Tripods, are an item that I use for perhaps 80% of my projects.
Why? Stability and sharpness.
Especially when I'm shooting outdoors or table-top projects. To say that these are important issues as a photographer goes without saying.
I have a tripod that is big, heavy(ish) and versatile. This things is a beast of a machine that is designed to carry the weight of a large format film camera. In fact I used the same model in college when I shot 90% of my assignments on an Arca-Swiss 4x5 view camera. It had to be stable.
These days I have sold off my 4x5 camera and solely use 35mm DSLR equipment. That isn't to say that I no longer need strong equipment. Not in the least. Stability is still a priority. Hence the point of this post.
For years I was traditionalist when it came to camera gear. I went with the flow and did what others were doing.
And then I discovered that amazing creation, the ball-head.
Well certainly changed the way I used my camera and tripod combination. Not only did I have flexibility but speed as well. I love(d) it. I would never go back to the original head with it's extra weight and clumsiness of use.
When I bought that ball-head I had already heard about this cool accessory. The "L" bracket.
So research I did make. And knowledge I did acquire.
Within an hour of time I was sold.
It just made sense.
Why had I not bit the bullet and made the purchase years ago, I don't know. But now I did.
The point of the "L" bracket is two fold; 1)keep the camera lens in the same position when changing from horizontal to a vertical orientation, and 2)to maintain a stable working environment.
These are game changers in many types of photography.
Now, there are added bonuses of being able to create simple panoramic images and cutting down on weight etc. But the primary points of interest for me and many others are the 2 points clarified earlier.
I've had it mounted on my camera for the past 3 months, so getting out in the field and really putting it to work is the next order of day. I'm completely convinced that I made a wise decision. If you are a tripod shooter, I highly advise you to do the same.
My version is from Kirk Enterprise Solutions in the USA. I paid about $100 with shipping. Well worth the small investment.
There are a number of custom builds to suite any camera out there, as well as a universal version (which I bought) to cover any that may no longer be in production.
Again, if you shooting on a tripod, go grab your wallet and find one of these gems. Your shooting with improve, your joy of photography will be maintained. You will thank me later.
Dramatic by definition, "sudden and striking" amongst other terminology pretty well tells you how an image should affect the viewer of the image.
It should make them react, stop and think, consider the image and what it means to them.
But how do we accomplish this?
Certainly the subject matter is an important component. As is the lighting, and to a point the colour or lack of it.
I also propose that expression and costume (if present) plays a part. Now let's take it a bit further and talk about the post-production part of the image making process.
When I am planning a portrait session, I tend to pre visualize the end result and assemble my shoot based on my end goal. Granted, it doesn't always end up that way, but I know that it is a smart idea for me to have something to strive for even if I end up veering left or right and arriving at a completely different point.
Post production includes all the work done after the original image exposure. When I have the image back in my computer, I undertake a series of tasks that will get me closer and closer to my end goal.
Some of these steps include the adjustment of tones and colour overall, as well as adjustments to smaller areas of the image.
This could be a quick process or could take an hour or longer. It all depends on how I feel about what I am looking at and what I am trying to achieve.
It also could involve the addition of layers of subject matter that takes the image to a different level. By this I mean that I may add a blend of textures, colours, shapes etc in order to move the image closer to the dramatic look I want.
The image above for example (provided by a photographer on Unsplash.com), started out as a fairly simple portrait against a white background. Upon considering the character of the person, with his water soaked body and stressful body position, I felt that it was indeed a portrait expressing stress or distress.
From this I felt that a colour change was inline with my goal. Adding a layer of green, that I had shot earlier as well as the blur made this a much more impactful image. If you can imagine the portrait as a simple shot, against a clean white wall, I'm sure you will agree that the image before you truly expresses the idea of stress.
Making dramatic portraits should be a process that starts well before the shoot begins and doesn't wrap up until well into post production.
Using layers of textures that you shoot yourself (keep a library of textures) will give you a breadth of options.
Shooting for the drama can add a whole new range to your portfolio of offerings and in your art work as well.
This year I took the plunge.
I signed up for a year subscription to Adobe Photoshop CC and Lightroom Classic. It gives me the confidence to work away at an image without the program crashing or tripping through a project.
Sure, it costs money. But constantly arguing with the software costs time and frustration. Especially when you forget to save a project just before the system crashes.
One of the new features of Photoshop is it's upgraded Select Subject tool where a user can almost magically make a delicate and detailed selection with practically just one button click. Amazing time saver.
If you are under the clock to get a project completed, this could very well make your day go much better.
Something else I enjoy with Photoshop CC are the new tools and options in Content Aware Fill and the Sharpening. Such an obvious improvement from CS5 and CS6 versions. Hats off to Adobe for keeping the software growing and improving from one version to the next.
It's true what they say. You could work with this software constantly day in and day out and still not experience every tool and process to its maximum potential.
This year I am going headlong into blending layers with portraits in order to create unique pieces. Some of the images involved up to a dozen texture layers on top of the original image. Whatever I want to throw at Adobe Photoshop, it handles with flair and finesse. How are you making waves with your work in Photoshop? Feel free to comment.
How do you know when a picture is done?
This can be a tough question to answer. I've asked that of artists who paint on canvas, as well as photographers working in the digital darkroom. I don't think that there is a universally accepted answer to this question.
Personally, I tend to stop before I get frustrated with an image. If it gets to that point, then I will typically clear all my adjustments, take a break and come back at it fresh and new.
Working an image until I get angry or cranky tends to result in lacklustre results. However there is something to be said for taking the time to experiment. To find a number of ways of doing things that just don't work for that specific subject matter. I'm told that Edison tried over 3000 designs before settling on a satisfactory lightbulb. It's okay to try. That's exactly how we learn what doesn't work.
My work in portraiture tends to be subtle. Adding a bit of texture, altering colours and tones, bringing up the shadows or perhaps making them more intense as the project requires. I love shooting portraits of people. But they're not truly complete until I have worked them in retouching software.
My personal touch includes the lighting, pose and of course the retouching or as I like to call it, the treatment. The treatment stage typically is 30 minutes in length, but I have been known to stretch it out to a few hours when I just can't decide which path to take the image down. In times like these, I may even scrub the work and start over completely from the basic image. There are no hard and fast rules. I just do what feels right and what I feel the image calls for.
Many of the images are layered with custom shot backgrounds and textures that I shoot over the winter months. I also will walk the city in search of background materials such as rusty surfaces, scratched metal walls, rocks, clouds and who knows what else. There are thousands of potential options for random textures available. A road trip to the nearest big city would allow me to add even more textures. A great way to spend a day in the city.
Post production as a way to make a portrait into a signature piece is important to get attention for your work. It's with this extra effort that your work will stand alone in a sea of copycat "photographers". I intend to continue growing as an artist with my personal approach to portraiture. My post-shoot treatments will help me to gain that growth. I hope that you will also find techniques that work for you in your quest to stand apart from everybody else with a camera.
To say that being a photographer gives you access to people and situations that you normally wouldn't have is such an understatement. This holds true for people in cities and rural areas as well.
Of course it depends on what personal limits you apply to yourself and how curious you are. Me, I like to take on projects that I know will stretch my skills. Whether that means that I have to learn a new lighting technique or I will have to connect with a group of people who I never would have in the past, I am willing to make it happen in a quest to achieve my artistic goals.
This past year I started a project photographing amazing motorcycles out on locations using big lighting and then connecting with some of the guys who are restoring these bikes to do portraits of them in their workshops. I seem to have adopted a particular lighting style.
For the people portraits I'll usually douse the existing lighting and bringing 2 or 3 small flashes in order to mould the situation to my liking. It all depends on the situation and whether I have enough time to do what I want. Usually time is on my side.
If you are considering taking on a project that will mean shooting portraits on location, I would advise that you practice using your equipment in made up scenarios before hand. Get comfortable with your equipment. Learn it's quirks and what it can and can't do. Find how your lighting compliments your style of shooting. It's important that you know exactly how it all works before you enter another person's space.
Case in point; Bill Edgar in the image above, owns and restores amazing Triumph motorcycles. I learned about him while at a British vehicle gathering in Lindsay Ontario. I learned about the because I met another bike owner at a different vehicle gathering. 1+2+3= Bill.
Speaking with Bill gave me the opportunity to photograph one of his bikes on location in Lindsay, and a brief conversation opened up the option to do a portrait of him a few months later. But it all started because I had an idea.
Portraits on location afford you the opportunity to explore practically any subject you are interested in. It all starts with your curiosity and a drive to achieve your goals.
The execution of your portrait project could involve any number of lights, locations, subjects, days or in fact years. Or maybe you want to dedicate a single day to shoot something around a special theme. Take your time to decide what your project will be and put all your energy into it. Nobody can tell you what to shoot. It's your project. Go forth and create.
A quick lesson in how I use camera flash to improve people pictures.
The first point of interest is "why" would I/you need to incorporate a flash for a portrait. The quick and short answer to that question is to improve a dull or uninteresting/uninspiring image.
How you would do that depends completely on the situation you are presented with. It would be difficult to illustrate that in a blog post, as a video would be more appropriate. However, I will do my best to give the reader some sort of understanding as to my approach.
Hypothetical situation (A)
You and your subject are in a room with a chair near a big bright window. The sun is streaming in, illuminating part of your subject's face. Since it is strong and contrasty, the lit side of her/his face is quite bright, and subsequently the shadow side is very dark. The unlit parts of the room are dark and very moody, almost creepy.
To lessen the creepy-factor, it would be wise to reduce the shadows as to bring up detail where there is none. (of course this is assuming you are not creating a scary portrait)
The key here is that we want to reduce the depth of the shadows, not eliminate them completely. We need shadows to show shape and form afterall.
First, shoot an image and look at your monitor. When you have the highlight side of the subject's face looking satisfactory, not too bright nor too dark, make note of your camera settings. You can either establish this using one of the camera's priority modes or in full manual. It doesn't really matter. What matters is that the bright, sun-lit side of the face is exposed well.
Now use your flash, mounted to the camera if necessary. Preferably operated off-camera using a trigger, cord, or other firing method. Let's assume it will be on camera. Turn the flash on and set to manual. I would advise that you swivel the flash head towards the wall that is nearest the shadow side of the face. Set the power setting low. For example 1/16th power to start. Take a shot. Look at your monitor and see if the shadows have brightened up to the point where you can clearly see details in the shadows.
Still too dark for your taste? Increase the power output by a ⅓ stop and shoot again. Keep doing this until the shadows are acceptable to you.
You could also do this with the flash in TTL mode. I would however, use the flash output compensation mode in this case as you test things. Have it set to a negative value and slowly increase it in order to achieve the shadow value you desire. Again, bouncing the flash off of the wall nearest the shadow side of the subject's face. Keep doing this until you get the image you desire.
Situation (B), outdoors in bright sun.
In the next situation, you might be outdoors on a sunny day with deep shadows present all around. I would use my flash off-camera if at all possible in order to put details in the shadows of a person's face and to add a bit of life to deep eyes.
Getting the camera off of camera is ideal, however if you can swivel the flash head in order to bounce the light off of a lightly coloured wall, shirt, vehicle etc. that will work as well. The key is to fill in deep shadows in order to bring out the details. If you are prepared or otherwise have an assistant who can carry equipment, you can incorporate a light modifier of some sort in order to make this work even better.
Exposing for the brighter part of the face comes first. This can be achieved using manual mode just as easily as shooting with your camera in TTL mode. Test it and see. If your subject has similar skin tone as yourself, hold your hand up into the same light situation as them, and photograph your hand without the flash incorporated. When the skin tones look correct, note your camera settings.
Now get your flash going and adjust the settings of the flash in order to give you a gentle bit of fill on the shadow side. If the sun is coming from the left in this example, also have your flash coming from the left. This will reduce the chance of creating weird shadows on the face. Play and see what looks best to your eye. Practice and practice again. Don't be afraid of flash. It won't hurt you or your subject.
Short and sweet.
I've been re-reading the books of Seth Godin lately and have found a few lines that truly speak to me about where I am now and where I want to be.
I have a feeling that they may speak to a few of you as well.
"It's tempting to make a boring product or service for everyone. ....The problem is that the marketplace of people who are happy with boring is static. They aren't looking for better."
"New and boring don't easily coexist, and so the people who are happy with boring aren't looking for you"
This from his book, "This is Marketing"
If you are tired of the same old thing in your life, you might want to go pick up this book. Be prepared to take a million notes and prepare to change your life for the better.
This article illustrates 4 key points for why you should be using a Wacom tablet in your photography work.
* Improved workflow
* More precise adjustments
* Faster processing of images
* More ergonomic interface, reduction of mouse-related problems
Any photographer interested in keeping their processes moving along in an efficient manner, should be considering adopting the use of a Wacom or other branded tablet as their primary user interface.
Having the ability to fully customize a wide variety of features to each and every application, not just Photoshop or Lightroom, gives the user so much more ability to get the job done quickly and with less stress.
Sure there is a learning curve with this new equipment, but that is the case with every new camera body, flash, computer etc. Once the user has decided on the most effective settings and gone through them a few times, they will be wondering why they hadn’t switched much earlier.
Having used a mouse and keyboard since the dawn of time, I was amazed at how much faster I can go through a batch of images with a tablet and stylus. I can accomplish complex tasks faster and more precisely. This means I make fewer mistakes. Mistakes that necessitate me undoing my work and having to start over. On a side note, even if I am working in a different sort of software that has nothing to do with image manipulation, I still find myself picking up the stylus instead of the mouse. It’s just that much more agreeable to my frame of mind. It makes want to use it.
More precise adjustments
Having the ability to adjust not only things such as brush sizes on the fly but also, brush pressures, angles, tonalities and so much more is such a blessing. I personally, find that these adjustments are now so quick that I rarely use the keyboard except for those times when I need to enter information. With two buttons on the stylus that can be programmed to take on a number of responsibilities in addition to the plethora of settings on the tablet buttons and radial menu, the ability to precisely affect the images becomes a pleasure and not an annoying task.
When I used the mouse I found that I needed to move the mouse in a way that seemed rather clumsy. Metaphorically, it’s almost like reverting to using candles to heat a room instead of pressing a button on the thermostat. Having learned to write with a pencil at an early age, like most people, using the stylus/tablet combination is like picking up that pencil again. It’s familiar, comfortable, ultimately usable. The fine control available when using the Wacom with its stylus will make you more of an artist than a technician.
Faster processing of images
From start to finish the fact that the user can work in a more intuitive manner alone speeds up the processing. Instead of an operation requiring 3 or 5 steps, it may only require 1 step. This means that things like resizing images for export, copying and creating multiple layer copies etc. can be done in a third of the time that it used to.
Used in conjunction with the Actions feature in Photoshop, for example, a user can get things done so much quicker than in the past. We are truly living in an amazing time, to quote photographer Joel Grimes. There are countless videos online that give you instruction on how to speed up your workflow using a tablet. I would recommend that any new user look for a few videos, but ultimately you won't become used to the tools unless you practice using them.
More ergonomic interface, reduction of mouse-related problems
Using a pen-like interface for most people is a more intuitive approach to working with files. Yes, using a mouse has become the “norm” for computer interfacing over the last 30 years or so, and touch screen technology is quickly overtaking, but there is something rather artist-like when one uses a precise tool such as a well-balanced stylus and tablet to do the job.
Holding the stylus as you would a fine pen, with access to the programmable buttons, you feel well connected to the image on the monitor. The hand can move freely. The wrist is not fixed in a position that invites discomfort with repeated use. Repetitive strain injuries are also significantly reduced. This combined with the variety of available stylus tips, and surfaces for the Wacom product line, you are able to truly work like an artist would on paper or other media.
A Danish study of some 3500 Danish workers revealed that using a mouse in their daily work, increased their chances of pain and strain by a factor of 4, even if they only used the mouse for half of the computer time. Another study, again by Danish scientists, revealed that workers using a mouse in their jobs for more than 30 hours per week had up to 8 times greater chance of developing forearm pain, and double the risk of neck pain. Shoulder pain also increased significantly as a result of continued usage.
The Wacom line of tablets, for example come in a variety of iterations. There are the basic versions for a relatively small investment all the way up to the Cintiq line designed for production studios that will set you back a pretty penny. Available through camera shops, online at various suppliers and of course there is the used equipment market of which I'm a huge fan.
Whichever way you go, it's best to do a lot of research beforehand. I would not recommend purchasing equipment that is designed for travel if you are never going to do location work, nor would I suggest buying a large tablet if you have a tiny work desk. Look at your situation and your style of work then find out what is available to fit your needs and budget. Ranging from around $90 to well over $2400, there is a tablet that will work for you.
That's it for me, the next step is yours.
If you are like me, you use Instagram to share the joy of your work. One thing that was bugging me, and may be bugging you too, is not knowing how to get my images to fit the Instagram format.
This video sorts that out once and for all.
Hope this helps you too.
Show your product as it really is
While sales catalogues have all gone online, that's both good and bad.
Good, because you can reach people who in the past would never have heard of your product or known you exist because they hadn't received your printed catalogue.
Bad, because you can not be held responsible for the quality of the image they are looking at once online.
The problem here is that each monitor or screen a person views your product on, may display your product as being a different colour or hue. This could backfire when the client puts the product in their hands. We unfortunately can't control that,
but what we can control is the production of the images at the outset.
Here is how you can do that.
The first important control is how we light our product.
Since light has a different colour depending on the type, and to a point, the age of the light source, using the best lighting is essential for a successful product photography setup.
Shooting products that are rich in colour and texture requires lighting that is daylight balanced at about 5500 degrees Kelvin. These are available as simple LED bulbs which are then diffused through a white paper, silk, bedsheet (pure white) or photography umbrella.
Avoid trying to bypass this accuracy by using a cloudy day, because as the sun moves across the sky and indeed as the seasons change, the colour of the light changes. This in effect changes the colour of the product you are photographing.
What we are going for is a consistent lighting arrangement.
I would suggest purchasing a 3 to 4 foot long LED box light and mounting it to a light stand or a pair of LED lights in circular reflectors mounted to a stand. [see resources below]
This will give you a portable lighting solution that is predictable and easy to use at a moment's notice.
Situate your lighting so that it is about 5 feet from your subject and 45 degrees from it. [see diagram] What we are going for is a soft light to spread over the subject, not a high-contrast beam aimed directly at it. A large source of light (in relation to the subject) is the perfect solution. However, trial and error are advised because of all the variables at play in any given situation. Once you find the setup that makes your product look great consistently, record the positions and settings.
Keeping the viewer's attention on the product is essential.
What you put your product on or in front of plays a big part.
Ideally, a white background, such as a large sheet of white paper, a pure white wall or something similar is what we want. Rolls of white seamless paper can be bought from photography suppliers. [see resources below]
In order to achieve consistency here, you may need to light the background separately. Alternatively, if you have a powerful enough light setup, you may not need to. To avoid harsh shadows on the background, do not place the product directly against it. Experimenting with distances starting at about 3 feet is a good idea.
If you have a white wall, start there. If you are selling wedding gowns for example, look for a complimentary background. Coloured seamless paper is readily available too.
Setting your camera up on a sturdy tripod may be necessary to allow for longer exposure times if you are using LED lights. It's not as crucial if you are using flash.
Ideally, you will have a camera lens that has an adjustable view angle. Something around 50mm is great. Any wider than that and you risk distorting the product.
If you are shooting with LED bulbs, your exposure time will likely be around ½ second.
This is why the tripod is required.
At first, set your ISO to a low number. Let's say between 100 and 400 ISO.
The white balance should be around 5500 degrees, or daylight.
Aperture around f6.3 to f8.
Don't use a wide aperture (f1.4 to f4) if you can avoid it because it will limit your depth of field (focus) to a minimum and that may make your product appear out of focus.
Avoid a tiny aperture, (around f22) as this will require much longer exposure times and risk colour shifts and blurred images.
Assuming that you are shooting for the web, have your camera's image quality set at jpg/jpeg, and "fine". This will provide high enough quality, but moderately sized files. What we are going for are files that look great on a monitor of almost any size when enlarged, and load quickly.
Some people are guilty of uploading images that look great at 2 inches tall, but look horribly pixelated enlarged. Not good for sales.
The diagram below gives you an idea of a good starting point for locating your product in front of the appropriate background, and the lighting in relation to it.
In this case, the "diffusion" is a white piece of fabric (pure white), but it can also be a bed sheet or a photography umbrella. Keep in mind that light takes on the colour of whatever surface it hits or passes through.
With this information, and some practice, you can accurately create images of your products quickly and with good lighting and colour. People who visit your site will be assured that what they put in their hands is exactly what they previewed.
Please contact me if you have any further questions or suggestions.
For those of us in the Peterborough area, you can find a great selection of daylight balanced LED lighting at Jenco, on George street across from Del Crary park.
A huge variety of photography equipment can be sourced from Henrys in Oshawa/Toronto, or Vistek in Toronto or Ottawa. A great portable white background solution is by Westcott.
Photo-Artist working a personal vision.
For those of us interested in better marketing techniques, get this book.