Good in the Beginning, Good in the Middle, Good in the End

Last month we talked a bit about where “good” photography starts. Briefly, to review, we talked about the need to slow down and observe our surroundings. We also talked about photography and light i.e. good light equals good images. And finally we talked about composition.

Today, as promised, we’ll cover the fundamental basis for how your camera works. I don’t want to get too technical here because, ultimately, my goal is to help you to apply this knowledge to the easiest to use, most immediate tool, at our disposal and that is a cell phone camera.

Since photography is all about light, the key to understanding how our camera works is understanding how the camera captures and uses light to make an image or photograph. One way to understand how a camera works is to look at how the human eye works.

Image Collection: Human Anatomy, Picture of the Eyes, WebMD

Looking in a very rudimentary way, we can recognize the pupil of the eye, as the hole through which light passes. As the pupil widens more light filters through as the pupil shrink less light filters through. In general, we see better in well lit situations than in dimly lit situations. The eyelid of the eye, when open allows us to see, when closed we see nothing. And finally, the lens just behind our eye refracts the light into the back part of the eye where what we “see” is processed by the optical nerves and electrical impulses delivered to the brain. If everything is functioning properly we see the world in full color and with vivid detail.

Similarly, your camera has three variables that determine how to get the right amount of light for the just the right exposure. These are:

  1. Aperture
  2. Shutter speed
  3. Sensitivity



Aperture is the hole through which light passes; light passes through the lens to expose the film or camera sensor. Aperture is measured in f-stops. F-stop numbers are represented like so: f1.4, f2.8, f5.6, f11.2 etc. These numbers can be confusing for people, however, because the smaller the number, the larger the aperture or hole through which light passes and larger the number, the smaller the aperture or hole through which light passes. The f-stop number is determined by a mathematical formula involving diameter; honestly I cannot even begin to explain such a formula and while its nice to know such things it’s not completely necessary to understand the formula to understand aperture. Visually speaking, here’s how the inverse relationship of aperture would illustrated:

Versatile Photography School, Aperture Article

The thing to understand about aperture, in addition to the fact that the aperture controls how much light passes through the lens of the camera, is that aperture also controls depth of field or how much of your image is in focus.

A shallow depth of field is produced by a wide aperture, which in turn, is represented by a smaller number i.e. f1.4, f2.8, f.4.0. A shallow depth of field will mean that a certain portion of your foreground and background will be blurry or out of focus, the wider your aperture the shallower your depth of field. Using a shallow depth of field produces what is called “soft focus”.

Conversely, the smaller your aperture the sharper your image will be. With a smaller aperture more of your foreground, middle ground and background will be in focus. This is represented by a larger number i.e. f5.6, f8.0, f16.0 etc.

Shutter Speed

There is a shutter or curtain that covers the film or sensor of your camera. The shutter does not open unless you click the shutter button.

If we want less light to hit the film or sensor then we want a “fast” shutter speed or we want to open and close the shutter for a shorter duration. If we want more light to hit the film or sensor then we want a “slow” speed or we want to open the shutter for a longer duration.

Shutter speed is measured in seconds and fractions of seconds i.e. 1/20 (slow), 1/60 (fast), 1/100 (faster). When day photos with flash or in bright light, fast shutter speeds apply. When taking photos in low light or even at night, slow shutter speeds apply and a tripod is likely in order.

“Fast” shutter speeds stop motion while “slow” shutter speeds blur motion. This is important to keep in mind if taking photographs at a sporting event or assessing whether or not a tripod might be needed to avoid motion blur.

ISO (Sensitivity to Light)

ISO, simply put, is sensitivity to light, whether we are speaking about film or a digital camera sensor. Sensitivity to light means how fast or how slow an image can be exposed using that particular ISO setting or film speed.

As with everything else in photography, ISO is measured in numbers. ISO films and settings can go as low as ISO 25 and in this digital age camera sensors are pushing extreme limits with ISO’s at 25600 and above. Digital cameras typically have a base ISO setting; usually this base ISO setting is ISO 100 or ISO 200. The ISO settings will then double in increments to the highest ISO setting.

The lower the number the slower the film or less reactive to light it is, the higher the number the faster the film or more reactive to light the film is. So ISO 100 film or your ISO camera setting will be best used in daylight situations and for still photography while ISO 800 film/camera setting will be best used in low light situations or for action photography.

Finally, ISO affects film grain and digital noise. Ideally, you should use the lowest ISO setting or film your shooting situation allows in order to get the clearest, grain or noise free images as possible. But for creative reasons and simply because you have to, you may need to “bump up” your ISO to get the results you want.

So there you have it folks, these are the key components to getting good images. Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO. Here’s a really great illustration highlighting how each of these components works together:

Daniel Peters, Fotoblog Hamburg

Now the work of putting these three things together to produce great images is in order. Obviously, on a DSLR it is of the utmost importance to understand how to apply these concepts to get what you want if you wish to make the switch from auto to manual shooting.

If you are using a point and shoot camera or your cell phone, these things are helpful to know in terms of pushing the limits of the technology to get what you want.

I will be doing a 45-minute webinar on how to get better photos from your cell phone on March 29 at 12:00 noon. There’s a nominal fee for the session but guarantee you will walk away with some brass tacks on how to use your cell phone to good effect. Here’s how to register for: How to Get Better Pictures from Your Cell Phone.

Until next time

Carpe Diem!

Sincerely, Pilar


Good Photography Starts Here!

When people find out that I am a professional artist and photographer, generally, the conversation automatically goes to one of two subjects:

  1. The kind of camera I use (how many megapixels it captures etc.)
  2. Whether I think film or digital is better (and which do I shoot with)

And I must confide, here and now, that I find conversations about photography framed in such a way, supremely boring and somewhat annoying. I’d much rather discuss the depth and breadth of photographic history and what concepts impact an artist’s choice of photographic method than discuss camera brands and equipment, or rehash the film vs. digital debate. I just think that photography, as an artistic practice, is more than just the camera you use. Also, why should one have to choose between film and digital? There’s no reason not to use every tool available to you.

Furthermore, in this day and age, in 2016, you can probably make a good image using virtually almost any digital camera out there, even your cell phone. The quality of an image, goes beyond megapixels and film, and rests squarely on the shoulders of the image creator.

There are several basic principles and skills you can master to get better images. Good image making, even at it’s most technologically savvy, is a creative process by which an individual is able to use what’s available to them and make the best out of it.

In brief, here are the three elements which I think are key to making good images better.

  1. Stop & Look

Photography is about seeing and understanding how you see, discovering what interests you. Is it color, patterns or movement – the sky’s the limit really. An important part in the practice of photography is slowing down and NOT snapping a picture but rather appreciating moments as they happen.

  1. It’s All About the Light

The word photography derives from ancient Greek; the root phŏtos or phŏs means, “light” and graphé means, “ drawing” or “representation by line”. Therefore, photography literally means “drawing with light” or “light writing”. Good light = good images.

  1. Composition

Composition encompasses a lot, but basically, it’s using all the rules of photography to your advantage or breaking them all together. But armed with basic compositional knowledge you can do virtually anything when shooting an image.


These are, I think, the most basic principles of getting better pictures. If you want to know more, specifically about getting better photos from your cell phone, please join me on March 29 at 12:00 noon for a webinar entitled: Get Better Pictures from Your Cell Phone.

In my next blog segment, (March 17), I’ll talk a little about knowing and understanding how your camera works. Of course, this is also critical knowledge for getting better pictures, even on your cell phone.

In the meantime:

Carpe Diem!

Sincerely, Pilar

Exhibitions, Competitions, Juried Shows, OH MY!

Have you ever wondered what the difference is between an art exhibition, art competition and a juried art show? You will often hear all of these terms used interchangeably, but at the end of the day there is one crucial difference that we shall remark upon here. The difference lies in whether the exhibition is curated, juried or judged.

Curated Exhibitions and Shows

To begin with, a curated exhibition is a group of art work that has been carefully selected by, you guessed it, the curator. The curator has a significant amount of input and control over the final grouping of work shown. Typically, and more often than not, the curator has not only selected the theme and conceptual focus of the exhibition, but they have also titled the show, and selected all of the artists’ work included.

A curated exhibition takes more than just a decidedly firm liking of a particular brand of artwork; it takes forethought, knowledge and time.

Curators can be individuals who work within large scale museum spaces or within smaller galleries and they can also be independent or freelance. A curator may have also studied, deeply, within a particular field of research such as 19th century ceramics, Bauhaus or the Pictorialist Movement. A cohesively curated exhibition is not only well researched, but will also typically give us insight into the curator’s interests both professionally and creatively.  Have you ever been to an exhibition where every piece just seems to better highlight and inform the next? This is what great curators do and why they are highly sought after.

Curators will also oversee how and where the artist or artists work is shown. They will often work directly with the artists’ and venue to “hang the show”.  They may help to arrange artist talks or even give a talk themselves to discuss their vision in constructing the exhibition. They will also be responsible for creating the exhibition catalog.

All things being considered, and perhaps a point of confusion for art world novices and outsiders, the curator may extend a “Call for Art”. S/he may do this in an effort to find previously unseen artists or work or even to garner a fresh perspective in the work, “the work” being the exhibition itself.

Juried Exhibitions and Shows

A juried exhibition or show, on the other hand,  always stems from a Call for Art. The gallery or “exhibition host” or sponsor will issue the call, as well as set the theme or premise for the call. They also select the jurors or judges, who will in turn select artists’  work;  they will select work which best represents the theme or premise of the show.

As with the selection of curators for a curated exhibition, jurors or judges are selected for their knowledge and expertise within a particular area of art. The gallery is not usually not involved in the jurying process but the call for art will speak to the host gallery’s particular interests in working with artists and in their niche or market.

The jury process is often blind, meaning that the jurors do not know who the artists are that have submitted work. In this way, the jury process can be seen as “fair” and perhaps “unbiased” since the juror has not invited (ideally) specific artists to submit to the call with the intention of selecting their work. Jurors may also be responsible for awarding “Best In Show” or rankings of artist work which results in 1st, 2nd, 3rd places (and so on) and “Honorable Mentions” etc.

Once the selection process is complete, the juror’s job is typically complete. The gallery or exhibition host will produce the exhibition catalog, publicity, and work with the artists to hang the show.

A Brief Note About Competitions

Aren’t juried exhibitions or shows the same as competitions?

Yeah, well, my knee jerk reaction to this question is, no. The difference, in my mind, is audience. Whether this is truth or bias, I tend to think that juried exhibitions or shows are targeted toward self-professed, working artists, whether they are working part or full time. While, on the other hand, competitions are for the masses: for the weekend warrior, the amateur or professional etc. For me, the distinguishing factor between a competition and a juried art show is “skin in the game.”

All this is not to say that competitions are bad and juried shows are good. I just think they are different, albeit subtly so. And at the end of the day, technically speaking, a juried show is indeed a competition.

Carpe Diem!

Sincerely, Pilar




The Mundane Life

The Mundane Life

“Neighborly” note left on my doorstep yesterday. Life gave me lemons, so I made art..

I watch a lot of artist talks and documentaries about famous photographers, their work and their methods. Specifically, TED Talks are interesting and easily accessible to everyone. These mini talks given by a wide variety of world leaders, artists, and image-makers are, more often than not, inspiring!

Watching these talks and documentaries helps me to understand what qualities make a ‘great’ photograph and what others think makes a ‘great’ photographer. Frequently, I agree, so and so is a ‘great’ photographer. Watching and listen to other artists and photographers speak about their work also allows me the opportunity to define, and redefine my own photographic work.

An equally important benefit is the clarity of mind that develops; the vaguely unsettling, intuitive sense that while I may find another photographer’s images fascinating and astoundingly brilliant, my own photographic interests, desires, and needs photographically speaking are expressly different.

Recently while watching a whole series of TED Talks organized exclusively around image-makers the thing that struck me was how far away the photographers and speakers went to “get” and “tell” story. It occurred to me, and not for the first time, that while Afghanistan, Brazil, Mt. Everest and all such places are beautiful and eternally photogenic they are ‘great’ because they are exotic. The stories of people and places that we don’t know halfway across the world will always hold our interest because they are stories about people halfway across the world that we don’t know. How could you possibly go to Africa or Thailand or any place other than home, for that matter, and not get at least one decent photograph? How could you go anywhere but home and not have a story to tell? Isn’t that part of why we travel?

Conversely, it seems to me the mundane stuff of life presents a wide variety of opportunities to be ‘great’ and produce ‘great’ stories and photographs.  A great photograph or series of photographs are not just visually appealing but are images that compel us to want to know more about what we are looking at.

I believe the things with which we are intimately familiar are the fixings to and foundations upon which to build great images.  And I also believe the material of our life provides an opportunity to be more mindful, tuned in, and grounded in our experience.  It’s a way to hopefully find appreciation for own circumstance by focusing on it entirely.

Days With My Father is an intimate journal created by photographer Philip Toledano. It’s an example of how photography can be used to document personal circumstances.


My challenge to you is to create a short series of images (3, 5, or 10 images or anything in between) utilizing the substance of your life.  I will select and spotlight someone’s series here on my blog! I will be looking for solid composition, good use of other visual elements and a pretty tightly wound short photographic story.  We call this a visual narrative. It doesn’t have to be profound just your story!

You may use any kind of camera you have available to you to create this series of images – your cell phone, your point and shoot or your DSLR – whatever works.

Please submit the link to your series in the comments section. The due date for submissions is July 16. The “winner” will have their images featured on during the following week July 22 – 26.

I really can’t wait to see what you come up with!!

In the meantime, I will post my own series next week. So, ‘til next time


Roll Out the Red Carpet!!!

Roll Out the Red Carpet!!!

Well, I have never won an award in my life! So what an honor it is to be nominated for the Sunshine Award by Judy Lesko!

As I understand it this award has been created by bloggers to honor fellow bloggers whose blogging inspires them to create and continue to be positive!

I’ve tried to trace the origin of this award but it seems to be a spontaneous quantum blog event with no readily traceable beginning!

Sunshine Award origins aside, there  a few steps one must take upon being nominated to accept this respected blogger award. (I’d rather call them steps because “rules” sounds so stuffy! Really who likes rules?)

Step 1:  Include the award “logo” in a post or on you blog. 


Step 2: Include a link to the blog or website of the person who nominated you.

You should definitely visit Judy Lesko’s blog. She has got some great photos, interesting tidbits of inspiration and an all around wholesome blog.


As an aside last week it was raining, raining, raining everyday! Finally we had a day of sunshine and while riding in my husband’s convertible I snapped this brilliant image of the blue sky and sunshine:


Step 3: Nominate 10 Bloggers for the Sunshine Award.

The benefit here is that we all get to expand our blogging network and find new inspiration in the words and images of others.

Here are my 10. They are not in any particular order:

  1. Charlotte Hoather, Soprano
  3. Pursuit of Life                  
  4. The 50 Year Project         
  5. just after words                 
  6. The Lantern Room         
  7. BunnyandPorkBelly        
  8. The Dimwit Diary          
  9. NOMADICLES             
  10. posts from the path         

Step 4: Answer 10 questions about yourself. And don’t forget to provide your nominees with 10 questions to answer as well!

1. What is the stupidest thing you have ever done?

 As a young person I did a lot of stupid things. I can’t say any one thing in particular was more stupid than the other. I always say: If I knew then what I knew now, I’d ____. At the same time, the follies of youth are those very same things that make us the people we are in the future. So, if I had the opportunity to go back in time maybe I’d do things differently, maybe I wouldn’t.

2. If your house burned down, which three things would you save?

 I have 5 cats and 2 dogs. So I’d want to save every single one of them first. Then if there was time I’d save my computer box…I have well over 20,000 images on it. And if my cameras were home at the time…I’d have to save those. I’d just have to.

3. What would you say to a dead loved one, if you had the chance?

I love you.

4. What is the worst nightmare you have ever had?

Once I dreamed that giant bees with stingers were chasing me. I was flailing my arms about and I literally fell out of bed onto the floor. I was screaming so loud that I awoke my dog and he was ready to kill whatever was after me. It was summer and we had the windows open. I probably awoke the whole neighborhood too.

These days, in the middle of a dream, as strange as it may seem, I am often able to recognize that I am in a dream. Occasionally, I have strange or disturbing dreams but being able to recognize that I am dreaming helps me to kind of sit back and enjoy it like a movie.

5. If you could talk to a famous person (dead or alive), who would it be and what would you say?

A couple of summers ago, I had the opportunity to intern at a non-profit photography gallery and arts education center as part of the completion of my MFA degree.

I think the most valuable lesson I learned there was that famous people are people too. They put their pants on one leg at a time. So I am not star struck so much any more because I did get to meet many photographers who are really big in this industry. At first it was like “whoa” I am meeting such and so but then I got to know them and see these are real people with real lives.

So in a nutshell I’d just want the opportunity to get to know someone who’s considered famous. Maybe we’d have common interests and maybe not!

6. What is the most beautiful place you have ever been?

Home, after a longtime away.

7. If you had one day to do whatever you wanted (without caring about money) what would you do?

I would hop on a plane with my cameras in hand and fly to New Zealand. I have wanted to go there for sometime now. But it’d be a trip that lasts longer than one day!!!

8. What is the best thing that has ever happened to you?

 Hands down, it’s meeting my husband. He is such an inspiration for me. He keeps me going and grounded.

9. Who or what has affected your life the most?

Again, I think it’s my husband. I think we make a great team in life. Second to that, I would say my pets challenge me to stay compassionate and loving as well.

10. Why do you have a blog?

I started blogging because I wanted to share my love of photography as a medium and mode of communication. I also wanted a way to keep myself accountable to creating work.

Here are my questions for you nominees:

  1.  What’s the best advice you received?
  2. If you had to choose an animal that best represents you, what would it be? And Why?
  3. What is important for you in life, love or money?
  4. Do you have a nickname?
  5. What inspires you?
  6. What’s your favorite beverage?
  7. What’s your favorite season?
  8. What do you like to do on your days off?
  9. What is your dream job?
  10. Why do you blog?

Step 5: Share the news of the Sunshine Award with your nominees!

Make sure you have linked your nominees blogs to your post. Drop by their blog and post a comment with a link to your Sunshine Award.

Well, that. was. fun! Whew!

I am really just pleased as punch that I have been nominated. It’s like the Academy Awards of Blogging! Simply think of me decending the stairs from the podium. Please feel free to give a round of applause. I am waving my best wave and smiling.

Thank you. Thank you very much!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Pattern

Weekly Photo Challenge: Pattern

I have a treat for you all for this week’s Weekly Photo Challenge!

First a song:



I live in Albany NY. This is a city found by Dutch settlers in the 1700’s. So each year the city remembers its Dutch heritage with a weekend celebration called the Tulip Festival. There’s the traditional Dutch Street Cleaning Ceremony, a Tulip Court and Queen, Coronation of the Queen and a Grand Ball. For us common folk, there are food stands, music bands, family events and such in the park.

Of course, being a Dutch city in the heart of America, there are Tulips! The city gardener plans a year in advance how Washington Park’s Gardens will look.  All over the city tulips bloom in all varieties of colors.  The park becomes a nature photographer’s dream in the early spring when the tulips rear their heads for a short few weeks. The Tulip Festival is a celebration of life, community and the spirit of this city affectionately called “SmAlbany”.

Flowers as a photographic subject are a bit trite. Regardless, it is fun to go back them each year at this time because flowers, especially tulips, do remain as one of nature’s truly sublime elements. Everyone can appreciate a flower’s beauty! Photographing flowers offers an opportunity to return to an unfettered state of simply looking. You know what they say….You have to stop and smell the roses and in this case it’s tulips!

Everyone appreciates flowers and their spring Patterns:

Happy Spring!!


Weekly Photo Challenge: From Above!

Weekly Photo Challenge: From Above!

Hey Everybody! I missed you last week! I was a little bit under weather and swamped with work! But this week I am back in action!

The Weekly Photo Challenge for the week was “From Above”. I am only 5’2″ so most everything is over or above me! Consequently when I think of “from above” I tend to see things from a “worms eye view”, that is to say looking up, as opposed to a “bird’s eye view” or looking down from above.

Actually, I love looking at the sky and the clouds. I love the sun shining on my face. I love the way sun shining from above makes interesting patterns on walls, creating shapes and shadows that could not exist without it.

Hope you enjoy my take on “From Above”!

The Empire State Plaza, Albany, NY. The Plaza is this massive set of marble buildings and concourse built by Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller. Copyright © Pilar Arthur-Snead & Photographic Expressions
Another view of The Plaza buildings. The Empire State Plaza also houses The EGG, which for anyone not familiar, is exactly what it sounds like…A big marble egg shaped building. Copyright © Pilar Arthur-Snead and Photographic Expressions
Parking? Copyright © Pilar Arthur-Snead & Photographic Expressions
Going up? Copyright © Pilar Arthur-Snead
View of the plaza from one of my favorite restaurants in Albany during the spring and summer: The City Beer Hall. Great food, music and of course, beer! Copyright © Pilar Arthur-Snead & Photographic Expressions
Another view from the City Beer Hall patio. Copyright © Pilar Arthur-Snead & Photographic Expressions

Have great week everyone and keep looking up!!