My Phases of Photography Part 2

stinking_studiessSome of my phases of photography, I hope I’ve outgrown but it’s a battle, I’m only human.
But here’s more.


Contests serve a purpose. Besides the obvious, fame, prizes and cash, they get you off your rear end and give you a reason to be out and about looking at the world around you through that camera.

This is especially true if you aren’t very motivated and have little self-discipline.

Don’t enter a contest with dreams of making it big with one picture.

The picture on the right was a contest winner. Those of you who were paying attention, might notice I had a different picture in its place from yesterday. I gave it some thought and reasoned just because a picture is a contest winner, doesn’t mean I should show it.

The students are reacting to the stench from their biology experiment. They had just unearthed a Cornish Game Hen.

Besides there are numerous scams out there which ruin photography. Here’s my take on some photography contests from a post on Rising Black Star.

When I was new to photojournalism, every picture I made, I worked laboriously  to make into a potential contest winner.

Then I saw, over time, it  had an unintended effect: my subjects looked too contrived especially in a portrait situation. Not that there’s anything bad about that.

To me, they weren’t being themselves.

Invariably, I always ended up not picking those pictures where I posed the subject.

When working for a newspaper, that line of what is setup and what is posed, needs to be very clear.

The reason is full disclosure. Newspaper photographers should never be seen as setting up situations in a news type situation.

If there is any doubt at all, then the caption needs to say so to clarify.

So it stands to reason that if a newspaper photographer shoots just to win contests, that line between what is real and what isn’t can be blurred.

Sometimes in trying to make the best-looking picture in a situation, the truth can be stretched, not necessarily accurately showing what took place.


This portrait of Congressman Jerry Lewis and his wife looks staged, I hope. This was taken at a grand opening of a pool in his district in Redlands, CA. As with most newspaper work, you make the most of the situation. The time was close to noon, so I opted to light it. I used a window in the building to frame his wife and him, turned off the lights inside. The flash is on the left triggered remotely by a radio slave.

The most obvious situations I can think of  are those of crowds.

When I showed up at an event and it was a bust i.e the attendance was poor, I’d shoot with a long lens to compress the people in my viewfinder to make the picture more interesting.

Using a wide angle would have shown how few people were actually there.

The news media has a way of distorting reality in case you didn’t know this.

Was that dishonest? I was making the best picture I could of what I found.

One picture plastered on the cover can give a story strange life of its own propelling it into the consciousness of many who just gets a glimpse of it for a few seconds.

Showing Off

I’m as human as the next guy.

Thankfully, this phase didn’t last long for me.

Not too long after I became a staff photographer, I could be seen heading to a press conference with a 300 mm f2.8.

In case I’m losing some of you, the typical press conference or dog-and-pony show  is the most contrived, staged news event that a newspaper photographer will ever do.

Showing up with a long telephoto lens when you don’t need to is just showing off–nothing else.

You guessed it, its primary purpose is to show off. But it can backfire if you tote one of these lenses in the wrong neighborhood.

More than one guy and, more than once I might add, have I been told that “Hey, your lens can feed my family of 5 for a long time, know what I mean?”

The trouble with an intelligent audience is this: some of you reading this might say I’m not over this showing-off phase, that’s why I have this blog.

Actually as much as I sound like I know what I’m talking about, I am still humbled by pictures that my students turn  at times. I have my days when I wonder what gives me the chutzpah to stand in front of a group of impressionable students and teach.


It’s great to experiment and try different things because this is an art form.

I mention this phase last because it really isn’t one any photographer should outgrow.

Without experimentation, photography will stagnate.

In order to continue to grow, you have to keep up with some of the  techniques.

Granted, some are too cheesy to even mention while other are trendy.

Cheesy to one person can be “high art” to others. We can debate this till the cows come home.

Examples that come to mind are the filters in Photoshop like Lens Flare.

Or the use of the Lens Baby.

I applaud the makers of that piece of attachment.

They’ve managed to come up with a hot seller but really how often can you use that?

In the end, despite the sepia tone, motion blur filters and effects and looks, a photograph still needs to communicate a message(literally and figuratively) and no amount of tilting the camera intentionally to skew the horizon can make a bad picture good.

There you have it, my different phases. So now that I’m an old geezer has-been, it’s your turn to share your phases.

4 thoughts on “My Phases of Photography Part 2”

  1. You’ve already heard my spiel about photogs fondling equipment so won’t comment on the ‘showing off’ mistake.
    Most professional photo contests seem to bring glory to the newspaper, not the photographer.
    Other photo contests are basically stealing your photo.
    Your BlackStar rising column has a comment from Greg Raaum about Twitter. I found it very interesting.

  2. Every time I reach for my camera I can still hear your voice saying, “FILL THE FRAME.” I have joined a none for profit photography group to continue my photography education. It is called Portraits for Humanity you can find it at I have found so much joy and creativity from your teaching in that little classroom at RCC Rubidox annex.

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