Monday
Apr
2014
28

If I Had $1,000 To Spend on Improving My Portrait Photography, I’d Get…

by Scott Kelby  |  71 Comments

I get asked this question a lot (well, not exactly the $1,000 amount — it’s based on the person asking the question’s budget — sometimes it’s $1,200, sometimes it’s $800 so I went with something in the middle).

As an educator, my first thought is always “the answer is education!” (if all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail, right?), and I will include some education in my recommendations, but when it comes to portraiture there surely are a few things you could pick up that would have an immediate impact if (here’s the gotcha) you learn how to use them (there’s that education thing again).

OK, here are some ideas for your portraiture shopping spree:

A Westcott 5-in-1 Diffuser
It costs just $29.90 yet it’s probably got the most bang-for-the-buck of anything on this list. The four reflectors that it comes with are certainly handy (White, Gold, Black, and Silver) but the white Diffuser that comes with it (which you simply put between the sun and your subject which turns harsh ugly direct light into gorgeous, soft beautiful light is worth it’s weight in gold. If you did nothing but start using this diffuser outdoors, you’d see the impact in your outdoor portraits immediately. Here’s the link. 

Wacom Intuos Pro Small
Portrait retouching is such an important part of being able to deliver professional looking results today, and even though our job is “photographer” our clients expect that any image we give them will be a “final” image, retouched and ready to go. All of your competition will be retouching their portraits (after all, would a pro take a portrait and just hand the client a raw untouched image? Probably not, right?), so getting decent at retouching today isn’t an option — it’s part of the job, and a Wacom tablet is tool that makes retouching so much easier you’ll be amazed you ever tried retouching without it.

I carry the “Small” (that’s the model name, and it’s also its size) with me everywhere I go (it fits perfectly in my laptop bag) and I won’t consider retouching without it. This will make a bigger difference than you think. It’s $227.17 at B&H Photo. Here’s the link. 

An 85mm f/1.8 portrait lens
Portrait lenses are notoriously expensive — except this one. It’s about $1,100 LESS than an f/1.4 or f/1.2 and you’ll still get that magnificently shallow depth-of-field for natural light portraits that we love without breaking the bank (after all, is 2/3 of a stop more really worth that extra $1,100?). The only downside is — you’ll probably never want to use any other lens. Right now it’s only $369 at B&H (they have a $50 instant-saving deal on right now). Here’s the link.

OnOne’s Perfect Photo Suite 8
These are the essential plug-ins that cover everything from portrait retouching to portrait effects, from black and white conversions to lens effects, and pretty much everything in between. This Suite creates those trademark “looks” that have become the bread and butter of many portrait photographers and today being able to create those looks is really important. You can buy the whole stand-alone Premium Edition of the Suite for $149.95 right now, but if you’re a Lightroom user and only want just the plug-in version that works inside of Lightroom, you can get it for $99. Here’s the direct link.

Take These Online Classes
OK, this one is going to sound a little self-serving, but I take these online classes myself at KelbyOne to learn more about portraiture and lighting and it’s what I would recommend to a friend. Start with Peter Hurley’s class on Mastering Headshot Photography — even if you’re not ever going to shoot head shots, you’ll learn what really makes a great portrait and how to interact with your subject’s to get more natural, real expressions. Then watch “A Day with Joe McNally” to learn how to light with just one or two lights (mostly one). Then go watch Jeremy Cowart’s two-part series on location photography. He teaches you how to shoot pretty much anywhere with very simple light.

If you watch one class from each (you can rent individual courses for $7 a piece) you’re into this for $21. I’d just go ahead and spend another $4 and subscribe for a month ($25) and then you can also watch classes from Frank Doorhof on lighting, and Erik Valind on lifestyle photography, and Joel Grimes on lighting and compositing, and you can catch my classes on retouching, and more Joe McNally (you get the idea). Here’s the link. 

Get a Simple Lighting Kit
I imagine you already have a hot shoe flash of some sort, but a hot shoe flash alone, without a kit to make the light soft and beautiful, is a recipe for some harsh portraiture. This kit (made by Impact) is a steal, and it comes with a 24″x24″ pop-up soft box, flash bracket, tilt head and light stand and it’s only $149. That’s a pretty insane price. If you’re only going to shoot in natural light, you’re only going to be a part-time photographer (during the day and in ideal conditions). Learning to use just one flash will open doors you never dreamed of, and this kit is just $149. Here’s the link. 

So, how much have we spent?

TOTAL: $950

Round things off by picking up Gregory Heisler’s fantastic “50 Portraits” hardcover book for sheer inspiration ($34 at Amazon) and then use the rest for lunch on your way to your next portrait shoot.

Hope you found that helpful, and I encourage you to share any of your picks, ideas or suggestions here in the comments below. Hope you all have a kick-butt Monday (if there actually is such a thing). ;-)

Best,

-Scott 

 

 

Friday
Apr
2014
25

A Little Girl Needs Our Help (and four quick things to take us into the weekend)

by Scott Kelby  |  5 Comments

(1) A little girl really needs our help
If you saw “The Grid” this week, you heard us talk about SavingEliza.com — a site where photographers have banded together to sell prints of their work to help raise money to save a darling little 4-year-old girl who is suffering from a degenerative genetic disease called Sanfilippo syndrome. It’s a heartbreaking story but take a moment to watch this video about Eliza and her disease (there is a cure, but it is incredibly expensive).

My friend, UK-based photographer and teacher Glyn Dewis let me know about this project, and following in his footsteps I added one of my images (see the red arrow above) to the fund-raising, life-saving project (each photographer pledges to raise $1,000 from the sale of their prints).

I hope you’ll consider picking up one of my prints, or any of the photographers who have pitched in to help by visiting this link; click on the photo you’d like a print of to help Eliza, then click the “BUY” button in the lower right corner and it brings up a window will all different sizes, papers, and prices. The photo community is awesome for coming together for important things like this and I hope you’ll join in by buying a print and become part of her cure.

 

(2) Time Lapse photography is really hot right now
…and we just released a new online class from Tom Bol yesterday at KelbyOne.com (we release a new class every week). I talked with Tom when he was here taping the class and he has a really simple, very clever, and really fun time lapse technique so if you’re a KelbyOne Member, make sure you check it out (here’s the link).

(3) Brad during yesterday’s location shoot for my new book (Part 5)
Don’t ask. I will say this — working with Brad on a shoot is…well…it’s…well…it’s a whole lotta stuff like this. I could make a book of Brad test shots that would probably win me a Pulitzer. Just sayin’

(4) Wedding photographers — this week’s “The Grid” was for you!
We had two AWESOME in-studio guests: Atlanta-based wedding photography team  Justin Wojtczak and Justin McGough from 375photography.com (the guys who won the fstoppers.com wedding photography behind-the-scenes contest). They totally rocked the show — lots of great tips, insights, and business advice. If you haven’t seen the episode, it’s right above — you’ll dig it.

(5) My thanks to you all!
My thanks to you all! At Photoshop World, my awesome book publisher (Peachpit Press) surprised me at the start of my Lightroom Photo Books class to present me with the award you see below for being the #1 bestselling photography book author for 2013 (read the full release here).

I’m indebted to my incredible team here at KelbyOne (Kim, Cindy, Jessica, Felix and his wonderful crew), and to Nancy, Scott and Ted and all the great crew at Peachpit who publish my books.

Most importantly, my humble thanks to all of you who buy my books and give me the opportunity to be able to do any of this in the first place. I couldn’t do it any of this without any of you, so just ‘thanks.” It means more than you know. :)

Hope you all have a fantastic weekend, and we’ll see you back here on Monday

Best,

-Scott

Thursday
Apr
2014
24

It’s Free Stuff Thursday!

by Brad Moore  |  141 Comments

The HDR Book, 2nd Edition by RC Concepcion
Congratulations to RC Concepcion on the second edition of his book, The HDR Book, making it as high as #663 in the Amazon Best Sellers list for ALL books!! To celebrate, we’re going to give away free signed copies to three lucky people. Leave a comment for your chance to win, and you can also go buy your copy from Amazon or Barnes & Noble, or pick up a signed copy from the KelbyOne Store!

The Art of Digital Photography with Joe McNally
Join Mia McCormick as she sits down with Joe McNally for an inspirational hour of conversation that spans Joe’s 30 year career in The Art of Digital Photography: The Inspirational Series with Joe McNally. Joe has always strived to use his photographic vision to convey the emotionality and visceral impact of his experiences to the viewers of his work. In this interview you’ll hear the story of how Joe got started in photography, gain insight into what he’s thinking while on assignment, learn the back stories behind many of his most well known photographs, discover what drives him to give so much back to the photographic community, and so much more!

Leave a comment for your chance to watch this class for free!

KelbyOne Live
Want to spend a day with Scott Kelby, RC Concepcion, or Ben Willmore? Check out these seminar tours!

Shoot Like A Pro with Scott Kelby
May 13 – Portland, OR

Photoshop for Photographers with RC Concepcion
May 2 – Denver, CO
May 20 – Hartford, CT

Photoshop Creativity with Ben Willmore
May 7 – Philadelphia, PA
May 9 – South San Francisco, CA
May 28 – Sacramento, CA

You can check out the full schedule for seminars through May, and we’ll be updating it with more dates soon! Leave a comment for your chance to win a ticket to one of these events!

Last Week’s Winners
Photoshop for Lightroom Users eBook
- Peter Lawton

Picture Perfect Beach Portraits Rental
- David A

KelbyOne Live Ticket
- Micki Vogt

Exposure: From Snapshots to Great Shots by Jeff Revell
- Eric Reardon

If you’re one of the lucky winners, we’ll be in touch soon. Have a great Thursday!

Wednesday
Apr
2014
23

It’s Guest Blog Wednesday featuring Beno Saradzic!

by Brad Moore  |  14 Comments

I’m originally from Slovenia but I’ve lived and worked in the United Arab Emirates since 1991.

My background is in architectural visualization and illustration. For almost 2 decades, I worked in the Emirates, one of the fastest growing countries in the world, and work was never scarce. I specialized in the creation of photo-realistic, computer generated renderings of master developments, buildings and interiors.


Examples of the 3D CG architectural visualization workflow, 2007

Somewhere around 2005, many real estate developers started to outsource architectural renderings and animations to companies in Asian countries where they managed to get about half the quality I was offering for about 1/10th of the price. Needless to say, getting new projects became hard. In 2008, the economy collapsed overnight. Real estate developments were suddenly frozen. Nobody dared to launch new projects and with that, the business of 3D walkthroughs and still renderings was declared dead.


A vision that never became more than a dream. 3D CG rendering, 2007

It was the time to react and adapt. In May 2008, I joined a VF/X and film production company in Abu Dhabi. This is where I got the chance to learn something new and to move away from the realm of 3D computer graphics.

I’ve had a life-long fascination with photography but for one reason or another, I never got into it. Life’s weird that way. One day, sometime back in 2009, I picked up a Canon PowerShot G9 camera and started dabbling with it. The initial results were pathetic, but I was motivated to try harder. So I enrolled myself in a 6-month, self-taught crash course in photography. I was like a sponge for information – I bought tons of books about photography, I studied the work of great masters and read all of them. I browsed thousands of photography websites, forums, blogs and watched pretty much every YouTube tutorial I could find. Whatever I learned in the books, I tried later with the camera. I shot thousands of pictures every month and shared the work on various forums. Slowly but steadily, my work got better and with improved results, my confidence grew.


One of my earlier works, captured with Canon PowerShot G9 in Slovenia, 2009

Meanwhile, I continued working on sporadic 3D computer generated animations for real estate developers when an opportunity arose. In 2009, I worked on one specific architectural visualization in which the client asked for a few beauty shots of the city as an introduction to the 3D animation of their proposed master development. I first thought of shooting them in a conventional video but then, for some reason, I recalled the incredible urban time lapses I saw years ago in Godfrey Reggio’s ‘Koyaanisqatsi’ and Ron Fricke’s ‘Baraka’. These two films left a lasting impression on me. In all honesty, I didn’t have the first clue about time lapses at the time. But there was something indescribably beautiful and magical about them, so I decided to give time lapse photography a shot.

Little did I know that I had just entered into an adventure of a lifetime.


Study of sunlight and how it changes the landscape, 2009

The Canon PowerShot G9 is a great little compact camera, as long as you’re not trying to do serious work with it. I did my 2-day research about time lapse photography online and I gathered the basics. I learned that I would need an electronic shutter release cable which can trigger the camera’s shutter in user defined intervals. So I bought a cheap Chinese intervalometer for 10 bucks. I picked up a flimsy tripod dating back to the early 80s and I was ready to go. At least I thought so.

My first time lapse attempts were, well…abysmal. No one told me that the autofocus should’ve been turned off while I was shooting the sequence. The camera was constantly trying to re-focus between each frame and at night, it missed the focus every other frame. It was a disaster.


Day to night time lapse of Abu Dhabi’s skyline, 2013

That wasn’t all. I was shooting in Aperture priority mode which was another time lapsing gaffe. The camera was changing shutter speed from frame to frame, and each time, the lighting conditions changed a bit. That caused a nasty strobing effect, commonly known as time lapse flicker. I also didn’t know that the White Balance and ISO should’ve been set to manual and that lead to inconsistent colors and grain. The camera should’ve been set in full manual mode but at the time, I did not know that.

With each failure, I learned something new. I kept trying and trying and by the end of the week, I had my first time lapse scene of Abu Dhabi’s skyline, the establishing shot my client had asked for. They were very impressed with the result and at that, it suddenly dawned on me that I had found my new passion. I was hooked at 110%.


‘Into the abyss’. Climbing the rooftops of Abu Dhabi, scouting for shooting locations, 2013

2 years later, in 2011, I got my hands on a Canon 5D Mark 2 and decided to create my first time lapse film. By that time, I knew the importance of a stable, solid tripod. Vibrations are a bad thing if you’re shooting time lapses. The longer the lens, the more pronounced the vibrations, especially in high wind. They can be stabilized in post-production but not entirely.

I learned that shorter intervals work better for faster moving subjects such as people and cars (1 to 3 seconds), and that longer intervals looked good on slow moving subjects, such as moving clouds and setting sun (5 to 15 seconds).

My first time lapse film, titled ‘ABU DHABI 2011′ was extremely well received and it encouraged me to stay the course and learn even more about the craft.

Abu Dhabi 2011, my very first time lapse film and a passion project, 2011

At the end of 2011, I got calls from the BBC and Discovery to shoot time lapse material for their TV series, and this is where my hobby turned into a profession.
I started working with motion control gear which added dynamism and liberty to my time lapse sequences. My shots became more complex and choreographed. I felt like my time lapses suddenly got liberated from the chains of the static tripod.

At this point, I also found out about ‘shutter dragging’ – a term that describes motion blur in moving subjects which added fluidity to the scenes. ‘Shutter dragging’ is achieved by fitting your lenses with Neutral Density filters which reduce the amount of light reaching the camera’s sensor. I never shoot daytime time lapses scenes with anything less than a 6 to 8-stop ND filter. With experience, I came to know that the recommended shutter speed for daytime time lapse sequences is anything between 2s to 1/10th second. Shooting with high powered ND filters also helps to combat Shutter flicker (brightness strobing) which can occur if your shutter is triggering faster than 1/100th second.


‘While you were sleeping’, looking for new points of view in Abu Dhabi, 2013

As a Canon user, I learned how to deal with another adversary – Aperture flicker. Canon lenses have an electronically controlled diaphragm. It’s a great feature for shooting stills but awful for time lapses. Why? Say you set your lens to shoot at f/8. Each time you take a picture, the camera instructs the lens to contract the diaphragm to f/8.0 and wait in that position until the image is captured and then, to reset it to its original position. Trouble is, the diaphragm never truly returns to the same precise position. Instead of maintaining the precise diameter of f/8, it may go to f/7.98, or f/8.06. A slightly different diameter of the diaphragm during exposure will result in a slightly different exposure of each frame. If you play such a sequence in real time, it will flicker. It’s irritating to watch, it ruins your time lapse and is very hard to fix in post production.


Trying out new techniques, blending multiple times of the day into one frame, 2014

To avoid this problem, you have several options. You can choose to shoot with manual lenses which have a mechanical diaphragm. In some cases, I use Nikon G lenses with a Canon mount adapter. It’s a well-designed solution which works wonderfully. Another trick I learned is Lens Twisting. It involves untwisting your Canon lens partially while holding the Depth of Field preview. This locks the diaphragm into fixed position which effectively eliminates any possibility for Aperture flicker.

I also mastered advanced time lapse photography techniques, such as shooting flicker-free, day to night / night to day sequences using Bulb Ramping and Holy Grail methods. The first one requires you to shoot with a camera set to Bulb mode. A special device or a tethered laptop are then connected to the camera’s shutter trigger and USB ports which control the exposure time in extremely precise, progressive or regressive lengths, down to the millisecond. The result of the Bulb Ramping technique is completely flicker free time lapses during major light transitions. Bulb Ramping is a bit tricky to set up, but the result is a flawless, flicker-free time lapse sequences.

The ‘Holy Grail’ method requires a de-flickering process with specialized software tools. If used correctly, the Holy Grail method produces flicker-free results for day to night time lapses. I use it regularly and it works very well.


Looking for something new in Oman, 2014

As of recently, I also started working with a ‘hyperlapse’ technique – a method in which the camera is moved over great distances between each exposure. This method is currently trending in the time lapsing community and some have made it an art form of its own.

I’ve only began to explore the vastness of this amazing craft. Unlike older and more established forms of photography, time lapse photography exists on the fringes of the constantly evolving science and art. Digital cameras and motion control technology are becoming more sophisticated with each passing day, while being more accessible and affordable.

So why do I like time lapse photography so much? Because it always manages to surprise me. We are so hard wired to perceive the world around us at a certain pace. Twist this perception a bit by speeding it up and you’ll be dazzled at how amazing rush hour traffic will look. Or the play of shadows cast by the buildings as they dance across the city. Or the hide and seek play of the sun between the clouds as it plunges towards the horizon. Time lapse photography reveals that there’s magic in the mundane greyness of life; it has the power to enchant and inspire. You just have to look at it with different eyes.


Scouting locations from the helicopter in Abu Dhabi, 2013

That being said, time lapsing may not be for everyone. It takes a particular kind of person to get up at 4am in arctic weather and wait for the sunrise, or spend the whole day in the blistering heat next to the camera to make sure the exposure is set just right. It takes patience and dedication. You need to be able to see ahead of time, predict the pitfalls before they arise, while many elements are working against you.

If you’re still curious about this wonderful art form, I’ve good news for you; you are living in the most exciting time in history of photography to get into it. What are you still waiting for?

To see more of Beno’s work, connect with him on VimeoFacebook, Google+, Twitter, Flickr, Instagram or 500px.

Tuesday
Apr
2014
22

Come and Watch Some KelbyOne Online Classes On Me

by Scott Kelby  |  3 Comments

Want to check out KelbyOne online training for free? Sure ya do! Well, that’s perfect timing seeing as we’ve just set up a FREE (F-R-Dubba-E) 24-hour trial so you can go watch as many classes as you want (which we’d love you do to because you’ll fall deeply in love with this way of learning, and then you’ll join in and get new classes every week on everything from photography to Photoshop to Lightroom and more!).

Here’s the link to get the free 24-hour trial.

This free trial is just available for a limited time so go right now (quick, like a bunny) and sign up — then just “go to town” on all our new online e classes (like Joe McNally’s “Art of Digital Photography” that was just released last week (everybody is already raving about it, and they should ’cause Joe rocks!). Today’s Tuesday, and that means another new class is coming out  (unfortunately, nobody will tell me what it is beforehand, so we’ll just have to see when they update the site today — that way we’ll both be surprised).

Anyway, that’s the scoop — come watch some awesome free online classes, on me.

Hope you have a busy Tuesday watching classes. :)

Best,

-Scott 

Monday
Apr
2014
21

The Blue Angels (from the Sun n’ Fun Fly-in)

by Scott Kelby  |  15 Comments

Above: It was pitch dark when we got there, and we were all in position just before sunrise.

Hi Gang: Right before I headed up to Photoshop World in Atlanta earlier this month, I got a chance to shoot the US Navy’s famous Blue Angels parked on the flight line at dawn (I was speaking the following day the annual ISAP Summit (the International Society of Aviation Photographers and they took a group of their members along with Pete Collins and me, out to shoot the jets at dawn).

Above: Once the sun came up, I got down low and hid the sun behind the tail wings.

I shared a couple of these on Facebook and Twitter, etc., but I realized last night I had never shared them here, so here ya go. These were all shot with a Canon 1Dx using either a 24-70mm lens, a 16-35mm or a 70-200mm lens f/2.8 lens. This was a pre-dawn shoot and so I shot on a tripod the whole time. As usual, I forgot my cable release, so I wound up using my camera’s self timer to take the shots. No filters or anything fancy.

Above: Once the sun was pretty high, I got in closer with a 16-35mm at 16mm to get this super wide-angle shot with the sun hidden behind the jet. It was my last shot of the day, because once the sun got above the jet, things looked really harsh, really fast.

We got lucky — it was a beautiful morning, great sky and contrails, plus the weather was just perfect. Had a blast — special thanks to Larry Grace and the great folks at the ISAP — what a great organization (if you’re into photographing airplanes of any kind, you definitely need to check them out. Their annual summit is a blast and it’s amazingly affordable, too! Plus, they always get great access to stuff like this for their members). Highly recommend.

Above: This is the one-and-only time I’ll be showing this shot. I love the straight on shot of the jet, but the mess of planes and construction fence and tailors, and all made the background so busy I blurred it out using the Lens Blur filter. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve done this, and this reminded me why — I’m not sure which I hate worse — a really busy background or fake depth of field effects. LOL!

Well, that’s it to kick off this Monday. I’m working from home today as I’m on the home stretch on my new book. We’ll see ya’ll back here tomorrow. Hope yours is a good one. :)

-Scott

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