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Sharing experience, advice, and photos to all with the shutterbug.

Tutorial

Photoshop & you – 2 weeks of free awesome

For those of you who live in San Francisco who haven’t yet been to Adobe‘s Photoshop & you event at 550 Sutter St: Shame on you. Even if you’re not big into photoshop, or still shoot film – you should go. The event takes place over the course of 2 weeks from July 23rd to August 6th. They offer classes, lectures, demonstrations and raffles – all for free. You can view the full calender of Events at their website.
I’m really busy over the next week because I’m working on 2 films that are being submitted to Sundance, but I was able to make it to some of the weekend events – WOW.
Scott Kelby, if you don’t know who he is, is an educator, photoshopper, founder of NAPP (National Association of Photoshop Professionals) and an excellent photographer as well. He also tours the world giving his famous “Light it, shoot it, retouch it” seminar which he normally charges hundreds of dollars for. At the Photoshop & you event, he gave it to a room full of people for free.


It was an amazing talk, he worked with 2 models and did exactly what the name of the seminar says: He lit it, shot it and retouched it, all live. What was different about this session was he was working with continuous lighting so he let the crowd photograph the models as well. Personally, this is not something I did because I like to create my own things rather than work on something that has been done for me but it was still a blast.



After each shoot he demonstrated some retouching techniques in both Photoshop and Lightroom, and in the end did an amazing composite with the above model by placing her into a grungy alley and making it seem like she was really there, all in a matter of minutes. It was very educational and entertaining, Scott is a great presenter and a pretty nice guy as well.
After his seminar he agreed to do an interview with The Candid Frame’s Ibarionex Perello, which should be coming out next month.


Like I said, even if you’re not a photoshop junkie you should go. Go check out the calender of events, there are some great things happening there until August 6th. There’s some great people there who are happy to meet other photographers or retouchers and the chance to see and experience all of this for free is a really great opportunity.

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Before that big shoot…

When you’re getting ready for a shoot it’s very important to stay very organized. You probably have a lot of equipment that needs to be looked after and kept in one place, and it can be difficult to keep track of everything.
Before any shoot I make up a check-list in word or office that itemizes every piece of equipment that I will be bringing along on the shoot. It lists everything from cameras and lenses to clamps and gaffers tape. Then I have at least 4 other columns where I go through the check list and each point it travels. A check for loading up before the shoot, a check for arriving on location, a check for the end of the day and a check for unloading back at my studio. This will save your little pieces of equipment and save you some money in replacing those little pieces in case you leave them at your shoot location.
The following example is a check list for a video I’m shooting this month for a local healthcare organization:

This is just the first page, as the second page lists all of my cables that are required as well as flags and other misc grip gear. Your check list will probably go through a few drafts, so don’t make it the night before the shoot. Carry around a little notebook with you not only to write down ideas but to remind yourself of items that need to be added to your list. It will save you a lot of trouble in the long run.


Your portfolio: It’s never finished

So for the last few weeks I have been working on my portfolio. Not shooting for it specifically, because you know, you’re ALWAYS working on your portfolio, what I’m talking about is physically ASSEMBLING a series of prints into a book to show to current and potential clients.
Building a portfolio is hard. You have to somehow set aside your pride and ego and look at your work objectively so you can edit, arrange and make it the best presentation of your work. Sometimes a favorite photo of yours has to be edited out, because it doesn’t fit with the rest of them. This alienates you, because you feel such a great attachment to this photo. So you go back and fourth and back and fourth and you question your worth as an artist and pretty soon you don’t even know who you are anymore.
So yesterday I made the mistake of saying “My portfolio is DONE. This is the most comprehensive collection of my work that I have ever put into a book.” Well first of all, of COURSE it is. It SHOULD be, being the newest work. Mixing in some old with the new, it should cover all the things I’m good at and show the new things I’m good at. Second of all, a portfolio is NEVER done.
I was showing this book to a client today, and between the time I had said that and this morning I had a little itch at the back of my neck. I kept going back and going through the portfolio, over and over again. By the time I got to the meeting with the client I was very nervous, and it was all because I declared to myself that it was “Done.”
So here’s a few tips to avoid that stress:

Consistancy

Your portfolio needs to show your absolute BEST work. Even something a little bit weak will bring the rest of the images down. Choice of subject is very important. If you’re a still-life photographer show-still life. If you shoot people show people. Your lighting, techniques and moods should be similar, but not the same for every image. It’s ok for you to take sensitive portraits of someone and later in the book show something with a sense of humor, as long as it still looks like it was taken by the same photographer.

Versatility and Flow

This is going to sound hypocritical, but you must display consistency AND variety in your work, or you won’t be getting any. It doesn’t have to be a huge shift, but just enough to get your client to look a second time. This also creates a flow throughout your book, you need to keep visual interest. The last thing you want the flow of your book to flatline, it’ll be boring. You want it to ebb and flow, rise and fall, over and over again.

Edit, edit, edit

Make little thumbnail prints of all the images you want to include in your book, and lay them out. Remove the ones that don’t work, and then do it again. And again. And again. Then have a few friends over for some drinks and have THEM look at it. Show it to a peer, or graphic designer friend. Your portfolio should contain no less than 10 photos (Any fewer would be too short) and no more than 20. (Any more would be ridiculous) And remember, nothing but your VERY BEST.

Hopefully this will help some of you out there deal with the stress of portfolio building and showing better. My meeting went fine, as long as you believe in your work (And it’s good work) and show confidence throughout your showing you will have a better chance than some of coming through and getting a new client.


Photography School: Visual Style

When you’re trying to get work as a freelance or professional photographer, you really need to look at how your photographs look.
I don’t mean simply looking at them, I mean looking at them as a whole. Do they all have a similar “feel” to them? Something that will make people think of you when they look at it?
Photographers are hired based on a certain “look” that their work has. It’s what separates you from the other photographers out there (And there are a LOT of other photographers out there) and it makes your work unique and valuable.
I can’t stress this enough; Your work needs to have a consistent look across the board, they have to scream “I took these,” not “Anybody could have taken these.”
It’s all about practice. You won’t get your signature look over night, it’s something that photographers struggle with every day. Now don’t be dragged down by shooting everything “The same way,” it doesn’t really work like that. It’s about how you approach your subject matter. Take a look at these photos:


I took both of these photos, but stylistically they have almost nothing in common. The first image was taken very recently, after I felt established comfortable shooting things a certain way. The second image is from a long time ago when I was shooting senior portraits in small towns. These days, I couldn’t even imagine shooting something the way I shot this second image, it just wouldn’t feel right to me.
So here is a list of things you can do to help you establish a visual style for yourself:

Copy another photographer’s style.
This may seem like cheating to some, but it really helps. Pick a photographer who’s work you admire and make a list similar to the list you made before, of things that give him or her their visual style. Really analyze their images, what’s consistent? Low contrast? Strong side-lighting? After you have spent a good deal of time analyzing, attempt to copy this style.. You can either copy the visual style, or copy the image directly – either way you will be in for a huge challenge. If you really want to challenge yourself, take your favorite photographer’s style and use it to shoot subject matter that they never shot. If they shoot people, shoot still life or landscapes.

Pick 3 or 4 things you like to see in photography.
No more, no less. These things can be “high contrast” or “Low depth of field” or “Very saturated colors.” Make sure they are all based on photography, nothing general like “People” or “Landscapes” etc.
Then go out and shoot everything you can this way. If you feel you need to give yourself an assignment like “5 portraits in this style” then do so. Be a ruthless editor. Stick to your style like it’s a contract, and throw away any images that deviate (even slightly) from your chosen visual style.

Don’t get too comfortable.
After you have shot a lot of things in the visual style you have chosen, take your style write up and write down the exact opposite of what that style is. If it was high contrast, make it low contrast. If it was low depth of field make it high depth of field. Make sure you make the subject matter the exact opposite as well. Then go and shoot it.

I am writing this after coming off of doing a particularly challenging assignment. Over the weekend I was doing landscape photography of sports fields. It was hugely challenging for me – I had to use wide angle lenses instead of normal or telephoto. I had to shoot in low contrast light instead of medium to high – it was crazy! But overall I think it was good for me, and going out of your comfort zone will be good for you as well. I’ll post the “Recreational Landscape” series later this week.


Selling yourself short

Something that every photographer struggles with is how to price themselves. Most of the time, they under-price themselves because they are scared that someone will say no. The problem with this is that it hurts the entire industry. If you set a new low for portraits (I’m looking at you, Craigslist photographers) you will be setting a new low for expectations of photographers and the services that we provide.
And our services are valuable.
Photography is everywhere, this is a very visual time whether it’s photo or video, and people that can provide this service well get paid well.
Start with some research. See what other photographers in your area are charging, because it’s different from city to city. You can’t charge a New York rate in a Mississippi town. Have yourself a minimum rate that you will go and shoot for, and you can figure out that minimum rate using the ASMP’s cost of doing business calculator.
Keep in mind that you will NOT be shooting 365 days a year, so it’s important that the work you take can pay your expenses on days that you’re not shooting. Which brings me to my next point:
Don’t charge by the hour. You will ALWAYS be selling yourself short, unless it’s some sort of event photography in which case you should have a minimum time for. Take for example, you charge 75.00 an hour and you’re heading out to shoot a portrait of a business man. His people have given you one hour with him but it takes you 10 minutes to do the portrait. His people will then decide to pay you for only 1/10 of your time. It happens.
If you can do a shoot in 10 minutes that was thought to take an hour to complete, this means that you are very skilled and should be paid more, am I right?
You should also remove the term “Day Rate” from your business vocabulary as well. It comes down to a time issue – if a client has you for 8 hours and you’re done shooting in 3 they have you for another 5 hours – which is time you could be spending managing your business.
And that’s what photographers are, businessmen. You have to know your numbers and be able to set your rates competitively. Don’t fly into the market and undercut your competition – that’s just tacky. Research, and price fairly. Are you better than a mall photographer with one of those “studios” in the middle of the floor? Then charge more. People will eventually come around and see that they get what they pay for.


Survival tips for new Digital Photography Pros – Part II

This article continues from “Survival tips for new digital photography pros – Part I” so if you haven’t read that yet go and check it out!
If you are an emerging digital photography pro the following tips and advice will help you to survive in the rapidly evolving world of digital media. Read on and take notes!

7. Think outside of the box

Since digital photography is so widely accessible people have been saying that “Anyone can be a photographer.” They say that anyone can take the amazing photo that you just took, and that they can do everything you can do. Here’s the thing: They can’t. You not only have the training to use your equipment and tools such as cameras and lighting, but you also have the mental ability to visualize a concept and execute an idea. You have to make yourself stand out more than ever right now, so show everyone that you’re not just another guy with a digital camera.

8. Video

Most DSLRs can shoot HD video now. Learn it and master it. It’s great when you can offer a client a video service as well as still images. The market seems to be shifting towards video, especially with tools like the RED camera available now.

9. Use social media

Twitter and Facebook are wonderful marketing tools. These days clients want to get to know you, because nobody wants to work with a jerk. Make yourself a professional twitter or facebook account, you typically want to keep your personal life seperate from your professional life. Not saying that you should only use these outlets to market your work – there’s a fine line, nobody likes spam. Give it all your personality, but keep it business.

10. Shoot for you

Come up with projects and portfolio work that interests you. If you shoot something you love, that love will come through in spades when people look at it. You will go crazy very quickly if you only shoot head-shots for months in a row when you really love shooting still life. Make some time, get some ideas, and mix things up.

11. Know when to walk away

If a client is way too difficult to work with or is taking advantage of you, or if you are offered a job that you know you would hate shooting or pays way below your established minimum, walk away. It can be tough at first, especially when you’re just getting started, but you have to learn when something is just not worth your time.

12. Take breaks

Photography can be amazingly stressful. Marketing yourself for 60 hours a week and shooting for 20 can drain your physical and creative juices very quickly, so take a break once in awhile. Set your camera bag down and pursue other interests. People know when they are working with a burnt-out creative type, and you need to keep your mind and eye sharp.


Survival tips for new digital photography pros – Part I

If you’re new to the world of professional photography, you probably have a lot of questions. If you’ve been in the game for some time now, you’ve probably noticed that things are changing.
So what follows is the first of 2 parts on my advice on how to survive in these times of 65 megapixel cameras, VDSLRs and social media.

1. Know how to use your camera

When we get a new camera, we’re excited. We run outside or to the studio with it and shoot great pictures. The thing is, there’s a lot your camera can do that will not only make your pictures better, but there’s a lot your camera can do besides taking pictures. Open the manual. Read it from cover to cover. Know what to do when you get that “ERROR34” code. You will feel much more confident in your ability to shoot, problem solve, and you will generally handle yourself in a more professional manner.

2. Shoot constantly

With your manual all worn out and dog-eared, you can now begin to shoot. Shoot everything, take your camera everywhere. If your camera’s too big or too heavy, invest in a point shoot with a manual mode so you can keep your eye and skills sharp. Camera phones work fine for this as well, as long as you shoot constantly.

3. Shoot RAW

RAW is the most powerful file format for digital cameras. The editing possibilities are endless. There are plenty of free RAW converters out there, and Adobe’s Camera RAW is second to none. Learn it, use it, feel the power.

Adobe Camera RAW

4. Know what you’re good at

In the beginning, you shoot everything. Portraits, still life, landscape. You need to specialize and develop a look for that specialty, or you won’t get hired. You can’t be good at everything, so you should focus on one area and master it.

5. Multiple Revenue streams

So you shoot portraits, what else can you do to make more money? You could try and teach a class on it, you could look into stock photography or you could have a gallery show. Find other ways to make money on your talent and ability. Teaching and seminars or lectures can be very rewarding, and a lot of schools and organizations need speakers on digital media because it’s changing so much and becoming so big. Stock photography, if you can get into it, can make you money on your photos while you focus on other things. It’s not guaranteed to pay your mortgage but it’s a good way to get your images in the public eye. Another thing is galleries, look into exhibition space in your area and what you have to do to get involved. There are many other ways to make money on your photography, sit back and brainstorm.

Exibition, Northern Waters Gallery

6. Never sell yourself short.

Set your rates and stay firm about them. You should never be ashamed of what you charge, you should come out and say them right away. You offer a great service at a great rate. NEVER give a “ballpark estimate.” You will miss something and end up under-cutting yourself. In these times you may need to be a bit flexible for yourself. Set a minimum and work for no less. If you’re not sure what to charge do some research on your competition. Don’t be a jerk and undercut everyone else. Be fair to yourself. As soon as you start shooting portraits for 50.00 you not only hurt yourself, but you hurt the market.

On friday I will post Part II. Stay tuned!