SWYLLWYS Blog

Inspiration for your photographs will not just come from visual stimulation, feel your photographs.

Recharge

The sun burns through the clouds in Northern California south of  the Oregon border.

One of the most important things you can do is recharge your batteries.  I'm not talking about charging your camera batteries, but that is important as well, but your batteries.  Unfortunately we are not equipped with a gauge to let us know when we are running low and at times you can be completely drained without even realizing it.  When that does happen you need to find a way to recharge.  For me trying something new,  or going somewhere new charges my creative batteries.

An old stump that has a new life giving life to other fauna Woodsy Woods located in an undisclosed location in Redmond, Washington.

When you do set out to recharge, remember that you can always make it an event to share with others, just remember to keep things balanced.  What might be fun to you as a photographer might not resonate with your friends and family.  With some planning you can get the shots that you want while having a good time with your friends and family.

My son in front of an infinity window at the EMP museum in Seattle, Washington #sacramentoproud.

When the opportunity arrives you need to be ready and deliberate in your shooting.  Moments are fleeting and you will not always have control of your subject, light, and possibly location.

A look at a storm approaching Seattle, Washington from the observation deck of the Space Needle. 

Always remember that what you see may be different than what others see.  How you visualize and interpret your world is what makes you unique.  Share your world with others and do not be afraid to tread your own path.

A natural archway in the Woodsy Woods located in an undisclosed location in Redmond, Washington.

The best way to recharge is to Shoot What You Love and Love What You Shoot.

What's old is new.

We live in a great age for photography, the digital age.  Digital has afforded us new found possibilities, but with the new possibilities come new challenges.  Everyone carries a camera and instant gratification is the norm, this is a far cry from the days of film.  As a photographer  it's a race to get your images seen quickly, but you still want to deliver a quality product.  How do you differentiate yourself?  How do you stand out from the crowd?  It's simple, print.  Yes, go old school.  A tangible item is quite powerful and adds instant value to you as a photographer.  When I give a client a set of proof sheets, there is more often than not a pause.

 They smile look as they look at the first couple of pages, and I tell them to take their time and look at all the images, take them home and show others.  Then they say "I can keep these?", and the answer is yes, they smile again and continue to look at the images.  Of course I will still deliver digital images, but the impact of a printed photo far out weights sharing a digital file.  So give it a try, print some images and give them to your friends and family.  I can all but guarantee that they will love them.  As always Shoot What You Love, Love What You Shoot.

Natural light and flash, it's a balancing act.

It's that time of year when families are rushing to get family photos done in time for (I'll go ahead and say it) Christmas.  If you are lucky you can still find fall colors and the early evening light will give add a warm glow.  With this beautiful setting light comes some challenges though.  For some your first thought might be to have your subject(s) facing the sun to get that warm light on their faces, but then they end up squinting and the overall image may look flat.  Conversely, if you have the sun at your subjects back you will get a beautiful warm rim lighting effect that will separate your subject from the background adding depth to your image.  With this method comes the challenge of balancing the lighting of your subjects face and the background.  The best case scenario would be if something such as a wall was behind you to reflect that beautiful warm sun light back in to your subjects face, but honestly how often does that happen.  The next option would be to have a reflector on a holder or have an assistant hold it to redirect the light back on your subjects face.  This option is a versatile and relatively inexpensive choice and the reflector commonly referred to as a "5 in 1" is a great tool with many uses, but that's a blog post all on its own.  Your third option flash, yes that dreaded "F" word that some photographers run from at the mere mention.  I just love it when a photographer states that they are a "natural light" shooter.  Shooting with flash and natural light really is not that difficult when you break the process down.

The first step would be to find what your ambient exposure is, what would your settings be if you wanted to expose for your background only.  Next step that dreaded flash. I prefer to shot in manual mode, both on my camera as well as on my flash, because I feel this gives me the most control.  Adjust your flash power, as with everything your scenario will dictate what your settings will be, and dial it in with your aperture setting.  

As with all things photography related practice practice practice.  You  do not want to be fumbling with this with a paying customer.  Ask a friend or a relative, I know of some photographers that have mannequin heads to practice with.  Just remember to set your ambient exposure first utilizing your shutter speed and ISO (keep in mind your flash sync speed for most cameras this will be either 200 or 250 check with your cameras manual) then set your flash exposure by varying the power and using your cameras aperture.  Oh and did I mention that you need to practice, just making sure.  Don't get frustrated, in the end you will have another weapon in your photographic arsenal and you will no longer be afraid of the "F" word and if you want you could become an "MFr".  Get your mind out of the gutter that stands for a Multiple Flash user.  As always make sure that you Shoot What You Love, Love What You Shoot.

Shoot'n the Funk out of your camera

This past weekend I was asked to come out and shoot a local up and coming funk band, RhythMethod, at a local bar. I knew that this would present unique challenges as the stage is tight and the lights are low at best and spotty. I made plans to arrive early to get some shots of the band as they set up there gear. The amount of cables was reminiscent of a plate of squid ink spaghetti, how someone doesn't trip in that sea of cables is beyond me. Looking at the lighting situation and where each band member would be I made sure to get shots of the members that would be obscured and in horrible light throughout the show while they were warming up. For my situation I found that focusing manually was my best bet. Due to the tight stage space the band members were all but glued to there spots. 

During the show I made sure to incorporate the crowd when they were out on the dance floor. I used them to frame up band members to add depth and interest to the frame.  This along with an establishing venue shot pulled the story of the night together.  I want to place the viewer in the venue, or in this case get them out to the next show so they can also enjoy some soulful funk music.  Don't forget to Shoot What You Love and Love What You Shoot !

Megapixel Wars

It's not breaking news, but the megapixel wars seem to be back on.  Well they are back on for the two major manufacturers that are lagging on the innovation front, namely Canon and Nikon.  Nikon struck first with the D800 and D800E (the D800E subtracts the Optical Low Pass Filter OLPF to increase sharpness)  and subsequently followed by the D810 (no OLPF) all flexing a massive 36.3 megapixel full frame CMOS sensor.  The comparisons were abound, it was unheard of.  Studio photographer Alex Koloskov even did a full comparison with a medium format Hasselblad H4D40.  To see his results check out his Photigy website.  The results were amazing the Nikon truly held it's ground against the larger Hasy.  

Next to the party was Canon's entries.  Just as Nikon had done Canon released two megapixel beasts each with a mind bending 50.6 megapixels.  I'll give you a moment to drink that down.  It's just flat out crazy.  As I mentioned, Canon followed the Nikon road of two models of basically the same camera the 5DS and the 5DS R.  What's the difference you might ask, just like Nikon the 5DS R lacks the OLPF.  I take that back the OLPF is there but the effect has been cancelled.  Odd, so is it just a tweak in software that cancels the feature?  I wouldn't be surprised if the good folks over at MagicLantern have already started to provide this hack. 

So chose your side in the crazy megapixel war, or chose to ignore the war.  Chances are you don't need 36.3 or 50.6 megapixels.  The casual photographer will take the shot do some post processing and put it up for the world to see on any of the myriad of social networks.  Facebook displays your images proudly at 1 to 2 MB.  With the D810 file sizes weighting in at around 40 to 50 MB it's not a far stretch to put the 5DS in the 70 to 80 MB.  Talk about bringing a tank to a rubber band  fight.  This is not to say that these cameras don't hold a spot in the right photographers hands.  The D810 has been applauded for its amazing landscape photography rendering as well as a fantastic studio camera choice and the same might prove to be for Canon's 5DS/5DS R, only time will tell.  The Nikon's have earned there way in to the hand of studio photographers and the tripods of landscape photographers.  As I mentioned earlier the comparison that Alex Koloskov made with the D800E and Hasselblad only furthers this point.  I don't expect to see D800/E/D810 cameras on the sidelines of a basketball, football, baseball etc. game, just as I don't expect to see Hasselblads on the sidelines.  

So what does all of this mean for the casual photographer?  If one of these cameras is the right choice for you, then by all means pick one up.  For everyone else remember that the lure of the mighty megapixel is not the determining be all end all factor.  You ultimately have to decide what will best work for you.

What am I shooting?  As of today June 5 2015 I have a Nikon D610 with a lowly 24.3 megapixels.  Out of the shot in the header of this post I was easily to crop down and pull the image below. No matter how many megapixels you have remember Shoot What You Love, Love What You Shoot.

It all comes down to light.

Photography is nothing without light.  Plain simple and to the point.  Once you realize this you will never look at your subjects the same.  Just as important to the light is its counterpart, shadows.  A combination of light and shadows lends depth and contrast to your images.  Controlling and shaping light allows you to change the overall look and feeling of your image.

You will often hear someone say that they only shoot with available or natural light meaning no on or off camera flash.  That being said I have off camera flash available to me and as far as I know it is natural, so I use it in conjunction with the light that nature has provided.   I will admit it that flash can be hard to understand and at first it is down right intimidating.  Another factor that sways one away from shooting with flash is cost, bu there are less expensive alternatives to help get your foot in the door.  Full on studio strobes can easily push you up in to the four or five figures.  Lets just agree that you are not going to learn how to drive in a Ferrari.  I have gone with what is commonly referred to as speed lights, the Yongnuo brand to be specific.  As of this post you can find the YN-560IV for $71.  The YN-560IV allows you to control multiple flashes and is very easy to use.  

The following shot was taken with one speed light fired off camera with both an orange and blue gel.  What's a gel, basically it's a colored sheet of plastic that you put in front of your light source to change its color value. 

One light is all it took to create this image.  The flash was positioned slightly off center of his face set at 1/16th power.  The camera was set at 1/200th sec f-10 ISO 320.  The smaller aperture allowed me to get rid of the ambient light in the room.  Here is the color version of the shot, as you can see the gels gave a bronzing effet to the skin tones which contributed to the black and white version above.

Last but not least a shot including the ambient light and no flash.  As a note the above images only had slight post processing done in Lightroom, the big changer in the image was the use of flash.

As you can see I'm not in a fancy studio, just sitting at the the table with my son drinking some cream sodas.

So if you are on the fence when it comes to flash, I say go for it.  Practice practice practice, and most importantly Shoot What You Love, Love What You Shoot.

RAW versatility

I have made mention in previous posts about the importance of shooting in the RAW format, and I figured now is as good as any time to explain the difference.  It's really quite simple when you think about it, and I believe I have a really simple way to explain it.  

First things first, all cameras capture RAW images, it is what they do with them that determines what options you will have.  For example, your mobile device captures a RAW image and quickly processes it into a JPEG file.  For your day to day snapshots this works out great, you do have the ability to edit the JPEG file but you are limited.

Freshly baked and ready to eat, hope they turned out right because just like a JPEG you can't go back to the RAW ingredients.

Analogy time.  The JPEG file format is like a freshly baked cookie, it's delicious and exactly what you want.  But what if it didn't turn out the exact way you wanted it to, it's to dry, not enough chocolate chips or maybe it's just a bit off taste.  At this point there isn't much you can do to fix the freshly baked cookie, sure it's a cookie but you aren't satisfied with the way it came out.  Well this is what you face with a JPEG image, all the settings are baked in and there is no going back.  Some of the things that are baked in are white balance, picture control and overall exposure levels for the image.

The RAW ingredients aren't all that great on there own, but when manipulated just right they offer up a tasty morsel.  If you don't like your results you are in luck because you still have your RAW ingredients.

On the opposite end of the spectrum we have the RAW file format, lets call it the pantry.  With the pantry if the cookies come out off you can always rework your recipe and give it a go.  At first glance of the RAW  file you might wonder what the big deal is, the image is flat and lacks definition, well this is due to the fact that unlike JPEG files no clarity, contrast, or any adjustment has been done to the file. That's where you come in, you get to set the image to what fits your vision.  A RAW file can have up to five times the amount of data as compared to a JPEG.  With this mass amount of data you have more options when it comes to post processing your image, white balance a bit off you can fix that, shadow areas to dark, you can fix that or you left your camera in black and white not to worry since you shot in RAW all the color data is there.

This does not mean that you can run around and shoot all willy nilly, you still need to set your proper exposure levels and try to get as close as you can to the desired look that you want.  So if you are still om the fence switch from shooting in just JPEG to JPEG + RAW and give it a try and I'm going to guess that you will like the results.  Don't forget to Shoot What You Love, Love What You Shoot.

Lightroom Gets Creative

With the recent release of Adobe’s Lightroom CC, or Lightroom 6 for those who have chosen the stand-alone version, photographers now have an even more powerful organization and editing tool.  If you are new to photography and you are looking for a way to organize your images Lightroom could be the perfect tool for you. 

With this update Adobe has provided tools previously unavailable, unless you used a separate program such as Photoshop, to Lightroom users.  Some of the more notable additions would be; merge to panorama, merge to HDR and facial recognition.  Although none of these additions are ground breaking they offer more options to the Lightroom user. 

Lightroom has always had a solid reputation of being an excellent program to organize photos, but with the addition of facial recognition they have added another very useful tool to the everyday photographer.  Run the facial recognition in your catalog and easily tag all of your friends and family in just a few minutes and you are set.  Want to find that picture you took of Aunt Edna three years ago but not exactly sure where it is, just type her name in the search query and there it is.  Adding this to your work flow will definitely take your photo organization to the next level.

HDR (High Dynamic Range) merge gives the Lightroom user the ability to merge multiple images of varying exposures in to one large image file.  Prior to this addition a merge had to be done outside of Lightroom and the resulting merge would be a much smaller JPEG or TIFF file at best, however when you merge to HDR in Lightroom your resulting file is a sizable DNG file allowing for more adjustment possibilities.

Panorama merge is the last big splash in Lightroom CC.  Again it's not a revolutionary addition but it adds more options to Lightroom users.  The new Panorama merge hasmultiple options allowing for both horizontal and vertical panoramas. As with the HDR merge, the panorama merge results in a sizable DNG file.  Youu can take your panoramas one step further and combine multiple HDR images to create an HDR panorama.

It goes without saying that this is one of the most unique updates to Lightroom.  Lightroom has been a standard with photographers for both organization and RAW file conversions,  the Lightroom CC/6 update adds even more power and speed to the process.  If you are on the fence as to if Lightroom is the right program for you Adobe offers a free trial (click here) . With ever expanding options and tools we truly arein a golden age for creatives, giving you the ability to Shoot What You Love, Love What You Shoot.

50 Blades of Aperture...

So you just picked up your camera... Now what do you do.  You did your research, scoured the internet, asked friends posted questions on line and you finally made a decision.  So there it is in all its glory, your new camera.  It's glaring at you like an eager puppy, you too are excited.  Then it hits you, I've never had one of these before what do  I do now?  The instruction manual is there, bit honestly who reads those?  

There are a few steps that you can take to set off on the right foot.  First things first is it all there, you want to make sure you have the bits and pieces that you laid out your hard earned cash for.  Now that you know it's all there get out that charger and battery and start charging up, but that takes going to take forever right?  Well that leads us back to that pesky old manual, whether it is on line or in the old dead tree form, now's as good as a time as any.  Find yourself a cozy little corner of where ever and a beverage of choice and crack it open.  It sure is a page turner isn't it, a regular 50 blades of aperture.   But seriously there is much to be learned but a simple perusing of the old manual, and you don't have to tell any body that you read it, we'll just keep that between us.

 

So now that you have gone through your manual, finished your beverage and charged your battery your ready to go out and shoot..... right after you set up your camera.  Yes I know you want to go out and create but if you don't do it now it might never happen, and you will thank yourself in the end.  As they say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  I'll recommend a few things from most important, to if you feel like it.  We'll start with the file type that you are going to use.  I always shoot in the RAW format, and if you are starting out and not to sure what that is go ahead and set it to RAW+JPEG and the larger the JPEG file size the better.  Trust me on this one, you definitely want to go with the larger JPEG and the RAW and storage space is getting cheaper by the day.  Now that you've secured your files future set the present, the date and time that is.  It's the little things that make the difference.  Starting out with just these few settings will get you on the right path.  The last must would be to format your memory card in camera, and that goes for any memory card that you use going forward; just make sure you've copied all the goodness off of them first!

Needless to say there are tons of settings that you can tweak to your liking so that you can be the next best wedding, portrait, landscape, fine art, commercial, sports, fashion, automotive, concert, street, extreme, conceptual, still life, kids, wildlife, astro, underwater, sky diving, real estate, family photographer.  As you become more familiar with your camera you will learn what works for you and what doesn't.  Your style of shooting will change how you set up your camera.  Take this photographic journey one step at a time and don't be afraid to make mistakes. But the one thing to keep in mind is to Shoot What You Love , Love What You Shoot

Growth

In an earlier post entitled G.A.S., I spoke of the evils and detriment of looking for the latest and greatest piece if gear.  In that article I mentioned that there is also a positive side, that positive side would be growth.  Given the fact that over time with practice your photographic skills will increase and there is a chance that you will out grow the gear that you started out with.  Over time that kit lens with the variable aperture will begin to frustrate you, you'll have gone beyond its viable usage.  Where do you go from this point?  Thankfully we live in a day of easily accessible information.  Countless reviews can be found in numerous locations.  You will also find that there is a wide range of reviewing styles from the highly technical lab controlled tests of DXO to the sniff tests of Jared Polin of Fro Knows Photo fame.  All of the sites offer great information you just have to chose what best works for you, personally I prefer the real world tests but I can also appreciate the pixel peeper style reviews.  One thing I like to do is to check out customer reviews on sites such as Amazon or B&H .  These reviews will give you an unbiased review but there is still a better way to find out if something will work for you, rent it.   There are a number of sites to rent from with a wide variety of gear at a fairly reasonable cost.

 Renting also allows you to expand your creativity and continue your growth as a photographer by giving you access to tools that you wouldn't even think about purchasing.

 Photo by dutourdumonde/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by dutourdumonde/iStock / Getty Images

Do you want to make your world look tiny using a tilt shift lens but you don't feel like shelling out the $1700 for a highly specialized lens, well you can rent one for a week for around $100.  Makes sense to me.  Beyond this aspect you can use a rental as an opportunity to see for your self if a piece of gear is right for you.  

Growth is fun and exciting, getting new gear is also fun and exciting.  Growth will lead you to new adventures and exciting opportunities.  

You and only you can decide what you need, educate yourself and ask your fellow photographers what they do and do not like about the gear that they have.  What matters the most is that you Shoot What You Love Love What You Shoot.

My first time...

I remember the first wedding I shot like it was yesterday.  It was a learning curve accelerated and I mean Bugatti Veyron accelerated.  Despite the challenges, both expected and unexpected, I enjoyed the day.  

Ready to become one. 

It was a late July day and around here you can bet that it will be a warm day, and it was pushing just over 100 degrees by the afternoon.  I woke up early that morning and started my routine.  I triple checked my gear, the batteries had been charged the night before, the cards were freshly formatted, and my bags were packed.  It was to be a casual "Hawaiian" themed wedding so I dressed accordingly with khaki pants a black Tommy Bahama Hawaiian style shirt and some comfortable loafers.  I jumped in the car and headed out.

I arrived early to set my gear and get my bearings, having attended the rehearsal I had the general plan of the day set to memory and I was to the races.  I had all of the preliminary shots that I needed listed so I quickly knocked those out all the while keeping an eye out for that candid moment that could easily be missed.  As with most weddings the focus was on the bride but I make sure to pay as much attention to the groom as well.  

If there is one constant that I have learned from shooting weddings, it's that the unexpected might as well be the expected.  The wedding started a bit late and it steamrolled from there.  The ceremony began and the shutter was clicking.  Shooting the wedding alone I was all over the place.  One thing I forgot to mention, the wedding and reception took place outside with limited shade.  My gear was definitely getting a heat stress test, and I was proud of the way it performed.  I was also getting a heat test of my own, looking back I should have worn shorts seeing how I was the only guy in long pants, and yes the groom was in shorts.

 The  wedding party. 

The  wedding party. 

As a wedding photographer you find yourself wearing many hats, you are there to provide a service and at times you will find yourself going beyond what you might consider the norm.  This is what you do, you are there to help out need be.  On my first wedding I realized that and I have embraced it.  This is there day and if you can do something to ease the stress do it and definitely do not add to the stress. 

 So was it an easy day, no.  Would I do it again, of course I would.  I love photography.  Spending time with people on such a joyous day only feeds my soul, it pushes me to do the best job that I can for the couple.  A wedding is a beautiful and happy day, I feel honored and privileged to be a part in a couples special day. 

 A little bit of life advice. 

A little bit of life advice. 

Shooting weddings is not for everyone, it's a demanding day of shooting followed by hours of work in the digital darkroom that is known as your post production work flow.  If you love what you are doing, well that will make your job that much better and it will show in your work.  So as I always say Shoot What You Love Love What You Shoot.

Opportunity

You never know when opportunity will strike and what it can lead to.  There will be times in your photography life that you will have to decide if you want to take a chance on the unknown.   One simple act can lead to an other and before you know it you are given an opportunity to do something that you never saw coming.  I know this to be true, it happened to me just last year.

Our director was retiring and several events were planned in his honor.  An employee car show was one such event, so with camera in hand I headed over to the show.  There were many great autos on display.  While taking shots I talked to the various owners.  As I was headed back to my office I stopped at one more car, a classic Chevy.  I asked the owner if he wanted a photo of him with his car, with his positive response I grabbed a photo and asked him if he would like a copy, got his name and email and that was it.  That night I edited the photo and dropped an email to him.  He thanked me in reply and that was it, or so I thought.  

Fast forward roughly six months and we crossed paths in the hallway.  He stopped me and asked me if I was still taking pictures and if so would I like to do some work for a new web page he was developing.  He told me what he needed and I set out to find the right shot.  A few more shots were added and eventually the project came to fruition.  With the project complete her asked if I could help with one more project.  After many meetings we decided on a photo and the wheels were in motion.  

The project was completed and published.  I have to be honest, it was great seeing my photos printed by the thousands.  Then came the real surprise, I was nominated for two awards and I won both of them!  I was awarded a directors pin, as well as more opportunities to pursue my love of photography.  

G.A.S. - Gear Acquisition Syndrome

As you dive deeper down the worm hole that is photography, unless you have super human powers, you eventually suffer from gear acquisition syndrome.  It's not always a bad thing though, when treated properly that is. 

There you are, out creating photographs, all is well.  You are having a great time perfectly content with the equipment.  When you  get home and look at your days work you are very happy with your results.  You know that you have created something truly unique, it represents the world as you see it.  You love your image so much that you want to share it with world  You go to your social media of choice and off it goes.  You are still happy with your image.  Since you are online you decide to pa-ruse the inter-webs.  It starts out innocent you are looking at others creations and taking bits and pieces of inspiration.  Next thing you know you are on the dirty web sites, B&H Photos, Amazon, E-Bay, maybe even Craigslist.  You don't know how you got there but you can't help yourself.  You are reading reviews and stats for all of the latest cameras, lenses, lighting modifiers, and the list of photography gear that goes on and on.  You have completely forgot about the images that you created just hours ago.

This is when the G.A.S. kicks in.  Your photographs are somehow sub par as well as the equipment that you captured them with.  You completely forget that it is you that created those images, it was your vision that sought out the greatest composition, you that waited for the lighting to be just right, and you that ultimately finalized your vision with editing.  You did all of this work and all the camera did was record the image per your request, but remember you have forgotten this.  You now need that next camera or lens or flash and until you do anything that you will create will be inferior. So you stop.  You stop shooting, your creativity goes stale and you begin to doubt yourself as a photographer.  Nothing has changed since earlier that day when you were happy with what you had and what you were creating, but now  you have G.A.S.

How do you recover?  How do you get past this feeling of inferiority?  There is light at the end of the tunnel, there is hope.  Look back at your images, in particular the ones you love.  Realize that you make the biggest difference in your images, and also realize that if you stop you will only hinder your progress.

Now I do realize that there is a difference between your smartphones camera and a D4s or 1DX and there is a difference between a variable aperture kit lens and a 70-200 2.8 You can't deny that all of these examples of kit are useless without you, the photographer.  You are the most important piece in your photographic puzzle.  

As far as the good side of this "problem", well once you have reached the limitations of what your gear can do for you and you need to make that next step... this is a good place to be in.  In this instance getting that next piece of gear will only further your photographic endeavors.  Thankfully services such  as BorrowLenses and LensRentals are there to help you decide if you really need that next piece of gear or not.

As stated before you are the most important piece of gear in your photographic kit, practice, visualize and above all Shoot What You Love, Love What You Shoot

Balance

In your day to say life it is important to find a balance that works for you. That balance will be unique to you, and only you can determine what is right for you. For me my family comes before everything, but what dies that really mean? Does that mean that I can't take a day to myself and go and create photographs, not particularly. This is where the balance comes in. For me to be the best for my family I need to be balanced. Look at it this way, you need to eat to sustain your life but if you eat too much... well we know what happens then. Consider photography the food for your soul, that thing that gets the juices flowing.