Friday, April 29, 2011

Frequent Photography Forums - Better Photos... Now!

Regardless of whether you've been a photographer for 10 days or 10 years, you probably have a question about something from time to time.  These days there are more photographers than ever before.  There is also more accessible knowledge than ever before.  Just go online, type your question into a search engine and you'll probably find that the majority of your results come from photography forums.

Photography forums are just like any other online forum.  Some are very helpful, some have a more active community than others and all are going to have a few people who just like to cause trouble.  If you have questions that need answered, it's probably in your best interest to find a forum (or forums) that are welcoming of questions from any level of expertise.  These are usually the most welcoming and helpful communities.

Two forums that I've found to be particularly helpful are Open Source Photo (OSP) and Flickr Groups.  OSP is made up of mostly professional photographers, which means that there are quite a few posts about business and marketing in addition to the expected portrait and wedding photography posts.  Flickr Groups are much more suited to any skill level and photography preference.  You can just as easily find answers to a question about fashion photography or landscape photography.  I've found answers to questions that I've had about Polaroid and Holga cameras, as well as more obscure photographic techniques.

In short, if you're not utilizing photography forums, you're missing out on a vibrant community of photographers around the world.  Together, the collective knowledge available to you through forums would take many lifetimes to learn on your own.  The next time you have a question about something, why not ask it in a forum?  You'll probably be surprised by the responses you get.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Stephanie - Denver College Senior Photos

When Stephanie first talked to me about taking some photos of her I knew it was going to be a good shoot.  She's a college senior and is graduating from Metro in just a few weeks, so she wanted some photos taken in Denver that she could show to her family.  She thought Civic Center Park looked like a good location and I couldn't agree more!  I had always wanted to do a photo shoot there so I jumped at the opportunity.  If these photos are anything to go by, I think I'll be doing more sessions there.

We did eventually work our way out of the park and took some photos around the Denver Public Library and the Denver Art Museum, as well as a few of the surrounding neighborhoods.  We had a beautiful day to work with and, in spite of a constant breeze that kept messing up Stephanie's hair, it was a good day.  Enjoy!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Focus and Recompose - Better Photos... Now!

In photography, focus is everything.  If your exposure isn't perfect you can usually still get a good image with a little work in post processing.  If your composition isn't perfect you can usually crop to get a better composition.  Unfortunately, if your focus is off there is no way to fix it after an image is taken.  While there is always a time and place for out of focus images, it's something that you want to have total control over.

When using apertures that give you a very shallow depth of field, your focus is even more important.  If you're photographing a person's face, having an out of focus eye but an in focus nose can be enough to ruin an image.  So, how do you get the composition how you want it with the focus where you want it?  Focus and recompose!

If you've been following my recommendations so far, you're probably using spot focusing.  If you're not using spot focusing, you can safely ignore this blog post since you don't have complete control over what your camera chooses to focus on.  If you're using spot focusing, here's how to take your focusing to the next level.

Regardless of which focus point you choose to use, you'll occasionally come across a situation where your composition doesn't quite match your focus point and your camera has trouble focusing.  When this happens, the solution is simple.  Compose your image so that your camera focus on the proper part of the scene and then recompose your image.  As long as you're not really close to your subject and are not shooting with a super-shallow depth of field, the part of your image you originally focused on should still be in focus in your new composition.

This is also a trick that you can use if your camera isn't locking focus on an object that is a solid color.  Because auto focus systems rely on contrast to focus, a solid color can make focusing impossible for your camera.  If this is the case, focus on the edge of the object, recompose and take your photo!

You might notice here that the bottom image is a little sharper than the top image.  Not a huge difference, right?

In these tight crops of the same photos you can really see a difference.  Notice in the top photo that the point of
focus is on her earrings, not her eyes.  At these distances you need precise control over your focus.
The above two photos were literally taken 3 seconds apart.  Shooting at this distance at f/2.8 I lock my focus and recompose after every shot.  It can make the difference between a keeper and a reject.

Read all of my DSLR tips here.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Rule Of Thirds - Better Photos... Now!

You've probably heard people talk about the "rule of thirds".  This basic idea of composition doesn't just apply to photography, but to all forms of visual art including cinema, drawing, painting and graphic design.  By understanding and applying this concept your images will become more powerful, engaging and interesting.

To quickly and easily see the idea behind the rule of thirds, take a look at this:

You'll notice that this rectangle is divided into three equal sections, both horizontally and vertically.  By placing your subject closer to the outer sections instead of in the center section, you create a more dynamic image that most people find more visually appealing.  If you put your subject on one of the points where the horizontal and vertical lines intersect, your image just becomes that much more powerful.

Don't believe me?  Take a look at some images, either online or in your immediate environment, and you'll notice that most of them follow the rule of thirds.  I'm sitting in a hotel room right now and every painting and photograph on the walls is composed with the rule of thirds.  Turn on your TV and you'll rarely see a person in the center of the screen.  Even local news broadcasts are composed according to the rule of thirds!

Of course, rules are meant to be broken and the rule of thirds is no different.  If you really want to call attention to your subject, placing it in the center of a photo can do the trick.  This typically works best when the background is clean and uncluttered so that all of the viewer's attention is drawn to your subject.

Many DSLRs have the option to turn on a "grid" in the viewfinder and a rule of thirds overlay is usually one of the options.  If you're just getting started using the rule of thirds, this is a great guide.  It's free and easy, so why not?  Plus, if there are any straight lines in your image, the guide can help you to keep them straight in your composition.

That's about all there is to the rule of thirds.  It's a very simple but very powerful tool that you can use anytime you take a photograph.  It doesn't matter what your subject is, what the lighting conditions are, what lens you're using or what camera you have.  You can always use the rule of thirds.  Enjoy!

You can see here my head is pretty much in the center of the frame.
This isn't the best composition for this photo.  I think I need
to work with Belinda on composition.  ;)
You can see here that Kevin's head is in the upper-third of the image.
This makes for a much more pleasing composition.
Again, Belinda's head is in the center of the frame but her eyes are in the upper-third of the image.
Here's a wedding photo with lots of negative space on the right side of the frame.  Notice that the upper-third contains
their heads and the left-third contains their bodies, taking advantage of the intersection of lines.

Read all of my DSLR tips here.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Just A Quick Note On Why I'm the Luckiest Guy Around

Of course, saying I'm the luckiest guy around is pretty subjective, and I might be a little biased, but I really don't care.  My wife, Belinda, is my favorite person in the world.  If you don't know our story, you can read it here.  She's so supportive of everything I do.  She's always encouraging me to push myself and when I don't, she's there to push me.  She supports organizations that we believe in.  She finds reasons for us to get dressed up.  She's smart, she's funny, she's beautiful and she tolerates me taking photos of her whenever we get dressed up.

This past weekend we got dressed up and went to an event in downtown Denver.  Before we left, we had some beautiful natural light coming into our hotel room and I just had to get a few photos.  Here's the lady who makes me feel like the luckiest guy in the world.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Cassandra - Denver High School Senior Portraits

Spring in Denver is very unpredictable.  One day it might be 70 and sunny, while the next day might be 30 with 2 feet of snow.  Setting up outdoor photo shoots is tough because of this.  You have to be prepared for anything, even rescheduling.  On the morning of Cassandra's senior photo shoot, the ground had a fresh coating of snow and the sky was covered with clouds.  Fortunately, the saying "If you don't like the weather in Colorado, wait a few minutes" held true and by the afternoon the sun came out and it warmed up outside.

Of course, this didn't mean it was really warm outside.  We met in Cherry Creek to wander the streets and alleys, looking for interesting textures, colors and shops.  We were able to find a few places that were tucked out of the wind, but most of our shoot was not that warm.  Fortunately, Cassandra had a great attitude throughout her portrait session.  Her great smile never wavered, even when she was in a cute little dress and the wind was blowing her hair all over the place.  To be honest, I knew that since I was getting cold that she had to be cold, but she toughed it out and we were able to get some great photos.

Of course, no photo shoot is complete without random people asking to be in the photos (which happened while we were shooting).  The only difference with doing a photo shoot in Cherry Creek versus in LoDo is the people who want to be in the photos are much less creepy and much better dressed!

Cassandra wants to go into beauty school after she finishes high school.  Judging by her style and her personality, I think she'll be great at it!  So, I'll stop talking and give you what you've been waiting for... the photos!  Meet Cassandra.


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Randomness - Criticism


The other day I was talking to a fellow photographer and I asked her if she'd seen a recent photo shoot that I'd done.  She said that she had and I asked her what she thought.  She said, "Can I be honest?"

Those are words that you never really want to hear.  When you create something, you want people to like it.  It's easy to sit back and listen to people say how wonderful you are and how much they like your work.  It's not nearly as easy to hear people criticize your work or tell you what they don't like about it.  But you know what?  Sometimes it's necessary to get a little criticism.

She went on to tell me that there was nothing wrong with the photos.  They looked great.  It's just that when you have a great location with an attractive person and good lighting, it's not that hard to get photos that look great.  She was expecting more from me.  Not from my camera, not from my lenses, not from the models, not from the location, but from me.  She said I played it too safe.

The more I thought about it, the more I agree with her.  Sure, your average person might not know where to start with a studio full of lighting equipment and a DSLR, so of course most people are going to be happy and impressed with the photos.  They're not something that just anyone can make.  But what about other photographers?  Once you move past the basics of lighting and posing and apertures and shutter speeds, what makes one photographer different from any other?  There is no one specific thing, but there is always something, and she was telling me that I didn't let my something shine through.

It would have been easy to say, "Thanks for your input," and then go on about my business thinking, "Since everyone else liked the photos, what does she know?"  But really, when someone who you consider a friend and trust as a colleague puts themselves on the line to give you some criticism, you'd better listen, because that's not an easy thing to do.  It turns out that, while I might not agree with her 100%, I still learned something from her criticism.  Actually, after letting it sink in, I learned a lot.

I learned that although it might be easy to make good photos, it's not that easy to make good photos that only you can make.  I learned that instead of making photos that appeal to a few more people, maybe I should try making photos that appeal to a few less people.  One final thing, and probably the most important thing that I learned was that this photographer, this friend decided to take a chance and let me know what she thinks because she believes in me and wants to see me succeed.  I couldn't have asked for a better compliment than that.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Denver Style Expo

This past weekend  the Denver Style Expo took place and I was fortunate to have been asked to photograph one of the runway shows.  The Style Expo brought together many of Denver's best designers and fashionistas under one roof for a weekend and it was quite an event!

I was at this event specifically to photograph the custom headpieces of Natalee M Designs and custom dresses of Marie-Margot Bridal Couture.  I can never believe that these women can make such amazing and beautiful pieces by hand.  Their runway show definitely did their works justice.  Here are some photos from behind the scenes as well as from the runway.  Enjoy!

Friday, April 1, 2011

New Photography Book - "It's Called Art"

Although it might be a little premature, I'm proud to announce a new photography book I'm working on: It's Called Art.

As many of you know, I'm a portrait photographer, which means I spend the majority of my time photographing people.  I love what I do, but sometimes I get the urge to be a little more artistic.  When this happens, I throw off the shackles and chains of portrait photography, put on my beret and go create art!

What you see here is just a sampling of many years of artistic work that I've created.  This book is an ever-evolving project with new works being created constantly.  You just never know when inspiration is going to engulf your soul. With that being said, I don't have a specific release date for the book yet.  I'll know it when it's ready and I just don't have that feeling yet.

Here are a few photos that may or may not make it into the book:

Blurry photos are a must for any art book.

These photos speak of the grittiness of the urban landscape we all inhabit.

 How many times have you looked over "insignificant" details in your daily life?

 I call these "Self Portrait" and "Girl Kissing Tree".
 Wow.  This is powerful.

OK, here's a landscape restrained by humanity.  And then this girl... oh, she's kind of scary. 
I let my imagination take flight. 
So this was some dude at a concert.  It seemed more artistic with the music. 

I have no idea what this is. 

OK, now this is just getting silly.