HDR or High Dynamic Range

Just Because…

Moonlight In Vermont

Every year for the past few years my wife and I have taken our vacations in Londonderry Vermont. My sister has a house that she rents out up here and we love to take advantage of the quiet. You can get off the grid if you choose to, you can stay connected too (barely) if that is what you want. I am here now and writing this post from the house. If you want to experience Vermont, or if you just love to ski or golf, this is the place. (You can see the house here: 641 Hells Peak)

I was asked by a client why we come to Vermont, “What is there to do there? After all it’s Vermont,” he said. For us that is the point, few people know about the mountains up here, the beautiful landscapes, the fact that every few miles there is another quaint little village, and just the names of these villages make us smile; Jamaica, Peru, Chester (special mean to those from Philly), to name only a few.

‘Highway’ or ‘State Road’ are terms that mean something completely different here. When you are driving on a major thoroughfare and you see a sign that says “Pavement Change” in Pennsylvania it means going from pavement to perhaps cement. In Vermont it would be more accurate to say “The pavement ends and it may be hard to determine where the road actually is.” For my wife and I this is fun stuff. It always leads to an adventure!

Being a photographer means that even when I am on vacation, I am not on vacation. My camera is always with me and I am always looking for ‘the shot.’ My wife has started her own series of Shooting the Shooter and uses my backup camera to photograph me photographing the world, or in this case, Vermont!  Take a look at the images below and you tell me, why not vacation in New England?

The Shooter got Shot! (Courtesy of Amy Holland)

The scene I was shooting when I got shot

Even though we had overcast skies and rain every day, eventually the clouds broke (today, our last day) just in time for me to get shots of the night sky.

I even caught a shooting star!

When the moon rose through the trees this evening I understood even more why Amy, my wife, never wants to leave the north country.

This is pure moonlight with just the warm glow of the dinning room lights on low. 10 second exposure at F2.8, ISO 3200, no Photoshop at all.

So you tell me, why would we ever want to leave the “Moonlight in Vermont?”

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Back to School?

 

First let me apologize to anyone who tried to visit the site on Monday. My server crashed and it crashed hard. I didn’t lose much data, only a day’s worth or so but it did bring down the site for over 12 hours. If you tried to post on the blog or contact me, please try again, everything seems to be working now but I may have missed your question or comment. A situation like that shows you how much, and how little, you really know!

 

 

Overall though I did OK, maybe that is because late last week I went back to school. Sudlersville Middle School in Maryland to be exact. One of my clients, Nason Construction, just finished a new LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), AKA green school and needed some images to show the completed project.  With the wonderful natural light from windows that span from floor to ceiling, a huge stage that can play to the cafeteria or the gymnasium, the Sudlersville Thunderbirds have a new school they can be proud of. Seeing that the school was just completed Friday and the students started attending classes on Monday, I am sure the students were a bit overwhelmed. Read more

Recipe Of Light

 

Recently I was working with a potential client and a number of issues came up that seem to come up time and time again.  The client said, “With digital, taking pictures is free or next to it. Why are photography prices so high?” They were truly under the impression that to take a photograph costs nothing other than the cost of the camera. Mostly they believed this because that is what the manufacturers of cameras want you to believe.

 

In fact just to take a digital photograph only takes the cost of a camera. The issue begins when you want to do something with the image you have captured. You need to upload the image somewhere and that takes a computer usually. Then what if you want to fix something in the image? Now you need software. If you want to print the image, well then you need a printer too, either yours or the local print shop.

 

Let’s just look at cameras for a moment.  Sure you can pick up a pocket, point and shoot camera and take a snapshot. The results you get are a lot better than they were with your last film camera too, but are they professional quality? Probably not. But you could get one of those cameras advertised on TV where the guy is running around snapping pictures everywhere of the model types at the party or the models on a runway. Again, a better image than your last entry level SLR film camera but pro quality? Maybe a few of your images are better than the pocket camera. At least as a professional I hope so!

 

All cameras are not created equal and I am not speaking about Canon vs. Nikon vs. Pentax vs. Leica vs. Kodak or any other brand. I mean point and shoot versus enthusiast level vs. professional level cameras.  If they are there are a whole lot of people, not just professionals that have been fooled and taken to the cleaners! In fact there are many differences and those differences justify the price differences.

 

I won’t go into all the differences such as sensor sizes and pixel ratios and, and, and. If you want those there are plenty of resources on the internet that can teach that to you, just Google it. For a now lets just say there are differences; now there is the question of what those differences can get you. Well I can get my $5,200 camera to take a picture that looks very much like your $300 camera, I just set it to Auto everything and the results will be pretty similar.

 

But the advantage of a professional DSLR is the control I have over it; over every aspect of exposure and light. Now I can begin to create, not just take snapshots. Creating an image doesn’t end there. Sure I would like to get the image perfect in camera every time. We live in an age where “Photoshopped” is a new word in the dictionary. That implies more can be done to an image than what the camera is capable of, and that is true.  It doesn’t stop there, there are other tools like Lightroom, Photomatix, and plugins like Portraiture, Nik Software Suite  (5 separate plugins) and thousands of others. Each combination can take a similar image and make it completely different like the different images of Hasign in this post. Both were taken on the same evening about an hour or two apart, both have similar ingredients but the results are completely different.  It’s a bit like food, thousands of options, billions of combinations.

 

Comparing photography to food, sure you can make a great meal at home. In fact you can do it cheaper than if you go to a restaurant. In fact you can even produce something that is as good as any 5 star chef, sometimes. The chef on the other hand can create that wonderful, mouthwatering meal every day, time and time again. As the chef gains experience he will experiment and create new dishes and perhaps even a new style of cuisine that you can almost taste just with a whiff of it being prepared.  Over years of training the chef has learned what ingredients go together and what compliments rather than covers.

 

Sure you can try to make the same dish at home but often you are just a little different in your results. I’m not saying the meal is less than fantastic, but it’s just not the same as when the chef made it. You have to try though because you want to know if you can. Besides, going out for 5 star meals can get quite expensive quite quickly and by trying it at home, your results may differ, but your budget is kept intact.

 

Photography is very similar in that professional photographers create a recipe if light and shadow, dark and bright, soft and hard light. We cook, we simmer, we blend the ingredients until we find the perfect recipe and then we capture it, add a few select side dishes of technique and post processing. We tantalize the visual palate as the chef tickles your taste buds.  And yes we have those secret ingredients that are ours and ours alone. After all those are the signatures of each professional.

 

So what can I cook up for you today?

Rewards

 

Every day each of us looks for rewards. We hope to get rewarded for a job well done, a big sale, a hug from a spouse or child, but we often feel that we don’t get the rewards we think we deserve. Our paychecks seem to get smaller while our children get bigger; we need our paychecks more and our children need us less.

 

Rewards are difficult to quantify and often what we do today may not pay off until next week, next month or next year; or it may not pay off at all. How do we even measure it? Is it the money we are paid, the love we receive, the car we drive or the house or neighborhood we live in?

 

I have always known that the more I look for them the less I receive. If I am working towards getting some type of recognition or ‘fame’ what I get is disappointment and failure. It’s like praying for patience; your higher power is likely to give you something to be patient about!

 

When I let go and I let life happen, it does. When I did the Free Business Portraits for the Unemployed I expected nothing in return. I wanted to give back to those less fortunate than I am and I know how it feels to be suddenly out of a job, the emotional toll it takes. I felt that if I could do something nice and help people smile when life was difficult then I would feel good about what I was doing and I did.  Even the local media got involved and my name was all over the world for a lot longer than just 15 minutes.

 

So many people told me that this was the best thing I could do for publicity for my business. You know how much work I got as a result of that? Zip, zero, nada. But that was OK because that isn’t why I was doing it. When I looked for a reward I got none, when I was doing it just to help I got famous.

 

Many times we don’t know what we get when we put out the positives and good efforts. Sure we might get a raise next year and sure our children may care for us when we get old, but do we know that is going to happen? Sometimes we don’t even know we are doing the next right thing.

 

I think it was 10 or 11 years ago and I was still in the corporate world; I was working for a software firm in Philadelphia and I was in charge of the support department. I forget why but I needed another tech and in those days techs weren’t as easy to find as they are today (amazing what changes in just 10 years), especially ones that understood large format image printing.

 

I noticed this one man working in our shipping department and while I was helping pack up a large shipment I asked him some basic questions about computers. He had no formal computer training and had never held a support position before but he knew instinctively how to logically troubleshoot and come to a solution.  A true “diamond in the rough”; but there was a problem.

 

This young man had a run in with the law. He had been arrested and was awaiting trial and he was pleading guilty. He would most likely get probation but that conviction would make him ineligible  for the position per company policy. Something told me that his past didn’t matter. What had gotten him to this point in his life was just a path and it was what made him the man he was, but it didn’t define the type of man I was looking at. I took a risk and I fought to get him on my team and I won. I won with conditions of course; if he failed, I was out of a job too.

I took a risk and it paid off in a great way. He eventually became the supervisor of that support team and he made IT his career. He was a true success story and I was glad to know him. I never thought anything of it really though, I knew he was going to do well and I knew he had the knack to be good at it. When he was successful I felt it was as it was supposed to be, that was all there was to it.

 

This past weekend I found out there was more to the story. You see that man invited me to his wedding and again, we have stayed in touch over the years so no big deal. I hadn’t met his wife to be yet but I had heard a lot about her. At the reception he introduced me to her and what he said floored me. He said, “This is the man that believed in me and put me on the right path.” His new wife knew immediately who I was. I was blown away.

 

I didn’t expect that. I wasn’t prepared in any way to be a part of the turning point for him, I was just doing what I always try to do: the next right thing. He made something of the opportunity; he did what he needed to do and he made the life for himself that he has today. I am humbled by the words he used to introduce me to the love of his life.

 

I didn’t do anything, he did it all. Then he gave me the rewards.

Are You (re)Touched?

 

I have been asked many times if I retouch my work. The answer is complicated in a sense because although I don’t like to retouch, I still want my clients to look their best when they get their portraits. So it comes down to more of a question of how much is too much.

 

We all know that in magazines like Glamour, Vogue and most of the celebrity magazines the images are retouched and often to the point of fantasy. It is easy to go overboard when retouching someone. When the natural texture of the skin is taken away and the skin looks like porcelain, it is overdone. If the photographer or retoucher makes someone look so ‘perfect’ that you wouldn’t know the person if you met them on the street then they have gone too far.

 

At the same time if the client wakes up the day of their portrait session with an acne breakout you don’t want them to look less than their best either. That is where retouching can be a benefit; it is not however the only time that some retouching needs to be done.  An example is my recent shoot with Sydni, a beautiful young lady who has a natural beauty that shouldn’t be altered or hidden by retouching.

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Gratitude

 

It’s not always easy writing a blog. In fact this week was one of those weeks that I was desperately trying to think of a topic that is consistent with the messages I try to convey on these pages.  Out of frustration I decided to just get out of the office and away from the computer. I emailed my wife and told her to meet me at pub across the street from her office.

 

After a wonderful lunch I was still short a topic. As I was driving back to my office I drove past Eastern State Penitentiary and right in front there was a parking space. I thought why not, I have my camera with me (no surprise there) and I have always wanted to tour the place during the day (previously I had only been there for Terror Behind The Walls, near Halloween). For $12 I could go in and forget my deadline and ignore that “whoosh” noise it makes as it goes by.

 

This place is a one of the cheapest tourist traps in all of Philadelphia and probably one of the best too. No one tries to sell you anything and all the guides are friendly and helpful (they must be from out of town). On top of that it’s really cool!  Of course Al Capone’s cell is the most restored, but most of the place is falling down around you: debris, broken windows and concrete are everywhere.

It happened to be my lucky day too!  Not only did I get a great parking spot, they were giving tours of some of the places not usually open to the public. I was able to see the chaplain’s office and the special murals on the walls, and also “The Hole” where prisoners were put for solitary confinement.  I stand a hair under 6 feet tall (probably because I have no hair) and when I was standing in the ‘hallway’ in front of the solitary cells my head just touched the ceiling. Not a place I want to spend any time.

 

As I toured the rest of the prison I noticed all the cells, the conditions and how horrible it must have been in those days to have been stuck there for years. The idea that the only natural light many of the prisoners ever felt came from a tiny slit in the ceiling. The only other light came through the skylights but they were over the hallways and you would not feel the sun on your skin but you could see it just a few feet away outside your cell.

 

As I started to leave I began to feel a sense of gratitude wash over me; I was able to walk out when I wanted to. This got me to thinking (dangerous, I know) about how lucky I am.

 

When I was younger I was a borderline kid. I didn’t believe in school, authority, or anything most ‘good kids’ believe in. I had the choice to go down the wrong path and it would have been very easy for me to do. However for some reason I did the next right thing over and over until I got to where I am today, a man who owns his own business and has the chance to take a random Wednesday afternoon off to tour a decrepit old prison.

 

I am a lucky guy, I have freedom today and that is something that I often forget about. I think about bills, mortgages, payments and where the next job is coming from. Today I was able to take a few moments and understand what gratitude really is; I have to say that it is one of the best things I have in my life. Today I am free to worry about bills, mortgages, payments and where my next job is coming from.

 

All this gave me something to write about too. It gave me an Attitude of Gratitude.

Keep It Simple (Stupid)

 

Complication is easy – While simultaneously applying downward pressure and twisting in a counter clockwise motion to create upward movement, creating a release of pressure and separating multiple items bound together. Also known as unscrew it. However, anyone who has tried to loosen a screw with a stripped head knows that simple isn’t always that easy.

 

So just how does one keep it simple? Obviously that entirely depends on what the ‘it’ is. In my case it’s usually photography or getting the right image for you. So what if the image you need is complicated? That is where experience comes in; anyone can make the simple complicated but experience is what can make the complicated simple.

 

Recently I was contracted to photograph a large mansion in the Poconos of Northern Pennsylvania. This home has 6000 square feet of living space just on the first floor. Included are bathrooms, sitting rooms, a large foyer, an entertainment lounge, a koi pond (with huge koi) with a bridge and 3 meter waterfall, dining room, formal living room, two bedrooms, mud room, hot tub and full size indoor heated salt water pool, not including upstairs or the full basement! To capture the ambiance of this home is not an easy task.

 

I have some experience capturing the mood and feeling of an estate like this as I’ve shot quite a few of them. I have an approach to shooting large estates and the process is very similar to all the projects I do. The first and foremost thing that I do is find that ‘feeling’ and to do this it’s best to start by talking, at length, to the client. In most cases a home like this is the pride and joy of the people who live there and often they are more than willing to share what means the most to them.

 

Once I have an idea of what ‘s special about a project I need to survey it and that means taking  time to walk through it and determine the flow of the project or, in this case, the home. Some estates will strike you as soon as you pull in the lane: Winterwood Estate in CT was like that and the flow of the property was as important as the structures on it. In the Poconos it was a bit different though: it wasn’t the property itself or even the beautiful home, it is how the home interacts with the view from atop a mountain. From almost every room there was a view of the valley below or the ski resort across the valley.

This meant that whenever possible I needed to include the views and vistas. My experience has shown me how to do this in a way that shows both the home and the view without compromising either. By walking through the home I was able to experience what the homeowners enjoy every day with their morning coffee or their evening meal.

 

What I did was take a very complex job and I broke it down into pieces, learn, observe, review, survey and then formulate a plan of action. This is what I do with all my work whether I am shooting a multimillion dollar estate, simple portrait, an event or a major advertising campaign. Depending on the type of project the length and details of each step may change but the same simple formula is applied each time and I get the results my clients want, every time.

 

For me it isn’t just to keep it simple, for me it is Keep It Simple Stupid and that is why I call it my “K.I.S.S.” method.  Let me know if you need a KISS. 😉

 

You can see 50+ images of the home at www.19whisperinghillscourt.com and if you may be interested in purchasing it, contact me and I will get you in touch with the owners.

Integrity

Integrity – from Merriam Webster’s Dictionary: firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values; incorruptibility

 

Heck of a word.  It’s not the word though, it’s everything it stands for and everything it doesn’t. Many people and companies say that they live by a code of integrity. I won’t say that they do or don’t; I will say that it is a tall order to fill.

 

I am a firm believer in everything that this word stands for and all that it means I strive to be integral in everything I do every day not just my business. Do I succeed? I feel that I do; I feel that the reason is this is just a part of the ‘code’ I live by. In my life I try to live in a honorable fashion and that honor is at the core of everything I do. As long as I am quoting dictionaries…

 

Honor – also from Merriam Webster: a: a keen sense of ethical conduct, integrity <a man of honor>
b: one’s word given as a guarantee of performance <on my honor, I will be there>

 

The part that means so much to me is “one’s word”. I am a firm believer that if I tell you I am going to do something I am going to do it. For me that leads to doing things with integrity, a code of especially moral and artistic values.

 

So why the heck am I writing about this today? Because I was re-reading the ASMP’s Code Of Ethics and I was proud to be able to read that and find myself saying “yeah, well that is obvious”, which it apparently isn’t or they wouldn’t have found it necessary to A) write it down and B) send it to all the members like me.  Granted, for most if not all of the people I have met through ASMP it is second nature and the way they live every day. But it would seem that many don’t live this way and that is what kind of gets me.

 

I mean, how can you live in a way that is less than honorable and expect others to treat you with integrity?  I know that the only way I know how to treat people is to treat them as I want to be treated. Wasn’t that the golden rule once upon a time?

 

Maybe that is what people, and especially businesses, need: a return to the old fashioned common sense of honor and integrity, back to treating everyone you meet with respect. However when I say a return, perhaps I am being a bit misleading when in reality we need to move forward to this level of mutual respect. In the past a façade of respect was presented to anyone that was like us; those that were different were ridiculed or discriminated against. Some were just plain shunned.

 

Let’s make a step into our own future and treat everyone that we meet with integrity. Let’s all start to live in an honorable fashion. Perhaps we can live by a solid code of ethics. I think that we can and I feel that the best way to start it is to just do it. Be the best we can be in every way.

 

For me the idea of integrity isn’t just a bunch of words that I use for business. For me it is a way I live my life that spills over into my business.

Happy Holidays – Free Gift (Really, It’s Free)

 

About 10 days ago I finally got around to sending out my holiday cards. A bit late but at least I got them out!  They were on time for those who celebrate Christmas and Yule, but they were a little overdue for those celebrating Hanukah. What can I say? Hanukah was early this year. I know, plan better.  If you celebrate one of the other winter holidays all I can say is Happy [insert appropriate holiday here]!

 

 

I wanted to send cards to everyone I know but I don’t have everyone’s mailing address! It seems that many who got the snail mail version of the card liked the image very much (yeah, the one above). I always want to give something to everyone. The problem with that is I am a photographer, not a millionaire. Details.

 

As a photographer, what can I give that everyone might like? Imagery of course! So I decided that I was going to give everyone that visits my site a chance to have a unique image for their desktop or mobile phone! I figured, why not offer up the image I was using for my holiday cards?

 

Below are links to 4 different sized copies of the image above that you can download to your computer or mobile phone and set as your desktop background. All you have to do to get the image is Click the appropriate link below and then Right Click on the image and select, “Save Image As” and save it to a folder on your computer or phone.

 

Wide Screen – For wide screen monitors (1680×1050 or smaller)
Standard Screen – For standard sized monitors (1280×1024 or smaller)
Mobile Phone Portrait – Size based on the iPhone in Portrait Mode
Mobile Phone Landscape – Size based on the iPhone in Landscape Mode

 

As there are literally thousands of mobile phones with almost as many screen resolutions I used the iPhone screen resolution as a standard. The only thing you need to know is do you want it in landscape or portrait!

 

This is my free gift to everyone this holiday season. I hope you enjoy it!  It’s not holiday specific, it’s just a nice wintery scene for all of you to enjoy.

 

Thank you all and Happy Holidays!