SILENCE & SOLITUDE AS TEACHER

We all want a teacher. Someone wiser, with a bigger or better perspective on our own life that can help guide us. But we already have that and can access that teacher whenever we need. That teacher is the quiet voice inside of us, sometimes only heard in silence.

Most of us live a life of stimulation. Multiple input streams: TV, movies, internet, email, Twitter, Facebook, friends, family, work, co-workers. It is so hard to even recognize the voice of our true self within all that stimulation, layered on top of our own wants, needs and desires and the constant inner dialog or narration of our sensations.

There is no guide or teacher more powerful, wise and all-knowing as silence. It is only through silence that we can hear distant murmurings of our heart. When we listen to that silence we begin to hear that quiet honest voice within, longing to be heard, to be paid attention to.

It is your job to find enough solitude to invite that quiet voice to speak. Don’t judge. Don’t react. Just listen. What is it telling you? What does it want you to know? When listened to that voice becomes louder; when paid attention to that voice becomes stronger.

One way to start this process is to set an intentional time, with a beginning and an end. Whether a short walk to the park or a long drive to the ocean make the journey part of the process. Start by slowing down and tuning both out and in. Turn off the car radio, turn off the iPod, put away your headphones, stop checking email. Let your too-active mind slowly settle into the silence and drift towards stillness. The less visual stimulation the better, nature is good, darkness even better.

If this is a new concept start small and simple– a walk in the woods at night or around a lake. When ready, an ideal place is on a personal silent retreat of more than one day. Rent a cabin or find a retreat center in your area. Going through a complete cycle of a day and night is good. Multiple days even better, as you will pass through layers of experience, descending deeper and deeper into the power of silence.

Many forces will conspire to stop or delay you. An emergency at work, an urgent family matter, cleaning the gutters or alphabetizing the junk drawer…but usually these are our own manifestations of the fear of what we might discover when all else is stripped away.

Don’t wait for when the time is right or conditions in your life are better. Do this soon. Do it now.

“But within our inner hurts, maybe the best way is not to listen to any words or ideas at all.
Simply let the silence work on and through you, till you’re part of something larger.”
– Pico Iyer 

©Douglas Beasley 2014

LIGHTING 101

It is much more important that you understand the basic principles of how light behaves than how a specific piece of lighting gear operates. I think this will serve your photography much more in the long run. 

Lighting Principle 1Separate ‘quality’ of light from ‘quantity’ of light.
• Quality of light is the ‘feel’ of the light on your subject. Soft or hard? Direct or diffused? Backlit or sidelight?
• Quantity of light is how much light there is; i.e. the amount of light, measured in f stops.

Lighting Principle 2:  The hardness/softness (contrast) of the light is the result of the size of the lighting source, relative to the distance from the subject.
Example: the sun. It is the largest source so it should be a soft source but it is far away from the subject so it is a hard, contrasty light source. A cloud increases the size of the source relative to the subject so it softens the light.
• The larger the light source, the softer (less contrast) the lighting
• The smaller the light source the harder (more contrast) the lighting
• The closer you move the source to the subject the softer (less contrast) the light will become
• The further the source from the subject the harder (more contrast) the light will become

Lighting Principle 3: Only add a light if absolutely necessary or you want to override or change the look or feel of the existing or natural light.
• Ask yourself why you want to need to add a light

Lighting Principle 4Always start simple.
• Use as few lights as possible to create the look you want
• Only add lights as needed do a specific task

Lighting Principle 5Work your subject into the light.
• I usually have them turn their face towards the main or front light source
• Leaning into the light can be effective

Lighting Principle 6Don’t over fill your main subject. Once people discover fill light or reflectors they often tend to way overdo it just because they can. Shadows and contrast is not the enemy to be vanquished. if you do you will suck the life out of your photo! 
• Overfilling will cause the image to look ‘flat’ (too low contrast)
• Be careful about positioning reflectors, additional lights
• Watch the ‘spill’ from additional light sources like background

 

©Douglas Beasley 2017

MY LIGHTING PROCESS: Adding Artificial Light

1)    What do you want the photo to ‘feel’ like? What do you want the lighting to ‘feel’ like?

2)    What is the overall mood you are going for?

3)    What kind of light do you want on your subject to help achieve that?

4)    What is the existing light? What type and source of light is it? What color balance?

5)    Is the existing light natural or artificial?

6)    Will you incorporate the existing light, block it off, or overpower it?

7)    What direction do you want the light to come from?

8)    How will it light your subject? How will it light or affect the background

9)    What kind of light do you want on the background?

10) Do you want the background brighter or darker than your main subject?

11) Based on those answers, I will add light to the background or subtract it

12) Each light added should have a purpose or reason to exist.

13) Block direct or back light from shining directly into your lens with a lens hood, gobos or flags.

14) Determine the aperture I want to shoot at based on the depth of field required

15) Meter the light at the subject’s face. Compare that that to the rest of the scene and the background.

16) Light subject to the chosen aperture by turning up or down power levels not by moving the lights.

17) Choose shutter speed to increase or decrease the ambient or background light level.

18) Don’t let technical aspects impede the content of the photos but rather enhance it.

19) Don’t forget about the emotional connection to the subject and what you were trying to convey when originally conceiving the shot!

 

© Douglas Beasley 2017

MATTING & FRAMING SUGGESTIONS


Matting:

Archival, acid-free 4-ply mat board is recommended.

8-ply mat board is even better and looks great but is more expensive.

I prefer the simplicity (and lower cost) of a single matt and think double mats detract from the photo.

I would strongly avoid colored mats. It’s better to use off white, warm white, or slight cream tone.

Matching a matt color with a color in your photo will detract from the integrity of the photo

Window: I recommend about ¼” space around the black border or edge of the image

Use at least 4″ border on top and sides, 4.5 to 5″ on bottom.

Smaller borders, even on small prints, will not isolate the image enough and will look cheap.

Sometimes a small print with a very large border can be very effective

Minimum border size could be 3” but 4” is much better. Less is too constricted around the image.

Framing:

I do not recommend elaborate frames that detract from the photograph.

I would use a wood museum frame or simple box frame and would avoid ornate or elaborate frames.

Black, brown or natural wood finish is usually the most complimentary to photographs.

Black or silver metal frames can be very attractive and are also less expensive than wood.

I much prefer a deeper profile depth (about 1.5 to 2″) than a shallow profile frame.

Glass:

Regular glass is usually fine and is inexpensive.

Plexiglas is preferable for very large prints. It is much less fragile and weighs a lot less for shipping.

Plexiglass is safer for large prints but is more expensive and scratches easily and is hard to clean.

UV glass is good if the print will be in direct sunlight but is more expensive.

Museum glass is amazingly clear but much more expensive (and often not necessary)!

Non-glare glass is not recommended because it is less clear, as it has a slight textured surface.

Remember these are my preferences, based on known gallery preferences, current trends and what I think works best for showcasing a photograph as a work of art, yet you are the one that has to live with the frame and how it fits your existing décor and personal taste.  


RECOMMENDED LOCAL TWIN CITIES FRAME SHOPS
:

HANG IT
122 8th St SE, Minneapolis MN 55414, (612) 874-7222
www.hangitinc.com
(great prices)

MITREBOX
Washington Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55401, (612) 676-0696
www.mitreboxframing.com
(great work, nice people)

ICEBOX
1500 Jackson St NE  #443, Minneapolis, MN 55413, (612) 788-1790 www.iceboxminnesota.com
(expensive but very high quality, also a photo gallery)

 

©Douglas Beasley 2017

 

ASKING PERMISSION FOR PORTRAITS

While traveling I often make portraits of people, but I think deeply how to do it in a respectful way. I believe it’s always best to ask first. When you ‘steal’ photos by waiting until you think they are not watching sends a clear message to others about your intentions, integrity and ethics.

It obviously can be a very different situation for photojournalists, war correspondents, street photographers, etc. A great example is the photo by Nick Ut of the naked girl running away from the napalm bombing in Vietnam. She certainly wasn’t asked for permission, probably wouldn’t have given it, yet that single photo helped turn the tide against the Vietnam War. There are numerous other examples of great street photography where the subjects are completely unaware of the camera. But those generally aren’t intimate portraits, which are different from those, but with sometimes overlapping concerns and agendas. There is a big difference between candids with the subject unaware yet made respectfully, and with stealing photos!

Since I am not a photojournalist, I don’t think just being a photographer gives me the right to photograph whomever I want without their blessing or consent. Yet, if photos are made out deep concern, visual inquiry, out of love or made with respect, many things are possible, including photos without the subjects’ permission that have great respect for the subject. I have also seen many photographers who ‘steal photos’ by sneaking around the edges of marketplaces and squares, photographing those they know don’t want to be photographed. It is often as if they are stalking their prey so I imagine this behavior to be very instinctual and primal.

Another behavior especially prevalent in workshops is where one photographer is working on establishing rapport or connection with their subject, only to have another photographer come up unannounced and start blasting away with no connection whatsoever. And they have disturbed the connection the other photographer was working so hard to establish. Their photos usually look like there was no genuine connection between themselves and the subject. When I look at my own photographs I can tell the difference when there was connection or not. I want that connection to be very evident in my photos.

I believe, for my photos, and for the way I want to be in the world, that I need in most, but not all instances, to ask for permission from my subject. Their permission is a way to begin collaborating energetically. An exception is if the person is in public and part of a larger scene or if they are not recognizable in the photo (with their back to the camera, silhouetted, etc.). To me, the photograph is not more important than the experience. It is definitely not more important than the wishes of the people inhabiting my photos. My obligation is to my subject, to the possibility of direct contact and deeper connection, and to learning something about them and maybe myself. If I happen to make some decent photos along the way, that’s a bonus.

‘Getting the shot’ is secondary to who I am in the world, my actions and intentions, the way I treat others, and the way I live my life. These are all much more important than what photographs I make and how good they are or aren’t. This is MY process for making MY images as part of a sharing of what works for me and why. For me it’s not about making a travelogue but about trying to connect more deeply with both our subjects and ourselves.

Thankfully, there are many ways to express ourselves photographically. You don’t have to share this belief and I often admire photographers for whom getting the shot is everything. That is just not me or who I wish to be. What do you think?

© Douglas Beasley 2017

 

THE DANGER OF CRITIQUES

There is a danger in critiquing work-in-progress at classes and workshops—it can emphasize success over risk taking. This can push us to re-make the successful images we already know how to make in order to prove our worthiness, rather than pushing our boundaries. We may be more worried more about impressing others than about our own artistic growth. But risking failure is how we grow and evolve as artists.

Put yourself wholeheartedly into each exercise and assignment, even if you are not sure or even suspect as to what the benefit will be. Trust the process. Honor the time, money and energy you have invested in taking time off from your busy life to be there. We are all very lucky we have the privilege to do be able to this, including me. Honor that with full participation.

You have much more to gain by staying open to new possibilities than in succeeding with what you already know works for you. Try not to mimic the instructor’s style just so they notice you or like your work. It is ok to mimic the style of others to gain perspective or learn from them but examine your motives. Don’t be afraid to be yourself. Take visual and emotional risks. This is your opportunity to expand and grow artistically and personally. Think beyond the actual critique!

During critiques be fully present when others present their work and respect them with your full attention. They deserve that and you can’t expect it back from others when it’s your turn if you don’t also give it. Speak up when you have something to say. Be present. Participate fully. Offer constructive criticism that is about the work not the person. Say what it is you do like or what is working for you. Learn from the comments and criticisms of others. 

When it’s your turn, do not make any excuses for why your work isn’t better, why you only have the pictures you have or why your best pictures are at home or on your other hard drive. Just deal with what you do have with you, not with what you don’t have. Our photos reflect where we’ve been not where we are, but are also markers for where we are going. The photos we make today are often ahead of our ability to understand them or put them in context. They have things to tell you that may not be apparent to others. Don’t take criticism personally. don’t be defensive. Listen and consider comments objectively before you respond from a wounded place. The fact that others don’t like them doesn’t make them bad and the fact that others love them doesn’t make them good. It’s all just opinion. With every critique it gets easier to relax, respond openly and grow from the experience.

It’s not how many great pictures you make during your class or workshop that’s important, but how the experience changes you and helps you grow. Move forward from the challenges, positive and negative. Remember why you signed up in the first place— not to impress others with the skill you already have but to continue to evolve forward.

 

This was originally written for the Santa Fe Photo Workshops blog site.

©Douglas Beasley 2014

 

CULTURAL SENSITIVITY IN TRAVEL PHOTOS

• Learn the customs and especially the cultural taboos of the area you will visit
Taboo in some cultures: Pointing, touching, patting head, showing feet, etc.

• No touching anyone without permission

• Be careful not to regard those from a drastically different culture as if they are in a zoo

• Respect the right to privacy of others

• Make eye contact with your subjects and potential subjects

• Ask for permission to ‘make’ photos, don’t ‘take’ them!

• Remember to say ‘thank you’ in their language when done

• Politeness goes a long way and should always be practiced, even when told ‘no’.

• Just because people don’t speak English or seem ‘primitive’ to you does not give you the right to do whatever you want or point your camera wherever you want.

• The sense of personal space around an individual is different in different cultures. Warmer places or densely populated areas seem to be more comfortable being in close proximity to each other while in more Northern climates people have a larger sense of personal space around them. Know what is appropriate to not offend others, put your subject at ease or use judiciously to throw your subject off balance.

• When you ‘steal’ photos by waiting until you think they are not watching sends a clear message to others about your intentions, integrity and ethics. It also affects how residents see the behavior, treatment and ethics of all photographers or foreign visitors. When you sneak photos of someone who does not want to be photographed your subject may not know but others do see and know what you are doing.

• Asking permission is not always a prerequisite when doing ‘street photography’, photojournalism or just including someone as part of a larger scene. The key is still acting in respectful manner and remembering that ‘no’ means no!

I have also made what I call the ‘cowards photo’ many times- photographing someone from behind after they have passed me by because I was afraid to ask them if I could make a photo with them. Practice speaking up and being decisive. The worst that will happen is they will say no but every ‘no’ get’s easier to take and get’s you closer to the next yes.

We are there because we want to make photos and trying new ways of making photographs is important to our experience. I also encourage you to trust your instincts and put that into action. One way to discern for your self what is appropriate behavior is to ask yourself “would I photograph that way at home if it were the people in my community?” How would you approach it photographically if your subjects were in that same situation at home? Use that as your guide to behavior.

­It is up to you to find a balance of respect for your subject and doing what it takes to get the photos you want. Find that place on the scale where you have a comfortable balance of action and respect.

Thank you for this consideration.

 

©Douglas Beasley 2017

 

WORKING WITH MODELS 

PRE-SHOOT:
1)  Be respectful at all times
2)  Find out something about who your model is as a person (interests, job, family, etc.
3)  Treat the model as a person first, subject or model second, never as a prop or object
4)  Provide a safe, comfortable, private place to change wardrobe, do makeup, etc.
5)  Going over wardrobe or props can be a good way of building rapport and getting to know each other better
6)  Sometimes it helps to explain why you wanted to work with them (but don’t be creepy!)
7)  Talk about the ‘feel’ or look you are trying to achieve, share previous photos if relevant
8)  Help subjects feel comfortable with you, your location, studio or (especially) your home
9)  If doing nudes, make sure the room or studio is warm enough + respect privacy needs
10) Create an ‘emotionally safe’ place for models to relax and be themselves
11) Work on breaking the distance barrier, having them comfortable with you inside their personal space
12) Sometimes it’s good to act like you are more in control (visually) than you actually are
13) Sometimes it’s good to show your vulnerability, your inexperience, your insecurity…
14) Get their input on what they like or what they want, while keeping your visual needs in mind as well
15) Discuss the mood of the shots you’re looking for (if you know)

WHILE SHOOTING:
1)  Establish exposure and camera settings before starting to shoot
2)  Take a meter reading up close on their face or skin (this can also help break the distance boundary)
3)  After proper exposure is established, use the RONCO™ method of “Set it and forget it
4)  Move around your subject to see how the light changes from different angles (front, back, sides…)
5)  Work on establishing and maintaining a connection to their ‘energy’
6)  Try to keep the communication flowing while shooting
7)  Keep comments and photo-direction positive rather than being critical or negative
8)  Suggest rather than tell your subject how to move or be, do not order them around
9)  Don’t over-pose or micro-manage models body language or it will get too stiff or posed looking
10) If gestures do get too posed have them shake it out and start fresh
11) Ask them how they are doing as the shoot progresses; let them know it’s OK to take a break
12) Be in control but don’t be pushy or domineering, try and keep it collaborative
13) Maintain respectful boundaries; when you know where their boundaries are, honor them
14) No touching without the model’s permission, even if just to move hair from their face
15) If done respectfully, you have the right to ask (nicely) about any poses or scenarios you want to try
16) They always have the right to say no to anything they are not comfortable with

POST-SHOOT:
1)  It can be helpful to share the image editing process with your model
2)  Make sure models get copies of the photos you made with them, in either digital or print form
3)  Do not exhibit or publish photos displaying nudity or vulnerability without your model’s permission

 

© Douglas Beasley 2017

 

WORKSHOP SURVIVAL

Developing ‘Group Mind’
It is difficult for photographers, who are often loners and/or strong individuals who work at their art and craft in a solitary manner to come together and develop ‘group mind.’ Please try to develop sensitivity to the group energy and consciousness while holding on to your individuality and personal preferences. Practice your skills of sensitivity and developing trust in your intuition. It is also a great opportunity to practice awareness of your surroundings, not just physically but energetically, and tuning into that energy.

If there is a personality in the group that you find difficult, look deeper to see how that person may mirror an aspect of yourself or your background that you are troubled by. I find that often what bothers me most in others are traits I also see in myself. You can use that understanding to apply patience and loving compassion towards them (and yourself) liberally.

Ground Rules:
– Respect the vision of the other photographers
– Respect others’ shooting styles, no matter how awkward their process seems to you, as    long as not disrespectful or harmful
– Be aware and try and stay out of other photographers’ backgrounds
– If others are in your frame of view ask them politely to stay clear for a moment (they don’t know how wide your shot is)
– Try to help each other go further and deeper rather than being in competition with each other for the ‘best’ shots
– Let’s lovingly and gently push each other forward artistically

For people/model shoots:
– Respect your subject physically, verbally and emotionally at all times
– No touching without permission
– Only one person giving direction to the subject at a time. Too many people giving directions at once is very confusing for the subject
– No ‘spy shots’ while close enough to address the subject or model directly. Further away is ok when appropriate and with permission.
– No ‘stealing’ photos while someone else is engaged with or directing their subject

 Pitfalls of digital:
There are many benefits to working with digital capture but there are also some strong pitfalls, which include:
– Not being fully aware because it is easier to over shoot now and edit later
– Constantly checking the preview screen on the back of the camera (breaking your stream of awareness)
– Excessive or premature editing (deleting too impulsively)
– Making impulsive compositional or exposure decisions based on feedback from the small camera LCD 
– Not developing trust in your intuition to guide you 
– Not developing patience in your process
– Depending upon instant feedback rather than developing trust in your instincts
– Editing in the vehicle or on the go instead of experiencing life in the present moment!

Dangers of sharing work:
Critiques are very important but there is also a danger of critiques or sharing work in progress. It can put emphasis on ‘success’ rather than visual risk taking. It can encourage you to repeat what you already know to be successful to prove your competence or worth to the group. It can put pressure for you to impress others or me rather than pushing your own limits, pushing a concept further or letting yourself be ‘in process’ longer without finding a visual solution. Being lost or feeling groundless can be a valuable way to deepen your artistic vision and find or forge a new path…

What you learn and how the exercises and assignments affect and influence you in the long run is more important to me than whether or not the pictures are successful. A failure you learn from may be much more valuable than a good photo. Let’s take a long-term approach together in your process of growth.

My emphasis will be on creating a safe space to share in a deeper more meaningful way. Please help support that endeavor and hold that ideal as we begin to open up to each other.

 

©Douglas Beasley 2017

PHOTO EDITING TIPS

1) Editing is a virtue. Practice being decisive.

2) Less is more! Showing fewer images is usually better than showing more.

3) More is often too much. Leave your audience wanting more rather than wearing them out with too many. If in doubt refer to rule #2.

4) Think in terms of series with an overall consistent viewpoint to a given body of work rather than finding single stellar images.

5) A good single image may not fit in with a particular series of images.

6) Start strong and end strong.

7) The first photo is very important and sets the tone and anticipation for the rest.

8) The last photo is very important and is the visual impression you will leave them with.

9) If you have to make a choice between several similar images, remove the weakest ones first.

10) If you have to make a choice between three or more images just compare two at a time and pick the best of those two. Then compare it against the next image.

11) If there are two similar images in your portfolio, keep them next to each other to highlight the difference between them. Separating them will make it seem like you are trying to hide the fact that you have similar images in there.

12) Refresh yourself often. Get up and walk away, take a break. Stretch.

13) The best computer or editing accessory is a good chair, (like an ‘Aeron Chair’ by Herman Miller). In the long run they are worth every penny.

14) If an Aeron chair is too expensive, try using a balance ball (about $30 from yoga supply shops). A standing desktop may also be helpful.

15) Seek the opinion of others, but only those you trust and respect visually.

16) Your spouse or mother isn’t usually the best judge of photo quality, despite their overwhelmingly positive or negative opinions, so weigh their opinions accordingly.

17) Don’t make decisions by a vote. Your photography is not a democratic process nor is it a popularity contest.

18) Just because someone likes it doesn’t mean a photo is good and just because someone doesn’t like it doesn’t make it bad.

19) Weigh opinions of others but learn to trust your own instincts.

20) Learn to listen for your own inner voice to guide you. Weigh opinions of others but learn to develop trust in your own instincts.

©Douglas Beasley 2018