Christmas is right around the corner and cameras can make a great gift. So be prepared for a new wave of ‘professional’ photographers. If you have a camera, any kind of camera, and you snap away taking pictures, you could consider yourself a photographer. But what is a ‘professional’ photographer? There are definitions all over the place attempting to define ‘professional photographer’. I have seen definitions that state if you earn money off of your photography, you are a professional. Others state that you have to earn at least 50% of your total income from photography to be considered a professional. Even others state your work has to be peer reviewed and published at least a time or two. There are no official requirements to identify and advertise one’s self as a professional photographer. There is no specific education, testing, or certification required. This is why the graphic above is so true, and to some degree troubling.
Technology, as it always does, has changed the landscape of photography drastically. It used to be if you wanted decent wedding images or senior pictures, you would contact a local photographer or company. Back in the day in my area, Olan Mills was the big go-to name for photography needs. “Old school’ photographers were typically trained in the art of photography through both schooling and apprenticing. The equipment was expensive (as is true for some equipment today) and the average citizen couldn’t afford a decent camera and the continued expense of film and developing. Sure, there were consumer level cameras and equipment available, but the ‘professionals’ had the ‘real’ equipment. The first few digital cameras were far more expensive than their film counterpart but over time, innovations in technology began to drop the price of the digital cameras while at the same time increasing their functionality and features. Film cameras are now more of a nostalgic hobby than anything else. It was this shift in technology that allowed the ordinary person to experiment with photography and at a much cheaper cost than previously. Add to that the ability to see your images immediately without the need to develop film and photography changed forever.
It’s not hard to imagine how the more ‘classically’ trained photographers might despise those individuals that start calling themselves 'professionals' overnight simply because they visited a local electronics store with a few bucks (or got a camera as a gift at Christmas). These untrained amateurs are sometimes seen as a legitimate threat to the ‘classically’ trained photographers’ livelihood. Traditionally trained photographers start losing business to these individuals who will do the same job for less, or no cost at all – and sometimes produced better images - sometimes. With the supply of photographers seemingly increasing exponentially, many larger companies, like the one I mentioned above, simply couldn’t continue to stay in business. Even today you see fewer and fewer portrait studios in malls and shopping centers. Although they still have some locations here in Colorado, Olan Mills has permanently closed several locations.
So what does this all mean? Are all self-taught photographers hacks who are stealing food off of the table of true photographers? Does the word “professional” in front of a photographers tag mean anything? Can I even objectively consider the merits of this argument since I am apparently one of those self-taught hacks? To the last question, yes, I can! Photography is an art, and more to the point, a service and product based industry. That being said, demand controls who makes it and who doesn’t. If people like your end product, I highly doubt they will care one bit how or where you were trained. When a photographer attempts to get new work or clients, they typically present their portfolio, or examples of previous work, not their scholastic transcripts.
If you are trying to make photography a full time career, which I think is incredibly hard to do in today’s day and age, your work will be compared to a flood of images that exists almost everywhere, especially online and with social media. Finding a way to separate your work from everybody else’s is the key. Even though there are far more cameras out there than ever before, that doesn’t mean the images from all those additional cameras are any more creative, interesting, or superb. In fact, most casual photographers will tend to take the same pictures as everyone else. Finding a way to be the one photographer that takes that same view in front of them to create a more interesting image than all of the others that came before them is key. This has been my goal from day one – to try and create images that make me, and others as well, pause just a tad longer before swiping to the next of a thousand images on their phone, laptop, or desktop.
I doubt photography will ever account for more than 50% of my income, and I’m not sure I want it to. Although there is the old adage of ‘do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life’, there’s also the concern that making a hobby a job will strip it of its pleasure making it an ‘I have to do it’ instead of an ‘I want to do it.’ Given everything mention above, I do wholeheartedly consider myself a professional photographer; not because I occasionally get paid, or have been published, or because I think my images are any better than anyone else’s (which couldn’t be further from the truth), but because I pour myself into the craft with everything I have. I continually educate myself, stretch my boundaries and step outside my comfort zones, and critique my work far more than anyone else ever could. I approach the art of photography with a dedication and passion that can only be defined as professional (or maybe just clinically obsessive). As for me not being ‘classically’ trained, blame it on YouTube tutorials!
Whether you are a professional model, an aspiring model, or just someone I singled out to be a model for one of my many ideas, there are 3 things I look for, and greatly appreciate, in a model.
Looks matter, there’s no beating around the bush on this topic. However, it’s probably not what you’re thinking. When I say ‘looks’, I don’t necessarily mean some drop-dead gorgeous individual that could easily be on the front cover of some fashion magazine. When I have an idea in my head for a possible shoot, I will invariably have an idea of what I want the model to look like and I will attempt to get a model that is very close to my idea. Examples of specific looks I’m interested in for some of my shoot ideas include: people with a lot of tattoos, people with wild hair and makeup, people with tons of freckles, people with dark hair, etc. Those are the type of things I’m on the hunt for when I mean ‘looks’. The other way I use ‘looks’ is by evaluating an individual who wants to work with me and then coming up with ideas that I think best suits their ‘look’. For individuals I tend to shoot with a lot, it simply means that I think they have a very versatile look that works for a lot of different ideas. Now don’t get me wrong, if I’m after a very specific glamour type look that could be used on the front of some fashion magazine, I will look for an individual that I think has that look – and frankly, not everyone does.
So many things fall into this category. The best way to describe this trait is someone that is fun, outgoing, adventurous, and interested in getting the best images possible. One reason I will use the same individuals over and over again for several different shoots is because they have such great attitudes. I love working with people that are excited about the experience and are invested in the final product. Some professional models may look fantastic and know how to properly pose, but if they are there just to get paid or just to add another name to the photographers they have worked with, I’d prefer working with someone else. Not only do models need to have the right attitude about the shoot itself, but the right attitude about themselves. There is nothing worse than working with someone that is overly self-conscious about how they look. It comes across in the final images, trust me. All things being equal, I’ll take attitude over looks any day! For me, portrait photography is about having fun while creating great images at the same time.
I learned very early on that not everyone is as invested in my photography as I am. Hell, I doubt anyone is as invested, or ever could be as invested, as I am. Even though most of my shoots are for fun, they still require a fair amount of work and preparation. Everyone’s time is valuable, even mine. It’s just wrong to bail out on a scheduled shoot without notice. I’ve only had this happen to me on two occasions, but that was enough that I will not allow it to happen again. Now I know life happens and things come up, but it’s never ok to miss a pre-arranged appointment with anyone, photography or not. I have a friend that is also into portrait photography and the amount of ‘no-shows’ he gets is appalling – and this even includes models he is going to pay for their time. I honestly don’t know how he puts up with it. We have often joked about starting a site where we can post the names of models that are not reliable. Who knows, maybe it will go from joke to reality. If I start to get signals someone is going to flake out at the last minute, I’m done working with them, no matter their looks or attitude. It’s just a simple matter of respect.
So give me a model that has the look I’m after, has a great attitude, and who shows up on time, and I couldn’t be happier. Models that I prefer to work with multiple times, have all of these traits in spades! It doesn’t matter if they are a professional model or a friend of a friend, give me these three traits and I guarantee we will make some amazing images.
While recently working on my Halloween album, I kept thinking about the ‘rules’ for photographers as they relate to working with models. The rules kept running across my mind because I was ‘touching’ the models more so for these shoots than I usually do for any other shoot. Most of the ‘touching’ involved painting fake blood on body parts (or helping remove it), moving hair a bit, or moving a limb or hand in a certain way. I think being a criminal defense attorney also played a part in my hyper-sensitivity to certain ‘rules’. So it got me thinking, what are the rules and do they even make sense? Here is a list of some of the ‘rules’ photographers are supposed to follow when working with a model and my own personal opinions on them.
Never Touch The Model!
Probably considered the Golden Rule, this is the rule that repeatedly ran across my mind for some of my Halloween shoots. There are generally two reasons for this rule. One reason is that there is simply a personal space issue that most people can probably understand. Having someone touch you can obviously violate your personal space, even if it is for a photo shoot. The second reason, and probably the more obvious reason, is the creepy photographer or pervert issue. I hear story after story about so-called photographers getting models for a shoot as a pretext to touch the models in ways that might, or might not, appear to be legitimate for the purpose of the shoot. Even if the photographer isn’t touching someone with the intent of being a ‘perv’, it could still be interpreted that way by the model. As a lawyer, I can completely understand why having a base rule of no touching eliminates any mistakes by either party. Allegations alone can cause a lifetime of misery. Many models will insist on an escort for the first few sessions with a new photographer until they feel comfortable shooting alone with them. I personally have no issues with escorts although some photographers will not permit them.
Ideally, if something needs to be adjusted with the model during a shoot, the hair and makeup artist is supposed to be the one to make the adjustments. If no hair and makeup artist is available, the model should make the adjustments. But what do you do when the model physically cannot make the proper adjustment and there is no hair and makeup artist? As the photographer, I will typically make the adjustment explaining to the model before I make the adjustment, exactly what I am about to do. This way, the model knows what I am about to do and why. If it is a model I have worked with a lot in the past and we have developed a familiar working relationship, I feel more comfortable touching them as compared to a model that I am working with for the first time. If you have a shoot you think might entail having to touch the model a fair amount, have that discussion upfront before the shoot – maybe even suggest they have a friend come along to help if needed (which I have done on occasion). Generally speaking however, this is a sound rule photographers should follow.
Praise The Model Often!
Praise the model often. Everyone enjoys praise and I think this just makes sense generally. Photographers can still cross the line in giving praise though. It’s probably not a good idea to tell your model they are ‘hot’ or ‘sexy’ during a shoot. Probably also not a great idea to make statements like, “Oh yea, baby” and all the other ridiculous statements you can think of. The best praise you can give any model, is the sound of your camera shutter. Seriously!! If you are snapping away taking tons of pictures the model knows you are getting some really good shots and that you apparently like what they are doing. A model will get more nervous when they hear a single click followed by long stretches of silence. Praise them with your shutter clicks! The occasional, “Perfect!” or “That’s a really good pose. Hold that”, tend to work great as well.
Talk With Your Model!
Yes, definitely. Even if you are shooting with an experienced model, talking with them helps put them at ease and helps create a relationship that aids in creating amazing images (this is one reason why short boudoir sessions can be so difficult). In addition to creating general rapport, inviting the model to help in the creative process is a great way to spark a conversation. When I shoot a model that also happens to be a photographer, our discussions will tend to lead to joint collaboration anyway and it generally works out for the better. Including them in the creative process can sometimes help newer models not focus so much on whether they are posing right and what they should or should not be doing with their hands. Once a model starts over-worrying about posing or what to do with their arms or legs, it can be very difficult to get them relaxed enough again for great images. Having said all of that, some models prefer direction and really are more comfortable letting others direct the shoot. Either way, still a topic to discuss with your model.
Share Images During The Shoot!
Lastly, show your model the pictures periodically during the shoot. I am HORRIBLE at this!! I try and catch myself and let the model have a peek at the back of my camera, but I just as often forget. Regardless if I communicate that the images are coming out awesome or not, seeing is believing. When a model can actually see the images and how they are turning out, they gain confidence in the images and themselves. That confidence relates to even better images going forward. If they are taking the time to shoot with you, they are probably just as invested in the final images and want to see how they are coming out. Give them the opportunity to see images periodically during the shoot. This can also lead to discussions about what they really like about the images or what they don’t like and want to change. Good rule to follow. Now, I just need to learn to heed my own advice!
These are by no means the complete list of rules photographers should follow while working with a model, male or female. These are simply the rules I think are the most important. As with every rule, there are always exceptions but you probably need to know the rule to know when the exception is appropriate. If you just use common sense, typically everything will work out just great. A portrait session is not a dating opportunity or an excuse to touch another person. Sadly, there are ‘photographers’ out there that use their camera for those very purposes. Don’t be that guy (or gal). Reputations spread very quickly in the photography/modeling community and it could result in something far worse than just a bad reputation – take it from an attorney.
How can anyone not like Halloween with all the things that come with it? My birthday falls a mere week before Halloween and over the years I have come to embrace the holiday as one of my favorites of the year. It only makes sense that my photography would track my fascination with all things creepy, horrific, and spooky during the Halloween season.
As a kid (and still to this day), I loved watching scary movies. I would try to sneak into R rated slasher movies with my best friend and when that failed, we would talk his mom into coming along so that we could get in – with parental supervision! Bless her heart. We would sit up front as his mom sat further back in the theater, no doubt probably falling asleep. Now as an adult, I love the week following up to Halloween. You can catch all the classic horror movies on TV and the pay-per-view services ramp up horror movie viewing options as well. Over the last few years, some stations have begun making it a month of scary movies, one an evening until Halloween. Several years ago, this gave me an idea - an idea to do my own photographic version of a build-up to Halloween night. Thus, I started creating creepy images posting one a day during the month of October.
In addition to combining my love of photography and my love of movies where teens having sex in the woods get torn to shreds, I also use this opportunity to further experiment with Photoshop. It gives me an excuse to edit my photos to extremes I never would otherwise in very strange and (hopefully) disturbing ways. I am far from an expert at Photoshop and all the things you can do with it so this forces me to become more proficient at Photoshop in general. Plus, there are tons of cool Photoshop video tutorials online specifically geared towards making scary images. And who doesn’t enjoy watching good Photoshop tutorials on how to create a dismembered body? And yes, I am the first to admit that some of the images aren’t edited as convincingly as I would prefer, but therein lies the challenge and enjoyment.
The first year I did this month-long photographic exhibition, I got some very strong reactions, both for and against the idea and images. There were those that absolutely loved it and there were those that found the images too dark and disturbing. In fact, I lost a few page likes which I attributed to those that did not like the month long creepy images. There were also some individuals that fell somewhere in-between – they weren’t necessarily fond of the images themselves but still liked the creativity and effort I put forth in the images. At one point, I considered stopping the series so that I did not offend anyone but then convinced myself you cannot please all of the people all of the time. Besides, I was personally having a blast with it – and still do!
My inspiration for these projects comes from several sources including the internet, movies, and my own demented imagination. I find creepy photos with kids are sometimes the most powerful. Check out Locked Illusions for some great images with kids and adults alike. I originally thought finding models for these types of shoots would be an issue, but I have had several individuals offer to model specifically for my October themes. It’s funny, people I couldn’t bribe to do ‘normal’ modeling are usually more than willing to get covered in fake blood and simulate losing body parts - proof that I’m not the only weirdo out there! Thanks to some amazing and willing models, I am well on my way into this year’s album. Hopefully between now and October 1st, I will have enough images to make a decent run at it this year. For those out there with a love of things spooky and dark like me, October and Halloween are right around the corner! CAN’T WAIT!!!
I recently did a car pinup shoot where I put my new Nikkor AF-S 35mm 1.8G DX lens to the test. I mainly got this lens because I often work in areas that are small and limited on space. This lens is perfect for boudoir shoots where the rooms are cramped. With my last boudoir shoot, I used my Nikkor AF-S 50mm 1.8G exclusively. Using the 50mm, I often found myself up against walls trying to get far enough away from the model to get the composition I wanted. Had I had the 35mm at the time, things would have been much easier, MAYBE!! Since I now own both lenses, I thought I would do my own comparison of the lenses to see which comes out on top. Sadly, I cannot necessarily crown one the winner over the other, unless I restrict my judging criteria.
First off, the 50mm lens is an FX lens. It is designed to be used with full size sensor Nikon cameras. That being said, you can most definitely use it on Nikon crop sensor cameras. A full frame sensor is larger than the cheaper crop sensor (thus the name ‘crop’). When using an FX lens on a crop sensor, you are only grabbing the inner portion of the image being projected by the lens. Although you are not taking advantage of the full image of the FX lens, you are grabbing the portion of the image that is the sharpest; the center of the image. The 35mm DX lens is designed specifically for crop sensor cameras. While you can use it on a full frame camera, you will get very noticeable vignetting around the outside of the image. You can correct this to some degree in post processing, but to get rid of it all, you will need to crop the image inward a fair bit.
So what’s the difference between a 50mm and a 35mm? In layman’s terms, it’s the amount of the scene in front of you that will appear in your camera. The smaller the mm number, the more of the scene you will get. Therefore, a 35mm will take in a wider scene than a 50mm. In the example above, you can see that the 35mm has more scenery in it. Although Ed (E-very D-ay, my doll for my previous 365 day project) looks smaller and further away in the 35mm image, there is more image generally. These images were taken from the same spot using the same camera.
If we zoom in on both of the images, you can start to see that the 35mm lens is a tad sharper. Also, the image is slightly brighter and a little less saturated. To get Ed to be the same size in both images, I had to move closer to Ed with the 35mm lens. This is why it is a better choice over the 50mm for close-quarter shooting. Conversely, I was further back with the 50mm but it is a tad softer in sharpness. The image is also slightly more saturated and a little darker.
Next, I got as close to Ed as I could to fill the frame with his face. I was not able to get close enough to do that, so I got as close as possible and cropped the image down to fill the frame. I did the same thing with the 35mm and cropped similarly. This close to a subject, and cropping even closer in post, the sharpness difference is very noticeable. The 50mm really looks horrible compared to the 35mm. This really caught me off guard as I anticipated the 50mm being the better of the two for sharpness, especially since my crop sensor is only taking the sweet spot of the image from the 50mm to begin with. However, I still prefer the darker and more saturated image of the 50mm generally. However, for extremely close and zoomed images, the 50mm falls embarrassingly short.
My last consideration was bokeh! Bokeh is the blurred background effect you get behind your subject in an image. The wider your aperture, the more the background will blur, generally speaking. For all of the images used for this comparison, I was wide open at 1.8 for both lenses and shot at ISO 100. In my personal opinion, the bokeh with the 35mm is nowhere near as nice as the bokeh you get with the 50mm. The ‘bokeh balls’ with the 35mm tend to be more football shaped whereas the ‘bokeh balls’ with the 50mm tend to be more round and softer – which I find more pleasing.
So which is the best lens? Well, if sharpness is all you want, especially for close-ups and cropped images, the 35mm is for you (assuming you are using it on a crop sensor camera). However, if you prefer a more saturated image with much better ability to produce amazing bokeh, consider the 50mm. Yes, I realize you can saturate your images in post to your liking, but it’s not quite as easy to create nicer bokeh from the elements in the actual image in post processing. I am really amazed that the cheaper and smaller 35mm produced that much sharper images close up. I am so amazed that I plan to fine-tune focus my 50mm just to see if it might have a back or front focusing issue. After fine-tuning it, I will definitely run this comparison again to see if it is any better. It really is hard for me to recommend one lens over the other. Although sharpness is obviously a huge issue with images, I’ve shot some amazingly sharp images with the 50mm, so much so that sometimes I have to actually soften the image to get the desired effect I am after. However, should I upgrade to a full frame camera in the future (which I most certainly will), the 35mm will become less useful to me as it will not project an image big enough to cover the entire full frame sensor. I really prefer the bokeh, darkness, and saturation I get with the 50mm. However, for close-up images, the 35mm can’t be beat. Anyway, I hope this comparison has helped if you are deciding between the two. As always, get out there with your camera and stay out of your comfort zone!
Keep the interesting parts of life in focus.