Thursday, December 18, 2008

Have You Seen This Man?

Hello faithful readers, I have returned. I was not gone by choice, but forced into exile by that cruel mistress, Mother Nature. As you may or may not have heard, the northeast United States was hit by an "Ice Storm" on December 11th. Electricity went down at 11:05 that night, and just returned yesterday, December 17th, at 7:30 PM.

Scott Bulger Photography

What we had wasn't actually an "Ice Storm", but freezing rain. "Ice Storm" is so much more dramatic though, don't you think? For those of you not fortunate enough to know this information first hand, let me explain. An "Ice Storm" is when little pellets of ice (also known as sleet) rain down on us from above. It stings the skin and slickens the road, but it doesn't really stick to anything, bouncing off like very cold grains of sand. "Freezing Rain" on the other hand, is a whole different ball of wax. When the temperature in the upper atmosphere is warm enough for the precipitation to fall as rain (say 34 degrees), and the temperature at the ground is cold enough to freeze this precipitation (say 30 degrees), you get a recipe for trouble. Not just regular old trouble, but trouble of epic proportions. You've all been caught in a rainstorm before, right? Well imagine if the rain was pouring down, but freezing into ice the moment it hit your skin. Fairly quickly, you would be encased in a cocoon of frozen glaze. Cold, immobilizing, and most importantly, very heavy.

Scott Bulger Photography
This isn't upside down. It's a 50' birch tree that is literally bent over 180 degrees.

Trees don't have the sense to come inside out of the rain to warm up and dry off. They just stand out there, rooted to their spots, getting thicker and heavier by the minute. Depending on the type of tree, it either bends (birch), or breaks (every other). When the trees bend or break, they inevitably land on power lines and roads, hence the major power outages. At the height of the aftermath the following morning, there were 415,000 electrical customers in New Hampshire with no power. To put this in perspective, in 2000, New Hampshire had 474,606 households. Maybe now, that is up to 500,000. That would make over 80% of the state was without electricity on the morning following the storm. I don't impress easily, but heck, that is an impressive number.

Scott Bulger Photography
This is what a tree looks like after siting in the freezing rain for about 6 hours.

We were fortunate. We have a wood stove and were able to heat the house, cook food, and boil water. It was very peaceful, out here in the woods, full moon glistening off of the ice all around us like a crystal castle. I just went down to the pond in the back yard with my ax, chopped a hole in the ice, and brought back buckets of water so that we could flush the toilets. It was very Charles Ingalls of me.

Scott Bulger Photography
Blades of Grass

I'm glad to have the power back. I have much work to do, and am now a week further behind than I already was. The last of my Christmas orders will be going out on Saturday, and I personally guarantee that you will have them for the big day. Unfortunately, unless you live within driving distance, I will not be taking any more orders for Christmas delivery. Don't blame me, blame Mother Nature.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

You need to think about more than just tripping the shutter.

How many times do you come across an eye popping scene? I mean something that you really stop to look at and just stand there awestruck? You get out your camera, bring it up to your eye, and depress the shutter...Hey! that image is really lacking the impact of the scene here that I am staring at....

Your eyes see differently than a camera. They have a different field of view, and they react to the light differently, so you need to be more than just a shutter snapper. You need to be a PHOTOGRAPHER. One of the skills you need to exercise is being a translator. You need to translate the scene for the photograph. There are many other senses involved in what you see than just your eyes.

What you hear, what you feel, what you taste, and what you smell all go into the overall presentation of what you are seeing. "How is that possible?" you might be thinking. Bear with me here. I'm going to exaggerate for effect.

You are at the seaside, and witness a beautiful scene of some flowers on a dune. It's incredibly beautiful to you at the moment and worth capturing to your CCD or film. Wait. Think for a second. What else is making the scene so darn "scenic" to you? You smell the salt air.You feel the ocean breeze on your face. You feel the sand compressing under your feet. You hear some gulls squawking as they ride the breezes overhead.You taste the salt in the air. All of these things are contributing to how you feel about what you are seeing.

Now what you need to do is translate this feeling to your image. Have you ever wondered why some images that appear to have such great potential look so "sterile"? No feeling. No passion. No vision. No heart. They just don't stir anything inside of you. Lousy translation.

Your next question is "OK Mr. Smarty Pants, how do I do this "translation" thingy you are talking about?"

I'm not telling you. I'm not telling you because I can't tell you. I don't know what you are feeling and seeing and hearing at these moments of epiphany. Only you know that. It's your job to tell me.

You're the artist, so art.

You need to be more than just a mechanic.

Saturday, November 15, 2008


The last several times that I had planned a morning walkabout, my hopes had been squashed by unwelcome precipitation. Even though rain had settled in on us for the last couple days. I had my alarm set for zero dark thirty this morning in hopes that the mist and drizzle would subside for just a little while.

Just as the black outside my window was starting to turn to a slightly less black, my four year old strode into the bedroom to tell his mother that he was up. She very nicely reminded him that daddy wanted to get up early today to go out with his camera, so he walked around the bed and put his little hand on my shoulder.

Gently shaking me, "Daddy, do you still want to get up early?"

I trained my ear to the outdoors and could hear the rain thumping on the roof of the shed in the yard. Like an unwanted house guest that didn't know when to leave, the rain was really starting to annoy me. I peeled my eyelids back, and sat up on the edge of the bed, contemplating a plan of action. "Get back under the quilt and go back to sleep" was leading in the polls, but "Get your butt up and go out shooting anyways" came up from behind to score the surprise victory.

I got myself dressed, and threw a few logs into the wood stove. Grabbing my camera bag and tripod, I stopped at the refrigerator for a can of Coke to infuse my system with some much needed caffeine. As I walked out the front door, I was greeted by the cold, wet, dark air. Going back to bed was sounding better, but I was already this far. No sense turning back now.

I haven't shot in three days now, and my trigger finger was getting itchy. Speaking of shooting, to top it all off, it's deer season too, and I'm out in the dark dressed in black. I'm going to have to be careful out in those woods.

Scott Bulger Photography

Scott Bulger Photography

Scott Bulger Photography

“I'm a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.”
Thomas Jefferson 1762-1826

Monday, November 3, 2008

We Now Return to our Regularly Scheduled Programming

Halloween is over, so we can put aside the silliness for another year. No more Trick or Treating, haunted hayrides (or hayrides of any sort), wearing goofy costumes, or being forced to listen to "The Monster Mash". It's nice to have the brief respite every year where kids of all ages are allowed, and even encouraged, to act ........ well ....... silly, but it's time to get back to the business at hand.

There is a certain elegance to autumn. The air is clean and crisp, you have to wear an additional layer or two of clothing, and the smell of wood burning in fireplaces permeates the air. Life is winding down and preparing for the long New Hampshire winter. Root systems are recalling the life force from the vegetation to store it for next springs rebirth. Flowers and leaves dry out, shrivel up, and fall, finding their way back to the soil from whence the sprung.

I'm not real big on the leaf peeping foliage stuff, but I do enjoy a good shriveled up flower or leaf. You see so many spring and summer flower shots, and they are nice, but it's kind of like shooting fish in a barrel. "Ooooooooooooh, ahhhhhhhhhhhh, pretty flower". How can you go wrong? (I take that back, I see plenty of them go wrong.)

I challenge you to photograph something dead and make it into art. Stretch those artistic muscles. push the envelope on your creativity. Feel free to post your photographs of "Dead" in my blog comments. FAIR WARNING: Photographs of people will be removed.

Scott Bulger Photography


By the way, does anyone have an extra Kit-Kat bar? I'm all out of the small ones and the big ones won't fit through the hole in my Halloween mask.

UPDATE: There have been a few people take me up on the challenge. Here is what they have come up with:

Beth Peardon
"Death is Coming"

House of Six Cats

"Light Luck"
Judi Fitzpatrick

by Ashlyn

by Karen Casey Smith

"Broken Gate"
by CVH

Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween

I very rarely post about anything not photography related, but today I make an exception. This is just too much fun to pass up.....

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Slow Down and Look Around

I know you're busy. I'm busy too. Everybody is busy. We are all busy. But for cryin' out loud, take a look around. Open your eyes and focus. See all that is around you.

I look back at my body of work, and with the exception of my Mexico images, everything else is something that you walk by every day without looking at. Well, you may look at it, but do you really SEE it? If you are willing to SEE, there is really so much around us to be seen.

Many times at my exhibits, people will stare at images and talk to their friends "Where is this, it looks so familiar?". Unable to come up with the answer, they come to me and ask the question. Usually, when I tell them the location that a certain photograph was taken, their reaction ranges from astonishment to bewilderment.

"I walk right by that spot every day and never really noticed that." People are so "connected" now, that they hardly notice anything. Turn off the iPod, put your cell phone in your pocket, and just walk. Listen to the sounds around you, and see what there is to see. Spend a few minutes with yourself. You might be surprised what is out there.

Scott Bulger Photography, Cigar Store Indian, July 2008

"Cigar Store Indian"
Limited Edition Fine Art Photograph
by Scott Bulger

"Everything has its beauty but not everyone really sees it." - Confucius 551 BC - 479 BC

Saturday, October 25, 2008


Hiking through the woods at this time of year is a unique experience. While in the summer, it is typically several degrees cooler when you come upon a stream, once it starts to cool off in October and November, it often feels a few degrees warmer once you reach the banks of the flume.

The streams are swollen with turbid water as the lakes are being drawn down for the winter. The banks are saturated, and strewn with colorful leaves that float to the ground when the breeze kicks in, creating an audible rustle.

The extra water holds the frost at bay, and nourishes the moss, keeping the streams banks green while the woods turn brown and yellow. The water swirls and splashes, buffeting the rocks and downed trees, yet amongst the violence, sanctuary has been found.

In the hollow of an old branch on a felled tree, a family of five has set up house. The curious youngster peeking over the wall to see what is happening, while the cautious father hovers over the others to protect them from whatever may come their way. Their footing is precarious. A rise in the water level would wash them out of the sheltering depression they have rooted in. Unable to flee, they wait.

Scott Bulger Photography
"Family of Five"

"The woods are lovely, dark, and deep, but I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep."

Robert Frost

Monday, October 20, 2008

Where Did the Last 30 Days Go?

Thirty days since my last blog post and I sit here wondering what happened to the last month. Time seems to go by faster and faster and you have to wonder what you must be missing each time you blink. The last lunar cycle has been packed full of activity, and if I had thirty six hours to each day instead of the alloted twenty four, it still wouldn't have been enough time to get everything done.

Most recently, my oldest son, a 20 year old junior in college came home for the first time in about eight months. His two little brothers (4 and 9) were very excited to see him, and they spent a lot of his four days home hanging out together. It was great to see them all playing together, laughing out loud at every goofball joke that the four year old perpetrated.

Scott Bulger Photography

I didn't get any real quiet time with him until driving him back to the airport early Sunday morning. His plane was leaving at 9:00, so we figured that he should be there at 8:00, which meant we would have to leave the house at 7:00, so my alarm went off at 6:00. It was a chilly morning, with the temperature hovering around freezing. We talked a lot on the trip to the airport, him excitedly telling me about his future plans, and me offering my sage advice that I'm sure went in one of his ears and right out the other. That's ok, it's a fathers job to talk whether or not the kids actually listen. He usually humors me by at least acting like he is listening, his eyes focused just to the side of my head, one eyebrow furtively raised with deep concentration. Of course, he's probably thinking about what he can make himself for dinner once he gets back to his apartment, and whether he left any milk in his refrigerator.

Scott Bulger Photography

Once at the airport, he assured me that he would be able to manage his own way inside, practically throwing a verbal arm bar across the door so that I couldn't get out, "You don't have to park Dad, I can manage my own way through an airport." And that quickly, he was out the door.

So I found myself out and about at 7:45 on a Sunday morning without a designated time to be somewhere else. How was this possible? I cast a quick glance into the back seat to make sure my camera was there and off I drove. To quote Ferris Bueller, "Life goes by pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it."

Scott Bulger Photography

I really enjoy just driving around with no particular destination, just seeing what there is to see, and attempting to record these little rectangles of the world with my camera. A camera gives you liberty. It creates a shield between you and the world. When looking through the viewfinder, you are watching the world unfold in slow motion, scenes transpiring at your own pace, with the use of your own personal hand held time machine.

Scott Bulger Photography

Driving through the woods, a clearing appears on both sides of the road, early morning light filtering through the trees, glistening off of the heavy frost that has settled on the grass. Pulling my truck over into a clearing, a large flock of turkeys makes it's way across the road in front of me. I grab my camera and open the door. The cold morning air fills my lungs like a "Slushie" fills a big plastic cup. I'm not a big fan of the cold, but there is something invigorating about these autumn mornings.

Scott Bulger Photography

I walked through the fields, small patches of icy marsh crunching under my feet as the thigh high grass drops its frost on my jeans. I pick a few scenes and fill my frame. A heavy wind kicks up and a large flock of birds take off, cackling and squawking as they circle the field, momentarily lighting in a snag, and then circling again before flying out of sight.

Scott Bulger Photography

I'm very proud of my all of my boys, but I'm very proud of the man that my oldest is becoming. I think he can find his own way through the airport.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Invitation to Exhibit and Reception

Hello and welcome. I would like to take this opportunity to invite you to view an exhibit of my photography at the New Hampshire Technical Institute Library. I have 17 pieces hanging in a one person show that runs the entire month of September. Library hours are HERE.

On Wednesday, September 24th, from 3:00 - 6:00, NHTI will be hosting a "Meet the Artist" reception in the library. If you are in the area, please come by and say "Hello". I'll be answering questions, talking about photography, and signing copies of my book, "A Portrait of the Yucatan".

Also, just a quick reminder that there is very limited space left for my fall semester classes at Kimball-Jenkins School of Art.

"Introduction to Black and White Photography, The Darkroom Experience" begins of September 25th and runs through November 13th, meeting every Thursday night from 6:30 - 8:30.

"Introduction to Digital Photography" is a one day seminar that is being held on Saturday, October 11th, from 9:00 - 3:00.

Space is very limited, so don't wait.

Also, On October 2nd between 5:30pm and 7:30pm the Kimball Jenkins School of Art will be holding its second annual “Art of Beer and Wine Tasting” fundraiser to support the School of Art.
Sample Wine and Beer (seven beer vendors and five wine vendors) from around the world and enjoy tasty hors d' oeuvres from one of Concord's finest restaurants as you tour our school's studios and galleries, meet the faculty and explore the historic Kimball Jenkins Estate.

Tickets are $35 each and are available by calling (603) 225-3932 ext. 221

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


The Kimball-Jenkins School of Art, where I teach photography courses, is a beautiful old Victorian Mansion that was finished being constructed in 1883. With a brick, granite, and slate exterior, it was built to last. The interior is just as beautiful, with marble fireplaces, ornate oak carvings, and intricately painted 12' ceilings. The entire building is truly a work of art. But other than the darkroom and photography classrooms in the basement, and the beautiful art galleries on the first floor and in the carriage house, my favorite place to poke around is in the attic.

It's not easy to get to the attic. The steps are narrow, steep, and winding, and as you ascend these stairs in the summer, the heat hits you in the face like Muhammad Ali hit Chuck Wepner. Reaching the top of the stairs puts you right in the middle of this huge attic. The rough sawn timbers that make up the rafters tilt at incredibly steep angles, soaring to joints that are perfectly matched. The floor is all rough wide pine boards, made charcoal gray with age and dust. In random locations around the attic, there are large solid wood bookcases, most made of mahogany, and all loaded with various memories from years long gone by.

The suns rays slant through the large and strategically placed windows to illuminate the room with a soft, dust filled light, that falls off rapidly as you get towards the center of the room. The combination of the light and the relics on the shelves create some fabulous opportunities for expression with a camera.

Copyright Scott Bulger photography


Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Three Days in Acadia

It's not the biggest national park in the country, but it is quite unique. Acadia National Park was the first national park east of the Mississippi River and is made up completely of donated lands. Sitting midway up the Maine coastline, the park rests entirely on Mt. Desert Island, in a patchwork of land surrounding Bar Harbor.

The bright, clear skies really weren't conducive to a lot of daytime shooting, so I was really restricted to The Golden Hour at the beginning and end of each day. It would have been great to spend a month exploring and shooting, and getting a variety of more favorable lighting conditions, but three days was my limit this trip, so my photo opportunities were limited to the places I could get to at these times.

Before I go any further, let me say that I have never encountered a more bloodthirsty and aggressive bunch of mosquitoes than I did on this trip. I've never been to Alaska, but these bugs were vicious, even landing on my camera and attempting to pierce it with the needle that slides out of their proboscis. I can only surmise that the cameras proximity to my face, left it covered with the scent of carbon dioxide, that the mosquitoes key in on when searching for a victim. On more than one occasion, I was required to spit out a mosquito that had been inadvertently sucked into my mouth while hiking up a mountain, across some cliffs, or down a boulder strewn beach to a tidal pool.

Arriving at the cottage just after noon time, we got settled in and just went and explored a little bit. We drove by Otter Cliffs and Thunder Hole and headed for the Bass Harbor at the south end of the island. Finding places for good food is easy on the Maine coast (as long as you like seafood) and the first of several lobsters would fall victim to my dinner plate that evening. After dinner, as the sun was getting ready to set from its day long perch, we drove over to Bass Harbor Lighthouse to break out the tripod and get something onto my memory card.

After the sun went down, we drove the 20 miles back to our cottage and just relaxed. It was early to bed for me since I had a 4:30 AM alarm to beat the sun up to Otter Cliffs. It was incredibly peaceful and still as I arrived just after 5:00 AM. The faintest hint of light was just showing over the horizon. I climbed along the cliffs, looking for a vantage point that would give me the best vistas, as this was going to be my only morning here. Once the sun breached the horizon, time was very limited before is was simply too strong and harsh here at the coast. The closer to sunrise it got, the more beautiful the scene became.

Once the scenic vista was obliterated by the blinding rays of the sun, I turned my attention to the cliffs and the surrounding landscape that was being illuminated with the golden-red rays of the early morning light. It's still only 6:00 AM.

Not soon after I shot this snag, I wrapped it up and drove back to the cottage to enjoy the day with my family. More family fun and good food, and we headed for Seal Harbor for sunset. There was a couple sitting in the twilight, fishing from one of the docks, but it was an otherwise quiet evening. A few clouds had started to roll in, specifically for my benefit I believe, adding some much needed character to the blank slate of the sky.

I woke up to the 4:30 alarm on the final morning of our stay and once on the road realized that there would be no sunrise this morning due to the this blanket of clouds that had settled in overnight. A quick change of plans and I drove to Seawall Beach to hopefully salvage a little shooting and with the tide on it's way in, I didn't have much time if I wanted to check out the boulders, rocks, and tidal pools. It wasn't 5:30 yet, but I knew I wasn't the first one at the beach when I found a half dozen of these stone pyres around the beach. I knew they hadn't been there long, because they could not have withstood the waves and surge of the high tide.

The only rush to get out of town was to avoid the swarms of tourists that would shortly be showing up to spend the Labor Day weekend in town, but that still left us plenty time for some hiking and exploring before hitting the road for the trip home. I'm hoping to make another trip prior to the winter settling in to do some more shooting in the interior of the park when the sun is lower in the sky and I can shoot for longer stretches of time.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Thinking Outside the Box

"Thinking Outside the Box". We hear this all of the time, but what does it really mean?

My mother used to ask me, "If all of your friends jumped of a cliff, would you do it too?"

"No, of course not" I would tell her.

"Good, then you are thinking for yourself".

Now this is certainly an extreme oversimplification of the situation (I was probably 7 or 8), but you catch the drift. Use your head, don't do something just because everyone else is doing it, seek unique ways of solving old problems. If you have to get down that cliff to get home, don't jump just because everyone else is doing it, build yourself a sled, or a parachute, or a glider. You'll still get there, just with less damage, and less damage is good. You'll stand out from the crowd because you'll be the only one that isn't bleeding.

You might remember my youngest son from "The Lost Rolls". Well, he turned four this spring. He goes to the library once a week to hang out with all of the other kids in town that are too young still for school, but enjoy the thrill of a well written story about a fire truck. They also do a weekly art project.

A few weeks ago, the teacher had all of the children sit around and mix up a batch of plaster. The kids mixed handfuls of dirt into the plaster to make it look like wet dirt. Handfuls of the muddy compound were scooped out and formed into flat circles as the base for that weeks project. There were boxes of assorted sticks, rocks, and bark that the young artists were instructed to press into the mud to create their masterpieces. Rocks were pressed in as eyes, sticks became mouths, and bark became hair and ears. Some kids made other types of two dimensional art, using the natural materials to create some very impressive designs in the mud.

When I finally saw my sons piece, my jaw literally dropped. He saw what everyone else was doing and decided to go another direction.

Good job son, you are thinking for yourself.

Scott bulger Photography Blog
He calls it his "forest".

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Image Critique #7

Today's installment of "Image Critique" has been generously submitted by Allie. Let's have a look, shall we.....

Scott Bulger Photography Blog

This is really a very nice shot. Nicely exposed and well composed. There is detail available in all parts of the white orchids petals, as well as plenty of detail to be plucked from the shadows. The small bud in the lower left corner is a very big part of the composition, as is the nicely diagonal line of the stem.

Just a couple of small things to note:

  • The upper right hand corner has a light fixture in it. It's pretty dark, and not offensive in any way, but being such a natural photograph, you might want to darken up that lamp if you can or eliminate it from your composition if possible. It just detracts from the naturalness of the scene a bit.
  • The ratio of this image as presented is 576 x 551. Close to, but not a square. If you actually crop it to square, the edges of your frame get too close to both the bud on the left and the bloom on the right.

Scott bulger Photography Blog

Any attempt at putting a matte over this image will result in a further encroachment of these two important compositional elements. This can be solved in a number of ways, but it's just something to think about when shooting in 35mm with the intention of cropping to square. The sooner you recognize the issue, the easier it is to correct.

Bottom Line: I wish that this blog post was longer, but this is really a terrific image. Well composed and well exposed. Very well done with a delicate situation.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Lost Rolls

I just finished preparing for a show that opens Labor Day weekend, so my studio is even more of a mess than it usually is, with piles of matte board, foam core, and glass strewn about the area. As I fumbled through the mess, attempting to get things back to some semblance of order, I uncover a small brown cardboard box. Not remembering there being a cardboard box in this particular area of my desk, I open it with some trepidation, not having any idea what I would find.

Well what to my wondering eyes should appear? Thirty undeveloped rolls of film, from times not so near.

I sorted through the canisters and rolls to find quite a variety of materials.

  • 2 rolls of 120 T-Max
  • 1 roll of 120 Agfapan 400
  • 18 rolls of 35mm Agfapan 400
  • 7 rolls of 35mm Agfapan 100
  • 2 rolls of 35mm Agfapan 25!
I ran my fingers through the film like I had struck gold. I picked them up and dropped them back into the box one at a time, just letting them roll off the edge of my fingers....plunk....clank....bonk.... I thought about what could be on the rolls, but I really had no idea. I couldn't even begin to imagine, so when I grabbed a couple rolls to head to the darkroom to process them, it was kind of like finding a bunch of lottery tickets. The anticipation of what I was going to find in the silver emulsion was coursing adrenalin through my body.

I plunged my hands into the darkness of the changing back and peeled open the canisters with my fingers. I wound the acetate onto the spools and closed up the canister. I pre-wet the film while I mixed up my Marathon, all the while with images of past photos flashing through my head. I knew this had to be personal film, as I never would have let film from a job go missing.

The six minutes of developing seemed to last an eternity. Out with the Marathon and in with the stop bath. Another minute goes by. Out with the stop bath and in with the fixer. Five more minutes. Out with the fixer and wash. I'm dying to look inside now and see what I have, but somehow I manage not to open the canister. Out with the water and in with the fixer remover......wash it again and in with the photo-flo. When I pour out the last of that, I can't help but peel off six inches of film to see what I have. I see a couple shots of El Castillo at Chichen Itza in Mexico.

"Cool" I say as I give the spools a quick rinse before throwing them in the dryer. "Must be more Mexico stuff." I don't even bother to look at the other roll. I know it's been processed properly, so whatever is there will still be there after it's dry.

The "ping" of the dryer timer let me know that the negatives were ready. I removed the stainless steel reels from the dryer tube and took them over to the counter. I pulled the film from the grooves and started cutting them into strips of six so I could scan them into the computer. I did a double take as i saw what was actually on the roll. After the first couple frames of El Castillo, the rest of the film was from the day my last son was born (four and a half years ago). Not only was it from the first day of his life, it was actually from the first hour. Most of the roll his eyes aren't even open yet, but they do ease open a little bit towards the end of the roll.

I had struck gold after all.

Scott Bulger Photography

Scott Bulger Photography

Scott Bulger Photography

I guess I'm going to have to develop those other twenty eight rolls soon.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Image Critique #6

Hello again. It's time for image critique #6. Thanks for following along.

Todays image was submitted by Pam. Thanks Pam.

Scott Bulger Photography Blog Image Critique #6

I'm going to start off small and work up. This isn't a bad image, but there are a few simple things that would improve it immensely.

1. Posture. The subjects spine is tipped to the right and her shoulders are tipped to the left. This is important because the back is so prominent in the composition. It looks a little awkward and not very comfortable. This is more than likely caused by the subject sitting on a sloped wall, throwing off her balance. I'd like to see the chin up just a little bit higher as well.

2. Eyes. I'd like to see more eye here. The way her head is positioned, she might me looking down, or her eye might be closed. It's tough to tell. If the eyes are in the frame, you should be able to tell what they are doing.

3. Selective Coloration. I'm not going to make any bones about it, I don't like selective coloring. I think it's dated and gimmicky. Selective coloring first made it into the popular mainstream in the 80's with those cute little kids in the overalls on the swingset with the 5 year old boy giving the 5 year old girl a cute flower. Given that, I can tell when it accomplishes what it is supposed to do, and this doesn't do that. Coloring the flowers at the end of the brides arms draws the viewers attention away from what you should be trying to get them to look at, and that's the bride. I can't think of a single situation where this technique would be compositionally appropriate. People that like it, tend to like it because it's "different" and they haven't seen it before. Once they see it a few times, it becomes old hat. So even if a client "wants" it, they probably aren't going to think it's so unique 20 years from now when they have gone through their wedding photos 100 times..

Scott Bulger Photography Blog Image Critique #6

If you must use this technique, try to use the color to attract the viewers eyes to where you want them to look.

4. Contrast and Tonal Range. This is an extremely contrasty image and must be handled carefully. As seen in the histogram below, there are very few mid-tones here.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Try to balance the image a little better using more of the available tonal range. Also, watch out for the bright spots. When dealing with wedding dresses, this can be very tricky. You want the dress to be white, but not so white that you can't see any detail. There are chunks of the dress that are to bright.

5. Depth of Field. A little less Depth of Field would have been helpful here, allowing the background to be lighter without all of the trees and branches being a distraction. I'm not talking about a lot lighter, just a little, stretching out that low end of the histogram. Treat this as a portrait, and open up your aperture.

Since we are talking about Histograms, just let me say that there are no "good" or "bad" histograms. They merely provide us with information and allow us to illustrate something that can sometimes be difficult to explain.

Bottom Line: This image is OK, but a few minor alterations while shooting could have really perked it up. The client might like it, and that is great, but it's not an image that will stand the test of time.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Never Surrender - Understanding Exposure and Why it's Important

Everyone knows it happens, but most people don't know how it happens or why it happens.

The automation of cameras has made users lazy. You can just set it to "Automatic" or "Program", press the shutter button, and voila, a properly exposed image.

Q. "Why do I need to know all of this stuff if the camera will figure it out for me?"

A. Because it gives you control, and surrendering creative control of your work to a machine is never a good idea.

Exposure is the process of allowing the appropriate amount of light into your camera for the appropriate amount of time to properly expose your cameras sensor or film. To understand exposure, you need to understand three things; ISO, Aperture, and Shutter Speed. Contrary to popular belief, there are a hundred different combinations for any given scene that will give you an identical and proper exposure.

Let's talk about these three elements individually.


ISO is the same as "Film Speed". I know, there is no film in a digital camera. But there is a sensor and when you adjust the ISO, you are adjusting the sensors sensitivity to light, the same way that changing film to a film with a different film speed would make the film either more or less sensitive to light.

Common ISO's are:


100 is the "slowest" or least sensitive to light, and 3200 is the "fastest" or most sensitve to light. If you look at these numbers closely, you'll see a pattern here. Each number is either double or half of the number on either side of it. This means that each ISO is either twice as sensitive to light, or half as sensitive to light, as the ones right above and below it.

Shutter Speed

Shutter Speed is the amount of time that the shutter is open and allowing light to pass through onto the film or sensor.

Common shutter speeds are:


Please note that these are all fractions of a second. Some cameras eliminate the fraction, just using the denominator as an indicator. I once had a student proclaim "There is no way that I can hold still for 125 seconds!" She was both right and wrong. She was right that she could not hold still for 125 seconds. She was wrong in thinking that the proper exposure time was 125 seconds. It was 1/125th of a second. It's much easier to stay still for 1/125th of a second.

Now look at this list of numbers.... do you see the pattern? Each shutter speed is either twice as fast or half as fast as the one on either side of it. Each time you move the shutter speed one step, you are either letting light in for twice as long or half as long as the previous shutter speed you were using.


Aperture is the number that refers to the size of the opening in your lens that controls the amount of light that is let through the lens. This light is stopped prior to reaching the film or sensor by the shutter. Do not confuse "aperture" with "f-stop". They are similar and related, but not the same thing.

Common apertures are:


This is where it can get tricky. The smaller numbers at the top of the list are the larger openings, letting in more light. The larger numbers at the bottom of the list are smaller, letting in less light. The aperture of a lens is very similar to the pupil of your eye, expanding and contracting to let in the proper amount of light for any given subject. While it may not be readily apparent, each aperture in this list is either twice as large or half as large as the aperture on either side of it, letting in either twice as much light or half as much light as the neighboring openings.

Smaller Number = Larger Opening
Larger Number = Smaller Opening

Putting it All Together

It is the combination of these three things that gives you a properly exposed image. The "Sunny 16" rule states that on a bright sunny day outdoors, if you set you camera to f16 and your shutter speed to the inverse of your ISO (or as close as you can), you will get a proper exposure. The red lines on the chart below show the exposure recommended by the "Sunny 16" rule. From that point, all of the other exposures are extrapolated. All of the white lines on the charts are also proper exposures.

Scott Bulger Photography

Starting from the suggested red line exposure, if you want a faster shutter speed, all you have to do is adjust your aperture the same amount of steps in the opposite direction. If you want a different aperture, all you have to do is adjust your shutter speed the same amount of steps in the opposite direction. See how easy that is?

Why do you need all of these options? Control. You want to control how your final image looks. Shutter Speed controls motion, and Aperture controls Depth of Field, so by adjusting your exposure based on these factors, you can control how much Depth of Field you have or you can control how much Motion is shown in your photographs.

In my next installment of "Never Surrender", we'll discuss how controlling the Depth of Field and Motion will affect your final image.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Don't be Greedy

Quality, not quantity. Let me say it one more time. Quality, not quantity.

Ansel Adams once said "Twelve significant photographs in any year, is a good crop."

Twelve. One per month.

Now Mr. Adams definition of "significant" and your definition of "significant" are sure to vary wildly, but this is for certain, you shouldn't be shooting 36 frames on a Sunday, and be thinking that 8 of them are suitable for framing, display, or sale. You need to be much more stringent in the way that you look at your photographs and in the way that you perceive photography in general.

Digital photography should make it easier for photographers to be better editors, since it costs nothing to delete the 150 horrible images you shot yesterday and go back out and try again today, but it seems to have had the exact opposite effect for many people with cameras. They think that they can go out and shoot 150 shots today and 15 of them are good enough to show and then they can go out again tomorrow and shoot 150 more frames and have 15 more that are good enough to show. This leads to an abundance of mediocre and bad photography being displayed and watering down the pool of images available for viewing.

I once had a person with a camera brag to me about going out in the field and shooting 300 frames an hour. All I could do was laugh. It's impossible to go out walking around in the woods or in a city, and properly visualize, compose, and shoot 300 frames in an hour.

300 frames in one hour equals:

5 frames per minute, or one frame every twelve seconds. Do you see how ludicrous this is?

The rationalization for this, was that this persons photography instructor had told them that digital photography was cheap so that they should shoot a lot. Now either one of two things occurred here. The student was saddled with a well intentioned but misguided photography teacher, or the student simply misunderstood the intention of the teachers comment. Sure, digital photography is cheap, and that allows you to shoot a lot, and by a lot, I mean all day long, or every day, or as often as you would like without concern for the cost of film and processing. What it does not mean, is attaching a camera to your face and just running around tripping the shutter every 12 seconds. If that's what you were supposed to do, you could just get a 35mm motion picture film camera, turn it on and shoot 24 frames per second wherever you went, and cull through the resulting garbage looking for the one or two decent images that you might stumble upon. Even a blind squirrel will find a nut once in a while.

Every frame should be pre-visualized. You should see in your mind what you want the final image to look like and use your camera accordingly. Pointing and clicking isn't going to cut it.

There are three phases of competence in any skill:
  • 1. Learning
  • 2. Knowing
  • 3. Owning
Applying this to photography:

You first are LEARNING how. You meter a scene for light to calculate an exposure and look at a chart to get the proper combination of shutter speed and aperture. You look up how the depth of field is affected by the aperture and adjust your camera accordingly. While composing within your viewfinder, you run through the compositional rules in your notebook, applying different ones and viewing the results.

Secondly you are KNOWING how. You step outside with your camera and look at the light. You know the proper aperture and shutter speed that you will have to use for a proper exposure and you know how the depth of field will be affected by the f-stop you choose. You hold up your camera to your eye and you move the camera around, knowing that a certain composition will work better than another one, all the while running through this information in your head.

Finally, you are OWNING the process. You pre-visualize what you want your final image to look like and you instinctively set your camera and compose your image to get the desired outcome. Now you might decide that this image isn't what you had hoped for after all, but at least you aren't operating with a scatter-gun approach.

Vase and Flower, Scott Bulger Photography

"Wooden Vase and Flower"

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Image Critique #5

This weeks image is a little bit different from past weeks as it is more of a stylized fashion shot. As with all genres of photography, there are certain aesthetic aspects that are inherent to fashion photography that may or may not apply to other types of work.

Photo Critique by Scott Bulger

There are a lot of good things in this image that aren't easy to do. The models look comfortable and the contrast in their interaction and relationship is good. There is a great diagonal composition here that offers a lot of dynamism to subjects that aren't moving at all.

These are great models you have here. They seem easygoing and comfortable in front of the camera. Hopefully, you can continue to work together.

The issues that I see are, for the most point, small and easily correctable.

1. I'm not keen on the aspect ratio. You have cropped this into an unorthodox proportion that leads me to believe that you are hiding something that you didn't see when you were composing.

2. Whether it is due to this cropping or not, the toe and the knee of the model on the left are clipped by the edge of the frame. Don't amputate body parts with the edge of the frame.

3. There is a plant in front of the foot of the model on the right. If this is a "fashion" shot, pull that thing out or move the girls. Tough to buy a sell if you can't see it.

4. The hair of the model on the left is blown out from the highlight of the sun. You did a good job putting the models in nice bright shade. If you had moved them over another foot to the right, you could have eliminated this issue (as well as the hot spot above her knee). I like the light on her shoulder and face, but the hair is too hot. It's lost all detail in that spot. If you want to keep that highlight, a small diffuser in the path of the sunlight might tone it down just enough for you to retain detail there while keeping the highlight. An assistant here would be invaluable.

5. Pay close attention to the hands. The two hands that are in between the girls are cut off. Not seeing the right hand of the girl on the left isn't such a big deal to me because of her angle, but look for someplace to put the two hands in the middle so that they are visible.

Bottom Line: This is really a very good effort and with just a few minor teaks would be a very nice image. This line of photography is definitely something you could pursue.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Image Critique #4

Todays image was submitted by an on-line retailer that goes by the name WaterRose, who has a shop on, which is a collection of artisans that sell their hand made goods. Product photography is a huge deal for these retailers. When a potential customer cannot pick something up in their hands and hold it, feel it, and examine it, the photograph becomes your main selling point. Typically, a photograph is only selling itself, but in this circumstance, the photograph is responsible for selling what is "in" the photograph.

Here is the image that WaterRose submitted:


The first thing I want to talk about is the background. While I'm not opposed to text as a background for this type of photo, I think I would like it just a little more out of focus so the viewer isn't trying to read it. You really want them concentrating on the product here. I would also slide the book all the way to the top of the frame so:

A. The cuff doesn't break the plane of the edge of the book (think about a portrait and how the nose shouldn't break the plane of the face)


B. There isn't a gap between the top of the book and the edge of the frame, adding another element to the image that is unnecessary.

The image appears to have an overall green caste to it, which in an "art" image, could be intentional, but in a product image, you should be rendering the image as close to reality as you can get it. Maybe this adjusted image is closer, and maybe it's not, but I think it would be.


I feel like the main piece in the image is a bit distorted due to the close proximity of the lens to the subject. For this particular shot, I think I would back up a little bit and use a longer lens to compress the image and reduce the distortion of the cuff.

I would give it (the cuff) just a little more room around the edges, letting it "breathe" and reducing the amount of "tension" created by the amputations. In many circumstances, tension in an image can be a good thing, but when dealing with a product, I'm not sure that it is such a good idea.

You've filled the frame with your product, and that is a very good thing. Nobody will be mistaken as to what you are highlighting here. The lighting is also very nice, and lighting is no easy trick.

Bottom Line: It's a nice job and only needs a few tweaks to be really very good. If you can't adjust the color of your image after the fact, make sure that you are using the proper white balance. If you don't have a longer lens, just back up. Since this is a product shot for the web, it's only going to be 72DPI and fairly small overall, so making a moderate crop to get it to where you want it to be isn't a big deal.

Submissions for critique are always accepted. Attach your image to an email that says "Image Critique" in the subject line and I will get to it. Keep shooting.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Anatomy of a Piano

A piano is surely the most amazing instrument to me. The variety of sounds that can be created by someone that is skilled in its use just amazes me. A piano can sound like rain, or it can sound like wind, in the hands of a master. The virtuoso can convey the deepest of emotions, and bring a listener to unparalleled highs and lows. One of the very few things in my life that I wish I could do, yet cannot, is play the piano.

A piano is also a beautiful physical structure, both from the outside, and on the inside. It was with this in mind, that I approached the rotting carcass of a piano that I came upon being used as an avant-garde landscape decoration. I have been back to photograph it three times before finally being happy with these two images.

Anatomy of a Piano 1
"Anatomy of a Piano 1"

Anatomy of a Piano 2
"Anatomy of a Piano 2"