Today, anybody with a smart phone can be a photographer – no fancy equipment needed. See something interesting? Whip out that smart phone and capture it! Every day, people are taking amazing photos – I mean truly amazing and incredible images. Having a smart phone has unleashed the creative juices of millions of people who might otherwise go through life creatively frustrated. Before smart phones and digital cameras, most people would go about their business and say “Wow! You should have seen this really cool thing I saw! It was sooooo awesome!” Now they have proof. In the blink of a digital eye, they have preserved history for all the world to see, and I think that’s great. As a professional photographer I am awestruck by some of the images I see because they are beautiful. So, for all those people clicking away and creating compelling and mesmerizing works of art, thank you. For anyone who would like a little helpful advice, I’d like to offer some tips.
Sometimes capturing a great image happens by luck. No forethought or preplanning involved. “I came, I saw, I snapped a wicked awesome cool pitcha!” (For everyone not living in New England, that’s my Boston vernacular making itself known). Other times, taking a great photograph is all about the preparation and the perseverance: sitting outside in a blind in the middle of some God forsaken bad land at night with lots of biting, stinging, mauling, hungry insects, and beasts who make horribly terrifying, snorting, growling noises for example. Sometimes this self sacrifice is levied to capture a dew drop glistening on a left handed unicorn’s antler-horn at sunrise, so that we who have day jobs (or are scared of our own shadows) can marvel at it. These tips are not for the seasoned veteran photographer. These tips are for people who would like to improve their photography without a lot of fuss. So, for what it’s worth, here is a list of twenty tips that might improve your photography. It is by no means an all-inclusive list, nor is it listed in any order of importance. It’s just a few things I’ve picked up over the past four decades as a professional photographer.
1. The rule of thirds should be learned, practiced and incorporated in your everyday photographs. This tip will help to improve 90 percent of the images taken today. If you don’t know what this term refers to, I have handily supplied a link to Wikipedia’s definition here: Rule of thirds Read it, memorize it, live it.
2. Try to hold your image capturing device still when you take a picture. Motion is the number one culprit when it comes to images that appear to be out of focus or blurry.
3. If shooting outdoors and you don’t want to capture a silhouette of your subject or colors that appear washed out and faded, try positioning yourself so that the sun is behind, above, or left or right of the camera. Try to avoid having the sun shine directly into the lens by shielding it. If the sun is behind your subject, unintended issues may arise. Remember, lens flare can be ugly and is not your friend.
4. Pay attention to what is going on behind your subject. Ask yourself questions like “Does my subject benefit from appearing to have a telephone pole growing out of his head?” or “Do you think if I photograph this ant on a sandy beach, the background might be too busy?”
5. If you are taking a picture of a person and want to be able to identify them afterwards, try to include their head in your composition. I see a lot of pictures where peoples heads are cut off or half of their head is cut off. Remember, heads are more important than feet when taking portraits.
6. If taking a picture of a group of people and the environment is not important, center them in the frame. Group photos that have lots of foreground or excess sky are usually not considered engaging. Same thing is true of excessive space to left and right of the group.
7. If it is safe to do so, fill your frame / image area with your subject. When you take a picture of your friend with your smartphone, and they are sitting on the other side of the football stadium, chances are they might be tough to discern.
8. If you are taking pictures of a night time event like a circus or a hockey game, and you happen to be sitting more than five yards away from the action, forget the flash. You will have the same success of capturing a well exposed picture as you would trying to light the planet Pluto with a firefly from Earth. You will, however ,get a nice picture of the back of someone’s head in the next row, or blind someone who will not be able to see what’s happening at the event until their eyes adjust.
9. Don’t take pictures of approaching trains while standing on the tracks. Please be aware of your surroundings and be safe.
10. Try to photograph children at their level. History has proven that most kids are short. If you are 4-8 feet tall and have to point your camera down to take a picture of a child, you will only exaggerate their shortness.
11. Use a telephoto lens to photograph dangerous subjects, e.g. grizzly bears, muggers, lightning, tornadoes and anything that is out of control. If you don’t have a telephoto lens, just take the shot of whatever it is without getting close to it. If your photo is uninspiring, it’s okay. Ninety percent of the pictures taken can’t be wrong about this. Better to be safe than sorry.
12. If you take a really great photo or a not-so-great photo, turn around. There might be an even greater photo right behind you.
13. If you’re not happy with a picture or somebody’s expression, take another. Memory is cheap. If you’re still not satisfied, maybe you’re trying to capture a not-so-great picture or a person who is having a bad day.
14. Recharge your smart phone or camera or have fresh batteries in it before you head out the door. Who knows, you might stumble into Big Foot, the Loch Ness monster or a unicorn, and if your battery is dead all you can do is say “Wow! You should have seen this really cool thing I saw! It was sooooo awesome!” And of course, everyone will believe you.
15. Download the images you have taken, often. I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve heard of people losing images that were sacred to them (with subjects like Big Foot, the Loch Ness monster or a unicorn).
16. Get up early if you want to take pictures of landscapes or wait until late afternoon. Long shadows create depth and if the sun is directly over head everything looks flat (Kate Upton aside). Nobody wants to see a picture of a flat uninspiring Almost Grand Canyon.
17. Don’t take portraits of people when the sun is overhead unless they prefer to look like a raccoon or they love the Goth, addict or zombie look.
18. Learn the features of your camera and become familiar with how it works so that using it becomes intuitive. We have all been witness to people posing for a photographer who takes too long to take the picture.
19. If you are debating about taking a picture that is not rude, offensive, demeaning or unwelcomed, take the picture. You might be pleasantly surprised by the result. Naturally, I am not referring to paparazzi type photos.
20. Practice, practice, practice. . . .and have fun out there!
Thanks for reading – Chuck
Cari Ordway produces some of the finest beaded jewelry around and when she needed some jewelry photography to showcase her work, she called me. I thought I would share a little insight on the art of jewelry photography and some of the issues that must be addressed.
Jewelry photography fits under the heading of product photography and offers some unique challenges. The first challenge is the size of the subject matter. Rings, bracelets, earrings, necklaces and broaches can have intricate detail on a very small scale. The next challenge is reflectivity. A large percentage of jewelry is created using valuable metals such as gold, silver and platinum and all can be quite shiny and reflective. The third challenge is a background upon which to set the jewelry to be photographed. You want the background to enhance the jewelry without overwhelming it. So how do we tackle these challenges? I’ll give you some insight.
The size of jewelry can be tough to capture for photographers. Most lenses will not focus at the close distances needed to capture all the fine detail that jewelry has to offer. So a specialty lens is required, a lens that allows the photographer to move in close to the subject at hand. You need a macro lens. Macro lenses are designed to focus at distances that other lenses can not, sometimes allowing the camera to get within inches of the subject. The next problem to overcome is the lack of depth of field at close distances. Depth of field is the area in focus. The closer you are to your subject the less depth of field you have. To overcome this you need to photograph close subjects using small aperture settings. The smaller the aperture the greater the depth of field. Without getting too technical, the aperture of a lens is adjustable and measured in f stops. Aperture refers to the opening that allows light to enter into the lens. If you set the aperture to its largest opening you have the shallowest depth of field and if you set the aperture to its smallest opening you have the greatest depth of field. If you want your jewelry to be in focus from front to back, use the smallest aperture setting your lens has.
Reflectivity is tough to overcome. What do I mean by this? Try photographing a mirror or a round chrome object without seeing your reflection or any other reflection in it. If I set a chrome ball on a black background the lower part of the ball will reflect black. Unfortunately most people perceive chrome as being shiny and white and would like to see it represented this way. There are many methods to achieve this, using white reflector cards around the subject, building a white room or retouching the subject using Photoshop. Sometimes it is a combination of these techniques that is required. Sorry but there is no hard and fast rule on how to accomplish this task. If you want to practice, try photographing a shiny silver punch bowl – I did. This will give you a better understanding of the challenges involved and how to overcome them.
Backgrounds are important. You want a background that enhances the overall image while at the same time allowing the jewelry to standout. Backgrounds that have lots of detail in them will compete for attention and be a distraction. Same goes for backgrounds with loud colors. Remember this line when shooting products: “The product is the hero.” Anything that interferes or competes for attention in a product photography image is an unwanted distraction.
Jewelry photography presents many challenges but when these issues are tackled properly the end result can be a piece of artwork unto itself.
Thanks for reading – Chuck
Got a call from my good friend Ted Arcidi the other day. “Hey Chuck! I need some headshots. What are you doing tomorrow?” With an open day in my schedule I tell him I’ll be heading to Manchester, NH to visit. And so started a fun photo session with Ted.
If you are not familiar with Ted Arcidi I’ll give you a quick synopsis. On March 3rd, 1985 Ted became the first man in history to bench press over 700 lbs. He spent five years on the professional wrestling circuit from 1985 to 1990 and started a successful career in real estate. Nowadays you might be more familiar with Ted from his acting roles. He has appeared in commercials and TV series such as Law & Order, 30 Rock and Nurse Jackie. In addition he has appeared in films like The Town, The Fighter and The Family. Ted is a man of integrity with a quick wit, great sense of humor, commanding presence, and a heart of gold. You can check out his acting reel here: Ted’s Acting Reel
An actors headshot is a bit different than a classic portrait or executive portrait. The people that cast actors in roles for television and film roles need to see an accurate representation of the person which is why a headshot is so important. Minimal or no retouching, fairly even lighting and a range of expression is what they are looking for. If you present a headshot of yourself taken at one of those mall portrait studios where the object is to glamorize your face, you probably won’t get a call, let alone a chance to show your acting ability.
I meet Ted at a large historic commercial mill building in downtown Manchester, NH. No problem with parking, Ted owns the place. We unload my equipment, bring it inside and take a freight elevator to the second floor. Ted leaves while I set up. I find a spot that will allow me to take advantage of the surroundings. I balance strobe and natural light so that the background is out of focus and a bit darker than Ted’s seated position. He returns about the time I’m finished setting up and we start the shoot. Ted is on. He delivers more facial expressions in five minutes than most people experience in a week. Ted takes direction expertly. “Drop your chin a bit, show me sorrow, laughter, humility, fear, anger, pride.” We talk the whole time about a range of subjects including business, family, daily life and travel. Ted is in character from the beginning and just gets better as the banter continues. Start to finish is about 2 hours. When I get back to the office I download the images, adjust the color balance, check to make sure the images are sharp and create an image gallery for Ted to peruse.
Working with clients like Ted is always a joy. Professional, courteous and fun. A win win for both of us. Next!
Thanks for reading – ChuckRead More»
Real estate photography today is more important now than ever before. Over 95% of people looking to purchase residential and commercial properties use the internet to aid their search. The properties with the best photos command the most attention. In my last blog “Real Estate Photography – the good the bad the ugly” I talked about what it takes to produce great real estate photography. I narrowed it down to three factors – experience, equipment and photo software. In this blog I’d like to talk about the equipment needed, specifically the camera and lens. Seems pretty straight forward, buy a good camera with a lens, read the manual and go picture taking. But there seems to be a bit of confusion about which camera and lens combination is best for real estate photography. I’ll try to demystify some of the problems that arise when different cameras and lenses are used for real estate today. By the way, this blog grew exponentially from what I had originally intended and I apologize in advance for its length.
Photography today is ubiquitous. You have a smart phone? You’re a photographer. But most people know that a device used for communication is not going to compete with a device designed for image capture when image capture is the objective. On the flip side a camera makes a pretty lousy phone. With that in mind, many realtors spend good money on good camera equipment and their family photo memories reflect this. So why is it that everyday memories are captured with great success yet when they aim the same camera toward real estate subjects the pictures are mediocre at best? Its not entirely their fault. Real estate photography is tricky business even for professionals. The camera equipment the pros use is different from the cameras most others use. Why? Expense mostly. A good camera for real estate starts around $2,500 – without a lens. A good lens for real estate photography can run you $650 to $3,000. On the other hand, a decent point and shoot camera starts around $300 and a good digital single lens reflex (DSLR) camera can be had for around $500, with a lens. All three camera types will take great photographs of everyday events but lets examine some of the features this price differential affords the consumer. I happen to use Canon cameras, am familiar with their features and because of this fact will use them in my examples. Just for the record, I am not disputing the fact that other manufacturers make great cameras for multiple applications including real estate photography, because they do.
In the early 1900’s 35mm still cameras were introduced and became the standard of the twentieth century. When people talked about lenses on cameras they compared lens perspective as it compared to their eyesight’s perspective. A “normal” lens or 50mm had about the same perspective as the human eye. Objects relative to each other when photographed with a 50mm lens appeared to have the same spacial relationship in a picture as they would appear if we were looking at them. Wide angle lenses offered a wider angle of view than a “normal” lens but objects didn’t maintain the same perspective. The perspective was exaggerated. Things that were close to the lens looked huge while things further away looked smaller than they would to the human eye. Because 35mm film was a standard we could compare lenses relative to each other. If a 50mm lens was considered “normal” then a 35mm lens was considered to be wide angle and a 21mm lens was considered to be ultra wide angle. These lenses offered wide angles of view but exaggerated perspectives. On the other side of the range a 90mm lens was considered to be a medium telephoto, a 135mm lens considered to be telephoto and lenses beyond 200mm were considered extreme telephotos. These lenses had a very narrow angle of view but magnified distant objects and made them appear closer. In real estate photography, wide angle and ultra wide angle lenses are employed to convey as much of an exterior or interior space as is possible. I shoot with a 17mm lens – ultra wide angle – and wouldn’t recommend anything less than a 24mm lens as it compares to 35mm photography.
The photos above represent the angle of view captured by two different cameras using the same lens. Both cameras recorded the same scene from the same position. Wait a minute. Did he just say “same lens, different cameras?” The photographs above look like they were taken using the same camera but with different lenses, right?. Nope, the lens used was the same – a 17mm Canon lens. The top photo was taken using a professional grade camera with a full frame image sensor – about the same size as a frame of 35mm film. A Canon 1dsMkII to be exact – cost when introduced about $7,000 in June of 2004. The second photo was taken with a consumer camera with professional features (aka a pro-sumer camera) with a APS-C size image sensor – about 33% smaller than a frame of 35mm film. This camera was a Canon Rebel T4i – cost when introduced about $700 in June of 2012. The differences are many but for this comparison, the biggest difference between the two cameras, beside the $6,200 price tag, is the image sensor size. The image sensor in the more expensive camera is approximately 33% bigger. I am going to give you the short version of what this means. If you want a more in-depth explanation, this article by Mark Sparrow from TechRadar does a great job of explaining sensor size in cameras. You can read the article by clicking on this link: Sensor size explained. If the Canon 1dsMkII has an image sensor that is approximately 33% bigger than the Canon Rebel 4Ti then the converse is also true. The Rebel 4Ti sensor is approximately 33% smaller than the 1dsMkII. What that means in respect to taking pictures is, if I want the angle of view to be the same in both pictures, I’ll need to use a lens on the Rebel that offers a 33% wider angle of view to match the perspective of the Canon 1dsMkII. Again, the lens I used was 17mm. If I want the same result from the camera with the smaller image sensor I would have to use a lens that was 10.625mm – a lens that captures a wider angle of view than the 17mm lens. To put it another way, if I want to mimic the photograph taken with the Rebel (smaller image sensor) and 17mm lens with the 1dsMkII (larger image sensor) I’d have to use a lens on the 1dsMkII that was approximately 27.2mm – a narrower angle of view. If trying to wrap your head around this makes you insane, you’re not alone. I purchased the Canon Rebel 4Ti with a zoom lens that goes from 18mm at its widest to 135mm at its maximum zoom. This would offer the equivalent view of a zoom lens that was 28.8mm at its widest to a maximum zoom of 216mm on the larger sensor camera. If you want to take real estate photos with a camera with an APS-C sized sensor, like the Canon Rebel, you will have to purchase a very very wide angle lens. Canon offers a 10mm – 22mm lens for about $650 on today’s market that would do the job. So, for about $1,400 you can purchase a camera and lens that will give you a decent foundation for real estate photography today.
Image sensor size is an important consideration when making a camera equipment purchase for real estate. Of course, knowing how to use the camera is also important but don’t worry. If you would rather stick to taking the family photos I would be happy to photograph your real estate properties for you!
Thanks for reading – Chuck