Archive for the 'Photo Tips' Category


fabulous tips on creativity

These are great tips about creativity from Craig Tanner. See his website, Craig is a terrific teacher – I’ve taken two workshops from him and hope to take more.
Here are some potentially powerful tips and suggestions to enhance your own creativity. (Not preaching! I need these tips as much as anyone).
What is your purpose as a photographer and artist? Create an overall purpose statement for your photography and art. Create a purpose statement for each individual shoot. Your purpose statements should generate powerful emotions within you. Great art stirs powerful emotions. If you are indifferent about your purpose for being a photographer how can you expect the viewer to connect in an emotionally powerful way to your work?
Knowing your purpose means moving away from reactive shooting and towards conscious practice. What is conscious practice? Conscious practice is knowing specifically what you are working on so that you can measure if you are in line with your intention. When you begin to consciously practice (instead of walking around looking for great shots) both happiness and progress will come in leaps and bounds.
Most of us as adults have been trained to try to protect ourselves by burying our emotions. This is a creativity killer. Great artists have a highly developed emotional life and are brave enough to give a heave-ho to the cowardice of the stiff upper lip. Let go. Smile. Laugh. Sing. Dance. Cry when you are sad. Create from the natural expression of your emotions.
Take more time to play. Play is an activity that has no purpose outside of fun. When we are truly playful we gain access to brain sates and mindsets that are documented and venerated to enhance intuitive thinking, flexible thinking, and help to renew both our physical and psychological energies.
When is the last time you were truly playful?
Frame all of your creative practice with positive experiences and thoughts. What does it mean to “frame”? Framing is what you do right before you do anything else. Here are three powerful framing tools for enhanced creativity.
1) Practice gratitude and share what you have to offer. To often we curse what we have and focus on our needs. Turn it around!!!
2) Practice vividly reliving in the present tense of your imagination past experiences where everything worked for you as a photographer. Make this work as palpable as possible by engaging as many of your senses as you can during this mental practice.
3) Use affirmations to positively frame your creative practice. Three of my all time favorite affirmations for enhanced creativity are (used in this order) “I am a magnet for creative ideas.” – “The answer is speeding its way to me now” – “I posses an endless supply of creative energy and tenacity”.
Make a habit of journaling. One of the top hallmarks of the highly creative person is a highly developed ability to capture ideas. We are constantly creating ideas. Unfortunately most photographers squander those gifts because they are not recorded anywhere. Brilliant ideas are soon forgotten – instead of recorded and nurtured. Your journal can also be used as a powerful envisioning tool. Project no images of the future. All envisioning work should be imagined as if it is taking place in the present tense. Journal the things you “experience” in the “perfect world” present tense explorations of the imagination of your visions.  When you begin to regularly journal you will notice a powerful shift in the flow of your creativity.
Use your journal to record negative limiting thoughts and beliefs. Make a conscious choice to work with these thoughts in a creative way to turn them around into ideas that are empowering. Click here to visit the website of Byron Katie and “The Work” – a powerful metaphysical tool kit for working with negative beliefs in ways that can change them from limits to doorways to joy and enhanced creativity.
Quit trying and start trusting. Trying implies there is some outcome in the process that is more important than the process itself. Trying turns us into vacant zombies always looking to the outside world and the future for the thrill that will finally bring us peace and joy. Trust is what happens when you know you are in line with the intention of your purpose. Trust is what happens when you reach the realization that great photography is not out there somewhere. Great photography and great art come from within you. Use quiet time and journaling to listen to the places where you find the heart of your work. Know your purpose and stick to it (until your purpose shifts). Be the purpose and the intention behind the purpose. If you are true to the intention of your purpose all of your photography and efforts have priceless value because they bring you the peace and joy in each moment that comes from being true to yourself.
Suspend judgement in the early part of your process. Make many attempts and collect many ideas. Ask “What if” questions? Look at the creative challenge in ways that abstract the challenge. Look at the challenge from a far distance. Look at the subject to be photographed and rename it in ways that make it less literal moving more and more towards the abstract.
Consciously introduce extreme limits into your creative process. Its a myth that freedom leads to creativity. Too much freedom in the creative process leads to artist’s block because it encourages us to look to the outside world for the “grass that is greener” to get started. Creative limits push us to say yes to the process itself. Creative limits remind us of what we far to often forget – the art comes from within. Mostly what we need is the permission to express what we already have and are….beings whose most basic and profound nature is unlimited creativity. Give yourself a very short time frame to produce 100 variations of a photographic subject or theme. Restrict yourself to one lens. Restrict yourself to an extremely small space. Combine multiple creative limitations. And then watch your creativity soar.
After giving yourself a lot of attempts from which to choose regroup and put on your logical thinking hat and make choices and commitments. Refine the project parameters and get focused on a specific goal…..but be open enough to recognize when the goal was just a permission to arrive at a much better idea altogether.
While moving consciously towards your goal make a habit  of being outrageously and unforgettably tenacious. One of my all time favorite affirmations for tenacity is “I refuse to accept undesirable circumstance as having final reality!”  (Uell Andersen – from the book  The Key To power and Personal Peace).
Practice being a flexible thinker. Highly creative people have developed a habit of being able to move freely from being intuitive and playful to being logical and judging. Both modalities are critical to enhancing your creativity and achieving your purpose. It is a myth perpetuated by deeply flawed science that human beings are either left brained (logical / sequential) or right brained thinkers (intuitive / holistic). We are all whole brained thinkers. Unfortunately most of us have practiced a lot more being sequential thinkers. We need to practice working with both modalities of the creative mind. Many of the things I have already mentioned will help you to exercise the more holistic, intuitive, and playful part of your creative mind. Journaling and quiet time, allowing yourself to be emotional, consciously setting time aside to just play, actively choosing to suspend judgement, recognizing limiting beliefs and working with them to go past your current limits.
Speaking of limits – when is the last time you took a big risk in the service of your dream? As adults we place way too much value on knowledge, competency, and security. To truly move forward we will have to become vulnerable beginners again. Mistakes are an amazing source of creativity. If we are only practicing when we truly know what we are doing and we are pretty sure of what we are going to get we run a big risk of our results becoming predictable, stale and boring for both us and the viewer. Truly going past limits involves discomfort, failure and mistakes. Are you willing to look foolish in the service of growing towards your dream? Are you willing to let go of security and self protection to be truly alive? Are you willing to reframe the discomfort (of imposing upon your own false sense of security) as the heightened state of awareness that you always experience just before a breakthrough? Are your willing to be a beginner again. Highly creative people allow themselves to have truly new experiences in the service of their dreams. Becoming a beginner again should be a regular part of your creative playground.
All art is communication. Communication is a bridge between you and me. When we communicate and share in a way where both you and me are better than we were before that is service. Service is our highest calling. What are the ways you can practice your photography and art where you, the subjects of your photography, and the viewer of your artwork are all better off than they were before your artwork was created and shared?
I hope these ideas challenge you and help you to grow your photography in ways that surprise you and allow you to have more fun and joy along the way.

Five Photo Tips

I hear this a lot:  “I have a digital camera, but it’s a bit overwhelming. the camera just sits in the box. What can I do?”

1) Read the Manual. OK, you never read manuals; I don’t either. Well, you really should read the camera manual. Your digital camera likely has an amazing set of features – yes, perhaps way too many. But going through the manual and being aware of the features can help you when you later ask: “Can I do this with my camera?” I know my camera very well, but I carry the manual with me at all times and refer to it often.

2) Venture out of Auto Mode. You’re thinking this is easy, I’ll just set everything up on auto mode and won’t have to make any decisions. Your camera will likely take OK pictures, but just OK. Learn about shutter priority and aperture priority (it’s in the manual!) and try them out. It’s easy to do with a bit of effort, and your pictures will look MUCH better.

3) Get Closer. Pictures of people – and most other subjects – will benefit by getting in closer. Walk in or zoom in. It will simplify the image, add impact and engage the viewer more deeply. In this image, I started with a full body shot. As I kept shooting closer and closer, the picture got better.

4) Shoot! Shoot! Shoot! Take lots of pictures. They’re free. Take a shot, change a setting on the camera, and shoot again. Which image works better? Move around and shoot the subject from a different angle. You’ll gradually find out what works – and especially what works for you. Henri Cartier-Bresson, the famous French photographer said, “Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.”

5) Enjoy! Little kids can pick up drawing easily and have fun from the very beginning. Adults who take up drawing mostly struggle with a lot of anxiety and critical self-judgment. Photography is the same way. Act like a kid – just relax, let go and shoot. Shoot what you care about, shoot what inspires you. Keep shooting and I know your work will get better by leaps and bounds!


photographing artwork – the sopwith camel pilot

Today, I spent an enjoyable morning with this wonderful early 20th century oil painting.

This is a portrait of William Y. Bogle, Jr. His son, William Y. Bogle, III, is a friend of mine. I’ve yet to meet WYB IV and V – number five is now in boarding school in Connecticut.

This portrait was painted in 1925, when Mr. Bogle was 30 years old.  During World War I, he had wanted to serve in the U. S, military, but was too young, so he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force and had a distinguished career piloting the famous Sopwith Camel airplane, pictured here.  

 He did land a plane in a tree once, but walked away with just a few scratches on his face.  The portrait, to me, shows a sophisticated and dapper young man, war-weary yet wise to the ways of the world.

The painter was a Danish artist, with the distinguished name of Johann Waldemar de Rehling Quistgaard (1877-1962).  The artist’s name appears clearly in the bottom right corner.

This painting is very small, measuring just 5 7/8 ths inches by 4 3/8 ths inches.  The detailed brushstrokes are pretty amazing.

My assignment was to photograph the painting and make some prints.  Working with such a small painting is tricky.  My photograph appears above. I made several prints for my friend Bill, including one that is 13 inches by 19 inches – almost 10 times the area of the painting.   The print is tack sharp and shows Quistgaard’s skill with a brush, perhaps even more clearly than the actual painting does.

How did I shoot the painting?  Here was my setup:

I propped the painting up, placing it on a white foamcore background. You can see how small the painting is – note the arrow pointing to it. Using a very sturdy tripod, I aimed straight down at the image.  I shot “tethered” to a laptop, so I could check that the image was in sharp focus. See the laptop screen, zoomed in of Mr. Bogle’s face. The face in the painting is just over an inch tall. 

Two lights were used, set at about 45 degrees.  This avoided glare bouncing off the surface of the painting, but was a sharp enough angle to show the texture of the painted brushstrokes.   The camera was mounted with a pro-level Nikon 105mm macro (close-up) lens that provides absolutely amazing clarity and sharpness. 

I love shooting artwork.  Do you have an old family portrait – or any other artwork – that you’d like to have photographed?  I’m ready!


Sisters – a baby and a toddler

Last week, I had a fun shoot with two young sisters, Lucy, pictured above, age 3, and Clara, age 6 months, below. These girls are adorable, don’t you think?

When shooting kids, I’ve learned a few things that are important. One,  set up the lighting to be pretty soft and even all around. I’m not going to be able to get young kids to look in the direction of one light. In the first shot of Lucy, she was actually looking away from the main light, but I had enough light coming from the second light on the other side to show her face properly.

The second tip that’s important with young kids – get down low, at their level. In most of these shots I was lying on my stomach, propped up with my elbows.   I also try to get as close as I can, so the child pretty well fills the frame.

And, the third and last tip – shoot a lot of pictures and shoot fast. You never know when the kids are going to lose interest, or just “lose it” altogether. Lucy and Clara were wonderful for about 50 minutes – pretty amazing for their age. I took 170 photographs of them in that time, which included some fast wardrobe changes.  The family picked out about 50 images they liked and from that group I chose 27 pictures to edit in Photoshop. 

Here are the two girls together.


Critique of Beauty Lighting Image

Today, this image was critiqued by Craig Tanner of The Mindful Eye. You can see the critique by clicking here.

The Mindful Eye is one of the most popular photography websites.  The website  is terrific – lots of really helpful resources, education and inspiration. I’ve taken a couple of workshops with Craig and he has been a mentor and friend for several years.  Craig is an amazing teacher.

The video is quite long – over 21 minutes.  The last half of the video is a fairly technical discussion of making color adjustments in Photoshop, which may not interest everyone. But the first part of the video talks about the beauty lighting setup and balance in composition.

There are more images of my shoot with this model here.  As always, any comments or questions are welcome.


creativity and purpose

Craig Tanner has been and is an important mentor and teacher to me. I’ve taken two workshops with him and have a third planned in Santa Fe next April. Craig has critiqued several of my images. You can see some of these video critiques on my website by clicking here.  There are many wonderful resources on Craig’s website, The Mindful Eye.

Here’s a short piece Craig wrote recently about creativity for those interested in growing in photography, but it also can apply, I believe,  to other areas of our lives.


A common question I get on workshops is how can I move past my current creative limits. I often first encourage a reframe of the question. We are always evolving…. sometimes a little more slowly than others but it is an ongoing process. I think a better question is “What is the next step in my evolution as an artist?” When we reframe the question in this way we are encouraged to identify first with our purpose. When we know where we would like the next step of our vision to take us then it is a lot easier to practice being there.

Tanner Tips

Here are three simple steps for growing your creativity as an artist.

 1) Know your overall purpose as a photographer and the purpose for each shooting session.

 2) Next practice as much as possible and practice consciously. Conscious practice is when we know what we are working on to the point of being able to identify whether or not we are making measurable progress towards our purpose or goal.

 3) Finally, trust this simple but powerful process. If we just set out to make great pictures without a more specific or meaningful purpose our results may never satisfy. Our standard for great is always evolving along with our vision – just wanting to be great is not a purpose. It’s a moving target that can leave us feeling like the cat that chases its tail. But when we practice relative to a specific purpose that has an identifiable meaning we can measure our results and see clearly that we are making progress. That leads to satisfaction and a greater trust in the process which speeds us past our limits towards our infinite potential.

 Craig Tanner,


Lighting Styles for headshots

Recently I had the privilege of shooting with Laura, an experienced model and a new friend.  Laura needed some updated headshots and I wanted to try a few different lighting styles.  The lighting in the first image, above, is pretty traditional. We had a large main light to camera left and a fill light on low power just slightly to the right coming over my shoulder. If you look closely at Laura’s eyes, you will see the two catchlights reflecting the two studio lights.  This is a classic, flattering lighting setup. A soft feel, but you still have some sense of three dimensionality – notice slightly more shading on the right side of Laura’s face (right as we look at it).  There was a third light way over to the right side, just putting some highlights in her hair, but positioned so as not to hit her face.

Here’s a very different lighting arrangement. There is just one small light high and to camera left. I was going for a dramatic, almost cinematic feel.  This is often a difficult light for photographing women, but Laura’s smooth and clear skin could carry it off. Notice the small, well-defined catchlights in the eyes.  When you look at a headshot, check out the catchlights first – they can often provide clues to how the lighting was set up.

The shot above is one form of “beauty lighting” – one light directly over the camera angled down at about 45 degrees and then a reflector held just under the visible frame of the picture to reflect some light back into the face.  Normally, an image with this lighting would have the model looking straight ahead, but it works well here, in my view, with a slight turn and tilt of the head.

This is the same lighting setup, but with Laura’s face almost squared up to the camera. I love the spontaneous big open laugh!

Back to soft overall lighting below.  I always like to do a few headshots that include the hands. These can be tricky. Hands are very expressive and we infer a lot of emotions from them, based on how they are positioned.  What feelings are you reading into this image? Your comments, as always, are most welcome – either on the blog or by email.


Tips on headshots for websites and brochures

Today, I am the guest-blogger for 341 Studios, an outstanding marketing and graphic design firm based in Darien, CT. you can see my blog post here.


Shooting a Dance Revue

Recently I had the opportunity of shooting a dress rehearsal for “An Evening of Dance 2010,” a wonderful dance revue put on by The Darien Art Center. The program featured dancers from middle school age up to adults.

As anyone who has tried to shoot in a theatre knows, the conditions are tough for photography.

It’s dark, so it’s tough to get a clear, well-focused shot. The lighting colors are challenging. And things move fast.

So here are my tips for shooting dance in a theatre:

1)  If you can, see a performance or rehearsal before you shoot – then, you have some chance to anticipate the action.

2) Shoot at as high an ISO as your camera will allow. On my Nikon D700, I shot most of these images at ISO 4000 or 5000. You’ll have some “noise,” which you can alleviate in Photoshop or similar programs – to some degree.

3)  Shoot at a pretty fast shutter speed. In these pictures I mostly used 1/500th of a second

4)  Take lots of pictures, to assure enough keepers.

5)  Shoot “loose” – that is, with a lot of space around the dancers. You can crop in the photos in editing.

6) Keep checking how the images look on the back of the camera. Makes adjustments as necessary as you go along.

7) try different angles – get down low, shoot from the side if you can, etc. Take risks – shoot ideas that you don’t think will “work” – many of them will surprise you.

It was terrific fun for me to shoot this evening of wonderful entertainment.  As always, your questions and comments are welcome.


posterized portraits

In Photoshop, there are an incredible variety of “filters'” you can apply, to create special effects in images. In the picture above, I’ve applied and artistic filter called “cutout” that gives a posterized version of a photograph of Tori. The filter will take an image with smooth gradations between light and dark areas, and reduce them to just a few discrete tones.  I’ve shown the original image below, for comparison.

If you look at the original image, and start at the highlight on Tori’s cheek and then move down to the lower right of the image, there is a gradual darkening of the tones. In the posterized version, you will see just 5 or 6 discreet tones as you move along the same line.  The posterized look is not for everyone.  How do you react to it? Would love to hear your comments.

Here’s another posterized image, with its orginal right below.