Imagination To Reality; Mental Stimulation To Take Your Photos To A Higher Level
Monte Zucker
• Posted Oct 1, 2006

Imagine you're on a trip of a lifetime and want to bring back memories that will last more than a lifetime. It all began with my deciding to teach a class in Tuscany, Italy. I was already going there for a convention of photographers, so Jeff Medford, my assistant, suggested that we combine it with a class. It was so successful that we're planning more out-of-the-country classes (see my website,, for details). This class was different from most; it was designed to stimulate the imagination of the participants and to give them an insight into how photographic technique could take their natural artistic talents and bring them to a higher level.

The class content was inspired by the national tour that Eddie Tapp and I will be doing this fall. To be sure, portraiture was a significant aspect of the class, but at the same time I was teaching how light, color, composition, and Photoshop can all greatly increase the quality of photography that one can do, regardless of photographic interest and level of competency.

The pictures in this column are from the class. They show how talent is developing within three nonprofessional photographers who were a part of my group--Jeff, my assistant; David May, a photographer interested in pursuing a future in photojournalism; and Alex Bar-Av, a close, personal friend who just loves to take pictures. All of us were shooting with the Canon EOS 5D or the EOS 30D. We were all using Delkin 2GB memory cards and ExpoDiscs for custom white balancing. When there wasn't time to do a custom white balance, we used the cameras' built-in Daylight or Shade settings.

Image Design
Much of what I was teaching was to be aware of keeping your images simple--with a focal point in each picture that would be the resting place for the viewers' eyes. My first thrill and surprise was when Alex and I stopped at the same house and saw two completely different images in our minds' eyes. I saw an intriguing scene. Alex saw a floral stem. Until he took my class Alex had only played around taking snapshots. The natural talent that he possessed was heightened by his awareness of design and placement of the focal point of the photograph. Just as we place eyes in the upper third of a portrait and strive for a base to each photograph, the same principles apply for a still life.
Color & Composition
David applied different concepts that he had learned in class to his photography. Color and composition were the two principles he became aware of during the class. As a result he saw two totally different pictures in Venice that were motivated by these two topics. The red and blue interior of two boats tied side by side attracted his attention as he walked across one of the many bridges there. Those two principles showed up also in his picture of glass vases on display in a Venetian shop, captured by increasing his ISO to 1000 and setting his white balance for fluorescent.
David's true interest, however, lies in capturing people off-guard in interesting and compelling moments. He did that beautifully when he photographed the couple resting while the world was bustling past them. To keep the couple the center of interest we used a couple of Eddie's Photoshop techniques. We first blurred the background with a layer of Gaussian Blur, leaving the couple in the foreground untouched. We also toned down the background by creating an Adjustment Layer with Curves and painting out the foreground. Then, we brought down the Opacity of that layer to almost imperceptibly darken the background.
Subject & Background
Jeff's interests were varied. Of course he was interested in portraiture, but he also wanted to break away and photograph people and places. A fun shot of his is this picture of David photographing a tree during the class. I particularly liked the way he placed David in the lower part of the photograph, giving an idea of scale. Jeff did tell me that he was aware of his camera position, placing the dark figure against a light background and the upper part of the figure against the dark background. The effect was perfect.
Found Still Life
Jeff also photographed the contrasting textures of a wall and pulled it all together with the bicycle at the bottom of the picture. In Photoshop he used a couple of Eddie's "tricks" when he toned down some of the lighter cement blocks on the left by changing the Mode of the photograph to Lab, going into the Brightness channel and burning in those areas. Then, he brought the image back to RGB and darkened the sides and bottom of the photograph by making an Adjustment Layer in Curves. Once in Curves he pulled the highlights all the way down to darken the entire picture and painted out the center of the photograph, effectively burning down the edges and keeping the interest within the framework of his image.
Panning Effect
One evening in Florence a performer was enthralling a street full of people with his antics. As part of the fun he invited a little girl to be a part of his show. The balloon was part of the act, as was her running around circling inside the crowd. Jeff panned his camera, following the little girl. That blurred the background and caught her fairly clearly. He waited for her face to appear against a dark background. The profile was by accident, but it sure does work.
And Landscapes, Too
Later, after the class was finished, Jeff photographed the Amalfi coastline. To intensify the color and effectively cut through the haze he used another of Tapp's suggestions when he duplicated the Background Layer and set the Mode to Multiply. This intensified the color tremendously. Then, he brought the Opacity of that secondary layer down to the pleasing colors that you see here.
Monte and Eddie Tapp will be touring the country in October and November, doing a four-hour extravaganza seminar. It will include lessons on posing and lighting for formal and casual portraiture, as well as travel and scenic photography. Eddie will be demonstrating easily adaptable Photoshop techniques to enhance your photographs and speed your postproduction workflow.