Throughout history, man has sought immortality, whether by the elusive Fountain of Youth, religion, the cloning process, cryogenics, and many other means too numerous to mention. Forever.com is a new business seeking to ensure that you can indeed live forever – at least the digital aspect of your persona. A friend of mine told me about Forever at a recent party. I was intrigued since the company was located in Pittsburgh and founded by a local entrepreneur, Glen Meakem. Meakem founded Free Markets, Inc., after leaving GE Information Services. Free Markets was eventually bought by Ariba.
Cause the good ole days weren’t always good,
And tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems.”
Keeping The Faith
- Billy Joel
The Chicago Sun-Times’ decision to lay off its staff of photographers and editors (~28 total), including a Pulitzer Prize winner, sent shock waves throughout the photography industry. Some cried foul. Some expressed disbelief. Others lamented the changing times and the commoditization of the professional media photography field. Many mocked the paper’s suggestion that it would rely on reporters to take their own photos using iPhones and DSLRs. The Sun-Times did not eliminate using professional photographers, since it plans on using some freelancers to fill some of the void created by the departure of the full-time professional crew. But the Sun-Times’ announcement was a clear indication that it believe something had fundamentally changed and it was willing to take radical action to do what it thought best for the immediate and long-term health of the business.
Most of the cover photos for famous magazines and different publications are taken with very simple photographic tools. If you carefully look at the photos, you can probably tell what the light source is from the shadows that fall on the model and roughly understand what really went into making that specific production. While anyone can take a photo using the same tools, it, does not necessarily mean that you will end up with the same cover page.
Imagine that instead of setting up for weeks’ worth of fashion photography, complete with models, hundreds of outfits, hair stylists, and makeup artists, you create a virtual catalogue based on computer generated models, photos of body parts, and photographs of clothing items and accessories that customers can interact with. No glamorous models. No famous photographers. No make-up artists. No hair stylists. No expensive studios. Sound surreal? It is already a reality – a virtual one – but a reality nonetheless. Looklet is a company that has developed and delivered the technology that makes this scenario possible.
Technology – A Walk Back In Time
Ever since my days of working in an engineering software company, I have been keenly interested in seeing how fast CAD and imaging innovations would develop and how far they would progress. First came 2D wireframe modeling, which rapidly progressed to 3D surface and solid models. Eventually, integrated CAD modeling software enabled mechanical engineers to provide detailed “walk throughs” of ships, buildings, and car designs. The process of “rendering” further enabled engineers to create much more realistic looks for their designs. The associated rendering software, which blended realistic surfaces, textures, shading, and light reflections on the engineering models, required very expensive computer software and servers – often costing upwards of $150,000 or more. The rendering process could easily take a few days before the software completed its magic. And while impressive in their day, the resultant animated “walk throughs” of the objects could be rather slow and amateurish compared to the simplest of today’s video games.
A friend of mine sent me a video from the WSJ called “Don’t Forget to Pack a Photographer” (link to the video, link to the article). Seems like there is a new trend in higher-end markets, where people are hiring professional photographers to photograph their vacations. It is certainly an interesting concept that could create potentially good business for us photographers (if priced right and done right).
(Photo by Helene Havard)
We rarely get to see extraordinary people in our everyday lives. Have you had one of those moments when you saw a stranger that you really wanted to take a picture of? I am sure you have. So what did you do? Did you just photograph the person from afar without them knowing, try to talk that person into being your 30 second model or perhaps you might have tried to sneak up and take a picture? Or even worse, maybe you did not take a picture at all? I guess it has to do with our personality. If you are of shy type with a low confidence level (often a photography rookie), you might be even afraid to ask. That dreaded “No” can be quite discouraging to say the least and many of us don’t even bother to ask for that very reason.
I once asked a big tattooed guy to take his picture, because he had a very colorful outfit that looked very interesting with his tattoos. With plenty of anger on his face, his response was that he would break my camera if I even tried. Oh well, not everyone is approachable for sure! It certainly sounded very discouraging, but did it make me give up on asking? Of course not. I have asked many people since then. And I have photographed many of them, some of which later became my clients.
While doing a short photo walk with the Canon 5D Mark III in Disney Downtown, I came across an Italian guy, who danced away to tunes played by local artists. His dancing was not very good (meaning, he is not a professional dancer or anything), but the way he was dressed and he moved attracted a lot of people:
We as photographers often make the final call on deciding the life span of an image according to our own perception, imagination and expertise. As much as we should be open to constructive criticism, I have always thought our own satisfaction from a photograph should come first. My own self-criticism is always the deciding factor on where I take my craft going forward. While those creative juices affect what I do behind the camera, knowing the technical aspect of photography to give life to any idea is very essential. It can take the story telling ability to a whole new level. Being able to analyze each shot before it is taken eventually will become a second nature as you photograph. I hope the below steps will help you get there a little faster.
Mastering the depth of the story and being able to translate it into a visual prospect is very important, so it certainly helps to have a solid understanding of how depth of field can affect your images and the story you are working on. Whether it is a portrait or a landscape shot, the right amount of bokeh should be able to transport the viewer into your story. You can choose a longer lens with a large aperture (small depth of field) to pinpoint one element in an image that your viewers could concentrate on, or use a small aperture (large depth of field) to portray the melting pot of action, with many elements to the story.
I recently received an email from one of our readers about photographing weddings with an entry-level DSLR (Nikon D3000) and an 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens. The request was to help out in understanding how to photograph weddings, figuring out the right camera settings and proper posing. Without much thinking, I responded to the query by saying that he/she should not photograph the wedding and perhaps leave the task to someone who knows what equipment to use and more importantly, how to use it. I never got a follow up email after that, but I have been thinking about the email ever since. I then remembered watching this video a while ago:
It is a funny video and even if it might be totally made up, it brings up a heated debate over the type of equipment wedding photographers should and should not use. I know that I am opening up a can of worms here, but here is my personal take on the subject – please let me know what you think.
Yes, most modern DSLR cameras are great and even the cheapest entry-level DSLRs today are equipped with a better image sensor than the most expensive cameras from a few years ago. As I have said it in some of my posts like Nikon vs Canon vs Sony, a camera is just a tool. However, there are certain factors that have a direct impact on images, such as lenses and the skill of the photographer. So, the camera is only a part of the equation here. Can cheap cameras create great photographs? Absolutely. Just like expensive cameras that can produce bad photographs.
So why did I tell the reader not to photograph the wedding with the D3000 and a kit lens? Because he/she had no idea how to use it.
When I get asked what to recommend for wedding photography, my response is always to get the best lenses first, and then worry about the camera. Lenses are far more important than cameras. A cheap zoom lens cannot do what a 50mm prime can. If you want to create beautiful images for your clients that you can showcase for your business, get the best glass you can afford. And as for the camera, if you can afford a full-frame camera, go for something like Nikon D700, Canon 5D Mark II or Sony A900. If budget is an issue, get a cropped-sensor camera like Nikon D7000. This is assuming that you already have a camera and know what you are doing. But don’t go out and shoot weddings with an entry-level DSLR if you are serious about your business. After-all, your gear is also the face of your company and business. Unless you are doing this for fun or just helping out a friend.
When it comes to our wedding business, Lola put me in charge of “QA” (Quality Assurance) before images are delivered to our clients. After she is done with all post-processing work, we sit down together and review all images. She is naturally good at working on images and her creative and artistic side really comes into play when she photographs and then edits images. I have a very different approach to photography and I often pay lots of attention to such things as image sharpness, detail, framing and angles. It is surprising to see how well our different perspectives merge into a productive environment – while we sometimes do disagree, we both understand that our ultimate goal is to provide the best results to our clients.
On average, Lola and I come back with approximately 1,000-1,500 images per wedding, all shot in 14-bit NEF (RAW) format. Once we sort everything out and pick our favorites, we leave approximately 500-600 images that will be delivered to our clients, with only about 1/10th that are retouched in Photoshop. I was once talking to a photographer based out of Florida, who told me that he only takes between 100-250 images per wedding. When I told him how many images Lola and I take, he laughed, arguing that most images are probably duplicates of each other and that we should learn how to take fewer, but higher quality images. Being in business for over 30 years as a successful full-time pro, he definitely knew what he was talking about. But I also realized that his habit of taking fewer pictures definitely has to do with film days, where more photos meant more photo lab work. With digital SLRs that have a shutter lifespan of at least 150 thousand clicks, we no longer need to worry about the cost or working with chemicals in a lab. So, what is better – take fewer, but higher quality images right on the set, or take as many pictures as possible at different angles, perspectives and settings? As far as I’m concerned, I am somewhere in between. I think that taking very few pictures is risky, as you might think you got everything right on camera, but you might have missed some details – eyes closed, focus not 100% accurate, etc. The last thing you want is a frustrated customer that asks for another picture you do not have. On the other hand, walking with a DSLR and shooting non-stop is also counter-productive, since then you have to deal with too many images and the process of choosing the best ones and working on them later might take hours of precious post-processing time. Wedding photography is a tough business to be in mainly because of a photographer’s time, especially if complex Photoshop retouching is involved. Details can take away too much time and the question that I have been asking myself lately is “how much is too much”, when we work on images.
Take a look at the below image, as it came out of the camera:
While Nasim is working on another big article about DSLR autofocus systems (shhh, I didn’t tell you that), I decided to write another quick post on a recent photo shoot. I had an opportunity to photograph this beautiful lady, Mari Carlin Dart and her skin care line, Suuthe recently. The session was supposed to last no more than 45 minutes and I only needed a couple of good images for an upcoming advertisement book called “CRAVE“.
First of all, let me introduce Suuthe. It is an all organic skin repair cream company which started with Mari searching for ideas to cure her son’s eczema problem. Without being able to find a solution from doctors for her son Peter’s aching problem, she decided to look further and work on something natural and effective. That’s how Suuthe came to live. As a mother of two children who suffered from eczema for a while, I wish I have met Mari earlier! If you know anyone like that, tell them to check out this wonderful product.
Here is how the photo session unfolded. All of the images were taken with the Nikon D700 body and a single Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G lens (my favorite as always).