May 25 2015

Technical Photography & Fine Art: Why the two are inseparable for producing convincing imagery & the importance of communicating intent in composition


I recently had the honor of judging one of the local camera club’s monthly exhibitions.  This was super fun and super daunting.  It wasn’t just those whose images were being considered that were on the hotseat that evening.  One of the major comments I received (and it was meant as a compliment), was that they were surprised at how technical my commentary was– that they expected the artsy types to focus more on the emotional and artistic content of the image and less on the technical elements of it.  I’ve thought about this quite a lot now and come to some interesting conclusions, not the least of which is that what is missing from that assumption is an accommodation for the fact that the two are not mutually exclusive by any means.

Ever heard the saying “You have no idea how much make-up it takes to look like you are not wearing any!”?  Well, basically, one might also say “You have no idea how much Photoshop and knowledge of the technical elements of an image it takes to create an image that doesn’t look Photoshopped.”  (For more on this, see my upcoming post detailing the creation of a Fine Art composite from start to finish.)

While that may sound strange coming from someone such as myself given it’s pretty clear I’m completely unapologetic about my use of post-processing and often make utterly no effort to hide that an image has been subjected to (a lot of) it, and I often work much more like a painter than your average photographer, that doesn’t mean I am not concerned about making sure that my processing has some elements of realism.  And, that involves knowing, understanding, and often applying a lot of technical knowledge to my images.

By way of example, a popular local restaurant in Albuquerque had an artist paint murals in their dining room.  Many years ago, prior to my being dedicated as a full-time artist, my husband (who had a minor in Fine Art and could have majored in it) said to me “Argh! That mural is making me nuts! The light is all wrong!”.  I hadn’t even noticed.  Now, I am a great lover of hyper-realism and surrealism.  I don’t mind when visual art wanders into that uncanny valley where things aren’t quite as they would be in real life.  But, not to sound harsh (or even hypocritical), the painter whose work was nice enough, was clearly a mediocre talent.  My husband was right.  When you actually looked at the image, you noticed that the light was indeed all wrong– shadows were at the wrong angles, inconsistent, and even on the wrong sides of objects… It seemed clear that the artist had not done this with intent, but rather out of naiveté.  While sometimes we consider this charming, it doesn’t always work.

Just as intent matters when a crime is committed, so it matters to our understanding of art and whether we interpret it qualitatively as “good” or “bad”.  One can get away with quite a lot compositionally, but if the viewer is not convinced that it seems intentional, it may not be well-received.  When you are venturing into conceptual work or taking a lot of liberties with a piece, a great deal of consideration with regard to composition should be taken.  For me, that means making sure that things like light and shadows are correct (-ish– for the most part– I often intentionally take forays into that aforementioned uncanny valley).  It means that the sense of depth of field I am creating should make sense– unless it’s obviously not supposed to…  and so on…  Clearly, there are stylistic liberties which are and should be allowable, and some imperfections may be permissible or even desirable, but your viewer needs to understand that what they are seeing was done with intent and is not just shoddy workmanship.  As such, the capture, the cropping, and the physics of the light in the image may all still matter even if your image is highly conceptual or abstract.  This is why we talk so much about “learning the rules so we can break them”.

Typically, photographers tend to be opportunistic shooters.  We love the “happy accident”, that amazing shot we just happen to stumble upon or even discover later we’ve captured unintentionally.  Some of us premeditate more– we scout locations and the light there, and we make sure we are there for the perfect shot.  Some of us are gear-heads that absolutely love, love, love to get everything right in camera.  But, far fewer of us work conceptually, and doing so requires a broader tool-set than any of the former mindsets.  When evaluating more conceptual work, it’s good to keep in mind this concept of intent.  No matter how you are working, or what you are aiming to accomplish, your viewer should know that what they are seeing, and how they are seeing it is exactly as you intended them to.  -Amy

Feb 3 2013

Lee Marmon– The Acoma Collection

Photo by Tom Corbett (2006)

Lee Marmon with his signature image “White Man’s Moccasins” (1954)
Photo by Tom Corbett (2006)

The best concert I ever went to was a BB King concert.  I’ve seen him several times, but this time was different.  It was in a small, intimate venue and before almost every song, BB would tell a little story about the origins of the song or what it meant to him.  It… was… awesome!  This was an experience I will never forget, and am so glad I got to see–nay, be a part of–because that’s how it felt.  I wasn’t just a casual observer of some great blues, BB was talking to me and everyone in that room that night.

It’s not often you get to meet an icon. Someone who was positioned perfectly in space and time to document a culture in flux. And, someone with the talent to do it well.  That’s who eighty-seven year old Lee Marmon is.  And, although I haven’t met him yet, I, like you, will have the opportunity to do so the evening of March 1st, at the Albuquerque Photographers’ Gallery in Old Town.  Although I personally have not met Lee, several of my colleagues have, and they tell me he is a warm, delightful, unassuming story-teller of a man.  This is not something I want to miss.  Meeting Lee will be something I will remember fondly and his opening at APG will be something I know I will be glad to be a part of.

So, why is this guy so special?  If you are not familiar with the name, I’d be surprised if you’re not familiar with his work.  Born in Laguna in 1925, Lee’s signature image “White Man’s Moccasins” (1954) is only one of many images of tribal elders and life to be globally recognized as a visual documentary of cultural change throughout the Southwest in the mid-twentieth century.  His collection of images has been deemed of such significance that the University of New Mexico purchased his negatives in 2009.
Lee’s photographic career includes service as the official photographer for the Bob Hope Desert Classic Golf Tournament (1967-1973), publication in books and magazines such as Time, The New York Times Magazine, Aperture, the Saturday Evening Post, the Los Angeles Times, New Mexico Magazine, Native Peoples, and Southwest Art.  His works were also featured in the Peabody Award-winning PBS series, “Surviving Columbus”.  His 2004 book “The Pueblo Imagination”, written in collaboration with Joy Harjo, Simon Ortiz, and Leslie Marmon Silko is award-winning.  And, in June 2006, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts for the “legacy of integrity” his works have inspired during the 59 years Marmon has been practicing his craft.

If you’re not sufficiently impressed enough yet, I’ll let the imagery do the talking.












That’s right boys and girls.  Lee Marmon is a photographic “rockstar”.  And, you can meet him with me.  You don’t want to miss this!

Lee will be at the Albuquerque Photographers’ Gallery signing fine art posters of four of his images including a special edition of White Man’s Moccasins (1954) on March 1st from 5-8pm.  His work will be on display throughout March and April, 2013.  The exhibit includes 21 signed silver gelatin prints which represent the last prints the artist will ever make of these images (as noted previously, the University of New Mexico purchased his negatives in ’09).  All of the images linked above (including White Man’s Moccasins) and many more will be on display and available for sale.  I’ve seen many of them.  They’re fantastic.  (And no, “fantastic” doesn’t even begin to capture how wonderful these images are.  You’ll just have to come see for yourself.  You think you have seen someone’s art, and then you see it in person, and everything changes.)  Hope to see you March 1st!
Lee Marmon- The Acoma Collection
March 1- April 30, 2013
Opening reception: Friday, March 1 (5-8pm)



The Albuquerque Photographers’ Gallery
Plaza Don Luis, Old Town
303 Romero Street NW
(upstairs) STE N208
Albuquerque, NM 87104


For even more information about Lee, check out the Wikipedia article on him.

DCF Event Announcement

Lee Marmon– The Acoma Collection– Facebook Event Page

Jul 19 2012

Nodal Ninja Ultimate R1 and R10 Settings for Google Photographers

It’s tough to find the right settings for the Nodal Ninja R1 and R10 heads for Google Trusted Photographers. To help them out, here’s a big search-engine friendly post with the Nodal Ninja info. Panoramic rotator heads for virtual tours require some specific settings, so if you’re not using a Nodal Ninja R1 or R10 head at 7.5 degree tilt and a Sigma 8mm 3.5, then this info might not apply to you. I will update it as more equipment is reviewed.

Aperture uses Nodal Ninja Ultimate R1 for Google Business Photos

Aperture uses Nodal Ninja Ultimate R1 for Google Business Photos

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Mar 30 2012

Amy Joins the Albuquerque Photographers’ Gallery

As many of you know, Amy has been doing a lot of Fine Art work. (You can see her work on our main business site or Signed, limited edition prints are only available through the gallery or via phone or e-mail ordering.) She has recently been juried into the Albuquerque Photographers’ Gallery in Old Town. The information for the gallery here in Albuquerque Old Town is:

303 Romero Street NW
(upstairs) in suite N208
Albuquerque, NM 87104

Open daily from 10:30AM until 6PM
Friday & Saturday until 8PM

Amy is tremendously excited about being a part of New Mexico’s only juried photography co-op! In addition to her work, that of 10 other award-winning photographers is on display. Styles are diverse, from conventional to avant-garde. Members staff the gallery, so come on by and say “hi”, and “like” us on Facebook and join our mailing list for regular updates regarding the gallery and specials! Thanks for all of your support, folks- she would not be there without all of you!

Jun 8 2011

48 hour film project in Albuquerque

This last weekend starting June 3, I participated as the Director of Photography for one of the three dozen Albuquerque teams in the 48 hour film project. This is a friendly competition where local teams create a short movie within 48 hours from the time they receive a required line of dialogue (“I can’t get it out of my head”), a required prop (a mask), and a character (Lee or Laura Stevens, electrical company worker), and each team draws a random genre (Romance, in our case). At that point, it’s a whirlwind to create a script, learn the lines, create the set and costumes, and do all the filming. And then it must be edited and handed in under the deadline! The bulk of the competition is mostly within one’s own team, each member challenging himself and teammates, to complete the project and create the best movie they can in the extremely limited time.

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May 22 2011

Model shoots and comp cards

Here are some seamless white background shots I took at April’s Tobyriffic show. Also mixed in are some candids and a couple from inside the studio during broadcast. Clicking any of the thumbnails will take you to the full gallery.

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The setup was simple, but like with all photography, the proper light and exposure is paramount. The background was exposed to the right, to almost blow out the whites. I intentionally left some detail in the background to give a little context. Then the models were exposed with a large octobox key on camera left, with a large reflector at camera right. Very few of the models were used to having the light and reflector so close to them, and they clearly felt cramped — the natural reaction is to step back. However, those models that stood where I indicated had the softest light, feathered across their faces, caressing their features, and providing the best shadows and color. Those that stood back were under-exposed, with harsher and flatter light, and more “wrap” from the background which highlighted any blemishes.

So, models, you should make sure to stand where the photographer tells you where to stand, or the light will not be perfect. Sometimes you will not even be able to see the photographer, due to all the light modifiers in the way — but you’ll always see the lens poking out from behind, and that lens is what you’re posing for. Ignore everything else!

We have a model and actor comp card package on special right now, for an introductory price of $250 and if you’re a friend on facebook, the first few will be $200 for a limited time. This includes 100 double-sided cards on 100# “digital” cardstock which has a nice gloss finish, although it is not quite as heavyweight as if you ordered 1000+ on an offset press. Models, this comp card is the most important part of your resume, even if you have a large portfolio of tear sheets. Contact us, and we’ll make sure your comp card is a good one.