Who Teaches The Teacher? Some Lessons Learned From Others In The Craft
Monte Zucker
• Posted May 1, 2005

I've often heard it said that the teacher learns from his students. Such has certainly been the case for me. My Photoshop guru, Eddie Tapp, was in my classes years ago when he was first becoming a photographer in Dallas. Now, I study with him every time that I get a chance to attend one of his five-day classes or to watch him even for a few moments at a convention appearance. It's the only way in which I can try to stay abreast of some of the techniques that he has developed with each successive edition of Photoshop. I use at least a few of the techniques that he has taught me on almost every single one of my photographs.

Taking at least one or two classes a year myself is one of the things that keeps me excited professionally and constantly growing as a photographer. I select my teachers by observing the images that they're producing and by learning from others if these photographers are also good teachers.

Such was the case recently when I took a class with Miami-based Robert Lino hosted in Merida, Mexico, by Michele Gauger, who hosts several classes a year in Mexico, calling them the Yucatan Experience. I, too, am a teacher for one of them annually.

Both Gauger and Lino had studied with me in the past. Now, I was learning from them. And learn I did. Each day I marveled at what Lino was able to accomplish with the simplest of equipment. As a matter of fact he was using no equipment other than his Canon digital camera. No reflectors. No flashes. Nothing! That interested me, since I use so many accessories to create my photographs. I wanted to see how he did it.

The Infrared Idea
On one of our morning expeditions we went to some Mayan ruins for a sunrise shoot. Posing was the main reason for my wanting to study with Lino. I loved what he was doing, especially since it was so different from my style. One of the first things he did that morning was to pose our female model on a corner of one of the ancient ruins.

One of Lino's specialties is the use of fabrics as a prop. A typical piece is about 10-12 ft in length. The wind was blowing pretty hard that morning, so he gave our model a piece of white silk fabric to hold out as part of her "costume." The wind filled her "sails." The fabric bellowed out dramatically. His posing of her was handled exquisitely.

He started her pose at the feet, pointing her forward "show foot" toward the camera, placing her weight totally on the back foot and bending her front leg in an exaggerated curve. He followed it through by pushing her forward hip toward the back, lowering her front shoulder and tipping her head toward her higher back shoulder. I had always turned and tipped her head to her higher front shoulder.

He completed the pose by bringing out both of her elbows and creating space between her arms and body. The "S-Curve" that this created was incredibly beautiful. I loved the way that her body looked! That's why I wanted to study with him.

I know that it must be difficult to understand what I'm explaining here, but by studying the accompanying image you should be able to see exactly what I'm describing.

Lino was almost embarrassed to show me how different his style was from mine. I assured him, however, that I was loving every single thing that he was doing. Plus, that was exactly why I wanted to study with him--to see what he was doing, to learn how we was doing it, and to adapt some of his techniques as an add-on to what I was already doing.

As he began taking his pictures, Lino suggested that we photograph at the same time. All the photographers participating in the class were, of course, shooting digitally, but I was the only photographer who also had a digital camera that was adapted solely for creating infrared images. (For more information on having a camera dedicated to infrared digital imaging e-mail irguy@infrared.com.)

I knew from past experience that infrared worked marvels when photographing sunlit green trees against the sky, but I had never before photographed portraits with infrared. Wow, was I in for a pleasant surprise! I kept the picture simple, composing the photograph instinctively without having to think of her placement in the photograph. I used a 28-135mm IS lens on an infrared-adapted Canon EOS D60.

"Attitude" Can Be The Key
One of Lino's incredible talents is directing his models for mood, expression, and attitude. The photographers in his class all positioned themselves for what they felt would be the best camera position as Lino spoke to the models and "worked them" as only he can do. I set myself up for a 2/3 camera position of their faces and really lucked out with this picture--one of my favorites of the week.
Wow--I never realized how beautiful the skin tones could be when shooting infrared! All I had to do in Photoshop was to position some subtle catchlights in their eyes. Then, I toned down the background by going to Image/ Adjust/Curves in Photoshop, bringing down the highlight side to midway and erasing the areas that I wanted left as-is. I also softened the stones behind them slightly using Gaussian Blur on a separate layer and erasing the blur from their faces.

Trees, Sky, And Clouds--The Perfect Ingredients
Back at The Reef, our home away from home, I couldn't resist making more pictures.
Talk about a fantastic vacation resort, The Reef in Yucatan, Mexico, was a picture post card--happening any and every way you turned. The trick here was to simplify and focus in on elements that would form pleasing compositions. This bridge and palm tree, for instance, created a graphic design from a low angle that showed beautifully against the sky.

I made this photograph on the first day of class when Lino's arrival to Merida was delayed. I became the instructor-for-a-day and showed how I photograph all day long in direct sunlight as well as in shade. When making this photograph I pointed out how I positioned myself and my subjects using the direct sun as my main light, keeping as much as possible the light crossing my subjects at a 45Þ angle.

I was shooting with Canon's EOS 20D for everything other than the infrared. My photographs are captured on a new High-Speed 2GB Delkin memory card. I never ran out of "film!" The color was unbelievably gorgeous and the speed of the card writing the image after each exposure was incredible.

In the past few years I became very aware that the automatic white balance on cameras was less than ideal. I now hang around my neck an ExpoDisc, a simple, easy to use method for custom white balancing in a matter of seconds. Low Light--Great Shots!
As the daylight began to fade and the shadows lengthened, I noticed the light on the doorway to the local police station. I quickly posed one of our models in the doorway, taking advantage of the natural light falloff.
Toward the end of the day, I posed another model against the backdrop of the surf. I shot from a high angle that allowed me to totally fill the area behind her with the sea. I made several exposures--all getting different looks with the waves changing constantly. The sun was once again my main light. I positioned her to achieve a similar light pattern on her face that I use for almost all of my photographs.

Listen, Watch, And Learn!
Although it was difficult at times not being the teacher, it was very rewarding to listen to what Lino was teaching us. Small subtleties of his have since become a part of my own style.
For this ballerina portrait he positioned her between columns of a covered porch, keeping the light crossing over her body from both sides and her face turned toward the brighter light source.

To avoid showing the busy street traffic I cropped the picture to just within the columns and cloned in some trees to cover the distracting elements in the background.

Special Clothing For Special Locations
Our locations oftentimes screamed for special costuming. I thought of a particular gown that I had picked up at a recent convention trade show. This particular gown piqued my interest when I knew that I was soon to be returning to the Yucatan and visiting these incredible locations. My vision was realized when I posed a model wearing this unique dress by Barnes, (www.barnesclothing.com).
Double Silhouette
Gauger set up this double silhouette to end the day. I exposed it on Aperture Priority, as I do for most of my daylight pictures. She, however, still prefers the manual setting of 1/125 at f/16.
The "trick" was to position the setting sun directly behind the model. Of course, for a good silhouette one also has to show perfect profiles of the subject. A silhouette without a face doesn't quite make it! The photograph was toned in this case with a warm filter over my lens, but it could have been done in postproduction using Photoshop or even in camera using one of Canon's new "filters" built-in to their new cameras. And so we come to the end of a perfect Yucatan Experience hosted by Gauger and taught by Lino. There will certainly be more photographic trips to the Yucatan in the future, but none will be as exciting for me as when I'm being taught by two of my favorite students.