Posts Tagged ‘photog tip of the week’

How to Photograph Lava Without HDR or Photoshop

May 28, 2014 4 comments

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 Credit: Nick Selway/Lava Light Galleries

Photo Credit: Nick Selway/Lava Light Galleries


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.

Volcano images Kilauea Hawaii

Photo Credit: CJ Kale/Lava Light Galleries


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.

Volcano images Kilauea Hawaii

Photo Credit: CJ Kale/Lava Light Galleries


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 Credit: CJ Kale/Lava Light Galleries

Photo Credit: CJ Kale/Lava Light Galleries


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 Credit: Nick Selway/Lava Light Galleries


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 Credit: Nick Selway/Lava Light Galleries

Photo Credit: Nick Selway/Lava Light Galleries


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.

Photo Credit: CJ Kale/Lava Light Galleries

Photo Credit: CJ Kale/Lava Light Galleries


Want more?

Check out the SmugMug Films artist profile of Lava Light below. Thanks for the tips, Nick and CJ!

Find Lava Light online:

Glare Aware: Photographing Portraits of People in Glasses

February 19, 2014 9 comments

This is part 1 of a series of tutorials on how to light reflective subjects and surfaces from Alex Huff is a staff photographer and copy writer for BorrowLenses and has photographed for Sotheby’s, Google, X-Games, and more. In this post, she gives us three major ways to avoid getting glare and reflections when taking portraits of subjects wearing eyeglasses. SmugMug’s own Katherine Cheng and Michael Bonocore served as her bespectacled models.

All example images were lit and shot using the following:

Photographers who are new to lighting will sometimes panic when faced with photographing someone in glasses. Sometimes even seasoned photographers will make more adjustments than necessary to avoid a dreaded reflection. Here are a couple of lighting laws that are easy to remember and will increase your confidence when taking portraits of people wearing eyeglasses.

Angle of Incidence = Angle of Reflection

Light is fairly predictable. A quick review of angles will allow you to capture glare-free specs. In any shoot, there are 3 positions that can be adjusted:

  • The position/angle of your light.
  • The position/angle of your model.
  • Your shooting position.

Often, you only need to move 1 of these to improve eyeglasses portraits. First, let’s get a brief science review out of the way:

Angle of Incidence = Angle of Reflection

Your source of light produces a beam that travels in a straight line. The angle at which a light beam hits an object will reflect light out at that same angle. There are other factors to consider, such as the shape of the surface that is being hit and the size of your light source, but for your purpose you can depend on this rule to get you out of the line of fire when trying to shoot a bespectacled subject.

In the case of eyeglasses, make sure that the angle of the light hitting your subject is different from the angle you are shooting them at. When the light comes bouncing off those eyeglasses, you want it to miss you entirely.

Broad Lighting and Short Lighting

Short lighting is when your light is most illuminating the angle of the face that is further from the camera. Broad lighting is when your light is most illuminating the angle of the face that is closer to the camera. Short lighting is harder to use on subjects wearing glasses than broad lighting.

Why? When you place your light on the far side of a face, glasses are more bluntly facing the light, as illustrated on the left in the diagram above. When the light hits the glass, it bounces off at the same angle that it was hit at and right into your lens. When you place your light on the near side of a face, you hit the glasses at an angle that is more oblique by virtue of them facing slightly away from the light. The angle the light hits them at is now not as likely to bounce back into your camera.

In Figure 1, Katherine’s left side is closest to the camera – even if only slightly. The light is on her right side – the side slightly farther from the camera. This produces short lighting, which often causes reflections in glasses. You can see the green glare just in the corner of her glasses. I can either move the light to her left side or I can ask her to switch sides in her chair.

I decide to have her switch sides in her chair. She is more mobile than my light. In Figure 2, the light is still on her right side but now her right side is also closest to the camera. This is broad lighting and it solves my glare problem.

As you can see in Figures 3 and 4, allowing the light to hit the outer edge of the glasses produces no glare versus when they are hit more bluntly. The slightest change in your model’s position can make a big difference.

Shooting Eyeglasses Straight On

In the example above, I kept my camera and my light stationary and asked my model to move. A good rule to follow for any kind of lighting problem is to only ever change one variable at a time.

It is possible to shoot people in glasses straight on without reflections if you remember your angles. In Figure 5, I am lighting Katherine from a slight angle and even with the eye – the catchlight is almost in the middle of her eye. Shooting this low will always produce glare. Remember, your angle of incidence is equal to the angle of reflection and here the angle going in is almost parallel with the camera.

There are a couple of ways to deal with this problem. One is to tilt the glasses downward on the face of the model or have her tilt her head downward. Sometimes this looks unnatural but it is a good solution for people using the built-in flash on their cameras because there is no other way to move that light.

However, here I choose to move my light. I simply move the light upward and point it downward a little more. In the diagram below, you can see how this allows the light a better chance at reflecting toward the ground and away from the lens.

In Example 6, I have moved the light ever so slightly up. You can still catch a sliver of reflection in her glasses, which can be solved by moving the light up further still. However, there is an upper limit to this method – you don’t want to give your model raccoon eyes or deep eyeglass frame shadows.

Dodging Angles: Shooting from a Different Position

If you like where your light is and you like where your model is and you are getting glare off of something then your last refuge is to change yourself.

In Example 7, I have a situation that can result in a large hot spot against my window. If you observe the angle at which your light is hitting a window, you can predict where it is going to bounce out at, too. Don’t shoot from that angle!

As you can see in Example 8, and in the resulting portraits below, my position as a photographer made a very big difference in lighting and the presence of glare on the window without me changing the position of the light one bit!

This is also good knowledge to have on tap when photographing aquariums, cars, and other reflective surfaces.

The Power of a Face: Directing Your Subject

Sometimes we don’t have a lot of time with our subjects. Michael, in Figure 9, is a very important man who doesn’t have time for me to move my light around. The reflections in his glasses are gasp-worthy. Don’t panic! As you can see, the slightest head tilt solves the problem and allows the light to bounce a little more off of his forehead rather than off of his eyeglasses.


  • The angle that light hits a subject is going to bounce off at the same angle.
  • Lighting on the far side of the face (short lighting) is often more problematic for glasses wearers than lighting on the near side of the face (broad lighting).
  • Make small changes in isolation: change your position, your model’s position/head angle, or your light’s position/angle.

Photographing people in glasses is intimidating. You are forced to consider more than just “what looks good” on your subject in that situation. You have to consider what looks good and what is practical for a crystal clear image unmarred by reflections of umbrellas or green glare. However, if you remember even just one of these tips, it can save your nerves and your shoot.

Thanks so much to our friends over at BorrowLenses for helping us sharpen our skills both in and out of the studio! Check out the other posts they’ve written for our blog, like How to Safely Buy a Used Lens and their review of mirrorless cameras. Stay tuned and watch this space for the next part in this series and be sure to practice, take better pictures and have fun.  

Do You REALLY Need to Buy That New Camera?

February 5, 2014 16 comments

Maybe you didn’t get that dream camera for Christmas, or your current camera is looking a little sad next to the shiny new gadgets that are cramming up your news feeds. Camera equipment is like all other electronics: there’s always going to be something new to market tempting you to part ways with your hard-earned money.

We get it. So we’ve asked around and gathered a few tips to help you avoid the piercing looks of your significant other/financial advisor/wallet.

4 Questions to ask before you make the leap:

1) What’s REALLY out there?

Skip this one if you follow photo news on the internet at all. Before heading off with credit card in hand simply because your friends just upgraded, be sure you do your research. Compare what you have with what’s new and shiny. There’s a wealth of really great information and camera reviews on forums, blogs and review websites. Arm yourself with enough knowledge to make an educated decision on whether or not new equipment will really satisfy your itch.

2) Is there something coming soon that I should wait for?

Some camera companies pre-announce new cameras to build anticipation, and when they do the web will hear about it. Ask around, Google search, or just stop by your local camera shop and talk to a pro. Tech specs should help you determine if it’s something worth holding out and waiting for, or if you’re better off finding something now. You never want to shell out top dollar for something that gets replaced (and discounted) next week.

3) When I shoot, what am I missing?

Is your current kit honestly not up to snuff for the kind of photography you’re doing? Would a long telephoto lens fill a void in your kit bag? What advantage would having better ISO performance give you? Are you tired of hauling your DSLR and 30 lbs of lenses with you? Do you really need more megapixels? Try thinking about why you’ve got that hole in your heart and paring it down to what makes the most impact.

4) Can I change my perspective by using my existing setup in a different way?

We all have our favorite subject: our garden, our kids, our pets. If you’re like most of us, your galleries are full of the same image, different day. In some instances, new kit will help with that. If you’re always photographing your garden, a macro lens might be just the ticket. But in reality, your gear isn’t what makes the shot – your perspective is what really counts. Mix things up a bit and get out of that photography rut with a new angle, a different focal length, or a different theme.

Some Alternatives to Buyer’s Remorse

Rent your dreams

Renting equipment that you’re curious about is a great way to give it a test drive with minimal cost. If your local camera store doesn’t already have a rental service, check out online lenders like Borrowlenses. They’ve got a huge variety of lenses, bodies, lighting and other equipment that you can rent for one day, a weekend, or as long as you wish. Best of all, they’ll ship to your door.

Give gear a second (or third) chance

Just because gear has retired from someone’s bag, that doesn’t mean its life is over. A lot of photographers discover their dream gear isn’t that great a fit, or they’ve just outgrown its use. They’ll sell off well-kept gear and it’s a great opportunity to snap up great equipment at a reasonable price, especially if you’re just getting your feet wet in photography.

Try photography-specific forums like Fred Miranda or Digital Grin, two of many online communities that have entire specific areas for used equipment resale. Be sure to check the forum’s individual rules and user rating systems if you’re worried about receiving your gear or are uncomfortable sending money online. Never done this before? Here’s a few tips on what to look for when buying a new lens.

In Conclusion…

Above all, have fun! Adding to your collection is one of the joys of being a photographer, no matter what you take pictures of or if you take pictures for a living. Because we share that love, we’ve started a (growing) collection of gear reviews from our very own SmugMug cameraholics who rented their dream gear and documented whether they loved it or not.

Check out the first few tripod and lens reviews and keep your eyes on this space – we’ll share new reviews as we publish them!

The Art of Food Photography: How to Take More Delicious Photos

November 14, 2013 Leave a comment

As we roll into another joyous (and tasty) holiday season, we’re ecstatic about sharing our latest how-to by one of our very favorite food bloggers and writers, Brooke MacLay! Brooke is the master chef and mom extraordinaire behind Cheeky Kitchen, and she’s also a word wizard for us here at SmugMug. She whipped up a delicious behind-the-scenes look at how she juggles her deadlines, shopping, baking, styling and her hungry kids to produce some of the most scrumptious-looking photos in a timely manner.

Bloopers most certainly included.

SmugMug writer Brooke MacLay's food styling tips

SmugMug writer Brooke MacLay's food photography tips

SmugMug food styling and photography tips

Cheeky Kitchen and SmugMug writer Brooke MacLay's food photography

Read the full writeup over on our education site, and start taking your food photos to the next level this holiday season!

Small Cameras with Big Impact: Traveling Light without Compromising Quality

October 8, 2013 6 comments

Good news for all you holiday travelers and gift buyers! Mirrorless cameras are gaining in popularity and may be the perfect option for just about anyone who wants a powerful camera in a smaller package. Our friends over at Borrowlenses put their expertise at work to help you pick out which model may be right for you… or your lucky giftee. 

Reblogged by permission from

Don’t get us wrong – we LOVE our big cameras, especially those pro bodies with huge, high-quality glass. Lugging it around, however, is not so ideal – especially while on vacation or during situations where there just isn’t a lot of room to shoot.

High-quality sensors are coming in smaller and smaller form factors, which is good news for globe-trekking photographers or for those who simply need to pack lightly. These small cameras are perfect for:

  • Hiking to get that great sunrise/sunset shot from a high vantage.
  • Inconspicuously taking candids out on the street.
  • Using auto or fully-manual settings on a simplified system.

Here are 5 recommended small cameras with incredible image quality:

These full frame cameras sport 24 MP sensors and fixed 35mm f/2.0 Carl Zeiss lenses. They shoot full HD 1080p video and have incredible low-light performance. The “R” version lacks an optical low-pass filter, which is ideal for catching extra detail in landscape shooting. The only bummer about these? You’re stuck with that lens. However, on the full frame sensor the 35mm is a great walking-around focal length and the all-metal Zeiss construction is top notch. Another great small-form-factor offering from Sony is their NEX series of mirrorless cameras (with some sample images here)

Plus, the RX series is just lovely looking.

This retro-looking, handsomely-built micro four thirds camera does full HD 1080p video and shoots stills up to 9 FPS on its 16MP sensor. It is very slim and yet still accepts interchangeable lenses, like the fast 17mm f/1.8 M.ZUIKO. Many of our street photographers extol the virtues of this camera.

Another retro beauty, the X100s comes equipped with film simulations, a fast 23mm fixed lens, and a 16MP sensor. It also shoots full HD video and supports a hybrid optical/electronic viewfinder. Don’t like the idea of a fixed lens? Try out the Fuji X-Pro 1 instead. It shoots RAW, sports cool analog dials and pairs with the following lenses: Fuji XF 18mm f/2.0 RFuji XF 35mm f/1.4Fuji XF 60mm f/2.4 R Macro, and the XF 27mm f/2.8. More info on the Fuji X100s here.

Canon’s first mirrorless system allows you to use this diminutive body with any Canon lens with the help of an EF to EF-M adapter. It’s equipped with Canon’s latest DIGIC 5 Image Processor and an 18 MP sensor. Don’t want to mess with an adapter? Rent the M-compatible EF-M 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 STM lens, which includes the new Stepping Motor technology that can auto-focus quietly and provide continuous tracking of a moving subject. The rental of the Canon EOS-M automatically comes with a 22mm EF-M f/2 STM lens.

This defeats the purpose of using the Canon EOS-M for its size but, with the adapter, you CAN do this. Which is sort of awesome.

While only supporting a 10MP sensor, the Nikon V1 is one of the quickest shooters in the small-camera world with 10 FPS bursts in autofocus mode. It’s CX mount offers a variety of tiny (TINY!) lenses, such as the Nikon 1 Nikkor 10mm f/2.8 and the Nikon 1 Nikkor 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6. It can also shoot interesting and effective slow motion footage (up to 1200 FPS) at 320×120.

The Leica M9 is kind of a different beast being the only rangefinder in this bunch. It has a “range-finding” focusing mechanism that shows two images of the same subject, one of which moves when a calibrated wheel is turned and the two images coincide and fuse into one. It is a wholly different way of focusing on your subject and takes some getting used to.  It is full frame, 18MP, and has that satisfyingly retro-sounding (and discreet) metal blade-style shutter. Pairs with a decently large range of lenses. Check out Rolling Stone contributor, Drew Gurian’s, sample images from our Lecia M9.

All of these cameras have the option of shooting in fully manual mode, so you do not have to give up creative control to carry a lighter load. Simply toss one of these in your day bag knowing that you can travel comfortably toward your next unique shot.

The Great Pricing Hoax

February 15, 2012 41 comments

No sales? Hard time hooking clients? Your deep-discount pricing could be choking your reputation.

It’s not uncommon to offer your services at cut-rate discount with the hope that you’ll snap up eager bargain-hunters. But is this really the right approach?

Successful Pros agree that raising your pricing may not necessarily scare away potential clients – in fact, it’ll do a body good. Here’s why.

That sounds backwards…

Photo by Adriana Klas Photography

“Cheap” sets bad expectations for your clients. If you’re a cheap photographer, clients wonder how you’re cutting costs so much, and if it’s worth it for them to take the risk. They question your ability to manage expectations and communicate with them. Will you effectively guide them through an important experience, or will you simply fire a few snaps, hand over a CD and call it a day?

“Cheap” makes you look as though you don’t think you’re any good. Any business owner who doesn’t think their brand’s the best is probably in the wrong business.

How to Not Be Expensive

Photo by Adriana Klas Photography

Right about now you’re probably worried about scaring away clients by being too expensive. How do your clients really know what “expensive” really is? It’s all about pricing and a concept called anchoring – meaning that they have to compare the value of something new with something familiar.

In English: Clients will be able to better grasp the value of your work by judging their interaction with you.

Here are some tips to help you prove that your work is worth every penny:

  • Create a unified brand.  A clean website. Clearly placed information. A custom domain and email address goes a long way, too.
  • Be professional. Be prompt, cordial, and friendly. You provide a quality service, which is worth paying for.
  • Look and act the part. No one is going to pay $5k to a schlup wearing ketchup-stained t-shirts, particularly if they show up late and forget to bring the paperwork!

How to do the “Free” Thing (the right way)

Photo by Sphynge Photography

Just because you should be paid fairly for your work doesn’t mean you can’t cut clients a break, or even do the “free” thing once in a while. Samples are a great way to give clients a nibble of what you do do without giving away the whole farm. Some quick ideas of how to work this into your model:

Model 1 - Waive your session fee, but be sure to charge for prints and digital downloads.

Model 2 - Apply the sitting fee towards the purchase of digital downloads, making the first (X number) free.

On SmugMug, it’s so easy to offer a few deep discounts by creating a custom Coupon to hand out. There are five different types, making sure that you can keep changing it up and keeping it interesting. How to use Coupons.

Get it? Got it? Good.

Calculate Your Costs to Avoid Going Broke

Photo by Sphynge Photography

The reason most photography businesses don’t survive is because their owners didn’t properly calculate their costs. And as the old adage goes, time is money. Don’t forget that your time and expertise are more precious than replaceable objects like paper and gear; you can hire assistants but they aren’t you. (Yes, it’s our mission to make you feel like a million bucks!)

Here are our suggested guidelines for calculating your costs:

  • For prints: Your pricing should be not less than 4x your hard costs, including packaging and shipping. Seem like a lot? It’s not – about half of your balance goes towards taxes, 1/5th of goes towards the base cost of the item and the rest goes towards (ta-daa!) your profit.
  • Albums and multi-photo goods: Your pricing should be no less than 3x your hard costs, which may include design work as well as the physical cost of the product.
  • For Downloads: Price your larger-than-web-sized digital downloads at no less than the cost of ten prints. Giving away images at any printable size means you have to make it worth your while: They will use that file to print lots of prints, and you also run the risk of having your brand diluted if your client opens Photoshop and makes their own digital adjustments. Check out our resolution chart to find out how big they can print.

The Bottom Line

Don’t be afraid to charge a fair price for your work. By understanding your costs and charging more, you’re sending a stronger message to your clients and ensuring that they value you, too.

If you’re already in business and think your prices needs a kick, remember that it’s simple to adjust your pricing using Pricelists. Look here to see how they work, and don’t forget to ping our Support Heroes if you get stuck.

Wanna keep talking about pricing? Never forget that our photo forum, Digital Grin, has a whole section dedicated to the art of turning your photos into money. Check out our Mind Your Own Business section here and post away. Or just voice your thoughts in a comment below.

Good luck and stay tuned! We’ll be sharing more tips and “best practices” for you, soon.


Links you’ll love:

Photog Tip of the Week: Five Tips for Dramatic Adventure Photos with John and Kelsey of Azimuth Photo

May 3, 2011 1 comment

John Borland and Kelsey Gray of Azimuth Adventure really know how to get the adrenaline going. They’ll climb anything that stands still, which can provide truly incredible and unique perspectives for photography. Since summer is quickly approaching and you’ll soon be planning your own outdoor thrills (maybe free climbing in Yosemite!), we thought a few tips might come in handy.

Rock climbing and photography go hand in hand. By its very nature, climbing puts a person in a rare position with a unique perspective of humans interacting directly with the earth itself, pushing limits and performing amazing feats while often surrounded by some of the greatest scenic views on the planet.

It’s not easy though: getting in position for the shot often requires technical skills and experience only acquired by many years of practice and instruction. To keep this short, we’ll forgo the knot tying and anchor rigging and just stick with a few of the simple tips and tricks that will make it a little easier for readers to bring home a fantastic piece of adventure!

#1: Be There and Have the Gear

The single most critical tip for getting great climbing photos is simply to put yourself through as many adventures as possible and ALWAYS have your camera on your person and accessible, no matter how difficult the terrain or weather becomes.

A small dedicated camera bag is perfect for this. Every climber’s preference is different, but between the two of us our favorites are a fanny-pack style bag large enough to hold a body and a lens or two, or a small lightweight backpack style that can be unslung easily to access your gear. Whatever you use, make sure it has a rain cover and is durable enough to take the abuse that will inevitably come.

#2: Get High and Think Ahead

Getting above or at the same level as the climber is critical to avoid the dreaded “butt-shot”. Additionally, positioning yourself with a perspective that puts the action in front of a beautiful backdrop or some interesting rock features and textures will immediately set the stage for a great shot.

#3: The World Is Not Flat

Get creative with your composition. Often a slight rotation to shift the “horizons” of the cliff and ground is just what is needed to add a sense of depth. The unconventional framing can also emphasize a tiny detail that would otherwise be missed.

#4: Climb, Climb, Climb

The more you get out there and perfect your own system of rigging and shooting in vertical terrain, the easier it will be to take  more winning photos to bring home.

#5: SHARE!

And finally, we’ll leave you with perhaps the most important part of climbing photography, and one which SmugMug helps with enormously: Share your photos with the world!

- John and Kelsey

Photog Tip of the Week: Color Calibration with cabbey

April 27, 2011 7 comments

Today’s Photog Tip of the Week is presented by cabbey, landscape & fine art photographer, and one of SmugMug’s back-end engineers. He’s usually up to his elbows in the code that sends your orders to the labs and your profits to your bank, but this week he’s sharing a tip for all you photographers who want to be sure you’re getting the best possible prints. It’s easier than it sounds, so take a look below.

But it looked good on my screen!

Let’s say you take a picture of your son and the camera does everything perfectly in terms of white balance and exposure. You used Ann’s tips from a few weeks ago to make sure the image is properly exposed, something akin to the image on the left below.

Next, you downloaded that image and loaded it onto your computer. But your computer’s monitor is NOT calibrated, and like many monitors your photo suddenly looks too red and way too bright. As a result, you saw that your image look a bit off, like the middle image below.

To correct this, you fixed it in Photoshop until it looked good again, back to looking like the original image. When you were done, you uploaded it to SmugMug and ordered a print… and received something that looks really dark and weirdly tinted a blueish green color (cyan here), depending on exactly what your monitor came from the factory like, it could be anywhere along the blue to green area of the spectrum:

Why did the lab ruin my image?

They didn’t! The problem is that monitors are generally made for office tasks, not photography. The manufacturers give you the brightest display possible with the most punchy red they can produce.

As a result, any time you process your photos on an uncalibrated display, you’re making your image considerably darker and turning down the red cast, skewing everything towards cyan. The third image above is what your finished photo actually looks like and the lab faithfully printed exactly what you sent them.

Why calibrate?

You’ll get better prints and happier customers the first time and every time without having to fall back on SmugMug’s 100% print guarantee. The top 3 correctable problems that land in our Help Desk inbox are:

1. The prints are too dark

“In my experience, most of the monitors I’ve calibrated, new or old, are about 2 stops too bright.” — Tyree, SmugMug Color Correction Hero

2. The prints have a weird color cast

“That was a white dress!!” — Unhappy Mother of the Bride

3. Their skin looks too red

“Why does my father-in-law look like a lobster?!”— Furious Husband

There is a great help page about return rates that shows what gets returned and why. The top 6 reasons are all solvable by using a properly color managed workflow.

How do I do it?

Exactly how you do it depends on what gear you buy. There are a number of different choices, but the leaders of the pack are: Datacolor’s Spyder and X-Rite’s ColorMunki or i1 line.

In general, you’ll need a colorimeter or spectrophotometer (fancy words, but they basically mean a special device you can put on your screen and plug into a USB port) and a piece of software which usually comes bundled with it. The software will put your monitor through its paces while you have the meter on it, then it uses the information to build an output profile for your screen.

With that resulting profile, any software that cares about a properly color managed workflow can properly display accurate colors on your screen. Since monitors’ color accuracy varies over the lifetime of the display, it’s important to update the profile periodically, at least every month or two. Most of the above programs will remind you when it’s time to re-profile your display.

I usually just kick it off and then go to lunch. When I come back, it’s done and I don’t have to worry about it for another couple of months.

Don’t forget that you can also get a calibration print right here. With that print in hand, you can bring the calibration image up in your editor of choice and see just how much closer a calibrated workflow makes it look on your monitor. The closer it is, the closer your images will be when you’re editing them.

Bay Photo Color Correction: One click to save them all

Pros can always print through Bay Photo, whose color correction services are always done by hand. It costs just a little more but it can save you time at your desk, or headaches if you just don’t feel like fiddling with your computer.

Find that option on the Set Prices area, in the upper right corner of the pricing box.

Go the bargain route

Most operating systems have a sort of “eyeball” calibration you can do that will at least get you started. They aren’t as accurate and they depend on your eyes making decisions, so be aware that this may not work for everyone.

On a Mac, use Spotlight to launch “Display Calibrator Assistant”. (Hit  ⌘⃣–space to get spotlight, then start typing that name.)

Once it opens, just follow the steps:

On Windows, search in the control panel for “display calibration” and, again, follow the steps:

Welcome to the (accurately) multi-colored nirvāna that is a calibrated workflow! Remember that even if you don’t get everything set perfectly, we’ve got a 100% guarantee on every print order and our Color Specialists are always happy to help you out.

— cabbey

Photog Tip of the Week: Cleaning Your Lenses with

April 12, 2011 24 comments
Today’s Photog Tip of the Week comes from our friends at They’re the perfect service for any photographer who wants to try before they buy, or for getting that special lens rental for a single assignment, event or trip. Best of all, Smuggers get a discount off any rental through ClubSmug. Your loaner arrives brand-spankingly clean, because keeping glass in good working order is a hallmark of their business.

We all know lenses must be kept clean to ensure maximum performance, but what’s the right way to clean a lens? Here at BorrowLenses we do hundreds of these each day, so we have some experience with this subject. Here’s how we do it.

Three things you’ll need:

Compressed air – We use air compressors from Home Depot (<$100) but the smallest compressor you can find is likely up to the task. If you don’t want to splurge on a compressor, there are the ubiquitous cans of compressed air available at any computer store. When using these cans always keep the can level and upright to avoid blowing its liquid propellant onto your lens elements. These chemicals can do weird and potentially harmful things to lens coatings, so please be careful. If you want to avoid chemicals all together, get a bike pump style canister that you pump up then use, or try a simple manual pump like a Giottos Rocket Blower.

Lens cloth – Our favorites are cheap, Promaster-branded microfiber cloths. You’ll notice that some types feel very slick and smooth against the glass and others gain some traction and drag more. We like the kind that has some drag and feels sticky against clean glass.

Cleaning fluid – You shouldn’t need any cleaning fluid except for the most stubborn and difficult cases. Again, we like the Promaster brand because it’s cheap and cheerful. The stuff we use comes in a clear plastic bottle with a pump atomizer spraying attachment.

Your lens is dirty. Now what?

It’s now time to touch the front element of your lens and clean it. If you are worried about rubbing the coating off, don’t be. We’ve never seen it happen, ever.

To clean a lens’ front element all you need is a set of lungs and a lens cloth.

1. Breathe on the lens enough to fog the whole element, then wipe the lens with a good amount of force in a circular fashion. You’ll likely be left with a smudge where your wipe stopped and some junk around the edge where the glass meets the body.

2. Make a little point with the cloth, breathe on the lens again and wipe the edge in one 360+ degree motion. Now you should be left with a mostly clean lens.

3. Now repeat the wipes, but with ever decreasing pressure. The last few swipes should be done very lightly. The trick is to buff the lens, which will pick junk up rather than moving it around forever. Keep rearranging the cloth so that you are using a virgin bit of material and not re-contaminating your almost-clean glass.

4. The final step is examining – and cleaning – both front and rear caps thoroughly before affixing them to your now-clean lens. A dirty cap will undo all your hard work in an instant, so examine both caps closely, blow on them from many angles with compressed air and only when you are certain they are clean can you affix them to your lens. If you use a UV filter, also make sure it is clean before you put it back on.

And with that, we’re finished. If you enjoyed that you should consider working for – You could be cleaning gear all day long and getting paid to do it!

Photog Tip of the Week: Talking to Your Clients with Tyree Phillips

April 5, 2011 4 comments

This week’s Photog Tip of the Week comes from Support Hero, print specialist, Lightroom whiz and studio photographer, Tyree Phillips. Lots of Pros love to shoot in the wild but sometimes the idea of getting a client comfortably into your space can seem a daunting task. Here’s some guidance to help you get your gigs off the ground.

Start them off at ease

Whether your client is a family, model, high school senior or musician, the most important skill a photographer can possess is how to speak to your client. This process actually starts long before the shoot, beginning with the very first contact you have with the client.

Making them comfortable before the shoot goes a long way to ensure the session will go smoothly and great images can be shot. When you first talk with your clients, listen to what they are saying and tailor the conversation to their needs. Present your product in a concise but informative manner. This isn’t about selling yourself to the client; they’ve already contacted you to book the session! Make them comfortable so they know they’re in good hands.

So, how do we do this? I have found the more you can describe the session to the client, the more at ease they are when they arrive at the studio. Taking away the unknown or the mystery of the photo session helps put the client at ease because they now know what to expect.

Find out a little about the client and what their interests are. Use this information to place the client at ease. You can ask them to think about their kids, spouses, pets or anything else they have said to you. You’ll notice a relaxed client with a natural smile and body language which will make for a more natural looking and less posed image. These little things can really make a difference in your images!

Having a shoot list is a great way to go. This is nothing more than a outline for the session and should include the number of changes or ‘looks’, how long each look will be photographed, the types of poses, and props to be used, if any. This helps to keep the session moving and on track in terms of time.

You’re the director

When the client(s) arrive, I like to take them through the studio and show what happens when strobes fire. Some folks won’t be used to this so it is a good idea to let them hear and see the strobes and get used to the environment.

Usually wardrobe and backgrounds are discussed before they walk in the door, so the studio should be set up and ready to go for the day of the shoot.

Once the client enters the set, direct them with simple commands. Commands like tilt your head, chin up or down, rotate, smile, and show me teeth, are commands that are understandable to most folks. Go over the commands you plan to use when the session starts. The client doesn’t need to remember them, but they will perform better if they are made aware of the types of commands you plan to use.

You would think photographing musicians that are used to being on stage would be a breeze, but they can be most difficult subjects to photograph away from the stage setting. Having props on the set from guitars or saxes to a full blown keyboard rig or drum kit helps to put those clients at ease.

Clients like models that are used to being in front of the camera respond to visual poses. I find myself posing them by doing the pose in front of them, and then they can visually copy the pose. You can have fun with this because the client will surely laugh at you posing… but it takes away their anxiety, makes them less self conscious and you’ll get the shot you were looking for.

Stay confident!

Always tell the client they’re doing well, even if you’re not sure they are. Use adjectives like “great”, “wonderful“, “gorgeous“, “very nice” or “awesome!” to make the client feel good about what they’re doing. You’ll find that by staying positive, any apprehension they have decreases.

Developing good communication skills keeps the session light and fun and – most importantly – ensures the client’s experience is enjoyable. The images will be great and they’ll book you again.

- Ty


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