Archive for the 'teaching' Category

Jul 17 2009

“and that’s the way it is”

Published by under news,portraits,press,process,teaching

I can’t say that I knew Walter Cronkite any better than any other regular viewer, but I did as a college student manage to ask him a question at one of these University journalist all-star talks. I presumptuous asked if it was a bit presumptuous of him to conclude the program with his famous sign-off, “And that’s the way it is.” He graciously explained that when the news show expanded from 15 to 30 minutes there were plans on including a quirky item at the end of the show and the sign-off would be ironic or humorous.

The news hole soon filled up with major events of the day and Cronkite wrote that he “was too stubborn to drop it”

Walter and thats the way it is

Walter Cronkite signing off on his final CBS Evening News broadcast

The picture above came about after experimenting with documenting scenes off the TV one freezing Michigan winter. This photo is somewhat historic by being taken right after he signed-off for the last time.

I still recommend shooting off a TV screen as a beginning photo exercise. It is the best opportunity I know to have experiences flow in front of you where you can concentrate on simply pressing the shutter at the right moment. It is harder than it looks.

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Jul 14 2009

how internet dating can help you find a job

It’s not the long walks on the beach or the candle-light dinners that made the difference – the big lesson I learned was to not spend too much time on-line before meeting. The same is true when you’re looking for that dream-date of a job.

I found some women that were engaging writers and I would spends hours reading and writing emails that continued for days only to have my hopes and dreams shattered in 60 seconds after meeting. It wasn’t always just physical appearance either. Its that we can convey so much essential information with our physical presence. The way we walk and talk all contribute to the equation.

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A "dream" putt-putt golf date created for a long forgotten TV show

My old dating rule quickly became to schedule a low stress coffee or drink date as soon as possible. I find the same rule holds true to make your presence known in the communications world as well.

On a simple level when I interview a new photo assistant I at very least want to see a photo and prefer to meet them in person. This is because I’m often in medical and corporate environments and a talented assistant with dreadlocks and tattoos that may be great on a fashion or entertainment set wouldn’t work with my clients.

This means that you need to have a physical portfolio to show. Yes a website is important as well, but you need a reason to have that meeting. There may be an electronic component to your portfolio, but if all you have to show is on the web there won’t be a reason to meet. I do all the usual routine of sending our emails, printed promos and have both a blog and portfolio website – and sometimes they are enough – but the real connection happens in the face to face meeting.

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Seal the deal with a corn dog toast

All the other marketing that I do also works better as a reminder of our meeting than it does as an introduction. This is most clear in my email response stats where I see who opens my email and continues on to my website or blog post.

So there may be work to do to format and edit a book. Marketing yourself could become your full-time job interspersed with some paying gigs.

The the good news comes from internet dating as well. Like the date – going on the interview is about you sizing up the company as much as it is about you being judged. I recall being saved from having to live in Buffalo, NY after visiting a graduate program on Creative Problem Solving that wasn’t as creative as my undergraduate schools.

Perhaps you’re wondering? Did the internet dating work? Yes, but not in the way that the ads portray. I ended up meeting my wife on an assignment. She was just another doctor to shoot. This time it was to show an example of clinical research. Then we met again in the hall – and she needed a photo for her talks. The multiple internet dates helped to train me out of my natural shyness and allowed me to ask her on a simple date. If it wasn’t for all of those bad dates when the woman wasn’t right for me or the where I wasn’t right for them I may not be married now.

So make a book, work your personal contacts and go out there and book some dates.

Mark Harmel

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Apr 30 2009

highway 395 revisited

Back in the fall I traveled to he Mono Lake area with my friend Eliot Crowley. He is working on his MFA thesis project titled “Highway 395 Revisited” that involves taking portraits of strangers that he meets along the Eastern Sierra road. Eliot is an accomplished commercial photographer who is getting his Masters degree to allow him to teach higher level classes at Brooks Institute.

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Eliot in a grove of Aspens with the Airstream in tow near June Lake

This portrait of him also became a teachable moment for my Photo 1 class I was instructing at the Julia Dean Photo Workshop. I had just scrambled back from the road with Eliot and I used his portrait to demonstrate some of the planning and background knowledge that goes into what looks like a snapshot.

Part of the spontaneous look comes from standing in the middle of an active road with no control over the traffic. I’m using no external lights, but I have the knowledge that fall leaves look better backlit and that the aspens behind me will be a great source of bounce light that will illuminate Eliot’s face as well create a great reflection in the truck and Airstream.

I found a spot where the trees looked great behind he truck as well as showing the highway stripe and the peak in the background. The class saw all the scouting test shots and preparation that led up to this 30 seconds of a planned snapshot.

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The beauty shot of the Airstream

The scouting was for two shots not one. I first looked for this long shot and then repositioned myself for the portrait.

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My "I love Mono Lake" pose - Photo by Eliot Crowley

I was also able to help Eliot with his project by flagging down potential subjects, wrangling with equipment and serving as a test stand-in. All of the activities of a normal photo assistant – except when I was an assistant I was either clueless, or a bored know-it-all. Now when I help friends I’m able pick up on the small nuances of working in a different way with subjects – and on this trip I also learned Eliot’s secret lighting technique.

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My slacker wood-cutter look - Photo by Eliot Crowley

Visit Eliot’s blog and see the real people (my posing will also make more sense) that we found for his portraits and ask him to reveal his secret. It’s really a mixture of a way of thinking about light that is easier with digital capture, blended with the lighting technique in Photoshop. In addition to having a great photo-adventure and camping trip with a friend. I pick-up a new trick that I used on a recent group portrait of a company’s Board of Directors.

Mark Harmel

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Mar 29 2009

the westons at big sur

There is a wonderful feature in the New York Times today on Edward Weston where Kim Weston serves as a tour guide for some of his Grandfathers’ great photos of Point Lobos.

In the narration Kim retells Edwards advice on seeing and being in control of your equipment. ”You should be able to point your camera down to the ground and see a photograph”

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Sea kelp on a multi-colored sand beach

What I learned most from Edward Weston’s photos and writings was that there was an aesthetic of nature photography that went beyond the beautiful scenery and grand vistas that was practiced by the Ansel Adams school. He influenced my to see in a more respectful way. I didn’t always have to get into the photo to show my point of view. Sometimes it was more about getting out of the way to transmit the essence of the object in front of the camera.

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Rock and trees in the fog

There is a link from the multi-media section in the Times to a more traditional travel feature. What isn’t mentioned is that you can participate in various nude figure or lanscape workshops with Kim and even stay in a house on Wildcat Hill.

Mark Harmel

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Mar 19 2009

when is cheating fair-1?

Some of my students recently were appalled that I would ever alter any part of a photo. They were beginning students and still very new to working with photos on a computer.

Normally I limit myself to cleaning up faces and removing power outlets from the background, but every now and then I allow myself to think more along the lines of a photo illustration.

A few years ago I was renting an apartment in Paris up the hill from the Moulin Rouge and I knew of a photo my travel photographer friend Glen Allison shot of the famed club through the art nouveau archway of the metro stop.

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The two elements of the final illustration

I didn’t quite know how to make it different. I was both frustrated that the lights on the archway were out in the evening, and didn’t like a big Coke billboard that was in the frame. Then I noticed that a famous painting in my tour book and that many of the artists selling their work on the street had moved some famous landmarks around to suit their compositions.

I decided that I could do the same – it just required me to move the metro stop. I wasn’t sure I had the compositing skills to do this, but I have friends that can.

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The final composition with everything in the right place

I shot the individual pieces and asked my friend Dennis Dunbar to use his Photoshop skills to help me execute my original vision. This was my first big step into more of a photo-illustration look. I still prefer to capture what is actually in front of the camera, but this experience opened me up to the idea of creating an illustration.

Mark Harmel

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Mar 17 2009

how art directors and designers can “fix” people like me

At last. A new little know feature in Photoshop CS4 can save you from photographers like me!

When I was learning how to shoot, the documentary photographers I admired all made their prints using a filed out negative carrier. That would burn in the distinctive black border around the print that served as the seal of approval to indicate the the photo was so properly composed that there was no need at all to ever crop the image.

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The distinctive black border proves that the frame is not cropped

This palm tree shadow photo taken with a plastic Diana camera shows the distinctive ragged edge of camera opening inside the black border – proof that it was not cropped!

Just because the picture is perfect doesn’t mean that some well meaning designer or art director doesn’t have a perfect cover format or design that this photo want to grace. Before recently there was the battle of perfection -until now.

Content-Aware Scaling to the rescue.

This new feature in Photoshop CS4 goes beyond the crop and allows the people that want to mess with my pictures the opportunity drastically change the format without hacking off an arm or a leg.

As an example, here is the original rectangular capture of a radio telescope in Owens Valley.

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The original rectangular capture

Using Content-Aware Scaling the rectangle is stretched in perfect proportion into a panorama.

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The panorama version

Notice how the dish and sun remain unaffected and the mountains and sky nicely stretch. Now lets try a square…

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The square version

Once again it all looks natural. Imagine how you can now make photos fit your wonderful design without having to crop!

There are a couple of tricks to make this all work, but none of them require advanced Photoshop mind warping abilities. You can learn all about the technique from the amazing Dr. Russell Brown. This is a long page of tips and you will need to scroll 1/4 of the way down the page to the 9/23/08 tip. There you will find an entertaining and instructive video.

Mark Harmel


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Mar 15 2009

photography with a friend

The Salton Sea trip was triggered by great desert spring weather and a blog post by John Paul Caponigro where he shared his enjoyment with shooting with Vincent Versace.

I’ve done this before with my friend Josh Mitchell – most recently as we were chasing a snow storm in the high desert.

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Josh after we were turned back by a snow storm in Yucca Valley

Not only do we end up shooting in very different directions in the same location we respect each other’s signature work and serve as scouts for each other.  At the Salton Sea my traveling partner Martin Trailer, not surprisingly has a thing for old trailers. I left him to shoot his decaying Airstream at Bombay Beach and went for the afterglow at the ruins of a old dock.

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I went for the dock and Martin went for the trailer

The astute viewers will notice that there is some mystery light on the pier posts. They came from a truck turning around during my long exposure.

Mark Harmel

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Mar 14 2009

desert sun

Many photographers only want to shoot in the “golden hours” at sunrise and sunset. I recall being in a workshop with one of my heros Ernst Haas and hearing him talk about “looking for the light”. He believed that there was always good light at every part of the day. You just had to know where to find it and more importantly – how to see the great light.

What is fabulous about the desert is that even the high noon, burnt-out light that I often avoid looks right in the desert. The subject matter lends itself to that hot and desolate look that goes with the harsh light. Here is a blooming occotillo cactus positioned against an open sky.

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Near high noon show the empty expanse of the desert

You can then revisit the same subject matter later in the day to achieve a completely different look. This time it was close to sunset, with the help of my friend Martin who helped to flag the sun off my lens, I was able to shoot right into the sun and place the tall occotillo cactus against the mountain instead of the blue sky.

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Late afternoon lighting shooting directly into the sun

Different treatments of same subject shot with very different light. It is all a matter of of telling the right story at the time of day you are shooting.

Mark Harmel

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Aug 21 2008

the quest for quality light

Published by under process,teaching

Scott Fincher also gets credit for starting me on the quest for “quality light” (see previous post). At first I had no idea what this meant. I could though see that there was something extraordinary about two of his photos. When I asked what made these two images so special he answered with the cryptic quality light explanation.

I may have nodded my head as acted as if I understood what he meant when in reality I didn’t have a clue.

scottfincher the quest for quality light

We have recently reconnected and Scott reveals his lighting source and his process of making these two photos.

‘About the light: In the truncated legs photo the source was intense midday light reflected into a structure where the young woman sought shade. It was made in Mississippi when I took a long road trip with a hundred rolls of Tri-X and destinations pulled out of a hat on the news desk of the Sun-Times.

The other pic, which I call “Iago” after the character in Shakespeare’s “Othello,” was shot under strong afternoon daylight. I had been swimming and was walking home. At that time, I always carried a camera (Leica M4). There were some kids who had been to the snake house at Lincoln Park Zoo and acquired the skin shed by a growing snake. We bantered, and I shot. I can’t say that at the moment I consciously recognized the relationship of forms and textures. I was just “into it.” The kids were having a grand time flipping the shedded skin. I was having a grand time shooting it. Texture was and is an important thing to me. Timing counts too and perhaps is everything.” 

 At that time I was still struggling with the supplying the correct quantity of light to the film. Remember this was the days of film; there was no digital preview. I was lucky to have a camera with a new fangled, built-in light meter.

Much like Robert Pirsig in his classic quest for quality in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. My mission was to discover what quality of light was and how learn how to find it and later create the light.

What once was an exercise of learning the difference between front-light and backlight, sunlight and shade I slowly learned to look for the catch-light in the eye of the model on magazine covers for clues. I later started to watch movies and TV shows with an eye for how the stars were lit as much for the plot.

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In this night-time photo of a USC cheerleader you can see both the catch light in her eyes as well as the strong backlight of the stadium lights on the opposite side of the field.

One way to see low and high quality lighting is to quickly switch between a daytime soap opera (especially the Spanish language ones) and a movie channel. The soaps are stuck in time and have short shooting schedules that don’t allow for the refinement of lighting on the set. Whereas most movies have both the action and lighting crafted around one camera and possess the luxury of time, crew and tools to perfect the light.

The lone photographer working alone in the world needs to learn how to see quality light in the wild. Ernst Haas believed that he could find good light at any part of the day “ he didn’t need to shoot only at sunrise and sunset. He had the ability to follow the light. He could shoot indoors or in open shade at high noon or backlit in mid-morning and afternoon. Different color temperatures and harsh or soft light in his hand “were all part of the effect” as he would say.

ernsthaas the quest for quality light

Ernst Haas leading a seminar I attended in Los Angeles in 1982.

Once you learn to see the light, you can them move to the next step of making quality light with hot light or studio strobes. I teach a class on this from time to time at the Julia Dean Photo Workshops. We take a field trip to the multi-angled Frank Gehry designed Disney Hall where just about every background is spectacular and the lighting formula changes every time you turn the corner.  You can sign up for the weekend if you’re in Los Angeles in November, or just visit Disney Hall yourself. The exterior and most of the interior is a public space.

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Disney Hall bathed in special opening night lighting.

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Jul 01 2008

iPhone3G as a marketing device

Published by under iPhone,marketing,process,teaching

I was part of the hoard that was lined up at my local Apple Store to get me hands on the new iPhone 3G. One of my discoveries is how handy the phone is as a marketing device. It now has become my mobile portfolio that is available to pull out to communicate concepts with clients and to show work at parties. Initially I just loaded all of my main collection of finished images onto my phone in one big folder and used that to scroll through to find a specific photo. I have now added multiple folders that will allow me to show more coherent collections.
iphone 1 iPhone3G as a marketing device

I have taken the categories from my website as well as other custom galleries that I have created for other purposes. At a recent party I was introduced to a couple. The woman was an art consultant and the man was in the wind energy business. I had to scroll though my entire collection to first find some fine art images and then the wind turbines. 
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iphone 3 iPhone3G as a marketing device

I’m now prepared to show a sub-group that fits with the interest of my audience.If you want to do the same I found that the iPhone prefers to talk with the iPhoto program. I place my thumbnail jpegs into different folders inside iPhoto and in the iTunes software that sync’s my iPhone I select the folders that are desired to add to my walking portfolio.

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