Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Are you ready to go pro?


Are you ready to go pro?

So you have a decent DSLR camera and a few lenses. You have taken some nice quality images and know what you have to do to make a good image even better. So what the heck right?. Put up a sign, order some business cards and throw together a website. That is all it takes after all… right? The answer is maybe, and here is why.

Here are a few things to think about before you launch into the world:

1)   What is the reason to go pro? This industry is a meat grinder of early mornings, late nights, meals on the run, occasionally missing time with family and friends, constantly marketing, and yes taking photos. But to get everything out of the industry you need to have a little more than that.

Those of us who are professionals love every minute of this industry. We do this because we get to live our lives by our own rules. We embrace each assignment and commission as another opportunity to create amazing images. Yes there is money to be made and yes, it can get a little scary when the months get slow. Even though there is difficulty and uncertainty in our lives, most of it wouldn't trade it for anything. Remember the how the saying goes, pick a job that you would be willing to do for free.

2)   Do you have the right gear? Now anyone who knows what they are doing will tell you that they will get an amazing image out of a cardboard box. This is to say that equipment isn’t everything. Just because you buy $36,000 worth of camera gear doesn’t mean that you are going to take great photos. It just means you have a decent credit line, that now is probably maxed out.

Professional camera equipment will give you the ability to record amazing images. It is up to you to use the equipment to create the photos. Professional equipment is also built for the daily wear and tear that you are going to have as a working pro. Canon and Nikon make great DSLR cameras and lenses for home and personal use. The only issue is that these cameras tend to have lower quality components (not inferior components). An example would be the consumer level DSLR cameras that have high impact plastic. Consumer lenses also do not have the high quality glass elements to ensure color accuracy and image sharpness. A rule of thumb that I use is that you should have better equipment than the people that you are working for.

3)   Do you over edit images? This is, in my opinion, the biggest issue with amateurs that make the jump before they are ready. These days the photography industry is amazing. There are so many people doing so many different styles that there is something for everyone. The rule of thumb that most photographers use is: if you couldn’t do it in film, don’t do it in digital.” You want your images to stand on their own. You want your images to reflect your abilities as a photographer, not as a Photoshop operator. Too often I see images that are just plain terrifying. Images out of focus, selective color, heavy black boarders that cover put of the subjects face, and under exposed images are just a few examples that come to mind.
4)   Have you networked? You are not going to be the only professional photographer in your area. If you are going to shoot sports, dance studios, and school contracts you need to be aware that there are probably photographers that already do that work. Be a professional and reach out to these professionals. You will be doing yourself a huge favor by adding these people as friend rather than directly marketing to their clients and being blacklisted as someone who steals clients. You want as many allies as you can get. If you need to use a lens or need lighting equipment for a big shoot it is cheaper to call and borrow gear than it is to rent it.

So there is a short list of things to consider before hanging your sign. There is a lot more to think about, and more will follow in the coming months. Just remember that many have traveled this road before you, and many will travel after you. The important thing is to remember that you started down this path because you enjoy taking photographs. Just make sure that you are walking down the right path.

Take Care of yourselves and each other

Mike

Monday, February 27, 2012

These things are holding you back

Okay so this is going to be a little rant/ educational post tonight. If you do any of these things please do not take offense and just relax and read. I will say that a few of these things I did at one time myself. So hang on, and here we go. Yes there is a reason they are all #1:

#1 - Spot Color: Okay can we all agree that spot color is done. It is like all the cars that were created after "The Fast and the Furious" came out. There were a few people that spent a ton of money to build these vehicles, and for a while it was cool. Then within about 18 months it was really annoying. That is what spot color is. When it was first done it was amazing. Then after a few too many people started doing it, and doing it really bad, it was dead.

#1-Heavy white vignettes: Now I have no idea when or why so many photographers do this. I am going to be brutally honest, it looks terrible. Why anyone would take an image and muck it up by washing out the edges is beyond me. To me this is worse than spot color because in most cases I see beginners actually put the vignette over portions of the subjects. If you are doing this you need to stop... now.

The reason these editing techniques need to be taken out of your image collections is they "date" your photography. At one time it was considered cool and trendy to superimpose an image of the bride and groom in a wine glass. Now at the time these were really cool. Now it just looks silly. Spot color was all the rage in 2004 until around 2006. Everybody was doing it, and not everyone was doing it well. In most cases it looked great if in a collection of 200 images you had one. If you were showing it on you website you showed one. Now here we are six years later and I see it done even worse than before and I see five or more of these images in online portfolios. With the white vignettes these are terrible. Showing these images on your website and Facebook pages actually do more harm than good for your development as a photographer.

#1-Cropping: I consider myself very lucky to have worked in a studio that did a lot of work in film. One of these things that I learned was that you shoot and crop with the plan that you could print an 8x10 with that file. Most of the time I see images cropped so tight that you could only get a 4x6 or 5x7 print. Another big thing that I see is images cropped where there are arms, legs, and hands cut off. Now obviously there are time where you crop an image a specific way. You want an image that is cropped from the mid thigh up. The basic rule though is that when you are cropping you never cut through a joint. So you never cut through the knee, you cut through above or below the joint.

#1-Selective Focus: Okay this one is simple. If you are going to do this make sure that your focus point is on something interesting. I have seen images where the camera is focused on gate hinges and sticks. Unless the couple made the gate hinge or the family has a last name twig or stick you focused on the wrong thing.

#1-my $100 lens is just as good as your $1,000 lens: I will be the first to tell you that the equipment doesn't make the image, it only records the image. If you give me a cardboard box with a media to record the image and a lens to focus, I can make a great image. I will say that when the rubber hits the road a 70-200mm 2.8 lens will make a cleaner image than a 18-55 kit lens. That more expensive photographic equipment costs more for a reason. The stuff is built better using better quality parts and materials.

#1-White Balance: Alright, last one. So if you have take any photos inside you should have a basic understanding of white balance. If you don't here is the break down. Color has a temperature. That temperature is measured in degree Kelvin. Depending on the color temperature or white balance you are using your images will have a different color cast. If you are shooting in a room that is lit using fluorescent bulbs that is going to have a different white balance than if you are shooting outside. The way to ensure the best results is to do what is called a custom white balance. This is done using any number of different methods. Personally I use the ExpoDisc, but have used a Photovision white balance target. Both of these work great, the ExpoDisc is just a little easier to use.

Well that about does it. If I have offended anyone I am sorry.

~Mike

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Photography the Doug Masters way..


In the words of Col. Charles "Chappy" Sinclair in the movie Iron Eagle, "Play the right music kid." Okay granted, Doug Masters then goes on a destruction spree and you are just going to be taking photos, and I clearly remember way too many random quotes from goofy 80's movies, but let's take a few moments to touch on a big thing.. music and shooting.

As photographers we draw inspiration from any number of sources. As creative professionals we also see inspiration in a number of different places. Magazines, movies, music videos, and iconic photos throughout history.

For me one of my biggest inspirations come from music. I listen a really wide variety of music. I am your typical iTunes nut. I am dedicated to a few select bands that I love listening to. I am also your typical "this sounds awesome, I just want that song." My library has everything from The Beatles to The Beastie Boys, House music to classical, and country to Rage Against the Machine and Pink Floyd. I have playlists created for specific events I am shooting. When you know you are going to be shooting a specific event say a wedding, create a playlist with that in mind and try to visualize the images that go along with that song or playlist. Take a look at movie orchestrations, not the movie soundtracks which end up being crappy songs that the artists won't release on their own albums.

What is the current flavor of the month for me? House music by far. I was originally introduced to really good house/trance music by a friend I have been friends with for my entire life. I was just recently introduced to some new artists last month by one of my best friends and have not been able to turn the stuff off. If you enjoy house music I will pass along the artists that I was introduced to: Pretty Lights, Skrillex, and Porter Robinson. I suggest the Porter Robinson station on Pandora too.

~Mike

Friday, February 24, 2012

What I drag along for High School Basketball


Now that my basketball season is close to being over I thought I would answer a question that I have been asked more than a few times. That question is "What do you use when you shoot these games?" So here is the breakdown. Some stuff is not pictured above because it is all packed away for a game tonight, but I will list it below. So here we go:

Camera Bodies:
1D mark III, 1D mark II, and 50D w. vertical grip (all Canon cameras) These are all professional level DSLR bodies with fast auto focusing, a wide ISO (film speed) range, and all use the same memory cards. The 50D is a step below the 1D series bodies that I use, but it still has the same full control as the 1D bodies. I do not use anything below the level of the 50D. That is not to say that the smaller consumer level DSLR bodies, but they don't have the same image quality. Additionally it is worth saying that if you are going to be a professional photographer you should not be using a camera that is a step below what your clients are using.

Lenses

Canon 70-200 2.8L: This is the work horse of all of my lenses. I use this lens probably 90% of the time. It is an amazing lens and I would have to say that most professional photographers that own this lens use it more than any other lens in their bag. When asked what lens someone should buy this one is usually at the top of the list.

Canon 24-105 4.0L IS: I originally picked this lens up for photographing teams and large groups. I was forced to start using it for basketball games in smaller gyms. It is one stop "slower" (half the amount of light) than the 70-200, but because I strobe the games that I shoot (see strobes for basketball below) it isn't that big of an issue.

Canon 17-40 4.0L: I was in the market for a wide angle lens for situations where even my 24-105 was too tight. Typically I will use this lens if I am shooting celebrations, crowd shots, or want a image of the entire gym. I purchased it instead of the fast 16-35 2.8L because I new that it would not get used everyday so I wasn't going to spend an additional $1000 for a lens that would spend more time in the bag than on the camera.

Sigma 15mm 2.8 fisheye: Okay this is a r-e-a-l-l-y w-i-d-e l-e-n-s. If you are purchasing lenses and equipment this should be the lens that you buy after you have bought 50 rechargeable batteries, your third camera bag, three or for different camera straps, and maybe even a few dozen memory cards. I really like shooting with this lens when the situation is right. The temptation when you have a fisheye lens is to use it too often.

Other Stuff

Pocket Wizards: There are a number of different companies that make radio slaves. The is a reason that Pocket Wizards are the industry standard, they work. I am currently using the Plus II transceivers and I love them. As of March 15th , or around that date, photo equipment retailers will start shipping the Pocket Wizard Plus III. These are simply an upgrade to the Plus II with a few improvements. Yes, I will begin the phased upgrade as my Plus II units need replaced.

ExpoDisc: This is the second and final custom white balance device I will even buy. Simple and easy to use. I don't need it all of the time, but when I do need to do a custom white balance it is the way to go.

Speedlights (flash): I have owned third party flash units, the Canon 430 EX, and am currently using the 580EXII. These are awesome flash units and work great. In my opinion they are well worth the additional cost.

Batteries: What more can you say. You need them. In my experience don't waste your time with third party camera batteries. They are not reliable and can let you down at the worst time.

Memory Cards: I use Sandisk cards and only Sandisk cards in my working set. I have about a dozen random manufacture cards that I carry if I need cards in a pinch. I carry about 20 compact flash cards (I think all but 4 of them are 4 GB) in two Think Tank Photo Pixel Pocket Rockets. These are the best card holders I have found. Order them from Midwest Photo Exchange. (www.mpex.com)

Pre-Release Cable: Okay so this is in my bag, but I use it more for Baseball, Softball, and Track. I picked this up from Flash Zebra for about half the cost of the Canon OEM cable. With this it allows me to fire a camera remotely while shooting another camera in my hand. Just plug one end into the camera and the other into the pocket wizard.

Ipod/Iphone: There are times when I really just need to tune the world out and focus on shooting. The is a must have. Either I am listening to House music, Pandora radio, or a playlist that I threw together. Sometimes the cheers and jeers are just too much for me to focus on the images.

Strobes: Two years ago I threw the idea of shooting basketball and wrestling with available light out the window. I was not happy with the results and I was looking for a way to let my images stand out from what other area photographers were doing. I am using two Alien Bees B800 (320 ws) strobes set at 1/4 power. Does it take a little while longer to get ready for a game?Yes, but the results speak for themselves.

So that wraps it up for now. Hope this shed some light on what I am using. Any questions, drop me a line.

~Mike

Thursday, February 23, 2012

formula for an awesome photo in 30 seconds or less


Needed to get out and shoot "something" Wednesday. So on a journey across the western Pennsylvania country side I took this photo Wednesday at the Slippery Rock exit of I-79. If you haven't played with long exposure I encourage you to get out and try it. Next time: Long exposure on chrome, I sense a evening trip to Pittsburgh.

The formula: Canon 1D mark III/Canon 17-40mm f 4.0 @ 24mm / 50 ISO / 30 second exposure

~Mike

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Want better images? Just turn this dial..


The best advice I was ever given in my photography career came from a man that many of us in the area knew very well. Tim Leary (the teacher the influenced many lives until his passing in June 2009, not the drug guy) told me, "Learn the manual settings and you will be a better photographer for it."

The automatic settings on a DSLR is like buying a car that will go 300 mph and taping a block of wood to the bottom of the gas pedal. You have a great machine, but you are not using the full potential. The automatic settings (Sport, Portrait, Program, Landscape...) will give you a nice image, but it can also give you bad images too. The problem comes in when you get mixed results you won't know why.

Learning the manual settings can be the most difficult thing when you are starting out. Count yourself lucky though, a lot of us learned these settings while shooting film. Without the instant feed back we had to wait until images came back from the lab. Digital makes it easier to learn these settings and how the work together, but don't take the easy way out and shoot hundreds of images and hope you get one or two good ones. Take your time and focus on getting it right in the camera. I see too many people take the attitude that "It is digital so I will shoot 50 images and fix it later in Photoshop". This will not help you become a better photographer, it will make you log numerous hours in front of an image. Are you an aspiring photographer or Photoshop professional?

When I am shooting I have all three cameras set to manual. I know how film speed (ISO), shutter speed, and f-stop work together. I know that when I press the shutter button what to expect. As a result I spend very little time screwing around in post production.

More to come in the not too distant future about post production though.

Until next time: Take care of yourselves, and each other.

~Mike

Monday, February 20, 2012

Opening remarks, end of winter, upcoming spring, and my love affair with Hipstamatic


Okay, so this is now the third time that I have tried blogging. I started originally back in the winter of 2009 I believe with a crazy three posts over a few weeks. The second time I spent all of 12 minutes editing the page and got side tracked by something shinny. So now here we are with attempt number three. So without further delay:

Winter Sports Drawing Down

As many of you know this has been a busy winter sports season for me. I have had the opportunity to work with some amazing people again this year. My normal weekly destinations of Moniteau and Slippery Rock were visited often, as well as my normal trips to Mars, Seneca Valley, Karns City, and Butler High Schools on assignment for the Butler Eagle. I got to see some amazing games and some amazing plays this season. This week has me making my annual winter journey to Clarion University and high school for District 9 basketball playoffs. What can I say, I am a sucker for the stretch of I-80.

Can I get an amen for spring?

So I admit that at one time I loved winter. I could not wait for the snow and to be huddled down in the house or out in the winter wonderland. However this year I could have cared less. I feel blessed that this winter was mild. Maybe it is the joy of not dragging gear from the car to the building and back in 9" of slush that I enjoy?

So with spring comes baseball, softball, and track season. Looking forward to this year more than years past. I have a few people that have started working with me and I think we are going to put together a killer image set this season. So keep a close eye on the galleries over at www.apeximaging.zenfolio.com this year. I promise to pull out the stops this year.

Hipstamatic - download it NOW!!!

So there are a few things to know about photographers first. Most of us work in the digital world. Digital rules the "working" world of photography now and will into the future. Let's face it, there is no way I could shoot a basketball game and have all the images posted by 2AM shooting film.

However some of us miss film. Now part might be from the cynical world of "not everybody can get a great image in film." but most of it is because of the beauty that comes out of a film image. Analog images have a soul. They might not be as crystal clear as a digital file, but are much more beautiful. You can not get the same "feel" out of an image shot on a digital body then converted (in camera or in post production) to black and white as you do shooting on 400ISO Tmax or Tri-X. There is a reason why, in my opinion, landscape photos shot on digital can not touch an Ansel Adams image. Okay, so granted that is not fair because it is Ansel Adams, but you get my point.

With that being said the Hipstamatic app (on Iphone for me) might not actually be film, but the results are almost as amazing as a film image. If you have the chance to download this app do it and have fun. My personal favorite film/lens combo is the James Minchin Rock set, but it might have been a limited time thing. This single app has given me the chance to shoot simple candid images and instantly post them to Facebook or email to friends and family. So if you can, download it and have a little fun. The image above was shot using the Hipstamatic app.

Food for Thought: Live so the preacher won't have to tell lies at your funeral.

Take care of yourselves and each other.

~Mike