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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!

Just a quick update on my “8th Annual Worldwide Photo Walk:” 

(1) We now have Photo Walk organized in 280 cities around the world (and we just officially launched a few days ago!).

(2) Check out some of these awesome cities that just added walks:

  • Egucigalpa, Honduras
  • Clinton, Tennessee
  • San Antonio, Columbia
  • Elora, Ontario, Canada
  • Tyler, Texas
  • Marikina, Philippines
  • Tooele, Utah
  • Meridian Charter Township, Michigan
  • Cairo, Egypt
  • Ogunquit, Maine
  • Manila, Philippines
  • Bangkok, Thailand
  • Kuala Lumpur
  • Karmiel, Israel
  • Paris, France
  • Canon City, Colorado
  • Sydney, Australia

How cool is that! More cities are being added daily.

(3) We are preparing a media kit that will probably go out today to help walk leaders publicize their walks, so keep an eye out for that in your email if you’re a Walk Leader.

(4) I just recorded six videos with camera tips, composition tips, gear tips, and a whole bunch more to help you get the most of your upcoming Photo Walk. You’ll get a link to those in a “Walk wide” email newsletter we’ll be sending out each week leading up to the Walk, so keep an eye out for it (the sender will be KelbyOne, that’s our online educational community).

(5) Have your ordered your “Official Photo Walk T-shirt?” Lot of folks wear these on the walks themselves, and so we see them everywhere. Why do so  many people buy the t-shirts? Well, beside looking really cool, and being a souvenir from a really fun and memorable day, 100% of the profits go to the Springs of Hope Orphanage in Kenya (and who doesn’t want to help Orphans, right?). Here’s a link to order yours today.

(6) Is there a walk in a city near you? There’s only one way to find out. Go to the official site; click the “Find a Walk” button and search for your city. If there’s not one there, maybe you could lead one? You get a cool prize, and loves of love and affection for leading a way. Click the “Apply to Lead a Walk” button at the same link.

(7) There really isn’t a #7, but just having 6 sounded kinda cheesy. Hope you all have an awesome Tuesday. Don’t forget to spread the word about the walk to your friends, photo groups, online groups, group groups, Groupon, Groovy groups, Gravy groups, etc.

Best,

-Scott
Groupie

P.S. Here’s the link to sign up for a walk (it’s free). I know I already posted it somewhere in all that stuff, but I wanted to make it easy to find. Feel the love. 

 

Here’s a really popular, super simple, technique for creating ad backgrounds (you see this look a lot in print ads and online banners. The one we’re going to recreate is a print ad I saw for the Modern Shoe Hospital), but there’s an added super-handy trick inside of this, and it’s how to keep the original drop shadow from a placed product shot on a white background. It’s cooler than it sounds. Here goes:

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STEP ONE: Open a new document and fill the background with a solid color. This doc is around 8″x10″ at 72 ppi resolution.

Down2smSTEP TWO: Create a new blank layer, then get the Elliptical Marque tool and create a large oval-shaped section (like the one you see here). Now set your Foreground color to white, then press Option-Delete (PC: Alt-Backspace) to fill your oval with White (as seen here). Now you can Deselect by pressing Command-D (PC: Ctrl-D on PC).

Down3smSTEP THREE: Now you’re going to blur the living daylights out of it. Go under the Filter menu, under Blur and choose Gaussian Blur. Enter 80 pixels and click OK (you can use a lot higher amount on a high-res image. This is just 72 ppi). The goal is just to make it look really blurry like what you see here.

Down4smSTEP FOUR: now that our background is done, open the product shot you want on this background and copy and paste it into your background document and position it in the center (as seen here).

Down5smSTEP FIVE: Our goal here is to remove the white background yet keep the original drop shadow. This is easier than it sounds. First, duplicate the product shot layer (the sneaker layer) and hide that layer from view by clicking on the eye icon to the left of the layer. Now click on the original sneaker layer. Hold the Shift key then start pressing the “+” key on your keyboard. Each time you press Shift-+ it toggles you through the different Layer Blend Modes. At this point, don’t worry at all about what the sneaker looks like — we’re only concerned about the drop shadow at this point, so keep toggling through the blend modes until you find one where the shadow looks natural (in this case, it was the blend mode Linear Burn). The shadow looks pretty good, but the front and back of the sneaker are white, so they’re letting the teal background show through quite a bit, but that’s why we created that 2nd sneaker layer.

Down6smSTEP SIX: Now make the top layer (the duplicate sneaker layer) visible again. Hold the Option key (PC: Alt-key) and at the bottom of the Layers panel click on the Layer Mask button (it’s the third icon from the left). This adds a black Layer Mask over your original sneaker image (so, the layer is still there, you just can’t see it because it’s hidden behind that black mask). Now get the Brush took; make sure your foreground color is set to white; choose a small soft-edged brush tip (from the Brush Picker up in the Options Bar), and paint over the front and back of the sneaker to reveal the original sneaker in those areas (as seen here where I’m painting over the front of the sneaker. You can see the original sneaker being painted in).

Down7smSTEP SEVEN: To finish things off, just add your text headline, your logo (with a slight drop shadow from the fx menu at the bottom of the Layers panel in this case, since it’s really hard to see that white text over that white glowing oval), and you’re done.

It’s Down. It’s Dirty. It’s Done!

Hope you all have an awesome weekend, and we’ll see ya back here on Monday when we’re all not so cheery. ;-)

Best,

-Scott

P.S. Let me know how you feel about this Photoshop Down & Dirty tricks. This is the third one I’ve done in the past two weeks, and I want to make sure you’re digging this type of stuff. If it’s too far away from what I normally do here, let me know. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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!

Hey gang: We had our own Larry Becker stop by some of the exhibitors at the Photoshop World Conference Expo floor last week, so they could give us a quick look at what they were showing off at their booths. Here’s a few to get you started:

OK, this post is getting crazy long – if you want to see more, check out our KelbyOne YouTube page where you’ll find lots more stuff from Photoshop World.

Hope you all have a rockin’ Monday!

-Scott

 

 

 

 

 

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