Category Archives Guest Blogger

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Ciao people!

I’m Nicola Bernardi but please, call me Nico.
I’m a rather big, tall Italian dude that suspiciously looks like a thumb with a goatee.

I’m not the best at explaining what kind of stuff I shoot so.. I’ll just show you instead, ok?

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When I got asked to be the guest blogger for this week I panicked. Like, big time. At first, I wanted to cram as much of my work as possible and promote myself like crazy.

“But c’mon Nico! You’re better than that!”
Fair enough. What to talk about then?
I know! INSPIRATION!
Let’s be inspirational, let’s inspire people with wise words, write something so deep and meaningful that’ll make people go, “OMG you totally got to me, you’re my new favorite thing in the world, nothing will ever be the same again, marry me!”

Perfect plan!

And so I wrote for a week. The more I wrote, the more delusions of grandeur I had thinking that this was going to be the next big TED talk. Standing ovation.
Me saying, “And that’s when it all changed for me,” sipping on fancy drinks with tiny umbrellas.

WHAT. A. LOSER.

Talk about turning a scream for attention into a more refined, better worded, self indulgent request for even MORE attention!

Damn. Well played ego, I see what you did there. You almost had me for a second (actually, for a whole week).

Now, approximately half the people that started reading this blog post are already gone.
Raise your hand if you are dying to check Facebook for notifications…

The other half of you, the ones that are still reading, are probably asking themselves “So, where is this guy going with this, exactly?”

The point is: I don’t know.

If I did know what to talk about in front of the audience of this blog, I’d probably be a writer.
But I’m not. Instead, I’m a photographer.

Photography hasn’t always been in my life: I picked up my first camera a little over 5 years ago, while living in Japan.
Before that, I had always studied languages. Italian, English, German, Japanese.
Learning new languages is freaking awesome, especially if you are a naturally extroverted Italian kid that can’t shut up to save his life. More languages equals more people I can annoy with my never-ending “blablabla.”

When I started with photography, I couldn’t make sense of why it took over everything else in my life and became my drug, my sole obsession. Nothing could stand in its way.

Luckily, I didn’t ask myself too many questions and didn’t look for too many answers.
I just followed my heart. I wanted to take pictures SO BADLY, and that was enough for me.

Flash forward to 2 years ago. I was commissioned to take pictures of Savina, a dancer in London. The brief was quite simple: take good photos of this girl dancing, for her online presence and for casting purposes.

I flew to England and met her for the first time. The day before the shoot we scouted the location and got to know each other a little better. I was amazed by her true passion, the deep love she had for dancing, regardless of how many times she had been crushed in the pursuit of her dreams.

I was in awe the whole time. I felt I had a giant standing in front of me, an alien. Someone with a such a bright and strong fire in their belly couldn’t possibly be from the same planet as me. And I felt I couldn’t just take photos of her dancing, It had to be more. I HAD to tell her story, I HAD to let everyone else about her passion, drive, strength. And about her fragility, her humanity.

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These photos changed me forever.
For the first time, I didn’t just capture the subject that was in front of me.
I had told a story. HER story.
And in doing that, I had found the humanity in this giant, in this incredible amazing artist, the only point where I could finally connect with her.
I had finally found my voice. Or better, my message.
And all of a sudden, it became pretty clear why photography came into my life after studying languages and wiped absolutely everything else away from the get go: it was the new language that I had just began studying.

Because you know what? Photography IS a language!
Think about it: when you start learning a new language, the first thing you are faced with are grammar and vocabulary. It takes some time and some studying before you are even remotely able to put a sentence together. At first, all the crazy grammar rules of a new language make NO SENSE. The new words that you learn sound so weird, so hard to remember. Almost impossible to link to the ones that you know.

And it’s no different when it comes to photography: when a camera magically appears for the first time in your hands, your photos are… let’s say, sloppy. You start reading about ISO, Aperture, Shutter speeds. It makes little to no sense.
Add lighting for the first time because you saw someone mention flash on YouTube and you find yourself banging your head on the wall in desperation: Inverse square law? Light source to subject ratio? Modifiers? Oh god.

When first studying a language, you feel like even after giving your sweat and tears for it, you can’t yet put two words together to say even the simplest of things. But as time goes by, things start to make sense. You start acquiring the grammar, you master some vocabulary.
You start with simple sentences. With time, energy and experience, you start making sense of the new language. And so goes for photography: the technicalities become second nature. You begin to know WHY you choose a certain ISO, Aperture or Shutter speed. You understand WHY you want to use a certain lens and not another. Flash, that once was your nemesis, becomes your friend.

Congratulations, you have now learned a new language. You now KNOW photography.
But is that enough? Of course not. Absolutely not.

My father once told me these wise words while I was studying Japanese in University: “Nicola, knowing a language is a beautiful thing. But if you have nothing to say, no one will listen to you.”
And he was SO RIGHT.

But it wasn’t until I took Savina’s photos that I realized WHAT MY MESSAGE is. What is it that I talk about with my language, photography.

I have always been drawn to and surrounded myself with all these incredible people. Artists, musicians, performers, characters.
People that put so much love and passion in what they do, in what they truly believe in. And in doing so, they make the world a better place.

And regardless of the case, I have always felt like I wasn’t up to their level. I was always nothing more than a tiny man surrounded by giants. Photography gave me the words to tell the stories of these incredible people and to find the humanity in them, making me realize time after time that we do, in fact, come from the same planet.

Because photography is how I talk about things. Things that matter to me.
And the only thing that matters to me is PEOPLE. And how freaking amazing they are.
And you know what the most beautiful thing is? I’ll never run out of things to say!

Now, have a look at some of these beautiful giants that I’ve met.

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If you’ve made it this far reading this WAY-TOO-LONG blog post, let me say something : THANK YOU.
Thank you so much for giving me some of your time, for allowing me to tell you my story and what my message is.

Lastly, let me ask you something: What do YOU talk about, with your language?

Nico

(A huge thank you to Scott Kelby, Brad Moore and all the team behind this amazing blog, you guys are teaching all of us SO MUCH time after time!)

Nicola is an Italian portrait photographer currently living in Melbourne, Australia. You can see more of his work at NicolaBernardi.com, and follow him on Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter.

Passion Tells the Story

We’d driven eight hours and gotten in later on Friday night than desired. We needed to be in place for the sunrise shoot the next morning, which with the alarm set for 04:45, we were ready to greet it. We’d been trying to make this shoot happen for a couple of months and had rescheduled it numerous times because of weather and smoke from a number of wildfires. While in theory if we got skunked, which does happen more times than not, we could reschedule the shoot again, but the time had been committed to now. So before turning off the lights for the night, sensors were cleaned, batteries charged and everything triple checked. The forecast for the next day was perfect so sleep came fast and hard. Then the alarm went off and it was time. We stepped out of the lodge with gear and coffee only to be greeted by overcast and a rainy mist. I looked up to see a low, dense coastal fog had rolled in and then I knew we were not going to see a sunrise. Off we went as if everything was going to plan. What other option is there? We were skunked this day, but as it turned out, the next morning the stars lined up, we flew and made the images we needed to tell the story.

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What continues to push and inspire my photography is a passion to tell the story. My greatest joy still comes when a critter is in my viewfinder sharing their world with me, so I can share it with you. I’m very fortunate to indulge in this love nearly every day. Then a number of years back, our photographic world grew when a closet passion for aviation was able to enter my viewfinder. It came at the right time in our photographic lives when we had the time, photographic tool chest and room in the heart to chase it down as we have critters for over three decades. And it’s with that critter and landscape background that we approached aviation.

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The correlations between the disciplines in our photography of critters and aviation are rather spooky. With critters it’s always been the relationship with the biologist as much as the critter that led to eventual success. With aviation, it’s the pilot as much as the aircraft that’s taking us in that same direction. The biologist and the pilot bring to life the story of the subjects who can’t speak for themselves. Because of this, just as our relationships with biologists have been the key to my photographic success with wildlife, it has turned out that our relationships with pilots are the reason for my success with aviation. And without any grand design, this all evolved into a book project, which at this time has no end point.

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The Flying Passion – History Alive in Today’s Aviators actually wasn’t a book project in the beginning. It all started with Chris’ portrait, what was originally just going to be an article. We have been good friends for some time, I’d photographed him in his OY-1 Sentinel air to air long ago (thanks Jake!). Tracking down its history he learned it flew over the beaches of Iwo Jima on landing day in WWII! Chris has a deep passion for flying, aircraft and history, and especially sharing all of that and so much more with others. Well his portrait turned out pretty good and as we all know, when photographers make a photo that works, we attempt to repeat it. The next one went well too, so did number three and four (I’m now up to number 43). The single article morphed into a series and that, well you guessed it, morphed into the book. But Chris’ portrait set the criteria for those included in the book, which is how the name Flying Passion came to be.

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As a visual storyteller sharing life’s events I’m so fortunate to witness, and the verbal stories I’m told, puts a huge load on my shoulders to share with others. It turns out taking the portraits is the easiest part of the book. Doing the interviews and writing up the accounts, now that’s a cranker! I think one pilot in particular really sums up the passion this project brings to my photography.

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Don Rolf’s story in aviation began in Southern California when he was 17, in 1939. Back then he was flying around So Cal in a 1931 Waco delivering airplane parts. He flew out of Monrovia Airport, which is now a shopping mall. Don didn’t realize it but on one of his approaches into Monrovia, his photograph was captured in what turned out to be a very historic image taken by a young photographer, Clancy Hess. Clancy, as fate would have it, also flew that exact same Waco back then and became a famous Naval photographer shooting in the Pacific during WWII. He also became a dear friend of mine. On D Day+1 Don found himself on Omaha Beach, and, as life would have it, he was in a special unit with the Army, not the Air Corp. The unit worked their way across Europe and Don has quite the stories about his adventures. The storytelling turns solemn when Don comes up to the Battle of the Bulge. His unit had to crawl between the Allied and German lines on those dark, cold, snowy days. They were putting orange flagging into place to direct the aerial attack for the P-47 Thunderbolts when the weather cleared. Can you imagine, bullets and shells flying overhead in both directions because no one knew they were there?! He tells the tale all the way up to when the P-47s were directly overhead and making their runs. Here he goes silent. The rest of the story goes untold, so we can only assume it’s too dreadful to be told.

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Well that exact same ’31 Waco that Don & Clancy and so many others flew in So Cal in the ‘30s still flies! It was restored by its current caretaker (as he prefers to say) and flown by our dear friend Warren. Sharon & I have flown many times in this gorgeous aircraft and have a real love affair with it. Warren being Warren, he seems to have vets gravitate to him and in this case, Don’s son reached out to Warren. Finding out that Warren owned the plane his dad had flown so long ago and that it still flies, he arranged to get his dad back into the Waco. Two months later Don was in Minot, ND with Warren at the stick flying him around. Don had the biggest smile you’d ever seen! Yes, Warren is very much a part of the Flying Passion project, as are Don and Clancy (who passed this last December). One aircraft touched the lives of these three aviators and time brought them all together. And our camera was there to tell their story. That’s what photography is all about!

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And there are SO MANY thousands upon thousands of stories like this out there waiting to be told! We learned this decades ago with critters and it was reinforced when we started working with pilots. The living history they have to share is overwhelming! And any one person can’t do it all! There are some really dedicated individuals and organizations out there working to preserve this history, but as you might imagine that’s still not enough. As you might also imagine, just wanting to take on any personal project no matter what the subject takes more than just the desire. It’s what gets you started and what keeps you going, feeding your passion, but there are some gaps and that’s why we share all that we do. One photograph can change the world!

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I’m very fortunate to have a special relationship with KelbyOne. (Hope you’re catching the drift, relationships are important in this business!) Sharing this story with them got them involved in my personal project and taking it to a new level. It first led to the production of our film, Warbirds and the Men Who Flew Them. The response was huge! From this we learned there is an audience on the edge of their seats (that in large part is you!) wanting to hear these stories and getting involved with it all. We’ve recognized the desire, so now we want to help with the tools to mix with that desire to take on that personal project.

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We literally need an army of photographers / videographers out there to record the story of our living history! Don is 93 this year and like many WWII vets, is creeping up to the end of his storytelling years. With this pressing need and the response to Warbirds, KelbyOne and I have produced two new classes on Pilot Portraits and Air to Air Photography. The first one comes out tomorrow to get you involved in the storytelling process. Both of these classes are based on the assumption you’re new to all of this and take you from the start to the very end, covering the basics to the most advanced. Small flash and small planes, big flash and big planes and everything in between is covered. Yeah, there is that camera gear and technique stuff thrown about in the classes, but it’s also just as much about building that all-important relationship and telling the story. Both projects are from the heart as much as the camera bag.

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Where do you start? Well in Pilot Portraits, you start by first making introductions and the simple portrait. Always working on making the uncommon from the common, we start at the hangar. With nothing more required than a camera and lens, I’ll show you by simply moving a subject back into a hangar you can find dramatic lighting to create that first portrait. That huge door wide open is a great light source and the hangar is a place pilots are very comfortable. Combining the two is how you introduce your skills and passion to the pilot that can lead to so much more, hopefully that air to air photo mission. In our Air to Air class, we also start in the beginning, which means on the ground. Light is what wraps up our visual storytelling and learning that on the ground is essential! How do you do that? You’ll see as we “fly” a model around looking at the light falling on it, the background and then the combo to tell the story. You learn just like the pilots do, in ground school before you take to the air. We’ve laid it all out for you so all you have to do is insert your passion to make it all come to life!

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Photographers come to photography often thinking the f/stop, shutter speed and Photoshop are the biggest challenges to be conquered to be successful. Not to scare you, but that’s the easiest and simplest to master in this craft. It’s not till after you think you understand light that the challenge really becomes personal and the mastery creeps along. Because it is then you must invest the most important ingredient for improvement, time! Personal projects where you invest your heart, time and personality to tell the visual story are the true calling of photography. Stories unfold every second of every day around the world providing us all with an opportunity to explore and invest, to fail and succeed in and what I still feel is the grandest pursuit in life. The ball is now in your court to move forward, just remember, passion tells the story!

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You can see more of Moose’s work at MoosePeterson.com, and follow him on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. Keep an eye out for his upcoming KelbyOne classes, Pilot Portraits and The Art of Air to Air!

Teaching a class here at KelbyOne is always an awesome experience. And my most recent project – DSLR Filmmaking: shooting a music video for the band Jule Vera – was certainly nothing short of just that.

There were a lot of differences with this project versus my past music videos –specifically the budget. For the first time I was able to buy sets, props, wardrobe, special lighting, and a smoke machine.

If you find yourself getting into a project like this, you must pay people. Pay them something, even if it’s $100. Paid people work better for you and it shows in the end. When hiring talent… DO NOT USE YOUR GIRLFRIEND! The lead singer always wants to put his favorite groupie as the lead. A month later, they break up, she’s now dating a lawyer, and your video never gets finished cause you get served papers. If you spend money on anything, spend money on a model or actor. You are going to spend so many hours editing this thing, that spending some money, even if it’s out of your own pocket to help out, will give you fuel for your portfolio and lead to bigger opportunities.

I knew the The Van’s Warped Tour of about 70 bands was coming into town, and there I could find the perfect up and coming band, looking for a free music video. I came across Jule Vera from Alabama, who had members that grew up here in Tampa. I was sent their not yet released album, and was told to pick any song I wanted. Die Trying! Holy cow, what a cinematic and epic piece! I think the word epic is highly overused and I’m never one to say it about bike rides or desserts, but this song was freaking epic.

A basic formula for a concept story telling video is twofold. You shoot the band telling the story, and then you shoot the actual story. The band is the storyteller, and the short film depicts the story the song is telling. You edit them together – and voila!

My concept was simple: A man is stuck in a leveled, unrecognizably burnt down town. A girl trapped in an altered reality full of peace and sunshine, but alone. Man finds girl. Girl is ripped from her reality. And the two go off into the future and have like 10 babies. The band, meanwhile, is telling the story while floating above the wreckage of rooftops, tops of trees and fog.

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To take my inspiration further, I studied the portfolio of my favorite artist who is a master of creating altered realities – Brooke Shaden. I pinned all her work that matched my theme to my desk wall, along with other ideas for pieces of the set, and lighting ideas. I listened to the song, over and over, as ideas came to me.

My friend Lindsay Adler came to the rescue, renting me two dresses for the price of one, from her online rental store www.dreamshootrentals.com. My singer would have a dress made out of a parachute with a bullet holster and all! My model would don an octopus-like dress. Both women flowing beautifully above this town burnt to hell. It was perfect. The story was all coming together.

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My producer, Jen Coffin, strolls up to my desk says “building a set with demolished rooftops and charred trees is just a tad way over budget.” I had no choice but to rethink my approach, but still keep within my theme. The dresses were on the way and the band now had serious expectations.

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With a little bit of creativity, resourceful budgeting, and a team of talented people, we came up with the idea of a burnt down house. Incorporate some key props and materials – creepy teddy bears, grand pianos, busted pallets, mulch – and now it was finally coming together.

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A fun idea the guys came up with was to set up 3 drum kits, and pile ashes on top of the heads. They played the song at twice the speed, so that when I would slow it back down in post to normal speed, the ashes would be in slow motion and rise from the drum heads. We had time at the end of the day so we gave it a shot, and it ended up being one of the most powerful parts of the video.

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Making this video was such an amazing experience and the lessons learned along the way are invaluable. Having talented people working for you like Daniel Bryant, who did all the compositing and effects, really took this video to the next level and I can’t thank him enough for all his hard work. I had a fun supportive crew, and it was a blast.

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The rewarding part for me was being able to go see them play live at 2 different cites. They got me a photo pass and I was able to shoot one of my other favorite artists, Bebe Rexha! What a fun experience overall.

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I hope you’ll enjoy my vision unfold and maybe take away a thing or two that can help you in your next project.

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You can see more of Adam’s work at AdamShotIt.com, and follow him on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Plus, see his class DSLR Filmmaking: Shooting a Music Video when it’s added to the KelbyOne library tomorrow!

Take control

One of the things I encounter a lot during talks with attendees to my workshops or seminars is that a lot of photographers struggle with their light. Now I don’t want to generalize, but I think for a lot of shooters out there this is a reoccurring problem.

One could almost say, “Most photographers are controlled by their lighting, while a photographer should be in control of their lighting.”

In photography light is our language, so it’s of vital importance to learn to speak that language. I hear you thinking, “But I don’t have expensive gear to fight the sun, or to manipulate light.” And I agree, some images that you see online will be hard to get without a powerful strobe, but don’t worry. That’s not what this blog is about.

Take Photoshop As An Example. When you start Photoshop it all looks incredibly intimidating right?
Where to start?
What to do?
Help…

The same thing happened to me. And some books or videos don’t help either, it just makes it more complicated. For me a lot changed when I learned about Scott. He explained things very easily and gave me the tools I needed to progress. No smoke and mirrors or overcomplicating stuff, just the bare essentials from which you can build and add (ending up with some more complicated actions, but understanding what they do and why you use them).

When we look at lighting, we see the same thing. Often things are explained the “wrong” way or just way too complicated. I always tell my students to remember one thing… Photography is an old art, so this means that in the past people with very primitive gear were able to do it. You should be able to do the same (or even better), but also it’s an art form. Now let’s look at two topics and give you some tips to improve your photography (almost instantaneous).

  1. Photography Is Light
    This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Without light there would not be anything to register (unless you love taking the same black/depressing shot every time). The excuse often heard is that someone doesn’t own brand X or modifier Y, so he/she is limited in what they can do….Let’s be honest. We all used the excuse at least once.

In essence it’s very important to realize that light is everywhere. There is absolutely no light source that should be labeled as “not fit for photography.” For example, take the following shot which was done with one bare light bulb.

6b7f-aa6d-a0b8-52baWe used two painted walls we put together in a slight angle to get the walls close together and get a sort of “captured” feeling. The thing to remember is to get the lightbulb close to the model, due to the light fall-off that will be faster when the lightbulb is close, the contrast in the scene will be greater and in my opinion more dramatic.

Now up the ante a little bit and use chandeliers you can buy from eBay.

c8a6-ea4a-0147-bfcdThis shot was done with just the light from the chandelier. We added some extra elements between the same walls (now repainted), and also added another light source in the form of the branches with lights. You do need to shoot on high ISO for this and a longer shutter speed, so coach your model to stay still. Oh and don’t worry about the high-ISO noise. In today’s cameras this will be a non-issue for print or web. If you look at your screen 1:1 you will see noise but that will not show up on most prints, and otherwise just…. Call it intentionally arty :D

As soon as you master this, what holds you back to add a little bit of strobes and maybe some smoke?

43dc-ff5d-4fc2-017eBy chancing the position of the chandelier you can control the lighting. We used some smoke in the back to create a mood, and we created a small opening between the two walls and placed a strip light behind it on the lowest possible setting. Because the walls are taking away a lot of light, you can get away with this. If your strobe is emitting too much light try to put the modeling light on full power and don’t trigger the strobe (thus making the strobe another constant light source).

Understanding what light does is the first step in becoming a better photographer. I strongly believe that if one starts out shooting with the most simple light sources, one could progress very quickly. Instead, some people start out with a complete studio kit and a DSLR they hardly know; it’s a recipe for disaster. The best tip I can give someone is to start learning their camera. Know it by heart so you don’t struggle on the set. When you know what all the little knobs do, start shooting with the free light source available to everyone, “Natural light.” Yep, it’s all around us and it’s called the sun. Don’t be afraid of the harsh quality of the sun during midday, for model photography this can be a blessing. In fact I always joke around that where landscape photographers have to get up in the early mornings and wait for that last piece of light in the afternoon, we fashion shooters can actually work all day. But then again I just love those harsh shadows.

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All natural light shots. Always remember that shadows are the soul of a shot. They create dimensionality and could be labeled as “the photographers best friend (if understood).”

  1. the power of the shot
    Some people call it storytelling, some call it the WOW factor… In essence it doesn’t matter as long as you know what I mean, and that is making a shot that make people look again and again, or in short how to go from okay to WOW.

I have to be honest… For years I’ve been trying to describe this process and I simply can’t, so I just ended up calling it the “X-factor.” Yeah, pretty lame right? But it’s true.

And sometimes it’s just an expression like this shot. We took this on the boat to England for our UK tour. It’s just available light with the boat in the background, but the model’s expression does it for me.

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But often it’s also the styling, the angle and the expression/pose of the model like in this pure natural light shot.

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In fact one can shoot a model in great styling in front of a cathedral with awesome lighting, but it can still be very boring. However…. Choose a lower angle, include the sun in the picture and make the model pose a bit more powerfully, and voila! We go from, “Nice model and nice location,” to, “WOW what an awesome shot!”

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Without a doubt, one can learn and master lighting, but that “X-Factor,” that’s a bit trickier. I always tell people to look at photography they love and analyze WHY they love it. When you really dig deep into your psyche, it’s almost never JUST the lighting. It’s always something more… Styling, mood, expression, it’s “always” the whole feel of the picture. And now we are actually back at square one.

When you look at those old photographs you hardly see any spectacular strobe work, for the simple reason that there were no spectacular strobes back then, what you do see is a capture of someone’s character, of the perfect pose, clothing in combination with for example an animal (think about Avedon’s model with an elephant), or just a street scene that really captures your imagination.

We as fashion/people photographers are often relying way too much on our gear, as long as we use loads of strobes (10 preferred) and throw the model in front of the most awesome location with extreme clothing… it will work… However we often forget the most important thing about photography….

We Tell Stories With Light
So don’t forget the story, but most of all…. Master your lighting and with todays tools like KelbyOne and the internet in general there are many places to learn. Don’t skip to the heavy stuff however, but start with controlling your camera and a simple light bulb and build from there. Because, trust me on this one, if you understand your lighting you can really focus on the story.

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You can see more of Frank’s work and blog at FrankDoorhof.com, follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, pick up his book Mastering The Model Shoot, and keep an eye on KelbyOne tomorrow for his brand new class Shooting Fashion On Location!

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(Note from Brad: Last week was Matt’s first time attending Photoshop World, and I thought it would be interesting to get his fresh-eyed take on it. Take it away, Matt!)

Only days after attending this year’s Photoshop World, I sit in 124 degree heat in Death Valley, CA to write this blog post – and my head is still spinning from the experience. My wife has had the good fortune of listening to me tell her the same (exciting) stories over and over.

A longtime friend of Brad (pre-beard) from Connecticut, I made my first trip out to Las Vegas to attend the conference and also embark on a photo excursion of a few of the National Parks. Although drawn to landscape photography, I am most often found capturing people expressing themselves culturally and/or creatively. As someone struggling to transition into full time photography as a career, the knowledge and inspiration I gained from Photoshop World is invaluable.

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My whirlwind of a week began with an in-depth pre-convention workshop on concert photography by Alan Hess and Scott Diussa. In it, they shared their experience and practical instruction from years of shooting bands around the world. As part of the workshop I then had the opportunity to put those lessons into practice by shooting a live band. I can’t imagine a more exciting way to start the week than the rush of adrenaline I experienced hustling to obtain my best possible shots during the industry standard limit of just 3 songs!

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Ready for the conference to officially begin, I went over to the First Time Attendee Orientation where Larry Becker made sure all of us first- timers felt comfortable and provided tips on utilizing all the conference had to offer. Later that evening during the Photoshop World Meet-up, attendees had the opportunity to hang out in the lounge with instructors in a casual environment. I was impressed and a little surprised at how accessible and friendly everyone was. 

The next three days were jam-packed with classes on virtually every aspect of photography, videography, and post-processing one could imagine. Deciding which classes to attend proved to be the most challenging part of the week as they all looked so appealing. I honestly got something out of every one I attended. Instructors Glyn Dewis, Jeremy Cowart, Roberto Valenzuela, and Jay Maisel were especially inspiring; while the business tips from photographers Tim Wallace, Frank Salas, and David Ziser will be extremely beneficial to implement in my own business. Not to mention the practical techniques demonstrated by Peter Hurley, Joe McNally, Lindsay Adler, Frank Doorhof, and Erik Valind. Ah, there were so many other amazing photographers/instructors that I did not have a chance to see. I guess I will just have to wait until next year!

Besides a wide array of classes, the Expo was full of new and innovative products and photo-related technology to try out. This included areas to take test shots using different lighting setups, as in these photos I took while walking past the Westcott booth.

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During the Natural Light Shoots, I jumped at the opportunity to pull out my camera and practice photographing a model using only the existing sunlight to create beautiful images.

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As part of this shoot, a chapel was also reserved with models available to practice photographing a bride and groom using only the available light. 

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I had a blast working with the models and instructors and picked up a few new tricks that I will use in photographing weddings and special events in the future.

Although one can participate in as many or as few events as they wish, I easily filled up my days and my nights and made several new friends along the way. In the weeks ahead, I plan to dive into the nearly 600 page workbook of notes provided by Scott Kelby from all the classes given during the conference. With this wealth of information at my fingertips I can read up on those classes I missed as well as review all that I’ve learned. Photoshop World has already been added to my calendar for 2016…come and find me if you decide to check it out next year. I promise you won’t be disappointed!

Now, back into the sand dunes I go, armed with my camera, a flashlight, and a gallon of water (so I don’t die).

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You can see more of Matt’s work at 500px, follow him on Instagram, Twitter, or sign up for next year’s Photoshop World and come hang with him in person!

Hi, I'm a guy from Arkansas.

People pay me to take pictures sometimes, and sometimes they don't. Today is a day where no one is paying me to take pictures, so I'm writing this blog post because Brad Moore asked me to, and he seems like a nice guy (on the internet).

I've been shooting pictures for the last seven years as my only source of income, but that doesn't necessarily mean I shoot "full time" – some months are slow, and some months I can barely keep up, and most months are somewhere in the middle. Photography feeds my family, pays my mortgage, and sometimes I get to buy beer, which is quite honestly everything I could have ever hoped for in life.

I shoot for the New York Times, Reuters, Getty, AP, various magazines, blah blah blah, who cares⦠I have a camera and some gear and I'll point it at pretty much anything I'm paid to point it at.

I know quite a few photographers, and the ones who are successful year after year are the ones who shoot to earn a living and pay their bills, while the ones who want to be cute and vintage and Instagram-famous usually end up becoming real estate agents.

So if you're afraid you might be getting dangerously close to listing your first home, here's one of the more important things I've learned in my career as a photographer:

If your pictures are boring, try making them way more complicated.

Most people will tell you to keep it simple, stupid – but in my opinion, its actually really difficult to make a simple photo interesting enough to build a career on. These days, everyone has a camera and maybe even a light or two, and the internet is flooded with simple photos that really aren't that memorable.

The only way to get anyone's attention in the current photography market is to try things that are complicated, difficult, and a gigantic hassle – but when its done right, it pays off. By going the extra mile to try something crazy, you are telling your client (and more importantly, your future clients) that you'll stop at nothing to give them exactly what they want, and much more.

Get in the water. Use a dozen lights. Wake up at dawn. Contact whoever you have to contact to get a permit. Spend an entire week diagraming and outlining your setup, and your backup setup, and your backup to your backup. Pre-light it. Rent gear if you don't own it. Hire models that know what they're doing. Take your time. Make photos that no one in their right mind would go to the trouble to make. If your models aren't working, get new ones. If your location sucks, change it.

Most photographers don't get into this business to get their hands dirty, and sweat, and spend twelve hours pre-lighting a shoot, but that's what it takes these days. Getting everything to work right is obviously much harder when you complicate it, but in the end, that's what makes you better, and that's what separates you from the pack.

The biggest hindrance to your career as a photographer is not the limits placed on you by everyone else, it's the limits you place on yourself.

Don't dumb yourself down to match the attitude of everyone around you, and don't shoot crap photos just because it's a crap paycheck.

Treat every shoot like it's the cover of Vanity Fair, and your entire career is riding on getting this one shot right, and trust me – your business will grow like never before.

Now, since this is a photography blog, here's a few of my pictures…

You can see more of Jacob’s work at JacobSlaton.com, and follow him on Instagram and Twitter.

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