Monthly Program – May 2012 – Paul Damien

Semiotics – The Study of Signs and Symbolism

Paul Damien, a contributing photographer to the National Geographic Image Collection, gave a presentation on semiotics (inspired by one source:  American Society of Magazine Photographers of which he is a member).  With a mix of personal vignettes, a great sense of humor, and a collection of photographs, Paul presented our members with an evening of delight.

Growing up with “A.D.D.” Paul daydreamed all of the time.  In his senior year in high school he had a one-on-one conference with his counselor.  The counselor recommended no college—he was unfocused.  He went home, opened up a National Geographic magazine and said to himself, “I can do that.”  He wrote a letter to the Director of Photography asking how he could become a National Geographic photographer.  Three weeks later he received an air mail reply.  The Director suggested going to school and study photography and then work as a photojournalist.  He put that letter away and 18 years later he pulled it out and wrote back.  One year later, he received a call from the Director of Photography and his first assignment.

Paul fell in love with photography at an early age, he photographed for friends, he did it for money, but now after retiring five years ago, he has fallen back in love with photography.

The evening was educational.  Paul asked the audience to name favorite colors and in return gave us a short lesson on their meanings.  Semiotics is the study of signs and symbols.  In photography, it is the relationship of color, how it is photographed and conveyed to the viewer.  For example, red is the color of extremes in human nature; green is spring, of new birth; blue is royalty, soothing, tranquil; yellow is hope, joy and enjoyment; white is purity, peace, truth, innocence; and black is elegance, classic, powerful, authoritative.  Did you know that using the Luscher Color Test (a test in which you base your selection and rejection of colors) yields a personal psychological profile?  You can take the quiz here:

Photographing with film his entire career using a 35 F2 (his favorite lens) in manual mode, it wasn’t until 2011 when he purchased his first digital camera.  The reason:  his daughter was getting married and she asked him to photograph her wedding “like a sold-out hippie.”  He did.  He shot 6,000 images in six (6) days.

Paul shoots in aperture priority and then brackets using the exposure compensation dial.  He starts out at -1/3.  Shutter priority is not recommended.  Paul photographs in jpg format.  He admits that he’s probably missing out (not shooting in RAW), but for now, he is still learning and cannot “out-think” the computer in his camera.  If he had photographed everything in RAW,  that would mean that the 6,000 images he collected would have required storage considerations and determination on how many of those images are good.  FYI—of the 6,000 images, only 100 were selected as keepsakes by his daughter.

Paul photographs with the objective of making images look “analog” (film quality) as opposed to the perfect world of sharp focus digital.  He uses diffusion filters to achieve this.  His recommendation:  Tiffen Soft FX 2.  It reduces contrast and adds tonal gradation to the scene (and does not look out of focus at all).

The evening was a wonderfully humorous interaction between audience and speaker.   His slide show included a number of examples of using color, lines and shapes (isolated, muted, monochromatic, contrast, complementary, silhouette, shape, monochromatic and shape as silhouette).  He associates straight lines as masculine, round and curve shapes as feminine.  As some of the images were projected, Paul read poetic quotes that fit the composition.  Here’s a quote to remember:  “A photographer is a photographer for the same reason a lion tamer is a lion tamer.”   The presentation was educational as well as autobiographical—including images from his career and personal life.  Thank you Paul for sharing your life as a photographer with us.  It was a pleasure!

To see more of Paul’s work please visit