Archive for the 'teaching' Category

May 09 2012

I’m Feeling More Glamourous Already

Update: A new session of my favorite Finding and Creating Great Portrait Lighting class was just announced for the weekend of August 11th & 12th. Disney Hall is my all-time favorite urban location that is a perfect laboratory for learning how to see light and make compelling compositions. You will come out as a changed photographer with some great photos.

It’s all because I now have Virginia Postrel as a new Twitter follower and Facebook friend. The glamour rubs off from from Virginia being the Editor-in-Cheif of DeepGlamour.net. We met back in 2004 when I was asked to create a portrait of her for a Research Magazine article where she was stressing the economic importance of design on a city. The new Frank Gehry designed Walt Disney Concert Hall had just opened and it seemed like the perfect place to highlight the style of Los Angeles.

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Opening night lighting on the Walt Disney Concert Hall

It was scouting for the portrait session that I learned that much of the grounds and building are considered public property and are open for public use. I now use it as a location to a teach a portrait lighting class through the Julia Dean Photo Workshop. The next meeting of my Finding and Creating Great Portrait Lighting class is coming up soon on the weekend of August 11th & 12th.

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My portrait of the glamourous Virginia Postrel

Unlike basic square buildings that simply have a sunny and shady side, the Gehry building is full of curves and reflections. This makes the background and the lighting formula change every time you walk around the corner. There are also some great views of the city from some of the balconies.

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Actor/model Michael Pierce surveying his city empire

The last time we held the class it actually rained in LA and just like a real photo shoot we improvised by jumping in and out of the building as the weather changed. This allowed us to explore the building interior more and the students ended up shooting some of their best photos of our models in the underground parking garage.

Mark Harmel

harmelphoto.com

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Jul 24 2011

An American with a camera in Paris

Watching the Tour de France 7 years ago inspired me to move to France – at least for a month. I highly recommend making your own move – temporary or not as well. While I was there I found the secret to family vacations. Leave a week early!

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There is only so long you can sit on the ground waiting for a waiter to pass by before you embarrass the family

A big challenge for any photographer on a family vacation is carving out enough time to do some serious photography. Capturing a compelling image often involves doing activities that are either boring, dangerous, or embarrassing to anyone else not taking the photo. On most family trips I either put the camera away or lug it around hoping for an above average snapshot.

The schedule for a family vacation is just different than doing serious shooting. Sunset, a prime-time to shoot is most often taken up by checking into the hotel or eating dinner. Breaking out for a sunrise excursion is a must for places like Monument Valley, but these opportunities are few and far in-between.

For this year’s trip to Paris I came up with a different solution. I left a week early.

I highly recommend this choice. While my family is tolerant of me carrying a camera and three lenses through the streets, they don’t always appreciate me stalking an interesting person in a Metro station or searching for the perfect café chair.

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In the Metro, I was spying on this group of rowdy, drunken guys acting out when this charming young girl sat down and mesmerized the group with her charms

On a recent weekend excursion closer to home, I attempted to share my passion with Max, my 14 year-old stepson. I invited him on a sunrise journey into Joshua Tree National Park. After my tenth stop to find the perfect light on the perfect Joshua Tree, Max screamed with hungry exhaustion: “It’s a cactus! They all look alike. Just shoot it and let’s go eat breakfast!”

I appreciated the wisdom of my early departure on my second day in Paris. I walked into the Musée d’Orsay and was mesmerized by its Great Clock, the centerpiece of the railroad station that was converted into a modern art museum.

At one end of the arched enclosure is a huge beautiful clock backed by frosted glass. Behind the glass are multiple stories of walkways traversed by patrons going from one gallery to the next. I was fascinated by the silhouettes created behind the clock as people walked by. I decided that I wanted to capture someone in the compositionally correct location walking close enough to the glass to cast a distinct silhouette.

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The Great Clock in the Musée d'Orsay. If you hold your breath until you turn blue in a modern art museum does that make you a Picasso?

As I was holding my breath trying to balance a telephoto lens on the railing of the Orsay I could imagine Max complaining, “It’s a clock. Let’s go.” Since this was my first week, I was on my own and could indulge my multiple photographer paranoia’s. Did I have the clock in focus? Can I hold the camera steady enough to get a sharp exposure, and can I get my silhouetted person close enough to the glass? Other tourists walking by either made a quick frame of the clock or had someone stand at the railing for a snapshot. The flash went off and they moved on – or perhaps thought – “It’s a clock, let’s go see the Monet’s”.

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After over 100 exposures I finally captured one frame with a clean, in-focus profile of a waitress walking by the “backwards” clock in the Orsay museum cafe

What surprised me most on the trip was how capricious it was to get a great shot of famous landmarks. My guidebooks never reported any seasonal or construction warnings.

My first view of Notre-Dame Cathedral revealed scaffolding around one of the towers. This ruled out the main facade of the church.  And at the Louvre, the length of the summer day eliminated my dream of a nighttime shot of the I. M. Pei designed pyramid. I had the opportunity to meet and photograph the architect and admired him both as a person and an artist. My heart was set on going to the Louvre in the evening to see the glowing pyramid inside the triangle shaped reflecting pools.

To my great disappointment, I discovered that the pools had been drained for some maintenance issue. I never did understand why. Although I found it possible to navigate the city and feed myself with a limited English/French pidgin language skills  - a greater understand wes required to discover  when the pools would once again reflect the pyramid.

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The joy of the Louvre pyramid before discovering that it would not be lit at night

My other lighting mystery happened with another visual treat of Paris – the Art Nouveau styled Metropolitan (subway) stations. I had my eye on the vine shaped entry at the Blanche station that almost perfectly framed the Moulin Rouge. When I scouted the shot at 4 p.m., the two flower-shaped lights were glowing like an alien’s eyes. But when I returned at dusk with my tripod, the lights were off. This time though I found a way to make the lights work. More about this later…

Embracing change and being flexible, is all part of traveling to a new land. But a little planning also comes in handy. I start with travel guidebooks.

For visual scouting I used the DK Eyewitness Paris Guide. The book is full of photos that help me plot the highlights and serve as a competitive challenge. My favorite planning book and constant traveling companion was the Rick Steves’ Paris travel guide. The DK book has small bits of information about every highlight in the city, while Steves tells you in detail the best places to visit and how to get the most out of your vacation. Steves also has some wonderful, free audio guides for your trip as well.

My first trip to Paris had a dual agenda. Be a tourist, and take great photos that would pay for the trip. Soon it became apparent that these goals were synergistic. What I wanted to see as a tourist were the same places that most people wanted to see as well. I could be my own one-man market research survey.

The game is to go the same spots that everyone else has covered and find a fresh – and ideally better way to shoot the location. This sounds easier in theory than practice. My first response is usually ”this looks like a postcard.” That’s a bad thing since most postcards are uninspiring. The trick is to go the spot and hope that your eye naturally does a better job of arranging the pieces than those that came before. And if inspiration doesn’t show up right away, you push yourself to find a new viewpoint. Fortunately, I’m quite good at discovering new views of “the most photographed places“.

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Placing the Invalides dome in just the right location required balancing on the 16-inch ledge of the Pont Alexandre III and waiting for a tour boat spotlights to illuminate the bridge details

In Paris this could mean finding the best lampposts on the best bridge over the Seine and for once getting the lucky break of finding a construction zone that allows you to safely stand in the middle of the street. Or discovering that the best view of the Invalides Dome involves standing on a 16 inch ledge of that same bridge to get the view that you think hasn’t been shot before. The four-story fall down to the river made me question the sanity of this pursuit. But I balanced there for 45 minutes anyway.

Other shots require standing in the middle of the street without the safety of construction barriers. I had seen a photo of a line of waiting taxis on the Champs Elysées near the Arc dé Triumph. I was tired after my ledge-balancing act, but it was in the neighborhood so I wanted to take a look.

My first shots were bad copies of a postcard photo, but as I continued to try different angles, the line of cabs became longer. They were now forced to double-park into the second lane of traffic. This was the break I needed. I was able to move out from the curb and stand in front of the second lane of taxis. This allowed me to get a Taxi Parisien sign right besides the Arc dé Triumph.

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Double-parked taxis on the Champs Elysées were the ticket

What allowed me to see what others have not? Was the line of taxis not as long for other photographers, or was I just crazy enough to stand in front of the taxis? It’s hard to tell. What’s clear is even when you think it has all been shot before, it is possible to fight through the fatigue to make a classic shot of a familiar landmark.

I’m constantly amazed at the successful export of what I call the “Japanese Tourist Photo” (JTP). The classic version is the husband taking a snapshot of his wife or family in front of anything that resembles a landmark. Point and shoot cameras are perfectly designed (and in my opinion – only good) for this “I was here” memento. Now that most travelers have digital and cell phones cameras the JTP is even more popular. Often people seem to be more interested in seeing photo of themselves in front Eiffel Tower than they are in viewing the tower itself.

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Look at me. I saw these Monets

The most bizarre variation of this can be found at art museums. Monet’s water lilies and a self-portrait of Van Gough were not works of art to be admired and contemplated. They are now just one more background location for the mug-shot book.

I’m personally appalled by the affront to the dignity of the museum and artist, and at the same time utterly fascinated by the act. The documentary photographer in me doesn’t judge the morals he just yearns to record the act.  I understand that this only doubles the insult, but it can make an interesting picture.

The challenge to my values came when a family friend asked me to do a JTP of her with her son in front of the Mona Lisa. Should I break out my lecture that I just don’t do that kind of photo, or snap and move on? I decided I was on vacation and snapped.

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Family friends in front of the Mona Lisa after I took their JTP

A bigger question that a travel photography in the digital age has to ask is – how much manipulation can I do, and how much am I willing to do? The street artists selling their wares along the Seine all move the Parisian landmarks around to fit their composition needs. Standing on what would be the spot that Maurice Utrillo painted his famous view of the Sacré-Cœur through Montmartre area shops reveiled that he moved the church’s dome over to the right. If painters can move landmarks around to meet his compositional needs, is it fair for me to do the same?

Removing a street-sign or a stray lamppost is now just part of my workflow. It allows me to have some more flexibility in my compositions. I can now move a little more to the right and have less distortion on the Eiffel Tower less if I clean up the tree branch later. With two photos in Paris I did a little more retouching than usual.

The moon below, next to the Pont Alexandre III streetlamp has been added to the photo. I have never done a similar moonrise trick before. I have seen and laughed at fake, overly large moon insertions before, and never imagined myself doing such manipulation. Yet, just ten minutes before, the moon was in that location. Should I be penalized because it took so long for the street lights to come on? I decided that it was fair to shoot the moon and insert it later.

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Pont Alexandre III lamppost view that was available from my favorite construction zone

How far photographers go with this trend is a matter of taste, morals and skill. My retouching skills are limited, but I knew enough to shoot all of the pieces that were needed to blend together an idealized illustration of how the Moulin Rouge could look through the Metropolitain arch.

After returning, I teamed up with my Photoshop artist friend Dennis Dunbar. He works in the fantasy world of creating movie posters and had the talent to blend multiple images together for a photo-realistic-impression of the landmark. I suspect that most people will just assume that I just used a special lens, until another serious photographer attempts to find the spot and discovers that I have moved the Metro sign. (A more detailed story of the composition is available in a previous post.)

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The Art Nouveau Metro entrance was in the wrong place - so I moved it

Coming to Paris for the first time allows me to see the iconic details of the city that become familiar to the locals. Two elements that fascinated me were the sidewalk cafes and the cobblestone streets. Since most of my images only require a little digital darkroom work, I’m normally most excited at the time of capture. It’s rare when an image grows on me later. But I had two exceptions to the rule.

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After five frames I gave up. It was only after seeing others photos of Parisian cafes did I appreciate what I captured

These backlit red wicker chairs and tables was my first surprise. This photo should have been easy to find. There were great cafés on seemingly every corner, and in August when half of the city goes on vacation, restaurants stack their chairs inside their windows in amazing patterns indicating that they were closed. At the time though, I just didn’t feel that I captured the essence of the Parisian way of dining. Only after I looked at what others had done with the subject did I appreciate what was achieved.

This cobblestone street initially disappointed me as well. In my mind I wanted someone carrying a baguette across the street. I waited at my favorite corner as the Montmartre locals walked by and stalked patrons at my corner bakery to no avail. Fortunately the pigeon caught my eye as I was waiting for my bread.

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I was thinking cobblestones and baguette before the pigeon took me on a flight of gray

Both of these grew on me during the processing of the files and after comparing them to other currently available images of the subject matter. They are now my quiet favorites from the trip. Letting go of my expectations allowed me to accept these images – and looking back I can see how this is the secret to traveling to a new country.

Giving up expecting that the French should speak English, and accepting that there will be construction are both good starts. And if your plans don’t work out, it’s always possible to shoot somewhere else – or use one of those café chairs to sit down and have a glass of wine.

Mark Harmel

harmelphoto.com

@MarkHarmel

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Apr 20 2011

Photo Use – The New Rules of the Road

Published by under teaching

I suspect that my caller in my all-time most popular Don’t Steal My Photo and Then Ask for My Help post knew that he was taking a chance, but what if you are a good person? How do you know if you can use a photo and what is the proper way to give credit? Three friends, Yvette Van Boven , Pia Jane Bijkerk and Erin Loechner created a fun and informative poster that spells out the proper etiquette.

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Here are the new rules of the road

Big thanks to Yvette Van Boven , Pia Jane Bijkerk and Erin Loechner for creating the illustration.

In my world it used to be only professional photographers dealing with professional photo editors. We all learned the game rules from being on the field. Now that photos are easy to share and blogs have made publishing easier there is a new set of rules in place. All you have to do to learn them…is read.

Would any of you allow an image to be used by others? If so under what conditions? Share in the comments below.

Mark Harmel

harmelphoto.com

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P.S., Some of you may righty question if it’s proper to post the illustration. In this new sharing world, the creators gave permission to use the poster as long as they were given due credit. (Check back next week for news on buying a print). I still prefer to see my name on a check when I receive credit, but I could be open to a situation where I want to share an image to make a larger point. Stay tuned.

A thanks also goes out to A Photo Editor, where I first saw the post.

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Mar 23 2011

Don’t Steal My Photo & Then Ask for My Help

Published by under teaching,Tools,travel

Yesterday I received a call from a person that builds websites. (I’ve seen an example of his work and don’t want to call him a designer out of respect to my normal talented clients.) He “found my photo on Google” of a wonderful Sherlock Holmes tile mural that decorates the Baker Street station in the London Underground – used it without permission and got caught.

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Knowing that this was a copyrighted photo was not a case for Sherlock Holmes

This photo is part of a collection that is represented by Getty Images, that normally means that they license the photo out for various media uses and I get a portion of the license fee. In this case it also involves a Getty team that patrols the web looking for copyright infringement and makes people pay for their theft.

My caller’s unauthorized use was discovered and a bill with a hefty penalty fee was presented. He contacted me directly wondering if I would take pity on him because he normally licenses images legally “all the time” and didn’t have the money. Fortunately the negotiation was completely in the hands of the Getty legal team, but I also didn’t have much sympathy for him. He admitted to knowing the system and took a chance.

Part of me wants to go Baretta on him and tell him “Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time. “ But more interesting to a general audience and other bloggers could be to talk about ways to identify a photo with copyright protection that requires a license, or permission to use.

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Look for the two clues in this search result

Assuming that my caller really did find the image doing a Google search, here are the results he would have seen. Holmes would have spotted two clues in the results. First you can see that it was pulled from the Getty Images website and you can read their logo in the upper left corner. This sort of branding protection is known as a watermark and is easier to see in the expanded version before you land on the Getty page displaying the photo.

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An enlarged Getty Images watermark

The other clue you can look for in Photoshop and other programs that display the metadata information. Here you can see my contact information and a notice that the photo has been copyrighted, and at the top you can also see the little © symbol in front of the photo number. I submit all of my photos to the U.S. Copyright office to be registered which substantially increases my protection if it’s used without permission, the penalties can be much greater than the fee Getty was asking from my caller.

I apply my contact and copyright information to all my photos with both information loaded into my camera and later more details are added with an action I created and apply in Photoshop. The description and keyword information is added when the photo goes to a stock outlet.

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Metadata is added by my camera and a Photoshop action

But there is a problem with posting photos on some websites, including Facebook where this metadata is stripped out and the file name is changed when the image is uploaded. That doesn’t mean that photos I upload to Facebook are available for anyone to use. The image still retains my full copyright protection, but as a user you can’t know whether the photo can be legally licensed or not.

I’m a big supporter of content creators being paid, so I’m not a fan or free or cheap photo sites, but there are photo hobbyists that are willing to share their photos on Flickr and other places for use in blogs. The proper etiquette is to always ask for permission before using the photo.

The strategy of stealing photos off the web and asking for forgiveness later could put a dent in your checkbook or land you in court. Properly license the photo or ask for permission. As Sherlock Holmes would say “It’s elementary, my dear Watson.”

P.S., Before you write – I know that the Holmes quote is not accurate.

Mark Harmel

harmelphoto.com

On Twitter:

@HarmelPhoto

@MarkHarmel

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Jan 18 2011

Happy 80th Birthday Jay

In the photography world the name Jay is synonymous the legendary photographer Jay Maisel.

He’s influenced generations of photographers and my turn came in 2003 right at the time that serious digital cameras entered the market. He was in Los Angeles to give one of his inspiring presentations and his photos of course impressed me, yet at the same time I was confused.

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Jay Maisel making a gesture about color and light

Many of the shots were taken for clients, but some of the best had no reason to be shot – except for the simple fact that they were great pictures. It was at that moment that I realized that I had witness similar scenes before, but I was self-censoring myself into only taking pictures that I thought could sell.

I lamented all the photos I’d been missing and at the same time recognized the economic equation had just changed.  Instead of buying what is now a relatively cheap camera and spending thousands of dollars a year in film. I had just purchased a $7,000 digital camera where the film was “free”.

I was inspired to catch up for years of lost images and discovered that Jay was teaching a class at the Santa Fe Photo Workshops the following week. I packed my bags and was on my way.

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I couldn't make out of the driveway without being stopped in my tracks

The class was inspiring for the extended viewing of Jay’s work and to witness how his critiques of student’s work were all teaching moments instead an opportunity to pass judgment. I began to see differently. There were days that I couldn’t get out of the driveway without being stopped in my tracks by amazing light hitting the purple flowers of a sage plant.

The week went by in a blur. We shot, edited, talked and shot some more – and somehow the universe bent light differently so that interesting photos were all around. Even the weather cooperated to make great photos, as I was lucky enough to get caught in a dust storm on my drive home.

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Even the weather changed to inspire me to shoot

You can find evidence of Jay’s influence by exploring my Visual Concepts category. That is really just a fancy way of saying these are photos that are a cheap imitation of anything that Jay Maisel could shoot on his 80th birthday or any day and a tribute to his influence.  May you have another 80 years of producing great work.

I found a wonderful video made by The Big Picture in 2008 on Ed Broberg’s blog tribute. It’s a great introduction or reminder of the genius of the man.

Be sure to visit Jay’s blog to read more tributes to Jay’s birthday.

Mark Harmel

harmelphoto.com

On Twitter:

@HarmelPhoto

@MarkHarmel

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Oct 08 2010

The New Look of FedEx Office

Update: FedEx Office continue to evolve and is adding free Wi-Fi to many of their locations. This gives road warriors another location option to Starbucks to conduct business. Even before the free Wi-Fi I would use the FedEx locations on my portfolio trips as places to charge up and and park before my next appointment.

I made a trip to my local FedEx/Kinko’s shop back in the summer and found a new sign on the door. Shortly after I received a call from a client asking for an estimate to do a series of photos at that same shop! It turned out that this was one of the first FedEx/Kinko’s outlets that would be transformed into a FedEx Office location.

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Delivery driver at one of the first FedEx Office locations

After landing the job it was so convenient to have one of the first locations converted down the street from me in Manhattan Beach. This made it easy to check the construction progress and to send back update snapshots to the art director back in Minnesota. I could also combine early morning airport runs to LAX with my morning coffee to precisely plot the timing and effect of the sunrise.

The client remembered me from a shoot I did for her way back in the film days, but we had never met. One month earlier, I did get to meet with the producer, who ventured out early to check out the progress of the transition. This helped to build rapport when I met the rest of the production team the day before the shoot.

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Scouting confirmed that there would be great Northern light mid-day

I knew that we had a busy shoot day planned and proposed doing a quick walk-though of the long shot list. This was designed to get a feel for the style of photo that the art director wanted and to get the simple blocking down. This way we could have a starting point that I could refine and light the next day. We used the basic back of the camera digital preview method. I would do option A, B and C and the art director would pick one, or suggest something else. I saved the favorites and printed out a reference contact sheet for the team.

I originally thought of these as simple starting sketches that would be improved the next day, but they created more of an expectation then I planned. Many times I ended up copying the scouting shot from the previous day. Perhaps it’s a sign to trust my first instincts more when I’m free from the technical constraints of lighting and worrying about the background.

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The store was open for business the day of the shoot

We had cast models and had our crew of stylists, make-up artists and photo assistants moving around lights – but we were shooting this big production in a working store. If a customer had a lifetime of photos to copy (which happened) at the duplicating machine we changed our shot or location instead of asking her to move. Some of the employees were also available to serve as models and we often used them as they served their customers.

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Our footprint needed to be small

With the shop open for business we needed to have a light footprint. Instead of overpowering the store with strobes, I opted for using continuous light sources that I blended with the existing lights. We even had one of our packs on battery power to remove the risk of tripping on a power cord.

The clients were very happy with the results and the photos seeded a new photo library. Keep an eye out for these shots. They will be making their way into the FedEx Office print and web marketing materials. I know that I will never see my local FedEx Office shop in the same way ever again.

Mark Harmel

harmelphoto.com

@MarkHarmel

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Jan 18 2010

“leonard is aware of look. is look aware of leonard?”

George Leonard is better know for coining and popularizing the term “human potential movement”, but if he never wrote the title sentence, much of the movement may not have existed. The story behind the sentence also contains some of the best job seeking advice I’ve ever heard. I asked him to tell the story, but today I read of his death on January 6th and now the honor falls to me.

Back in 1952, Leonard was a flight instructor and editor of an Air Force magazine looking to move into the civilian publishing world when he wrote his first version of the tease – “Leonard is aware of Life. Is Life aware of Leonard?” Not as well remembered as the slightly more popular Life magazine, Look was a similar photo based magazine with a circulation over 3 million. The cadence of the Life line sounded as good with the replacement of Look and he sent that note off as well.

The letter worked, and Leonard went on to cover the Civil Rights movement in the South, and was one of the first journalists to predict the social changes coming from the ’60s student movement in California.

I first met him in 1976 at the University of Redlands in California. I had just finished my undergraduate eduction as an exchange student at the experimental Johnston College that shared the Redlands campus. Leonard was visiting and leading an aikido workshop at a progressive education conference. The experiential session featured the life lessons that could be learned from the practice of that martial art form.

Leonard also covered education at Look, and wrote the classic book Education & Ecstasy in 1968. The book was a call to reform the education system. I was a fan of his book and wanted to meet Leonard and talked my way into the conference by offering up photos of the session.

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Cypress trees shrouded in fog at Esalen Institute while attending a ITP workshop in 1991 led by Leonard

I also knew of his history as a photo editor at Look and asked for his advice on breaking into the magazine business. He agreed to meet, looked at my photos and told me the story of how he created his break.

Like many, when Leonard planned his move he drew up his list of the his top ten publications. But instead of the normal method of starting at the top, he decided that he would begin with a visit to his lowest choice. Reader’s Digest was on the bottom and that’s where he experienced his interview stage-fright and discovered that he was asking for too much money.

After making his rounds to his other choices, he made a point of staying in touch with his prospects. He would send copies of his Air Force publication and some reminder notes. On the day that his “Leonard is aware of Look.” promo arrived, there was a decision to add an additional photo editor. The editor in charge of hiring saw the note and asked his assistant, “what do you know about this Leonard character?” Out of the file drawer came a two inch folder of correspondences and Leonard was offered the job.

Look became aware of Leonard, and we all became aware of the human potential movement because his writing and later immersion in the field.

He went on to, write a dozen books, become an aikido masterPresident Emeritus of Esalen Institute and created the Integral Transformation Practice and Leonard Energy Training.

Mark Harmel

harmelphoto.com

@MarkHarmel

One response so far

Dec 31 2009

be social by adding commentluv to your blog

Writing a blog is about being in conversation with your community instead of standing on a hilltop screaming “look at me”.

One of the best conversations I’ve found so far on the use of social media is appearing at the creativity_unbound blog that is produced by Edward Boches, Chief Creative Officer and Chief Social Media Officer of Mullen. Boches is a leader in exploring how social media can transform marketing and advertising. His blog is worthwhile reading for his views, but also for the conversation he creates.

The conversation is the main attraction there, but he gives the added value of rewarding his contributors by hosting the commentluv plug-in on his blog that adds a link and headline of the contributors latest blog post. Recently when I had something to add about a post on how Pepsi was moving millions of their ad dollars into the social media space, you can see how the little heart symbol indicates a link to my recent blog post. This allows readers that find my comment interesting an easy way to come over to this blog to visit.

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Make your posts attract more comments

I decided that this was a good idea and added commentluv to my blog as well. To explore how the plug-in works add a comment to this post (don’t worry about being profound) and include your blog address.

To learn how to add the plug-in to your site, read on past the Mashable-like headline:

2 WordPress plug-ins to that you need to increase comments on your blog.

If you haven’t discovered Mashable yet, it’s the social media website I go to learn how to deal with the backend of my blog. If you are really interested in the technical end of blogging, this is a place to explore. I personally only want to know enough about the back end to keep the site running, but I’m happy to share what I know.

Go into the administration section of your blog, select plug-ins>addd new and type in commentluv. Hit search plugins. Select install and you’re in business. You will also want to add Akismet or some other spam blocking filter to keep out the junk comments. I also moderate my comments so that I have to approve anything that appears on the site. My rule is anything that adds to the conversation runs.

What other social media sites do you like for either building a community or learning to make your site work? Add a comment and watch commentluv do it’s magic.

Mark Harmel

harmelphoto.com

@MarkHarmel

17 responses so far

Nov 09 2009

the best iPhone photography app

Much of the talk about using the iPhone camera surrounds additional apps that you can use to tint, crop, zoom or selectively focus your photos. There are titles that bounce around the internet like Must-have apps for iPhone photographersThe Five Best iPhone Apps For Travel Photography and The Best Camera “ecosystem”.

I find some of the apps useful for making it easier to crop, adjust the exposure and upload to a photo sharing site; but I find that most of the tinting and special effects features to be cheap tricks. Most of the time the app will simply transform a bad photo into a bad photo with a blue tint.

To me, the most most important app is the person taking the photo.

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Surfer on the Venice Beach boardwalk

The beauty of the iPhone is that it’s always with you. The camera function is both very easy to use and at the same time very hard because it’s such a simple camera. The camera works great for basic snapshots of friends, but I wanted to see how it would perform in the stress test of the Venice Beach boardwalk.

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Beach visiter taking a cool drink by the iconic wooden umbrella clusters

The boardwalk is both a target rich environment with a collection of colorful characters, and a very challenging place to shoot. The light is harsh and the action is quick.

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The palm reader's sign blocked the sun creating a perfect north light studio

You have to look for the places that either have good light already or find a simple way to control the light. There isn’t an app made yet that will help you identify ways to control light by shooting your subject in front of a backdrop, or moving them in front of the sun.

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I moved the stilt-walker in front of the sun and palm trees

Since we use the iPhone’s screen to preview the photo, shooting into the sun is even harder. Unlike looking through a camera viewfinder, on the iPhone you have the confusion of the reflection on the screen and the glare behind the phone. Half the time it seems like I’m guessing at the composition. The shooting is similar to using the cheap plastic Diana camera where the joy come from the surprises created by the lack of control.

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Catching action is an advanced skill

The other issue with the camera is the shutter lag. Venice Beach is full of action and all good street shooters pride themselves at being able to capture the “decisive moment“, but with the time delay you have to press the shutter button a half second before you think something may happen. (You can control this a bit by being aware that the shutter is actually activated by releasing, instead of pressing the shutter button.)

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Quick movements often produce a warped effect

There is also a odd warping effect that’s created by the iPhone using a rolling shutter. Instead of the exposure being created all at once by the aperture effect you see on the screen, the scene is being quickly scanned. In the shot above, the head section was scanned first and the legs moved to the right by the time the scan made it down to the bottom.

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The light weight of the iPhone makes it easy to shoot down

One of my big shooting surprises is that now I’m often holding the camera straight out and shooting down. Instead of having my face up to the view-finder, the iPhone already starts away from my face and it’s a quick movement to point the iPhone down. Instead of the normal Hail Mary Shot that photojournalists use in a crowd to get the camera higher. I’m finding that I do the same thing shooting down. I simply guess at the framing and swing with the action.

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There's a whole new world down below

For most people, I suspect the hardest part about doing iPhonetography is using the moderate wide-angle lens. The view is similar to what you would get on a full frame 35mm camera using a 35mm lens. Our minds are very good at zooming into a scene to examine the front wheel pattern above, but we’re less well trained to see the wider view while being aware of all the action that’s shown below.

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Learning to see all the elements in the wide view is an acquired skill

I’m constantly working at striking the balance between simplifying and getting something interesting in the frame. When I first arrived at the beach I noticed a large sailboat on the horizon. But it was too small in the frame by itself, so I chased it down the beach while searching for something to place in the foreground. First there was a volleyball game, then a life-guard stand and finally I spotted a surfer balancing a board on his head to change his shirt.

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A balance between a simple background and a foreground surfer to fill the frame

Years of experience and learning to see like the iPhone camera is the real secret app in iPhonetography.

None of these photos required any special app filters or effects. I did use my normal workflow of opening the photos in Photoshop CS4 Camera Raw (even jpgs from the iPhone can be processed this way) and making some simple exposure adjustments and clean-up.

I took these shots in preparation of teaching an iPhonetograpy class at the Julia Dean Photo Workshops. The class is scheduled for December 6th. I hope to see you there.

Mark Harmel

harmelphoto.com

@MarkHarmel

10 responses so far

Sep 01 2009

dual portrait 2 – a transition

Another example of an environmental portrait that can also serve as a headshot. This time a simple hallway serves as our background and a blend of natural daylight and warm tungsten light on our subject provides the color variation. Similar to the HHMI fellows, this portrait can be cropped as a headshot as well as serve as a consistent portrait  location for the Cancer Care Associates team.

Our subject is Dr. David Chan, an excellent oncologist in the South Bay area of Los Angeles and a family friend (he and my wife trained together at Stanford).

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Oncologist David Chan, M.D.

I recently spent a couple of days in his busy office creating images of patient care and research for his website and stock use. Look for those photos in my next post.

Mark Harmel
harmelphoto.com

2 responses so far

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