MPW68: Learning from the Best

This blog post will be focused a little differently and centered around the concepts I learned at the Missouri Photo Workshop. The photos I took from the week focused on different types of natural lighting and exposing for that light rather than the overall situation.

Mikala Compton

I spent this past week in Cuba, Missouri at MPW. The workshop documents small town Missouri and has been for the past 68 years. I was selected after a competitive application process to be a crew member for the week. I wasn’t sure what to expect going into it, but it was was honestly one of the best weeks of my life.

Mikala Compton

The week was spent emerged in the photojournalism world and I fell even more in love with photography than I already was. I was a crew member on the printing team, so I spent the weekdays (and early, early weekday morning at 2 a.m.) toning images to perfection and printing them for the final workshop presentation on Saturday afternoon. The entire town was invited to the presentation and it was surreal to see so many people show up to appreciate photojournalism and thank us for coming and visiting their town.

Mikala Compton
MPW Co-Director David Rees addresses the crowd of photographers gathered to see the lecture at the end of the night.

I learned so much from so many inspiring, well-known, professional photographers such as Lynn Johnson from Nation Geographic and Mona Reeder, who previously worked at The Dallas Morning News. I had one of the greatest conversations with them that will stick with me for the rest of my life about being a woman in the photojournalism world, which is a field dominated by men, and the struggles we have all faced with overt or subtle sexism in the workplace. I felt so comfortable talking to them and learning from their experiences as women. It was amazing to find those female role models since most of all my other role models and mentors I’ve worked with have been men.

At the end of the week I had a portfolio review with three of the faculty members: Lynn, Alan Berner from The Seattle Times, and Mary Anne Golon from The Washington Post. Each offered a unique perspective and constructive criticism to my work. Lynn told me to try and shoot more stylistically. She really loved my blog and urged me to put some more personal photos into my portfolio to really capture how I see as an individual rather than how I’ve been taught to see. Alan talked to me about what photos I should keep and what photos I should look to get rid of in my portfolio as well as how he goes about finding story ideas. Mary Anne liked my work and then urged me to find a long term photo project to work on. She asked me to think about the things I love and focus on that, suggesting I might focus on my family in Kansas City. This immediately set off a lightbulb in my brain, and I am now planning a long term photo project on my 20-year-old cousin who is dealing with her unexpected pregnancy.

The critiques were soul-crushing. They looked at my best stuff and tore it a part.

But more importantly, their critiques and the conversations we had were inspirational and made me think of my work in a whole new way.

Mikala Compton
Youngrae Kim gives a presentation about how his photo story is coming along during night 3 of the Missouri Photo Workshop.
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Photo Hunting

This might look to you like a random compilation of photos. In one sense it is. In another it isn’t. Because plain and simple: this was my week & it consisted of photo hunting.

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Photo hunting as in looking for something aesthetically pleasing, but not necessarily a story. Just more of an artistic approach to the world.

In the photo above I like how the reflection of the room behind me can be seen through the glass and that the light in the room looks super red due to me exposing for the light outside. I chose to keep it a wide shot because i think it describes the mood of the evening. My parents had their friends over and we were just hanging out on the porch and in our dining room.

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This one I just really liked how the kitten paws mirrors my friend’s feet in the background since they’re both standing in the same direction. I find it funny that they’re both doing the same thing.

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It started raining when I was home but I liked the reflection of the lights my parents had set up against the puddles of rain that were forming onto the deck.

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I am fascinated with shadows and the patterns they create. I also like the details of the different types of light falling onto the house as well as the flash of warm light coming from the window on the left side of the frame.

In the photo below I was really focused on which types of light were present around me. I like how you can see the cool light in the background and the warm light coming from the house. I really really hate how my shadow is visible, but I’m not sure from an outsider’s perspective how noticeable it actually is. My favorite part of this photo, aside from the different natural lights, is the shadows of the banister. It mirrors the banister that’s on the opposite side of the house and also leads you to the front door, which also interrupts the shape.

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Walking around with a camera and seeing what pictures you can find and create is a simple task, and it ultimately was a reminder of why I fell in love with photography in the first place.

Camping

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My friend Cailyn & I went camping in my backyard this past weekend. I know, I know. Why camp in my backyard while there are plenty of campgrounds in the great state of Missourah. But we decided to camp very last minute and I left the next morning at 8 a.m. for the Missouri Photo Workshop so using my backyard was the most convenient.

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While outside I thought it would be the prime time to play with the natural light surrounding me and make some photos. I really love finding natural light while out at night. It’s more apparent what the true colors of the lightbulbs are and they illuminate, what I would consider, nice color casts on people and their surroundings.

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I played a lot with long exposure. The orange blob in the photo above is the light from the fire. Long exposure was difficult because there’s a lot of available light around, so stars aren’t very visible.

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The above photo is of the fence in my backyard with light shining through from the apartments next door. I had to improvise because I didn’t have a tripod, so I brought out a piece of furniture from my room to set my camera on.

My photos aren’t as clear as I would have liked due to this because the furniture didn’t secure the camera. When I pressed the button to take the photo the camera moved slightly. My shutter speed for most of these photos was set at 30 seconds, which is a long time to let light in. Any shaking was going to effect the final photo. Even though there was shaking so they aren’t the best images, I am still happy with how my photos turned out.

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Chicago

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Good morning, sunshine.
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Getting ready.
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Light shines through the window on the train.
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Over the bridge

This week will be a little different from what I anticipate upcoming weeks will be like. I went to Chicago for labor day weekend, so of course I had to bring my camera. I tried not to take too many or post generic tourist photos and to look for the “un-obvious”  choices in photos to make over the weekend.

My favorite is the first one I posted of my friend sitting on the bed. The light was brightly shining through the window of the apartment we stayed at because she had just opened the blinds to let in morning light not too long before this photo was taken. I exposed for the bright light and just let the rest fade away.
Sidenote: she’s actually really embarrassed that I posted the photo because she just woke up and is putting lotion on her legs with a pore strip on her face… Well. That’s the price you pay for being best friends with a photographer.

It’s kind of hard to travel and also be a photographer, as weird as that sounds. I always feel such a pressure to get something good that displays something unique about the area I’m visiting, or I’m just stuck in a situation where I am going to make a picture that’s already been made a million times by tourists every day. It’s internally a bit frustrating for me and I’m not sure exactly why. Either way, I am traveling and I am brining my camera because what kind of photographer would I be if I didn’t?

Overall, I like the shots I got from the trip, but wish I would’ve shot more. I honestly was worried a lot of the time about getting separated  from the group or my camera stolen since i’m not exactly the most tough looking woman around.

Week 2 of this little experimental blogging idea is going well, and i’m excited to continue on at this point. It can only go up from here (but we did travel south back to Missouri…so there’s that).

Portraits & Shadows

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I set out this week wanting to recreate the style of a portrait image that I had seen online. It was a fashion photo of a woman posed against a fence with the shadows crossing over her face.

I drove around to some parks looking for a fence then ended up heading over to Hickman High School  because there’s a lot of fencing around their athletic areas. I used duct tape to tape my flash against a door next to the fence and shown it on my subject, my friend Cailyn. Shout out to her for being my model because I tried a variety of different placements for the flash, as well as different strengths for the flash.

The final portrait that you see above was taken at f/4,  1/15 sec, iso 560 and the flash on low power. I had even wrapped tissues around the flash to diffuse it – (which just reminded me i should buy one of those portable ones so i just looked it up on Amazon). I am pleased with the final shot but it definitely wasn’t what I intended and isn’t anything I’m particularly proud of, but it’s a nice, basic portrait and it was fun experimenting.

I think to get the effect I was wanting I would need to come back around dusk when it wasn’t so dark so I can see more of the natural light and the flash won’t overpower the situation, which is the issue I was running into most of the evening.

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This photo was an outtake that turned into a happy-accident. I shot some photos while Cailyn was putting up her hair and I actually really loved the movement in the photo and the urban feel that was created. She was standing further away from the fence so the flash wasn’t very harsh – it almost looks like natural lighting. I like how you can see the street light bokeh in the background, which I think adds some extra details to this photo.

Flash is fun and also so frustrating. I usually don’t use it unless necessary. Luckily advanced techniques class really taught me a lot about working with flash and how to manually adjust my flash settings. They say practice makes perfect, so I just need some more practice.