Steve Berger began taking pictures when he was fourteen years old in his hometown of Atlantic City, NJ to earn money for college.
In his late forties, while maintaining a successful career as the president of a large communications company, he again took up his once serious interest in photography. His work is primarily in black and white and he uses several negative formats from tiny 35mm to 8x10 sheet film in a 60 year old Deardorff camera. Recently, he has converted his work to almost total digital photographic capture and is ravenously exploring the possibilities of the color that digital photography offers him.
All photographs are printed, mounted, matted and framed by him in his studio/darkroom in Jamesport, New York where he has begun work on a portfolio project documenting Long Island’s North Fork.
Steve has won several awards for his photography and has been the subject of two public access programs on Cablevision’s channel 20. For the last 9 years he has hired and trained one or two high school seniors annually as apprentices to learn the black and white photographic process. He teaches them film and print development, composition, matting and framing.
Retired from the broadcast industry since 1998, his photographic work is in several private collections including the Nationwide Insurance Company collection. Steve, his wife Ellen, a multimedia artist and animal activist and their 9 cats are year round residents of Jamesport where they are involved in philanthropic, environmental protection and animal rights endeavors. Two years ago, in cooperation with the Riverhead Landmarks Committee, he produced over 40 photographs of Riverhead historical buildings that were on display at the Suffolk County Historical Society. Recently, he finished documenting houses in what will become the South Jamesport Historic District.
A large portion of Steve’s work is on display and for sale at Cecily’s Love Lane Gallery in Mattituck, the Blue Door Gallery in Riverhead and the Winter Harbor Gallery in Greenport.
Improving Your Pictures
by Steve Berger
With today's modern picture taking equipment, it is very easy to take great pictures of family and friends. While the attraction of these convenient devices is that they are easy to operate and will allow you to fix obvious problems, you must remember that they are reminiscent of that old computer phrase "garbage in, garbage out." In other words if you don't have a basic understanding of taking pictures, you will spend a lot of time trying to fix your mistakes and less time enjoying your pictures. So, I have listed a few things to watch out for when you take pictures and I will provide a few tips that will make your pictures look better immediately.
1. Avoid taking pictures where your subject is standing in front of a window or other strong back light. The camera's automatic features will be overcome by the back light and your subjects will be too dark.
There are adjustments on the higher priced cameras that will compensate for this. However, it's just one more thing you don't have to worry about.
Pose your subjects against a wall or close the window drapes or blinds. No more back light. Of course, if you're taking pictures outdoors, make sure the sun is behind you, not your subject. They may squint looking into the sun, but you can fix this with a prearranged signal such as "on the count of three, everybody open your eyes wide." A better solution is to put the group under a tree and turn on your flash unit which will brighten up the photo. If you are extremely lucky you will have a few minutes of clouds during your family event. A cloudy day provides flat even light that will prevent squinting, and "raccoon" eyes. You should still turn on your flash when taking pictures on cloudy days to fill in any shadows that may exist.
However, there are some things your trusty flash won't do. If you are in the last row of the concert or graduation ceremony, that tiny light isn't going to get anywhere near the stage. The same thing is true when you take that flash picture through the restaurant window with the nice view of the city at night. Two things are working against you: (1) that little flash isn't going to cover the city (it's not the bat signal) and (2) the flash will reflect in the window and you will have wasted a few shots. If you are in that restaurant during the day, turn off the flash and put the lens directly in contact with the window and take your view of the city. At night, buy a postcard.
2. Now that you have the lighting under control, it's time to start thinking about what your camera can and cannot do. If you have a 35mm point and shoot or a digital camera, the negative or digital chip is quite small. Therefore, your subject's faces should fill the viewfinder. A veteran photographer once told me, "Get as close to your subject as you can and then step one pace closer."
Think back on those group shots you've taken. You can see everyone's outfit down to their shoes, but their faces are so small that some of the folks in the back are unrecognizable. Move in until you can frame from the waist up. You'll get nice big heads and everyone will think you are a pro. If the group is too large to do this, break them into smaller groups.
At a family reunion for example, the first group can be the grandparents and their children and children's spouses. Take two or three shots of the same thing. That way you avoid having to make extra prints and you increase the odds of everyone having their eyes open in at least one of the photos. Next, add the grandchildren to the group and then the cousins and maiden aunts and bachelor uncles. When the group gets too large, start editing again. Just the grandchildren...just the grandparents and their children. You'll have lots of pictures that will be special to everyone. If you want that one big family photo where everyone can be seen clearly, hire a professional to come to the party just for that photo. You will find this is much more reasonably priced than you might expect.
3. When taking pictures of one, two or three people (i.e., the grand kids playing in the sand) move in as close as you can so that the kids fill the frame. Everyone will think you are a pro. I know the tendancy is to shoot from far away so that you will get a "natural" photo, but because of the small negative or digital chip, the kids will appear to be little sand animals. (And besides, this isn't a safari where you don't want to startle the wildlife, it's your family and you want to preserve decent pictures of them.) Once you are in close and you tell them how much fun having their picture taken will be, you'll get much better photos. Generally, bribery (ice cream...candy...after the picture) works wonders and is employed often by many pros.
4. Don't leave your camera (digital or film) in your car. It can be stolen and the heat will ruin your pictures and your camera.
5. Replace batteries in your camera on a regular basis. Don't wait for them to fail. Every three months is fine. Mark it on the calendar and just do it. And don't forget to have a spare set of batteries in your camera bag just in case. Also, once a year, on your birthday, replace the batteries in your smoke alarm. (Nothing to do with taking pictures, but it's a good idea.)
6. If you have small children or pets, keep your camera in a convenient place near where the kids and pets spend a lot of time. This way you will be ready to capture some of those magic moments kids and pets present to us on a regular basis.
7. I think I've covered the basics here. If you have any questions or thoughts about things you think I've missed, please feel free to use the e-mail link on this site to contact me. I will try answer all inquiries. In the meantime, get out there and take some great photos!
First learn the technique. The art is within you or it is not.