On Volunteering

If you’ve followed my work for any length of time you know that I volunteer my time and professional services regularly to help various animal welfare organizations.  These days, it is mostly Pima Animal Care Center here in Tucson but I’ve worked with as many as maybe a dozen different organizations over the years.  My belief that it is important to give back to the less fortunate in the community which probably dates back to my time at Marquette University.  If you don’t know anything about Marquette, all you really need to know is that it is a Jesuit university and the Jesuits are about two things – service and education (okay – oversimplified but those two are key).  Anyhoo, today I’d like to take the time to encourage you to do some  volunteering and I thought you might appreciate my ‘guide to volunteering’ to help get you started.

Spring came into our lives because I volunteered at Woodford Humane Society.

Spring came into our lives because I volunteered at Woodford Humane Society.

Before jumping in, it might go without saying that what works for me might not work for you.  Take these suggestions only as a starting point.

1)  Find an organization that you want to work with on a regular basis.  That seems obvious but it is key to starting a lasting relationship.  There are countless worthy non-profit organizations in the world and chances are, you’ll think many of them do important work.  Just because you recognize that an organization is doing important work in the community doesn’t mean that it is a good fit for you.  There are many ways to help and if you believe an organization is doing good work but the idea of working directly with them makes you uncomfortable, then consider a donation instead.  Non-profits need money more than they need uncomfortable volunteers.

I was caught on the wrong side of the camera in this photo.

I was caught on the wrong side of the camera in this photo.

2)  Make sure that the needs of the organization match with the kind of work that you are interested in performing.  Once upon a time I thought it would be fun to work with Habitat for Humanity – after all, I’m fairly handy with tools and I enjoy working with my hands.  I went to the local office and told them that I was interested in helping them with their work.  After a month of organizing poorly filed papers and cleaning their very dirty office without once doing the kind of work that I wanted to do, we parted ways.

3)  Come with an open mind.  I wrote that I wasn’t a good fit for the kind of volunteer that Habitat for Humanity needed at the time but it still wasn’t a one and done experience.  Sometimes non-profits need help in ways that you don’t expect – you might find that the unexpected job is perfect for you.  While you should find volunteer opportunities that interest you, understand that the volunteering isn’t all about you – it’s about helping an organization that you believe in fulfill their mission.

This is an example of an unexpected experience - because of my work with adoptable dogs, I began working with a dog training program in a medium security prison.  Definitely both interesting and unexpected.

This is an example of an unexpected experience – because of my work with adoptable dogs, I began working with a dog training program in a medium security prison. Definitely both interesting and unexpected.

4)  Have fun!  Within reason.  One of the things that volunteers do at Pima Animal Care Center is dog walking.  They take the dogs out of their kennels and walk them around the park.  It is good for the dogs and it is a fun way to spend time with these animals while making a real improvement in their quality of life.  The dog walkers give the dogs exercise, they give them a place to take care of their business outside of their living quarters, and they often will give the dogs a bit of grooming or training.  When the dogs are compatible, the dog walkers will walk with one another and enjoy not only their dogs company, but also that of their fellow volunteers.   One thing they don’t do – sit around in the staff lounge shooting the breeze getting in the way of the work that needs to be done.

5)  Offer suggestions – when appropriate.  I’m sure you bring a wealth of knowledge with you when you volunteer and the non-profit you are working with absolutely can benefit from your expertise.  Just understand that you might not have the big picture and there might be excellent reasons why things are done a certain way.  Don’t take it personally if your suggestion is not given the credit that you think it deserves.

One of the first dogs I ever photographed at PACC.

One of the first dogs I photographed at PACC.

6)  Be a team player.  When I first started volunteering at Pima Animal Care Center, they had a room that I could use to set up my studio gear.  I like making studio portraits for adoptable animals for a number of reasons but two of the big ones are that it allows me to isolate the pet from all distracting backgrounds and it allows me to work with them in an environment that is (relatively) free from distractions.  These photos made the animals stand out in their online adoption profiles in a way that was good for those pets but then they hired a full time veterinarian and the space I was using was no longer available.  Now I photograph the dogs as they are walked in the park adjacent to the shelter.  There are other dogs, ducks, remote controlled boats, cars, children, and any of a number of other distractions but photographing there allows me to continue to work with an organization that I believe in so I’ve made the needed adjustments.

Robin and I were out again earlier this week and we photographed this handsome fellow.  Rojo will make the right family very happy.

Robin and I were out again earlier this week and we photographed this handsome fellow. Rojo will make the right family very happy.

I think that’s it.  Do you have any tips of your own that you think I missed?  If so, leave a comment and let me know.  I’ll leave you for the week with a few more photos from our session this week.  If you are interested in Rojo (photo above) or any of the furry ones below, visit Pima Animal Care Center’s website or better yet, stop in and say hello to your next family member!

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Post-processing using Adobe Photoshop Lightroom

A few weeks ago I wrote about the benefits of using RAW camera files during the editing process and I showed you a quick (and a not so quick) example of how I might approach editing an image.   After beginning my edits in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom (Lightroom or LR), I brought the file over to Adobe Photoshop (PS) to give the image a final polish before saving the photo for web use.  That prompted the follow up question about exporting files directly from LR.  This week I’d like to answer that question and share another example of using Lightroom from start to finish to edit a photograph.

Spring was happy to be a part of this lesson. Watch the video to see how I edited this photograph from start to finish using Lightroom.

In the video, I will show you how to import the RAW file (works the same for JPGs), edit the image, and then export the file using two different methods.  Grab a bottle of Diet Mountain Dew (okay – a cup of coffee then), sit back, and relax for a bit while I show you how I edited the above photo using Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.

As I wrap things up for the week I think it is important to note that while I am an Adobe Certified Expert using this program, you don’t have to be in order to benefit from using Lightroom.  If you regularly make photos (and short videos) then I think this program deserves a spot on your computer.   It will make your photo life easier, and of course, if you get stuck, you already know someone who can help.

Lyle says "Stay groovy."

Lyle says “Stay groovy.”

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All photographs are accurate.

I was fully prepared to write an entirely different post today but then I was reminded of a quote and decided to save that topic for another week.  It’s best to write as inspiration strikes.

This is Maebe's scholarly look.

This is Maebe’s scholarly look.

All photographs are accurate.  None of them is the truth.
-Richard Avedon

I had probably seen Avedon’s work at some point in my life before graduate school because he was a pretty famous fashion and fine art photographer but if I had, it certainly did not register so I think it is safe to say that it was while I was in grad school that I came to know and appreciate his work.   Avedon (1923 – 2004) was ‘discovered’ by an art director for Harper’s Bazaar and he went on to work for Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue, Life, and the New Yorker among others through his long career.  His signature style was to photograph his models in a studio with a white seamless background but of course that wasn’t the only way he photographed people.  Here are a few examples of his work.

http://www.artknowledgenews.com/2010-08-10-20-54-18-richard-avedons-lively-fashion-images-at-the-museum-of-fine-arts-boston.html, accessed 12/2/10

Andy Warhol, Artist, New York City, 1969
http://www.metmuseum.org/special/richard_avedon/3.L.htm, accessed 12/2/10

Marilyn Monroe, Actress, New York City, 1957
http://www.metmuseum.org/special/Richard_Avedon/2.L.htm, accessed 12/2/10

Roberto Lopez, Oil Field Worker, Lyons, Texas, 1980
http://www.metmuseum.org/special/Richard_Avedon/6.L.htm, accessed 12/2/10

Ronald Fischer, Beekeeper, Davis, California, 1981
http://www.metmuseum.org/special/Richard_Avedon/7.L.htm, accessed 12/2/10

In looking at his photos, I’m sure you can see that I identify with his style – it is very straight forward and most of his photos have nothing in the frame to take the viewer’s attention away from his subjects.  Here are a few images from my thesis defense for comparison.

M_Kloth_cat_2580 M_Kloth_cat_4139 M_Kloth_cat_5424 M_Kloth_dog_5426 M_Kloth_dog_8184

The obvious similarities are that I used studio lighting and photographed my subjects against a white seamless background.  I see other similarities as well but I’ll leave them for you to ponder and discover on your own.  Mostly, I wanted to write about that quote and what it means to me.  I think those two simple sentences hold a lot of meaning for photographers, serious and casual alike.

Before I go any further, it might help to put that quote in the context of a second quote.

 Sometimes I think all my pictures are just pictures of me.
-Richard Avedon

Perhaps that seems strange in the context that my thesis work was centered on the goal of helping adoptable animals find homes but of course it is more than that.  Higher education in general and perhaps graduate school for the arts in particular is kind of a selfish pursuit.  Even projects with the most noble goal in mind still boil down to the fact that the images are created for the purpose of earning that diploma.

A happy looking Spring.

A happy looking Spring.

I think there is a lesson that every photographer can take from considering these quotes.  First, I do believe it is fair to say that every photograph is in some way (large or small) a self portrait regardless of the subject of the photograph – after all, we tend to point our cameras at the things that most interest us, we tend to compose (light, expose, etc) our photographs in the way that is pleasing to us, and we tend to use (or decide not to use) the skills that we’ve learned along the way.  All of which is to say that we put a lot of ourselves into our photos and while that is probably self evident, it is not something that we often stop to consider.

So then, what could he have meant in that first quote?

Let’s ignore the possibility of digital (or otherwise) manipulation of an image for the sake of this discussion.  With that out of the way, every time we snap the shutter, we are faithfully recording the scene in front of the lens.  That is to say that the resulting image is an accurate representation of what was recorded on film (Avedon died before digital capture really took off).  Simple enough.  It’s that second sentence that I find most interesting –  None of them is the truth.

What could he have meant by that?

How could this be an untruth?

How could this be an untruth?

Why isn't this the truth?

Why isn’t this the truth?

I think there are a few ways to look at this.  First of all, he was a portrait photographer that worked with celebrities and he knew very well that people put on a mask when they are being photographed – that is, they show us what they want to show us or what they think we want to see.

Marilyn Monroe, Actress, New York City, 1957
http://www.metmuseum.org/special/Richard_Avedon/2.L.htm, accessed 12/2/10

Consider this portrait of Marilyn Monroe – it was Avedon’s favorite of the shoot.  The story goes that he photographed her and she performed for the camera.  During the session she was Marilyn Monroe.  And then he told her he was done and the mask fell away – that was when he made this portrait.  In a way it is a more honest portrait of a person but it is also shows what Avedon wanted in the image considerably more than what Monroe wanted.  In that people tend to act for the camera, photographs do not show us the truth.

Perhaps even more important is that photographs only show us a small slice in time so it is impossible for them to tell any full truth.

This photo was only possible because I captured a moment in time.

This photo was only possible because I captured a moment in time.

In the above photo, it can’t be a surprise to you that this cat wasn’t too enthusiastic about being photographed but the lines and shapes of the cats at this 1/200 second in time are beautiful and graceful.  Is that an accurate representation of this cat?

Was this puppy very intense?

Was this puppy very intense?

Or how about this puppy portrait – the gaze is very intense and the portrait gives the impression that the puppy was willing to sit still for the portrait session – but that wasn’t the case at all – he was just a regular goofy puppy captured in a moment.

Quotes like these can speak volumes but  as I wrap things up this week I want to leave you with two thoughts.  First, these quotes are provided as a moment in time much like these photographs are shared – that is to say, they are shared mostly without the benefit of context so they are also only partial truths.  And finally, if it were me being quoted, I would say something more along the lines of this – “All photographs are accurate.  They only share a fraction of the truth.”   After all, even a completely staged photograph is going to tell the viewer a little something about the subject AND the photographer.   Let me know what you think.

 

 

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Tips for photographing spring flowers

I’m lucky – I get to walk my dogs pretty much every day.  Some walks are better than others obviously, but this time of year especially, I appreciate the time I spend with the pups enjoying our amazing Tucson weather.

The pups enjoy it pretty well too.

The pups enjoy it pretty well too.

Anyhoo, we had a lot of winter rain followed by some nice weather which means that I’ve been enjoying a wide array of blooms during our walks.  I know some of you are not fortunate enough to live in Tucson to enjoy our blooms for yourselves but if what I’m seeing online is any indicator, it looks like much of the country is at least starting to see some spring blooms so I thought it was the perfect time to share some tips for capturing those flowers with your camera.

Step one:  Take your allergy medicine.

Okay, maybe you are one of the lucky few that can avoid this step but for the rest of us it can mean the difference between enjoying the day and spending the day sneezing.

Step two:  Take some time to learn how your camera works.

I should probably include this step in all of my ‘tips’ posts.  While I firmly believe that the photographer’s vision is key to a great photograph, the camera is still a pretty key component.  Knowing how to change key settings can be the difference between frustration and success.

Do you know what the difference between these two photos are?

Do you know what the difference between these two photos are?

Here’s an example for you – without using a tripod, I tried to make both of these images have more or less the same framing.  In one image, I set my camera to focus on the left most flower and in the other, I just let the camera pick the focus point.  Knowing how to make that quick adjustment allowed me to make a picture of a flower in the first photo and a palo verde branch in the other.  In addition to knowing how to change the focus point in your camera, you will also want to know how to change your aperture and exposure compensation settings too so that you can be sure to make a great exposure regardless of the lighting scenario.  Why do you want to change the aperture?  It comes down to depth of field – that is, aperture is the tool that allows you to determine how much of an image is in sharp focus.

Step three:  Find some flowers.

Bunny ears cactus flowers - check!

Bunny ears cactus flowers – check!

Step four:  Find some good light (or bring your own).

Have you ever heard of the golden hour?  No?  Well photographers refer to the time (often an hour or so but not always) after sunrise or before sunset as the golden hour because the quality of light tends to be a bit warmer than it is at noon.  It is also nice and directional (rather than straight overhead).  This kind of light is PERFECT for photographing flowers.  So how about all other lighting then?  It’s PERFECT TOO!  Or if not perfect, then it is something that you can work with for your shoot.   Overcast?  Perfect soft lighting that will allow you to have brightly saturated colors without any hard shadows.  Noontime sun?  Perfect for quick exposures and for placing your shadows directly under your flower.  Did the noontime sun seem a bit harsh?  No problem, stand so that your shadow falls over your flower or, if you want to be a bit fancier about it, set up a gobo (photo speak for go between) to block or modify the sunlight to make it better suit your needs.  I think you’re probably getting the idea here – the key really is to understand how the current light makes your flowers look and then either work with that or modify it to suit your needs.

Step five:  Don’t just stand there.

Showing up at any scene, grabbing your camera, and firing off a shot or two is rarely going to be your best solution.  Take a moment to consider your scene and how you might best photograph your flower.  A while back I wrote about simplifying your background and this is the perfect time to recall those lessons.  Practically speaking, this can mean any of a number of things.  Maybe you want to photograph your flower so that it has a pretty wall behind it instead of the weed growing next to it.  Or maybe you want to shoot down on it with a shallow depth of field so the mulch is out of focus.  Or maybe you want to get down below it and shoot up so that you have blue sky in the background.  Move around a bit (or move the flower if that’s a possibility) and make sure the flowers are the star of the photo.

Same flower - two views.  Which do you like better?  Or maybe you like them both - even better!

Same flower – two views. Which do you like better? Or maybe you like them both – even better!

Step six:  Have fun!

That should always be the last step!

Hugs!

Hugs!

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RAW versus JPEG

Today’s topic comes at the request of one of the newsletter subscribers (Hi Bob!).  He has a camera that allows the option for saving files as jpegs (.jpg) or RAW files (.CR2 in his case) and he wanted to learn a bit about the two formats.  Each format has its pros and cons but if the best possible image quality is your goal, I’ll always tell you that the RAW format is your best option.

A handsome dog to add some guapo-ness to the post.

A handsome dog to add some guapo-ness to the post.

To begin, I have to mention that RAW files are are not photographs – they hold the building blocks for making photographs.  Think of them as digital negatives.  Back in the film days, you’d take your roll of film to the lab and you’d get back little strips of negative film along with your prints.  RAW files are like those negative strips – they can be used to make prints (or digital images) but they first need a bit of work.  It is also worth pointing out that the term RAW file(s) is a generic one and it doesn’t have a set file extension.  Depending on your camera’s manufacturer, your RAW files may have the .CRW, .CR2, .NEF, .DNG, or something else completely.  It doesn’t matter what kind of file you have, the things that I’m writing about here apply to all RAW files so if your camera can generate them, then this post applies to you.

Of course, that’s kind of a big if – not all cameras have the ability to output RAW files however all cameras can generate jpegs and there’s something  to be said about that universal format.  The biggest pro for the jpeg format is that it is a ready to go file.  When the photo is made, the camera applies settings that give the image contrast, a boost in saturation, sharpness, and more – basically it does everything the camera engineers determined you would want the camera to do for you so that you can print it or share it on the web without any fuss.  The downside?  Some engineering team that doesn’t know the first thing about you or your scene decided for you how you want your photograph to look.  Did they get it right?  Maybe so – they are pretty clever and they do know what people like in an image but as with anything in life, a one size fits all solution is rarely the right answer for every problem.

Spring is not an engineer - she just plays one in this post.

Spring is concentrating on today’s lesson.

RAW files on the other hand only offer a suggestion of what an image might become.  All digital cameras record the number and intensity of the photons hitting the sensor chip.  If you order up a jpeg file, then the camera will take that raw information and it will stamp in all of the presets to create a final usable image. I’ve already mentioned some of those presets determined by the engineers, but your choices are also included in that file including decisions on exposure and white balance setting.  RAW files on the other hand are pretty much served to you as the information is received with a side helping of suggested settings.  Those files have the record of light hitting the sensor of course but they also embed things like the white balance and exposure settings so that the software you use has a starting point.  The software then applies a secret recipe of its own to decode the raw data (more clever engineers) but unlike what happens in the camera, the image is left incomplete and it is up to the photographer to decide how the final image will look.  The flexibility of this format allows you to increase or decrease the exposure, change the white balance setting after the fact, change the color saturation, and even change one color to another (see below)- all without ruining the image quality (well, you can ruin it if you try hard enough).  Sure you can make some of those same changes to a jpeg file, but NO WHERE NEAR to the same extent as the RAW file.

See how easy it is to change the colors?

So I’m going to leave it at that but I want to share with you a pair of videos to show you how these RAW files can be worked on in post-processing to bring that digital negative to to the point where it can be shared with the world.  In the first video, I talk at length (about 15 minutes) about the workflow process.  If you don’t have the patience to watch that one, you can just see the edit in action in the second video (same image – just no talking to slow you down).  Let me know what you think and if you have any questions.


Blah, blah, blah version.

Wow, that was quick version.

 

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