Tips for Models and Photographers

Over the past few years of doing the photography thing I’ve really gravitated towards doing a lot of work with models because I’ve found that I love photographing people. From my admittedly limited experience I’ve come up with some tips for both models and photographers that I believe to be useful for me. The key thing here is that this is purely from my personal perspective, and it’s geared toward collaborative shoots for portfolio or personal project endeavors.

Please keep in mind that following is my opinion and how I do things. If it’s not for you, rock on.

MODELS

Don’t practice posing in front of a mirror

Really, don’t do that. It gives you a wildly inaccurate representation because what you’re seeing in the mirror is, well, a mirror image of you. It will never look like what you see in an image of yourself. If you feel you must practice in front of a mirror, instead practice emoting. Sounds weird, but posing is easy. Emoting is hard.

Pose less, move more

Some of the best, most experienced models earn their bread and butter by posing, holding it, camera clicks, they then switch up the pose, hold it, wait for the camera to click … And, frankly, many if not most photographers perpetuate this. It’s not necessarily a bad thing; in fact in many circumstances the pose hold approach may be preferable; lookbooks, catalogs, headshots, etc. Also, I’ve done shoots in which precise and complex lighting was necessary. In those circumstance, yes, pose hold click is great. If you want to get good shots easily, a good model doing the pose and hold approach is great.

With a good model, this approach will guarantee really nice photos if the photographer does their job. But then look at the awesome photos you got, then look at the photos from previous shoots with other photographers. Other than setting, lighting, and wardrobe, they’re likely to be pretty much the same.

And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

But if you want to get photos that are different and stand out, drift, flow, and move and make the photographer work for the shots by capturing the moments. Instead of looking at it as posing for a photo, approach it as if moving for a film or video. Learn to drift with not only your body and limbs, but with your eyes, face, and emotions too. I’m not talking about flailing around wildly or even mildly. I’m talking subtle drifting with posture, emotion, and eyes. You can tell you’re on the right track when reviewing the images by quickly going through them. It will look like a stop motion film clip.

I’ve worked with some pretty experienced models with whom I’ve spent considerable time getting them to pose less and drift more. It’s uncomfortable for them at first, but once they take a look at the results on the computer the clouds part quickly.

Yes, you get a lot of weird, goofy looking shots, but you also get some amazing and unique shots that you likely would not get otherwise. And with practice, the keepers to duds ratio improves greatly.

Models are horrible at determining what is or is not a good photo

Trust me. It’s true. Models are the worst judges of photos. The reason, I feel, is that they focus on what they believe to be their personal physical disadvantages; things that the average person that looks at them simply doesn’t notice. I think a lot of this comes from models judging themselves based on what they see in the mirror (see above) or in selfies.

The best judge of a photo is, like it or not, the photographer. Sure, if you’re paying good money to a photographer then, yes, pick what you want, but remember, the photographer is way more likely to know which photos are the best.

Don’t pose with your face

What I mean by this is, well, don’t pose with your face. Don’t contort your face to express an emotion (with rare exception). It’s not uncommon for some to twist their face into an emotion. Instead of doing that, try to begin with the emotion, really embrace it, and let the eyes follow as a natural extension. If it begins in the mind, the eyes will follow, and then the face will do what it’s supposed to do. Good actors know this.

No means no

Ideally before committing to a session, both the photographer and the model will have viewed each other’s portfolios and discussed at least generally what each one is after. That being said, it’s not unusual for either one of them during a shoot to suggest something. It’s perfectly okay for that to happen. But if a photographer suggests or asks you to do something that you’re not comfortable with it’s perfectly okay to say, “No, I wouldn’t feel comfortable with that.” And once you’ve expressed that, there should be zero discussion of it after.

And it works both ways. I’ve had models want to do some shots that I particularly wasn’t entirely on board with.

No means no.

Bring someone with you

If you’re doing a shoot with a photographer you’ve never worked with before, absolutely feel free to bring someone with you. There’s no reason that a photographer should have a problem with it. If you want to bring someone with you even if you’ve worked with the photographer many times before, do it.

I’m not talking bringing an entourage with you. No, definitely don’t do that. But, if you like, bring a friend, boyfriend/girlfriend, husband/wife, whatever. If you wouldn’t feel comfortable otherwise and the photographer balks, tell them to pound sand.

Sorry, photographers, but I feel strongly about this.

PHOTOGRAPHERS

Don’t take artistic advice from other photographers

Other photographers are the worst people from which to receive artistic feedback from. Do yourself a favor and do not seek artistic advice from other photographers. Sure, other photographers are great to learn technical aspects from; settings, lenses, getting your head around the use of flash, etc. But throwing your photos out there and asking for the opinions of other photographers is a nightmare scenario.

The reason I say this is because of the plethora of online places such as the forums at places like DPReview. If you go to, say, their Portrait and People Photography forum you’ll witness some of the most absurd nonsense you’re likely to see; much of it unsolicited in response to photos that people put up. I think much of the nonsense is because of the nature of an online world and how it has magnified human nature. Human nature, whether we like it or not, is to hear someone spout something with authority and then accept it without thinking about it. Examples of this are: don’t crop off the tops of heads. Don’t crop off the tips of fingers or feet. Don’t crop at the joints of limbs. Any hint of perspective distortion is bad. Catchlights other than round ones are bad. 2 to 1 lighting ratios are optimal, too shallow DOF, on and on. In other words if you push the boundaries at all and go against the “portraiture orthodoxy” they’ll pound you down until you conform if you let them.

I’ve seen new people start throwing up photos on that forum, make adjustments per the orthodoxy, and a year later they’re throwing up technically nice photos that are exact replicas of your average yearbook photo or something that was made in one of those family photo shops you used to see at the shopping mall. If that’s what you want, good. But if you want something that has just a slightly unique flavor to it, good luck. You’re just the next vanilla flavor sitting next the other vanilla flavors.

Do observe the work of other photographers

Within reason. The world is full of some truly great photographers. But don’t view the work of other photographers with the intent to necessarily copy what they’re doing. Instead, try to figure out what it is about their work or a particular photo that you like. Why do you like it? What is it about it that got your attention? Use the work of others as an inspiration.

I find that as time passes, I do this less and less. But I always enjoy looking at the work of others. There are a lot of talented people out there.

Learn from other photographers

There are a lot of great photographers out there. There’s something to be learned from almost any photographer. I love watching others work, how they deal with lighting, or how they work with models, or how they post process; whatever it is. If I’m ever invited to come and participate in any way by another photographer, I try to take them up on it because I almost always learn something.

Your way isn’t the only way.

Start creating a mood/vibe board

Remember, I’m directing this mainly towards people photographers. Start building a mood/vibe board of images that present various moods/vibes that you admire. You can do this with either an online tool like Pinterest or DropBox, etc., or locally on your own hard drive.

Personally, I prefer to use an online tool. The reason for this is because if I’m setting up a shoot or working with someone in creating a project, I like to send them a link to my extensive mood/vibe board so that they can pick out shots that represent a mood/vibe that appeals to them. It’s not to copy something, but to use it as inspiration. It also helps you to better understand where the model is coming from. It can save so much time.

I’m constantly adding to mine. It’s a never ending process. It includes photos from various photographers, including me.

Learn to use artificial lighting

Even if you’re a “natural light” photographer. The reason is that light is light; whether it’s natural or artificial. If you learn artificial lighting, it will translate into better understanding and use of natural light.

Practice more with natural light

This is directed at photographers who mainly use artificial light for the same reasons. Getting better at natural light will make you a better artificial light photographer.

Shoot tethered whenever possible

I know it may not be possible all of the time, especially when shooting on location or outdoors. But whenever possible, I highly encourage photographers to shoot tethered to a computer and encourage models to view what’s coming out. If you can’t shoot tethered, at least show them the back of the camera often.

Don’t be afraid to show unedited photos

This is related to shoot tethered whenever possible. I have personally spoken with photographers who will not let people see unedited photos. Because of this they will either not shoot tethered or, if they do, they won’t let people see the images on the computer. Don’t be that person. The reasoning for some is that they don’t want others to see images until they’re finished. They insist on only showing their “vision.”

Ugh.

If you can’t get it mostly there in camera, then you’re doing something wrong. Even if your “final vision” is a complex composite, show what’s happening to the model while taking photos. I know a photographer who specializes in complex composites. The guy is amazing. I’ve watched him work with models and he has no problem with showing them the back of the camera during the shoot. Even though what they’re seeing is not even close to what the final result will be, they still look great because he knows what he’s doing.

To take it a step further, after a shoot I encourage models to sit down with the laptop full of all of the unedited images we just shot and go through them and pick out ones they like the best.

If you’re not comfortable with showing people your unedited photos, work on your skills until you are.

Encourage models to bring someone with them

This is a big one for me. I always invite models to bring someone with them; especially if it’s a first shoot. Surprisingly, few do. But I always make sure that they know they are welcomed to. I know quite a few photographers who discourage it for various reasons.

I don’t get it.

For me, I want the models to be as comfortable as possible. If they’re comfortable, you’ll get better photos.

Plus it’s the respectful thing to do. Trust me, you’ll get better pics, too.

I’ve had husbands/boyfriends or friends at implied shoots that come along and I’ve never had a problem with it. In fact it can be kind of funny when they pull out their phone and take a behind the scenes photo of me working with their half naked wife or girlfriend.

Behind the scenes with Analiza studio shoot.

I normally wouldn’t get as close as I am in the photo above, but we’re good friends and it’s still strictly business. When her boyfriend took the photo he chuckled and said something like, “Dude, it’s like you guys are in the office, or something.”

Here’s one of the final shots from the session:

Analiza studio session final result.

No matter what kind of shoot it is, it’s okay for them to have someone with them.

Behind the scenes with Angie photo shoot.

One of the final shots from the session above.

Angie studio final result

Be nice, be considerate

Modeling is difficult. Don’t forget that you’re dealing with a human. Get to know them. Talk with them. Make them feel comfortable. Understand that it’s a mutual collaboration. Make it worth their while to be doing this. Go above and beyond. Be accommodating.

This will mean talking while shooting. You can’t take on a truly mutually collaborative spirit without talking with the model and communicating with them while shooting. Always encourage. Never degrade. Make the shoot all about the model. I really mean that.

Also, the world is full of awesome people. This is a chance to meet and get to know some. I’ve never had a shoot after which I didn’t feel good about meeting and getting to know that person a little bit.

Don’t be creepy

I debated on whether to have this at the beginning or at the end because it’s so important.

I mean it.

Don’t be creepy. Don’t make crude or rude remarks. Don’t reference body parts in a sexual manner. Don’t leer, Don’t do anything that can be construed in any way other than strictly professional.

Some kinds of shoots really require good judgement and a lot of respect. Turn away if need be. Ask if they’re ready for you to turn around. Have a robe at hand and when not taking photos, offer it. If there’s a “slip” politely let them know.

The old adage of, “never touch the model” is a good one. If I’m doing an implied style of shoot, I try to keep my distance as much as possible. There are a couple of models that I’ve worked with numerous times and we’ve become good friends. We’ve developed good relationships. They are okay with me moving a couple of strands of hair, or something like that. But it’s the exception. And even then I always ask.

Reputation is everything. Don’t do ANYTHING to jeopardize it.

That can go for assistants, too.

In fact I’d love to be able to find a good female assistant. But that’s a whole other topic.

There you go. That’s it. Again, this is just my opinion and what has worked well for me.

Workflow for Post Processing Photographs

Few things can be as contentious as a discussion of workflow for post processing photographs. I think the reason for much of this is because there is really no such thing as an incorrect workflow. The workflow one incorporates can vary depending on many factors; desired results and targets, software used, etc.

One thing that I think can be agreed on, however, is that most photographers who are serious will have a workflow that goes beyond simply offloading their photos and then calling it a day.

Over time I’ve massaged my workflow in various ways. Mostly because I’m a sponge and when I see someone doing something that works better I’m all over it. I have no pride that way.

The following is my workflow. It works for me. I don’t suggest that you do it my way. I’m simply describing it to give any ideas that may or may not be useful for you. Also, my workflow is Adobe centric because I use Adobe products. The foundation of my entire post processing workflow is Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop. Yes, there are other solutions for post processing photos; some I hear are quite good. But for me, I made the decision to go with Lightroom and Photoshop years ago. I hate to even go into the reason, but here it is.

Long ago I experimented with various other software. The biggest problem I had with other software was that it was difficult to learn general post processing with it. No, Lightroom and Photoshop are definitely not easy to learn. In fact they are a downright pain in the ass in many ways. But what made them easier tools to learn post processing with was because of the sheer amount of resources for both Lightroom and Photoshop. Like it or not Lightroom and Photoshop are the industry standard to which all others are compared. Because of this there are almost endless learning resources and tutorials. If you Google anything related to post processing photographs you’ll find far more information from an Adobe perspective than any other software.

That alone saves a bunch of time.

If you’ve just installed Lightroom and getting started one thing that I highly recommend is watching this video that does a great job of explaining how to get started. It’s long, I know, but well worth it. When it comes to Lightroom how you get started will determine your future happiness. Trust me.

Anyway, my workflow.

The first thing I do is import my photos into Lightroom. All of my Lightroom catalogs and libraries reside on an external HDD that is constantly backed up to two other locations; one on site and one in the cloud (for this I use Backblaze). When importing I always create keywords for the session to easily find images later. Once they’ve imported I go through them and decide which ones are keepers and which ones are not. Personally I don’t use a rating system in the conventional way, they are either keepers or they are not. The keepers get rated with 5 stars, the non keepers get zero stars. I then go back through and delete everything that does not have 5 stars.

Note, I shoot everything in raw. You should too.

At this point, if I shot a white balance patch I sync it to all of the files; along with lens corrections and custom profile. I do this not for color accuracy. I do it simply to have a consistent starting point for all of the images from that particular session. At this point I then start working on the images themselves. I’ve never applied any editing globally. I know a lot of people do, but I don’t. That’s just me. I treat each and every image as a single entity.

I bring up an image in the Develop module and start making adjustments. Often times I’ll click Auto in the Tone section just to see what it does. About half the time it comes up with a pretty good starting point. It does a really good job with setting a white and black point. Either way I’ll always end up playing with the tone and presence sliders. I do it to my personal taste. One slider I’ve found that I almost always push up is the Dehaze slider. It always adds an improvement. Just go easy with it because a little goes a long ways.

Beyond this I do very little in Lightroom. If I notice some chromatic aberration or fringing I’ll deal with it in Lightroom, but that’s about it.

I then send it to Photoshop as a 16 bit TFF in the ProPhoto RGB color space (set that up in Lightroom; Edit > Perferences > External Editing). Whether you choose TFF or PSD doesn’t really matter. I personally choose TFF. But one thing that I highly recommend is that you always maintain the largest color space available during the entire post processing workflow which means 16 bit ProPhoto RGB. This article gives a good high level explanation as to why you should always do your post processing in 16 bit ProPhoto.

Anyway, I send it to Photoshop; right click > Edit In > Edit In Adobe Photoshop. It is here where I do the bulk of my post processing. The reason is because I like the control it gives me. With layers I can selectively edit different aspects of the image as needed. It’s not unusual for me to have several layers on an image. I’m not going to go into the particulars as to what I do in Photoshop as there are about a billion ways of doing anything in Photoshop (yes, I know, hyperbole), but once I’m done with the image I save the layered TFF; File > Save. This saves it back to my Lightroom Library (and the external HDD that’s always backed up that I mentioned above). Now, when I locate an image in my Lightroom Library I have easy access to both the original raw file and the layered TFF that is the completed image. The developed image if you will.

I do this with all of the images. Then, depending on the target I want to use an image on, I’ll open it in Photoshop from Lightroom; Right click > Edit In > Adobe Photoshop > Edit Original File. In Photoshop I’ll flatten the image and then convert it to the color space needed for the intended target. Typically I’m uploading the images to the world wide web which means that I’m converting them to sRGB. I then resize as/if needed crop, etc.

And that’s pretty much it. Again, this isn’t meant to be taken as the way you should do it. Or even a suggestion, really. It’s meant to simply show how I do it. If you are able to take something away from it, great.

sRGB, Adobe RGB, or ProPhoto RGB?

When post processing photos which color space should you work in, sRGB, Adobe RGB, or ProPhoto RGB? I’ve seen a ot of discussion on which one should be used. Some of it just plain wrong. 

It’s a common refrain to work in the space that your end target will be in. It goes something along the lines of “You shouldn’t work in color spaces that the target color space doesn’t use.” Or, better yet, it should be within the gamut that your monitor utilizes. 

To put it simply, that is completely wrong. You should be doing your post processing in the largest color space available (in this case, ProPhoto RGB), and then convert the end result to the color space required for the intended target. 

Rather than rehash why you should do that I’ll refer you to this article. It gives a very high level explanation as to why. You would be wise to read through the comments as well. 

If you want to dig deeper, I would recommend going to this site

Individual workflows can be as varied as there are individuals, but working color spaces need to be the largest color space available. 

In a later post I’ll go into my workflow. Not to convince anyone, but to give an idea for those who are new, newish, or just looking for some inspiration. 

Best Way to Upload Photos to Facebook Part II

A while back I wrote a piece on the best way to upload photos to Facebook and still retain good quality. In a nutshell it basically was that you should resize your images to either 2048 on the long side if in landscape or 960 on the short side if in portrait 4:5 aspect ratio. You would then export to .png > and then upload that file. 

I hear that the reason that it worked so well was that when converting the image to .jpg, Facebook did not compress them. Bug? Intentional? Who knows? Either way it worked great. 

Now Facebook as once again moved the goalpost. Uploading images the above way results in absolutely horrendous compression artifacts. If I didn’t know better I would almost be tempted to assume that Facebook wants photos uploaded to their platform to look like shit. 

If you peruse the internet you’ll see various so called solutions to Facebook’s onerous handling of images. They run from sizing the images to Facebook’s suggested sizes with a little compression, to adding a noise layer to the image to “fool” Facebook’s algorithm. 

They are all wrong. 

After doing some experimenting I’ve found the new way to upload photos to Facebook and not have them look like utter crap. Actually it’s simpler, now. 

Here’s how: When processing the images crop them in either the original aspect ratio or 4:5 > convert to sRGB > Save As. Make sure to save them at the highest resolution possible (this is important). Then upload them. 

There, simple as that. They don’t look as good as the way I used to do it, but they are close. My guess as to why this method works the best is because whenever you upload a file to Facebook, Facebook is going to compress them no matter what. If you resize and optimize before you upload them to Facebook, the image actually gets two doses of compression; yours and Facebook’s. By uploading a full size, full resolution file, it only gets one dose of compression. 

Anyway, there you have it. If you want your photos to not look like crap when you upload them to Facebook, just upload full size and full resolution photos. 

Hollywood Glamour Photography

Lately I’ve been doing some research into a specific genre of photography known as Hollywood glamour. Typically, when one thinks of Hollywood Glamour it’s a given that we’re talking about publicity photos from the so called Golden Age of Hollywood. It’s a very unique style of photography that was pioneered by photographers like George Hurrell and Clarence Sinclair Bull. Though there were others these two really exemplify the style of Hollywood glamour of the Golden Age. Arguably, George Hurrell  is the defacto Hollywood glamour photographer that set the standard to which all others are compared.

One thing that is interesting to me is that although both Hurrell and Bull were both tasked with creating publicity photos and they were aesthetically similar at first glance, in reality they were actually quite different in some ways. Generally, although Bull could be as noir and contrasty as any of them, he tended to produce works that were less so; more open shadows than Hurrell. I have the feeling that Bull’s work is probably more aesthetically in line with today’s eye. That’s just a guess, though.

I will admit that, personally, I generally prefer Hurrell’s work over Bull’s, but they were both just amazing at what they did.

Hedy Lamarr by Clarence Sinclair Bull

The shot above of Hedy Lamarr by Bull is quite representative of his work.

The one below of Jane Russell by Hurrell is, I believe, quite representative of his work:

Jane Russell by George Hurrell

You’ll notice that Hurrell’s pic of Russell really hits the contrast. He wasn’t afraid of shadows in the least. Now, of course, there are plenty of shots by either that are practically indistinguishable. But I think that these two are example of how they did differ.

Something that I find interesting is that I bet if Hurrell and Bull were alive today, not famous, and posted these exact same images on a portrait critique forum, they would be heavily criticized for all kinds of reasons; too hard of light, over processed skin, wonky cropping, etc.

Another thing that is apparent that is almost anathema for modern portraiture is the often missing catchlights in the eyes. Yes, there were often catchlights, but there were often no catchlights, too. Whatever the criticisms may be, there is just no denying that these two gentlemen created amazing works. Though they both were different from each other, they both managed to create almost otherworldly beings; something that was required by the Hollywood studios of the day. Their goal was to represent their talent as beyond and above the average person.  And, boy, did they succeed in doing that.

Completely unrealistic, but oh so amazing.

Which brings me to the issue of post processing. Today a common refrain is the over use of post production. It’s often blamed on Photoshop or other post processing software; as if it’s a new phenomenon. We talk about the over use of Instagram filters and bemoan the lack of reality in today’s glamour portraiture. But the reality is that it’s nothing new at all. It’s just done in a different way.  Both Hurrell and Bull relied extensively on post production. They spent hours in the dark room dodging and burning, shaping arms, cheeks, and bodies, and smoothing skin; all in an attempt to create a sort of perfection beyond the reality. In fact the movie studios employed many more retouchers than photographers.

When it comes to gear they used mostly 8×10 portrait boxes and repurposed film studio lights. Looking at the photos, generally, there seemed to be a key light, a hair light, and a background light to light up the background adding a more dimensional quality. A big limitation of the gear that they used was the fact that they typically had to rely on long exposure times, perhaps up to a couple of seconds. This is one of the reasons you see most of the poses like they are; seductively lounging, reclining, resting their heads on hands, etc. Yes, these kinds of poses tend to appear sensual, but they served a purpose, too. They are the kinds of poses that are easier to hold for long periods. So, when you look at the photo of Jane Russell above, lying back with a “I’m waiting” demeanor, there was more to it than that. It’s the perfect pose to exude sensuality and hold for a long exposure time.

When it comes to closely replicating the look of Golden Age Hollywood glamour it can certainly be done with modern cameras and lighting gear. Some would have you think that it just can’t be done without a spot and a Fresnel lens, but that just isn’t so. For example, Robert Harrington shows how it can be done using nothing more than speed lights in this video:

Is it exactly like a George Hurrell photo? Maybe not, but it certainly is very close to the style. The key, really, is to use a three light setup and choking down the light. Harrington uses snoots on both his key and hair light, and a grid on the background light. In the old days they used Fresnel lamp lenses to focus and concentrate the light, and barn doors as well as flags. Today it can be accomplished using grids and snoots along with flags if needed. Yes you could use barn doors and Fresnel lenses, too, but it’s not really necessary.

The one thing that I might do differently than Harrington would be to use studio strobes rather than speed lights, at least for the key. I think a modeling light would come in very handy in finding just the right shadow.

Something else that I notice is how the talent performed. Typically when shooting models they tend to get in a flow. By that I mean they sort of sync with the photographer and are moving a lot. The flash pops and they switch to a different pose. Flash pops, switch it up. It’s easy to bang off a lot of shots and then comb through them for the keepers.

Obviously the nature of digital more easily allows for that. However, in the day of Hurrell and Bull, each shot was almost a production in and of itself. They could take several minutes creating a single shot. They would have the talent assume a pose and hold it. They would then move lights around to create just the right shadows. Sharon Stone has talked about doing a shoot with Hurrell in which she was lying on a bed with a tea service, in her pose. Hurrell moved some lights around, looked at the scene and then went up to Stone and adjusted one of her fingers just so. He then finally took the shot.

Anyway, I think the whole thing is extremely interesting. And I think that there is a lot to be taken away from these masters of the Hollywood glamour shot; something that perhaps has been washed away a bit by technology and the ease in which photos can be taken in today’s world.

 

Vintage Sunset Traveler Photo Project

Early this summer I had an idea of a photo project I wanted to do. First I wanted to do something with a vintage flavor to it; pseudo vintage, really. Beyond that I didn’t really know exactly where I wanted to go other than I wanted it to be a sunset portrait shot.

As the summer progressed my wife and were wandering through a little antique shop in a tiny town in central Idaho, New Meadows. It’s the kind of place that has a lot of things from the old ranches all over the valley and estate sales. We came across an old 50’s era suitcase and right away my wife said she wanted to incorporate it into some kind of shoot. That’s when my idea began to really take shape; a vintage style shot of a woman with the suitcase on a roadside.

No, not exactly original, but still fun sounding.

My wife was all on board with the idea so we bought the suitcase.

We spent the next few weeks trying to think of some kind of wardrobe. It definitely had to be a vintage style, but where to get something like that?

I did a search for local vintage clothing shops and found a great little place here locally called Retro Betty, a shop that specializes in vintage style clothing, mainly spanning what appears to be the 40s and 50s. Apparently vintage style clothing is a thing.  Anyway, we managed to find a couple of cool looking dresses. I told the owner of the shop what our plans were and she was pretty excited. I told her I would tag Retro Betty on Instagram when I got them done.

The next step was finding a good location. What I had in mind was a remote straight road. Paved? Unpaved? Who knows? I did want whatever stretch of road I used to run east and west so that I could fully utilize a setting sun like I envisioned, but that was about it.

Also, for what I had in mind, I was going to have to use off camera flash. Shooting a portrait directly into the setting sun was definitely going to require a good powerful flash to do it right. I also wanted to shoot with a fairly open aperture which meant that I would also either need to use a ND filter or HSS. Since I had just picked up a Flashpoint XPLOR 600 PRO, it seemed a bit like a no brainer.

So one day we loaded up the truck with the XPLOR, a heavy C-stand, and a 38″ deep parabolic softbox and headed to the west desert in Utah. Just as it was getting time to either shoot photos or go home we finally found a perfect location; a dirt road running east and west and the sun setting towards distant mountains. I set it all up and we took a number of shots:

Sunset Traveler
Sunset Traveler–Model Anna, ISO 100, 85mm, f2.0, 1/1250

This is my personal favorite. I think because it seems to convey a bit of a story beyond a pretty woman standing on the side of a road. What is the story? I don’t know, but something.

This one is kind of an odd shot in that it goes against so many conventions; cropped off feet, flower in the foreground, that kind of thing. But I still like it because it kind of has  a cinematic vibe going on. The model is caught in mid-motion looking down the road. Waiting for someone? Who knows?

Road Side Attraction
Road Side Attraction Model: Anna ISO 100, 85mm, f2.0, 1/1600

Keeping with the roadside theme:

Circa 1957
Circa 1957 Model: Anna ISO 100, 85mm, f2.0, 1/1250

This one is the favorite of the vintage boutique shop owner from which I got the wardrobe. Again, a very cinematic vibe going on. A few technical nits aside these shots are almost exactly what I had in mind. I love the colors produced by the sunset; the yellows, reds and vague pastels, the desert location, etc.

We purchased a couple different dresses from the boutique shop. This one is more late 50’s while the other one is more mid 40’s. I’m going to do a shot with it as well, but I’m thinking I want it to be indoors in a vintage interior setting. I haven’t quite got that one figured out yet.

But I’m working on it.

I think doing these kinds of projects is not only fun but they are great learning tools. To have a vision in mind and then take the steps needed to see it through offers a lot of learning opportunities.

What are some photo projects you’ve done? What are some that you have in mind and plan to do? I’d be real interested in hearing.

Natural Light Photographer

Flash vs natural light photography.

Often I’ll come across a photographer website in which the photographer proudly proclaims, “natural light photographer.” The first thing that comes to mind is that I’ve never seen a website proclaim, “artificial light photographer” or, “I use flash only.” So, why would they proclaim the the paradigm within which they are willing to work? Or, is it more accurate to say, the paradigm within which they are capable of working?

To be honest often times I think it’s the latter. Why else would one shout out to the world that they only shoot in natural light? What benefit is there to it? There is no benefit except to perhaps let people know from the beginning your limitations.

With photography you absolutely need light to make a photograph. If the available light is sufficient for what you’re trying to accomplish then, yes, go with available light. However, there are times in which the available light just isn’t sufficient. There can either be not enough light or the light is just not the right kind of light. In that case, you have to take control and make your own light, as it were.

On many of these websites proclaiming to be natural light photographers only, if you read through their information they will sometimes talk about the “natural” quality of available light and because the aesthetic of so called “natural” light is so uniquely awesome, they choose to shoot only in natural light. It makes my head spin. They will typically go on to then point out that, since they shoot natural light only because it’s so uniquely awesome, that when booking photo sessions with them, be aware that you’ll need to have the photo shoot either early in the day or late in the day because midday sun sucks.

Midday sun does suck by the way. But it can be dealt with a number of ways: scrims, reflectors, flash, etc.

The point is that for many of those who proclaim to be “natural light only photographers,” the reason is that they can’t use flash. Whereas I bet that most photographers who heavily use flash can and do show competence with natural light.

Granted there are types of photography in which using flash isn’t really feasible; documentary or street photographers, or press photographers, etc.  I mean, can you imagine the press pool at a presidential daily press briefing with a bunch of flash going off? Also, with today’s digital sensors, the circumstances you can work in without adding light is pretty amazing.

But at the end of the day instead of limiting oneself to being a “natural light” photographer it would be best to simply be a “photographer” and learn to do what needs to be done to be able to take good photos in as many different circumstances as possible; including becoming competent in using artificial light.

 

Lightroom Presets

Lightroom presets are a waste of money. At least according to this guy.

In the six years that I’ve been using Lightroom, I’ve never paid for a preset. In the past, I’ve downloaded a few free packs, clicked laboriously through every preset and decided that they were all useless: blunt tools creating over-edited results and deploying settings that I could easily have achieved myself had I wanted to ruin one of my photos.

Man, I agree with him. There are a lot of people out there pimping either their Lightroom presets or their Photoshop actions; all with the promise of replicating a look without, apparently, learning what the hell you’re doing. I can understand Photoshop actions a little better because they can actually aid in the learning process, but I’d never pay for them either.

A while ago I posted this image up on Flickr:

Portrait of Yana sitting on stairs
Yana on Stairs: ISO 100, 50mm, f1.8, 1/160

It ended up getting featured on Flickr Explore which resulted in a lot of views, likes, and comments. Consequently, I had a few people reach out to me asking me if I used a Lightroom preset or if I could make a preset and if so, would I mind sharing it. It was kind of interesting.

I have never made a Lightroom preset. I don’t even know how to create a preset. This image was pretty much me experimenting with a bit of a different approach to post processing. And, honestly, it was processed a bit in Lightroom, but mostly in Photoshop. In fact it has 13 layers and a substantial amount of masking, too, to apply the layers selectively.

It did make me understand the appeal of creating some presets or actions and trying to market them, though.

But, really, I don’t understand the appeal of some magic preset to be applied over multiple photos. I took the color grading inside of Lightroom that I did on this pic and replicated it on other images in my library just to experiment. It was a disaster. Now, I did take several photos in this particular garage and on different levels of this stairwell during this particular session. Applying the grading I did in this image to those images was OK because the lighting, mood, and location was pretty much the same. But other images taken at different locations?

No way.

For my approach each image or small set of images are unique thus requiring a mostly unique approach. There seem to be things that I’ll try on every image just to see how it works as a starting point, but it may or may not work. For example, on almost every image I’ll bring down the highlights a bit, open up the shadows a bit, and bring down the blacks a bit just to see if it starts going in a direction I want to go. I’d say probably a little more than half the time it works as a starting point. Often times I’ll just hit Auto just for the hell of it, too. You’d be surprised how often it actually results in a decent starting point. It used to be, until a couple versions of Lightroom back, that the Auto was absolutely horrid. Apparently Adobe has done some work on it.

The big takeaway, though, is that like the author of the linked to article above says, spending money on Lightroom presets is a huge waste of money.

Your time is way better spent just learning the tool.

Trust me on this.

Nikon Z6 and Z7 Mirrorless Cameras

Nikon Z6 and Z7 mirrorless cameras have finally been released. I admit that I’ve been waiting for this for a while. A long while. I’ve wanted to get into mirrorless because of IBIS (In Body Image Stabilization), and EVF (Electronic View Finder), and silent shutter along with other benefits of mirrorless, but I’ve been holding off because I’m invested in the Nikon ecosystem and wanted to see what Nikon would come out with. Plus, I’ve been very happy with my D750. That camera just rocks.

But, if Nikon were to come out with something that was comparable to, say, the Sony A7III and they included a good F-mount > Z-mount adapter at a similar price point I would seriously consider going for it. With that in mind I was really looking forward to the Nikon Z6.

What is the Z6? It’s actually pretty awesome. 24 mp, 12 frames/second, IBIS providing up to 5 stops of stabilization and 273 phase-detect AF points along with some other awesomeness. All for a price of about $2000.

Sounds pretty good, right?

Well, wrong. It’s actually a turd in many ways.

Since the release of the Nikon Z6 and Z7 Mirrorless cameras they have taken a lot of pounding for various issues. Issues like the fact that many early reviewers who got to use a pre production camera for a couple of hours noted that the auto focus was a erratic and a bit sluggish; especially in low light. There have also been concerns over the perhaps weak battery performance. Granted, by the time the production models come out they may have addressed those issues via software updates.

I haven’t seen any reviewers rail on about the lack of included adapter, though, however for me it’s a big deal. Not because I want a free adapter (well, it would be nice) but because I just think it’s a colossal blunder from Nikon from a business perspective. Think about it. Nikon has the second largest market share of interchangeable  lenses floating out in the wild. They are second only to Canon.  Sony is a distant third. Though Sony is third, they are arguably the largest contender regarding mirrorless competition. In other words, Sony is who any camera manufacturer getting into the mirrorless game is going to have to compete with.

Plus, Canon is coming out with something, too.

What better way to compete than to incentivise the millions of current owners of F-mount glass to jump into your new mirrorless system? What better way to incentivise current owners of Nikon F-mount lenses to jump into your new mirrorless system than to include the adapter for the cost of the camera and that cost is on par with your competition?

But, like I said, not including an adapter doesn’t seem to be on many people’s minds. But it should have been on Nikon’s

Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the release, and the one that has gotten A LOT of blow back from many people is the lack of dual memory card slots.

Yes, the lack of dual memory card slots.

That is why the new Nikon Z-mount cameras are turds.

What in the hell was Nikon thinking by releasing a camera line that people have been waiting for and that competes directly with Sony A7III and A7RIII that does not have a SECOND CARD slot? It is utterly stupid and for many (including me) a complete deal breaker.

It’s been a bit humorous watching the various hardcore Nikon supporters defend this indefensible decision. In fact I’m currently working on a post going over the various goofy things people have said defending why dual card slots are no big deal. They’re wrong, of course, but I’ll get into why on another post.

At the end of the day, cameras costing $2000 and $4000 respectively should be coming with dual card slots in today’s age.

Period. End. Of. Story.

Some apologists are saying that since this is a first gen mirrorless offering from Nikon we should give them a break. We should be patient. Don’t worry, it’s a process.

Nonsense. Nikon should want to compete with what’s already out there. All they had to do was come out with something that was at least on par with the Sony A7III and Sony A7RIII. Just doing that should have been the goal. They didn’t even do that. Cameras with a single card slot can never be on par (all things being equal) with a camera that has dual card slots.

Shame on Nikon.

Back to the Little Sahara Recreation Area

I went back to the Little Sahara Recreation Area to follow up on some test shots I did there back in November of last year. We had a lot of fun, but to be honest it was kind of a pain in the ass because of just how freaking dirty it is. Blowing sand gets everywhere. I mean everywhere; eyes, mouth, gear.

Everywhere.

I’ve been wanting to go out again because I had an idea on something that I thought would look cool in that environment. Plus, I’ve had a couple people ask me about going out there to do some shots. But every time I thought very seriously about it I thought about the pain in the ass factor and put it off.

Finally I said screw it. Let’s do it and we did indeed go back to the Little Sahara Recreation Area. Before heading out we stopped at a fabric store to pick up a large piece of cloth for the idea. 

For some reason I thought it would be a good idea to take some flash gear; you know, catching that awesome shot with a breathtaking sunset as a backdrop. Note to self: Never take flash gear to The Little Sahara Recreation Area. It’s way too windy and way too much crap flying around. If you’re a photographer wanting to go to Little Sahara and you’re thinking about taking some flash gear, don’t.

Well, I suppose if you have an assistant it might be doable, but really. I wouldn’t bother. I wasted a bunch of time trying to deal with it. Time that would have been better spent just shooting with natural light.

I timed it to be there about two hours before sunset and that part worked out well. Here is the shot I think I like best:

Woman On the Sand Dunes, Model: Anna, ISO 100, 85mm, f4.0, 1/500

I love this shot. The fabric works great in the windy environment. A big reason that I love this shot is that it exactly represents the vision I had in mind; the mood, the colors. It’s exactly what I pre visioned.

The biggest failure for me on this trip was that I didn’t spend all of the time just shooting natural light. Keep in mind that I love off camera flash. It would be great to do some hss flash work out here, but without assistants it’s just not possible.

Of course by the time we had everything packed up we were a sandy mess. “No,” I said to myself. “I’m not doing this again. Not worth it.”

But looking at this shot I know damned well that I’m going out there again.

There is just too much potential for great shots at the Little Sahara Recreation Area.