Category Archives Guest Blogger

In January 1927, the first ever color photograph taken underwater appeared in National Geographic. The picture introduces us to a hogfish living it up in the Florida Keys, and underwater flash photography was born. Photographer Charles Martin, with an autochrome camera, teamed up with marine biologist Dr. William Longley, and together, they headed to the Florida Keys. The biggest problem they faced was underwater illumination, and they solved it with magnesium flash powder. That’s right, explosives! And those of us who remember film days thought developer was nasty!

Credit: Charles Martin and Dr. William Longley

That little hogfish changed the course of photographic history forever. It’s been ninety years since the days of Martin and Longley’s experiments, and underwater photography has progressed by leaps and bounds. Modern camera and lighting technologies have made it possible for us to explore the beautiful underwater world and to take our love for water, photography, and creativity to new heights.

…or should I say depths.

I have always had two passions: photography and the water. I picked up my mom’s camera when I was ten years old and never put it down: I knew I wanted to make pictures. After high school, I attended the University of Florida and then moved to Daytona Beach where I worked on various projects and building my book. I got the opportunity to head to Los Angeles and work for Turbo Magazine & Import Tuner. After a few years on staff, I decided to branch out on my own again and started pursuing a career in advertising, working in all creative aspects from photography to creative direction to production. Growing up in Florida I played in the ocean, springs, and rivers. Later, I would also dive them and complete instructor level training with the 2 top SCUBA agencies in the world, PADI & NAUI, and becoming a NAUI certified SCUBA instructor. Then, eleven years ago I combined both my passions and started focusing on underwater photography and I’ve never looked back.

Let’s be honest, underwater photography looks awesome. It is eye-catching and different, and it gives us a view into a world that most of us do not get to see every day. Using a camera underwater can be difficult, with many more challenges than we face on dry land. How many have tried it with a disposable camera on vacation, a GoPro, an iPhone housing or even the ol’ “fish tank in the pool,” only to come back with lackluster images?

I know I have. But that was part of the learning curve, and there are different techniques needed for underwater photography that I have picked up over the years. Hopefully these pro-tips will get you started whether you are a new to photography or a pro making the transition to the underwater world.

1. SAFETY
This is something we don’t normally think about in our daily photography, but it is the most important. Make sure you are a good swimmer and are comfortable in the water. Safety must come first. If you don’t feel good about swimming without a camera, you are putting yourself in danger when you add a camera to the mix. You don’t want to be thinking about keeping your equipment safe or adjusting your camera settings when you should be focused on safety. If you are going into deep water, make sure you have experience with snorkel or scuba gear and that operating this equipment is second-nature for you. Learn to dive properly first! You can’t focus on buoyancy control, camera and strobe settings, and composition all at the same time, so you should have enough diving experience that you do the buoyancy control part automatically.

2.  CAMERA & HOUSINGS
The best quality underwater photography is still pretty expensive. However, you can still get some decent images on a budget. On the low end, a GoPro can do a pretty good job as an entry into underwater photography. However, it is limited by the fact that there are no manual controls. Some “waterproof” point-and-shoot cameras can do a little better job, certainly the ones that have manual controls and that you put into a housing. The best option is to use a DSLR with a waterproof housing with strobes.

3. GET CLOSE
And then get closer! All those little particles in the water between you and your subject are called “backscatter,” and cause images to look less clear and more hazy, especially when light hits them. The closer you are to the subject, the fewer problems you will have with clarity and contrast. This means that most of the time you will be using a wide angle lens underwater. Telephoto lenses will not work very well shooting through a large volume of water.

Pro Tip: While you want to get close, do not chase the marine life. Doing so never got an underwater photographer anywhere except back on the surface, quickly, with a memory card full of bad shots. Be patient, set up your shot, and wait for the scene to develop. It doesn’t matter how good of a swimmer you are; the fish are faster.

4. BRING BACK THE LIGHT
Water is nearly 800 times as dense as air, and it sucks out color from full spectrum light. Specific frequencies of ambient light get absorbed at different depths. Remember the mnemonic ROYGBIV (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet) from high school chemistry?

Underwater, red nearly disappears at around 5 meters (16.5 ft.), followed by orange at 10 meters (33 ft.), yellow at 20 meters (66 ft.), green at 30 meters (99 ft.) and eventually even blue at 60 meters (198 ft.). In other words, there are not many colors left at deeper depths. That’s why so many underwater images look blue and lack color contrast. The best solution is to add artificial lighting by using underwater strobes that will bring back color, create contrast, accentuate textures, and retain details that were lost from the water’s absorption of natural light. After purchasing a camera and housing, strobes are arguably the best investment you can make to improve your underwater photography.

Pro Tip: If you don’t have strobes, they miss-fire, or your subject is just too big, try black and white and boost the clarity & contrast!

5. ALWAYS SHOOT RAW
The flexibility of RAW files will allow you to bring back some of the contrast and color to your photos. Also, there will be a blue cast to most of your images since many of the warmer red wavelengths don’t make it into deeper water. You can use RAW adjustments to help balance out the color spectrum.

6. SHUTTER SPEED
Shooting around 1/125th will freeze motion underwater and still leave a good amount of ambient light in your scene. Move your shutter speed up a couple of stops to darken the background or down a couple of stops to have a lighter blue. Make sure you know what your camera’s sync speed is to avoid that annoying black bar from crossing your photo.

7. GO MANUAL
Beginning your underwater photography foray in “auto mode” is not a problem, but eventually you will want to start using manual controls. While “auto” or “program” works fine on land, those settings were designed for shooting in air, not water. Additionally, if you are using an external strobe, you will want to manually control your exposure, as your camera won’t be able to automatically balance the natural light in the scene with the additional light from the strobe. TTL can be a mixed bag and it’s not consistent underwater.

Pro Tip: Light is quickly lost the deeper you go, so you will want to bump up that ISO. With modern DSLRs ISO sensitivity isn’t much of a problem, and you can easily shoot at 400 or 800 with no noise.

8. THE RIGHT LENS
Unlike topside photography, not all lenses are best suited for underwater use. Deciding which lenses are most useful actually goes back to rule number 3: the need to get close. Because you are forced to be in close proximity with your subject, you will need to use lenses with close minimum focus distances. This is why underwater photography is usually categorized into either macro or wide-angle, as the lenses that work best for shooting close are macro or extreme wide-angle lenses. Midrange zooms tend to have minimum focus distances that are too far for underwater photography, so you can leave that kit lens on land.

9. SHOOT UP!
Underwater subjects look better when shooting them with a slight upward angle. The tendency to shoot down is a more natural one, as we are usually swimming with the reef below us, but images of the tops of most subjects shot this way are almost never appealing. By shooting up, you can include the water column in your image and can create necessary contrast between the foreground subject and the background.

Pro Tip: Try shooting with the sun behind your subject for a nice back light.

10. DO THE SPLITS
And use a big dome. A good split-shot is comprised of several elements: a strong topside scene, a strong underwater scene, and an interesting water line across the frame. The larger the dome port, the more surface area to create this water line. The big dome provides more room for the waterline to move up and down on the dome while still splitting the water. Shoot wide or with a fisheye, because you want to have plenty of room for both under water and topside scenery.

Don’t forget, shooting split-shots is similar to landscape and close-focus wide-angle photography in that you need a large depth of field in order to keep the entire image in focus. In most split-shot scenes, there’s an underwater subject, say a stingray, within a meter or two of the lens and also a topside subject that can be anywhere from three meters to hundreds of meters away. Stopping down to a low f-stop like f16 allows you to keep both scenes in focus, including the water’s surface just in front of the dome.

Pro Tip: The best split-shot will be unusable if blurred out by water droplets on the dome. My preferred method of keeping those drops off the dome is to use my custom mask antifog: baby shampoo.  That’s right, this is the good stuff. Putting a dab on the dome, rubbing it in, then dunking it a few times will help shed water and give you a few minutes to capture a spot-free image. In a pinch try licking your dome, it may be a little salty, but the photos will be sweet.

Remember, underwater photography is all about being safe and having fun. Taking pictures underwater is a completely unique experience, and by following a few of these tips you will be producing stunning images that your land-lubbing photography friends will drool over.

My last tip for the day something I tell every student, diver, and photographer: Take nothing but photos and leave nothing but bubbles.

You can see more of Dalton’s work at DaltonHamm.com, and follow him on Instagram and Facebook.

Not every photographer wants or can afford to hire a retoucher. That said, I hate seeing photos with all the potential of becoming something amazing being ruined by bad retouching. I am not even talking about those mistakes that only a specialist would catch – it is about the ones that make everyone say, well, it has been photoshopped.

To get around this issue, and to hopefully help those who retouch their own photos I compiled this list of tidbits to help you produce better results when it comes to post-production. Even though a couple of these are no-brainers, it is good to remind ourselves that sometimes seemingly simple notions are the hardest to truly understand.

1. You Have to Learn Photography First
Post-production should come after pre-production, and production. Never has been a more evident truth written. It is important to keep this in mind because sometimes beginner photographers start with a bit of photography knowledge, and immediately after that they jump into Photoshop. This is usually wrong as it produces subpar results. When your base is lacking, it is better to work on that rather than trying to polish it.

Here is my advice to you: learn photography, then learn a bit more photography and only then start with a very small amount of retouching; just barely using the healing brush here and there. Once you are confident with that and are producing great results, move on to more photography and more retouching etc. This way you will not get into the habit of making your photos ‘interesting’ only because you applied some random colour to it.

2. Do Not Buy into Techniques
A technique is a technique is a technique. I am 99% sure that you have heard about ‘frequency separation.’ It is being advertised by ‘gurus’ as the tool high-end retouchers use – it seems to be the magic technique everyone wants to learn or perfect. I know many people who retouch whole photos with it; which is possible, but ill advised. I cannot even remember the last time I used it. It is only a technique and should be used as so, not the be all end all tool of skin-hair-whatever retouching.

I know someone who used frequency separation on a group photo. That is not when it should be used. Whenever you encounter new techniques be sceptical, learn it, and only use it when it is necessary. The main ideas behind retouching can be applied using any techniques. Sit down, study your tools and you will be able to skin that cat in a hundred different ways.

Instead of learning techniques, learn the principles of a good image.

Photo by Greg Swales

3. Zoom Out
I remember a photographer a couple of years ago boasting about how he zooms in to 400% magnification whenever he is retouching. Do you know how his photos looked? Blurred. When you work on an image really zoomed in you are basically eradicating the detail in that photo, and that will result in a blurred look, much like you used Gaussian blur.

So here is a question for you: when you look at the cover of a magazine do you put your nose to the glossy finish to peep at the dots of the image? Probably not. Hence, try to retouch your photos as the intended use. Will people see it zoomed in, from a distance, on a billboard, on the cover of a magazine, on canvas? Factor this all in, and this will help you understand how far you should take each of your images.

4. There Is More to Retouching Than Skin
In people’s minds, most of the times retouching equals to making a person’s skin look beautiful (especially the face). This usually results in a contrast between the main subject and everything else. Aim to be equal in your retouch – try to balance everything out, not just colour and contrast but the degree of retouching, too.

If I am hired to work on an image, I try to be all over the place and retouch everything to the same degree. That way, if I run out of time because the client needs to take a look at the photo sooner than planned, they will still see it as a perfect unit without parts being out of place.

Photo by Zoe Rain

5. Mimic Movies
The people who make movies look good on the post-production end are called colourists. They will make sure that scenes look natural while maintaining the same aesthetic throughout. The thing is that they cannot be as precise as retouchers because they work on moving images that usually contain 24 frames in a second. That is a lot of images. However, I dare you to take a screencap of any movie and find every little detail these colourists worked on. It would be almost impossible as they work so well.

Based on this, my advice is to try and work like they do. First, try to utilise feathered, broader selections and use those to guide the viewer’s eyes with colour and contrast. Set a nice tone, and make artistic choices while still keeping the basic principles in mind. Once you have all of these worked in seamlessly and you still think you need to go in and retouch more in detail, only then do that. This way, you will keep things fairly natural and will not overwork the image unnecessarily.

Photo by Carlos J. Matos

As you can see it does not take much to improve your retouching – all you have to do is to study others’ work and try to do less. When you start small and apply basic principles, even the hardest tasks can be easily handled. Where people fail most of the times is that they either do not have a strong enough base or they try to do too much right off the bat. It is OK to learn one step at a time, and you do not even need to remember a library of techniques to succeed in the end when it comes to retouching.

You can see more of Viktor’s work at GildStudios.com, and follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Hey there! Tracy Sweeney here, owner/photographer of Elan Studio in the lovely seaside town of Bristol, Rhode Island. I’m delighted to accept the invitation to guest blog this week!

I’m a newborn, child and family photographer and get asked all the time about my lens choices for my consistent imagery. I’m a Canon girl and shoot mostly prime. I love shooting at wide apertures, which can be challenging, especially when capturing fast toddlers and exciting family interaction and movements. I want the little ones to be the primary focus in my work without competition from the setting. And while landscape is important for coloring and texture, I want my subjects to emerge from the composition, allowing my viewers to feel something; to actually hear the laughter I’m capturing and to feel the joy. And in this way, my setting is secondary.

I’m a toggler. I selectively focus each shot, moving around the points on my Canon 5D MK IV. This allows me to separate my focus and control my exposure. It takes a little practice to get used to this technique, but it is now second nature for me, and I am constantly moving my dial throughout a session. I am always focusing on the child in the photo (preferably the eyes). In sibling and family images, my focus is on the subject closest to me. Since I am shooting wide open, that focus becomes the story of my image. If I’m photographing children running toward me, away from their parents, that becomes the moment I’m capturing, and the parents, falling out of focus, add to that narrative.

I set my camera first according to the aperture at which I want to shoot, and adjust my ISO and exposure accordingly. I use spot metering and typically, when shooting outdoors, underexpose the entire image a tad so as not to blowout skies. I always shoot handheld, and often have moving subjects, and thus need fast shutter speeds which my wide apertures buttress.

I change a bit with each lens choice as I’ve discovered some of their sweet spots. But generally, I shoot between f/1.8 to f/2.8, except for when shooting with my fisheye, which I fix at f/4. I use these apertures even when shooting multiple subjects, attempting to pose and direct my subjects within the same plane. But my hope is always authenticity and organic connection, which I cultivate and support through instruction and articulated expectation to my clients, and so, as I am shooting, and the stories develop, and the subjects move, I make specific focus choices.

TOP 5 FAVORITE LENSES FOR CHILD PHOTOGRAPHY
And so, here are my top five lenses for child photography that allow me to accomplish the aforementioned. I shoot with only one body and change lenses throughout the session, again, making choices in consideration of the final image I want to achieve. In no specific order, here are my all time favorites.

Canon EF 200mm f/2L
This super hi-end telephoto lens allows me to capture amazing high quality, sharp images wide open of fast moving subjects. The bokeh is unbelievably dreamy. I get lots of looks when I’m shooting with this lens in the field because of its sheer size. The already super long lens is exacerbated additionally by its hood. And to boot, it’s super duper heavy, but I still handhold it, often laying on the ground or shooting from a low perspective complementary to the small stature of my primary subjects (little ones).

You can see me photographing behind the scenes with this lens in my Family Photography: The Art of Storytelling course on KelbyOne. One of the true benefits of this lens is that I can photograph as an observer, shooting from a distance and capturing children interacting within the setting in an organic state, without being right in front of their face with the expectation that they perform or react within my proximity. With this insanely high quality lens I can create magical, compelling imagery. This is the newest lens in my repertoire, and one I invested in after years of building my child photography business.

When shooting backlit images with this lens, I get very low to the ground positioning myself so that the subject is blocking the light. Harnessing the light in this way allows me to emphasize the childhood moment and connection.

Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II
I recently upgraded to the version II of this lens, and it is fast becoming a go to during all of my sessions (both in studio, outdoor, and underwater). The wide angle allows me to include more detail in my images, especially when I don’t have the real estate in which to back up, and or/to elevate any higher when shooting from above. I can capture a larger scene without significantly distorting my subjects.

The close perspective allows me to interact with children while shooting, engaging in conversation, making jokes, asking questions, etc. to capture natural expressions. It creates a more intimate shooting space for me, as I am obviously closer to my subjects, and in this way, is the antithesis to the time I spend behind my 200.

Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L
When I mentor photographers who want to invest in a quality lens to achieve the “dreamy look” for which my work is known, this is the number one lens I recommend they have in their arsenal for shooting children outdoors. This is the first “serious” lens in which I invested. The focal length is manageable for directing families while allowing enough space for natural interaction. The depth of field is crazy amazing at 1.2 which makes it a fabulous portrait lens. It’s super sharp and mostly fast, though not as fast as some of my other lenses. When I first began shooting with this lens, I rarely switched out, often shooting an entire session from start to finish with this 85.

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L
This lens is essential for my newborn work, so that I can capture the tiny details: eyelashes, lips, nose, toes, and fingers. It allows me to craft images from a detailed perspective creating an image gallery for my clients that is varied, but doesn’t create additional set planning. I am able to craft a beautiful stylized newborn image and photograph it with a wider lens such as my 35, and then switch to the 100 mm macro lens and focus on specific elements, ultimately, creating multiple images in the same set. You can watch me employ this technique in my upcoming newborn course on KelbyOne.com. However, not only is this lens a fantastic macro lens, it’s gorgeous for portrait work too!

Canon EF 8-15mm f/4L
This fisheye lens is such a fun creative lens that I whip out at the end of nearly every beach sunset session. It functions unbelievably in low light, allowing me to maintain sky texture while correctly exposing my subjects, or intentionally silhouetting. This is presently the only lens I shoot with that is not a prime lens, and I typically extend it to 15mm to reduce the already significant distortion. With this lens a quick tilt up or down will change the entire image. To avoid the bending in the horizon line created from he fisheye perspective, I shoot, again, very low to the ground, and often am submerged in water to get close to the action, taking in my entire setting.

Thank you so much for having me! I hope you enjoyed learning a little more about what’s in my bag and how I use these lenses to achieve light filled joyful images of little ones.

You can see more of Tracy’s work at Elan-Studio.com. For additional conversation and musings, join her Facebook group “All Things Child Portraiture,” and follow her on Facebook and Instagram!

Badlands National Park

Imaginary Landscapes: Building Fantasy from Reality
Hello everyone, my name is Nick Pedersen and I am a photographer and digital artist currently based in the Philadelphia area. My work specializes in an intricate use of HDR imaging, photo compositing, and special effects using my own photographs. For this article I would like to talk a bit about my history as an artist, and how I got to where I am today.

“Sanctuary” (diptych) 2016

I started out in photojournalism, traveling a lot and doing more documentary style photography. Currently I work for a few photo agencies, Getty and Cavan Images, and I also take on freelance assignments, which is great to supplement my income and collect photos for my digital imaging work along the way. First and foremost, I would say my favorite part about the work I do is traveling around the US and other countries to capture the best images to use in my projects.

Early on, I learned some photo editing skills in Photoshop and experimented a bit with combining images. This series, “Migration,” was the first larger body of work I created using the style of photomontage that I use today. In my artistic work I have always been very influenced by nature and environmentalism. Conceptually this project was created in response to issues like urban sprawl and deforestation, showing wild animals wandering through the city in search of their natural habitats.

“Coyotes” Migration series, 2008

I got really into photo compositing and this whole idea that you could create something new rather than just capturing it. So, I decided to get my Master’s degree in Digital Arts from Pratt Institute in New York. I spent three years studying there. Here are some examples from my MFA thesis, “Sumeru.” This project uses the same techniques, but much more extensively, to create an entire constructed landscape in each image. The narrative was inspired by Zen Buddhism and eastern philosophy, and uses images of nature to symbolically represent various states of consciousness and perceptions. Basically, it is about an exploration of the mind. The whole series was exhibited and published in my first artist book, Sumeru.

“Mountains and Waters” Sumeru series, 2011
“Sumeru” (MFA Exhibition) 2011
“Sumeru” (narrative storyboard) 2011

Shortly after graduating, I began working on the first part on my next major series, “Ultima.” It envisions a hypothetical future world where nature has reclaimed modern civilization. I started by taking images of cities on the east coast like New York, Brooklyn, and Philadelphia. These were perfect for collecting photos of urban decay, like buildings overgrown with vines, burned down structures, and industrial ruins. The images of animals came from the wild, zoos, taxidermy shops, and museums of natural history. Finally, the characters were photographed in the studio with lighting to match each scene. It’s a much different way to think about photography, because I am capturing different elements and creating a database of photos to use for compositing.

“Remnants of Time” Ultima series, 2013

To create my images I use a complex process of digital imaging in Photoshop. Every image is actually made up of about 50 or more photographs meticulously pieced together, with each taking around 100 hours of work. So I spend a great amount of time building up an image, figuring out the lighting, shadows, color, and other effects to make it look realistic and seamless. Each image is planned out and created as an intricately layered construction, and I think that is what gives it such a hyper-real, illustrative quality.

“Remnants of Time” (digital process) 2013

Over the next year I continued working on this project and was accepted for a few artist residencies to help get the images I needed for my ideas. The first one was at the Banff Center in Alberta, Canada, where I photographed the impressive mountains and snow-covered landscapes surrounding Banff National Park. I was also lucky enough to set up an amazing photo shoot with wolves. My next artist residency was at the Gullkistan Center in Iceland, where I spent the winter traveling around the entire country photographing the incredible glaciers, icebergs, and the northern lights to complete the second part of the series.

“The Great Divide” Ultima series, 2014
“Place of Power” Ultima series, 2014

For the final desert part of the project, I took road trips all over the four corners of the American southwest. Some of the biggest highlights were the Great Sand Dunes in Colorado, the slot canyons in southern Utah, and Organ Pipe National Monument on the border of Mexico.

This entire 36-image project took me about 3 years to complete, but hopefully it shows what you can pull off with a lot of patience and dedication. After finishing the work I make large-scale fine art prints for gallery exhibitions, and the whole 3-part series was collected in my newest artist book, Ultima.

“The Dream Time” Ultima series, 2015
“Ultima” (artist book edition) 2015

I have also done quite a bit of commercial work, like this piece “Green City,” in collaboration with the Nature Conservancy. Most of the time I have received commissions after clients have viewed my personal work like Sumeru, Ultima, and other projects, especially through social networking sites like Behance and Instagram. So, in my experience, having a portfolio of interesting personal work has really helped me to stand out, and has led to offers for the kinds of projects I want to work on. I am very interested in creating images with purpose that have a strong message, such as this piece “Water Protector,” to benefit Stand With Standing Rock.

“Green City” (Nature Conservancy commission) 2015
“Water Protector” (benefit for Standing Rock) 2016

Finally, all of this has led to my newest series “Floating World,” which is an ongoing project created in response to the issues of climate change and sea level rise in coastal cities around the world. I started this body of work with New York City, and I’m currently working on images of New Orleans and Miami. Eventually I’m planning to include more images of other cities most threatened by flooding in the future. With all these environmental projects, my main goal is to raise important questions about the time we live in, and give viewers a space to think about the future of our planet.

“Flatiron” Floating World Series (photographs) 2016
“Wall Street” Floating World series, 2016

To conclude I would like to leave you with these ideas I have picked up that have been key to creativity in my artistic life, and I think would benefit anyone getting into photography and digital imaging.

1. Know your conceptual, aesthetic, and technical influences.
2. Experiment through trial and error to find what works.
3. Know your technique intuitively, like second nature.
4. Develop your own unique style to stand out.
5. Create something original and authentic.
6. Constantly reinvent yourself and your work.
7. Be exposed to new places, people, and ideas.
8. Be ambitious and take steps to meet your goals.
9. Follow your own path with perseverance.

“Slash+Burn” 2017
“Floating World” (New Orleans project) 2017

You can see more of Nick’s work at Nick-Pedersen.com and follow him on Instagram, Facebook, and Behance.

Hello my name is Austin Burke and I am a food photographer in Orlando, Florida. I want to thank Scott and Brad for having me as a guest on the blog and to have the opportunity to share a bit of light on something that I think gets passed over.

Everyone loves to talk about fancy camera gear that we use on a shoot, but what about the other random tools that we use on set? I shoot a lot of food photography and while I always prefer to have a dedicated stylist on set, sometimes those responsibilities fall on me.

So when that happens I make sure to bring my tool box full of random tools that make styling projects manageable.

What’s in the box?
I bring this black toolbox with me on every set in addition to all my other gear. Inside, it contains a variety of easy to find items that I have found helpful when I am photographing food. This box covers most of the items I will need on my shoots, though sometimes I find myself in the garage building custom rigs as well.

Brushes
I keep a large variety of paintbrushes in my kit, all in different sizes, shapes, and texture. I use them for all sorts of things, from adding water or oils to food to make them shine, to brushing on sauces on meats or plates.

Tweezers & Chopsticks
It can be a challenge to style food, specially when some ingredients are the size of small seeds or crumbs. This is where tweezers and chopsticks come into play, being able to grab things with precision that would otherwise be a pain to pick up with your fingers. As an added bonus, wooden chopsticks can be used to stir a beer and make its frothy head reform, helpful when trying to get the perfect shot.

Butane Torch
Need to melt some cheese or toast some edges? That’s where the butane torch comes in handy, and you can find small ones that will easily fit in your kit. You can also break it out to make some creme brulee as well! Alternatively you can use a heat gun when styling food. Both give you a lot of control when working with food to make sure you don’t overcook anything.

Level & Measuring Tape
I always bring a level and measuring tape on every shoot to make sure I can keep track of the placement of where my camera and lights are. I then write all this information down and save it with the image files. The reason for this is if a client ever comes back wanting to shoot another project in the same style as something I have shot for them in the past, or they want the look similar to an image in my portfolio, I can easily recall the setup for that shot. It saves me a ton of time when a client comes back 3 years later wanting the exact same look and makes them happy when I can pull it off.

ToothPicks & Brass Wire
Sometimes food doesn’t want to cooperate, and that’s where these guys come in. Toothpicks are great for getting things to stand up and easy to hide in a scene. I find myself using them all the time when working with sandwiches as there are so many ingredients that need to stay still. The brass wire is great for hanging and rigging things up as it’s firm enough to hold things up in the air, but not too firm that you can’t mold into any shape you need. I recommend going for a neutral color wire so it doesn’t cast colors on set and is easy to clone stamp out.

Beverages
A cold drink goes well with a nice dish, which means I shoot a lot of beverages as well. And just like food, beverages need some help to look their best. The problem with making a drink look cold and refreshing is it doesn’t stay in that perfect state for very long and the ice will begin to melt. That’s where fake ice cubes and ice powder come in handy. And when it comes to fake ice cubes, it’s worth investing in good ones. I use a mixture of hand made acrylic and glass cubes so no one cube has the same look as another.

Ice isn’t the only way to make beverages look cold. You can also add some condensation to the glass. For this I find using a 1-part water and 1-part glycerin mixture perfect for condensation on a glass. I apply it using either a paintbrush or a small spray bottle. Lastly when it comes to beverages, I find using some food dye or kitchen bouquet great for getting the perfect color of a liquid, specially when you are shooting splash images.

Lastly we have cotton gloves, one of the most important items in the box. These gloves will help make sure you don’t leave finger prints on plates or glasses that would show up in your image. We wouldn’t want that now!

So I hope this list of items I use on almost every food shoot was helpful. With these tools you can make every dish look as delicious as it really is, which at the end of the day is my job as a food photographer.

What random tools have you ever found yourself using to make a delicious looking photo?

You can see more of Austin’s work at AustinBurke.photography, and follow him on Instagram and Vimeo.

THINKING ABOUT POST PROCESSING BEFORE YOU SHOOT

Hey everyone, my name is Emily McGonigle, and I’m super stoked and honored to have the opportunity to be a guest blogger today. I’m a portrait photographer and retoucher from Nashville, TN. Being self-taught in both subjects, I’ve always tried to get my hands on every resource I could possibly find. This includes books and online content published by Scott Kelby, so getting to post to his blog today is pretty frickin’ cool.

Today I want to talk about keeping the post processing of your images in mind when planning and shooting a session.

I’m a weird, rare brand of photographer. I actually *like* editing and retouching. So much so that I eventually launched a separate retouching brand earlier this year. I was always told early on by my peers that I spent too much time in Photoshop; that I should spend more time shooting and less time learning about retouching. But being the stubborn individual that I am, I kept on the path that I was on and eventually got to the point where my photographic work started to become more recognizable as mine, partly because I was putting my signature on my images through my retouching and color grading.

As a result, post processing is something that I’m constantly thinking about, from the beginning of a session, to the last stroke of my Wacom pen.

Post Processing Starts When You Plan Your Session
This may sound like a weird concept, but it’s really not.

Color is magical. I love color. I have SUCH a hard time remembering that black and white imagery exists (and that sometimes it can make for a stronger image). But color can sometimes screw you up if you don’t plan for it.

I in no way claim to be an expert color theorist. As a matter of fact, it’s something I’m *still* learning and experimenting with. But what I do know is that the colors you start with on your set will greatly affect your coloring and mood in post processing.

If you’re planning on ending up with a moody shot, using a bright background with pastel color clothing on your subject isn’t going to jive well with the hyper contrasted, muted color grading that you had in mind. Making sure that all the elements you’re using in your image compliment your end processing can make or break an image.

The light that you plan on using is also equally important to consider in conjunction with your editing goals. Again, if you’re aiming for a moody end image, lighting the subject with flat, soft light, is probably not going to yield the results that you want in post, no matter how much you push and pull your curves and color.

For example, for this shot of my friend Lauren, I was inspired to do a monochromatic color palette with a lavender theme. I knew that I wanted a clean edit on this image, so making sure to light it without a ton of moody shadows was important.

When lighting this image, I paid special attention to the shape of the light on her face. I knew that I wanted a specific highlight on her cheekbone that I would later dodge in to accentuate her already gorgeous bone structure. But if the light wasn’t already placed correctly to create that shape, all the dodging and burning in the world wouldn’t matter. It wouldn’t look natural if the base of the shape wasn’t already created by the lighting used.


In the image of this model, we actually had her outfit picked out first. After seeing the brown of the dress and her accessories, I knew I was going to want to process the image with warmer tones. As a result, I made sure to use elements in the image that would compliment that idea. A diffused garage door filtering sunlight as backlight and a cream piece of raw canvas both lend themselves to warmer color grading.


On the opposite end of the spectrum, for this image of Taylor, I knew I wanted a clean, cooler, and moody look. I grabbed a backdrop that already had cool tones in it, and used dark elements around her on set. Then in post, I made sure to use cooler tones in my color grading to finish out the look.

None of these images would have worked quite the same way if I had used different elements on set, or if the subjects were wearing different pieces, but I still tried to process them the same way. I had to keep my end processing goal in mind while building each image.

Shooting for post processing
When I’m in the studio, one of my favorite things to do is tether directly to my computer, using Capture One. The glorious thing about tethering is that not only do I have a bigger screen than the LCD on the back of my camera, but after testing the initial set up, I can take a few moments to apply some preliminary edits. I can play with the color grading and density of an image on the spot, which allows me to do a rough version of the post processing that I’m envisioning for the image. The client will know what to expect, and I can know if what I’m striving for is actually going to work.

One example of this that was critical to the end result, was this image of my friend Sam.

There is no way I would have achieved this final look without intentionally thinking about what I wanted to do with it in post, prior to actually making it.

For this image, I was experimenting with a new way to light my subjects, that I hadn’t tried before. I knew I wanted the image to be dark and contrasty, with pops of highlights.

Straight out of camera, with ZERO work done to it, the image looked like this:

After determining that the shape I wanted was there, I went ahead and applied a rough edit in Capture One, which resulted in this:

That was close enough to the color grading and contrast that I wanted for the final image, so we shot the rest of the set this way, with Capture One automatically applying my edit to each file as it was created.

After the session, I went home and put the final touches on the image using Photoshop. I applied my color grading, starting with the raw image straight out of camera, applied some skin smoothing techniques, brought out the highlights in his eyes, and accentuated the light on his face with dodge and burn.

It’s important to note that 90% of the time I begin my color grading and retouching in photoshop from the straight out of camera image that was captured, and *not* the image with my rough studio edits applied. The reason for this is that the raw image is less contrasted, and not influenced by added color casts, therefore allowing me more room to create the exact color grading and contrast I’m trying to achieve. If I had used the studio edit as my base image in photoshop, it would have been much harder to make Sam’s eyes sparkle, or bring detail back into his jacket, because the raw data of shadows would already have been pushed by Capture One.

I also prefer to light in such a way that I achieve the correct shape on the subject, and the correct shadow to highlight ratio that I’m trying to achieve, without the image being too contrasted. The reason for this is the same: it allows me more wiggle room to play with my tones and density in post.

“I can fix that in post”
GET IT RIGHT IN CAMERA.

I know I’ve been preaching keeping your post processing in mind when shooting, but I’m NOT talking about things like moving things out of your frame that shouldn’t be there, fixing fly away hairs on set, smoothing wardrobe, and anything else that you’re tempted to “photoshop out”. If you can fix it in camera… do that. It’ll save you so much headache.

That being said… there *are* instances where that will be necessary, either due to limited resources, space, or your model giving you that KILLER look, but they moved a little too far off center, exposing your set in the background.

For example, there’s a shoot that I assisted my friend on that required him to build a set. I was also going to be the one to retouch the images when they were finished, so I was very conscious of what could and couldn’t be tackled in post, concerning the set build. We had a fairly limited resources to make the set, so we bought a stack of 2x4s, some drywall, some screws, and we fashioned three “walls” of a room that was to be the set for the model. You could see the seams between all of the drywall panels, the fabric that we used between two slats to allow light into the room, and every single screw we used to hold it all together. We didn’t intend to build a clean, nice looking set. We only had enough resources for the bare bones, and it was my responsibility to clean it up and make it look finished in post.

The great thing about it though, was the fact that I knew what would make my life easier and what would make it harder, before I even had to sit down to Photoshop. I knew that pinning the fabric as flat as possible would make smoothing the seam a lot easier in post. I knew that lining up certain slabs of drywall at certain angles would make smoothing the seams easier in post. Even though we were still prepping the set for the model, we did it with the retouching in mind.

If we had unlimited time and money to build the set, we could have just made a complete, solid, painted room, but since we didn’t have that luxury, I did what I know to do, and kept my post processing in mind while we put everything together.

Another time, I was photographing the band Zobrodome for their promotional materials.

Initially we were going to line the guys up on a yellow paper backdrop and shoot everything in camera. However, what I didn’t anticipate was that not all 5 of them fit well together, side by side on the size paper that I had. If we had been doing standard band shots, it would have been fine, but because the guys needed to stand on the same plane, side by side, we ran into some issues.

I had to think fast and decided that compositing would be the way to go. The inspiration for the image came from a graphic the guitar player had made, and we wanted it to look as surreal as possible. Keeping my post in mind, and knowing that I’d need things to be as consistent to make the composite work, we took plates of the background (Plain shots of the background lit, but no one in the frame). Then one by one, I had the guys stand individually in front of the backdrop on a marked spot on the floor.

Because they were painted down the middle, I also had to be particular about getting them to line their chins up with the line going through their necks as close as I possibly could. I knew I could fudge the lines a bit in post later, but to keep things from getting *really* out of whack, I needed them to nail it as best as they could in camera.

It actually turned out to be a really fun shoot, and an interesting composite job, but every step of the way, I had to keep in mind what my end goals would be in photoshop.

The long and short of it
No matter what your style is, the way you process your images is the finishing touch to your work. Whether you do a lot in post, or tend to be very minimal with it, it’s still extremely important to keep in mind what your end goal is.

I hope that I have been able to enlighten some of you with the idea of keeping your post processing in mind from the very beginning of a shoot. I know it’s something I never used to think about, and it would frustrate me when I couldn’t get the desired results I was striving for. But now that I’ve shifted my focus to consider all parts of my image creation, including my post processing, I find that I am much happier with what I am producing.


Emily McGonigle is a photographer and retoucher based out of Nashville, TN. You can see more of her photography work at EmilyMcGonigle.com and her retouching work at EmilyMcGonigleRetouch.com. She can also be found on Instagram under @EmilyMcGoniglePhoto for photography and @EmilyMcGonigleRetouch for retouching.

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