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.