My first trip to Africa and I get outshot by a beginner! How could this happen? Easier than you might imagine, as it turns out. Full story revolves around just a few of important points.Read More
If there were just one post on my entire blog that I could be certain people read, this would be the one … including watching Dan Pallotta’s sensational TED Talk video.
In the past 9 months, hoping to increase the positive impact I’m making in the world, I’ve started reaching out to non-profits to start a conversation about re-thinking how they use photography and visual storytelling to support their causes.
As an expert in photography and visual storytelling, I naively expected to find an audience with an appetite for what I could bring to the table. In reality, it’s been a frustrating and confusing 9 months.
While I could easily moan about the resistance I’ve encountered, I’d rather talk about why I went down this path to begin with … because maybe some of you have some ideas that can help me find the traction in this community that has been evading me.
While there is a case to be made for improving the quality of photography and storytelling used by charities and non-profits, there is a more fundamental problem. The underlying assumption that fundraising success hinges on raising the level of awareness and education … is flawed.
While problem and solution focused messaging will get people to care about your issue, it does not necessarily follow that because you have made people CARE, you have also convinced them to GIVE. If that were true, non-profits and charities would not have near the problem they have in financially supporting their missions.
So, what is the solution? Better photography? Better storytelling?
I would argue that it’s less about “better” storytelling and more about telling your story in a different way, with a different purpose.
It is a natural instinct to be complete in telling a story, but that is not the only storytelling model.
For charities and non-profits, building in deliberate gaps in the problem-to-solution story offers a place for your giving audience to insert themselves – to begin seeing themselves as an integral, important and needed part of the problem-to-solution journey.
The Hero’s Journey is a classic, proven storytelling formula, often used by charities and non-profits. In employing this formula, though, the teller must be clear about which steps to punctuate in the journey and, most importantly, who the hero is.
If you are part of a charity and/or non-profit, or know someone in that world, I’d love to connect so we can talk about how to raise the fundraising effectiveness.
Changing the world is a TEAM SPORT and I could really use some help getting this snowflake started downhill...so it can one day become a giant snowball!
Always be open to dumb luck.
Yesterday, I went up to Rocky Mountain National Park to make some photographs. It’s the end of the foliage season and I love being up there when the elk are down in the meadows.
It was a magnificent Fall day in Denver. Equally nice in Boulder, where I dropped off some food and school supplies at my son’s CU dorm on my way up to RMNP. And, as I came across Lake Estes into Estes Park, the sun was shining on the Stanley Hotel just beyond a backlit grove of golden Aspen trees.
… and then it started to rain.
I couldn’t believe it. Just as I was entering the park!
The weather report was for a mostly sunny end of the day and then a clear evening, but I kept a positive attitude and tried to will the rain to stop.
4:30p - - - 5:30p - - - 6:30p - - - sunset - - - still raining.
I sat in my car watching two groups of elk moving around the field in Moraine Park. Two hawks were riding the 20 mph winds. I imagined the photographs I would be making … if it weren’t raining and I was out roaming around.
I know some of you are wondering why I was such a baby about the rain. Admit it … I know you are. Well, the truth is … I was unprepared. There … I said it. Happy?! I was prepared for the cold, not the rain, and I wasn’t confident enough in my gear’s weatherproofing to risk getting it soaked. (Ok … get it all out … “wimp!” … “amateur!” … etc. Yup, I deserve it.)
Anyway … getting back to the matter at hand …
The rain stopped a few minutes before 7p … just as it had gotten too dark to photograph (of course!).
As I was leaving Moraine Park, I came upon three cars stopped just before the exit intersection.
There, about 75-100 feet off the road, was dumb luck, sporting a 10-point set of antlers (or 12 … not sure if you count those little nubs).
It was perfect except for two minor inconveniences — there was barely enough light to see the elk, and no one was getting out of their cars (for fear of spooking the elk).
But this was dumb luck! I can’t just leave - at least not before making a ridiculous, hail-mary attempt at a photograph … right?
I rolled down the passenger-side windows of my Subaru (yep … still driving that ol’ jalopy!), contorted myself into a human tripod, and lined up my shots with a 400mm lens. In the process, I chose not to be bothered by the fact my first exposure was displaying 12800 ISO, 1/20 second shutter speed at f/5.6 (wide open for this lens). But the fact the elk was moving around … that was a problem.
When I teach photography, I talk about the process every photographer goes thru in creating any photograph. Part of that process is recognizing and adapting to the limitations of your scene and scenario.
In this situation, the primary limitations were composition (i.e., I couldn’t change my position) and shutter speed (it was really really dark).
Photography, by its very nature, is about moments. Typically, that means a moment that offers something visually or emotionally compelling. In this case, I was after something much simpler - a moment of physical stillness.
While I’m the furthest thing from an elk expert, I do know that elk get pretty still when they bugle. That would be my moment … and it was!
Other wandering elk in the vicinity blocked my subject for much of the 10 minutes I was there (before they strolled away), but I did wind up with a few frames that weren’t spoiled by either my movement or my subject’s.
The whole experience left me with a couple of thoughts.
First, camera technology today is amazing.
The second of the two images here (with the house in the background) was shot at 1/4 second. It’s not razor sharp, but it’s good enough. I can only imagine what it would be like were it not for image stabilization! And, it was literally so dark by my last shot that I was going off blind faith that my subject was in focus. I have no idea how my camera managed to acquire focus!
The other thought goes back to what I wrote at the beginning, there’s just no substitute for dumb luck!
For those of you who have the opportunity, do head up to RMNP and enjoy the elk. It’s one of the annual treasures we get to enjoy as Coloradans. And, if you do make it up there, I wish you plenty of your own dumb luck!
A few months ago, looking at the CU football schedule, I noticed the Buffs had a Sept. 15 game against the University of New Hampshire.
Normally, a lopsided game like that wouldn’t be cause for much attention (CU won 45-14), BUT … we’re talking about UNH here … my (first) alma mater … and I wanted to shoot the game!
Sports photography is demanding work. It’s fast-paced, rooted in storytelling, and there are no do-overs. It’s much more than simply shooting action action action … at least it is for anyone who wants to do it well.
Shooting sports tests you as a photographer. You have to evaluate and respond quickly or pictures are lost - either because you missed exposure or focus or you weren’t anticipating the best position for an upcoming play and found yourself in the wrong location, maybe even using the wrong focal length lens. Beyond those technical aspects, you have to stay in tune with the emerging game narrative(s) so — as Rod Stewart might say — your pictures tell a story when you’re done!
Sports photography can also be physically wearing. You often carry a lot of gear, you’re commonly out in the weather (it was near 100ºF on the field at game time Saturday), you tend to be on the move a lot (many many Folsom Field stairs climbed and descended, uggh!)… and it’s normally a long day when you factor in prep time before an event and editing, toning and transmitting pictures after the event.
In spite of all that, I love shooting high-profile sports. When I do, regardless of who I’m shooting for, I imagine my work will be scrutinized by the extraordinary sports photographers and editors I’ve worked with over the years. It keeps the pressure on to not only shoot well, but stay alert and THINK about what I’m doing — what’s the story of the game, what pictures do I have, and what I still need?
This past Saturday, thanks to the fine people at UNH and CU who helped me secure a photo pass, I shot the game for several departments at UNH.
Because UNH was my client, that was the “filter” thru which I ran all my decisions. I was part photojournalist and part UNH advocate.
That put me in a very different position from photographers like my friend Dave Zalubowski (a shooter for the Associated Press in Colorado) who had to transmit a selection of his game photos before halftime (to meet East coast publication deadlines), and those pictures needed to work with whatever the final narrative of the game turned out to be. That’s a tough gig.
There are many many ways to shoot sports, just as there are with any other type of photography. For this game, I took a storytelling approach, same as always, BUT I freely admit I spent a big chunk of my time photographing action … largely because it’s a great workout for my photo reflexes and an opportunity I get all too infrequently.
Hmmm…that last part sounds a lot like whining, doesn’t it? Guess I’m just going to have to find more opportunities to get out there to shoot sports!
p.s. - I can’t wind up this post without saying how much fun it was to wear my 38-year-old UNH shirt t-shirt and root for my beloved UNH, even while my son and daughter were in the stands pulling for the Buffs (my son is a freshman at CU!). Score aside, it was a hard-fought game. All blue-blooded Wildcat fans can be proud of the noble effort our team put forth. Well done, boys!
Remember that song “I’ve Got To Use My Imagination” by Gladys Knight + The Pips? There’s a line in the song: “Gotta make the best of a bad situation.”
It’s amazing how many good photos are the result of making the best of a bad situation.
In my picture editing days at the Rocky Mountain News, I had the great pleasure of working with a staff of sensational photographers who went out every day and made the best of bad situations - bad situations that I was often responsible for putting them in. Many of those situations started with the phrase, “Yes, I know nothing is going on where I’m sending you, but this photo will be going on tomorrow’s section front so we really need something great.”
For those of you who are unfamiliar with newspaper photography, you’d be shocked at how many great pictures in each day’s paper start with a photographer being sent out to “make the best of a bad situation.”
For me, the “bad situation” that led to this photo came from me misreading my daughter’s text message about when to pick her up from the high school soccer game she was at.
Having shown up about an hour early, my choices were either to sit in my car and play Hearts, Spades, Backgammon and Sudoku on my phone for an hour or wander around City Park making sunset photos. I never get tired of Colorado sunsets, so I chose to get out and wander.
I had high hopes because I’d been watching the late day sky for about an hour and expected some great picture opportunities to present themselves. They didn’t.
Walking back to my car … head down and shoulders slumped, with little to show for my hourlong walkabout … I strolled past this scene!
My dad was fond of saying two things:
Things are rarely ever as good as they seem. But, they’re also rarely as bad as they seem. - and -
Half the battle is just showing up (or, in this case, just getting out of the car).
Last night reminded me of how true both of those pearls of wisdom can be.
It was mid-October 1989 and I was wrestling with a decision to withdraw from a photojournalism workshop in which I'd invested roughly a thousand dollars, but for which I was wildly under-prepared and decidedly under-qualified.
I’d driven 17 hours from Boston to Albany, KY to learn what photojournalism was all about, only to find out the workshop I'd enrolled in was for photographers who already knew what photojournalism was all about.
At the end of the first day, feeling completely overwhelmed, I spent 3-4 hours deliberating whether to stay or leave. There were many reasons supporting a decision to leave, but only these two things supporting a decision to stay: I really wanted to learn about photojournalism, and I really didn’t want to get back in my car and drive those 17 hours back to Boston (at least not yet).
Around 3am, I rationalized my decision to stay with this one thought, “I’ll never see these people again so what’s the worst that can happen? I’ll learn some things that’ll help me take great pictures of my friends and family.”
As it turned out, that week changed the course of my life.
And, ironically, of all the things I've photographed since that workshop, the photographs I've made of my family are, indeed, the ones I covet most of all.
This past week, I added to that collection when my son Ryan moved-in to his college dorm at the University of Colorado in Boulder. They are simple storytelling images, but they’re good pictures, and they move forward the most meaningful story in my life. I hope you enjoy them.
Not all my rationalizations have worked out this well (in fact, some have been downright disastrous!), but I can say without hesitation this particular rationalization has a hallowed place in my Rationalization Hall of Fame!
My daughter caught this moment of grace while we were on vacation at my dad’s house in Eastern Long Island (that’s yours truly, mid-dismount).
I saw Colleen had grabbed my camera during my athletic exhibition, so when I climbed back aboard my brother’s boat I asked if she'd gotten anything good.
“Yeah … and I think I got a good one of you falling,” she said.
A GREAT one, I’d say - in moment, light, and composition! In fact, what would you change? Board is askew. Wake is churning. Water is flying Action caught at peak moment. Fun expression. And you have to love the ski line! Even the sense of place.
It’s a complete photograph that will be enjoyed indefinitely because it transcends the mechanics of photography and brings you in to the moment itself.
Are there more flattering shots of me shredding it on my aircraft-carrier-sized board? Yes (but barely). But they all pale by comparison because they would elicit little from anyone who isn’t immediately interested in a photograph of me wake surfing - in spite of the massive audience that likely is. ;-)
Was it a lucky shot? Most great action shots are. The more important question is “was it deliberate?” And that answer is clearly yes!
It was fun watching Colleen take an interest in photography during our trip. With all the tech out there these days that REMOVES people from the moment, the act of photography remains something that draws us IN to the moment. For me, that is one of the greatest gifts photography offers us all.
One of the really fun and satisfying things about photography is how varied and personal a pursuit it is.
We’re all drawn to and moved by different things, and that’s something you want to channel into your photography. It’s often said that photographs are as much about the photographer as they are about the content of the photograph.
This image was something that made me smile on my way to catch a flight at Denver International Airport…so I spent 3 minutes exploring a few different ways to capture this scene. Now, as you look at this, are you getting a feeling about who I might be as a person? I hope so.
I find there are two barriers to really enjoying and to improving as a photographer. The first is not being open to all the things going on and how they are affecting how you feel. Take it ALL in. Editing is something you do after you shoot. While you’re out with your camera, spend less time judging and more time making pictures. Photograph whatever moves you.
The second barrier is fear of embarrassment…as if someone is going to judge you for what and/or how you choose to photograph something or someone. Who knows? Maybe someone will. To that, let me just offer, “…and so what if they do?”
I’ve chosen not to photograph things because I let fear get the better of me and I always regret it. Embarrassment is temporary. A photograph you have forever.
So, the next time you’re out photographing — being more open and stepping thru your fears — remember that worthwhile photos aren’t always about the WOW things in life. Sometimes they’re just simple things that make you think , “Huh…look at that.” Like a smiley face on a metal plate hanging from a wire over a roadside barrier.
In all the years I’ve lived in Denver, and known about the rock climbing people do in Eldorado Springs (up near Boulder), I’d never made the time to go up there. This last week, while my girlfriend Elizabeth was here, I suggested we head up to check it out. It’s a beautiful state park and, sure enough, there were rock climbers everywhere I looked. There is also a sweet little creek running thru the canyon, so I made an attempt at a slow-shutter photograph of one section of it. Not having a tripod, I wasn’t able to get a particularly long exposure, but this one at 1/6 of a second got some of the feeling I was after. If you’re up in the Boulder area, and looking for a nice place to hike, I’m putting this on my highly-recommended list!
Towards the end of a workshop about composition I was teaching at Union Station last weekend, we got to talking about news photography and storytelling. I’d be rambling on for a couple of minutes when my girlfriend's voice popped into my head, “Give them examples, dummy!” (Ok…in her defense, I added the “dummy” part). So I stopped and asked, “What would you photograph if you were asked for a picture to go with a story about the hot weather we’re having?” Kids playing in the fountains was the unanimous choice. With our subject decided, we were reviewing how to make compelling compositions of the scene when the question arose, “But what if the kids aren’t playing where the best composition is?” My obvious response, “That’s what praying is for.”
In my photo workshops, I talk about looking for patterns in the way you photograph as a means of discovering if you are in a creative rut, or just need to expand the way you’re looking at the world. To those ends, when you a picture presents itself, go ahead and photograph it in whatever way first comes to mind. Then ask yourself, “what else can I do with this?”
In early August, I was in New York City with family thinking about things my kids might enjoy. It occurred to me that, in all the times I’d been in NYC, I’d never been for a ride on the Staten Island Ferry. So, off we went.
It’s a nice ride out into New York harbor. You get a fantastic view of the south end of Manhattan, the route passes by Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, and off in the distance is the Verrazano bridge.
As we came by the Statue of Liberty, everyone was taking pictures, of course…including me. It hit me that I wasn’t really doing anything especially interesting with how I was photographing it. So I stopped and just looked at what was happening and waited for something to inspire me.
I noticed Lady Liberty was reflecting in a window behind me...and so was I! I'm so rarely in our family pictures that I thought it'd be fun if I could turn this into a decent picture.
After a couple of minutes of looking and waiting, this girl walked up near the window. Definitely better, but there was so much glare you could barely see her.
Then...I just got lucky. The photo gods reached down, put a woman with dark hair in just the right place, for just enough time, that I was able to make this picture. One image, and then it was gone.
It’s completely valid to make whatever the “obvious” picture might be for you, when you’re out photographing. I do. If you enjoy photography, though, don’t let your efforts end there. Stop. Take a breath. Then ask yourself, “What else?”
A woman tapped me on the shoulder as I was working at one of my satellite offices (i.e., local coffee shop).
"Is that Lightroom? I just bought a camera and I'm trying to figure out what kind of software to buy to make my pictures look better."
I'm such a bad person to ask this question to because I get all nerdy and fly off on ridiculous tangents when all someone who asks this probably wants is just a simple answer.
I'm a big advocate for all things simple, so I'm going to narrow the choices to the two leading photo software tools - Photoshop & Lightroom (both products of Adobe).
Here's my simple answer.....buy Lightroom. More specifically, now that Adobe has gone to a subscription model for all it's software , you will be looking for Lightroom CC (part of Adobe's Creative Cloud suite of products).
Lightroom CC is $10/month, it's fantastic software and simple to learn. Adobe has tons of quality tutorials on Adobe.com. Plus, there are in the vicinity of a billion tutorial videos on YouTube to help you on any LR question imaginable, Adobe updates it regularly, and just keeps getting better.
I'm very proficient at both Photoshop and Lightroom and Photoshop is definitely a more powerful tool. But, considering I spend at least 80% of my production time in Lightroom, if I could only have one tool - Photoshop or Lightroom, I'd choose Lightroom. I would miss the things Photoshop can do that Lightroom can't, but I'd miss the speed, simplicity and presentation options in Lightroom.
If you get serious about your photography, you will eventually add Photoshop to your photo software toolbox...and all kinds of third-party plug-ins, as well (we photographers love our toys!). Until then, dig in - and go deep - learning all the things you can do with Lightroom CC (and there is a LOT). I promise, you won't regret it. :-)
My career started as a result of instruction and inspiration I received at a photography workshop. It's nearly 30 years later and I'm launching photo teaching workshops of my own. Find out about some of the workshops we're working on - CLICK HERE.
Let us know which one - or ones - you'd like to see offered first. And, definitely share ideas about things you'd like to learn. We're putting together a whole new site devoted to photo education and the more input we receive, the more valuable we can make the site. So don't be shy!
Every summer, my extended family gathers in Long Island for a week of summer fun. It’s a perennial tradition that was incredibly important to my mother, and is now incredibly important to us all.
Life moves quickly, in all directions, and the great joy of this year’s reunion will settle back in our memories until next March rolls around, when the bristling begins as we fight thru the hassle of coordinating and planning the coming summer’s get-together.
Then, mid-summer 2017, the time will arrive when we’re together again to laugh and share in each other’s company — and, most significantly, to punctuate how much we NEED this too-short, too-infrequent time together…and be reminded how lucky we are to have the gift of family.
I teach two photojournalism classes and like to think I’m pretty easy-going, understanding & forgiving. There’s one excuse for not handing in an assignment, though, that just doesn’t fly…and shouldn’t. Any guesses? YES, exactly! “There was nothing to shoot.” Reading from the tattoo that all photojournalists are given by their first picture editor: “There is ALWAYS something to shoot!” It was in that spirit that I took the collection of pictures accompanying this post. None of these was what I intended to shoot when I headed out this morning. But, when the “best laid plans” go awry, well…what’s a guy to do?! So, here’s what came out of my Plan B efforts. Oh, side note to any of my students who might be reading this: all these photos were made in just over an hour and within a few blocks of where I parked. :–)
Cormorant delivering a stick to its nest at Duck Pond in City Park, Denver, Colorado March 26, 2015. Copyright Mark T. Osler. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.Read More
Like his images, Nachtwey's Lifetime Achievement Award (from ASME) acceptance speech is concise, powerful and important.
If you've got an extra minute, once you've watched, reflect on what he has to share. If you have longer, there are other links on the page worth exploring.
A LOOK BACK ON THE CAREER OF JAMES NACHTWEY: http://ti.me/1Dq4SQE LIFE AFTER WAR - PHOTOS FROM WALTER REED HOSPITAL: http://time.com/3595931/life-after-war-james-nachtweys-photographs-from-walter-reed/ THE ROHINGYA, BURMA'S FORGOTTEN MUSLIMS: http://lightbox.time.com/2014/07/10/rohingya-burmas-forgotten-muslims/#1
I found myself yesterday with a little extra time on my hands down in Colorado Springs. It had been a long time since I’d paid a visit to Garden of the Gods, but wasn’t sure I wanted to go thru the hassle of getting my camera weather-ready. I hadn’t planned on doing any shooting, but what else was I going to do with three hours?Read More
My daughter's school went into lockdown today after a weapon was apparently found in the high school that shares the middle school building. I drove by to see how serious it was. Not much going on when I arrived. Not sure if it was more active before I arrived. I was just getting ready to pull out to pick up my son at his school when I got pinned in by an ambulance and fire truck...uggghh! So, figured since I was stuck there, I might as well do something useful. This is certainly not much of a news photo...largely because it wasn't much of a news event. Still, it's the first even semi-news photo I've taken in...geez, a while (to be specific) :–)
In the photo are the first two non-official people to leave the building after the lockdown was lifted, along with a Denver police officer in the foreground. Thought I'd share because...well, just because!
Last Friday, we woke up here in Denver to a thin sheet of ice on everything. I didn't get the picture of me wiping out on the stairs as I came out of my house -- THAT would have been a picture! I did, though, get this fun little shot. Not quite as effective as aspirin for my poor aching body...but it was some consolation! Happy New Year all!