Category Shop Talk

I have my digital files…now what?

[photoshelter-img width=’500′ height=’352′ i_id=’I0000w85MS3SOAJM’ buy=’0′]


I get the feeling my corporate and entrepreneur clients are thinking this when I’ve delivered a job to them.

My deliverables may include DVDs of high-resolution images, a “READ ME” file explaining color space, file format, etc, and pdf contact sheets.  Beyond that, I often post images in a protected gallery on Photoshelter, my online image library.  Each file I deliver is typically a high-resolution, 300 dpi color file, saved either as .jpg (compressed) or a .tif (uncompressed).  Think of it as a master file.  From this high-quality original file, clients can output the image in a variety of ways for specific uses including:

  • Newsprint:   Most newspapers have a line screen of 100 lpi (lines per inch) or less.   Double this number to get the necessary resolution, or dpi (dots per inch).   In addition, newspapers are printed on an offset press that uses four colors, so ideally you’d convert your file’s color space from RGB to CYMK.  Reds, blues and other colors can dramatically be altered during this conversion process, which may require additional imaging work to recover the brilliance and colors of the original image.  Lastly, because newsprint absorbs ink, photos destined for a newspaper require quite a bit of sharpening (much more than a print on photo paper) in order to look clear, sharp and bright in your average newspaper.    Most newspapers will accept any kind of high-resolution digital file, and then do all of this work for you.  If you want to make sure it’s correct, we can do it as well.
  • Photo Prints:  Most pro labs require resolutions of 240-300 dpi, so your image will automatically work great for that.   To really make it pop, it’s good to do a little bit of sharpening to your image.  It’s also useful to soft-proof the image on a color-calibrated monitor–ideally after embedding the correct .icc color profile built for the specific printer you’re using.  These are available often from the printer themselves, or you can download them here:  Dry Creek Photo.
  • Web:  Since the web is viewed on machines and screens of all types, it’s not impossible to make your image look great on every one of them.   Make sure you have a fighting chance by converting your file to the sRGB color space, or otherwise it may look too yellow or magenta on PC screens.
  • Black and White:  If your image needs to be turned black and white, you could just do an automatic grayscale conversion in Photoshop or even in free editors like iPhoto and Picasa.   It’ll work, but it’s not optimum.   My preferred way is a multi-step process that preserves detail in shadow areas and gives a much richer tone to the finished black and white image.
  • Upsampling:  If you need to make a print that is physically larger than the size of the digital image, you have a few choices.  You can resize the image to the larger size, but if it’s more than 10% larger than the original you’ll get pixelation and softness.   Again, I use special software to upsample the images to larger sizes in a way that preserves the image’s integrity as much as possible.  Keep in mind that when you size a photo up, you’re asking the software to add more pixels.  These have to come from somewhere, so basically the software takes a look at the color of the existing pixels and makes an educated guess about what color pixels to add to generate the larger-size photo.   Depending on the sophistication of the software, this can be done well or very badly.

It can be daunting when you aren’t sure exactly how to use the image files in an optimum way for each specific application, be it web, newsprint, photo print or other.   Knowing how you’ll use your images, and communicating that to your designer, photographer or programmer , is key to your success.   As part of my service, I’m happy to help my clients optimize their images for use in magazines or the web.


Moment + Light

Warren Smarlowit, 47, holds onto photos and other mementos that remind him of his family, including a nephew's athletic letter from the Yakama Nation Tribal School.

For me, photography boils down to two key elements: moment and light. You may have one in greater proportion to the other, but for most types of photography—certainly any imagery with people—you need both.

I used this criteria as a newspaper photo editor when judging daily work and the many portfolios that came across my desk.

You kinda know a “real” moment when you see one. It’s a look, an expression, or an interaction. Usually from the viewer’s perspective, it looks like you’re viewing a private scene, voyeur-style, and the subject appears totally unaware of the camera.

As a photojournalist, real moments are mostly found situations. In feature situations, the goal is to shoot photos (usually with a long lens) before the subject really becomes aware of your presence. You get something ‘real’ of the subject doing something interesting and later you deal with getting their permission and name to actually use the photos. In news situations, such as fires, accidents or events, the subjects are usually so focused on the happenings that getting moments is pretty easy, giving you time to work on composition and light too.

At the newspaper, moment trumped light any day of the week and twice on sundays. Robert Capa’s grainy, ghostly images of the landing at D-Day fails from a purely technical standpoint but no one would argue that the moment it captures place this work among history’s finest.

As a commercial and advertising photographer, my subjects are (mostly) aware of what I do. They are paying me to be there, or my clients are paying them to be there. It’s me, them and bunch of obtrusive lighting equipment, so the goal is to get the subjects to relax and give me something real despite the unreal surroundings. When successful I get a true serendipitous moment—a peice of chaos that I thankfully can not, and don’t want to, control—in the midst of a controlled setting.

The only difference between editorial and commercial photography in this regard is that non-editorial shooters have the luxury of not having to wait for the perfect light. Regardless, being attuned to capturing the authentic moment will help turn otherwise ordinary photos into memorable images.

That’s still theway I approach the debate between moment and light. Make sure you have a strong moment, and then work on the light.

Ambient light and dirty hands: meet Peter Brown

A week or so ago I found myself photographing Peter Brown, owner of Cumberland Ave. Garage (my friend Matt swears by these guys).  There always seems to be an antique car or two there, Peter’s passion.  On the day of our shoot, a 1921 Model T Ford was sitting, wheels off, in a corner of his garage, waiting for a little TLC.

I was there to get a portrait of Brown, but he was busy working in between my setups–it was a busy Monday with a line of cars needing work.  So I started by lighting the space and photographing him within it—all small lights.  In fact, I prefer working in such spaces with my small lights because of their portability and flexibility.   If you’re trying to light dramatically, you want the right amount of light in the right places.  Big studio lights tends to light everything you want and some things you don’t want, too.

I started by lighting the Model T—one flash in the interior, several working the inky black exterior  and the flourescent -bathed shop walls cluttered with tools.   My favorite is actually a tight shot (see just the headlamp of the Model T jutting into the frame.  I like the look on Peter’s face and his body language.


Portland Maine Mechanic Peter Brown
Peter Brown, owner of the Cumberland Ave. Garage on Portland's Munjoy Hill.

At the end of the shoot, I did a simple three-light setup in the bay with the colorful garage sign behind him.  I gelled the lights, but let his face go a little yellow just because I like the warm tones.

Portland, Maine Mechanic Peter Brown
Peter Brown gets his hands dirty.

Sometimes the light you find is better than anything out of a can.  While Peter did a weld repair,  I was able to show him in action in his environment.  This is the kind of stuff we’d encounter routinely on assignment for the newspaper.  Quick couple of portraits, enhanced by ambient light, and an interesting angle on a man going about his business in his environment.

Portland Maine Mechanic Peter Brown
Ok...that looks cool. Strobes off, ambient light on...

The gear you need when on the road

Pocket Wizard Radio Transmitter

We’re just a couple of weeks from our Traveling Light Workshop, and as a lead-in I’m previewing some of the topics and shoots we’ll cover during the three-hour class.

You can’t  discuss portable lighting without getting heavy into some nerdy gear discussions.   So, we’ll be talking plenty about triggering your flashes using manual and auto triggers—everything from old-school sync cords to off-camera TTL cords, from optical slaves to Pocket Wizards and Radio Poppers.

But it’s not all about gear.  It’s also about technique—how you approach a shoot and what works best for different situations ‘in the wild’.

As always, the best system for you is the one that fits your budget and allows you flexibility in lighting on location.

I’ve gotten requests from people who want to bring their flashes and other gear.  Great!   We’ll discuss those and, time permitting, will give hands-on demos with your gear.

If you have any questions about off-camera lighting that you want to make sure we cover, shoot me an email with your feedback.

Traveling Light #2: Location portraits

Ben: Two-light portrait

Here’s another sample of the types of portraits we’ll be building with small lights during the upcoming Traveling Light workshop on May 24.
Location photographers find themselves in an incredible variety of environments. In the studio it’s easy to control all the variables. When you show up at a location, you’ve got to make some decisions to make regarding ambient light and background. Namely, how much of each do you want to include in the final image?

For me, location photography is kind of a reductive exercise—start with what you find, and then remove light, clean up background elements, modify your flash— until you end up with what you want. In the studio, it’s more of an additive approach: start with nothing and build up the lighting and elements to create the image.


In the case of these portraits, shot with the help of Matt and Ben of Single Source Staffing, we had about 15 minutes to do two different looks. The vivid green walls in the office were an interesting feature I knew I wanted to use, as was their cool, colorful logo—perfect for an environmental portrait.

No lighting diagrams on these—we”ll talk more about approach during the workshop—but here’s the basics: Ben (green background) is lit from camera left with an SB800 shooting through a white diffuser screen simulating window light. There’s an SB900 in a medium soft box (camera right with a 1/2 power CTO gel), placed to hit Ben slightly angled toward the back side of his head.   The shadow?  A happy accident.  Once I saw it, I liked it.

Matt is lit by the same soft box. There’s another SB800 with a diffusion dome just to camera left, pointing at the right side of Matt’s face. On camera right, there’s a third strobe with a snoot aimed at the SingleSource logo. In this case, we underexposed the background so that there’s very little ambient light (ugly flourescent lighting) in this image.

These are two quick-hit examples of location portraits that use their environment to create interest and drama.

Matt: three-light environmental portrait

Traveling Light shoot #1: Beauty Light

Beauty Light: soft, almost shadowless light

In preparation for our upcoming. May 24th lighting workshop, Traveling Light: lighting for photographers on the go,  I’m publishing a series of portraits that use some of the specific techniques we’ll discuss—and play with—during the all-too-brief workshop.  Again, all of these shoots are done with “small” strobes—the expensive pieces of gear too many photographers leave attached to the hot shoes of their DSLR cameras.

First up is Beauty Light.  Why beauty light?  Because it looks good, is flattering especially to women, and is the height of simplicity.   Three strobes, a diffusion scrim and one well-placed reflector.

Here’s a lighting diagram:

Note: Diffusion panel is actually directly overhead subject; reflector under subject's chin not shown.

Now I hear the question:  why should we come to the workshop if you’re showing off the shoots (and the lighting diagrams) here?   Well, from my point of view, describing a shoot isn’t the same as being on a shoot.  Not even close.  Hopefully you’ll glean some helpful info from these short descriptions, but this is more inspirational than strictly informational.  You can play around with settings and locations in order to recreate these shots, and you can eventually recreate them.  Thus you’ll learn, which is the point.   But if you have limited time and learn best by interaction, then you might want to attend a workshop or a class.  This will save you some time—usually, a lot of it.   At the Traveling Light workshop, for example,  we’ll discuss not just technique, but approach, philosophy and how to react when you’re in the pressure cooker situation of a real, live shoot, with real, live, impatient people.

So I hope you get a lot out of these posts.   Stay tuned to the blog for more sample shoots.  Special thanks to!

What’s your (working) space?

Color gamut map courtesy of

As a photographer who doesn’t make a lot of prints—most of my ‘deliverables’ consist of digital files—I have to pay close attention to color that may render differently on my screen than on my clients’.   Specifically, the Working Space color on my computer and the color space I embed in the digital file before sending it out a client or the photo lab.

Sound mystifying? Here’s a short break-down.

Color Space is simply the gamut, or range, of possible colors. Some spaces, such as ProPhoto RGB, encompass millions of colors, which makes the images look great on a computer screen.   Output that file to a device that can’t read the ProPhoto RGB color space, and the results for your image will be less than stellar.

The basic thing I keep in mind is this. Work in the largest-gamut color space you can…say, ProPhoto or Adobe RGB.   When outputting photos for a client or for a specific use (i.e., for the web), convert the photo’s color space to one with a  more limited gamut if that makes it render better for that particular use.

As Rob Galbraith noted in a long-ago digital workflow seminar, “Assign on input. Convert on output.”

First step is setting the color space in your camera. My recommendation? ProPhoto RGB, if it is available. If not, AdobeRGB, both of which have a much bigger gamut than sRGB (see the color map above).

After you import your image into Photoshop in this format, you can choose to assign a new color space. This doesn’t actually change the digital zeros and ones that comprise your image, but it does make the photo appear different on the screen–sometimes very different. I only assign a new color space if my image is way too magenta, etc. I might assign ColorMatch RGB,  which takes out redness pretty effectively.  The key here is you’re visually making the photo look good on the screen.  To Assign a color profile, go to Edit–>Assign Profile in Photoshop.   There, you can choose from a variety of color spaces.  If you have the “Preview” box checked, you’ll see the effect each profile will have on the image.   If you find one you like, great.  If you don’t, then don’t worry about assigning a different profile.

Options under "Assign Profile"

Once you’ve imaged the photo and it’s ready for it’s final destination—be it client or your own website—consider the end use.  Then you Convert by going to Edit–>Convert to Profile in Photoshop, and choosing a space there.    This time, the little zeros and ones inside the image file are changed by your selection, so always save the original before this “conversion” step.  Note the “Source Space”—the current color space of your image file—and the “Destination Space”.  In this example, both are sRGB.

Convert to Profile dialog box

My default is to convert it to sRGB. This is more limited in terms of gamut. However, sRGB is the best choice for PC (and non-Apple) screens. If you sent an image in the ProPhoto space that looks great on your gleaming Mac, your client’s PC might render it in unpredictable ways.  Convert it to sRGB, you can know that it’ll look pretty close to what you see on most average screens.  For this reason, if I’m publishing for the web I’ll convert to sRGB too. If you’re printing yourself, you may choose to keep in a higher gamut space. If you’re printing with a lab, you should check with them. Most ask for sRGB or allow you to embed an .icc profile (more on that another time; basically it’s a color profile designed for a specific printer).  Color offset printers will require conversion to CMYK at this point, and then more imaging will likely be required to tweak the images before printing.

So, whether you ever decide to play with Photoshop’s “Assign Profile” function, you should always be aware of the color space your images are using.   If they aren’t optimized for their eventual destination, make sure to convert those files to the proper color space.

Announcing: 2011 Maine Studio B Photo Workshops


Studio B 2011 Workshop series

We’ve finalized dates for our photography programs this year at Maine Studio B.     These workshops are are intended for anyone with a DSLR wanting to get to the “next level” in terms of lighting, storytelling and creativity.

Who is this workshop for?  Working professionals, amateurs, students–anyone who knows how to use their flashes and/or strobes but wants to light in a more interesting way.   It’s also for those who have a flash but can’t seem to find time to read the manual…or who have a set of studio strobes and now are thinking, “Ok, now what?”

Space is limited.  Payment instructions and other details are shown below with the description for each event.


Traveling Light: Flash techniques and tips for photographers on the go

Time: Tuesday, May 24, 5-8:30 pm
Location:  Maine Studio B, 28 Maple Street, Third Floor, Portland, ME (207) 699.9321
Cost: $99

Join veteran photojournalist and commercial photographer Brian Fitzgerald for this information-loaded seminar.   Brian will show how to more effectively use your portable flash in a variety of real-world situations. Topics include:

Manual flash vs. TTL
on-camera strobe techniques
off-camera strobes using wireless, optical and corded systems
Modifying and shaping light
Practical tips, from gels to mounts
From one flash to many: building a portrait
Q-and-A session
Plus: The 10-minute portrait challenge

Space is limited to 15. Pay for your sessions below using the Paypal button.  NOTE: Maine Wedding Company members: “Traveling Light” attendance is free with your membership.  Please just RSVP by emailing Brian.


Lights on location: Amp up your location images with studio and portable strobes  * PLEASE NOTE THAT THE TIME AND LOCATION HAVE CHANGED

Time: Tuesday, October 18, 4-7:30 pm
Location:  Ferry Beach, Scarborough (207) 699.9321
Cost: $99

Sometimes natural light isn’t enough.  Often it just needs to be “helped” by the addition of some well-placed strobes.  Join veteran photojournalist and commercial photographer Brian Fitzgerald for this comprehensive, hands-on workshop on the use of studio and portable flashes on location.   Whether you’re a studio photographer or you work out of the back of your Honda Civic,  you should know how to build a shot with all available tools–ambient and artificial.

In this workshop,  topics include:

Location gear – what you need to have
Small flashes (i.e., camera strobes) vs. studio strobes
Balancing ambient light and artificial light
Reflectors and modifiers
Tips for when things go wrong: surviving the location shoot
Plus: The 10-minute portrait challenge
Q-and-A session

Space is limited to 10. Reserve a spot now by contacting Brian Fitzgerald by email at Cost is $99 for this intensive instructional workshop.

Frequently asked questions

Why should I attend either workshop?

Professionals never stop learning.  The best way to learn—for us photographers and for most people—is to see it with our own eyes, to discuss it with others, and to get the chance to put it into practice immediately.   Why me?  My approach is what you’d expect from a photojournalist–practical, down-n-dirty, heavy on results and not theory.  In short, if you like to get your hands dirty, both figuratively and literally, then this might be for you.

What do you bring to the table?

My approach is practical,  geared toward giving useful, real-world information gleaned over 17 years as a working photojournalist and commercial photographer.

Should I bring my camera?    Will I have a chance to shoot?

Given the time available to us, and the amount of ground we’ll be covering, these are not hands-on shooting workshops.   That said, you can shoot the setups and anything else you’d care to during the talks.   It may be useful to have your flash and camera as a reference for some of the things we’ll be doing.

Is this a hands-on workshop?

This isn’t a shooting workshop, but it relies heavily on participation.  You may be called in to be a model, or to assist with lighting, or to give your two cents’ worth.    How else you gonna learn?

Will you have food?

Nope.   We only have three hours, so food will have to wait.   We will have water and sodas (we’re not heathens).

Will everything be at Maine Studio B?

The location light session starts at the studio but, weather permitting, we”ll transition to an outdoor setting for the majority of the time.

Should I bring anything else?

As my high school geometry teacher used to say, “Bring a sharp pencil and a mind to match.”   Oh, and no shirt, no shoes….no service.  Seriously.   Just come, be prepared to participate, and we’ll have a great time.

Don’t like that skin color? Replace it.

Image showing high yellow values

Proper skin tone is a must for any professional portrait.   Sometimes, especially when shooting in natural-light conditions, a warmer or cooler color of skin is desired.   When in studio or daylight conditions, however, skin tone and color is critical for making sure faces look natural and healthy.

You can’t just judge the tones of a photo by visually assessing it on a computer monitor, unless you have a recently calibrated screen.  Everyone sees color differently.   Instead, it’s best to use objective numbers.   Select the eyedropper tool in Photoshop and hover over the skin areas in your image to see the C,M,Y,K values. You must have the “Info” window open to do so.  The Info palette is a densitometer that measures the amount of cyan, magenta, yellow and black present in your image.  These are the colors that make up the four-color printing process.   Even though your images most likely are being rendered in an RGB space and may never need to be converted to CMYK, we use the CMYK values in the densitometer to measure whether our skin tone is where it needs to be.

Primarily, we’re concerned with relative values, not absolute values.  For example, For Caucasian skin, you’d likely see the numeric values for M (Magenta) in the 30-50 range.   It really doesn’t matter where it is; what’s important is this value relative to the Y (Yellow) number.   For white, Caucasian skin the Y value should always be about 3-5 points above the M value.   K?  That’s black, by the way–and it should read quite low, in the single digits, or zero.  The C, or Cyan, value, should be roughly a third of the value of the M or Y numbers.   So for our current example, a C value of 8-15 would be dead-on.    Without going into specific sets of numbers for all the various kinds of skin, the darker the skin, the higher the Cyan value should be relative to the M and Y values.

By the way, this whole number scheme doesn’t really work if the skin you’re working with has been lit by any extreme light–you know, the gorgeous, golden glow of a sunset or the cool glow of a neon sign.  You have extreme light, you want to preserve that.   You don’t want ‘natural’.

So, once you’ve determined that you DO want natural skin tone and you’ve identified the problem–that guy’s skin looks really pink and you’ve confirmed values of, say, Y=35 and M=75–then how do you fix it?

There are a lot of great ways to do so in Photoshop, and what works for one picture won’t always work for another.  That said, my go-to first tool is always “Replace Color” (Edit–>Adjustments–>Replace Color).  To use it, simply click on a lit, shadowless area of skin and select the degree of latitude (called ‘fuzziness’) you want your selection to cover.  A high degree of fuzziness will select more areas of the image that match the tone of the skin area you clicked on.   Once that’s done, move the sliders to adjust the Hue, Saturation and Lightness.  It doesn’t take much.    In the example below, I moved the Hue slider to -3, the Saturation slider to -5 and the Lightness to +1.   I’ve rarely had to go above 10 on the Hue slider, which is my primary adjustment slider.

That’s really it–just move the eyedropper icon over the skin again to read the new values and, if they look good, go with it.  Again, it may be difficult but you should trust the numbers way, way before you trust your eyes.   A properly adjusted image will reproduce on any calibrated printer even if it doesn’t look great on your uncalibrated screen.

So pay attention to your skin values, and try out Replace Color.   Doesn’t your skin deserve it?

Image adjusted using Replace Color, showing corrected relative values

Expand your mind (and your Mac) with hard drive enclosures

A present to ourselves: the indestructible Burly Box from MacGurus (click image to view larger photo)

I’ve written before about the need to have a 3-2-1 backup system for your important image files. Now here’s a great tool that makes automating backups, cloning and file transfers a snap: a multiple-bay hard drive enclosure. Whether you have a multiple-drive war horse or are using an iMac or laptop, if you’re a photographer you probably should look into one of these. This particular unit is sold by the knowledgeable folks at MacGurus.  When I called, the guy who helped was Rick, the owner.

I chose a four-bay unit so that my primary copies of my archive as well as backups and system clones could happen in one place. The unit is extremely tough and comes with robust power and cooling systems, so it’s meant to be run–as you might expect–all the time. This “always-on” approach solves the issue many photographers face who have a good backup system in place that may not get consistently applied because hard drives aren’t always plugged in and attached to the computer.

Ours arrived this week, and so it was fun to just light it and open it the opposite way that I opened presents as a kid: sloooowly.  More on software recommendations for handling automatic processes soon.