Photographers share tips for budding shutterbugs

Photographers Joshua Cogan, Mark Parascandola and Josh Sisk capture the world through their lenses, each in his own distinct way.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 10, 2011; 11:02 AM

These days, everyone's a photographer, toting pricey, big-bodied cameras that can shoot sprawling panoramas, or purse-sized point-and-shoots that faithfully capture every Friday-night escapade - even cell phones (tricked out with Hipstamatic, natch) can chronicle every cute face your baby makes.

"The concept of photography has changed," says Stu Estler, a commercial photographer whose Premier Photo Tours takes would-be shutterbugs on three-hour expeditions to the region's most photogenic sites. "A lot more people are taking pictures, and they're interested in photography and doing it better."

There's no better time to get out there, flash firing, than spring. The early days of the season provide some of the best conditions for budding photogs: Daylight lingers a little longer. The area will soon be awash in color, and there's no end of sights to capture, from your grandkids' first visit to the cherry blossoms to kayakers who set out on the Potomac as soon as the ice clears.

And the good news: "It's not really about the tool. It's about the eye and how you see things," Estler says. "What makes a good photograph is one that engages your viewer, that makes you want to keep looking at it . . . and find these little 'ah-ha' moments."

Because simply owning a camera doesn't make you Annie Leibovitz, we asked local professional photographers - from a jet-setter who snaps photos for the Travel Channel to a concert photographer - to share tips for getting the shot. Then check out one of a handful of photo exhibitions this month that are sure to inspire you.

The artist

Armed with a camera at age 12, Mark Parascandola recalls that the first photo he snapped was of a department store in his Wisconsin home town.

It was being demolished.

A little grim for a kid, perhaps, but it marked the beginning of a theme for Parascandola, who crunches numbers as an epidemiologist with the National Institutes of Health by day and, in his off hours, still finds himself chasing urban ruins.

His photographs, which have hung at Fraser Gallery and Nevin Kelly, capture architecture forgotten by time; all lines and geometry, the photos never feature people and almost always manage to look like something out of "Bladerunner." In Madrid, he snapped away in a former political prison that had been abandoned to squatters and splashed with graffiti. His latest work, in and around picturesque Almeria, Spain, documents movie sets built for spaghetti westerns and Hollywood blockbusters and left behind like litter. An exhibition of the photos, "Like Nowhere I've Been: Landscapes de un Sueno," is now up at Evolve Urban Arts Project in Northeast.

How he gets the shot: "It takes a certain amount of discipline to get up before the sun rises and get where the light's going to be good," says Parascandola, 43. For most photographers, it's a no-brainer: The light can be kinder in the early morning and late afternoon, and don't rule out cloudy days. ("Clouds tend to diffuse the light," making a softer image, says Parascandola.) To capture the spaceship-esque angles of L'Enfant Plaza in the orange glow of street lights, he went at night, turned off the flash and allowed a long exposure. (He used a tripod to keep the camera steady, but resting it against a curb or bench will do the trick.) Try taking more photos both with a flash and without, he suggests. You'll see a dramatic difference.

As you walk, drive or bike, scout out locations you might want to come back and shoot later: "Some of my best photographs," says Parascandola, "are of places I've been to before. It's not just that I happen to be passing it on the street."

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