Tuesday, October 20, 2015

NYC Street Photography Workshop for Westchester Photographic Society

A couple of weeks back I had the pleasure of giving a slideshow presentation and then to teach the following day a Street- Photography workshop in NYC.  The Big Apple being as big as it is, you need to plan at least a general area where to conduct such workshop. I chose a favorite area of mine  The Highline Park. The last time I was there it only went as far as 24th St. To my surprise it now goes all the way to the 30s. And even though, I was eager to see the areas I had not seen yet; we had so many things to photograph in the span of four hours, we never quite made it pass 22nd or 24th.

It's always a two-way street when it comes to being a teacher. If you watch your students carefully enough, you as the teacher gets to learn as much as the students. More than once on that day I was shown an image that made me feel I wished I would've been the one who made that shot. Its amazing how people can be standing shoulder to shoulder and still be able to come up with such different versions of the same situation. Especially after you start pointing out to them what to look for.

Here are some of my pics from that day and I also included one from Tarrytown Train station up North near Westchester where we were staying.

Oops, almost forgot: TECH STUFF: Two Nikon Camera bodies D4 and D3s. Two lenses: 70-200mm 2.8 AF ED and an old 24mm. 28 silver ring Nikkor. (I demolished my to-go wide angle zoom 17- 35mm 2.8 recently; thus, the throwback lens). ISO 64- 800. WB: Cloudy and Sunny settings MODE: JPG ( I know, I know you must think me a heathen but unless I'm on a commercial assignment I still prefer jpgs since this is the fastest way one can shoot. It doesn't bog down the buffering unless its an extreme situation. And as I've said it before: When you've ruined as many hundreds of thousands of images as I have you eventually get pretty good and not making that many mistakes)

Thursday, August 13, 2015

On trying to achieve "Fly on the Wall" status

I came across an article on a group in FB called Ethical Photojournalism. It talks about VICE magazine sending a couple of photographers to cover Appalachia. One lives in Appalachia and calls his style of photography autobiographical. The other photographer is Magnum's Bruce Gilden, who's been quoted as saying during an interview, "you need to be sneaky to get the shot..."  I personally don't agree with this approach. I'd like to think I'm more along the lines of: Treat thy neighbor as yourself. 

One way or another, this got me thinking about what I was taught in journalism school about aiming to become the proverbial Fly on the Wall when it came to documentary photography.  However,  as much as we'd like to think that we are achieving this maxim of photojournalism, the truth is we all carry within us our own built-in prejudices and preconceived notions.

When we do manage to straight-out document a scene and or a subject without affecting the outcome these instances turn out to be the exceptions and not the rule. That is not to say it never happens but alas is rare when a photographer can continuously achieve such purity of documentary photography. 

It is my belief, It is during spot news situations when we are reacting reflexively and “shooting from the hip”  where we are are most likely to find our purest documentary style.

I'm including an example of mine below where I wasn't thinking but reacting instead. This was covering the ousting of Haiti's president Jean Bertrand Aristide in 2004. A couple of other journalists and I, were running towards Cite de Soleil where we'd heard shots fired. I veered away from my group distracted by some commotion on a side street.

I ended up stumbling upon civilians trying to help a soldier who'd been shot in the foot. They were trying to carry him to safety while a soldier in the back guarded their escape. Had I been thinking more clearly I'd have move my camera a fraction of an inch higher and I'd have gotten the full image of the soldier returning fire in the background. But alas, I wasn't thinking, I was reacting. 

Point and case of reactive shooting is that of Boston Globe’s John Tlumacki’s image of the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing and the fallen runner and the three police officers. After publication his editors looked at the time line between the first bomb going off and the moment when he shot this image and only seconds had passed between both actions. Now THAT is pure documentary.

But even at this highest level of pure documentary photography, Tlumacki’s considerable acumen of experiences as a professional photographer still played a role on how he shot this image. Maybe not at any conscious level but all those years of shooting played a role on how he shot that image the way he so superbly shot it on that day and on that moment.

But when covering extreme situations such as wars and disasters become our norm, then the human brain tends to adapt to help us cope with such realities. It is at this point where once more our own perspectives, opinions and points of view end up affecting our photography.  

So now lets extrapolate. If our brains can adapt so we can get used to covering horrible situations, then imagine what happens when we are given an assignment before hand.

The moment we find ourselves having the time to figure out "the how" of covering a story or subject, that is the moment where our own personalities and life experiences start getting involved in our decision-making processes when it comes to making photos.
We do not live outside of the laws that rule our universe. We were all first sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, brothers, sister, etc, before we became photographers. There is no escaping our humanity.

After all we are all humans. And as such, we are nothing but extremely complex apparatuses made up of millions of inter-acting parts unique-to-the individual and held together or “sparked” to life by – call it what you may- a spirit, a soul, or an energy force.

But one way or another all of these variables will end up playing a role in the way we do all things. This includes photography. Therefore it can not be considered a great leap of deductive reasoning to think our experiences and personalities will at the end affect the outcome of our images. Thus by just being there and observing we are affecting the outcome of a situation.

If not, what do you think our personal style of photography truly is? Why do you think someone with the personality of Bruce Gilden creates images like the ones he made in Appalachia?

On a lighter note: If you want further proof of our capability of producing built-in biased photos, then take a look at this:

Thursday, June 18, 2015

On Scouting the Mayan Riviera for future photoworkshops and helping my fellow photojournos

--> I have come to the conclusion my new life as a photographer after having been a staff newspaper photographer for 20 years is going to be split between teaching photo workshops nationally and internationally and doing commercial assignments with the occasional editorial assignment thrown in there for good measure.

I've also become aware of lucky I truly am for I now hold a privileged position: I'm now solidly booked through mid 2016 after only seven months of being offered a buyout by the Boston Globe.  Especially with photo workshops in Cuba through Road Scholar where I now have waiting lists for most of my trip dates.

So for that, I am very thankful. But I was raised to believe it is not good enough just to do well for yourself but whenever possible you should try help others do equally well. So I figured: What better way of doing this than by expanding my photo workshop destinations and by adding other world-class-award-winning photojournalists and photographers that share my passion for photography and teaching?

I'll be helping others who now find themselves in the awkward position of knowing all things photography but possibly finding themselves out of work in the coming years. I'll be adding to my team master visual-story-tellers with a knack for sharing their life-long photographic knowledge acumen.

That's why I'm now in the process of looking for new destinations for photo workshops. So I can bring in new photo instructors and share with them the joys and rewards of teaching I now get to experience on a regular bases. 

Anyhow, thus the Mayan Riviera.

When I was first approached by a tour operator about the idea of adding this area as a destination, I was a bit leery. He'd try explaining the appeal of the area several times but to no avail. So once he realized he just wasn't getting through. He finally said to me, "I'm just going to have to show you."

Before I arrived in Cancun, I was feeling pretty bad.  I just wasn't sure how I was going to gently let him down. This guy is honest to God one the nicest and most genuine person I've ever met. So I thought, he'd take it very hard when I'd have to tell him the way my associates and I best taught photo skills is in real-life scenarios and not in a "theme park."

But alas, I never had to utter such speech. From the first day I arrived to Xcaret, the word "WOW!" became a constant in my vocabulary.  I've always known how photogenic a place and/or its people truly are by the amount of shooting I do while on location. The more I shoot the better the photo opportunities. And in the Mayan Riviera I kept shooting, and shooting and shooting... 

Everywhere I'd turn there were great situations happening, great characters, and great scenes begging to be photographed. There were so many things I wanted to photograph, so much variety of visually appealing details everywhere I looked. By the end of my visit, I had no doubt this is a great place for a photo workshop.

I can think of very few places around the world where you’d have this caliber of accessible archeological attractions such as Chichen Itza, Coba- just to name a few- with their jungle-covered pyramids as well as thousand-year old stone carvings called "stelae.A landscape dotted with naturally- occurring geographical features such as underground rivers, and an abundance of see-though-water-filled-sink holes known as “cenotes.” A cornucopia of wildlife ranging from all-things marine to jaguars, exotic birds, and adorable coatimundis (long-snouted mammals the size of small dogs from the family of the raccoons.)

Colonial-style small town pepper the area where the pace of life has not changed in hundreds of years; thus, rewarding photo-philes with timeless imagery waiting to be captured with their cameras.

A theme park depicting the many cultures found within Mexico as well as visually- rich re-creations of Mayan traditions such as a sacred ball game known as  “juego de pelota.” A game played by Mayans descendants where the only part of the body allowed while hitting the ball is the hip and where in ancient times the winning team was the one who was sacrificed to the gods?? To ritual ceremonies re-created on floating rafts just the way they were originally performed thousands of years ago.  

I can see this place lending itself to future workshops not only specializing in travel photography but also in a myriad of other photographic specialties such as nature,  portraiture, food and macro photography…etc. The possibilities are truly endless.

Not only is the area filled with visual candy for the photo aficionado but it also offers something else, I’m now learning to appreciate: A plethora of participatory and enjoyable activities for those non-photo-interested significant others that might want to tag along with us the crazy photo people! 

Among these: zip-lining over the jungle canopy during day and night runs which might end up taking the adventure traveler through fire rings and ending in underground caves. To the excitement of driving off-road vehicles at night through the tropical forest. Or floating on rafts in underground rivers under a ceiling of thousands-of-years old stalactites. Swimming with dolphins, with manta rays or simply donning a life vest while floating or snorkeling for hours on end. All of these accompanied by gastronomic delights to be photographed and/or consumed. 

TECH STUFF: This time around I decided to take two of my camera bodies: D4 and D3s. However I added to my regular lenses, 17-35mm 2.8 and my 70- 200mm 2.8 and a 1.4TC, a 60mm 2.8 macro and a 500mm 4.0.

I also brought two strobes with me: An SB 800 and the versatile SB 910. I added to this kit  an SU-800 Commander to remotely control the latter as well as an external battery pack, SD-8A, in case I'd needed the extra power for shooting inside the underground cave system.

Click here if you want to see a full-gallery of images

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Life after the Boston Globe, my beloved Cuba and future photo workshops

I thought after having worked for newspapers for two decades that I'd miss the daily hustle and bustle of being a photojournalist but interestingly enough that has not been the case. 

I really haven't had much time to ponder upon the fact I no longer have a job. It seems I've been too busy to even notice. I've been doing lots speaking engagements, photo contracts, and teaching street-photography photo workshops, and I've even taught a couple of classroom-style photo workshops on "Creating Sophisticated Images." 

But most of my time has been spent working out logistics and promoting the  Road ScholarCuba a Photographic Journey photo workshops. 

Just this past week, I finished my first Havana-Trinidad Cuba trip. This one was extremely important because it set up the structure and format to follow for other future photo workshops to Cuba. And most importantly because I got to travel with my good friend and Pulitzer prizewinner photographer Cyrus McCrimmon. 

Back when I had just started to work for the Rocky Mountain News in Denver, CO Cyrus was one of my mentors and we fast became best of friends. He is not only a talented photographer but he is also a great human, salt of the earth, and a pure-soul kind of guy.  

Ours had been a trip in the making for 18 years. Right before his son, my godson, Sebastian, was born; he and I had planned to travel to Cuba for the pure enjoyment of making photos. 

However one day I asked him, "So CyDaddy, how are the preparations for our trip to Cuba coming along?" He just stared back at me with his mouth half open looking like a fish out of water. In that moment I knew his wife Had to be pregnant because I knew that would've been the only way he was not going to make that trip. And I was right. 

So after almost two decades, our trip finally came together. I had the opportunity to bring him along because my workshops on the island have been such a resounding success that I now have a waiting list for many of the upcoming departures.

So when it came time expand the teaching staff with like-minded shooters of the highest possible caliber and who love photography and have a love for teaching,  it was only natural for me to reach out to my original mentors. All of them are world-class photographers and the majority are Pulitzer prizewinners too. Cyrus is the first of the chosen few talented photographer/ instructors we will be adding to our team. 

I’ve always considered myself blessed for having had the opportunity of learning from some of the best in my industry. Photographers like Cyrus, who have proven their mettle over and over again when it counted the most, in real life covering real events. But most important of all, they are professionals who were never stingy with their knowledge and who were always ready to answer all of my photographic questions.

This team is completed by a great Cuban photographer named Joel Hernandez who works as an assistant with us while we visit the island. He is kind, soft spoken, with shoulder-length curly black hair framing a handsome and welcoming face. Participants love his teaching methods and by all reckoning he has the patience of saints.

These are members of the team I’m bringing to this program and I hope you give me the chance to show you how good they truly are at passing on their knowledge. I can promise you will not regret it and you will have a blast.

Here are just a few comments from recent participants:

Deborah C, “I just returned from Cuba where Essdras was our amazing photo leader. I learned more in one week than I’ve learned in a long time.” 

M-j: “The best week ever - so much warmth - so much shared - a dream trip where one can learn from 4 incredible professional, giving and talented photographers - we were blessed - thank you for an unimaginable week - and putting the joy back into my photography - bless you Essdras!”

Rosemary G: “Thank you for exposing us to such a variety of scenes from Cuba… everywhere we looked there was something begging to be photographed. I felt safe and appreciated everything that you and your team did to make our time in Cuba memorable.”

The above images were taken between May 20th through 28th of 2015. 

TECH STUFF/ Two camera bodies: Nikon D4 and a Nikon D810/
Two lenses: 17-35mm 2.8 and a 70-200mm 2.8/ ISO: range from 100- 800/ WB: Mostly Cloudy, some Sunny and perhaps a bit of AWB/ Format of files: JPG Fines (I don’t shoot Raw unless I am doing a commercial job)

Monday, January 5, 2015

On being a full- time freelancer and the use of the "Shotgun Approach"

This is an open letter to my fellow photographers who are thinking about becoming full-time freelancers. 

My first suggestion is for you to keep shooting every day. No matter where you are going or what you are doing always have a camera with you. Be it going to the grocery store, or taking relatives on a sightseeing trip, on a plane, or boat, or walking, while running errands like taking your watch to have the battery changed. While spending time away for the holidays. 

Remember great pictures are happening out there right now everywhere, every time and you will not be the one who makes these if you do not keep an open eye and do not carry the gear with you. 

Anyway, I digress from my main point. What I truly wanted to do is to give you a glimpse of how dedicated and focused one must be if you do decide to try to make it as a freelance photographer on your own. 

This is my schedule for the past couple of months ever since leaving the Boston Globe. And it is pretty accurate of what I do when I'm not traveling, or on an assignment, or teaching a photo workshop.

I wake up around 7:30AM and turn my computer on right away. I have breakfast while answering emails and then for the next 4-6 hours I keep answering emails, writing up new photo-project proposals as well as checking on other proposals I might already have out there.  

For non-stop blocks of time of one to two hours.  I'll keep bouncing back and forth between writing emails, contacting prospective clients, and even making some cold calls to area publications. 

I'll take a break and step away from my computer for 5-10 minutes to rest my eyes every hour or hour and a half or so. I'll come back and try finding out contact information for camera clubs of all sizes in order to propose presentations and workshops.  I will also call the big photo workshop juggernauts in the industry and approach them with ideas. I will call magazines with story ideas. 

I will contact my journalist friends and ask them: What are you working on?  I will call old bosses and say hi to them... just in case they need something shot in my area. I will look into the logistics of upcoming projects. I will call airlines, hotels, local experts, friends in the area, etc. 

I will call magazines to set up face-to-face meetings to show my portfolio. 

This last point is very important since a lot of what you'll end up doing is not only selling your work but yourself as an easy-to-work-with talented photographer. It’s a maxim of sales: People buy from people they like. If your prospective client likes you, you've won half the battle right there. 

I looked up the definition of what I consider to be my approach: 

The Shotgun Method: the hasty use of a wide range of techniques that are nonselective and haphazard." 

But I disagree with the word "haphazard" found in the definition. If all these things you are doing relate to a specific subject- photography and the business of photography- then it cannot be dismissed as haphazard. 

Anyway, I am true believer when you have that many things up in the air something has got to hit. 

But the most important lesson we get from this approach is it teaches us not to not get to caught up on the things that do not pan out, on our failed attempts. And you know why is that? Because you’d already have seven or eight other things that might work out instead. 

Now I've gotta go. While typing this blog I found out there's a new prospective client out there that must make my acquaintance. Good hunting photogs and keep on shooting!

While dropping off a watch for repairs. 

While walking by the White House

While traveling south for holidays.