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.




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.


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 :)


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 :)