Tag Archives: technique

Christmas Photography Tips

Its soon time to end shooting the Christmas lights for the season. So get out for the next week and grab a few shots of your favorite lights to enjoy over the next year. Do not settle for the average under blacked out pictures or the really over -exposed shots where the Christmas lights are burned out blobs. With a few simple tricks, you can nail some pretty good images. Now, with as much of a fan I am about shooting with my iPhone, this is one time I would recommend a DSLR or micro-four-thirds for the best results. You can beat the smartphone into submission but you really need to be able to adjust all aspects plus be able to use a real flash with some gels. I use Rosco for my gels and you can use other brands but that is who I stick with.

Here are a few tips and tricks for getting the “Oh WOW” shots during the holidays:

  1.  So unless you have a full frame (FX) rig, embrace the grain and shoot at a high ISO. These images were shot at ISO 2000 or higher and I used Noiseware afterwards in post to clean them up.
  2. Read the manual and learn how to shoot on a custom white balance. My D300 shoots nicely at 3000K and while this worked for the normal light bulbs, the LEDs were all over the map as are some of the small lights. So be prepared in post to work it out.
  3. Gel your flash. I cannot stress this enough. You need to color balance the “daylight” flash to something closer to the Christmas lights or you WILL get that vampire look. I used a 1/4 cut CTO (color Temperature Orange) but I should have used 1/2 cut CTO. The 1/4 cut and 1/2 cut refers to the density of the color on the gel sheet. 1/4 is lighter than 1/2.
  4. Shoot with a stablized lens or use a Pentex with a stablized body ūüôā I shoot Nikon so it’s VR lenses for my. The new Olympus for example, has 5 axis stabilization. It’s pretty amazing what you can do with it at night by hand.
  5. You want to drag the shutter a bit when using the flash to get the pretty background lighting.
  6. Dont forget to shoot wide and get some details. Some folks really put in the effort on their lights and it shows in the details.
  7. Be ready for the unexpected shot. I had “Santa” come cruising by on his motorcycle as part of the visiting crowd.
  8. Shooting manual is where it’s at to get the best shots. Very little about shooting Christmas lights at night is considered a “normal” photography so most camera automatic settings are wrong. For much of the time I will shooting at ISO 2000, 1/40 second and 5.6 aperture. The flash power would vary from 1/128 to 1/32. This strikes a nice balance between depth of field, shallow depth of field, higher shutter speed to combat shake and noise at the higher ISOs. Newer camera or FX cameras can shoot from ISO 6400 to 50,000 without much noise now.
  9. Get pictures of the faces. The expressions on the kids faces are priceless and are the money shots from something like this.
  10. I dont have to contend with snow but snow works like a giant reflector. You will need to really pay attention to your settings when popping off the flash to avoid blowing out the image.

I have some shots here from around my own neighborhood. Enjoy the holiday and Merry Christmas from us to you.

Lights, Lights and more Lights

We dont need no stink'n snow

Adoration

Window Lights

Impromtu Carolers

Blue Lights

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Why Choose a Professional Photographer?

[dropcap_1]T[/dropcap_1]here are many reasons to choose a professional photographer and there has been much written about the why’s and how’s¬† but there has been one specific reason has been overlooked by many on both sides.¬† A professional photographer can help you fill your walls. What do I mean by that? I mean that while many people consider an 8×10 print “large”, it is really quite small when placed on a wall in the typical room. It is fine to hand to someone or to have on a desktop or even on the shelf but on a wall, but you need to have a much larger print to really show off the art and to provide visual balance.

Here is a sample of using a cluster of three prints over a couch to provide an easy to see and easier to appreciate set of images of a bride. The images were chosen to complement the color of the room and special software was used to mock up the room before any orders were placed. The now has a close up of the bride, a full shot of the bride and a very pretty detail shot of the bride’s hands. All of these images are art that can stand alone but together, it’s a very powerful set of images where the sum of the total is greater than the individual prints.

Three images over red couch mock up

We can easily provide this mock up of virtually any style of print in a representation of different rooms. We can even takes pictures of your actual rooms and then mock it up for you.

The art does not have to be single print, the image can be broken up into multiple piece to provide an artistic flair for displaying the image. A professional photographer can work with you in order to decide what style and type of print will work in your space.  And materials!  Oh yes, we have a large selection now to choose from ranging from the traditional canvas print to the newest metal prints where the image is actually bonded and printed onto a piece of metal for a spectacular look.

Multi Panel Chinese Bride in bedroom mock up

Art can go into any room in the house. It can be a bedroom, a kitchen, a dining room or living room. You can even buy art from a professional photographer or commission special art for the “Man Cave” such as NASCAR photos or whatever your heart desires. With the new metal prints, you can get away from the “softer” images like the big canvas prints and get a more masculine feel. There is also special items like the WallRider which is a skate board deck with a print on top of it. Anyone with a liking of extreme sports would love something like this. So ask your photographer about anything special you might have in mind since today anything is possible from having pictures printed on a child’s set of blocks to having the image printed to fill an entire wall in a house.

Wallrider Skateboard Deck Tribal Olivia

If you want to play with your own designs and you have Photoshop, you can buy the PSD files here at Ariana Falerni Design. This is where I bought my room files from for the images I’ve used in this post. They are very easy to use and very high quality.

 

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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.

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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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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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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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Behind the scenes of a photoshoot

Photographers love to show of images from their last photoshoot. Everyone likes to “ohhhh and ahhhh” over the images that are retouched, mashed up and worked over in a good way we hope. But, personally, I love to shoot the behind the¬†curtain¬†shots. You know, the things that make a photoshoot what it really is and can have you really¬†appreciate¬†all the more the very cool image when the¬†environment¬†is anything but cool.

I attend a monthly workshop that is a mix of a social hour, some food, shop talk, instruction and shooting over at Redgum Creative Studios. A friend of mine, Richard Radstone is the instructor and mentor for those of us who regularly attend these socials and it’s always fun to be there and be involved in the day’s shoot. We have a model or two with a MUA (make up artist) present plus the crew at Redgum to help pull it all together.

So in the spirit of sharing, I’m posting some of the set up and during the shoot shots of mine of the last social/training/breakout Redgum Studio shoot. It really will give you a sense of the afternoon and what a real photoshoot is like. I’m not talking about a “shoot” where the softbox is made from a empty box of corn flakes and the light stand will blow over with a single breath. I’m talking about a real photo shoot, with real models, make up artists, real grip equipment and a real studio setting. The only thing missing is the stress of ¬†having the client on set breathing down your back.

I’ve already mentioned the MUA and I would like to point out the use of C Stands (century stands) instead of the more common tripod stands. These are portable only in the sense that you can carry them from one side of the stage to the other or roll them if they have casters. They are very stable and with the sand bags, they will not be falling over unless you really go out of your way to try to knock it over. The same goes for the big gun strobes, the hot lights, various bit of grip equipment holding it all together and the rest. Things are taped down, locked down and safe. Many photographers would do well to take some notes of the set up of the gear, I know I did when I first started and I have invested more than a bit of “extra” equipment that just makes putting a shoot together a bit more enjoyable and safe for all concerned.

In the other images you can see some of the students from Brooks Institute that were visiting, the cameras of choice for the day and of course, the model getting prepped and having some shots taken.

To myself one of the most interesting things are how the lighting is set up. You can see the lights used, the scrims and/or diffusion used and how the stage is configured overall. There is alot to learn from these types of events. And when you understand that the four hours of social mixing, shooting and listening only costs 25 dollars, you can see how it is a real bargin.

I hope you enjoy this short visit to the backside of a photoshoot and I hope you enjoy the detail shots. So here are two of the final images from the day. So now you know both sides of the shoot, the prep and set up of the shoot and the final outcome.

Final Portrait

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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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More hotlights and vintage portraits

I’m have a ball with my new hot lights. The vintage portrait project is coming together as I work out how to use the lights, get Lightroom and Photoshop to rework color to black and white and get a good workflow down. I’m also relearning how to shoot film as part of this project.

So the last entry on this subject was about shooting with a single light and this week, I’ve taken it to two lights. The idea is to provide some fill and highlights. And lest you think that one needs an expensive studio or alot of room for this style of shooting, that could be further from the truth. The sample shot I have included this week was taken in a 5×5 space right in front of my front door entry way with some white polarplus gaf-taped to the wall. Pretty low tech if you ask me.

So here is the “studio” shot. I have used my Wacom to mark it up a bit. As you can see, not very high tech at all or expensive.

Vintage studio in house marked up

Vintage studio in house marked up

But the results you can get are pretty amazing. I used Lightroom and Seim’s Power Workflow 3.0 Snapped B/W as my basic conversion from color to Black and White. I’m not sure if I’ll stick with this one but it’s a starting point. I then moved it into CS5 and used Focht’s Touchflow Palette to smooth out skin and add a touch of pop. I also used my Wacom to paint in and paint out extreme shadows, hot spots and such.

Blowing a kiss to fans

Blowing a kiss to fans

Not bad for the price of a doorway studio huh? I’ve found a book at Amazon called Hollywood Portraits: Classic Shots and How to Take Them
which goes into quite a bit of detail in how the old school Hollywood shots were created so that has been ordered. I’ve also¬†ordered¬†up Nik’s Silver Efex kit since it’s on sale at Adorama for a killer price. And yes, it soon will be 64 bit which makes those of us running 64 bit Photoshop very happy. You can download a free 15 day trial from Nik and give a workout to see if you like the outcome but I have to say, it makes some really nice B/W conversions.

I’ve mentioned the clone of the Arri lights before but here are the real deal if you are inclined or feel more comfortable with the brand named item. This can be very important if you want to rent out the kit as grip equipment or the like. This is the complete kit with 3 650 watt lights, roller bag, stands, barn doors etc.

 

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