Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Why I photographed them this way (Part 3)

Nikon D3, 14-24mm, ISO 200, f/5.6, 1/1000
Flash Outside

I love to use two different Flash systems outside.

1) I use the Nikon SB900 with SU800 on my Nikon DSLR or on my Nikon P7000. I also use the Radio Popper PX system to be sure the signal is consistently firing outside.

2) I use the Alienbees 1600 with a Vagabond Mini Lithium batter and the CyberSync system to fire them.

The first photo i used by SB900 to shoot the photos. I could shoot the photo and fill-flash with the hot shoe flash quickly and move around. The flash had to be very close to the people outside to be useful.

Walk and Talk photo I like to use. Nikon D3, 24-120mm, ISO 200, f/5.6, 1/160

The next two photos are using a technique I learned from Jeff Smith a corporate photographer back years ago.  Back then I was shooting film and with today's flashes this is easier to do.

I like having the subjects walk side by side talking to each other. Often as in the first photo they walk straight at me and other times like in the last photo they just follow the path of a sidewalk for example.

I have an assistant either carrying the Nikon Speedlite system or my Alienbees system.  The advantage of the Alienbees is I can have the assistant further away and still with the power of this flash fill in easily.  Actually, most of the time the Alienbees are firing at 1/16 or 1/8 power.

The assistant walks off to the side, usually lighting them at 45 degree angle to the camera.  They walk just outside the picture frame and keep an even pace with them as they walk. You need to hire an assistant who can walk and chew gum at the same time for this technique.
My portable system for Walk-and-Talk. AlienBees 1600, Vagabond Mini, CyberSync radio remote control

CyberSync Radio Remote Control

Vagabond Mini
The reason I like the Walk-and-Talk technique is it gives something to the subjects to do. I find this not only helps to focus them, but after a couple times doing this they tend to not only relax, but I get great expressions.


If you use this Walk-and-Talk technique I recommend you tell them to walk close enough to each other they feel each other occasionally touching. In addition, I recommend one person talk and the other listen. Lastly, I ask them to look into each others eyes or at each others faces.  There is a tendency for people to look at the ground or off somewhere else.  I want them to look interested in each other.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Why I photographed them this way (Part 2)

Nikon D3S, 24 - 120mm, ISO 200, f/9, 1/60
Lighting Setup
This first photo by itself may not make a lot of sense to light and shoot the photo this way. However, when I was asked to help my son with all his friends on prom night I had to be able to shoot a lot of couple shots and group shots in a very limited time.

If you see the lighting diagram you will notice I put lights up behind the people and up the stairs behind them.  This is so I could shoot without having the drag the shutter too long to get the background to show up.  It also helped me by having very little shadow that didn't have some light hitting it.  This meant that the dynamic range was in some ways compressed.

I hope you are seeing that I didn't move. What I did do is use the Nikon 24-120mm lens so I could stay put and just zoom in and out the accommodate the size of each grouping.

If I were to step forward I could end up casting a shadow into the photo.  By standing back you avoid the problem of the photographer casting a shadow.

Nikon D3S, 14-24mm, ISO 200 f/9 1/60

This last photo helps you to understand one more reason I set the lights one way and left them alone.  I put the lights on light stands and then put them as high as I could make them go and then put sand bags on the bottom of the stands.

This helped be sure the light would drop off down behind people and make any shadows not hit people in the rows in back.  Also by having steps to use I was able to stack folks to get everyone in the photo and see their faces.


Many times what will determine how you photograph groups will be the time you have with the group and how many different groups you have in that time frame.  I have learned to setup for the biggest group and then place the smaller groups in the same space and just get closer with the camera.

Why I photographed them this way

Using lasers to study micro organisms.
Why did you light it that way and why did you compose it a certain way are questions I not only get asked, but ask myself as I am working.

In the photo of the two lady researchers, I was asked to photograph their micro organism research.  Now when I get to these labs they do not have it setup most of the time. I first have a conversation and then I listen for the visual cues that can help tell their story.

The computer screen is actually a photograph through a microscope of what the laser is passing through and doing some measurements.  So for their research they wouldn't have this in the room setup like this.  I asked to put it there so you could quickly read what they are working on. I also wanted to show the laser so I also made this show up in the photo.

I chose the blue color to set the tone for research, but also realized it would complement the red color of the laser.

Do you think the photo reads quickly and yet at the same time makes you stop to look at it?

Wearable computer research.
A cyborg is what this research is about.  This is where the human and machine are intertwined with each other. The wearable computer small screen is at the eye where the subject can use the information to do something. Here the information is to help the subject navigate around a city with information.

When I showed up I asked to see the information on the screen. I then asked if the information can be seen on some other monitor and the researcher pulled out their small monitor. I tried to bring everything closer together to help communicate what the researcher is seeing in their heads up display.

How did I do with this one?

Another wearable computer
This was taken a couple years earlier than the photo above.  One thing I was noticing is the wearable device was getting smaller.

In this photo I was able to show the operator using the device to help repair a circuit board where the schematic could be in the viewfinder.

If I could redo this photo, I would have had a small monitor maybe showing what was in the viewfinder. Do you think it works this way, or would you like to see the contents on a screen in the photo?

What I am discovering over time is each time I encounter the newer technology, it builds upon earlier research. I can this the evolution and this often helps me understand some of the nuances of the advances in the research.

While the story in each situation was about what is on the screens and how the wearable technology is being embraced in more and more industries, there is another aspect that the photo helps communicate over time--the size changes and maybe even how they are developing more style with each new device improvement.

Using virtual reality to help cure the fear of flying
Many of the research projects I get to photograph sometimes would work better as a video. However, your major newspapers and magazines primary audience is often the printed page. You still need to capture as much of the story in a single image and in a way that engages the viewer.

Combing elements into one image helps tell the story much better. Here the virtual head gear display with the computer screen in the background help communicate a little about what is going on for the subject. What would you suggest to make this more successful?

Injection mold research
Does it get your attention? Hey that is the first point with all good photography--it has to stop the reader.  I put separate light and gel on the mold so you would be drawn to it.  The grid light on the subject is also catching the front of the mold as well.

The researcher is trying to help with making more accurate parts through injection molds. Depending on the materials a mold may have to be adjusted in size to make up for how the part either will shrink or get bigger through the process of making it. Many times these parts come out and then are put into a kiln and heated to very high temperatures. This is done a lot with ceramics, which is what is used a great deal in our products we use.

How did I do with this photo?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Value Established - Not Added

Clients must feel they are getting value for their money or you don't get the job. You don't stay in business unless you get the job.

What values are clients considering? Most of the time the clients are not necessarily looking for the best photographer, rather they are looking at photographers who pass a good enough quality bar--whatever that is for them.

This means you might be the best quality shooter, but they can live with a level just below you considering all things.

Most clients that will hire you most likely will need to justify their hire to someone above them or just take into other things to make them feel good with their choice.

Your branding through all your materials can help set you apart. If you have a clean logo and design in all your materials this packaging of your photos will give you an X in your column if another photographer lacks this.

If they can remember you easily, it is most likely because you have defined your niche. He/She is the photographer that does X and thus this will go into your column again.

Clients will often direct others on their team or their superiors to the photographer's website. This you can get an X if your website is something they would want them to see. You need to have a clean design that is easy to navigate and see your work.

Today having a blog is a way to help show your expertise in your line of work where a website alone is more of just an on-line portfolio. It also is something they may come to more regularly to see what you are doing and sometimes the posts will help strike a chord with them. Put an X in your column if you have a blog and post to it at least 3 times a week.

If you are on social networking like Facebook and Twitter give yourself an X. Take that X away if you do not post once daily or at least three times a week.

If you are personally marketing to clients by addressing things specific to them give yourself another X. Having a photographer write to a client and say you were thinking of them and had an idea for them. Your idea would be something specific like I know you have an event coming up or I noticed one of your employees just got recognized, how about a photo and story to let people know about them.

If you like to scout and have pre-consultation conversation or meetings with your clients give yourself another X. You are showing the client that you are trying to know all you can about their needs and taking this into account.

You like to keep in touch with your client. This could be through newsletters, emails, social media and traditional snail mail. Give yourself another X if you are keeping in touch in ways other than asking for more work only.

Clients like to get surprises. If you remember their birthday or add something that wasn't in your estimate to your package that they receive give yourself another X in your column.

If your deliverable is professional like a printed DVD/CD and not just a sharpie on a disc for example, give yourself another X.

Hand written thank you cards are so rare today that this is another example of a way to separate yourself from the pack. You might choose to send one after a consultation and not just when you have finished the job.

If you have experience or a specialty that most other photographers cannot deliver, then give yourself an X if this is part of the consideration for a project.

Do your clients talk about you to their friends? If you have gotten jobs due to referrals in the past and continue to do so, give yourself another X.

Are you professionally groomed for the situation? You don't need to be dressed in a black tie and sometimes being over dressed is as much a kiss of death as under dressed. So if you are fashionably conscious and well groomed give yourself another X.

These were just a few of the things that I know have helped me in situations get jobs and loose jobs to my competition.

When you buy fine jewelry they don't just throw it in a plastic bag with the receipt.

The high end jewelers will clean the jewelry, place it in a very nice case that has their logo in the top lining. That case will go into a form fitting box that also has their logo on it. They will often put a ribbon and bow on that box. They will give you a signed certificate which puts their name behind the authenticity of the quality of the jewelry. They put all of this in a fine bag with their logo and often tie this off with a bow as well.

Compare this to how many photographers drop off a hand written CD with maybe Sharpie written text on it.

If you are struggling with your business model, what are things that you can do that really don't cost that much, but give more value that the customer understands comes with every job you do for them.  Establish your value and don't try and add it later.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Do you know what you do best every day?

Stanley's top five strengths after taking the Clifton StrengthFinder Test.
The Clifton StrengthsFinder

As you may know, the Clifton StrengthsFinder measures the presence of talent in 34 categories called "themes." These themes were determined by Gallup as those that most consistently predict outstanding performance. The greater the presence of a theme of talent within a person, the more likely that person is to spontaneously exhibit those talents in day-to-day behaviors.Focusing on naturally powerful talents helps people use them as the foundation of strengths and enjoy personal, academic, and career success through consistent, near-perfect performance.

Below are my top five themes of talent, ranked in the order revealed by my responses to the Clifton StrengthsFinder.

How well do you think these themes describe me?

Before jumping out a a plane Airborne Army will check the conditions. This is being strategic and being sure you have the highest probability of success. I do this in more ways than just with making photos, but being sure the conditions will result in the best success.
People who are especially talented in the Strategic theme create alternative ways to proceed. Faced with any given scenario, they can quickly spot the relevant patterns and issues.

Nelson, my step-son, graduated from Airborne School this week at Fort Benning, Georgia. Here you can see how marking this milestone with a pin and a close friend makes this journey rewarding in so many ways.
People who are especially talented in the Relator theme enjoy close relationships with others. They find deep satisfaction in working hard with friends to achieve a goal.

My friends and family all laugh at this photo, because of the guy on the right. We all have added our on caption comments. What this photo shows is how I try and capture the fact everyone is different. The key for me is celebrating the differences.
People who are especially talented in the Individualization theme are intrigued with the unique qualities of each person. They have a gift for figuring out how people who are different can work together productively.

Jumping out of the C-130 required the Airborne School participants to get up early. They reported at 1:30 a.m. and here they are just now jumping at 2:30 p.m. I believe those who achieve a lot, take the time to do those things that people do not see. While I saw the jump, I didn't see the weeks of practice before this moment.
People who are especially talented in the Achiever theme have a great deal of stamina and work hard. They take great satisfaction from being busy and productive.

I really love this moment. I can feel the student trying and the teacher caring to be sure excellence is achieved. I think if I could I would be a full time student--oh I forgot for a second, but my career path has given me this opportunity by meeting people and learning about them so I can help tell their story.
People who are especially talented in the Learner theme have a great desire to learn and want to continuously improve. In particular, the process of learning, rather than the outcome, excites them.

We devote more time to fixing our shortcomings than to developing our strengths. While you don't want to go around ticking people off and you should address those things, you can spend too much time working on your flaws when you would get more results playing to your strengths.

This is why I recommend to photographers to find something you are interested in to photograph. It is amazing how much of a difference engaging your passion will have on the work you produce.

Here is a link to the book on Amazon
Be thankful for your gifts that you have. I recommend buying the book and taking the online test so you can discover your strengths.

What are your strengths? Are you playing to them?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Tweaking the exposure with the Exposure Compensation

This is the location of the Exposure Compensation on the Nikon D3S. You push this and spin the dial on the back of the D3S to under or over expose the photo.

When you make a picture you need to be in the habit of checking to be sure that first photo is exposed the way you want it to look.

In manual mode you can adjust the aperture or the shutter speed to make the photo darker or lighter.  However, when you are in Aperture Mode and you change the aperture or when you are in Shutter Mode and you change the speed the exposure stays the same.

Exposure Compensation Dial on Nikon P7000
The only way to make the photo darker or lighter in Aperture Mode, Shutter Mode and Program Mode is to adjust the exposure compensation.  You can also use exposure compensation in the manual mode and it will adjust the exposure using ISO.

To understand how this works I recommend an exercise.

Take photo with exposure compensation set at 0. Take a few more photos -2, -1, +1 and +2.  Bring them into your editing software to see the different exposures.

If you shot these in RAW and then you made adjustments in your software like Lightroom or PhotoShop you will notice that the dynamic range in one of the exposure you did will give you more desirable results for your personal preference.

Click on the video to see how Exposure Compensation works on a Nikon D3S

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Depth of Field Preview - A tool underused by many photographers

This is the Depth-of-Field Preview Button on a Nikon D3S
One of the creative controls you have on the camera is aperture. We also refer to this as the f/stop.

As you change this from f/1.4 to f/16 the things become more in focus in front of the focus point and behind it. We call this area the "Depth-of-Field." You may have heard photographer's say they like a shallow Depth-of-Field. This means very little is in focus.

When looking through the viewfinder of a DSLR you are seeing the scene at the widest f/stop. So if you have a f/1.4 lens on the camera you are seeing the scene at f/1.4 even if you have chosen to record the scene at f/16.

If you want to see what it looks like at f/16 before you take the photo then you can depress the Depth-of-Field Preview Button (See photo above) to see the effect. In the days of film this was so important because until you developed the film you couldn't see your results, unless you used the button.

Today you can always take the photo and evaluate it on the LCD and then make changes to your f/stop to get the effect you are looking for.

If you want to include two points in the photo at different depths and be sure they are sharp, but the background and foreground in the photo are out of focus you might need to have the focus point set in between those points. A good example is a group photo with two rows of people.  You want the front and back row in focus.

It would be quite easy to just crank the f/stop up to f/22, but then everything is in focus.  If you use manual focus and adjust the f/stop while depressing the Depth-of-Field Preview Button you can adjust until just the two rows of people are in focus and the sharpness falls off just in front and behind them.

Another way to see this today is on cameras that have 'Live View" like the Nikon D3S. I have recorded what you can see doing this exercise in the video. You don't have to have your camera hooked up to a computer to use this function. I did this so I could record what you would see on the screen and also the camera controls so you can see them all in action.
The white arrow points to the bishop which is the focus point in the video. At f/40 the front and rear focus points are in blue as to where the photo is still sharp. You will notice this is about 1/3 in front of the focus point and 2/3 behind the focus point. 

Click on the video to see the Depth-of-Field in action on the camera, great way to see how it affects the sharpness in a photo before clicking the shutter.

Have you been using the Depth-of-Field creatively when you shoot?  Do you always shoot wide open at f/1.4 or always at f/8? How often are you using this creative tool to give you different results in sharpness in your photos?

Remember that the less you use these tools and modify them the more you have a simple box camera or closer to what your camera phone gives you. Use these controls to get something better with your DSLR.

Friday, November 18, 2011

ISO The Big Game Changer in Digital

The ISO setting on D3S lets me choose ISO 12,800 or higher. Not only is it a choice the quality of image is as good as ISO 400 was in the film days for my work.
I think the greatest game changer with digital photography has been the ISO. There are many ways this has impacted photography.

Here is a list of some of the things I have noticed it changed for me:
  • Can change ISO from photo to photo. 
    • Before you had to change film to change your ISO in the middle of a roll of film
  • In today's cameras like the Nikon D3S the high ISO is higher than it ever was with film
    • Color film high ISO was around ISO 800
    • Black and White high ISO was around 3,200
  • The 12,800 ISO setting in the Nikon D3S gives me as good of results with noise as film's ISO 400 did and maybe better.
    • With film we talk about grain and today while similar effect it is different and we talk about noise
  • AUTO ISO - WOW this really changed my life.
Nikon D3S - ISO 11,400 - F/5.6 - 1/100 - Nikkor 28-300mm

Since the quality of the ISO really has little impact on the quality of the image AS COMPARED to the major quality shift with film, I have my camera normally set to AUTO ISO most of the time.

I will go in to the menu and change this AUTO ISO settings.

Nikon D3S menu ISO settings
Nikon D3S ISO settings allow you not just to set the ISO you can choose AUTO ISO. I use this most of the time. You choose the range by choosing the low and maximum ISO. You also can choose the minimum ISO preference.

One of the settings I change in the AUTO ISO is the minimum shutter speed. When I am shooting sports I prefer shutter speeds of 1/2000. So I will set this and then shoot in Aperture mode.

The camera will override the shutter speed of 1/2000 and go lower if the ISO gets maxed out at ISO 12,800. If you prefer not to shoot at such a high ISO then you can choose something lower like ISO 5,000 and then shutter speed would drop from 1/2000 much sooner than it would for me.

This AUTO ISO setting isn't taking creativity away, but rather I have set the tolerances that I would have been having to stop and think about to do anyway. This lets me get the moment sharp and in focus, which is critical in sports.

Flourescent and Sodium Vapor

When shooting under Florescent and Sodium Vapor I normally set the minimum shutter speed to 1/100. You see both of these type of lights are really like flashes.  They are flashing about 60 times a second and if you shoot faster than 1/100 you will get color shifts due to catching the light in between cycles.
Nikon D3 - ISO 6400 - f/2.8 - 1/100 and Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8

I have discovered a couple of things about using flash with a high ISO.
  1. With TTL flash and high ISO I can easily balance these so I can shoot with my 85mm f/1.4 for example.
  2. When you use flash and it is illuminating most of the scene the dynamic range of the photo is compressed. What this means is most of the time the f-stop range of exposure from the highlight to the shadow is more compressed and therefore the noise is the shadows is much less than when shot without the flash.
Nikon D3 - ISO 200 - f/1.4 - 1/160 and Nikkor 85mm f/1.4. Also off camera flash using the Nikon SU800 to trigger the Nikon SB900 flash in TTL mode. The flash is set for -1 stop compensation. In addition I also was using the Radio Popper system to be sure the signal was consistently getting from the SU800 to the SB900.
Once I discovered the affects flash has on shadow, I started to shoot with it in situations where noise was a real possibility and I wanted to diminish the affect of it. I will often shoot with the flash -1 to -3 stops under on the flash compensation setting.
Nikon D3S - ISO 6400 - f/4.8 - 1/100 and Nikon 28-300mm. Also off camera flash using the Nikon SU800 to trigger the Nikon SB900 flash in TTL mode. The flash is set for -1 stop compensation. In addition I also was using the Radio Popper system to be sure the signal was consistently getting from the SU800 to the SB900.
Nikon D3S - ISO 6400 - f/5.6 - 1/100 and Nikon 28-300mm. Also off camera flash using the Nikon SU800 to trigger the Nikon SB900 flash in TTL mode. The flash is set for -1 stop compensation. In addition I also was using the Radio Popper system to be sure the signal was consistently getting from the SU800 to the SB900.
What is the take away?

Before the digital camera, to use ISO in a creative way meant to change film stock. You also could not shoot AUTO ISO. Due to this no longer being a hindrance I now see the ISO setting the way I see aperture and shutter-speed.  It is another creative tool giving me more options to get photos that in the past were not possible.

Are you using ISO to its fullest creative possibilities?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Nikon P7000 bailed me out when my Nikon D3S couldn't

Nikon P7000 ISO 1600, f/5.6 1/40
Today one of the most dreaded photo shoots happened. I arrived at the client's location where I was asked to photograph a class of students in class and then afterwards we are doing their Christmas card photo.
The videographer needed no shutter noise on the video so I am using the Nikon P7000 ISO 1592 f/5 1/250
The client didn't realize they had a problem booking a still photographer and videographer to shoot in the same classroom at the same time. I was not told about this situation nor was the videographer.

This is the first time in a while I had been put into this situation and this time I had a new solution for the problem. You first need to know the problem. The biggest issue for still photographers shooting with videographers is all about sound. Our cameras make a mechanical noise when the shutter is fired that microphones pick up even more than the human ear or at least Murphy's Law seems to say so for the end result.
Nikon P7000 ISO 1600 f/3.2 1/130
On movie sets the still photographer often uses a blimp to eliminate the sound of the camera.  The costs start about $1,200 for one of these. I would typically rent one rather than buying one.
Jacobsen Blimp that you put your DSLR Camera into and put the tube over your lens to muffle or eliminate the shutter sound. I couldn't use it because I didn't have one or know that I needed it. So thankful that I always have my Nikon P7000 with me.
But today I had another solution. My point-and-shoot Nikon P7000 makes no noise at all when it fires. You actually can turn on and off a shutter noise.  They make this for those who want to hear their camera. I turn it off on mine.

The first time my friend, Dave Black, told me a few years ago he had used a similar Nikon camera during a PGA tournament and had the first photos of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson in their back swing for Sports Illustrated. Dave Black surprised the editors so much they almost had a heart attack. You are not suppose to take any pictures of the golfers until they hit the ball. The reason is the motor drives and shutter noises can distract the golfers.
Nikon P7000 ISO 1600 f/5.6 1/35
Dave Black had to quickly pull out his camera he used and fire it to show the editor. Click here for that story.

This story was in my head this morning and so I pulled out the Nikon P7000 and saved the day.

No question I would have preferred to shoot the photos with the Nikon D3s and have even cleaner looking files, but this was a good compromise to get photos and let them video at the same time.
By the way I did use my Nikon D3s for their group photo.  They wanted themselves in a circle for a particular design purpose. Nikon D3s ISO 200 f/9 1/50