Judging at the Fair: 2017 Pt 1

Well, a year has passed by and here we are again back at the Del Mar Fair grounds for the first tier of judging for the International Exhibition of Photography.  For the last few years I’ve tried to put my “teacher” hat on and list the things the judges seem to focus on as problems and reasons for rejecting images from moving forward to Tier 2 competition. So here we go again.  But…

Hello out there… is anybody listening?  Oh well, as disheartening as it is for a teacher to be ignored, perhaps some of those who were accepted this time heard the message last year and now a new generation is appearing before us.

There were about 4300 entries this year.  There is room to hang roughly 1/3 of those which means we needed to reject about 2/3 of the entries.  At this first past at them, the so-called 1st tier judging, we are looking closely for the reasons to say “No” to the image and we do not have a lot of time to do it.  There is no time to let a subtle but “tasty” image grow on us; it hits up with that “Wow” factor or it fails.  If it hits us immediately with a problem, it also fails.

Judging at Fair 02

The room full of busy judges are the 1st tier judging for the San Diego Fair International Exhibition 2017. Photo (c) Gene Wild, all rights reserved.

So in the hopes of fostering some improvement so that next year if you were rejected this time you’ll have a better shot at it here is a short list of rejection-generating problems and issues.  They are in no particular order except as seen on the monitors and commented on by other judges.  This year’s complete list was a bit long so these are the ones most often mentioned.

Clipped Dynamic Ranges.  Almost all of the shots entered were now taken with digital cameras (except for those in equipment-specific categories.  And that means that almost all of the photographers had the ability to reference an onboard histogram to check the capture of highlights and shadows even if they did not have a good spot meter.  Make sure, first of all that the highlights are not clipped since those cannot be recovered.  Use the RAW converter to recover savable highlights and open up shadow area.  Basic rule: blobs of blocked up black shadows and blown out white highlights are never a good thing but are even worse when they contain potential visual data important to the image’s message.   If there is no way to capture them in a single file then consider using multiple exposures for an exposure blend or even an HDR.  But do NOT submit files with lost shadow and highlight detail and expect it to be embraced by the jurors.

Centered Horizons.  How often we reject crooked horizons almost mechanically.  But putting your horizon line dead in the center of the shot is almost as big a problem.  That can work when you have a perfect reflection creating an interesting abstract image or when the sky and ground areas are of equal balance compositionally and equal importance narratively.  Otherwise it creates a shot where the point of the shot is hard to determine, i.e. what is it that we are supposed to respond to?  What IS the real subject of the photo? What IS the photo’s primary story?  Is it about the sky or is it about the ground?  Pick one then move the horizon line to somewhere around one of those “Rule of Thirds” lines.  It will improve your shots immensely.

Judging at Fair 03

A fair assistant watches as myself (left) and Ian Cummings view one of the entries. (c) Gene Wild, All Rights Reserved

Multiple Shots in One Shot.  This is a common and recurring error.  Putting more than one neat item or subject or composition into your fame does not make it better, it simply makes it confusing and, worse, each of those cool areas detracts from the other cool areas.  If there are all of those potential shots in the scene in front of you, give each one its own chance and its own image.  Otherwise it is simply too busy and too confusing the deal with.

No Apparent Focal Point.  This is the exact opposite of the problem above.  In that one there were too many focal points, here there aren’t any that can be readily discerned.  Great art and therefore photography is about interpretation.  Editorial photography is about narration.  Both types imply and require that there is something  to either interpret or narrate; some elemental primary subject, someplace where your eye is drawn whether a specific element or simply a contrasting point of color or texture or pattern from the general background, in essence the focal point of the shot.  A snap shot requires none of that.  Technically impeccably snapshots, meaning perfectly focused and exposed shots of nothing or no meaning, are typically not ones to get accepted by the judges.  We saw some images that, frankly, would have made a beautiful scarf; gorgeous watercolor-like patterns with some high commercial potential.  But a keeper photograph requires more than simply a nice design.  If that is what you have it might still be worth money, it still has a place, it is just not in this type of exhibition.

Cropping.  Sometimes we saw shots where there were some potentially interesting focal points but they were so lost in the visual weeds it was almost as bad as having no focal point at all.  Several times comments to the effect that, “I’m sure there is a nice photo in there somewhere but it is not our job to find it.” Were heard.  Finding it and making sure it is THE primary element is your job.  And often that involves cropping the image.  We used to say that some of the best photos were made in the paper cutter and that is true here as well.  The bottom line is, if you make me search for the real photo somewhere in your photo, it is going to get rejected.  If it were a class I’d help you find it, but this level of exhibition is not a classroom per se; this is the real thing, this show is big time stuff.  You will be expected to find it yourself… or get another chance next year.

Judging at Fair 01

THe name tag is in case I forget who I am… some days a distinct possibility. It was clearly a mistake for me to have found the box of doughnuts brought in as treats for us…. note the plate is empty… (c) Gene Wild, All Rights Reserved.

FOCUS.  Really?  You would even consider turning in to an international exhibition a shot that was out of focus?  You would enter a shot that had a focal point and composition demanding a critically sharp area… that was not.  C’mon, this is beyond unacceptable.  Judges don’t care that you forgot your tripod that day or simply didn’t want to carry it.  They don’t care that it was a once in a lifetime moment to capture a rare event.  If the subject is soft and not focused it means you did NOT capture it after all.  If you do not respect your imagery sufficiently to do whatever it takes to get things sharp that are supposed to be sharp, then why should we?

Editorial Images.  We saw a lot of images that would have been perfect in a travel magazine or book to help illustrate the text.  They were narrative types of images but not interpretive.  They were perfectly good material for journalistic/documentary use but not something you would see on the wall in a gallery or museum.  If that is your forte then go for it, get really good at it and there could be some real money in your future.  I do not want to be interpreted as downplaying the value of competence of these images.  It is just that they are the wrong types of images for an exhibition such as this and so were often rejected.

NOISE.  Is there a trend I did not get the memo on?  We saw several where the smooth toned areas, such as the sky, were filled with noise.  In some it was so bad it almost looked like someone had applied a “sand” texture to the image.  It was not the typical color noise but usually mostly black or dark gausian dispersed specs.  We could not figure out where it would come from naturally, it is not a normal compression or sizing or even sharpening artifact.  But it is distracting and ugly and resulted in a surprising number of images getting rejected.  I would love to be able to tell you what causes it and therefore what to do to avoid it but I do not know.  Just really closely examine your files before submission and before (and after) printing where it will be enlarged if in the files and fix it first.

Judging at Fair 04

Another view of the room with the judges for the 1st Tier judging at the San Diego Fair. (c) Gene Wild, All Rights Reserved.

So that is it for the moment.  The Second tier of judging where we will be looking at the actual prints, may reveal other things to watch out for.  That is in about a month.  Meantime, here is a bit of, I think, very sagacious advice… if you are going to insist on reinventing the wheel, you’ll be far more successful if you make your version round and not rectangular…  You can ignore all of this and strike off down your own aesthetic path, but if you do you have to be aware that some issues and their acceptable solutions predate you.  You will not win the tour de France on a bike with square tires; you will not win an exhibition like this one with images exhibiting these types of problems.

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Class Demo: Food

Thursday (4/20) I did a demo of food photography for the Lighting Class.  In a class lecture on the previous Tuesday we discussed plated vs. studio food issues and advertising vs editorial style shooting and I showed them a number of examples.

The studio demo gave me a chance to also demo and discuss a “tilt-shift” lens when one needs to tilt the plane of depth of field.  For this demo I used a Canon 90mm Tilt Shift f2.8 on my Canon 5DSr body.  The truth was I didn’t really need it for this shot but it was passed time to show it to the class.  I discussed how to apply the famous (infamous?) Scheimpflug Effect — which is a misnomer by the way but that is another story — to alter the plane of depth of field to make sure that this shot, to be done “advertising style” had the product all in focus.

One of the students in this class is a chef so at my request brought in the food to shoot, an egg white cheese omelet breakfast plate.  To add some sport to it, when he asked what I wanted I told him to surprise me.  It did.  Because it was a sort of “comfort food” dish I decided to use the old side of one of our much abused “apple boxes” as my table top.  He did the arranging/styling/food presentation so about all there was for me to do for the class was light it and shoot it.

Here is the plot…

Food demo omelet -light plot for blog

Lighting plot created with LightingDiagrams.com

All of our studio lights are on overhead grids so it is easy to work around this small set area and not worry about tripping over cords and ground clutter which, if anyone will do it, it will almost certainly be me.


A small softbox overhead and slightly to the rear provided the primary light.  A larger softbox from the front and slightly left of camera provided the fill.  To make the food items stand out and provide some “sparkle” to them, accents and back lighting was created using  two of the monolights and standard 7” reflectors with attached honeycomb grids to control the spill.

I’ve used these lights so often now I cheated and just guessed at the setting.  A first test shot was amazingly right on.  I did have a little more shine added from spray vegetable oil and turned one of the sausages to better show the shine, rechecked it and then did the shot.  I looked at that in the monitor, slightly turned one of the sausages to better catch the accent light and took a second version.   I took some bracketed insurance shots as a precaution but the shots here are from that second shot.  I turned the plate slightly to see if I could get a slightly better accent on everything but decided against it.

This version was very straight forward to edit.  Here is the initial shot right out of the camera.

Food demo omelet - v1 for blog

Hmmmm… well it IS sharp and exposed OK but to me it needed some “life” added to make it more appetizing and appealing.  To edit this in Photoshop I slightly cropped it, added a vignette and cleaned up the edge of the plate.  The only ‘non normal’ thing I did was selectively sharpen the omelet filling.  To do that I borrowed a technique from L.A. photographer Manny Librodo who created a sharpening routine yielding a very hard edged result almost like the original “Dragan Effect” but without the modified  and selective desaturation.

On a separate layer I applied the Librodo sharpening and then, with an inverted layer mask just painted it over the elements in the omelet stuffing in the front of the shot so the individual items stood out better.  (Below are the steps for that effect)

I also extended the wood table top to fill in the surrounding area simply using the clone/stamp tool.  And that gave me this version…

Food demo omelet - V2 for blog

All in all it took about a half hour shooting plus another 10-15 minutes to edit it.  In the film days all of what you see would have to be accomplished in the shoot itself (except the selective sharpening) so using snoots, scrims, and very, very tightly controlled lighting it of course could be done, but I’m thinking maybe an hour’s shooting and to keep the food looking fresh that would have had to be done with “stand-in” food until it was right, then bring in the hero food, tweak it all, and shoot FAST. The reduction in effort, energy, and brain damage afforded by the digital options makes studio life so much easier and, I think better.

Now after my demo and it was the students’ turn to shoot, the student who brought in the food, rearranged the items and added some additional elements he had also brought to the plate of food, placed them all on a marble tile we had available and produced this final shot for his own assignment.

Scotts versionor blog

Photography (c) Scott Sargent and used with permission

Its a nicely done version…!!!  For my own sense of style for food photography I might have used fewer items on the plate so the main item could be seen better with less distraction — somewhere between the two versions.  I do really like the additional splashes of color he added!  But this is a lighting class not a class specifically in food photography and styling so from that standpoint I think he did a very nice job.

By the way, as promised, here are the steps to the Librodo Sharpening I used.

  1. Create a Duplicate Layer
  2. Apply an Unsharp Mask from Filters->Sharpen->Unsharp Mask with these settings:
    1. Amount 18
    2. Radius 40
    3. Threshold 0
  3. Apply a second Unsharp Mask with these settings
    1. Amount 150
    2. Radius 3
    3. Threshhold 0
  4. Apply Edit->Fade Unsharp Mask with these settings:
    1. Opacity 100%
    2. Mode Darken
  5. Apply a third Unsharp Mask with these Settngs
    1. Amount 150
    2. Radius 3
    3. Threshold 0
  6. Apply Edit->Fade Unsharp Mask with these settings
    1. Opacity 50%
    2. Mode Lighten

You can then blend the sharpened and original unsharpened layers back to where you like it if it is a little too much and/or do what I did which was to selectively apply the sharpened area I wanted (the filling) using a layer mask.  I often use this to make small items such as rice grains or corn kernels stand out in a food shot and not look all mushy and run together.  I made it into an action to make life easier in the edit bay.

See you next time…



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For my Lighting Techniques class, the next assignment is jewelry.  For the first demo I decided to do a watch since it combines issues of reflectivity (metal band and bezel) and transparency (the face) for a fairly simple starting point.  I used to have a great collection of watches but during the “Tewa” project in the New Mexico Pueblos I stopped wearing them altogether.  But I’ve never been able to bring myself to throw them away so for this demo I selected a Seiko Chronograph.

I collect potential backdrop material whenever I see something interesting.  For this I used a piece of glittery gold tile I got at a local craft store (Michael’s).  I used the light table/sweep simply because it is at a handy height as a table top and it rolls around so is very handy.  The camera is mounted on a heavy studio camera stand arm so I could swing it out over the table and shoot more or less straight down on the watch.

Here is a lighting diagram of the set up.


light plot

Light plot courtesy of Lighting Digrams.com

The main light is a medium soft box placed over the watch and aimed straight down to give a flat reflective surface.  That is what is lighting the metal parts of the watch and also the face (though it created a glare problem in the flat crystal face we’ll deal with a few steps below.

The strobes around the side are low and used simply to create some of the specular edge reflections on the watch to give some live and a sense of shape.  The small reflector is used to bounce light back onto the front of the band where it folded under and did not receive any light from the softbox.

I used a Tamron 180mm Macro lens on a Canon 5DSr to allow me some working room but also to nearly fill the frame for good resolution.  I wanted better control of depth of field in the shooting to make the glittery tile go soft but everything was so close, even with the strobes dialed down the required setting was at f-25 so depth of field just became an editing issue.  I could have created a stand and put the watch on a glass sheet a few inches above the background, which would have been the solution for a film shoot.  But this was digital and I could get on with it for the class.

Here is shot number one.

Watch Demo w blare on face

All photos in this post are (c) by N. David King, All Rights Reserved.  Shot with Canon 5DSr and Tamron 180mm f6.3 macro lens.

Well, except for the sharp glitter on the tile it is pretty close.  There is only one problem.  The overhead softbox is creating a glare in the watch crystal that is dulling the detail on the watch face.  Usually when dealing with highly reflective items we want to use and control that glare but in this case I wanted to remove it.  Since it was created by the reflection of the softbox, the solution is to selective remove the softbox.  Think of dodging light from a print in the darkroom.  Here in the studio, instead of a dodging tool I used something called a “Gobo” (standing for “go-between”).  I could have mounted one on a wand just like a dodging tool and fastened it to a stand or boom.  But because of the softbox there was an easier solution.

While I was looking through the camera, I had my student assistant move his hand around under the softbox until I could see the shadow block the light on the crystal.  I then had him place a small patch of blue masking tape where his hand had been, et voila,   the glare is removed selectively. Here is that shot.

Watch Demo w gobo

Well, that’s about all I could do in the studio, it was time to head to the computer.

This was for a simulated ad so the first thing to do was crop the image to an 8 ½ x 11 ratio.  Then in addition to the sharp background tile issue, I thought the camera shot was a bit flat so needed to do a couple of things.  I needed to soften the background (using Photoshop’s “Lens Blur” so the specular highlights retained an optical look), and I darkened and vignette the background (using layer masks and “Multiply” blend mode) to help make the watch stand out from the background.

Watch Demo pre copy final

Finally I wanted to add some “copy” to the simulated advertisement page/poster and used Photoshop’s Text function along with the Layer Styles function to do that.  And here is the final image..

Watch Demo final for blog

I did not have an exact match font for Seiko’s logo.  Were this a real assignment I would have had them supply one to use.  The Tag Line and shop name/locations are fabricated in my own fevered brain so there is no one else to blame for them.  The font for the shop name reminded me of the filigree of gears in a watch and it would be fun to design a real logo blending this into a shot of watch innards.

Next assignment will be food so that should be fun to demo!

Meantime, the “Video for Still Shooters” seminar is this Saturday so if interested look at the data by clicking on the link in the banner above and get signed up.

See you next time.


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Darkroomers Workshop in Focus Stacking

A few days ago (or so it seems) I was touring some beautiful and new-to-me countryside with a great tour guide and helper for extricating the vehicle from a malevolent snow drift.  Yesterday (Saturday Apr 8) I was inside, at the Darkroomers’ meeting hall in Balboa Park to deliver a workshop/seminar on the process known as “Focus Stacking.” 

As I’m sure most of you know, this is a technique used to stack and blend frames taken at various points of focus in order to obtain a final image with a greater depth of field than possible with a single exposure taken at the lens’ aperture “sweet spot.”

This is not a new technique; I first saw it used for a landscape shot in a magazine column devoted to “Thinking Digitally” years ago where the author manually blended multiple exposures of several gazillion birds at New Mexico’s Bosque Del Apache wetlands.  Doing it manually was an exercise in extreme masochism but now applications can make short work of it, assuming the photographer has done their part in the capture phase.

I was surprised to be asked to talk on this since I assumed every photographer in the galaxy knew how to do it but it seems there is some interesting misinformation floating about… and not just here but in a number of areas of digital photography as well.  The ‘clue’ is when it doesn’t work, especially when either the images do not align properly or when sections of the subject from the front to the back of the desired depth of field plane turn out to be soft or apparently out of focus.

In the seminar I tried to cover most of the issue areas at least as I’ve experienced with several years of giving a focus stacking assignment to my classes at City.

seminar 04

Some old guy talking about Focus Stacking to the Darkroomers Photo Club in San Diego.  OR… he might be directing a hip-hop opera or practicing for a role as a T-Rex.  Photo (c) Jeff Booher, used with permission.

The Program director, Jeff Booher was kind enough to not only ask me to come do the presentation but also was able to take some photos during the event.  Although he captured some frames of some really old guy who appeared to be talking to the group (which could not have been me since when I see myself in the mirror each day I’m a LOT younger), it does give a sense of the group size and facility.

seminar 02

Participants in the Focus Stacking Workshop.  Photo (c) Jeff Booher, used with permission.

It was fun to be able to do a “class” with only a few participants (10) compared to a classroom full of students (20-30) because it allowed time to really interface with individual participants both during the shooting phase and also in the editing/post production phase of the process.

seminar 06

The old guy in the first picture seems to be amazed (as is the participant) that the process actually worked… or he might have stabbed himself in a delicate place with the car keys in his pocket but is trying, with marginal success, to stifle the scream…  Photo (c) Jeff Booher, used with Permission.

If you live in the San Diego area, and are looking for some fellow photographers in a good group dedicated to improving their work, The Darkroomers is a really good place to start.  You can come to a meeting and ask for Jeff Booher . They meet the 1st, 3rd and 5th wednesdays at 7:30pm at the photo arts building (next to the entrance to Spanish Village) in Balboa Park.  There is a $45 membership fee and they fill out a membership application and that’s pretty much it.

Next week I’ll be giving the Video for Still Shooters workshop for George’s Camera.  You can check out the page for that workshop under the banner at the top of the page.  I think there are still a few seats left.  Hopefully the old guy will stay home.


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A Yosemite Adventure… Just Not in Yosemite…

Did you ever have one of those trips that was planned out in a certain direction but as it got underway, the world changed out from under you and you took a different path than planned… and it turned out better?  I just did.

I needed a break, a vacation.  I have to admit, teaching, which I have always loved, was turning into a rat race with the existential threats to non-academic programs being foisted in community colleges across the state.  But our program in professional photography was so good that we were feeling, frankly, betrayed by the state, the district and the admin.  The rats were winning.  And the constant flow of just something or other to jab us in the ribs, the academic version of “death by a thousand cuts” was taking its toll on me.  The sheer joy that teaching always brought was fading fast.

When Spring Break became a welcome escape on the horizon I contacted a great friend of mine and former student, Nikko, who lives in Oakhurst, a small l town just outside of the south gate to Yosemite Park.  Yosemite is a very special place for me, full of natural spirits and energy; a wonderful place to recharge batteries and try to get things back in some semblance of order and sanity.  I had initially contacted Nikko to check on local lodging (spring break in the park is insane) but it turned out she had some time off and I thought it would be great to do some quiet shooting with someone I liked and knew was a good photographer.

So lodging was arranged, and off I went for a few days escape.  I arrived late afternoon, we met and had an early dinner.  When discussing possible routes, she mentioned the area south of the park as being quite nice too.  I’ve been to Yosemite almost a dozen times and never had a clue what lay around it.  We took a short drive after dinner and even though the light was fading fast, it was clear that here was some beautiful terrain and I had never seen it —  or even heard of it.

So we had breakfast and headed out, turning off of the road to Yosemite and heading south towards Bass Lake.  Now I always have lots of camera gear with me but to be honest, I was not in a very creative mood.  I thought if I saw something new it might jolt those creative juices into flowing again.  And if I didn’t take a shot it was OK, the scenery was absolutely new to me, I had a most pleasant companion that knew the area so I was driving but essentially just along for the ride. And… I can always go back.

The forest was in trouble.  Beetle kill was everywhere and taking over.  Huge stands of standing dead beetle kill pines were everywhere. It was very sad but also, to me, a little frightening.  Evidence of past but ferocious fires was everywhere and all this dead wood was simply a disaster waiting for a chance to happen.  Crews had been working like an army of rabid beavers bringing down tree after tree but at this point, most were simply laying where they fell with a few bucked into shorter lumber length stacks.

In Colorado that would have been an incredible mistake since once the sap stopped flowing the beetles would just leave for better feeding.  Perhaps here they are different…???

The sun was out and streamed through the trees as we arrived at a trail head leading to an overlook of Bass Lake that Nikko wanted to show me.  As I said before I was not all that enthusiastic about shooting but could not break old habits and put my 17mm to 40mm on the 5DSr body and off we went. That has always been my general purpose lens for landscape types of opportunities.  As we went on I grew sorry I had not put another lens or two into my vest pockets.

The first things that caught my eye were small, tasty little visual jewels where pinpoints of light picked out small pockets of forest life.  Here is an old stump proving that there is a continuum of life from death

Oakhurst Trip - 20170329-001

Or here is a drop of sun on some cedar branches.

Oakhurst Trip - 20170329-003

The forest was thick, primeval, and the lichen and moss growing on the rocks also proves that life will find a way.  It was like a magical forest filled with mythical beasts who were wisely staying just out of range.

Oakhurst Trip - 20170329-007

Oakhurst Trip - 20170329-008

The whole forest was a virtual labyrinth of tangled fallen logs and moss covered trees.  This area had been virtually deluged with rain and vibrant spring green was everywhere.  Tall grasses abound everywhere.

Oakhurst Trip - 20170329-012

The trail led to a huge outcrop overlooking Bass Lake and a sole fishing boat out on the water.  Nikko had no trouble outdistancing me and was already up there checking out the view.  Oh to have the legs I had 30 years ago at her age.

Oakhurst Trip - 20170329-017

On the far hillside you can see the areas of standing dead wood from the beetle.  After following a loop back to the parking lot we went to a little village called North Fork for lunch then headed on south/easterly toward a road that allegedy loops back to Oakhurst.  On the way was a delightful overlook to another lake down below.

Oakhurst Trip - 20170329-023

While I was gathering some video B-Roll footage, Nikko used my idle DSLR and managed this interesting selfie in my vehicle’s very dirty window.

Oakhurst Trip - 20170329-031

This was gorgeous terrain that was a lot like my beloved Rockies.  We did however drive through a horrid scar on the land, the footprint of a giant burn.

Oakhurst Trip - 20170329-042

Then the adventure started…

We had already driven through some small snow drifts but nothing of real concern.  There were tricky sections where 1/3 of the road had collapsed or blown down trees covered a good half of the road, but they were easy to negotiate.  We found the loop back toward Oakhurst and started down it.  The forest service gate was open while others we passed were closed.  It seemed like a good sign.  But based on litter and debris on the road it was clear no one had driven this road for several days.  We powered through a small drift but around another corner was another, somewhat longer and deeper drift. (GPS 37.510058–119.301494)

There were old tracks through it and it did not look all that tough.  My mind was back on off-roading mode but alas my car is not a 4-wheeler.  I made a classic mistake, I entered the tracks like a wimp and about half way through forward motion ceased and we were stuck.  And we were a very long way from any help.

I got the shovel from my emergency kit and started digging around the buried wheels and Nikko gathered sticks and debris to provide some traction.  Nikko climbed on top to add some weight over the drive wheels and we gave it a try.  This time we made it another yard or two then bogged down again.

More digging, more sticks and this time we crawled forward, tires spinning, slipping sideways and back as the wheels hit packed ice and snow.   And suddenly we were out of the drift and on solid ground.

The hope was that the road was better as we were losing elevation and perhaps would soon be dropping out of the snow line.  A couple of simple low drifts were no problem until we came around a corner and there it was… the mother of all snow drifts laid out ahead.  (GPS 37.511508 – 119.313103)

There was no way we could beat our way through it.  With my one little emergency shovel it would take days to shovel though it.  I normally hate backtracking, but reality was pretty clear; there was no rational way forward and we had no idea what lay beyond this drift even if we got through it.

So we turned around and made our way back up the hill to the drift that had grabbed us the first time.

We had to get through it but this time we were going slightly uphill. The problem was not only the snow and icy base, but we could see where it had actually high centered the body and undercarriage.  The only reasonable option was to dig out our tracks BEFORE we got stuck.  Nikko grabbed the shovel and started attacking one side’s track.  I told her to trade off but she was devoted to this task.  So I went and started gathering boughs to lay down in the tracks she was creating.  She was a trooper… including giving herself a major blister.

I’m sorry I did not take any photographs, but the sun had less than 15 minutes to go before it dropped behind the mountain so there was no time to dally or commiserate.  Soon Nikko had dug a set of tracks and I had padded them with boughs.  There was really little else to do so it was time to take a deep breath, a deep seat…  and go for it.

Nikko climbed back up on top, I backed up to give us a good run at it and after being assured she had a tight grip, floored it and off we roared.  I am not sure who was the most surprised when we roared on through Nikko’s tracks almost like we were on dry ground.  We were both amazed…  but there was no time for self-congratulations, the sun was failing and we needed to get back to a reasonable road so we could negotiate back through the road hazards.

We were lucky.  Well let’s be honest…  I was lucky to have had such help on board.  I’m  sure I could not have both dug the tracks and padded them before dark; it is not inconceivable that I would have had to spend the night.  My rig is equipped for that kind of emergency but there was no way it would have been a pleasant evening.

The rest of the trip back was quiet as night fell and we wound our way back to Oakhurst.  In the twilight a small herd of deer crossed into a beautiful meadow and bounded off into the twilight.  A very peaceful moment.

This was not at all the trip I had planned but it was, as it turned out, vastly better.  I had seen terrain I did not know existed, spent time in great conversation and company, and was not in the least pleased that I had to head back south, during an appropriatly gray rainy day.  These mountains felt most like “home” to me of anything I’ve experienced here in California.  There are things here one could get very used to.

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Well, Spring 2017 semester is well underway and after preliminary calibration exercises to help students learn the abilities and limitations of their cameras, in the lighting class I did a demo for the 2nd shooting assignment: a Product that is solid with texture.

For this demo I decided to use my old Honeywell-Pentax V Spotmeter.  I’ve misplaced my normal meter (Sekonic 508… which is driving me crazy trying to find it…) so brought out my backup meter and it seemed like a reasonable subject since the grip has a fine molded texture that is supposed to simulate a linen covering.  It also is a very angular body so it helped to demonstrate the effect of lighting angles. 

For the demo I put it in front of a black seamless and sat it on an old sheet of black acrylic to get the reflection.  Unfortunately that poor old sheet of plastic needs polishing since it is heavily scratched and my poor old meter not only has some wear on it but in the studio the open ceiling just rains dust and dirt particles as the lights heat up and the thermals start swirling in the room.  Dark surfaces REALLY show of the crud.

I used our Photogenic 320 WS lights set as noted in the light plot below.  All used the standard 7” aluminum reflectors with no other modifiers.  It was important to show that as wonderful as modifiers are, you can still make good photographs with normal, simple lights. 

The camera is a Canon 5DSr with a Canon 85mm 1.8 lens at f16.  Camera profile and lens correction were applied in ACR. Editing was completed in Photoshop.

Here is the light plot.


I also wanted to start showing the effects of different levels of editing/retouching so defined the shoot to serve two very different needs with one captured image.  The first was an accurate shot for an Ebay- type sale and the other was a clean version for an editorial use in a publication talking about meter types.

Here is the initial version.


Remember one of the main stated goals was to be able to show the fine texture on the grip so here is a close up to see how the main light raked at a steep angle across that plane reveals the texture.  Remember, texture is displayed by highlights and shadows.


For both needs the background and the scratched surface needed to be cleaned up so here is the shot with that done and as many dust mites as possible removed from the item.  First we clean the meter.


Then we clean the background


This provides an honest view of the item’s condition that shows the scuffing on the handle from years of use but careful storage.  But the distracting scratches and dirt on the plexi is removed.

And Finally we clean up the meter surface a little better for an editorial use which results in this final.



 And that completes this demo.  Next time we’ll tackle a different surface problem.  By the way, this type of precision spot meter still has a major role to play in carefully crafted digital images.  The Zone system is alive and well, just applied a bit differently than in the B&W film world.






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This Trend Crept Up On Us

Once again, photographers and especially photography teachers, have been caught napping as the world has shrugged and turned over underneath them.

Not all that long ago, as the century turned so did the photo world as the (to some) promise of digital technology started to come into its own.  Academia often seems, in so many disciplines, to be the last to understand that they have awakened into a new world with new paradigms and the old cliché about “grow or die” is now having an impact on their tidy and snug little domains. It is so much easier to teach with certainty what WAS than to risk dealing with a changing world and reality of what IS, and worse, what IS COMING.  And so it was with digital photography.

Analog, i.e. film and darkroom based photography, had, after all, remained relatively constant for 100 years.  The workflow was unchanged: 1. Developer, 2. Stop/Rinse, 3. Fix, had remained stable with changes only in brands, options for granularity and acutance, sometimes tone, but essentially a teacher in the early 1900s would have no trouble adjusting to the few new options in 2000.  In fact there were fewer in terms of common approaches.  Silver-based emulsions were it except for a few artists who worked in “historic” technologies, many of which were still common in 1900.  So it was not surprising that the very different digital world caught most of them napping.  And they still were napping even when most of the professional world, realizing the expanded artistic options embraced it out from under them.

They were also not prepared for the speed of technological progress.  They were artists not computer geeks and had never heard, for the most part, of a man named Gordon Moore, much less his famous “law” about the growth of computer power that turned out to actually be understated.  And they really didn’t understand that digital photography is ALL about computers.  The so-called camera, the body of which is simply a bone to photographers who could not deal with a keyboard ala the original Foveon Studio Camera – a Compac laptop with a Canon Lens hung on a yoke – is, in fact, a camera-shaped computer with a lens mounted on it.  Computer image files are processed on a computer.  Output is by computer or even a computer-driven printer.  What they all saw as a toy in 2000 totally surprised them when, following Moore’s Law, it morphed rapidly into an image-making tool ready to compete with their traditional gear and eventually surpass it on virtually every measurable characteristic less than 10 years later.  The pro shooters “got it” because competition demanded it, but, alas, the artists and educators were slower to loosen their grasps on older technology.  When Lazlo Moholy-Nagy, a pioneer photo artist and educator from the Bauhaus said it seemed “…indispensable that modern artists go to work with up-to-date tools” they thought it meant up to HIS date and no later.

Let me be clear here: we teach darkroom/film based photography at City because when taught as a foundation, the imposed deliberation involved in that process seems to consistently produce better photographers.  But we are an “applied” (meaning vocational though that term is in disfavor) program and to produce viable commercial photographers at the advanced or even intermediate levels, the world is digital.

So it should, I suppose be no surprise that other aspects of the computer age also slipped under their radar.  The incredibly expanding and ever more powerful internet – the world-wide web – has been a factor of immense power in the development of photography and its dissemination.  And it has been a major contributor to the next trend already underway and being equally ignored throughout photo academia.  That trend is motion capture and presentation.

Let me give you an example of the “then” versus “now” world that has underwritten this trend.  I started producing video, as an adjunct to my still work, in 1983 when a client agency told me (not “asked” me) that I was going to fly to Oklahoma from Denver in two weeks and produce a video for an engineering company for whom I had shot a brochure a few months prior.  I confess it was, looking back, terrible; it was a “slideshow on tape” because I did not understand motion.  But it hooked me as offering the chance to incorporate new and untried elements of motion, sound, time, etc. that are isolated out of a still shot.  I loved its storytelling power.  But there were major obstacles.

First of all it was stunningly expensive to get geared up.  In 1988 I swapped my ¾” U-Matic gear for a Sony Beta-SP camera.  The camera BODY listed for over $36,000.  The lens was a Fujinon 18:1 servo zoom with a build in 2x doubler and listed for about $8,750.00 and that was not, by far, the most expensive of available lenses!  Then there was audio gear equaling another few $Thousand, grip and rigging gear, lighting… on and on.  Pretty quickly we were talking real money.  I had rented gear until I had contracts in hand for jobs where the rental fee equaled the purchase price.  For its day that Beta-SP camera produced beautiful NTSC formatted video. In fact it was still a very useable piece of video kit when I “retired” in 2000 to come to San Diego to teach.

To add to the production costs even a simple corporate video was shot with a crew of usually 3-5 people (not counting on-screen talent) each of whom was an expert in their particular jobs.  On a shoestring budget you might – MIGHT – try to pull it off with two people but you always regretted it and under no circumstances would you try to be a one-man-band; an approach doomed to failure.

Editing your original footage required some serious equipment (some editing houses had over a Million dollars (in 1980s dollars) invested in their edit bays) so usually you used an editing service that itself was quite expensive, often over $300.00 PER HOUR, and you typically budgeted an hour of editing time per finished running minute of programming.  Do the math…

But what could you DO with that video once you created it?  Unless, like me, you were producing for a client who would then disseminate copies to staff or clients or customers or whomever as needed, or unless you had the funding to produce a piece for a film festival (and then it needed to be ON FILM) all you could do is shoot something fun and invite people over to watch it.  If you were not shooting for pay the economics were tough especially when figured per viewer return where there WAS NO return.

Consequently, that field of work remained fairly exclusive unto itself and only a few of us worked in both stills and motion.  Boy has that changed and it is sweeping the world of professional photography along with it.  Formatting made possible by new TV technology has left standard NTSC 4:3 “academy” video in the dust with newer 16:9 wide screen in 1080p (Full High Definition or FHD) and even 4K (Ultra High Definition or UHD) and now even higher resolutions on special digital cinema cameras.  And to really stir the pot, with some limitations, video with that amazing resolution, can be captured on a medium to high-end DSLR costing around (and under) $2,000.00.  Even serious cinema capable video cameras can be purchased for under $10,000.00 and truthfully, you can match the best broadcast and cable TV production for around $5,000.00 for a camera while still using your high quality DSLR lenses.

High quality audio gear is equally less expensive.  And what was once the domain of extremely expensive editing houses with multiple tape format drives, duplication machines (working in real time), and very expensive DVE (Digital Video Effects) machines, can now ALL be done on a desktop for a few hundred dollars for the software.

And what can you do with it?  Why you can let the world see it for very low cost or even FREE over such web sites as Vimeo and YouTube.  Imbedding a video presentation into a web site or even a social media site, in the current world of common broadband internet, is easy.

And all of that has subtly but drastically changed the world of professional photography in ways that schools especially are not yet waking up to address.  What is a problem is that the clients of professional photographers across a wide spectrum of genres from weddings to events to serious commercial advertising HAVE taken notice.  Increasingly often clients, who seem to know that there is a video switch on the camera body, are asking the primary photographer to include a video component to a job, or worse yet, want to add it to an otherwise agreed to job “While you’re here…”

Statistics taken after Christmas of 2016 showed that nearly 60% of all online customer interaction was due to video, a number expected to jump to nearly 80% in as little as two years.  A survey of major company CEOS showed that over 75% of them now understood the value of video in customer marketing and service AND INTENDED TO IMPLEMENT IT and that number too was on the rise.

So what is the problem?  The problem is that we, the photo educators, are not addressing this new world and neither are the educators in fields like RTV or Mass Communication.  Those fields may be teaching students how to operate the gear but it is for ENG (electronic news gathering) approaches like news, events and even some wedding productions or their EFP (Electronic Field Production) is designed for experimental or short entertainment films or documentary projects.  They leave them with no knowledge of shooting and editing for the primary purpose of selling someone ELSE’S products or services.

If we do not quickly address this new world in the programs ostensibly dedicated to vocational photography, we are cheating our students and they will be left in the dust to competitors who have figured it out and learned how to operate in this new world.

At City we frankly, and to my dismay, failed in our first attempt to convince administration that the RTV program, good as it may be at teaching budding news shooters and film makers, did not address the needs of our graduating vocational photographers whose jobs were to produce content to help market a client’s goods or services or processes.  It is a situation we simply cannot allow to stand… more on it later as we continue to try to convince admin of this growing need.

But in the meantime, I will be giving a day long presentation through George’s Camera in San Diego specifically on “Video for Still Shooters” on January 28th.   And I’ve been asked to give presentations at the SD Fair and at a Fall Film Festival on the same topic.  If you want to explore this changing new world, sign up for the presentation at George’s on the 28th (its on EventBrite).  Their room is small so sign up now while there is still some room.


Shooting good video takes more than a switch on a camera.  It takes a new mindset that incorporates the potentials of the motion world.  These presentations will at least aim you down the right paths to entering this new visual world.  There is a link at the top of the page with more information on the workshop. Here is the direct link to Eventbrite’s listing.  https://www.eventbrite.com/e/video-for-still-photographers-tickets-29919652486?ref=ecal


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