The Importance of Post-Processing (and why the photo isn't done after you press the shutter button)

A lot of people think that a photographer's job is done after the click of the shutter button. This couldn't be farther from the truth. The fact is, there is still much work to be done...enter "Post-Processing".

There is no doubt that the cameras of today are pretty darn good. The can meter a scene and get your exposure pretty darn close to what it needs to be. For the everyday person, it's good enough. For us photographers it's not quite there.

Let's look at a photo you might take when you are on vacation at say....Disney World.

The shot above is not a bad shot. I really like it...but of course it's mine.

Point being, a lot of people look at it straight out of camera and think "Hey that's pretty good". Well...yes and no. If you haven't seen the photos in a while or if you're the average person just taking photos, it probably is "good enough". For my fellow photographers out there...it needs help.

Here is the same photo a few min later after  a little work in Photoshop.

Ahhhh yes, this is much better. Sometimes a little work in Photoshop is all the difference you need.

So, as you can see, even your vacation shots can do with a little touching up.

How about we also look at some portrait work?

Here is an image I recently took of a dancer, straight out of camera.

Again, a lot of people would be ecstatic to get an image like this. Sure my softbox is sticking into the frame a bit, but we can crop that out.

To me, the looks great, but there is much more we can do. Here is the list of what I did:

  • Straightened the image
  • Cloned out the rest of the sofbox
  • Toned down the highlights
  • Added some warmth to the skin tones
  • Selective burning on the shadows
  • Added some overall warmth on the photo

Here is the final image I came up with

I don't know about you, but seems to me that it looks much nicer.

This is why it's important to not just accept what comes out of the camera. You can always make small changes that make a big impact. Take the time and do it right...especially when you're doing them for clients.

I know I owe it to my clients to give them the best images I can, and that's precisely what I do.

So the next time you are wondering "why does it take so long to get my photos back?". Just remember that I am sitting at my computer for hours after the shoot bringing out the very best for you.

That's all for now, if you have questions, you can certainly get a hold of me.

What to do When Shoots Slow Down

I figured I would start 2018 with a new post about what I do in my slow part of the season. During the winter months when no one is typically shooting outdoors, I revisit old work. Sometimes I cringe and ask myself “What was I thinking?”, but even so, I like to take time and try out new editing techniques.

Postprocessing, is often argued to be just as important as getting “the shot”. Our goal should always be : Get as much right in camera as possible. We want to eliminate as much work/time as we can “fixing” in Photoshop. The images I tend to revisit are what I would consider my favorites. No need to remove this, tuck that, smooth this…all the stars aligned and I got “the shot”. For me there is always at least one in every session I do, like the image below:

Something about this photo keeps pulling me in and I can’t help but think “What can I do from an editing standpoint to really make this photo more”. It’s not that I think it’s a bad photo, quite the contrary. It’s just that I am constantly trying to push myself and continue to improve. It’s all about putting my distinctive touch on it and designing my own style. So, I dust off the drawing tablet and get to work.
So for this exercise we will be using the photo above. Let’s see what we can do to add a little extra “oomph”.

I take time to really try to dissect the image as best as I can. Let’s start with my subject.  She has great lines. Her arms are well defined, her cheek bones, jawline, and her shoulder. She exudes a powerful presence, so how do I further show that?

Contrast – No, I do not mean the “Contrast slider”. For me personally, I forget a contrast slider even exists for portraits I light. In this case you can see she has very fair skin, and if I tweak contrast using the slider, her skin is going to go nuclear white…not exactly what I want. What I want is to more clearly define the shadows her muscles and bones are creating.

So I throw a Black and White adjustment layer on top of the original and set my blend mode to “Soft Light”…why? Because it gives me nice contrast without going nuts. Everything I do is using adjustment layers. You just can’t go wrong with them. After getting my layer setup, I tweak each color on the panel until I get the look I want.

With Contrast locked in, I take time to start color toning the image. I’m not going to get into that in this post, it’s a long process that I am just really starting to delve into. Look it up on Youtube, there are far better people at it then me.

For toning, what I did was moved some extra magenta in to tone the greens down a bit more, pulled the green down from the grass around her, toned the tree back a little bit so it wasn’t competing with her for attention (it was similar color/brightness to her skin) and finally added some additional blue to her jeans to get them to pop a little.

Here is the end result next to the original:

Me personally, I like the 2nd image just a bit better, but that’s just me.

Images can (and probably should) be revisited to try and pull a little extra “something” out of them. Of course, it’s up to you as a photographer if you want to or not. I figure it gives me a chance to try out some stuff that I may want to use in the future. That’s it for now. Take care!

A Beginner’s Start to Photographing Indoor Sports with a DSLR

Part 1 – Intro, Flash, White Balance and ISO

Nikon D600 Nikon 70-200 F/2.8 VR II | F/3.2 1/400th @ ISO 6400

This is a long post... I’ve divided it up into three different parts to make it more manageable. Basically it’s a brain dump for me trying to help out those who struggle with photographing their kids during sporting (particularly indoor) events. This is primarily focused on DSLR cameras, but if you have a point-and-shoot or cellphone that allows you to shoot manual, the same information applies. Hopefully you find this useful.

Ever been sitting in the stands, eye glued to your camera’s viewfinder hoping to catch a photo of your child doing something spectacular and after you take the photo you look at the image and it’s blurry and ruined? Yeah, we’ve all been there once or twice, you’re not alone.

Let me first start by saying I am not a “sports” photographer. I don’t shoot for Sports Illustrated, newspapers, or any publications. I’m a parent that is trying to capture these fleeting moments in my child’s life. Obviously, you can see by the content on my site I spend most of my time shooting portraits. But, I have learned quite a few things about shooting in these poorly lit gymnasiums by following my daughter around as she competed in different sports. She was in volleyball for a bit, softball (though this is much easier on the camera because you are outside during the day), and now she competes on the high school dance team. My goal with this post is to help those of you that are having difficulty getting your settings dialed in and have the camera work for you. Maybe you can learn something from my mistakes or maybe I can offer that little nugget of info you’ve been looking for. Either way, I really hope this helps.

Camera Flash – Turn it off. As you may have already guessed or witnessed, it doesn’t help you much if at all. Being in the bleachers, you are way too far away for it to be effective. You can try using a speedlight (big flash that sits on top of the camera), but you’ll probably still be disappointed with the results. Ever notice how the flash is disabled when you put your camera on the “Running Man” mode? There is a reason for that.

White Balance – I always set a custom white balance regardless of if I am shooting portraits or am in a gym. It gives me much more accurate colors than using Auto and even some of the other advanced modes. On my camera there are the standard settings like auto, incandescent, fluorescent, daylight, cloudy, shade, flash, and color temperature. Each one of those settings has another set of settings. It’s great to have so many options, but I myself don’t want to try and fiddle through all of them looking to see what looks best.

I myself use an ExpoDisc 2.0 (unless I am doing studio portrait work, then I have a ColorChecker Pro…we won’t get into that this post). The Expodisc quick, easy, and portable (no I don’t get anything for saying that, I just really like it). I literally can have a custom white balance in like 5 seconds, and I never have to touch it again for the duration of the meet. It really makes editing the images a heck of a lot easier because I am not trying to figure out where my white balance should be. If you’re interested, you can find more information here: https://www.expodisc.com/products/expodisc-2-0

Well then, what white balance do I use? Well, 99% of the time, you can look up at the lighting and know what the gym is using. More often than not, it’s fluorescent. So, that’s a good place to start. In some cases, schools still use metal halide lamps (they look like big domes pointed down from the ceiling). In those cases, try using the “incandescent” setting. This may/may not work, depending on the color temperature of the bulb. Sometimes they trick you and it looks like metal halides, but they’ve replaced them with LED bulbs that are daylight balanced, which can throw you off. Your eyes can still tell the difference in light temperature though. Ever put a “Daylight” compact fluorescent light bulb in your home? Notice how “white” the light looks? If you are seeing “white” light, try “Daylight” or “Cloudy” and see what you come up with. Most likely it will look much better than if you just put it on Auto, at least in my experience it has. If the light looks more yellowish/orange (think “soft white”) try the incandescent setting. If these settings are still giving you problems, then feel free to put it on auto and go for it. Close is better than people turning purple or green.

But…this is exactly why I set my own white balance. By the time I have tried all these different settings, and like what I see, I would have been done and shooting.

Going Up with ISO –

 

The above images were shot with a Nikon D80 (almost 11 years old now) with ISO’s of 1000 and 1250…..from an 11 year old camera. I highly doubt anyone reading this has an 11 year old camera they are using. Feel free to save those images and check the exif data for the settings. Looking at them now, I can see there is some noise reduction going on, so I must have done something to them, but they are from 2012…and I surely can’t remember. Either way, still not too shabby for an 11 year old camera.

Let’s discuss ISO. ISO for those who don’t know….(hey that rhymed)….is how sensitive to light your camera sensor is. This higher the ISO, the more sensitive….but with a drawback: noise. We all know what that is, it’s often referred to as “grain” or you hear about a “grainy” image. For a lot of people, noise can “wreck” a photo. I’m here to tell you “no, no it won’t”. A great photo is a great photo regardless of how much noise is present. Don’t believe me? Go look at some of the sports photos that were shot on film or even on some of the first generation DSLR cameras. Noise has always and will always be in our images. Back in the film days, they referred to it as “film grain”. This is because it was the individual grains of metallic silver that was being developed that created the effect. Much like todays sensors, the lower the “ASA” (ASA is the film equivalent of ISO) of the film, the smaller the grain size, the cleaner the image. But, it required a longer exposure required to get the image. Same thing with ISO in our modern day cameras. The lower the ISO, the longer the exposure needs to be in order to capture the image. This is why we increase our ISO, because we want very short exposures to capture motion.

Gyms are poorly lit…from a camera’s point of view. We have to figure out how to work with what we have. We still want to shoot the lowest ISO we can because it gives us the best quality images, but we don’t want to sacrifice our shutter speed for it. With fast action, shutter speed can be everything.

Personally, I am more concerned about shutter speed than I am noise. A blurry photo is a blurry photo regardless of how much noise is present. Great photos are great photos period. Stop worrying about noise. You need to learn to live with noise, especially at high school events, especially if you have an entry level/ mid-level equipment. There is not a noiseless camera on the market. Noise is always there, just in varying degrees, but there are ways to mitigate it.

Before we really start, I want to mention something that I learned later on in my photographic life that I wish I would have known sooner. When you zoom into a photo and it says it’s at 100%, that’s the equivalent of printing that image around 6-8 feet wide and looking at it from the same distance. How many times do you walk up to a wall mural and look at it from a foot to two feet away? Probably not often, if ever. If you want a good representation of what your image would look like at a normal viewing distance, zoom to 100%, get up and walk four feet away and look at it. You will see that the noise almost disappears like magic! We didn’t even have to use any software to do it. It’s just because we changed our viewing distance to better reflect how we would actually see it if we hung it on a wall as opposed to seeing it from our chair. Ever notice on your computer screen the smaller the image, the better it looks? Same principal. I have seen billboards that were shot on “Pro” 12 megapixel cameras. Today’s entry level cameras are coming with 24 megapixels standard and are going up from there. 36 and 48 are probably going to become the new “norm” pretty quickly.

Billboards are huge, but because we see them from so far away, we don’t notice those tiny imperfections we would on the computer screen. A little caveat: When you start cropping your images, noise becomes much more visible. If find you’re doing a lot of cropping to get in close, you may want to start considering a longer lens. The techniques listed below might help a little…but really, if you’re cropping all the time, you’re being limited by your gear, and it might be time to upgrade.

My advice with viewing photos: look at them at a 50% zoom (or a 1:2 ratio in Lightroom). If it looks good there, don’t worry about them and move on.

So what do I do about noise? Well it all depends. There are varying opinions on the subject, but for me I’ve limited myself to 3 options:

  1. Do nothing – Live with it

  2. Over expose the image 1/3rd – 2/3rds  of a  stop (I bet there are some people throwing eyebrows up right now…I’ll explain, I promise)

  3. Use software to reduce it (to a point)

Do Nothing – Learn to Live With It –

While many purists would say this is what you should do, it’s your decision. For me it’s based on the image and what I am trying to accomplish. Sometimes I use noise reduction software, sometimes not, it’s a personal call. Just know its ok to live with noise in your image and “Do Nothing”. There are many times I have “Done Nothing” and been just fine. By do nothing, I also mean disabling Noise Reduction in camera as well. Noise reduction in camera can be detrimental to small details. In RAW using the right processes, you can still pull those details out while still reducing noise.

Overexpose (assuming you shoot RAW) –

So this is controversial to some, but it makes perfect sense to me. Noise lives in the dark. If you notice where the bulk of the noticeable noise is, it’s in your shadows/blacks. Try it. Take a picture underexposed and see how much noise is there. Now take the same image 1/3rd – 2/3rds overexposed. Take your image into your editing software and adjust your exposure back down that 1/3rd or 2/3rd stop, the noise seems to melt away into those shadows. Resulting in a cleaner image. Adjusting your black levels and highlight levels can further minimize visible noise. Yes, we need to post process the images, but we only want the best of the best right? If you’re shooting RAW, you need to process the images anyway, or they look flat and washed out.

Now, this method is a little more gear restricted while shooting indoors. Just know if you have a lens that is F/4.5-5.6, F/3.5-5.6, or f/4.5-6.3 you’re going to have to increase ISO farther to maintain a fast enough shutter speed (more on this in Part 2). And by doing so, you are introducing more noise into your photo.

Using Software to Reduce Noise –

Again, this is controversial for some. The truth is, any noise reduction technique is going to blur your image to reduce the noise. This can lead to images looking soft or muddy, especially if over used. Sometimes I use it, sometimes I don’t. Again, that decision is made based on what I am doing.

Say I underexposed a great shot. I edit it back to where the exposure is correct. Darn, now I have made the noise even more noticeable. This would be an instance where I would use noise reduction software. But, how I would use it would be to try and reduce the noise down to the level it was prior to me editing the photo. I would not try and reduce it to 0. If I reduce the noise to 0, it can and it will create a look that feels “cartoonish”, or just plain old icky. A lot of details are going to be lost. I’m ok losing some detail to get the noise back down as close to the original as possible, because, If I tweaked the image that much there is a pretty good possibility that I might see it in print. Want a better idea of what your image will look like noise wise in print? Try out the technique below.

This little experiment will cost you a little over $3.50, but very well may save you thousands of dollars on a new camera body that you could put into getting a better lens. Take a photo at say ISO 6400 and look at it on your computer screen at 100%. Yep, it’s grainy, you can see the noise, heck you can probably see it at 50% depending on your camera. Anyway, go to Walmart and print out a 4x6, 5x7, and 8x10 of that image. How much noise do you see? Open up your image on your computer and zoom out on the same photo to around the same size as your prints. Let me know how much noise you see…I bet the answer is none. I know because I’ve done it. If your cheap and don’t want to print photos, cut 3 sheets of paper one 4”x6”, one 5”x7”, and one 8”x10”. Hold each sheet of paper over the image and zoom out until the image on the screen is about the same size of the paper. This would be similar to printing those sizes. I picked those sizes because they are the most commonly printed sizes. This of course can be done with larger sizes, but it gives you an idea.

Now I know some people will think I am crazy and say that test isn’t even remotely accurate, because most photos are printed at 300dpi and your monitor is only around 96dpi, so there’s all this missing information on your screen you won’t see until you print. Again, I say, print out that 8x10. If you’re that broke and can’t, I’ll give you the $3.00 to get it at Walmart. Hold it up to the screen, zoom your image out and take a peek.

This post is geared towards home users, moms and dads, and the like. This is not for “The Pros” or for printing stuff like advertisements. This is for mom and dad to hang a nice shot of their kid on the wall.

In the end, it’s really not worth pixel-peeping (looking at every image at 100% zoom looking for flaws), because you are going to drive yourself nuts. Do what you can with what you have. Accept the limitations of your gear and find a way to work with them.

Thanks for hanging in there, good luck! See you in Part 2.

Nikon D600 Nikon 70-200 F/2.8 VR II | F/3.2 1/800 @ ISO 3200 | Shot Through the Glass

What is "My Style"?

I am a portrait photographer. As many know, I spend a lot of time shooting senior portraits. I have a few weddings thrown in there, as well as some family stuff, but they all have one common thread, they are portraiture. I have painstakingly customized my gear over the course of my time to fit the needs of what I wanted to show people in photography...a little drama. Take the image below. It shows how 99% of the photographers around would shoot it: Properly exposed for ambient light.

 

It's  not a bad image and a lot of people would be quite happy to have it. I on the other hand would not. It doesn't fit the style I am looking for. For me it lacks the "pizzazz" I try to bring to every shoot.

Here we have the same subject, same location, same camera...but with my style of lighting thrown into the mix.

_JDB0087.jpg

 

A little different huh? The second image is me. It is my style of shooting. I want people to have photos that have "punch". I want my subject to jump off the image and smack you in the face. I want the viewers to look at my images and say "Wow, that's really awesome". My style is something that not everyone with a camera can do.

Now I am not trying to say that the other photographers around are bad or that I am better than they are, or anything of the sort...not at all. I am saying that I have a different way of shooting that some people may like, and some people may not. That's ok. It's ok to be different.

I go the extra mile hauling around 40lbs of lighting gear on a stand to get shots like this. So, no, you won't get 150 images when you come to my shoot. What I will promise you is that you'll get images that will be different, unique, and difficult to choose from...and that's my goal. If you can't pick your favorite, I have done my job.

Which do you prefer? How do you want your story to look? Does the photographer's work reflect how you want your story  told? Those are two very important questions to ask when finding a photographer to shoot your memories. Thanks for visiting and reading along. Feel free to leave comments below on which you prefer and why. 

5 Questions I Would Ask My Photographer

Contrary to popular belief, my first question would not be "What kind of camera/gear do you use?". The fact is, with the advancement of technology even today's entry level SLR cameras are capable of professional results (in the right hands of course :) ). In no particular order, here is a breakdown of what I would ask my photographer if I were shopping around.

1. How long have you been shooting?

                There is nothing wrong with asking someone new to the art to take photos. Chances are if you have selected a photographer or two you like their work. I have known some amazing photographers that may have only been shooting for less than a year. It's ok to give someone a chance who is brand new. In some cases it works to your advantage because it can lead to a less expensive shoot.
On the flip side, sometimes you want the security of knowing someone has been doing this for a long time. When you only get one chance (like say a wedding) you definitely don't want to leave too much to chance. Typically the more seasoned photographers command a higher price, but they also can be relied on to get the job done right...the first time.

2. What do you do to separate yourself from other photographers (Why should I pick you)?

                Like I said previously, if you've selected some photographers you like, there is a reason. Whether it's their shooting style, location choices, post-processing or whatever, you like them. It's very helpful to have them explain the process to you. It also helps solidify that they can achieve the same results with you. Having them answer this question definitely helps open the door to let them get the chance to tell you what they have to offer.

3. Do you have the capabilities to shoot low light without flash?

                Undoubtedly some people looking at this are either getting married or might know someone getting married. This question is most important to them. Many churches where the ceremony is held either do not allow, or very much prefer no flash photography. It's a distraction for everyone involved. There ceremony in the church is a very special and spiritual part of the day. It definitely doesn't look good having a bunch of flashes popped off during the ceremony. This is where gear makes a difference. Entry level lenses just won't cut it here, this is where someone who has invested in their gear starts to shine. They can fire off those candid shots and capture the ceremony without anyone really knowing they are there.
The other part to this is at the reception. During the dinner there is a great ambiance that many venues put a lot of time and effort into. It's a time to enjoy dinner and socialize. Running around throwing bright light in everyone's face often leads to distracted guests who may not necessarily like being blinded for the next few minutes. Plus it really calls a lot of attention to the photographer and there may be some missed shots as people duck away from the lens. During the dances are a different story. Most DJs have a light show that goes on during that time, and an occasional pop of a flash for the most part will go unnoticed.

 

4. How much post processing is included with the price (for things such as acne, skin blemishes, braces)?

            Post-Processing is not just dropping a cool filter on the photo to make it look like it was shot in the 1800's. It's a time consuming task to pull the very best out of your image. Believe it or not, some people do not offer post-processing, or they even may charge extra. The simple truth is all photos need to be "developed" after the shot is taken, just like film.
There is no "Click and Done" when it comes to my work. A typical wedding for me is 12-14hrs on location and another 40-60 hours of editing afterwards.  A seasoned photographer knows there will always be a need for a little extra work to pull out the very best in your photographs. For me, I have color corrections to make, lens distortion to fix, maybe some acne or braces to remove...the list goes on. You've spent hard earned money on your photographer and it's our job to give you the best results we can.
Here is and example of the photo directly out of the camera:

 

Here it is after the post-production:

 

Which would you choose?

5. What is you process for prints and how does printing work?

            What is the sense of hiring a photographer only to have your photos printed at the local 1 hour lab? Believe me when I say, there is an inherent difference. You can search the internet and find a lot of examples of Pro Lab vs less expensive labs. The truth is, it's very difficult to tell when you are only looking at one image. But when you put them side-by-side the differences start to become very apparent. All my prints come with a guarantee. All my prints are printed on archival paper. As long as they are in a frame (doesn't matter if it's from a dollar store or you spend $300 getting it done professionally) I guarantee them for 100+ years. The reason for the frame is simply because as people look at them and handle them , people have a tendency to warp them slightly (not on purpose, it's just a natural occurrence).

Conclusion:

You'll notice I never once asked how much they charge. Price is a concern, but for me not a top concern. I let their work speak and the questions I ask lead me to know whether or not the price they are asking is really aligned with their abilities. If I ask these questions and I get a response of....blank stares,  an answer like: "Well I'm not really sure",  or the dreaded "Ummmmmm", red flags go up and the conversation comes to an end.
The main point I am trying to make is, know your photographer and make sure they meet your expectations. These questions are to help you get a better understanding of what they can/can't do for you. Make the best educated decision you can on if they are the right fit for you. Ultimately you are the one spending the money, so spend it wisely.

Why I photograph Like I do

You may or may not have noticed, but I like headshots. 90% of my shots are 3/4 length and tighter (sometimes to my wife's dismay). I like filling the frame with as much of my subject as possible, and it's pretty clear in my work. You might be asking "Why?" right about now and the answer is simple...emotion

This is the part where I list off two pages of people who have inspired me....right? Well, I was going to do that but there are people that inspire me every day and not just photographers. But if you'd like a little list of photographers...here ya go (in no particular order): Gregory Heisler, Zack Arias, Joe McNally, Frank Doorhof, Scott Kelby, Lindsay Adler, David Ziser, RC Conception....and a slew of others that are all well known. What about those that aren't? Ever heard of Nick Fancher, Dani Diamond, Regina Pagles, Suzy Mead, or Roberto Olivadoti? Probably not, but look them up. I am inspired by my fellow photographers in my photo club as well, we have some very talented people there. So, I can't just thank one or two people for getting me into this...I have a lot!

Anyway, back to the topic, why I shoot like I do. Simple really, I very much like having a connection with my subjects. It's what photographers are supposed to do isn't it? Our job is to illicit an emotional response from the people viewing our work. It could either be a warm and happy feeling, or cold and sad. Either way, it is a success if we make our audience feel a connection with our photos. And for me it's shooting in tight with my subject looking back.

I like having my subjects eyes connect with me or the viewer. I know there are a lot of photos that don't have the people directly looking into the camera that are amazing, and maybe I just suck at doing those, but they are out there. I often try to keep it in the back of my mind, but end up falling short during the shoot. For some reason, most of them don't translate well after I view them...they look awkward to me...something for me to work on I suppose. To me, there is just something that seems to draw you in when you have that eye to eye contact.

Perhaps it's something rudimentary engrained in us of wanting to know we are being noticed. Think about it, when you're having a conversation with someone, would you prefer to have them looking all over the place or looking attentively back at you? For me, I would definitely want them to be looking at me.  So, I bring that into my photos. I want my subject to "engage" the audience. It's still crazy to me how an inanimate portrait can still interact and evoke emotions even if it was taken a couple hundred years ago. That's pretty powerful stuff.

For most of my portrait work, which right now if focused on Seniors, I want to have that senior engaging their friends and family through their portraits. To me, that's what Senior photos are all about. Having their friends and family feel as if that photo was taken for them. Something to say "Hey, you are special to me".  Capturing that special moment in their life for everyone to enjoy for years to come. It's why you don't see me using a bunch of filters or effects on my portraits.

For me, filters are a fad. It's either black and white, or color with my portraits. Those will always stand the test of time. A few years from now when all the "Instagram" filters have run their course, there are probably going to be a few people that are going to say "Man I wish I had one of these without that effect". Of course the client gets what they want, and if they want a selective colored, sepia toned, distressed image...I'll be happy to oblige. But...I still keep one unaltered image around...just in case.

I just try to create images people will enjoy and cherish. Something they will be proud of and be able to share with future generations. Everyone deserves it...everyone.