Tuesday, April 15, 2014

What's The Lighthouse for your career?

Fujifilm X-E2, 18-55mm, ISO 6400, ƒ/3.6, 1/300
The two main purposes of a lighthouse are to serve as a navigational aid and to warn boats of dangerous areas. It is like a traffic sign on the sea.

When you are at sea and trying to find your port having a lighthouse to help guide you will improve the success of locating your destination.

Nikon D4, 28-300mm, ISO 3200, ƒ/5.6, 1/8000
What can a photographer use as a lighthouse to help them navigate their career?

First you really need to know what you want to do with your photography. Who has the job that you want to do? That is the best question to start with on your journey.

You may be like millions of photographers who all want to work for National Geographic Magazine. The good thing about picking somewhere like this is you can actually meet those photographers. Most all of them teach classes and workshops where you can pay to pick their brain.

I know this because I did just that in the 1980s. I studied with Steve McCurry at the Maine Photographic Workshops in Rockport, Maine. Steve looked at everyone's work in our class and would answer any of our questions during our week with him.

The best part was he told us his career path. I quickly learned that one couldn't just duplicate those paths taken by previous photographers. He crossed over illegally into Afghanistan to get the photo of the lady on the cover of National Geographic Magazine and was sending his Kodachrome film to his sister, a school teacher, to then send on to the magazine. Prior to this he worked at a small newspaper a couple of years.

During my time with Steve McCurry and also with other photographers like Don Rutledge I soon learned there are things I needed to master to move my career along a path to success.

List of things one must master

  1. Master your Camera
  2. Master digital workflow
  3. Master Visual Composition
  4. Master Lighting
  5. Become an "EXPERT" on your subject
  6. Know your audience
  7. Create "UNIQUE" images

Master your Camera—This takes a while to truly be able to pick up your camera and make it do what you want it to do for you. This is the same as one who will be able to sit down at a concert piano and be able to play whatever music there is to play. I found with most photographers this will take around a five years.

Master Digital Workflow—This is everything that comes after the capture of the image to the client. We often refer to this as post processing. This is where you are understanding the color space that you are working in and what color space you are delivering your images for usage. This is where you are able to take the well exposed images you captured and then maximize the dynamic range for the outlet.

Master Visual Composition—This is where you are able to capture moments that communicate mood and message that you intended to capture.

Master Lighting—First you must recognize good light and be able to capture it. This is where you are putting yourself in the position to capture the best images of a subject. For example you are planning your shoot to take advantage of the natural daylight that will show off the subject in the best possible way to capture the mood and message you were wanting. Second, you know how to use artificial light to enhance the scene to create those moods and messaging the way you intended and not just the way it looks.

Become an "EXPERT" on the Subject—This is the number one and most important aspect on the list which can help set you apart from most any other photographer. I went on to seminary to get advanced degree in my subject matter to help me separate my knowledge of religion from that of many of my other photographer friends who enjoyed covering religion. After following and working at Georgia Tech for more than 10 years I pretty much knew the campus better than just about anyone. This helped me for covering sports, the classroom and research.

Know Your Audience—In business we talk about SUPPLY and DEMAND. While you may have lot of great images the thing that will determine you putting food on the table and a room over your head is DEMAND.  What is your audience interested in about the subject. Just like a good writer know the reading level of their audience so their text is written for that audience a photographer must understand enough about the audience to know how to engage them. Going off to war and photographing the grotesque can be a major mistake. You may need to filter how you cover the war so as to not have your audience avoid looking at the images.

Create "UNIQUE" images—If the people you are going to approach to buy your work could have shot the same image then what good are you to them? You need to surprize them in some way with images that they would not have taken themselves. Maybe the only difference is the way you light something and sometimes it may be quite elaborate remote camera that let you get a photo that is not possible without the special gear. Just remember to supply images that not everyone could easily do if they were there.

The reality is that it takes quite a bit more than talent alone. In fact, talent is only a small part of the equation. Tenacity, the ability to handle severe rejection, perseverance, and a good team are what get you to the next level.

You need to have others look at your work and help give you honest feedback.

When it comes to a successful career other things for consideration: your look, attitude, personality, style of photography, fan base, tear sheets, that certain intangible X factor, and most importantly, that undeniable outstanding portfolio.

It has been said that “practice makes perfect,” but in reality, that statement is incorrect — it should be rewritten to state that “perfect practice makes perfect.” Perfect practice is a form of rehearsal during which you remain cognizant and analyze what you are doing. For instance, are you delving into bad habits?

The more intentional you are in acquiring the skills necessary to capture the subject you are becoming an expert in will help set you up to just possibly have a life long career as a professional photographer. You must be committed enough that you are pouring your life into this career. 

Monday, April 14, 2014

How to fix the silhouetted subject when you want to see them

Fuji X-E2, 18-55mm, ISO 6400, ƒ/5.6, 1/15, Neewer TT850 flash with Neewer 433MHz Wireless 16 Channel Flash Remote Trigger @ 1/32 power 
This past weekend I was photographing Bottles and Cans performing at North Beach Bar & Grill on Tybee Island. There was no light on the band and therefore they were performing as a silhouette as the night went on.

I shot with an off-camera strobe that if you look at the table just in front of the band you will see a bright patch where the flash went off.

Fuji X-E2, 18-55mm, ISO 6400, ƒ/5, 1/15, Neewer TT850 flash with Neewer 433MHz Wireless 16 Channel Flash Remote Trigger @ 1/32 power 
As you can see by the flash being on the table it allowed me to have the light hit the singer under his hat as well as the other guys in the band wearing hats. This is what foot lights will also do at Broadway musicals.

This leads me to ask, Do your photos look like this sometimes? It is a good exposure and to correct the photo by opening up a stop or two for the faces will just wash out the color for the rest of the photograph.

Photography is writing with light. It is quite common that you will have to add light to a photograph to give emphasis to where you want the audience to look.

By just putting a flash off camera to the left I was able to not change the exposure, but put light on what was a silhouette of the subject. By using an off camera flash I was able to "reveal" the subject with the light.

To capture the clouds and all their glory in this photo makes those subjects close to the camera silhouetted.

By just adding a light to the subject in the foreground I am able to retain the clouds and the rich colors in the photograph, but now the subject is the person in the photograph and not the background.

I see photos like this all the time in recruiting guides for colleges. This is where the photographer is just capturing what anyone can do with even their smartphone.

Take the time and carry a light stand with a flash. Yes it is something more to carry, but look at the difference.

You are not going to balance a projected image and the speaker that often without using the off camera flash. Here I used the flash on the speaker to help me show they had a large enough crowd that they needed to project him.

If you don't have a way to do off camera flash you need to invest into something or you will always have what everyone else can get with their smartphone or point and shoot camera. Remember photography is writing with light. Take control and be the author of your photos.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

WiFi Solution for Nikon D4

Nikon has two WiFi solutions for the Nikon D4. One costs $1,000 and the other $877.  Also I have not had the best of luck with Nikon's WiFi solutions in the past and especially with the Nikon D2Xs.  I bought the Nikon system for $600 and it dropped out so often and was almost impossible to sync.

When I was at PhotoShop World in Atlanta this week I ran into my friend Gary S Chapman and he asked if I had seen the CamRanger booth?  I had not and then after he walked me over there I decided to buy one after their demonstration. Gary said he would wait on my review before buying one. Next gizmo we find he goes first.

The cost of the system was $299.98 and they had a special going for that price to toss in an extra battery and charger.

It comes with USB cable to connect to your camera [pick your camera when ordering for correct cord] and CAD5 cable for updates. Also comes with small bag that hangs on your camera strap.

The charger looks identical just minus the WiFi part.

CamRanger currently supports a large number of both Canon and Nikon cameras. To see the full list and see all the features for each camera go to this link and you will find your camera and what features will work with your particular model.

The CamRanger is supported by iOS devices, Android devices, Mac and Windows computers, and the Kindle. All of the following apps are free and will work universally with the CamRanger unit! The CamRanger can be registered with multiple devices and can be used with one device or computer at a time.

I have an Android phone, an iPad and a Macbook Pro that I would use with the CamRanger.  All work just fine.

My Settings

From shooting with the Nikon WiFi and also using EyeFi SD card I learned a few things that made me want to get the best performance out of the CamRanger. By the way had EyeFi made a card that would work in the Nikon D4 I would have never looked at the CamRanger, but they don't so here I am using the CamRanger system.

Shoot RAW+JPEG—You are sending files over from one device to another. The bigger the file the slower it will take. You could shoot just JPEGs, but I prefer speed and therefore would prefer the smallest JPEG I can use to preview on the iPad for example. But when I need the higher resolution image I now create that from the RAW file.

Small JPEG—Go to the menu and pick image size under the camera icon. Select Small and this will help give you the smallest file size.

I would also use basic rather than fine. I want creative directors and art directors to use my iPad and see the images as I shoot sometimes. This way they are not over my shoulder, but can see the results.

If I am just tweaking the settings I can turn off the WiFi and then when I am ready for them to start seeing images turn the system on.

It connects right away to the iPad once you set it up. The setup just has you go into the WiFi settings on your device and select the CamRanger. Then you put in your serial # as the password. Once you are connected you use the CamRanger App that you downloaded for free to connect.

Two Main Ways I Use It—In general when I just want someone to see the images I just shoot and the images pop up as thumbnails and as a big image.

You can set up the controls in the App to client mode, which is where they just see the image and can star rate it if they like. I changed the default setting to have Auto View on so the image displays big when it is shot. The thumbnails let you go back and see previous images.

If I were shooting a lot I might turn off the Auto View and let someone just click on those thumbnails they want to see big without my latest image popping up while they were trying to see another image.

The second way I like to use the system is in Live Mode. You select Live Mode from the app and not from the camera.

In both modes you can see the camera settings and change them, unless you have Client View turned on.

I think that the CamRanger from my tests performs as well if not better than anything I have used up to now for WiFi connection to my camera.

Why use WiFi?

I first need to tell you about how I shot tethered for years when doing portraits. The images popped up and then quickly they were all in the computer where the subject was able to pick their images. Once I had the camera on a table and my foot caught the cable. Well that was $600+ repair for a shattered lens.

So the primary reason I started using WiFi was for the same reason I prefer radios for triggering flashes—No Cords.

When I am doing portraits the lighting is controlled and making the step of processing a RAW image pretty much a waste of my time. So here I can just shoot the Large/Fine setting JPEG and be done with it. Yes it takes a few seconds longer, but all the images are loaded on the computer and I can give the client all the images at the end of the shoot.

Another great reason to use WiFi is when I teach. I like to show everyone as I am doing setups, with lights for example, what I am doing. With a large screen TV or projector I can shoot and immediately they see the results and the settings on my camera. Great way to learn studio lighting or location lighting.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Fixing the horizon using Adobe Lightroom

Do your horizons look like this? Mine do when I am shooting from a moving boat.  But look at this second photo here.

Does this look better to you?  I thought so. Can you believe it is the same photo?

I fixed it in Adobe Lightroom.

Here is how you do it in just a second or two.

While you are in the Develop Module click on the letter "R" and you will be taken to the crop mode.

Next just hold the "Command" key and you will see a level pop up.

Just place this to the left or right along the horizon and hold down the mouse key until you go to the far right putting a line across the horizon and let go. Now the software straightens the horizon.

You can also go vertical and get the same results.

I had a lot of photos of a lighthouse near Tybee Island to correct today. This made it so easy and quick to fix the photos.

By the way the reason I was out photographing a lighthouse from a boat was to see the Dolphins and we did.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

16 Travel Mistakes Made By Photographers

Don’t make these common mistakes when traveling for vacation this year. They are in no particular order, but here to make sure you are well prepared for your travel abroad.

1. Forget you need a Passport—When traveling abroad you need a current and up to date passport. It takes 4 to 6 weeks to get a passport by standard processing and you need to allow the 6 weeks so you have plenty of time.

2. Travel without a Visa—According to the "Henley Visa Restrictions Index 2013," holders of a United States passport can visit 172 countries and territories visa-free or with visa on arrival, and the United States is currently ranked 2nd (tied with Germany, Denmark, and Luxembourg) in terms of travel freedom.  There are 196 countries, so you need to just check and be sure if you need a visa to travel.

3. Forget a AC Plug converter—There are many variations of plug and socket types around the world. If you fail to plan ahead you might have a hard time charging your devices. Check the voltage requirements for the desired country and bring a power converter, if necessary.

4. No Phone Plan—Your phone may work just fine overseas, but when you get back you will be surprised at your bill. Check with your provider to get the best rate for phone and data while traveling abroad. Type frequently used telephone, emergency contact, hotel and transportation numbers on the phone and save them in the phone's address book. Make sure to enter the telephone numbers using the international dialing format: for example, calls to the U.S. should be entered with the prefix "+011" followed by the area code and telephone number because calls made abroad will initiate from the local phone carrier.

5. Delay buying airfare and other transportation—I see this the most often as a mistake by many travelers. This is really apparent at car rental counters. By preplanning and booking and sometimes paying for the rental car early you can save. Let go of brand names when looking. For example Sixt’s, German rental, was renting a Mercedes C-class for a cost $38.81 a day in late May at Sixt’s Orlando airport location. Compare this to Hertz for the same dates were $50.57 a day for a Kia Rio or similar economy car. Often you can find deals way out on international travel. You can also setup alerts on some of the travel websites to let you know when prices drop. Register those places you want to go far in advance and then when a special comes along you get an email alert.

6. No Travel Insurance—There are a few things that you need to consider, Medical, Emergency Evacuation, Travel [flights, hotels, etc.] and baggage. If you get seriously hurt and need to be evacuated due to a fall, car wreck and so on, this could cost $25,000 or more.  Check with your own health insurance also about travel out of country. One of my friends was caught in a hurricane in southern Mexico and they were very fearful of not making it out.

7. Failure to do research on your destination—This I see so often and the consequences can be all over the map from the lack of planning. If you are going to Hungary for example you will be arrested if you take photos of anyone in public without first getting their permission. This law just went into affect. Knowing this up front may make you decide to travel to another location.

Convertible wick away pants
8. Failure to plan for weather—While I had packed a coat when I went to Kona, Hawaii, I left it in my main hotel room in Kona when I drove around the Island to Volcano National Park. I had to go and buy some long sleeve shirts to wear in the cold wet rain. Trying to find a coat in Hawaii isn’t easy on a Sunday when all the shops were closed.

9. Inadequate clothing—When traveling you don’t always have the luxury of time to wash clothes. You can also find yourself in torrential rain and soaked. Getting those items dry before your next day of travel can be a problem. I highly recommend clothing made of wicking, which will pull moisture away from the skin keeping you cooler, but also some of the synthetic wicking clothing dries very fast. I recommend layering clothing when traveling. Two thin layers can be warmer yet lighter than one thick layer, because the air trapped between layers serves as thermal insulation.

10. Poor footwear—I am surprised at how many times I see people in flip-flops in places where it is recommended to have hiking gear. When you are on your feet all day for many days on vacation, looking fashionable is not as important as feeling comfortable. I recommend the Clark's Wave Walker Shoes. They make a variety of styles for men and women.

Photography Mistakes

11. Under shoot—I hear way too many people thinking that they took a lot of photos when really they just took a photo of each place they saw.  You spent all this money to get somewhere, there is really no additional expense with digital to make a few thousand photos verses a couple hundred—except maybe a $30 to $50 memory card. Your trip may cost you more than a few thousand dollars and when you return the only thing you have to remember the trip into your retirement are your photos. Most people will experience a memory that diminishes, as we get older—so take photos to help preserve those memories.

12. Don’t bring extra batteries or memory cards—You planned for years and then you are finally where you dreamed of being and your camera is dead because your battery died. When you travel you will use your camera more than normal. While you have never experienced your camera dying on you—it can and it will die on a vacation of a lifetime. Also, buy a few extra memory cards. Rather than bringing a computer it is much easier to just carry a few memory cards.

13. Carry too much or too little gear—I have done both in my travels. This is where your lack of research on your destination will impact your shooting. A great example is thinking you need to go and buy at 800mm ƒ/5.6 lens for your African Animal Safari trip. Once you get there the tour guides take you out on open vehicles where for the most part you are so close you could use your 50mm lens to get the shot. You can also go on a bird watching tour and your iPhone just will not let you see the photo clearly and close enough in a tree.  What about flash or will you go somewhere that flash isn’t allowed. You may need a camera with high ISO to get those photos.

14. Too big of camera—Even if you are a teenager carrying your gear all day long for a week or more of sight seeing can injure your back. Be sure that the gear you bring will be something you don’t mind carrying around with you all the time.

15. Not ready for special situations—If you go to Charleston, SC and get up early to cover The Citadel Summerall Guards performing on a Saturday morning in the late spring or early fall you will be dealing with condensation on your lens. I carry Fog Eliminator cloth for my camera lenses. Leaving a hotel or car with air conditioning and stepping out in the high humidity of Charleston will take a good 10 to 15 minutes for your camera to stop fogging up. Maybe you are going to a rain forest for a few days. This can destroy your electronics. Make plans to keep your gear dry.

16. Cultural and location mistakes—Too many people do not take the time to read about where they are going. They may find that in their research they want to be sure to go to a certain location and also find out how to avoid security issues. Too many people have things stolen because they are so identifiable as tourists and become a target. Those who do their research will be better prepared to avoid these mistakes. Also even simple things like hand gestures in one culture can mean something totally different in another, so you need to do your best to prepare.

It is difficult to over prepare, but it is very easy to under prepare for your travel. Going somewhere soon for a vacation? I hope this inspires you to take the necessary steps now to make your trip a trip of a lifetime.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Dissecting a photograph

Photo #1

I wanted to walk you through a few photos and let you see what I think makes the photos work.

In photo #1 there are a few things that I think help make this photo work. Here is a quick bullet list of things that I think help make this work.

  • Rule-of-thirds—The man gesturing is on the right top thirds
  • Good use of Light—The light is coming onto their faces and brightest where the two men are in the photo
  • Gesture—The mans gesture helps you know that he is talking to the man next to him. also the little girl's finger under her nose shows possible sniffles. The little girls eyes also redirect you back to the man gesturing
  • Shallow Depth-of-field [DOF]—The photo drops off in sharpness as you go back into the photo. This helps keep your attention towards the front to the man
Photo #2
I really like this image of the ladies talking. Who can't resist good "Window Light?" The rule-of-thirds is also working here. Shallow DOF keeps your attention on the lady listening. Catchlights in the eyes give life to her expressions. The hands communicate tension. I feel like she is dealing with some stress due to the position of the hands. With her head leaning on the wall I also feel like she is relaxed and comfortable with this other lady. The other lady is slightly taller and her body position and the lady listening to her communicates some authority.

Photo #3
Street photography is a lot of grab shots. Here the wall is helping communicate the neighborhood where this young boy lives. You can tell that education is important due to the signage. The little boy is relaxed in his body posture.

The photographer has a lot of space behind the boy and very little in front. This helps create the tension that the future isn't as hopeful. The boys expression is questioning and wondering who this photographer is and thus communicates to an audience a little tension. The color palette is simple yet the colors communicate Caribbean. 

Photo #4
Photo #4 is of NBC news reporter Robert Hager covering a tornado disaster. Here the DOF is increased to be sure the viewer looks towards the debris in the background. You can tell Hagar is waiting to go on the air and talk about the situation. 

This is where the elements of the videographer and his gear helps tell the story and is in essence helping to frame Robert Hager and the destruction.

Photo #5
In this photo #5 the subject is dead center, please pardon how this sounds, but this is why I put the subject in the center. This is normally what you want to avoid, but here it helps create even more tension. The edges of the photo are trying to contain everyone in the photo. The lack of color around the photo and then with the American flag center helps to really make it pop and draw the audience's attention.

Photo #6
Here the photo #6 is using color to help create interest and set the mood. the light is off too the side and lets the viewer see the design of the lamp post.

Photo #7
Using Rule-of-Thirds helped with the composition in photo #7. Also using a shallow DOF the eye goes to the sharpest part of the photo which is the guys face. Here the expression of the man and the man he is looking at keep you going back to the obvious friendship here between the two guys.

Photo #8
The light on the video camera in photo #8 helps start the eye looking and then you look for where the it is pointed. Also all the cameras on the left are helping to direct the eye to the right and the guys holding the trophy.  Here the photographer has moved as close as possible and basically trying to contain everything in the frame. 

Can you break down each of your photos? Take a moment today and really study not just your photos but those photos that catch your attention. Break them down so that later you can use some of those techniques in your photos.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Off-Camera Flash Solution for the Fuji X-E2

I prefer off-camera flash any day to the pop up flash on any camera. I have written many articles on it here on the blog. Just put in the phrase "off-camera" in the search field I have on the blog and you will see many posts talking about doing this with my Nikon system.

Now I have a Fuji X-E2 and wanted off-camera flash solution. I stumbled on the Neewer TT850 flash [$104.95].  This is a totally manual flash. When using 2,000 mAh eneloop batteries in a SB900 it will give you a maximum of 200 cycles. The TT850 blows its competitors out of the water. Even without a way to plug in an external pack, who needs one, just carry extra battery or two. But who shoots more than 650 full power strobe shots at a shoot? With just one extra battery you can shoot up to 1300 full power shots.

The flash has a guide number of 100.

You could trigger it a few ways.

  1. On the camera hot shoe
  2. S1 - Mode [Normal Slave] 
  3. S2 - Mode [2nd Flash Slave]
  4. Wireless Trigger

The flash was designed to work with the Neewer 433MHz Wireless 16 Channel Flash Remote Trigger [$27].

  • Set power ratios of up to 16 groups of remote flashes
  • Switch the on-or-off of the modeling light or AF-assist beam & buzzer
  • Manual triggering of flashes
  • Two modes of power ratio display
  • Quite convenience to mount onto your camera's hot shoe
Nikon just has three groupings of A, B or C. This has 16 different groups. That is a lot of flashes you could control all from the camera.

Here you can see I am able to control the power easily from the remote. This is great for shooting on the go. You cannot change the zoom from the remote.

Here you can see the setup. Fuji X-E2 with the 55-200mm lens. The Neewer TT850 on light stand off at 45º. The Neewer 433MHz Wireless 16 Channel Flash Remote Trigger to fire the off-camera flash and control the power from the camera.  Also on the flash I added the MagMod flash modifier system.

MagMod is a magical flash modifier system that frees your speedlite flashes from velcro, straps, and adhesives by geniously incorporating the invisible powers of magnetism.

Each modifier is a designed as a single molded piece of high-quality silicone rubber that is sleek, compact, easy to use, and dead simple.

I was using the gel holder with a 1/4 CTO and two of the grids stacked.  Keeping the light mainly on the statue of the soldier.

Now I just took some photos. I used a tripod and this let me drag the shutter for some pretty long exposures. This way I could shoot at really low ISO and keep the background from going too dark.

Fuji X-E2, XF 55-200mm, ISO 1000, ƒ/7.1, 1/8, Flash set at 1/128 power.
Fuji X-E2, XF 55-200mm, ISO 1000, ƒ/7.1, 1/30, Flash set at 1/64 power.
The really great thing is I am changing the power from the camera.

I recommend getting a second battery for the flash. All three were only $171.35 on Amazon. We have Amazon Prime which gave us free shipping. 

You could get four flashes using the FourSquare system by LightWare.  For under $500 you could have four flashes and one remote. For around $530 you could have four flashes and four remotes. 

This is a great option for any camera system and especially for the money.