Today I'm so pleased to bring you a very special guest post. My great friend Gordon Beall is an architectural photographer extraordinaire in Washington DC that I've worked with too many years to count, in my job as a regional editor. Though you may not know him, you've likely seen his work: Gordon shoots for all the big home and garden magazines. Working with him has taught me so much about photography, about good design, about new ways of seeing. For this post I asked him to share his tips about his personal photography, the fun and arty stuff he does on his own time.
Choosing a Camera
As a professional photographer I am often asked to recommend cameras but frankly I don't spend that much time trying to keep up with it all. Not enough time! And they are always changing. The fact is that all of the major manufacturers make fine cameras so the important thing for any one individual is to find one that fits your needs (pocket vs SLR for example) by simply comparing a few, looking for things like how it fits your hand, how easy is it to figure out the controls, its weight, etc. Also, in this age of zooms, what is the range of the zoom. There could be a lot of factors which influence your choice, so it really is up to you to make the decision. But one word of advice, unless you are a very serious photographer, I would not spend a whole lot of money on a camera at any one time because they can become obsolete very quickly.
Finally, one dictum worth remembering is that the best camera is always the one you have in your hand. Which brings me to this: my iPhone has become my all time favorite travel and walk around camera. I have many times in the past gone on vacation and not even taken a camera. But now, with my iPhone, I always have it with me ready to go. And it is soooo easy to use! I see something interesting to photograph any time any place, and it's there. So, without being too silly here, I can often say that the iPhone is the best camera, because I always have it. By the way, (and I don't work for Apple!) the 4S is a major improvement over the earlier iPhones, and is worth having for the camera alone. The only thing that I don't like about shooting with the iPhone is how difficult it is to see the screen outside on a bright day, but that is always the case with a camera that does not have a viewfinder.
One last thing I would like to say about using the iPhone, and which for me makes it so fun and satisfying to use, are the photo apps that you can load on it. I am particularly enamored of one called Hipstamatic which sells on iTunes for all of $1.99. After purchasing the app you can make "in app" purchases of additional software for generally $.99. It's possible to spend as much as $15 (or so) if you buy lots of these "lenses" and "films", but if you do go and blow the wad on this you will have an amazing assortment of really wonderful effects from numerous combinations of these virtual lenses and films. It is really fun to use and I am constantly surprised by how this app can transform your photos into something wonderful. I can't say enough good things about it. If you love shooting black and white as I do, and would like to do so with an iPhone this app is a must. Enough said. PHOTOS: at the top, Gordon's shot of the eastern shore of the Chesapeke Bay has it all: extraordinary light, good composition, emotion. Above right, a shot taken at Balleure with his iphone and Hipstamatic.
Composing the Photo
As an architectural photographer, my favorite advice comes from Washington DC photographer Robert Lautman. Sadly he is no longer with us but he said that architectural photography is simply "Knowing where to stand, and when to stand there." This is great advice and applies to other types of photography as well. In other words, you want to find your best angle, the best light, then look at the subject and determine where you need to be to show it off to best advantage. Of course a lot of the time, on vacation, you don't have the opportunity to do that, but it's always worth keeping those words in your mind.
Some more advice I can give you is this: when composing a photo pay just as much attention to what is on the edges of the photo as you do to what is in the middle of the photo. Everything in the frame has an effect on the quality of the image, and what is on the outer edges of the photo is just as important as what is in the center. This is especially true of portraits, photos of your family and friends. One of the most frequent mistakes of amateur photographers is to compose so that a person's head is in the center of the shot, surrounded by large amounts of uninteresting and unimportant areas. Tighten your shots up, keep your eyes on the edges of the photos, don't stick everything in the center, shoot some off center stuff and shoot some verticals too. Take a look at your past pictures and see if you are guilty of the head in the center problem, and if so, make some adjustments, your photos will improve I am sure.
Finally, probably the most important factor in making a great looking photo is, of all things, the quality of the light. Hard to believe, but true true true! (I'm kidding with you of course). But really, nothing can make a so-so photo great as having great light. Of course it doesn't happen all the time if you are shooting outside, but it's worth mentioning the obvious. Morning and late afternoon/evening light is the best, noon is the worst. Light coming from the side onto your subject will usually be the best. Light from behind you the worst. Side light highlights shapes and gives shadow - don't be afraid of shadows! Shadows give form to objects. Light from behind you flattens things and makes them less interesting. Back light can be beautiful too, but is trickier to handle properly.
One last thought or two. When we shot film you could really run up a tab fast by shooting a lot. But no longer. Now if you make a mistake it costs nothing. So shoot a lot! Try different angles or unusual angles if you think the subject is worthy. Don't just take one, take several. The only thing it costs you is some extra editing time, but you may suddenly find that that 4th shot is the best one, so it's worth it. Also shoot the highest resolution you can, do not set the camera on low res. This means you should carry a few extra cards, but they take up practically no room and they are cheap. And getting cheaper all the time. And don't forget a spare battery!
If you want to see Gordon's portfolio on his website, click here. His 'people' shots may give you some portrait ideas.
At left, a picture of Gordon I took on a shoot in Charleston. And by the way, when he was here this past summer (we were shooting a garden for Traditional Home), I asked him to do a portrait of me, a headshot I could use for contributor photos. It illustrates some of the things he discussed about portraits. You can see it on this blog on the 'Meet Lynn McBride' page (the lower photo on that page).
Big BOOK NEWS this week: Karen Chase's Bonjour 40: A Paris travel Log: (40 years. 40 days. 40 seconds.) is now out in the PRINT edition (paperback). You can read her November guest post here, or a preview of the book on her own blog here.
FAVORITE READS: Since we talked about cats last week, I've come across 2 books about cats that look hysterical, I'm ordering both for myself and for gifts. How to Tell If Your Cat Is Plotting to Kill You makes me wonder, do they know my cat? Goodreads ranks it as one of their top humor books of the year. Then there is I Could Pee on This: And Other Poems by Cats, a title every cat owner can relate to, by the author of the 'Sally Forth' comic strip. Perfect gifts for the cat-obcessed.