Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Lightmanship is Moving and Expanding!

To better support my expansion plans for Lightmanship, I have moved it to a new server! I will leave the existing posts here at Blogger, but all new posts will go to the new server at www.lightmanship.com. All posts here at Blogger will also exist in the blog archives at the new server.

If you are currently subscribing to the Lightmanship blog via email, your subscription will automatically be moved to the new blog.

In addition to continuing the Lightmanship blog, I will be adding photography tutorials, demonstrations, and software that can be downloaded from the website.

So, keep an eye out for all the new stuff!...:-)

Michael Grace-Martin is a professional wedding, portrait, event, stock, and fine art photographer based in Upstate New York. He is also the author of this blog. All images and text are (c) Michael Grace-Martin Photography. His main website is: http://www.mgm-photography.com/.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Photo Sharing Websites and "Successful" Photos

I've participated in photo sharing websites for the past 5-6 years and found them helpful in some ways but frustrating in others. I've tried to use them as places to put up my images to discover which are "objectively good" (if such a thing is even possible) and which aren't. I mean, maybe I really like a particular photo I've taken, but let's see what the rest of the photo sharing audience thinks!

Interestingly--and I've heard this from other photographers as well--many of my favorites (of photos that *I* have produced) are *not* the favorites of my photo sharing audience. Sometimes they go nuts over an image I post that I wasn't even sure I wanted to post because I thought it was marginal. Other times, I'll post an image that I think is one of the best photos I've ever taken, and it meets with dead "silence" from my photo sharing audience...heck, sometimes I can barely get them to even click the thumbnail and view the image larger!

So, what's going on here?

First, I don't think *subtlety* plays well at photo sharing websites. Probably the main reason for this is that image viewers are making a decision whether to click on and view your image larger based on a relatively small thumbnail image. If the compelling aspect/s of your image are relatively small within the image and/or not visually "loud", when it's thumbnail sized, it may not appear interesting at all! Related to this: your image may be one of those that needs to be seen large (800 pixels or more in the maximum dimension) to be appreciated. But many photo sharing websites display the enlarged image at a mere 400-500 pixels in the maximum dimension. These common constraints at photo sharing websites have therefore--unintentionally, I think--made certain types of photos more prevalent and popular (e.g., close-ups, bright colors, high contrast, and appearance of nudity) because that's what gets *noticed* when images are presented small, and this small presentation used as a basis for the viewer's decision to investigate and evaluate the image further.

It seems that the one exception to the non-subtlety bias is when a photographer has such a dedicated following that his/her "fans" will click on anything the photographer posts and closely look for anything that makes it compelling.

Second, if you tend to jump back and forth between various subjects (children, weddings, fine art nudes, etc)  and/or styles of photography (B&W vs. Color, film vs digital, sharp focus vs blurry focus, etc), you tend to lose your audience's viewing "loyalty" because--good or bad--most people want to see photography regarding a certain subject matter or style and want to see it again and again. I think they want to see creativity (at least I'm pretty sure they want to), but they want to see it *within* a particular subject matter or style that they enjoy.

So, if you want to make it hard on yourself getting a dedicated following, just keep jumping all over the map in terms of subject matter and style and you'll find out how easy it is to drive viewers away. (A recommendation: if you really need to pursue different subjects or styles, consider creating multiple accounts and dedicate each one to a single style or subject matter.)

A third factor: activity at photo sharing sites can sometimes degrade into pure popularity contests. I don't want to infer that this is always the case, because it's not. But some photographers at these sites get so many views and comments because they have a large network of photo sharing friends--much like having lots of friends at a social networking site like Facebook--that are good about viewing and commenting on each others' photos. There's nothing necessarily wrong with this, but it can make it difficult for someone to evaluate how "successful" their images are if they're comparing their number of comments and/or views to the images of someone else when that someone else has a much more extensive photo sharing friend network!

A fourth factor: most photo sharing websites are set up to show one enlarged image at a time and are geared toward "one hit" photos that stand on their own. Sure, you can group a bunch of related photos into one folder; but visually, it's the thumbnails you see together, not a series of enlarged images next to each other, like in a book. Also, the order of the images is usually chronological rather than being chosen by the photographer to appear in a particular, meaningful sequence.

I've noticed that when fine art photographers put together a portfolio, the sequencing and the juxtaposition of photos on facing pages is crucial to the success of the photos' presentation. Often, I find that any one of these photos from a series isn't all that interesting by itself. Together, though, the photos tell a story and/or present a consistent perspective that can be very compelling. Photo sharing websites are geared more toward singular "hits" that shine individually and don't require a consistent supporting artistic vision.


Sometimes, I think the best thing about photo sharing websites is seeing the work of other photographers! For your own work, I think you have to be careful what you take away from the feedback you get from them. I would caution you against using them to decide which of your photos is the absolute best (e.g., for contests) or for putting together a portfolio of your best work. I have found that photo sharing websites are not very helpful for determining how to group or sequence photos for a book or portfolio because they're geared more toward the presentation and evaluation of one image at a time. Also, you have to keep in mind that photos do well at photo sharing websites for various reasons, and some of those reasons may have little to do with the critical or artistic quality of a photo.

Michael Grace-Martin is a professional wedding, portrait, event, stock, and fine art photographer based in Upstate New York. He is also the author of this blog. All images and text are (c) Michael Grace-Martin Photography. His main website is: http://www.mgm-photography.com/.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Balancing Event Participation and Photo Taking

When I think of it, I often bring my camera when I take the kids out to a park, swimming, hiking, a birthday party, picking strawberries, etc. Commonly in these instances, I am both a participant in the activities and an observer of them; taking photos necessarily puts me in the role of an observer while I'm photographing. While I'm "observing", I tend not to be much of a participant. Is there a way to balance the two roles?

After trying to play both roles simultaneously for so many years (my son just turned 9 and I've been photographing him since he was a baby), I think I've finally got it down.

I think the key is to be a participant *first*. If you're being an observer/photographer *first*, the people around you will sense that and either get frustrated with you (e.g., your spouse gets angry that you're not helping with the children) or not interact with you because you're being aloof.

Now, while being a participant, you should be watching for photo opportunities with your camera readily available (e.g., around your neck, at your side, in your hand) and turned on. It can be tricky to have this split attention while interacting with others, because they (especially adults) may sense you're not giving them your full attention. You have to gauge the situation and may have to give up on watching for photo opps during certain stretches of conversation when you can't realistically be paying attention to both things at once.

I generally find there's an ebb and flow to these events and situations such that you can easily be more of an observer at certain times because there's a lull in the action; but then need to jump back in as a participant when warranted.

One key to making this work is learning to recognize optimal "photographic moments" and quickly snapping them and putting the camera back down. The less time you spend with the camera in front of your face (or looking down at the LCD if you're using the LCD instead of an optical viewfinder), the less you'll give others the impression you're not really participating.

I think that being an active participant can sometimes actually lead to more interesting photos; it gives you a different and somewhat "dynamic" viewpoint of the situation. Watching and interacting at the same time can create its own sort of synergy that can get into the photos and make them uniquely compelling.

I'm not sure what comes first--the elevated state of perception or trying to play the combined observer/participant role--but I've found that when it's going well, I do have this creative and energetic state of mind that not only leads to better photos but also to being more present and having more fun at the event or situation itself!...:-).

Michael Grace-Martin is a professional wedding, portrait, event, stock, and fine art photographer based in Upstate New York. He is also the author of this blog. All images and text are (c) Michael Grace-Martin Photography. His main website is: http://www.mgm-photography.com/.