Category Archives: commercial photography

Karate Sessions

I shot an afternoon of Karate students at a local dojo and it was pretty interesting. I did the classic white background with dual Alien Bee 1600s with one umbrella and one softbox. I used an old trick of putting gaffers tape on the spot for the talent ( students) to place their feet. That mark made it easy for everyone to get where they needed to be quickly. I ended shooting over 40 students that afternoon. I used Square as my credit card processing and I had made up a demo package of the different types of prints available to the parents.

msmedia-6824 karate child

The toughest sessions were the white on white. Using a flash meter was invaluable in nailing the exposure for the subjects while letting the white background fall a bit to grey for a touch of contrast.

msmedia-6887 karate pose with weapons

Depth of Field was critical to keep all of the subject in focus given some of the angles we were shooting at. F8 was the min F stop I used with my 24-70 Nikon lens and D700 body.

msmedia-6898

I worked with the instructors and leaders to get good proper poses that really could show off the students and have a high impact look. One of the options I had offered was a “magazine cover” so getting a good pose that would fit into the magazine was critical.

msmedia-6931

msmedia-7040

The breaking of boards is always a parent favorite and the students too. So we had a supply of boards and let them have at it. The flash was able to stop the motion for a clean action shot.

Also posted in event photography, technique

Shooting Soccer Games

Summer Soccer Shooting

Most folks that I shoot with know that I will use my iPhone for any number of photography tasks. Even at a wedding because the iPhone excels at macro shots like shooting the wedding rings very close to show off the details. But, there are times that you really need to use the proper camera and lens to get the best picture. Much like a carpenter who has five different hammers, a good photographer will have a few different cameras and knows when it is time to switch it up and change the camera to get the best picture they can. And it IS all about the picture, not what hardware you shot it with.

 Goalie Megan Blocking Ball

This summer, I’ve been shooting soccer games on the weekends. I have to say I really enjoy watching the kids mix it up and a few times, some of the more adventurous will try moves they saw used in the World Cup games. Shooting soccer games, even in daylight has some interesting challenges to work around. You have a very fast paced game, you normally have harsh light which is also directional and you need to be able to stand at one end and still get the shot at the other end of the pitch (field).

To be successful at this type of shooting, you need to balance several competing settings. You need to shoot with a long lens and and after shooting with a micro four thirds and my DSLR, I would only recommend the DSLR in combination with 70-200 mm lens at the minimum. And not any DSLR will do, you need to have a fast focusing system that can track and focus continuously.  My system is a Nikon D700 using a Nikon 70-200 F2.8 lens. Yes, it is heavy but it has the reach along with just enough zoom to track 90% of the action.  The Nikon also has a decent high speed frame rate which can be as high as 8 frames per second with the right grip and battery pack. And yes, you will need this burst mode to really catch the fast action on the field. Also, you will need high capacity cards since burst shooting chews through megabytes of card space in a  hurry. I typically shoot through one 16 Mb CF card per game which is roughly 500 images.

Olivia Chasing the Ball

The lighting will be your curse because most of the time, these games are outside in harsh directional light of morning or afternoon sun. You will need to move to one side or the other to get the best light so the kid’s faces are not in heavy shadow. This means you will be moving around a fair amount so forget the big camera bag. I never change lenses or use a flash during these games so I have a “man-purse” which is a shoulder slung belly pack which has spare memory cards, spare batteries, lens cloth and some gaffers tape. I also keep my light meter in it. And yes, I use a light meter to get my first settings of the day. I shoot the games on full manual mode. Why? Why not use aperture priority (Av)? Because with consistent exposure, my post processing is much faster. If I find that for 20 mins, the lighting was one way, I can set all the images during that window to the same adjustment. My ISO is locked down to 400 and my shutter is locked to anywhere from 1/1000 to 1/4000 of second. As much as I like a bit of blur to show motion, I want the kid’s faces sharp so its a delicate balance. I normally just live with the lack of blur in exchange for a crisp image that will print well for the parents.

I also use a lens hood but not that hard plastic disaster that Nikon gives me. I have a nice rubber Mamiya lens hood that originally was for a medium format lens. It’s black and folds back on itself if I need it out-of-the-way. More importantly is that when something hits it, the rubber bends and absorbs the impact. Think about a spectator on the line not paying attention to where my lens is as they get overly excited. I’ve saved many a head with this rubber lens hood.

When you shot, always try to think ahead of where the action is going. Constantly be aware of where the ball is, where it’s going and who might be kicking it. Use your fastest burst mode and learn to shoot with a gentle touch on the trigger. If you see the player getting close to the goal, start burst shooting to have a chance getting  the actual goal shot. This is ALWAYS a hero shot as the player pushes the ball past the goalkeeper. Conversely, a save of the attempted goal is also a hero shot that is often times overlooked by the photographer.

Attempted Goal

At the end of the day, you will need to sort through hundreds of images but there will be some real gems along with the out of focus shots, just missed shots and accidental shots. There will always be one or two shots that sum up the game’s action for the day. I make up faux magazine covers to showcase a player who has an exceptional image.

Magazine Cover Soccer Olivia

I also give parents a custom app on their mobil devices with images of their child when they purchase a package from me. These images will be downloaded to the mobile device and can easily be shared with various social media sites right from the phone or tablet. For a live demo of the custom app, click here.

Smartphone Album

Also posted in equipment, event photography, lenses, technique, training Tagged , , , , , , |

Be Anywhere or Anything You Want with Compositing

The art of compositing opens up a whole new world for photographers and the client. You can be anything or anywhere you want with a bit of preplanning and work. Many people think you have to set up a green screen like Hollywood but in reality, it causes issues with improper lighting. Shooting on a white or black background is much more forgiving and considerably easier to work with. The color selection of the background is really immaterial to a large degree, the still photographer needs the contrast between subject and background to get a clean “cut out”. Proper lighting avoids what is called “spillover” or contamination of the subject with unwanted light and color from the background. I tend to shoot white as much as possible since any spillage looks just like some extra light unlike the day-glow of a green screen.

The image below was shot on a white background with single octobank light. I could have used strip lighting for a more edgy look but this was a “off the cuff” shoot at the end of a family portrait so I used what I had set up.

Olivia on white background

The background was a stock photograph from Depositphotos.com that saved me from having to drive into some sketchy areas on a weekend to get graffiti shots. Note!! Always take element shots when you can and keep them in a library. I take various texture shots and odd bits here and there just for stuff like this.

The Photoshop tool “quick selection” is your friend for this type of work. It’s fast and very easy to get decent results right away. Of course, the more time and effort you put into the selection, the better the results will be. For some work you will find the pen tool to be a better choice but that is a topic for a different day. To get the hair, you can push up the radius up and up. As you go up, Photoshop will go further out from the edge to look for what it thinks to be part of the selected subject based on color.

Olivia Graffiti portrait

You can also use compositing for enhancing images such as I did here for a Christmas card. It was something of a joke for the family since we live in a “non-snow” locality while most of the family lives in snow country. I took a family portrait which I shot against white, a picture of a snow globe, a picture of a local pier at the beach and use a technique for “making snow” in photoshop. This all combined into one image that went on the annual Christmas card. And yes, this is a service I offer and not just for the holidays. Compositing can be the adding of a new board me member, removal of an unwanted person/place or thing and much more.
Final Snow Globe of Sweeneys

You can also use compositing to show off someone or someone’s skill. In this last image, the subject made her costume by hand for Halloween and I composited her into her own movie poster that fit the theme of the costume. To be sure, a composite of this type is not just a “drap and drop” cutout inspite of what some software packages would lead you to think. It takes some time and few tricks to get everything to work together. I hope you can start to see that composting can really open up a world for the more artistic image or a precisely tuned image.
Queen of hearts Composite

Also posted in editing, editing software, photography, studio, technique Tagged |

Shooting a Camaro

So Fathers Day was very intersting for me this year. My oldest daughter decided that I needed something to bright up my day and that a RED Camaro was just the ticket  for said brighting. We went down to the local Enterprise rental car agency and I got to drive away in a screaming RED 2013 Camaro for the entire weekend.

Now since she was so kind to rent the Camaro, I had to shoot a picture or two of the car. And if I’m going to shoot a picture of the Camaro, then I am going to do it right. I had thought about this several months ago so I had found some likely sites to use for backgrounds. I grabbed my D700 and 70-200 then drove off for a few hours of driving and shooting.

In Santiago Canyon I found a abandoned gas station and some cool turnouts with oak trees. I started a bit earlier than I wanted because of the bright light but I was hoping on shade and shooting angles to help make up the lack of reflectors and the bright sunlight. Here is my first shot at the gas station.
Camaro at gas station

This image was also an experiment in processing. I shoot RAW exclusively but for the past year I have been working with JPEG files a lot from my iPhone and I’ve been impressed with how well the new tools can handle a JPEG. So this time I took the raw file and flipped it to JPEG in the D700 by way of delighting. I then dropped it into CS6 and retouched it and cleaned things up.

I then moved to a oak lined turnout and shot this image.
2013 Camaro by Oak Trees

I had an idea about “School is out for the summer” theme so I drove over to a local high school and used their parking lot. I did several shots and this was my favorite of the bunch.
Schools out 2013 Camaro

This image took some time since I did some work like removing the front license plate, various signs, cleaned up the reflections and lost some curbing. Here is what the raw image looked like before my edits.
2013 Camaro before edits

In the end it was a lot of fun renting the car and then shooting it. Most of these pictures were taken with a single D700 and one lens, the F2.8 70-200 zoom. The one exception is the oak tree shot which I used a 24-70 F2.8 since I was on the side of highway and did not feel like going out into traffic.

Also posted in musings, photography Tagged , |

Making your environment work for you

For any photographer who is not in the safety of their studio, they are at the whim of whatever environment the location has to offer. The real professional and why the client pays for the professional is the small fact that the professional can make almost any situation into a great image. To  illustrate this point, I took a five year old to a local park on a blustery and cool day with virtually no skies, clouds or anything at all of interest in the sky. The light was basically flat and pretty low contrast from the cloud cover. So what is a photographer to do?  On the way into the park we passed onto a tree lined sidewalk and I was stuck by the beautiful yellow leaves on the trees, very fall-like even though it was mid December. My problem was the leaves are a bit high and my subject at five is a bit short. You can see my set up shot below. Just as a note of interest, the set up shot was taken with my 4S iPhone rather than my DSLR. I do this often in part because I use a location scouting app called “PocketScout” that lets me keep pictures of the site along with notes.

Tree lined sidewalk before portrait session at park

As I looked at it, I saw that at first glance while it is a nice landscape, it’s not much for a background with a five year old. But, we professionals have ways to make our images speak!  In this case, I pulled out the 70-200 F2.8 in order to use the compression of a racked out 200mm at a shallow depth of field. This compression of distance let me fill the frame with yellow leaves and get them nice and blurred at F3.5. I put my subject up on the rail and had her sit there. This got her up a few feet from where she stands and let me pull in the background right behind her. I shot a bit hot knowing I was going to go for the somewhat bright post processed look playing off the fall colour in the leaves.

little girl against fall yellow leaves portrait

 I shot several times given that kids do not give a natural smile on demand, you have to work it out of them. In the end, I was pretty happy with my final shot.

Also posted in musings, photography, portraits, technique, training

The making of a premium whiskey product shoot

Photographers tell stories, that is what we do with our pictures whether it is a bride or a family portrait. But, we also have to tell a story even if the subject is completely devoid of any emotion such as a product shoot. The photographer has to tell the story or “sell” the story by use of props, product placement, environmental conditions, colors, lighting and shadows. All of this is to evoke a emotional response in the viewer, normally to make them want to buy whatever the product is. This can get very complicated very quickly for the photographer. It’s not just the normal details of F stops or aperture, it is the psychology of of the audience that the photographer must keep in mind. It can be the props to work with the subject, to frame it or enhance it or to give it an emotional hook as it were. The color temperature of the lighting can evoke just as strong of a response as the props can. Soft shadows or hard light can really set off the drama or provide a memory of hazy, lazy summer days.

I recently did a practice product shoot using a favorite whiskey called “Knob Creek“. Now, in my mind, premium whiskey is something enjoyed at the end of the day primarily by men. The name of Knob Creek gave me thoughts of the water used to make whiskey, the wooden barrels used to store it, and just the over all process of making fine whiskey.

So I have two parts of my concept for Knob Creek shoot. I have thoughts of how it’s made and that it would be a manly drink served in the afternoon or evening while thinking about the day. Ok, time to start the process of putting together the subject and the props. First was the subject which was an opened bottle of whiskey. I had an idea of using kraft papper and some charcoal to hook to the idea of how whiskey is made by filtering it through charcoal. I also felt I needed to have a nice heavy glass with some whiskey in it as if it were ready to drink. The kraft paper and charcoal came from the backyard BBQ where I had some hardwood charcoal left over from BBQing last summer. I used a wooden table that I let the kids play on. It is honey toned and has been battered by the kids so it has some “character” in the surface. I set up one SB800 to shoot up and bounce off the ceiling for easy shadows and soft light. Here is the very first image of the session.

Knob Creek Whiskey Produst shoot -1st shot 3200K

It really does not look like very much does it?  So what was next? Well, In my mind’s eye, I wanted things warmer since it was to be late afternoon and I got this by shooting on “shade” white  balance rather than keeping it on automatic or flash. This warmed up the tones very nicely as you can see here.

Knob Creek 2nd shot with adjusted temp 5700K

Now things are working better conceptually for me. But it still needs alot of work to really work as a product shoot. This image does not make you want to buy or drink Knob Creek. So next I decided that I needed  to add some “whiskey” the glass and some ice. Personally speaking, ice offends me in my whiskey but alot of people disagree with that. But, I did not have any fake ice and real ice looks so bad and melts rapidly. Instead of “ice”, I did have “whiskey stones” which are carved stones that you freeze and then drop into the drink to chill it but not dilute it. So now  I have my ice but I need whiskey in the glass. For this shoot, since my kids were watching and I had limited amount of whiskey on hand, I made up some water with two types of yellow food dye which matched very well to the real whiskey. This way, if one of the kids got too curious as I was in and out of the room, no harm would be done.

Knob Creek product shoot with stones and drink

Closer, I’m getting closer but the stones are too white and the background is too blah. So what to do?  I decided that someone who enjoys a premium old school whiskey like Knob Creek would also like to collect vintage items. I happen to restore vintage radios so I grabbed a small one so it would not compete with the subject and put it into the image. Now I also had to work out my fill light since I need some light on the glass, the label and the radio. I used a white board and bounced a second SB800 flash off that and onto my “set”.

Knob Creek product shoot with angle and lighting

I also started to settle on my angle for the hero shot at this point. I also made a fun discovery that by using a manilla envelop as a flag on the first flash firing up to the ceiling, it also put some wonderful amber highlights on the bottle. Who knew? I really liked what I had so far but the background was still lacking some balance.  Again, with thinking of the type of man who would be sitting here with a vintage radio, whiskey stones and classic whiskey, I thought some vintage books would work well.

Knob Creek product shoot with added books and cropping

Now I’m getting to be very happy with the overall look and feel of the image. At 70mm and F4, my depth of field is right about 4 inches which is just enough to keep the bottle in focus and foreground/background out of focus. I also wet the stones so they went more of a black/grey than white.

Now I was able to take this image and do some retouching on it which cleaned up some blue toned reflections that were out of place, darkened up the lettering of the label, removed some reflections on the glass and added a vignette. There also was the normal tonality adjustments and sharpening that takes place with any digital image.

My final image is here. I have a very successful image of tone, product, props and overall “look and feel”. It makes a gorgeous wall print in my office.

Knob Creek  final edits from photoshop

 

Here is a image showing the progression of the set and shooting.

sequence for knobcreek edited

Here is the set up for the shoot. As you can see, it’s very basic and not complicated at all. This session revolved more around color and props than it did about fancy lighting or accessories like grids and such.
My equipment for this shoot was:

Nikon D700 with a 24-70 F2.8 lens at 70mm and F4 – Two SB800 flashes with Atlas PW clone triggers

ISO 200 and a shutter of 1/125

marked up whiskey set up shot

Enhanced by Zemanta
Also posted in photography, Shooting Food, studio, technique, training Tagged , , |

The fine art of high speed panning

So this post is about few different things. First, it is a test of using SmugMug galleries in my WordPress blog. It’s a nice demo to the art of “Panning” where you track a subject with your camera while swinging the camera one way or another. The subject can be NASCAR race cars or just a kid running at high speed. The idea of the pan is to keep the subject sharp while providing motion blur on the background which gives the image a very dynamic feel of motion.

In the case of my NASCAR images, I was panning with the subject hitting somewhere around 180 MPH. With a 200mm lens on a crop sensor, I was having to pan very fast side to side. I was also shooting at a shutter between 1/320 to 1/800 of second which normally would stop the action but given the high speeds in involved, gave just enough motion to the tires and background to keep the cars from looking like models set on a track.

That is the magic for any panning shots like this. You want and need to show motion. With the race cars, it would have looked “Wrong” if the tires were as sharp as the cars and you could read the letters. With the tires blurred, you have a very sense of motion and that the picture looks “right”. This is the same reasoning why when shooting warbirds at an airshow, you want the props blurred some. No blur or not enough blur and the airplane just looks “wrong” to us. Motion can provide visual tension and a very dynamic feel to an image. And it does not have to be alot of motion, just a touch will work wonders depending on the image.

 

[smugmug url=”http://michaelsweeneyphotography.smugmug.com/hack/feed.mg?Type=gallery&Data=11352184_xkV9Hh&format=rss200″ title=”NASCAR%20-%20Fontana” description=”NASCAR%20racing%20at%20AAA%20Raceway%20in%20Fontana%20California” imagecount=”50″ start=”1″ num=”50″ thumbsize=”Th” link=”lightbox” captions=”false” sort=”true” window=”true” smugmug=”true” size=”L”]

Enhanced by Zemanta
Also posted in event photography, technique Tagged , , , , , |

Shooting a veggie a day

So today was a practice day for me. I have been threatening for weeks and weeks to shoot some food and today was it. Or at least some of it. I used a 50 dollar battery operated LED video light, a mirror and a home made silk that uses Toughspun. I spent about ten dollars for the various veggies and fruits which is cheap for models. I used a c stand to hold my video light attached to my monopod stand which doubled as a boom. The mirror provided some light from the side and underneath the glass. My post processing was done in Lightroom using a preset that emulated Kodachrome 25 since I wanted that very contrasty punchy look. You can see from the set shot that I didnt do anything special other than clean off the end of the dining room table.

I used my D300 with two lenses. My first lens was a favorite of mine, the 17-55 F2.8 and the second was a Lensbaby composer at F4. My ISO was 400 and I shoot from 1/60 to /1/160. No flash was used, just the video light which I got from Amazon for something like 50 dollars plus 30 for a battery and charger.

When you are shooting something like this, it can be trickier than people at times as the still life does not move at all unless you move it. So you are always on the look out for reflections, lines, composition and so on. You need to worry about color and texture plus what props you are using. Lighting becomes critical for shadows and highlights.

Enhanced by Zemanta
Also posted in editing, equipment, photography, Shooting Food, studio, technique, training, video Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

New Year, New Site

WordPress

[dropcap_1]I[/dropcap_1]  hate New Year resolutions as a rule. To promise to change something for a new year because you feel guilty about it can not be a good way to effect a change. But, in this case, I decide that this year I would do a few things differently. I started early by joining the studio coop in December. I posted about that a bit ago and so far, it has been a very good arrangement.

A second thing that I really wanted to do was make over my website. I had not been happy with my hosting service for a long while. It’s not that they were “bad” or anything but I had ongoing issues with memory and WordPress plugins not having enough and they could never get it to work quite right. In truth, they sell canned templates and hosting service for those templates. I dumped that two years ago and built my own wordpress site using iBlog. So I was already out of their comfort zone in doing that. I was also paying alot more than I needed to since I was not using their sites or any of their features. I had found them too limiting for what I wanted to do.

So last month. I ordered up a new domain name which will be the umbrella name for my photography, my fusion video efforts and some training work coming down the pipe. Signed a deal with Machighway.com (they host on Macs) and started a new site. After one disaster of a template, I started over, found a cheaper template that worked alot better and you now see the results.

[blockquote]Failure is the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.- Henry Ford [/blockquote]

Welcome to my NEW and IMPROVED website and blog for Michael Sweeney Media.. aka Michael Sweeney Photography. I’m able to put up my blog, my galleries, a nice splash page and more without any issues with memory or other troubles. I plan to get back on a regular posting schedule and I plan to put up more images now I can get it all to work better. Please, take a look around and be a bit patient while I get the bits and pieces moved over and working again.

Thanks for visiting!

 

MikeS

 

Enhanced by Zemanta
Also posted in equipment, photography, studio, Uncategorized Tagged , , , , , , , , , |

Skips Summer School Las Vegas

I always like summer school as a kid. The classes were smaller, more informal and alot more fun than the rest of the year. Not to mention they helped get me out of school earlier. Now that I’m a working stiff, I find that instead of summer school, I take short breaks for various seminars and classes to stay on top of my game as a photographer and to network with old and new friends.  One such “break” that I recently took is called “Skips Summer School” and it was held in the boring city called Las Vegas 🙂

I had managed to score a free ticket ( THANK YOU PHOTODEX!! )to the 3 day event from Photodex on Facebook but I had to look up what I had won. It seems that Skip Cohen’s summer school is a well kept secret by those “in the know”.  Fine, now I too know about it and I went ahead and booked a room at the Mirage and also booked a Dodge Charger as a rental to drive there. I mean, if I have to go to Vegas, I want to have some fun along the way and what better fun is a muscle car. My five year old daughter decided though that it was HER car and I could borrow it for the trip 🙂  Just as an FYI – the image below was taken with my iPhone using the Apple HDR setting and then run through Photoshop on the iPhone.

Skips summer school rental charger
Of course, being California, it rained from the time I left to the minute I arrived at the Mirage. So much for stopping along the way and taking some fun shots of the car with the various abandoned buildings on the highway.No matter, what counted was I had gotten there and it was time to go meet people. There as a small expo of vendors there and it is always fun to go chat with the vendors and see what kind of deals that they have and maybe meet someone whom I have been talking to on the phone or by email

Then it was time for dinner and a drink and to bed. After all, an eight hour drive is bit much. Why eight hours? Because there was four crashes on the way there, one was a rolled car and one was a  head on. Either way, it made for a very, very slow drive in the rain.

The next morning, Summer School kicked off in ernest with Jerry Ghionis speaking. If you have not had the chance to listen/watch/learn from Jerry, find the time, make the time or beg the time to do so. Jerry is an amazing presenter.

The video quality is not the best due to my using a dinky Flip camera. There were people there shooting with the full blown HD DSLR and yes, I was a bit green with envy.

We had Bambi Cantrell and Roberto Valenzuela who both are very inspirational and motivating speakers. Roberto in particular really “spoke” to me about shooting in shadows and how to use them. I find myself shooting a lot in the middle of the day or on really bright locations. One take away from Roberto is that you need to shoot, you need to practice and you don’t need alot of to practice with. His case in point is shooting with his trademark melons and bananas. You practice shooting to get the lighting with them and then when it’s for real, you already know how to do it and you don’t waste time.

The one thing from Bambi that I took away was instead of saying “I can not do that” is to say instead “I really wish I could but”. I’ve started to use that and not just in my photographer and it makes a difference.

Tamara Lackey showed grace under pressure when her Mac decided it didn’t want to talk to the projector and so she got to “wing” it for several minutes while they got everything back on track. As always, she was poised, excited and enthusiastic about being there at SSS.

One the treats of the best treats was an open forum with the presenters after the formal ones and after dinner. Anyone could ask any question and the panel would answer as a group. it was a lot of fun and very informative.
Open Forum at Skips Summer School

Other presenters were the ever popular Vincent LaForet, Kevin Kubota and Bobbi Lane. It was an amazing three days and you could not help but get excited again.

The demos were really good. I attended Clay Blackmore’s workshop and his show and tell about posing was worth all the effort of getting there.

Here is a gallery of images from Skips Summer School

Also posted in Business Aids, photography, training, Travel Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , |