The fun of this industry is all about the friendships that come out of everybody's love for the craft, but it's also about versatility. There are few photographers who are as multi-talented as my good pal, Bobbi Lane. She's taught for several years at SCU's summer programs and a year ago she was listed as one of the top lighting instructors in the industry.
She's also kicking off a new series of guest posts in the Profoto Spotlight. In the months ahead we're going to be sharing a whole series of technique posts by some of the finest artists in photography today, all set up with some of the finest lighting gear...Profoto!
You'll find more of Bobbi's work on her site. Prepare to be inspired by her blog and follow her on Twitter and Facebook! You won't be disappointed! Skip Cohen
There’s nothing more beautiful than a beautiful girl lit by a beauty dish in the beauty light position. That’s a lot of beauty! Okay, so Profoto calls it a “Softlight Reflector”, but we all call it a beauty dish. Basically it’s a parabolic reflector, either white or silver (for more contrast, saturation and detail) with a baffle in the middle that bounces the light back into the reflector. The effect? It’s a medium soft light, certainly softer than a grid spot, but it has more snap and definition than either a soft box or umbrella. It also has a more concentrated coverage, about 65 degrees for the white. You can always add a diffuser to soften the light by bringing down the highlights and also use a grid to decrease the coverage (but not change the quality) to about 25 degrees.
That’s all tech talk. Why would we choose this type of light modifier? Well, my favorite saying in photography (and pretty much in life) is “Everything depends upon everything”. So we use it when we are looking to create an image that grabs attention because of the even semi-soft light with an edge, or snap, or my favorite technical term, “oomph”. It’s perfect for a woman with good skin because it will accentuate the skin, bring out the eyes and give great detail and flattering contrast to hair and wardrobe. We use the beauty light or butterfly light position to give us a symmetrical lighting pattern, and that also emphasizes eyes since the light is pointed directly at the subject.
In every situation, we have the ability to vary the effect with just minimal changes. For the smooth, lovely and flattering portrait, then surround the subject with reflectors or white cards, including both sides and below. Skin is reflective, so if it’s surrounded by white, then the skin tones become creamy and smooth. There is something very appealing to all of us when the subject lowers their chin and looks up with their eyes. The eyes are more open, catching more light and the feeling is inviting and sexy. The problem is that because the light is in the butterfly position, the light is above the eyes, so dropping the chin results in shadows under the eyes, less light in the eyes, and more shadowing under the nose and chin. Adding all the reflectors fills in the shadows so the face looks fabulous!
When the reflectors are removed, and there’s not much else in the studio to bounce light back onto the subject, then the shadows are more defined and darker. When the shadows are darker the feeling is more dramatic and evocative, but the skin tones are still great because of the wonderful quality of the dish.
Taking control of the light, and all the aspects: direction, quality and depth, are what elevates a photo from a “nice picture” to a stunning portrait. The tools are terrific, but learning how to “see” and then use them is what’s really important to making images that have more meaning and depth.
Introduction by Skip Cohen
During the recent PPE show I was involved in a program that was simply a kick - a live Google+ Hangout in the Panasonic LUMIX booth with good buddies, Frederick Van Johnson and Bob Coates. The topic was fine art photography and we had three great artists participating online, one of them Don Komarechka.
A couple of weeks later Don sent me an email about the event and some of the marketing topics that were discussed during the PPE program. The email exchange led to a lengthy phone conversation about dozens of different aspects to building a successful business, including customer service.
Customer service is one of the most critical components to building a strong brand, but as Don points out in this guest post, sometimes you've simply got to take control over a problem, let everybody know the challenge and come up with a solution.
Don forced the issue of reprinting his new book at the cost of delaying the introduction, but in the process he's demonstrated there is no compromise for quality. You've got to go the extra mile and to quote Roger Staubach:
"There are no traffic jams along the extra mile."
Note: If you’d like to see the results of this project, a copy of the book is just a click away!
Being a successful photographer means being passionate about what you create. Getting enthusiastically involved in a project allows for creative thinking, attention to detail, and plenty of inspiration. It can make you love your job, even if many of these projects are simply a labour of love.
One of the best projects I have ever worked on is about to hit a huge milestone – the release of a hardcover book that chronicles all of the photographic work and knowledge gained along the way. If I can be proud of one thing in my career up to this point, this is it. So what happens when something goes wrong at the 11th hour?
The book features snowflakes; hundreds of photographs of snowflakes, the science detailing how they form, and all the photographic methods used to create the images. Each image takes roughly four hours of editing and combines as many as 70 separate frames with focus-stacking techniques to get the entire crystal sharp. Over 2000 hours have now gone into this project, and a 300-page book is the reward.
Printing books is not cheap. To raise the necessary funds, I used indiegogo to gather the money needed to afford the production run, and blew past my original goal. There is no greater satisfaction then seeing complete strangers (along with plenty of family, friends and colleagues) help turn a labour of love into a viable product for the world to enjoy. Plenty of hard work was still needed: writing the content, checking the science, page layouts and design.
The project was in my hands from the beginning – I had complete control over the final work. No one could step in and tell me what to include, how to say it, what to trim or remove; the book was mine to shape into whatever I envisioned.
The printing industry was still somewhat foreign to me, and so I made decisions based on the recommendations of the printer, within the budget of the project. I asked to improve the quality of the book, and chose upgrades like brighter paper and a scuff-free laminate for the cover. It was all looking great, until the books arrived. We had chosen the wrong kind of printing technology for this book, and the whole project was suffering.
The books had a ripple in the pages, particularly where the ink was heaviest. The type of press used, a heat-set web press, can create this flaw because of amount of liquid in the ink. The books appeared to be suffering from moisture damage, and celebration quickly turned into concern. I know I’m my own worst critic, and the opinion of the public would truly decide what would be done.
I held the book launch event as scheduled and the result was fantastic – so many supporters, so many congratulations. Everyone complimented me on the content of the book, but many also raised concerns over the quality of the printing. At a presentation the following day, someone returned the book assuming it was defective, and I knew I had a huge problem.
E-mails and phone calls began almost immediately with the printing company, trying to establish a solution. A few ideas were given, including storing the books in very low humidity environment in hopes that they would flatten out. While possible, it wasn’t a guarantee and certainly would not meet my deadlines. After further discussions and a determined stance on my part, the book is currently being reprinted. The only way to avoid this problem is to use a different type of press (sheetfed press) and the printer was willing to reprint the entire production for only the cost difference between these two options.
Two and a half weeks had gone by before the reprint was approved. Stress and insomnia were abundant, knowing that the fate of this project in the final mile was out of my control. As soon as I had identified the problem and confirmed the solution, I let the world know and a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. I needed perfect books to showcase my dedication to the project, and they’re finally on their way.
Looking back at every step of this project, it’s been driven by passion from everyone who supported the project. Delivering an inferior book wouldn’t be a disappointment for just myself, but for everyone. No matter what you do or what project you’re working on, putting in the extra effort is always worth it.
Image copyright Don Komarechka. All rights reserved.
Here's another wonderful aspect of the Internet and social media, the world is getting to be a very small place!
This guest post is by Simon King. He's a photographer in the UK who I "met" in Facebook Wedding Photographers when he posted a short summary of images he was shooting of a close friend fighting the battle with cancer. While it's not directly related to anything about wedding photography it hits right on target with the way every photographer should be working to give back to their community.
If a picture really is worth a thousand words, then Simon's image below matches everything Shakespeare ever wrote!
If you'd like to see more of Simon's work check out his website, his Facebook page or join him in the Facebook Wedding Photographers forum. Skip Cohen
As photographers we are sometimes in a privileged position and most of us do what we do because we love our art. But at the same time we all need to have a roof over our heads and to put food on the table. Once in a while we need to stop and take stock and see if we can give something back.
Recently a dear friend of ours was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of cancer. I had a family shoot planned with them ahead of Christmas but this changed things. Rather than asking for payment for the shoot I wanted to provide it as a lasting gift to the family. The friend, a wife and mother of two boys was told she has months to live rather than years! I pushed them a little to fit the shoot in before any treatment was started, so that the boys and their father would have photographs of their mother as they will want to remember her.
In the UK recently the weather hasn’t been great as we’re into autumn and there has been a lot of rain. However, on the day of the shoot the weather changed and we had some soft autumn light. We got some lovely moving photographs and the thing that really struck me is that the mum had a smile in every photograph.
I processed the photographs as quickly as I could and created a private gallery for the family. That’s when I got the real payback - one of the photographs has the two boys kissing their mother on the cheek. I heard back from them pretty quickly, being told that the picture brought a tear of joy to the mother. Whilst I can’t bank that feeling, it will keep my spirits high for some time to come as my photograph brought some joy to somebody who so richly deserved it.
So when you have a customer who is being difficult or picky, why not take on a project that gives something back and rewards both you and the recipient in ways that money simply cannot.
I've been hanging out with Jane Conner-ziser for over twenty years. From Eddie Tapp to Clay Blackmore to Don Blair and hundreds of other photographers, we share the same friends, have worked the same conventions and sat next to each other at the same rubber chicken dinners!
Jane is definitely an early adopter, jumping on the digital bandwagon early on and taking full advantage of every new creative tool as it comes along. This post is remarkable as she shares her insight to education in photography from an educator's perspective. While you'd think the targeted reader would be other educators, it's really a theme with broad appeal for every photographer.
As a photographer you have so many choices to make when it comes to education. As you lay out your schedule for the 2014 convention season, think about each workshop you're going to take. Read the descriptions, learn as much as you can about the instructor and then attend as many programs as you can to help you build your skill set to become a better artist. And, as Jane suggests, look for programs that inspire creativity and passion! Skip Cohen
"I don’t think we need to give students a map to follow to a particular destination as much as we need to inspire curiosity and passion to learn more, practice more and become more than “good enough” to sell a job."
I'll count myself as one of a large number of professional educators in the pro portrait and wedding industry who wants to continue offering top quality, thorough education in a society that, on the surface, doesn’t seem to care about learning beyond solving an immediate problem via internet surfing.
The longer I contemplate, the more I believe that the new generation of budding professionals cares very much about learning, and it’s us educators that need to re-examine how we present ourselves and our material. We need to learn how to teach different ways.
Answers are everywhere! We have at the tips of our fingers the answer to any question we might wish to ask, from what year Quigley Down Under was filmed to how to process pickles – or how to shoot a table top product for publication. The answers are not always complete or correct, but millions and millions of answers are everywhere!
The benefit of this is that education is available to everyone in the world who has Internet access, 24 hours a day. That’s pretty powerful stuff! The downside is that it’s easy to lose focus and become randomly knowledgeable about a wide variety of things, but expert in none. Our world needs more experts in nearly every field! Our students need to learn how to determine if their answers are correct, and how to research and learn.
I believe it’s the questions that are missing, and curiosity beyond fulfilling an immediate need. People do not need us to show them lighting equipment as much as they need us to teach them what light is, what it looks like in different forms and how to use it to sculpt, shape and add depth to images. They don’t need to learn how to do an action in Photoshop as much as they need us to teach them what good images look like, and how to create them from thought to finish.
I don’t think we need to give students a map to follow to a particular destination as much as we need to inspire curiosity and passion to learn more, practice more and become more than “good enough” to sell a job. We need to learn how to teach people to question and to experiment – and to evaluate their own work with an educated and critical eye. In my opinion, What, When and Why are more important today than How or Where.
I’ve been experimenting with changing how I teach, and trying to make it more engaging for an audience that can Google all of my favorite techniques. I’m trying to make it more completely educational, bringing in historical information as well as present in order for people to understand where we came from. Bob Marley said, “You don’t know your past, you don’t know your future,” and I don’t know about you, but I’ve been surprised at how few people have seen historical images – you know, the ones that inspired us to be curious and to have passion to become more than “good enough” to sell our jobs.
Living in the present is great! And none of us can definitely predict what photography will be like in 30 years, but that’s not up to us. We just need to use our education and our history in photography to inspire curiosity, the desire to ask ‘why?’ and the energy to experiment using the basic fine art principles that have held fast throughout all time.
So, that’s just a bit of what wanders through my mind when I think about how I want to grow and be better than I am … I hope you find a bit of it interesting, too.
I've written this a few dozen times over the last few years, "The best part of this industry has little to do with photography, but the friendships that come out of everyone's love for the craft!" Well, meet a good buddy, Dave Ashby.
Two weeks ago we caught up to each other at PPE in New York and while talking about the more focused direction Dave is taking in fine art photography he shared some images he'd just captured the day before. There are few things more fun than talking to somebody who's excited about something in photography. As Dave clicked through and shared each image, it was impossible to decide which were our favorites. After all, it's just a guy blowing bubbles in the park! LOL
I'm not sure there's anything Dave can't shoot, but with serious steps towards putting all his energy into fine art, check out his galleries. Skip Cohen
More oftentimes than not we wake up with the predisposed notion that we must check things off a list. We are so focused on what we think we must do that we don’t allow ourselves to just let the World lead us to an artistic source. Whether you are a portrait, commercial or fine art photographer, you need to let yourself have fun and just go with the flow.
Recently, while in NYC for PPE, I came in a day early so I could explore and photograph. I was struggling with the sheer overwhelmingness one can get when deciding where and what to do in such an inspiring city. So I simply grabbed a couple lenses, left the flash and tripod and just went out carrying a light bag with only my 5D MIII, 50 1.4, 24-70 and my 17-40. I grabbed a cab up to Central Park and just let it all go. Totally left behind thoughts of what I should be doing back at the studio or what I should accomplish for the day. Why set goals or constraints? Why not just let “IT” happen.
To make a really long and fun day shorter, I will share with you what the best part of the day was. I made a new friend named Steve Duncan. Steve blows bubbles for a living. That’s right. He blows bubbles on a grand scale. With his bamboo sticks and a self fashioned net specially designed for making bubbles he sets up, most frequently, in Central Park. I have seen Steve before, but was always in a rush. But this time seeing these huge bubbles inspired me to chat with him, After a few minutes of asking him about his artform and his passion, Steve allowed me to get close. Really close to him and his bubbles. I was working within inches of him at points and magic ensued. I created some images that honestly blew both of our minds. (No pun intended!)
The lesson is simple. It’s taking the time to simply allow yourself to have a little fun that can pay off in dividends. So grab your camera and go have some fun!