Saturday, March 26, 2011

Keeping an open mind

Kelley's Pond Kayaker - Cape Cod, Massachusetts
© Melissa Milligan Photography

You know, when I look at this photo I see a lot of things - a calm pond, trees, houses, and a kayaker.  But I also see what could have been a missed opportunity.

This is Kelley's Pond, on Cape Cod. It's right down the street from where my family summered for over 50 years.  When I took this photo it was early fall, and I was so pleased that the crowds had finally thinned out and I could get this photo with no people in it to "ruin" it.

As I was setting up my tripod and camera, I noticed a truck drive up, park, and a man in his late 40s step out and begin to remove his kayak from the truck's bed. "Oh no," I thought.  "Just what I need. Someone to ruin my shot."

As he approached me to get to the pond, he started up a conversation.  "Oh no," I thought again.  "Just what I need.  A talkative person who'll ruin my shot and waste my time."

I could not have been more wrong.

As it turned out, we had a wonderful conversation.  He was a very interesting guy, and I was surprised to find out, knew my family - having chummed around with my brother when they both in their teens.  He was devastated to learn of my brother's death not long before, and we shared some great memories and funny stories of him.

We talked for probably half an hour before wrapping up our conversation with something akin to "happy kayaking," and "happy shooting."  And as he got in his kayak and started to paddle away, I grabbed this shot. I stayed for another hour or more so that I could get more shots without him in it, because I was still sure they'd be the 'picks'.

When I got the slides back (this was just before digital SLRs were becoming available), I set them up on my light table and looked through my loupe at each one.  I was astonished to find that every one of them without the kayaker was nice, but was missing something.  The ones with with the kayaker were much more interesting and practically jumped off the light table.

So now when I look at this photo, I still see a calm pond, trees, houses, and a kayaker.  But I also see how very lucky I was that I and the kayaker happened to be at the same place at the same time.

Photography and life lesson learned: keep an open mind.  You never know what will end up working out.  It's often not what you imagine.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The big hill that might as well have been a mountain

© Melissa Milligan Photography

I still laugh when I look at this photo, though not for the obvious reason.  This is Clifford's Tower in York, England. I took the photo while in Europe and the UK, during the summer of 1991. 

Having once been a travel agent, I used those crackerjack skills to create for myself a month-long whirlwind tour of the UK the likes of which hadn't been seen since "If it's Tuesday, this Must be Belgium."  In my case, I was sadly lacking a young Ian McShane to accompany me.  I travelled solo.

As is the case with most whirlwind tours, some places got glossed over, sped up, or were left unresearched prior to arrival.  Clifford's Tower was one such place.

I remember walking towards it trying desperately to talk myself out of my unrealistic fear of hills (second only to my fear of heights.)  So, I grabbed my camera bag and made it about ten steps up the hill before deciding that photos from the ground would do just fine. 

Once I finished shooting, I crossed the road and took a boat tour that required no hill climbing whatsoever.  It was a lovely ride, but all the while I marvelled at the staggering number of people on the top of the tower that managed to climb that hill.  How on earth did they do it?

Years later I was watching a television show about York, and there was the tower looking just as I left it.  And what did I see to my astonishment?  Stairs.  On either side of the hill just out of sight. The cameraman did what I did not - he walked around the hill.  Had I done the same I'd have seen those stairs, climbed them and the tower, and undoubtedly gotten some really lovely photos.

Photography lesson learned: look at your subject from all sides because if you don't, you could be missing something great.

Life lesson learned: try thinking.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

What's with the watermarks?

A lot of people don't like watermarks. To them, they're just a way of saying to anyone viewing your photo "I don't trust you."  While I can certainly appreciate and understand this viewpoint, watermarks do a few very useful things: 

  1. First, they tell you who owns the rights to the photo (typically the photographer.)  So that's a nice bit of extra advertising, which most of us starving artists need.
  2. Second, watermarks prevent overt theft from people who try to pass on others' work as their own and get paid for it (through licensing, prints, stock, etc.)
  3. Third, watermarks prevent unintentional copyright infringement. Who hasn't looked at a nice photo and said "that'd look great on my blog." (or webpage, social networking page, etc.)  While that person didn't intend to steal, someone else viewing their page might have.  And once it's in their hands, there's no way of telling where the photo will go or who might be reprinting it or selling it.  
Some photographers are happy to let you use one of unwatermarked photos as long as you credit the work (typically captioned under the photo) and get prior written permission (usually email suffices.)  And you must honor the agreed usage - if you have a blog and someone gives you permission to use their photo only on that blog, don't put it on your website, too afterward - unless you ask and get permission again.   

So, the bottom line is, while we photographers trust most people, we do have to protect our photos.  As someone I know says "you gotta keep the honest people honest." 

So that's a little watermark 101.  Fascinating, eh?

Like trying to get a cat into a running washing machine...

That pretty much describes my years-long resistance to blogging.  But, I've overcome it, and the blog is now in the works!  Since I'm still in the learning stage, the content may be a little thin for a bit, but once I get everything looking the way I want it to, I will no doubt be a diligent blogger.  I'm actually looking forward to it. Who woulda thunk it?