All posts by joslex

Taking Photography Workshops to Improve Your Skills

November 2016

AMC Summer Workshop, White Mountains - Photo by Steve Fabricius

AMC Summer Workshop, White Mountains – Photo by Steve Fabricius

I have given over 100 talks and served at many workshops as a staffer or the director. As the director, my workshops have ranged from a weekend at the Appalachian Mountain Club facility in the White Mountains of New Hampshire to a two week Photo Safari in Tanzania.

This memo will help determine which is the best workshop experience for you.

< Chesapeake City, MD Workshop Through Nat Geo Eyes

Chesapeake City, MD Workshop
Through “Nat Geo Eyes”

Make sure that the photographic workshop that you are signing up for is centered on photography, and is not simply a tour that features photography. This means that there will be an on-site instructor who will be guiding you during your efforts.

One way to tell if this will be occurring is by examining the itinerary. If you will be out at dawn and stay through twilight (the golden hours), you are on the right track. If the workshop includes lunches at 3 star Michelin restaurants, you might look elsewhere.
Fieldwork is essential. A classroom-styled workshop won’t cut it unless it is about a computer application. You should look for workshops that combine shooting with critiques of your work – real-time examinations – on a large screen – of what you are photographing during the workshop.

Leopard in Baobab Tree - Tanzania Safari PhotoWorkshop

Leopard in Baobab Tree – Tanzania Safari PhotoWorkshop

Research the instructor. Would you like to emulate her style of photography? What is their teaching experience? This is more important than the location of the workshop. Are you taking the course to learn or is it just to have the instructor take you to his favorite spots? Look up testimonials from previous attendees, but realize that most instructors won’t publish the unfavorable ones.

At most workshops, the instructor is tied to an organization that coordinates the logistics. This includes payments, indemnities, finding guides and outfitters, transportation, etc. Major brands tout their abilities to deliver. Sometimes this just means that they get a cut for their name and marketing while local tour companies do all the work. You’ll pay both.

River Taxi, Singapore Workshop - Photo by Tony Three

River Taxi, Singapore Workshop – Photo by Tony Three

Look for workshops that have 10 clients or fewer per instructor. You are looking for personalized instruction and more than ten workshoppers will diminish the experience. Many workshop leaders line up their students (using tripods) to train their cameras on a subject like an old mill. Everyone gets the same shot. See if you can find a workshop where you determine the subject matter and the instructor helps you to achieve the photographic results you want.

Bull Elk - Yellowstone Photo Workshop

Bull Elk – Yellowstone Photo Workshop

Cost can be an issue, especially for international workshops. Compare prices on the Internet. Sometimes operators tout a ten-day tour, but upon examination you find that the first and last days are travel days – no photography.

You do not have to go around the world to hone your skills. It is important to choose a workshop that features a specialty that is of interest to you (e.g. wildfowl, street photography, natural wonders, etc.).

AME Church, Chesapeake City, Maryland Photo Workshop

AME Church, Chesapeake City, Maryland Photo Workshop

This newsletter also serves to notify you that I will not be organizing my own workshops in the future. The workshop field is quite crowded as freelance editorial photographers are looking for ways to expand their income streams. In addition, it is difficult to compete with large known entities that have many workshops and can scale up their marketing for all of them.

In 2016, I had to cancel several workshops for lack of participation and several others had the bare minimum of attendees. I feel badly about those students who signed up for one of my workshops that ultimately had to be cancelled.

Pintails, Ward Museum Wildfowl Workshop - Photo by John Whaley

I will continue to lead workshops, but not organize them. In the future, if you and five of your friends want to photographically explore an area with my instruction, contact me and I will set it up. I also will give personalized instruction for a fee. And you may see my name as a workshop leader with organizations such as the Smithsonian or National Geographic Expeditions.

My newsletter is being renamed “Madden’s Memo”, since in the future it will not be a monthly missive. In the past, it appeared each month to remind recipients of the current slate of workshops. I thank you for your interest in the newsletter. You are very loyal. I only have had three “unsubscribes” in almost two years of publication! But alas, few of you signed up for my workshops.

AMC Winter Workshoppers in the White Mountains - Photo by Tim Linehan

AMC Winter Workshoppers in the White Mountains – Photo by Tim Linehan

I am redesigning my website to tout my photography. I tweet an image every day as a personal diary and they will appear on my homepage. I also sell my pictures on the site and at National Geographic Creative and give lectures to interested groups for an honorarium.

I photograph on assignment and you will continue to see my images in publications and on Instagram and Facebook.

Keep shooting!

Social Media Privacy – My Life Is Not an Open Book

Recently I found an illuminating infographic in the New Yorker magazine that shows how social media sites gather information about their users. As explained in the New Yorker:

“In short, they see people as data, breaking their users down into categories that fit neatly into a machine-readable stream of information. This data is gathered not only from what users share on the social networks themselves but also through programs that plug into these networks by way of an application programming interface, better known as an A.P.I. For instance, think of any time you signed in to a Web site or an application with your Facebook or Twitter login, used a Facebook or Twitter app that was made by a third-party company like Zynga, or clicked a Like button at the top of an article. In different ways, those applications all talk to social networks via their A.P.I.s.”

“This information flows both ways: the social networks receive data from applications and, in turn, they can provide developers and advertisers with data about their users. …Much of the information that they have about users remains internal, and is not made available to developers via their A.P.I. Taken together, they are a way of conceiving of how social networks see you. Facebook may provide items like your name, statuses, photographs, favorite television shows, friend requests, religious views, privacy settings, events, and check-ins. (What it can make available to these applications depends on your privacy settings.) For instance, when you play Candy Crush Saga on Facebook—currently the most popular game on the social network—the developer, King, has access to what Facebook describes as “your basic information,” which includes your name, profile picture, gender, user I.D., friends, and “any other information you made public.” In the Twitter A.P.I., as Paul Ford has explained, you are an amalgam of your tweets, username, favorites, retweets, location, language spoken, and so on.”

Here is the infographic developed by the New Yorker.

For my business pages, I get access to much of this information and it helps me understand how users are addressing my site.

For my personal pages, I rarely post to these sites, as I value my personal privacy and do not want the professional pictures I take to be all over the net.

ADDENDUM June 29, 2014

Here is another way the Facebook manipulates your data.

A Tablet Is Not A Computer

For years, when traveling I took my laptop with me. This was always worrisome, as it is my prime computer and all of my files are on it, including emails, important documents, photographs, etc. It was also fairly heavy. It resided in my camera bag when traveling, and the rest of the time it was in my room. I have it backed up, (see my blog on backups), but I didn’t want to go through the hassle of restoring everything if it was stolen, which fortunately it never was.

When Apple came out with the iPad in 2010, I felt that it would perhaps be the intermediate step between my iPhone and my MacBook Pro. I was curious, but having an aversion to “Model One – Number One”, I decided to wait and see how customers felt about the machine. Of course, the response was overwhelming. Criticisms were leveled, such as not being equipped with a USB input and not having enough storage space. I was not in a great hurry to purchase, as I felt that my iPad would be WIFI only and not enough establishments at that time had WIFI, or it was locked and the password was not available. Also, I felt that with the early machines storage would be an issue.

What drove me to finally purchase an iPad was, of all things, when Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, Inc. declared that tablets (and the iPad specifically) were “post PC computing“. I found out that, at this stage of the game, one has to take the word “computing” as a generic term.

What I should have done was to research what the iPad could do, and what it couldn’t do. After my purchase, I ran across a simple way of understanding your computer needs in an article by Daniel Nations.

As Daniel says, “Many people use their laptop or desktop PC primarily for checking email, finding out what friends and family are up to on Facebook, playing casual games and browsing the web. Those are all things that the iPad can not only do, but in some cases, even outperform the laptop. For casual gaming, the iPad easily comes out on top. Not only does it have cheaper games, it has a huge app store full of them. The iPad can also excel at browsing the web or checking Facebook, being much lighter and more comfortable to hold while curled up on the couch.”

Then he goes on to say that a desktop/laptop computer user should make a list of the applications that she uses on her machine. Then keep the list handy and every time she uses an app or something like Spotlight, she writes it down. After 10 days or so, she should match this list to what she can accomplish on the iPad. This is great advice.

In my case, as a photographer/designer, it is obvious that there is no “heavy lifting” going on with the iPad. Here are some examples: “Pages”, Apple’s word processing program has a limited number of fonts and others cannot be downloaded to this program; importing pictures to the “Photos” app removes the file names and important data; apps such as “PhotoShop Touch” and “iDraw” are light weights compared to Photoshop and Illustrator; if you want to use “Flash” – forget it; in Pages, it is impossible to attach documents to email, etc. etc.

iPad users will be quick to point out that there are ways around these limitations, such as jailbreaking the iPad so Pages can download any font; that you can get applications to help you attach documents by importing them into that app first; that you can get apps that save the file names of images; etc.

Workarounds is what I call them. And yesterday when I used my iPad to go to an airline website to check in for a flight, it was built in “Flash”. And “Spotlight” only finds contacts and emails, not documents.Thanks Apple!

So caveat emptor. I thought I would be into “post PC computing”, only to find that I have purchased a larger and more expensive version of my iPhone, and it doesn’t make calls.

My sister has an iPad mini that she loves. Her uses for it are generally for social media and email. She had changed the default signature to read, “Sent from My Toy Tablet”. I would put the emphasis on “Toy”.

Bobbie Burnett’s Angels

My latest assignment was to photograph Bobbie Burnett’s Angels. Her picture and the following explanation of her company are on the homepage of her website:

“The Caring Collection creates stained glass artwork to benefit cancer patients at the Johns Hopkins Oncology Center in Baltimore, Maryland and the Anne Arundel Oncology Center in Annapolis, Maryland.  It is composed of a group of over 90 volunteers of all ages and backgrounds who create stained glass angels and sun catchers. To date, they have donated over $945,000 for specific equipment for patient care and research.”
Bobbie began to design stained glass angels in 1982. Now she is creating a book about her collection. At present there are over twenty past angels in the collection, however only a few are currently available for purchase.

Photography of glass objects presents a challenge and most of the issues center around reflections and specular highlights. The photographer wants to eliminate these, but the end result can be a very flat, uninteresting image.

So what to do? I generally place the object (angel) on a pedestal and go about controlling the light source. I build a background or “tent” to keep unwanted reflections at bay. Then I place a very large reflector (I use a folding one made by Lastolite) in front of the angel to use as a key light. I could use softboxes with flash, but I like to see how the actual light source is continually striking the object. I now have a flat-lit angel with no reflections. A black background eliminates reflections or other shapes that may appear in the transparent areas of the angel.

So far so good. Now, I add my own highlights to create my own rim lighting and specular highlights but only where I want them. I do this by using strings of white Christmas tree lights — moving them around until I get the effect I want. (See Setup Picture 1 above). I try a couple of different placements and shoot several bracketed frames of each. I also turn off the Christmas tree lights to give the client the flat light option. (See Angel with lights Picture 2, and Angel flat light Picture 3 left.)

Two of these images now grace note cards that The Caring Collection has for sale.

Experiment. Sometimes even an inanimate angel can bring surprises to your photography!