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.
Every photographer should have a backup of all their files. Images, book keeping, contracts and agreements etc.
Yesterday I picked up this little unit from LaCie (pronunced la - see)that I plan to use a s my backup while shooting tethered to my laptop computer. Even though I keep duplicates of each image on my laptop' hard drive, I can't hep feeling that I need to safeguard against a catastrophic event that might take down my laptop hard drive at the worst possible moment.
Imagine having spent days planning, hours shooting and just before you pull up your files for editing, the hard drive bails. It won't spin up, or the whole things just starts to smoke. With an external back up scheme, your chances of getting the job done increases exponentially. I will probably get another in order to have multiple copies stored in different physical locations in the future, but this is a good start. I'm waiting until I upgrade my laptop before I settle on an additional external as the input ports have changed over time.
Ask me how much I would recommend you to have backups for all your necessary files and client projects. I'll tell you that crap happens, and you simply don't know when that might occur. Case in point, I have replaced 2 hard drives from my desktop computer. I did not back up all the files, unfortunately and lost many important files. I have since learned my lesson, and you should too.
This hard drive cost me just over $160 with taxes and will potentially save me thousands should a big problem occur that takes out my laptop drive. (or the entire unit gets stolen) I know with all certainty that it is a worthy investment. No hesitation. For a more robust backup solution, take a look on YouTube for a video by pro photographer, Chase Jarvis as he outlines the lengths he and his crew go to in the name of insuring the safety of their work >>> https://youtu.be/Y-6EQo6it7Y
Down on my belly in the muck, broken twigs, bugs and general forest waste. That's simply what it takes at times, to get the angle and the image.
There are times when my work takes me out of the comfort (?) of my work room and into the not-so-clean-and-tidy real world. Such as was the case lately, when I shot a series of images for local sporting goods retailer, Fontaine Source for Sports.
We headed out to the Harold Town Conservation Area for a few hours of mountain bike excitement. All in the effort to create awe inspiring images that demonstrate the product and show what fun and joy you can have when fully engaged.
This visit, the second of two, was a bit more enjoyable than the first, as we didn't have the flying, biting insects to contend with. And, I was lucky enough to return with all the equipment I arrived with. Always a bonus.
While I wasn't cycling, I did have to deal with a couple arms-full of photo gear while trudging along the same trails as the guys riding. No, I didn't take a nose dive down a hill or trip over one of the myriad branches, boulders, tree roots etc. I did, however have the pleasure of watching others do it. (Sorry, no photos) I believe that there were 3 minor crashes, during the second trip to the trails. No blood or broken bones, but a bit of concern for expensive bikes.
To grab the sensation for the viewer, I felt the need to incorporate a flash or two. Tall trees and low sun angle, meant for a pretty dark scene. The flash clamped to a tree branch in these photos, for example, meant that the riders (Ben Logan above and his friend, Cody) were crisply illuminated against the dark trees. No modifier. Just a 1/8 CTO gel on the flash head for a touch of warmth. The dark trees tend to cool the light, so the CTO is warranted.
All the images were inspected for blunders and very basically edited in Adobe Camera Raw, and that's about it for adjustments. The gems were delivered to Ben at the store where he transferred them to a USB drive. Now the images are proudly displayed on the wall-mounted TV screen for all the visitors to enjoy.
Now honestly, how could I just sit at an office all day when I can have this kind of fun? Sometimes getting dirty is what it takes, and it's way more fun.
Dan O'Toole, whom I'd never heard of before I got the email from the Peterborough Humane Society, seems to be a pretty down-to-Earth dude. He and the family were in the process of moving into a 19th home on the main street of Orono, when I showed up with my minimal photography kit to photograph him and his kitty, Vera.
It seems that Dan is a pretty well known half of a TV sports reporting duo here in Canada. Like I said, before I got the email, I had no idea who he was. I have to say, that even though he is relatively well known amongst a certain crowd, he seems to kept his feet firmly planted. I had a pretty good session with him and his little family. I'd happily do it again.
It's not too often that I volunteer my time, but I felt that it was a good cause and the least I could do to help out the Humane Society. Not that I haven't volunteered in the past. Back in 1996 I shot speed skating and other events for the Winter Special Olympics in Toronto. That was interesting, but I'm not sure that I would put in that much time again without some sort of financial compensation.
Thanks again Dan and Vera. Watch for their portrait in the upcoming fundraising calendar for the Peterborough Humane Society.
Which do I change to get the desired effect on my image?
Well, that depends on your situation and what you are trying to do.
First, let's look at what each of these changes actually do. Aperture. The aperture, or the opening in the lens through which the light travels from your scene to the light-sensitive surface (film or sensor) can be widened or narrowed using the dial indicated in the image above. In this case it is a Nikon D800 camera.
By making the aperture (opening) wider, you are letting in more light from all sources. That includes flash units, sunshine, manmade lights etc. Alternatively, by making the aperture smaller, you are reducing the amount of light that reaches the sensor or film.
Pretty simple. Now lets look at the Shutter speed.
The shutter speed is essentially the length of time the shutter stays open once you press down on the shutter release button. It can be measured in fractions of a second, all the way to minutes and even hours depending on the situation and camera.
Combining these two adjustments will determine how bright your subject will be and to a point, how bright the background will be. It can also determine if a moving subject is frozen still in the scene or if it appears blurry.
Let's say for example that you are photographing a 3 year old child playing in the park, and that you want to freeze the action, keeping the facial features sharp and recognizable. By using a fairly open aperture you can keep the child in focus and blur the background. Something around f5.6-f8 would be a good starting point. Combine this with a shutter speed of around 1/250 second will give you an image that stops the moving child, making them the centre of attention.
One caveat of this technique is that as the lens becomes longer, the depth of sharpness decreases. For example, if I use a 200mm lens at f5.6 my depth of sharpness (depth of field) will be less than if I use a 50mm lens. If I use a wide angle lens, such as 24mm at f5.6, the majority of my scene will be in focus. Keep this in mind when you choose a lens for shooting portraits. The best thing to do in deciding which lens to pick, is to practice before you need to.
Are you shooting landscapes? Do you want all the scene to be in focus from near your location to the distant hills? In this case, a wide angle lens in combination with a small aperture will serve you well. For example, a 15 to 24mm lens could be perfect depending on the composition you are going for. Set that to f11 or so, and your depth of sharpness (depth of field) will be the greatest. When you start shooting at apertures in the area of f16 to f32, the lens may introduce distortion because of how light is diffracted through the tiny opening. This is a good time to do some testing in order to judge the ideal aperture for your situation.
Using a flash to illuminate your subject?
In cases such as these, your aperture is even more important. Read about what to do in these situations in the next blog post.
Feel free to ask questions if you need to clear up anything that confuses you. I'm here to help.
The Internet. We've been deeply involved with it for a number of years now. What have you noticed when you go searching out photography? Well, personally I have noticed that many, many "photographers" are posting images that are similar to their collegues, friends and family. I've also noticed that portrait photographers, wedding photographers, baby photographers and similar are shooting pics that kinda all look the same after a while. His pics look like her pics.
I blame the internet and the unnatural addition to equipment and all that techie stuff. People are simply shooting images that are easy to create. They are letting the equipment do ALL the work. There's little if any, creativity in photography. Except for a very small number of truly creative photographic artists. Frankly, it's getting pretty dull to surf the net and continually see the same process, same lighting (none), same angles, same colour palette. I'm almost prone to saying that if you own a camera, you should be obligated to graduate from a creative arts course before you can use it. Certainly before you post any images.
Sure, it's easy to make an image with practically any technology with a lens on one end and a recording medium on the other. Sure, it's easy to share that image with the world a few seconds later. But does that mean that we should? Wouldn't it be more special to simply watch and listen at the concert instead of holding your smartphone over your head for 2 hours, simply so you can watch it on that tiny screen in a weeks time? What happened to just "being present"? That's another pet peeve, I'll save for another time.
So how do we set our pictures apart from the myriad of others out there?
I think it comes down to taste, creativity and final usage.
Taste: I have no interest in looking at the same dull image, no matter who shot it. If you post a photo of a cat being injured, I'm not spending more than a second to view it. It will get passed over pretty darned quick.
Creativity: I will spend more time appreciating an image that obviously was the result of a creative process. Double exposures, muted tones (for a purpose), classic film processes. If it suites the image and shows a great effort on the behalf of the photographer, I am probably more interested in looking at it.
Final usage: Images that are clearly only created for the purpose of sharing on social media are of no interest to me. They are literally a waste of my attention and will get quickly passed over. Images that are created for a specific purpose will hold my attention longer. A set of pictures showing the interior of a spectacular home, if done in an expert fashion, will keep me watching and absorbing. Photos of a bike race in a cycling magazine will have me reading all about the product, event, people. You get the idea.
Setting your work apart means that you stand out from the crowd. Your work is easily identifiable by genre, visual style, use of equipment and technique. Don't shoot stuff just because you can. Shoot stuff that moves you, and do it in a way that is distinctive and remarkable. If I don't remember seeing your image a day after I did, It wasn't worth remarking on.
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.
Youtube has a good number of videos illustrating the benefits of both speedlights and strobes. Enough to make your decision as easy as pie and clear as mud. I'm not going to bother making yet another video. That would probably only contribute to the murky and muddy waters. I'll let you decide what works best for your type of shooting and budget.
What I will do here is help to divide the two types of lights even further apart, so as to assist you in clarifying which would be better for your particular situation.
Speedlights, or hotshoe flashes. Used on the camera body or off have a number of benefits. The first is that they are in general much smaller than a studio strobe. I would also venture to say that they are considerable less expensive, but not always.
Another benefit is that they are flexible in that their small size allows them to be mounted, hidden, tucked away in interesting places in order to illuminate the scene as desired without too much trouble. For example I have taken to wrapping my SB900 with an industrial twist-tie and attaching it to a tree branch when required. Not easy to do with a studio strobe.
Speedlights run on batteries, and therefore don't require a cord to be plugged into a wall outlet or generator. Speedlights have a plethora of accessories including colour gels, diffusors, light shapers, reflectors and more. They can easily be mounted on a low-weight light stand and coupled with a number of different light modifiers. They can be ganged together in infinite groups to create a wall or tree of light if necessary. All triggered by one trigger. If one fires, they all do. Just make sure you have enough batteries. I love my speedlights. I use both the Nikon SB600 and SB900 almost every time I shoot portraits or still-life images.
Talking about the studio flash, or flashes that do not have a hotshoe mount, such the speedlights do means talking about larger lighting units that put out considerably more power than speedlights. In that circle we have brands such as Elinchrom, Profoto, Speedotron, Balcar, Bowens and others.
They do have a number of benefits to the studio and street photographer.
Benefits such as: high power output, fast recycle time, some have modeling lights at more.
Some models are strictly battery powered while others require a cable connected to a power source in order to operate. Profoto for example have two lines of flash, one of which is a self-contained battery powered flash unit and another that is AC powered.
All of these lights have a huge variety of lighting accessories. Some brands less expensive than others.
Most of these brands have long pedigrees, such as Elinchrom and Speedotron.
I was a happy Speedotron user for a number of years, but I jumped off of that bandwagon when I came to the conclusion that the work I was doing didn't justify carrying the heavy power pack that always relied on a power outlet. In fact I think the catalyst was when on a shoot for a woodworking magazine, and the electricity went out for half the city. We had to reschedule. Needless to say, I quickly secured a couple speedlights for the next day's shoot, just in case.
Studio lights have a lot going for them over speedlights. They also have a few draw backs.
First and foremost, they are powerful. If you need to light a large group, studio lights are probably your best bet. They will cover the group with power to spare.
On the negative side of the argument, they can be heavy and take up much more space. Not great if you have to travel any distance or carry your gear. They also tend to be rather pricey. Looking at a nice Profoto 2 light kit? Plan on spending between $2000 and $3500. Of course if you know that you will need that power, it might be worth the investment. Counter that with a simple 2 light speedlight kit at about $600 to $900, and you find yourself truly looking at your lighting needs very closely.
When it comes down to lighting, it is a personal decision based on finances, intended use and the style of lighting. Weigh all of these factors together to come up with your ideal lighting kit.
You might also keep in mind that rental houses are usually available to fill out that requirement in a pinch, but remember to keep your credit card usable.
As a member of a number of photography related groups on Facebook, I often read questions from people new to photography about their confusion in the technical aspects of shooting great photos. (not "captures", I hate that term).
So I've been playing around with the idea of producing short instructional videos that dive into the process of producing, shooting and editing images directed at the newcomer to this wonderful experience.
Obviously my workflow will differ from some people's, but that is expected. That's not the point. The point is that I can help to clear the air in regards to the methods that I incorporate as I go from idea to execution and final image. People can then take this knowledge and apply it to their own experiences.
I have a feeling that I know how I would go about it, but I'm not clear if there is any serious interest. Do I have competition? Yes. Youtube is flooded with "how-to" videos that tell people how to set up a camera, edit an image and all sorts of things. But is there a succinct video that shows the entire production in a clear and concise manner. Perfect for beginners. Simple, without an emphasis on any one gear manufacturer. Something that both grandma and the 5th grader could use.
What do YOU think?
BTW, did you know that I am now on Instagram? Yup, @picsmiketaylor is my Instagram handle. Check out the gallery there and let me know which images appeal to you.
Buying original Canadian art work doesn't have to be a difficult experience.
What it does involve is a bit of leg work, asking and listening. And relationships. In my particular case, I was able to pickup a couple of original pieces by a local artist simply by getting involved with the local studio tour that runs every year in my area.
We visited a few of the studios, talked with the artists and decided if after seeing the art work in person that we either wanted to own a piece or to move on. I picked up 2 small pieces that inspired me. I smartly stayed within my budget and didn't compromise by buying something that was economical yet didn't appeal to my visual tastes.
Ultimately, buying art is about appealing to your sense of artistic taste. One person's Mona Lisa is another persons velvet Elvis painting. If it doesn't make you feel positive, you probably won't like it hanging in your home.
Take this picture for example. A study on minimalism and pattern. To some this might appeal as being a cool-toned work that evokes a feeling of calm. To others it might be lacking excitement and a full colour spectrum. It all comes down to what drives the viewer. What makes them light up inside.
I find that I tend to notice simple compositions such as this more and more. Some of my print customers have a similar sense of design and give images with this sort of design philosophy high marks. Sales are going well.
Buying original Canadian art can be a pleasant and thoroughly enjoyable process. But it takes time. Look at a wide range of work and decide on what appeals to your visual taste and what lies within your budget.
Photo-Artist working a personal vision.