Friday, March 27, 2015

Random Things & Freebie Friday: Selena Gomez & Hipster Scenes


I know, this one kinda freaked me out too. And I know talent comes in all shapes & sizes so I dont hate but a part of me just really has a hard time relating to a song sung by Disney star. It's hard for me to focus on the beauty of the song without getting distracted by the fact she was a Wizard on a show my friends daughter used to obsess over. Maybe it's because it makes me feel old. Miley Cyrus makes me feel old. She was a goofy girl barely through puberty & now she's my age (since Im forever staying 23 of course).

So anyways I was watching Photography related Youtube videos & this popped up a suggested video & I have to say that I really appreciate the beauty of the way it was shot. And so from a cinematography viewpoint....I love. I don't know who made the video & Im too lazy to google it, but really, great job on creating something that balances simple, sexy, heartfelt, classy so beautifully.......(Oh & the song isn't so bad either)


Now this next thing is at first glance pretty awesome & comes off as more of a novelty but upon further inspection you realize that aside from becoming Iron Man on the weekend you could actually use this in practical situations such as:

1. Home Intruders. Why fumble with mace or a stun gun when you could throw flames instead? My suggestion? Start speaking weird & commence shooting flames at the intruder whilst looking possessed....Im pretty sure they will take a hike.

2. Feeling a mid life crisis or a need to do something exhilarating in life? Maybe sky diving's not your thing but you want to step outside the box? Well, how about a good old fashion round of tag except step it up a notch by making it flame tag. Forget paint ball guns, those are outdated technology. With flames you'll know when those cheating friends of your have been hit.


Step outside the box & try something creative with this tutorial from Phlearn using sparklers. Gels on your lights is a really simple way to add depth & creativity to your photos. 


This free art scenes generator from Noupes is about as good as it gets & they're giving the lower res version of it away from free. Worth noting, is that the high-res version is only $30 & worth just buying if you use this sort of thing for your designs or site. With all the time they put into it & the fact that it truly is one of the best ones I've seen with tons of variety & it's super customizable....$30 is a steal & worth supporting the creators. 

Monday, March 23, 2015

Learning to Shoot Film: a comparison of digital & film

Yes. The allure of film got me. The promise of the perfect exposure, of harmony between light & dark, with exquisite colors straight out of camera like never before sounded too amazing not to experience it for myself. 

So after having only bought a Mark III for the price of a kidney I felt guilty wanting to now buy a Film camera at a similar price tag. Luckily my friend had one for sale, a little Hasselblad....which I'm going to admit I don't even know the rest of the name (gasp)...500 cm? Something like that. It shoots film. But really that's how little I used it. 

My first adventure was a wedding (don't worry I took my Mark III too as my main camera, I'm not that crazy!) but I took the Hasselblad & got a talented friend to come hang out & shoot too, Charlene Hardy, check her out. She shoots & develops film for her own business & I knew she could guide me through everything so I could snap a few shots here & there & get some practice & an idea of how a wedding would look on film. Well that turned out alright. But the Hasselblad has a viewfinder that's like looking through a carnival fun shortened speak...not a camera that's easy to snap a quick shot here & there with. I got some decent images but I wasn't overexposing the film & we didn't tweak any of the colors during development & on top of that, they were in a square format since the Hasselblad doesn't shoot a 4x6. 

I didn't feel confident enough to go shoot on my own again since I wasn't exactly thrilled with how the first round had gone for me. One of my issues. Getting discouraged. Not putting in the time & practicing. I know this. I've seen many people produce amazing images because they shoot constantly. I have seen the first images of lots of talented celebrity photographers whose first images looked like my first images....we all start somewhere. Unless you're a prodigy & born awesome, I didn't get that lucky. But the people we admire most didn't wake up perfect & I can't expect to either. Greatness takes practice & confidence in ourselves to get there.

My first film image, shot on a Hasselblad.
One thing we read over & over until it's beat into our head is to not compare ourselves to others. And so I've accepted that I'm learning at my own pace & even though I don't choose to book or shoot twice a week,  so I'm taking longer to learn, that's ok. If I learn in 2 years what it took someone else 6 months to do, I've still learned & so that's also ok. And film scares me. I don't know why. Once upon a time (yes I'm old enough) film was all there was. My first camera was a film camera. So why the terror you say? I don't know. Something about loading the film...stretching it out & loading it, with the anticipation that something amazing might burn it's way onto the virgin rolls surface, terrifies me. With Jose Villa's & Elizabeth Messina's turning out these's intimidating. 

So if you're like me & you've been scared, tell your rude inner voice to get bent, that you're a dam goddess & if it take's 13 rolls to be a master or if it takes 200, so what. Picasso didn't start off painting masterpieces either, so having unrealistic expectations that I should be some sort of Steve Jobs of film photography, sucks too. So that's where part II of my film journey begins. Enough of the fuzzy talk....sometimes that accidentally sneaks into my posts because I need to hear it.

So my other awesome friend Dawn who frequently finds her name in my posts, came down & we went out to conquer. I hadn't shot film in so long that I had forgotten again how to load the film, so after reviewing that & recording the process on my phone so I could make sure I do it right the next time I'm on my own out in the wilderness with nothing but a match & my camera, I can survive. I don't know why I'm always afraid I'll load the film backwards or pull it out too far or push the wrong's ridiculous. I'm 28 & I'm only now having the self awareness to realize A. I'm a slow learner & everytime I put on a resume in the past, that I'm a quick learner that was a bold face lie. B. I'm afraid of way too many things including the acceptable fear of spider's but not so acceptable fear of failure & film loading. 

So off we went up a little hill just before sunset with an awesome person who accepted the invitation to come model for us. We didn't use anything besides our camera's to manipulate the light, that way we could really see the film for what it was. We did overexpose the film by setting the ISO higher than the film actually was & by using a slower shutter then what the meter called for.  

I had 15 shots & limited time before the sun would be gone. 

With digital you can click away, (which I still don't get shutter happy because it's just more time to cull & whatnot) but there's definitely less pressure when you decide to compress the shutter button. With film, wow. It's a whole different feeling. Each time you push that button it costs you. And after 15 shots you have to stop & lose time to load more film, so you find yourself really thinking about the shots. It's exhilarating & challenges you in a great way. And balancing taking the time to think out my shots with the fact that we only had about 30 minutes of good light was even more invigorating.

So we shot away & when the 15th shot was taken we headed home. I can't tell you how exciting it is to shoot your first roll & the anticipation of waiting for it to get to the lab & to have those shots sent back to you. The mystery! Did they turn out? Will the be amazing? Are you the next great thing in film photography? Oooor did you mess something up somehow & all your images are gonna look like doo. Who knows! So I waited...& to visualize this...picture the scene from 101 Dalmatians...when they're waiting around for the puppies to be born, the clock ticking away endlessly, murderously! This accurately describes me for a week. And so then what? Well they came back &...I feel good. 

They aren't going to win any prizes. My heart didn't stop from the beauty of them. A few of them were out of focus before I had decided to switch to manual focus & after that, all the shots were in focus. But then, in one of the pictures I took it right as she blinked, which I didn't even know at the time of course since you don't get the instant preview like with digital.

So potentially you could be taking the 'shot of the day' & it would have been a loss. In another just as I pushed the shutter, the wind took off with some of her hair & ruined the shot. So there's definitely lot's more variables & bumps in the road when shooting film, something that those who have mastered it also know & have learned to overcome. Something I'll overcome as I shoot more & more & practice avoiding those problems.

For those just starting out on film I really advise doing what I did & taking a digital camera along as well to take backup versions of your important shots but also to practice blending digital & film together in post which is an important skill. It also lets you compare the two realistically so you can even have an opinion about film, is it really better? Did it really take the pictures to a level digital couldn't?

As of right now my verdict is maybe.  

I like it but I don't think it's as amazing & perfect as everyone claims either. There is a depth in the images, a more 3D, feel-like-you're-there sort of subtle effect. Nothing mind blowing, but still there. You can achieve this same effect with an 85mm lens. The colors? Well, straight back from the lab, they are better than digital, yes.  Would I just send them out to a client as is? No. 

As you'll see in the images farther into this post, where I put the original next to the edited version....they needed some slight adjustments. I do think a reflector would go a long way in adding enough light to the subject's face that the shadows would be fine. I also like the way the images looked out straight from the camera when the subject was facing the sun versus when the sun was backlighting her. And I do love the way the blurry areas look in film versus in digital. As you can see in the image below, there's a sort of movement to the blur in film whereas with digital the blur looks more contrasty & has no movement to it. 

Unedited film scan where you can see the way the blurred area has movement to it

Rather ironically, I edited the film pictures with film presets to make the film have the film colors everyone is emulating. So let me say that again because I love irony...I shot Fuji 400h film & had to use a Fuji 400h film emulating preset to get the colors most people expect from Fuji 400h. Life. I love it. 

(Left) unedited film scan, (Right) film scan developed with a Fuji 400h Lightroom Preset
Also worth noting.....if you take a film image & a digital image & click the same preset you will get different results entirely. The film scans looked pretty perfect after clicking the VSCO Fuji 400h preset & doing a slight adjustment to the white balance whereas the digital pictures processed with that same preset required a ton of tweaking. So thats a plus I suppose. It is less editing although it is necessary to edit (in my opinion).

Should I also just take a second to clarify half way through this post, that these are my experiences & opinions, I'm not a film expert nor a digital expert so if you find you had a different experience share! I'd love to know that I'm doing something wrong & that the magic of film is truly as simple as it's sold to be.

But that said, the last thing I'll say was kind of a bummer with the film, was the dynamic range. For sure the film handles better than digital. As you'll see in the unedited image above (on the left), that even with no reflector, I was able to expose the shaded part of her face & not completely blow off the side of her face that had sun on it & we can also still see the mountain behind her so that's great. But, when you read online about the awesomeness of film, you constantly hear about the creamy highlights & my highlights don't look creamy to me. Better than digital yes, creamy no. So on the next expedition I will definitely lift the shadows with a white reflector & then maybe the highlights will be just enough less over-exposed that the creamy highlights can be mine, all mine. 

(Left) unedited film scan, (Right) film scan developed with a Fuji 400h Lightroom Preset
Fuji 400h film scan edited in Lightroom with my custom black & white preset
Fuji 400h film scan edited with a Fuji 400h Lightroom preset
Fuji 400h film scan's edited with a Fuji 400h Lightroom preset

The following three images are the one's I shot on my Mark III that I processed with film emulating presets. If you aren't ready to drop a ton on VSCO's Film Preset's I have a few for sale for under $10 that will get you started. You can find them by clicking here. If you're thinking of getting into film photography then stick around, I'll be posting more about it as I learn to get my metering down & learn new things about my camera & the film. 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Branding: Defining you market

We've all heard about the importance of branding to the point where if we'd tumbled through the information as a piece of coal by now we'd be spit out as diamonds on the other end of the tumbler ready to take on the world. And yet, so many of us have fallen out of the tumbler still pieces of coal, complaining about the difficulties of being a business owner in a competitive market & at a complete loss as to why we aren't moving forward at the rate of others. Meanwhile, the people who heeded the advice on branding, have moved forward light years & left us a trail of their dust to try & follow. 

So why are some people not getting it? Why do some of us struggle with creating an experience for our customer & defining our business through branding? Is it indecision? Are we overwhelmed by all the choices? Are we just all being lazy? Or is it something else? Most of the slackers focus on the product or service with an acceptance that the customer service side is also important but that's where it ends. We all know we're suppose to be doing it, but most of us are not, furthermore, we're failing miserably, myself included. We wander through the dark, feeling around, trying to navigate & comprehend our surroundings, occasionally coming across something we think we know but there's  uncertainty. I feel like screaming sometimes, from the top of a mountain, "Is the show really necessary? Isn't the product I'm providing good enough?" The answer would never come back of course but like a whisper from somewhere greater, you'd know the answer anyways, "No".

So why isn't providing a great product or service good enough? Let's take a look at how we live these days. We can even use ourselves as test subjects & pretend we are our client by first understanding our own habits. We live in an industry where we are constantly given a million choices for every decision, where you can find anything in any possible combination you could dream of, so you have to be memorable. We live in an unloyal society. And not because everyones just turned into cheaters & made you a one night stand but because the grass is always greener...this one might taste better...maybe it's a little cheaper or easier to obtain...or the worst one being they just forgot about you all together. 

So let's address branding as it relates to Photography, but to clarify, it doesn't matter what business you're in, these things apply. Want to be the one people call on a list of 20? Figure out who you're wanting to attract & be their every desire. What values does your ideal client hold? To some it's notoriety to others it's privacy. To some it luxury & opulence, to others it's simplicity & minimalism.

If you don't understand what they want, then you aren't going to reach them. If they want the best, establish yourself as in demand in your field. Establish that people who are in the know go to you. Leave people talking about your business & sharing it with family & friends (who are your number one source for referrals in almost any business). When people perceive something as great, or as in line with their values & lifestyle (or the one they want to have)... they will find the money to pay for it. But that isn't as simple as saying, "I want to be the best so I'll say & it'll come true". You have to sell it from start to finish. And that's where a great product, in-line branding &  customer experience come together.  

If you're a fun laid-back brand you convey that with fun colors, fonts & verbiage in your business materials & then you make sure your customer has a fun experience with your business. If you're a luxury brand you use elegant & timeless fonts & branding & words that convey quality. A simple example is saying price versus investment or picture versus photograph. If you're attracting people who desire luxury, than you have to follow through with the service & quality that they are used to for that price. As Sue Bryce (a luxury glamour photographer) says, "I realized I was the same cost as a luxury purse & if I expected customer's to pay me that for my work, then I had to give them the same experience they would get buying that luxury purse." When you drop $3000 on a purse you get well manicured associates there to answer any questions, who are knowledgeable on their product. You get a pristine store with a fancy price tag & bag for said purse that looks like it probably cost what you'd pay for a normal priced purse. You get love notes in the mail to come back & see them again for exclusive sales & vip discounts. 

Are you providing this experience to your customers? Or are you selling a luxury purse with a Walmart experience & wondering why no ones buying? Your branding & the experience you're giving, need to match what you're selling. I mention the luxury brand a lot because I favor it. Id rather sell one thing & make $500 then sell 500 things to make that same $500. Most people would I think. But most don't anty up to make that single thing worth $500 instead of $1. 

The people who are excelling understand, & don't just understand but live, in creating an experience to match what they are selling & at the cost they are selling it for. Sometimes this model is done so well that you aren't even getting a superior product, all you're getting extra for the cost, is the experience.  Don't believe me? There's plenty of examples in any field where you see a business sending out a product, the same product as everyone else & yet they are making all the money. Look at Este Lauder & other high end beauty brands. Most of those creams cost them the same to manufacture as something made by Loreal or Revlon & yet they get a premium for it. Why can they sell a cream for $40 & other people have to convince people to spend $7 on theirs? As a Photographer I see plenty of people who aren't the best Photographers, some are downright mediocre....but they are everywhere. In all the magazines, at all the tradeshows, they have tons of followers & they are well branded. On the flipside you see amazing Photographers doing some really original work who have a pitiful following & are not active in their industry. 

So all this to say what? There's no, 'Now follow these 10 Steps to Be Perfect' in this article. What there is, is a call to take a long hard look at why you aren't excelling. If it's because you were unaware of this issue, or because you were getting it wrong & need to line everything up better or because you aren't willing to make it work. Because those are the only options. If we don't want to put in the work that's fine, we can settle to be mediocre. But then we can't complain when we get mediocre wages either. And Im not just calling you out, Im calling myself out too. Reflect. & get your shit together. 

All of this was inspired by an article I read on Fast Company that discusses the success of well branded Warby Parker (an eyewear retailer) compared to other similar retailers. You can read it here.

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