Out THe Door Without A Plan ( Thanksgiving morning at daybreak is driving nirvana.)

1/200 sec at f/8.0 ISO 200 168 mm.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! I started the day by getting up early grabbing the camera bag, the drone bag and heading out the door before sunrise. My goal was to capture a scene that would convey “Thanksgiving in The Country.” Or something close to that, however I knew going out the door without a plan is a horrible idea. And it was.

But not all was lost, because being out early on the empty roads was like therapy. It gave me time to think. For whatever reason driving for me is relaxing and driving when you’re the only one on the road is like heaven. Thanksgiving morning at daybreak is driving nirvana. After a while I could care less about capturing my Thanksgiving photo. I was driving along the Delaware River and I started thinking about the upcoming Christmas season and that thought lead to the “New Year” coming and that thought lead to “what are my goals” and then I… well let’s just say “I was lost,” like literally lost for a moment. Not really lost, but more like “hey I need to turn back” and head home because I do have a holiday dinner to prepare lol.

So I did just that and as I was heading back I kept taking roads that lead towards home, but just not the usual roads. And then I came across this scene with the horses and the farm in the distance. I actually turned the car around so I could shoot without getting out of the car (I’m lazy lol). First I sat and marveled the scene and took it all in. It was about 25°F so the air was crisp; the sun was on the rise and not a cloud in the sky. The foreground was still in dark shadow so this in my opinion made it “not” the perfect shot, but it was beautiful nonetheless.

I’m not a “horse” person per say, but I love to see them grazing, I love the fences and farms are part of me because I grew up on a dairy farm. Farms are beautiful and here in my part of New Jersey they are getting far and few between.

So there it is, my Thanksgiving Day photo and the day was more productive than I first though because I started planning out my goal for 2018. I have more thought to put into them before I solidify them and write them down. I truly want 2018 to be a great year in my life and as for my photography and videography… it’s going to the next level.

Photo notes: 1/200 sec at f/8.0 ISO 200 168 mm. Then I edited in Photoshop and applied a few LUTs.

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

Why I Blog & Vlog (…Quite a novel thing those directions are.)

1/640 sec at f/3.2 ISO 100 115mm (see photo notes below)

There is more to blogging & vlogging than some may think. Often when I am questioned about why I blog or vlog it is usually a non-millennial or to be frank “an older person.”

As a photographer and Photoshop creator/editor blogging & vlogging helps me on many levels. Now first I have to say that I do not aspire at this time to making blogging & vlogging a sole means of income as is often the case. So when asked about my B&V it is usually followed by; does it make you money? And the answer is “yes & no” (a little confusing).

Ok so here is the break down as to what blogging does for me as a photographer. In short it makes me relevant in the realm of what I do and the long answer would best be explained by giving an example.

So here is Rich Smith Jr out doing something with his camera. It could be a paid client shoot, it could be a project shoot with a model or I could be out and about shooting street photography. Either way at some point there is always a chance that someone is going to approach me and start asking questions. The questions could range from a photo enthusiast who is asking questions, to a potential client or even a police officer wanting to know what the hell I’m doing. So of course the first action is to give a business card, nothing fancy, but a card with my name, phone number, email and website is all that is needed. Now of course in this day and age anybody can have a business card printed and anybody can make a website in a matter of minutes. So having a blog and or a vlog present and easy to find lets people see exactly what you do.

For example a park ranger I ran into a few weeks back seen me with my drone. I wasn’t doing anything wrong, he was merely asking me technical questions about the drone. I gave him my card and while we were talking his partner using a smart phone was on my YouTube channel in a matter of minutes and they were looking at my videos. (my stupid little short videos) The ranger than stated “you’re the first person I have actually talked to that could show me they actually know how to create a video with a drone. He said most people get nervous and they just want to get away as soon as possible. I laughed, I have nothing to hide, I know the laws and I try my best to abide by them. Same goes for my photography, I try to abide by the law… well except that railroad track thing but… So soon the ranger noticed I had a video about how to copyright images with the library of congress and he was somewhat impressed. He asked me how I learned how to do that? My answer; reading, I read how to do it and I did go to a few seminars but mostly just reading. Kind of like when you buy something and you read that little book that come with it called “directions.” Quite a novel thing those directions are.

Another example of being relevant in what I do would be the time I was out shooting with a client at a park. This was last year; a lady had contacted me by way of a friend and asked if I would meet her at the mill in Stockton for a “mother daughter” shoot. Her daughter had just finished college and was heading off to Europe for two years. Although she would visit her daughter in Europe she wanted some nice photos of her and her daughter before she left the states. It’s a “mom thing” she said. So we met up at the mill and we really hit it off right away. The daughter was a few minutes late and mom was teasing her. Soon into the shoot they were really having fun, laughing and joking. I noticed another lady watching us and soon she approached me and asked “if I was a real photographer?” I said “no but don’t tell these two because they’re paying me money today.” We all got a good laugh and I handed her my business card. She went on her way.

As I was packing up my gear at the parking lot and getting ready to leave, when the lady whom I had given the business card to appeared with her husband and started asking me about family portraits, that they wanted to do at this same location. They liked the old mill and wanted to have some family photos taken there. At one point she exclaimed at how much fun the mother & daughter were having and said I would be “the perfect photographer” because I make people happy. This was a huge compliment although I had to come clean and tell her “it was all them” they were just happy people.  Anyway I did do the portrait shoot and it led to 5 more jobs with her recommendations. What I did not know until much later was that after handing her my card her and her husband sat in their car with their iPad checking out my website, my blog and my vlog. And that coupled with seeing me actually working with a client sealed the deal.

So while I may not make actual money advertising products on my blog, it still gets me work. It shows I am relevant and sets me apart from “guy with a camera.” Another benefit that blogging does for me is helps me with my writing skills, spelling and grammar. I wish I could say I write a blog post every day, but sadly time is the culprit.

Times have changes as we all know and we have so many resources available to us that if we do not utilize some of the resources we appear obsolete in what we do. I remember when fax machines were all the rage and I heard someone say “if you do not stay current with technology life will run you over in a heartbeat.” And it is so true (to a certain extent). So I say “ignore technology and you age quicker than you ever though possible.

Thank so much for reading and have a great day.

Photo notes: While I absolutely love this wedding day image of Kyle & Nicole, I cannot take full credit for the creation. The idea for this image was actually Nicole’s idea. I provided the umbrella, camera and lens. Nicole provided the sheer look of “a bride in love” and that wasn’t hard for her to do at all lol.

Diary of A wedding Photographer (it is like when someone decides to go on a day long hike in the mountains.)

1/125 f/3.5 ISO 250 80mm

I recently shot a wedding. I have never aspired to be a wedding photographer for several reasons that I have spoken about in other posts. With that said I never shy away from a wedding because it is a challenge. No one will ever say “wedding photography is fun” because it is not. If you are a full time wedding shooter it is your job and it is a very tough and saturated business. I will shoot weddings because they are a challenge and what I mean by that is; it is like when someone decides to go on a day long hike in the mountains. Sure you like the outdoors, you know how to hike and you like hiking, but a day long hike means you will certainly be doing a little bit of planning and you’ll be tired at the end of the day. Tired, yes, but you will have accomplished something you really like doing and that is capturing great images.

So let’s go over the gear I used and please know I try to keep it as simple as possible, but at the same time I want to do a great (not good but great) job.

Two full size DSLR camera bodies with full crop sensors. Full crop sensors are a must have for low light… and you will be in low light at some point.

Lenses must be good quality if you are doing a paid gig. If you do not own good lenses then go rent them. I am fortunate enough to have my own lenses, but there was a time when I had to rent one or two. For this wedding I used a 24-70mm f/2.8 on one body and a 70-200mm f/2.8 on the second body. I also had an 85mm f/1.4 prime for low light shots of the bride getting ready.

I had on hand one radio controlled speedlight on a stick that could be controlled from both cameras. So no matter which camera I was shooting with I could control the light. I use TTL mode for the light and increase or decrease as needed.

I also used a hand-held wand light for a few shots.

For formal portraits I used one light stand with a studio flash and a battery pack. Sounds expensive, but it was all Paul C Buff which is state of the art equipment that is affordable.

One Blackrapid double camera strap.

Sandisk two 32GB & two 16GB Extreme Pro SD cards with a water proof and crush proof SD card case. Note: I never used all the cards. Total images shot about 1800 for the day.

And yes one good strong assistant who I always work with.

So for the most part I like to shoot weddings in available light, I only use the speedlight when absolutely needed. I like to shoot in a journalistic timeline style, however I will do the formals and creative shots with bride and groom.

This wedding started with me arriving at the bride’s home in the morning to shoot the dress, shoes and some makeup shots. Then driving to the park where the wedding would take place. The actual location was along a walking trail in a wooded area. My assistant and myself quickly scoped out the area for the formals and we then checked the lighting in the wooded area.

The groom and the groomsmen arrived first and the shooting began. Doing creative shots as well as canids, myself I do not dwell and all the hokie creative shots, but more on the special moments. Moments like when two family members who have not seen each other in a long time are smiling and shaking hands or hugging. The image of two people interacting like that will mean so much more in years to come than the groom standing with his buddies in some overdone pose. Every photographer wants to create these awesome photos that have impact and will often overlook the value of the really special moments that don’t look that special at all… today. But as time passes the photos will grow in meaning.

Ok, so then the guests all showed up and headed to the wooded area. The bride had arrived, but was tucked away in the limo awaiting the big moment. So at this point it becomes non-stop shooting. Not spray and pray, but literally non-stop looking for special moments and interaction between her and her mother and the bride’s maids. Needless to say I must now stay with the bride until the ceremony is finished and I did.

I captured all the classic shots from ring exchange to first kiss, the laughing, the crying and everything in between. Turns out I never needed the speedlight at this point so I sent my assistant to a location on the other side of a ravine to be a second shooter for just one particular far away shot. It was a shot capturing the whole wedding ceremony as seen looking through the leaves on the trees. He used my trusty Canon EOS M3 and he did a great job for someone who is not a photographer.

Now shooting the crowd breaking up and departing, again a lot of little special moments. The bride & groom walking by themselves through the forest and making their way back to the parking area.

Now I must take a moment to say that I did not attend a rehearsal, however I had discussed the days’ timeline over breakfast with the couple about a month and half prior. But after the ceremony nothing was scripted, I just followed them and we would stop here and there and shoot. Sometimes I was shooting them without them knowing I was shooting. Use a long lens and put the shutter on silent, great trick.

Now I chose a big open spot in a field for formals with the forest in the background. This way I have no objects growing out of people’s heads and it looked good.

After formals it was the creative shots with the bride & groom. Again I did not get into the crazy over the top poses. I stuck to the images I knew they would like and that we had discussed. There was a very special shot the bride wanted to do with a clear umbrella and I had a brand new clear umbrella all waiting for her. With the help of my assistant the images were captured quickly.

Now a 45 minute ride to the reception venue, but it turned into over an hour-long ride due to an accident and traffic on the highway.

At the venue it was more shooting, but this time it was mostly shots of the whole bridal party. Something to kill time while we waited for all the guests to arrive.

And now the reception photos, the new couples arrival along with bridal party, first dance, mother son dance, father daughter dance and so on. The garter and bouquet toss and finally the cutting of the cake. Not to mention all the while capturing the little moments as I had mentioned earlier.

So my day started at 10:30am at the bride’s home and ended around 8:00pm at the reception. So I think you can see what I mean when I say it is a challenge and not just a “walk in the park.” I must also say that I give everything I have to make this day run as smooth as possible for everyone. And most important of all is I need (not want) to deliver good quality images. Why? Because that is what I do. I want the bride and groom to have nice photos, but at the same time I want nice photos for myself. I want to be able to look at the images I captured and say to myself “you did a great job here today.” I know that sounds crazy, but that is how serious I take what I do. Maybe everyone else likes the photos, but if I don’t like them I will beat myself up about it. I won’t say anything to anybody, but I will just feel I failed… got love that OCD lol.

All in all is was an amazing day the bride & groom are amazing people and their guests were just so easy to work with. I did not have any problems with cell phone shooters and everyone was respectful of the paid photographer.

Dancing On An Island (…“it is about decisive moments and interactions” )

These are the moments in life that really turn me on as a photographer. When you look in on a wedding reception and there is all of this chaotic interaction. People are eating, talking, some are outside smoking, there are people drinking and then… you see two people lost in their selves on a dance floor. Nobody else is dancing but just them and nobody is even paying any attention. These are the special moments that some wedding photographers will overlook because they want to stay pinned to the bride and groom for the whole day/night.

Wedding photography in my opinion is so much more than just capturing the beautiful images of a bride and groom on their special day. I once heard New Jersey based photographer Cliff Mautner  say “it is about decisive moments and interactions” and not all about getting technically accurate photos. Essentially at the end of the day you (the photographer) should have all the classic images of things like the bride walking down the aisle, ring exchange, the first kiss ect… Then of course you will have your formals of the family, the wedding party ect… Quite honestly these are very easy images to capture because most wedding flow the same. I say “most”, but not all. Think about it; you’re at a venue the guests are seated, the groom is waiting, the bride is entering and so on. Sure dealing with the iPhone people can be a challenge; weather (if it is outdoors) can be challenging, but after you do enough wedding these challenges become easier to deal with and overcome. This then of course make your job a lot easier and you can go slam out a wedding. But are you capturing the moments?

When we look at some wedding photographers portfolios or look at the couple’s photo books or albums we sometimes see all these great images, but are we seeing the special interactions or those special moments? Seeing the classic shots are nice, however like I said they are relatively easy to obtain. As long as you know and I do mean “know” your entire camera technical you should be looking for the special moments. Think about it; how much more you can do when you never really have to think about camera technical. You walk into a scene and you are the “auto mode” for the camera. You know what ISO, shutter speed, aperture, hell you even know if you should “spot weight metering” for a special shot. I mostly work with two bodies; one will have a 24-70mm f/2.8 and the other a 70-200mm f/2.8. I’ll have an 85mm prime for some special work that I can throw on real quick. And that is it for cameras & lenses, then there is a speedlight on a stick or a continuous light such as a wand light either hand-held or on a stick.

Some special moments take time to evolve and what I mean by this is; the image you captured today might not mean a whole lot today. However we all know time changes everything and what looks like an ordinary image today could mean the world to someone tomorrow. Weddings are the most likely place to find these kinds of shots. But if you’re just there to get photos of a bride coming down the aisle, rings, kissing and hugs you may not be living up to the potential of your job.

 

 

Somebody’s Angel

Angels come in all shapes and sizes.

Angels come in all shapes and sizes. They can often appear in your darkest hours when hope feels like a meaningless word. Keeping faith in all things you do, stay strong and lead others. Faith in your god, your country and most of all yourself is what strong people are made of. You too could be an angel someone and never know it.

Carabao at the Irving Plaza NYC. (They were perfectly loud and I say it that way because …)

So I recently went with my wife and a friend to see Caraboa at the famed Irving Plaza in NYC. Now for my American friends let me give a brief description of Caraboa. They are a Thai rock band that started up in 1981 and continues to go strong today. Their material can be described simply as “song for life.” Their music is fueled by the protest and upheaval of the 1970’s in Thailand. Very similar in some ways as some of the American & British rock bands of the late sixties and early 70’s.

So I know my American musician friends are asking; are they any good? And I can say with a 100% yes. They are a world-class band for sure. They are as tight and on point as any great band I have ever seen. While they are influenced by many sources the overall feel for me personally was very Allman Brothers-ish (without the extended guitar jams). The music is rock driven guitar with prominent keyboard and at times other various instruments. They were perfectly loud and I say it that way because after a near three-hour performance and standing only about 30 feet from the stage I left the show with hearing intact. Their sound mix was perfect too, I could hear every instrument and vocal clearly. There was no fancy gimmicks or stage antics just good ole hard-core guitar driven rock music. At the same time I must point out that they have a strong style all their own and while they come across as a “rock band” on some tunes I hear the influence of folk music with mandolin, flute and acoustic guitar. Most of their songs have a bouncing beat that kept the crowd dancing through the whole show. So I can say “yes” to putting on an energetic show and nobody is falling asleep. Just like Thai food has a signature taste with lime leaf, lemongrass and tamarind. Carabao’s music has a signature Thai feel for the most part. When I visit Thailand I really like the sound of the Isaan/Lao style and I could hear that coming through in some of Carabao’s tunes.

Although I know very little Thai and I did not understand most of the vocals I still enjoyed the event.  Music is universal and being a fan of guitar driven rock I loved the show and I would go see them again.

My only gripe would be the timing of the event. The doors opened at 11:00pm on a Sunday night in NYC. The band actually took to the stage at 12:20am (Monday morning) so yeah… definitely not going to work on a Monday morning. I realize it was most likely due to last-minute booking so they could get a show in on the east coast. And with that said there were fans there from far and wide. I met people from Virginia, Ohio, Georgia, Maryland, Connecticut, Massachusetts and more. There fans are obviously dedicated and not just a bunch of older folks. I saw many people in their twenties attending the show.

About the photography:

I used my Canon EOS M3 with the 18-55mm lens. Small and easy to carry, plus the Irving Plaza does not let people in with professional cameras. I was there strictly as a concert goer and nothing more. I arrived early because it was general admission. I found a spot along the side of the room at stage left. There was a two tier standing bar and I positioned myself at the end closest the stage lower tier about 3 feet above floor level. So I had a great view of the stage, a place to rest my drink, camera & phone. And I was just above the heads of all the fans standing in front of the stage.

Camera settings: All my shot were captured at 1/125 sec in Tv mode. ISO was auto as was aperture. Most times ISO racked out to 6400 that was what I set the limit at and aperture would fall at f/5.6 which is the widest setting for that lens when zoomed to 55mm. If I captured a wide shot at let’s say 18mm the ISO would fall to 2500 sometimes and the aperture would fall to f/4.0.

So yes the shots are grainy with ISO noise but certainly not unusable or un-editable. And “yes” of course I captured everything in RAW. Even my worst image of the night was better than every iPhone or Android shot. I think the ISO grain gives a good feel to the shots.