Things We’re Thankful For: Having Holiday Deals to Share from Our Friends

November 26, 2014 2 comments

While we have a deal going this week for new SmugMug fans, we didn’t want to leave our existing Smug friends out in the cold. Our photo friends at KelbyOne, MacPhun, and Clickin Moms have some super deals you’ll want to grab if you’re hungry to learn and want to amp up your photo cred.

KelbyOne: Photoshop, Lightroom, and Photography Education


Photographers and designers: KelbyOne hosts a massive party over Cyber Weekend with tons of disounts on education bundles, gift cards, and more.  Check out their holiday deals before they’re all gone!

Join the conversation on Twitter with #KelbyOneCyber.

MacPhun: Inspiring Photo Software for Mac


The most inspiring Black Friday ever!  Get four Macphun apps worth $210 for only $129.99, a 40% savings, plus a free $25 iTunes or Amazon Gift Card with every purchase. Offer good from November 25 – December 1, 2014. Check it out at their Black Friday deals page.

Clickin Moms: Click, The Magazine for Modern Photographers


Looking for a very special gift for a photographer? Send our Holiday Bundle! The Bundle includes a physical copy of the Nov/Dec 2014 Holiday issue delivered before Christmas, plus a one-year subscription (that’s 7 issues total), a silver camera key chain & $10 gift certificate to the CM Store! A $42 value for just $25. Grab your Holiday Bundle here.

SnapKnot: Professional Wedding Photographer Directory

Are you looking to connect with more brides and grow your wedding photography business? Don’t miss this opportunity to save 73% on a SnapKnot Pro Annual subscription! Discount valid through December 2, 2014, 11:59 PST. Redeem Here.

From all of us at SmugMug, have a safe, happy, and a very photogenic week!

This Week: 40% Off Your New SmugMug Site

November 24, 2014 19 comments

Whether or not you love to shop during the holidays, finding a great deal always makes the heart skip a beat. It’s that time for photo lovers everywhere, because we’re taking 40% off all new SmugMug accounts for the next 5 days.

40% Off? Sign Me Up!

Simply visit our promo page and get started with your very own brand-new SmugMug site. We’ll ask you to choose a design (you can always change it later) upload some photos, and then you can play all you want with your beautiful, brand-new site. Sign up before November 29, 2014, and the 40% off discount will automagically apply at checkout.

This deal is good on new accounts only, so tell your friends, your sister, your in-laws, your mailperson, and your dogwalker. Anyone who loves photos will love having their very own SmugMug galleries to make the stunning pictures they take look even more stunning. You’ll find easy-to-share links and helpful FAQ on our promo site.

Happy holidays!

PS. Already with SmugMug? You can earn subscription credit by referring your friends to SmugMug. Details here!

A “Pool” Party in Winter? That’s Guest Uploads for You

November 17, 2014 Leave a comment

Quick tip for you holiday planners: Guest Uploads are your party’s best friend! With the season of cheer finally here, cameras will be snapping right and left. Use guest uploads to pool all your friends’ photos from the event and remember every antic in years to come.

Get started by looking in your Gallery Settings.

Here’s why you’ll love this handy-dandy feature that comes built in to every SmugMug account (even yours):

What it is: A way to let your friends and fans upload photos & videos to your SmugMug gallery. They can also browse that gallery and see what fellow event-goers have snapped and shared.

How to use it: Look under your gallery settings for the Upload Key and type something in the field. Choose something personal, because it’ll become part of the link you’ll share (and prevent strangers from randomly guessing the URL). Once you save it, we’ll give you a secret link to share. When guests visit that link, we’ll present our web uploader and they can drag their pictures in.

Why it works: After hosting the merriest party that was ever held in the history of holidays, do you really want to be chasing down your friends for their memory cards? Guest Uploads let them do the work on their own time. All you have to do is share the link… and be sure that somebody else volunteers their house for next year’s big bash. ;)

Add an Upload Key so the URL is personalized to you… and safe from party crashers.

Quick-Thinking Tip: Print out the link and include it with your holiday party favors and thank you notes.

So whether you’re hosting your family’s Thanksgiving dinner, planning the office party, or are getting hitched this winter, be sure to capture every last smile!

  

Link roundup:

Smug Tip: We’re Your Holiday Newsletter’s Best-Kept Secret

November 10, 2014 Leave a comment

This year, skip the stamps and go digital for the family newsletter. Your SmugMug account is the perfect way to share a beautiful, personalized, ever-changing array of memories from the year that’s easily shared with friends, family, and everyone you wish.

Not only do you gain precious extra time to put it together (fab for busy holiday preppers), but you can go way beyond text with a custom SmugMug newsletter page. Think: Video, slideshows, maps, the whole shebang! And it’s interactive, letting your friends and family click through your content, leave comments, share and more.

Our SmugMug family newsletter, digital-style.

How to Build Your Newsletter

First, we’ve built a sample holiday newsletter from SmugMug and put it right here. Take a look and we’ll break each piece down for you below.

Creating a custom holiday newsletter can be done as many ways as there are snowflakes in Siberia, so these tips are just a guideline. Feel free to experiment with different content and layouts until you get something you like. The sky’s the limit! 

  1. Create a Page. If you plan on making your newsletters digital each year going forward, we suggest actually going a step further and creating a whole new Folder called “Family Newsletters.” From there, you can create your Page and name it by year.
  2. Choose a Theme. Since we’re specifically creating a holiday newsletter, try Winter, Flurries, Blizzard, or Snowflake for that seasonal feel.
  3. Plan your content. Think through the highlights of your year and how you want to present those memories. Would you like to add in a block of thumbnails that viewers can click? Or would you prefer to display them in a slideshow? Do you have any videos you’d like to share of school plays, memorable sports wins, or your annual vacation?
  4. Add your content. To do this, you may want to Collect just the photos you want into a special, unlisted “Newsletter” gallery, so you can easily drop it into the page and not have to select lots of photos from many folders around your site. This also keeps fans who click through to see more from getting lost.
  5. Tell your story. Use Title and Text blocks to greet guests and tell them every detail about your year. Remember that you’re never confined to just one block, so you can break up your text and let it flow down the page around the different photos and other content.
  6. Make it shareable. Don’t forget to add a Social Buttons box at the top or bottom of the page so your viewers can share it with other loved ones you may not be able to reach.

Dress up your newsletter page or gallery with a festive holiday theme.

Have a Basic account? While the ability to create custom Pages and use the more advanced Content Blocks are available only with Power accounts and up, there’s plenty you can do. Customize your SmugMug homepage to include all the Content Blocks that tell your story, or create a new gallery and Collect your best photos from around your site to illustrate all the great things you did this year. Your Gallery Description field is the perfect place to greet your guests, and you can use the photo Title and Caption fields to expand on what happened in each and every photo.

Key Smug Features to Use

The Multiple Photos content block is a great option for displaying select photos from your year.

We’ve just barely skimmed the surface of what you can do, so here’s a list of Content Block options you’ve already got to build the best digital newsletter your family has ever seen.

  • Custom Pages. Why stop at one? If an epic story needs to be explained, link out to a second, third, or fourth page so your fans can read all about it. We love photo blogs!
  • Themes. If you’re in Australia, snow may not fit the holiday idea like it would in Canada. Your account comes packed with dozens of beautiful themes, so don’t be afraid to be different.
  • Text and Title blocks. These are key. You could let your photos speak for themselves, but we prefer tradition on this one.
  • Maps. If you’re a globetrotter who loves to geotag, embedding a map is a wonderful, interactive way to show your family where you’ve traveled this year.
  • Slideshow box. A space-saver. For those who don’t prefer the endless scroll, the Slideshow content block is a great way to show off big, beautiful photos one at a time. You can even customize the playback speed, transitions, and much more.
  • Animoto video. Video clips are a fabulous addition to any newsletter, since paper versions can’t do this at all. But if you’re not sure your shaky vacation clips are up to snuff, you can still create an engaging, professional, beautiful video from your content with Animoto. They’ll do all the work so all you have to do is drop it into your page. Find it in any gallery under Buy > Other Products > Create a Video.
  • Galleries box. An easy way to feature your best galleries of the year, all around your site.
  • Comments. Will grandma love this year’s newsletter? Drop in a comment box so you can find out!
  • Social share buttons. Because you may not have the email address of your second cousin twice removed, the one you hit it off with at your niece’s wedding. But somebody in your network will.

Tip: Pair Your Newsletter with a (Real, Paper) Card

Even if you go digital on the newsletter, you can (and should) still turn your best photos into a beautiful holiday card. SmugMug’s got tons of gorgeous, personalizable designs that complement any photo you’ve ever taken (we’re willing to bet on it).

And since you can write your own words in them, a photo card is the perfect opportunity to debut the link to your newsletter. ;)

We just think the digital newsletter idea gives you much greater creativity and flexibility when it comes to your memories since you can add, change, and update the content your family sees.

Happy holiday planning, and we’d love to see your own creative examples of family newsletters this year! Tweet us a link, send it to our Support Heroes, post it to our Facebook wall, or just leave a comment below so we can check it out.

Links to love:

Bouncing Off the Walls: Lighting, Glare, and Shadows When Photographing Interiors

November 3, 2014 2 comments

Today’s guest post is part 3 of a series of tutorials on how to light reflective subjects and surfaces from BorrowLenses.com. Alex Huff is a staff photographer and copywriter for BorrowLenses and has photographed for Sotheby’s, Google, X-Games, and more. In this post, she gives an effective tip you should practice over and over again to avoid glare and control shadows when photographing rooms.

All example images were lit and shot using the following:

All diagrams made with LightingDiagrams.com


Photographing the inside of a room is tricky because there are a lot of reflective surfaces and lots of little objects everywhere to create shadows. Rooms are usually too dark to depend on natural light alone so I am going to show you one major trick that will build your confidence while shooting flash indoors, whether you hope to shoot interiors exclusively or if you’re simply shooting your own home for a listing.

Here is the one major trick: Pretend that lighting the space directly is simply not allowed. This will help you speed up your problem solving. Bouncing light off ceilings, walls, and white reflectors produces softer light and once you start doing it you will be hooked.

For those very new to flash photography, bouncing light is simply facing the front of your flash toward something other than your subject. Remember that light travels in a straight line so if you aim your light toward something reflective, like a white wall, you can depend on that light to bounce back off that wall onto everything nearby.

Why photographers love this:

  • Bouncing a flash off of a large, white surface makes the light spread further and appear bigger than it is.
  • Because of this spread, the light appears softer and more flattering.
  • White boards or reflectors tend to be more portable and less expensive than giant softboxes and can often produce similar effects.

Examples of Bounced Light in the Home

In any home, the bathroom will probably be your most difficult room to shoot because of its size, the dominant mirror, and reflective shower door. You probably won’t even be able to get a flash inside without seeing it in the mirror.

Here is what it looks like when I try to light the room with the flash directly:

The light skirts well off of the mirror without causing a reflection but the hot spots and shadows are distracting.

Here is the same scene when I bounce my flash off of a white door in the bathroom:

The shadows are much softer and almost completely gone while the frame of the mirror is much more evenly lit.

When Bouncing Bites Back

Before you start thinking that bouncing light is a fool-proof practice, you still have to consider your Family of Angles. Even light that is bouncing off of something will produce a reflection or glare if you are shooting in the line of fire.

A review of the Family of Angles:

Whether bounced or direct, the Angle of Incidence = Angle of Reflection. If you are getting a reflection, it means that that your camera is pointed toward exactly where the light is hitting and bouncing back into the lens. Every light source produces a Family of Angles and you will want to make sure your camera isn’t placed on the receiving end of it.

Keep your camera out of the danger zone by thinking about where the light is hitting and where you predict it will bounce back. Keep your camera away from the area where the predicted bounce-back is. Your other options are to:

  • Move your light.
  • Change your lens.
  • Change your light modifier.

In the example of my bathroom, using my door to bounce my light produced nice, soft light for a closeup shot. However, when I use a wide lens to capture the entire room I am now catching a reflection in my shower door! There are also some hard shadows coming from the toilet that I didn’t have to worry about in my prior shot.

The bathroom is too small for me to change where my camera is pointing and I can’t change anything about my door. I also must use my wide angle to capture the entire room so my only option is to change the position of my light.

I used a simple foam board you can get from a craft store and a light stand to bounce my light on. It is positioned high enough to miss the shower door but still producing enough scattered light to kill off harsh shadows.

There is definitely some fine tuning to be done, especially since I didn’t stage this scene, but this lighting tactic will get you off to a very good start – especially if you’re trying to graduate from on-camera flash.

You can use this method for every room in your house.

In this example of one portion of the living room, I simply pointed my flash straight at the scene. Unsightly shadows abound.

This is the result after bouncing my light off of that foam board.

 

My foam board isn’t even very big and it still made a big difference in softening those shadows. Imagine being able to bounce your light off of an entire white wall!

Practice this for awhile on everything you do. This works great for the following subjects:

  • Interiors, as demonstrated.
  • People. Learn more about the benefits of bouncing flash here.
  • Family gatherings, especially if you’re stuck trying to take a family portrait in a tight space with unruly relatives and not much time. Don’t set up a whole lighting rig – just bounce the flash you have!
  • Products, especially when paired with a lot of diffusion.

I hope this gets you out of the shadows and onto the path toward creating more pleasing images! Be sure to check out the other two parts of this series, Glare Aware: Photographing Portraits of People in Glasses and The Art of Copy Work: Photographing Artwork Accurately Without Glare.

 

Treat Yourself This Halloween with More Smug Friends

October 29, 2014 2 comments

This is a favorite time of the year for lots of us who love to have fun with friends and family, dress up, and watch the leaves change on the trees. Remember pooling your trick-or-treating candy and swapping and sharing with friends? We hope that at SmugMug, you’ll still be able to do this in the spirit of the holiday.

No Tricks, Just Treats at SmugMug

20% credit is a sweet, sweet reward for every friend you bring over to join us. Remember that when you share the secret of beautiful online galleries with friends using your unique referral link, you earn a percentage of their account value back into yours. And they get a discount off their first year, too, just for knowing you.

Why would they join? Great memories start with friends, and everyone needs a safe place to put them. Whether they love to document the kids’ adorable costumes year after year or are famous for throwing wickedly delicious Halloween parties, there’s room for it all in SmugMug’s unlimited galleries.

SmugMug’s “Spooky” theme

Try our festive “Pumpkins” theme.

Let’s not forget that every account comes bundled with dozens of gorgeous one-click themes (like “Spooky” and “Pumpkins”), so your Halloween galleries will look appropriately festive… even if their personality’s sunny and warm.

And if the party gets a little too crazy, we’ve got powerful privacy features to boot.

So what are you waiting for? Your friends are waiting!

Kudos to September’s Winner: Chip Jones

Congrats to Chip Jones, our most recent winner of our monthly Refer-a-Friend contest! Chip takes gorgeous Fine Art, Landscape, and Architectural Photographs, and we’re pleased to be able to add a GoPro Hero 3+ Black Edition camera to his lineup of photo tools.

Chip Jones Photography

Time’s running out on our contest, so if you’re looking to win one of your own, don’t forget to check out the contest and prize details, and start sharing SmugMug with your circle of friends.

Have a safe and happy Halloween!

Links to love:

Benjamin Von Wong: How to Make Everyday People Look Badass

October 24, 2014 2 comments

When you combine the imagination of Benjamin Von Wong with the photographic enthusiasm of SmugMug and the MacGyver-esque ingenuity of SmugMug’s facilities genius, Daniel Petrosian, you end up with a lot of chaos and cool photos. Von Wong’s persistence to coax the best out of his everyday models resulted in portraits that awed the models. Many had no idea a “beast mode” existed within themselves.

Learn more about the magic behind creating athletes out of SmugMug employees with the right lighting, motivation, and a bit of rain.

Step 1. Lights, Location, and Rain Rig

How did the idea for this shoot come about?

Von Wong: SmugMug President and Co-Founder Chris MacAskill, aka “Baldy,” wanted to fill up the SmugMug gym with awesome photos, and I happened to be in town, so he commissioned me. He wanted simple black-and-white shots, but I had to put that special Von Wong spin on it.

The day began quite normally: setting up lights, backdrop, and rain. Things started getting exciting a good hour and a half later when—I don’t know what happened! I think word spread that the photos were turning out great, so Baldy ended up coming out himself to see the photos and start filming.

It started off really small, and it expanded from there into full-out awesome.

 

What made you think rain would be perfect for this shoot?

Von Wong: I think rain, in a sense, symbolizes hardship. We wanted to make people look like they’re working out and putting forth an effort, and everything’s harder when it rains outside. You don’t want to go out. It’s just crummy and grimy. From a metaphorical sense, the rain adds a really nice dimension.

Then, from a photography standpoint, it suddenly adds all these nice beads of water dripping down skin, which looks really nice.

It’s one thing to have this idea, and it’s quite another to control weather.

Von Wong: Yeah. In my mind it was pretty easy to make a rain rig, which is essentially a glorified sprinkler system distributed along a longer cross section. I talked to people who were smarter than me—Daniel and Brent—and explained what I was looking for. We basically had one day, and they just pulled it together with about $20.

Photo by Kerry Ellis

 

How did you go about making it rain?

Petrosian: We brainstormed a little bit, trying to think simple and low-tech. Things were happening so fast, we didn’t have time to rig up something sophisticated. Think simple, and things usually work out. And we thought PVC pipe and sprinkler heads might do the trick. So we went to Home Depot.

We bought different kinds of sprinkler heads to test them out and see what the flow was like, how fast the water would come out, and how we could control it. After some experimenting, we ended up using brass/copper old-school sprinkler heads.

We connected them together using PVC pipe and plumber’s glue, and then we just connected a hose to it and made it rain!

Photo by Kerry Ellis

 

So now that you had rain, how did you go about photographing it?

Von Wong: With water, just like smoke, you photograph its reflections by backlighting it. Water looks really good when it’s backlit. We needed two hard bare-bulb lights to light the droplets, and a black background so the drops would show up. For the foreground, I used two big parabolic umbrellas. Any large, directional light source would work to bring in our characters so they’re nicely lit without rough shadows.

It’s a basic four-light set up. With the subject in the middle, you have two lights coming in from the back and two bigger, softer lights coming in from the front.

 

How did you get rid of the ambient light?

Von Wong: We initially wanted to do this indoors because, ideally, if you want to freeze water droplets, you need a short flash duration. If you want a short flash duration, the flashes have to be at lower power. And that’s usually done in a darker environment.

We thought about shooting inside the gymnasium by putting down a big tarp and pumping out the water with a shop vac, then we kind of stared at each other and said that’s going to be way too much trouble. So we went with Plan B: a shaded area outside underneath a tree.

I ended up shooting at 1/1500th of a second at F/5.6 or F/4.

Step 2. Motivate Your Models

What was the biggest challenge during the shoot?

Von Wong: This wasn’t a professional athlete photoshoot. We were taking average people who hardly have any photoshoot experience and trying to make them into something more. To show them like they’ve never been shown before. The true magic of the shots comes from people doing something they had never imagined they would before.

And that wasn’t achieved just by taking a single shot. It was achieved with this very persistent pushing of people and getting them to try different things until they were comfortable in front of the camera. Pushing people to get the best out of them. That’s where most of the work happened. If you look at the video, you see me trying to encourage people, pushing them, making them feel good about themselves.

 

Tell me a little bit about trying to coax the best out of people.

Von Wong: You don’t always know what a person’s capable of doing. In my experience, the best way to find out what they can or can’t do is to simply ask them to do a variety of different things. It doesn’t matter what they actually do, whether it looks good or not, you just keep throwing ideas at them.

Along the way, as things are getting better, you say, “Wait, I really like that. It’s looking great over there. Put your arm a little higher. Let’s try another angle.”

Getting out from behind the desk to look fierce are (from left) Michael Shostack, head of online marketing; Katherine Cheng, head of community; and Pablo Ceron, product manager. Normally nice, approachable, and with sunny dispositions, these portraits reveal it’s probably better not to cross any of them, just in case. Photos by Alexandra Zielinski

It’s a continuous conversation to keep people busy. If you let them think too much about what they’re doing, sometimes it feels ridiculous. What looks good in camera might not feel natural in position. Not every pose I came up with worked. Actually, a lot of them failed. We took about 2,000 photos that day. But that process of working through things, people start to trust you.

A photoshoot is one thing, but the other aspect to it is the experience. All those who participated really felt like they pushed themselves and found a side of themselves they had never showcased before. That’s very important.

Photo by Michael Shostack

 

Step 3. Process and Print—BIG

Can we talk a bit about your post process?

Von Wong: It was relatively simple because all we wanted to do was convert the images from color to black and white. There’s a beautiful little button in Lightroom called “B&W” that does most of the work for you. That got the shots 90% done. Because we had taken the time to set up great lighting and good location, we got the photo right straight out of camera.

What did you do for the other 10%?

Von Wong: There was a little tweaking of highlights, shadows, and clarity to make the image pop a bit more. The rest was cleaning up water droplets that were too dense in certain areas, like on the face, using healing and cloning to get rid of distractions. There was a little dodging and burning using curves to highlight different muscles and carve things out.

It was very simple—about 20 minutes per image for the post-production.

We love HUGE prints here at SmugMug. Were these tricky to print larger than life for a gym environment?

MacAskill: Our gym lives inside an old machine shop, and the available wall space—above the mirrors and equipment—curves. Even the ceiling is curved. So we needed a material we could print on that would, most importantly, look amazing, but also bend to fit the curved walls and stand up to the gym’s environment. And be large enough, of course.

We ended up printing each image with an Oce Lightjet at 68” tall on Kodak Endura semi-gloss bonded onto 1/4″ sintra, which is a lightweight PVC foamboard. We thought about adding a thin polycarbonate laminate over the prints to ruggedize them, but the prints ended up being hung so high we didn’t think they’d get exposed to sweat or medicine balls. So we didn’t laminate them. But it was a perfect option had we hung the photos any lower.

What did you love most about this shoot?

Von Wong: The greatest compliment was all those who didn’t participate were upset. I thought that was great. A lot of them felt like it wasn’t really their thing, but when they saw how the others’ photos turned out, they were amazed and sad they hadn’t done it themselves. That’s the best compliment you can get.


Check out an extra tip from Von Wong on how to achieve a similar look with a bucket of water and two speedlights!

Find Benjamin online:

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