Eye on Image-Making: Visual Literacy

I had a few days to kill in Baltimore recently, while my wife attended a conference, so I decided to visit some of the city’s fine museums. As luck would have it, The Baltimore Museum of Art, which is adjacent to the beautiful campus of Johns Hopkins University, had an exhibition called “Looking Through the Lens: Photography 1900–1960.” My purpose in writing about this exhibition, which ended on June 8, is to begin a discussion — which I hope you will join — about visual literacy and the importance of visual images in today’s world.

The Do-It-All Era of Digital Photography Has Its Advantages

We’ve just finished the ultimate marathon of weddings — 10 weddings in the last three weeks. Phew! It’s one reason I’ve dropped away a bit as a blogger. But I’m happy to say we’ve made it through, and I’m a firm believer that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

Things I Miss, and Don’t Miss, About My Newspaper Job

It’s been two months since I left my job as a newspaper staff photographer to run my own business, focusing on wedding photography. Because I made the jump just as wedding season was starting, I’ve stayed busy — so I haven’t had a lot of time to reflect on my decision. But when I have taken a moment to look back, I’ve realized there are some things I really miss.

Want Professional Respect? Then Avoid These Three No-Nos

Whether on news or corporate assignments, there’s a certain bare minimum of professionalism that your clients and colleagues should expect. Unfortunately, not everyone seems to know this. Here are three no-nos for photographers who want to be taken seriously:

Flip Schulke: An Extraordinary Life

Legendary Black Star photographer Flip Schulke died at age 77 of congestive heart failure last month. Flip will be best remembered as one of the foremost chroniclers of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the U.S. civil rights movement. Here are quotes and anecdotes from a few of the articles published upon Flip’s passing, which we hope will inspire you to click the links and learn more.

In the Age of Digital Manipulation, Sometimes the More We See, the Less We Know

An unintended consequence of the digital age is a growing distrust and skepticism of photography’s ability to convey truth. Digital technology makes manipulating images so easy and fast that people have begun to challenge any picture that does not conform to what they perceive as a truthful representation. Two recent media images speak directly to this issue.

Self-Portrait Studio Helps Make Photographers Gala a Success

At the White House News Photographers Association’s annual awards gala last month, we recognized photographers for their compelling images of political figures and major news events. But the photographs taken at the event helped make the evening a special one.

Un-Bearing Witness

The camera, dislocated from its user, is worthless. Laying unattended on a dirt road in Iraq, the camera is the focal point of a picture that appears to be a scene of violence and suffering. A shadow is cast across part of the camera’s body. People died here.

Every Relationship Is an Opportunity for Growth

I love to play basketball. Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to play not only with good players, but with a few professional players as well. This experience hasn’t made me a pro-caliber player; however, it has helped me to realize my potential as a player. I’m not in the physical condition of my youth, but my improved understanding of the game has made me a better player than when I could jump above the rim.

Six Strategies for Getting Closer to Your Subject

How should a photojournalist, or any journalist for that matter, develop a relationship with his or her subject? Without forming a personal connection, it’s difficult to move beyond a basic understanding of the subject — and false perceptions or cliched interpretations can result. The photojournalist falls into the potential trap of misrepresenting the subject. Here are six strategies I use to build closer relationships with my subjects.

Notes from the VisCom Classroom: Grading

Grading student work is one of the most important, and most challenging, duties of being an educator. As one of my colleagues, Keith Kenney, recently reminded me, setting goals and evaluating our students’ progress are what we as educators do — they are the twin pillars supporting the entire education edifice. So, here are some thoughts about the grading process, as it applies to the visual communication courses I teach in the School of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of South Carolina. As usual, I’d love to read your comments, whether you are an educator or a student.

Sony Music’s Photo Archive Hits a Sour Note for Photographers

I’ve made images of probably over a thousand artists and musicians over the nearly two decades I’ve been making images. In fact, I am shooting a performance of a well-known ’80s band on Monday for a client. On these assignments, I maintain my rights to these images, as well as preclude any conditions to my exercising those rights. An article in the New York Times yesterday shed light on why this business practice is a good idea.

Gas Prices Got You Down? Let the Photo Ops Come to You

With the price of gas edging ever closer to the $5 per gallon mark (at least here in Connecticut), the cost of gas is really having a profound effect on summer travel plans and impromptu shooting trips. It can cost as much for a tank of gas now as it does for a night in a motel. It’s nuts. And if you’re shooting photos for a personal project or for your stock files, it’s hard to justify expensive trips these days.

Death as Contributing Background

The body is lifeless — embedded into the concrete and dust that once was a school. Framing the faceless gray form, a handful of Chinese soldiers in green camouflage gently sweep the ground around her. There are five soldiers, two with shovels, one pointing at an object inches away from a limp hand. The viewer is forced to look down upon shadows and rubble. We do not know this person. She is one of thousands of victims from the earthquake that shook China to its core two weeks ago.

Myanmar and Memory

The rhetorical agency of this image proposes to firmly establish a relationship between the human conscience and a troubled reality — a punch in the gut that comes from recognition of the enormity of loss and suffering that is Myanmar today. The picture assumes that this lifeless form graphically and unequivocally captures the pain of a nation, as well as the powerlessness of an outside world waiting to come to its aid.

Innocent Thieves Making It Hard for Stock Photographers

In the “for every action there’s a reaction” department, the Internet is showing us how technology can backfire. And in the department of “it giveth and it taketh away,” unknowing copyright infringers are gobbling up “free” photos from the Internet for their personal and commercial use.

Developing the Inborn Human Gift of Seeing

We live in an age of point-and-shoot immediacy. But pointing and shooting is not “seeing” — not understanding. New technologies, such as computational photography and digital cameras, make it easier for people to think they are seeing when all they are really doing is looking with a camera.

Lifetouch: Little Photoshop of Horrors

Minnesota-based Lifetouch, which employs thousands of photographers to produce student portraits and high school annuals nationwide, had a lot of explaining to do this week after it sent a very strange shipment of yearbooks to one Dallas-area high school.

Why It May Be Time for Me to Quit the NPPA

The National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) will vote at the end of May on seven amendments to its bylaws, including whether to change its name to The Society of Visual Journalists, Inc. (SVJ). The reason for the proposed change is to acknowledge how the industry and NPPA membership have evolved over the past 50 years. The current name “no longer adequately represents the Association or its membership.”

Are You a Joiner?

Too many people join associations as if they are buying tickets to a sporting event. They want to sit in their comfortable seats and watch others perform. When considering joining an organization, one of the first questions most people ask is, “What do I get for my membership?” That’s a valid question, and most organizations list the benefits their members will receive.

Eye on Image-Making: Portfolios

I recently spent a couple of hours reviewing senior portfolios, the capstone projects of graduating seniors in the Visual Communications sequence at the University of South Carolina’s School of Journalism and Mass Communications. The experience made me want to revisit the whole notion of the portfolio — What is the purpose of a portfolio? What should it contain? How do you create a terrific portfolio that will advance your career? My goal is to put forward some ideas and then hear back from readers of this column.

Living to Tell the Story: More Safety Advice for Photojournalists

A round of ammunition goes where it’s sent. It may drop some. It may blow slightly left or right, but it won’t stop until it hits something. If we outthink the person who sends the round, we might live to tell the story.

Mastering the Art of Observation

To understand anything in life, we must do our homework and engage the things we feel, think and act upon. Human beings are dependent on our senses for the impressions we hold of the world around us. We rely on sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste for our survival.

Are All Your Eggs in One Basket?

Putting all your eggs in one basket, as we know, is to risk losing everything at one time. For me, this maxim applies to two aspects of my business.

First, if you have a niche market, it is good to develop a second niche, and even a third one. Kodak saw the writing on the wall years ago and diversified beyond making film products only. If they hadn’t, they would no longer be around.

What’s Next for Photojournalism?

There should be little doubt now that the changing media landscape has deeply affected traditional news photography. Increasingly, photographers at many newspapers are being let go or given reduced work hours. For those lucky enough to have a job, the workload has become more demanding. The bottom line is a focus on productivity, with a slight nod toward creativity as long as it doesn’t interfere with getting the work out.