Just Google it!

I hear so often about people that put all their faith in what Google tells them.  If something is wrong they Google it, if they want to know how to do something they Google it and while I do the same thing when I am stuck I do it with a lot of caution.  It is not just Google that can be an issue it is any place that offers free information or FREE courses and classes.   The other day I listened to a guest on the radio tell about the pitfalls of listening to on-line results with respect to medical diagnoses and how much someone can be messed up by the results.  If you want to know how bad it is just Google something like “Red bump on arm” and see the results,  anything from a cancerous growth, to a steph infection, to a poisonous spider bite when all it was was a mosquito bite.

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Photo Courses, Workshop, Photo Tours, Photo Expeditions, Photo Safaris

Getting that amazing shot
Secrets to getting that amazing shot

Photo Courses, Workshop, Photo Tours, Photo Expeditions, Photo Safaris

So before I start let me say I think EVERYONE should take a Course, Tour, Expedition or Safari from me – because I am such a nice guy But what if you want to go someplace that I do not go and you want to hire someone to help with your photography, what should you look for?

First what is the difference in the above terms (unfortunately there is no hard and fast rule for what the terms mean) but here is what I generally find:

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A photography course on WHAT??? – Are you nuts!!!!

Okay it is time to vent once again but before I do let me say that I am not in any way against photography courses, workshops or classes.  BUT, I am having a really hard time with some of the classes that I have seen lately.

One just came across my desk from a “professional organization” that I did respect (I am not sure if I do any more) and I cannot believe the course material, even more I cannot believe that it is being marketed to professionals??????  I will not use the name of the course or the group (in case anyone has signed up for it or has taken it – and I in no way want to support the course) but I made up a name that is as close as I can get without using their names – the name of the course “How to take a lens cap off before shooting to capture light that is hitting a subject”.  Course cost $1500.00 for 2 days!  The material they will be covering is included in the name that I chose for the course name, you got it – nothing that most photographers would need help with if they took more than a couple images, no meat about exposure, nothing about posing, no help with marketing or promotion, A LOT OF NOTHING!!

Sure they worded it in such a way that it sounded very interesting till you read all the information and figure out what they are actually going through for two days.  The teacher is a world renowned photographer that will teach you how they take their images for several major magazines, but the information that they will be sharing is ZERO, it is VERY basic and it has nothing to do with shooting for a major magazine, it is about how to buy a cheap camera, how to put the lens on, how to take the lens cap off and how to push a button – THAT IS IT! Two days of this for $1500.00 – I must be under charging big time!  PLUS you can get a discount on the photographers book so you can continue studying, I would ask to study WHAT???

The group is really promoting this class and I have to wonder other than a kick back why would they be promoting this to anyone, especially professionals.

The other thing that bothers me is that I have had over a dozen “courses” come across my desk in the past couple of weeks that are doing the same thing that the one above is doing, offering nothing for a lot of money.  One course that I had sent to me stated that “this will be a great learning experience.” – so far so good, I love this part “All participants must be confident in using their cameras, understand their menus, ISO, white balance, shutter speed, aperture, depth of field, lighting, lens selection and use of a tripod. As well as a strong knowledge of Photoshop 6, editing, cropping, color correcting and general handling of files.  The teacher will answer limited questions during class that he feels will build on the students knowledge”.  The course is aimed at beginner and intermediate photographers ???????????? If they have all this knowledge they are past the beginner and intermediate stages!! Then to top it off it states that “The photographer is unable to assist individual students with learning their cameras”, so what is the purpose of the course that costs close to $2000.00 for a weekend of learning?

There are a lot of good classes out there, but if you are looking for a class be very careful.  The old saying “buyer beware” is really holding true.

Camera Advice – Beware

I am sure that I have written this camera advice before but I guess it is time again.

I have had a couple people come in with camera issues in the past two months.  One person actually sent his camera and lens back to Canon (3 times) as they were not working correctly and Canon could not fix it and another person was just plain frustrated and ready to give up.

What had happened?

Both people either took a course or listened on-line to a “Expert” tell them how they should be shooting. They then made changes to their cameras following this advice and did not understand why they did it or how to undo the changes.

One person was told that “on the lens you should NEVER use the AF setting”, unfortunately they never explained that if you use the MF setting you need to manually focus the lens.  He was getting all out of focus pictures (okay a couple were in focus just by the fact that if your lens is set to 20′ sometime your subject will be at 20′). This was an easy fix (put lens back on AF) but I had to argue with him for 20 minutes that it would make his pictures better.  Once done he was so happy but confused how a “professional” would mislead him, I had to tell him that it was one person’s preference on how to shoot a specific situation and he only got a part of the information.

The second person was told that he should change a number of his custom settings, SO he did!  I understand why the teacher said to do that (again it was for a specific shooting situation and was not to be used for ALL photography), but with a novice photographer all he did was to confuse him, the changes were made and he could not get the camera back to the correct settings.  After changing the custom settings he was not able to get his camera to correctly focus or to get an exposure close to what it should be.  He sent his lens and camera back to Canon 3 times and each time was told it was fine (it was as long as you knew that it was no longer focusing using the shutter button, that the mirror lock up was on and a number of other changes were made).  In his case I reset of all the camera settings and he was back to having a great camera and lens.

PLEASE – before you make any changes to your camera, lens, or menus make a note of the changes (what and how) and if it doesn’t make it better set it back.  If someone tells you to make changes make sure that you understand why before you do so.

Black & White Printing

Black & White Printing

Well some things I miss from the olden days (food that tasted like real food, being able to talk to someone without them texting, etc, etc.), some things I do not miss (having to find a pay phone to call home when on assignment, dial up Internet, etc).  One BIG thing that I do not miss is darkrooms.  Sure there was some fun in getting a perfect print after a lot of experimentation, but it was a lot of work to mix chemicals, wash prints and hang them to dry.  One thing that I have heard from many people was that they could not get a good Black & White print with digital.  Well no more!!!  Last year I did a lot of testing with our new printer and have come up with some amazing b&w settings and media.  I found a high gloss media that makes amazing b&w’s.  True blacks (no yellow or blues mixed in), GREAT contrast and details so amazing that I do think they pass the quality of old darkroom prints.  If you want to see some samples stop by the Lethbridge studio, I have a couple printed and am working on some more samples.

Always be prepared – equipment and yourself

I am constantly telling photographers that they should be prepared with back up equipment as well as mentally for each shoot that they do.  If you are a wedding photographer, you take family pictures or you do other events you should always prepare before heading off to shoot.

This past Monday is a perfect example, I show up to a event at 6pm and find that the hall that is looking after the night is not expecting this group till the next day (200 people and no food prepared).  I am talking to one of the bosses and he says that they are moving the awards ceremony from 8:30 to 7 so the hall has a chance to do something with the food.  Not a problem I am early and was expecting that something could get changed so I am ready for the change, I grab a couple cameras and start taking some general people pictures and while doing this I notice that my main camera body is not working correctly, it is taking the pictures but I cannot change any of the settings.  Tried a number of things and nothing.  I head off to a corner of the hall and change lenses and am back shooting in a couple minutes.  If I did not have a back up camera I would have been in bad shape.

You should always carry back up gear with you, no matter if you have a cheap DSLR (so to speak) or the most expensive if you are doing any photography for money you should have a back up body as well as lens and flash.  You never know when a problem is going to come up.   It is one thing if you are shooting some scenic pictures for fun, but if you are expected to deliver pictures you need to have the equipment.

As well prepare yourself for each shoot, do a run through to make sure that you have all the gear, that everything is set right and you know what you have to do.  I was at an event a while back and was shocked to hear that the photographer showed up, had the gear but forgot batteries for their flash, this should not have happaned.


What gift for the photographer?

I get asked a lot from photographers and those that have to buy gifts for them what is good to get/give for a present.   So lets go through some things;

Before buying anyone a gift make sure that you know what type of camera that they have.  It is no good to buy a lens that fits a Nikon when they shoot Canon.  If you are unsure get them a gift certificate.

Lenses/camera – unless someone really needs a new camera it is more important to get better lenses than to get another camera body.  A GOOD lens will do far more to improve a photo than a camera body will.  Don’t upgrade a camera just to get a new camera, save the money and get some pro lenses it will amaze you the difference.

Flash – Before buying someone a flash make sure that they want/need it.  I know many people that have flashes and never use them.  It does not good buying a nature photographer a flash.  Also, again make sure you know the camera make and model as some flashes will not work on some cameras.

Tripod – If you are getting a tripod for someone, get a good quality one.  A cheap one will break or move too much, there is a reason that some tripods are $19.00 and some are $200.

Monopod – A cool gift for someone that likes hiking is a walking stick with a tripod head built in.  Also, if you have someone that wants a little more stability when shooting a monopod gives that without the weight and size of a tripod. The older I get the more I appreciate a monopod for hiking and taking pictures.

External Hard drive – most people never have enough storage space for pictures.  An external hard drive can fix this problem.

CD/DVD – This is one product that most photographers can always use.  Again like in other areas get the good ones Sony, TDK,  Maxell, Fuji

Hand Warmers – (okay I am a wimp and I admit it) My daughter bought me a set of reusable hand warmers a few years ago, WOW are they nice.  Last about 20 minutes and will take the cold off when shooting, or keep with in case of emergency.

Warm clothes – (see wimp comment above) – Standing and shooting is different than doing other things outside.  If you have someone that likes to shoot outside in cold weather this is great!  Warm boots are nice as well.  Met up with a photographer in Waterton in September with a heated jacket, another great idea for a gift.

Camera bag/ backpack – Most people have a camera bag that they have outgrown.  A new camera bag that holds all the equipment is a great idea.

Photo Course/Adventure/Expedition – (I had to put this in 🙂 ) One of the top presents that we sell at Christmas is our courses.  A location course, studio course or adventure is a great gift. It is a gift that keeps on giving as the knowledge that they get from the course will be with them for a long time.

Frames – Many photographers that I know have lots of pictures but few frames.  Some good quality frames are a great gift as they can get pictures printed and have some place to display them.

Prints – Get a image printed and framed for the person on your list (either one of their images or one of your images). There is nothing like opening a gift to find one of your images professionally printed and framed.  Or if you are the photographer give some of your images as gifts, it is a lot more personal than a tie, socks or a box of chocolate.

National Park Pass – Have someone that likes to go to Waterton or Banff?  Get them a park pass.  It will be a gift that they will use all year.

Gas Gift Card – As above it will be something that will help them get out and take some pictures, even if they usually shoot around Lethbridge they will like the fact that they have a tank of gas that they can use to drive around.

First Aid / Emergency  Kit – Many photographers are out in secluded sites taking pictures and a first aid/ emergency kit is something that you hope they will never need but sure will be appreciated if they need it.  I actually make them myself and toss in granola bars, matches, fire starter and a emergency reflective blanket. You could put together a few different items (hand warmers, ready to eat meals, etc) to suit the person that you are giving it to and it could be more than just for emergencies.

Take a photographer out for a day of shooting.  I know many of us photographers are antisocial – just joking.  Set aside a day, pack a lunch and head out with someone., it could be taking pictures in Lethbridge, going to Waterton or Kananaskis or any place.  I had one lady come to one of my courses that said she would love it if her husband would go out with her when she was shooting.  Another person came in and bought a day class for their spouse so they would have someone to go out with them and take pictures (the person that bought the class was not able to go out with the photographer) and wanted them to have someone to go to Waterton with them.

Becoming a professional

I have had several people in the past month either come in, E-mail or call me about information about becoming a professional photographer.  So I thought that I would give a quick warning to those that are looking at becoming a professional, no it is not to talk you out of it.

My warning is this, before you do any photography for money please make sure that you know your equipment inside and out!  It is hard enough to work with people, many who do not want their picture taken, but if you are unsure of how your equipment works you will be opening yourself up for a lot of trouble.  Practice, practice and practice with your equipment so that you know everything about it before you need to use it in the high stress of taking images.

Astro Photography

I always enjoy a new area of photography and this past weekend I had the chance to do some work in an area that I have really started to like, astro photography.  Now this is not your typical fast paced set-up and snap a picture, some of the exposures can go for hours so it is more of a set-up and wait thing, more like the old days of working in a darkroom when you had to wait till something developed.  You also do not have a lot of options when shooting for set-ups as you are at the mercy of the stars, moon and clouds.  This past weekend found me isolated in the mountains of southern Alberta a long way from any towns or cities, with near perfect weather (few clouds, warm and no wind).  Several hours worth of work and then a nice night sleep, what more could one want?  If you are interested in this I have several courses coming up that will show you how to do this and take you in the field to do some of this.

Here are a few of the pictures.

Star Trails
Star Trails
Moon Rise 1
Moon Rise 1
Moon Rise 2
Moon Rise 2
Moon Rise 3
Moon Rise 3