Friday, May 27, 2011

Don't Use Live View - Better Photos.. Now!

If you're fairly new to using a DSLR, you're probably more comfortable using the live view option than you are putting your eye up to the viewfinder.  If I can make a small suggestion... don't use live view!  Use the viewfinder.  Why?  Read on to find out.

A DSLR is heavier than a point and shoot.  A lot heavier.  When you look through the viewfinder, you're actually using your face to steady the camera.  A steady camera gives sharper photos.  If you're using live view, you have to hold the camera out away from your body.  With a heavy camera like a DSLR, it can be very hard to hold it steady when it's not right next to your body (or pressed up against your face), which can result in soft photos.

Another reason to not use live view is that there's generally a lag between when you press the shutter button and when the camera takes a photo.  Because of the way DSLRs operate, there is no way to get rid of this lag.  Shutter lag is bad.  Even though it may only be a split-second, it's still enough to miss the perfect expression, the best focus or that butterfly that just flew away.  By looking through the viewfinder, your camera is always ready to shoot and capture the exact moment you want to capture.

Of course, there's always going to be circumstances where live view is a great option to have.  If you're holding your camera up above your head to get a shot, it's usually better to use live view so that you can see what you're shooting rather than shooting blind.  It's also a great option to have when shooting group photos so that your head isn't behind a camera while you're trying to direct a bunch of people.

As with everything, live view is fine when used in moderation and under the right circumstances.  The sooner you get comfortable with putting your eye up to the viewfinder, the sooner you'll start getting better photos!

Read all of my DSLR tips here.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

High School Senior Portrait Fundraiser

If you’re going to be a high school senior, need Senior Portraits and want to support Colorado MESA then I’ve got a great deal for you!  I’ll be donating 20% of every dollar spent on Senior Portrait sessions and any associated print purchases through June 30 to Colorado MESA.. 

Colorado MESA is a non profit organization that supports math (M), engineering (E), science (S) and achievement (A) in middle schools and high schools. It is designed to encourage minority and female students to prepare themselves for a college education and to major in mathematics, engineering or science. I know many people who have been involved in MESA and can say with confidence that it's a great organization (and you don't think I'd be donating to them if they didn't deserve it, do you?).

So, if you're in the market for some Senior Portraits and want to support a good cause, please contact me soon. I'm only donating from any sessions and purchases made before June 30, so it's definitely a limited time offer!  See you soon!

You can see more of my Senior Portraits here.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Tech Tuesday - Photoflex Heavy Duty Backdrop Kit

When I purchased the Photoflex Heavy Duty Backdrop Kit I wasn't sure how much I'd actually use it in my photography.  I figured I'd pull it out once in a while for a few events, maybe a wedding photobooth here and there, but I didn't think I'd use it very often.  As it turns out, I don't use it at every shoot (that would just be ridiculous), but it does get a fair amount of use.  Plus, just knowing that I have it when I need it is great.

So, let's get down to some details.  I'm not going to give you measurements and all that info (which you can find here), but I will give you a quick rundown of what's included.  You get two large stands (that just happen to double as light stands, which is pretty awesome), a collapsible crossbar and a canvas carrying case that everything fits in.  You can fit a few extras in the case if you'd like.  I keep a few spring clips in there so I always have some for my rolls of seamless paper.

In my experience, this is a very sturdy backdrop stand.  I've had the stands extended up to almost their full height and haven't worried about it's stability.  I've also had very drunk people around it and it hasn't so much as wobbled.  OK, maybe it wobbled a bit when they fell through the paper, but that's kind of extreme example.

It's very easy to set up and tear down.  Granted, it's always easier and faster with two people, but I've done it myself many times.  The collapsible crossbar doesn't restrict you to any particular size of backdrop, so I've used both small and large rolls of seamless as well as any variety of fabric backdrops.  Did I mention that both of the support stands can be used as light stands?  When you purchase this you're basically getting two additional tall, sturdy light stands!

Do I have any complaints?  Of course.  One of the reasons this kit is so sturdy is because of it's footprint.  This is not a system that's made for small spaces!  I usually figure I need an additional 2 feet on each side just for the stands, which means that if I'm using a 107" roll of paper, I need a space that's at least 13' wide!

Really, though, that's about it.  I have mostly praise for this kit.  It's easy to transport, easy to setup (especially with help), versatile and sturdy.  It might cost a bit more than some other kits, but it will last and, if you assume you're getting a few extra light stands when you purchase it, is actually really cheap!

This is the moment before the guy fell through the paper... and the backdrop stands survived!
It also works for smaller groups or individual headshots.
Here's a photo from a few weeks ago that shows the stands almost fully extended.
This piece of equipment was huge!
With a little work and my mad Photoshop skillz we had a product photo.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Start A Project – Better Photos… Now!

Have you ever wanted to push yourself outside of your photography comfort zone but weren’t sure where to start?  One of the best places is to start a photography project where you take a photo every single day.  The most popular type of this project is usually called a 365, meaning you take a photo every day for a year.  Think a year sounds a little too intimidating?  Try taking a photo every day for a month or even just a week.  You’ll quickly find that taking a photo for 7 days straight is harder than you’d think.

If the point of taking on a project like this is to push yourself and your creativity, you need to do just that.  You can’t just take a photo of your cat or a houseplant every day and call it good.  You’ll need to constantly find new subjects and locations to keep things fresh. 

Some people choose to do a self-portrait every day.  Some people try to create a theme to shoot around.  I’m sure different things work for different people, so don’t get hung up on a theme.  If something isn’t working for you, change it up.  Just keep taking photos! 

If you followed my previous advice and took a peek around Flickr, you’ve probably seen people discussing their 365s.  Flickr is a great resource for ideas and support when you’re trying a 365 of your own.  Somehow, the knowledge that other people are going through the same thing as you (not enough time, lack of ideas or inspiration, missing a day or two) can be a great relief!  Read through other people’s posts and find a group that you feel at home in and will want to visit once in a while. 

At the end of a year, you’ll be amazed at what you’ve photographed and how much you’ve grown as a photographer.  My own 365 documented my growth as a photographer and, looking back, I am so glad that I did it.  From my first studio session to my first wedding, family trips and fun vacations, successful experiments and dismal failures it’s all documented with a photo from every day.  If you’d like, you can view all of my photos here (or you can just go straight to the good stuff and view my favorites).

Here are a few photos that I never would have taken if it weren't for my 365:

Read all of my DSLR tips here.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Gabby - Denver High School Senior

A few months ago I met up with Gabby in Denver to for a quick Senior Photo shoot.  We got some great portraits in this mini-session.  I can't wait to see what kind of photos we get from the full session this summer!  Expect to see more soon...

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Lisa – Denver Family Photography

This photo session had been a long time coming.  Lisa won a portrait package that I had donated to a silent auction last year, but due to conflicting schedules, vacations and even a move, we weren’t able to get our schedules to work out until last week.  Fortunately, it was worth the wait!

Lisa decided to schedule her portrait session around the time her daughter, Maia, was graduating from CU-Boulder.  As an added bonus, her mother, Natalie was in town for the graduation, so we were able to capture 3 generations of women in these photos. 

Because of Maia’s graduation from CU, we decided to roam around CU's campus while capturing photos.  I've shot photos at CU before and think it's a wonderful location for some photos in Boulder.  We had great weather with light cloud cover and just a bit of wind.  With all of the buildings, when the sun came out or the wind blew a little too hard we were able to find refuge and keep taking photos.

After spending the afternoon with Lisa, Maia, Natalie and Jameson (Maia's dog) I couldn't wait to get home and take a look at the photos.  I wasn't disappointed with the results.  Here are some of my favorites from the day.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Tech Tuesdays - Different Views In Blogger

I know it's been a while since I've written a good Tech Tuesdays post and today isn't really going to change the trend, but I just ran across something that I think is too cool not to share.  It should be useful for any type of blog that you read, photography related or not.

I use Google Chrome and was browsing the different extensions that are available for it when I came across a Blogger extension.  Apparently Blogger has lots of technology under it's hood that's not readily available.  One of the neatest options I found is the ability to change the way you view a blog's content.  It's pretty hard to explain, so I'll just leave it up to you to click through these links and see what I mean.


Just an FYI, the extension that I was using when I discovered these is called Blogger Dynamic Views.  I'm not sure if it's available for other browsers or not, but it wouldn't hurt to check!  If not, as long as you're viewing a Blogger blog you can just add the "/view/(view you like best)" to the end of the URL to see your favorite blog in a whole new way!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Tech Tuesday - Composing for the Crop

We've all been there... We take an amazing image, the client loves it and wants to order a print.  Unfortunately, the size they want to order requires cropping the image.  What to do?  What part of this image do you leave out?    Although you'll never really escape this dilemma, you can minimize how often you're confronted with it by composing for the crop.

It's really just a matter of being familiar with the size of images your camera creates and popular crops that clients might request.  I know that if I want to print an 8x10 image from one of my photos I'll need to crop a fair amount from the top and/or bottom.

After having to make too many hard decisions as to what I'd have to crop (Top of head or hand on hip?  Head or feet?), I decided I'd better start leaving myself some wiggle room.  Now I routinely shoot with some empty top and bottom space in most of my photos.  I still find myself shooting tight at every shoot, but for as many tight photos I get I try to shoot just as many "loose" that can be cropped without losing anything vital.

If it's really that easy to just leave a little extra space around your subjects when you shoot, why not shoot that way all the time?  The primary reason for me is that the closer you get to your subject, the more defocused your background gets.  That extra foot or so of distance between me and my subject can make a huge difference to the look of the background.  Another reason is just habit.  When you get into the habit of creating the image you want to see in the viewfinder, it's really hard to change your style and create an image you wouldn't typically create.

Now, I know what some of you might be thinking: "I'm not going to compromise my artistic integrity by not taking the perfect photo in-camera."  That's fine.  I respect that.  You're going to have to decide whether you want to crop your perfect photos or not sell any prints.

What if you don't want to have to make that decision?  Just display your images digitally where they don't have to be cropped.  Or, sell prints that are sized to accommodate the popular digital formats.  Instead of ordering an 8x10 and cropping, order an 8x12 and don't crop!  The only tough thing about this is finding frames to fit your prints.

In the end, it's up to you to decide how you want to shoot and if you want to change your style or not, but always be aware of the consequences.  There is no perfect solution.  You can frame properly and crop, you can frame loose and have a more defined background, you can not print your images or you can print them in sizes that are harder to frame but don't require cropping.  Good luck!

Here are a few images to illustrate what I'm talking about:

In these images I left enough room for me to crop an 8x10 and still show Lexie's hands and chains.  Notice how much extra background I get in the image.

In these images I composed in-camera pretty much the way I wanted the image to look.  See what happens when I crop for an 8x10?  I lose her hands and chains.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Nina - Denver Headshot Photography

Earlier this week I met up with Nina from Y.Lo Epicure, a caterer here in Denver, for some natural headshots.  She has a friend who let us use her beautiful property near Golden for her portrait session and we were able to get some great photographs.  Although I had to work around the paintball splats (her friends are paintballers, or at least the guys are), it wasn't hard to find a few great places for some photos.  

I want to share how Nina and I met.  A few weeks ago I received what seemed like a rather random email from Nina.  We're both members of the Colorado Women's Chamber of Commerce and she found my name in the member directory.  Since we work within the same industries at times (weddings and events), she thought it would be a good idea to get to know each other.  How awesome is that!?  

Our first meeting went great and we immediately set up a portrait session for her since I noticed she didn't have a photo on her web site.  Fast forward a few weeks and here's what we got in less than 30 minutes (I try to keep it short for professionals... I know how valuable their time is):