Iconic Photos: Final Salute

October 2nd, 2012

A well-respected historian once said that there have been three major events in US history of which people ask each other “Where were you when you heard about it?” These events are the attack on Pearl Harbor, the World Trade Center attacks, and the assassination of John F. Kennedy. November 22, 1963, was a momentous day across America and around the world: the President was murdered, sparking rumors of home-grown terrorism and accusation of Soviet involvement. In the space of two hours, the presidency passed hands from Kennedy to Lyndon B. Johnson.

That sunny autumn day, Kennedy and his wife and the governor of Texas and his wife rode were en route with a vehicle procession to the Dallas Trade Mart. The route had been carefully planned to allow citizens to get the best view possible from buildings and was broadcast to the nation several days previously. The President’s estimated time of arrival was 12:15pm. As the motorcade made its way leisurely through Dallas, the size of the crowds that turned out to see Kennedy slowed down the procession. The limousine entered Dealy Plaza, only a few minutes away from the Trade Mart, at 12:30pm. Most witnesses recounted hearing three shots, the first shot being mistaken as a vehicle’s exhaust backfiring.

At 1:33pm, President Kennedy’s death was officially announced. At 2:38, Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in as President, as Lady Jacqueline looked on. The reaction to the assassination was shock and horror across the nation. Schools let their students out early, crowds gathered around the televisions inside department stores. Tears were shed, hostility toward Texas sprang up, while others feared the eruption of a war.

There were not many photographers or reporters present in Dealey Plaza as they were all stationed at the Trade Mart, awaiting Kennedy’s arrival. The event was recorded by amateur photographer Abraham Zapruder—26 seconds of silent 8mm film, the only video footage in existence of the Kennedy assassination. In later years, the film would be valued at $16 million, which was paid by the US government to Zapruder’s heirs. The film is stored in the National Archives.

On November 25, representatives from 90 countries were in attendance at the state funeral. President Kennedy’s body was interred in Arlington Cemetery, in Virginia. One of the most famous photos to come to national attention in the days following the assassination was one taken of three-year old John Kennedy, Jr., saluting his father’s casket as it passed him. Of all the photographs taken during that period of time, the above photo made its way into the hearts of the American people. It not only showed a child’s love and respect for his father, but also that there was still hope of a better tomorrow. Nearly 50 years later, the photo still carries power of historical significance and emotional weight.

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Making the Most of Autumn

September 27th, 2012

As we near the end of September, the weather begins to cool and, for most of us, the leaves will begin to turn. Cool, overcast days are some of the best conditions for outdoor photography, and particularly for photographing autumn leaves. So, in the spirit of autumn, let’s look at some tips to help you get the most out of this photogenic time of year.

1. “Always keep the sun behind you” is perhaps the piece of advice most commonly given to amateur photographers. However, if a gorgeous, clear, sunny day presents itself to you this autumn, don’t sit around waiting for an overcast day. Try using a polarizing filter to reduce glare, or deliberately underexpose your images to toy with the the saturation level. If the sun is unpredictable in your area, you may have to resort to rising early to catch the softer, more desirable morning light. Twilight, known as “the blue hour” in French, offers ambient light.

2. Remember that a different angle can make all the difference between a boring photograph and one that really stands out. Lie down on the ground and capture the expanse of a field covered with red and yellow leaves. Play with color contrast–blue sky behind yellow leaves, orange leaves against fading green grass.

3. To avoid the hassle of waiting for a windy day, you could have an assistant drop armfuls of leaves to add some motion to your photos. This is especially attractive when paired with a blurred background, so be sure to use a wide-angle lens.

4. The changing of autumn leaves is an excellent concept for a time lapse video. You can simply take a photo of the same scene at the same time every day for a month or two. Alternatively, you can set up a video camera somewhere and set it to record for a few minutes on and off for as long as the battery lasts.

The changing of seasons is always an exciting event for photographers. Although you may be mourning the passing of summer, keep in mind that autumn is especially photogenic among the seasons, and be sure to seize the opportunity. Celebrate Autumn!

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Iconic Photographs: Afghan Girl

September 25th, 2012

In 1984, during the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan, Steve McCurry was sneaking across the Pakistan border with rolls of film sewn into his clothes. When he returned, the photos he had taken were published in National Geographic, Time magazine and in newspapers around the world.  The above photo was taken in a refugee camp in Peshawar, Pakistan, and was the cover photo of the June 1985 publication of National Geographic. It is the most recognized photograph ever published in National Geographic, and has been compared to Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa due its global popularity.

Steve McCurry has received the Robert Capa Gold Medal, Magazine Photographer of the Year, and several first place prizes in the World Press Photo Contest for his coverage of various world conflicts such as the Lebanon Civil War, Cambodian Civil War, Afghan Civil War, and others. In 2003, Steve McCurry was recognized in a French documentary entitled The Face of Human Conflict.

The photo’s subject was simply dubbed “Afghan Girl” until 2002, when the identity of the young girl was finally confirmed. Sharbat Gula, who estimates her age to have been 12 at the time the photograph was taken, became an orphan when a Soviet air strike destroyed her village. She crossed mountains with her siblings to the Nasir Bagh refugee camp, where McCurry was passing through. For 17 years, McCurry made attempts to locate Gula, but was unable to access the refugee camp again until the Taliban government was removed in 2001. In 2002, McCurry was reunited with Sharbat and she was able to see her portrait for the first time. Now approximately 30 years old, Gula has three daughters: Robina, Zahida, and Alia. She has vivid memories of being photographed–she was only photographed two other times after 1985, when a producer took photos of her to compare with the original portrait.

After her reunion with McCurry, National Geographic re-published the 1985 photo alongside with more recent photographs, and a television documentary entitled Search for the Afghan Girl aired in March of 2002. In 2008, the Afghan Children’s Fund was set up through National Geographic, which provides for the education of Afghan boys and girls.

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6 Reasons to Buy an Instant Camera

September 20th, 2012

Some photographers love their camera; some photographers love cameras! In the past few years, Fujifillm has re-released several models of instant camera: the Instax series. If you happen to be a collector of cameras– whether digital or analogue, antigue or shiny, packaged cameras–here are 6 reasons you should consider adding one of these recent instant camera models to your collection.

1. They’re irresistible. Just look at the Mini 50s: a piano black 4.5 by 4” camera with a glossy finish.  It really looks like a toy–and what photographer doesn’t love a shiny new toy?

2. They are an excellent conversation starter. In this world of iPhones and digital cameras, an instant camera is sure to draw attention and plenty of questions. Other than the inevitable “Is that a camera?”, some folks will actually remember the a time before the digital age and want to know about your cute little camera.  Whatever can get you making more connections is a bit of money well spent.

3. Speaking of money, this little guy ranges in price from $80-$120. Not a great deal, considering the cost of lens filters, lens hoods, and other photography gear; here you’re getting a whole tiny package. The cost that really comes into play and cannot be overlooked is the price of instant film, which unless you pay attention for online deals, can be a bit high.

4. For such a simple camera, it has all the features you really need. Its focus ranges from about two feet and to infinity. It comes with a removable macro lens for taking photos as close up as you like. The Mini 50s also features a self timer, and has a powerful flash for taking photos in low light situations.

5. Instant gratification. Of course, the key word in “instant camera” being “instant”, an obvious reason to have an instant camera is so that you can physically hold your photos in your hand seconds after pressing the shutter. In the time that we live in, we use our phones and then upload to Facebook. But really, there’s just something about physical photographs that you can hold and pass around to friends and family. The recent Instax cameras put out credit-card sized photos with white borders, perfect for scribbling little notes or the date on. I had a friend buy an Instax to take photos at a family member’s going-away party. She took photos all night and then put them all in a little book as a gift at the end of the party.

6. Again, physical photos vs. pixel photos. Have you ever lost a memory card? Had all your vacation photos ready to upload to a photo-sharing site when your computer crashed? Although it may be harder to share your photos taken with an analogue camera, it may just help you appreciate the shots that you take. With a digital camera, it snap, snap, snap all day with little appreciation for what you’re photographing. With an instant camera, you have to make each shot count. So you do.

Instant cameras–old fashioned? Yes. Expensive? Maybe. But for a camera enthusiast, the above arguments will most likely be more than enough to send him scrambling to buy one. Why not take  break from your more “serious” photography and spend some time with a toy cameras instead. It just may make you appreciate your photographs that much more.

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Iconic Photographs: Sailor’s Kiss

September 18th, 2012

It’s August 14, 1945. The Japanese have announced their surrender, signalling the end of World War II. This day will come to be known as Victory over Japan Day, or V-J Day. All of America is in a frenzy of joy and exultation–in Washington D.C., Miami, and Los Angeles, photographers take hundreds of candid shots of celebrating sailors and nurses. In the Fashion District of Manhattan, workers hurl strips of cloth and ticker tape out of windows–at the end of the day, the piles will be five inches in depth. In Time’s Square, New York, the largest crowd in its history is gathered to celebrate the end of a war.

Of all the candid photographs taken on V-J Day in New York City, the most famous was snapped by Alfred Eisenstaedt. On that day, it seemed as though every woman in sight was being grabbed and kissed by men in uniform. Eisenstaedt running through Times Square, taking photos as he went, when out of the corner of his eye he saw a sailor grab “something in white”. He turned around and clicked the shutter five times before continuing on his way. Looking back, Eisenstaedt remembered that one photo above all others in his career. At the age of 92, he could still recall the film type and shutter speed he used that day.

In all the excitement, Eisenstaedt failed to get the names of the sailor and nurse and the photograph was submitted to Life magazine without a caption or description. Needles to say, the image captured the imagination and curiosity of millions around the country. It became Life magazine’s most reproduced photograph, and in 1980 Life released a statement asking the couple in the photograph to identify themselves. A flood of people came forward claiming to be the nurse or sailor in the paper. As of 2007, the sailor is believed to be Glen McDuffie and Edith Shain is generally accepted as the nurse in question. McDuffie submitted to hundreds of photographs and measurements of his ears, knuckles, and cheekbones by forensic scientist Lois Gibson, who verified his claim. Edith Shain’s claim was backed up by Alfred Eisenstaedt who said that there was no doubt in his mind that he had found the nurse in his photograph. Shain herself does not accept McDuffie as the sailor kissing her in the photograph–she believes that the sailor was Carl Muscarello, with whom she has re-enacted the kiss for photographers. Another man that matches picture analysis and comparisons is George Mendonsa.

Of course, there were hundreds of servicemen kissing nurses in Time’s Square. Carl Muscarello told interviewers in 2007 that he was coming out of the subway when a lady said to him “I’m so happy for you, sailor!” “What for?”, he asked. “The war is over and you can go home.” Muscallo recalls running out into the street shouting and jumping when a woman held out her arms to him–he took her in arms and kissed her. On that day, practically every nurse in the country was kissed by a man in uniform.

The sailor and nurse in the photograph may never be positively identified, and perhaps it’s better that way. After all, half the charm of the photograph is the anonymity of a sailor and nurse celebrating an iconic moment in their lives, and in history. Today, a life-sized bronze statue depicting the “Sailor’s Kiss” stands in Time’s Square as a reminder of V-J Day. A picture speaks a thousand words, and of all the writings describing Time’s Square on August 14, 1945, perhaps the best representation is a photograph of a kiss between a joyful sailor and nurse.

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Good Bokeh, Bad Bokeh

September 13th, 2012

“Bokeh” is a term which comes from the Japanese word for “blur” or “haze.” In photography, bokeh is known as “the aesthetic quality of blur.” The term was popularized in photography in a 1998 Photo Techniques magazine. The most common example of bokeh photography is a focused subject against a background of colored dots of light, or a smooth blurred background. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so there is not really any such thing as “bad bokeh”. However, there are different techniques and lenses you can use to get the type of blur that you want.

1. A macro lens or long zoom lens is usually the best lens for bokeh photography. You want the main subject in focus in the foreground while leaving the background out of focus, so you need a lens with a shallow depth of field. The bigger the aperture, the better.

2. Once you decide what shape you want your bokeh to be, you can set your shutter speed. A shutter speed of 1/50 or higher will give you the small circles of light, while a slower shutter speed will blur the background smoothly.

3. You should be close to your subject as possible, and as far from your background as possible. Especially if using a macro lens, the closer you are to the subject, the easier it will be to keep your subject in focus and your background out of focus.

4. Generally, you will need to have the light behind your subject. Evening is an especially good time for bokeh photography.

5. Photographers all over have found ways to make their bokeh more creative by incorporating it into their picture’s story. Another fun project is to make your own lens hood out of black paper with a fun shape cut in the middle. This will turn your circular lights into heart-shaped lights, or any shape that you may choose.

Today, bokeh is in a class by itself with magazines, online forums, and websites exclusively featuring creative bokeh techniques. There are even some photographers who have made bokeh their specialty–bokeh is especially used in wedding photography. The best way to discover what “style” of bokeh you prefer is to look at pictures to find out what appeals to you most. A simple web search will turn up pages and pages worth of stunning examples of bokeh photography. Getting started with bokeh is fairly simple– in fact, you probably have done some bokeh without really meaning to. The “art of blur” is not unlike the game of chess–easy to learn, hard to master. Strategically placing your light source and subject, manipulating your focus to selectively blur and sharpen specific areas–bokeh can keep you challenged and rewarded as a photographer.

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The Home Movie That Amazed The World

September 6th, 2012

In the summer of 1982, before digital cameras and special effects software, three 12 year old boys from Mississippi decided to spend their summer recreating Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark in their backyard. Doing a shot for shot remake of a 16 million dollar movie being no small task, they did not finish the movie until six years later in 1988.

Eric Zala, Jayson Lamb, and Chris Strompolos first sneaked a recorder into a movie theater in 1981 to record the soundtrack and sound effects. The boys then spent the next year watching the movie over and over to write down storyboards and make note of camera work. The following summer, the boys began shooting the opening scenes of the movie with Chris Strompolos as Indiana Jones. The first summer’s worth of footage proved to be nearly unusable, due to the boy’s inexperience with cameras and movie-making. However, in the next six summers, the boys improved and tweaked the materials they had to get the desired effects. Production came to a halt after the boy’s parents grounded them from movie making after they nearly set Eric’s basement on fire attempting to re-create the bar scene. The following year, with adult supervision, the boys filmed the scene without mishap. The scene where Indiana Jones is chased by a large boulder gave the boys a great deal of trouble–they went through five different types of materials to create the boulder. It was not til four years after beginning to film that the boys hit upon a suitable process and material for making their boulder. They paid a local man to let them dig a crater in his backyard. They then filled the this crater with fiberglass, pried it up, filled the hole again, and glued the two halves together.

Eight summers and $5,000 later, Zala, Lamb, and Strompolos finished their shot by shot remake of Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. They screened their film in front of some friends in an auditorium in 1989. Afterwards, they put it away and moved away from Mississippi and on to college. In 2003, their film was discovered by film critic Harry Knowles, who screened it at his annual film festival. From then on, Lamb, Zala, and Strompolos began receiving offers to view props from the original film and even were able to meet their childhood hero, Harrison Ford. A making-of documentary is in the work, showing the extreme lengths that three young fans went to in order to create what may be one of the best fan-videos ever made. The movie has been screened at film festivals, and though it is difficult to find the full version online, the movie is set to become a Youtube sensation.

Dedication, passion, and determination took three young boys through their childhood summers from ages 12 to 18. It bonded them together, and 30 years later they are still close friends. With just the props they had on hand, and their pooled allowance, they were able to create a 100 minute labor of love–and all this before digital cameras and editing software! You don’t need fancy equipment to make a movie future generations will love–all you need is time, some good friends, and patience.

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DIY Darkroom Developing

September 4th, 2012

Summer project #4

As we move forward in the digital age, it may become harder and harder to find photo labs that will process film. In that case, analogue enthusiasts will have to resort to creating their own darkrooms. Fortunately, setting up your own dark room is fairly inexpensive, only requiring some effort to evaluate what you have and how you can make it work. Developing your own prints is cost-effective, and it is extremely satisfying to see your photos materialize in front of you. Some photographers have turned sheds and garages into dark rooms, or even their bathrooms. So, how do you get started?

1. You will need a suitable room. To turn a room into a dark room, it will need to be light-tight, have running water and electrical outlets, and some type of ventilation system. To block out and light leaks, you can nail wood over cracks in the walls, tape layers of black plastic bags over windows, or stuff strips of felt into cracks. If there is a crack under the door, stuff towels into it or install an exclusion strip. You will need running water to wash your prints free of excess chemicals, outlets for your safe lights and enlarger, and room to store your chemicals and hang or spread out your prints to dry.

2. Arrange your room into separate areas for wet and dry procedures. If your sink is located on the left side of the room, it is ideal if the outlets are not close to the source of water both for safety reasons and to eliminate spills. Keep your chemicals separate from your completed prints or your store of photo paper.

3. The problem of proper ventilation can be frustrating, but is very necessary. Fumes from developing chemicals can cause serious health issues, if you are exposed to them for very long. If you plan to spend your weekend developing your images, you may find yourself with an extreme migraine. You can install a standard ventilation fan like those used in bathrooms with little effort.

4. The color of the safe light you will need to get will depend on what type of films you will be developing-some require a red light, while others can be used with a more amber colored light. You will need to do some research and experiment in order to find the correct wattage to use.

5. There are other bits and pieces that you will find useful in your new endeavor of processing your own photos–timers, thermometer, towels for drying your hands off, measuring cups, tongs, trays, clips, fans and other things that you may discover that you need.

Wherever you decide to set up your dark room, be sure to always clean up all chemical spills right away. This is especially important if you decide to set it up in your bathroom or near food preparation areas. While there are many factors to consider, setting up your own dark room can be very rewarding. For the DIY photographer, this project can be on-going–you can always improve your dark room or find better ways to do things. Are you up for the challenge?

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Long-Exposure Photography

August 30th, 2012

Summer Project #3

Long-exposure photographs give you a myriad of creative possibilities and a great deal of “wow” factor. Many amateurs are afraid of the dark and avoid night photography as being too technical for them to tackle. While long-exposure photography may take some trial-and-error for you to perfect your technique, employ these simple tips to get you started:

1. The most important piece of camera gear to bring along on your night-time adventures(and perhaps the most obvious) if your tripod. What basically happens in a long exposure is that the shutter stays open for from 30 seconds to an hour or even longer. Movement of the camera will most likely ruin your photograph. You can also set your camera on a wall or ledge, but it’s usually most convenient to have a tripod on hand.

2. Nearly as important as a tripod is a remote cable release. Although you may not realize it, it is nearly impossible to press the shutter button on your camera without causing it to move a bit. To eliminate any possibility of camera shake, a remote cable release allows you to open the shutter without even touching your camera. You can also use your camera’s self-timer, but if you are planning on taking a lot of exposures that night, it will save you time to use a cable release.

3. Another useful piece of equipment is a lens hood. Why do you need a lens hood at night? Long-exposures capture all available light and while the sun may not be causing glare, street lamps might. Lens flare may be an element that you wish to incorporate into your images, but it’s hard to predict or control so many photographers like to avoid it altogether.

4. Turn auto focus off and change settings to infinity. Long-exposure photography is the capturing of light in motion and if you leave your auto focus on, it will constantly be changing its focus throughout your exposure.

5. The length of the exposure is usually dependent on the amount of available light. Photographing a city at night, you may need 10-30 seconds of exposure time. Capturing star trails( a lifelong hobby for some photographers) will require 8 min to an hour or longer.

6. Long exposures are usually done with DSLR cameras, but film cameras can also produce wonderful results. In fact, depending on the type of film you use, an analogue camera can cause some unique effects such as color shift. Tungsten film, though sometimes difficult to find, is known for giving excellent white balance in night photography.

There are many tutorials and websites dedicated to helping amateur photographers to venture out-of-doors at night and tackle long-exposure photography. Some professional photographers prefer to photograph stars, some prefer urban landscapes. Each scenario requires slightly different techniques–trial-and-error is part of the learning process for every photographer. If you live in the city, grab a coffee, set up your gear somewhere and open your shutter. If you love far from city lights, seize the opportunity to photograph the stars. Summer is coming to a close, and soon those clear nights may be accompanied by less comfortable weather. Now is the time to experiment!

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To Use, Or Not To Use….Lens Filters

August 28th, 2012

For the amateur photographer, lens filters are perhaps a lesser-known area of photography gear. There are many different types of filters–some to create artistic effects, others for practicality such as protecting the lens from dirt or UV light. Rather than fiddling with their images in image-enhancement programs, some photographers prefer to use filters to increase saturation, when doing long exposures, or to blend shades of light to create a smooth ambiance in landscape photos. Today, we’ll look at the three of the most common lens filters and then some tips for caring for and using lens filters.

First up is the polarizing filter, generally just known as “polarizers”. If you’ve ever had polarized sunglasses, you have some idea of what these filters do. Most often used by landscape photographers, polarizers reduce glare and remove reflections from the surface of water, as well as increase color stauration. Using a polarizer can be tricky, though; when used with a wide angle lens, polarizers can cause unnatural looking skies by deepening the color in part of the image while leaving the rest light. Shooting with a polarizer also requires you to be aware of your position in relation to the sun as certain angles will increase of decrease the amount of polarization that will occur. There are two types of polarizers–linear and circular. Circular lens allows for autofocus, while linear cannot be used with most SLR cameras.

Another filter often used in nature photography is the natural density(ND) filter. They are used when doing a long exposure in nature photography to blur moving subjects to suggest action or for artistic effect, such as turning a waterfall into a soft blur of color. An ND filter also reduces the amount of light that gets through to the sensor, eliminating over-exposed images. A good example can be seen here.

The third lens filter that we’ll look at today is the UV filter, which is intended to protect your camera lens from dust and smudges while also reducing haze that often occurs when photographing on sunny days. UV filters are generally not necessary on digital cameras, but many photographers still use them as they are a clear lens that protects against scratches.

If you do use lens filters, one key tip to remember is to never hold onto the filter by the glass. Lens filters pick up fingerprints easily–be sure to clean your lens filter often. Like anything in life, you get what you pay for; if you’re going to buy a lens filter, be sure to buy a good quality one.

There are many types of filters on the market that come in many sizes and with varying applications. For some photographers, the cons of lens filters outweigh the inconvenience of modifying the image in Photoshop later on. Lens filters, since they are an extra piece of glass over your lens, tend to reduce image quality or contrast. If not properly suited to your lens, light will leak in through the lens filter and the lens and cause flaring or vignetting. Some photographers don’t use a UV filter, but a lens hood instead to block out haze.

There are many photographers on both side of the debate–some photographers swear by using lens filters, while others can’t be bothered with them. There are pros and cons to lens filters, just as there is with any type of photography gear. It really comes down to a matter of opinion, the only way to find out what you think of lens filters is to try them out or ask other photographers about them. To use, or not to use…experiment! Use until you decide not to.

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