Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Starting with a Plan

EDITED: ...I found of a video of the one and only Ansel Adams who sums it up best. See below...

Sometimes, if you know you are going to have a tough assignment coming up, or just a hard shot in general, it never hurts to plan it out ahead.

That's what I did with the shot above. There's nothing wrong with running & gunning, but sometimes you are limited by time constraints, weather, your model's patience and other various factors. So its not a bad idea to at least try to preconceive your shot before you actually take it. That way you can get setup, take your shot and get done relatively quickly. Also, by previsualizing your shot, you have a better direction on how to actually compose and execute it.

Some of you may know that I am notoriously anal (say it ain't so) and I quite frequently will plan my shots way ahead of doing an actual shoot. I just can't help it.

Previsualization will make you a better photographer and will help you improve your technical skills. Its where the creative side, the technical side and hard work all come together to create a worthwhile image and not just an ordinary snapshot. By no means am I considering the above a Pulitzer prize winner, but it came out pretty much how I saw it in my head and I was happy that it only took a few test shots to get my lighting and composition right.

There are various ways you can plan your compositions too. Sometimes, just being on the scene, analyzing the light, layout and your subject matter will be all the planning you need. Other times, it might make more sense to get an idea of how you want your finished project to look.

That's where the work of art below (click on it for a larger view) comes in. I recently participated in a project on the Louisville Photography Collective (a local website for photographers to network and share ideas) where three photographers were to meet up, and then each photographer had to take a portrait of the other two. Rather than come up with some boring, standard portrait, I wanted to do something different. So, after my idea came to me, I set about sketching it out to work out the logistics of the shot and to get an idea of how I was going to compose it.

This sketch was done almost a week and a half before I took the shot. I ended up not executing it exactly how it was sketched out, but it was pretty darn close. Since I had the image embedded in my noggin', it was easy for me to set the shot up and start shooting. Although it did take me a little longer than I had planned, it would have taken me A LOT longer had I not thought it out first.

So the next time you have a project coming up, take the to time to plan it out a little beforehand and I'd be willing to bet the results will come out much better.

The Key to a Photograph from Ansel Adams from SilberStudios.Tv on Vimeo.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Speedlights or Studio Strobes?

Scott Kelby today over at Photoshop Insider provided a very in depth answer to a question that plaques many photographers...

'should I use speedlights or studio strobes?'.

Check out Scott's post for a very well thought out answer, including the price differences and the different types of gear.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

David Ernspiker 1970 - 2009

...a little off topic today

The world lost a great man and a musical icon last Thursday, April 9th, 2009. David Ernspiker, a friend and Louisville, Kentucky musician passed away in his home.

Dave was a virtuoso on the guitar, a talented musician, a youth minister at his church and an all around great guy. He will be deeply missed by those who knew him and loved him.

I remember the first time I met him...

Many years ago I had walked in Willis Music at the Oxmoor mall in St. Matthews looking for some guitar sheet music, when this long haired guy in a jazzy silk shirt walked up to me and asked me if I was a guitarist. I sheepishly replied that I was not and trying to learn. He then asked me if I was interested in taking lessons and I told him that I tried that already, but it just didn't seem to work out.

That's when he told me he was a guitar teacher there at Willis Music. Then he picked up a guitar off of the shelf, plugged it in to an amp, cranked the volume up REALLY loud and started blazing Hendrix tunes! At that point, I knew he would be a great teacher. After he got through with his maddening display of fretboard wizardry, he set it down, looked at me and said "when can I sign you up?"

I signed up that day. He told me to bring a song for our first lesson and he would have me playing it before I left ...I thought this would be a miracle, but he delivered what he promised.

I took lessons from Dave for another year and a half with him very patiently helping me hone my guitar skills. He became a good friend and an inspiration to me.

I will miss him greatly and somehow I know he is busting out great guitar riffs for everyone in Heaven.

Below is a video of Dave jamming out "Little Wing" by Jimi Hendrix... do yourself a favor and check it out, I'm sure he will be smiling about it somewhere.

To see more of Dave's videos, CLICK HERE.


David Ernspiker
The Big Rock Show
Dave on YouTube

Monday, April 6, 2009

I NEED a Studio!!!

...or so I thought for a long time.

How many times have you said to yourself, 'gee, if only I had a studio, I could get this type of shot'? Well, I know I've said that a lot! But I'm starting to learn, in all honesty, 90% of the time you can get by without one.

I love shooting portraits. I absolutely do. Its so cool to try to capture an essence of someone regardless whether you have known them for years or have only just met. I like meeting new people and socializing with old friends too so this just goes hand-in-hand with being a "portrait shooter".

My favorite type of portraits though, by far, are an environmental portraits. I would much rather photograph someone in their environment than in a studio and I love shooting outside least when the weather is nice. There are so many cool backgrounds you can find, right in your own backyard. Plus, photographing someone in their own environment tells the viewer a little bit more about that person.

That being said, there are those times when a "studio look" is just what the doctor ordered. I have for many years now wished that I had a studio to do some of those cool portraits I have seen in magazines and on the internet. However, if you're like me, you probably don't have enough space in your home to set up a studio and you may not have enough money or the ability to rent a location as a studio.

So, what do you do?

Well, getting a "studio look" is a little easier than you might think with just a few speedlights and modifiers. You don't really need big monoblocs and power packs, although I will admit I'd like to have a few.

If you have about 7 square feet, and a bed sheet, or even better, a collapsible background, you can get some pretty cool headshots and 3/4 portraits with a simple setup.

Above is my studio. It consists of a Botero #23 collapsible background, a few Nikon speedlights, a shoot thru umbrella, a Lumiquest SBIII and a few gels. You could very easily do this with one speedlight and a bed sheet hung on the wall, but I have this stuff, so its what I use.

This portrait (of my friend and fellow photographer Michela) is one of my favorites I've done recently and it was done with the very same setup you see above; nothing fancy, just a few flashes and modifiers. The setup above can also be arranged in many different configurations for different looks.

I used the same setup as above for this self portrait, only my main light was modified with a $30 DIY beauty dish I made for the key light, and another speedlight with a Honl grid for my kicker. Both of these flashes had CTO gels on them. Another speedlight was used with a blue gel on my background.

The cool thing about this setup is that I can tear it down in 15 minutes, pack it away in one case, and carry it with me anywhere. Its nice to have an instant studio that you can take with you anywhere, just in case you need this type of look.

I hope this may dispel any ideas that you absolutely NEED a studio to get these types of shot ...cause you just plain don't.

When this blog and/or my photos start making me loads of money, then I'm getting myself a studio ....and I bet I don't shoot 10% of my stuff in there. :)

For some resources on small flash photography, check out these...

1. The Strobist Blog
2. The Hot Shoe Diaries by Joe McNally
3. Minimalist Lighting: Professional Techniques for Location Photography by Kirk Tuck