PHOTOGRAPHY….. A WAY OF LIFE… by JC Mendez

For those of you who want to become a photographer or are thinking about becoming one, let me just say that this is a profession where you have to give it your all and then some, and if I had to sum it all up I’d have to say that it’s more of “A Way of Life” than anything else. As a kid my original goal was to be an artist and took up photography as a means of documenting things to draw, paint or sculpt. I never really thought of it as a means of expressing my creativity yet over the years I found myself taking more pictures than I actually used for reference material and thus began my journey towards becoming a photographer. Of course as with most people mine was not a straight shot from point A to point B, as I got side tracked many a time along the way one of which being, spending the better part of my life in law enforcement, and while it is an entirely different “Way of Life”, there are great similarities between the two professions, Passion being one of them.

One day a few years ago, I came across a video of a guy who I had never heard of before, Chase Jarvis and he was giving this presentation New York City. Needless to say, I was so motivated that by the time I was done watching the video, I was well on my way to making what was perhaps the biggest career change of my life. And a few months later after weighing out, the pros and cons and deciding I could live with the risk factor, I took that leap of faith, and chose a new career.

You see when I chose to do this full-time, I wasn’t worried so much about how I was going to do it or that there would be some obstacles along the way, as much as I did so knowing full well and perhaps the most difficult one of all would lie within me. As a photographer, you and your work are interchangeable. That is to say that in order for you to be noticed you need to put yourself out there, you need to market yourself and your work. People need to get to know you and thus become interested in your work. But I come from a different world, a world were personal information is shared on a need to know basis only and everything is kept tightly secured behind that imaginary wall we all have, and that’s the ways it’s done. Even to this day, I still have that allegiance to my former life and still struggle to live between the two, but this is what I wanted to do, so I did it. Now as with most things in life, I can tell you that it is not going to be easy it’s hard work and there will times when you will get discouraged, doubtful, angry, frustrated, confused etc… etc…, but if this is what you truly want to do, then do it. Of course there is always a certain amount of risk when you embark on a new venture but that’s just part of the experience. For example, earlier in this article I told you that my path had not been a straight one and it hasn’t.

I had to change my entire way of thinking and go from a very reserved, tight-lipped individual to a more outgoing, open one. Not Easy! Sometimes I still wonder if I can do it…. There will be times when you will wonder why you are doing this, things are not going well, those are the times when you got to push harder and look for that light at the end of the tunnel, faint as it may be, it is always there. Don’t worry about the “what if it’s an on-coming train,” just focus on the light and if it does turn out to be a train, then step out of the way and keep on going. Learn from your mistakes and make the best of it, the experiences you gain along the way will serve you well. I remember when things were real bad and every month there was something new to contend with, it got so that I got to know the guy who came by to shut off my power on a first name basis. For a while there I kept thinking, wow this really sucks…… and then I looked at it from a different perspective, even in something as bad as someone coming to shut off my power, there was something positive, I had made a new friend. Of course these aren’t the things you want everyone to know because the ideal thing is to be able to tell everyone how great you’re doing, and how you’re so busy that you hardly have time for anything. My point is that you have to believe in yourself and keep pushing forward no matter what; it’s not how you fall or how hard or how far you fall, but how you get back up that matters.

If I had one piece of advice to give you, it would be, “to be persistent and passionate about your work.”   You really got to want it and more importantly, be willing to do whatever it takes to make it happen.  With that said, there are a few other things that you need to do to further your transition from novice to an experienced photographer. You need to know your equipment, how it works, it’s limitations, what works for what and what’s out on the market and of course practice, practice, practice, shoot anything and everything, shoot every day. The other thing you need is knowledge. Study and learn the craft both from the technical side as well as the business side. Personally, I’ve always been more of a hands on kind of guy, and not much for sitting in class but I do study the works of others and learn from what they do and how they do it. Take what they do digest it, tweak it and develop your own style. For me, learning new things is key, and it doesn’t matter who I learn from pro or novice, so long as I learn. Find someone who inspires you and follow their work. For me it’s guys like, Joel Grimes,  Chase JarvisJoe McNallyPeter HurleySteve Perry, and Matt Grainger, to name a few. All of these guys are at the top of their game and although I don’t know any of them personally, they have all had a significant influence in my work. These are the guys that set the bar for me, whether or not I ever make it to their level is not the point, the point is that I strive to do so, and that’s what you need to do, keep moving forward. I can assure you that if you were to ask any of them what makes them do what they do, you would find that the one thing they all have in common, is Passion, a love for what they do, and that’s what it’s all about. You have to love it!

This is an exciting and rewarding time to be a photographer because everyday new technologies emerge that makes what we do so much cooler. It’s also very different from the old days when very few photographers were willing to share their knowledge and experiences with other photographers much less someone just starting out. We live in an age where everyone, or at least almost everyone is willing to share information, and knowledge is power, the power to make it, if you so choose to do so. There are workshops, and schools, and courses galore, some free some not, and if you can’t afford them, then there’s always the internet, and pros like David Hobby at StrobistTony and Chelsea Northrup , or Peter McKinnon and Creative Live  where you can watch and learn from their on-line tutorials, the abundance of information to be had is endless.

So here’s where I tell you that although things may be slow and coming, this business has its peaks and valleys and I still get up every day, pick up my camera and shoot something, weather I’m getting paid or not, it’s what I do and have no regrets. So if you have decided that being a photographer is what you really want to do, do it!

If you liked this article, please share it and by all means feel free to leave your comments, thanks……..

THE CREATIVE SIDE OF PHOTOGRAPHY by JC Mendez

Being Creative With Your Portraits

In today’s world of instant access to information via the World Wide Web, anyone anywhere can find and learn about almost anything in as much as it takes their computer, smart phone or other web enabled device to locate the desired content. This brief post, is by no means a definitive work on how to take better portraits, but rather one of many ways to do it; and while you have probably read or heard about a number of ways to shoot portraits, the one thing that nearly every “How To” article or “E-book” agree on, is that there are a few simple rules that one must follow in order to get good results, for all types of photography.

For the purpose of this post, I will assume that you already have a basic understanding of photography, and are looking to expand your knowledge base and enhance your technical skills; thus with that basic premise in mind, lets dividephotography into two basic categories, the Technical Approach and the Creative Approach. While both are equally important, this post focuses mainly on the mixture of the two, with the major emphasis placed on the creative aspects of portraiture and what I have found works best for me.

As people, we are all unique individuals with different ideals, beliefs and experiences which makes us who we are; as artist/photographers, it is no different, so whenever I teach, I always tell people to look at the learning experience, as a work in progress, evaluate it, process it, take from it what works for them, and discard the rest, after all part of being an artist/photographer is all about developing one’s own, unique style.

As with all things in life, there is a process to everything, and in photography, there is no substitute for knowing the rules of what it takes to make a technically sound image; proper exposure, sharp focus, correct white balance and knowing the your equipment and its limitations are but a few of the things that go into the making of an image. Yet I believe, and this is my opinion, that the human element is the single most important part of the equation; as without you, the artist/photographer, exposure, sharp focus, and white balance are just terms and a camera and lens are just tools. It is what we do with them to bring our thoughts and ideas to life is what makes the difference; and thus enters the creative process and the passion to create.

The Creative Process

For me the Creative Process and that passion that drives me to create is what determines how I shoot; by the time I pick up the camera and position my subject, I have already envisioned in my mind how that image is going to look, long before that shutter ever cycles through. While I own several light meters and other nifty gadgets, I consider myself more of an artist than a photographer, and seldom use them except for that of an ordinary 18% grey card which will make life easier during post production; I tend to rely more on what I see and how I feel about the image, than what the camera’s histogram tells me. In essence, I learned the rules and then set out to break everyone of them.

The Eyes; Windows to the Soul

When photographing people, the single most important part of any good portrait are the eyes, as it is usually the first thing the viewer looks at. A person’s eyes are the most prominent feature of a person’s face and can, and most often do, convey a powerful statement or emotion which aids in capturing the interest of your audience. They also tend to be the sharpest and most readily identifiable feature on a person’s face; case in point, National Geographic Photographer, Steve McCurry’s image of the “Afghan Girl” featured on the Cover of the June 1985 Issue of the Magazine, gained instant, world wide notoriety, as it captivated the hearts and minds of millions of readers.

Thus, all efforts should be made to ensure that the eyes remain, crystal clear and sharp. The eyes, can convey the unspoken message of fear, humility, tragedy, joy, happiness, grief and countless other powerful emotions, that will captivate the viewer’s imagination and cause an impact on their psyche. This concept can also be applied to animals, as very often the intensity of an animal’s eyes can capture and mystify the viewer’s imagination and draw then into the image.

Focus points and which one to choose

Today’s cameras have the ability to choose the most appropriate focus point for you; all you have to do is set it to do so. However, when you choose that option that tells the camera to select the focus points for you, you severely limit your ability to focus exactly on what you want to focus on. This feature will usually pick and focus on the closest thing to the lens; and in most cases, the camera will identify a group of points and estimate on what to focus on based on the average distance between the points in that particular group. By using one focus point, you will have total control of what you are focusing on and get the shot that you want.

Fast lenses give you great blurry backgrounds

Outside of the fact that fast lenses tend to have a better resale value, they are also the best and easiest way to get great blurry backgrounds. Any lens with an aperture of ƒ/2.8 and below will yield greater shallow depth of field results. As you can see in the image above, shot with a Canon 7D and a 300mm L Series ƒ/2.8 lens, the rider’s face and that of his equine partner are in focus, while the background is smooth and blurry or if you will, great “bokeh.” This effect is not only more pleasing to the eye, but removes any distracting or unsightly items from the frame, and allows the viewer to focus in on the main subject of the image.

Choosing the right lens

Which is the right lens for the job? Well, as with everything in life, that is a matter of personal preference. It also depends on who you ask. Some say you should never go below a 50mm; however, the creative, artsy side of you may want to use a 24mm or 35mm lens, and that’s fine so long as you keep in mind that the wider the angle of the lens you use, the more noticeable the distortion in the image may be.

Some photographers prefer to use prime lenses, like the 85mm ƒ/1.4 or a 135mm ƒ/2.8 for their portraits; while others tend to lean more towards telephotos like a 24-70mm ƒ/2.8 or a 70-200mm ƒ/2.8 which will also increase your bokeh due to their compression effect. Nevertheless, the choice is yours and in the end it all boils down to you and what speaks to you as an artist; so experiment, have fun and see what works best for you and your vision, remember this is about exploring your creative side.