I’ve been thinking about this the last few days. It’s a challenge, to say the least, and it’s not just limited to photography. Think of every creative service industry that’s been affected by a transition to digital: photography, music, art, advertising, etc. They’ve all been inundated with new talent that’s able to learn and produce at a rapid pace. If you can see the results of your work right away, you can progress through those 10,000 hours much quicker. The baseline for what is considered acceptable work changes as well. As an example, look at audio. When the digital revolution started, audio professionals slammed MP3 for it’s crappy compression and frequency response. And where are we now? The pros still slam MP3. And MP3 is the dominant audio format. Not “cd quality” files. Not HD audio. This kind of market ‘attitude’ adjustment has happened in every field affected by digital. And it’s not completely a bad thing. It’s great, for example, to be able to get a beautiful print out of today’s printers without worrying about CMYK or color separations or any of that stuff. So how can you stand out in your field among all this change?
It’s almost October, if you can believe it. Fall is practically here. And around this time every year, I start my Christmas card work for families and businesses.
It started a few years back when we sent our infamous diner image as our Christmas card. Since then, I’ve enjoyed creating similar holiday cards for my clients. Each of them tells a story of the family: what they look like, their personality, and what they enjoy doing. And I work in humor wherever I can.
This year, I have tweaked the package a little bit and made some changes. I’ve also put up a brand-new website at AustinChristmasCards.com. Check it out, watch the intro video, and get in touch if you’d like something a little unique for your holiday card this year!
Debbie emailed me last November from Atlanta. She’s a wedding photographer and was looking for ways to change things up in her lighting and the post-processing of her work (including her portrait work as well). A “creative bootcamp”, as she put it, in her initial email. She asked if I did any workshops. I didn’t have any plans for one anytime soon. She began suggesting that she be a ‘guinea pig’ for a full-day one-on-one training thing. We emailed back and forth, and it finally worked out this past Friday. She came into town and we spent all day covering lighting and post production. I had no secrets – we opened every image she wanted and I discussed in detail what I was thinking on set and I how I did the work in Photoshop afterwards. We talked about lighting modifiers, how they affect the light, and how to get more efficient use out of her gear.
We also enjoyed an Italian lunch at Mandola’s. I probably would have been there that day anyways because I like fresh mozzarella (being half-Italian and all).
Debbie showed up with images that she wanted to discuss, and she took great notes:
And I made use of a whiteboard to, well, “sketch” things:
It was a great time! I could see doing it again.
Start a personal project
Some photographers do a 365 project (where they take an image every day). Unless that idea is super-appealing to you, I’d instead look for a way you can merge photography with an interest you find fascinating. Perhaps you volunteer at the local animal shelter, or you are an expert on Ford Mustangs made before 1984. Whatever it is, build a personal project out of it. I recently started one of these based on a shoot from over a year ago. It’s more of an endurance event than a short period of focused work, and I’m looking forward to the end product!
Take a class
This could be something as simple as a short workshop, a dvd/video class, or even a conference. Specifically seek out one that covers something you don’t know. Don’t get caught only going to classes that you know your friends will be at (this is super-important at conferences.)
Trade for practice
Come up with an idea for a shoot, and trade that (for free if necessary) just to get the practice in doing it.
Read non-photo-specific things
It’s easy to collect a list of photo blogs in your rss reader to lean on for inspiration/etc. Try instead to read books about creativity and business that don’t specifically deal with photography. Some of my recent favorites include The War Of Art: Winning the Inner Creative Battle by Steven Pressfield and The Power of Full Engagement
by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz.
Inside-out learning (on a lens, modifier, etc)
Pick a lens, modifier, or light, and spend a weekend learning as much as you can about it. Some photographers recommend using that piece of gear exclusively until you know it inside and out.
Find a photo you love and spend the time to create an image exactly like it. Don’t worry about putting it in your gallery (since it’s a copy). The exercise of creating the image will be a great learning experience, and eventually you will take a small piece of that technique and merge it with your style.
Reach out to someone you admire
Social media tools like Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus have made people more accessible than ever. Find you someone you admire and reach out to them. You don’t need to send them a 5 paragraph email with a ton of questions. A quick “Hi – I really enjoy the work you’ve been doing!” can get the door open to future communication.
Force variation (at least 5)
Along the lines of inside-out learning mentioned above, try forcing variations on yourself. Shoot a subject the way you would normally, and then force yourself to get 5 different looks of the same subject. You could try different angles, lighting, nighttime vs daytime, lenses, etc. Getting into this practice is good for you, because it always comes in handy on jobs for paying clients.
If you haven’t rented gear before, it’s worth the effort. Most online rental houses have the process down when it comes to shipping you gear and making it easy for you to return it. With some sites you can get a special deal on weekend rentals (3 days for the price of 2, etc). And be sure to check out any local companies in your area that rent gear. I use a mix of online and local rental options, and I will always be renting certain types of gear vs. buying. I love Lensrentals.com online and Texas Grip locally.
Break from social media
This is the toughest one in this list, and I find myself struggling with it all the time. When I find myself spending too much time on social networking sites, I try to remember that there are plenty of incredible photographers who don’t have any interest in social media. Go try to find Dan Winters in some social network online, for example. Realize that great photographers get great ultimately by doing, not just by networking.
I hope some of these have been helpful. If there’s a technique that has helped you out recently, I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.
I recently finished putting together my portfolio book, and I’d like to share a little walkthrough of it.
The process of putting this together was longer than I had originally planned. It all started by going through images from the last few years and figuring out what worked. A lot of this process was with Natalie Ogura, who has a very strong background as a producer as well as a set stylist. I’ve brought her on for commercial shoots before and was excited to to work together again. We culled images for the website, and then I used those images as a starting point for the book.
When it comes to book printing you have a ton of options. While it would have been easy to go to the companies I’ve used before for weddings, the problem with those books is that they are permanent: no changing out pages without sending the books in (and paying a nice change fee.) Ultimately I decided to go with Lost Luggage. While they do high-end custom work for clients, they also produce a series of standard portfolio books that allow you to trade out pages easily. They had just the look I wanted.
I also had to make some decisions when it came to printing. Lost Luggage sells matte paper that is pre-drilled and works perfectly with their books. I did a test run with their paper, but in the end wasn’t happy. I felt that paper with a slight gloss would work better since my images had a more contemporary, commercial look to them. Lost Luggage didn’t sell any paper like that, so I went on a paper hunt.
I was immediately drawn to Hahnemuhle. I just loved how the prints looked with their paper! It had enough of a sheen but wasn’t glossy. My first round with that paper was Photo Rag Pearl. The paper was rated as 320 gsm (which is a measure of its thickness). That paper was incredible, but once I printed the book, I noticed that the paper was too thick. The book couldn’t lay flat, and became unwieldy. Fortunately, Hahnemuhle makes a version of the same paper at 285 gsm, and it was much better.
Here’s a video walkthrough of the book:
Regarding the video, creating it was pretty straight-forward. I put a 5d Mark 2 on a c-stand (held by a Manfrotto magic arm). The camera was running tethered to a laptop. On the laptop, I was using the Live View feature of Canon’s EOS Utility. This allowed me to watch it while recording to make sure the book was straight and the pacing was good. For lighting, I used a single ring flash behind the desk. Here’s a setup shot:
Overall, I am really happy with the book, and the response by those that have seen has been great!
In this post I’d like to break down how we did a shot last year for the band Meagan Tubb & Shady People. And, if you came here via a link in Matt Kloskowski’s new Photoshop compositing book, welcome!
We photographed this great band last fall in a park outside of Austin for their new album “Cast Your Shadow”. We took several individual and group shots throughout the day, and this composite was one of the last shots.
A lot of times, compositing work is about changing backgrounds and skies, or shooting pieces separately that you can’t shoot together for budgetary, time, or creative reasons. In this case, I used it to solve a simple problem. I wanted a group shot of the band, with each person lit nicely from their own light. So – how best to accomplish this? Here are a couple ways:
1. Set up 4 lights. This wouldn’t be a problem except for the fact that all of the lighting gear would be showing in the frame.
2. Move the 4 lights outside of the frame. This idea wouldn’t work either because I would lose the soft qualities of the light as I backed it further away from the subject. I wanted the softness of a light 3-5 feet away, not 15 feet away.
3. Build a composite in Photoshop. This is what I decided to do. It gave me the most flexibility and worked out great.
I discussed the idea with the band. We placed them into position so that they would have an idea what the final shot would be. I was shooting tethered into a laptop as well, which helped out a lot in making exposure and framing adjustments.Once we decided on how to move forward, here are the steps we took to create the image:
1. Use a tripod. This is critical. While some photographers will eyeball it, I try to keep everything in the same position. Even with a tripod, you can have movement in the frame due to wind, etc. Here’s a shot of the background:
2. With everyone in position, I pre-focused on a spot that was equal distance from all of them and then I turned the focus switch to Manual. This is important because you don’t want your camera hunting around to find something to focus on. You also want the focus to be ‘correct’ – meaning, you don’t want a person tack sharp if the tree they are standing next to is slightly outside the depth of field. So, find a good focus for the entire frame, and then set it and forget it (to use some late night informercial phrase).
3. For the lighting, my assistant Eric (hey, that’s a cool name) went from person to person, lighting them with the same softbox at about the same distance. This kept the lighting consistent throughout the scene. Here he is lighting Meagan, the singer, for the first frame:
4. We end up with 4 total frames. The first is Meagan, which is the base frame that all of the other people are layered into. I placed the shot with Meagan at the bottom of the layer stack in Photoshop, and then added each band member’s photo above. For each person, I masked their layer in Photoshop so that only they would show up:
The complexity of the foliage helps here. Because there’s so much detail in the image, I don’t have to have a perfect mask around each subject for it to work.
5. With the rough composite built, I start working on toning, using my Luminosity Mask action set to selectively darken and lighten different parts of the image.
6. I put a black and white layer on top of the whole image at 70% opacity, and then a hue/saturation adjustment layer on top of that, with the saturation at +22. Finally, I cropped it in a little bit to give it more of a pano feel:
Here’s how it looked in the cd insert:
Overall, this was a fun shoot that resulted in one of my favorite images. Have you done any Photoshop compositing work like this? If so, leave a note in the comments – I’d love to check it out.
If you are a photographer, you’ve probably had the idea of personal projects beaten into your head over and over again. I sure have. And since I love humor in photography, if I am going to take the time to do a personal/portfolio shoot, it’s definitely going to involve some laughing (in my head, at least).
Here’s some humor work that I’ve wrapped up recently. I was fortunate on these shoots to have an excellent team – Natalie Ogura, who produced as well as handled all set styling, and Matthew Johnson, who assisted and made sure my lights didn’t fall over and whack the models.
The location for the cat shoot was found via Home Away. It, like other vacation rental websites, is a great way to find a location that is unique to your town. For the treadmill shot, we located an Austin home which had the perfect wood-panelled wall. It was right in the middle of being renovated, so we literally had a window of a few hours before the wall was gone!