Category Archives: event photography

Fourth of July Block Party

I’m fortunate to live on a street where the neighbors all get along and almost every weekend, we have a pot luck “block party” since nobody likes to cook or be inside on a hot summer night. On major holidays we kick it up a notch and have friends and family come by for the party. Several years ago, I could easily stand everyone on the sidewalk and do the “say cheese” thing. This year was a bit different, I had to get on a 10 foot ladder and use a 12mm lens to get everybody into the frame.

We had bounce houses, water slides, donut eating contests, face painting, junk food and tacos. And of course, we had our “show” at the end of the day so nobody had to drive anywhere to see fireworks.

Most of the images were shot with a single bare flash on the camera. There is a long story as to why but suffice to say I did it to prove a point to some friends. So just sit back and enjoy the images of this 4th of july at “Club Leeds”.

 

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First Communion at Saint Norbert, Orange CA

A friend asked if I would shoot their daughter’s first communion at Saint Norbert which is a local Catholic church here in the city of Orange,  and of course, my answer was I’d be happy to. It was a smaller church and no flash allowed during the ceremony. Also, a local photographer had been hired by the church so I had to be careful not to step on toes and cause problems. But my F2.8 70-200mm zoom made short work of being in the back. I also shot some family pictures at the house when we were done at the church. The trick was to treat this much like I would a wedding with formal shots before the church service, shooting during the service like  wedding and taking detail shots, fill shots and more while getting the family shots.

In the end I delivered two dozen images plus a slide show to my friend. The side show was first shown using a Epson projector so the images were about 7 feet wide!!  Impressive to say the least. I did a second showing using my iPad which works very well for this sort of thing.

Here is the slide show I produced for the family.

Here are some of the stills that I used in the slide show and showed to the family.

 

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Serra Plaza Wedding Venue

I recently attended a “Photographer Shootout” at a beautiful venue in San Juan Capistrano called “Serra Plaza”. We had models and props which allowed us, the photographers, a chance to shoot this new venue as practice before we book clients there. It’s a gorgeous venue in the spanish style of architecture for a smaller wedding. The late evening washes the building in the amazing California golden light which works really well with the earth tones of the facility. There are all kinds of nooks and crannies for those awesome art shots. There are stairs, rooms, walls, floors and covered passages all with beautiful details and art that help make for gorgeous pictures.

Bride and Groom at Serra Plaza Wedding Venue
Bride at Serra Plaza
In the slide show below, I have a sample of wedding styled images and portraits that I shot at Serra Plaza over the course of a full day. I think it really shows off what the facility can offer the client and the photographer as part of the image making process called photography.

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Playing director on a shoot

One skill that any photographer of people needs to work on and constantly improve, is the ability to direct clients/models/subjects to be where you want them, how they need to look and generally for them to feel comfortable with you. After all, you are shoving a camera in their face and most normally people are not used to that sort of thing. Professional models are more used to it but even they only give you what you ask of them.

A few years ago I would have never put myself down as a “people person” or a photographer that enjoyed shooting portraits. My how things have changed over the years. I used to shoot anything except people and now I tend to shoot just people with other things on occasion. I just had a client give me what I consider to be one of the best compliments in a long time when she said I was “a very relaxed photographer and a great people person”. On this one shoot I had adults and a child to work with and I had a ball with them.

High Key Child

High Key Child

The relaxed photographer comment showed in the images. My clients were happy and really having fun with each other and part of this was I was gently directing them where and how to be. To really get good images, you need to connect with your client. Standing behind your camera and just shooting without any direction or encouragement is a recipe for a disaster of a shoot. This is true even for a professional model. They need to know what is expected just as much as a average joe client. Sometimes even more so.
In the case of my little client here, I had connected with her about her stuffed bunny and I had let her rummage through my collection of AA batteries. I took a few fast shots of her goofing and let her see the preview screen and after a bit of time, she was used to be me being there and taking pictures. When I goofed around with her, I got very natural smiles and great expressions. When the parent were sent the proofs, they were thrilled as you can imagine.

 

Along with the personal connection, you need to tell your subject how to move, pose or look. They WANT your direction, you are the EXPERT and if you have made the personal connection, they TRUST you. Along with direction, running feedback for the subject is most of the time a good thing. Especially for non-professionals who are not sure of themselves or if they are doing what you asked. This “patter” is one of the most important skills a photographer can have.

Another “skill” you must have is the ability to make it look like “you meant to do that”. Very few things unsettle a client more than the photographer wandering around mumbling to themselves, looking lost, fumbling with equipment or looking at the camera view screen and going “oh sh*t”. You really need to know what you are doing, how you are going to do it and when you are going to do it. Or at least act like you. There isa quote from a set of commercials with celebrities  saying “never let them see you sweat” and that is so true in photography. You need to, no, must project confidence in yourself and how you make images in order for the client to be comfortable and to trust you. Dont mistake arrogance for confidence, there is a difference. If you are arrogant, you come off as a jerk and with confidence, you are someone that they can trust.
Happy Family

So after an hour or so, I was able to shoot this image of my clients and have everybody relaxed and interaction at a very natural level. It shows in the image with the body language and how everyone is comfortable with each other in this moment.

These types of directing and interaction people skills are something you need to learn and to practice. Salesmen know this and use it all the time. Watch a good salesman at work with a customer, they make the customer comfortable and feel relaxed around them. As a photographer, having good people skills is just or even more important than having that new hot shot 200mm F.28 super portrait lens. If you clients can not relax around you, it will show in every single picture you take.

So relax a bit, loosen up and enjoy the time with your clients instead of viewing it as drudgery.

PS – a friend of mine had some really good thoughts on this also:

Thomas Churchwell “Do not let the escort take control of the shoot. The first 15 minutes will always be your worse pictures even if they are great. The Tension and anxiety will take about 15 minutes before the models stops her posing that she knows are winners and relax enough to be herself. If you act as though your not there to be impressed but to have a good time then you will get a more pliable model who will stop trying to impress you and start being your muse.”

Thomas makes a very good point that when you are the director, YOU are the director, not the escort, not the model, not the friend, YOU are. Your images will sink or swim by how well you do your job not just as a photographer but as a director.

 

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Controlling your light

They say that shooing portraits in broad daylight such as high noon is nuts, that it cant be done and that anyone with sense will avoid it like the plague. Most times these experts are correct but one of the things that a professional photographer has to learn is to adapt and make things work out the way they need to. So with that in mind, let me tell you about my weekend of shooting Santa Claus.

I got an email from a acquaintance asking if I would possibly be able to shoot a session involving Santa Claus, families and a public park with four days notice. I had to juggle things but I replied yes, for a small fee and the list of names of the families with their email addresses. Now shooting this event was going to be a royal b**ch since it was going to be a  public park and starting at 11AM then running till 1PM. No tent, no cover of any kind. The last four years showed snapshots taken with on camera flash blasting the families to overpower the sun. Last years was pretty underexposed since it had been a grey day and the camera didnt get the settings right.

I decided to raise the bar and execute this event better than anyone there had seen before. I have a very cool Christmas themed muslin backdrop that is pretty decent quality and I have several 20lb sand bags. I also have reflectors but no portable strobes yet. I was bummed but I could not find a battery pack to run my Photogenics or get a small generator on such short notice. So I ended up using my SB800s instead.

I put up the backdrop, doubled it over to keep light from leaking through the back and had the back facing the sun directly to get the most shade I could. I put 25lbs of sand on each leg (ended up with 50lbs before the shoot was over) plus two 10 lb bags clipped to the bottom of the shortened backdrop to keep it from flapping around. I did not care about lighting it separately as there was so much ambient light, I didnt need to. On the SB800, I used a 1/2 cut CTO gell to squash the bluewhite “daylight” look of the flash. I prepped two more flashes with batteries ready to go. I had a spare body prepped and ready to go.

I put Santa in his chair and metered him using my older but reliable Minolta meter, the camera meter gets very confused with this type of shooting so I dont trust the brains of the camera. I then put everything on manual, dialed it in and shot off several images with my 17-55mmF2.8. I ended up going with my 1.4 50mm at F10 and ISO 200. The shadow was just long enough to keep me in shade without too much flare in the lens. The images did need their black points pushed way up as they were flat. I knew that from the first few pictures. I used a gold reflector to throw a dash of golden light on Santa Claus and the clients. The SB800 was dialed down -1/2 exposure compensation to avoid blowing out skin tones knowing that by shooting raw, I can easily dial it in.

You can see here the extreme differences between the sun and shade of the backdrop. I took this with my iPhone to avoid screwing with my numbering sequence on my shooting body.

Park shooting set up

Park shooting set up

So I ended up shooting about 40 families over three hours. Everyone had a lot of fun and everyone was blown away by the backdrop. But when I showed off the images, jaw dropped. The images really looked good and nobody believed that they were shot at noon and in a park. The grass was not a problem because 99% of the shots were “head shots” style.

Santa Claus with vintage treatment

Santa Claus with vintage treatment

Final Santa Claus image in park

Final Santa Claus image in park

Now that we had the shots, I used BayPhoto’s ROES software to make up the Christmas cards. My client was giving away a free Christmas card and we settled on the 4×8 photo card. I used Bay’s templates and treatments to make a simple card with a place for my friend to sign his name.

Christmas Card from Belmont shoot

Christmas Card from Belmont shoot

So in the end, with about 400 dollars in studio stuff that I already had from past shoots and 30 minutes of set up time, I was able to produce killer event shots of Santa Claus in a public park at high noon. I did this by using quality parts, by knowing how my equipment works and most importantly, how to work around problems on the fly. Were the images perfect out of the camera? No, they were not. They were flat and washed out even though they were correctly exposed based on the histogram. Thats partial due to the 50mm lens I shot with it. Partial from having to be very careful shooting into the light even though I had shade, there was still some spillover from the top of the background. But with shooting RAW, a few simple adjustments applied to each image and they all snapped into place.

So dont take the common wisdom as gospel like “you cannot shoot portraits at noon” or you can not use onboard flash effectively and so on. When you know your equipment and you know how light works, you can do amazing things when others say you can’t.  I have a happy client and 50 new possible clients who saw me shoot under difficult circumstances and still nail the shots.

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Final Westcott Competition Entries

Some of you know that the photographic lighting supplier, Westcott,  did a pretty crazy cool thing at Photoshop World this year in Vegas. They set up four shooting sets and had live models, lights, props and watchers on hand and then let the public go nuts shooting the models. The payoff if that IF you enter their contest and IF you win, your image will be the Westcott catalog and you get some lighting equipment. And let me tell you that after shooting with their spiderlights, I’m lusting after a set of those lights! Cool, nicely balanced and bright, they are easier than strobes when shooting something like this where a subtle change in position or expression can have a profound impact in the image. Since the lights are continuous, you can shoot as fast as you can click the shutter without worry of the strobe not keeping up. In my studio here in Orange, this type of shooting works really well. I shoot strobes alot but after working with “hot lights” twice now, I really can see the value of them, especially the new cool “hot” lights.

Here are my entries for the contest. I’m also including a few shots of the sets so you can see the environment we had to work in. I used several different techniques with my entries. I worked only with the props and set given, I replaced the background in one, I flipped one to a “painting” using CS5’s new bristle brushes and I worked the tones. In all case though, the overriding concerns were sharpness, content, composition and overall impact of the image. I feel that without a sharp image and good solid composition, all the post work in the world will not push a bad image up the ladder.

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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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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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Wayfarers Chapel

When someone says “wedding”, many people think large church, large party, large cake and super size me of a day. With some, this could not further from the truth. I had the the good fortune to shoot a wedding a the Wayfarer’s Chapel in Palos Verdes, California.  This location is just on the outskirts of Los Angeles. California and provides an intimate venue for the unique  smallish wedding, about 100 guests The chapel does not discourage same gender marriages or commitment ceremonies. All wayfarers who wish to commit themselves to each other are welcomed . The price to use the Chapel for a wedding is 2.500.00 which includes the minister. For an additonal 400.00, you can have a candlelight service.

Architecturally, the Chapel is mostly glass, much like a outside hot house but in a area with tall pine trees surrounding it and the ocean just across the road. There is a garden in the back and a covered walkway to view the ocean or to have pictures taken with the ocean and cliffs in the background. There is a tall tower and bells that rise above the church.

The chapel has very different looks depending on whether you see in the daytime, late afternoon or at night. Each has it charm and appeal and with the shots below you can get a sense of each “look”.

Wayfarer's Chapel Alter Window

Wayfarer's Chapel Alter Window

Wayfarer's Chapel Alter

Wayfarer's Chapel Alter

Wayfarer's Chapel Misty Morning

Wayfarer's Chapel Misty Morning

Wayfarer's Chapel at dusk

Wayfarer's Chapel at dusk

Inside Wayfarer's Chapel at night

Inside Wayfarer's Chapel at night

Wayfarer's Chapel Main Window at Night

Wayfarer's Chapel Main Window at Night

The Chapel is very striking at night and at dusk. In the daylight, it’s nice but as a photographer, it can be hard to shoot due to the direct sunlight coming through all the glass windows. If you are considering using this venue, then ask your photographer if he/she has ever shot in this venue before. Photographers are not allowed anywhere except for the very back row so telephoto lenses are the only way to shoot the ceremony.  Given the angles of the chapel, I would also suggest to ask the photographer if they are using a second shooter. Having a photographer at both corners in the back can really help to get a nice shot even with the harsh morning light if your wedding is scheduled for the morning.  And speaking of the weather, the chapel is just across the road from the ocean so the weather can be all over the map and be quite localized. Fog or what we natives call “the marine layer” is often around on the early AM and burns off by mid morning. The marine layer tends to roll back into land in the late afternoon except for a few months in the middle of summer when it stays just off shore.

The grounds provide a wealth of background for nice portraits but you as the bride will only have a two hour window for your wedding and pictures so it can get a bit rushed in the end. So long as your photographer knows this, they can plan accordingly. Also, your photogrpaher needs to know there is NO flash during the cermony.  They will eject the photographer who does not follow the rules about this.

These are some pictures  from a recent wedding I did at the Wayfarer’s Chapel in the early morning.

Ready Room

Ready Room

Front steps Wyfarer's Chapel

Front steps Wyfarer's Chapel

Dad, Elizebeth and Mom - Wayfarer's Chapel

Dad, Elizebeth and Mom - Wayfarer's Chapel

Wayfarer's Chapel grounds

Wayfarer's Chapel grounds

Wayfarer's Chapel Cliff Background with Bride

Wayfarer's Chapel Cliff Background with Bride

The venue is a very nice venue and can provide you with some amazing images with a photographer who can work within the confines of the two hour window and no flash. The parking is good but access and exiting can be dicey with you leaving and the next party trying to come in at the same time. From the Wayfarer’s Chapel you can easily to Torrance, Redondo Beach or Long Beach for a reception.

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