First, thank you to Scott for the opportunity to do another guest post. And thanks to Brad for all the work you do here too. Both of you inspire me daily.
As you can probably guess by the title of this post, I’m a concert photographer, and I think every photographer should try photographing a concert at least once. It is one of the most fun photo environments you will ever encounter. It will also require that you can operate your gear without thought.
Unlike some other areas of photography, where we might position the subject, and control or shape the light, in live music photography you can’t do any of that. The lead singer may be in front of you with the perfect expression, and then gone before you can get focus. He may be in low light as you set exposure, and under bright landing lights by the time you shoot the shot. The lighting director will try to push the limits of what the human eye can see, and since the camera sees much less dynamic range than our eyes, your images may be clipped on both ends of the histogram.
For photographers that are accustomed to having full control, concerts will challenge you at every turn. Like with any type of photography, there is a lot more to concert photography than I can cover here. My hope is to give you a few general tips below, in case you ever try this yourself.
My first tip is to ignore the noise. We music photographers live at ISO settings that make some people cry. Just crank the ISO as needed to allow a fast enough shutter speed to freeze the action, and a sharp noisy shot is always better than a blurry clean shot. That is not to say you can’t play with motion and blur, just that when needed be sure you can get the shot you want or need.
What is Concert Photography?
The answer to this question is part of the reason I love this genre. At its core, concert photograph is really just Low Light Action Photography, similar to photographing some sporting events. But, it is also event photography, environmental portraiture, and photojournalism.
Depending on who you are shooting for it could be any one of those, a combination of some, or all of the above.
The most important thing to know about shooting live music is that you can’t just walk into a Foo Fighters concert with a pro camera. Major artists, the ones that play festivals and arenas, want press coverage.
That means you will generally need media credentials to shoot the show. How do get those?
For the last few years, I have made a goal of mine to create the most amazing memories with my kids, both in real life and photography-wise. Of course, it is a mission of mine to make our Christmas Card an epic one every year. Who wants to receive another boring Christmas card anyways?
Our Christmas Cards and my Bad Santa series were personal projects I started doing for fun, and they turned out to be the greatest marketing tool for my business during the Holiday Season.
This year, I started booking Christmas Cards sessions even before Halloween.
As the song says, Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year, and it is also the perfect time for you as a photographer to make money.
Mostly everybody I know sends Christmas Cards to their family and friends. A big part of that group prefers to send family pictures instead of store-bought Christmas Cards.
I am sure you usually receive pretty much the same version of a Christmas card from different families. Matching outfits, fake smiles, all of them in front of a Christmas Tree. But not all Christmas Cards have to be like that!
What I look to capture on Christmas Card sessions is a little bit of everyone’s personality in one image. For me to be able to do that, I make sure to collect as much information as possible from my client’s family. Some of my clients have already a concept picked by the time they book the sessions, and some others need a little help choosing a theme. That’s when the info I collect from them comes handy. I go ahead and customize inspiration boards for them and even draw a few sketches.
Then my job is to escalate their concept to the epic level!
Having shot multiple clients’ Christmas Cards through the years, I can also say it’s a very competitive time between family and friends, but the fun kind. Once you send out your first fun Christmas Card, there’s no going back. They will be expected every year.
This family recreates a rock album cover every year for their Christmas Card… Can you guess which one is this?
This family wanted a portrait of the chaos that goes behind doors… I can relate!
Kitchen portraits are always fun!
This lovely classic portrait:
Here’s a beach theme without having to pray to the weather Gods for good weather or having to spend a few days getting rid of the sand.
Our Christmas Card this year was inspired by our beloved state of Florida and its fumbling superhero, the Florida man. Who every year gives us the most embarrassing, outrageous, cringy, dumb, awkward, funny, infuriating, and even sometimes, inspiring news stories.
I built up the set in my garage with a ton of Props I got from Spectacular Themes. I really wanted to have a wooden fence as a background, but I couldn’t fit anything like that in my car. After giving it a little thought, I remembered I have laminated wooden floor that I sometimes use on portraits, so I put it against the garage door and BAM! Instant wooden fence!
I didn’t have to spend money on outfits; we used what we had, and of course, I had to wear my Santa suit like every year.
After setting all that up in my garage, I wasn’t going to shoot just one picture. We created a fun little series, and my kids made sure to stamp their personalities on them.
Since I managed to get all the props I wanted, I only had to Photoshop the sky, and I added a little bit of my personal retouching style.
All of these images were shot with my Nikon Z7 and a 24-70mm Z mount lens on my 3 Legged Thing Leo (except for Christmas car one, that was shot with my camera on my Platypod Max). I used two Elinchrom BXRi 500 strobes: one with an octa on camera right and the other one with a strip light set horizontally on a background stand for fill. I also had a Vflats from V-Flat World on each side of the set to bounce light.
This is my busiest time of the year, but it is also the most fun because I get to be creative doing the kind of work I love.
I hope you have a fantastic Holiday Season!
Here are our Christmas Cards from the previous years:
I’ve always felt that capturing a well exposed picture was easy, but capturing a portrait that reveals the essence, character, and personality was hard. And that’s because the most successful portraits take us well beyond the surface of how someone looks and show us the inner essence of who someone is. They reveal character, soul, and depth. They uncover hidden hopes and inner strength, revealing that authentic and deeply human light that shines within.
And while technical expertise is undoubtedly important, it’s not the technique, lighting, camera, or pose that creates a great portrait. It’s you, and it’s your mastery of technique and the way you make the connection with the subject, that makes the image come to life. Because ultimately, good portraits have very little to do with the surface of how someone looks.
Good portraits go beyond the surface and in doing so, they make us feel. I like how Antoine de Saint-Euxprey put it, “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” So in a sense, the craft of portraiture is all about capturing what you can’t quite see, but what you can clearly feel. That’s what makes portraiture such an interesting craft. And at the same time, such a paradox.
The Paradox of Portraiture
I like how the French poet Charles Baudelaire put it, “A portrait! What could be more simple and more complex, more obvious and more profound.” Authentic portraits—at least the ones that endure—are paradoxical in these ways. These pictures aren’t single-minded; they’re a complex and sometimes conflicting combination of ideas, emotions, and themes. Like good literature or art, they give you access to multiple emotions at once.
Authentic portraits speak to the many paradoxes of life: absence and presence, fragility and strength, pity and admiration, nostalgia and regret. Paradoxes are truths in disguise. That’s why they thrive in good literature, film, and art. The element of surprise draws us in. What at first seems like a flaw suddenly makes sense, and the original contradiction metamorphoses from dissonance into interest, believability, and depth.
So how then do we capture more authentic, more meaningful, and more interesting frames? Here are three tips:
1. Carry Less. Capture More.
One of the quickest ways to capture better portraits is to work with a single camera, lens, and natural light. And that’s how I’ve built my career and had my images published by Rolling Stone, New York Times, Esquire Magazine, etc. and worked with dream clients like Google, Adobe, Patagonia, The Nature Conservancy, etc.
99% of all of my images are created with natural light. So if you’d like a great primer on natural light, I’d highly recommend Scott’s new book. I was sent a prerelease copy and it’s really good. His book will give you the foundation to start capturing great images without a lot of gear. This way you can work quickly and build up a body of work.
2. Search For More
When we see someone standing in front of our lens, it’s easy to think of the person in regards to how they look. But great portrait photographers always resist the urge and look past the surface in search of something more. My friend Travis Blue put it this way, “To be human is to look so closely and so deeply into another that you see yourself.” In other words, we must find a way to search for the story within that resonates with who we are.
Like with the photograph below on the left. At first glance he seemed like an “ordinary homeless person.” But as I got to talking with him I discovered that he really was a writer without a home. And I was able to identify with that. Not that I’ve ever been homeless, but that I have experienced what it’s like to be displaced, marginalized, and discouraged even while I was committed to my craft. And it was my craft that kept my spirit alive.
So when you photograph someone, never settle for what you see at first glance. Take time to search, look, listen, and learn about your subject so that you can create portraits that reveal more.
3. Find The Common Ground
When I am photographing a celebrity, a stranger, or a close friend, the process is always the same. And it always begins with making a connection through finding common ground. I’ve found that the quickest way to do that is through the art of asking interesting questions. Rather than telling my subjects what to do, I ask them about their life. And that’s true whether it’s a world famous celebrity like Millie Bobby Brown (below left) or a good friend like Chris Burkard (below right). The point is to start a dialogue and to learn about the subject so that more of who they are shows up in the frame.
Chris Orwig is a best-selling author, photographer, and teacher who blends a down-to-earth approach with technical expertise. Having authored 7 books and over 5000 hours of online tutorials, Chris knows his stuff. But more importantly, he knows what matters most. After having survived a near death rock climbing accident at an early age, Chris realized that life is a gift, and that the camera is the perfect tool for savoring and celebrating the time that we have.
He regularly speaks on creativity and photography at conferences and workshops, and has been invited to speak for companies like Google, Facebook, Adobe and on the TEDx stage. Whether capturing photographs, teaching, or writing books, Chris strives to inspire others to become more creative and lead more meaningful lives. Find out more at ChrisOrwig.com and on Instagram @chrisorwig.
In 1985, while still in high school, I received training in video thanks to the fact that cable companies across the United States were digging up every sidewalk to lay cable, and requiring community access stations and training in exchange for the monopolies in cities everywhere. Think a real-life Wayne’s World, without extra cowbell. Lugging around a huge tape deck and separately hardwired camera was a lot for this young scrawny high-schooler, but I managed, and learned a lot in the process.
In 2000, after a decade as a full-time still photographer, I returned and dipped my toe back into video. Over the years, my YouTube channel grew, largely as an arm of my efforts to promote best business practices for photographers and the messaging for my book, Best Business Practices for Photographers, where I did over 70 videos with a quick-hit insight into a single business topic in each one. Even so, my still photography business continued to grow, as did my staff.
Over the last five or so years, I began what can only be called a ocean-liner speed turn from stills and a little video, to making video a solid part of my business offerings to clients. In the last year, video revenues have grown to about 30% of gross revenues, and are headed in that direction even more in the near future.
So, why? As still photography grows into an ever- commoditizing offering, video still has largely non-commodifiable components. Knowing how to capture good sound, knowing how to edit a package, and even the addition of simple graphics like lower-thirds, means that it doesn’t seem to clients like “everyone can do it.” Further, telling stories in video is a really exciting way to express my creative side, and it’s a lot of fun. For many Adobe users, you already have Premiere as a tool you can download as a part of your Creative Cloud subscription.
Professionally, I’ve put together an award-winning documentary short that is on the festival circuit, worked on documentaries for Showtime and HBO, to name a few. Being a part of those teams have been incredible opportunities and really fulfilling in a way I’ve not felt since the early days of excitedly seeing my images on the covers of magazines on the newsstands.
KelbyOne has a great deal of DSLR filmmaker resources where you can learn now to do this, and it’s an exciting thing to add to your still photography side of the business.
How many ways can you learn to light a portrait? Why not start fresh with video? I’m not suggesting you abandon still photography, but if you’re not expanding your business, you’re slowly dying.
John Harrington is an award-winning filmmaker and Washington DC-based still photographer who has worked on assignment for, or whose work has appeared in National Geographic, Life, Time, Rolling Stone, HBO, Showtime, PBS, and many other news outlets, and whose commercial work has been completed for over half of the Fortune 500 companies over a 30+ year (and counting) career.
HOW DO I DO THAT IN INDESIGN? I WROTE A BOOK! Part 2 – It’s Available Now!
Hi there, it’s an honour to be back on Scott’s blog again. When I think back to my first appearance nine years ago, an iPhone shot by Scott of Glyn Dewis and myself on the London Underground just after meeting Scott (and also me meeting Glyn for the first time) and now nine years on, talking about the release of my new book, written for Scott’s series of “How Do I Do That In…” series, I do seriously have to pinch myself. I’ve been using InDesign since its ‘birth’ 20 years ago, so to become an author on the subject is an achievement I am incredibly proud of.
I wrote a blog post (Part 1) about the book back in May 2019 right here.
At that point I was still in writing mode. No one really prepares you for writing a book. A 260+ page book. A 260+ page book to continue a series by an author with over 5 million book sales. No pressure, right?! But those authors that I do know such as Glyn Dewis, Alan Hess and Scott, himself, just said “write what you know and use your own voice”. I had read most of Scott’s books in the past, I always loved the chapter intros he did. He even made a book of intros – it’s a freebie perk on KelbyOne.
I quickly found myself writing in the way I was advised, I imagined I was next to a buddy that needed my help and I wanted to explain the best or quickest way to get a job or task done. This book is not the technical bible. As with most Adobe apps, there are many ways to achieve the same result, some quicker than others. My job is to show you one to get you moving, you’ll learn more as you use InDesign more and there’s plenty of resources around including a very large book at Rocky Nook called The InDesign Compendium.
Another thing about writing a book is the difference between idea and exectution. Idea is exactly that, “I have a great idea for a book about <insert idea>”. Is your idea book sized? Is it of interest to only you or a much wider audience? We actually spoke to Scott Cowlin and Ted Waitt of Rocky Nook about this on our (mine and Glyn’s) podcast He Shoots, He Draws.
I was lucky, this was a successful series and a much (secretly) loved Adobe application that many struggle with. All I had to do was piece together the puzzle of working through InDesign and encourage new users, and experienced, to quickly find that “pah, how do I do that again?” answer. It also made me go through many features I hadn’t used as often, plus I got to create all the assets to include in the screenshots. The fun side of that was including photos and images of my friends and family. I’m going to see how many friends get the book and spot themselves! Me writing this book is the combination of many parts, and those parts are the people and experiences I have been fortunate enough to have in my life. I said in my previous blog post that I have had the best moments of my design career in the past 10 years. I am 54 as I write this. Oh, and my big brother Alan just turned 65 – so, happy birthday bruv ☺
Becoming an author is like being Spiderman (stay with this very tenuous attempt for me to pretend I am Spiderman), with great power comes great responsibility. And by that it means you become a voice of authority and quite possibly the expectation to know everything and have your phone and email blowing up with “I need help” requests. The reason I say this is because I don’t believe that to be completely true. We may reach a point in our lives where we have a lot of knowledge and experience but I tell you this, if you ever think you know everything, you don’t.
I finished this book and last month at Adobe Max I sat in two InDesign classes. The first by the wonderful and very talented Hoodzpah Design, a Californian design company run by Jen and Amy Hood (Check their cool book out here). Although many designers tend to show off their Illustrator and Photoshop work, many will have produced large proportions of their content with InDesign (and if not, why not? Come on designers, embrace the ‘Id’). Amy and Jen said to me before they started “ah man, you’re the expert, I hope what we show is good” – I quickly denied that. And to prove the point, I was only 10 minutes into their presentation and I was making notes like a crazy man.
It’s not about knowing ‘everything,’ it’s also about knowing how to be creative, how to design an efficient workflow, how to use the best parts of the app to keep moving. The creative side is the part I am so passionate about and Jen and Amy’s presentation completely amplified that.
The second class was by my good friend Bart Van de Wiele, Bart walked us through more advanced areas and techniques, many I have yet to use but were so useful and time saving. At that point I could see my place in the InDesign food chain and I was content with that. I want you to be able to use my book to get more confident with InDesign, get creative with your work, produce more content with the right tool and evangelise its usefulness and power to others.
Once you get to grips with InDesign you will learn more than is in the book, you will learn the hidden tools of InDesign, you’ll even dabble with the mighty GREP, a super power in InDesign for power users. But at least you’ll be using it. No more clicking on the little ID icon in your dock, watching InDesign open, looking at the empty workspace and then saying to yourself “ah, not today” – like I do with After Effects!
I have loved teaching InDesign at Photoshop World, it’s been a blast, I love teaching and writing about anything design related. It’s important to learn the tools and learn how to be creative. I have seen many an instructor show how apps work and it’s sound like the teacher from Ferris Bueller saying “Bueller, Bueller….Bueller” in that very dull, uninteresting tone. I think all photographers should learn the basics of InDesign.
I did a presentation at The Professional Imaging Show in Holland this year called “Why A Graphic Designer Is A Photographers best Friend (and vice versa)”. It was all about photographers and designers working together more. I really do believe that learning a skill such as InDesign will help you shoot like a designer. You’ll be able to visualise how flyers, booklets, postcards etc are put together and it’ll make your brain think about how to shoot for suitable images rather than just go and do the job – take a portrait and go home.
When you, as a photographer, can talk to your client about how the images will be used and be able to talk about layouts and type you’ll quickly find that the work stays with you. If you are already a designer then why aren’t you using InDesign – if you have the Creative Cloud obviously – because using the right tool for the job will make you a more desirable designer, in my opinion.
I was recently interviewed at Adobe Max along with many other creatives by Adventures InDesign podcast. When asked what my favourite app was I was the only person to say InDesign. In a world surrounded by print, signage, labels, products, even digital, InDesign is at the forefront of the products being used to make those things. Go and pick up your favourite photography book. I would say there’s a 90% chance it was made in InDesign or a professional publishing product such as Quark or Affinity Publisher even.
So to end this article, I urge you to open up InDesign, look on the Adobe website to see what it’s used for, watch the InDesign classes on KelbyOne, read the InDesign design articles I wrote in Photoshop User magazine archive, sit in a couple of InDesign classes at your next design conference, talk to designers for advice and learn to love my favourite app. And if you still need more help….I know a guy who wrote a really cool book called ‘How Do I Do That In InDesign’ ☺
In recent years I have photographed and hiked the Kumano kodo pilgrimage trail sacred to Shugendo Buddhism in Japan. I’ve walked long portions of the Camino de Santiago in Spain with my camera. I’ve taken photos to bring light to the near darkness in Son Doong, the world’s largest cave in Vietnam where fewer people have ventured than have been into space.
As a photography workshop leader, I’ve taught groups of photographers in the United States, France, and many other parts of the world. In the course of my travels when I meet people—and I love to chat with folks along the way—once it becomes known that I am a professional photographer, one question is pretty constant: What kind of photographer are you?
Generally, when folks ask me this question they are looking for a pretty straightforward answer. Sometimes I wish I could tell them “I photograph children for a portrait studio,” “I am an architectural photographer,” “I am a wedding photographer,” “I photograph jewelry,” or something similarly specific.
As I’ll explain later in this blog story, I’ve worked professionally in a number of photographic genres, back at the beginning of my first photography career in the days of analog, film photography.
No knowledge is ever wasted. It’s helpful to have the skillsets from the different photographic niches under my belt, as well as my experiences as a computer programmer, fine-art painter, and a writer. But none of these individually fit what I’ve been doing and what I have regarded as my current profession since the dawn of digital era.
I tell folks who ask that I am a Photographer as Poet. That’s of course the title of this blog story. Stay tuned: in this blog story I’ll tell you what I think being a Photographer as a Poet means, some of the history of how I’ve arrived at this profession and calling, and some words about what it means to have a professional practice as a photographic poet.
I’ve become so enamored of my job title of Photographer as Poet that I had an inkan—a Japanese “chop” or inked stamp that is sometimes used in place of a signature—created with the characters that roughly translate to this phrase. Sometimes I use my inkan to handstamp and decorate my prints, particularly those printed on Japanese washi.
What does it mean to be a “Photographer as Poet” professionally? This is often a follow-up question to “What kind of photographer are you?”