D90 Photo Contest Wrap-Up

Just wanted to remind you that today is the last day to submit your images to the D90 Photo Contest. Here’s the link to the contest with all the rules and legal stuff! All entries will be judged and the winner will be announced on February 15th, 2009!

Good luck and have a great weekend!

(D90 image courtesy of Nikon USA)


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Photo of the Week: Another iPhone Image

Alright guys and gals, it’s time to wrap up another week. Friday’s here and it’s time for some weekend fun! So to close out the week, I’m posting another image I took recently with my iPhone. I really love this device and I’m still convinced that it was conceived with the photographer in mind. I though it was just me at first, but I know for a fact I’m not the only photog who thinks so.

I took this picture when I was on duty on my ship one evening, just as the sun was setting. The iPhone’s camera does a great job of making the exposure and I took it into Photoshop for some noise removal and to add some extra punch with curves and my Lab color move that I got from Scott Kelby’s 7 Point System.

I hope you have a great weekend and I’ll see you back here on Monday! Take care of yourselves and shoot like hell this weekend!


Are You Gellin’?

This has nothing to do with shoe inserts for your feet, but rather using gels on your lights to balance different light sources, add effects, and overall improve the quality of your light. Gels are an inexpensive, yet very important tool in our lighting toolbox, and today I’ll explain why.

There are many different light sources to factor in when we are using flashes or strobes. There’s daylight, florescent light, incandescent light, sunlight… you get the idea. Different types of light have different color temperatures, and that can really play havoc with your lighting when you are shooting in an environment with mixed lighting sources.

Florescent light, for example, is not actually white as it appears. It’s actually green. Don’t believe me? Shoot some pictures in only florescent light and see the green color cast that appears in your images. The camera sees light as it really is, and even as good as the Auto White Balance feature has gotten, it still doesn’t nail it. That’s why pros use preset white balance settings or use a custom white balance.

Now, imagine if you mixed flash with florescent light. You would get white light from your flash and green ambient light from the florescent bulbs, which is going to make your subject look like crap. Not what we’re after. To remedy this, you can use a piece of green gel on your flash and set your camera’s white balance setting to “Florescent” and the light will look natural.

The same thing happens with incandescent light bulbs and flash. Your subject will have a bluish tint from the flash and the background will be exceptionally warm and orange. In this case you can use a Color Temperature Orange (CTO) gel on your flash and set your camera’s white balance to “Tungsten” and your light will look natural. Problem solved.

In the picture above and below, I shot my son and daughter at the beach just before sunset. Sunlight at that time is nice and warm, so I threw a 1/2 cut of CTO on my flash so that it would match the sunlight. This way the photo appears to be lit naturally instead of with flash. I had an SB800 on a stand firing at 1/2 power through a shoot-through umbrella, to camera right (my left). The sun was camera left and behind my subject, providing a nice rim light. The sun was dipping into the clouds which softened it up and made it a lot more flattering.

All of the post processing was done in Adobe Lightroom 2. I’ll be writing some more posts on lighting and my setups so that you can see how I light a subject and what tools I use to do so.


Photography As A Part-Time Business

It’s something that a lot of people who are passionate about photography dream of. These days even more photographers are making the leap and calling themselves semi-pros (me included) and are trying their hand at making photography a part-time gig. Today I’ll share with you some of the things that I’ve learned and how I approach the subject.

Let’s face it, who wouldn’t want to work for themselves? I don’t know anyone who would want to spend the rest of their life answering to a boss. If there is such a person, I would say they’re crazy. People do and try all sorts of things in an effort to achieve the so-called “financial freedom” that you hear so many people talking about. There are even photographers out there who get rich make their living teaching others how to get rich with photography. Heh.

The great thing about being a “semi-pro” or shooting part-time is that you don’t have to depend on it for an income. Sure, any passionate photog would love nothing more to make a full-time living with their photography. However, it takes a lot of time, practice, and networking to get to that point. Not depending on photography as your primary source of income removes the stress factor of trying to put food on the table and allows you to be more creative and take some risks. Instead of always playing it safe you can experiment and work more towards developing your own style. Think of it as putting money in the mattress.

There are many different ways that you can turn your hobby and passion into a little profit. You can sell fine art prints through your own Zenfolio site, you can shoot high school sports and sell prints to players and parents, you can shoot portraits, weddings, stock, and just about anything else you can think of.

Something very important that you have to keep in mind is that your level of success depends on more than just your photography skills. You also have to be business-minded as well as a sales person. You have to TALK to people, which for some can be a little scary. If no one knows about your part-time business, you’re not going to make many sales. The great thing about doing all of this yourself is that you can control how busy your business is. The more you’re involved with your marketing, the busier you’ll get. Therefore you only need to do enough marketing to keep you as busy as you would like to be. You can always increase or decrease from there depending on your needs and ambitions.

For myself, I stay pretty busy with my career in the Navy and therefore have to limit how much photography work I do on the side because I don’t want to become overextended and burn out. I also have a wife and kids that need my time and attention too. So I choose the types of jobs that don’t take me away from home for too long and try and maintain a good balance. That’s mainly why I’m not shooting weddings. They’re a great source of income but they take a lot of time. Once you shoot one (and if you do a good enough job) the work will come flowing in and I’m not prepared for that yet. So I mainly stick to portraits and a little commercial work as well as selling a few prints and that way I can continue to build my photography business at my own pace.

The bottom line is that you have to choose a path that will work best for you. I can’t tell you exactly how to do it, because it probably won’t work for you. My hope is that by sharing my own thoughts and experiences you can use some of what I’ve done and mix it in with your own ideas to create a plan that works for you.

A blog that I refer to often that talks only about the subject of making money with photography is Photopreneur. It’s a great blog with a lot of great info. so be sure to check it out!

Be sure to hit me up in the comments and tell me about your own thoughts, ideas, and successes when it comes to turning your photography into a part-time business.


Lightroom or Photoshop: Which Should I Use?

When it comes to your post processing, you now have a multitude of choices when it comes to the software you use to process your images. New photographers ask me quite often whether or not they should use Photoshop or Lightroom. While I don’t have an answer for everyone, I’ll tell you what I do know.

Serious photographers are definitely going to want a powerful tool to process photos. Lightroom is an incredible piece of software that not only allows you to process and develop your photos but it also provides some incredible organization features too. Lightroom 2 offers some cool features that used to only be available in Photoshop, like the Adjustment Brush. It allows you to do some light retouching work like skin softening and teeth whitening. You can also do spot removal, crop, and straighten in Lightroom. Additionally, Lightroom includes Web and Print modules which take the “tech” part out of creating cool web galleries and printing your own images. However, if you have heavy retouching work to do you will have to go to Photoshop. The good thing is that Lightroom and Photoshop work together very well which makes the two a perfect pair.

Photoshop is the industry standard software currently in use for photo retouching and correction. There is a whole host of plugins available for Photoshop, which means that you don’t have to be a Photoshop whiz to exploit some of it’s powerful features. However, you’re pretty much on your own for organizing your digital image files. It comes bundled with Bridge which helps with organization, but there’s a reason that it’s free. Photoshop is a must have for correcting problems like color cast, removing love handles and bags under the eyes, reducing the appearance of wrinkles, and the list goes on. You can also use it for adding text to your images or creating graphics. Those types of things you can’t do with Lightroom.

So what do I do? I do about 80 percent of my work in Lightroom and I try and only go to Photoshop for more serious work like I mentioned above. This allows me to speed up my workflow and keep it as streamlined as possible. I use presets for repetitive tasks to also keep my workflow nice and quick.

Here’s how it really breaks down: Lightroom is $299.00 and Photoshop is $599.00. If you know that you aren’t going to need the hefty lifting that Photoshop provides, then you could probably get away with using only Lightroom. If you’re on a limited budget but need to perform serious retouching, then Photoshop will be your ticket. If you’ve got the money to burn and you need (or want) the best of both worlds then get ’em both. Any way you go, there’s no wrong choice when it comes to Lightroom and Photoshop. They are two very powerful tools that can make the most out of your time in the digital darkroom.

For great tips on using Lightroom check out Lightroom Killer Tips.

For great tips on using Photoshop check out Photoshop Killer Tips.


What’s Happening This Week!

Welcome to my blog! I’ve got some cool stuff for you this week, so be sure to check back each day and find out what’s hot. Here’s a quick summary of what’ll be here and some other great photography gouge:

  • There are only 5 days left to enter my D90 Photo Contest for your chance to win a Nikon MB-D80 battery grip for your D90! Here’s the link to the contest and rules.
  • Check out Joe McNally’s blog for some great info and images from his Dobbs workshops that were recently held in New York. Man, I have to get to one of his workshops!
  • I’ll be talking about whether Photoshop, Lightroom, or both are right for you.
  • I’ve got a cool post about photography as a part-time business.
  • As always, I’ll be posting some cool images with a little how-to.
  • Last but not least, you can scroll down to read my review of Zenfolio’s photo hosting service.

So that’s a little of what is in store for the blog this week. I was trying to get the Zenfolio review up last week, but I simply ran out of time. In order to try and make up for it, I am posting it today so be sure to scroll down and check it out.

Have a great day, a great week, and keep the shutter clicking!


Zenfolio Review: I’m Very Impressed


Displaying images online and offering online ordering of prints and other photo products is HUGE for any photographer. Whether you shoot full-time and have your own studio or if you’re a weekend warrior shooting weddings and portraits in your spare time, making your client’s images easily and promptly available will likely lead to more and repeat sales.

In my Zenfolio review, I’m going to talk about the things that I feel are important to a photographer or photography studio when it comes to storing, presenting, and selling images online. I’ll also touch on points that would be of interest to anyone who might be looking for a safe, secure place to store and share images with friends, family, etc. Now, on to the review!

First Impressions Are Everything
I first noticed a Zenfolio ad on David Hobby’s Strobist blog. In their ad they mentioned a free, 14-day trial period that didn’t require a credit card. I was intrigued. I next came across the Zenfolio name while I was on the site of my favorite lab, Mpix.com. Mpix is where I really started to dig in and see what I could find out about Zenfolio. When I found out that prints ordered from Zenfolio were fulfilled by Mpix, I went to Zenfolio’s website and took the tour.

The tour is brief, yet very informative. It touches on the interface, security, organization, ordering, advanced features, and selling. When I was done with the tour I felt I had a good grasp of what Zenfolio was all about.

Interface
The interface is very slick and has a big Web 2.0 feel. It’s easy on the eyes and easy on the user too. Navigating the galleries are quite simple and there are a couple of different options for viewing photos. You can view them as they appear on the site, clicking thumbnails to move to the next or previous image. Secondly, you can view the photos as a slideshow by clicking on the “Slideshow” button. Last but not least, you can view the photos in a “lights out” mode by clicking on the larger image in the gallery. Click the images below for an example.

The admin interface is just as easy to use and it’s a cinch to navigate. From the admin interface you set up your account preferences, selling preferences and prices (Premier accounts only), and organize your groups, galleries, and images. You get an amazing amount of control over how your site looks and works. The cost to have something comparable programmed would be astronomical!

Security
Zenfolio has some really useful features in place to protect you, your clients, and your images. You can opt to have right-click features disabled which will prevent users from downloading your images from your site. You can also add watermarks to your images too, adding another element of protection. Groups and galleries can be password protected so access will only be granted to those you allow. For instance, if you shoot a wedding, you can upload the proofs and send the bride and groom the password so that they can browse the photos and order the ones they like. They can also share that password with friends and family so that they way view and order photos as well.

Customization
Zenfolio is very customizable. You are a little limited on theme choices, but supposedly there are more themes in the works. The themes will likely work for just about everyone however. You can change the layout of pages, add/remove Guestbooks and Commenting features, allow/disallow metadata information, choose what products/prints can be ordered, and a lot more. You have A LOT of control over your site and that is important to me.

Pricing
Zenfolio’s pricing plans are really, really hard to beat. Here’s how they breakdown and a brief overview of the features of each plan:

  • Basic – $25/Year: 1GB storage for ever year, 12MB max file size, fully customizable.
  • Unlimited – $40/Year: Unlimited storage, 12MB max file size, use your domain name.
  • Premium – $100/Year: Unlimited storage, 24MB max file size, sell images, watermarks.

The premium plan works out to a whopping $8.33 per month. Most of us spend more on soda or Starbucks than that each month. Keep in mind that you have to pay for a full year at a time though. Regardless, it’s a small price to pay for secure storage of your images and the ability for your clients, family, and friends to be able to view and order images from the comfort of their own computer.

Order Fulfillment
I have used Mpix quite a bit and they are my very favorite photo lab. My prints are always gorgeous and they are delivered very quickly, considering I’m halfway across the country from their location. You can’t go wrong with Mpix.

I haven’t used IYP Photo Products at all. They are the lab that fulfills orders for products like mugs, mousepads, etc. I can’t really speak intelligently about them and it would be unfair of me to do so. However, Zenfolio went with Mpix and they rock so I wouldn’t see why IYP wouldn’t be just as good.

Summary
I’ve compared Zenfolio to several of it’s competitors and I couldn’t find a single reason that would make me choose another service. Most of the others were more expensive, used labs I’d never heard of, and I just didn’t get a warm fuzzy about them. I look forward to a long lasting relationship with Zenfolio and if I ever do run into a snag with my site, I hear that their Customer Support is second to none.

Click here to view my Zenfolio site.

Click here to sign up for a Free 14-day Trial, no credit card required.

Click here to take the tour.