5 Easy Tips That Will Help You Turn Pro

The first rule of being successful at anything, whether it’s photography, bull riding or playing the stocks, is to never stop honing your skill. Those that are the most successful in their craft continue to evolve their perspective and learn from their experiences. It has taken decades for the art of photography to become what it is with the foundation of principals that it has. Those that came before us and before you, as you are sitting here reading this blog, have created some basic knowledge and understandings that continue to remain true for the most professional of photographers. In this week’s blog, we have 5 quick and easy tips that are favorites of the pros but often missed by those just starting out. When put into everyday practice, these 5 little gems will help you get consistently excellent shots and turn you from an amateur to a pro.

Pro Tip #1: Lock in your focus.

Focus is focus. It’s where your eye is drawn first and then becomes the focal point of the entire image. If you are trying to get more than one subject to remain in focus in your shot, point at your first subject area and hold your shutter button half way down. This means your focus is now locked and you are free to move to the remaining portions of your image and finish pushing down the shutter release button. Your camera will not be able to readjust, which is what always ends up leaving your initial subject matter blurred and fuzzy.

Pro Tip #2: Move your point of focus.

I know I know, it is literally the exact opposite of what the first point says, but that doesn’t make it wrong and we’ll tell you why. When you look through your viewfinder, you see that rectangle or square or circle right? Well that is your camera’s “auto focus” point. Whatever happens to be in that sweet spot of your view finder will be the most focused portion of your picture. However, the sneaky truth about a camera’s auto focus is that you can move that AF point to correspond with the way you are composing your picture. Thus, both a brilliantly sharp and artfully composed image. What was that? Did I just hear someone whisper “pro”…?

Flickr dojoklo
Flickr dojoklo

Pro Tip #3: Get real close and use a high shutter speed.

One of the most underrated skills of photography is getting in close. Real close. Famous photographer, Robert Capa has been quoted saying, “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough.” Don’t let your fear of getting in someone’s or something’s personal space stop you from getting the shot you truly want. They’ve already agreed to be photographed and therefore are already on display. What could it hurt to get in a bit closer? The important thing about getting in close though is that any teeny tiny movement will be detected and captured in your photos. Therefore, make sure to set your camera to a high shutter speed so when you push the shutter release, it can instantly capture the image with little or none of that camera shake. (Check out more tips on how to manage camera shake).

Pro Tip #4: Don’t edit it later, recompose in the moment!

Our blog post a couple weeks ago was all about the magic of Photoshop. We love it, we really do, but one thing we love more, is recomposing and getting your exact subject matter the first time. It may not take you very long to crop out that telephone pole or funky cloud arrangement but it will take you even less time to adjust yourself or the shot in your viewfinder in the moment. Photoshop should be reserved for enhancing the slight details of your shot, not completely recreating it. That job is up to you and the YOU is what makes your shots individual, desirable and emotional. The magic of you as an artist trumps the magic of Photoshop any day of the week!

Pro Tip #5: Be a harsh critique when editing.

You’ve heard it before but we’re gonna say it again…less is more. The best way to exhibit yourself as a pro is to only show your pro shots. Not the ones that have 2 out of the 4 elements you were going for. Not the ones that have 3 out of the 4 elements. Only pick the ones that are a straight homerun. 4 out of 4 elements, exactly what you were going for and don’t need any explanation. When you are looking at your shots, if there is one bit of hesitation, flag it as rejected. Your intuition is there for a reason. Listen to it, trust it, follow it. If the shot isn’t a “hell yes!” it’s a no. Take a look at these three pictures of these lovely little girls. Which one evokes the most emotion…?

Flickr noborders2
Flickr noborders2Flickr noborders2Flickr noborders2Flickr noborders2
Flickr noborders2

Yep, this last one above is the one. Happy editing!

The Biggest Wedding Shot Challenges and How to Own Them

It doesn’t matter if you are a friend of the bride or groom and you’ve given them a sweet deal on the cost of their wedding photos. It doesn’t matter if you are just starting out as an amateur photographer and you are doing this wedding for free to improve your book. It doesn’t even matter if the bride and groom have said to you, “Don’t worry, just get shots really candidly and casually. We want things to seem natural” While these or any number of scenarios may be what brought you to the point of calling yourself a wedding photographer for a day, none of them trump the one simple and unbelievably daunting truth of weddings: this is the big day, and you only get one shot…literally.

Since there is no “do-over” when it comes to the wedding day, there are 4 basic principles to keep in mind when you’ve taken on the incredible task of shooting wedding photos. Remember to accomplish each one of these and you will never find yourself scrambling for extra batteries as the bride turns red with frustration because you are losing the perfect lighting.

Wedding Shot Principle #1: Scope out the location EARLY. Wedding days are inherently busy and jam packed to the minute. The last thing you want to do as a photographer is have the wedding party scampering all about the venue searching for the best lighting and angles. Arrive at the ceremony location earlier in the day or even a day before if possible so you can survey the scene. Decide which areas will provide the components necessary for the styling your bride and groom have chosen.

Wedding Shot Principle #2: Bring backups of EVERYTHING. How does the saying go? ‘Better safe than sorry’ Again, there is no re-doing a wedding day. So whether you have to buy stock in AAA batteries or carry two extra flashes around with you that day, the bottom line is this: just do it! You will find yourself so much more at ease knowing you are completely prepared for anything. Additionally, you’ll be amazed at how quickly your flash battery and camera battery will run out with all the burst mode snapping you’ll be doing.

Flickr
Flickr petesmart

Wedding Shot Principle #3: Have a shot list. When it comes to formal wedding pictures, the bride and groom will know best what arrangements they will want so most likely the happy couple will provide you with this.  However, if this is not the case, ask for one and make sure, even after the formal pictures are done, that you keep the list with you so you can be sure to get a couple candid’s of each person on the list. Everyone loves action shots of laughing, smiling and dancing!

Flickr acclaimed-wedding-photographer
Flickr acclaimed-wedding-photographer

 

Wedding Shot Principle #4: Bring a step-ladder. These days, couple’s are getting a little tricky with where and how they are getting married. While some remain in a church, many are getting married outside, on a mountain, under water…? With these added components of location having a step ladder handy can help you access angles and shots that otherwise would be lost. After all what is the surest way to get more business? Get the un-gettable shot and hear the happy bride sing your praises forever!

Home Studios, They’re Easier Than You Think…and cheaper too!

What comes to mind when you think about professional studios? Indoor photo shoots? I’m guessing you are imagining some flashy car or a gorgeous model, set in front of a flawless white background, multiple bright spotlights shining directly onto the perfectness of the subject matter. Sounds pretty high fashion (a.k.a. high dollar) and intense huh? The reality is that it doesn’t have to be so intense and it doesn’t have to be so costly. These days, studio gear has come down in price and advances in technology have made this gear far more user friendly. Thus, more of our fellow photographers are able to set up shop in their own homes at a fraction of the cost. We’re talking only about $1,000.00 to get you up and running. Just don’t meet clients still in your pajamas…I know it’s a home studio, but that may detract from the professional image…just sayin’.

Below are the 5 must-haves for a successful home studio:

Home Studio Must-Have #1: Background – We can’t all have a world class cyclorama as a part of our studios, at least not yet.  A fantastic alternative is to use seamless background paper. It’s inexpensive and the two most popular sizes (53 inches and 107 inches) can be purchased for anywhere between $20-$40. The stands that support these paper rolls only go for about $60 themselves so for a mere $100, you have your versatile studio background.

Home Studio Must-Have #2: Strobes – Ok so first things first, we aren’t talking about disco status strobe lights. Strobes are just pro speak for studio flash, aka lighting. They are basically the same thing as your off camera flash however they are far more powerful and put out more light which is necessary for killer studio shots. And p.s. they can be acquired for as little as $300. Say what!?

Home Studio Must-Have #3: Softbox – In last week’s post we talked about window lighting and how this diffused light creates some of the best elements for photography. Same thing applies to studio shots. However, studios are usually very dark with the exception of the strobes so how do we create that same diffused lighting? You guessed it, a softbox. For only about $200, they fit right over your strobes and are the pro choice for making the harsh light of your strobe, bigger and softer.

Flickr j_kacey
Flickr j_kacey

Home Studio Must-Have #3a: Speed Ring – Some softboxes will come with a speed ring built right in. However many do not, so if this is the case for you, make sure you put it on your shopping list. Be super on top of your game though and make sure to purchase one that is made to fit your brand of strobe. Speed rings are small metal circles, with four holes on the sides designed to hold the four thin poles that give your softbox its shape. Depending on the quality, they can cost anywhere from$50 to $120.

Home Studio Must-Have #4: Light Meter – These little babies are so helpful when you are working with multiple lights and possibly multiple reflectors and need to choose the perfect exposure. They are super easy to use and will save you hours of stressful Photoshop adjustments. Besides, your time is far more valuable than the $250 it costs to purchase these tools of exposure perfection.

Home Studio Must-Have #5: Silver Reflector – Are you thinking you need to spend another $300, for a second strobe in order to handle those pesky shadows? Not necessarily.  Be nice to yourself (and your wallet) and just pick up a $40 silver reflector. It will throw a ton of gentle light back toward your subject matter and quickly illuminate any undesired shadows.

Flickr afshinheidary
Flickr afshinheidary

Ok, drum roll please as we do our Financial Re-Cap:

  • Background – $100.00
  • Strobe – $300.00
  • Softbox – $200.00
  • Speed ring – $120.00
  • Light Meter – $250.00
  • Silver Reflector – $40.00

 

Home Studio Grand Total:  $1010.00

After You’ve Captured the Moment: The Magic of Photo Processing

magic-of-photo-processing-adobe_photoshop-haaghunflickr

Ok, so you’ve done all you can do on the front end. You were incredibly creative and used an old fence post as a tripod when capturing the wild horses grazing. You’ve mastered the death grip and were able to get crystal clear shots of toddlers bounding through sprinklers. What’s more, you know all this because the zoom check is now standard practice for you. Yep, you’re kind of a big deal. It’s time to make some prints and time to make some money. But how, you ask, does one accomplish that so as to ensure what you see on your computer screen conveys to the size print you want?

The tri-fecta of P’s: Photoshop, Paper, Printer. It’s simple but foundational…just like your tripod.

Photo Processing Component #1: Photoshop. Adobe Photoshop, originally developed by Thomas Knoll, could probably also have been titled “The Magic Photo Processor”. Photoshop is the darkroom software that all serious photographers use to fine tune their images. You can clone images. You can combine and crop photos. Color management, motion blur, red eye removal, tonal adjustments, sharpening and so much more.  If you are not at the Adobe Photoshop stage yet, Photoshop Elements is also a great option. It is basically the semi-pro version of Photoshop. There are not as many features and tools, but it all depends on the type of financial and emotional commitment you are making to your art. He has also created Adobe Camera RAW for those of you who are interested in shooting your photos in the image quality mode RAW – but that is a whole different blog post.

Photo Processing Component #2Paper. Although there are a ridiculous number of paper styles and a ridiculous number of paper companies out there, let’s just cut right to the chase. A first choice among many of the pros is Epson Ultra Premium Photo Paper Luster. Obviously you will find what is right for you and probably the most important question to ask yourself when choosing paper is ‘what is my subject matter’? For the natural graces; water, landscapes, birds, flowers etc., you’ll probably want a more textured paper. This will help create that tactile sensation that matches the artsy, painted feel of your image. When printing more serious photos such as cityscapes, architecture, portraits, travel etc., opt for the above Epson Ultra Premium Photo Paper Luster. This will really allow the lines and intricate details of your work to command the attention they deserve.

magic-of-photo-processing-epson_paper_surfaces-samfeinstein
Flickr samfeinstein

Printer. So maybe the printer section should have come before the paper section. But really it’s the chicken or the egg situation. If you are going to get a specific printer, you should then plan on using that company’s specific paper. However, how do you know what paper will do your images justice until you’ve done a couple test prints on that printer you are trying to choose…? Confusing right? Well let’s simplify. Epson printers have really been climbing the ladder in terms of exceptional quality. Just like the Epson Ultra Premium Photo Paper Luster, this brand of printers has become the standard for the serious professional photog. It is so, due to the printer’s ability to create truly vivid color output and incredible dynamic black and whites. Enough said.

magic-of-photo-processing-epson-printer-frog-22050666@N08

8 Tips for Super Sharp Photos

Let’s be honest here, if you wanna be a pro but your images aren’t sharp, you aren’t going to get very far. Sharp shots allow your viewer to feel present for the event; and that is the goal we should all be striving for. When someone is present for an event they are emotionally attached and when they are emotionally attached to your product, they are going to be loyal, talk it up and provide the best word of mouth marketing. Ever.

Before we get into the on-site techniques, know that sharpening your images after the fact with Adobe Photoshop is also an option, but it is far easier to get as close to “tack sharp” as possible in the initial stages. Below are 8 specific ways that, when used either alone or in combination, will give you that amazing, tack sharp photo…

Tack Sharp Photo Tip #1: Tripods, tripods, tripods! The only job of this piece of equipment is to keep your camera steady. It is the foundational tool that all the pros use even if it doesn’t seem necessary.

Tack Sharp Photo Tip #2: Ballheads. You may think that when you are purchasing a quality tripod, it would come with a ballhead attached. Fortunately for you (maybe unfortunately for your wallet), no. Cheapo tripods that come with an affixed head are actually more limiting. Trust me, it’s worth it to spend a bit extra and get a quality tripod and a quality ballhead that will allow you to easily adjust and move your camera for the perfect angle and assured steadiness.

Tack Sharp Photo Tip #3: Cable Release. Even the steadiest of hands can create slight movement simply from pressing the shutter release. In this instance, a cable release is the answer to your prayers. This allows you to take the picture without actually touching the shutter release and therefore, no camera shake. Yay!

Tack Sharp Photo Tip #4:  Self Timer. If you are not able to get a cable release yet, go for the self timer option on your camera. The time it takes for the timer to wind down will allow for any movement you created when pushing the shutter release, to subside.

8-tips-super-sharp-photos-camera_with_accessories-richard314159

Tack Sharp Photo Tip #5: VR or IS. Depending on your camera, your lens will either have a Vibration Reduction or Image Stabilization feature. These can be fantastic when taking hand held shots but when using your tripod, it’s better to turn the feature off. The reason being, these are designed to stop movement, but if the camera does not find any, it goes out looking for it which, unfortunately, creates movement.

Tack Sharp Photo Tip #6: Sharpest Aperture. Every camera has a sweet spot. Generally speaking, and when you are able to, shoot your images at two full stops smaller than wide open. If that does not seem to be producing the desired sharpness, take inventory of the photo data of each shot. You can find this information in Adobe Photoshop under File Info -> Camera Data. Whatever aperture setting is behind your sharpest photos is the sweet spot for your equipment.

Tack Sharp Photo Tip #7: Good Lenses. Much like our own vision, a good lens is going to convey the most beautiful images. Straight up, anything less than $295 just isn’t going to move you from amateur to pro. You have the talent, invest in the equipment that matches, you’ll be happy you did.

Tack Sharp Photo Tip #8: Zoom Check. Who hasn’t opened up a picture on your computer or tried to enlarge something only to see those dreaded pixels from the days of Super Mario Brothers? Everything looks good on the small screen of your camera so be super certain you are on the path to tack sharpness. Immediately after taking the shot, zoom all the way in and see if your lines are clean and clear. If not you’ll know you need to make some adjustments.

Happy shooting!

8-tips-super-sharp-photos-buds_close_up-ricarda303

Incredible Hand-Held Shots Without the Camera Shake

incredible-hand-held-shots-natural_tripod-djmatsuda
Flickr djmatsuda

A tripod can be a photographer’s best friend when it comes to tack sharp, steady shots. However, what if that funky, artistic, avant guard image you are about to capture does not allow for the wide stance of a tripod? How can you assure your client or yourself (possibly the most demanding client of all) that you will still be able to provide the needed clarity? Below are 4 quick tricks to keep in mind so steady hand-held camera shots can become your “in a pinch” specialty.

Incredible Hand-Held Shot Tip #1

Natural Tripod Formations – First, use that creative eye of yours and look for fences, railings, boulders or any other stationary object. All you need is a place to rest your lens and it will take the focus off your arm shake and put it back where it should be, on the moment.

Incredible Hand-Held Shot Tip #2

Lean on Me – If Mother Earth did not provide any tripod-esque opportunities, use yourself as the brace. Lean against a wall, lean against a building or whatever you can find because the steadier you are, the steadier your shot will be.

Incredible Hand-Held Shot Tip #3

Less Than the Best – Believe it or not, perfect lighting will not always exist for your shoots. I know, terrible but true. However, next time you find yourself in such a predicament, and don’t want to deal with camera shake as the lens focuses, switch your camera to continuous shooting or “burst” mode. Hold down the shutter release and take a stream of photos. Chances are at least one of those multiple photos will be as sharp as you need it to be.

Incredible Hand-Held Shot Tip #4

The Death Grip – This term was coined by photographer Joel Lipovetsky and when used, can provide extra stability and ultimately sharper hand-held shots. Start by putting your arm through your camera strap so the padded part is sitting just above your elbow on the underside of your arm. Then wrap both sides of the strap around the outside of your wrist leaving just enough room to hold your camera snugly in your hand. Use your other hand for additional balancing.

Adding any one or a combination of these tricks to your photography resume will increase your versatility and ultimately, your marketability.

incredible-hand-held-shots-sitting_steady_shooting-library_of_congress
Flickr library_of_congress

 

 

Choosing the Right Tripod

choosing the right tripod-tripod in grass

Questions You Need to Ask Before You Buy

Tripods run the gamut as far as features, size and pricing are concerned. Many times, our brains will automatically think, “The more expensive, the better!” but this isn’t always the case. Instead of buying on a whim or falling for slick advertising or sales pitches, take a few moments to honestly assess your needs. Doing so will save you a lot of time, money and frustration down the line.

Here are the top questions you should ask yourself before purchasing your tripod, along with a few suggestions for getting the most out of your purchase:

1) How often will you use a tripod?

If your answer is occasionally – such as for semi-annual family portraits or holidays, then:

  • Select an inexpensive model, either from a discount retailer or local electronics store. There is no reason to break the bank for something you’ll rarely use. Not only that, but an inexpensive tripod will get the job done just as well as a pricier model under these circumstances.
  • As you get the feel of working with a tripod, you may find yourself using it even more than you originally anticipated. If that’s the case, your first tripod will help you determine which features work best for you and help you decide which – if any – other features you would like to experiment with down the line.

If your answer is “all the time” or “for business purposes”, then:

Select a more professional model that will raise your camera to or near your eye level. This will eliminate much of the neck and back strain associated with shooting for longer periods of time.

Once this key question has been answered, it’s time to move on to more detailed questions, such as:

2) What is the tripod’s load capacity and can it meet your needs?

It’s important to ensure that your tripod’s load capacity (the maximum amount of weight it can hold without falling over) will not be exceeded. To test this, load the tripod with your heaviest camera body and lens. If everything remains stable, then you know you have a potential “winner”. If not, keep looking!

3) How much do you want to spend?

All those cool “bells and whistles” will quickly shoot your price up. That’s why it’s important to examine things like size, weight, portability and storage. Ask yourself –

  • Can I carry this tripod easily to and from each location?
  • How much space will it take up?
  • How easily can I fold and store this tripod?
  • *Does it swivel easily or does it jerk sharply or make an odd ratcheting noise? (Important for those who also shoot video in addition to photos.)

Once you’ve considered each these questions carefully, your purchase is sure to be a far more pleasant experience. You’ll save yourself a lot of time, frustration and money – three things we can all smile about.

5 Professional Photo Editing Tips and Tricks

photo editing tips

So you’ve been practicing and practicing. Your images are properly exposed. You’ve followed all the “rules”. Now why don’t they look as good as the pros?

5 Professional Photo Editing Tips and TricksAn important thing to know is that all digital images are meant to be post-processed (basically, edited on the computer). Point-and-shoot cameras do some processing in-camera for you automatically. If you’ve sprung for the nice camera, you’ve got to be ready to spring for editing software too (although you can set up your SLR to do some in-camera processing – check your user’s guide).

My photo-editing program of choice is Adobe Photoshop. If you use a different program, hopefully you can figure out what in your program achieves these same things.

These 5 tips are specific to Adobe Photoshop CS4: Continue reading “5 Professional Photo Editing Tips and Tricks”