Friday, September 26, 2008

Eureka! I'm getting this.


Monday night, James invited me to come and shoot with him at his studio on SOCO. He'd scheduled two models to come out for the evening so we could take turns with them. Overall, it was a good night, but still a struggle for me creatively because I don't yet have the confidence I know I need when working with a model. A lot of that comes from the lack of understanding what makes a "good" pose or idea. We ended up shooting for a few hours, James working on his ideas, and me stepping in every now and then to try something out.

I had another minor epiphany that night when it comes to my photography: I need to trust the histogram more. In past shoots, I would take a few shots, look at the screen, take a few more, look at the screen, chimping the settings and then finding that I might be off as much as a stop or two when getting them on the computer.

That's disheartening, really, thinking that you've got something spot-on in camera and then trying to work to recover detail because you pooched the shot.

But, Monday night was different. I knew I needed to try something different so each time I shot, I tried to pay attention to the histogram and wonder of wonders, I found that I was exposing too darkly, even though the image looked good on the camera. I guess it's like flying a plane in a dense fog bank: you shouldn't necessarily trust your eyes to tell you that you're moving straight and level. Sometimes you have to fight your senses and force yourself to pay attention to the instrumentation to make your minor (or major) adjustments in order to successfully land the plane. Same thing in photography.

And guess what? I was much happier with my results this time. I went into the shoot unsure of what I wanted out of it and came away with a better handle on this thing I'm trying to get the hang of. James was a lot of help, describing some of what he was doing, how he was working with the models. I tend to be a visual learner. I got that from my Dad who instilled a "watch one, do one, teach one" mentality in me. So, being able to watch James work was extremely helpful, especially without the distraction of dozens of people being around.

On the left is Hayley. I shot her with a large softbox at camera left. The background is gray seamless that is blown out with one AB-800 (on camera right) and one SB-800 on camera left. The pose happened completely by accident. I had just finished shooting her and was going to put my camera away when she reached up and touched her mouth to wipe something away. I loved what it looked like and lept back into place, almost yelling "DO THAT AGAIN!"

On the right is Emily. Same setup, but without the background being lit up at all. The white balance has been dropped from flash down to around 3650K, giving it that blue-green tint. When Emily saw the raw versions of these, she commented how she liked the way her collarbone was exposed. It made me realize that there's a delicateness and sexyness to that pose. I'll have to keep that in mind for the future.

Both models were great to work with. Definitely people I would want to shoot again.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Learning from Chase.

Back in 2007, Chase Jarvis gave a keynote address for the Photoshelter Town Hall describing some of the reasoning why he shoots what he does and some ideals that up and coming pros should strive for. I know the video is somewhat dated, Internet time-wise, but I still go back to this on occasion and review it.

Things I took away from this:

  • I think one of the most interesting facts that I took away from this is that he often does entire shoots just for himself to keep building on his portfolio.
  • Shoot things that you've never seen before. Chase watches the marketplace for the patterns being developed and then tries to step outside the pattern. Whether it's using props in ways you normally wouldn't see in marketing (like aiming a gun to someone's head) or finding a different angle to shoot from, it's something that differentiates you from everyone else.
  • It takes lots of hard work to be successful at this. I couldn't shoot to the degree that Chase does (20 hour days), but I can certainly do more than what I'm doing now.
  • You have to have passion for what you're shooting. If you don't, it's going to be difficult to be your best creatively. Make your own style. You need to carve out time to shoot those photos you have a passion for.
  • One of the best and fastest ways to get a subject to do what you want is to show them exactly how it's done by doing it yourself. You can see Chase doing this in the Ninja clip.
  • Smoke machines add a weird, almost mystical, dimension to photos, especially when they're used in conjunction with a strong back light. I need to get a smoke machine and play with that idea some.
  • You need to be a part of the community. Networking. Collaborating. Photos don't get made by one person.
  • Nothing can replace the power of word-of-mouth when trying to get business.
It's an interesting video no matter what. I encourage you to check it out, if only to watch the video clips within it. Or, just check out his youtube channel. I believe he has the individual ones posted there.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Links for 2008-09-17

Interesting links gathered from all over the Internet

Digital Photography Workflow: Fashion Photography - Workflow is one of those difficult things to pin down if you don't have some idea of how to put it together. Patrick Lavoie shows us the workflow he uses for his fashion photography. Some good ideas in here that I'll have to study closer to see if I can fit them into what (minimal) workflow I do. (tags: workflow tutorials photoshop photography)

Digital ProTalk: Technique Tuesday: Little Angels - Creating Art In Photoshop Another photoshop tutorial, this one by David Ziser. (tags: tutorials photoshop art photography)

Photoshop Tutorials - Adding Sunlight Through The Trees Not strictly photography, but this technique has always mystified me. Until now. I have some photos in my archives that I'll probably go back and play with thanks to this tutorial. (tags: photography photoshop tutorials tutorial light)

6 Steps To Finding a Photography Mentor Finding a photographic mentor is one of my struggle points. The biggest part is finding people to network with and becoming part of the photography community in Austin. I'm doing that slowly. maybe these tips will also help you. (tags: tips photography photographers education)

Strobist: Betcha Can't Watch it Just Once Another great behind the scenes video from Chase Jarvis. This has some interesting ideas for photographing earth, wind, fire, and water. Watch it a few times to see different things pop out. I'm not sure which I liked more, the earth or the fire shots. (tags: strobist chase jarvis videos photography)

Sunday, September 14, 2008

My first wedding

Baker Wedding-145-2Wedding photography freaks me out. It absolutely scares me. Weddings are extremely important events in the lives of a man and woman. Weddings are affairs filled with loving memories, laughter, friends, a bit of stress, maybe some wine, and general goodness. These are things you don't generally want to screw up for a newly married couple. This is the type of event where you don't get a second chance to take those photos again because you messed up.

I've been reading blogs of various wedding photographers on the 'net over the last few months to understand the things they encounter when shooting these important days. I've picked up a ideas and tips along the way, but nothing that would really make me feel comfortable going out on my own and attempting to make a living at it.

HandsA few months back, my coworker Greg announced that he and his girlfriend Tara were getting married. It was going to be a small wedding, mostly family and a few friends. A larger party would be held some time after the wedding for all of his friends to come and celebrate. A few weeks after announcing this, Greg asked me if I was interested in shooting the wedding. Talk about a deer-in-the-headlights moment. I needed a few days to think about it because of how important this was. That, and my fear about shooting this type of event kicked in almost immediately.

Baker Wedding-115-1Now, Greg is pretty familiar with my photography and knows that I'm a complete amateur at it. We ended up coming to an equitable understanding: I'd shoot the wedding with the understanding that he gets exactly what he gets and in return he purchases a piece of equipment for me. Sounded fair. He understood that I'd do my best and I'd get a bit of experience out of it and a TTL cord (that's what I really needed at this point). The TTL cord actually helped out quite a bit during the pre-wedding scenes inside the house. The wedding would take place outside in his backyard which had recently undergone a serious landscaping makeover.

GuitaristOn the day of the wedding, I got all spiffed up and headed to his place with all the gear I would need. I spent the first two hours shooting people as they mingled in the house, enjoying the wine and cheese that was set out. Greg introduced me to his friends as they came in and I got to chat a bit with the soon-to-be joined family.

Around sunset, I started setting up the flashes in the backyard trying to come up with a good crosslighting setup. The ceremony would occur up on a small burm that was centered in the yard and everyone would be seated on one side to watch. Wedding WineThe ceremony was originally scheduled to start at 6:30, but the decision was made to hold off until after the sun crept down behind some treetops because of how blinding it was where they would be standing. I was really glad about that because of how bad the hotspots would have been in the photos and I had no idea how to easily deal with them.

Once the procession started, I dropped back into full on picture-taking mode and began circling the entire scene, occasionally adjusting lighting positions, but mostly trying to give them a good set of photos to remember everything by. Everyone was seated, Greg and Tara were up on the burm and Jesse was officiating. Circle of FriendsThe ceremony went on for half an hour I guess. I really didn't keep track of time because I was too busy enjoying the scene from behind the lens. At one point, Jesse asked for everyone to join hands in a circle around the burm as a way to commemorate the marriage. I joined in momentarily and then slipped off after a few minutes to take some photos of it. This was one of those things I just couldn't miss taking for them.

Baker Wedding-169When the moment was finalized, everyone broke off for the reception and I did some more formal photos of Greg and Tara with various family and friends. These were the ones we agreed were "most important" to do. These were the ones I didn't want to screw up. We spent some time working on these and making sure we got all the ones they wanted. There was one photo that I wanted to retake of Greg and Tara, so I drug them off to a corner of the yard and had Greg dip and kiss here again. Got the photo, packed away most of my gear and retired to the reception.

Cutting the CakeDinner was a lovely brisket barbecue dinner and Greg invited me to join in and eat. And then there was cake. Lots and LOTS of cake. Enough cake that I took home a nice slab of both the Italian Cream cake and the Strawberry layered cake (both delicious, by the way).

Overall, it was a lovely ceremony and made me realize one thing: yes, it's definitely an important day but I shouldn't be so afraid of it. I learned a few things to keep in mind for future weddings (better attention to detail in some cases), Greg and Tara got a record of the event (that I hope they like!), and everyone seemed to have a lot of fun.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Links for 2008-09-08

Interesting links gathered from all over the Internet

Business portrait shoot | Robert shows off a technique I've not seen before: shooting into an umbrella then through a diffusion panel. Gorgeous light. Definitely worth trying some time. (tags: photography lighting techniques)

Tips for Finding a Film Developer Brian gives you some tips on what to ask your local film processing places. Thanks to his $50 camera project, I'm *so* lusting for a cheap medium format camera. And I've never really dealt with film. So, well timed information. (tags: photography film)

Vegas, Baby, Vegas Joe discusses a one-light method for killing the ambient and making the scene just pop. I can't wait to try this out! (tags: photography lighting flash mcnally)

Black Star Rising - Six Tips for Growing Your Photography Business Heather Hughes gives us some good tips for getting your photog business even healthier. (tags: photography business)

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Chasing the Sunset

BethOne of the things I've wanted to try over since becoming enamored with the Strobist style of light play is balancing my flash with twilight. I've attempted a few times over the last nine months but was never happy with the results. Instead, I've tended to focus more on getting the exposure correct for my subjects and not worry about the background.

Monday evening led me to try balancing the twilight again. This time, I nailed it. I was at the retirement party for a coworker (Beth). Quentin and I brought our lighting gear because we wanted to get a few good group shots for Beth of her family, coworkers, and friends. They came out pretty well. I did the lighting setup and Quentin did all the people wrangling; group photos are certainly harder than I expected. We ended up shooting out in front of the house we were at because there wasn't a great place to put 40+ people.

DavidAfter we got the group photos nailed, we all went inside and a round of retirement gifts got opened. Many photographs ensued. I noticed the sunset was streaming in through the large pane-glass sliding doors and knew I needed to try hitting twilight again. As people left, the sun dipped down over the horizon painting the sky this pretty shade of pink. Out on the deck, I quickly poked around for a spot that was right, found it, and setup a single white shoot-through umbrella. I had to work quickly as the light was failing rapidly. I grabbed David, the first person I saw, stood him in front of the flash and popped off a few shots to dial in the power. Before I knew it, I had photos of most of my coworkers up against a brilliant cloud-peppered sky.

I was surprised how quickly and easily this came together. First, I exposed for the background. 1/250th looked about right for what I wanted after chimping a few shots of just the sky. Next, I moved David into place and popped a shot off with the flash. I still had it set at 1/2 power from the group shots which blew him way out on his right side. I cranked the power down to 1/16, feathered the umbrella back a bit on his right side, and popped another two or three shots to make sure it looked good and ... VoilĂ  ... instant balance.

Here are other photos from this particular setup. In all, it was about 5 minutes of setup and 10 minutes of shooting. A good haul in my opinion.

Jackie, Huong, and Melissa
David and Sue
Quentin and Francie KellyHuong
Jackie and HuongGreg and Tara
Dean and ChrisChris