неделя, 29 октомври 2017 г.

Recreating old shots and why weather matters in travel photography

In travel photography, what matters is the moment - but not just any moment as it is in sports. You need that WOW moment to make people want to visit the place. You need an amazing image that would make the others crave to see the place, to be there or.. to be you.

As it is most of my stories, it all starts with an image - in my case - this one: 

Rethimno port in 2009 - I really love the clouds and colours. This image, despite the technical deficiencies - being taken with a compact camera in JPEG - remains one of my favourites.  
At that time, I had no idea what I was doing. Really. I was 17 and I've just gotten my first digital camera. To me Crete, because the image above is from there, was a land of wonders full of strange and amazing things. So there I was, wandering around and frantically taking pictures of anything I laid my eyes on. The port, the fortress and the streets - anything that I found extraordinary. I didn't bother about composition or fuss with settings - the only thing I knew how to use at the time was the scene selection option (later on, I discovered the manual mode of the camera but back in 2009, that was terra incognita).

Here are some of the other images I took in 2009: 
The port of Rethimno with the famous lighthouse. Picture was taken in 2009.

The entrance of the Venetian fort at Rethimno - image from that time in 2009
These images were taken, loved and cherished as an amazing memory from a great adventure. But that was when the story ended. Soon after the return to Bulgaria, these images were totally forgotten. Two years later, when I had to apply for university, photography was nowhere near my choice of profession. It didn't even cross my mind that I could be a photographer. Instead, I chose to be a linguist and to study English - to have a 'decent profession'. Then, all of a sudden, in 2011, I had an idea of starting to share my work online. I found a website and started uploading my work. 

I keep saying this but if the users of the website hadn't told me that I was no good, that I lacked the skills and the equipment to be decent photographer, I wouldn't have become one. It was by sheer stubbornness that I started saving money to buy a camera, and taught myself composition and post-processing. It was all by trial and error. 

Somewhere during that process though, I decided that maybe what matters is skills and equipment. The more I progressed, the better images I took so I thought it was all skills. After the initial bullying I discarded anything taken before 2012 and concentrated on new content.

But as I progressed and learned new post-processing skills, I started re-editing old images, digging in the archives to see if I can 'save' an old image with a new and better edit. That's how one cloudy October day last year, I came across the images from 2009. I was doing a travelogue for a Bulgarian website and wanted to show some images (travelogues always go well with images and since I am a photographer, I am famous in this site for submitting articles with a lot of images). This time, however, instead of just exporting the file out of Lightroom, I created a PSD file and went to Photoshop. The result was stunning - to me at least. Colleagues though told me it was too colourful, too HDR-like and so on.

It was NOT and HDR so I can't say I was pleased with the feedback but I decided that the next time I go to Crete, I will revisit Rethimno and try to retake the image. Now that I'm good and skillful photographer, have all the equipment and so on it's just bound to be a stunning one. 

The irony is, that since 2009 I have been to Crete two more times BUT I didn't go to Rethimno then. There were so many other places I wanted to visit that I couldn't. This time I was dead-set on going again.

As I decided to work on the Culture Crossroads project I was sure that I want to add Crete in it. You can visit the project's page and blog for more information. 

When skills clash with weather...

Crete welcomed me with cold weather for the end of September - I didn't expect to be with a jacket on the beach - but otherwise amazing weather for images - dramatic clouds all over the sky, dynamic weather shifting in an hour from bright sun to torrential rain. I was delighted to finally nail some of the images I've been imagining ever since 2014 (the previous time I managed to visit Crete). 

Rethimno, of course was at the top of my list but given the distances on the island - and the so many locations I wanted to visit - it was left for the very last day - because at that time we would have a whole day before boarding the night ferry to Athens. So I waited (I'll skip though several other locations since they deserve a post of their own) for that day to come. 

Weather decided to play a trick on me though and show me that skills and equipment are worth nothing if you are unlucky enough to get dull weather conditions. Rethimno welcomed me with 30 degrees Celsius, heat, sun just shining in my lens and not a single cloud in the sky. The very moment I saw the light was harsh and in the wrong direction and the sky was dull I was absolutely disappointed.


The before and after of one of the images from that day. As you can see, the original is not much to talk about.
After all, I counted so much on this location - Rethimno is famous for its Venetian style small houses that reflect in the crystal-clear waters of the port. But what reflections when the sun is shining directly in my lens (despite the hood) and all I see is a big black nothing where the houses should be. This time, I thought, even RAW files and Photoshop cannot save the day. Still, since "I ain't not quitter" as the song line goes, I started wandering around the port to find the exact same location of the image from 2009. 

I have good photographic memory so I found it - guess what - that boat from the picture was still there! Parked at the same place. I was delighted to find it but disappointed that the sky isn't more interesting. Still, I thought, that would serve for a good blog post illustration of how skills alone cannot help much.

The recreated shot - as you can see, it is nowhere near the splendour of the original of 2009.
I didn't stop there and decided that since I am here for the first time in 8 years, I should try to do my best and create something usable. After all, professional photographers say that there's no such thing as bad lighting.

This image, taken just two steps to the side (this is the very same boat from 2009) proved to be much better than the recreated shot. Plus, it proved one of my theories that skills do matter and make a difference. Back in 2009, I just snapped a shot of the boat and moved on. Last month, I spent half an hour photographing it from all possible angles.
The image above proves that equipment does matter too - it was originally taken in RAW so I had much more freedom and opportunities to 'save it' so I did my best (I guess a Photoshop master would do much better but currently, this is as far as I can go). Apart from post-processing skills though, this image is not much to talk about. I like how it looks now but if I was using the same camera from 2009, an image like that (look at the print screen above) would just be lost to post-processing - after all, you cannot get that many details from a JPEG.

Here is another image - from the Venetian fort at Rethimno - that shows how many nasty tricks bad weather can play on you.

I love the architectural details in this image, love the lines, the windows, door and stairs BUT something is missing in this image. To me, that is the dramatic sky. I would have turned this into black and white but for the purpose of this blog decided to leave it in its original coloured version so that you see what I mean.
Don't get me wrong, it IS a good shot BUT it could have been way better. Same goes for all other images.
A bit discouraged by the blazing sun, I decided to turn my back to on it and go for something that is illuminated. And then saw the lighthouse - the famous lighthouse of Rethimno, one of the most beautiful ones in whole Greece.

I love reflections. I'm addicted to them and these almost mirror-like reflections in the still water of the harbour made me gasp. I really like this shot but again, still think there is room for improvement. 
Conclusion

I left Rethimno with quite a few images worth editing but very few WOW images in my opinion. This had nothing to do with equipment or skill - these will have a role in post-processing - as you can see, I did my best to present something good.

Problem is that sometimes equipment and skills are not enough to create the amazing picture-postcard shot you aim at. That happens not because you're not good enough but simply because you didn't go to the place at the right time. This is one of the reasons why I will have to go to Rethimno again to get the dramatic shots I want (it would be a pleasure to be there again :) ).

The story also has a moral - no matter how bad the conditions look like, you should NEVER EVER give up on taking pictures, If I had done so when I saw that the retaken photo sucks and returned to the table by the water, I wouldn't have created anything worth seeing (or editing, for that matter).

Images are always there and even if sometimes they don't look the way we want them to, they too tell a story :) 

четвъртък, 10 август 2017 г.

Photographer ≠ a single profession

When I was at high school, I was hopeless at Physics. Nothing could make me understand the equations or memorize the formulas.

Later on, when I took up photography, I found out that contrary to all logic (and most of my preferences) it is all Physics. Light angles, reflections, lenses, mirrors. What was not logic, was technical staff (I was never a tech-bimbo but I've never been a sys-admin either). So, willy-nilly, I learned about Physics and camera parts, how they work together and so on.

Later still, I discovered that being a photographer mean much more than randomly snapping at things around you.

So, I decided to compile a list of all the things a photographer has to do (that photographer is me, by the way) for all those who think taking a picture is a piece of cake and that sums up being a photographer.

You need to know:
  • some information about the thing: ideally the historical, cultural and anthropological background of the place - that includes having MORE THAN BASIC idea of archeology, architecture, warfare, social and cultural history, ethnic groups and the list goes on and on and on.
  • some social skills - to talk to people and make them pose for you or even to get some information from them.
  • camera equipment handling - this means knowing your gear inside out and being able to work with it with your eyes closed. Plus, you are expected to work and 'be fluent' in more than one brand and its specifics - I've had to use five different brands. You need to know about lenses, tripods, filters and so on and so forth.
  • posing 
  • event shooting and how to behave at that time
  • lighting (studio lighting, I mean)
  • your rights and the laws about copyright, private property and photography of the respective country - so that you don't get into trouble.
  • some social networking skills (Facebook and Instagram at least) and SEO (search engine optimization) in order to promote your work.
  • sales and marketing skills to get yourself some clients.
  • html codes - because at some point you'll need a website
  • blogging to tell your story to the world.
  • graphic design - because of the two above and the demands of your clients
  • post-processing (on more than one type software)
  • videography and video retouching
  • sound editing (because you never know)
  • licensing and copyright - so that you know which kind of license you lent whom, why and for how long. I mention it again, but it differs in different countries
  • printing, color spaces and different materials - this is separate because it is a whole domain in post-production
  • networking - you never know who will be useful for what
  • presentation skills - for obvious reasons such as portfolio display
  • first aid and basic survival skills - everything can happen on location and you need to keep yourself and the people around you safe
  • writing - you'll need to write at least the titles of your images and that is not always easy
  • basic self-defense - which includes a lot of common sense and self preservation instinct
  • basic meteorology - to know which weather causes what and how to handle that.
This list can go for a long time and I intend to update it. Point is, that unlike most people who get a single profession, specialize for it at university for some time and then go on working in that field without having to learn new things which have nothing to do with their domain, photographers have to do that all the time.

Photography means much more than just clicking a shutter.

четвъртък, 13 юли 2017 г.

What's in a name? Who is a professional photographer?

I didn't call myself photographer when I started out. In fact, it took me years to even think of myself as one. I remember one of the first times when I was impressed by the way 'professionals' behaved: it was on that memorable trip to Crete.

Actually, it was on the Acropolis in Athens - then, I remember, it was crowded with photographers using gear of all kinds. They were all standing at one and the same spot - where the best view is. I went up there and was amazed that all those 'pros' with 'big black professional cameras' made room for me and even showed me the place where I can photograph the best view. That was the first time I noticed something like that.
One of the images I created back then. I have some amazing images from Crete BUT these are not one of the great ones. As you can see the weather was nowhere near spectacular and nothing looks interesting on the pic. Still, I was able to do this only BECAUSE the pros made some room for me and my compact camera.
When I got my DSLR, I still didn't call myself a photographer. To outsiders, seeing the big black thing, it was absolutely obvious that I WAS, in fact, a professional (why else, carry that heavy scary thing around?). When asked, I said 'yes' laughing. It took me 3 years to really start claiming with confidence that, yes, I am a photographer. A professional. And it took me another year to start demanding the respect owed to such.
These days I have to edit some images created by a colleague - I call him a colleague BUT he still calls himself a 'hobby-photographer'. Truth is that the guy does photo-shoots with models and so on BUT he is still reluctant to state (especially to me) that he is a professional photographer.  Still, since we happened to work together for some time - he has an eye for people shots.

That's me - one of the images that colleague of mine created while we worked together.
This made me think - who has, after all, the right to call himself/herself a photographer? So I decided to conduct a bit of research.

The first place I went to is the website of the association of professional photographers in Bulgaria (link to their website can be found at the end of this post), where it is said that a professional photographer is:

A) getting more than half of his/her income from photography

B) studying photography as a degree at some university or college

Still, I think that this is not enough to define the whole process of calling oneself a 'pro' - I've met countless people who have a BA in photography but are terrible at it. This doesn't make them 'professionals'. I've also met wonderful talents that take pictures in their spare time and are better than most 'pros'. There is something mystical in the whole idea of calling oneself a photographer - as if that gives you some kind of mystical, even mythical status of 'the person who creates masterpieces with one click of the camera'.

So I decided to search the net and see what the great minds of the past have to say about photography. I searched through various quotes about photography but couldn't find a single one about 'professional' photography said by the famous photographers of the past. Somehow these people didn't think that you need to earn this and this and that to call oneself a photographer. You need to see the world in a certain way, you need the 'eye for detail'.

Money comes when there is talent. If there is talent or people who are willing to pay. Or both. Being a professional in what you do comes BEFORE getting money for it, that's what I think. Somehow the photographers of the past have seen it, unlike us, who try to divide into groups: pros and amateurs, those having a degree and those who are self-taught, even to landscapers and wedding photographers.

A degree can only hone the skills you already have but it alone will not make you a professional photographer. Talent alone will help you create something no one else has done (or just very few have thought of doing) but without the knowledge it would take a lot of time (trust me, I know that).

Being a professional is a feeling, a state of mind, not a degree. It takes some time (and some bravery) to state it out loud.

References:

https://petapixel.com/2014/03/11/50-photography-quotes-inspire/ 

https://petapixel.com/2014/05/29/70-inspirational-quotes-photographers/


сряда, 5 април 2017 г.

Street photography guide for dummies :)



Hello everyone!

I know it's been quite a while since I wrote but I've been up to quite a lot these days (and months) so I have an excuse.

Welcome to the newest part of Shoot Like a Pro - Advanced, Hope you'll like it.

I guess from time to time each one of us wants to take a few street shots - because we have some spare time but lack the money to travel somewhere far away or just because we want to try out our hand at street photography.


In its essence, street shooting is the easiest and the most difficult genre. It's difficult because you need to have a keen eye and to know when to shoot and when not to do it. It's easy because you document real life events and you just need to keep you eyes and ears open.


So far so good, but what are the basics?

I'm by no means an expert but here are a few tips and tricks - I'll use my most recent street shoot from my home town - Sofia, in winter as an illustration.

Rule 1 - know your geography


You simply CANNOT go out shooting without knowing what is where around town. This includes knowing not only where to go but where you should NEVER go. You see, photo equipment is too expensive to risk it for nothing. Besides, if you are a 5-feet-tall girl like me, you'll think twice before going out to the ghetto.

So step one is to see what is available and if you'll be able to access the place in a safe time of the day. The picture above is from a place called Lavov Most (literal translation for that would be Lion's bridge). It's a really picturesque place BUT in recent years it's a gathering place for illegal immigrants (called refugees by the West). It's absolutely NOT safe to be here after dark and I know it because I did my homework to check.

In the pic you see only ordinary people because it was too cold (-15 Celsius) for anyone else to go out wait for whatever.

The location check includes knowing when to be around places and when you'll get the best lighting and/or subjects.


This a picture of the famous mosque in Sofia (built by the architect Sinan back in the 16th century and still currently in use.) - and it's NOT a Friday - so I can roam around and take as many pictures as I want.

Rule 2 - try to stay unnoticed


As you can see from the pictures above - when heading out for street shots, I include people in the frame. Key to that is to AVOID getting noticed. I understand that it's not an easy task if you carry a two-kilo black camera BUT in Eastern Europe people hate being photographed without permission. You can get into a big trouble if they notice you and you keep taking pictures without their consent, you can end up in the police station.

The picture above shows a woman staring at the flag in front of the monument of the unknown (nameless) warrior (the brick building is an ancient basilica). I caught this woman by pure accident, don't even know if she was specifically looking at the flag but the image looks really dramatic. So if I had asked her to pose for me, she may have send me to hell (as some people would) or posed those artificial 'duck-face' poses I totally hate. So instead, I took a picture that doesn't show her face (which means that I can use it without her written consent, at least for non-commercial purposes).

When people don't notice you are there, you can capture a lot more candid moments than if you go around and try them to pose for you. There are photographers that can approach anyone and get the perfect posed shot - well, I'm not exactly one of them. I prefer to play the paparazzi game.

Rule 3 - Watch out for traffic



It may seem something obvious but believe me, when you start shooting, you easily forget that there other people (or cars) around you.

This building used to be the palace of the Tsar but in 1944 it was taken over by the Communists. It was built by an Austrian architect and used to have an ornate fence and gate - just like those of Belvedere palace in Vienna. The fence used to be cutting in two the street you see in the foreground but it was demolished in 1945. They had plans to destroy the building too but firstly they ran out of money and secondly some brainy people thought that it won't be a good idea. Now the building is an art gallery but nothing shows from the royal period - the place was completely robbed - the only evidence are the stone fireplaces (which are still there because they couldn't remove them).

It has a really interesting story and is one of the most photogenic places in Sofia. Only problem is that it;s located on one of the busiest boulevards in the city.

So when it comes to traffic - or anything else while you're out shooting YOUR SAFETY IS ALWAYS FIRST! No image is worth getting yourself in danger! First ensure that all other vehicles can SEE where you are and LOOK AROUND BEFORE you try to make a hasty move.

For this shot I stood on the outside line of the boulevard and had to wait for the right moment when cars were on red light :) If you have to stand somewhere on the road - STICK TO THE SIDES OR STAY IN THE MIDDLE.

DON'T MOVE BACK AND FORTH, YOU CAN GET HIT!

Rule 4 - learn a bit about the place you are shooting

Street photography is often about telling a story so take some time to learn a bit about it. Each city has enthusiasts that write about its history, you'll just have to check things out.

For example, this place (on the pic above) has a really dramatic story - my grandfather was a witness to most of it:

The place is called the triangle of power in Sofia - the building of the Presidency (to the left) and the Council of Ministers (center and left). This place has a long standing controversial history. When Communism came in 1944, the new authorities were dead set on establishing a new order. So they demolished a whole district - the so-called Targovska street (where all trade and artistry in old Sofia happened) and the other lanes around it.

In the 1950s, when they started digging the foundations for these buildings, they reached the Roman stratum of Serdica - namely the palace of Konstantine the Great. And they poured concrete on it. Because no one can be greater than the Soviet Union. Now these stand as a reminder of a totalitarian regime and of stupidity.

If you don't know what was destroyed to get these created, you might even marvel at them. So if you want to show the idiocy of the people who created the ensemble you'll need to know the story behind the place.

Rule 5 - marvel at the architecture


Street photography is often about the architecture around is. We just can't escape that - we are surrounded by it so why not trying to capture it the best way possible.

The building you see is the National Theatre Ivan Vasov which dates back to the end of the 19th century and is one of the most beautiful buildings in Sofia.

So don't try to shoot people only - keep your eyes open for the things around you.

Rule 6 - dress according to the season!!!



I should have said this in the beginning but I thought it's too obvious. Anyway, I must add this.

ALWAYS DRESS ACCORDING TO SEASON - during this photo shoot I had to wade through knee-deep snow, endured a blizzard (but I was already out so I decided to keep moving) and my hands almost froze on the camera (because, I repeat, it was -15 degrees Celsius). So I was lucky i had sturdy boots and warm coat and gloves, and a hat.

You never know what might happen so it's better to take an extra item (like spare gloves or an umbrella) instead of getting back home soaking wet or ice cube frozen :) Big cities have a few disadvantages - it takes a long time to travel in them and the weather may vary, so you can't know for sure what the weather would be at the other end.


Rule 7 - be quick with the camera

The picture above - of the guy with the red coat - is a great example for something other than warm clothes in winter. I saw him for a few moments right as he was walking towards me. It was freezing cold and to top it all - the wind was blowing snow in my face. So I was kinda reluctant to shoot but then when he came closer I decided that I just CANNOT MISS THAT SHOT. It turned out to be one of the best from the series. so I'm glad I took it. I was also lucky that it was so cold so I didn't get noticed.

So keep your eyes open and shoot everything you can - better to come home with more images than you need than to miss a one-timer.

Rule 8 - general photography rules apply here as well


If you are into street photography, you are probably familiar with all the general photography rules - like the Rule of Thirds and the like. BUT when we are out shooting and all we see is people, we tend to forget that the same basic rules can be applied here.

As you can see above, the lead-in lines help create a sense of depth and scale.

So don't underestimate the rules :) They are old but gold :)

Conclusion

I think I said it all - so all I can say here is "Good luck" and happy snapping.

If you think I missed something - write to me and I'll include it in a second post :)