about.

(Michele McCormick Photography) Grace Foundation backlit horse elements of a successful photograph horse horse grazing over fence photographic vision photography sunset https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2012/3/in-photography-details-make-the-difference Tue, 13 Mar 2012 21:58:56 GMT
What Makes an Excellent Photo? https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2012/3/what-makes-an-excellent-photo      What makes the difference between a wonderful photographic image and a snapshot?  This is the Big Question of photography. It almost seems akin to asking where infinity ends, whether or not there is a God, and why do so many socks come out of the dryer as singles?

     And yet there are some simple parameters.

          Does the image make an impact?

          Does it tell a story?

          Is the eye drawn to the focal point, and not to distracting elements?

          Is the photograph technically proficient - correctly exposed, elements that should be in focus are in focus, free of dust spots?

     Beyond that, there is much room for subjectivity. I learn about what constitutes excellence by taking classes, by looking at lots of images, by taking many photographs and by accepting opportunities for critique. It's clear to me that some images work well, and others simply . . . don't. The problems aren't always clear. And my opinions are strictly my own.

     Case in point would be the two photos below. I debated which to submit for the travel element of my camera club's recent competition. The only difference, you'll see, is that one includes a car speeding away, and the other does not.

     The judge's evaluation was that with one small difference, he would have given the photo I submitted the highest possible score. Instead, he reduced my score because of what he considered a weakness. Can you guess which picture he liked and which he didn't?

     It was frustrating, because of course I had exactly the photo he said would earned a top score. We simply disagreed about what was truly best.

     And that is both the joy and the challenge of photography.








(Michele McCormick Photography) best photographs elements of excellent photography how to critique a photograph photographic critique https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2012/3/what-makes-an-excellent-photo Sat, 10 Mar 2012 19:04:13 GMT
Learning to See https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2012/3/learning-to-see    While the pursuit of photography requires learning on many levels, my perspective is that it's really all about just two things: learning to see, and learning to see the light. 

   Learning to see the photographic possibilities really does take practice.  In some settings, I am almost overwhelmed by the possibilities. In others, I come up surprising short on inspiration.

   A daytrip I just spent in the Russian River Valley wine country offers a case in point. I went with a long list of photographic objectives in mind. I imagined fun images of people winetasting, winery shots, bottles, vineyards, the incredible blooming mustard fields, equipment and more. But things didn't quite turn out that way. We were there at the brightest part of the day. The large storage rooms that had been opened for the big weekend offered little ambiance. The shots that I did "see" seemed trite. They'd all been done a million times.

   I am trying to train my eye to see beyond these obvious problems, to make lemonade of lemons. It isn't easy, and it can be frustrating. I find that meetup groups are a great help in this regard. There's nothing like going to an interesting shooting site with 30 or 40 other photographers - most recently I met up with a group at the Golden Gate Bridge - and then following up later to see what images others have captured.

   The experience generally amazes me. After all, I was right there with everyone else, and yet I failed to see some of the terrific scenes that others turned into memorable images. How could I have been so blind?

   Part of it, of course, is that each of us does have a unique vision. That's the good thing. Part of it is, indeed, learning to truly see the world around us, and the beauty of all its dimensions. I am practicing, sometimes staring at things around me almost comically. Other times - well, what was looking like a pretty dry day suddenly flings something at me that just . . . . seems right.  That's how it happened for me in the Russian River, and the photo below is the result.  It's always interesting to know what others think.  But personally, I thought it at least worth sharing.

   So perhaps I am learning to "see".  And as for learning to see the light . . . more on that in a future blog.

(Michele McCormick Photography) composition door doorway house numbers learn photo photography winery withered wreath wreath https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2012/3/learning-to-see Tue, 06 Mar 2012 16:45:00 GMT
Waiting For the Moon https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2012/3/waiting-for-the-moon It's true that sometimes the best images just . . . happen. You are in the right spot, at the right time, a camera in hand and - boom.  Marilyn Monroe's skirt blows up, utterly unexpectedly!  Yes, it's key to be ready for those eventualities, but it's also unwise to count on them.

Which is why, right now, I am waiting for the moon. Lately I've been taking a lot of early morning shots at a nearby golf course, and I'm convinced that there are some settings there that would make a terrific moon rising - or moon setting - image. So I'm in preparation mode.  I've looked up the full moon dates and rising and setting times. I've checked out the google map of the golf course, and have a good idea where I need to be to get the best shots. There isn't a huge window of time for the pictures I want to take, so the more advance planning, the better.

And if it's cloudy, or things don't quite work out as I'm hoping, I'll be back on it in a month.

In photography, the mantra most oft repeated is that you don't take great pictures, you make them.  Along those same lines, when the great travel photographers are asked how they get their incredible shots, the answers are often along the same lines - they go back to the wonderful places again and again, until the magic makes it happen.  Or, should I say, until the thought and planning combine just perfectly into an image that is exactly right.

Will my planning work out? Eventually I know it will, and when that happens you will see that image here.


(Michele McCormick Photography) moon photography planning your picture https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2012/3/waiting-for-the-moon Sat, 03 Mar 2012 02:04:47 GMT
It's All in A Smile https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2012/2/its-all-in-a-smile What could be more fun than taking pictures of people?  Lately, my photo assignments have centered on environmental and business portraits and I'm enjoying that work - because I like people.  I've had to step back and think about that, because it seemed for a while I was forgetting that they are the crucial element of success in my photos. 

Of course there are also technical elements to consider - are we in a studio setting, using natural light, or are there other challenges on the techical front? Is an f6.3 really the ideal portrait aperture, or can we play with that a little?  And 85mm to 135mm seems to be the best focal length range . . . except when circumstances or creativity make other options seem just as viable.

It's easy to get caught up in all the elements. The fact is, they must become second nature, so we can put our attention where it needs to be - on the subject.  Years of media training taught me something important: everyone looks their best when they smile.  Everyone. 

And so the real job of the photographer is to put the subject at ease, elicit that moment when the spirit shines through - and capture it.

Here's a photo of my husband I took recently. He was an experimental subject as I tested some new lighting paraphernalia. But in the middle of it all, I caught him laughing at me (with me!) in a way he often does, and I came away with a portrait that will be special to me for a long time.

Now that's success!

(Michele McCormick Photography) environmental portrait headshot photography portrait portrait success https://www.michelemccormickphotography.com/blog/2012/2/its-all-in-a-smile Thu, 01 Mar 2012 02:29:56 GMT