Monday, December 29, 2014

Want To Be A Better Photographer?

Here are my tips and it's probably not what you are thinking.

I'm not going to sit here and show you sample images and lighting diagrams or sell you on a specific piece of equipment.

Let's be honest with each other for a minute and remove ourselves from the wants, the marketing hype and the BS we see online.   Marketers have a job and that is to get you to buy new stuff all the time.  Getting new gear is exciting, but make sure you are buying for the right reason.  The right reason is defined by me as getting something that will help you solve a problem, or make your life easier.   By all means, if you have money to blow and just want to buy stuff, feel free.  It's your money and I have no control over you.
An example of getting the right gear might be buying a basic strobe kit(light stand, umbrella adapter, shoot through umbrella) and an SB-26 to learn about off camera lighting or to give you a key/fill light to enhance your portrait work.

One of the things I like about doing this blog is that I an not sponsored or paid by anyone.  I don't get free stuff from anyone and I have no allegiance to anyone but myself and the clients that pay me for the work I'm hired to do.

Shall we get down to it?  What's the best way to be a better photographer - in no particular order.

  • Understand and master the basics
    So many people do not understand the most basic of things, and without that knowledge as a base, you lose out on so much.  Make sure that you understand exposure - the interplay between the ISO, aperture value and shutter speed.  Understand what happens when you have a fast shutter speed versus a slow shutter speed and what that means to your subjects.  Understand that DOF changes not only with the aperture value, but also with the aperture value, focus distance and focal length.  Know what image stabilization is and when it is useful and when it won't matter at all.
    Get a working knowledge of at least on good post processing package and come to the understanding that the post processing part of photography is just as important as the image capture part.  It was true back in the glass plate and film days and it still holds true for digital today.
    With a grasp of the basics, you'll have a great foundation to move into more specific types of photography.  You'll be able to concentrate on the shoot, the composition, the connection between photographer and subject and spend less time chimping or guessing what is going on and fine tuning the exposure.
  • It's not about the gear, it's about your ability to use it.
    Everyone falls in love with their gear at some point.  Nothing wrong with that.  What is a problem is when people get all "fanboy" and find the need to defend the brand they bought.  They feel they need to justify their purchase by proclaiming what they bought is the best.
    I don't care if Joe McNally shoots with Nikon, Scott Kelby shoots with Canon or Bob Whatsisname shoots with Fuji or Olympus.
    Bottom line here is that just about any interchangeable camera system out today is plenty capable of producing great results.  They may work slightly different and have slightly different strengths/weaknesses.  Just do your homework, determine what your shooting requirements are and get the best gear for you that you can afford.
    For me, I shoot very fast and at times my subjects or scenes will develop very quickly in front of me. My requirements for street and event photography make AF speed and camera function speed of top importance.
    Requirements for landscape photographers or in studio portrait photographers will be different.   Again, buy accordingly.
    While we are on the subject - just as a side note - it is generally a best practice to buy what you need versus what you want.  You'll acquire less "stuff" and have more viable "tools".  I see this a lot in off camera lighting gear and accessories.
  • Figure out what you like to shoot and be the best at it you can.
    No one can be a master of every type of photography.  It's just not realistic.  Determine the type of photography you love and be the best you can be at that.  For me, it is portrait and event photography.  For others it might be nature or sports.
  • Never stop learning.
    Every day, I try and learn something new.  I subscribe to blogs, read books, go to seminars and workshops, talk with others.  I believe that whenever you stop learning, you will stagnate.  Learning helps keep the ideas fresh and gives you time to experiment.
  • Study other photographers and artists to help you cultivate a style.
    There are some photographers that have images I could look at everyday.  Looking at others images or art can inspire you to look at things a different way.  It can give you ideas of how you might want to change up your compositions or angles.
  • Practice, practice, practice.
    I learned from Jay Maisel, a commercial and street photographer out of NYC, that you need to do "visual pushups" everyday.  I always have a camera of some sort with me at all times and if I see something that I want to photograph, I do.  Not everyday will provide you with an image that is worth a damn, but going through the process will help keep your eye and instincts sharp.
    Henri Cartier Bresson once said that "Your first 10,000 images are your worst".  By this, he meant that your first 10,000 images are your playground - your learning curve.  They are where you are going to learn to master your exposure and composition, figure out what you like to shoot and get to grip with your gear.
  • Catalog your images and review them.
    Cataloging will allow you to go back later and study what you've shot.  Find the images you took that you love and determine what made them your favorites.  You'll be able to see what exposure settings you used, focal lengths, angles and what not.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Shooting An Event

How you shoot an event depends on a lot of factors and some of which you have no control over.  Let's discuss today how one might go about shooting an event.

Shooting an event can come in 2 different flavors, either you are there in an official capacity - hired or in a photojournalist role, or there as a spectator.

When working within the confines of my VisualOhio site, I tend to go to events of interest to my readers and see if there are opportunities for stories there.  If I have enough advanced notice, I contact the organization running the event and see if there are any restrictions to photographing as well as inquire about possibly getting a media pass.   If you can do this, by all means do.  You'll have less hassle as well as potentially gain access to areas you might not have without it.

The images below were taken to cover a news event about a local school teachers strike.

If you are working as a journalist, there are other things to consider as well.  Larger events might require you to have a Letter of Assignment.  Briefly, this outlines the intent of the coverage, including but not limited to the staff that sill be in attendance as well as the coverage and access they are requesting.  From this, you may or may not be granted access.

When I know that I will be in contact with people and possibly be doing an interview, I'll prepare some questions up front and document them.  My tool of choice is the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.  I like it for its ability to use a stylus for hand writing and paired with n app like Evernote, you can record the interviews as well.  The Note 8 is small enough that I can put it in my back pocket or in a small camera bag when I need to get down to shooting.

This is when you are going to a public event but are not part of the media.  Make sure to find out if photography is allowed.  Sometimes there are no restrictions on what you can bring and sometimes there are.  I've been to some events where they will not allow an interchangeable lens camera, but would allow point and shoots.  Other venues restrict the zoom or field of view of the camera.  Bottom line, due diligence is needed unless you want to haul all your gear with you only to have to leave it in the car.

These images taken at the Arnold Classic in 2014 were taken from the crowd.  I paid admission to the event, to get coverage.  I did this because one of the prerequisites of getting a press pass is having covered this or a similar event in the past.

How you shoot the event depends if you are hired or a spectator.   The spectator role gives you the most freedom on how you shoot the event, but it might limit the type of gear you are able to shoot with.  Generally, anything outside on camera flash is probably going to be prohibited to you.  If you are hired, you might be locked into the type of shots/style the client is requesting.  Some clients hire you because you are a competent professional, others hire you for the previous reason and they like the style you've shown in your portfolio.  If they like your portfolio, you might luck out and be able to get shoot the event the way that you want.  The other benefit is that you might have authority to use a wider range of gear like remote cameras, off camera flash.
Style will also look into the image style you use.  Some people like the photojournalism style, others like things a little more formal.  That is definitely something you will want to discuss with a client if you are hired.

ZombieWalk Columbus is an event that has participants parade through the downtown streets of Columbus, OH dressed as the undead.  This is a fundraiser, collecting money and food items for the Mid-Ohio Foodbank.

Sometimes, we get caught up in all the excitement of the event that we just start grabbing images.  Remember, that covering an event is about telling a story.  Images can tell stories of the immediate scene and they can also tell a story of the whole event as a series.  It's our job as photographers to make sure that we tell the story of the events we attend.

Location and Time of Day
Depending on the event, you may not have a lot of control over the time at which you can cover it or where. The importance of this is going to determine what kind of gear you bring with you.   Night or indoor events might require you to bring flash, fast glass or a camera with good hi ISO performance.  This in contrast to the light available on a bright sunny day, where you can use a moderate zoom lens.

Nighttime scene at the Ohio State Fair, required gear and techniques suitable for low light photography as the time we were there dictated our coverage.

It may also effect the style in which you shoot.  Midday sun might give you too much contrast and fill flash is desired, where as you might be able to shoot sunrise or sunset and get that great golden hour light, with beautiful side lit portraits.  Indoors, depending on the event could have their own theatrical lighting which you might be able to use to your benefit.   It will help to be well versed in the art of combining ambient and flash in some cases.  You might not want to lose that cool ambient feel, but your main subject might need an exposure lift with a flash unit.  For quick and dirty solution to this, you can have a small flash unit and something like a Lumiquest SBIII or SBLtp.

Ribbon cutting ceremony opening a new wing at the Mott's Military Museum.

Consider the crowd level as well.  Some events will have a limited number of attendees, while others may have unlimited or vast amounts of people.  The physical location will also need to be taken into consideration.  There may be a lot of room to move about or it might be tight quarters.   This will affect your choice of focal lengths/field of view.

A local Christmas event showcased young musicians and had treats and crafts for the kids.

Information Gathering
Here we are looking to get as much information about the event as possible.  Start and end times, entertainment or event schedule.  This will help you determine what you want to cover.  You want to make sure that the time between events gives you enough leeway to get from one to the other, if you need to leave from one early to get to the beginning of another.  Having a schedule really helps and planning out as much in advance as possible will make coverage that much easier.
If it is a smaller event, it might be a good idea to get a point of contact as well.  Just in case things change.  In larger events, they may have a media area.

You will also want to find out the "big players" at the event.  For example, at a wedding reception, you know that the bride and groom are the top billing, but there might be special relatives in from out of town, or a friend that is just like family and is regarded by the client as someone that they want to have your attention.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Our 12 Month 2015 Calendar is now available for purchase!!

$17.99 gets you this gorgeous calendar with 13 images taken over 2014.  The preview below will show you the month to month images and it also has all the U.S Holidays.

Monday, December 15, 2014

If You See The Shot, Take The Shot - Now!

One of the things that I learned later in my photography career is that whenever you see an opportunity to take a shot, you need to do it then. How many times have you gone past something on the way to another thing and said to yourself, "I have to come back to shoot that!", only to never come back or worse, you go back and the lighting, scenery or your access to the location is no longer the same. There were many times where this very thing happened to me and it is one of the strongest reasons I always have a camera with me at all times. I'm not super happy with the quality or controls of camera phones, so at a minimum, I always have a proper camera with me - even if it only be something like a fixed lens compact (X100, Ricoh GR type thing), or even a small zoom type camera(Panasonic LX100 or Fuji X10 series). You never know what you might stumble across running to the market for a quick pickup of milk or bread, running down to the book store in a part of town you don't always get to or you happen to see something you don't normally see on your way home/to work. I have a standing agreement with my wife that if we are ever driving anywhere and I see something that I want to stop and photograph, that it is a done deal. PS - it's great to have a partner who is supportive of your impulses and sometimes whacked out creative thoughts/ideas. This image I captured on the way to work. I was sitting at a traffic light and in front of me was a utility truck with 2 muddy hand prints on the back doors. No camera and this great opportunity is lost forever.
I love old, abandoned buildings. Don't know why, but they scream to me to be photographed. I stumbled across this old feed mill as I was driving home from some shopping. I recently went back to check this place out again and found that vandals/thieves had gone in and stole a bunch of copper piping/wires and smashed windows. The building is now all boarded up and has lost that intimate quality you see in the image below.

This portrait of a man and his dog I took at a local park. One of a kind and I doubt that I would have ever seen this man again. The park this was taken in is about 30 minutes from my home and I do not go there very often.

Cabrillo National Cemetery in San Diego California. I had limited time at this location and the way that the lighting and everything fell into place was not guaranteed to happen again while I was there.

As a parting thought, I implore you to never let an opportunity to pass you by and have regret that you could have captured a great image, but didn't. You need not spend a ton of money on a camera, pick up something used and capable. Hell, I used my Nikon D50 up until last year. Small DSLR body, throw a fast 50 on it for a few hundred bucks or get a used early gen m43 or Fuji X camera. Doesn't matter what you get, but get something that you can keep with you and deploy into action.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Bringing Out The Diana f+ Instant

My wife's family has a lot of traditions, one of which is the annual Christmas Tree Day. On this occasion, we go out in search of that iconic item for the holiday season - the fresh cut Christmas tree!!
Being the photographer that I am, a camera comes with me!! :D
This year, I decided to change it up a little bit and not only document the occasion with my digital mirrorless kit(which my wife affectionately calls my gimp loadout*) but also bring the Diana f+ Instant with me as well.
For sure there were quite a few images taken with the digital cameras, but i thought that I would share some of the Diana images.
The Diana f+ instant back uses the Fuji Instax mini instant film. One of the frustrations with the Diana is that the viewfinder is not wildly accurate, so sometimes you get a framing that is not exactly what you envisioned. The best way to combat that frustration? Use the camera more! Like anything else, get familiar with and learn your gear in order to use it to its fullest potential. I do not use it enough to be 100% accurate.
This is one of those inaccurate framed shots.  I thought there would be more to the right side of the image then there was.
The other thing I learned about the Diana and its fabulous plastic lenses - flare and low contrast when pointing into a light source. In this case - the sun. There are 2 images here that got blasted because I was shooting toward the sun.
Lastly, in order to share these with you, I scanned these using an old Epson all in one device. The printer stopped being useful years ago, but the scanner is still kicking and going strong. Imported into light room and they are treated just like any other digital asset.

Please forgive the dirty scans, my scanner is in need of a good cleaning. LOL.

This is one that I accidentally over exposed.  They were in the shade, so I put the camera in "partly cloudy" mode.  I should have used the meter on my camera to verify.
*gimp loadout is a term that spawned itself when I needed to find a quality camera kit to work around the fact that my arm surgery from early November 2014/recovery process did not allow me to (a) hold a camera/lens of any appreciable weight and (b) the brace they had me in did not allow me to hold a camera in such a fashion that I can utilize the viewfinder. Anyone who is familiar with the Call of Duty console/PC games will understand the "loadout" reference. If not, it is the unit of armaments and skill sets that your character deploys into the imaginary battlefield in the game.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

When The Opportunity Presents Itself - Take It

As many of you know, not everyone wants their portraits taken all the time.

I lucked out today when the wife came home with some new makeup that she had just purchased and wanted to try them out.

I was working on some images from an event I had worked earlier in the morning when she came into the office and asked if I wanted to shoot some portraits of her.


I had a limited window, so I grabbed what was sitting in front of me - the Olympus OMD EM5 with the 45/1.8 attached.  I also had my Nikon SB-600 with batteries sitting on the desk.

At first we tried some available light (can lights in the hallway of my house), but I just didn't like it.  I slapped the Nikon SB on the hotshoe, threw the camera on manual (first at f/5.6, then later opened it up to f/2.8, ISO 200, 1/125).  Speedlight started at 1/4, then dropped to 1/16 over the progression.  The hallway provided many bounce surfaces.

Many shots later, here are the results.  My top 3 favorites.

All were post processed in Lightroom and I utilized various onOne Suite plugins (B&W / Portrait).