Thursday, February 18, 2010

Keeping your Memory cards healthy

There are two kinds of digital photographers...those who have
experienced corrupted memory cards...and those who will.

Accidentally corrupting (damaging) files on a card is easier than you think. But, if you understand what causes failed cards, it’s easy to prevent. This pasted weekend I was shooting with a friend, when we downloaded images at the end of the day all his files were damaged. We had some luck with an image recovery program but still lost many of his better shots. I wanted to provide some tips that may prevent the nightmare of a corrupted card in your future.

This is not an example of an art image, its from a damaged memory card. If you see a similar image on your card you got a problem.

8 ways to keep your card running.

-The first time you use a memory card in your camera, you should format it. Formatting the memory card will configure it for optimal operation with your specific camera. Always re-format right before shooting an assignment.

-Always turn your camera off when removing or inserting a card into the memory slot.

-Make sure you properly eject your card, card reader or camera from the computer once you are finished downloading the image files.

-Avoid repeated deletion of individual images. Sooner or later this will crash your card.

-Only reformat a card in the camera, not on the computer.

-Make sure to use fresh batteries. If your camera shuts down while the camera is writing an image to the memory card, the card could become corrupted. (This is the one that got me!)

-Having more than one card will give you more security. When I'm shooting more than one assignment per day, I always use different a card for each assignment. This ensures that if a card is defective or damaged, that I won't potentially lose a whole days work.

-Never use your card as a storage device. At a recent workshop, I had a student with a 4 gigabyte card full of images from an overseas vacation plus a few songs he had downloaded. During a shooting assignment at the workshop, his card somehow got corrupted and he lost everything.

Finally, I always mark my cards with contact info. It’s paid off! Once while traveling on an assignment, I left a card behind. By the time I returned, it was waiting for me in the mail box complete with all the images.

To mark my cards I make a print out with my contact info, sized to the card, then trim to fit and used clear packing tape to secure the label to the card. Make sure the tape only covers the back of the card.

In the next post I'll let you know what we did to recover most of the lost images.

This article, graphics and photography are protected by copyright and may not be reproduced in part or as a whole in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from the author. Text, graphics and photos by Mike McLean

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Two down and eight to go

Its summer and that means I’m on the road teaching photojournalism workshop. For me this is a great time to meet new talent, pick up a few friends, learn cool things from my students, shoot some sweet images and teach with some of the industry top folks. Hard to believe I actually get paid!

If your coming to one of my classes I have a few I recommendations on what you’ll need to bring to the workshop.

Your gear, favorite lens and all the strobes you got, big/fast memory cards,’ll have actual shooting assignments!

Read the following twice: Battery chargers, I know it seems like a no brain’r but every summer some poor shooter shows without one thinking charger are all the same and they could borrow one. It’s a roll of the dice, I say don’t risk it!!

Laptop, cords, power strips and card readers (all my readers disappeared at the first workshop last month).

Imaging Software, we prefer Photoshop CS 4 but will take any version you have. In New Mexico you’re going to need Final Cut (pro or express).

External Hard drives with plenty of open space. Some assignment you’ll be capturing RAW images files, RAW files eat up heaps of space!

Thumb drives, you’ll need them to get my slide shows and handout copies (I get too many request to burn them, I still really like you though).

Open hearts and minds, at times I can get a bit philosophical about my passions and encourage the same of you. Group discussions are likely to last for hours followed by a visit to the local coffee shop.

I dig homemade cookies, if you're good in the kitchen bring your best it could mean extra credit!

I hope to see you in one of my classes!

The Dallas Photojournalism Workshop,
Dallas, TX Workshop July 5-9

Photojournalism Advisers University
Orlando, FL July 10-16

Visual Media Workshop
Charlotte, NC July 25-30

Journalism Conference
Houston, TX August 5-10

Media Workshop
Saint Louis, MO August 28-30

Photo Workshops
Minneapolis MN September 14-17

North East Universities Journalism Workshop
Providence, RI Septembers 24-27

Greater New Mexico Creative Arts Workshop October 1-4

Syracuse University Visual Journalism Workshop
October 22-26

Here I am selling the benefits of metering in Dallas.

Teaching assistant Bryan Stewart looks like a photo coach in our strobe demonstration class.

Backlight fashioned from hotel drinking glases

Dallas Photojournalism student (soon to be Manhattan Model) Dalton Gomez does a high fashion hair toss.

This article, graphics and photography are protected by copyright and may not be reproduced in part or as a whole in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from the author. Text, graphics and photos by Mike McLean

Monday, May 4, 2009

Life through a Fisheye

So, I’ve been getting questions from my clients on why I’ve been out of town more these days. Aside from teaching my visual story telling workshops, which keeps me on the road mostly in the summer, teaching my on-line course and my usual out of town assignments, I’ve been working on a very cool project with a friend Logan. He is a documentary filmmaker and has been working on a film for the Imax Theaters. The working title is “The Sky Lines of Texas”. The project showcases the amazing environment and skies throughout the state. The project is due to be completed in the next nine months.

My self-portrait using a full 180 degree fisheye lens on a still camera.

Logan is a good friend and from time to time he helps me shoot and edit my own tutorials for my workshops and talks. We meet often to share ideas and talk about concepts for upcoming projects. When discussing his upcoming Imax film he told me his ideas and ask for some direction on cool Texas locations. He mentioned the problem of shooting so many locations in the limited time he would have access to the rented camera gear and crew needed to shoot such a project.

I mentioned my ability to shoot interval-timed exposures. This means that my still camera can be set-up to shoot an image every 1 to 15 seconds for as long as you have card space. This was great news to Logan. It meant he could focus on shooting the motion stuff while I did the still time lapse images. Definitely more bang for the buck! The idea was to use the still images along with the motion images together in the final film. Another reason this plan was so perfect is because it helped Logan keep the crew small and efficient allowing quick movement from location to location. Often only staying in one area long enough to capture a sunset then moving to another location to capture a sunrise. The gear used to make an Imax film is very expensive that means “ time is money”!

Logan with one of two digital cameras used to make the "Skylines of Texas"

This project is for the Imax dome theaters, which presented a challenge. My still camera would need to have a complete 180-degree lens, which is a very specialized 4mm lens and not often used. In fact as far as we could tell, never used for an Imax film. After a few calls to the larger rental houses, no one was able to help which says a lot because DFW has some of the best gear rentals houses in the country. Logan had better luck and found out that the lens used for the Imax camera is a Nikon mount. Turns out this lens is a rare piece of glass and is made in small factory in Japan. We're were able to get our hands on a second 180 lens for my camera and we hit the road.

This is a raw unedited sample of some of the recent images we've shot. I have to say I'm very impressed with Logan. In the first place this 20 something guy is completely self taught, an amazing director, producer and shooter. In the next place he was able to rework the still images from my camera and correct the perspective to a normal lens. You'll see the original capture in the top of the frame as you view the images.

This article, graphics and photography are protected by copyright and may not be reproduced in part or as a whole in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from the author. Text, graphics and photos by Mike McLean

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Thousands of images in 7 categories submitted from 50 states, 3 judges, 8 hours, 7 first prizes and 1 Grand Prizewinner.

One of the neat perks of teaching is having opportunities to judge photo contest. This week I was asked by my colleague and close friend, Gary Lundgren to judge the Jostens Publishing Photo Contest. This is a National Photojournalism Contest held yearly in Minneapolis.

Judges Jeff Kocur, and Jill Chittum take a first look at the contest entries, in the background are Jostens staffers.

The contest is open to all student photojournalist from around the country. I was one of three judges whose job it was to select the best images for 7 categories each with places from first to fifth. Once we had first place winners from all the categories we chose the best single image to be best of show. Sounds pretty easy but it was very challenging. We had thousands of images to view, a few discussions and even a few show of hand votes. I remember entering contest as a photo student and how long it took me to prepare my images. Keeping that in mind, we took care and time to view each photo from these young photographers.

Jostens leased a nearby conference room with plenty of natural light, this improved the viewing quality of the entry prints.

Once the judges made top selections the contest staff removed top selections to another table for final judging.

Gary Lundgren, the contest coordinator discusses the rules and categories with the judges.

Gary gave us basic options for judging and a quick overview of contest categories. The criteria was not discussed, as we all were veterans of many contests. We all knew what makes an award-winning photo, which inspired me to make a list of qualities that set a winning photo apart from other images.

Ten strategies for shooting award winning Photos

- Content is King: First and foremost in the world of photojournalism is good content. Great images communicate a message.

- Strong composition: Simply said composition is the way the elements are arranged within the image.

- Action and Reaction: Nothing reads as quickly as a peak action moment or an amazing reaction shot.

- Get emotional: Good images have an emotional quality and can capture the spectrum of emotions, from happy to sad.

- Keep it real: The best images are genuine. Nothing is worst than a photographer faking or setting-up a shot. It’s much better to wait for things to evolve naturally.

- Crop it: Often times an ordinary image can become extraordinary by an effective crop.

- Technically Speaking: Winning images are free from any problems with exposure, sharpness or noise.

- Gimmicks and tricks: Avoid trendy styles, filters or Photoshop enhancements that often get in the way of a solid image.

- Clich├ęs are out: Uncommon images show a different take on the common picture and stand out from the others.

- Don’t overwork it: One last important thing that is often overlooked when entering contest. Don’t try to win! Yup, I said that. Here’s what I mean. I’ve judged plenty of contests and I know some photographers where it’s all about the awards. They study the winners of previous contests and shoot images that are only slightly different, following a script of sorts. As a judge, what attracts my eye is something original and different. If your main goal is recognition you may win a few contests but your passion and originality will suffer. Additionally, you’ll miss out on developing your own unique style and” burn out” could be waiting just down the road. I’m not saying don’t enter contest, they offer many benefits but just don’t let awards be your main motivation with photography.

As for the winners of the contest I judged this week, I’ll post examples of a few of the outstanding winners once the results are release publicly. I found myself inspired by the amazing images of these young photographers. It helped me reconnect with the passion and enthusiasm I had as a young photographer and its something I strive for on every project I shoot. Lastly, a very special thanks to Gary and the contest staff for all the hospitality and for asking me to take part in the Jostens Publishing Photo Contest.

Myself, Jill Chittum and Jeff Kocur discuss the top images and select the Grand Prize winner award.

This article, graphics and photography are protected by copyright and may not be reproduced in part or as a whole in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from the author. Text, graphics and photos by Mike McLean

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Guess who's on The Ellen Show?

Ok I know this is photography blog but I had to post a update on my friend Brennin who I wrote about in last week post. He was featured on The Ellen Show today and was very excited when I talked with him. His clip is part of Ellen's bathroom concert series, she will be bringing the winner of a viewer poll to her show. Again, Brennin has a lot of talent as a song writer/ singer. This exposure could help him so if you like the clip vote for Brennin at the link under the video.

Please help get Brennin to The Ellen Show. Click here to place your vote.

To find out more about Brennin Hunt click here

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Tips on discovering your Self-Assignment


Brainstorm to begin the process of identifying and researching your potential self-assignment.

- Make a list of people, places, events or themes you enjoy photographing. Take a look at your shots from the past few months. Note any recurring themes or subjects.

- Don't overlook good visual possibilities around you. Think about family members or friends with interesting hobbies, skills or sports. My students have developed self-assignment from wood workers, skate boarders, music teachers, bike shops, a kite makers and even Civil War re-enactment actors. Checkout local crafts fairs, music festivals or other events on the web or the newspapers.

- Move past the fear of approaching strangers if they could make interesting subjects. I find if you have genuine curiosity about a person's passion they will be more than happy to be photographed.

- Narrow your list to two or three different self-assignments.
Develop "contact notes" That should include your subjects phone numbers, e-mails locations.

Contact your potential subjects consider the following questions:

1. What kind of access can you have? The more time you can spend with your assignment the better the images will be.

2. What are the lighting conditions? Working in good light will allow you to focus on capturing good images.

3. What are the visual possibilities? Are you planning on a simple portrait or is it possible to capture a series of photos?

These questions will help identify your best visual options.

Its always a good idea to let your subject know your building a portfolio and you’d be happy to share photos with them.

So get out there and start shooting! If you’re a professional you’ll find a rekindled passion and if you an amateur you’ll see you’re shooting skills take off.

Here’s a few more of my self-assignment examples.

I was teaching a Photo Workshop in Nashville took a few hours off to test some new light set-ups. I talked with my friend Brennin Hunt who is a Nashville songwriter and performer when I asked if I could do a few test shots he quickly told me he needed some updated promo photography for his manager. To find out more about this amazing songwriter and performer click here.

After the shoot with Brennin we went to the famous Martin’s BBQ in Nolenvilles for some tasty pork sandwiches. Once I entered this local favorite I knew I had to do a few shots.

While on an assignment in Taos New Mexico I took the day off and visited a few local galleries I found Metier Weaving in Dixon south of Taos. I asked the owner if I could capture her while she was working, she agreed, I got a nice available light portrait. Whether I’m working or not I always carry at least one camera with a single lens.

This article, graphics and photography are protected by copyright and may not be reproduced in part or as a whole in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from the author. Text, graphics and photos by Mike McLean

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Get Creative with Self Assignments


I'm always looking for good visual opportunities whether or not I'm getting paid to shoot. Even when I'm traveling to teach a photo workshop or on a road trip with friends I carry my gear with me and its paid off! Some of my best images were not part of a paying gig. This brings me to the concepts of self-assignments. I think the best way of growing, as a photographer is to develop self-assignments. I learned the concept as a newspaper photographer. Many of the staffers I worked with would have side photo projects. This was a way for over-worked staff photographers working under quick deadlines to avoid total photo burnout. In the world of commercial photography this is called testing. The idea is to find a story, theme or an idea that you have an interest or passion about and shoot it your free time. The self-assignment is something you can have complete freedom to shoot without having to worry about speedy deadlines, photo editors cutting out your favorite images or designing strange crops. They sometimes were published but more often were not. Self-assignments are not just for professionals-they can be helpful to amateurs as well. Doing a bit of research and charting a strategy can improve your chances of getting better images.

While working with a local high school’s Photojournalism class I over heard the students talking about a player they had on the schools basketball team. When I asked for details they told me the amazing story of Dominque Dorsey, a star player who excels despite a partial limb. No one had ever thought about doing a sports portrait of him. You can read a story the Dallas Morning News did here. Of note the story didn’t include an image, I think an assignment editor missed an amazing visual opportunity.

Consider some of the advantages of self-assignments

- Expand your portfolio; I’ve used techniques and idea's I learned on self-assignments when discussing concepts with clients. I have even brought some of those self-assignment images to creative meetings. It shows in a subtle way you have a real passion for what you do.

- Gain confidence in your shooting and people skills; I’ve learned some neat tricks about lots of things while covering a self assignment; dealing with subjects, using unusual angles, lighting with an edge just to name a few. It's always better to make mistakes and learn on your own while covering a self-assignment. Best to be on your top game when someone is paying.

- Flex your creative muscles; with no clients looking over your shoulder and wondering, "I'm paying for this? Or ugh, does this guy know what he's doing. You'll be able to expand your creativity. The more you use your creative eye the easier it will be to access while someone is paying your rate.

- Get a leg up on concept development and assignment planning; an important aspect of being a successful photographer that's never really talked about, (I'll post more on this in future post). Many people have a misconception that a photographer just shows up and start shooting. Most every project I shoot requires a great deal of work before I even pick-up a camera. Contacting the subjects, scouting the locations, working with reporters/clients and doing basic research are just part of the pre shoot work needed to yield the best possible images. The more you understand the work required prior to shooting the more your clients will value you as a photographer.

- Get some paying assignments; As an example, I was teaching a photo workshop in a small downtown area. I asked the students to develop and shoot a photo story along Main Street. The class assignment's goal was to help the students focus with limited time in capturing images, much like a working photojournalist. As I walked up and down Main Street helping with questions I noticed one shop had been overlooked by the student shooters. I decide to shoot a few portraits of the shop owner, only took a few minutes. I gave her my card within a few days I got a call from the owner saying her shop had been featured in a national magazine and the editors wanted to buy my images for publication. Point is you never know where paid projects will come from. I've picked up many paying projects while shooting self-assignments.

Johnny Bryant in her famous cookie shop.

Click here for tips on Developing your Self-Assignment

This article, graphics and photography are protected by copyright and may not be reproduced in part or as a whole in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from the author. Text, graphics and photos by Mike McLean