Weekly Summary: Shoot Planning, Backyard Critters, Inspiration for Photographers and a Humanitarian Question

Last week I had been concentrating on making a Pinterest board that is useful to anyone planning on having family portraits (or otherwise,) and of course I got distracted and made a few other posts to my social media pages. There are some adorable photographs from my efforts in befriending animals that visit my yard for seeds, a video share from Chase Jarvis (Creative Live) interviewing a famous photographer about storytelling images and a simple call for comment on an idea to help the homeless.


A Resource for Planning Family Portraits

I want to help people get the most out of photography, even if they don’t think I am the photographer for them, so I started a board on Pinterest that will serve as a collection of ideas and inspiration when planning portrait sessions.

So far on my Family Portraits Pinterest board there are several articles about dressing for a portrait shoot.

The first and second articles that I shared were more colour palettes and clothing suggestions than anything. They are great for getting an idea of what it means to match colours together and how the amount of certain tones should be controlled.

The third article, 10 Tips for What to Wear for Family Photos, offered some ideas used when deciding on what to wear.

The fourth and final article about portrait clothing from last week was a list of “don’t”s. I’m not a huge fan of “do not” lists, because I don’t think anyone should compromise their character entirely for a photo shoot, but the list has some ideas as to why you may not do certain things. However, if you really want something, go ahead and tell this list “Phooey!”

Later in the week, while “enjoying” shopping for makeup, I added an article about planning the location for your portraits. It’s a short article, a list of the decisions a family made for their yearly portraits. It goes to show that inspiration can be found just about anywhere.


My Struggles in Befriending the Forest Critters

I live in a house that is backed up onto an island of forest and wetland. Squirrels, birds and other critters often chase across my backyard looking for food. For the last two years, around spring time, I have attempted to attract more to the yard and get close enough to photograph them.

I made a few posts on my Facebook page about my progress, but here are the best images so far:

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The chipmunk is by far the most trusting of me so far, but I think I’ll have a good closeup of a chickadee soon.


Capturing Storytelling Images

A storytelling image is one that has content more than a subject and an expression. Their actions or their placement suggests something about them. We learn more about them and their situation from looking at the photograph. The image tells us a story.

Chase Jarvis (a photographer) from Creative Live (people helping creative people with creative stuff and business and stuff) spoke with Joe McNally (another famous photographer) about his method in capturing storytelling images. See the video below for his sage advice on getting images with content:


Is Giving the Homeless a Mobile Home a Good Idea?

OK, not like, a big motorhome or anything. A compact, cozy semi-circle that you can tow behind your bicycle.

This article shows the construction behind a creation by a man named Paul Elkins. It’s a fairly rudimentary project as far as construction efforts are concerned, and can be completed for about $150. Now, for the “I have a bug-out bag in case the whole world goes sideways and I have to get out of the city really fast” lunatic inside me, this thing is awesome. WAY better than sleeping in a tent through rain and cold.

trailer bike.jpg
elkinsdiy.com

I see something different for this, though. What if someone were to gift a micro-trailer to a less fortunate person, someone without a consistent roof to begin with? It’s a simple DIY project that might be completed on a weekend for quality time with the kids, but you could provide someone with a level of value that I could not even comprehend.

So what are your thoughts? Is this a terrible idea for helping our homeless?

 

Well, that be all, folks! See you next week!

Photographer’s Opinion

Oh, the struggles of appearance. Does the photographer’s opinion about your appearance hold any value?

What do you do when you love a photo of a person, but they hate it? A photographer, especially one in the first few years of their business, has to post often to develop interest, and mark their skill. Not only that, but how can you let your client walk away with a sub-par photo? Well, it’s their choice and how they want to look is up to them… I suppose.

“My smile looks too goofy, the expression is too big, I don’t like the furrow in my brow…”

It was a fantastic photo. I think she should have been walking away with that one. Instead, she chose a very safe, somewhat blank, doll-faced expression.

Why are people so uncomfortable with being real?

Honestly, it is a joy to look at that photo, and I think any other person would think the same. It was another business photo for a woman involved with sales/distribution… To be honest I forgot specifically what she said. The photo she chose is just fine, I’m sure it will work well towards her ends, but I don’t love that one.

Another session, a friend of mine, I haven’t even finished editing. Every photo I showed her from it she didn’t seem to like. I haven’t shared any of the photos, either. I would love to add them to my portfolio, but she was so dissatisfied with them that I felt it would be a breach of our contract: “For consideration received.” I wouldn’t be very considerate, posting a photo that they hate.

One that I liked was a just-before-laugh, slightly open-mouthed smile. So slight! Beautiful light in her eyes. She doesn’t like the expression. Another could have been on a fashion magazine, if she had the clout. Kind of a doll-faced expression. I feel like I put three hours of touch up into it. She doesn’t like it. Always the expression.

Another challenge for me is my photo cull. I will see a photo from a family shoot that I would never want displayed in my portfolio. It’s too soft, there’s a background detail that gets in the way, colours are clashing, who knows, but the kid’s expression is so awesome! So real! So fun! I know the parents would like it, and I’m torn as I hover over the “delete” key.

They almost never buy those photos, but I like to show them, at least.

Another frustrating scenario is the person that likes every photo you take of them. They are just so infatuated with themselves that even when their expression is so obviously unattractive, they love it!

I suppose there is a certain type of person that I like working with. Right in the sweet spot of comfortable with their appearance, but not afraid to mention critical details about their preference. The too hard is endless frustration, but lessons learned. Too soft, an easy sell and an uncomfortable feeling in my gut. Every photo shoot should be somewhat of a challenge, I wouldn’t be doing my job if they weren’t, but some have simply been impossible and I’m at a loss for how I could have done better.

There’s no convincing some people.

Sometimes a Perfect Photo Situation Falls Into Your Lap

I did a great thing, as a photographer, and I hope that I can have many more of these moments and master them and condense them in order to have higher value shoots that work out so very well.
It was all wrong up until the finish. I even threw in a creepy phrase, as I’m apt to do, to add in social faux pas to the mix.  Strike three.

I get a call as I am, if I remember correctly, sitting in studio at my employers’, editing a family’s outdoor shoot photographed by one of the regular girls at the studio. 

An Aside: A Very Irregular Lady, Indeed

I say “regular girl” because my studio is across town, but I cover shifts all over the city. Also, it is seemingly rare for a man to work under this employer, perhaps because of all the work with children and negative stigma and all that. When the DM starts the weekly meeting, she says “Good morning, Ladies.” As such, I must be a lady, just not regular to this particular studio.

The call is from a man inquiring about professional business photos, to update his Linked In. I’m very confident with single subjects, and I spoke to him, in my opinion, a little too “buddy-buddy.” Strike one. Luckily, he was comfortable with me and ok with the price.

On account of my lack of wits, I forgot to mention our hours of operation. Strike two. He came on my lunch, while I was out banking. Luckily, he wasn’t upset when I came back. He walked around, did a little shopping, and came back to me at my best: with a full tummy and all the patience in the world.

An Aside: Business Photos

I’ve always been so frustrated with these things. I once got 3 – 5 people all at once, on their lunch, expecting a miracle. One of them was oddly photogenic. The office “pretty girl.” Everyone else was a challenge and desperately needed a different environment, or more time.

The “pretty girl” could have probably had a more “real” photo as well, but in comparison to her companions it was a work of art. They all joked about how great hers looked, and I noticed she was very self conscious when she should have been flattered.

The leader of the group was one with magical, disappearing eyes. Every time she smiled and focussed on the camera, her eyes squinted and went black. Her, I wish I could have spent more time with because her dissatisfaction with the photography could have been scooped out of the air. She was far too polite and said nothing.

That experience was a serious blow to my confidence with headshots.

I worked with him from, I believe, a standing pose into a far more relaxed stool-top with leg support pose. That’s typically my base for business and seniors/grads. That’s where I get their “Money shot.” I always try out a standing pose, though: some people are fantastic standers. Myself, like so many others, not so much.

Visible is only a 3/4: from about elbow or mid bicep to head with plenty of lead and about 1/4 of the frame of background at top to avoid the photo looking like an ID. An elbow resting on the knee raised by the support brings his shoulders up and forward a little, making him seem more full-bodied, but relaxed.

We figured out the pose, we were both in agreement upon review that it was a good one. The only problem was in his eyes. He didn’t have a true enough expression.

“The only problem I see is in your eyes. Let’s recreate this and see if we can fix that,” I quipped, knowing that all too often people are too damn polite to say whether they don’t like something.

He’s a salesman. I read about marketing and sales and the interactions related. I’m a photographer: we wear many hats.
As he was getting into position, I asked him about some of the best clients he’s ever had. Who was it that he wanted to work with, was my question. What was his ideal? He told me a story of some clients that he was very happy with, and you could see it in his face when he came to a rest. A perfect smile. A perfect headshot.

It’s the same feeling I used to get when I finally landed a trick on a skateboard. Y’know, before I gave up being a delinquent and went straight into grumpy old man.

I believe a great portrait photographer is a great conversationalist. Someone of that nature, in that career, must have a very large ammo bag. Talking points can be as fleeting and inconsequential as viral Facebook posts, but the photographer must control where the content leads — to what emotions. Also, trivial conversation like that can fall completely flat with a person who doesn’t have time to prattle. Seems it’s a delicate balance, and a fair bit of luck.

I was incredibly lucky with this man. His demeanor was perfect, even in the face of things that many others are frustrated by he seemed patient. Stowed it somewhere, maybe. I was lucky that we work in similar fields. Further, I was lucky that I was reading Book Yourself Solid by Michael Port. My question was basically derived from chapter one, and it made that man an incredible photograph for his profile.

He liked it so much that, when it was all said and done with, he admitted he thought the price was high, but after experiencing it with me he wasn’t  upset by it

Thank you, James Michael Taylor of Outlaw Photography (I’ll mention him here because he’s way too far out to be competition) for sharing that resource in one of your emails. Though a small success, you’ve helped create a golden staple in my career. Looking forward to more of our conversations.

What is a Good Photo Shoot, Anyway?

I made a mistake. It was a high-paying shoot, at least, for my employer’s business. I’m too much of a perfectionist, perhaps, but it was a shoot I’m not so happy about.

A couple, maybe engaged, maybe together for a long time. Fairly reserved people, they didn’t have an appointment but managed to catch me at a slow time — even still, having no “mental prep” throws me off — and they were in a hurry.

An Aside: Rudeness and Frustration

Not to mention every drop-in looking for document photos, and I should be at there beck and call regardless of whether I have other customers. They stew and fret in the seats we foolishely provide, glaring impatiently into the studio room, upsetting my clients. What would I do if I owned the place? Raise prices on ID photos. Emblazon them at the front of the store with a glowing neon statement: “Yes, they are very expensive here,” and get rid of the waiting chairs.

They were very pleasant to work with, but I don’t think the shoot was worth what they paid. Sure, digital copies aren’t cheap anywhere: if a photographer is giving everything away, they should ask for everything in return. We only really got one angle, though. I mean, we took many different poses, from a few different angles, but we didn’t get past the “money shot.”

An Aside: The Money Shot

“Smile. Make it real. Look at the camera, all at once. *Snap* No one blinked? Good.” Kah-ching!

That’s only really good for a $20 – $30 single pose pack. Well, in my opinion. I feel like I’m going to cause an argument every time I suggest that the subject doesn’t have to be staring directly into the camera to make it a good photo. That thought is so limiting! People who come every month and pay for multiple poses and only want the money shot: I want to slap them. Some people just want the 3/4 headshot of their grandchild in an 8×10 of every milestone. Fine, I get that, but when I think “Full, Professional Photo Shoot” I imagine a more full range of expressions and interactions and eye directions and actual emotions to go home with, not a bag full of headshots from the exact same day.

“See all these different photos in which your faces all look the same? Really, just pick your favourite one and get a load of sizes, it’s less expensive.”

If you are there for business photos, that’s a different story. Something to update your Linked In profile is going to have a very specific look, and it can take working through multiple poses before we get one that is right. Though, often in that sense, one is all you need.

I feel like I’m judging my clients, that feels all wrong. Thing is, I don’t like selling work that I’m not happy with, and I’m not happy with a lot of my work. Perfectionism or an intermediate’s lack of confidence. Who knows.

I feel these people were not looking at the industry of photography accurately, and therefore spent money they should not have. In a more private environment, a more carefully planned event and with less ticking clocks we may have done better. If I had all the time in the world for them we may have reached a few intimate levels, I may have photographed real interaction between the two of them. They wouldn’t be going home with a mundane collection of “money shots.” 
That’s just my opinion, that’s just my style. I hope they’re happy with what they got, I don’t mean to poop on their parade.

The Editing Process

People are often shocked by the price of photography: what makes it so expensive?

“You’re just taking pictures.”

Along with the photographer’s education, wear-and-tear upkeep of equipment and other general business overhead there is the pre-shoot and post-shoot work to pay for.

Part of the post-shoot work is culling poor pictures, editing winners, connecting with the client and setting up print orders. That is, if the photographer handles printing. I think they should.

Editing is one of the least understood expenses. The following video is the complete process of what I consider a “basic” edit on a picture of my friend’s beautiful newborn baby, Nevaeh. Starting in Camera Raw and moving through to Photoshop for touch-ups, each step took about 10 minutes.

That’s short. There are about 10 keepers that I have to edit. Minimally, that equates to 200 minutes. Roughly three and a half hours of detailed, painstaking, window-crashing, educated work that has nothing to do with “taking pictures.”

“So any picture could take upwards of 20+ minutes to edit? That’s a lot of time to pay for, let’s leave the edits out to save money.”

I am not comfortable doing that. Sure, photos can look pretty great right out of the camera, but when you look at a photographer’s portfolio you are seeing the best of their work. Their most complete process. The work that they think you want from them. The work that they are most likely under-charging for! Understanding each other’s needs is what makes pre-photography work so valuable: meeting for a coffee and discussing specifics and PRICE!

Have a look at the video to see what basic work goes in to editing a photo, I think you will find it is particularly lack-luster before.

How to Synchronize External Audio with Camera Audio in Adobe Premier CC 2015

DSLR cameras are fairly advanced, but when recording professional quality video their omni-directional microphones often leave much to be desired. This video will demonstrate how to combine audio recorded from any other source with the audio from the camera.

 

When I was discussing mixing audio from multiple sources with the audio from my DSLR, my instructors and my classmates said: “Yeah, it’s easy, just align the peaks in premier.” Uh huh. Right.

No.

Premier has a much smarter process to handle this for us.

Equipment Used:

Primary camera: Canon SL1

Secondary camera: Nikon D3200

Audio Recorder: Zoom H2N

 

Review: Koolehaoda Tripod/Monopod

For the shots that you just can’t hand-hold the camera, you need a tripod. But who wants to lug that thing around? Travel tripods are very alluring, but how is there quality?

For our photography contest, my college club collected a few prizes together. While we were picking out our grand prize, I thought: “This is a great time to check out one of those travel tripods, and I don’t even have to spend a dime!”

So on the college books we collected our prizes, and I am very impressed with our lil’ compact tripod.

koolehaoda Q-666 SLR Camera Tripod Monopod & Ball Head Portable Compact Travel

Things I’m not totally sure of:

  • Ring tensions — These seem like the way to go, other than screw tension, as the plastic clasps tend to break, pooching a whole tripod. I’m not certain of how the rings function, so I can’t say for their longevity

  • I haven’t had the pleasure of using this for any amount of time, so I don’t know how parts will loosen or break down in the future.

    IMG_7532 All The Gear
    Tripod dismantled and re-assembled into monopod form. All the goodies here came in the box. From the top: plush case to cover the ball head, small tool kit for field tightening and repair (an allen key, pretty much), padded soft-case for whole tripod, shipping box, main body, detachable leg and centre column

Cost:

$99.99 – $120

IMG_7525 Bag Compare
Here is a pack-size comparison to a Manfrotto of similar build. The Koolehaoda tripod fits into a bag roughly 2/3 the size of the Manfrotto. Also, the Manny (which cost nearly $200) came with no carrying method. This is a bag from a $40 tripod. Kool came with a sling bag and a carry strap attached to the main shaft, most visible in a photo below.

Fold size:

Folds to about 1 foot height, 6 or 8 inch diameter

IMG_7522 Dual Level Ball Head
The precision ball head on the Kool has dual levels and rubberized adjustment knobs.

Features:

  • Dual locking legs for height or width (helpful with macro)
  • Professional style ballhead with dual levels
  • Detachable centre column and leg for monopod use
  • Ring-style leg tensions
  • Carry strap on tripod and soft carry case
  • Centre column spring-loaded hook for weights (if it’s windy)

The build of this tripod appears very sturdy, but it’s mint and they always loosen up over time. Barring major physical abuse, this tripod should outlast any local $50 – $80 models, and the ring tensions seem unlikely to break (unlike the plastic clasps that are common to bargain models).

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Seen in the slideshow above, the tripod has a removable centre column and leg. Disassembling the tripod allows for it to be used as a monopod. First, unscrew the spring loaded hook at the base of the centre column. This will need to be placed somewhere (perhaps the nifty ballhead bag, and then placed inside the main bag with the remaining legs). This hook would be used to add weight to the tripod to steady it in wind. Next, loosen the centre column’s tension ring to remove it from the body. Then, unscrew the leg marked with the lock and orange collar. Finally, screw the leg into the centre column. Bam, monopod.

Yes, that is the most impressed look I am capable of.

More features, taller centre column extension, and added toolkit on a Manfrotto of about double the price.

IMG_7527 Chris Height
Max height? Here’s my college bud Chris standing just behind both tripods at full extension. Manny on the left, Kool on the right. He’s about 6′ 5″. Remember: without extending the centre column, tripods are sturdier. The Manny is taller without the centre columns extended.

Admittedly, the Manfrotto brand carries a lot of weight (respect-wise and on your back as well). I have no doubt in my mind that the Koolehaoda tripod would never outlast my Manfrotto, but the Manny didn’t come with a toolkit, and after less than five months of owning it I need to carry around an allen key to frequently tighten the ball head mount. Not impressed. It didn’t come with a bag, either.

Why do I recommend this tripod?

From my experience buying tripods, this is a good deal. Unless you’re shooting video and you need the control arm, the ball heads are magic to use. Not everyone likes them, but for me they are a godsend.

The price is right in the middle of cheap and expensive, and the build quality looks like it will hold up for a good deal of time. I’m nice to my gear, though. It might get left on a floor for a while, but it doesn’t get tossed around. When I replaced my previous $40 tripod it wasn’t totally broken, but the plastic clasp tension on one of the legs snapped in cold weather. There is no way to fix it, so I bought a Manny that I knew I could fix at a hardware store. As long as the rings hold up, everything else on this tripod seems easily replaceable.

 

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