Hi Gang: it’s my annual tradition to kick off the New Year with a quick look back at the most popular, and most commented-upon posts of 2015 here on my blog, and some of the fun stuff we shared during the past year.
This year, I’m doing it a little bit differently, and breaking it into categories (so it’s more than just a long list — but something you can explore), so let’s kick it off with the top 5 GUEST BLOGS of 2015.
NOTE:These were chosen based on the total number of comments garnered by their posts.
Kevin’s post was the #1 most commented-on guest post of the year, and when you read it (and see the images), you’ll know why. It’s the story of how he quit his job to become a wedding photographer, and a darn amazing one he is at that (he did the right thing). Very well written — beautiful images — and you’ll learn a lot from it. It has everything that makes a guest blog post great. You owe it to yourself to read it, even if you don’t shoot weddings. Here’s the link to Kevin’s guest post.
Kaylee’s post about becoming a Dog Photographer, and how she works with dogs (I swear, she’s a dog whisperer), really enchanted readers (she had over 100 comments!), and people just love her (heck, we love her — you’ll be seeing a lot more of Kaylee at KelbyOne in 2016). Here’s the link to her guest post.
With nearly 100 comments, Nick really resonated with the community here. He had such clever hot shoe flash techniques that we asked him back to expand on some of them. This is really useful, real world stuff, and he did a great job of showing you what he did, and how easy it was to pull off. Very useful, fun, and interesting. You’ll want to check it out. Here’s the link to his Guest Blog.
I’ve been a fan of Regina’s work for years, and she’s been a guest blogger here before sharing her work, and this time she shared the entire process, including post production, for creating her amazing portraits. Of course, what makes Regina special as a photographer is more than just where she puts the light or how she does her post processing, but I think it’s awesome that she was willing to share those with us. Here’s the link to Regina’s Guest Post.
David’s post is a bold, revealing, honest, intriguing, and just wonderful piece of work. There is so much to learn from his story. You’ll be shocked. Inspired. Motivated. Stunning. And it holds the power to change how you think about you, your career, and where you are on your photography journey. I’m so impressed with what David did. You will be, too. Here’s the link to David’s post.
This is really good stuff I hope today, at some point, you take the time to give these few articles a read. They are so good. Each one has it’s own bent, but they will make motivate you, make you laugh, inspire you, inform you, make you cry, make you rethink thinks, teach you new things, and I promise they will be worth your time.
Also, I want to thank these photographers, and all the Guest Bloggers who share their time and techniques here each year. It’s a lot of work, and they take it very seriously, and it shows. I’m very grateful (and I know my readers are, too).
Tomorrow, has some good stuff, too! Today’s picks were based on how many commented. For Tomorrow’s “Best of the Blog” I’m picking five Guest Blog Posts that were underrated — great posts that, for whatever reason, didn’t get that many comments. If you got a lot out of these posts today, you’ll definitely want to check them out tomorrow.
What Makes Twilight So Vital to Great Architectural Photography As photographers, we have a special relationship with the sun. Its availability and character defines our schedules, our styles, even our equipment. If you think about it, our relationship with the sun is almost poetic. We’re driven by its rise and fall, celebrating these golden hours with the applause of the shutter.
The golden hour and twilight are important to most of us, but they’re absolutely vital for architectural photographers. Beyond the dramatic skies and soft, directional light, there’s one important factor that is almost exclusively important to architecture:
At dawn and dusk, the interior light of a building is as bright as the ambient light of the sky.
It sounds simple, but it’s worth reading that statement twice. Why is this balance of light so valuable? Throughout the rest of the day, the light of the sun is dramatically brighter than the power of any interior light, and it takes a lot of labor, gear and technique to create an artificial balance.
How an Architectural Photographer Creates an Artificial Balance Between dawn and dusk, the core of an architectural photographer’s job is to create that artificial balance of light with equipment and technique. When photographing an interior space, it’s our job to create a realistic, inviting image of a room. The challenge is that the natural dynamic range of the human eye far exceeds the capability of modern DSLR sensors. To counter this, we use software to blend bracketed exposures or we use complicated off-camera lighting techniques to create balance.
There are pros and cons to either of these common techniques. HDR photography cannot distinguish between color casts from different light sources, and interior spaces often appear dusty and overcooked when processed. Off camera lighting is difficult to learn, labor-intensive to execute and easy to get wrong. No matter what technique a photographer uses, the ability to create a realistic, balanced image is the central challenge of the job.
At twilight, the challenge is easiest to conquer. As I said earlier: at dawn and dusk, the interior light of a building is often as bright as the ambient light of the sky. A photographer can capture a usable image of a space without as much reliance on complicated technique.
Twilight in Practice: How to Let The Light Work for You Both the golden hour and twilight are valuable for both indoor and outdoor architectural photography. In most cases, architectural photographers use twilight to capture exterior images of a building. It can be just as valuable indoors, as dramatic views can be pulled into an interior space without as much emphasis on technique.
Outdoors, the relative brightness of interior lighting allows the camera to capture detail that it couldn’t see during the day. During full daylight, windows appear nearly black relative to the bright exterior light. The scene is completely different when the ambient light of the sky is on par with interior light. This adds a different dimension to the image, leading the eye from the scenery around a building to the space within.
While there is plenty of opportunity to improve an image with lighting technique at twilight, a photographer really only needs one tool to capture a great exterior image at dusk — a strong, sturdy tripod.
Indoors, twilight can be just as valuable to an architectural photographer. The light of the setting sun is more likely to be in balance with interior lighting. Rooms with large windows and doorwalls can benefit from golden hour light. A sunset creates a more vivid and enjoyable scene, but it also allows for a natural balance that is tough to find during the day.
Advice for a Beginner: Focus on Timing, Not Technique, for Your First Architectural Shoot I’m often asked for advice from photographers who have a space to shoot but don’t quite know how. They ask if they should try HDR or use a speedlight, and I usually direct them away from both. Why? HDR is very easy to do poorly, and off-camera lighting is like learning a new language. So I suggest that my friends avoid trying new techniques the first time, and instead focus on shooting at the right time of day.
If you find yourself tasked with photographing a building or a home, consider scheduling for the golden hour and twilight. Pick your shots well, because time flies and the exposures can be long. Shoot brackets to have a few base images to choose from, and always shoot raw. You’ll have a lot of leeway with the shadows and highlights sliders in Lightroom, so if your shot is naturally in balance thanks to evening light, you might be pleased with how great your shoot looks after a little bit of massaging.
The value of twilight is an important lesson not only for beginners, but for professionals alike. No matter how well you master the techniques of architectural photography, timing will always be of the essence.
Seamus Payne is a Tampa, Florida based architecture photographer. You can see more of his architecture, food and editorial photography projects at SeamusPayne.com, and feel free to follow him on Instagram and Facebook. Beyond his work as a photographer, Seamus produces short documentary films and writes about design on TheCoolist.com.
Your Calendar Isn’t Your To-Do List… It’s Who You Want To Be. Last week I was in a conversation with my pastor, Tommy, who was talking about counseling people regarding their lives and relationships. He mentioned talking with people who have these big aspirations of things they want to do with their lives… Become a pilot, get their black belt, write a book, etc. Yet when he asks if they have the steps toward doing those things on their calendar, they don’t. And that’s when he said the thing that’s stuck with me since… “Your calendar isn’t your to-do list. It’s who you want to be.” If they were serious about these things, they would be scheduling time for them. Otherwise they’re just pipe dreams.
Every year, Tommy and his wife Sarah map out their family calendar to be sure they make time for the important things: Date nights with each other, family time together, one on one time with each of their three kids, evenings on the porch remembering the past and discussing the future. They’re not just going about their lives and marriage haphazardly. They’re being purposeful about it and planning for the future they want together.
So all of this got me thinking about my own life. Am I just taking things a day at a time, or am I planning and taking steps to become the person I want to be? Am I saying yes to the things I want to do and that are important to me? Am I saying no to the things that are just distractions and won’t mean anything a year from now? Have I been taking advantage of my free time and using it to better myself and accomplish the things I want to accomplish in life? Or have I been wasting it away in the vast, bottomless, never-ending (though very entertaining) vacuum that is Netflix and giving in to every distraction that pops up?
As we draw near to the end of 2015, I’m going to invite you to join me in making a plan for 2016. Grab a calendar and think about the things you want to accomplish in the next 12 months. Then figure out the steps you need to take each month, week, and day to accomplish those things and put those steps on the calendar. And along the way, say no to the things that are just distractions from accomplishing those goals. If you get to the point where you have so much on your plate that you can’t handle it all, learn to ask for help and delegate the things that don’t require your full attention to others.
If you know you have a habit of starting strong but not finishing, plan for that. If one of your goals is to get in better shape, maybe just joining a gym isn’t enough. Maybe you need to take the extra step of hiring a personal trainer or enlisting a friend who will hold you accountable. If you want to up your photography game, watch some classes and read some books, but don’t stop there. Actually schedule shoots and make time to experiment with new techniques. Explore other genres of photography outside of what you normally shoot to see what looks and techniques you can apply to your own work.
What if you’re not happy with where you are but you don’t know where you want to be? Ask the people in your life to describe you. What traits do they see when they think about you? Are you a strong leader? Do you find joy in helping people? Are you happiest when you’re working by yourself or with others? Do you like variety or repetition? Ask yourself the age old question… What would you do if you could do anything and money didn’t matter? Then figure out what steps you can take now to start working toward that.
This isn’t a set of New Year’s resolutions that are going to be abandoned by March. Put the steps on your calendar and stick to them. Seek support through friends, family, prayer, community, and any other ways you can stay accountable to yourself. Learn to adjust to the things that life throws at you without abandoning what’s important to you. Let’s make 2016 our best year yet!
Death Valley Landscapes and Night Sky Workshop Trip Report I just finished up the Death Valley workshop and we had an amazing time! I was unsure of what to expect due to the recent floods in the park. All the roads were closed due to flood damage except the main road. Going to some of my favorite places like The Racetrack and Badwater would not be an option with all the water damage! I shifted gears and decided to go to Valley of Fire instead for part of the workshop, but the night before the workshop started, we got news the Racetrack was now dry and we could walk on it! Plus the road to Badwater and Devil’s Golf Course opened up, just in time. The workshop was back on track in Death Valley as planned!
We spent our time with lectures on night photography and out in the field photographing the stark, but beautiful landscapes and night scenes. One night, we headed out to the Rhyolite Ghost Town and had a blast light painting the old buildings. We used red, blue and green lights to paint the abandoned town with the stars providing a beautiful backdrop. Out of nowhere, a donkey hee-haws across the street from us. It was so loud! Perhaps it was telling us that we were disturbing its sleep. We finished our night photographing an old car with the stars in the background and then headed back to our hotel for some much needed rest.
The morning light was beautiful at Zabriskie Point. We enjoyed seeing the pink glow of twilight, known as the Belt of Venus. Watch for the pink glow in the sky about 10-20 degrees above the horizon, just before sunrise or after sunset.
We took a road trip to The Grandstand and The Racetrack, renting jeeps to protect our tires. It was cold and breezy but we photographed the racing rocks through sunset and then stars, despite the cold!
I love the sand dunes. The forms and shapes have endless possibilities for compositions with sand patterns, animal footprints and s-curve shapes. We photographed at twilight and then with the sun, as it rose over the dunes.
Our last evening had howling wind gusts throughout the park. We decided to stay inside and did some additional lectures. The following morning was our last shoot. The weather report predicted even stronger winds but it was beautiful and calm. The hexagonal shapes, created by the drying salt, made for a delightful pattern. There were storm clouds hanging above Badwater adding drama. We saw some mammatus clouds, meaning breast clouds, that you can see in the gallery of images below. They have a cellular pattern of pouches that are under the base of another cloud. Overall, a great last photographic outing and a wonderful trip!
Your kids… Your spouse… The places you have been… The sunsets you have seen… The smiles of strangers and oh so familiar grins of your family…
Photographs reflect the memories that tie our lives together. They are the parties, the vacations, the first kiss and the last days They are the moments that live in our hearts and stir our souls. They define us. Both in our work, and in our professions….
But too often, we get caught up in the technology of photography…the race for more megapixels and faster lenses. We don’t stop to embrace our families and friends and find ways to share the photographs of our lives in meaningful ways.
But you know what? All those pictures, those moments, those special times that define us are completely worthless if you can’t find them.
Everyone needs to make sure the pictures that matter in you life can be found quickly and easily. And they better be safe and backed up. We owe this to ourselves, and to the people we love. I know I am guilty of taking the easy road sometimes with my pictures. Forgetting to rename or add keywords when I ingest files. We all do it. It’s like flossing… you know you should… you just forget sometimes.
The same things go for our photographs. Sometimes, we just don’t take the time to set ourselves up for success. Oh we all have our own MacGyver solutions… This piece of software and this drive and that drive and this cloud and that cloud. If it works, keep going. If it doesn’t, then call me! But can you find the pictures from your vacation to the Grand Canyon 2 years ago? Where are they? What computer, what drive… How long is this gonna take!?
So light of recent tragic world events, and the impending emotions and wonder of the holidays, I decided to take my “hit by a bus” test and see where I would be if anything happened to me today. Would my family find all the pictures that matter in our lives? Would my professional legacy be preserved? Would the defining moments of my life be shared with the ones I love?
(And before any of you think this is a morbid exercise, think about why you have life insurance, or homeowner’s insurance. We never ever expect the worst to happen, but if it does, your family is secure. We cannot predict the future.)
So here goes. 5 pictures that define parts of my life. Seminal moments that I will always remember. Its part of my history and my life, and I found them in moments.
So the reality. I have been to 70 countries in my life and seen lots and lots of crazy things covering the world. I have over 2 million digital files and slides on various drives and stuck in boxes in storage. But I have a tapestry of about 1000 images that define me. The who, what and where of my life. The images that I want my family to have. These images mean so much to me.
So can you find your best, your defining, most personal moments? Are they organized, are they on all your devices? Are they with you all the time? Mine are. And I can put my hands on them in seconds. They are on my computer at home, the laptop I travel with, on my iPad and my iPhone. They are on my Windows Surface at the office and on a separate drive at my mom’s house in Virginia, and a NAS at my home. And I just do all this with a few quick actions and I am done.
Please please please take some time this holiday season to reflect on your lives, pray for peace, do good for others, and find the pictures that define your life and share them with your family.
Kevin Gilbert is a 30 year photojournalist, entrepreneur, teacher, Panasonic Lumix Luminary, and the memory evangelist at Mylio, a Bellevue, WA software company building products to help us all find our pictures, make them safe, and have they with you all the time. Keep an eye out for his Inspirational Interview with Mia McCormick releasing tomorrow at KelbyOne.com!
Hello everyone, I’m Rob Foldy and I’m a freelance commercial sports photographer based just outside of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. I’ve been a friend of Scott and Brad’s for quite a while now and they have asked me to share with you some images and tales from a recent shoot. As always, I’m extremely humbled to be asked to share with you.
Not too long ago, I was asked to photograph each of the Miami Heat players before the start of the 2015-16 season for one of my clients, Getty Images. The most common opportunity to photograph professional or college athletes is on what’s called “media day.” If you’ve never heard of media day, it’s basically a day dedicated for all of the players on a team to fulfill various media needs, from still photographs to radio broadcasts to television interviews. This is a very busy day for the athletes. I’ve had the pleasure of covering a fair number of these over my career for different teams and organizations, and I’ve been able to pick up a few tips and tricks from others as well as stumbling upon some of my own.
Allow me to explain a bit more of how the photo section of these “media days” work. For basketball, most of the activity takes place on the practice court at the team’s home arena. The team/league, and typically a large local paper, will do photos as well, but traditionally in different locations around the arena. I don’t know exactly what else these players were required to participate in on that day, but I know there were at least 7 different sets of photographers from various newspapers and wire services set up and making portraits in the same room that I was in.
This is one of the first challenges. It’s a technical challenge with all of those strobes firing and all of the other distractions, but it’s also difficult to make a strong, unique image when these players are pumping out the same photos for various photographers as if they were on an assembly line. I don’t mean that to belittle any of those agencies or photographers, and those photos are very good and very important. However, my assignment was to make something different than the other photographers there that day, and I took it upon myself to strive for what I hoped to be a different image than anyone shooting any of the various teams and players throughout the country. Where as the other media day portraits are used for editorial work or television, the images from Getty are often used in advertising campaigns or for other commercial purposes.
I’ll start with the gear stuff. I know when I first started reading this blog the gear stuff is the first thing I’d look for. So if you’re like me, here you go. I used Elinchrom BRX monolights (a BRX250 and three 500s) with the Skyport triggering system, two Westcott strip banks for side/back lights, a basic Elinchrom reflector to light the background, and an Elinchrom beauty dish with the silver deflector (with and without the diffusion sock) as my front light. I shoot with both a Canon 5Ds body mounted to an EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens, and a 1DX body with an EF 85mm f/1.8 USM lens. The 50 plus megapixels of the 5Ds gave the images a ton of detail, while the low noise capabilities of the 1DX, along with the 12 frames per second motor drive, allowed me to shoot using just the modeling lights and capture the exact moment of the player’s expression that I was after.
I wore my Spider Holster dual camera system so that I could easily switch between camera bodies or have my hands completely free, and tethered into Lightroom on my laptop (just the 5Ds, as that was my “primary” camera). Every client wants things done a bit differently, and for Getty I always shoot JPEG. (I’ve had to familiarize myself with a lot of functions in my Canon cameras that I didn’t really know were there to help get my JPEGs as close to perfect as I can right out of the camera). I shot large JPEG plus RAW for this shoot just so I had a backup, but I’m proud to say that I was able to use my standard JPEG workflow for all of the photos that I delivered. Below is an iPhone photo of my setup.
As you can see, it’s not a typical portrait setup, so let me explain a little more about media day. Photographers get, on average, about 2 minutes with each of the players before they’re onto their next commitment. They move from one photographer directly to the next. How do I make good portraits, much less ones that are unique, in less than 2 minutes?! That’s where this dual background setup comes in. I can get two different looks with one lighting setup, without my subject really having to move or reposition. I cannot take any credit for this idea. A good friend and Getty staff photographer, Mike Ehrmann, told me about it and uses it himself, as do many other very talented shooters.
But, like anything I learn, I try to adapt it and make it my own. Although I used the two background idea that Mike had used, he traditionally uses it with all of the light coming from the front. It gets more difficult when you try to add lights behind the subject as well. But, if done correctly, I can get 3 different looks, each of those with a few different expressions, giving my clients a good variety despite only having the players for a short period of time.
I’ll start with my “main” setup. I shot these straight on, strobed, white background shots with the 5Ds and 70-200, ISO 100, 1/160th of a second, somewhere around f11. Before you give me too much grief about the players sitting down, like the great portrait photographer Peter Hurley did, let me explain to you why. I agree that most of the time portrait photographs look best when your subject(s) are standing, but there are a few problems with that on media day.
The first being that I’m trying to make a different photo than everyone around me, and everyone else has the athletes standing. But the main reason why I have them sit is more psychological than physical. I try to set up my little “portrait station” to be welcoming and comfortable. When the players walked up, instead of posing them and asking them to stand one way or the other, and then turn and pose some other way, I simply introduced myself and asked them to sit down, put their feet up, and make themselves comfortable. “Imagine you’re just chillin’ on your couch at home watching TV…except for some reason you’re holding a basketball.” I’ve found that an approach like this gets them out of the “routine” of media day, and into something along the lines of, “Wait a minute, I’ve never taken a photo like this before.” I try to make them feel relaxed. Sure I have an agenda/shot list in my head, but I don’t tell them that, I let the photographs come to me.
For this shot I knew I wanted some more serious photos, but also something with a bit of that specific player’s personality. If I were to ask them to smile, the players would just give me what I have nicknamed their “media day smile.” So if they did, I would jokingly say to them something along the lines of, “Come on man, that ain’t your real smile. Give me the smile you would give me if I told you I was sending this photo to your mom.” Bam. You’re in.
But photos of people smiling are a dime a dozen, so how do I make something different? Something genuine, something that really shows their personality, but do it in less than a minute? I have found a trick that seems to work pretty well for me. After I snap a few frames, I drop the camera in my Spider Holster and walk up to them like I’m about to tell them a secret. In the pros, a lot of these guys are married, so my conversation with them usually goes something like this: “Hey man, are you married? (If yes, keep going, if no, skip ahead a few lines.) Okay, well, let’s go back a few years to before you were married, okay? Okay, so you’re out at the club with your buddies, the place is packed, everyone is having a good time. You see this group of girls walk by and they are smokin’ hot. You realize one of them keeps checking you out, you think she’s worth getting to know a little better, so the next time you catch her looking your way, you give her ‘the look.’”
At this point, they are usually snickering because they know exactly the look you’re talking about. “You know the look I mean? I call it the ‘ay girl’ look.” (I now demonstrate my best attempt at the “look.”) “I’m going to walk back over there, but when I count to three, do you think you can give that look to the camera?” Admittedly it works on some guys right out of the gate and others not so much, but it gets them out of their own way and continues to get them to relax. If they try the look and it doesn’t work, that’s usually followed by laughter. Like Dr. Hurley says: sometimes it’s not the face you’re after, but the smile you get right after the face.
So at this point, hopefully they’re playing ball with you (yes, I just made a basketball pun). That’s when I holster the 70-200 and grab the 1DX with the 85mm. I have this camera set to Monochrome JPEG, and on the 1DX cameras you can adjust the sharpness and contrast, as well as apply filter and toning effects for black and white images right in the camera. My exposure settings were somewhere in the neighborhood of ISO 1600, f2 and 1/500th shutter. I shot these in black and white for a few reasons. One, I like black and white images. Two, I shot these only using the modeling lights from the flashes, so I knew a ton of mixed color temperature ambient light would be creeping into my photos and my white balance would be a mess.
Free from the tethering cable and not having to wait for lights to recycle, I was able to keep those looks and expressions coming while they were still trying to make a good “ay girl” face, and the subsequent laughter that follows. My good friend David Santiago from the Miami Herald took this photo of me while I was trying to shoot just that. (Oh yeah, that’s another distraction. In addition to the portrait shooters, a lot of papers or agencies will cover the event overall, so there are people shooting photos and video of you as you’re shooting photos of the athletes.)
I like to get in really close with the 85mm. It may make the subject a bit uncomfortable at first, but in the end, they’re all real human beings like us, and they want to look good in the photos. A lot of times they’ll ask to see the photos on the back of the camera. If they like them, you’re in even better shape moving forward.
I still know that I’m on a time crunch, so once I know I have what I need from the front, I tell the players that they’re almost done, I just have to make a few more frames. I re-holster the 1DX, grab the 70-200 again and head over to the side so I can shoot them against the black background. (Below is another photo from David Santiago. You can see another photographer’s setup right next to mine, and there’s another one next to that, and 4 more on the adjacent wall.)
This shot also requires some foresight. Remember how I mentioned that someone had told me about the two background idea, but that all of their light was coming from the front? Well, if I were to fire all 4 of my lights and shoot from the side, my photo would be a mess. There would be light spilling into the lens, the strip banks would probably be in the frame, and it would just not be the image I wanted. I’ve used other brands of lights and triggers in the past, and my work-around was to plug the background light and strip banks into a power strip and then just turn off the switch before taking the shot on the black background. That worked, but is not ideal. By using the Elinchrom Skyport system, I had the background light, the strip banks, and the beauty dish all in separate groups. This not only allowed me to turn each of the groups up and down individually, but also allowed me to fire just the beauty dish.
To close, I’d like share with you a story from a few years ago… I was shooting another team with a similar setup and was trying to use the same tricks. It was towards the end of the day and honestly I was starting to get tired. I was pretty far away from this player who was a bit larger than some of the other guys, so I was zoomed all the way in towards 200mm, and instead of walking over to him and really selling the “girls in the club” story, I kinda gave a brief explanation from across the room. After I’m finished I ask him for the “ay girl” look and he gives me something. Not perfect, but not bad. I shot a few more at that distance and then came in close with my 85. I ask “hey, give me that ‘ay girl’ look one more time.” “OH! You were saying ‘ay girl’, that makes a lot more sense. I thought you were saying ‘egg roll’.” I lost it. My assistant, the other photographers near by, the player’s handler, he and I we were all cracking up. “The rest of those guys were giving me that look thinking they were giving it to an attractive girl, you gave it to me for an egg roll!” “What can I say, man, I really like egg rolls.”
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this, and I hope it encourages you that, despite the obstacles you may be facing on any particular shoot, if you think outside of the box you can still walk away with some unique images! Cheers!