Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Hold perfectly still...and... Action!

Click (image) For Kicks
Like all things in life, people are demanding much more from a photographer. The last 2 years have seen a gradual blurring between the specialist who shoots and supplies still images, and the other who supplies moving images. This blurring has been aided by the growing numbers of DSLR cameras that are also able to capture Hi-Definition video. "So what," I hear you say, "my point and shoot has been able to record video for years. Some of it isn't quite HD but it looks fine on Youtube and the likes".

When you build video capabilities into a DSLR, suddenly you have access to a lot of high end movie techniques simply from the fact that you can now shoot with interchangeable lenses for differing types of view. Wide angles, zoomed shots, and macro can now all be recorded at will. And you can now control depth of field for more cinematic treatments like focusing on the main subject by knocking the background into a non-intrusive aesthetic blur.

And so it was that recently a client of mine asked me to shoot some of his product for him. He then went on to ask me to shoot the videos that were required to be used along with the product shots on his website. Also by shooting in Hi Definition, we would have the option too output for use in other media without loss of image quality. I have continuous lighting as well as my strobes and I have shot a fair amount of video on other formats in my time, so I said yes.

The models turned up from Japan, I shot the footage that was needed and edited it all down as required. Today I delivered the product shots and the videos. 

More and more photographers are finding that clients want to engage "image makers" who can produce and deliver a package of images, rather than having to deal with multiple vendors. Video production on DSLR's still has some way to go, but for many applications users are finding them to be extremely capable tools in the right hands.

But don't be seduced that because you're a photographer and your holding a DSLR, that all you have to do to great moving images is switch to video mode and shoot away. No, you need to think in terms of viewer angles, scenes, and be able to visualize how a fade or a pan would work best and a host of other considerations. Some photographers may feel resistant to this other side of creating images, and others are doing very well thank you as they are. But for many professional photographers, there will be a market driven encouragement to embrace this additional function that is appearing on more and more of our expense new cameras.

A few DSLR's with video capability are listed below:

Monday, September 20, 2010

Mount Diablo's Hairy Inhabitants

A view from the summit of Mount Diablo
I went for a walk around the summit of Mount Diablo in California at the weekend. We can see the peak across the bay on the East side from our apartment, and it had been beckoning for quite a while now. It was a cloudy day in San Francisco. The cloud seemed to be quite low. So it made sense to assume that if we went up to the top of the mountain we could still enjoy the sun over the weekend. And off we went.
A break in the cloud
As we entered the National Parks area we started driving along the five miles of road that would take us up to 3000 feet. It wasn't long before the cloud thinned enough for us to realize that we were approaching the top of the cloud layer. Aah, sunshine!

But what was that! True that up till now the rather nonchalant squirrel population had been mandating that I drive around them as they frolic in the road, but this creature was a totally different shape. It was also a little smaller, though not by much. It was hairy yes, but it was also black and had eight legs - a tarantula!

With a smooth instinctive Jedi movement I was crouched in the road with my camera already raised to my eye focused and on the target. The sun went behind some clouds at the same time and I hadn't taken a flash with me this day. I hung around for a while but we just got more and more engulfed by the cloud that was caressing the mountain. Appearing tarantulas seem to be a regular phenomenon here so I will be going back specifically to take some detailed shots and maybe use some for stock submissions too. 

The sun did burn the cloud of quite quickly so by the time we were at the summit we were bathed in the afternoon sun. By the time we decided to leave, another wave of cloud was coming in but as we drove down the mountain toward the valley we were able to continue to enjoy the sunshine of the late afternoon.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Hip Camera Gadget

While shooting an event and carrying 2 cameras, Antonella mentioned to me that she was concerned at how my posture was looking crooked as I tried to shoot multiple angles with one camera while trying to balance another over my shoulder without it slipping off. I'm fortunate that my posture is very good, but Antonella expressed that her concern was I might lose it long term due to the way I was almost permanently contorted while balancing 2 cameras. She was right. I was very aware of what I was doing with my body and promised her on the spot I would find a remedy for this situation. And I have.

Today I went out with my camera to field-test my newly purchased B-Grip. When I'm around town with my camera, I prefer to walk or use public transport since I find it easier to spot, and take advantage of, the many photo opportunities that are endless in San Francisco. 

Camera locked in place on the B-Grip
So I strap my camera onto my B-Grip around my waist and set of to catch the MUNI downtown where I've arranged to meet a friend for coffee. Once I've walked about 3 blocks I can see up to the top of a distant hill and see if a train is approaching my stop, and there was! I'm about 250 yards from the stop at this point, and I know that if I run like I mean it, I'll get to the stop in time to board the train. I've done it so many times before but this time I have my Nikon strapped to my waist, and held in place by a very clever, but insignificant looking, lever and catch device. Well I don't want to keep my friend waiting and the B-Grip videos make a big deal of showing people running and jumping with the product and none of them ended in tears.

And I'm off. Sprinting along the street, my camera feels well balanced and moves with my body. No swinging, flapping, or banging about. It's almost as if my camera is no longer there. It is still there isn't it? I glance down to my side. And there is my Nikon hugging my waist and moving in unison with my body. I jump aboard the train and the doors close. Unlatching my camera from my side, I give it a quick once over. I had the lens locked in place so no worries about that. And after checking all the basic functions, I'm happy to report that my camera had taken the whole episode in it's stride. 

I got off the MUNI at the Embarcadero and ran up the stairs. Both hands completely free while my camera snuggled, nicely weighted into my waist and hip. I had almost reached the coffee shop when I noticed the Raygun Gothic Rocketship by the bay. I reached to my hip and flicked the released and raised the camera viewfinder to my eye in one easy motion. Once I had explored the Rocketship's angles, I guided my camera back to my hip where it clipped instantly back into the B-Grip.

So now I have my posture back, and the freedom to run after buses and trains, have my hands free, and all while I'm carrying a camera. I did look at a few alternatives but based on needing to be active while shooting, this looked like being the best solution for me. I'm really satisfied with my purchase and all I'm going to do now is — enjoy!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Sometimes The Future Looks Too Bright

Harsh lighting can be unflattering even for the most beautiful people
How often have you seen someone with a camera outdoors posing another person for a portrait and saying,
"You're in the shade there, move over there into the sunlight so that I can get a good shot."?

Well it sounds logical. The more illuminated something is, the clearer it is to the eye, right? But then you wonder what's wrong with your camera because the pictures suffer from heavy shadows, blown highlights and weird skintones. And what's up with all those squinty-eyed people! Even a basic point and shoot camera is a very sophisticated piece of equipment capable of analyzing all kinds of subjects you might choose to point your camera at and shoot.
The result is that you can invite your family and friends round after a vacation, or your child's acting debut on the school stage, lock the doors and then entertain your hostages with the 400 frames you fired off during the event.

I actually love looking at pictures but rather without the blow by blow commentary and explanations, ("...and this is us sitting at the dining table, oh and this is us when we asked the waiter to take our picture..."). And with the convenience of digital, quantity is king and editing is barely existent in many circumstances.

Anyway, getting back on track. The metering systems on cameras today will generally give you a reasonable rendering of any scene you point them at. But even the most expensive pro-dslr cameras will protest to some degree when you ask it's metering system to make something of a scene that is primarily harsh sunlight.

So do you have to settle with harsh squinty shots from your travels when the thing you want to photograph or be photographed with isn't practical to move? It's 11:00 am and your tour bus has stopped by the Great Pyramid at Giza for a half hour. You realize that the angle that will give the best composition of you with the pyramid in shot means that the already brilliant sunlight is directly in your eyes. You take a quick look at the first shot that is taken and you see that your white linen outfit has become featureless, your skin blotchy, and the area under the brim of your sunhat has became a dark void where your eyes used to be.

Bright sunlight with fill-flash
The quick fix here is not to ask your friendly guide, Ahmed, if he could have the pyramid moved slightly this way or that. No, the trick is to set your camera to under-expose slightly (If you have this function on your camera your manual will tell you how to set it), and then turn on your flash. This time when the shutter is pressed the flash will work as a fill light and keep you more evenly illuminated cutting down on the harsh shadows on your face, while the background will still be well lit from the overall sunlight.

If you're taking photos of your friends outside and want really beautiful, naturally lit results. Get them to step out of the bright sunlight and stand in the shade of a tree, the shadow of a building, or such. You'll see that all the harsh shadows have become softened and you still have the option of being creative by introducing some flash if you want to. By the way, off camera flash is the way to go if you want really great results here.

Which brings me round to the joy of a bright overcast day. When shooting portraits, much of the time photographers are looking for someway of lighting their models to give nice flattering skintones. Although not always the case, you may be after a super edgy look or some other creative experience. But to get the classic look, many people have reverted to shooting in a studio and using softboxes to modify bright lights into an evenly diffused glow.

Well the largest softbox know yo man it actually free to everyone although not always available on demand. It's the bright overcast sky! So next time you're contemplating doing some portrait work, don't put it off if the sun isn't out and you don't have access to a studio. Get outside and play with that glorious, free, soft lighting.

And most important of all — enjoy!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Headless But Not Chicken

I spent some time down at The Ferry Building at the Plaza today watching some guys skateboarding. It was fascinating to watch as they tried increasing complex and daring tricks on their boards. It became very noticeable that "lots of air" was a key component to pulling off their stunts. The higher and longer they could stay airborne, the more numerous the moves they could pull before landing, — hopefully at least — back onto their decks.

As I sat and studied they way they were using their bodies to gain some mastery over gravity, I noticed how they started to look the same way as the seagulls nearby as they spread and flapped their wings to launch themselves to escape velocity. With arched backs and heads tucked, these lads seemed in denial that they too couldn't break free and soar into the air!

It was very bright and sunny so I decided to shoot mainly for black and white and try to capture these boarders at the moment they felt they would break free and fly. I was fascinated with the headless looking forms they struck and tried to time my shots to capture just that.

You can view the images here.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Preparing For Committment

I spent the whole of the labor Day weekend in glorious sunshine. I heard that the weather in San Francisco wasn't so summery on Saturday, but I was further south shooting a wedding, as I said, in glorious sunshine. Friday night was the usual check and re-check before a shoot. I created a checklist for all my gear and checked everything off as each item was first loaded into a gear bag and then loaded into my car. When I'm finished at the venue, I'll use my checklist again to make sure I have all my gear heading back home with me. I had been down on Thursday to have a last look at the premises before the actual wedding on Saturday, so I was happy with just using speedlites for the evening jollifications. The main lighting issue was going to be balancing with the direct sunlight that would be bathing the unsheltered area where the ceremony would take place.
My solution for this would be having a reflector facing the bride and groom to feather them with some fill light. This way I can hold the sky sky behind them without the couple and the wedding party turning into silhouettes.

We arrived at the bride's hotel at 10 am signaling the start of a long day. There was also an acute sense of tension in the air. No, not the usual, "oh my god I'm so nervous" tension. It was more "I'm gonna kick someone's ass in a minute" tension.

It didn't take long to see what the cause of the feelings were and once identified it was easy to stay unconnected to the cause. Our bride seemed to really like us so all I had to do know was give her a happy record of her wedding day and also document all that was going on in a way that she and her husband would be proud and excited when sharing the memories with their family and friends.

There are some basic things to bear in mind if you are shooting a wedding and most of these things fit neatly under one heading. Preparation! I've already mentioned a check list for my gear. It's not a good idea to wait till just before you leave to grab your favorite camera and lens only to realize you didn't bring a spare card or your batteries are only half charged because you grabbed the wrong ones as you left home. Make a list and get everything ready the night before. That way you can rest properly and enjoy some calm in the morning before you leave for an assignment.

Always try to get to the venue before the actual day. For this wedding, I actually visited the venue at the same time in the day that the wedding was planned for. This way I was able to see how the light would fall on the day. I was also able to work out some angles and locations for shots that would probably work really well on the day. I remember on one engagement shoot in particular, I was moving the couple from shot to shot and to a few locations that helped to tell the story of their engagement. At one point the guy said to me,
"This is so easy I'm really enjoying this. We know exactly where we need to go and we now what kind of shots we'll be taking when we get there. It's as if you came here before and worked it all out".
"I did" was my answer.
I had also told them it would be a 2 hour shoot and although I hadn't been looking at my watch, when I said, "We're done".
He said, "Wow, 2 hours just like you said. Very professional!"

 If you've done your homework, deciding what gear to take with you will be easier. Weddings can be very physically demanding and you'll be surprised how many miles you can cover from moving quickly to capture those angles around the hotel and the event venue. Especially when the venue is in an acred countryside setting! I've never had a camera fail on me yet, but I still always have at least one backup with me at a wedding. If nothing else, I can have 2 cameras with different lenses always at the ready negating the need to change lens and possibly miss that all important shot. Whether you use SD or CF cards, take more than you think you'll need. I always carry extra cards. I also carry a portable multicard back up drive with me too. As I shoot at a wedding, I'll often swap out a card for a new one and also backup the one I've been using on my portable drive. That way, I'll need to be struck by lightning twice to lose that data!

With the popularity of documentary/journalistic style wedding  shots, grab the fastest glass you can. F 2.8 is good and anything wider is very cool. I try to use reflectors before I introduce flash to a wedding. My reflectors are not just the ones I bring but are also walls of buildings, low white or light coloured ceilings, mirrors, light coloured tablecloths, and anything else I see around me that reflects and affects the light in a way I might light to make use of it. Even though I try to keep it natural, I do always have at least one speedlite in my gearbag when I shoot a wedding.

Batteries and chargers, need I say more?

You also need to be passionate about producing beautiful art that will be a meaningful memory for someone. In all of this, remember that you are also a guest at the weeding and the more unnoticed you can become, the more surprised and delighted the Bride and Groom will be when the see those amazing moments you captured without them even realizing you were right there for them... sharing their the joy!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Totally Exposed

How I cleaned up my act.
Fiddlesticks! (This is a family show people). I've got dirt on one of my camera sensors and I have an important assignment to shoot tomorrow. After poring through some of my photography magazines and doing some research on the web, I'm now convinced that if I try to clean my sensor myself I will totally screw up my camera and void my warranty! I know, I'll just shoot with one camera tomorrow and address sensor cleaning another time.

But what if my shutter jams, or I drop my camera, or any number of catastrophes befalls the camera I take. I could take one of my other cameras as a back up but for the assignment I'm doing I'll be more comfortable with the choice of lens and camera body I had originally planned to use. Also I'm feeling that Murphy's law is just itching to get a look in. Ok Roi, it's your professional responsibility to manage risk on behalf of the client. Rats! (Family show people). I really need to have at least one back up camera with me. But being a high value assignment, my back up needs to be able to complete the job just as well as my primary tool will. Deep Breath. I need this camera body so I need to clean it today - myself.
I've circled the offending dirt particles that were residing on my sensor
 The first company I call in my quest for sensor cleaning materials and tools is Adolph Gasser in San Francisco. I know, what a name. Anyway, Scott answers the phone and asks how he can help. Suddenly my body is taken over by aliens. Instead of asking for the cleaning materials, I hear
"Do you provide a sensor cleaning service?", spill effortlessly out of my mouth as if I had been rehearsing those exact words for the last 2 weeks.
" Yes we do, and if you bring your camera in now, I'll do it while you wait".
"I'll be there in an hour", I answer to Scott, Knowing he has no idea that I have just decided to marry him and have his children!

"Hello, I'm looking for Scott", I say to the man at the counter.
"I'm Scott, who 's looking for him?"
So I tell him who I am and am immediately whisked downstairs to the service department and Scott takes on the role of maestro. The lens cap is off, the loupe is over my naked sensor. (It's ok this is still a family show). The next 10 minutes I am reassured, guided, and educated, as Scott cleans my sensor explaining all that he is doing as it happens. Once the cleaning is all done, I'm invited to go outside and take an exposure of the sky so we can check that there is no debris residing on my sensor. All clean! So if you're in San Francisco and you need your sensor cleaned, don't stress yourself with the worry of screwing it up, get on down to Gassers and ask for Scott.

Scott showed me the proper technique for one method of cleaning my sensors. As long as they don't get too dirty, I can routinely clean them with a Giotto Rocket. But rest assured that anything that can't be shifted by this method will be placed in Scott's capable hands at Adolph Gasser in San Francisco.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Taking Stock

A Nice Little Earner
"You can make $$$ from your camera just by selling pictures you have already taken" We've all see the ads promising the secrets of how to make this happen. You just send them a one time fee for their "in-depth" materials and you sit back and count the moulah as it comes avalanching in. Don't fall for it! You do not need to pay anyone to tell you how to sell your own pictures. They'll get you all whipped up and excited at how your local news editor is gagging for that picture you took of your 8 year old son scoring the winning goal against you and his mom last Saturday in the park. They'll unveil the fact that there are beautiful models just streets away from you who have realized the only thing holding back their career is that they haven't begged you to take portfolio shots for them. Of course you'll charge them a reasonable rate though. Don't want to take advantage do you! And imagine if your local art gallery or greeting cards shop found out that you had some "adorable" photos of your cute little kitty. Could we be talking never having to work again?
No, No, No, No, No!
 Seriously though, it is actually true that "You can make $$$ from your camera just by selling pictures you have already taken". One way is by creating and selling stock photography.

Stock photos are generally images held by a commercial library that anyone can buy and download and use, only being restricted by the kind of license attached to the image. These images are often used by newspapers, magazines, bloggers, websites, the advertising and marketing industry, and so on. If you decide you need a picture of a woman changing the wheel on her car. Instead of finding a photographer, setting up a shoot, and getting models, props and location sorted out, you can just go to an online stock library and enter your keywords. Although I still maintain if you want an absolutely bespoke image, you should call me and I'll set it up and shoot it for you. Oh Oh, there's the plug!

How to get started
Do an online search for stock photo libraries and look at the kind of images they have on their sites. Many of these libraries have a contributor area where you can go and learn about the technical requirements that need to be met, their preferred aesthetic, and in some cases what kind of images they are seeking, and images they definitely do not need. Once you have chosen the library you want to submit to and you feel your pictures meet their technical and aesthetic requirement, go ahead and complete their approvals process. If you're successful, Great! If not, read the feedback and maybe try again.

Let me just state right here. If you can't take criticism and rejections, then stock photography is not for you!

One of the benefits I've enjoyed from shooting stock, is the discipline of making sure the images have commercial value, are properly composed, and are technically well captured. The technical standards of a good stock image will allow for the fact that a designer may take your image and push it even further in post production. An image that has lots of tonal information, no noise, and no JPEG artifacts will allow this. If a stock library feels your image already has all the processing it can take, they may shy away from accepting it, unless it is incredibly compelling just as an image. So if you're a photographer with thick skin and you want practical feedback from a commercial perspective, submit some stock images. You don't even have to become a committed contributor to enjoy this valuable feedback. Many of the libraries have forums where you can submit work to be critiqued for it's commercial viability.

In the main, a stock photo is a product from a photographer which in turn is used to sell a product or concept. So that technically perfect photo you took while on vacation,  of the sun setting over a picturesque cornfield may get rejected for "LCV" — low commercial value.

I was asked to supply a model release for this silhouette.
So what should you shoot? Answer, If you were/are a designer what would you be looking for? Don't you hate it when people answer questions with another question?

People doing things that tell a story or relate a concept are always in demand. But don't forget to get a model release. Even if you shoot yourself, you'll need a signed and witnessed model release. Don't get too arty with your stock images, leave that to the designer. Also most libraries will instantly reject any image with hard shadows, since these start to look like "snapshots". Borders, vignettes, special effects, or gratuitous Photoshop work is in the main frowned on.

Oh yes, the money. Well don't just expect to get rich on stock photography, although there is no reason why some of you won't. But I prefer to think of it as a residual income and if it does better than that, then — Good Times!! Remember, you can't tell the end user what to buy or what size and usage to purchase. But you can create compelling, high quality images that people will want to use and pay good money for :)

This is just a broad introduction to Stock Photography but if you have specific questions I'll do my best to answer them. When shooting stock, I try to understand where markets are trending, influences from politics and popular culture, and lifestyle choices. And don't forget obvious calendar events like, Hanukkah, Thanksgiving, Easter, New Years, Diwali, Eid, Christmas, and everything else. So do your research and start submitting!

You can make $$$ by taking stock... Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Spice of Life.

Many people have been encouraging me to write about what I do and finally here I am, writing. Well, typing really, but you know what I mean. I do subscribe to the view that "variety is the spice of life" or at least one of them. So even though I introduce myself as a photographer, the next question might be, what type of photography do I do? Most of it involves a lens and some source of light! But let me give you a respectful answer and you'll see variety is very much embraced in the photography I do;
Portraits, Product, Packs, Stock,  Flat art copying, Events (Dinners, Engagements, Weddings etc), Real Estate, Insurance, Headshots, Families (babies and children too), Street, Sets, I'm also very comfortable with complex retouching and image manipulation, and the list goes on.
With all of this going on, a camera has become a significant part of an outfit when I go out.
One of the things I like about this range of subjects is that, at least for me, it has helped me to think of my photography a little like the way a linguist may function. Each genre is like it's own language with its individual aesthetic and technical requirement. Some people are happy with just mother tongue. Me? I've opted for "the spice of life" — variety.
It's nice to be able to move comfortably in and out of conversations no matter what language is being used and that is how I view my choice to shoot in many styles and for many applications.
By the way, none of what I write here is "the" approach, it's just one approach that works really well for me and the way I like to experience life. And another thing. I whole-heartedly believe that life is for living, otherwise, wouldn't it be called something else?
So 12 months ago, I renamed my business activity "Roijoy Photography" and today I'm starting this blog in an effort to share some of that joy.
From tomorrow, I will begin writing with a specific topic in mind each time. I'm not here to tell you how you must do something, but am more than happy to share my experiences and techniques with you. I approach photography as a creative medium which means there is always room for subjectivity.
I love looking at photography and am in awe of most of the work I see around me. So if you are on Flickr or other such site, I'm probably in awe of you!