Category Archives Guest Blogger

http://youtu.be/gVR3dGK1MwE
(want to see the video larger? Click on the full screen icon on the right of the video window – RC)

Proof: A Short by RC
Hey gang, Brad here just to share the story behind how today’s guest blog came to be…
(click on the image to see it larger on the 500px website)

One day as I was browsing 500px.com, I saw that RC Concepcion had posted this photo of his daughter at the piano. The next day, I came into the office and mentioned that I thought it was a nice shot of Sabine. He asked if I knew the full story behind the image, and, though I knew bits and pieces of it, I didn’t know the entirety of it.

Interesting Little Circles
He started to explain the significance of all the elements of the photograph, and that he was going to write a blog post about it over at his website. As he continued on about not only the significance of each element, but how everything was related to one another, I told him, “This isn’t a blog post… This is a video.” Then I asked if he would mind sharing it here, and he graciously agreed.

I think this can remind us of the importance of using photography to preserve the story of our families and heritage. Sometimes we can get caught up in only pulling out our camera when we’re “going out to shoot,” whether it’s a studio portrait, a sporting event, a birthday or holiday, or any other thing that we get excited about. But it’s easy to overlook the everyday moments like this that can end up being the most important and meaningful times that become the stories we tell our children and grandchildren.

So, thanks RC for sharing this on the blog today :)

Thanks to Scott and Brad for having me a guest blogger, especially for this piece today. It’s about an assignment that is near and dear to me.

As a way of introduction: I’ve been a commercial photographer now for over 30 years. Spent 4 years getting my BFA in photography at RIT, about 5 years assisting in New York after that, and now 30 years being on my own has, as we photographers say, flashed by. I’ve been very, very lucky at having some really great long-term clients, who are the exception rather than the rule for commercial, business-to-business photographers.

Over the years if there is one job that I would want to define my career it would be an assignment I’ve now done for 16 out of the last 17 years. We just finished shooting a few weeks ago for the Toys R Us Differently-Abled Guide. For a week I get the privilege to photograph a wonderful group of special needs, differently abled kids. Over the years I’ve photographed, with the extraordinary help of my crew, a wide variety of kids. A partial list of the kids I’ve photographed over the years have included those with Down syndrome, autistic, hearing impaired, visually impaired, spina bifida, brittle bone, this year a wonderful 2 year old with Progeria also know as the aging condition, and many other varied conditions.

The images shown here are from previous years catalogs, as I can’t show any from this year until the current catalog comes out this fall.

This is the one assignment I call the art director to get the shoot date held 4 to 5 months ahead. That’s very unusual in commercial assignments, but they understand the reason is I try and get the same crew reserved and together. They are freelance and likely not available if I don’t hold the dates early. It’s an exceptional crew. The hair and makeup stylist Miriam Boland, the wrangler Biata Doyle, Stylist Beth Mosner, and my number one assistant Norman Smith who has worked on each catalog with me from the beginning. The producer is easy to get, it’s my wife Regina. The last 4 years a wonderful art director at Toys R Us to guide us, Michelle LaConto Munn.

If there is one thing that I would tell anyone working on a project like this in any capacity, especially a photographer, is to remember and keep in mind one important over riding factor about all these kids, and that’s the fact that they are all kids first and foremost. Sounds simple, but if you keep that in the forefront, and not treat them any differently, the rest comes naturally.

Two other qualities to keep in mind is patience and flexibility on your part. Many times we have a child who at first thinks they are at yet another therapist or doctor’s office, what with the cables and equipment all around. We’ve had many a very reluctant child who at first blush looked like “No way, Jose, am I going on set and looking happy about this” but patience and attention to understanding each child is key. Some like a lot of activity some don’t. Some like lots of loud music, but some, like those with a cochlear implant, prefer a quieter setting. You need to spend some time with the kids, talk to the parents, and understand that each child is an individual, their own person, and you need to adapt a little to their personality, not vice versa. It’s all about the kids, not about the photographer.

The first year of the catalog, 1994, when I heard they would be producing a Differently Abled Guide, I called the Creative Director at Toys who pulled this all together, Mary Hogarth. After doing numerous catalogs including their Christmas Book several times, it was the only time I asked directly to be given a catalog at Toys R Us. Mary told me there was little to no budget and she would probably use existing art. I said I was willing to help in any way, including adjusting my photo fee, and luckily, Mary was able to utilize me.

Just one of the many reasons why this project was started was Mary getting a letter from a mom with a differently abled child, who lamented that while her and her husband knew what toys to get their child, their relatives and friends sent 15 pairs of pajamas that Christmas. No child needs 15 pair of pajamas rather than15 toys at Christmas.

Even with the support of the founder of Toys R Us, Charles Lazarus, Mary scrambled  to get the first catalog produced. That first year was really a labor of love on many people’s part and especially because of Mary’s determination. The catalog, which is well known and regarded in the DA community, has each toy labeled in the catalog with symbols to alert parents, relatives and friends, which toys are good for various abilities. The symbols alert people what the toy is good for fine motor skills, large motor skills, vision, verbal, social, and so on. Very helpful when you don’t know what toy might be appropriate for a differently abled child. At the first production meeting, it was emphasized that all the research and advise from various organizations and associations was that it shouldn’t be “”special toys for the special kids in a special place”.  Every toy we shoot is a standard toy from standard stock at any Toys R Us store.

Casting that first year was hard, as we had no pre-existing catalog to show people at different associations. Educators and therapists who work with these kids are rightfully very protective of them and it took some doing to gain their trust and help for that initial casting the first year. We called friends who connected us with various schools and organizations. I went and did a Polaroid castings where I could, taking notes on various abilities. After the first year, when people saw the results and that first catalog, casting is now easier. Toys R Us now gets a lot of letters from parents asking to be in the catalog. So many are so adorable, but there are limited slots and we have to match up ages and abilities with the toys being promoted.

Michelle the art director has quiet a task laying out the catalog, working with the toy buyers, matching the right kids with the appropriate toys, and making it all work.

I will say that while this catalog is very unique, Toys R Us has always been inclusive in all their catalogs, well before this specialized one, and have always shown the diversity that makes up our society. The Differently Abled Guide should be out in September at Toys R Us stores. If you don’t see them, ask at the store, or request one online from the Toys R Us website. You can get the entire story and many of the covers (I did not shoot most of the celebrity covers) right here.

The Differently Abled Guide the only commercial project I take on that we produce prints for each child. Not only do I make a print of an outtake from the catalog, but we also try and do a basic portrait to also provide. A lot of families put so much effort and resources into providing for their special child, that a great, professionally done portrait is not high on their list. Providing them with what I’m good at, getting a good shot means a lot to them, but in a way even more to me.

If you are a photographer who is good with kids and you make a living photographing kids, think about giving something back and doing something like a nice portrait for a family with a differently abled child. They will greatly appreciate it and you’ll find out that you too will greatly appreciate doing it. You will find out that these special needs kids are really just special.

You can see more of Jack’s work at Reznicki.com, and keep up with him and Ed Greenberg over at The Copyright Zone

Rim Light, A Page from Avedon’s Book

Richard Avedon has captured my imagination ever since my dad bought me my first camera. At 16 years old, I wasn’t savvy enough to know how he created such compelling and visually stunning portraits – all I knew was I couldn’t stop looking at his images and felt an immediate, spellbinding connection with his subjects. Over the years, I’ve studied and learned a lot about his technical style, and one of the most important is rim lighting – a skill all portrait photographers should incorporate into their arsenal of tricks.

Sometimes called “back light” or “hair light,” rim light creates a silhouette of light around the side or top of a subject, without illuminating the background. This light allows the viewer to visually separate a subject from the background. A subtle sheen around the silhouette of a subject can be achieved by placing an artificial lighting source behind a subject or by placing the subject in front of the setting sun. A master at rim light, Avedon uses lighting techniques that give his human characters an exceptional and differential depth.

Taking a page from Avedon’s book, I consider lighting one of my most important technical investments. I have been consistently amazed by people’s positive reactions to lighting in my portraits. I believe our eyes and minds are wired to look for depth in every photograph – and lighting can completely change your perception of the entire composition of the image and the depth of the characters.

I’m fondest of Avedon’s early years, when he often used soft, blurry rim effects in his famous fashion portraiture. Artists have a tendency to mimic their heroes and I, too, often steer toward less extreme, softer set-ups. In the following photograph, I used the after hours, early evening sun as rim – using a 4×6” zebra California Sunbounce as the key light and natural ambient light as the fill. Notice that the rim light helps the viewer focus on the human subjects before identifying with the surrounding environment. The result is a soft, romantic portrait of a couple doused in a sheen of natural light in a vineyard – and it’s just so beautiful.

I’ve learned the hard way, however, that I should step out of the box and try something other than what I’m naturally inclined to do. My lighting director is extremely passionate about lighting (duh) and has taught me to be more adventurous with different kinds of lighting. Thanks to him, I’ve experimented with artificial light to create stronger rim light in some of my shots – which instantly creates a completely different emotional effect. In the following photograph, I used a hard rim light set at about 1 f/stop higher than the key light softbox. The rim light was actually tucked into an alcove behind the bar. This prevents lens flare while creating a golden glow on the silhouette of the model’s hair.

There is no hard and fast rule about how you should use rim light. You should have a vision and design your shot using your available tools and techniques. This might mean adjusting the placement of the rim light, having more rim light, or using natural ambient light (instead of an additional fill light) to complement the rim effect. I meter all my shots; this makes it easier for us to compose the shot again – or know how much we have to modify.

The most important thing is to define your style as a photographer and let your style define what tools and techniques you use in each shoot. For Avedon, it was always more about the emotional darkness and lightness of his human subjects and less about the technical setup. Create a lighting style that best represents your own artistic sense, but don’t be afraid to change it up. You’ll be surprised at some of the shots you will get.

You can see more of Catherine’s work at CatherineHall.net, keep up with her on her blog, see her on TWiT Photo, follow her on Twitter, and find her on Facebook.

It’s strange how life comes full circle when you least expect it. I was born and raised in South Florida into a family with a long history of fishing, surfing and diving. My deep respect for the ocean and the life that inhabits the majestic waters came from my father, who also spent his formative years enjoying Florida beaches. Little did I know my two passions, the ocean and photography, would collide.

Surfing kept me out of trouble in my teens, which eventually led to a 10-year career as a professional surfer. When reality set in and I realized I needed to get a “real” job, I knew the cubicle life wasn’t for me. Photography had always been a hobby, but when I focused on making my hobby a career, the stars aligned and doors opened that I never dreamed possible.

By my mid-20s, I had earned positions shooting sports photography with the Sun Sentinel, Getty and Reuters. Some of it had to do with talent, but most of it had to do with luck. I shot a handful of Superbowls, Stanley Cups, NBA Finals and MLB World Series. During this time, I fell in love with the science of lighting and found a talent for shooting portraits of athletes. There is nothing in the world that comes close to capturing a thought, feeling or personality when the light hits the subject just right. It’s all about chasing moments…

I bought my first Ikelite underwater housing for a side project I wanted to do while spending quality time with my dad fishing and diving. I wanted to find out if I could capture the same type moments with fish, rather than people. My first underwater portrait was a mahi-mahi about 30 miles off of Fort Lauderdale. When I got home and viewed the images from that day, I was hooked.

It took time to perfect my technique, but I quickly learned that I only had a split second to get the right shot. There was never room for hesitation. Capturing the distinct details of an individual fish quickly became an obsession. Each fish has unique differences. These differences set them apart from the rest of the school.

It’s not always easy and there have been many fishing trips when I came home with nothing. It can be extremely difficult to get a shot because I have to get within two to three feet of the fish. The fish also have to be close enough to the surface to get enough light to capture the brilliance of each fish’s coloring.

Although I don’t have fear while I am taking the portraits, I look back at times and wonder where I found my courage. On one outing, I was even able to jump in the water with two big eye threshers. One measured 14 feet and the other one measured 16 feet. There have been a few bites and a couple close encounters, but I am thankful that fish and sharks are usually more curious than aggressive.

The key to taking great photos is finding the adventure in every moment. Whether you are shooting sports, weddings or fish, there is always an adventure waiting and a story to be told.

You can see more of Jason’s work at JasonArnoldPhoto.com, follow him on Twitter, find him on Facebook, and keep up with him on his blog.

Hey everyone, Matt Kloskowski here again. Thanks once again to Scott, for giving me his blog for the day. I’ve had a topic I’ve been wanting to write about for a while, so here goes: How Photoshop changed my Photography. It’s not what you think though. I’ve heard plenty of stories of how Photoshop is a game changer because of the ways that we can now enhance our photos so quickly. We can make blue skies bluer, green grass greener, remove blemishes, clone out wires, etc… But my photography-life-changing experience is a little different.

I Started with Landscape and Travel Photography
See, I started with landscape and travel photography. That was my favorite. Landscape and travel is what got me excited about taking my camera out of my bag. I sound like a total dork, but I’d have a hard time sleeping the night before I was going someplace cool to shoot. I steadily picked off some must-see places that I had always wanted to photograph. To this day, I still love landscapes. They don’t talk back, I love the peaceful feeling I get when I’m standing in front of a beautiful place like Mesa Arch, Moraine Lake, or Multnomah Falls and soaking it all in.

While teaching in Dubai, I spent some time at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. Words can’t describe what a beautiful, pristine, quiet and inspiring place this was to photograph.

Switching to Portraits
I slowly started to make the move to portraits. A friend asked if I’d take some photos of his family. Then a friend of his friend asked the same thing when they saw the photos. And it grew. Before long, I found myself shooting a number of family portraits. To this day, I still love to capture family moments.

I also found I really enjoyed it. Especially when kids were involved. The kid in me really liked the challenge of getting them to smile and laugh. And I guess (because of the age that I must act), I really seemed to make a connection with the kids I was photographing :-) That eventually led to me doing some studio and lighting work too. But something was missing for me. Believe it or not, it was the art of post processing. I’m a Photoshop Guy and I’ve chosen this as my career because that’s what I love to do. I realized that the deeper I got into portrait photography (while artistic in it’s own way), the further away I got from being artistic with Photoshop.

Something Changed
A couple of years ago I saw a cool ad for Mountain Dew. It incorporated a skateboarder with motion graphics. I thought it looked so cool so I sat down one night and created this composite. I was hooked.

It hit me like a bag of bricks. Bam! I immediately realized, compositing is what I want to do more of. But that was just the beginning. I knew right away that this would change the Photoshop side of my life. But what I didn’t realize, is how it would change the photography side of my life.

Will You Get to the “How” Already?!
See, as I got more and more into compositing, the entire world became fair game for compositing/photography opportunities. The more Photoshop work I did, the more I realized that sure, I can create smoke in Photoshop, but it never looks as real as the real thing. Not to mention, it’s too time consuming. So I’d rather shoot a photo of smoke and drop it in. Sure, I can create dramatic clouds in Photoshop with brushes and filters and all, but it’s much easier to photograph dramatic clouds. Then I simply make a “Clouds” folder and put those photos in it, so I can find them when I need ’em.

Take Your Camera Everywhere!
I’ve often heard people say this. Honestly though, I was a total light snob. If the light wasn’t great, if I wasn’t in a studio, or if there wasn’t some kick ass scenery right in front of me, I didn’t bring my camera. I was so used to only pulling out my camera for beautiful landscapes or in the studio, that I let everything else pass me by. But now, anything is fair game. Alleys, fences, brick walls, empty parking garages, city skylines on bla hazy overcast days, garage doors, dogs, water fountains (because you never know when you need water coming out of a water gun), you name it.

Heck, I even take photos of cracks in the street because you never know where you’ll use them :)

My artistic side in Photoshop has caused a place for an entirely new world of photography opportunities to open up to me. I’d never put my tripod down in the middle of a tunnel to take a photo. I mean, why? It’s only a tunnel right? And it wasn’t even a good looking one to begin with. But when you add a motorcycle (that was lit in only the way you could light it in the studio) to the tunnel, now we’ve got something.

Now I get to put my passion for photography, my desire to create something, and my passion for Photoshop together. Not just sharpening and color correction. But really sitting down and being artistic, as I put a composite together. The light sources, the shadows, special effects, all that stuff. Things that we need to know about in photography I can now work with in Photoshop too. I love it!

So, have I stopped shooting landscapes?
Absolutely not! I still love shooting travel and landscape photos. In fact, if you walk through my house, that’s what I have on my walls. Personally, no matter what composites I create, no matter what portraits I’ve taken and no matter how much I may like the lighting on on one of my subjects, I’d have a hard time putting a photo of a person (who’s not closely related to me) on my walls at home. That’s just me though. But if it’s on my wall, it is either a spectacular place I’ve visited or a photo of my family. So landscapes will always hold a close place in my photography portfolio. But now, because of Photoshop, my camera gets used so much more.

Thanks again to Scott and everyone here for giving me a few minutes of your time today. I’m so passionate about this stuff that I actually just wrote a book called Photoshop Compositing Secrets (Amazon (link) | Barnes & Noble (link) | Kelby Training (link)). If any of this stuff sounds interesting to you, I hope you’ll check it out. Have a great weekend! :)

It’s funny how much can happen in a year. I’m still in some disbelief that I’m writing for Scott’s guest blog series. With that said, I would like to thank Scott and Brad for this opportunity. I’ve been a longtime fan of this series and it’s a real honor to now be a part of it myself.

Often times when I write about a topic related to Photography, the difficult task is not determining what my point is but rather how to most effectively communicate it. How do you even opine over something so subjective without instantly alienating at least a portion of your audience? I think the best start is to propose certain axioms that I try to live by with my photography:

  1. Unless being commissioned by a client, engaging in Photography is totally self-motivated. You frame, compose, shoot, and process for yourself and to your own taste.
  2. Growth of one’s ‘vision’ is not academically taught so much as it is shaped and evolved by experience, failure, success and repetition.
  3. The gift of a photo being ‘done’ according to the photographer is that it can, and should, be shared with the rest of the world.

Now, because I can only accurately talk about my own personal journey, let me share how I came to establishing these three statements for myself.

From One To A Million

For the sake of brevity, let’s just say that my growth as a photographer took many years (I started in 1997) and involved a lot of money spent developing images that were oh-so technically flawed. The first steps were relatively straightforward: learn and appreciate the holy trinity of Photography (aperture, shutter speed, and ISO), start practicing different methods of framing and composing a shot, and stop shooting in the ‘tourist’ position.

Growth was slow and it was very solitary. Shoot the film until empty, develop it, and study it. The Internet was around back then but Social Media and blogging were far from reaching that spark of critical mass. I had never enrolled in any photography classes, so feedback was really limited to the handful of college photographer friends with whom I felt comfortable enough sharing my work, and myself. But, I did grow from it. It was slow and frustrating but I did gain meaningful experience from it in terms of what my style was. I was the one determining what worked and didn’t work within my ‘vision’.

Flash-forward to ‘Today’ – we live in a time where the barrier to entry for an unprecedented amount of self-exposure is virtually non-existent. An Internet-connected device, a blogging platform & a few social media accounts and you are ready to broadcast yourself to millions of people. What’s more is that there are millions of other people also jockeying to broadcast themselves to millions of people. Blog posts, Twitter streams, and Facebook walls are riddled with everyone vying for everyone else’s attention.

Who Do You Do The Voodoo That You Do For?

There was a period of about three years when I gauged my personal success as a photographer by analytics, metrics, followers, comment numbers, and unique visitor counts because it seemed like these were the critical measurements to focus on. I had also enveloped myself around learning and trying to master the galvanizing technique of HDR Photography and tone-mapping. Everything I shot, discussed, and wrote about revolved around HDR. I even began a ‘365’-photo project where I posted a new HDR image every day on my blog. I was consumed and for a long while, it was very good to me. Slowly but surely, I was seeing stats go up, my media exposure was increasing, and I was being regarded as a bona-fide resource in this area of Photography. I was making a name for myself.

And then something happened around halfway through 2010. I began having this feeling of stagnation and automation. There was something missing from the equation that had previously always sparked my love of Photography. I had a routine: shoot, tone-map, stylize, blog, tweet, and post on wall.  The blog comments and retweets came in and grew in frequency but even those began feeling automated. It was in this automation and routine that I realized it was stifling the growth and evolution of my photographic vision.

I let all of the exposure I had recently experienced give me a false sense of real growth as a photographer and I convinced myself that perpetually tone-mapping HDR images was the only way I would maintain this exposure. I was shooting and processing to feed that growth and not to feed my vision. At the time, I couldn’t begin to remember what it was like to shoot without bracketing or carrying a tripod and like all addictions, I really couldn’t see beyond it and then the tunnel vision set in.

And like an addict, I needed to find a significant ‘event’ where I could turn my life around. We were nearing the end of 2010 by that point, so I figured New Years Day would be as good a time as any to turn things around.

Evolution By Way Of Regression

For the past several years, my sole goal with my images was to retain every detail from the shadows through the highlights and everything in between. I convinced myself that my images had to be representative of what the human eye would see at the moment of exposure and not be limited by the digital sensor. I also focused exclusively on urban and abandoned areas, almost wholly abandoning any sort of landscape, portrait or nature scene because, hey, it seemed to fit this distorted formula for online success that I had.

So, I figured the easiest way to start growing was to go cold turkey. I began going on personal shoots with a camera, a lens or two, and nothing else. No tripod, no shutter release cable, no bracketing. I began focusing on appreciating and embracing blown out highlights and dark shadows. I was seeing shapes in the lack of tonality, rather than in the presence of it. I began learning more about Black & White Photography and enjoying the use of neutral density filters for Long Exposure Photography. I started embracing and really falling in love with the beauty of nature and landscape scenes, along with the nuances and complexities of portraiture work.

I was returning to the world I had forgotten when I was first starting out.

With HDR Photography, I got to a point where I was no longer experimenting in-camera and rarely made mistakes in terms of processing. I didn’t stumble and, as a result, I stopped learning. I forgot what it felt like to have that ‘Aha!’ moment when you figure something out that you did not previously know.

The Not-So-Trivial Pursuit of Photography

Writing this blog post gave me good reason to take pause and think about what I’ve done as a photographer, reflecting on my failures and accomplishments. When I first started out learning how to use a camera, I didn’t have any delusions about ‘going pro’, appearing as a guest blogger anywhere, or making a dime off of my work. I did it to become a better photographer. I knew that photography was what I was built to do and so, initially, it was all about the experience and gaining that second-nature, knee jerk reaction when working the camera. Ultimately, it was about being able to consistently make photos that I was truly happy with and nothing more.

Photography is very much like the playing piece in the game Trivial Pursuit in that it is comprised of many different ‘wedges’. You get these wedges through experience and knowledge. The key is not to stop when you think you’ve gotten that first wedge and all along the way in this pursuit, keep asking yourself “What is it that I’m trying to do here?” and “Who am I trying to do it for?” It wasn’t until I took a step back and really questioned myself that I realized what it is that I really want to get out of Photography.

Ask yourself these questions often and honestly. The answers may surprise you.
And please believe me when I say, “that is a very good thing.”

You can see more of Brian’s work at BrianMatiash.com, follow him on Twitter, “Like” him on Facebook, and email him at photos@brianmatiash.com.

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