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During a recent photo walk, I was hard-pressed to find something interesting to shoot at the chosen venue. Instead of being satisfied with the usual night shot of decorated trees and other holiday lighting, I pulled out an old-school technique (yep, from the days of film!) to add some interest to my evening’s shoot.  It’s basically a time exposure/zoom. It’s easy to do and, with the right subject, will produce some wonderful effects. The key here is to experiment and not be happy with your first try.

What this effect looks like straight from the chip.

What this effect looks like straight from the chip.

 

Here we go, step-by-step:

  • Start by mounting your camera (with your favorite zoom lens attached) to a sturdy tripod. What you’ll be doing next requires a solid foundation. 
  • Next, line up your shot so the optical center (dead center of your frame) falls in the middle of your subject (or maybe not, remember my earlier call for experimentation here?). Your image will zoom out from this spot, so you want to get this right.
  • Set your camera to manual focus and manual exposure. Focus on your subject, lock up mirror (if possible).
  • Start with these settings: ISO 100, f/16, 30 seconds (this is for an exposure after the sun’s been down for an hour or so…black sky).
  • Slowly press your shutter release and, after a few seconds, slowly zoom your lens.
  • Check your LCD and repeat. I should have put you in the ballpark and you should have said “ahhhhhh, ooooohhh” at your results.

The key here is to play around and have fun with this technique. A zoom made after 15 seconds have passed will make the underlying lights more dominant. A slow zoom from start to finish will have a completely different effect. I was happy with my resulting images and, with a little help from Photoshop, one eventually became my Christmas card!

Finished image with a little liquid filter applied a'la Photoshop.

 

Okay, now go experience some holiday joy using my little tip. Please, please, please share your experiences using this technique here (and give us the URL for your work so we can enjoy it too!).

Happy Holidays,

Dennis

Remember, your portfolio should be a selection of your very best work. It’s no place for photos that don’t measure up to that high standard and elicit a “wow!” from viewers. Hopefully, you’ve got a stack of images that are potential additions to your portfolio. The next step is to thin the herd, so to speak.

This is where you’ve gotta have the intestinal fortitude to “kill your babies.” What I mean by that is this is where you take out the photos that “wow” only you. The photos you worked hard to get, strike a chord with your inner being, yada, yada, yada. Everyone starts with images like this in their first edit. I suggest getting this over with early in the process — but only after you’ve let several other photographers (and non-photographers too) look at your initial portfolio edit.

Okay, now go show your first edit to other people. Let’s start with five discerning individuals. Five’s a good number. Take their comments to heart and look for a pattern in what they say about your work. After that, it’s up to you to weigh what they say against what you feel about your work. After all, your portfolio represents YOU and how you see your world.

More to come…

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting my tips for building a killer photo portfolio. If you haven’t already figured it out, having a portfolio of your work handy (and online) is the best way to get work. After all, no editor in his right mind is willing to hire a photographer without first seeing examples!

One of the first decisions you’ll have to make is what sort of work are you trying to attract? Will you present a portfolio of photojournalism, portraits, sports action or an overall selection of your best work in all genres? There’s no reason why you can’t have one of each portfolio edited and ready to go!

First, gather your work and give every photo a hard, critical viewing. This is where another set of eyes comes in handy. In fact, I recommend that you get input from other photographers or, better yet, a picture editor as you determine which photos will make the “cut.” This is where you’ll lose some of your favorites…trust me.

How many photos to choose? Don’t have any set number in mind. I’d rather see a portfolio of ten killer images than forty so-so photos. Choose your photos with an eye toward showing off your creativity, technique, versatility and mastery of photography.

More to come….

I’ve been busy with work and other issues for a month or so. Now’s a great time to have a photo walk and enjoy the outdoors. The walk is set for 3pm Sunday, Oct. 26 in the historic, restored area of Colonial Williamsburg. We’ll gather at 3pm in front of the Barnes and Noble Bookstore on Duke of Gloucester Street in Merchant’s Square. Hope to see you there!

The one filter that you absolutely, positively need in your bag is the circular polarizer. A polarizer is a filter that polarizes the light going through it to noticeably darken blue skies, reduce reflections and increase color saturation in your photos. The “circular” in its name means your auto focus and auto exposure systems won’t be affected by the polarized light and will focus and meter normally. Regular, non-circular polarizers are a little cheaper but won’t offer this extremely useful feature.

Polarizers are two pieces of polarized, coated glass that rotate relative to each other to increase or decrease the polarizing effect. Depending upon how much you rotate the filter, the effect can be subtle or quite dramatic.

Non-polarized, right, polarizer at max, left. Note saturated trees, sky at left.

Non-polarized, left, polarizer at max, right. Note saturated trees, sky at right.

The standard filter minuses apply here. Circular polarizers are expensive and will put two, not one additional layer of glass between you and your subject. (If you remember my earlier post about filters, you’ll remember that anytime you put glass in front of your camera, it causes some degree of image degradation.) Oh, and they’ll cost you at least one f-stop in exposure…depending on how much polarizing you do (i.e. if your base exposure is f/8, you’ll need to shoot at f/5.6 or thereabouts with a polarizer). Add to the pluses the added saturation, reflection control and the ability to double as a neutral density filter.

I think the pros outweigh the cons when it comes to polarizing filters.

Using a polarizer is simple, just rotate the filter as you look through the viewfinder. When you see the amount of sky darkening/saturation/reflection elimination you like, make the picture. Understand that if you change your camera’s orientation to the subject (i.e. change from a horizontal to vertical shot), you’ll need to re-adjust your polarizer.

I picked up a trick long ago that helps me quickly see where the maximum amount of polarization will take place. You simply make an “L” with your thumb and index finger, point your index finger at the sun and pretend your thumb is tracing an imaginary line across the sky. With that line in mind, the area of sky on the shadow side of your thumb will get the most benefit from the polarizer. A subject in front of that line will not see any benefit from a polarizer.

Hopefully, this photo shows how its done.

Hopefully, this photo shows the area of maximum effect.

So, if you’re still unconvinced about the value of a polarizing filter, borrow one from another photographer (that’s another benefit of attending photo walks…well-equipped photogs!) and give it a few turns (literally). I think you’ll see why I made room in my camera bag for this “must-have” filter.

Buy one.

Judging photo contests is something I’m asked to do from time to time. I had the enjoyable task of choosing the best photo from a recent photo walk (yes, the one I posted earlier). That winning entry, by Kristina Johnson, was chosen as the best of over one hundred photos.

Kristina Johnsons winning entry, ladybug road

Kristina Johnson's winning entry, "ladybug road"

So, you might ask, what does a judge look for when judging a photo contest? Hmmm, that’s a toughie. Well, we all know that photography, like any visual art, is subjective. A photo I like might not get a second glance from another photographer/judge. Photo contests are much like beauty contests in that there’s a lot of pretty entrants and most will be going home without a crown.

Here’s how I approach judging photo contests. In many ways, it’s the same way I edit photos for my newspaper. First, I take a quick pass through all the images. This is when I’ll bounce the unsharp, off-color and poorly-exposed images out. This first purge will usually knock out a quarter to a third of the entries and leave me with photos that deserve a closer look.

On the second pass, I’m looking for images that are different. Different techniques, compositions and subject matter are king here. If it makes me do a double-take it goes on to the final round. Here’s also where I factor in the type of photography being judged. For example, I’ll approach judging a photojournalism contest differently than I would a nature photography competition. In the former, capturing the “moment” and telling a story is most important. In the later, form, color and composition play a bigger role.

The final selection is the toughest. Here’s where I earn my money (well, not really, I’m lucky to get a meal or free drinks). This is where I look very critically at the remaining images. I want a photo to “move” me and stir my emotions. I’m also looking for the photo I wish I had taken myself. Finally, I want the winning image to “wow” me. If I’m excited about an image and it meets all the criteria mentioned above, it’s my winner.

I’m sure my approach is unique. My experience as a photographer and photo editor for almost three decades affects the way I look at photographs. This is why I advocate multiple judges for photo contests. Entrants deserve to have their work seen (and judged) through more than one person’s eyes. Plus, it’s more fun to watch the judges argue!

One last bit of advice. If you ever have a chance to watch a contest judging session, do it. Being there and hearing the comments made by judges will help you better understand how your work is seen by others. Usually, the judges will explain why they like one photo over another. The discussions over why one photo is better than another will give you insight into the judges’ visual thought processes and will definitely affect the way you approach your next photo session.

For me, judging a photo contest is exciting, energizing and exhausting. That said, I never say “no” to the opportunity to judge a contest. It’s fun and, sometimes, I even get fed!

The weather was great, more than 30 people showed up…a good time for all. I was overwhelmed by the enthusiasm of my group as we gathered at Huntington Park in Newport News, Virginia. We spread out across the park and got to work soon after the 10 a.m. start time and, though many started their day shooting photos in the rose garden, we eventually spread out and found subjects to shoot in every corner of the park.

Photo walker Jeff Abrahamson composes his photo in the rose garden.

Photo walker Jeff Abrahamson composes his photo in the rose garden.

We made photos for a couple hours and re-convened at a local pizza joint for lunch and heavy duty photo talk. I was pleased to see how shooters from all skill levels intermingled, looked over each others photos and shared their experiences shooting in the park. When the day was over, I asked for suggestions for making the next photo walk even better. The overwhelming reply?  “IT WAS OVER TOO SOON!

Take a look at their work at the Flickr page devoted to this photo walk. You’ll be sorry you missed the fun

Even I managed to find a different angle on a park statue

A different angle and dramatic lighting helped make my photo of this sculpture stand out.