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

November 26, 2014 2 comments

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

KelbyOne: Photoshop, Lightroom, and Photography Education


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

Join the conversation on Twitter with #KelbyOneCyber.

MacPhun: Inspiring Photo Software for Mac


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

Clickin Moms: Click, The Magazine for Modern Photographers


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

SnapKnot: Professional Wedding Photographer Directory

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

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

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

November 3, 2014 2 comments

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

All example images were lit and shot using the following:

All diagrams made with LightingDiagrams.com


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

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

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

Why photographers love this:

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

Examples of Bounced Light in the Home

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

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

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

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

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

When Bouncing Bites Back

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

A review of the Family of Angles:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Benjamin Von Wong: How to Make Everyday People Look Badass

October 24, 2014 2 comments

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

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

Step 1. Lights, Location, and Rain Rig

How did the idea for this shoot come about?

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Kerry Ellis

 

How did you go about making it rain?

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

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

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

Photo by Kerry Ellis

 

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

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

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

 

How did you get rid of the ambient light?

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

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

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

Step 2. Motivate Your Models

What was the biggest challenge during the shoot?

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Michael Shostack

 

Step 3. Process and Print—BIG

Can we talk a bit about your post process?

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

What did you do for the other 10%?

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

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

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

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

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

What did you love most about this shoot?

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


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

Find Benjamin online:

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark: Tips for Taking Pictures in Low Light

October 15, 2014 2 comments

As we roll into the season of longer nights, we don’t think the extra darkness this should cut down on the amount of time you spend with your camera.

Low-light photography can be intimidating if you’re new to photography, but it’s easier than you think…. and you can take some amazing photos that take much more patience to capture when the days are bright and long.

Here are a few simple tips to keep in mind to keep you shooting (and sharing) photos through the darkest time of the year.

Know Your Gear

Photography is all about physics, but even if you weren’t a science major you can take a few minutes to learn the only tip you ever need to learn.

Photography is about capturing light, so low-light shooting means maximizing the amount of light hitting your sensor. There are three ways to do that:

  1. Allow more light through the lens
  2. Keep the shutter open longer
  3. Boost the sensitivity of your sensor

How? Widen the aperture of your lens, slow down your shutter speed, or raise your ISO, respectively. If you’ve never done any of this before, dig up your camera’s manual (or Google for the PDF version) and get to know these three things now. Shooting in your camera’s Manual mode is the most tricky – but most surefire – way to learn these principles, but you can also try Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority modes to fix one of the settings and let your camera automatically calculate the rest.

Knowing which buttons to push and which dials to turn is a priceless skill to have, and you should commit it to muscle memory now so you don’t end up panicking in the dark.

Additionally, your camera and lenses often have specific limitations. If you have an older camera, for example, you may not want to push the ISO above 1600. And some lenses simply don’t open up wider than f/5.6. If you’ve been thinking about trying new equipment but aren’t sure it’s the right gear for you, check out our own, in-house gear reviews to get an idea of what’s out there before you drop thousands of dollars.

Embrace Your Grain

Even if your images come out a bit grainy from pushing your ISO, that’s OK. Think about all the film photos you’ve probably seen from 30 to 50 years ago and you’ll notice the grain adds a lot of character to the image. It makes sense to embrace it and get to know it a little better.

Grain itself can contain quite a bit of color that may not be found otherwise in your scene. To minimize it, try third-party noise-reduction software, or experiment with the noise-reduction feature in programs that you’re already using, like Lightroom and Photoshop. Don’t be afraid to experiment!

Alternatively, try converting your image to black and white and playing around with the contrast. Photos that look weird at first look rock ‘n’ roll once the color’s stripped out. To do this, give it a quick conversion using SmugMug’s Image Editor, PicMonkey, or (our favorite) Lightroom.

Make More Light with Lightroom

Modern digital cameras give you quite a bit of leeway with the exposure, so if your image came out a bit dark (which happens because your camera’s LCD often gives a brighter impression of your image than you actually took), it’s OK to bump the exposure in post.

For most, pushing the “Exposure” slider is sufficient, but some pixel peepers may suggest using the more specific sliders you can find below that: highlights, whites, and shadows. These boost only the pixels you need without harming the rest. Experiment with what works best for you to get the look you want.

Once that’s done, don’t forget to publish your goodies to SmugMug and show the world what you’re capturing after the sun goes down.

Seek the Moment, Not Perfection

Above all, don’t stress about getting the perfect shot every time. Blurred motion, being too dark (or too bright) are all details that take your photo beyond basic shape and color. So be sure to capture the action, the intensity, and the joy of what you and your friends are doing. Even if it’s not textbook perfect, we guarantee that as soon as you share your photos, they won’t be thinking of anything except how much fun they had.

We’ll be sharing a few more low-light tips in the weeks coming, so stay tuned for more creative ideas to keep shooting in the dark!

 —

Link roundup:

Take Your Smiles Further on World Smile Day

October 3, 2014 Leave a comment

Why Print in a Digital Age?

October 1, 2014 4 comments

Don’t let your photos die in the digital graveyard! Even though we live in the iPhone age and highly recommend that pro photographers offer digital downloads as part of their business models, we think that a trusty, traditional, physical print still has a place in every home.

Here are four reasons why.

1) Prints Bring Photos to Life

Prints have presence. There’s never any doubt about that, as any framed photo or tangible image in your home draws the eye every single time. It’s easy to dismiss the importance of a physical print when you’re not actually faced with one, but once you unwrap your print, feel the weight of it in your hands and see the light shining from its surface, you’ll see what we mean.

Particularly if you opt for metallic paper finish, or one of SmugMug’s modern print options like MetalPrints and Box Frame Prints. Guaranteed to stop every guest in their tracks.

2) Not Everyone is Online

Facebook may hold its fair share of friends with whom you share photos, but we’re willing to bet that your social group isn’t 100% online. For all the people you care about who aren’t on the web, prints are the medium of choice.

Whether this includes your mom, your grandpa, or your pen pal from 3rd grade abstaining from the internet, we’re pretty sure they’ll be delighted to receive a print, album or even a photo book in the mail.

3) Rare Means Care

Since we’re all guilty of taking digital photos for granted, prints are rare and (by basic laws of economics) will command more attention because of their relative scarcity. You know you’ll already captivate your online audience with your unlimited SmugMug galleries, but we’re pretty sure one meaningful print in your hallway will grab their attention, too.

For those of you looking for the most bang for your buck, prints are perfect for you. And who wouldn’t want something special hanging on their wall?

4) Your Memories Exist Even If Your Computer Explodes

Imagine you’re rummaging around your desk and find a priceless snapshot from 1992 that you took on one of those disposable cardboard cameras. Wow!

It’s definitely easier to drag and drop your files around folders on your hard drive (or in your SmugMug Organizer), but real photos are a joy to unearth. While not completely immune to discoloration, fire or fading, so many threads of history have been woven into a larger tale because of photos, crisp and bent with handwritten notes scrawled along the back.

Wouldn’t you want physical proof that you lived, even after the ‘Off’ button was pressed?

Let Your Photos Grow Up on SmugMug

We have four great print labs for you to choose from at SmugMug. EZ Prints is available for Basic subscribers, and Bay Photo, WHCC, and Loxley Colour are additional options (with additional print and mounting choices) for Portfolio and Business accounts.

To see the complete list of all print sizes and products available on your account, simply log in and view your Account Settings >  Business tab to view your Pricelists by lab. Basic and Power Users can  just click the Buy Photos button in any gallery to open the available items in the shopping cart.

Print your photos. No matter if you’re just snapping moments on your iPhone or documenting in RAW with a top-of-the-line DSLR, whether you just snap photos of your friends or if you’re a full-time pro, it’s up to you to make the most out of your life. So buy a print, hang it on the wall and keep those memories close at hand.

You won’t regret it.

Links to love:

Pro Tip: 7 Reasons You Just Lost a Sale

September 23, 2014 4 comments

While you’re here at SmugMug, we want you to succeed. It’s in our blood, as we’re photographers ourselves and everything at SmugMug was borne out of our very own needs to capture the world.

Our Support Heroes often get questions from pros wondering why customers aren’t buying their prints and downloads. So here are some top fixes we’ve found to help cure those lackluster sales.

1) Buying Isn’t Enabled

This is pretty key, but is buying enabled in your galleries? By default it’s on, but just in case you should always look to see if the button in your galleries says “Buy” or “Owner Buy.” If it says the latter (or if you log out and don’t see a Buy button at all), buying is disabled for guests. Owner Buy is useful for those of you who don’t want to sell, but still may want a buy a print for your own living room.

How to fix it: Open your gallery settings and look under the “Shopping” tab. The shopping cart toggle is right at the top of the list, so be sure that’s set to ON.

2) Your Pricing Isn’t Set Up

Maybe people are buying your photos at-cost, with no profit to you? This is the nightmare of some photographers, so be absolutely sure that you’re not sitting there accidentally giving away those photos. Fortunately at SmugMug, Portfolio and Business users can literally set it and forget it with Pricelists, so you can set your markup, sit back, and just let the money roll in.

How to fix it: Visit your Pricelists manager, found in your Account Settings > Business tab. Add in products to your default Pricelist, fill in a few numbers, then save it. All galleries on your site with buying enabled will now reflect those prices to your fans. Business account members can create multiple Pricelists and can apply them to different galleries. Find out more info on our help pages.

3) Nobody Knows You Exist

If you build it, will they come? On the internet, the answer is “No.” Even coding up the most beautiful site won’t make magic if no one on the web is talking about you. So take that first step and share the link, post photos to social media, and create buzz so that Google (and potential new clients) hears about you.

How to fix it: You can copy the link to your site, a gallery, or even a single image right from the address bar in your browser. Or use our handy Get a Link feature. Also, check your site-wide privacy settings and fill out your site metadata so that relevant, descriptive words show up when people search for you.

4) Your Clients Got Totally Lost

The architecture of your site is more important than you may think it is. We’ve covered this in the past, but we can’t stress enough that you should make the content you want surfaced as visible as possible. When in doubt, give your clients a direct link to the gallery containing their photos, so they don’t wander off and get lost.

How to fix it: You can Get a Link to share a gallery or a photo. Have multiple galleries to share? Try Sharegroups (which can also be protected with passwords), or Events & Favorites. The latter is worth its weight in gold for pros, because it lets clients tag the images they love best.

5) They Couldn’t Reach You

What happens when they have a question that only you can answer? How much do you charge? Are you available for a September session? Can they hire you? You’d want to be sure that your email address is available front and center. But we’re surprised at the number of websites we see where this info is hidden, buried, or just plain not included. It’s no wonder sales are slow!

How to fix it: Fill out your SmugMug Profile (found in the top right corner of your logged-in header) with your contact email, then be sure to add a contact link to your menu bar. We won’t expose your email address to spammers, but will send messages from the SmugMug contact form to you. Here’s more info about crafting an effective menu bar.

6) They’re Just Downloading the Photo

Why pay for a photo when you can get it for free? If this thought makes you cringe, then we rest our case. Because SmugMug users come from all walks of life, lots of family use the free download feature to share photos with friends and family. But as a pro, you’d probably prefer cash, so you should double-check that the pictures you’re selling aren’t open for the picking.

How to fix it: Check your image-protection settings to be sure that Originals aren’t enabled in your galleries, which allows any viewer to save a full-res copy to their computers. You can also flip on Right-Click Protection to foil them further.

7) They’re Scared of You

Even if you’re not particularly warm and fuzzy by nature, it pays to be friendly in your most public space. Practice good marketing mojo, and this will be reflected back in the quality of client that hires you. Imbue the text around your site with your own voice and personality, and be sure to guide them each step of the way towards browsing more, reaching out to you, and buying a print.

How to fix it: Our top three picks for warming up your site are (1) your Right-Click Protection message, (2) your gallery description field, and (3) your About page. We’ve always recommended making your Right-Click Protection message helpful, not threatening. The gallery description shows up over your photos and is the first thing they see when they open it, so be sure to greet guests and give them step-by-step instructions on how to buy photos. Combined with your own heroic story on a custom About page, you’ll get fans checking out in no time.

Good luck and happy selling! If you’ve found your own way to troubleshoot slow sales and aren’t afraid to share your tips with fellow pros, we’d love to hear it

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Link roundup:

 

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