Monday, April 30, 2012

How are you sharing your personal photos?

On Facebook people are tagging their friends and this not only helps those looking at the photos know who everyone is, but when they are tagged they get an email alert letting them know they have a photo of them being shared.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Meeting expectations comes first

Many in today's iGeneration have had a childhood of T-ball, soccer, and dance classes where if they just participated, they were given a trophy. I assume most people know there is more to life than showing up on time -- but you'd be surprised how often meeting minimum standards will put you way ahead of the competition.

I taught in photojournalism at a local college. Every project I assigned was designed to give the students a real-world experience. They had three assignments: an environmental portrait, covering an event and a photo story.

The students were asked to turn in their assignments as if they were submitting them to an editor. They needed a cover letter to tell me about what they were submitting. They needed a folder with their selects and another folder with all the images they shot. Each of the photos in the selects needed to have a caption embedded in the IPTC fields. Most editors enjoy being able to send a photo to the designer which already has the caption in the photo. 

IPTC fields
This shows the Metadata panel of Bridge with IPTC IM, showing these fields are written to the file header. This screenshot shows the fields and includes a short description of what tags can be placed in the fields.
Some students forgot the captions, some forgot the cover letter and, yes, some were late handing them in. While most had everything done properly, we still had some where the captions were lacking the essential five Ws.
  • Who is it about?
  • What happened?
  • Where did it take place?
  • When did it take place?
  • Why did it happen?
I continue to hear horror stories from clients about photographers who didn't meet their minimum expectations. I even know of photographers who did the work and never handed in an invoice! It is amazing how just being sure all the elements are done for a project and turning them on time (or early!) will be received with excitement.
One of my favorite creative directors is Tony Messano. He gives sage advice. I can understand why he is asked to judge advertising work all over the world.

Tony expects a photographer to shoot the assignment the way Tony conceives it -- but his favorite photographers not only give him what he wants; they go beyond his concept and shoot it their way, too. Often, they will shoot it just as he says and then will push the idea a bit further with lighting composition or another element. They bring something extra to the table.

If you are meeting the expectations of your clients, you are doing better than most others in the industry. To rise to the top, go a little beyond the expectations.

Don't be satisfied with the trophy everyone gets for just showing up. Be the person singled out for going beyond the call of duty. Never stop looking for a unique approach or something different. The stretching will keep you youthful and nimble in today's ever-changing marketplace.

Second mile service assumes the first mile served

Today we hear so many talking about second mile service.  

Second mile service is something that comes from the Sermon on the Mount: “If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles” (Matthew 5:41). In biblical times, a Roman soldier could compel someone to carry his pack for one mile, or 1,000 paces (two steps per pace). Jesus told his listeners to stop grudgingly counting their steps and instead to carry the pack a second mile.

Second mile service as Christ was trying to teach his followers is doing what is expected well and then doing even more. Christ’s earlier statement in the Sermon—“Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven”—was letting the followers know this not only brought favor on them but God was honored as well. This is a good lesson for today's marketing student about the power of branding.

You are building a good reputation by giving superior service.

What is expected in the "First Mile?"
  • Treating people with honor, dignity and respect
  • Listening to the request of the client
  • Meeting the needs of the client
    • Well exposed photos
    • In focus
    • Photos of what was requested
  • Delivered on time
  • Invoiced in a timely matter
"Second Mile Service" possibilities
  • Early delivery of images
  • Well packaged presentation of the images
  • WOW factor photos
    • Different angle than they have seen before
    • Maybe a print of a special photo
    • Coffee table book of the photos
    • Slide show
  • Hand written thank you note
What is the number one thing you can do? Listen

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Recruiting photography for school that looks natural

The cry of focus groups when they review most educational recruiting pieces seems to always say they want natural looking photos and not setup.

The problem is not setting up photos or trying to just grab what you can to get a natural look, it is hiring the right photographer. Also, it is a team effort of the school setting up the situations by having students, teachers and the right situations with enough time for moments to become "REAL."

Focus groups need the right questions
After having spent the last twenty plus years as a photographer shooting pure photojournalism, where you capture what happens in front of the camera to shooting for advertising pieces, where there are stylists arranging everything in a photo; my experience says most focus groups are asking the wrong questions.

“Do you like the photo?” is not as good of a question to see if the photo was successful as a question like “What did you learn from the photo?” You can even have a photo again on a questionnaire from your recruiting materials and ask, “Does the photo help you see what a typical dorm room looks like?” You could even have a follow up question “What could improve the photo to show you a dorm room?”

The reason I have come to this place about evaluating photos is my experience with truly “real” photographs. I have spent many years shooting “photojournalism” for magazines, newspapers and wire services. You do not change a thing in these photos and you do everything you can use composition, lens choices, lighting and timing to communicate the mood and reality of a situation.

Often a photojournalist’s photos are not “pretty” pictures. Photographers will even use their composition to create more conflict to add to the mood of the photo. Having a focus group evaluate war photos with the typical questions we ask “Did you like the photos?” will give you results which would say the photographers were not successful.

Often what you get by just grabbing shots here and there.

The difference with some planning and adding a light to the scene can make.
Make your photographic coverage strategic

How can you know the right moment to take a picture unless you have a fairly clear idea of what the subject means and what you are after? When you are interested in a subject, you want to learn more about it. You dig below the surface values to the truth beneath. That way you get to know it intimately and are able to photograph it understandingly.

Why are we taking this photo? Are we trying to show teacher to student ratio? Are we trying to show what a dorm room looks like? Are we trying to show diversity and how well everyone gets along on the campus?  You need some understanding of what you are trying to accomplish.

Understanding does not necessarily mean a technical knowledge of the subject. 
It is about seizing the right moment. It might be setup or as in the case I just floated into a meeting and shot.

Understanding is interest, sympathy, curiosity, the human element of the equation.

Are you photographing who you are or what you want to be?
While photojournalism will give you “real” photos, sometimes reality for recruiting will keep your institution on the same path rather than to where you would like to be.

This is where what I call the “sitcom” photography works best. We all know the sitcom isn’t real, but it can create such a reality we are all tuning in to see “Who shot JR?”

Spontaneous moments in a hall with two guys who are obviously close friends will communicate diversity better than sometimes setting something up.  However, it needs to be prevalent on your campus or you will not capture it just because you have a photographer there. Plan for creating moments and letting the photographer have time to just capture things along the way.

This is the type of photography where the school has determined where they want to go and then create communications pieces to help them attain the goal. For example if you want to be more diverse in the future, you will need to show diversity. If you keep it real, you would then research to find those situations where diversity exists already. Then you would photograph those situations and play them prominently in your piece.

While this is setup, I worked hard to get the expressions to sell that they are a community with diversity.
As one person put it “You don’t want to be the lone raisin in a bowl of milk.” If everyone works to help the school to become more diverse it can be done.

As you can see there are a few ways to communicate your message using photographs. The ideal scenario is to have “reality” photos. If you had a photographer go to everything you did this year—then maybe you would get the reality you need.

Shooting at The Citadel and a Roman Catholic high school is easy as compared to the clothing problems introduced in most other schools. 
Sometimes “reality” isn’t what you want to show. The student wearing another competing schools T-Shirt. A student with major over weight issues or skin problems can detract from the message. This is why so often we re-create reality like the sitcom. If properly planned, you will tune in and want to know more about your school.
Capturing joy of students makes students want to come to a place like The Citadel, where they will spend a lot of time being told what they will do.
Photographs are made of light, mood, texture, form, and line. The value of techniques lies in how they are used. Techniques by themselves are barren. To come alive with meaning, they must be employed interpretively. This is where I come in. Give me a call and let’s make your recruiting photos—REAL.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

New Market for Photographers: Moving from complacency to success

Four-star hotel in the Atlanta market.
Kemmons Wilson’s was on the cover of Time Magazine in June 1972. He was founder of Holiday Inn and they were successful with more than fourteen hundred locations all placed about a day's drive from each other. They owned the three-star market of hotels.


By the mid 1980s they had more competition on the bottom and top. More two-star offerings were popping up and the number of four and five-star hotels grew rapidly. What was happening to their market was it was now a commodity in their rating. It was becoming more difficult to fill their rooms with so much competition.

Basic room in Merida, Mexico that I stayed in.
If we are talking about just having a room to stay in and something just clean and reliable then we would be just a commodity and wondering how can we compete.

Hotels are part of the hospitality industry which is huge. While Holiday Inn was loosing ground other groups were expanding. In 1999, Hilton acquired Promus Hotel Corporation, which included the Doubletree, Red Lion, Embassy Suites, Hampton Inn, & Homewood Suites brands.

The brand name Holiday Inn is now owned by IHG. On 24 October 2007 IHG announced a worldwide relaunch of the Holiday Inn brand. The relaunch is "focused on delivering consistently best in class service and physical quality levels, including a redesigned welcome experience [and] signature bedding and bathroom products..."

Comparing our industry to hotels hopefully with help us realize what we need to do to be competitive.

Hotel Plaza in Merida, Mexico.
Sense of Ambiance

As you can see just from these photos of properties they give a sense ambiance unique to them. What the hotel chains have done is realize they need to know where they fit in the market and then how to leverage their place.

Today you will notice many chains have similar floor plans but the experience is so different. Hotel chains have launched different product lines. The lobbies have different colors and decorations. One industry that sprung up to meet the needs of hotels is the scent machine industry. They sell the hotels machines and aromas that help them create a distinct aroma which they hope you not only associate with them.

This concept of scent has been around a long time. The Catholic Church has, effectively, used brand fragrance on its 'customers' - one in six of the world's population - for the last 2,000 years. Scent is very powerful and connected to ones emotions. In one test, altering a shampoo’s fragrance had a huge effect on how people rated its effectiveness, even though the product itself was otherwise unchanged.

Portillo's in Chicago
Restaurants also are competitive

The restaurant industry too is overcrowded. There are places like Portillo's in Chicago that are still thriving. Why? They have done a lot to make walking into their restaurant's an experience and not just about the food alone.

Cafe´ 360 in Freehold, NJ. Cafe´ 360 has free internet access allowing you to surf the web while you sip one of their house brand coffees or while grabbing a bite to eat.
In 1983, Howard Schultz (Starbucks chairman, president and chief executive officer) traveled to Italy and became captivated with Italian coffee bars and the romance of the coffee experience. He had a vision to bring the Italian coffeehouse tradition back to the United States. A place for conversation and a sense of community. A third place between work and home.

Schultz help to create the third place between work and home with Starbucks. With now free Wi-fi and comfortable seating area, people have more to go to Starbucks than just a cup of coffee--they go for an experience.

Just consider lighting alone in restaurants and you can see how this can influence how you feel about a place. Just consider how lowering the lights and putting candles on a table take a restaurant from casual dining to fine dining.

Consider the use of linen for napkins rather than paper. Fresh flowers on a table can also add aroma to the experience.

I can remember when Mrs. Field's cookies were first at the mall. I think the number one reason I bought their cookies at first was the smell of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies alone drew me to them.

Remarkable experiences 

The best form of advertising is word of mouth. This week I received Jeffery Gitomer's newsletter and he addresses the power of the referral and how to get them. Just listen to him talk about getting referrals.

What REMARKable Experience are you creating? 
You just went on vacation and you had a great time. You come into the office the next day and you can't wait to tell some of your office workers about an experience. Does this sound familiar to you?

This is what you need to concentrate on with your customers. Can you create an experience around your product that has them talking about you?

Once you create something that helps distinguish you from all the others in your field be prepared for it to be copied. Your competition will discover what you do and then not only will they copy you they will try and do it better than you.

Let's revisit Holiday Inn's relaunch of their brand.

"focused on delivering consistently best in class service and physical quality levels, including a redesigned welcome experience [and] signature bedding and bathroom products..."

Afterburner consulting

Afterburner consulting
helped the Super Bowl Champions the Giants attain their victory, by helping them to concentrate on excellence. They helped them to focus on consistency rather than new plays. The Giants discovered that it was the consistency in their play that would help them win the Super Bowl.

If you are struggling now maybe you too became complacent like Holiday Inn. Maybe you need to find a way to create a niche´ like Howard Schultz did with Starbucks. But remember the key to all of their success was first by being consistent in their service.

Do you provide an experience that is remarkable?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Are you a good steward of the photographs for your company?

Do you have an archiving system

Please take a moment and take the poll above, then check back in a day or so and see what others also checked. I predict that if everyone I know took this toll that more than half of all the companies would have no archiving searchable database for their photography.

Are you adding value to the company?

Take a moment and see if you can put your hands on the last couple of projects that you used photography. Where did you look?

Did you look in your top drawer of your desk? Did you go to someone and they pulled the Disc of images from their desk?

Maybe your office is really organized and they were in a project folder in the filing cabinet.

Historical Photos

Does your company have a place that all the historical photos of the company reside? Do you have copies of the ground breaking for the first building? Do you have the ribbon cutting photos from the grand opening? Do you have photos of the CEO and the board?

Back in the early 1980s Georgia Institute of Technology was planning their centennial celebration.  They wanted to do a coffee table book of all that had happened since 1885.

So they started digging for images. They were going everywhere and finding very little.  They didn't have a central location for their images.  This sound familiar?

It was this process that led them to create a department that had photography. Up until then, most all the photos were from the students and an occasional freelancer hired by the school.

When I started with them some 10 years later, I was assigned the task to create a searchable computer database.  We used the Cumulus software and shared the images on our internal network.

IT Department Lost it all: TWICE!!

After about 5 years of scanning slides and negatives we had a disaster.  The IT department was in charge of the server and backing it up.  They backed it up on a tape system. Well that system was corrupted and we lost 5 years of work.

You see we had the original file and a backup.  You need three to be safe and they only had two.

We hired a new person that all they did for one year was to rescan and help us rebuild the database. 

Five years after that disaster the same thing happened again. My trust of IT departments was at an all time low.

Cost of online storage

All electronics have a life expectancy and do not last forever.  Today you can buy an external hard with 1TB of storage for around $100.  Using the formula that you need a minimum of 3 different places for a digital file to reside for it to be safe would mean you need to spend about $300 for three 1 TB hard drives. 

You can spend for just the storage alone from about $9 per month or $108 a year.  They do the backups for you.  So, for the price of a hard drive you can store all you need online for the same price as just 1 hard drive.

Join me on PhotoShelter

Click on this link [photo] and get $15 discount. I also get a small fee back to help support this blog.

Sharing on-line

The best solution today is to have not just your images stored on-line, but searchable on-line. I would highly recommend PhotoShelter for most companies and individuals. There are different levels of service. You can signup for an individual or corporate account.  The advantages of the corporate account is having many photographers, editors and more working all at the same time on the system. This is important on the back end where the posting the images to the system and organizing them takes place.

On the front end to those searching there is little difference between the two. You can give access to search your images based on three basic approaches. First, you may choose that anyone can see your photos or just you. Second, you can make it viewable by those with passwords or third they can see them by logging in with an email and a password just for that email. 

Now there are many variables of those basic three concepts of access to the photos.

Search is King

The best part of having an online presence is the ability of people to search your images. Of course the key is you must put text with each photo. We do this through metadata.  This is text that is buried in the image in code. Using software like Adobe PhotoShop, Adobe Lightroom, PhotoMechanic and other photo editing software you can embed photos with caption, keywords, photographers name, company name and more.

Most likely today you are working with images that were shot on a digital camera which also puts searchable information on every image in the metadata as well. They put things like date, time, f/stop, shutter-speed and things like even GPS into the metadata.

PhotoShelter makes this simple to search giving you some fields to help narrow down the search like keywords, city it was shot in and is it model released or not.

When you find an image

What can you do once you find an image--that depends on how you set it up. You can make it that they can only see the image, can download a low res or high resolution images, or they can order things like prints or items like a coffee mug with the photo on it.


The key to all this online storage is that now your images that you had paid to have created are not just accessible by you, but you can easily share them with the rest of your company or even the world. 

Every company and organization that I have worked with almost always says this is one of the hallmark services they now offer their organizations. Having all the images online helps them with using the material over and over.

They can now use the images: on their website more often, their social media, send access to the media to download images, to their employees to use in their presentations, and more places.

While the initial cost of hiring a photographer to shoot for your organization may seem costly, having this material used in more places to help promote your company makes the images worth a lot more to the brand.

One Use or Less

Are you using the photos one time that you hired a photographer to produce? What about all the similar shots that were not used. Do they go to waste or does your company use them in other places? 

Two things will happen if you choose to use an online system that is accessible to your people no matter where they are in the world as long as they have access to the web. First of all you will start to get phone calls and emails from more and more people asking for access to your database of photos. Second, you will get emails saying people are not finding photos.

I can't find something

People will start to think that their are photographers shooting all the time for this database and surely there is a photo of something they need. You will soon be saying, no we don't have that image in the database, no one has shot that.  Would you like to pay to have that done?  Maybe you have the budget and say we can get a photographer to shoot that for you.

The demand will go up and your value to the company will rise as well. Make your companies brand stronger by making images available.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Advice for those going from staff position to freelance

Landing in a sand trap is how I would describe my layoff. You don't want to be in one, but it is something you can get out of. (Nikon D2x, ISO 200, f/5.6, 1/750, 600mm)
In 2002 I was laid off from what I considered a great job. Well truthfully I was very frustrated with the environment for the last few years I was on staff. While I enjoyed the opportunities to shoot a variety of subjects, I was finding myself out of sync with my coworkers.

I should have left earlier, but I didn’t think I could made it as a freelancer. I liked having people just give me things to photograph and go home and come in the next day and do it again.

When I got called in and told that my position had been eliminated I was devastated. I called my wife and friend to come and help me pack up my gear and books and move out. As we were packing up my things my friend was trying to comfort me and made a very profound comment. “Stanley if you put in the amount of effort you have been doing here in your freelance, you will be a very successful photographer.”

I thought about his comment a lot that first year of freelancing.  He had said it to me with such conviction that I realized he really believed it to be true. Later even my wife would comment and say that he was right.

My life did change and each day I got up and worked hard. I didn’t drive to downtown Atlanta every morning, but I did put in many hours of work. Here are the things I did and still do today. I call these tips for the freelancer.
Take your time and get your thoughts in order. Just like this golfer has to read the green to sink the putt, look at your goal and you too will see how you will need to plan some path to success. (Nikon D2x, ISO 400, f/5.6, 1/1000, 400mm with 1.4 extender)
Tips for the freelancer

  • Keep a similar work schedule to the one you had on staff. Get up and go to work. While you may not have to drive anywhere to commute, still get out of bed eat breakfast and then take that commute to another part of your house/apartment.
  • Get dressed for work. One of my friends Ken Touchton told me in those early days that he used to get dressed and put on a tie just to go to the next room. It helps put you psychologically in a different frame of mind.
  • Create a calendar of events. Just like you had in your last job, schedule time for different thing you need to be doing. You need to create; meetings, lunch dates, and find events from things like the Chamber of Commerce to attend in your community.
  • Create a database of clients, prospects, and family/friends. You may need to buy a list to add to your present list. You may need to go to the library and find those resources with contacts in them for your niche´. Remember this formula that for every 1,000 contact names in your database only 100 of them will be interested in your services. Of those 100 contacts only 10 of them will become a client.
  • Create a plan on connecting to those in your database. Another formula is to know that it takes about 6 – 8 touches with a contact before they remember you. Therefore you need to have a plan on how to contact these folks in a way that is positive and not annoying. I recommend mixing up your arsenal. I use: Phone Calls, emails, eNewsletters, Blogging, Postcards, and events as ways that I can make contact with my prospects and clients.
  • Develop an elevator speech. You need to be able at a moments notice explain to anyone what you do. Here is a link to mine.

Attitude Adjustment

When on staff you had a role. You would contact people asking if they needed your services. If this is how you worked then you need to change.

Your goal should be to develop friendships. You need to get to know people so well, that as they talk about their life, you can see ways you could help them. This is a lot of listening and offering good advice that isn't solicited. Once you are at this level in a friendship, it is much easier to give them suggestions of something that might help them.

With my best friends I listen and often if I have a suggestion to help them I am pointing them to a friend and not me. This is how I have learned to build my business. I am there as a resource and to help point my friends (clients) to solutions and other friends I have to help them.

My friends (clients) see me as someone looking out for them and helping them to be successful. When my friends do the same things for me I know I can go to them with even more things. I try and include them even more in my life.

We all have those acquaintances that are always trying to get us to use them. We do use them when they are a good fit, but we don’t go to them and talk about our life. We can’t trust them like our friends.

Continuing Education

You need to continue to get better and more relevant for your prospects and clients. Set aside time to do research on your industry. Find out what is next on the horizon. Go to associational meetings and hear what others are doing.

Join a professional association. Become friends with your competition and you will discover they are your colleagues. I am often booked and have just a few friends that I can trust with helping my clients and not trying to steal my clients.

Get involved in those professional associations by helping with meetings and serving as an officer. It will help you grow in knowledge and make you more valuable to your clients.
A team works together for the good of all. The practice together so they can perform flawlessly. (Nikon D3S, ISO 200, f/5.6, 1/640, 300mm)
Build a team

You need to find an accountant, lawyer, and maybe someone to assist you on a contract basis. As you grow you will need to farm out things that take up your time that can be done by someone else.

When you start out you need to consult experts. One of those should be a mentor/coach. Find someone who will help you navigate the waters of freelancing. They may live in another city. Whoever you find, be sure you regularly work with them.


Freelancing is like a farmer. You will be plowing the fields, weeding and doing a lot of work long before you will be able to harvest the crop.

If the farmer doesn’t put in the time and investment then there is no harvest.

Just like the farmer you can do everything right, but there are things outside your control. Most of the farmers I know have a tremendous faith in God and know that while they can do everything right there is much out of their control. They pray for guidance and wisdom. Most of all they pray for grace.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

How to get rid of orange and green backgrounds with flash

Nikon D4, ISO 3200, f/6.3, 1/80, 28-300mm, White Balance: Flash
Have you been getting photos like this with your off camera flash? The reason for it is you have a mixed lighting situation. The background is tungsten or 3200º Kelvin and the subject has flash or 5500º Kelvin.

Nikon D4, ISO 3200, f/6.3, 1/80, 28-300mm, White Balance: Tungsten
Now by doing everything pretty much the same except for two things are changed: the flash has an orange gel on it to match the tungsten and then the white balance for the scene is set to tungsten.

I prefer to put on the orange gel over the flash and then use my ExpoDisc to get a custom white balance by pointing the lens to the flash with the ExpoDisc in front to help me get an accurate skin tone for the subject.

Nikon SB-900 with the gel kit that comes with the flash and the two covers.  One at the bottom holds the gels and the other cover is a diffusion filter.  You can use the gels with the diffusion filter as well. There are two green and two orange filters. You can test these and depending on the lights in the room one may work better than the other.
The gel slides into the plastic cover and the hole lines up with a raised piece in the cover. When you do the the little white squares will automatically adjust your camera to the correct white balance when on the camera hotshoe.
Here you can see the cover snapped back on the SB-900 with the other gels off to the side in the carrying case.
I prefer not seeing the orange and green backgrounds in my photos when using flash. If you do use the gels as I am showing you here, then you will fly through the post production. Many people try and remove the color shift in the background with post production, but the time it takes to convert the flash to the correct gel combination if far faster than just color correcting one image.

Now imagine shooting a wedding or an event where you may have hundreds if not thousands of images to color correct if you do not use the gels.

Nikon D4, ISO 3200, f/6.3, 1/80, 28-300mm, White Balance: Flash 
This is with regular flash under fluorescent light. There are more color differences from my experience under fluorescent lights than under tungsten.  Just because you see a fluorescent light doesn't mean it is going to be green. Some of the lights are already daylight balanced and will give you proper color with a flash. 
Nikon D4, ISO 3200, f/6.3, 1/50, 28-300mm, White Balance: Fluorescent
Here you can see the shift to a better skin tone and background not as green, because I used a green gel over the flash.

While this may take between 2 - 5 minutes to set up properly over time you may cut your time to 2 - 3 minutes to do. It is very important you see this in your over all workflow. 2 - 5 minutes once or 2 - 5 minutes for every photo you shoot to color correct it. It is your choice. Depending on the situation you might not have time. If you had the time and didn't do it you will be wishing you had during post.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Getting the moment

Nikon D4, ISO 12,800, f/4.8, 1/50, 28-300mm
You have probably heard about "The Decisive Moment" coined by the famous Magnum Photographer Cartier-Bresson.  What I think you need to explore when actually picking the right moment is more than just the subject.

As you can see in the first photograph the main subject is really animated and this could be a wonderful moment. If you were to get just this photo you might be really pleased with your results.

However, take a look around the frame. Look at everyone's expression in the photo. When you do that the photo above starts to fall apart.

Nikon D4, ISO 12,800, f/4.8, 1/50, 28-300mm
Now take a closer look at the second image here. As you can see the other people are in a better moment and even the main subject is better than the first photograph. I would have preferred to have more of the young boy in the photo on the left, but the expressions are still pretty good to carry the photo.

Nikon D4, ISO 8000, f/4, 1/80, 28-300mm
In this example the composition is OK and the moment is OK, but just not much energy here is there in the photo.

Nikon D4, ISO 8000, f/4, 1/80, 28-300mm
Now in this photo the expressions are more engaging and the musician is reaching out to the man in the blue shirt. You also can see the lady on the left being moved by the moment.  Definitely a better moment than the photo above.

Nikon D4, ISO 8000, f/4, 1/80, 28-300mm
In the third example from the same situation you can see the handshake is more complete.  The second photo the hands look quite awkward.  The expression is not as huge as the first one, but the moment is much stronger because everyone looks good and no funny hands as in the second one.

To get the right moment often takes you to shoot just a few more than just one photo. You are shooting not just for the main subject as you can see in these examples.  You are trying to capture everyone in the best possible moment when it all comes together.  This is what "The Decisive Moment" is about. It is about getting all the elements in the photograph working together.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Off Camera Flash Examples

Nikon D4, 28-300mm, ISO 100, 1/250, f/4.5, Off-Camera Fill Flash with Alien Bees 1600 and fired with Pocket Wizard Plus System.
Walk and Talk

This past week I was privileged to photograph on a college campus. I was combining two things that give me some of my best photos. By combining off-camera flash and having people moving I get two great results; great expressions and good color.

The very first thing I started with on the assignment was a group photo, but the best results as far as expressions was not when they were standing still, but when they all walked towards me. Now mind you I almost lost my photo assistant a few times. He was having to walk backwards and keep the same distance from the group constant. This was to ensure I had good exposures.

Nikon D4, 28-300mm, ISO 100, 1/250, f/6.3, Off-Camera Fill Flash with Alien Bees 1600 and fired with Pocket Wizard Plus System.
Since I had a good group and we finished early with the group photo, I then broke them up into small groups and then had each of those do what I call walk and talks. We assign one person to talk and the others to listen, not just with their ears but their eyes. So, the person talks. The others listen and then they all are walking towards me.

Thankfully we didn't have the assistant ever fall this week while walking backwards, carrying lights and watching the subjects to be sure the light was on them.

Nikon D3S, 14-24mm, ISO 200, 1/50, f/5.6, Off-Camera Fill Flash with 2 - Alien Bees 1600 and fired with Pocket Wizard Plus System.

I love shooting buildings at dusk. The photo here of the building and the students walking is at 7:55 p.m. and sunset is at 7:58 p.m.  I love this digital camera. You can see all the information, like what time I shot the photos.  While the sky looked better at about 20 minutes after sunset, we had to let the students go to another commitment.

We had them walk through the scene a few times.  The building is being lighted by my two Alien Bees 1600 on full power.  They are being powered by the Vagabond batteries made by Paul Bluff. 

Nikon D3S, 14-24mm, ISO 200, 1/1.6, f/11, Off-Camera Fill Flash with 2 - Alien Bees 1600 and fired with Pocket Wizard Plus System. The flash sync was set to Rear Sync to get the car lights behind the car and not in front of it.
The photo above was taken at 8:24 p.m. and as you can see the sky is much darker blue, but not black.  I use the Alien Bees to light up the building since this campus didn't have lights on their buildings at night.

Fill flash in the woods
Nikon D4, 28-300mm, ISO 250, 1/80, f/9, Off-Camera Fill Flash with Alien Bees 1600 and fired with Pocket Wizard Plus System.
One of the ugliest lighting is under trees. You get a green cast due to the light going through the leaves. What I did here is used the off-camera flash with the Alien Bees 1600 to kick in light from the front to mainly offset the green light. I also benefited from having light in their face rather than raccoon eyes. Raccon eyes are caused by top lighting, which you see during the day and gives you dark circles around the eyes.

Fill flash in direct sunlight

Nikon D3S, 14-24mm, ISO 200, 1/200, f/13, Off-Camera Fill Flash with Alien Bees 1600 and fired with Pocket Wizard Plus System.

Why use a flash in direct sunlight? You need to avoid raccoon eyes and also if you want you can help drive the audience to the subject by the use of the light as I have done here.

Fill flash inside
Nikon D4, 28-300mm, ISO 3200, 1/125, f/6.3, Off-Camera Fill Flash with Nikon SB900 with the lightest green gel that comes with the system. Also, I am using the Radio Poppers radio transmitters with the Nikon SU-800 and Nikon SB900 so that I do not have to be in the line of sight for the infrared to work in triggering the flash.
When I am inside and people are working like this lady on her computer, you are just as prone to get raccoon eyes as outside. Why? The reason is the fluorescent lights above her are acting like the noon day sun. I have the photo assistant hold the flash and direct it to her face. The Nikon SB900 is zoomed to 200mm and therefore is light using a grid on studio strobes.  It is directing the light to just her face. 

To balance the flash to the room lights I used the lighter green gel that comes with the Nikon SB900 system. To get the correct lighting I took a custom light reading by using the ExpoDisc and had the assistant point the flash to the lens when I did this.  I tried both green gels that came with the camera and the lighter of the two gave the best result in balancing the color with the rest of the room.

The sync speed was set to Slow-Sync. I shot the photos in Aperture Priority on Auto ISO with the maximum shutter speed set to 1/100 so I would avoid the color shift that happens with fluorescent lights.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Tips for Off Camera Flash for +/- exposure problems

Off Camera Flash Setup with Nikon Speedlights
When I first wrote about doing off camera flash I realized I need to come back to this and highlight some points.

ISO, Shutter Speed, Aperture and +/-

There are a few things that will affect you getting a proper exposure.  Let's set each of these on a Nikon so that everything will work.

ISO - Be sure you are not using Auto ISO.  Start with the lowest ISO and adjust up for various reasons.  You may want to up the ISO to help open up the background for example.

Go into the menu and set the Auto FP high sync speed to 250*. Auto FP High Speed Sync is a flash mode used for fill-flash photography under brightly lit conditions. When it is set you will be able to shoot faster than 1/250 sync speed and do this only with your Nikon Speedlight system.

Set the flash setting to Slow Sync or Rear Sync.  I prefer Slow Sync for most everything. This will fire the flash and if needed the shutter may stay open for longer, but this will freeze the subject when you push the shutter.  If you choose Rear Sync then the flash will fire at the end of the shutter cycle. You may not know when the flash fires using this setting.

Please refer to the older posts on this to know how to control how much light is on the subject and how to control the background.

Ambient Light and Flash Combined

Improve your Flash photos by not lighting everything

Flash Over Exposing

First be sure to turn the flash as far down as possible.  Using the SU-800 it will go to -3 Stops.

If you still are over exposed it is usually your ISO is set too high. Lower your ISO setting.

Background is too dark

Crank up the ISO and double check to be sure you have Slow Sync chosen or you will be syncing at the lowest shutter speed of about 1/60. You may need to be slower.

Background is controlled by the camera +/- exposure compensation dial as well as ISO.

Flash is too bright or dark

Remember the control for this is the SU-800 or the master setting in the pop up flash on the models having this control.