Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Fashion Denver First Friday - May

What do you get when you mix a clothing showroom, lots of fashionable people, a First Friday in Denver and a camera? Lots of great photos! Fashion Denver invited me down to take some photos at their May First Friday festivities. We couldn't have asked for a better night. It was nice enough that people were just coming out of their winter hibernation to enjoy the nice weather, but just cool enough that people were happy to come into the shop to warm up a bit.

What a great way to celebrate spring! The music didn't stop all night long and there were models walking around in fashionable outfits right off the racks. There was great conversation, interesting people-watching and cold beer. I was in the middle of it all with my camera.

I set up a bright pink backdrop and Brandi Shigley, the mastermind behind Fashion Denver, steered people from the showroom to my impromptu photo booth. It always amazes me how much a person's personality can come out in front of a camera, even if they've only just met you. Although some people required a little encouragement, most were comfortable just jumping on the pink paper and getting goofy!

Between First Friday party-goers, I had a chance to snap a few photos of the clothing designers and the models who were wearing their creations. It was great to chat with them and make a few new connections. I think positive and creative people are attracted to other positive and created people, which means that Fashion Denver is the epicenter of positive vibes and creativity in Denver because Brandi is the most positive and creative person I know.

At the end of the night, once the beer was gone and the crowds had disappeared, all that was left was some torn pink paper and a few tired Fashion Denver interns. I had a big smile on my face and couldn't wait to do it again. Fortunately, the next First Friday was only a month away!

To see more photos from this event, click here.

UPDATE: Join me this Friday, July 2, at Fashion Denver for more First Friday festivities! More details here.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Tech Tuesdays - Pocket Wizard Hotshoe Adapter

Strobist. It's a word that was only recently added to the photography lexicon. Essentially, it's the concept of not using on-camera flash and using off-camera flash as a light source instead. The most popular light sources are Speedlights (which I'll use to refer to any hotshoe flash, not just Nikon's models). The problem with a hotshoe is that it's on the camera!

Some camera manufacturers have added capabilities to their cameras that allow them to trigger Speedlights remotely by using the on-camera flash to send commands to Speedlights. This system tends to work great except for a few limitations: the flash has to be in sight so the light from the flash will reach it; and it doesn't always work in bright sunlight.

One way to work around this limitation is to use a Pocket Wizard to trigger the Speedlight. Unfortunately, this option has it's limitations as well. Not all Speedlights have the capability to connect to a Pocket Wizard. Also, you loose any TTL capabilities that you had by using your camera to control the flash.

Fortunately, Flash Zebra came up with an inexpensive solution that solves the first problem. Their Speedlight hotshoes adapter gives your hotshoe flash the ability to connect to Pocketwizards (or other radio triggers). I purchased one for my SB-600 and took it for a spin the other night.

The way these work is simple. You attach your flash to the unit, which is essentially a hotshoe with a cable coming out of it. The unit has another hotshoe mount on the bottom so it can be mounted anywhere your flash can be mounted. It also has a threaded insert if you want to mount it directly to a threaded light stand. The cable plugs into your Pocketwizard and you're ready to shoot!

Although you don't have any TTL capabilities, it only takes a little trial and error to figure out the correct settings for your flash. Then you just shoot! I didn't have a single misfire in almost two hours of use. The only problem I experienced was that the flash would go into standby mode when not used for a while, which caused me to miss a few shots because the flash was asleep. The second shot worked every time once it woke up.

I had used my SB-600 many times with Nikon's CLS (Creative Lighting System), which relies on the on-camera flash , line of sight and hopefully no bright sunlight. It works, but I missed more shots with CLS than I missed with the Flash Zebra product because I moved away from the flash or the sun was too bright .

Not only is the adapter a great product, but Flash Zebra shipped it super-fast. I think it arrived two days after I ordered it! I know for a fact that it shipped the same day. There was even a nice handwritten thank you on my invoice! I know where I'm going to go the next time I need any hotshoe flash accessories!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Yelpapalooza 2.0

It was a dark and stormy night... well, it wasn't dark when I got there, but like most nights, it eventually got dark. It was stormy, though, which could have been a good thing because Yelpapalooza 2.0 was crazy enough without another few hundred people there!

So, first off, what's up with the name? Yelpapalooza? 2.0? This event was hosted by Yelp, a web site that lets locals review local businesses. They're an outgoing company that likes to have fun, hence the name "Yelpapalooza". This was their 2nd year in Denver, so there's the "2.0".

I started using Yelp to find good places to eat and quickly became a contributor. I found a few friends on there who also write reviews and was talking to one of them, Demetrius, who also happens to be a photographer. He had been offered the opportunity to photograph this event, but he just wanted to attend and have a good time, so he recommended me instead. Yelp liked what they saw and before I knew it I was in!

Instead of the traditional event photos that you get from most events, I asked if they'd like me to set up a photobooth. Actually, it's more of a portable studio, as I had a full-sized seamless backdrop and studio lighting. They said yes and it turns out everyone loved it! Lots of Yelpers (people who use Yelp) who attended the event still have my photos as their avatars on Facebook, Yelp and who knows where else.

Although the night started out slow (darn rain!), it quickly picked up and people got a little less inhibited (thank you, alcohol!) in front of the camera. Fortunately, I had some great helpers. My wife was there to steer people towards the camera and hand out business cards. Sammy T, a good friend of mine, was there to schmooze and provide good vibes, as well as jump in on a few photos. And guess who else was there? Demetrius! He went to enjoy the party, but I think he spent more time hanging out with me, helping pose people and lending a hand wherever it was needed. If there's a camera around, he just can't stay away.

One thing I'll say about these Yelpers is that they're an outgoing bunch of people! They love to ham it up in front of the camera. I think I spent as much time smiling and laughing as I did taking photos! As I mentioned before, once the alcohol started flowing, people started to get a little more wild. Eventually, things started to get out of hand and the backdrop paid the price. It had drinks spilled on it, holes torn in it and people almost falling through it. Fortunately it held together until the end of the event and everyone who wanted photos got them.

Yelpapalooza 2.0 was an awesome event. I met so many wonderful people and had a blast. There was great food, great drinks and lots of free stuff. Despite the rain, hundreds of people still came out to party. I can't imagine what it would have been like if the weather had been nice and all 900 people who RSVP'd had shown up! Maybe next year... I'd better invest in some heavy-duty seamless paper!

You can find more photos from the event here.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Tech Tuesdays - Notes

Do you keep notes from your photo shoots? If you don't, you should start. Maybe they're technical notes about locations, lighting setups or scheduling. Or maybe they're lessons you've learned the hard way, either through mistakes you've made or reflecting on how the shoot could have gone better. These notes, when reviewed months or years down the road, not only give you a technical diary of your growth as a photographer, but also bring back memories of past shoots.

I started keeping notes with my first shoot. Like anyone just getting started, I made mistakes. Some were dumb mistakes that should not have happened. Some were just the kind of things you learn through experience. After every shoot, I come home, think about the shoot and write down one or two things that I can improve on next time. The things I've written about range from camera settings to working with different people to the weather.

A few examples of what I've written down in the past:
- Be specific on where to meet. I was standing on one side of the park, my model was standing on the other side.
- Long exposures + kids = blur! This is pretty self-explanatory, but still a good lesson.
- Plans can be changed. We had grand plans for a big shoot with a great theme. No one went with the theme, but we still got great photos.
- Put checks in your wallet, not your back pocket! Ummm... yeah. I put a check in my back pocket, forgot to take it out and washed it. I had to ask the client for another check. Talk about embarrassing!

By now I've got a pretty long list of lessons I've learned, but there's still something I can take away from every shoot. It might take a little thinking before I can identify what I'd do differently, but I promise there is always going to be something.

From time to time I'll read through my list and see how I'm doing at following my own advice. Many of the things I've written down have now become a part of my workflow or technique, but I find that I still make the same mistakes from time to time. I guess that's just a part of being human, though. You make mistakes, you learn from your mistakes, you keep on improving one day at a time. Which reminds me: I've got laundry to do... I'd better check my pockets first!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Meeting Of The Masters - Day 3

As if things could not get any better, Day 3 of Meeting Of The Masters rolled around and we got to spend some time with Joe Edelman and Kirk Voclain. I knew it was going to be a crazy and intense day because both of these guys have an amazing amount of energy, but I wasn't quite sure what was in store for us.

Joe led off the day with an amazing presentation. The previous two days gave us photographers talking to us about their various specialties, their history, and just generally how they shoot. Joe wasn't any different in what he told us, but he gave us a slick Powerpoint presentation. Normally, you think of a Powerpoint presentation and you think "Boring!", but Joe did a great job of using it as an outline to his talk while actually speaking to us and keeping things interesting. Listening to him talk is like drinking from a firehose: there is just too much information to process!

Not only did he give us tons of great information, he also set up some lights, told us why he was doing what he was doing and let us shoot on one of his setups (see the above photo)! Throughout the day he did this a few more times and we got to shoot some amazing stuff that we'd not normally get to shoot. His creativity and imagination are just off the charts. Oh, he also had my favorite quote of the meeting: "Color balance is for wussies!" I love it!

The next speaker was Kirk and he is just a wild and crazy guy! He also had a Powerpoint presentation and he also did a great job of keeping things lively and not relying on his slides to teach us but more to keep us on track. The thing that amazed me the most about Kirk is that he has such skill in posing (and his poses do not look posed), that he just needs to take one shot per pose before moving to the next pose. That means that 6 different poses equals just 6 shots! How can he do this? I don't know, but that's why he's a Master!

After his presentation, Kirk took us outside to show us some of his "voodoo" posing techniques and also how he works in natural light. Watching him work and seeing how he interacts with the models was so interesting. I don't see how he can keep his energy levels so high, but he does and it shows in his photos.

We wrapped up the day with some shooting in natural light. I was fortunate enough to work with some wonderful models on a one-on-one basis (with a great voice-activated-lightstand named Alexandra) and get some killer shots. It was the perfect ending to a great meeting.

So, would I say the Meeting Of The Masters was a success? Absolutely! Although the class was smaller than originally hoped for, I think it was the perfect size because we all got to spend quality time with the Masters, as well as getting to know each other much better. I can say I've made many new friends and that might not have been possible in a larger group. The Masters were so generous in their time and so down to earth. They came out to eat with us every night, they didn't mind talking photography for 12+ hours a day and they were happy to offer advice, encouragement, critique or knowledge when asked. I think it helped us to realize that they're just normal guys who do what they love every day (and happen to take amazing photos and work very hard).

So, when is next year's Meeting?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Meeting Of The Masters - Day 2

Day 2 started out with one of the most inspirational photography speakers I've ever had the pleasure of meeting, David Hickey. Although he came out with us for drinks last night and was a wild and crazy guy, I was not at all prepared for the guy who walked into the room the next morning. Instead of a crazy photographer, we all met a photographer who really takes the time to personally connect with his models, who develops energy and keeps it flowing during a shoot and who gets choked up while talking about his dog who just died, his wife whom he misses or how his photos have changed peoples' lives.

For all of the theory, technique and war-stories I knew I'd hear at this meeting, hearing David speak was exactly what I was hoping might happen. He cut through anything and everything having to do with equipment, technique or education and instead focused on the relationship between the photographer and subject. How simple is that? If you get along with the person you're photographing, if you have some sort of a connection, your photos will show it and will have that extra something that can't be achieved through camera, lights or Photoshop.

Now, I'm not saying that he isn't still a wild and crazy guy. He most certainly is. Hearing his stories about run-ins with the police and photographing at the Playboy Mansion, you know that he's lived quite a vicarious life as a photographer. Fortunately, there's a lot more to David Hickey and he was happy to share it with us.

The end of the day was spent with an open discussion period where the class had the opportunity to ask the Masters anything they wanted about photography. Some questions really got a variety of answers and sparked debate while others were turned into big jokes and had everyone laughing a lot. Hearing five photographers with decades of experience answer your questions is quite a treat. I grabbed many pearls of wisdom and learned that there really is no right answer to any given question. With Day 3 quickly approaching, I can't wait to see what's next...

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Tech Tuesdays - Classes and Events

The idea behind Tech Tuesdays is to talk about gear or items that you can use to enhance your photography. This includes everything from cameras and lenses to reflectors and web sites. Now it's also going to include training.

As you might have noticed, yesterday's post was about The Meeting Of The Masters. This was a class that I attended here in Denver. This was the first time for the event and it was excellent. The idea behind the event came from Jay Kilgore. He'd always wanted to get a bunch of world-class photographers together and have them talk about their careers, styles and experiences. This is exactly what happened and you'd better believe that there was lots to learn.

So, in addition to becoming a sponge and soaking up as much information as possible, what else can you get from a class? Depending on the size of the class, you can meet many people from different parts of the country (or the world). At this class, we had people from locations ranging from California to Maryland and Canada to Germany. The people were very nice and now I have plenty of contacts around the country if I'm ever in an area and want to set up a shoot.

We got to meet some local models and makeup artists, as well as photographers, so now I have greatly expanded my local network. I'm sure there will be many people that I'll collaborate with again in the near future. I know there are a few people that I'll keep in mind if a job ever comes up that I can't accept for any reason.

We also heard about industry trends and technology and got to hear the Masters' takes on the industry. We saw samples of products that are available from various vendors. We got coupons for various discounts and free prints. There were even door prizes that included gift certificates, camera bags and flash heads!

Although this was my first big training that I've been to, I can imagine that many of the other large sessions that occur throughout the year across the country are just as good for all of the reasons I mentioned above. Now that this class is over, I think I need to start looking for another class to attend!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Meeting Of The Masters - Day 1

The day started out with Art Ketchum, a Chicago-based photographer known for his beautiful work photographing body painting and for a number of catalogs. He's what you might consider more of a traditional shooter, if such a term can be applied to a Master. He's an older gentleman with a gruff voice that is unmistakably from Chicago. He places a big emphasis on light metering, ratios and lighting everything very well. A typical setup for him would consist of 5 lights. He talks and useful information, the kind that you only get from years of experience, just comes out of his mouth. It's quite amazing!

Watching him work with the model was a good experience. He would talk to her about what he wanted, meter the lighting, talk to her a bit more, tweak the lights, adjust her pose, tweak the lights, take a test shot, tweak the lights, adjust the model... you get the picture. His constant banter and encouragement to the model made her laugh and feel comfortable while he got the lights exactly how he wanted them. Once the lights were dialed in, he'd shoot away while still encouraging the model and come away with some great shots.

Art ended up shooting a few different lighting setups and even let us up to shoot on one of his setups. Of course, with 5 different Masters in the room, everyone got involved in the shoot by offering suggestions on posing and encouraging us to try different things. Even though only one person could shoot at a time, just standing back and listening to the Masters talk and watching them pose the model was a very rewarding experience.

The next Master of the day was Ivan Otis. If there is a photographer who could be considered the opposite personality of Art Ketchum, Ivan would come close. Where I would consider Art to be methodical, traditional and somewhat reserved, Ivan is spontaneous, boundary-pushing and not at all reserved. His presentation was not for the faint of heart, as it contained R-rated language and really got the crowd going. He spoke about some recent work he had shot for The History Channel, as well as some personal projects he'd worked on that really showcase his photographic skills as well as his Photoshop skills.

Ivan has been shooting for almost 30 years and is completely self-taught. He doesn't really go with traditional lighting setups, favoring more spontaneous and experimental lighting depending on his mood and location. I get the feeling that he could show up anywhere and, if handed a camera and a subject, could walk away with amazing and unique photos.

Watching him shoot was a joy. He is so hands-on, making sure the model feels comfortable, cracking jokes, keeping the audience engaged and not spending too much time with lights or setup. I could seriously watch him shoot all day long and not get tired of it. He uses so many different techniques for getting what he wants from a model, it's quite inspiring. From having them mirror his movements to lots of physical contact to create an intimate working space to just good verbal instructions, it's not surprising to see why he gets so much out of his subjects.

The final part of the day was reserved for shooting. We all broke off with a Master and went outside to shoot in natural light. Once again, I got so much out of just watching them work and listening to what they had to say, both to the model and to us observers. Honestly, I hardly took any photos because I was so busy watching and listening! The great thing about shooting with them in an informal setting is that you get to see what they're shooting and ask questions about why they chose to do particular things, which to me is much more valuable than a few photos. With that being said, I did manage to get some good photos like the one of Kirsten that you see at the top of this post. Stay tuned for Day 2, coming soon...

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Where Have I Been?

What's the deal with the lack of content lately? I've been out of town having fun! The content will really start flowing soon, so please be patient.

In place of Tech Tuesday today, I'm going to give a big plug to Flash Zebra for their outstanding customer service and super-fast shipping. I'll review the product I purchased from them very soon, but until then, be sure to check them out if you need any hotshoe flash accessories. They rock!