Wednesday, July 2, 2014

A Model Shoot

Recently I had an opportunity to work on a shoot with three very lovely and talented models.  The days are so long right now, and the sun was still very high in the sky, making conditions sunny and bright.  Without the use of light modifiers a shoot at this time of day in this location would not have worked well.  Fortunately, there were strong men all over the place who were quite willing and able to hoist diffusers and reflectors.  Lighting problems solved.  

This image at right would not have bee possible without a diffuser. Without a diffuser I doubt she would have even been able to open her eyes, and the last thing you want when doing portraits is squinty eyes. But with a diffuser the harsh sunlight was softened and evenly dispersed across the subject. 

This image on the left did not use a diffuser but a reflector.  You probably can tell that the sun was at her back.  It made for the perfect rim light, but I needed a source of front light in order to expose her face properly.  In this case we used a large reflector.  I think this one was maybe a white reflector, but you can use silver for a cooler light, or gold for a warmer light.  If you look at the large version of the image you'll see a nice catch light in her eyes.  That's the reflector.  Hopefully you can tell that the reflector was off to the right of my camera, illuminating the right side of her face.  I liked this lighting situation very much.

Different lighting situation altogether.  In this image at right the model was in complete shade, which left enough ambient light to pick up all the detail but maybe not quite enough to light her face.  In this case we used a strobe in a small softbox.  The strobe was set to a very low setting--not so strong as to overexpose anything, but just enough to balance things out.  The softbox gently diffused the light.  Again, notice the catch light in her eyes.  Lovely.

Two more backlit images using reflectors. 

A shoot like this is so much easier when you have people helping out by holding up diffusers or reflectors, or moving light stands into place and making adjustments while you shoot.  That's certainly the ideal situation.  More often than not I'm on my own at a shoot, which tends to make me lazy.  I think, this shot will be just fine without a reflector and if I need to fix anything I'll do it in post.  But we all know the truth:  the image will be so much better if I just take the time to set up my reflector on a stand, or put a strobe up in a portable softbox.  It's more effort, for sure, but when I pull up those images in Photoshop I'm so glad I took the time. 

Fun shoot, good result.  Snap on, snappers!

Monday, May 26, 2014

Bird Photography

I've recently made a purchase that a) I've wanted to make for years, b) nearly broke the bank, and c) leaves me wondering if I am capable of handling this new purchase.  I bought a 500 mm lens.  It's big.  I use it on a gimbal head which is probably the only way I can really use it, given that I'm not strong enough to hoist it up like a regular lens.  I've wanted to do more wildlife photography, and birds of course count as wildlife.

Here is an image I recently took.  Now I admit, the shooting technique with any long lens requires practice, and patience.  As far as the technical aspects of shooting, I think I've got it down.  I use rear button focus, continuous autofocus (9 or 21 point), and release priority (although I'm considering changing that to focus priority).   This image was one of a burst of about 10 frames taken while the avocet was in flight.  My camera's autofocus is supposed to be very good at locking on and tracking focus.  I'm satisfied with the sharp focus on the subject of this image, and it's a very pretty picture of the bird  landing.

This is another image I like.  The birds are doing the dance of love.  I was shooting in the morning when normally there would have been way more sunlight, but it was overcast and raining, so my shutter speed was only at around 1/650.  Not very fast for birds.  My ISO was 1600, f/5.6.  In better conditions I would have decreased ISO, stopped down aperture, and still had a shutter speed of 1/2000.  I would have been able to get the wings frozen, not blurred.  Still, I like this image and since the face of the bird is sharp, it's a good one.

Birds sitting still are easy.  No problem on getting sharp images, even with lower shutter speeds.  Not too low.  Birds have very fast, subtle movements that will cause  motion blur if you're not careful.

Birds in flight are hard.  This one of the black-necked stilt is acceptably sharp but I had so many that were just a bit off.  I'm sure that's a technique issue, but I'm not sure what I'm doing wrong.  If anyone has any suggestions, I'm listening!

I'll certainly keep practicing.  I think trial and error are great teaching tools.  But I'll also be happy when I start to come away with more keepers than deleters.

Snap on!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

My Heron

I love this picture.  This big heron flew right in front of me across that water.  So close I could hear his wings thumping against the air.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Laziness of a Long Weekend

I love Thanksgiving weekend.  Even though I've been a vegetarian for 20 years now, I still love the feast.  Usually at our Thanksgiving gatherings we have real turkey for the meat eaters and tofu turkey for the veggies.  I have to admit, tofu turkey is not that great, but slather it in enough (vegetarian) gravy and a blob of cranberry sauce and it's perfect.

This year I made the cranberry sauce using a Paula Deen recipe.  I actually felt a bit guilty using one of hers given her controversial behavior but I used it anyway.  It came out great.  I think the secret is the Grand Marnier.   I also made a pumpkin roll which tasted wonderful but cracked as I was rolling it up.  Everyone said it didn't matter what it looked like but it sure mattered to me.  Every time I looked at it I got grumpy.  P.S. I still feel a bit guilty about using PD's recipe.

Not on our Thanksgiving menu, but on our Wednesday-before-Thanksgiving menu, brussels sprouts.  Yum.  I love the fall when I can have some fresh brussels sprouts, roasted in olive oil and slivered almonds.  They are delicious and the fact that I only eat them two or three times a year makes them all the more special.  This was definitely one of those foods I thought would kill me when I was a kid.  Although I have to say, what was my mother thinking giving us brussels sprouts in the first place?  They're way too fancy (and expensive) to be wasting on a fussy five year old.

Our food preparations require several trips to the store because we can never seem to remember all the ingredients at one time.  Fortunately our grocery store is about a five minute walk from the back door, and I really enjoy those walks.  Our route takes us down this little alley where we can see into everyone's backyard.  I feel like I'm spying on their lives for just a minute as I walk by.  We have one neighbor with a couple of chickens always clucking around the backyard.  Another neighbor is adding a back room onto their house so I've been able to see not just into their yard but into their actual house.  And another neighbor is a metal artist and is frequently outside sculpting.  Montana, our heeler, enjoys these walks too.

We also walk by this big white dog behind a fence.  He's one of two big white dogs behind the fence and the two of them stick their noses in the crack so they can sniff us as we go by.  They're quite intimidating with their size and deep voices but they're sweeties.
What would Thanksgiving be without long after-meal walks?  This walk took us through Liberty Park.  It's an awesome city park in Salt Lake City.  Every community should have a park like this one.  There's a rollerblade path, a jogging path, lots of walkways, and human-made waterways where little kids can splash around.  There are also ponds, playgrounds, horseshoe pits, tennis courts, and the Tracy Aviary.  We are so fortunate to live close enough to enjoy the space.

And of course, on all of these outings I have my camera with me.  I don't always get an image I like but I get something that is a memory.   These images are nothing special, but they tell a story.   They tell the story of Montana with a smile on her face, happily running through the alley.  Or the kids playing on the dock at the edge of the pond in the park.  Or the couple having a sweet moment while they watch the ducks.

I love that I had the time over this long weekend to be a part of these simple stories.  It's hard to always make the time but it's so rewarding when we do.

Snap on snappers!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Visit to the Big Easy

I don't know why it's called the Big Easy, but New Orleans is quite a curious town on many levels.  A recent visit left me exhausted, not because I overdid it on Bourbon Street.  In fact I avoided that street as much as I could.  I spent a lot of time walking around and riding my rented city cruiser so that I could see as much as possible.  And there is a lot to see.

The days were a mix of rainy and sunny weather which makes for a nice diversity of images.  I wonder if all photographers wake up to see the rain and get all happy inside.

On the morning I took the image to the right it was a near downpour at times, and foggy.  I'm sure that New Orleans gets its share of those days.  I was with a friend and we strolled through the relatively empty streets of the French Quarter taking it all in.  We stopped at a cafe to have some breakfast and people watch.  The place is full of colorful characters and I quickly learned that the locals don't always appreciate their presence.  My friend Big Tiny (more on him later) told me that they are of a tribe known as the "gutter punks."  They all seemed to have a dog, although one gutter punk woman had a cat.  They didn't ask me for money, but maybe I just have a look that says I'm not worth asking.

As my friend Amy and I sat at our cafe, a group of gutter punks wandered by our table and I caught the eye of the woman and asked her about the kitten she was carrying.  We had a 10 second conversation and they moved on, but the cafe owner stopped by our table and told me pointedly, "That won't happen again."  I still don't know if that was a reprimand to me, or a notification that he'll not let them bother me.  Either way, I didn't like being told.

The downpour continued and I left the cafe to take this image below.  I jacked up my shutter speed so that I could catch the raindrops mid air.

One thing I wanted to do for sure while I was there was to hear some good music.  Turns out, you'd have to be deaf to miss it.

Musicians set up on every street corner and they're really good!  You could make a whole day of sitting on the steps and listening to the brassy street performers.  On a recommendation we left the French Quarter and walked up and down Frenchmen Street to catch some late night life.  The clubs were in full force, doors and shutters open, music spilling over the crowds.  We just hopped in and out of clubs catching a few tunes here and there.  Really enjoyed it.

Nothing like a vibrant arts and culture scene to make a city.  The mention of New Orleans conjures notions of wild drinking and debauchery on Bourbon Street but there really is a great arts community.   The Bohemian in me was very happy with the offerings.  (Dear Salt Lakers, let's be more Bohemian, ok?)

On the right is my new best friend in New Orleans, Big Tiny.  In case you're confused, he's the big guy with "Big Tiny" tattooed on his neck.  He runs the Lucky Dog hot dog cart in the French Quarter.  He's the one who educated me on the gutter punks.  The protector in him came out and he generously told me if any of them ever mess with me I just need to let him know and he'll BLEEP the BLEEPING BLEEP out them, and put their BLEEP up their BLEEP until they can't walk.  Let's hope I never need his services.
I had an awesome time taking pictures.  It's a great way to get to know a place and people.  Please visit my website to see more.  And hey, Amy, we never went back to our street poet to pick up our poem.  I wonder what he wrote for us.                         



Sunday, October 6, 2013

Event Photography

Part of what I do with my photography business is events.  An event can be anything from a birthday party to a fundraiser dinner.  Events are fun to do and a lot of work.  Here are a few tips for a successful event shoot, based on my very own school-of-hard-knocks experience.

First things first.  Price your services carefully and only after you fully understand what is being asked of you.  Asking a lot of questions will not only help you gather important information about what equipment you'll need, it will help establish mutually understood expectations.

  • Will there be special attendees or dignitaries at the event? 
  • What are the lighting conditions at the venue?
  • How many people will be there?
  • How will the images be used?
For me, pricing services depends on how much equipment I need to bring, how many hours of shooting, and how many hours of post production are necessary.  I recently shot an event that started at 6:30 p.m.   I got there at 5:00 p.m. because I felt there was a lot to shoot before people got in the way:  food, decorations, people getting dressed.  I built that extra time into my bid for the job because I felt it was important to get the complete sense of the event.  

Speaking of shooting time, establish how many hours you will be there, at the event, shooting.  If the agreement is for three hours and the big toast gets delayed for an hour, you might want to gently remind someone that you are scheduled to leave soon.  Likely, that won't get them to pay you more to stay, but it might get someone to light a fire under people to get the big toast done, now.

If you have to use a lot of equipment, or if it's going to be a long, drawn out event, you might want to bring an assistant, also known as a really good friend.  This person can help you arrange groupings of people if you have to do group shots, or help you switch out lenses on the fly, or can sit on the back stairs and laugh with you while you take a quick break.  Yes, you'll want and need a few breaks.  Take them.  You've earned them.  Wear comfortable shoes because your back will be screaming at you after an hour of carrying gear and scrambling to be in the right place and the right time.

Of course events are gatherings of people, which means that the most important element to capture are the smiling faces of people enjoying themselves.  In addition to the group photos you'll also want candids.  Candids are a great way to convey the real fun and happiness of the gathering, almost moreso than posed shots.

If the event involves food get lots of close ups.  The food and drinks are almost as important as the people when you're shooting an event. Clients love seeing images of how well the food was prepared and presented and how happy it made the guests.  And here's a tip that will get you serious mileage:  Give the caterer or chef copies of the food pics.  They love having those images for their business, and undoubtedly they worked really hard to make the event a success.  They'll be so grateful.

My last tip is not really a tip so much as something to think about.  Whether to shoot RAW or jpg.  I know you could shoot both, but that takes up a lot of memory space and I'm not sure it helps when it comes to processing 1,000 or so images in a short turn around.  Even at events, I shoot RAW.  There's always the chance I need to salvage something from an image and that it can only be done in RAW.  For me, it's easy enough to run batch processes to do my first take on edits and then a final save to jpg.  But that adds a bit of time to the processing.  I still tell my clients that I am at least two weeks out.  The advantage to shooting an event in jpg is that you can just upload the images and be done if they're really needed that quickly.

Shooting an event almost always sounds easier than it will be.  Just be prepared as much as possible.  And hang out with the kitchen staff.  They're always having a good time.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Launch of New Things!

Well, whew!  That was quite a respite between posts here on my blog.  Not that my respite was about rest.  I've been quite busy.

Mostly I've been working on a redesign of my website,  That's the site I've used for advertising my photography services.  I hadn't really put much effort into that site and as a result, it was rather lame.  Well now it's new and relaunched!  And even mostly finished!  I suppose everyone who works on their own website knows that it's never really done, just a continual work in progress.

I suppose this might be a good time to put in a plug for Adobe Muse.  Muse is an application that allows designers to build a site from scratch, with complete flexibility and control.  No canned templates, no "type your text here" blocks, no picking a set theme.  Muse lets you decide everything about your site, all without writing any HTML.  I stumbled upon Muse because it's part of the Adobe Creative Cloud and I figure that if I'm going all in, I should use as much of what the Cloud offers as possible.  And Muse was a great find for me.  With a manageable learning curve, I have total control over my site design, from building to publishing.  The downside of all that creative control is the constant fidgeting, tweaking, adjusting, and fine tuning.

In addition to working on my redesigned website (which is an incredible time suck) I have been busy taking pictures, which I love to do.  Here are a few very pretty people shots I've done lately.

On the left is Louis, my new friend.  Handsome guy, isn't he?  He was so cooperative for a couple of quick photos, which is not what usually happens.  Below is an image from another baby shoot I did recently.  I like this image, for sure, but this guy was fussy pretty much the whole three hours I was with him.  Baby pictures take an enormous amount of patience from all parties involved.  But it's so much fun.

I'm not just doing babies these days.  This is Taylor and he wants to start modeling.  I'd say he's got a good chance of being successful!  I hope that these images help him get listed with the talent agency.  I know nothing about modeling agencies but it seems like there is a lot of potential for taking advantage of people. Taylor seems so hopeful about getting work. So if anyone out there is in need of fresh new talent, take a look at Taylor!

With Taylor I tried to use shadows and contrasted light to highlight his muscles.  For the shot above I used just one light, 45 degrees to his left and slightly higher than his face.  Medium sized softbox.  I also used a reflector to his right and was able to fill in some side light nicely.  The shot on the right included a beauty dish light to his right and I think the lighting is so even as to make it flat.  I may have to reprocess that one.  Portraits against a dark background can be quite dramatic.

Happily, my schedule is slowing down somewhat for the next couple of weeks. Just in time for the changing fall foliage!