A little throwback for Thursday. I have been so busy that today I needed to just sit back and look at some images from a few years ago. I come across “Cigar Break” and I remember how much fun the shoot was. It was also hot and humid that day but a lot of fun none the less. The contrast of the beautiful model with that old wooden Indian just makes this photo for me. I love it.
I feel like taking a little abuse today so I’ll drag this “dead horse” of a subject out of the barn and beat it a little more… Why? Well just because a dead horse needs to be beat every once in a while.
“I don’t need a DSLR because my iPhone is just as good or better”. How many times I have heard this statement and I’m sure you have too. Why maybe you are one of those people who have made this statement. And actually the main reason I bring this dead (as far as I’m concerned) topic up is because someone I was talking with the other day was asking me advice on what kind of camera to purchase. The gentleman seen me with my DLSR and it started up a conversation. This man whose name is Mike said that he was an amateur painter and because he couldn’t paint from memory he thought a god camera would help him capture scenes that later could be painted. So I explained you really do not need a high-end camera but a decent DSLR with a wide lens would suffice as an entry point into DSLR photography. He then asked “Can you explain why an iPhone would not work in place of a DSLR?” My reply was it will work for capturing wide-angle environmental shots with no problem, but… that’s about where it stops. If you ever decide you want to get creative and you want very shallow depth of field (sdof) and stay crisp with focus the little pee-wee elements that any mobile phone lens is made of is never going to get you there.
It’s kind of like when I had my first dirt bike (motocross motorcycle) I was so good… I was fast, I was quick in the turns, I flew over jumps like an eagle. I mean nothing could touch me. Till the day I entered my first race and I realized I was “legend in my own mind.” Twenty bikes lined up at a starting gate… only five fit through the first turn. Hummm… If I go down these guys are gonna use my head for traction… Oh my… yeah so you see the scene.
The mobile phone photographer is pretty much that same legend in his own mind, he thinks he’s got a great camera, but put it up against a good DSLR and a great lens and your left in the dust. Especially when it comes to shallow depth of field you just cannot get the bokeh nor can you get the compression that an f/1.2 to f/2.8 lens can offer. I like many others have been brow beaten on social media with long-winded explanations of how I’m wrong and yda yda yda… And I’m just talking about shallow depth of field today, why I haven’t even went into the print side of the whole conversation, about how you cannot really get the quality need for say 20”x30” prints without using something like genuine fractals to up size the file. Nor have I touched on the fact the mobile phones do not shoot in RAW format. And actually the biggest grip I have with phone cameras is nearly every function is touch screen controlled. When I set out years ago to learn how to use “manual” mode on my first DSLR I also made it a point to learn each and every setting and control on my camera. I actually set a goal to go through the whole manual and learn what every little thing on the camera did and how to properly use the control or function. While doing so I realized that not all controls were positioned for quick or easy access. I then noticed as I moved up to better camera bodies the controls and functions were more ergonomically laid out. For example the body I use now lets me assign what button I want to control the ISO and I can change ISO settings in a flash or maybe exposure compensation, again I can change it on the fly and be ready for the next shot quickly. Try that with your mobile phone… seriously tell me how fast you can do any of what I just mentioned with any mobile phone or any other mobile device. Oh I just love the iPad photographer twisting and turning this huge screen to get a shot… why not carry a TV around? Mobile phones are great for catching the personal moment or maybe for documenting something to say “yeah here see I have a photo of it right here on my phone” and of course social media would most likely wither up, dry out and blow away without the plethora of selfies that are posted… I mean what would Instagram do if there were never another selfie taken? Ever think about that? What would IG do?
Ok, I’ve had my fun we can drag the dead horse back in the barn till next time.
I love this photo so much for many reasons. First of all it has the ever amazing Reese Maddox smoking a cigar, second it was a totally impromptu shot. While walking down the street in Bethlehem, PA with Reese we happened upon this Cigar shop and how could I not take a shot of her taking a “Cigar Break.” It was actually pretty funny as we were setting up the shot, people walking by looking at her and then looking at me and realizing they were in front of my tripod. Just one of those magic days.
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.
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.
Every year about this time I like to sit and reflect back all the photos that I shot in the previous year. Of course it is nearly impossible to come up with a single choice and say “this is the best.” So rather than say one photo is better that all others I choose to put them into categories and make a brief statement about the photo.
Of course I will start with my wife. I think this photo of Munn is my favorite of 2014. It was just a quick shot with no real setup. But she was so happy to start her very first real job here in the USA. Although she has worked for our catering business she had never really officially worked anywhere else. The photo was captured just outside in the yard moments before she got in the car.
I post photos to the 500px website from time to time and I have learned it is extremely hard to post a photo of a pretty female face and get a score above 90.0, unless you give the photo some sort of strange edit such as overly white eyes or some other in (my opinion) bizarre edit. So this photo of Philadelphia model Chloe received a very high score of 96.2 in less than 24 hours and I might add that it was one of my favorite model shots of the 2014 season.
Like most people who are photographers and have pets, I too take a lot of photos of my Bichon Pixel or as we usually call her “Pixie.” I loved the back lit structure to the photo.
My favorite food shot of 2014 was of food I never even got to taste. While doing a model shoot in Historic section of Bethlehem PA, I was walking with the model from one location to the other and as we walked past a sidewalk café an older couple were just about to dive in to their lunch when I see these sliders the waitress just put down on the table. I stop and engage the couple with a “hi, hey that food looks delicious” and the man who was clearly not happy to see me had a look of horror as if I was going to request a bite of food. The lady on the other hand was very pleasant and I asked if I could just take a single photo of the slider burgers. I actually shot of three quick shots and every time I look at this photo I get hungry. The photo is also nice because it uses the rule of thirds, the rule of odds and has leading lines. But most of all it just looks like you could almost taste those sliders.
I love my extreme close up face shots and the shot of model Reese Maddox is just so damn beautiful. Her face is very plain & natural in the photo and it was at the beginning of the shoot. Then add in that creamy green bokeh and the yellow flower in contrast to her striking ebony beauty, it for me, makes a very interesting shot.
I think my most memorable shot of the season was with teen model Kendall Strampel. It was our first shoot together and it all came together very quickly over the time of a few days. I was running late to the shoot, it was August so it was hot and I meet Kendall and her parents at the location. I for whatever reason under estimated this young lady. I’m thinking “ok teen model with just a little experience and she’ll be very nervous and I’ll have to explain a lot and direct a lot to get any kind of a good pose,” let alone a great pose. At least that is what I thought beforehand and boy was I dead wrong. Although the framing of this shot was off it is my most memorable because it was the very first click of the shutter for the shoot. I said “ok stand here and give me something (a pose).” I received the biggest smile with a hand up that was creating some negative space and a triangular shape to the arm and again while the shot is not perfect, at the moment I looked into the back of the camera and I was sort of dumbfounded… the girl is an amazing model and the whole shoot that day was awesome, her parents are wonderful people and so many great images came that day. When I look at this photo I remember the day I met a very talented young lady.
By far my most favorite Photoshop composite is “Krazed Kendall” where we see Kendall in a gas mask behind the locked gate to the medical ward at the famed Eastern States Penitentiary in Philadelphia. The gate was never shot with the intention of ever using it as a background. The shot of Kendall took place a few months later at Lockridge Park. It was the end of the shoot and we wanted to get a little crazy so we brought out the gas mask. Putting it together in Photoshop resulted in this very striking image. Kendall’s dedication to personal health & fitness really makes this shot.
My favorite for best use of props is Reese smoking the cigar in front of a cigar shop. Love this photo and it too had a huge score over at 500px. The cigar is not real and this was so impromptu, just a spur of the moment and I happened to have a fake cigar.
My favorite hair style shot was that of the lovely Amanda. The hairstyle created by hairstylist Megan Motter. I received so many comments about this photo. Also my favorite Glamour style shot too.
Although I have many fashion shots this shot that I did in the autumn with the amazing Ambré Baxter was a great shot. And I have to say I wanted the coat off and she said “no it’ll be fine” and how right she was.
My favorite location shot is certainly the Gatekeepers shot from the shoot I did at Eastern States Penitentiary with models Reese & Tishana. The dresses are designed by Owned by Lisa_J of Philadelphia, hair by Its The Gurl B and makeup by TeDara Watts.
And although I worked with many models in 2014 I have to say Cynthia is the most amazing young lady for being able to connect with my mind while shooting. And I say this because it really is almost kind of scary. I’ll think of what I want to tell her to do and as I look up to say the words she is already doing it. Her posing is endless and not repetitious. She comes to a shoot with a personality that turns the shoot into a show of sorts. She is perverted, silly, smart, flirty, professional and a down right amazing model. You come away from the shoot exhausted from laughter.
My most favorite animal shot goes to Gurdy. She is no longer with us. Rest in peace you beautiful creature.
Best “Street Style” photo was the Thai Taxi Ride.
My favorite Landscape photo for 2014 is this temple shot from Ancient Siam City in Thailand.
My favorite sunset. Siam Bay on Ko Chang, Thailand.
Most favorite action shot.
My favorite selfie with my Thai angel at Thepsuda Bridge in Kalasin Thailand. Waiting for that awesome sunset that never came. So we started taking selfies lol.
I was going to stop at ten photos, but I have so many favorites. I encourage everybody to take the time and go back through your photos from 2014 and pick your best and share with your friends. Remember; You need to have a good filing system that works for you so you can always find your special moments when you want them. Today we have cloud services (some free) that let us sync our photos. More and more cameras are coming equipped with WiFi allowing direct uploads. Honestly now is a great time to sit down and organize photos. I did a post on this last year but simply put what works for me is to put all my photos in folders by the date they were shot.
2015 is going to be a great year for my photography I know. Why? Because like last year I set goals and I reached most of them and had a lot of fun along the way. Happy New Year everybody.
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…
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.