Dani is a local model I've been wanting to work with for some time. Again, it became a game of matching schedules so luckily last month we were able to find a time we were both available. This is also the first time I've used my home studio. There's still work to be done to get it full ready for clients and other work but it's getting there!
Kesley is a local model that I've wanted to work with for some time. She's done a ton of work and always nails the look. The problem, as there always is one, is that my work with models has been few and far between lately. Editorial work has taken up the majority of my time, not a complaint!, so finding time, much less coming up with ideas, has been a difficult task. Luckily one evening I was caught up on edits and had a bit of free time when Kesley invited me out with to shoot with her and another local photographer, Blake Randall, in a local downtown area. Although we did get rained out on the original concept for the shoot we did find an overhang to create the photos below.
The most interesting part of the evening was shooting with another photographer. This was my first time working when another photographer was shooting and it was an enlightening experience. Blake does great work and shoots much differently than I do. While I, for better or worse, nearly always use a flash or strobe of some sort Blake is, I believe, primarily a natural light shooter. I learned a lot watching his approach to model placement and use of available light. It's an entirely different approach than my own and a good reminder that there's an innumerable amount of ways to approach taking a photo that I should keep myself open to.
Getting schedules to align sometimes is more of a waiting game than it is actually planning. Such is the case with working with Brittany. It's not that we didn't try to get things to work out, but our schedules just never really worked. Luckily, a few months after we first met to discuss the shoot our schedules aligned and we were both available on the same day. The up side of this is that I had plenty of time to plan what I wanted to do. Brittany was on board and nailed every look we tried. Below are the results:
Over the past two weeks my friend and amazing makeup artist Matt Goodlett, MattGoodlettMakeup.com, has taken part in makeup inspiration challenges issued by another local makeup artist. I've worked with Matt on several occasions and regardless if it's SFX, beauty, or anything else there's never been a time when he hasn't absolutely nailed the look for the photo. So when he asked me to photograph the makeup for these two challenges I quickly accepted as I knew he would kill whatever look he was going for. But even after having worked with him multiple times before and seeing him work on other ideas it's still incredible to see how quickly and skillfully he draws from a source photo and creates something beautiful.
Mandarin Duck Challenge
Matt did a great write up of this challenge on his site here that I suggest you check out. Photographing this one was fairly straight forward, Matt knew how he wanted the photograph to look and I knew how to get that look. This was more or less a simple clam shell lighting setup with a gridded beauty dish as key and a silver reflector for fill. Using a gridded light with a reflector can be tricky but it does create a beautiful light when done correctly. If I had to do this one again I would probably try an even tighter grid on the beauty dish for an even more directional light. The beautiful Kaylynn Nyree was our model here who I suspect you'll probably see doing big things soon.
Drawing Restraints Challenge
This challenge, to me, seemed a bit more complicated. No colors, no defined shapes, white background, and a ton of possible interpretations. Going into this shoot I wasn't quite sure what Matt had planned. I thought we might go with a high-key look but after seeing the makeup Matt was doing I knew that wouldn't quite work. So white was out but I also wanted to avoid a pure black background as well. With the makeup as dark as it was I was worried that the model would get lost in so much blackness. Luckily the room we were shooting in provided a solution. Behind the model was white shelving which, when tilting the key light up slightly, is barely discernible but enough so as to help separate the model from the background.
Lighting this was a bit more complicated as I wanted to, of course, not only highlight the work Matt had done but help bring out it's character. For the face, a 24"x24" softbox provides soft, beautiful light but it's a small source so it quickly gives way to the harsher rim lighting from the 10"x36" stripboxes behind the model. This contrast between the softer and harsher light matches the contrast between the the chaotic nature of the body makeup and the more controlled beauty makeup on the face. Our model, Bec E. Bien, nailed the looks and helped create one of my new favorite photos.
I love being a part of these challenges and seeing Matt's interpretations of the inspirational photo as well as all the other makeup artists who participate in these challenges. Their approaches to the same subject are all different yet equally creative and well done. Be sure to check out more of Matt Goodlett's work at his website MattGoodlettMakeup.com and pop over to my Conceptual gallery to see more work we've done together.
Another shoot playing around with gels with the beautiful Portia.
Continuing my experimentation with gels, I recently did a shoot with the wonderful London Amore. Still have a lot in store for using gels so stay tuned.
At the beginning of April I had the opportunity to sit in a three day class by Joe McNally about photography. I'll talk more about that in another post but one of the biggest take aways I had was how to approach lighting a scene. One bad habit I had gotten into was setting up all my lights at the beginning, putting my subject in the frame, and trying to adjust the lights together to create the scene I wanted. And while this can work in some scenarios it doesn't work well when there's multiple lights, gels, different modifiers, mixed lighting, etc. To put it another way, I was throwing pieces of a jigsaw puzzle onto a table and trying to figure out why they didn't land as a completed puzzle.
Watching Joe McNally work made me realize that this approach of mine meant I was starting each shoot as an uphill battle. Instead of putting my subject into a lighting setup I needed to build the scene around the subject, one light at at time. I took this approach to heart, which is why below was the first picture from a shoot after Joe's class:
No lights but the window and I already have the mood and tone of the photo down. Starting here is like having the frame of the jigsaw puzzle already completed. Yes, there's still a lot of work to be done but I already know the scene in which the pieces need to exist. From here, I knew I would need a controlled light on the subject so as to light her properly but not overpower the natural light. Easy, bring in a beauty dish with a 30° grid, gelled with a single cut of CTO. Soft, beautiful light but not spilling everywhere. She also needed to be separated from the background so a gridded strip box with a double cut of CTO was put slightly behind her right shoulder. Then a lamp behind the subject to balance the composition more. The lamp was actually too powerful of a light source so it was turned off and a strobe was shot into it with a double cut of CTO as to make it appear on.
Last step, getting the pose right and small adjustments to ISO and shutter speed so the natural light was exposed properly.
I love how the photo came out and I don't believe I would have gotten as good of a photo if I continued with my usual approach. But it is important to keep in mind that there are no absolutes in photography. Joe McNally emphasized this several times throughout the three days and it's made me realize that there's not necessarily a right or wrong way or approach. While I did enjoy using a "building" approach to this photo and it was the better approach to create this photo, it doesn't mean its the best approach to every situation. Corporate head shots, for example, usually entails setting up lighting and making tweaks as each person comes through. Ultimately, neither approach is better or worse than the other but rather different tools for different jobs.
Matt Goodlett reached out to me last month and asked if I would be interested in shooting a body painting he was doing for a documentary. The idea he explained was inspired by Edgar Allan Poe and his poem The Raven. Never passing up an opportunity to work with Matt, I quickly agreed with nervousness about the shoot. Even with his explanation I had trouble visualizing the outcome which made figuring out the lighting difficult. Lighting a body painting, like many other types of portraits, is all about brining out the best in the subject. Here's a few things I keep in mind when lighting a body painting.
- The body painting is just as much, if not more, the subject than the person wearing it. Lighting should compliment the painting, e.g. not put details in shadows, like it compliments the person
- Consider the mood. The lighting should work with the theme. In this instance, a gloomy Edgar Allan Poe body painting is probably going to look better low-key rather than hi-key
- The lighting should not be noticeable. The lighting should enhance, coincide, compliment, but never distract from the subject(s).
With that in mind, I created the portrait below. Matt and team did amazing work and I'm happy to have worked with so many talented people!
I hate wasting time. Not my own time, I'm spectacular at wasting my own time, but other's time. It's one of my biggest pet peeves which is why I show up 15 minutes earlier to any engagement, sometimes even waiting in my car if I'm too early to whatever it is I'm there for. I also try to have have everything ready to go in my studio before the subject arrives. If we have an hour to shoot, I don't want 15 minutes of that going to them waiting while I put lights on stands. Sometimes this doesn't always happen so my subject is then barraged with thank you's for your patience throughout the shoot if they stood by while I was putting things together. It's not just about being polite and courteous but being sure the subject/client/whomever knows I value their time the same as they do. So on a recent shoot when I left my Alien Bee power cables 40 minutes away some quick thinking was needed to save not my only subject's time but the entire shoot.
So what do you do when you have Alien Bees with no power cords, no other light modifiers besides soft boxes with Alien Bee mounts, two flash guns, some bungie cords, and a roll of gaffers tape? You improvise and adapt.
The crude bungie cord and gaffer's tape adaptor luckily worked long enough to get the photo below. I say luckily but it was truly the skill of the model nailing the look so quickly that allowed a final photo at all to be made. Anyone else and the whole thing could have broken around us with nothing to show for it. The moral of the story here is to always have gaffer's tape. And bring the power cords I guess.
I'm not a fan of downtown between jobs so I try to stay as busy as possible. Inevitable there's still times when I'm caught up on everything, all my e-mails and responses have been sent, all photos have been edited and delivered, and there's just nothing business related to do. It's rare, but it happens. I try to fill these times with creative or personal shoots but things come up so that's not always possible. So last week when I had a day of down time I decided to work on product photography.
Although I have no real intentions of getting into product photography, it is good practice on lighting. Light placement, ratios, spill, power, and fall off are just as, if not more so, important on products then they are people. So the considerations made to ensure the product is lit exactly how you want are easily extrapolated to lighting a person. It's also a great way to learn how a new modifier or piece of kit works, how you can apply it to get the results you want, and then having that information to inform shoots later on. There are differences, of course, between the two genres but my approach is not to have a deliverable to a client. Rather, its more of a way to practice with lighting that only takes up my time instead of that of a subjects as well. Plus my Sekonic l-308 complains less than most live subjects even when pulling double duty as a tool and a subject.
Yatta approached me about shooting with her and Shanee for a magazine submission. The idea was a Calvin Klein inspired shoot that highlighted their ink. Below are the results.
A few weeks back I accepted a job that required shooting tethered. I don't normally shoot tethered so I didn't have the cables or a place to set my laptop that would keep it secure and accessible. Now Tethertools is a company that offers solutions explicitly for this problem. The reviews for their products are always glowing, I constantly see them recommended for tethering, and all things considered they seem to be the best route to go for regular tethering. But for someone like myself it doesn't make sense to spend that sort of money for products I'd rarely use. Luckily, with a bit of searching, I found these alternatives below.
The Samson LTS50 is sturdy and fits my 15" Macbook perfectly. It comes with a sticky pad to adhere to the tabletop to keep the laptop from sliding around. I still used a long piece of velcro around the laptop and tabletop for extra peace of mind. I paid roughly $50 for it.
Oddly a long USB 3.0 cable was hard to come by at the time but Amazon does appear to stock them now. I went with a similar 15' cable in blue for a few dollars cheaper on Newegg but with Amazon's free shipping it's about equal in price. I paid around $5.
Lastly, when testing out the setup there were some instances of the USB cable become loose from my camera causing photos to drop. I used a velcro cable tie around the cable and into the neck strap loop on my camera to secure it. Worked surprisingly well and no longer had an issue with the cable coming loose. Paid roughly $5 for mine but you can get find them in any quantity it seems.
All in all, I paid around $60 for my whole tethering setup and it worked great. The stand extends and pivots for great viewing, the cable transferred D810 files in seconds without dropping any files, and everything was secure with velcro strips. For me and my needs, these offered an affordable solution that worked without issue.
This year I began to get serious about photo storage. It's not that I never worried about it in the past but with getting more and more work this year being sure my photos were safe and available became increasingly important. Having everything stored on my computer's HDD was not only unsafe but was become literally impossible due to limited disk space. My first solution was simple, store everything on an external HDD with this year's photos duplicated on the computer's HDD. I would import new photos to the computer's HDD and then copy the raw files to the external HDD. The problem with this solution is that it's still incomplete and unsafe. One power surge and both HDDs could be fried and I'd lose the entirety of my work. This is often why a 3-2-1 solution is suggested. 3-2-1 breaks down as follows:
- 3 different backups
- 2 different types of storage
- 1 offsite storage
I had 2 backups but both where of the same type, HDD, and both were onsite. Not a great start to a 3-2-1 solution. The reason cloud storage is so important is because it's not only a 3rd backup of your files but also it prevents a local disaster, such as a house fire, from completely wiping out all your files. There are any number of services to choose from for cloud storage but I decided on Amazon Cloud.
Several months ago this entire part of the blog would be a frothing at the mouth rant about the Amazon Cloud service. Sure it was a "free" unlimited cloud storage service but when I first started to use this service it was well... bad. The upload speeds were terrible, large files would halt upload for days, and managing files after upload was slow and tedious. To Amazon's credit, many of these issues seemed to have been alleviated with updates and improvements. File management after upload still isn't the greatest but it's more of an annoyance now rather than completely unusable. I've managed to upload all of my RAW files to their cloud in roughly one to two months rather than taking a month to upload a month's worth of photos . What I like about this service, that other's may not like, is that it's simple or, more accurately, rudimentary. As far as I'm aware there's no automatic backup, there's no easy restore, and there's no syncing drives. I might regret this one day but those aren't features I want. I simply want to upload folders and have them available to download if another drive fails. It's simple with no flairs and it works well in that space.
A quick aside on this service being "free." As far as I'm aware, Amazon Cloud started as a service that accompanied an Amazon Prime account. So it's "free" in so far as you're already paying for a service and this is a bonus to that service. So sure, "free." What's changed over time is that this service was "free" unlimited storage for all files. This has recently changed to being "free" unlimited storage for photos only with unlimited storage of other file types becoming a paid service. Luckily, unlimited storage for photos, currently, includes RAW file types so paying for this service in addition to paying for a Prime account hasn't become necessary.
Covering the 3s
With the 2 and 1 portion of a 3-2-1 solution covered I still wasn't happy with using both external and internal HDDs especially after switching to a laptop with a 256gb SSD. Also with switching to a laptop, portability became a new concern. Working with smart previews is great at times but they do have their limits in usefulness. Not only would an portable HDD allow me to work on the go but also act as a third backup. Since it's portable and thus always accompanying my laptop it's become my main storage device with the 4TB desktop unit above becoming more of a "deep storage" device rather than one that's used daily.
To recap, the 3 storage devices in use is a 4TB portable external HDD, a 4TB desktop external HDD, and Amazon cloud storage. There are 2 types of storage types in use, HDD and cloud. And 1 is permanently offsite. So 3-2-1 accomplished! For importing files my work flow looks something like this:
- Import RAW files using Lightroom to 4TB portable HDD
- Once conversion to DNG is complete I copy the folder to Amazon Cloud
- Beginning of the week, I merge the files from the 4TB portable HDD to the 4TB desktop HDD
- Once a week, I backup my Lightroom catalog to the cloud
I'm currently happy with this setup and confident that I'll have my files regardless of any circumstance. Would something like a drobo or a raid setup be better for deep storage? Maybe, but I think that's a beefier, not to mention pricier, solution than I currently need. But what's important is that my files are multi-duplicated, safe from local disasters, and readily accessible. One last thing to note, brand and service isn't terribly important as long as they are reliable. Seagate currently seems to be the leader in reliability but I've had very good luck with Western Digital HDD in the past. Amazon Cloud is one of many cloud services and seeing as Amazon won't be going anywhere anytime soon I feel confident in the service being available for as long as I need it. Ultimately, brand and service isn't terribly important but what is important that you actually utilize whatever devices and services you go with.
I want to start this off with making it clear that this shoot wasn't bad in any part due to the model. It was actually her patience, skill, and enthusiasm that made coming anyway with anything from this shoot possible. The sole originator or source of any and all issues was myself. With that clear, let's begin with the story of my worst shoot ever. The idea for this shoot was simple, use Christmas lights to create an interesting background and foreground to put a model in. Cool bokeh + pretty model = Success! That's about as complex as my thinking was for the shoot and, as far as ideas go, that's really as difficult as I thought it needed to be. Execution on the other hand apparently needed an entire dissertation in order to work.
Christmas lights. If you're used to dealing with these every year than you know where this is headed. There was the usual issue of tangling, strands not fully lite, and just general lack of cooperation on their part. I detangled the strands and ensured they all were working correctly before the shoot which means they still managed to tangle themselves and some of the strands now mysteriously had portions out when I began setting them up. What I didn't count on was not having enough lights as I had well over 100ft of lights which seemed plenty until I began trying to create a background and foreground. After the first couple of attempts I realized I had greatly underestimated the amount of lights I would need. I abandoned having any in the foreground and still felt the lights were too sparse in the background to give me the visual interest I wanted.
There's two routes I could have gone in correcting the lights issue. First, was just bringing more lights. I should have brought double or even quadruple the amount of lights I did but this would also double or quadruple the time spent hanging/fighting these lights (more on that later). Second and the solution I went with, layering multiple shots together in post. This is the approach I should have taken from the very beginning. Sure it requires a bit more time in post but reduces the time and hassle in hanging and dealing with Christmas lights on set.
Christmas lights. Seriously, @*$! these lights. Hanging the lights and structuring them in a way to get an interesting foreground and background is part of the planning I thought I had down. My initial thought was using three light stands in a triangle formation with the model in the middle of the triangle. With the light stand behind the model lower than the front two to fill the entirety of my frame with lights. My folly was thinking the lights would in any way agree to this plan. With light stands in place, sand bagged for support, and spring clamps for days I began stringing the lights along the stands and then restrung the lights along the stands and then again restrung the lights along the stands. Spring clamps be damned the lights would fall, sag indiscriminately, make remarks about my mother, and any tightening or straightening of the lights threatened to topple the sandbagged light stands. It was at this point I moved the lights and stands aside and shot a few portraits of the model to stop from losing my shit.
Don't work with Christmas lights? Honestly, I'm not sure what a solution would be without using 3 massive C Stands and a whole roll of gaffers tape to ensure everything was near permanent in placement. Actually, I suppose that is the solution. C Stands and rolls of gaffers tape.
These two problems, although important, really stem from a lack of proper planning on my part. Yes the Christmas lights were aggravating and weren't cooperating but ultimately I should have tested the setup first and found solutions to these issues long before the shoot. It was unprofessional and, honestly, rude for me to have the model wait while I fought with these lights and there's no excuse for that. Before this I had multiple shots that went spectacularly so hubris got in the way of me considering the plan I had in my head wouldn't hit any hiccups. Finding solutions to problems on set is a great skill to have and one I think I do well with but this should work in conjunction with, and not in place of, proper planning and testing.
I wanted to do a Halloween themed shoot this year so I reached out to to the wonderful make up artist Matt Goodlett. I've worked with him before on several shoots and wanted to get his opinion on an idea I had. It wasn't so much an idea as it was a question of what would a team of makeup artists do if given free reign on a Halloween theme. Matt suggested the makeup team from Devils Attic, a local haunted house, Team Demon Fabulous. The amazing team came up with four distinct looks that I couldn't be happier with.
In order (Model; Makeup Artist):
Victoria Nolley, Mary Proctor
Katya Estes; Matt Goodlett
Kat Rist; Lauren Bradley
Rebecca; Kelsey Pombo Eisenhut
I'm a sucker for bags, backpacks, and cases so I was the perfect target for Amazon last year when they ran on sale on Pelican cases. These cases are marketed as watertight, crushproof, and dustproof and I'm inclined to believe them without testing it myself. I went with the 1510 case which is a mid-sized case made to fit within FAA carry on regulations. Ironically, I've only flown twice in my 30 years so I'm not sure why it became so important that it fit within these regulations but I suppose I'm covered for future flights. I've used this case extensively over the year and I'm always surprised by the amount of gear I'm able to pack into it. This time around I was packing for photographing an event at a local restaurant. I knew the location but was unsure of the amount of room I would have to set up in and if outlets would be available. I still had two Alien Bees and another light stand in the car if needed but everything I ended up using fit within the case.
Before I unpack this, I will admit that I constantly overpack for every shoot. I'm of the mentality that it's better to have it and not need it then it is to need it and not have it. I also tend to pack redundancies for nearly every item that I think I'll need. If I'll need one speed light, I'll pack two and an extra set of batteries for each. 3860 shots per battery? I'll bring two! My blower and cleaning pen always find their way into every bag I pack and have been necessary on a shoot or two. I trust my gear and it hasn't failed me yet but I still see no reason to leave anything to chance.
Unpacking shows the amount of gear I was able to pack in this case and I probably could have fit a prime lens in if I had really needed to. While I used maybe a quarter of the gear in the picture I would still bring along the same gear on a similar shoot. For me, this is as close to a perfect case as I may be able to get. If I had to make one complaint about this, it's that the case is a bit heavy. But it's a decent trade off with the level of protection the case offers, not to mention it does have luggage wheels if I need to pull it rather than carry it.
One of the most fun parts of photography is working with new people and ideas. This is my first time working with Kitty but I reached out to her with an idea to play with mixed color lighting. Along with that we tried out double exposures in camera which taught me the importance of buying proper triggers for strobes. It was a great shoot so enjoy the photos below: