Sep 22, 2010

Photographers Challenge

by Mandi Nuttall-Nuttall Photography

Photographers??  Are you ready for a unique challenge that will test your abilities?  Here is a challenge just for you! 

"As a 27 year old mother of 2, my life was just about perfect. My husband loved me, my kids were crazy yet adorable, I felt completely balanced spiritually, and I absolutely loved my job as a photographer. But there was one thing that just wasn't right. I didn't love me. Almost every day I would look in the mirror and pick out something wrong and complain about it. My daughter was only 6 months old and I'm just not one of those moms whose body seems to suck right back together like a slinky a few weeks after giving birth. I didn't recognize the woman I was looking at anymore. My body had changed. I had stretch marks. My hair was falling out. It seemed like I was hoping to walk past the mirror and see my 18 year old athletic body surprise me somehow.  I didn't think I needed an intervention, until the intervention found me. Oh I'm so glad it did.

A local photographer and I had an idea to shoot some head shots of each other to use on our websites and give to our husbands. At first, I brushed it off and didn't really get too excited about the idea. Me? Getting in front of the camera? However, the more I prepared and planned for the session, the more I got into it. I went shopping, made hair and make-up appointments, and tried on my clothes at least ten times. I was getting so excited! My husband was cheering me on, and was so supportive. The day of our shoot was one of the best days I had for myself in such a long time. After I had spent hours getting ready, I took a deep breath and looked in the mirror. I felt beautiful. The shoot was amazing and we got some incredible photos of each other. When I looked at the final photos of myself, something changed. I loved them. I actually loved a photo of me! The same post-partum mother really looked beautiful.

[Photo's of Mandi taken by Camilla Binks]

This experience lit a bonfire inside me. I wanted everyone to feel the way I did and still do. After this experience, I literally threw away my insecurities. I realized that I can get all dolled up, or stay in my sweats for days and still be me - A beautiful woman. It felt so wonderful to spend real, quality time on myself. Even though I had more makeup and hairspray on my head than I have ever had before, I could honestly say the way I look on the outside doesn't define who I am. I am me, and I will always be beautiful no matter what. I really needed this reminder, and every time I look at my photos, I'm flooded with these emotions all over again. My husband quickly had me order a print of his favorite photo and was so excited to put it on his desk at work. My complaining literally stopped and I really was so happy to be me. I also began to take care of myself better. I'm eating better, exercising and gaining even more self confidence than I have ever had before.

I had such a strong desire to share this feeling with my clients and also implement my transformation into my business. Personally, I felt absolutely qualified to help adults raise their self esteem. After receiving my degree in health education, I worked for 3 years as a high school health teacher, and sometimes it seemed that I spent more time counseling my students than really teaching curriculum. I knew that if I could raise the self esteem and self image in teenage kids, I could definitely help adults. In addition to my own experiences and education, I sought the counsel of psychologists, body image therapists, marriage and family counselors, and doctors to help me compile the best possible homework for the clients.

After insane amounts of time of planning, studying, designing and marketing, I introduced to my clients what I have come to call my Beauty Campaign.  Anyone can and should have a beautiful photo of themselves.

A beauty session is so much more than just a photo shoot, it is a journey to rediscover your true beauty. I put my clients through various exercises prior, during, and after their session. Clients are able to confidently say why they are beautiful! The response and feedback I have received is overwhelming. I have seen people change. I have seen an insecure person walk away a with a new found confidence. It is so rewarding to witness such a genuine and beautiful change. I truly want everyone to experience this change.

After this experience, I felt so inspired to introduce this new and fresh idea into the photography world. I realized there was not a photographic purpose calling to the largest market available - anyone over the age of 18. What sort of session is designed for regular people with zero modeling experience of all ages? Parents pay for professional portraits of their newborns, children, and seniors to document their lives...but what about Mom and Dad? Many photographers are rocking Boudoir sessions, and I even thought about getting some done myself, but then what? I would never want anyone but my husband to see them. They would be locked in a safe for no one to see. I wanted my husband to be able to proudly display photos of his wife anywhere. I knew that deep down, everyone wants tasteful photos to give to their spouses to display at work, or a stunning profile picture, or a beautiful photo for their funeral. However, it would take an incredibly confident individual to walk into a studio and ask a photographer to take beautiful photos of them just because. I knew this idea could sell like candy to clients, and spread like wildfire.

I honestly hope everyone can have this experience, but obviously I can't do this alone. Only a few weeks after I announced my beauty campaign, I had photographers across the country asking if they could use the idea in their studios. It was exciting knowing that more photographers could also change the lives of those around them. However, with the same amount of excitement, came even more anxiety. I was worried if photographers started offering beauty sessions, that they would miss the whole point that makes me so passionate about this campaign. There is so much more to these sessions than the hour and a half in front of the camera.

To help ease my anxiety, I have begun to create a workshop and business and marketing kit on DVD sharing all my ideas, documents, techniques, marketing, and vision of the beauty campaign. It is still in the works, and my goal is to have these kits ready to be shipped to photographers everywhere by the end of the year. In the meantime, I would love to give you the #1 most important bit of information for photographers that I will share in my workshop DVDs.

I love the quote, "You never truly know someone until you walk a mile in his shoes." A critical part of the beauty campaign is understanding what your clients are going through. The best way to understand, is to experience it for yourself. That's right. I just challenged you to get in front of the camera. You would think photographers could feel comfortable a few feet away from their cameras. I know it is terrifying to stare through that lens, knowing that black box is capturing all your imperfections. This is what your clients face daily. So give your pointer finger a day off from clicking that shutter and take a day for you. Pamper yourself. Go shopping or golfing. Actually take time to do your hair, and snag a good photographer friend to shoot you. I know I just gave you a simple checklist, but I also know how difficult this checklist can be. Just remember...You are Beautiful. You are beautiful for who you are, what you do, and what you can do. And when you are done, you will have a photo to prove it."

More information regarding Mandi's Beauty Campaign can be found here.


**If you decide to take on this challenge, we invite you to share your masterpieces with us!  Yes, even if you're a male photographer!  We'd also love to hear from you in our comments section- Just to see how many of us are willing to put ourselves out there. 

We will be posting the images that you take of each other in the November issue!  Please share this challenge with your other photographer friends and lets have some fun!!  

Please send your favorite image to, and are due any time before October 31st.  Please label your picture so we know who you are!  And as always, list the name of your photographer! 

Sep 20, 2010

Shooting Food On Location– With a Twist

by Don Giannatti
All images by Don Giannatti

My client called and needed a job turned around right away. Her client needed their entire menu shot for some collateral and web materials and the previous shooter had not been able to do what they needed.

The images had to be attractive enough for menu use, arty enough for the web and collateral and still stay within budget. Well, yeah… there’s always that budget thing. The twist was that we had to do two shots of each dish… one for the menu and one for a more ‘artistic’ collateral piece.

Because of the nature of the food, it was best to do it at one of their locations and luckily enough it was near where I live. I took an afternoon and scouted the store. I wanted to check surfaces since they insisted on using their table surfaces for the shoot. In this case there were several tables that were nearly pristine.

There was also a huge window near a corner of the restaurant that faced east. This window was under a walking area that was covered. At 9 pm the light would stop flowing into the restaurant and we would have soft window light for most of the day.

I decided that we would do the two setups at the restaurant. One for the ‘menu’ type shots and one for the more ‘artsy’ shots as they were described to me.
Norman Pack
2 heads
3 stands
Small softbox
Assorted reflectors
Assorted mirrors
Small sheets of shiny white paper (for cutting into small reflectors)
Gaffer’s tape
Camera Bag
Lighting Bag

We began by setting up the small softbox on the boom and positioning it above and slightly behind the table where the food would be setup. I made sure it was close enough to the kitchen area so we could be quick in getting those shots styled. (You can see a diagram of the light setups farther down the page.

I added a medium sized white fill card to the immediate left of the shot. I let the right side go without any fill so there would be some direction to the light. Even if it was a small amount of fall off, it would let the ingredients have a dimension to them as well as keeping the bowl with a slightly darker side.

Below is a shot we did for the “menu” part of the shoot. It is a dish with some of the ingredients surrounding it for a still life look.

The softbox gives a soft, slightly back light. In front of the set I placed a small white reflector to keep the shadows at bay. It is about 10 inches in front of the set and below camera. Without that reflector, the shadows would be extremely contrasty toward the front.

By keeping the light on a boom, it was also easy for two people to style the images. We had to do the whole menu in one and a half days, so there wasn’t a lot of time.

We placed the bowl in position and then brought the ingredients all around it. I had a staging area for the ingredients and would have the manager get the things needed for each dish ready before it came out. We then were able to move that small amount of things on to the set. I styled it with a classical approach of ‘hero’ and supporters.

Even though I had a tripod for the shoot, I ended up shooting hand held. It was very important to end up with the bowls at about the same perspective and size and that meant moving quickly. After the first couple of shots, I put the tripod away.

For the more artistic of the shots we moved the set over to a table by the window. The tables here had rounded ends, so that gave me some added tonality. Below is the same dish in the second location.

Here I used an 80-200MM L lens at wide open (and long) to shorten the depth of field and make the image more ‘fresh.’ I was using the ambient light from the window and the shutter speed was a little low for my taste. I broke out the tripod for these shots. I had enough room to move the camera around quickly on the tripod so it worked out pretty well. We eventually did some considerable work in post on these… adding text and such.

Coming from a low angle I could get some back light and sculpt the food. I also tilted the horizon and and added fill cards for the contrast. Opening the shadows was important, but it couldn’t be so bright as to diminish the back light thing I had going on. I tried a speedlight for fill, but even at a low power and bounced, it looked too bright.
We settled on two 2×2 white fome core boards held by clamps. One on each side of the dish. You can see them on the lime as it is reflecting the light sources. The boards were easy to whisk away as we moved into each shot.

Here is a lighting diagram for the shoot:

I kept the shoot running smoothly because of the pre-planning that went into it. Scouting and making sure that we could have the run of that part of the restaurant for a couple of days let the manager know that we were cognizant of his need to keep the restaurant open and doing business.

Having the ingredients for each shot one shoot ahead made the styling go quickly as we weren’t waiting for some special ingredient… it was already there.

Here is another shot from the series:

You can see how different the two shots look. One is very traditional, sort of a menu or recipe look to it. And the other has a more fresh, magazine or editorial feel to it. The heavy back light and angled horizon give it a bit of whimsy.

It is important that the food look appetizing at all times. Letting pasta sit for too long makes it look rubbery, and we were constantly rotating the veggies and other items into the fridge so they would not look old and spoiled. In the end a lot of food was prepared and we gave it to customers or ate it ourselves… not wanting to waste it.

I shot a few shots tethered to get the exposures correct and nail them down. After that initial testing, I went to shooting on the cards. I didn’t want the AD to start picking apart every shot and slowing us down. I knew we had what we needed and would of course ‘chimp’ it to make sure.

Shooting food is a lot of fun. It is demanding and can be crazy fast, but it can also be very rewarding when the images make the chef smile and people want to buy the product.

**More on Don Giannatti's Lighting Essentials workshops below.


Sep 1, 2010

Up-close and Personal with Frank Selmo

Photography by Frank Selmo

1) If you could name one defining moment that really sparked your photography fire, what would that be?

[image by Frank Selmo]
"At the age of 10, my father handed me a camera so that I could take some photographs on a school excursion. I wish I could remember the model of the camera, all I remember is that it was a Leica. My father handed me the camera the night before the excursion and asked me to look after it...and I did! For some reason I was in love with this piece of equipment....I also loved the old leather cover it came in too.

On the school bus I was obsessed with my camera....taking photos and learning how to use much so that my friends were annoyed with me. The excursion was to an animal park and I still remember some of the photographs I took and how proud I was of them. Unfortunately I don't know where they are a box in my Mother's basement probably.One photograph was of an eagle cracking open an egg with it's beak. I have to get back to wildlife photography some day".

2) Did you study to become a photographer? If so, where and how long was the program?

"I have been studying all my life to become a photographer....yes I have completed a formal diploma in photography however this is only one piece to the puzzle.

As a child I remember watching people. My parents would ask me to not stare, but I was simply observing human this point in my life I did not know that I would eventually become a photographer and that this observation skill I had refined would come in handy. I believe a good photographer is someone that has the ability to see beyond what the average person sees. A good photographer will anticipate a moment and has the ability to technically capture it. Having taught photography in the TAFE system in Australia, I have come to realize that not everyone has this see all the detail in a scene, to read people and their personality and not just see it as a subject matter. Every scene has a story.... portrait, landscape, architecture and even still life....there's a story in each of these. What I have been learning to do is to tell that story through one image.

I have also trained as a videographer having completed several film making courses....yes I aspired to be a blockbuster movie producer/director, haven't we The courses I completed were with independent film makers that were teaching in order to raise funds to continue their own film making careers.

On top of all that I have trained in graphic design and art. Most of this was on the job with artists, graphic artists and creative mural painters and signwriters....I learned a lot about layout, composition, color etc.

I think the most important thing I've learned, is how to relate to people. 90% of my work is capturing portraits, and that means I must like people and if not then I should!....know how to relax them, entertain them and have fun with them. This is the key to good portrait photography...and this is a skill that you work on all your life....learning to relate and communicate in a way that will give you the greatest results in your photographs. I have developed this skill through social interaction, teaching photography and delivering other motivational courses, but mostly on the job photographing people at weddings. Spend time with children and they will teach you many things that cannot be learned in a classroom".

3) Did anyone, in particular, influence you to become a photographer or influence your work as one?

[image by Frank Selmo]
"I am consistently following other photographers and their careers. I think all photographers can learn from those who have gone before them. Why not learn from their experience? I have recently been impressed with the work of Susan Strippling".

4) In your opinion, what makes a great photograph?

[image by Frank Selmo]
"A great photograph is an image that holds your attention. There are millions if not billions of photographs taken everyday, and the one that tells a story will be the one that makes an impact".

5) Do you have a favorite photograph of all time? (either one of yours or another),,, if so, which one and why?

"I love world war 2 photographs the most. The images from that period capture the essence of the turmoil, hardship, suffering and triumphs. The black and white textures cannot be reproduced even with the most sophisticated technology today. Authentic brilliance in my opinion... Just try it, google war 2".

6) What do you feel are the pros and cons of being a photographer?

[image by Frank Selmo]
"Pros... I love cameras, people, taking photos and editing.
Cons...Photographers work harder and longer hours than people would imagine....oh and the occasional bridezilla!"

7) If you had to classify yourself as a specific kind of photographer, what would that be and why?

"Portrait Photography...specializing in weddings".

Work Flow and Processing

by Amy Leavitt

I always love to hear about how other photographers process their images. I enjoy hearing different ways of doing things - so I thought I'd share my workflow from beginning to end.

**a few notes** I use Photoshop CS4, Adobe Camera Raw, and Adobe Bridge, and I shoot in RAW.

Cull the images. I use Bridge to sort through the whole gallery. Anything I love gets 1 star. I go through it several times to weed out those "just ok" and find the best images from each pose.

I then go through the starred images using Bridge, and color correct in ACR if necessary. The images are then processed using Image Processor in Bridge. It converts the images to JPG and also applies my skin softening action (which uses the Portraiture plug-in). They are then placed in a separate folder within the main gallery folder.  I then edit the images in batches of 6 -10.  Then I crop them to a 5x7 ratio. I try to edit all the images from one sitting or pose for continuity. With three kids, I rarely have time to edit a whole gallery in one sitting, so once a batch of photos are edited, those photos get 3 stars so I know they're done. Here's how I process 90% of my images:

1. I fix any skin issues such as acne, or under eye circles. The best way I have found to fix under eye circles is to use the patch tool, select the dark circle and drag it to a patch of clear skin. Then go to Edit--> Fade Patch Selection, and slide it to around 50-60%. You do NOT want to completely remove the circle because it will look weird. Just soften it a little.

2. Channel Mixer. I LOVE how channel mixer evens out skin tones and seems to fix minor color issues. Image -->Adjustments-->Channel Mixer. Click on the "monochrome" checkbox and set the blending mode to screen, reduce opacity to about 35%. You can play with the adjustment sliders, but I usually go with somewhere around +35 for red, +70 for green and +5 for blue.

3. Soft light layer. Duplicate the background layer by selecting the background layer and hitting Ctrl J (PC) or Command J (Mac). Set the blending mode to soft light and reduce opacity to around 30%.

4. Solid color fill: This seems weird but I love the subtle effect. The blue set at a low opacity gives the photo a subtle haze that I love. At the bottom of the layers panel is a little circle that's half black/half white. Click on it and choose "solid color" at the very top. Pick a muted dark blue. Just trust me on this :) Change the blending mode to "exclusion" and set the opacity to around 20-25%. Exclusion mode basically lowers the contrast slightly and provides a smoothness to the image.

5. Another solid color fill. This one is for warmth in the image. Choose a warm gold color, set the blending mode to "overlay" and reduce opacity to around 20%.

6. High Pass Sharpen. Duplicate the background layer, and choose Filter-->Other-->High Pass. Set the slider so that you just begin to see the edges of the image. I usually set it around 5 or so. Set the blending mode to Overlay and reduce opacity to around 50%.

7. Optional: Select all of the adjustment layers and go to Layers-- >Group Layers. This gives you the control to reduce the opacity of the whole set of steps at once. Some examples of these techniques in action:

Seem like too many steps to do for each image?? No worries! It's easy to create an action that does everything and all you need to do is adjust the sliders of each step to customize each image. That's what I did! The entire effect of my workflow gives my images creamy, smooth skin tones, almost vintage detail of clothing (check out what it does to jeans!), dreamy, hazy backgrounds and an overall pleasing warmth. If I want a hazier feel, I'll lower the opacity of the Soft Light layer and the High Pass layer. If I want stronger contrast, increase those layers. Give it a try! Leave a comment below if you'd like the action and I'll make it available to download on my blog :). Happy editing!