What’s in a name

I am in California, working on my project “Foreclosed Dreams,” where I have been photographing inside foreclosed houses. I am also teaching a series of classes. I am spending a lot of time on my new MacBook Air, running my photography business from the road. In between all this, I am working on building Photo Synesi ( http://photosynesi.com ), a new on-line critiquing system that connects serious photographers around the world. Through Photo Synesi, we help aspiring photographers get better through personalized feedback of their work. The title of one of the projects that was recently reviewed caught my eye because it perfectly described what we try to do.

On the subject of titles, people are often curious about the name of the site, Photo Synesi. You know what we mean by the word “Photo,” right? Synesi is the Greek word for wisdom. So, Photo Synesi refers to sharing wisdom about photography, whether that happens between pros and aspiring photographers or among the growing community of photographers who are using Photo Synesi.

One photographer who has had his work reviewed by two different reviewers is from Russia. In submitting his second project, a series of portraits, he titled the set, “Learning portraiture without Photoshop.” Looking at the work, I knew immediately what he meant. While the body of work was portraiture in a controlled lighting situation (it looks like a studio), the photographer clearly wanted to resolve everything that he could “in camera.”

Now, I have nothing against Photoshop (I use it very often). I also have nothing against controlled lighting situations, like studio portraiture. Though it is not something I do often, I respect and admire people who can do that well. What I aspire to do as a photographer, and try to teach others to do, is to get it right “in camera,” reducing the need to use Photoshop.

Some of the other projects that have been reviewed through Photo Synesi have had equally interesting project titles, including: “Going Coastal,” and the simplest of all, “Elements.”

Speaking of the project, “Elements,” which is a series of nature photographs shot in such a way as to distill the scene down to just a few natural “elements,” Photo Synesi reviewer Juan Pons wrote:

“I like your stylistic eye, and original compositions. I also appreciate your selective use of focus, the effect is subtle and not overdone. Additionally, I find your ability to find beauty and style in everyday scenes exciting. As a group most of the images have a common impression and feeling, with most having strong nature elements and themes.

Your work reminds me of the work of two photographers, that while they don’t necessarily enjoy widespread fame, theirs is work I consider to be first rate. The photographers are: John Wawrzonek, take a look at his work on the book “The illuminated Walden.” The other photographer is Bruce Heinemann. One of the things that I tell my workshop participants consistently is to look at the work of other photographers, specially those which you admire, not to copy but to draw inspiration.”

Speaking of the project, “Learning portraiture without Photoshop,” a series of portraits in a controlled lighting situation, where the photographer was “learning portraiture,” Photo Synesi reviewer Robert Meyer wrote:

“There is a noticeable difference between an ordinary portrait and a truly memorable portrait. The memorable portrait establishes a connection to the soul of the subject and the photographer’s execution in capturing that connection for viewing. The near mystical play of dark and light, the angle that is just right, or the suggestive spread of a shadow to accent a captured expression can elevate a photo to a much higher creative plane.

“You have a few images where these elements can be seen but for greater control of the intended personality of your subjects, create a plan before hand. Instead of putting your subject under a certain light, create the light best for your specific subject.

“What can I do to enhance the subjects assets while at the same time minimize their liabilities. If they have a small chin or a large forehead try not to shoot down on them. If they have a short neck try shooting from a high position with them looking into the lens, or conversely, if they have a long neck avoid shooting from a low angle.”

The reviews that happen on Photo Synesi come in the form of text comments, but they also are delivered as audio commentary where the reviewer talks about the image(s) they are viewing. The audio comments are especially compelling since you can learn so much more from the tone of the reviewer’s voice and their points of emphasis as they speak. All of our reviewers, including the ones who do a great deal of Photoshop work, share a common value: encouraging aspiring photographers to get it right, whether in their mind’s eye or “in camera.”

Reading (and listening) to the reviews has been a real education for me, as a photographer and a teacher. Each reviewer, in their own way tries to pass on their wisdom — their “Synesi.” Which is exactly why we built Photo Synesi ( http://photosynesi.com ).

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