Doin South Beach Digitally; Turning Snapshots Into Great Shots


1 (Above), 2 (Below)
Photos © 2002, Rick Sammon, All Rights Reserved

Miami's South Beach is "hot, hot, hot," as the song goes. I'm not referring to the temperature, although during the summer months it can get sweltering on the beach. I'm talking about the photo opportunities that this trendy area provides: colorful art deco hotels and lifeguard stands, expensive convertibles that cruise "the strip," wild and crazy clubs that are open well past midnight, and of course the high-energy people that a place like South Beach attracts.

Knowing about its endless photo opportunities, Shutterbug's Yvonne Butler organized an all-digital photo workshop to South Beach back in June of this year. At the workshop, I had the distinct pleasure of teaching and shooting alongside one of the most knowledgeable digital pros I know, Joe Farace. And, although I did not get a chance to shoot with the other photo pro, John Brooks Slaughter II, I was greatly impressed with his presentations (as were all the workshop participants).

So what did we do for the digital weekend? We taught, taught, taught and shot, shot, shot in this hot, hot, hot locale.

3 (Above), 4 (Below)

Following are a few of the images I took during the workshop. To illustrate some photo and imaging techniques, I thought I'd show you a few side by side comparison pictures. My point: if you "take your time, think a lot" (as Cat Stevens says in his song, "Father And Son"), it's easy to turn a snapshot into a great shot.

(Photos 1 and 2) The art deco lifeguard stands are great photo subjects. But you can't simply point your camera at one and expect a great shot. Both of these pictures were taken with my 16-35mm zoom lens. The dull shot was taken at the 35mm setting. The more creative shot was taken at the 16mm setting--after our group walked around the stand and looked at it from every possible angle. Try that "walking around while looking through your lens" technique the next time you compose a picture.

(Photos 3 and 4) Including a person in a scene makes the picture come alive. But careful placement of the subject in the scene is important for a successful photograph. Compare these two pictures. In the rather boring shot, the lifeguard is too small in the scene. By positioning him close to the camera, and by using a wide angle setting and small f/stop on my lens, I was able to get a picture with more impact, and a picture in which the lifeguard and the lifeguard stand are both in focus.

5 (Above), 6 (Below)

(Photo 5) One of our venues was Giovanni Photographic Studios, which is owned by photo pro John Laudicina. During our session, John guided the participants on the finer aspects of studio glamour photography. Our model was Carolina McAllister.

We all took turns photographing Carolina while John showed us how changing the position of the lights, even slightly, affected the shadows and highlights on Carolina's face, as well as the light on the background.

(Photo 6) Back at our "base camp," the Blue Moon Hotel, we experimented on our pictures with different digital effects. As you can see, I combined my studio shot of Carolina with a picture of a beach to create a more interesting picture. Now it looks as though Carolina was photographed at the beach. (In Photoshop, I extracted Carolina from the studio shot and "pasted" her into the beach picture. I used Vignette in Actions to Vignette the picture.)

7 (Above), 8 (Below)

Because our workshop was all digital, our group spent a fair amount of time indoors at our computer lab, which was also located in the Blue Moon Hotel. At our computer stations, we downloaded our pictures and worked (and played) on them in the digital darkroom.

(Photos 7 and 8) Joe Farace and I shared several of our favorite Photo-shop tips and tricks with the participants. Here is one of the images I played with. Using the Note Card filter in Photoshop, I turned my early morning picture of a lifeguard stand into an image that looks like a soft, pastel-colored post card.

I hope you can make it to South Beach someday to shoot. If you go, get up before sunrise. When the sun comes over the horizon, it bathes the beach and art deco hotels with a beautiful warm light. Also plan to stay out into the night. You'll get some nice nighttime pictures of the art deco hotels that are illuminated with colorful neon lights.

South Beach Photo Gear Suggestions
Camera: Digital or film with at least a 35-70mm zoom lens for city and people pictures. For more dramatic cityscape shots, a lens in the 16-20mm range.
Film: ISO 100 for daylight pictures and ISO 400 for nighttime shooting.
Digital: Lots of memory for dawn to dusk shooting. Laptop with CDs or Digital Wallet for storage. Photoshop Elements, Photoshop, or other digital-imaging program.
Filter: Polarizing to darken the blue sky and reduce reflections on the water.
Flash: Use for daylight fill-in flash shots.
Tripod: Use for nighttime shooting.
Camera Cleaning Kit: To keep sand, salt spray, and moisture away from delicate camera parts.