Students Facing Their Fears

© Nina Ramberg
© Kari Anne Kvam
© Jan-Morten Bjørnbakk
© Jan Holm
© Berit Roald
© Anders Øystein Gimse

I am always amazed by the work students come back with during any of my photo workshop. During this year’s Cuba workshop we had participants with quite different photographic skills and knowledge, but not matter their background they were all able to produce some outstanding photos.

Personally for me, that is one of the most rewarding aspects of teaching a workshop. I believe I always learn just as much as the participants from their different perspectives and their different ways of shooting that they bring into a workshop. Yes, we as workshop teachers push them to grow and expand, but they all come with their own photographic voice, whether refined or still in the making.

Likewise for the participants, I think being push from teachers with a different perspective than themselves is what makes attending a workshop so worthwhile. When participants let them be move into new ways of seeing and are willing to go outside their usual box, that’s when they will experience tremendous growth and development during a workshop.

During this year’s Cuba workshop, all the participants did exactly that. Yes, some of them felt vulnerable when we pushed hard, which is something we experience in all workshops we teach, but they also came out on the other side with a new photographic confidence and a stronger sense of their photographic voice.

Shooting on the street is difficult for anyone who is not used to it. Particularly approaching strangers on the street with the intention of capturing photos of them can be challenging. It takes a lot of practice to be at ease when walking over to a complete stranger—even for a seasoned photographer used to shooting on the street. Even more so for participants who have never done anything like this before. But again, the participants of this year’s photo workshop ended up getting into any situation by the end of the workshop, yes, they equally easily entered houses of strangers and kept shooting inside their homes.

I think this willingness to face up to the task was what made their work so outstanding. This post gives a little sample of photos by the participants.


Last Week’s Instagram

Once a week—or every so often—I will display one of my photos captured and/or processed with Instagram over the last week (this photo is actually more than a week old, but I haven’t posted any new material the last week). It’s a way for me to show photography that usually is quite different from my regular work. Except for the technical details beneath the pictures are displayed without any comments, hoping they will stand on their own. But I still very much appreciate any comments you may have.

Facts about the photo: The photo was taken with a Canon Eos 5D with a 24-105 lens set at 24 mm. Shutter speed: 1/80 of a second. Aperture: f/6.3. The photo was transferred to my cell phone and processed with the Snapseed app with various adjustments and filters.

Cuba Photo Workshop

Back from Cuba again and trying to absorb the impressions from both the photo workshop I taught and my own work I had time to pursue the last week of my stay there. The latter I will writer more about later. Here and now, I just want to convey my immediate thoughts on the workshop, which took place during the first week of my stay in Cuba.

We—the two teachers, my friend and colleague Sven Creutzmann and me—had a enthusiastic and devoted group of workshop participants in this workshop we have taught on and off since 2007. Our goal is to push every one of the participants to perform and develop as much as possible during the week the workshop lasts.

Sometimes we might be pushing too hard—at least for some—but for us it’s important that each and every participant returns with strong imagery from Cuba as well as with a feeling they have taken some major step forward in their photography. I believe everyone did exactly that, although a few in the beginning had a hard time adjusting to the pace and the frustration of not getting immediate results. As with everything that matters in life, it takes time and work to improve and develop. In a later post, I will show some of the amazing imagery the participants came up with.

The workshop started up with a couple of days in Havana. Among other events, the participants would cover the May First parade, the international workers’ day, which is a big festivity in Cuba. Of course there were plenty of street shooting in the bustling capital. After three days in Havana, we took off for Trinidad, a beautiful, old city situated almost in the middle of Cuba along the southern coast. The pace is slower and gentler and the participants were finally able to devote all their time to their personal project, which they had picked for the workshop.

This was when the participants really started to produce outstanding work. The picture critique every day was both fun and inspiring for that same reason. And of course, Sven and I kept pushing for more. If this workshop is not a boot camp, it’s still not a holiday, at least for those who choose to get as much out of it as possible. All the better that we staid at a hotel right on the Anchon beach so both we and the participants could cool off in the emerald green Caribbean sea in between the battles.

I think it is safe to say that everybody, by the end a week ago, had had a tremendous experience and not the least could look back on a week of great photography and personal development. Already now, Sven and I have scheduled the next workshop in Cuba. It will take place from May 6th to May 12th 2018. Maybe something to consider? Then take note of the date and set time aside.

On a different note, I must apologies for not having been able to follow up comments and notes on my blog while I was in Cuba. Internet access is so bad everywhere in Cuba it’s virtually impossible to do anything but answer emails. I promise I will get back to each and every one of you over the next weeks.


Teaching a Workshop in Cuba

© Otto von Münchow
© Sven Creutzmann
© Sven Creutzmann
© Sven Creutzmann
© Otto von Münchow
© Sven Creutzmann

Since the weekend, I am back in Cuba again, teaching another photo workshop here. I actually don’t known how many times I have taught the workshop, but it’s always such a joy to meet with new students and photographers. And not the least to be able to talk about and do what I burn for. Don’t we all burn for photography—at least most of you reading this blog?

So far, we have been photographing in Havana, but in a couple of days, we move on to the beautiful colonial city of Trinidad.

This post has actually been written before I left, since internet access is almost none existing in Cuba. I hope to be able to post more over the next week or two, but often I find it impossible. Particularly uploading any kind of photos is quite a trial to one’s patience. Thus, I cannot promise any photos or reports before I am back in Norway again, but I will do my best.

The pictures posted here are from the previous photo workshop I taught in Cuba. Like all Cuba workshops, I teach this together with my friend and colleague Sven Creutzmann.


Some Things Never Change

Det danses tango på Prado

In my post A Delicate Balance last week, I wrote about the dialectic process that photography is. On one hand, you have the technical foundation, that a photograph comes into being by technical means; and on the other hand, that for a photo to capture its audience it needs to hold some emotional content. I also stated that the later is the more important factor. As I wrote, an emotionally loaded but technically poor photo trumps a technically perfect photo lacking emotional content—any time.

What I find interesting is that today it seems like it’s easier than ever to take photos. Present days cameras have become so advanced and at the same time so easy to handle, that everybody can make a technical well capture photograph without knowing much about the technical part of photography at all.

I want to underscore that I just wrote that it seems easier than ever. Because it still isn’t easier to capture the emotional content—and not even technically is it easier, really, with respect to using technique to emphasize a photograph’s content and story. Yes, it is easier to get a perfectly exposed and focused photo, but technique is not only about this. Technique has a far more important role to play—at least if you take your photography serious. You want to understand how you can use for instance shutter speed and aperture visually and how they impact the visual language to substantiate the story you are trying to tell.

The reality is that taking photos that both engage and capture the essence of a moment requires more than just having a advance and intelligent camera—no matter how much of a technical wonder it is. As much as any camera today operates stunningly well under most conditions—and their capabilities keep improving every year, they cannot make the decisions that result in great photos. Only you can. No automatic setting can determine how you want to frame your subject. No automatic camera can decide the best moment to press the shutter button. No camera can choose what you want to photograph. Only you can.

Photography is a skill and a craft. Yes, the technological development has, on some levels, made it easier than ever to take photos. But if you desire more than just perfectly focused and exposed photos—which, by the way, is not guaranteed in and of itself even with today’s cameras—you still need to learn the craft. The camera cannot think for you or distinguish between a terrible photo, an ordinary photo or the masterpiece. You still have to take command of the photographic moment and the camera—whether it is a cell phone, a point-and-shoot camera or an advanced DSLR you use.

Two very important factors that has a huge impact on the visual expression of photography is complete independent on the camera you use and how advanced—or not—it is. The fact is, these two factors are all yours to decide and this has not changed a bit since photography was invented in 1826 when Nicéphore Niépce captured the first ever photograph.

Your choice of space and time when you take a photo will always be independent on the camera and camera technique. If you want to take photos that respond with an audience, you will need to learn how to use both space and time to capture those telling images. In many ways, this is the classical time-space continuum. This space-time continuum is a mathematical and physical model that combines space and time into a single idea. We all exist in this continuum, whether we are aware of it or not, and every photo captured will relate to it.

Don’t let me over-complicate things, though. Understanding that a photo is taken in a certain place and at a certain time is easy enough to grasp. That in itself will have some historical value, but the space-time continuum has far wider implications on how a photograph is perceived.

Space, for instance, as a primary consideration, goes to what you point your camera at, your choice of subject. You need to be in the same space as the subject you want to photograph in order to be able to photograph it. Maybe one day you will be able to capture images formed in your mind without having to direct a camera towards a physical object. However, as I see it, it would no longer be a photograph.

Therefore, you need to pick a space that coincides with the subject you want to photograph. Furthermore, once you have decided on what you want to photograph you also have to decide how you want to frame it. This is clearly space related, too. Which point-of-view you decide on will have a huge impact on how your story in the photo is told. Then finally, you have to decide how you want this stage to be built. What do you leave out and what do you keep in? All these considerations are related to an understanding of space.

Time, on the other hand, is a variable that has other implications on a photograph. First of all, you need to consider when you want to take a photograph. Traditionally, most photographers know that taking a landscape photograph when the sun sits low on the horizon creates a very different result than a photograph of the same landscape taken at midday when the sun is in zenith. Time has also to do with your choice of moment, when to push the shutter release. In a landscape photograph just mentioned, the exact moment will not be as critical as when you a shooting some sport event in which a fraction of a second between two photos can make a big difference in the end result. Finally, time is also a cause for consideration as to what shutter speed you want use to render your idea of the subject. This later time factor is of course a little more technically depended, as you will have to choose a shutter speed that the camera lets you use.

Being consciously aware of space and time will make you a better photographer. The good part of learning to navigate them? You will never have to relearn how to use them if you want at some point to change your camera, because these factors—which have a huge impact on the visual expression—are complete camera independent.

Facts about the photo: The photo was taken with a Canon EOS-5D and a 24/105 mm lens set at 24 mm. Shutter speed: 1/200 of a second. Aperture: f/5.6. The photo was processed in Lightroom and Photoshop.


Cuba Is Waiting for You


Do you want to come along for an amazing photo experience? In one of the most fascinating and photogenic countries in the world? Then come along on Blue Hour Photo Workshops’ next adventure to Cuba. During a whole week in the beginning of May 2017 we will explore some of this country’s finest places, meet with hospital and welcoming Cubans and experience Cuba’s cultural diversity.

NOW is the time. Cuba is rapidly changing. Join the workshop and capture the Cuban time capsule—before it’s too late. Furthermore—if you are a US citizen—the is no telling what the future looks with respect to US–Cuban relations and the new political winds blowing over the country. As of yet it’s still fairly easy to travel to Cuba. For more information about how to travel to Cuba as a US citizen, some time ago New York Times had a very informative article about the necessary requirements.

This is a photo workshop for you who want to immerse yourself in vast photographic opportunities and at the same time develop your photographic voice. No better place than Cuba for doing both. We, the two workshop teachers, will guide you and help you and make sure you get the most out of this week. We will take you to places beyond the usual beaten tracks, we will show you the real Cuba and we will push your photography in a stronger and more personal direction. This workshop will be a kick-starter for you, no matter at what lever your present photography is.

As mentioned, now is really the time to go to Cuba for any photographer, if you want to experience some of its special era of present days, its in many ways contradictory appearance, its strange combination of political otherness and Caribbean salsa, and the original and unchanged life of Cubans since the fall of the old Communist block. All this is rapidly changing and will all be gone or completely changed in not too many years.

Cuba is a unique country—whatever else you may think of it politically; for a photographer the country is full of exceptional photo opportunities. Photographically speaking, it hardly matches any other place in the world. Moreover, by attending the photo workshop this year you will be able to witness a historical time for the country. Already, and as mentioned, the times are changing rapidly. If communism still isn’t on is way out, the mix of stall centrally controlled governance and a new, more open economy, is swiftly shifting the old Cuba into a modern, but also more global lookalike. Some of the uniqueness is vanishing—for better and worse. Now is indeed the time to experience the uniqueness of Cuba. And what better way than together with the two workshop teachers, Sven Creutzmann and Otto von Münchow who have, respectively, lived in and travel to the country for more than 25 years.

The workshop «Street photography in Cuba» is set partly in Havana and partly in Trinidad. It’s an excellent opportunity to experience the colourful and warm people of the Caribbean island. In addition, you will combine it with the teaching of two very experienced workshop instructors. They provide you with valuable lessons and individual feedback for you to develop as a photographer. Or as a former participant expressed: «I developed greatly as a photographer.» The workshop is really about picture making and developing your photographic vision.

Set aside the dates from April 29th to May 6th 2017—and join this extraordinary photo workshop.

Click here for more info about the Cuba workshop.

A reminder here at the end: If you want to have a chance to be part of the draw for a free participation in my online workshop, «Finding Your Photographic Voice», remember so send me an email, stating your name and why you would like to attend the online workshop. By the end of the month I will draw one winner who will get to participate for free.

Facts about the photo: The photo was taken with a Canon EOS-5D and a 24-105 mm lens set at 47 mm. Shutter speed: 1/250 of a second. Aperture: f/16. The photo was processed in Lightroom and Photoshop.


The Streets of Prague






This weekend I have been teaching a photo workshop in Prague. Prague is maybe one of the most beautiful cities in Europe and a dream for most photographers, whether professionals or just enthusiasts. That fact is even a challenge in itself when visiting Prague, because everywhere you go there are plenty of other photographers or tourists with cameras exploring every corner of the city core.

It’s hard to capture the authentic life in of people living in Prague, at least if you don’t venture out of the old town, away from the famous bridge or the equally famous castle. On the other hand, photographing tourists can be another way of capturing Prague as the attractive city it is. Still, as the participants of my workshop has experienced, you don’t have to venture far out from the tourist drag to find where the locals gather. Prague is renowned for its café life, and every local has a preferred café or pub.

For me it’s been really inspiring to see how the participants of the workshop have been working hard and found they own way of capture the Czech capital where they are making photos that are telling the stories of locals or photos telling stories about the massive tourist invasion.

When teaching a workshop I don’t have much time to shoot on my own, but nevertheless, here are a few impressions of my own during this visit of Prague.


Don’t Ever Postpone

Last Saturday I did an unforgivable mistake for any photographer. I was doing an assignment for a magazine, which basically was to photograph a researcher who has done a study about how multi national corporations evade taxation by moving profits and debts between countries. An interesting subject—and the photographing of the researcher went very well. No mistakes there.

However, during a break I noticed outside the building the shoot was taking place a person who had sat down on the curb. He had a bicycle that was painted in all the colours of the rainbow, clothes that were equally colourful, and he had a strong and firm facial expression. I thought he was a perfect subject for a photo. He looked like he was going to sit down and just enjoy the Indian spring, which had suddenly occurred over the weekend. It appeared he wouldn’t disappear within a short while.

So I thought at least—and now you understand where this is going. I planned to go out and ask to photograph him after the session with the researcher was done. That, of course, was the mistake. Although it didn’t take much time to round up the shooting session, while I was capturing the last few photos of the researcher, the colourful person outside had vanished. I hadn’t even noticed.


The morale is; never postpone capturing a subject that has caught your interest. Of course, I knew that already—bitterly—as this was not the first time I have made the mistake. Sometimes we human beings just don’t seem to learn. I should have known better. I shouldn’t have taken the risk, that the guy might not stay put until it suited me to go out and photograph him.

Sometimes it’s laziness, sometimes it’s just unawareness, sometimes it’s a time issue, sometimes it’s a misjudgement. Whatever the reason, it’s always sad to realize you have lost an opportunity to capture what might have become a great photo. So don’t ever postpone photographing something that captures your attention. Take the photo right away. Don’t wait till tomorrow—not even with a static subject. By then the light might for instance be completely different. Don’t even wait a minute, particularly with moving and changing subject. Now is the time to capture it.

I am sure we have all done the same mistakes. How about you, do you care to share your experience when you didn’t make yourself capture the best photo of your life?

Facts about the photo: The photo obviously wasn’t the one I missed. Anyway, it was taken with a Canon Eos 1 with a 16-35 mm lens, set at 16 mm. Shutter speed: 1/125 of a second. Aperture: f/6.3. The photo was processed in Lightroom and Photoshop.


Slow on the Up-Take?

Gatekunst og propaganda i bydelen Marianao

One of my mantras when it comes to photography is that equipment doesn’t matter. Yes, if you are studying microorganisms, needless to say, you cannot photograph those small creatures with your cell phone. But for 90 percent of what most of us are photographing, equipment doesn’t matter.

I say it’s my mantra, but of course, most photographers who are interested in imagery rather than technique would say the same. It’s possibly an acquired truth for most, I think. I, myself, certainly started out as a photographer being more concerned about the technical aspect of photography than the visual result. Back in the days of film, for instance, I did change my favourite brand of film depending on how I thought it would render whatever I captured and not the least the quality of the grains, the colours and its stability. Also then, only the best camera was good enough—at least as soon as I could afford to buy high-end equipment.

Today, though, I look more to functionality and usages than to technical quality and theoretical performance of my equipment. Anything that works, works! I don’t care if it’s a cell phone, a compact camera or a big professional camera. Well, actually, I do, I try to avoid the big professional camera these days, simply because it’s too big and bulky and burdensome. Take the photo that accompanies this post, a street photo captured in Cuba. It could have been taken with any of the above-mentioned cameras.

These days I might even be slow to adapt to new and «revolutionary» equipment, gadgets or software that—according to their manufactures—are suppose to be game-changers. I am sceptical at the outset, I just simply don’t believe whatever they claim that is new and fantastic is going to make me a better photographer.

Did I say these days? I guess it’s been longer than that. When autofocus was first introduced, I saw no point in it at all. I believed it wouldn’t make me faster compared to how I handled manual focus. Not exactly recently, this most have been back in the 90’s… My thought was that manually I could focus anywhere on the screen. Particularly when the main object is not in the centre of the frame it made me faster compared to autofocus—at least that’s what I believed. With autofocus, I would first have to pre-focus and then reframe the subject before taking the photo. Only when Canon introduced eye-tracking coupled with an array of focus points did it make sense to make the change for me. The functionality, which was introduced with Canon Eos 5(the pre-digital version) and refined with Canon Eos 3, was discontinued with these models, however. But it made me change to autofocus.

I have a built-in resistance, I believe, when something is suppose to change the world to the better. Another example is digital photography. For a long time I did not make the change from film to digital, simply because I thought it wouldn’t make the quality of my photos any better. For a long time, rather the opposite, as a matter of fact. Instead I used film, scanned them and then sent the image files to my clients. My first digital camera I acquired as late as in 2004. (On the other hand, I was actually quick to start using Photoshop. I believe my first version was Photoshop 2.0).

I was slow to take up Instagram, too, something of more recent years. I am not saying this because I don’t believe in development and new ideas. However, sometimes I wait until I see the value of spending time with yet another hype (not that Instagram is a hype, though) or maybe to make sure it’s not a hype and it may actually make me take different or better pictures. I don’t think I am slow by nature, because when I do commit myself to new technology I am very fast to dig deep into it and try to master whatever it is I am learning or adapting to as fast as possible. In the end, the point is I’d rather spend time developing my creative skills and my way of seeing, instead jumping on to any gadget that is suppose to and maybe can make me a better photographer. As I started out saying, equipment, in which is included software and apps, doesn’t really matter. This much said, though, the other side of the coin, however, is that many new gadgets or whatever new comes into the realm of photography, encourage us to be more playful, which of course is great.

How do you see the «brave new world»? Do you jump onto new things right away? Do you wait? Do you care at all?

Facts about the photo: The photo from Cuba was taken with a Canon Eos 5D with a 24-105 mm lens, set at 24 mm. Shutter speed: 1/125 of a second. Aperture: f/4.0. The photo was processed in Lightroom and Photoshop.


Come to Prague!


Some time ago, I launched a complete new workshop. In the end of September I will teach a photo workshop in Prague. I have been to this vibrant capital of the Czech Republic many a time, but this is the first time I make an attempt to teach a workshop there.

I really look forward to be able to show the participants this amazing city—and of course to let them photograph its charm and radiance. The Czech capital has an interesting historical downtown, is famous for its cafes, the beautiful bridges over the river Vltava and not the least Hradčany Castle. Most of all, though, it’s a city full of life and vibrancy, which I think will be the biggest attraction for participants in a photo workshop. For any photographer who loves street photography Prague is a dream come true.

«Street photography in Prague» takes place over an extended weekend. Maybe it’s something for you to consider attending? Of course, if you live in a different continent it doesn’t make much sense to go to Prague for only half a week. However, for anyone situated in Europe Prague is easily accessible and often remarkably inexpensive to reach. And if you are not in Europe maybe attending the workshop could be combined with an extended visit to Europe. Prague is worth a visit of its own. Even if you don’t attend my workshop, I would recommend the Czech capital, any old day.

My workshop is inexpensive and will be an inspiration for anyone who either loves to photograph street life or are interested in getting into street photography. It will take place from Friday to Monday the last weekend of September. I promise you an extraordinary experience. For more information about the workshop, have a look at the web site of Blue Hour Photo Workshops.