Archive for the 'technique' Category

Feb 16 2010

something went up today

Published by under news,portraits,press,technique,worklife

Update: From today’s New York Times – “Should the United States hire Elon Musk, at a cost of a few billion dollars, to run a taxi service for American astronauts?”

A real version of the SpaceX rocket pictured below successfully launched today (9/29/2008) from the Kwajalein Atol – which you all know is 2,500 southwest of Hawaii.

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Elon Musk with a model of his SpaceX Rocket

There was liquid fuel in the rocket and the project was powered by space, electric sports car and solar power entrepreneur Elon Musk. I took his photo is the El Segundo headquarters for the Wharton Business School alumni magazine back in 2004 when we were all still using color gels in our science photos.

Would you bet your (or our) money on his rocket?

Mark Harmel


No responses yet

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


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


17 responses so far

Dec 01 2009

how twitter led me to Lemonade

Update: The “Lemonade” movie premiered in Boston last night (Nov. 30th) and reports are coming in. The first is from the Boston Business Journal. The second from the Adrants blog. Edward Boches weighs in on “The sweetness of lemons”. Philip Johnson writes in Adweek about the ad industry rallying around one of their own.

New Hampshire Public Radio’s “Word of Mouth” interviews Erik

The Christian Science Monitor has a feature on how Erik Proulx job loss led him to make Lemonade.

The latest update (12/29/2009) is a segment on the CBS Evening News.

Watch CBS News Videos Online

I confess. I’m a Twitterer. I can blame it on this blog.

Once I started blogging I wondered if I was cultivating a tree that would one day simply fall in the woods without being heard. So I looked for ways to share my pictures and the behind the scenes stories. That prompted me to explore the world social marketing. Which led me to the Please Feed the Animals and the movie “Lemonade”.

The beginning is a bit mysterious. I started by following some writers for Ad Age which somehow led to following the Twitter stream of Erik Proulx. He’s a laid-off  advertising copywriter that created a support blog for the recently unemployed advertising professionals called Please Feed the Animals.

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Detail of make-up brushes (still from the video)

Erik’s Twitter stream mentioned that he was looking for good stories about life after being laid-off. He was collecting recollections about the initial trauma and the opportunities that were created by their new time and freedom. How ad people turned lemons into lemonade would become his documentary film.

When I discovered that Erik was filming in Los Angeles, I tweeted back, asking if I could help. My original thought was that I would shoot some stills that could be used to promote the film. But I had acquired a Canon 5D MKII camera – a hybrid still/high definition video camera and have been playing with the video capability. So shooting some video was also a possibility.

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Kurtis Glade became a documentary filmmaker (still from the video)

Erik had progressed from shooting with his own little video camera to enlisting a top director and production team. But there were some scenes that needed to be shot before the production crew arrived in Los Angeles. I was enlisted to shoot a story was about a surfing camp that teaches kids and teens with Cystic Fibrosis how to surf as a form of therapy. Next there was a manicure session in a salon with a writer “that lost his job and changed his gender.”

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David Cohen lost his job and changed his gender

I was on my own shooting the surf camp and did a 50/50mix of stills and video. When director, Marc Colucci arrived, he wanted more video than stills for the manicure session with David Cohen.

The video shooting continued the next day where I ended up shooting second video camera during the more formal studio interview shoot. My role was to look for details and go for second angle close-ups of hands and faces that could be used to add variety and editing options. These video snips were mixed in with the interviews captured with a Red camera.

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Jeanne Schad became a coach (still from the video)

The resulting Lemonade film has generated a great deal of internet buzz. Promoted through Twitter and Facebook, the trailer now has over a 100,000 viewers and the final edit is close to completion.

You can follow the Twitter streams of the people mentioned by using their Twitter ID.

Erik Proulx  @eproulx,  David Cohen @identityTBD, Kurtis Glade @kurtisglade, Jeanne Schad @jeanneschad

There is much more to share about the Cystic Fibrosis surf camp that I’ll save for another post.

Mark Harmel

7 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


10 responses so far

Oct 07 2009

nobel committee honors the dawn of digital

Published by under healthcare,news,technique

The fathers of digital photography were honored yesterday with the announcement of the Nobel Prize in Physics. Bell Labs researchers Willard S. Boyle and George E. Smith shared half of the prize for their development of the charge-coupled devices, or CCD’s. Millions of digital cameras and many other devices now use CCD chips.

My introduction into digital photography was less noble, but never-less momentous in my mind. I made the switch out of love.

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An early digitally captured photo shot on assignment

I’d fallen in love with a clinical researcher that I met shooting while at UCLA Medical Center. With her having a son in a great public school system in Manhattan Beach it was better for me to move down there to be together. That meant moving away from a photo district in the Hollywood area that was full of professional film labs. I used to walk a block down my alley to a great lab and have my film back in two hours. Now I either had to drive 30 minutes to a pro lab, or use a consumer lab 10  minutes away and risk having my slides scratched.

Digital cameras started to become more sophisticated so I decided to make the leap. I’d been scanning film already and working on the files in Photoshop, so I only had to add in the digital capture. But I started slowly with my new Canon D-60. The first photos were taken on our honeymoon vacation down in Mexico in March, 2002. When these bone density scan photos were taken in October I still didn’t trust the camera for commercial assignments.

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The better film version of the bone density scan

Back in those days I would use my Polaroid back to test my lighting set-up. I would take a shot and wait for the “instant” 2 minute development time to see if I had the balance correct. The fist change I made was to use my digital camera in place of the Polaroid. The feedback was truly instant and I would use that for my tests. But I wasn’t ready to fully trust the final capture yet. I would shoot a few frames after the tests and then switch to film. The problem was with this first digital camera was a poor viewfinder that made it hard to focus and the half-frame CMOS chip (a cousin to the CCD) that changed the effective focal length of my lenses.

In the photos above, the main difference was that I could us my wide angle lens on my film camera to capture the more dynamic close view. I continued to use the duel system for the next year until the full-frame Canon 1Ds hit the market. I’ve been digital ever since.

Mark Harmel


3 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

2 responses so far

Aug 31 2009

dual use portraits of hhmi gilliam fellows – the smart approach?

I enjoy the challenge of shooting portraits of young medical researchers that need to serve a dual purpose. When Howard Hughes Medical Institute announces their new Gilliam Fellowship recipients they only run one very small headshot version on their website. But they often have other uses when they can run a full photo that includes more environment.

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Angelica Riestra, HHMI Gilliam Fellow at UCLA

Here are two recent examples of this year’s recipients that were shot at UCLA. The portrait of Angelica Riestra shows how the same photo with a clean background can work successfully for a small headshot and yet has enough interesting information to be used in a larger feature format like the example of Ryan Dosumu-Johnson below.

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Ryan Dosumu-Johnson, HHMI Gilliam Fellow at UCLA

I’ve since applied the style to corporate and academic leaders as well. I prefer the result better than the standard portrait in front of a studio background. What do you think – is it a smarter approach?

Mark Harmel

No responses yet

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

2 responses so far

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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