Posts Tagged ‘Photography’

Earlier this year, I did a few shoots for a local magazine in exchange for advertising space. The advertising went no where, and the tears were crap, so I broke off the relationship. My wife picked up a copy of the magazine and was flipping through it. I happened to look over her shoulder, and happened to saw one of my images smiling back up at me from the advertising section. Here’s how things went down:

In March of this year, I did a shoot for a local restauranteur for the magazine, and heard the editor say to the client “we’ll be happy to turn these images over for you to use” or something like that. I pulled her aside and told her that that was no bueno. I told her I was licensing the images to her magazine to use for one issue. She said that was fine. The next month, I did another photo shoot for the magazine at a Montessori school. This is the shoot from which the unlicensed images came.

Shame on me for not getting a nice contract signed for this work. I chalk it up to inexperience, and now I’ve learned that I don’t press the shutter until I have a signed contract.

So, I reached out to the magazine this morning, but the editor was in a meeting. At this point, I need to know how long the image has been running so I can bill the school for it appropriately. I spoke to a manager at the Montessori school and she was completely surprised, which surprises me not at all. She said the editor handed over the images specifically for her to use in the advert. I told her the next person she should call is the editor who handed over my work. She seemed to understand my perspective, which is a relief.

The publisher screwed the pooch here, but it’s the school that owes me money. I told the manager at the school that the publisher really took advantage of both of us. It’s unacceptable for a publisher to act with such disregard for photographers.

Just got off the phone with the publisher, who apologized, but she’s pretty clearly miffed, saying that she hasn’t had this issue with other photographers. that’s unfortunate. She is going to get back to me with the number of issues in which my photo ran.


I’ve got an all day product photography shoot today, shooting high end glassware and cookware for Juniper Homes. I thought it might be fun to document the whole shoot, and, decisive guy that I am, that’s what I’m going to do. When I refer to degrees and such, it’s how I think about lighting angles. Picture a circle around the subject that goes through the camera. The camera marks 0 degrees. so a light at 90 degrees right is on the same plane as the subject, camera right.


Got everything hooked up. I will be shooting with my camera tethered to my laptop, dumping raw files straight into lightroom. I’ll also be controlling my camera’s shutter and exposure settings with EOS utility. So, my camera will sit on the tripod the whole time, and I will control it from my laptop, based on the live results I get from lightroom. Slick. I only ever need to look through the viewfinder when I need to move my tripod. I am using a Canon 100mm f/2.8 USM Macro lens throughout the whole shoot that I rented from PPR Atlanta.

Here are some shots of my initial set up in the morning. I have a collapsible black reflector mounted on a set of tripod legs. This will be my drop-in black background. I have a few strobes set up with snoots and grids, all homemade. These will rotate in and out based on the setup. My biggest light, the JTL versalight 160 (pfeh), is clamped to a post I have mounted to my ceiling (beginnings of my overhead truss system) will be dialed up to full power (again, pfeh) throughout the whole shoot. That full power will get me f/11 at 200iso, and the white backdrop will just barely not be clipped off the top of my histogram in lightroom. When I am shooting on white, I will have this light pointed at the backdrop, where it will kick back through my glassware for a nice, healthy glow. When I am shooting on black, this will swivel around away from the backdrop and down toward the subject at about a 45 degree angle. This will give me some of the backlighting that the white backdrop gave me, as well as some specular reflections.

Speaking of specular reflections, we are shooting metal and glass today, so that is pretty much the name of the game. As I go through the shoot, I will illustrate what each light is bringing to the party. When you’ve got hard reflections to deal with, sometimes a nice light can do more harm than good.

Once the client arrives, the first thing we have to do is get the product into the studio, and start sorting according to lighting setup. We’re going to be shooting basically everything on white, with a few special items to be shot on black. Client is going to sort the product while I get my metering tweaked in. We’re starting with glass.


Here are our cleaning supplies. We are going to use them to keep our glass looking immaculate. Dusting is way easier pre-shoot than in photoshop (especially since I hope to do about 95% of the processing in lightroom!) We’ve got compressed air, monitor wipes (these can leave fibers behind, but are great on spots and streaks), and trader joe’s multipurpose cleaner. I love this stuff. It is remarkable for glass, and doesn’t contain any pollutants! The mitts you see are microfiber dusting gloves. Today, they are going to be used to transport glass from the staging area to the shooting area. Swiffer clothes (for dust) and microfiber clothes (for polishing) as well as optical microfiber clothes (for super polishing). A lot of this is just an assortment I grabbed. We will see what is truly useful as the day goes on.


We’ve got product! Getting started on lighting tweaking.


Got the lighting set and the product sorted. Working through the glassware now. Showed Christopher, the client onsite, a few example shots, shown below. These represent slight lighting variations. The first shot is just the softbox on the backdrop, nice clean sillhouette. Second shot adds a snooted nikon sb-26 (set to 1/32) about 45 degrees above and behind the subject, camera right. The third shot adds another sb-26 that matches the first on camera left.


We’re going with option two, with a few catchlights, because the 2nd strobe adds too much ‘interference’ (as i like to think of it) in the middle of the glass. Here are a few shots we’ve done so far.


Keeping glass clean with compressed air, microfiber + trader joe’s stuff for getting gunk off, and the optical cloth for final polishing. So far, no dust.


Had lunch, walked through a few images with Christopher, who is pleased, so far! That’s good. I’ve moved on to the opaque stuff, and changed my lighting setup for the new products. We’re going for mostly wrapped, mostly hard light. From camera right, I have a gridded sb-28 about 90 degrees right, 15 degrees up, 1ft from the subject, at 1/32. 5 feet from the subject, at 45 degrees right and up, I have a bare sb-26 at 1/32. 4 feet away, 75 degrees right, 15 degrees up, I have another sb-26 at 1/8 through a white umbrella.


Slow going through each product, since this stuff is far less uniform than glassware was. My wrapped light scheme worked very well, because it was versatile. The best way to trouble shoot funky lighting is to turn your lights on one at a time, and see what each is doing. For each different product type today, I had to ‘rebuild’ my lighting. I didn’t move lights very much, except perhaps my grid as an accent light. I mostly had to adjust angles, and turn off a light or two from time to time. I will post some examples here shortly. I am shutting down production for the day. See you tomorrow.

Day 2


Here are some shots from yesterday. I’m pleased! An assistant would have been very useful yesterday. Next time, I am going to build that into the invoice. I am also going to do some looking into propping things up. The one thing that really kicked my butt yesterday was getting the product at nice angles, without any obvious or ugly support. Shooting continues today, so we’ll see what happens. Today I will be finishing up a few smaller items: cake pans, a coffee press and some kitchen tools, followed by a few large appliances and then some more glass decanters that Christopher is bringing over today. That should be the end of the whole product line shot on white.

We’ve flagged a few products for ‘special attention’, as in extra detail shots, multi-item shots, or especially sexy shots. I’ve got this awesome macro lens and some really great glassware, so I intend to really knock some dingers right out of the park.



Still working on shooting appliances. Slow going, but the good news is that I am getting some great shots and the client is pleased. I’ve posted the setup shots for the Beertender to illustrate what a pain in the butt chrome is. I love it, because chrome doesn’t leave you any room for mistakes. The beertender has a big rounded chrome section right down the center. From the setup shots, you can see that I have taken my white paper backdrop and run it down in front of the subject, and then back up again, where it is attached to the roof. I have cut a hole in the paper, and I am shooting through that. This white paper will give me a big, smooth broad specular reflection in the front of this unitasker.

I am lighting the backdrop with an sb-26 set to 1/8 power. I am also underlighting the subject with another sb-26. They are catty-cornered like that so they don’t cast shadows of each other, which would then show up in my reflections. No chance to be sloppy with chrome. I have a light back and behind the subject pointed over it, higher on the backdrop. Its purpose is to provide some catchlights higher on the subject.

Saturday Morning


Shot more on Friday, finishing up the last of the appliances, and starting on the secondary shots for some items. Sorry I didn’t blog it, but I was very tired, and the client was onsite for most of the day. The secondary stuff is basically cool, sexy shots of certain products, like the waterford crystal. I was really looking forward to this part of the shoot. If you know my architecture work, you know that I have a geometry fetish (I even married a mathematician!). I was really excited to approach this glassware with an architectural eye.

Lighting the glass was really, really easy. I swiveled my backdrop light (the jtl softbox) around and dialed it way down. It was lighting the glass above and from behind with smooth light. Then, I would add 2 gridded sb-28’s about 15 degrees above and behind the subject. Sometimes I would use one, sometimes two. Sometimes I would use one, and use the other in a snoot, straight down on the subject. The trick with etched glass is to use very tight, controlled light. A little will go a very long way. Most of the time, I was shooting at iso200, f/18, 160th of a second, and my strobes were set to 1/32 THROUGH a grid. That is almost nothing. My lights had plenty of headroom, powerwise, so I was able to get up to f/32 for some stuff later on with ease.

I am really happy with these two shots. Lit with 2 sb-26’s, one gelled full CTB camera left, and one gelled red camera right, each through a sheet of clear coroplast. Soft box high and behind and sb-28 bare and low, provide edge definition. Tried it without the softbox. didn’t like it.


I love this Riedel decanter. Lit with a gridded sb-26 (1/8) behind the subject, gelled full CTO, and with a snooted sb-26 (1/32) from above, and again the softbox above and behind. The star thing is the decanter’s stopper, straight down, at f/32. Crazy. Lit with a gridded sb-26 off to the side. In fact, I am just going to post the rest of the series. Assume that everything is lit with one or two gridded sb-26s, on very low power, a little behind and above the subjects. Easy peasy, lemon Squeezey!


I had a nice meeting today with a new client this week, an online-based home goods reseller. They’re a new enterprise. The client came to me interested in capturing the mood and character of their product line of high end glassware, cooking utensils and other luxury dining and entertainment accessories. This post is going to outline what lining up a shoot like this entails: all the whats, hows and whens. Let’s get started.


Here’s what it seems like the client is looking for:

We’re looking to incorporate their products into a dinner party setting with a story. Shots will focus on people conversing, holding our fancy glassware, or chefs preparing hors d’ouevres on gorgeous copper-core pots and pans. The copy for these products would, along with the image(s), tell a piece of the story and how the product plays in to it. We are going to weave together a tale of intrigue relating a few characters in our dinner party story. Each product, and its piece of the story must stand on its own, since we can’t determine the reader’s sequence, or whether they even look at all the items involved in the story.


A shoot like this will require securing a suitable location to host a posh dinner party. The location will need to be staged with nice furniture and decor. Using someone’s home is our first choice, whereas an empty home would necessitate furnishings and decoration. We will need guests. We’re going to stage the dinner party with real food, real drinks and real guests: a few dozen neighbors and friends. We’re going to have a team of hair and makeup stylists to keep everyone looking awesome throughout the evening. Since I will be running and gunning throughout the shoot, I will need an assistant to help me set up, meter, and move from shot to shot, according to our game plan (outlined below). I am planning on renting some extra lights, so I can have 2 lighting setups, the one I am currently shooting, and the next one being set up.


At this point, a fair estimate of the shoot’s cost can be made. The concept and the logistics are the raw materials you’ll use to create your proposal to the client. What do my vendors require of me? How much should I be paid to do the calling and organizing to have the shoot go off without a hitch? How much is my experience and talent worth? How will the images be used? Etcetera! These questions are extremely important. Luckily, a far better man than I am has covered these questions in explicit detail. If you haven’t purchased Best Business Practice for Photographers by John Harrington, you are throwing your career in the trash. Don’t freak out on these like I used to do. I would get panic attacks and put my prices just criminally low. I had no budget, cut corners, and sometimes, it would blow up in my face. It’s a vicious cycle, but paying yourself is just plain good business. Negotiate your way to an agreeable budget for your shoot. Once you’ve got the finances taken care of, and a contract signed, it’s time to move forward.


The next thing we’re going to need to settle is the scheduling. Are there any real, hard deadlines that need to be met? Do these images need to be delivered by a certain date, no matter what? That needs to be known first. Beyond that, it’s a matter of lining up availabilities for stylists, talent and location. I find that it really pays off to have a fat rolodex (ha! does anyone use those anymore? i don’t.) of stylists and models. Line up back ups as well. I covered this a little bit before in my post on lining up TFP fashion shoots. The difference here is that this is a paid gig. Unsurprisingly, stylists are far more amenable to make time for paid work. Imagine that. I’ve said before that free work is worth what you pay for it. Paying someone is basically the only way I know of to hold someone accountable. Don’t be afraid to hold someone’s feet to the fire when you need to. Be a leader, not an asshole. I usually pay in 30 days, so I don’t have to float the cost of stylists waiting for the client to pay me.

Lastly, this is a location shoot. Think of your location as another person, with its own schedule of availability. Oh, and it also needs to be insured. The difference is that it can sometimes be impossible to substitute in a different location at the last minute, unlike stylists. The idea is to line up all of these schedules to find a shooting date that works for all involved parties. Book a potential back-up date in case Murphy decides to drop in and screw everything up. The best way to anticipate problems is to imagine all the worst things that could possibly happen and then address them in your mind.

Game plan

The date and time have been set. Now, it’s time to figure out what you’re going to do throughout your time slot. At this point, the client and I will head to the location, if necessary, at a time when the lighting matches that of our proposed shoot, and decide how we want to present each product, basically storyboarding. Once I have a list of how each product is going to be shot, I can sequence those shots based on the logistical realities created.

It then becomes my job to create a stream-lined and efficient process to get myself through these shots. How many shots can I line up in a single location, or with a particular set of lighting modifiers? I optimize my shot sequence to maximize my creative versatility. These images are source material: the greater the variety of images, the greater the value I present to the client.

Your game plan is how you work smarter instead of harder. I’ve got to make sure everyone knows their part and is moving in the same direction. Write up a nice schedule of shots, and give a copy to all your stylists, your assistant, and the client, if present (they will be).


Ideally, I can get access to the location the day before the shoot to bring in gear, get set up and prepared, and to check out the location in the proper lighting for our shoot. I take notes and determine my camera settings for my different shots. I walk through the whole shoot, running worst case scenarios through my head, and deciding how I would deal with them. Paranoia is just good business.

I get a good night’s sleep, and on the day of the shoot, I am prepared. Having done the best I can to squelch any potential explosions, I can now focus purely on making creative decisions. Call everyone and verify their arrival. Check all your gear and show up early. Batteries? Focus working? Lenses clean? Your sensor clean? Laptop? Cables? Between the time that people start showing up and the stylists are finished getting everyone done up, stay out of the way. Don’t meddle with the stylists unless they’re doing something you’re sure is wrong.

With adequate preparation, the job of moving through your shoot becomes easy. Smile, relax, schmooze with your subjects, and get your job done. Stay on top of what your assistant is doing, and make sure you’ve got a hair person and a makeup person to maintain the subjects while they are being photographed. While I am concentrating on my lights, my composition, metering, focus, and the model’s positioning and gesture, it is usually too much for me to stay on top of hair and makeup as well. It’s nice to know that there is someone who is standing by, concentrating on just the kinds of things I tend to miss.


The whole process is one of reductionism. I am solving problems before they can become problematic. Have a plan. Prepare for contingencies. This is what you are being paid for: 10% of it is getting the shot, and 90% is making sure you get the shot.

That’s enough for now, I think. See you later. I am going to get to play with the Canon 100mm macro lens this week!

This summer, my wife Gretchen and I moved out of our one bedroom apartment into our 3 bedroom house. Naturally, we are excited to have the extra bedrooms for our guests and my office, the back yard for the dogs, and the elbow room we sorely lacked. For my career thus far, I have done 100% of my shooting ‘on location’. This is because I don’t own a studio, and I had no room to set up. All of my equipment was stored in a rolling container that lived in my trunk.

Our new house, though, has a garage. In exchange for the linen closet, which is now known as Gretchen’s Shoe Closet, I have been given full reign over the garage, and am free to do with it as I see fit. This is awesome. It’s certainly not perfect, but you know what? It’s mine. I’m very pumped to have a stable studio environment where I can work and experiment easily. All the challenges and surprises of a location shoot are now an *option*.

So, here, with illustrations, is my hot-rod home studio. Let’s start by looking at the space, so you can see what I have to work with. Here is a shot of the studio from outside looking in.
wide studio shot on flickr

Be sure to look at the rest in the stream, too, there are a lot of descriptions there that I do not cover here.

The total space is about 16 feet wide by 20 feet long by 8 feet tall. The height is a real issue in here, and I’ll explain why later. The walls and ceilings are painted white.

I have only two outlets in the whole garage, and one of them is on the ceiling, running the garage door opener. This presents a bit of a problem, because I have a lot of things to be plugged in: fans, lights, laptop, speakers, flash battery charger, camera batter charger. I am afraid of blowing a fuse if I make some power-strip fractal pattern in order to get the number of outlets I need to keep my fans blowing, my lights lit, my batteries charging and my laptop and speakers working. I do use two power strips here, and I make sure to unplug my batter chargers when I am shooting to reduce the strain.

Another big concern I have in the garage is the HEAT. Granted, it is August in Georgia. Luckily, summer is almost over, so the problem will solve itself shortly (until next year, when I may have a better idea). I am less concerned about heating in the winter than I am about cooling in the summer.

The height issue is a doozy for a few reasons:

I mentioned that the ceiling and walls are all white. The tight quarters means that any stray light gets bounced around quite a bit, making it difficult to restrict light coming from a direction opposite one of my walls or ceiling. This can be a good thing, too. Whenever a big, soft light is needed, I can just bounce it off the ceiling or wall to create a giant, soft light source. Secondly, a low ceiling means it is difficult to have a light positioned above me subject. Short of knocking holes in the ceiling, there’s not much I can do to work around this.

To help with both of these issues, I am currently installing an overhead truss system made from leftover PVC parts from my DIY Art Fair Booth, version 0. You can read more about it on flickr, and on the post I write when I am done building it.

I drilled holes through PVC end caps, and I am drilling through them into the overhead studs in the ceiling to provide a strong support for lights and other equipment. By varying the length of the ‘spacer’ pieces between the end caps and the truss rail, I can vary the height of my mounted equipment. The real beauty of my truss system is the total lack of footprint for my lights. I mentioned earlier that there is an outlet on the ceiling, so the whole system floats independently overhead. Since I don’t own any boom stands, it’s been impossible to get a light anywhere near over a subject’s head (barring the use of a lightstick, naturally). My trusses make this easy and painless. Besides hanging lights, I can also use the truss system to hang sheets of black fabric to block undesirable light spillage/reflections from ceiling and walls when they occur.

I am also proud of my backdrop system, which is almost identical to this one that showed up in my google reader recently. 2 eye hooks, mounted to studs in the ceiling provide the support for my backdrop pole (made of PVC, which sags at this length, soon to be replaced with steel conduit, which doesn’t) which clips to two pulleys with carabiners hooked to 2 more eyehooks drilled into my backdrop pole. Each backdrop has its own pole. To change them out, I just wrap the backdrop around the pole, unclick the carabiners from the eyehooks on the backdrop pole, store it and replace it by clicking in the new backdrop pole and raising it back up. Takes about 2 minutes. His design and mine are a little different. I like his better, but not enough to justify the cost and effort of changing mine, which is perfectly serviceable. He uses a double pulley on one side to make the tension even, and I use two single pulleys and gently hold the nearest end of the backdrop pole as I raise and lower it. Instead of his $50 auto-clicking sailing doohickey, I just use a regular boat-dock cleat to tie off the rope. This system works great for seamless paper and cloth backdrops.

I am currently working on a second backdrop system altogether for other surfaces. I haven’t built it yet, so I’m not yet sure how it will stand the test of use. The idea is to have large wall-mounted hooks from which I can mount a piece of sheet rock. The whole system will hang behind my cloth backdrop to save on space. I can cover it with funky wall-paper, paint it different colors and finishes (remember this from strobist?), hang fake brick on it for an urban look, or spraypaint graffiti on said fake brick for an ever more urban look! You get the idea. Like I said, I haven’t worked out the details of the design, yet. Once I’m done hanging my trusses I will tackle this engineering problem.

Finally, I want the space to be nice. Just because I’m shooting in my garage doesn’t mean I can’t have a pleasing and comfortable environment for my subjects and clients. To this end, I am working on keeping the area clean, dust and cobweb free, improving the lighting and decor, and having plenty of comfortable seating available. To make the garage a more palatable location, I plan to install a sliding curtain down the far left wall to hide our recycling and trash.

Eventually, I think I will stream images as they are shot right to my TV in my living room so my guests can relax in an area that is already comfortable and well-decorated (if I do say so myself) and still keep tabs on the goings-on in the studio.

Anyway, that has to be all for now. I spent a few days on this post, and I need it to be done so I can start the next. toodles.

Friday night, I shot a concert at the Masquerade, here in Atlanta, GA. I got a flat tire on the way to the venue, so I missed the first band. I got some great shots of the remaining bands Cattle Decapitation, Malevolent Creation, and Vader. Here are some highlights from the night, as well as breakdowns of how I got these shots. A lot of new concert photographers get extremely blurry pictures. Worse, they fall in love with the colors and think they are really awesome pictures. When you’re ready to shoot sharp pictures of concerts in a variety of venues, read on. I’ll be discussing different techniques and tricks for shooting live bands over time.

We’ll start simple this time, and focus (ha ha) on no-flash musician portraits. Concerts have beautiful, colored lights that make live music otherwordly. Unfortunately, the lights are extreme, unpredictable, and surprisingly dim. Shooting live music is all about compromise. You can have shutter speed, aperture, or ISO (Choose two.). You can use a flash to compensate, but the flash often times blows out the colorful ambient lighting, leaving you with an even, well-lit, yet boring image. I’m going to teach you some tricks on getting sharp band shots without a flash. It’s rather easy.

Set your ISO to at least 1000.

It varies from venue to venue, but I regularly shoot at 1600 and 3200 iso in order to get my shutter speed enough to shoot tack-sharp shots with ambient light. To a certain excent, grain is a matter of course for these types of images (but I’ll show you an idea for hiding grain in concert images later).

joie de vie photography

This first one was shot at 1/160th of a second at f/1.8, at 1600iso. I was able to take advantage of a still moment, with “plenty” of ambient light. I had my iso set high enough to allow me to get this tack-sharp portrait.

Use backlighting, underexpose and get sexy rim-light silhouettes.

Venues often have backlighting. When you can line up your subject between yourself and the lights, you can increase your shutter speed (and therefore sharpness, every little bit helps!) a stop or so, and freeze a moment.


I shot this image at 1/800th of a second at f/1.8, at 1600iso. The singer was spitting water. He had done it a couple times, so when I saw him getting ready to do it again, I squatted down to get him between me and the stage lights and cranked my shutter speed up to so I could capture the spray backlit against the stage lights.

Get a great low-light lens for cheap.

Canon makes a 50mm 1.8 AF lens for about $89 that, for the price, is the best low-light lens on the market. Get one. At that price, no excuse holds up.


This was shot at 1/160th of a second at f/1.8, at 3200 iso. It’s only sharp on the singer, and then it falls off. By sacrificing my depth of field (and the fast lens allows me to sacrifice even further than before), I was able to get a decent shutter speed to take advantage of this break in the action.

So, those are some ways that you can get sharp pictures at shows, without using a flash. Your point of focus can easily get off when it is so narrow and your subject is moving. It is not uncommon for you to throw away a lot of out of focus shots. If I shoot 250 shots of a band (I can do that in 3 songs if I’m really working hard), I will cut that number down to about 25. So, I end up keeping 1 out of every 10 shots.

Stay tuned here for more Behind the Shots articles, as well as more about shooting live music!