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Update on the November India workshop

You will not want to miss this exciting trip to India where we will be exploring culturally rich and colorful neighborhoods and cities across Northwest India.

On May 30th I wrote a post about an a November workshop in India and I wanted to let you know we have finalized a price and the travel details, which you can find at The Flat Planet Travel.

Also, I am excited to announce that BlackRapid and Thinktank Photo have agreed to give free gear to all the participants, which is awesome because these guys make killer gear!

We are only taking 12 participants so if you are wanting to go on this trip don’t waste time in signing up!

Happy shooting!

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Guest Post: Gary Dowd on excellence in our craft

Gary Dowd is Humanitarian Photographer, Producer, Writer, Creative Director and Photojournalist extraordinaire!

Anyone who knows me knows I love networking almost as much as I love photography. One of the latest folks I have connected up with is an excellent photographer and multi-media producer named Gary Dowd.  We have had great discussions about how photography and visual storytelling is changing and more. We are even working on planning some future workshops together which I am excited about.

As I got to know Gary I asked him to guest blog on something he was really passionate which he has been kind enough to do. I know you are going to enjoy his thoughtful ideas here on excellence in our craft. Enjoy!

My 1967 Triumph Bonneville 650 was very “customized”, a nice way of saying it was a patchwork of parts all put together.

This was my 1967 Triumph Bonneville 650. I loved that motorcycle. Riding it, I felt like I was a part of a grand history and tradition. Actors Steve McQueen and James Dean were synonymous with Triumph motorcycles and to me, the British motorcycle was the standard of mechanical excellence.

Looking back, I’m probably very lucky I survived owning that bike. It was very “customized” – a nice way of saying it had parts from this, parts from that – and not all were designed to play nice together. The Triumph I rode was no longer an example of excellence – but it wasn’t until years later that realized it. It was a make-do attempt and at best, a mediocre one at that.

Mediocrity in any given area or discipline can masquerade as excellence. It happens all the time. Sometimes it’s intentional; sometimes it’s a lack of knowledge. Either way, only until we understand context and gain knowledge can we then recognize the difference between the two. And that is the crux or point of a decision we have to make; accept mediocrity and settle for less than our best effort – or reject it and strive for excellence.

As visual storytellers we must learn to differentiate between mediocre and excellent images if we are to tell visually and emotionally compelling stories.

As I look back at my early efforts in photography and video, I see a lot or work that would be a stretch to even call mediocre. But as I’ve grown in my understanding and experience, so has my understanding of what excellence should look like. Now I simply can’t be satisfied with anything that is less than my very best effort. If I don’t consider it to be excellent, then how can I expect anyone else to?

Now, let me take a moment to clarify one thing; I do think there is latitude for personal interpretation of what excellence is, especially in the creative arts. One man’s creative excellence may be misunderstood or misinterpreted by others. This isn’t the excellence I’m referring to. I think most would agree that in photography, video, and other creative mediums, there are standards and best practices that help us define excellence.

So why is mediocrity tolerated in our chosen and beloved craft, or anywhere else for that matter? As the poster says, “It takes a lot less time and people won’t notice the difference.” As a choice, mediocrity is characterized by a complete lack of self-criticism. Sometimes, lack of self-criticism is simply born of laziness. My advice? Run away as fast as you can.

Unintentional mediocrity is different. In scientific terms, it’s the “bell curve principal” at work. Darwin’s cousin, Sir Francis Galton, called it “The Supreme Law of Unreason”. Simply stated, if you take a sample of 100 random people and measure anything – height, weight, blood pressure, IQ, for ex., the majority will fall towards the mean, or middle, with a few individuals clearly above or below the norm. Simply put, I think that the majority of people simply don’t know any better. Which also means that they can learn.

So where’s am I going with all this? As the cost of technology has decreased, more and more people have access to some pretty sophisticated equipment. Now, almost anyone has access to hardware and software that only a few years ago was available to a chosen few – typically ones who studied and practiced to become masters of their craft. Today, if you want to believe all the ad hype, anyone can be a master if he or she has the right tool. Technically speaking, that can be true – to a point.

We must not forget that while equipment can help us achieve excellence in communicating our vision, simply having expensive equipment doesn’t mean we will be excellent.

It used to be that one studied and practiced to master one’s craft. There is a process of learning and application that cannot be circumvented. It may be shortened or altered by technology, but it cannot be avoided if one is achieve excellence. In order to master something to the point of excellence, we must go through what I call “The Steps of Awareness”, and it’s truly a lifelong, dynamic process. The learning curve never stops for the one who is committed to achieving excellence.

So, what can you do about it? The good news is that it’s not rocket science.

First, be critically honest about your work. Learn by studying the excellent work of others and choose to strive for excellence in your own work. Don’t be afraid to fail – but be willing to learn from your failure. Pursue what you love and practice, practice, practice intensely. Seek expert feedback on your work (that can be a hard one). Become a crusader for excellence. Stand up and don’t be afraid to say “it ain’t good enough, it can be better”. Say it to yourself. Say it to others, especially your clients. Say it loud and often.

Craft and Vision offer great resources that can help you pursue excellence in your photography and storytelling.

A good friend (and one of my favorite photographers), David duChemin, has published a wonderful series of ebooks under the title Craft and Vision. They’re fresh, with lot’s of info, exercises, and knowledge and they’re super affordable. If you haven’t already, I’d highly recommend adding these to your own resource library.

I think you’ll find it incredibly exciting to discover that you’re capable of getting far better at your craft than you ever imagined.


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One belated BlackRapid DR-1 strap giveaway coming up….right now!

The DR-1 Double Strap is a killer two-camera strap I use constantly!

On May 26th I reviewed the DR-1 Double Strap, a killer camera strapped I used on my recent trip to Ethiopia. As part of my review, my friends and sponsor, BlackRapid, agreed to give away one of these straps to one random (and lucky!) winner.

I was supposed to announce the winner on Friday but I totally spaced it! I have been traveling a lot and sometimes when I am on the road I seem to lose track of space and time, which was what happened to me last week.

Anyway, a winner has been chosen at random and the winner is (drum roll please)…..Tim Cowley! I am confident Tim will love this strap as much as I do if not more!

I want to say thanks again to my friends at BlackRapid for not only making amazing photography gear but also being willing to be bless my readers with free gear every once in a while!


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The DR-1 Double Strap: A review and giveaway

The DR-1 Double Strap from my friends and sponsor BlackRapid is an incredible option for photographers shooting with two cameras.

Last month I spent three weeks trekking volcanoes, riding in African buses, and shooting portraits and humanitarian images in Ethiopia and there was rarely a second when I was not wearing my DR-1 Double Strap. While I already knew that Blackrapid made the best straps on the planet, this trip just made even more convinced!

I love the comfort and convenient access the DR-1 Double Strap gives me to my cameras at all times.

I love the DR-1 for many reasons but what clearly sets this strap apart in my mind is how comfortable and convenient it is to wear and adjust. No matter how I was positioned or what I was shooting on this last trip, the DR-1 was just so comfortable and made it so easy to quickly access my cameras.

It took me a few minutes initially to figure out how to adjust the straps and how to turn the DR-1 into a one-camera sling. However, once I got used to how things worked I had no trouble at all quickly making adjustments to how the straps hung or sat, even with it on. For more great images of how the strap sits and is configured, check out the great review by my friend and fellow photographer Brian Hirschy.

The fasteners and carabiners BlackRapid uses stay tightly connected to your cameras so you can carry them with peace of mind.

Beyond the amazing comfort and convenience, I love how the way the DR-1 connects to my cameras. I would be lying if I didn’t say that the first couple times I didn’t keep checking the fasteners and carabiners every two seconds just to make sure they were tight. However, after hours and hours of carrying my cameras with this strap, and never once having an issue with the fasteners loosening, I rarely check now.

Some people might have a tough time with the price, but not me. This strap is worth its weight in gold!

As for the cons, I have to be completely honest and say I can’t really think of any. There are things that take some getting used to when you first get this strap but that is true of everything new. After having used so many straps over the years, even cheaper knock-offs trying to be the DR-1, I am just impressed and have a hard time finding things to improve.

I know for some the list price of $129.95 may be a stumbling block, but let me assure you it will be the best $129.95 you ever spend on a strap. If you still aren’t convinced or simply can’t stop drinking Starbucks long enough to say up the money, then leave a comment on my blog and you may just be the lucky winner who scores the one DR-1 Double Strap that our friends at BlackRapid have agreed to give the readers of my blog!

I promise if you are the lucky winner, once you put this strap on and carry your cameras you will never want to take it off and you will never have a bad day again. (ok, maybe that’s taking it too far, but I still don’t think you will want to use another strap again!)

I will be traveling for the next week and am planning to announce who the one lucky winner is next Friday so make sure to get on leave a comment!

Happy commenting!


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Can’t miss offers for May from Thinktank Photo!

When you order a rolling camera bag from the Airport Series between now and May 31, 2012 you receive an Artificial Intelligence™ 15inch V2.0 or Artificial Intelligence™ 17inch V2.0 laptop bag!

I know we are already fully into May now but I wanted to clue you into an amazing deal from the awesome folks at Think Thank Photo. The deal is this: Order their Airport Security V2.0, Airport International V2.0, Airport Airstream, or Airport TakeOff rolling camera bags before May 31, 2012 and you will receive one of their Artificial Intelligence V2.0 laptop sleeves for free This is a $59 value.

These bags are widely considered the best designed and most durable bags in the industry. All of the rollers share three levels of security (TSA approved combination locks, front laptop cable and lock, and back cable and lock for securing entire bag to fixed object).  They employ the highest grade materials, including all fabric exterior treated with DWR (underside fabric underside is coated with PU for superior water resistance), 1680D ballistic nylon, abrasion resistant YKK® RC Fuse zippers, custom designed extra tall skid plates, replaceable in-line skate wheels, antique nickel-plated metal hardware, nylon webbing,  and 3-ply bonded nylon thread.

The Airport takeoff is just one of the sweet bags that are part of this month’s offer from Thinktank Photo!

Another thing I love is that these bags are made to fit international carry-on standards which means we can actually keep our gear with us instead of handing them over to someone else who doesn’t care about our stuff nearly as much as we do!

Finally, I love that all of this awesome gear is covered by Thinktank Photo’s “No Rhetoric Warranty”, and great customer service. If you are looking to buy a roller before you head out this summer, this is a great time to do so!


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Another great offer from Thinktank Photo

I absolutely love my Thinktank photo gear which is why I cannot help but let people know every time they are having a killer deal like this one. Here is the scoop, when you buy either the StreetWalker® Pro or StreetWalker® HardDrive before April 30, 2012, you will receive a padded Pro Speed Belt™ for free!

I have carried the Streetwalker Pro around India full of gear and let me tell you the Pro Speed Belt makes the StreetWalker backpacks even more comfortable and provides greater support for the weight on your back. This padded belt also allows you to attach Think Tank’s modular bags which makes it easier to have quick access to your lenses or accessories.

Here is a little bit about the Streetwalker Pro and Streetwalker HardDrive so you  can decide which one would best fit your photographic pursuits:

StreetWalker Pro – Holds most 400 f2.8 lenses with a pro size DSLR camera body attached or a pro size DSLR and 70-200 2.8 attached.  Lens hood can also remain attached in shooting position.  Bottom front pocket can be used to carry a tripod or monopod.  A pop out tripod cup is built-in for carrying a larger tripod.   Removable seam-sealed rain cover included. Click here to order the Streetwalker Pro.


StreetWalker Harddrive – Holds most 15” laptops.   Carry a pro size DSLR and 70-200 2.8 attached with hood in position or a Nikon 400 f2.8 attached to a pro size DSLR body.  Bottom front pocket can be used to carry a tripod or monopod.  A pop out tripod cup is built-in for carrying a larger tripod.  Removable seam-sealed rain cover included. Click here to order the Streetwalker Harddrive.

I would love to hear which one you land on and how you are using it in your photographic pursuits!


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Guest post: Craig Ferguson

The last couple of weeks have been crazy! I am preparing for a trip to Ethiopia on April 16th, which has meant updates on immunizations, getting gear ready and doing research. I have also done some work for a local NGO called Peace of Thread, which I will be telling you more about soon.

Peace of Thread is a local NGO in Atlanta that employes refugee women from around the world.

Craig Ferguson is an outstanding travel photographer based in Taiwan. You can see his work at http://www.craigfergusonimages.com/

Today, I wanted to share this guest post from Craig Ferguson, who is an outstanding freelance travel photographer based in Taiwan. Enjoy!

What Matters Most

Consider for a moment the two magazine covers below. The Taiwan Review cover is a current issue and the Centered on Taipei dates from summer 2011.

Obviously they are of different subjects but they were also shot with very different cameras. Despite both having been published within the last 8-9 months, one was shot on a Canon 5D Mark II and the other on my very first DSLR, a Canon 20D. Can you tell which photograph was taken with which camera?

Can you tell which of these images was shot with a Canon 5D Mark II and which one was shot with a Canon 20D?

The photography world has been buzzing over the past couple of months with the announcements and releases of new DSLR’s from Canon and Nikon as well as Fuji’s new mirrorless X-Pro 1. There are probably a few other recent introductions as well.

And all of that is great. If you’re in the market for a new camera then having all these options gives you more power as a consumer. How do you know if you’re in the market though? Is it simply because a new tool is available? Or because you have just finished paying off your credit card from your last camera purchase?

Do you even need to upgrade your current gear? Any DSLR camera that has come to market in the past few years is so good and so highly evolved that for the majority of users, you can use it until it breaks and not miss out on anything. Sure, shooting clean images at ISO 12800 is great but how often do you really need to do that?

Neidong Falls, Taiwan

Before you fork out a large amount of money for the latest and greatest, ask yourself if it’ll make you a better photographer? Will owning a camera with all the bells and whistles help you improve any? Will your images be stronger as a result? Consider the new Canon 5D Mark III. It’s available at B&H now for $3499. No doubt about it, it’s a great camera. If you buy one, you are unlikely to be disappointed. $3499 is a fair chunk of change though. Will buying one help make you a better photographer? Is there a better way to spend that $3499?

Instead of spending all that money on a 5D Mark III, why not consider a 5D Mark II? They are going for a little over $2000 right now. That leaves you $1500 or so to invest in your photography skills. Looking around the web today I see that Joe McNally is leading a 4 day National Geographic small group workshop in New York in June for $1395. Will a four-day workshop with one of the world’s leading photographers help you improve your photography more or less than buying the latest body? Which do you think will be best in helping you create your own great photographs?

Ultimately, what matters most is the image. How you get there or what tools you use to do so have lesser importance than whether the photograph at the end of the process says what you want it to say. A great photographer can make compelling images with even the simplest and most basic of tools. If you desire to become a great photographer then you’re going to be involved in a lifelong learning process for which there are no shortcuts. A 36 megapixel camera may allow you to create gigantic prints but if you’re like the vast majority of photographers, your images are destined for Facebook or an 8 x 12 on your living room wall, not an advertising billboard.

The seven photographs here have been shot with seven different cameras (Canon 5D Mark II, 5D, 40D, 20D EOS 300 with Kodak 800 and HTC Android Desire) . They all represent my vision and intent at the time of photographing each one. At no time did I feel let down by the tools I had at hand. All the matters to me, and hopefully to you, is what that final image looks like. If it represents what I aim to portray, then the photograph is a success. Equipment and tools are nice but at no point do they replace vision, learning, practice and skill.