Seeing the picture within the picture

Greg Cooper critiques a photo at the Ojai Photo Club’s monthly photo contest.
Photo by Smiley

Wisdom may come with age, but it doesn’t have to. Greg Cooper is a testament to that.

When I first met Greg I was a bit too overwhelmed with my own arrival to Martha’s and California in general that I didn’t realize what a valuable tool he would be for me while I was here. While I wish I had gotten to shoot more with him, I’ve had the opportunity to shoot once with him at the beach, see his critique at the Ojai Photo Club and have him go through my portfolio along with Ed, Elliott and Keith, my traveling and shooting companions. While Greg may be young, he has the knowledge that seems like it should be coming from someone with 50 years in the business. If you still think it only comes with age, you can check out his degrees for proof.

Greg is a faculty member at Brooks Institute of Photography in the visual journalism department, but he’s teaching outside of the classroom too. When he was in Ojai to  judge, he brought one of his lessons from Brooks to show before going through the group’s photos. It was a basic photography class’ lesson, so most of the knowledge was basic. What was really interesting was his critique of the photos in the competition. Greg through out a few things I had never thought about in the lesson, like tips in using RAW, printing tips and overall I just like to hear people’s opinion of photos. It’s always helpful to get different opinions. Despite also being a student of Dave, Greg has a different view.

When we got the opportunity to get Greg to critique our portfolios we all jumped on this opportunity because too often we are limited to our critiques. When we were setting up Greg asked Elliott what he wanted to get out of this critique and Elliott said, “To know what I’m missing.” Greg didn’t baby him and didn’t hold back. Taking only a second to look at each picture, he read the pictures faster than anyone I’ve ever seen and wasn’t missing anything. He pointed out things in photos that I had never noticed, despite having seen these guys’ photos dozens of times.

When he got to Keith, Greg asked him what he wanted. I spoke up in the background and said, “Rip him.” He did. It may seem mean to push someone to be aggressive when looking at your photos, but the more they pick at you the more you know what to do or how other people see your work. Keith asked questions to compare to other people’s opinions, and even asked Greg if he would be happy with certain photos given the assignment.

When Greg got to mine, I realized I had more pictures to show because I had found my entire loose portfolio that I usually cut in half in most situations, but I realized how much I could learn from him so I threw it all in with my tighter edit of my pictures from this trip. He asked me what I wanted, I told him to rip me too. I wanted him to pick at me as much as possible. When I feel like I’m doing well I’m too likely to stick to what I’m doing, and I hope I’m never to a point to where I can stop learning.

As all good critiques go, we got the good with the bad. He complimented us all and followed up with the “I would have done’s” which are hard to sit through if you don’t understand they’re to help you be ready for next time, not make you hate your picture. He said Elliott was exploring compositions and color but needed to give himself more time to compose. Ed’s old portfolio was uninteresting to Greg because he said from the one time he shot with Ed he could tell that he had grown incredibly since the six months ago that it was updated. Greg complimented Keith on his use of color and light but said he needed to work on editing down his portfolio. Greg complimented my stories and ability to see the photos, but said I needed to work on my compositions. Micro-composing, which is something I’ve heard recently so I’ve been trying to work on it and rebuild my portfolio. He also let me know that my multimedia was OK, but not portfolio worthy. Which I agreed, and was happy with that critique because it had been so long since I had seen my projects that I hadn’t given them a critique myself. I was thinking everything that he said, so it was rewarding just to know I was catching things.

Before we left Elliott asked Greg the big question and butted heads with the intimidating question of the night. “Where do we stand against your students at Brooks.”

Greg paused and looked at all of us. We all hoped to hear that we were better, just to flatter ourselves. The Kernel isn’t as competitive as it should be due to the lack of photojournalism students, so when we get around other students we like to stand up to them and see what it’s like outside of the Journalism Building’s basement, where we make a newspaper 5 days a week.

“When it comes to having the Dave Factor, ya know, seeing the moment,” he started. “You guys are getting it.”
This is the second time in one week I’ve been compared to Dave LaBelle, an awe-inspiring compliment. If I can learn to recognize and capture moments like Dave has and still does, then I know I can learn the technology and techniques. I know this is true, but it’s also what Greg followed up his compliment with.

“You guys are behind our students in the compositions, exposures and all the technicals,” he said.
“You mean all the stuff anybody can learn?” I said.


One Response to “Seeing the picture within the picture”

  1. […] effing Idaho. And Keith will soon enough ship off to Tennessee. All I want is to see Martha, Dave, Greg and Penny. I feel so selfish for saying that, because next Thursday I leave to embark on another […]

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