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Friday, July 27, 2012

Photography and the Funeral - Part 1 The Family Perspective

Photography and the Funeral
Part 1 – The Family

(This is written following the death of my father-in-law. My wife asked me to photograph his funeral as I had done for her mother and her older brother. This is written from the perspective of a traditional Visitation and Graveside service. As funerals take on many different forms, please feel free to read between the lines and adapt to your belief system and style of funeral.)

- First, do you have photographs of the person? If you have a loved one near the end, start pulling photos together. Why? Because today, many funeral homes or other means of service incorporate a large screen television to display those photos.

- Wait, they aren't digital! Most won't be if the person is older than 30. Digital cameras didn't really take off until about the year 2000 so a lot of those images will be prints or negatives and not digital. That's why I said that you need to start pulling them together now so prints can be scanned it. When my father-in-law passed away, I was shocked at how few pictures we had of him. When you take out the ones of him in his t-shirt around the house (in his later years). We had even fewer. Luckily I was able to crop images to provide some head and shoulder shots.

- Do they have to be studio formal shots? I know what I just said about the t-shirt but we had plenty of good shots casually dressed and some of the best ones were when he was looking away talking to somebody else.

- Old photos are GREAT! Some of the family found old photos of pop when he was in his 20s walking down the street smoking that infamous pipe he always smoked until his later years. I loved seeing his wedding pictures.

- Bottom Line, NOW is a good time to pull together photos of family members. Makes for some good family discussions and if you do it beforehand, you can get the stories about them from them. (Please don't tell them why you are gathering photos!)

- OK, now I have bunch of photos with old prints scanned in. What now? Well type up the stories behind them. The story of my great grand-father's gun (civil war shotgun) is an amazing love story of how my great-grandparents met but that's for another day. Type those stories down so others will have them and know who the faces are in the photos.

- Now for another question. A big emotional one. Do you want the funeral photographed?

- Why would you want a funeral photographed? Well, it preserves the memories of who was there. Images are one of the most powerful factors in memory behind smell.

- Isn't there a Guest Sign-In Book? Yes but a lot of people don't sign it for various reasons, they didn't see it, they felt like family doesn't need to or shouldn't, the list does on but for whatever reason, it won't be a complete show of who was there. Also, many may attend the graveside service and not be at the funeral home to sign the book. The photographs will preserve memories that you will want. I know some friends that could not go in and view the body of their loved one. Perhaps years later they will want to look. (I put the images of the casket and body in a separate folder than the guest images so the family can see the people without seeing the loved one until they are ready.)

- Should I ask a family member, “Uncle Bob” (inside photographers joke. Uncle Bob is the family member who often photographs weddings with a point & shoot or basic DSLR). To be blunt, No for several reasons.
- - Most family members may favor certain gusts and omit others.
- - Also, they most likely won't have the equipment and skills to pull it off, at least at visitation. Visitation almost always occurs in very low light, similar to a wedding if not worse.

- Family members do have one advantage, they know the family and know who to be certain to get shots of.

- Who should I ask? Find somebody with low light experience.
- - They will need to shoot with no flash (except perhaps discreetly off to the side out in hallways). (This means they will need a “fast lens”.)
- - They will need to shoot Raw format due to the lighting. (I had some shots that were affected by the lamps with red globes near the casket that through the colors off terribly. Shooting Raw allowed me to fix it easily. Shooting JPEG (like a a Point & Shoot does) makes it extremely difficult if not impossible to fix.
- - They need to be able to shoot at high ISOs without a lot of noise in the image.
- - They need to have a long lens for photographing the graveside service from a discreet distance.

- Now you are sitting there saying, “What is fast glass? What is Raw? And how high an ISO?” You don't need to really know but when you ask somebody, if they don't know the answer, they aren't the right person. (fast glass are lenses with an aperture of 2.8 or lower, useful for low light shooting. Raw is a format that allows a much greater deal of adjustment for photographing in difficult situations.) The person you are looking for will be somebody who may have shot weddings.

How will images be made available for everybody? I have mine on my website but they are permanently locked up under a password that I provide the next of kin. That part of the site will never be open for anybody but the family and whoever the password is given to by the family. If the family member wants photos removed, they are gone, no question asked. If the password leaks out, it can be changes. But the folder for the funerals will never be made available to anybody else for any reason. Period. If you want to see what my work looks like, go look at weddings or something else.

One last question that I hate to bring up but it has to be addressed. What should they be paid? Certainly not what a wedding photographer is paid. If they are family or friends, they should do it as a favor to you. If not, I don't know what to say but the expense of a funeral are so great that most people can't afford a lot. (This is one reason you don't see funeral photographers like you do wedding photographers.)

When you talk to them. Be sure to ask that the photos of the deceased and the casket be put in a separate folder from the other images.  

Part 2 The Funeral and Photography from the Photographer's perspective. 

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Ten Guidelines for Shooting Fireworks

I just wanted to pass along some of the things I have learned and /or discovered shooting fireworks while shooting with the Raleigh Outdoor Photography Club. (http://www.meetup.com/ROPClub/)

1) Use a tripod if at all possible. I know some who handhold but the problem is the exposure has to be so long, you tend to move. How good a tripod depends upon how serious you want to be in your photography. For an excellent read on "how to buy a $2700 tripod, read this by Thom Hogan) http://bythom.com/support.htm You don't need to spend the $100 either but do get a good tripod. I bought a Bogen 3021 Pro model used and it works great.
    Bottom Line - Tripod is greatly preferred. a cheap one is better than none at all.

2) Use a Wide Angle lens but consider a telephoto. It all depends upon where you are at. In the photos shown in this post, I used my 17-55 as I was close. If you are shooting along distance, then naturally you want the zoom lens.

    Bottom Line - Wide angle is usually best. 

3) If you have a remote release, use it. The less you touch the camera, the less camera motion you will incur.


4) You want to use a small aperture. Start with f/8 and if parts of the image are blown out (over exposed) then change your aperture to something smaller like f/11 or f/16.
    Wait you say, 16 is bigger than 8! No. Notice the slash between the f and the number. This is a ratio of the focal length to the lens opening (aperture).  Remember way back when in math that 1/2 is bigger than 1/ 4 and 1/8 is bigger than 1/16. Now you have it. The bigger the opening of the lens, the small the denominator. Thus a 2.8 lens really opens up (and really costs a lot). a lens opened to 22 has a small opening.
   So if the exposure is too bright, change the aperture setting, that is your main tool in this situation.

   Back to fireworks. The light will be really bright so how do you tell if the image is overexposed? Well one say if your camera has the option is to set the information screen to blink the parts that are overexposed, thus they are called blinkies. If your camera doesn't have this option, look for lots of white in the image when the actual firework burst had reds and blues and greens. The mixture of red and blue and green produces white. Now if the burst was white and the image is white, you are ok, don't worry. 

    Bottom Line - Start with small aperture ( 8 or 11) and work up. Near the end of the show, you may want to change the aperture to 22 as shows typically launch a bunch of fireworks at the end and it gets MUCH brighter.

5) "What about the shutter speed? Can't I use that to lower the exposure?" No! normally in photography you could  but in this case, if you shorten the shutter speed (i.e. make it quicker like from 1/60 sec to 1/100 sec) then you will make the time the burst is exposed while it is opening smaller and you will get a smaller burst. Typically you want to start with a 2 second exposure. If you can change it to "bulb" (a holdover term from the old days when the photographer squeezed a bulb to open the shutter and released it to close the shutter), then use the bulb feature. This is where you NEED the remote shutter release as you don't want to be bumping the camera in the dark trying to find the shutter release.

    Bottom Line - Slow shutter speed. 2 seconds or bulb.

5) About this time would be a good time to state the obvious. KNOW YOUR EQUIPMENT! Its one thing to know it in the daylight and you have all the time in the world but quite another when its dark and the firework bursts are going off one behind the other. You won't have time to "figure it out" you have to shoot now!
    Bottom Line -  Practice before hand. Don't think you remember it.

6) "But you forgot about the ISO is its too bright!" No I didn't. The matter is that you should be shooting at the lowest ISO you have that is "native" to the camera. Some cameras have a native ISO they can go down to and can go lower but it lowers the image quality. My Nikon D300's have a native ISO of 200 but can go down to LO 1.0 which is the equivalent of ISO 100. I shoot at ISO 200.
    Bottom Line - Low ISO.

7) Focus - Set it to manual focus and set it to "infinity" (that funny looking sideways 8 on the range finder). Infinity sometimes isn't all the way to the end but just back form that point a smidge. Why, that just the way some cameras are. This goes back to know your camera (#5).
    The problem with auto focus is its hard to lock onto the picture and the distance will be such that infinity is what you want. If you leave auto focus "On", then every time you press the shutter button half way, it starts to search for focus and that takes time you don't have and it may not lock onto the fireworks burst but the trees under them. (If you use the back button focus method, then you are ok. Set the focus to infinity and don't touch the back button focus button).
       Bottom Line - Manual Focus.

Let's see, anything else?

8) Bring a penlight or a small LED light. You will need it to (a) read the settings on the camera, (b) find that do-dad in the camera bag, (c) find that do-dad you dropped in the grass, (d) you get the picture. Why not bring that mag-light 3000? Well, the people around you won't appreciate it and beat you to death with that tripod and you will be night blind for a while and miss most of the show.

9) Bring a cover for your camera in case it starts to rain.It's that time of year when thunderstorms pop up suddenly sos best be prepared. You don't need  a fancy (read expensive) rain cover (unless you will be in a potential rainy environment a lot, then its worth it to get a good rain cover for the equipment) but a simple shower cap from the las hotel you stayed at will do in a pinch. ( You mean you din't grab one when you got the shampoo and lotion?) My backpack camera bag is water resistant and the bigger shoulder bag is an all-weather model that has a water-proof cover for the entire bag. But just in case I get caught short, I have the shower cap handy.

10) Get some shots of the things happening at the site rather than just the fireworks. It is all part of the story of the fireworks show. Photography is about bringing back emotions and smell is a strong emotion. Get some shots of the food. Get some shots of funny things (like police with blue tongues).

11) One more important thing. CHANGE THE CAMERA BACK to its normal settings when you get home! Many camera today have custom settings and if you changed anything, it will stay that way until you change it back. (Normally while shooting some big event and you wonder why your pictures won't come out.) Some of the settings may include the one that controls whether the shutter activates when you release the shutter or if it waits until focus is achieved. I accidentally missed several shots as the show started later than we thought and I turned to grab a few shots of the people I was with. I had changed my camera to (a) release when shutter pressed instead of when focused and (b) to manual focus. Net result, several photos of folks were out of focus until I realized the problem. Then I had to remember to change it back again for the fireworks.

(OK, some bright scholar has noticed by now that I went ver 10. I kept remembering ideas) 

12) "But I missed a bunch of shots and know better what to do next time!" WELCOM TO PHOTOGRAPHY!! That is a large part of photography. How do I fix them. Probably you can't. Enjoy what you have and wait till next year. That's why there is next year. (Unless you are a sports or wedding photographer and then your goose is cooked!)

13) Remember where the car is parked. We had had several storm cells come close by with warning form the event organizers to be prepared to leave as strong winds, lightening, and hail were possible. We were ok until the show started when they announced 5 minutes into the show, "5 Minute Warning, there is a storm in the vicinity!" The fireworks kept being shot so the photography group kept shooting. Then about four minutes later, they announced a "3 Minute Warning". At that time, I looked at a friend and they looked at me and we all decided it was time to pack up. Had fun finding the car in the dark even though I pretty much knew where I left it (a lot of people arrived after me). The remote unlock that flashes the lights helped. By the time I left the parking lot 25 minute slater, it had yet to rain but I enjoyed the end of the show without looking thorough the camera.

14) Have fun. Don't get so glued to the camera that you forget the family. When the kids are grown and gown, there will be time for sticking to the camera eyepiece.

See my website at www.HLDPhotos.com

Photos form the 2012 Garner Fireworks show.

  After I took the first photo, I spotted his blue tongue and asked for a second shot. He obliged. It is nice to see police with a good attitude as it really makes a positive difference with the crowds.

A kid playing in the dark. Hand held, 1 sec exposure, f/2.8 Iso 320, 28mm.

2 sec f/11, ISO 200 35mm

Camera aimed a little too low. MAybe should have had a wider lens opening so I could crop it later rather than try to get it to fill the frame.

Weird burst, Don't know why it did that. It was the only one like that.

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