Sunday, 26 May 2019

Secret Formula for Prize Winning Portraits

Each of these four images has won the prestigious Fremantle International Portrait Prize. Independent judges selected these portraits from more than 6,000 entries from more than 50 countries.
What were the magical qualities, the secret ingredients of these images?

© Goran Jovic, Croatia. FIPP Winner 2013

© Steve Wise, Australia. FIPP Winner 2015
The click of the shutter may have only taken 1/125 second and the photographer walked away with thousands of dollars in prize money.

Here are FIVE secrets

1.  AUTHENTIC. These images were NOT boring. They gained the judges attention and held it. The judges thought about these images long after they put them to one side.

© Louise Cook, Australia. FIPP Winner 2012
2. EMOTION. Each image has a strong emotional content. There's emotion in the imagery and the image evokes emotion in the viewer.

3. EXACT. They tick the technical boxes of SHARPNESS, EXPOSURE, COLOUR and TONE.

4. EYE CONTACT.  There's a Mona Lisa injection in each image - the viewer cannot help being transfixed by the subject's eyes.

5. IMPACT. There's a 'WOW' factor in each. The photographers presented original images rather than copycat images.
© Istvan Kerekes, Hungary. FIPP winner 2017

FIPP 2019 (Fremantle International Portrait Prize) is now open for entries. AU$20,000 Prize Pool.
Major sponsor: Nikon Australia.  FIPP is a non-profit organisation. Proceeds to the Arthritis Foundation of Western Australia and the Kai Eardley Fund. 

Click HERE for FIPP details and ENTRY form.

Thursday, 28 March 2019

Three Basic Rules of Portraiture

Yes, rules can be boring AND rules are there to be broken. However, if you don't follow a couple of absolute fundamentals, then your subject is not likely to look their best.

1. Lens height should be as high as subject's nose or higher (use a milk crate!)
Using Nikon D700 camera and an 85mm Nikkor lens

The moment you are shooting from below nose height, you are looking up the subject's nostrils (not a pretty sight). You are exposing more of their neck area and less of their eyes and face; If the subject make's eye contact with the lens you increase the possibility of double chins tenfold!
 If your subject is tall and your'e short stand on a step or milk crate.

2. Use a longer than normal focal length lens - and avoid Mick Jagger lips.

85mm is ideal. Avoid using shorter than 50mm. If you are using a  24mm-70mm zoom, use the 50-70mm section of your zoom. If you use very short lenses like 24mm and get too close to your subject you will 'steepen perspective'. That means the subject's nose will look bigger and they will develop Mick jagger lips!

3. SUBJECT-BACKGOUND distance should  be greater than SUBJECT-LENS distance

Ideally, your subject should be just out of arm's reach. Then avoid having your subject standing up against the wall. Your subject should be sharp and your background blurry.

For a chance to win part of the AU$20,000 prize pool enter FIPP2019. Entries open 5 May 2019.
Major sponsor: Nikon Australia

Click HERE for details.

Monday, 25 March 2019

Which cameras are easiest to learn?

Some cameras are a joy to learn on. Others make you grind your teeth and wince with pain. Fortunately I can't call any of them boring! But some may drive you batty!

Since 1973 most of my working life has been spent teaching and training photographers - professionals and amateurs. There is no doubt in my mind that some cameras are far easier to learn on than others.

These comments are NOT about the quality of the optics, the body, the sensor or the processor. Most modern cameras are capable of producing sharp, correctly exposed, colour-balanced images. My judgements are based on the Intuitive Operational Logic (IOL) of the controls.

When I ask students to change the ISO to 400, the WB to cloudy or engage Bracketing or a dozen other settings I notice how quickly students can execute those changes. Students who own certain makes and models are consistently far quicker than others, year in and year out. Its not that the students are more intelligent. Its simply that some cameras are better designed, more logical and far l and user-friendly in their operations. Just the same as it is with brands of cars, coffee machines and dishwashers.)

It takes just ONE key stroke to change the ISO on the Fuji X100F. You don't even need to switch the camera on.
With the very best of cameras you almost don't need an instruction manual. You can teach yourself logically. With others you need to consult the manual constantly and the manual is also complex.

Cameras with the highest IOL (easiest to learn)

  • Fuji X series
  • Nikon DSLRs and mirrorless
  • Canon DSLRs and mirrorless
  • Panasonic Lumix 
  • Sigma DSLRs and DP
  • Pentax DSLRs
Cameras with the lowest IOL (most difficult to learn on)
  • Sony mirrorless
  • Olympus mirrorless


Thee KEY STROKE test. 

If you needed to change your ISO to 1600, how many key strokes do you need. A camera with high IOL will have an analogue style control on the outside of the body. It will require JUST ONE keystroke. You don't even need to switch the camera on.

A camera with low IOL will require you to go in through the menu and drill down several steps. Possibly 3, 4, 5 or more keystrokes.

Enter FIPP 2019. AU$20,000 Prize pool. Camera and Mobile phone entries.
Click HERE for details.

Postscript: Digital era cameras have far, far more controls than old fashioned film cameras. Therefore there are infinitely more distractions with digital cameras. The complexity of digital cameras has kept me in business teaching and training for two decades. 

Saturday, 23 March 2019

A Boring Essay on Hats

In 1989 I watched the film 'The Unbearable Lightness of Being'. Tereza did a photo shoot with Sabina who wore nothing else but a bowler hat. Bowler hats have never looked the same.

Barbara at Calogeros
Dr Shama - Ubud

On a Summer Sunday ten years later I strolled into Gino's Cafe and Bar in the Cappuccino Strip in the port city of Fremantle.  It was crowded, not a spare table anywhere. Nearly 200 men and women, drinking coffee, licking gelato, eating calamari, sipping shiraz - people watching, reading papers and dozing. I scrounged a table for two, sat alone and waited. ... and waited ....and waited.

Penny - Moore River
Twenty minutes later heads started to turn. They looked across the road towards a woman with a curvy body, tight fitting dress and broad-brimmed hat. One by one every head turned to the blonde as she sashayed across the strip and sat at my table. She was the only woman at Ginos wearing a hat. I photographed her. It was my first professional award. I suddenly realised how important hats were to both photographers and women.

As a photographer you can buy a $5000 camera and use studio lighting, portrait lenses and Photoshop. But a single hat shot may be the magic difference.

As a lady you can get a tan spray, teeth whitening, an hour in make-up but pull on your favourite hat you may surpass the alure of everything else

Barbara - Cottesloe
Ten Reasons to Wear a Hat

1. The first thing I look at is the subject's face. Then her hat. Its right there! Before I tilt down to look at the dress, legs or shoes.
2.  Hats are better than tans, teeth whitening and tattoos. Plus you can change a hat every day or every hour.
3. A hat frames your face
4. Hats make a statement and reflect your mood.
Veroniqua - Lauder and Howard, East Fremantle
5. There are so many 'looks' with a hat - tilted forward, back, left, right.
6. Hats frame flirty eye-meets with the lens.
7. In Aussie sun, a wide-brimmed hat provides shade and makes the wearer look 10 years younger.
8. Continued use of a hat preserves your skin and helps prevent skin damage.
9. No more 'racoon-eye' shots. (deep eye shadows.
10. Fantastic cover for a 'bad hair' day.
Pam - West Perth

'One of my favourite poses was working for Steven Meisel. It was one of my first photo shoots with him, and we were trying to get the cover of Italian Vogue. Then, I literally took my Balenciaga hat, pulled it down, and gave a rolling eye, 'ugh' face, crossed legs on the floor. And lo and behold the cover of Italian Vogue!'
Coco Rocha

Wave Waif at Walpole
If you've read this far, you deserve a reward.  In 2019 the Fremantle International Portrait Prize has a  prize pool of more than AU$20,000. Adding a snap with a hat may just catch the judges' eye.

Monday, 24 September 2018

Five good reasons why you should shoot using Aperture Priority (Av)

Egypt: Aperture Priority on Nikon D700 f2.8 on 24-70 Nikkor lens set at 58mm
Aperture Priority (Av) is faster than a  speeding bullet, with about as much power as Catwoman on tuna forte.

Germany: Av: f8 on Fuji X100 camera 23mm lens

Here are five good reasons I've chosen Av 90% of the time* for the past 30 years.

1.  Maximum control over DoF (Depth of Field)

2. Faster than Manual

3. Your largest aperture guarantees you ALWAYS get the fastest available shutter speed (sport/wildlife)

4. You achieve gold standard bokeh in portrait and product photography

5. When you bracket on Av, you achieve 3 different shutter speeds!

*Av-90% M-6% P-3% Tv - 1%

Enter FIPP 2019. AU$20,000 Prize pool.
Entries open 5 May 2019.
Click HERE for details.

Sunday, 23 September 2018

Are you an Island or Wave photographer?

Image courtesy © Johannes Reinhart
Which eye do you shoot with? Right or Left?
Could changing shooting eyes could improve your photography?

It depends on whether you are an Island or a Wave?
The Island is solid, permanent, always there, consistent, never-changing.
The Wave changes form every few seconds; it swells, rises, surges, breaks  and accelerates as it cascades on the shore.
The Island may be reassuring to look at, but the Wave mesmerises.

Or maybe you're  the Spinnaker rather than the Keel?
The Spinnaker - voluminous, bold, colourful, billowing in the breeze; a powerful, driving force.
The keel is rarely seen, hidden, unnoticed, a steadying influence, keeping the yacht upright, on-course.
Honeycake: 3 large eggs beaten with a fork
Put a couple of Keels together and fora short period you will fly like the wind at top speed. However, a couple of spinnakers together rarely last. The yacht capsizes or drives headlong onto a reef.

However, when two Keels get together, they're as safe as houses. They never capsize or break through waves.  Two Keels never go anywhere. They sit there like  a barge in the Thames with barnacles growing on their bottoms.


So, whats. this all about?

Well yesterday I had a drink with one of Australia's most creative, left-field photographers, Johannes Reinhart. Johannes is creative, inspirational and 'oh so left-field'. You never know what's coming next but you are looking forward to it.

Monart Fine Art Gallery

He told me one of his secret techniques was to shoot an image with his right eye. Then, to re-shoot the same simple using his left eye.

So simple, so daring.
So not boring.

Click HERE for my next UWA workshop.

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Seven Deadly Whims

Early today a delightful young lady Fiona asked me to come up with ideas that would help her get better travel portraits.
'Not things I read in a text book' she pleaded, 'Something practical that works'.
'Do you want Boring?' I asked
'Heavens no!' she said 'I've got this passion for travel and a whim to take better photos'.


1. Travel with a small lens and big heart.
Tourists in downtown Istanbul
Big lenses intimidate people. They think you are spying. Besides, who wants a 200mm lens pushed up their left nostril? A big heart means you are passionate about your photography. Nothing will stop you. You won't be lounging in bed until 10am and having a skinny latte on the balcony. You'll be up before dawn with your sneakers sloshing through stench at the Alexandria Fish Markets.

2. Imagine a sticker on your subject's forehead that reads 'Make me feel special'
I'm deadly serious. Visualise that sticker on your subject's forehead.  If they feel nervous or suspicious its your job as photographer to relate to them and make them feel special. One trick is to praise something they own or they look after. 'These are healthy looking sheep you look after' or 'What a great car! How long have you had it'. But be gennuine. One hundred percent genuine.

3. Focus between the colour and the white of their nearside eye.
First, set your camera on single focus point. With multiple focus points the camera decides where to focus. I want you to decide. So just a tiny single rectangle. If your distant, focus on the face. If you are close lock focus between teh colour and the white of the nearside eye. The eyes MUST be sharp!
Town square, Cartagena, Colombia - polishing a Botero

How are we doing Fiona?

4. Avoid wearing Estee Lauder's 'Knowing'
Its a beautiful fragrance. Tryly. One of my favourites. But its bad news for travel portrait photographers. The fact yiu arrived by aeroplane, stay in a hotel and carry a camera means you must be a multi-millionaire. That's the perception. So first, dress down. Also, I want you, the photographer, to use your senses to 'read' the environment; tune into the sights, sounds, smells; touch and taste the world you in.

5.  Travel Alone
Broke the rules - a 400mm lens!
In the past decade I've worked with three of Australia's top travel photographers. Each one of them says they are most productive when travelling alone. If not alone, with a friend or colleague or guide who is totally supportive. The quickest way to divorce is  a photographic adventure with a non-compliant spouse. 'What do mean you are setting up your tripod for the thirteenth time to photograph a weed at sunset!!!!'. A small group is better than a larger group. When you travel alone or in a very small group you will get far better access to private homes and develop a dialogue with your subject.
Big groups are comfortable, and comfortably boring for photography.

6. Visualise your end result - Subject and Style
Ringside at the Tango in BA
Study your location. Not just the hotel and menu. Learn a phrase or three, especially 'où sont les toilettes?'. First establish exactly the SUBJECT you intend to shoot before you arrive. eg women picking olives. You cannot shoot everything. Try that and you definitely will end up with Deadly Boring Photographs. Secondly what STYLE will you use - artistic, technical, photo-journalistic. Once you establish SUBJECT and STYLE pursue your goals with passionate determination.

Stay awake Fiona, we're almost there ...

Feel the Emotion
Photographing people is not about taking mug shots for Police Records or recording anthropometric minutiae. Its about emotion. You need to feel the atmosphere; a pulse running through your veins as you click; controlled excitement and exhuberance!

Country Daze

Practical Photography Intermediate