Friday, October 29, 2010

Read Your Camera Manual - Better Photos... Now!

So, you want better photos?  Put down that camera and pick up a good book.  No, I'm not talking about a book that will teach you all about photography.  I'm talking about a book that will teach you all about your camera.  That's right.  You need to read your camera manual.

You probably already know enough about your camera to take pictures, so why would you want to read your camera manual?  I'd be willing to bet that you'll find at least one thing in there that you've been wondering about. Maybe, instead of finding the answer to a question that you have, you'll discover something that you never knew your camera could do!

When I pulled out my camera manual and started flipping through it, I noticed that there was a setting that enabled a high-speed sync between the camera and an off-camera flash.  Instead of being restricted to a shutter speed of 1/200 of a second, I could go all the way to my maximum shutter speed!  Curious, I enabled it and gave it a shot.

Although it's not something that I use all the time, high-speed sync has helped me to nail a shot on more than one occasion.  If I had never read my manual, I never would have known about it and might not have gotten those shots.

You might know about lots of great settings on your camera.  You might have lots of tricks up your sleeve.  You might be able to take wonderful photos.  Just think what could happen if you were able to find an solution to that one little thing that is still driving you crazy.  The answer is waiting for you.  All you have to do is read your camera's manual.

For this photo, I was able to use the high-speed sync on my camera to trigger an off-camera flash. This allowed me to shoot at f/2.8 and 1/1250 of a second to get a soft and properly exposed background, but still fill Ross' face with light from the flash.

Read all of my DSLR tips here.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Personal Project - The Chess Shoot

When I started planning my most recent personal project, I realized I needed a theme of some sort as a source of inspiration and to conceptually tie everything together. I knew my theme needed to be something big, exciting, flashy, interesting, and most importantly, cool. Naturally, there was only one option. Chess.

Chess? As in King, Queen, Pawn, black and white squares, board game, checkmate chess? Yup. That's the one.

About now you might be thinking that we have very different ideas of what would make a cool, exciting theme for a photo shoot. Hear me out, OK? I'm not a chess player. I don't think I even know how all of the pieces move around the board. What I do know are these three things: 1) Chess is based on royalty and battles, which are usually cool; 2) Chess has distinct characters, which is great for photo shoot ideas; and 3) Any idea becomes a lot cooler when there are beautiful women involved.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Tech Tuesdays - Epson P-3000

I don't know about you, but whenever I finish a shoot and can't immediately upload my photos to my computer for safe storage, I get a little nervous.  It's not like my memory cards are plotting against me and coming up with evil schemes to delete my photos, but you can never be too safe.  I'd always heard great things about the Epson portable storage devices and had wanted to pick one up for a while, but they are pricey and I'd always had better things to spend my money on.

One day I was perusing Craigslist for some great deals on camera gear and found an Epson P-3000 for a great deal.  After confirming that it worked fine and didn't have anything wrong with it, I grabbed some cash, drove over, took a look at it and soon was headed home with a new gadget.  It turns out the guy had purchased it for a trip to Alaska and hadn't touched it since he got back.  He figured he could use the money more than the Epson, so it worked out well for everyone involved!

My first impression of the P-3000 was very good.  The screen is absolutely beautiful.  Navigation is simple and intuitive.  Backup is as easy as clicking one button.  What a wonderful device!

My primary use has been for off-site image backup.  The P-3000 has an 40GB hard drive, so it can easily hold all of my photos from one event.  Heck, it can hold all of my photos from a long vacation!  As soon as I'm done at a shoot, I pull out my memory card, plug it into the top of the P-3000 and a screen pops up that asks if I want to backup the images from the card.  I click yes, put it away and it silently backs up every image.  When I come back, the entire contents of the card are backed up and I can start reviewing files if I want to.  It automatically creates folders for the images, so I can browse past shoots by date.  It builds image previews from RAW files, so I can check images for sharpness if I want to.  Although it can't beat reviewing photos at home on a large monitor, it's a good way to pass the time in a coffee shop.

While browsing files, it's possible to flag photos as picks and only upload those selected photos at a later date, but I haven't messed with those options.  I only use it as a backup.  I still upload the files directly from the memory cards when I get home.  It just makes me feel better to know that they are backed up until I get home.

So, is there anything I would change about the Epson P-3000?  Sure.  I'd love it if it would rotate an image that was taken in portrait orientation if I rotate the viewer.  As it is, all images are only viewable while holding the device in landscape orientation, which means wasted screen space when viewing portraits.  I'd like it if it built previews a little faster.  It's not slow, considering it's building previews from RAW files, but it could be faster.  I love the size, but the first time I held it (before actually buying it), I almost dropped it because I expected the "grips" on the back to be a little bigger.  I realize that by making the back more contoured the entire device gets bigger, but I still feel like I need to wear the wrist strap every time I hold it just so I don't drop it.

In the end, I am very happy with the Epson P-3000.  It has recently been discontinued, but Epson still has a full line of these products available.  If you want a portable backup solution, I highly recommend one of these devices.  Even when I have a laptop with me, the ease and speed having one of these in my camera bag makes it my go-to gadget for backup duty.

Friday, October 22, 2010

25 DSLR Tips For Amateur Photograhers

Do you want to start taking better photos without spending a lot of money? Sure, who doesn't? If you've got a DSLR camera, but aren't quite getting the photos you want, there are so many little things that you can do to get great photos. I've put together a list of them to help you out.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Glenn and Jamie - Denver Family Portraits

I was worried I was running a little late for this shoot, but I pulled into the Bluff Lake Nature Center parking lot right on time. I was a little surprised to find that Glenn and Jamie weren't there yet. I knew that they didn't get lost on the way, because Glenn is the executive director of Bluff Lake Nature Center! He was happy to get some family photos as well as take advantage of my fundraiser to support Bluff Lake.

Glenn and Jamie's son, Cedar, didn't really mind that they were late. It turns out they had to wait for a train and Cedar loved watching the train while they waited! It was the first thing he told me about when he got out of the car. It didn't take long, though, before the excitement wore off and he started to get a little shy. So, we took a walk, looked for sticks (Cedar loves sticks) and pretty soon he started to smile.

The colors were just wonderful and the light was perfect. It seemed like we couldn't find a bad location, as everywhere we looked seemed better than the place we had just come from. Cedar was finally having a good time and wanted to be in all of the photos, which made it tough to get a few photos of just Glenn and Jamie, but we figured it out and got some great shots of just the two of them.

As it got a little later, Cedar started to get hungry. I always say that the shoot is over when the kids decide it's over and this shoot was no exception. As we headed back towards the cars I had to laugh a little. While Glenn was walking back to the car carrying Cedar on hisshoulders, Jamie walked next to the two of them, one hand casually touching Glenn and Cedar, the other full of sticks.

To see more photos from this shoot, click here.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Tech Tuesdays - Photodex ProShow Gold

Photodex ProShow Gold is one of the fastest, easiest and least expensive ways around to make original video slideshows with your photos. With so many photographers producing video slideshows of their work, this program gives you a chance to customize your video and make it really stand out from the crowd.

When I started searching for a product that I could use to produce videos, it didn't seem like there were many options out there. Sure, there are plenty of programs for editing video, but that's not really what I needed. To make a photo slideshow, I don't need a video editor like Final Cut Pro. I need something that's simpler, easier to use and definitely cheaper!

There are services popping up that are geared specifically towards photographers such as Animoto. These are great, as you choose a song, choose a style, upload your photos and let Animoto do the rest. My main issue with Animoto videos is that, well, they all tend to look the same. I think it's a great service and anyone who hasn't seen an Animoto video before is sure to be impressed, but when I see a video portfolio with a bunch of Animoto videos in it, I pretty much know exactly what to expect from each video.

I'm not trying to bash Animoto, just give the reasons why I didn't want to go with it to produce my videos. So, why did I choose ProShow Gold? There are a few reasons. It's a program that you purchase, not a subscription service, which means that once it's paid for, I can produce videos for the next 20 years without spending any more money. It's really easy to learn and use, which is important when you don't have a lot of free time. I also have full control over the videos I produce with the ability to make them as plain or creative as I want.

With that being said, if I make a boring video, that's entirely my fault as well. Fortunately, ProShow Gold comes with a number of templates that animate individual slides or entire slideshows. It's also easy to make various movements (pans, scrolls and rotations) on individual slides. It also comes with a variety of slide transitions. It's able to incorporate video along with photos, and adding a soundtrack is as easy as dragging and dropping an mp3 file.

There's another, more expensive version of ProShow called Producer. It comes with more slide animations and show options. It also is geared more towards commercial use. I didn't think that I needed everything it had to offer and was happy to hear that most of the animations are available for purchase without upgrading. If you do choose to upgrade and you already own ProShow Gold, you receive a discount on Producer. So far I haven't felt the need, but it's nice to know the option is available.

I'm very happy with ProShow Gold. I haven't made as many videos as I'd like to make, but then again I haven't had much free time. Maybe if I had Animoto and could just upload photos and let them do the rest I would make videos more often. If you think that might be the case with you, Animoto might be worth a look. For now, I'll just keep taking photos and then when things slow down a bit I'll get to dive in and go video crazy!

I just made the video at the top of this post this morning. I timed it to see how long it actually takes to make a quick video. I had the images and music picked out before I started. From opening the program to exporting the video to my hard drive, it took about 22 minutes to make this video. Of course, I could have spent more time playing with slide effects, modifying the slide motion and even synching the transitions to the music, but that would have taken a bit longer. I also could have just dragged the photos to the timeline, stuck with the default transitions and had no slide motion and been done in 5 minutes. As it is, I think I found a nice middle-of-the-road solution that gave a nice video that isn't too over the top but isn't too boring either. What do you think?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Nataly - Aurora Central HS Senior

"I'm dressed in pink." That's how Nataly described herself as we talked on the phone while trying to meet up in LoDo. We were walking from opposite sides of the 16th Street Mall hoping to meet somewhere in the middle. It didn't take long to recognize her since she was not only dressed in pink, but also had a pink purse, pink bag, pink lipstick and pink hair. I think she has something for pink!

The day had been pretty gloomy and rainy, but fortunately the weather held out for our shoot and we even saw a little sunlight peeking through the clouds! Not wanting to waste any light, we started shooting right away, moving from city streets to alleys, hunting for nice locations and good light.

Nataly was a lot of fun to work with. She's got a great attitude and was easy to talk to. Plus, when she flashes that pink smile at you, it's hard not to like her! Belinda came along to assist with the shoot and she even commented on how impressed she was with Nataly, especially how much confidence she has.

As Nataly changed from one pink outfit to another, the daylight kept slipping away. Pretty soon it was getting dark and cold, so we headed back to meet up with her parents. As we said our goodbyes and parted company, I thought about Nataly's plans to become a nurse and eventually a doctor and couldn't help but smile. I'll give you one guess what color I think her scrubs will be...

You can see more photos from the shoot here.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Kristina and Karl - Parker Family Photos

When Kristina told me she knew of a cute little park near her house where we could take some photos I don't think either of us realized that we were setting up a shoot at a location that every photographer in southeast Denver chose for that Saturday morning. Seriously, the park wasn't that big and there were probably 5 other families with photographers there at the same time we were! Fortunately, we were able to get a little privacy and take some great family photos that only included one family: Kristina and Karl's.

Kristina and Karl have two sons, Ethan and Ryan. I think there's a universal law about getting two little boys near water: at least one of them is going to get wet and/or dirty. It doesn't help when there are so many fun things so close to the water such as ducks and geese to chase around, as well as a stream with rocks to stand on. Fortunately, Kristina and Karl are aware of the affinity little boys have for water and kept a close eye on them. While I was working with one boy, the other was off exploring with a parent close behind.

While we looked for secluded spots that didn't include other families, the boys got to have a little fun which always makes for great candid photos. Even when they started to get tired of the camera, we just let them do their own thing and pretty soon their batteries were recharged and we got some more photos of them! By the end of the day, Ethan and Ryan had made it almost an hour without getting too wet, dirty or fussy. That is quite an accomplishment!

As we wrapped up and headed back to our cars, we hiked up a steep hill. We started talking about how great it would be to sled down in the winter. Maybe that will be our next photo shoot... just as long as the rest of Denver doesn't decide to go sledding on that hill at the same time!

You can see more photos from this shoot here.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Christopher - Denver School of the Arts Senior

When you've got a cello that's 200 years old, it needs a story. That's not the kind of thing that you find in a pawn shop. A 200 year old cello has a history and to have survived that long it probably has been cared for by someone who appreciates it. When I asked Christopher the story behind his cello, he told me that it was previously owned by a performing cellist who used it to practice in his hotel room. Apparently he would just sit in his hotel room and play all day on this cello. When it was time for the performance, it would stay in the room and his other cello was the one that went on stage.

I must admit, this was the first senior shoot I've done involving a musical instrument and I can't think of a cooler instrument to photograph! Christopher was a pretty good guy to photograph as well. We met up twice for his session: once in the studio and once in LoDo. Both times the cello came along and both times we had a lot of fun.

In the studio, we went with a simple black curtain for the backdrop, kind of like being on a stage. This was a great session to get to know each other. It was also a great session for photos! With the clean backdrop, Christopher and his cello were the stars of the show. The colors of the cello really popped with the studio lights and black background.

When we met in LoDo a few days later, it had just finished raining and the clouds cleared out just in time for our shoot. I knew that the cello would never see the light of day if there was any threat of rain, so I was relieved that the weather cooperated with our schedule. After shooting in a few alleys, we headed over to get a nice view of the city. As the daylight disappeared and the city lights appeared, Christopher just sat and played his cello while I took photos.

While we were shooting, Christopher's mother made a comment about how nice it is to do what you love for a living. Christopher is planning on going to an arts college and then hopefully on to a career as a musician. Fortunately, I am also doing what I love for a living. It occurred to me the next day that both of us were spending an evening together doing what we loved. Maybe that's why it felt like we could have spent all night overlooking the city, Christopher playing his cello and me geeking out and taking photos. As it turned out, we ran over the schedule by about 30 minutes. Oh well... his cello had waited 200 years to be the star of the show. I can spare 30 minutes.

To see more photos from this shoot, click here.

Thursday, October 7, 2010


I first met Michelle at the big hair shoot I did last year. She was one of Tanya's clients who volunteered to get her hair done and be photographed. When she contacted me and said she wanted some photos of her daughter, Ariana, I was so happy!

When we met up, Michelle warned me that Ariana didn't like to smile for strangers and didn't really enjoy her last photo session. So, I entered the shoot as Ariana's friend. If she didn't like to smile for strangers, I wouldn't be a stranger! It didn't take long for me to start to win her over and get some good photos with genuine smiles.

Talk about a cutie! Ariana's hair (done by Tanya, of course), was adorable and her eyes just sparkled. You could tell Michelle chose her outfits, because they were so stylish (just like her mom). :)

After an outfit change, some photos with mom and a few other family members, and a little playing on the playground, it was time to end the photo session, but not before Ariana played in the water. That's right... she went and played in the water, in her super-cute outfit no less! By the time she was done she was absolutely soaked and couldn't have been any happier. When it was time to go, I even got a wet hug from her. I guess I wasn't a stranger anymore.

You can see more photos from the shoot here.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Tech Tuesdays - OpenSourcePhoto (OSP)

I love a good internet forum. When I was into computers and overclocking, I spent a lot of time on the MaximumPC forums. When I want to geek out about fountain pens, I head over to the Fountain Pen Network. For some reason, I had never spent much time looking for a photography forum. Little did I know what I was missing!

While watching Jasmine Star on the Creative Live event, I heard her repeatedly mention the OSP forum by David Jay. I was intrigued, so I googled it and came up with this: OpenSourcePhoto.

If you're a photographer of any skill level, I highly encourage you to head over and check this forum out. It's got pages and pages of information and an archive of posts that goes back years. The people who frequent these forums are honest and willing to help out. I've only been there for a month and have already picked up lots of useful info and made some good connections. Now it has joined the ranks of web sites that I check on a daily basis. It's definitely time well-spent!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Bluff Lake Nature Center

Yesterday Belinda and I went out to Bluff Lake Nature Center for a nice walk. What a wonderful place! Until last week, I had no idea such a place existed within Denver's city limits.

Although there is no lake at the moment (it's a seasonal lake), there are beautiful grasses and trees that are just starting to change into their fall colors. We had a great time walking the trail around the lake, watching cat tails disintegrate, exploring side paths and hanging out by the river. I also brought my camera along and Belinda was kind enough to let me take some photos of her.

We went out at about the worst time of day for photos: Noon. Despite the time of day, we were still able to find some nice pockets of shade and get some good photos. It was a rather warm day, so not only did we get a little sweaty, we also got a little sunburned! I can definitely see Belinda turning more pink in the photos from later in the day.

So how did we find this place and why was I taking photos of Belinda when she was sweaty and sunburned? Bluff Lake Nature Center is the non profit I'm supporting with my Fall Photo Fundraiser! I wanted to explore the various photo locations and get some examples of what it looks like. Of course, for a "real" photo session, we'd pick a better time of day and wouldn't end up walking 5 miles. :)

If you'd like to help me support Bluff Lake Nature Center, please visit my web page for more information on scheduling a photo session. I'll be donating a large portion from each session directly to Bluff Lake Nature Center. Supporting and protecting places like this is something that I believe very strongly in and I'm sure they'd appreciate your help as well!

Here are a few more photos from out outing:

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Friday Fix - 10/01/10

What a wacky and wonderful week it was! We got wet and went wild in Atlanta. On a whim, I'm working a wedding tonight. Finally, this week will wrap up with a weekend walk to wind down. I'm wishing for warm weather!

OK, what up with the Ws? I don't know, but yesterday I got stuck in the W section of my music library. It started out with We Are Scientists, then moved to Warsaw. While I was there I thought some Weapon of Choice sounded good, and you can't really leave the W section without some Weezer, can you? To keep the streak alive I had to play some Wolf Parade and White Stripes. I didn't break out the Wilco or Widespread Panic, though. It just didn't seem to fit with everything else. Know what I have to say after all that W music? Whew!