I always advocate experimenting in Photoshop to see what happens. Sometimes the results are not at all what you might have expected – in either a good way or a bad way. If you don’t like the results you can always undo, delete or start over. But you may love the results – or at least see some potential that encourages you to keep going down that path of experimentation.
One example of experimentation is using a common technique in an “uncommon” way. Here’s a technique that I’ll be teaching in my Photoshop World class called Photoshop Textures, Borders, Edges and More. It involves using Refine Edge, but to make an unusual edge rather than a perfect selection.
First we need to find an image that will create a cool edge effect, so look for an image with lots of detail like stone texture, branches etc. – a photo with a plain blue sky would not work as well.
NOTE: You could use this technique to create a mask on the same photo, but I’m going to use it to create a mask for a different photo.
In this example I’ve chosen a photo and rotated it 90 degrees since I’ll be using it in landscape orientation.
STEP ONE: Use the Marquee selection tool to make a selection that leaves a small area not selected. (This is one of the factors that you can experiment with as you try this method).
STEP TWO: Click the Refine Edge button, and in the dialog move the radius slider quite high, and experiment with turning on the Smart Radius option. Take advantage of the preview to see the results you’ll get from different settings.
Change the Output to Layer Mask.
STEP THREE: Drag the layer and mask into the second document. Unlock the Background layer, and then drag the Layer Mask onto the unlocked layer. Finally, delete the copied layer.
Here’s the final result with a white layer added below to simulate what the edge would look like when printed.
VARIATION: After the mask has been created, you have one more opportunity to edit the effect: double-click on the mask and in the Properties panel click on Refine Mask. Then you can experiment further with different settings.
In this example, I used a small radius and increased the Contrast to change the look of the edge.
Remember, once a mask has been created, it’s easy to copy it into another document and resize or tweak as you need.
Of course a key part of this ability to experiment is to work as non-destructively as possible. This means using layers, layer masks, smart filters etc. to give you as much opportunity as possible to try multiple operations, knowing that you’ll be able to go back if you’re not completely happy with the results.
Remember, by nature Photoshop works in a very linear way – you have to choose to work in a non-destructive manner to give yourself the greatest ability possible to experiment.
Dave Cross shares his favorite non-destructive Photoshop techniques – and much more – on his online training site: online.davecrossworkshops.com. He adds new content each week, often in direct response to member questions. You can also follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.
At Photoshop World Dave will be teaching 3 classes: Photoshop Textures, Borders, Edges and More, The Power of Using Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign Together, and Smart Objects, Layer Comps and Libraries — Oh My!
A while ago I posted the following online: When you look at carpenters, you will not see them laughing at each other because of the brand of hammer they use. They know it’s all about the work they create, the end result.
Still in almost every workshop I teach, I will have attendees who think they can’t do something because of the camera (or even the brand) they use. In essence it’s all about the work you do, it’s just a tool.
Much to my surprise, some carpenters responded and told me that this was not true and that there are indeed (just like with photography) people that talk down to carpenters using a certain kind of hammer. To say my dream was destroyed goes a bit far but… Well I was actually a bit surprised.
Of course there are fields where gear is incredibly important like biking, racing, etc. that are highly depending on the gear. Fine tuning the car a bit more can be the difference between placing pole position and all the way at the back. The driver is also vital, but sometimes I wonder what the combination is; I think it’s mostly machine “helped” by the human driving it.
Now, with photography I won’t tell you that the gear isn’t important at all. I wish that were the case because that would make our passion a lot lot cheaper! But what I do want to tell you is that the human factor is incredibly important.
Our History When my wife Annewiek and I were still living in our caves and I came home from the hunt with my dinosaur and could relax while Annewiek was preparing our meat on the BBQ, I couldn’t watch TV so I started drawing on the caves walls. I didn’t draw beautiful women in tiger skins (realize the women back then were also carrying weapons). What I drew were literally stories about my heroic adventures and how I discovered fire and later the wheel. Fast forward to our pyramids and we also used drawing/imaging for story telling.
For me photography is not only story telling, but I do like it if most of my images (if not all) have an element of story telling.
What Is Story Telling? When you talk about story telling, for a lot of people this means letting the model/sitter do something. Add a REAL element of a story and this is 100% true. I would rather call this a concept shoot, meaning you really tell a story.
For me story telling is more adding some elements in a shot that make the viewer go, “Mmmm I wonder what he/she is thinking?” or, “What is going on?” It can be done with a simple element like a camera, but it can also be done with something like an expression.
Sometimes people ask me why most of my models look away from the camera. I think this is actually part of that story telling element. If a model looks straight into the camera, this can be incredibly powerful (don’t get me wrong). However it can be even more powerful when the model isn’t. Then the immediate question becomes, “Where is she looking, what’s going on over there?” Hence your story telling element.
You don’t have to write a book with your one image (or more), but just try to give your model something to work with. You can give her a camera in her hand, but you can also make her work that camera like she is taking selfies etc.
Backgrounds The story telling can also be with your backgrounds. We all know seamless backgrounds right?
For me they were awesome when I started with my model photography. Then slowly (but surely) they lost a lot of their appeal for the simple reason… There was nothing going on. BUT…. You can use your backgrounds in a totally new way and combine some ideas, and you have a totally different image.
Whenever I teach a workshop where I “have” to use seamless I always ask them if the seamless can be destroyed after the shoot, and luckily they always say yes. I see it as my “trash the dress” shoot. You can actually start very easy.
Combining different options really creates something cool in my opinion. For example combine this with the camera.
Or let the model do something more….
In the end it’s all about your creativity and your mind.
I don’t always work on concept shots because most of the work you see me posting online or find in my portfolio is shot during workshops or during trade shows where I often don’t have the options to do elaborate shoots with big sets. I literally have to work with what I get.
But even then just working with a little bit of styling and proper coaching of your models goes a LONG way.
As you can see in this example, it’s a shot that isn’t hard to create, it’s just in our studio. But I’ve added some smoke to blend everything together and I mixed light sources to create a more surreal look. The whole idea of them looking somewhere and the male model holding a “device” makes it a bit more mysterious (story telling). Your mind will fill in the blanks, and the fun thing is… Everyone will do it differently. That’s also why I hardly ever name my images or add stories to them. I think it’s more powerful when the viewer does that. Because your imagination is much stronger than what I can write down.
As you see in the example above, although it was just shot during a workshop with the concept of mixing light sources, a BIG part of the image is that you as the photographer determine the outcome. I could have just mixed light sources and explained the effect and technique. But by also pushing myself for a cool shot I also inspire the group to start doing this at home, because they see how “easily” it can be done. Don’t get me wrong… creativity is NOT easy, but it CAN be done.
And sometimes you are just incredibly lucky and everything falls together.
As you can see in the shot above I was very lucky. I shot this just before Photoshop World in Vegas during a trip to Nelson. We brought a model to film a scene for an instructional video. Iasked her to bring a red dress, however by happenstance she also brought these angle wings. Lucky me there was a plane, so my mind immediately created… well fill in your own story there (see how easy it is? :D)
Do You Plan? This is probably the most asked question… And my answer is… Well, yes and no.
Sometimes we plan a shoot and we will plan it from A-Z (and during the shoot it will be different). But we will have an idea for the clothing, location etc. and sometimes… It just happens. Remember that shot we opened with, Nadine sitting on a pumpkin with the sign pointing down? Believe it or not, NOTHING in that shot was planned. It was shot during a workshop I taught in the UK last year and we happened to stumble on this cute little shop creating props for kids attractions. We asked if we could use it for a shot and they said, “Sure but what do you see in this junk?” We just said, “Trust us.” Nadine combined the clothing and literally built the set herself in mere minutes. The only thing I had to do was to “blend” everything together, pose and lighting wise. You don’t want to know how many people ask us how much preparation that shoot took and I think half of them don’t believe the story I just told you, but it’s 100% true.
At one point you develop a sense for story telling.
During the workshops at Photoshop World you will see the same thing, I ALWAYS go in blank, I have a theme and things I want to teach, but everything else is 100% blank. This is also why my workshops and demos are always different, even if I teach two or three in a row.
During the workshop/demo, I guide my group exactly through my thought process and show them what I see/think/feel about a setup and what would work or wouldn’t. The fun/interesting thing to see is how everything is build up and how often we do change things during the shoot.
Now this is during workshops/free work where it’s all about the learning process. If we work for clients this is often too “risky” and I will actually create a moodboard for the team and client and try to stick to that moodboard. What I do always build in is options to change things. If you promise smoke to a client and the smoke machines don’t work or are not allowed you’re…. well…. you know what I mean :D If you however promise the idea/suggestion of smoke you can always solve this by for example using lensflare, breathing on the lens etc. So never pin yourself down too much.
Conclusion The human mind is a crazy thing. It’s incredibly flexible and creative if triggered, so learn to play with that. But don’t go in like a blind horse, make 100% sure you also have the knowledge to pull things off. Although I’m a very creative shooter I know all my techniques, I know how to meter, how to make sure my color and exposures are correct, I know how to create the effects I need. I hate to rely on the “pffff we pulled that off but I don’t know how.”
During workshops I always tell people to bring everything when they ask me what to bring. It often happens I’m only shooting with a 24-70 the whole workshop and one light source. But it also often happens I’m using a 12-24 and several lights. With creative people you never know. Look at the set and let your imagination go wild, but most of all… If you know something works, use that as a backup and start with something new, something exciting. You can also go back to safe, but if you only shoot what you know will work, you will always end up with the same images.
Evolution – Growing Without Losing Direction Next year will mark my business celebrating its 10th year, and it has been a roller coaster that’s for sure. It all started at my dining room table with a blank sheet of paper, no knowledge at all of Photoshop, and no clients. From there I mapped out a company called AmbientLife that I wanted to create, a business that would be based around high end transport and high end prestige cars.
When I first started out the research phase, lots of people said I didn’t have a chance because I was too old to be starting a totally new career, I didn’t live in London, and even a few that said I would need to change my style of photography because my own natural style was, “Too dramatic and artistic,” to be commercial. I had a pretty good knowledge of business having worked in high level management positions in blue chips. I also had a background before that serving in the Royal Marines which gave me the greatest edge, the belief that I could achieve and conquer anything if I pushed myself hard enough and trusted myself not to be afraid to be “different.”
So here we are 9 years on, and it’s fair to say that hard work pays off! I have clients across most continents and I have been fortunate enough to work with some amazing people and see some truly stunning places all in the call of duty.
I have been commissioned to shoot some of the world’s most expensive and desirable cars, I have hung out of helicopters shooting super yachts, and I’ve been responsible for creating the photography for some huge campaigns like the recent “fractal” prototype car that my client Peugeot launched recently.
So things are all great and everybody is smiling… And that’s great, but for me it was time for a change. It felt like it was time to push out and allow my business and style to evolve more. This might seem a little strange to some people because, why change a formula that’s working?
The simple hard fact is that the world never stays the same, markets change, politics change and industries change. Even though I am a commercial photographer, I am also a businessman, so I keep a close eye on what’s happening around the world and take note of things that can change or affect the industries and sectors that I work in. The most effective business models are those that ‘lead the way’ and those that ‘recognize change’ and are not afraid to adapt to it and be prepared for it. Apple probably being one of the most famous examples of this.
The high end car market is going through change, this is brought on by exchange rate changes globally, unrest politically in some regions of the world and also the changes that we have seen in oil, its cost, and the downturn in profits for those areas involved in producing it. All these factors will have an impact.
So I’m just a photographer, why should I care? Well I guess that’s the key message here; being a photographer is great, and if it’s your passion and even your natural gift in life then it’s a superb space to exist in. But you also need to make a business work, and good business comes from knowing your market and having the right cassette in your head to deal with it. It’s about knowing how to ask yourself the right questions and it’s also about being able to be honest enough with yourself that you will answer yourself honestly.
I have been talking about this ‘journey’ in my business talks at Photoshop World with KelbyOne for a few years now. Every time I do they get massive positive feedback and requests for bigger and longer seminars on this ‘massive’ subject. This year I will be in Vegas and will be actually doing a whole workshop on this to talk through the process, but also the mindset of how to approach this. I can’t tell you all the answers, but I can help you to understand what the right questions are that you need to ask yourself and base your business development on.
I’ve been doing live shoot seminars for years now across the world from the US to the deserts of Dubai. It’s great to help people understand how important lighting can be, and also how lighting and your style of lighting can impact so much on the overall feel to your actual visual style. One thing that has grown massive over the last three years from a seminar point of view is the whole conversation around ‘succeeding’ and understanding your path as a working photographer.
You see, the thing here is that we invest a huge amount of our lives in creating the very best work that we can, we love it, it’s our passion, it’s our purpose, it’s what drives us. It’s that thing that makes us feel like a kid on Christmas morning to get out there and do a great shoot of something that we love. If you can learn to match that passion and drive with your business side, then you achieve one HUGE thing moving forward… You take control of your future rather than letting commissions dictate what you are shooting and how that’s being presented. One of the most important factors for a photographer’s work is your style. This is yours, nobody but you can create it. And only you can take that and grow and evolve it into what you ‘feel’ that it should be next.
It’s based on your view of the world and how you record what you see in front of you. It’s based on your imagination, and it’s also based on all the things in your life that influence you. What I mean by the last part there is that I believe that photography is in some ways a view inside your own mind. It’s guided by choices that you make, and these in turn are a result of things that influence you and your attitudes. When I am traveling to a gig, I will often listen to music; music I choose that gets me into the right frame of mind for the type of shoot that I am about to take on. I work hard to remove as many negative influences and people from my day to day world, “mood hoovers” is the affectionate term I use to refer to such people ;)
Your personal life, and what is contained within that, can duly have a massive impact on your work, its growth and its creativity. In October last year I got married to the love of my life, my wife Angela. We were married in a 17th century castle in the Highlands of Scotland, a setting that’s been used a few times in Bond films… the irony!
Anyway, we had a perfect day in every way and we have an amazingly happy and stable life. My wife works really hard at what she does and we respect each other’s stresses and commitments to our career roles. She is my rock but she’s also my best friend. When you’re a photographer, especially in the early years, having that support can make a massive difference to the probability of you driving yourself forward and succeeding in the way you want to.
So how did I decide what ‘Evolution’ was required? If I’m honest, and people who know me know that I say things as they are, a little too much sometimes… But this was a lot harder than I first thought. So I found my own way by first starting to look at my entire work to date as a single body of work. What was my strongest work? What did I have a natural ability or infinity to shoot? And where were the gaps…?
Over the recent years a huge amount of my work has been location based. It’s popular, and one epically huge point here that I want to make is that you can ‘evolve’ without losing or moving away from what you’re good at or what is popular. Think of it as having a guitar with only three strings… You’ve learned over the years to bang out some pretty awesome tunes on that and people love them, but its time to maybe get another two strings and see what you can do with those added!
My approach to look at my work was to force myself to put together a body of just 40 pieces of work that I would then use to have a bespoke portfolio book made from. This book would then be used in subsequent months when I was in meetings with new clients and also agencies as I pushed forward into new ground with new clients. WOW that’s a tough thing to do, and after about 3 days I started to see the gaps, my interiors work was okay but not driven forward that well compared to the other work. I have a reputation for being able to shoot detail really well and the interiors usually come off the back of doing that. But I hardly ever did any shoots that were just based on getting amazing interiors.
It also became very apparent to me that I was really spending all my time out on location, and whilst I had spent time ‘in studio,’ it was only about 10% of what I was doing. The result of this is that whilst my studio work was on the money for what the clients wanted for their brief, I had not really explored enough of this part of my work to develop my own unique style around it. A big reason for this is that I was shooting a massive amount of work for Aston Martin, and indeed many people had started to refer to me in magazine interviews as ‘the guy that shoots all the Astons…’ Hey, I know there are worse things in life, but this was a driving factor that was stopping me evolving to some degree. Last year I made the radical decision to back away from Aston. While that might may seem like madness, it has been the very best thing that I ever did.
Over a period of months between client commissions I pushed myself hard to plug the gaps that I felt were there. I spent a lot of time in studio developing my own work, but also most importantly developing my own lighting techniques so that my work was ‘different’ than other work that was shot in studio. There is no point at all in just trying to reproduce what somebody else does no matter how well you do it. You need to own it, make it yours and do that in such a way that people will look at it and think of you.
Agencies looking to commission high value shoots for campaigns are 90% looking for ‘style’ when they view work from photographers. They want to see your view of the world and if it’s something that fits in with what their vision is for the campaign. If it is, then it’s a no brainer that the shoot is heading your way and costs etc have little impact, as long as it’s nothing silly of course!
I also spent time investing in my BRAND. I designed and had my portfolio book handmade after sourcing all the materials, and that has been a very worth while investment because my brand has to give out the right message. Agencies and clients need to feel that I really care about what I do and how I produce it. It’s true that they are hiring you to shoot photography for them sure, but it’s also very important to understand that they are investing in YOU…
My 2016 Portfolio book became a reality and is made of the finest materials, all of which have some relevance to my industry. It’s a pretty big beast, but when it lands on an art directors desk it’s like an event opening it (that’s a quote from 3 recent art directors). It’s that sort of message exactly what I wanted to send so for me I am really happy with that.
Updating a portfolio once a year is not enough for me. I’m busy, and whilst some of my work is under embargo because of the nature of what I shoot, there is plenty that is not. Every quarter I update a digital version that can be mailed anywhere in the world as a link, as a PDF book or whatever is required. It’s a carbon copy of the physical book but it’s updated as the year progresses and I shoot more and more work. Clients and agencies absolutely love this because not only does it keep them up to date with what you’re doing and how your work is moving forward, but its also gives them insight into the fact that you are ‘a very busy boy’ and you’re in demand. That is a key factor and it’s also related to human nature, but the fact is that if you are busy and people are chasing you for shoots, then you become more desirable.
Remember… Your Professionalism is your logo
Your Personality is your business card
How you make your clients feel is your Trademark
The whole human nature thing is pretty big for me, and it’s something that I talk about a lot in my business seminars because it not only allows you a better understanding of yourself truthfully, but it also give you ‘superpowers’ when it comes to negotiating and winning contracts. If you want to hear more, then you are going to need to join me at Photoshop World in Vegas for my Business Workshop ;)
The last 8 months… In the last eight months several things have happened, and I would like to think that has been because I took control and allowed myself the time to evolve.
I’m taking on a lot more new clients, I’m doing more diverse and interesting work that is pushing me both creatively and technically, and also the business returns on that mean that I am pulling in more revenue as I grow.
I am finding my own unique approach to shooting studio based work. I am also finding that having those ‘extra strings’ is really paying dividends with both my current clients, and also new ones that are seeing this for the first time. Agencies are recognising that I have the ability to ‘bang out some new tunes’ whilst maintaining my own unique style, and, most importantly, stay focused on a continued direction for my brand and my business.
Finally I am finding the time to shoot for myself, shoot personal projects, and experiment with things. Photography may well be my business and my living, but it’s also a passion. I still get a massive amount of fulfillment from just getting out there and shooting stuff for no other reason apart from finding out what that looks like shot!
The road ahead…
The Last Word… Thanks for reading through my blog, and I hope its been entertaining and perhaps some of it will open up a few questions within your own life that you may have been thinking about. If you would like to learn more about lighting cars in different ways or hear me talk about business and what inspires me, then you can do so right now by hoping over to KelbyOne where I have 7 video seminars and 2 interviews recorded for those that can’t make it to live events. I hope these help you guys.
Whatever you do, be passionate about it, believe in yourself and what you can achieve, and above all else accept that ‘failure’ is just part of the learning process and it’s moving forward that counts!
I think you can always tell the size of a man by the size of the things that bother him…
Stay positive, be mindful of the things that influence your space in this world and if you really want to do something, go out there and get it with all you have!
The Rebirth of Underoath, Part 2 So back in March, I did a guest post here that showed the beginning stages of The Rebirth of Underoath, a band that had called it quits a few years ago and decided to reunite to tour for the 10th and 12th anniversaries of their two biggest albums. Since then, the band has done their six week tour, and I was able to document parts of it in St. Petersburg, Nashville, and Orlando.
The guys kicked their tour off at Jannus Live in St. Petersburg, Florida, the same place they played their final show in 2013. Since it was the first show of the tour, they were also taking pictures of everything for themselves and getting back into the swing of doing sound check and meeting with VIP fans. And of course, the VVIPs, their families!
The guys played as if they’d never taken a break, and the crowd loved it.
I was overjoyed to be asked by KelbyOne to be this week’s Guest Blogger! Kelby Training/KelbyOne has been a fantastic help to me over the years, and it has always inspired me to improve, setting a benchmark for where I would like to be in the future.
This got me thinking about the past five years and where I began, where I hoped I would be by now and where I see myself going from here. Reflecting on your career history makes you stop and think about past achievements, failures and what you can do to keep pushing ahead to reach your next goals.
If like me you always want to achieve more, sometimes you pass over the goals you reach because you have already set new ones. I always said five years ago that as soon as I became a published photographer I would feel like a success, except, my work got published and I still wasn’t happy and felt that I could improve.
It seemed that as soon as one goal was met, it was already surpassed with a new one – a harder one – to continue to push myself and to try and stay in the forefront of people’s minds.
Recently, I was approached to be sponsored by a brand but I realized that it wasn’t what I wanted, so I turned it down. “Is she crazy?” I hear you ask… Maybe! The fact was, even though they have great products, their business goals didn’t match with mine and I could see there being conflicting interests later on down the line. I could have said yes, and who knows where this may have led? But my instincts were telling me to hold off and continue under my own name, not someone else’s.
After nearly six years in the industry, I am at a point now where I can choose what opportunities I feel will be best suited to me individually and my personal development and growth, and that is exactly what we should all be doing.
We all have our own journeys and each path we take is our individual decision and shapes our future accordingly.We have all been guilty of taking below average offers because we thought that was all we were worth at the time. When you first start out, there is a necessity to do unpaid work to gain valuable experience – but the key is to not let it stay that way!
Thankfully, we all improve quickly thanks to technological advances in equipment and software, but especially with online learning platforms such as KelbyOne and seminars and hands-on workshops.
You should be able to see the improvement in your work, even if it might take you longer to see it than others.A great way to track progress is to keep a separate portfolio of your best 5-10 images each year and just explain a little next to it why you chose those images. They don’t have to be the ones that you were paid for or that someone else liked – this is for YOUR own development.
I found that once I looked back and saw how far I had come, it gave me a sense of self-success, a feeling I hadn’t stopped and appreciated before.
We all get down days, and in this industry there are many. This is why we need to stop and look at our own achievements, however small they might seem at the time, and notice our own incredible abilities and self-worth.
Plans and goals are important to make but I got so wrapped up in trying to always achieve the next goal that I forgot about just enjoying the here and now and really taking it all in.
Photography is horrendously competitive and can be exhausting at times to maintain, especially keeping up with social media too. Your online presence (both website and social media) is incredibly important and that is an area I am working on improving this year.
My next goal will be offering workshops in Beauty and Fashion Photography after my ‘test’ workshop days went wonderfully well. Teaching is something that has always interested me but has taken a little time for me to feel confident and ready – now that I am, I am excited what the future will bring!
Lastly, please remember that we shouldn’t measure ourselves against others; we should only measure against where we were, where we are and feel excited about where we will be next.
So take a moment today, look at your amazing portfolio of work and remember, we all are continuously learning on our own individual journeys- just make sure you enjoy every moment of yours!
Hi, my name is Peter Treadway but I’m better known (photographically, at least) as Hybrid Peter, a moniker which derives from being the owner and one half of Hybrid Photography here in the UK (the other half being my buddy Hybrid Dave Williams). As Hybrid Photography, Dave and I are destination wedding specialists, traveling worldwide to capture our clients most treasured moments and it’s a job we absolutely love. However…
I’m not here today to talk about Weddings (I can almost hear the collective sigh of relief as I type that!). No, what I wanted to discuss is an issue that has been around for donkey’s years but has really started to become all too common in the photography community and it’s something that I really can’t abide. It’s the idea that only the most expensive pro kit will get you the results you want and that if you aren’t using said kit, then you can never be a ‘proper’ photographer.
And so whilst it’s true that you may need certain specialist lenses or equipment to fully pull off a select few types of shots, the vast majority of images that you’d want to capture can be so caught using the setup you most likely already have, with perhaps just a couple of other bits of very cheaply sourced kit that, once bought, could be used time and time again. Despite this, I’ve heard even seasoned photographers being fed the line by more ‘experienced’ pros that only the best, most expensive gear will do, but even more disappointing than that is that this ‘advice’ is almost always aimed at the younger generation of togs who, at that stage of their photography journey, have little other information to base their understanding on and so have no real choice but to believe what they’re being told. Well, I’m here to tell you it’s all rubbish!
I know this from personal experience, as I picked up my first entry level DSLR, a Nikon D3000, 6 years ago and within 6 months of buying it, shot my first wedding. Yes, I started shooting weddings on an entry level DSLR with only one lens (a Sigma 18-200mm f3.5-6.3), no speedlight and after only 6 months of having ever pressed a shutter release with any purpose! I think I just heard an old school tog have a heart attack!
As you might imagine then, every website, every photography forum and every photographer that I consulted was telling me that there was no way my shots would be any good whilst using such a basic setup and that I couldn’t even call myself a photographer by shooting with a £400 body… and they were right! But only partly so, as whilst I’m still immensely proud of the photos from that first event, it’s also true to say that they are a world away from the polished and professional images I deliver to my couples these days. However, where the nay sayers were wrong is in suggesting that this had anything to do with my kit, as, in reality, it was everything to do with my lack of training and knowledge. Luckily though, being 30 years old at the time, and therefore slightly older than your average first time shooter, I had the confidence to largely ignore what I knew to be inaccurate information and simply carry on.
Knowing that weddings were absolutely what I wanted to shoot though, and that I needed to improve quicksmart, rather than fall in to the trap of believing that I had to buy ever more expensive gear, I buried myself in every training resource I could find (which is also when I discovered Scott’s Digital Photography set of books and which to this day I still refer to as my bibles) and quite simply practiced, practiced, practiced with my trusty D3000.
Dave and I would head down to London’s Southbank, next to the River Thames, or just drive out to the middle of nowhere for whole days, any opportunity we got, and not stop shooting until our memory cards were full. Then we’d go and grab a bite to eat (usually a cheeky Nandos!) and process the images immediately on our laptops, reviewing what we could have done better, before emptying the cards on to the computers and starting over again, now taking different types of shots of city lights, light trails and playing with light orbs as the sun faded. We’d shoot architecture, street photography, cars and bikes and even model for each other to better understand concepts of lighting and posing and how different setups could completely change the feel of a portrait. I just couldn’t get enough of trying new things.
And so it was that when the next wedding came around 3 months later, despite the only difference being the addition of a small budget speed light, there was a huge difference in the feel of the images. My composition was better, my understanding of camera settings was better and I had a greater idea of where I should be standing at key moments to fully utilise the light available to me.
Still the comments continued to be made though and they did stick with me but thankfully not in a way that had me brooding over them and worrying that I wasn’t good enough but rather reinforced my resolve never to become one of ‘those’ photographers as I continued my photographic progression. They also made me a firm believer in the notion that the only time you should look down on someone, is when you’re helping them up.
This is why, almost from the very beginning, Dave and I have actively tried to impart any knowledge and skills we had acquired to the next wave of eager photographers and have lead a number of educational photowalks and informal training sessions to this end over the years, including being asked to organise and run the Photofocus photowalk earlier this year, as part of The Societies photography convention here in London, where we were joined, amongst others, by Robert Vanelli, Richard Harrington and Eric Renno. On the point of helping people to learn, I’ve also found it to be a fantastic way of picking up tips myself, as strange at that sounds, because in the midst of a giving practical advice to a group of people, there is always some new information that can be picked up during discussion.
As of now then, I am thankfully at a stage in my career where I have managed to surround myself with fellow creatives that share this belief of recycling knowledge and paying forward what they themselves have been taught, without looking down on people and telling them that they’re no good unless they have the latest and greatest stuff. However, having spoken to a number of newer photographers during various training sessions over the last few years, it’s clear that the same tired old phrases regards having to have the ‘right’ gear are still doing the rounds.
A few weeks ago then, while I was sat at home pondering a new photo project and how I could use it to tie in with this ethos of being able to shoot almost anything, almost anywhere and with almost any camera, I hit upon an idea that saw me shooting something I’d been wanting to capture for a while and something that was very dear to my heart… my car!
Now, as a caveat to these images, I should point out that I’m clearly no automotive photographer and that these images would probably never grace the pages of any car magazines but that was never my aim (and besides, my Mum has seen them and she loves them, so that has to mean they’re good, right?). But seriously, what was I really trying to achieve here? Well, I wanted some moody, low key shots of my car, which is what I have ended up with and more importantly, they illustrate one major point:
You don’t need a huge studio, banks of lighting and mega expensive camera gear to take these kind of shots. Let me show you why:
Yep, these were taken on the driveway outside my house and in broad daylight and could easily have been taken in a cramped garage or on the street. So ok, full disclosure (because I know the eagle eyed amongst you will have picked up on this already) I actually took these shots using a full frame Nikon D810, a 14-24 f2.8 lens and a 3 Legged Thing tripod, all of which come in at quite a pretty penny. But, and as Sir Mix-a-lot says, it’s a big but, before you go off espousing that I’m a charlatan of the highest order, let’s consider the settings I used.
All of these images were shot at around f10, ISO100 and using the wide end of the lens, which all means there’s absolutely nothing stopping anyone taking these shots with a baby DSLR, a kit lens, even the cheapest tripod and basic knowledge of your chosen photo editing software (I’ll be posting a full blog on my post processing for these shots over on my website soon, so keep an eye out for that, if you’re interested). As for lighting, I used a Yongnuo speedlight and trigger combo which allowed me to get the flash off my camera hot shoe and cost around £65 ($90) on eBay for the two and a cheap 24” softbox which cost around £25 ($35), again from eBay. So then even when extra bits of kit are needed, it’s clear that they don’t have to be the latest Profotos or Elinchroms to get the job done and it’s likely to be stuff that won’t simply see the light of day for one shoot but that you’ll able to use time and again.
And so with all of that said, I hope that now gives you the confidence to tell the detractors what they can do with their information and gives you the ability to see that the only limit to getting great results from whatever kit you already have, is how creative you’re willing to get with it and that if you think it’s time to upgrade your kit, make sure first that you don’t simply need to upgrade your knowledge!
P.S. I’d just like to say thanks to you all for taking the time to read my idle ramblings and that I’m looking forward to meeting lots of new fellow creatives at Photoshop World later this year (if you haven’t booked your ticket yet, really, what are you waiting for!), so if you’re going and you see me there, feel free to come over and say hello. After all, I’m English, so I’m bound to be polite, right? FInally, I’d also like to say a huge thanks to Scott for allowing me to grace his guest blog spot this week. It’s a genuine honour.