Business Portrait Timeline — A Red-Eye Photo Studio Challenge

I’ve developed quite the collection of portrait studio gear over the last couple years, and I’m getting itchy to start using it to develop the stunning images that my clients deserve. Corporate headshots, or high quality imagery for anyone with a LinkedIn or other social media profile, seems like the way to go. Starting off, anyway.

I’m still working out the kinks of a convenient, efficient and quick workflow with a portable, small-space-capable studio, so late one night (OK, it was early one morning, to be technical) I attempted to get through a self portrait in the span of 1 hour.

Imagining myself as the client: “I want this stranger in and out of my home as quickly as possible so I can get back to watching Game of Thrones in sweats. The images better be good, fast, and I want to review them before he leaves.”

Knowing this as the photographer, I have a breakdown similar to this:

  1. Set up photo gear: 15 minutes
    • Backdrop stands and backdrop
    • Light stands (up to 4, but probably just 1 or 2 with only an hour on the clock)
    • Lights, levels and positioning
    • Camera settings (custom white balance and other basics)
  2. Photograph the subject: 15 minutes
  3. Review images, select and pay: 15 minutes
  4. Pack up: 15 minutes

That’s a very tight schedule. My plan is to tell the client to free up 2 hours for the session, while my goal would be 1 hour. Under promise, over deliver!

I accomplished my timeline well enough, and even had time to spare. I changed a filter halfway through which messed up my white balance, and didn’t bother correcting it. I assumed I might do it in Photoshop later, but no matter what I did the results were not where I wanted them. The photograph below was taken on a different occasion under similar circumstances, where I took the time to set everything up correctly.

AIMG_4321.jpg

The botched photograph had more professional attire, but that is still one of my favourite shirts. I let my friends write and draw on it with one of those fancy clothing markers. It went as expected: lewd jokes that I can’t wear in public. They’ve all but faded now, and are not visible in the photograph.

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:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

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.

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).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

 

I should let you know that if you click a link here and buy something from Amazon I will make a small commission. You can consider me a salesman, but I am definitely not hiding anything. Everything I list I have faith in.

I hope to provide you with enough information to make an informed decision about your purchases. If you have any questions, feel free to ask me, and if you plan on buying a product I’ve mentioned, please use my links!

Speedlight Review (Yongnuo YN-560 II)

The search for a powerful, trustworthy speedlight that doesn’t cost $400 could leave someone penniless and frustrated. This flash is a good’n.

I bought this flash about a year ago to replace an ancient Vivitar. I still use the Vivitar in combination with the Yongnuo, but only that way.

Portable flash has come a long way since I had previously used it as a youngster with my mother’s Minolta Maxxum to photograph graffiti under bridges. When I got into the market for the devices, I was astounded at the prices. Canon marks flashes with real on-camera capabilities above $300. As a student, that is way out of my price range, and I was unwilling to gamble on 3rd party companies.

My mind was changed about a year ago in a photography for journalism course when my instructor told me that Yongnuo was a trustworthy brand. I was surprised to hear him advocate El-Cheapo when he was using $3000+ cameras, Canon speedlights and Pocket Wizards. He didn’t seem the type to pinch pennies on gear…

For more of my justifications for 3rd party companies, see To 3rd Party, or Not?

The YN-560 II is (almost) everything someone could want in a camera flash.

Almost, as it lacks proper pairing with Canon cameras, at least the SL1 and XT, and therefore cannot make use of the advanced flash settings. It seems a wireless transceiversystem (similar to Pocket Wizard) can add that capability, though.

It’s fairly powerful, with a guide number of 190′ at ISO 100 at 105mm zoom (it can light a subject almost 200 feet away when the camera is set to ISO 100 and the flash at maximum zoom).

Without knowing it, I tested this once. Photographing a subject across a pond that was roughly 100 feet wide, my idea was half-baked, but the flash did it’s job!

It also has all the movement to compete with name-brand flashes. It rotates and tilts so the photographer can use it on-camera and bounce the flash to avoid that direct lit, dimensionless, flat look. Also, red-eye is mostly eliminated because of the flash head’s height above the lens.

The YN-560 II has a recycle rate on its most powerful setting around 2.5 – 4 seconds, meaning it takes under four seconds for it to recharge and flash again. In continual flash mode, or the camera in drive mode, it fires at 1/4 power a maximum 3 times, and 1/8th a maximum of 7.

1/8th power with this flash can be plenty for 3/4 or taller portrait photography flashed through an umbrella at ISO 100 and apertures ranging up to f/8.

The build seems frail, though this flash has been dropped from a 6′ light stand up to… several… times… It still functions perfectly. As far as weather resistance, the battery compartment is most likely to be vulnerable, or perhaps where the swivel connects the flash head to the body. It’s not likely that it would last long in adverse conditions, but this one has survived a small share of condensation from temperature differences and misty/snowy days.

I’m probably really lucky about the tumbles it took, as well…

Used with Energizer 1.2v 2300 mAh NiMh batteries, the flash charges quickly. In power modes under 1/1 it functions for a long period before the strain on the batteries is noticeable, 50+ shots at 1/4.

No longer carried by companies like B and H due to updates in the product line, the flash is still available from sites like Amazon. An updated model may be adviseable since they’re in the same price range.

Yongnuo Speedlights on Amazon

Price Range:

  • $89 – $110

Features:

  • 90° degree tilt
  • 270° degree rotation
  • 24 – 105 zoom light focusing (24, 28, 35, 50, 70, 80, 105)
  • 1/1 – 1/128 power settings with 1/3 incremental stops between divisions
  • Notification sound for full charge/ ready to fire
  • Two slave modes for proper pairing with other flash and camera shutter
  • multi flash mode
  • Remote trigger cable and DC in covered by rubber flap
  • 109′ GN at 105mm, ISO 100

Power

  • Four AA batteries
  • Specified DC adapter

I should let you know that if you click a link here and buy something from Amazon I will make a small commission. You can consider me a salesman, but I am definitely not hiding anything. Everything I list I have faith in as a product enough to recommend it, or have used myself.

I hope to provide you with enough information to make an informed decision about your purchases. If you have any questions, feel free to ask me, and if you plan on buying a product I’ve mentioned, please use my links!

Hand-Held Photography

Certain settings are impossible to use with certain lenses. It’s best to understand a few basic principles before setting out without a tripod.

There are many times when a tripod or extra gear is simply not practical. Without the extras, a photographer needs to know what their camera can produce in its bare-bones state.

Combine the photographic triangle (aperture, shutter speed and ISO), controlled by the camera, and a lens of given focal length and the limitations are easy to see.

Most beginning photographers will have a “stock lens,” whatever the camera was sold with. This lens is often considered “slow.” The definition of a slow or fast lens refers to its aperture setting. Minimum apertures are often listed on the lens on the plastic surrounding the glass. Stock lenses are often in the range of f/3.5 – f/5.6.

A “slow” lens is not a bad lens, many stock lenses have impressive capabilities. You can also spend many hundreds of dollars on a slow lens.

The “f/#” is an equation for how “wide-open” the lens is. “f” being the diameter of the lens and the number being a division created by the iris blades. ISO is how fast a camera can record an image.

More on aperture and ISO later, if you are having trouble adjusting these settings you may need to switch into a Manual Mode

Aperture, ISO and shutter speed work together to determine how an image will look. Limitations to handheld photography will be seen when the shutter speed drops below a certain point, and will be further affected by the lens’ length. If your shutter speed is too slow, your body will move too much to take sharp pictures.

A rough rule that proves to be very effective is to match or exceed the focal length with the shutter speed. This rule is meant to take sharp images from a hand-held camera, it does not account for subject movement. Great for fruit stands, landscapes — just about any still subject. However, any photographer will have difficulty taking sharp pictures with a shutter speed of more than 1/30th of a second, no matter the focal length, unless the camera or lens has stabilization technology.

In practice, a lens with a focal length of 50mm has a minimum hand-held shutter speed of 1/50th of a second (1/50sec). A 300mm lens has a minimum 1/300sec shutter speed.

Having a “faster” lens (able to open up wider, has a small division number) will allow faster shutter speeds at lower ISO (high ISO is considered low quality due to grain). Further, depending on subject matter, the minimum hand-held shutter speed for a lens may not be fast enough. Careful, as well, as the closer a subject is the more pronounced the limited depth of field will be from a wide aperture.

My benchmark shutter speeds for portrait photography using ambient light (no flash) are 1/60sec and 1/125sec. I find these do a good job of eliminating blur from subject movement, and most of the time allow reasonable apertures with low ISO.

A good investment for any photographer is a 1.8 lens around 50mm. These can be found from name brands to match cameras from around $100 – $150. Gambling on 3rd party is out of the question for these as prices are very similar.

IMG_7181.jpg

All those extra stops open up a lot of light conditions to hand-held photography.

I use a Canon EF 50mm 1.8 II. It’s my sharpest lens, runner up is the 18-55 EFS that the SL1 came with.

The only downfall of a prime lens (fixed focal length) is to adjust composition a lot of foot work needs to be done. No pampered zoom capabilities, but the trade-off is a very high quality lens for a low price. Take a deep breath and buy a step counter as well.

I should let you know that if you click a link here and buy something from Amazon I will make a small commission. You can consider me a salesman, but I am definitely not hiding anything. Everything I list I have faith in as a product enough to recommend it, or have used myself.

I hope to provide you with enough information to make an informed decision about your purchases. If you have any questions, feel free to ask me, and if you plan on buying a product I’ve mentioned, please use my links!