Open Call: Fashion Runway Photoshoot

So here’s the deal.  Crystal Couture is happening this week.  It’s a free event, it’s local, and it’s a chance for us to take a shot at runway photography.

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I’ve done a handful of shoots for the Crystal City BID (the event hosts), and I’ve seen firsthand that they know how to organize and produce some great events.  I’m sure Crystal Couture will not disappoint.  Also, I’ve had a chance to work with the models and designers at a couple events in preparation for Couture, and everything is top notch!  Here are a few photos I snapped at the rehearsal.

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So, I’m planning to check it out on Friday and Saturday,* and you should come with me!  I’ve never done runway photography, so this is a perfect opportunity to give it a shot and hopefully broaden our portfolios.  I know there are at least a dozen of you that I have talked to about getting together to do a shoot, so here’s a chance to make that happen.  To sweeten the deal, I’m renting Nikon’s new 70-200 VR II lens, and I’d be happy to share.  Heck, if enough of you pipe up I’ll rent a second one so there’s more goodness to go around.

The show is from 6:00 to 10:00 both nights at 23rd and Crystal Drive.  Hope to see you there!

Did I mention that the show is right across the street from Chipotle?!  Seriously, my friends, this is our density!

*I’m not even going to acknowledge the pending snowmageddon; I’m over it.

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I’m Going to Egypt!

One week from today I will be on my way to Egypt to shoot my first international wedding! Suffice to say, I’m stoked!

Back in June I shot some engagement photos for a couple friends, and then in November I had the privilege of going to their wedding in Seattle. During the reception a girl came up and asked me if I was the one who took their engagement photos. We chatted for a bit and then she said, “Well, my fiance and I are getting married in Egypt…”

As it turns out they had already hired a photographer for their wedding, but they liked my style enough to ask me to photograph the four days of events leading up to the wedding as well. Basically I’m an embedded photographer hanging out with a group of people doing a bunch of awesome things. We’re gonna go horseback riding at the Pyramids and do a Nile River cruise among other things.

*Seriously.  Pinch me!!

The bride-to-be is so easygoing but very organized and detailed.  More than once she said to me, “It’s important to me that you have fun and enjoy yourself –don’t feel like you have to work the whole time,” and I’m left thinking, “So wait a minute, everything is already planned out; all I have to do is show up, take lots of photos, and have fun? …. Bring it on!”

I feel so honored and grateful to be a part of this trip!  It always means a lot to me when people trust me to photograph their wedding.  It means a heck of a lot when they are willing to fly me halfway around the world to do it!

P.S.  I have never used the bathroom in an airplane.  This trip just might upset my record…

I’m Dreaming of a White Wedding


  Photo by Stephen Elliot

This Saturday the D.C. area was hit with one of the biggest snow storms of the decade. Rather than playing in the snow or staying in to enjoy some movies, I was out shooting a wedding.

The bride and groom had such great attitudes about it all, and I was shocked at how many people trudged through the snow to get there. I was particularly delighted to find that the bride really wanted to snap a few photos in the snow. Definitely a fun addition to my portfolio!

You can find a few photos on facebook now, and the rest will be posted here some time after January 1st. Merry Christmas everybody!

P.S. Joe Portnoy helped me cover the ceremony. He’s one talented kid! Check out his work at Snaptography.net

Photojojo

This book is unlike every other photography book I’ve read, and that’s why I like it.  It doesn’t attempt to teach you how to be a great photographer, and it certainly doesn’t waste any space showcasing the authors’ work.  It addresses a very different -and very real- need for photographers: a place to turn when you are feeling less than creative.  The authors don’t want you to sit down and read a book, they want you to get out, take and make photos.  Their job is to give you ideas that can easily be put into action.  …action that will inevitably spark some inspiration.

The book is divided into two parts.  1.) Crafty things to do with your photos, and 2.) ideas of what and how to shoot next.  Personally I enjoyed the second part much more than the first, but in light of the economy and the fast approaching Christmas season I will certainly be implementing some of their crafty ideas for my gifts this year.

No matter where you are in your photographic pursuits there are plenty of things in this book you can benefit from.  If you’re feeling stifled creatively then it would be well worth your time/money to pick up this book. …but only if you’ll actually DO some of the things they suggest.  =)

Creative Lighting Failure: Christmas Lights

Ever since I first watched the behind-the-scenes footage from Lord of the Rings I’ve wanted to try an idea.  I heard that they lit this scene with Christmas lights to give it an ethereal feel, so I bought over 2,000 Christmas lights in hopes of using them for a photo shoot.  For over 2 years they sat in my closet collecting dust.  Finally in July I decided to give it a shot.

I wanted to go big and do it up right, so I set a date and got five friends on board to help.  Two models, two assistants, one videographer, and me; tethered shooting, video documentary, and a controlled environment.  No elves, sorry.  I only had a vague idea of what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted to create some elegant, mood-lit photos.  I was excited and even a bit nervous.

We got together and began to set up; all the while I kept hoping for a spark of inspiration. And then…

nothing happened.

Nothing worked the way I wanted it to.  I got frustrated and disappointed.  I felt like I let my friends down and wasted their time.  It was a difficult learning experience for me, and I realized that I still have so much to learn.

My Moleskine that night looked something like this:

  • I need a clear idea of what I want to accomplish.  My objectives were too broad and non-descript.
  • Do more researching and testing of the ideas on a smaller scale before taking on something with so many variables.
  • Try only one new thing at a time. I wanted to do this shoot with awesome light bokeh, starry catchlights, video documentary, and tethered shooting.   …and I’ve never successfully done any one of those.
  • Keep the morale up. I got frustrated and disappointed, and it showed.  My photos weren’t as good because of it, and I felt like I let my crew down.
  • I re-watched the BTS clip from Lord of the Rings and discovered that they only used Christmas lights to give Galadriel the starry catchlights in her eyes –not to light the entire scene.  BIG difference…
  • Distance (from camera to subject to background) + focal length + aperture = size of bokeh. I need a lot of distance (maybe 150 feet from camera to background) and maybe a 300mm or 400mm telephoto lens (or 50mm 1.2) to get the size bokeh I wanted without having to take an extreme close-up.
  • The tiny Christmas lights really don’t put out enough light to be useful for lighting your subject.  I need Christmas lights with the screw-in bulbs.
  • I need to rig up a sort of Lite-Brite array of Christmas lights to create patterns for the catch lights.  I’m envisioning a large donut shaped rig to shoot through so that the subject’s eyes will have a sparkly ring to ’em.

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All things considered, I’m glad we did it.  I procrastinated for far too long, and it felt good to finally make it happen.  I’m glad it didn’t go as well as I wanted it to because if it did I might still think I know what I’m doing.  The longer I go without some sort of failure the harder I fall when it does happen.

BIG thanks to: Tom and Alana Puskarich, Graham and Sara Marsden, and Jeremy Sexton.  Thanks for all the laughs and encouragement along the way!  I’m extremely grateful to have supportive and creative friends like you guys!

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We did come away with a few photos worth sharing; you can find ’em here. Keep your ear to the ground for rumors of the next Christmas light shoot.  I’ll get it right yet!

8 Reasons Why You Should be Scouting Locations

I’ve been a full-time “professional” photographer for three years, but I’m just now discovering the inherent value of scouting your location before a shoot.  Even if it’s a place you’ve been to a dozen times before, go scope out the location again.  Here’s why…  (BTW, I’m referring to “location scouting” in the sense that the spot has already been determined, not “location choosing.”)

It will help you know what gear you will need to rent/bring. It’s frustrating to be in the middle of a shoot thinking, “If only I rented a 400mm lens,” or worse when it’s the opposite, “I wish I didn’t waste $45 bucks renting an extra Quantum battery for this.”

You will know your way around the place better. Familiarity lends itself to confidence.  You never know if the client will ask you how to get back to the parking lot, and you will be in much better standing with them if you can help with these seemingly small things.  The little things can make a huge difference.

It forces you to be intentional about planning and making your shots. Often times this is a key difference between a photographer and a painter.  We photographers show up and take a lot of photos, but rarely do we make photos.

It helps you view familiar places in a new light. Think of the space and how your client will be using it.  What do they want to capture, and what is the best way to capture it?  Build from your past experiences, but seize the opportunity to look for new perspectives.  “What if we got a ladder in here?…”  “Can these lights be controlled?…”

Your client will appreciate the effort and preparation you put forth. Most clients like to think that their event is somehow different than anything that’s been done before, so not only will you instill confidence in them but you will also appear more professional.  Invite them to come along and offer their ideas as well; include them in the creative planning process.

It will get you out of the reactive mode that many photographers get stuck in. We show up just before the shoot, take a look around, and then say, “Well, I guess this means we’re gonna do this… [insert the same approach you use for everything.]”  Location scouting gets you thinking proactively about your work.

It gives you more time to solve problems. Every location has at least one thing about it that’s tricky to deal with –it’s usually the lighting, but it could just as well be the client’s expectations.  If you wait until the shoot has begun before looking for a solution then you might be too late.

It enables you to imagine possibilities rather than see obstacles. Allow yourself to dream big!  Start with a crazy idea, and then run through the logistics of how to pull it off.  Eventually you will find yourself saying “What if…” instead of “if only…”

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve told many clients that “I don’t need to scout the location before the event because I come prepared for everything, so I’ll be fine.”  That’s bull crap.  “Prepared for everything,” HA!  This comes from an amateur mindset that thinks the only thing you need is a 24-70 f/2.8 lens and a hot shoe flash.  Yeah, good luck trying to recreate this shot with that setup.

If I didn’t scout the Newseum or the NanaWall locations before those shoots, I would have come away with nothing but garbage.  Both of those shoots kicked my butt, yet they now represent some of my happiest, most impressed clients.  I hope you’re noticing the trend here…  Pre-production (eg. location scouting) + hard work = great photos and happy clients.

Try it yourself and see if it doesn’t change the way you think about your work.

Meet the Artist[s] — Encore!

If you weren’t able to make it to the first reception, you’re still in luck!  Sergio Martinez is hosting an encore reception tonight to showcase his bamboo eco sculptures at the Crystal City WaterPark (map).  I will once again be featuring my photographs of the bamboo/sculptures, so come join us and show some love for your local artists.

The event begins at 8:00.  As far as I know it will just be a time to chill, hang out, and mingle.  It sounds like there will be a lot of other artsy people there, so it might be a cool networking opportunity as well.  Plus, I will be giving away FREE high fives!!  Seriously, friends, you won’t want to miss it!

Meet the Artist[s] in Crystal City tonight

Eco Sculpture

Come stop by Crystal City today after work for a Meet the Artist reception with Sergio Martinez!  The event is hosted by Crystal City B.I.D. and will take place at the Water Park (map) from 5:00 – 7:00 PM.

I have had the pleasure of taking photos of Sergio’s work at the Water Park, and he has agreed to let me showcase some of those photos tonight at the reception.  So come on out and support a couple local artists!  I’d love to see you there!!

Sometimes it pays to procrastinate

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A shooting at the Newseum

No, not that kind of shooting.  Just the photo kind.

Last week I shot a two-day conference at the Freedom Forum; it’s essentially the conference center of the Newseum.  I went on a site visit about a month earlier (to see what it would be like to shoot in there), and I came away with a lump in the back of my throat.  Three of the four walls were glass and two-thirds of the ceiling was black.  Oh! and the event was scheduled to run from 8AM – 4PM.  Perfect.

Anybody who has taken very many pictures knows that these high-contrast situations are not fun to deal with. Nevertheless, I agreed to shoot the event, and I was determined to do my best.  After all, I had just written a post about doing something that makes you feel anxious, and this was a frickin’ case study!

-Lessons Learned-

This event was a BIG learning experience for me.  I hope there are others who can benefit from this, whether you’re asked to take pictures at the Newseum or some place similar.  Here’s what worked for me.

Additional lighting is mandatory. Hot shoe flashes simply don’t have enough firepower to fill a room like this.  The above photo was taken with a full power flash bounced off the ceiling.  As you can see, there is almost no detail in the foreground.  I rented two Elinchrom 600Ws monoblocs, and they seemed to be just right.  I considered the 400Ws blocs, but I’m glad I decided to stick with the 600.

Light placement should be carefully considered. Not only do you want to minimize reflections, but more importantly you need to think about how you will sculpt your subject with the light.  It’s not good enough to simply have an evenly exposed image; the light needs to tell a story or at least direct the viewers eye.  Check out my first lighting tutorial to see what I mean about sculpting with light.

You must plan and wait for your shots. I had to decide what I was going to shoot, adjust the lights, and then wait for the right moment.  The direction of my lights determined where I could point my camera.  I couldn’t photograph the speaker and then turnaround and shoot the audience right away.  It’s an interesting combination between event and studio photography.

Monoblocs are bright! REALLY bright.  That’s what I was most concerned about.  I was afraid I would be too distracting even though I warned the organizers about the difficulties of shooting there.  On day two they asked me if I could tone them down, so we met with a compromise: I only used the flashes a few times at the beginning of each person’s speech.  I had already taken a ton of audience shots the day before, so I was not at risk of missing much.

It’s helpful to think of your lights as a Key light and a Fill light.  Differ the intensities of them to avoid even illumination on both sides of your subject.

Use a hot shoe flash (bouncing off the ceiling) if you need to add a little more light to the foreground closest to you.  You can still connect the PocketWizards via the camera’s PC terminal.  This is especially helpful for shots like this one where I wanted to illuminate an audience member and the speaker simultaneously.

I recommend that you soften the light with an umbrella. The light will get harder with distance, but I still prefer the look of a bounce umbrella at 50 feet away in this case.

Crank up the flashes to overpower the tungsten lights of the room, otherwise you’ll have an ugly mix of three different light colors.  I didn’t have any gels for the monoblocs, so I didn’t have much choice over White Balance.  However, by minimizing the effects of the interior lights then I was only battling the colors from two light sources instead of three.  The blocs and the outside light are reasonably close in color temperature, so that made things a tad easier.

-Workflow-

First step was to control the ambient light. If you haven’t already guessed, this means I was shooting in Manual.  I used PocketWizards (Plus IIs) to trigger my lights, therefore my shutter speed couldn’t be any faster than 1/250.  An aperture of 5.6 and an ISO of 100 proved sufficient most of the day.  …and by “sufficient” I mean that the sky was bright but it still had some blue in it.

Now that the camera was set, the only thing left to control was the lights.  I adjusted their power and position several times before finding a sweet spot (illustrated below). Even then I would have to reposition them depending on whom/what I was shooting.

The monoblocs require a power outlet, so their mobility is limited.  Fortunately there is no shortage of outlets at the Newseum.  Just be mindful of your extension cords if you need to put your lights near a walkway.  Have some gaffer’s tape handy.

Personally, it took me about an hour and a half before I found a rhythm and started feeling good about the pictures I was shooting.  Most of that first hour and a half was just trial and error. There was a lot of new stuff to familiarize myself with, but once I did I was able to get creative and do my job well.

-At the end of the day…

I’m thrilled with the way the photos turned out!  The Newseum is the most technically challenging location I’ve shot in yet, but I’m very pleased with the end result.  It makes me want to do more off-camera lighting for events.

Also, I really enjoyed working with a different color palette, so to speak.  Most of the events I’ve shot are rich with warm tones, but the glass and daylight at the Newseum naturally shifted the colors to a greenish blue cast.  It’s a very welcomed change for me.

Perhaps most importantly is the fact that my client was impressed.  One of the organizers said, “These are the best photos we’ve ever had at any of our conferences.”  Coming from someone who plans conferences for a living, that comment sure made my day!  =)

Feel free to share your experiences here, particularly if you’ve worked at the Newseum.  I think all of us DC photographers will be better off for it.