We’ve long wanted to film famed surf photographer Chris Burkard in action, so when we heard that he was headed to the Arctic with professional surfers to tackle the brutally harsh seas, we packed our bags and followed. In our latest installment of SmugMug Films, we travel with Burkard on his journey with professional surfers Patrick Millen, Brett Barley, and Chadd Konig as they brave sub-zero temperatures to capture moments of raw beauty, adventure, and community. Keep reading after the video to get an exclusive interview with Chris about how he got his start, what he looks for in a fantastic image, and that time he got deported from Russia.
How did you get started with photography?
I did a lot of art in high school. And I transitioned to wanting to explore doing art out in the field, but I soon realized it wasn’t very fun. It wasn’t a very intimate experience to me. You’re just a bystander. When I picked up a camera and started taking photos of my friends surfing and landscapes, I realized I was in the moment. I was out there, and shooting these photos was an extension of the body. It was intimate. You’re a part of it, and you can take it anywhere: social settings, mountaintops, oceans. It was a perfect extension and a great medium of expression for me. To this day I’m seeking out new places so I can bring a camera and experience them.
If you hadn’t become a photographer what would you have been?
Probably a fireman. I don’t know! I worked for many years in random jobs. Before I was working to be a photographer, I worked on cars a lot. I loved old vehicles and the idea of making them how I wanted. It came down to the idea of wanting to do something where people will appreciate my craft and my talents, and I realized that was what made me want to turn machines into artwork. If I wasn’t a photographer, maybe I’d be working on cars somewhere.
How would you describe what you do today?
I’m always seeking out the adventures in life, whether I’m shooting surfing in a cold, harsh environment or shooting a commercial assignment. And that’s meant to speak to the idea of going to a new place, summiting a new peak, or surfing a new wave. It doesn’t matter to me how big or how small. My goal has always been to create images that inspire people to get off their couch and go explore something new.
The idea of exploration is the thing that really makes me want to push harder. It’s the driving force behind a lot of my work.
What do you look for when creating an image?
There’s a lot of technical things I’ll look for. I’m looking for light, contrast, and all those elements that make a good image. But I consider other elements when I’m thinking of how to capture something. Like if there’s historical value to a photo—where I’m shooting a place that might not be around for very long—that’s very important to me.
Coming from an art background, I’m used to trying to put everything I want into this easel shape. I’m just bringing in all the elements. When you’re shooting and photographing in this frame, you have to get everything inside it. You’re really constricted in being able to make it happen.
For me, it’s also super important to push your cameras as far as they can go to capture what you’re seeing. A photograph is usually a two-dimensional item. If there’s anything you can do to make it feel three dimensional, that’s the goal.
I also like the idea of creating images that will carry weight with people. Photos that aren’t driven by advertisements or logos. And it’s super important, too, when creating a body of work that you want to be around longer than yourself.
Given the adventurous nature of your work and the harsh conditions you’re in, are there any great pictures you didn’t get to take?
There’s always a lot of pictures I don’t get, or I feel I haven’t had a chance to capture yet. As a photographer, or anyone who’s a perfectionist, that’s all you think about: all the moments you didn’t get. And that’s just life. You’re striving for something better, and you always wish there’s something you could’ve captured, but if you get them all, you’ll have nothing left to strive for.
What do you consider the biggest challenge about your work?
It all depends on where I’m going. The nature element is the hardest thing, like if I’m going somewhere really cold or somewhere that has a harsh environment. Being in the water in high 30s or low 40s can be brutal on your body, mind, and psyche, and it’s always challenging. You’re always weighing out risk versus reward. Luckily, 90 percent of the time you’re not far from a warm car, but there are those moments when you know in order to get the shot you have to go out and suffer a bit. Those are the times I feel most alive. I have to put in more effort and lose a little bit of skin.
Your explorations often take you to off-the-beaten-path locations. What do you look for?
I’m drawn to places that feel and look more wild. I think it’s human nature to want to see these places, but the reality is most people don’t want to put in the time to find them. So a big part of what I do is try to find spots that will speak to that aesthetic. The location is almost as important as who I’m with and what I’m shooting. Each place plays a huge character role in these stories. Whether I’m on a remote beach in Norway or somewhere in Russia, I want to be in a place that people naturally associate with adventure.
How do you find these places?
There’s a certain recipe. There are a lot of amazing places I could go, but I have to have an assignment that takes me there. I have a list of places I would love to see and love to experience, but I don’t have opportunities to shoot there. But I have a list. And it’s something I tick off as I get to go to places.
With so many places yet to see, is there a favorite place you’ve already been?
Oh, yeah. I’ve been to Iceland 13 times. That place is pretty dang special.
What do you love about it?
The way the landscape is always changing really draws me in. It’s inspiring to me and makes me want to go back because the conditions and climate are constantly evolving. For a photographer, it’s what you’re always searching for. You could shoot only one day there and have so many different conditions.
I don’t like to go to places that wouldn’t be inspiring to me on a personal level. Because if you’re not excited about the work you’re doing, then it’s hard to want to photograph it.
Is there a photography project that’s been the most meaningful for you to date?
The trips I do, I invest a lot of my energy, heart, and soul. That’s why when they turn out successful, it means so much. Success can be measured many different ways, but for me it’s pretty simple: If I feel like I got the images I needed, or got the job done while still being able to experience the culture for myself, then the trip was a success.
I plan for three years or more to do these trips, and when I’m able to set foot on the landscape and experience it, I don’t want to leave anything behind. For me, that’s been Russia, Alaska, Iceland, and Norway. These are places I put a big part of myself into.
What’s been your most challenging to date?
I’d say Russia just because of the logistical challenge of getting there. It took three years to plan and find the place to go.
I went to Russia for the first time in 2009, and you have to fill out a visa request like three months ahead of time. I was in a crew with four people, and we had to go through customs. I get stopped. They look at my passport. They look at me. They look at my passport again. They look at me. And I realize the entry date on my visa was for the next day. It was the wrong date.
After a long discussion, they put me in a holding cell for 24 hours, and then deported me to South Korea. After recouping a day later, I flew back. It was scary. Really scary. I didn’t get food and water until I talked to the embassy. It was crazy.
It was one of the first places I traveled to that was really wild and remote. And it was such an eye-opening one because I realized for the first time what it felt like to have all your rights stripped from you. It makes you really appreciate being on American soil.
What’s at the top of list for a place you’d like to return to?
I really want to go back to Chile and explore Tierra del Fuego. It’s at the very end of South America, and it looks amazing.
In a lot of your behind-the-scenes shots, it looks like surfers are headed right at you. Have you ever suffered any collisions?
Oh, yeah. I’ve been run over. I’ve had surfers hit me with their board. Cut my nose and other things. Those are the experiences that make it exciting. You’re very much at risk. And it makes it that much cooler, really, being able to be a part of the action. Being hidden in the midst of it myself.
Ever lost any gear?
I’ve lost quite a bit of gear. One time I was on a little boat, and we got hit by a wave. Basically my entire kit went overboard, and I lost about $30,000 worth of gear. Luckily, I had insurance for it.
Speaking of gear, what are your must-haves?
I have a lot of must-haves. It comes down to the fact that I think, man, if I don’t need to use this it’s not going to be much of an adventure!
A multitool is super important when it comes to being somewhere remote and interesting. Obviously having a good, reliable camera is crucial, and that’s personal preference. I like to travel really light and really small, so I use a lot of mirrorless cameras, like the Sonys. There’s usually a solar charger of some kind, whether for cell phone or camera. An ultralight, ultrasmall water-purification device that uses UV light. Energy bars. A light rain jacket is always crucial. A lightweight tripod is always in there. Filters. Almost always a pair of gloves.
If you don’t need a headlamp, it’s not even a place you want to go. I can’t count how many times I’ve gone out driving around, having a great time, then coming back for a couple hours to sleep until dark. That’s when, as a photographer, you know the best light is going to be, or when the stars are going to come out. Nine times out of 10 we’re hiking back in the dark with a headlamp on.
It sounds like you have a survival kit with some camera gear versus a camera kit with some survival gear.
That’s really what it comes down to. I want to make sure that when I’m shooting photos that I’m able to relax, knowing that safety is taken care of. I occasionally have a small rope and carabiner just in case I need to lower down from somewhere. Usually the most unusual thing I have in there is a packet of gummy candy, because that’s one of my favorite things. It’s either a reward after the shoot because things have gone well, or I just got beat down by rain or no sun and I want to have something sweet.
Given the chaos you’re in for your shooting conditions, do you shoot manually?
Yeah, always. I love shooting manually. You really start to work with your camera, and it becomes second nature. I like to have complete control. I don’t want to have my camera trying to make decisions for me.
Do you have any rules when it comes to your overall process?
When I’m going somewhere new, I’m really careful not to research too many of the places I’m going to see because I don’t want to get some interpreted view of what these places should look like on a postcard. I want to be able leave my view and perspective unskewed so I can maintain ultimate creative freedom. That being said, I also want to make sure that I’m being educated on where I’m going, because the more unique the less you know. That’s a really important mantra to have at all times.
If someone decided to pursue a similar path, what advice would you give them?
I personally would tell them that I don’t think school is going to teach you the type of skills you need to do what I do. A big part of this is experiencing things. Learn from a magazine setting or an editorial conference. Study a photographer you like and really understand the hustle it takes to do what they do. Understand what it’s like to be in those commercial and editorial situations where you’re trying to make it all work for a client.
I look back at the time I spent driving down to Oceanside every week to intern at Transworld Surf, and a summer I interned with a landscape photographer. That’s where I feel like I gained the biggest understanding of what photography was really like. I realized what it means to run your own business. And if you still want to do it after that, you should.
Any advice for capturing a great image?
There’s great moments happening everywhere, but for me there’s two main types. There’s the one that happens all of a sudden, which requires being there and being ready, and knowing your equipment inside and out. And the second is the one you’ve preconceived. Sometimes those are really special to me because you have this idea and you get to see it through.
Look for unique lighting situations. Go out in storms and go out at a time when no one else is. That’s when you’re going to capture something unique.
And what about the best advice you’ve ever received?
My grandpa told me to kick ass and take names. I don’t know if that’s good advice or not.
I guess a personal mantra I try to follow is the more you know, the less you need. I’ve always been a big proponent of traveling with less and not being the person who has the biggest, most expensive camera. It’s not that I can’t afford it, I just like to experience moments personally as well as through my camera. If you walk away from any trip and it’s a complete blur because you were shooting the whole time, then you weren’t really experiencing it.
In the end, you should have all these cool stories to share with loved ones and family and friends. At least that’s how it is for me. I always try to be present in the moment and really experiencing it myself, too.
What do you find exciting about the photography industry today?
Now everyone is a photographer. People have cameras and video cameras in their phones. At any time I could have four or five cameras on me. It’s crazy.
What we’re seeing is the emergence of these smaller, lighter cameras being able to capture more real, intimate moments. And I think the idea of mobile photography and how it’s changed photography as a whole is really exciting.
I think we’re really seeing, too, a changing of the guard where a lot of established photographers have lost touch with the people who are interested in their work because they haven’t adapted to these new forms of social media or ways of promoting their work.
Photography as a whole is really moving toward those who are open to sharing. Nothing’s a secret anymore. If you try to keep secrets, people just aren’t going to embrace it. They want to find people who are sources of knowledge and are able to share that knowledge. That’s how I look at inspiration.
Find Chris online:
Subscribe to the SmugMug Films channel to watch and see future installments as soon as we set them free. If you enjoyed the film with Chris Burkard, you may like these artist profiles on underwater photographer Sarah Lee, YouTube superstar DevinSuperTramp, and lava chases Lava Light.
We’ve talked a lot about Lightroom, and not without reason. We think it’s one of the best, most powerful tools any photographer can use to organize, edit, and get their photos online, and it’s connected seamlessly to your SmugMug account so you can sync your online and offline photos easily.
But with great power often comes complexity. You may be nervous about diving in if you’ve never used Lightroom before, so that’s where our friends over at KelbyOne step in.
Beginner-to-Expert Lightroom Tutorials by KelbyOne
KelbyOne was founded on approachable, down-to-earth education for photographers by photographers, and they specialize in teaching about Adobe products. So there’s no better person than Education Director Matt Kloskowski to create how-to videos about something they know inside and out.
We’ve added these videos to our growing library of helpful (and totally free) resources over on our SmugMug School website. So take a look and get ready to become an organizational pro.
It’s been a while since we’ve talked about our love for one of the best photo tools on the market, Lightroom. We’re going to share some of our favorite things about it that knocks our socks off and why we hope you’ll give it a try, too. Plus, if you’re just scared about diving into the Adobe pool, we’re giving away 4 (signed!) copies of Scott Kelby’s fantastic instructional book, The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5 Book for Digital Photographers, at the end of this post.
So keep reading to see how you can win yours!
Now, here are our top 5 reasons why Lightroom’s awesome.
1) Keywording Is a Breeze
Keywords are a small, but important part of getting your photos properly searchable. Whether you’ll be looking through your own galleries or hoping to cash in on sales sparked by Google, keywording is how you get there.
While SmugMug has great bulk keyword and caption tools, adding them during your Lightroom workflow is a step saver and has the added benefit of adding the keywords to the photo’s metadata.
You can enter keywords using the Library module, and even apply them to batches of photos all at once. The best part? Lightroom will automatically suggest keywords you’ve used before when you start typing.
And yes, these keywords and captions will transfer over to SmugMug when you publish.
2) No JPGs Required
Unless you’re new to SmugMug, you probably already know that we’ve got a free Publish to SmugMug plugin available in Lightroom. (You can download it here.)The fact that it doesn’t cost a cent is pretty great, but even better is that you can easily Publish your photos to new or existing galleries on your SmugMug account, all without needing to create — or store — a separate JPG file on your computer’s hard drive.
Try the easy, one-click syncing between your Lightroom catalog and your SmugMug folder structure. We’ll worry about your JPG storage so you don’t have to.
3) Everything’s Better in Bulk
The greatest power of Lightroom is how easily it lets you do sweeping changes to swaths of photos at once. Presets, flags, and anything you can think of — you can add them with just a few clicks and get your event photos out the door and into your clients’ inboxes in no time.
Check out this post that Adobe educator Matt Kloskowski did for us to help sift through your massive photo piles with ease.
4) Easy-to-Replace Proofs
Pro photographers, this one’s for you: When your client orders prints from your SmugMug galleries and you’ve set up Proof Delay, did you know that you can use Lightroom to quickly polish, edit, and republish only those photos back to your SmugMug galleries before sending the order to the lab?
We think this is the biggest lifesaver for any photographer who knows their clients will buy only a few photos out of thousands. Rather than editing every single photo from the shoot, simply upload your proofs and let them make their choice.
Tip: Take it a step further with Events & Favorites. Lightroom will sync their Favorites galleries and pull their choices back into your catalog, making it even easier for you to edit (and republish) just the ones they love best.
5) It’s Always Improving
Adobe’s always making their products more powerful and better for you, and we are, too. Both Lightroom and the SmugMug plugin check automatically for updates, and you’ll notice this when you open up the program and see that window.
What we’ve added recently: The ability to choose your gallery’s Featured Photo via the plugin, and the ability to create/edit/delete Quick Settings, Watermarks, and Printmarks. And lots more.
You can always check to see the updates we’ve made to the plugin on the dedicated page in our help pages.
The Book Giveaway
As promised, we’ve got 4 signed copies of Scott Kelby’s best-selling Lightroom 5 bible to give away, The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5 Book for Digital Photographers:
This comprehensive book covers everything from basic sliders to Scott’s own workflow, and is the #1 Lightroom book on the market (with good reason). So if you’re ready to get this into your hands and begin your journey to becoming a Lightroom wizard, simply leave a comment below and include these two responses:
1) What are the biggest stumbling blocks in your photo editing workflow?
2) A link to your SmugMug website (so we know how to reach you if you win)
We’ll choose 4 lucky random winners on Wednesday, June 11th, 2014, and announce them right here.
Stay tuned, good luck, and watch this space!
UPDATE 6/11/2014: Winners! We randomly picked 4 winners who commented here and here’s who we drew:
We’ll be in touch with you individually to deliver your books. Congrats!
CJ Kale and Nick Selway long ago fell in love with Hawaii and founded Lava Light, a photography gallery focused on capturing the ever-changing landscape created by an active volcano and crashing waves—and sometimes both together when the conditions are just right.
And if swimming with fire and dodging lava bombs weren’t challenging enough, these photographers believe in creating their images completely in camera. Balancing exposures between sky, water, and lava can be incredibly tricky.
Luckily, Lava Light has shared some tips to help you get the shot without combining exposures or using HDR.
Photo Tip #1
To capture lava and stars together, put a neutral-density (ND) gradient filter on your lens upside down to balance the extreme exposures between the lava and stars.
Photo Tip #2
When photographing lava in the daytime, use the ND grad right side up to balance the light from the sunrise, because the sun will eventually be brighter than the lava is.
Photo Tip #3
For front-lit scenes, a hard ND grad balances light from a bright sky and a dark foreground, allowing you to darken the sky and deepen colors. For example, in this shot I used a polarizer to intensify the rainbow, but it left the sky a fraction too bright. So I added a 1-stop hard ND grad across the entire sky to darken it and get its depth and color to match with the lava and everything that’s front lit below.
Photo Tip #4
To capture the little curvature of a wave, a shutter speed around 1/3 of a second is usually enough to get a little light blur to the water but keep that shape in the wave.
Photo Tip #5
If you’re trying to capture a really misty feel, where the water almost looks like fog, use a 2- to 3-second exposure.
Photo Tip #6
Since we capture everything in camera, sometimes we have to compromise on exposures and accept some clipping of highlights or shadows. So maybe a rock by the lava won’t have any detail in the shadows because I want to capture the detail in the lava instead, and I prioritize my exposure for the lava.
Photo Tip #7
Prepare the right gear for the day. My normal, hike-out-to-the-volcano kit includes a Nikon D800e, Canon 5dMkIII, 16–35 L lens for Canon, 14–24 for Nikon, a 50mm and an 85mm prime, and a 50–500 Sigma telephoto. Because sometimes you want a wide-angle shot, like the rainbow and lava, and others you want to zoom in on the drip, which requires a telephoto.
Check out the SmugMug Films artist profile of Lava Light below. Thanks for the tips, Nick and CJ!
Find Lava Light online:
Procrastination gets the best of us, but what’s the point of taking photos if they’re going to die unseen on your hard drive? Most of us can blame “time” as the reason we don’t sit down to edit our photos, but with a little foresight, you can kick that habit to the curb.
Here are 4 tips we recommend to make processing less of a process.
1) Do Your Homework
Did all-nighters work for you when you were in school? Maybe, but the majority of us would probably admit we got better grades when we completed regular assignments.
The same goes for photography: staying up to date on techniques and shooting regularly will keep your brain (and hands) in tip-top shape. Also, look around for inspiration and techniques that fellow photographers are using, so you keep pushing your boundaries. The more experience you have – and the more often you take in new info – the better prepared you’ll be for when things go awry.
Downpour on the wedding day? Did your strobes conk out? No problem! Being able to adjust in the moment will help your exposures come out right the first time—requiring less tweaking once you get them off the camera and onto your computer.
2) Get It Right Straight Out of Camera
If you’re doing the above, you’re that much closer to getting this trick done, too. Getting the perfect shot in-camera (often shortened to “SOOC”) will drastically reduce the amount of time you have to pixel peep, polish, and tweak.
You’ll probably need to do final adjustments in post, such as adjust white balance, contrast, or sharpening, but you’ll save time with the big stuff.
And this is the beauty of digital – unlike film, you can take as many shots as you need to get it right without accruing additional costs.
3) Use Lightroom
It’s no secret that we seriously love Lightroom. Why? You can use it to import, organize, tag, and edit all your photos and seamlessly publish them to your SmugMug galleries. In short, it does everything.
We’ve posted a couple of how-to’s about Lightroom in the past, and we won’t stop now. Take a look at one of our most popular articles with Kelby Media educator Matt Kloskowski, and this brief video by CreativeLive teacher Jared Platt that shows you how to publish directly from Lightroom to SmugMug.
In short, doing all your work in one program and being able to publish and sync between your local files and your online archives is a true time-saver we can’t recommend enough!
4) Let SmugMug Do the Rest
Once your photos are safely in your SmugMug galleries, you can make us organize your photos with virtually no extra heavy lifting by you. Here are a few of our favorite “set it and forget it” features that speed things up and get you on your way:
- Quick Settings. Create “templates” for gallery settings, like watermark style, largest size, and whether or not viewers can purchase your photos.
- Smart Galleries. Automatically curate new photos into existing galleries as you upload them.
- Price and Sell. Choose products and set a markup so fans can order prints direct from your website.
- Events & Favorites. Share these with clients to let them tag favorites and display them all in a personalized, private gallery.
- Print Fulfillment. Choose which of our labs will print and ship your orders. Opt for color correction, too, so you can tweak less in Photoshop.
- Our 30-day Print Guarantee. For everything else that can possibly go wrong with wowing your fans, leave it to us. We have a fabulous 30-day guarantee on all of our print and gift orders, meaning that we’ll replace or refund the order if you (or your clients) don’t love it.
We hope these tips ease your worries and get you shooting, sharing, and digging right in to your backlog of photos.
- SmugMug’s Success Stories & Testimonials
- Kickstart Your Lightroom Workflow
- How to Organize and Publish from Lightroom
- SmugMug’s free Lightroom plugin
- Saving your gallery settings as a template
- Automatically create galleries based on keywords and other photo details
- How to set custom pricing and earn money
- Let your clients choose their favorite photos
- Buy or sell prints and gifts through 4 print labs
- What’s color correction?
- The Great Print Guarantee
Today’s guest post is part 2 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 a few beginner’s tips on avoiding glare and maintaining color fidelity when photographing artwork.
All example images were lit and shot using the following:
- Einstein 640W/s Flash
- X-Rite Classic Color Checker Card
- Nikon D800 Digital SLR Camera
- Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G
- Canon 5D Mark III Digital SLR Camera
- Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L USM II
- Shoot-Through Umbrellas
Artwork courtesy of Code and Canvas, which brings artists and technologists together in shared spaces to foster creativity and innovation.
When photographing reflective surfaces, lighting becomes a game of billiards. In my last post on photographing people in eyeglasses, we relied heavily on this following rule:
Angle of Incidence = Angle of Reflection
To review, the angle at which a light beam hits an object will reflect light out at that same angle. Ignoring exceptions involving certain textures and refraction, we can depend on light to travel in a straight and predictable line.
You may find yourself in a position of having to photograph something behind glass. The rules are largely the same as when you’re photographing someone wearing glasses but you also need to be certain that the colors are being represented accurately as well.
Copy work, or a copy job, is when the photographer is reproducing a piece of artwork such as paintings, illustrations, and antique photographs. The conditions under which you have to shoot some of these things can be tough (stuck on walls in small rooms, leaning against something and under fluorescents, etc) but knowing the most basic copy work setup and remembering your family of angles will get you out of most glare binds.
Family of Angles
What the camera can see will determine our family of angles. In a typical copy work lighting setup, you will have 1 light on either side of your subject but the angle is very important.
Placing my light heads anywhere within that circle will likely result in glare because it is inside the danger zone of angle of reflectance. Our instinct is to put lights in front of the thing we want to light but when dealing with reflective surfaces we have to imagine a ball of light coming from the flash and into your painting in a straight line and bouncing back out again. If the bounce-back appears to be within the family of angles for what your camera is seeing then move those lights outside that zone or, in this case, more to the side. This allows the bounce-back to not glare back into the lens.
Lighting Outside the Family of Angles
When photographing artwork, placing your lights at acute angles in reference to the subject (90º or less – think of on-camera flash as being 0º) is generally bad and placing them at obtuse angles (greater than 90º) is generally good.
For this painting by Calixto Robles, I can already tell from my modeling lamps that I am probably within the family of angles to receive glare. Eyeballing it, I could tell that the light was going to shoot out of the glass and back into my lens — especially since I am also shooting directly instead of reflectively, like with a bounce umbrella.
An easy fix for this is to place my flashes outside the family of angles, more obtusely-angled in relation to my subject.
Placing my lights more to the side gets them outside my family of angles. Remember, too, that using a wide lens will increase the size of your family of angles. If you have the space to shoot copy work using a long lens, your choice of lighting positions increases.
These are all unedited so they would normally need a bit of tweaking but my glare is gone and that is a great starting point for perfecting the shot.
Raking the Light
This kind of obtusely-angled lighting is referred to as “raking the light.” It’s great not only for avoiding glare, since the angles are so extreme that they are often outside the family of angles for reflection, but also for showing texture.
In this detail shot of Vivien Sin’s work, I have glare, washed out colors, and a little too much texture in places where I don’t really want it.
These yellow arrows represent my family of angles. I have placed my flashes well within the danger zone.
Moving my lights more to the side, further away from my family of angles and at a more oblique angle, improves this. I probably could have raked the light even further by placing the lights nearly parallel to the painting, bathing it in light — especially if I were bouncing the light from inside an umbrella or softbox. Sometimes you might not have modifiers on-hand so knowing you can still work with “bald” lights is key.
Much better. However, how do you know these colors are even accurate? After all, I am showing you a copy of the painting through my photography and you are trusting me to portray it accurately. This requires another useful tool: the color checker.
Color Checker Cards and White Balance
White balance is largely not an issue in this age of RAW files. Most of the time, our cameras are excellent at reproducing color and predicting proper white balance. With artwork, though, such subjectivity can ruin your presentation. Using a color checker card will give you a set of specially prepared colors and grayscales that give you a frame of reference for objectively correct colors. It also helps you find a precise, neutral white. When you’re editing something with a color checker in one of your frames, you can much more easily keep the colors in all of your frames consistent and accurate.
With all of the deep, rich colors in Vivien Sin’s painting, I want to make sure they remain consistent across editing multiple files and also that I have a white balance that is set based on the most neutral target possible for color fidelity.
You can use a color checker card just as a reference and white balance corrector without any further calibration. However, its performance is maximized when you calibrate your monitor and printer and create custom profiles using free plug ins with your editing software.
To start, take a sample of a neutral color or shade. I used the gray square second to the left next to 100% white.
I have the X-Rite free ColorChecker Passport software installed in my Lightroom. You don’t have to have this to get a read on color accuracy but it allows you to create custom profiles under different lighting conditions and quickly apply those profiles to images in an entire collection for consistency. This was done by taking a picture of the color card in the same environment as Vivien’s painting, adjusting my white balance around a neutral gray on the card, and saving it as a profile (exactly how to do this varies with your editing software and X-Rite has instructions for each of them).
Instead of relying on one of my camera’s profiles, or Adobe Standard, I can use a profile that is built around colors as they should be viewed objectively given the environment it was shot in, custom-named so that I can remember what I shot with to create it.
The difference might not be obvious but notice the reds in the lower corner. Adobe Standard rendered them slightly more orange than they should be. It’s a subtle change for the extra work but if you remember to take just 1 shot with a color card it gives you the option to fine tune colors and white balance later. This is important for not only copy work but for real estate shooting as well, where interior paint colors might be very important to the person you are shooting for.
Copy Work Shooting Basics
If you are starting out with shooting anything reflective, especially artwork, remember:
- The Angle of Incidence = Angle of Reflection
- If the flash is within 90º of the reflective surface, it is likely to give off glare. Place your lights obtusely and sometimes even as far as parallel to either side of a painting.
- Raking the light in this manner will also show texture.
- Use a color checker card to verify color accuracy and white balance in post production.
Flash and Artwork Damage
The jury is still out on this but the general consensus is that a lot of stuff can affect paintings, including UV light, pollution, and temperature. Artwork can even be a danger to itself when off-gassing under tight framing. Art is exposed to flash for a short period of time during copy work and the consensus is that it’s not a problem. That said, if you’re shooting for a client, find out their comfort level for flash exposure before proceeding.
I hope these tips help you take better photographs of the various copy work items in your life, whether it’s professional artwork or personal antique photographic keepsakes.
To celebrate moms, we took time to chat with a couple of our favorite photographers, Natalie Licini of Je Revele Fine Art Photography and Chrysta Rae of Chrysta Rae Photography, about how they juggle successful photography businesses with raising their family. They’ve shared a little insight into how to get the kids to the dentist and invoices in the mail, all while keeping their clients happy. Like all moms, keeping all those balls in the air is a struggle. But one that is rewarded with the best of both worlds – time with their children and paying the bills doing a job they love.
Today we’ll see their top five tips for getting everything done like a pro.
1) Make – and Stick to – a Strict Schedule
One of the biggest advantages to being your own boss is setting your own schedule. But that doesn’t mean that work has to slide into family time and vice versa. Find a balance between the responsibilities of your business and your children no matter how tough it is, especially when your office is at home and you’re truly never far from work.
I try to work Monday through Thursday and keep weekends free. Each day I wake about 8am, spend time with my children, check email, drink coffee, and then drive to our New Jersey office by 10am. We have two photo shoots per day on Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday with Tuesdays reserved for client viewings (sales appointments), usually late in the day to accommodate working clients. Fridays I reserve for accounting at home. Every day I handle client inquiries and questions and head home about 5pm. Every other Saturday is date night with my hubby and every single Sunday we have dinner with my parents, brothers, aunt, and cousins. It’s my favorite day of the week. We just relax, talk about life, and enjoy the company.
I drop the kids off at school, then I’m off shooting. I can book 1 to 6 shoots a day (once I did 9, but I almost died). While I’m out, I have to find multiple addresses and deal with realtors, homeowners, builders, and managers on location. I help stage, clean houses, make small talk, shoot, and then I scoot to my next booking. I pick up my kids and take them to hockey, or go grocery shopping, or pick up their friends, etc. Both my kids love it and thrive in hockey. And in my schedule, hockey is non-negotiable. They are members of a team, and that has huge value. Nothing interferes with that. And as much as I can, I’m at each practice and every game cheering them on.
2) Stay In Focus, No Matter Where You Are
Focus on the job at hand. Be present in the moment, and with the people you’re with at that time. Give all your attention to your clients when you’re working with them, and to your family when it’s their time for your attention.
My main focus is always my boys. Their needs come first. Work is always there, so I just make sure when I’m with my kids, they know they’re my priority. I’m lucky they understand how hard I work, and that I’m doing it to better our lives. And when I’m at work, I build a true bond with all my clients. Simple things like not bringing my phone into a client’s home—it’s easy, but important. They know they’re the only focus I have while I’m with them. I ask questions and talk about my personal life; my clients truly know me and, in the end, they know they’ll get my best effort AND that I truly care about them.
3) Don’t Be Afraid to Outsource
Whether it’s help with the kids and the house, or with the non-photography tasks of your business, know when to hire an extra set of hands or two. Relinquishing control can be hard, but you’ll save that much more energy to focus on the things only you can do.
We have an au pair who lives with us. She helps with the children during the day while I’m at the office, feeding, dressing, playing with the kids, and getting them to and from school. In New York City having an au pair is more economical than day care, which costs 35-50% more. My team helps with editing, printing, writing, and preparing our clients’ orders for pickup. I’ve hired additional staff to write for Je Revele, and we have an in-house editor.
4) Love What You Do
We hear from photographers all day, every day, that they love their jobs. Keeping your heart in line with your hands is the best way to guarantee success, and that you’ll wake up every morning excited about the days ahead.
The biggest perk of doing photography for a living and raising my boys is they SEE daily that if you love something, you can find a way to make a living doing it. Work should be something that gets you out of bed in the morning, not something you press the snooze button on while dreading the day ahead of you. The bottom line is I do what I love and have found a way to make money doing it, and I also have balance with my family. Being a mom is the most important job in the world, and the most rewarding. I truly think I’m giving them a very big life lesson in finding their passion and empowering them. With enough persistence and passion, anything’s possible—it’s there for them to grab.
If you love what you do, and can pour your heart and soul into growing your business, do it! Don’t let fear hold you back. I’ve had photography mentors over the years who’ve really helped me grow and establish my business. Attend workshops with some of the masters in our industry and you’ll find your skill level improve dramatically.
5) If You’re Just Starting Out
Making the leap to start your own photography business can be the most exciting step of your life, especially if you’re coming away from being a full-time parent, or a more traditional job. Here are two final tips to keep in mind if you’re looking to go pro.
Set a timeframe. I gave myself one year: if I could pay my bills and still afford a few luxuries at the end of it, I would continue. It started up quite quickly for me; I posted on Facebook that I’d offer $50 photography sessions for families while I was still in school. It was truly just to give me things to shoot and learn “in the field.” From that one post I did hundreds of portrait sessions and, after I graduated, I was confident enough to even shoot weddings.
Network! I suggest networking with your community, business owners, moms, and dads. Always gently mention you’re a photographer and be prepared to hand them a brochure of your work. I have little accordion brochures in my purse that I give out by the dozen, thanks to a suggestion I heard on creativeLive from Sue Bryce. Rather than having someone lose my business card, I give them a brochure so they can see my work immediately. It makes a good impression that helps them make a call to book a session with me.
Do you have your own secrets to running a tight family ship? We’d love to hear them! Add your comments at the end of this article.
My name is Chrysta Rae. I’m a professional interior/real estate photographer working full time in the Edmonton, Alberta area. I have 2 amazing children, Tyson (he’s 11) and Grayden (he’s 10). The boys are in grades 5 and 4, and both play in high level hockey all winter, and both play spring hockey as well. My kids are exceptional people. They’re funny, kind, thoughtful, dorky, and loveable. I love being their Mom.
My family was first. I started photography professionally when my youngest went into grade 1. I have always been a very self-empowered business person. I previously owned a closed captioning business that ended when my youngest son was about 2. With the recession and new technology, the business just slowly died. I was a stay-at-home Mom until both kids were in school… then I needed to fill my days back up again! I had always loved photography and decided to focus my attention on it on a “professional” level. I enrolled in the New York Institute of Photography and devoured everything I could to learn every single thing I could about every aspect of it.
I was born and raised in New York City. I reside there with my husband and 3 children. We have 2 girls ages 5 and 4 and our son is 11 months old and already walking. Yay! My daughters are in dance, piano and have singing lessons. It’s busier than it sounds, but we have a manageable schedule.
I opened my business 6 months after my first child was born in 2008. I started photographing clients using backdrops in my basement in 2008. In 2011, I left my full time job and moved to my first studio. Then in 2012, I rebranded and opened our flagship studio in a historic New Jersey Castle.
As Mother’s Day approaches, we turn to those in our lives who have helped us become better at what we do, and those who inspire us.
Kelly Lester is the owner, creator, and creative mom behind EasyLunchboxes.com. During the past two decades she has been an actress, entrepreneur, wife, and mother of three. EasyLunchboxes was born out of Kelly’s innate ability to do things efficiently while on a shoestring budget, and her desire to send her daughters to school with simple, healthy food with little to no extra packaging or ingredients. We loved seeing how she’s able to juggle her career, her business, and her family so very well.
Kelly shared the story behind Easy Lunchboxes with us, as well as some great tips on how SmugMug helped her grow Easy Lunchboxes into the successful business that it is today.
Read the full interview with Kelly and be sure to thank the people in your life who do so much for you each day!
This week we’re debuting Joel Grimes as our next SmugMug Films subject. As commercial pro and Photoshop wizard, Joel has found great success following his creative dreams and leading workshops worldwide on how he plans, shoots, and polishes those incredible images. Watch the film now and don’t forget to subscribe to the channel to see each new episode as we post them.
When it comes to creating masterful illusions, Joel Grimes is happy to share what it takes to succeed in the art and photography world: hard work and passion. The bravery to be yourself at all times doesn’t hurt, either. Learn how he applied these truths to his own path into commercial photography.
Tell us a bit about how you got started with art and photography.
I’ve always had that side to me, even when I was a little kid. In grade school, we’d have art projects, and I would be in heaven. Then in seventh grade, I think it was, I had my first official art class. That was the ultimate. I was like, “Wow, every day I get to do art and actually receive a grade.”
When I got to high school, we had a program where you could do photography. I just thought, “This is really cool.” I ended up staying in the program my sophomore year, and then my junior and senior years. By the time I was a senior, I was the photo teacher’s assistant. But I still didn’t understand starting it as a career.
When I got out of high school, I ended up working for an outdoor store downtown. One day a man came in looking for a waterproof container. I asked what it was for, and he said it was for transporting film. I said, “I’m a photographer, too!” I had just spent every dime I had on this new black-body camera, which was the first: the Canon EF. At the time, I thought it was like buying a ferrari. It was just so amazing.
Turns out he was the head professor of photography at Pima Community College and asked if I’d thought about taking any photography classes. They had just started a new semester at the college, and he said if I really wanted to get in his class, he could pull some strings. I said yes!
What I didn’t know is he had a waiting list of 80 students for that class. His name was Lou Bernal, and he was the most inspiring educator I’ve ever been around. He really launched me into thinking about photography, not only as a possible career but as an art form. From that point on, photography really became an all-consuming passion.
But I still didn’t understand photography as a career. Like, do I do weddings? Do I do editorial? After college I ended up sharing a studio with a guy who was a natural at marketing. He really taught me a lot about selling myself. With his guidance, I ended up going after the commercial advertising arena. And I’ve been doing it ever since.
I look back and never thought I’d get to where I am. It’s just amazing. I feel very blessed.
What inspires you first when you go about creating an image? Do you see the full concept or does a background or subject inspire you first?
In songwriting, people ask, “What comes first: the melody or the lyrics?” It’s the same with photography. For some people the melody comes first. Some people get an idea and put it into lyrics. It’s really a mixture of both.
I think about an idea, but most of the time it’s kind of a discovery process—it’s found moments. Found ideas that aren’t too thought-out, meaning I don’t create a plan for what I want to end up with. I have an idea stylistically, but it’s not as scripted as people think.
I always tell people there’s two things I’m not and two things I believe I am. I’m not brilliant and I’m not a creative genius. I do have a passion for the creative process, and I work really hard at it. I put in the time.
You can be brilliant and a creative genius and produce nothing in your lifetime. But if you have a passion for the creative process and you work very hard, great things follow.
When we’re in school learning photography, many people think, “I’m not brilliant at it. I’m not as talented as my friend or my classmates.” That’s what I thought when I was in school. But in the end, having a passion for the creative process will out-trump or outwork and outperform the brilliant creative geniuses. Don’t worry about if you feel like you don’t quite get it. Just keep practicing. Keep working at it. Keep putting in the time. And then explore.
What gets you up at 4:30 in the morning to photograph the sunrise? Being brilliant? Being a creative genius? No. It’s passion. I can’t wait to see what this morning will bring. And those are the people who achieve great things.
Your process relies more on finding the right feel for the moment and less on the technical, but do you have go-to light setup—somewhere you start before tweaking?
You have to, especially when you do commercial shoots. You have to know the basics of achieving a soft light or a harsh light. How to light one person or ten people. It’s all about solving problems.
When you’re in a commercial scenario, you can’t just play and hope it will all come together. I’ve walked into a room with a client standing over me, and I’ll say we’re going to shoot from this angle with lights here and our subject here. Within 4 minutes I have it figured out. And they ask, “Are you sure? Can we try over here?” And I say that won’t work because there’s cross light and you have a big pipe in the background. That comes from just having walked into a room a thousand times. Time and practice.
I can teach everything I know about lighting in 30 minutes, but it takes 20 years of practice to understand how to apply that lighting. Unless you practice it over and over again, you’ll never be able to walk into a situation and build the shot.
I try to create light that could be a real-life scenario. So I use cross-light, like Rembrandt did, which is a simulation of what could be a true environment. I can simulate sunlight with one big light source. I can do a three-light approach with two edge lights and one overhead light, like if I had two windows to each side of me and a little bit of fill in the middle. That’s a pretty rare scenario, but it’s true. It can happen. I actually like to do that three-light approach because it builds depth and it looks a bit gritty.
I use my light to create a certain feel. It is a representation of what could be real and true, but it’s really about creating the mood.
How do you coax your subject to deliver the shot you’re looking for?
Personality plays a role in how I approach my subjects. Some photographers are animated, coaxing their subject to crack up and smile and do all sorts of crazy things. Others will walk over and move the subject’s arm, their chin, their hand. My personality is to watch the subject as I ask them to try different things. Suddenly they’ll do something and I’ll say, “Oh! Can you do that again?”
I’ll give an example. There’s a shot I took of the rapper Mustafa. He’s got his shirt off underneath a leather coat, he’s in a tunnel, and he’s right in your face. The light’s perfect on his face and his hands and he’s coming right at you. He was actually a bit reserved when he came in. As we started to work, he was standing there, and it wasn’t really working. As I watched him, he started pulling on the jacket. I said, “That’s cool, what if you spun and held your jacket out like that?” He did, and that’s our shot. I had no idea that’s where we were going to end up. But because I saw him tugging on the jacket while I was moving lights, I thought it might be a cool shot.
That’s how the process works for me. I don’t overscript or overthink it. I let everything take its course.
Within this commercial realm, do you have a favorite type of shoot you like to do?
Sports figures make unbelievable subjects because they’re superheroes. They make great subjects. But I also like photographing real people. I love faces. I love personalities. I love characters.
For example, I met a guy named Steve Stevens in New Orleans. He’s got these really cool sunglasses on and he’s kind of looking off to the side with New Orleans in the background. He was my ride from the airport to the college where I was speaking. While he was driving, I was thinking, “This guy is perfect!” So I asked if I could bring him in to do a portrait during my demo. I end up getting this great shot and everyone thinks I cast this guy from hundreds of people. But it’s an everyday person. I just make them look larger than life.
Could you tell us a bit about a shoot that’s most memorable to you to date?
Before digital, I was doing commercial ad work and some corporate work and shooting with a large-format, 4×5 camera and sheet film. Very slow and very meticulous. A large power utilities company was doing an annual report and I was called in to the creative pow-wow meeting with the CEO, art director, and everybody. They wanted to do something different that year, so I pitched the idea of doing a series of portraits of the customers—the end users of electricity—in black-and-white large format. I knew I was really pushing it, but they let me put some samples together and come back. And they ended up going for it. I went to 24 countries with that 4×5 camera. China, Brazil, Argentina, Kazakhstan. It was just heaven.
We can really hear the joy and passion in your voice, and you obviously have a lot of fun doing this. Do you have any challenges?
Generally, as human beings, we tend to want to follow, not lead. If someone paves the way for us, we’ll follow that path. The hardest thing for me, and I think for most people, is that we get inspired by others’ work and we think we want to be someone else. We want to be that photographer, we want to follow their lead. The problem is if you follow others, you always blend with the masses. But if you follow your uniqueness and stick with what you do best, you’ll stand out.
It’s scary to hang your hat on something that’s just you. It opens the door to criticism, and nobody likes to be criticized. So we avoid criticism at all costs, and we follow others. The hardest thing for me is to stay true to who I am. Yes, we need to be inspired by others, but every day I have to wake up and be Joel Grimes, not somebody else. When I teach, I always tell people, “Be yourself.” You’re unique. One of a kind. There’s no one on the planet just like you. And when you work from your uniqueness, you’ll rock the world.
What do you love most about being an illusionist?
Taking something that is everyday and adding excitement. For the most part we tend to go to work, get a coffee, go to our desk, do our task, go home. We want to experience something that’s outside the everyday mundane. My job as a photographer—as an artist—is to create things that take people out of the everyday and submerge them in something that’s a bit of a fantasy.
Being an illusionist is really being an artist and honing that craft to a point where people believe it. They believe that girl is that beautiful. That guy is that strong. They look amazing. Larger than life. Lighting and Photoshop play into that formula. Some people say that’s not right, but every photograph is a manipulation because you choose the lens, you choose when to take the picture—when to create that moment. Everything’s a representation of reality. It’s my job as an artist to take that representation and make it even more fantastic. That’s fun. To me, that’s part of being an artist.
Could you talk about how you refine the illusion in post-process?
It’s part of the creative process. You take the picture and then you have to finish creating it. Some people think Photoshop is cheating. But as an artist, it doesn’t matter how much I create in camera or in Photoshop. In the end, when I present that image, does it work? Is it a reflection of my artistic vision? That’s what’s most important.
So I blend the two together. I solve some problems in Photoshop that I couldn’t do in camera, using blending modes, working on multiple layers, masking, all that. When I’m teaching, some people say, you know, if you lift your left leg and put your finger on the Alt key, there’s a shortcut. And I say, okay, but right now that’s not important. What’s important is I’m getting to where I need to to be.
Over time I’ll learn that working with smart objects is a better way to work than not. And adjustment layers are less destructive. I learn all those little things as I go. There are people who can run circles around me in Photoshop, but in the end, people really like the end result I achieve.
Any favorite tools in Photoshop?
One of the things I teach a lot is to work from a RAW image, bring it into the RAW converter, manipulate it there, and then open it as a smart object in Photoshop. This way, when the image comes over, it’s still tied to RAW. That gives me very little destruction.
The problem most people face when they start in Photoshop is they destroy their image. There’s a thousand ways to destroy your image, lose bit depth, lose pixels, lose tones, detail, all that. The number-one rule: minimize destruction. Smart objects and adjustment layers are the single two most important things to have in your workflow to minimize destruction.
Any advice for those looking to get into creative photography?
To be an artist, you have to put your neck on a chopping block. It’s impossible to survive as an artist in this industry if you can’t overcome rejection. The biggest thing that keeps us from moving forward is fear of rejection. You may get lots of praises, but you’re not always going to get a good critique. And a negative critique is like a knife stabbing you in the back, with an added twist. It hits right in your heart.
As human beings, we don’t like to be criticized. It hurts. And it keeps us from moving forward and taking risks. But you can’t let one person steal your dream. That person may not have any authority whatsoever in truly understanding what you’re doing, but it still derails you as an artist.
It’s like country western versus rap. If you’re a country western singer and you present your demo to a rap record-label company, they’re going to wonder what the heck you’re doing there. They’re going to boot you out the back door as quickly as they can, right? And you feel rejected.
But were you really rejected? No, because you gave them something they don’t have any interest in. As artists, we present our work to people who sometimes have no interest in what we’re doing. And when they say they aren’t interested, we take it personally. It’s like selling country western to a rap label.
Criticism will come. It’s guaranteed! Don’t take it personally.
Anything we didn’t ask that you’d like us to know?
Hard work will outperform talent any day of the week. Put in more hours than the person you’re competing against. Practice, practice, practice, and great things will follow.
Find Joel online: