That’s right, you get TWO guest blogs this week :)
Scott’s neck deep in a few different projects, so he asked if I would do a quick post and share a few shots from the last concert I shot. Luckily, the last time I shot, I had a double header and shot two shows on the same night.
Hi, I’m Matt, I’m 19. I just started studying business at the University of Idaho and live in a small college town named Moscow. I do commercial photography and shoot dramatic portraits. I enjoy shooting photos of people because I love to tell their story in a split second of time. Most of my photos are dramatically lit because I love the intensity it creates.
Taken during Rian Flynn workshop
I started getting serious in my photography when I was 14. I shot my first job when I was a freshman in high school. My first job was a product shoot for a European footwear company. At this point in my photography life I had just purchased a Canon 40D and 28-135mm kit lens. Being a 14 year old that just got asked to shoot all of the product shots for a startup footwear company, I was pretty excited, but nervous. I immediately started studying other shoe photos and decided I could pull it off with minimal supplies. I used a display board and ran a poster board down the back to make the background seamless. I draped a white bed sheet over the top of the board and shot two work lights through the top to give it soft lighting.
This shoot really helped me to see how important lighting is in your photos. I began to see the lighting more and more in photos I loved. Shortly after I did this shoot, I was watching Photoshop User TV and saw that Scott Kelby was starting his Worldwide Photo Walk and I decided that sounded like a fun time and decided to participate!
Photo by Peter Boden
I joined the Spokane walk and met many interesting people and great mentors. We started a photography group from that first walk and helped each other grow in photography. We talked about everything from lighting to Photoshop. This inspired me to explore lighting more and be more serious about my photography. I came across David Hobby’s blog, Strobist and was immediately amazed at how much there was to flash photography. I bought a Canon 430ex, an umbrella, and some “eBay” triggers and instantly fell in love with light. I was lighting nearly every shot I could, and my photography was improving because I realized how the light made me slow down and think through a shot before it was taken. Using an off-camera flash really changed my life. It added more difficulty to the shot but also added more creativity. When I would underexpose the background, it would make the shot look so interesting and I could see the direction of the light. This curiosity about light led to my style. I loved that direction and control of the light that I was able to obtain with the off-camera flash.
Fast-forward a year. I had moved up to Alien Bees for the power and the variety of modifiers. For this shot I had used two lights in the rear sides and one on a boom up front. I used a home-made beauty dish for the main light on this shot. This is all the real grass and clouds (yes the bird was drawn in). This is the difference that light can make. It adds depth, dimension, and drama to your photos.
I continued to play with light and explore it, the inspiration of Frank Doorhof (@frankdoorhof), Zack Arias (@zarias), Joey L (@joeyldotcom), Joe McNally (@joemcnallyphoto), and Rian Flynn (@rianflynn) really helped me to keep pursuing light. Through the inspiration of these people I pushed myself to learn more and be more precise about lighting. I soon found that I was tweaking lights ever so slightly to make them perfect; this could be moving the light one inch or one degree. Doing this really helped me to be more intentional about my lighting and in turn helped me to produce some really neat photographs.
It is so important to find someone that inspires you and strive to be like them. It is how I’ve come to where I am today and how I will continue to grow in the future. Another way to keep progressing is to push yourself to get out and shoot. Think of something that you would like to shoot and exactly how you want to make that photograph. Plan it out, find a model, and go shoot it. Nothing will make you better more than practice. When you are at your shoot, pay attention to all of the elements of the photo: the pose, the background, the light, and composition.
Photo by Chris Thompson from the World Wide Photowalk that I led this year. This girl won best image from the walk.
Don’t be concerned with the gear that you have, because you can make a great photo with any camera. A high-end DSLR only helps make the photo-making process easier. It will give you better image quality but a point-and-shoot can do a great job as well! Once you’ve done your shoot, post it on Flickr or a similar forum or website. Get feedback on it and listen to the constructive criticism. It will only help you get better. You can’t improve on your mistakes unless someone points them out to you. Another important step in the growing process is to find a mentor to help you grow along your way. Find someone whose work impresses you and assist for them, ask them questions, and study how they do their work. Eventually, you’ll be on your way to creating some amazing photographs and exploring life in a whole new way.
I must start off by stating that it’s a huge honor to be writing for Scott’s blog, given that I picked up my first Kelby-authored book back in 2003 while learning to use Photoshop 7. I should also note that I’ve been reading and envying the talented guest bloggers on Scott’s site for years, so it’s quite humbling to join the roster. I must admit it’s also a bit intimidating … because that very roster includes many of the photographers who inspired me when I picked up my first DSLR three years ago. However, as I reflect on my current work as a commercial photographer, I realize that my journey into photography started long before I ever picked up a camera. I can clearly recall key milestone events, as bizarre and trivial as they may seem, that helped to move me further along a path in the world of visual arts.
The first key moment in my journey took place within the first few days of elementary school when I got my first big art assignment. The teacher asked each of us to draw a picture of our family’s house. As expected, all of my classmates turned in the standard drawing of a square with a triangle on top. Now, I’m not sure if this was because they weren’t pumped about the assignment or if they each lived in a box with a parking cone on top… but I saw this assignment as an opportunity to get the creative juices flowing while busting out my new pack of colored pencils that my mother packed in my school bag. While my finished rendering was no Picasso, the teacher was thoroughly impressed with the amount of detail I captured in my first real art project. This was my first experience of turning a visual thought into a real creation and receiving accolades from another person. In other words, I just pleased my first client! This was something that really provided me with personal pleasure and was the first time I really discovered the joy of art.
My second milestone event took place in 3rd grade when my art teacher took notice of my work and asked me to do a drawing demo at the upcoming art fair. The demo consisted of me sitting awkwardly at a table while drawing ninja turtles as people walked by. It was a bit bizarre but it was a real confidence booster at the same time. There’s a saying that goes something like this, “You’re not an artist until an artist tells you so.” I never considered my own artwork to be anything special but that changed upon receiving praise from an artist with some credibility. It was the confidence booster that I needed to keep doodling, and that’s exactly what I did.
I never put down the colored pencils, and the doodling never stopped. Yet another notable incident occurred in middle school when I sold my first drawing. It was a full-color rendering of Beavis & Butthead for which a fellow classmate offered a whopping ten bucks! That was no chump change in middle school but the dollar amount wasn’t the key significance, it was the realization that art could be more than just a hobby. Shortly after, I started getting requests from more and more peers as I was beginning to see the business potential in my craft.
In high school, I took years of drafting class because architecture seemed like a great career choice that would take advantage of my passion for drawing. It was almost déjà vu when I was assigned to draw my family’s house once again, but this time a few rectangles and green blobs (trees) weren’t going to cut the mustard. I was to create detailed blue prints and even produced a scale model made of foam board. I didn’t end up fully pursuing architecture because it turned out to be a bit more technical and less creative than I had hoped. Nonetheless, the experience certainly helped sharpen my sense of detail. To this day, I am haunted by flashbacks of the T-square every time I create a new guide in Photoshop!
Now entering college with architecture out of the picture, I was back to doodling and wondering where I could direct my artistic capabilities. I still wanted to pursue a creative career but I didn’t want to end up a starving artist. Just as I hit this roadblock in my creative career path, I was introduced to the world of computer aided design. I was working at a small office on campus at my community college when I met the in-house graphic artist. I found myself constantly sneaking out of my office to see what he was creating with computer software that resembled science fiction to me. Either way, I knew it was time to merge my traditional art skills with technology and that’s exactly what I did. I started learning about computers and shortly after, I was building my first custom PC and getting enrolled into the Digital Media program at UCF.
Although my decision to get into graphic design was a bit spontaneous and not completely based on traditional career planning, I knew it was the right decision. I was soon learning about all aspects of digital media including computer illustration, game design, web design, 3d animation, photography, and video & music production. I continued focusing most heavily on graphic design and started freelancing before I finished college. Once I completed my degree program, I set out into the job market and landed my first gigs as a graphic artist which included work at a print shop, a small publishing company and a global accounting firm. I finally made it! Or so I thought…
After working in the graphic design field for several years, there was a problem. I wasn’t completely fulfilled and I needed another creative outlet. Up until that point, I had very little experience with photography with the exception of borrowing my Dad’s film cameras to record weekend rollerblade sessions with my friends back in middle school. In mid-2008, I made a purchase that turned out to be the biggest milestone of my life: I purchased my first DSLR, a Nikon D80.
I bought a camera because I was doing a lot of wake boarding at the time and wanted to capture our sessions just like I did in my skating days. After having my camera for a couple weeks, I met a photographer out on my friend’s boat who showed me some pics he took earlier that day during a fashion shoot. I was intrigued to say the least. He proceeded to tell me about a local Photography Meet & Greet that was two weeks away and I told him to count me in. I attended, snapped some photos of the models who showed up, and the rest was history. It’s been a little over three years since that event and I haven’t put down my camera ever since.
Becoming a commercial photographer was never my intended plan… but I can now see that it was life’s plan for me. The journey that started within my first week of grade school eventually led to developing a craft as well as a passion. With that said, it’s hard to imagine that I may have never discovered what makes me happiest had I missed any of those key moments. Either way, I couldn’t be happier with the way things unfolded and the best part is—this is only the beginning!
Joey Wright is an Orlando-based photographer specializing in swimsuit, beauty, and commercial fashion photography. You can see more of his work at JoeyWrightPhotography.com
Stop and think how much time actually goes into three minutes. I’m not talking about 180 seconds, I’m speaking to hours worth of building out sets, days worth of pre-production, weeks worth of planning and concepting, and months or even years worth of imagining what an image will finally be like when the shutter is pressed.
It’s the idea that a photograph may be years in the making that interests me. Sometimes it keeps me up at night, sometimes it is in dreams. I am constantly envisioning how to make portraits and how to take photographs. Sometimes these thoughts are vague and based around a mood or a concept that I’m trying to express in an image. Other times these ideas are more concrete images that are burned into my mind about what I’m going to create with a subject.
When a project comes up to make these dreams a reality and to take this vision and turn it into an actual photograph, then my mind really begins to work. The wheels start turning and vague ideas about tone and color start to transform into lighting diagrams, composition, and post-processing.
Testing and pre-planning actually allows me to turn these thoughts and ideas into clearer translations of my vision. The trial and error of the process serves to further hone the ideas of mood and intention that I want to get across from my subject. I also want to practice through the process to help me consider anything unexpected that might come up.
Sometimes, you only get an hour with a subject – if you’re lucky. Sometimes you only get 40 frames. Whether you count that time in clicks of the shutter, or seconds, every thing that you do working up to those moments has to prepare you for anything to happen. Your subject could be your best friend and want to stay extra, or if you’re even luckier, they could be up for doing something crazy in front of your lens
Or your subject could be your worst enemy, wanting nothing more than to get out of your set. Equipment could (and ultimately will) fail, lights won’t fire, strobe won’t sync, rain will fall, storms will storm – if it can happen, it will. Not only do you need to expect surprises, but more importantly, you need to embrace them and work with them, work past them – moving forward and making pictures all the while, even if you only have 180 seconds.
There is something to be said about how a photographer connects with his or her subject. When I approach making a portrait, I want that photograph to be the best and most interesting representation I’ve ever seen of the subject. In order to accomplish that, there is a special balance between allowing my subject to be themselves and be comfortable on set, and directing that subject to work with me on my vision. Usually I can help them be confident that we’re working on the same team and that I am doing everything in my power to make the best picture possible. As comfortable or attractive as any subject could be, if the lighting is unflattering or poorly executed, the final result will be lacking. Using that light as a tool to create mood, intent, and shape in my portraits, it becomes crucial to direct my subjects to fit into the lighting that I have envisioned for their image, while still allowing them to be and express themselves.
Sometimes, the answer to this question is to light my subjects very broadly, meaning to create the light in a way that will allow the subject to move around in their space or environment and still have that same quality and shape of light.
Other photographs need a more deliberate type of lighting with a very narrow window for the sweet spot. In a way, this is more challenging because it creates constraints both for the subject and I – they’re limited to a certain space or a certain direction, and I am limited to keeping them in that space.
The consistency of vision and theme becomes even more important as I’m starting to shoot more video. Instead of capturing just one frame of a subject, now I have thousands to manage in one small take. With video, this ability is both challenging and liberating, in one sense I’m not tied to a single moment or a single expression to show a message, yet at the same time, I have to keep my message consistent across an entire take of video, as long as that may run.
In order to make these concepts possible, the image making process is fully collaborative with my in house digital artist, Emily Von Fange. She is a major part of executing my vision and she is part of the process from conception through final delivery of the job. My intentions usually extend beyond one frame, one single photo, and one set of hands.
Whether that means that physically the frame and composition I see is multiple photographs stitched together side by side, or multiple exposures of the same image blended together, or different elements and photographs composited into a single photo, I refused to limit what I imagine and what I visualize by the constraints of a single frame. Often Emily can bring her strengths to the table in a way that I had not always envisioned.
I hope that I’ve managed to explain a bit of what goes on beyond the photo shoot itself, how the idea of only 180 seconds can take hours, days, months, or even years to pull off. When the process is described this way, it may seem crazy to some – a never-ending cycle, constantly caught up either in the idea or the act of making pictures. Maybe I am a bit crazy for going to these lengths to get it right. I’d rather do it this way than live a life where I’m not making pictures.
[Editorial Note: This post contains images and stories pertaining to child slavery. If you do not wish to view these, do not click through to the full article]
I became a photographer to change the world. It’s just been a little bit harder than I thought it would be.
I grew up in Iran, and by the time I was twelve I had been around the world twice with my family, and had visited twenty countries along the way. I wanted to find a career that would keep me out in that world, and journalism—especially photography—seemed perfect. I saw the role that photography had played in ending the war in Vietnam and wanted to join that cadre of crusading photographers.
But when I joined the staff of National Geographic, my ambitions became somewhat more modest—or realistic: I could illuminate worlds most people would never see. As a journalist, I loved telling stories, and especially loved being behind closed doors in intimate situations that revealed something about the human condition. I tried to get that kind of photograph into every story, no matter how complicated the assignment or vast the terrain.
And they were big: cities (Jerusalem, Los Angeles, London, Hong Kong, Helsinki, Nashville, Shanghai and Venice) and countries (China, Jordan, Thailand and Taiwan). But my later stories on the women of Saudi Arabia, the geisha of Japan, and the science of beauty and love let me make the kinds of photographs I liked best. I was able to enter some very private places indeed—some never photographed before—and share them the world.
But then a newspaper article about Congress passing the Anti-Trafficking Act caught my eye and I knew that contemporary slavery was an issue I had to try to make sense of. It would be the culmination of all my passions and experience.
On the road. On assignment. Sounds romantic, right? Well I’m here to tell you — it is, actually! But probably not the way you think.
And probably only if you are a photographic nutcase like me. And since this is Scott Kelby’s blog I’m pretty sure that you are, in fact, a nutcase like me too! So it will be a pleasure to do a little bit of preaching to the choir, and I’m honored to get the chance to do it here.
I thought long and hard about what might be of interest, and went back over recent stories I’ve shot for National Geographic (I’ve been working for the magazine for more than 25 years now.) Somehow I kept coming back to one moment which seemed to boil down the whole experience of shooting a recent story. And I thought I’d take you along on the journey.
Gateway Arch, St. Louis
That moment came as I was driving down I-70, somewhere west of Kansas City. Already I had driven over 3,000 miles on this mega-jaunt in pursuit of a story. I was looking out the windshield for clear skies, but the weather app on my iPhone was giving me bad news. Chicago, my destination tonight, was socked in. No way that I was going to shoot the nighttime aerial of the city I had planned for that night. But maybe the cloud cover over the whole midwest would make something interesting in St. Louis. So I diverted. I made the decision: I’d drive to St. Louis instead of Chicago and take my chances.
That moment of decision has come to symbolize for me what I love about shooting stories. One way or another, I have the freedom to go wherever the pictures were. That’s my job, chasing great pictures.
In many ways taking chances to get great pictures was exactly what this story on light pollution was all about. It was an obscure story about an obscure subject. Most people I told about it had no idea what I was talking about. But then I’d remind them how they used to be able to see the Milky Way before all the city lights got so bright, and they’d nod and tell me some tale about how they remembered seeing the stars on grandpa’s farm when they were kids. Exactly! They didn’t know it, but they were experts on the subject of light pollution. It was my job to make that all graphically real.
And which was why I was taking my chances driving to St. Louis that night. I was looking for places where I could see and photograph the effects of our ever-growing, world-wide hunger to light up the night. I had taken a chance telling National Geographic I could make interesting pictures out of this story. I’d convinced them it was an important story in my initial proposal but I’m not sure everyone really believed the pictures would really sing. And actually, neither was I. But it’s a lot like performing in the circus: if you don’t go out on the tightrope, nobody cheers.
I did have a secret weapon, however: I’d decided that I would drive everywhere for the shoot. The logistics had been driving me crazy. How could I arrange flights to all these locations, never being sure what the weather would do, how to adjust when I screwed up the first night of a shoot and had to go back? Finally, it came to me that I’d be shooting at night (no duh!) and so I’d have all day to drive. I could shoot a few hours from sundown until midnight. Get six hours of sleep and then drive for a good 10-12 hours the next day if I had to in order to get to the next location. Every night I’d be in one of two kinds of places: in a city which had light pollution and I’d photograph that, or in the countryside where I had dark skies, and I’d photograph that. Brilliant. In thirty days I could cover the whole United States, from coast to coast. And I did.
So that night, I got lucky. Pulling in to St. Louis by 5:00 pm I got a couple hours nap before heading out to the nearby Gateway Arch. Wonder of wonders, the heavy overcast that had quashed my shoot in Chicago that night put a layer of clouds just above the top of the arch. Sodium vapor lighting from the city streets turned the clouds a weird salmon color, and incredibly, the spotlights on the arch cast arch-shaped shadows on the the clouds, something like the Batman spotlight calling the caped crusader, straight out of the comic books. I shot it every way I could think of, and most of it looked pretty good. The wide angle shots created a sinister face look and the telephoto shots (like this one that we used in the magazine) were just abstract and intriguing. With five second exposures on my Nikon D3 the sky just glowed. And I went to sleep that night thinking I’d done something I never expected to do.
But that was halfway through the shoot.
Back to the beginning, driving west to Las Vegas:
The Luxor Hotel, Las Vegas
I had planned to start the whole shoot with something I was pretty sure would work: the Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas.