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.


Guelph Camera Guild Workshop

Thanks to everyone at the Guelph Camera Guild for the warm welcome and fun night at their club meeting last night.P8080284-1

I talked about how to take radically better images using the techniques of street photography when on vacation or shooting around town.

As promised here’s a pdf of the Keynote slides.¬†Guelph Photo

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!