There are some things I love to photograph. But because I can get pretty busy my work it sometimes keeps me from going out to photograph the things I love to shoot. For example, I love shooting long exposure shots late at night and early in the morning. I also love to shoot sunrises and sunsets, especially in really cool scenic locations. I’m a pretty lucky person because where I live in Northern Virginia offers me some incredible opportunities to see and photograph everything from the capital city to some incredible National Parks.
After long months of working exclusively on client projects I found myself caught up and I had a little time for myself. I thought very seriously about taking a break from my camera and laptop computer. And then I remembered something my friend, Gene, recently told me. He said that I needed to start getting away from all of the flash shots and spending so much time in Photoshop. He said that I needed to go out with a camera and get back to basics. In other words, get back to what brought me into the world of photography in the first place.
This blog entry will talk about how I took Gene’s advice and I did something I haven’t done in a very long time.
For this blog post I want to talk about personal projects and exploring new forms of photography. I love being out in the scary unknown places that other photographers might try to avoid. I used to stay safely in my comfort zone but when I ventured outside of that safe place I grew as a photographer and I became considerably more creative not just behind my camera but in Photoshop as well.
I think it’s pretty easy to find safety in our photography. When I became serious about my location portrait work I quickly discovered it was anything but safe. My success as a photographer comes from being completely comfortable whenever I’m in a situation filled with challenges. I have confidence and I’m able to show leadership to my team and whoever is in front of my camera no matter what complications a location throws at me. To be at my best in these situations I embrace the unknown and put myself into new photographic situations as often as possible.
To get more comfortable with new situations I like to give myself personal projects and I like to get creative for the last shot of a shoot that is completely different from what I’ve done in the past. For this blog entry I want to share the story about an “end of the shoot” image that wasn’t like any shot I’ve ever taken.
Part of my recent engagement photo shoot with Tom and Julie involved some very special wine bottles. You see, Tom used two bottles of wine he had made with custom labels including one that was his marriage proposal.
While planning the shoot we talked about using the bottles in a few shots but I also knew that these bottles had plenty of potential for other uses (like save the date mailers). So when the shoot ended Tom and Julie agreed to leave their special wine bottles in my care so that I could give them a proper photo shoot. But like all product photography, getting a killer shot of a wine bottle is a lot trickier than it sounds. For this blog entry I’ll talk a bit about the challenges I faced, my solutions to common problems, and I’ll share my thoughts on this unique form of photography along with some behind the scenes looks into my product photography area.
People that have known me for a while know how much I enjoy using shoe mount flashes to get different looks for my photography. While I often share my wilder shots I’m happy to report that I can take shots without flashes, light modifiers and colored gels. In fact, when I’m shooting for clients I start with simple shots and when I’m certain that I have shots that they’re happy with I’ll see if there’s some interest in pushing things into more creative places. Most of the time my photo subjects have grown comfortable enough with me near the end of a shoot that they’re willing to try some different lighting setups to see where the shoot goes.
To get different looks I’m big on using flash modifiers like grids, barn doors, softboxes and colored gels. I use velcro straps from Honl Photo and LumiQuest and I use gels from Flash Zebra, GAM and Honl Photo. I take a ton of gels with me on a shoot and to keep things organized I’m using Case Logic CD cases (I picked mine up for about $5 each at my local Best Buy). For this blog entry I want to talk about colored gels and some of the different ways that I like to use them on a shoot.
Recently I was asked to photograph a good friends dog, Jordan, who is getting older and having some health problems.
Shoots like this are crazy important to me and before the shoot I’m spending a lot of time thinking about how I’m going to get the best shot possible. No tool or technique is off limits for shoots like this.
When the time came to have the shoot we chose an outdoor farm location to give us plenty of options. While I definitely wanted to get some outdoor shots I also knew that I’d need some studio style shots to get the images I had in mind. So I packed up my gear and arrived on location to set up a mobile studio in one of the buildings on the farm.
I love using seamless paper for a background. I have lots of different ways that I use seamless paper and I always keep plenty of different lengths and colors on hand. Over the years I found that the papers I use the most are my 53″ white, 53″ black and 53″ grey seamless papers. They are perfect for product shoots and they make a great background on portrait shoots. The 53″ length is a great size for a single person or a couple (even though you may need to fix the edges in Photoshop) and you can easily set it up by yourself. 107″ wide paper rolls are the ultimate, especially for large groups, but they can be a bit difficult to take out to locations. I use 107″ rolls of paper but I usually shoot individuals and couples so 53″ wide has always worked fine for my location work.
My favorite thing about 53″ rolls of seamless paper (besides it’s portability) is that they’re crazy cheap. 12 yards of white seamless paper runs about $25 from B&H photo and I use white paper a lot. With a roll of white paper you can create a white, grey, black or colored background (depending on how you light it) so it’s super versatile.
But just having rolls of paper won’t do you much good if you don’t have a way to put it up.
Location photography is all about showing your environment and making it look like someplace others want to visit. Location portraiture is all about getting great portraits and including a cool background (but not letting the environment dominate the shot). An easy way to get killer shots (and tone down the background in your portraits) is to shoot early in the morning or really close to sunset. Having a little less brightness in your background lets you bring out your own lights to take control of your final shot.
Whenever I walk into a location shoot I start by looking around and trying to figure out the story I want to tell with my final image. Sometimes I see my shot immediately and sometimes I have to search a bit to find my image. The bottom line is that you have to look past what’s in front of you and think about what it could become. For this blog entry I’ll be talking about how I get into the mindset of finding my shot and how I work through the process of setting up a shot using small flashes.
Where I live in northern Virginia I see a lot of wildlife “in the wild”. In late spring/early summer I see lots of birds, owls and butterflies right in my yard. Outside of my office window I have a Mimosa tree and it really attracts the various winged creatures. I’m not what I would consider a wildlife photographer but I do enjoy taking pictures of animals. This year I’ve been seeing lots of hummingbirds so I thought I’d try my luck at getting some hummingbird shots. I learned quickly that this kind of photography is a huge challenge and with this blog entry I’ll talk a bit about how I got my shots and the camera settings I used.
During a recent trip to the Shenandoah National Park I spent my day photographing all sorts of scenic overlooks, animals (including some bears), sunsets and getting some shots of the world going by as we made our way along the Skyline Drive.
Getting motion shots is something I’ve been doing for years (my automotive clients use them for creating composite images of new cars that can’t be taken out on public roads). There’s something I really like about a shot that makes you feel like your moving. Add in some additional interesting elements and you can really make some awesome shots. The difficult part of making this kind of shot is all of the planning (and getting perfect weather) and getting your camera mounted as solidly as possible. For this blog entry I’ll talk a bit about how I take these kinds of shots and the equipment I use to make them happen.
Recently I’ve been working with a local business owner on a new photography assignment.
The owners of the Common Grounds coffee shop just opened their business and they needed some images to use on their website, in print advertising and for any future projects. This kind of work is great because it will involve lots of different styles and techniques for me to successfully deliver everything they need.
I’ll be taking exterior shots, interior HDR shots, shots of employees and customers (portraiture), shots of their products (food shots) and even some animal shots (they are service dog friendly). After a week of scouting and planning I began shooting some exterior shots last night. For this blog entry I’ll begin talking about how I use my photography on special assignments for business owners like this coffee shop.