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Friday, September 30, 2011

Ted Kennedy For President

Photos of politician require props, gestures or spectators to make them interesting.

Ted Kennedy addresses his supporters after winning the 1980 Ma. Democratic presidential primary over President Jimmy Carter (© Michael Maher, The Lowell (Ma.) Sun).

The Photo:
Ted Kennedy seemed like a strong candidate for the 1980 Democratic Party presidential nomination, until his candidacy was derailed by a terrible Roger Mudd TV interview and Jimmy Carter’s strategy to remain in the White House during the Iran hostage crisis. On this March evening, he had won the Ma. primary, and I shot many photos of him speaking very animatedly to his followers about his vision for the country. He didn’t interact with the crowd, leaving quickly after he spoke, so I had to settle for the traditional shot, speaking at the podium. When covering politics, it’s essential to get close-up photos of the key people, preferably with compelling gestures or expressions, and Kennedy was at his best that evening, speaking with passion, vision, and confidence to his supporters, while providing animated gestures for all the photographers. I also included his famous nephew and niece, John, Jr. and Caroline, supporting him in the background.

3 Tips:
1) Politicians, because they are famous people, are great subjects for personality pictures.
2) Gestures demonstrate personality traits and make ordinary photos more powerful.
3) Include elements like the podium, other supporters, family and signs to provide more detail and depth.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Me and My Shadow

Shadows enable a whole new dimension of creativity as a photographer decides whether to include the subject, only the shadow, or a mix of both.

Eric Bradbury glides through the air on his tree swing, as his shadow follows his every move (© Michael Maher, The Lowell (Ma.) Sun).

The Photo:
When I saw a boy playing on his tree swing, I noticed how the bright sunlight left a clearly defined shadow on the ground under him. To capture the shadow I needed a high vantage point, so I climbed the tree above him and his swing. Now I could shoot down at the shadow and the boy on the swing. I made the shadow the central focus of the photo, with the boy and the swing secondary-- the opposite of a typical photo where the subject is central and the shadow secondary. The image came out wonderfully, and I learned the value of finding unusual ways to employ shadows in pictures. This is an example of a photo where the unusual perspective made people wonder where I was standing when I took the photo.

3 Tips:
1) Using shadows creatively will make unusual photographs.
2) Try making the shadow the primary subject of the picture.
3) Use a high angle for a shadow on the ground, or line the shadow up against a wall background.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Foul Ball

Sometimes a clever caption creates an additional meaning to make a picture more powerful.

Foul ball gets batter right where it hurts during high school baseball game in Pelham, N. H. (© Michael Maher, The Lowell (Ma.) Sun).

The Photo:
I wanted an unusual photo of a batter, so practically all I photographed at this high school game were hitters swinging. Close-up photos of baseball batters making contact require a little luck because it’s difficult to precisely time when a hitter’s bat and a pitched ball meet. You’re shooting at shutter speeds of 1/500, 1/1000, or 1/2000 of second, while both the bat and ball can be moving over 100 miles per hour at the moment of impact. Framing the batter’s full body, using a 180MM lens and a 1/1000 shutter speed, I repeatedly tried to time the swing of different batters to capture the ball being hit. The key is to take the picture as the batter begins to swing the bat forward. I already had some strong images of the batter making contact with the ball, when this high schooler hit the ball and fouled it off his protective cup. I timed it just right to get the picture, but what the photo doesn’t show is that it barely grazed him, and he wasn’t hurt at all. He only reacted slightly, mostly in surprise, instead of falling to the ground and needing medical attention as you might expect. When you publish a shot like this, a creative caption helps convey the humor – we eliminated bad ideas like “ball three” – but “foul ball” summed it up.

3 Tips:
1) Always photograph some hitters batting.
2) Time your photo as the batter starts to swing.
3) Use a very fast shutter speed (1/1000 or 1/2000 if possible) to capture both the bat and ball in motion).