How to Be a Happy Successful Photographer

Being successful in photography is, well, objective. We all have different definitions of success and we all have different goals. Am I a successful photographer? Some people think so, but if you put me next to Annie Leibovitz or 1/2 of the photographers out there, I pale in comparison. I don’t know about you, but I get tired of seeing my own work. I look at other photographer’s work and I’m just amazed. Sometimes it inspires me, sometimes it just puts me in a funk, not the type you wanna boogie down to. Over the course of time, I’ve learned a few things that has helped me with my success and happiness. I’m not saying this will work for you, but it has worked for me.

1) Everyone shoots shitty images. Everyone. Your job as the photographer is to be the gate keeper. If you’re going through and making selects of your shoot, don’t even show the client the images you don’t like, because they WILL pick them as the hero shots. Trust your eyes, they came to you for your expertise, if they were capable, they would have shot it themselves.

2) Do not throw pictures up on the internet and include a disclaimer (images are unretouched, straight out of camera). What is the f’in point? It’s not your best foot forward, so take the freaking time to edit the photo. Let’s say the model grabs the image, throws it on her site and gives you credit, next the makeup artist does the same, what happens in the end is that your image is going to be floating around the internet with credit to you and some potential client is going to see it and think, “Wow this guy doesn’t pay attention to the details, like that big zit on the model’s nose.” You think they will want to give you the $10k gig? Probably not.

3) Association. You hang out with crappy photographers, you will remain crappy. Just like anything else in life, you hang out with thieves, you’re most likely a thief. If you want to grow and improve as a photographer, surround yourself with photographers who inspire you, produce great work, people you can learn from. If you’re the top dog in your group, you won’t grow.

4) If you’re just starting out, don’t watermark your photos. No one wants to steal them. You think your images are great but just know that your taste will grow and your images will improve. What will happen is 3 years from now, you will do a google search on yourself and all these shitty images will pop up with your name on them. Once you start producing great work, people will know that it came from you.

5) You need a GREAT team. You can’t do it by yourself. If I gave you Annie’s team, including set design, do you think you can create stunning photos? I bet you could. Find these people, feed them, keep them happy.

6) Let go of your ego. No one likes working with know-it-alls or divas. Be humble, be hungry. Help other photographers, mentor them, assist them, it’s rewarding.

7) Make the money, but don’t forsaken everything else in chase of the paper. The best way to be happy is to live in the present. Don’t put things off til the future, the future may never come.

8) Shoot often.

 

 

How to Expose for Your Images

When I first go on-set, I find the composition that I want. Then next step for me is determining which F-stop I want to shoot at before I even set up my lights. When you first start out in photography, one of the hardest things to grasp is what camera combinations should you use to get the correct exposure. There are three factors that determine what the exposure of your image will be: ISO, shutter speed, and aperture (F-stop). There are a lot of posts out there that tries to explain this but it gets a little confusing with all the technical mumbo jumbo that’s not needed to understand how it works. This post will explain it in layman’s terms to help you get the right exposure every time.

Understanding F-Stop
F-stop is the ratio between the diameter of the aperture in the lens and the focal length of the lens, but we won’t get into the mathematics. The F-stop which is also known as the aperture, regulates how much light is allowed through the lens by varying degrees. The wider the opening the more light it lets in and the reverse is true. It functions similar to an iris, at night your pupils dilate to let in more light, during the day when it’s bright the pupils gets smaller because not as much light is needed.

When I’m on-set, the reason I determine the F-stop first before anything else is because F-stop also allows you direct your viewers eyes. If you shoot wide open, meaning that you allow the maximum amount of light through your lens, your depth of field will be smaller. This allows you to focus on your subject and blur out details of the surrounding background. (The smaller the F-stop number, the larger the opening, the more shallow depth of field.) So if you were to shoot a portrait, and you set your camera to shoot at F1.2, you can literally just get the focus on the tip of the nose and blur everything else out. The higher the F-stop number, the more detail your images will show. So if you were to shoot a fashion spread and wanted every detail of the environment to be in focus, you would set your F-stop to F8-F11.

Shutter Speed
After you figure out what F-stop you want to shoot at, you will then adjust your shutter speed to get the correct exposure. Shutter speed is simple and straight forward. The only time that you would want to figure out what shutter speed to shoot at before figuring the F-stop is when you’re wanting to add motion blur or freeze motion.

ISO
Most of the time your ISO will be set to 100, or 200 for Nikon users. But when you can’t achieve the right exposure with the combination of F-stop and shutter speed, you bump up the ISO to allow more light into the camera. The higher you go in ISO the more grain your image will have, although high end cameras now can handle ISOs up to 1600 without any noise.

Using these three together you can come up with many different combinations for the same exposure, but how you choose to get there is all about your creativity. I hope this helps.

Which Camera Lenses Should I Get?

Now that you’ve gotten a chance to shoot with a Canon L-series lens and see the amazing quality that it produces in your images, you find yourself daydreaming about other L lenses. You will start wanting other L lenses for your collection. It’s like a drug, once you start you can’t stop. “In fact, this amazement is said to cause a disease know as “L-Disease”. Once caught, it is incurable. You will have to buy Canon L lenses in all of the focal lengths you use.” You will become a gear head whether you like it or not.

In this post I will rank my lenses, hopefully that will help you decide on what lens to get next for your own collection. The first lens that you should get is of course the 24-70 f2.8L that I recommended in yesterday’s post. Here is the list in order of my favorites:

85mm f/1.2L II — This lens is butter. The bokeh is amazing! This lens is razor sharp too! The focus is always on point. I use this lens often in my portraits and fashion work. This lens is a must have!

100mm f/2.8 macro — This is my next favorite lens. I used this for portraits, products, and marco shots. Even though this lens is not an L series, it still produces good quality images. Canon recently came out with an L series macro lens, it’s double the price of this lens. I am tempted to buy it, but there are other lenses on my wish list that I want first. One of the reasons why I love this macro lens is because it’s the only lens that will keep you entertained for hours. Take it on your next hike and you’ll discover all kinds of fun things to photograph. If you get this lens, be sure to get the flash for it! Canon Macro Twin Lite MT-24EX Flash.

35mm f/1.4L — This lens is super sharp! If you’re a photo journalist, this lens is for you! It’s small and light weight, and it’s super fast. You can open it up to 1.4 and make everything melt in the background. I use this lens for when I want to include more of the environment and create a “street” feel to my images.

70-200mm f/2.8L IS — The bokeh for this one is great. This lens comes in handy when you’re shooting people who aren’t comfortable in front of the camera. The focal length allows you to stand 15-20 feet back from your subject so they don’t feel like you’re shoving a camera in their face. This lens works great for sports photography too! I use this lens for portraits, fashion and sports.

50mm f/1.2L — This lens is similar to the 85mm. If you have the 85mm there’s no need to get this one. It’s pretty much a duplicate. I finally got this a few months ago because I have the L disease. I use this for when I can’t use my 85mm due to confinement of space.

24mm f/3.5L tilt shift — This lens rocks. I prefer to get the 17mm tilt shift that recently got released, but it’s over $2k. If I did full time architecture work, then I would jump on this in a heartbeat. The thing about these tilt shifts is that they’re all manual focus, so shooting on a tripod is a must when you use the tilt or else your focus will be off. Also when you tilt and shift, you have to compensate for the exposure, so using a light meter won’t work. I use this lens for when I do landscapes, architecture and fashion.

16-35mm f/2.8L II — This is the widest angle that I have. It’s relatively sharp, sometimes it gives me soft images and it’s frustrating. When shooting at wide angle, you have to beware of distortion. Watch the edges when you have people in your frames. If you’re just shooting landscapes, you don’t have to worry. I use this lens for landscapes, fashion and events.

50mm f/2.8 macro (Sigma) — This lens is actually comparable to my 100mm. The reason why I rate the other one higher is because I have a mount on flash for the 100mm. The focus on this lens is really fast and the images are sharp!

90mm f/2.8 tilt shift — I hardly use this lens. I’ve probably shot no more than 50 frames on this lens. Initially when I bought it, I was thinking that I was going to do a series of portraits using this tilt shift. I haven’t gotten around to doing it yet.

100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS — This lens was given to me as a gift. I haven’t used it yet. But I’m excited to whip it out for some wildlife and sports photography…when I have time.

Lensbaby — I bought this when they were having a special. Heard that it was a fun lens, but I haven’t really used it. I’ve probably shot less than 25 frames off this lens. It takes too much thinking when the swapping of aperture rings.

Wish List
Here are some lens that I would definitely love to have and you might want to consider as well.

8-15mm f4L fisheye — OMG I want this one. A fisheye L lens? Are you kidding me? A little pricey for a fisheye lens, but I’m sure it’ll be worth it. I don’t really have a need for fisheye lenses, but it will be fun nonetheless to have this lens!

Canon MP-E 65mm macro — YES!!!! Please!!!! Man I wish I had more time for macro photography! Seeing little critters creeps me out though. They’re so ugly and nasty looking, but a part of me want to snap their pics just so I can see up close how nasty they are. My old assistant had this lens and one day we just shot everything from boogers, to dandruff, to earwax, to bugs, to spiders, to hair follicles, to skin, to mold, DAMN it was SO much fun! This macro lens will blow the others out of the water. One thing I will say is, getting the focus spot on is really really tough! There’s a learning curve with this lens.

135mm f2.0L — I’ve always wanted this lens. I got to use it once. It was pretty like my first girlfriend. Everything in the background just melts when you shoot wide open. It makes me drool just thinking about this lens. I probably won’t use it much because of the focal length, but if I had extra money to waste, this would be one of the lenses that I buy.

200mm f1.8L — HOLY CRAP!!! THIS IS the magic lens. I want this. I want this. I want this. Please! It’s discontinued. You can find it on eBay but you’ll be paying top dollar for it. It’s like a collector’s item now. Come on Canon! Can you make a replacement for this?

Ahhh I’m going to go daydream now.

Which Camera Gear Should I Buy First?

Canon vs Nikon
In this post I won’t debate whether Canon is better than Nikon, because it is. =) Shoot with what your comfortable with. For me it just happens to be a Canon. My first point and shoot was a Canon, my first film SLR was a Canon AE, my first DSLR was a Canon 20D. Canon has always been in my blood. So if you’re thinking about investing a bunch of money into professional gear, stick with what you know. There are a ton of debate out there on Canon vs Nikon, I guarantee you won’t be able to find a definite answer. But if you pay close attention to sporting events, you will notice that most professional photographers on the sidelines shoot with Canon. That was enough reason for me to follow the same path when I decided to go pro. All these people who make money doing it professionally can’t be wrong.

Photography is Not Cheap
Photography is an expensive profession to get into, and my firm belief is that you should always do it right the first time, but that’s just me. I’ve never been one to put my foot half in. If I’m going to do something, I’m going to jump all in. It’ll save you money in the long run. Trust me.

What to Buy First
Most photographers will switch camera bodies multiple times throughout their career, that’s a given. I consider camera bodies, girlfriends. When it comes to lenses however, it’s like a marriage, you’re most likely in it for the long haul so you want to make sure you get the best. For Canon, these lenses are coined “L” lenses, the L stands for Luxury. You can spot them easily with a red ring around the end of the lens. They are solidly built and the quality of images they put out is nothing short of amazing, they are Canon’s professional line. I know they’re expensive. When I bought my first L lens, it was a tough pill to swallow. $1300 for one lens? Um, that’s more than my camera. There’s a reason for this, which brings me back to my girlfriend vs wife theory.

If you have a great camera but you’re shooting through cheap lenses, your images are going to look crappy. If you have a decent camera but you’re shooting through real high quality glass (lenses), your images will still look good. If you have a great camera and great lenses but your images are still crappy, well then it’s not the gear. Just FYI.

With that said, if you only have enough money to buy a camera and a lens, buy an L lens and see how much money you have left over and get the best camera you can at your price point.

Which L Lens Should I Buy First
The first L Lens that you should buy is the 24-70mm f2.8L. This is a great all purpose lens. It gives you flexibility with the coverage, from wide angle to zoom. I use this lens more than any of my other lenses that I have.

The second lens that you should get is the 100mm f/2.8 macro. Good news is that this lens won’t cost you an arm and a leg. It’s not an L series, but the quality that it produces is on par with the L series. You might think that you won’t have a need for macro, but trust me it comes in handy, plus it’s just a FUN lens! You can take this into your backyard and discover a whole new World. I use it for portraits, beauty work where I have to get close up shots of the makeup, weddings, and product shoots.

Here’s my collection
16-35mm f/2.8L II
24-70mm f/2.8L
24mm f/3.5L tilt shift
35mm f/1.4L
50mm f/1.2L
50mm f/2.8 macro (Sigma)
85mm f/1.2L II
90mm f/2.8 tilt shift
100mm f/2.8 macro
70-200mm f/2.8L IS
100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS
Lensbaby

Which Camera Should I Invest In?
If you have enough money, a great camera to invest in is the Canon 5D Mark II. When shooting professionally, size does matter. The 5D Mark II packs a punch for the price. It’s ability to handle low light situations is amazing and to top it off it records in 1080p.

  • 21 megapixel CMOS sensor (very similar to the sensor in the EOS-1Ds Mark III)
  • Sensor dust reduction by vibration of filter
  • ISO 100 – 6400 calibrated range, ISO 50 – 25600 expansion (1Ds Mark III & 5D max ISO 3200)
  • Auto ISO (100 – 3200) in all modes except manual
  • 3.9 frames per second continuous shooting
  • DIGIC 4 processor, new menus / interface as per the EOS 50D
  • Image processing features:
    • Highlight tone priority
    • Auto lighting optimizer (4 levels)
    • High ISO noise reduction (4 levels)
    • Lens peripheral illumination correction (vignetting correction)
  • RAW and SRAW1 (10 MP) / SRAW2 (5 MP)
  • RAW / JPEG selection made separately
  • Permanent display of ISO on both top plate and viewfinder displays
  • AF micro adjustment (up to 20 lenses individually)
  • Three custom modes on command dial, Creative Auto mode
  • Image copyright metadata support
  • 98% coverage viewfinder (0.71x magnification)
  • 3.0″ 920,000 dot LCD monitor with ‘Clear View’ cover / coatings, 170° viewing angle
  • Automatic LCD brightness adjustment (ambient light sensor)
  • Live view with three mode auto-focus (including face detection)
  • No mirror-flip for exposures in Live View if contrast detect AF selected
  • Movie recording in live view (1080p H.264 up to 12 minutes, VGA H.264 up to 24 mins per clip)
  • Two mode silent shooting (in live view)
  • New jump options in play mode
  • HDMI and standard composite (AV) video out
  • Full audio support: built-in mic and speaker, mic-in socket, audio-out over AV (although not HDMI)
  • IrPort (supports IR remote shutter release using optional RC1 / RC5 controllers)
  • UDMA CompactFlash support
  • New 1800 mAh battery with improved battery information / logging
  • New optional WFT-E4 WiFi / LAN / USB vertical grip
  • Water resistance: 10 mm rain in 3 minutes

Canon 5D Mark II + 24-70mm f2.8L = You’re on your way to becoming a bad ass photographer.

How to Photograph Lightning

I love thunder and lightning storms. The energy that it creates in the atmosphere is electrifying. When I was living in Virginia and New York, it seemed like there was a storm at least once a week. Now that I live in the Pacific Northwest, I would see one every other year. Sad. So when there’s a storm, I wanna make sure that I take advantage of it or else it’ll be another 2 years before I get another chance. Here’s how to photograph lightning.

Tripod
First you’ll need a tripod because you’ll be shooting with a long shutter time, so there will be camera shake if you try to hold it. If you don’t have a tripod handy, any surface that can keep your camera steady will work.

Trigger
Use either a wireless trigger or a cord. If you press the shutter and your tripod is not sturdy enough, there will be slight camera movement.

Composition
Lightning is unpredictable. You won’t know where it will strike, so you’re best bet is to find the best composition and hope that lightning will strike in that general area. If you’re lucky, it’ll hit a tree in the middle of nowhere like the image above.

Focus
Set your camera to manual focus. Prefocus the shot to what’s in your composition, like buildings or trees. Lightning shots are more interesting when the viewer can get a sense of reference instead of just lightning bolts in the sky. If you don’t prefocus, your camera will hunt for something to focus on when you press the shutter button and it won’t find anything because you’re shooting in the dark.

Shutter, Aperture and ISO
Set your ISO to 100, next set the shutter speed. I find that anything between 15-30 seconds is good, anything over 30 seconds will increase noise in your photo. Let’s say you opted for 15 seconds, you will now need to adjust the aperture to expose for the environment. Use the metering in your camera. When shooting lightning storms, you don’t have to worry about depth of field because of the distance between your camera and the subject (buildings, trees, and lightning bolts). If you open your lens up all the way and the image is still underexposed, increase the shutter speed to 30 seconds. If it’s still underexposed, increase the ISO to 200. There will be many different combination, mix and match to see what works but use the outline above as a basis.

Post Processing
Chances are you’re not going to get one shot that’s perfect. Good news about shooting on a tripod, is that you can composite the lightning bolts together into one single image. Select the images that you like and combine them in Photoshop. Use the layer masks to reveal the bolts that you like.

Have fun and don’t get struck by lightning!

How to Take Great Runway Fashion Photos

It’s the start of Fashion Week again and you just got the assignment to shoot your very first runway fashion show, but you’re freaking out because you’ve never done it before! What if all the images turn out blurry? What if the model’s eyes are closed? What if the clothes don’t look good in the photos? What if I have exposure problems? What if I miss the “shot”? Well that’s how I felt when I got my assignment to shoot at New York Fashion Week. I’m here to help you get the shot you need with confidence, so you can deliver quality runway images.

White Balance
Usually at the “real” fashion shows, the color temperature will be 3200 Kelvin, I’m not referring to the wanna be fashion shows at clubs and bars which I will still never understand because the lighting is SO bad that you can’t even see the details of the clothes. If you are unsure about the color temperature, take a grey card with you.

How to Use a Grey Card
To set the true white balance on your camera, you will need a grey card. This will help ensure that your camera captures all the colors accurately. Grey cards have a reflective surface of 18% and must be neutral grey, you can use either the in-camera white balance option or do it in post-processing.

Setting Custom White Balance in Camera
If you wanted to do it in camera, take a photo of the grey card in it’s environment, be sure to fill the whole frame with the grey card, then set your camera to custom white balance feature to set white balance then select the image you just shot to use as “white balance.” Any time your lighting changes, you’ll have to retake the picture of the grey card, in the instance of the fashion show the lighting will remain constant.

Setting Custom White Balance in Post-Processing
If you wanted to do the white balance in post-processing, unlike the first step where you filled the entire frame with the grey card, have someone hold the grey card and take a photo of them in a test shot in the same lighting conditions, you will now have an image to reference later in editing. In post-processing, open up your series of images in camera RAW, select your test shot with the grey card in it, use the white balance eye dropper tool on the upper left corner, then click on the grey card in your image.

This should change your white balance to the image. Then click the “Select All” button on the upper left corner, this will select all your images that you have open in RAW, next click “Synchronize…”, this will now do a batch white balance on all your images.

If you want even more control, I suggest you use a card that has grey stripe, white stripe, and a black stripe like this one. This will allow you to have all three reference points for post-processing in Photoshop using the curves adjustment layer.

Setting White Balance Using Curves Adjustment Layer
Open up a curves adjustment layer above the image layer. Click on the highlight eyedropper then click on the white stripe of the grey card. Click on the shadow eyedropper tool and then click on the black stripe of the grey card.

RAW versus JPGs
If you shoot in RAW you can compensate for your mistakes such as white balance or exposure, since this is your first time shooting a fashion show, it might be a good idea. After you get the hang of it, I suggest switching to shooting in JPG format for fashion shows. You’re probably thinking, “well that’s just ridiculous, why would anyone want to shoot in JPGs instead of RAW?!” Here’s why, if you have everything dialed in you don’t need to shoot in RAW, it will just slow down your camera. Instead shoot in JPG to maximize the performance of your camera. In a fashion show, speed is important! You can’t miss that shot because your camera is buffering!

Position is Key
If you’re a newbie, you’re going to have a hard time getting the prime spot. Most of these spots will already be reserved for the more high profile photographers. Try your best to get center position, eye level. Anywhere on the wing is bad because you can’t see the whole runway. Low positions are okay, until the models gets to the end of the runway, then you’ll be shooting up their nose. High positions are less desirable, because that means you’re shooting from the way back! Given the two options, go with the low position in the front row, at least the models will look leveled with the camera while they are coming down the runway. By getting a position close to center, you can compose your shot to include the name of the designer in your photos to specify who’s line it belongs to, plus get the “back” shot of the previous look. Double bonus! Cha-ching!

Timing is Important
As with everything in life, timing is important. In fashion runway photography, pay close attention to each model, they each have their own cadence. Meaning that each of them walk to a rhythm, the best ideal shots are the ones where they are in stride. The clothes tend to look good, they blink less, and their form just looks more fluid and beautiful. So get your shutter clicks in line with steps.

Camera Gear to Use
On camera flash is a big no no in fashion runway photography, the pro photographers aren’t going to be too happy with your flash messing up their shots! So leave those flash at home. Instead, crank the iso up.

If you have the ability to bring two cameras along, great! Do it! Put a 70-200mm on one for when they are coming down the runway, put a 24-70mm on the other for the close-up shots at the end of the runway.

Camera Settings to Use
The most important thing in fashion runway photography is freezing the movement, if you’re not trying to go for the artistic motion blur. The designers want to see the details of their clothes, so if the images are blurry, they’re no good. Some models walk slow, some models walk faster than I can run. So our first point of attack is shutter speed. Set your shutter to 400, that should do the trick in freezing movement.

But by setting the shutter at 400, you’re not going to be able to let in enough light into your camera even if you shot it wide open. So in order to compensate for this, you’ll have to crank your ISO up to 1600. Most camera nowadays can create beautiful images at 1600 ISO without much noise. If you’re shooting with a 5D Mark II, you can crank the ISO a lot higher, but the problem with the 5D Mark II is it’s a little show in terms of focusing. Therefore you may experience some “camera searching” when trying to get the shot.

Next the aperture, depending on how well and evenly lit the runway is, you can shoot as wide as F2.8-F4. If you don’t feel comfortable enough with switching the aperture on the fly, or if the runway varies in lighting (the ends of the runway seem to be brighter than the beginning), don’t shoot in manual mode. Instead use the shutter priority setting on your camera, the camera then will automatically set your aperture for you depending on what the lighting conditions are on the runway. The shutter priority setting is the Tv mode on your camera.

Have fun shooting!

Some shows will have spotlights that will mess you up! Be prepared!