lighting a boudoir photo session – Carla Starla

We want it to look Fashion-y and Retro. And a little glamorous.” “But I don’t want it to be like a bridal hairdo!” No wonder the hair-dresser was confused by these vague instructions from myself and the model, Carla. The hair-dresser really looked like she was under pressure, wondering if she’d be able to come up with something fabulous enough to be all of that. Fashion-y and Retro and Glamorous.

Carla is a friend (and previous bride), and we’ve been trying to get it together for a photo session for a few years now. But life, work and conflicting schedules kept interfering. But this weekend it all came together – even down to the hair styling which looks fabulous.

The look we wanted with this boudoir photo session, was that the images should have a retro feel to then. With that in mind, we had her hair styled in a complementary way, even if we didn’t have a clear description of that. The post-processing of the photos were also done with that in mind, consistent with the theme.

I’d like to show two of the final images from this photo session, along with the lighting setup.

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bokeh comparison: Sony RX1 vs Nikon 35mmm f/1.4G

Sony has been on fire recently with their new camera releases. The Sony RX100 is arguably the best point&shoot on the market right now. The full-frame Sony A99 DSLR has been getting great reports … and then there is the new Sony RX1 (vendor) - full-frame goodness in a compact camera with a fixed 35mm f/2 lens.

And just in anyone has missed the crucial news – Sony cameras use Zeiss lenses. The word “legendary” is usually automatically associated with the word Zeiss.

A quick summary of what makes the Sony RX1 unique:

The full-frame sensor promises excellent high-ISO noise performance, and the Zeiss optic promises stellar performance from the lens. With that, there’s been a lot of buzz about this camera … and I have one in my hands.

So far, I am hugely impressed with this camera. The build quality is solid. It has a certain heft for such a small camera. The lens is incredibly sharp. (More about that later.) The 1/3rd stop indents on the lens smoothly click into position. This camera just speaks “quality!” Even the lens cap that clips on solidly, is made of metal!

Instead of a breakdown of the specs though, I thought it might be more interesting to look at one specific aspect of this camera & lens – the bokeh of the lens.

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wedding photography: 3 tips to speed up your editing workflow

One of the questions that came up during the Q&A at yesterday’s presentation at B&H, was how long does it take me to edit a wedding. Well, the ideal is that it takes me less than a day. During the peak wedding season around September and October, it is easy to slip behind, but that still remains my goal – to edit a wedding during the week right after the wedding took place.

There are several things motivating this idea:

  • I am more likely to get print orders from the guests at a wedding if the event is still fresh in their memory.
  • In terms of your workflow as a photographer, it is imperative that you don’t fall behind. If you don’t edit a wedding *this* week, then you’re behind because you’re shooting further events.

The best idea then is to edit the wedding in the day or two directly after. Cull, edit, upload, and then you’re done with the immediate workflow. Keep things rolling.

Here are my 3 best tips for a faster workflow. Of course, this doesn’t just relate to weddings, but also to any event where a high volume of images need to be dealt with.

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photography composition: working toward the final image

When I first immersed myself in photography way way back, it took me a while to realize that what I see in a magazine or book, isn’t necessarily the first image. Those incredible images that can inspire us, (or even make us just want to give up photography), most often are not fully-formed masterpieces. Most often, the photograph that we as the viewer are presented with, are but one of a series. One photograph that stood out, or where the elements in the photograph were controlled by the photographer. And even with the work of hardcore photo-journalists, what we see, have been “controlled” and “adjusted”, even if only in terms of lens choice and composition.

With that realization, I felt less intimidated by the great photographs that I saw. They had become more accessible in a way, and more attainable to me as a new photographer.

Photographs with impact or appeal could come to be because of serendipity or foresight and careful planning by the photographer. Quite often it’s just recognizing the potential of a scene, and working with it to finesse the elements, such as the composition or lighting or, with portraits, the pose.

So it is with this photograph of Jessica Joy, taken just before we started the photo-shoot mentioned in the article, colored gels with flash photography. The final result shown here, is a little bit of everything – a wonderful subject, an opportunity, and then over the course of several photographs, finessing it.

While I really like this image, and think of this as the final image that I want to present, it didn’t just “happen” as the first and only image. There was an entire sequence leading up to it. It is this first recognition of a potentially good photograph, and then the thought-process in the sequence, that I want to show here.

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bounce flash photography

bouncing your on-camera flash behind you

A comment posted to the article, directional light from your on-camera flash, asked a lot of questions about bounce flash photography. While most of these have been answered over time in various articles, it might be a good thing to pull it all together in directly answering those questions here.

An uncomplicated portrait of Anelisa that shows the specific elements that I work toward with bounce flash:
catchlights in the eyes
directional light which can be observed here as that gradient of light across her cheek
- no hard shadows from direct flash

I most often do this by bouncing my flash behind me, or towards the side.

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using colored gels with flash in the studio

I met Jessica Joy during a photo shoot-out in Las Vegas last year when a group of photographers and models met up. She was there as both a photographer and a model. We had discussed doing a proper photo session some time in the future … and then Jessica got news that her husband will be stationed abroad in a few months from now. So we decided that *now* was the time to do this.

With winter-time in New Jersey and New York just too cold to comfortably do a photo shoot outdoors, we settled on doing it as a studio shoot.

I bought two sets of the Honl gels for speedlights a long while back, to try out sometime, but they remained unused in a drawer. I had the two sets of colored gels – the Honl Photo Filter Kit - Hollywood (Amazon); and the Honl Photo Filter Kit - Autumn (Amazon). What made me curious about them originally, was that they were inexpensive, but seemed like a good option in juicing up flash photos a bit.

The first test image with the lights set up like I wanted, looked good … but a little drab. First I added a gel to a gridded softbox to the left of her (with the blue-green tone), and then I added a filter to the flash on the background … and  I was hooked!

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again, a big thank you to everyone!

It was a new day yesterday, but it’s an old day now. I’ve always wanted to quote that snippet of lyric by Jethro Tull. It somehow seems applicable on a New Year’s Day in some oblique way. But I could never make sense of it.

And here I am, on the first morning of 2013, and it just seems like it’s the customary opportune time to reflect over the past year. And of course, it’s a good time to re-energize oneself for the new year. In some ways it is arbitrary, I know, but still, January the 1st is as good a time as any.

Aside from the feedback and comments from the followers of the Tangents blog, one of the ways that I constantly see if I am doing the right thing, is the website’s traffic. If it increases year after year, then I must be doing something right.

The screen-capture at the top is the Google Analytics mapping of the visitors to the Tangents blog the past year. Nearly 1.9 million visits from all over the world. It blows my mind! Photographers from Russia, Mongolia and even Greenland and Madagascar have checked out the site.

Compared to 2011, that’s approximately a 10% increase in website traffic. Quite solid. There was a massive 49% jump in traffic from 2010 to 2011, but I think that is mostly because I started posting much more regularly during 2009 and 2010.

One other metric that I use, is the Alexa ranking for the entire neilvn site. It fluctuates over time, depending on how website traffic ebbs and flows over any 3 month period. But I was quite chuffed with the all-time high in November 2012, of being the 131,000 most popular site on the entire internet. I still hope to crack the 100,000 Alexa ranking sometime.

So while all of this seems a little boastful, it is also a way of saying that I really, really appreciate the good word that everyone puts out there about this site. It helps the site, and it helps me … and motivates me in turn to make this site even better. So for all those who have referred others to my site, and linked to my site, it is hugely appreciated. Truly. But please don’t stop now. : )

A recap of the highlights of 2012 …

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wedding photography NJ / NY

December 28, 2012

NJ wedding photography New York

wedding photography – favorite detail images

With wedding photography, there are 3 main elements to what we should capture – Portraits; the Moments, as well as the wedding day Details. The more traditional approach is portrait-heavy; the photo-journalist approach favors The moments. In-between there somewhere is the better balance … even with modern wedding photography where there is a strong bias towards story-telling. The wedding day portraits will always remain important.

However, what brides tend to scour magazines and Pinterest for, are the wedding day details. Ideas and inspiration for their own weddings. Bridal magazines know this, and the articles featuring specific weddings are usually details-oriented.

I’ve seen some of the more purist photo-journalistic wedding photographers scorn this bias towards photographs of the details. “What will you remember in 20 years’ time about your wedding? The color of your bridesmaids’ bouquets, or the people who were with you?”

Fair point. I’d heartily agree. Yet, it is very solid advice for any wedding photographer that if your client paid for something, you should photograph it. The details of the wedding! With that in mind, I posted a selection of my favorite images of wedding details from 2012. (There are links to the associated weddings.)

I was very honored this year by the number of weddings where my clients were inspired to book me because of my work seen on the Tangents blog. It’s a huge compliment to be trusted with such and important task as making a lasting record of someone’s wedding day.

This year I photographed weddings not only in New Jersey and New York, but also in the cities of Boston and Baltimore, as well as in Maryland and Delaware.

If any followers of the Tangents blog have family and friends that recently became engaged and / or are looking for a wedding photographer, please do contact me. I am still booking for 2013. As I mentioned, I do travel further afield than just NJ, and I also photograph destination weddings. So please feel welcome to recommend me.

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Ulorin Vex bounce flash portrait

bounce flash portrait & Photoshop retouching technique

When we were done with the studio shoot with Ulorin Vex, we still had a few minutes left, so I thought I could do a bounce flash portrait as well. Just for a comparison of sorts to show that on-camera bounce flash can give interesting results too. Here is the low-key portraits we did with the Profoto set-up.

The only semi-interesting background I could find in the studio (that wasn’t a white wall), was this grungy green door to one of the store-rooms. I thought it might work as a gritty urban setting. I shot about eight frames in the tight corner, but didn’t like what I saw on the back of my camera, so called it a day. We were done.

Looking through the images again today, cleaning up my hard drives, I hovered over the first image I took and thought it might hold some promise still if I worked it a little bit in Photoshop. Here is where I started …

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wedding photography – where to start building portfolio

I do get some interesting emails and Facebook messages. The strange ones run the whole range from trippy & bizarre, all the way to obscure. One of my favorite weird emails was one that had the title, “Nikon D100″ with the body of the email simply asking, “How do you do that?”

This morning, I saw news that Facebook is once again altering things, including the way that messages are delivered. Paid messages from strangers now seem to be on the horizon. So with that, for the first time in forever, I went through the backlog of messages in the “other” folder. And I saw this message that I show here as a screen-capture.

What bemused me was the polite and respectful tone. And yes, he did ask! Unlike others who have simply used images as they please. I’ve even had my my entire website ripped off. A very ballsy move that they denied to the end. It gets even stranger when you realize my bio is the most plagiarized part of my website! I even directly mention this in the one section. Yup, apparently you can just use my bio as a template by changing a few details. So this request now is an odd combination of sincerity and naiveté. That he even asked, is then a surprise in itself.

Obviously, the main problem here is that someone would even (naively) think it is okay to misrepresent his abilities to potential clients. If you can’t shoot in a certain way, or produce a certain quality of work already, then it is fraudulent to say you can. Your potential clients deserve better!

We can’t ignore that this kind of thinking is very prevalent in the photography industry. It is a regular thing for me to see other photographers on Facebook complain that their images and text were ripped off. It is that rife! There is the Stop Stealing Photos Tumblr blog, where photographers are constantly busted for using photos that aren’t their own. The scary thing is, that site mostly just shows theft of wedding & portrait photography! It’s an avalanche that tedious DMCA take-downs can’t effectively stem.

The culprits just don’t realize that they will be caught. One way or another. Sooner or later. And there can be significant consequences when they are busted, as just one example.

What I find most ironic with all this, is that photographers like to think of themselves as creative people. Yet, there is such a vast number of wannabe photographers who happily steal and misappropriate and plagiarize. Where’s the self-respect?

I’ve even heard of photographers using the sample albums from album companies as their own work. Yup, they’ve all been shooting the same fabulous wedding in Italy.

The disconcerting element to all of this is that two photographs from someone else, could qualify one as a wedding photographer. That, sadly, is how low the bar is!

Mulling over this request, my reaction ranged from amusement, all the way to “are you f’n kidding me?”, back to the idea that this guy, like other aspiring photographers, is struggling with ideas of how to start as a wedding photographer …

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