With the Fourth of July right around the corner here in the United States, along with other summer celebrations around the world, photographers everywhere will be photographing fireworks over the next couple of months. Many will try, but how many will succeed? Fireworks photos, in my experience, are usually an all-or-nothing proposition. You either get the shot or you don’t. The good news is that there are steps you can take and tips you can follow that will vastly increase your chances of success. This is not a ranking. Missing any one of these elements can mean the difference between a crisp, dramatic photo and an over/under-exposed frame of out-of-focus smoke. Instead, I chose to list our tips for photographing fireworks in the order you’ll need them.
I posed a question to the DIY writing staff last week. I was wondering how many of them still read hard-copy photography magazines, and if so, I wanted to know if they subscribe or just purchase the occasional issue. It’s something I’ve been curious about for a while. After all, when you think about just how much information is out there and readily available, you almost have to wonder how traditional magazines are still making a go of it. The results of my informal survey were a bit underwhelming, but it was as I suspected– most people simply don’t subscribe to traditional magazines anymore. I still get a few, but then again, I also remember a pre-internet world where you had to put forth some effort and seek out knowledge and information.
The reality is, however, that while traditional magazines may no longer have the same widespread appeal they once had in the photography community, the same cannot be said for books on the subject. Again, I’m not talking about e-books or any other electronic conveyance. I’m talking about an actual collection of pages, all bound together in a single unit, containing all kinds of useful information and insight. It’s something I can hold in my hands. I can highlight it and bookmark it. Flip back and forth between sections. Compare and contrast different chapters without having to swipe, scroll, pinch, or flick my wrist for anything other than turning pages.
Let’s face it– there is a LOT of photography education out there to be had. Some of it’s great. Some of it’s good. Then some of it– a lot of it, unfortunately– is simply sub-par and not worth your time. Some of the best, though, is currently coming from a company you may not have heard of. Founded by former Monte Zucker assistant Jeff Medford, MZed (formerly Monte Zucker Photographic Education) is bringing together some of the biggest names in photography, in an effort to provide some of the best photographic education available– in person or online.
It happened again about a week ago. The Conversation. You know the one. It starts innocently enough.
“You’re a professional photographer?”
“Yes. I am.”
“Wow! That must be so exciting.”
“No, I bet you go to all sorts of cool and exciting places, and meet lots of interesting people.”
And so on and so on.
I think I feel a bit of a rant coming on.
First a little background. Something you should know about me. One of the many reasons I decided to leave the practice of law almost ten years ago was the constant adversarial nature of the beast. I thrived on it in the courtroom, but the daily incessant back-and-forth bickering was just making me miserable. Of course there were exceptions, but not enough of them to sustain my collaborative spirit. My initial reaction when I switched to full-time professional photography had me excited in a way I hadn’t been in years. I was fortunate enough to meet and get to know some truly amazing photographers– generous, creative, collaborative people who were willing to throw open the vault and share so much of themselves. The breath of fresh air was as amazing as it was refreshing. To a certain extent, however, it was also fleeting.
Let’s take a look at three photographers almost all of us know.
In the world of photography products, there aren’t many surprises. We see variations on themes. New strap styles may seek to innovate (and sometimes succeed), but when you get right down to it, they’re straps. “New and Improved” sensor cleaning systems may improve on those that came before, but it’s still a blower or a swab or an electro-static stroke of marketing genius aimed at convincing you that this next purchase is the one that’s going to put your photography over the top. I know…this all sounds a bit jaded, and maybe it is. A little. So, you can imagine how happy I was when something truly different found its way across my desk recently.
One of the questions I get a lot comes from new photographers wanting to know whether they should be working in Photoshop or Lightroom. I particularly enjoy their deer-caught-in-the-headlights look when I reply, “Both!” While it’s true that either of these incredibly powerful Adobe tools could, in theory, provide photographers with everything they need to edit their images, I really am a firm believer that a strong workflow rests on a solid foundation of both PS & LR. Having said that, though, learning just one of these applications can be a daunting task for even the most dedicated photographer. Learning two can seem insurmountable.
About a year ago I received an email with some bad news from a client. “Dear Jeff– I just wanted to let you know that Gwen and Peter have called off their engagement and will not be getting married in September. The news comes as quite a shock to us, but Gwen claims it’s for the best and we’ve always trusted her judgment. I apologize for the short notice, but we just found out less than 48 hours ago. I would like to stop by later this week and pick up a refund of our deposit…” There was a bit more after that, but it was just a blur. My attention was focused squarely on four words– “refund of our deposit.”
I don’t know about you, but I got into photography so I could spend my time taking photos. What I did not get into photography for was the post production, the marketing, the meetings, the consultations, the pitches, the proposals, and the networking. Or the countless hours away from my family. For that I could have kept practicing law and left photography on the shelf as a hobby. The things we do in life always look different to those on the outside looking in. Just like my non-lawyer friends were convinced that all of my courtroom appearances were worthy of a “Law & Order” script, I find that many of the non-photographers in my life have a totally warped view of what those of us who make a living with our cameras do every day. Realistically speaking, I’d have to say that maybe only ten percent of my life as a photographer is about shooting. The other ninety percent is the stuff that makes me wish I could afford a full-time assistant. For me, it comes down to the best use of my time. Does “insert activity here” take time away from shooting and/or family? If so, what I can I do to switch that around?
One of these days I’m going to get back into shape. Then I’m going to fly to Nepal. Then I’m going to hire a Sherpa to guide me on an arduous journey up into the highest reaches of the Himalayas. Along the way he’ll teach me his language, as well as the customs of his people. By the time we arrive at the summit, we will have saved each others’ lives several times, binding our fates together for all eternity. Sitting atop the apex of the world (beneath a sign that says, “No Flash Photography Allowed”) will be a shriveled old man with a long beard who will explain to me the sorcery and wonder behind the algorithm that determines what’s going to show up as a “suggested post” on my Facebook news feed.