The Basics (pt 1)

Sometimes when I am on Instagram and I see people use certain photo terms I am occasionally left scratching my head and going “Huh?” I never know if it is a case of ignorance or if something is simply lost in translation. So in the interest of clarity I thought I should do a quick explanation of a few basic photo terms so we are all on the same page.

Rule of Thirds: Is simply a guideline to help you compose your photograph. If you view each frame as if is divided into nine section (almost all cameras and phones come with these guidelines that can be easily turned on or off) composing a photo is easier. There is a top, middle and bottom third as well as a left, middle and right third to each phot. The points were these lines intersect are referred to as “power points”. When you are composing an image you want to align your horizon line along the top or bottom third line as well as place your subject near one of the power point intersections. This is simply a guideline and a nice place to start when learning to compose a photograph.

Depth of Field (often refered to as DOF): DOF refers to how much of your image is in focus. If you are using a small aperture (think Ansel Adams and Group f/64) the entire image from front to back will be in focus. This is referred to as a large depth of field. If you are shooting with the lens aperture wide open, like f2.8 – f4 you will have a short depth of field. Blurring the background by using a short DOF is a great way to draw attention to the subject and minimize distractions. (If you are taking photos on your phone check out the app BigLens to achieve a short DOF.)

Leading Lines: Is a strong line within the photograph that leads the viewers eye from an outside edge to the subject matter. You will often see railroad tracks, roads, tree branches used as leading lines. When you are shooting macro photos outdoors there are many interesting options.

Bokeh: Is an effect most often caused by reflected light in out of focus areas of a photograph. Bokeh is common when using a short depth of field. Bokeh can appear circular or hexagonal depending on the type of lens aperture your camera has. (If you are taking photos on your phone there are several apps that you can use to fake this effect like Lenslight.)

Macro: This simply means taking photos of small things close up. A macro lens is a lens that lets you get really close to your subject.
I am sure for most of you this information is not new and I appreciate your patience as I review some basic terminology. Toy photography is a wonderful hobby and for many kids and teens it is a great introduction to a lifetime love affair with photography. I hope that we each can pass on our passion as well as some basic tips and tricks to those new to the hobby so that the internet will be filled with even more great toy photography!
~ xxsjc
How did you learn photography: trial and err or take a beginning photo class?
Have you ever shared your passion with a beginning photographer? 
Can you recommend any specialty phone apps that emulate the effects of a full size camera?
My next post will be an expanded version of a post I did for Brickcentral on the basics of outdoor photography. Stay tuned!! 

Creating a photo through intention

You don’t take a photograph, you make it. – Ansel Adams  

This quote applies to the entire photographic process; from clicking the shutter, to editing the photo, to printing it out. The simple act of choosing an image to work on is part of the process. Each conscious choice you make determines the final outcome. 

I prefer to do this the hard way. I tend to edit my photos twice, once using Snapseed for future  Instagram posts and once using Photoshop for printing. I really enjoy using Instagram as a photo sketchpad. I like to test photo concepts and play with editing techniques all the while trying not to get too caught up in my head. When I want to print an image out on paper, I turn to Photoshop for more traditional photo editing. 

When I am editing in Photoshop I want to try to capture what I created with my quick Snapseed edits. Of course when I write this out, this process seems totally ass backwards to me. Here I am with my big fancy camera and my big fancy printer and I’m trying to capture the quick, grungy spontaneity of an iPhone picture edited with Snapseed.  

Needless to say this has been a challenge. This past weekend I had the most fun with my experimentations, but for all the wrong reasons. The filters I downloaded to play with are designed to emulate film stock. After applying them to my images I discovered something I have not seen in years…film grain! I forgot how much I missed film grain. In this age of digital images and pixillation, film grain is a thing of the past. But for me it was always an important part of my final images. When I enlarged my underwater images to 40″ x 30″ (that’s really, really large) the grain was so pronounced the photos became similar to a pointillism painting. I was so happy to make this discovery, it was like coming home again. 

So needless to say I can’t wait to re-edit a few classic images with these new filters, add some grain and blow the best images up really, really large. 

What was your happiest accident?
What is your editing workflow?

~ xxsjc

The Fallacy of Validation

“Validation is for parking” ~ from Steal Like an Artist

This made me laugh, because it’s so true! I often see people grousing that their posted photos aren’t getting enough likes or comments on Instagram. Another popular complaint is that their photos never get featured by any of the toy groups.  All I can think to say to this is that you shouldn’t look to Instagram, Flickr, Google, Tumblr or anything else for validation. Because you aren’t going to get it.

What people like or don’t like is a very fickly enterprise. It is based on their own tastes coupled with their own experiences and occasionally these will intersect with what you are creating. Think of it like a vin diagram with a very small sliver of overlap. Whether or not what you are creating is good enough, has nothing to do with it. Being good is only half of the equation.

Oh did I mention luck is the other half? It’s that weird intangible that separates those that get recognized and those that toil away in obscurity. Life is fickle and art is a temperamental task master. So don’t get frustrated, roll with it, and make some art. Trust me, you will feel better.

So get out your toys, have some fun, take some pictures and look for your validation inside yourself. If it makes YOU happy, then it is good enough.

Did you take any toy photography pictures this weekend like Me2 did?
When was the last time you got a parking ticket?

~ xxsjc

I’ve bored you all enough with my philosophical ramblings. The rest of this week I will be posting on technique. I didm’t play with my camera this weekend, but I did play with my printer. This was almost as good!

Sometimes a “like” is more than just a “like”.

I know there is some controversy on Instagram about “likes” and when to give them. I have plenty of friends among my followers who never like any photos and are quite proud of this fact. When they tell me this I just look at them quizzically and wonder “Why?” Why do you even bother participating in this community?

I will freely admit I like almost every photo I run across. Maybe this means my “likes” are meaningless, but they aren’t to me. I am not liking them for there stellar quality or there creativity (even though that is often the case), I am also liking them for the effort. I know how hard it is to get up each morning and be creative. Some days you are more successful than others; and to me it’s the effort that matters most.

I have a friend who works in public relations and one of her duties for her clients is to tell them they are wonderful…every day. Artists are often in a crisis of self confidence, self doubt comes with the territory. Putting your work in the public to be judged is hard on the psyche. Sometimes I want to add her to my payroll so I can have her do this same service for me on a daily basis. I guess I will settle for our occasional beer and pep talks.

So to everyone who shares their images publicly, I applaud you. You are doing the work and it isn’t easy. Know I will always be there to like your photo and cheer you on because we all need a cheering section.

Are you a “happy liker” like me?
Do you have a cheering section to help you get over the rough patches?

















My best friend Kitty with her dogs Kipper and Minty. 

For the pure joy of the photograph.

Sometimes I want to just pull a Vivian Maier and take a million photographs and never do anything with them. Just take the photos, nothing more. There is nothing so satisfying or glorious as the physical act of taking a photo.

For me the processing, editing and printing is a one long down hill slide.

My husband is always telling me I take too many photos. Or maybe I just post too many? He says I am too prolific and so will never be able to sell my work because there is no scarcity. Maybe this is true? I don’t really know.

But I do know that taking them is were all the fun is, everything else after that is just work.

I think Vivian Maier was on to something.
While I continue to mull this over, I have some pictures I want to post to the internet.

When was the last time you actually enjoyed taking a photograph?
How much effort do you put into promoting your work?

If you have not checked out the story of Vivian Maier I urge you to do so. It is an amazing story of a nanny living in Chicago around 1950 who shot 1,000’s of photographs and never developed them. They were essentially discovered by accident in 2007 after she died.    

It’s not all about the art.

Sometimes I think the goal is to make a great emotionally packed image and sometimes I don’t. If it was all about the perfect photo then why are we sharing on Instagram, Facebook, Flickr and Google+? These are all social media sites aimed at connecting people with like interests. People you know and people you don’t know…yet.

I recently received in the mail a very special print from +Me2. It is my favorite image of his (amongst many) and I will cherish it for many years. He is someone I wouldn’t even know existed if it wasn’t for this amazing thing we call the internet. This past weekend I went out photographing with good friends, all of whom I have met through the power of social media. A few weekends ago I met a couple of lovely Instagramers from a town three hours away and because of mutual interests became fast friends.

Suffice it to say, my life is filled with new, old and future friends met through my interactions on multiple social media platforms.

I may not be able to sell a photograph to save my soul, but I know my life is all the richer for the friends and connections I have made all over this planet. My only goal now is to make enough money so I can take a world tour and meet everyone in person.

Now that would be a gift of inconceivable value.

What is most important to you as you play on your various social media sites? 
Why are you participating? 
What does it mean to you?

~ xxsjc

Now if only Me2 would drop by the blog soon, I am starting to get maudlin. I dread how far I might sink tomorrow  

Out of the mouths of babes…

I was editing photos from this weekend’s photo shoots and I showed this image to my daughter. Her response caught me off guard. She said: “I like it, but why?” I looked at her blankly and she continued… “You have aliens on bikes and swamp monsters in swamps, why is the swamp monster on a bike?”

Personally I really liked the image but I understood what she was saying. What was the story? What was I trying to say?

I am continually torn between a good image and a good image that also tells a story. To me that is where the magic happens. If only I could figure out how to take photographs with more intention, rather than photographing like a blind folded darts player.

Do you think about the story you are trying to tell? Or are you like me, and just surprised and happy when it all works out?

~ xxsjc

What are you doing this weekend?

My husband is constantly telling me that “If you want to know what someone wants to do, then just look at what they are doing. ” Normally he isn’t very perceptive…in this case he is.

I have a wonderful weekend planned that involves a trip to the toy store for photo props, a “photo safari”with three awesome fellow toy photographers, videoing Rodrigo y Gabriela for KEXP and a wonderful dinner with my family for that dreaded US Hallmark holiday, “mother’s day”.

Yup, this weekend is filled with so much awesome, just thinking about it puts a stupid grin on my face.

I haven’t always been this blessed, for much of my life I didn’t even know what happiness was. When you are completely miserable there really isn’t any where to go but up or out.

So I urge you to hang with your friends and whoever you choose to call your family this weekend. Play with your toys, take a few photographs and think about what makes you happy and then go and do it.

~ xxsjc

If you always do what interests you, at least one person is pleased.” – Katharine Hepburn

What Is Your Inspiration?

Of course, there will always be those who look only at technique, who ask ‘how’, while others of a more curious nature will ask ‘why’. Personally, I have always preferred inspiration to information. – Man Ray

I could spend my time explaining photography technique, talking camera gear or trading tips on editing apps…but I think a more interesting question is why do we (all of us toy photographers) take photographs of Lego mini figures.

I did not grow up with the toy, it is not a part of my history, it is not a big part of my cultural heritage. In fact I am probably one of the most inept brick builders on the planet. Think Emmet at the beginning of the Lego movie. My greatest skill I bring to my family’s Lego obsession (their’s not mine) is my impeccable sorting skills.

So what is so attractive about these little plastic friends? Is it our ability to project our own thoughts and dreams on the many different characters created? Is it a need to revisit our child hood and rediscover the joy of play? Is it sheer boredom? Is it a release from the stresses and pressures of life? Is it simply proximity and easy access?

What is your inspiration? What keeps you motivated and moving forward photographically?

Once you know this, life will not be able to side track you, no matter how hard it tries.

~ xxsjc

Ansel Adams, the WSJ and a bowl full of mush.

This morning while I was enjoying my morning bowl of mush and reading the Wall Street Journal I came across a wonderful article on photography. It had me on the first paragraph:

Ansel Adams, a piano prodigy before he picked up a camera, once declared that the photographic negative was like a musical “score,” while the final print was akin to the concert “performance”. – except from What does Art Look Like by Richard B. Woodward

This brought me right back to the conversations that +Me2 and I have been having about the pros and cons of printing your own work. Yes, printers are a pain in the ass and the ink expensive. Yes, you can send your files out and get a perfectly serviceable image back. But if you want to take your game to the next level there is nothing to compare to making minor and major edits to a print based on seeing a proof come directly out of your own printer.

When the world was only shooting in black and white it was not uncommon to have a dark room in your own house. With the advent of color printing this became unfeasible and most photographers where content to send their film to a lab for printing. Now with excellent inexpensive printers (a relative statement I know) plentiful, it seems a shame to send out what can be done easily in the comfort of your own home.

I’m not usually a control freak, but I find it indispensable to see what my images look like off the screen before I deem them worthy of showing and selling. Light, color, shadows, highlights all look different and once the image is on paper. I will often see corrections that need to be made that I could never have foreseen by looking at a screen.

So call me old school, but I agree with Ansel Adams and feel that to fulfill your potential as an artist you need to print your own work.

~ xxsjc

Go ahead and read the WSJ article I mention earlier, it refutes everything I just said. 

In further defense of printing, if I had not enlarged this image myself, I would never have seen the spider climbing on the rock. This is a detail that can only be seen at A2 or larger, but in my opinion it makes the image.