Sunsets are often underexposed when shooting in Aperture Priority exposure setting.

Aperture Priority–The Auto Exposure For Photographers

Text and Photography by Chuck Place

I almost always have my camera set to “Manual” exposure. I admit it. I’m a “Manual” snob. Taking full control of my camera’s shutter speed and aperture, or f-stop, gives me perfect exposures no matter the subject or the lighting.

Making the leap from “Program”, where the camera makes all the exposure decisions, to full “Manual”, where the photographer is in charge, is a big step however. Let’s face it, “M”, or “Manual”, can be rather intimidating.

Are all the auto-exposure settings a waste of time? No, of course not, but one is better than the others.

Back lighting for Aperture Priority exposure of sailboarding

Back lighting of sailboarder in Aperture Priority exposure can be tricky.

Let’s break down exposure. Assuming a proper exposure is the final result, shutter speed usually just needs to be fast enough to produce a sharp subject. Whether 1/500, 1/1000 or 1/2000—they all will look the same, assuming you aren’t photographing a hummingbird. Shutter speed is generally used to freeze motion—and give you a proper exposure, of course.

Set Aperture Priority exposure for great depth of field in landscapes

Set Aperture Priority exposure for great depth of field in landscapes

Aperture settings, or the f-stop, also control exposure, but determine depth of field in an image as well. Depth of field, or how much of the image in front of and behind the plane of focus is sharp, is one of the most powerful tools in photography. Changing from great depth of field to very shallow depth of field completely changes how a viewer “reads” your photograph. The storyline of an image changes dramatically with a change in depth of field.

Aperture Priority works well for dusk images

Aperture Priority works well for dusk images but a tripod may be necessary for the long exposures.

Aperture, or f-stop, is the exposure setting that a photographer must control absolutely!

Conveniently, there is an auto-exposure setting on most cameras that allows a photographer to set the proper depth of field while the camera picks the appropriate shutter speed for a correct exposure—“A” or “Aperture Priority”.

Photographing people often requires shallow depth of field to separate the subject from the background.

Photographing people often requires shallow depth of field to separate the subject from the background.

If you want to separate your subject from the background of an image, set your aperture, or f-stop, to a wide opening of f2.8 to f5.6 for a shallow depth of field. Conversely, if the background or environment is as important as the subject, pick an f-stop that creates greater depth of field, say f16 or f22. The photographer must make the decision on how much depth of field is appropriate, then the camera picks the shutter speed to create a proper exposure.

Aperture Priority for travel subjects

The Aperture Priority exposure setting is perfect for travel photography under changing light.

“Aperture Priority” is especially useful in situations where the lighting changes quickly, like sports, weddings, travel, concerts and street photography. It’s fast and eliminates half the work of “Manual” exposure.

Is it foolproof? Well, no.

Pick shallow depth of field for food shots using Aperture Priority exposure settings

Pick shallow depth of field for food shots using Aperture Priority exposure settings

Your camera may still underexpose sunsets like the one above, light-colored buildings and backlit subjects just like it did on “P”. Much of the time, however, the exposures will be great and each image will have the depth of field that you want, rather than what the camera “thinks” is correct.

Even in the tricky lighting environments listed above, the exposure will be close and can be corrected in post-production. Not that I advocate fixing everything in post—quite the opposite—but the “A” exposure setting makes setting exposure relatively fast and painless. Take control but make it easy. Shoot in Aperture Priority and relax!


Photo Capture–Only Half The Battle

Text and Photography by Chuck Place

Today’s photography software is amazing, especially post-production software like Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Lightroom. Capturing an image is now only the first step in producing a finished photograph. How an image is processed can either emphasize what was obvious in the original capture or change it completely.

Standard processing of the original RAW file

Standard processing of the original RAW file

Ironically, we have traveled a long way to end up with a process similar to long-established black & white darkroom printing techniques. Change the contrast and exposure—no problem. Dodge and burn selective areas of an image—done and done. Now we have even greater control and we can manipulate color at both the global and localized level as well. All this processing power can be daunting and I have found that if I can pre-visualize the final image during capture, post-production goes quite smoothly.

That’s right, I shoot specifically for post-production.

Processing RAW file for an edgy look with Lightroom settings visible

Processing RAW file for an edgy look with Lightroom settings visible

The image above illustrates this process. This fitness studio caters to a certain age range of clients and the windows look out on a parking lot. The model was lit with a large softbox but I allowed the view out the window to over expose. The soft light was flattering to my subject and the blown out windows produced a high key feel to the setting while hiding all the cars.

Using my standard Develop settings in Lightroom, Clarity at 25 and Vibrance at 35, the image turned out as my client and I expected. Wanting to give my client some choices, I also processed this image with an edgier look, setting Clarity to 100 and Vibrance to -55. This look appeals to a younger audience. See the screen shot above.

Processing for normal black & white using Lightroom b&W preset

Processing for normal black & white using Lightroom b&W preset

We could have gone with a basic black & white look as well, or even a high key black & white treatment. Lightroom has a set of black & white presets and you can then alter those settings as your vision dictates.

Processing a high-key black & white image using a Lightroom preset as a starting point

Processing a high-key black & white image using a Lightroom preset as a starting point

One of the brilliant aspects of Lightroom is that it is a non-destructive software. For each unique version you create from a single image, Lightroom merely creates a low-res preview file. The original is never altered. Only when you export a file is a whole new derivative file created. Every version of your original image is saved as a text file that records the processing steps, saving tons of disk space. Brilliant!

How do you learn to pre-visualize a certain look that you create in post-production? Well, you have to play with images in Lightroom. Have fun trying out different slider combinations. Find a look that speaks to you and works well with the subjects you like to photograph.

I even have different Lightroom settings depending on whether the original RAW file comes from my Canon cameras or my DJI drone.

Remember, if you haven’t begun to master post-production, you are only working with half the available photography tools out there. If you want to get a better feel for what is possible using Lightroom, look into my Santa Barbara City College Non-Credit Class “Digital Cameras Digital Photos” or Bruce Burkhardt’s SBCC Non-Credit Class “Adobe Lightroom Essentials”. I guarantee you will not be disappointed.


Sanctity Encaustic wax on a photographic print

Get Creative With Alternative Photographic Processes

Text and Photography by Joyce Wilson,

I read something rather strange recently, and I could certainly relate.  It has been discovered that time actually moves faster the older we get. I’m considered an elder so I can testify to this as a reality.  I promised to write an article every other month for this blog post. My last post was December 2018 and I’m shocked that it is now May, 2019.  Time flies when you’re having fun and I’m always having fun, photographing, making art, sharing life with loved ones and sharing my LOVE of photography and art with eager students.

Cascade Black & white image painted with tinted wax.

Cascade Begin with black and white image and paint with beeswax to achieve the color image. Each image becomes one of a kind and unique.

I still embrace the straight photographic image, but I’m always looking for a way to go beyond the ordinary and create personal work with the mark of an artist.

Modern technology blended with the techniques passed down through centuries gives us a powerful tool for experimentation and creating art, and one such tool is encaustic wax.

Enkaustikos – The word means “to burn in’.  Three thousand years ago, a few enterprising Greek shipbuilders discovered a new use for the beeswax they used to caulk hulls.  By adding pigments for color and resin for hardness, they created a painting medium with an unmatched depth and luminosity.  Before long, encaustic art could be found everywhere, from painted ships to depictions of everyday life on urns.

Adornment Wax painted over black & white print

Adornment Image above was heavily painted with wax and wax was dripped over the surface to create the layered appearance over face and throughout the figure.

A thousand years after the Greeks discovered it, painters in Egypt resurrected the medium, crafting exquisite portraits to decorate the mummies of their patrons. The modern resurgence of encaustic began in the 20thcentury.  Mexican muralist Diego Rivera began painting with the medium in the 1920’s and in the 1950’s artist Jasper Johns further popularized its use. In the 1990’s encaustic became a process for fine art photographers to set their work apart and it’s an exciting and fascinating medium.

There are two methods to work with wax and images on paper.

One method is to work directly on the paper without a support and apply the wax in thin coats.  The initial coat can be applied with the print placed on a hot griddle, and using a wide brush, apply the melted wax evenly across the print.  After this first coat has settled, wax with color pigment added can be brushed randomly for effect.

Phoenix Black & white print

Phoenix Black & white print

The other method is to glue the photograph to a birch board using Elmer’s glue or an archival book binding glue.  This method allows the hot wax to be poured over the image, or brushed on to build up a heavier layer with texture.  This is a simple explanation of a process that takes about 8-10 steps to complete.

The equipment involved is relatively inexpensive and there is no need for a photographic darkroom.

Phoenix Black & white print painted with pigmented encaustic wax

Phoenix Black & white print painted with pigmented encaustic wax

I had the pleasure of visiting MOMA in San Francisco in April and was blown away with the exhibition “German Art After 1960”.  I have been a long time fan of Gerhard Richter and Anselm Kiefer.  Both artists use photography in various techniques combined with metal, oil paint, and collage.  The images were stunning, and a great topic for the next blog…Inspiration vs. Imitation.

In the meantime, keep that camera focused and if you are ready for new adventures, join me in an upcoming workshop, or sign up for one of the Ernie Brooks Foundation Workshops and keep taking the classes offered through Santa Barbara City College.

Contact:   Joyce Wilson – jw@joycewilson.com  805-682-2955  joycewilson.com

 

June 27, 28, 29, 30     Imagine…a workshop beyond the ordinary

July 27, 28, 29             Kozo Paper, Gold/Silver Leaf and Resin with Photographs

August 10                    EBF Workshop – Alternative Photography Techniques

August 24, 25              Encaustic Wax with Photographs

 

KNOWLEDGE IS POWER


Portrait of Hostess at a Winery Tasting Room

Directing Your Models–A Photographer’s Guide

Text and Photography by Chuck Place

On a recent Saturday, my workshop students and I spent the morning photographing produce, vendors and street musicians at the Santa Barbara Farmers Market. I had found a vendor with an interesting face, nice display and a farm banner that hid their truck. I asked if I could photograph him and he looked at me for a moment and then said “Since you asked, yes”.

Give your subject something to do with their hands.

Give your subject something to do with their hands.

He immediately squared his shoulders, dropped his hands to his sides and stared at the camera. Where I had started with an animated vendor, I now had a ridged statue. This happens more often than not when I ask to photograph someone and it’s my job to turn them back into a living, breathing, engaged individual.

When photographing people, there is a check list in my head that I usually follow.

First, is the subject in the best light for a portrait?

Although this changes depending on what I want to say about the person or their job, I usually want diffused, horizontal light. Maybe I need to move them to a better location within their environment. Maybe they need to be turned slightly or moved only a foot. Don’t be shy about asking. This helps establish your authority on the shoot and their trust in you will quickly grow, especially if you explain why they will look better in the new position.

Find the best light within your set for a portrait.

Find the best light within your set for a portrait.

Second, and equally important, do they have any mannerisms I can use?

Do they use their hands when they talk? Do they smile easily? Is there something unique in their mannerisms that I can incorporate into the image?

Watch for small mannerisms

Watch for small mannerisms that you can use during posing.

Third, give your subject something to do with their hands.

Give them something to hold, something to move, something to pour. Make sure it is something they would normally do so it feels familiar. Give a subject something to do with their hands and they will visibly relax in front of your camera. It’s an easy fix.

Give your model something to hold.

Give your model something to hold. Be careful, of course, about what you give them.

Remember, photographing a model is a partnership between yourself and your subject. There has to be trust and respect and you only have 5 to 10 seconds to establish that trust. Show interest in the person and what they do. By showing interest in the individual, you encourage them to be themself, not just a photo target.

It sounds daunting, but each time you photograph a stranger, it becomes easier.

Some portraits are as much about the job they do as it is the individual.

Some portraits are as much about the job they do as it is the individual.

Get the technical stuff worked out before you approach your subject. Give your model a role to play. Become the director. Careful! You may start to enjoy this.

For more on photographing people, see our blog post  “The Shy Photographer’s Guide To Putting Subjects At Ease”


medium altitude aerial of coastal sunset

Drone Photography–It’s All About Altitude

Text and Photography by Chuck Place

Often I am asked if composing a photograph with a drone is the same as creating an image at ground level. It is similar, of course, but being able to make large adjustments to the altitude of a camera adds a whole new dimension to the process.

Low altitude aerial of Knapps Castle at sunrise

Low altitude aerial of Knapps Castle at sunrise

When I am out shooting landscapes, I use a tripod and continually adjust the camera height from 1 foot off the ground up to about 5 feet high. Some times, adjusting the camera up or down just a few inches can have a big impact on a composition.

Low altitude aerial of lake produces better reflections

Low altitude aerial of lake produces better reflections than a higher altitude

Imagine having a tripod that can extend from ground level to 400 feet with infinite adjustments in between. For that matter, any photographer that can carry a 400 foot tripod would be equally impressive.

Welcome to the age of photo drones!

In an earlier post on drone photography, I mentioned that I shoot within three general height brackets—Sky High, Way Up and Tall Photographer—that cover every altitude from 10 feet to 400 feet. Notice I keep stopping at 400 feet above ground level. In the United States, that is the maximum allowable altitude for a drone. Manned aircraft have a minimum altitude of 500–1000 feet. Only a fool, or someone who gives little thought to the safety of others, flies a drone higher than 400 feet above ground level.

Because most entry-level and prosumer drones have built in wide angle lenses, at low altitude, near objects appear larger than the same objects farther away and assume more visual importance, just as if you were shooting at ground level.

Low altitude aerial of windmill and vineyard

Low altitude aerial of windmill and vineyard produces the same wide angle lens effect as at ground level

As your drone climbs higher, everything is at a distance and appears proportional to their actual sizes. Buildings and roads may be revealed that were not visible from ground level. Patterns as well. The monitor on your controller will show you what the drone’s camera actually sees, but the screen is small and the image is not easy to view in strong sunlight. Just like ground-level photography, pre-visualization is critical.

High altitude aerial of coast shows greater range of sea cliffs

High altitude aerial of coast shows greater range of sea cliffs

Pre-visualization is the key to most great photography and working with a camera drone is no different.

Block out the arrangement of components in your head so that the composition feels balanced. Fly your drone to an appropriate position and see how it looks. Usually you will fine-tune your composition by adjusting altitude or position to hide or reveal objects and then adjust your camera angle to control framing. Adjust exposure and shoot away. Then make a big change in your altitude and create a totally different image. That’s the beauty of a drone. You are working with a 10-400 foot tripod. Anything is possible.

Medium altitude aerial shows the pattern of marinas and boats in a harbor

Medium altitude aerial shows the pattern of marinas and boats in a harbor

If you are interested in drone photography, start cheap. Many photographers crash their first drone. Some crash their second and third drones. Learn to fly safely, then learn to shoot with a drone. It’s a great tool, but it can be tricky.

Future drone posts will examine camera angle and lighting direction. Check out our earlier drone post at https://santabarbaraphotographicworkshops.wordpress.com/2018/10/17/aerial-drone-photography-capturing-the-view-from-above/.

Stay safe out there.


bowl of summer strawberries photographed from above

The 4 Piece Photo Challenge

Text and Images by Chuck Place

It’s raining outside, you can’t go out and play and you’re developing cabin fever. What to do? Assign yourself the 4 Piece Photo Challenge! Sounds silly, I admit, but it’s a great tool for building up your photographic creativity.

The Photo Challenge works like this.

Pick out 4 objects or sets of objects in your home and use these to create interesting still life images. This is an exercise that I find often results in portfolio-quality photographs.

Let’s walk through the steps of an actual shoot–the strawberries at the top of this post. Item 1 was a basket of fresh strawberries. Item 2 was a bowl of complimentary color from my kitchen. Item 3 is an antique fork, also from my kitchen, and item 4 is a napkin. You can probably guess where I found that. The surface is a piece of slate I found at a stone yard. It was cheap but it weighs a ton. I think the guy discounted the price just to see if I could pick it up.

Photographs from directly above

Photographs from directly above produces a more graphic image

Food photography is one of my main specialties, so I tend to create food still lives with a slightly modern feel. Anything will work for this Challenge however—cut flowers, old glassware, your baseball trading card collection, Pez dispensers—anything. A few support items, in this case a bowl, fork and napkin, and any surface that works with your main subject and you’re in business.

Essentially you are creating a photo set.

For lighting, I like window light. It’s soft, directional and I can manipulate it quite a bit. Pick a window with indirect light flowing through it. There should be no direct sunlight passing through the window. This should give you soft edged shadows and large highlights.

Photographing strawberries at a low angle

Photographing strawberries at a low angle produces an intimate viewpoint

If you want darker shadows, move your set farther from the window or place a black sheet of matt board or foam core board on the room side of your set to block any ambient fill from the room. If you want lighter shadows, move your set closer to the window or add a white board to the room side of the set to provide fill light.

The shooting angle will also have a big impact on the success of your final image.

Placing your camera directly above a set creates a rather graphic look to the image while shooting from a lower angle, say 45 degrees, produces more intimate visual. In either case, make sure you are getting good highlights on reflective surfaces.

Change some props and the surface

Change some props and the surface to create a new set of photographs

If you want to push yourself a little, change a couple props and create a new set of images.

In any case, drop a sheet of white paper in the very first exposure and then remove it for the rest of the shoot.  This gives you a target so you can neutralize the usually cool light from the window in post-production.

These are basically composition exercises, but I always try to imbed a storyline into each still life. The top image has the feel of a warm spring day eating the first strawberries of the season. It’s challenging but also lots of fun. And no matter how my images turn out, I get to eat some of the props. I’ll have to start shooting desserts.


Location photography workshop Spring 2019.

Join A Location Photography Workshop In Spring 2019

Join professional magazine photographer Chuck Place for 5 fun location photo shoots on consecutive Saturday mornings starting March 23 in the Santa Ynez Valley wine country and Santa Barbara area. With input from Chuck, fine tune your photographic skills and develop a personal style while exploring towns, locations and events like Los Olivos, Solvang, La Purisima Mission State Historic Park, Figueroa Mountain and the Summer Solstice Parade or the Santa Barbara Harbor and Seafood Festival. 

Each photo shoot will be at a different location, depending on events and season. Get feedback on your images each week from Chuck and your fellow students and learn how a professional photographer approaches various subjects and lighting environments. Class size will be capped at 10 so that Chuck has plenty of time to spend with each student. See Class and Workshop Recommendations.

Tuition is $300. for all five weeks of the workshop payable at least three weeks in advance.

Cancellations two weeks or more before the start date will receive a full refund. Cancellations between one and two weeks before the start date will receive a 50% refund and there will be no refunds for cancellations the week before the start date. For more details, please e-mail Chuck at chuckplace@cox.net.


A level camera creates parallel arches

Great Photography Tool For Leveling Your Camera

Text and Images by Chuck Place

I love my cameras! There, I’ve said it. Neither my Canon 5D MkII or MkIII has ever quit on me. They give me consistent, predictable results. The quality is great and if an image does not resonate well, I know it is not the camera’s fault.

Fall aspen trunks converge with lens tilted slightly up.

Fall aspen trunks converge with lens tilted slightly up.

And once in a while, I discover a function hidden away in the black hole of the Canon “Menus” that I actually need, like a built-in level. Who knew?

Built in camera level

Simulated camera with built in level at the Arlington Theater in Santa Barbara. Level camera side to side and raise and lower lens axis until a green line runs all across viewfinder.

I am shooting more architecture lately and keeping the vertical elements in a scene straight up and down and the horizons level is critical. To achieve this, the lens axis and camera body must be perfectly level to avoid convergence, divergence or tilting horizons.

A leveled camera keeps vertical elements parallel to each other.

A leveled camera keeps vertical elements parallel to each other.

I don’t like a grid in my viewfinder. I find it distracting when I am not shooting architecture. I have been using a bubble level that mounts on the camera’s hotshoe. It’s convenient and cheap, but not super accurate.

Viewfinder grid and bubble level

Viewfinder grid and bubble level for leveling a camera.

While watching a video by Scott Hargis on architecture photography, I almost fell out of my chair when he turned on the camera’s built-in level. Where did that come from? A quick replay showed it was hiding in the “Info” button. I normally use the “Info” button to occasionally check an image histogram, but I have never clicked it without viewing an image.

Even a long lens can be leveled for parallel vertical lines.

Even a long lens can be leveled for parallel vertical lines.

“Hiding in plain sight” is a phrase that comes to mind.

If you are tired of shooting slanting horizons or a landscape where all the aspen trees lean into each other, read the manual and see if your camera has a built-in level. If not, the bubble level works OK and there are always corrections in post-production, but you have to love a tool that is built-in, highly accurate, easy to use and essentially free.

I love my Canon 5D MkIII. Even more now!


Slow panning image of a surfer at sunrise

Photographing The Shape Of Motion With Shutter Drag

Text and Photography by Chuck Place

My commercial photography business is all about creating very sharp images for my clients, but sometimes it’s fun to play with time and motion. Photography is basically the process of capturing light—it’s quality, color and direction. Time, however, can have a big impact on an image. The duration of an exposure, usually controlled by shutter speed, impacts much more than just the exposure. This is where the fun begins.

Most of the time we love fast shutter speeds. They “freeze” the moment. But on the other hand, fast shutter speeds also hide the beauty and grace of movement.

The swirl of a dancer, the sensuous shape of a breaking wave—these are all hidden by a fast shutter speed. Shutter drag, or lengthening your exposure, reveals a whole new world of fluid color and unexpected shapes.

Let’s explore the world of motion blur and see how we can use this technique to create more creative images.

A long exposure blurs some skaters and leaves others sharp

An exposure of 1/4 second blurs some skaters and leaves others sharp

Landscapes or seascapes with moving water are often captured at slow shutter speeds, due to the small aperture necessary for great depth of field. During that long exposure, moving water blurs and softens, contrasting beautifully with the highly detailed environment in which it flows. Very long exposures will even turn waves breaking on a beach into something that looks very much like fog or smoke.

Shooting with your camera mounted on a tripod is critical with this type of image.

Slow shutter speeds blurs traffic in L.A.

Slow shutter speeds blurs traffic in L.A.

This long-exposure approach is effective in any situation that has moving parts—traffic in L.A., a Ferris Wheel at a fair or skaters flying over the ice at a rink. Shutter speed will be used to determine the amount of motion blur you want to include in your image.

Panning produces recognizable team ropers and steer with a soft, blurred background

Panning with a shutter speed of 1/30 second produces recognizable team ropers and steer with a soft, blurred background

Panning is another photographic tool that makes use of shutter drag.

Subjects can be separated from a busy background using a slow shutter speed and panning the camera with your subject. Depending on the motion of your subject, backgrounds can become quite soft while the subject remains surprisingly sharp. This technique is often used in sports and wildlife, but takes practice in order to keep your subject sharp.

My personal favorite use of shutter drag is creating rather abstract images.

Athletes and dancers are some of my favorite subjects for this approach, but almost any subject will work. The trick in making this type of abstract image is to move the camera during exposure in a manner that is out of synch with the subject’s movements, leaving everything blurred to some degree. I usually try to keep the subject recognizable, although sometimes it’s a toss up. That’s the beauty of motion blur. You can make your subject as sharp or as abstract as you like. It just depends on your mood.

Flowers blowing in the breeze produce motion blur

Flowers blowing in the breeze produce motion blur with a shutter speed of 1/10 second

If you are interested in giving shutter drag a try, and who wouldn’t want to try it, give yourself an assignment. Spend an afternoon creating at least one image for each of the three shutter drag scenarios. I think that you will find that at least one of these techniques becomes a favorite. After all, many of us took up photography to see the world differently.

Give it a shot!


1/15 second exposure blurs Navajo Gourd Dancers.

Photographing Native American Powwows: Planning, Etiquette and Tips

Text and Photography by Chuck Place

I could feel the drum beat in my bones, almost like a heart beat.

Native American dancers seemed to float just above the dance floor, red rock canyon walls towering over the dance arena. I was photographing the annual Gallup Inter Tribal Indian Ceremonial and the spectacle of so many dancers gathered together was quite amazing.

A 300mm f2.8 lens separates a Fancy Dancer

A 300mm f2.8 lens separates a Fancy Dancer from the other dancers.

In the Southwest, powwows also include demonstration dances by various Pueblo, Navajo and Apache tribal members in addition to the usual powwow dance categories. There is a lot going on and it isn’t always easy to capture the strength, energy and pride of the dancers in a single still image.

camera panning separates dancers

A slow shutter speed of 1/30 and panning separates a fairly sharp dancer from the other dancers.

Powwows take place all over the U.S. and Canada and a schedule of events can be found at several web sites, including https://www.powwows.com/2018-pow-wow-calendar/. These are often gatherings of many different tribal groups and have become a celebration of Native American culture.

Women's Fancy Shawl Dancers.

A long lens isolates a group of Women’s Fancy Shawl Dancers.

Before we get started, let’s talk first about etiquette at these events.

Not all powwows allow photography. Some allow still photography but not video. Some will allow photography but no sound recording. Do a little research and make sure photography is allowed before you pull out a camera.

If photography is allowed, that generally means in the dance arena or demonstration areas only. If you come across a dancer outside these venues–always, always, always ask permission! Never step onto the dance floor and if a ceremony is about to take place and the announcer asks that no photographs be taken, lay your camera down and don’t touch it until the ceremony has ended. These are Native American events and they set the rules. We are only visitors.

photographing dancer regalia at a powwow

A 70mm-200mm zoom lens allows you to capture details of dance regalia.

Powows can be held anywhere, even a high school football field. If you want a clean background, without goal posts, get there early and stake out your spot. I try to get right on the edge of the dance arena and sit on the ground or at the top of the grandstands, if they are available.

A high or low shooting angle pretty well eliminates backgrounds and these locations keep other people from blocking my view.

Apache Crown Dancers

Apache Crown Dancers are a fast moving photo subject.

I tend to shoot with two camera bodies, one mounted with a 70mm—200mm zoom lens and the other a fixed 300mm lens. Sometimes dancers are close, but often I need to reach out and isolate a single dancer. These two lenses will handle most dance floor situations. I also carry a 24mm-70mm zoom lens for portraits outside the dance arena.

Individual photo portrait off of the dance floor.

Individual photo portrait off of the dance floor.

I shoot these lenses hand-held and rely on fast shutter speeds for tack sharp images. One of my favorite approaches, however, is using shutter drag, or a slow shutter speed, to create a degree of image blur that illustrates the shape of the dancers motion. It’s really fun.

Zuni Pueblo Turkey Dancer.

Slow shutter speed captures the motion of a Zuni Pueblo Turkey Dancer.

This technique is just a matter of stopping down the lens aperture to eliminate light and then slowing down the shutter speed to compensate for a proper exposure. You can pan with the dancers to blur the background as well, or even tilt the camera during the pan to create even more blur. These can become quite abstract, so try different shutter speeds to get just the right amount of blur, which is a very subjective decision.

I have covered quite a number of these events and occasionally found I was the only anglo face in the crowd. I have always found Native Americans to be gracious and have never been made to feel like an intruder. Follow the rules, ask permission and be open to the spirituality that is part of some of these dances. Powwows offer a glimpse into proud, ancient cultures which we get to explore with our cameras. Look and learn with an open mind and have a great time.

Enjoy the experience.