Monday, November 23, 2009
"The pictures came, but we were very disappointed in them."
I took a deep breath, in and out, then read on to the specifics. Her issues were largely well founded. Yes, that image was blurry. Yes, that image in the church was dark. Of course, they didn't get any blurrier or darker than the proofs she saw when she placed the order. And she didn't choose the plethora of well executed photographs tat were available to her. But her selection and expectation of spontaneous image improvement aside, the real issue is that I included photos in the proofing gallery that didn't meet my standards for technical merit.
Yes, I knew the image was blurry then, just like it is now. And I knew the other was too dark, just like it is now. Photoshop can only save the minor imperfections. It can't create clean, noiseless images from a near-lightless church with no artificial lighting allowed. It can't make the best smiles of the couple happen only on the sharpest of images.
So, some of the images the mother-in-law selected did not meet my technical standards. I shouldn't have included them in the gallery. But I received many opinions to the contrary. "Include them, they're cute, the couple might want them." That's the problem. They (or the mother-in-law) did want them. But they wanted the beautiful images they were imagining when they looked at my poorly botched photographs. Just Photoshop it? Really, no.
I learned a lesson. Yes, I'm still smarting from a client's criticism, but the lesson is still a fair and simple one I think: don't post images if they aren't good images. If I tried to take a photograph of an important moment, but only came away with a technically poor representation, I simply missed the moment. Sure, maybe in some spectacular forensic cases a blurry image could be worth a mint. But not at a wedding.
I have to be willing to accept that I either got the shot, or I didn't get the shot. As I get better at what I do, I hope the number of times I miss a shot declines. But when I miss the shot again, I most certainly will not wrap it in a bow of wishful thinking, sprinkle it with Photoshop filters, and post it for a client to purchase because "it was almost a cute shot".
I was my harshest critic. I'm back.
Friday, August 28, 2009
I'm looking forward to it. I feel confident I can come away with some photos that capture how special the day was, and how special this couple is. It means a lot to me to get this shoot right. I have been reading books and studying photographs at every chance I get. I have asked my friend to look for any iconic photos from his parents' wedding that we might want to recreate tomorrow. I have also found some period-correct examples of couples poses that I want to try. To wrap it up, I hope to get a photo of the entire clan.
Time to get the gear set up and practice. Maybe after this shoot I'll find a glimmer of satisfaction.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
The other day I was talking with a wedding photographer who has many years of experience. During the conversation, I mentioned that although I (generally) like my images, I'm not satisfied with my photography. Her response was to the point:
"Get used to it."
Yeah, I get it. It comes with the territory, and I'm fine with that. I figure that if I ever felt satisfied with my work, then I would be done with photography; there would be no more challenge for me. Realistically, though, there is infinite challenge if I choose to open my eyes to it.
Since I started with my old Minolta X-370, the quality of my photographs has consistently improved. People started to comment on them politely, then they started to really mean their compliments. I upgraded equipment, shot lots more, and got more positive feedback. I liked my photographs, and thought others would too, so with much encouragement I started my professional practice.
I'm serious about it, so I study, read, and practice. And the more I do, the less satisfied I am. My shots aren't as sharp as I want them to be. Or the lighting is bad, with an unfortunate shadow appearing where I failed to notice it in my viewfinder. Whatever the reason, the more I learn the less satisfied I am in my work. But isn't that actually just a sign that I am indeed learning? I am learning what constitutes a good photograph, with good composition and good lighting and good exposure. I am also learning more about what I like in terms of a photographic style, and perhaps starting to define my own.
So now, after many years of ever-improving photography, my skills have seemingly regressed. I feel like I'm only just beginning to understand what I'm doing with my camera, and what's possible. Everything is in question, and I struggle with every image. I study the work of others, wondering if I can ever achieve that level of competence. Intellectually, though, I know that these insecurities are actually just the telltales that I'm growing and learning and seeing more.
I'm not satisfied, and I'm glad.
Friday, August 21, 2009
* I need people to model for me so I can experiment and gain focused experience
* I don't have the bankroll to pay models for their time
A photographer acquaintance's web site gave me the answer: TFP = Time For Prints
This is exactly the solution I was thinking of, but I had no idea it had been institutionalized enough to ave a name. In essence, TFP is a bartering arrangement between photographers and models. That is, photographers who need models to practice connect with models who need experience in front of the camera and shots for a portfolio. No cash exchanged.
I am all about this bartering arrangement, and looking into how I get such a thing rolling. More news as I progress...
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
The models were predictably attractive and well-practiced at being photographed. What surprised me was how good these photographers were. Even the guys who seemed to struggle with the shot assignments came away with some spectacular images. I didn't pay enough attention at the start to hear about anyone's credentials, so all I know about them is that they weren't professional photographers. Now, maybe they had some behind-the-scenes pro guidance? Or maybe they were pros posing as amateurs? Or maybe they're just that freakin' good?
Whatever the case, I was impressed and inspired. The techniques they used, the direction they gave, and the confidence they had got me thinking about the few posed sessions I have done so far. With their example in mind, I have a lot of ideas for improving my photography. I'm anxious to do my next shoot to give these ideas a try.
Could be a bit tough - my next shoot is with a horse...
Monday, July 20, 2009
About a month ago we shot Kelly's wedding at the Army Navy Country Club. Everything went great: the wedding went smoothly and was very nice, and the reception was a ton of fun. The band (The Joker's Wild Swing Band: 301-775-7641) was outstanding, playing a fantastic mix of dance music that had the dance floor busy all night. Between my brother, my son and I, we shot about 3,000 photos of the wedding and reception. That seems to be emerging as a standard for us. Now, after a few weeks of getting derailed, we're in the middle of editing. We should finish these in the next week or so, and then start prepping for a wedding at the Naval Academy.
Thursday, June 11, 2009
Discussion: For years I have been taking candid photos, mostly at events that had many people in attendance. Nobody paid me much mind; they went about their business as if I didn't exist. Oh sure, sometimes they would notice me and give the "creeping me out" expression, but generally my camera changed nothing. But when people hire you to take candid photos, they become hypersensitive to your presence, and start performing for you. I suppose culturally we're trained to "smile for the camera", so when we know there is one around, and especially one we have paid for, we pose and smile at the mere hint of a pending shutter click. Poof, away goes the "candid".
Corollary: Candid photos can only happen when the subject is more interested in their natural activity than they are in the camera.
Discussion: Get the subject distracted with an activity. But it has to be an activity that occupies their attention to the point that they forget that there is a camera in their vicinity. I did a session with a wonderful family over the weekend, focusing on their young son. For almost an hour he did his best to smile whenever he saw my camera up, or on command, or just spontaneously. The whole time he was checking to see where I was, and what I was doing with my camera. His smiles reflected his preoccupation with the camera. It wasn't until near the end of the shoot that he forgot about me. It was the swing that did it. His dad pushed him on a swing, and was goofing around with him. Sure, it was prompting, but the son forgot that I was there and was just reacting to the swing and his dad. Finally, a genuine smile. It was worth the wait.
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
I took my son with me to a family portrait session on Sunday. He's a theater lighting major at Virginia Tech, and helps with the lighting, equipment, logistics, etc. He has a good eye. When he's not hauling gear or adjusting lights, he uses a spare camera I have and shoots with me.
For this session, I kept the family's attention, setting and taking the posed shots. He wandered around and took the ones we really wanted - the candids. The family wanted both posed and "real" shots. However, they were very aware of the cameras, and good candids were difficult to find. Their dogs, on the other hand, couldn't have cared less about us. So my son was able to grab some great candids of their dogs having fun.
Now I just have to figure out how to get my clients to ignore me like dogs do...
The other day I was taking photographs of two women on their horses. Although they were jumping the horses, I didn't want a "sports" shot. I was looking for a portrait of them while jumping. Not much distinction maybe, but for me that means I needed a very shallow depth of field. Specifically, I wanted the rider and the horse to be in sharp focus, and the background to be as diffuse as possible. No prob, I brought out my sweet 50mm f/1.4 lens. It was a sunny day, so I was at ISO 100. I like to shoot in aperture priority mode, so I set for f1.4 and checked my exposure. Not good. Too sunny, the shutter speed couldn't go high enough to compensate. I ended up at f/3.5, 1/2500 at ISO 100. The histogram was good, and the display looked ok. I checked my DOF calculator app on my iTouch and determined that my depth of field was about 10 feet, from 20 feet to 30 feet away. Perfect.
So I shot the session with those general settings, making minor adjustments as the sun went in and out. When I got home and reviewed the photos, the exposures were all great. But I was unhappy with depth of field. With the sun, I had no choice but to move up to f/3.5. But even at that aperture I expected some diffusion in the background. Nope. The background was sharp as a tack. This is not the way I like my portraits.
So what went wrong? I checked in with my local Penn Camera guy and, after spending some money, asked him what he thought. His answer elevated my understanding of depth of field quite a bit. The problem was distance to the subject.
Using my 50mm, I had to be about 25 feet away from the jump to get all of the rider and horse in the frame. That's in the range of infinity for the 50mm lens. That is, the autofocus set the lens to infinity focus. As my Penn guy reminded me, by definition when the focus is set to infinity everything in the background is in focus. My calculator didn't remind me of that fundamental principle. In order to get some diffusion in the background, I had to be closer to the subject. But then I couldn't fit the subject in the frame.
The ultimate answer: bad choice of lens. What I should have used was my 70-200mm f/4L. Now when I take my test shots, I'll look to see where I am on focus and adjust so I'm not at infinity. Another valuable lesson learned. So will I relegate my 50mm to the bottom of my camera bag. No way hoser. I'm shooting an indoor wedding on Saturday. I'll be in dim light, where every stop counts so my aperture will be f/1.4 for sure. I'll be about 25 feet away from the couple, which puts me at infinity for focus, which makes everything sharp on the alter, which is exactly what I want.
Now I just need to get out to the horse farm again and re-shoot that session with the right lens.
Monday, June 8, 2009
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
I had a client recently who, after viewing their photos, remarked "Some I don't care for, but [there are] several that I LOVE!!!". This is very positive feedback, and I should take it as that. In fact, I think this might be the ideal client response.
But I'm struggling to get past the first five words:
"Some I don't care for"
I don't care for asparagus. That's what Mom said we should say when we disliked something beyond polite description. Just push it to the side of your plate and, if asked, simply state "I don't care for it". I'm not a huge fan of yams, but I'll eat one if pressed, just to be polite. I am definitely into a good Russet potato. So I simply say "I prefer a Russet to a yam". I reserve the "don't care for" phrase for those things that will find their place on the side of my plate.
In fairness, the client was direct and clear about their feedback on the photos I took. I value that, and appreciate the candor. I don't expect every client will fawn over every shot I present. I hope I am creative enough that I always get some mixed reaction. And I like that everyone sees something different in every photograph. So a polite rejection of an image is something I expect and can take in stride (probably). And truth be told, there are some photos in this client's collection that I prefer over others.
I'm going to have to get past the thought of some of my photographs being pushed to the side of the plate. Besides, I'm sure somebody likes asparagus.
Sunday, May 31, 2009
A neighborhood friend, who is due in three weeks, asked me to take some photos of her before she gives birth. New territory for me, and a fun challenge. She and her husband were terrific - patient, easy to work with, and engaged in the process. The result is some of the best work I have ever done. A milestone in the evolution of my practice. Today I feel like a professional.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Saturday, May 23, 2009
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Monday, May 11, 2009
This little guy moves around very quickly, and it's hard to get a good photograph of him. But when he stops, it's magic.
We were asked to take lots of shots with the sponsoring businesses in the background. Looney's was the primary sponsor this year, so they feature prominently in many shots. We also took lots of shots of runners finishing; seeing themselves on the race website (http://musicalmadness.wikispaces.com) may entice them to come again next year. We even had a list of local celebrities and sponsors who were running so we could be sure to photograph them. So this was more of a commercial shoot than anything I have done before. It was very limiting in some respects. But I took my opportunities to find some fun images. One of my favorites was the start of the kids' 1K fun race. So much energy, so many comically large t-shirts.
Friday, May 8, 2009
Now it's time to make one more backup of my work spaces for this wedding, then clean up and get ready for the next one in a few weeks. In the meantime, some event and portrait work, and plenty of practice, study, and planning.
Thursday, May 7, 2009
Besides photographing plays at my kids' old high school, I also capture images of the music concerts. Both spring and fall (and sometimes winter), I take photos of all of the performances. This past Tuesday was the first of the two-night Spring concert series. I had my camera with me, and got shots of the mixed choir, percussion ensemble, concert band, and orchestra.
I'm very careful when I shoot concerts (and I have shot a lot over 9 years). I pick loud moments so my shutter actuation isn't so noticeable. And I slump in my chair so I'm not as conspicuous. On Tuesday another guy was shooting, but he was less discrete. He likes to shoot bracketed, so he gets three shutter actuations per shot (he might do this manually, I'm not sure). And he shoots a lot. Mostly of the same thing. While I took 80 shots over the concert night, I'm pretty sure he was close to 800. His camera is loud as well, adding to the effect.
I proposed to the directors (who are also my close friends) that maybe I shouldn't shoot at concerts any more, to avoid causing the noise. And when I said "I", I really meant the other guy too. Of the three directors, one said he never noticed the shutter noise, and it wasn't a problem; one observed that the noise wasn't on the recording (but conspicuously didn;t answer my question directly); and one didn't respond. I'm not sure what to do at tonight's "Spring Concert, Part 2". But I'll bring my camera, just in case, and see what the vibe is. If its not right, I'll leave my camera in the bag. Yeah, not too likely.
On the photo above from Tuesday, note that the Concert Mistress' bow is starting to shred. As hard as she worked, it's a wonder there was anything left. Had she lost the bow completely, the time-honored tradition in string sections is for the musician to turn around and take the instrument (or bow) from the musician behind them. They do that in turn to the person behind them. When it's done, the only person left without an instrument is in the back row, and is typically a less impactful loss. Certainly, Tuesday's performance of Tchaikovsky could not have continued without the first violin. But the instrument swap wasn't needed; she just yanked the broken fibers out of her bow and played on.
Monday, May 4, 2009
On the other hand, sometimes the standards I put on myself cause me to reject what are to others perfectly fine photographs. That is, they're technically well executed by not my vision of art. When it comes to art, what I like is not necessarily what others like. I read an article the other day on the importance of pursuing your vision for photography, not what everyone else wants from you. I think that's wise guidance, and I subscribe to it. But at the same time, I'm sure I'm too critical of some of my images. In fact, by not showing some of these images to my client, perhaps I'm diluting the value I'm giving them. So, sometimes I have to not let go.
The photo below is an example of both. Technically, it's poorly executed. It's not crisp, it's grainy, and poorly exposed (this was shot in the rain at 7:30PM from about 50 yards away). Right, into the trash it goes. But it's really a great moment. Abby Wambach, the stellar forward for the Washington Freedom, has won the header Nikki Cross of the St. Louis Athletica, as Nikki is left only to take the full impact of Abby's 5'11" frame. This is the kind of moment, the art that I'm looking for when I shoot sports. So it's a keeper because the action is so intense. But it's such a crappy shot that I should really let it go.
I'm going to have to figure out what my decision points are, and quickly. With my 600 shots from the wedding, and 15,00 total from the team, I can't agonize over each shot or I'll never finish touch-ups. Ok, for this one, I'll...
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
This post has nothing to do with photography, except that I took photos.
As part of the school's production of Into the Woods, the giant's hen is supposed to make an entrance, and lay a golden egg. The director asked if radio control was an option. Oh yes!
Matt built the framework, and handled the electronics. We had enough radio control gear in the workshop to handle the task. We gave the hen a test run on stage to see how it worked. Not bad! (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Y6IhlNMk_8) With Matt back at VT, I took on carving the head, making the fiberglass shell, and mating up the chassis with the hen's body. A very talented student at the school took care of the paint job.
The hen worked perfectly for every show. Each time it made an entrance the audience laughed. They laughed again when it "ran away" for its exit. Perfect.
Shooting in low light situations has always frustrated me. I like to focus on capturing the moment, and not have to worry about the light. Ironic, since photography is all about capturing light. I recently read an excellent book on lighting ("Light: Science and Magic: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting") and have started to get past my frustration.
For many years I have photographed theatrical performances at my kids' high school. I still do, although my kids are now in college. Well, to be clear, I also build a lot of the sets, help out with lighting and special effects, and maintain the stage workshop. This past week the school ran 5 performances of the musical "Into the Woods". I am part of a small crew that spent the last three months building sets for it, so it was a big weekend for us. I took photos at the dress rehearsal and all five performances. Despite all of the lighting equipment (including some wicked awesome wireless DMX dimmers) there is precious little light for photography in these shows. Using my new book learnin', I took a considered approach to photographing this production.
First, I stopped fooling myself into thinking I could get away from ISO 1600. I hate the noise that comes with it, but I hate blurry and underexposed photos even more. So I got myself a noise reducing filter for Photoshop and cranked up the ISO.
Then, I set my aperture as wide open as I could. For my 28-70mm lens, that's f2.8, while my 70-200mm lens is F4 (both are constant throughout the focal range). I like shooting that way anyway - I dig shallow depth of field.
For shutter speed, I respect the old school rule of setting your shutter speed at least as fast as the reciprocal of the focal length. So at a focal length of 100mm, I had to have my shutter at least at 1/100th. But, not really. I have a pretty steady hand, and a monopod. So I cheated down a bit and shot most at 1/60th. That got me pretty close to proper exposure - at least close enough that a stop or so of adjustment in Photoshop got me right.
I was very careful to time my shots well. In photographing musicals, it's very easy to get people with their jaws gaping open, or with a funny fish face. Singing is not a photogenic activity. I also chose based on movement. Knowing that I was shooting at 1/60th, any movement on stage would blur. So I was patient, positioned myself well, and took well considered shots.
I shot everyting in RAW, as is my practice. That gives me the opportunity to corret exposure and white balance - both critical in photographing musicals. The trick is to adjust the color so it looks right, but doesn't undo all of the artistic work done by the lighting designer.
Afterwards, I went through my newly developed work flow to rate, process, and touch up the images. My noise filter worked its magic, and reduced noise to a level that I can deal with. The camera did a nice job with auto white balance, so a little work there along with cropping and I ended up with a nice set of photos.
The lesson learned (or maybe reinforced is better) is that you can't cheat the light. It is what it is, and you have to adjust your camera for it, or suffer from weak images. The images of Into the Woods are the best I have ever taken of a musical. So I'm going to stick with this approach in low light conditions.
A sampling of shots from the production are on my web site at http://www.briankdonnelly.com under the "Plays" link. You can also compare them to some shots I took of the school's production of Damn Yankees some time ago.
Sunday, April 19, 2009
The wedding yesterday went well, about as well as I hoped it would and way better than I feared it might. It was a fairly small affair, with around 100 people attending. With this being my first wedding shoot, I have countless lines of thought in reflection, but most are not blog-worthy. They're simply learnings. But there were still some things to blog about.
Preparation: We were over prepared for sure. But with this being the first time, we didn't know when we had prepped enough. So we just kept at it. In the end, we had everything we needed, had made all the right people connections, and knew everything we needed to know. We had invested some time in worksheets (i.e. shot lists) that were useful, but we had gone overboard and didn't need a lot of what we did. It's not engineering, you just have to roll with it sometimes.
Planning: We planned a LOT. We each knew exactly what we needed to do, and when to do it. We had done mental dry-runs, and had hours of coordinating discussions beforehand to understand how it all worked together. Of course, the plans didn't go quite as planned, but we had planned for that. A good example: the bride had asked for a large number of family photographs to be taken at the church in the hour immediately before the ceremony. We made it through the bride's family in the first half of the hour (right on schedule), but (as we had counseled) the wedding-day coordinator and the bride and the bride's attendants/sisters all realized that with people filing into the church, we needed to put family photos on hold. We figured this would happen, and had already scoped out a place at the reception location as an alternate photo location. Two very important factors here: we invested time on a comprehensive plan, and we were flexible enough to roll when rolling was needed.
People: At 100 attending, it wasn't a huge crush of people. The bride and groom were experienced in life (not much younger than I), which led to a more mature demographic trend in the attendees. During the wedding, they were very well behaved, bordering on sedate. Not much changed at the reception! Fortunately, the bride's sisters knew how to have fun, and did so. The bride's mom, widowed just a few weeks ago, was also full of personality. Amazing. Although she is very experienced at life, she was on the dance floor often. Few men danced at all; the dance floor was almost exclusively women, and always featured the bride's sisters. A few young kids played at the cheesy colored light balls and foggers the DJ was sporting, and chased the bubbles from the bubble machines. Yeah, that DJ brought the house down! I mean mean down. Down to silence, twice. Yes, this poor DJ, a meek gradmotherly type, had her gear shut down on her twice. Silence for 5 minutes each time. Now that's a serous reception buzz-kill. Not much to photograph then, except the long line at the bar.
Equipment: We had everything we needed and with one exception, it all wored great. One of the two strobes we had on the corners of the dance floor blew a fuse three times. The third time we just left it alone and carried on without. When you buy "Cowboy" brand lighting equipment, you can expect some issues. I see Alien Bees coming our way after a few more bookings. The investment in flash brackets, radio triggers, and external flash batteries proved to be worth the pain. I'm glad we spent to money. We got many positive comments on our use of tethering during the post-ceremony shots. To make sure each shot was good, I connected my camera to my Mac laptop, and viewed each shot while I took it through the tethering utility. The wedding coordinator (and brides BFF) and a few sisters watched the screen with me and we all decided when we liked the shot. Some vets of the biz may be agast, but we found this to be a big plus. A few times we saw small flaws and reshot, someting I would have missed if it was just me looking at the camera's screen. The groom metioned later in the day that he was very impressed with how we were doing QA on the photos as we took them to make sure they were good. We'll make this a standard practice. It's easy, works great, and (based on my statistical sample of one) the clients love it.
Operations: I rented a backup camera, a 40D just like mine, with a nice 24-105mm f4L IS lens. I gave it to Matt, my assistant/son, to use so long as my gear worked. So we had three photographers most of the time. Overkill for a wedding of this size, but handy at times. Kevin (#2) and I (#1) worked the front of the church during the service. For the procession, Kevin shot from the back/staging area and I took the aisle shots. Matt (#3) roamed around taking random shots until the bride was ready to enter. Then e went to the balcony and shot from there as she walked down the aisle. After the ceremony, Matt handled ligting adjustments, Kevin arranged the groups of people, and I shot. Perfect. At the reception, we found that we were getting in each others shots a lot. Really, one photographer could have covered that reception. But we had three, so we just managed.
The programmed part of the reception was over pretty quickly, so it was essentially people sitting and talking, people standing and drinking, or people dancing for the rest of the night. The crowd thinned quickly to about half, so with three potographers, it was about a 1:15 ratio. We quickly ran out of new things to shoot, and just focused on capturing people doing interesting things. As the eening wore on, and the booze settled in, more interesting things happened. ut it was still pretty sedate as far as receptions go. When something fun did happen, it was like Brittany Spears leaving a rehab center - our flashes and stobes lit up the night.
Between the three of us, we took a little under 2,000 photographs for the day. That should boil down to about 200 keepers, and maybe 50 we're really happy with. At least, I'm hoping it's that many. Now it's time to do the sorting, rating, and winnowing before we jump into Photoshop for minor corrections, cropping, etc. Our web site (through BluDomain) is underway, and should be up in time to deliver the proofs of this wedding to the clients.
First wedding, done.
Thursday, April 16, 2009
It seems to me that, just like the computer industry, the manufacturers of camera equipment should develop and embrace more open standards. Yes, that would probably have an impact on sales of some peripheral items, as consumers would have choice. But forcing someone to buy an inferior product because nothing better works with the platform is bad for business in the long run.
My Canon camera uses CF cards, and my business partner's Nikon uses the same cards. Neither Canon nor Nikon manufactures memory cards, so there's no threat in adopting that standard. And that's great for us - it means we can swap cards easily. Now, how about that speedlight? Can I use my Canon master flash to fire your Nikon slave unit? Can I borrow that bitchin' fisheye lens? No way. The big manufacturers want to keep consumers in-brand for big ticket items like that. Ok, how about camera batteries? No, although for the life of me I can't fathom why they don't share a battery standard. Cables? Can we just use an IEEE standard port for each connection, so that I have choice? The other day I was going to buy an external battery pack for my Canon speedlight. The salesman had both a Canon and a Quantum unit on the counter. I really liked the Quantum. It was serious gear, and I wanted it. Lucky for me, it was $10 cheaper than the plastic crapfest that Canon sells. But wait, only the Canon battery pack can plug into the proprietary jack on the 580EXII flash unit. To use the Quantum, you have to buy a $40 module that pretends its a 4-pack of AA batteries and slides into the flash. But the battery door won't close. Oh, and Quantum doesn't make a module for that battery pack to fit the 580EXII. So the choice was really just a tease; I bought the Canon and I'm grumpy about it.
Since Canon and Nikon don't work together, we had to go to a third-party radio trigger solution so my partner and I could interchangeably fire our stand-mounted lighting. The mod to add a second non-TTL hot shoe running on the PC port (yay, a standard port!) is shown in the photo of my camera above.
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
CAPEX has been painfully high, relatively speaking. I have replaced all of my gear, and added a lot to it. A new-to-me camera body, two speedlights, a flash bracket, external flash battery pack, stands, umbrella, diffusers, blah blah blah. Thankfully my lenses will do for now. At last count I was up to about $2,500. Like I said, relatively painful. I could easily spend just that on a camera body. I had considered not getting the external flash battery unit, but I did a bit of math and figured that at a cycle time of about 6 seconds, I would get only two shots of the bride and the other wedding party members walking up the aisle. With the battery unit, I cut the cycle time down to 1.5 seconds. Done.
Operational Expenses have been modest. Rather than buy a backup camera body and lens, which would drive my CPAEX up even higher, I rented from BorrowLenses.com. For $160 I rented a Canon 40D (same as my primary body) and a very nice EF 24-105mm F/4L IS lens for a week. I had considered going cheap and skipping this expense. Then I had a vision of Weird Uncle Al bumping into me before the ceremony and knocking my camera to the floor. A few minutes after that vision I had charged the rental to my AmEx. My assistant (who also happens to be my son) will use the backup body as a third shooter. If my camera fails, I'll just take his and he can use the old D30 we have as the "belt and suspenders". If my partner's Nikon fails, he will have to suck it up and use a Canon for the day. There are worse things in life.
With two speedlights and the external battery unit, I calculated that I need to take 48 AA batteries with me. That gives me what I know I'll need, plus a healty emergency supply. I'm thinking I'll stop at Costco.
I have some staffing costs to deal with. I split the revenue with my partner 50/50. Out of my share, I'll pay the assistant. This isn't the most fair way to handle the expense, but there are back office complications that make it the best way. So goes the family business...for now.
On the revenue side, I gave this weekend's client a very steep discount. The total fee will be $750 (excluding any prints). Yes, this is alarmingly low. But the fundamental approach to pricing strategy is clear: never price based on cost, price based on what the market will pay, minimizing consumer surplus. With no wedding portfolio to show yet, I figure I'm lucky to get a paying client at all! Depending on how you look at it, there might even be some supplier surplus in this deal ($750 cash + portfolio + experience + OJT). Anyway, here's how that breaks down:
Gross Revenue = $750
Shared Expenses = $50 (gas for round trip to Frostburg)
Net Revenue = $700
My share (at 50%) = $350
Pay for the assistant = $100
Expendibles = $40
Camera Rental = $160
My Net = $50
Ok, so I'm no Warren Buffet here. At $50 for the day, I would have to do over 50 weddings before I saw a return on my investment. But that's not really the situation. After June, assuming by then I have a worthy portfolio, I'll start charging our full "low low" price for weddings. And when the warm weather is here to stay I hope to do a bunch of candid portraits, which will have a much higher rate of return for now than the weddings do.
I went into this not expecting to make much money. So far, I have met my expectations.
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
What got me serious in photography was soccer. First, it was taking photos of my kids who both played into high school. Then it was shots of games when the women's pro soccer league was in DC. For the last few years, there hasn't been much soccer for me to take interest in. But now with the rebirth of the women's pro league, last Saturday brought a nice diversion from the wedding prep I've been focused on.
Our season tickets to the Washington Freedom are pretty sweet - 4 rows back, a few yards off the center stripe. We sit behind the Freedom bench, so we see and hear it all. With my 70-200mm F4L lens, I can get most of the action in midfield, and wide shots of the goals at either end. This game started at 6:00PM, and while there was some sunlight, I had to constantly adjust to the dimming light as the match wore on. The field lighting worked fine, but by the end I was at ISO 1600, F4, and barely able to keep above 1/100th for shutter speed. In a soccer match, that means extreme blur. So my best shots came from the first half wen the light was sweet.
Sometime soon I'll try to talk my way down onto the field and shoot from the end line. That's where the best shots are. But even from the seats it was a nice diversion and a great game.
- He shoots Nikon, I shoot Canon
- The Nikon and Canon TTL mechanisms are completely incompatible
- We'll be using a pair of strobes, each mounted on a light stand and bouncing off the ceiling to light the dance floor.
- We'll each have a speedlight mounted on a flash bracket.
When we're taking photos away from the dance floor, we'll rely just on our off-camera flash. When we're on the dance floor, we want to trigger the two strobes. Fortunately, with the strobes came a cheapo version of a radio trigger (like a knockoff Pocket Wizard). We tested extensively, and after replacing one strobe that didn't fire properly, it all worked great in isolation.
Here's where the problem came in:
The radio trigger is a hot-shoe mount device. No problem, both the Nikon and Canon bodies have hot shoes. The sync cord for the off-camera flash uses...a hot shoe mount (very important to preserve TTL). No problem, both the Nikon and the Canon have...wait, there's a problem. The bodies only have one hot shoe. We need two - one for the radio trigger, one for the flash.
After much research and consultation at our local Penn Camera, we came up with an easy solution. We purchased a Kalt hot shoe with PC cord ($16.99 at Penn). This cord plugged into the PC port on the camera body, and while it didn't have TTL capability, we were using it to fire the strobes through the radio trigger so TTL wouldn't have worked anyway. We mounted the new hot shoe on the CB Junior flash bracket (an amazing device), but the PC cable was too short to reach the camera body. So we cut into the cable, and soldered in an 18" extension using 24-gauge paired wire. Then we ran that up through the coils of the TTL flash sync cable and connected it to the PC port and the hot shoe. Done! And it looks like it belongs.
Now we have TTL for the off-camera flash. When the flash fires the PC port sends the fire signal to the new hot shoe, which activates the radio trigger and fires the strobes. When we're on the dance floor, we leave the radio triggers turned on and we light up the room. When we're off the dance floor, the flick of a switch turns off the radio trigger, and the strobes don't fire.
I'll post a photo of the mod.
Friday, April 10, 2009
After the church, we walked a block to the hotel where the reception will be. An old "restored" place, it offered its own challenges. We took some shots outside before venturing in. This was not a Hilton, mind you. It's a small town hotel that has been stuck in time. The first thing we noticed was the grand staircase. It's covered in a bright red carpet (lots of velvety material here), but lit properly it should be an excellent setting for group shots. The helpful desk clerk showed us to the reception room and left us alone to wander. We set up some lighting gear, and spent an hour or so experimenting and taking notes. Then we wandered into the lobby again and tried a few shots there and on the staircase. The clerk showed us a few additional features of the hotel, like the smallest balcony ever built, but they wouldn't work for us. Odd that he didn't show us the jail or the old cock fighting room still preserved in the basement...
After the hotel, we wandered across the street to the Princess Diner where we had a small-town lunch. The bride had tipped us off that this was the best food in town, and might be a fun site for a photo. After casing the joint, we agreed. We're going to take the couple, in tux and gown, to the diner and take a photo with them having a cup of coffee at the counter. Then we hope to take a shot of them at the local theater next door. They have an old-school marquis that I'm hoping we can adjust to our needs. The idea here is to catch the small town flavor as a theme in the shots, since this is where the bride grew up.
The last stop was the local florist. There's only one in town, and they do it all. We spent some time taking photos in their very large store, and had a nice talk with the owner and some of her staff.
We didn't get to visit the baker who is doing the cake - I believe that's a home business so we left it alone.
A few days after the trip we reviewd the test photos, discussed settings, movement, angles, and whatnot, and got a plan down. Being a "J" personality, this is exactly what I needed to prepare.
Saturday, March 14, 2009
The wedding was covered by a team of three photographers. One stayed in the left front of the church, one positioned herself on the right front, and the third covered the back of the church. To some degree, they each moved around to adapt to the ceremony. But with three, the need to move was minimal. A few observations of this team:
- One of the team had their shutter on a high fps setting. It was clearly audible from up in the loft when she shot. This seemed to be an unnecessary distraction; she ended up with a dozen copies of exactly the same thing each time she shot.
- All three used flash through the processional, but stopped when the ceremony started. The congregation, however, used flash constantly throughout the event. Since the congregation doesn't have to worry about being allowed back, but the photographers do, this wasn't surprising.
- The first shooter missed the couple's first kiss completely. She had turned around and was doing something with her camera equipment when the kiss happened. By the time she was able to get back in the game, the kiss was over. The second shooter caught the kiss (on the high fps setting).
- From the loft we could several opportunities for fun photographs within the congregation. The photographers caught some of those moments but generally spent almost no time on anything other than the wedding party.
- All three used an external battery pack for their flash units. At certain times, such as the procession, the fast cycle time seemed to be critical.
- The post-ceremony session was a bit chaotic. Several of the shots required the photographers to pose more than 30 people. In trying to arrange these shots, the first focused on her camera, the second stood off to the side and watched, and the third stood behind the first and told people where to move. Seems like there is a better way.
- During the post-ceremony shoot, the only lighting used as an on-camera flash. The third had a small spot, but never used it. Probably best she didn't. I'm thinking, though, that the shots must have needed quite a bit of touch-up to correct the washout. No remedy for the loss of detail form the flat lighting though.
- The bride became overheated during the post-ceremony shots, and had to step outside for some air. She came back in for a few more shots, but she didn't last long before she called a halt.
Hey Mom! Can we get some meatloaf?
Monday, February 23, 2009
After reading the note I took a moment to reflect on the engagement photo shoot on Saturday, and my growing feeling of dissatisfaction with the results. The question I had to confront is: can I learn enough and make the corrections needed to produce satisfactory results in six weeks? Yes, I can. I have great clarity on what I did right and wrong on Saturday. It's not hard to fix. I just need to own it. Six weeks isn't much time at all to prepare, and I still have business details to work out (bank account, state registration, contract templates, accounting, business cards,...). But I can do it.
So I took on the job.
My action plan is:
- Meet with the couple to talk through their wedding and nail down the photographic details
- Spend a day freaking out
- Get out the Gold Card and buy some gear
- Practice every day
- Make the magic happen
Saturday, February 21, 2009
In contemporary process engineering, we identify the "as is" state, then we map the "to be" state and a plan to get there. This initial "as is" look is the baseline. We don't judge what it is, we simply note that it is where we start on our way to the "to be" state.
Today I baselined my photography practice. I have a long way to go. But I'm not judging.
Today my partner and I shot engagement photos for a young couple at a rescued mill. We know this place fairly well, as it's just a mile or so from my home. We wanted to be prepared, so we got to the site early and walked the grounds. We selected several choice places to try with the couple, scheduled to arrive an hour later. We factored in the sun, and how it would likely change, to prioritize the shooting order. We checked gear, took several test shots, and got our heads in the game.
The couple arrived on time, and we went through the shoot as we planned. Generally, everything went fine. The couple relaxed, had some fun, and was willing to try anything we asked. As expected, we struggled with lighting and shadows, especially in the old mill building. The only significant problem came late in the shoot. My partner's Nikon spazzed and refused to function. He tried everything you can do in the field without success. I carried on with the last few shots and wrapped the session. We thanked the couple and parted ways, all of us looking forward to seeing the outcome.
Over the course of the 75-minute session, I shot 335 images, while may partner shot about 500. After reflecting on the session, and reviewing the shots I took, I have learned too many things to list. A few are paramount, however.
- I put my backpack in the car partway through the shoot, thinking I only needed my 70-200mm lens. The very next shot I needed my 28-70mm lens, and had to run to the car to get it while my partner set up the shot. I won't do that again.
- I have the right flash gear, but I'm not using it properly. I will spend some serious time learning and practicing.
- In post-session reflection (the afterglow), I realized that I wasn't seeing the data in the viewfinder that I normally see. It was there, but I wasn't seeing it. I shot mostly in aperture-priority mode, and occasionally in full manual. I left the ISO at 100 and let the camera sweat the right shutter speed for the aperture I set. Mistake. For some shots, especially in the old falling down mill building, I should have jacked the ISO up, probably to 400. As it was, and shooting at 200mm, I found I had some annoying lens shake.
- Lastly, during my prep I checked every setting on the camera...except one. Apparently I had been shooting in Large JPG before today, and it was still set that way. I had intended to shoot in RAW so I had more chance to correct the exposure mistakes I expected I would commit. Next time, I'll check every setting, period.
Today was an important day. It told me where I was in relation to where I want to be. Now, I know how to get there.
Friday, February 20, 2009
The venue has a wealth of possibilities. There is a wooded path following the banks of a large rocky stream. I really like the iron trestle bridge that crosses the stream to get to the mill. While it once carried a train track, it is now a footpath with a great view down to the stream. Then there are the many stone walls of the mill and outbuildings. Lots of opportunity for different lighting and backgrounds. In the morning I'll go out and scout the site, selecting possible locations that, light pending, might work well.
Tonight, I'll check the gear again, and check my head. I expect I'll find both are ready to go.
Thursday, February 19, 2009
The other day I went to the third of three Parks & Rec classes I signed up for. This one was "Demystifying Exposure", taught by the same nature photographer that did the "White Balance" class. She's an excellent photographer, and knows her stuff. The class, however, made sparse use of her skills. To be fair, it was (as advertised) geared towards noobs. I took it, and the others, because I wanted to fill in the gaps in my technical knowledge, starting at the beginning.
We (re)covered ISO, aperture, and shutter speed. I'm pretty ok there. Then we got into shooting modes on the camera. Pretty ok there too. The last part was interpretation of histograms. Now, we're talking. Not talking a lot, but talking. I understand the histogram better now, although I rebel against it as an absolute arbitor of good exposure.
A case in point: I took this photo in the evening using available light. The histogram says it was significantly underexposed. I like it as it is. It has a subdued quality that makes the brass richer and gives the hair a chance to shine along the top. Since it was shot in RAW, I opened the image in Photoshop and cranked it up to "fix" the exposure. I hated it. So I left it as it was originally.
So I'm done with Parks & rec classes I think. Time to get more advanced training.
Saturday, February 14, 2009
My new Canon 40D arrived a few days ago. Since I had some shots to take as homework for one of my classes, the timing was perfect. I took it out to a high school basketball game in the same gym I used for my first homework assignment. Wow! After seven years using my D30, I was shocked at how much better the 40D is in every respect. (Yes, I bought the 40D without having tried it. I knew I would stay Canon, and based on research and recommendations this was the best I could afford/justify. )
Physically, it's only a little different from the D30, but it fits my hand just as well, if not better. I also bought the battery grip, and found it to be very comfortable and easy to use. The controls were different, but not unfamiliar. I can't make sense of Nikons, but Canons seem to make sense to me. When I got the gym, I set my custom white balance (of course!), selected aperture priority mode with f2.8 (per the assignment) and found a place at the top of the court to catch the action. After a few minutes of shooting, the referee noticed me said he would try to stay out of my way. Nice! I shot for a while in single-shot, then switched to the high speed mode. So much faster than the old camera!
I have sorted through the photos of the basketball game, and find that the quality is much improved over what I have been taking. I have several keepers, and got what I needed to turn in for class. Now, I need to go find lots of things to potograph to learn this new camera as well as I know the old one. I don't think it will take long.
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Saturday, February 7, 2009
I ran across a rec basketball game in the high school gym today, just in time to shoot for few minutes for my class homework. I spent about 30 minutes watching and photographing the action. Typical, the light was dim and an odd color. I cranked up my venerable old D30 and got a few photos I was OK with. Technically, they all were poor - underexposed and noisy. But under the conditions, the best I could do. Tomorrow we'll do review and critique on homework photos. I'm very interested to learn what I could be doing to improve the outcome in situations like this.
Thursday, February 5, 2009
As a first step in my preparation, I signed up for some photography classes through Howard County Parks and Rec. They were inexpensive and short - exactly what I wanted for my first time. The first of these classes started last weekend: Sports Photography. Yes, I'm aware that sports photography is a bit off target. But I was more interested in getting accustomed to photography classes than in the alignment of curriculum with my business.
Sunday's class was fine. And by fine I mean fine for all of the soccer moms and dads who bought a badass camera to take photos of their kids but don't know yet how to use it. (We had to introduce ourselves, and I was the only non-sports-parent there.) The lecturer is a very nice young lady who is developing her presentation skills. So the lecture part wasn't too helpful. The real value was the second half of the class. The instructor had arranged for the class to take photos of a wrestling match being held in the same building. We spent about 45 minutes shooting the action. It was dim, with odd colored lighting, and the referee seemed to be most comfortable with his rear end in front of our lenses. It was an excellent challenge and I enjoyed it (well, I would have been just fine without the referee part).
I reviewed my photos of the wrestling match as soon as I got home, and was marginally pleased. Most in the class used a 50mm lens, but I shot with a 200mm focal length. I couldn't care less about the wrestling scene; I was more interested in capturing the faces of these sweaty kids as they grimaced and struggled and sometimes cried. The photos were there, but the light made it nearly impossible. I did my best, and like some of the images I caught, even if they are horribly noisy and underexposed.
Our homework is to go shoot any type of sporting event and turn in our best photo for review and comment in the next class this weekend. I am determined to find something outdoors, despite the cold, as gyms tend to have the worst light ever. Except for maybe reception halls. And churches.
Maybe I need to rethink the outdoor thing...
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
I think knowing the couple will be a welcome benefit for the first time around. They're casual, informal, fun, and adult. We get along great, so we'll all be comfortable with each other when we introduce a camera into the mix. Or maybe "less uncomfortable" is more accurate. Either way, I'm grateful to the couple for trusting me with their wedding photos.
With a job on the books for this summer, I now have a nearly infinite amount of work to get done in a very finite amount of time. Do I smell smoke?
In considering my focus for a practice, I thought for a long time about what compels me in taking photographs. Looking back through more than 30,000 photographs in my catalog, my favorites by far, and the images I'm most proud of, are candid portraits. The photographer wife of my encouraging friend specializes in candid portraiture; she is a gifted artist whose work I admire greatly. I have returned to her on-line portfolio dozens of times, studying her photographs and feeling more encouraged and inspired each time. I have achieved intergallactic oneness, just now. I am compelled to find and capture the natural, unstaged emotion in people as they go through their lives, from the daily grind to once-in-a-lifetime events. I allow that the ideal photograph is one that makes the viewer feel something - not necessarily what the subject felt, but maybe invoking some feeling of their own.
The focus for my practice, then, is photojournalistic wedding photography. Where else could I be welcomed with my camera in the middle of dozens, maybe hundreds of people laughing, crying, dancing, feeling? It's the perfect setting, dense beyond compare with ideal photographs waiting to be taken. I know some photographers have a dislike for weddings; people can be difficult, the work is intense and non-stop, the hours are long, and the risk is high. But over the years in my day job I have come to understand that I am like a firefighter who lives for the fire: I'm bored until the pressure is on, and then I'm at my best.
I'm very realistic about my abilities; I have a lot to learn. That won't ever change I'm sure. My goal is not to be better than other photographers. Rather, I aim to take compelling photos that mean something to the viewer, and hopefully to me as well. If I can show a newly married couple the photos I have taken of their wedding and they smile in that genuine way, not with their mouths but with their eyes, I will have met my goal.