Friday, December 25, 2009

New Logo

This is the new version of my logo. I started my photography business years ago, specializing in event photography. I got caught doing too many weddings (which was never my passion). I have shifted my focus and specialties to portraits of children and families. Let me know what you think, and if you need a portrait photographer, please email me:

Monday, December 14, 2009

Child Christmas Portrait on a Budget

Portraits at a mall studio are cheap. You can sign up for a yearly package and spend next to nothing (I'm told). And the results are "OK", but as you know, I HATE studio portraits. Living in northern, NJ I will allow them at only one time of the year. Christmas.

So my friend takes her son to one of those studios and has new portraits hanging up every month. They do a nice job but she was not satisfied with his Christmas shot. After bribing me with compliments and a free meal, I stopped by and got this shot for her. It was a very simple setup. They had just gotten their tree (not yet decorated) and propped in up in a corner near a window. Perfect! I set up my TTL flash, camera left, as my key light and used the window (that had a diffused shade) as my fill light on camera right. I liked the outcome and spent only 7 minutes in Photoshop Elements. Adjusted color and saturation, and burned the edges. In addition, I burned just the shadows in the tree. Send it to Walmart, they print it up on their Christmas card paper and you are good to go.
Fast. Cheap. The comfort of home for a 2 year old?  ....Priceless!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Step it Up

I loved this photo as soon as I saw it. The lighting was great, the coloration perfect and the smile; simple and uncoaxed. I did, however, think I could tweak it up a notch in Photoshop Elements, and that is exactly what I did.

I played with the contrast and saturation as well as the exposure.  Since she was in a stroller and I wanted to downplay that, I burned the edges. It helped to make her face standout and gave it almost a "snoot" flash effect. Hey, it's good enough for a website or fireplace mantel, and in essence it was a quick "snapshot" with my Rebel.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Colorful Standouts

Continuing on with some Photoshop ideas.....I often see the below effect done in wedding photography. The photographer highlights the bridal bouquet by keeping it in color and making the rest of the photo black and white.

 I was at a car show and saw this sideview mirror that captured the reflection of an American flag. When I converted the picture to B&W and kept the flag in color, it really popped. It is very easy to do in Photoshop. This took me less than 5 minutes. I also darkened the window in the background in order to highlight the chrome mirror.
Below is another twist in which you can use a "color standout" for more drama.
The impressive handmade cake pops in color and the emotion expressed in the girl is amplified in B&W. The result is win-win. You can do this in your portrait photos by converting photos to B&W and keeping colors in eyes, toys, flowers, etc. In the fall you can keep apples red or pumpkins orange. During the winter, you can keep a sled red or a Christmas tree green. I suggest keeping it in mind when you are photographing and an object just jumps out at you. One of my plans, for example, is to get a photo of my daughter in her Radio Flyer Wagon and keeping only the wagon red.

Want a last idea? Practice a close-up on a favorite ornament (maybe baby's first x-mas?) and keep only the (colorful!) ornament in color and convert the background tree to B&W.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Dodge and Burn your Way to Better Photos

I don't believe very strongly in Photoshop for two reasons. The first reason is that the full version is well over $500 and the second reason is that most "Photoshoped" pictures reek of, well, Photoshopedness. (It's a word; trust me.) The two part solution? Buy Photoshop Elements and use it at the right times.

The picture above was Photoshoped.  I slightly darked the exposure and dodged the shadows (made the shadows darker). I also burned the highlights (making them lighter). I believe this helped make a flat photograph look a little more exciting. I would rather frame the one on the left than the original on the right. This means you can improve a rather ordinary photograph in just a few minutes. You can click on the images above for a larger view.
About the price. Photoshop is expensive, but Photoshop Elements, is a stripped down version of the software that you can purchase for less than $100. I used Elements on the above - in fact I don't own the full version.  I will post a few more Photoshop articles in the next 2 months because some people may wish to add Elements to their Christmas list. And the other reason is well, I don't take as many photos in the winter, so a good time to talk about equipment and post work.

And if you don't want to spend the money on Photoshop, AT LEAST get the free Google photo editing software called Picasa. You can crop, clear blemishes, color correct etc. I use it often for a "quick fix" with very good results. You can hit up Youtube for some great tutorials on digital editing.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Directional Lighting

Off Camera Flash: Part One of Many

One thing that I tell people getting into photography is - get out there and shoot different things. In order to expand your skills you need to push yourself; that includes getting past your comfort zone. I recently followed my own advice and photographed a friend's band practice. I never did anything like it before and asked permission, just for my own growth. I hadn't seen them practice and knew nothing ahead of time other than it was in a studio a few towns away. With the band's blessing I packed up my gear and headed out one cold October night.

By now you at least know that I have limited lighting equipment so when I walked into this tiny, DARK room I almost panicked. Thank god, I thought to myself, this was not a paying client. The room was small and filled wall to wall with at least 5 guys, plus me, equipment, wires, speakers, stands, amps, et al. The walls were a dark blue hard carpet and there were 2 pathetic fluorescent light bulbs offering just enough light to see who you were talking to. I guess I should have been thankful they weren't blinking!

I knew ahead of time that I was shooting in black and white. It was the vision I had in my mind. Seeing the poor lighting first hand removed any doubt. There was no way these shots would have had half a chance in color. The tonal qualities and "noise" would have been, well, not good. Black and white can be a great healer in poor light (just another free tip from OP).

A true professional taking "real" shots (for a cd cover or promo materials) would have set up multiple light stands and assorted lighting gear. My target audience clearly doesn't own that - but I really don't either, so I went with Plan 'B'. In all the shots, I used a cable for my Speedlite flash. This took the flash away from the camera and gave that directional lighting

In the picture just above you can tell that the light is coming from the right of the camera (I was holding it in my hand). This allowed lighting other than dreadful head-on. It also casts a nice shadow on the left of his face and under-exposed the background helping it fade away. As a side note- if this had been a "pro" shot of mine, I would have removed the white board, but since I was just playing I left it. I also liked the fact that there were all the band members' names clearly visible.

To get the shadows and underexpose the background, I shot ALL the pictures on Manual. This way I could control all the exposures. It isn't difficult, I played around until I found the recipe I liked. It helps when you have a cheat screen right on the back of the camera! I was lucky; the carpeted walls I loathed when I walked in really helped suck in the light and gave great dark backgrounds.

Before I end this post I want to explain why I hate head-on (on the camera flash). Simple: it looks awful. Photos are all about lighting. It is the key element. No light, no photo. So following that logic a little further...
 > no light = no photo
 > bad light = bad photo
 > decent light = decent photo
 > amazing light = amazing photo (OK, I know it is not that simple, but you get the idea)

In the simplest terms, the further the flash is from the lens, the better the lighting will look. That is precisely why wedding photographers have those brackets that get the flashes up higher and thus further away from the lens. In the photo at right, I have the flashed stretched on the cable as far away from the camera as it would go. Look at the shadow behind his head, you can see that it lands at a 90 degree angle from the camera and the effect is pretty cool, right? If you compared it to an on the camera flash there would be stark differences. For one, it would be far less dramatic. Second, he would have appeared very flat. In the future I will take some comparative pictures that I know will speak for themselves and better illustrate my point. If you are serious about improving the quality of your photos, you need to invest in a flash and (at least) a cable. The holidays are coming up. You can buy, or receive, a decent pivoting-head flash for under $200.

So I hope these photos help demonstrate what a single, directional light source can do to improve your photos. For a band I thought the effect was perfect. Dramatic, contrasty, a little edgy. Leave some comments and let me know what you think.

In any post that I use pictures, I will end with details on what I have done with them, post process.

POST: None were posed, all were candid. Slight underexposure and enhanced contrast.
PS - Thanks Joe!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Fine Arts

There are a few elements I use to get artsy shots.  I wanted to share a few of those tips so you can make some ordinary shots a little more....interesting.

The first thing you can do is choose to go black and white.  There is something about black and white shots that often strikes up more of an emotional response. I don't always use it but the beauty of digital is that you can always shoot it in color and see what it looks like in B&W when post processing. You couldn't do that with film.  Most film photographers would carry around 2 bodies, one with color film and one with B&W. They would just switch the lenses back and forth. Seems like so long ago now....

Click below to read about the other elements.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Child's Play

Or at least photograph your kid playing in it

If you are anything like me you occasionally stumble across a good idea, simple in its design, and think: why didn't I think of that?!  A few years ago this happened to me. I was getting into portraiture and kept over-thinking the set up to my shots. Where could I bring this person? Is there cool graffiti nearby? Is that park down the street still open??

I found a trick that anyone can use that renders candid portraits (my favorite), natural lighting, a fun time photographing, interesting elements and a relaxed subject/victim.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Natural AND Flattering....And All You Need To Do Is Lie

My mother is one of the most difficult people to photograph. She hates having her picture taken and it shows when you force her to smile for the camera. Well I was thrilled that this one turned out. And how did I get it? Easy, I lied.

You see, when you are an amateur you have some built-in excuses. People expect you to fumble around and take time to "get things right". Do you know how many killer shots I have gotten by saying "Just hang on, I'm getting some light readings, don't worry, we're not starting yet". YEAH RIGHT! I scored this one by telling my mother that I was just refocusing and not actually taking a picture. HA.

I am not suggesting that you need to lie to be a good photographer, but whenever you can disarm your subject, you get a much more relaxed and natural look. Try some techniques of your own to get those candid portraits. We all have the Uncle Marty that smiles at the camera like a dope every time you go to a family function. Try to get a picture without them knowing. Candid portraits (or at least not "posed" portraits) are almost always my favorites.

This all goes to the importance of having a comfortable relationship with your subject. Even if you met them the day you shoot them, talk to them for a few minutes before the camera even comes out. Tell them briefly what you'll be doing and that it is EASY and will be FUN. That alone goes a long way.

I remember my first paying client. I had no idea what I got myself into and she had never been part of an on-location photo shoot. Not only was it my first paying client, I knew it would be published on a magazine cover. First thing I knew I had to do: lie. If I was nervous and she was nervous (because I was nervous) it would have been a disaster. As it turned out we started off by just chatting. And when we started shooting I told her things like, "Stand here, this will look great!" Half the shots weren't great. But it didn't matter. She was having a good time and was relaxed. It was all I could ask for. That assignment taught me so much about getting your subject to be at ease. You should have fun and so should they. If that isn't happening in your shoot, you are doing something wrong. You're an amateur, you aren't getting paid so you better at least have fun.

The shoot, by the way, was a success. I'll post the pictures in a future post.

>> On the photo above I converted from color to B&W and increased contrast. I hate OVER-post processing, so I do the bare minimum....hmmm sounds like a future post.

Sun Worshiping

If you asked me what my favorite light source was when I started in photography 15 years ago, I'd immediately say the sun. If you asked me today, with over a decade more experience, I'd still say the sun. It is very pleasing for skin tones, it's large and even, it's often available when you're outside, and it's free! It is almost perfect. Almost.


So remember 30 seconds ago when you read that I love the sun? Well I do, but I rarely, if ever, use it directly. Especially for portraits. It falls under the theory of "too much of a good thing". It is often too harsh and the shadows it casts on the other side of the face are just not pleasant (and hard to get rid of in post-processing. So how do you get the best of the sun, without the negatives? Move into the shade. Not too far in, just a few feet. The shade of trees, a house, a building, whatever is around. In the photo world this is called open shade.

One of the biggest reasons to be in open shade is so you can use a bounce to fill in any shadows. That is because the bounce can be placed in the direct sun. In the photo above, we used a bounce card, held in direct sunlight just below and to the left of the subjects. This way all the lighting CAN be from the sun, just from different angles and diffused. It provides good balance to the lighting and a soft natural effect. I actually didn't use any fill flash for this shot.

Bounces can be purchased online in multiple sizes designs and colors. Bounces are typically white, silver and/or gold. There are reasons for this and you should search Google for the reasons why (I don't want to waste the time doing so here, but it is important to know - bouncing is the Holy Grail of photography lighting).

Though I own one, I also made a mini one for my Speedlite flash. In a big room with a tall ceiling, it is priceless. If you are interested, there are plenty of Youtube videos and Google posts that show you how to make ones of different shapes and sizes. If you want to play with the idea of using a bounce, buy a large piece of foam board from the craft store and go crazy.

One last tip for shooting in the sun: Never shoot mid-day. Shoot within the first two hours of sunrise or wait until late afternoon, within a few hours of sunset. The color cast of the light is warmer - more yellow/orange. It is great for skin tones. And never forget that some overcast days can offer good lighting too. No shadows to deal with! Try taking some portraits outside on sunny days, overcast days, early morning, mid-afternoon (eek!). See what you can learn from your own experience.

What's Your Point of View?

Point of view (POV) is one of the most important aspects of setting up every shot. You need to start with that and you can build all other aspects up from there. Choose your POV (sometimes called perspective) and then worry about shutter, aperture, lighting etc.
In this shot, the subject was sitting at a table and I jumped up on a chair with flash in hand, close to the ceiling and bounced. I obviously used a very small DOF - I think 1.8. It was a one shot deal. I was never going to recreate that natural expression; which of course was her not being amused. If that shot didn't work, I would have hopped off the chair and taken a different approach. As luck would have it, it worked! The only post editing I did was slight color correction and cropped it smaller.

This shot is only as interesting as it is because of the POV. Try your shots by looking up at people, down at people. Shot them head on. Try a profile. It will add interest and often times drama to your portraits (and other shots of course). The more you practice, the happier you will be with your results.

"Professional" POV Tips: These are only jumping off points.
1. For adults, try shooting just slightly above your subject's eye level looking down. It is typically a flattering angle.
2. For shorter subjects (shorter than you) try getting down lower, perhaps looking slightly up at them. You don't want your shots to be tops of heads.
3. For kids, get LOWER. Shooting at their level or looking up at them will dramatically improve your child shots. Look at the shot below. This child is at my level and it is a very pleasing point of view. I got down on one knee. The person taking a picture behind me (a family member of all people) stood. Yes, stood and looked down. Without showing their results, just guess which one came out better.
The next time you can use a child as a model, try capturing a few shots looking up at them. Have them stand on a rock or jungle gym and put the sky behind them on a crisp Fall day. If done well the results can look very amazing. And why? We aren't used to seeing children at that angle. And that creates the interest and the drama.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Look Mom, No Shadows!

So I love DIY projects. I have created soft boxes and have fun using them to add soft lighting for portraits and objects. For the picture below, I used one of my favorite tricks but it does require using a couple of friends.

I put a 5 ft cord on my flash and had my wife hold it up on camera left at 45 degrees. I had my sister (who made the cupcakes) hold a piece of a white polyester shower curtain liner 5 inches in front of the flash. It cost me $10 and is one of my favorite ways for adding quick soft light on a an object like this. I arranged them quickly on a cutting board, used a small DOF for some added interest and shot for less than 2 minutes. This one was my favorite. Notice there is only a soft light shadow on the right. No harsh lines here. A direct flash - would have been a much different story. It works because the LARGER the light source, the more even and softer lighting you get.

So why didn't I use a bounce here? Well I used a 50mm prime lens and needed to be close, plus I wanted some shadow, especially on the texture of the icing.

So look what you can get with a flash cable, shower curtain and a couple of friends. Post work: slight saturation increase.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

OP Philosophy

My basic philosophy with the blog is to show what can be done with a minimal investment in equipment and with as much natural light sources as possible (the big yellow ball in the sky).

I have been shooting for over 10 years and use a Canon Rebel xi, 2 cheap Speedlites, a circular collapsible bounce, a tripod and a few DYI gizmos (future posts). I have a few lenses too but we'll get to that in the future. That's all I have, and I think that's all I need. It isn't to say I wont buy a few cables and light stands for the flashes I have as that would be nice for on-location portraits - but still not necessary; at least for purposes of this blog.

I try as often as possible to use natural lighting and, if necessary, I try to just use a SINGLE strobe or bounce. Natural lighting is flattering and soft, when used correctly. It is also, dare I say, the most natural. We have all seen those strobe shots that are too "washed-out" with unnatural coloring and harsh skin tones. And they are also so much more unnatural when shot OUTSIDE. There is rarely a solid excuse for that. Use a fill-flash. Try a bounce. I could go on all day....

I welcome problems, questions and ideas and I will answer them if I can. I will post tips, pictures and let you know about upcoming projects I have planned. I am hoping this blog can help you take better photos. The underlying philosophy is simple. Shoot, have fun and BE NATURAL - with your lighting that is!