Tuesday, October 2, 2012

My Blog Has Moved!

I'm happy to say that my blog has now been integrated into my new website. It's more search engine friendly and just better all around. I have added a kid portfolio and a iPhone portfolio. Please go and check it out here:


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Portrait :: Ben Prestage At Blind Willie's & Making Any Environment Your Studio

Potential Clients. You often will ask me if I have a studio that I work out of and my reply to this is usually, "The World Is My Studio." This sounds like a gimmicky answer -- but it's the absolute truth when you're a location photographer as I am. One of my skills as a commercial photographer is making most any environment work for a good portrait. There are numerous ways of doing this -- and I've done most all of them at some point or another. 

--Sometimes it's as simple as throwing up some seamless paper in your office as a background.

--Sometimes it's rearranging some furniture temporarily to show or not show something.

--Sometimes it's lighting a room that is normally pretty plain in such a way to make it interesting.

--Sometimes it's shooting from unusual angles to show or not show certain things.

--Sometimes it's shooting with a wide angel lens to emphasize an environment.

--Sometimes it's shooting with a telephoto lens to compress and downplay an environment.

I've had my share of experience with walking into what you may think of as a boring environment and making it look cool from a photographic standpoint. I can turn any environment into my studio, sometimes in just a few minutes -- no matter how small it may be. And that's the challenge I had to overcome last night for the portrait I've posted above of musician, Ben Prestage, after his show at Blind Willie's here in Atlanta last night. I knew there was a dressing room / break area for the performing musicians there at the bar but had never been in it. I just knew it was small. Well, I got there and it was small. Long, but only six foot wide or so. The following test shot of my friend and assistant for the night, David, will give you somewhat of an idea of where I was working.

Notice the couch behind him and imagine where the back on it would be which is just out of the frame here. That was where the opposite wall of the one he was leaning against was. Also, notice the light colored curtain back behind him. I wanted it to pretty much go dark behind Ben when I got him backstage for the shot after the show, so I had to deal with that. Also, what you can't see here is all the musical equipment stacked against the opposite wall of the one David is leaning against. This gave me very little space to set up lighting or a background.

So, as you can see from the shot, space was cramped, meaning I had to work with minimal equipment. Just outside of the frame to the left I had a single light with a soft box that was maybe only three feet from him. This resulted in the light falling off quicker and restricted it to his general area, which downplayed what was behind and in front of him. I had a collapsible medium grey background that I brought as a back-up to shoot against if I didn't have anything better to shoot against. Well, I did end up using it by putting it just in front of the light colored curtain in the background which made the background end up going dark as I envisioned it, while still allowing me to show a bit of the environment he was in. I wanted it to look like he was backstage at a show and not just in a studio somewhere. Showing the artist promo posters on the wall he's leaning against hints at this. It gives it a sense of environment.

So, David and I got the lighting completely down so when Ben was ready after the show, all I had to do was fire up the light and my camera, tell him where and how to stand, and shoot. I spent maybe five minutes with Ben actually in front of my camera. That's it. I'm super pleased with how the portrait of him turned out.

This was the shot I initially had hoped to get last night. A telephoto lens to compress the background, shallow depth of field, and him looking dead on into my camera. I wanted to show his beard, eyes, and hat and give it this toned look that I've been doing for years now with a lot of my portraits. Once I saw the room I had to work with I decided to go with the more environmental approach. I think this turned out great, but I like the one at the top of this post the most.

Now, let me tell you about Ben Prestage. The dude got on stage and played for three hours straight last night without taking a break. He is an excellent guitarist. He's an excellent musician period. He's a one man band that plays guitar -- sometimes homemade cigar box guitars -- drums, harmonica, and sings all at the same time. He writes a lot of his own stuff, too. He sounds like, well check out this video:

I got his "One Crow Murder" album last night and have listened to it all the way through maybe six times today. It's one of those you can put on and just let play. Buy it. It gets two thumbs up from me.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Time Management, Photography, & Self-Employment

Yesterday I decided to stop what I was doing to do this shot specifically for a photography contest Canon was putting on. I understood that the deadline for entries in the "Obstacles" category was last night at 12:00 AM. The first thing I thought of when it comes to obstacles is time. Here recently it's been my mission to make better use of my time, be more productive, and feel like I'm living up to my potential. I still feel like I'm not accomplishing enough, even on the days that I wake up and do nothing but work until I go to bed again that night.

Well, my idea to illustrate the concept of time being an obstacle was to do a very simple and straightforward photo of a clock. So, I ran to my local Target, bought a clock, brought it back and did this photograph in maybe ten minutes -- not including my time getting out and putting up the gear to do it with. I processed it out and had to stop before I could enter it due to having a friend over for dinner last night. I just planned on entering it after she had left.

Ironically, by the time I sat down to enter it, the contest had been closed. I had raced to get it shot and processed, when there were so many other things I needed to be doing. Time had gotten the best of me -- again. I didn't shoot it with the idea of thinking it would win or even place in the contest. It's really nothing all that unique from a photographic standpoint. I just shot it as a way of expressing myself artistically. I shot it as a way of expressing how extraordinarily difficult it can be to manage your time when you're self-employed. I'm not married, have no kids, no girlfriend -- not even a dog. Yet I still find that there are not enough hours in the day to do all that I'd like to do. So, over the past year or so I've been avoiding or cutting out all sorts of things in my life that can get in the way of photography and where I want to be. Time feels like my biggest enemy right now -- I've wasted far too much of it. I somewhat feel like I've wasted it by taking the time to do this shot since I wasn't able to enter it in the contest as planed, so, me showing it and writing about it here is the only thing that justifies the time I've spent on it at this point.

Maybe I'll sell it as a stock image of a clock to somebody one day and make it all pay off. Anybody out there need a photograph of a clock? Anybody? Anybody? Stock Photography Agencies?  Getty Images? Shutter Stock? Anybody? Know that I'm here for you when you're ready. I'm here for you, and I care about your needs. I do.

Edit: Those of you interested in how I shot this. I wanted it to be somewhat ominous and dark, so I shot at 3200 ISO  to give it more noise or grain, and then lit it with a single light with a 10 degree grid on it just to the right and above the camera to restrict the lighting. I added more noise to it in post production to give it more grit, and that's pretty much it. 

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Light of God

"Sometimes I do get to places just when God's ready to have somebody click the shutter." -Ansel Adams 

Tonight's sunset as seen from one of my favorite spots in Atlanta. I shot this with my iPhone, and I wish the photo was as impressive as the sunset really was to me. The cool thing about sunsets is that just when you think they're not going to get any prettier -- they do. Watching this one was the highlight of my day.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Irving Penn On What Makes a Good Photograph

"A good photograph is one that communicates a fact, touches the heart, and leaves the viewer a changed person for having seen it; it is in one word, effective." -Irving Penn

The iconic shot above is one of my favorites from commercial photographer, Irving Penn. I wouldn't go so far as to say that it left me as a changed person the first time I saw it, but it did burn itself into my memory, which is a sure sign of a good photograph in my opinion. One that's unforgettable. 

I also love this quote. It pushes me to be a better photographer, because I know that very few -- if any -- of my photographs have left somebody a changed person for having seen them. 

What makes a good photograph in your opinion? What makes a good photographer, a good photographer?   

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Follow Your Passion

A friend of mine from college has followed his passion rather than dollars. As a result, he now gets paid to ride and jump horses that may as well be a Farrari, while also teaching others that share his love of horses how to ride and jump them. He gets to walk to work from his cabin, that's on the farm he works for, and this is one of the views on that walk. It's just a small part of his playground.

What he does would be like me having access to some of the best camera gear you could buy, and then getting paid to go shoot with it for fun -- while teaching others that love photography how to be better photographers -- all without having to leave the beautiful property I lived on.

He's got a dream job -- I'm proud of him. There's something to be said for following what you love rather than the highest paycheck you can talk out of somebody.

Edit: I took the shot above with my iPhone as I was walking around the property this afternoon. I'm up here dog sitting for him while he's out of town. It's beautiful up here. You can see more landscape photographs I got of this place with it covered in fresh snow here.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Apple Envy

Here recently I've noticed where more and more people seem to just look for things wrong with Apple. It's as if they're upset the company does such a good job with everything. It's as if they're saying, "Their products are solid, so we can't pick them apart. Their product and package design is exceptional, so we can't pick that apart. Their advertising / marketing / branding is great, so we can't pick that apart. Their customer service is outstanding, so we can't pick that apart. There's got to be something. Well, lets see what it is that makes their customer service so good and pick that apart. Lets do that."

I just finished reading this Gizmodo article about the contents of Apple's training manual and was a little surprised at how it portrays the company in such a negative way due to the contents of the manual.  Basically the manual teaches the employee's to treat and respond to their customers in much the same way that any other sales training book would. It's not like Apple is doing anything new or underhanded by this. For years, law enforcement officers have been trained to pick up on subtle body language to gain insight on whether somebody is hiding something or not, just as the Apple "Genius" training manual instructs their employee's to do. Apple is not the first company to train their employee's to respond to customers in a certain way, or to use certain words in place of others on purpose. So why is it that Apple is bad because they train their employees to make sure their customers leave happy whenever possible, within reason?

I don't think most people realize how much time, thought, and money goes into brand development, marketing strategy, and advertising in general. Most people aren't  aware of the tiniest little things companies do to sell their products. This can be everything and anything from font choice, to color choice for the packaging, to how it's photographed and presented in advertising. The whole advertising industry is based around all of this. People actually get college degrees in marketing -- ya know.  And then on the retail side, things are placed in certain areas for a reason. It's no coincidence that grocery stores put candy, magazines, and tabloids right at the cash registers. Look at the cereal aisle in your grocery store and notice that the sugary "kids" cereals are down low -- where the kids can see them -- and the healthier cereals are up higher, in line with the adults line of site. Car sales. I actually sold cars for a short while, and you would be amazed at the tiniest little things they teach car salesman to do or say to customers in order to sell more cars. As a photographer I may have a person stand a certain way, or not stand that way to convey one thing or the other about them to the viewer of the photograph.

My point is -- when are people going to quit blaming others for their lack of control when it comes to spending money, eating, drinking -- whatever. It's as if the writer of this article is annoyed that Apple is so good at what they do. That they're so good at pleasing their customers. That they're so good at selling their products that they've become the most successful company in the history of the United States.

So, how does this all tie into photography? Well, let me tell you:

1.) As a commercial photographer I'm one of those people that's trained to photograph something in such a way that people will want to buy it. It's my job to sell a product, service, personality, or concept through a photograph. I don't want somebody upset with me because I've done my job well and they can't control their spending. Well, I've actually gotten too many good shots for clients before, and when I do, at times, it's like they resent me for it because they can't afford to buy everything they want. Just like the writer of the Gizmodo post seems to resent that Apple teaches their sales staff basic concepts in regards to sales. Businesses are in business to make a profit -- what's wrong with that?

2.) I'm drinking the Mac Kool-Aid. I am. I own a few of them -- and love them. I spend more time creating  on one of my computers or iPhone than I do with my cameras. I'm writing this blog post on one. They pretty much inspire you to create. They make it easier to create. And -- there is not one company that I recall being happier with in regards to their products or customer service.

3.) As a portrait photographer people fascinate me. How people respond to different things fascinates me. People don't like the idea of somebody else picking up on all kinds of things about them just by looking at them. Their body language. How they're dressed. Not just what they say, but how they say it. People may not want to admit it, but they do form opinions about others through these things, even when they don't realize it. And yes, you will form an opinion on somebody you don't know just through a photograph of them. This is why all this is important to me as a photographer.

So, the fact that this Gizmodo article seems to demonize Apple for doing something well bothers me. It points the finger at the company, when it is ultimately our responsibility as consumers to decide what we do and do not buy. It seems that as a society we are growing increasingly comfortable with blaming others for our actions, or lack of action, and never bothering to look in the mirror for the cause of, or answer, to our problems.  That bothers me, and it should bother you, too.