Do You Insure Your Camera Equipment?

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I’ve posted before about my policy insuring my photography equipment. I spent some time yesterday updating my ‘inventory list’ for the insurance company to make sure that everything is covered in case of accident or theft. This is something that I do a few times a year. By keeping a detailed list with model numbers, replacement cost and serial numbers (and providing this list to the insurance company) I feel confident in knowing what I am insuring and that I have sufficient coverage.

I thought I’d share this today to either serve as a reminder for other photographers to update their insurance policy to make sure all their equipment is covered or to maybe motivate those without coverage to look into getting it.

Obtaining insurance is relatively inexpensive to do. Taking into account the amount of my annual premium, I could easily pay it for over 25 years before having a loss and still come out ahead. Given the recent thefts of cameras in Salt Lake City, I think there is now more reason than ever to insure your gear.

Canon 5D, Canon 24-105 f/4L lens – 1/640 second, f/6.3, ISO 160

November 25, 2009 at 7:52 am by | Categories: tutorial

Stock Images: To Process or Not

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Image © Kenneth Linge. Used with Permission

 

There is a commonly held perception that for images to be accepted into a contributors portfolio at iStock, photoshop work should be kept to a minimum. I have received numerous emails from frustrated contributors who have received several rejections wanting to know how they can get their images accepted. My answer usually comes back to looking at their workflow and suggesting to limit the processing that they are doing to their images.

I want to show an example today that heavily processed images, when done properly, can be accepted into iStockphoto.

Today’s image is one taken by my friend Kenneth Linge (and used here as an example with his permission). Kenneth recently had this image accepted into his portfolio on iStockphoto.com. Since he is neither an exclusive contributor nor one with a lot of sales on the site, it even further helps by showing that there was no (perceived) favoritism helping with the acceptance.

The image of Jamie (which is Killer in my opinion), was heavily processed in photoshop. The key to it being accepted is that the editing work was done completely by hand (no presets or actions) and done with extreme care not to degrade the file in any way. Sharpening was kept to a minimum (and probably done with the “high pass” method), saturation adjustments kept subtle, and skin tones not overly smoothed.

What seeing acceptance has done for me is inspired me to kick up my editing a bit and push the boundaries. I have long talked about how I edit my images yet keep them a bit generic. Maybe it’s time I challenge my 90+% acceptance rate with some more extreme processing.

For a behind-the-scenes in the lighting used for this image, click Here to visit Kenneth’s blog.

September 25, 2009 at 8:33 am by | Categories: tutorial

Tales of this Knucklehead Photographer

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Last month I was approached by my good friend and fellow photographer Ann Torrence to take an outdoor portrait of her for her soon to be released book. She wanted a natural looking image to be used in the About the Author section of the book. We needed to take the picture before April 18th. The reason for the timing of the session was that Ann was preparing to embark on a Colorado River rafting expedition and would be cutting her hair extremely short the next day (and by extremely short, I mean BUZZ CUT short!) and wanted her portrait to portray her with her hair at a normal length.

After a bit of discussion, we opted for taking the image along Highway 89 (the subject of Ann’s book) in downtown Salt Lake City. I envisioned an image with her standing in the middle of the street with the background showing the highway (State Street in Salt Lake City) leading up to the capitol building. Ann’s idea was a picture of her along the highway with the Salt Lake City City-County building in the background. We shot both versions and had planned to let blog readers vote on which one would be used in the book.

Now for the Knucklehead part.

After our short streetside photo session, I re-packed my gear and we hopped into my car for the short ride back to Pictureline to drop Ann off (we left her car there). I then went about my normal routine for the rest of the day with my gear stowed in the trunk of my Saab – forgetting all about Ann’s images.

My standard routine after a shoot is to copy the images from the memory card to my redundant external harddrives. In this case, I got busy for the remainder of the day and did not do so (big mistake #1).

The next morning I had a portrait session scheduled in the studio with one of my models Kylee. When she arrived we chatted a bit about the images we were going to shoot while I finished prepping my gear. Without a bit of hesitation while we were talking I grabbed my 5DmkII and instinctively formatted the card (big mistake #2). Now had I remembered that Ann’s images on that card I could have pulled the card immediately and used another card (big mistake #3). Instead, I went on with the shoot not even remembering the Highway 89 outing from the day before.

Kylee Headshot
Kylee’s portrait from the next morning session

Later that afternoon when copying the images from the day’s shoot I had what can best described as a Panic Moment. We’ve all had them. It is the moment that you realize that you’ve made a major blunder and suddenly the temperature in the room increases what feels like 20 degrees. It was at this moment that I remembered Ann’s pics were on the freshly formatted card I used for Kylee’s shoot. It was at near the same moment when I realized that Ann was also sporting a new Buzz cut in preparation for her trip and a re-shoot was out of the question for at least 3-4 months.

Trying not to overreact, I remembered that I had previously purchased software to rescue a corrupt memory card. The software is DataRescue’s PhotoRescue and I blogged about it back in 2007. Even though my memory card was not corrupted, I decided to give the software a run to see what it could find on the card. The good news was that it found and recovered about half of the images from the shoot. Even better, the ones it recovered were the pose/background shots that Ann preferred.

Disaster avoided!

Last week Ann telephoned to tell me about her trip. It was at this time that I came clean with her about our photoshoot and my knuckleaded move. I’m happy to say that I have never heard her laugh as hard as she did when she heard the story. Whew!

In light of this, we have instituted a new policy for the staff at Legacy One Photography (umm, that’s only me). Before any cards are formatted the photographer will take a moment and review the images on said card.

Now if anyone wants to make me feel better, take a moment and share one of your Knucklead stories in the comments. If I don’t see any I guess I will go on thinking I’m the only one who does these things :)

May 11, 2009 at 12:15 pm by | Categories: tutorial

Photographing Children – Some of What I’ve Learned

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Anyone who has spent much time photographing children will probably agree with me when I say that there is a special place in heaven for photographers that specialize in taking pictures of children. Taking pictures of youngsters can be one of the most rewarding tasks, but it can also be one of the most frustrating.

Specializing in stock photography gives me the freedom to photograph a wide range of subjects, but one subject that seems to be frequently revisited is children. While I don’t count myself as an expert child photographer, I have learned a few things along the way that I thought I’d share in today’s post.

GET ON THEIR LEVEL

The feature image of cute little Saylor on the top of this page is a perfect example of this. While doing the studio portrait session she was acting a little bit shy and put her head down on the floor. When I saw this, I quickly got down adjacent to her to capture the scene. By putting my camera literally on the floor, I was able to create a viewpoint that few adults (grandparents etc.) in her life will ever see of her.

One thing I would have liked to do different on this shot was to have quickly dropped my lights to a lower position. The height of the lightstands eliminated any catchlights in her eyes. However, if I had taken the time to adjust the lights I could have missed the shot – which brings me to my next point:

BE READY

Kids, and especially babies, can change moods in what seems like a microsecond. The photographer can come into the shoot with a distinct plan on what and how they want to shoot and an upset child can quickly derail it.

Baby Outtake Sample

This image of baby Chloe is an example of this. The plan for the session was to create newborn images for the birth announcement. Unfortunately, Chloe didn’t get the memo. She wanted no part of being anywhere but in mom or dad’s arms. During the shoot she became extremely unhappy being in front of the lights with mom. To help soothe her, dad took her into his arms and stepped just out of the frame. Seeing this tender scene I quickly spun a softbox around and took the picture. The spontaneous un-planned image became the final shot for the announcement.

EXAGGERATE

Similar to the first tip of getting on their level, I like to also exaggerate parts of a scene when photographing children. This might involve an extreme wide angle close-up shot, over-the-top laughing or like in this example shooting from a very high angle.

Preschool Sample

For this stock image, which is one of my top sellers, I stood on a step ladder to create the look. When looking at the image the viewer doesn’t get the impression that it was taken from nearly 9 feet up, just an exaggerated perception that these are little girls.

INVOLVE THINGS FROM EVERYDAY LIFE

In addition to the simple backgrounds that seem to typify my studio work, I like to do environmental portraits of children. For me this means shooting images of them involving things from their everyday life. Toys, pets, in their room, etc.

of Children and Dogs

Here is an example of including a pet in the image. While having a rambunctious golden retriever in a portrait can be a challenge (note that he didn’t even look at me!), the inclusion adds another element to the image and can be especially meaningful to the family.

KEEP IT SHORT

Especially with babies, keep the session short. Don’t worry about capturing numerous shots, but try and get one or two keepers. I know that when I’ve tried to keep shooting to get “that one shot” after the child has become bored/tired/upset with the experience, it seems to do nothing more than frustrate me, the subject and the parents.

Little Miss Happy

In a studio session of Chloe (a few months after her newborn pic above), this image of the happy little girl is literally one of only two shots she smiled in and it was taken right at the beginning of the shoot. Shortly after this was taken, she decided that she wanted no part of what we (her parents and I) had planned for her. We could have stopped after 5 exposures and already had our best for the day.

ELIMINATE DISTRACTIONS (PARENTS)

When photographing children it is a parent’s instinct to want to help the photographer make the child smile. This can be a frustrating thing for the photographer. Inevitably, the parent can help get a great expression but in it the child is looking off to the side and not at the camera. My recommendation is to graciously talk with mom and dad before shooting and explain that you can get better results if they are off to the side and out of the child’s sight.

These are just a few of the things that come to mind when I think about photographing children. I would love to learn what other photographers do to create great kid photos. If you’ve got something you’d like to add, please chime in with a comment or two.

April 21, 2009 at 9:22 am by | Categories: tutorial

Headshot on White

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One of my favorite models, Kylee, needed a simple headshot for an application so she came by the studio on Saturday so I could shoot it. This gave me an opportunity to work in the studio environment for one of the first times with the two White Lighting monolights with large octaboxes that I recently added to my lighting setup.

By using the lighting setup diagrammed below, I was able to create a portrait isolated on a pure white background without the need for additional background adjustment or “cutting out” in Photoshop. The addition of the two octaboxes (36″ and 48″) to my existing three softbox inventory has greatly increased my versatility in the studio. Additionally, I really like the round(ish) catchlights from these lights compared to the rectangular shaped catchlights I get with my large softboxes.

Headshot Lighting Diagram

Canon 5D Mark II, Canon 70-200 f/4L lens – 1/100 second, f/8, ISO 100

April 20, 2009 at 8:24 am by | Categories: tutorial

Using On Camera Flash for a Quick Outdoor Portrait

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One of my quick-and-easy methods of shooting outdoor portraits is to position the subject with the sun at their back and then fill in their faces with an on camera flash. While this method of lighting is probably considered somewhat remedial for many experienced photographers, it is a technique that I get asked about on a fairly regular basis.

For this portrait of Bret and Jarica, I waited until the setting sun was just above a nearby building (the Federal Courthouse in downtown Salt Lake City) and the shade line was closing in on the bench they were sitting on. By waiting for the last few minutes of sunlight, the background was almost entirely in shade. I positioned the bench so that the sunlight would provide a rimlight around Bret and splash a small amount onto his face.

Once I had the subjects in position, I adjusted the flash compensation of my on-board flash (Canon 580EX II) to fill in the shade with a natural looking light. I accomplished this with a minus 1 f/stop setting relative to the natural light. The camera was set to A/V (aperture priority) setting with the lens wide open at f/4.

When I have an assistant with me I will frequently shoot a portrait like this with reflector light to fill in the faces. However, on an evening like this one where I was working alone, a strobe created fill light serves as a nice substitute.

Canon 5D Mark II, Canon 70-200 f/4L lens – 1/400 second, f/4, ISO 400

April 15, 2009 at 11:16 am by | Categories: tutorial

Recapping the Budget Studio Lighting Mini-Clinic

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Clinic Example Portrait

Last night’s Photowalking Utah mini-clinic at the Salt Lake City library was a great success. Even though the event didn’t feature any walking (unless you count the trek up to the 4th floor), it turned out to be our most attended event to date with 86 photographers participating. The theme of the clinic was “How to Get Great Studio Lighting Results for Under $250”. In the session I showed how to create nice studio portraits using some of the absolute lowest price lighting available.

Clinic Behind the Scenes 5

I really enjoy sharing my somewhat limited photography knowledge with others and doing this through the Photowalking Utah group has become a nice venue for teaching and learning. Even though the internet provides an abundance of free information for photographers to learn from, there is just something about getting several dozen like-minded folks together that increases the ability to share and learn.

Clinic Behind the Scenes 1

As a follow-up to the session, I want to take a few moments and share some of the simple setups I demoed along with some links to el-cheapo budget lighting equipment.

Clinic Behind the Scenes 2

I began with a balanced two-light setup. This is my absolute least favorite setup and one that I rarely (if ever) use. This is the lighting arrangement that I was trained to use back in the eighties during my days as a school picture photographer (eek!).

After showing this setup, I made a quick change to the lighting arrangement to give a key-light with on-axis fill. Unlike the previous balanced setup, on this configuration I set the key light at 1.5 f/stops more powerful than the fill light. This is an extremely simple yet useful setup that I was taught by my friend Kenneth Linge. I use a variation of this quite frequently.

After these two initial setups, I showed several more ways to create different feels by moving the lights around. While all of the arrangements can be classified as rather simple, they can serve as a nice starting point for a photographer new to using off-camera studio lights.

Clinic Behind the Scenes 3

Here is a setup using a shoot-through umbrella for the key (or main) light and a small softbox for the hair light. The top image of Diane in today’s post was shot at the clinic using this arrangement.

Another variation of the previous setup involved bringing in a reflector to add light to the darker side of the model’s face. Unlike the diagram below which shows a $50 reflector, in keeping with the budget theme of the night I used a $1 piece of white foam board.

One of the last setups I demonstrated involved using a single light above and behind the model. I then used two of the $1 white boards taped together to create a V-Card held under the model’s face to reflect light back onto her face. This gave a nice rim-light combined with a very soft light on her face.

For the demonstration I used a pair of probably the cheapest mono-lights available – Adorama Budget 100 Studio Monolights. They can be picked up for around $50 each. LINK

Clinic Behind the Scenes 4

I’m really thankful for having the opportunity to facilitate classes like this. If the turnout at last night’s event is any indication, I expect we will see a great turnout for tomorrow’s Studio Lighting Photowalk. It promises to be a lot of fun!

p.s. Big props go out to Diane for being such a patient model and not minding that my shots of her were scrutinized in front of everyone on the projector screen :)

February 20, 2009 at 3:10 pm by | Categories: photowalking, tutorial

My New Year’s Resolution: Using a Monopod

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Rich Legg, Photographer
image by Scott Jarvie

One of my photography resolutions for the new year was to use a monopod for the majority of my shooting. The reason is quite simple: to create sharper images.

Two photographers whose work I greatly admire, Kenneth Linge and Yuri Arcurs, use a monopod the majority of the time. Kenneth (international award winning wedding/portrait photographer) uses his mostly while shooting outdoor portraits with a 70-200 lens using available light, and Yuri (one of the top selling stock photographers in the world) uses his for all his commercial work. The final thing that pushed me over the edge to begin using this piece of equipment was this video that Yuri posted on his blog:

The statement that Yuri makes in the video that you don’t want to be throwing out your #1 pick when selecting images because of blur hit home with me. Having absolute perfect focus on stock photography is critical, and I have had to often discard an image because of slight camera shake.

Kenneth Linge's New Blog
Kenneth Linge using his monopod

One thing that has happened since I have begun with the monopod is that I have received numerous requests about the equipment I am using. My setup is very similar to the one Yuri describes in the video. The great part is that I already had most of the pieces and only had to add the relatively inexpensive monopod to complete my kit. And guess what? My mother knew what I wanted and I found it under the tree on Christmas morning (Thanks mom!).

Here are the pieces I have assembled for my setup:

Monopod: Manfrotto 334B Automatic Monopod
Head: Manfrotto 488RC2 Ball Head
Bracket: Custom Brackets QRS-H2 rotating bracket

For the bracket, I use the QRS-H2 which normally has a flash mount. I have removed the mount (simple to do using an allen wrench) for everyday use. The reason I use this bracket versus the more compact Digital PRO-SV is twofold. The first reason is that I already had this bracket (hey, I saved +$200), and the second reason is that I can attach the flash mounting arm if I am shooting in a scenario where I need the strobe.

I have now used this setup for a half-dozen shoots and must say that it is becoming a very natural part of my work. I find that after a rather brief adjustment period, I don’t feel as though it is an inconvenience at all to use. In fact, I think it has made it easier for me to shoot. And the final result, I have absolutely noticed that I have discarded fewer images, both in-studio and outdoors, for camera shake.

January 29, 2009 at 8:06 am by | Categories: tutorial

Digital Pinhole Camera Follow-up

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Pinhole Camera

After last week’s blog post about my daughter’s Digital Pinhole Camera science project, I received numerous requests to see the actual camera she built. So we did a quick photo-shoot this morning to show you her creation.

The design is very simple and straightforward, a box with a pinhole in it. She began with a leftover Christmas gift box. The next step was to paint the interior flat black and attach a piece of white paper in the back to act as a screen to display the pinhole image. After doing this, she covered the whole box in aluminum foil tape to ensure that it didn’t have any light leaks.

Pinhole Camera

The next step was to create the lens. For this, I cut out a piece of an aluminum soda can with scissors and she carefully punched a hole in it with a needle. This small piece of metal (approx 2×2″) was then placed over a hole that she cut in the front of the box and sealed with more foil tape.

Pinhole Camera

After putting the lens in place, I helped her cut a hole next to the pinhole to be able to attach a digital camera body and lens. After cutting the hole, she lined it with a rubber gasket that we made out of an old bicycle tube. The camera was placed at a slight angle to be able to capture the pinhole image projected on the back of the box. After mounting the DSLR to the box, she put foil tape around the opening to seal off any light leaks.

Once the camera was complete, she then went to work testing it out. I helped her by providing an exposure starting point, which was 30 seconds at ISO 3200 with the DSLR lens wide open at f/4. Working with a classmate, they worked on bracketing their exposure times to find out which would give the best result.

Digital Pinhole Camera

One thing she learned in testing the camera was that the viewfinder of the DSLR had to be covered. Light was entering the box through the viewfinder during the beginning of the exposure and causing problems. One other recommendation that I would add is that a sharper image could be obtained by using a smaller aperture on the DSLR, but she liked having the relatively shorter exposure times with the digital camera set wide-open.

I have to admit that I had a lot of fun helping with this project. The final results were much better than I expected when she started.

One final thing that needs to be noted is the website that she found when researching the project. The page located at ScienceBuddies.org helped her with her design of the project:
http://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project_ideas/Photo_p005.shtml

January 19, 2009 at 11:46 am by | Categories: tutorial

The Canon 24-105, 5D Mark II and Sharp Image Results

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100% Crop Sharpness Example

When it comes to making a quality photograph, focus is near the top of the list for requirements. Like any rule, there are always exceptions but the general reaction for the human mind when looking at an out of focus image is that something is not right and it feels uncomfortable.

In stock photography, sharp focus is even more important and is an absolute necessity. While a portrait can get by being a bit “soft”, in the ultra-competitive world of stock images this just won’t fliy.

With this being said, I have to say that I have been blown away at the sharpness results I am receiving with my current camera/lens combo. The 5D Mark II paired with the 24-105 f/4L IS lens have proved to be a great duo. I was pleased with the focus I was able to achieve with the lens on the original 5D, but the results I get now are even better.

I have read on the Internet and heard from some photographers that the 24-105 is not a great lens as far as sharpness is concerned. No less than the self-proclaimed “World’s Top Selling Microstock Photographer” Yuri Arcurs stated recently on his blog that this lens is not sharp enough below f/9 for stock photography. This has not been my experience.

Today’s sample image is from a recent stock shoot I did in my studio. The enlarged portion of the shot is a 100% crop of Emily’s right eye. Since I needed a narrow depth-of-field to sufficiently blur the text on the book, I used a near wide-open aperture of 4.5. Note the detail in the eyelashes and the skin below the eye. Also notice that this was not an extreme close-up image, but a fairly wide head/shoulders capture. This eye is definitely sharp enough for my needs.

One more thing to add is the technique I use to achieve focus. Since the majority of my photography involves pre-set models and not rapid-fire shooting, I don’t need an ultra-fast focus system. I have my 5D bodies set for a “center only” focus point. When shooting, I put this point on the line between color and white on the model’s near eye and lock in focus. Once I have this focus, I recompose and release the shutter. I have also taken to using a monopod in nearly all my shooting to further minimize the effect of camera-shake on the image.

The combination of this technique, a 5D Mark II and the 24-105 f/4L serve me well. What about you? What techniques/equipment do you find works best?

January 14, 2009 at 12:32 pm by | Categories: tutorial