Monday, September 23, 2013

Photo Asylum 101: Five Types Of Weather. If You Don't Like The Shooting Conditions In Florida, Just Wait A Few Minutes...

"If you don't like the weather in New England, just wait a few minutes..."  

~Mark Twain


Obviously, my post title today playfully paraphrases the famous humorist, as I believe his quote most definitely applies to the Sunshine State as well.

I have never believed that there is a single perfect type of weather for outdoor photography. That's a myth that tends to be passed around more by beginners and hobbyists than professionals. I love all kinds of weather, have shot in all kinds of weather, and have learned that all kinds of weather have their advantages and challenges, and all can be "perfect" for what I shoot most: fashion and portrait.

From an artistic standpoint, I break down the weather for my outdoor shoots into five basic types:
full sun - partly cloudy - partly sunny - overcast - rain
Yeah, I know, it doesn't take a genius to figure this out. In fact, I seriously doubt I'm telling you anything you do not already know. Still, sometimes one needs to explain useful things by first being a master of the obvious. I like starting points that everyone can relate to.

My real message is this: to better your craft, you need to try to understand how photographic elements such as light, shadows, contrast, brightness range, color, tonality, and detail are determined and affected by the various types of weather.

As far as I'm concerned, there are two major factors when dealing with the weather. One is in the previsualization, or planning stage of a shoot. I have many different photo ideas that are particularly suited to specific types of weather and outdoor lighting. Even when I use a flash on location, I still consider the general scene illumination from the sun and sky when I figure out how to set up a shot.

The second factor, and this is probably a much more needed skill for a shooter, is to understand how to change set ups and technique at the drop of a hat when weather conditions are different or change quickly from what you had originally planned. You shouldn't just have a Plan B, but also a C, D, and E, depending on what you encounter and how it evolves.

Not only can you learn to use this to your advantage when you plan the looks and style of your shots, often pairing image ideas to the existing weather conditions on location, but more importantly, you eventually realize you can adapt to weather that is volatile and quickly changing without having a nervous breakdown on the set.  Those of you (like me) who shoot outside in Florida know exactly what I mean.

This confidence of handling whatever big momma nature throws at you becomes much more important if your goal is to shoot commercial work, where budget or time constraints often mean scheduling a reshoot is not an option.

Don't be fooled by those who only define professional based on the style or quality of someone's work. Sometimes, especially in the eyes of a client, the only factor that makes someone "professional" is that they come through with the goods: they deliver a promised product on time without making excuses.

My mantra has always been this: the more bad habits and mistakes you can remove from your shooting, the higher the quality of your work will be. Knowing how to recognize and work in various types of weather almost automatically improves your shooting. It will certainly make you more professional and reliable.

What follows is a mix of images, some of which I planned and waited for a specific type of sky and light, some of which I simply looked at what I was getting at the time, and set up and shot accordingly.

full sun
I actually don't encounter this too often in my neck of the woods. I'm a cloud guy at heart, and very thankful that Florida usually offers a dazzling array of fluffy white in all shapes, sizes, and colors, especially in the summer. Still, from time to time, whoops...there it is. Nothing but clear blue sky. So, I use it, and by that I mean I try to darken my skies a bit to give them a decent level of color saturation. This may mean underexposing a tad, or shooting multiple exposures to do an HDR effect, or burning the image in post. For me, plain blue skies are bad enough, but plain white skies are far worse.

Unless you live in an area with a lot of air pollution, you will always get bright directional light with stark shadows. This graphic style can be used to great effect, with shadow play pretty much determined by the time of day and the angle of the sun.

Plain, cloudless skies may seem boring, but sometimes they add to a scene. In this shot, I intentionally centered the horizon against conventional wisdom to create an almost mirror effect between the sky and the water. The SeaRey aircraft breaks up the symmetry nicely. it also hints at the stunning view a pilot must get flying around on a clear day. Photo for Lake & Sumter Style Magazine.
partly cloudy
Partly cloudy is what most of us will get a lot of the time, depending of course, on the time of year and the time of day. In Florida, I can often do a 360° and find different cloud coverage in different parts of the sky. It's usually not too hard to find a patch of blue that is mostly sunny. Partly cloudy skies have a normal or average feel to them for obvious reasons: not as empty as cloudless, not nearly as exciting as dramatic storm clouds.

I like partly cloudy skies when I'm shooting lifestyle or traditional environmental/outdoor portraits where I don't want the sky to distract too much from the subject in the shot. As you can see from these examples, sometimes pleasant is just right.

Sometimes it's good to be lucky, especially if reshooting is a pain. For this story on Central Florida cowboys, I spent most of the afternoon riding around on a jeep with no real game plan, just taking spontaneous shots of life on a working ranch. Both I and magazine Creative Director Steve Codraro were thrilled that at the end of the day, I captured this "Marlboro Man" portrait of cowboy Coy Mueller that ended up as a cover. Nearly any kind of sky would have sufficed, but I really preferred a late afternoon sun with just a hint of clouds in the background. For once, nature cooperated. Location: Oxford, Florida.

Another good example of the photo gods smiling on me. This cover shot for Lake & Sumter Style Magazine was done far enough ahead of my deadline that I could have reshot if needed. I treated it as a full-blown fashion shoot and I had the luxury of including a rain date if the weather/lighting wasn't right. Fortunately, it was. Everything was exactly as I had visualized it when I first planned the shot. A few small wisps of colorful clouds was all I wanted to break up the lazy sky. A ton of large, highly dramatic, ginormous storm clouds in the background would have distracted visually from our beautiful model.  Model: Gloriann Brogden. Hair: Ryan Bogard. MUA: Kristin Moulton. Creative Director: Steve Codraro. Location: Mount Dora, Florida.
partly sunny
Partly sunny, or mostly cloudy (if you like to play with semantics) is also very typical in Florida in the summer. In my book, that doesn't mean there is no direct sunlight or brightness in the sky, it simply means there are a lot of clouds out there. And depending on the wind, they might be moving all over the place, including covering all or part of the sun, just not for very long. So a lot of times this becomes a game. I meter often, and prepare to change my camera settings to match the light. I'm speaking, of course, about shooting on manual, which I almost always do. If you use a priority mode, your life may be a bit easier.

Still, quickness has its virtues (as does patience) to get the shot to look the way you want or planned. I tend to be stubborn that way. If I picture specular light in my mind, I want direct illumination. If I'm thinking diffused, I'll wait for the light to get softer. Hopefully, we all find a way of working that suits our style and partly sunny skies has a little something for everyone.

Partly sunny mean a lot of clouds, which are often unpredictable. As the sun peeks in and out, your exposure changes, and that can be a challenge. Frequent metering is a must. Here I simply go with the flow, shooting model Robert Pate in business attire using the emerging sun as a giant key light. I take advantage of the multiple clouds and add them as elements in the window reflection. Fashion test. Location: downtown Orlando.

Overcast can mean a lot of things. Again, semantics. What I mean are flat gray cloudy skies that remove the blue sky and direct sunlight from the equation. This is not the same as a white sky caused by overexposing the scene on a bright, sunny day. On overcast days, your subjects will be bathed in a beautiful soft light, contrast will also be soft, colors can actually be vivid, and most importantly, image details will be at a maximum, as the brightness range will be compressed.

Where I live, you cannot depend on this type of sky. Some days it is just there. With that in mind, I always have a plan or idea to setup and shoot when I know there will be no hard shadows. Often it doesn't matter, but there are times when that style is much more emotional, melancholy, or even romantic. I may use very weather-specific wardrobe or props to take advantage of the low contrast and increase in image detail.

Completely overcast skies make it a whole new ball game. Think of the sky as a huge soft box overhead adding a massive diffused light to your scene. That can be amazing if it's what you want. Now, I was going to shoot this idea no matter what the weather, as it was our only chance to work with a monstrous Chinese dragon, but when I realized there would be no direct sun, I decided on a colder and more moody vibe to the photo. The low shooting angle gave it scale, and the soft shadows meant the composition and muted colors would dominate the image. Fashion test. Model: Lindsey Palmer, Elite Atlanta. Hair: Lori Jurgensen. MUA: Sophie Loock. Location: Splendid China, Florida.
I'm going to lump rain and heavy dramatic clouds together as they are often both there at the same time. As many of you have discovered, it only takes the blink of an eye to go from a majestic backdrop for your scene to a torrential downpour that threatens to ruin everything, including expensive equipment.

I won't address actually shooting in heavy rain, as up to this point in my career, I can't really remember ever doing that. For anything that involves a lot of time and work on styling, hair, and makeup, when the rains come, I call timeout and we wait. Or move indoors to shoot. Or reschedule. 

Don't get me wrong. I love the rain. As a person. Love rainy days, especially when I lived by the ocean. Love being out in the rain. It just doesn't seem to mix with my photography, though. Maybe as I get further into filmmaking, I'll decide to shoot rain scenes, you know, for the drama and emotion. Until then...

Still, a few drops never killed anyone, and many times (again depending on the wind) a light sprinkle will come and go as you shoot. And come and go. And...well, you get the idea. 

If you find yourself in these kinds of conditions and situations, you should really develop a sort of fire drill that gets your crew (and model and wardrobe) in and out of the moisture as quickly as possible. You also should have a game plan if you decide you want to work in a light rain, making sure everyone knows how to keep the gear and talent as dry as possible. Time is money, and wasted time is a photographer's enemy. A little forethought and talking to those working with you on a shoot ahead of time goes a long way. It may make the difference between a complete washout (pun intended) where nothing is accomplished, or ultimately being productive.

Don't be fooled by the glint of sunshine sneaking through in this behind-the-scenes photo. This late afternoon in Central Florida was almost completely cloudy. So, not only were we running out of daylight, but guess what? It started raining as we tried to work! A photographer's nightmare. Harpist Nici Haerter was not only extremely professional, but actually refused to take her expensive, beautifully carved wooden instrument out of the light rain because she knew we needed to get the shot! As you can see, she decided to cover it with a towel until I was ready to shoot. Photo for Pulse Magazine. Hair: Ryan Bogard. Location: Eustis, Florida.
So, you see what I did? I started off with a handful of mundane comments you all figured you knew all about. Then, as I added details and situations and all kinds of good stuff you need to consider to create really strong photos, hopefully I made you realize things are often not as simply as they seem, and circumstances can change in an instant. You need to learn to be ready, and adapt.

Trust me, all it takes is screwing up even one commercial or personal shoot because of a weather condition you didn't even consider, and you'll find you'll start taking something the average person takes for granted much more seriously. I hope I helped...

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Look Ma! No photos! What the???

As I take a quick look back at some of my blog posts, I can't help but notice that a whole slew of them are simply written themes or ideas without any accompanying images. Obviously, this was not planned, and I know a photographer's blog should be very visual, but there are several good reasons for this.

The main one is time. Some of the ideas I've had for posts were just short thoughts or announcements that I wanted to post immediately due to their time-sensitive nature.  Not only did they not especially need photos to go with them, but (at least for me) editing images to add to a post is time-consuming.

Because of this, it seems I've been putting off many of my more extensive and interesting ideas and tutorials because I haven't taken the time to arrange and edit the many photo examples I need to illustrate what I'm trying to say or get across.

So, I guess what I'm trying to say is I will make it a priority to start posting ideas and topics that include a variety of pretty cool images to clearly show what I'm saying.

After all, isn't that really whatchu whatchu whatchu want???

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Then One Day The Smithsonian Called: Why You Should Always Save And Archive Your Work!

Well, it took a while, but one of my photos is finally in the Smithsonian.

It's true. I tell you no lie...

Now, it is not in the permanent collection and on display in a museum in Washington, DC for all the world to see. I wish. Rather, it's a portrait I shot of painter Carlos Alfonzo in December, 1990, originally appearing in the publication Miami New Times Newspaper. And it will be used as part of a printed catalog to coincide with the exhibit:

 Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art.

My photo of artist Carlos Alfonso (Cuban, 1950-1991) in his Miami studio, 1990.
Now, I am not the most organized guy in the world, and when it comes to my photography, I have a whole mish-mash of storage systems. Most of my digital work is, of course, logically filed on hard drives and on discs. Oh, and for the most part, key worded. Finding things in the computer age is not usually a problem.

It's my film originals that I probably need to work on a bit. Fortunately, many of my older negatives are neatly stored in chronological order in binders with their labeled proof sheets, and yes, the bulk of my color film slides are in boxes or pages, generally safe, in one searchable place.

Good thing, too.

Because one fine day, I was minding my own business, when out-of-the-blue came an email from an Emma Stratton, Permissions Coordinator, Smithsonian American Art Museum. Now when Ms. Stratton comes a calling on behalf of the Smithsonian, you pay attention.

And so, I paid attention...

And what she asked me oh-so-politely was if she could use my image of Alfonso for the upcoming Smithsonian exhibition catalog. Luckily, she had seen it used before in another catalog for another exhibition at the Miami Art Museum in 1997.

Obviously, I said yes. That was the easy part...

So, after agreeing to the deal, and excitedly shouting to anyone within earshot, I actually had to get down to business. I needed to track down the original negative, make a quality scan, create a digital file in photoshop, edit and retouch that file, then output it in a size and format that met their specifications for the printed catalog. Oh, and get it to them.

All on deadline...

In the end, it was not all that difficult, but without finding that original negative fairly quickly, I most likely would have been screwed.

Which brings me to my point: you need to develop a system of organizing and cataloging your images as you go along. Something that makes sense when you're trying to find an individual photo many many years after it's been shot.

Now, I had no way of knowing that Carlos Alfonso would sadly die not long after he sat for my camera. Nor could I ever imagine what his place and fame would be in the context of Hispanic and American art, or what the demand would be for a picture of him many years later.

But, because I was disciplined enough over the years to keep most of the rolls of film I shot together in pages with their proof sheets in books chronologically in a protected cabinet, I immediately and confidently told Emma Stratton I could send her artwork. I knew it would not take me long to find the negatives from our 1990 portrait session, even in the year 2013, and it didn't.

In this digital age, it is very tempting to simply live for the moment, shoot what we want when we want, and assume the computer will keep it all organized. In a perfect world, maybe, but if you value your work, you really owe it to yourself to pay much more attention to organizing and archiving your images in a way that makes sense.

After all, you never know when someone from the Smithsonian will come knocking on your door...

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Lead, Follow...Or Just Try To Keep Up!

You know, sometimes I feel like I'm taking two steps forward and four steps back!  But then I think:

"I guess being at the back of the pack has its advantages when you're all going into battle..."

That's true, as long as they don't attack from the rear!

Ok, carry on. As you were...

Friday, July 5, 2013

Happy New Half Year! And So, I Begin Anew...

Ok, I'm not the kind of guy to make a lot of resolutions on New Year's Eve.  Yeah, I try to clean up my act, good intentions and all that, but I purposely keep those kinds of promises to myself fairly vague, so I don't feel so bad when I blow them off.

I do however, believe in the power of the calendar when it comes to planning the goals in my life.  I'm not really astrological in the spiritual sense, you know - the whole fate and destiny kind of thing based on the alignment of various heavenly bodies and all that, but I do (like a lot of people) think that the beginning of a day, or a week, or a month, or a year makes a logical starting point for my various life activities, especially if I plan on making changes to them.

In this case we are talking about the start of July: the beginning of the second half of the year 2013, and I know and feel this moment has a great significance.  It will mark the first time in over a decade that I can devote my time and energy and resources full-time to my career as a photographic artist.

And so, without giving a boring history lesson on hopes and dreams in the past that I was unable to accomplish for a multitude of reasons, let me just say most all of my shackles have been removed, my career and business begins anew, and we are all finally going to find out what I am capable of.

By the way, not to brag, but working only part-time with a great many constrictions placed on me by my family responsibilities and inability to travel, I was still able to snag a handful of photo award hardware in the time I've been up here in Central Florida, including one Editorial Magazine Cover of the Year in 2006 in a national competition.

I also managed to keep my gallery resume going with an assortment of group and one-person exhibitions at various venues and times throughout the area since I've lived up here.

Not bad for a guy with one hand tied behind his back...

Now, I don't know about you, but personally, I cannot wait for all the good things that lie ahead! Wish me luck!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Now, Where Was I Before I Was So Rudely Interrupted?

"The road to hell is paved with good intentions" ~ancient proverb

"From life's school of war: what does not kill me makes me stronger" ~Friedrich Nietzsche

Well, I have to tell you, I really thought my spring would be more productive. And while I did indeed have the best of intentions of getting a lot of things done, life -in its inimitable way- threw up (and yes, if you want to take that literally as gastronomical, feel free) a few unexpected road blocks that I had to go around. Or maybe they were hurdles I had to jump over?

Ah, "hurdles" might actually be more accurate, as I certainly do not jump any where near as well as I used to!

Regardless of semantics, it's involved challenges galore, and they were (and are) obstacles that made me not only rethink the way I worked and organized my career, but had me questioning my very life as well.

The major event, on February 10th (a date that will live in infamy!) happened only a few days after my last blog post. Without going to great lengths to explain the details, suffice to say it was a major medical event, and had me laid up in the local hospital for over a week.

Now, those of you who follow me on Facebook have probably already read a lot about this ordeal, as I've made quite a few posts on both my personal page as well as my photography fan page.

The good news is I seem to be basically fine, and well on the road to recovery. Hmmm, come to think of it, if I'm going to use that analogy, maybe these are roadblocks after all.  The bad news is my balance and equilibrium are still a bit hinkey, and continual physical rehab seems to be the order of the day. So, while running and catching a thrown frisbee is probably a no go for me, I am back to driving, and working out, and most importantly...shooting a camera! Believe me, there were times during the last five months I wasn't even sure I would ever do these things again.

Thankfully, my LIFE INTERRUPTED, however briefly, is moving forward again!

Speaking of thanks, again I cannot thank my friends, family, clients, and acquaintances enough for all the support and well wishes I've received recently. The positive vibrations and white light aimed in my direction has had a profound effect on my progress and motivation!

So, let me end this post the way I began it:

Where was I before I was so rudely interrupted?

Yes! That's right! Now I remember! More to follow...

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

My Return To A Full-Time Career In Photography: The Teaser...

I tend to see both sides of most issues. I weigh the good and the bad when I make decisions. I look at strengths and weaknesses when I evaluate people and situations.

And so, when it comes to the idea of (hopefully) having a full-time career as a photographer again, I cannot help but think of two things.

The BAD news is: it looks like I will have to start over almost completely from scratch.

The GOOD news is: it looks like I will finally get the chance to start over almost completely from scratch.

Well, there you have it. In those two sentences you get a glimpse at both my excitement as well as my anxiety about the big changes to my life and career that will most likely begin this coming spring.

Wish me luck...

Monday, February 4, 2013

Back To The Blog, Part Deux!

To quote from my last blog entry, "Oh my. Has it really been that long?!?" Only now, it's even more embarrassing, as an even longer length of time has passed since I made that promise last June to start posting with greater regularity. All I can say is - Oy!

So, let's just get this out of the way and be done with it: I hereby freely admit that I am posting this entry just to have SOME new content and to get the ball rolling on a more regular posting schedule.  Dipping my toe in the pool before I take the plunge, so to speak...

While I'm at it, I may as well get my Season's Greetings in after-the-fact, and hope everyone had a safe, enjoyable holiday. I will also be adding a "2012 in Review" post soon, to catch you up on some of the studio projects, magazine assignments, and other client and personal work I've been busy with the past year. Better late than never I suppose, right?

Now, without the benefit of having a crystal ball, I have to say 2013 looks like it's shaping up to be an exciting and intensively creative year for me. Many big changes in store, including a family event that might possibly have a significant impact on my career. In a good way. But more details on that when I think the time is right.

Not to use this as an excuse for not posting here more often, but just a reminder that my Facebook Page (link to the right) has short but timely updates on my day-to-day activities and photo work.  You are welcome to join if you haven't already done so.

And so, let me get to work on planning my next entry here. I promise it will not be another six months before I get to it!