Category Archives Guest Blogger

Photo by Frank Rubio

Ready For A Jersey

One of my favorite quotes on this blog is from guest blogger Larry Becker – “Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely believe in luck and good fortune.  But I don’t believe the ‘Law of Attraction’ works in isolation from preparation and work (usually hard work). You have to get off your butt and do something.  You have to be prepared for ‘luck.’”

November 4th was my 22nd birthday, and I believe that I’m an extremely lucky/blessed person. Hence, I’m a guest blogger today on one of the best blogs, if not the best blog on the internet for photographers.  No pressure at all.  There are many topics to blog about here today.  I can blog about workflow in my pre-production, production or post-production; in fact, when I was invited I was told I’m able to talk about whatever I wanted to today.

First things first, I want to make clear that I’m not a “big shot” photographer, and I’m not claiming to be; I’m in the hustle just like many of you. When I say big shot photographer, I’m referring to the well-established ones in this industry.  The ones with photographs and advertising campaigns that are impacting the market and inspiring the industry.  I don’t have a ton of followers, I don’t have a huge fan base of my work, and my photographs are not in advertising campaigns influencing your thoughts.  But, what I do have as fuel for this mission is a hustler’s spirit, a business-mind, and skill with my camera. My goal here today is to share my story with you.  To inspire you to get your hustle on and work towards your dreams (really doing so).

Even though I’ve appeared on this blog a few times before, many of you don’t know me. So before I share with you how I got into photography and close with the current point of my journey, please allow me to introduce myself.  My name is Dwayne D.C. Tucker II and I’m a commercial photographer for lifestyles and sports. I’m from Nassau, Bahamas; now I live in Miami, Florida and I’m in love with photography.  I want to put it out there that nothing would be possible if not for the love and continuous support of my lovely mother and my Godfather.  Mentally and financially they’ve placed me in a better position than most people.

About eight years ago I saved up enough money and bought my first point and shoot camera.  I fell in love with the idea of being able to take a photograph digitally.  A friend got me a copy of Photoshop 7.0 and I used it because it made my images cool.  I photographed my friends at school during lunch breaks at my high school, St Andrews School – The International School of the Bahamas. My senior year I become the president of the yearbook club.  I joined the club because the school banned bringing digital cameras to school; I knew if I joined the club I would be able to photograph.  I took photographs at the school events.

I guess that’s the pre-stage making of my lifestyle and sports title.  After high school I went to the Savannah College of Art and Design for advertising design.  I took a photography class my second year of SCAD with professor Timothy Keating, right before I transferred closer to home, at Miami International University of Art and Design where I continued my advertising degree.  I don’t think he realized how much of an impact his teaching had on me at the time.  His style was different than my other professors. Keep it on the ‘low-low’ but I ‘digged’ his class because he used to let us out really early.  Mainly because it’s hard to truly learn about compositions, f-stops, shutter speeds, ISO etc. If you’re not out and about shooting to train your eye/applying the knowledge.  Even though he used to let us out early, if we wanted to stay and talk to him about our work he would stay and discuss our work with us one on one longer than the session was suppose to be.

From there on I began to make photographs instead of taking pictures. (more…)

Wow. I feel like one of the hosts of Saturday Night Live when they are invited to come back for a second time. During their monologue, they are bubbling with excitement, honored at the thought of having been asked to reprise their appearance. I will never host an SNL show, but I have guest blogged on Messr. Kelby’s blog once before; and, here I am again, offering my thoughts to you folks on sports photography.  It just doesn’t get any better than this, or to put it in Scott Kelby’s words, this rocks!

A lot has happened since my first guest blog back in June of 2009. At that time, I wrote on the topic of how to break into sports photography. As time has passed, I can’t tell you how many people have contacted me to let me know that they followed some or all of my suggestions and they are now on the sidelines or have otherwise furthered their desire to become involved in sports photography in more than a peripheral way. Yeah, baby, yeah. So what do I do for an encore? Hmmmmmmm.

A few weeks ago, I was going through my gear in order to pack what I needed to get ready for football season. For me, that meant breaking out the rolling case I use, re-configuring the dividers and then deciding what to put into it. That got me thinking – every now and then, I receive e-mails or comments from readers of my Blog asking for advice on equipment purchases. So, why not write about sports photography equipment – a blog post on gear that I can’t do without in order to give me the best chance of taking good sports photos. Yeah, that’s the ticket – a Top 10 list of gear for sports photography.

From past experience, I know many of Scott’s Blog readers are avid sports photographers or at least enjoy photographing their kids taking part in sports. I also know that many of you are into wildlife photography, and in many ways, the equipment necessary for good wildlife images mirrors that used for sports photography. So, here goes…Mike Olivella’s Top Ten List of sports photography equipment.

Before getting down to the nitty gritty, a couple of overviews. For the most part, my equipment choices were made with the intent of shooting in any kind of light, i.e. daytime, under the lights, indoors or outdoors. Long distances between me and my subjects are often an inherent aspect of sports photography which dictates the use of long lenses. Many of you may not want to live on the sidelines or secretly wish to become staff photographers for Sports Illustrated. There are those who simply want to take the best possible photos of your kids at play. So, I will start out with my opinions as to professional equipment which yields the best bang for the buck and after going through this exercise I will follow up with the gear I would recommend for those of you who are on a tight budget or simply wish to get the best possible photos of your kids without breaking the bank.

Since I have been a long time Nikon shooter, my list will be made up of Nikon equipment. If you shoot Canon or any other type of system, you can pretty much substitute the other manufacturers’ versions of what I have chosen. Because I lack sufficient familiarity with, e.g. Canon, I will refrain from making specific recommendations as to other brands.

Here goes, in reverse order:

Photo courtesy of Nikon USA

#10Nikon SB900 Speedlight. You might be wondering why I would include a strobe within a list of sports photography equipment or how it could possibly make a list that rates it as a gotta-have item. I know, I know, using a strobe is typically taboo when shooting sports, but it is an item that is very useful for fill light and to lower the ISO on shots that don’t involve game action (post-game handshakes between coaches, press conferences, etc.). Indoors, it is extremely handy for any non-action shots, i.e. crazy fans and pageantry. I’ve used mine (or its predecessor, the SB800) with most of my short zoom lenses and even my 80-200mm. I never leave the house without this bad boy in my bag. You never know when it will make the difference between a good exposure and a marginal one.

Photo courtesy of Nikon USA

#9 – Nikon 300mm f/2.8, shown above without the lens hood. Extremely versatile lens which is why it makes the top ten list. The 300mm won’t get as tight as a 400mm (duh), but it is still very useful and it is definitely the way to go if you can’t afford a 400mm. A good, used 300mm f2.8 can be picked up for $3,000 with hood, caps and case (for the non-VR version that precedes the newer version). If you have money to burn, you can certainly consider upgrading to the VR version, but since sports photography involves the use of fast shutter speeds, VR is superfluous for me. Not a feature on which I spend extra bread.

The 300mm can be hand held if necessary (take the monopod mount off – it makes it a lot easier to handle) and really proves its worth indoors when shooting basketball or volleyball. It is not uncommon for this to be one of my lenses of choice when shooting these sports, mounted on one camera body with a shorter zoom on a second body. For day/outdoor events where I might need a little more reach, I simply pop on a 1.4X TC and now I’ve got the equivalent of a 420mm f4 lens on a full frame camera like the D3; on a DX (cropped-frame) sensor camera with a 1.4X TC, I have the equivalent of a 630mm lens at f4. One last tidbit – the 300mm is significantly lighter than a 400mm so it can be lugged around attached to a camera body with a lot less trouble than the 400mm.

#8 – Nikon 1.4X TC14E-II Teleconverter. Adds some reach to any lens that is fast enough to allow autofocus to function properly. Although I frequently read all kinds of reviews about how teleconverters result in loss of image quality, blah, blah, blah, I use this one all the time with no noticeable loss of image quality.  All the proof I need is in the pudding – my photos. I spent a week at Yellowstone a couple of years ago and took many wildlife images with a D2X set at high speed crop mode (providing a 2X factor but reducing the MP from 12.2MP to 6.1MP), my 300mm f2.8 and the 1.4X TC14EII. We’re talking a combination that gave me an 840mm focal length and I cropped/enlarged the images to boot. I can’t imagine getting images any sharper than what I got. I extracted every last ounce of capability from each piece of gear in a mind boggling combination of things and my images were tack sharp. There’s a reason why this puppy goes for over $500 new as compared to the off brands which are half as much – the quality of the glass. The glass used by Nikon is far superior to that of the off brands which is why there is little or no noticeable loss of sharpness. Remember – a teleconverter is nothing but a magnifier. Inferior magnification translates to inferior images.

You can pick up a used version of the TC14E (the 14E-II’s predecessor) for $250-$350. Used TC14E-II’s run slightly more. I’ve used my 1.4X on my 80-200mm f2.8, 200-400mm f4 (strictly outdoors under good daylight), 300mm f2.8 and 400mm f2.8. It will typically not work properly with lenses that are slower than f4, so don’t think you can pop this on an f4.5-5-6 lens and shoot away.

#7 – Nikon 20-35mm f/2.8. This is a great lens and better yet a great bang for the buck. For many years, this was my go-to lens for most wide angle shots, team photos, coaches’ handshakes, stadium shots, etc. I’ve seen these in used condition for $650. I got a steal on mine for $350 from a photojournalist who was switching to Canon so it was well used. But until it finally died (autofocus), it served me very well. Compare this to Nikon’s newer version (17-35mm f2.8) which you typically can’t touch (used) for less than $1,400 and you can see why this is my top ten list choice. If you can tell the difference between 20mm and 17mm, you’re a better person than me, especially when all you have to do is lean a tiny bit backwards and you’ve got the same field of view. I must confess that I eventually switched to the 17-35mm f2.8 but only after my 20-35mm died. I struggled with either replacing it with another or biting the bullet and spending the extra dough for the 17-35mm.  Luckily, I found a used 17-35mm under $1,000 so I jumped on it, but if you can’t afford to drop $1,500 on something that you can essentially replicate with a $650 expenditure, the 20-35mm would be my choice.

#6 – Nikon 35-70mm f/2.8. Aside from the 80-200mm f2.8 lens, this lens ranks right up there in terms of my usage and it serves many purposes. Sure, you can drop $1,300-$1,500 for the newer 28-70mm version, but as with the 20-35mm, I’d rather spend $500 for a good used version of this lens and pocket the other $800-$1,000. If I had to shoot a basketball game (on the floor, along the baseline) with only one lens, this would be my choice.

Because it is an older vintage lens, it is a push-pull zoom as opposed to having a zoom ring to rotate but you get used to this quickly. The focal range is a versatile one, ranging from mild wide angle to mild telephoto (on a full frame body). On my D300, the focal range extends from approximately 50mm to 105mm. I can’t think of any sport that I shoot where at some point I don’t pull this lens out, and for some sports, it is always attached to one camera body or another.

Photo courtesy of Nikon USA

#5 – Nikon 200-400mm f/4 (above, without hood). Rapidly becoming one of my favorite lenses if there is enough light to generate a shutter speed of 1/500 or faster. For most outdoor sports that I shoot in the daytime, I’ll use this lens instead of my 400mm. I’ve used this lens with my 1.4X TC and it worked flawlessly (downside is f5.6, but with enough light, not a problem). For daytime soccer, football and baseball, the lens gives me the luxury of zooming in and out as needed instead of being locked in to one focal length. When Nikon first came out with this baby with autofocus, it was $5,000 new. The first permutation of this lens was a manual focus version that was not well received. Nikon appeared to be reluctant to take it to the next level – autofocus – because it was perceived there would be limited demand. Eventually, Nikon bit the bullet and added autofocus and VR. Much to Nikon’s pleasant surprise, this lens became the lens of choice for many folks shooting at the Beijing Olympics, and after the showing it made there mounted on D3’s, the lens became very popular.

With the recent dollar weakness and the dramatic increase in the lens’ popularity, the price jumped considerably ($6,300 new). More recently, Nikon just came out with a newer version which supposedly improved the VR. The price for a new VRII – a cool $7,000. It’s rare to find the VR version of these in used condition as anyone who has one loves it, although with the advent of the VRII, it is getting easier to find used ones. Expect to pay at least $5,000 for a used one in good condition with hood, caps and case.

Photo courtesy of Nikon USA

#4 – Nikon D300 with battery grip (battery grip not shown above). Easily found now for approximately $1,000 (camera body only) with the release of its updated version (the D300s which is basically the same camera with HD video capability), this is about as good as it gets for a second camera body and is used by many as a primary body. With the battery grip, you have essentially the same feel as with a D3, although some of the control features are located in different locations (nothing earth shattering). While my D3 serves as my primary body, the D300 does some things that even the D3 can’t do – like give me a 1.5X multiplier on lenses without altering the lens aperture. If I have good light and need extra reach, this becomes my primary body. Admittedly, the D300 generates some additional noise when compared to the D3 at ISO levels over 400, but even at ISO 1600, the noise level is tolerable with a little help from Noise Ninja. Amazingly, at 2/5 of the cost of a D2X (the D3’s predecessor), the noise level on the D300 is light years better than the D2X.

I highly recommend the battery grip, not just for the feel, but also for the extra 2 frames per second it will give you. Without the grip (and the larger battery which goes into the grip) you max out at 6 fps. With the battery grip you get 8 fps which is close to the D3’s 9 fps. That’s pretty sporty company for a lot less moohla. 2 fps may not seem like much, but it can mean the difference between a good sports photo and a great sports photo.

#3 – Nikon 400mm f/2.8 (above, without hood). The standard in sports photography and an amazing lens. Originally (I don’t know what I was thinking), I opted for the 500mm f4, which I picked up used for $3,300. First time out, I quickly learned that it wasn’t going to be fast enough for anything other than day/outdoor events. For $200 more, I returned the 500mm and exchanged it for the 400mm f2.8 AF-I that I have now owned for six years and I couldn’t have made a better choice. If I need to reach out more and the light is good, I can add the 1.4X TC and turn the lens into a 560mm f4 on my D3. Nikon’s new version has the VR feature, but to me this is of little use when compared to the cost. A new 400mm f2.8 VR runs $9,000+. I can’t think of a time when I have ever needed the VR feature, as I never shoot this lens without a monopod or at a shutter speed that would make VR necessary, especially considering the cost. At 1/500th second or faster, who needs VR?

Until you have the pleasure of using one of these lenses, you can’t appreciate what a workhorse it is and what a fine piece of engineering/machinery you are holding in your hands. It is borderline bulletproof and makes my job much easier than one can imagine. I own the older AF-I version which precedes the AF-S and the AFS-S VR. Before I bought mine, I did a lot of reading and learned that the AF-I autofocus system Nikon incorporated into this lens was almost as fast as the newer AF-S system. During my test drive, the AF-I autofocus was lightning fast so I saw no need to spend extra bucks for the AF-S.

#2 – Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8. The most versatile, all-around lens you can own. My typical football setup is the 400mm on my D3 and the 80-200mm on my D300. You can use a 1.4X TC to goose this lens to 112-280mm at f/4, and on a DX (cropped-sensor) camera body (like the D300), that combo becomes a 168-420mm f4. In effect, depending on which camera body I opt for, with a 1.4 TC available for use, this lens can provide a focal length between 80mm to 420mm. That’s versatility. Nikon has new versions (70-200mm) with VR but a good used one will run in the neighborhood of $1,800. A good used version of the 80-200mm without VR can be found for $1,200. Depending on whether you need the VR feature will dictate which way you go. I don’t need VR to handhold this lens even down to 1/15 second, so I saved myself the difference.

That brings us to the piece of equipment that I rate as numero uno, top gun, prized by me right behind my wife, our two kids and our dog. That item is….

Photo courtesy of Nikon USA

#1 – Nikon D3. The most impressive camera body I have ever used. I have shot images at ISO 3200 and marveled at the quality. It feels good, it shoots well and it’s bulletproof. Comparing my D3’s images with those I shot with a D2X, I can honestly say that the noise level with a D3 at ISO 800 is better than that of the D2X at ISO 400. This is the first and only camera body that I have ever bought new, mostly because I knew that it would be a long time before it would be available used. I am so glad I splurged. Today, you can find these for just over $3,000. I was hoping that with the advent of the D3S and the D3X, used D3’s would come down below $3,000 in price, but the used value seems to have stabilized just north of $3,000. When Nikon comes out with the replacement for the D3 (the D4, whenever that may be), the price will certainly drop. At that point, you’d be hard pressed to find a better camera body for the money.

Shooting on a budget…

For many of you who simply want to shoot good photos of your kids playing youth or high school sports, the equipment on my top ten list may be beyond your interest or budget. The list above was intended to cover the gear that I believe would suit the needs of individuals who intend to shoot sports on a professional, or at least a semi-professional, level. For those of you who either have no desire to do anything but take good photos of your kids, or who want to test the sports photography waters without having to sell your first born child, here’s a few additional thoughts.

Before delving into specifics, allow me a brief moment to mention something that I see happen all too often. The most common mistake made by folks buying photography equipment is the failure to understand the limitations of the equipment being purchased. Many folks who want to photograph their kids simply head out to a store and rely on the sales pitch of employees who don’t have a clue about the limitations of the equipment they sell. That often leads to folks being swayed by the focal length of lenses without any consideration given to lens apertures. There are boatloads of lenses that have focal lengths of 300mm, 400mm and even 500mm but are too slow for anything other than shooting in broad daylight. When shooting in poor light (indoors or outdoors) or under lights, the resulting shutter speeds are inadequate to stop action. That leads to blurred images, blurred hands, blurred feet and a lot of disappointment. If you try to push the ISO in order to raise the shutter speed, it is almost impossible to obtain images with acceptable noise levels, so again the images are disappointing but for a different reason.

Short and sweet, it doesn’t do you any good to buy a lens that will reach out to 300mm, 400mm or 500mm if the fastest aperture setting is too slow to suit your purposes. It’s easy to be enthralled with the focal length of a lens when you’re shopping, but for all practical purposes, you will kick yourself for spending money on equipment that will ultimately disappoint. Even if you must sacrifice focal length, opt for lenses with apertures that will open to f2.8.

OK, so what should you buy? Let’s start with camera bodies. Remember that I shoot Nikon, so this discussion will only make reference to equipment I know. Hands down, the best bang for the buck right now in an affordable camera body (Canon or Nikon) is the Nikon D300. It’s so good it made my Top Ten list. The noise level at ISO 1600 is far superior to its predecessor (the D200) and in my opinion, far superior to Nikon’s flagship camera body from only a couple of years ago (the D2X, which sold for $5,000). Used D300’s can be found for at or even under $1,000. Without the optional battery pack (right), this puppy gives you 6 frames/second, which is serviceable. If you can splurge, definitely pick up the battery pack (used – $200) – that will give you much longer battery life, 8 frames/second, and a second shutter button for use when shooting vertically.

Can’t quite get to that price range? My next choice would be the Nikon D5000. Brand spanking new, these go for less than $700; used versions run less than $500. Add a battery pack for approximately $100 and you’ll end up with a body that will shoot at 4.5 fps, noise levels that should be acceptable up to ISO 800 and even ISO 1600 as long as your expectations are realistic and you process images with Noise Ninja. It also shoots video.

Now, let’s look at lenses. Basically, you have two choices: you can go with Nikon lenses or you can save some money and purchase non-Nikon lenses. Always remember that you get what you pay for. Sigma, Tamron and Tokina lenses are cheaper than their Nikon counterparts. If cost is an issue, you may not have a choice. But, for my money, Nikon lenses are superior in terms of image quality and durability. For many of you, durability may not be a critical issue as you will not subject your equipment to enough usage such that this will be a factor. I use my equipment almost daily and I wore out (to the point of failure) two Sigma lenses that were touted as pro line lenses before I learned the lesson. I have only had one failure with a Nikon lens and that was the 20-35mm which I bought for half of what a used one normally costs due to the wear and tear to which it had been subjected. It served me well for a good long while and for $350, I got more than my money’s worth.

I would highly recommend that to start off, you invest in at least two lenses. The first one would be a mid-range zoom, and if price is first and foremost, you have a choice between the Sigma 70-200mm f2.8 and the Tamron 70-200mm f2.8. Used, expect to pay somewhere between $400-$500. This focal range is the most versatile for sports and if I could only have one lens this would be the focal length I would choose without batting an eyelash. Add a 1.4X Teleconverter to the mix and you have a lens that will have a focal length of 112mm-280mm on a full frame camera. On either of the two bodies I’ve suggested (with a 1.5X factor due to the dx sensor), it would give you a focal length of 168mm-420mm at f4. An f4 aperture will be fine outdoors but you don’t want to use the teleconverter indoors or under lights. Sigma’s 1.4X Teleconverter can be found for $100-$130 in used condition. I haven’t priced the Tamron version but I would expect it to be comparable in price.

A couple of teleconverter caveats: 1) do not make the mistake of buying an off-off brand (Kenko comes to mind) unless you have no other choice – with teleconverters, always try to go with whatever brand lens you choose and you will be much happier;  2) do not be tempted to get a 2X teleconverter – your aperture will be f5.6 wide open and autofocus will be sketchy at best; and 3) make sure that the teleconverter you select is designed to actually fit the lens you are going to be using – not every lens will fit on every teleconverter, even if it’s the same brand.

For a few extra bucks, you can go with the Nikon version of the mid range zoom lens. I would encourage you to go this route if at all possible. Nikon made a great 80-200mm f2.8 lens that has been upgraded several times, but it is still rock solid. Checking, I found several of these with lens hood, caps and case for approximately $650. This lens will last you as long as you care to own it and it will deliver top quality images. It will also focus much faster than a non-Nikon lens. If you can add a teleconverter, unfortunately, you have no choice but to go with a Kenko as neither of the Nikon teleconverters that I would recommend will work with this lens. The only Kenko I would consider is the Teleplus Pro 300 1.4X, and used you should be able to find one for $150-$175. Nikon’s TC14E and its more recent version, the TC14E-II, only work with AF-S and AF-I lenses. The Kenko teleconverter will not give you images as sharp as a newer lens/TC14E or EII combination, but remember, you’re on a budget and thus some sacrifice must be made in order to keep the cost down. It’s not as if the images you get will be poor quality, but when using the Kenko TC there will be a (to many it will not be noticeable) decrease in sharpness when compared to a Nikon lens with the TC14E or E-II.

If you can afford a second lens, you have some choices. My preference would be a wide angle zoom, and first I’ll discuss the off brand lenses. Tokina’s 28-70mm f2.8 ATX Pro SV lens is a good choice and can be found used for approximately $250. Both Sigma and Tamron make comparable models and are in the same price range. For example, checking, I found a Sigma 24-70mm f2.8 Aspherical D DG EX model available for $215. As with the 70-200mm’s, I can’t recommend a Sigma over a Tamron over a Tokina. They are of comparable quality, design and performance. Should you decide to go with Nikon, my recommendation would be the 35-70mm f2.8, which I own. This lens is in my pro Top Ten list and next to my 80-200mm, I use this lens more than any other. To me, the modest price difference makes it worthwhile to splurge and go with Nikon.

Last but not least, you should definitely pick up a good strobe. Shoe mount strobes are the way to go and Nikon’s SB600 is a great all-purpose strobe. It’s not as powerful as its big brothers (SB800 and the SB900), but it will suit most purposes just fine at approximately half the cost. A used SB600 can be easily found for approximately $200 and makes a great addition to any camera outfit. As I mentioned previously, the purpose of a strobe is not so you can shoot sports action as the use of strobes is prohibited in most cases and frowned upon at best. However, a good strobe can provide you with the versatility of lowering your ISO indoors for non-game action shots as well as for fill-in light on non-action outdoor shots.

There you have it. A basic set of equipment that will serve you well if your goal is to shoot sports on a budget. From here, if you decide to add equipment, Sigma makes a 120mm-300mm f2.8 lens that compliments the 80-200mm focal length nicely. Another option is to go with Sigma’s fixed 300mm telephoto which is slightly more expensive but yields slightly better images. The fixed lens won’t have the versatility of the zoom, so you have to decide what will suit your circumstances. Either of these lenses can be found used (with some perseverance) for less than $2,000. New they run slightly over $3,000. I did not include these lenses above as they are not exactly items that are for the budget conscious, but if you decide to get a bit more serious, they are certainly worthy of consideration.

Many thanks to Scott and to everyone at Kelby Media for giving me the chance to reprise my appearance on Scott’s Blog. It’s always a pleasure to work with Brad and the other folks in Scott’s arsenal. Finally, my thanks to all of you for taking the time to read my post. I hope you are able to glean some information that is helpful to you.

I’ll start off with a little history on me. I’m a second generation photographer. My father started the business over 30 years ago and when I was 11 years old I started going to weddings and shooting with him. I guess you can say photography is literately in my blood. I began taking photography extremely serious at the age of 19 and never looked back. As I grew our business grew. Now ten years later at the age of 29 I’m still doing what I love. I’ve managed to keep our old photography business very young and fresh. My father who I refer to on my blog as “Big Joe” is still shooting weddings too. I don’t like to call myself a “wedding photographer” but rather a photographer who happens to photograph people in love. Maybe it sounds sappy or corny but that’s what I do.

One of my favorite things to shoot are engagement sessions. I enjoy these because as a photographer I get to know my clients. Sure by wedding day I’ve exchanged countless emails and phone conversations, however spending an hour to an hour and a half photographing my clients and having fun really breaks the ice. By the end of an engagement session I feel like we’re old friends.

This was down in the financial district in NYC this past July..

Here is a result of what I was capturing..

Picking a location for an engagement session is always fun. With my sessions I like to shoot in different locations rather then a typical downtown city look. Don’t get me wrong, I do those all the time too. However if I can make them different I’m all over that. Before we choose where we’re going to shoot, I need to know why. Is this location relevant to the couple? For example I’ve shot in Fenway Park but if they were Yankee fans that probably wouldn’t have worked. I’ve shot at The Historic Saratoga Race Course, a fair and on the Brooklyn Bridge. Choosing locations like this allows me to give my clients unique images that their other engaged friends probably won’t have.

This was one of my favorite engagement sessions of all time. Shooting in Fenway Park in Boston, MA was just awesome! The Red Sox were on the road and there was actually a PHISH concert going on that evening. The groom Alex, used to work for the Red Sox and had a connection and got us into the park for a couple hours. It was us and PHISH sound checking while we shot. It was pretty neat having live music to shoot to.

If you look closely you can see them actually playing on the monitor.

I’ll often share behind the scene shots like this on my blog. My viewers love this stuff.

The result.

One more of my favorites from this session.

This was shot at a local summer fair. I just love the color. I have a metallic print from Miller’s Lab that this color just screams off of!

In Saratoga Springs we have a 147 year old horse racing track. Saratoga Race Course was a blast to shoot at.

Last but not least, I shot an engagement session on the Brooklyn Bridge. I know maybe this is more of a common location however it was the most difficult location to shoot at. There were people coming at me in all directions and I had to be patient for it to pay off.

After love comes marriage right? Our wedding photography approach is fun and simple. I don’t like to jeopardize the day or make it about me what so ever. Our clients hire us for that reason. Aside from liking our style, reputation and reliability, they love our personality. I have a go-with-the-flow approach on wedding day. Although I guess I say that with caution because I’m not one of those photographers that doesn’t take charge or speak when needed. We know the shots we need to get and let the rest kinda happen. I think that’s why our images have a natural look.

At every wedding I have to get a token shot. I like to think of it as the couples icon from their wedding day. These are the images people hire us to get. My requirements for this token shot is bride and groom in the image, natural light only, unique and real. Here are a few favorites from the 2010 wedding season.

Something else I do at most of my weddings is the Elario Photo Booth. It’s not a “booth” per say… It’s simply a backdrop setup that allows for fun, loose and interesting party shots. I exclusively use drop it MODERN backdrops. Why? Well for starters they are totally unique and different. I could setup a white seamless but then my photo booth would look like everyone else’s. These backdrops allow me to have a different look that all my clients just love. I have created a behind the scene’s video showing how exactly I do this setup.

I’d like to thank Scott Kelby for this huge opportunity to be a guest blogger. I enjoy sharing information with the world. Most importantly I love what I do.


twitter: @jpelario
photo lab:

My name is John McWade. Because this is my first post, here’s a quick history.

I’m a designer, not a photographer. Early in 1985, I was the first person in the world to lay down my T-square and become a full-time “desktop publisher.” That meant that I was doing my design work entirely on a computer — a 9″-screen Macintosh — with a test version of Aldus PageMaker.

I’d been at it for months when, that summer in New York, Apple rolled out its “Macintosh Office,” a networked suite consisting of the Apple LaserWriter, Adobe PostScript, and Aldus PageMaker. All three were revolutionary. The press, impressed, said, “Yeah, this looks good, but is anyone actually using it?” To which Apple said, “Well, there’s this guy out in California . . .”

And my phone started to ring.

Things have not been the same since.

It took only five years for desktop publishing to democratize design. Its early adopters, with exceptions, were not designers. They were writers, editors, marketers and others who had design to do — newsletters, brochures, business stationery, whatever — but lacked the time, budget, or need for a professional.

Most had an affinity for design, too. But most did not have the skills.

Books and periodicals taught point and click. How to draw a curve, make a shadow, put a glow on something. This was helpful. They called it design, but it wasn’t. It was effects.

No one outside of school was teaching design. Typography. Page layout. The art of making a visual message beautifully and simply and clearly.

So we jumped in. We launched a small magazine titled Before & After, How to design cool stuff in January, 1990, to help the novice — the non-design professional — with graphic design. It was an immediate hit.

I’ve been at it ever since. In print, in books, online, in video (just starting this), and in the occasional live class. I love my work. The surprise has been that our little five-year project would turn into a career that continues to this day.

Brad asked if I’d do a post for photographers.

From a designer’s standpoint, the great thing about being a photographer is that you have great images to work with. So how about how to get a photo and type to coexist in the same small space, like on a business card? There’s a universal way to do it, which I’ll show you here, and once you have it down, you can elaborate pretty easily if you want.


(Above) Jayne Kettner’s business card had a clip-arty logo, a slogan, a swashy, calligraphic signature, and her business information, all scattered into various corners and places. This is common, and there are several problems with it. One is the scattering, which puts similar kinds of information in different places, with nothing to connect it. Two is the visual complexity; that is, the unnecessary tangle of lines. Three is that we can’t see her photos; her biggest asset is absent.

Here’s how to fix it. (more…)

I shot my first wedding in October 2006.  Back then, I simply hoped for the best.  Hoped the wedding wasn’t delayed, hoped the family members remained nearby for formal pictures, and hoped I received a timeline for the day in advance.  I’ll never forget the terror of standing outside–in a garden–after my first wedding on a pitch-black night for the family formal pictures.  It was so dark I couldn’t get my camera to focus.  I actually resorted to my assistant holding a flashlight just to provide enough light to get my camera to fire.

I redefined awesome.

After that experience, I realized how important it was for me to address a wedding day timeline in advance.  Namely, using my experience (you know, all ONE wedding I had tucked under my belt) to best prepare my clients for an optimal photography experience.

This meant discussing my clients’ desires weeks in advance and offering guidance if the bride was inclined.  This was of tantamount importance if a wedding coordinator was not involved with the planning, as the ebb and flow of the day is controlled by the wedding photographer.

In 2007, I photographed 38 weddings and–through trial and error–created what I think is an optimal timeline.  Now, this is just my opinion.  Everyone works differently, but I’ve discovered I’m able to balance my clients’ desires as well as my creative desires adhering to the following timeline…

– Photography begins
– Details photographed (wedding dress, shoes, jewelry, invitations, bouquet, etc)
– Last minute hair and makeup touchups
– Candid photos of the bridesmaids preparing

– Bride dresses
– Candids of bride with mom and bridesmaids

– First Look
– Bride and groom see each other before the ceremony for photos

– Bridal party pictures
– Bride with her bridesmaids, group and solo photos
– Groom with his groomsmen, group and solo photos
– Entire group

– Bride gets tucked away from early arriving guests
– Photographers shoot ceremony details and cocktail hour location, if available.

5pm – Ceremony

5:30pm – Ceremony Ends

5:40pm – Family pictures

6:10pm – Sunset photos with bride and groom

6:25pm – Photograph reception details

6:45pm – Grand Entrance

6:55pm – First Dance

7pm – Welcome and prayer, if applicable

7:15pm – First course served

7:30pm – Toasts

7:45pm – Second course served

8:15pm – Father/daughter…mother/son dance

8:25pm – Open dancing

9:30pm – Cake cutting

9:40pm – Bouquet/garter toss

10pm – Photography coverage commences

Like I mentioned before, everyone works differently and there’s no such thing as a perfect approach.  I wrote this blog post because I wish I had something to consult when I first started.  I made many mistakes, but I learned from each of them, and I used them to build my business.

Most importantly, simply go out of your way to ensure you’re on the same page with the bride.  Your experience, your client’s experience, and the overall flow of the day will be amazing if everyone knows what to expect.

If you’d like to read more about how I work and other FAQs, here’s a specific link to just these types of posts:  FAQ Posts on Jasmine Star Blog

I appreciate the opportunity to share a little about who I am and what I love to do.  Thanks to the Kelby crew for welcoming me and I couldn’t be more honored.

Twitter:  @JasmineStar
Facebook:  Jasmine Star Facebook Page

The Importance of Practicing and Sharing

Before I started blogging I was always playing around with Photoshop, Illustrator and other apps I had an interest in learning more about and wanted to improve my skills in. The idea was always the same…to try and recreate something I saw and liked using this tool. I pretty much spent a decade doing that, always saving to my computer.

Towards the end of 2006, life played its odds and my office was robbed. It turned out that the burglars chose to take my backup drives on the exact day that I decided to backup my files. So my laptop and my two backup drives were taken and I found myself completely lost in space. All those years of learning by practice were gone.

Since that day I decided that everything I learn I would put up online on my blog. So I restarted my routine of experiments and after these almost four years I’ve learned quite a lot of things besides to never take your two backup disks to the same place at the same time. The most important thing I’ve learned is that the best way to promote your work is through sharing your knowledge and the secrets of your work. It’s true and I have a few examples to illustrate that.

Super Interessante

I always liked to play with space scenes in Photoshop, trying to come up with solutions and techniques to create those scenes. I am also always checking out work by other designers (James White, Chuck Anderson, Scott Hansen, Eduardo Recife, and a bunch of others) so I can learn new things as well. In 2007 I was playing with brushes in Photoshop and created a nice space scene, and then I posted a tutorial on my blog showing how I created it.

A few months after that tutorial I received an email from one of the largest publishers in Brazil asking me if I wanted to recreate that exact same scene for the cover of one of their magazines.

I thought to myself, if I hadn’t published that tutorial, I would never be hired to create a cover for that magazine.

Illustration for Wired

After that experience I was convinced that it was merely a coincidence, or beginners luck as they say, and would never happen again. Nevertheless I stayed true to my idea of practicing and sharing to not only learn more but help others as well.

In one of these practicing days I decided that I would have to create an abstract scene using vectors. So I spent a few hours in Illustrator and came up with a very cool design using only vectors, then in Photoshop I played with some textures and boom! The design was done and it was nice.

A few months after that I was checking my email and I saw one from the guys over at Wired Magazine UK telling me that they were inviting designers to create the cover of one of the sections of their magazine. They also said that they saw my tutorial and really liked it and invited me to create a version of that illustration for them.

Once again the same idea came to mind, without practicing and sharing that never would have happened.


In 2008 I was writing a Photoshop tutorial for a popular web site, and that same year MSNBC had released their new site with a very colorful background design. I remember that I received quite a few emails asking me how that was done and if I could create a tutorial on that.

I took some time and started playing in Photoshop trying to recreate that effect. I learned that we could create that same sort of effect using the Fibers filter with Motion Blur. So I created the tutorial, published it, and it was a big hit.

Almost three years later while checking my email I saw this message from a designer over at MSNBC saying that they use my blog for inspiration and saw some of my tutorials including the MSNBC one I had created. They invited me to come up with a background for their new web site design. I was totally blown away.

These three examples show how important it is to practice new things and to evolve through personal projects especially when you’re just starting out your career as a graphic designer, illustrator, or digital artist in general. Working on projects for ourselves allows us to do what we love and to follow our passion, because we are our own clients.

However, perhaps just as important as practicing is to share what you learn. In the past I used to do my personal projects and keep them in a vault just for myself, waiting for the great day to show the world what I was capable of. That day can sometimes take longer than you think though. So why only keep it to yourself?

Sharing my technique and skills allowed me to evolve quicker and to apply the things I’ve learned on professional projects with clients that otherwise I am sure I would have never gotten the chance to work with.

“Put yourself out there, being awesome is long tail” – Allan Branch

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