Category Archives Guest Blogger

Inside Tips on Building a Great Composite

As a High End Retoucher, I love working on cool images with cool creatives! Over the years I’ve been super lucky to get to work on some really fantastic projects, from movie posters, to ad campaigns, to beauty images. I’ve gotten to work on a wide range of fun projects.

©Columbia Pictures

Of all the genres of images, the ones I get asked to work on the most involve compositing, and, I gotta admit, this is probably my favorite type of project. Pulling off a believable composite involves a pretty wide range of skills. From masking, to color correction, to adjusting lighting, it can take a lot to bring several disparate elements together to create a well crafted image.

©Kate Turning

For this Guest Blog post, I thought it would be good to talk a little bit about some of the most important factors you need to think about when building a composite image in Photoshop. These factors are:

  • Layer Structure
  • Masking
  • Color Correction
  • Lighting
  • Perspective
  • Depth of field

Let’s take a quick look at each of these.

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Three Misconceptions That May Be Hurting Your Business

I’ve been a professional photographer since 1999, and most of that time, I worked exclusively with natural light.

I told myself (and others) that I preferred natural light. It’s soft, beautiful and, well, FREE! But the truth is, I used natural light exclusively because I didn’t know how to create soft beautiful light with artificial light. And the thought of learning it scared me to death.

I had a lot of misconceptions about strobes and flash. And believing in those misconceptions did more than just keep me from learning to create my own light. Those beliefs hurt my business.

Let me explain.

To have a strong photography business you must have a solid photography brand. And to have a solid brand, your work needs consistency. Your clients expect and deserve to get the look and quality of the images you share in your portfolio and on Instragram. That means that you need to be able to produce the same quality photos every time someone stands in front of your camera.  

When I worked exclusively with natural light I could create beautiful, award winning images, on bright and sunny days. But when the weather turned and that light went away, I couldn’t. Clients who came to me on sunny days got very different photos than clients who came to me on days that were dark. And as someone who lives and works in Seattle, WA, that was a problem. 

Winter months were filled with cancellations, re-shoots a ton of stress, and yes, unhappy clients from time to time.  

I’m sharing this because I know I’m not alone. Many photographers rely exclusively on natural light for the same reasons I did. They have misconceptions about strobes and flash. And those misconceptions keep them from learning a skill that alleviates a lot of problems and stress!

If this sounds like you, it’s okay, you’re not alone.  

Let’s look at what some of the most common misconceptions about strobes and flash are and liberate you from those ideas!

Misconception #1: Artificial Lighting Is Hard

It’s not.

In fact, you already know most of what you need to know to get started.

Why?

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I want to thank Scott and Brad for allowing me to share my travel photography process and tips. I’m an architectural photographer that started out using 4×5 view cameras, which just means I’ve been photographing architecture a long time.

Tips for Photographing Architecture While Traveling

You might think that when traveling I would focus on something different, like people or landscapes, but my real love is still photographing architecture. Now I even find myself planning trips that allow me to photograph beautiful and spectacular buildings and their interiors. Here are a few tips to help you capture great architectural images in your travels.

Strahov Monastery Library, Prague

Planning Your Shot List

The number one thing you can do is to plan your trip as far in advance as possible and give yourself plenty of time to do the research needed for success.

One of the first places I go is Google Images. I start with Google because they have almost every image ever made by mankind with links to websites where the images came from. I’ve found information there from other photographers that allowed me to know exactly where and at what time they took their photos. This can be very helpful when you don’t have time to scout the location in advance.

Dancing House, Prague

Google may be good for finding a location, but not for inspiration. That is where 500px.com comes in. If you want to get excited about your travel location and subjects, you’re going to love 500px. It is visual overload with great images that will motivate you. The not so good with 500px is that locations are not always provided, which can be frustrating.

Geisel Library, San Diego, California

The Gear

Now that you know what and where you want to photograph let’s talk a little bit about gear.

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What Are Your Images Saying?

Raise your hand if you’ve heard phrases like: “What are you trying to say?” or, “What’s the concept?” … and pretended like you knew what that actually meant?

I, for one, have always understood exactly what they meant. I nodded knowingly when I heard those phrases tossed about in podcasts and interviews. I 100% knew what it meant … riiiiight up until I asked myself what I was saying with my own image making.

That’s where I got stuck. I began noticing that the images I was making, although technically well executed, were leaving me unsatisfied. They weren’t saying anything. I wasn’t saying anything. Nothing. Zip. Zero. Zilch. Nada. And then Ben Sasso opened my eyes and mind to new possibilities with one YouTube video.

I’m a married father of four who didn’t get my first DSLR until I was 40. I didn’t go to art/photography school where instructors discuss what makes compelling images. I missed out on the homework assignments & projects. I didn’t get to practice weaving symbolism and references into my early work. I missed out on having an arena to develop ideas and peers with which to bounce ideas off of.

So when Ben produced his BTS video (with the best narration you’ve ever heard) that went into the symbolism and references behind a concept … it clicked. He used props, color, location & posing to say what he wanted to say.

I was inspired and began noodling on what I wanted to say, and what props and tools could I use to convey my own thoughts and feelings.

It still took me months of noodling to come up with my own concept. I had elements of a shoot in my head, but it wasn’t complete enough to scout locations or cast talent. The final piece of the puzzle came by accident.

Next door to my favorite coffee shop is a second hand store. They sell all manner of antiques and I never paid it much attention … until I saw an old CB radio out front with dozens of other random items. That radio sparked something in me.

For whatever reason, it took me another day or two before I went into the shop to ask about the CB radio. It was for sale for $70. Not what I wanted to spend on a relic, but I knew investing in my own personal shoots was crucial to producing the kind of work I want to get hired to shoot. I asked about renting instead … turns out that was the right way to go. I could rent it for $20 for the weekend. Ever since then I use these kind of stores to scout for inspiration. I kind of understand “antiquing” now.

These images are the result of that first concept shoot. Although I don’t feel like I nailed the concept, it is an awesome start. I know I missed some angles and emotion, but I’m happy with the opportunity to get my ideas out. Incorporating symbols and references into my personal shoots gave me the voice I’d been missing. Slipping details that represent me and the way I see and feel about things into my images has been a game changer (a way over-used expression, I know. But it fits).

I think this Ansel Adams quote helps: “To the complaint, ‘There are no people in these photographs,’ I respond, There are always two people: the photographer and the viewer.” 

If I’m a part of every image I make, what do I want them to say about me and the way I see the world? Without that, they’re just pretty pictures and that left me feeling incomplete.

Am I the only one late to the references and symbolism party? Or do I have company I can walk with on this photo journey/obsession? I’d love to hear where you’re at on your journey.

Jason Flynn is a portrait photographer living in Burbank. You can see more of his work at JasonFlynnPhotography.com and keep up with him on Instagram and Twitter.

Photo by Reann Huber

Cultivating a Photographic Vision

First off, I would like to thank Scott and Brad for this opportunity, it’s an honor to be a guest on here. I also want to thank Scott for hiring me back in 2013 as an assistant to help with remote cameras at an Atlanta Falcons game. I had been a Sports Illustrated assistant for several years before helping Scott, but that opportunity led to me shooting an entire season for the Falcons, which in turn led to many other opportunities (including being featured by Instagram for my Falcons work).

Adrian Clayborn. Atlanta Falcons, 2015

For this post, I’ve decided to write about having a vision for photography. It may sound grand and vague and only reserved for fine art photographers, but it’s something I think photographers from many disciplines, if not all, should aim for.

It can be hard to define what having a vision really means. It’s a lot like art itself; it can be easily recognized, but very difficult to put into exacting words.

Omar Shekhey, who runs the Somali American Community Center in Clarkston, Ga. Here, he drives a taxi for extra money. NPR, 2015

Talking to Chris Aluka Berry, a good friend and a remarkable photographer, we discussed what having a vision meant, and I think he summed it up well:

It becomes apparent that a photographer has a vision when you can see the photographer in the work. If a portrait captures the essence of a person, then the photographer’s body of work should capture the essence of what he or she is trying to say.

Chris Aluka Berry

But how does one go about doing something like this? I don’t pretend to be an expert on this topic or be able to give a step-by-step guide on obtaining a vision for one’s photography, but I am offering some experiences and what has guided me towards a personal vision of how I see.

A Bit About Me

It was about 15 years ago when I first remember hearing the words “vision” in this context. Barely a photographer myself, I was intrigued and wanted to begin working on my own. It was 2004 and I was attending the Atlanta Photojournalism Seminar, an event that attracted young and old, seasoned veterans to rookies like myself.

Several of the speakers mentioned finding and following your personal vision. I had an idea, but I really didn’t know what this meant. But I wanted it. I wanted to feel like all of my work came from a place deep inside, guiding me to make photos that were truly saying something.

I had been shooting professionally for a couple of years by this point. In 2001, I took my first journalism job as a reporter for The Moultrie Observer in South Georgia, a sleepy town with a magnificent courthouse and a downtown surrounded by what seemed like endless miles of cotton fields and pine trees.

Part of a reporter’s job at many small newspapers is to take photos to accompany his or her stories, and working at the Observer was no exception. I was one of two reporters — and though we had a staff photographer, I couldn’t count on him covering all of my stories because of the sheer volume of work he was responsible for.

But this turned out to be one of the biggest blessings of my life. I fell head over heels in love for photography and knew that capturing images would be my path. By 2004 when I was attending the Seminar, I had started working at another small town newspaper — but this time as a staff photographer. My dream had arrived.

Griffin High School baseball. The Griffin Daily News, 2006
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Great News for Photographers

Finally there is some great news for photographers that is breathing fresh life into the photography world! It’s easy to see that video keeps gaining momentum as the preferred way to deliver content. Thankfully Motion Art is blowing up right now on Social Media, and advertisers are finally taking notice. Looping videos, also know as Plotagraphs as well as Cinemagraphs, are a great way to breath life into traditional still photos.

However, Plotagraphs are different than Cinemagraphs. For example, a Plotagraph starts with a still image that is animated and a Cinemagraph starts out with a video that is masked in certain areas and then made into a loop. Plotagraph was created with the mission to help photographers compete in the fast growing field of video, whereas Cinemagraph’s focus is on helping videographers create short form video.

With my involvement in field of Motion Art over the past several decades, I have lately been seeing a big trend from artists and brands who are now using these mesmerizing loops. This trend is definitely here to stay with a lot of room for future growth.

Photographers who already use these techniques are hesitant to give away their secret formulas because this has traditionally given them a competitive edge. Historically, Photographers have been hesitant to get involved in motion art because of the sometimes difficult learning curve of video files. Photographers sometimes have a hard time moving past .PSD’s, TIFS, and JPG’s.

The latest Plotaverse App now makes it easy to animate because the file formats are automatically done for you. Plotaverse tools help solve the long time big obstacle for photographers, which is now no longer an issue. Not all photos are meant to be animated but sprinkling in Motion Art into your website or Social media posts will definitely make your creative content stand out.

For instance, a lot of established wedding and portrait Photographers I know will include one or two Plotagraphs in their packages, which turns out being highlights that customers use in their social media. It can also be a lot of fun to animate old images and repurpose them to Plotagraph. Seeing that classic image you have brought to life can be exciting.

I have personally animated work for well-known photographers from around the world, with reactions to these loops ranging anywhere from surprise, to even a few tears when they see their images come to life. They note that the effects of the loops somehow evokes a mood identical to the original scene of the photo they shot. It doesn’t matter whether it was yesterday or fifty years ago. If there are organic elements, texture or hard lines a photo can be brought to life and animated in a relatively short period of time.

Another technique that can be a lot of fun morph multiple images together. This works great for portrait photographers as well as beauty and fashion photographers who want to stand out. 

It has only been a few years since websites and social channels have begun to support short form looping videos. Today, Motion Art is now considered an industry standard and is supported by all the major platforms. Swiping or scrolling past still images is now easier than ever. The name of the game is dynamic content because it is the most effective way for photographers to catch the viewers’ eye and engage them. The next time you scroll through Instagram or Facebook keep an eye out for these dynamic images. They are sure to catch your eye.

For more information check out my recent tutorials exclusively for the KelbyOne Community. They are hands down the best and most detailed that I have ever done on the Plotaverse suite of dynamic apps. Check out the Plotaverse in MAC, PC, or iOS with over seven hundred thousand samples of some of the worlds best motion artists.

You can see more of Troy’s work on Plotaverse, and keep up with him on Instagram and Twitter.

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