Using an Off-Camera Flash to Improve Your Photos

Most cameras with a built-in flash deliver harsh, straight-on light that produces red-eye because of how close the flash is to the lens.  Sometimes, a built-in flash is the only option you have, and in these cases, getting an imperfect photo is better than no photo at all.  But it’s a big reason so many people’s photos have an amateurish look.

Mud, Glorious Mud

I was crouching in mud up to my knees trying to get a good angle of a farmer planting seedlings. Each time I tried to move, dollops of mud splashed over my camera and clothes. Already I had lost my shoes in the mud, so I had to abandon them and fish them out later when I finished photographing the planting. In fact, for most of the 10 days that I was on the island of Mindanao in the Philippines I was in mud — on a good day it only came up to my ankles.

Notes from the VisCom Classroom: Rubrics

I’m hooked on rubrics. And I have one of my colleagues, Keith Kenney, to thank for my addiction. Kenney is an associate professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of South Carolina. At a department meeting last September, Kenney shared his ideas about grading with rubrics. A rubric, or grading matrix, is a way to codify specific elements of student work, such as photographs, which do not easily lend themselves to points and percentages.

Photography Empathy: How You Feel Is What You Get

Recently while listening to one of my favorite podcasts, The Candid Frame, professional photographer and author Rick Sammon offered an old adage as his No. 1 photography tip: “The camera looks both ways.”

What the Presidential Campaign Can Teach You About Your Photography Career

Running your photography business, or advancing in your photography career, is not the same as running for president of the United States — but there are some parallels that can teach us valuable lessons.  Here are five:

The Intelligent Machine: The Camera in the 21st Century

Digital and computational photography, represented by the latest technological advances in image creation and processing, signifies a shift in how technology influences our visual culture. As we move from slower and more costly manual analog processes to faster and cheaper automated digital ones, there arises the danger of allowing technology to determine how reality is captured and constructed. In a very real sense, technology has become an agent of informational control.

Sometimes a Bad Image Isn’t the Camera’s Fault — It’s Yours

So you’ve gone out and dropped your hard-earned money on one of those exotic lenses you see in the credits of the images you want to emulate. Or you’ve upgraded to the latest gigapixel SLR because you want your images to realize their full potential instead of plateauing in the “not quite” category. Yet somehow, after all the money you’ve spent, you’re less than thrilled — in fact, your images actually appear worse!

Eye on Image-Making: KobreGuide

With all the video and multimedia on the Web these days, how is a person to choose? Last month, I wrote about videos on newspaper Web sites. Although there are many worthwhile videos, knowing which sites to visit and what to watch presents a challenge —- especially if you don’t have hours to spend drifting through cyberspace. Wouldn’t it be great if there were a single Web site you could visit that had a selection of the best journalistic videos and multimedia projects?

PDN PhotoPlus Expo: A Preview

The PDN PhotoPlus Expo is New York’s big annual photography event, and it’s coming to the Javits Convention Center this week, Thursday through Saturday, October 23-25. The show is really two shows in one: an enormous trade show with literally hundreds of exhibitors showing off the latest cameras and accessories, and an educational conference featuring more than 100 seminars.

The Photographer’s Assistant

We use a lot of photographic assistants in our business. So many, in fact, that today we have former assistants running the office, managing all our post-production, and as our special projects manager. When we travel, we’ve picked up local assistants in dozens of cities nationwide. So what makes for a good assistant — and how do you find one?

Ready to Photograph Fall Foliage? Use a Color Map

Fall foliage is reaching its peak in mid to upper New England, and the weather is beautiful and warm — so now is the time to take those Sunday drives with camera in hand.

There are tons of good routes around New England, including Rte 7 up the west side of Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont — just be prepared for traffic if you stay on the main road. You can’t get lost in New England very easily, so I’d suggest you find a small town with peak color and then just drive down the side roads, buy some cider and a few pumpkins and enjoy the ride.

Do You Want Clients Who Pay You Now — or Pay You Later?

Professional portrait and wedding photographers always face this question: Do I charge for everything up front before the job is done — or do I charge for some of it up front and collect some of it in sales after the fact?

Living for Now as a Freelance Photographer

Most small business owners scramble to keep ahead. As the saying goes, they are too busy making a living to take the time to make a life.

Where are you headed in your career? This is a question I’ve asked many small business owners over the years.

Online Reputation Management: A Case Study

One thing that will likely live forever, somewhere on Google’s servers, is what you write online. More importantly, though, is what other people write about you. Case in point: photographer Steven E. Frischling.

Surprise Wedding Guests with a Reception Slideshow — and Watch the Referrals Roll In

For wedding photographers, one of the most effective marketing tactics to generate word-of-mouth referrals is a slideshow at the reception.

We do a slideshow at nearly every wedding. Unless the couple came to us by referral, it remains a surprise to participants and guests. It’s been so effective for us, another photographer came to a recent wedding just to learn how we do it. So I thought I would share it with you, too.

Notes from the VisCom Classroom: News as History

When does news become history, and when does history become ancient history?

I was thinking about these questions during a slide talk by Scott Applewhite, White House photographer for the Associated Press. Applewhite recently visited the University of South Carolina campus in Columbia, where I teach journalism and visual communications. Applewhite, who twice won the Pulitzer Prize, was here in conjunction with “The American President,” a traveling exhibit of AP photographs on display at the Thomas Cooper Library through Oct. 9.

Thinking in Images: Nine Tips for Communicating Visually

“There can be no words without images” — Aristotle

Visual forms of communication grab the attention of today’s audiences. Graphic representations such as diagrams, charts, tables, illustrations and photographs not only catch the eye; they draw the viewer into the information being presented.

Shaking Off the Minister of Propaganda

The Minister of Propaganda’s office explained how much the minister liked photography and asked if I would mind if he came along while I took photographs of his province. “Of course he can come,” I replied while quietly grinding my teeth at the thought of another person joining our entourage as I tried to take candid photographs of villagers in mainland China.

Getting Good Exposures: 10 Dos and Don’ts

Getting consistently good exposures with a digital camera is not as easy as manufacturers would have you believe. While the metering systems in today’s cameras are extremely accurate in a wide variety of situations, it still takes some practice and experience to get good exposures every time. And as most experienced photographers know, there are some subjects — like high contrast scenes or backlit portraits — that are particularly tough.

Are We All Amateur Photographers Today?

I am often asked the difference between an amateur photographer and a pro photographer these days. My answer is that, in many ways, the Web has made us all amateurs.

If that sounds outlandish, it starts to make sense when you re-read some of the postings on Web chat groups of a few years ago, when established photographers were just beginning to recognize the potential value of the Internet. What may have been good advice or a good observation then is often obsolete today. What is helpful tomorrow may very well be useless next month.

What to Do When Your Search Engine Position Drops

As a professional photographer, your most important marketing tool is your Web site. That’s a given, really. For me, my Web site represents two to six assignments a month, on average, and that is a substantial amount of money — so I pay careful attention to where I rank on the search engines. Here’s some advice on what to do when your position in Google or another search engine drops.

Six Tips to Help Your Photography Business Survive in a Struggling Economy

With the financial markets and economy in turmoil, small businesses — including photography businesses — may be facing a rocky road ahead. Here’s some advice for keeping your business in the black.

1. Say “no” to new expenditures. Don’t buy equipment you don’t need. Frankly, it always surprises me to see photographers splurge on the latest and greatest equipment, in any economy. If you can still work with your Canon 10D and get the job done, you’re ahead of the game. Camera companies want you to buy the best (read “expensive”), but the reality is you need to make purchases that will last for the long term. If you must purchase something, stay just this side of prosumer. A $7,000 camera is a big money-loser — and you don’t get paid any more for using it.

Fun with Photoshop Filters: Flaming Pear’s Flood

I don’t spend a lot of time playing with creative Photoshop plug-in filters, but I have to admit they are a lot of fun. In fact, if I had more time, I’d probably spend my life doing nothing else.

One of my favorite filters is Flaming Pear’s “Flood” filter that lets you add a watery foreground reflection to virtually any scene. It’s a lot of fun to add reflections to subjects like desert landscapes or city streets where they just don’t belong.

What Should Power Look Like?

We live in a culture that privileges words, both spoken and written, over the visual.We learn at an early age how to manipulate and control language, without giving too much thought to the influence images have on how we view the world. We construct sentences, punctuate, and deliver words strategically, yet the way in which we create and consume pictures seems far more casual, subjective and intuitive.

Model Releases and Your First Amendment Rights

Like most legal matters, the issue of model releases is open to interpretation. Unfortunately, in the post-9/11 era, many photographers seem to forget that they still have First Amendment rights — particularly for editorial photography.