Sunday, September 12, 2010

Sometimes life just gets in the way

We all have lives that we have to attend to, and every artist out there has been through the starving artist time in life; even if only briefly. Starving artist isn't a myth, it's a fact. This is only more apparent in these troubled times and economy, where money that one spends on pleasure rather than necessity runs short. Art is not a necessity, but a pleasure. As such, it is much more difficult to sell, and this is where our starving artists come from.

Knowing this, I definitely did not plan to just live off income from my photography right off the bat--that'd be crazy! It takes time to build up a reputation, and to get your name out on the streets and into the public's mind. So of course, this meant I needed to find something to pay the bills.

Off I went to find a job, and it was actually my belly dance instructor that helped me in to one. Her older sister was the manager of a local bagel shop and was looking for help. Awesome. I was basically hired on the spot, and I didn't look back. Here was a job willing to give me close to 40hrs a week, at pay that was just above minimum wage, and heck, it was a simple job too!

This mentality lasted for about a month. Unfortunately, this job had quite a bit of drama that you were a part of even if you didn't want to be. Because of the drama, we had a high turnover rate. And since I was a supervisor, I had to help the manager make up for all the people who left... meaning one day I'd be working from 5am-1pm, and the next day it might be 10am-6pm. I never was given either an opening or a closing schedule; I was always bouncing around and not able to set into a routine. This severely interrupted my creativity, because I was run down and had no energy for photography. In fact, I pretty much napped the summer away because the job left me so drained.

I decided about a month ago that this just wasn't working. I wasn't able to work on my photography at all, and I definitely wasn't able to promote myself. So I went job hunting.

I ended up much luckier than most in this economy, because one of my friends works for a small company that produces Architectural Signage. So I applied there, was fought over between the office and the shop, and ended up getting hired to work in the shop. This job starts on the 20th, and that means I'll be out of retail for good. It's a M-F 7am-3:30pm position. No more bouncing around a schedule. And I will be trained in a specific skill set, which I'll be able to put on my resume from here on out, just in case.

All in all, it should prove to be a very good move for me. And it will definitely open up far more time for my photography, so look forward to it!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The "Rules" of Photography

We've all heard about the "rules" you're supposed to follow when it comes to taking photos. Anyone who has taken a photography course has probably had the rules drilled into their brains until they can recite them in their sleep. But what exactly are the rules, and do you really have to follow them to get good results?

Rules are things such as:
  • Sunny 16 (f/16 1/125sec for photographing the sun)
  • Catchlights in human eyes
  • Using short lighting
  • Color cast removal
  • Never centering an image
  • Specific uses of light
  • Angle usage

These are just a few examples of things you may have heard of/been taught. And many people probably follow them without a second thought.

The rules aren't so much rules, as they are a foundation though. They're a starting point for learning, on which one can build. Everyone needs to learn and use the rules to start--it's just a good base to get yourself started with. It's a way to see how a photo will be effected by certain elements. And by forcing yourself to use the rules at first, you will learn to be a careful photographer who plans a shot. Planning allows for a finer execution 90% of the time, and can really make the difference in many cases.

Of course, once you have the solid foundation, you have to start building the creativity on top of it.

Photography is nothing but a big experiment. By learning the rules, and using them, you've created a control for yourself; think back to science labs on this one. Now that you have a control, you can start breaking the rules and experimenting to see what works, and what you probably never want to do again. And since you have the control, you'll be able to identify just what it is that's causing the effect you're getting.

For example, the Sunny 16 rule states that when photographing the sun (or moon, since it's a reflection of the sun) you should shoot with an aperture of f/16, and a shutter speed of 1/125 sec. This does indeed produce a crisp sun or moon with no halo. And in some cases, it's a beautiful capture. But maybe you want a gentle gradation and for the sun to really blend into the sky or sunset. You can leave the aperture alone, and try slowing the shutter speed down, or you can leave the shutter speed and open your aperture up more; at least to start. Then maybe you'll stop down or up. The choices are endless, but because you understand what the Sunny 16 does, you'll understand what's going on in your experiments all the more. And for someone who is just starting out in photography and really getting to know their camera, this can be a crucial learning point to really understand what each function does. After all, hands on is usually the best teaching tool!

The other thing we must always bear in mind though, is that the rules came about because they work, and almost always create beautiful imagery so long as the creativity is there. So when people look at your photography, they may be a bit adverse to your experimentation. Don't sweat it. We all have a personal opinion, and everyone has certain things that they just don't like. You're going to meet personal opinions all over the place, and most of the time you just have to let them go.

My suggestion: Don't take the advice unless you hear it from three or more people, or over 50% of the comments echo the same feeling (depending on how many you get). If multiple people feel that you didn't do too well in one aspect, then chances are you could do better. But just one opinion doesn't mean too much a lot of the time. After all, it's only one person.

Why do I say this?

Let me give you an example.

A big thing right now in the world of photography is the use of angles to create interesting views. Photographers all over are tilting their cameras and their photos to come up with more interesting crops. The rules state that you shouldn't do this. Most people out there really enjoy it when this rule is broken though, and so the angles have become quite the fad. Me personally? I usually hate angles. It's not because of the rule, but it's because unless they're done really well, I feel like the subject is falling out of the frame most time.

So if I were to comment on a photo taken that uses the angle idea, I would probably mention that I don't care for the angle much. However, I wouldn't expect that advice to necessarily be taken because the majority of people who left comments will probably love the use of the angle.

Basically, this means when it comes to these "rules", you do need to learn them before you break them. They will be a good foundation on which you can build. Don't get hung-up on them though, because it's the rebellious that get noticed. Use them to find what works for you, get rid of what doesn't, and improve yourself. And don't let anyone's opinion get in your way of this journey because remember, everyone has one and most of them stink.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

It's a Three-Part Process

Many times, as a photographer, I find that people who are in awe of my photos wonder how someone can learn to see the way I do, and take the shots that I do. And I know I'm not the only photographer who gets this--anyone who has learned the craft and spent years doing so and refining their knowledge does. Granted, I don't have as many years under my belt as some of my fellow photographers, but I can tell you a little bit about how I learned what I know.

Photography, for me, started off as something fun. Like so many out there, I just picked up a camera and went with it. The difference is, I was somewhat selective in the shots I took, and shared. I was no Ansel Adams or Annie Leibovitz, but I tried. I had no technical skill at all. I set my camera to Aperture Priority, and I ran with it. Mostly because that's what seemed easy to do at the time. And rarely did I change anything except the ISO, because I only had a loose idea of what anything did.

What I did have at this time, back in 2006, was an eye. I saw things that I knew I liked, and I had a vision in my head of what I wanted. I didn't realize how much of this was done out-of-camera, so I never quite achieved it. But I did do a lot of fun things with posing, and just of breaking all the rules--mostly because I didn't know the rules. I had a creative vision, and I had a lot of fun.

When I entered the Hallmark Institute of Photography in the fall of 2007, that changed. Slowly I lost my creativity as I worked to learn all the technical details. And, when I learned the rules I naturally wanted to follow them--all of them. I didn't break the rules, and it wasn't as fun any more. Now I had technically sound photos, but the life and creativity in them just wasn't there as much. I could see it, and it disheartened me a bit. Part of this was because I was trying to do it "right", and a big portion of it was from the stress of the school. I can do well under short bursts of stress, and in fact I often excel in those circumstances, however this was a year of stress and it does take its toll after a while.

So when I left Hallmark the summer of 2008, I had all the knowledge in the world of the technical side of photography. I always properly exposed my images, I knew how to crop them, I had a finer grasp of composition than previously, I understood color theory, and so much more. Photoshop had gone from being an enemy to my best friend, my tablet was now actually an asset, and I had all the makings for starting my own business.

It's been two years since I attended Hallmark. And in those two years I have been on the third part of my journey where I'm slowly combining together the creativity I once had, with the technical skills I recently learned. It's not an easy journey, either, because I am constantly second-guessing myself on whether it's okay to break the rules, and still there are times that I get so caught up in the rules that I forget to try breaking them. But as I watch the work I produce, I see more and more of me in my photos, and less and less of technical knowledge. I know I'm on the right path again, finally.

So if you're an aspiring photographer out there reading this, wondering if you'll have a similar experience, you might. We all have to learn the technical side of photography at some point if we truly want to master the craft. The question is, will you be able to learn the technical side without loosing your creativity to it? It's not a bad thing if you do, as you can see from my experience, but it does mean your process is going to take longer than others perhaps.

Someone once told me, and sadly I am no longer in contact with this person due to the circumstances of life, that "Sometimes, I wish I didn't know all the technical stuff so that I could just shoot. But I'm glad I have it."

How true those words are.

So remember, photography is a journey. No one truly gets it over night, and few are lucky enough to have the talent to just pick up a camera and run with it. It takes time to learn your tools (camera, software, lighting, ect) and time to discover your creativity and where you do best in the world of photography.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Livestream Success! And More...

I'm sorry that I forgot to make a post on here about the Livestream actually happening, but if you follow me on Twitter, then you knew about it. Anyways, the Livestream went off really well this past Tuesday at 6pm EST, and it was a blast! You can still see the videos if you'd like, right here on my channel. I say videos, because there were a few disconnect glitches--one which actually cut off and never returned, even though I thought it had.

Still, it was a lot of fun, and I had a great audience. They were small in numbers, but very lively! I'll definitely be doing another one in the future, and I hope to see you there! The next one will have much more advanced notice, and it will be shorter--much shorter. Only one photo next time, but we'll go right through the entire process again. And someday, I'll do ones for specific techniques I like to use and such. So if there's anything you're curious on that I do (retouching wise), just speak up in my comment box on here and let me know! I'd be glad to cover things you're specifically interested in!

Thanks to the Livestream, I do have some new imagery for you as well! Remember, you can see larger versions of these images on my website!

The first one I have I didn't actually cover in the Livestream. It's something that I created, posted on my DeviantART, and then wasn't sure if I wanted to share it on my main site. After a lot of debate with myself, I decided that I would. It's from when I decided that playing with glitter would be a lot of fun, and hey, why not add some fire too?

I've been told this is a very dreamy image in a way, and a lot of people are very fond of it. What do you think?

These next two images were retouched during the first Livestream and can the processes for each can be seen in their entirety in the videos. Definitely a lot of fun, and I recommend viewing the videos!

This first one stems from my love of glassware, and of putting red against white. There's just something so powerful about that combination, and I use it at every available opportunity. I will have another version of this eventually, but here is the first one. This photo will be made available for purchase in the future, so watch for that as well!

This image is a macro shot that was not planned at all. I've just been enjoying macro photography a lot as of late, and this happened to be the winner out of a lot of failures from that particular photoshoot. You can see all the failures and more in those first Livestream videos, if you're interested! I talk a little bit about why things fail, too, so it's totally human and no ego! A nice change from some of the things you can see out there, I'd think.

All this macro is, is some really funky fabric and awesome eyeshadow I found at Hot Topic. The eyeshadow is fairly untouched, which is why it's so clean--and perfect for macro photography! Enjoy!

This last image is going to be best viewed on my website, because it's a triptych and therefore the details are very small for the blog image. It's definitely worth a larger view though! My model was a good friend of mine, and my sister did the hair and makeup for us. I started retouching a photo from the set that these three came from as a part of the Livestream, but that's where it cut off so you never actually get to see the end. Very sad. Still, I love so many of these images, so you'll definitely see more! Please enjoy!

And remember, view them all larger and better at my website!

Saturday, March 20, 2010


I have a wide network of artistic friends--not just photographers--because I feel we can all learn and share with one another. And it's true, because I often find myself looking at paintings or drawings and sometimes even music videos, and I say to myself, "Wow, the lighting used on that is awesome!" or "I really like that pose!" There are tons of other things I might enjoy too, but those are just a couple of examples. If I'm saying this to myself though, I find a way to save the image, or link, or whatever the case may be; and then I go back to it. I call it my Idea Book, really.

Since I have such a large network, I often hear of cool or interesting ideas they're playing out. One that is huge right now in the anime and manga artist circles are Livestreams. They're live feeds of what the artist is doing at that very moment, and it's popular with fans and aspiring artists because they get to watch how a piece of art is created.

So I thought to myself "Hmm... people are interested in my workflow and retouching techniques, and I'm interested in reaching out to those who admire what I know how to do."

With the push of a couple good friends, I decided that I am going to attempt a Livestream of my digital workflow. It's going to cover the entire process; adding photos to my Lightroom catalog, reviewing images, selecting the best ones, tweaking in Lightroom, retouching in Photoshop, cropping, and probably much more! You name it for the computer, and I'm probably going to cover it--at least for my style.

Some people might say "Well then they won't need you anymore!" and I say so what. Just because I show the process does not mean everyone is going to be able to repeat the steps. I spent a good year learning what I do, and I forgot a lot of it because there was so much information to take in! By no means am I a pro. However, artists work better in a community than in competition; so if I can help just one person get a better understanding of a digital workflow, or help them to decide if they think a program would be a good purchase; then I've done a good thing.

I have no worries about someone "stealing my secrets". There are no secrets. If you look hard enough, you can learn everything that I know. So why should I be worried that someone will steal something? I had to learn it from somewhere too, after all!

The only thing I might be worried about, is that people are going to be able to see all my rejected images, screw ups, and things that you just don't know what the heck I was trying to do. But that's okay too, because no one is perfect. I am not a perfect photographer, and neither is anyone else. I am, however, a strong photographer because I never give up, I never stop practicing, and I always try to do my best.

People deserve to see the truth. And the truth is, 90% of what you photograph you will never use at first, because you're learning. As you start to develop a solid style, you will use more and more of the photographs that you see and/or create. But it's highly unlikely that every photo you take you will use. Art is a constant learning process, and to learn you must make mistakes.

So despite all the "negative" aspects of what could come of a Livestream, I'm going to give it a shot once I have some new imagery. I'm going to let my audience help me to choose some of the images, I'm going to have audio enabled on my end so I can speak and explain as I'm going along, and there will be a chat box on the side for commentary, chatter, and questions.

I think it's going to be a great creative and learning process for both myself, and anyone who decides to view my feed! So if you're interested, please keep an eye on my Twitter or Facebook Fanpage for details on when a Livestream will be hosted! It won't be for a few days, at the most, since I do need to create some new imagery to use in the first one. But I look forward to it when I'm ready!

My Livestream will be located here:

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

St. Patrick's Day!

Happy St. Patrick's Day to everyone! In honor of this super green day full of rainbows and pots of gold, I bring you some new photographs! Including one specifically for this day!

As you're about to see, I was playing around more with the macro stuff. I have one re-shot photo that I think you'll enjoy, and two new ones! I definitely feel like I'm getting the hang of this style of photography, and I really hope that you enjoy what I have to share with you!

My biggest problem, definitely, is the fact that I have pretty bad eyes. Sure, they could be a lot worse, but I still have issues with my viewfinder on my camera. Every time I switch which lens I'm using, I need to change the diopter so that I can see if I've got true focus or not. Because of this I've become pretty reliant on auto-focus... but auto-focus doesn't really work as well for macro photography. You really want to have full control with macros, and so I'm running into a few road blocks with it. But, rather than alter the diopter, I'm just learning to see differently. That way I will just get used to it, since this isn't my most-used lens. And if you've ever had to adjust your diopter, you know what I mean when I say it's a pain in the butt!!!

Either way though, the more I use it, the better I'll get at seeing what I'm creating. Eventually, I will just know if I have achieved good focus or not, regardless of if it actually looks sharp through the viewfinder. And maybe someday I'll have the guts to let the optometrist surgeons stick lasers in my eyes to fix my vision... but that's pretty unlikely!

Along with all these new photos, I also updated my website! I had to, because I needed two new galleries, plus I had to add all the photographs! So I bring to you my Origami Project in its own gallery now, and my Macro Photography also has its own gallery! Please enjoy!

And now what you've been waiting for! The photos! Remember, you can view them even larger on my website, here:

Monday, March 8, 2010

Rediscovering an Old Friend

Five years ago I was a film photographer... student. I was in high school, and I was using a Nikon N75 for my b+w photography class. My parents got the camera for me only after all other options were ruled out, and we paid a smooth $250 for it at Ritz Camera.

It came with this cute little Quantaray 28-90mm lens, with macro capabilities at 90mm. Back in that high school photography class, I often wondered what that macro thing was, and just never bothered to ask. I was having too much fun with the projects.

After that class it went in my closet, and wasn't heard from again until I let a friend borrow it for the same class. Came back home in perfect condition, and back in the closet it went. That was about two years ago.

I recently thought to ask about the lens though, and if you could take a lens from a film camera and use it on a digital one. Felt kind of like an idiot for asking, but hey, I only know how to use a lens, not too much of the hardware. The answer was how I thought though--yes, I could.

So I dug out the N75, and I switched that Quantaray from the N75 to the D200, and went to town.

I have been itching to do macro for a while now, and wishing I had the thousand some-odd dollars for a beautiful macro lens to do it with. I've been trying to fudge it with what I have at low apertures, and in very few cases it kind of worked. But after my failed water drop stuff, I realized I really needed the macro lens.

Do you know how badly I wanted to put my head through a wall for being so dense to not have thought about my old N75 until now? Wow... I've had a macro lens collecting dust in my closet for five years.

Playing with it tonight was euphoric, to say the least.

Here are my results, re-shooting will be coming up after some feedback. Enjoy! And don't be afraid to leave me some comments and critiques! You can view more of my photography at

This was the first shot. The focus is definitely a bit off, but I really loved the idea and the angle, so I included it. It is going to be re-shot.

I had forgotten I had these little daisy buttons... until tonight. I really loved how it "reflected" on the fabric, but I need to re-shoot it with some better focus as well. Still, the concept makes me smile and I wanted to share it.

Looking at this shot makes me smile... a lot. I totally planned this, and pushed colour theory as far as I could.

For this, I had a broken bead and some interesting fabric. I think I'm going to re-shoot it and try to adjust the focus a bit, but I still really like this shot as it is as well.

Friday, February 26, 2010

I am a Mentor

A site that I frequent that I don't think many of my colleagues do, is DeviantART. It has a bit of a bad reputation for being drama central, and I have to admit I have seen the drama on there; but it has never effected me. I tend to stay to my own little crowd, and now that I've learned I keep some of my more controversial opinions to myself, and it works well. So if you do not use DeviantART at all, perhaps give it a try. You can find me on there at the following link:

That being said, I recently joined a group on there called The Photography Union. DeviantART is saturated with groups for photography, but this one stands out from the crowd because it's not simply promoting the work of photographers, it's striving to promote the growth of photographers, and to share their finest photographs. Certainly, this doesn't mean they are only sharing professional-quality work, but they are sharing what they feel shows that they have a diverse community of photographers willing to teach, and to learn.

What got me the most though, was that since they want to promote learning so much, they started a Mentor Project. Now, the one currently going on is phase two, meaning there was one before this! So I have high hopes that there will be more after this as well.

Upon seeing this I immediately signed up as a mentor, and I did so for a few reasons.

The first, and biggest one, is that I love teaching. I always thought I'd hate teaching because it'd be too monotonous, but I've proven myself otherwise when it comes to photography. I love seeing how my simple comments and suggestions help those who are looking for such critiques grow, and improve. I love sharing my knowledge with others, and seeing how their creativity interprets it. And I love helping create a mind primed with the tools it needs to do the best it can out there in the artistic world. I know I'm not going to be able to teach someone everything, but to know I am playing a part, even a small one, in the process someone goes through to discover who they are as a photographer gives me great elation. There's nothing like it.

I also noticed that the group had tons of people wanting to have a mentor, and not enough mentors to go around! So even if there was someone I would have loved to learn from, there were just too many trainees, and so I decided to fill in a mentor position. I wouldn't trade it for the world.

Being a mentor is also going to help me see if my ways of teaching are effective or not. If I ever decide to do this in a classroom setting, I need to know. And I'm a firm believer that if you can teach it over the internet, you can probably teach it in a classroom.

Those are my big reasons, but I have many various little ones as well that I won't bore you with here.

Now, I'm also aware that I am not the greatest photographer out there, but I do have knowledge that others can use. So no matter what, I have something to bring to the table, and to teach, and that's exactly what I'm doing.

Meet my trainee, CrossMyHeart13. He has nothing but a point-and-shoot, passion, and an eager mind. But, he asked me to teach him anything, and we decided on fine art black and white photography. He hasn't been shooting long, but he has the eye and the heart, and so I'm enjoying working with him.

The first assignment I gave him to take care of, as per the mentor project details, was to capture the six elements of b+w photography. I learned these back in my High School photography class, and I never forgot them.

They are:

Here is what my trainee came up with, not all on his first try, but overall:

Please click on it to see the full view.

I'm very proud of him, and am excited to see where we can take it from here! Assignment two is going to cover lighting, and how it can affect the mood of a photograph.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Possible Project 52

I don't know how many of you out there reading this right now follow Project 365, so I'll explain what it is before I even get in to the meet and potatoes of this blog entry.

Project 365 is something photographers (to my knowledge)started doing. Basically, it involves taking a photo every single day for a year--hence the 365. Some photographers do great with this project, and hardly miss a day. They enjoy it, grow from it, and have a blast. Other photographers, however, find that it becomes a chore. They flounder and get behind, or they loose the passion for photography. It becomes, for them, a project where they're just taking a photograph for the sake of doing so. So depending on the type of person you are, this is either a really great project, or a really poor project.

There are tons of other 365 projects that stemmed from this as well, but I'm not going to get into those.

Me, personally, would never manage a Project 365. I am the kind of person that gets distracted too easily if I'm not on a job of some sort, and I know I'd constantly be missing days. That, and sometimes I am just not inspired to photograph anything. Usually my Idea Book can help me out, but I don't want to have to rely on that anymore than necessary.

Still, doing a project like this would be nice. And so as I was following my Twitter feeds, my good friend Scott Wood (Twitter) posted a new photo, with a tag of #IR52.

IR52 huh?

So he was doing a Project 52 instead of a Project 365, it would seem, and hey, that's not too bad. Asking him about it, he decided this was just a better fit for him.

And heck, it's a better fit for me, too.

Project 52 works like 365, only instead of taking a photo every day, you aim for one photo a week. You're still photographing consistently, but you're not burning yourself out in the process. This is also a far better idea for me, since hey, I already know I'm not disciplined enough for Project 365.

Still, I'm not entirely sure. I'm still hunting around for a stable place in this economy, and that does take priority over photography right now. Bills have to be paid.

But, just in case things do stabilize soon and I can make time for a Project 52, I have given myself the first push!

I wasn't totally in a photographic mood this evening, but I did get some beautiful roses for Valentine's Day that weren't dead yet. I'd been meaning to photograph them for a while, but I kept letting other things get in the way from the thirty minutes it'd take to set up and photograph them. Tonight finally I kicked myself in the butt and took some photos of them.

This is my end result:

To see it larger, please visit my website:
This photo would be found in the Fine Art gallery.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Bellydance Show

All right! The belly dancers put on a fantastic show last night, and I secured some good imagery from it! Sadly, I'm still having issues with my D200, so the photos did not come out to the quality I would have liked. I have also come to the conclusion that if I am going to continue pursuing event photography, I am going to need to save up for either a faster lens, or a very nice flash unit.

The biggest issue I faced last night, aside from the camera issues (the sensor is not what it's supposed to be), was the stage lighting. It wasn't all that great, but if I had had a lens that could handle it, it would have been fine. But alas, I don't have a lens like that, and on-camera flash is pretty much a no-no. Which, I had to use because I also don't have a really nice flash... yet.

My favourite photos though, were the portraits I did before hand. I am definitely stronger at portrait photography than I am with event photography, and I know this. The photos I captured were beautiful partly because of me, but mostly because of the make-up and hair my sister did for them. Not only is she a wonderful performer, she has a talent for cosmetology like no other I have ever seen before. At least not in person.

In the future (hopefully near) I should be photographing the entire tribe of these girls in a portrait setting, rather than an event. When that happens you will have a slew of belly dancers to look at, and all of them are gorgeous in their own way.

Belly dance truly is, and always will be, a very feminine dance. And since I am one who loves femininity for the softness and curves (I'm not a very linear person), this is an opportunity for photos that I will always try not to miss.

So, without further rambling, here are three images from the event. The first two are portraits, and the last is one of the whole tribe.

To see larger photos, please be sure to visit my website!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Professional Image

Today, I'm going to be attending an event at a college to do some photos of Belly Dancers, from the Tribe of Medusa. Of course, since my younger sister and a friend of mine (both dancers) are preparing themselves here at my home I also get some nice portraits before hand, but still. What came to mind was how I should dress for the show.

I know most of the dancers that will be performing, and went to school with most of them too. So you could say that we're fairly acquainted and know each others particular habits when it comes to how we dress for different occasions. Four years ago back in High School, I'd probably be painting my nails some odd colour (like purple or blue, or hey, both), pulling my hair back in some crazy style, and wearing an outfit you'd only expect on someone coming out of a store like Hot Topic, or that caters to a more Indie scene.

My first thoughts, in fact, were to maybe paint my nails, because I haven't done so recently. And I was thinking some odd colour, but I'm stopping myself; and for good reason.

I'm not a student in High School anymore. I can't pass my appearance off to my age. I am attending this event not simply as a guest, but as a professional photographer. As such, I need to dress and act the part, and to me this is probably what most professional artists overlook the most; especially if they're young.

While I'm only twenty years old, I have parents who have instilled the professional attitude in me. And so I'd like to take a moment to share these musings with everyone, so that hopefully others out there who are looking to be professionals in a field don't make fashion faux-pas that lose them work they might have otherwise gained.

The biggest thing and most difficult thing that one must do, is put themselves in someone else's shoes. And not just anyone either, they must look at things as their potential clients would.

Sure, if you're looking to be a garage band photographer and help out up-and-coming rock stars, you don't need to look like a million dollars. Those torn jeans and funky shirt will be good. Throw on your Converse and get out there. But chances are you don't want that.

So instead, you must look at it from a mother's view, or an instructor's, or the CEO of a company looking for PR shots--anyone really. And these people are judgmental and if that first impression--your appearance--doesn't meet their standards, they'll talk to someone else. Even if you have more skill and better creativity, if the guy down the road looks more friendly and professional, that's where they'll go. So if you're at an event, people are going to target the person they're most comfortable around.

This being the case, the big things to remember are as follows:
1. Iron any blouses or dress shirts, and pants if necessary. It's a pain in the butt to do, but it pays off.
2. Don't wear a T-Shirt with a slogan or something on it. Pick something business-casual, if you don't want to wear dressier clothes.
3. Jeans are a no-no unless they're more of a dress-pants look. Especially if they're ripped! If it's a more casual event you might get away with simple blue jeans and a nice shirt, but it's more professional to wear black slacks.
4. This one is for the guys: PULL UP YOUR PANTS. No client is interested in your boxers.
5. This one is for the girls: TONE DOWN THE MAKE UP. Trust me, you do not need to cake your face to look presentable. Leave it at natural tones, done lightly, and a little bit of mascara and eyeliner. Clients don't want to hire raccoons or powder-jars.
6. If you're wearing cologne or perfume, pick something light and don't wear a lot! Believe it or not, you will offend people if you smell so strongly that it's overpowering.
7. This is for the guys: You need to shave! Or, if you wear a beard or goatee, trim it up! Make it look decent.
8. Don't wear sandals/sneakers! Your average shoes just don't look good. If you must wear sneakers, pick some nice white or black ones. Simple really is better hear.
9. This is for the girls: Trim up your nails! And if you paint them, pick a non-offensive colour such as pink or beige. Believe it or not, people will notice your hands, especially if you're handing off a business card.
10. The biggest one of all, which I wish didn't have to be said but needs it anyways; BRUSH YOUR TEETH. I have been in group interviews before and next to people who haven't brushed and their breath stinks. Believe me, this is a big turn off and there are people out there who need the reminder.

So that's it on dressing, what about attitude? Attitude is the second thing you need to complete your image.

Most importantly, and this probably goes without saying, smile! Smiles are warm and friendly, and it will get people to come over and talk to you.

When you shake hands, do so firmly. Your handshakes says a lot about you, and I'm proud to say that I have been complimented on mine more than once. My most prideful one came from a veteran though. That was a true honor. But people do remember a good handshake. If you need help, ask someone to practice with you. Most men have great handshakes!

Another big thing is how you carry yourself. Walk with your head up looking straight ahead, and not at your feet. Don't slouch either, or stand with your hands in your pockets. That shows that you're not interested! When you talk to someone, make eye contact. If you have trouble with this, look at their nose. Believe it or not, people can't tell if you're looking them in the eye or at their nose most times, unless they're watching for that.

Have a greeting ready too, and at events go ahead and introduce yourself to people. This way you get the opportunity to pass off a business card, and maybe receive one from someone whose services would be helpful to you.

This should go without saying, but I know it needs mention--don't curse when you speak. Eliminate those nasty words from your vocabulary, because it's going to make you seem very unprofessional and people won't want to work with you. It's one thing if you're hanging out with friends chatting and you drop the f-bomb, but a potential client will see this as a huge turn off! So while you're dealing with the public, just wipe them right out of your repertoire of words.

Along that note, also keep your personal life personal. No one wants to know that your assistant is actually unpaid and your boyfriend. And they don't need to know. Let them believe that he's making good money to be standing at your side carrying the extra lenses and holding your reflector or slave flash up. If it's not entirely relevant, the best policy is to say nothing.

I've had to speak with my friends more than once about these things when I'm a photographer in public while they're around, because while I might not bring personal things up, they have. It's not professional and you don't want to be known for those kinds of things.

The most important thing though, is to have fun. If you're having fun, then you will have a more honest smile and people will be far more likely to chat with you.

So I hope that this has helped at least one person out there, and that the tips were easy to understand. If you think I forgot something important, then leave me a comment! I read all of them, and will publish the appropriate ones for others to read too.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Website Updates

Yikes, my website and blog are long-since overdue for some updates! This blog desperately needed a new (and more cheerful) entry, and my website just plain needed some changes.

To start with, I have been studying SEO (Search Engine Optimization) over the past few months, and as I discovered new tips I've been slowly integrating them into my website. So far, I seem to be getting a few more hits a month because of it, and it's been steadily increasing. Basically, I'm adding keywords that I'd like to be targeted for into my information. Not only does this help to improve my search rankings, but it should also help inform potential clients about me as well.

For example, what used to read:

"Hello, and welcome to Photographic Phantasy! I hope that you enjoy my galleries of photographs, and perhaps even request photography from me. I have a lot of great services to offer you! Mostly I do portrait and pet photography, but I can do commercial as well! If you have any questions, don't be afraid to ask! I'm always willing to answer any questions about things you might be unsure of."

Now reads:

"Hello, and welcome to Photographic Phantasy! My specialty lies in people and pet portrait photography, but I am also skilled in more commercial areas as well. Along with my traveling studio, I can work at any location--indoors or outdoors, or even in your own home! I am currently located in Saratoga County, New York State. I hope that you enjoy my photography, and I look forward to working with you! "

I changed it for two reasons.

1. This sounds a bit more professional, and is much more informative about what I do. And it doesn't sound like I'm begging anymore. I really have to remember not to make site updates at 5am and tired, which is how the begging sound came about the first time. At that point, I thought it might sound appealing, but it does not.

2. By including "people and pet portrait photography", Google can now pick up on that phrase after their robots crawl my site, and by including "Saratoga County, New York State", Google can add a location to the search. Informative keywords for both potential clients and search engines.

I also went through my services section, and reworded things. This has to do a bit with marketing ideals, and with trying to appeal to my audience. I was taught that a good photographer never shares their pricing on their website, and so for a long time I didn't include prices. However, I'm in an area that doesn't lend well to that tactic, because people here are on a budget of both time and money. They don't have the time to be emailing me about how much I am going to cost them, and they don't have the money to afford someone expensive; which they might think I am if I don't include some form of pricing on my website. As such, I've included the very basics of pricing, just to give people an idea. This helps put me in the running with my local competition, I'll only get serious inquiries most likely, and people won't feel like I'm miles out of their budget.

On the topic of contacting me, I finally added a quick form for people to use as well. It's nothing special; but since most people don't want to take the time to open up their email to send you something, not to mention most people wouldn't know what to say anyways, this should be more client-friendly. All I ask for is a name, email address, and phone number (which is optional), and then I give them a drop-down menu to select a main subject. Below all this is a final text field that will let them tell me any additional information they might want to, and voila, pressing the send button will email me all that information.

Personally, I'm annoyed by these kinds of forms, but I know I'm also in the minority. And the big thing some website creators forget is that the website isn't necessarily for yourself, it's to reach out to a specific audience. So instead of catering to your own needs, you have to cater to theirs.

In the future, I'm going to be adding a site map to the bottom of my website to make it just a bit more user-friendly as well, and rework some of the links. But since what I've done today has taken a few hours already, I'm going to give it a rest and work on some actual photography--since that has also been lacking lately.

So please take a look at my website and let me know what you think!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

In Memory of my Grandfather

I haven't been doing much in the way of photography as of late, and that's not good. Unfortunately for myself, the winter months seem to be my biggest downfall in my passion, because year after year I notice that I tend to be behind the lens less when there is snow on the ground and no leaves on the trees.

This year was a bit different however. Lately I have had a string of bad luck, between the economy, car troubles, and health issues.

All of that is just water under the bridge though to this past week.

Monday, February the 1st, I lost my beloved grandfather to Progressive Supranuclear Palsey. It's been ten years in the making, and it was time for him to go, but it hurt nonetheless. Sad to say, but it was the spark for my first photo of 2010, which is in memorial to a man who gave his community a great service of more than 30 years spent in his local fire department.

I suppose the photograph that I created is probably a way for me to grieve, as well. Someday I will probably have it printed and framed, but that will depend on if I have the proper place to hang it. I am not sure if it's something my widowed grandmother would wish to hang in her home or not. But I feel that it's too soon to ask.

While the hat in this photo did not belong to my grandfather (it is my father's), it is nonetheless symbolic of who he was in life. The rose came from a bouquet that was sent to the family.

I cannot express in words what all these things mean to my family, but I hope that the photo conveys some of what we all feel towards my late grandfather.

And of course, if you'd like to see a larger version, please visit my website. You'll find it under the Fine Art gallery.

Friday, January 22, 2010

A Guide on the Basics of Photography

So my most recent endeavor, and what has been eating up my time and causing me to forget that I do, in fact, have a blog; is a guide to explaining the absolute basics to photography.

How many times do people ask a photographer what camera they should buy, or what certain settings on their camera do? How many people read these long manuals that are so dry they can't truly grasp what it is they're reading, and in the end are left confused anyways?

The sad fact is, too many people are, and there aren't many guides out there that can explain these things in a way that is fun, and that a high school student can understand.

So, I decided I wanted to create a guide that would use analogies and photographs to explain the basic concepts behind photography. I'm not covering any special techniques or lighting; just the run of the mill camera.

I'm explaining apertures, shutter speeds, and megapixels. I'm covering what one should think about when considering purchasing a camera. I'm going over things that most people, as they learn, forget they once never knew.

As photographers, we often forget that we weren't born knowing the basics of photography. Along the way, either by going to school or through trial and error, we had to learn about aperture, shutter speed, ISO, and some sort of post processing; be it by use of chemicals in a darkroom or programs on a computer.

Frankly, the basics aren't that interesting either. So once you know them, you tend to forget that learning process because it sucks, in plain English. There is nothing more dry than listening to someone explain aperture and the likes when it comes to photography. As photographers, or aspiring photographers, we are of a creative mind. We don't tend to latch onto the technical, but instead the aesthetics. We're visual-minded people, and visual-minded people don't really care about the geometry behind apertures, they just want to know what setting to use to get the photograph to look right.

Because of this, my guide is going to skip over a lot of the more dry parts of photography, and instead explain things in a much more creative way. Analogies, photographic examples, and fun scenarios are just a few ways that I'm using to convey the idea.

After all, who needs to know that there's a formula behind why an aperture of 22 is capable of producing sharper photos than an aperture of 5.6, when you can show them a photo of the difference and say "this is what it does, remember that."

I love photography, and so part of my way to share that love is to create a guide that anyone can understand. And the first place I plan on sending it is back to my high school art teacher who hated the book we had to take notes from in photography for being too dry, so that she has something better to spice class up with.

I'm not sure if I'm going to try and get it published or not, but considering I'm at nine pages and going, with plenty of information left uncovered so far, I just might consider publishing. We'll see how it goes

For the most part though, I'll probably just release it online to start.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Beginnings--Welcome 2010!

It's 2010, and many are marking it as a time of new beginnings. It's the beginning of a new decade for those who don't care about getting super-technical, and for many, it's hoped to be the beginning of the economic recovery. There are people all over vowing to make a new start with this new year, and to better themselves. Resolutions are being made, and this year they're strong goals--things you can believe in. 2010 feels like the beginning of a year of cleansed souls.

But it's not the only beginning that has ever happened in my life, and I'm sure it's not for others, either.

As such, I'd like to go back in time, and share my beginnings in photography. It's important to know who you are, and where you come from, when it comes to moving forward. This is especially true in the artistic world--be it photography, drawing, dance, writing, ect.

Because of this, I urge you to blog about where YOU began as an artist as well! And then leave me a comment here with the link, or get the link to me somehow, and I will add it to the end of this entry.

My beginnings in photography, my TRUE beginnings, did not start when I was taking snapshots with my little 35mm point-and-shoot Olympus camera. Yeah, I'm sure some of you don't remember when that was top-of-the-line for regular consumers, being how far in to the digital age we are, but I am just young enough to have been a part of the last generation that coveted such cameras. I was given it when I was 9 years old, and I took it on every trip with me. My parents would buy me a box of film (the four packs), and I'd go to town.

But that wasn't my true beginning. Back then it was just fun, and I felt awesome because I had a camera just like the grown-ups. I wasn't serious about photography though, and in fact I didn't even consider it as an art form. I just knew that at Easter Mom took myself and my two young siblings to get portraits done, and we had to sit still for what seemed like forever while this lady waved some sort of stuffed toy at us that squeaked, and that we had to do it again for school portraits as well (minus that stuffed toy).

My true beginnings in photography actually came when I was about 16, in High School. Art classes were the only things that got me through school, and so with the advent of an art class every day when I entered my freshman year (because in Middle School, it was only half the year), I was excited! Of course as a freshman we all had to take Studio Art, and sadly that did not touch on photography. But I learned some very important things in it.

1. I did not want to draw for a living like I had originally thought. In fact, drawing frustrated me to no end, and I kind of wanted to just break pencils instead of colouring with them.
2. Sculpture was not cool either, mainly because the projects took too long and didn't hold my interest.
3. Ceramics was cool, and so I ended up taking ceramics the next year... and they stopped being as cool as before.
4. I was going to be an artist, SOMEHOW, and that I would figure it out by taking Portfolio in my senior year.

So, with those four things figured out, and both Studio Art and Ceramics under my belt by the end of my sophomore year, I needed to figure out what I was doing for my junior year.

As I stated above, Drawing & Painting, and Sculpture were out of the question. I was waiting for my senior year to take Portfolio, and I'd already completed Studio Art and Ceramics. At this time, my only option left was Photography. So I said to myself, "How hard can this be?", and I signed up to try and get into it.

You have to understand, my graduating class had 67 students in it--we were not, and still aren't, a big school. So to get into a class like Photography, well, there were only 15 seats available because of the lack of proper equipment. I didn't know this was the reason at the time, but I did find out.

Somehow, I, a junior, made it into this class. I think my art teacher might have requested it, or we didn't have a lot of seniors that wanted in. I know it was a strange mixture of ages in the class though.

What I wasn't aware of when I signed up to be a part of this class, was that I was going to learn about apertures, and shutter speeds, and all that wonderful technical stuff that comes with photography. Granted, you didn't need an SLR for this class (because that'd be a bit much for high school), but you did need a 35mm film camera. Well, I was so excited about all these new things that I didn't want to use my little Olympus! So I asked my parents, and by golly, Mom had a Pentax that was a bit more involved than my Olympus. Unfortunately for me, it was very old (we're talking from the 60s or 70s here), and the shutter would stick open. So rather than pay to get it cleaned when we went to the camera store, my parents invested in a 35mm SLR for me. It was a Nikon N75 with a wide-angle zoom lens that also had some macro capabilities, and I was perfectly happy about that.

So now, armed with an SLR and b+w film, I was off to start my adventures in photography. Not only did I learn about shutter speeds, and apertures, and techniques that I didn't really understand; I had to learn about the darkroom too.

In our darkroom, there were three enlargers that were in various states of working condition, and one broken one. There was a big basin sink with our developer, stop bath, and fixer; and then we had a table with a squeegee board and a big mesh rack for drying. The only thing we hung to dry was our film strips right after we'd developed them. The things I remember best though, was that touching the time clock with wet hands would get you zapped, and that of the enlargers the middle one had the weakest light.

During my year in photography, I was constantly being complimented on my photos, and urged to do more with it. And it was an art class that I truly enjoyed, and got in to. In fact, during this year when I had my serious bout with clinical depression (and ended up getting meds for), the class I caught my work up in fastest wasn't any of my core classes required for graduation, it was photography. And during the days that I just didn't bother doing anything else, I was constantly walking around with the DSLR (Canon Rebel xT) my family had decided to buy taking photos of what I saw. A few of these weren't that bad, either.

By the end of the year, I was starting to think that maybe photography wouldn't be such a bad idea. In fact, with the urging of my art teacher, I decided that I was going to apply to be a student at the elite Hallmark Institute of Photography. And I was accepted.

So before I even began my senior year, I knew where I was attending college. And I never stopped shooting. Unfortunately for me, while Hallmark provided a great technical background, they didn't do much for creativity. In fact, they killed my creativity almost completely with stress. And we're not talking the kind of stress you get from just having some finals to complete, or a project coming to deadline. We're talking stress so bad that five kids (that I knew at least) tried to commit suicide (my upstairs neighbor took a whole bottle of pain pills and went into a coma for three days, and no one knew until she showed back up looking like hell), and when the final portfolios were all handed in 90% of the class went out to a bar and got totally wasted. I don't think any of them remember that night at all. The stress of completing two years worth of knowledge in ten months was extreme, but what was worse was that everything you had accomplished up until that final portfolio meant nothing. So your entire graduation depended upon twenty-eight photos you had about ten weeks to complete. You could not use your fellow students in any of the required shots, and you could not use the same model twice. You had to find families, and buildings (and get permission to photograph inside them!), and business executives; and oh many other things as well. But the kicker was that the school would not help with any of this, except to post a few bulletins of people they knew who were looking for photos. Basically, we were running around like chickens with our heads chopped off.

There was limited shooting space, limited time to see our instructors to get advice, and it was just plain a mess. In the end, there were four of us who failed out the day before graduation, because our photography just wasn't good enough.

You had two reviews there. The first done by three photographers who judge your work and decide if you pass or fail, and give you a "critique". In most cases, they either adored your work, or hated it. And they let you know. Only one had any tact in delivering a critique. But the worst part is that this happened in front of the entire school.

Then if you bombed that first review, you were told what you needed to fix, and had about five days to do so before re-review happened and you were either graduating the next day, or you weren't. This time there was no explanation given.

I failed this school, and it was a big blow to my self esteem at that time. But I was not going to just lay down and take it, and so when the President of the school came to offer his condolences, I told him to his face that this was not going to stop me from being a photographer. And what do ya know, he offered to meet with me a week later and help me out.

He didn't know what to do when he actually looked at my portfolio that I had prepared. All he could tell me was that four of the twenty-eight images weren't of Hallmark quality, and at least fourteen were portfolio material; that and that I didn't need any more help like he thought I would. So basically, I had passed, but my teachers who re-reviewed my portfolio didn't think so. Oh well, he still couldn't give me my certificate (yeah, no degrees here), and I really don't care to this day.

Why? Because after leaving Hallmark, I realize that it gave me the technical background I needed to bring my ideas to life. After leaving Hallmark I got a hold of a Nikon D200 with two lenses, some basic filters, and I traded my Mamiya in for a nice light kit from Profoto via the Mac Group. I was set. I had Lightroom, a CS3 Adobe suite, a website, and the knowledge.

From that day forward, every time I have picked up a camera it has been a learning experience. I revisit the basics, practice techniques I want to learn over and over again until I understand them, and read any book I can get my hands on to keep my ideas fresh. And I let go of the elitist attitude that Hallmark was trying to give its students and the education they were receiving, because they are not all they're cracked up to be.

Do I regret any of it? No, not really. Hallmark is a great school to learn at, they just have bad business practices. And my HS experience was necessary to get to to realize all this, even if I did go through some serious depression that year.

In fact, to this day if I go in to visit my old art teacher, she will give me helpful advice on my photography and promotes my work as she can. She even modeled for me while I was in Hallmark. Truly, she was, and still is, my mentor and my idol. Everyone should have one, because when the going gets rough you need that person to slap some sense back into you, put you back on your feet, and shove you forward.

So where did it leave me? Well, I'll show you.

This image is from when I was in High School, and is actually a scan of a print I did in the darkroom, minus the hideous border I was totally all about back then:

This is from my first experience that same year with a DSLR. It was taken at Yaddo, in Saratoga Springs, NY. Truly a wonderful place to visit if you're ever in the area.

In my senior year, I dabbled with some portrait-type work. Really, I just wanted to have fun with people.

By the summer after my senior year, I was playing with long exposures

Hallmark started out okay, when there was little stress...

And ended bad, when stress was high...

After leaving Hallmark, I started to get my creative groove back.

And now I'm here!

I'm 20 now, still shooting, and I plan to be until the day I die.

SO! Where did your artistic journey start? And where has it lead you?

Read about these other peoples' beginnings here!
None yet, send me some! C: