Pranksters Create Divinely Inspired Photo Series

Photo courtesy of The Buffalo News

Don't you hate it when you love a movie that your friends could care less about? Delicatessen by Jean-Pierre Jeunet is like that for me. For years, I've been trying to turn my friends on to that amazing film with little success. It's for this reason that I was overjoyed when Amelie (from the same director) became a big hit in America. It was a real pleasure sitting in the packed Landmark Century theater and laughing so hard that I cried when Amelie's dad received the photos of his garden gnome's travels around the world.

I wasn't the only one who liked the idea of taking an object on a photo excursion. Travelocity ripped off the garden gnome idea for their ads, and very recently, you may have heard about The Baby Jesus Chronicles, a prank-turned-art project that gets my vote for "Most Creative Photo Series of The Year."

On December 23rd, 2005, John and Joan Leising of Buffalo, NY discovered the baby Jesus statue missing from the nativity scene in their front yard. In its place was a note saying that the statue would be returned in three days. Eight months later, the baby Jesus returned to the Leisings with a note and a photo album that told the story of his adventures. The note said
"We are simply a group of young adults who wished to show the baby Jesus a better life than he would have seen cooped up in an attic crawl space. He has traveled over counties and states, met people and animals alike. We have done our best to show the baby Jesus the many glorious aspects of our world."

Baby Jesus camping

Baby Jesus riding a bike

I don't advocate stealing, but I'm fascinated by how these pranksters created something interesting out of such mundane photos. It challenges me to think about how I can make my photos more interesting by telling a story.

The note went on to say:
"The baby Jesus has made us happy at numerous times in the past eight months, so we hope the chronicles of his life with us can pass some of that happiness on to you."

Baby Jesus making brownies

Read the full story here.

Do You Want To Know What IT Is?

Morpheus asking Neo that ominous question was what I heard echoing in my head after learning about a completely different kind of photo software called Photosynth. According to the press release, "Photosynth takes a large collection of photos of a place or an object, analyzes them for similarities, and displays the photos in a reconstructed three-dimensional space, showing you how each one relates to the next. In these collections, you can access gigabytes of photos in seconds, view a scene from nearly any angle, find similar photos with a single click, and zoom in to make the smallest detail as big as your monitor."

Looking at this remarkable technology reminded me of a science magazine article I read in the early 90's that predicted virtual reality technology would be commonly used by the mid 2000s. Well I'm no prognosticator, but it's almost 2007 and I'm still typing this blog entry on a physical keyboard when I'd rather be composing on the virtual terminal that Keanu Reeves used in Johnny Mnemonic or the one that Tom Cruise used in Minority Reporty.
What the heck happened? The closest I get to virtual reality these days is browsing past the want ads for virtual tour real estate photographers. Umm...thanks, but no thanks!

I'm not a video game player, but I appreciate the technological advances that the industry pushes forward. But I guess there isn't yet a large enough number of people willing to fork out the dough for a computer that can handle the processing needs of virtual reality technology (though I think the new Wii game system is a step in that direction). Fortunately, we won't have to wait long to enjoy Photosynth, an imaging program that will allow us to visually explore our photos in a way that goes slightly beyond the two dimensional constraints of our existing technolgy. What really bakes my noodle is that the photos of hundreds of people can be combined into a virtual construct. I won't try to explain it beyond that. Morpheus said it best- "No one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself."

You can learn more about Photosynth (and start creating some!) here. In the meantime, I'm going to work out my strategy for creating three dimensional portraits!

Does 0 + 1 = Art?

ASCII conversion courtesy of text-image.com

I recently became thoughtful at first hearing the news that there exists a robot that has been painting for the past 20 years. According to the PBS.org website, "AARON
mixes its own paints, creates striking artwork and even washes its own brushes." This revelation reminded me of my initial trepidation about digital photography back in 1991.

I was in college and deeply involved in my photography classes. I was producing more work than I ever had previously. I had even started tutoring other classmates in the use of the darkroom. It was during this slightly elitist period in my photographic career that I first learned of the emergence of digital photography, a bizarre melding of art and computer science that dared to replace film
with 0s and 1s. Without exception, every photography student who got involved in the conversation of this new technology swore they'd NEVER use a digital camera. I wonder if we would have more clearly realized the world we were living in had we known that AARON existed, and that it already had several years of experience in creating art? It's 15 years later, and I'd love to track all those former classmates down to take a poll of what camera they're currently shooting!

It's feasible that several of those photography students stayed with film. The 35mm SLR camera body that I paid $1000 for in 2001 can now be purchased for $500. But economics isn't the deciding factor for many photographers. Most of the serious photographers I know do not shoot for money, they shoot for the love of it, and this is what brings me back to AARON the painting robot. The first question I asked when learning about AARON is "Why?" Why would someone create a robot for the purpose of creating art? This news was especially timely because I'm currently listening to an audiobook called "Lead the Field" by Earl Nightingale. One of the more memorable quotes is when the author recounts hearing someone say "scientists are happier than artists because scientists are regularly involved in objective tasks while artists are usually staring at their navel."

So here I am, once again trying to make sense of the marriage between art and science. When I was 19, I lacked the perspective to appreciate the valuable benefits that digital photography would offer me. Right now, I'm having a hard time appreciating the value of a painting robot. Can a robot create art? Is digital photography as valid an art form as film photography? I don't know these answers, but I have a hunch that there's something very profound hiding in our endless pursuit to do things differently.
Photo courtesy of littlelostrobot.com

To learn more about AARON, click here.

Use Photography to Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

You may have heard about the new Nicole Kidman and Robert Downey Jr. movie "Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus" I haven't seen it, though I'm a fan of both the main actors and Diane Arbus. My photography teacher in college used to show us slide shows of Arbus' work. I used to wonder what it was like for her to visit all of those seedy places in order to create her famous portraits. I've been to a couple of seedy places in the name of getting an interesting photo (check out my "Goth Prom" folder for an example), but I certainly don't intend to make a career of it. However, I do see the value in using photography to get out of your comfort zone. The boy in the picture above is a great example.

On the day that I was photographing a wedding at Glastonbury Woods in Indiana, I saw this boy run out of a bathroom crying. He was going to wash his hands when he saw a large spider crawling around the sink. God bless his father, because after he calmed his son down a little, he went back into the bathroom with him and snapped a photo of the spider. The little boy carried around that camera for at least an hour to show everyone how brave he was. The next time he sees a spider, I wonder if he's less likely to be scared, now that he has a positive association. Similarly, I'm less likely to be wary of young people dressed in black with spikes and dark eye makeup because I had such a fun time photographing them. Can you think of something that puts you on edge that you might be able to get a better handle on by taking a picture of it?

"But I thought she was a ____?"



Amy Aiello is different things to different people. When I work with her, she's a videographer. When I'm out shooting for fun, she's a fellow photographer. But there's an Amy I don't even know, even though it's probably the most important part of her - she's a pianist, and as the video above shows, a very talented one.

I've never heard Amy perform before. I just watched this video a minute ago for the first time, and I was reminded of the people I know who think that a person is only capable of having one talent (if that). Sometimes when I tell people about the success I've enjoyed as an internet marketer (for example, generating $15k+ for a spa business with a $0 ad budget), a couple of people have responded by saying "But I thought you were a photographer?" I often get the same response when I tell people that my wife is a web designer, a soapmaker, a photographer, a graphic designer, an amazing cook, and much more. "But I thought she was a ____?"

Maybe it's a result of the distraction-filled society we currently live in, or the fact that most Americans define themselves by their occupation, but there's a lot of people who think that 1 talent is enough. Amy clearly disagrees with that idea, and her life is so much richer as a result. To see some photographic examples of her rich talent, click the lovely abstract below.

Bill Gates Is My Co-Pilot


It's 10 degrees in Chicago today, but I feel warm and fuzzy all over. Why? Because Microsoft's search engine has chosen this website as #1 for the keyword phrase "photographer chicago". Woohoo! You'll notice in the screenshot above that there are 3 paid listings above me, but mine is the #1 organic listing. It's important to note that organic listings are clicked on far more than paid listings. [FYI- It's purely coincidental that my website name is organicphoto.com and the search engines call their free listings "organic."]

"Photographer Chicago" isn't just a random phrase that sounded clever to me at the time. Photographer Chicago is the search term that is used most often when people are looking for a photographer in Chicago. How do I know this? Because when I'm not on a photo shoot, I'm studying internet marketing so that I can market my photography business more effectively. I bought a software tool that shows you exactly what people are searching for. I thought "Chicago pro photographer" or "Chicago wedding photographer" would be more commonly searched phrases, but photographer chicago was way ahead of every other search term.

I mentioned in a previous post ("Even Santa Claus is getting hip to blogging") that the search engines love blogs. However, most people still haven't figured this out. Many people have questioned my logic in changing organicphoto.com from a typical artist website that focuses on me me me, into a blog with photography articles that focus on you you you. The results speak for themselves. This website gets WAY more traffic today than it did a year ago. The reason is simple. The search engines are looking for fresh content and you are looking for information (as opposed to self-promotion).

Now while it's true that the search engines are looking for images (as demonstrated by Google's Image Search Engine), written content is far easier to "spider" and is generally more effective than images. This idea runs contrary to the saying "a picture is worth a thousand words", but consider the fact that just a few years ago, graphic banner ads were the most common form of online advertising. Banner ads quickly became such a nuisance that we learned to avoid them completely. Are images more effective than text ads? Just look at Google's annual revenues from AdWords ($5 billion the last I heard) and it's obvious that words are more effective than images when it comes to advertising.

I never thought that being a photographer would lead me into writing, but I guess it's not so far of a stretch when you consider the fact that
the word "photography" comes from two Greek words: "phos", meaning "light" and "grapho", meaning "to write." Photography's root meaning is "to write with light." A "photographer" then would be "one who writes with light."

C
an you talk a person's ear off about the subject you're most passionate about? Well that's how I am with photography, so it's certainly no hardship to write these blog posts. You can do the same thing. Creating fresh and relevant content is a surefire way to get the word out about your business, hobby, passion, etc. Of course there are many other marketing strategies that complement blogging, but blogging is a free, easy and effective way to get started in internet marketing.

Here are a few of my other 1st page search engine victories:

1. How to be a freelance photographer
2. Professional portrait photographers Chicago IL
3. Photographer
4. How to be a great photographer
5. Meaningful pictures
6. Photos amazing
7. Where to get professional pictures taken in Chicago
8. How do you put videos on Blogger

Where do Chicago photographers go to get immortalized?

Photo by Thomas Marlow

It's one of those unbelievably simple ideas that make me wonder "Why didn't I think of that?" Take pictures of people and put them on display in a prominent place, in this case, the Grand and State Red Line Subway station in downtown Chicago. A giant mural will be created by printing each photo in glass tile that will stretch across the wall of the train station. Thomas Marlow has set a goal of photographing 15,000 people for his Chicago Street Studio Project. Since July, Marlow has been setting up his portable studio in different high-traffic locations around the Chicago metropolitan area to capture real Chicagoans in the midst of their day. Visit Chicago Street Studio Project to learn more.

It's going to take quite some time for Marlow to reach his goal, so today Bobby and I are going to do our part by going to the O'Hare blue line stop where Thomas is currently set up. If you want to know where you can have your visage eternally memorialized in glass tile, click here for Thomas' schedule. Click here to see the many excellent portraits on his website.

p.s. We just got back from Thomas' studio near the Blue Line stop at O'Hare and I just have to say that it was a pleasure to meet such a gifted portrait photographer. I was fortunate to be in line behind a couple people, because I got to see how Thomas made people feel comfortable and "cut loose" in the span of only a few minutes. If that wasn't enough, he gives everyone a free print of their best photo! This is a tremendous opportunity to have your portrait taken by a talented artist while also contributing to a significant community art project.

Don't be Afraid to Get Your Feet (and your camera) Wet!

I'd like to take a moment to compare photography to a long-term investment and draw a conclusion based on that comparison. If you've ever turned down a great picture opportunity, you may find today's blog post to be thought-provoking.

When starting out in photography, the initial investment capital is applied toward the purchase of equipment, and the ongoing investment is your time spent taking pictures. The more pictures you create, the more you are diversifying your portfolio and maximizing the return on your investment.

My point is that photographs have value. You can call it sentimental or historical value or whatever. Photographic technology allows us the opportunity to capture and share moments that would otherwise be lost in the passage of time. I think too many people are fixated on the value of their camera instead of the value of the photos that are created with that camera. As a result, many people pass up valuable opportunities to create photos because they're more concerned about the camera than the photo. Sunday was a good example. My wife and I drove 2 hours to Polo, IL to watch her son ride his dirtbike.

I videotaped Bobby four years ago when he was riding a bicycle with training wheels, so needless to say, I was very excited to see him ride a dirtbike for the first time. I brought my best camera equipment (of course). The problem is that there was mud flying around in all the best spots. I had a choice, do I play it safe and put away the camera, or do I make a deposit into my investment fund?

This is the way I see it, if I only shot the "safe" pictures, most of my photos would be boring and I would have wasted my investment in equipment. But every time I get a shot I'm happy with, it's like receiving a big fat dividend check. After 17 years of shooting, my investment has paid off handsomely. It doesn't matter to me if I accidentally break my camera, because the better photos I've created have paid me far more than the cost of the camera. That may sound like a bunch of highfalutin rhetoric, but when all of my camera and video equipment was stolen a couple years ago, it was the home movies that I grieved for the most. It's not that I don't value my camera equipment. After all, I am a professional photographer and my equipment is what I use to earn a living. What I'm saying is that fear of damage to my equipment usually isn't a deterrent to me capturing a photo.

Another example is when I jumped into Lake Michigan with a camera to snap pictures of my cousin with his new boat.
Instead of going the easy route of having a blank blue sky behind him, I wanted the dramatic Chicago skyline in the background, so getting in the lake was the logical thing to do. (I'll have to ask my cousin for a copy of that photo so I can post it here.)

You can see the rest of the dirtbike photos by clicking here.

Even Santa Claus is getting hip to blogging

Image courtesy of web.net

It sounds like the punchline to a joke, but it's true - I had an interview with Santa Claus yesterday. He's making an appearance at the Chicago Thanksgiving Parade and is looking for a capable photographer to document the event. As you can see from browsing my photos, I'm a big fan of unique photo opportunities, so I had to apply for the gig because being Santa's little paparazzi elf for a day definitely qualifies as unique!

It was like a scene out of one of my more surreal dreams - here I am sitting across the table from the 6'6" 315lb bearded icon himself, and we're talking about blogs. Santa was curious about why I have a blog instead of a website. I explained to him that I wasn't happy with the traffic from my old website, and after attending an internet marketing seminar earlier this year, I learned that the search engines love sites with fresh content. This was the opposite of what I had been doing - throwing up a bunch of photos with almost no text. Now that I have a blog with lots of articles, I get far more traffic and the quality of that traffic is far better because you and all of the visitors here get to know me personally by reading my blog posts and checking out the flickr page and myspace page . As a result, I don't have to "sell" myself as hard anymore - most of that work is done for me.

However, it seems that I have a slight problem in the image department. Before we met yesterday, Santa saw my photos and thought I was some kind of strange artist-type. For the first time, I wondered what impression my photos make on the people who've never met me. Would you post a comment to let me know what YOU think?

p.s. I just got a phone call - Santa picked me! Let's hope he doesn't check his list twice this year, because I'm pretty sure I've been naughty! Be sure to check
my flickr page to see the photos.

How to put videos on a blog or website

A few people have asked me how I put video on my blog, so I recorded this short video to show anyone how to do it.

If you're looking for the fastest, easiest and cheapest way to put your videos online, Google Video and a blog is definitely the way to go. This short tutorial will show you how it's done. I also show how to put video on a website.

One of the great benefits of using Google's free video hosting service is that your video (and accompanying text) is indexed by the most popular search engine in the world. Since I use Blogger (Google's free blog service), I get the added benefit of having my blog entries indexed on Blogger's search engine, as well as Google.com. This all adds up to more people finding you.

I made the video brief to get people started with vlogging (video blogging) fast. If you have any questions, just post a comment and I'll be happy to help.

A resource a highly recommend for those interested in web video is Ken McCarthy's video blog. Ken has had his finger on the pulse of the internet since before it began, and he focuses on how businesses can benefit from internet trends like web video. I recently did some camera work for a video that Ken produced for his System Seminar. This highly respected seminar teaches business owners the most effective strategies in internet marketing. You can watch the video here.

Aurora Borealis at a sky near you?

Photo courtesy of Mike Hollingshead
In 2000, shortly after the Y2K scare, I helped a friend move from Wisconsin to her old home in Alaska. She has two children, so a road trip was out of the question. I had the time available, so I drove her car from Kenosha to Anchorage. It was a 4-day trip I'll never forget. Perpetual sunlight is something everyone should experience. I've been a city boy my whole life, so seeing young bears running across the road and a moose hanging out in the backyard was a mind-bending experience. The air around Anchorage smelled like flowers everywhere I went. Nature takes advantage of the few weeks of warm weather by going in fast-forward. I swear I could see the grass growing!

Since it was early in the year, I was bummed to be missing the Northern Lights. But thanks to a random google search I did this morning, I just discovered that the Northern Lights are closer to home than I realized. From SpaceWeather.com:
"Contrary to popular belief, you can photograph auroras in places like California and Florida about once a year. The trick is knowing when to look. (2) September, October and November are consistently the best months to see auroras. Why? It's a bit of a mystery."

The fact that I lived my whole life without knowing till now that I could witness nature's best light show makes it a little more clear just how rich this world is with diverse beauty. Makes you want to go grab your camera, doesn't it?

Tornado-making at Burning Man

My grandpa used to always say, "If it's not hot enough in the kitchen, go outside and spin fire into a tornado."

I hope I made you proud grandpa!

You've got to shoot while the fire is hot!

We've all said it at one time or another - "I wish I had my camera!" Lord knows I've said it more times than I care to admit. Hockey champion Wayne Gretzky said it best - "You miss 100% of the shots you never take."

Making a point of carrying a camera with you doesn't just make it possible to capture an important photo opportunity, it also trains your subconscious mind to be on the lookout for opportunities.
Many people carry cameraphones with them everywhere, but I think a person still needs to use it regularly as a camera in order to train their mind to be vigilant for photo ops. When I make a point of carrying a camera with me, I'm often rewarded with photos that I would never have thought to seek out, such as the surreal image of the campfire above. The opposite is also true. If you think that carrying around a camera is too much of a bother, you're instructing your subconscious mind to ignore photo opportunities.

Many people have told me that I have a good eye, but in my opinion, all I've done is take a fledgling interest in photography and turn it into an ongoing practice of looking for and capitalizing on the many opportunities that surround us. Anyone can develop an eye for good photos if they want to.

Many of my best pictures were taken with a compact camera, so if anyone tells you that you need pro equipment to shoot great pictures, don't believe it. Terry Richardson is a pro photographer who gets paid very well to shoot famous celebrities and models. Terry's camera of choice? Cheap snapshot and disposable cameras! Terry says "Y
ou can't give your photograph soul with technique. I want my photos to be fresh and urgent. A good photograph should be a call to arms. It should say, 'Now.' The time is ripe. Come on."

The opening statement of this blog is 100% true - taking the time to create meaningful photos is an investment that appreciates with time. After all, have you ever heard of someone who looked back over their life and had regret for taking too many pictures?

Do psychic photographers ever take a bad photo?

Photo courtesy of Costume Holiday House
I just found this fascinating ad for photography services from a photographer named Dorothy Perry.

Real Photos From a Psychic Photographer

I am a calm, easy-going local family and event photographer known for my beautiful, spontaneous shots of very personal life events. In 2005 this work awakened a psychic ability whose focus makes subtle, extremely different portraits and documentary of children, toddlers and the hard-to-photograph. Intuitive and psychic energy readings are also available by appointment.

Wow. That IS extremely different!

I'm familiar with some unusual areas of photography. I've heard of ghost photography (I posted a ghost photo in a previous entry). I've even heard of
aura photography. But I'd never heard of psychic photography before now. After reading Dorothy's ad, I wondered if she used her psychic ability to photograph things that children see in their imagination. My own imagination conjured images of children dancing with leprechauns and Sasquatch, so it was with some disappointment that I only found beautiful portraits of babies and children. Still, I think Dorothy should offer aura photography as an option.
Photo courtesy of auraphoto.com
I'm proud of my child photography, but Dorothy's ad inspired me to find an "extremely different" portrait of my own. In the process, I dug up an old photo that wasn't intended to be a portrait at all. I shot this one at O'Hare Airport in 1993.
This is the moving walkway leading to the United terminal. There are colorful neon lights lining the ceiling, and even the walls are lit up. The motion blur was caused by me holding the camera for about 1 second. If you look at the bottom center of the image, you'll notice eyes, nose and eyebrows. I did NOT do that. The image looks like a woman I went to college with, but she wasn't in the picture or anywhere on that roll of film, so double-exposure wasn't an option.

You'll notice the eyes look like they're either closed or looking down. Also interesting is the fact that you can see several small question marks near the center of the photo. This has a logical explanation (hand-holding the camera for about 1 second), but it's strangely appropriate considering the mysterious face. If you can help me figure out how this may have happened, I'd be grateful. And if you can show me how to do it intentionally, maybe I can give Dorothy some competition in the untapped psychic photography market!

[My poking fun at Dorothy isn't in any way intended as a personal slight. We're both freelance photographers trying to make a name for ourselves, and I wish her much success. I told her about this blog entry and she had a great sense of humor about it. You can see her photos here.]

Want better photos? Shred 'em to pieces!

I think we all learn a lot about photography by looking at how the people around us use cameras. My parents weren't into taking pictures, but whenever we went on vacation, I noticed when adults pulled out their cameras and what sort of things they took pictures of. Whenever I looked at a relative's photo album, I noticed they usually put a lot of background and a lot of headroom in their photos of people. The classic example is taking a vacation picture next to a scenic landscape or famous landmark that is much larger than the person in the picture, effectively dwarfing them. To make matters worse, the subject invariably stands far away from the camera which makes them look even smaller.

Photo courtesy of Michiko Walraven
I remember looking at so many photos like this and wondering why people were in the photo at all. I think people are the most interesting photographic subjects, so it never made sense that people would be put into a photo as anything other than a primary subject. I think part of the reason for this common practice was simple - most people used cameras without zoom lenses. They usually had a wide angle lens that pushed the foreground further away than our eye naturally perceives.

The average size of cameras with a zoom lens has been shrinking for many years, so I assume that zoom lenses have become the norm. This is important for several reasons. If a person has a zoom lens, they usually use it (if you think I'm wrong about this, please reply). That means people are now used to cropping their photos in-camera.


Another reason why cameras with a zoom lens are important is because they help to overcome a cultural handicap - the personal bubble. Something we rarely think about is the space around us that we feel comfortable in. The size of the space is different for every culture and depends largely on the relationship you have with the people in close proximity to you. When your personal space is breached by a person uninvited, discomfort sets in. You may remember a time when you entered someone's personal bubble and they backed away even though you had minty-fresh breath.

There's a fascinating
online dialogue that puts the American bubble at 2-3 feet. That may not seem like a lot when you're talking about snapping someone's picture, but if your camera has a wide angle lens, it can make your subject look like they're twice as far from you. Add a lot of distracting background and frame the person's head in the center of the picture (or lower), and you've probably got a photo with very little impact.

Back in college when I made my own prints in the darkroom, I was often criticized for cropping my photos. But for me, the decision to crop simply comes from wanting to emphasize the most interesting part of a photograph. Here's an example from a Chinese New Year parade:


What's the most interesting part of this photograph? The crowd? They're too far away. The drummers? Probably not, since you can't see their face. I think the most dynamic part of this photo is the drum and the drumstick.


Everyone was marching by quickly, but I knew I had to take another photo. By moving in and focusing on the drummer's hands and sticks, I cropped out everything that wasn't important (in this rare instance, it was the people), I created a photo with greater visual impact than the mish-mash of the previous photo.

Now that digital camera sales have surpassed film camera sales, the imaging software market has become very lucrative and competitive. While doing research for this blog entry, I came across a Microsoft research paper that details the work being done to create software that actually crops a photo based on where in the picture a person gazes most intently. Andy Warhol was nearly right with his famous prediction. In the future, we won't all be famous, but we will be great artists...so long as we have the right software!

Learning to look at light

Do you remember those anti-drug public service announcements on TV that encouraged teenagers to substitute drugs with music or skateboarding or underwater basket weaving? Well for me, photography is the anti-drug. The reason is simple. I've always been fascinated by light. Even before I got into taking pictures, I would notice changes in the light wherever I was. I think I'm more sensitive to light than most people because I notice things that I rarely hear people comment on.

When I was 19, I worked at Sears. The whole place had dim flourescent lights that made me feel depressed all the time. I had to quit after a couple months of it. A few years ago, I had an office job that required me to work at a computer all day. The CRT (cathode ray tube) monitor gave me headaches and made my left eye twitch for weeks, so I bought an LCD (liquid crystal display) monitor and the problems immediately went away.


On the positive side, I'm also aware of the constantly changing color and quality of natural light. I remember marveling at the white sunlight during my first trip to Disney World in the mid-'80s. After seeing the same color of light in places like the Canadian Rockies, Alaska, and even Chicago after a really good snowstorm, I wonder if the different color of sunlight is influenced by the pollution level. If you have some insight into that, please reply to this post.

My point in mentioning all this is to emphasize the importance of looking at light. When you think about it, most of what we look at is light bouncing off of objects. Songsforteaching.com has a fun little song that explains light propogation in more detail. Paying attention to the little differences in how light bounces off of everything will improve your photography more than anything else. For an easy example of this, take a picture of someone on an overcast day or in daylight when the sun is overhead. Now move to a shaded area and take another picture (if it's overcast, you'll have to go underneath something to really tell a difference). Which photo is more flattering?

Many photographers fail to notice the "racoon eyes" that a subject gets when they're photographed under the noon sun or an overcast sky. Compare this to the diffused lighting that a shady area provides. This desirable look can also be achieved by photographing your subject near a bright window. I typically bounce my flash off of ceilings or walls to get a similar result. This makes a world of diffence compared to firing a flash straight ahead, which is what every built-in flash does.

Bounced light maintains dimensionality (your subject looks 3D), but direct flash has a flattening effect that makes everything look two-dimensional- not always the best choice. If you do all of your shooting with a camera that only has a built-in flash but would like to benefit from bounced lighting, you can get a
slave flash with bounce capability that will fire at the same time your built-in flash fires. Get pro results without the expense (or weight) of pro equipment. It really is a great time to be a photographer!

Cameras: They're not just for photos anymore

Click the > button to watch the video
I love music. I also love taking pictures of people when they're doing something they're passionate about. So it's no surprise that I'm coo-coo for concert photography.

I spent the weekend at the Lollapalooza music festival in Chicago.
My buddy Randy was the grand prize winner in a Sony Playstation music video contest, so he got free passes to the festival for him and his friends. Lollapalooza didn't allow cameras with changeable lenses, but they did allow compact cameras, so I brought my trusty Nikon Coolpix 8700. The 8700 ended up being the best choice because it has 8x zoom and the option of shooting video. I ended up shooting more video than photos. If you saw a moment like the one above, which one would you choose?

If you've never put a video online, don't worry, this is very doable. I went to videos.google.com, created an account and uploaded the video. Once it's uploaded and has a page on google video, click the blue button that says "Email-Blog-Post to MySpace." A link will pop up just underneath it that says "Embed HTML." Just copy that html code and paste it into any website. Easy peezy lemon squeezy. I don't know html (which is why I love blogging), so I was happily surprised that I could handle this. Looks like I'll be doing some video blogging!

When is photography more than just photography?


To be a photographer, one must photograph. No amount of book learning, no checklist of seminars attended, can substitute for the simple act of making pictures. Experience is the best teacher of all. And for that, there are no guarantees that one will become an artist. Only the journey matters.

--
Harry Callahan

I have a special treat for you. My friend Thom Ayres is an unusually talented singer
who also has a knack for finding creative gems that most people don't know about. He really outdid himself when he suggested I check out a website called ashesandsnow.org. I strongly suggest you do the same, but only when you have a good long chunk of uninterrupted time to spend exploring a website that transcends any photography website you've ever seen. When I went there, I was so enthralled that I lost track of time.

After spending time at that website, I was completely on fire for making pictures. If you have the same response, and would like to share that fire with others, I'd like to share a great resource I recently came across. Meetup.com is a website that connects people with a wide range interests. I went to photo.meetup.com, typed in my zip code and found an active group of Chicago area photographers with whom I can pursue my passion for making pictures. Don't you just love the internet?

Limbo your way to better photos


daisy?, originally uploaded by rand_warren.

My buddy Randy and I go way back. We spent high school making lip synch music videos to Christian rock bands, recording improv psychedelic beatboxing, and interviewing a porterhouse steak that wore John Lennon sunglasses. With that in mind, it's no surprise that Randy and I enjoy a unique perspective.

Randy went on to become an accomplished video producer, but he also has an abiding passion for photography. His photos consistently wow me with the ability to find new perspectives in ordinary places. One of the things Randy excels at is transforming ordinary things into extraordinary images by shooting low to the ground, as exemplified by the gorgeous daffodil above.

Actually I take that back. The daffodil photo is gorgeous, but the image that I think exemplifies the power of shooting from a low angle is this photo:


I can’t stop smiling whenever I look at this photo. It’s obviously a special moment, especially the part about Lily smearing cake all over her face and in her eye, but Randy photographed this in a way that I bet you’ve never seen before. I call it the “cake cam.” The most interesting thing about Randy’s uncanny ability to find the gems hidden in low angles is that he’s 6 foot 8 inches tall!

I love shooting low angle portraits. I think it's often more flattering than shooting eye level or higher. I often come home sore from a wedding shoot because I’ve been in a squatting position for a good chunk of the day, but if someone as tall as Randy can get down low for a great shot, there’s no reason why we can’t give it a try.

The next best thing to visiting an alien planet

Macro photography is an endless amount of fun. Whenever I make time for it, the shooting goes too quickly and I'm bummed when it's time to leave. For years, I was frustrated by the prohibitive cost of macro lenses, but compact digital cameras are designed in such a way that they're great at shooting macros. Now I'm making up for lost time.

The fact of the matter is that you have a treasure trove of fascinating photos waiting for you to discover them, and the great thing is that you can find many of them by just walking around your neighborhood. The above photo from Teresita de la Torre is the best example that comes to mind. When I look at that photo, I feel like I'm watching one of those giant insect movies from the 1950s. Can't you almost hear the dramatic voiceover?

It's a tender moment between a husband and his wife. Sadly, the tenderness is short-lived as uncaring humans encroach on their happy abode, forcing them to desperate measures.

Photo courtesy of tradingcracks.com
For more photos of bug love, click here
Here's a fun idea, take close-up photos and ask people to guess what they are. You can throw them off the scent by offering alternate guesses. I'll go first:

Is it a 4th of July smokebomb? Is it dry ice pouring out from under a black hockey puck? Did I put a piece of glass over some chemistry project? Maybe it's one of NASA's new black hole photos?

It's never been easier or more inexpensive to create fascinating photos, so if you don't know how to engage the macro mode on your digital camera, I encourage you to pull that manual out and start shooting! If you want a good resource for making big prints of your little creations, check out mpix.com. You can upload your digital files and they'll mail your masterpiece in glorious color or black and white.

Turn your child into a superhero in 3 minutes

My fiance Tere and I are big sci-fi geeks. Tere's son Bobby is a sci-fi geek too. A recent example of Bobby's geekness is when he beat our 3-way tie in Star Wars Trivia Pursuit by knowing the name of the weapon that the rebels used to fire on the Empire at Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back (ion cannon). Like I said, we're sci-fi geeks.

For awhile, Bobby has been collecting Yu-Gi-Oh! trading cards. These strange Japanese cards combine a child's love for superheroes and baseball statistics by featuring bizarre creatures with varying strengths and weaknesses that are measured from 1-10. So when I found a fantastic site that has over a dozen different things you can do with your digital photos, I jumped at the chance to turn Bobby into a superhero. Just go to the trading card maker application, upload your photo and what text you want. Here's the one I made today:

This is another awesome tool for seeing your photos with fresh eyes. After trying out the trading card maker, don't be surprised if you and your child start strategizing photo shoots to create specific heroes and villains. As soon as Bobby saw his card, he started brainstorming what powers his mom and I will have when we make our own card. It's a fun way to engage your child's imagination while introducing them to the joy of photography.

Photogphobia: The dark side of media saturation

Illustration by msmasterpiece.com

Chris Rock makes many poignant observations in his standup acts. One of my favorites is when he noted that people in Rwanda don't suffer from lactose intolerance. The point made is that Americans have unusual problems as a result of overconsumption. I found an interesting parallel this morning when I was browsing the photographer wanted ads on craigslist.org. Here's what I found:

Fear of Photography
OK, I have a weird problem. I admit it. I am terrified of having a picture of myself taken. Video cameras, surveillance cameras, cell phone cameras. You name it, I hate it. I very nearly have a mental breakdown every 4 years when the drivers license is renewed. I haven't been out of the country in 10 years because I can't handle having a picture taken for a passport. I've left places that I paid to get into if I notice too many cameras around.

Now up until this point in my life I have just dealt with this and suffered silently but I am getting married next year.
I could just run down to city hall in my jeans and that would be the end of that, but I want to get dressed up and have a pretty outdoor ceremony. What is the point of doing all that if no one can take pictures? Plus, I'm the bride. What, am I going to tell people - they can take pictures of everything else but me? I need to resolve this problem asap. Does anyone know of a psychologist or psychiatrist who can help me? I'd love any sort of advice from someone with a similar problem or has dealt with this on a professional basis.

Brides and models pay me a lot of money to take as many pictures of them as possible, so it's a little mind-bending to consider someone actually being afraid of having their picture taken. I started doing research into the fear of photography and came across an interesting forum discussion on photography stealing a person's soul. I'd love to offer some helpful advice to this poor woman, but I'm at a loss. I considered the suggestion of using a long telephoto lens so there's some distance between her and the photographer. I also considered the idea of using a right angle adapter so that the camera wouldn't be pointed at her, but I have a hunch that those suggestions won't resolve what's at the core of her fear.

If you know of a resource that may be of a help, I'll gladly pass it on.

Can photography help us see God?

The first picture I remember taking was of a sunset over a baseball field. I was around 11 years old and I shot it with my mom's 110 camera back in the days of flash cubes and Photomats. The last pictures I took was of a U2 tribute band last night at an Irish Fest in Arlington Heights. Between the picture of that sunset and the pictures of Elevation, there are 23 years and 10s of thousands of photos. Maybe having a birthday yesterday caused me to be introspective, but I got to wondering, "why do I keep doing this?" By the end of the night, I remembered why.

Sometimes photography is a transcending experience for me. There are many times when I've lost my sense of time and place while taking pictures. Worries disappear. It's not something I can just call into being like a pizza delivery, it's just something that happens when I'm focusing intensely on taking pictures.

It happened last night under funny circumstances. I'd been on my knees for almost an hour so that I would be the same height as all the small children who were crowded around me at the front of the stage watching Elevation perform. I wasn't raised Catholic, so standing on my knees for that long is NOT something I'm used to. Despite that, and the fact that I was feeling so lazy last night that I almost didn't go, here I was snapping away while singing along at the top of my lungs. When Tere tapped me on the shoulder and said she was ready to go, I realized that I hadn't entertained a single thought the entire time I was shooting, even though I was in a very uncomfortable position.

I don't know if you've ever practiced meditation, but I have, and I find it impossible to let go of all my thoughts unless I'm in a sensory deprivation tank, so the fact that I spontaneously cleared my mind while surrounded by so much distraction is significant to me. What's more significant is that I always come out of those "meditations" with more energy and peace of mind than before I started. I guess it just goes to show that losing yourself in something as common as photography can facilitate the kind of experience that most religions aspire to.

Now if photography can just avoid the fragmentation that organized religion is plagued with. Can you imagine factions of ferocious film photographers fighting to maintain their power against the rise of digital photography? Hey, can't we all just get along?

Big Brother wants to stroke your ego


I came across a fascinating online service yesterday. Myheritage.com allows you to upload a photo of anyone and apply facial recognition software to compare your photo to a database of celebrities. The screenshot above is my fiance Tere with a similar pose from Audrey Hepburn. It's a 73% match.

Be careful where you do this because it can be addictive. I found myself frantically pouring through photos (I've nearly filled my 80GB hard drive!) to get a higher % match or duplicate the results with multiple photos. My celebrity matches included Richard Gere, Eric Idle and JK Rowling! I had to tell my buddy Randy about this and he wasted no time to upload a photo of his daughter.
This is a terrific exercise in seeing your photos with fresh eyes. Along similar lines, I was fortunate to come across an amazing DVD at the library called The Human Face. There are at least 10 reasons why everyone should watch this video, so just trust me when I tell you that you'll be thanking me for the recommendation!


Ode to Bokeh

Sometimes the only good enough reason to take a photo

is because of a love for life

and everything surrounding me in my life.

The beauty of nature and its serenity.

Ever since I have found out about bokeh,

I have loved my camera lenses more and more.

To have the ultimate control of how I capture a scene.

I am learning something new everyday!

I am grateful to everyone and everything

that inspires me to continue to take photographs!

Life is beautiful and life is good!

Technology makes every day Independence Day

When you think of Independence Day, it's unlikely that technology comes to mind, but I'd like to take this opportunity to remind everyone (including myself) about the technological freedom that we all enjoy today, specifically as it relates to photography.

We're all enjoying a Golden Age of sorts, where you can take a professional-quality picture with an inexpensive camera, see the results instantly and share the results with people all over the world within minutes of creating it. It was only a few years ago when we had no choice but to share our photos in person or through the mail. This was a huge challenge for newly married couples who wanted to share their wedding photos with all of their family and friends, but today I upload all of my digital photos to a website that will allow anyone to view them and order prints.

Remember taking your film to the photo lab and getting back prints where everyone looked purple or blue? How about keeping track of all those negatives? Now I upload my photos to a hard drive so big, it'll take me thousands of pictures to fill up (and you better believe I will!).

Technology is constantly making our lives easier, and when our lives get easier, we're more inclined to be creative. Photography is an ideal tool because it not only expresses creativity, it documents our life.

Now that technology has given us the freedom to express our unique personalities and document our lives in an unbelievably convenient and inexpensive fashion, there's little reason not to celebrate that freedom, but if you look at most family's photo albums, you're likely to see a pattern of diminishing effort: lots of baby pictures, then a gradual petering off to birthday parties, vacations, weddings, graduations and occasional parties. If I'm not capturing the life that happens in between those major events, I feel like I'm squandering my opportunity to memorialize the little and big events that make up my life and the life of my family. I've never met a person who had regrets about all the pictures they'd taken, but many people over the years have told me that they wish they'd taken more photos. You get a whole new perspective when you see your picture-taking as an expression of freedom.

"Help me help you!" (to create great wedding photos)

I love the movie Jerry Maguire. One of my favorite scenes involves the football player getting mad at his agent for not landing him a lucrative contract. In frustration, the agent shouts "Help me help you!" Every bride-to-be is like a pro football player. The lucrative contract that every bride wants is a successful wedding. I'd like to give brides-to-be a few ideas to ponder so you can help your photographer get great photos of your wedding and score a touchdown for your wedding album. If you'd like me to expand on any of the points, feel free to reply to this post or send an email.

1) Please don't rely on a wedding gift of photography or videography services from a relative or friend unless they have professional experience. I realize that I'm biased, but when I sit down to dinner with wedding guests, I often hear horror stories about wedding photographers, and everyone I talk to who relied on their dear uncle to photograph or videotape their wedding lived to regret it. If someone offers to take pictures or videotape, that's great, but don't rely solely on that. The risk of having an album full of mediocre (or worse) wedding photos isn't worth the money saved.

If you do have someone taking photos for you in addition to your pro photographer, please make sure everyone understands that the paid photographer is in charge. Over the years, I've had to wrestle with a couple of overzealous wedding guests who were blocking me from getting important shots because they thought their camera made them THE photographer. I think it's awesome that so many wedding guests take photos, but it becomes a problem when they hinder the photographer from doing their job.

2) The counterpoint to #1 is that you shouldn't assume that your photographer will "figure it all out." The more you talk with your photographer beforehand to plan out your wedding photos, the more you and your photographer will be thinking about how to create as many great wedding photos as possible. I guarantee that the few minutes spent planning beforehand will always result in better photos, and more of them.

3) Please try to have your cell phone with you or ask someone who will be traveling with you to carry one. A wedding is much like a stage production. All kinds of surprises can pop up and it's good to have a way to coordinate with people like your photographer. You can set the phone to vibrate so it doesn't disturb anything going on. Doing this allows you to be more spontaneous in where you go between the wedding and the reception. A recent example happened last week when the bride and groom planned to take pictures at Buckingham Fountain before finding out that the Taste of Chicago was still going on, making photos impossible. A quick phone call between the best man and I was all it took to quickly reroute to Navy Pier for some great pictures.

4) Please ask your DJ to make an effort at coordinating with your photographer.
Your DJ acts as your MC, and should be serving you by working with the photographer to make sure he or she is in place to capture your important memories. For example, if you have one photographer, he or she can't shoot formal portraits of the guests and the first dance photos at the same time. A quick announcement over the microphone that the bride and groom will be having their first dance not only helps your photographer, it alerts all of your guests who brought cameras and want to take pictures as well.

5) This is a minor point, but it's worth mentioning. Please consider your photographer and your guests (many of whom will bring cameras) when deciding the light level of the reception. When dancing starts, it's common for all the lights to get turned off and for only the DJ's colored lights to illuminate the room. This can be a challenge for the photographer to get great dancing photos. I love shooting dancing photos. It's the time when everyone finally lets their hair down and cuts loose. But it's not so easy to catch that priceless photo of grandma getting down on the dance floor when it's too dark to see what's going on.

Cameras vary in how quickly they focus in low light, but no matter what camera your photographer uses, the more light they have to work with, the better. I'm NOT suggesting that the lights be turned up all the way. I find that dimming the lights (instead of turning them off) not only helps a camera to focus quickly and accurately, but the ambient light also creates more depth in the photos, compared to the typical black background that's common with most indoor flash photos. If you've ever seen a movie set, you know that filmmakers use a LOT of light to create depth. They go to this trouble because depth is always more pleasing to the eye than the 2-dimensional flatness created by a well-lit foreground and a black background.

I want to be Jerry Maguire landing a big juicy contract for every wedding album I help to create. Every good wedding photographer wants the same. Please consider these ideas to help your photographer help you.




Getting 'up close and personal' for a great shot

I've been camping for the past couple days at Ottawa National Park in Michigan's breathtaking Upper Peninsula. This is the kind of place that begs the question, "What do I shoot?" We've had a light rain so everything is lush and glistening. It's the kind of place that a person can easily go shutter-crazy in, especially if you have a compact digital camera with a macro feature. If you haven't taken advantage of the macro feature on your camera yet, you're missing out on many great photo opportunities. When you see how much impact closeup photos have, you realize that you're often surrounded by great photos just waiting for you to unveil them.

Think about the vacation photos that your friends and family show you. I'm willing to bet that most of their photos are taken from a distance, with lots of distracting background. The classic example is a full-length photo of someone facing straight at the camera, often standing next to some historical marker or feature unique to that area. An example I saw yesterday is a waterfall. Most photographers stand WAAAY back to get lots of background in the photo. As a result, most vacation photos lack the 'umpf' that close-up photos offer.

If you think I'm wrong on this, let me give you an example and you tell me if you think this long far away shot of the waterfall...

...is more interesting than this closeup photo of the same waterfall.

My personal opinion is that the far away shot of the waterfall only serves to show that I was near a waterfall. That's not so valuable when you consider that I could have gone into the local gift shop and bought a similar photo that looks better than the one I took. I prefer my close up photo because it's dynamic and has more 'umpf'. You know 'umpf' when you see it, because you feel it immediately. It's kind of like being in love, you either feel it or you don't. If you're ever in doubt, take both kinds of photos. Some people were looking at me funny when I took the closeup photo because I was getting sprayed on and I was in an awkward position, but a lot of the fun of photography comes from the process of creating photos that reflect your unique personality. It's the reason why I've created 10s of thousands of photos over the past 15 years. Trying getting closer the next time you pull out your camera. You may be surprised at how much more impact your photos have.

How to make your photos "amazing"



Last fall, I was going through a bout of insomnia that lasted about 2 months. No matter how late I went to bed, I woke up around sunrise. So instead of trying to go back to sleep, I got up and took my camera to Busse Woods in Schaumburg. I grew up in one of Chicago's worst neighborhoods (Humboldt Park), so for me, visiting Busse Woods is like visiting Shangri-La. I feel so relaxed when I go walking, fly a kite, or ride my recumbent bike there.

Thanks to my insomnia, I learned that Busse Woods is even more beautiful at sunrise. For weeks, I took many of the photos on my nature page. An interesting comment on one of the photos was, "I had no idea Busse Woods looked this amazing!" Now I appreciate a compliment as much as the next person, but the credit really should go to the gorgeous light that bathes the world before most of us wake up. I had the same experience at the Burning Man festival in Nevada. I was up at sunrise every morning and found that it was nearly impossible to take a bad photo when you have that early morning light working for you.

I've been taking pictures for over 15 years, but I never considered myself a nature photographer. Despite this, my nature photos are getting rave reviews from many people. In fact, a bride that I recently photographed told me that she chose me because of my nature photos! I guess the early bird really does get the worm.

"I'm in awe of your photos - tell me about your camera"

That was a quote from an email I received recently. I appreciate the feedback, but I wonder if she was really just complimenting my camera!

I learned how to take pictures on one of those fully manual cameras that you change the lenses on (SLR, or single lens reflex). I was in college when digital cameras were first released. During that time, I was intensely
focused on my photography classes, spending countless hours in the darkroom and really honing my skills. When my peers and I first heard about digital cameras, we swore we'd never replace our film cameras with a digital camera. (If you think that was hoity-toity, you should have met the art school students - now THOSE were some prize winners!)

It took many years and a few key observations to realize that I had the wrong perspective. One of the first things that shook me out of my ivory tower was seeing my mom's vacation photos. Despite my insistence that she get a "real" camera, she always took disposable cameras with her and, to my surprise, kept coming back with compelling photos. Then I started noticing all of my friends were buying digital cameras and having a great time taking photos with them. I finally came to the realization that disposable cameras and digital cameras have created a situation where more people are taking more photos, and that's definitely a good thing. If I shoot a roll of 24 pictures, I'm lucky if I get 2 photos that I really like, so I understand that in some ways, this is a numbers game. The more photos you create, the more great photos you'll end up with, no matter what you're shooting with.

The latest incarnation of cameras is cameraphones, and I admit that I poo-pooed them the same way that I poo-pooed digital cameras in the 90's. So it's ironic that my favorite recent photo was taken with a cameraphone. It's a picture of a ghost child that was taken the day before I arrived at the famous Baker Hotel to shoot a TV pilot. In the end, cameras are just tools, it's what you do with them that matters.