Who Was Alexandra Boulat?

In a wonderful two-page feature article in today’s Globe and Mail, Dr. Anthony Feinstein, a psychiatrist at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre and a professor at the University of Toronto, tells about Alexandra Boulat a world-class award-winning photographer of the Yugoslav Civil War. (National Geographic photo)boulat_main

Why do some photojournalists leave home and put themselves in enormous danger?

That has always been a question in the mind of those of us who wonder at what it would take to be a conflict photographer.

For those of us blessed to have been news photographers some time in our lives we realize our own domestic efforts just pale beside the work of these masters.

And so many conflict photographers, we have discovered, we’re in conflict with themselves and their own lives and yet they lived to document the lives and deaths of others.

Read today’s story in the Globe and Mail and be amazed by the wonder of it all.

Street & Travel Photography

Today I’m finishing up my workshop on how to add elements of street photography to your travel photography with the aim of shooting radically better images.P8080284-1

I’ll be giving this talk at the Guelph Photographers Guild tomorrow night (Oct. 21) and I thought I’d offer you a peek at what I will be presenting.

I’m all about having fun while you’re shooting your images. After years as a newspaper and national magazine photographer, writer and editor I must admit that the most fun I had was when there was a camera in my hands.

So for for more than 40 years now I’ve made my living partially by shooting photos for money. That’s why I call myself a professional photographer. But now that I’m past retirement age (and still shoot for money whenever possible), I am learning how to really enjoy shooting as an amateur again.Peter West Photo-1-578-X3

You see, amateur doesn’t mean less capable than professional. It only means as amateurs we’re shooting for the love of photography and not for the pay cheque.

So when were out shooting for our own enjoyment, there are as many different ways to approach our work as there are amateur photographers.

There’s no “right way” or “best camera” or even “approved” upon technique.

The famous celebrity photographer Joe Buissink told a roomful of photographers at one of his excellent workshops I attended that (a) he almost always shoots in “P” mode – that caused an audible gasp from the crowd – and (b) one of his best selling photos wasn’t even in focus!Gay Pride-1-312

So the talk I’m going to give Wednesday night is going to be all about how to be comfortable (and safe) when shooting on the street or shooting while on vacation.

Some folks are comfortable shooting strangers on the street. I’m not.

I did it as a photojournalist but as an amateur I’m not so comfortable.

So Wednesday night I’m going to offer some tips and some of my own shots that I felt very comfortable in shooting on the street or while on vacation.

It’s all about getting radically better images and having even more fun.

Corporate Portraiture

For all of you advancing amateurs and emerging pros here’s an assignment.

Look at the copy of Distinctive Women that was delivered with your morning national newspaper today. I can’t even imagine how much this promotion piece cost (a lot) and while I don’t know the publisher’s funding model I’m guessing the ladies who are featured are the ladies who are paying the freight.

But that’s not the assignment.

What I want you to do is look at the portraits of the women featured inside the pages. What do you see? What do you think? Hw do you feel about them?

A few of the portraits are exceptional.

The shot of Michelle Valberg and her shooting crew of women makes a very positive statement. These are four serious photographers and whether or not they can shoot a decent photo (and I’m betting they can), they sure look like the type of no-nonsense photographers you’d want to shoot your next job or wedding. Doesn’t hurt that Michelle is a Nikon Ambassador either. Very powerful statement by an expert photographer. (Wonder if she shot this herself using a remote?)

My other pick of the bunch is the shot of 93-year-old Martha Zener of Oakville. First the shot makes her look 80 (and that’s a good thing) as it’s a young, vibrant 80 at that. Martha’s portrait is professionally lit and shot. I might have done something else with her left hand but that’s just me being picky. This is how you shoot people who are older than 25! Very nice job.

Now as for the rest….well, you decide.

Is the face brighter than the background? Does the subject standout from the rest of the shot? Is the shot flattering? After all, this is a promo piece and not photojournalism. Does the shot look natural or contrived? Nothing growing out of their heads from the background?

Now there’s contrived and there’s posed. All of the portraits here are what are called environmental portraits. That is the subject is placed in their environment. This can be good or bad depending on the photographer.

For example, the shot of Anna Maria Graziano holding a glass of red wine makes sense as she runs an Italian restaurant. It’s a pretty shot and well exposed. The shots of others holding similar wine glasses for no other reason that I can see expect to suggest success aren’t as strong in my opinion.

And somebody should have wrestled the Photoshop portrait softener brush out of the hands of most of the photographers. A little is okay but a lot especially in a closeup isn’t doing your client any favours. Totally featureless faces don’t fool the viewer and look fake.

My number one favourite shot and this is out of four I thought outstanding is the great photo of Komal Minhas. Exposure, lighting, focus and framing are all spot-on but it’s Komal’s expression and interaction with the camera that sells this image big time. It’s a blessing for the photographer when they can shoot someone who is so relaxed in their own body. Everything comes together here.

Now you may wonder why I’ve decided not to feature any of the images. First it’s not likely the publisher would release any one-time rights especially as I’m not swooning over every image. Second, I don’t need to embarrass any of the fine photographers who shot these images. My comments are just my own opinions and everybody I know can testify that I can be wrong on occasion.

So go get the magazine out of your newspaper and see if you agree with my thoughts and above all, use these shots to improve your own. Look at how the photographer used lights or didn’t use artificial lights. Look at the use of props and environment. Is the subject looking relaxed or stressed?

There’s a lot more I could say about the individual shots and overall they’re very good. All of them are typical of what you’ll see shot for this kind of assignment. And we can learn from them all.

Now get out there and shoot someone!

Best $85 Ever

That’s what it cost to attend STANDOUT! Photographic Forums yesterday in downtown Toronto.

Held at the HangLoose Media studio (cool place) on Logan, the all-day workshops were sponsored by a host of sponsors including PhaseOne and MamiyaLeaf and organized by B3K Digital.


There’s nothing like somebody handing you a $30,000 camera to make your hands shake :)

The pro-level workshops included American Photography Association president Tony Gale who talked about how to break into the US photo market followed by Douglas Sonders’s workshop on how to bullet-proof you location shooting, pre-production and digital tech-ing (his word). Both talks were excellent and filled with great info.

Next up was Walter Borchenko, founding partner at B3K Digital who did an overview of the Capture One photo editing software.

Now I’ve heard a lot about Capture One. If you Google Capture One you’ll see there’s a whole bunch of online tutorials and lots of very happy photographers raving about it.

Now as many of you know I used to teach for Henry’s Cameras here in Ontario and I teach (and use) Lightroom along with just about anything else to do with photography. (I’m working this week on a workshop about shooting street photography for a couple of camera clubs in the GTA.)

So let’s be clear here. I love Lightroom. Once I figured out how to setup my image files and bought a bunch of presets my ability to process thousands of images very, very quickly went way up. Everything in Lightroom works perfectly (okay I’m still struggling with some weirdness in printing to the Epson 3800 and usually use Photoshop to print.) and I’ve got the Adobe Lightroom/Photoshop subscription.

So while I was interested in Capture One, I wasn’t highly motivated to check it out.

Ah, well, ah…I hate to say it but after seeing Walter’s overview I’m sold on a couple of things. Capture One creates a better raw image to work on than Lightroom.

Okay! There I’ve said it.

When Walter projected two identical images on the screen we could clearly see the Capture One was sharper and clearer. And it was sharper and clearer by enough to make my jaw drop!

Second and really neat is Capture One works a little like my old favourite processor Nikon’s super and now unavailable NX Capture 2. I wonder if there’s not a hint here in the name? Doesn’t matter but what does matter is Capture One will allow you to change both global and local settings in really simple and elegant ways.

For example, Walter showed us a contact sheet of images with similar issues which could be fixed simultaneously in Capture One.

On one contact sheet he changed an over-exposure skin situation on all images at once. He did the same thing to a colour of a sweater changing all colours at the same time. But more importantly when one parameter in the images was changed, other parameters were left alone. Other software editors don’t do this.20121009032354-thumbnail-mark-seliger

I’m going to see if I can get my hands on a copy of Capture One and do an in-depth review at a future date.

The afternoon sessions at STANDOUT! where all equally useful and well presented but the highlight of the night was a 30-year retrospective of the work of Mark Seliger.

Mark is famous for his shooting for Rolling Stone magazine among others. A gracious and funny presenter, he’s a serious photographer who is at the top of his game right now. It was an honour and pleasure to be in the front row to hear the man and see his images.

All in all a great day of photography.

Class Acts

So I volunteer to help my dear friend Donna Papacosta by shooting some images at a social media workshop she gave in the offices of the Toronto Board of Trade.

Donna and I exchange favours whenever possible as she is a world-class podcaster and owner of Trafalgar Communications and an expert all things to do with social media and I am a wandering old press photographer and magazine and community newspaper editor who is always looking for opportunities to shoot photos.

(BTW I’ve got a new gig of creating blog copy for corporations, small businesses and non-profits.)

Shooting in the Toronto BoT boardroom was pretty tough with a variety of different lighting, small space and no way to use a proper lighting setup or even a flash. So I set the Olympus OM-D to shoot raw images at ISO 800 with the 12mm wide open at f/2 and then to capture the fleeting expression’s on Donna’s face I was firing at 11 frames per second on silent mode in available light.Intro

Three hours of shooting and I’ve filled a 32 gig memory card with 2,000 images. Because of the tough shooting situation paralleled with the need to get Donna looking her best I quickly cut the number down to 200 of which I did post production on just under 100.

Trying to colour match the images took sometime as did working to getting the skin tones consistent but after a couple of happy hours the job was done and I sent Donna a link to a private folder in my SmugMug gallery. I was hoping she liked the images which were suitable for social media posting but wouldn’t hold up as big prints for the wall.

As I was attending an all-day pro-level photo workshop yesterday (more to come about this) I started to see Donna was posting the images on Facebook. Lots of positive comments followed and I was a pretty happy photographer sitting there with a bunch of my peers and other pros.

But I hadn’t seen anything yet.

When I got up this morning and started to check my social media feeds I found this cartoon page that looked like Donna. I looked at it closely and it was Donna and it was my images of Donna. LOL. Wayne MacPhail a friend of Donna’s posted the page.

Now this is creative ! Wished I had thought of it. Nice job Wayne!


Why We Shoot Photos

“It saved my life.”

That’s a quote from Canadian pro-shooter Renee Robyn who found a reason to live in photography following a near-death motorcycle accident.

Watch this video (Thanks to SmugMug) and some of the others that SmugMug has shot if you’re needing a little inspiration. (BTW I’ve been a SmugMug customer for years.)

Ask yourself: Why do I shoot?

Is it to create a living memory of past events or portraits of family and friends? Perhaps like  Robyn it’s one of the things you can do really, really well no matter what life throws at you.


Marion and I were talking about photography and I think we might book two days and shoot the fall leaves in Algonquin Park again.

TIP: Absolutely go mid week to avoid the massive number of tour busses. Take a tripod and pre-plan your day. Don’t let a little rainy weather deter you (rain and overcast make the colours pop) but skip continuous downpours (not good for cameras or spouses). Stay overnight and get up before dawn to shoot the sunrise. You can shoot everything (just about) from Hwy. 60. Pack a lunch.

I’ve shot in Algonquin a few times and each time it’s different…and when I leave so am I.