A Bad Day, A Beautiful Day

All Photos were taken by and are the property of Tamara Lackey/Beautiful Together

Yesterday was a bad day at work. I began the day with a plan that never materialized because “things” kept happening and “things” needed to be done. By midday, I had planned to stay late, and after everyone left, I would sit quietly and undisturbed to complete all the things I needed to complete. I hoped that with everything done, I could be off on Friday. I realized at 4PM that If I’m wolfing down lunch now because I’m being called to take care of problem after problem, it’s very doubtful that I will begin doing “my work” anytime soon. By 5 PM my brain was mush. Even if I had the physical energy, mentally I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t concentrate the way I needed to accurately document in patients’ charts, and write discharge summaries and consults the way I needed to.

A little after 5 PM I packed up my things and walked to my car with the intent to go home and…and do what?

I was too tired to write, to edit, to retouch photos or any of the things I’m currently involved in that require brain power. So, I thought, may be instead of going home, I’d go to an open mic show, now my semi-usual Thursday night event, or I’d listen to music at a nearby tapas bar. When I looked at my calendar, I realized I had forgotten that 8/17 was the date of Tamara Lackey’s gallery exhibit to support Beautiful Together.

That would mean having to hop the train to NY, and to be honest, I didn’t think I had the energy, but I also knew this was a rare event, and so, I drove out of the parking lot to Penn Station, Newark and took the Path train to 14th St. A former commuter, I knew the Union Square Ballroom was a 2-block walk from the station.

I’ve always believed there’s a reason why you are where you at a certain time much the way I believe people come into your life for a reason though that reason may not immediately clear. I was meant to be at the Union Square Ballroom last night. It’s not where I wanted to be: I think it’s where God wanted me to be.

Tamara Lackey is a photographer, educator, writer, and the owner of a successful business: take a look at her website http://www.tamaralackey.com. Her photos are beautiful.

Tamara travels to Ethiopia several times a year to work with the organization she co-founded, Beautiful Together (www.beautifultogether.org), to support orphanages that care for children who otherwise would be left without food or shelter or clothing.

I can’t put into words what Beautiful Together is any better than the description Tamara and her husband Steve have written. Please read their words and the significance of what they and others are doing.

These are all Tamara’s photos—and they are beautifully rich in texture and depth. I can’t see how anyone who attended this exhibit could not have been moved by the images of beautiful children smiling and laughing…smiling and laughing because they are children and cannot conceive the dire circumstances in which they live their lives and that without the life sustaining orphanages and workers who feed and care for them their circumstances would be far worse. Workers make less than $50.00 a month helping to care for countless children.

Other photos in the gallery depict children bewildered, sad, tearful, and yes, sick. There were too many stories of children who had died of conditions that are easily treatable if those children had access to some level of appropriate healthcare.

We think we understand poverty. Imagine members of a village opposing movement of a dumping site from their village because the mountain of garbage gives them the opportunity to search for still-edible food and to find objects that they can possibly sell.

I could go on but I think you have to see the photos to grasp the unbelievable situations and circumstances in which these children and adults live day after day after day; yet, there is hope. Hope that comes from people like Tamara and Steve Lackey and the individuals and businesses that help support their efforts.

I’m asking you to help. There is an online auction at http://www.biddingowl.com/beautifultogether

from now until Monday, August 21st at 11:59 PM. Items up for bid include 3-day photographer’s workshop with Tamara Lackey, gift certificate for Creative Live videos, discounted conference registration fees for photography WPPI and Photo Expo Plus and many other valuable items.

Of course, you can make direct donations to the organization as well.

I stated two of my beliefs above; here’s a third: when you give of yourself willingly, you are rewarded in abundance. That reward is not always tangible, but it comes back to you in some way. Last night I purchased 2 tickets at the exhibit for $20.00 and won a $200.00 Creative Live gift certificate (I never win anything!!!). Twenty dollars is a small donation equal to a little more than the cost of breakfast and lunch at work.

When I invite people to donate to a cause, I usually say, do so if you can. I don’t mean to offend, but if you’re reading this, you’re doing it on a device that cost you a pretty penny and likely the monthly fees to go along with it. I’m not asking for a donation of that size or even a reasonable fraction. I’m asking for a few dollars because a few dollars from a few people who care can make the difference in providing food, clothing, shelter, healthcare, and education to many. We are a nation of more than 300 million people. If a third of us gave $1.00 to Beautiful Together, they would have $100 million dollars. Right now, Beautiful Together’s goals is to build an Orphan Prevention Care Center: the goal is to raise $16,500. I believe that if you are reading this, and you read more at http://www.beautifultogether.org, and you share and pass this on to family, friends, and followers, this goal and many more of Beautiful Together’s goals will be accomplished.

I looked at Tamara’s powerful images last night and they spoke to me: I know why I was there. At a later time I will share with you why I believe I was meant to be at that exhibit and to speak with her.

Lastly, I began by telling you I had a bad day at work. I hope the next time this thought comes to mind, I remember the images I saw last night, and I hope when you think the same about your day, you go to http://www.beautifultogether.org and realize that even on your the worst day and in your most dire circumstances, you live your life in abundance of wealth and opportunity that a child somewhere in this world cannot even begin to imagine.

All photographs taken by and are the property of Tamara Lackey/Beautiful Together

How I got that shot!

Dark & Moody

Dark & Moody. Nikon D750; 24-70 mm f2.8 lens at 70 mm; 1/400 sec at f/2.8; ISO 100

I’m not writing about this photo because I think it’s a great shot. In fact, I pondered about putting on Instagram for quite a few days. Finally I did because as most creatives know, validation from others is not required, just what the photo means and the story it tells, if it actually tells one.

That aside, this post is about how difficult it can be to compose and light a subject, even one that seems simple. What rules do you follow? What rules do you break and why? How do you light the scene to make it look the way you picture it in your mind’s eye.

Composition

Simple, right? Three objects. Whatever is closest to the lens is in focus,: in this case the candle, specifically the flame reflecting softly into the orange pail and giving off enough light to show a little detail of the candle and melted wax. The flame also lights the petals of the peonies above it. The flame is small so the light softly falls off and the flowers and  pail fall into darkness. The flame also lights the right (camera right) edge of the white frame.

All 3 items are actually positioned behind each other-the candle, the pail of flowers, and the frame-although the flowers and frame are almost in the same plane. The frame, because it is furthest from the lens, falls out of focus. For a soft focus effect, aperture was set at f2.8.

Lighting

Speaking to a friend, I attempted to describe lighting this scene. She said, “You forget, I know something about photography. That little flame couldn’t light that scene.”

Camera right was a Youngnuo 560-IV speedlight with a Magsphere (Magmod sphere) to help diffuse the light. Camera left, a piece of white 2′ x 3′ foam core board positioned to bounce the light onto the pail. The speedlight was set at 1/128. There were no other sources of light in the room. When triggered, the light traveled above and across the scene, bounced off of the foam core, and onto the 3 objects in the scene. If you know lighting, you know that as dark as the photo appears, that little flame could not possibly light that much of the scene. In order to get just a hint of light the shutter speed was set to 1/400 sec.

Challenges

Still, the scene is not perfect. The reflection of the frame into the black marble is too strong as is the color of the wall behind that scene: that too should appear darker. I’m too embarrassed to say how many shots and how much time it took to get this scene to this point. On the plus side however, if I had to do it all over again, I now have a much better understanding of what it takes to produce a scene like this and how I should light it.

Story

Everyone sees a different story in a still life photo. In this photo, I see two. The first is of a time long before cameras and speedlights; something from a Jane Austen novel in which soft candlelight is the only source of illumination.

The other story is more compelling: an out of focus frame without a picture sitting next to a burning candle almost as though someone keeps a light burning for a loved one’s return.

What do you see?

 

Camera: Nikon D750

Lens: Nikon AF-S Nikkor24-70 mm F2.8G ED

Speedlight: Youngnuo YN 560-IV Speedlite & Younguo YN 560-TX Manual Flash Controller for Nikon 

Modifier: MagSphere

Modifier: Foam Core board-Available at Michael’s or almost any art supply store

 

 

Tips on Organizing and Carrying Camera Gear

All photographers have the same two problems: How to store their gear and how to carry it.

How much gear you need is another discussion. You may want to read this article about camera gear if you’re new to SLR or mirrorless photography. In this post I’ll share with you a few recommendations for storing and carrying gear and the methods that work best for me and may also work for you.

Gear Storage

I’ll start with storage. If you’ve been a photographer for any length of time, you know that it’s easy to collect a lot of gear: some big, some small, some heavy, and all of it taking up precious space in your home. When I started collecting camera gear, I stored it in a  glass and wooden cabinet underneath my TV. It was practical and everything was visible. Small items, filters, batteries, cords, etc., were stored in a box on one of the shelves while lenses, speed lights, and small modifiers were on their own shelf. This worked for a while but as the collection expanded and I began running out of room, I started storing some of my gear in a camera backpack. This was okay but it meant I had to look in 2 places for items I needed for a shoot.

When I upgraded to Nikon’s D750 I also purchased new lenses and some additional gear. I really didn’t want a third spot in my home dedicated to camera gear because I find it mentally taxing to have to search different spots to find what I need.

Once I’d had enough of multi-space storage I became a bit creative. While in the process of converting some of my living space to a photography studio, I decided that it made perfect sense to dedicate one huge drawer of my credenza to photography gear. Over a few hours I moved the contents of a drawer that held a lot of craft items and converted the drawer to camera gear storage. That drawer now holds all of my lenses, backdrops, different types and sizes of batteries, tether connectors, extra lens caps, cleaners, filters, MagMod gear speed lights, LED lights, etc.: everything in one place.

In order to decrease clutter, similar items such as USB connectors, lens caps, and cleaners, are all stored in clear plastic bags eliminating the need to search for items. Lenses are kept on one side of the drawer and are cushioned by dropcloths or cushion dividers. This has made my photography life so much easier.

TIP: Store your photography gear is one place and eliminate the headache and panic of trying to find the things you need for your shoots. Make a base station.

My Base Credenza Station

The top drawer of the credenza is my base station for gear and equipment storage.

Gear on the Move

The one-place-storage is a type of base station. Now we’re going to talk about being on the move.

If I’m photographing an event,  or doing on-site headshots, or anything else where settings and circumstances may vary, I load up my Think Tank Airstream carrying case. Short history: I use to carry my camera backpack and my tripod. Then, as shoots became more complex, I added a bag, and before getting the Airstream, another bag. Not only was this hard on my body, I imagine it looked very unprofessional.

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Think Tank Airstream with wheels and telescoping handle.

The Think Tank Airstream can hold 2 DSLR bodies and 3 or more lenses, speedlights, and smaller gear such as triggers, receivers, light meter, etc. There’s ample room for batteries and filters, and room for a laptop or an iPad. The Airstream is compact; maybe a little too compact. It may have been smarter to purchase the next size up but at the time of the purchase 1) I was in a bind with a next-day shoot and the next size up was not available at the store, 2) I really didn’t want to once again appear like the photo bag lady, and 3) the Airstream was on sale. It’s a very tight fit for all the gear I carry. If you plan on walking with a lot of gear for larger projects, I suggest giving serious consideration to the size of your carrying case.

The best thing about this case is that it’s on wheels and has a telescopic handle. 

TIP: Save your back and get an appropriate sized carrying case on wheels with a telescoping handle. If you travel for photography assignments be sure to get a size that meets the requirements for airline carry-on.

TIP: I first saw Think Tank cases at Photo Expo Plus. This is a great opportunity to meet with and speak to a rep in order to find the best case for your gear and for your work. There’s also the possibility that at such a big event discounts are available. While these items may seem pricey, I’ve found that they’re well worth the cost in convenience and reducing body stress.

I keep my Airstream case prepared with items I don’t need to remove such as AA and AAA batteries, business cards, a small foam core board, and an extra SD card. When I’m going on a shoot, I load up the case with the gear I’ll need–lenses, speed lights, small modifiers, etc.

TIP: A day or two before I go to a scheduled shoot, I do a complete set up at home. I mean complete just as if I was in the field, an office, a set, or a studio. This includes stands, backdrops, softboxes, and all modifiers I think I may need. Doing this ensures I have everything I need for the shoot and gives me time to get anything I may be missing.  It also allows me to start packing the gear once I start breaking things down.

Gear on the Move: Simple and Personal Projects

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Ruggard Outrigger 45 Backpack

For simple or personal projects, I carry the Ruggard Outrigger 45 Backpack and leave the Airstream case at home. Like the Think Tank, the backpack is loaded with a few items that are never removed; batteries, business cards, an extra SD card, etc. The Ruggard has many practical and convenient compartments. It can easily hold a DSLR,  a 70-200 mm lens along with other smaller lenses, speedlights, MagMod gear, etc. The thing to remember is that you’ll be carrying that gear on your back and although the weight is evenly distributed, a heavy backpack is still a strain on your back. Of course, once you remove the camera body and the lens you’ll be using the weight becomes significantly lighter.

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Ruggard Outrigger 45 Backpack

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Ruggard Outback 45 Backpack. Inside storage compartments.

TIP: When using your camera, reduce the pressure on your neck by using a shoulder strap instead of a neck strap. I use Black Rapid‘s R Strap for right handers. There’s one for left handers in addition to several other types and models of straps that reduce neck strain. These straps are convenient, ergonomically correct, and hold your camera securely. They’re well worth the investment.

Getting back to storage, I store large pieces of gear including light stands and reflector holders, the tripod, soft boxes, ring light, and reflectors in one closed and in as few bags as possible. A few months ago I purchased an LSB light stand bag from B and H. This bag can hold several light stands as well as other larger gear making travel and transfer of these items as easy as possible.

Final TIP: When you return from a shoot, paid or personal, put your gear away as soon as possible. One of the essentials to working as a photographer is being organized. Putting away your gear after a shoot or early the next day ensures that you keep your gear in the same place so that at a moment’s notice you’re able to put your hand on anything. An additional benefit is that you get to examine your gear and clean it if necessary. The worse time to learn that you have a piece of damaged equipment or have run out of something is when you’re pulling out gear for the next shoot.

5 Tips for Choosing Photography Instructors plus Mentors and Content Cost

 

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Matthew Jordan Smith and his subject at the Pennsylvania Hotel 5/24/17

If you’re looking to improve your photography, get yourself an instructor and a mentor. Actually, get 1 or 2 of each.

Finding Instructors

It’s easy to be bombarded by the hundreds if not thousands of YouTube videos on each and every aspect of photography and post-processing. You go looking for one thing and before you know it, you’ve spent hours looking at several videos on your chosen topic as well as a few others. As a matter of fact, you may have trouble remembering what you were looking for in the first place.

Here are some tips to streamline your photography and post-processing education.

1. Focus. Be as specific as possible when you’re searching out a topic on YouTube. For example, avoid searching for lighting. Instead, search for studio lighting, lighting in daylight or outdoor lighting, lighting at indoor events, lighting for sports, shooting in low light, shooting a concert, etc.

2. Once YouTube has given you a selection, watch a few seconds of several videos. Why? You want to watch and listen to someone whose tone, speed, and speech appeal to you. You don’t want to be 2 minutes into a video and realize the tone of the speaker is too flat to hold your attention. One problem I’ve noticed about videos and some live instructors is that they are so familiar with the material, they forget what it was like to be exposed to a new aspect of photography for the first time. For the learner, this can be very discouraging and lead to feeling inadequate. Don’t allow yourself to feel that way. Find someone to watch who appeals to you and teaches in a way that’s easy for you to learn.

3. Choose high quality videos. Choose videos that are well made with good lighting, and are easy to watch and easy to listen to. I’m not sure why some people think instructional videos without sound is a good idea. Same with videos with poor lighting, a lot of camera shake, or videos that are recorded from the back of a room making it difficult to see and hear the speaker.

4. Once you’ve decided on one or two good instructors, subscribe to their account or channel and choose to be notified when they post new videos. You may also want to look at videos posted a few months or years ago but take care and avoid instructional videos in which the technology no longer applies.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you can’t look at other instructional videos, but you should develop a reliable foundation of 1 or 2 consistent photography and post-processing instructors who have developed a dependable library of videos, and who teach in such a way that you can learn very easily.

5. Here’s a tip that most people don’t want to hear: Watch the video twice: The first time, watch and listen; the second time, follow along. When you’re new to something, you can’t watch the screen and do what’s on the screen at the same time (Think Lightroom and Photoshop). If the video isn’t that long, watch first then watch again and follow along.

If you’ve found a video that is particularly appealing or that you know you will need to watch repeatedly, use YouTube’s feature that allows you to watch later or add the video to a playlist. When I was new to Photoshop and Lightroom,  I learned a lot from Anthony Morganti’s Youtube channel. He has a slower pace that works well for beginners and he gives detailed instructions at a rate that’s easy to follow. He also has more than 600 videos on his channel. As I’ve advanced, I ‘ve added PHLEARN to my collection of go-to instructions for using Photoshop.

 

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Another great instructional resource that’s often overlooked are podcasts. Anthony Morganti’s podcast, Photography is My Passion is very popular.  The Improve Photography podcast provides a lot of instruction and information about all aspects of photography. Furthermore, there are a number of other podcasts under the Improve Photography umbrella including Portrait Session, Photo Taco, and Tripod, a podcast dedicated to outdoor and landscape photography. Improve Photography also has a Facebook page with additional information, instructions, and videos on many aspects of photography.

Finding Mentors

Mentors and instructors are not the same. An instructor teaches technique and skill. A mentor teaches you how to apply those techniques and skills effectively. According to Webster’s Dictionary, a mentor is a guide, a coach, and in some cases, a counselor.

In photography, a mentor is all of the above but also someone you follow because their style of work appeals to you on a deeper level. An instructor can teach the science of exposure-aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. A mentor will teach you the effects of exposure on the mood of the set, the subject, and on the viewer.

Choosing a mentor doesn’t mean copying that photographer’s style but somehow their work draws you in. Often you conclude that you want to be like that photographer in terms of the quality of work and to some degree, their success and their recognition as an artist.

Your mentor (s), like instructors, can be someone with whom you have actual one on one relationship such as a local photographer. Or, your mentor can be a well-recognized internationally known photographer.  At this level, many photographers tour and offer workshops in which attendees can participate, but far more ther own facebook-Posingan just showing their technique, these photographers share their life experiences and the journey that brought them to where they are today. More than this, they share their art moving beyond technique and skill. Even if you follow a mentor online, there’s a sense of connection on your end. Sue Bryce is a great example. Be it Creative Live, her website, or Sue Bryce Education, she offers far more than technique: she mentors photographers around the world and can be seen at live conferences such as Photo Expo Plus sponsored by Photo Plus Group. 

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A few days ago I attended a workshop by Matthew Jordan Smith. When people say they don’t know who he is, I say yes you do. You’ve seen his work. He’s photographed some of the most iconic celebrities of our time in addition to photographing global campaigns and spearheading projects of social significnce.  Mr. Smith’s workshop is classic mentorship. It goes far beyond technique and delivers an understanding of photography as an art beyond the science.

 

Cost

If you’ve read my other blog posts, you know I believe in being economically savvy when it comes to photography gear. Well I feel the same about instructors and mentors. YouTube offers free instruction so take advantage. This is a great way to start learning and remains a constant resource for intermediate photographers. If you can think of it, someone’s made a video and put in on YouTube. Whether it’s learning about speedlights, your camera, or accessories, it’s on YouTube.

When you’re ready to spend money for content, there are several choices. If you’re going to pay, make sure it’s worth the money. If there is an opportunity to watch a free lesson before purchasing, or a free trial, take advantage. Also, look at ratings and read reviews.  As I stated in another blog, good or bad, it means something when people take the time to write a review. Don’t assume that because a photographer is very popular, their videos are great. Every once in a while, even the great ones miss.

Some instructional videos such as Matt Kloskowski’s Photoshop System are downloadable for a one-time fee. Some instructional videos can be streamed and require monthly fees (KelbyOne, Lynda.com). Although PHLEARN has videos on various Photoshop topics on YouTube, you can download more substantial instructional content such as Photoshop Retouching tutorials for a one-time fee. Craftsy offers a wide selection of photography and post-processing contents with lifelong access.

You have to make the decision about what you can afford and the value of that purchase to your photography. If you decide to pay for content from more than one source on a monthly basis, explore similarities and differences to ensure that for the most part, you receive different content from each.

You should also exercise caution in attending workshops that may vary in price from less than $100 to well over $1000 and that’s before adding the expense of hotel and travel if the workshop isn’t local. Again, ask yourself what attending the conference will bring to your photography. If it’s a workshop by a mentor with the chance to work and speak one-on-one, its value may be priceless.

A few final points:

  1. Look for sales. Throughout the year, particularly around holidays and national or international photography conferences, content goes on sale for a few hours to a few days. It’s a great opportunity to purchase content at a discounted price especially of it’s content you’ve been eyeing. Creative Live sometimes has pop-up sales offering significantly discounted prices for a few hours.
  2. Don’t be afraid to email someone at a company or a provider and ask if there are any discounts available. All they can do is say no. I’ve found that content providers are willing to provide a discount to get their products on the hands of photographers.
  3. This is related to #2. If you are a student in a photography program,  be it certificate program or a degree program, or you are studying an art medium other than photography you may qualify for a discount. You will only need provide ID and documentation of enrollment.
  4. Creative Live often has 24 hr broadcasts of some of their content. This is a great way to get a preview or if you have the time, to watch a significant amount of content without having to pay.

Quality photography instructors can make the difference in how fast and how well we learn the skills and the science of photography. A mentor–personal, online, or by just following their work, can help us become the artists we aspire to be. I hope you have mentor. If not, find a photographer who speaks to you and your art, and listen and learn.

 

 

 

How I Got That Shot!

Practicing photography everyday or as much as possible is essential to becoming a good photographer. Sometimes that means trying to duplicate some part of a magazine shoot, Youtube or paid-for video. Most of the time however, just photographing items around your home in different light settings or with different modifiers is a simple easy way to practice. When you practice you actually become more adept at figuring out settings and you become more familiar with your camera. Practice enough and your camera becomes an extension you. A photography instructor once told me, you should know your camera so well, you should be able to change the settings appropriately even if your eye is in the viewfinder. In other words, change the settings blindly.

I recently purchased a bouquet of tulips, my favorite flower, for the sole purpose of practicing. I cut the stems down and placed the flowers in a vase; however the neck of the vase was too narrow to accommodate all the stems. As I forced the stems through the neck of the vase one stem just couldn’t make it through and ended up sticking out to the side. Every fault can be a fashion and this solitary stem (camera right) added something to the composition.

My goal was to photograph the bouquet from above looking down at the petals, stamen, and pistils of the flowers, with the sepal and leaves of each flower blurred into the background. I first tried this on a table but that meant holding the camera above my head and focusing blindly. Even though I could view the scene via the LCD, it wasn’t the best situation. I couldn’t maintain steady hands holding the camera above my head.

I moved the vase onto my kitchen floor. Perfect. I stood over the vase and shot downward. The stone texture of the kitchen tiles complimented the flowers nicely.

In Lightroom, I cropped the photo slightly to fill the frame with flowers edge to edge. I increased shadows to maximize details and then I desaturated the photo a little because the floor tiles have a reddish/pinkish tint that seems to compete with the petals.  I then increased the yellow saturation to enhance the most visible stigma (center). I also increased the purple and magenta saturation slightly to compensate for the global desaturation. This also added a nice detail to the stamen visible in many of the flowers.

In Photoshop, I created a more fluid background by using the clone stamp to remove the grout that separated the tiles.

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Specifics: Nikon D750, Nikon 50mm 1.8, f 5.6, 1/200 sec.. ISO 640

Problems: Ideally, I would have liked to have greater consistency across the background. Along the stem of the solitary tulip you can see the highlight caused by the ceiling light reflecting onto the floor. I could have and should have taken that light off since bouncing the flash/speedlight off of the ceiling at a higher power would have provided sufficient light. This would have made for better consistency as the background goes from a darker (camera left) to a more highlighted area (camera right).

Tulips

Old Album effect

All things considered, this was actually one of my faster times for post processing. I’d like to say it was because of good planning, but with such natural beauty, there was little to do on my part.

 

Flash Fear and How I Got That Shot

Why Do I Need Flash?

Flash is essential to capturing great images in low light and even broad daylight. The beauty of flowers makes almost everyone with a camera want to shoot a photo. Easy enough, right? Point and shoot. Then you look at your photo and it doesn’t quite capture what your eyes see. This happens quite a bit but the difference is more pronounced when you photograph flowers or anything indoors. Last evening I purchased a bouquet of colorful roses and placed them on a table. Because I had been experimenting with recently purchased gear, I took advantage of the equipment and the flowers. I’ll tell you what I used for both the over-done mega production and the plain and simple method.

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Bouquet of roses shot in manual with a silver-lined parabolic umbrella and 3 Yongnuo 560-IV on a 3-bracket holder. Light source camera right. Nikon 85 mm 1.8 shot at f4.5, ISO 100, 1/125 sec.

My Gear

I started with my Nikon D750 and Nikon 85mm prime lense and a Westcott 7 feet parabolic silver-lined umbrella that I had been trying out for an upcoming group photo shoot. I attached the Wescott tri-flash bracket and began shooting with the umbrella positioned in different angles. I then switched to my Nikon 105mm Macro lens. Shooting in manual, I played with setting including varied apertures between 5.6 and 13. My ISO was set at 100 throughout. Shutter speed varied between 125 to 160, and later 250. The flashes, 3 Yongnuo 560-IV were set at the same power. The flash power varied throughout, but the better shots were taken with the flashes at 1/32 (The speedlights were on the same channel but in different groups producing a very strong burst of light. In retrospect I should have placed all three in the same group). The angle head of the flashes varied to change direction of the flash as it reflected off of the silver lining of the umbrella. No diffuser was used. As I continued to play with equipment, I added in my Nikon SB-800 speedlight (no longer manufactured) as a slave for fill flash to light the stems of the flowers that were above the rim of the vase. This overkill was fun and I was glad I had taken the time to experiment.

Less Gear Better Results

I began breaking down the equipment but then I thought it would be good idea to use some additional modifiers. I placed one Yongnuo 560-IV on a light stand and added a Magmod magsphere and later the magbounce. The magsphere produced the best photos. I took most of these with the following settings: f13, ISO 100, 1/250. Talk about a simple set up. The result can be seen here. Multicolor Rose Bouquet shot at Night with Flash

Yes, I exceeded the sync speed when I changed the shutter speed to 1/250. This speed produced a black bar from the camera curtain at the bottom of the photo that I’ve since cropped out.

Final Result

The overall lesson for this shot: Simple is sometimes-and usually-the best.

KISP (Keep It Simple Photographer)

I learned a lot about my new equipment-the parabolic umbrella, the tri-flash holder, using multiple speedlights in one modifier, and using a slave, etc. But, if my only interest was in photographing the bouquet of roses,  the simplest method of one off-camera flash with a modifier would have been enough.

I started playing with this set up at 7 PM or a little later. I would not have been able to do this shoot with the ambient light in my living room.  I did over do it with the try-flash, but flash is essential to producing quality images under any conditions including broad daylight if you don’t want overbearing shadows of dark circles under your subject’s eyes.

If you have fear of flash as I did for many years, get over it and just dive in. It’s worth it. There’s no other  way to capture the beauty of a bouquet of roses at night.

Can We Have “The Talk” About Camera Gear?

You know. That talk that we don’t want to have if we’re dabbling in photography. The gear talk.

Photography gear is like opening a bag of chips: There’s a good chance you’re going to lose control.

But, like the bag of chips, you can alway learn to rein it in and regain some control.

Here’s the deal: When you own a point and shoot camera, that’s pretty much all you need; however, once you dip your photographer’s little toe in the DSLR ocean, you’ve probably opened a steady stream in to your wallet. Why? Well on the way to improving our photos, we want more control. We want to reduce camera shake so we get a tripod. If we want to reduce shake even more, we get triggers. Then we want to control light so we start with speed lights (when we didn’t know anything about photography, we called them flash). When we dive in a little more, we find we need another speed light. To gain more control over light, we start buying modifiers of different sizes, shapes, and forms. If you buy almost any modifier, you also need a stand and a bracket. For your smaller gear-speed lights, triggers, extra batteries for flash, extra batteries for your camera, you need a camera bag. I guarantee that whatever camera bag you purchase, you won’t have it in a few years or if you do, it will be hidden away somewhere. Why? Because the amount of gear you’ll have after a year or two will require you to purchase a bigger bag. You’ll need room to accommodate your gels, smaller light modifiers, straps, your camera battery pack, and on and on. That’s just the small portable stuff. Oh, by the way, that first tripod, you’re probably going to upgrade for something that holds the weight of your camera much better or perhaps you’ve moved up the camera line in whatever Canon, Nikon, Sony, Panasonic or Olympus brand you patronize.

Should I even talk about lenses?

Nikon D750

Nikon D750

Two years ago I attended a lecture given by a well-known photographer. This person’s photos were absolutely amazing and, like many, part of the reason for attending the lecture was to learn how to produce such rich and detailed photos. Well, it turned out that the conference was sponsored by Profoto. Once, I understood that, it was clear why the photos looked so amazing. Of course, the photographer was very talented but when lights that cost $2000-$4000 each are added to the landscape, the photos are even more striking. Most of us walked out of the lecture disappointed because while I can’t say we were given a sales pitch, I can say it felt like a Profoto class.

How many people purchased those strobes because of the lecture? I would guess not many, but I would also guess there must have been at least 1 or 2 who did. For Profoto, that’s a few thousand dollars. For the consumer, if he or she will use those strobes in their business and increase sales, it’s a good investment, but that doesn’t work for most us early on in our photography careers.

At the end of last summer, I attended a 2-day photography course. The second day focused on starting your own business including a discussion on gear. Those Profoto strobes came up again and yes, there are people who purchased them.

Photography is a business on many levels. Most don’t talk about it, but one aspect of the business is selling gear to those striving for better photos. Pros don’t have to verbally endorse a product. When a well-known photographer tells an audience that he or she used XXXX brand, there’ll be a spike in sales of that product. It’s a business.

Buyer Beware!

If you’re new to photography and you plan on moving beyond the point and shoot camera, beware!

Tips:

  • Avoid spontaneous purchases when you attend a lecture in a store. It’s much too easy to run out after the lecture and purchase an item you just heard wonders about. The same applies to those big conferences. The companies that sponsor most of the photographers who appear and speak at conferences are usually in the exhibit center with lots of stock on-hand waiting for spontaneous compulsive buyers.
    • When does it make sense to make a purchase at a conference? IF the item you’ve been interested in is significantly discounted.
  • Research. Read independent reviews and consumer ratings and arrive at  your own conclusions on items you think you need. Don’t just look at the stars; read what other consumers had to say about the item you’re interested in. Why? Because it means something when people take the time to praise of complain about a purchase.
  • Purchase what you need which may cost less than the newest, up-to-date version of the product. You want to use a light meter? Sekonic has light meters ranging from $200-$700. If you don’t need all the bells and whistles save yourself some money and get what you need for the work that you do and for the photographs you take.
  • Try used. I too had an aversion to used products, but, purchased from the right company or individuals with outstanding reputations, you can purchase high-quality products at tremendously discounted prices. I’ve purchased used lenses from B and H and could not believe the quality. They were like new though they were rated at 8. At B and H, the Used Department rates items’ conditions from 6-10, and as out of box (OB), never used (N), never owned and used only for demonstration purposes (D), and again, refurbished to manufacturers’ specifications (R)
    • Most of us are wary of used products. We assume that they’ve been returned because of a problem. This is not alway true. There’s a segment of the population that easily and frequently upgrades gear. Take advantage.
  • Try refurbished. This not only applies to camera gear but to other electronics including computers and laptops. According to electronic guru Dave Pogh, refurbished electronics is an underutilized resource especially when products are refurbished by the manufacturer. Think Apple, Nikon, Canon, etc. Pogh recently pointed out in an interview that refurbished products have to meet the manufacturers’ standards and usually carry the original warranty on the product. Refurbished products offer huge savings compared to the original cost of the same new item.
    Yongnou 560 IV Speedlight

    Yongnou 560 IV Speedlight

  • Try 3rd Party: I own a Nikon SB-800 speed light with through the lens (TTL) capability. I can’t tell you how old it is except to say that I purchased it after my D-300 camera and the speed light was very expensive. If you know Nikon, you get the point: it’s old. It’s also very powerful. When I decided to purchase additional speed lights earlier this year, I knew I wouldn’t purchase brand name speed lights again. Instead, I took to reviews and found that many pros and semi-pros who use speed lights are perfectly happy using the Yongnuo brand, in particular, the Yongnuo 560 IV speed light that’s controlled by the Yonguo transmitter (Approximately $30.00). Each speed light costs between $65-$70 and runs on AA batteries.
    Transmitter, triggers, light meter

    Transmitter, triggers, light meter

  • Rent: Renting equipment is the sensible way to go under the right circumstances. Birding, horse racing, car racing or any occasion that requires a specialty lens that you won’t use regularly gives you a great excuse for renting vs. buying. Another benefit of renting is using new gear and equipment, and familiarizing yourself with them prior to a purchase. I rented a 50 mm f1.8 lense years ago and fell in love with it. I knew that I would purchase one eventually but I didn’t “need” to at that time. Two years ago I purchased a relatively inexpensive 50mm f1.8 that I use for everyday outdoor shooting. In between my rental and purchase, the price dropped significantly.
    • You can also rent a lot of other types of gear including strobes.
    • If you’re going to use the gear frequently, calculate the cost of renting vs. buying. Remember, if you’re buying online, you may have to pay shipping costs so include that in your cost calculation. If you find you’re renting frequently, it may be more sensible to buy (refurbished or gently used).
    • A few online lens and gear rental companies include:
    • There are numerous other sites for lens and gear rental. It’s also a good idea to rent locally if there is a photo shop close to you. You get personalized attention and can build a relationship with a local pro. Remember, online or local, read the rental agreement carefully before signing the terms of the rental agreement.

Remember, the essential items of a photographer are the camera and good quality  lenses or glass. If you’re going to spend money, that’s where the money should go, but even for these purchases exercise caution. Get what you need with a little room for growth but don’t go for bells and whistles that you don’t need. A consideration when it comes to lenses is the use on non-propriety lenses such as Sigma or Tamron. Again, read reviews. Among many pros, the quality of these brands are considered equal, and in some instances, superior to name brand lenses.

When I decided to upgrade my camera from the Nikon D300 (Okay, I admit to keeping that a bit too long.) there was much to choose from in the Nikon line. I did my research and decided on the D750, voted camera of the year in 2014. The D-800 and D-810  had already been out. The D-810, the Ferrari of the semi-pro consumer line, is magnificent, but I really don’t need another 10-plus megapixels. There are also features in my D-750 that were not included in the 810 model. I saved $1700 by researching and figuring out the best camera to give me superior photos and to meet my needs. That extra money went to purchasing 2 used/refurbished lenses, a Black Rapid strap (save your neck…please), and a couple of Yongnuo speed lights. The rest stayed in my pocket. A friend of mine upgrades his Nikon with every new camera in the semi-pro line. For all of the features he uses, he could probably downgrade and he’d be safe. Buy what you need with a little room for exploration and growth. Unless your printing huge prints, I’m not sure what people do with 50 megapixel cameras.

Summary

Be a smart camera consumers and photographer. Research. Compare prices: Amazon, eBay, big and small camera stores. Buy wisely.  Remember, photography is a business, and your love of this art makes you a potential consumer for many tools-gear, videos, sign-up programs, classes, workshops, conferences, etc. Be smart and choose wisely. When you choose, use what you purchase and get your money’s worth. If you pay for workshops or conferences, use what you’ve learned. Get your money’s worth. If you want better gear, trade up or sell your old equipment.

I love gear too but what I love even more is when I see the benefits of purchasing that gear in my final image.

Photographically yours,

Maria B.

 

Love Those Photos

I love looking at them and I love making them. I’m not addicted to Instagram but I am in awe of the images created by people around the world. Images the land in my feed that keep me coming back. I look when I wake up in the morning, after I take a shower, before I leave my home, before I get out of the car, and I look throughout the day. Instagram shows us a world different from our perspective on beauty, landscape, pain, suffering, love.

A photograph tells a story with an image. How fortunate are we to be able to share our stories, our world, so easily.

I’m Maria B., a headshot photographer.  I’ve always been a photo junkie of sorts. As a teenager I was drawn to the images in fashion magazines for more than fashion. The sense of “How did they do that” was the draw because as we all know, no one looks as good in real life as the models, actresses, and celebrities in magazines. Beyond fashion, the editorial pages also drew me in because these pages took creativity to another level. You couldn’t describe those photos with such a simple overused word as pretty.

I can’t give you details about my photographic journey except to say that it started decades ago. My father had a Kodak Instamatic camera. When I had saved up a little money I bought a Nikon film camera. With the coming of digital I bought a little Olympus Camedia with 6 megapixels. I took it with me to Disney World and attempted to shoot nighttime fireworks at Epcot:an epic fail. A friend who was deep into photography told me if I wanted to take photos like that, I needed a real digital camera. Hello Nikon D300! Then top of the line semi-pro, serious hobbyist camera. I was still new to photography with little understanding of the exposure triangle. And let’s not talk about flash despite the fact I owned what was then Nikon’s top of the line flash, the SB-800. Great camera the D-300, but if you weren’t well-versed in flash, that camera had no business coming out of the bag after 5 PM. Despite this, I got serious about photography. Much of my education came from experimenting and practicing, and practicing, and practicing.

I started doing small exhibits at work annually. People would call me to tell me how much they liked my work, but I knew I could do better. I started taking classes, reading more about lighting, exposure, and other facets of photography. Once Apple did away with Aperture, it’s photo editing program, I was forced to learn Lightroom. Thank you Apple. Still squirming from prior bad Photoshop experiences, I refused to use the program.

Not too long ago, I decided to ditch the D-300 (Not really. I still have it because it is a great camera). I now have a D-750. In the months prior to that purchase A professional photographer told me that once I bought the 750 it would change the way I see potential images. When the camera arrived and I starting taking photos around my home, I couldn’t believe my eyes.

You can’t own a camera like that and not enjoy its full potential. I revved up my classes, workshop, and conference attendance, and I began following the big time pros: Joe McNally, Sue Bryce, Lindsay Adler, Dixie Dixon, and more. And I started photographing people. 

For most of my photography life, I shot nature: flowers, sunsets, foliage, etc. I didn’t like photographing people maybe because I was shy. Well that’s behind me. I enjoy the interaction with models and clients. I regret what I missed for so many years but nothing happens before it’s time.

20160820-_dsc4333

I guess you can say the same about this blog and the place in life I now find myself: I’m about to complete a photography and retouching certification program from Pace University and a second photography certification from New York Institute of Photography, and I’m a month away from officially launching my photography business (So much work but I’m loving it).

I wake up in the morning thinking, in my world, I’d pack up my gear and go take some photos. My home looks like a photo studio. Hmmm! There’s a thought. 

This blog is part of making my dream into reality. Of course, in this blog I’ll be talking about photography, but you may also “hear” me talk about some other topic. You’re welcome to join the conversation and share your thoughts. Thank you for reading and thank you for your time.

Photographically yours,
Maria B.