On Wednesday, we will feature articles from some of the most inspiring personalities in various creative fields. Watch out for excellent posts by leaders in photography, business and social media marketing.
I am pleased to debut my latest series, Spotlight, in which I highlight the work of emerging, noteworthy photographers worldwide who create meaningful, memorable work. It is an honor to introduce my first guest, Israeli photographer Ronen Goldman (pictured above in his own work), whose imagery – both commercial and fine-art – investigates the limits of verisimilitude and the suspension of disbelief. Below, check out our recent conversation covering topics as diverse as the “Israeli question,” painstaking post-production, and the pursuit of bringing one’s own, internal “dreamworld” to viewers’ eyes.
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Photos by Ronen Goldman
Your conceptual approach to photography yields dynamic, at times surreal, results. Talk about the notion of the “photo dream.” From what influences did you develop such an entry point into the art of photography?
I have always been interested in dreams. It seems to me that experiences we have while sleeping are sometimes as powerful and meaningful as “real events.” The subconscious is such an intriguing and uncharted land, and always proves itself a worthy realm for exploration. This preoccupation with my own subconscious is how my Photo-Dreams series came to life; it is an attempt to recreate dreams or dream fragments through photography. Once this series started to accumulate more and more entries, it became a collection known as the “Surrealistic Pillow Project.” I’m influenced by the surrealist movement that took the subconscious-based art to amazing levels. Artists like De-Chirico, Magritte, Man Ray, Ives Tanguy and Dali are among my favorites.
Your identity as an Israeli – a contested political, social and economic territory – has surely shaped your identity as an artist. How does your sociocultural background shape the way you see the world from behind the lens of a camera?
Israel is a very “loaded” place to live – for so many reasons. Truthfully, I try not to get political with my art, since my subconscious is much more amorphous. There is no doubt, though, that living here creates some deep-rooted ebbs and flows of anxiety, paranoia and exhilaration that are evidenced in the photographs I create.
You were one of the winners of Catherine Hall Studios’ Exploration of a Muse photography contest. How did you first hear about the contest, what inspired you to enter, and how did you create your winning submission?
I follow Catherine’s TWiT Photo podcast and was excited to find the competition on Google+. The subject of “Exploration of a Muse” was too good not to enter, so I did – right away! My winning submission is called “Master Magician.” I depicts a mysterious man in the woods, who is throwing cards in the air that magically spiral towards the camera. Creating this image was painstakingly long, since I shoot all parts of my images on location. I shot every single card in that photo separately and in its unique position and then combined the layers of photos together to create the spiral.
What guiding impulses – both intrinsic and extrinsic – drive you to take pictures?
Every photo starts from a dream or fragment I remember. I then sit and start exploring what interests me about the dream and figuring out why it appeared to me in the first place. I develop the idea into an image in the real world, somehow devising a way to call it into existence, despite all the technical and photographic constraints. My drive comes from wanting to share complex, abstract ideas with other people.
Your artistic process obviously requires a lot of technological manipulation. What gear and software are indispensable to your photography?
Nowadays, I use a 5D Mark II, which I absolutely love. I also use an array of prime lenses, but some of my best images were created early-on with a Canon 350D and pretty unsophisticated lenses. Photoshop, of course, is indispensable to me.
Who are three of the most influential figures in your growth as a photographer?
I am influenced by any art I run into, whether it’s painting, music, sculpture, or literature. I appreciate anything that involves people making thought provoking objects for others to to view or experience. Choosing three is very hard, but I’d say they are:
He created worlds of poetry by juxtaposing objects in beautiful ways, and made the viewers believe that what they are looking at is impossibly real.
He created beautiful, masterful music even when nobody was listening.
His keen eye – ready to freeze whatever it is the world displayed in front of him and arrange it all, amazingly, in split seconds – is astonishing.
Did you receive formal training in photography – and, if so, where did you study? How valuable is a university education or technical degree for people who aspire to become professional photographers?
I attended Tel Aviv University, where I studied film, script writing and storytelling. There is no doubt these subjects influence my work today, although I really only got into photography after graduating, so I can’t say that I have any formal training whatsoever. That said, education is extremely important, especially in a field like photography where there is so much technical stuff that one should really know about. I got all my photography education from reading books, magazines and Internet resources. There is so much you can learn online, and learning that way was the right way for me. If you feel more comfortable studying at a university you should do it – whatever path is best for you to acquire knowledge is the journey that you should take.
You all know Rick Sammon. Gregarious, lighting-sharp photog who scours the world in search of singularly unique subjects. To date, he has traveled to more than 100 countries, braved a much-publicized rescue from the wild Highlands of Papua New Guinea, and published 36 photography-industry books over the past 20 years. His life is the stuff of legend. Last year, Rick and I spent a good deal of time together, bonding as professionals, tech geeks, and lighting freaks; recently, he was gracious enough to travel to our studio in Petaluma to appear on yet another fun-filled TWiT Photo episode with Leo and me. Below, Rick dishes on his creative process for his “Girl with a Pearl Earring – The Photograph.” Teeming with tips and tricks for lighting up your pictures like the old, painterly masters, this guest post is solid gold.
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Post + Photos by Rick Sammon
We can learn a lot from the master painters.
One of my favorite paintings is “Girl with a Pearl Earring” by the Dutch master Johannes Vermeer. The painting has been referred to as “The Mona Lisa of the North.” Hey, I like it even better than the Mona Lisa.
One of my favorite movies is “Girl with a Pearl Earring” starring Scarlett Johansson.
Both the painting and the movie inspired my shoot: “Girl with a Pearl Earring – The Photograph.” My goal was to try to recreate the beautiful lighting Vermeer used – which included the nice catch light in his model’s eyes and the soft side lighting. Perhaps most important I wanted to recreate the mood and feeling of the painting – or should I say the model.
I studied pictures of Vermeer’s famous portrait, following the advice I give my photography workshop students: Study the works of master painters. These works will teach you about light and shadows, color and detail, posing and composition . . . and many more elements that go into making a good image.
I made the portrait in my office. I don’t have a studio, but I turned my office into one in about 15 minutes. We shoot here during my Croton Creative Workshop.
Please add Croton Creative link above:
Here is the simple process I went through to get the image:
The first step was to find a model, which turned out to be my friend’s daughter, Maggie.
Next I bought the propos: two scarves from Macy’s. Maggie already had the jacket.
Before my Maggie showed up, I set up a very basic lighting system. One Canon 580EX II Speedlite in a Westcott Apollo soft box. I fired the flash with my Canon ST-E2 Wireless transmitter. I shot with my Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 100mm lens.
Some lighting tips:
• The larger the light, the softer the light.
• The closer the light, the softer the light.
• Don’t point the light (Softbox in this case) directly at the subject. Rather “feather” it, that is, point it slightly in front of the subject.
• Don’t underestimate using only one light source. If it worked for Vermeer, who used one window light, it can work for you.
During the shoot I shot tethered, using Canon Digital Photo Processional to see my pictures on my MacBook Pro. The Beatles looked on, from a poster I got in 1967.
I had a print of Vermeer’s painting attached to the soft box, and one next to my computer, for guidance. Maggie had studied the painting and the girl’s expression for a week before the shoot.
It was finally time to shoot! My wife, Susan, helped set up the shot, while Zoe, another friend’s daughter, held a Westcott black panel on the opposite side of the soft box to eliminate any reflected light.
I did a bit of work in Photoshop: cropping, increasing the contrast, dodging the earring, and using the Color Replacement brush to change some of the colors in the image. I spent maybe one hour in Photoshop.
What really makes this image so cool is Maggie. Never underestimate the importance of a good model – and the right model. I knew Maggie was perfect for the part.
So again, study the work of the masters if you want to master your lighting.
For more lighting tips, see my apps:
Explore the light,
‘Start small! We tend to overestimate what we can do over a short time and underestimate what we can do over a long time.’ As I’m drafting my resolutions for the New Year, Gretchen Rubin’s positive, sound advice seemed to be written specifically for me. I get really excited about new projects and strive to be the best in everything I do – and sometimes, it can be difficult sticking to those resolutions when you just have an endless To-Do list. That’s why this year, I’m sticking to Gretchen’s five gems of making 2012 a happier year – Gretchen is the author of The Happiness Project, New York Times #1 bestselling book and also one of the most inspiring self-improvement blogs with plenty of witty and insightful tips and stories. Watch out for my New Year resolutions next Monday.
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Post + Photos by Gretchen Rubin
Forty-four percent of Americans make New Year’s resolutions, and I know I always do. I’m more inclined to make resolutions than ever, in fact, because if my happiness project has convinced me of anything, it has convinced me that resolutions – made right – can make a huge difference in boosting happiness.So how do you resolve well? This is trickier than it sounds. Here are some tips for making your resolutions as effective as possible. Remember, right now, you’re in the planning stage. Don’t feel like you have to do anything yet! Just start thinking about what would make 2012 a happier year.
Ask: What would make me happier?
It might having more of something good – more fun with friends, more time for a hobby. It might be less of something bad – less yelling at your kids, less nagging of your spouse. It might be fixing something that doesn’t feel right – more time spent volunteering, more time doing something to make someone else happier.
Ask: What is a concrete action that would bring about change?
One common problem is that people make abstract resolutions, which are hard to keep. “Be more optimistic,” “Find more joy in life,” “Enjoy now,” are resolutions that are hard to measure and therefore difficult to keep. Instead, look for a specific, measurable action. “Distract myself with fun music when I’m feeling gloomy,” “Watch at least one movie each week,” “Buy a lovely plant for my desk” are resolutions that will carry you toward those abstract goals.
Ask: Am I a ‘yes’ resolver or a ‘no’ resolver?
Some people resent negative resolutions. They dislike hearing “don’t” or “stop” or adding to their list of chores. If this describes you, try to find positive resolutions: “Take that dance class,” “Have lunch with a friend once a week.” Or maybe you respond well to “no.” That’s my situation. A lot of my resolutions are aimed at getting me to stop doing something or to do something I don’t really want to do. Don’t expect praise or appreciation. Follow the one-minute rule. There’s no right way to make a resolution, but it’s important to know what works for you. As always, the secret is to know your own nature.
Ask: Am I starting small enough?
Many people make super-ambitious resolutions and then drop them, feeling defeated, before January is over. Start small! We tend to over-estimate what we can do over a short time and under-estimate what we can do over a long time, if we make consistent, small steps. If you’re going to resolve to start exercising (one of the most popular resolutions), don’t resolve to go to the gym for an hour every day before work. Start by going for a ten-minute walk at lunch or marching in place once a day during the commercial breaks in your favorite TV show. Little accomplishments provide energy for bigger challenges. Push yourself too hard and you may screech to a halt.
Ask: How am I going to hold myself accountable?
Accountability is the secret to sticking to resolutions. That’s why groups like AA and Weight Watchers are effective, and there are many ways to hold yourself accountable. I keep my Resolutions Chart (if you’d like to see my chart, for inspiration, email me at grubin [at] gretchenrubin.com – just write “resolution chart” in the subject line). Or you could track your resolutions online using the tools at the Happiness Project Toolbox. Or you could form a goals group – or even a happiness-project group! (For a starter kit for starting a happiness-project group, click here.) Accountability is why #2 is so important. If your resolution is too vague, it’s hard to measure whether you’ve been keeping it. A resolution to “Eat healthier” is harder to track than “Eat salad for lunch three times a week.”
Have you found any strategies that have helped you successfully keep resolutions in the past?
World-renowned fashion and glamour photographer Frank Doorhof is always an absolute pleasure to work with. From an enthusiastic live demo shoot during his TWiT Photo appearance, to his eager involvement as a judge in the Guest Quest contest, the Kelby Media Training instructor is one of the most generous in the business, offering his time and knowledge without a thought. He even wrote today’s guest post while he was recovering from the flu! The lighting whiz shares his tips for seeing the light – and figuring out what to do with it.
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Post + Photos by Frank Doorhof
Some of the most talked about things in photography are the fact that you have to learn to see the image even before you take it. To be honest, I strongly believe that when you are an active photographer you actually do see the world differently. For example, when I drive around with friends or even my wife, I see details in the landscape that other people don’t. Somehow, I’m focused into the small things that stand out for me; for example, in our area we have a lot of small birds of prey, and I always seem to pick them out of the landscape. The funny thing is that one of the first things I loved to photograph were, indeed, birds.
This is, of course, not the only thing. Somehow over time I’ve also started to see the right angles for light, the right angles to shoot from, etc.
When we take a photograph we are in fact thinking about many things: How do I coach my model, which angle do I choose, how do I set my lights, where does the shadow fall, etc., etc. To list them all would drive you mad. However this is not necessary, if you think about it.
All these technical parts in setting up a shot can be made much simpler by understanding the light and metering it – yes, there we have the light meter. When I teach, I’m a strong advocate of teaching people to not only understand their lights but also to understand the right tools to meter it.
For example, if you understand the inverse square law, you will know that light falls off over a certain distance. This means that if you place a light source very close to your subject, the light will fall off very quickly and give you a high contrast image. When you want a little less light fall off, you place the lights slightly further away, and so on. You can also learn to use tools like grids to make sure that the balance between light fall off and the area you light are in control. Using these kinds of tools, 90% of your worries are gone from your mind, and you can focus (pun intended) on the subject.
The more you look at images you love, and use your photographic eye even when you’re not shooting, the more you will train your eyes to recognize good angles to shoot your subject, as well as interesting angles for your light.
In the end, combining technique and vision will make you not only a faster photographer, but also a better photographer, producing images that will set you apart from the masses.
Also when you are freed from the technical bumps and problems on the road you will see very quickly that styling, expression, and location are a great way to make your images more interesting.
Over the years of teaching I found out that most beginning photographers are thinking about light and settings, but whenever I talk to the more advanced pros, it’s very clear that they hardly ever talk about light. They talk about settings as in styling, sets, adding some smoke/mood, adding some makeup etc. – they all concentrate on what makes the image “speak” and not about the technique that makes the image appear on the sensor.
So learn your theory, use the right tools and practice (with and without camera) to see the light. Understand the light and when you master this, start concentrating on the things that really matter.
Your images will grow without any doubt.
Throughout my career, Skip Cohen has always been one of my greatest mentors and inspirations. He has been in the photographic industry since 1970, when he began his 17 1/2 years with Polaroid’s R&D team. Since then, he has held numerous other leadership positions in the industry, written 5 books on photography, garnered many awards, and founded GoingPro and Marketing Essentials International, and kicked off Skip’s Summer School. He’s also an all-around joy to work with. Skip has graced us in the past with his advice for garnering sponsorship, and I’m happy to have him today for a special post to help prepare us for the holiday season! P.S. Thanks for the kind words about my holiday cards, Skip :)
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Post + Photo by Skip Cohen
Now is the time to start thinking about your holiday cards, and you want to make sure you get it right this year. Why? There are few things worse than a photographer buying a box of Hallmark cards at holiday time! There is no better way to show your work than on your own cards and stationery
While they may seem like clichés, holiday cards can impact your business. Why, as a photographer, would you buy your holiday cards and stationery in card shops, instead of utilizing one of your own images? Think about it for a second. What better way to demonstrate your abilities and to market your work than to use one of your own images on a card? It’s easy, it’s a soft sell and your own logo and business information on the back of the card tells people a lot more than a bar code! Plus, it shows you have pride in your own work!
Catherine Hall produces one of the most beautiful cards year after year. She also wins best positioning of her logo and contact information on the back of the card. Australian photographer Marcus Bell typically features his staff in the card. He also sends out beautifully signed prints to a handful of industry people who he’s worked with during the year – another nice touch. I have one of his images framed over my desk right now and it’s become a cherished piece of art in my home.
However, the card I hold my breath waiting for each year is from Bleu Cotton and Allison Pierce. They’ve made their sense of humor into an artform and it will some day be declared a national treasure! In past years they’ve been featured in the card with Bleu as Santa, Allison as an elf, and their son, Fisher, now upstages both of them! If Fisher plays his cards right and listens to everything Mom and Dad teach him about life and laughter, we’ll see him doing standup on the Tonight Show in twenty years!
Okay, so there’s one point here: Take the time before it’s too late, and choose an image for your own cards. Helen Yancy uses a beautiful watercolor image on her thank-you notes. Bambi Cantrell has used several of her very best wedding images. Barbara Smith creates her own stationery with absolutely stunning Auratones. She’s even written two books about using your images for not only your stationery, but a long list of products for your clients.
Once in a while I even try and practice what I preach, using three images from a portrait session with Bambi Cantrell of me with Molly the Wonder Dog for one year’s card.
Whether the economy was tough or not, the issue would still be the same – it takes a constant effort to keep your name out there with the public. Most of you are sitting on a gold mine of your own images and barely take advantage of the real asset they could be as a marketing tool! Show your confidence in your own work and when people turn the card over to look for the Hallmark label, how terrific it would be if they saw your name instead!