• Sandy Summers RussellSandy Summers Russell

    Helpful Tips & Advice from Competition Judge Sandy Summers Russell!

    July 31, 2014 | Posted by Sandy Summers Russell

    NAPCP’s latest round of their international image competition is now accepting entries. Are you excited? Or maybe you’re not sure what to enter or even if you should. I’ll be perfectly honest; I used to have a love-hate relationship with contests. Over the years I have entered and also judged many competitions. While I’ve done well as a participant, I’ve certainly not placed in them all. So why do I keep entering? What does a winning image need to rise to the top?

     First, put yourself in the judge’s shoes. Remember, they’ll be looking at thousands of images – one right after the other. Is it early or late in their day when they get to your image? Have they seen the same pose and set up 400 times? Perhaps the judge likes really clean black and white images best, or maybe they’re a sucker for vibrant color or beautiful backlighting. Maybe they can’t stand those things and think it’s all way over done. The truth is you just don’t know what a judge will really like and art is subjective. We’re all going to like different things. So how do you pick a winning image to enter?

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    Well, I don’t have a magic bullet for you, but I will share a bit of advice I received early in my career from one of my mentors National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore.  I learned many things from him, but there’s one thing I think about nearly every day.  Joel said there are three things needed to make an exceptional image: lighting, composition, and emotion. You can have a nice image with just one or two of those, but to make it truly exceptional you need all three.

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    So let’s talk about that. First up is lighting. Lighting has many aspects to it, but at its heart it’s technical. Is your image technically perfect? Have you exposed for lighting conditions accurately and with a purpose? If you’ve over or underexposed the image is there a good reason for it? There better be, because if an image is not technically perfect, you’re starting off at a competitive disadvantage. Has lighting enhanced the image? Is there something about the light that creates enchantment or wonder? Does it shape the subject’s face or convey a certain mood? Exceptional lighting can create magic in the mundane.

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    Next up is composition. You all, I hope, have heard about the rule of thirds and leading lines. If you haven’t you’d better Google them now. Essentially, they deal with the placement of your subject and what elements you use to focus the viewer’s attention where you want it. Additionally, an image is most successful when you give the eye a journey. What does this mean? Well, when you place your subject exactly in the middle of your frame the eye has no other place to go, no other reason to look at what else is in the picture. There is no journey and only a destination and so you have told an incomplete story. Sure rules can be broken, but once again, you better have a good reason for it.

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    Finally, and I think most importantly, we have emotion. Emotion deals with both responsive and captured feelings. How does an image make you feel when you look at it: happy, sad, in awe? What about the emotion from your subject? Are they just looking straight at the camera with no feeling, or can you see a twinkle in their eye? What does their body language say? Do they look uncomfortable? Are they holding their head at a strange angle? Are their hands and shoulders relaxed or clenched and tight? Have you captured peak action with the body language or an honest laugh, smile, or touch? These real moments are often much more powerful than a contrived one no matter how perfectly you pose them.

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    So this is quite the laundry list to cover when choosing images for the competition. Go through your work with an objective eye and see what fits the criteria best. Seek another perspective while you’re at it. Sometimes as the artist it’s hard to separate yourself from the image because you know the back-story of what it took to create the picture. Or perhaps it’s of your own kids, and your love for them overshadows any flaws the image might have. I’m sure you’ve all had a client pick out an image from the session that you considered culling, yet they adore it because it captured a nuance of their child you might not comprehend. Even though it’s not perfect they love it. Well, remember, a judge doesn’t know the back-story, so they can only judge an image on its merits.

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    Finally, why bother going through all this work to enter? What do you gain from it? Let’s admit that one of the biggest motivations is accreditation from a prestigious organization. Being able to put award winning NAPCP photographer on your resume goes along way with increasing your credibility with perspective clients. I’m not going to lie; winning NAPCP Photographer of the Year was one of the biggest highlights of my career. Seeing your image up on the Times Square Billboard is absolutely surreal, and this year’s winning prize package is incredible.   But these are just perks, and it’s not even the main reason to enter.

    The real reason is this competition gives you the unique opportunity to grow as a photographer. Every one of your images is seen and evaluated by four very experienced photographers from a variety of backgrounds. Their perspectives can give you insight into where you need to improve as an artist. We all are learning on the job. Even after twenty years I still pick up new stuff all the time. But sometimes in our quest for perfection we’re too close, and we can’t see the forest through the trees. The competition point system, and especially the optional critique, can highlight areas of needed improvement that you might not have been able to see on your own.  Sure, you may not always agree with what is said, especially at first, but constructive critique can still open your eyes to aspects of your work you might not have considered. You can then take that feedback and make it your own by spinning it towards your individual style.

     Yes, art is subjective and every single one of us will interpret it differently. But skill is a learned experience, and we all have room for improvement. So show me what you’ve got, and I’ll do my best to help you on your journey towards excellence. And who knows, maybe it’ll be your picture up on the Times Square billboard next year.

    It's A Big World But She's Daddy's Girl

    Please visit our website to find out more about entering the International Image Competition (submissions accepted through August 14, 2014).  In addition, our prestigious Photographer of the Year prize package will be awarded to one winner at the end of BOTH competitions (July 2014 and January 2015).

    Gina CoopermanGina Cooperman

    A Little Backyard Magic

    July 28, 2014 | Posted by Gina Cooperman

    Summer is a time for being outside, having fun, and finding adventure. As a mom of twins, I’m constantly looking for ways to keep my kids active and happy during these months home from school. As a photographer, I’m constantly looking for activities that will be fun for them but also great opportunities for me to capture a little of that childhood wonder.

    It’s so easy to get caught in the trap of spending exorbitant sums of money to visit the latest and greatest amusement park or, even more so, a five-star vacation. But, the reality is, most families today simply can’t afford those luxuries. And, the reality is, we don’t need those things to make little magic. The best part of summer is being able to get outside and explore what’s right around us. This is especially true if you live in a place like I do, that is cold 7 months out of the year!

    This summer, it’s been my focus with my kids, to find adventure right in our own backyard. When capturing photos of my kids (or my clients’ kids), the single best piece of advice I can offer is to just let them be. But, the real Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo happens when I can capture moments with what’s right around us…when my/your/our kids are just being kids.

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    Allow them time to explore their backyard treehouse…Let them get dirty…Let them enjoy the sunshine. Here, my son explicitly ignored my request that he leave the dirt on the ground and the toys indoors. But, you know what? He was right. It was way more fun to mix all three together! And, I ended up with one of my two favorite images so far this summer!

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    My daughter is an odd mix of fairy princess and bug investigator. Every time she comes at me with a night crawler, I go running. But, when she wants to have a “magical glitter fight”? Heck yes! This was one of those days when she wanted to be a fairy princess but declared that all fairies need pixie dust! I mean, what fairy worth her salt doesn’t have fairy dust?!

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    If you’re lucky enough to have a pool (or some body of water in your backyard) then you have hit the jackpot, my friends! We’re incredibly lucky that we do have access to such a summer staple, and we take advantage of it almost every day. (Confession: my underwater camera & housing have seen more action recently than my big camera). But, you don’t need a fancy camera or expensive underwater housing in order to capture the fun and adventure that a day spent in water will bring. There are plenty of good underwater point & shoots on the market today that make water photography accessible to virtually everyone!

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    When you’ve toweled off and just need a little diversion on dry land, pretend play is a great way to have a little fun at home. My son asked to have a zoo safari outside, so we broke out their animal masks (which were, admittedly, a splurge) and headed out after dinner. I was the zookeeper and the kids were, very fittingly, the animals. I’m not normally one for props in photos, but I do love to use the things my kids love in order to capture the magic of their personalities! And, Wyatt LOVES his yellow giraffe mask…

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    Let’s face it, sometimes oldies are goodies for a reason. Who doesn’t love bubbles?!?! I will say that I got tired of constantly blowing bubbles and then my husband got irritated when I kept asking him to blow bubbles so I could get a few shots of the kids. (No bubble-blowing whilst holding the big camera) So, the simple bubble machine I bought this spring was quite possibly the very best $15 I ever spent! My kids are endlessly entertained; my hands are freed up, and then sometimes I get an image like this! While it’s not particularly new, this image is one of my very favorites. Adventures and magic don’t always have to involve something new. Sometimes it’s as simple as a backyard bubble chase with a favorite stuffed friend to spark the fun.

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    This summer has been one of change for our backyard. We transitioned from toddler toys to the real big kid treehouse & swing set seen in the first photograph. My kids are incredibly lucky to have grandparents who spoil them with these things. This particular sandbox was one of the things that we removed to make room for the new swing set, and this is one of my last images of the kids and their ever-present sidekick playing in it. Adventure brought to you by sand. Here, they started looking for pirate treasure and ended with making “cakes” for the tea party. Childhood is all about make believe…and make believe is magical. And, if you’re able to incorporate the favorite family pet into the mix? Gold!

    So, this summer, get outside and enjoy your own backyard! There’s magic and adventure to be found everywhere, no matter how simple or small. You just have to look for it!

     

     

    Crystal JamesCrystal James

    Helpful Tips & Advice from Competition Judge Tim Walden!

    July 24, 2014 | Posted by Crystal James

    With the Image Competition in full swing, we asked our judges to share some of their expertise with our members for submitting the very best images.  Here is some excellent advice from Tim Walden:

    When evaluating photography I like to compare it to standing on two legs. As we stand equally on our two legs, they keep us balanced and  strong. If we stand on one leg, we easily lose our balance and tumble. Similarly, in photography we must stand on two legs. Those legs are technical excellence and creative artistry. Creative artistry will define you as an artist, provide uniqueness and a special place among other artists. It’s how your work will be remembered.  However, your imagery must also be technically excellent or you’ll find it’s a facade and it will crumble.

    So, with that said, I look for four pillars which are all cornerstones of a great image; two of them on the technical side and two on the creative. On the technical side, I look  first for beautiful lighting that draws you to the subject and features them. Lighting that enhances the mood and never distracts by being too contrasty or too flat is perfect. Lighting can, and should, provide depth and help us to feature the textures and shapes in our photographs.

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    Next, would be the pose. I use this term even for non‐posed images (or candids) and it speaks more to the arrangement of the subject(s) and can either flatter or distort them. A perfect pose or perfectly timed candid will support the expression, the environment and mood the maker desired while always making the subject look their best.

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    On the creative side I look at the composition of the image. Is it unique? Maybe long and thin to be different or square because this fits the environment and elements in the image. Does the composition help share the message of the maker? The composition is critic to the story. What parts you leave out and what parts you include are important decisions when composing the perfect photograph.

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    Finally, I evaluate the mood and emotion of the image. This is, to me, the most critical element as it causes the viewer to linger, to draw conclusions and to see the depth of the story in front of them. It can be in a mother’s touch, the closed eyes of a dad embracing his child and in the expression(s) of each person included as they must fit the mood. Mood is the magic that take s a nice image, an image with technical excellence, and places it above and beyond the others. Did you leave the viewer of your image different than the way you found them when they stop to see your photograph?

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    Abbe McCrackenAbbe McCracken

    Vacation Albums Made Easy

    July 20, 2014 | Posted by Abbe McCracken

    Ahhhh vacation.  Bonding, relaxation, adventure and 1,413 images to prove it.   Ok, maybe only 867 if you aren’t obsessed with catching every. single. moment. {guilty as charged}. And don’t forget the 212 pictures on your mobile device.  For many people, capturing these images is fun but deciding what to do with them … well, it can seem daunting.  Here are 5 easy steps and lots of great resources for making vacation albums your whole family will treasure.

    STEP 1: SELECT VENDOR AND STYLE

    Don’t start picking your images yet. Rookie mistake! Before you work with any images at all, identify which album vendors meet your quality, style and pricing goals.  I’ve made many personal albums over the years and Picaboo is easily my favorite.  I adore the Seamless Lay-Flat Books and Classic Photo Books (which also come with a lay-flat option).

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    Both meet my {very} high quality standards and both come in a variety of styles.  Everything from the modern, minimalist look that I love to the med layouts with fun doodles.  Picaboo’s Classic Photo Books start at $19.99 and the Seamless Lay-Flat Books start at $64.99. Coupons are almost always offered so keep your eyes open.  Other popular vendors include Shutterfly, MyPublisher and another one of my favorites, Artifact Uprising.  More on Artifact Uprising in a minute, but the point is explore your options before you design.

    STEP 2:  SET PAGE COUNT

    Determine the approximate page count of your finished album, then double that for the amount of images you need.  For example, if you want a 20-page book then only select your 40 best images.  If you want a 50-page book, start with your 100 best.  I rarely use that many but it’s a great starting point that will allow for a nice variety of spreads throughout your book.

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    Page count is often driven by your budget and/or the scope of your vacation . . . though my latest book is 47 pages and 90% of it was shot in one hour at one location.  Just sayin’, it’s easy to get carried away, which is why Step 3 is where you will invest the most time.

    STEP 3: CULL IMAGES

    It’s time to narrow down your images.  I know you love them all, but honestly some are blurry, some are duplicates and some simply take your breath away.  It’s important to see the differences, use the trashcan and star your favorites.  If you are too attached to let go of any, walk away for a few days.  Sometimes a fresh perspective is all you need.  Your goal here is to identify the best 25/50/100 images for use in your album.  My final selections always include a combination of images from both my professional camera and my iPhone.  Here’s a spread using iPhone pictures on the left and my Nikon d610 on the right.  Don’t be afraid to mix it up.

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    STEP 4: UPLOAD AND ARRANGE

    If you prepare everything as outlined in Steps 1-3, then Step 4 will be a walk down easy street.  In fact, Steps 4 and 5 should take you an hour or less from upload to order. {Those with perfectionist tendencies may take a bit longer.  Not me.  Never.  Type A what?} Simply upload your selected images to your layout of choice and arrange the pictures in the order you want to see them.  I like to tell our vacation story, so I typically default to chronological order.  If your images didn’t automatically upload in order, then you will need to drag them to the appropriate place.  This is another good reason to work with smaller numbers of images.

    STEP 5: UTILIZE AUTOFILL

    Talk about easy, now simply click “autofill” and let it do its job.  Within minutes your book is ready to preview.  Picaboo’s autofill feature is especially good at detecting appropriate layouts and using a variety of them.  I’m always amazed at how the images fit so perfectly.  Autofill saves me time and gives me creative layout ideas but it’s not 100% perfect.  I make final adjustments before ordering because it’s easy to swap pictures, change layouts and make a whole host of additional customizations.

    BONUS BOOKS

    With so many of us shooting in square these days, it’s nice to have Instagram friendly books too.  You could easily document your whole vacation on your mobile phone then upload your selected pictures to Artifact Uprising.  The company’s best-selling Softcover Books for Instagram start at $16.99.  If you follow me on Instagram you know that I use these books to showcase my iPhone 365 project.  Each month I create a 5×5 book of my family’s daily happenings.  I adore the product and the ease of Artifact Uprising’s Mobile App.  It takes me about 20 minutes to design and order straight from my iPhone.

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    The coffee table in my family room holds all the albums I’ve ever created.  It’s a mix of old, new, tried and true but the important thing is that we see them … I mean, really SEE them.  Not a single day goes by without my kids picking up an album and reliving those moments.  I love that.  I want that for your family too.

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    Barb SubiaBarb Subia

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    1 – Everyone gets to be in the photos!

    It’s so important for kids to not just have photos of themselves as they grow up, but also images together with you, the parents. Memories of all the fun you had together as a family, and how much you love them.

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    2 – Maximum cooperation!

    This will be one photo session you won’t have to beg and plead your spouse and kids to participate in. Everyone’s already relaxed and in vacation mode, it will be easy to convice them that a photo session is going to be casual and fun.

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    3 – You get to relax!

    You won’t have to worry about bringing your expensive camera to the beach, and potentially having it ruined by sand, water, and salt. Knowing that you will be going home with professional photos, you can relax and enjoy yourself, instead of feeling the need to capture every second of the kids having a blast.

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    4 – Leave technicalities to the experts!

    Lighting in different locations can be tricky, especially at the beach – hello nuclear orange skin tones and dark faces at sunset… and that was supposed to be the photo for the Christmas card. Your local photographers are used to photographing in their environment and have the knowledge and equipment to deal with these challenges.

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    5 – No post-vacation digital overwhelm!

    Returning to real life after a vacation is hard enough without having to sort through hundreds of photos to find the best ones. Wouldn’t it be nice to receive a package in the mail with a book, album or prints, and indulge in reminiscence?

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    Be sure to visit our member directory to find a photographer for your next family vacation!


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