Getting creative!

I am stuck on the “tell a story” technique. It’s such a great way to photograph. It helps you plan the picture, makes you think about the elements in an image. Everything has got its importance – the subject, props, the setting, the mood, and if it’s appropriate, even the postprocess (I’m not a huge fan of heavy postprocessing – an article for another time). Keeping this goal in the back of my mind when I plan shoots makes all the difference in the quality. Snapshots vs photography, perhaps even verging into the fine art category.

“Tell a story” – what do you guys think? Does this produce regular photography, or can it fall in the category of fine art photography? Or does that depend on your skill to pull all the elements in an image together? Both?

When I finish editing some of my pictures, I’ll post a few here – been slacking on that aspect. In the meantime, here’s today’s featured artist:

Sarah Schloo – a very talented photographer.

And some ideas for this week, theme: Imitation, as in “Imitation is a form of flattery”
1. Pick a scene from your favorite show and attempt to duplicate it. Tip: Pay attention to the lighting!
2. Along the same vein, pick a scene from old black and white films. Again, pay attention to the lighting.
3. Hit the library or a bookstore and flip through old oil paintings, pick one and modernize it or copy it. The Girl with a Pearl Earring is a popular choice.

Flash: Introduction

The Only Thing I Really Like About On-Camera Flash Is That It Tricks Me Into Going All Artsy with the Black and White - or - My Teachers Would Have Hated This with a Passion
By Light & Coffee

What’s wrong with this image? (click on it for larger version)
This gal is gorgeous, but it’s hard to see it because of how she’s lit by the on-camera flash. Her cheeks and forehead are “blown” (overexposed), and her face has been flattened by the flash and lack the contours and details that shapes every person’s face. The background is dark instead of being well-illuminated. If it weren’t for the lack of transparency, I would think this was a ghost!

Many hobby photographers use the built-in flash or a flash mounted on the hot-shoe. It’s prevalent, we see it everywhere. In news, movies, tv shows, on the streets. This begs the question: why do professional photographers say to never use the flash on-camera? If the mechanism is there, why not?

The part of the answer lies with the camera manufacturers. In the early days of cameras, they didn’t include a shoe mount or a built-in flash. Flash accessories were expensive, fragile and very few people used them, much less owned one. Professional photographers, mainly. A few reporters if they worked at a newspaper that could afford it.

Flash cubeSometime in late 60s, they started including a flash mount and sold flash cubes as an accessory. The built-in flashes that most of us are so familiar with became prevalent in the 70s and 80s. At some point in late 90s, it morphed into the pop-up flash set (seen below).

Basically the manufacturers figured out that if they made affordable cameras with built-in flashes, more average consumers would buy them. Money makes the world go ’round, baby!

And buy, they did. The public just loved the idea of being able to photograph anywhere, even indoor, without needing expensive accessories. The camera manufacturers raked it in. In short, the built-in flash is there to satisfy the popular demand, not because it’s good at its job.

The good news is: avoiding this ghastly effect isn’t too difficult with a couple key accessories that are inexpensive and with a little practice. A flash (or better yet, two!) and a hot shoe cord or radio transmitter/receivers. There are a few other helpful accessories you can purchase or DIY, as well.  All for about $100.

The issue of equipment and how to to use them will be addressed in the next Flash posts in the next few weeks. Stay tuned! And keep shooting.

Getting creative!

Your challenge for this week:
Pick a story to tell and photograph it without having to explain it to your viewers. Show, don’t tell.

Featured Artist for this week: Rebekka Guðleifsdóttir, also one of my favorites.

Some easy story ideas to get you started:
Fairy Tale (modernize or de-magic it)
Urban Lore
Nursery Rhyme

Or look through Rebekka’s Flickr stream for ideas.

Doing a 365 photos project

Should you do it? Maybe. It’s not for everyone. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.

I’ll confess, I tried twice, and I failed both times. But in doing so, I learned a buttload. In my first attempt, I started by photographing random objects. And about a month in, I got bored. I had no specific object or goal. It was aimless and uncreative.

So I skipped a day and said I’d take two the next day. And the following day, I had no ideas and said I’d do three tomorrow. You can see where this is going, I’m sure.

The second attempt lasted a lot longer. This time I chose a specific subject to photograph. Me. Self portraits. It was still tough because I really wanted to do more than just passport photos, I wanted to be adventurous and creative. This time, I wrote up a list of ideas for projects I wanted to do. On days I was really stuck, I’d look at that list and pick one from it. It’d could be something as simple as “reenact a scene from Red Riding Hood” (which consisted of me running around in a woodsy area with a red scarf) to an elaborate “giant mousetrap for humans with an expensive item for bait” – that one I never did because I couldn’t find a components or figure out how to construct it.

The second attempt lasted four months (although I had a few days where I barely made the midnight deadline!), and I’m very proud of these four months, until I had to take a 10-day vacation. And when I got back, the notion of making up those 10 days was daunting, and I kept putting it off. Discouraged, my daily SPs petered down to nil and I never caught up. For me, my weak point was discipline: when I slacked with the promise of playing catchup later, things went downhill from there.

I learned so much about photography while doing the daily SPs; I figured out posing issues, lighting, time management and the importance of props. The cons, for in my book: it was somewhat stressful. There were stretches where I didn’t have any ideas that really excited me, and I pestered my friends lamenting over that. And as mentioned, taking breaks turned out to be a bad idea for me.

If anyone is interested in portrait photography, but hasn’t quite broken into the paying field or you’re not comfortable asking a person to sit patiently for hours while you fiddle with lights, this is an excellent way to get started. It also helps you flex your creative muscle. If you don’t want to commit to taking a picture for 365 days, consider doing a 52-photos a year: once a week instead.

If I were to do this over – and I may still! – I would make two lists this time: a list of complicated ideas and concepts (along with items I need to find on the cheap) that I can shoot when I’ve a block of time and a much-longer list of simpler, easier but still creative ideas to shoot on daily basis. The easy stuff that doesn’t take up a tons of time and can be done quickly after a long workday.

In the next post about 365 projects, I’ll share concrete suggestions and ideas of how to stay on track. Stay tuned!

These are four examples of my SPs:

Getting creative!

Bored by the standard flower, bird, sunset and portrait sessions? You’re not alone (cheesy statement, I know, but seriously – you’re not).

Some ways to break that rut: Look at other “creative” photographers'” works for inspiration.

One of my favorite is Brooke Shaden on flickr. She relies heavily on post-processing, which isn’t my cup of tea, but even if I ignore that aspect, her works still blows my mind. So creative!
where the storm goes

Three ideas for you to try this week:

  1. Use a common household item in an unexpected way. For example: a field of balloons with your model sitting somewhere in it. All you need is a big bag of balloons and a healthy pair of lungs.
  2. Clones: depict one person in various positions interacting in a realistic-ish way. Eg: kitchen, clone #1 holds a pot, clone #2 tries to sneak a taste, clone #3 gags, clone #4 freaks out over the mess.
  3. Bodyscape: Photograph a body part using dramatic lighting.

Side note: I think I’ll be making “Getting creative!” a semi-regular feature.


I’d like to make constructive criticism of images a regular feature on this blog. If you’d like to partake, you’ll need a thick skin. I’m not mean, but I am honest and I’m not the sort to offer false praise. I don’t do the “ooh, it’s so pretty!” shtick.

I am forthright. I will offer my best opinion in an objective, practical manner. If I think your picture’s eff’ed up, I’ll let you know in a polite manner. If I see areas I think you can improve, I’ll say it. And let’s be honest – pretty much every image out there could use some improvement.

Here’s an example of my work. For a few weeks in either 2009 or 2010, I played with the idea of putting Star Wars Legos troopers in different situations.

By Zombie Photography

This image is cropped a little too tightly. It’d be nice to have a better scope of what challenges the figs are facing. Also, what’s that guy at the bottom doing? Is he climbing or holding the rope? It’s not really clear. In short, you need to take a bit more time to set the scene.

While the camera angle is interesting, it does this particular image a disservice – again, it’s hard to get a grasp on the scope of what’s going on here. That said, I like the DOF (f13). You could’ve opened it up a bit more for a shallower DOF, it might’ve improved the image a bit by making the illusion of distance between the figs on the step and the figs on ground even more vast.

You came very close to blowing out the whites (overexposing), but it kinda works here; it lends the image a sort of a harsh, gritty look. That said, I suggest looking into using off-camera flash with a diffuser for future works on this scale.

If you’re interested, hit the “email Zombie!” link in the left column just below the text, and send me the image you’d like CC on. Be sure to downsize it to 600pixel wide, and write in either body of email or an attachment that you grant Zombie Photography permission to put the image on this site (I will not provide CC otherwise). Include your real name, date you took the photo, and tell me how you’d like the image credited (if you don’t want your real name posted). If you like, slap a copyright logo on it, just make sure it’s transparent enough for me to see the image clearly.

Oh yeah, please: no birds, flower or sunset pictures. They’re literally a dime a dozen. Thanks!