Category Archives Guest Blogger

Checklists, Formulas, Learning, Socializing, Spotting Emerging Trends, and Feedback — Stuff That May Sound Boring but Makes You A Better Photographer (PLUS It Can Improve the Bottom Line)

The title says it all, but let’s dig in a little, so this stuff makes sense.

Whether you’re a working commercial photographer, or simply an enthusiast who enjoys the art and craft of photography, there is a huge benefit to improving and staying on the leading edge of the craft. In the business world, it means you can make a better living. And if you’re an enthusiast, it keeps things fun and keeps you learning and growing. The tools I have used as the manager of a video production team, and now as a solopreneur, can be adapted and applied to just about any photographer or videographer to improve your skillset, and speed up your workflow.

Checklists

Really? Checklists? Everybody knows about checklists. But that’s why they get ignored so often. We used checklists when I managed my team filming video segments for commercial clients. That’s because it was easy to forget something small, like a camera setting, and then the video would have to be reshot. But the problem happens when we do something often enough that we think we remember everything, and we don’t need to take the few seconds to go through a checklist. I fly small planes, and one thing you learn very quickly is that, no matter how many times you’ve flown a plane, or how often you fly, you ALWAYS go through an actual checklist. Because if you miss the wrong little checklist item, you die.

Now, nobody’s gonna die if you forget to set your white balance correctly, but it can cost you at least some time. Maybe that’s extra time you have to spend post-processing your images or reshooting. And I don’t know many photographers who enjoy the idea of going through all the necessary setup to do a shoot, only to have to redo the exact same shoot. We want to move on and shoot new things.

You should have a checklist for each kind of photography you do. For example, one for senior portraits, one for daytime landscapes, one for products shots, etc. And if you do any photography on the road, you’ll want a checklist of all your gear. If you do commercial shoots which require model releases, be sure to include those kinds of things on your checklists too.

I suggest you create all of your checklists on your smartphone. That way they’re with you all the time. I use an outliner program called CarbonFin Outliner. It’s iOS, but I’m sure you can easily find an outliner for Androids too. The reason I like this approach is that with an outline layout, I can show or hide sub-categories, and all my photography checklists can be in one small place, rather than having some giant text file somewhere, or trying to make them fit in my Reminders app.

Formulas / Recipes

These days I’m doing video production and teaching photographers how to add simple video productions as a part of their photography. Beyond checklists, simple formulas have been a key to helping my clients understand what they need to do without getting overwhelmed. That’s because most still shooters want to be still shooters who are capable a little simple, professional looking video production.

They don’t want to know everything about cinematography and filmmaking and camera moves. If you want that kind of thing, then you want full blown film school. So, without going to film school and learning all about various kinds of shots so they can plan out and visualize a project for a client, with a few simple formulas, it’s much easier to plan the project and capture the necessary footage.

For example, a lot of commercial photographers and wedding photographers have clients ask, “Do you do video too?” While most photographers have shot some video with their cameras, they understand that there’s a lot that goes into professional video productions, and since they haven’t been through film school, they usually say no. But if they can learn how to create a few simple kinds of projects, then that ‘no’ becomes a ‘yes,’ and that means a better bottom line.

It’s fairly easy to learn how to capture interview style footage for a testimonial video, or product footage for a product demo video. And if you shoot weddings, Justin Wojtczak has some great training on KelbyOne about how wedding shooters can capture great footage for their clients while shooting stills at the same time. By the way, if simple video recipes sound interesting, I have a free eBook for still shooters you can download here.

Learning

Here’s another one of those things we all know intellectually, but we tend to not follow through like we should. It’s like diet or exercise. We understand the benefits of learning, but we don’t always follow through. Then when we do, a lot of the time, the results are beyond what we had expected.

I saw it for years when I worked at Kelby and I still see it every single time at Photoshop World. Attendees, especially first timers, come up to me and say how excited they are to have learned something new about Photoshop or photography that will save them hours or that sparks a whole new creative interest.

When I was the Executive Director of the National Association of Photoshop Professionals, and Photoshop World was planned for Orlando, I invited my brother (who lives in Orlando) to be my guest for the event. He’s a designer and uses Photoshop daily as a part of his job, but he couldn’t convince his boss to let him off work for the event. We were both kind of amazed because this was free training, in his field, with no travel expenses, and even the cost of admission was covered!! Wow! — So the next year we started planning a few months early and did a bit of a campaign to get the boss to let him go to the next Photoshop World.

We could tell the boss wasn’t totally on board, but my brother was finally able to convince his boss to give him the 3 days needed to attend. But the big victory happened 2 weeks after Photoshop World. My brother’s boss dropped by his office one afternoon and said, “When is the next one of those conferences? Ever since you got back from there you’ve been cranking out great designs and getting things done so much faster!! I want you to keep going to that conference every year!”

Socializing

Whether you’re an introvert or extrovert, there are good things that come from socializing. And you’ll want to keep your photography business in mind when you socialize. I’m not saying you should be pushy and obnoxiously ‘always selling,’ but if you are thinking about your business while you’re doing something social, you can learn from others or possibly find prospects. Socializing might get you in front of a prospective client you never knew about, or it might just push you in a direction you had never considered. As my friend Rick Sammon points out, there are things you can learn from non-photographers that you can apply to your photography. The bottom line is that some of your best ideas, inspirations, and connections could come from people outside the world of photography.

Spotting Emerging Trends

It takes a lot of work to be on the “Bleeding Edge,” but it’s not so hard to be on the Leading edge, and it’s just as effective. If you can spot a new look and master it before everybody else does, that can give you an edge in the photo world. And if you look in the right places, it’s relatively easy to be ahead of the curve enough that you can leverage a new technique or style to your advantage.

Over the years I’ve seen some really amazing things happen with emerging styles, and I’ve also noticed that new looks are happening faster and faster. Back when I was NAPP’s Exec Director, things like selective color images or photos that had a painterly look and feel (created in Photoshop) were really compelling. But back then it was only pros and advanced amateurs who were creating these images. And when a pro was known for a particular look in their local market, they could get a lot of business because people hadn’t seen that look all over the place.

I specifically remember when HDR photography started to roll out. Everybody who was a NAPP or Kelby Training member wanted to know how it was done, and the best tips and suggestions for workflows that allowed for variations to deliver images from slightly wider dynamic range images to extreme, supernatural looking pieces. The Photoshop Guys did countless tutorials and classes on best practices and tips and tricks for nailing the effects people wanted. But these days, most DSLRs can do in-camera HDR, and social media image filters can recreate just about any kind of HDR look, not to mention everything from antique photos, to line drawings, with a click or two.

So that leads us to a couple of important questions… Where do you find out what new looks and image processing techniques are emerging so you can capitalize on new trends? And, how can you even find something new today? Something that that people can’t already do on their smartphone with simple apps?

The answer is far easier if you aren’t a Photoshop or photography instructor. In my view, people who work at KelbyOne (like Scott himself) have it really tough because they have to consume a LOT of images to see new looks and emerging trends. Then they have to determine how people are creating those kinds of images. Then they have to create training to pass along these emerging styles to their customers. They stay relevant to students by constantly helping discover and teach the new trends. So that’s the answer. Pay attention to what the leading trainers in our field are teaching and you not only learn what’s new, you learn easy ways to do it yourself.

And it turns out, that’s the answer to the second question too. For example, there’s an image animation process that allows most of your image to be frozen, while a part of the image, like the flowing hair or gown of a model, billows softly with a smoothly repeating animation. The term I’m familiar with to describe this is “Cinemagraph.” But as I learned from a Trey Ratcliff class that came out on KelbyOne six months ago, Cinemagraph is a term that refers to something that was originally a movie that has parts frozen in place with other parts that move around it. The new technology is called a “plotagraph,” which starts as a still image and has things within the image animated so they appear to flow or wave. And Trey points out, these get 20 to 50 times more engagement on social media than still images!! If you’re a photographer who’s looking to capture people’s attention on social media and get some jobs as a result, you should definitely look into plotagraphs!

Feedback

There’s a reason people hire coaches and pay professionals to critique their work. That’s because our friends and loved ones usually just tell us what they think we want to hear. And unless your significant other is a photographer as well, you probably won’t gain too many helpful insights to improve your work. But a good, honest critique, from a true professional, can push you in new directions and reveal shortcomings in your work that you don’t even see yet.

Critiques are available in all kinds of places. Taking your portfolio to a tradeshow or local photography meetup group is a good start. Online groups (maybe Facebook groups) are another place to go for insights. The challenge as the artist whose work is being reviewed, is that you have to consider the skills and the agenda of the critic. If you’re at Photoshop World and you’re a landscape photographer and you have a sit-down critique session with somebody like Rick Sammon or Matt Kloskowski, you’ll probably get some really solid insights and instruction for what to do next. On the other hand, if you post your work in a Facebook photography group, you might get a few helpful tips mixed with some awful, hateful comments, or some random BS that’s totally irrelevant. Throw away whatever doesn’t serve you to grow your craft. Ignore the trolls!

And even when a “professional” reviewer has your best interests at heart, their suggestions might not line up with your style or your goals. You might very well find that their insights don’t direct you where you really want to go. Listen. Consider the advice. Then do whatever YOU think you should do next. Even the best in the industry might not see what you see.

Grow

I have a photography podcast with my friend Rick Sammon called Picturing Success, where we talk with the best photographers in the world.

We talk about the business side of things, the emotional impact, the technical skills, and the things that influence our photography. And in my regular conversations with Rick, as well as our interviews with leading photographers, I’m constantly learning. And when I talk with photographers I admire, and who I consider to be at the top of their game, they readily admit that they are constantly learning and improving too. So whoever you look up to and admire… whoever you think is at the top of the photographic world… they’re still learning just like you and me. So use these tools: Checklists, Formulas, Learning, Socializing, Spotting Emerging Trends, and Feedback, and keep growing.

That’s where the fun is!

Working on both sides of the camera, Larry Becker is primarily known for this on-camera presentations for Fortune 100 companies, as a spokesperson, as well as a camera reviewer. Larry hosts Photoshop World annually, he has hosted countless web based photography shows, live webcasts, authored camera and software tutorials, and served as an official NAB Show Live anchor again this year.

Larry spent years managing a video production team in a multi-million dollar studio, with clients including Canon USA, B&H Photo NY, and others. These days, when Larry isn’t on camera as a spokesperson, he coaches still shooters wanting to learn video, and on-camera talent, helping them produce quality business videos.

According to Becker, “Video is exploding as a communications tool for business online, and I help photographers and other business people understand how to maximize profit using video, with very little extra effort. For presenters, I help beginners craft their message and develop their persona, and I help pros adjust their style to connect even better.”

Keep up with Larry at LarryBecker.tv, and on Facebook and Twitter.

Last time I wrote a post here, I was seven months pregnant, on bed rest, and stuffing my face with tiramisu ice cream.

A lot has happened since then; I didn’t have any idea what life had in store for me.

I lost my fiancé a year after our baby was born. And that completely changed my life forever.

Just a month after my fiancé passed away I sold all of my belongings in a garage sale, got my kids in my car, and moved back to Orlando. I knew I needed to be in a place I love, and Orlando has always been my happy place.

I decided to not only get back into photography, but to do it full time. Yes, I know, it sounds like a dumb idea because we all know this is not the easiest industry to make money from, but I needed to do something creative, something I love. Also, I needed to do something that allowed me to be present in my kids’ lives, especially after everything we went through.

So, I gave myself a year to make it happen and this is what’ve learned so far.

I started redesigning every element of my life to keep myself on track.

There were a few seconds every morning when I woke up, and everything was fine until the realization of him being gone hit me. It felt like he died every single morning for at least the first six months. But, still, I had to get up, take care of my kids, and make their life beautiful. I didn’t want them to look back at their childhood with sadness. So, instead of staying in bed and crying as many times I wanted to, I made the best out of my day.

It’s all about how you use the time you have.

Instead Of Listening To Music, Listen To Audiobooks And Podcasts
Sorry, Adele, it’s not you, it’s me. In order to have the right mindset, I needed to invest my time wisely. I needed to keep myself inspired. And, as much as I love Adele, I had to ditch her. I started listening to self development, business, photography and inspirational podcasts and audiobooks. That made a massive change in my life. I still listen to them in my car, when I’m editing and even when I’m getting ready to go out.

Keep A Journal With The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly
This not only allows me to get everything out of my head, but it also gives me perspective. And it’s a way to track my progress.

Be Thankful
As the first year of my fiancé’s death approached, I felt emotionally burnt out. That night, I sat alone in my bed and started writing the names of people and the things I was thankful for, and, to my surprise, the list was huge. 2016 was a rough year, but I will never forget the support and the kind gestures I received from mostly everybody I know. I wouldn’t have made it through that year if it wasn’t for them. The photography community is full of people with HUGE  hearts.

Since then, I give thanks every night before I go to sleep.

Build Your Tribe
I try to surround myself with creative, positive, inspiring, hardworking, and badass people. People with big ideas and talents.

This is why I love going to Photoshop World so much. I’ve been going to PSW since 2013. It’s the perfect environment for creatives. I’ve met many of my best friends there, and we keep in touch throughout the year to talk about our projects and support each other.

Keep Your Thoughts, Words, And Actions In Check
Everything starts with a thought, comes out of your mouth and, it’s turned into action. So, be aware of what’s happening in the roof.

Do Something Nice For Somebody On A Daily Basis
This one became a habit to me. I’ve been in the dark so much; I know how a kind gesture can bring light to someone’s life. I try to spread a little bit of joy every day. This is not hard at all. Check on your friends, answer questions, be a cheerleader, help someone out, give compliments, hug somebody, share their work.   

But do not give yourself away (I tend to get too invested sometimes when helping people) so, know your limits and establish boundaries.

Recognize And Embrace Your Uniqueness
There are many things that make us different from each other. I’ve learned a lot about myself in the last two years. I made peace with my flaws, I accepted my misfortunes, and I keep trying to learn from my mistakes. I know who I am, what I’m willing to do, and what I’m not willing to sacrifice in my life for my business. Sometimes, I’m too much for some people. Maybe I talk too much; I’m too passionate, I’m too happy, or too opinionated. Those comments used to bother me and put me into negative self-critique mode. But now, I embrace them instead and see them as qualities.

When Was The Last Time You Did Something For The First Time?
There’s nothing more refreshing and exciting than doing something for the first time. A few months ago I was asked to cast for a TV commercial. I have no experience with acting. But, I said yes, and I went to the audition. I didn’t get the part but I had a lot of fun!

Go ahead and do something exciting! Go on a doors off helicopter ride! I did that recently with my friend Dave Williams, and it was a blast.

Find Balance
I’m a single mom of two, and I run a business. Sounds simple right? Well, it is not, especially when you want to do everything so perfectly. I usually find myself in front of my computer making things happen, either writing content or editing pictures, with my three year old girl sitting on my lap. My kids are very involved in my photography. They love to model and to come up with concepts for Photoshoots. It’s essential for me that they can enjoy and understand what I do for a living.

You can see a lot of the projects we do together in my portfolio.

Write Lists, Follow Up, And Have Deadlines
My desk is covered by sticky notes. I have written on a blackboard all of the important due dates and projects I’m working on. I have all kind of reminders on my phone, and the Evernote app is my best friend. Without all those, I’m not able to function. I get distracted too easily, especially with a little girl pulling my arm asking for ice cream and cookies about ten times a day.

Make The Best With What You Have
I still shoot with the first and only camera I’ve ever had. My trusty Canon 5D Mark II. I bought my Elinchrom strobes at around the same time I bought my camera. It was probably September of 2011, and those are still the only ones I have. My computer is about that old too. It even died on me a couple of months ago, and I got a new hard drive, a new battery, turned to YouTube, and fixed it myself. This is proof that when you want something you go for it. I can’t make excuses. I do drool over gear, but I’m supporting two kids on my own and building my empire brick by brick. So, I make the best with what I have.

Develop A Personal Style
It goes back to what makes you unique. I get a lot of messages from people asking me how can they jump into the photography business to make a living. And, to be honest, those questions were the inspiration to write this blog post.

I don’t have all the answers. My process hasn’t been easy. I’ve gotten a lot of doors shut on my face, and I’ve had to dust myself off, get up and try again. But I’ve been fully committed all the time.

First, find your niche, then, make your work stand out from the rest. You can only do that by investing long hours on your craft. Try different techniques. There’s no shortcut. Put the hours in and be creative.

Be Nice, Play Nice
This is a big one. Relationships are the mother of every business. I’m genuinely a people person. I love human connection, deep conversations, I love making friends and keeping in touch. I’m not afraid to approach people.

I also don’t believe in competition. On the contrary, I’m the first one to support other photographers and celebrate their successes. I think there’s room for each one of us in the industry and we all have a different thing to bring to the table.

Bring Value
Are you a giver or a taker? I always do my best to bring something positive to every relationship I’m in, whether it’s a personal or a business relationship. Yes, you can expect people to shower you with love and goodies, but if you don’t give anything in return, chances are that relationship won’t last long.

Ask people what you can bring to the table, what kind of help they need, how you can benefit each other.

I’m approaching my third-year mark of doing photography full time, and I’m not yet where I want to be. But the last couple of months have been incredible, and my hard work is finally paying off.

I want to give a big thanks to everybody who has put their trust in me in these last three years. My friends, my wonderful clients, everybody at KelbyOne, Platypod, Spectacular Themes and the amazing people at 3 Legged Thing for making me part of their Pro Team. I finally can say I’m starting to live my dream!

So, go ahead, take the leap, be brave, be constant and live the dream!

You can see more of Gilmar’s work at GilmarPhotography.com, and keep up with her on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

The Gary Vee Quote That Changed My Life
It’s been four years since my last Guest Blog– wow, does time fly! A lot has changed for me since 2014. I went from shooting personal projects in my mom’s garage in Jersey, to getting my first real studio in Brooklyn in 2016, and now I’m moving into a studio that’s twice the size of the first one. Let’s examine what simple, yet impactful changes I made that might help you move in the right direction as well.

My last post focused on why you shouldn’t put yourself in a box and why you should be able to shoot across multiple disciplines in terms of portraiture, product, etc. Well… I’m back to say that we should rethink that concept. As time went on, it became increasingly clear to me that the big name photographers really specialized in one, two, or even three categories. While I was staying busy with shooting both product and portraits, I felt that I’d be able to take my career to the next level if I did in fact pick a lane and stay in it. Art buyers are very busy and they’re looking for a quick solution to their “who’s going to shoot this project” question. The answer is usually that they want the _____ photographer. (Fill in the blank… splash, sports, food, etc.)

Around that time, I heard a quote from Gary Vaynerchuck in which he more or less said that people should spend less time trying to get better at their weaknesses, and instead should be tripling down on their strengths. Find the thing you love, and get tunnel vision. Wow. That had me scratching my head. I gave it a ton of thought and, as much as I loved photographing people, I felt that it was time to refresh my site and drop the portraits altogether. I switched from Aphotofolio to Squarespace and was able to choose a layout that displayed my existing work in a whole new way, which actually made it look like a whole new body of work.

The great thing about dropping the portraits, was that potential clients would only see still life images and understand that I was focused on that, but my existing clients knew that I could shoot people. I also built a hidden link with a gallery of portraits to easily show any potential clients that might be curious if I could shoot portraits as well. Once you have a rapport with a client, it’s much easier to say “Hey, I also shoot ____, ya know!” And there will be more trust that you can execute the images.

I decided that I would focus on beverages, cosmetics, and jewelry. Tunnel vision. What was the worst that could happen? I could always add the other galleries back. It was time to create some new work. So my friend and I did some cosmetic testing in my studio and I posted it on Instagram. Shortly after, I was hired to shoot some projects for Covergirl and Maybelline. I also did some splash testing with beverages and it led me to shoot for The Fat Jewish’s wine brand.

In addition to narrowing your focus and specializing, I would also strongly recommend that you shoot what you love. Yes, you can shoot food, alcohol, etc. and make a ton of money. But if your heart’s not in it, it will be apparent in your work and your attitude on set. What excites you? What type of shoots do you daydream about? Be honest and embrace the things that turn you on, and steer clear of things that you don’t want to shoot. (And just to be clear, I’m not saying to turn down work and suffer. I’m talking about testing and trying to acquire new clients and jobs.)

Outside of photography, my hobby is collecting pocket knives. I started an Instagram account for it called @notoriousedc just to see what would happen. I quickly gained thousands of followers, outpacing my photography account in a matter of months, and I’m now over 31,000 followers in just a couple of years of posting. I ended up landing the biggest knife company on the planet, Victorinox, as one of clients and they have been absolutely amazing to work with. I think my passion for the hobby really came through in my photos, as well as my engagement with other members of the community. In turn, that helped build the following and kept me super excited to make the hobby a more serious creative outlet.

I truly believe that putting your passion in the spotlight will make you way more excited to create new and better work. I’m super excited to dive much deeper and develop some new skills. I want to build on my body of work, as well as shooting some new personal work and also get into motion. Now that I’ve narrowed my focus, I feel excited about photography all over again. Staying in only a few lanes has really helped me think of new concepts and lighting techniques. I attribute this to not being scatterbrained and being able to concentrate on these specific areas. There is that old phrase, ‘the jack of all trades and the master of none.’ It’s got some validity to it. I’d love to hear what you guys think about this approach. Please feel free to drop me a line on Instagram @tommedvedich!

You can see more of Tom’s work at TomMedvedich.com, and keep up with him on Instagram @TomMedvedich and @NotoriousEDC.

Turning The Corner
It was my senior year in high school and I had just turned 18. I had been playing drums since age 11 – only 7 years – but to an adolescent, 7 years can feel like two decades. Just a week after my birthday I met some guys who had started a band called Third Day and fortunately for me, they needed a drummer. I obliged to try out and the rest is history!

Photo by Marina Chavez

I spent the next 24 years of my life making music and traveling the world. Third Day had quite a career and we experienced so much in that time. I never imagined music would be my livelihood or that it would last so long. But here’s part of the reason why I never imagined it… I sucked at it! Well, at least at first.

I’ll give myself some slack for the first 7 years of playing drums because really, it was just a hobby. I mean, I had a drum set in our damp, unfinished basement. I put stickers on the bass drum head. I duct taped my broken drum sticks back together. I hit a crash cymbal every four beats. Lots of crash cymbals. Never enough crash cymbals! My friends would come over and we would attempt to make music together. It was the stuff of garage bands and it was fun but certainly not career-worthy. And I wasn’t one of those high school kids who said,”I’m gonna make it in music someday!” No, I was more of the mind of, “What the heck am I gonna do when I grow up?”

I may never have grown up, but what started as an unpolished hobby became second nature, and I blossomed into my own style and technique. I said I’d give myself a free pass for the first 7 years of drumming, but I’ll just tell you that the next 7 years was trial by fire. I mean, after all, Third Day was in ever-increasing demand.  It’s one thing to play music at your own leisure and quite another when you’re obligated. When the “get to” becomes the “have to,” you learn to grow quickly. It was definitely an uphill climb but I distinctly remember the season when it felt like I was finally getting it. I was mastering a skill and becoming really good at what I did. You might call it, “owning it.”

An example of my early work before I knew the difference that shooting during golden hour made, or having clouds in the sky. Now I know!

My point in painting this backstory is that now, after nearly 6 years in photography, I believe I’m finally becoming halfway decent at it! In fact, I’m equal parts amazed and embarrassed to look at my earliest attempts at capturing great shots. I mean, who doesn’t love a shot of the clear blue, mid day sky over the rocky mountains with nothing interesting happening? Can we say Lightroom clarity slider to the rescue? I’ll never forget the day I discovered that slider. It was my best go-to trick!

One thing I’ve learned is that just because your family and friends say you’re great – and they certainly mean well – it doesn’t mean you are. In fact, I have learned to be more and more critical of my own work. It’s essential to growth in anything. You celebrate the wins but learn from the mistakes. I definitely had to learn that behind the drum set, and it’s no different with a camera in hand.

Yes, I finally feel like I’m getting pretty good at photography. I say finally because most of my favorite images up until recently were the result of spraying and praying, then sifting through the rubble and finding one gem here or there. Can you relate? Whereas now, I’m feeling more in control of the process from start to finish. My confidence has grown considerably, partly because my ‘get to’ is now my ‘I’m being paid to!’

Perhaps the same is true for you. However, if you’re kind of new to this whole photo thing, then I encourage you to keep at it, have fun shooting, editing and sharing. But also get gut level honest with yourself about your work and let others speak into it as well. Don’t be afraid to fail! Welcome failure as a guest of success because they go hand in hand. They are both equally part of what will get you to the next level.

David Carr is based in Atlanta, GA. Though primarily a portrait photographer, he always has and always will love photographing landscapes, architecture, animals and really anything that makes a great image. You can see more of his work at DavidCarr.com, and keep up with him on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Not to be dramatic or anything, but discovering Photoshop probably saved my life. I don’t know what would have happened to me without it and I don’t want to know! I came to Photoshop in a round about way. I graduated from the Kansas City Art Institute with a degree in painting (my poor parents), and I credit all those hours of live drawing classes with my ability to build complicated composites and convincingly manipulate the anatomy of the subjects in my images.

I didn’t, however, go from graduation to Photoshop. There was no Photoshop back then. I traveled and painted for many years then ended up in Haiti (for a long time). Eventually I knew I had to return to the U.S. since it was pretty tough to make ends meet in Haiti. It was year 2000 and I didn’t even know how to turn on a computer. I had to reinvent myself and find a way to make a living. My mother told me to do something with my “art” on the computer and she showed me Microsoft Paint. Being a painter (a real one) I thought this was the stupidest thing I had ever heard.

In confusion, I went back to Haiti. But while there, a good friend, a photographer, had bought a computer and one day I saw him using…PHOTOSHOP. My hair stood on end. I flew back to Kansas City where my father lived and took over the 2nd floor of his house and his little tiny (hilarious from this vantage point) computer. I bought a copy of Photoshop and made it my job for the next 6 months to teach myself how to use the program. I spent a minimum of 8 hours a day doing this.

I’m not sure that I knew what it was I wanted to do with Photoshop, I just knew I needed to know everything about it. Soon, I saw an ad for a job in the paper, and it said you needed to know Photoshop so I went for it. Boom. I got my first job as a retoucher for H&H Color Lab.

I worked there for two years retouching wedding photos, family portraits, children’s portraits and high school senior shots. It was grueling. We worked horrifically long hours, but I never missed a day and I learned everything I could, including the printing side of things. I knew I needed to know everything! At night I searched for books or information online about higher end retouching techniques. In those years there wasn’t an avalanche of tutorials about retouching like there is today. I’m actually glad there wasn’t, because now there are some terribly misleading tutorials advocating poor retouching techniques and, some of the authors of these tutorials have very little experience.

For comedic affect here is one of my early retouches done at H&H: remove braces.

Removing braces from a Senior portrait

One of the frequent requests was for braces removal from the teen shots. I started a “body Parts” folder for teeth to swap out. I still have a folder for “parts” today, but instead of teeth I keep silo’d hair wisps, good eyelashes, various textures for skin and clothing, fingernails, etc.

Here is my teeth folder from back in 2002. Pretty funny.

Teeth from the ‘Body folder”

Eventually I snagged a test retouch for a high end retouching house in NYC. I was surprised when I opened the DVD (yes, that’s how we used to share files: via snail mail, ha) and found an image of Cameron Diaz. I was on 12 hour shifts Monday through Friday and 8 hours on Saturday, but I stayed up all night and retouched throughout my Sunday off. In the end I was offered the job.

It was great to finally work on images shot by high end pro photographers. I don’t regret the time I spent at H&H; it strengthened my skills fixing the mistakes of less than stellar photographers. The long hours and the pressure to work fast was good training. You have to pay your dues.

I can’t show images from my time at my first retouching studio, but after 2 years there I began to freelance and work for individual photographers. One of the first ones was Rick Day Here are some of the collaborations from that partnership. Below is a beauty retouch.

Clara shot by Rick Day

And here are some compositing pieces Rick shot at The Box nightclub.

Photo by Rick Day
Raven shot by Rick Day  

Back when I started retouching there weren’t a million tutorials all over the internet like there are now. One of the problems with the abundance of tutorials out there is figuring out which ones are showing you the right way to retouch like the pros and which ones are bogus shortcuts. I’m glad that I learned mostly from working with other experienced retouchers on the job.

I spent another two years freelancing at various studios in NYC, working with some of the best retouchers in the city. I subcontracted at Graphic Systems Group and helped them regain beauty ad work for Elizabeth Arden. This was a few years ago, so the retouching is much more “polished” than it typically is today. See below for some ads I did with Catherine Zeta-Jones shot by photographer Michael Thompson.

CZJ shot by Michael Thompson
CZJ shot by Michael Thompson

The past few years there have been a lot of people advocating a technique called Frequency Separation, although I’ve noticed a lot of people abandoning it in favor of the tried and true “dodging and burning” for skin retouching. I’m not going to go into why I personally do not use this technique (I’ve explained it over and over again in Facebook groups and to my classes at the School of Visual Arts).

Rather than spend time learning trendy shortcuts, a retoucher would be better off learning how to control and adjust your brush tools for the particular job at hand. I spend the first three hours of my retouching workshops discussing brushes and how to set them up for optimal retouching.

One great tool for teaching fell into my lap when I was given the PSD of another retouching company to “fix.” Below is a screen shot of one of my masks and one of theirs.

The first image is THEM.

Poor brush work on a mask

The below image is of CarrieNYC masks:

Masks painted with soft brushes

Unless you are making a hard edged mask for something like product you almost always want a soft brush that blends. I am a proponent of using FLOW rather than OPACITY and for my dodge and burn brush. I always have TRANSFER turned on and the Controls set to Pen Pressure (I don’t need to say that you should be working with a stylus and not a mouse, right?)

The first thing to do in the Photoshop brush panel is to TURN OFF SHAPE DYNAMICS!!!!! It’s a weird brush setting and I only use it to do tricky stuff like draw hair or eyelashes.

Here is my brush panel for Dodge and Burn. The Brush is set at 10% Flow and AIRBRUSH is turned ON.

Brush settings

The “THEM” example is using a default brush, Shape Dynamics is on, they are using Opacity rather than Flow, and their brush is set to a hard edge. Not optimal for what they were trying to do.

My suggestion for retouchers honing their craft is to learn Photoshop inside and out, even things you might not think you would need as a retoucher. Inevitably, your clients will ask you for some crazy things, and you have to find ways to make it happen. We really aren’t allowed to say ‘that can’t be done.’ For example, below is a product shot that hadn’t actually been produced yet, and I only received the final product after the fact.

Product retouching

So in wrapping up, let me show you a lovely beauty shot by Rick Day NYC that shows what you can accomplish with good ole Dodge and Burn.

Beauty shot by Rick Day

While I love retouching and am so lucky to have it as my job, I still love painting! I have a studio, and that’s where I get to be the real me. Here is a self portrait of me sitting at my retouching station (It’s not retouched at all, that’s the real me!)

“Unretouched” self portrait

Thanks for listening!

You can see more from Carrie at CarrieNYC.com and CarrieBeene.com, and keep up with her at @carrienyc and @carriebeenestudio (painting) on Instagram and her Facebook group for retouchers, Real Retouching: Learn and Teach.

You can also get her book Real Retouching: A Professional Step by Step Guide on Amazon, and you can take one of her retouching workshops at the School of Visual Arts in NYC! There are six per year, and the next one is June 23-24.

What it Takes to Master Your Creativity
It’s been a minute since my last post here, and I thought, “What piece of value can I pass on to you from what I’ve learned since then?” The funny thing is, reading through that post from 8 years ago, it all still rings true today, including the things that must be maintained throughout your career.

One of the biggest things I’ve learned since this article, is that true mastery is coming out of the sophomore dip. The truth is business is up and down. Learning how to master not only your craft but the mental game of uncertainty is a must in this business.

Not only have I learned the most from the firsthand experiences of my life and career, but also through one of my personal passion projects, my podcast: NIONradio (Pronounced “NE-ON”). This project spawned from being interviewed on my good friend Lewis Howes’ School Of Greatness podcast.

I wanted to create a project that allowed me to photograph and interview some of my favorite top level creatives, and that I did. My goal has been to do portraits of all my guests along with an in depth interview on their creative world from creative process, to making money with their art, to the mindsets they’ve adopted to create success.

I’ve always been inspired by photographs and deep conversations, and this was the platform for me to do that. Photography in general has been my gateway into being able to learn from some of the most talented amazing people such as Usher, Donna Karan, Daniel Arsham, and many more. I’ve also been able to interview some of my favorite photographers such as Christopher Makos, Art Streiber and Jeff Lipsky. Funnily enough, it can be intimidating to photograph photographers whose work you admire.

Photographing and interviewing people have helped me learn about creativity and life from them. Here are are three nuggets I’ve learned along the way in this creative journey.

  1. Personal projects lead to paid work: A common theme from the photographers I’ve interviewed such as Jeff Lipsky, Joey L, and Jeremy Cowart was exactly this. All their personal projects have led to getting commercial work they’ve wanted.
  2. Relationships are KEY: Not only is having great work important to back you up, but having the right relationships and a great network is the key to success. Having great relationships takes a lot of personal social development in communication skills. A few great guests on this topic have been Vienna Pharaon, Jordan Harbinger, Jared Kleinert, and Vanessa Van Edwards. In my interview with Andy Warhol’s photographer, Christopher Makos, he talks about your network being your net worth.
  3. Evolve or Evaporate: This is the biggest piece of advice that stood out when I interviewed Usher. As creatives, in order to have a long lasting career, we must evolve, grow, try new things, and constantly re-invent, or else we evaporate. The greatest artists of all time have kept evolving throughout the years.

At the end of the day, it’s about constantly creating. What you’re deciding to put in front of your camera is more important than the gear itself. Oddly enough, I haven’t even upgraded to the top of the line cameras (I’m a Canon guy). The technology has reached a threshold where the quality is so good, it’s more just bells and whistles. I’ve always been a believer that you use the right tools to get the job done.

I’ll leave you with this:

Keep making better work and showing more people. That’s the name of the game.

You can see more from Nick at NickOnken.com, and keep up with him on his podcast, NION Radio, and Instagram.

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