Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Workflow for a Family Portrait Session (part 1)

Workflow. We hear it all the time. What is it, and why is it important? Workflow in the photography world is literally the life cycle of an image, from pre-conception, to birth, to death, with the possibility of resurrection. It’s important to establish a workflow no matter what level of photographer you are. If you are a photographer that deals with a large quantity of customers, then an extensive and detailed workflow is essential. The point of a workflow is to stay organized and to make sure that nothing falls between the cracks. A Basic workflow looks like this.

Take Picture- Download Picture- Print Picture- Burn Picture to CD and put in Storage box.

Ya see, basic. I told you not to expect anything really crazy. Workflow is something that should be flexible enough to accommodate changes, but reliable enough that if it is interrupted, it is very easy to re-start.  For some of you brave enough to take on the task of the entire workflow, including retouching, printing, and fulfillment then I applaud you. There are some easier ways to go about it as well, and personally I would rather be shooting photographs than troubleshooting a printer, but that’s just me. Here is how I set up a workflow. Feel free to comment and add in any nuggets of information you think might be of value. Whether you are working with a client, or your own personal family photos, you need to have something to shoot. I am going to take the majority of this workflow from a Family Portrait perspective. The rest of this post will deal with Step 1, because it is a pretty big step and can lead you to success, or disaster.

Step 1: The Phone Call- You have done some type of advertising and a client has contacted you and wants to pay you money to photograph them. This is a good thing.  Right from that first phone call you need to collect as much info as possible. You need contact info, which includes phone numbers, address, e-mail, and of course their name.
You also need to determine what type of sitting this will be. Since this is a family sitting, you also need to find out how many people will be in the photograph. Other good questions to ask is if this is a special occasion, are there different group breakdowns that need to be done, and what they are wearing. It’s good to ask these types of questions because people in general don’t think about this type of stuff until the day of. This also gets them mentally prepared for the length of the session and what prints they are planning on purchasing.  The largest group that I every photographed at one time was around 120ish, and that included about 60 kids under the age of 10.  During that shoot there were 3 assistants, and 1 photographer just for the shoot and we were all exhausted afterwards. Imagine what would have happened if we hadn’t gotten that information and had planned on a family of 6. (Shudder).
What also needs to be discussed is the location. Are they photographing in-Studio or is this an “On-Location” shoot? If the family is expecting a studio, you better make sure your studio is free and large enough, or you might have to rent out a studio. Have your calendar on hand at ALL TIMES. If you are a solo- one- person show you need to get some type of a smart phone that syncs with your computer back home and that has your calendar, contacts, and an internet connection (necessary). If they are expecting an outdoor On-Location shoot, then the address and distance is also a factor.
One more thing to establish is the point of contact. Who is the Client? Who is making the decisions? In most cases, this is the matriarch of the family.  It’s just good to know who will make the decisions and who will look at you and say “I dunno”.

Put ALL this information in your calendar on the date of their sitting. Also set a little alarm to call and remind them about their session, usually the day before.
There are some specific programs out there to help you with scheduling, and I will talk about that more in my next post.

Finally, get some type of a Fee. It is a fact that if there is not a sitting fee paid, then the chances of them showing up decreases significantly. You don’t necessarily have to charge an arm and a leg, heck you could even call it a down payment on their order, but get some type of payment if you want them to show up. Now, what do you do if you are a one-person solo act, or if you are out and your credit card machine is back at the studio? This is why you need a smartphone with an internet connection. There are several great little credit card swipers that you just plug into the audio jack of your smartphone, and for a very small percentage (which is normal with credit cards) it will deposit the money into your account. Awesomeness. And here’s the thing, the card swipers are FREE, and the account is FREE!  I put a link below if anyone wants to get one and set it up.

Next Post: Session Organization Software!!!! (You’re all thrilled, I can tell)

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Family Photographs at the Temple Quarry in Little Cottonwood Canyon

Well that's quite the long title. As I am writing this I sure hope it fits. Well, yesterday Fall was out in all it's glorious splendor. There's nothing better than fall. It's my absolute favorite season. It's great for photography, it's not blazing hot, it's nice to go cycling outside, and of course Football. But I digress. I took a great family up to the Temple Quarry trail up Little Cottonwood Canyon in Salt Lake. This is a little gem that is not too well known among the general public (I am assuming this because everyone that I have taken there have never been there before). It is somewhat difficult to find if you have never been there before. So here are some directions.

Take I-215 until you come to the ski resort exits and head towards the mouth of the canyon (There are signs to guide you).
Instead of going up big cottonwood canyon, continue south on the road to head to little cottonwood canyon.
The road will fork twice. Keep left for the first fork (there is a big sign for La Caille at the first fork).
At the second "Fork" you will head right and then immediately make a left (it's not really a fork from this direction, more like a divergence).
There is a sign that says "Temple Quarry Trail Head". You pretty much park there and head down into the quarry.

Not only is this place great for photography, but also quite interesting just to walk around. Here is where all the granite for the Salt Lake Temple was quarried and then hauled to Temple Square to be finished. There are still a lot of remnants left over from this historical time period, if you know what to look for. It's also a great place to spot mountain goats, because on the south side of the canyon are amazing granite cliffs that are usually teaming with mountain goats. Unfortunately, we didn't see any yesterday, but I always look, and now that I have a 400 mm lens, I can hopefully get some great shoots.
 This is the Marsing Family, some good friends of mine. A lot of this post is so they can see some of their portraits before I mail them their disk of images. I live in Cache Valley, and they are a little bit farther south. So Salt Lake was a good place to meet up for pics. I hope you guys like em. The kids were awesome and it was the best weather we could ask for. It wasn't cold at all and the leaves had already begun to turn colors. Like I said before, I love Fall and I can't wait to take more photos.

Friday, September 21, 2012

White-Board Animation

So this little video is a project done by one of my students (Travis Gonzalez) at Stevens-Henager College in Logan Utah.  This was in our Advertising Design Class and we had to do some type of creative advertising for the Graphic Design Program. We had already done quite a few fliers and brochures and I think that if I had assigned another brochure, my students would have mutinied. So we came up with this idea. We had done something similar in another class, and Travis wanted to give it a go. So here is how we did it.

We got a regular tripod and reversed the head so that it was pointing down between the legs of the tripod (That sounds weird). It's essentially a copy stand, like in the olden days when we would photograph art work as slides. We attached the camera to the tripod and pointed it directly down (It helps if you get a level at this point. A level is a great tool to keep in your camera bag). Once everything is squared away to eliminate distortion, you place your white-board under the camera. For this project, we couldn't find a white board that would be the right size, so we used a picture frame with a piece of white matte board underneath it and cover in anti-glare glass. It worked great, but was a little harder to clean than a white board. It's also a good idea to tape down both the "white board" and the tripod to avoid movement. We did not do this, because, well I forgot the tape.
After everything is secure, the next step is to determine your exposure. You can do this using the in-camera meter or a handheld incident meter. Also set your white balance. In this video, we had some nice soft window light that worked well for this project. I would recommend getting several continuous light sources (Flourescent because you will have them on for a while and you want to stay cool) and positioning them equally on each side of the white board to allow even illumination.
Next you need to decided whether you will shoot using a card or shoot tethered to a laptop. I recommend shooting tethered because you get immediate feedback and can see if there are any issues. My favorite program for shooting tethered is Capture One Pro, by PhaseOne. It is somewhat expensive, but there are other options out there. Both Nikon and Canon have their own capture software, and even Adobe Lightroom has an option. There is a great FREE option though (for Mac Users). It's called Sofortbild. It's a German word that means Instant Picture. It's free and easy to use, and it gives you all the controls on the computer, so that you don't have to touch the camera. This is nice just because you can fire, change the aperture, shutter speed, ISO, WB, all that great stuff, from the computer.
I will do a post later on how to set up a tethered shoot and some great tips, but for right now, let's focus on the animation.
What we are trying to do here is create the illusion of motion. Have you ever flipped back and forth between two photos and it seems like there is some movement between them (the images have to be similar to do this. It won't work with a pic of the Eiffel tower and the White Cliffs of Dover). Your brain automatically puts in the missing pieces and creates the illusion of motion. What you are seeing in any film or animation are thousands of still images in sequence and they give the illusion of motion. Eadweard Muybrige was the first one to create this illusion by photographing a horse at interval using multiple cameras. What he created was the world's first animation. There's a great installation of this on the Freeway outside of Vienna on the way to Bratislava, just if you happen to be in the neighborhood.

Anyway, the more drawings you do, the smoother the animation. Here we just took a photograph every few seconds during the drawings, and with the hand motions, we would move our hands about a half inch for each frame. We kept all the images in sequence and then compiled them all in Adobe Premiere CS6 to create the final film. Hope you all enjoy.


Tuesday, September 18, 2012


If you were doing something wrong, would you want to know? Say for example, if you were aspiring to be an Olympic swimmer, and while you were doing laps in the local pool, an expert who happens to know the proper technique for swimming notices that you are doing your freestyle stroke completely wrong. Would it be very productive and helpful to you as a swimmer, if the expert tells you that your stroke is beautiful and that you shouldn’t change a thing? NO! You would train the wrong way, exhausting yourself as you swim, training the wrong muscles, and you just might drown if it’s bad enough, let alone not even come close to realizing your dream of becoming an Olympic swimmer.

Let’s apply this now to photography. Let’s say for example I come across a young aspiring photographer, or old, or not even aspiring, they could be a so-called professional.
Let’s also say this person has a facebook page that has a posting of photographs taken by said aspiring photographer. For the sake of ease and convention, I am going to reference Aspiring Photographer as Aphog. So Aphog has a facebook page that displays their images. They are not necessarily horrible, but not necessarily going to win any Pulitzer Prizes. Does it help this photographer to simply comment on their images with words such as “Breathtaking!” or “Brilliant” or “Love it, love it, love it.”, or “Can I click “Like” like a thousand times?”. Yeah, this doesn’t help them.

Now on the opposite scale, we have certain comments that also do not help. They are critical, yes, but not helpful. These are the negative comments that don’t really offer any real type of solution, such as “Horrible”, “What a piece of $#*^”, “You should choose another profession, anything but this”, etc.  There are some who feel it necessary to literally rip up the work of some photographers right in front of them. Yeah, this doesn’t help them either.

A Happy medium must be found. Constructive criticism is what helps. I had a great opportunity to study with some great photographers. Craig Law was one of them and he is the reason why I decided to study at Utah State University. On my first campus visit I showed him my portfolio and he gave me a frank and honest critique. He told me “Well, it’s not very good.” But then he proceeded to tell me why and what I could do to improve the work. This helped me immensely. I learned to love critique and looked at it as a great avenue for improving myself and my work.

So if you are ever asked for a critique, do it, but please, don’t be a jerk. Be frank and honest. Don’t be offended either. If you are receiving the critique, be gracious and humble, but also understand that you don’t have to take every suggestion given.

So back to Aphog. His facebook images were posted, and in a discreet way, (private message is best) you gave an honest critique of his work with some suggestions on how they can improve.  In an ideal situation Aphog thanks you for taking the time to look at his photographs and actually write comments. He takes some of your suggestions to heart, and in the end, becomes a better photographer and both of you learn something in the process.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Macro Photography 2

Macro Photography (#2)

Last post I talked a lot about some less expensive methods for creating some macro photography. Today I want to talk about the set-up that I use most of all. There are extension bellows that can be purchased. They range in price just like all things do, from around $50 to somewhere in the range of $500 and up (Yes, and up, I love that expression, especially when stores use that as a sales pitch. “You will at least spend $60 on anything here”). As with most things, the more expensive something is, the more features it will typically have. I had an “Extra” fifty bucks so I thought I would give it a try. I purchased a little extension bellows from eBay and when it came in the mail, I was a little disappointed, not in the quality of the product, but the size of it. It was just tiny.  Keep in mind though, I had come from using a large format view camera for my bellows, so anything smaller than that was bound to be a size disappointment.

Here is the bellows that I use. It's just a Chinese made knock-off that I picked up on eBay for about $50. You can find similar stuff on www.adorama.com, www.keh.com ,  and www.BHphotovideo.com
in different range of prices as well. This one is about as basic as you can get.

Since my bellows was on the cheap side, it basically had two things that it could do, attach a lens and a body, and extend. That’s about it, but that’s really all that I needed.
One more thing, there is literally no electronics in this piece of hardware. Because of that, it severely limited the type of lenses I could use and still maintain some degree of control.
I tried using my Sigma 400mm f4 manual focus lens, and it worked, but I was still about 3 feet away from my subject and it was very difficult to compose my subject. So I opted for a manual focus Nikon zoom film lens (43-86 mm, don’t ask me why such random numbers, that’s just how it came from Keh.com). This was a completely manual lens, and I was able to use it with my new extension bellows.

I like this set-up the most for one main reason, speed. The extension bellows was the quickest set-up with the best results. I was able to change my focus quickly and compose with ease. 

You may recognize this little guy from the movie Cars, it's Guido. My son loves squinkies and he just had a birthday and got a ton of them. So naturally after he goes to bed, I play with them. But they also make an excellent subject for Macro photography. This little dude is close to a centimeter high, and you can see the scale compared to my index finger tip.

 Yet another squinky, this time using a AA battery for scale. Here I have my lens set to f22 and a shutter around 1/4 second to get the right exposure. It's a little more difficult to compose at the smaller apertures because it's like composing in the dark. Using brighter focusing lights is a good idea at this point. Here I just used a shop light to help light Yoda. I also like the addition of the sinister Sith Lord in the back.

Reverse Lens Macro Set-up

There is one last set-up and believe me it’s about as ghetto cheap as you can get.  Here are the parts and tools required

-An old lens
-a body cap
- a lens filter (not important what kind, just as cheap as you can get it)
-dremel tool

So here’s the idea, if you reverse a lens to where the mounting of the lens is in the front instead of coupled to the camera body, you can essentially create a macro lens. If you do it right, you can use this lens in regular mode, and macro without ruining your lens.
For your first try at doing this, grab just any lens. You can pick up a cheap used lens on www.keh.com for less than $30 and give this a shot.

So here is the set up. Read all the directions before proceeding:

1.     Take the body cap, and the dremel tool and clear out all the plastic in the middle, so that you just have a circle to attach to your camera body.
2.     Grab your lens filter (fit to the size of your lens) and remove any and all glass. The only part of the filter that we need is the screw mount. That’s why it’s not important to buy a very expensive filter.
3.     Epoxy the lens filter and the dremelled body cap together making sure that the threaded edge is facing out. Allow the epoxy to dry for the recommended time (and then some, it can’t hurt to give it as much time to harden)
4.     Screw the lens in to the lens filter.
5.     Attach the lens to your camera body using the body cap.
6.     Ta da, you now have a macro lens.

Things to remember
 A: It is important in this set up to pick a lens that allows full manual controls, especially focus and aperture.
 B: Be Careful of weight distribution. Just because something is epoxied does not mean it will not fail (I know from experience). This is especially important if you are using a heavy lens that might add considerable strain to either the lens mount or the plastic body cap.
C: If you can come up with a better solution, I’m all for it, just let me know.

I hope this has proved informative and will lead to some amazing photography. Like I said, Macro photography is one of my passions and I love the miniature world. If any of you have questions, feel free to comment on this or any post.


Monday, September 10, 2012

How to do Macro Photography (Part 1)

Macro Photography is kind of the thing that I do. Although I don't photograph your typical macro subjects on a regular basis (ya know, flowers, bugs, stuff like that) I still go about it in a similar fashion. My work deals with what I like to call Macro Landscapes. I started off by trying to create little maquettes (models) of scenes from books that I had read. Mostly fantasy books like David Eddings The Elenium and stuff like that. It didn't really work as well as I would have liked, but I kept at it. Eventually I started exploring a the macro world (Macro is where what you are photographing is pretty much represented close to a 1:1 scale on the medium you are photographing with, ie Film, or your digital chip in your camera).
  There are a couple of different ways to do macro photography, and most people think you NEED an expensive macro lens. Not so. That is simply the most simple solution, but not very cost effective. There are many other set-ups that you can utilize that are a little softer on the wallet. I will be talking about a few of them here and in subsequent posts.
  My initial set-up was a little funky. I grabbed some cheap Chinese lens extenders off of eBay and used all of them on a 400mm f4 sigma manual focus lens. I was photographing some packaging from a hard drive that I had just purchased (like I said, i don't photograph the traditional macro subjects). What these extenders allowed me to do was focus closer to the subject, but it wasn't close enough for me. I was still about 5 feet away (I didn't realize this at the time, but I could have gotten closer if I had just used a shorter focal length, but you learn as you go right.)
  My second set-up was recommended by my Graduate School professor, Christopher Gauthier. This time around I took a Cambo 4x5 view camera and created a special plate for the back. I measured the size of a film holder and cut a piece of wood to match it. I then found the center of the view camera and drilled a hole the size of a lens extender (a cheap one from China. Found easily on eBay). Don't forget to check the fit of the wood in the back of the 4x5. I had to sand down the sides so that the plate would actually fit and be held in place. Next I painted the plate matte black, to prevent light reflection and contamination.
  After the paint is dry, I took the lens extender, and epoxied it on the opposite side, added weight, and let it sit for two days (the instructions said one day, but I didn't want to take any chances). By the time it was dry, I had my plate. The last step was to use some black electrical tape to seal off any light that would seep in through the epoxy. It doesn't have to be very precise where you place the tape, just secure.
  At this point, I attach my Nikon D7000 to the plate and attach it to the back of my Cambo 4x5 view camera.  Because the view camera has a focal length of 135 mm, and the addition of the bellows, I was able to get roughly 12-16 inches of space between the lens and the chip. Because of this extra space, I essentially turned the 135 mm lens of the view camera into a macro lens for a 35 mm digital SLR camera. To a normal 4x5 sheet of film, it would have acted like a normal lens in comparison, but with the smaller chip format, I was able to focus VERY close to my subjects, sometimes, less than a centimeter away.
  I used this format for quite some time, but it was very bulky and difficult to focus and compose with. Other tools came along later that helped with the process, but I will talk about that in later posts. I will also posts pics of some of my set-ups just in case anyone wants to try it out.
Thanks for reading.