Breaking the Rules to Get the Most Out of Natural Light

Breaking the Rules to Get the Most Out of Natural Light

In photojournalism school, students are taught to underexpose when out in the field in order to achieve the richest colors and most intense contrast possible in a photograph. The trick, conventional wisdom explains, is to bring the exposure back up in post processing. I shot this way for years and it always treated me well. I’m still a big fan of the ‘underexpose method’ when shooting landscapes and documentary stories. The technique brings out the drama of what you’re trying to capture; old, wrinkly faces look like they belong to lost souls with millions of years of stories to tell, a canyon or mountain scape appears to be straight out of a dream with rainbow-like colors and dark, cloud-filled skies seem to hover over every crevice of the earth. Depth and drama are what this technique creates  — perfect for telling stories with a ‘wow’ effect. After starting my own wedding photography business, I slowly learned how to bend and, even break, the rules. My focus shifted from news stories that break your heart to telling the happiest stories imaginable — family moments of pure joy and love as young couples prepare for their next stage of life together. When photographing a wedding, you are trusted to document one of the most precious moments in a person’s life. I wanted to do these people justice by focusing on the beauty within. By capturing them in just the right light, I knew I could help them see their own beautiful depth radiating out. With this new goal in mind, my style began to morph. I no longer cared as much about the...
The Importance of Being Archived

The Importance of Being Archived

Our friends at SmugMug really care about photography and the importance of taking pictures in everyday life. This is part 2 of a 3 part series on improving your online life as a photographer, whether that is by improving your website or backing up your files. Here are some tips on how to avoid a personal, digital meltdown and keep your memories safe against fire, flood, hard drive crashes, and other unexpected blips in the matrix. SmugMug’s 9 Must-Haves for a Successful Photography Website reprinted with permission  We see so many websites each and every day and love hearing about how people are using their online websites and how having an online presence affects so much of what they do. Not long ago we shared 6 top mistakes people make when they put together a website but this time we’re addressing a topic that most people probably don’t want to even consider: backing up your photo and video files. A hard demon to face but we’ll show you why it pays to prepare for a potential doomsday disaster. The Worst-Case Scenario Imagine this: you’re booting up your laptop, ready to email your recent trip photos to your friends, and all of a sudden you get the BSOD. In one split second, poof! Your hard drive is gone. As you wipe the sweat from your face, you realize – oh no! All the photos and videos I shot, all the things that I lived and saw in those two weeks abroad, those were the only copies I had. And they’re gone. Forever. Why Back Up? The subject of backing up your files...
Nikon D4s: Thoughts, Test Shots, and Quick Review

Nikon D4s: Thoughts, Test Shots, and Quick Review

Court Leve is a sports, wedding, portrait, and pet photographer. His work has been published in National Geographic Adventure, Powder, Ski, Skiing, Freeskier, Parade Magazine, ForbesLife Mountain Time, Spirit Magazine, Southwest Art, and more. He is a regular contributor to the BL Blog. Nikon D4s: Thoughts, Test Shots, and Quick Review by Court Leve Like most new iterations of Nikon’s pro bodies, the D4s is yet another leap forward in imaging. In my case, coming from a D3s to a D4s ,the improvements are quite noticeable. If you are a current D4 user, the differences will be more subtle but still noteworthy especially for those shooting video. It’s hard to believe a camera can make the D3s feel somewhat antiquated but the D4s does just that. While the D3s is more than capable for just about any situation, the D4s ups the ante yet again. The main areas of improvement are autofocus, low light capabilities, faster frames per second, and better handling. First is the handling of the camera. The added sub buttons are a welcome addition. The reach is shortened and response time quicker when selecting autofocus points.  The body has a few different tweaks and has a great solid feel. The new autofocus is simply amazing, extremely fast and accurate. While shooting a free skiing event I was capturing athletes coming towards me blind over a jump. I was able to instantly capture the skier in mid air while traveling towards me using my 80-400mm at 400mm and achieve nearly a 100% focus accuracy rate. Also helpful was the improved frame rate of 11fps and a nearly non-existent blackout time while...
Two Lighting Styles in 1 Shot with the Pocket Wizard MultiMax

Two Lighting Styles in 1 Shot with the Pocket Wizard MultiMax

Alexis Cuarezma is a San Francisco-based photographer who specializes in both on-location and in-studio portraiture. An alumnus of the Eddie Adams Workshop, Cuarezma has done assignments for the LA Times, the New York Times, HBO, and a number of international publications. He recently did a shoot with Shayne Skov for Sports Illustrated at Stanford University, where he had precious little time to essentially do two shoots at once. Cuarezma has a passion for bold visuals, bright colors, and high contrasts. However, his assignment called for “gray seamless”. To accommodate both Sports Illustrated and his personal style, Cuarezma harnessed the light grouping abilities of the Pocket Wizard MultiMax. He assigned all of the lights Sports Illustrated wanted for a uniform, seamless look to one channel and the punchier lighting setup to another channel and used the MultiMax’s Speed Cycler feature to fire off the two setups in succession. “As soon as I saw this, in my mind I knew I could use this. I didn’t care to fire off strobes at 10 FPS, however, I did care about being able to fire off 2 different sets of lights back-to-back because they don’t have to be the same setup/look. I have a Canon 1D Mark IV that can fire off 10 FPS. So that’s taking a frame every 100 milliseconds. In theory that’s 2 separate images in 200 milliseconds and with the Speed Cycler feature that could be 2 completely different looks shot nearly simultaneously.” Cuarezma set off to draw a lighting diagram for his assistants and to make this concept a reality. So long as the transmitting MultiMax is set...
Memorial Day Weekend Photography/Videography Shooting Ideas

Memorial Day Weekend Photography/Videography Shooting Ideas

If you’re lucky enough to have a long weekend coming up, seize the opportunity to get some valuable shooting time in. If you’re stuck indoors there are still a few things you can accomplish to make this short break a productive one. Here’s 10 great activities for new and seasoned photographers and videographers alike. 1) Get Reflective Avoid the traffic, the crowds, and the madness for awhile and spend some quality time with the ones you love: your camera and lens. Fire up some new romances while you’re at it – after all, Memorial Day is a free rental day! 2) Build a Photobooth Photobooths are one of the more efficient ways to capture the life of any get together without having to be the “event photographer” the entire time. If you’re new to photobooths, now’s the time to practice (your family and friends will love it even if it’s your first one). Try our  Photobooth Essentials to get started. We also have a swank Drop It Modern backdrop you can try. 3) Get Some Exercise Want a workout? Rent a rig. You’ll build some muscle in no time while harnessing creativity. 4) Pack Well If you’re air traveling, don’t check your gear! It will end in tears. Get a bag that is carry-on approved. 5) Embrace Your Inner Hybrid Cameras like the Panasonic Lumix GH3 and GH4 are fantastic at shooting both stills and video. Becoming versatile with both will improve your marketability. 6) Learn to Light Paint Light painting is fun and requires inexpensive materials to accomplish. Check out this tutorial by Olympus Trailblazer Jamie MacDonald on how to enhance your everyday pictures with this unique lighting style. 7)...
Calibrating your Monitor: Using the ColorMunki

Calibrating your Monitor: Using the ColorMunki

So often I hear of photographers, both pros and hobbyists , whose pictures live only on hard drives and online. If this is you, it’s time to get printing! As photographers we spend countless hours in front of our computers editing our work to create dynamic imagery that reflects us as artists. Every level adjustment and brush stroke is an artistic choice made to emphasize our vision. For this reason, it is vital to work with a color calibrated system which produces accurate color and contrast during printing and instills confidence when transferring images off-site. Here is an abbreviated lesson on how to painlessly calibrate your monitor and printer in under an hour. Step 1: Download the ColorMunki Software. Step 2: Plug in the ColorMunki and open the software if it doesn’t open automatically. Step 3: For accurate precision profiling, measure the ambient light of the room by turning the rotary dial on the side of the unit to position C (third notch from the top). Place the ColorMunki next to your display and choose ‘calibrate’ on screen or by clicking the measure button on the side of the unit (the only button that can be clicked). It should take less than 1 minute to optimize the luminance of the display. Tip: Computer monitors display colors best in low light. Keep it low while judging color and eliminate any illuminating objects that may surround the monitor. Step 4: Once the software tells you the ambient light has been measured, choose ‘Match My Printer to My Display’. Turn the dial of the unit to position D (fourth and last notch at...
Illuminating the Face, by Peter Hurley: A Review

Illuminating the Face, by Peter Hurley: A Review

Back in 2011, photographer Peter Hurley teamed up with our friends over at FStoppers to create a tutorial video called The Art Behind The Headshot. That 4+ hour video more or less became required watching here at BL for anyone shooting any kind of portraiture, not just headshots. In fact, I still refer to it from time to time to prep for a new client; it was equal parts motivational video and coaching tutorial. Now, three years later, Peter Hurley returns with another tutorial called Illuminating The Face. This is the next logical release after The Art Behind The Headshot, and Peter sent us a copy for review. Here’s the one-sentence review: This is yet another home run for Peter Hurley, and if you happen to photograph the human face, regardless of your genre, this needs to be on your “must watch” list of tutorials. What came before… Let’s talk for a moment how Illuminating The Face differs from The Art Behind The Headshot. The Art… was very much a non-technical tutorial. It was a lot like having Peter Hurley coach you on how to interact with your subject, how to direct them, what to look for when pressing that shutter button. That’s not to say that there was nothing technical in that video; Peter did cover his trademark square box lighting technique that had turned heads on the internet and spawned a slew of  copycats and admirers — including, I’m not ashamed to admit, yours truly right here on this blog. Yet The Art… wasn’t a technical tutorial. It was very much a “human” tutorial, and was gloriously welcome at a time when...
Writing an Effective Artist Statement

Writing an Effective Artist Statement

Standing consensus says that great art speaks for itself and needs no explanation but a simple and genuine statement has a way to reach out and welcome people to your art. When I attend a curated show or see an installation around town that grabs my attention, I will make sure to read the artists’ statements or biography. Taking the time to better read the intention of the artist will open the work up to broader interpretations and understanding. There are many instances when as an artist you will be asked to provide such a statement. Here are a few key points to consider while writing.  Just Write! Some of the simplest and most impactful advice I have been given was to “just write”. Write without the expectation of anyone reading your words. Expel your thoughts onto paper the same you would your art. GET IT OUT! With the abundance of technology that surrounds us on any given day – go somewhere unplugged and start formulating your ideas by hand. Give yourself time and space to understand your thoughts, to fail, to have revelations.  Scribble, cross things out, make a mess.  This time is all about you. Perception is Key Artist statements are for people who want to know more. This is your opportunity to briefly explain why you are as an artist, your inspirations, and how you create what you do. What message are you trying to express and what would you like the viewer to take away from their experience? Understanding your audience is key to the language that you choose.  Try using simple and clear sentences and...