Category Archives Guest Blogger

It's funny with photography, it’s pressing a button. However until you get to actually ‘do it’ it can be so effortless or so incredibly complicated. There's definitely a good range of possible roadblocks between you and the photos you want to achieve. In the end it comes down to who you are as a photographer and what you would like to shoot. One thing is easy for sure, it’s to think, “I could have shot that,” but you simply haven’t until you have. One of Scott Kelby’s favorite quotes of Joe McNally has to be, “If you want more interesting pictures, you gotta stand in front of more interesting stuff.” I'd like to use this guest post to show you my process of shooting new work for my portfolio, maybe it will help some people to go and make the work they want as well.

You can scale your shoots from simple and cost free to a high end production. This is just my approach. My goal was to work on my lifestyle book and shoot new work. I had the chance to go to Cape Town which has basically everything you need: the weather, locations, models, stylists and so forth. Sounds like a game plan, but the trip was miles outside my comfort zone. These shoots came out of my own pocket and I needed to bring together a lot of people to make it happen. As just mentioned this would be: models, stylists, make-up, etc. All willing to work for free or cheap and in return for new photos. Testing is a common term for shooting for your portfolio when working in a production environment. Everyone involved likes to use new images to promote themselves with new work in their field or to show a new direction.

Before making the trip to Cape Town I started to reach out to all kinds of contacts in order to get a team together. The majority of hair/makeup artists and stylists work with representation. This makes it easier to localize and finding the right people for the test. I found a stylist that was into the idea of shooting a road trip like story. There was also one scenario where styling wasnâ˜t as key and the model could bring his own clothing, which made me a bit more independent scheduling. For models I planned on finding talent either local or on-stay. You can approach model agencies and ask for new faces that need to build their book. Established models also do tests, you just need to be more convincing.

Finding locations can work either way too. For the road story shoot, locations were lonely roads or places by the coast and not a big deal to shoot at. For another test I wanted to use a pool and therefore worked with a location scout to find one. In that process I also came across an apartment that I liked where the owner was fine with a half day rate, which made it affordable to rent it. Again, no big budgets so tweaking it on all ends was necessary to make it happen which also meant cutting my shot list to what suits a half day.

With all the when and where in place, I was able to start casting. I used some of my personal contacts and also reached out to model agencies. Usually when shooting with people I know or my friends, Iâ˜ll tend go into a direction where I make them feel comfortable and they can do well in the shoot. Meaning not necessarily chasing a vision first. Whereas having a set idea and finding models to match that, is the same procedure as on a job, which I find is good practice. Another plus of test shoots. It’s a good idea to have a Plan B in place when it comes to casting. Out of 7 models I shot with, 5 models cancelled last-minute because a paid job came along or they needed to go on a casting. Understandable, paid jobs come first.

Finally I was done with pre-production and it was time to shoot photos. This is the fun part. Itâ˜s a test, this is the time to try things, learn and improve. At the same time you have your team and the model that would like to have results they can work with. I like to find the balance – achieve results, not re-invent the wheel but also have room to play, allow error, learn something new.

I hope this serves as a bit of inspiration for you to go out and shoot the photos you want, even if what you want is to hang your shot of the Eiffel Tower over your couch. Then your only chance is to make a trip to Paris to photograph it. The one in Las Vegas is a joke and does not count. ;-)

You can see more of Christian’s work at ChristianBrecheis.com, and follow him on Twitter and Instagram

After recently wrapping up my eBook on urban exploration photography, I've taken a step back to examine why I go to abandoned places, risking legal repercussions and personal injury only to walk away with a few shots that I truly love. The obvious reasons are that it's incredibly fun, it's adventurous, it's exhilarating, it's challenging, and I love historical places. But most importantly, I have the rare opportunity to photograph places that very few photographers can. The skills I've gained over the years to find abandoned places, to figure out how to get inside of them (without getting arrested), and to photograph them in extremely unforgiving lighting circumstances are all factors that I shouldn't take for granted. With that said, it hasn't always been a cake walk. I've had close calls with authority figures, I've partially fallen through floors, and I've walked away with a plethora of terrible photos. The latter of those three things has been the most difficult to overcome. By sharing the following lessons, my hope is to save other photographers some of the frustrations of learning the hard way.

Lesson #1: Shoot less!
One of the tough lessons I had to learn in my first year of shooting is that I was simply taking too many shots. When I first started sneaking into abandoned places, I was under the impression that I needed to capture every inch of the building. I think the fear of the building being demolished left me with the possibility that I may be the last person to ever photograph it. After realizing how ridiculous that notion was, coupled with the fact that most of my photos were terrible, I had to ask myself "what is my goal?" I knew that I wanted to create artistic photos that tell the stories of the abandoned buildings that I explore. Once I accepted that I didn't need to serve as a documentarian by capturing every mundane detail, my workflow sped up (because I didn't need to review hundreds of photos) and I was much happier with the shots I walked away with.

Lesson #2: Focus on composition
Not only was I wasting a ton of time trying to shoot too many photos, I was more focused on post-processing rather than composition. I'm happy that I've spent so much time immersed in Lightroom, Photoshop, OnOne, Nik, and other post-processing tools, but I don't like looking at photos from my first year of shooting because they're just horribly composed. I had this twisted mindset that I could just run my photos through Photomatix, crank up the saturation, and call it a day. I've actually gone back to re-shoot a lot of the abandoned places that I shot in my first year because the pictures were THAT bad. You can usually salvage a photo that has mediocre color or lighting in post-processing, but you can't fix composition (without cropping and sacrificing image quality).

Quick tip: Submit your photos to online forums and message boards for critique. 99% of the time, your friends won't tell you if your image sucks.

Lesson #3: Don't shoot mid-day
Fast forward a year. I began to see how lighting was playing a much larger role in my photography. I would typically wake up around 10am on a Saturday and go shoot during the day. This makes it very difficult to get evenly lit photos. Abandoned places are notoriously difficult to shoot because they are often very dark. When you're shooting in a dark place with harsh afternoon sun blaring in through windows or roof, it creates photos with extreme contrast (even with HDR). With that said, landscape photographers swear by blue hour and golden hourâ¦for very good reason. I began to realize that my shots were turning out better if I shot early in the morning or around sunset. If I'm going to be shooting in a dark space, I'd rather have the lighting characteristics of the soft morning sun instead of the harsh afternoon light, no matter how little light is actually coming through. It's also easier to sneak in and out of abandoned buildings when it's dark, so set those alarms for 5 AM and hit the road!

Lesson #4: The 2 lens rule
Everyone wants to be properly equipped for any photographic situation; there's nothing wrong with that for the everyday photographer. But for urban explorers, carrying every lens you own can be a huge pain (especially if you're hopping fences or running away from "threats"). After lugging around too much gear for far too long, I realized I only used about half of what I was carrying for 90% of my exploring. My advice is to pick your 2 favorite lenses and leave the rest at home. You can always swap out glass and go back to a certain location if you feel like you truly missed some shots without a particular lens.

Lesson #5: Stop using Photomatix for your HDR needs
This one might earn me some hate mail, but it needs to be said. While on a trip to Nicaragua with The Giving Lens, photographer Colby Brown turned me onto LR/Enfuse as an alternative to Photomatix and I haven't looked back. Don't get me wrong, Photomatix can yield some great results⦠but rarely in the hands of beginners. One of the problems that I see time and time again is that urban explorers want to get that gritty detail in their images, so they crank up the Photomatix Strength slider to 100 and hope for the best. This isn't the right way to do it and I was guilty of the same thing for a long time. Using LR/Enfuse or 32-bit HDR's gives me great dynamic range without the pitfalls of Photomatix sliders. If you're looking to get some gritty texture in your images, try Nik Color Efex Pro's Tonal Contrast filter (used in moderation) instead.

Lesson #6: Don't stop experimenting
It's easy to fall into the routine of "what works" in order to generate a solid image, whether it's using the same camera settings, light painting technique, or Photoshop actions. We're all just looking for the fastest route to great results, right? That's logical and perfectly fine if you're happy with what you're creating. Personally, I get bored. I like to try new methods to capture a scene or post process an image. Forcing myself to experiment has broken many of the creative plateaus I've experience over the years. Don't just read articles on the web of what you "should be doing" (like this one). Get out there and try things simply because you haven't tried them before. A couple great exercises that I still practice to this day are:

1. Explore with only one lens, preferably a prime lens. This will force you to move around and try different angles because you're locked into one focal length.

2. Don't do any bracketing. In my book, I tell my readers to "always bracket." That advice is for making sure you get a usable exposure, either through HDR or by having different exposures to choose from. If you go exploring and DON'T bracket for a day, you'll learn to rely on your histogram to ensure that you've got a proper exposure.

Lesson #7: Look at your old work
I sometimes get frustrated or burned out by the creative process. In order to write this article, I went into the archives and analyzed some of my worst photos so that I could map out some of the things I've learned along the way. As much as I hate it and it makes me cringe, seeing how far I've come motivates me to get better and to never stop learning. A good practice is to take a look at some of your old shots and ask yourself, "Why did I shoot it this way?" and, "How would I shoot it today?" Those two questions alone have encouraged me to get out there and keep shooting so that I can improve my technique and workflow. I employ the sage wisdom of "work smarter, not harder" to my photography; if you don't step back and examine why you do things a certain way, you'll never come up with a better way to do them. I certainly didn't get into this hobby to settle for mediocrity and neither should you.

If you'd like to learn more about urban exploration photography, feel free to check out my book over at Peachpit.

You can see more of Todd’s work at Abandoned.Photography and ToddSipes.net, and follow him on Facebook and Google+.

First off, let me thank Brad Moore for the invitation to be part of Guest Blog Wednesday, as well as Scott Kelby for sharing this popular platform with many great shooters and storytellers across the world. You are both a tremendous service to the industry and the art of photography.

A few years ago, I had an all-day conversation with several other photographers. We talked photography from morning until dinner. It was nice, but also personally revealing of some feelings about my work as a photographer. You see, I left that conversation thinking to myself, "I'm not a photographer for photography's sake."

That was it? That was the sum total of the entire day for me?

Don't get me wrong. I love photography. I loved photography before it was my job, and I feel I have the best one in the world. It is, simply, what I do. I am a photography professor at Texas Tech University's College of Media and Communication, where I not only get to think and muse on photography and photographic technique all day, I also get to teach it to a diverse group of students. On top of that, I have a thriving editorial (and more recently, commercial) freelance photography business. Within the past three years, I've even joined the ranks of a number of this site's contributors and authored several books on the subject of photography. Needless to say, I'm a strong advocate for photography. It's the best job, and in my eyes, it has been the ultimate form of visual communication since hieroglyphics. So, for me to dismiss photography as something in which my life is steeped would be a lie.

However, that day-long conversation I had years ago taught be a bit about myself as a shooter, and that bit is also the most powerful message I give to my students:

Be more than just a photographer.

I tell them this for a few reasons. First, to let them know that, professionally, they are expected to be more than an image-maker. Fill in the blank with whatever job/role one might play in running a photography business or being part of a publication/agency, and you know what I mean. Second, to emphasize that knowledge of photographyâ”of the button pushing, of seeing, creating and exposing great light, of finding attractive composition, etc.â”is but one piece of the formula that makes up great imagery, albeit a large one. Third, and most importantly, I say this to encourage them to use their other passions as vehicles for their photography.

Of course, I contextualize this last statement with practical examples. My mentor, Wyman Meinzer, state photographer of Texas, is, in essence, a cultural historian. His work comes in many different published forms, and the majority of it speaks to his expansive knowledge of the state and its inhabitants. Wyman eats up the history of the Plains, of Texas explorers, and you can see its influence on his photography and his writing. The same could be said of National Geographic photographer Jim Richardson and his native state of Kansas, or his home away from home, Scotland.

Michael Clark, one of my favorite adventure sports photographers, started out as an adventure athlete himself. His knowledge of and experience in rock climbing is a good deal of why his images stand out among the growing competition. Likewise, many of the best music and live performance photographers I know are musicians and singer-songwriters themselves, and if they aren't, they have a deep love of "the scene," and can not only shoot like crazy, but also talk about what or who they're shooting until the cows come home.

For the past few years, my own passions for conservation issues, agriculture, and travel have informed my photography work and how I conduct that work. Much of what I have shot for folks like the Texas Tribune and the New York Times has been energy and environmental journalism, and I'm more able to not only find shots that tell stories on pressing issues, but also how to communicate with those I'm photographing, whether they be lobbyists, waste water treatment plant managers, or water line construction crews. My strong interest in conservation helps me work with clients like The Nature Conservancy and Texas Parks and Wildlife. Growing up on a cattle ranch and later working as an intern in the cotton industry helps me "speak the language" when I photograph farmers and ranchers for any number of stories that my clients might have. Over the years, my portfolio has come to reflect my passionsâ”and expertiseâ”and interesting, relevant assignments come as a result.

Ultimately, my message to my studentsâ”be more than just a photographerâ”evolved from, "I'm not a photographer for photography's sake," as a means to give the latter statement purpose. I'm a photographer because photography is the most powerful means through which I can showcase those stories and issues in which I'm most interested. This goes beyond how we talk about gear, beyond how we talk about the image itself, and gets into why we do it in the first place. Telling stories relies on us being great at our craft, and just as much our ability to visually articulate something that is most definitely non-photographic. Having an expertise (or just a temporary expertise) in something that you want to cover visually, simply put, makes for better, engaging images.

I encourage everyone reading to look beyond themselves as photographers and ask, "What else do I feel passionate about?" Is it climate change? Politics? Football? Family? Pizza? Only you know the end of your interests (and I hope they always continue to grow)! Let your passions lead you and your work!

You can see more of Jerod’s work at JerodFoster.com, and follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and his blog.

Hi everyone! The last time I posted here on Scott’s blog it was while I was still working on the new Down & Dirty Tricks for Designers, Volume 2  and I am happy to announce the book is now shipping. If you enjoyed the first book then you are in for a real treat. This book is designed to take you to that next level with more involved tutorials that are more project based so you can learn these techniques in context. Not to mention I did the best I could to bring you some of the most eye-catching images to inspire your creativity. I have always thought that just seeing what is possible can open up possibilities and change your thought process to generate a new idea.

When Volume 1 of Down & Dirty Tricks for Designers rolled out in 2011 I was nervous and excited because it was my first book and was having a lot to love up to. It would have been like George Lucas handing over the Star Wars franchise to a first time writer. Having been on a hiatus of several years, the book was met with critical acclaim and successfully revived the once dormant franchise. I was excited to hear how much it impacted so many artists and got them thinking in very different ways. After a couple years of continued success I was asked to do a second volume. This time with all new content using all the latest new features in Photoshop CC including some more advanced 3D techniques and while the technology continues to evolve we must never lose that desire to see things others don’t and continue to show the world something it has never seen before and that you can definitely do in Photoshop.

Here’s a quick rundown of the chapters in this newest volume and some of my favorite examples:

Chapter 1 – This Will Help You On Your Way
This chapter is basically a collection of best practices if you are designing in Photoshop. I compiled a number of techniques I used often in my normal work as well as, throughout this book. These include different extraction techniques, custom brushes, texture effects and even toning effects using HDR. I wanted the reader to be abel to refer to these common techniques quickly instead of searching though the book they are all here in the first chapter.

Chapter 2- You Have a Way With Words
What is a Photoshop design book without a chapter on text effects? In this chapter we once again explore type as a design element. Text is designed to convey information, it is our job as designers to make that information as stylish and visually appealing as possible to grab the viewers attentions. Here I have put together a few fun exercises that will show how you can design with text in a number of different ways. One of my favorites being the Movable Type effect shown here. I laugh at the irony of using modern technology to create vintage effects but certain things just have a great nostalgia to the way they look.

Chapter 3 – That Was No Accident, It Was By Design
In the last book I had a chapter on design effects and it was one of the more popular chapters so had to include one this time. These are more commercial effects you might use for ad design for magazine or online. I even have a full project for designing a beer label for my friend Adam Rohrmann. He had a model shoot of a girl with her face made up to look like a sutra skull. The makeup was done by Shelley Giard and we knew I was going to do most of the work in Photoshop but definitely wanted a good base to start with. I was thrilled how well it came out and just had to include the full tutorial here in the book.

Chapter 4 – Creative Differences
This chapter was a new idea this time around. Since I have been doing this I have developed such great friendships with so many prominent photographers that have all too willing to let me play around with there images I thought it would be a good idea share what friendships like that can yield. I decided to have a chapter that featured the work of certain photographers whose work I loved. This time around I was only able to get 2 photographers in the book. The first one is Moose Peterson, who has been doing some remarkable aerial photography with vintage war planes recently. Moose had given me a hard drive full of images so I went crazy. Below you can see the full composite using two of Moose’s planes. This is in the book step-by-step. The next one is my friend Glyn Dewis who is a photographer and retoucher over in the UK. He does the great themed shoots and often will mimic some Hollywood image with his own little twist. In this book he allowed me to use his images to recreate a spoof of the poster image for the movie Looper. This too is in the book step-by-step.

Chapter 5 – Deus Ex Machina
This chapter is of course Hollywood effects. Which is one of my favorite things. I am a big fan of entertainment design especially movie posters. In this chapter we will explore some techniques to help give your designs that Hollywood “look”. In the last Down & Dirty book I had a short tutorial on creating a simple movie poster. This time around we have a fully involved project complete with studio shot images and a full composite build from start to finish. All too often see tutorials that show you only part of the process. In addition to some supplemental videos which are on the book companion site you have all you need to follow the project along from start to finish. Here is a quick time-lapse of that very poster.

YouTube time-lapse of Poster:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i0v9CIRllzU

Chapter 6 – You Will Now be Entering Another Dimension
It is certainly no secret I am a big fan of 3D in Photoshop. I am constantly trying to push the envelope and really see what i can get out of it and this last chapter in the book is a testament to that. I guarantee you have not seen 3D in Photoshop taken to such an extreme. In fact the cover art which you saw at the beginning of this post was created entirely in Photoshop CC. No help from any other 3D applications at all. You would think this would require an insane amount of computing power right? Truth be told, I did the entire graphic on a 2 year old MacBook Pro!

So there are just a few examples among the myriad of tips and techniques found in this newest volume of the Down & Dirty series. You can certainly find out more and purchase your own right here or from Amazon.

Also be on the lookout for upcoming dates as we are going to be rolling out the Down & Dirty Design Seminar Tour in the Spring 2014.

You can see more of Corey’s work at CoreySBarker.com, and follow him on Facebook, YouTube, Google+, and Twitter

Hi. I'm Steven.

Although I was flattered to be asked to contribute this Wednesday, I nearly passed up the opportunity because I truly didn't know what I could offer that would be worth reading. I am a photographer, which is why I was considered in the first place, but I don't have much to say about gear or workflow.

Instead, if I could leave you with anything, I'd say: Everything matters. From my experience it's the most important thing to remember.

Big things like how you treat people or how you conduct your business are obvious, but little stuff is often overlooked. I've seen the smallest details come back around in huge ways and I've noticed that people notice more than you'd think.

Most, including myself a lot of times, get caught up with their normal routine and miss a lot because what they do “works” for them. I'd certainly rather continue to grow than exist in a routine that just "works" and I've found a lot of success in paying close attention to details.

Do everything you can do and then do something extra.

Godspeed.

You can see more of Steven’s work at StevenTaylorPhoto.com, and follow him on his blog, Twitter, and Instagram.


Feeding the Sika Deer in Nara, Japan. 2012. (Captured by my sister, music writer, Alex Vickery.

I stared at this cursor for a good ten minutes before I actually let a line stick. I feel like the ending to an episode of Doogie Howser, M.D.

An enthusiastic, "Yes," was my response to Brad's request that I pen a guest post, without question, because Brad is awesome, but the fact is I spent a lot longer than ten minutes catching up on the past guest posts here that I had missed. I was blown away at the inspiring words and visuals and was suddenly at an impasse.

With 62 pages of posts from world-renowned artists, what was I going to bring to the table? After considerable thought I decided to try to answer a question that I'm casually asked all the time.

"What is your favorite photo?"

Now I'm sure most are implying an image that I personally took, in which case I have frames that I like at any given time. To get those out of the way here are a few of my own most recent images that I personally enjoy.


Houston artist Kelsey Jackson. 2014.


Houston-native, Machine Gun Kelly. 2013.


Actress Katlynn Simone of BET's "The Game". 2014.


Polar Vortex 1. Buffalo, NY. 2014.


Old Forge, NY. 2014


Houston artist Cray Cray. 2013.

Back to the question at hand. My answer is the same every time. My favorite photograph is one I didn't personally take, in fact I don't really know who took it. It's a medium format print of an image of my grandfather teaching a firearms class during his time in the Air Force stationed Tachikawa AFB near Tokyo, Japan. I always loved the texture of the image and the official stamp on the back. The photo, as old as it is, is sharper than 99% of digital captures today. It makes me want to use my Hasselblad more.

Both of my grandfathers died in the late 90's and I loved both of them dearly, however the reason why the image is so important to me isn't just because of who is in the photo, but more of what the image represents: family.

I remember being envious of grade school classmates that always seemed to have several cousins close by or a huge family gathering every weekend. My family was stretched from San Francisco to New York to Tokyo to Cleveland to Paris and everywhere in between. I moved with my family from Houston, TX to Paris, France in the middle of my 5th grade year. Then we moved back 3 years later. It was a tough adjustment, but I got through it. In the end I had been to a dozen different schools, as many or more different houses, different environments and different memories.

No matter where we were, I always loved that I could open up our photo albums and see the same photos of friends and family. Those photographs held it all together.


My dad and his brothers on Halloween. Buffalo, NY.

Ever since I started to really enjoy photography several years ago, I have been on a quest to preserve as much of my family's negatives, prints and old video footage as possible. It started with the tedious task of converting our family's old VHS tapes into digital files and progressed into scanning prints, negatives, and sometimes other interesting documents like postcards or report cards.


Me. Normandy, France. 1994.

As photographers we take the greatest care organizing and archiving our own photography, so why not make that same effort to protect our family's historical record? Regardless of how organized and secure our own pixels are, for most of us, there is an aging box of yellowing prints from a pre-digital era that aren't part of that archiving workflow, but they should be.

My sister recently moved back to the states from Dublin. My mom lives in Singapore. Before that they were in Brazil. It’s tough not getting to see some of your family as much as you'd like. In 2012 I visited my grandmother in New York whom I rarely get the chance to see. She had a very old photo from 1914. It was a photo of her mother, my great grandmother as a young schoolgirl in 1914. She was about to throw it out. I had to save it.

I rescued the photograph and scanned in a ton of old photographs she had collected. It's important to me, these photographic records of my family's history. Sometimes, if not all the time, the process of scanning and organizing an overwhelming pile of prints is tiresome, but the look on your family's face when they've re-discovered an old memory at the bottom of that pile that you unearthed and preserved can make it all worth it.

In 2010, for my grandmother's 80th birthday, I compiled my favorite scanned images into a 400-page book that I self-published as a surprise for her. Check out my blog to read more about that project.

They all don't have to be a book project, but if that unorganized pile exists for you and your family, scan them in. Burn them to a disc or drive. Make copies and give them to family members for safekeeping.


My grandmother. Akron, Ohio. 2010.


Family Selfie. Zugspitze, Germany. 2012.

My favorite photographs are the ones of my sister as a baby in Paris, the ones of my dad holding me as a baby, my grandma making me fried rice, grandpa as a kid.

I am their historian. I am their archivist. I am the only one who knows how to work the scanner.

Todd Spoth is a commercial and editorial photographer based out of Houston, Texas, USA. When he isn't making pictures, writing sentimental blog posts or speaking in the third person he writes and records his own music which can be heard here.

See more of Todd's work at ToddSpoth.com and connect with him on Twitter and Instagram.

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