Category Archives: commercial photography

Why spend money on the good stuff?

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We all like to save money dont we? I mean, business is a bit slow with the economy and whatnot so everyone likes to save here or there. There are coupons, deals, specials, closeouts, eBay and Craigslist.  But one place where it’s foolish to try and save too much on are your critical pieces for your business. Take computers for example. I use Macs..  I have twelve of them of various types and ages. My main computer is a MacPro dual quad. This was a three thousand dollar computer new, I bought it used off Craigslist last year from someone who bought it as a “trophy” and now needed cash. I ended up getting a great deal on it too. Why did I spend about double of a home brew clone that could have been hacked to run OSX? Because I tried the clone and after dealing with not working pieces, no support except what I could dig up on Google and spending HOURS getting it finally work right just to have it die on an update, I decided enough was enough. I could not count on it when I needed to work the most. Saving one thousand dollars was costing me more in lost time, productivity and more. It was cheaper over the year to buy the real Mac used then it was to try and save more by a hack job.

I still have my Hackintosh.. actually, I have two of them. I have a Dell netbook and my first tower with a single Quad. As it turns out, the Hackintosh works great as a media center in my office. Or it did until the EFIx card that let it run OSX died. So I ended up wasting a day putting it back together another way that did not need the card. And it reminded me why over a year ago I stopped using the Hackintosh as my main computer.

Sometimes trying to save money will cost you a considerably amount in the future. This lesson is why I buy the best camera bodies I can buy, the best lenses and the best software even though it hurts to write those checks. I get support, I get efficiency and I get peace of mind.  There are some places you can cut a corner or two and get away with it but you need to always think ahead and ask yourself, “what if”. What if your deal dies in the middle of a work day? What if your deal cant be upgraded? What if your deal turns out to be a trojan horse that ends up letting bad things on your computer (think bit torrents and the like). As a hobbiest, one  can get away with alot more than as a business person. Because as a business, there is far too much at stake ranging from your client’s images to your profits.

There are places you can save ALOT with some careful shopping. Take lenses for example, there are many high lenses for sale on eBay that are what I call “trophy glass”. Someone bought them when they were flush with cash and now they need cash. I bought my 17-55mm F2.8 for less than half of what a new lens would cost and I sent it Nikon for refurbishment. Even then, I was at a bit over half price of a new boxed lens and I had a “new” used lens. My 70-200mm F2.8 was the same way but not quite as a good deal but better than buying new by four hundred or so. One D300 was a factory refurb and the other came used from B&H and had a 30 day promise of replacement if needed. Both were several hundred cheaper than a new boxed camera. That right there more than paid for the MacPro.

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Painting for Photographers

The title is a double meaning, one is the obvious meaning, how can a photographer “paint” their images. The second is a reference to a book by Karen Sperling called “Painting for Photographers” which has been a guide for me while I explore how to use Corel Painter and Photoshop CS5 to change images into paintings.

I am a photographer, I am not a painter or at least I’m not in the classic sense of the word. But, as a portrait photographer, I use light and shadow just like a painter does to add texture and depth to my subject. Karen’s book really helps with understanding what makes a painting work and why it is different at times than a picture. I will say that while she is mostly oriented to the user of PainterX or Painter 11, she does not leave out the CS5 users who have the new bristle brushes and blending modes. Much of what she teaches crosses over to both. For example, when painting in the background, things like transitions, blending of hair, using different brush textures are not specific to one application but can be used by many different applications.

Karen shows alot of information on different styles of images using “chalk”, “watercolor”, “sponge” and more plus what makes each work for a particular style of image. You would not want to try to take a dark dramatic image and try to make it a watercolor. It would not look or feel right. Oils can lend a sense of formal stature to a portrait and sponge can really make a landscape pop with texture. Karen has all of this and much more in a relatively thin book.

What does all this mean to a photographer? Another revenue stream is what it means. Seeing a “painting” that is on canvas and LARGE is impressive to clients.  Most people really do not understand what a painting is all about, they are used to seeing pictures and snapshots. When they see a large portrait with the drama of blending and texture, they “get it”. And it’s unique enough that clients who really want that something “special” that few others have will be very interested.

So what can you paint? Portraits of all kinds, wedding shots are common because they lend themselves to a painted style of image. Landscapes are another type of image that works really well as a painting. Virtually any type of image can work with the right kind of technique.

I have a small gallery of a current project that shows the transition from a nice normal portrait to a painting that looks really nice. I’m still working on it and learning some of the fine points. I will say that you need to get used to using layers. I have several layers of painting so I can try different things and not ruin work already completed that I’m happy with. One of the big differences between the un-retouched and the painting is that I was able to really clean up the eyes and catchlights by painting. A second huge improvement was made to the overall image by the removal of the background to a more artistic painted background. One thing to remember with a painting is that you paint out alot of small details and use large details to carry the painting. This is true for most paintings and one of the hardest things for a photographer who has spent a fair amount of money to get megapixels of detail to turn around and paint out all the tiny detail. Why? Because it would never show in a real painting and since you are making a painting, you need to work like a painter. I personally find I like to blend the two where I keep some fine detail and lose other detail. But that is just a style of painting that I find myself falling into. Everybody has their own style or will have their own style just like their photography.

Digital Wedding Painting Bride

So what do you need to start painting your photographs? You need some type of software, normally Corel Painter or Photoshop CS5. You can do this with a mouse but I can not too strongly suggest a tablet like a Wacom tablet and pen. The control you get from using a tablet/pen is unparalleled compared to a mouse. With the pressure sensitivity of the pen, it gives you the feel and touch of using a real paint brush. So now that you have software and a tablet, what else? Find a picture you want to make into a painting. I did forgot one important item, you need to read Karen’s book FIRST and then use it as a reference as you start your painting. I will say this, while painting with Corel Painter is well documented, painting with CS5 bristle brushes is not nearly as well supported at this time.

To the end of trying to find some help for those with CS5 and not Painter, here are some links to help explain how to use CS5’s blend modes and bristle brushes.

Peachpit Press #86 Using the Mixer Brush

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Black and Blue

Black and Blue Portrait

Black and Blue
I was in Irvine, CA last night for the Westcott Pro Tour and this was one of the results from shooting at the event. We used the Westcott spider lights with the tri-flector and the new vintage backdrop from Westcott.
Herman Rodriguez was our mentor photographer for this shoot and he had alot of very good information on shooting portraits with a tilt to fashion. The point above everything else was “shape the light”. It was all about lighting and how lighting can make or break an image. It definitely got me thinking more about how I light my own subjects.

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Lights, Camera and Action!!

Back of a Blu-ray Disc. I took this.
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Oh yeah.. baby loves video 🙂  So I finally bite the bullet and bought ProShow Producer by Photodex. I used some images from the Westcott photoshoot at Photoshopworld as a test for a quick and dirty slide show. I tossed this together without reading ANY docs, just ran the wizard, clicked around a bite and off we go. In less than an hour I had pretty much made this show which included finding music on the internet.

Now I need to really dig into the software. It can do so much like layers and masking on the slides.  It’s a lot easier than Premier and I like the end results more than Animoto. A cool part is that it has a kick butt “create” menu panel. Anything you would like to export the show into is there. BlueRay, DVD, self contained EXE, Flash, Youtube, Facebook and more.  Way cool and one of the best export panels I’ve seen for video like this. Right now I have it running in Fusion on my MacPro in a Windows XP image and it works just fine. It would be nice to have an OSX version but this is very workable for now.

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Atlas, Pocket Wizard Clones by Phottix

One of the signs of “making it” for a budding professional photographer is the purchase of some PocketWizard wireless triggers. When you trade in the ebay specials that you learned on to the pro gear, it’s a really nice feeling. But, that feeling can be costly with a PW costing about 170.00 USD each. The company called Phottix has developed and released a new wireless trigger that looks and feel alot like a PW trigger. Same shape, same size, mostly the same controls but some differences. The biggest is the price, the Atlas costs about 90.00 USD and includes cables plus a set of brand name AA batteries. The unit itself also has some differences for the better and I will detail them in a few moments. One difference to point out right away is the metal hotshoe!!  No more cheap plastic hotshoes which are the bane of the Pocket Wizard.

Atlas Wireless Triggers

Atlas Wireless Triggers

The picture above shows the unboxing of the new trigger. You can see they are well packages with Duracell batteries, cables, lanyard and a decent set of directions. The buttons are well labeled and easy to read. The build quality is excellent, in some ways, I think it’s better than the real Pocket Wizard. Two additions are very welcomed for photographers. The first is a metal tripod mount and the second is the metal hot shoe mount. Both are incredible useful in the field and even in the studio. The radio runs on cheap AA cells and work very well on a diet of PowerX Imedion AA 2400 low discharge cells.

There are two plugs in the top, one for controlling the flash OUT and a second for flash IN/OUT. These in and out ports will let you daisy chain strobes to be triggered by one Atlas.

The units support WRS mode or Wireless Remote Sync which lets you shoot the flash off AND trigger the camera remotely. You can lock the unit down as a transmitter only to  help avoid interference simple by pressing the test/shutter button while you turn on the Atlas. When you have a red light on status, release the button and the status LED should now go to green and blink green once a second. When in transmit and receive mode, it will blink once every two seconds.

The Atlas has four channels to choose from and WRS uses two at a time. For normal use, you just need to put them all on the same channel. The Atlas is compatible with two Sekonic light meters, the L-358 and the L-758R so long as both are using the RT-32 transmitter. While the Atlas trigger frequency is compatible with PocketWizard’s MiniTT1, FlexTT5, MultiMax, Plus II (& probably the original/old PocketWizards) for both sending and receiving, I was not able to get the Atlas to trigger the PW PlusII in a fast test. I plan to get a few PWs to test further with and see what happens, I’m told the Atlas will work with PWs. I am thinking that the PW can trigger the Atlas but not the other way around.

The range I’ve tested to so far is a bit over 100 feet line of sight without any misfires. I did a test where the flash was inside the house about 10 feet and behind double pane low E glass. The low E glass tends to attenuate my radios and I imagine it does the same thing to the Atlas triggers but I went 75 feet outside and still had solid triggering without any misfires. I plan to wander over one of the parks in the next week or so and really stretch out the range. But in truth, 100 feet is about the furtherest I have been from my flashes when shooting remote. My ebay clones used to start to miss about then even more so with a low battery.

So in the past month I’ve used these triggers on my D300 bodies, my G11, my Photogenics and my SB800s without any issues at all. They have worked every time and have been very reliable. Not bad for a 100 bucks a unit. Given that the eBay triggers were 40 plus shipping and required mods to really work well, these are a deal. What I can not tell is how well they will hold up under abuse like being dropped and kicked around.

Here are some individual shots of the Atlas. These were taken with Atlas triggers on my Canon G11 triggering a Photogenic 1250 flash with a 48 inch octabank. The white background is just white construction paper propped up in the back

Phottix Atlas Complete Kit

Phottix Atlas Complete Kit

Phottix Atlas Side and Top View

Phottix Atlas Side and Top View

Phottix Atlas Top View

Phottix Atlas Top View

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Photoshopworld 2010

So I survived Vegas with it’s 30 dollar lunches, 25 dollar shots of Scotch and my cheap room at Mandalay bay. I guess it all balances in the end since I did not give a nickel to the slots. The keynote was awesome, the Tweet up was alot of fun, the Expo was crazy good fun and I did sneak out early because of the holiday and trying to fly home on Friday.

I split my time with several class this time. I noticed that in 2007 which was the last time I was there at PSW, I saw 95% software based classes. This time, the tracks were split between real photography classes and software like Painter, Photoshop and such. I ended wishing I could attend them all but settled on a mix of classes

My preconference class was “The Art of the Digital Canvas” with Faye Sirkis and I had high hopes for the class since I really wanted to see how to make CS5 work with the new bristle brushes. But, the class fell short of my expectations between a lack of real meat in the class and technical issues with CS5. The good news is that was the only class that fell short in my opinion. The two classes I took with Joe McNally were awesome to be in and Joe has a very good sense of presentation with humor and solid information.  I took a Fashion Portrait class with David Cuerdon who I found relatively recently on Kelby’s training site and have decided that I really, really like his style and teaching methods.. The fashion class was a wealth of info on how to shoot and more importantly, retouch the shots effectively.

Zack Arias did a couple of classes but the one I went to was “Stuff you need to know to be a photographer” and as always, Zack did a bang up job of getting down to the nuts and bolts of being successful as a photographer and to figure out what is really important to you and and your craft. A hint, passion only gets you so far as a photographer.

I did the concert and event photographer on something of a lark and it was very interesting to hear how it works behind the scenes as it were. Also the choice of gear, how to get the pass and what to expect as a photographer at a concert. Alan Hess did a very good job at showing the class the real world of Concert photography and proving that yes, you can have fun while working for a living 🙂

Here are some random shots from the trip. I split my shooting between my Canon G11 and my D300. Both worked well but the Canon struggled with the low light in the classes. The D300 would work but only but shooting at 2.8 with ISO 3200 or 6400. I was really wishing for a FX camera and ISO 25,000 🙂 The NAPP Keynote was completely shot using the G11 and it did very well considering I had the zoom maxed out and the lighting was so bad. The class shots of Joe McNally were taken with the D300 at ISO 6400.

Zack Arias

Zack Arias

Mac Classic and Photoshop V1

Mac Classic and Photoshop V1

Metal prints were the hot item

Metal prints were the hot item

Scott giving away his Flying V to Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen

Scott giving away his Flying V to Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen

JohnnyL Adobe GM Digital Media

JohnnyL Adobe GM Digital Media

Photoshop Keynote

Photoshop Keynote

Scott Kelby and NAPP (KISS cover ala Spinal tap)

Scott Kelby and NAPP (KISS cover ala Spinal tap)

Scott Kelby and NAPP (KISS cover ala Spinal tap)

Scott Kelby and NAPP (KISS cover ala Spinal tap)

Scott Kelby and NAPP (KISS cover ala Spinal tap)

Scott Kelby and NAPP (KISS cover ala Spinal tap)

Home Base

Home Base

Mandalay Bay Lobby Entrance

Mandalay Bay Lobby Entrance

Photoshop TV LIVE

Photoshop TV LIVE

Joe McNally

Joe McNally

Small Flash Class by Joe McNally

Small Flash Class by Joe McNally

Joe McNally in action

Joe McNally in action

My view while blogging at Mandalay Bay

My view while blogging at Mandalay Bay

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Westcott Model Shoot

The vendor, Westcott, sell various lighting and light modifiers to photographers and studios. They are a constant vendor at Photoshopworld and other Photography related shows. One of the most popular features of their booth has been the model shoot where a rep will demo product using a live model and then allow photographers to try their hand at a fast shoot using the same setup and equipment.

I think they just raised the bar in a big way by having four “sets” set up where they had live models and at times a still life available to shoot using the Westcott equipment. There were simple rules, you could not touch the model or the lights but you could direct the model on how you think a pose might work. This time you can submit your final images to be a possible catalog cover.

Popular? You bet!!!  They had photographers coming out of the woodwork with everything from the high end Canon/Nikons to the cell phone with any number of camera in between. it was amazing to shoot and even more so just to watch. It was pretty clever in a way since you can only really make the photograph yours by model position and post work. Since the lights were fixed, you had to move the model to change the mood and you had to use some solid techniques in post to “fix” things like lights being in the image, fashion model fixing, getting rid of backdrop seams and so on.

Here are some of my shots along with a description of what I had to do in post to get to the finished or close to the finished image. Most of what I did to these images is not much different than what I do in my wedding shoots or portrait sessions here in my studio in Orange. When I shoot, many times I know when I take the shot, that I will need to do something in post like removing something or enhancing the bride and so on. Sometimes I make a mental note that a certain picture will need something specific because I know it’s a cool shot but needs editing to make it cool.

Here is my Catwoman shot in the raw. No retouching, no post of any kind except to convert it from camera RAW to JPEG to post here on my blog.

Catwoman in Gotham City RAW

Catwoman in Gotham City RAW

You can see from the above shot that there is quite a bit of work needed in post to make a usable image. There is a light in the upper left, the bike is on carpet, the background is too short and does not touch the carpet just to name a few things. Here is the final version or very close to my final version of Catwoman

Catwoman in Gotham Final

Catwoman in Gotham Final

I edited out all the extra stuff like the lights and reflector panel. I used content aware fill and free transform to stretch and edit the background. I used the Lightroom Graduated Filter with a blue tint to darken and add mood to the background. I added a concrete texture to the carpet to make it look more like asphalt. I did a fair amount of selective burning in like the front rim of the bike which was too bright. I tweaked the intensity to get the deep reds and dark blacks. I added a dark vignette around the image to help blend in the transition between backdrop and carpet. I think it turned out pretty well 🙂

In the next shot, we have a retro looking “Pin Up Queen” but we need some work here too. There is a red fabric that is competing for attention, we have tattoos on the model and we have some unsightly bulges on the bustline and arm.

Pin Up Queen RAW

Pin Up Queen RAW

And here is my final image after using several tools and some hand work.

Pin Up Queen Final

Pin Up Queen Final

I used liquidify to smooth out the bustline and arm. I used Portraiture to smoothout the skin and give a glamor look to the over all image. I removed the red sash hanging down in the background and I removed the tats showing on each arm.

Here are some of the rest of my shots from the Westcott model shoot. Westcott even had a couple of still lifes for those who do not like shooting people. As you can see, many times you need good post processing to really bring out the best of a picture whether it be a still life, a fashion shoot or even a wedding. I’ve seen good images with bad post processing and they just do not work well. I’ve seen marginal images but with excellent post processing and they work pretty well.  Taking the shot is just one step to having a killer image as the final result. Ansel Adams was a master of this and understood clearly that the raw image was only the first step to showing the world your vision.

Thank to Westcott for putting all of this together and letting the photographers have alot of fun over the past three days shooting gorgeous models on fun sets.

Queen of Hearts RAW

Queen of Hearts RAW

Queen of Hearts FINAL

Queen of Hearts FINAL

Steam Punk RAW

Steam Punk RAW

Steam Punk FINAL

Steam Punk FINAL

Natural Pair RAW

Natural Pair RAW

Natural Pair FINAL

Natural Pair FINAL

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Photoshop World 2010 Las Vegas Dispatch Weds

So here at Photoshopworld at the vendor Expo, Westcott did something very cool. They brought in four models (five counting the still life) and had them rotating between live demos to posing sets. Anyone with a camera could walk up and shoot the set/model from any angle you could get to. You could not change the lighting but you could have the model pose differently for you.

Here is the RAW shot from one of the posing stations. Straight from my D300 and zero adjustments.

Catwoman in Gotham City RAW

Catwoman in Gotham City RAW

Here is the same shot after my quick and dirty postprocessing. I will write up a complete “how to” post on how I got to the final product in a few days.

Catwoman in Gotham FINAL

Catwoman in Gotham FINAL

Why did Westcott do this? because they are having a contest going on that if your shot is picked from the Flickr feed, your shot will grace the 2011 Westcott catalog cover. Pretty cool idea and I saw quite a few taking advantage of the arrangement.

This is a short entry since I’m still in Las Vegas for the show and I’m trying to get this done before breakfast and another busy day.

Just a few words from the past few days.  The show is excellent as always but I think that the crowds are definitely smaller than what I remember a few years back. But everyone is very enthusiastic about the training, the show, Photopshop and everything that goes with it.

Scott Kelby and company did a righteous cover of the band KISS and a glam rock show complete with 9″ heels and pyrotechnics/steam/radio station sponsor and EVERYTHING was built on Photoshop/Adobe riffs.

Scott Kelby as KISS at PSW 2010 Vegas

Scott Kelby as KISS at PSW 2010 Vegas

JohnnyL from Adobe did a magic show and showed the crowd the magic of CS5. There was a poke in the eye at Apple for Flash and apps being rejected by the App store but accepted by Android. The irony there was ALL the computers used in the show were Apples as the iPad for the ePub demo.

Zack Arias did an awesome class on “Thing you need to know” as a photographer getting ready to make the switch from part time to full time.

I’ll write more in depth in the coming days along with more pictures of course. Back to the salt mines 🙂

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Shootout

One of the groups I belong to is the SoCal Photog Shootout which provides myself a way to network, visit, shoot and practice all at the same time. It’s a pretty cool way to stay in touch with other photographers in the area and learn something in the process.

We just had a “shoot out” in Fullerton, CA and not too far from my studio in Orange, CA. Not too far in California speak means within an hour’s drive 🙂 The location was a 10,000 square foot house that is a private residence called “Monica’s Castle” but it used at times for events. It’s really an amazing venue to shoot in and we were very fortunate that we were allowed to use it.

We had five models in various dress that can be described as “Lady Gaga meets Desperate Housewives“. We covered natural light, bad light, using flash to overpower the sun, using colored light and more. A good time was had by all both the models and the photographers. Then we had dinner afterwards for a chat and networking after a hard day’s work.

Here is one set of pictures from the day.

SoCal Photog Shootout

SoCal Photog Shootout

Each room was themed and each had a specific task to shoot. For example,  our Desperate Housewife was ambient light with a keyword given to the photographer that the model had to express. Think “hot, cold, shy” and so on. All the photographers in the group could shoot for a few minutes then the primary photographer had the model and was the only one allowed to shoot for three minutes. Does not sound like a lot of time till you are behind the camera telling a model what to do.

Here is a another sample from the day.

SoCal Photog Shootout 2

SoCal Photog Shootout 2

As a photographer, I can say it was a lot of fun to shoot this type of shoot with so many models one right after another.  It was learning experience with just working in the type of light we had to watching how other photographers worked and interacted with the models.

All in all, it was a very successful day of shooting and networking with my fellow photographers in Orange County and from the surrounding areas.

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