Tuesday, November 24, 2015

If you plan to purchase a camera for Christmas, here is the one thing you need to consider

Will you be taking pictures in very low light situations without a flash?

Buying a camera is like buying any tool that you plan to use to make your life easier or to achieve a certain purpose.   Although most cameras purchased at retail stores are designed to meet most of the needs of the average family, there are exceptions to the rule. 

If you plan to take over 40% of your photographs in low light situations such as a church, auditorium, high school gym or football field without a flash, you need to make sure that the camera that you purchase has an ISO of 12,800.

If you plan to use selective focus, you need to make sure that the lens you purchase is an f2.8 or f4.0 lens.  Selective focus is the process of focusing on a subject and throwing the background out of focus.  Sports photographers and nature photographers use this composition technique to highlight one athlete or one flower.    Most cameras come with an 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 lens, which makes selective focus challenging.   Furthermore, the aperture is 3.5 at 18mm and 5.6 at 55mm.

In other words, if you are taking a photo inside a gym at 18mm and the exposure is correct, when you zoom the lens to 55mm to get closer to the subject, the photo will be darker.   The reason for the change is the loss of one and a half stops of light.  The lens opening at f3.5 allows more light than at f5.6. 

So to counter the loss of light, you will need to regain the light by increasing the ISO or lowering the shutter speed.   If you lower the shutter speed, and the subject is moving, your photo will be blurry.  That is why you have to have the option of a high ISO.

However, if you purchase a lens such as 70 to 200mm f2.8, the amount of light will remain the same because the aperture is the same at 70mm as it is at 200mm and the ISO 12,800 may not be required.  In addition, the images will also be sharper because the lens quality is superior, and the selective focus will be easier.  However, the price of the lens will be significantly higher.

Thursday, July 2, 2015


When NBA player LeBron James cut his head falling into a photographer during game four of the NBA Finals it was simply an accident and part of the game. However, no one seemed concerned about the photographer. Even my first thought was “ I hope the photographer has a rubber lens cover over his lens”.

You see it is an NBA rule that all still photographers must have rubber lens hoods on their lens to work on the sidelines. The rubber hoods are a safety precaution to prevent players from cutting themselves if they collide with a photographer’s lens.

In James’ case I don’t think it would have made a difference because it appeared to me that he hit the camera body, not the lens.

After James fell on the NBA cameraman, many fans and a few pro athletes tweeted that the cameraman should have gotten out of the way. That’s crazy. Where was he going to go? There were seats behind him that cost thousands of dollars holding fans, a still photographer on his left side and the goal on his right side.

During NBA games still photographers have to sit on the floor with their legs crossed in a very small space. Network and arena photographers have to sit on a small stool with small wheels.  Sitting on the floor in that position during an entire game leads to major leg cramps and paresthesias, nerves in the foot stop working properly, causing an abnormal sensation.

In the 1990’s the basketball fans seats were not as close to photographers as they are now.  On many occasions I was able to roll out of the way to avoid being hit or stepped on. That is not the case today when photographing some NBA, ACC or SEC basketball games.

During a SEC Tournament game in Nashville, TN, LSU’s Glenn “Big Baby” Davis fell on me and four other photographers. Fortunately no one was seriously hurt. However, that was not the case with my last ACC basketball game in 2013. During the game, the knee and foot of a Georgia Tech player hit me in the head as he attempted to jump over me. His other foot caught the side of the camera which some how drove my thin camera strap under the fingernail of my trigger finger on my right hand. That resulted in pain, a bad sprain and an infection.

As a photojournalist who has photographed hundreds of professional and college events both nationally and internationally, it is a known risk among sports photographers that at some point, you may get hit by either an athlete, fan, animal, baseball, baseball bat, football, softball, mascot, race car, bowling ball, hockey puck, glass, bull feces, bird droppings, boxer’s blood and spit, beer from a drunk fan, bitten by a snake or huge bug and my all time favorite, puke from a drunk NASCAR fan.

That does not include getting stepped on by an NBA and NCAA official, avoiding getting beat up by Philadelphia Eagle Fans, cussed out by a losing coach, cussed out by players, cussed out by a groupie because you will not give an athlete her number, cussed out by a preacher’s wife because you didn’t photograph her cheerleader daughter, receiving a two page letter explaining why your photo of a quarterback sack should have been credited to his son and chasing a Yankee fan who grabbed one of your cameras after the World Series.

In case you are wondering, all of those things happen to me except chasing the Yankee fan. That happened to a Sports Illustrated photographer after the 1996 World Series in Yankee Stadium.
As for my stolen equipment, I never caught the photographer who stole my Nikon camera and lens during the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway.

In 2006, I was knocked out by a line drive baseball while photographing the Atlanta Braves vs. the Philadelphia Phillies.  It would have killed me if it had been a few inches higher on my neck.  Within seconds of being hit, Atlanta Braves trainer Jeff Porter was at my side with ice and asking the usual questions he asks players that are hit in the head by a baseball.

So if your goal is to become a major league sports photographer, make sure you not only have a superb grasp of the photographic arts, but are also in excellent health, have great insurance and wear your heart someplace other than your sleeve.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Why do we see what we see?

There have been worldwide discussions on the color of a dress. Thousands of people, including my wife, saw the dress as gold and white even though the designer of the dress, Peter Christodoulou, said the dress was blue and black. In the grand scheme of things, the color of the dress doesn’t matter, but it points to a bigger question: Why do we see things the way we do?
As a photography instructor, the first lesson I teach students is how to see. Most people don’t understand that the quality of light, the intensity of light, and even the color of light will determine the way we see the dress or subject, but also the emotion we attach to it as well.
Along with light, our religion, lack of religion, parents, guardians, environment, education, life experiences, and sounds often play an important part on how we view subjects.
In the late 1980’s, I attended a very expensive wedding. The bride and groom had decided to let the groom’s Uncle Joe take the wedding photos to save money. The wedding and reception took place in a church that had fluorescent lights. Those lights at the time of the ceremony gave everything a green color and the only way to correct that green in photographs would have been to put a magenta filter over the lens and a green gel over the flash. You see magenta is the opposite of green and it corrects the light to white in a photograph. Also, in order for a flash to work in this scenario, it would have had to produce green light instead of white light. Uncle Joe didn’t make any of these adjustments so; the very expensive white dress and costly white cake were green in all the photographs.
In 1978, my grandfather’s retirement photo appeared in the local newspaper. The picture was so black that only his eyes and teeth were visible. For most people in my small town, the picture represented another retiring black mill worker, but to me the picture showed a lack of respect for the most important man in my life. It was common in those days and decades prior to that, images of black people to be under exposed and printed too dark. Those images help to fuel the notion that blacks were dumb, evil, and lazy. The emotion that’s attached to a bad photograph can have lifelong implications if someone attaches his or her self-esteem to that image.
The young, female writer who took that photograph of my grandfather was not trying to be disrespectful or racist, but that’s how I a teenager at the time viewed the image. After talking with her, I quickly learned that the image was a result of very bad photography skills, very bad darkroom skills, and too much ink on the printing plate.
That image was one of the key reasons I became a photographer.
Now as a photography instructor, I make sure that my students understand that in order to become a good photographer they need to know the technical part of photography along with the creative part, and understand the emotions that will be attached to the photograph. Because viewers will see the photograph differently based on the emotion that the photograph generates inside them. They will “see” the photograph differently.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

How to get great football photographs

Most photographers will never get great football photograph on a consistent basis because they don't understand how simple math can help them.  Although I was horrible in math in high school, college and graduate school, I developed a simple formula that would guarntee me at least five good action photos a game. For nine years, I rarely missed the big play on money shot when I covered Georgia Tech football because of this formula, but to make the formula work for you, you have to do the following five things:

1)  You must understand the exposure triangle and how it applies to getting strong storytelling  photographs,

2) You must understand the limitations of your equipment.  For example, if your camera doesn't have and ISO higher than 1600, you can't expect to get great action photographs in a dark stadium.

3) You have to know your team and what they are capable of doing.  For example, if your team is a running team and they are playing a team that can stop the run,  you need to split time shooting in front and behind the offensive line.

4) Learn the coaches five favorite plays and recognize the guy who gets the ball most of the time.

5) Don't stand beside people who talk a great deal, cheer, celebrate or jump on the field.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

What is the best camera to buy?

The first 35mm camera I ever held in my bands was a Minolta SRT 201.  I received that camera from my English teacher, Mrs. Annette Williams, who got the Butts County Board of Education to purchase the camera for Jackson High School Newspaper, The Red Letter.

The first camera I ever owned came in a Christmas gift box in 1979, from Mamie Crawford, aunt; it came from Sears with a 100mm f2.8 lens and a 50mm f1.8 lens.  I added a Focal (K-Mart product) zoom lens, Vivitar 283 flash and a 28 mm lens that I purchased from Zayre.   I used that equipment during my college career at Morebouse College.

In August of 1985, while an intern at The Atlanta Journal – Constitution, I learned the difference between pro equipment and consumer equipment.   I was shooting the Atlanta Braves star Dale Murphy rounding the third base after a grand slam when my $39 motor drive,  $89 Focal zoom lens, and my Canon AE-1 all either quit working or came apart in my hand.   My equipment was not built to take the daily workload of a major newspaper.  

After total equipment failure, I purchased a Nikon FM, Nikon 180mm f2.8 lens and Nikon 20mm f2.8 lens from picture editor Mimi Foster.   Later that month, photography director Joe Coleman gave me a brand new Nikon FE2.  My pictures got better because I now had equipment that could take the pounding of over 40 rolls a film a week.

In 1986, I attended graduate school at Ohio University and the photography staff purchased a Nikon FA for me.   Over the next 28 years I would own or be assigned the following cameras: Nikon FM2 (2), Nikon F3 (2), Nikon 8008 (2), Nikon 8008s (2) Nikon N90 (2), Nikon N90s (1), Nikon F5 (1), Kodak DCS 420 (1), Canon EOS-1N (1), (1) Nikon D1 (2), Nikon D1H (2), Nikon D2H (2), Canon Mark IIN (2), Canon Mark III (2), Nikon D3 (2), Nikon D3s (2) and a Nikon D4 (1).

As I look back over my photographic career, I can honestly say that equipment makes a difference.  However, the knowledge learned from photographic failures, successes, picture editors, Ohio University professors, and the relationships with over 60 professional photographers are the most important reason that I take photographs at a high level today.

Knowledge is the key more so than a camera.  For every $100 you spend on camera equipment, you should invest 5 hours on photographic education. Because cameras don’t take good pictures, people take good pictures.

Photography is about light and relationships.   To be an excellent photographer, you have to understand how to control light and form instant relationships with people.

However, here are two things to consider before buying a camera:

1) If you are taking sports photographs, you want a camera that gets at least 6 frames a second.
2) If you are shooting low light situations, you want a camera that gets an ISO of at least 6400 with f2.8 lens.  The lens is the key if you want to shoot pictures with the subject in focus in the foreground with the background blurred. 

Most cameras come with a F3.5 to F5.6 lens.  Those lenses are built for shooting in daylight, but if you want to shoot at night or get some very sharp images you have to spend the money and get F2.8 lens.  

I advise my students to buy cameras from Nikon or Canon because they have been making great cameras for a long time.   I don't have enough knowledge of the other brands to make a recommendation.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Photographing Human Suffering

As a photojournalist,  I always had problems photographing human suffering.  When I was about four years old, I saw my father take his last breath in his bedroom while paralyzed from the neck down at age 23.  That was less than two years after the death of my mother.  Before I reached kindergarten, I attended four of my baby sitter’s funerals. They ranged in age from the mid 60's to over 75 years old.   When I was in the second grade, my first grade teacher died of cancer, and in the fourth grade one of my friends died in a motorcycle accident.  Those tragedies, mixed with the others I experienced before becoming a staff photographer, gave me a special understanding of the human condition.

While most journalists would tell you that they separated themselves from stories, I could not do that.  As a Christian in training, that was not an option.  The best picture I never took was a woman kneeling in the middle of the road crying with all her belongings in her hand as red flames shot over thirty feet high into a bright blue sky from her burning apartment behind her.  As I dropped to my knees to shoot the picture with my Nikon FM with a 180-f2.8 lens, she looked right at me as tears rolled down her eyes. I tried hard to push the shutter, but I could not get my finger to work.  Finally I got up, walked past the lady and said," God Bless you. " I ended up shooting a picture of firemen helping relatives and using hoses to put out fires.  I realized at that moment, spot news photography was not for me.

However, to keep my job, I made a decision that instead of photographing the victim, I would try to shoot photos of someone helping the victim, a neighbor,  a rescue worker or policemen doing their job.  Every time I had to photograph a tragic situation, I would think, what if that was my grandmother, wife, or sister.  Would I shoot the picture?  If the answer was no, I would look for another positive photo out of their situation. That worked 75% of the time; although there were many times I had to shoot the negative photo because there was no time to get another photo.

You take a human being raised in the best possible condition which includes two loving, educated, financially- secured parents, great neighborhoods, great schools, great family, great church, and no tragedies- that person's mind can only handle so many negative images.   When you consider that most people on earth are not raised with all those great conditions, they can handle even a lesser amount of negative images.  That is why many people that see tragedies early have problems, and soldiers coming from war lose their minds, or end up taking the lives of family members or other humans. I realize that most people learn to deal with negative images in a positive way, but thousands don't because they don't get professional help or have a good support system.

As a psychology major, I made a decision in 1986, that I would try my best to find a positive picture in every negative situation.  For twenty-eight years and 2 months, I did my best.