Saturday, January 30, 2010

Chris and Murisia's Wedding

I don't often go into the details of my customers personal life, but I wanted to share the story of Cris and Murisia. They are such amazing people who are very close to my heart. I met Cris several years ago when he painted our home's interior. He did such a good job that we hired him again to paint our kitchen cabinets and then this last year he painted our home's exterior. During those years they experienced all the challenges that life can offer. Job loss, law suits, family illness, and many more. All along the way they stuck together. This last year was especially difficult as they tried to plan their wedding admits all of these problems.
Here are a few photos from their wedding.

The ceremony was small and very sweet. A few family and friends gathered to witness their marriage. What impressed me most was the feeling of thankfulness that seemed to emanate from the couple. Despite not knowing what was in store for them in the coming months, if they would find work, or where they would end up living, they were glad to be together and that's all that mattered.

I am happy to say that this story has a happy ending. Cris found a job, just a few days ago.
To Cris and Murisia; may God bless you with the strength to continue on, the love that only a family can give, and happy memories from this day forward!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Website Update complete!

Caleb pulled a few all nighters but it's done! Our website's update for 2010 is complete. New packages, portfolios, and a more interactive layout have been added. I'd love to know what you think. And please, let me know if find typos or have any issues with navigation. Your comments will help us improve our client's experience. Thanks for checking it out!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Profile Photos

It's official. Everyone in America and possibly most developed countries is now living two lives, one real and the other virtual. Between facebook, myspace, twitter, and a ton of different photo sharing sites (flikr, shutterfly, photobucket). All of these sites encourage profile photos, and photo galleries. Most of which we have done ourselves and let's be honest, not so flattering. As a professional I've made it my personal mission to reduce the amount of ugly online by including free profile photos with each session. As part of your session fee 5 images will be posted on facebook and any other site you prefer to use for your profile or any other way to see fit. Prints must still be purchased (and don't even think about scanning them, 'cuz I'll know...)

Why? We live in a new age where copyright laws are, well, let's just say, being reinvented everyday. I firmly stand on the side of other creative types and feel that intilectual property holds a value for which one should be compensated. But I think it crazy to fight against the proliferation of ideas and content for the sake of controlling it. I simply believe that yet again a social revolution has created an opportunity. Offer digital rights and receive approperate compensation, or let someone steal it from you and go completely unpunished. I prefer to keep my clients on the right side of the law. (Mom this means you!)

Plus with this feature I've found greater appeal. Just ask any client who has recently had a sneak peek of their wedding photos thanks to facebook or today's model, Patsy, who when hearing digital rights were included in the session booked instantly.

For me this is no brainer. More exposure, free word of mouth advertising, and instant feedback from clients and their friends. I know what images my clients like, what they are staying about them and I have created an opportunity to keep in touch with them and increase return patronage. All for doing something besides playing Farmville.

This same feature has also been invaluable when working with High School Seniors. I don't know how many times I've added a new client simply because a current client shared their images on facebook.

Tomorrow: More on Filters and White Balance.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Website update nearly complete

I had anticipated my websites overhaul to be completed yesterday but no such luck. Hopefully today will be the day. Just a few details left, cross browser compliance, final spelling check, etc. When I realized the website wouldn't be up yesterday and that would mean nothing to blog about, I tried my hand at an HDR landscape of the view from my back yard. Funny thing is, I didn't realized how ugly our view is until I saw the photos! All the trees are dead, the black berry vines are dried and withering, and the retention pond is filled with random things (some garbage) that the neighbor kids have thrown in over the fence. I didn't see all of this because I have photo tunnel vision. This is a condition I often get when shooting. I see some detail I like (for example the nice sunset) and miss all the ugly in front of it.

So I scrapped the HDR and I'm thinking about what kind of landscape I can work on. I want to get better at this genre but I don't quite know where to start. Any suggestions?

Here are some blogs I found about landscape photography.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Night Portraits

James (left) and his brother Michael (right) braved a cold January evening for me. They stood on a street corner (Terice stood in the street holding a light stand) All so I could put three of my favorite things together: strobe, motion blur, and mixed lighting (flash with incandescent ambient light).

I've talked a lot lately about indoor lighting and I felt a little claustrophobic so into the chilly air we went. During the hour we were shooting we met a whole host of street life in downtown Everett and tried hard to make James smile to no avail.

This shot is straight forward enough. Two speedlights, one for each guy and a slow shutter speed. Because the flash freezes the action I didn't have to worry about them being sharp. I just had to put my camera on a tripod and wait for a car to pass behind them. At one point a bus drove by and the blur was great, only problem was both guys blinked.

This is a decent shot, not exactly what I had in mind but it will do for tonight. I had a client meeting and we were running out of time, so Terice and I will have to try again next week. I do like having the guys at opposite sides of the frame though.

Here's the set up.

Exposure was 1/8 @F4.5. ISO 200 with 50mm lens.

Christina and Corbin's Wedding

Congratulations to Christina and Corbin, my first wedding of 2010! Married Jan. 9, 2010 at Lord Hill Farms. It was a beautiful day for Jan. (who knew that could happen in Western Washington?) and I loved working with these two. They are easy going, fun people, so the whole day was a breeze. If you are interested in seeing all of their images the entire collection will be posted on my website next week. Follow the link below and enter password 21366 when prompted.


Thursday, January 21, 2010

Using Indoor lighting for Creative Portraits

My challenge for today is to shoot a portrait with only two generic household light bulb (camera right about 2 ft from Tyler) and a few strings of Christmas lights (10 ft back). With these sources white balance is well, problematic. The color temperature of the Christmas lights is rebelliously warm and the light bulb is one of those daylight balanced kind that is supposed to (but doesn't really) look like sunlight. These bulbs are simply covered in a thin film that changes the color of the light, not the temperature in Kelvins. There is no present white balance that can get this one right, so it's best to create a custom setting. Here is how to do it on a Nikon D-300.

Exposure: 1/100 @ f 2.2 IS0 400

Just for fun I took two photos and combined them in photoshop.  Here are the two images I used.

The left is shot with a 50mm and the bokah shot is 300 mm.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Ambient Light Part 1

Flash is not the only man made light source that makes for great portraits. Over the next few days we'll talk about using florescent, tungsten and then mixing in the flash. Lots more about white balance, filters and color temperature. Let's start with florescent. I got these from my studio (they came with the space and I quickly took them down when I moved in). I hate them as over head lighting and love them when they are straight on. Here I used 2 sets of lights, one on either side the camera. Here's a photo of the set up.

Even with 2 lights I could only get 2.5. Some of that has to do with the empty garage I used as a background though. Adding a reflective white background and my exposure increases a half stop. I chose to keep the same aperture and increase the shutter speed instead.

Look at the reflection in her eyes, cool yes? This is my favorite part. Here are a few different versions since Audrey is so cute. Play around with this, put the lights in all sorts of positions and shapes and see what kind of reflections you can come up with.

If you're looking produce more photos with a commercial edge this is a very inexpensive way to start. Any local hardware store will have both the bulbs and light housings. A set of four lights will cost you $40.00 at Home Depot.

Tomorrow, lighting the world 40 watts at a time.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Lighting Indoors Part 3

I've briefly mentioned window light, but I want to talk more about it today. My home faces East to West so there are two short periods during the day that I get good window lighting. This happens a few hours after sun rise when the the sun raises above the roof of my neighbor's house, and the second is in the evening just prior to sun set when the light is bounced off of the same neighbor's house and into our windows. The evening light is softer and the color can be problematic since it's later in the day and the house it's reflecting off is blue but the results have been interesting for sure. This is why I've suggested a north or south facing window to be the best (depending on which hemisphere you live in.)

Here are some window light photos. The first is from 10am the second is at 4pm. It was an usually nice day yesterday, so when the light came in the living room in the morning I had more light to work with. By the early afternoon when the sun was going down my results are different. (Plus the second photo is not so flattering as the first of me. I guess that's what I get for doing self portraits with a timer.) Both shots with a 50mm lens but the ISO has been raised for the second image to make it work. This is also a good opportunity to talk about noise. Here are some crops of the same photos at 100%. These are unedited. To help reduce the noise I used the Dfine 2.0 plug in on the last crop.

Very little noise in the background. This was at ISO 200.

Not so pretty... This is shot at ISO 800.

This image has had the noise reduced slightly but it's still not as nice as the ISO 200 shot. This is why I try to avoid higher ISO's unless it's totally necessary.  It simply saves time while post processing. I have gotten nice results with ISO's up to 1600 but it took some extra work. I'd rather be on the couch watching a movie personally...

A couple things to remember when shooting with window light.
  • You will almost always need a reflector to fill in the shadow portion of a person's face. Contrast can be problematic in shots like these. I was holding a reflector just off camera left in the first shot. I didn't need one for the evening shot since the light was very flat!
  • Watch for color shift. At different times of day you'll find the color of the light will vary. The color is the second shot hasn't been edited- it's right out of camera. I look slightly blue green, not so pretty as the warm glow of the direct sun light in the first shot.
  • I recommend using a tripod for any shots like this. You will most likely be shooting at wide open apertures with higher ISO's, and even then need a longer exposure to gather the light necessary. The morning light shot was 1/40 @ F8. I don't recommend hand holding 1/40 with a 50mm. I get camera shake every time. The evening shot was even slower. Even with the ISO at 800 I still could only manage a 1/20 @ F2.8 exposure. Big difference.
  • It also might help to use a spot metering mode (where available) to expose for your highlights only instead of metering the whole scene. Focus of capturing the subject only- let the other details and background go. If those elements are vital to your image, you'll need to rethink your lighting. I spot metered the morning image and you can see that the background goes darker behind me. The evening photo has more detail in the background because of the longer exposure.
Tomorrow: More on ambient light in doors. How to work with light when there isn't very much!

    Monday, January 18, 2010

    Indoor lighting Part 2 continued...

    This is a photo of Alex (nearly 10 weeks now!) using the same lighting set up as the photo of Megan. Alex is turned to face into the light so there is a broader lighting pattern across his face. The reason I'm showing this is to give you a quick trick you can use to figure out how any portrait was shot.
    Look into his eyes. The reflection shows a larger rectangular catch-light on the bottom (it looks light it's coming from the bottom because I was standing directly above him for this shot) and a small dot of light above and nearly dead center of the eye. You can even see the fill card on camera right. In case your wondering the small spot of light is my on-camera flash sending a radio signal to the speed-lights behind the scrim. This little flash is just enough to set off the others without effecting the lighting on Alex's face.

    Combine these facts with the direction of the shadows and you can deduce the light source, it's angle, and my position. Try it, pick up any magazine and study the eyes of the people photographed in it. Take the photos you like and then mimic what you think the lighting was to see if you get the same results. If you try this out please post a link to your results below! Have fun practicing.

    Saturday, January 16, 2010

    Lighting Indoors Part 2

    Yesterday I mentioned (in the sorry excuse for a video I posted) how you can use a couple of speed-lights and a large scrim, shower curtain, or white bed sheet, to create a giant soft-box. The photo of Megan above is an example of this every technique. Here's a diagram.

    The speedlights are behind the scrim (it's huge- 7'x 7') which is clamped into place on two light stands. Just about a foot away from Megan is my small foam core fill card. Both flashes are set to full power and angled at 45 degrees pointing down to her on the floor. The effect is an overall soft nearly shadowless look that still provides some shape. Simple yet very effective.  The exposure is 1/160 @ f 3.5. Note that by defusing the light this much you do loose a few stops of light. I was going for a shallow depth of field so, the wide aperture wasn't a problem. I got all of her face in focus (including her great eye lashes) which was my goal. The 50mm lens blurs the background nicely while still allowing her body and legs to be decipherable and not a strange out of focus blob. Thanks Megan and Eva (yesterday's model) for the help!

    Note: Still working on the SB-900 walkthrough. I changed my mind late in the day today and decided to do a video, but I want it mildly worth watching so it might take a few days to put it together. Stay tuned.

    Friday, January 15, 2010

    Creative Lighting Indoors

    Ladies and Gentlemen, this photo was shot in my house after sunset. Can you guess how? Better question, can you guess where in my house it was shot? Let's see if anyone can answer correctly.

    Let's talk about lighting. It's what photography is all about. Learning how to control light is the most vital part of being a photographer and yet there are still many who protest the usage of anything except available light. Personally I find the idea very limiting. So many of the places we find ourselves in are riddled with lighting issues. A few examples: night clubs, concert halls, every cathedral ever built, and most peoples homes. As a photographer my job is to use light to capture emotion. When improper light exists, I feel it's my responsibility to correct the deficiency.

    So now you're thinking "That's great Irene, but how do I take a nice photo of my kid when it's raining outside." Here's some suggestions.

    1. Review the light available. Do you have any north or south facing windows or doors? Can you use the window light? I say north of south facing simply because on a bright day the light coming from these directions is more dispersed and usable for a longer period of time.  If you answered yes, you may already have all the light you need. If not, add a reflector. I have pop up reflectors and white foam core that I use all the time to reduce contrast and unwanted shadows. 
    2. If the window light isn't enough you have two choices. Slow shutter speed or flash. Maybe even a combo of the two depending on your application. I'd also recommend a good tripod for shutter speeds lower then 1/125 or if you have a vibration reduction lens 1/60. I can sometimes hand hold for shutter speeds as low as 1/20 but it's risky. Make sure to brace yourself against a hard surface and breathe out when you push the shutter release to reduce camera shake. It's also a good idea to put your elbows in to your chest for greater stability. Keep in mind also that portraits at slow shutter speeds are difficult since people cannot hold perfectly still. 
    3. Add flash to eliminate a multitude of problems and add new ones all at the same time! Once you add strobe to the equation you'll need to visualize the light direction and quality (hard, sharp shadows, or soft and diffused. Think back to high school geometry and review earlier post on this blog about angle of incident and reflection. A great way to learn is to set up your flash, fire a test shot and then adjust until you get the right angle and quality. Never (even if your life depends on it) use on camera flash. That's the quickest way to kill a photo. Think about it, we are used to looking at light coming from above us (you know, from the sun) not from eye level. This look is unnatural and not at all pleasing.
    4. Look for creative solutions. One of the main problems with using speedlight flash units is they create a small beam of hard light. But you don't need to spend thousands on modifiers when objects lying around the house will work well to create diffusion. My favorites include bouncing the flash off a white ceiling (9ft or shorter is best), shooting through a frosted shower curtain, or bouncing off a reflector. Keep in mind anything white can be a good reflector. I've used Terice as a reflector before. I needed a small amount of fill on location so I bounced light off the t-shirt she was wearing. Worked like a charm. For more information on at home diffusion techniques see the video attached to this post. 

    Tomorrow: SB-900 walk through. How I  use one of Nikon's coolest speedlights.

    Thursday, January 14, 2010

    Post Processing Cliche's

    Yes, this is the same pair of shoes from yesterday. If you didn't like the shot the first time around I suggest you stop reading now and wait for tomorrow's post since I'm going to show you several versions of this same image edited different ways. The version above is an example of high contrast. If you look at the dress and the Bride's legs, all detail has pretty much been washed out. I also pumped up the saturation.  Here's the original for a reference point.

    Now the contrast shift isn't something I normally do, I like my highlights and shadows to have as much detail as possible, but for this image I really think it works. The original looks as if it was shot in Seattle in January (oh wait...). The increased saturation and brightness gives it warmth that is much needed. It's a moderate adjustment, not heavy handed or overbearing. Thus the reason I like it. Note: use the brightness/contrast and hue/saturation adjustments with moderation. A little goes a long way.

    Too often though photographers are turning to gimmicks in post processing to turn images into something better. Truth is, if the image wasn't great in the first place, no amount of adjustment layers in photoshop is going to make it a great photo. You have to start with something worth looking at! The easiest analogy I can think of is macaroni and cheese. If you've ever had the homemade real cheese, whole milk, and baked in the oven all day version the blue box of funny shaped pasta and fake cheese looks like crap on a cracker. My point is that it's all about ingredients and skill.

    So let's talk trends. My number 1 hated trend these days, grunge textures. To me this feels way to contrived. Now back in the film days I was all about purposefully damaging film and printing it. Processing it wrong, lighting it on fire, you name it. It was great fun and the results were terrible some times and magical the next. It was so unpredictable. Adding layers of other photos (mainly of junk, rust, and other randomness) doesn't have the same spontaneity. Here's my example.

    The edges have been roughed up slightly and two different images have been sandwiched on top. The saturation on the background was also pulled down to -43. Shoes were masked out to preserve their color but ultimately I lightened them and adjusted the hue slightly. I also added chromatic abrasion (under the lens correction filter) and a vignette. I don't see this effect on wedding photos often, these days it's mainly on senior photos and it makes me throw up a little in my mouth every time I look at it. Once or twice is fine, but it shouldn't be on every image in a portfolio. It's not a style at that point it's a handycap.

    Next up: Black and white with selective color.
    I get asked by brides all the time if I can do this. Short answer: yes. Long answer: Do I have to? It reminds me of a '80 cherry coke commercial OR Schindler's List, possibly the worst movie you could associate with your wedding. But since I aim to please, I do it again and again. Granted it will NEVER make it into my portfolio.

    This is actually very easy to do at home. Simply create a Black and White adjustment layer and then paint on the layer mask black where you want the color to show through. Only trick is making sure you mask is perfect so no other colors are visible. Oh, one other movie reference just came to mind. Wizard of Oz. It's officially cliche' if it's been done for 70 years or more. The funny thing is, I bet someone reading this blog will love this version the best. Go ahead, say it, I have to admit I kinda like it too... but that's the funny thing about cliche's they work most of the time. Otherwise why would we keep doing it?

    Finally we go off the deep end and mess with the colors just to show you how to ruin an image.

    This is a mix of a cyanotype with the selective color. Only one word for this version, Yikes. Believe it or not folks, I've seen stuff like this in "professional" portfolios. What do we learn here? Just because you can do it in Photoshop doesn't mean you should. Blue feet say "dead bride" probably not a good visual message to send. Honestly, our brains are trained to see color a specific way and though it's fun to create images that challenge that perception, there is a limit. You need to always be cognitive of what message you are sending.
    Final score? Two of the above versions get a thumbs up (high contrast and selective color) where two don't (cold feet and grunge layers). Oh and don't get me started on cheesy quotes on photographs. I dry heave every time I see a photo frame with "Live, Laugh, Love" on it. Photos should speak for themselves. If narration is required, something is wrong.

    That concludes today's personal rant.

    Just keep it simple folks. The best images are always the ones filled with emotion. Tell a story, make it simple, honest, and personal. You can't photoshop that stuff in.

    Wednesday, January 13, 2010

    Yes, I do know what day it is...

    Thursday the 8th was the last blog post, and though I originally set out to post daily, I'm coming to the understanding that not all things are possible within my waking hours. That being said, I won't be deterred from my original goal of 365 posts. It just may take me longer then one year to get there! Today I wanted to show you a shot from a Christina and Corbin's wedding this weekend. They were so much fun and I just loved working with them. I'll have more from their wedding later next week and from a few other sessions I've been busy with. In fact tomorrow I'll going to show you some simple manipulations on this image that Brides and Grooms love (but I think are cliche' and annoying- but I do them anyways. It's all about the Benjamins...)

    While I'm discussing my calendar of events for the blog, here's what's coming up:
    One of the wonderful people following my blog asked about shooting indoors, so I'll be posting information on that also. And for anyone looking to get into the wedding business, I just finished up the Northwest Bridal Showcase and later this month will be at the Lynnwood Wedding Expo. Once those are completed I plan on discussing a few of the in's and out's of photographing weddings and the business behind it. If you have questions ask now and I'll try to answer any them in that post. Those are my mini goals (working towards that new years resolution stuff).

    Also, I'd love to see your photos. Show me your favorite photo you've done indoors and describe how you did it. Flash, window light, slow shutter speed, anything goes as long as it's inside and something you want to share. The best way to do this is post your images to flikr, facebook, or any other site you may be using and post a link in the comments.

    Friday, January 8, 2010

    Busy week

    Today was devoted to making my booth for the NW Bridal Showcase happen. Tomorrow Terice will be at the show while I shoot a wedding. I'll have photos and details about the wedding next week. Feel free to watch my you tube video. This slide show will be playing on a loop at the show for the new two days. I'm gonna need a vacation after this weekend...

    Wednesday, January 6, 2010

    Wedding Portfolio: Narrowing it down

    Thanks to anyone that sent me their opinions about what images I should include. I was feeling a little down, so your complements were much appreciated. I've learned a few things from your responses:
    1. The images I expected to be the clear favorites, weren't. That tells me that either I have terrible taste or I like the image for different reasons. I'm guessing it's mainly an emotional connections to the circumstance or I'm proud of making something look good in what wasn't optimal lighting. Neither of those things make any difference to the audience though.
    2. Cliche' must sell for a reason. Overwhelmingly the images that have a cheesy factor or a traditional pose came out on top. This made me laugh since my clients always say "I want something different, more candid shots, nothing traditional or posed." Secret is, the "posed" photos are always the ones they point out to me as their favorites. I think the meaning of this word has changed....
    3. I've oriented my portfolios in the past by theme (ie getting ready, ceremony, reception, portraits). I don't need one from every category. I just need to show the best, whatever it may be. The fact that I can shoot all varieties is understood, customers just want to know that I can take a pretty picture.
    And now (drum roll please...) My selections for my wedding portfolio!

    Two things: First, I cheated and put three images together in a few spots since the window on the website is longer then it is wide and I want to fill it completely. Second, there is only 26 total images. I could add more if anyone strongly feels I've made an egregious error, but I'm sticking with the "less is more" concept and saying 26 is better then 30. A million thanks again! Yesterday I had over 7 times this many images and I couldn't choose. The help has been invaluable!