I think a lot of photographers these days are taking the old adage about “Shooting at Sunrise” too literally, and because of it, they’re missing out on a lot of great shots.
Here’s what I mean: The best light, and amazing skies, and empty streets, and tourist-free areas — the dream of travel photographers everywhere, all happen well before sunrise. The sunrise itself is silently signaling “Here comes the end of your shoot — time for breakfast!” But unfortunately, that seems to be when all the photographers start showing up — right after all the good stuff just ended.
Erik Kuna (Rocket-photographers and my co-host on ‘The Grid’) and I were in downtown Chicago a few weeks ago leading a local photo walk as part of my annual Worldwide Photo Walk. During the walk, we went through Millennium Park, and its most famous feature, the giant chrome-covered “Bean” sculpture (it’s actually named the ‘Cloud Gate sculpture,’ but I’ve yet to hear anyone call it anything other than “The Bean”). Anyway, around 70,000 people visit The Bean each day — it’s absolutely packed with people from morning to night. But Erik decided to get up really early to shoot it. Ya know how many people Erik found when he went to The Bean well before sunrise? Just one.
Not only were there no tourists. There were no photographers. All this beautiful light. Great clouds. No tourists, and not a single photographer in sight. As soon as the great light is gone, and the harsh sun is coming up, here come the photographers, streaming into the park right along with the first groups of tourists. What they wind up getting is kind of crappy light and a bunch of tourists milling around. They missed the great light and tourist-free scene by about 20 to 30 minutes.
The same thing happened this week in New York
Erik experienced this same phenomenon this past week in New York City (we were up there for the Photo Plus Expo). He got up early and walked over to “Vessel” in Hudson Yard (it’s part public modern art piece, part spiral staircase [with its 150+ interconnected staircases], and part observatory. It’s free to enter [you get tickets online] and you can walk-up inside it when it’s open). When Erik got there — sure enough, lots of beautiful light, no tourists, and most notably — no photographers, even though there is a major photography tradeshow being held right across the street at the Javitz Center.
He also got up early on the 2nd day; went out to that famous shooting location in the Dumbo park area of Brooklyn (you know the one), and ya know what? Same thing — great light; no tourists, and still no photographers. Once the sun came up, with it came the photographers, the tourists, and the Instagrammers with selfie sticks.
This is an easy mistake to avoid
All the good stuff happens well before sunrise. In that 30 minutes before the sun comes up — you need to be out there, in place, on a tripod, ready to capture the tourist-free scenes in beautiful light. Once the sun comes up, you have just a few more minutes where the light is still good — the color is warm, and the sun is touching the edges of things as it rises, but 15 or so minutes after that, the light generally turns pretty bad, and that’s the way it stays, getting worse and worse all day until about an hour or so before sunset.
Just get up a little bit earlier. Don’t time your morning to get there at sunrise. Get there at least 30 minutes early, and the difference in your images will be amazing, you’ll have your choice of spots, no tourists, and you’ll see for yourself why it pays big time to set your alarm clock a bit earlier.
Here’s wishing you a tourist-free, great light week of shooting wherever you are. :)
P.S. I’m off to San Francisco next week for my “Ultimate Photography Crash Course” full-day seminar out there on November 6th. Hope you can join me — you’ll super dig it. Tickets and info here.
Mornin’, gang, and happy Friday! I finally got some of my favorite shots together from my recent workshop trip to rural China, and I shared the final images, with lots of behind-the-scenes shots and videos, and the stories behind it all.
TIP: At the end of the post, I shared how I set up my three Custom Modes on my camera. Most cameras these days have the ability to set up your own custom modes, and man do they make your life easier! Hope you find those helpful.
Heads up: if you participated in the Worldwide Photo Walk last week, Monday is the deadline to enter the photo contest
The contest prizes this year are pretty amazing (including a Canon EOS RP Mirrorless Camera with a 24-105mm lens, and the Adobe Creative Suite, and a B&H Gift Card, a whole bunch more!). Even the finalist prizes are crazy good, so make sure you enter your best shot from the walk. Hey, ya never know, right?
Here’s wishing you all a great Friday, a rockin’ weekend (#rolltide), and hopefully you’ll stop back by on Monday to see what’s going on. :)
P.S. I shared a technique today over at LightroomKillerTips.com on how to edit in Lightroom Classic on your laptop when you’re traveling, and then how to merge all that you did; the images, sorting, editing — the works, with your main computer back home. Here’s the link if that sounds like something that might interest you.
I’ve got the images, stories, behind-the-scenes shots, and even some short videos from my trip out the USS Harry S. Truman last week. Lots of fun stuff to share, and I laid out the images using Adobe Spark Page (about the best way to share your photography work online):
OK, I’m back to work this week — I’ve got a tour to get ready for (My “Ultimate Photography Crash Course” full-day seminar, kicking off next month in Indianapolis and then Minneapolis. Come on out and spend the day with me.
I am so excited — this is the first thing I’ve ever invented (with lots of help from my friends at Westcott) — it’s a lighting tool for educators and students, and its sole purpose is to teach people lighting before they go and buy lighting. Check out the video below to see what it’s all about (and how the idea came about).
So, now that you’ve seen the video, you know — it’s about experimenting, learning, and seeing “the light.” That way, when you do buy a flash or a studio strobe or continuous light, the frustration, the futzing, and the whole guessing game is over because you’ll have a plan — you’ll know what you’re trying to achieve, what light does, when to use hard light, diffused light, what gobos do, what fresnels do, the color differences between tungsten and daylight. You’ll know all this because the light comes with a full training class on light, and how to use The Learning Light, in your classroom, or with other students, or for just you as you’re learning.
We released a full training class on it to KelbyOne members this week, but if you buy the light, you get full access to the class as part of the lighting package.
It’s available today
The light, with the gobos and the training class, is just $89.90 and you can get it direct from the folks at Westcott (here’s the link), and B&H Photo will be carrying them any day now, too.
As an educator myself, you can probably imagine how exciting it is to have a tool like this for other educators and students, and I’m so grateful to my friends at Westcott: Eric Eggley (who came up with so many great ideas for The Learning Light, and took my initial idea and took it much farther than I’d ever hoped), and to Brandon Heiss, whose vision and commitment to helping teachers is why there is a Learning Light today at all.
I’m super-psyched! (can ya tell)? ;-)
One last thing, and it’s something I think is really important (and you’ll hear me talk about this aspect a lot). This is not lighting. It’s a learning tool. It’s the light you buy before you buy real lighting. It’s for experimenting with shadows, and light, and for learning lighting before you fully invest it in. I truly hope you’ll find it helpful (and I think you’ll find it’s a lot of fun), and thanks for taking the time to let me share this all with you (and tell your teacher friends about it, if you would). :)
Have a great weekend, everybody!
P.S. Did I mention I invented a light for educators? Whoo hoo!!! I’m super-psyched!
Every week we release a new online class, and last week’s class was one of mine — it was a “by request” class on lighting location portraits.
The idea to do this course came comments in the KelbyOne Community forum from folks who had watched my course on using the Profoto B1x’s on location released a couple of months ago. At the end of the course, I did a Safari-themed fashion shoot, and they said they really liked the live shoot part, and wanted to see more live shoots. So, I went ahead an did an entire course of nothing but live shoots using lighting on location (nothing really about the strobes themselves — just setting up different scenarios and such from scratch. The whole course is seven different location shoots in around 45 minutes photographing a male and female subject).
After this week’s class, a gentleman asked this question:
“Any tips on finding a good outdoor location for portraits?”
“I would recommend watching both of Jeremy Cowart’s courses on taking any location and making it work here on KelbyOne. When you watch his courses, it will change the way you think of finding locations. Highly recommended. One is in Venice Beach, CA and the other in Miami South Beach. Let me know what you think of them.”
He came back the next day with this reply:
“Scott, everything you said about Jeremy Cowart’s courses is true. THANK YOU! They’re amazing.”
It reminded me of how much I learned just by co-hosting the two classes with Jeremy (I was just there as kind of moderator — asking questions during the shoots). Anyway, Jeremy is an absolute master at turning the most mundane locations into perfect portrait backgrounds, and today I wanted to point you to both of them — they are that good. If you’re not already a KelbyOne member, it would be worth joining for a month ($20) just to watch them, even if you watched nothing else.
Here’s a clip (below) from his course shot on location in Miami — it’s just a 3 minute or so clip, but in this short time, you’ll pick up some great tips.
Below is the official trailer for Jeremy’s class shot on location in Venice Beach, California. As he says in the video, he shows you how to make maximum use of a very simple location, and he only uses one light throughout.
I hope you’ll check out these courses — if you shoot portraits on location, they will change the way you think about finding locations, and you’ll be amazed at what you can do this just one light. Really great stuff — he is the real deal. Here’s the link to KelbyOne in case you want to join (and I hope you do).
Thanks everybody, and here’s to a rockin’ Spring Break kinda week! :)
OK, I’m not the first one to come up with the idea for a Safari-themed fashion shoot. I’m probably about number 500, but I wanted to do something different and fun, and this seemed like it would both (and we could do it without breaking the bank).
Here’s how the shoot came about I was working on a class on how to use the location strobe I’m using now, (the Profoto B1x), and I was going to do the whole thing in the studio because the class was about how to use the light and the wireless remote, but since the strobe is made for location shooting, I thought at the end of the course, I would go on location and actually do a shoot, so the photographers watching the course would see how easy and awesome they are to use in the field.
Kalebra is my art director for production shoots like this, and while she usually comes up with the concept for our shoots, I knew this time I wanted to try this Safari Fashion look and she was happy to help. I did some upfront research (on Pinterest, Google Images, and Instagram), and I compiled a list of what we would need to pull this off.
A Luxury Safari tent. I found ones you could rent for $500 a day (yikes!), but that’s kinda outside our budget but then we found one that looked nearly as good that we could buy for $249 from Walmart — we would just have to cut a slit in the back so you can see through the tent to the field behind it (I wanted to have some depth behind it). As it turned out, I’m so glad we didn’t rent and bought the tent instead because the shoot was canceled three times due to rain. The rental house doesn’t care if you got rained out — you pay for the days you have it.
A rug or two, for the floor of the tent, or for in front of the tent.
Some steamers or luggage as props
Some chairs (I originally wanted something nice Safari-looking chairs, until I saw the prices) so Amazon to the rescue with a director’s chair and HomeGoods came through with the other.
And some side tables and props, many which we literally took on our sets at the office, and people’s desks, and well…we kind of borrowed them for the day
Kalebra went to work on getting the outfits, hair and make-up concepts, finding the right model, and figuring out the props; Christina (our super awesome in-house producer for our online courses) set about to find us an outdoor shooting location that didn’t look “Florida-ish” (it’s supposed to look Africa Safari-like), and a rental jeep (I thought it would be cool to have a jeep out of the focus in the background, but the jeep actually broke down on the way to shoot and never showed up, so scratch the jeep).
The biggest challenge was the cows. This was a cow-pasture in Plant City, Florida (about an hour from the KelbyOne HQ), and from time to time the cows would wander behind the tent and become part of the scene, and nothing says ‘this isn’t Africa’ like some dairy cows roaming behind your model.
Above: Here’s my first test-shot of our model Gabi on the set. The lighting looks pretty bad. The idea of this location shoot was to show how to mix your flash with the available light, and this looks way, way too “flashy” (looks like I used a big utility flashlight from Home Depot), but hey — we just set up the light; aimed it at her, and took a test shot. Hey, ya gotta start somewhere, right? Also, during this “setting the lights” stage I tell the model they don’t need to pose while I’m working on the lighting.
After all the work she had done, I felt bad that Kalebra couldn’t actually be at the live shoot, but she had a scheduling conflict, so we set everything up as best as we could, but we knew it didn’t look right, so we had Kalebra FaceTime in. That way she could see the tent, the props, and the outfits, then she worked directly with our make-up artist (whom we all adore and use every chance we get), the awesome Hendrickje Matthews to get everything right on set, and Christina and Rachel from our crew to get the set looking good, so I could focus on dialing in the lighting.
Above: Hendrickje (L) and Rachel work on tweaking the outfit after Kalebra FaceTimed into the shoot.
Above: The first thing Kalebra did was remove most of the junk (see above) we had piled in and around that tent. It was “over-accessorized.”
Above: Once we started removing stuff per Kalebra’s guidance, the set was starting to look much better. The light still isn’t there, but at this point, we’re mostly focused on getting the set right, and the outfit, and stuff like that.
Above: Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at the set-up. Just one light (the Profoto B1x 500-watt battery-powered strobe). Special thanks to Kathy Porpukski and Erik Kuna for the behind-the-scenes shots. :)
Above: I take my tethering rig on location every chance I get — it makes that big a difference. Shoutout to the folks from Tethertools.com – they make awesome tethering gear!
Above: It’s every educator’s dream to teach standing in a cow pasture. 😂
Above: The glamour of shooting on location is real. Real smelly.
Above: The awesome Julio Agular assisting me on the shoot. Look how small that strobe is. Sa-weet!
Above: Here’s the overhead view from our drone. A cow pasture in the middle of nowhere is about the only place you can still actually fly a drone.
Above: Here’s what it looks like with the light off, and just the available light.
Above: Here’s what it looks like when your flash is too bright.
Above: Here’s the final image, with the light from the flash balanced with the natural light.
The lighting is supposed to look natural, not too bright, not too flashy. The goal is to make it look like natural light. It shouldn’t be obvious you used a flash. It’s a dance between adjusting the shutter speed (which controls now much natural light you’re letting in – the slower the shutter speed, the more natural light you get), and the power of the flash (which I try to get looking natural by not overdoing the power of the flash). Believe it or not, it just takes a couple of minutes to dial it in and get it looking right. We also feathered the softbox (so it’s not aiming directly at the subject) to create an even softer more flattering light. As much as I already loved the B1x, I feel even deeper in love during the shoots for this class. It’s such a brilliantly designed light — I’m thrilled to finally get to use them.
Also, I wanted to make the grass in the background look more “Safari-like” so in Lightroom I desaturated the greens quite a bit (using the HSL panel). You can also see the addition of the prop binoculars and the hat over her back (both Kalebra’s tweaks via watching the shoot via FaceTime).
Here’s the trailer for the full online course (in case you want to check it out) I start in the studio and go through how the light works, and how the remote works with it (it’s super simple), and then we head out for the location shoot. I also added a bonus lesson which is a quick-start guide, so if you watched the class, and later want a quick recap when you’re out on a shoot, you’d be able to just watch that one lesson as a refresher.
I hope you found this behind-the-scenes stuff helpful. In just a few weeks I’ll be recording a Part 2 of this class, where the entire class is all location shoots (based on feedback from the class – folks wanted more of the live shoots, so I’m happy to add another three shoots to the mix).
Here’s to a great week. Hope you’re staying warm (wherever you are) and see ya here tomorrow for Travel Tuesday’s with Dave. :)