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Family Photography: The Art of Storytelling with Tracy Sweeney
Learn how to cultivate beautiful memories for your client families! Join Tracy Sweeney as she shares her years of experience as a family photographer to help you prepare for success in this business. Tracy starts off the class with a focus on planning, preparation, and scouting; all of which will help you get the most out of your session while feeling confident and looking professional. From there you’ll witness Tracy at work with two different families in a park and on the beach. Tracy talks through her approach to lighting, to working with the families, the importance of building a relationship with the family members, and how she poses them as a group and one-on-one. After the shooting is done, you’ll head to the studio where Tracy teaches you her post processing workflow from Lightroom through Photoshop to create the final images that go on to become family treasures for years to come.

In Case You Missed It
This class is all about photographing kids! Tamara Lackey covers the technical side of working with natural light, reflectors, and her go-to gear, as well as the critical people skills needed to recognize personality types, handle tantrums, and roll with the range of moods your subjects will exhibit.

I’ve always been fascinated by the nature of creativity. There are all the usual questions, of course… What is creativity? Where does it come from? How close do I have to stand to a creative person for some of it to rub off on me?

The last question comes with certain social restrictions (also possibly certain restraining orders), but the first two we can sit and discuss over coffee. Even better, we can put the results of that discussion to use, make the answers work for us. Ready? Go!

If I had to nail down a working definition, I’d say creativity is seeing and thinking about and exploring new connections. We tend to view creativity as having some element of surprise – when we see something we would call ‘creative,’ it’s almost always because there is something we didn’t expect, and it usually is built from pieces we know that are put together in new ways. It shows us a connection we had not previously considered.

In the world of digital photography, this shows up in works of photographers like Erik Johansson, Kirsty Mitchell, and Cheryl Walsh, among many others. Connections, however, are not just between conceptual elements. They are also between tools, interactions with media, and technical pieces. Check out the beautiful work of Bonny Lhotka who uses unique transfer process to create amazing physical pieces, or the sculpture of Andrey Droszdov.

How can we make use of this notion that creativity is seeing connections? Well, we can give ourselves more opportunity to see connections, for one thing. And we give ourselves opportunity by setting up situations where we’re likely to be exposed to new things, especially new thoughts. Like most things, it takes practice, and practice is something we generally know how to do. But for practice to be useful, we have to want to do it, and we have to do it with intent. One technique I’ve had success with is directed experimentation. The basic idea is to do what you already know how to do, but change one thing.

That by itself is not enough, though. You have to be receptive to the previously unseen, and you have to let it get into your head so you can hang on to it for future use.

The secret sauce is to pay attention when the connection is made, and that’s what loses some people. It’s not necessary to go in looking for any specific revelation – in fact, that can be counterproductive. What you are aiming for is to provide the raw materials and set up the situation where your mind can wander a bit, but then condition your reflex to store that connection when you are triggered by surprise. Going through your normal routine lets your mind work more subconsciously, and that one change is what seeds the possibility of a new connection.

A great way to get yourself to plant this seed is to ask yourself “What if?”

Let’s say you’re a portrait photographer. You know your craft and get great results, but you want to spice things up. “What if” you say to yourself with a devilish grin, “my model was facing the other way?” You’ve changed one thing. Without any other action or thought, you look through the viewfinder. Hopefully at this point, you start asking yourself some other questions. Should the lights be adjusted? How will you show emotion or character? Are other things in the scene jumping out that you previously missed? If you think this is a weird concept, check out Tony Gale’s personal project of women’s backs (link contains artistic nudity).

Not only are you seeing something new, you’re engaging and thinking. You’re paying attention. More importantly, you’re present in the moment. And you’re unconsciously making new connections. The next step is to save those connections actively. Let the seed germinate.

For the human mind to really hang on to things in a meaningful way, it generally uses language to describe the things. Feelings and memories can be incredibly powerful, but they’re difficult to act on or share without putting words to them. This is especially true for new concepts, and every time you get creative, you’re working with new concepts. When you discover something, when you’re surprised, delighted, thrilled, annoyed, or bored, use words. They can be in your head, you can write them down, you can talk with someone, but use words. The seed sends out roots.

By describing what you’re thinking, feeling, or seeing, you’re better able to retain memory, but you’re also able to build on it. In the portrait example above, you might suddenly notice the angle of your model’s shoulders, so think about how you’d explain that. Maybe you go into Photoshop and start drawing gesture lines like an animator over the pose and that gives you an idea about movement or relationships. As a side benefit, you might discover a career in stick-figure cartooning. It’s been known to happen.

Comic by XKCD

The other thing about using words, especially when you’re trying to describe something to another person, is that you’re forced to find common ground if you truly want to communicate. And that frequently means finding simpler and clearer concepts that you can stick together. Which brings up deconstruction. Sometimes before you can build up, you have to tear down.

Deconstruction is frequently just another thought process. Look at something and allow yourself to wonder. Start with, “why?” Why did I get this effect when I twiddled this knob? Throw in some “how?” to the mix: how do these things relate? Move into the future with a few “what if?” questions and you’re just primed for success. What if I put this one weird rule in place for my next photoshoot? You don’t have to answer completely, let alone correctly; you just have to create the space for the answer to eventually reside. In our seed metaphor, deconstruction is the process of providing basic nutrients. It’s fertilizer. You can laugh if you feel like it.

Deconstruction isn’t just for language, though. You can use it with your tools. This brushed ink portrait was the result of limiting myself to the Threshold adjustment layer in Photoshop as a starting point, then using the Smudge tool with the Bristle Brush to refine it. I didn’t have a solid plan going in except to start exploring the Threshold tool. I call this a Limited Challenge because I set a rule for myself going in, limited to and requiring only one tool as a starting point. Where deconstruction is the fertilizer, practice is the light and water. And this is the end of the plant analogy.

Let’s pause a moment to see what we’ve got…

If creativity is being able to see new connections between things, we can use experiences in order to have more things to connect and thus increase our chances of being creative. But experience isn’t just going out to see new things, it’s also seeing old things in new ways. We can do this with simple changes, and we take advantage of the results of those changes by thinking about and describing them. Describing them allows us to find more common elements to put together, and helps us see the basic components that make things fit. We can begin describing things by asking ourselves questions about what we’ve experienced, thus making connections.

See what I did there?

And here’s the point of that little diversion: don’t build up expectations of your own creativity. Either it happens now or it doesn’t until later; it generally takes its own time; and it’s frequently unexpected. But you’ll have a much better chance if you set yourself up for success. Here are some of my favorite exercises for inviting creativity to come in and have coffee.

TLDR Version:

  • Set yourself up for surprise and seeing connections by experiencing new things
  • Be present
  • Describe what you’re seeing, thinking, or feeling about the connections

Change One Single Variable – Directed Experimentation

As I noted earlier, directed experimentation is awesome, easy, and it’s what I do most often. For me, this usually involves Photoshop or lighting, but it can really be anything, including rules. Take a process that you know really well and pick one thing to tinker with. Change the horizon line in a landscape, add a colored gel somewhere, swap layers around or change blending modes, whatever. Don’t get too hung up on sticking to the one thing, but do try to limit what you do so there’s some way to control it. Remember to pay attention!

Change Everything Except One – Limited Challenge

Think of this as related to the last exercise, but instead of picking a variable, you’re picking a rule. Give yourself just one rule to explore, and beat it up. Years ago, I was part of a huge Photoshop forum that devised some really amazing challenges. We would choose one tool in Photoshop that absolutely must be used, then we’d give some other guidelines or goals. For example, we might have asked you to create a landscape using only Lens Flares. You could warp, liquify, mask and blend, but all pixels had to start from the Lens Flare tool.

Ask Questions – Why & What If

This is the most common thing I do, but it takes a lot of energy and honesty with yourself. Pause a moment with whatever strikes you and engage, right then and there. Make a mental (or real) list of elements that grab your attention and ask yourself why they interest you. Be as specific as possible in your analysis, but don’t seek truth beyond what’s true for you. This is part of paying attention and being active in your viewing. What if another artist had tackled the same concept – how would it be different? This is mostly for viewing art, but can be applied to anything that catches your eye. Allow your mind to wander, but don’t try to capture everything – keep the connections you discover and toss the rest.

Final thoughts…

Some seriously creative folks genuinely do all of the stuff above automatically. It just happens internally and organically for them. Some have to nudge it along, and some pour blood, sweat, and tears into the process before anything useful happens. Can you imagine cleaning up after that? Anyway, the most usual thing I’ve discovered is there’s a mix. To be sure, some people just seem to do all of this better than others. But some of us just don’t feel creative at all, or at least not as often as we’d like. We don’t get it, we are flabbergasted at just how creative some people are. Well, here’s a dirty little secret about all those so-called “creative geniuses” out there: they are indeed creative geniuses. That does not mean all of them do it naturally, nor that all of them just work their keisters off to maintain their creativity. Some do, some don’t. But I don’t believe that creativity is an inherent characteristic that you can never achieve if you don’t start with it at birth.

Bonus! Make mash-up lists

This one can lead to some really wacky ideas. I use a spreadsheet with a randomizer function to pull words from different lists and put them together. I’ve got one that describes scene elements, one for Photoshop tools and functions, and another with just random dictionary words. There are several online generators for free, too. The point is to give yourself a project framework, then use a mashed-up combination to challenge yourself.

Now get out there and be surprised by the connections you find!

(All photo credits: Scott Valentine)

More Bonus!

My favorite contemporary surreal photographers:

You can see more of Scott’s work at Scoxel.com, and follow him on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, Behance, YouTube, and Twitter.

OK, if you’ve ever struggled with finding just the right font for a project, you will love this tip.

Adobe made a change in Photoshop CC that makes being able to see what different fonts look like live in your document on screen, and it’s so much easier and faster than the old versions. It’s a really handy tip to know if you ever work with type on any level at all.

See, that’s much better than the old method (and if you’re saying to yourself, “Heck, I didn’t even know the old version” that’s cool — this is a better way anyway.”)

Hope you found that helpful. Come on back ’round tomorrow for Guest Blog Wednesday. :)

Best,

-Scott

P.S. We’re just 16 days from the Photoshop World Conference 2017. It’s not too late to come and spend three-days away from all the cares and hassles of the world, and just immerse yourself in learning, becoming more creative, more efficient, and have a bunch of fun while you’re doing it. You’ve always wanted to come to Photoshop World — now’s your chance. Tickets and info right here. – This is the year. You’re going. :)

 

Happy Monday everybody! I’m out doing my Lightroom seminar tour this year (I’ll be in Chicago and the Detroit area with my seminar next Monday and Tuesday respectively), and I get lots of questions about the tethering rig I use, so I thought I’d share a few Behind-the-Scenes shots from a studio shoot I did a few weeks ago (shots for an upcoming book), where I can break down the set-up (and the lighting while we’re there, right?).

Here’s the basic set-up:

The Cable:
The long orange cable is the essential thing you need to connect your DSLR to your computer (and into Lightroom). It’s from a company called Tethertools, and their entire company is dedicated to making stuff for tethering (so, with the exception of the tripod and ballhead and lights, all of which I mention shortly, all the tethering gear itself is from Tethertools (btw: great company, great people behind it, great products, and awesome customer service – I totally dig them!). Anyway, the cables come in different lengths and different connectors to fit your particular make and model of camera (USB 2.0, USB 3, Firewire, Micro-B, Mini-B, etc.). The bright orange color is to help you see the cable in a dark studio environment so you don’t trip on it. Prices vary based on length and ends chosen, but figure around $32 to $55.

The Bar:
It’s all sitting on a tripod (in this case, it’s a heavy duty Really Right Stuff tripod I believe), and the crossbar attached to it is the ‘Rock Solid Tripod Cross Bar’ from Tethertools (it holds a laptop table on the right, and my Really Right Stuff BH-55 Ballhead on the left, which gives me a place to put my camera between frames, while I’m tweaking the lights, or looking at the images in Lightroom). It’s $129.95 at B&H Photo.

The Laptop stand (and safety strap):
It’s called the Tethertools ‘Aero Table’. NOTE: If you get this Aero Table, I would strongly (in the strongest most strongly of strong terms) suggest that you get the optional SecureStrap that keeps your Laptop from sliding off the table, which is most likely to happen when you and a friend/assistant pick up the rig to move it). It has saved me countless times. Get the strap. It’s a must. It’s optional, but shouldn’t be. It’s strap time. Strap it on.  The Aero Table is $195 for a 15″ MacBookPro, and the SecureStrap is around $18 (btw: all the prices shown are what they’re selling for today at B&H Photo).

External Hard Drive Holder:
The little box under the right the side (seen more clearly in the shot above, taken from another shoot that same day), which is currently holding the “brick” for my Apple charging cable, usually is holding an external hard drive (that’s what it’s really designed for). That little external drive holder is called the ‘Aero XDC‘ and they make ones that hold one drive or two drives. Super handy because if you don’t have one, then your hard drive is just kinda sitting there leaning against your computer, waiting to fall off during the shoot (said from experience). Around $54.

 

 

Rolling Base For Your Tripod
The accessory to this system that I just started using in the past few months, and one in which I have deeply fallen in love with is their Rock Solid Tripod Roller, (seen above) which lets you easily roll the entire rig around, rather than having two people pick it up and carefully move it around the studio, which I often have to do a dozen or so times during a shoot. This way, your tripod sits right in special mounts on the roller, and it just glides around. Much safer, faster, and you don’t need a 2nd person to wheel it around (nor do you have to worry about your laptop falling off when it’s just gliding across the floor, much like Belle in Beauty and the Beast. But I digress). It’s around $79. Can’t recommend it enough.

Not Seen, But Felt…
You can’t see it in this photo, but it’s super awesome is their optional Aero Cup Holder accessory, which slides under the Aero Table and you slide-it-out when you need it. It can hold a water bottle, coffee cup, but it’s also awesome for holding your phone during the shoot, or extra batteries, or whatever you need handy during the shoot. It’s $29.95. Totally worth it.

My Entire Kit
The folks at Tethertools are putting together an entire kit of all the stuff I use, and doing a bundle deal for all of it. I don’t have all the specifics, but one day, it will be available, somewhere, somehow. How’s that for specific info? ;-) BTW: When it does come out, I don’t get a commission or kickback (sadly), it’s just for the convenience of folks who come to my seminar and want the same rig. I’ll share the details here on the blog when it’s available. 

Now, let’s look at the lighting
Since we brought all this up, we have to take a quick look at the lighting, right? It’s simple Clamshell lighting with both lights directly in front of our subject. The top light is an Elinchrom 17″ beauty dish (no diffuser — you can get away without using a diffuser if your subject has really clear skin), and the bottom light is a 24″ square Elinchrom Rotalux softbox. Both strobes are Elinchrom ELC 500-watt strobes, and I’m triggering them with a Skyport Transmitter sitting in my camera’s hot shoe.

Hope you found that helpful. :)

Pop Quiz: what happens one week from today?
I’m in Chicago with my brand new Lightroom OnTour full-day seminar. Guess what happens the next day? That’s right — I’m in the Detroit area (Livonia, Michigan to be exact) with the same seminar. Two days. Two seminars. What could go wrong? ;-)  – Hope you can come out and spend the day with me (you can still grab a ticket right here).

Hope today is the start of a great week for you, and we’ll catch ya here tomorrow for a slick little Photoshop tip I’ve got fer ya! :)

Best,

-Scott

Hi Gang – this week on “The Grid” we broadcast live from B&H Photo’s HQ up in New York, and while the first part of the show was in a meeting room, at the end of the show we walked over to the actual store itself where you give you a tour inside the greatest photography store in the world! Here’s where the tour starts (below), with my guest Gabe Biderman. 

We had that wild “Inception” Moment when we ran into a woman in the store who was watching The Show live on her iPad from inside the store. Hope you can check it out.

If you want to watch the full episode (our topic was Night Photography and Gabe was absolutely AWESOME!), here’s the link.

I’m back home now, kinda beat, so I’m hitting the sack – I’ve got a class to record tomorrow – it’s the follow-up to my “Just One Flash” course, it’s called “Just One More Flash!” That’s right — it’s how and why to add a 2nd flash. :)

Best,

-Scott

P.S. It’s only like 21 days to the Photoshop World Conference in Orlando, but it’s not too late for you to come join us!

Make Money While You Sleep By Selling Your Images on Adobe Stock with Terry White
Learn how to get started licensing your work through Adobe Stock! Join Terry White as he breaks down what stock photography is all about and how to contribute your work directly to Adobe Stock so that you can make money while you sleep. Terry takes you through all of the steps required to become an Adobe Stock contributor, as well as an in-depth look at what makes a good stock photo. You’ll learn the ins and outs of keywording, preparing your photos for submission, how to get model and property releases, and even how to submit vectors and video. Terry wraps up the class with a review of the most common questions he gets on stock photography, and you’ll leave feeling ready to start uploading your first submission.

Outdoor Lifestyle Photography with Erik Valind
With outdoor lifestyle photography your job is to sell the experience to the viewer. You need to be able to work in all kinds of lighting situations and with a range of gear-from strobes to diffusion panels-to get the kind of killer shots that makes the viewer wish they were there. Erik Valind takes you through a series of locations and situations demonstrating lighting, posing, and composition tips and techniques all along the way.

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