Thursday, April 1, 2010

Where have I been?

So it's been awhile since my last newsletter.  Yeah, things have been busy.  My 12-year-old desktop computer died, so a whole week of productivity was lost configuring a new computer and learning Windows 7, Lightroom and Office 2010 (and trust me, the learning curve is far from over!).  Attended the Photographic Marketing Association trade show here in California and have been writing articles for David Kilpatrick (one for Photoworld, one for Master Photography magazine) and of course taking lots of pictures.  But perhaps the most memorable happening of the last two months was (were) the successful back-to-back seminars in Copenhagen and Utrecht (which is about an hour away from Amsterdam).

The total trip lasted about 2 1/2 weeks, and in the intervening week Carol and I drove through Germany and then, regrettably, in Amsterdam, which ranks right up there with New York City and Boston as a very challenging city in which to drive.  Doesn't matter; we met so many wonderful people at the seminars (about 80 in all) that all the hiccups commonly associated with travel make things are quickly forgotten.

RBL (Really Bad Light)

But I didn't come back with very good pictures.  That was because it was the middle of March and the weather was dark and gloomy.  "Just like there is no substitute for proper focusing" I proclaim in the seminar, "there is also no substitute for good light!".  This is a difficult thing for some people to hear because many were brought up believing that if you shoot RAW and post-process you can make anything look good.  Not so, and you could just HEAR the disappointment in the room.  It reminded me of a story that fellow travel photographer Dan Heller ( once told me about a trip to Ireland during gloomy weather: He never took his camera out.  The light just wasn't good.

"But we wanted you to tell us how to take great pictures in our miserable light!" said a few vocal attendees.

So I went off-script and did something I almost never do: I let an entire seminar-filled room have a look at pictures I took from my camera before I had a chance to view and rank them myself.  Pretty boring.  Then I showed them postcards of the same area that were taken on a perfect day with blue sky and bright colors.  "You can't get this by shooting RAW and post-processing!" I exclaimed.  I think I left a roomful of people very disappointed.

But seriously, there's very little you can do.  Either the light is good or it isn't.  Had I shot these in RAW, there's nothing I could have done to make them come out as good as the right shots.  Good light is a thousand times more valuable than shooting RAW and post-processing. 

So what did I shoot?

If your light is bad, forget about beautiful landscapes.  Start concentrating on details instead to tell the story about your trip.  Below is a sample of the shots I was able to get (as always, click on an image to see a larger version):

Common themes are 1) Concentrate on things that generate their own light (instead of relying on daylight); 2) shoot details, 3) repeating patterns, and  4) the environmental portrait.


Okay, there is ONE trick I know for saving bad light (which I discuss briefly in my books), which is converting the image to black-and-white:

Or you can turn it into an art piece (rather than an editorial / travel photo) by converting only part of the image to B&W:

But really, that's it! :-)

Florida and Nova Scotia seminars are open for enrollment!

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