Think the models in those fashion spreads are gorgeous? Of course you do, but it’s no secret that the standard of beauty has done much to change the way we talk about self-image. As photographers, we walk the line between capturing life’s moments and creating something beyond reality. Successful photos grab the eye, usually because we see something that we think is physically impossible. But with actual people as the subject, that line becomes harder to see and we get fooled into thinking we all need to look that good right out of the box.
Australian photographer Stephan Bollinger’s “Models Are Made” video pulled at our heartstrings, and we loved that he took such an important matter into his own hands. As a master portrait photographer and a father of two little girls, we knew that he had great perspective and the power to shed some light on both sides of the matter. How exactly are models made? We asked, and here’s what he said. Scroll down to watch the video that inspired us all.
Photos by Stephan Bollinger Photography
At several points in my life, I was confronted with people suffering from depression, eating disorders, and suicide. In late teenage years, I became close friends with a young woman, who was bulimic. She was an expert in hiding her problems, and for over 6 month, I was under the impression she was one of the happiest people alive. Another friend of mine was under the exact same impression, until his girlfriend committed suicide, and his “perfect world” fell apart overnight. She was a young, beautiful and energetic young woman, with a dark secret: depression.
We love to forget about such issues, because they are hard to understand, and we feel helpless. Not talking about it doesn’t make them go away, unfortunately. Of course – most of them are not related to photography or advertising, but some are.
While shooting a fashion series in Singapore, one of the models looked so thin and unhealthy, I was afraid she would faint any minute. As a result, I refused to work with her. About a week later back at my studio in Australia, I talked about the incident with a group of young models, and one of them told us about her friend, who nearly died from eating disorders and required intensive hospital care.
Without a doubt, advertising and fashion stories have had their influence for a long time in creating a false and negative body image for some women, resulting in eating disorders and depression. As a photographer producing such images, I am guilty as charged.
At the same time, I love creating such images, I love the fashion industry, I love highly styled editorials and advertising campaigns.
I often feel as if I wear three pairs of shoes at once, those of a producer (who works with clients, to produce flawless images for their advertising campaign or magazine editorials), those of a photographer (who works closely with models of all ages), and those of a father (who wants to protect, teach and inform his own two young daughters).
The question I ask myself: Is the problem the polished images many young women compare themselves with, or is the problem that many don’t understand how these images were produced. If they would see the models in real life, would they still feel the same way? The term “photoshopped” has turned into a bad term for “creating fakes”, but there is so much more to high-end glossy pictures.
There are initiatives for “positive body image” out there, mostly done by activist groups. The problem with such initiatives is that they blame Photoshop and retouching for everything, and demand change in newspapers and magazines. I don’t believe that such “negative” approach and the demand for change reaches those who need to be informed and educated: the young women. If effective and believable, this should be done by those “guilty,” those actively working in the industry, those with a positive outlook, those who want to educate, not complain.” That means us, photographers.
“Models are made” as a concept is the summary of all the above.
In a perfect world, I would have loved to take a few months off of work and hold presentations at high-schools around the country. But as much as I tried, I could not find any organisation or company who was a) interested in the subject or b) helping with funding such an endeavour.
I produced the short 4 short minutes instead, illustrating what really goes into the production of a high-gloss beauty or fashion image. It’s not just retouching, it’s a combination of many factors, from naturally beautiful people to a group of creatives who produce the final product.
My goal is to educate, not change, and to deliver a positive message.
Stay creative, stay inspired and stay strong!
We know that every day is Mother’s Day, but around this time of year we all really want to tell all the moms in our lives just how important they are to us. As a company built on the importance of family, we believe that moms are the shiz.
Adorable pic by Nick W Photo
SmugMug started with just family, but we’ve grown into so much more. Amongst our team of amazing employees we have moms, moms-to-be, grandmoms, adoptive moms, found moms, mom-in-laws, dog moms, horse moms and supermoms. And everyone in-between.
Thanks, Mom, for supporting us through thick and thin, changing our diapers, and nurturing our health, happiness and all of our crazy whims. Whether you’re right next door or live only in our memories, whether you’re near, far, or even if we’re unrelated by blood, the message is the same: You’re our hero!
Are you stuck on ideas on what to do on Mother’s Day? You’re in luck, because we’ve got a few ideas to share.
5 Ways to Sweep Mom Off Her Feet
1. Give her her very own queen-worthy portrait session.
If your mom is like ours – and many gorgeous women we know – she may think portraits are great for other people. But if you’re an experienced photographer, this is a great time to stop what you’re doing and turn your skills to her. Proper lighting, posing, an understanding of angles and your priceless experience may be the only thing she needs to truly see that she’s beautiful in photos, too.
(We admit that we were inspired by our friends at Je Revele Fine Art Photography, who shared with us how they bring out the beauty in every client)
2. Do a photo shoot for her favorite dog/cat/grandkid.
If mom’s still camera shy, offer to take her favorite little one to the park and snap some frame-worthy photos. Even if you’re not a portrait photographer by trade, taking your purloined subject outside into a fresh new environment can bring big smiles to their faces and make for energetic, beautiful photos.
And that’s what’s really important to her.
3. Hire (or bribe) her assistant to cover the studio for a day.
This one’s for all the photography dads out there. We can’t even begin to count the number of passionate moms who have turned taking photos of the kids into a thriving business, but it’s a tough to balance family, life and the studio. Free up the weekend by asking her assistant to work a little overtime, or hire someone to manage the busywork while you whisk her away.
4. Give her a 1-on-1 lesson on how to use her camera.
When you love photography, you automatically get hired for part-time work… troubleshooting for mom. But instead of answering the phone distracted and busy, why not spend the day dedicated to making mom a total pro with her camera. She gets time with you, the power of great photos is bestowed upon her, and you can talk about something more important the next time she calls. Win/win/win.
(Tip: Pair it up with her very own SmugMug account and she’s good to go!)
5. Take her with you on your next photo trip… and leave the camera at home.
This one’s our favorite because it’s really sneaky. Anyone who knows a photographer is used to waiting around forever. And ever. And ever. This time, take mom out to someplace gorgeous and – SURPRISE! – enjoy the view together.
We hope that everyone out there has a great weekend with the ones you love!
Fashion photography is just one of those things that inspires us all, whether you’re a photographer or not. The glamour, the lighting, the beautiful models, clothes most of us will never wear, and the notoriety of the rich and famous… who hasn’t dreamt about living that life? This month we’re going to take a closer look at what goes into making those incredible pictures, and we talked with Ed and Dallas Nagata White, two fresh, young and incredibly talented fashion photographers from Hawaii. Here’s what they had to say about what it takes to create magical portraits and how you can bring a little glam into your photos, too.
Photos by Dallas Nagata White
Fashion photographers tend to get a lot of attention for their images. It’s not hard to see why, since those photographs strive to portray glamorous moments within the four corners of a poster or glossy magazine spread, unfettered by the everyday stresses and worries of the real world. The truth is, though, those moments are carefully crafted illusions that no photographer can create alone, which is why SmugMug invited me to talk about the crew I work with and how they can help other photographers bring a touch of that same magic to their own work.
You are a professional photographer, that that’s what people hire you for, but there are other professionals in photography that don’t take pictures, but are essential to helping you craft the most polished, professional image possible. When I started doing fashion photography, I tried to do everything on my own, which was very expensive and not nearly as effective as working with people who make a living in each of these photography niches. You are hired by your clients because you are an expert at photography, so you should encourage you to do the same for your clients with models, stylists, makeup artists, hair stylists and producers who can take your work to the next level.
Here are my thoughts on how to work with what I consider essential crew, and how they can help you improve your craft, even if you are not in the fashion industry. I also don’t claim to know it all, so I’ve also invited a few of my friends from the Hawaii fashion community to write their thoughts about how they think photographers can make the best use of their skills. Please watch for their guest posts over the next month!
A model is much more than a pretty girl. In addition to being in possession of striking appearances, a model must be able to convey the right emotion and body language at the right moment, and know how to connect that emotion to the viewer. In that way, modeling can actually be a little more complex than film acting.
Even if you are not in fashion, you may benefit from hiring a model every so often. For example, a portrait photographer could hire a professional model to showcase what their technique looks like with an “ideal subject,” allowing you to focus on shooting instead of directing. Working with models will also give you more experience with seeing how professionals pose and emote, which will help you direct your clients later on.
The stylist is probably one of the single most important members of a fashion crew, because they are in charge of the clothes! In fashion or editorial work, your client will usually fill that role, but there are also independent stylists who work on supporting bigger shoots, magazine editorials, non-clothing brands, and test shoots.
A stylist goes a great distance towards improving your photography, even if you’re not shooting fashion or editorial images. The great majority of photographs include clothes; by extension, fashion is a nearly unavoidable element in photography and it exists in a spectrum of good to bad. Hiring a stylist makes sure that balance falls on the “good” side, and will absolutely make a difference in your photos.
Besides having good fashion sense, a stylist’s job is to ensure he or she has access to clothes that would ordinarily be out of reach for most people. Your client may not own a $4,000 Oscar De La Renta outfit and $2,000 worth in accessories, but a stylist with the right connections can make it available for the shoot. Barring that, a stylist can consult with your client prior to the shoot and put together the best combination of their own clothes…or help your client buy a new set!
The Makeup Artist
Whether I’m doing commercial work, editorials, or test shoots for new models breaking into the industry, I insist on making sure a professional makeup artist gets hired. The time a makeup artist saves you during post-processing alone makes hiring one worth it, but good makeup work has the potential to totally transform the appearance of your subject and make your photographs far more cohesive.
On the side of saving you time, professional makeup goes beyond covering up acne or blotches. One of my most memorable makeup moments was watching makeup artist Jessica Hoffman explain what the techniques and colors she was using on that day’s model, and watching very slight circles under her eyes–things no one else would have noticed–disappear on one side, and leap into existence on the other as the difference made it possible for our brains to finally notice they were there.
Makeup artists who work with photographers also know how their various products photograph, which your client may not. This helps prevent unflattering artifacts in your images (which you’d have to fix), and can help you nail a particular look in the process of transformation.
On the side of transforming your subject, a makeup artist is able to minimize some aspects of your client’s and emphasize others. A slight darker tone under your subject’s cheekbones in real life can translate to sharp, contrasty features in photographs. The right shade of eye shadow can make a your subject’s eyes jump to life and convey the sultry attitude of a rocker. A different brand or variety of makeup can create the dewy glow of an athlete or the shimmery aura of a clubber. Most importantly, a trained makeup artist can achieve these looks without overdoing it and distracting from your final images.
The Hair Stylist
Hair is often described as the one accessory you have to live with every day. While makeup artists are generally able to style hair, having a dedicated hair stylist on set allows you to push the polish much further with their specialized tools or their ability (or willingness) to actually cut hair with confidence. This is particularly important when a particular look absolutely must be achieved for a commercial client. Some hair teams may also have wigs they can style instead of cutting the subject’s own hair.
Even if you’re not a fashion photographer, you can suggest or offer professional hair styling in your packages. This will give you control–or at least input–into hair styling right before the shoot, so you have the freshest, most polished hair possible for your shoot, and your client leaves with a whole new cut from a hair professional!
A producer’s job is simply to help you get things done. I don’t generally have to use producers, but sometimes it’s easier, faster, and cheaper to pay someone who has the appropriate knowledge, connections, and relationships to help you complete an assignment. A big role producers play for most photographers is helping scout and book locations, especially private locations that are not generally available or advertised for commercial work. Even if you can’t hire a producer to play this role, you may be able to consult with some if you are looking to change up the places you shoot for fresh and interesting locations.
Producers also help with other production work, such as acquiring props, vehicles, catering, and accomplishing other non-photography tasks that make the shoot come together in a timely manner.
Putting it into practice!
So, where can you find all these adjacent-industry professionals?
It varies a lot by city, and finding fashion crew is different going from Honolulu to Maui, let alone from Los Angeles, California to Bartley, Nebraska, especially given that a lot of fashion people don’t necessarily advertise their services due to the close-knit nature of most fashion communities.
The best and most universal place to track down fashion crew is to start with local magazines or publications that use editorial images. The editors and creative directors will probably know a few fashion professionals and could give you a couple of contacts, and those connections can potentially give you a foothold into the entire network of people in your area. In larger cities, the usual places–agencies, marketing firms, and places of that sort–will probably provide you contacts as well.
Thanks for reading! I hope my advice was useful, and I hope you find the guest posts from my friends over the next month helpful as well. If you have any more questions, feel free to reach out on your social platform of choice (I’m on Twitter, Instagram, Google+, and Facebook) and I’ll do my best to give a useful answer, and if you’d like to keep up with my work, please visit www.dallasnagatawhite.com.
Think your camera is your best friend? Think again.
Your camera is a marvel of amazing technology, but you still need to use your brain when you shoot. Even if you’re in full Auto mode, don’t assume your camera knows what’s best for you!
Here are five common bloopers and how to avoid getting tripped up on your next shoot.
1) It’s exposed.
Photo by Windermere Studios
Your camera has several automatic metering modes to help you catch the right amount of light without you needing to whip out the calculator. But are you using the right one? Spot, center-weighted and multi-zone metering are great for many situations, so be sure you know which one is best for you.
For example, you may want to over-expose when shooting in situations like snow, to be sure you get that fluffy, clean white stuff you’re used to seeing. No one likes gray snow.
Finally, let your artistic creativity be your guide. There’s no shame in flooding your summer portraits with light or even leaving in a bit of flare if you’re going for a sun-soaked, dreamy mood. Similarly, underexposing your shots is your key to super-dramatic clouds, abstract shadows and gritty street shots.
2) It’s in focus.
Photo by Windermere Studios
Despite the reassuring “beep-beep!” of your AF, there’s still a lot that can foil your focus. The most common culprit is motion blur if it’s too dark in the room. As a rule, you want your shutter speed to be at least 1/(focal length) for your shot to have a chance at being sharp. If it’s not possible, try bumping up your ISO to compensate for lack of light.
Also, be sure you’re focused on the right spot. If you’re shooting wide open (low f-stop numbers) your depth of field gets smaller, meaning it’s easier to accidentally focus on your subject’s nose, not their eyes. We love bokeh as much as you, but missing the focus can make or break a perfect portrait.
3. You can keep on shooting.
Photo by Schmootography
Your camera’s telling you your memory card can hold 386 more shots, but did you know this may not be the case? The size of each photo file you shoot depends on the data in each, which usually translates to how busy your pictures are. A zen, monochrome ocean scene makes a smaller image file than a colorful fisheye of Times Square. So be aware if you’re worried about space on your hard drive, or on your memory cards.
When in doubt, pack extras.
4) You’re a great/horrible photographer.
Photo by Ana Pogačar Photography
“Great shot! What camera was that?” We’re sure you’ve heard this before but contrary to popular belief, the camera doesn’t make the image. YOU do. You don’t need to upgrade your equipment just to run with the big dogs, and top-of-the-line gear isn’t carte blanche to the photographer’s Hall of Fame. So be proud to carry your favorite camera into the field. As long as you know what all the buttons do and have a grasp of fundamental principles, you’ve got everything you need to take an awesome photo.
(Like the above shot, taken with a 4 megapixel Canon Powershot point-and-shoot.)
It’s not the size of the ax; it’s how you click it.
5. You’re off the hook.
Photo by Windermere Studios
Even if you switch on your camera’s auto modes (green square, Tv, Av), don’t switch off your brain. Auto modes work most of the time to get you better shots with less fiddling, but they can also be fooled. Like when shooting in unusually bright scenes (snow), unusually dark scenes (backlit subjects) and when you want to freeze action.
Take that extra second to think about what you’re shooting, the picture you want to get, and how best to make it happen. You can manually bump up or lower the exposure when using most automatic modes, so consider over- or under-exposing your scene to get what you want.
Have you discovered any scandalous lies that your camera has been telling you? Share it with us!
Over the last few weeks we’ve been thinking about our big planet and all the weird riddles that concept brings. We’ve brought you information about tiny photography, tips for your small business, how to shrink the gap between you and your fans, and how to make your time sitting at your desk smaller so you go to out and explore this glorious world.
Here’s a quick recap.
Photo by Liquid Drop Art
- Brian Valentine’s Beautiful and Savage Garden Fantastic (and useful) tips for taking your own stunning macro bug and flower photos.
- The Weird, Wonderful World of Droplets eBook author Corrie White shares her story of how she got started taking intensely gorgeous droplet photos… and how you can, too.
- Tilt Shift Miniaturization Honey, I shrunk New York! An interview with fine art photographer Richard Silver.
Your small business
- How to Stay in Business Our friend Varina Patel magically juggles her photo education business, travel, and her family. She shared some great tips with us about how to keep the first afloat.
- 7 Rules for Small Businesses Will your small business survive? Quickbooks Certified Advisor Kathy Rappaport has something to say about that.
Shrink your workflow
- SmugMug time savers hiding under your nose It’s gorgeous outside, so what are you waiting for? Use these tricks to save time at your desk, so you can get back to shooting.
- Kickstart your Lightroom Workflow Matt Kloskowski is a master Adobe educator and it shows. Here are his suggestions for Lightroom users to get your photos organized before you can say, “Publish!”
Shrink your world
Next up in the lineup of pros we’re tapping to chat with is Amanda Reed, a fun and fearless high school senior portrait photographer. We love her attitude (in addition to her gorgeous images), so we had to ask her how she built her business from the ground up, how she keeps it alive in her tiny West Virginia town and what inspires her to keep capturing those teens at such an important time of their lives. Amanda’s got some amazingly fun ideas for promotion and marketing, too, so read on to see what she says!
Photos by AR Photography
What is your niche, and how did you find it? How would you describe your specific style of photography?
My photography journey starts with a personal tragedy that took place when I was 10. When you are 10 you are mostly concerned with Scooby Doo episodes and your bike. Not me. When I was 10 and my youngest brother was 4 he suffered a brain aneurysm. To make a long story short, his life is a miracle. Doctors told us he would not have anything to offer the world, that his life expectancy would be a maximum of 18 years. Damage from the aneurysm was indeed severe. He requires 24-hour care. Epilepsy now wreaks havoc on his body and my now 27-year-old brother will always mentally be my 4-year-old brother in an adult body. So, the doctors were wrong.
When he was 21 and about to graduate high school, he needed senior portraits. Watching my brother be ridiculed, watching him tire after a seizure, I knew this would be a daunting and stressful situation. I told our mother I would handle his portraits. I was always documenting everything with my camera for as long as I could remember. So, I took my brother’s senior portraits. In that moment I realized I captured a moment doctors had told me would never happen and that these images may be all I have to hold on to one day.
That moment changed my life. People recognized my work. My love for photography became more than documenting moments – it became an outward expression of what moves my soul and a journey to perfect this profession.
In 2008, Amanda Reed Photography had legs and of course high school seniors are my niche. It is where I got started, where I feel most creative and where I feel I can have the most impact on a young adult’s life. Growing up in West Virginia it is very easy to be sheltered by our beautiful mountains and heritage. It is easy to be convinced that you will never have more than what your family has. The fact that I still live in the small town of 1500 people I grew up in and have a successful career, that I can travel and experience new places and situations inspires the clients I come into contact with. I want them to know that with hard work and faith your dreams can fly you to places you only dreamed about.
How did you find your “happy place” in your profession? Did you know how you were going to make AR succeed from the start?
That is a hard question to answer. I shoot from my heart. A few years ago I got caught up trying to emulate what other successful photographers were doing. I spent a lot of time reading blogs, trying to figure out their style and yet I was very unhappy. I began examining my life, my choices. I was working way too much for way too little. I spent half of the night on the computer. I was spending more time with other families than I was my own. My business was running me and I was not happy.
In 2010 I attended my first WPPI convention and learned the importance of a business plan. I came home and went to work on finding me. I stopped reading blogs. I hid every photographer and photography page from my Facebook wall. I developed a business plan. I stopped working weekends. I scheduled work hours from 9 to 5, Monday through Thursdays. I quit relying on sweet light and relied on skill to manipulate and create light. I honed my craft and I found me.
If you want to find your style, turn off the noise, tune out what everyone else is doing and look for you in what you create.
In 2010, the market was saturated with photographers and the economy was in a down turn. Our business was thriving. Every six months it seemed liked I reached a point where I said “go big or go home.” We went big and broke ground on my studio in 2011, by the winter of 2012 we were moved in. Was it scary taking on the debt of a studio when the economy was crashing? Yes, but I knew when the market recovered I would be way ahead of photographers who were relying on nice weather to run a business. While they were praying for warm weather I could master in-studio lighting. Operate on a 12 month calendar of income instead of the 6 month on-location photography calendar. Right now, we are sitting pretty and I could not be happier with our success.
Apart from technical skill and perseverance, what do you think is the secret to your success?
I attribute 75% of that to my personality. I am a people person. I love honestly and openly. I know that when you walk into my studio that smile on your face may be hiding hurt and insecurities. High school is a tough time. My high school years were some of my hardest, personally. I want my clients to feel comfortable. We talk personally and comfortably. They are making an investment in my work and I am making an investment in them. I come from a genuine place in befriending my clients. I want every young adult who walks in that door to walk out feeling better than when they arrived. Not only do I invest in my client but I invest in what is important to them. We often joke that I give away more money than I make but I have no problem with that. I give back to our high schools, I rally around them. I want Amanda Reed Photography to be integrated in the happenings of not just my town but my state. If it is a charity event, a sporting event or a simple prayer that I can offer my heart to then you better believe I am going to make every effort to be there.
My essential gear:
- Canon 5D Mark II
- Canon 70-200 IS L series lens
- Adobe Bridge/Photoshop
- PhotoVision Reflector goes everywhere I go.
We hear you’ve done some pretty fun events to market your brand. What are they?
One year we decided to see how far our fans would go to show their love for AR. The craziest idea would win them $1500 worth of products. My brother kicked things off by shaving my logo into his hairy chest. Yep! Things only got crazier from there. A few examples of entries were: my logo burned into a field, a sleeping baby lying beside milk spilled into my logo, people with backstage passes to concerts having music artists sign autographs to “AR.” All of these were fabulous ideas but the winner tattooed AR on her leg. Those were not her initials, not by any means! We had over 200 entries. Lots of them amazing so it was going to take something big to seal the deal and this did it. I posted every entry to my Facebook account and tagged the entry. When you tag 200 entries and multiply that by their number of friends we were getting maximum exposure. People were waking up to see our page and the craziness going on around it.
This year we are going to prom. Yes, prom. I offered a free session and an iPad mini to the first person to take me to prom. I have no plans of crashing the prom. Only to create buzz, arrive in the limo with clients, pose for prom portrait and be on my way. If you missed out on taking me to prom then you can take Flat AR. It is a twist on the Flat Stanley character. Snap some images with my flat AR persona with you getting ready for prom, family portraits, at dinner, on the dance floor, etc. Whoever shows Flat AR the best time at prom and documents it through images wins $1500 worth of products.
All of these fun ideas create a ton of buzz for our business and our clients realize that we are about having fun.
The promotion I am most proud of is our Annual Toy Drive event. During two weekends in November I will photograph 34 sessions. The cost of these sessions is a new toy valued at $35. Each session lasts 20 minutes with option of purchasing another 20 minutes for another toy donation. Our print pricing is deeply discounted for this event but that still doesn’t stop some clients from ordering over $1800 in products from a 20-minute session. Each year we donate toys to a different charity so that I can spread our love back to different communities who support us. Some of our clients really outdo themselves by donating bikes and electronics to make a child’s Christmas a little brighter.
We have to ask: What are your favorite SmugMug features?
High school seniors live in the moment. I believe the faster we can put products in their hands, the happier the client experience will be. That’s where SmugMug comes into play. The ability to link clients to their galleries and the sharing options they have right from their computer or mobile device leads potential clients directly back to me. If I am photographing a charity event or a high school basketball game, the option my clients have for to downloading and sharing the display copies directly from my galleries creates amazing word-of-mouth advertising for our business.
So, what would you say is the #1 secret to success?
How you define success is very important and my definition should be different than yours. I define my success by the quality of my life and the time spent with the ones I love. It is not about the money, the exposure, magazine covers or speaking engagements. When photography affords me the opportunity to make a difference in an individual’s life, that is when I am most successful. Please do not get caught up in the “do it all” mentality. You do not have to be on the cover of a magazine, have a million dollars in the bank, be on speaking circuit, and have products to sell to the photography industry to be a great example of success.
I believe you have to carry a smile in your heart. When you find you, you find success.
As a final note, I know you are going to visit my blog and website but please do not spend much time there reading about my life and my work. That is how you waste time worrying about the competition. Instead, grab your camera, go find you and find success!
We’re having a blast talking with some of the best photographers in our midst, and we hope that you’re enjoying these Q&As, too. Next for your weekend reading: You may know him as LordV, DGrin Macro Artist-in-Residence aka Brian Valentine, bringer of bugs. Brian is a generous tutor, having written numerous detailed photography tutorials for DGrin and other photography forums. With his guidance, many aspiring photographers have learned to take pro-level macro shots of water droplets, flowers, bugs and anything hiding right under our noses. He’s been in our sights for a long time, and we hope that you find his work fascinating, inspiring, and as educational as we do.
Photos by LordV Macros
You’ve had a past life as a PhD Microbiologist, which shouldn’t come as a surprise. How did you go from microscopes and petri dishes to teaching the world about macro photography?
This was a coincidence of events with the first affordable DSLRs coming onto the market, and me having plenty of time as I had already managed to take early retirement. These combined with an interest in gardening and my background in microbiology naturally seem to lead to me trying macro photography.
Where do you find your subjects? What are your favorite macro subjects and why?
I take nearly all my shots in my own garden. Because I have koi pond, I have not used insecticides in the garden for many years and it turned out to be a small haven for insects. Although they do not have universal appeal, I enjoy taking photographs of insects the most – I think because it requires hunting skills as well as photographic skills to pull it off.
How long have you been honing your macro skills? Do you do other types of photography?
Have you developed any new techniques recently?
I started macrophotography in 2005 with a Canon 300D DSLR and a Sigma 105mm macro lens.
I still do the normal “family” type photography, but not with any skill. I don’t think I can claim to have developed any techniques, but rather may have simply found how to apply various techniques to macro photography. So I think I have helped popularise the use of focus stacking to increase the depth of field in macro photographs.
Macro photography opens you up to a whole new world of interesting behaviours and the diversity of species. What is the most unexpected behaviour or detail that you have found through your photography?
I think the oddest thing was finding mummified aphids with a circular porthole cut into them. I was able to find out and photograph them being parasitised by very small wasps.
What challenges would you say are particular to macro photography?
The main challenges are due to the magnifications you are dealing with. This amplifies any camera movement so camera stabilisation, high shutter speeds or use of flash is required. The magnification also leads to very small depth of field in your photos and you often end up trying to balance depth of field vs diffraction softening (the lack of sharpness that happens when you use smaller apertures.)
Which macro lenses do you use and recommend?
The best all-round lens for macro is a prime lens around 100mm focal length. I have yet to come across a bad macro lens made by a major manufacturer so Canon 100mm, Tamron 90mm, Sigma 105mm, Canon 60mm EF-S (to name a few) are all optically excellent. Longer focal length macro lenses not only cost a lot, they are harder to handle hand held, more difficult to get higher magnifications with and are in general slightly less sharp than their smaller cousins. I’d only recommend getting one if you will be shooting very nervous or dangerous subjects, or if you really do want the lovely background bokeh they can give.
With a 1:1 macro lens of 150mm focal length or less you can get to 2:1 magnification or higher using a full set of extension tubes (68mm). The ultimate high magnification lens is the canon MPE-65 which goes from 1:1 to 5:1 magnification without additions.
Is there a “starter” set up that someone might use to test the macro waters?
One alternative is to start off with a set of extension tubes (e.g. Kenko) and use them with a prime lens you already own, around the 40mm to 85mm range. The only major disadvantage is the loss of infinity focus.
An even cheaper alternative is to use lens reversing techniques: You can reverse either a kit lens, or say a 50mm lens, directly onto the body using a reverse body coupler. This can give suprisingly good results but suffers from the problem of losing aperture control. You need to preset the aperture of an autofocus lens whilst the lens is mounted normally, set the aperture in Av mode, press the DOF preview button and remove the lens whilst keeping the DOF preview button depressed. This leaves the aperture set on the lens until the next time it is mounted normally but does result in a dimmer viewfinder. If you try this, you can get around this problem by using an older, manual lens which has an aperture control ring.
Lighting is very important for this type of photography. Are there any special considerations the blooming macro shooter should know?
Natural light is fine for macro shooting up to 1:1 magnification but past this, keeping your subject lit becomes increasingly difficult. I tend to use natural light where I can for flowers and often larger bugs such as butterflies and dragonflies. I prefer shooting natural light on slightly cloudy days as this avoids the high contrast and ugly specular highlights you can get with full bright sun.
Typical camera settings I would use for handheld work would be:
- camera in Tv mode
- shutter speed 1/200th
- aperture around F6.3 to F11
I normally dial in some negative Exposure compensation (around -.3 or -.6) to avoid blown highlights but this does vary with camera body. Obviously, if you have a static subject and some form of stabilisation (e.g. tripod or bean bag) you can drop the shutter speed.
Flash has a number of advantages for macro work: you can always get enough light with small aperture values that are often used to get reasonable DOF, and it helps provide very high, effective shutter speeds (the flash duration) which helps stop motion blur (on either you or the subject). It becomes a necessity for most shooting above 1:1 magnification, simply because there is not normally enough light.
I use standard flashguns (430Ex) mounted on a bracket with a diffuser. You can obviously use macro flashes but I would avoid single flash tube ones and ones where you cannot move the flash heads, which only really leaves the rather expensive MT-24Ex. Single tube macro flashes tend to give very flat-looking shots and dual tube macro flashes are rather hard to diffuse adequately.
Typical camera settings for full flash shots up to 1:1 magnification:
- camera in M mode,
- aperture f/11
- shutter speed 1/200th
- ISO 100/200.
Above 1:1 you may need to start opening up the aperture more if you want to avoid diffraction softening. I tend end up around F5.6 at 5:1.
Put the flash in ETTL mode, but remember that the FEC (Flash Exposure Compensation) will need to be adjusted depending on the shot brightness. I have to adjust mine down to -.66 for dark backgrounds or no close background and up to +1.66 for a white background from a normal setting of 0 FEC (note the normal setting for good exposure of a grey card may not be 0 FEC on some setups).
There are some situations where you may want to shoot mainly natural light but add some flash to light the subject a bit more – this often occurs if the subject is significantly backlit. Typical camera settings as for natural light shooting but with EC probably at -.66 and FEC set on the flash around -.66 to -1.
What tips can you give us for successfully focusing on such tiny subjects?
I tend to use the same focus method no matter what I’m shooting. I set the magnification I want with the focus ring with the lens set to MF and then focus on the subject by moving the camera towards the subject. If I’m hand holding or using a pole then once I’m near focus I gently move the camera back and forth by swaying slightly and take the shot as I pass through the focus point I want. If I’m resting the camera lens on something then I gently move it forward until I get the focus point I want. It does take a bit of practice doing this but you will get more keepers this way once you have mastered it.
With most bug shots they work better if the eyes are in good focus unless you are specifically trying to focus on some other detail.
Can you tell us more about Focus Stacking? What it is, how and why do you do it?
Focus stacking is not a necessity for macrophotography but it suits my preferred style of trying to capture sharp detail in shots. I use fairly open apertures to avoid diffraction softening of the image and focus stacking allows me to get the DOF I’m losing.
Here’s a step-by-step tutorial on focus stacking using one of the freeware software stacker programs.
I do however now use the commercial programme Zerene Stacker as it has many advantages over the combine series. It keeps low contrast detail, is better at reducing haloing and also better at aligning as it does do rotational correction as well.
There are a few basic problems associated with focus stacking, no matter what method you use:
#1 You need to be pretty good at focusing to get the overlapping DOF slices needed for a good stack. It does, however, sharpen up your focusing and can be good practice for focus bracketing a shot.
#2 Some focus stacks can look very unnatural due to the abnormal DOF which can flatten the image and also give rather odd DOF boundaries on the background. This is largely a matter of personal interpretation of a 2-D picture and what we normally use for depth cues. Problems like this can often be avoided by using incomplete stacks and careful choice of shooting angles to avoid sharp DOF boundaries. I often also cheat by doing what I call differential focus stacking by hand where I only focus stack the parts of the image I want more DOF in, often not stacking the background.
#3 Some subjects are almost impossible to focus stack if they are moving, although you might be suprised what you can stack if you get used to shooting quickly.
We hope that everyone reading this is a little inspired to go outside and see the world with new eyes. Whether you rent a new lens and try focus stacking on your own, or just cut a little more distance around your local honeybees, we hope that you all appreciate the big, big world around us… camera or not.
At SmugMug, we’re all about supporting your business and we love to help you succeed. Today’s guest post is by our longtime SmugMug customer and successful full-time professional photographer, Kathy Rappaport. She is CEO (Chief Everything Officer) at Flash Frozen Photography Inc. in Woodland Hills, California. For many years she kept her pencil sharp as an Accountant and honed her Marketing and Operational skills as a VP in Bank Management. She’s a QuickBooks Certified Advisor and consults with photographers on best business practices when she isn’t photographing families, children, dogs and women in lingerie (though usually not all at the same time). So, we were thrilled when she shared her tips with us, and we wanted to share them with you.
The US Small Business Administration says that 80% of small businesses fail in the first five years. So what are some good business practices for photographers so they don’t fail? Or better yet, so they succeed? Here are a few of mine!
1) Good Accounting!
If the reason you work is to make money, then you’d better track how much you make, how much things cost, who owes you money and how much you owe the government. My favorite solution is QuickBooks. It comes in Mac and PC Flavors and even Online and mobile editions now. My personal favorite is the Premier Edition (which is for PC) because you can track your costs and customers in detail. There are many good features to the program like customized invoices, sales tax tracking, customer tracking, inventory and product sales. It’s pretty easy to learn and maintain. Take care of your money and it will take care of you! There are other solutions, but, this is reasonable and comprehensive. And way better than a shoebox.
2) Good Pricing!
“My camera is paid for and I love to shoot so anyone who pays me something is my client.” Well, just because people pay you doesn’t make you a professional. A Professional has a business license, insurance and charges money for their products and services. You have to have good accounting to figure out good pricing. A good place to start is to figure out how much a fair hourly wage is for your skill level. Then multiply that times three or four. Why? Your camera will need replacement, your lenses will surely need service, your cost of business (like insurance, props, gas, supplies, your phone, printer , software, internet) are a part of price you charge. Don’t forget some of your time is spent on editing and finishing your work. You need to include saving for your future. Your retirement, taxes, and replacing your equipment. You can add up your costs and figure out a daily/weekly/hourly rate plus time to arrive at a price that will keep you in business.
3) Good Customer Service!
I hear over and over from some so-called professional photographers that it’s not necessary to call customers back or that they wait weeks to deliver work. If they have some miscommunication they send an email. The best thing you can do is be omnipresent to your clients. Respond NOW. Call if there is a problem. Knock their socks off and they’ll tell their friends. Disappoint them and they’ll tell the world. Underpromise and overdeliver. Find something special to say thank you. Maybe an extra print from the merchandise selection of your SmugMug catalog. Even a handwritten greeting card says you care.
4) Have a Good Plan!
Don’t just have an idea and implement it right away. Think about it. Plan it out in the form of a business plan. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Plan your marketing efforts, your customer service initiative, and your business goals. Make a calendar and a task list. Plan out the amount of money you want to make, how to get there and budget it out. It’s like taking a cross country trip without having a road map if you do things by the seat of your pants.
As a solopreneur, you shouldn’t do it all. You do need to get legal advice and accounting advice. You can get contracts online, but, they might not be right for your situation. Same with accounting. You should never take everyone’s advice when it comes to accounting and taxes. They are really personalized. Find out what kind of entity you should be. I hear S Corp and LLC all the time as advice but they really might be wrong for you and cost you big time in the tax department. You might have some graphics skills, but, a good printer and graphic designer will present your work to make you stand out. Maybe you even need to hire someone to train you in how to do something so you can do it properly instead of guessing. I don’t know the first thing about HTML and having an expert handy makes me sleep better at night knowing that everything is right.
6) Do Things the Official Way!
Don’t be a scofflaw. Get your location permits, business license; your DBA, carry liability Insurance, your Sales Tax License, your tax Identification number. Go to your local chamber of commerce or accountant and see what you need to do to be a real business. Not having those things can cause you to have penalties, interest, fines, or expensive legal and accounting fees. If people pay you to photograph, then the end result is you have a business. The IRS says you have to file a tax return if someone pays you as little as $400.00.
Practice your craft. Up your game. Take care of yourself. In your marketing plan you should be out there meeting people both inside and outside the industry. Learn about business just as much as you spend time learning about the latest lighting techniques. Up your game and keep improving and learning. Read good business books. You will never know everything, but don’t stop adding to your bag of tricks. Challenge yourself to reach for the stars. I know you can do it.