Category News

Calling all photographers….

The Dogfish Cafe and Grille, 128 Free St., Portland, ME

Photography is often a solitary affair. Even if you have an assistant and stylist on a shoot, the responsibility lies with you, the photographer. And back at the studio, no one else is going to process the photos.

One of the things I miss most from my days as a staff shooter on a newspaper is the camaraderie and fellowship of other photographers. Generally, the people on a newspaper staff are very close—bonds forged from long hours working towards a noble goal—but newspaper photographers from competing newspapers shared friendships as well. Even though we were competitive with each other, we would always (with rare exceptions) help each other out with extra batteries, gear or advice.

In the commercial and advertising world, it’s a more lonely place. We may have teams around us, but we don’t regularly rub shoulders with other photographers.  I think as a result that something’s lost. One of the ways I grow is to see the work of other photographers…and sharing information about business practices benefits us all.

That’s why I’m so excited about the breakfast clubs being organized by ASMP New England (American Society of Media Photographers) throughout the Northeast.  Here in Maine, I’m the organizer of these so-called “breakfast clubs” and we’ve just scheduled our third one at the Dogfish Cafe and Grille on August 23rd.

Each of the locations hosting these clubs decides for themselves the best format, and that’s why our breakfast club has morphed into a cocktail club. Besides being easier to get to for me, I guess it’s not surprising that food and a few drinks appeals to a group of photographers.

By the way, this event isn’t limited to ASMP official members. It’s for any student or professional photographer who does commercial, editorial and advertising work like ASMP members do. Hopefully you’ll love what ASMP offers and will eventually apply for membership, but if you don’t you should still come out, have a drink and talk shop.   It’s also open to designers and other AIGA-types who work with people like us on a regular basis.

So come on out and meet some folks that toil in the photo trenches like you do.  You might just learn something.

Lights on Location workshop is around the corner

[photoshelter-img width=’600′ height=’593′ i_id=’I0000_pV8E5ci5xI’ buy=’0′]

This fall, we’ll be holding our next and final workshop of our 2011 workshop series here at Studio B.  In previous ‘shops we’ve gone over techniques and gear related to the use of small flashes on location. This time, we’re going for the bigger guns: studio strobes in the field.

This is done with non-studio shooter in mind….I’m talking about wedding, portrait and commercial photographers who find  themselves most often shooting in a variety of environments and where portability and power are required.

For years as a photojournalist, ambient light and a small off-camera corded flash sufficed for much of what I did.  It wasn’t until I began using more powerful studio strobes that I was able to really take advantage of faster recycle times and higher output, enabling me to shoot synchro-sunlight images any time of day.

At this workshop we’ll go over equipment and principles of shooting outside.  Then we’ll head outside the studio to make some fun photos happen.    Although we’ll be using larger strobes, the principles are the same with small flashes, and so we’ll use those as well.  Participants are encouraged to bring their portable gear and cameras with them so they can use the techniques we’re discussing.

Space is limited to ten.   Please RSVP to me here:  brian@fitzgeraldphoto.com if you have questions.  To snag your spot now, click to pay below.   Hope to see you there!


Lights on location: Amp up your location images with studio and portable strobes

Time: Tuesday, October 18, 5-8:30 pm
Location:  Starts at Maine Studio B, 28 Maple Street, Third Floor, Portland, ME (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 brian@fitzgeraldphoto.com. Cost is $99 for this intensive instructional workshop.

Don’t get bit by (OS X) Lion

 

If you have a Mac shop,  you’re probably as excited as I am about many of the features in the newest Mac OS  X update, named Lion.   AirDrop, iOS features like pinch-zoom and apps organization (Launchpad) are just a few of the things I’m ready to add to my Mac experience.

But don’t let that lion out it’s cage just yet.

The reason is that along with those cool features, Lion removes support for Rosetta.  That’s the translator that enables older PowerPC programs to run on Apple’s  Intel-powered machines.

I happen to have several PowerPC programs that are critical for my business.  Once I install Lion, those programs will no longer work–including one very useful program, Quickbooks.  There are also a number of issues reported with Adobe products, especially CS4 and earlier photo suite products. For example, in pre-CS5 Photoshop, droplets no longer work on Lion.

So before you install, do a simple check to see how it may impact you.  Go to  Utilities–>System Profiler and click on Applications (Under Software).  When the list of all your programs appears, click on the tab “Kind”, which sorts by type.  Scroll down the list and you’ll see “PowerPC” for any older programs that require Rosetta.

Some of these older programs may not be in use, in which case you can uninstall them wtih AppCleaner and install Lion.  But if you’re like me, you’ll wait a little longer until Lion is tamed with some updates and your PowerPC application developers come out with Lion-compatible versions.

The importance of raising questions

Trisha, Mike and Josephine Rideout of Huntington Ave. in Portland, ME.  Josephine, 5,  with her pet chicken, Maryanne.Photo by Brian Fitzgerald.Rideout FamilyPhoto by Brian Fitzgerald.Rideout Family (Brian Fitzgerald/© Brian Fitzgerald)
Who is this girl and why is she holding a pet chicken? (©2011 Brian Fitzgerald)

I have a photography mentor whose advice I often replay in my head. One of the sayings I most remember when I’m shooting my editorial portraits or more conceptual work is, “Leave them with questions rather than answers.”

This seems antithetical to my upbringing in newspaper photojournalism, where the success of a news photo hinges on the ability of the viewer to clearly digest what’s happening in the image with as little help from the caption as necessary.

But it only seems that way. The bread-and-butter of the community photojournalist isn’t spot news or hostage standoffs or even sports. Rather, it’s a big helping of portrait profiles with a side of found  features (so-called “wild art”) and the occasional self-assignment photo essay or story. Every now and then, an illustration.

It’s in these non-news situations where my mentor’s advice rings true. A successful photo is one that isn’t totally literal. A great photo doesn’t tie up every loose end and dot every “i”. Whether because of an interesting expression, body language or other reasons, a photo that leaves something unresolved in the viewer’s mind is the one you’ll bet they’ll look at for a while before moving on to Dear Abby. They might even come back later to study the photo to try to figure it out themselves.

To boil it all down, I think that when you have an image that forces the viewer to fill in the blanks a bit—you may just have an image that can touch people.  One master at this was the great portraitist Yousuf Karsh. He photographed many of the most iconic images of famous people in the 20th century, from Fidel Castro to Albert Einstein to Andy Warhol.   You just have to view the iconic portrait of Sir Winston Churchill to see what Karsh was able to do (the backstory on this particular photo is fascinating and a worthwhile read). Looking at his images, the viewer is compelled to try and guess what the subjects are thinking at that moment.  It’s as if you can see their souls and a little of their dirty laundry, too.

It’s an approach I always try to keep in mind when shooting images for certain clients, or for myself.  Special thanks to Josephine, above, and her chicken, Maryanne.

 

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.

A blue moon

Verrill Dana formals in Boston, MA--Mark Borreliz (Brian Fitzgerald)
Moonrise over Cape Cod, MA

We recently got back from an all-too-brief vacation to Cape Cod.  It was our first time there (we stayed in a great little resort on the beach), and I can report that Maggie loved…the swimming pool.  A lot.

It was raining every day but one.  At day’s end, the full moon came out and made me dig out my camera gear.

 

 

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

Visuals for Verrill Dana

Verrill Dana's new website

I met the folks at Portland-based law firm Verrill Dana last year.  The firm was in the middle of a complete web redesign of their site, and needed photos—lots of them.  Verrill Dana is one of the largest law firms in northern New England, with offices in Maine, Boston, Connecticut and Washington, DC.

The firm already had professional headshots of most of the their 100+ attorneys, but needed updated versions.  In addition, they wanted to showcase more of each attorney’s personality: on each bio page they would run three black-and-white candid photographs of each person in their work environment, engaged in normal interaction.

We met and came up with a plan to tackle the job. The formal portraits would be taken over the course of weeks and would be shot in Portland, Boston and in our studio—but they had to look consistent, as if they were taken all at the same time.   The candids needed to be purposful but natural, orchestrated but spontaneous-looking.

I started by photographing some test “attorneys” in a variety of ways to provide some different looks.  Once the artistic vision was decided on, we arranged shoot dates and makeup days, then got to work.   The shooting days went very smoothly, primarily because the marketing team at Verrill Dana is so well-organized.   Although small issues always come up in the course of shooting, a bit of flexibility and a solid team can easily overcome them.  My years as a photojournalist helped me move quickly and roll with the punches, too.

We love Verrill Dana’s new site, launched earlier this month.  It’s inviting, clean and filled with nice touches, like being able to view an image of each attorney just by mousing over their name.   Congratulations, Verrill Dana!

Lighting workshop at Studio B

I was asked (by my wife, Beth) recently to make a presentation to the monthly photo group she hosts.  The group, known as a PUG (Pictage User Group), is run by local wedding photographer Emilie of Emilie Inc.  Beth ran the show while Emilie was on maternity leave, hence the request.

So I put together a short program around the use of studio lights (not camera flashes).  We would start with a one-light wonder and build a three-light portrait from there.  Along the way, we’d use a variety of modifiers to sculpt the light:  softbox, umbrella, beauty dish and reflectors.

To my surprise, we had a packed studio.  The session was great–lots of good questions and energy.   When our model called in with the Flu, group members happily allowed themselves to be pulled in for impromptu example shots, which we promptly projected for the group to see.

We covered a lot of ground, but as the session ended I knew I wanted to put together a new workshop–this time demonstrating how to use studio strobes on location and synchronizing electronic light with ambient light.   It’s still in the works, but will probably happen this summer before the season gets too busy for wedding shooters.

Below I’m including a beauty dish photo I took of participant Charlie Widdis.   The concept was on layering lights so that the image shows bright-dark-bright areas from back to front.  Beauty dishes are great for this kind of effect because they produce a very defined and controllable beam of light (with no hot spots, incidentally).   This is literally a 30-second set-up-and-shoot portrait, but Charlie looks great.

Charlie Widdis

 

The cool thing is that, a few days later, Charlie practiced the session and expanded on it, producing a very nice softbox variant with some good model material–Miss Maine.  Then, he sent that image to me to show off his results.   Nice job, Charlie!   I love it when people immediately apply lessons learned–there’s no better way to commit the technique to memory.   Charlie blew the doors off of this one and made it his own.

©2011 Charlie Widdis

Below is a list of resources based on questions that came up during the workshop.  Hope it’s helpful to the group (and others).   And for anyone wanting to take part in the upcoming outdoor lighting session, feel free to email me at brian@fitzgeraldphoto.com.

Resource Links and Terms

Honl Photo:  For straps, grid spots and other modifiers for your on-camera flash.

Gaffers Tape:  This is the slightly expensive cloth tape the pros use.  Very sticky, but no residue afterwards.

Beauty Dish:  For beautiful, directional light with no hot-spot

Alien Bees:  Relatively inexpensive monolights good for traveling wedding and portrait photographers.  Great customer service.

Elinchrom:   Professional studio lights with a built-in radio remote that allows you to change the power from your camera.

Pocket Wizards:  The best camera/light wireless remote system, in my opinion.

Lastolite:  A bit expensive, but great products such as the light diffusion panels and the Ezybox softbox for camera speedlights

Ebay remotes:  Cheaper alternative to pocket wizards found on EBay.  OK, but you get what you pay for.

Strobist.com:  Fantastic resource for amateurs and pros who want to use their camera strobes more effectively.

Rosco “Strobist” Filter kit:  Get exactly the gels you actually can use–and get multiples of them, too.  They’re cheap, fit right over the head of your flash–and don’t have a hole in them like the free sample packs do.

Seamless:  Paper background available in a variety of roll widths.  Savage and Superior are two well-known brands.

Note:  With the exception of the Alien Bees, much of this stuff is available at  (or can be ordered through) locally-owned businesses  Photo Market and Hunt’s Photo & Video.  Check them out!