Monday, February 28, 2011

Randomness - Conversations, Part II

Conversations, Part II

Before I went to college, I didn't talk much.  It's not that I didn't have anything to say.  It's just that I didn't say it to very many people.  I had a close group of friends that I could hang out with and talk to, but I rarely initiated conversations with anyone.  Things changed in college.

In college I opened up.  I started raising my hand in class.  I initiated conversations and said more than 5 words at a time. I joined a band, got up on stage and danced and sang.  People who knew me from high school couldn't believe it.  Sometimes, neither could I, but it was a change that stuck.  I don't always talk a lot.  Sometimes I find it's best to sit back and listen to what other people are saying.  Other times, though, it's good to have a conversation.

Opportunities begin with conversation.  A few months ago, I was photographing an event and met Kimothy and Tess, who also happen to be photographers (Love•n•Joy Photography).  We had a nice conversation, went our separate ways and continued to enjoy our evenings.  The next day I received an email asking if I'd consider helping them shoot weddings during the summer.  They also asked if I'd take their portrait.  That portrait session led to another conversation, in which we mentioned some personal photo shoots we were planning.  Now we're planning a pretty big bridal fashion shoot together.  Without that initial conversation we would not currently be making plans together for next week, next month or even next year.

It's often said that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.  Sometimes that first step is a smile, a "Hello" and a conversation.  Once you take that step, be prepared and open for opportunities to present themselves.  You never know where that first step is going to lead you.

In case you're wondering why this is "Conversations, Part II", you can read my first post on conversations here.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Mia - Denver Model Photography

I first met Mia while photographing for the CRAVE Denver book. While she's a pretty amazing woman in many different ways, Wilhelmina Denver thinks she has what it takes to be a model. When they asked her for some photos, Mia asked me to be her photographer.

So, we headed out to a cute little part of Denver to spend an afternoon enjoying the weather and taking photos. With the help of the fabulous Tina Gill, who handled the styling for the shoot (and let me tell you, I think Mia brought her entire closet to the shoot, so Tina had plenty of clothing options), Mia looked amazing! All I had to do was make sure to get some great photos of her. Fortunately, although she had never done a photo shoot like this before, she was a natural and made my job very easy.

We are all quite pleased with how the photos turned out. It seems that no matter what Mia does, she does well. My previous experience with her and CRAVE showed me that she's a leader, a networker and just a great person to have on your side. My photo shoot with her showed me that she's also got what it takes to be a model!

Special thanks to Ototo for letting us take over their back room and temporarily turn it into Mia's closet, I mean a dressing room. :)

By the way, the CRAVE book just happens to hit the streets tomorrow here in Denver, so make sure to pick up your copy at any business that's featured in the book!


Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Our First Date

Not our first date, but a few months later before Senior Prom.
February 23, 1996.  Pueblo, CO.  The Lamplight Coffee Shop.

Belinda and I had our first date 15 years ago today.  Although we'd known each other since middle school and talked all of the time at school, this was different.  This was one-on-one.  In public.  Face-to-face.  There were no teachers to tell us to stop talking.  In fact, I was worried about talking.  Back then, I wasn't a talker.  Belinda was.

Belinda talked.  A lot.  She was in speech and debate.  She was in choir.  She even chose instruments that she could play and talk at the same time (piano and violin).  Her parents used to joke that they got her into swimming so that they'd at least have a bit of time when her head was underwater and she'd stop talking.

Compare that to me, who hardly talked, even to my close friends.  I played the saxophone, which involves putting something into your mouth.  I had a loud car ('69 Roadrunner!) and a louder stereo so talking in the car wasn't going to happen.  I was more of a listener.

Which brings us back to our date.  Why couldn't our first date have been a movie, or a concert or something where I didn't have to talk?  Instead, I picked coffee.  Not much to do at a coffee shop besides talk.  I was nervous, maybe even scared, but there was no way I was going to call if off.  I'd had a crush on Belinda since middle school and wasn't going to blow it again (we dated for a few days in the 8th grade, but (surprise, surprise) I didn't talk to her after I asked her out so she dumped me).

She tried really hard to get me to talk.  She asked me what I was thinking.  She asked me open ended questions that I had to give answers to.  She didn't talk just to fill the silence.  And you know what?  I talked.  I talked and she talked and it wasn't that bad.  I actually enjoyed it.

I enjoyed it so much that we haven't stopped talking.  We haven't stopped hanging out in coffee shops.  The conversation might have changed over the years and we probably work a little more and talk a little less than we should when we hang out, but we still enjoy our coffee shop dates.

Fifteen years ago, who would have thought that that chubby band-geek who didn't say much would end up marrying his high school sweetheart who was (and still is) beautiful and always had something to say?  Sometimes I still can't believe it.

Thank you, Belinda, for asking me what I was thinking and getting me to talk.  I wouldn't be the person I am today without you in my life.  So, want to get a cup of coffee?  I've got so much to tell you...

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Tech Tuesday - Craigslist

Camera gear is expensive. That's not big news. You can find anything on the internet. That's not big news either. Combine camera gear with the internet, add a dash of patience and you've got some great deals just waiting to happen. And where, you might ask, is this magical land where these deals come together? A little place called Craigslist.

If you've never used Craigslist, it's essentially online classified ads that are free to use. Anyone can list anything they want to sell in the hopes that someone who wants to buy that thing will see the ad. The transactions occur on a local level, which makes it easy to view and test products before purchasing them. Plus, there's no shipping involved, so it's usually cheaper than eBay.

Does it seem a little risky to buy used camera gear? It might be. If you need absolute reliability from your gear, it's probably worth it to spend the extra money to buy it new. If cash is a little tight, though, and you come across a good deal on a piece of gear that you've had your eye on, this might be a great opportunity to pick it up and save some money!

I've worked checking Craigslist into my daily routine. It takes about 2 minutes to scan the listings for Denver, Fort Collins and Colorado Springs and see what's been listed recently. I've found some great deals on lenses, studio lighting, camera batteries and even photography books! I've seen some really good deals on camera bags, backgrounds, light stands and many other miscellaneous camera accessories. When you find that deal, you've got to act quickly! If you don't send an email about an item as soon as you see it, you're already too late. It's pretty competitive out there.

Is Craigslist for everyone? No. Some people prefer to buy items new. Some people would rather buy used equipment from a camera shop instead of an individual. If you're willing to put in a little time, have some patience and take a risk here and there, Craigslist can hold hidden treasure for those of use who know where to look.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Use Spot Focusing - Better Photos... Now!

Having all of the technical knowledge and technique in the world doesn't mean a thing if your photo isn't properly focused. With today's autofocus systems, focusing is probably the least of your worries. There are certain situations where it's good to have a few tricks up your sleeve and know when to take control of focusing.

There are a few different types of autofocus (AF) modes in today's DSLRs. I'm not going to give a big rundown of all of the different names and types, but if you're interested, you can read this excellent blog post. For the purposes of this post, I'll be focusing on single point focusing.

For portraits, it's widely believed that a subject's eyes must be in focus. If you are shooting with a decent sized aperture, say f/5.6 and above, as long as your subject is in focus you'll probably get your subject's eyes in focus with any AF mode. When you start shooting at larger apertures, though, you'll need to be a bit more selective about where your camera focuses.

I shoot most of my natural light portraits at f/2.8. When you're close enough to shoot a head-and-shoulders portrait, the shallow depth of field you get is enough to easily lose focus on the eyes. That's why I always shoot in single point AF mode. Instead of letting my camera decide where to focus (which usually ends up being the tip of the subject's nose), I use one AF point (usually the center) and focus on my subject's eye that is closest to the camera, then recompose and take the photo. At extremely large apertures such as f/1.8 or f/1.4, I'll even move the focus point to the eye instead of focusing and recomposing, because at such large apertures recomposing can still cause the original focus point to be out of focus.

Another situation where it's great to take control of your focus points is any photo with strong backlight. Most AF systems work by detecting contrast and strong backlight can fool even the most advanced AF systems. By switching to single point AF, you tell the camera where to look and focus, effectively telling it to ignore the backlight and just focus on your subject.

Low light situations are similar to strong backlight. Because AF systems work with contrast, there is almost no contrast in a low light situation. Any little light in the background (maybe a candle at a wedding reception) can trick the AF sensors and throw your subject out of focus. Fortunately, by switching to manual mode you again tell your camera to ignore these little areas of contrast in the background and focus on your subject. In extremely dark situations you might even have to switch to manual focus mode, but that's an entirely different blog post.

Finally, don't just check the screen on the back of your camera and assume your photos are properly focused. Unless you're looking at images on a large screen at 100% size, it's almost impossible to tell if your camera is focusing on a subject's eyes or nose. Learn how your camera works and use that knowledge to get the sharpest photos possible.

Practice using single point AF. Practice moving your AF point around while you're shooting so that you don't always have to focus and recompose. Recognize which situations cause your camera's AF system to hunt for focus and learn to switch AF modes. Scrutinize your images at full size when you get home and see how they really look. With a little practice, you'll get sharper photos more often. You'll also be able to overcome challenges as they happen and get the shot that you want.

Here are a few examples of shots that I've been able to get with spot AF:

These two photos were completely backlit, which means I was focusing on their outline.  The fill-light on Jill and Mike came from my flash.
In this photo, even in spot AF mode, the camera still focused on the lights in the background.

Just a second later after recomposing and refocusing, I was able to get this shot.
Here's a strongly backlit portrait shot at a wide aperture.  By using spot AF, I was able to get her eyes nice and sharp.

Here's the original image...
... and here's a tight crop of her eyes.

Read all of my DSLR tips here.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Why ProDPI Is My Photo Lab

A few weeks ago I placed an order for some prints through ProDPI, a professional photo lab. The prints weren't for a client. They were just some sample prints with their Green Executive Packaging. I'd been wondering how this packaging looked and felt for a while, so I finally decided to place an order and find out.

Thanks to ProDPIs super-fast turnaround time and shipping, I knew that if I placed an order on Tuesday morning I should get the package Wednesday afternoon (to be fair, I live in the same city, so shipping is always crazy-fast). The email I received from UPS confirmed this, saying the package was picked up on Tuesday and was due to be delivered on Wednesday.

Wednesday came and went with no package. Thursday came and went with no package. Thursday night I decided to check the tracking number and see what the deal was. Imagine my surprise when I saw the package had been delivered on Wednesday at noon! Wait a minute... no it hadn't. I was at home on Wednesday at noon. No one knocked on my door. No package had been delivered. So, I headed over to UPS's web site, filled out a lost package form and figured I was pretty much out of luck.

Just so ProDPI would know what was going on, I sent them a quick email saying that the package never arrived and they might expect to hear from UPS. Friday morning, I woke up to this email:

"Thank you so much for your email! Don't worry about a thing! We'll have this order reprocessed right away. Please let us know if there is anything else we can help you with!

Happy Friday!

Friday night I received the UPS tracking info for a new package from ProDPI and had my prints Monday morning. Ironically, Monday afternoon I received a call from UPS inquiring about the package and Tuesday the guy who delivered my package the first time showed up at my house. He had delivered it to the wrong address because "this wasn't his normal route". Unfortunately, he couldn't recover the package from the first wrong address. Fortunately this package was something that could just be reprinted and shipped. What if it had been something that couldn't be replaced?

So, to keep things positive, this is just one of the many reasons why ProDPI is my lab. Their customer service is excellent. Their print quality is the best I've seen. Their prices are competitive. Their turnaround times are ridiculously fast. They are local. They care about the environment. They use lots of exclamation marks! And, although I've only met them once, they're really nice people! Why would I even consider using anyone else? Thank you, ProDPI. You've got a customer for life.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Tanya's Hair Shoot - Denver Stylist Photography

When you receive a phone call from your favorite hair stylist and she asks if you'd like to take photos of some models after she does their hair for a TV show audition, you say YES! Tanya, who I've worked with in the past both as a hairstylist and as a model, was auditioning for a TV show for hairstylists and had to come up with some styles that were just a little more outrageous than normal. Needless to say I was pretty excited about this shoot.

Not wanting to keep this opportunity all to myself, I invited Belle with Mahal Bella Photography along for the ride. I'd been trying to get her into the studio for a while so that she could get a little studio experience. Plus, I was very curious to see her interpretation of the same thing I was photographing. I had a great time working with her and was very impressed with her photos (see them here).

Both of the models, Kalli and Kiley, were a pleasure to work with. Tanya's hair was, of course, amazing! I'm not sure when she'll find out about the TV show, but I sure am glad that she gave it a shot and thought of getting some photos once their hair was done. Thanks, Tanya!


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Tech Tuesdays: Part II - Facebook Business Page Notifications

As a business owner with a Facebook page, it has been frustrating to not know when a fan comments on your page. Facebook just released a new business page layout that gives you the option to receive email notifications when a fan posts something on your page. This is nice, but it's not exactly what we've been looking for.

Another new option for Facebook Page users is the ability to use Facebook as your Page. This means that instead of leaving a comment as "John Bosley", I can comment as "John Bosley Photography". I decided to try this out and, to my surprise, discovered something pretty awesome. When you use Facebook as your page, you get notifications when someone posts on your Page! As you can see in the screenshot above, the first time you use this feature might be a little surprising, as you have a Friend Request for every fan of your page. You'll probably also have a bunch of notifications from previous fan comments. Once you get over the initial shock and zero these out, you'll actually be able to get notified when someone interacts with your page! Of course, you'll have to be using Facebook as your page, but it's so easy to switch back and forth, you can do it anytime you visit your page.

So, without commenting on some of the other changes to Facebook pages (what's up with the chronological order, or lack thereof?), this is one change that I'm really going to like!

While you're at it, why don't you head on over to my Facebook Page and become a fan?

Tech Tuesday - LensPen

I'm going to keep this one short and sweet.  If you don't have a LensPen in your camera bag, you need to correct that situation and order one today!  A LensPen has two sides.  One side is a retractable brush that can be used to brush off any visible dust on your lens.  The other side has a dry cleaning compound on a soft applicator that you rub on your lens to remove smudges.  Between the two different sides, you should be able to quickly clean up any lens in seconds.

Be aware that anytime you touch your lens, you run a slight risk of damaging it.  If something abrasive (like a grain of sand) is on the lens and you rub it around, you're going to damage your lens.  Regular cleaning cloths, like you might use on a pair of glasses, aren't usually recommended for camera lenses.  That's why it's nice to not only have a brush that can brush away any little specks of dirt, but also a surface that's made to be used on camera lenses.  Apparently NASA even uses LensPens!

OK, enough plugging for LensPen.  Happy Tuesday!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Valentines Day!

About a month ago I received a phone call from Cindy at The Perfect Petal asking if I could come photograph a few bouquets for some Valentines Day advertisements. Of course, I jumped at the opportunity, as I knew they have some of the best arrangements in Denver. The bouquets they had assembled for the shoot were absolutely beautiful! So, even if you aren't lucky enough to get a Valentines Day bouquet from The Perfect Petal, hopefully these photos will brighten up your day a little.

Happy Valentines Day!

If this wasn't enough for you, I've got a photo of a different bouquet up on my Facebook page. If you've got a minute, head on over and take a look!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Use The Info In Your Viewfinder - Better Photos... Now!

Here's an easy tip for you. To take a picture, you have to look through your viewfinder, right? How often do you look at the information along the bottom of your viewfinder? If you're ignoring that info, you're missing out!

Most DSLR viewfinders show a variety of information, but usually they'll at least tell you if you are focused on your subject, shutter speed, aperture, exposure, ISO and number of shots remaining on your memory card. This is important information and it's all available without ever having to take your eye away from the camera.

When I first started using my DSLR, I ignored this information. I was so focused on composition and making sure I was doing things correctly, it was easier to ignore this part of my viewfinder than to try to process the extra information. Once I started using this information, though, it actually made it easier to get the photos I wanted. Why? Because if something was wrong, I could quickly check my camera setting in my viewfinder and see what needed changed. If my exposure meter is telling me the photos is going to be underexposed but I'm already at a pretty low shutter speed, I just check the ISO and see if I can raise it. Maybe I see I've only got 10 images left on my memory card. I'd much rather know ahead of time than fill up my card right when I least expect it.

Ultimately, the information in your viewfinder is just another tool that you can use as you see fit. Use it in a way that benefits you and it can only help. So, the next time you look through your viewfinder, pay attention to all of that other information that's in there. Someday you'll thank me!

Thanks to Rob Galbraith for the image.

Read all of my DSLR tips here.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Randomness - Marketing Advice (From A Fortune Cookie)

Advice comes from many places. Sometimes they're sources you'd expect. Other times, not so much.

Take today for instance. This fortune cookie had been sitting on our coffee table for a few days. I finally decided to eat it. Inside, I found the message "Nobody can be exactly like you."

While this might be obvious, when applied to your marketing efforts, to your business and even to your life, imagine how powerful this statement is! Nobody can be exactly like you. Who you are is unique and if you offer yourself to your clients and to the people in your life, you can give them something that no one else can give them: you!

If you've read a few marketing books (at least marketing books for photographers), this isn't a new concept. I've seen it mentioned in almost every book I've read. Sometimes it's nice just to be reminded when you least expect it!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Tech Tuesdays - Book Review - "Vision Mongers: Making A Life And A Living In Photography"

OK, here's the situation... you've got a passion for photography and want to turn it into a career. Or maybe you've already taken the plunge and are working full-time as a photographer, but you're not sure if you're doing things the right way. Or maybe you've been working as a photographer for a while and things are going pretty well, but you still have unanswered questions or nagging doubts in the back of your mind. If any of these sound like you, you need to read this book!

In Vision Mongers: Making A Life And A Living In Photography, author David duChemin tells us his story, and the story of many other successful photographers, in order to make a point. His point is that there is no magic bullet, there is no secret, there is no shortcut to becoming a successful photographer. Instead, he gives us tips and tricks that he has learned through his own journey.

Although this might be considered a textbook of sorts, it doesn't read like one. DuChemin's voice and writing style are easy enough to read for hours on end. Whether he's talking about marketing or pricing, his words are engaging, informative and entertaining.

To me, his words just make sense. There were many different times while I was reading this book that I realized he was saying something that I'd thought or felt before, but had never really taken the time to conceptualize. It felt good to read these things that I'd had a vague notion of in the past, but finally had some affirmation from someone who knows a lot more about photography than me. Of course, it's always nice when someone agrees with you, but this was more than that. This was more like a whisper in my ear saying that I'm on the right track, that I'm headed in the right direction and if I keep moving, I'll keep getting closer to my goals.

Vision Mongers isn't just a feel-good book and it's not just another business book. It's a book written by a photographer for photographers. It's going to be an essential part of my library (and maybe even my business) and I look forward to reading it many more times in the future. If you want to start making money with your photography, do yourself a favor and get this book. There are no guarantees that you'll make it, but reading this book sure can't hurt!

Oh, and by the way, if you've had that Fresh Prince song stuck in your head since the first sentence of this post... you're welcome!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Randomness - Belonging


I've always wanted to belong. Maybe I've never said anything, but one thing I know is that I've never wanted people to know that I'm an outsider. It's not that I'm afraid of feeling left out. I'm OK being by myself and doing things on my own. It's just that when I'm around a group of people, I'd rather be "in" than "out".

Lately I've been finding myself in more situations where I feel like I belong. Most recently, my wife and I went with a group of friends on a weekend snowshoeing adventure to Vagabond Ranch. This required a drive deep into the Colorado Rockies and a 3.6 mile hike/ski/snowshoe up to the cabin where we spent the weekend. We knew a few of the people who were on the trip, but we were just meeting a few of the others for the first time. Fortunately, we all got along great and had a wonderful weekend.

It would have been very easy to spend a weekend with 11 people and form little cliques. Instead, we all sat around and talked like we'd known each other for a lot longer than 24 hours. Some of us were avid hikers while some were skiers. Some of us were photographers while others were just married to photographers. Regardless, we all found something to talk about. By the end of the trip, we all belonged. No one was an outcast or an outsider. It felt great.

Thinking back, I've always wanted to belong. As far back as I can remember, I've tried to get along with everyone. Although I was a self-proclaimed band-geek (12 years of saxophone!), I always got along with the jocks, the preps, the gangsters and the nerds (and almost any other middle or high-school cliche group you can think of). If I couldn't get along with someone it really bothered me.

Whenever we went out of town, I always felt my confidence slip a little. When you're in school, you get to know people and build up relationships over the years. As much as I might be able to identify with a city or a local group of people, I could never be one of them. Regardless, I'd do my best to not be a tourist and try to fit in. To this day, I still have a hard time pulling out a map in public and asking for directions (thank you smart phones with GPS!). Although I know I'll never see the people again, I hate letting people know that I'm not a local.

Recently I've been getting involved in more and more groups and organizations that make me feel like I belong. CRAVE Denver is a great example. From my first social event, I've been treated like one of the ladies (it's a group for women business owners). A while back I went to a Colorado Women's Chamber of Commerce luncheon and, once again, I was warmly welcomed by everyone I met and felt a sense of belonging.

It's not that I want to be like Norm from Cheers. I'm happy to go someplace where not everybody knows my name. It's just nice to know that there are places where people do know my name and are happy to see me when I stop by.