December 14, 2017

Location Photography – We Love Tomorrowland

...Commentary by Be A Photo Ninja

Whether you're into location photography or not, a good idea of finding the right place to make your photographs can often make all the difference in the world in making successful and unique images that are recognized as unique to you and your way of seeing as a photographer. If you are serious about learning how to make better photographs then you really can't leave things to chance. You need to think about what you need to do in order to create a photographic image that takes it from being a lucky snapshot to one that is more compelling, inspiring, wondrous or mysterious to those that view it.

I recently came across a great photo shoot series called Tomorrowland by Paris based photographer Ben Sandler. The Tomorrowland shoot was inspired by the TV show Mad Men and was shot at the mid century modernism masterpiece Maison Carre outside of Paris. With a sharp eye for detail Sandler captures the feel of the upwardly mobile swing sixties in this series of photographs. While first observation is that these are straight forward photographs, perhaps typical of what one would expect to see in a fashion layout, closer observation reveals that they are in fact location photography from a very altered perspective of reality.

Tomorrowland is a glimpse into a world that only exists in the mind of the photographer/artist who dreamt it up and was able to create a credible facsimile of it based on his skills as a very good photographer/artist, and his dedication to finding the right location to make the photographs appear credible

One of the best things that has happened to photography in the last 10 or so years is the ability to manipulate your imagery in the computer with all kinds of software to create photographs that appear to be real yet are made up fantasies where the event being recorded might never of occurred but the ability to composite in a realistic manner leads us to see and believe we are looking at an actual event or place where the image was made.

While its important to remember that the photographs made by Mr. Sandler were actual places and events that he modified with the aide of the computer, the credibility of the photography is due in large part to the location he chose and how he used the place to achieve the desired look he wanted.

I know I often find myself photographing empty scenes or locations that I find interesting with the hopes of being able to use them down the road either for a commercial assignments or with the hopes that I can use the shots down the road to build an altered reality photographic image of some kind.

In a perfect world photographers would have the ability to develop an idea for their photo shoot, getting the right models and props together and just go the location to make the photographs but things don't always lend themselves to that. You may find yourself in a great spot sometime with no model or a clue as to how you might use the shot, only knowing in your gut that it is a location or place you should photograph right then. You might not have a clear use for the photograph of the place or the location when you take it, but it might prove to be the missing link you need to create a photo masterpiece of your own.

See more of Ben Sandler's photographs where the place tells a story from his unique point of view.


Tomorrowland_ ©Ben Sandler

...Commentary by Be A Photo Ninja

Urban America – Street Photography

Here is a little bit of Vienna from my travel photography log. It's street photography meets landscape photography in an urban setting. The photo was taken years ago when I was shooting only film. Yes, it's a lot of grain, but that adds to the nostalgic charm. Today in the digital world we see less grain. Cameras are built to give the photographer maximum resolution. Larger files. Tighter grain. And course you'll always have Photoshop. It's not the same as film grain, but it's something if you are going for this type of look in your photography.

I did most of my street photography while I was studying photography in school. Back then as now I am influenced by photographers who skillfully craft their unique vision, who stand out from the crowd, who make their photographs their art.

Vienna ©Frank Marchese

Vienna © Frank Marchese

Garry Winogrand

One of my favorite photographers who took his eye to the street and made it his canvas was Garry Winogrand. The man was an animal with the 35mm Leica camera, shooting quickly and freely capturing the American urban lifestyle landscape.


Women Are Beautiful © Garry Winogrand

Winogrand often captured the energy of the events he was witnessing. While his unique style has been imitated by many photographers who followed after him, myself included, there was no denying Winogrand's visual style, the use of the wide-angle lens, the tilted camera, the different use of angles. He seemed to have documented it all; street performers, press conferences, country fairs, the social elite, the country poor, the working class to beautiful women.

Vivian Maier

Another great street photographer who was just as prolific a shooter as was Winogrand was a less known, amateur who did her business on the streets of Chicago. Vivian Maier may have worked as a nanny but her talent as a photographer shooting Urban America in the second half of the twentieth century is seemingly beyond belief. Equipped with her twin reflex camera, her compositions using the full square frame, Maier puts much of her emphasis to the center. Often you see portraits center similar to her self-portrait seen here. Like Winogrand in New York City, this Chicagoan took advantage of the city architecture and the stark light that often cast shadows across faces, objects and buildings. Her eye trained to focus the action to the center of the frame has in itself made us the viewers force to see this first before we venture out to the ends of the photo where shapes and figures compliment the story.


Self Portrait © Vivian Maier

Winogrand and Maier did all this before the digital world. A time of the black and white negative. The hand held light meter. Shooting styles change, our society has changed, even technology advances make up a different landscape for the today's photographer. Yet creativity in today's photographers are off the chart. This is the age of photography. It's a great time to be a photographer.

Shooting Into Mirrors

There is something about shooting into mirrors that pulls on one's visual senses. It's as if the photographer is removed from scene, more of an observer than a recorder. The reflective image becomes less confrontational, more sublime, timeless. The photographer feels like a voyeur listening uninvited on a private conversation with the ability to get in close without repercussions. The world is not seen through a mirrored lens. Composition doesn't suffer. A quote written on the mirror becomes another layer which in this case assumes an object like presence. Slightly out of focus yet legible enough to read, it cuts through the center of the photo like a knife. The eyes can't help but try to read the message.

naked motel tees

naked motel tees

Photographers have always had an affinity to doing self-portraits. Place a camera on a tripod and set the time exposure and jump back into the picture frame. Extend one's arm out as far as possible and point the camera back at oneself. Or shoot into a mirror. When shooting people staring at themselves while looking into mirrors, keep composition in mind otherwise you might find yourself in the frame, which in some cases may be the intention.

So You Want To Be A Fashion Photographer

Frank Marchese Photography

Frank Marchese Photography

Learning fashion photography may put you on a pedestal for success. If you make it shooting for fashion designers and fashion magazines, you will be known internationally, meet globally renowned clients, and understand the world of glamour. Your creative eye will be in demand. Most importantly, you'll earn a good income and get to travel the world. Working as a fashion photographer could be every photographer’s wish. But before you lose yourself daydreaming about seeing your images in a fashion magazine, there is an arduous journey awaiting you. Getting to that pedestal.

As an up and coming photographer, a career in the world of fashion is never impossible nowadays especially with the Internet. A portfolio online helps. So does a connected photographer's agent who can get meetings to showcase your work or negotiate assignment fees. Let's face it. Photographers are good at what they like to do - take pictures. Agents are good at what they like to do - make money. Finding an agent is most difficult for the newbie, but if you can produce a killer portfolio and manage to get a few editorial assignments under your belt with your unique style, an agent will find you. Remember they go where the money is.

Now you must be thinking - I got some assignments on my own, why would I need an agent to take a hefty cut of the fee? Well, you want better assignments, right? And a good agent will produce higher fees as your work becomes know to the people making decisions in the fashion photography world.

So how do you get into those fashion magazines? One way for a young photographer starting out is to hook up as an assistant to a well known shooter. Move to a city where fashion shooters live. They use assistants. If you can't secure a full time position, make yourself available to freelance to work by the day. And keep knocking on those doors. Professional shooters tend to have a stable of assistants they can count on. So stick with it and eventually if you make a good assistant, you'll get your shot.

Even as you get work as an assistant to a fashion shooter, never lose sight of your goal. Shoot for yourself on days off. Find models that want new photos for their portfolio. Find make-up and hair stylists or wardrobe stylist to test with. Put a team together of hungry up and coming people that want what you want and start working on your portfolio. Find a young fashion designer in a school. Offer to shoot her creations. Find your creative eye. And when you do show it around to others like assistant photo editors, and young fashion designers working in named fashion houses. It may be an arduous journey which you should love doing if fashion photography  is what you really want out of your life.

Vivian Maier The Greatest Unknown Street Photographer

vivian maier undiscovered street photographer

Vivian Maier © Maloof Collection LTD

Why do we love great street photography, and why is it so hard to do well?

Recently I became aware of the great street photographer Vivian Maier, who passed away leaving behind a legacy of over five decades worth of work as as an amateur photographer. I do not think anyone would disagree that she might be one the greatest street photographers we have seen, or might ever see, her work is stunning.

Were it not John Maloof who bought the contents of her storage locker at an auction the world may never have seen the vast body of  fine art photography produced by Vivian Maier. The storage locker contained over 100,000 film negatives, thousands of photography prints, cameras and even tape recordings of people she photographed. Unfortunately Ms. Maier passed away in 2009 just days before Mr Maloof was able to track her down to try and find out more about her, and the amazing body of street photography she had been making for over five decades.

While I could try and talk more about Vivian, and the discovery of her work here I think that can be better done by Mr. Maloof who has set up a website/blog about her photography, and what little is known about her personal life. Thankfully he is on a mission to see that her work finally gets the recognition it so greatly deserves. If you like her work make sure you check out the Vivian Maier website where you can see more samples of Vivian Maier's photography on line and where to view it in person. ( There are several major museums and galleries that are scheduled to show the work)

Rather than talk more about Vivian here I thought what I might do is talk a bit about what you need to know in order to take great street photography pictures of your own. You may not ever be as gifted a photographer as Vivian Maier was, but you might just surprise yourself as to how good a street photographer you can become and how good a photograph you can make.

In order to produce great street photography you need to know how to read or see a scene either as it already exists or as it unfolds before you, compose the image, and shoot it in a manner or seconds or minutes or it is gone. Strong composition skills, an understanding of lighting, and color ( when it is color) are all required, as is knowing how to use your camera effortlessly.
It is important to note that you do not need to have the best or most expensive camera in the world to take great photographs, it is your unique vision as a photographer and how you see that is more important.

Although you may think it is impossible for you to know about all of the technical things and to act instantly in order to produce great photographs on the street, its not. Do not get bogged down in the technical aspects of taking and making your photographs, the technical things can always be improved on with time and the more you practice the more invisible they will become to your actions, leaving you to concentrate on the most important task of looking and seeing.

Practice Makes Perfect, The Secret You Need To Be A Great Street Photographer

Although I am a professional photographer I do not get paid by clients to photograph everyday. That's not how the industry works. Even though I have been making photographs for more than half my life I always am giving myself photo assignments and projects to do, so that I continue to grow and produce work that I want to do, not just work that a client wants me to do. The goal of course being that the type of work I show a potential client will be work that they cannot get from someone else, it is unique to me and my way of seeing and making photographs.

One of the beauties of the digital age of photography we are in is that you can see the results of your work instantly. It is not like the not so long ago days where you had to wait to get your film back and try and figure out what worked and what didn't. It was much harder. Now you can snap the shutter, and in moments know whether your image is too dark, or too light, if that telephone pole in the background is coming out of the side of the persons head, adjust and reshoot.

It is true that not every shot you take is going to a winner, they never are. Not all scenes will allow you that much time to fiddle with things before the opportunity to make the photograph vanishes, especially if they contain people. Like most things, practice is the key to success. The better you know your camera the less time you have to think about what to do. The more frequent you shoot a topic, or type of subject matter the better you are going to get. The amount of time you spend practicing and learning your craft are directly proportional to the level of success you will find with your work. There are few exceptions to that rule including those that want to learn how to make better street photography pictures, or fine art photography in general.

Photography tips to help you to start learning how to produce better street photographs.

Treat yourself like a professional photographer. Give yourself an assignment to do as if it came to you from a client or commercial account, and go do it. It does not matter if you are a professional or an amateur but if you treat this task like it is an assignment given to you from another source other than yourself then you often find that your results are much better.

Start simple - It takes time to perfect your skills, be realistic as to what you want to try and accomplish with a particular self- assignment and build upon it as you get more comfortable working on the street, or location. Do not think that you have to live in a major city like New York, Chicago, Paris, or Rome in order to find an interesting location to shoot. Many small cities and towns have great places to shoot. Main street, anywhere is always a great place to start. Start by concentrating on small things. Below are some things I have done in the past myself and continue to do with photo workshops I teach.

I will go to an outside public area where there is foot traffic, and retail stores of some kind. *Note if you live in a one horse town, go to the country store, gas station or  town center, someplace where this is bound to be something of interest going on.

Work with what you have.

Bring one camera, one lens, and as many digital cards as you have or can.

Learn To See

Concentrate on learning to see how the camera lens you have sees compared to how you see, its going to be different. You need to learn to train yourself to be able to see the same way the lens you have on the camera sees.The better you can do this, the more fluid you can be and the more success you will have in achieving your long term goals of creating great street photography.

Pick a color, and watch for it to appear. Whenever you see that color make a photograph of where you are. See a yellow sign, shoot it. Move along on your walk down "main street". See a yellow car- shoot it. See that skateboarder with the yellow t-shirt and sneakers-Do I have to say it? Go take a photo of him.

Sit And Observe

Find a place you like and  just watch and observe it for a bit. Blend in to the setting. If you place yourself in the right spot, often times the shot will come to you. If the setting is right sometimes all you need to do is sit, wait, and blend into the background until someone or something comes into the scene to push it over the top and make your photograph the one that everyone remembers and wished that they had taken. While street photography is often a very mobile type of photography work, do not let that make you feel you should always be on the move or rushed. If you are out photographing something and you come across an interesting setting, or scene, it is in your best interest if you control it, rather than the other way around. Slow down and take your time, your not in a race.

Raise The Bar

In time you will see that while there might be a certain amount of luck involved in making great street photography,  but you can improve your chances for success greatly with a bit of practice and persistence on your end. As you start to see some success, keep pushing forward. Give yourself new and more challenging assignments to do. Mix the degree of difficulty in your self- assignment photography tasks up, so that you stay motivated and keep moving forward. If you follow these simple photography tips you will see that you too can make street photography that others wish that they had done.

Flash Photography – What’s A Little Bounce Light

Frank Marchese Photography

© frank marchese

Sometimes flash photography used in very tight quarters can have an appealing effect if you know how to control your light. In the photo above, an on-camera bounce flash was used to hit a low kitchen ceiling. What's a light bounce light to brighten the mood? Can this cook be any hotter? A Gary Fong Lightsphere diffuser was used over my Canon 580EX flash - swiveled to my left and slightly behind.

That's what you've been waiting for, right, the technical stuff? That's basically it. Coordinate the power on the flash with your desired camera settings and start directing the cook. Well, there is a little more to this set-up and it doesn't involve cigarette ashes landing on someone's dinner plate. No, it's the little details that make up this location portrait. From the cigarette dangling off her lips, to the chef's knife in hand up against her forehead, to the t-shirt pulled up to expose her waist, to her throwing her hip out, and to the sweat that seems to be pouring through her soiled shirt. And let's not forget composition. As much as I love portable flash units, never take your eye of the prize - creating the attitude and getting the shot.

Let's get back to the flash photography. Sometimes flash can overpower the shot. I do not mean bright over-exposed images. What I mean is that too much of it used the wrong way makes the image flat. No drama. An on-camera flash will do that if you rely on it aiming directly at the subject. Don't be afraid to turn the flash away and bounce it. Look the beauty about shooting digital is you get to see the exposure - call it pre-light exposure. What you do not see and you're going into this blind, you don't get to see how the light is shaped before making your exposure. But because digital is so instant, dialing your power up or down or directly the bounce differently to your desired position just takes some quick adjustments.

Because the kitchen was small there was no need to fire a second flash unit. Some ambient light pouring in through the window was good enough. And because she was close to the back wall I picked up some residual light. If the cook was standing far off the back wall then more then likely a second flash might have been used or I would have the background just fall darker. If such were the case it's not a bad idea to invest in a second flash unit. Controlling your flash photography is just as important as your photo composition.

Better Portrait Photography On Location

Frank Marchese Photography


Portrait photography on location can present some challenges. Mixing up your lighting from different sources can be a challenge for any photographer especially for a professional who wasn't afforded the time to scout or pre-light. In these types of cases, a professional photographer needs to rely on his years of experience to not only get the lighting balanced correctly, but do it in a way where his subject, the main focus for his portrait photography shoot will stand out.

Three light sources were used here. One is the natural light pouring through the windows. The second was an HMI positioned off to the right side facing the pool, and the third was an on camera flash pointed at a 45 degree angle which bounced off a white reflector. The swimmer was positioned to take advantage of the window light reflection on the water, giving her a nice natural light glow behind her head. All the lighting is daylight balanced.

Most indoor pools I've encountered are evenly lit. Quite the opposite at this location. The natural light coming through the windows was only effecting part of the pool. The rest of the pool area was dark and because I wanted the atmosphere to feel so much like the indoor pools I had been to, I needed to fill the space with more light. I could have let the light on the right side of the pool fall naturally darker to create more dramatic lighting on the swimmer, but that didn't feel realistic. So I filled the space with light.

Okay, so now the lighting is the way I want it. What next? Make a good portrait. So what defines good portrait photography? Good composition, an eye for detail, lighting, an interesting subject; body language, attitude, are just some of the things to think about. Is the photograph telling a story? As a viewer are you intrigued?