About wizwow

This is a place for photographers.

Hi, I'm wizwow - also known as Don Giannatti. Photography has been the focus of my life for most of my adult years. I have written three books for Amhearst Media (available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble: keyword 'don giannatti'. Lighting Essentials is my flagship blog and e-zine with a slightly different slant than most photography related sites. If you are interested in becoming a better photographer, check out Project 52 Pros.

Thanks for visiting.

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Here are my most recent posts

What I’ve Learned So Far: Twenty Six; “Be Deliberate”

bri-wall-crashBe certain. Be sure. Be deliberate.

Now this may sound strange coming from someone who advocates challenging everything, finding new solutions, and experimenting, but they actually go very well together.

When I say be deliberate, I am talking about a process from 0 – 100 with certainty and responsibility at the wheel.

Being deliberate means being responsible for every square millimeter of the image. Every nuance, every gesture, every leading line… every compositional faux-pas.

Every screwed up exposure, or cut off feet, or blown out sky or, gulp, overly HDR’d process disaster.

WE DO THIS – WE DO IT DELIBERATELY.

Well, OK, we don’t screw up deliberately, but the screw ups happen BECAUSE we are not deliberate in our work.

Let’s start with gear.

Photographers tell me they are hard on their gear. They break stuff all the time. That is certainly their prerogative to continue on that path, but for me it is a lack of deliberate attention that is the problem.

When I was assisting in LA, I worked with a still life / food shooter that was extremely organized and deliberate in how he worked. I assisted him for a two week gig and learned a lifetime of good practices from him. No, I am not as anal as he was, but I am very deliberate in my work.

He had a cabinet with shelving custom designed to hold his gear. Lens shelves were clearly marked with the lens designation, stands were numbered and hung, and booms were placed in order on a custom stand rack.

EVERY piece of gear was numbered, ordered and assigned a place on the wall for easy retrieval next time it was needed. And it was always there.

Cleaning up the studio was a cinch when you knew where everything went, and no piece of gear was ever lost, or gone missing – even temporarily. The very deliberate way he handled his gear allowed him greater confidence in his creativity since not a moment was wasted in trying to find some gizmo that had been put away in the wrong spot. Genius.

There was another photographer in LA that I had wanted to assist for over a year. I loved his work, loved his styling and was very interested in seeing how he lit those majestic headshots.

Finally I got the opportunity and for those four days I also learned how incredible deliberate he was with every part of his work.

White cards around the face were not simply put below, but were cut, and edges bound with white gaffers to create a seamless white environment below the face. Moving the softbox or beauty dish an inch or so would make big differences – at least to him – and were part of his deliberate approach to making imagery that was perfect in every way.

We didn’t have Photoshop. It wasn’t an option.

And yeah, we have Photoshop today and it is an option.

And being sloppy and not in control is easily remedied with a few layers, a cloning tool and some applied masking.

But why not be deliberate… what would it hurt?

What would be gained is attention to detail, attention to the craft, and the power of understanding the details that separate good from great.

I am certainly NOT saying that we shouldn’t use the tools at hand, I am advocating for complete mastery which renders the incredible tools we have even more powerful. Instead of “fixing” we are enhancing.

One more thing… being deliberate in what we do leads to mastery of what we do… and masters get more money for what they do.

When I look at photographs I like to ask photographers why they included certain things in their images; a garbage can in the distance, a parked car behind the subject’s legs that ruins the line, or a readable sign in the distance that pulls the eye from the subject.

One answer invariably get is; “I didn’t see that when I took the picture.”

OK.

Let me get this straight… other than seeing what was in your viewfinder and setting the exposure, exactly WHAT else were you doing that prevented you from SEEING what was in the damn viewfinder… seems to me that SEEING what was in the viewfinder was your single and ONLY job at the time.

The screwed up background is not a mistake seen afterward, it was a deliberate choice you made at the moment you pressed the shutter button. Either that or you were NOT deliberate and NOT in control of what you were doing.

How is that for a great working style? Maybe you could put it on your business card;

“When I get lucky, I make good photos.”

“Every Now and Then Memories are Made”

“I don’ suck.”

Awesomesauce… as they say.

I use a light meter for a lot of my work, although after working with the same tools and the same light for 40+ years, I have begun to understand and know the light… not a guess, a genuine understanding. It will happen with you as well.

Like seeing the music when listening to it. :-)

A long, long time ago I took a workshop from a famous landscape/art nude photographer on the west coast, Brett Weston. He was the son of an even more famous photographer (Edward Weston) and I was feeling pretty amazing that crisp morning standing on the side of the ocean near Carmel, CA. I had my Deardorff, and my 14″ lens and my big, heavy tripod and we were looking for something to shoot.

I placed the tripod on the uneven terrain and began to compose on the large, 8×10 ground glass, black cloth draped dramatically over my head and shoulders. As I was nearing the moment of making the deliberate decision of WHAT I was going to shoot, the famous photographer Brett Weston drew closer to my setup.

I was feeling pretty amazing that morning… on the same lands that Edward had made so iconic, with his son at our side and making photographs in the hazy light.

I pulled my meter from my belt and, using the ambient dome began to make a meter check for exposure.

Mr. Weston’s reaction was one of horror and dismay… and I was on the receiving side of a blistering lecture on understanding the light, and that light was the same all the time and if I didn’t understand light, then what the hell ELSE was there to understand?

He was right, of course, but it took the bright and shiny part of the experience and made it a little more rough and sort of icky… for a while anyway. I got over it. Fast.

Understanding light IS what we are supposed to do. Cameras do not see subjects, cameras see how light is reflected from the subject. Cameras don’t see composition, they see only what we frame and how we frame it, and then they capture on film or card what we do with the light we are given.

Sometimes we are given light that is so perfect for our subject, that it is like a gift from heaven. Other times the light is not what we want, and we must do something to it, or add to it, or detract from it or something in order for our subject to be seen in the best of it.

And how we do it is deliberate, and ultimately OUR responsibility.

“The light was really crappy that day” is simply NO excuse. The fact is that we did not use the light that was given to us in a deliberate way. We let our conceived notions of what light should be drive us from what the light is. Or at least what it was on that day, and at that location.

And that is not the way a deliberate photographer thinks. There is no bad light, nor great light, there is only light – and what WE do with it is as deliberate as the choice of shutter speed and aperture.

My meter gives me absolute measurements of the light I am working with. I take that information and make absolute choices based on what I want to achieve. Could we “chimp it in”? I suppose we could… but that seems sort of a sloppy, ill conceived notion of technology to me.

And even those choices are defining, powerful and deliberate.

Some ideas for being deliberate in what you do:

  1. Note all lens choices. Write them down if you must, but KNOW them. Be able to ‘see’ through that lens by being aware of what things look like through that lens.
  2. Know every exposure, and be able to defend WHY you chose that exposure for the image. If there is no reason, you were not being deliberate.
  3. Choose ISO with deliberate understanding of how and why it will affect all aspects of the image you are about to make.
  4. Compose your images with careful attention to EVERY detail in the frame. Search the corners, search the background, and adjust accordingly.
  5. Use what you have to make what you want. A deliberate photographer is not limited by their gear, but freed from it by total and complete understanding of what they can do with what they have.
  6. Don’t censor or edit your work while creating, but be as considerably deliberate as you can while making the images.
  7. Expect to fail. Expect to learn from that failure. Failure with deliberate intentions will teach you more than unexpected lucky shots.
  8. Choose every piece of gear with complete and focused deliberate intention. What will it do to make your work better… consistently better?
  9. Concentrate on what you are doing and close out all distractions. Try to find a working method that allows you to be open to the imagery around you… and then deliberately repeat those circumstances whenever possible.
  10. Enjoy the serendipitous moments that happen within a very deliberate approach. They are revealing themselves to you BECAUSE of the control you have put on yourself.

Being deliberate is challenging and can create some angst in those of us who have never had a lot of discipline attached to our work and our working methods.

But trust me when I say it will make you a much, MUCH better photographer.

If you let it.

What I’ve Learned So Far: Twenty Five; “Now and Then, Turn It Off”

relax

I am writing this on Christmas Day, 2014.

Not gonna do too much today. Spend time with the family, have a quiet read, and listen to some of my favorite music.

There are times we must do this after long periods of stress and hyperactivity. It is our way of regenerating.

Do it when you need to.

Feels great – and recharges your batteries.

Then, when you are ready – turn it back on and get to work.

What I’ve Learned So Far: Twenty Four; “Photography is a Privilege”

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Is making a photograph easy?

Good question… although the question should really be;

Should making a photograph be easy?

We seem to expect it to be. I see the ads about how easy it is to “click” and get a picture. Kodak said it decades earlier: “Push the button and we do the rest.” Now Ashton Kucher, the uh, actor or whatever he is, tells us that it is even easier.

I see post after post on forums everywhere that seem to say “I don’t have time to learn this, just show me how to do it really well. I got a minute. I have to do an annual report next tuesday and my ass is on the line. How do I light a CEO?”

To record an image to a sensor is an extremely easy thing to do these days. Point and shoots do it amazingly well. And the new pro cameras are simply awesome. Throw in a flash and a modicum understanding of light and ‘voilA’ – a photograph.

We can post it on Flickr. Stick it on a hard drive. Transfer it to our iPhones.

Easy.

But is it so easy to make a photograph? I mean an image that connects with the viewer. One that means something to the people who see it. Should it be easy to make a photograph? Seriously… should it? Will it ever be?

Not an image. That should be as easy as, well… a click I guess.

What I am talking about is making an image that transcends the ‘pictures’ we make and reaches a new place.

I submit to you that it is easy to make an image, and terribly difficult to make a photograph.

Making a photograph requires more than a camera, or the newest sensor, or gazillions of pixels. It has more to do with the photographer than the camera. The thought processes that got the photographer from the bed to the place where he/she is standing and ready to click the shutter.

So many of us spend so much time talking about lenses, cameras, pixels, lights, stands, whether we should take an umbrella to the beach (heh) and other stuff that we forget about talking about photographers. About photography. As a verb.

Us.

We matter in the taking of a photograph. We make the difference between a capture and a photograph. What we think. Who we are. Our depth of life experience (or lack of it) can make so many differences in the choices we make to commit that moment to a still shot. An image is a momentary snap of reality that is recorded for review. Lots of images are simply wonderful too, so this is not a slam on simple images or snaps or whatever. However, a photograph can bring us back again and again to a place in our emotions that call up more complexity.

Or not.

Consider this: A photograph by Edward Weston or the snapshot of your parents now gone, taken before they were trampled by age and smiling together – a rare moment – as they went out the door for a party. Which provides more emotion for you. Side by side it is a no brainer. At least for me. Which would I grab and head for the door in a fire if I could only take one? See ya ‘Peppers.’

The image can become a photograph by extraneous emotions of the beholder. If I were not there and someone came in to save my things, I imagine they would take the framed ‘Pepper’ shot and not the little picture on the desk of mom and dad. The difference is what they brought to the image. Not in the image itself. We bring things to the picture after it is taken.

What do we bring to the image before we take the snap? Is it easy? Simple maybe, but easy?

In this fast world where you can board a plane in Phoenix and end up in Atlanta in about 3 hours, take your camera out and make a snap of the concourse and hook up the iTouch for some Coltrane, the thought that making pictures should be easy is probably normal. Yeah, I’m good with that.

But I don’t think making a photograph is easy. It is made more difficult by the ease of creating an image. Does that make sense? As the making of a snap becomes quicker and easier (no film, processing and darkrooms needed) the ability to transcend the mere making of an image becomes more difficult. When everone can make a picture that is exposed well, lit reasonably well, in focus and with glorious Photoshopped enhanced color, the call is to make an image that somehow goes beyond that set of parameters and touches the viewer, or moves them, or repulses them, or makes them think, do, act… whatever.

That is not easy. That is as hard as any other art form. Hell, maybe harder due to the fact that everyone can reasonably do it. I can sit any person down at my keyboard or drums and if they cannot play… they cannot play. No button to push. No “Easy Button” or whatever. They are gonna have no idea and the learning curve is substantial. Give them a 40D and they can put it on auto and make some reasonably good captures. Some point and shoots will even alert you if the subject wasn’t smiling. When they can make decent coffee, I’m gettin’ one.

So the ability to make a clean image is just not a big deal anymore. To me that means that making an image that goes beyond that level is made even harder.

My questions to you is: Do you think about photography as being the result of the gear you have or the thought processes that goes before? Is it the print or the moment? The action or the result? Is it a question of how that you first think, or one of why? Are they both important, or are neither of any consequence?

Is the making of a photograph easy? Or are you challenged every moment that you work at it.

I am. I want to make some photographs as I make thousands of images. It can be such a daunting task. Like triple paradiddles, but uh, different. But every time I grab the camera I think ‘maybe this time’ and work as hard as I can on the image before me.

To make a photograph that makes someone else feel something is a privilege. And a rare one at that.

What I’ve Learned So Far: Twenty Three; “On Creativity”

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Occasionally we run into the argument of whether or not ‘creativity’ can be taught, or does it have to be born within us? We read all about creativity and how important it is. We award little statuettes to really “creative” people. Creativity is blessed, cursed, chased, obsessed over, ignored, beaten down and vindicated.

It is a word so over used that we mention Stravinsky and Lady GaGa in the same breathless discussion of creativity. Schools want to nurture it (bullshit). Companies seek it (bull-bullshit). Poets have it in spades (bull… oh never mind).

But have you ever tried to simply define it? Being ‘creative’ can also be cruel, savage, inhumane and anarchistic. Creativity can mean simply doing something different… so what? If I take the garbage out with my left hand instead of my right hand, as I do every day, is that “creative”?

I rarely think about creativity, as I long ago realized something about creativity that made me wary. Creativity claims to be your buddy, your pal… your roommate along the path to making cool shit. but creativity rarely keeps up his end of the bargain. He leaves the place a mess, hits on your girlfriend, steals your money and drinks your beer.

And then one day, ol ‘creativity’ waltzes out the door destined to befriend that kid down the street, or the woman downstairs. He hasn’t even paid for his half of the electricity.

Bastard.

So here are a few things I know about creativity. And believe me, after being in the ‘creative’ business for nearly my entire working life, I know this guy. Here’s the skinny…

Ten things I Know About Creativity:

1. Creativity is not something you bestow on yourself, but something that others bestow upon you. Creativity to the creative person is simply the way they work. Calling yourself ‘creative’ may not mean it is so, and in fact, I find it runs pretty much the opposite. Every time I see the title “creative photographer” I want to mutter under my breath, “says who”?

2. Creativity is not a method or a system or a learned behavior. It is inherent in all of us, but few of us let it be what it is. Out of fear or laziness, self pity or arrogance, ignorance or infinite exploration, we eschew creativity and choose the safer, well worn paths. Ignorance of creativity is a very smart way to get along in some circles. Washington DC for instance.

3. Creativity cannot be taught. It doesn’t have to be. It only needs to be unleashed. Getting out of its way is the most difficult of challenges. We are not conditioned to allow creativity to go unchecked. From our earliest age we must walk in a straight line, color inside the lines, sit at our desks, study what some older person deems is important to us. Creativity and schooling is like a fish with a bicycle.

4. Why do we automatically consider creativity good? Hitler was fairly creative in his endeavors, getting farther along the path to madness than most would have been able to go. Some murderous monsters are creative in the ways they trap their prey… while eluding capture. Creativity can be horrific when applied to horrific things. Creativity has no soul other than the one wielding it. Creativity is not good or bad, it is simply its own person, and he does what he wants. We allow him to run free or channel his wanderings and misadventures. Our call, not his.

5. Creativity can be within specific genres and may not necessarily spill across the entire spectrum of a persons life. One may be incredibly talented in music, but not very good at drawing. A sculpture may be able to see and reveal an incredible masterpiece, while a concert level pianist may not be able to see anything but a piece of rock. This is not good or bad creativity… it just is creativity in different spaces of humanity.

6. Creativity is shown simply and honestly… and not in a good or bad notion. One may be very very creative and turn out pure shit in the eyes of the world. A 3 year old with a canvas and 56 paints could have the time of their lives… being creative and exploding color across the field in ways NO ONE has ever seen.

So what?

Creativity does not necessarily create masterpieces. Sometimes creativity creates shit. And then he stands there smugly demanding that we LOVE what he did… it was so, you know, creative.

7. Work that is derivative can be creative, if the act of derivation ends with something that we think is worthy. It can also end on a bad note if it is not as good as the original. We see creativity usually on the backside, not the front. We see the results not the action, and we rarely see the prelude. Sure “Batman” was pretty creative back when Marvel was cranking them out and we were spending a quarter to keep up with the story. But these days, they are simply worn out ‘toons with two hundred million dollar budgets. Boring, predictable and lame.

8. Creativity is a tool. Creativity is a honorarium. Creativity is a joke. Creativity is divine. If Lady Gaga is creative, then what would we call Eliot Carter? Stravinsky? Coltrane? If P-Diddy is creative, what do we call the hordes of rappers that came before and after that sound the same… identical even, to his work? If Copland was creative, how do we explain it to someone who has never heard the music? How about explaining music to someone who has never heard music before… ever?

Now that would be creative.

9. Creativity is over rated. We have turned anything a bit differnt into “creativity at its finest”. If building the space shuttle and twitter are both creative, is there any difference given to the importance of the creation? Can “Cats” be considered as creative as “Othello?” Is a child like presentation of a Chopin Etude be considered as creative as a performance by a prodigy – or indeed the creator himself? If we consider creativity to be some mark on a ledger or tick on a measuring stick, then we have to be able to quantify it.

Go ahead… give it a go. Quantify creativity.

Good luck with that.

10. Creativity is not definable. Not in any way I can comprehend. And yet I know creativity when I see it, hear it, taste it. We all can agree that we know creative people, and yet we may be somewhat dismayed when we discover who each of us believe to be creative.

I rarely think of creativity as something I want to achieve. It is never how I discuss my own work. If my work is creative, others will note and if it is not, then it will be noted as well. To seek it wastes time, as it cannot be found. It only reveals itself when it is ready, and when the moment is right.

Our job is to make more opportunities for creativity to be revealed. We do that though practice, and study, and work, and effort, and critiques (good and bad) and friends who are not afraid to call you on the work, and enemies that make you defend, or retreat, or rethink. Creativity is a pain in the ass. It has no guarantee of being revealed. There is no magical criteria (10,000 hours my ass), no ‘aha’ moment, no grace to be bestowed. It can leave you waiting at the alter after promising you a thousand times that it loved you. It is heartless and loving, cruel and kind, manic and patient.

And often it is disguised as something else. Something more familiar than trendy, more ethereal than processed. Sometimes ‘creativity” is disguised as hard work.

Creativity means something to each of us, but it is rarely something that I think we should be chasing. Rather we should be chasing the near perfection that comes from working whatever we do to the heart of it. From shooting every day. From being relentless critics to stalwart defenders of our work. Creativity needs nothing from us, but we give our all to achieve it.

Sometimes we are awake to see creativity arrive, but we rarely know its name nor recognize its power. Most of the time we are working on our work so hard we never see it arrive, we couldn’t care less what we call it and we never remember to acknowledge it. We just keep working.

So creativity sits on our shoulders for a while.
Resting in its comfortable by-the-month apartment, putting his feet on the furniture and parking his car on our lawn

But you can be sure about one thing… creativity can be a mercurial and disloyal pal while he camps on your shoulders. He will come over for BBQ and Corona’s, flirt with your wife and hang around long enough to borrow your lawnmower and never return it when he leaves.

You see, creativity rarely moves in, buys a house and puts in a pool.

What I’ve Learned So Far: Twenty Two; “Photography Is an Incredible Art”

portrait-ny-1Photography at its best can be a reflection of the world in ways that we have never been seen before. It is the photographer’s vision that makes the image become more than it could have been.

But at the heart of the photographer’s vision, there is a deep foundation of the art and the technology that is required to create images that transcend the normal.

Photography is one of the most incredible art forms known.

It combines composition, and color, and tonality, and aesthetic sensibilities with technology that is as precise as it is deliberate.

Many art forms can lay claim to that set of parameters – or at least many of them.

But only photography has the element of time. Time frozen in the vision of the photographer. Time that was captured in an instant of the photographers choosing.

That choice made by determining the nature of the subject unfolding in front of them… in a heartbeat or faster, the shutter captures something that was seen, but only in that moment.

Dance can be seen live, and on video or film, but the moments of the dance are blurred to create an entire piece meant to be savored from the beginning to the end.

A painter can paint the dancer again and again and again to get it just right.

But a photographer has no second chances, no video to show a totality.

A photographer has a single moment.

A single photograph of a dancer, caught in that never to be seen again moment is all up to the one who makes the decision. The decision to activate a shutter that reveals the light.

At that exact moment in time.

Precisely at the moment the photographer has been waiting for, planning for, working for… that “moment” when it all comes together and makes something extraordinary.

And then it is gone. Forever.

But for the image that was caught, that moment is lost.

Time is the vessel of photography. The print is its legacy.

Imagine the skill involved in making that choice. Imagine the depth of sheer knowledge that is brought to bear on that ‘click’… that moment that the photographer has chosen to capture. Imagine photography without the limitations of time.

Skills that develop slowly give way to a comfort in the making of images. A comfort that will inevitably give way to a deeper push for better skills and understanding of the process.

Like the tall trees on the beach, photography is seen on the surface, but buoyed by the deeper roots of the artist.

And like the trees, artists with deep roots whether the toughest of storms, the heat of summer and the frost of winters. The roots keep them anchored even as they are thrown about on the surface by storms of indifference and self doubt.

At least long enough for them to stalk that moment in time when all come together whether from deliberateness or whimsy, and that tiny sliver of a moment is caught and rendered as a photograph.