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Friday, May 28, 2010

Got Ink...

I love tattoos. And it is not because they look cool. They have a density to their presence - as complex symbols for the person whose skin they are inked in, to the skilled and not so skilled artist who creates them, and to the events they shadow, like artistic doppelgangers.

I love them all- from the beautifully colorful and elegant designs, to the rough and edgy prison tats mirroring the hard world world they were made in. Small or large, simple or complex, they really are beautiful to me.
And I don't have any- cause I am a wimp, but mostly because I can still hear my fathers heavily accented voice chastising me for thinking of puncturing my skin with ink.
So instead, I photograph them when I can. Sasha had some beautiful ones. They are all about her mother- her interests, fears, dreams. She told me her mom cried when she saw the creation. I really appreciated her sharing her stories with me.

When shooting tats, I always try to have the light play off the skin. I usually focus only on the artwork and try to get the body part to shape the image. On rare occasions, when the model is as interesting as the tats, I'll include them as well. But generally, it is a lot more fun to create an abstract frame with the arms.

On these shots I metered at f9, 125. Mostly to darken the background as much as possible, and also to see if I could let the light drape over her skin. It took a while to set the single Bowens, with a honeycomb grid to bring the light focus on specific areas of her skin. The idea is to bring attention to the artwork and nothing else.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Look up... or Down.

Susan Sontag, author of the classic and must text for all photographers, On Photography, describes the importance of changing perspectives when looking at the subject. Whether the subject is a portrait, family or solo, architecture, nature, ..., she stresses the vital need to change perspective. The common approach of shooting straight on should be avoided. These images are typically going to be boring to look at and have zero "ahhh" effect. The viewer will move to the next image without a pause. Why? Because they are dull. Look for different perspectives or angles. The more ambitious approach will yield the most exciting results. As for lighting, she uses a great phrase- follow the shadows. Shadows are good- they can be your friend. As with the properties of light, shadows spill over, move, bounce, ripple- it's a alive! So move with the shadows.
On the next outing look up, or down and discover some wild angles.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Work Flow on Lightroom

How much do I love Lightroom ....
My work flow is much more efficient as a result of LR. While Bridge allows you to rate images, Bridge does not allow for the very powerful editing features you find in LR. These same processes are in Photoshop RAW conversion. But because they are a part of the process for LR, the work flow process is much faster. I still use Photoshop, but only for intense editing involving layers and masks.
For those who may be unsure of the whole process, here is my nifty process from start to finish
I pop in the CF disk into my desktop or laptop and hit the import button. On the opening screen I tell LR where to save the images, give the images a name, and add meta info.
Once the images are loaded I want to create a backup. I CTL -A to select all and export all the images to an external drive. I will make a 3rd backup of that drive as well. RATE THE IMAGES:
I then rate images on a simple 1,2,3 scale. I base the rating on sharpness, composition, and expression of subject. I must have all three to be considered a 1. The 2s are possible in at least 2 of my categories but I will need more review time with them. The 3s are just crap. They are usually not in focus or poorly composed. These are the ones that are beyond editing.
Using this system I can rate 500 + images in about 15 minutes.
There are other methods of rating LR, but this is the simplest. Note we are still in the Library Module. At this point, I usually look back at the 3s before CTL - A and delete. I don't see any reason to keep the crappy ones. I'll then look through the 1s and rank them again. I use the SURVEY mode a lot. It allows me to look at images side by side. It makes picking out the differences between images easier. Finally I will do the 2s. This is where I decide if I am willing to save the image or not.
The rating page in Library Module.
The fun starts in the Develop module. I won't go into any depth on my editing process as it varies from image to image. But I typically correct exposure and WB, crop, and tweak colors first. I love using curves here. From this point, the options are considerable. My advice is to play with all the settings. Because LR is essentially non destructive, at the end of your playtime, you can hit the reset button and it all goes back to the images original state. EXPORT:
When my images are edited, it is time to export. Under FILE, the export options are very simple. You have to tell LR where you want the edited images to go. So I save to a new folder, with the original names for the files, and export. On completion, I backup the edited images to 2 separate hard drives.

Give LR a try. It is far more intuitive than Photoshop and just as powerful.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Forbidden Places to Photograph...

As you know, I love photographing abandoned and derelict buildings, spaces, locations.... There is something really wonderful about them. These hulking relics sit in silence as time slowly erodes their existence away. The rate of decay varies, but guaranteed.
While there are many sites dealing with this subject matter, Forbidden Paces is one of my favorite bookmarks. There are some wonderfully composed images- not a snap shot approach- which brings out the haunting expressions of these subjects.
Finding these locations is not difficult. They are in every city regardless of it's size. You just have to look with a different set of eyes.
I've been doing this kind of imagery since my college days. Once was a time when my buddies and I would load up the cars on Friday, drive all night to some abandoned space across the country - we once drove from Oklahoma to Oakland Cali to photograph a decommissioned naval yard ( this was in 1987 -pre 9/11 days when you could go near military bases) - and then head back in time for Monday classes. Amazing adventures and stories.
How you approach photographing these locations will depend on the person. For example, whether you want to trespass or enter buildings is a personal choice. But here are some cardinal rules I stick to:
1) Never move any object to "make" the shot. If you can't get it in, then you can't. Great article on the infamous FSA photographs.
2) Use only available light. I don't bring flashes. This really forces you to examine the source and fall of light to create your shot. You start paying more attention to shadows and contrasts.
3) Compose with a single focus- I hate the snap shot look. This ties back to #2. You can't compose unless you have evaluated your light source and how the light is falling.
Then I look for a single focus for the image- door, window pane, bolts etc... I religously use the thirds rule to compose my shot by keeping the subject of the shot on one of the 3rd planes. It really makes a massive difference.
4) Travel light- I don't bring tripods or big camera bags- 1 camera, my 85 1.8, and
24-70 2.8 L .
5) Never risk your life for the shot- whether it's going into mines, high crime areas, or buildings that seem to have a certain element living in them- I always evaluate the situation. The adrenalin rush is a big part of the thrill, but everything in moderation.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Photoshop Editing for Perfect Skin...

Having spent time on head shots and portraits, I have obsessively looked for ways to edit the subjects skin to make it look perfect, but still natural. I use glossy fashion mags as my source while I wait to checkout with my groceries. If you examine enough of them, you can find the really good edits vs the really crappy ones. Hence my single editing rule- Edits should make the subject look beautiful without being obvious.
My man Chris Orwig, an amazing photographer in California, is my editing Guru. He has shaped my whole philosophy on editing. Plus he is a really nice guy.
On to the totally excellent editing site.
I came across Christy Schuler site and found her tutorial on retouching skin to be amazing.
In Her Tutorial, she uses a series of layering tasks in Photoshop to give clients perfect skin- the kind you find on the cover of glossy magazine. She walks you through the process on a quicktime video and describes the process in her wonderful voice. I am not kidding- it is a very soothing voice. Even if you are a Photoshop novice, you will be able to do these layers.
I now use this method on almost every headshot/ portrait.
The key is to dial back on all the blurs. As she advises, play around with the different strengths and you will see the different affects.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Not Quite the World Cup- Yet...

Rooney or Renaldo she may not be yet, but Tara rocked the last practice of the YMCA Soccer and earned a much deserved medal. Way to go Tara.

Wine Appreciation Site

So my amazing brother in law- Nick Powell- has started a very cool website dealing with wine appreciation, understanding, and all good things to do wine.
It has tons of video links dealing with the wonderful world of wine- stories, regions, explanations... According to the site- "Our goal is simple: to bring you great stories from around the world."
The site looks fantastic.
It has a really unique look to it so I am sure it will do well.
He may even add info on Missouri wine!
All the best Nick.

Friday, May 21, 2010


I know this is a photo blog, but I am also a serious foodie.
And after Persian food, I love Salsa. One of the best damned salsa's I've eaten is Jasbos Salsa- made here in St Louis.
It is not only the thickness of the stuff or the chunkiness of the veggies, but the amazing flavor that is in every jar. It literally explodes in your mouth. He has a variety of different styles, but my favorites are Hot or Tequila flavor. Intense taste and amazing texture. It is quite simply the best on the market- and I know my salsa.
As a college student I spent all my Spring Breaks in New Mexico- especially Santa Fe
and Ghost Ranch-. I intend to retire in that part of the country.
During our week long stays, my friends and I would make special trips to isolated towns and villages to try different dishes. We met some of the most amazing people on our excursions and ate local dishes/ salsas that were out of this world- stuff you can never get anywhere because they were family recipes. But I gotta tell you- they ain't got nothing on Jasbos Salsa.
Give them a try- I know you'll love it.

Friday, May 14, 2010

2 Amazing Sites

I have soooo many interests in photography- I actually lose sleep sometimes thinking about photo ops/ sessions I've missed or need to plan. These are 2 amazing sites dealing with styles that I am fascinated by:

1) Documentary Lifestyles:
There is something amazingly voyeuristic about capturing moments- intimate, emotional, violent- that lies at the heart of every photographer. To be a fly on the wall and get a moment that will never occur again- a moment that is potentially life changing for the participants. Those in the photograph are living a critical moment of their life- and to be able to freeze it is such a powerful feeling. This site has the best of the best- the new crop of photographers pushing the edge.

2) Urban Exploration:
There is such beauty and tragic grace in destruction of urban structures- warehouses, hospitals, factories. I love photographing the slow and painful demise of hulking masses of brick, steel, concrete, wood. Nothing is timeless and we and like everything around us, we are expendable. I am more drawn to the silence and desolation of the locations. In St Louis we have tons of locations that are slowly falling apart esp East St Louis. To photograph many of them you really need a partner and serious courage.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Canon 300 f 2.8- Wow

I really love using this lens. I'm shooting the 2nd round of Water Polo Districts tonight- the Elite 8. So 4 games in an indoor space with decent lighting. Action should be fast and aggressive.
The key to this set up is balancing the shutter speed with the ISO. I know to get a super sharp capture I'll need to shoot at 250 or 320. 500 would be perfect but I know that is not going to happen in the lighting conditions at the pool. Anything less and I'll get some blurring because of the speed of the players motion and the focal length of the lens.
This is the only lens that allows me to accomplish this and still fill the frame. I don't like having too much dead space around the subject on this assignment. One reason is the cropping I'll need to do. No sweat but there could 50-100 images that need to crop. Hmmm. No thanks. I like the players to explode off the print through the intensity of their actions and look- so filling the frame with the players becomes my goal.

The 300 also has an amazing level of sharpness and color clarity. Other than some tweaking of the exposure, I rarely boost the colors. Now- the lens is massive. A mono pod is a must. You also need a level of confidence because all eyes will be on you. There is no hiding or being subtle with this bad boy. Once it's on your camera, it's like a big notice board- "look at me" type of thing.
The only place in St Louis that has one for rent is Schillers Camera - the coolest camera store in the midwest. These guys know cameras. But book early- because it's almost always out. And don't drop it- it retails at $5000.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

3 Photographers and a Wedding!!

Fantastic News!
Myself and 2 amazing photographers- Stephanie Cotta and Randy Kriewall - have teamed up to focus our creative energies on wedding and event photography. These 2 photographers are so amazing in their craft. You be the judge- check out their sites and work.

Randy brings a massive amount of experience in documentary style photography and studio lighting. His work is stellar. Stephanie's work in posing and capturing clients- esp couples and children is so expressive. Posing is an art and she is so natural in her style.
We each bring a passion to this style of photography that I think is missing in the St Louis area. Our biz plan is simple- bring the most amazing images to our clients for a competitive price. We are all so dedicated to the creative side of photography that we can't wait to amaze our clients. We intend to put our clients first and give them a level of service they have never experienced.
Stay tuned for what I think is going to be amazing.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Lightroom is the greatest!

Come on- Admit it. Lightroom is one of the greatest inventions- ever! This is why I love it. I can stream line my workflow to spend less time behind the computer and more time playing.

I average 1000 pics a game. After I import them, I rate them in about 15 minutes- yup 1000 images in 15 mins. And because I shoot from the same spot, lighting conditions are the same for almost each image so the SYNCH button is a wonder. I edit one image- WB, exposure, curves, color boost or BW depending, lens correction and tweak few other areas and done. Synch does the rest. Total time 30 mins for 1000 pics. It used to take me hours in photoshop. Lightroom also has some amazing presets which also cut down on my time. There are so many cool features to it. I'll highlight some of my favs in the coming posts.
Don't ge tme wrong- I still rely on photshop for layers in headshots and other tricky specific work, but lightroom takes about most of my edits. Because it is an Adobe product- I can work easily between photoshop and lightroom. It's a perfect combo.

What makes a great action shot?
There is no question that for an action shot to look great you need the following-
1- fill the frame. Your subject is the player so focus on them. IMHO full body shots have too much dead space around them and cropping kills the quality. Too many photographers are afraid of tight shots. Off course- a full body shot can look amazing if the player is going some athletic move. My rule is 1/2 or less of the body
2) The eyes- As in portrait work- the eyes are essential. They convey the intensity of the event and all the emotions. You really need part of a face and one eye as a minimum to get the full effect of the emotions.
3) Doing Something- The ball must be in the shot and they must be doing something with it. Otherwise what's the point? A player standing holding a ball- yawn. They must do something. Plus, when they are in motion their muscles a lot cooler.

Photographing Water Polo

I love photographing sports- esp water polo. This past weekend was round of St Louis Water polo Districts. The event was at St Peters Rec Plex- a fantastic aquatic site.
Water polo (polo) is an amazing sport to play and photograph. The key- as in all ports- is anticipation. I like to sit just to the right on one goal. That allows me to get the faces of players as they play both defense and offense. I can also get my fav shot- the goalie in focus with an attacking player with ball out of focus. What I really think makes this game so amazing to photograph are a) the eyes of the player- such intensity- and b) the added feature of water. Whether you freeze it to drops or blur it slightly with a slower shutter- water ads a new level to the composition that you cannot find in any sport.
The added challenges of the indoor event make it a tricky event to shoot. On Saturday I had the 100-400 L f 4.5 IS Canon. Not the ideal lens. I had to crank the ISO to 1600 and I still had to loose some exposure to shoot at a high enough shutter to capture it. The BEST lens for this event is the 300 L f.2.8. It gives a level of sharpness that is amazing. This lens is my favorite. I can't wait to use it this Wed for the 2nd round of games.
On a side note- Primes- I love using them. More than zooms. I have only L lenses and the rimes are simply incredible when it comes to sharpness and clarity. My next purchase - 100 f2.8 L. Mmmmm can't wait.