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Always be prepared when shooting. This is great advice; too bad I blew off the most important rule of photography. Recently I went to Washington DC to photograph the area and see what I can add to my PLACES Portfolio. In prepping for the trip I wanted to pack as lightly as possible so I could be mobile and traverse the city to see what I could find. I took my DSLR and two lenses (24-70mm 2.8 and a 14-24mm 2.8). My goal was to be as versatile as possible in shooting and moving around and thought those lenses would give me the best opportunity to do just that. I made a conscious decision NOT to take my tripod as I thought it would take up too much room and I didn't want to carry it around all over the place. Well, that was a complete bonehead, rookie mistake on my part. Case in point, this image below was a great opportunity to make a great shot. But since I didn't have my tripod with me I couldn't do any long exposures when the light was better or to create multiple exposures (for bracketing NOT HDR - My motto: Death before HDR!). This is a nice image but as you can see there is too much clutter in the background that could easily be eliminated by shooting at night (long/longer exposure) or with multiple, bracketed exposures and then layered together in Photoshop. By darkening the background by 2-3 stops I could have easily made this a better image where the point of focus is solely the carousel and not everything else around it. In this image of the DC Metro I was able to rest my camera between a wall and a rail to get a 1/8th shutter speed (long exposure) for this image. If that rail wasn't there then there's no way I could have held that camera with my bare hands to get a sharp exposure. Hell, I can barely get a sharp exposure at 1/30th shutter speed by hand holding the camera. Glad that rail was there so I could make this image. Lesson Learned! It takes a conscious effort to make sure a good photographer has everything he/she needs to bring an image to life. And, because of my laziness I couldn't get what I wanted. The good news is I am going back to DC in January and this time I will not forget to take the tripod so I can redo this image and add to my portfolio. Lesson here - don't make a bonehead move like me... be prepared and don't be lazy. It's always better to be have it and not use it than to not have it and need it. No more laziness... SH
The onset of digital photography has certainly revolutionized the photography world. It's made making images so much easier and quicker and it has leveled the playing field by putting a camera in anyone's hands. To own a great camera in the past one would have to drop thousands of dollars but now people can get into an entry level camera and lens package for a few hundred dollars. And, sometimes you can find great deals on high-end used cameras and lenses at a considerably lesser price. There is no question that digital imaging has changed the game of photography. That said, I still get asked by a number of people about how to make good images. I get asked what camera to buy, what lens to use, what settings are best and how to compose the best shot? I will openly admit that I rarely answer these questions because photography is, inherently, an independent vocation/hobby. I don't mean to be rude but what I may offer can and will be different from someone else may offer or advise. Moreover, my style of shooting is and will be different from that particular person's style of shooting so my advice may never be relevant to their question(s). Then again, it may be completely relevant but I would hope no one shoots just like me and they find their own creative voice. I do, however, offer advice with another piece of advice I learned when I first switched to digital imaging. That advice is this... Lastly, by planning to give yourself goals and limitations you cannot help but become a better photographer. You will have less images to go through and you can try a variety of settings to see what worked best - one image at a time! When you slow down and plan you create goals. Goals without plans are just "wishes" and you will never grow, learn or improve if you just keep wishing to be a good photographer. Remember, just because you CAN shoot as many images as you want with digital photography doesn't mean you SHOULD. Until next time, SHSLOW DOWN! Even though your Compact Flash (CF) or SD cards allow you to shoot HUNDREDS OF IMAGES doesn't mean you should! Treat your CF or SD card as if it were film, only take one with you and give yourself a certain number of exposures to get your desired image. By giving yourself some limitations you won't have to go through hundreds of images looking for the best image. The term used to describe the people who just shoot and hope for the best is called "Spray and Pray." The sooner you can get away from Spraying and Praying the better you are going be with your photography and it will help you find your creative voice.
People love to debate gear and processes in photography more than any other profession I have ever known or seen. Maybe with the exception of car parts, photographers love to take pride in ridiculous debates over what camera is better with Nikon vs. Canon, what lighting equipment produces better results with conversations about Elinchrom vs. Profoto vs. Dynalite vs. Alien Bees/White Lightning/Einstein or they get even more ridiculous with conversations about Strobe versus Continuous Lighting. The bottom line is this... WHO CARES! All that should ever matter is that you know your equipment well enough to get the results you want and need. I know photographers who use Canon and ones who use Nikon and can light the hell out of an image with just one Paul C Buff Einstein flash head or an entire scene with 5 or 6 Profoto strobes. The one thing everyone has in common here is that they know their stuff. I have often heard the same debate about shooting RAW vs. JPEG. Of course there are several instances when shooting JPEG comes in really handy. Sports photographers or photojournalists shooting in 4-9 frames per second can't worry about the buffer in their DSLR slowing them down while they are trying to get the shot. I also can imagine that some Wedding Photographers would shoot in JPEG for the very same reasons. So, by my deductions, it seems as if JPEG shooting is great when you really only have one chance to get something that's happening quickly and you (the photographer) may not have the chance to capture that frame again. For those instances I can see why JPEG is necessary but as a Portrait Photographer I always shoot in RAW so I never lose the information imbedded in the image file on my CF card. Let me show you why... I made the above image of actor, Steve Durgarn in the middle of the day on a very bright afternoon. Now before anyone gets on me about shooting people in the middle of the day I can just say, "save your lecture." I know all about the pitfalls and problems of a midday sun, harsh shadows, lens flares, etc. Sometimes schedules are such that those times of day are the only times when people can get together for a shoot. Such was the case here. While armed with only an Elinchrom Quadra and a 39" Deep Octa I had to make this image. I didn't have an assistant with me as I was traveling and to keep costs down to my client I knew I could use the tools I had to make this image. While this image is fine and technically solid I am not completely satisfied with the final image and post processing in Photoshop is in order. As you can see above, there is not a tremendous amount of contrast between Steve's clothing and fence/wood behind him. We actually had to find shelter from the sun as it was surprising ferocious that day in October. We were standing in a wide open area and I couldn't hold my camera, a Lastolite Tri Grip as my scrim to shade the sun from his head and trying to maneuver the 39" Deep Octa at the same time. Fortunately, I found this area on the path we were walking that provided some shade and knew we could get the photo here. I think the image of Steve is pretty nice and balanced for the time of day and my lighting setup but something needed to be done to separate him from the background and create some contrast in the image or to make it at least a little more appealing. There a couple of things I instantly notice I will have to remedy in Photoshop like the bright sun spot just above his right ear and the fact he wore two different socks that day and those things are somewhat easy for me to do in Photoshop. But the real magic comes from opening up this image in Camera RAW in Photoshop knowing I have a tremendous amount of vital information I cannot get from a JPEG file. One of the things I love about still shooting B&W film is that even after the negative is developed I still have close to 5 stops to work with either way within the image. I like to think of working in Camera RAW the same way. I know I have 5 stops of light to play with in post processing and I can create contrast where none seems to exist. That's one thing I desperately needed to do here. Lastly, I started playing around with my settings in Camera RAW and got the image close to how I wanted the final image to look and then opened it up in Photoshop. The first things I did were to match his socks and get rid of the bright spot on his head above his right ear. After that it was a matter of retouching. I needed to make his skin less red, darken the background a little more, bring out more detail in his clothing, hair and beard and remove the junk from around his feet. Below is the final image and while I could have done some of this with a JPEG file I know I wouldn't have had as much information available to me without compromising the image quality. People can have the spirited debates over cameras, lighting and gear. I always enjoy reading the zealousness and passion they have for their brands. But to me there is no debate when shooting anything other than sports and photojournalism images... RAW RULES EVERY TIME! Until next time, SH
A couple of months ago I went with my friend, Crafty, to the Salton Sea. I took my trusty Mamiya RZ67 film camera as I think there are certain locations that are just better shot on film than with a digital camera. I loaded up the camera with 2 rolls of Ilford Delta Pro 100 B&W film to capture the gritty, earthy and solemn feel of the Salton Sea. Again, if you don't know the tragic story of the Salton Sea then please check out this page HERE. Don't get me wrong, I think I could have made some great images with my Nikon DSLR but I truly believe that, no matter how hard you try, you cannot replicate the look of B&W film from a digital shot. Yes, Nik Software's SILVER EFEX PRO 2 is an amazing piece of software that comes pretty damn close to emulating a true B&W film look. Also, Vincent Versace has some great tips for converting digital images through the ACME Educational website. But, if you were to ask most photographers I think you will find the vast majority will tell you that nothing you can do in Photoshop can compare to the final image you get from using your favorite B&W film. Crafty and I spent several hours driving around and looking for the best locations for shooting. One of the first places I wanted to see was Salvation Mountain. A devoutly religious, Christian man created this "mountain" over 25 years ago as an art project. He was only going to stay one week but has since made it his home. Unfortunately, the creator, Leonard Knight, suffers from dementia and has been placed in a long term care facility and is no longer on site. I was hoping to meet the man who dedicated his life to this project but took solace in knowing we could see the project at least. There are plans to keep this project alive and hopefully there will be enough paint, sweat and volunteers who can keep his vision alive long after he is gone. While I am not a deeply religious person, I do respect any artist who has dedicated his/her life to their passion. Knowing Mr. Knight wasn't around I wanted to create an image that signified his passion and desire. I asked Crafty to pose for me here, put the Red 25A filter on the lens to completely darken the sky and made the image below (Yes, the starlight/God's light was added in Photoshop as that was what I was thinking about when I made this image). Another place I wanted to visit is the old Red Hill Marina. This used to be a thriving marina but now there is nothing left but busted up concrete, rocks, hills and dead Tilapia. While walking around here I noticed these lone trees sitting in the dried up area that used to be part of the Salton Sea (the sea levels are diminishing year after year). I found this sad and wanted to make an image of this tree. This tree and marina reminded me of everything that used to be thriving and vibrant with the sea. But if you look closely you can still see some large bird nests in the limbs and that actually gave me hope that this beautiful area can, once again, be alive with tourists, homes, people and life (Editorial note: But I am sure if a lot of people start coming back to this area again then I am sure they will figure out a way to screw it up. - Now I am stepping down off soapbox). 🙂 When we wrapped up walking around the Red Hill Marina we found this little driving trail leading us to another side of the area. Being the explorers that we are, we wanted to see what was on the other side. After following the path we came to (what appeared to be) an abandoned trailer park/RV area. There was a posted sign stating that no cars were able to drive past this marked area without permission. So I got out of the car and started walking around yelling for someone or anyone to come out. After about 15 minutes of walking around and asking if anyone was around we decided to drive past the marked area, park the car and get out and walk toward the Salton Sea to explore possible shoots. Around 20 minutes into our walk we notice a car coming from the area we had just left. The vehicle was coming toward us and I knew we were in trouble. As the old Chevy Blazer approached and stopped, this diminutive man of 70+ years steps out of the vehicle and starts to inquire as to why we were there, what we were doing, didn't we read the signs, etc. It felt like an interrogation. However, after about 10 minutes of talking and letting the caretaker of the property (if you saw this area you would scratch your head wondering why there was a "caretaker" of the area) introduced himself as J.J. and started telling us stories about the area, his life as a Marine and his passion for living at the Salton Sea! He showed us the arsenal he had in the back of his vehicle in case he needed to use it on us. One of the items he pulled out was a Samurai sword and I knew I had to get a shot. Here's the image I made of J.J. This man is so proud of this area and where he lives he took Crafty and me around the Sea to show us some of the best locations that only locals know about. I also promised J.J. that I would print the image I made of him and get it to him. As a side note, I did return to the area about 10 days later with my lovely wife, Lisa, and handed J.J. a 16x20 print of this shot. J.J. also pulled out part of his arsenal of firearms and let Crafty take target practice. You can see that below. Lastly, if you are wondering why there are only three images from my shoot, I have to admit that I discovered a massive light leak with the camera. The bad part of shooting film is that you don't know about the dreaded "Light Leak" until you develop your negatives. Now while some people like the light leak effect I don't particularly care for it. I had to trash many of the images because the leak directly affected the area I wanted to have the viewer focus on. But the leak has since been repaired and I am looking forward to going back to the Salton Sea for more images. In case you don't know what a light leak is then here is an example.
More to come,
A good camera is like a friend. Someone who is always there for you, listens, does what you want (most of the time) and is a great travel companion. I love my cameras. They have gone all over the country with me, helped me make some great images, and taught me what bad images look like. When I'm standing in the middle of a forest waiting to get that perfect light or image the camera is, all too often, the only other thing there to talk with or interact with during those lonely hours. Don't get me wrong, I am not an insane person (although some will debate that :D) who talks with my camera expecting a response or anthropomorphizes inanimate objects by giving them names or personalities. But the relationship with a camera is different, I think. Knowing that, I think it's time to part with one of my dear camera friends. My Nikon D300. I love this camera and have learned a lot about my photography and myself from this camera. But, I have outgrown this camera and now it just sits around not being used. I know someone will get a great deal by buying my Nikon D300 and the accessories I am providing. This is a great camera with very low use. In fact Nikon rates the D300 to last 200,000 shutter fires (or actuations as they're called in photography) and this camera only has 15,630 actuations - not even 1/10th of its life. Outside of my wife and dogs, there are only two things I love more than this camera and those are (in order) my other Nikon camera and my Jukebox. Not much else means as much to me but I am not using it and I know someone else can get a great camera for a great price knowing it was personally cared for by me the entire time. Here's the link to the sale on eBay if you are interested or know someone who needs a great camera that is the next step above a "Point and Shoot" or a consumer DSLR. There are loads of great add-ons too. All in all, this would cost around $2200.00 in today's market but I am selling this for much, much less. eBay Sale Link - http://www.ebay.com/itm/110846849841?ssPageName=STRK:MESELX:IT&_trksid=p3984.m1555.l2649 SH