Tag Archives: photography

Class is in session – Beyond the Basics

English: A Kodak Brownie Hawkeye camera with K...

Image via Wikipedia

Beyond The Basics

Taught by Professional Photographer and member of OC Photography Center, Michael Sweeney.
Have you ever wondered why the background of pictures are pleasantly blurred? How about that cool image of the child blowing out the candles on the birthday cake but they are not the typical white faced blasted look? Have you ever wanted to make art for your walls but none of your pictures look like those you see for sale? Have you wondered why so many of your snapshots look like everyone elses?

If the answer is yes to any or all of these questions, then this is the class for you.

This class is for those that have either completed our beginning photography class or have been working on their own and would like to take their photography to a new level. This class is where we will review the basics and then take things forward so you can start to be the artist you want to be.

The class will cover the following topics.

  • Basic camera operation refresh
  • Shutter
  • Aperture
  • ISO
  • Light
  • What is light, really?
  • Small lights vs. large lights – your pop up flash vs. the sun for example
  • Why is any of this important?
  • Shoot to the right
  • Sunny Rule of 16
  • Design Principles – How do I get the pictures to just grab you?
  • The rule of thirds
  • The golden ratio
  • Shoot high/shoot low
  • Don’t be a bullseye
  • Why the subject doesnt have to always look at you
  • A bit of blur can be a good thing
  • Flash is your friend at any time of the day or night
  • Why use a flash
  • Shootout at high noon or how I learned to love the sun
  • How to use flash as an accent
  • How to avoid that lovely white blasted vampire look
  • Capturing Pixels
  • What is all this about megapixals and what do I really need?
  • Why are over exposing highlights really bad?
  • The great war, JPEG vs RAW files
  • Does the lens really matter?
  • OK, I have pictures, now what do I do with them?
  • Anyone can print now, using online labs
  • Resolution and what it really means to you
  • Color space and no, it’s not something from Home Depot
  • Editing on the cheap, options for the non-pro but enthusiastic user
  • Putting pictures up on the web
  • How can I make a book or calendar?

Class Time
Evenings: Tuesday evenings
Dates: February 28th & March 6th, 2012
Time: 7:00 pm- 9:00 pm.
Fee: $90
Where: At the OC Photography Center
714-529-3686
Remember to bring your camera, something to take notes and smiles!
Please reserve your spot a least a week before first class. Thank you. Look forward to a great class!

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Musings on choosing your peer group

The few paragraphs below came about on Facebook in a private group I belong to called Photographers Unleashed. This is a place for photographers to hang out, ask questions, get critiques and complain all in the safety of a private area. It’s also an invitational group so one needs to be invited to join. Someone needs to think enough of you and your work that they think you can be part of the group. It’s a nice compliment when a friend does think this of you. We have a huge range of experience and talent but the overall common features are we all are passionate about photography and we want to improve both as a photographer and as an artist.

This story starts a few days ago when one of the younger photographers posted he was quitting the group and in a nutshell, he felt that he was being picked on and expectations were too high. He didnt say it that way outright but the message was there between the lines.

Getting older does have a benefit or two and one of them is to say what needs to be said without fear. It’s the idea of ” I really dont care what you think because there is nothing you can do that has not already been done, said or put on me”. Older also means (most times) that one has learned a lesson or two along the way. So when I read this post from this photographer, I sat down and wrote a short but heartfelt piece that only an older and more experience person could write. Several people commented on my words but I never did hear from the young photographer. He probably views me as more of a jerk right now but then when I was his age, I probably would have done the same thing. I just hope he read it anyways and took it to heart.

It was suggested to me to re- post it on a blog and I thought it sounded like a good idea. So here it is.

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You dont grow unless you stretch beyond your comfort level and if you dont do that, you become stagnant which is a terrible fate for any artist. Natural talent will carry you only so far, at some point you need a teachers and a community. If the community does it’s job right, they will support you and help you grow but that does not mean it’s always compliments.

More often than not, it’s something that hurts because we as artists tend to impart our images with a great deal of emotional energy. So when someone says something critical about an image that we think is hot shit, it stings all the more no matter how true the comment is. All artists are guilty of this at one time or another and we all have to learn to live with it and somehow process it and grow from it. You can grow or you can run.. not much else is available in the choice categories. As (name withheld) said, its the critical comments that really can add directiion to your path by showing you where you *need* to grow.

I put the word *need* in stars because it’s subjective but it serves to illuminate a point. I use critical comments all the time to act as a guide post as it were to help me see beyond my personal likes, dislikes, baggage etc and to get a glimpse of how other people see my work. Sometimes they see far better than I do because I’m too involved in the work, it’s too personal and almost impossible to pull back enough to see a bit of truth.

And yes, sometimes it stings.. alot. But, it’s a rare time I really let it get under my skin for any length of time. Note I said for any length of time, as it ALWAYS gets under my skin when someone is critical of my work. After all, photography is an extension of one’s self to a degree. But I can honestly say that in the past few years, after I learned to let go of of the emotional attachment and really listen to what was said, I’ve grown. Sometimes just a touch, other times it’s like the lightbulb going off.

You lose all of this support structure by hiding away from your peers or another way to say it, by hiding from those who would be critical of your work. It’s far easier to be somewhere where there is platitudes and accolades on how pure your work is, how cool it is and so on. But, the road less traveled is generally the better way to success. The path with resistance will make you grow and become a better person/photographer/friend . You just have to choose it and embrace it know that while it will hurt now and then, overall you will be in a far better place.

We can’t make you stay and we certainly wont beg but we would miss you and your contribution to the group. I personally wish you well on your path wherever it leads to.

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How to show off your images in a retro viewmaster reel

English: A GAF View-Master Viewer Model G red....

English: A GAF View-Master Viewer Model G red. Italiano: Visore View-Master GAF Model G rosso. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Do you remember the viewmaster with the wheel of pictures? You know the ones, pictures of national monuments, theme parks, cartoons and the like. You would insert the wheel of pictures, hold it up to the light and, klunk, wheel rotates, klunk, wheel rotates and on and on.

You can still buy one of these machines today and look at Hot Wheels or any of the old wheels so long as you have a bright light handy.

So why am I bringing this up? Because I was trying to work out in my head the other day how to show off some pictures from my 4th of July party and I was inspired to make and fake a View Master picture wheel as a prop of sorts.

A bit of googling and I found the perfect template created by ScrappinCop in the form of a Photoshop PSD file ready to go. So one template download later and we are off and running.

I did make each image a clipping mask to ease the adjustments and cropping. I used the transform tool to resize images to the dinky openings. And I make each “image” a smart object so I can go back and swap out the image pretty easily.

After I put my images in the openings, I added a used paper texture to the wheel so it had the used and aged look to it.I selected all the openings and outside edge and added a brownish stroke of 1 pixel to set it off against whatever background I have on.

Here is what I ended up with as my vintage prop to show off my images in a unique way. Go ahead and give it a try.. it was a lot of fun to do and everyone liked the results as a fun way to show off a collection of images.

Vintage View Master Wheel of Personal Images 4th of July

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Repurposing a light box to be a light table

I saw a very interesting blog posting on how to shoot flowers using a light box. I took a different approach since I did not want to build a cardboard box so anything else. I took my large softbox and flipped it upside down. I could do this because I use C stands with boom arms and it becomes very easy to change the orientation of a modifier. I just made sure that the legs were in the right position to take up the low weight and added a few sand bags for good measure.

I then put a piece of clear plexiglass on top of the softbox or now light table and put my subject on top of that. I have a Photogenics 1250 strobe but now I would pull it and put in the 600 instead. The 1250 is too strong even turned down as low as it can go. I plan to try it with white plexiglass whereas I’m shooting with clear right now. The white should be worth a couple of stops.

White on White Lilly

 

 

I had a second mini softbox using an SB800 in SU mode on a monopod that I held over the subject. I manually set the SB800 to something around 1/8 power and about 3 feet high. I tried straight on, sideways and all kinds of angles. The best results seemed to be feathering the small soft box slightly to pick up some edge shadows.

I used a pair of Atlas pocket wizard clones on this shoot only because they were handy and my real PWs were packed away. I shot with:

 

SB800 flash mounted to small softboxLight table set up shot

Next time I will put the small light box on a second C stand instead of holding it. That was just too much trouble but I was in a real hurry to try this and get back to the family outside. The ladder was the only way I could get enough hight to shoot down on my subject, anywhere else and I was shooting across it and it did not work nearly as well.

 

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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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Retouching a bride for a vintage look

Brides are beautiful and because of that, the bride puts a temendous amount of effort and money into this one day. One of the jobs of the wedding photographer is to see that beauty in the bride regardless of circumstances or environment. It also means that at times you need to shoot knowing full well you will be doing something specific in post to make the vision a reality.  This bridal shot which I took at Serra Plaza was one of those moments that I knew I had to shoot with postprocessing in mind and adjust accordingly.

When I reviewed the image in Lightroom, the raw  image had some basic qualities that I thought would make a really good solid image in Black and White. At the time, the key issue to me was that the quality of light was shall we say, less than optimal. It was very late in the day and we were in the shadow side on top of everything else. There was a mix of daylight on her face and some type of sodium light behind her and over her head.  There also was the same fact that  hall lead to a bank ATM and it had a massive concrete trash can off to one side. But I knew with some cropping, I could clean it up quite a bit.  And I also felt that I could clean up the image best in Black and White and dump the mixed colors.

Basic Bridal Color Portrait

Basic Bridal Color Portrait

In the image below, you can see the results of the cropping and the initial Black and White conversion. At this point, I had not removed the trash can or done any major retouching. But you can already see how the black and white treatment really brought the image to life in spite of the lousy lighting. I used Nik’s SilverEfex Pro 2.0 for the conversion and as always, it just works really well to get a clean black and white image.

First pass of bridal conversion to B/W
In the final image here, I used the content aware fill tool in CS5 to remove the trashcan on the left side. Back in Lightroom 3, I also applied a sepia like tone preset called “Silver Dust Hue” from Gavin Seim’s workflow presets. to the image to give a very light vintage look to it. And I darkened the corners a touch. I paid very close attention to my bride to make sure I did not ruin the skin tones or the details on the dress. Remember, along with the look of the bride, its ALL about the dress.  Ruining the details on the dress will ruin the image for the bride, she paid a lot of money for the dress so you had better show it off to the best of your ability.
Final Bridal Portrait with all Retouching

Now we have a keeper of an image and it took about 40 minutes start to finish. I put one version into a digital frame and it looks spectacular.

 

 

 

 

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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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Always be looking for the shot

So I’ve been a bit delayed in writing my week’s blog entry due to going back to Connecticut for my oldest girl’s graduation. When we arrived there, I needed to rent a car and for 10 dollars more than a Chevy Malibu, I was able to get a very cool burnt orange Challenger. It was the ONLY one I saw the entire weekend of driving around and it gather looks and comments everywhere I went.

Along with the car, we needed a place to stay and I found a bed and breakfast that was a working farm (small) called “Butternut Farm“.  It was a very eccentric place to stay for a few days with good food, poor cellular coverage and virtual no lighting at night to see the sign or the building so I missed it a few times trying to find it at 9PM. It turns out that it’s really dark on country roads in Connecticut.

So what does a farm B&B and a orange Challenger have in common? Not too much till I came back to the farm one afternoon and saw a cool photo op by moving the car a few feet into the front of the barn and shooting with scene. I shot knowing full well I would need to photoshop the image since the light was not the best and rain had just started to mist down so everything was a dull blue tint. But I managed to rip off several images and by paying attention to details that I could control like the placement of the car, angle of the shot and waiting for the chickens, I got a good image to work with.

Here is the before and after shot.

2011 Challenger before and after with Lightroom 3

As you can see, I worried about my composition first, then I dealt with the lighting, color and so on.  Now that I have the shot, I loaded up photoshop CS5 and went to work using my Wacom and blend modes. The trick is to use a couple of layers to built up the color and detail of the car. You can see the original was a bit flat and the lower body panel was dark due to the overhead flat light. So I made a duplicate layer and used the multiply blend mode to darken up the very light highlights. I then applied a layer mask to hide it and re-applied it using a soft brush at 10% opacity to where I wanted to darken up things like the glass and top body highlights. I repeated the process again but used the screen mode to get a lightened version of the car. Again, I used my Wacom to apply a 10% layer to the lower body panels, the back and anywhere else that needed to be punched up a bit. Next was the application of an orange photography filter at 40%. Another layer mask let me paint out the orange on the blacks and wheels. The final touch was using Red Giant Light Factory to apply a “sun” to the tree line and tweak the final overall warmth of the image.

After all that which took about 30 minutes, I ended up with a pretty cool “product” shot of the classic Challenger in the farmyard. I did think about adding a flag but I thought would be too over the top of stereotypes.2011 Challenger in Butternut Bed and Breakfast Barnyard

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Shooting high quality pictures on the cheap

Compact fluorescent light bulb

Image via Wikipedia

I hear alot from photographers, both pro and amateur alike about all this expensive equipment they “need” to have in order to shoot good photographs. I know it well since I also used to say the same thing. Or at least I did till I saw some work done with cheap equipment, obsolete equipment and DIY equipment. I also read up on what some of the famous photographers used to make their images. What Ansel Adams used to make most of his famous images would be considered junk by most photographers today if shown the camera without the backstory. Oddly enough, if you gave the photographers the backstory, then the camera would suddenly be imbued with mythical qualities of just the right lens or some other quirk that gave Ansel the edge he needed. None of which addresses the one critical fact that is Ansel KNEW how to make an image before he even tripped the shutter.

I see the same thing with lighting, I see it with cameras, lenses, bags and more. Photographers are equipment junkies which in itself is fine but when it gets to the point that you can not take a pictures without several thousand dollars of equipment and it’s your kids birthday party, you might want to rethink things a bit. I’m as guilty as the next photographer who grabs the three thousand dollars selection of equipment to take a family snapshot. But, in recent times I have become much better about using whatever camera I have handy for my images. Why? Because I’ve grown as a photographer and I have learned how to take pictures regardless of the camera. Some of the important things I’ve learned about is getting the right pose or using a piece of white paper to give me a touch of fill light while shooting with my iPhone and other tricks. Another very important lesson is not worrying about the last 20% of the picture quality when the first 80% is good enough for what I will be using the image for. Honestly, do you really NEED to shoot a snapshot with a five thousand dollar camera body/lens just to stick it up on Facebook?

Black and White Ireland Castle Bell

I just got back from a trip to Ireland where after much internal struggle, I took two cameras. Neither of which was one of  my expensive bodies/lenses and that was because I really didnt trust my own judgement 🙂  So what did I take to Ireland? The last time I took a D80 with a cheapo 18-55mm VR lens. This time I upgraded a bit and I took a Canon G11 which I know I can shoot well with, it was my camera of choice when I went to Oxford last year.

But  I also took a old D70s with a bargin 18-105 F3.5 VR lens. I took that because it has a bit more reach than the G11 and it has less noise than the G11. But the G11 is very convient to drag around given how much smaller it is over the DSLR.  I left my very expensive equipment at home. So why would I do that? A couple of reasons to be honest. I did not want to drag all that expensive and heavy equipment around and risk it on a trip that was personal. I make money with the D300 and the expensive glass I use with it. If something happens to it, I need to replace it and that can cause a few problems even with insurance. So I took two cheap cameras so  that if something happened, it was not a serious deal, it would be more of an annoyance. There is another reason that I like to take some of my lesser cameras on trips like this.

Portrait using bare CFLs and cheap home depot reflector

I have my share of pro level lighting and modifiers, I have become somewhat taken with very cheap lighting and shooting pretty nice portraits without even a modifier. And when I say cheap lighting, I’m talking about using eight dollar reflectors from Home Depot and single CFL (Compact fluorescent Lightbulbs) screwed into the reflector. If you know how light works and how a camera works, you can take good solid pictures even with this cheap lighting. The picture shown here is one of my experiments taken with a couple of the single CFL lights without any modifiers. This image is a lesson in that you do not need alot of expensive lighting to make a good portrait. And in this case, I did shoot the image with a Nikon D300 but I used a relatively cheap 50mm 1.4 lens. My Nikon D70s would have worked just as well.

The Strobist community has made an art form of using small battery flashes in ways that most photographers never thought of. And not just the expensive small flashes like the Nikon SB900, but ANY flash such as the five dollar reject found at Goodwill that was designed for a long dead camera brand. Light is light and once you know that, you are ten steps ahead of everybody else.

Matching polkadot  dress and hat

In this image, I used two small battery flashes, one with an umbrella and one facing a 15 dollar reflector and set -2 stops from the umbrella. I shot this on a grey background and then used a texture to give the image a nice background. This was a cheap and easy portrait without alot of money sunk into lighting modifiers, expensive strobes, power packs and all the rest.

I hope you enjoyed this post and the takeaway of the fact that you dont need expensive equipment to take nice pictures. The expensive  equipment can help you by making it easier to make images, but it is not required. And in some cases, the expensive equipment can hinder you making solid images because you dont know how to use it as well as you need to.

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Shooting Portraits with vintage cameras and film

Who says film is dead? Not by a long shot around here. I just got a roll of 120 Ektacolor Kodak Pro 160 film back from the lab and scanned in a few of the negs. I shot this roll of film using my 1958 Yashica model D TLR (Twin Lens Reflex) camera. This camera is older than I am by a few years and after 90 dollars for refurbishing, it takes awesome pictures with that great vintage depth of field and “feel” to the picture.

 

Portrait using Yashica 120 film camera and adjusted with photoshop CS5This picture was taken out the front door of my house and I took two of them since the girls would not sit still and were goofing around.  So it’s a bit of a marriage of modern software using CS5 Photoshop and vintage film. I did a head swap on the center subject and did some basic color balancing and sharpening.  But that is pretty much it and what you see is what came out of the camera.

It only takes a few days to get the film back from the lab and then I load up my Epson 4990 and scan away. Once the film is scanned, I treat it like any other digital film with one exception, I do not run any noise reduction software on it. The grain of the film is a significant part of the charm of the look and feel of film and I dont want to loose that to overly agressive software.

The one thing that a photographer who is not used to with film is the wide exposure range. What normally would abruptly blow out is a nice gradual blowout and even then, you can still pull back detail that a digital file just will not  have available.  The key difference is that film is analog and has several stops of latitude (except slide film) where as digital has about three stops, maybe four stops on a really good day and IF you are shooting RAW. This is why when I first starting shooting digital in 99, I had some issues with getting my exposures correct. I was used to shooting for the shadow details since I could always bring the highlights back with more printing time for that part. Digital required me to shoot for the highlights since when the numbers hit 255, there was nothing left, not even a trace unlike a film negative.

This is probably the biggest gotcha for anyone new to film who has only shot digital. It is a small but critical item for the photographer to know and to remember as they switch around from film to digital and back. But, as you can see, when you get it nailed, you get some really cool images. Long live film 🙂

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