Tuesday, April 1, 2008

What about photography creates the buzz?

A question occurred to me the other day, "Why photograph? What is it about photography that gets my juices flowing, gets my heart beating just a touch faster, provides the satisfaction? What is it about photography that gives me that buzz?" And, no, this isn't some sort of strange April 1st joke. This is, to me, a very serious question.

With a little reflection and some belly-button contemplation (can't really call it thinking), I arrived at this list of reasons why some people get bitten by the photography bug:

  • Earning the big money :)
  • The over-whelming adulation of "the beautiful people"
  • The sens of power realized when an image is manipulated, thus altering someone else's perception of reality
Actually, that last one might actually be a valid thought, but the others? Well....

For me ... I'm a card carrying member of RA (Romantics Anonymous) and I get a powerful buzz from the emotions I see expressed by newlyweds. Not so much during the actual wedding ceremony - though it does sometimes happen. But, at the reception when the bride and groom have had a chance to de-pressurize a bit, relax a bit, and start to realize the depth and breadth of the commitment they have made to the other. And the commitment the other has made to them. I've seen crying, and laughing, and utterly calm joy.

Here are just a couple of examples of what I mean:


Anther aspect of my photography that excites me is the sheer wonder and awe inspired within me when viewing and imaging the Master Work of Art that is Nature:



Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Beauty can be found anywhere

Richmond VA - The Hollywood Cemetery is one of the major tourist attractions in the Ricmond area. It is the final resting place of Presidents James Monroe and John Tyler as well as several major figures from our Civil War history. In addition, it is one of the most beautiful cemeteries that local residents select as the final resting place of loved ones.

A Newport News photography club recently traveled to the Hollywood Cemetery to explore and to photograh this park-like setting. I elected to photograph using my most recently aquired toy - my MaxMax IR converted Canon 20D camera.

1. This is just one of the many mausoleums to be found in the cemetery.

2. The white, "spade-shaped" tree is a Bradford Pear. They flower for about a week in the early spring (beautiful flowers) and break apart at the slightest storm. I think they are so popular because the are fast growing and for the short flowering season each year.

3. This is a 90-foot granite pyramid, completed in 1869, as a monument to the 18,000 Confederate enlisted men burried nearby. What is interesting about this structure, aside from it's historical significance, is that the stones are not mortored into place.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Some short time ago I found myself with three cameras and I only needed two for the work I do. Time to get the third one converted! First I sent the 20D to Canon to get the focus calibrated as I wanted to make sure that all was working to specification before I sent it to MaxMax. When it came back I tested that the focus had, indeed, been corrected. All was good so I shipped it off to MaxMax with the required note outlining that I wanted the 830nm conversion.

Shortly after I got the IR converted camera back from MaxMax a local digital photography club (of which I am a member - imagine that :) ) went out on an afternoon photo shoot session. The following are a few of the images I captured:

1. Unfortunately, there no clouds in the sky to led some drama

2. Just a bridge. For me, the interesting point is the young man on the bridge - that's my son!

When MaxMax does the conversion, they remove the ICF/AA filter(s). The AA filter is something the manufacturer puts in the light path to the sensor to actually blur the photo. Why do camera manufacturers do this? Because, without it, when a photographer shoots something with lots of parallel lines, they will more likely get unsightly moiré patterns in their photos. The AA filter reduces, but does not eliminate, the incidence of these patterns. Net result, when shooting anything not containing a series of parellel lines, the potential for a very sharp photo is greatly enhanced and your need for sharpening during post processing is greatly reduced.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Why a professional photographer?

I hear it all the time, "Why should I hire a professional photographer to make my portrait. They're so expensive!" I also, frequently encounter people who, for one reason or another, think (or at least say they think) they can't take a beautiful photograph.

A friend of mine is one such lady. I've been "after her" for the better part of a year to allow me to photograph her portrait, even on a time for prints basis. To say she was reluctant is to put it mildly.

In the middle of last year she referred to me a friend who was planning to get married. Her friend signed a contract with me, hiring me to photograph her beautiful day. As part of my "advertising campaign" I give my friend a $100 gift certificate for the referral. The certificate is good only towards services (sitting fees, etc) and, of course, has zero cash value. For personal reasons, my friend was in a position where she had to redeem it now or not at all.

So I finally had my opportunity to photograph this beautiful lady.
Why was she under the impression that she did not photograph well? During discussions, it soon surfaced she had not been provided with an opportunity to be photographed by a professional photographer. Her experience was limited to those results provided by friends and family and by the large chain stores providing a "portrait studio experience".

A professional photographer takes their time and they bring all their experience to bear when creating a flattering portrait that the client will be proud to display in their home. They consider as many variables as possible:

  • First and foremost is TIME! Making portraits is something a photographer does all the time and so is very comfortable. For many clients, making a portrait is something that will happens only a very few times during their life. They are unsure and may be afraid of looking foolish. A professional will take all the time necessary to help the client become comfortable. Because any un-ease or discomfort can be easily seen in a photograph, it is only after the client is comfortable that a striking portrait can be made.
  • Rather than using the same lighting as in their previous client, a professional photographer will "customize" the lighting to the needs of the portrait.
  • Does the client have a "best side". Many clients will favor one side over the other. A professional photographer will take these preferences into consideration.
As in most things, you get what you pay for. Inexpensive (dare I say "cheap") portraits will usually bear the brand.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Short Tute: It's about the emotion

With the continually falling prices of digital SLR cameras, it's quite common to discover one or more guests at a wedding with equipment at least as good as that of the hired professional. And, in many cases, a guest can make technically competent photographs - that is to say, the color, contrast, exposure all look pretty good, if not great.

So one may wonder why they should consider hiring a professional wedding photographer when "Uncle Bob knows how to take pictures and has some nice cameras"?

Wedding photography is not just about the technical quality. It the ability to consistently see and photograph the emotion, the feelings, and the interaction between the people that differentiate the hobbyist and the professional.

An example of interaction (and romance). This couple, guests at the reception, have been married for a couple or more years, but the romantic atmosphere at the reception induced this reaction:

Emotion - When the bride enters the sanctuary, she is the center of attention. If the photographer had been concentrating on the bride to the exclusion of all else, he would have missed this sequence:

The groom when first he sees his beautiful bride entering the sanctuary

The groom is starting to recover
It's not just the groom who can get emotional.
The mother and father of the bride, during the reception:
Mother and Father of the brideThe bride during the lighting of the unity candle
Lighting the unity candleThe entire congregation during the recessional:
Wedding RecessionalOpportunities to photograph interactions between guests abound at the reception and the photographer must work to find and be actively seeking out these opportunities. An example: close friends sharing family photos:

Emotions, especially those of the bride, are in "full swing" at the reception. For the last six months (or so), she been under a lot of pressure, planning the wedding day and worrying about all the details, etc. So, by the time of the reception, she's starting to "de-pressurize".

First Dance:
Blum/Sposito First DanceOf course, it's not just about the intense emotions either. Need some fun in there as well. Here, it's obvious the groom is thrilled:

Thumbs UpSo, do your research. Look at the style and content and emotion in the photographs being shown by any photographer you are considering hiring. Do you feel the joy of the day? Do you want to see yourself in similar photographs? If the answer to these, and other, questions is a resounding "YES," then you have found a photograph who may fit your needs. But, there more qualifications to be considered, but that's a subject for another tutorial.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Short Tute: Off-Camera Flash

Before we get started with the off-camera flash discussion, let's take a quick look at "on-camera" camera flash. It's usually a good idea to be able to compare one thing with something that most people are familiar. So on-camera flash - what is it and what's it get us and, even more importantly, what might it's short comings be?

On camera flash is convenient. Your on-board flash, if your camera is so equipped, is always there. If you have an external flash, it’s quite easy to mount it on your camera’s hot-shoe and start shooting. In fact, most modern cameras can “talk” to your flash and, between the two of them, figure out how much light should be flashed at your subject to get what the camera thinks is a good exposure. And you often end up with something that looks like this:

This image is fairly well exposed, but there’s no shadows to help the viewer get a sense of depth. Contrary to many people's first thoughts on the matter, shadows, when taken in moderation, are a good thing. The light in the above photo causes it to look very flat - there are almost no clues for the view to help him see the 3D relationships between the various elements of the photo.

Off-Camera Flash can provide a completely different look. The following photos show just some of the possibilities.

There are two different light sources for this photograph. The first (main) is to camera left and is providing an almost backlighting effect (note the brighter areas on the right side of her face) and another light (about 1 stop lower) to camera right and behind the camera that is providing a certain amount of fill (note the gentleman's face and how it's not in deep shadow).

You can also generate some very dramatic light/shadow effects with off-camera lighting that is not possible with on-camera flash:

and this one

I can hear it now, "Those are some stunning photos! But, it's gotta be a lot of work to set up the lights and then have to always adjust the light output so you can get the shots you need/want." OK, maybe no one is actually saying they are stunning. At any rate, off-camera lighting is actually so much easier and more reliable then on-camera flash. Here's one way to make it work:

  • Get some manual flashes (yep, actually works best with manual flash and it less expensive then, for example, Canon Speedlights). In the above examples, I used two Sunpak 622 flashes. You also need the appropriate battery packs.
  • You need something to trigger the flashes. Lots of possibilities here:
    • PocketWizards
    • Optical triggers - you can get fairly cheap items from EBay. These often require line-of-sight between the "master" and the "slaves" units and they can, sometimes, be triggered by the flashes of guests' cameras.
    • Wireless triggers - again, inexpensive items can be found on EBay. The reliability of these is hit or miss. Some have modified them after receiving them, adding longer antennas, etc to improve their reliability and still, sometimes, not attaining 100% success.
    • My poison of choice is the PocketWizards. They are more expensive then the alternatives, but they work and over a considerable distance. You don't need to worry about line-of-sight restrictions. And, the cost of these more than makes up for the savings realized on the purchase of the manual flashes.
  • Get some lightstands; one per flash - You need to get the flashes up above the floor. I like to have them be the highest thing in the room, but lower than any hanging light fixtures or ceiling beams, etc (these can cast some distracting shadows).
  • Put it all together and place one in opposing corners of the room (assuming a rectangular room :D)
  • Find the spot that is approximately half-way between the two flashes. Using a flash light meter, set each light to the desired aperture.
All the above will result in even cross-lighting at the "half-way" point. Subjects closer to one flash then the other will, of course, be lit at different ratios and the exposure from the "closer" light will, of course, be higher then at the half-way point.

You will need to compensate. But, you can't be running around all night with a flash light meter, asking the guests to "hold that thought" while you attempt to get an accurate light reading. So, what to do? Well, You remember that light propagates according to the "inverse-square law", right? If not, check out The Inverse Square Law - what it means to Photographers. When you halve the distance between the subject and the light source, you need to adjust (close down) your aperture 2 stops. Like-wise, when that distance is doubled, you need to open the aperture 2 stops. Simple stuff. Ok, but the guests are not going to be at 1/2, 1/4, 1/8 of your base distance from your light source just to make your life easier. You're supposed to be a professional. The solution is that you have a certain amount of "windage" in the exposure, especially if you are shooting RAW. You estimate the required adjustment (you should be able to get it within 1/2 stop without breaking a sweat) and shoot, correcting the exposure in post. Easy stuff.