It’s Not You, It’s Me

No, I’m not breaking up with you. I want to chat about a subject matter that can, at times, be painful: critique. We all need it but are usually a little afraid of receiving it. Here’s where I tell you that the only way to improve your craft is to receive constructive criticism- no matter how bruised your ego gets.

There are a couple of pointers I’m going to offer as you start your quest for a higher understanding that will (hopefully) help you on your journey.

1.  Prep your pictures! You don’t go on a date with dirt on your face and food in your teeth. You also should never present dirty images to your audience. Take the time to remove any marks left on your images from a dirty sensor or lens.

*If there are small objects in your image, like birds, you need to decide whether to remove them or let your audience know that you intentionally left them in there because they are part of the natural image.

2.  Choose your sites carefully. Flickr obviously is a favorite of millions. The good: there is a group for every subject matter out there and you can develop a rapport with these groups and discuss related topics. The bad: I have yet to see (or receive) negative feedback.

3.  My recommendation for peer review is photosig.com. SIG stands for ‘special interest group’. I must warn you, some critiques can be downright rude but on the whole it’s a great site to help you grow as a photographer. To avoid unnecessary criticism use the description field to your advantage. If you intentionally used warm tones in your image, state why. Again, if birds look like dirt, tell people the specs are birds!

4.  Be consistent. This concept rings through loud and clear with all social media sites. Decide how often you’re going to do updates and try your best to stick with your schedule.

5.  Give and receive. Always make part of you picture-sharing-routine to provide feedback to others. I dreaded doing this in the beginning because I thought, who am I to judge someone else? My advice is to ease into the site, review other critiques, decide which style/language suits you, and go for it! On sites like photosig.com other people can rate your review ‘helpful’ or ‘unhelpful’ so you will know pretty quickly if you’re on target.

6.  Don’t get frustrated. I have been criticized and praised for the same technique on the same image. If this happens, take a deep breath and consider what the person is saying and why. From there, choose whether or not to follow the advice.

Remember, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. What you and I love are probably very different. Put effort into your art, find your voice, and stick to it. Just because someone else does not like it does not mean he/she is right.

(Originally posted August 21, 2009)

In the Blink of an Eye

Last week I covered the oh-so-exciting world of f-stops and how to use them to improve your images. Today I’ll discuss using shutter speeds to create really cool effects. For those point-n-shoot users out there, remember that most cameras are now designed with settings like,sports, flower, portrait, etc., rather than giving you the ability to choose the actual shutter speed. It’s still valuable to know this information though and how it affects your pictures.
Dramatic Summer Waves in San Diego, CA captured by photographer Amy Wise

First, let’s start off with what a shutter speed is. The shutter speed describes the amount of time that your camera’s shutter is open and allowing light to reach your image sensor (or for you film lovers, to reach your film). This means that if you set your camera’s shutter speed to 13 seconds, you are exposing your camera’s image sensor (or film) to the outside world (i.e. light) for 13 seconds. That’s a significant amount of time; any moving subject in that shot will be blurred. Even a shutter speed as fast as a 1/40 of a second can result in a blurry image if either your subject or your camera is moving.
I love doing long exposures with running water. The result is soft and elegant. See the image to the right for an example of a 13 second exposure (with an f-stop of f/16). Be warned though that if you use long exposures you may blur areas that you did not intend to. Before taking your picture, look at your surroundings and figure out what’s moving and what your shutter speed should be.

For action shots it’s pretty obvious that you want a very fast shutter speed. Typically I will use at least a 1/500. This means that your camera’s shutter is open for one-five-hundredth of a second! That’s crazy fast. What’s crazier is that many cameras can go as fast as 1/8000. Count those zeros, that’s one-eight-thousandth of a second. The human eye, on average, blinks as slow as 1/3 of a second! Remember though, to use a very fast shutter speed it better be a bright sunny day, or you will want to use a high ISO (which will result in more grain or noise).

Dramatic capture of water drops in a fountain, San Francisco, CA

The image to the left was taken at one of San Francisco’s city parks. I decided on setting my shutter speed to 1/500 and let the camera choose the f-stop (which ended up being f/5.0). The result was perfect. This water droplets are tack sharp and look frozen in time.

Now that you’ve gotten a taste for the fun to be had with shutter speeds, let me offer a few warnings as well. If you decide that you want to blur a waterfall, but don’t have a tripod, do NOT think that you can hand-hold your camera and get a crisp image. It just won’t happen. Find a rock, a tree, anything you can balance your camera on, set the timer, and take the image. Also, get a feel for what the absolute slowest shutter speed you can handle without a tripod. If I am using a lens with image stabilization, I’ll go as slow as 1/50. Some people can go even slower but I’ve got shaky hands and ruin every image I take that’s slower than that.

If you have questions, comments, or just want to chat, be sure to leave a comment. And if you’re on facebook, be sure to become a fan and get the latest updates: https://www.facebook.com/amywisephoto

(originally posted October 23, 2009; edited August 3, 2014)

Kids & Pets: Tips to Photographing Special Moments

For many people the joy in photography comes from the simple act of capturing special moments with the ones they love: their children and pets. If you’re like me you’ve noticed that both like to move around . . . A LOT! Rather than get frustrated and demand that they stand still looking rather uncomfortable, capture the action! Easier said than done? Maybe, but here are a few pointers to lessen the frustration.

  1. Be ready! This means you should have your camera either on you or close by and ready when the action happens.
  2. Get your settings locked in prior to the action. When I’m photographing both kids and pets I always meter my surroundings and set my camera accordingly. As an example, for kids chasing each other around I will use a shutter speed of at least 500, with the ISO set as low as the given light will allow. (That setting of 500 means that your camera’s shutter is only going to stay open for 1/500 of one second! That’s pretty darn fast). For point-n-shoot users, see if your camera has a ‘sports’ mode and use that.
  3. Allow plenty of time to get the images you like. Don’t expect to get perfect images in the 30 minutes that you spend with the kids or animals. You need to be patient and wait for the shot.
  4. Don’t force the scene. On a recent beach photoshoot for a mom and her 22-month old, I simply told her to play with her son while I captured the images. I had already discussed what colors to wear and a few toys to bring, but the rest of the scene was natural.
  5. Use your telephoto lens or zoom feature. Pets aren’t a concern on this tip, but some kids love being the center of attention and will immediately act differently if they know the camera is on them. Try to put some distant between you and them to capture natural actions.
  6. Get down! Try to get closer to their eye level. See the world from their view.
  7. Be creative! Every picture doesn’t have to be straight-on, full body. Think of capturing the emotion, the scene, the activity, and go for it!

(originally posted September 9, 2009)

So You Want to be a Photographer

Very often people think I spend my days on vacation, showing up at beautiful locations, snapping a few images, and then lounging around. Ahh, if only this were true. The reality of it is, most photographers are working seven days a week, 10-12 hour days, and barely scraping by. My days are filled with endless hours of business development and marketing, and don’t even get me started on how much time I spend on the unplanned items like computer viruses or learning new software. I am still amazed at how little time I actually have to take pictures!

If you truly are interested in becoming a professional photographer, here are a few things to think about.

 

1. Look at your current salary. Remember to factor in what your employer is covering like health, dental, vision, 401k, and a portion of social security tax. Now, calculate how many headshots or family portraits you will have to shoot every week to make the same amount. Don’t forget that you will be paying around 40% in taxes because of your self-employment status and will no longer be receiving any benefits.

Still thinking it sounds easy-breezy? Let’s do some math:

You make $50,000 a year now (including bennies). Now, say you want to photograph family/maternity/child portraits. We’ll assume you are a skilled photographer with professional- grade equipment and charge $300 for your standard package.

$50,000 ÷ 12 months= $4167/month $4167 ÷ $300/portrait = 14 sessions/month or ~4 sessions/week

You will need to shoot about 4 photo sessions every week. Actually, it’s a heck of a lot more given your new tax bracket and all the benefits you have to pay for yourself. What you also don’t realize is how much time it takes to backup, edit, prepare, and deliver images to your client. Let’s say each photo session is 2 hours, so you’re thinking that you are making $150/hour. Think again. By the time you add up the editing, meeting with the client, etc., you are at 6 hours (8 hours total for just one photoshoot). Now your $150 gets brought down to $37.50. (Also, remember that bookkeeping, marketing, and other administration tasks are not included in this equation and take a lot of time!)

 

2. Equipment. What equipment do you have now and is it good enough for your business? Do you have lighting equipment? Do you know how to use flashes, strobes, and reflectors? It’s important to realize the upfront costs of equipment because it can break the bank. Have you thought about all the software you’ll need? Do you know how much Photoshop, Lightroom, Aperture, etc. cost? Don’t forget, all of this will be purchased on your ‘photographer’s salary’.

 

3. Marketing. Maybe you are reading this and still think that booking ~4 sessions every single week for 52 weeks every year sounds easy. How do you plan on differentiating yourself from all the other photographers? Don’t forget too that you are competing against professionals, as well as hobbyists who have side businesses and may offer ultra cheap packages.

Are you going to buy ads? If so, where and for how much? Maybe you’re thinking of putting an ad on Craigslist? After you’re done reading this blog go to Craigslist and search ‘photography’ and see how many results there are! How are you going to stand out in the crowd?

You say to yourself, I know loads of friends and family who already like my work- I’ll start there. Ok, ask around and see how many people right now are ready and able to pay $300 for a portrait? Remember, you need 4 families every week.

There are a million more items to discuss but this blog would go on forever. Let’s move to the happy side and discuss benefits:

1. Gone are the days of saying, “I can’t believe tomorrow is Monday already- where did my weekend go” or “thank God it’s Wednesday- the week’s half over“… To wake-up every morning and not dread what’s in store for you is awesome (and much better for mental health)!

2. No one tells you what to do and how to do it. This is good and bad. If you make sound decisions, running your own business rocks! However, if making good decisions isn’t your strong point this might seem a little scary.

3. Freedom. Your schedule is your own and you dictate where you will spend your time. If you want your work day to start at 10am there is nothing stopping you from it.

4. You are doing what you LOVE! There is no other feeling like it in the world. The power that that kind of happiness can give you is priceless!

I am not going to lie and say running my own photography business is easy because it isn’t. But I can honestly say that I have never been this happy in my life. Every decision I make matters. What I create, matters. I matter. And when a person sees my images and is blown away by what I have created, by what I have seen when others have not, it makes the long days (and nights) worth every minute!

 (originally posted 11/20/2009)

Prepping for Safety for Your Next Trip

Plane tickets? Check. Three ounce liquids in a Ziploc? Check. $15,000 worth of photography equipment? Check. A solid plan for keeping it AND you safe? …(queue the crickets).

Many people don’t put much thought into safety while traveling to other locations, particularly other countries. It’s critical though to put some planning into this. You may be a card-carrying member of the “insurance camp” that uses the rationale, “I’ve got insurance – I’m protected”. Sure, your equipment is protected but YOU are not. No amount of photography insurance will stop thugs from attacking you to get to your gear. Remember this, that fancy photography bag on your back makes you an instant target. I don’t care how much dirt or duct tape you use to ugly-it-up, thieves are smart enough to know what’s in it.

Here are a few easy and affordable tips that will keep you and your equipment safe:

  1. Carry a whistle and keep it attached you. Make sure it’s accessible at all times while photographing. Buried in the bottom of your bag will do you zero good. I attach mine to the strap of my backpack so it’s always inches from my mouth. My particular whistle is ear-piercing-loud and shocks anyone within a 200’ radius of me – and the poor fool dumb enough to get within 10’ might as well run the other way – and fast! One blow on this whistle will attract all eyes on me AND that thief going in for the grab. Remember, most thieves want to be undetected. A simple thing like a whistle kills their plan instantly.
  2. Consider a photography backpack that has side access to your gear versus one main zipper pocket on the outside (pointing out toward the crowd). Side access is much more difficult to access. You also won’t need to take your pack completely off to access your gear, eliminating more opportunities for thieves to get to your equipment.
  3. Eyes in the back of your head. The next best thing to eyes in the back of your noggin is your highly reflective LCD screen. I use this nifty trick all the time. While I am setting up my composition, I can also quickly look at the LCD screen, which acts like a mirror, and see who is behind me!

While photographing on the busy Charles Bridge in Prague I was constantly checking the reflection. Fortunately I noticed I was being followed and the guy was still about 30 feet away. I immediately turned around, put my camera to my side and locked eye contact with him. That simple act of making it blatantly obvious that I knew what he was up to was enough to make him do a fast 180 and walk away.

  • Make eye contact! Like I said above, it works! In Spain, while photographing the Alhambra from a local neighborhood, I noticed a group of gypsies following me. Because I was in a residential area at sunset there were very people walking around and zero tourists. This was before shooting digital so no LCD and no whistle (hadn’t figured that out yet) so basically I had nothing. The only option left was to literally stare them down one at a time. So that’s exactly what I did. I secured my gear, turned around so I was walking backward and facing them and began making eye contact with each of them as I walked toward my escape route. My plan was simple, make them realize I was memorizing everything about each of them. In all honestly I was scared to death and I just kept thinking, ‘please don’t trip, please don’t trip”. Whatever they saw in my face, who knows, but it was enough for them to back down and stop following me. I’m sure the whole process was only 30 seconds but it felt like an eternity.

I should note that I never get hostile or belligerent. NEVER escalate the situation. That is when things get ugly fast!

  • This brings me to safety tip #5, Be Blunt, Be Firm! I am not saying to be rude, but if you ever feel your safety is being compromised, be blunt! Don’t worry about niceties or how this will reflect on your countrymen – this is your safety we are talking about! Women, this is one tip you should be taking note of, particularly if you do a lot of photography alone. If you’re having a conversation with locals or tourists-alike and get that feeling down in your gut that something is not right, be firm that you are leaving, saying no, taking off, whatever the situation calls for. Again, you do NOT need to get hostile but be firm. Let them know that no amount of sweet persuasion will change your mind. Also, don’t be afraid to get others involved. I asked a bartender in Malaysia to tell a group of guys to back off. Remember, not all countries think it’s acceptable for women to travel alone (especially in this case since I was only 22).

Don’t worry if you offend someone. This is your safety we’re talking about!

If you have any other great tips you would like to share, please comment! I would love to hear what others use and what works well.

As always, happy shooting!

 

36 Views of Mt. Fuji

I’ve learned many lessons in my photographic journey. Some out of mistakes, others from fellow photographers, but the one very important lesson that guides me today came from my mentor, Eddie Soloway. A man who, in my opinion, is a true zen master of light, photography and life.

My lesson came about after one of our many discussions about my latest work on water reflections. I had been photographing the same fountain day after day, week after week. Frustration was setting in and I felt like living proof of that saying, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again yet expecting different results.” Sensing my frustration, Eddie shared the “Thirty-six Views of Mt. Fuji” lesson with me explaining that often times you simply need to change your perspective. Artist Katsushika Hokusai, in the early 1800s, began creating woodblock prints with Mt. Fuji as the reoccurring theme. He ultimately completed 100 but it was the first 36 that were published as a collection. Although Mt. Fuji appeared in every print, Hokusai made each one completely unique by changing his perspective.

The older I get the more I realize that changing perspective isn’t just a lesson in art but a lesson in life. This very lesson has made me re-think a great many thing both personally and professionally. Personally, I realize that what I think I want might not be what I need to be happy. Professionally, I understand that my art must have meaning to me. There needs to be depth to it, not just a pretty picture, otherwise it’s not worth creating. I need my art to fulfill me and have a strong level of emotion.

My advice to you, wherever you are in your journey, is to rethink, redefine, and always be willing to step back and consider a different perspective. It just might be what you’ve been looking for.

Making the Most of Flickr

As photographers we are always looking for ways to share the images we create. Fortunately the web is an extremely visual medium and gives us the opportunity to share our work globally. One of the best sites for this is flickr with 36 million members and over 3.5 billion photos! Flickr is also the fastest growing photo-sharing site and the 7th most trafficked social media site overall (according to Nielsen and NetRatings).

I want to provide a few tips on getting the most out of the site as well as some “don’ts” in the flickr world. Remember, social media sites are only as good as the people who use them – and use them correctly.

Definite Do’s

    • Fill out your profile with name, website, and bio. This is your opportunity to let people know about you and your business. Maybe you have an extremely unique style and want to educate people about it– here’s your chance.
    • When you choose a screen name, make it the name of your company “e.g. Amy Wise Photography”.
    • Use either a company logo or a professional image of yourself. As a photographer I want people to relate to me directly so I chose an image of myself. I want people to be able to put a face with a name (rather than a logo that may change a year from now). If your company is comprised of multiple photographers, a logo is the way to go. Whatever you do, don’t leave this blank and have robo picture as the filler!
    • Organize your images in Sets (think of Sets as Albums). Whether the Sets are ‘personal & professional’, ‘residential & commercial’, choose a system that works for you and stick with it.
    • Be selective when choosing the thumbnail to represent each Set. Decide on your best image and make that your main Set image.
          a. You can do this by going to Organize & Create > Your Sets > Click on the Set to edit > drag your preferred thumbnail image into the left column and place it over the current thumbnail > SAVE!
    • Join groups that relate to your content whether it is as large as “Travel” to as specific as “Sunsets at Imperial Beach”.
    • Contribute regularly to your groups. Not only should you add your own pictures but also be sure to comment on others’ images; it’s key to building relationships on flickr. Why should people comment on yours if do not return the love?
    • Regularly check the discussion threads on your groups and see if you can add valuable information. For example, if you’re a member of the “Leaf Peepers, New England Group” and a discussion is started regarding weather in Stowe and you live there, add a quick weather report. Even give a little overview on what the leaves currently look like.
    • Add people you like/admire as contacts. By doing this you are building a rapport with these folks and will get updates when they add new images.
          a. If they add you as a contact too you are able to send them updates of your latest images. Just remember not to abuse this feature. Your contacts don’t need updates on every photoshoot you do. Save this function for special images.
    • Utilize the tagging feature. Be sure to describe your image well as this helps others find your work.
      Beautiful lighting makes this image of Alcazar Garden in Balboa Park pop!

              a. Here’s an example. The image below is of Alcazar Garden in Balboa Park. These are the tags I chose to go with the image: alcazar garden, balboa park, flower, san diego, winter, Amy, Wise, fine art prints, fine art,

      www.amywisephotography.com

              , photography, art,

      travel

            , tips, techniques, all rights reserved, copyright, ©Amy Wise
    • Add a title to each image. I know this is a pain in the rear but “Raining Fire” is a lot sexier and more interesting than “_IMG_4392”.
    • Watermark your images. People seem to think that anything on the web is fair game. The most valuable asset a photographer has is his/her images (and the rights to them) – don’t get lazy on managing their safety!

Definite Don’ts

Slow shutter speeds create emotional imagery of spring blooming trees.

 

    • Don’t post a public gallery of images of you and your drunk friends from last weekend. Flickr allows you to mark sets and even individual images as private or only viewable to friends/family. Be sure to use this feature. Nothing says amateur-hour like inappropriate images on a site you use for business.
          a. This doesn’t mean that you cannot have pictures of you on a photoshoot or capturing special family moments- just use some judgment on what’s appropriate.
    • Don’t use flickr as a dumping ground for every image you have ever taken! Just because you took 350 images on your last photoshoot doesn’t mean you have to post all of them. If three of the images rock, only post three! I cannot push this point enough. Only show your best work!
    • Don’t join 50 groups and post your own work without commenting on others’ work.
    • Don’t try to sell a product or service. This is an uber no-no and is against flickr’s rules. If you have a cool product shot and someone is interested, trust me, they will contact you.
            a. As tempting as it may be to slip in a sales pitch in a forum, don’t do it! The only time it’s ok to sell your service is if someone asked for recommendations.
          b. Not only is there a “nofollow” tag that was implemented last year but you can be removed from the group for abuse.
    • Don’t poo-poo others. If someone is looking for critiques then provide them with well thought out constructive criticism. Saying, you’re work sucks, isn’t going to help anyone.

 

If there are flickr tips that you would like to share, be sure to comment on this post or visit me at facebook and leave your tips there.

 

Happy Shooting!

Product Photography with a Point-n-Shoot Camera

If you sell products online (particularly on sites like Etsy) but find that hiring a professional photographer is out of the question, read on. If you have the budget to hire a professional photographer…call me!

You’ve undoubtedly seen some bad product photography out there and it most likely left you with negative feelings. Often a bad picture can go beyond not doing justice to the item you’re selling, it can turn away potential buyers. The entire purpose of this blog is to offer some tips on product photography, specifically using a point-n-shoot camera in a studio/office. For those using dSLR cameras, all the tips and tricks apply. Every image shown in this post was created with a 3-4 year old point-n-shoot camera with limited capabilities. The only lighting used was the on-camera flash and the offices lights. Furthermore, there weren’t any reflectors, gels, or diffusers used. Also, a very special thanks to Elements Refined for allowing me to work in their studio and photograph a few of their beautiful tote bags.

What not to do in product photography

Let’s get started. In the first two images above you’ll notice that the background is a mess and no time was taken to stuff the bag to give structure or show the size. Even when using the model, the background is distracting and the pose unattractive. If you’re going to use a model, decide on some flattering positions that ‘sell’ your item! The model should be a prop, nothing more. This means that using a supermodel or “It’s Pat” (Saturday Night Live reference) are both bad ideas because they become a distraction. If the first comment people make is about the model, you’ve missed the mark.

Good example of product photography with a point-n-shoot camera

Notice the next two images above. The model is now set against a white backdrop, eliminating the distractions in the background, and the crop is tight so that the focus is on the tote bag itself. Also, her hands are relaxed, not strained. It sounds like a silly point but when hands are pulling on a strap or pushing a binder into a bag it looks really bad! Remember, keep focus on the bag and keep the pose relaxed.

The set-up for your in-home, in-studio product shoot

Now let’s get to the nitty-gritty of making your own studio. Here’s what I used for this shoot:

• White foam board

• Clear sheet of plastic to sit on top of the foam board and provide a subtle reflection

• White fabric to hang against the wall

• Wood stick (seen in images below) and thread that will allow me to ‘magically’ prop the handles of the bag up and keep it from sagging

Notice the bottom left image is slightly better than the first two images at the beginning of the blog. I have my base and backdrop set-up but the bag looks saggy. To give it shape but keep it light and easy to work with, I stuffed newspaper in a plastic sack and placed the sack inside the bag. Note that you can see it though; not good. Be sure to tuck that stuffing inside, out of sight!

Look at the image to the bottom right and see how different the bag looks now. The stuffing has filled out the base and the handles are tied to the wood stick with a light-colored thread.

From bad to good; how to give your bag shape

 

How to set-up your bag for an interior image

What else do you notice in the top right image? If you said props, you’re right. What a difference it makes to show how the bag is used! Props are also a great way to show size. This handy tote bag not only is wide enough to hold a binder, but the side pockets can also hold a large water bottle. Never forget how powerful visual aids can be when selling products. Sure you can list the dimensions in the description, but how many people can accurately and quickly comprehend the size of the product from a bunch of numbers.

On a product like this the interior is every bit as important as the exterior, but interior shots can be difficult to say the least.

Look at the next image to your right. This shows how one handle is tied overhead to help open the space. I also placed a piece of plexiglass in the base of the bag so it would stay up. You can get very creative here. I’ve used everything from Kleenex boxes, to cooking tongs in product photography!

Now we move in tighter to show the final image below. Because it is quite deep I had to use the flash to get enough light into the bag. Unfortunately my point-n-shoot is so old that I cannot control the flash output. I knew that if I stood too close to the bag that my image would have a very washed out look to it, which is terrible for product photography. To compensate for this I simply stood farther back and used the zoom function.

Great example of photographing a bag’s interior

Again, be sure to show the interior in use. Look for objects that people can relate to like mobile phones, glasses, wallet, etc. I can’t stress this enough, especially for companies like Elements Refined that put a lot of great features in its products. Differentiating is critical when selling items, particularly online when all people have to go off of are the images you supply.

Final image, product photography with a point-n-shoot camera

Now that you’ve seen the studio set-up, let’s check out the final images:

Final Images, Ready to go on Etsy or Any Other Online Craft Site

If you have any additional questions, be sure to comment here or leave a comment on facebook and I’ll try to answer all of them. I know the process can feel overwhelming, but just take it one step and one picture at a time. Also, don’t be afraid to experiment and try various angles. Get low, get high, get close. If they don’t turn out you can always delete, no one has to know  .

My final point is that you don’t need fancy cameras and editing software to get attractive images. Keep the shot simple and clean and always remember that the product is the most important!

For more of Elements Refined visit them on Etsy. You can also check out my Etsy store here.

Happy Shooting and Happy Selling!

5 Tips for Summer Photography

      1. Catch the Action! Summer is a great time to practice those action Dramatic capture of water drops in a fountain, San Francisco, CAshots. Set your camera to shutter-priority and try speeds at 1/500 and faster. If you’re using a point-n-shoot camera, go into your menu and look for a sport mode. For those DSLR users, be sure to set your camera on continuous shooting. By doing this you will increase your chances of capturing that perfect picture. Imagine your little one doing a flip off the diving board for the first time. You do not want to miss it! By having a fast shutter speed and continuous shooting, you are more likely to capture the moment. Don’t forget about composition though! When we shoot action scenes, it’s very easy to hone in on the subject but forget the background. Imagine capturing the exact moment your son jumped into the air to catch a baseball that won the game but you didn’t plan your overall scene and your image shows a tree growing out of his head. Know your surroundings and you should be able to avoid this.
      2. Watch that high-noon light and learn to compensate for it. When the sun is burning bright your camera will often times try to correct for the brightness and underexpose your images. Be aware of this and consider using fill-flash. I know many people do not like the look of a flash but if used properly, you can get great images. You’ll also reduce the big triangular shadows on your family’s faces. Most point-n-shoot cameras have the ability to increase and decrease the power of the flash. Play around with it and know your camera’s capabilities.
      3. Models. Turn your family and friends into models this summer. Rather than taking a picture of a setting sun on the ocean, place your kids in the foreground playing in the last moments of sun. Use your daughter and her surfboard to create that ‘endless summer’ look. Even consider using objects to add interest to the composition. Take a look at the images of the sun setting over Puget Sound. The colors that evening were brilliant and the water was calm. Rather than just capture the sky and water in the first image, I changed my composition and placed a single boat and the full moon into my frame to create a story and add depth to my image. Don’t be afraid to get creative and add some interest to your shots.
      4. Dramatic Summer Waves in San Diego, CA captured by photographer Amy WiseKeep your horizon straight! You all know what I’m talking about because I am willing to bet it has happened to all of us. Picture this: the sun is setting fast and you know it’s going to be gorgeous so you quickly setup your tripod and camera. In your haste though, you forgot to verify that the horizon line was straight! I can’t tell you how many people have told me, “I meant to do that – it’s creative.” Control your creativity, don’t let it control you. Here’s a few tips that will help:
        • buy a bubble level that sits in your flash shoe. Take the picture ONLY when your bubble says it’s straight.
        • Many DSLRs offer grid functionality in the Live View mode. This means that a grid will appear over your image (on your LCD screen) and help you maintain straight lines.
      5. Light my fire. In the U.S. we can always count on a great display of 4th of July fireworks. Here’s a few tips to help you capture them:
        • Use a tripod and shutter release. If you are in a busy area, be sure you won’t have people kicking/tripping on the legs of your tripod. The shutter release will also help avoid unnecessary shake.
            1. If you plan on taking photos from a boat, do not forget that the boat is moving, thus you are moving as well.
            2. Don’t forget your composition! It’s like the tree coming out of the ballplayer’s head- don’t forget to plan your shot. A perfect capture of the firework finale with a dumpster in your foreground does not a good picture make.
            3. You do not need your camera on ISO 1600 with a fast shutter speed. In actuality, you’ll want to slow it down a bit, especially if you want to get some light into your overall scene. Start on ISO 100 and experiment from there. Try using aperture-priority and start with an f/8.
            4. Turn your flash off. Your flash will never illuminate fireworks a half-mile away. The only thing that flash is going to do is illuminate the dumpster. 

As always, Happy Shooting!

Will Photograph for Free

Sound familiar? How about this…“If you photograph our event for free, we will consider you for upcoming events.” What you now have to decide is if working for free will actually pay off. You want to break into the photography industry but the last time you checked, working for free doesn’t pay bills or put food on the table. In situations like this it is usually the photographer who gets the short end of the stick. Consider this as a reason why. The photography industry is saturated to the point you can wring it out and fill buckets! Companies know this and know there are plenty of people willing to work for free in hopes of getting their foot (and lens) in the door.

Here’s a few ideas to ensure both you and the organization come out as winners. I should also mention that dealing with non-profit organizations create some gray areas. Non-profits by nature rely on donations of time, money, and talent. You’ll need to judge each situation as it comes, but #3 below provides some guidance.

1. With companies, always make a trade. NEVER work solely for free. It cheapens you as a business and brings down the entire photography industry. If a company isn’t willing to pay you now, more likely than not they won’t be willing to pay in the future.

2. Consider swapping photography services for marketing/sales opportunities. As an example, if the company is acknowledging sponsors of its event, make sure your info is listed as an in-kind sponsor with your name, website and type of service. Another example is including your marketing collateral (business postcard, promotional swag, etc.) in the company’s gift basket.

3. If you’re offering your services pro bono to your favorite non-profit, do not be afraid to ask for something in return. Here’s an example: let’s say you set-up a mini studio at a non-profit’s annual family picnic. You handle the photography for free and in return are allowed to sell the images. Some photographers even print a free 4×6 image on the spot with ordering details for larger sizes. Get creative and think out of the box. You may only spend a few minutes with the family but people are always more inclined to use someone they are familiar with for future photography needs.

4. Let’s say a local radio station is starting its summer concert series and you really want to get in on the events. Offer to shoot one event for free provided they are willing to book two additional events for pay. If they agree to an arrangement like this, get it in writing and make them sign it! Also state when you expect payment.

Have a number in your head of how many trade and free events (non-profits) you are willing to work during the year and stick to it. The last thing you want to do is overwhelm your schedule with unpaid events and become “that guy” who works for free. I realize that building a portfolio and gaining experience is a challenge, but do not sell yourself, your time, or your talent short.

There are as many ‘for trade’ possibilities as there are stars in the sky. Again, get creative! If you have a great idea to share with other photographers, please post it in the comments section below or on my Facebook page.

Happy Shooting!