TBT Model Cynthia Ann

Cynthia Ann (Model)

Cynthia Ann (Model)

A throwback to July 2014 with this sweet young lady. The day I met her I knew she would go far and after all it is in her blood. Her mother was a Miss New Jersey. A true talent at her craft. She shows up at a shoot with an energy that is so contagious and humor that will cause you to wear a diaper. You can follow her on IG https://www.instagram.com/cynthiaann_x/

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Good morning ✌🏽💕 #curtisbrownphotography #photoshoot #model

A photo posted by 💋: Cynthia Ann (@cynthiaann_x) on Mar 17, 2016 at 4:36am PDT

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Photo of The Day (Brown & White Edit)

Cynthia Ann wandering the mountain walkway.

Cynthia Ann wandering the mountain walkway.

Today’s image is a brown & white edit of the wonderful Cynthia Ann as she wanders the seemingly endless walkway leading to a mountaintop temple. The brown & white conversion was accomplished in Photoshop CC 2014 using Nik Silver Efex Pro 2. I love the control that SEP has and the near endless options to achieve a film era quality to the images. Most of all I have found for myself personally I am able to control and tone the most images to the proper zone settings for skin.

Conjuring Personal Projects (Simply put it was an epic all day shoot in a studio with two models…)

Kendall and I confer on posing.

Kendall and I confer on posing.

I am currently conjuring ideas for my personal photography projects for the next six months. This is how my process works, I keep notes and ideas, some are written and others just a mental note. However there is one project that I hope to repeat and that is going back to the Iron Factory Studio in Philadelphia. Last September I planned out a personal photography project that was very extensive (for me) and it was very rewarding because it yielded several good images and not to mention all the good & bad things I learned from the project as a whole.

Simply put it was an epic all day shoot in a studio with two models and one hair & makeup artist. The models were to be shot on a white sweep and the backgrounds to come later in November & December. My goal was to make composite images and to make them somewhat special the backgrounds would come from Thailand and Laos. I would be in Thailand for one month and I thought this would really be an opportunity to create something different… and it was. Why the Iron Factory? Well it for me is the atmosphere of the room and the building. There really is something to be said for finding a creative atmosphere to work in and for me the Iron Factory is awesome.

How it all happens.

How it all happens.

So this year I want to do something similar. I want to work with two, possibly three models for an epic all day shoot. I will use different lighting techniques as I did last year, ranging from hard edgy lights to the ever so soft twin 7 foot softboxes and beauty dish. I would like to use a male model this year in addition to the females and I would like to use both dark and light skins.

Teamwork.

Teamwork.

Now the big question is; where do the backgrounds come from? Sounds like I need to plan a trip and that then leads to many things to ponder such as budget, when I can travel and where do I travel. Budget dictates a lot of things as does’ time, but this is good because it give my mind something to do (lol).

So I leave with images from that magical day that Kendall, Cynthia, Aryn and I had so much fun.

The Iron Factory Collection (…for some images I used an Asian broom for a background)

Model Kendall Strample

Model Kendall Strampel

So nice to see a project come to completion and on schedule, this is a great feeling. The overview of the project is to take the images of the two models that were shot at the very end of last summer and make final composites using images as background that would be captured while I was traveling in Thailand in November & December. My goal was to create about ten final images that would be named the “Iron Factory Collection.” Named after the studio in Philadelphia where the images of the models were captured. Completion was set for late January.
Capturing the backgrounds was difficult to a certain degree and I did not want all the composites to be comprised of “a model with a scene behind her.” Although scenes with building or landscapes are nice, I also like to use objects and make them abnormally large. For some images I used an Asian broom for a background and for another I used a large leaf from a plant and I still have a few other objects that I have not edited yet.
The goal of making a collection is really secondary to the other objectives of this project. I wanted to prove to myself that I could lay out a photography project that focused on compositing and follow it through to completion. Along the way there would be collateral benefits, meeting new people, experimenting with new techniques and most of all gaining more experience with my compositing skills.
I’m very much drawn to the art of compositing. I always knew photography would be a mere stepping stone to something of a higher level. The joy for me is found in the ability to create something and have the freedom to take it higher and away from the standard portrait of a person. The freedom is good; however there is the challenge, the challenge of keeping it within the realm of not making the scene something of pure unbelievable fantasy. I do like to create pieces comprised of crazy abstract scenes that one may call “art.” But compositing is the focus of my direction at this time.
So at this time I still have a few Iron Factory Pieces to finish and I’m already in the planning of the next compositing project. No rest for the weary? Hardly… When you’re doing something that excites you and challenges you it almost seems effortless.

 

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Part 2 Improving Your Photography Skills (the power of the personal photography assignment)

Model Cynthia Ann with hair & makeup by Aryn Wilson.

Model Cynthia Ann with hair & makeup by Aryn Wilson.

Part one of two:
If you really want to grow as a photographer you have to be challenged. Imagine a video game with one level… Kind of doesn’t really exist and why? Boring! How about a race where you are the only competitor? Not much of a challenge. But take anything we do in life and add a challenge to it and it becomes interesting. After all what is life in and of its self? Just a bunch of challenges, that’s it, just a bunch of challenges.
So you want to grow as a photographer? Give yourself a challenge. Or as I like to call them “assignments.” It doesn’t matter whether you are a total beginner or a professional, or whether you are a hobby shooter that just got a new camera for Christmas. Or a working commercial photographer. I can tell you first hand that there is no greater thing that you could be doing to improve your photography skills than going out and capturing images. But the process must be focused and have a purpose or a goal. It must have an end result that you want to accomplish. Example; you say to yourself “I have the whole day free and I want to go and capture images and just have fun.” Ok… Was there any kind of plan? Or are you just gonna go out the door and hope something happens. Now don’t get me wrong, walking out the door with the camera and having it with you all the time is a great habit to get into. After all I wrote a post sometime back about the best way to capture an amazing photo is to first have the camera with you. Sounds stupid I know, so yes always have some sort of camera with you… And don’t get me started on the “well I always have my iPhone.”
Now let’s get to it. Think of what it is you want to get better at. Do you want to take better portraits? Maybe you want to improve your landscape skills. How about you shooters that would like to capture sports? Or do you just want to improve a specific skill? Myself a few years back I decided I wanted to improve my long exposure skills. But rather than just going out and letting something happen I decided to give myself an assignment and make something happen. In the end I hit my goal and the accomplishment felt good, not to mention I had a few great images that I could print and hang up. The images drew lots of compliments and most of all I improved my long exposure skills and I have that tool under my belt. I don’t always shoot long exposure, however it is so nice that when I want to do it, I can. It makes a nice skill for capturing exotic backgrounds that I use in my Photoshop composites. And it all started with a personal assignment. Here is a breakdown of what I did.
I looked at a lot of long exposure photos at the various places I visit on the web. I read as much as I could on the subject, also spent some time at Youtube. But it doesn’t matter whether you read ten books, watch twenty videos and talk to fifty people about it. You still have to go out and do it. Now for long exposures a photographer needs a neutral density filter for the lens. It helps block light allowing the shutter to stay open for long periods of time hence the term long exposure. So I purchased the filter and then I chose a location. Many photographers like to capture moving clouds or moving water with long exposure. I chose water because it is always available. Clouds on the other hand are not always optimum or there may just be no clouds that day. So I have the equipment, the location, the subject and I chose a day when I had plenty of time available. My assignment was to successfully capture some great long exposures of a sunken forest and a local reservoir. The image would show the old tree trunks rising up out of what would look like ice.
So where’s the challenge you might ask. First and for most I chose a very cold day in the winter to do this and that was no fun. But that is when I had the free time and it increased the challenge. The rest was just a matter of calculating how long to keep the shutter open and composing or framing up the scene. Not falling in the water or getting the camera and gear wet also added to the challenge. After about 3 hours I was ready to call it a day and head home. Upon downloading the images and to see my work unfold in front of me was very rewarding. Then came all the fun of editing and choosing whether to keep the color or go with a black & white. In the end I hit my goal and learned a new photography skill along the way.
Now I challenge you to give yourself an assignment. Plan it out, read about it or take a class on it. Write it out and make a plan. Gather the gear you need. Purchase the proper gear or borrow from a friend. Make a gear checklist and plan your date, time and subject. Expect the unexpected after all it is a challenge. Do the assignment with another photographer. Some people are motivated to workout at the gym with a workout partner, so maybe you can do this with your assignment.
In part two, I will talk about a much larger and more complex assignment.
Part Two:
In part one I spoke about how giving yourself personal assignments will cause you to grow as a photographer. My previous post gave a real life example of what a personal photography assignment is. Because I continually want to grow as a photographer and as an artist I have actually given myself harder assignments as time goes on. Last year I decided that needed (not wanted) to learn how to work with models and conduct both location shoots and studio shoots. So I laid out a personal project that involved finding an interesting location and I put together a team and did the shoot. Two models, two hair & makeup artists and a clothing designer. I learned a lot and had fun along the way. The location being the old Eastern States Penitentiary made for a very interesting location and was very challenging because we could not start shooting until 5:00pm. The biggest challenge was light or I should say the lack of light. Plus when your shooting with a team of people there is the challenge of getting everybody and everything to come together. Then there were the micro assignments leading up to the shoot. Things like planning out the locations to shoot within the location itself. This required two trips to ESP to look and decipher what windows, doorways or hallways would be the best spots. In the end I captured some nice images but I know I should have done better.
The studio project went much better, I had scheduled three models for the day and two stylists/makeup artists. The day of, two models and one makeup artist actually showed up and in the end we captured nice images. Sometimes I link one project to another. The images captured at the studio shoot would later be used for another project, where I would use the studio images to make composites in Photoshop. The backgrounds for the composites would come from Thailand. I had a personal trip planned for traveling to Thailand and I thought this would be a great opportunity to make a specific goal of seeking out locations and capturing images to be used for backgrounds to finalize the Photoshop composites.
As I have come to learn with photography not only do personal projects create growth in knowledge and real life experiences, but the projects are what people notice if you use the power of social media to let the world see what it is you’re doing. After all, I could post all of the photos of customers that I have done portraits for and while the photographs may look nice, they are nothing more than just portraits, nice but not that interesting to the mainstream. But when you do something as simple as dressing a model up as a scarecrow it all of the sudden gets people’s attention and lets them see something more interesting than just a portrait.
So now for the upcoming year I have been planning out my projects and most will be moving in the same direction as last year, while at the same time being a little different and… yes more interesting. Certainly there will be projects that will center on making more composite images in Photoshop because this is the overall direction I want to follow as an artist. I’m using my photography as a skill or tool to actually create and therefore I feel I am more an artist than a photographer. I guess you could say an artist with a camera.
I will say it again “no matter what your skill level, if you want to grow as a photographer, give yourself a personal assignment.” It really is a lot of fun and it will give you the skills to improve your shots at the next family wedding, maybe the next vacation or just having fun with the kids and grandchildren. Just do it and have fun.

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If It Is Good, It Will Get Stolen (Instagram is like the wild, wild west)

Kendall Strampel at the gate to the medical ward at Eastern States Penitentiary

Kendall Strampel at the gate to the medical ward at Eastern States Penitentiary

Not sure why people do this? In all of my quest to become a great photo editor I have spent countless hours working in Adobe Photoshop. I have spent countless dollars taking classes, reading books and traveling to conventions and attending live seminars. I have studied under some of the best in the industry. One thing that is known by all is; if you post online you will have your images stolen. These are the most recent images that have been reported to me by Digimarc. Although I find it an honor that someone likes my image enough to steal it and repost it. Or in the case of what goes on at Instagram where people take the photo and re-edit it in some horrible manner that doesn’t lend any goodness or in anyway make the photo better than what it was to start with. Digimarc is a digital watermark that is embedded in the properties of the image kind of giving the image its own personal address. Wherever the photo goes, so does the watermark and can be traced. The watermark can be stripped out but it will greatly reduce the quality of the image.
I have never stolen an image and called it my own, nor have I taken someone’s image and re-edited it. I have however bought (as in paid $$$) stock photos from istock.com to use for editing purposes. My latest photo of The crazed Kendall at the gate to the medical ward at Eastern States Penitentiary was only online a few days before it started to travel around on its own. I knew this would happen because the photo was very popular as soon as it went up online at the various places I posted it. The biggest amazement or I should say “question” that everyone was asking me was “how did you get her on the other side of the gate to photograph her?” Because any photographer who has ever been to ESP knows that the gate is kept locked and it is a forbidden area to photograph. You can take photos of the gate, but you can not go on the otherside. So just how did I get Kendall in this spot? I think you know the answer to that.

As for Instagram; I have been getting all kinds of activity over there. I get the normal people who “like” my photos and follow me. Some ask questions or advice and this I find no problem or fault with. But I get DM’s (direct messages) all the time from girls who want to shoot with me. So called models. I say “so called” because they are for the most part just girls looking to get in front of a camera so they can say “yeah I did a photo shoot today.” So I tested the waters on this and had a 50% failure rate… or success rate depending on how you want to look at it. The first girl was amazing. An amature for sure but what a great person and she took direction well and we had a great shoot with awesome images created in the end. Second was a total dud… a miss-fire so to speak. I scheduled the shoot with hair and makeup artists on hand and the girl was a total no show. Ahhh… what do you want its Instagram, its like the wild, wild, west.

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The Conclusion to the Iron Factory Shoot. ( It felt more like a gnat bothering a horse.)

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So the Iron Factory Studio shoot is done and “in the can” as they say. Now I will let the images sit and age for a while. No seriously I have so much going on at this time I really have no time to edit. Besides the other half of the project is still to happen. I will leave for my trip to Southeast Asia on November 16 and return in December just before Christmas. So the final edits for those images will not come until late January.

Iron Factory report: The day starts as we arrive in Philly and the GPS wants to take me up Fontain Street the wrong way… oh boy! So as I arrive Aryn Wilson (makeup artist) is already in city and waiting. Kendall Strampel is arriving just minutes after me. Looks like we got us a photo shoot! I meet with Kat from the studio and she lets me in, shows me around and “we’re golden” good to go. Oh did I say it is on the third floor and no elevator… Yeah boy, I have a whole Durango full of studio gear to be moved up and set up and I have one hour to do it. I brought one huge muscle man named “Tiny” and we did it. Studio is up and running as scheduled. I love when a plan comes together… cheap lines from 80s TV shows always make blog post more interesting.

So Aryn has Kendall ready pretty close to schedule and we’re test shooting, take a short break and get right to it. I had the normal gremlins that can always be expected when shooting tethered to an old laptop and using Lightroom 3. So I dumped that plan and went to camera WiFi out straight to my tablet for review. Most of the shoot was using the awesome Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 USM II, keeping somewhere at or close to the sweet spot for that lens, about f/7.1 to f/8 ISO 50 and shutter going between 1/80 sec to 1/160 sec. Mostly 1/125 second. The Paul C Buff White Lightning’s were working hard all day at about ¾ power. Lots of “creative” light.

At one point a guest whom I had invited stopped by, we had never met and she wanted to see what it was and how it is that I do. Seren was a perfect guest, she accepted my invite and she visited and departed after she seen and learned a little about what I was doing. Always refreshing to meet new people on the fly and make a true connection, thank you Seren.

My Thai wife had made lots of Thai food & fresh fruit for the crew and models and Kendall’s parents. I think we had all bases covered for comfort as best as we could. Now the call comes in that Cynthia Ann has arrived and she will need to be escorted to the studio. There was a rowdy bar just around the corner and the game was on so… well it’s only the right thing to do; we take no chances when it comes to the safety and wellbeing of the ladies. So I headed out to the street, located her and we walked & talked. Both models were at their best and it made for a great shoot. The theme for the day could have been “contrast” as working with two young ladies who are so different. Kendall who is so peaceful and soft spoken in her angelic light southern draw, her voice is light and she is just so cool to be around. Cynthia Ann on the other hand is very talkative and humor cranked to 110%, she exudes positive energy to everybody in the room. I love her so much because she talks as much as I do… maybe more and she is 100% real to the core. What you see is what you get. Creepy thing is… when I go to give Cynthia a command or direction she does it as I’m thinking of it. This is not a joke; she truly knows what I’m thinking. I noticed this the first time I shot with her while doing a test shoot. Think about that for a second… you are working with somebody who can do what you say before you say it and they don’t even realize they’re doing it. I still am very puzzled by it, but I’ll take it any day.

So soon Kendall had transitioned from fashion to fitness looks and she was done for the day and headed back to the Lehigh Valley. Now I’m left with Cynthia Ann, who while on break finds joy in punching me as hard as she can in the arm & shoulder because I told her she can’t do “fitness” shoots because she has no muscle. Did it hurt you may ask? Let’s see… 105 lbs hitting 270 lbs… it better not hurt lol. It felt more like a gnat bothering a horse. Yes we have fun. Soon Cynthia’s session was ending and I escorted her to her car, while my assistant escorted Aryn to her car. All ladies safely on their way home so now it’s time to tear it all down and head home ourselves. I was tired and hungry; I had one coffee, one bagel, two cans of diet soda and three bottles of water all day. I stopped for nothing. While models were changing or on break, I would be changing out softboxes, fixing lighting or reviewing images. Fun for me though.

So in conclusion did I get what I came for? Yes! Yes I did. It was a well-planned shoot and in taking Frank Doorhof’s advice from his latest book “Mastering the Model Shoot (Everything the Photographer Needs).” Frank says “Always schedule three models and at least one will show.” Well… Reese called the night before and said she would not be able to attend. There are no hard feeling and I told Reese “there is always another day” and I understand. After all Mr. Doorhof told me this in his book and I believed it and followed his advice from the start. I actually owe a lot of the success of this particular shoot to the advice and information found in Frank’s book. Thank you Mr. Doorhof for a well-executed plan to follow. I would recommend this book to anybody wanting to run a shoot smoothly for the first time. Make it easy on yourself, follow a master.

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The Iron Factory Shoot. (the “downhill slide” and you can’t stop it once it starts.)

Screenshot 2014-09-17 23.05.23

So the Iron Factory shoot draws near and I’m trying to keep that downhill slide from happening. You know what I mean; when you have something planned that you just can’t stop once it is in motion. Like say a flight. It is booked and you have all this stuff in your head that you’re going to do prior to the flight. But as it draws near you soon realize that you don’t have time to do all the things you had planned and soon you find yourself stuffing clothes in a carry-on and running out the door. That is the “downhill slide” and you can’t stop it once it starts.

So I have a photo shoot planned for all day in a studio and there will be several people mulling around. There are three models and each model will most likely have an escort, one model is a teen and will have both parents there. My wife and an assistant will be there. I have a few models who want to meet me and see what I do, and I have asked them to stop by. Plus we have the hair & makeup artist and her assistants. With this many people there has to be refreshments and food in the green room. I feel it my job to make everybody as comfortable as possible, mostly the models. If the models are comfortable and at ease, then we get good posing and easy workflow. This is a creative shoot so it’s not your standard “turn on the tunes and pose to the music” type of shoot. There are mood boards that have been created for each segment of the shoot. There will be lighting changes, moving from the big 7 foot softboxes creating soft light to smaller softboxes with grids for harsher light. Because it is a rented studio everything needed for the day must be brought in and at the end of the day packed up, cleaned up and vacate the premises.

When I say everything, I mean tables, chairs, lighting, camera gear, studio gear, catered food, supplies and computer… right down to the coffee pot, and yeah I will need my coffee pot for sure. So I think you can see how the “downhill slide” can happen here. If that happens it could be fatal to the shoot. So it really comes down to planning, checking and double checking… and then checking again… and maybe checking one more time. Did I say I have OCD? Ah… yes I do but I hide it well.

So we are four days out from the shoot and one model is feeling under the weather with fever and just plain ole sick. The other two models are on board a raring to go. One makeup artist disappeared off the face of the earth without notice. That name I will never forget and add it to my little but ever growing “black list” of people to NEVER deal with again. Thank you @Melissa Luther makeup artist from the Philadelphia area. So yes I have hit a few snags and that can be expected as nothing is perfect and never will be perfect. As I told the sick model “there is always another day.” Till next time…

 

A photoshop composite. Merging a model, with a prop (ball) and a background.

A photoshop composite. Merging a model, with a prop (ball) and a background.

Model Reese Maddox on location at Eastern States Penitentiary

Model Reese Maddox on location at Eastern States Penitentiary

Head Shot Kendall Stampel actress/model

Head Shot Kendall Stampel actress/model

Cynthia Ann (model) 1/80 sec at f/4.5 ISO 50 70mm with Westcott Apollo 43" Orb Softbox 3 speedlights.

Cynthia Ann (model)
1/80 sec at f/4.5 ISO 50 70mm with Westcott Apollo 43″ Orb Softbox 3 speedlights.

The Iron Factory Photo Shoot (it was not like god said unto me “thou hast to set forth and build an ark.” )

The Iron Factory Studio

The Iron Factory Studio

So as a follow up or continuation to my last blog post where I describe how I had a vision of a certain style of image that I wanted to create and how at the time I had this idea, I could barely work a DSLR camera nor did I know anything about Adobe Photoshop. So now after several years of climbing not one, but several mountains and obstacles of learning, I have made it to the starting line for this vision. Now when I say a vision I do not mean it was an apparition and no, it was not like god said unto me “thou hast to set forth and build an ark.” It was more of an idea and as I mentioned in the last post I knew it was nothing new but I just had no knowledge of how to do it. And of course now having learned the technique I was looking for and seeing that Photographer Joel Grimes has kind of pioneered the look, I will now set off on my own project to use Mr. Grimes’ technique and fuse it to my own style.

The starting line for this is the Iron Factory Studio in old city Philadelphia. Three models (Reese Maddox, Kendall Strampel & Cynthia Ann) with a few different looks shooting on a white sweep background. The images will become elements to be used to make composites in Adobe Photoshop at a later time. The backgrounds will come from various places and some of those places will include Southeast Asia, Thailand & Laos. I will travel there for one month to visit family and friends, some vacationing a bit and looking for special places or scenes to photograph for backgrounds. I should also add that the backgrounds will be shot in HDR, again for that “somewhere between a photo and an illustration” effect. The models however can not be shot in HDR as it looks horrible on people or anything alive. So the models have to have a custom effect that is too long and in-depth to describe here. This is where the creativity comes into play and it all takes place in Photoshop.

I want this project to be a success… of course that goes without saying. But I do know that many times things do not happen easy, nor do they happen on the first try… “The best laid plans of mice & men…” One thing I do know is all involved will still have a fun time at the studio that day, for that is my number one rule at a photo shoot “to have fun.” If it is not fun then something is really wrong and we stop. I will post more about this project as it progresses.

The Iron Factory Studio

The Iron Factory Studio