Monthly Archives: January 2010

fake empire

Where have I been lately and why haven’t I posted a new blog entry?  It’s all about infrastructure.  Not the most glamorous side of the photography business but it’s essential for having a solid foundation.  No matter what business you are in these days, the Internet is a necessity.  That’s a broad statement and I imagine if I thought long and hard enough I could come up with exceptions but just roll along with me.

Over the past week, I have spent a lot of time on organizing my plans for my online presence.  Don’t roll your eyes, I actually plan things…not everything, but business strategy needs a good plan and needs to be adaptable.  If you are reading this blog, which is a fair assumption since I am in the second paragraph of the post, then you are seeing one of the ways I am changing my business structure.  My other blog which is hosted on another service, had some limitations that were causing problems for my readers (e.g. there were errors when people wanted to leave comments and therefore they couldn’t leave a comment), it was not on my own domain, and I wanted a cleaner style for the blog.

Another primary issue was what to do about a professional site for my photography.  I needed a site that was focused on my best work.  My site on SmugMug has served me well and will remain.  When that site was created, the idea of having my own photography business wasn’t even a remote thought.  It has evolved into a nice site but it still straddles the fence between my professional work and my photography in general.  So with the prospect of creating a professional site, what to do about the name of the business was a key question.  After consulting with some of my friends that are professional photographers, it seemed to be a good idea to use my name on the site.  After all, it is my work so promoting myself makes sense.  That site is not finished yet.  I have to add more images and galleries, I don’t have any of the e-commerce configured, and I am tweaking some of the other details.  If you would like to see what is already there then I invite you to take a look at the new site, Gerry Daniel Photography.

Tina Marie Westbrook has asked me to photograph the events surrounding the release of her new book, “Letters From Alcatraz” which is scheduled for release in March 2010.  She is a talented photographer and a talented writer.  This is her first non-photography book.  Check out the trailer here.  It is a powerful book and you should buy a copy as soon as it is released (I can recommend things, this is my blog).

The previous paragraph was a bit of a flash forward but I figured you could handle it.  So now we are back to the infrastructure, business strategy topic.  If you have an online business, you should make sure to pay attention to trying to make your site optimized for the search engines.  It’s not glamorous work but if you want people to find you online, search engine optimization (SEO) is at the heart of that effort.  If you would like, I could write a post with some of my thoughts and tips on SEO for websites.  With that in mind, I have spent a good portion of the last week gathering the SEO tools for my blog and my photography site.

And now for the part you were waiting for, the music link.  The song for this post is “Fake Empire” from the “Boxer” album by The National.

want to shoot in bad weather? read this

Bad weather.  For photography, bad weather can be good weather.  The operative here is “can” because there are always safety issues to consider, so that’s a given.  My advice would be to err on the side of safety if there is a question (e.g. I don’t recommend going out in a field to shoot in the middle of a lightning storm).

If you have an opportunity to go out and shoot in bad weather, besides your personal safety (see paragraph above), protect your camera equipment.  Cameras are sensitive to temperature and moisture.  One item that is always in my camera bag is a rain cover for my camera.  There is an adjustable opening for the lens, an adjustable opening for the back of the camera (so I can see what I am shooting), and a velcro closure along the bottom.  You can find these in a variety of colors, I chose white so that it could double as a light diffuser for a flash in certain situations.

Because moisture can be an issue for electronics, I keep an Adorama Silica Gel with Indicator in a Reuseable Canister. in my camera bag at all times. You can find similar products from other companies, I just linked it here for your convenience.

If you are going to be out in any extremes while shooting, be sure to dress properly for the conditions and take along supplies.  It seems like common sense but in the excitement to run out and shoot in the rain, you might remember everything to protect your camera equipment but forget to bring along things you might need when you are finished shooting (e.g. towels, extra pair of socks, extra pair of shoes, maybe an extra set of clothes).

Often in inclement weather you get unique lighting which can yield some great photographs.  If it is raining, the colors are more saturated and water catches and reflects light in interesting ways.  Water droplets on flowers, plants, tree branches, leaves, and other objects can be fun to photograph.

If you are in an urban environment, people move about differently in inclement weather.  For example, wind and rain can create some interesting scenes on city streets as people try to go about their day.

So, always be careful, pay attention to safety for yourself and your camera equipment.  Try shooting in “bad weather” and you may find that you enjoy it.

Disclaimer: This blog is not responsible for any damage to yourself or your camera equipment if you choose to shoot in inclement weather.  By definition, life involves a certain degree of risk.  If you are underage, make sure you have all of the necessary permissions before you make your quest out into the elements.  It’s all I can do to try and keep myself safe.  If you can get someone to go along with you, the buddy system is a good idea (again assuming you have taken proper precautions and exercise good judgment when you go out to take photographs).  As mentioned above, err on the side of caution.

Hopefully that was enough to cover my backside in case someone makes a bad decision or has a bad experience.  It’s outside my scope to tell you when you are ready to take the training wheels off.

The music for this post is the song “Head Home” by Midlake.  Sit back and chill.

learning the basics of your dslr camera, part 1

With the availability and affordability of high quality digital single lens reflex (DSLR) cameras, more and more people are buying cameras.  These cameras are amazing pieces of technology that can allow the photographer to capture some stunning photographs.  Admittedly, not everyone shooting with a DSLR wants to be a serious photographer.  For those people, the DSLR cameras have numerous automatic features built-in that will allow them to point and shoot.

For the people that have purchased a DSLR because they have a serious interest in photography and want to explore their creative side, these cameras offer an almost unlimited number of options for photographing whatever captures their interest.

One of the barriers to someone that is starting out with a camera that has so many options is trying to understand the fundamentals of photography.  Like any other piece of technology, part of the difficulty with getting a grip on the basics is trying to learn the technical terms (this is a nice way of saying understanding the jargon).  Technical people tend to use their terminology as if it was universally understood.  Having had a long career in information technology (known to most people as “computer stuff”), I saw the knowledge gap every day.  Rather than get into a discussion about computer nerds being snobby and condescending or about about end users that barely know how to turn on their computers, let’s take the high road.  This post is about sharing the basic information, we all started somewhere.  The more people that understand the basics of how to use their DSLRs, the more they can have fun and be creative with them…oh, and make incredible photographs too.

Sidebar: By nature this is a technical post, I am winging it to some degree (I know, big surprise).  Because I am winging it I may go off on tangents to help explain a point (another big surprise, right?).  What I hope to do is pass along some information in a format that is easily understood, helpful, and at least mildly entertaining.  The mildly entertaining part is a little related to my wandering attention span.  When I read technical information, it helps keep me interested if the person writing tries to entertain me a little.  My assumption is that a lot of people feel the same way.

You are being very patient with me while I meander my way to something you can actually use.

The basics of photography have been pretty much the same since it was first invented (no I didn’t research it and am not going to cover the history of photography here).  The two main ingredients to making a photograph are light and time.  We will cover how they relate and impact how the image is captured.

Disclaimer: This will not be a substitute for the manual that comes with your camera.  Hopefully this will help you use the manual and find the information you need a bit easier.

Let’s go ahead and throw out some of the basic terminology.  It will help you become more familiar with the terms and help me remember what I am writing about.

  • ISO – this refers to the light sensitivity for the sensor in your camera, it is a carry-over from film but still applies to the digital world – a low ISO number (e.g. 200) means that the sensor recording the image is less light sensitive, a higher number (e.g. ISO 3200) means that the sensor is very light sensitive – it’s also important to know that a lower ISO will produce a higher quality image (less “noise” or visible graininess) while a higher ISO willl produce a lower quality image (more “noise” or visible graininess)

If you are shooting in low light and/or want to shoot something with movement (like a sporting event) then you might have to use a higher ISO to freeze the action without blurring the motion.  More on ISO later but that is a general place to start, on to the next term.

  • Aperture (sometimes referred to as F-Stop) – this is the size of the hole letting light through when you press the shutter to take the photograph, for me the best way to think of the aperture numbers is to make them fractions (like in math class) – a lower aperture number is a larger opening (e.g. think of an aperture of 4 as 1/4) and a higher aperture number is a smaller opening (e.g. think of an aperture number of 22 as 1/22)

Aperture can impact the photograph in a number of ways but for now, just know it refers to the size of the opening that is going to let light hit the sensor in the camera when you press the shutter release. That takes us to the next term.

  • Shutter speed – this is probably the most obvious and easiest understood one, it simply refers to how long the sensor is exposed to light by telling you how fast the shutter will open and close, a shutter speed of 60 means the shutter will be open for 1/60th of a second, a shutter speed of 800 means that the shutter will be open for 1/800th of a second

These three primary terms are fundamental to how each photograph is captured.  Sure, there are other factors (e.g. white-balance) but if we can get a handle on these three and how they relate, it will go a long way to opening up the world of deciding how you want to shoot a particular image.

In Part 2, we will talk about the relationship of these factors and how you can use them.  Is that all of the terms?  No, but we will take our time and I promise to try and limit the number of terms but some of them are important to helping you understand how to use your camera.

Hopefully, nobody has gotten irritated and decided to just leave their camera on the “Automatic” setting forever.  You are of course free to do that but you will miss a lot of opportunities to capture that image the way you want it to look in the photograph.

I will end with a song suggestion.  With all of this technical talk, I’ll go with something soothing and easy.  The song is “Can’t Go Back Now” from the album “Hideaway” by the Weepies (

mobile blogging for dream hat photography

In my quest to blog on a more regular basis and to take advantage of tools that allow remote posts to my blog, I have enabled mobile blogging.

So now I can report from the field whenever I want. It will allow me to be more spontaneous with my posts when I have the urge.

This won’t replace my usual posting. It is more a value-added feature for the Dream Hat Photography blog.

It’s on.

taking tack sharp photographs

Before I get into the topic, I have to open with a few disclaimers.  Always consider the source, I am one photographer and naturally some people may differ on my thoughts on this topic.  When you think about it, that could be the default disclaimer at the beginning of all my posts.

While this post is about my thoughts on taking tack sharp photographs, there are any number of reasons that a photographer might not want a tack sharp photograph.  Sometimes in certain situations, I have other priorities for a photograph that do not include being tack sharp.  In a way, that is another disclaimer but I like to think of it as a qualifier.

No, I am not stalling.  Posts to some degree are like short stories so you have to let me weave the tale.

Tack sharp photographs are one of my obsessions with many of my photographs.  If you are expecting some previously undiscovered trick for getting the sharpest focused photographs, you will probably not find it here.  Think of this more as a checklist of things to consider when you are going for the sharpest focus photograph you can take.

My assumption for this post is that many of the people reading this have a good understanding of the fundamentals of photography (e.g. ISO, shutter speed, and aperture settings).  A post about the fundamentals of photography and how to shoot on manual with your DSLR is something I would be happy to write if someone wants to know my thoughts on that subject.

The overall concept is simple, if the camera moves while you are taking a photograph, the degree of sharpness in the resulting photograph is lessened.  We can pause while everyone rolls their eyes at me stating the obvious.  Moving forward, number one on my list for stability is shooting from a tripod.  What that really means is that your camera needs to be in a place where it will not move at all when the shutter is relased.  There are all kinds of ways you can achieve that without a tripod but play along, please.

Movement and vibration transferred to the camera while the photo is being taken will impact the overall sharpness.  So if you are on a surface that is moving or in a place where there is vibration, a tripod does not guarantee stability, another comment by Captain Obvious.  While we are talking about tripods, I advise you to think of a good tripod as an investment.  Buy a good one, it will last a long time and will be worth it in the long run.  What to look for in a tripod could be a separate post.

What are some other ways to try and make sure that the camera is stable during the shot?  For me, a cable release is a must.  That way I don’t have to touch the camera to release the shutter.  If you want clear photos and don’t have a cable release, I recommend investing in one, they are not expensive.

If you are using a lens that has some type of vibration reduction built in and you are shooting from a tripod, turn it off.  But Gerry, what if I am in a strong wind or in some other situation that is introducing movement to my tripod?  That is a different discussion and not covered here.  The point is that the little motor that stabilizes the lens can introduce movement.  At least that is what my research indicates.

Manual focus is something else I recommend for this type of shooting.  Again, it is just the issue of the camera making motor adjustments which can introduce movement and inpact the clarity of the photograph.

This next recommendation is one that is probably less obvious for some photographers.  Speaking for myself, it was not something that I considered for a while.  Many good DSLR cameras will allow you to shoot in mirror lock-up mode.  When shooting in this mode (consult your owners manual for your camera to see if you have this feature and how to enable it), you first compose and focus your photograph.  When you have everything exactly the way you want, your first press of the shutter will lock the mirror in the up position.  At that point you can no longer see what you are shooting through the viewfinder (because the mirror is locked in the up position blocking the view from the viewfinder).  Wait a couple of counts to let any vibration from locking the mirror to subside, the press the shutter release a second time to take the photograph.  This process will be repeated with each shot when you are shooting in mirror lock-up mode.

Bracketing is something I assume most of you do on a regular basis.  It could be the subject of another post if anyone is interested in discussing bracketing.  Personally, I bracket each shot and take it three times with different settings.  You just never know until you get home which one will be the best.

As always, comments, questions, and suggestions are welcome.

Encounters of the Human Kind

After configuring the printer and printing some test photos, moving into the print world will change some some aspects of my photography.  In the long run I think it will be positive and make me a better photographer.  It is making me more aware of flaws in some photographs and also making me appreciate some photographs more.

Like most things, it will even out eventually.

Shot at Aldridge Botanical Gardens in Hoover, AL this morning.  Sometimes the shots fall short.  Today was one of those days.  Had a weird encounter with a lady that was concerned that I had photographed her.  If you follow my photography, you are aware that I rarely photograph people.  I assured her that I hadn’t photographed her.  The fact was I never even knew she was around until she came up.  It seemed rude to say that I had not photographed her and wasn’t aware of her existence.  She mentioned that her brother was a photographer for the NY Times.  I’m still trying to figure out if that was supposed to mean something to me.  Like maybe I should have asked his name or like maybe I had heard of him.

Later I thought maybe I should have asked her if she wanted to check all of the photos on my memory card, just to be sure there were no photos of her.  It seemed more fun to leave that shred of doubt in her mind.

Print Photographs? Yes We Can!

The wheels are in motion for Dream Hat Photography, 2010 is the year to make a run.  A big part of the plan is to get my images out in the world in a physical sense.  With the exception of an exhibit in July 2009 at the Gadsden Museum of Art, my photography has existed almost exclusively in electronic format.

Printing.  That’s all that was left, the only thing I couldn’t do with my photography.  If I wanted a print, I had to send my image to a lab and get them to print it.  After coming up with an initial order of prints, then getting an quote from the printing company that had done a beautiful job on the prints for the exhibit at the art museum, I worked on the numbers.  How much was it going to cost me for various sized framed prints?  What would be my break-even point?  How many photographs would need to be sold to make any money?

Nothing new to those questions.  In any business that sells a product, those are basic questions.  A few things were obvious, I needed to learn how to mount, mat, and frame photographs.  The cost of outsourcing those tasks added too much to my cost for each photograph,  Running lean is important, especially in this economy, especially for a new business, especially for a photographer trying to make this feasible as a business.

Printing… I was back to printing as the part of my business that was outside my control.  There is the cost of printing, the time is takes to order and receive prints.  There is the issue of tying up money in inventory, trying to have enough but not too much.

If this is going to be a serious run, I have to invest in my business, believe in myself (insert 80’s movie montage power ballad here).  You saw this coming but you were polite and kept reading.  A whole blog post, just to say I decided to buy a printer?  Cut me some slack.  These posts don’t write themselves.

What printer did I buy?  No big deal, I just went over to Costco and bought this multifunction printer that will also fax and scan.  No sweat, done deal.

Yeah, that was a total lie.  You know I did my research and bugged other photographers.  As of today, I am now the proud owner of an Epson Stylus Pro 3880.

Totally jazzed.  That’s how I feel about 2010.  This is the year.

For the record, I am not really a fan of montage scenes in movies with 80’s power ballads.  Eyes forward, new music, new photos, new opportunities.

Oh, forgot to mention, after six weeks without my DSLR, the replacement D700 from Nikon arrived yesterday.  Things are getting interesting.

Getting Better Results With Your Photography

“Where there is perhaps a province in which the photograph can tell us nothing, there is another in which it proves to us how little our eyes permit us to see” ~ Dorthea Lange

Waiting for my Nikon D700 replacement has not been easy, it’s not one of my strong suits.  In the time since my camera took a swim in Turkey Creek, I’ve been busy doing other things.  My plans for 2010 and Dream Hat Photography are big and there are no shortage of tasks related to those plans.  It would be tedious and boring to cover those details, nobody wants to read them, I wouldn’t read them either.

One opportunity I’ve had while waiting on the camera is a chance to take a look at my photography.  The work I have already done.  It’s interesting to go back through many of the folders containing the photographs from so many days of shooting.  In some cases, I have run across images that I missed when I was originally processing that group of shots.  They are like hidden treasures.  Sometimes I process my work too quickly.  Giving it a little time to settle is not a bad thing, at least in my case.

If you are a person that always nails your shots and every photo is golden, then you probably have little to gain from reading my blog.  You might get a laugh from reading how someone else struggles with trying to produce quality work and smile at their lack of perfection.  Here’s the ugly truth, nobody nails every shot every time.  If you thought you were, you are sadly mistaken.  A slight pause is inserted here as my role as a buzz kill washes over the perfect people.

That was a decently long introduction to the actual focus of this particular post.  If I give away the good stuff right away then my posts are shorter and I don’t get the chance to ramble.  If rambling were an Olympic sport, I would likely have several gold medals.

This post is actually about composition and perspective.  Going through my folders and looking through a LOT of images, it reminded me that shooting more is a good thing.  That is true for a lot of reasons.  No, I am not going to go through those reasons.  What I will say is that I learn more from my mistakes than I do my successes.  The trick is taking the time to consider why a shot didn’t work.  Unless you are just out there snapping photos of any secne with no regard to what you are trying to capture.  For this post, I will assume we are all trying to capture something specific and meaningful with our photographs.

In looking through the many photos that failed to capture what I was trying to shoot, many of the problems were related to two elements, composition and perspective.  Since I don’t randomly snap photos, I know that each of the scenes must have interested me at the time.  If we throw out the ones where I was simply wrong and the scene was not at all interesting, I am left with the ones that were either hits or misses.

For the misses, if I had spent a little more time considering the shot, if I had recomposed the shot, if I had tried other perspectives then I would most likely have captured the shot I wanted.  So I’ve made a mental note to try and be more careful when I am shooting.  Experiment with different perspectives more.  Take time to really “see” what is in the frame, edge to edge.  Use the whole frame whenever possible.  Don’t waste frame space expecting to crop later.  All of this is basic photography.  None of this is breaking new ground.  It’s simply a reminder that developing solid, basic techniques and work flow are the cornerstones of being a good photographer.

With any luck, my D700 will be back in my hands in a week or so.  If I can remember my own advice, it will help me reduce the number of misses.  Exploring other perspectives is essential to me becoming a better photographer.

Comments welcomed and invited.

What’s In My Photography Portfolio?

It’s been on my “to do” list for several weeks.  Significant progress was made today on that item.  To be clear, my whole day wasn’t spent on this, I did other things too.  You don’t fool me, some of you are skeptical about how I spend my time.  You can’t please everybody, some days you are lucky if you can please anybody.  The toughest person for me to please is myself, so if you are even slightly disgruntled about me, get in line.

My portfolio had become outdated.  Hard to believe, right?  Anyway it had to be done.  My problem was trying to choose the photos.  Part of the challenge is that I am generally a harsh critic of my photographs, part of the challenge is that it needs to be somewhat focused, and the other part of the challenge was deciding what I wanted the portfolio to say about my work.  If you have followed my photography or just wandered through my galleries, you will notice that my subjects and style can vary a bit.  If you happen to be unfamiliar with my work, just trust me, I have nothing to gain by making this up.

It’s easy to let the portfolio sit there and get stale.  That’s really not a good strategy for a working photographer.  In 2010, I am going to make a strong effort to find opportunities to exhibit my photographs and gain visibility through my work at Dream Hat Photography.  With that in mind, I had to try and decide how I wanted to define my current work.  My photography is mostly centered around nature, the environment, and conservation.  Water is of particular interest to me and is often a strong element in my images.

After considering many photographs, I have updated my portfolio and invite you to take a look.  As always, I am interested in constructive feedback on my photography.  When you look at the portfolio, please leave comments on the images that move you.  It is impossible for me to see my photographs the way that you see them, I am too close to them and have limited objectivity with them.

My sincere thanks to all of the people that have encouraged my efforts to become a better photographer, I will always be a work in progress.  Earlier in this post I mentioned that I wanted to gain more exposure for my photography.  You can help me by subscribing to my blog and getting others to subscribe.  It will mean a lot to me.  With all of the negativity in the world, photography is a way I can be a positive force.

“Photography is a small voice, at best, but sometimes one photograph, or a group of them, can lure our sense of awareness.” ~ W. Eugene Smith