I have always loved brightly colored shoots that are unique and different. I’ve often wondered if my fascination with colorful shoots is tied in some way to my colorblindness. Anyway, I digress. When I first saw images of the Holi Spring Festival several years ago, I was blown away - so many bright and vivid colors. I researched images and found a few photographers that took the idea into the studio creating colorful powder/flour shoots with models. Obviously this idea was RIGHT UP MY ALLEY and I had to give it a shot. But where does one find colored powder in bulk for such a shoot?
The easiest way to do a colored powder shoot is to illuminate plain white flour with colored gels covering off camera flashes. Another method is to color the powder first and just use a regular flash to illuminate the powder and subject. A cool side effect of coloring the powder is that the vibrant colors will be visible on skin and clothing, especially white clothing. You can purchase Holi powder online but it is not cheap and for a large shoot you would need quite a bit of it. The last time I checked, a five pound bag of a single color was around $24 dollars, so roughly $5 a pound. I wanted to find a cheaper way to produce colored powder in large quantities. More research led to several online tutorials and recipes for do-it-yourself colored powder or Holi powder. I tried a recipe that involves regular flour and coloring but found it didn’t produce nearly the texture you get when using cornstarch. Although flour is cheaper, the cornstarch recipe produces a better powder that is still cheaper than the online Holi powder. I have seen corn starch as low as $2 a pound. So how do you make it? Read on!
If you are going to do this for a shoot, start making the powder several days in advance, if not a week. First, buy some cheap cornstarch. It does not need to be a fancy name brand. Next, pour the cornstarch into a large bowl and slowly add water until you get oobleck. If you don’t know what this is, watch a video or two on this fun-to-play-with substance. Try not to add too much water because eventually you are going to dry the mixture out. Don’t fret, you cannot mess up by adding too much water, it will just require more time to dry. After you have the non-Newtonian mixture made, add color to it. You can use food coloring to color the mixture as much or as little as you wish. I personally use Wilton cake decorating colors because they tend to be more saturated and I have access to it for next to nothing. For photo shoots, I suggest more saturated colors overall so use more coloring than you think you’ll need but keep in mind this is completely a personal preference. When the powder is dispersed in the air, the color tends to appear less saturated simply because it is not as condensed. Put on some gloves and mix the color thoroughly into the mixture. It will take some time and effort as the substance is a little difficult to mix.
After you have the color you’re after, spread the mixture into a large shallow pan that allows the mixture to spread out as thin as possible. The thinner you can get it, the quicker it will dry out. On hot summer days, I simply leave the pan out in the sun until it dries. If the weather is bad or particularly humid, you can place the pan in an oven at a low temperature to dry it out as well. Periodically break up and crumble the mixture during the drying period. If you dry the mixture on a countertop or outside, it may take several days to completely dry depending on the size of your batch and the pan used for drying. If you find that the mixture clumps together when you attempt to periodically break it up, it is still too wet. After the mixture is completely dry, place small portions in a blender to further reduce the mixture into a fine powder. After you have your powder, bag it up in air tight (moisture proof) bags or containers until the shoot!
Please keep in mind that the color in the powder can stain! Make your model aware of this prior to the shoot so they can get appropriate clothing. Or as the photographer, purchase something for them to wear at a thrift store you don’t mind possibly ruining. As long as the model doesn’t get wet, or sweat too much, you can fairly easily blow the dust off of them. As soon as the powder gets wet, you do run the risk of it temporarily staining the skin or clothing. Frankly, we didn’t have that much of an issue with skin staining but it is something to consider. If at all possible, do the shoot outside or in an area you don’t mind getting powder all over the place. As you can image, cleanup can be a hassle. I have two powder shoots coming up, one with colored lights and one with colored powder. I will hopefully follow up with a tutorial on the actual shoots themselves discussing setup, camera settings, positioning of lighting, etc. Stay tuned!
Black Lights! Because sometimes all you need for a shoot is ultraviolet light. I have done a few shoots in my day, and for the most, I can get fairly close to the image idea I have in my head reflected in my finished image. Only on rare occasions do the images turn out better than I was expecting. This was one of those shoots.
A good friend of mine sent me some images of black light shoots and suggested I add the concept to my never-ending idea list. I have done simple black light shoots in the past but never really got the effect I was after. Having not been satisfied with my last attempts, I wanted to give it another shot. My goal for this shoot was to highlight the female form with bright colors and remove the actual body from the images just leaving the bright colors. In some respects, I wanted the images to look like paintings against a black background. I also wanted to figure out a better way to control the light during a black light shoot. Most black light bulbs do not throw off a lot of light. You need to have the fluorescent paint or material fairly close to the light to get a good effect (unless you spend a fair amount of money to get dedicated black light equipment). Luckily, I discovered a way to help create more ultraviolet light that I had far more control over.
Step one was finding a way to modify my off camera flashes to act as black lights. I won’t bore you with the details here but if you’re interested, watch this YouTube video on modifying an off camera flash to be a black light. The next step was to find some colorful fluorescent paints – a fairly easy task given all the hobby stores in my area. I did wind up finding some nail polish that worked great as well. The last step was to find a willing model. Given that I knew this was going to be a nude shoot, I needed to find someone that would approach the shoot with complete professionalism and with the physique necessary for this type of shoot. AND I DID! Brittanie Lynne graciously agreed to be the model for this idea. She has become one of my favorite models. You can check out her work and follow her here!
We did a couple of warm-up images. We started out with just some basic images of her in a very cool dress. I saw a selfie she had posted online in the dress and I thought it would make for some great images.
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We then moved on to an idea I ran across online – a dress made of decorative duct tape! It took a roll and a half for this dress size (just in case you want to try something like this yourself).
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We ended with the main event, the black light idea! I diluted the paint just a bit with water so that it would run a little easier. I also put the paint into small bottles that we could squeeze on her body with a fair amount of control. After some simple drip images, she smeared the paint around her body for a different effect. The image of the drips on her back is an image with little post processing. After the shoot came the process of editing out her body. As you can see, the skin picks up a blue hue from the black lights. The other images displayed were edited to reduce or eliminate that blue hue (and therefore, the body itself). I increased the black levels and bumped up the contrast quite a bit. I also increased the saturation and clarity a bit as well.
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In my humble opinion, the images turned out awesome!! If you want to try a black light shoot, either find a good source for your black lights, modify your flash, or use several small black light bulbs to produce enough light for your shoot. Make sure your paints and props are black light reactive (there are tons of props specifically designed for black lights online). If you think this idea is too messy, complicated, or time consuming, perfect! Stay out of your comfort zone, give it a shot, and remember to have fun! Huge shout out again to the amazing Brittanie Lynne!
Another step out of the comfort zone! Why can’t I just enjoy where I’m at? What I’m doing? Because discomfort often times leads to growth and I love growing and learning new things.
It used to be that blogs were all the rage! You weren’t ‘somebody’ unless you had a blog (if being ‘somebody’ mattered). For the most part, those days are long gone. It’s still nice to read blogs here and there but technology has changed our consumption habits. Why read it when you can watch it? When we have a question, we typically ‘Google’ it to find an answer. Now it’s more like ‘YouTube’ it and watch how it’s done! I am a perfect example. When I have a photography or Photoshop related question, I will generally YouTube the subject first. If, and only if, I cannot find it on YouTube, then I’ll Google it. To this end, I will be switching more of my effort into YouTube videos than written blogs. I still think blogs have their place and I will still occasionally post some, but probably not as frequently as I have in the past. I have tried to post a blog roughly once a month on my site (which pales in comparison to any reputable website – but hey, I have a full time job (and kids too)). I am going to try and do at least one YouTube video a month if possible. We’ll see how long that lasts!
So why is this out of my comfort zone? Because I hate the way I sound, I don’t necessarily consider myself very photogenic, my skills at creating videos are novice and extremely unpolished at best, and like most people, public speaking scares me to death. You would think after having done 50 plus jury trials, teaching high school and college students, and ruling over arguments from other attorneys that I would have lost my fear of public speaking. Rest assured, it’s still there. So bear with me as I attempt to overcome my fears and delve into an area I probably have no business going into but it feels like the right move. Besides, my followers on YouTube are growing more and more every week and I’m excited to see where I can take this. It is my intent to keep the YouTube channel photography related with behind-the-scenes videos and tutorials; maybe even a review here and there. So if you’re a model I work with a lot, be prepared to be on video for future shoots and if you’re just a follower, feel free to subscribe to my YouTube channel and watch my growth from very meager beginnings. And no, I won’t un-friend you if you don’t subscribe to my channel. I’m doing this less to garner subscribers and more to simply try and do something new and outside of my comfort zone, yet again! Wish me luck!
So watch out YouTube, here comes another amateur!
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.
Keep the interesting parts of life in focus.