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Analyzing Photographs

Lesson 16 from: Create Powerful Photo Essays & Personal Projects

David H Wells

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Lesson Info

16. Analyzing Photographs

Lesson Info

Analyzing Photographs

So we're taking you on this journey, right? So now we're at the next point in the journey we gave you a structure what a photo essay is a personal project you understand why I call it a photo essay last time you last hour you guys worry ladies were kind enough to put yourself out there and I like to think from our discussions that you feel like okay, you get a little better handle on how you're going to go forward in theory you're going to go out after wednesday and beyond start photographing so how do you actually look at those photographs and analyze them and critique them and get the best photos? And I'm going to be talking about how to critique photos which of course is a combination of how you look at them but eventually it becomes about how do you become better at creating them and shooting them and making photographs? So I'm going to tell a joke first you probably figured out by now I tell jokes to make sure you're awake I do at the beginning every section to make sure nobody fe...

ll asleep during the break so what is a paradigm shift? Better question first what is a paradigm? Better questions still why is it not connected to two ten cent american coins pair jim goddess a paradigms alright alright seriously that was the joke part a paradigm is a framework that we used to view things and I know you know that but I'm going through this for a reason makes sense it's like a paradigm shift happens when that shift that framework, whatever it may be is shifted a good paradigm shift can happen suddenly sometimes it's quickly sometimes it slowly but a great paradigm shift and I'm going to take you through to paradigm shift this morning a great paradigm shift changes the way that you view something forever. What is that? And I actually I'm asking you three it is there, so you're with me no that's exactly it's a narrow it's, a white arrow and there's a different view of the arrow that aero is that arrow in the fedex truck and a paradigm shift is that you don't completely believe mean, you're all very nice you've been humoring me a lot, but I know that at lunch today you're all going to go outside and you wait for a fedex truck to go by because you don't want hundred percent believe me that there's really an air on the fedex truck, but the paradigm shift is that you'll never view a fedex truck the same from now on. Every time you say fedex truck, you're going to see that little arrow and apparently a student of mine years ago told me that apparently is a graphics one on one lesson in how to use and a road echo would fedex does so the joke is that you're going to now look at fedex trucks differently the serious part and now this is we're really going to get into it is how do you critique photographs that's what one of the skills you really have to develop in this class there's a shooting component there's of course the marketing and promoting pomona but there's the more basic one is how do you actually critique them and that's we're gonna work on for the next segment saying wow, neat or cool is not critiquing photographs so I'm gonna put some photographs up later and wow neat or cool are banished you can't use those words. Okay, we need a common language for critiquing photographs which will help us here and really in theory will help all photographers of photographers and the sort of internet universe out there. We need a we need double discuss the tools, the elements and the techniques, the photography you successfully or unsuccessfully to make images that communicate their idea. And if you get good at this it will apply to any kind of photography regardless of style john reformatted center it's simply the ability to talk about photographs and to say something more intelligent than awhile need or cool okay and the other one of course is that's my dawg that's my child those things don't matter what stops us from critiquing photographs nine times out of tim is we had emotional experience when we made that photograph. We love that dog, we loved that child, we hike to that high peak, all those things we remember, but if you don't successfully convey them to them, the audience you failed, so I'm going to take you through some critiquing criteria that I use can I do actually encourage you to write these down? And we're going to eventually little while look at some other photographers, work not mine, and I show you other people's workers you're more comfortable saying things about it than you are about mine, but one quite serious simply is how is light used is that harsh and soft? And from what direction? It's? This idea of breaking down the photograph and analyzing how is time used is a high shutter speed is a slow shutter speed there's no right or wrong in any of these, but you want to look at a photograph of be able to say it was a good shutter speed shutter speed worked hands from the narrative or it confuses they should use the different shutter speed. What was the photographer's position or angle? I talked about this earlier, the idea of photographing from below like a dog or photographing above like a giraffe what lens was used wide angle telephoto normal there is no correct lens every lens changes the viewers experience of the photograph and so if you use a wide angle by definition a wide angle teams to make the close thing big in the far things small and a wide angle could be great if that's the nature of you want to create a telephoto tends to compress things direct the viewer's attention differently. One thing I learned years ago from a cranky old photographer when I was a young man he said to me it's on in an accent that I can't do he said to me that photography is nothing more than white management and if you look at any photograph your eye immediately goes toe white it's physiological it's hard wired into us so from now on, when you start looking at photographs you should you'll pay attention to the idea that your eye immediately goes toe white so it was the white manage well, the image we're looking um is pattern liner texture used some of these will have this some images won't there's no right or wrong in terms of how you use them but the idea simply being did the photography is pattern liner texture to create some part of the narrative okay, how is focus use and what is the point of focus? Um I shoot almost nothing at f ate and it's not that I haven't against f ate and all the tech guys will tell you that f ate is the best aperture and almost all lenses I'm sure it is but okay ladies put fans on first put your hand out in front of about here okay look at your hand is the background out of focus course a background that because we see it around to eight or afore we don't see it f sixteen we don't see it as fate and our job is photographers is to tell people look at the hand don't look at the background so I shoot probably ninety percent of my stuff at two, eight or four to have that limited depth of field I do shoot some stuff that x f sixteen if I want that expanded depth of field and occasionally I'll shoot it f ate but not very often and I've gone off a little bit but the ideas how is focus used that's if something you can say specific the point of focus was correctly used I don't understand why the photographer focused on there they should have used more depth the fields should he's left let's take the field all of these are ways of actually verbalizing articulating intelligently rather than wow need or cool how the photo works and why ah what compositional elements who use such as negative space or framing and was there framing used to direct the viewer's attention in or out of the photograph, and we always talk about framing. I showed you the picture earlier from jerusalem with the trees on top, directing your attention in it's an example of framing is the orientation, horizontal or vertical working by that and you don't photo shop when you go to print something, it says portrait landscape it's telling you right off the top of the default when you do landscapes is most people assume landscapes or horizontal. Most people assume portrait, sir vertical. So if you do a portrait and you do a portrait, for example, horizontally or landscape vertically, you're going against people, psychological expectations doesn't mean you should do it, but the question is, does it work alright? And then the last one your assignment now, and we'll talk about these and you are on the spot. Here is each of these photographic tools that I described used appropriately or effectively, so I'm going to put up some photos and again, they're not mine. We can have your raise, your hands or whatever, but the idea is to say things like, we'll focus was used well, I don't understand what the photographer focused on the time in the photograph, the portrayal of time is successful or unsuccessful. The good lines is good framing the white managed well, the white is manage problematically andi I made chime in but I'd be curious to hear what works for you because I've seen these photos a lot I'm guessing you probably don't see many of these so comes back to you you can start with a simple one yes, I like it. No, I don't like it, but then I'm gonna go make a tease that out that why is it that you do like it or you don't like it? Well, my idea my goes initially to the mannequin with bottom left because that's the brightest part of the picture to me and the angle draws you right in there all the lines are bringing you down into there but to me that's also true and the other thing is used exactly what words I mean that's not just you like it, but your eye goes toe white on the mannequin the lines are patent repeat and they keep your attention there that's a specific thing both in terms of critiquing of photographs and the whole point of this seniority. I'm hoping thinking, oh that's how I can then improve my shooting? What would you do differently in terms of composition of cropping though uh well, personally I would, but I don't like that black line on the on the far right see how that goes at an angle? I would probably I don't know how you would do that, but you know, that little piece there doesn't excite me too much. Um, I like the angle, the building I'm not crazy about the top fifteen percent wife that pulling may yeah figured how to get rid of that a real simple exercise, and this is one of the like ten things you should take away from the class if you look at a photograph, if you're not sure about the composition and do it here, close your eyes when I tell you to open them, which would just be a second cause, I don't want you to fall asleep when you open them, pay attention to where you're I physically moves, ok? Go and open your eyes don't think about the photograph, but actually just followed the movement, your eye and I do that, and my eye was always fighting back and forth between the two pieces of white, and so if you get rid of that piece of white, which had little to do with my hand, I started the bottom, so you're I always goes toe white, okay and that's such a core rule in all photography and don't analyze it don't think it's a manic it is new york city just puts white, oh the next one of these monsters which actually isn't on the list but it's a corollary your eye goes to type you can reference what that means is that since many of the languages english, german, french, italian finish welsh are written in the romance alphabet that we use if you see type in a photograph even if it's not a language you understand you're going to try to understand it okay if this were written for example in japanese and I don't know if I have any japanese speakers but if well written japanese it goes right over our head because we can't reference it but that alphabets and now with this uses many different languages and so it's announce what we go to right away like the photograph don't like the photograph again it's not mining is anything you want I like it per se I mean I think it's it's fine technically, um I go to the letters first I see the lighting it's in focus what I liked as a sort of age and erosion on it and and the type and the other thing which I thought was helpful with the photographer using today rather than doing it wrecked rectilinear, right? Yes, no maybe please I like how they framed the barn and I like the color contrast I feel like I'm falling over to the right though like the tree on the far right is what I call a natural crop line and I work with he's a lot it's a very obvious place and a comfortable place to end the photograph and you know that because if he had just a little bit more on the right of open blue or green or whatever with that piece on the other side of the tree would kind of be lost in space and so to me it is a natural crop line it is nice framing does it so much doesn't doesn't feel to you like it's also sliding off okay we got two three vote for sliding on all right all right um how would you fix that have more over there? Good question. I personally like the framing and then all the dark driving you into the lighter part there that's why like that and then the other thing is this goes back to the year I goes to type and your eye goes toe white the sign there for better or worse is a point with I immediately go to when you first pull that I don't even see the white sign I was looking at the red just underneath eve for some reason that and the sky was what was what drew me into that barn it just goes to the matter of opinion where you document exactly what you see and if I had an image that was almost perfect. And I had a white sign on it. I would pay the white side so that's part of it also is in my case as a full time commercial photographer, oliver, this time and the time it would take me to take that out. Forget about the journalistic ethic issue. The time alone is a problem, but you do want to problem you're presented with this reality out there, right? Uh, yes, no. Maybe I like the leading lines of that beam going in and then it takes you right to the sky and looking out the way it's framed and this is that one. Remember I said before, I don't know me she is not mine, by the way, but this one she does have a lot of depth of field because the leading line in the right corner and all the way in the distance pretty much everything is in focus. And so again, the question is, one is not better than the other, but does that long depth of field work in terms of the photograph? To me, it does okay and also write the framing works well, the leading line. The other thing is also this dark colors driving it bright colors and it's kind of along with the leading lines that kind of gives you a warm feeling a warm feeling like being raised around the barns and everything like I wass we used to play in the in the barns all the time so there was in the summer time there was always that hey warm, you know? And if you were sitting sitting there drinking your lemonade or something, you were looking out at that at that field and everything you know, just kind of, you know, watching the horses and everything like that so yeah, kind of takes me back home a little bit. Well, that's a good thing so one of things that I like about this photo, please, as well as as well as a photo wench who says they like this shot great exposure from inside looking out and I have to have two second that I'm I'm getting that just I feel like the perfect relationship it's not hd are but I like seeing detail in the shadows, right? They're very dark inside and the far right hand corner is solid black but the beam has just a little bit of information that's correct, right, really nice, right good, thank you. And that was one of my questions is are we able to do this feedback session with the web verse we can't get? This is a, uh photographer catherine it's actually from uh pour in north india, please this is opposite from the one we just saw where you actually could see the distant correct and I like, I really like the color, but because of the shape and how it dry me right to the back, I feel uncomfortable that it's out of focus you would prefer to have the back scene, I would be right because the way that the whole picture is I keep my eye keeps going back over to the pyramid or whatever that building is back there, the city palace, ok? And it just it draws me right, that spot and I can't help but see that its soft that I want it, I want to see what is it? Well, it's a great point, but there's sort of two things that we're trying to get it, he won is the ability to actually articulate the specifics of what the photographer did when they were executing and that's exactly what I want. Then you get into what I call the personal taste zone and that's about what's the image trying to construct what's the name of the dog for signing constructors. To me, the narrative is, look here first, all this incredible hand work, and then this is a secondary story in the background and I could be wrong and I don't have the option, but I don't have that photo I fear that the photo with both of them and focus are close for that fifty fifty problem and here it's now clearly even though it's not it's the funny thing is the majority the image is the background but the majority of emphasis coz of the focus is the foreground is another one playing with focus as well yes, no, maybe warm and at the selective like the focus works the depth of field I don't know what that is if it's cotton it is actually caught okay, yeah yeah, I like the line and just the way the composition is that over to one side one of the ten things is you'll see a lot of photographers do what I call dead centering in the first part is what you put in the center and make it dead by having an off site it gives the sort of psychological journey opportunity for the viewer to go through and go from here to there rather than putting in dead the middle. I tried really hard to stay away from dead centers on horizons and everything else because it tends to feel the most attic. Another thing to go on that idea of the colors what I like but also is the warm colors in the background and almost bluish color of the cold and warm playing off each other. This next one does kind of that same thing warm in the cold playing off of each other you should be going to some or all of the criteria dogger, giraffe, there's a dog or a giraffe when you were little we there but if you had to guess is photographer looking down or looking up probably looking right exactly right lot of depth of field limited little depth of field well yeah, a little a little because the farm needs are completely and also the color contrast is just you know, the blue and the orange and the dark around the edges of the leaves and he creates various from separation which you leave in the background so these air again tools you can use but there are also things that you can actually learn how to say and the object and the whole point of this exercise is it was asked to the earlier of sections what you're editing your own photographs you have to figure out a way to how do you get emotionally removed from the that's my dog problem? And so if you could do things like, say, well, the colors work or there's not ed separation or I don't know what the starting point is or the white is inappropriate, you have to learn to say that about your own stuff as well as about other people's we're gonna change approaches completely, but this is a little more on the the last few were primarily driven by some of the content and the color of the composition this is more content based one is not better than the other but yes no maybe I get it I'm guessing it's a coke machine's vending machine vending machine and I mean I find it interesting because I tend to see those and I like the photograph were elevator doors that are painted and things like that I just find it an interesting topic and subject line of where you are this is not mine but the eyes for is technically no you are drawn to the contrast of the picture in the background to what is really is a vending machine I mean, I was wonder about things like maybe tuck cropping a little tighter especially on the right lower right hand corner possibly little left to really play up that confusion between this is a photograph of mount rushmore which is that's interesting and then you go there but no no it's not to really poor action up the confusion because you were talking about this idea of photographing um these kinds of humorous things why not? And this is really coming at that same photographer's work you all smiled right goes right to the white I'm not being flippant it's exactly what you want to do right and you want to be able articulate your eye goes toe white and something go on I like the lines across the music it's horizontal uh gives placement just with the trees behind it and whatever is in front of it the sidewalk or pavement it looks like dirt to me and it's actually one of the areas I always wonder about just losing that I've had students who said no you want to keep it because it anchors it and I've had other photographer said no you really want to go right to the the plastic white against the organic green that's in the personal taste his own there please story with the two little ones on the left hugging each other I was one or more about the one that there's one of them it's open the doors halfway open but is working on all the levels that I wanted to number one you can articulate something specific the white those things were all working really really well and then the other thing is that it's something you obviously want to spend time with because we're still talking about it we're still enjoying it so that's working in the photographer is safe no also from india yes no maybe like I like it I like the sharpness in the front and the softness in the back like to the depth of field I like the way that the light is hitting the bag and brings you back in and run your eye right to that point could mean that I large degree for me the thing I would love the out of focus out of focus circles of confuse shin in the wheel okay? And this is that thing where you actually really do want to get to look at a photograph almost mechanically and say well it's sort of fifty fifty because the two objects are the same size but the close object because of the focus is really more like sixty or seventy and the secondary object is more like thirty and so you have a starting point in the next point yes no maybe I get smiles that's a good scientist I liked that I liked the photo it's it's got good coloring and everything the different colors it's not all one it's not it's got the blue um a kind of kind of makes you wonder if it's like two kids mom and dad know that the narrative underneath it, right who's looking at the boot holding the boots boots so that hangar that's behind those food is shaped as a boot I never actually got that's the boot holding the boot and then the lines. I mean, the composition works with the lions and the other thing which I was love is the one metal handle on the same thing you put your hand up there and it's surprising how much value that one thing adds over there remember the show I did a little while ago about like eighty pictures of peppers this is that example you shoot some with the handle some without the handle you could try vertical but I have a feeling that you're going to start picking up too much stuff also it's off center it was very helpful so in the last one with whimsical with musical word that came up thirds storylines all verticals rubber boots very clean bulldozer from photo wench web twenty five forty rebecca and rebecca snaps thank you what what all those people did is really, really important to come up with something more than I like it. Wow need her cool whimsical is good talking the structure and the lines all that stuff is really, really useful in terms of critiquing photographs and of course eventually making yours better. We all see sunsets, but I never saw the sun set. We interpreted nicely as mary alice did with this one and so attacked it please I like it a lot. I love the color and the harmony contrast I like the lines and the six egg you're feeling very good now we're getting to the physics I like it but the color of the feeling the harmony, the emotion underneath it those are the things again articulated than applying your own please it's very painterly but with the lines the way they're just so soft it flows and you understand was technologically done this is the sunset but she's actually move the camera laterally in this experimentation of well they tell me you saw his photograph sunsets you should so the sun the sun surrounded here by the way that's the other thing that's really interesting so she's taking the conventions they know I'm going to come out of a little bit differently yes no maybe I'm going to say I don't know I feel like it's too big of a crop like I want to go in a little bit more my issue is I was wondered about maybe a moment earlier because the that one spot right in the middle of where the best light is and the close boat it's starting just starting to migrate out of it I guess I could probably concede your point though I have always loved the plant down here in the foreground maybe it's really about the boat and the doc and to lose possibly lose the plan you think that I like about this and one is two one third sky two thirds water it's really, really hard to do fifty fifty and simply because the viewer doesn't know where you wanted them to go you look at this and I know you want me to start here and then go there second that's to me what works well photograph please ross next door loves this great yeah so then folks will start jammin all right so I'm going to now show you dog photos from a friend of mine judy who's a photographer near sacramento california and I showed dog photos for a reason everybody loved their dog okay everybody loves their child to okay everybody loves flowers I hate pictures of dogs children and flowers because most of time people get involved with that thing and they lose the perspective what I am being a little tipping my hand here but I'm going to show you some photographs which I think are great photos that happen to be of dogs that's our mission is to discuss why would you argue that's a good photograph and it happened to be of a dog rather than a a really interesting looking dog very badly photographed okay so yes no maybe I got at least one head yes all right yeah I like it I love the movement and I love the blurriness and that you're feeling that that's kind of the dance the dog's dancing like the movement the energy of the dog it's a technical thing in terms of choices that she made but it also works as a photograph and yes it happens to be of a dog please uh the movements in the right place on the focus is in the right place because it's going great and were there empty space behind the dog or too much face up front? It wouldn't precise is that good? All the stuff we've been talking a dog a giraffe? No, no pun intended dog because the photographers notably below the ridge that they're on okay silhouette, I actually love this one, ok? Dooly do and you want to know why? Yes, you wantto think I love the contrast? I love the movement I love the texture and the clouds and it's almost like black and white you have to have that texture and this is that two tone I love that about it and the dog the anticipation of the dog to the to the person throwing it's it's tells the real story one more couple technical things it's very high shutter speed one of the dog's legs is up in the air and it's very shallow depth of field because the clouds are out of focus at same time so all of the tools and way use tools were photographers. We have a serious tools that judy master particularly well to do everything you said and to keep us on the one thing that matters is the animal master interaction the rest of it's all secondary absolutely all right, so neo ren wants to see more of the tail and more of the more of the body more of that uh okay I mean, now we're into the personal taste zone but you could make that argument cause the dog's a little turned this way yeah, and web twenty five forty says the previous shot felt like a snapshot but this could be wall art. Okay, good. Yes no maybe like how you got the reflection and everything of the dog jumping out of the water with the splashing and everything right breaking down the elements there's a time issue here, right? I remember the first one was actually a slow shutter speeds so we had panning this one's a high shutter speed to stop the action like the first one the empty space where the activities going towards is infront had there been no space in front and had she left the space behind it wouldn't work as well. So those air specifics about the tools it could be a baby it could be your spouse it could be anybody's it's still a beautiful picture of somebody in the water that happens to be a dog and and picking on people love animals I like animals as much as the next person but we lose our perspective when we photograph them and judy judy judy has done a really good job to me of getting out of that problem and yeah, I think the reflection works very well what else um just focus is good position is good um and the movement is captured right and also focus in terms you'll notice the back the tail starting to go out of focus showered up the field yes no maybe I the one issue I have with this is that you've got the dog right here but we're the bright spot in the middle is where all the activity is so I would have moved over just a little bit this way so the dog is right in the right spot and then like the person said online I would have waited for the dog's profile because right now you've got ears and you haven't got knows at some point the dog would be turning out that way so it's just a question of patience and time please wear doing fine until that no eyes no wives no need what are the tools the photographer used to create that emotional spot, their focus and the perspective of being giraffe I love that in it and I like the other dog that's behind in not in focus but you're doing great and this is all very specific things that giraffe which is ironic that you doing a giraffe of a dog? Yeah second second plane the wide angle close up gives that big I look that you get with the animals do that thing that is exactly correct and those are all very, very, very specific tools in terms of what makes this photograph work successfully or otherwise? Jim, we're getting more contributions vicky says great depth of field and this is fantastic composition, texture, emotion dash hound rolling on the floor laughing okay, good good it is humorous that photo there does there's a humerus there is a humor to it like and the big guys I think is really true the use of the lens and we're the back dog to me in focus equal you'd have that competition your eye and your brain is going to go for the close one isn't far one it's a close one and we have photographers our job is to say to the view or no no it's a close one first the second ones they're part the story but the second one there is second on purpose and ash likes the diagonal line leading to the other dog very good and it is a kid photo but I think it's a good kid photo yes no maybe so it's almost a renoir a scheme to nice thought, okay dogar giraffe right doesn't work in this case I was feel like the little girls could've scooting by and so for me it actually works in that and also it's a little bit similar to the last one with very limited focus which again is kind of I think and maybe I'm being an adult telling a kid how they experienced childhood, but to me that's kind of like how childhood works it's this thing where you don't, you're not really paying attention to everything you have one or two things that are important in the dress, the moment the gesture, the profile. So the whole point about all of this is to get you to be able to look at your photographs, other people, photographs and articulate what it is about them, way back in the day when we were in school, which we won't talk about when that was remember diagramming sentences, do they still diagram sentences and they don't diagrams and the's are the parents of recent school children. Ok, that's my impression, remember, you know, subject now on credit, you should be able to look at a photograph and diagram it exactly the same way, and at this point in time maybe you may not have all the skills yet, but we just went through a huge part of it perspective in terms of dog or giraffe with lens the time all the criteria that I talked about before you should actually be able to look at a photograph and say those things, and then of course, the object of the game is to be able to critique it better and then eventually to make your photographs better

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Ratings and Reviews


First off, I was a photo assistant for a few years to a photographer who did numerous multi-day workshops. This was my first time as a student sitting in on a webinar that actually kept me interested. Sometimes I'm turned off by the pace of the teacher, his or her voice, or the manner in which they disseminate the information. But this was truly fantastic. David showed lots of his work in a way that was NOT egotistical in any sense (something that does happen quite often). I was utterly impressed by the quality of his work, the wealth of knowledge he has on the world, culture and politics, and how he shoots "on the go". All of those qualities are essential parts to creating a great photo essay/story. I came into this seminar needing inspiration and in the end I have more ideas than I know what to do with. David's work is truly magnificent; his photo stories pertain to people and their struggles, which really could be something any one of us could go through at any point, but he shows it in a way that is beautiful - either beautifully desperate or beautifully destructive - instead of in an exploitative way. On a side note, he also offered up a lot of great information having to do with funding, exposure, workflow, time efficiency, income streams, releases... you won't find this a lot with other photographers. You will find the "go find the info yourself" attitude. This has been my problem as of late with photography - we don't work together as artists, we work against each other competing for what, I'm not sure. David's seminar seemed to embrace photography as the art form it is, and shared with us the tools that we as artists need to really understand and utilize in order to get our story out there. A story it seems he really wants to see/hear. Just an amazing "Thank You"!!!!

a Creativelive Student

I have purchased a number of classes on Creative Live. This class taught by David Wells is one of the best. David is a thorough teacher, personal and connects with his students. Along with his superb and inspiring imagery David talked about his experiences in getting funding, his workflow, developing his stories and distributing his work. David is talented, generous and an excellent teacher. Highly recommended class.

Anjani Millet

Just completed the course. Fantastic, practical information on everything from grant writing, finding foundations, proposal development, even how to shake hands overseas. I am not sure where else I would have found this information for photographers. So appreciate it. One friend asked if this would be worth watching for anyone outside the US and the answer is a definitive yes. Very happy I purchased, and already starting to implement.

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