I ran across Patrick Hoelck’s brilliant photography portfolio after I saw it discussed (OK, debated) in an online forum (I wish I could remember which one). I really, really like his style, but beyond his cool photography, what peaked my interest was how the forum participants were arguing back and forth about whether his “look” comes from his technique in camera, or after the fact in Photshop. Now, as a guy who really loves Photoshop, I have great respect for him either way (because digital photography in the 21st century is two things; the photography and the processing in Photoshop), so if he’s getting this look in Photoshop, all I can say is “Please teach it to me!” If he’s doing it all with lighting (as apparently he is quoted in a magazine article), then all I can say is “Please teach it to me!” Either way; take a look at his cool images and see what you think (and post your comments as to whether you think it’s mostly done: “In the Lighting” or “Later In Photoshop”).

Lightroom for Digital PhotographersNow that Adobe has officially announced Lightroom Verison 1.0 (see the next post down), I’ve just finished wrapping up my new book, “The Lightroom Book for Digital Photographers“, which has the exact same layout and style as my “Photoshop CS2 Book for Digital Photographers,” where it takes you through the whole process step-by-step, from importing, thru sorting, developing your raw, JPEG, and TIFF images, all the way through printing the final image (and there’s an entire section just on using Lightroom with Photoshop; where Photoshop fits it, and when and where to use it).

NOTE: If you purchased the pre-release eBook version of this book (the online downloadable PDF version, based on the public Beta release of Lightroom), you’ll be happy to know that I basically rewrote the entire book from scratch for this final print edition, with all new content, photos, new chapters. What I’m most excited about are the last two chapters, which I added for the print version, which take you step-by-step through two real working photography projects; a wedding shoot (where we start with a live bridal portrait shot on location at the church) and it takes you through the entire process, including importing, sorting, the inital client presentation in your studio, having the client proof shots online, all the way to actually printing the final 16×20 formal print for framing. The second chapter follows a different step-by-step workflow, from the live shoot to print, of a outdoor/landscape photo shoot. This two chapters pull it all together in a way I’ve never seen illustrated like this before,and I can’t wait to share it with you.

You can order it now

And be the very first to get this new book, from Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble.com, or wherever books are sold.

Also, I’m doing something completely different next week, as I’m teaching a two-day hands-on Lightroom Workshop at the Digital Technology Centre in Sarasota, Flordia, and if you want to learn the future of the professional digital photography workflow, I hope you’ll join me (the class is limited to 20 people, and there are just a few seats left). You can find out more, and reserve your spot by CLICKING HERE. I hope to see you there! (By the way, if you sign-up for my workshop, make sure you bring your camera, because this is totally hands-on, and we’ll be doing the whole process live, from capture to output).

Hello! I am Dave DeBaeremaeker, and I photograph toys for fun and profit. I really enjoy the idea of taking an inanimate lump of plastic that resembles a character, and turning it into an interesting and compelling image. All I need is a cheap plastic toy, a camera (any camera will do!), and my imagination lets my creative world expand before my very eyes.

I also believe it’s a great way for folks to practice their own photography on a miniature scale. One of the things I appreciate about toy photography is that it is a very cheap and easily accessible genre for folks to get into, but it also offers an incredibly wide range of options for creativity. It does offer some of its own unique challenges though, so I’d like to take this opportunity to share some tips to get started in toy photography.

Don’t Overthink It

My first tip is that you don’t need to overthink your subject too much. There are a whole lot of different toys out there and basically any toy will do. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely have strong opinions about the best action figure product lines that produce the most photogenic toys, and the pros and cons of various levels of price, detail and articulation.

However when you are first starting out pretty much any toy you can get your hands on will do. So if you don’t have any action figures or other similar toys lying around, find a local kid and borrow one of theirs. If you don’t have easy access to a local kid, yard sales or thrift stores should yield something for you to shoot. Whatever grabs your eye, that’s the figure to start with.

For the rest of this article I am going to assume you selected some sort of action figure, or at least something that resembles a humanoid character (or a robot, LEGO minifig, or even a My Little Pony – it really doesn’t matter what you have, but I am going to use the term “figure” from here on out).


Visual storytelling has always been something that fascinated me. Not just the stories, but everything that takes place “behind the curtain” where the magic truly happens. Sort of the science behind the art has always been enthralling to me. Even from childhood I knew I wanted to be some form of visual artist. Originally, my primary focus was special effects and 3D graphics. In film school, I wanted to learn about modeling, texturing, lighting, animating and rendering 3D characters and environments. The school I went to required 3D animators to also take regular film school classes. As a young arrogant artist, I eschewed this idea and assumed there was no real use in learning about such an outdated medium and the methods to work with it. Part of the curriculum was stage craft for special effects. No computers, no digital wizardry, no slick compositing, just plain old “analog” or “practical” effects. At first, I assumed this was just more archaic methods taught by an obsolete instructor unwilling to part with methods that were no longer relevant. I told myself I’d also be sure to stay off his lawn. 

I didn’t expect this class to make more impact on me than any other class I ever took. I learned the ways of old school masters who had to invent a new medium and pioneer tricks to craft a live effect, without having the benefit of electronic assistance. It was a bizarre mix of chemistry, physics, ingenuity, cleverness and just a bit of downright crazy! We were igniting clouds of coffee creamer to create fireballs! we were using flakes of instant potatoes to create falling snow. We were using sheets of glass with objects glued to them to make things levitate live on camera. It was beyond amazing! It felt more like learning magic tricks than learning film making. Practical effects seemed to share more with sleigh-of-hand artists than with computer graphics. I gained so much respect for those creative minds that went before us. For those brave adventurer-artists who birthed a new medium of visual storytelling. Do you have any idea how the special effects artists crafted the tornado in the Wizard of Oz? They certainly didn’t have computers to render the effect for them, and they didn’t go capture and train a real tornado… I won’t spoil it for you, but I encourage you to look it up, it’s truly fascinating!

Side Note: There’s still some practical effect wizardry happening today that would do those Masters proud. They are usually relegated to Broadway shows, but they are no less impressive or ingenious. Case in point would be the rig used to create the flying carpet in the musical Aladdin. It’s an ingenious feat of practical engineering! So much so, they even filed a patent on the method to protect their idea.

So fast forward a few too many years and I find myself in a career that primarily uses Photoshop to composite effects. Frequently I’m working a visual project that needs a particular effect and before I launch that browser window and spending a credit on Adobe Stock for fireballs I ask myself three important questions:

1. Could I somehow shoot this myself as a practical effect?

2. If I did shoot it myself, would it be better?

3. Would it be more FUN? 

If the answer to any of those is “yes” (OK, mostly the last one) then I will absolutely try to shoot practical effects. I find the very process to be creatively therapeutic. It gets me out from behind my desk and it challenges me to figure out a way to create the effect. It’s like solving a puzzle or visual riddle. I’ve often said it’s some of the most fun I’ve ever had with my camera!

In my newest course here at KelbyOne, Shooting and Compositing Your Own Special Effects, I demonstrate three different practical effects and how to create them using regular household items and the techniques I’ve found to reliably shoot them, and how to use those as digital assets for your own special effects.

Water Splashes

For a long time, shooting mid-air water splashes frustrated me. It was the age-old photography struggle of needing a fast shutter speed to freeze the action, but somehow still getting enough light in to the sensor to make the water drops bright enough to be seen. The first time I worked with this project, my equipment was woefully inadequate for the task. The drops were either blurry or underexposed. or both. My high-speed synch wasn’t working (or I wasn’t using it right) so I was struggling to find a solution. The answer was as bright as day. Literally.