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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for the warm welcome and all the feedback from my first post last week! The suggestion was to throw down the hashtag #HybridDaveTuesdays and I’m ok with that ;)

I’ve been shooting for a long time. Since I was 14, in fact. I dreamed of being able to take awesome photos and I was playing around with an old Olympus digital point and shoot 1.3 Megapixel monstrosity until my parents finally realised and got me a Nikon SLR. I played around for years and years before deciding I wanted to take it further, and then the realisation that it cost an absolute fortune as a hobby pushed me to figure out how to make it pay for itself. The transition from hobby to business was ambitious and challenging, but persistence paid off and I learned a lot of lessons along the way which I’d love to snip up and share today. I’ve gotten a lot of really good advice from some really smart and creative people, and we’re all in this together!

Sidetone – This post doesn’t include a sales pitch or affiliate link. I’m just sharing the love because I’m 100% in the “community over competition” squad. Go KelbyOne!

Here is my best advice for new photographers:

Myself with Scott and Peter in London
Myself with Scott and Peter in London

Shoot with other photographers

I cannot stress this enough. Make friends with strangers! Like I said, we’re all in this together. Sign up for photo walks, meet up with people you see online, take photos of your mates, take photos of strangers, take workshops. Honestly, take every opportunity. You will learn so much about how to shoot, how other people shoot, how to network and connect, just get out there and get involved in the photography community. Don’t be afraid!

Find your niche

This is important. Can you name a famous photographer who doesn’t have a specialty? No. Can you name a famous photographer who is very specialised? Of course! There’s a reason for that. There are a LOT of photographers out there in the big, wide world, and subsequently, you aren’t competing on the quality of your photos alone, nor on your price, nor your website, but the WHOLE LOT plus your personality. You may be good, but a LOT of people are good. Your personality is portrayed through your photos, and your niche is your special little area of interest. For me, it’s travel. Even still I’m thinking of changing my genre because that’s very broad. I love to shoot the world as I see it, including its nature and wildlife, its landscapes and people. So what do you want to shoot? Fashion, Architecture, School, Underwater, Equine, Wedding, Food, Aerial, Landscape, Concert, Medical, Baby, Fine Art, there are just so many categories with varied markets out there, so make sure you love what you do and that it fits, so that within that market you can sell YOURSELF and let your photo sales follow.

NB – Note how much stress was placed on that section!

Invest in yourself

Never stop practicing! As I just said, you are selling yourself for a large chunk of this business. I’ve sat and endured hours of tedious YouTube videos just to find out how to do something, but by far the better option is to spend a little bit on some online classes or live workshops and seminars. And it really is an investment. There’s no substitute for being in an audience watching an awesome, talented professional delivering their knowledge and demonstrating their skill in person. It’s a commitment of time, energy, cash, but it’s totally worth it! I wouldn’t hesitate at doing it all again. It helped me to grow into who I am.

Find your squad

Your network. Your tribe. Your connections. Your peers will help you grow and learn, and you’ll reciprocate and help them too. You’ll learn things, you’ll meet people, You’ll pick up clients, you’ll be inspired, and you’ll make friends! If I didn’t have the squad I wouldn’t be anywhere even close to where I am. It’s the advice, inspiration, and criticism that helps you learn from your mistakes and you perhaps wouldn’t have known you made them without the squad there!

Know when to invest in your business

When it’s time to do it, you’ll know. Camera gear can cost a bomb, and I’m absolutely not telling you to go and start wildly throwing cash around, but when it comes time to invest in gear, insurance, websites, registering a company, sample products, you’ll know and you’ll see the benefits of the fiscal investment when you’ve nailed all the other points in this post. If you want to be successful you’ll need to do it right, and similarly, when it’s time to be successful you’ll be in a position whereby these things become a necessity. We’ve all read posts on why photography is so expensive, we know the investment behind our images. Just time it right!

Be prepared to work until you cry

Photography isn’t a 9-5. To get the return I put in the hours, and it was a bit of a shock to my system when I was spending all my free time building a website, pushing my social platforms, learning and studying the art, spending out on new glass, and then having no return turn into a few quid (substitute: dollars) and plateau there for a while and trying to figure out why I wasn’t rich yet! If you follow me on social media you’ll know that I put in the time far outside of ‘normal’ working hours, no matter what time zone you’re looking at me from! It’s this dedication and commitment that pushes growth. If you’re seen to be busy, and I mean truly busy rather than just loud on social media, you’ll feel the growth. Personally, on a foreign trip I’ll be up before dawn to shoot the sun coming up, still shooting throughout the morning during the nice light, fuelling up on energy and moving locations, answering e-mails, checking and double checking the evening plans, then shooting again through the afternoon and evening all the way through until it’s dark again, and then some! I might not be at work at 8 am on a Monday, but I may well be working 16 hours a day for 5 days when I’m away on a trip. It takes self-discipline to stick to the schedule I set myself, it hurts, but the satisfaction levels on completion of the project (and when seeing the sales come in!) are through the roof. It’s a job, but I’d do it if I didn’t get paid, so that means it isn’t work.

Be good at what you do

I was never very confident, and when I started doing paid shoots I was so worried that I wasn’t worth the money I was charging. It’s taken some effort to change my mindset to believe in the amount on the bottom of the invoices I send out, and the key points are that your confidence is a cycle. If you don’t feel confident, you won’t be seen as confident. If you act confident, you will be seen as confident. This perceived confidence will boost your actual confidence, which will allow you skill to shine through. Bottom line, if you act confident then you will become confident. Don’t think of it as a dream, think of it as a plan. Make that plan come to life, love going to work, and charge what you’re worth!

Me in Iceland - My favourite place on the planet
Me in Iceland – My favourite place on the planet

We’re all in this together

Much Love,
Dave

Well, it’s calling me, the wifey and kids anyway (photo above of the view from our cottage by Kalebra with her TrustyiPhone).

Yup, I’m taking a few days off at the beach, but  never fear, my awesome new columnist, Dave Williams will be here tomorrow with his Tuesday post of awesomeness, then it’s Guest Blog Wednesday on Wednesday (I’ll be back in time for ‘The Grid’ at 4PM – probably doing Blind Photo Critiques I imagine), and then Thursday it’s “New Class Thursday” and then I’ll be back on Friday with a glorious post. How’s that for a tidy little week? :)

So, in short – I’m laming out today, sitting on the beach in Margaritaville, cool drink in my hand, Buffet on the radio, and it’s ‘No post-a-roonie Monday!” Hope yours is a good one. :)

Best,

-Scott Beach Shack Bingo Kelby

Hi everybody, and greetings from Nashville, Tennessee where I should already be in bed because it’s nearly 1:00 am and I’ve got my seminar here tomorrow in the morning and well…I dunno…I should be in bed by now.

Anyway, if you’re out in the greater Los Angeles area, I want to invite you out to a talk I’m doing there next month at the Canon Experience Center in Costa Mesa — it’s called “The Stuff They Don’t Tell You” and it’s an updated version of a talk I gave in England at ‘The Photography Show.’ I hope you can make it out — it’s free (compliments of our friends at Canon USA).

Here are the details:

Who: Me.
What: A free inspirational, motivational, informational, gravitation talk on ‘big picture’ photography stuff
Where: Canon Experience Center  – 123 Paularino Ave, Costa Mesa, CA
When: 6:00 pm – Sunday, August 13th, 2017
How to register (seating is limited): Click here. :)

I hope I’ll see you there, or maybe I’ll see you today in my seminar here in Nashville, or maybe I’ll see you in my seminar in LA the day after that talk at Canon, or maybe in San Francisco a couple days later, or two days after that in Seattle. 

That sentence right there made me want to finally hit the sack.

Hope you all have a great weekend – one packed with fun, and cooler than Florida temperatures. :)

Best,

-Scott

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

“Sanctuary” (diptych) 2016

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

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

“Coyotes” Migration series, 2008

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

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

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

“Remnants of Time” Ultima series, 2013

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

“Remnants of Time” (digital process) 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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