Okay, I know, I know... you've probably heard all about these things in the past. Or you've watched any number of videos by photogs with their favourite things that they use every day and suggest that you need them too.
My list is the same, but different. Every item in my list gets used each and every time I shoot, whether in studio or on location. Some get used when photographing people and when shooting table-top or other still-life items. They are just that important. I'll post the details here and let you decide what appeals to you. Hopefully you get some value here, and maybe, just maybe, your life will be 1 to 3% more rewarding because of it.
Okay, so here goes.
Clamps come in many different sizes and strengths. I use two sizes, one about 3 inches and the other about 6.
They are invaluable for holding cards, fabric, cables, props and sometimes even clothing in position.
I use them to hold up my background cloth on to a horizontal pole. I use them to position tiny reflectors on tables for shooting product.
I even use one to hold a dark card over my monitor to keep glare off of the screen from the ceiling light. It's pretty ghetto, but much cheaper than a store-bought version. $8 vs $200.
Specifically, lighting gels that are mounted on lights in order to change the light colour or quantity.
They come in a myriad of different colours, and strength of colours. I bought a small pack that fits in a pocket, to mount on my speedlights this year. Amazing move on my part as it gives me more opportunity for creative results.
I also have large sheets that I can mount on larger lights or even cut down with scissors to fit specific lights more precisely.
If I want to control light without changing the colour, I can use neutral density filtering gels, or polarizing gels on the lights. The former reduces light reaching the subject, while the latter polarizes the light to help remove reflections from shiny surfaces. Specifically oil paintings. Used in conjunction with a circular polarizer on my lens, I have much needed control when photographing artwork.
I would highly recommend learning about gels and grab a set for your lights, at least to experiment with.
I have 5 stands that I use both here in studio, and while out in the big wild world. Since I only use speedlights currently, my stands are mostly light-weight stands that reach to about 6-7 feet.
I will use the stands to hold lights as I said, and a background kit in addition to holding cards or reflectors.
My biggest stand, which I grabbed this year, is a heavy-duty and fairly hefty beast that has a tilting extension arm. This give me the versatility to be able to put light up and over my subject when the need arises. This year I bought it to enable me to use a large softbox over top of motorcycles for a personal project I am involved with. I was lucky to be able to source this stand from an importer and saved almost 50% off of retail. The deals are out there if you take the time to look.
4. Gaffer Tape
When you see the credits at the end of a movie, you may notice a job title that is "Gaffer". It's this person who is responsible for controlling a large amount of the grip equipment for the lights etc. They always have rolls and rolls of gaffer tape on their belts and in their vehicles.
This tape is strong, sticky and really imperative for holding things when a clamp will not be suitable. The great part is that it doesn't leave a residue when being removed. It comes in different roll sizes and widths. I would suggest wrapping a few inches on your tripod leg just to have it available. It's great for controlling cables, positioning small objects on tables (mirrors, reflectors) and all sorts of other uses. The large rolls go for about $25 and will last at least a few years. Black is the standard as it doesn't reflect light, but blue and red come in handy too.
5. White and black card
On more than one occasion I have had to use a 18x24" white card (foamcore) to bounce light into my scene as it gave a more flattering light than a straight flash. I even used this technique for the cover of a magazine shoot a while ago.
Black cards are ideal for controlling light that is bouncing into your scene as they absorb light. They also can be great for blocking light from striking your lens and ruining the shot. In this case they are called a "flag".
I've also used cards to change the light by cutting random pockets or shapes in then and shining light through them in order to give variety to my background when a dull background needed spicing up.
So remember this, white cards bounce light and black ones block it. You can find them at Dollar stores, some office supply stores and they are really inexpensive. Buy a bunch.
Reflectors do exactly as the name implies. They reflect light.
These can be something simple such as a small white piece of paper, or a folding commercially made reflector that zips up into a pouch.
In fact your hand can be a reflector, as can a white shirt or a small hand mirror.
Ideally, a reflector is exactly what works for the job at hand.
Small objects sometimes need tiny mirrors to achieve the goal, large objects, such as cars, obviously need large reflectors in order to bounce light in a useful way.
Different colour of reflectors will give you different results. A purple reflector will produce a purple result on your subject. It's a fact that light takes on the colour of the object it hit. That's basically how we can perceive colour. If you wanted to show that a white egg is actually green, and you didn't have a green lighting gel, grab a green reflective card from the dollar store and shine a daylight balanced light on it. It will bounce onto the egg as a green light. You're welcome.
These simple items are always getting used in my work.
If you find value in this little bit of info, please consider sharing with your crew. Knowledge is power.
Having a comfortable and functional home studio can give you a leg up as a creative who needs space but can't justify spending money on rent.
Some of us are lucky enough to have an extra room in our home in which we could set up, even temporarily, a set of lights and a backgrounds stand. It doesn't have to be that big. In my case I work in a space which is no bigger than 6 by 10 feet. In this space I can photograph a single person quite comfortably and even set up a table for shooting small product and artwork. Both of which I have done.
Okay, so let's say you don't have an extra room. Do you have a room in which you could shove furniture aside and make presentable for a couple of hours of shooting? Even if it means dragging a Laz-y-Boy out of the way and hiding the kids toys? When you need the room to get your pics done, you'll find a way. What I'm saying is that if you have any sort of clean space in which you can set up your equipment, that is the perfect space. Make it happen.
The best thing about it is that it is free and you don't have to travel to do it.
A word of advice, make sure that your subject has a private and clean space in which they can change clothes. Whether that is a spotless washroom, tidy bedroom or amazing walk-in closet. It doesn't matter, as long as it continues the image of clean and respectable and gives them absolute privacy. That's all that really matters.
You could go a step further and point out the extra hangers for their clothes, the unopened bottle of sparkling water, clean tissues, amazing makeup mirror (and lighting), clothing steamer (for wrinkles) and that sort of thing. All of these little extras can make your client/model feel all the more respected and valued. Expressing value is important when it comes to your brand and being able to charge decent rates for your work.
Imagine for a moment that you are a photographer who only photographs mechanic gadgets for a manufacturers catalogues. Day in and day out. That's what you do.
You get pretty good at it over the years. You are quick and efficient. The boss loves you and you earn a decent dollar for your efforts.
A number of years go by and you continue shooting the exact same images, over and over. This is a factory mentality where by you are the machine churning out copy after copy of highly repeatable product for a receptive hierarchy of managers and business executives. They know what your work looks like, but they probably have no clue what your name is.
If you were in such a position would you not have the desire to expand your experience beyond that of the factory floor? To get out into the world and stretch your creative body, test your limits, grow and expand? What's holding you back?
This is the driving force behind my two personal projects currently on the go. I started one a couple of years ago and have since put it on hold. It involves me visiting the workshops of Ontario based musical instrument makers. These people have some serious skills. Most of them are full-time builders of instruments. A few are working a full-time job while making instruments on the side. I hold these men and women in high regard. They've each welcomed me into their homes and shops for 40 to 120 minutes while I pick the best angle, fiddle with lights and make them look amazing to the viewer.
The other project is ongoing and coming to a local gallery this summer. This one involves the photographing of artists local to Peterborough city and county. The plan was to do 40 portraits. About half way through, people started emailing me to see about being included. Hey, that's pretty cool. How could I say no? Meeting these artists was a big step for me. I'm not really one to put up my hand and offer my thoughts in public. I guess it's my introverted nature. But I'm growing through that in tiny increments.
These projects have driven me to expand beyond my own fears and hesitations. I've learned more about myself in the process of working these projects that at any other time in my adult life. Each project is a challenge to organize, schedule and execute. They both have developed further than my original mock-ups. Each project has produced a few gems that I'm very happy with. I've increased my skill and built on my personal style of shooting. I've refined my approach to doing portraits, especially since each was done in and entirely new space. Sometimes 3 in a day.
It's giving me the incentive to go in a direction that I would have been hesitant to look at just 10 years ago. When the show goes live in July/August, I will get even more impactful feedback that I hope will guide me in my creative direction. This feedback from the public, I will probably take with a grain of salt. I don't expect anything revolutionary, unless I am eavesdropping. Getting an honest opinion might be difficulty I will have to find a workaround for.
My point is that you need to get involved in personal projects as a way to keep your wits and expand your creative abilities. It doesn't have to be a huge one or an expensive venture. All you have to do is start.
The Peterborough Artists and Artisans Portrait Project has come to the halfway point.
Well, a little more actually. This week I will be shooting portraits number 29 and 30 respectively. Again, as I visit each work space I am greeted with a new and fresh challenge. Each space is different in shape, size, lighting, colour, equipment density. I think that is one of the reasons that I enjoy the project actually. The challenge to create an interesting image time and time again.
For example. The image above is in a century old home where painter Patrick Fitzgerald works his craft. The great thing about this space was that the rooms are broken up into spaces that can be independently lit. I stood in the hallway in a fairly dark space and looked at Patrick in his painting room. One of my flashes partially illuminates the painting close to camera, and another pops through a white umbrella to illuminate the painter and a bit of the space.
Did you notice his friend?
A while ago I decided to not show any more of the successive images, save for a couple teaser portraits. Now that people have got a taste for the work through my Facebook page and this website, fans will have to come out to the print exhibits to see all of the new images. Who knows, you might even get to meet your favourite artist/artisan at the same time.
Be sure to watch the Facebook page to see who I've got lined up for a portrait session next. Visit Facebook and type: @peterboroughartists in the search bar.
Use social media channels to achieve a goal.
We've all been hearing and reading about how this wonderful new concept/reality called "social media" is changing the world.
Well, I'm going to take it upon myself to challenge myself to use social media to do one simple task.
I'm going to spend some time researching the various techniques that a handful of social brainiacs recommend and then I will set up a plan. A plan designed to bring about one successful sale of a print or digital file of my own creation.
That's my goal. Sell an image I create using social media. To give it a bit more meaning, I'm going to set a price of this image at $225 for a 11x17 print, and if I sell the digital rights to an image I'll set that at a starting fee of $400 (depending on usage).
I will keep a running blog describing my status and my techniques. Should be interesting to see how this works. Watch for future posts right here, on Twitter, Facebook, Google + and LinkedIn. If I can find more media outlets, I'll use those too. Wish me luck.
Being nervous about shooting #portraits on location is a totally normal experience, so I'm not surprised that that is how I felt.
I mean, normally I spend time photographing objects, interesting views, street scenes etc. Not humans. (well except for my 3 year old daughter)
The shoots to about 30 mins each and were both done indoors, so I had to deal with mixed lighting. The #Nikon D90 seemed to handle both situations very well and what little bit of post production work I did in Adobe Photoshop masked any goofs just as easily.
I submitted my images to the creator of the project and she was delighted. Next month there will be a show in Peterborough where the printed and framed images will be on display for the entire community to enjoy. I have yet to see any of the work by the other photographers. The show should be highly enjoyable and eye opening.
Different interpretations are always interesting, so I'm looking forward to attending the opening. Below is one of the images I created for the project. Stay tuned for scheduling for the show, and please be sure to stop by if you are in town.
Photo-Artist working a personal vision.
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