Sunday, June 23, 2013

It's Time to Add Some Chlorine to the Gene Pool!

First let me say this has absolutely nothing to do with photography. I just had an encounter that continues to boggle my mind. I was fueling up my car and was downwind of a local fast food establishment. The smell of french fries filled the air and the craving kicked in. It's been quite some time since I have had any junk food and thought to myself "what the heck". I pulled up to the drive-through and clearly said, "One large order of fries please". The girl on the other end of the piece-of-crap intercom system said....and I'm not joking..."Would you like fries with that?".

I was dumbfounded! At first I thought she was kidding, but could tell by her tone that she wasn't. The question gave me pause for a split second. If I said "Yes", would I get TWO orders of fries? If I said "No", would I get an empty bag? I chose to simply repeat my order hoping that she could understand what I was saying (again through the piece-of-crap intercom).

Our communication issues resolved, I was instructed to pull around to the first window. I couldn't it was my turn to play with what little mind she had. "Which is the first window?", I asked. A looooong pause...and then she replied, "The first one you come to".

I'm just glad the cash register tells her how much change to give back.


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Glow With the Flow

Glow With the Flow

I recently saw an article that reminded me of a conversation I had some time back with friend and fellow photographer, Wayne Stacy . We had unsuccessfully attempted to photograph the "Moonbow" at Cumberland Falls due to an uncooperative Mother Nature. On the drive home, we brainstormed about a way to light the falls for a more dramatic and unique night shot. While I was focusing on a way to back light the falls, Wayne wanted to introduce light into the water for long exposure shots.The topic would come up every now and again, but it was this article that really lit a fire under us. It would seem we were not the only nuts out there with this idea and we just knew we could do it. The process would be rather straightforward, or so we thought. Tie similar colored glow sticks together, put them in the water up-stream of the falls and take long exposure shots while they drifted down and over the falls.Even at this stage of planning the logistics of the shoot, we knew we were going to need help and enlisted the aid of Jamie Cummings to serve as Production Assistant.

© David Toczko
With a careful eye on the forecast, we chose a clear night with a near-full moon to provide as much light on the water as possible and it was "Go Time". Preparation started a few days before with a trip to the Everything For a Dollar Store for supplies. While in theory our idea should work, reality is much different and we opted not to make a huge investment should it turn out to be a miserable failure. The afternoon of the shoot was spent rigging a few strands up while we could actually see what we were doing. Similar colored glow sticks were fastened to string using zip ties at evenly spaced intervals. The thinking behind this was that while we had a general idea as to the height of the falls, we wanted to be sure to have a long enough strand to get the effect we were looking for. Jamie (upstream) would pull the strands up and down during a long exposure shot to fill in the gaps between the lights.Only two strands were made in advance as this was still all theory and we didn't want to lose all the sticks if this system failed. 

© David Toczko
Off to the falls we went full of excitement and anticipation of doing something "outside the box". My only concern at this point was if there would be enough flow in the river to provide a nice waterfall. Those concerns were quickly put to rest as soon as we arrived. Rains earlier in the week had provided more than enough flow. In fact, our concern now was that our system was not up to the task. Only one way to tell and that was to use one strand as a sacrificial lamb and see what happens. 

© David Toczko
Jamie also seems concerned as well as frustrated with the ease of which the lines repeatedly got tangled. Also notice that she is wearing a life vest for safety. Fortunately, the only mishap on the shoot occurred when I dropped her snake stick in the river. Sorry about that Jamie!!!! With the current too strong and an undertow that would not allow the lines to be spread out, we moved to the other side of the river where there was a step falls with a gentler current and shallower water. Time was against us now as the sun was beginning to set. Jamie began rigging the strands above the falls and I arranged them at and below the falls while Wayne continued to string lights together from a "drier location". Darker and darker it grew, so Jamie started helping Wayne string lines while I started to fire off test shots and make minor adjustments to the strands already deployed. With everything in place, it was now time to shoot. Various exposures, f stops and ISO settings were used. The best results seem to have come from relatively low ISO settings, mid to high f stops and long exposures.

© David Toczko

© David Toczko

© David Toczko

© David Toczko

© David Toczko

© David Toczko

© David Toczko

© David Toczko

© David Toczko

© David Toczko

© David Toczko
For more examples of David's work, visit his web site
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Saturday, February 2, 2013

Name That Bird

No...not THAT kind of bird! There is a red-tailed hawk that lives in my neighborhood. He frequents the trees in my yard and can often be found perched on the fence at the back of my property. This bird is smart...I mean SMART. He usually only comes around when I don't have my camera handy. By the time I get it out and set to shoot, he has moved on. If I do have it sitting on the table at the ready, he does not appear. He haunts me, taunts me, almost mocking me and daring me to get a good photo of him. He has been so brazen as to perch on my deck and look at me through the window. Damn bird! The quest to photograph this bird is my one and only New Year's resolution for 2013.

Oh there was one time he came around and I did have my camera ready for him. He was at the very back of the yard, perched on that fence. Even though I had my 100-400 mm lens on, I had to get closer. Slowly, calmly and ever so quietly I approached him staring through the viewfinder as I stalked him. My thinking was as soon as I got close enough for a decent shot, I would fire it off. Also, if he did fly away before I got there, at least I could get something. Closer and closer I crept, thinking all the time that this was the day I would get that iconic photo of him. 

Now...let me readily admit I am a man and yes, walking around in the yard looking through a viewfinder is not the safest (or smartest) thing. I know that. I have lived in this house for 14 years. Mowing, raking and picking up sticks and branches from the tress in the yard all that time. I should know this place like the back of my hand. Turns out...not so much. Although I could see any obstacles in front of me through the viewfinder, in my excitement I failed to take into consideration anything below that field of view. I stubbed my toe on the stump of a tree I had cut down years ago. I lunged forward, lowering my camera in a most ungraceful way and, of course, the hawk flew away. Oh yes...I did regain my balance and managed to fire off a few shots as he soared off (probably laughing at me) but he was already too far away for the photos to be of any use. A few choice words later, I return to the house even more committed to photographing my nemesis than ever.

So if you have read this far, here is where the fun comes in. I already have a groundhog living under my shed that I have named "Gus". This is beginning to sound like an episode from Wild Kingdom! Anyway, I want to name this hawk. Don't ask me why...I just do (it's a guy thing) but I have not been able to come up with a good name for him. So....
Put your thinking caps on...go to my facebook page  and share your idea in the comments section of the post on this subject by the same name. I'll narrow it down to my three top favorites and then post a survey so that everyone can vote on the ultimate choice.

In the meantime, I am lensed up and ever vigilant for a chance to photograph this ever elusive beast. I also want to say no birds were harmed in the writing of this post, only my pride.

Happy Shooting!


Sunday, January 27, 2013

Release Me (Part 3 of 3)

So here we are at the last of three installments about Candid photography. We looked at tips to get the photos, the issue of permission and now we wade into the muddiest of all issues, in my opinion, Model Releases. Let me say again this is my understanding of the issue and is not intended as gospel or legal advice.

Some photographers may be missing out on a profitable aspect of their business because they are not marketing photos for which they don't have releases and others may be spending an exorbitant amount of time obtaining and maintaining releases they don't really need. Let's first look at the types of images when it comes to the need for a model release. When I say "types" I am referring to the use of the image whether that is the initial intended use or ultimate final use. A photo's intended use is the primary governing factor that determines the need for a subect's permission (release) before profiting from their image.  Usage falls under several broad categories: fine art, journalism or editorial, and commercial, each of which has their own set of rules regarding model permission or releases.

Fine Art
© David Toczko
If you intend to exhibit your images as fine art, you do not need a release. One exception to this is if the image is of a minor, in which case you would need the parents' permission. Examples of this could be portfolios (hard copy or online), gallery exhibitions, books, art fairs, etc. Selling prints of those images at a show is also generally considered legal. However, if you intend to make posters of the prints to advertise your show, you are using the images for "commercial" use and would need to have a model release.

Editorial Use
© David Toczko
In general, you do not need a model release for photos taken in a public place (where the subject has no expectation of privacy) or for photos that are considered 'news'. You also do not need a model release if you intend to sell your photos for editorial or illustrative use to newspapers, magazines or any other publishers except in the case of corporate which may be considered advertising. Proper and accurate captioning is strongly advised. The photo on the right was taken at a public event and used in a local newspaper article about that event. In this case, a model release is not required. Photos used in an advertisement in those publications would require a release (see below) Even photos intended for editorial use can put you at risk, though; especially if a candid subject decides that you have presented them in a negative light as we discussed in Part 2. 

Commercial Use
The moment you license a photograph to sell something....anything, it falls under the heading of commercial use (even if you are licensing it to yourself), and you will need a model release.  Basically, the only time a release is needed is if a person can be seen as supporting, promoting or advocating an idea, product or service. If the photograph is of a child, you will need one and preferably both parents' permission to use the image commercially.

Our culture has become so "sue happy", many stock photo agencies require model releases for all images submitted to them for possible sale. This is also a growing trend when it comes to photo contests. That is their policy and not the actual law. Another aspect of this requirement is because most images sold by stock agencies are for commercial use (advertisement) by the client who purchases it from the agency. In addition, regardless of the intended use it is a good idea to ask a parent not only for a release, but also for permission any time you take a picture of a child. Because you never know the final, ultimate use of a photo when you press the shutter, keep a few releases handy. They will not add much weight to your gear bag, and you never know when you'll create the next iconic image. Having those releases will allow you to not limit how you can use the images and can save you a lot of work and headaches later.  

I hope this series has answered a few of your questions. Don't let all these issues keep you from taking a photo, but keep them in mind when it comes to how you are going and can use it. Until next time....happy shooting!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Do I Need Permission? (Part 2 of 3)

In my last post, I talked about tips for Candid/Street Photography. I also mentioned there may be certain legal considerations to such a venture. In this second of a three-part series, I'll talk about the need for the subject's permission to photograph them. This is rather "high-brow" stuff and not the typical lighthearted posts I make, but since I opened the can of worms in my previous post, I feel it is important I discuss it. full disclosure and as a disclaimer...I am a photographer, NOT a lawyer. The following is my interpretation of information obtained from numerous reputable sources and the basis under which I work. Please do not take it as carved-in-stone legal advice. 

There is an intrinsic "right to privacy" in our culture and infringing on a person's privacy can be broken down into four basic types:

"Invasion of privacy" or "intrusion upon another's seclusion." 
It happens when someone actually intrudes upon a person's private domain in a way that would be considered offensive to the "average" person. This could be inside their home or other places where privacy is expected, even when the photographer is standing in public. As a photographer, the act of going on someone's land without permission would violate this privacy even if they don't take a photograph.

Public disclosure of private facts. 
This law is difficult to enforce and rarely applies to photographers. If the disclosed information is true, courts usually find that First Amendment interests outweigh privacy rights. It requires disclosure of what an ordinary person would consider private facts when an ordinary person would consider the disclosure offensive. 

Portrayal of a person in false light. 
This happens often with photographs, but usually because of the caption. It requires someone to be publicly portrayed in a false manner in which an ordinary person would find the portrayal offensive. To be liable, the publisher of the photograph must have known or "recklessly disregarded the probability" that what is being represented is false. It is similar to defamation, when someone's reputation is damaged by a statement that is known or should be known to be false. False light does not require that the person was damaged.

Right of publicity.
This right of privacy is very different from the other three. It is the commercial appropriation of someone's name or likeness without permission, or misappropriation. It happens when someone uses the name or likeness of someone without their permission to gain some commercial benefit. It usually occurs when a photograph of a person is used in an advertisement without the person's permission. In this case, a "Model Release" is required. Permission is not required for editorial or newsworthy publications.

© David Toczko

Before we wade into the model release debate (the subject of Part Three of this series), let's take a look at the main point of this post...whether you can take a photograph of someone in public (candid or otherwise) without their permission. The simple fact that someone is in a public setting, has been interpreted as them giving up their right to privacy and, therefore, you do not need their permission to photograph them. Knowing that is one thing, getting "caught" by your subject and them objecting to it is another. Most people don't mind (and even enjoy) having their photo taken. Some even ask! Those who do take exception can range from folks who simply ask you not to photograph them to some who can get quite belligerent about it. In these cases I take the attitude that discretion is the better part of valor and you should comply with their request. I see no merit in arguing with them about the legalities of the situation. 
Now let me say right here, I am not a person who wraps himself in the First Amendment and goes out hell-bent on taking candid photos. Sometimes it's just not practical or even possible to ask for permission. Just because, technically, I don't have to ask permission does not mean I never ask. I try to be as respectful and sensitive to my subjects as I can. I certainly don't harass a subject, following them around unmercifully...almost stalking them. In extreme cases, this can be considered an invasion of privacy. It is my opinion behavior like this is but one thing that gives photographers a bad name. Use the "Golden Rule" and treat your subjects as you would want to be treated.

© David Toczko
Some argue that by asking permission, you lose the "candid" nature of the photo. One fellow photographer has a unique "M.O.". If he sees an interesting subject, he will approach them and, using whatever reason comes to mind,  ask if he can photograph them. After getting their permission and a few posed shots later, he will share the shots with his subject in the screen of his camera. He may even get their email address and send them a copy. Then he fades off into the sunset of their attention and the real photography begins. Remember, they have already given him their permission so any additional, candid images are also taken with their permission. A creative, but not required, end-run around the issue.

Must you obtain permission to photograph someone in public? The simple answer is "No". Should you get their permission? If it is possible, I say "Yes". It may help you avoid a public scene and, in many cases, you may even make a new friend. Keep in mind the USE of the candid photographs you take can be restricted by certain privacy rights. More on this, and model releases in my next installment on the subject.

Monday, January 14, 2013

So You Want To Be a Sniper

It's known by many names, Candid Photography, Urban Journalism, and my favorite, "Sniper" Photography. Capturing photographs of people in their element, doing the things they like best (or just being themselves) can be both rewarding and challenging. It can also result in some really awesome photographs. So how do you get that cool shot? Here's a few helpful hints....

Blend In
Sniper photography is not the time to make a fashion statement. Wear bland, generic, vanilla clothes. No florescent T-shirts with pictures or "cute" sayings on them. I'm not talking about showing up in a Ninja outfit. That, in itself, is going to call attention to you. Dress so as not to stand out. An extreme example would be don't wear a tuxedo to a rock concert or don't show up to a black-tie affair in a Hawaiian shirt and sandals. Know your venue and dress appropriately and even then, dumb it down. Be the "Plain Jane" in the crowd.

Become "White Noise"
Even though your clothes won't attract attention, the simple fact you are walking around with a camera will. How do you overcome that? The answer may be counter intuitive. "See and be seen". Walk around...take (or pretend to take) photos of other things. Signs, flowers, statues...whatever. After a very short time, you will become old news and just another face in the crowd. People's attention spans are very short and once you have been "seen" their attention will be off to the next new thing. 

Go "Long"
© David Toczko
You are not going to get a natural, spontaneous photo if you are in your subject's face. You will need to be some distance away and certainly not in their personal space. In order to do this, a "long" lens is  essential. I shoot these types of photos with at least a 70-200 mm or (even better) a 100-400 mm lens. I am far away enough to be under the radar, but can get the close-up I want. Don't worry about that big dog lens you are packing. They have seen you, seen you "taking" pictures and have moved on. 

Be Patient...Be Observant...Be Ready
© David Toczko
There has to be a reason you want to photograph this person or persons. Is it their looks? Is it what they are doing? Is it what they are NOT doing? Is it the way they are interacting? Watch what they are doing...try to figure out "their" story. Who are they? Why are they there? Why are they doing what they are doing? You don't have to be right about this, but it will help you anticipate what they will do next and prepare you to get the shot. Think "wait and watch" at this stage. Once you get a "feel" for your subject, watch them through your view finder and be ready to shoot. Have your settings worked out. Have your subject focused. I usually have my shutter button pressed halfway down so as to be as ready for the shot as I can be. If you are afraid you are going to miss that perfect moment, you can set your camera on a burst mode and take several shots in sequence. Be aware this may "blow your cover" and call attention to you once you have fired off a series of shots either by your subject or other potential subjects around you. 

Be Aware
© David Toczko
Even though you have "stalked" a subject, you have watched, you have waited, you have made up "their" story in your mind and you are ready for the kill, there may be something that just "happens" that will provide a good, and sometimes even better, shot. Be aware of your surroundings and what is going on. Keep your head on a swivel and be prepared to break on the shot you are waiting for and grab another, spontaneous moment. You can always go back to your main subject and this may provide even more cover for you.

"Sniper" Photography can result in some of your best images. You'll be able to capture people as they really are. No poses, no stiffness and let their true personality shine through. This, just like all types of photography, takes practice and patience. It also comes with some legal considerations. I'll give you my take on the need for model releases and other "CYA's" in my next post.