Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Family Week - Kevin and Cara

In early January, Kevin, my brother, and Cara, my new sister-in-law, came out to Colorado. They got married earlier this year and this was their first trip out here as newlyweds. I just had to spend some time with them taking photos, so we set up a shoot in Pueblo while they were visiting our parents.

Let me say... this couple has so much collective personality! Kevin was always in the spotlight for some reason, whether it was because of his huge mohawk and torn up clothes or because he was on the stage singing in a musical. Oh, the stories I have that could show how much personality he has... but that's for another time. Cara is no slacker in the personality department, either. She's got a PhD in Communication and Culture, she's quite outspoken on cultural and political issues, has an awesome sense of humor and can be as much of a ham as my brother. Essentially, they're perfect for each other!

We headed out early on a Sunday morning, while the temperature was around 25°F, and drove to the historic Union District in Pueblo. This area is known for it's picturesque buildings, lovely river walk and the gorgeous interior of Union Depot. So where did we go first? Straight down an alley. Why? Remember all that personality I mentioned? It just didn't seem right to have them stand in front of a beautiful building and pose and make faces that just weren't them. I think the best example of the alley being the right choice came when we were walking along and Kevin saw a heart spray painted on a dumpster, which we instantly had to go get some photos with.

As the weather warmed up and they got used to the camera, they really fell into their own rhythm. They became the couple that I'd assume they usually are. They were goofing around but also being affectionate. I was giving them some direction but they were still doing their own thing. By the time we were done on Union, we had a bunch of really great photos.

That wasn't the end of the day, though. Later, we went down to the river for some photos around sunset. These were very warm and dreamy photos with lots of backlight and lens flare... quite romantic for a newlywed couple!

Thank you, Kevin and Cara, for letting me take some photos while you were in town. Hopefully when we come visit you in Boston you'll show us around and let me take a few more!

You can see more photos from the shoot here.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Tech Tuesdays - White House Custom Color

First impressions can make a huge difference. Imagine what my first impression was when I submitted my test prints online on a Monday afternoon and had prints in my hands on a Thursday! That's exactly what happened when I signed up with White House Custom Color (WHCC). The prints were done and shipped via Overnight UPS! These were not prints for a client. These were not prints that I paid for. These were prints to make sure my monitor was calibrated correctly! Sent OVERNIGHT!

OK, sorry for that initial amazement. So what is WHCC? White House Custom Color is a professional photo lab. In order to have an account with them, you have to be a pro photographer. They offer print services for everything from prints to business cards, photo albums to gallery wraps. By focusing their business on pro customers, they are able to offer the highest quality prints at pretty competitive prices.

Let's go back to that first box that arrived on my doorstep. Inside were the 5 8x10 prints that I submitted. By itself, that was a pretty good deal. By creating an account, you essentially get 5 free prints that you can show clients. But wait... there's more! There were also printed samples on all of their different photo papers with different finishes applied. These are invaluable, both so that the pro can see and feel what the print options are and so that clients can see what their prints will look like. Also included were print samples of their long-run papers that you might purchase for products like postcards, business cards or albums. Full pricing info, as well as a "getting started" pack were included to round out the shipment. The icing on the cake was the overnight shipping. Wow! What a great first impression!

When it came time to place my first order, it couldn't have been much easier. I was ordering the accordion books shown above, so it was a little more complicated than just ordering prints, but between the template they provided, a great FAQ on their website and their design and ordering ROES software, I had my book designed and ordered very quickly. Payment was easy, as their software is linked to my account, so there was no digging out my wallet to input payment info, as everything is already in my account. The best surprise for me was that the price that was listed in their software was the price with shipping (2-Day UPS), so it didn't cost any more than the price I saw!

When the package arrived less than a week later, it was packaged very well. The box could have been crushed on 4 sides and the contents would have been safe. You'd think after all of these pleasant surprises with WHCC, it couldn't get any better, but it did. Upon opening the box and unpacking everything, there was a Blow-Pop waiting for me inside! Now I want to place another order just to see what surprises are in store for me.

White House Custom Color is not available to everyone. They're not the cheapest option around either, but that's OK. They obviously make customer service a top priority, and in my short relationship with them I've become smitten. Add beautiful prints to the great customer service and I'm not sure why I'd try anyone else. I'm sure there will be something that will get me to try another professional printer, but I'm pretty sure I'll always have a soft spot for WHCC.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Family Week - The In-Laws and My Mom

Way back in 2009, I got together with my wife, her parents and my mom for a Thanksgiving photo shoot. For whatever reason, the photos never made it onto my Flickr account, so I never blogged about the shoot. Without further ado, here are some family photos!

Pueblo, Colorado has some great locations for photos. One of them, Rosemount Museum, is just a block away from my in-law's house. I looked at the weather, picked the warmest day and set up a time to shoot, choosing the latest part of the afternoon when it would be the warmest and we'd have great, low sunlight falling on us.

Since we all get along, it wasn't hard to relax and get some natural photos of everyone. My wife and her parents were having a great time and some of my favorites of the day are of them goofing around. For the photos of me and my mom, Belinda took the camera and shot us. She's pretty good, eh? Finally, when it was time for some photos of Belinda and me, my mom took the camera. It was fun to be on the other side of the camera for a while. Of course, Belinda took full advantage of the fact that she could boss me around and gave me quite clear directions on what she wanted! :)

At the end of the day, we had some good photos and some great memories. Everyone had fun, the weather was beautiful and, most importantly, our moms were happy! Does it get any better than that?

You can see more photos here.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Tech Tuesdays - The Internet

OK... two weeks ago we had Tech Tuesdays - Blogs. Last week we had Tech Tuesdays - Flickr. Today, for the final installment of Tech Tuesdays' "Online Edition", we're just going to go for it and have Tech Tuesdays - The Internet. I mean, can you get a much more useful tool than the internet?

What did photographers do without the internet? Want to buy some new gear, but like to research it first? Go online. Want to research a specific lighting technique? Go online. Want to network or find a local club? Go online. Do you need ideas or inspiration? Go online.

Software can now be downloaded and updated without ever putting a physical piece of media in your computer. Photos can be posted to a web site for proofing. Cameras and flashes can even be updated over the internet!

Tonight, I just had an experience that really illustrates how powerful of a tool the internet has become for photographers. I was creating a book with White House Custom Color (WHCC - They'll get their own Tech Tuesdays soon), but I didn't have the template for the book. I went to their web site, downloaded the template and opened it in Photoshop. I still didn't know exactly what size the photos needed to be, so I did a quick search on Google and got the answer I was looking for. After creating my pages in Photoshop, I used WHCC's custom program, which checks with WHCC to ensure all pricing is up to date and supplies are in stock before you get started, to build my book, place my order, upload all my files and pay, all with the click of a button!

You know the power of the internet. It's a part of life now. For photographers, it's not only a part of life, it's an indispensable tool that gets used on a daily basis. So what happens if my internet is ever out? I go shoot some pictures (which I then post online, as soon as it's working agian)!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Studio Diaries - Day 1

I've never spent much time in a studio. In fact, prior to yesterday, I had only shot in a studio once. Someone else set up the lights. Someone else provided the equipment. Someone else arranged everything. I just showed up and shot. So, when I decided to join a studio, I was a little intimidated. I wasn't sure how hard it would be to set everything up, to get all of the equipment working properly, and to get a photo that looked decent. Fortunately, once I stepped into the studio, those fears quickly disappeared and were replaced by a total enjoyment of the experience and anticipation of my next trip to the studio.

There are a few things that made the transition from shooting outdoors in natural light to shooting in a studio with strobes a little easier. First, Carl Marx at the North Denver Photography Studio (my studio!) was full of support. He made it very clear that if I had any questions, needed any help or just wanted some advice that I should feel free to ask him at any time. He also encouraged me to spend as much time at the studio as possible so that I could get comfortable with the equipment. It's a good feeling to have someone like him on your side. Studio shooting was also greatly simplified by using Pocket Wizards. I won't go into the details here, but expect to read more about them in an upcoming Tech Tuesday post. All I'll say for now is that everything should be as easy to operate as Pocket Wizards are!

So, what did I end up shooting? After seeing many recommendations, I bought a styrofoam head at a beauty supply store to practice with. They really are great. They don't move, look pretty neat (at least in my opinion), and are cheap! The only down side is that they're lousy at making small-talk. But seriously, it's nice to have something that shows how the light might fall on a person's face so that when it's a person sitting there, you're comfortable lighting them. I'd assume that if you practiced on something like an apple, a real person might be a little different to work with!

I've got more shoots lined up this week. Some of them are actually with real people, so we'll see how well my practice has paid off. Expect more Studio Diaries to come soon...

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Sammy T Plays for Hope Connects

I recently re-connected with a college friend, Sam (aka: Sammy T). He and I were in a band together and always shared a love of music. Sam has stayed on the music path and on Thursday night he was using his talents to benefit those who are less fortunate. He, along with his friend George (aka: OrangePeelMoses), played at Spill for a fundraiser for Hope Connects to help raise money for the people of Congo.

It was great to see Sam and meet George. Their music sounded great. It also felt good to see so many people come out to support Hope Connects, including Wojtek Wolski of the Colorado Avalanche, who tended bar for the night! I'm sure I'll be at the next event and I'm sure you'll be seeing photos from it as well. Hopefully I'll be able to let you know in advance so you can attend and support this great charity and listen to some great music.

Here's a link to Sam's blog: Sammy T

You can see more photos from the evening here.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Tech Tuesdays - Flickr

Hmmm... is this the start of a series? For the second week in a row, Tech Tuesdays is focusing on online technology for photographers. This week it's Flickr! For those who are unfamiliar with it, Flickr is a website and online community that allows you to share your photographs with other people, join groups of people who take similar photos and participate in communities that are full of ideas and information.

The main feature of Flickr is the ability to upload your photos and share them with friends, family or the world. There are free memberships and Pro memberships. The free membership allows you to upload a limited number of photos and have a limited number of sets (a way of organizing your photos). The Pro membership allows you to upload unlimited photos and have unlimited sets and collections (a way of organizing your sets).

You can also submit your photos to groups. Groups are made up of Flickr members with a similar interest, which can include a particular model or brand of camera, style of photography, location or subject. Here's an example of a group: The Portrait Group. The wonderful thing about groups is that they're not just places to show off your work. They're also great sources of inspiration and information. Browsing through other people's photos can provide inspiration for future shoots. Browsing through the group forums can provide lots of information, tips, tricks and techniques specific to the group's focus. As an example, check out the forums of a few groups I'm a member of: Strobist and Nikon D90 Club.

Flickr is not just a great way to share photos you're proud of. It's also a great way for photographers to be seen. By strategically placing your photos in relevant groups and diligently tagging your photos, local people will find you while searching Flickr. Google Images even searches Flickr, so those keywords and tags can be very helpful if someone is doing an image search. I also include my website and blog in the notes of every photo I post, along with having my contact information in my profile.

Some people will say that sites like Flickr can do more harm than good to photographers. You will rarely see any actual constructive criticism about a photo. All of the comments are always positive. It's hard to improve and grow as a photographer if you never hear any suggestions or criticism of your work. I agree with this sentiment, but would argue that Flickr, with it's active communities and global pool of contributors, does more good than harm.

So there you have it, my quick take on Flickr. It won't replace your web site. It won't act as your portfolio. You can't sell photos on Flickr. It won't put you at the top of a Google search. What it can do is provide you with enough inspiration and support that you never are at a loss for what project to tackle next or for how to get started with it. It might even drive a few potential clients to your website!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Tech Tuesdays - Blogs!

These days, a blog is one of the best ways to let the world know what projects you're working on or what your opinion is about a certain product. For photographers, a blog is probably even more important than a Twitter account, a Facebook page or even a website! There are a number of blogs that I frequent and some that I check every day. I can't tell you how much useful information I've gleaned from surfing different blogs. Here are the blogs that I check out every day:

- Scott Kelby's Blog: Scott Kelby is the author of some of the best Photoshop books around. He's also a pretty entertaining writer, which always makes for a good read.
- Photofocus: Scott Bourne is like a blogging (and Tweeting) machine. I'm always amazed at how many blog posts he has.
- Strobist: Strobist is one of those sites that has so much information it just overloads and overwhelms you, but if you have a question about lighting, there's probably an answer for you in there.
- Nikon Rumors: I just like to see what's happening in the world of Nikon.
- Flickr: OK, so Flickr isn't a blog, but it can be viewed as a pulse of the worldwide photographic community at any given moment. Make some contacts, join some groups, follow some conversations and you'll have gobs of current and valuable information at your fingertips.

I'm going to keep this short and sweet. I know there are lots more blogs out there, but these are just some that I check on a daily basis. Now, to really make this a Tech Tuesday, I need to talk about some gear. Fortunately, Scott Kelby and Scott Bourne have already talked about gear for me, so I'm just going to provide a few links to recent articles they've written. Scott Kelby's article is about his favorite stuff from 2009 and Scott Bourne's article is about seven must have accessories. Enjoy!

"Best of 2009" Picks

Seven Must Have Accessories For Your New DSLR

Monday, January 4, 2010

What Inspires You?

This is the question that came to me while doing some chores today. What inspires me? For me, inspiration is what keeps me going, gets me excited and pushes me forward. Here are a few of my inspirations:

- Creating something new (at least for me). When I see certain photos, I get into a frenzy thinking about how I'd create something similar, which drives me to think about the steps I need to take to accomplish certain things so that others can follow.
- Music. Sometimes I'll put on an album that I know I love, just because I know that I get stuff done when it's on. Other times I'll hear something new that will just kickstart my day and rock my world!
- Checking out the competition. When I see other people running their business, when I see their marketing materials, web sites and advertisements, I either think, "Ooh, that's nice. I'd better get on the ball." or, "I can do better than that!". Either way, it's a good thing.
- My wife. When I see how hard my wife, Belinda, works and how much time and effort she puts into her career and her extracurricular activities, I can't help but be inspired. I was just looking over her volunteer resume last night and was amazed. Seeing how much she does made me feel like a bit of a slacker. You can bet I'm going to step up my game after a conversation with my wife!

So that's a short list of my major sources of inspiration. Yours may be different. They may be purely financial or egotistical, and that's OK, as long as you're delivering a quality product to your clients. So, what inspires you?