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The Decisive Moment
"Behind the Gare-Saint-Lazare"
Henri Cartier-Bresson

     New Year's can be a time of reflection.  Being a photographer, I can't help but think back on the year in terms of pictures.  2011 was a big year on the world stage.  We live in a visual world, and much of the news we receive is captured through the eyes of a photographer.  Check out the link below for some of the most powerful images of 2011.  

    What makes these images so powerful?  I think it is all about capturing the feeling at that exact moment.  A pioneer in photo-journalism, Henri Cartier-Bresson, often spoke of "the decisive moment".   "Photography is not like painting," Cartier-Bresson told the Washington Post in 1957. "There is a creative fraction of a second when you are taking a picture. Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera. That is the moment the photographer is creative," he said. "Oop! The Moment! Once you miss it, it is gone forever." I don't think it can be explained any better.

PS   What did your year look like in pictures?  It's fun to look back, that's why we take the photos in the first place.  Share some of your favorite photos here, http://www.facebook.com/blackdogphotoco.  I'd love to see your favs!

     Alright, you went all Clark Griswold on the house and want to document your achievement in exterior illumination.  All you need is a pro style DSLR with a fast ISO and fast lenses, easy.  OK, maybe you don't feel like dropping five grand on gear to create a photo to show off your house on Facebook.  Have no fear, all you need is a point and shoot camera and something solid to rest it on.
     Most aspiring photographers wait until it is too dark to take photos of their lights.  If you shoot during the day, you won't see the lights at all.  If you wait until it is completely dark, you can have the lights or the surroundings properly exposed, but not both.  The key is to find the sweet spot where the ambient (existing) light and the Christmas lights balance.
     Get out there early!  You don't want to miss the good light.  Set your camera up on something sturdy.  A tripod is best, but mailboxes work too.  Watch the light change and shoot away as the sky starts to darken.  Check the screen on the back of the camera and wait for the light to balance.  You are looking for the cobalt color sky, with the lights seeming to pop off the image.  If you want to kick it up a notch, switch your camera's white balance to tungsten ( the setting that looks like a little lightbulb), it will balance the lights and make the sky go really blue.  
     Good shooting, and Merry Christmas!


PS  If you get some cool images, post them to the Facebook page.  I'd love to see your illumination efforts!

     I was walking along the  Rocky River, in a fruitless search for steelhead trout, when I spotted this flower.  I couldn't resist grabbing a quick photo or two.  What's the big deal with this common looking wild flower?  It's almost Christmas, and this rebel decided to laugh in the face of winter and brighten my day.  
     In the midst of all those grays and browns, a splash of color was a welcome addition to my morning.  What have you seen lately that has brightened your day?


PS  I'm not a horticulturist, anybody know what the name of the flower is?
     It's the holiday season.  The roads are clogged with shoppers.  What on earth are you going to give your father this year?  Why aren't all the checkout lanes open?  I'm getting stressed out just thinking about it...maybe I'll just go home and relax...with my two year old crawling all over me.  
     What to do?  Run away.  I grabbed a pretty girl and took off to Pittsburgh to see the Nutcracker.  Relax family, the pretty girl is Ashley, my wife.  We went to the Ballet at the Benedum Theater, a beautiful old building in the cultural district, and then met Ash's sister for dinner.  We ate everything on the menu, and may have had some really great Pinot Noir as well.  All in all, the whole evening was gorgeous.
     My job as a photographer, in a sense, is to make things look pretty.  Nothing inspires me to create pretty photos more than an evening like we had the other night.  How can you not be inspired by the talent on display at the theater?  How can it not be inspiring to enjoy the passion the chef put into the amazing food we enjoyed?  I came home excited to grab my camera.
     I will always remember a quote I read from a great photographer.

"your talent is like a baby. It needs attention, to be nurtured, lest it fade away."-Annie Leibowitz
 Whatever your talent is, get out and nurture it this holiday season.  Go see live music, visit the art museum, whatever you enjoy.  I promise, it will enrich your life. 

     Often, the most rewarding aspect of being a portrait photographer capturing important milestones in our client's lives.  My favorite of these opportunities happened the other day.  We photographed Louie and Erin's wedding, and we recently did photos of their new son MJ.  
     Why do I like this scenario so much?  There are a multitude of reasons.  You just can't help but get sucked into the excitement of such milestones in life.  It's awesome to build the kind of relationships that lead to clients asking you to be a part of said moments.  Most of all though, it's a reality check about what is truly important in this life.
     The news is depressing, the holidays can be stressful, work can wear you down.  Sometimes it is hard to keep things in perspective.  Go to a wedding.  Look at a baby.  Both are so refreshing because the whole future lies ahead.  There is so much potential happiness.   
     Photographing a couples wedding, and then creating images of their new baby, brings that feeling of potential back to me.  My job is pretty cool.  
     Thanks to Louie and Erin for allowing us to be a part of their special moments.  Check out the video of MJ's session below, and feel a little happier on this Friday.


PS    That baby is freakin' cute.
     I'm excited.  I watched a great movie the other night.  The movie didn't have a single CGI effect.  In fact, it didn't even have color.  Surprisingly, it held my attention from start to finish... having a two year old seems to contribute to me snoring through the denouement. 
     I digress, back to the movie.  A cynical American running a bar in unoccupied Africa in 1941 runs into an old flame and puts his own feelings aside to take advantage of his underground connections with a corrupt Vichy French officer to help the leader of the Czech underground escape to continue his fight against tyranny.  Got it?  Good.
     OK, so the story is a little hard to follow, and the plot moves a little slowly for the 21st Century.  What struck me is the artistry of the film.  Every scene is lit like a portrait, with a key, a hair light, and a grid on the background (pay attention to the filter on the lens every time they show Ingrid Bergman).  The entire movie is dialogue, with very little action.  The beauty of the film, and the intriguing story, are what captivate the viewer.  In this era of overdone special effects and movie rehashes, it is real breath of fresh air.
     What's the point?  With technological miracles at our fingertips, maybe it's a good idea to practice KISS once in a while.  Keep It Simple Stupid.  Maybe we don't always need outrageous special effects to make something beautiful and interesting.  Hmmm... 
     Here's an idea; turn off your Blackberry, don't check Facebook, and don't even Tweet your thoughts about the movie.  I know, it's more than a little hypocritical to write this in a blog.  Just pour yourself a Champagne cocktail and enjoy Rick Blaine's dry humor, a great story in historical context, and some of the best movie lines ever.  Here's looking at you kid.

PS  I posted one of my favorite scenes below.

PPS  Do you know the movie yet?

PPPS  It's Casablanca

We will all have out cameras out this Holiday season.  Preserving memories of our children and families gathered together is why we purchase expensive cameras.  The action on Christmas morning is fast paced, and the moments can be fleeting.  How can you be sure to capture those moments?  There are a few things you can do stack the deck in your favor.

1.  Get Your Camera Christmas-ReadyWant to annoy the kids? Make them sit in limbo Christmas morning while you fumble with memory cards and batteries. If you'd prefer Christmas pictures with smiling faces, anticipate events like Christmas morning gift opening by having your camera prepped and ready to shoot.

2.  Think Outside the Christmas Present-There are so many amazing Christmas moments that don't happen Christmas morning and don't involve opening presents. What about the night before when the kids place the cookies and milk out for Santa? Or the afternoon your child spends making a homemade gift for the grandparents? Or the fun get together with friends?  Have your camera on you during the holidays, and there will probably be many special occasions or even unique and fleeting moments to capture with your camera.

3.  Be the Christmas Present-When you are shooting the typical Christmas morning gift opening extravaganza, don't force everyone to hold up a gift and smile. This isn't very genuine.Instead, get on the level of the gift opener (probably the floor for children) and just catch their natural actions: tearing or neatly opening the paper, the priceless look on their face when the gift is revealed, the casual and contemptuous toss of unwanted clothes over the shoulder.

Candid Christmas pictures will probably look more natural, bring more laughs, and better capture the mood than any posed should would.

4.  Christmas Portraits-You may still want to pose your subjects, but it doesn't have to be them holding up gifts. Christmas often provides unique opportunities to get group portraits of family and friends who may rarely be gathered together at once.Take advantage by gathering everyone together somewhere with a nice and uncluttered backdrop. A Christmas tree can be a popular background, but even a wall that isn't too busy or a living room couch can work well.

Look at the entire frame to be sure everyone is well represented, as in no heads chopped off. Also be sure there isn't something distracting anywhere in the image. Stagger your subjects, perhaps with some standing and some sitting.

Take several pictures and experiment with the lighting. That way, if a person is blinking or yawning in one (something no so easy to spot on an LCD screen), you'll have a few choices.

I posted a couple of our photos below (get the details...centerpiece, and getting down on kids level during present opening).  

Most important, film is cheap.  Take a lot of photos and pick your favorites later.  As a well known fisherman says: "you can't catch a fish if your fly isn't in the water". 


Akron Wedding Photographer, Black Dog Photo Co