Photography has more than 2 P’s

Right off the top of my head: preference, point of view, pose, practice, process and purpose. Surely one can think of many more.


This photo was shortlisted at IGPOTY Macro – total thrill!!!!

Let’s consider this quote which coincidentally involves more photography p’s “practice” and “perfect”:

“ Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.” – Henri Cartier-Bresson

If you are reading this, you will probably be glad to know that “10,000 photographs” represents just the start for me…I probably passed that milestone years ago and now continue to output this quantity every few months between personal and professional projects.

Looking at my first roll of developed negatives in my “bathroom” darkroom nearly 40 years ago, one could say I was “hooked”…today, “immersed” is more accurate.   Before one presses the shutter, a tremendous amount of thought and planning typically goes into “making the photo” as opposed to “taking the photo.” I’ve enjoyed every step of this learning journey. Some professors said very kind things while others offered constructive criticism which often contributed to more rapid improvement.


So, frequently, I will revisit  a theme or object many times and definitely see an improvement. My floral botanicals today are composed, lit and focused better than they were let’s say ten years ago. And, once you know the subject, it is easier to show the qualities which make it unique. The passion flower, below, never ceases to attract and challenge me because although it appears to be a fairly uniform,  complex yet distinct  and colorful flower, the depth of the blossom presents numerous photographic challenges particularly when shooting macro with limited depth of field.


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Focus can be subjective…

Years ago, and this was in the days of film, my photography professor, looked at one of my flower photographs and tactfully “sniffed” a few barely audible words – “depth of field”. That is all he said and I knew right then that my photographic vision and style would be to have sharp focus in the image.

One reason I prefer Macro Photography is the isolation of a subject or detail. Many photographers prefer selective or soft focus and deliberately make adjustments to achieve this effect. This is the subjective part of focus – the point which the viewer is drawn to because it is most clear. Time and again, I just like it all clear & close…this is subjective.

I just prefer to capture reality and show a detail or two which is most expressive. This preference informs my style.

Below are two photos of the same subject,  which have a subtle but different focus. Which do you prefer?


I prefer the one on the right…it’s sharper. Because the lens opening is smaller, I needed to add light to get the exposure.

In this case, one might need to zoom in to notice the difference. Interestingly, the digital camera’s sensor interprets/evaluates contrast with a combination of vertical and cross-type focus points. This is just the beginning of understanding and controlling focus.

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Photographing food makes me hungry…

Here’s  how I judge a great food photograph:

Does the photograph make you hungry and can you almost taste it?

Food photography is very challenging….it has to be styled, staged and lit properly. It’s amazing how many restaurants have websites which show the rooms, empty tables and a few food photos which look less than delectable. A good food photo makes the viewer want to dive right in and taste the food. The visual sense should stimulate the sense of smell and taste. I took this photo at Ibiza in Hamden, CT. It makes me hungry!!!


My favorite food photographer is Lou Manna….here’s why…every photo on his site looks delicious….appetizers, fruits & vegetables, desserts, entrees...everything!!! I don’t think I have eaten an entire hamburger in 20 years…yet, Lou can make something I don’t even love to eat, incredibly photogenic and appetizing. Check out his bisonburger….it looks totally delicious. His food photos make me very hungry….they are mouthwatering. My attempt at a burger makes my husband hungry.

On a side note, photographing flowers is easier than arranging flowers.  Let’s say I was making a bride’s bouquet of gardenias which are incredibly fragile and perishable. Yet the bride wanted a bouquet of gardenias for a July wedding, I would encourage her to pick a less fragile flower and would worry about the bouquet every second of the day even in cool weather. Let’s say I was photographing the bouquet….and noticed a tiny brown spot….and could photoshop the spot away if the gardenia was damaged at the reception.


Photographing people is similar to capturing flowers. For a blemish on a face….it’s easy to use portrait retouching software or photoshop to lighten shadows under eyes and soften mature skin.

It is impossible to photoshop succulence into a burger and freshness into fish….it has to be captured in camera and enhanced in development. This examples from Momo Japanese Fusion Restaurant in Milford CT  make it very easy to  crave the cuisine. The shrimp  appetizer looks juicy and fresh…the presentation is artistic. My husband and I plan to try this next time we dine there together.


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Photographing Awesome people…

I photograph Stephen every month on or shortly after his “birthday for that month.” Simply put, he is a beautiful, sweet, happy, friendly and entertaining child. I adore Stephen and love to photograph him. His mom & dad, one brother & three sisters are all very nice making the experience even more special.

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On one visit, Kerinne, Stephen’s sister,  seemed very interested in and attentive to the photo process. She watched everything I did and it made sense to include her in the session. When it came time to view the photos in Lightroom and make selections, our blossoming photographer with my encouragement took over the keypad on my MacBook Pro, helping rate the photos with a decisive confidence while involving her mom in the process. She was very quick to pick up the quirks of Lightroom, asking “Where did the Library go?”

My heart melted again that day.  I also showed  Kerinne how to use the Develop Module in Lightroom and when we took the “keepers” into Photoshop, she worked the most interesting adjustments on her favorite photo. The final step was to name and save the photo on the right…undeniably  very cute…look at Stephen’s big eyes. She started to type “awesome……” and I could not resist saying….”how did you know my name?”

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Laughter and smiles followed.

Every moment of this experience was extra special. Kerinne, only 8 years old, possesses visual awareness, confidence and technical prowess which surpasses that of some “grown up” folks I’ve encountered over the years. I remember a “young but old boss” telling me that she was “leery of digital cameras.”

After we wrapped it up, my new photo friend helped carry my silver briefcase to the car. It was hard to tell who was happier…Kerinne or me. Little people are special and I am very fortunate to have an opportunity to enjoy photographing and connecting with them.

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Why histograms are important…

A histogram is a graph which shows the tonal range or brightness levels of a digital image. As you can see in the screen capture, the histogram (graph-top right) is bunched up at the right end. This means that more of the tonal values of the cute baby photo are closer to pure white. If however, the graph piled up at the left it would mean our photo had more shadows than highlights.

determiningExposure copy

You’ve heard of megapixels with regard to camera capability. Megapixel means one million pixels. Digital camera resolution  is measured in megapixels. One pixel (a picture element) while very small is still large enough to be registered and thus enhanced. Each pixel has three separate color channels (red, green, blue) which combine to produce a brand new color. Each color channel has a value from 0 to 255. Therefore 0,0,0, Black (r=0, g=0, b=0) has no value and 255, 255, 255 white  (r=255, g=255, b=255) has complete value.

The height of the histogram indicates how many pixels are recorded at a given brightness level. I think of a histogram as “exposure by the numbers.”  As professional photographers, we need to be very concerned when either end of the histogram shows a spike. This means we have no detail in either highlights or shadows and typically this situation is not optimal.

Our eyes are very sensitive and automatically recognize a properly exposed image. However, our cameras do not see the same way. The expert photographer has multiple tools which permit a proper exposure before, during, and after capture: hand held and in camera light meters, exposure compensation, continuous, strobe or ambient light, and of course, experience. All of this can become very complicated but in the end, we as the viewer know when an image seems correct and typically our instincts will be supported by the math. The primary aspects of concern with the histogram are the left and right edges.  Any pixels that recorded as bright white (255) or as pure black (0), would be pushed up against the edge of the graph.

The “very cute baby” photo above was opened in Photoshop CS6 and color sample targets (1, 2, 3) were placed about and then analyzed. There are lots of numbers on the bottom right….however, the translation is simple and instinctive: each target has tonal values closer to pure white and the colors also seem balanced. One color channel does not predominate.This means I do not have to adjust and exposure in camera was spot on. Had I decided to adjust, the pair of numbers (for example #3 R: 241/241) would have shown a different value something like 241/237  but I wanted a tad more red in his facial skin.

For now, keep in mind how the baby’s eyes are in sharp focus and also represent the lightest and darkest points in the photo providing ultimate contrast and point of interest. I don’t believe in keeping an inadequate photo to “fix in post” and also would rather be safe than sorry so I spend the extra time on a few more exposures and know that one frame will always have perfect exposure, focus, composition and that final unmeasurable ingredient – expression.

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Even though a picture is worth more than 1,000 words….sometimes words will “tell the story”. My favorite blog is “Plant Talk” fromThe New York Botanical Gardens. Something to learn or something to see..daily. The posts which I enjoy the most continually provide something beautiful to look at and something new to learn. Looking forward to your comments.