Lew Lorton Photography: Blog https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog en-us lewlortonphoto 2013 lew@lewlortonphoto.com (Lew Lorton Photography) Sat, 25 Mar 2017 21:56:00 GMT Sat, 25 Mar 2017 21:56:00 GMT https://lewlortonphoto.com/img/s/v-5/u747608056-o657328320-50.jpg Lew Lorton Photography: Blog https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog 90 120 Composition and Critique - understanding a photograph https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2016/8/composition-and-critique---understanding-a-photograph Route 42Route 42

Understanding how to look at a photo and seeing what bothers or impresses you about it is the key to everything. I looked up a few sites that purported to tell you about the 'Rules' of composition and came up with this list.


  • background
  • balance
  • balancing elements
  • color
  • cropping
  • depth
  • experimentation
  • fill the frame
  • framing
  • golden triangles and spirals
  • leading lines
  • leaving space
  • lines
  • patterns
  • rule of odds
  • rule of thirds
  • simplification
  • symmetry
  • symmetry and patterns
  • texture
  • viewpoint

And of course any list of 'Rules' comes with the admonition that these are really just'Guidelines' that you should follow until you know better. This is like wanting to learn to be an architect and getting instead a book of building codes.

So what is it that you are expected to learn?

What you will eventually learn is how people see and interpret pictures that are shown to them. These 'rules' are actually just efforts to express this in an understandable and technical way.

We aren't actually aware of everything we see during the normal day. Our subconscious filters out some high percentage of the signal and only passes what we know from experience to be useful.

There is a simple example that makes this obvious. If you have ever been to a new city or culture, the first day or so, you are overwhelmed at trying to understand what is going on around you. Your subconscious doesn't have any filters and it passes everything your eye sees to your brain. After two or three days, you've developed the filters for that environment and most of what your eyes see goes unnoticed by your consciousness. (This also explains why it is difficult to be objective and really see one's own pictures; in the very creating we have formed filters about what we don't care about seeing.)

Seeing a picture is a different experience. A viewer knows the picture has been captured and presented and really has no preconceived filters. When anyone first looks at a picture, their subconscious parses every element and struggles to decide what is important and what isn't. the mind uses hints about what is important from the brightness, color, focus, position.

Everything in the frame either contributes or take away from the overall impression. So, from this understanding of how people actually see and comprehend comes the only real 'Rule' and its three corollaries.

Rule: Know exactly what you want to take the picture of and let that guide the composition, exposure, framing and editing.

  • Corollary 1: Put important things in important places
  • Corollary 2: Minimize the effect of any aspect of the photo that will detract from the impact of the photo.
  • Corollary 3: Emphasize the effect of any aspect of the photo that will improve the impact of the photo.


Essentially, understanding a photo presented for critique and giving advice on what could or should be done to it is the same process as looking at your own work and deciding how to edit it to get to the best possible result with the exception that you didn't take the picture and, most of the time, you are looking at the mid-point of the edit. Things might have been done that don't jibe with what you would have done and, at the same time, some things haven't been done that you would consider important.

How is this ‘critique’ actually done? There is a skill that can only be developed by exercise of a certain unnamed mental skill. We have to train ourselves to look at the image objectively and compare that image to what we think we see in our mind and both understand the difference and see the path from one to the other.

A good/great photo is that way because everything in the frame contributes to the picture and your mind's eye sees it as a gestalt - an organized whole that is perceived as more than the sum of its parts.

To understand that visceral response, start off by asking yourself questions and the responses build the critique. The questions separate out the various components of a picture into manageable quantities so you can understand why you feel as you do about the picture.

Each of these questions is meant to put every characteristic into one of three categories: adds to impact, detracts from impact, neutral.

General questions that deal with the content and the composition as presented.

·What feelings or impressions come from the picture?Are these feeling congruent with the content or subject? Is the photo interesting, does the content draw the viewer in?

  • ·Are there one or more centers of visual interest?
  • ·Is(are) the center(s) of interest - the main subject(s) - well placed within the frame and does the placement relate well to the rest of the content so that the viewer’s eye is drawn to, rather than away?
  • ·Is there excess space that pulls the eye away and drains any tension or drama from the picture?
  • ·Is there enough space so that nothing feels cramped or cut off?
  • ·Are there geometric issues? e.g. are the horizontals and vertical correct, and is that important?
  • ·Is the composition appropriate for the content?

Specific issues with the handling of the material

  • ·Is the color or tonality appropriate for the content? Saturation or lack of it? Correct hues, white balance?
  • ·Does the color make the point that the photographer wants?
  • ·Is the sharpness or lack of sharpness appropriate?
  • ·Is everything that should be in focus and sharp, actually so?
  • ·In the reverse, is there so much depth of field, that attention is drawn away from the real object of interest?
  • ·Are there individual small defects - points of motion, dirt on the lens/sensor, out-of focus spots that hurt the image, unduly bright areas that draw the eye?

Remember that wonderful, successful pictures may have many small defects and still be great. Conversely, a technically perfect picture may be completely uninteresting. Photography, as all arts are, is clearly a realm where the whole may not be equal to the sum of the parts.

Now, once you are aware of the differences between what you see and what you believe is the final, best result, it's becomes easier to formulate a plan to 'fix' everything. In a critique, you might stick to the major issues; for your own work you will have to formulate a workflow to correct what you see as defects and eradicate the difference between that you see now and what you want.

The more times you do this, the faster and more intuitive the process. Like an outfielder that starts running at the instant the ball leaves the bat, you will look the original shot and 'see' what the final result must be and the path to it.

A critique has two benefits; the intended one is to allow the photographer to see how his/her image is seen by others’ eyes - eyes that are unclouded by any emotional attachment to the image. The second benefit is that every critique can be a learning experience for the critic who sharpens his/her own eye by disentangling the many components of a photograph and weighing each of these to understand the photograph’s strengths, weaknesses and ultimate success.


lew@lewlortonphoto.com (Lew Lorton Photography) Photography art composition criticism critique photograph street photography https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2016/8/composition-and-critique---understanding-a-photograph Sun, 14 Aug 2016 18:29:01 GMT
Customizing the Lightroom Metadata Panel https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2016/4/customizing-the-lightroom-metadata-panel The metadata panel in the LR Library module has several different optional views of the quite large metadata field set.  The default set is organized to be OK for most people and exactly right for no one - at least it wasn't exactly right for me.  I wanted fields that are viewable in different screen options and, invariably, I would be toggling back and forth to look at the fields.
I use JFriedl's plugins for export to my Facebook account,  Twitter  and here at Zenfolio. Each of these plugins add metadata fields that are viewable on the  All Plugin Metadata option.
all metaadataall metaadata
This All Plugin Metadata option has info that I want, like whether the photo has been uploaded to Zenfolio, has fields I usually don't need/want like the time and date of the upload  but is also missing some that I want to know, like if the Title and Caption fields are filled and spelled correctly - which are crucial to having my photos named correctly on all the upload.
So I would always have to pull down different sets to see the title and caption fields.
After being needlessly frustrated by this, I went back and downloaded jfriedl's  Metadata Viewer (Jeffrey's "Metadata-Viewer Preset Editor" Lightroom Plugin). This plugin (donationware) doesn't allow me to edit the metadata themselves but only to edit or create a new set that will be added to the dropdown list.
view of md mgrview of md mgr
It is accessed through the Plugin Manager and has a simple click interface that allows you to edit old templates or create new ones.
lewspanellewspanel Once I save the new template, I restart LR and voila
So now I see the set of information that is useful for me.
I no longer have to pick through all the fields on the upload plugins to be certain I have titled the current photos currectly, I can load multiple images without worrying about correct individual titles. 
I can tell from one look if the file has been uploaded and I can also edit the title and caption fields that the upload plugins use. 
His plugin is donationware and well worth the tiny amount for the time it saves on correcting or adding titles online.
lew@lewlortonphoto.com (Lew Lorton Photography) Adobe Adobe Lightroom Customizing Lightroom Metadata Panel Lightroom Lightroom Metadata Panel Metadata Metadata Panel photography https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2016/4/customizing-the-lightroom-metadata-panel Sat, 23 Apr 2016 20:23:49 GMT
An Approach to Post Processing. https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2015/9/an-approach-to-post-processing I realize this is a long - and dense - article, especially for a blog post but please try to persevere through it. I am trying to unite the ideas of seeing what needs to be done with the importance of timing and the ability to retreat from dead ends.  It is only when you can fuse all these issues into 'understanding' that you can get beyond the mechanical 'making things look better' into real expression.

Thanks for reading.



Much of the discussions of work-flow in post-processing (PPing) is aimed at the simpler images where most work is done globally and even bit-level corrections aren't ambiguous. However many images require extensive post-processing to get to the final point that the maker has in mind.

It is easy to talk about post-processing at a high level of generality and vagueness – what to do first and what to leave for last. It is also easy to talk about the mechanics of specific techniques in post-processing. But in the middle, how to look at the image, how to make decisions about what really to do and how to protect yourself from time-wasting dead-end avenues where the best path is often ambiguous.

Since I often do extensive post-processing and I hate having to redo intricate work like selections because I have taken a wrong avenue or if I just want to try different PPing techniques to see how to best finalize the image, I have adopted a work-flow that relies a great deal on making and using multiple layers to insure flexibility.

What I intend to do in this article is to talk very quickly about the generalities of my work flow and why I do things the way I do and then show two examples of how I approach any image.

Understanding and deciding what should be done to make the image looks best is the most important and the most difficult skill to acquire. For those new to this, I think it is best to take a very structured approach to diagnosing the PPing needs of any image; I have written about this before.

I always start with the few simple, basic changes - global adjustments of exposure, tint, contrast or even the slightly less obvious white balance. These adjustments require not too much knowledge or skill and even a novice photographer can tackle these because there are some external standards that can be used.

(Exposure shifts the values for the entire image up or down whereas brightness is essentially a mid-tone adjustment. The Levels adjustment is used to correct the tonal range and color balance of an image by adjusting intensity levels of image shadows, mid-tones, and highlights. )

These adjustments are often used to adjust the image back to a 'perfect' rendition of what our eye sees on a 'perfect' day.

But what if the scene isn't perfect, what if Mother Nature doesn't give the light and shadows that we want? What if there is no way to get a decent exposure of all the important parts in the camera?

What if we are not just editing to return the scene to the starting point we saw – or a bit better; what if our vision is more than that – to create an image that we have seen only in our mind's eye and for which the image as caught by the camera is only the starting point?

Then how do we proceed?

SteveLeviutas perspective PhotoSteveLeviutas perspective Photo


First, most important, you must know what you are making a picture of, what is important, what you want to show and what you want the viewer to see. I don't mean in a general sense like 'this is a pretty meadow' or 'here is a nice street scene' or 'there are flowers'.

You should/must know exactly what part of the scene is important because the whole intent of processing is to maximize the impact of the important parts of the scene and, of course, to minimize anything that is either not-important or even actually disruptive to the idea or impression you want to get across.

So you must be able to look very objectively at each picture, look with an intention of discarding pictures if they can't be edited to a good final image.

If you need to crop the image so that the important parts of the image are in better or more important places, is there sufficient room? (you need to have some understanding or feeling about composition. If you don't, go read this  or some other source and then come back.)

Are the important areas in good enough focus and well enough exposed (no burnt out or blocked up – over/under exposed)so that they can stand up to being the centers of interest?

(let me step aside here to say two things:

First, if you never need to crop or post-process your images, you're much better than I am and don't need to be reading this.

Is he gone?



People who never crop or edit their images, or who say that, are more concerned with their own silly rules than they are with getting the best final image.

Second, if you don't shoot raw, you ought to have a really good reason because you are throwing away, not only information, but the chance to make the image much, much better with all the dynamic range and subtle tone detail that raw files have and jpegs do not.

Shoot jpegs if your need for post-processing is small, if you have a very well controlled lighting situation or if you need to get final images out immediately without time for editing. Otherwise, shoot raw.)

Now let's assume we have a good image with some real center of interest that is well-enough exposed, well-enough focused, which either is or can be cropped to a good final – can we happily go on?

I say, 'No.'

Often when people ask in what order to edit in, others will refer them to the Light Room Develop panel. “Start at the top and go down,” they say. Generally, this is good advice – except in this circumstance.

When people look at an image, their eyes are draw to bright areas, colorful areas, in-focus areas but also they are distracted by objects that are expected to be 'standard' in some way that aren't.

By 'standard' I refer to things like horizons – which are level – as are roofs and standing water. Verticals, like walls and telephone poles, should be, as much as possible, vertical. Corners, that we know intuitively to be right angles if they are flat to the viewer, should be right angles. That is because, unless there is an artistic reason, things that the viewer expects to be standard, should be so that the insignificant issues don't attract undesired attention.

This is the last criterion that I think is important and that must be correctable before I know an image is 'editable.' (In LR, correcting this LR-perspective-corrLR-perspective-corr perspective distortion is done in the Lens Correction panel down at the bottom and is, unfortunately, not as flexible as the transformation options in Photoshop.)

What is the sense of going through lots of effort to edit an image only to find out that it can't be transformed to remove the unfortunately distracting perspective distortion.

So to reiterate: center of interest, adequate focus, adequate exposure, correctable brightness issues, correctable perspective distortion?

All good. Now we can look at the picture and actually consider the task of editing.

I do a tiny bit of noise reduction and very little sharpening of the photo in the raw state. Because much of my photography is of people and I am often fairly aggressive in post-processing to isolate the centers of interest I often want to subdue the impact of the backgrounds, I see little reason to sharpen aggressively first only to reduce the sharpness later.

I work with three 'prime directives' in mind:

  • Put important things in important places – (composition and framing) I've already made certain that this is possible in the image capture and the inspection for catastrophic (at least for this picture) faults in framing, focus, exposure or incongruous perspective distortion..
  • Emphasize the impact of the important things
  • Minimize the impact of the un-important things

The latter two I'll work on in reverse order.

I generally do correction of the white balance and overall global changes in exposure in Lightroom. It's easy, sensible and generally not an exquisitely difficult issue. Although it is possible to do much of the correction of simple perspective distortions in Lightroom, if more complicated transformation (unilateral torquing) seems necessary, I will export the image to PhotoShop and do both the correction and the initial crop there.

I often try different post processing avenues with more complex editing and I don't like the working-on-a-canvas process in Lightroom. Like painting in watercolors, editing in LR isn't very flexible and relatively difficult to be both exacting and able to retreat step by step.

So, this is typically the point in my workflow when I export a copy of the original from LR to Photoshop where I can make selections in a variety of ways, save these selections, do intricate masks, use blending techniques and, above all, stack changes in layers.

If needed, my first step in PS is to correct the distortion and crop, if necessary.

Since, it is rare that the centers of interest and the non-important areas are to be treated the same so my next step is invariably to separate the centers of interest from the background onto one or more new layers. I do this by selecting them and then moving the selection to a new layer.

When selecting, it is sometimes advisable to 'feather' the edge so that the transition from the selected portion that has been edited to the unedited portion is not too abrupt. That will minimize the cut and pasted look. How much to feather any selection is one of the many ambiguous areas that are left to the artist's eye. It is important to avoid the 'cut-out' look so a refine every selection with a small feather edge.

De-focusing the background has gotten a bad reputation because, if not done carefully and well, the topmost un-blurred layer looks like a cutout laid on the lower layers. Feathering the selection helps with that.

When making complex selections I almost always save the selections as an alpha channel* for two reasons:1) I may want to try this again later and there is no reason to redo a perhaps difficult selection and 2) selections can be difficult and, since selections can be added to a previous alpha channel selection, a complex selection can be made up of incrementally added pieces. Alpha channels are 'cheap' in terms of bytes so the moment taken to save a selection, particularly a difficult one, is well worth it.

*Selections and masks are the largest and most powerful part of Photoshop. If you don't understand layer masks, channel masks, 'alpha channels' – this is the time to read about them. The best book I have found on these topics is 'Photoshop Masking and Compositing' by Katrin Eismann. My preference is the 2004 edition.

Now I have at least two layers, the top one(s) with my centers of interest and the bottom one(s) with the background.

I start my work on the background of the image, removing obnoxious highlights, or at least toning them down, perhaps lowering the overall contrast, correcting color casts – all this to affect anything that would distract the viewers' eyes. As much as possible, I make the changes on adjustment layers to insure flexibility.

By flexibility I mean the ability to manage the effect of the adjustment by changing the opacity of the adjustment layer, change the layer effect with blending modes properties (read about layer blending modes) or remove the adjustment by turning off the layer.

Adjustment layers and masks allow a precision and flexibility that just isn't available in Lightroom.

If I want to clone anything, to remove wires for example, I do cloning on a transparent layer above the layer I'm working on but below adjustment layers, with the clone stamp tool.

Dodging and burning is also done on new layer filled with 50% grey and the layer property set to overlay. (read on burn/dodge new layer)

If I want go as far as actually defocusing the background with lens blur, I will make a copy of the background layer and try the changes there tentatively so if it doesn't work I can delete the defocused layer or tone down its opacity.

Do I end up with lots of layers? Yes, well not exactly because when I get the final image and I think it's just perfect, I'll merge or delete as many of the layers as I can to make the file smaller and more easy to handle.

Now I start corrections on the center(s) of interest on their layer(s), making the changes also on adjustment layers but always with the option of 'clipping mask' on. Thus the effects of adjustment layers are confined to the specific layer.

What kind of 'corrections' do I make to the layer with center(s) of interest (COI)?

Well, I make the same kind of technical changes to the centers of interest except that my intent to to make this layer the one that attracts the eye but, at the same time, looks coherent with the changes on the underlying layers.

Well, as a general rule, the COI should be the area that is the lightest, the best in terms of contrast contrast, most in-focus part(s) of the image – thus embodying the characteristics that attract the viewers' attention. If the COI is a person, I often bringing down the color or tone articles of clothing that attract attention from the face.

Sharpening the center of interest in general or the face in particular is often my last step. Sharpening is an art and taste is unteachable but there are numerous references to be found on the web.

If I am planning to convert to B/W, I will often insert a temporary b/w adjustment layer to be certain that my tonal adjustments will look good in the final. Then I turn off the layer or delete it until I am finally done.

If I am ready to finalize the image, I will merge all the usable layers to a final layer on top. Then I might use a plug-in such as Color Efex Pro, Silver Efex Pro or DxO Filmpack to give a final unifying punch to the entire frame. There is nothing in these plug-ins that can't be done using PS (I think) but the advantage of having presets for the huge range of effects is too much of a time savings to ignore.

If things don't look 'perfect' or if I want to try some more alternatives, I can go back and pick out the steps/layers that don't look good and try new alternatives. Much of the time, I may be on the fence about where I want to go, so I'll toss the layers I don't need, merge any that work into smaller grouped layers and save the file with layers. If things look great – and I am satisfied, I will just collapse everything and save it as a full resolution PSD.

If I have worked very hard and get to the end of a session with lots of work accomplished, I don't leave things to chance. I run a backup of my photo directories to two external drives right then. Thus I can sleep soundly not worrying about data loss.


First example: I will start with the image shown taken of a corridor inside the Forbidden City in China by a colleague, Steve Levitas of Maryland. (This is the image above seen above.)

chinese orig with lineschinese orig with lines

While the almost total blackness of the wall is a problem, my eye is much more drawn by the strange distortion of the walls. They are at angles with the floor – and the angles don't seem to be so much of settling by time as of strange lens distortion.

The unusual and asymmetric tilt of the walls is obvious and unsettling but most important of all, it is distracting.  It is clear that this distortion is not within my ability to correct in LR with sliders. I need to push and tug using free transform in Photoshop.  So my first chore is to expand the margins and do some free transformation to torque the various angles close to what is normal to the eye.

chinese tranformedchinese tranformed

Once the picture looks fairly square I crop it and go on to some cosmetic changes, making the red redder and the dark wall less of a complete black.

chinese cropping in placechinese cropping in place





Chinese wall histoChinese wall histo




Although this is a jpeg original, which means a narrower dynamic range, the histogram shows that the area of the wall I want to brighten isn't clipped thus does have some detail, so all is well there. I don't want much out of those shadows, just a hint of detail.


The order of doing this is, in this case, irrelevant but the straight side of the dark wall make for an easy selection, so I start with that.






I make a copy of the background layer. I made a selection of the dark wall and then create a layer mask that reveals the dark wall . (On a very simple obvious edit like this I don't bother to save the selection or label the layers because the layers palette reveals what is going on.) Then I brighten the wall to reveal a tiny bit of detail. OK, done there.

I actually brightened the wall a bit a bit too much so I lowered the opacity until it looked good.

Now I used Select>Reselect to and then inverted that selection (Ctrl, Shft 'I') to grab the remainder of the image so I could edit that. Then Ctrl 'J” to make a new layer with only the selection. Now I can work on just that part of the scene.

I made it brighter, sharpened it a bit, then realized I went too far and turned down the opacity and there it was. As good as I expected it to be.

Chinese final 2Chinese final 2

Took about as much time to do as to read and much less than to type.

Second example is a totally excellent grab shot taken in Myanmar in February of 2013 by Saul Pleeter of NIHCameraClub.

pleeter original low contrastpleeter original low contrast At first glance, this pictures looks pretty good, good focus, decent framing (although more of the little boy would have been perfect) but it does look rather bland. Rather than the figures jumping out of the background and presenting themselves, everything is this sort of overall flat color. So I decided to try some edits to give it some impact.

While still in LR I lowered the darks a bit; there weren't any real shadows and there really weren't any areas that needed to be black but this did help the contrast some. I noticed that both the little boy's and the woman's face looked pretty contrasty already and I didn't want to increase that any more with any global changes because lightening them would have looked wrong and they are contrasty enough as it is.

The higher tones were fine and it was clear that I needed to get a little less global and more specific; as I said before, I don't like the one-way, no-going back of Lightroom, so I moved this picture into Photoshop.

So my entire PPing needed to be centered around leaving the faces as they were pleeter woman and boy in quickmaskpleeter woman and boy in quickmask and changing everything else so that the faces were more the real centers of interest.  My intent was to darken the background, darken the woman's clothing, adding more saturation and keep away from any real changes of tone or contrast on their faces. To do that I needed to separate the figures from the background and separate the woman's clothing from the figures.

I chose to darken her clothing first. That way I would know how much change I needed to make in the luminosity of the wall.

First I made a quick selection of both of the figures, as seen in Quick Mask, saved that selection and used it to lift the figures to another layer.

Then I edited that selection to include only the clothing of the woman, that which needed darkening and removed the clothing alone to yet another layer.

SaulfinalpanelSaulfinalpanel As you can see from the layer panel, one doesn't need to work from the bottom up. I darkened the clothes with a brightness layer with a layer masked that was linked as a clipping mask, thus affecting only the layer directly below.

Then I went back and darkened the background wall so that the clothing and faces stood out well against it.

When I was happy with the overall look, I merged everything to a new top layer and warmed that a tiny bit and then sharpened everything a bit.


So one can see by this approach that there are two Rules in any Post-Processing effort: First, have some idea of where you want to go with the final edit and second, create your processing files so that, if your desired end result changes, you can make changes without redoing too much of the delicate work.

I use layer masks, clipping masks, channel masks, layer opacity - anything I need to create a final image that makes me happy.

This result was a picture that, at first glance was the same as the original, but had more depth, more punch and was, to me, infinitely more satisfying.

Thanks again to Steve Levitas and Saul Pleeter for the use of their images.

pleeter darkened blackspleeter darkened blacks









lew@lewlortonphoto.com (Lew Lorton Photography) composition lightroom photography photoshop post processing https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2015/9/an-approach-to-post-processing Thu, 24 Sep 2015 12:31:13 GMT
The Salt of the Earth – a film about Sebastiao Salgado - review https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2015/4/the-salt-of-the-earth-a-film-about-sebastiao-salgado---review This is an interesting film in many ways.

First, clearly, Salgado is a great photographer - and that is the best and only genuine part of this all too hagiographic film. I would have been content to sit for the almost two hours and look at his pictures because the rest of the film and Salgado's talking head narration made me, as a photographer and a busy body, uncomfortable with the number of questions that it raised. This was clearly not meant to be either a biography or a factual narrative about him and his work.

From the very beginning, seemingly without any training, his pictures made an impact and an impression. He progressed from freelance work to Sygma to Gamma to Magnum and was quickly hailed as a significant voice. He has a definite style, strong foreground elements against a meaningful background, often shot from below against an imposing sky full of clouds.

His superlative compositions are supported by stunning lab work and printing and I was quite disappointed not to get any details about how he actually worked and his support structure. (The film also doesn't mention that his wife has a big part in selecting projects and creating books. I guess there was room for only one ego in this film.)

In regards the details of his life, there doesn't seem to be much, if any, information available. Every piece I could find on Salgado gave the same very cursory treatment to his life, the same scant facts that were mentioned in the movie. He studied economics, left Brazil because of the military coup, worked as an economist, gave up economics to shoot pictures and became famous. No learning from mistakes, no developing in closets, no struggling for his art - no anything.

There are general allusions to his having left Brazil because of the military coup; that coup took place in 1964 but he was actually in school and then working as an economist for the government until 1969 – five years later.  What caused him to leave the country and not return for 12 years? How did a Brazilian economist end up with a job in the French government?

This seems to be fertile ground for some speculation about what drove Salgado and his social conscience to document the problems of the globe but the details of his life are not to be found anywhere on line.

When there is a mystery, then that mystery usually stirs more curiosity - but the story of a popular icon seems not to attract any attention in this case.

After being exposed to the horrors of yet another catastrophe in Africa, Salgado gave up photography for a while and then was energized to resume with nature as his subject, rather than people. He employed the same very dramatic style that had marked his previous work (although he had switched to digital cameras). (For me, some of the nature images seemed a bit over-worked, even tone-mapped in their attempt to get dramatic foregrounds and heroic skies.)

In an interview printed in the NY Times,  Wim Wenders, the film-maker, said, “I just wanted to know the man, because he had impressed me for so long.” It was disappointing to me that I really didn't get to know anything about Sebastiao Salgado from the film.

At the end of the film was a long section in which Salgado and his wife described how, with the assistance of lots of workers and donations to his foundation, were restoring a wooded valley as it was originally, before the depredations of lumbering and raising cattle. Salgado gestured to a worn cattle track and talked about how cattle compact the earth and thus any rain just runs off.

In an interview earlier in the film, Salgado's father had talked about how his cattle herds had decreased, in this same valley, because of the lack of water and grazing and, in a touch of supreme irony that had to be unnoticed, said how the wood from all the forests he had harvested had generated enough money to pay for all the Salgado children's education. Salgado talked about how his foundation, with donated funds, was revitalizing this valley without mentioning that it was his own land and that the actions of his own family had been responsible for the destruction.

Every line was scripted and there were several moments that were played to be spontaneous but were clearly not. At every moment I felt that what I was hearing was not the real person of Sebastiao Salgado but the persona of Sebastiao Salgado as created and perpetuated by his work, his fans and the film makers.

If you see this movie, see it for the pictures that are wonderful on a large screen; there is a real story here, but the film doesn't show it.

And surprisingly no review I read mentioned what seems to be the obvious allusion in the title, 'The Salt of the Earth.'

In Portugese, the language of Brazil, salgado means 'salty'.


lew@lewlortonphoto.com (Lew Lorton Photography) Sebastiao Salgado The Salt of the Earth criticism photography review salgado https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2015/4/the-salt-of-the-earth-a-film-about-sebastiao-salgado---review Sat, 18 Apr 2015 16:26:17 GMT
The Rules of Composition, The Rules of Art. https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2015/4/the-rules-of-composition-the-rules-of-art StepStep The 'Rules of Composition' are a bad theory (a theory is a set of principles on which the practice of an activity is based); 'bad' because they are contradictory and unrelated and, most of all, because they don't deal with the real issues. 'Bad' also because there is a commonly accepted and verbalized aphorism that one 'should follow the Rules until one is knowledgeable enough to break them.' A complete theory accounts for all of the facts that are known and relates them; clearly the 'Rules' don't do that.

The Rules are an attempt to explain, in very simple terms, a very ambiguous and variable behavior – how an individual sees and understands a photograph. I am not talking about the deeper content within subjects but only the surface, the primary decisions of what it important and what one should look at. For example, bright colored things are important, important things are not in the center exactly and not way over on the edge usually, things in the center sort of imply a symmetry. What we know is the horizon should be level, what we know is a vertical in real life should be vertical. We like balance, it feels good, we are attracted to things that are 'in focus'.

Trying to learn photography by learning any 'Rule' or set of them is inefficient and bound to fail, much like becoming fluent in a language doesn't come easily if one starts with rules of grammar. Since the 'Rules' of composition describe only incompletely how people perceive something as it is shown to them; Rules are to composition as a pile of wood is to a structure.

Noam Chomsky, the controversial linguist, etc, proposed that if human beings are brought up under relatively normal conditions, then they will always develop language with certain properties. I think that people have a similar, if less developed, 'vision engine' that allows them, even without any formal training, to understand the hints and clues in pictures they look at. When someone looks at a picture, somewhere in their mind that little vision engine tries to parse out what all the things are in each picture, what their relative importance is and what is the meaning of the picture being shown to them.

In the Western world, at least, we seem to inherent some little set of ways in which we parse meanings by size, by color, by brightness, by position- even an untutored person can appreciate some pictures. (Hence 'I don't know anything about art but I know what I like').

This 'vision engine' becomes more complex as people look at more pictures and are educated more even just by experience; they then form their own set of likes and dislikes, but usually based on a fairly common underlying set of built-in ideas about how to see art.

The role of the photographer is not to follow any set of 'Rules' but to present an image that is structured in such a way that the viewer, through their vision engine, can absorb or appreciate it. The more the photographer is aware of how people see, parse and understand pictures, the better the photographer can construct pictures.

Photographers can use these preconceptions either by using them to reinforce the photographer's intention or by violating them purposefully, surprising the viewer and giving that extra fillip of interest. When the photographer is not aware of how the viewer 'sees' a picture and the picture is constructed with contradicting 'hints' then the resultant picture becomes less comfortable.

These ideas and presets that seem to be built into most people are sort of described, awkwardly and, worst of all, incompletely by the 'Rules'. So, in giving someone feedback on their work, if the critic uses shortcuts by quoting only a 'Rule' is depriving the recipient of any real insight into their work. An image is successful because it appeals to people and lets them understand what is important and what

So critiques are most helpful, not if you tell the maker they have violated any specific 'Rule(s)', but why this 'defect' does diminish the effect. That helps people to understand what to do and why to do it. Giving them only a 'Rule' to follow doesn't allow them to go far.

When the appeal of an image overcomes any defects or distractions, no one cares about whether 'Rules' are broken or not.

The gap between the certainty of 'Rules' and the ambiguous understanding of how pictures are perceived is wide and not easily crossed. Like learning any language, each of us is different in our ability to absorb the complex language of composition. Too often, people who are new or insecure about their own artistic sense fall back on Rules because following and quoting 'Rules' is comfortable and sounds authoritative.

Many people will never get fluent in that language; perhaps that is what drives the emphasis on technical perfection in so many photographers, why they persist in ever sharper lenses, ever more pixels, always searching for a magic something that will fill the place of understanding.





lew@lewlortonphoto.com (Lew Lorton Photography) Rules of Composition The Rules of Art. composition criticism photography https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2015/4/the-rules-of-composition-the-rules-of-art Sun, 05 Apr 2015 12:55:59 GMT
Is post processing cheating? https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2014/10/is-post-processing-cheating _0792378__0792378_

I was giving a presentation the other night to a local camera group and was challenged by a member of the audience about the amount of editing I do.

I am not a journalist, constrained to present the literal truth as it sits in front of me. My opinion about post-processing of images is that, for my own pictures, I care only about getting to the image as I saw it in my mind's eye and what other people do with their own work is irrelevant to me. 

So when an audience member, on seeing some heavily edited images, brought up that he thought editing was 'lying' and 'cheating', I was, honestly, a bit surprised.

The issue of whether and how much to edit images or not, usually occurs to photographers early on in their development and they make a decision yeah or nay. Like people who do HDR or alternative techniques or large format film work, a no-editing path is taken to satisfy specific interests within themselves and, while they do pursue it avidly, they should recognize that, like collecting snakes or weaving macrame birthing chairs, it is a personal interest rather than 'the only way'.

However, like many technically intensive pursuits, one's choice in how to do photography sometimes ends up becoming a validation of the operator's ego and choice, and almost inevitably the judgment is made that 'my way' is not only the best way but the only way for right thinking people and other ways are 'wrong.' Then the conflict becomes personal.

“Regarding manipulation, it is important to understand that it is impossible not to manipulate a photograph. The lens manipulates, the sensor or medium manipulates, the camera manipulates. the developer (chemical or computer-based) manipulates, the printer (machine or human) manipulates, the paper (or screen) manipulates, and even the light used for viewing manipulates. Beyond that, even the human eye and brain extensively manipulate the image we "see".”

from “The Game of Photography — What Are the Rules?" By Harold Merklinger on the Luminous Landscape site

Within the ranks of those who inveigh against post-processing, (let's call them 'those guys') there seems to be the accepted belief that the camera is some magical instrument, that it performs this semi-magical task virtually without any help from any outside agents and this image resulting needs to be untouched, treated as almost a holy object.

Clearly that is a misconception. A camera is a remarkably sophisticated tool for gathering and recording light but it does this only on command and input from two sources – either the photographer or, failing new detailed directions, from the default decisions of the original creating engineers back at the factory.

There are typically two positions held simultaneously in the anti-post processing group.

'I want to reproduce it as I see it is.'

Well the human eye has a field of view of about 180 degrees horizontally but the operator chooses the field of view through his/her choice of focal length. The human eye has a f stop equivalence somewhere between f2 and f8 but can adapt the areas in focus and integrate that in his/her brain. (Thus the visual impact of a well exposed 4x5 image shoot at a medium to small aperture giving a great depth of focus and clarity so as to appear hyper real.)

This same brain has the unique capacity to not see what is not important. So what the operator is saying in reality must be understood to really mean "I want to reproduce something that my brain told me looks right or 'natural'."

Since, if several people stood in approximately the same spot and took individual images, each image would vary from the others in some small or large way according, not to the difference in reality, but to the difference in what each operator thought would be attractive.

I don't process the image. I use it straight out of the camera.

This implies that Mother Nature is somehow on the photographers side, always providing those guys with the correct illumination for both the shadows and the highlights, always providing those guys with light that is neither too golden warm or too blue-cold. This also implies that camera sensors, and the engineering behind them, always records exactly correctly the hue and tones of the light that falls on them.

(Just as in film, different makes of camera sensors reproduce color differently.  I chose Nikon early on because I liked the color more than the Canon reproduction. By making the choice I am editing my reproduction of reality.)

I get the direct impression that second sentence above in bold could be understood as 'I get it right in the camera.'  And that can be inferred as meaning 'I am skilled, smart, dedicated so that I can do right in the camera what you guys are just too unskilled or lazy to do.'  I may be wrong but that's the impression I get.

Those guys  must shoot only in jpegs, because raw data (not an image because raw data must be translated into something) unedited, after a pass through ones choice of raw editor produces notoriously flat images with compressed tones. However, shooting jpegs, the camera must be instructed how to convert the sensor data into the jpeg, how to handle the colors, how much saturation, how much contrast.

If the operator, one of those guys, doesn't specify these adjustments, the camera falls back on the ideas of the creating engineers who have never seen the scene.

And those guys must never use exposure compensation to change that chosen by the camera or increase the contrast when the scene is flat or even use a polarizing filter to reduce the glare.

Someone is editing, perhaps just not the operator. There is no such thing as 'unedited straight out of the camera'.

Sometimes there is an appeal to tradition, homage to the past. But of course, those 'ancients' processed and edited whatever they could. They developed more or less, they printed darker,or lighter, they masked or burnt in. Ansel Adams was known much more for his skill in the dark room (the Zone System and meticulous printing techniques) then for his photography, which I find, after the first few, rather tedious and boring.

In that long process that goes from choice of recording medium, through choice of lens, through choice of viewpoint through choice of exposure through choice of editing, the choice of where to stop, when to exercise agency at any point is only a personal decision.

Believing that any 'stopping point' is superior to any other point for anyone but oneself is ego asserting itself over reality.

Saying that to stop at some specific point makes one a 'real photographer' is silly and self involved and has no relationship to the quality of one's work.



lew@lewlortonphoto.com (Lew Lorton Photography) cheating criticism editing is post-processing cheating is post-processing wrong photography photoshop post-processing https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2014/10/is-post-processing-cheating Sat, 11 Oct 2014 20:43:48 GMT
Combat Photography https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2014/9/combat-photography

Save the date -September 24th, 2014.

At the next meeting of the Central Maryland Photographers Guild, two experienced and skilled combat photographers will be talking about their experiences and the techniques of combat photography taught at the Defense Information School (DINFOS) and learned on the battlefield.

Both Chief Petty Officer Phil McDaniel and Staff Sergeant Jeremy McGuffin are currently instructors in Combat Camera at DINFOS and have years of actual experience both as instructors and as photographers in combat.

This should be an exciting and interesting presentation. Meetings are at 7 PM on the 4th Wednesday of each month at Chapelgate Presbyterian Church and High School on Marriotsville Road in Columbia, MD. Details about location of the meeting can be found on the CMPG website (http://www.cmpg.org/NavigationMenu/CMPG-Events/Meetings)
This presentation is free and open to the public, photographers or not. If you are not a CMPG member and wish to attend, please reply to this email with your contact information so we can be certain to plan on having enough room.

If you are part of another organization whose members would be interested, please include this email in your next broadcast mail or otherwise inform your members and friends.

Direct questions to Lewis Lorton at 410-997-2806 or by email to Lew@LewLortonphoto.com

lew@lewlortonphoto.com (Lew Lorton Photography) DINFOS combat photography composition photography street photography https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2014/9/combat-photography Tue, 02 Sep 2014 18:38:46 GMT
Using Fluorouracil for Actinic Keratosis - case study https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2014/7/using-fluorouracil-for-actinic-keratosis---case-study Since the web has a surprising amount of non useful detail on the topical uses of Fluorouracil gel for pre-cancerous lesions but not really much support for patients on what they really can expect, I thought I give you a play-by-play on my experience. 

Day 1 After many years of going hatless I had a good amount of sun damage and precancerous lesions on my face and had been treated first with topical nitrogen to remove specific lesions and then with Blue Light Therapy (Levulan).  Neither of these were really effective and so my dermatologist suggested, rather than years of single shots with liquid nitrogen, I try treatment with Fluoruracil (often called 5FU) gel.

The side effects of topical are listed as Common (>1% frequency):    Local pain, Itchiness, Burning, Stinging, Crusting, Weeping, Dermatitis and Photosensitivity. More about this later. There are a profusion of uncommon and rare side effects but nothing so dramatic as to scare me off.

Dosage and application

This medication comes in 1% and 5% concentrations and I was prescribed the 5%, probably because my lesions were widespread and evidently resistant to the other treatments. Instructions say to spread a thin layer; there is no way to emphasize how correct that it is.  The medication is suspended in a vanishing cream and even a blob the size of a half a pea will easily cover one's cheek. After correct application, the gel isn't visible except as a sheen on one's skin. This gel is typically applied for two weeks. The end result is all the cancerous and pre-cancerous cells slough off in large disgusting scabs.

I applied this after my morning shower and then again in the evening, leaving enough time before bed so that the gel would be absorbed before I spent any time on the pillow.


I was careful to wear a large brimmed hat and actually stayed as much as possible indoors. Perhaps it was a psychological result but anytime I was in the sun I could feel some stinging on the treated areas. There was little or no change for the first week of application and it was only after Day 8 or 9 that I became aware of changes in my skin.

There was some puffiness and fluid accumulation and my skin was reddening. Startlingly, my eyes felt puffy as if the lids were swollen. I felt a slight bit of tingling and a warm shower elicited some burning. For about an hour after application I felt stinging over my face and scalp where the gel had been applied.



By the twelfth day, I had a fairly severe (although not as bad as the 'horrible examples that can be found on the Internet') blistering and swelling.

This was particularly evident in the creases next to my nose. According to my dermatologist this is a common area for the occurrence of the Actinic Keratosis (a rough, scaly patch on your skin that develops from years of exposure to the sun) and is particularly difficult to treat surgically without a bad cosmetic result.

The hour or so burning after application was still present but if I did anything to exacerbate the problem, like taking a hot shower or rubbing my face with a wet face cloth (which I did to try and clear some of the disgusting debris) that would set off a bout of nearly intolerable pain and burning that could be settled down only with very, very strong analgesics.

Until I got access to these wonder pills, I lay with cool wet clothes on my face. I have no idea how low my pain threshold is or how typical my response was but for anyone having this treatment, get pills in advance.

My face looks like a badly inflamed pizza with everything. A neighbor came to our door and actually recoiled in shock.  Needless to say I don't go out much; between being leery of the sun and not wanting to jump start another bout of pain.

I am in my second day post gel, but applying some soothing ointments and taking some anti-inflammatory meds. The swelling and blistering are subsiding, I think.  My face still looks like hell and , to be honest, I am very happy not to be applying the gel any more.

I still cannot opening my mouth wide to take a bit of an apple, for example, without the stretching being painful. If, by accident or intent my wife slapped my face, I would immediately file for divorce,. (did I mention the itching? small potatoes compared to the pain but still damn annoying because one can't scratch.)

I had a bout of severe pain during the night and some lingering now but had forethought to leave a glass of water and pain pill readily available. My dermatologist saw me yesterday and said I look like I am healing well and I will look ten years younger when all the healing is complete.

Of course he gets paid to say that.

OK, to sum up:

Wear a hat and sun screen but, if you haven't and need to go through this therapy, be prepared.

When using the gel: stay out of the sun and, if fact, stay indoors because it's the uv that will hurt;

if you have to go out wear a hat and use sun block on the non gelled areas.

be prepared for pain.  No, it's not stinging, it is pain. It can be the kind of walking -up-and-down- wringing-hands kind of pain.

Get a prescription for something strong and legal and keep the meds available.

Irust your dermatologists, if he or she thinks you need it, use it.




lew@lewlortonphoto.com (Lew Lorton Photography) 5FTU actinic keratosis basal cell fluorouracil fluorouracil gel 5% white scaly patches https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2014/7/using-fluorouracil-for-actinic-keratosis---case-study Thu, 10 Jul 2014 16:10:59 GMT
Review: Focal Point: Fine Art and Creative Photography - MD Fed Art https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2014/6/review-fine-art-creative-photography--md-fed-art Review:Focal Point: Fine Art and Creative Photography

Maryland Federation of Art
shown concurrently with the Potters Guild of Annapolis
Dates: May 23 - June 15, 2014 at the MFA Circle Gallery, 18 State Circle Gallery, Annapolis.


"Art is not a mirror, but a hammer: it does not reflect, it shapes."

Leon Trotsky, Literature and Revolution (1924):


I go to photography shows for my own sake. I go, and then write about them, because every time I see some pictures that I like, it is an exercise of my critical sense to decide why I like them - and that sharpens up my own eye for any work I do in the future. Rarely do I write or even think about work that doesn't impress me; why bother?

As I see more and more, I have refined my criteria for what makes something impressive or good to me. In general I would much rather see a one person show or at least a show where each artist has multiple works. In a show where each artist is represented by only one piece, it is very difficult to see, think or say much about the artist.

That single work might be the absolute acme of that person's work, a lucky shot, an even-the-dumbest-blindest-squirrel-finds-an-occasional-acorn sort of thing. Or the picture might be the one 'thing' the photographer has discovered that works – and which is worked to death whenever he or she shoots.  I really want to know the photographer and I can't do that seeing only one image.

So a many-person show, like the MFA show, is really a measure of the entire membership of the organization and, if I am lucky, I see something that I like that would cause me to want to return to other shows by the same organization. I learn, not about the artist, but the organization and, in some respects, the curator's values.  Not really as satisfactory but, in the chance of seeing something really worthwhile that leads me to someone's total work, I go.

What am I looking for?

Art is creation, art is intent. I am not interested in the happy accident.

I look for pictures that show a creative mind and spirit, pictures that give me an idea what the photographer is thinking and why they framed and collected what they did. I am not concerned with technical execution as a goal, except that the execution should be so good as to get out of the way and leave me alone to look through the frame into the artist's creation.

What pictures do I ignore? Well, clearly the opposite, pictures whose entire worth is based on their execution, pictures that are a self-conscious trick, pictures that are essentially repetition of scenes or ideas you and I have seen a hundred times before. Pictures that have nothing to say except 'look at me because I've done something different.'

The Circle Gallery (http://www.mdfedart.com/), one of the galleries of the Maryland Federation of Art, is a neat, interesting, well-lit space right in the heart of Annapolis. Although the rooms aren't huge, they are thoughtfully divided and thus there is room for both the 70+ photographic images and the 20 or so small pottery pieces displayed. This is an open, juried show and the quality of the pictures hung are certainly several steps above the average camera club shows. The close to uniformity of the framing and matting gives the show a professional homogeneity that I associate with a commercial gallery; all in all, quite nice.

Since the theme was 'Fine Art and Creative Photography' I was spared the usual run of lovely, over-saturated landscapes and stark weathered barns – all printed too large to ignore; most of the pictures exhibited here are at least interesting and always well executed.  Unfortunately a few of the pictures were obvious mannered attempts to be creative and for me they fell short.

Art is hard and I was looking for something special.

Not just good work, not just excellence, but some ephemeral concatenation of idea, content and execution, where the whole is much more than the sum,  that makes me fall in love.

And 'love' is the important part.  I am not a 'critic', someone who can opine about the worth of a work of art in its absolute sense and decide where to place the work in the stream of art. I go to find something I love.

In the Godfather movies, when Michael Corleone (played by Al Pacino before he became enraptured by Al Pacino) is in Italy hiding from the police and he sees his wife-to-be for the first time and instantly falls in love, the villagers say he is struck by a thunderbolt. Instantly, without planning or thought or reason, he is in love with this woman he sees. That's what I look for, that thunderbolt.

And that's how I felt about two pictures I saw in this show. I didn't care how they were conceived or planned or executed, once I saw them, I just fell in love with them as they were, as windows into the artist's world.

In no special order, since I couldn't choose between them, are the two I loved.

#68 in the catalog, 'Reflection', an archival pigment print by by Mel Talley of Virginia http://www.meltalley.com/. This is, rather than a composite made in post-processing, a multiple exposure done in camera and one of a series Mr Talley is doing on an abandoned hospital. (Really he shouldn't get more credit for doing it that way but I can't help but applaud the required skill and experience and patience that makes him create the 'hard' way.)   Even though the young woman, the reflection, is nude as much as we can see, the artist places her behind the shelter of the defects in the reflecting surface so that she is not 'naked' and thus so much less distracting.

Why is she there? Why is she a ghost? What is the building? The answers aren't important, the contemplation of the mystery is.

The picture is so perfectly composed, exposed and printed that, in the large print shown, it is almost overwhelming in its impact.

'Good' pictures, in my opinion, have the right balance of meaning, mood and mystery and thus engage the mind and the emotions of the viewer. This picture has all of those, in abundance. It might be less appealing to fans of the post-modern style because the content is not linked to some grand external idea; the image itself contains all the information needed and its appeal is to the personal rather than the cerebral; it is frankly traditional and emotional – and just about perfect.

The second picture is a beautifully done composite entitled “Self Portrait with Willow and Levi” created by Patricia Stockman of Frederick, MD. Any description of the work doesn't do justice to the unreal reality of it.  Beautifully composed, beautifully executed, the editing that we know must have been done is indiscernible, the picture is one entire whole mystery.

Because the viewer can see every element clearly, the mystery is more engrossing as one's mind attempts to parse all the components. Like a Vladimir Nabokov novel, it seems like every element, no matter how small must have some meaning, just because it has been included and placed so carefully by the artist.

Even the title, as it names the horses, gives a hint that the artist, in the picture but as a viewer herself, has a prior relationship so familiar that the horses are named friends rather than animals. That is as far as I would go in even attempting an analysis; it is satisfying to have this as a beautiful mystery without knowing any more.

These pictures and most of the rest from the show can be seen and purchased at http://mdfedart.com/mfaentry/sales/. If you can get to Annapolis, see the show, it is really worth the time and the trip.

Fine pictures, great show.

Focal Point: Fine Art and Creative Photography
National Juried Photography Exhibition
shown concurrently with the Potters Guild of Annapolis
Dates: May 23 - June 15, 2014 at the MFA Circle Gallery, 18 State Circle Gallery, Annapolis.







lew@lewlortonphoto.com (Lew Lorton Photography) MD Federation of Art MFA art composition criticism photography review https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2014/6/review-fine-art-creative-photography--md-fed-art Mon, 02 Jun 2014 17:13:20 GMT
Review- Naturevisions Traveling Exhibit at the Oakland Mills Interfaith Center https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2014/5/review--naturevisions-traveling-exhibit Review of a traveling exhibit by NatureVisions.org at The Meeting House Gallery, Oakland Mills Interfaith Center www.themeetinghousegallery.org daily 8 AM to 9 PM through May 24th, 2014

Being a nature photographer is a double-edged sword. Even though beautiful things swarm around us, virtually everything we can focus our lens on has already been photographed – and probably a million times and probably well. Pick the most arcane subject you can, do an image search and your senses will be flooded by the images that are returned. So what is a photographer to do?

Last month I had the pleasant and enlightening experience of seeing a movie about Joel Sartore, a National Geographic photographer. His pictures were not only just good, they were always great with that extra undefinable something that makes them remain in memory. Not just documents, somehow the pictures encapsulated the essence of the subject and the moment.

So what does the average amateur photographer do to compete with these spectacular – and ubiquitous – images. Well, they work at it, hoping, with creative ideas, skill or even just chance, to catch that lightning in a bottle, that wonderful memorable shot.

I went to see the traveling exhibit of NatureVisions, which seems to be the working web-name of the the Mid-Atlantic Photography Association (MAPA), a coalition of volunteers from seven Maryland and Northern Virginia Camera Clubs.

Their mission is:

To promote and advance the appreciation of photography in the Mid-Atlantic region and elsewhere, encourage the participation in photography by individuals with all levels of experience and all areas of photographic experience and all areas of photographic interest, and increase the appreciation of photographic art within our community.

The organization has a big yearly event, the Nature Visions Photo Expo and that will be November 14-16, 2014 at Hylton Performing Arts Center, Manassas, Virginia.

This traveling exhibit is made up of the very best of the nearly 800 images entered in the expo by the members of the seven camera clubs that contribute to the event.

And they were pretty damn nice.

Of course, as one would expect, most were technically well done, well focused, usually well-printed and even often well composed. Some of them were, in my opinion, equal quality to those seen in National Geographic. There are the inevitable things-I've-seen-before-by-different-people and I-was-there-with-a-good-lens-and-took-this-unexceptional-picture but this is the problem with nature pictures, everybody is out there shooting. In toto, the show is good and well worth the trip over to Oakland Mills.

I usually try to fix on a single picture as emblematic of the style of the show but the variety here is so wide here that I just chose, instead, the

one picture I liked the most. This picture is by Stan Collyer whose home club is the NIH Camera Club and the picture is entitled “Cardinal in Winter”

What struck me about this picture, beyond the to-be-expected technical excellence in the Naturevisions shows, is the interesting composition.

Rather than being plumb centered, as so many, too many of these kinds of shots are, or particularly large in the frame, the bird is on a third, both framed and balanced by the bare branches of the bush and by little clumps of snow.

The bird itself is almost consciously posed with its head at angles to its body and that small, brilliant red beak the only spot of vivid color in the scene.

The bird's head is turned, introducing a real tension to the picture; the viewer senses that this is a fleeting instant, perfectly captured, and so the picture has a life and immediacy that most nature shots do not.

Even though I am typically immune to the glories of nature photography this particular shot really appeals to me.

If I had the talent and the patience to shoot birds in nature, this is what I would hope to achieve.

- - - - - - -  - 

Where the show does fall short is actually not the fault of the judges or the individual artists but of a series of small things that cascaded into a poor – or at least less than optimal to me – result.

It is my opinion that the image is everything, it is the window through which the viewer should see into the photographer's reality. Anything that diverts the viewer from that reality should be minimized.

To that end, I always crop my own pictures close to the standard aspect ratios so that viewers aren't distracted by the shape of the picture, I use a standard frame in the same standard size (16 x 20) and a standard subdued color mat. (If you don't think that people are influenced by shape of the image, thank for a moment about the impact of a panorama. Or a circular crop)

Naturevisions must seem to think the same way, at least partly; all their pictures seem to be matted and framed to a standard color and frame contour. However, different sizes and aspect ratios seem to be OK- and this has contributed to a weaknesses in this show, as I see it.

The Meeting House Gallery http://www.themeetinghouse.org/#!__gallery has two purposes.

“The goal of the gallery is to provide a venue for local artists to exhibit and sell their works and to beautify our building.”

Unfortunately this last goal is where this show comes a cropper.

The gallery space is large, mostly rectangular with different color walls and is broken up by doors and entryways to other rooms. There is a large skylight over one section of the room but the rest of the room is irregularly lit with ceiling lights.

There is one wall that is reasonably well lit for evening viewing and painted off-white. Unfortunately, when the sky is bright that wall gets lots of scattered light from the skylight that reflects off any glass in the frames and I had to bob and weave to actually see all parts of the images hung there. (This picture is purposefully left dull to show how it looked on a deeply overcast day)

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To 'beautify' the room, images are mounted on each available space; there are several that are isolated by themselves and rather dimly lit. Two are placed, one on on either side of a large fireplace and, with the light from the skylights, are almost un-viewable. (I went back three times at different times of the day to see if they were ever viewable, but not so.)

Because the frames are different sizes and the supporting wires keep them at different angles, a row of pictures on a brick wall looks disheveled and certainly not at their best.

untitled-5120238untitled-5120238OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

People who are photographers know that the impact of an image depends a lot of the relationship of actual subject size to empty or supporting space. Too little space and the subject feels constricted and the setting is lost; too much space and the tension of the image drains away. And that is what happens here in this show, lovely pictures spaced too far apart, rather disheveled in their order and too much of their impact gone.

These pictures, placed closer together in two rows on the best white wall, would have presented an incredible, enjoyable mass of color and detail. As they are, their impact is badly diluted.

These fine pictures deserve better. But see them and look closely and enjoy how good they are.



lew@lewlortonphoto.com (Lew Lorton Photography) Oakland Mills Interfaith Center art composition criticism naturevisions photography review https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2014/5/review--naturevisions-traveling-exhibit Wed, 14 May 2014 14:08:58 GMT
Review-Six Artists, Two Great Shows https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2014/5/review-six-artists-two-great-shows Review – The New Pictorialists and Silver Visions

The New Pictorialists – Through May 31

Full Circle, 33 East 21st Street Baltimore Maryland 21218

33 East 21st Street

Baltimore, MD 21218


Silver Visions – Images Photographed with Large Format Cameras.

River Road Unitarian Church

Bethesda, MD


What an unexpected treat to see, in one weekend, two shows with artists who each have both the vision and the skills to carry it off. Of course I liked some more than others, thought some individual pieces rose above the rest but, all in all, every work was the obvious product of careful thought and skill.

Every time I do a review, because I know nothing, I must take a steep climb up knowledge mountain. Because one of the shows was entitled 'the New Pictorialists' and the other was “Silver Visions – Images photographed with Large Format Cameras", I anticipated a re-visioning of the famous friction between the Pictorialist movement of the beginning of the last century and the Modernists most famous for the f64 group (You know big camera, everything in focus from your toes to the horizon, larger than life.)

The Pictorialists had moved away from the dull documentary style that marked the initial years of photography and emphasized a romantic kind of work that engaged the senses. Then along came WWI and social documentary photography, straight photography and the even more precise Precisionists – and the battle was on, and for some time the Modernists won.

But it wasn't all that clear cut. If you read “A World History of Photography” by Naomi Rosenblum, a tome thicker and more complex than Finnegan's Wake, you'll find that there are innumerable off-shoots and movements and groups forming and dissolving as the normal evolution of photography as an art is distorted and accelerated by the concomitant advances in the technology of photography.

I went to the show, formally titled 'The New Pictorialists' with some expectations. I had done some basic Internet research on the two artists showing on the web and was anxious to see their work in person. As it turned out, it was not for me to riddle out where these two fit in the stream of things, it was very clear – and not really very important. These two were both as far from any emotionless documentary work as one could get and still have some representational elements. Although they are both 'landscape artists', they had agreed before the show that Cathy Leacraft would show works of smaller scale and Karen Klinedinst larger more 'traditionally scoped landscapes.'

An excerpt from Cathy Leacrafts (http://www.cathyleaycraft.com/) artist statement describes her work better than I could. 

My current artistic focus is the use of reflections in glass to create layered images of landscape, thus pushing photography into the realm of abstraction.

I create these images on location, bringing reflective and refractive objects with me. I work intuitively, moving around my glass construction, looking for the view that depicts the emotion and beauty I seek to convey. The process is about letting go of labels like tree, sky, house, and allowing things to become shapes and color. By using reflections I am able to capture vivid colors and unusual abstract views of my subjects.

My goal is to give objective expression to inner experience.

Originally the photograph was intended as an aid to the artist wishing to depict the world accurately. Even as painting, and other art forms were becoming increasingly abstract, photography remained tied to pictorial realism. I am pushing photography further into the realm of abstraction.”

I am a very traditional street photographer, relatively unimaginative and thus abstractions are far from my favorite but one would have to be a stone not to enjoy these.

Leacraft uses a conventional dSLR but eschews any post-processing; she works with the specific items in the field, taking her reflective surfaces with her..The shapes and colors are well balanced, the slightly unfocussed look of most of the primary objects projects this hazy dream-like quality and I went from one to the next, not thinking anything specific but just liking what I saw.

My favorite, for no expressible reason, was this lovely image shown above, “Monhegan Gold. This and the rest of her work is visible at the Full Circle Gallery and at  http://www.cathyleaycraft.com/.

I am familiar with the work of the other 'Pictorialist', Karen Klinedinst. After seeing some pieces at a previous show and enjoying the romantic emotionalism, I subscribed to her blog so I can see work as she creates it.

My recent work explores the emotional qualities of the landscape, and is inspired by nineteenth-century

Romantic landscape painting, and the late nineteenth-century photography of the Pictorialists. Although my images are inspired by the romantic landscapes of the past, all of my images are created using the evolving and cutting-edge technology of the iPhone. I consider myself a present-day Pictorialist.


I use the iPhone to capture what I see, and then use many photo editing apps to process and manipulate images in the moment. I often stitch several images together, and add layers of texture and color, entirely on my iPhone.

Much like a plein air painter, my iPhone allows me to “plein air process” my emotional response to the landscape and create a neo-Romantic world of my imagination.

Her work is even more enjoyable in person where the aptness and delicacy of the textures can be seen clearly; she overlays the scenes with textures and edits that make the images look like the work of Romantic painters and the early Pictorialist photographers like Porterfield, Armer or Beck except, of course, in glorious color.

Her sense of color and image management is wonderful and, even more startling, is that she works solely with an iPhone and apps. It is easy even for an unimaginative dolt such as me to like her work; I'm a sucker for Tchaikovsky also. My favorite is 'The Red Tree'; it is excessive to describe this, just look.

OK, I had experienced and enjoyed the work at one end of the spectrum, those artists who, at least to some degree, had left behind the conventional ways of photographic art. Impressed and pleased I went home, only to find an email from a friend telling me about the last days of a show - 'Silver Visions – Images Photographed with Large Format Cameras.'

'Wow', I thought,'What a coincidence. Now I can see the other end of the spectrum, the ultimate pixel peepers, only with film.'

So the next morning we drove down to Bethesda. I have to admit there was an unresolved question in my mind. Both of the exhibitors, let's call them that, at the Full Circle exhibit were at some pains to distance themselves from typical 'photography' as we think of it and yet both of them used relatively intricate, as least compared to pen and paper, ways to create their art – and their work was very far from the reproduction that we associate with photography.

Anyway, back to the large camera show.

I expected to walk into a room, look around and see vistas of landscapes and seascapes, all in beautiful black and white, with every single millimeter in perfect focus. Over in one corner would be a bunch of serious looking people, probably guys, discussing developers and papers and the Scheimpflug principle.

Well, I didn't see that, except the photographers were all guys. The room was set up so that each exhibitor had a separate section; on the left were mostly b&ws, on the right were color. There were no landscapes, or mountains or seascapes.

Since the show was coming down later that day, you won't be able to see it in toto, but each of the exhibitors has a website. Before I mention them individually let me say that in at least one way, this show was typical of most large format work. Because just producing the exposed film requires meticulous, usually slow, attention to every single step, this care carries over into the final product; every single one of the many displayed pieces was essentially perfectly done. Composition was excellent, focus and sharpness were appropriate, even the matting and framing was top-notch.

Not an ugly color mat or a badly chosen frame in sight. Even better, there were no oversaturated, under-sharpened images being passed off as art.

I knew one of the exhibitors very slightly, but for a different kind of work. I had thought of George Smyth as doing mainly alternative processes, like bromoil prints or pinhole camera work, and that's what one can see the most of on his web site. But here he was showing a set of large format B&Ws of bridge structures in Baltimore.

He photographs not 'the bridges themselves, but the characteristics of the bridges -strength, beauty, determination, vigor, grace, constancy.' His pictures reminded me a great deal of the 'machine' images done by Schell and Bourke-White., stark and simple and almost pictographic in impact. Perhaps it is because of the relatively clean, almost stark look that I prefer his bromoil work which is inherently nostalgic and romantic.



Scott Davis specializes in night photography, also in large format, but in superb vivid color. Much of his work shown uses the vivid hues of neon signs as major design elements and he has enormous control of exposure and, with the sharpness achieved with large format, his pictures have an extraordinary real-ness to them, as if one could climb through the frame and into the scene. People and their tools, cars, appear only as semi-transparent marks during the long exposures.

His pictures, perhaps because of the vibrant colors and sharpness appear more vivid than life and almost cheery, as if the world goes along just fine without people. I could do with a little more mood, a bit more emotion but in terms of pictures to look at for the pure enjoyment of visual impact, I could stand at Scott's pictures all day, looking at every square centimeter caught and displayed for my eye to enjoy.



The next photographer's work is the reason that I've had a hard time writing this review because I had trouble coming to grips with why I liked it.. Barry Schmetter uses large format and old lenses to produce images that represent memories 'in the process of being pared away' to their essentials. The content, usually some type of landscape scene is hazy and the periphery dissolves into clouds or shadows. The actual content is not so important as much as awareness of the process of dissolution.  

His pictures cannot be described well, at least by me, and must be seen; to me they represent the acme of pictorialism, where emotion and persona completely overlay the supposed subject of the image. Rather than adding textures or colors that reflect art of a specific time, Barry Schmetter uses projector lenses that soften the images and cause a dissolution or vignetting at the periphery which, at one time, refers back to early photos and also mimes the ways that dreams are recalled with vague allusions to what we think of and dissolving detail as we try to remember. While probably equally or more intense in technique than the manipulations of the pictorial artists mentioned above, his final product gives the impression of simplicity and quietude. 

I liked them a lot; I fully admit I may not know why, but I like them.

D.B. Stovall is a well-known large format photographer and it is easy to see why. Much of his work is of older buildings because, 'older structures, like whiskey or cognac aging in a barrel, acquire a certain color and flavor after many years.'

His work adheres to the same very high standards as the others so it is a joy to look at from a technical perspective. What is particularly interesting is that his style changes slightly with each structure to incorporate an emotional feel that is congruent with the content. He uses both color and shape to enhance the emotional impact of the image. "He is very meticulous as well regarding time of day, always right after sunrise or just before sunset, and the sky conditions - always clear. He makes precise use of side light and long shadow." (J. Petro)  

My favorite image of the show can't be shown well here because the very details that make it good are too subtle to be seen 'small.'

This image shown does represent how he adapts the view and look to reinforce the impact. The building is rectangular and blocky and sturdy and strong – and his image is square and the color is saturated and strong. Everything about the picture reinforces the same impression.

Not for him framing to include an entire door or sign; by letting the building and sign run off the screen; he gives the size of the building some emphasis, it can't be encompassed by a mere photo. Big saturated blocks of color in the sky and ground, verticals and horizontals perfect - everything adds to the impression of solidity and 'correct' construction.  

Great stuff.

All the above comments being said, clearly as I got further and further from my own area of interest, I grew less and less comfortable about making those nebulous but meaningful comments that seem the province of art critics. I can only describe my own reactions to everything I see and try to understand what there is about the work that engenders those reactions. As far as placing any artist's work in the context of modern photography, that will have to wait for someone more educated than I.

Did I enjoy these two shows, these six artists. Oh, yes. Two shows where every artist deserved to be there and where I learned and enjoyed from everything I saw. I have come to expect that kind of curating from Brian Miller of Full Circle Gallery in Baltimore who seems to have unerring taste. Whoever got the four people together for the Silver Visions large format show deserves equal praise.

This is what shows should be.

(thanks to John Petro, a sharp-eyed friend, who read this review and called many errors to my attention and saved me from looking too bad. I left a few errors in place to annoy him

Full Circle, Ltd. 33 East 21st Street, Baltimore Maryland 21218


lew@lewlortonphoto.com (Lew Lorton Photography) art composition criticism film large format photography pictorialism review https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2014/5/review-six-artists-two-great-shows Sat, 10 May 2014 15:31:06 GMT
Review: Karsh and Winogrand – both shows in Washington and both revealing. https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2014/4/review-karch-and-winogrand Review: Karsh and Winogrand – both in Washington and both revealing.

There are two exhibits here in Washington that every photographer must see – at least to understand the huge distance that spans 'people' photographers. One exhibit is the first of two separate shows of works by Yousuf Karsh, the famous Canadian portraitist that is at the National Portrait Gallery. The second is a major retrospective of the work of Gary Winogrand at the National Gallery of Art until June 8th when it goes to the Met in NYC.

I love seeing lots of work by one artist in one place at one time. It gives me a chance to see how his/her style holds up across time and work and, more importantly, it allows me to see styles that persevere. Anyone can get lucky once and have a great piece to show, but to persist across time and content with greatness means that there is talent and creativity not just chance.

The Karsh exhibit is in the North Hall at the National Portrait Gallery. Of course it is a beautifully lit space and, since I was there in March, most of the tourists were still huddled at home and the crowd was thin enough that you could stand and look ad lib.

Karsh's work is so technically perfect that the fact one is looking at a posed portrait just fades and you see the subject as Karsh has posed them, in a stance and situation that usually informs the viewer of the specific energy of the person. Each portrait has a richness and detail that somehow ennobles the subject.

My favorite of those shown is a portrait of painter , Georgia O'Keefe, who was the wife of Alfred Stieglitz the photographer. This work shows a rather austere but somehow gentle O'Keefe, sitting close to the door of a Southwestern style house. Above her head, sharing a large portion of the frame is a large deer skull and antlers, a motif found in many of O'Keefe's paintings of the Southwest.

This painting exhibits one of Karsh's favorite posing tricks, the emphasis on hands. In a large proportion of Karsh's portraits, the subject is posed and lit so that the clothes are subdued and unimportant while the hands are well-lit and share an emphasis with the head. That gives an impression of vigor and strength to the portraits.


Interestingly Krash's famous portrait of Hemingway  is a head and shoulders and, in my opinion, is much weaker for that, certainly less imposing and less meaningful than most of Karsh's other work.

The other show, and the one that really impressed me, was a retrospective of Garry Winogrand's work, 20 years after his death.

Before you actually look at Winogrand pictures, get  a better perspective on Winogrand, by first reading an excellent article on this show by Phillip Kennicott, the arts critic at the Washington Post. http://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/museums/in-garry-winogrands-photos-an-america-of-perpetual-motion-and-bottomless-hunger/2014/03/06/c96db872-a568-11e3-a5fa-55f0c77bf39c_story.html .

The Wingrand show is really large, more than 150 images, taking up four rooms of a large u-shaped exhibition space on the first floor of the West Wing of the National Gallery. The fifth room, in the cross-piece of the 'U', is permanently set up as a theater and shows, on continuous loop, a ten minute film of Winogrand at a lecture/discussion in 1987.

If you get to see this show, for the best understanding of Winogrand it is really useful  to pass right through the first two rooms of photos and watch the ten minute film first, before you look at any of his pictures. Winogrand talks, not about individual pictures, but about how he sees his photography. The film is enlightening and there are some really important points made that are vital to understanding Winogrand and his work.

If Karsh is the consummate perfectionist with his technique, Winogrand is all but dismissive of technical issues. 'The technique of photography is easy. A bit over-exposed, a bit under-exposed, as long as you can get a print.' He says that he wants to remain invisible. He wants not to impose his ideas and judgments, let alone his presence, on any scene. He never dealt with pictures; he was happy to take the pictures and then leave them behind. In fact, he died with some hundreds of unprinted rolls and two hundred exposed but undeveloped rolls of film. Some sixty of the prints shown in this massive retrospective have never been printed or seen before.

Now go back to the beginning of the exhibit and look at his pictures.

There is an interesting paragraph in the Washington Post that describes his work, “His work often seems on the verge of spiraling out of control, sometimes aesthetically from the emptiness of the space, the tilt of the camera or the superabundance of visual data, and sometimes because of the content, which hints at anarchic dramas, the possibility of violence, even confrontations between the subject and photographer that are never made clear. The essential Winogrand photograph says: There is more going on here than I’m going to tell you.”

And from the description of the show on the NGA website http://www.nga.gov/content/ngaweb/exhibitions/2014/winogrand.html

“Endlessly curious, Winogrand scrutinized both cities and suburbs, always on the lookout for those instants when happenstance and optics might join to make a good picture that exposes some deep current in American culture. “

Both of these quotes ascribe some deeper, broader intent on Winogrand's part to show something specific, to create a statement.  That he intends to explore cultural issues may be pieced together by looking at his work in retrospect but any general intent is denied in both his writing and his answers in that filmed interview.

Winogrand said that it was a real challenge to find a subject that was interesting in itself and make a picture that was even more interesting - and that is the key to looking at his photos.

Everything I read or see about Winogrand tells me that his skill, and his joy, is to see that interesting something going on, trapped in the chaos of reality, and then to capture it. What he sees is what is going on wherever he is. He puts himself in places and situations to see things. He goes from specific interest to specific interest for the pictures, not for the trends. Pictures and most of all 'interesting things' are what he looks for not an illustration of cultural tides, the exposing of anything,

In virtually every picture in that show, I could find something off-beat, something out of phase with the rest of the scene, something that caught Winogrand's eye and mind and that he caught on film. His joy was not the investigation of anything, the display of a meaningful cultural event.

He was a genius, like Cartier Bresson, in instantly seeing and dissecting what he saw in time to catch it on film. Once he caught it on film, he was no longer interested in it any further – and that explains the thousands of unseen frames he left behind.

Not all of his pictures are 'big' pictures, powerful pictures, meaningful pictures. Some are just of little things but still with that piquancy of being out of phase – and with no answer, immediate or ever.

My favorite picture from that show isn't reproduced anywhere but it is in the book that essentially details this retrospective. Winogrand's idea, that even in a picture of something interesting the photographer must find something more interesting to show, is really demonstrated here. The viewer's eye is drawn to the little boy, seen between the larger people in the crowd. We notice the dark liquiod stain on the ground and then the hat and then, over at the side, subordinate to the main subject, we see the body.

It is difficult for any of us mortal photographers to comprehend the insight and speed that Winogrand displays here, seeing that scene, then picking out the boy as an even more interesting shot and then catching that shot before the moment disappears. I admit that, before this show and looking through the book, I was relatively disinterested in Winogrand's work, I didn't 'get' it and I just assumed his work and he work just a product of the in-groupp of New York critics. After seeing this show, I was converted and I regard him now as an amazing brilliant shooter.

Incidentally that book, 'Garry Winogrand' edited by Leo Rubinfein, is a must for both the pictures and the very interesting and insightful text.

Do not miss this show; if you are able and interested buy the book.

There is a fairly extensive collection of his, and many others', work at Artsy.net



Yousuf Karsh: American Portraits
November 1, 2013 through April 27, 2014

National Portrait GalleryEighth and F Streets NW, Washington, D.C. 20001



Garry Winogrand – Retrospective – through June 8, 2014

National Gallery of Art,between Third and Ninth streets along Constitution Avenue NW



lew@lewlortonphoto.com (Lew Lorton Photography) Garry Winogrand Yousuf Karsh karsh photography portraits street photography winogrand https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2014/4/review-karch-and-winogrand Wed, 02 Apr 2014 16:09:47 GMT
Review: N. Jay Jaffee - a disciple of the Photo League gang https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2014/3/review-n-jay-jaffee---a-discipline-of-the-photo-league-gang Review: N. Jay Jaffee Photographs from Public to Personal, 1947–1997 

Monday, January 27 – Sunday, March 23

Albin O. Kuhn Library Gallery


N. Jay Jaffee  (1921–1999), a one-time student of Sid Grossman of Photo League fame in New York shot black and white photos of New York City. Although he shot in the same documentary, he is certainly not so well known as his mentors at the Photo League.

'The Photo League’s membership roster reads like a Who’s Who of leading American and emigree photographers including Sid Grossman, Aaron Siskind, Jerome Liebling, Dan Weiner, Morris Engel Walter Rosenblum, Weegee, Lisette Model and W. Eugene Smith. Directly inspired by Lewis Hine and the photographers of the Farm Security Administration and with expert guidance from photographers Paul Strand, Berenice Abbott and Beaumont Newhall, the Photo League’s collective portrait of urban life during these turbulent years is comparable to the indelible record of rural America created by the photographers of the Farm Security Administration. Many FSA photographers, including Dorothea Lange, Arthur Rothstein, Marion Post Wolcott and John Vachon were also active members of the Photo League.'

What isn't mentioned in this exhibition is that the Photo League was seen as a nest of Leftist vipers and radicals by J. Edgar Hoover and the League suffered from that. While there were probably Socialists, Communists (large C) and radicals among them, probably the real bulk of the group were just socially conscious artists who used their work to document what they saw around them that stirred their interest.

Jaffee's work is of that same mind and his work – and his philosophy was so strongly influenced by the Photo League that the League or its leading lights show up in virtually everything he wrote http://njayjaffee.com/writing/.

The exhibit at the Kuhn Library Gallery at UMBC has 70 images out of about double that number in their collection. I think the exhibit would have been improved if the selection was cut by about 20 pictures, leaving a core of quite nice b&w photos. The image of Kuhn that are available on a web search are mainly those that include his quite discerning look at people of the time. He had a knack for catching them in interesting and revealing situations, while his scenes of streets are interesting only for the 70 year look into history and not nearly as much for their photographic value.

Every once in a while, one can see the kind of social realism that Jaffee might have liked to show, much as his mentors did. In a time and place when this situation abounded and this kind of photography was in its infancy, It was a shame that Jaffee didn't do more of this kind of work; he certainly had the eye. One gets the feeling from his writings that he was a great, great admirer of Sid Grossman and stood in awe of Grossman's personality as much as his photographic talent.

"His appearance wasn’t particularly striking. But his personality was. If I could find some of those students who suffered through those classes with me, I’m sure they would agree that Sid Grossman did not seem to take kindly to our presence. He was almost contemptuous; each of us got a taste of his anger and hostility during the course. We were told to bring in our work for a class critique each week. If Sid didn’t care for a student’s photograph, he would tear the print and throw it at the culprit, demanding that he never bring in “such garbage” again. When one of the students confronted Grossman about his manner, he retorted, “I’ve been in photography a long time before you came here and I’ll be in it a long time after you’ve left it!

When Sid vented his anger, I felt embarrassed and uncomfortable. Yet from the first moment he entered that bare classroom, I felt a kinship with Sid Grossman. He never intimidated me. I didn’t know what his politics were or anything about his personal life. He never even mentioned The Photo League, of which he was a founding member, to us. His genius was in expounding a philosophy of photography that was unique. I had never heard anyone speak on a subject with such depth and enthusiasm. I still recall a phrase he repeated several times: “The world is a picture.” This simple statement was a profound insight into the method and meaning of photography."

from 'Remembering Sid Grossman'

Jaffee was a craftsman of his time with the equipment and materials available. See this show, as much for the unvarnished insight into the street of New York as for the display of talent. There are some very lovely small, not popular works to be seen; particularly one of two trees seen through a rain dotted window is very enjoyable.


A word about the venue. 

The Albin O. Kuhn Library Gallery is a startlingly large, rather low ceiling room off to one side of the main library entrance. The walls are well-lit but the room is so cavernous that, even if the walls are hung with pictures, it seems lonely and empty.  I like cozy places more. 


N. Jay Jaffee Photographs from Public to Personal, 1947–1997

Monday, January 27 – Sunday, March 23

Albin O. Kuhn Library Gallery




lew@lewlortonphoto.com (Lew Lorton Photography) n jay jaffee photography review sid grossman street photography the photo league https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2014/3/review-n-jay-jaffee---a-discipline-of-the-photo-league-gang Wed, 12 Mar 2014 00:18:48 GMT
11 Tips for Beginning Photographers - How to Start Taking Pictures https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2014/3/11-tips-for-beginning-photographers ______________________________________________________________________________

I wrote an article last year for intermediate photographers on the subject of 'improving one's photography' that proved to be quite popular – this article you are reading now is sort of a prequel to that one with the tips and ideas modified  for total beginners.

This prequel was suggested by a question from a new person on ThePhotoForum.com asking about taking a correspondence course as a way to learn now that he had a new camera.

As of Aug 1 2016, this is one of my most read article, just under 2000 reads.


OK, you have a new camera and it's a huge difference from your old p&s. After all, all you did with that one was point it and press the The GuardThe GuardOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA shutter button - not much thinking or effort required - but now you have a new camera, something more elaborate, with all the controls, buttons, levels and menu.   You want to use it to its maximum. And it cost a fair amount of money and, to justify it, you really need to learn how to use it. 

And it seems a bit intimidating.

It's like deciding to take up mountain climbing and then walking to the foot of the mountain and looking up. What seemed to be delightful and fun from a distance suddenly up close looks like a incredible, difficult climb.

Same with photography, except in photography there are lots of different goals to choose from and that will eventually modify what you will want to learn.

(1)    Be prepared for this learning process to take a long time, in fact it never ends. At the beginning, you start with the very basic vocabulary and skills generation, learning how to fit your knowledge to a basic set of knobs, buttons and menu options on a camera. Eventually your learning will get away from being camera oriented into how to better excel in a chosen niche - taking the kinds of pictures you prefer. There is never an end to learning - at least I've never gotten to an end- but you will get to plateaus where you are competent and successful - and that feels good.

(2)   If you have a workable camera now, stop buying equipment. There are several reasons for that. The first one is that, until you recognize that what you are doing or want to do is limited by the equipment you have, you don't know what direction your purchases will go in. Second, there are no universal cameras and lenses that make amazingly great pictures of any subject, at any speed, at any magnification and at any time. Photography has niches and, beyond the very basic equipment, what you buy is tailored to both the niche and the depth of your interest and pocketbook. If you buy indiscriminately, much of what you buy will be very expensive paper weights because you won't use it.

(3)    Do not spend lots of money on classes or workshops expecting that the class is the key to learning. In the beginning you are learning lots of new vocabulary and some very basic concepts, every one of which is very well covered in free web tutorials and The Guard-3The Guard-3OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA sites. Web communities, like ThePhotoforum have dedicated sub-forums purposefully for beginners to ask questions.

Get a single basic textbook on digital photography for reference and ideas and, most important of all, read the manual that came with your camera. If you can't find it, download a new one. Then read it again.

(4)    Don't worry about being a total equipment guru. That hunk of metal is actually made for the purpose of making pictures. Once you learn how to take pictures and get them off into your computer, let up on the reading and get out there and shoot; shoot simple, exercise your finger and your mind. The first part was to learn the simple vocabulary and the mechanics; the second part, taking pictures, opens the door to the artistry of photography. Learn to use the camera's bells and whistles when you need them.

(5)    Take lots of pictures, pictures of things that catch your eye, and then analyze them to see what you were attracted to in the original scene/situation and think  what kinds of changes to those pictures would have made the image better. Start showing pictures to more experienced photographers so you can get feedback. Read about composition and match those guidelines to what your internal responses are. 

Ignore what your friends and family tell you, they love you and want you to succeed; that affects their judgement - and their judgement may be terrible to start with.

If you have ever taken a wine tasting class, or have been a beer or whiskey connoisseur, then you have experienced that more sophisticated appreciation comes with knowledge; you get to separate what was once a enjoyable flood of sensations into various categories. It takes some time to develop a vocabulary to describe what you see and what you feel.

Until you understand what elements make pictures successful and learn how to reproduce those conditions in your own images, you can't progress.

When you can learn to appreciate what it is that got your attention, why you 'like' a picture, then you are learning on a conscious level how you can use the elements of visual communication for your own pictures.

(6)    Use the Internet – a lot. When you need to learn how to do something, find an on-line tutorial. Join a online photographic The Guard-2The Guard-2OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA community. Be choosy, find one where you are comfortable and you can both get useful information from people with more experience and where you don't feel out of place at your level.

(7)    Look at lots of pictures, lots of them. And not just your own. Use them as exercises. Decide whether you like the picture or not and try to figure out why. (that's the important part) Read lots of comments, this will help you to build your understanding of images and will give you the vocabulary to put labels on your artistic responses.

(8)    Look for critique of your own pictures. Post one or two at a time in the photo communities or in your local camera club. Listen to the comments and use what sounds good to you. Don't get sensitive; a bad picture does not mean you are a bad person.

(9)    Understand that most of the great pictures you see and admire owe 60% of their effect to post-processing either in the darkroom or the computer.  (OK, it may not be exactly 60% but compare the average decent final digital image to a slide shot, which is unprocessed and you'll see the enormous impact of post-processing.) Yes, get it as good as you can in the camera but Mother Nature doesn't care about the light you want. Post-processing is to make what your camera records into what you saw in your mind's eye. Don't immediately jump into using 'effects' and special exposures. First learn to take good basic pictures at the times when light is good.

(for some of my ideas about post-processing and workflow, you might look at Getting to a Final Image - some words on editing photos for a new photographer )

(10)    Don't look for tricks or techniques at first, just learn to take the pictures you want to take. Learning and acquiring mastery is all about cycles – start out with an idea, then do it, then evaluate the result, then determine what needs to be better the next time. The next idea is a little better because of the learning from the last iteration. Hopefully, each cycle includes a bit of new knowledge, a bit of insight,a bit of vocabulary, and a bit of skill.

(11)    Repeat #4, #5 and #7 forever- they're good for you




lew@lewlortonphoto.com (Lew Lorton Photography) How to Start Taking Pictures I just got a camera Tips for beginning photographers learning photography new photographers photography https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2014/3/11-tips-for-beginning-photographers Sat, 08 Mar 2014 19:47:20 GMT
Review: PSA-MAC at WSP: A Show I Didn't Think I'd Liked But Ended Up Loving. https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2014/3/review-psa-at-wsp  #HoCoArts

"Blending in Nature" - A Show by the Mid-Atlantic Chapter of the Photographers Society of America at the Washington School of Photography in March


I drove over to Rockville to The Washington School of Photography (which for some reason is in Maryland) in order to  review a show that turned out to have closed the day before - my mistake.  I was disconsolate and when the very nice person told me that the Mid-Atlantic Chapter of PSA was installing a show at that moment and would I like to see it, I almost said no and left.  But I didn't and I'm glad.

I am generally pretty disinterested in nature photography - actually, tending towards the uninterested. Nature generally just sits there and let's people sit around and wait until the conditions are right and then, when they take the picture, it's another duck or heron or flower or beach.  And that's what I expected to see, perfectly done images of the same old stuff.

The Photographic Society of America has the reputation for traditional and beautifully executed work in their exhibitions so I thought, as long as I'd driven over, I'll take a look.

Well, what a shock.

The show was about 95% in place and I didn't want to get in their way but I wandered around looking at the 25 or so prints that were up and, to be honest, was just in awe.

Yes, there were the very occasional minor cavils about artistic choice in processing or a minor error in printing but, for the most part, each picture was perfectly done - a mirror into the artist's reality, unhampered by any errors in execution.

If you've ever had a meal where the tastes were so perfect that the memory of that meal remains as a signal moment, well, that was my response to this show.  

Even as I drove away I was thinking about going back.

The downside of this show is that, for me as a reviewer, it sets a high standard that other shows will find very hard to come close to; it breaks the curve.

Because of the space and time crunch to get this review out, only three of the images were available for me to show. Believe me when I say that the rest of the show is as good as these.

Right inside the door of the gallery is this image above by Tam Le, "Loving Blue Heron."   Tam Le's "love of photography lead him to an early retirement in late 2010, and devote his time in photography as freelance photographer. By the end of 2013 Tam had earned over 1100 recognitions in international competition"

I've seen, if not hundreds, then certainly many tens of pictures of Blue Herons before.  What struck me about this particular picture, in addition to the perfection of the composition and color and the delicacy of line was that the maker has captured that single instant that in one more fraction of time would be gone. Thus it has a uncommon tension within the calmness of the scene. This is romantic beyond real and the story is complete in the frame.

(Originally I inserted a smaller picture here but I went back and substituted a larger one just to try to do this shot justice.)

The other picture I'm able to show is "Snowy Owl" by Ha Tran. There is no hand-waving artist's conception of what her work is supposed to mean. 

This is just plain beauty and wonder and color and line all caught perfectly. The absolute crowning touch of this image is is is not just a bird-in-flight photo; it is a bird caught at that one instant as it launches, still touching the branch and yet also in the air. That same feeling of a split second caught and preserved.

The last picture, seen below, is by  My Phuong Nguyen.   My Phuong Nguyen "began studying to be a fine art photographer when she bought her first camera in 2002. She devotes her time to her passion for photography and is constantly striving to capture many more of her award-winning images." She has several images in this show and, while this was my favorite, the others show the same gorgeous composition, sense of color and fineness of detail.  

While this image might seem a tiny bit over-saturated or contrasty in this web image, when this image is printed on a soft textured paper, the result is just jaw-droppingly gorgeous. 

I am headed back today to see this show again, not to check my impressions, but just to see the all the pictures in place on the wall and take the time to look more intently at each one (and of course the free wine and cheese at the reception).

This show has turned my mind around in regards nature shots.  If they can be this good, I'll go to every show I can find.


Ha Tran - http://www.photobugs.net/hatran/

Tam Le - http://www.photobugs.net/tamle/index.php

 My Phuong Nguyen - http://myphuong.smugmug.com/


A word about the venue - Lovely light building, well lit and capacious gallery, parking in the rear, all in all a delight to visit. The walls are lined with interesting work of all genres by WSP staff and graduates.

The Washington School of Photography was founded in 1976, to bring professional photographic education to the Washington, DC/Baltimore metro area.  Starting in just two rooms, the workshops and classes quickly grew. WSP's state-of-the-art facility features a black-and-white darkroom; a dedicated digital teaching area; and a professional shooting studio.

12276 Wilkins Avenue, Rockville MD 20852 , 301-654-1998


A Show by the Mid-Atlantic Chapter of the Photographers Society of America at the Washington School of Photography through March, 2014




lew@lewlortonphoto.com (Lew Lorton Photography) . Mid-Atlantic Chapter of the Photographers Society of America blue heron ha tran heron nature photography photography review tam le washington school of photography https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2014/3/review-psa-at-wsp Thu, 06 Mar 2014 20:10:25 GMT
I Want to be a Photographer - or an artist - a rant about people with cameras https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2014/3/i-want-to-be-a-photographer A rant about people with cameras. Some days, I have all I need to hear and I overflow.

So here it is. No bad words, just stuff.

Every group of photographers I know seems divided, by their intent, into two groups, whether they own up to it or not. One group is those who aspire to be craftsmen (or craftswomen). They want to control their equipment and refine their technique so they can capture anything in front of their lens in the way they want to capture it. The rest desire to be artists but may not mention it and it is only evident by their photography.

2006 05 26 SantaFe_001332006 05 26 SantaFe_00133 It is rare that someone who starts learning in a craft-based community, like photography, will declare themselves to be an 'artist', perhaps because that seems to be putting themselves above their fellows, somehow pretentious or presumptuous or thinking what their friends are doing isn't good enough.

Interestingly, many people will actually try to denigrate the role of 'artist', perhaps in some sort of compensatory maneuver to explain their own choice of 'career'. It's sort of 'I'm a plain guy doing workmanlike things and, if its good enough for me, no one else should have any other ideas.' 

There is also the implication is that artists don't conform to the high standards of execution of the craft that photographers as craftsman do. Yet it is a common trope that, when a craftsman exceeds the usual standards, producing work that is new and creative, he or she is designated by his/her admirers as an 'artist' eg “my hairdresser is not just a hairdresser but an artist.”

Generalizing, as I see it, a craftsman has, or intends to have, the skill to faithfully reproduce some other person's artistic vision and there is no connotation of any particular individual creativity. Yes, they can make it a bit better, yes they can polish techniques or refine the final product in some way, but there is no insinuation that they will be using the medium to discover or say new things. And many people within the craftsman community edge their work closer and closer to art, attempting new views and new ways of seeing the same subjects.

An artist is really defined by the intent to produce something that reflects his or her artistic sensibilities, pushing out from standard ways to find something new – and, unfortunately, there is no implicit connotation of skill.

One with no skills and no talent to attain or polish them is a poor craftsman.
One having great skills, but having poor or no creative instincts, will be a poor artist.

The creative urge is ubiquitous. And it doesn't take much effort in sculpture, painting, drawing, etc. to see, except in very rare 2006 05 26 SantaFe_001592006 05 26 SantaFe_00159 circumstances, very clearly the limits in native talent and the urgent necessity for actual skills and knowledge to be creative. No sensible person, except a small child, believes he or she could sit down at a piano or pick up a violin and actually produce something that anyone else would want to hear, let alone create a new piece of music.

Unfortunately, having few skills and untried creative instincts, seems not to keep anyone from declaring themselves an 'artist.'  Photography is rather singular among the creative arts in that effort is supported by a huge and intricate technology.  Anyone who can buy a camera can direct that technology.

And because of that technology, photography is all to susceptible to faux 'artists' who rush in, armed only with the desire to create and few or no skills, knowledge or experience.

These faux artists, who don't know any better, can take a camera, make simple settings, press the shutter button and get a reasonably sharp, reasonably well-exposed result - ignoring the obvious fact that the camera did everything but aim itself and press the shutter release.

Again, not knowing any better, they can assume they have the vehicle to transport their creative ideas to fruition and declare themselves an “artist.” Smart cameras will, as long as the operator doesn't interfere too much, produce decent results under common conditions; after all the design engineers have spent years and millions of dollars/yen planning for common conditions.

Modern cameras have raised the level of the ordinary run of standard photographs, produced essentially automatically, so high that the line between ordinary, routine crap produced by a smart camera and actual good stuff produced by a skilled photographer is not easily discernible by an unknowing viewer.

But, when the requirements or conditions or scene get out of that narrow bounds that the engineers have planned for or when creativity is called for, these standard pictures fall apart. With little experience or knowledge these faux artists can't recognize the source of defects in the image and sometimes are even blind to their presence. Typically, in the reverse of the 'craftsman' snobbery, they also seem to believe that the standards of the craft, the skills, the experience are of minor importance in comparison to the strength of their artistic vision. 

'Creativity' is a easy goal in the abstract; children are 'creative.' But, in the reality, harnessing creativity to produce art on a day to day 2006 05 26 SantaFe_00150-Edit2006 05 26 SantaFe_00150-Edit basis is difficult. Having something to say with art and being able to say it successfully is a constant challenge and any success is hard won. So once having an idea and then wanting to express it, the artist must be able to depend on skill and experience.

I've worked, learned, practiced, dealt with failure and persevered at the creative act, and let me tell you that art is hard – even if the artist has all the skills of the craft. 

So often I go to shows where photography is displayed and I see images that are out of focus or poorly processed or mis-framed - and these are not creative decisions but unrecognized or ignored defects - and the photographer waves off these issues as being unimportant.  It is as if everything that any artist does in preparation for being able to create and sustain that window into another reality just doesn't count. That, because they don't know or care, they believe they have invented a new way to create by skipping over all of this knowledge, craft, experience stuff that all the rest of us struggle with. It's a great time saver not to actually have to 'know' anything or be able to 'do' anything with any degree of skill.  (While it may seem like I am placing undue emphasis on technical 'correctness' as opposed to the art of any image, my attitude is that technical issues are totally irrelevant until they detract from the image - and then technical faults become enormously important.)

And perhaps that gets to the crux of it; their behavior, the obvious lack of craft and skill or the denial of it on the part of these 'faux' artists, is as damn insulting to me as someone who, having just bought a camera, goes out looking for work as a wedding photographer while believing, in their ignorance, that they are competent.. It is denying the importance of the preparation that artists do and the difficulty at succeeding at creating art.  

Why should I care?

I care because, besides my family, there is nothing in this world that means more to me than photography as art.

I am offended by really bad photography, badly executed, badly finished being passed off as art. I don't mean art with some potentially higher concept that I'm not getting - I'm perfectly willing to accept  as 'art' work that I don't understand - but pictures of flowers and shrubs and peoples faces that are badly done in every conceivable way, where the technical mistakes are so ubiquitous and obvious and so disruptive that they virtually clamor for attention.  I am happy and confident in my own critical sense to dislike them.

When bad photography is represented as good by the nominal authorities - galleries- then the public conception of photography as an art form suffers.


lew@lewlortonphoto.com (Lew Lorton Photography) I want to be a photographer', art camera photography https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2014/3/i-want-to-be-a-photographer Wed, 05 Mar 2014 22:23:37 GMT
Anatomy of a street shot. https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2014/3/anatomy-of-a-street-shot This short essay is a followup to a presentation I made at the Central Maryland Photographers Guild about street shooting and posted specifically because it seems like a good slow motion example of what usually happens very quickly.


First let me say that not all successful street shots are big, great shots; some are little shots that only evoke a smile or an grimace of appreciation. Generally shots happen quickly and the moves that get the photographer in place and the decisions made are usually too difficult to explain sensibly enough to provide any useful meaning for a less experienced shooter.

This one, however, was a slow, stealthy process and the steps may be of some real interest.

I was coming back from Full Circle Photo, a gallery and printer in north Baltimore where I had looked at a new show that had just opened for a review. I was hungry and so I stopped at Red Emma's a radical bookstore and a vegetarian restaurant. Their slogan is “We are a balt 01-12-_1120038balt 01-12-_1120038OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA worker cooperative and family of projects dedicated to autonomy, sustainability, participatory democracy, and solidarity.”

I go for the sandwiches and the coffee.

The interesting part of this place is the very eclectic clientele and the general air of intent concentration on books, phones, laptops, tablets or writing pads.

I go to look.

I had a messenger bag with a book, my Olympus OMD 5 and some other stuff but I had an Oly EP-3 around my neck, as always. I was wearing a dark short coat, dark pants and boots. The only thing I was missing to really fit in was a pony tail and a t shirt that proclaimed 'Down with the current hegemony.'

balt 01-12-_1120042balt 01-12-_1120042OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA After my sandwich appeared, and in preparation for looking around and maybe getting some shots, I chose one of the bar-like elevated tables immediately at the edge of the area that held all the standard height tables. Thus I would be up above those tables and in a good shooting position. But I needed to be unobtrusive; people respond to out of the ordinary behavior and I don't want to change what is going on.

I sat down and pulled the other two chairs around the small table, one on either side next to me, ostensibly to hold my messenger bag and my coat. The real reason was to get them out of the sight line for any photos I wanted to take. I ate slowly, reading my book. Every once in a while, I would pick up my camera and look at a couple of shots on the lcd.

Once I settled in, more people came, some people left – and I was just part of the crowd. There were two possible subjects – a bearded man working on his laptop next to another guy reading his phone and a group of deaf people talking rapidly and excitedly with their hands. I took some shots but nothing there panned out well, I would have had to move and crouch to get anything interesting, if at all, and that would have certainly aroused attention.

Most of the room was in the shade and as I looked around I saw there was this one person sitting over rather deliberately in the sun. The lines were good, there was supporting composition and I could shoot without raising the camera from the table top. I was a little concerned about exposure but I could see the histogram from the initial shot and the overexposed spike was probably from the bright tray on the table.

When I got home and looked at the snaps, clearly most of them were throwaways but  one had some promise.

balt 01-12-_1120081-Editbalt 01-12-_1120081-EditOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This one shot of the woman in the light in contrast to everyone else in the shadow stood out as being interesting. . There were some defects. Too much detail showed in the shadow areas that was not important. I wanted the woman in the sun to be the center of interest and be in clear contrast to everything else.  It was, in my mind, clearly untitled-P3010924untitled-P3010924OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA destined to be a B&W shot where the shadows and tones supported the parts in the light and the colors were unimportant. So I cropped a bit (specifically to minimize the influence of the bent-over figure on the left), fixed the too bright areas, darkened the shadowed areas so they didn't intrude and dealt with the tilted look of the columns. Then I then used a b&w layer in PhotoShop to convert it.

In the first 'final' shot, I totally didn't see some text on the back of the cap on the man to the right  – but when someone pointed that out to me as being really distracting, it was an obvious defect and distraction - a good example of how difficult it is to fully 'see' one's own shots.

I edited the text out, or rather painted over it, and this below is the final final. Not an important shot but a good exercise to keep my eye in no matter where I am.


untitled-P3010924-Edituntitled-P3010924-EditOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


lew@lewlortonphoto.com (Lew Lorton Photography) composition how to shoot street photos photography red emmas street photography https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2014/3/anatomy-of-a-street-shot Mon, 03 Mar 2014 18:35:38 GMT
Review: Excellent show at a terrific gallery - Full Circle, Ltd in Baltimore https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2014/3/review-excellent-show-at-a-terrific-gallery Review: Excellent show at a terrific gallery - Full Circle, Ltd in Baltimore 

by SPE (Society for Photographic Education) member artists  #HoCoArts

It is hard to relate the pleasure and excitement that comes from seeing a photo show where all the exhibitors are artists who are not just skilled in a craft but are bursting out exploring that medium.

The current exhibition at the Full Circle, Ltd is curated by Brian P Miller, a Full Circle staff member, and Jay Gould, a teacher at the Maryland Institute College of Art. The show will feature a group of SPE (Society for Photographic Education) member artists during the conference time in Baltimore. This show will be up from February 22nd- March 29th with a reception held March 8th 7-10:30 pm.

The show at the Full Circle, Ltd is small, with only one, two or three examples from each of the seven artists but quite worth seeing. This is clearly not a display of 'photography' but a display of art with photography as the primary medium. Some of the work is more easily understood and appreciated in a small on-line image and so I will confine my specific remarks to two pieces that show specifically well online. That being said, every piece is worth being seen in person.

Emma Powell (http://www.emmapowellphotography.com) shows three images from her cyanotype series 'In search of sleep.'

This series 'recreates this shadowy realm and allows me to explore my real-life questions, from personal dramas to romantic doubts. The cyanotype process, with its distinctive blue tones, visually traverses the distance between waking and sleeping. These images are also toned with tea and wine to both dull the blues and add warmth.'

I loved all three of the images shown but my personal favorite was “Unmoored.”

These are composite images and, although I know that, the technical execution is so fine that I can easily make myself unaware of that and see through the frame into the world of the image. Each of the few nicely chosen and rendered objects in the frame has strong allusions and, together, make an indelible impression of that vague unreality of the dream state. Well made and well conceived and well executed, by themselves these works, just inside the door of Full Circle, would have made the entire trip worth while.

The second image is “Lilac Breasted Roller with kumquats” a particularly gorgeous pigment print by Sarah Cusimano Miles. (http://sarahcusimanomiles.com/index.php) This image comes from a series of explorations of the collections of the Anniston Museum of Natural) History in Anniston, Alabama. “By portraying these objects through the tradition of the still life, the artist explores ideas of cultural decadence and beauty in stasis. In addition, these photographs are comprised of numerous single frames combined to construct high-resolution composite images. This allows for the capture and portrayal of the subject in a manner that goes beyond that which is possible through a single exposure. In this way the image exists as a double construction; once as the objects are assembled to be photographed, and again as the frames are combined to form the final image.”

Although it is not stated directly, this image, and the others from this series displayed on her web site, are strongly reminiscent of Dutch and Flemish still lives from the 16th and 17th century. The richness of color, the wealth of fine detail and the knowing placement of the objects within the frame, in striking allusion to the painted still lives, seem almost to be a tromp l'oeil painting and I had to constantly remind myself that this was a photograph, almost in homage to the painters. A wonderful achievement both in conception and execution.

It is only for lack of space that I cannot show the excellent and interesting work of the other artists in the show.

Elliot Dudik – 4 Untitled Pigment Prints http://www.eliotdudik.com/

Brenton Hamilton – Man of Stars http://www.brentonhamiltonstudio.net/main.html

Rebecca Hopp - “We kept her in a cage” and 'Harvest End” http://cargocollective.com/rebeccajhopp

Gina Phillips – Syzygy Photogeam #1 and #20 http://ginamphillips.com/syzygy.html

John Vigg - Pine Barrens Mapping http://www.wheresvigg.com/


A word about the venue.

I learned about Full Circle, which is also a full service imaging and frame shop, back in January when I needed two prints done especially well. I was exchanging prints with someone and I wanted my prints to look good both as a mark of respect to the other photographer and as a good example of my work. Every one of the staff I met at Full Circle was friendly and clearly knowledgeable and the result was so good I could barely steel myself to give the prints away.


“Echos of Veracity” Full Circle, Ltd. 33 East 21st Street, Baltimore Maryland 21218. This show will be up from February 22nd- March 29th with a reception will be held March 8th 7-10:30 pm.





lew@lewlortonphoto.com (Lew Lorton Photography) SPE Sarah Cusimano Miles Society for Photographic Education brenton hamilton elliot dudik emma powell full circle gina phillips john vigg photography rebecca hopp review https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2014/3/review-excellent-show-at-a-terrific-gallery Sat, 01 Mar 2014 21:12:56 GMT
Review- Group Show, Kish Gallery, Slayton House, Wilde Lake https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2014/2/review--group-show-kish-gallery-slayton-house-wilde-lake A group show with two themes -

"Honoring Women of the World: Commemorating International Women's Day"- work of Ann von Lossberg

"The Natural World" work of Marie McGing and John Hossli

In an article, A. D. Coleman, the first photo critic for the New York Times, mentioned that sometimes he finds, in some critical discussions, that he never even talked about the pictures themselves. That's not me.  I try to be tabula rasa when I see a show. I'm not a critic, talking about people's concepts and inspirations. I respond to what I see, to how well the photographer has pursued their concept and shown it in the frame.

The Kish Gallery, a part of Slayton House in Wilde Lake, Columbia  is quite a lovely space; there are two rooms, an outer room with abundant natural and artificial light that gets good traffic as people pass into an auditorium space and an inner room which gets less traffic and natural light but is very nicely lit. #HoCoArts

Marie McGing is an active local artist, exhibiting locally and doing both portrait and nature photography.( www.mdesigns4u.com) (Ms McGing did not supply an artist's statement)

Monks Her work as displayed here as part of 'The Natural World' shows a good eye for composition and the resulting images are quiet, peaceful images, often focused on single plants or blooms and directed at those who do love the unsullied views of nature. In my opinion her most successful piece is this landscape entitled 'Early Fall Morning.'

In this very nice image, the unhurried horizontal lines of the harvested field in the foreground merge easily into the almost bare trees that are themselves, silhouetted against a quiet, peaceful sky – all in soft autumn tones.

Where Ms McGing's work falls short for me quite often in other pieces displayed is the lack of crispiness and clarity where it would be welcome. Few of her pictures have the sharpness of detail and clear tones that allow me as a viewer to suspend disbelief and look through the window of the frame into another world.

John Hossli is the second artist displaying work as part of 'The Natural World' theme.

In his artist statement he says: "A well made image can convey the fragile beauty of nature that we all should strive to preserve for future generations." Mr. Hossli shows an awareness of beauty and a fine sense of composition that is supported by excellent management of the technical elements.

He has a background in these technical aspects of finishing and printing and this experience shows. The issues of detail, color, clarity, sharpness which, like service in a fine restaurant , are important only if they interfere with appreciation of the real issue, do not fail him and his images are not only beautifully composed and caught but beautifully executed on the paper.

My favorite was the picture entitled 'Two Feathers'; the eponymous feathers and their reflection are perfectly framed against the still, varicolored water – each part perfectly captured and in balance. The picture is particularly striking because the viewer knows that this still balance is a temporary thing yet before the next moment brings destruction, the instant is caught.

Anna von Lossberg is a very active local writer and photographer. (www.annvl.zenfolio.com). Her statement about this exhibit, which celebrates International Women’s Day, includes the following about her artistic intent: " My photography became a natural byproduct of my journeys. This exhibit represents the marriage of my past professional life and present creative pursuits and interests."

My reaction to the work displayed by Ann von Lossberg, needs to be preceded by a little explication - and my opinion.

Any image we see is managed first by our eyes. They refocus to bridge the distance to the centers of interest, the iris expands to allow us see into shadows and then contracts to manage the highlights. Our brain unconsciously ignores things that don't matter to us and emphasizes the color and visibility of items that do. But, when we take a picture with the camera, the sensor of the camera just records what is there, without comment, without any of the 'editorializing' that our senses do to make a scene look better to us – the so-called 'mind's eye.'

As photographers we can anticipate and counteract only some of the captured negative characteristics by changing the initial camera settings but, much of the time, we must correct the shortcomings of the digital negative, doing with a computer what earlier photographers did in the lab or the darkroom to film.

The role of computer post-processing is to correct the shortcomings of an inanimate camera sensor, to make the image that the sensor captured look like what the artist originally saw in his or her mind's eye. Virtually every digital image can be improved with some amount of post-processing treatment and the better the artist at seeing and correcting the shortcomings in the image coming from the camera, the better the final image.

Anna von Lossberg has a very ambitious exhibit, collating images taken in various situations and conditions to meld a coherent impression.  She has a good to excellent eye for composition and the content of her images is attractive and interesting, documenting without being specifically polemical about the topic. Looked at from a distance or in a small reproduction on a screen the images can be impressive.

Looking at framed prints at arm's length, where pictures of this size are made to be viewed, all of the defects that interfere with enjoyment  and that could have been corrected are evident. The images have not been 'finished' well. There have been few of the adjustments that remove the inadequacies of the original photographs to make them the terrific images, they might have been.

And there's the pain of it. I look at an image like 'the 'Tibetan Woman and Child', and others, up close and see how wonderful some could have been and how disappointingly they fall flat because of a lack of care.

There is, perhaps, the raw material for good photographs but, as they are now, to casual viewers, they are pretty pictures but as art they are half-accomplished.



The Bernice Kish Gallery at Slayton House, 10400 Cross Fox Lane, Columbia, Maryland, is pleased to announce a three-person photography exhibit in the galleries for February and March 2014. Ann von Lossberg will exhibit her photographs in the Lobby Gallery, entitled “Honoring Women of the World: In Commemoration of International Women’s Day”. (Note: International Women’s Day is March 8th). Marie McGing and John Hossli will exhibit their photographs in the Bill White Room Gallery, entitled “The Natural World”. The exhibit will run from February 20 – March 29, 2014.



lew@lewlortonphoto.com (Lew Lorton Photography) art composition criticism hossli mcging' photography review von lossberg https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2014/2/review--group-show-kish-gallery-slayton-house-wilde-lake Thu, 27 Feb 2014 02:56:04 GMT
Review - Photos at the Meeting House Gallery, Oakland Mills Comm Ctre, Col., MD https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2014/2/review---photos-at-the-meeting-house-gallery-oakland-mills-comm-ctre-col-md Review of a photography exhibit 'Artists' Choice' at The Meeting House Gallery, Oakland Mills Interfaith Center www.themeetinghousegallery.org daily 8 AM to 9 PM through March 24th, 2014


"Art is not a mirror, but a hammer: it does not reflect, it shapes."

Leon Trotsky, Literature and Revolution (1924):

Art is the concretization of someone's vision, of her/his way of seeing things and capturing them in some way to show to the world. When I take pictures I try to make a final image with enough content that the viewer can embrace it and enough room that the viewer can bring their own set of experience, knowledge and emotions to it. So, when I look at other person's art, I try to respond to it and my only accepted responsibility in these reviews is to decide how well that artist has made their vision available to me.

The Meeting House Gallery has a challenging environment; the wall space is spread over an irregular area and the lighting is inconsistent from place to place, ranging from good gallery lighting to actual shadow. The administrators of each show do their best to divide the good areas for viewing amongst the different artists but that division, while 'fair', means that it is difficult to get a coherent impression of a single artist's work without skittering around the room, looking at the name cards. I don't have any suggestions for a fix or a more fair arrangement but perhaps the Gallery admins could have a printed map with the placement of each artist's work to guide the viewer who wanted to see one artist's complete work at a time.

There were five artists showing in this group show and their work and intentions are different enough to warrant talking about them separately, so excuse the length of this review.

Chick Rhodehamel's work (http://www.cdrimages.com/) is probably the most traditional and recognizable in style. He works predominantly in monochrome and his images are strong, still and display an awareness of the shapes and contours of the world as he sees it and brings it to the viewer. This work to the left, entitled 'Circles and Lines', is an example of how he frames an image out of the chaos of the ordinary environment and shows it to the viewer with the abstracting effect of monochrome. This kind of work only succeeds if the entire long string of steps are well executed: a noteworthy image is seen and isolated, the details recorded, the tones caught and, importantly, the production of the print is well achieved. Chick's work is consistently as technically perfect as one could get. If there is a weakness in this kind of work, it is that is so still, so perfect, stirring admiration for the wonderful composition and execution, always proving an interesting look for the intent viewer but with less emotional content or mystery for many viewers.

Jim Lubitz's work (link)  is in a similar style, also mostly in monochrome but Jim is not as far down the road to commitment to a single genre as is Chick; Jim seems to be still looking for his final interest and it in one of those glances that produces his most interesting, to me, images. Two images in this show were taken in Bakersfield, California at the Dr. George Albin House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Rather than a closeup of some well formed detail, Jim pulls back to include interesting parts of the house in concert with the surroundings for which it was designed. My favorite is the intricate image shown here – a shot of a woman sitting in a unusually shaped chair through two adjoining planes of glass, each one reflecting the environment yet each one with a totally different tint. Familiar elements captured to be seen in an unfamiliar way; it takes a moment to understand all of what is going on – and that is the charm of this image. I hope Mr. Lubitz keeps on looking and capturing things in this off beat way.

Ira Dwoskin (link) defines his work as  Abstract/Realism. "I accent my subject by making the background abstract.” This is an interesting issue because most photographers categorize themselves by genre of what kinds of images they take rather than how the images are processed. Thus, although one can limit themselves to taking pictures which are amenable to this kind of processing, it seems to me that some color schemes or color distributions may not be amenable to being processed this way and end up not being in a good, enjoyable image.

And that's how it seemed to me. Some of Mr. Dwoskin's work was really, really terrific (by that I mean, I liked it a lot) and some of it wasn't so enjoyable. For example, the picture shown here 'Umbrellas at DC Cherry Blossom'. The color schemes and distribution were just right-on-the-nose delightful, the treatment really amplified the impression of the underlying image.

The same goes for an image, entitled “Harper”, of a baseball batter, catcher and umpire against an intricate background (which seems to me not so much abstract as perhaps post-impressionist or Fauvist). Where this kind of effort falls short for me is when the lost detail is actually an contributing, intrinsic part of the image and is replaced by a flat palette of color; several of the individual images of flowers set against an post-impressionistic background fell in this group for me.

The last photographer in this group of artists is Jim Auerbach. (link)  His displayed work, with an exception or two, was generally of large, well known iconic vistas - Mono Lake, Zabriski Point, Horseshoe Bend. This is the kind of picture that almost demands to be shown large so the colors and the details can be enjoyed. One large image, entitled 'Capturing the Light' profited from the enlargement, the colors are subtle but saturated, the light glancing across the area from the mountains was very enjoyable and the blurry softness of the light was appropriate. Unfortunately the other large images didn't fare as well. I don't know if it was the artist's choice of papers or intentional blurring but at close inspection of the other large images, the details were merged into blurs and, although saturated, the colors did not have the lovely clarity that one expects from this kind of image. I hope this was a correctable choice in the post-processing phase.

The last artist is not a photographer, but a painter of abstracts, and perhaps I should recuse myself from commenting because I am, by nature and by avocation, a realist. Artists, like most photographers, who work realistically at any level hope to engage the viewer by some manipulation of symbols presented in the guise of real objects. The artist intends to engage not only the intellect but the emotions of the viewer by bridging to emotions within the viewer, evoking by the the artist's work. (think new mothers and pictures of babies.)

An artist who works in abstractions uses only line and form and color in creating and specifically rejects references to the 'real' world, thus making the gap between artistic work and viewer's understanding even more formidable.

In the brief self-introduction to her work given at the reception, Rhona Schonwald (http://www.rhonalkschonwald.com) said, “...(her work) is meant to inspire imagination, joy and sensuality in the viewer, and that I found myself more interested in backgrounds of images than in the images themselves, again to inspire the viewer to go beyond the obvious.”

In looking at each of these artists, I specifically refrain from saying whether the work is good or bad, I clearly don't have either the credential or the right to say that. I say only whether I like it or enjoy it and why.

In this situation, while I cannot claim to 'get' any meaning that Rhona Schonwald has embodied in her work; abstracts don't resound with me on any emotional level but, without disclaiming any deeper value it might have to others, I think her work is beautifully composed, beautifully colored and visually stimulating.

The one piece displayed here, 'Blue Color Poem 1 – Deep' is typical of the well composed pieces she shows. As all of the pieces on her web site, for the most impact, it deserves to be see in person for the greatest impact.


Review of an exhibit 'Artists' Choice' at The Meeting House Gallery, Oakland Mills Interfaith Center www.themeetinghousegallery.org daily 8 AM to 9 PM through March 24th, 2014


lew@lewlortonphoto.com (Lew Lorton Photography) composition criticism oakland mills community center photography review the meeting house gallery https://lewlortonphoto.com/blog/2014/2/review---photos-at-the-meeting-house-gallery-oakland-mills-comm-ctre-col-md Thu, 13 Feb 2014 20:13:40 GMT