Last week I was talking on the phone with my mother and she mentioned that the most recent photo she had of me is over 6 years old. As photographers we never think much about going in front of the camera. It’s not that I don’t like getting my picture taken or have some kind of phobia about it… I’ve helped out a lot of friends with shoots and have been a model in some cases. So I asked a few close friends if they would be willing to set aside a small amount of time to take a portrait of me. I offered a trade of services, a portrait for a portrait but I understood that they were working professionals and may not be able to make the time. So to keep my options open, I decided to place an ad on Craigslist to see what the local area had to offer. I knew I would have to pay for quality and I said that I would pay “Market rates.”
What happened next sincerely horrified me.
I promptly received 30+ emails from people claiming to be “Professional Photographers” and offering me their services for as low as $55.00 for a 2 hour session with 5 poses and all images on a CD. NO career can be sustained on one off 55.00 jobs and that doesn’t even begin to cover your operating expenses let alone pay you a living wage. Not only that, the people that are offering such rock-bottom rates are hurting the local market by lowering people’s expectations and standards of photography.
Not all of the photographers were bad or anything, some of them were pretty good but were charging far too little. Turning the tables like that has opened my eyes on what it’s like to be one of my own clients. Not all but most of the websites were terrible, a flickr page or completely unusable. The emails were extremely unprofessional and poorly written. Some of them didn’t even contain links to portfolios, they just had attached photos. Photography is a service industry – first impressions, even via email are EXTREMELY important.
If you are unsure what to charge for your photography services PLEASE go here and figure out your operating expenses and then ask around about what other photographers charge in your area. You are doing no favors to anyone by being “The cheapest” and you certainly don’t want that to be your reputation. You get what you pay for and this venn diagram sums it up nicely:
When you’re getting ready for a shoot it’s very important to stay very organized. You probably have a lot of equipment that needs to be looked after and kept in one place, and it can be difficult to keep track of everything.
Before any shoot I make up a check-list in word or office that itemizes every piece of equipment that I will be bringing along on the shoot. It lists everything from cameras and lenses to clamps and gaffers tape. Then I have at least 4 other columns where I go through the check list and each point it travels. A check for loading up before the shoot, a check for arriving on location, a check for the end of the day and a check for unloading back at my studio. This will save your little pieces of equipment and save you some money in replacing those little pieces in case you leave them at your shoot location.
The following example is a check list for a video I’m shooting this month for a local healthcare organization:
This is just the first page, as the second page lists all of my cables that are required as well as flags and other misc grip gear. Your check list will probably go through a few drafts, so don’t make it the night before the shoot. Carry around a little notebook with you not only to write down ideas but to remind yourself of items that need to be added to your list. It will save you a lot of trouble in the long run.
If you’re new to the world of professional photography, you probably have a lot of questions. If you’ve been in the game for some time now, you’ve probably noticed that things are changing.
So what follows is the first of 2 parts on my advice on how to survive in these times of 65 megapixel cameras, VDSLRs and social media.
1. Know how to use your camera
When we get a new camera, we’re excited. We run outside or to the studio with it and shoot great pictures. The thing is, there’s a lot your camera can do that will not only make your pictures better, but there’s a lot your camera can do besides taking pictures. Open the manual. Read it from cover to cover. Know what to do when you get that “ERROR34″ code. You will feel much more confident in your ability to shoot, problem solve, and you will generally handle yourself in a more professional manner.
2. Shoot constantly
With your manual all worn out and dog-eared, you can now begin to shoot. Shoot everything, take your camera everywhere. If your camera’s too big or too heavy, invest in a point shoot with a manual mode so you can keep your eye and skills sharp. Camera phones work fine for this as well, as long as you shoot constantly.
3. Shoot RAW
RAW is the most powerful file format for digital cameras. The editing possibilities are endless. There are plenty of free RAW converters out there, and Adobe’s Camera RAW is second to none. Learn it, use it, feel the power.
4. Know what you’re good at
In the beginning, you shoot everything. Portraits, still life, landscape. You need to specialize and develop a look for that specialty, or you won’t get hired. You can’t be good at everything, so you should focus on one area and master it.
5. Multiple Revenue streams
So you shoot portraits, what else can you do to make more money? You could try and teach a class on it, you could look into stock photography or you could have a gallery show. Find other ways to make money on your talent and ability. Teaching and seminars or lectures can be very rewarding, and a lot of schools and organizations need speakers on digital media because it’s changing so much and becoming so big. Stock photography, if you can get into it, can make you money on your photos while you focus on other things. It’s not guaranteed to pay your mortgage but it’s a good way to get your images in the public eye. Another thing is galleries, look into exhibition space in your area and what you have to do to get involved. There are many other ways to make money on your photography, sit back and brainstorm.
6. Never sell yourself short.
Set your rates and stay firm about them. You should never be ashamed of what you charge, you should come out and say them right away. You offer a great service at a great rate. NEVER give a “ballpark estimate.” You will miss something and end up under-cutting yourself. In these times you may need to be a bit flexible for yourself. Set a minimum and work for no less. If you’re not sure what to charge do some research on your competition. Don’t be a jerk and undercut everyone else. Be fair to yourself. As soon as you start shooting portraits for 50.00 you not only hurt yourself, but you hurt the market.
On friday I will post Part II. Stay tuned!
Even in this digital age photography is still primarily used as a print medium. Sure we have websites to send potential clients to to get a taste of our work and style, but if they want to hire you, they are going to ask to see your “book.”
The Epson Stylus Pro 3800 is the best printer I have ever used, it’s fast it creates beautiful prints and it’s easy to use. It’s expensive, but you can go to printing labs that have them and specify what you need.
Prepping photos for web use and print use are two totally different beasts. Your photos on the web are seen on monitors, all of which are calibrated differently for color and contrast. So in order to make the best prints possible, you need to get details in your shadows while controlling your highlights. This of course, starts with your exposure.
Expose for the print
When you’re shooting RAW you have always been taught to “expose to the right” which is getting as much information to the right side of the histogram as possible. This is very important when it comes to making prints.
You don’t want the histogram to clip on either the left or right side, this results in a loss of data or in print terms, a loss of detail.
If you lose detail in the shadows, your print will come out with pure black areas. This looks strange, but not nearly as strange as loss of highlight detail – the printer will actually not print on a highlight area of 255, it will simply leave it as whatever paper surface you used. This will look very strange.
Adjustments in Adobe Camera RAW
The first thing you will want to do with your RAW file is change your workflow options which is the blue line of text on the ACR screen. I use ProPhoto as a color space because it gives me the most color options even though printers can’t print the color range of ProPhoto yet. You want your bit-depth to be 16-bit, and you do NOT want it set to sharpen anything.
Now adjusting your highlights and shadows really depends on what kinf of paper you will use. I prefer Epson’s 5-star premium luster photo paper. So to print for that, your shadows should be no lower that 12-15 in RGB. You can adjust your blacks by adjusting the “Blacks” slider. Camera RAW’s default is 5, and if you shot at a low ISO you can safely reduce this with minimal noise. You can also adjust the “Brightness” slider which isn’t as effective but it works if your at 0 in your “Blacks” slider and still need to get detail back. Be wary of your highlights though. The “Fill Light” slider works well, but you will get crazy noise in your shadows if you go beyond 20. If your printing on Matte paper, your shadows will need to be higher, no lower than 20. Matte paper absorbs more ink, so you will lose that detail fast.
As far as highlights go, if you want to retain detail and not got that weird not-quite-blown-out look, you should keep your highlights around 240, 245. You can use the “Recovery” slider, but it won’t really bring your detail back – it simply adds magenta to the overall image, which will also gray it out the rest of your colors if you get carried away. It’s a good rule of thumb to not use the slider beyond 25. All of this adjusting is done to get as much information to the right side of the histogram as possible, without clipping anything.
All digital images need sharpening. You can do this in Adobe Camera RAW by using the “Clarity” slider, but if you plan to make any local adjustments it’s probably best to do the sharpening in Photoshop. There are a variety of sharpening methods in Photoshop such as the “unsharp mask” and my personal favorite, “smart sharpen.” These work well for different things, but they can both be masked out to sharpen certain areas a certain amount. DO NOT use the “Sharpen” button or the “Sharpen edges” button. They give you absolutely no control. Sharpening can be tricky, you need to watch the fine details such as the hair or eye-lashes when you’re working. A good rule of thumb is sharpen it to the point where it looks a little strange on the screen – the image will print slightly softer.
The rest is all trial and error. Learning by doing. Try different papers, different printers. These are just basic rules, and rules were meant to be broken. Learn these rules well before you explore outside of these boundries. Then, you can clip your blacks. Clip your highlights. Get the right look for you.
Studio lighting or lighting you control can be a beast. Some of you may already know this visually, but are unaware of the technical way of things. So this will serve as a basic introduction to the qualities of light. Todays topic: Light Source sizes.
A small light source, such as a single light bulb or a high lamp post will give you very harsh and contrasty shadows. This may sound familiar to some, and they may be thinking of the noon sun. The sun is billions of miles across, so how could it be a small source?? The answer is because it’s a million miles away. You can setup any light source at a great distance to give it a “Small” light source effect.
Notice the sharp shadow that her nose makes, and how the shadow is very distinct and has hard lines.
If you are using a single light bulb, you can simply move your light source closer to your model, effectively increasing it’s size and softening the shadows… but I wouldn’t recommend this. You would have to have a lightbulb only about two to three feet away from your model, and it might make them hot or uncomfortable. If you are using a clamp lamp, the kind you can purchase at a hardware store, you can simply put the reflector dish on it, which increases it’s size.
Notice that the shadows on her nose and arms get softer at the edges. It’s very important to not simply write off what I said about moving your light source. While moving your single bulb two feet from your model is inappropriate in this situation, the distance of your light source to your subject is *ALWAYS* the key, and should be first in your checklist when you are trouble shooting.
A large light source will give you shadows that are very soft on all the edges, and barely noticeable all together. A large source can be a small light source that is very far away, or a strobe with a soft box attached or a clamp lamp reflecting light off of a large flat surface.
If you are reflecting light, your light source will effectively take on the size of the surface you are reflecting it from, which will give you soft gorgeous light complete with soft shadows.
Something that’s a lot of fun to do is to “Paint” with a light source. Turn off your lights, set your camera to a long exposure (at least 10 seconds) and “Paint” your subject with a flashlight or other source.
Doing this will not only give you a cool looking photograph, but it actually gives you complete control over your light and shadows. While it is difficult to master, you can sculpt some very interesting light using this technique.
The important things to remember are this: A small or far away light source will give you sharp shadows and brilliant highlights. A large light source will give you soft, soft, soft everything. A medium size source is in between. Distance from your light source to your subject is always a solution. Keep your models happy.
At some point, you are going to ask yourself a very important question: “Am I a studio light or natural light photographer?”
Each type of lighting has it’s own characteristics and benefits. Studio lighting is customizable, professional, and allows you to capture nearly everything you need the lighting for. Natural light is beautiful, available, classic and impossible to replicate.
Unfortunately, each type of lighting has a downside as well; Studio lights are cumbersome and difficult to transport, they need a power source, they are expensive, and they take time to set up. Natural light is uncontrollable, so your at the mercy of your environment.
I’m a big fan of natural light – Something about it just feels so right, and like I said above, you can’t replicate natural light in a studio. Let me introduce you to the most common lighting situations you will face out in the world.
Shooting at 12 noon will give you very hot or orange/yellow light. Since the sun is at it’s highest point in the sky, you will get very bright highlights and very dark shadows. Not saying it’s impossible to shoot it – I’m just saying you will have a hell of a time getting decent detail in both the shadows and the highlights unless you use a reflector or a fill-flash of some kind or you’re willing to work a little photoshop HDR magic.
However, this type of lighting takes up a large chunk of the day – from about 10am to about 4pm, so it’s convenient to shoot in. Which brings us to our next type of natural light:
If the mid-day sun is too much for you to handle, try moving your subject under a tree. It’s so simple – the leaves and brunches take out the intensity of the sun enough so your subject doesn’t have to squint, and you get beautiful patterns of light all over your photo. If you use these patterns properly – like placing a highlight directly on your subjects face, it can work very well for you.
Warm vs. Cold
The best time of day to shoot is bright and early – between 5 and 7am, and later in the day before sunset. Morning light is significantly cooler or bluer than evening light. And you won’t get the harsh shadows created by noon light. If you shoot about an hour before sunset, you will capture a magical mood – in the film industry known as the “Golden Hour” because everything takes on an angelic glow – it’s beautiful, but you have to be prepared and work fast – you lose light very quickly during sunset.
This photo was taken in a gazebo around 6pm:
And this next photo is the same model, but taken much earlier in the morning:
You can also get a similarly cold look from shooting in the shade or on a cloudy day. Each image cold and warm has it’s own feeling that you can utilize however you wish.
I’ve saved the best for last. At any time of the day you can get what I consider to be the most beautiful lighting in the world… window light.
In all it’s simplicity, window light sure is versatile. You can place your subject right next to the window for more pronounced shadows and highlights or you can move your subject several feet from the window and get a much softer diffused light.
And depending on the time of day, the thickness of the glass, the weather, etc – it will all change, which makes it not only very accessible but also very exciting to work with. You’ll never really know quite what you will get, but it will always be beautiful.