Category Archives Guest Blogger

When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than my talent for absorbing positive knowledge.
-Albert Einstein

I have come to believe that my job, why I was put on this earth, is to tell the truth and see the pretty. My job is to walk all over the planet and allow myself to be taken by the moment and to record the truth, beauty and moments of abandon with a camera. Interesting work if you can get it. What I discovered is so long as I stay on this path I (mostly) stay out of trouble. What I have also discovered is that coincidence is the universe's attempt at remaining anonymous. I live in a world where my fantasy as a child has come true, to make my living creating art. To make one's living solely from being a visual artist is to experience life as if you are in a waking dream only to find yourself waking up into a deeper dream.

This story starts with being asked in 2012 by the director of the Palm Beach Photographic Centre. "Hey, would you like to teach a five day travel workshop in Cuba?" As you can imagine it was a difficult decision to make, requiring much time and consideration⦠Roughly about the length of time it takes to say "HELL YES."

For those of us who grew up in the 1960's, Cuba has always been a great fascination. A forbidden place trapped in a time warp. Cigars, Rum, The Kennedys, the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile Crisis, Black September airplane hijackings landing at the Havana Airport – all the way to today and Guantanamo Bay. So to be afforded an opportunity to enter Cuba legally in 2012 something not to say no to.

The issue that I did not know then, but discovered later, was that on my first trip to Cuba I was about to break one of the few dogmas I have: Do not walk into a shoot with any preconceptions. That the only thing you should visualize preconceiving is to prepare to be amazed by every little thing around you.

Ansel Adams said, "Without pre-visualization photography is a five finger exercise." Paul Caponigro said, "If you believe in pre-visualization you deserve what you get." Who's right? They both are. What is at issue is not whether to pre-visualize or to not pre-visualize. The issue is the misconception between pre-conception and pre-visualization and the very, very, very fine line as to when to start the visualization process.

From the moment I was asked to the time I left I allowed myself to become a victim of entropy. I allowed my pre-conception of what I thought Cuba should be to color and affect what Cuba is. During the first time I was there I kept finding myself having a running dialog about, "How this isn't right⦠This is supposed to be like this." Don't get me wrong, I had a great time; I just didn't realize it until I got home. Somehow I had allowed myself to be looking for the moment rather than letting myself be taken by the moment.

Simply put Ansel Adams broke the creation of an image process down this way:

1)  The need/desire to photograph
2)  Discovery
3)  Visualization
4)  Execution

The first is fairly obvious, "The need/desire to photograph," either you are on assignment (the gig) or you are where you are because you want to be there with a camera. The second, "Discovery," for me is the moment when the picture takes you (not the other way around) and you are pulled through the lens and the impulse to click the shutter is driven by being grabbed by the moment.  The third, "Visualization," is the one step in the process that tends to do us in, and if you do not take care, you do indeed get what you deserve. The time you should pre-visualize is after the moment has taken you. Not before and not during. At that moment, after being taken by the picture, is when you should be thinking about what else you need to make the image successful. It is this, that is the catalyst for "execution." Why this is is because the speed of life moves much faster today behind the digital camera then it did back in Ansel's day behind the film camera with all of the considerations you need to make at point of capture. As to the speed of the thrill of photographing life? That speed remains the same, both faster than, as well as slower than, we as photographers are often capable of moving.

I spent a lot of time thinking about what I wasn't exactly happy with of my images from my first trip to Cuba, my image capture take for me was very low, I was frustrated with the experience and I did not know why. I mean it was Havana for goodness sake! It wasn't until I was sitting with Jay Maisel showing him my images that he pointed out something to me, which was this: I was in my images. That I took them and not the other way around. That I had pre-conceived a vision and imposed that on the place and made my images fit the pre-conception.

Did I mention that coincidence is the universe's attempt at remaining anonymous? I walked away from that conversation with the dream of going back to Cuba. So in July of 2014 the director of PBPC asked me if I wanted to go back to Cuba in December and would I be interested in going again in 2015. Lightning does not often strike twice in the same place. Next thing I knew I found myself going to Cuba three times over 15 weeks.

This time I let the place take me. I did not focus on politics or what I thought I should be shooting. I just walked the streets with my students and allowed the spirit of the place and the people to take charge. I gave in and gave up to simply being. The outcome of this is a 103-image gallery exhibition and an additional 200 plus "keeper" images I have yet to post process.

Soooo⦠My point is this: Don't think about the image before the image happens. Don't go into the moment with a belief of what you expect to see, just go in and see what there is to see. Don't worry about not taking any images, if they are there for you to take they will find you if you slow down enough to let them land on you. The baggage that you carry with you should be left in the hotel room with your luggage when go out to shoot.

If you still feel the need to pre-visualize before you pick up the camera, just fantasize this: I am about to be amazed by every little thing around me.

Vincent Versace
Nikon Ambassador: United States

Cuba Slide Show

Walk Through of Show

Cuba Exhibition at Palm Beach Photographic Centre

You can see more of Vincent’s work at, and follow him on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and Instagram.

Let There Be Light
Thanks Scott for the opportunity to be a quest blog writer this weekâ¦it's such an honor dude.  And perfect timing as I am preparing for my own Lightpainting Workshop on May 28-30, in Loveland, Colorado.

Okay⦠Let's learn how to Lightpaint.

Humanity is drawn to light. It is in our DNA. We can't help but look towards the brightest part of a picture. As a photographer it is my responsibility to help guide the viewer to the subject in the picture, and I can do so with light.

But sometimes a flash or strobe just isn't graceful enough. That's when I turn off the studio lights and delve into the most creative lighting technique of all. Lightpainting⦠it's the perfect combination of photography and artistic expression.

The word photography in the Greek means "light writing." Simply said, Lightpainting is the revealing of the subject from darkness with light. In general, Lightpaintings make use of long exposure times like 3 seconds, 10 seconds, 30 seconds, 2 minutes, or more.

Let's begin with some basics and Lightpaint a "Table-Top" Still Life. I will need a dark environment for my little subject â¦the Yellow Tail Fly. I will use a Manual Exposure of which I have a basic starting exposure that I begin many of my Lightpaintings with: ISO500, 30 seconds at f/8.

During the 30 seconds exposure time I will use a mobile light source to illuminate the subjects in the scene and reveal them from the dark with Lightpainting.

For my Table-Top still life and live model Lightpaintings I use a small Stylus penlight with a single LED bulb made by Streamlight.

First I arrange my subject and composing the scene. Then, like with all Lightpaintings, I secure the camera on a sturdy tripod. With the studio lights turned "on" I use Auto Focus on the subject and then turn "off" the auto focus. This is so the auto focus does not activate or "search" in the dark when you turn off the lights, open the shutter, and begin to Lightpaint.

I use the Auto Focus (AF) back button. By simply releasing your thumb from the AF button on the back of the camera it stops activation of the Auto Focus operation. Or you can also simply turn OFF the AF switch on the barrel of the lens or camera.

I also use a Manual WB of 10,000 Kelvin when Lightpainting with any LED flashlight. This setting helps add a warm color tone to the overall picture. And I will also activate the Long Exposure Noise Reduction mode in the camera. This prevents any noise speckles from appearing due to the long exposure time that generates heat inside the camera.

I'm now ready to turn OFF the room lights and make my first "TEST SHOT" without adding any Lightpainting to the subjects, just to see if there is any unwanted ambient light creeping in from a window or the door.

With a dark or "Blank" image on the LCD screen I'm now I'm ready to add some Lightpainting. I like to apply the light from off camera angles to create a dramatic lighting effect. In this image titled Yellow Tail Fly, the light from my Stylus is coming into the scene from the upper right corner of the frame.

Yellow Tail Fly: Nikon D7000, ISO400, 30 seconds exposure at f/32, Nikon 28-300mm VRII zoom lens at 300mm, WB 6700K, Manfrotto Tripod with 410 Gear Head, Stylus penlight, SanDisk 32GB Extreme Pro Flash Card.

The closer the light source is to the subject, the brighter the subject becomes. Also said, the longer time I spend illuminating my subject the brighter the subject becomes. Too much light or too much time spent applying light can overexpose portions of the imageâ¦and vise verse.

I try to keep the light source (Stylus) moving while applying the light, usually in a swirling or brushing motion. This helps soften the transitional edges between light and shadow, which is key in creating a painterly quality to the picture. You are in effect "painting with light."

My basic Manual Exposure setting of ISO 500, 30 seconds at f/8 is a good way to begin, but it can vary depending on intensity of your flashlight and the distance from flashlight to subject, and also how large your subject is. Don't give up, I sometimes make 10-15 Lightpaintings before I get one that I like.

The Red Violin: Nikon D800, ISO100, 1 minute at f/6.3, Nikon 105mm MACRO lens,
WB 10,000K, Manfrotto Tripod with 410 Gear Head, Stylus penlight, SanDisk 32GB Extreme Pro Flash Card.

Here is another "Table-Top" Still Life, but it has 2 variations from the Yellow Tail Fly. I used a lower ISO of only 100 and I increased the exposure time to 1 minute. Why? â¦because I felt I would need 1 entire minute to "precisely" apply Lightpainting from only a few inches away, and from multiple Off Camera angles. Lightpainting so close to the subject using ISO500 would result in way overexposing the subject.


Photo by Chris Keels

Hello everyone. My name is Nick Fancher and I'm your guest blogger today. In case you don't know me (which is likely the case), I am a Columbus, Ohio based portrait and commercial photographer. A couple of weeks ago I released Studio Anywhere: A Photographer's Guide to Shooting in Unconventional Locations, on Peachpit Press. The idea behind the book is that photographers can get away with shooting without a conventional studio most of the time, as long as they can learn to make the most of their environments; all with the use of minimal, affordable gear.

This idea was born out of necessity. When I was in New York City last year, I wanted to do some test shooting in my free time. I began looking around for studios to rent for the day, and found the average price to be around $1,000. It'd be one thing if this was for a paying client, who would be footing the bill, but this was for unpaid, personal work. And even if I did shell out the $1,000, all the models would then be forced to come to me, which for an unpaid test shoot, would not exactly be a motivating factor for them. Instead, I opted to meet them at their homes, realizing that all I really needed was a white wall, and every home has at least one white wall. And it worked out just fine.

Setup: one light with grid

White walls work

Once I returned to Columbus, I started putting this practice to test, now opting to meet clients at their homes and offices for shoots. Not only did it allow for me to happen upon some pretty amazing environments to shoot in, I think it also gave me a +1 for convenience, in the eyes of the clients. It also led me to some particularly small spaces, which forced me to get creative with my lighting. As you may know, most of the time you need your light several feet away from your subject, in order to get a larger light spread. But if, say, your client lives in a 200 square foot apartment and the only spot to shoot is the spot next to his bed in his living room, you don't have that luxury.  To make my light source larger and softer, I turned the flash in the direction of the white wall on the other side of his bed and it worked smashingly.

Setup: one light bounced into white wall

White walls wreally work!

You may have noticed in the previous setup shot that there are white boards propped up behind the subject. I have two white and two black, 40×60" sheets of foam core that I bring with me to every shoot (leaving them in the car until I see if I actually need them). I often end up needing to use them in a variety of ways. Often I tape two boards together to make a v-flat, in order to block a light source or reflect light. Sometimes I use them as a backdrop, as in the previous scenario. Other times I stack them up so the model can stand on them, if I need a full body shot and the room has an unsightly floor, such as shag carpet.

My rule of thumb is to travel as light as possible, since I typically work without an assistant. I want to minimize the amount of trips I have to make to my car. So if I am heading in to shoot in an unfamiliar space, all I take in with me is my camera bag, a light stand and an umbrella, leaving my tripod, sandbags, additional stands and white boards in the car unless they are absolutely needed. And once I get a lay of the land, I scope out viable shoot areas. Large white walls are a plus. Areas with concrete or gloss wood floors will reflect light and make seamless, full body portraits a lot easier.

Setup: three lights gelled cyan, magenta and yellow

White wall plus a sturdy table = clean, full body portraits

I've even used grey walls or cream colored walls without issue. Of course white balance isn't much of an issue when your two lights are gelled red and cyan.

Setup: two lights gelled cyan and red

Cream colored wall is no problem when your white balance is not in play

Once you start working this way, you start noticing things that you can use to your advantage, such as a nice, red wall. I made a v-flat out of my two black boards and used a white board as a bounce, opposite the red wall. By firing a flash into the white and red surfaces on either side of the model, I had a large, soft spread on a black background, creating a stylized final shot.

Setup: two lights, fired into white bounce and a red wall

Large, soft, stylized light

Want a variety of backdrops for little to no cost? Browse royalty-free images on Google or buy cheap stock images to project onto a white wall. It's an old Hollywood trick, but it's a cool one to play with.

Setup: projector for back wall and one light, snooted

Free trip to Switzerland

What if you're just starting out and you don't own a strobe? Do you have a garage? It's a great spot for shaping available light. It's especially effective on a sunny day. By placing your subject closer or farther away from the open garage door, you can control the amount of light falling on them.

Setup: subject sandwiched in a black v-flat

Dramatic, available light portrait

Achieving a blacked out environment, sometimes referred to as "invisible black," is a lot easier than you may think. Find a background that's a mid to dark tone, not in direct sunlight. Make sure that you have enough space to keep the subject and light(s) away from said background. Get an ambient exposure and then close down at least three stops to get it to go dark/black. Add your light, output set to a high enough output to properly illuminate your subject. Flag light as needed, to keep it from spilling on to background, by using a grid, zooming in the flash head, angling the light away from the background, etc.

Setup: A medium-toned brown wall in the shade is a perfect backdrop to achieve a black scene. I used two bare bulb flashes on the model, one to light her upper torso and one to light her legs, below the tutu.

Black scene

Sometimes I want to add natural, visual elements to a shot, such as flowers or tall grass. To do this, take a black or white v-flat to a park and place it in front of said flower/grass element and have the subject sit/stand in the v-flat. Side note: if your camera case is nice and sturdy as is my Pelican 1510 case, it makes a fantastic chair for your subject.

Setup: Black v-flat in a field, flagging the direct sunlight from the model

Dramatic portrait on black, with added visual elements

As I mentioned earlier, I typically work alone, without an assistant. This means that I am traveling light, without sandbags, for examples. It also means that I can't put a large light modifier on my flash, such as an umbrella, without it blowing over with the smallest breeze. So I am usually looking for ways to soften a bare flash, when I am in the field. As was the case for the living room scenarios, lighter, neutral-colored walls are great for reflecting light. Simply place your light 2-3 feet away from the wall, zooming in the head, if applicable. Angle the light into the wall so that it's heading in the direction of the subject (think banking a pool shot).

Setup: A white wall found in park made for a great bounce surface for my flash

Soft light on my subject without an umbrella (and sandbag) on my light

I realize that many of you are likely already using some of these techniques/hacks, and you may even have some that I have not yet heard of or tried. Please use the comment section for sharing your ideas and experiments. If you feel so inclined, pick up a copy of my book/ebook, Studio Anywhere, here. Thanks for reading and happy shooting!

You can see more of Nick’s work at, and follow him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.

Good morning, good afternoon and good evening, my name is Leo Trevino. My wife Brittany and I run a wedding photo/cinema company in Tampa, FL called Rad Red Creative. Recently, Brad graciously asked if I would be comfortable sharing a burglary/theft experience we went through in early February of this year. Sure, it’s an incredibly-terrible-devastating experience to have, but we both earned an enormous amount of wisdom from it and today I hope to impart some of that wisdom unto you.

Alright here we go; it was a dark and stormy Monday morning (no really it was) on Feb. 9th of this year. Pleasant dreams ended as my iPhone alarm went off, pulling me back into reality alerting me that it was yet again Monday and work had to get done. Like most mornings, I started through my routine, phone in hand while I sifted through Instagram notifications, emails and texts and indeed I received a text. It was from my neighbor, who is also a close friend, that told me about several cars at our town-home complex were broken into and burglarized.

My flat feet couldn't have moved faster as I hustled my way down the stairs, ripped my keys off the wall and bolted past the rain drops to my car. I unlocked the passenger door and found that my car was completely trashed. The entire contents of my glove compartment and center console were flung all throughout the front and rear seats. My car looked like someone went recreational dumpster diving; some of the trash didn't even look like it was mine. Although it was a mess, nothing seemed stolen. Regardless, I called my absentee landlord and made them aware of the situation and then called the police department and began to file a police report.

Phew! Nothing was stolen. A few hours later one of my best-friends and colleagues sent me a reminder that we had a shoot later that evening and to be ready by 5pm. "Cool, I'll be ready," I responded. Sure enough I started that beloved "prep" process that photographers do before a shoot. Check the batteries to make sure they're charged. Make sure you have enough memory cards. Pick out what lenses you want to use. Make sure your camera bodies have tripod plates if need be. Well it wasn't long into that checklist I started to realize I left some gear in the trunk of my car from photoshoots the day prior. "CRAPP!!!"

Again I found myself bustling down the stairs and out to my car. I popped the trunk and behold!!!!!!! NOTHING was thereâ¦. That’s right folks, my gear was stolen. I absolutely couldn't believe it. I ran right back upstairs to my office, double checked all of our Pelican Cases and camera bags and nothing. At the time, my wife wasn't home, so like any other photo/video professional at this time of devastation, I fell to my knees and started sobbing.

Never in a million, billion years did I think I would be a victim to burglary⦠at least not on this scale. Sure, growing up I've had my bike stolen. I've been bullied for lunch money and I may have lost a few high tech gadgets here and there but nothing like this. We're talking a Canon 5D Mark II body, a Sigma 35mm 1.4 Art, a Mamiya 645AFD body with Mamiya 50mm lens, (2X) Canon Speedlite 580 EXII, a Sigma 50mm 1.4 lens, a Canon 85mm, and a Canon 20mm lens which basically amounts to $5,000+ worth of gear just GONE. To any weekend warrior who may have a corporate full-time job with salary, this may not be a big deal. In fact, I WISH I had some form of salary to fall back on. As for us, my wife and I do this [wedding photography] full-time so there is no other paycheck. There is no other salary or form of income. Cameras, lenses and light are how we express ourselves as artists but it's also how we pay the bills and keep food in our stomachs; it's a way of life and someone just messed with our livelihood.

Later that evening we spent time talking to our parents and close family members about what had transpired, seeking guidance and solace. After we spoke with them, I decided to share our story with friends and extended family over social media asking for their prayer and support. I'll never forget how miserable we felt.

Let's fast forward.

It's now the end April just past the thick of wedding season and we're firing on all cylinders! Don’t get me wrong… it wasn’t easy. We had to rent lenses, camera bodies, and speedlites just so we could manage all the weddings we had the past few months. When we couldn't rent, we had generous friends and local professionals that let us borrow gear when they didn't have a shoot. Eventually, we spent a vast portion of our savings to purchase essential gear that we could afford to replace. One thing we will never forget, is the outrageous amount of love and support we received when we launched a GoFundMe account to help offset expenses.

Neither my wife Brittany or I are the type to receive handouts or ask for money but we were continually asked by loved ones to set up a fundraiser so they could help us and WOW! We were absolutely blown away! After the fundraiser, we also had some random jobs come our way that also helped rebuild our chunk of missing gear. Finally, after all the paperwork was filled out, our renters’ insurance company sent their check and here we are; alive, breathing and still living our dream of creating and capturing beautiful wedding moments. It's been a long and grueling process but we made it out alive, with better gear than we previously had.

"What gear did you end up buying to replace what you lost?"

"Yes sir, thank you for asking!" As you read what gear was stolen, it's obvious that we were still using pretty old gear. It also wasn't ALL of our gear. Once we had our finances in order, I made the obvious decision to buy the 5D Mark 3, making it our second 5DM3 body. I then bought the 50L (because it's dreamy and excellent), the Sigma 35mm Art series (it's so incredibly sharp OMG), as well as the good ol' Canon 85mm 1.8. I sold my Canon 24-70mmL and bought the 16-35mm L (what can I say I wanted to go wider). We needed one more camera body and that's where the Canon 7D Mark 2 comes in!

"But isn't that mainly a sports and wildlife camera?"

Yes and Yes. It's very clear the 7DM2 was aimed at sports and wildlife hence the mind-blowing FPS speed and 65-point AF system, but all of that can also be applied to the fast-paced world of wedding photography. Being a crop-sensor body, it's had my back in a few churches where I needed that extra reach! Our company, Rad Red Creative, also does wedding cinema, so the Dual Pixel CMOS AF comes in super handy when we do glidecam shots. The camera is a dream, and once I saw Scott Kelby's "Real World Field Report" on the Canon 7D Mark II, I was sold and bought it later that evening.

Okay back to my sob-story.

Honestly, the day we had gear stolen I wanted to give up. I wanted to hand over the rest of my gear to the first pawn shop I could find and just sip beer after beer underneath the nearest overpass while collecting cigarette butts. Yes alright fine, all of what I said reeks of melodrama. Still doesn't change my view of how badly that whole situation still SUCKED (for lack of a better phrase). Not only did someone mess with our livelihood and it was infuriating⦠but let's be honest, I too was a major contributor to my own folly. After all I was the numb-nuts who left $5,000+ worth of gear in the trunk of my car! I mean c'mon who else does that?!

Here are some lessons I've learned. **Keep in mind some of these lessons/tips may be obvious to some readers but perhaps there are other readers out there (like myself) who may not be aware of what could happen and what precautions to take.**

Duh! To be honest, I don’t ever leave gear in my car intentionally. The Sunday before our gear was stolen, we had two long shoots that day. When we got home, I grabbed my camera bag thinking all my gear was in the bag. Indeed it was not. Instead of checking to make sure, I just closed my trunk, carried my camera bag inside and got ready for bed. Big mistake. Always double check your car to make sure everything is inside your home, studio, office, hotel room – anywhere but the car.

2: You Can Never Have Enough Insurance
If you rent an apartment or townhouse, have renters insurance. If you own a home, obviously have home-owners insurance. Renters insurance was able to give us $2,500 because the theft happened while our car was parked outside our townhouse. If you're a professional photographer/cinematographer, have Liability and Business Insurance. Make sure your gear is covered under accidental damage, theft or any other catastrophe. I would name some companies but each state in the U.S. has different rules for these things. My sub-advice: Partner with a local lawyer or financial advisor on how to better protect yourself and your precious gear. My wife and I didn't know that our current business insurance didn’t offer theft coverage in the state of Florida. I recommend getting "Photocare" for extra coverage (available by itself or through PPA).

3: Be Discrete
If you live in a low-income area, don't go walking around announcing that you're a photographer unless you want to be mugged. I have friends with stories of coming home from a shoot and while lugging camera gear into their home, have been robbed at gun point. Buy bags that don't look like camera bags, keep light-stands and tripods in some sort of casing. It may sound excessive but you never know who could be watchingâ¦. okay that also sounds a bit paranoid but, just be wise and be discreet.

4: Keep Cards And Cameras Completely Separated
Two camera bodies were stolen from me but I did NOT lose any images. Why? After a shoot I keep memory cards in a wallet, on my person, always. When I get home, I dump them on to a drive and then back that drive up, and back that drive up again. That’s data safety 101.

5: Pay Attention To Your Gear
Treat it like a toddler, and by that I mean always know where your gear is; even if you have to have to bring an assistant or second shooter to help you keep track. I'm the top offender when it comes to this rule. When I'm on a shoot the only things I'm concentrating on is my light, my subject and where I put my camera. I switch lenses quick and fast and my wife says I'm notorious for leaving gear behind. Good thing she's there to pick up my slack! At any rate, it's something I need to work on and now I even limit how much gear I take on a shoot.

In this day and age, gear-theft/burglary is almost inevitable. I don't like being a pessimist but it's the world we live in. There are people out there, ready to make money any way they can even if it means putting your livelihood at risk. The important thing to remember is to stay protected by having insurance and definitely don't give up on pursuing your dreams. Although I say I wanted to quit and give up (due to a momentary lapse of judgment), there was something that kept me fighting for our livelihood and that thing was: Passion.

I hope this could be of some help and support to those who may have experienced or are currently sharing my experience. Just know that if you persevere and stay focused on your passions, you can make it out of most situations.

Leo and his wife Brittany are full-time professional wedding photographers/cinematographers based out of Tampa, FL and travel worldwide. You can follow them on Instagram, Facebook, check out their short wedding films on Vimeo, and see more work at

My name is Robert Cornelius (as I'm guessing you've already gathered from the title of this blog postâ¦), and I've been given the honored opportunity to share some of my thoughts with all of you fine people. I've been shooting professionally since 2008, but my passion for digital art has been growing since 2003. That's the year I was first introduced to the majesty of a little program you might have heard of, called … Photoshop. I've always been an individual that thrives in any situation that requires tapping into one’s creativity and imagination, but once I discovered the power of Photoshop I really found my stride. I love for my work to balance somewhere along the line between a digital painting and a photograph, while bringing cinematic stories to life through the various characters I dream up.

I've decided for my guest blog to break down the process of creating one of my more recent images in hopes that it will inspire you to try something new and crazy, or at least add a few shiny new tricks to your work flow for whatever sort of art you love to create. This image, called "The Fate Sisters," is my interpretation of the Greek myth about the three witch-like siblings who control our fate through their powers over the thread of life. Basically all of the images I create come together in steps quite similar to the following. I end up doing all of these things to my pictures at one point or another during the editing process. Obviously there is no perfect formula for every image – any edit is going to consist of a lot of trial and error and just trying things to see what looks good. I don't always go exactly in this order, but for the most part my editing process goes something like this…

The Shoot
Whenever possible I try to plan out as much as I can before the actual shooting begins. This isn't always the case; I do love to just shoot a person on a whim once in a while and figure out something magical to do with the photos later on in Photoshop. For this image, however, I was plotting things in the back of my head for most of a year; I knew every last detail before I even took the first shot. I envisioned one girl  (my friend Laura of posing for all three characters, and could picture how each "sister" was going to be positioned. I even knew what colored lights were going to be where: I wanted a rich dark blue atmosphere with the thread and scissors glowing golden light. I made sure to light accordingly. It’s way easier to convincingly edit the light spilling onto their faces and hands from their various shining objects when the right quality of light was actually being cast on them from the get-go. I do love digital painting and could have done my best to just add the light in later, but that’s just never going to look as good as it will if you have the light actually there in the first place.

The first thing I do once I get my raw images tweaked and opened up in Photoshop is to combine all of my favorite pieces. I usually end up with a handful of images that each have something in particular about them that I like the best.  I'll edit together all of the more favorable attributes from different captures into one even better version. For "The Fate Sisters” I obviously already had to combine the three pictures of the different "sisters,” but each individual girl is comprised of several images. For the center sister (Atropos for you Greek mythology buffs), there was one frame in which I really liked her expression and the way the light was falling on her face, but wasn't too fond of the position of her hands – so I Photoshopped those in from another shot.

After I have all the pieces and parts pushed and pulled into place, I’ll cut the subject off of their background.  The pen tool is my selecting apparatus of choice for most parts of an image. I find it to be the easiest way to get a very precise and clean edge for the majority of the mask. I definitely don't skimp on my pen tooling. It's always worth it to get all up in there and take the extra time to really work my way around the little details of my edges. I know it can be tedious, but I find that the better selection you have on your subject, the more convincing of a composite you're going to end up with. Plus once you really get the hang of it, I feel like there is something very "zen” about pen-tooling things. Is that just me? (Also… "pen-tooling” is totally a word, just go with it.) The pen tool might be truly fantastic, but cutting out hair can be a real pain – so I use a plugin called Fluid Mask just for selecting out the hair. (The program is made by Vertus and is worth every penny!) However, you can also get some really great selections of areas like hair or very detailed fringes on fabric using the “refine edge” selection tool right in Photoshop.

General Retouching
This is where I do all of the standard Photoshopping. I'll run through the usual list of suspects like cloning out blemishes, doing some more skin tweaks using frequency separation, smoothing out a few clothing wrinkles here and there if I feel it's called for, and doing away with any other little details that pop out and make me think "I could deal without that." This is one of those steps that sort of happens constantly throughout the whole editing process as I see things I want to fix, so it's kind of hard to place where exactly in my process I do these sorts of things. I do tend to wait until a little bit later into the composite since I don't want to retouch a face or something that I might replace with a different one later.

For many of my other works of art the background can take quite some time to Photoshop together, and oftentimes I'll totally change it to a different location once or twice before I'm happy with it. For this picture, on the other hand, I wanted a backdrop that was less important than the overall image. My main goal was to have my audience be drawn into the faces and various luminescent items of the image; I didn't necessarily need to tell the viewer where the sisters actually were. Perhaps they are just dwelling in some sort of mysterious limbo-type-realm between worlds. It wasn't entirely relevant to depict an obvious location, so I just went with some nondescript murky foggy blue light.

Painting, Shading, and Detailing
This is probably my very favorite step of the process – it's were the digital painting technique comes into play. First I'll make a new layer and set it to a soft light blending mode, grab my handy-dandy Wacom Tablet (which I can't live without), and start painting in some broader shadows and highlights. Usually I'll do this using black or white with a completely soft brush, but often I'll select a color to paint with right from a shadow area or bright highlight in the image. After my first once-over with the soft light layer, I'll make another new layer and set the blending mode to overlay; I use the overlay layer to add in the smaller detailing. This blending mode is a bit harsher and more contrasty than soft light, so I prefer it for areas of smaller detail like the eyes, lips, hair, and maybe even playing up the edge light on a jawline or something of that nature.  After painting for a while on the overlay layer, I'll add a third layer with a normal blending mode and use this to add in more little details. I'll digitally paint on top of all the pixels to accentuate things that are there and even add in things I think should be there. I tend to refer back to these three layers throughout the rest of my editing process as I see things I want to highlight and enhance. I've even been known to add one or two orâ¦seventeen-zillion more layers on top of these three to really build up the details and effects.  Above you can see all of my paint layers overtop of a solid grey background to help you get an idea of the actual details I'm enhancing. Note that whenever I'm painting on a person I'll use “clipping masks” by holding alt/option and clicking between the layers. (You can also right click and choose "create clipping mask".) This makes my job way easier because it tells Photoshop that this layer should only paint on the one below it; sort of like a fool-proof "coloring inside the lines.”

Textures and Atmosphere
I'm a huge fan of floaty dust particles and creating a dirty hazy atmosphere; it's sort of become part of my "style," if you will. This obviously is not for everyone or every picture, but I rather enjoy the quality it gives to my images. Some people are into the very clean and smooth look, which I totally appreciate as well, but I always tend to reach a point in my edit where I want to add some "grit." I’ll usually layer anywhere from 2 to 5 textures, maybe even more sometimes, trying them set to different blending modes as I go to see what looks good. I usually go with soft light, overlay, or screen, and I'll always lower the opacity way down; usually it will be somewhere around 20% or less. Also, once my textures are in place, I'll do a bit of masking to remove some of the grunge from areas like faces and skin. Sometimes textures can leave people looking bruised or blotchy. This is one of those steps where you just have to experiment and see what you like – you usually don’t want this to be too overwhelming of an effect. When adjusted correctly, this technique does a wonderful job of blending all the different pieces of a composite together. It gives all your layers a similar quality and feel, selling the notion that everything in the image is indeed in the same location and not sneakily edited together. I use images of dust particles, smoke, clouds, fog, and tiny bokeh clusters a lotâ¦.like seriously a lot. I have a huge library of texture images that I've been gathering over the years. Whenever I see a nice grungy cracking wall or old tattered fabric, I’ll snap a few pictures and plop them into a folder to dig up later.  You'd be surprised by the amount of different interesting textures you can find even around your house – I have a whole folder of images of the various beat up old baking sheets from the kitchen!

Color toning
Next I start play around with some adjustment layers to affect the overall color and tone of my image. A lot of photographers seem to really enjoy "curves" for this, but I'm a sucker for sliders. To each their own. Thats one of the best things about Photoshop, there's a zillion ways to do everything! I really love the control I can get using the "selective color" adjustment layer. If you've never messed around with it before definitely give it a try. I already had a pretty good idea of what sort of a color palette I wanted this image to have (since it was lit that way), but I always commit some time to playing around with the sliders and trying different color variations to see what I like. As opposed to the the cooler blue tones I had envisioned for the background, I ended up going a bit more in the direction of purple than I had planned. The more I tweaked the colors in that direction the more I really liked the way it looked against the gold tones on their faces.  I also usually add a "color adjustment" layer as well – I like the way it can help add some color contrast and make the highlights pop a bit more. I often find myself pushing some warmer yellow tones into the highlights, which worked perfectly for this image seeing as how I already had the yellowy highlights throughout.  One of my other favorite tricks is to add a "hue/saturation” adjustment layer, check the "colorize" box at the bottom, and then pick a color tone that works for the image; for this picture it was a purple hue. Now stay with me, I know this will make your image a monochromatic color tone, but then I set that layer to soft light and lower the opacity to somewhere around 15%. This gives the whole image a nice subtle midtone contrast and everything acquires a similar overall color and quality. It's definitely a technique you should try out; it works wonderfully for basically any type of photograph. I usually end up using a warm orange-ish color to help give a tiny bit more life to skin tones, but it all depends on what looks good for whatever image I'm creating. Since it's an adjustment layer you can always come back later and try a different hue to see what you like best.

Finishing Touches
Once I'm happy with the image as a whole, I'll begin some of my “finishing moves.” I'll duplicate all my layers and merge them (“stamp visible”) so I have a flat version of my image on top of all my layers. Then I'll run this layer though some filters. I'm rather fond of HDR Efex Pro (from the Nik collection), and also Topaz Adjust. This is another one of the steps where you just have to mess around with different filters to see what sort of an effect works well with the image and what you're going for. Also, this is a step that can be MAJORLY overdone and you can start to make your image look way too overworked. I always run the filter and then lower the opacity of that top layer to bring it back to somewhere a bit closer to how it looked previously. I'm also a big fan of the shadow/highlight adjustment (that can be found in the "image” drop down menu, under "adjustments"). Note that you have to check off the "show more options" box at the bottom of that window (if you haven't already) to really unlock the potential of this adjustment. Again, this can be overdone quite easily and start to make your image way too flat and fake HDR-looking. These are all subtle changes.  Lastly I'll always sleep on an image, maybe even for a day or two, especially after this last step when it's kind of hard to tell if you've taken things too far. I always find it's best to step away from the project and give it fresh eyes the next day. I'll basically keep giving the image "fresh eyes" until I open it and don't immediately want to tweak something. My pictures just sort of tell me when they are finished.

Well everyone I hope you've enjoyed this post, and that you learned a thing or two or at least affirmed what you already knew.

Happy shooting and ‘shopping, and stay creative my friends! :)

You can see more of Robert’s work at, and follow him on Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, and Instagram.

Alright folks, let’s get girlie! Every so often I have people come up to me and ask me about the featured image on my website’s home screen. They say “I love the rainbow lips image! How in the world did you create the rainbow effect from scratch?”


My response: I'd shrug, and say “Honestly? I just played around with blend modes.” But to level with you, I honestly created the piece so long ago, that I don’t quite remember the actual steps I took to produce it. So I thought it might be time to do some detective work and dive back into my past to see if I can decode the steps I took to get this look. In this post, I’ll expose all the secret steps I took to get this effect.

As with any macro beauty image, the first thing I did was some general clean-up like skin smoothing, frequency separation, and fixing the color and tone of the original lip color; gold. (If you'd like to download my free portrait-in-a-pinch retouching action, then check out and scroll to the bottom to download it!)



Then, I played around with the skin-tones because I was trying to get the skin to look like porcelain. I did this by creating three new fill layers, filling two of them with white and the last one with aqua. I changed all of their blend modes to soft light, and then placed them in a layer group. For each of the three layers, I opened up the layer style dialog box and inside the blend if section, I split the black clipping arrow for the underlying layer slider into two parts (hold down option or alt to divide the arrow) and then I dragged the right portion of the arrow all the way so that it sat just next to the white arrow of the same slider.


To finish up, I used my brush tool to paint with black over the areas where I didn’t want the skin effect to show. I did this on the layer group mask in order to have one single mask apply to three different layers. This is a huge time-saver since you’re only painting one mask, instead of three! Lastly, I decreased the opacity of my skin tone layer group to 15%.

My next step was adding some 3D depth to the model’s fingers using dodge and burn. Here’s a preview of my dodge and burn layer, I switched the layers blend mode from soft light to normal to show this preview. (For more on dodge and burn, stay tuned to KelbyOne for my soon-to-be-released class on skin! Coming soon to a computer screen near you!)

Now comes the fun part! To add the rainbow colors to the lips, I first decreased the saturation of the lips using a hue/saturation adjustment layer, by dragging the saturation slider from 0 to -62. Then I created an empty new layer, and used my brush tool to pick out some funky, fun colors, and sloppily painted them over the lips area. Here’s what the layer looks like with everything else in the document hidden.


Next, I added a black mask to the rainbow color layer, and proceeded to paint with white over the lips area so the color would only show through where I wanted it to. I ended this step by decreasing the opacity of this layer to 60% and changed the blend mode to vivid light.

To finish up, I used a few curves adjustment layers to try and accentuate the highlights and shadows on the lips, thus giving them a more 3 dimensional appearance. And then added a high-pass layer on soft light blend mode to sharpen. And voila! I was finished!

In closing I hope this quick blog post helps to illustrate the importance of playing around and trying new things in Photoshop. If it weren’t for this, I would have never created such an out-of-the-box piece. And can anyone guess the extremely valuable added benefit I gained from this experience? I learned a ton!

Whether you’re new to Photoshop or an old, seasoned pro, you can always learn more by exploring tools you haven’t used before. Don’t be afraid to fail! It’s how we grow and continuously become better at our craft!

â˜Your challenge; should you choose to accept it:' is to choose one new tool a day that you've never used before and explore it! At the end of one week, you'll have seven new tools to add to your skill-set!

You can see more of Kristina’s work at, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr.