Overuse of Color Grading (…look I clicked on a filter now I’m an artist.)

1/40 sec at f/4.0 ISO 800 80 mm color graded using split tones in Lightroom. Location Eastern States Penitentiary.

Everybody wants to be an artist, but sadly enough not everybody can be an artist. Actually pretty much anybody can be an artist if they were to actually take the time and put forth the effort to create something. Today we have a lot of “one click” artist wanna-bees. I love Instagram so much for several reasons; one reason for sure is it has helped me so much with my photography business. People find me, they contact me and I have a client to do business with. I like Instagram because I can build a network and I can reach a lot of people all around the world.

So many times I have heard it said “Instagram is for photographers” and that statement could be truer. Myself I rarely partake in using any of Instagram’s filters although I don’t begrudge anybody for using them. I edit most of my images in Adobe Photoshop and put finishing touches on in Adobe Lightroom so I really have no need for IG’s filters. However I do realize the vast amount of people using IG there is only a small percentage that would edit and do what I do. So for sure they want to use a filter to take their images to that “next level” and give it a “look and a feel” and again I have no gripes. Now with all that said we all no trends rise up and most often recede and some trends are so horrible we can’t wait for them to recede and fade away… hopefully!

I remember when I first got into learning how to edit skin in Photoshop, it was a time when the trend was to make the female skin look like plastic or porcelain, with no texture at all. It was horrible and I too was guilty of this horrible atrocity. For one it was a very easy effect to create and for two, all the magazine covers were doing it, so it seemed like it was ok to do it..

Then came along the overdone “HDR” with all the halos and graininess. I have to admit I still like to use the over-done HDR effect as an illustrative tool to this day, but not for photographic edits. Same goes for the smoothed out skin, as an illustrative edit it can be used, as a portrait… no way. But… I still see people using it.

So this brings us up to our current state of “what is being over used today?” I’ll tell you what it is… LUTs and color grading, these are being so over used it is pitiful. 2 years ago I barely knew what a LUT was, I did know what color grading was and for still images I performed most of my color grading by using “split tone” controls. Or I had other methods, some I learned from other photographers and some I just created through trial and error. Some of my color grading was and still is as simple as making a solid color layer and lowering the opacity. Does it work? You may ask… works good enough the clients love it and complements on social media are plenty.

But in both video and photos the color grading at present day can be atrocious if not done correctly. And when I say “correctly” I know editing is very subjective. It goes straight back to the “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” quote. Photography, videography are all very subjective because they are creative and artistic, but with all that said I am so sick of the teal to orange color grading that is done incorrectly. And to be flat out honest I am no expert at color grading, but I am an expert at knowing what is distracting when you look at a photo or video that has poor color grading. It seems some of the worst videos are vloggers on Youtube. Some vlogs I can clearly see have had some high end color grading done and I envy it because I have not yet reached that level. While other vlogs are just… I want to say “horrible” but again it is subjective, so I will say “not to my liking.”

I wrote a post a while back about color grading and where it came from, it has been around a very long time. I what to point the finger at IG for the current dilemma, after all Instagram’s filters are just like color grading, but it is done with “one click” and using a given filter with the right image produces a great result. However this takes no real talent or effort and while one could make the claim it is creative, it is merely clicking presets till you find one that looks good. Either way it is kind of a moot point at this time… the fire has started all we need to do is wait for it to burn itself out and hopefully go the way of selective color and bad HDR. I remember the grossly overdone colored cinematic lighting that popped up in some of the 80’s movies and carried over into the 90’s. Using blue lighting to illustrate night time is ok by me, but making alleyways appear deep purple was just flat-out bizarre.

While I am learning more & more about creating and using LUT’s I still love my split toning, gradient mapping and other little tricks for my photo color grading.

Photo Notes: So this particular image I get a lot of compliments on. Many times the comments come from people who do not know about color grading, but they do know about Instagram filters. They ask what filter I used. Or have heard many times “this photo looks so cool I love the color, how did you do that.” The color grading was actually done in Adboe lightroom 4 using the split tone sliders and the saturation & luminance sliders in the HSL panel.

1/40 sec at f/4.0 ISO 800 80 mm

The Sinister Clown At ESP (I want him to scare the bejesus out of you, but do it without holding a half-eaten arm in his mouth.)

Sinister Clown 1/125 sec at f/14 ISO 50 123mm Model Nicole Gallagher, SFX Makeup by Jade Alexandra Brown

Sinister Clown 1/125 sec at f/14 ISO 50 123mm
Model Nicole Gallagher, SFX Makeup by Jade Alexandra Brown

It’s autumn, the smell of fallen leaves fill the cool morning air, pumpkins & corn stalks decorate doorways and porches… apple pie and ginger snap cookies all add up to Halloween is coming soon.

So as Halloween draws near, so does my self-imposed deadline for having completed the edits for the “Sinister Clown” project shoot. Here we see a third edit that I have just completed and I’m very happy with it. This particular image also has a sub-edit where I have cropped in extremely close. If you have followed my blog over the years you know I have a passion for close up “in your face” edits. However usually they are images of a beautiful female face and sometimes a male too, even dogs. But today’s image is that of “Sinister Clown.” And speaking of “Sinister Clown” I wish I had a name for him… yes the clown is a male character although there is a beautiful female playing the role behind all that amazing makeup. If anyone has an idea for a name please contact me.

So for this edit; the cropped version came about because I wanted to showcase Jade’s talent up close and “in your face” and the second reason (as previously mentioned) I love tight cropped face shots. However the full size version of this edit I wanted to put my clown in a decrepit, disgusting, smelly setting. Now of course you can’t “smell” an image on a screen, but I wanted that feel to come through in the edit. So I literally spent hours and days sifting through stock images that could be used for a background. All the while I am going from photo to photo I keep telling myself “you have the image you’re looking for” but I just did not know what. Let me clarify; while I am looking through stock images with my eyes and mind focused on a computer screen, another part of my mind is working diligently sifting through places I have been over the last few years, then of course there is that third part of my mind that thinks of over-throwing the world, sexy women, money and so-on. Funny how much can get done with only two brain cells, but the inside of my mind can be almost as scary as this clown lol.

After days of this… it hits me. Cell block 5 (1829 Creator: John Haviland, Eastern State Penitentiary.) Yes Cell Block 5 is a disgusting mess. Visitors to Eastern States Penitentiary are not allowed to enter into cell block 5. When you stand at the locked gate and look down the cell block, you get a true feeling of the horror that once was ESP in its hay-day. The place looks frozen in time, like an old closet that hasn’t been opened in 200 years, it smells like a grave. The smell is because (no joke) the place has been untouched for decades and has a smell of dirt, cob webs, mold and rotting wood.

While doing a photo shoot there in June of 2015 with Nicole I had stuck my camera inside the gate and captured some really decent images. I have edited one as a cover photo for the Reckless Pixel Facebook page (but is no longer in use). So this was the background that would work perfect for this edit. Not to mention the irony that Nicole is the clown and the background image comes from another shoot she did with me over a year ago.

Now I feel I need to explain that in the beginning I had envisioned this clown being scary, but in an organic sort of way and not in a generic “blood & gore” kind of way. In the first making of the movie “IT” which was actually a TV mini-series the clown Pennywise was never really seen devouring the little children of Derry. It was implied that the clown ate the arms of children… after all it was a movie made for TV. So I wanted my clown to have that same vibe. I want him to scare the bejesus out of you, but do it without holding a half-eaten arm in his mouth. So instead of putting gore props in the images with the clown I would rather put the clown in an evil setting. Now with all that said the average viewer of the image is never gonna know the significance of the background and I’m ok with that. Most of all I’m happy that the background is one of my own images and not a stock image.

I will have more edits of the Sinister Clown up in a day or so and there will be a video blog post too. Thanks for reading and have a great day.

Sinister Clown 1/125 sec at f/14 ISO 50 123mm Model Nicole Gallagher, SFX Makeup by Jade Alexandra Brown

Sinister Clown 1/125 sec at f/14 ISO 50 123mm
Model Nicole Gallagher, SFX Makeup by Jade Alexandra Brown

Only a Year Late (So being a guitar player in another lifetime I pulled out my trusty Fender Strat…)

1/125 sec at f/2.8 ISO 100 70mm Nicole Gallagher, makeup by Jasmine Benton

1/125 sec at f/2.8 ISO 100 70mm
Nicole Gallagher, makeup by Jasmine Benton

It has taken me well over a year to complete this “behind the scenes” video of a shoot I did with model Nicole Gallagher. Why? Because I am stubborn and when I want something to be a certain way… well I want it that way. Childish? Maybe. So the problem was… ok so here is where you can laugh, smack my head and call me crazy. I couldn’t get the music right. I wanted a certain piece of music, I wanted Santana/Everlast “Put Your Lights On” and while I have that version done, it was done two days after the shoot, I could not get it uploaded. And rightfully (pardon the pun) so because Youtube, Vimeo and Facebook all threatened to ban my accounts if I tried to upload it again. What a bitch and I really can’t complain because I know the copyright laws very well when it comes to intellectual property, after all I’m the guy that makes everybody sign a model release to protect my images.

But then I had an idea… ahhh… what if I record the song myself. All I wanted was the music and not the vocals. So being a guitar player in another life time I pulled out my trusty Fender Strat and fires up my GK amp and laid down a fairly decent instrumental version of  “Put Your Lights On” and edited it using Adobe Audition CC (which by the way I love Audition CC). But still no luck, YouTube slammed me with even nastier emails. …oh well I tried.

So then I got discussed and I set the project aside. I revisited the project no less than 8 times since June of 2014 and to no avail. So my last attempt was the other day and like all the other attempts I crashed & burned after an 2 hours of sifting through clip after clip of “royalty free” music. However tonight I hit on a song that I liked and the video has been uploaded. Did I win?.. hell no, but I do like the song “Hey Girl” and it seems to work. Check it out and hit “Like” if you would please, you can also subscribe to the Channel too.


Be Spontaneous (“Plans are invitation to disappointment.” )

Chloe (Model) at Eastern States Penitentiary

Chloe (Model) at Eastern States Penitentiary

I love this image so much because was very spontaneous. The prison cell had been rused up with a chair, a desk, a newspaper and a paper weight. We are not even allowed to be there photographing her as a model (against policy), but hey sometimes life is too short to follow all the rules. I asked her to go into the cell and “do something interesting” in 10 seconds and she did. It worked for me, the image of her in the cell with the decay in the background, the beauty, the tattoo… it was a lot of fun and “in the moment.” One of my favorite images of 2014 and I wish this girl never drifted away from me. She was the most spontaneous model I ever met.

Photo of The Day (breaking records all the time)

Nixlot Dameus Weightlifter/Bodybuilder

Nixlot Dameus Weightlifter/Bodybuilder

I’ve been so busy I haven’t had much time to post to my blog. So here is a B&W of Nixlot Dameus record-breaking powerlifter and body builder.

Social Media Run Amuck (It is so easy to get lost in the “Likes” the “Hearts” the “Stars” they are all so meaningless.)

Chloe (Model)

Model Chloe at in a cell at Eastern States Penitentiary. 

There has to be an official name for them, but I don’t what it is. My name for them is not really all that nice. Simply put they are like little assholes of the social media world. With all of the worldly knowledge of a 14-year-old girl they want someone to notice them… “Please notice me or I will just vomit and die.” Ok… so what I am talking about are the little “dicks” that plague any form of social media that photographers use. Here is how it works; you the photographer has an image that you think is worth sharing with the rest of the world… or at least the people who are connected via the various forms of social media. I’m not referring to Facebook, if you are not a photographer you may not be familiar with the other social media formats such as 500px.com, Behance, and of course there is Flickr and several others. In fact some platforms come and go so quick you don’t hear about them until they’re gone. So you posted a photo, but instead of someone coming to view it and actually “like” it or critique your work they leave comments like “love your image, now check out my page” or “wow great work, now view mine” again it reminds me of young silly girls who are so vain and want everybody to look at them. Please, please look at me… even though I look just like a thousand other girls.

Let’s face it beauty is in the eye of the beholder and therefore so is the appreciation you have for someone’s image. You may like it and I may not or vice versa. Hitting a “Like” button for me is just equating that someone seen the image but as far as actually “liking” the image… When I like something, I mean truly like a photo I will comment on it, but I have never and will never ask the person to “go look at my work.” If they feel inclined to go look at my work then so-be-it, but to leave a comment like “oh this is great… now go look at me” is utterly childish.

For the most part I like to follow people who I feel are better than me as a photographer or Photoshop artist… after all I want to learn how to be better myself. So why would I not want to follow somebody like Lindsay Adler, Emily Soto, Joe McNally, Cliff Mautner… and so many more. And how dare I leave a comment on their work and ask that they go look at mine.

It is so easy to get lost in the “Likes” the “Hearts” the “Stars” they are all so meaningless. They only mean something when they reach to the hundreds of thousands and then it is a calculated game. When you’re a blogger like Charlie Barker with 610,000 Instagram followers not to mention Twitter, Tumblr and anywhere else she is, all these numbers mean she has a solid core of fans worldwide and that equates to $$$. Any company would be crazy to not want Charlie Barker to wear their shoes, dresses, makeup ect… But until you reach the stratosphere of social media fame you are just another blip on the radar and all the “please look at me” bullshit gets you nowhere. There are very few people or entities on any social media format that got there by accident. Despite what they (themselves) say or anybody else such as news media and the like, reaching a super status in any form of social media is a calculated road. These icons are not just posting selfies or an image of their morning cup of coffee. At a glance their images can look harmless, but most times they are meant to cut to the core of their audience… and they do.

So where do I stand? In this entire abyss that is social media it is easy to get lost or to lose focus. I use Facebook personally to connect with family and friends and I have a business page for my photography and catering businesses. I use Instagram as an outlet for my photography with very little personal posting. Strangely enough with a mere few hundred followers I get more “real” interaction from other photographers, models, and people in the entertainment business then I do on any other social media format. I will get direct messages from musicians, art directors, photographers, lower level movie directors and other bloggers. Most just honest comments on my work, so I have learned to do the same. If I really like someone’s work I will DM them and let them know or comment in a genuine way. I feel this is true networking and in some way builds a relationship. I also use WordPress for my blog platform as I am doing right now. I use Adobe’s Behance and it works great because I can link the Behance projects to my website. When a person goes to my website they can view content that is hosted on Behance and they never really knew they left my website.

I also use Pinterest as a means for research mostly. I will make mood boards and store ideas there. 500px is another great place for research if I want to shoot at a location that I have never been to before. I will search it on Google Earth and then 500px, more than likely someone has already been there and I can see their images and hopefully make mine better lol. 500px was horrible with the little assholes a few years ago. In fact it was so childish with the “please look at me” people that I had actually deleted all my images and had a blank profile. I decided to return a year or so later and the wave of assholes had subsided.

LinkedIn to me is utterly useless. We all know people fluff up their résumé to make themselves appear… well, something more than they really are. So LinkedIn is full crap, utterly full of crap. I have a LinkedIn account and I hardly ever go there. Although I do get the “Peter Green” wants to connect with you in my email all the time. I think everybody gets the Peter Green emails, just pure bullshit. But the best part about LinkedIn is to actually go and read profiles of people you know. They all say the same thing, “specializing in operations management, focusing on team work and project management, with a background in advanced understanding. Background in senior business management and accounts… blah blah blah. All the while you worked with this joker at one time and he/she was a frickin disheveled mess on a daily basis. LinkedIn is the opposite of all the other social media in the fact that you get to make yourself feel good. What a joke! Runner up to LinkedIn is About.Me, another “how good can I make myself look format.

Social media… here to stay but always changing.

Deception Sells (If I buy their “what nots” me and my T6i or D5500 are going to kill.)

1/100 sec at f/4.0 ISO 100 95mm Model Melina Martin

1/100 sec at f/4.0 ISO 100 95mm Model Melina Martin

I was about 1 minute into a video tutorial when I just looked at the finished image that the photographer created and I had a moment of clarity and I thought to myself “I really do not like that image” and I turned off the video. She hadn’t even started the tutorial. She (the photographer) was comparing the beginning photo to the end result of her technique and I have to say (in my opinion) it was horrible. I might add that this photographer has a portrait studio and claims that she provides these images to her clients. I’m thinking “really?” somebody paid you money to make them look like that. Wow!

I really do believe there is a lot of photography crap out there in cyber space at this time. It reminds me of when I was a young boy and I remember a science teacher talking about “space junk” left by all the different space missions. If you’re a photographer or Photoshop artist you most likely get similar emails and advertisements that chase you around on social media. You know the advertisements for the latest photo editing software, plugins or actions. While yes, some of it is good and I will admit some may actually be a necessity if you are editing to put money on the table. But there really is a lot of just plain old crap out there.

Like any line of business there is a lot of deception and photography is no different. Cameras and lenses are what they are, there really isn’t too much of a way around it. You either have a good camera, a great camera or a crappy camera and that’s that. But all the other stuff falls into that “do I really need this” category. I think we’ve all heard the term G.A.S. used for “Gear Acquisition Syndrome.” I first heard this years ago when I was an active guitar player. Many a musician has fallen victim to GAS and photographers are no different. But now there seems to be a sense that if you purchase the latest software or plugin your photos are going to be so much more than they used to be. Don’t get me wrong there are a lot of good editing tools out there and some are actually needed if you are trying to achieve a specific look or end result but many of them are just a waste of time… and money.

Video tutorials are no different. This is kind of how I see it; so like about 5 to 7 years ago all these people went out and bought DSLRs and the next day they had business cards made claiming they were a “photographer” and now those same people are claiming to be a “renowned” photographer and they’re telling you “you need to know what I know” so give me your money… and only to find out this guy doesn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground. Jay Maisel (who by the way is a photographer for real) said “take a look at what you’re looking at” and I have to say that is one powerful piece of advice. But the same holds true for making a purchase. Look at what you are buying; look at who is selling it. I get so turned off and pissed off at photographers who are out there teaching people techniques and claiming if you do this you will get great images… so you head off to look at their portfolio and you are astounded. Look at these images OMG I must have whatever he/she is selling… I wonder if I could buy some of their DNA OMG!!! But what you do not know is that their portfolio shots are all created on a “Medium Format” system and they may have had professional retouchers, lighting teams and so on. You are looking at a shot of a stunning model standing in the Dubai desert and thinking “wow” this is awesome. If I buy their “what nots” me and my T6i or D5500 are going to kill.  Now hold on there scooter I wouldn’t say “kill” maybe maim or severely bruise, but that’s about it. Very deceptive to say the least. Webinars; I have partially sat through webinars hosted by software companies and the instructor is doing the same thing, he is editing a photo shot on a Hasselblad.

Who is the instructor? Now of course I am not going to name names here but some so called renowned photographers may have great portfolios and they’ll tell you about how they struggled to get a great shot of great landmark. When in reality we all know to get a great shot of a particular place you may have to go back several times and yes that could be a very big struggle for any “normal” working guy or gal. But you dig deeper to find out the photographer is really a wealthy person who can make those 25 trips to get a shot of Mabry Mill with no problem at all. Now don’t get me wrong I am not complaining about a wealthy person with a fancy camera; however I am complaining about anyone who claims to be something they clearly are not. You are not a struggling photographer if you can go trolloping off around the world anytime you like to capture a photo.

So yes there is a lot of deception and there is a lot of plain ole crap out there. I remember being a young naïve guy walking into my local health food store when I was about 21 years old. I was astounded to think “wow, look at all this healthy stuff” and I would think everybody should be here buying this “healthy” stuff. I soon made friends with the girl behind the counter. And as time went by I asked here out on a date. Then it hit me; oh no where do I take her for dinner? I know she will want eat healthy and I… well I eat pizza lol. I remember her uncle owned the health food store and he was a homeopathic doctor or something like that. But I just asked her what she would like to eat and she, like most 20 year old girls I knew said “Taco Bell” Taco Bell… OMG I thought… “What you thought I wanted to eat tofu” she replied. I just assumed you worked at a Health Food store so… She said “Rich 90% of that stuff is crap, even my uncle will tell you, it is all deceptive and it is only there because people ask for it.” What about my vitamins and organic pretzels? “They’re all good” she replied. But most everything there is crap. If it was all good nobody would be sick, dying, over weight or have cancer… so come on lets go have a beer” and yes she really did say that. And yes deception sells.

Breaking Out (If our eye/brain sees something that doesn’t make sense it will pick it up.)

Model Bree Arkham. A two image composite from the Eastern States Penitentiary shoot.

Model Bree Arkham. A two image composite from the Eastern States Penitentiary shoot.

This is a two image composite of model Bree Arkham. In this image we see an outdoor shot of Bree as she pulls her arms backwards while hanging from a large gate. Behind her is an image of a cell inside the penitentiary. The cell image is shot at f/4 and Bree was shot at f/5.6. In Bree’s shot her arms go out of focus due to the shallow depth of field.

So using the masking power of Photoshop I merged the two images and blurred the cell to match the DOF of Bree’s hands. Then I used an Emily Soto fashion action to create an atmosphere that would bring the whole scene together. The Emily Soto action is not a “one click” and your done kind of thing. I will actually spend a lot of time working with the various layers of the action and the masks to get the balance I like.

I feel in the end the light coming through the skylight in the cell looks as if it could be spilling on Bree’s back causing the rim light on her arms. When working with composites this is the one element that will be the most challenging… where is the light coming from? The average person is not asking this question when they view the image, however their subconscious mind is asking this question. If our eye/brain sees something that doesn’t make sense it will pick it up. Now that doesn’t mean that our brain instantly says “hey that’s a composite” but what our brain does most often (as my brain does) is give us a weird feeling about it, just kind of “somethings not right” feeling. So this is where certain things need to match or “balance out” between your elements in a composite, things like white balance, atmosphere and most of all direction of light and or shadows created by light. These two images have very different white balances and if I have a really hard time balancing the color I can always “bail out” as I say and pull the ejection lever and go straight to a black & white image. If I go over to B&W I most times by-pass or greatly lessen the problem of matching white balances between the elements.

Once white balance is done I then move on to creating atmosphere to bring the scene together and I do this in many different ways. Today it was a Fashion Action” and it was todays answer. Like most things in Photoshop you need to know many ways to get to the same end point. It is all about practice and that is what this image is… practice. The main element of Bree hanging on the gate is a 100% fine image as it was shot. We worked the pose out I shot it and a few minutes later I had her revisit the gate and shoot it again at a different f/ stop. The first was f/2.8 and the second was f/5.6 and the later was the better image as it made Bree’s hair really crisp. So “no” I never shot her to be a composite. As for the image of the cell that was shot a year before. It is part of my large stock of images I shoot and save for elements.

Creating Images (create an image and slaying the naysayers along the way).

Melina Martin at Eastern States Penitentiary greenhouse.

1/125 sec at f/5.0 ISO 50 130mm

One of the biggest problems any photographer will run into when trying to create an image is that “you and only you” know what you want  to create and you cannot let anyone stand in your way or your destined to fail at creating what you want.

So let me take a few steps back and explain my opening statement. First let me say I am talking about creating an image and not just taking a photo, although the two topics sometimes are the same. Secondly if you are creating anything you are an artist of some sorts on some level, so… if you are the artist how does anyone else see your vision? They don’t, they can’t, they won’t or maybe the answer is all of the above. Get over it, don’t fight it, don’t dwell on it, just embrace it as if it were a mountain and find the road around it or the path straight up and over it. There has never been a mountain that could not be climbed.

Now let’s get back to our DSLR in hand and work our way through the murky waters of trying to create an image and slaying the naysayers along the way (say that three times real fast lol).

I have been sidetracked so many times when trying to create an image and today I’ll focus more on a model shoot then say an outdoor long exposure image. I talk about working with a model because this is the one topic I think a lot of new photographers need to think about and digest.

So at some point you start to get visions of what you want to create, you can see the colors, the particular model you want to use, the pose/s and of course the location, wardrobe and so on. Depending on the depth of your vision you may see everything down to the smallest detail. However… is life going to play along with your finely tuned game? Well most likely not. But this is where you need to muscle up and start smacking heads… well not quite, but seriously that is just how frustrating it can be and you as a person need to understand that nobody can see what you see and most times they don’t even care. Even paid models, hair stylist and makeup artists can be less than caring as to what you’re trying to do. And that’s people that you may be paying, but if you’re a new photographer starting out working with models and you want good images, you need to go to the next level and start designing what you want. Essentially you are just making a plan (you should be writing it down) to get to an end result. But working on a limited budget you will most likely be finding a TFP (time for print/photos) model and this is the first quagmire you’ll be stuck in. Just finding a model let alone one that is coherent and will actually show up and can at least follow your direction. Now please know I have worked with a lot of downright wonderful models who were also wonderful people. But you & I both know that not every single model out there is… shall we say “well grounded.” Did he/she get enough sleep? Is he/she high or drunk? Is he/she even connected to this universe? Again I am not trying to demean anybody, but fact is fact. So how do you get around this problem? “Test Shoot” you need to qualify the model with a test shoot and see what kind of person they are. I do this with paid models if I’m paying the bill. If a client pays and they trust the agency or the source where they found the model then that is on them. So do a test shoot and see how you relate with this person. And really all the above goes for makeup artists and hairstylist too, even assistants or lighting help.

There can be many other road blocks and I could do a single post on all of these but let’s just gloss over them here.

Location; did you scout out the location recently? Are you sure there is not going to be anything happening there the day of the shoot. Do you have permission to be there? Do you need a permit? Sometimes permits are not that expensive at all… I say sometimes, but it’s worth looking into.

Wardrobe; who’s is providing it and where is it. Do you have possession of it 24 hours before the shoot? Have you inspected it? Is it clean, no wrinkles, dust, and lint and so on? Does it fit the model?

Time; Have you checked that everybody is available for the amount of time that you will need? Is the shoot going to take more than one hour, if so you might want to have some sort of refreshments on hand like bottled water and other soft drinks? Sport drinks if it is a hot day and light snacks. Keep in mind if you provide this for everybody it keeps them from saying “I need to run out and get something.” When people leave the shoot it distracts and kills time. Sure this is going to cost you something, but if you’re smart it can be done good for very little amount of money. Always check with all people who will be on the shoot for food allergies and maybe their favorite brand of drinks (Coke, Pepsi, Evian ect…)

When I contact models, makeup artists and stylists I give them my phone number and tell them “texts are ok”, I also give them my email address, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook (business page) and my website address. I encourage them to follow me and I do the same back. I want them to see what I do and I want to see what they do. If they have no interest to follow me it throws up a red flag and I’ll really think hard about shooting with them.

“Stop texting me and pick up the phone.” Yes I am old enough to have grown up before mobile phones, the internet and DSLR cameras. Most of the models I have photographed have never even had the photo taken with a film camera; they have no idea about film at all lol. But so many people today both young and old love their texting and I do too, but at some point there has to be person to person conversation if you’re serious about working with me. And this can be another red flag as to really how much a person pays attention or really cares about what I (you) are trying to do. Remember this is not all about me; the final images are going to be used for the benefit of all parties involved.

Don’t think for a minute that a good or “great” image is going to happen for free. You will be hard pressed to find a model who shows up with hair, makeup and wardrobe worthy of creating great images. I will admit it has happened on occasion and when it did I was shocked… and of course I still shoot with those models again and again, why not. But don’t expect it to happen all that often. Remember you’re a photographer and your world is f/ stops and ISO, focal lengths and lighting. Nobody else lives in your world except other photographers. Models, makeup artists and stylists have no idea what your vision is, you have to be patient with people, embrace their short comings and most of all love people. Be kind, gentle and think of their needs, treat everyone with respect. I’m a lot older than most people I shoot with, sure “older is wiser” but that wiser can sometimes make younger people feel inferior or less confident. Famed fashion photographer Lindsay Adler once said (paraphrasing) she listens to people’s comments and ideas and then moves on. Sometimes using their advice and most times not, but she always listens. I too found Lindsay’s advice to be very useful. Listen to what people are saying, really genuinely listen maybe they have a great idea (for free no less) but then move on. Most times when people offer advice or ideas they are genuinely trying to help you, although they may not have a clue as to what you are doing and how you are doing it. Quick example would be something that happens to me all the time with portrait shoots; client wants photo is a special park or outdoor area. It is 1 o’clock in the afternoon on a bright sunny day and they think the perfect location is right out in the bright sunlight because… well its bright sunlight. I simply explain I need even light and we move to a proper area.

I could go on and on but this is a blog post and not a book… speaking of books there are some really great books on the topic of model shoots Frank Doorhof has a great book “Mastering the Model Shoot”. Lindsay Adler also covers shooting models in her “Designing an Image” tutorials. Both are great sources of knowledge on the topic.


Melina Martin at ESP (…let’s shoot our way out of this prison)

1/30 sec at f/2.8 ISO 1600 70 Lindsay Adler Lightroom preset “Dark Memory”


Model Melina Martin looked fabulous on Tuesday evening for the third and final photo shoot at Eastern States Penitentiary. Yes it was hot and very humid, but we made our way through the old shambles of the penitentiary and captured some nice images. Miss Martin is new and still learning and that is why I asked her to do this shoot. I wanted to give the young lady camera time and really just a chance to work with here again. I shot with her back in the spring time and she was amazing.

So as we entered inside of the walls at of ESP we started at a location I have not used before. I have always wanted to shoot around the old greenhouse, which by the way is in very good condition. I also found a second gate that has a medical cross on it. Located next to the greenhouse it must have been another entrance to the medical ward. The first well-known gate with a cross is located just off of the central rotunda in what would be numbered “Cell Block 3” but as  you head down that corridor about 50 feet you come to a locked gate with a medical cross the has remnants of red & white paint. This as I was always told was the main entrance to the medical area also known as “Cell Block 3”.

Crazy I know but the more I visit this creepy place the more I get to know it… and yes there is always the creep factor when I’m inside the walls of this 11 acre wasteland. The creepiness starts to rise when you have idle time and stop and actually look at any one particular thing. But I think the most intense feelings (for me personally) are stirred up when I walk through the earliest built cell blocks like #1 and #4. Just to think of that concept that once you (the prisoner) entered the cell block and walked into your cell that is where you stayed for the duration of your sentence, in that cell and the tiny court-yard located off the back off the cell. You had one hour a day in the court-yard and the walls are so high all you can see is the sky. And then someone will speak or make a loud noise and you come back to the reality that you here for a photo shoot. But it’s that short time you drift away that you think about the pain of that prisoner living a life of immense solitude. And I also think that maybe it was a fitting punishment for his crime. How many people did he murder? Or was it rape? Did he kill children? Yeah lots of crazy thoughts as I walk through that creepy old place. And then all of a sudden we stop walking and we’re at a shoot location and my mind comes back to f/ stops and ISO settings.

So for this day I used my all-time favorite window location at cell block 3, but I ran into technical problems with my radio flash and not having a lighting assistant of this day was really making me… well let’s just say “troubled” although I can think of a lot worse four letter words to use here. So I sent Melina off to change wardrobe as I worked out the issue and the issue turned out to be a controller not properly fitted to the camera’s hot shoe. Such a simple fix… after you replace speedlite batteries (that were ok to start with), change flash units and maybe ten other things… then you notice the controller is just not quite mounted correctly… duh!

I found a new location under a stairway that had a lot of crackled paint and that made for some nice shots, but very crowded area and that made for a lot of distractions. So at this point I said to Melina “Ok, I think we’re pretty much done for the night, but let’s shoot our way out of this prison, we’ll find other places to shoot as we work our way back to the exit.” And with that statement she busted out in laughter and I had no idea what she was laughing at. She said “shoot our way out of this prison that is so funny.” Then I started to laugh too. It did sound funny when you think about it.

So as we started to so-called “shoot our way” back to the exit I stopped at the junction where cell blocks 8 & 9 separate. There was very nice window light, soft and pleasing natural light. This is where we finished up the shoot and then headed back out through the main gate to Fairmount Avenue.

I look forward to next year.


1/160 sec at f/3.5 ISO 50 155mm

1/160 sec at f/8.0 ISO 50 70mm

1/160 sec at f/8.0 ISO 50 70mm