Monday, December 7, 2015

The rise of the indigenous conflict photographer

   I have long wanted to be a conflict photographer. As a young teen, I was fascinated by the images of Larry Burrows, Robert Cappa, and James Natchway. To join the ranks of this small group of intrepid storytellers, traveling the globe hell-bent on bringing truth to the masses would be a dream come true.  I still toy with the idea of just rolling the dice and boarding a plane bound for what was once the cradle of human civilization in order to cover some of the most uncivilized human behavior since the days of the Christian Crusades or the Spanish Inquisition.  As I am no longer employed by Getty Images, I would have to fund my own trip and go it alone, simply as a freelancer and all that that entails; which is one big handful of danger.

Image by Iraqi photojournalist Ahmad Al - Rubaye
Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan are seeing fewer and fewer foreign journalists and photojournalist covering these conflict zones.  Previously considered a necessary apprenticeship in the young career of any seriously minded budding photojournalist, the dangers are now just too great, the risks too high. The many highly publicized beheadings of western journalists by ISIS etc. has definitely put the fear of God into even the most seasoned shooters.  The major dailies and big magazines like Time and Newsweek etc. are no longer sending staffers to the aforementioned hot spots. Thus all the slack is being picked up by locally born freelancers. Yes, it is largely a self-taught indigenous population, often with a kit consisting of nothing more than the latest i phone who are doing all the heavy lifting.  It is through their bravery and what is a fierce desire for the world to know what is happening within the borders of their beloved homelands that these images are making their way back to the west on a regular basis.

 As a long time student of World History and foreign affairs and as a budding photojournalist myself, I have always made it a practice to look at photo credits.  It is now hard not to notice the number of  Persian or Arab names that can be found next to almost all photo credits coming out of the aforementioned conflict zones.  The brave inhabitants of these countries are desperate to have their stories broadcast worldwide thus they are willing to put their lives literally and figuratively on the front lines in order to document the reality of the horrors unfolding before them.  Often the monetary compensation for their efforts is akin to exploitation, but they remain undeterred as money is not their prime motivator, truth is.  Thus they head out each and every day in search of chronicling only truth The very reality which has led to the complete obliteration of entire cities, the residents are now literally held hostage within the ruins of the crumbling buildings which surround them at every turn.  Often without running water, food, proper medical care, or even a safe place to lay their head when night falls, the lack of electricity shrouds the multitudes of humanity in a cloak of unholy darkness each and every night.  It is at such times that these poor souls must feel so very alone and abandoned by all, perhaps even by almighty God!

Many of the educated populace who live in the hell holes of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria have become journalists by proxy; as a result of their overwhelming need to have the world understand their daily struggle. They have come to document their surroundings with an insight often not possibly understandable to those from foreign lands where the stench of death is something you never really experience and thus never get used to.. ...Death is no stranger to these conscripted storytellers of this new journalistic era.  They have been drafted into their roles and as such,
 they bring with them a perspective that we westerners will never understand and God help us if we ever do get to a point in our own society where we are forced to learn such terrible lessons.

Who knows what my future holds?  I still might just throw my hat into the ring?  I really don’t have that much to lose when it really comes down to it.  It is a very worthy cause to be sure and it could get me back with Getty again or an equivalent agency?   Somehow this does not seem like a worthy enough cause to join the ranks of these courageous folk.  I would frankly feel like I was exploiting their hardship for my own gain even if I truly believe in the importance of revealing their terrible plight.  I am not sure what I should do?  Though I do feel the experience could teach me something I desperately need to learn, or perhaps the bravery of these embattled souls will help to rid me of some of the terrible cynicism that has started to erode what little optimism I have left for the future of this planet.  Though I am afraid that might be too much to hope for.

by Drew Cunningham - 09/06/2016

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Balancing ambient light with flash when shooting real estate , architecture, interior design.

Probably one of the biggest problems when shooting architectural interiors that have lots of windows is figuring out how you are going to balance the outdoor ambient light with the internal flash.  Many in the business are now using what is called HDR imaging, which stands for "High Dynamic Range" When using this method a tripod is essential and so is time!  You simply take your light meter and get a correct reading of the ambient light at the windows.  Now from the perspective you have decided to shoot from you fire off a frame which will leave the windows correctly exposed but the interior of the home will be underexposed greatly, at least 3 or 4 stops.  Without touching or bumping your tripod a hair, this is essential, you will now take a shot from where your tripod is so to expose for the interior. This frame will leave the windows blown out. The next step is to import both images into Photoshop, or Lightroom. You will have a layer with the correctly exposed windows and a layer with the correctly exposed interior. By stacking the layers and keeping the properly exposed windows on the bottom of the layer stack, you can then simple apply a layer mask to the top layer, select a black paint brush with soft edges, run the opacity up to 100%, drop the opacity of the upper layer to 75% so you can see exactly where the windows are, then simple mask out the top layer revealing the correctly exposed windows below. When that is done you can merge the two layers using command e on a PC or by using the layers functions, either or.  Now that you have one layer correctly exposed for both the inside and outside light you can start working on your image in post by setting the white balance , dodging and burning and altering the perspective if required to keep all your angles square. This process, as you can probably imagine, is quite time consuming, both on site and in post production. You can also do what is called light painting by popping off the flash in various dark spots of the room and then adding that layer also to the mix. This only makes the process all the more time consuming but if you have the time this is how you will achieve the best quality images....good images take time and patience.

A quicker way to deal with this problem , and how I created the image below is by following the subsequent method.  You will have your camera set to manual and also have your on camera speedlight set to manual. You can do this with a manual speedlite only, ETTL speedlights  won't work.  To begin with , you will use your light meter to obtain the exposure of the window's ambient light. You will then set your camera to that reading say f8 @ 1/200 th of a second.  You must know the sync speed of your camera.  Most high end DSLR cameras, like Canon's 5D Mark II, my choice, sync at 1/200th of a second or if  you are using a Nikon,1/250th    Thus you must keep your shutter speed under the sync speed of the camera you are using. If you don't do this, half the frame you shoot will be dark as the shutter will close much too quickly. There are ways to get around this but we won't be addressing them here.

Now that you have your camera in manual and set for your ambient light reading you frame up your interior shot without changing your aperture or your shutter speed.  This will show you to be far too under exposed for the room but we will be using the speedlight to compensate for that problem. You now will alter your flash manually to a power setting that will bring up the interior light while keeping the same f stop used for ambient reading...[shutter speed not f stop controls the amount of flash]...It is best to tilt your flash towards the ceiling to help diffuse the light, tilt it forward just a click or two so it will throw the flash off the ceiling and fill the room.  You usually will have to shoot a couple frames and alternate the power output of the speedlight until you get your desired effect.

Now that you have the desired exposure you are only dealing with one will not have to do any masking as in the first method though you will still have to adjust exposure in post and play with the white balance and the shadows and highlights. Also this quick fire method tends to give a rather sterile look to the room as the light is very even which is not really natural.

Despite the drawbacks, this method is far quicker as the first as you do not need to set up a tripod and balance it all out etc. You will not need to create layers in post either. Basically your work flow will be twice as fast and this is important if you want to make some money as most realators don't want you spending more than a couple hours at the very outset in the home.  If it is a 5 million $, 5000 square foot home, this is next to impossible, and really deserves more work to make the best images possible. Many of these homes sell on line simply from the photos. I shot one a couple of years ago and it sold the night i posted the images to a man on the other side of the country so it really is worth the extra investment a realtor puts out, the commission will cover it anyway.  Despite this, you will be surprised how many realators expect you to get it done quickly to save a couple hundred dollars. Architects and Interior designer tend not to push the clock as much as real estate agents.

Well I hope this little tip helps somewhat. There are other a number of other ways of shooting interiors, for example using constant light. Personally, I prefer the continuous light method as the illumination is much easier to shape and model .  However, it can also be very time consuming as well. Remember to practice different methods often before going out on a job. On the job is not the place to try out new methods. If you do so you will probably find that you will never hear from that client again !

Happy Shooting
Drew Cunningham

Thursday, July 1, 2010

"photography is a waste of time" I couldn't believe my ears ??

Recently a friend said to me, "Photography is a waste of time,  no one is interested in looking at other people's images" I couldn't believe what I was hearing.  I always thought him a tad more sophisticated and appreciative of the power of the still image.  A photographer himself, I really thought he understood the important role photography has played throughout history and on into contemporary times.  Anyway, I responded, almost angerly "Not true at all! I totally disagree !"....... I really enjoy looking at others work and do so on a regular basis.....I think it all boils down to whether or not you enjoy photography as an art form or simply as a somewhat archaic form of communication?  I have been into images from a very early age......As young as 8 or so, I would tear images that I liked from the pages of all sorts of magazines and tape them to my one point, a whole wall of my rather large bedroom was completely covered with overlapping imagery of all types.......For me, photography is no different than music, if you're a fan, you will search out the latest trends, or listen to the old standards, it is a matter of spending some time looking and discovering what moves you....for me Edward Weston is like the Beatles ....however, photography like abstract art, admittedly can take a little study to really comprehend, from say the perspective of Susan Sontag; why one piece is considered a "classic" can be a tad erudite for some but then, on the other hand, you have Anne Geddes sp? How many parents in the world wouldn't just die to have her shoot their child? ...All you have to do is go to or to see that your statement is total bullshit......." Many people love to look and enjoy the work of others, don't kid yourself, don't be so pessimistic!  Get your images out there and if they are any good, you will get feedback - I guarantee it !! " Well, now I am taking my own advice - here is an image I took recently of my aged mother's hands....what do you think?  I will also be posting product reviews and, of course, the work of other photographers shooting a wide spectrum of genres. So please come back each week as I will do my best to get up something fresh up each week - that's a promise !