Gifts in the Camera

“I really believe there are things nobody would see if I didn’t photograph them.”

Diane Arbus

Do you believe that?  Have you ever even thought that?  Perhaps additional questions would be:

DO YOU see when you photograph?   Or do you just snap away, blindly pushing the shutter button while talking to your friends.  One VERY big disadvantage of the digital age is the large LCD screen on the back of cameras today.  In an SLR (film or digital) camera, you have to look through the lens to take a picture.  It effectively shuts everything else out because you have to actually put your eye to the camera and shut the other one to frame the image. 

WHAT do you see?  Do you see anything different than anyone else?

WHY do you take pictures?  Is it to record a simple moment in time, or to make a statement about your involvement in that moment.  Each moment has a meaning, a life, a story.  Do your pictures catch that?  Is there anything you add to your pictures that someone else at the same occasion or location wouldn’t see?  If not, why not? 

I encourage you to be purposeful in your picture taking.

Imagine the gift you give to your audience by showing them things they would not have seen without your help!

Photoshop gets a bad rap

“Dodging and burning are steps to take care of mistakes God made in establishing tonal relationships.”

~Ansel Adams

Photoshop gets a bad rap.  So-called ‘serious’ photographers disdain its very existence.  They think anyone using it must be sub-par as a photographic artist.


 Let’s talk about that. 

 My first class for my Master’s degree was a History of Photography class.  In it I learned an astounding truth — photographic manipulation has been practiced since the beginning of the medium!

The phrases “dodging” and “burning” quoted by Ansel Adams above refer to the conscious lightening or darkening of particular parts of an image as it’s being printed in a darkroom. 

But it goes way beyond that!

The first photograph was captured in 1826.  The first glass negative enabling multiple copies were created in 1851.  Almost immediately those negatives were being combined to create ‘manipulated’ pictures.

It is nigh impossible (even with today’s equipment) to get a properly exposed landscape shot without sacrificing detail in the sky – particularly if it is high overcast.  An image just isn’t as compelling if there a plain, overexposed sky.  Wouldn’t it be better to combine a picture of dramatic clouds with a picture of an interesting foreground?   

Sea with dramatic clouds


Here it is done masterfully by Gustave Le Gray, a French photographer in 1857.

The sky is taken from one picture and the water from another.  They were combined in the darkroom.

  “Well, that’s not that bad,” you say. 


 Just wait.

Composit photograph of girl dying


In 1858, Henry Robinson created a composite image titled “Fading Away.”  The image shows a young woman on her deathbed accompanied by grieving family members in various poses.  He made this picture by combining 5 separate negatives.



 Okay, let’s take it one step further.  What about a complete construction of a scene whose end bears no resemblance to the reality of the actual location. … That couldn’t be done without Photoshop … could it? 

Here’s a simple photograph.  Looks straight-forward, doesn’t it?  Again, just wait …

Combined negative print - "Here They Come"


Henry Robinson describes how this image was created:  “the two figures were placed in position on the bank I have described, and a negative taken of them. At the top of the bank was a brick wall: this was objectionable, and had to be removed from the picture; to do which a print was taken of the plate, but neither toned nor fixed, the figures and bank carefully cut out, and the remaining portion of the paper neatly pasted on the negative. Another print was then taken, in which the sky appeared too white; therefore the print was laid on a board, the figures and bank covered exactly with the impression from which the sky had been cut, a clean glass placed over the whole, and the board was carried into the light and the sky graduated down. This proceeding is very simple …” 

If that was ‘very simple,’ the implication is that this type of work was commonly executed by experienced photographic artists of the day.


So, all you who think that Photoshop is of the devil and the crutch of talentless goofs…

 The joke’s on you!


Cited references:
Photojournalism, an ethical approach
A paper written in 1860 by Henry Robinson regarding “Printing photographic pictures from several negatives.”

The 3:2 ratio dilemma

The world just does not fit conveniently into the format of a 35mm camera. 


I will be doing some shooting for a dance company later this spring and the pictures I take will need to be printed as 8x10s.  The problem is that the format for a 35mm camera (film or digital) takes pictures at a 3:2 ratio.  Taken at that ratio, a full sized print would be 8×12. 

 “What??”  You say…

 Stick with me…

What you see when you look through the viewfinder is a 3:2 ratio.  Basically, if your print is 3” long, it’ll be 2” wide.  6” long, 4” wide.  9” long, 6” wide and so on.  So, if you’re wanting to print a 4×6 print there is no trouble.  However, if you move toward a larger print – 5×7 or 8×10 – you will absolutely lose some of your picture.  That is BAD if you happen to fill your frame with your subject.   

As I said above, a 3:2 ratio would give you a 12×8 (or 8×12) size print.  If you print it as an 8×10 you are losing a full TWO INCHES off the width or height of your picture.  You can imagine how disappointing that can be when you go to enlarge that fantastic picture of your kid, or dog or whatever!

So, how do you compensate for that?  That’s what I spent a few hours looking into today.  However, short of spending over $100 for a special focusing screen that shows you a 8×10 gridline, there is nothing to do but estimate.  Leave yourself a little room around your subject.  With the size of today’s files (megabytes) you won’t have any trouble cropping in a bit if you don’t use the full picture after all.  But there is no way to ADD room around your subject once the picture is taken.  When in doubt, go slightly wider than you think you might need to.

(I say this with hesitation because I’m a huge advocate of ‘cropping in camera’ which means to EXCLUDE unnecessary or distracting elements of a scene.  But in this case, it must be done.)

One last word of advice – when you go to get your images printed ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS preview them before you okay the order.  Look at each and every one of them.  Sometimes even 4×6’s can be slightly cropped.  YOU want to be in control of what gets cropped out of your own prints. 

Have fun and Good Luck!


For a more detailed discussion on ratios, click here:

This is a good YouTube tutorial on printing 8x10s even with a 3:2 ratio.  It leaves a white border around the print, but at least you don’t lose any of that great shot!

Fro Knows Photos

Think before you click

The camera always points both ways. In expressing your subject, you also express yourself.

Freeman Patterson

What do your photographs say about you?  I have just spent 6 years studying for my Master’s in Fine Art in Photography at the Academy of Art University.  During that time, I was completely surrounded by other photographic artists.  To them, this kind statement is as familiar as a favorite sweater.  For those who have not studied photography (beyond the user’s manual of your camera), this statement is a bit ‘out there’. 

 You ask “What is there beyond pushing the shutter button and capturing a moment in time?  Isn’t a picture just an documentation of that event or person?” 

 As I have stated in previous entries, I believe that you cannot truly ‘take’ a picture until you give a bit of your soul.  What kind of image do you want representing your soul?  A blurry image?  An image that is so cluttered you can hardly tell what the subject is?  What about a family picture that cuts people off at the knees but leaves 2 inches of sky above them.  These are expressions of yourself that are laid out for all to see!

 I LOVE Facebook, but may I be open with a pet peeve of mine?  (And all my wonderful friends, I apologize in advance, what I have to say here might be hard to hear!)  I really don’t like it when people upload every single picture they’ve taken at an event.  Sometimes there are two or three of the same person in the same pose at the same time, differentiated only by the slightest camera movement.  And out-of-focus pictures … Really?? 

 My point is, even the act of uploading those pictures says something about your personality.  I’m not going to say what it says – that’s for a shrink to decide. 

Truthfully, you express yourself through the care you take in composing your picture, by choosing the correct settings, in taking the time to know your camera.  These all give the careful observer an insight into your soul. 

 So, as you again pick up your camera to capture an event, person or location – please stop and take the time to think not only about your subject, but about yourself and how you want to express yourself through that picture.  Then, snap away!

Inversely proportional

I like to watch the person viewing my photographs to see if their eyes twinkle or cloud with tears. Does the smile sneek out when they were not expecting it to. Then I know I have captured emotion that can be shared.

Marsha Cairo

I also like to watch a person while they are looking at my images.  It’s fun to hear and see their reactions.  I quite often can predict the way my audience will respond based on the genre being observed. 

It seems the honest reaction to my images is Inversely proportional to its ‘abstractness’.  In other words, the more obvious the work, the better people like it.  The more representative the images – either in composition or subject matter – the less “ooh’s and ahhh’s” I get.

What I LOVE is when I express my creative soul to others – speaking the unspoken Language of Vision  – and they can hear me.  THAT is when…I know I have captured emotion that can be shared.

Give your soul

If you want to photograph a man spinning, give some thought to why he spins. Understanding for a photographer is as important as the equipment he uses.

Margaret Bourke-White

There is so much more to photography than simply snapping the shutter.  (or pushing a button – since many people don’t know what a camera shutter is anymore!)

To capture the essence of a location, a person, an event or a moment, you must give of yourself.  It reminds me of the idea that some cultures don’t like getting their picture taken as it could steal their soul…  I believe that you cannot take a truly meaningful picture unless you GIVE a bit of your soul.  Only in that way will your pictures reflect an emotional attachment that draws people to it.  Otherwise your pictures are simply snapshots – easily viewed and easily forgotten. 

So, next time you begin to push that button, ask yourself if you have given any thought, time or attention to your subject.  If not, stop, draw a breath and do so.  Then – shoot away!

Photography Quotes

I plan to share some of my favorite photography quotes with you on the days I don’t have other content. My Facebook Fan Page has a daily photography quote, so you can check it out there as well.

Today’s quote is: “Photography is a calling that requires vigilance and alertness for that moment in time that only occurs once.” – Caroline Mueller