In praise of blur

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We typically strive for a sharp image when taking a photograph. I want to speak in favor of blurred images. I offer the following praise of blur.

The crime scene conveys to me a sense of terror and shock, in large part because of the blurring. It speaks visually of being startled and disoriented.

The bearded man is Art Honeyman. He moved around in a cart because of his advanced cerebral palsy. I photographed him speaking at a rally protesting the Vietnam War. The image of the microphone is sharp, but his constant twitching produced a blurred image of his face. He died relatively soon after I took this photograph.

The blurred Buddha expresses my struggle to work the principles of meditation and courage. It all remains a blur to me in real life.

The picture of Richard Avedon is a self-portrait. I enjoy the blur as he moves his arms and hands. He knows better, and does it anyway.

People who perform by moving always invite a blurred treatment of their image. Thanks to  yoga teachers, musicians, fire works displays, and amusement park rides.

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Things your camera does for you

Yashica Lynx 35mm camera

My camera when I was in high school in the 1960s.

Your camera makes a lot of important calculations for you, and knowing what is going on enables to you take up where your camera leaves off.

One of the most important things your camera does is to make its best guess about how much light will be required to make the picture look good. There are two adjustments the camera can make in its attempt to accomplish this.

One is to decide how long the shutter will stay open. The shutter blocks the light when it is closed. While it is open light can reach the sensor that records the image. In the old days the image was recorded on film.

The other variable is something known to geeks to as the f/stop. There is a diaphragm that opens wider or less wide to control how much light reaches the sensor in any given amount of time. Let’s say your shutter speed is 1/100th of a second. At f/4 the sensor sees twice as much light as at the next setting, f/5.6. Each f/stop admits half as much or twice as much light as its neighbors.

Depending on your camera model, you might be able to choose these settings yourself. One of the incentives for doing that is that you might be photographing an activity where people are moving. You will want to opt for the faster shutter speed to stop the motion.

Another important consideration is called depth of field. Let’s say you are photographing a choir, and there are three rows of people. As the number representing f/stop gets bigger the range of focus increases. That can matter to you when you want sharpness front-to-back in a photograph.

Many cameras have a little dial with labels such as Auto, P, and M. My tiny Canon PowerShot A630 offers a dozen variations on this one dial. One of them enables the camera to record video. Another favors large lens openings to blur the background in portraits.

It will reward you to study the controls most relevant to the style of photography you enjoy. You have plenty of choices in this regard.

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Interesting places

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I joined a Meetup group by the name of Arizona Photo Events. I especially enjoy that they hold photo shoots in places I either would not think of or would not have access to by myself.

I’ve been to a junk yard, the site of a failed manufacturing facility, a man cave, and one of Tucson’s more colorful art museums.

As the old saying goes, it’s great to think outside the box. I offer these images, and hopefully they will provoke your imagination.


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Rosie the Riveter

Magnolia Tarte

Magnolia Tarte

I worked with Magnolia Tarte on my first Rosie the Riveter shoot yesterday. It is a challenge to pose a live model based on a drawing because there are so many details that demand attention.

We shot for an hour to get half a dozen images that passed muster. We both learned a lot that I will apply to the rest of the shoots.

Approximately a dozen ladies have expressed interest in posing as Rosie, and I think that is very cool.

Posing in costume, or in character, or both, is fun for the model, the photographer, and the people who get to enjoy the finished photo. I encourage you to think about roles that you would find amusing.

This is an exercise in imagination, a gift we are often discouraged from using. The teachings say that once we begin to work with imagination it reveals wonderful things to us that we didn’t know existed or would never have thought ourselves capable of achieving. It becomes a friend and ally. Where might such a relationship take us?


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How to manage your photos

Snapshots are the primary method we use to communicate and to record history. We don't use words much anymore except in highly perishable form such as text messages and Facebook posts, and that is a loss we hand down to young people.

Snapshots are the primary method we use to communicate and to record history. We don’t use words much anymore except in highly perishable form such as text messages and Facebook posts, and that is a loss we hand down to young people.

The full title of this post includes the phrase “for the benefit of children and future generations.”

My parents—that’s Dad in the photo—had a simple management system that involved taking exposed film to the drugstore, picking up the prints a couple of days later, and placing them willy-nilly in a cardboard box. When the box was full it was time to start another box.

Mom would occasionally make a notation on the back of a print such as, “Danny, age 5.” Those are very special to me now.

We could use this reliable system today except that we rarely make paper prints. We also write our verbal messages in environments like Facebook that consider an hour to be a long time. Clearly we need a new plan.

I talk to a lot of people about their photographs. People are reluctant to manage photographs. Perhaps it is in the mental category next to flossing, or washing the car. I would like to present you with the notion that managing your photographs can be fun and satisfying. Reaching that state will require some revised thinking, however, and such shifts can be a challenge. Here are some of the obstacles that stand in the way of most people along with my suggestions for creating a shift in how you view this task.

Step one is to simply be aware that for the most part people do not work together anymore except for money. No more quilting bees, barn raisings, or hauling logs to build a log cabin. We lack a common experience to bind us together in work parties. Work parties make photo management fun and informative. I think the substitute for the face-to-face work party is online repositories. More about those later. The point is, Aunt Bee is not going to come by and identify the unknown people in your photographs, but don’t let that get you down.

Printed photographs are the gold standard of photography. I mostly view images on my 27-inch monitor, but that is because I deal in high volumes. The best viewing is still the view of the printed image. This is partly because light falling on an image produces a different experience than light shining through an image. More about this later, too. More important than the subtle differences to the eye is the fact that printed images can last for generations, while your computer will eventually be retired from service.

This means that you must commit to making some prints. The art of printing has come a long way and now includes printing on canvas, metal, and coffee mugs. From novel to spectacular, the choices are yours. A fancy inkjet printer can even make excellent prints at home.

Books are the ideal way to present photographs that are organized by theme.

Books are the ideal way to present photographs that are organized by theme.

Remember that consolidating your photos into a book is also a form of making prints, and it is the form I personally favor for several key reasons. The cost per photo is very low. A book is durable. You can add all the text you want. If someone admires it you can order another copy.

In future posts I will offer advice on these topics:

  • selecting photographs for printing
  • some places to go to get your book printed
  • ways to use online resources to help Aunt Bee help you

I read my Facebook newsfeed and come across lots of stories of how parents are impossibly busy. I realize that, but there is nothing new about that. My parents had their share of challenges, but quite a few photographs survived. I’m grateful for that, and your children will be too.


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Do traditional prints matter any more?

The professional photographer's job, in my opinion, now extends to teaching clients how to make the most of their entire collections.

The professional photographer’s job, in my opinion, now extends to teaching clients how to make the most of their entire collections.

I present still photographs in three forms: online, in books, and in videos. Click the link to view a 60 second video that consists of still photos.

My collection includes thousands of prints, but nobody wants to see them, not even the people who are in them.

If viewing photographs is going to be fun again we have to adopt these newer methods.

Online the images can be as large as your monitor depending on the software platform supporting them. In my case that is 27 inches.

Books can be made in many sizes, and a single book might contain hundreds of photographs, and they can be as large as the book itself at a cost that is far less than a stand alone print would cost. In addition, text can be added, greatly enhancing the value and the appeal of the image.

In a video there is the option for sound, pacing, panning, choice of visual transitions between images, and a flashy message about the photographer. You won’t get that from a binder of plastic sleeves.

These methods also deepen our appreciation of the images. How large should each one be? What order should they go in? Do they need captions, or other supporting text? Should certain photos be juxtaposed with others? It’s a whole new level of fun.

With software such as iMovie videos are easy to make. With Blurb and Apple, books are easy to make.

It’s a whole new world as far as the print is concerned, and for my money it’s a wonderful world.

I welcome your comments on what is working for you. For each comment I receive on this blog I will donate a can of food to the Pawsitively Cats shelter here in Tucson.

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Photography as therapy

Ryan DeFusco

Ryan DeFusco

Done with imagination and energy photography is therapeutic on both sides of the camera. It reveals, and it heals.

My Facebook newsfeed is packed with statements of anxiety, worry, fear, and lack of hope. The patients are not well, and you might think therapy would be welcomed in whatever form it takes. In my experience relatively few people submit to the therapeutic effects of photography. Maybe they are too busy. Maybe they don’t have confidence in it. I am on a crusade to change that.

What are the effects? And how are they achieved?

I often feel that people come to me to be photographed as they would go to a doctor or a fortune teller – to find out how they are. – Richard Avedon

Being photographed is an exercise in imagination. What do you imagine is true about yourself? What do you imagine is not true about yourself. The camera will serve as a kind of witness to confirm or not, your acts of imagination. Maybe the “bad” things are not all that bad. Maybe the “good” things are better than you expect. Let photographs inform you.

Eric and Bobby

Eric and Bobby

The point is to relax into the work of noticing the degree of alignment between your self-image and what is really taking place in your world. Costumes, sets, unusual poses, inventive juxtapositions are devices that enable us to imagine ourselves in a different context, something that we don’t normally allow ourselves to consider. That’s healing.

I have done a fair amount of photographic work with people who have considerable physical handicaps, including a bride at her wedding. The experiences have been remarkable.

The next time you see a photograph that makes you pause, think about why. And then think about photographs of yourself and how you respond to them. It might lead you to something remarkable. It might help you express how you are.

I notice that when I am shooting my only concerns are about how to get the shot. All my usual concerns recede to a place outside my awareness. It is a wonderful experience, and it reminds me that it is possible to achieve such a state.

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Be bold

Galen Woida and Amanda Stair at a costumed junk yard shoot with Arizona Photo Events.

Galen Woida and Amanda Stair at a costumed junk yard shoot with Arizona Photo Events.

Stephen King and Milton Glaser, to name just two artists, have made it clear that art is the work of the soul. In the yoga tradition they teach that the fifth chakra becomes real to us when we explore its capacity to nourish our creativity. When that happens, we begin to realize that the universe is a caring and hospitable place. Art creates heaven. I don’t think that is stretching the point.

Milton Glaser titled his book Art is Work. Stephen King, in On Writing, advised readers to imagine their characters and then ask, what would they be likely to do? It’s a great question to ask about ourselves. Look at all this talent! What’s likely to emerge from this situation and group of people?

The experts encourage boldness. Who am I to argue?

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Pricing: You know it’s 2013, right?

Big truckIf you would like me to photograph your Hummer, the one with the fancy wheels and custom upholstery, you will pay list price for my services.

If you are an aspiring model and need photos for your portfolio, I work on a sliding scale. That scale sometimes slides all the way to zero cost for the model.

Your young children will not be young for long. Let’s get photographs of them at prices that make sense to you today. The method is simple. You tell me what you can spend, and I tell you what I can do for that.

I know many historically prosperous people who have been treated badly by employers, or they work less because of growing physical limitations. I can adjust my fees according to your circumstances.

My goals are these: add value for people who appreciate it by taking wonderful photographs, and to stay reasonably busy.

What may I do for you?

Here is a beautiful photo of the marvelous Gayle Vickroy that will make this post more interesting to people. Gayle is one of the most photogenic people I know.

Gayle Vickroy

Gayle Vickroy

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Learning to see


Our eyes see an unframed view of a wild mix of light, objects, and color. Cameras, in contrast, see a view defined by the lens. That frame is a reminder to the photographer to notice what is happening visually in that confined space. It is an exercise in noticing what we see.

We call the act of choosing what is in the frame composing. Some people skip this step, and in my opinion, they are missing out on a lot of fun. They are also missing out on the opportunity to pay closer attention to what is in front of them.


One of my sketches from The Drawing Studio

I am involved in another activity that enhances the ability to pay attention. I sketch, and I am not very good at it. Every sketch is more or less a struggle because I record images that do not align with reality. I get proportions wrong. I turn subtle curves into straight lines. I cannot do justice to foreshortening, the effect that happens when the model extends an arm or other appendage right at me. I work hard at mimicking the shadows I see.

Some people omit details and instead record something like energy patterns. I obsess on details, trying to make them as literal as possible. The way I see and filter visual information has me all hung up on a literal view. I am much more flexible in my imagination when I make photographs.

I pumped up the colors in this one to express gaudiness.

I pumped up the colors in this one to express gaudy insincerity.

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