The Notebook

5 Jul
2009

I’m still a little overloaded, though I’m chipping away everything.

After meeting with the following people in St. Louis, I have several pages of chicken scratched notes in two different notebooks. I think it’s time to consolidate the list in a blog entry. Special thanks to these wonderful people for taking the time to help me out:

Alicia Hottle
Megan Thiele
Liz Reiff Sloan and Kristie Cromie
Tracy Lee
Patrick Fischer

I’m just going to put together a random list of info I’ve collected from everyone. Hopefully it makes sense.

Web Design
Winklet Web Design – They offer downloadable flash templates for a low flat fee.
BluDomain – They offer more stylish flash templates and offer hosting as well.
ShowitFast – Customizable flash templates with hosting.
Into The Darkroom – Offer higher end (expensive*) custom flash website and blog design.
Live Books – Custom website design and hosting. Also a little expensive*.

*When I say something is expensive, a general rule of thumb is, you get what you pay for. Yes, Live Books and Into The Darkroom cost a lot more than a Winklet page, but you’ll get a lot more.

Hosting
There are literally thousands of hosting options out there. Some of the design companies I mentioned above will host your website for you, but often it’s more expensive and you get less storage and bandwidth. On the other hand, if you host someplace else on your own it’s more for you to deal with.
Lunarpages – I’ve had my film website hosted there for years. They are okay and low in cost but I’ve found the tech support to be more frustrating than supportive.
Host Gator – The pricing seemed good, and they have actual telephone numbers listed on their website for tech support. They also had good reviews and are recommended by Into The Darkroom as a preferred hosting provider.
GoDaddy – Similar to Host Gator. One of the photographers I met has their site hosted here and they seem happy with it, but I’ve read some lousy reviews.

Client Galleries and Order Fulfillment
There are essentially two schools to dealing Client Galleries and Order Fulfillment. 1) Having a service like Pictage or Smug Mug handle all the galleries, payment processing, printing and shipment. 2) Manage the galleries on your own with software like PickPic and deal with payment and the lab yourself.

Here’s a few examples of how some of the photographers I met deal with everything:

Shooter A – Hosted website from Winklet with GoDaddy (blog on blogspot). Client galleries and most fulfillment with Pictage.

Shooter B – Website designed and hosted with Bludomain. Order fulfillment with ImageQuix and Diversified Lab.

Shooter C – Custom web design with a small private designer that also provides hosting. Order fulfillment with PickPic and White House Custom Colour (WHCC).

Out of just three people, there is a large variety of how everything is accomplished.

Pictage seems to be the most popular however I don’t think I’m going to go that way. It seems expensive at $100/month but even more so because they also take a commission on each sale. Some of the marketing is appealing, but I’ve also heard (from couples) their automated marketing emails gets annoying. Furthermore, if there is a problem with an order, I want my couples dealing with me. Some random person in a large company doesn’t know me and what I would be willing to do to fix the problem (offer a discount or free prints or something).

I also really want a personal relationship with the lab. I like the idea of walking into the lab and having my name be known. I can see how having the order fulfillment process be totally automated is appealing, but I’d like a little more control. Who knows, two years from now I could be singing a totally different tune.

Business
Almost every photographer I’ve talked to started out as a Sole Proprietor. After the first few years of business most have become an LLC. I’ve asked each one of them about lawyers, business consultants, and accountants. I’m not going to mention them here because they are all local St. Louis, and I haven’t looked for them yet online. I have contacted a business consultant my step-dad recommended to hold my hand a little bit through the first few steps.

Insurance
A couple people said they just talked to their current insurance provider, State Farm or whatever. Most people have said they found insurance through the Professional Photographers of America (PPA) or Wedding and Portrait Photographers International (WPPI).

Contracts
Certainly, getting a lawyer to work over my contracts is what I’m going to do. In the mean time, Photographer’s Toolkit seems to be the place to start.

Albums
There seems to be about 900 different ways to do your albums. One person pays someone else to design the albums. Another uses InDesign to do it themselves. Others let Pictage handle it all (though several people I’ve met don’t like Pictage albums).

Here are a few places that have been mentioned:

Zookbinders
Finao
Mpix

I’ve certainly talked with the photographers about a lot of other things but this is just a quick list of general resources that were mentioned.

In the next blog post or two I’m going to talk about some ideas and other photographers to look to for inspiration.

Thanks for reading.

Ben

What’s in a name?

5 Jul
2009

Though I don’t intend to be a full time wedding and portrait photographer for some time, establishing my name now is important to me. The branding and style will come with time, but I don’t want the website address I’m handing out now to change in the next six months.

I’ve talked to various people and read various forums, and I agree with the philosophy that as a photographer, I am selling myself. Using my name as my business name is what I’ve decided to do.

Unfortunately, my real last name may not be the best choice. My name is Ben Brammeier. I’m concerned “Brammeier” is too difficult to spell. For example, if I tell you to go to “ben bray-my-er dot com”, you’re not going to be able to plug in benbrammeier.com without having me spell it or give you a card. What concerns me more is losing referrals. If one bride asks another bride who her photographer was, neither one is going to have an easy time remembering how to spell Brammeier.

My full name is Benjamin Trevor Brammeier.

I’ve decided to go with my first and middle names. Benjamin Trevor Photography with the URL of benjamintrevor.com.

I think this is good, but there is still a part of me that doesn’t want to give up “Brammeier.” I think it’s really important to be honest and somehow it feels dishonest to leave out Brammeier.

So, this is what I’m thinking: The website will be benjamintrevor.com. But the business could be:

Benjamin Trevor (Brammeier) Photography

My two concerns would be:

1) It’s a little long. How is it going to fit on a business card? How will it look on other people’s link pages? In a bridal magazine ad?

2) If I do Benjamin Trevor (Brammeier), how do I sign my name? Do I keep signing  Ben Brammeier (which feels most honest) or do I start using Benjamin Trevor?

OR – Do I just forget Brammeier and start introducing myself as Benjamin Trevor?

I’m open to some feed back and suggestions here. Please feel free to leave a comment or let me know.

Thanks!

Ben

The past few days have been extraordinarily busy.

I’d like to give thanks to the following people for taking time out of their busy schedules to talk with me and answer all my questions:

Alicia Hottle
Megan Thiele
Liz Reiff Sloan and Kristie Cromie
Tracy Lee
Patrick Fischer

I am certainly going to write more about them and how my meetings went later. Right now, I’m feeling a little overloaded on what I need to do, so Ijust need to think about it all. So here is my To Do list:

  • Nikon vs Canon  – A Pro/Con List
  • Setting Up The Business – Contracts, Lawyers, Accountants – Oh My!
  • What’s in a name? – Deciding what my name will be.
  • The Flash – How do I use the darn thing?
  • Networking – View other photographers as collaborators and not competitors.
  • Six Months vs Two Years – Do I want to do it that quickly?
  • How fast to post wedding pictures?

I wish I could have written this post a couple of days ago, while everything was still fresh in my mind, but I just didn’t have the time (writing Part 1 and Part 2 took me a while).

The whole experience was fantastic. I got some great images, and I know I did a lot of things right. More importantly, I learned what I need to work on and what I want to do differently next time.

I can’t thank Kathryn enough.  She has already said she wants to have me 2nd shoot for her again. We are supposed to get together in a week or two to go over all our  images. I’m really looking forward to it. I should take a minute to talk about my relationship with her.

When she offered to let me be a 2nd shooter for her, she casually mentioned some kind of payment. I told her that would be great, but the main thing I wanted out of this opportunity was the experience of shooting at a live wedding…having photos to use in my portfolio or getting paid would be the cherry on the milkshake.

We don’t have a contract and have only casually talked about how all this is going to work. I trust her and I’m not going to do anything to screw her over. In the past, she said that her 2nd shooters edited their images and gave her their picks on a DVD to include in the client galleries. She said I could do that and she could track if any of my images were ordered and pay me something for them. As I said, that would be a bonus. I did ask her about using them in my portfolio, and she said that’s totally fine with her. She said she’d help me get a release from the bride and groom and that they would probably sign it.

That being said, I’m not going to post any images from the wedding until I have that release and Kathryn says it’s okay.

Moving on to the thoughts from the shoot:

The entire time, I was pretty much the “fly on the wall.” I shot photographs without really interacting with anyone. As for Kathryn, my main goal was to stay out of her way.  In some ways it was a collaboration, because if she was shooting portraits straight on I would, with out asking her, try and get a different angle. She mentioned liking that I was doing that. In other ways, I was just left to go do my own thing.

One thing I want to do differently at the next wedding is interact with people more.

I have a ton of “okay” shots that would be “great” shots if I had only asked the bride to look at the groom at that particular moment. I never said anything, because I didn’t want them to get confused with which photographer they should be listening to or looking at.  I had also just met them and really didn’t have any idea what type of people there were or what they wanted from the photographer. Kathryn said they were pretty laid back, but I didn’t want to risk it.

I had many opportunities to take shots of the families and bridal party in a nicely lit part of  the church and shoot my own casual portraits. I didn’t do this for two reasons: 1-I didn’t want to overstep my bounds. I’m sure Kathryn wouldn’t have minded, but I just didn’t feel comfortable with it yet. 2-I still need to work on my posing skills. After having such a hard time with Missy and Maddy, I want to practice first.

While I’m on the subject of talking to people, I missed a really big opportunity to network. I met the two video guys and introduced my self to the wedding planner… but I don’t remember their names. I should have gotten their cards or given them mine. Well, I don’t know about giving them my card… I would want to check with Kathryn first. I don’t want to market myself on her time.

On that note, a brides maid saw me taking shots of her son (I got a lot of the cute little guy). She asked me if the photos would be available online. I told her probably and she should contact Kathryn about it. Later, I asked Kathryn if it was okay for me to give this one bridesmaid my card to work out getting her these shots of her son. In retrospect, I wish I hadn’t done that. I should have just told this woman to see Kathryn about it because she’s a potential client for Kathryn’s family portrait work. Again, I don’t want to market myself on Kathryn’s time. I don’t feel too bad about it because the woman and her son live in Vermont or something. The odds of her flying Kathryn out of state to shoot family portraits are pretty low.

And speaking of marketing… (I like how this post is flowing!). One of the things Kathryn didn’t do, that I know of, is have postcards or business cards available at the wedding or reception. From listening to Camera Dojo Podcast 36, according to the CEO of Pictage, something like 60% of a wedding photographer’s print sales come from the brides maids. Next time I work with Kathryn, if she’ll let me, I will hand out HER information to the entire wedding party. And there could be guests getting married or looking for a family photographer. I do think it’s important to make your information available without forcing it on people. It’s possible that this bride and groom didn’t want Kathryn to do that, I don’t know. I’m certainly going to talk to her about it.

I had planned on using the Lensbaby for various shots. During the course of the day I completely forgot about it. Next time, I’d like to try it out. Another idea I wanted to try had to do with my 10mm fisheye. A while back a friend of mine had some photos posted on her Facebook page. A photographer had put a camera with a fisheye lens on a tripod in the corner of a room at a party. He put a cable release on the camera and just let people take pictures of themselves. I bought the fisheye with the same thing in mind and I’ve used it at several parties to let people take self portraits. I thought this would be a GREAT idea for wedding receptions. I went back and looked at my friend’s photos on face book and they were done by someone with Continuum Photography. I’m sure they employ this at their receptions and I think it’s an awesome I idea… which I did not do at my first wedding. I decided against it for two reasons. One, I didn’t want to give up my only camera to let people take self portraits. Two, it’s pretty easy to take your own picture with the setup, but it does require getting everyone’s attention and telling them about it. That was something I wasn’t comfortable doing yet.

As I said in Part 2, the reception location was very dark and my lack of skill with my SB-600 flash was a huge liability. As far as technical and creative skills go, this is my weakest area. I know some basic principles I want to employ, like bouncing vs direct flash… but getting the correct settings on the camera and flash is something that I just don’t even have a solid understanding of. I don’t even know what TTL means. So, clearly I have some homework to do here.

Once I got the photos on my computer, I learned a lot more about what I was doing wrong. I had 1428 images. I flagged a little over 1000 shots as rejects. Most of them were rejected for two reasons… under exposure and blur (from focus and motion). Most of the blur problems I had were with the 50mm. The vibration reduction on the 105mm is so good, I can shoot at 1/60s if the subject is relatively still. But on the 50mm, even though it’s a shorter lens, many of the shots I got at 1/60s were not very sharp. Another issue with the 50 mm was focus. When I opened it up to f/1.8 the depth of field was so shallow I had a hard time getting focus on the point I wanted in focus. It was also so dark in many situations (for all my lenses) that the auto focus was having trouble (even with the little AF assist light on the camera).

As for exposure…. I think I’m too afraid to go to higher ISOs (particularly on my D90) because of the increased noise. But it’s probably better to have a properly exposed image at 1600 ISO than an under exposed image at 800 ISO. I have a lot of underexposed images at 800 and 1000 ISO. Because I was shooting in RAW many of those images might be salvageable but probably only as grainy black and white shots, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Of the 400 pictures I flagged as keepers, I’d say 200 were good. I only liked about 50 or so, and only thought 5-10 were really good. When I say good, I mean good for a first timer. I know some of the photos I got are “professional quality,” I just don’t think enough of them are. I’m curious what the keeper to reject ratio is for a professional’s shoot. I’m certainly going to ask Kathryn when I see her again.

Okay. That’s it for now. Thanks for reading.

I was supposed to meet Kathryn at the church at 4:45pm, but I got there a little early. Her car was already, there but I didn’t see her. She had told me at the rehearsal the church had Mass from 4 – 5 pm, so I grabbed my gear and headed for the garden to wait for her.

After only a few minutes of waiting, she found me. She introduced me to her assistant, Jack (a nice kid right out of high school, it was his first time assisting her). We also met the two-man video crew. It bugs me that I can’t remember their names, but I’ll talk about that in Part 3 of this blog series. Kathryn said she’s pretty laid back when it comes to the video guys. I guess some photographers can be somewhat controlling of the video crews in terms of what they can or can’t shoot. It’s something I want to talk to her about. In any case, we agreed to try and stay out of eachother’s shots but it was clear, Kathryn’s position was the most important.

Since mass was still going on, Kathryn said to wait in the garden. In about 20 minutes the bride would be ready for the “first look.” I was a little timid at first, being my first wedding and not really knowing my place, so I took some shots of the church and garden.

It didn’t take me long to gain some confidence and the next six hours went by very fast. I’m not going to write a step-by-step account of everything because I can’t remember it all and it would take forever. So I’ll try and summarize as best I can.

I realized the groom and his guys were getting ready in the rectory next to the church. Since Katherine was with the bride, I asked her if I could shoot the guys. “Of course,” she said. I went in and introduced myself to the groom again and said hello to everyone else.  It was pretty dark in the room, but I didn’t want to use my flash (partly because I don’t know how to use it well enough yet). I put the 50mm f/1.8 and kept the ISO at 800 or 1000. I was shooting at 1/60s. If I found a shot that was over exposed for 1/60s at f/1.8 I would drop the ISO instead of adjusting the aperture or shutter speed. I got some good moments like the groom putting on his tie. There was a large mirror in the room which I utilized a number of times.

Once the bride was ready, I was able to help Kathryn out by wrangling the groom. She had the bride positioned in the garden around the corner from the door to the rectory. I brought him out, but had to hold him up a second while we cleared the father of the bride out of the shot. I got out of the way as the groom turned the corner. I wanted to run out and get my own shots of him seeing his bride for the first time, but I would have crossed Kathryn’s shot to do it, so I happily held back and put my 105mm back on my camera.

I was able to carefully creep around the corner a bit and got a few nice profiles of the groom over the brides shoulder. Over the next hour and a half Kathryn brought out different groups of people for portraits. The grooms parents, the brides parents, the parents together, the brothers and sisters, and the whole bridal party.

During the portraits I would usually stay off to the side and shoot profiles. I would also get low and put some flowers out of focus in the foreground. I often found myself getting low and shooting the kids. I like taking pictures of kids, and I got a ton of good ones from this group.

While Kathryn was posing them, I would get closer and try and get a few details: the bouquets, the engagement ring, the mom’s rings, boutonnieres, etc.

It was brutally hot, so we only shot each group for 5 or 10 minutes at the most. Everyone would go inside for 10 or 15 minutes to cool off between each session. (I’m very happy I brought the water and towel, I was soaked with sweat.) I followed everyone inside and took shots of them talking and having a good time. I also used this opportunity to shoot some details of the church, like the flower arrangements. I put the 10mm and 14mm on and got some wide shots of the church before everyone arrived.

Once the portraits were done and the guests started to arrive, I pretty much stayed in the foyer. I kept my eye on the groom and the family greeting the guests. The lighting in the foyer was pretty bad, except when somebody opened the door. If it wasn’t so hot outside I might have tried to prop it open. I did keep my eye out for other things too. I saw a little boy, the son of a bridesmaid, sitting on the steps in a pool of light. The bridesmaid approached me about getting copies… I’ll get into that in Part 3.

As a photographer, some shots come with a bit of luck. But I do think you can get lucky more often if you keep your eyes open. Even though I want to be a wedding photographer, I haven’t been to that many weddings (maybe only 5 in my adult life), but when I noticed the groom signing a piece of a paper with the priest, I knew it was the Wedding Certificate. At the other weddings I’ve been to, the certificate is an event like the bouquet toss, but this time it just happened and I was lucky to notice it. Luckily, I was able to get into a position that put them between me and the door. I framed a very tight shot of the pen on the certificate and took a shot… it was DARK. I was already at 1000 ISO, f1/8 and 1/30s but I had to get this. I hoped it could pull out a grainy B/W in Lightroom. To my great luck, somebody opened the door and streams of light shadowed by the grooms fingers fell on the paper. Bingo!

Once the ceremony started, it was a bit of a breather for me. Kathryn asked me to stay on the back half of the church. I was even able to sit down for a few minutes. I did get some long shots of the priest and couple at the alter. I went up to the balcony and got some high and wide shots. Back on the floor, I found a little boy drawing and horsing around in the pew. A bundle of energy that kid is. He was break dancing at the reception. He must have been only 5 or 6 years old.

As the ceremony was near completion, I positioned myself on the ride side of the aisle. From the rehearsal, I knew Kathryn was going to stop the couple and have them face each other before the exited the church to get a few shots. From the right side of the aisle, I knew I would have a good shot of the bride over the groom’s shoulder.

I followed as they went outside. The light was GORGEOUS. It was about 7:30 or 7:45 PM and the sun was setting. Things were moving pretty fast, but I did remember to drop my ISO back down to 200. Probably my favorite shot of the day was this: I was able to get low and look up at the couple and got a great lens flare over the groom’s shoulder from the sun as they are kissing. I got about 10 frames over two kisses. The first 5 were deeply out of focus, but it was a happy accident, because I almost like the blurry shot better. The second 5 were great, but one of the videographer’s was going for the same thing and got in a few of my frames. It’s annoying that a few awesome shots got ruined, but I’m sure I was in his shots too throughout the day. And he was paid to get that stuff too. No need to get upset about it.

The wedding party loaded up in a stretch Hummer and headed to the reception. Kathryn followed the Hummer, and I followed her in my car. I just barely had time to grab another cold water out of the trunk. The Hummer made an unplanned stop… at a liquor store. That’s a photo op if I ever saw one. Kathryn got out and started shooting in the hummer. I followed a couple of the groomsmen inside and got some good shots of them buying beer.

I asked the guy at the door if it was okay to take pictures in his business. He said yes,  but what if he had said no? Should I have asked in the first place? It may be better to ask for forgiveness, than to ask for permission in some scenarios.

The reception was at a small place on a lake near Shreveport. When we got there the sun had just dropped below the horizon, so Kathryn quickly got the wedding party organized and shot some more group shots.  I did my usual thing by taking shots from a  profile angle.

We went inside, and it was dark. I knew I was going to have to use my flash. As I said earlier, I’m still learning how to properly use my flash. But from reading books, articles, and watching training videos online, I know a little. I know enough to bounce the flash off a wall or ceiling. But in this place: windows on one side, mirrors on the other, and the ceiling was BLACK. It was only lite by four or five ceiling fans with low wattage bulbs. For me, it couldn’t get much worse.

I started with trying to get some details before the guests got into everything (like the table settings). A few of the detail shots I decided to save for later. I took a program from the church, a couple little gift bags of personalized M&Ms and golf tees from the reception, and put them in my bag. I figured I could shoot that at home with better light and a tripod.

I couldn’t take the cake home, so I went to work with that. I took some time with the cake, experimenting with my flash. At a previous wedding, where I was a guest, I was able to get a good shot of the little plastic bride and groom on top of the cake. I aimed to do something similar here, but it was dark. I hated the way the direct flash looked with the windows, mirrors and a black ceiling to bounce off… I didn’t have a lot of options.

Then I saw Jack, Kathryn’s assistant, not doing anything at that moment. He was wearing a white shirt. He was excited that I ask him to help, but I think a little disappointed when I told him to just stand there with his back to the cake. I bounced the flash off his white shirt and that did the trick!

The rest of the night was more or less spent fighting with my flash. This is a skill that I need to devote a lot of attention to. I’ll talk about that more in Part 3.

At one point I put on my 10mm fisheye, which I don’t mind direct flash on as much. I got some fun shots of dancing and great shot of the bride throwing the bouquette. Before she through it, I took a test shot to make sure the flash was okay and the framing would be good with the bouquette in the air. When she through it, I was ready and I got a great shot.

By about 11 PM I was about done fighting with the flash. The party was starting to die down and Kathryn was only booked until midnight. I decided it was time to go. I thanked Kathryn and headed out.

When I got home, the first thing I did was import the photos onto my computer. I’m not going to get into all the details of that right now, but I have two 1 Terabyte external hard drives. Using Lightroom, I imported the photos in my main catalog on one drive and set Lightroom to backup the files to the 2nd drive. I used all three of my 4GB cards and about half of the 8gb card. (Oh, I had to switch my camera battery about half way through the reception)

I looked over the photos for about an hour (1428 shots total). I was happy to find a lot of great shots but also found a lot of things I did wrong (which I’ll talk about in Part 3).  I had a really good shot of Kathryn so I worked on it for about 5 minutes in Lightroom and emailed it to her as a thank you.

And that was it. I was exhausted, physically and mentally.

Look for Part 3 in the next few days. I’ll sort of debrief myself on what I did right, but mostly what I did wrong and what I’ll do differently next time.

Thanks for reading!

Ben

PS: If you read this right after I post it, it will be littered with typos. My girlfriend Rachael, who is pretty much the best girlfriend in the world, has a journalism degree and corrects my post for the endless errors I make while writing them. I have to give her special thanks for supporting and putting up with me while I do this. She rocks.

Katheryn asked me to stay on the back half of the church.

Last night I had the great fortune of working as a 2nd shooter for Kathryn Gaiennie. It was exhilarating and exhausting. I’m sore in places I didn’t expect to be. Here’s how it went down:

I blogged about how I got this opportunity in Finding a photographer, so let me pickup where I left off.

I met Kathryn for the first time at the church the day before for the rehearsal. First of all, she’s fantastic. Super nice and very organized. She has shot at this church before and started showing me around the spots where she likes to shoot portraits. It’s a beautiful red brick Catholic church with a small garden.  Fortunately, the rehearsal was at 5PM on Thursday and the Wedding was at 7 PM the next night, so the light was going to be the same. And let me say, the light was awesome near the windows and in the garden.

We met the Priest to find out what he would and wouldn’t allow us to do. No flash and don’t get too close during the ceremony. Basically, just don’t be distracting. She introduced me to the bride and groom, Katherine and Brian, who were very nice (and good looking).

She didn’t shoot the rehearsal but said it was okay for me to bring my camera, so I did. I wanted to see what kind of settings I’d probably be using (in the church it looked like around 800 to 1600 ISO, f/2.8, and 1/60s). I really don’t like shooting above 800 ISO on my D90. Despite the “low noise” claims, it just feels pretty noisy to me, even at 800 ISO. I think she said she’s using the Canon 5D Mark I and tries to keep the ISO below 1000. I’m very interested in seeing a few of her RAW files before any processing to compare the noise levels at different ISO settings. I’m pretty sure the 5D is a full frame sensor which I expect helps greatly with the noise issue (one reason I’m excited to get my hands on a D700 or D3).

Kathryn stayed long enough to see the placement of the wedding party during the ceremony. She talked to the bride and groom about when we’d shoot the portraits, the “first look,” and a little logistics on how it would go down. I wanted to stay for a bit and shoot some of the rehearsal fun that was unfolding before me.  Since I just met the bride and groom, I felt it was best for me to leave when she did.

Kathryn told me I could come when I wanted, but she’d be there around 4:45pm. What time do you think I planned on getting there? Yeah, 4:45 pm.

Prepping My Gear

The first thing I did on Friday morning was go shopping. If Shreveport had a real camera store, it would have been bad. Instead, I hit up Best Buy to get a couple more memory cards and look for some lens cases I could put on my belt. I bought two 4GB San Disk Ultra II SD Cards. I have a hodge podge of cheap cards from various manufacturers, none of which have given me any trouble. But I did want to have a couple more expensive cards for this. Adding the two new cards to the mix it gives me 3 x 4GB cards, 1 x 8GB card, 2 x 2GB cards, and 1 x 1GB card. I figured that would be more than enough.  Best Buy didn’t have any hip mountable lens cases (at least that would fit my 105mm). I have a couple already, but I don’t like them. It’s too difficult to get the lenses in and out. I also bought a cheap monopod, but I didn’t expect to use it.

Once I got back from Best Buy I prepped and loaded my gear. First, I opened the new SD cards and tested them. I shot about 30 photos on each one and imported them into Lightroom. I’ve had hard drives be crappy out of the box, why risk the SD cards?

Once the cards passed the test, I charged my two camera batteries. I only have the two, if I had more I would have charged them. I packed my charger figuring if one ran out with lots of time left in the day, I could charge it while I used the other.

I ran the sensor cleaning function on the D90. I cleaned my lenses. I formatted my memory cards.

I then went through my camera bag and took out stuff I know I wouldn’t use, like the 70-300 f/4-56 cheapo lens that’s only sharp below 150mm. Since I only have my one body, I knew I would be changing lenses a lot. I didn’t want to carry my bag with my everywhere, but I knew I wanted to have lenses on me.

I put my 105mm f/2.8 on the camera. I have two padded lens bags that will go on my belt. I put my 50mm f1.8 and the 18-105mm f/4-5.6 kit lens  in the other. In my bag, I kept the 10mm f/2.8 fisheye, the 14mm f/2.8 wide angle, and the Lensbaby. Despite the aperture, I decided to carry the 18-105 because the portraits were going to be shot in a well lit area, and I wanted some wider focal length options. I also decided to carry my SB-600 Speedlight on my belt too.

It was hot on Friday, with temperatures near 100 degrees. I sweat easily and a lot. It can look like I dunked my head in a bucket of water in a matter of 20 minutes in that kind of temperature. It sucks, but that’s life. So, I prepared for that too. I put water  in a small cooler. I picked out two extra shirts to bring along and packed a wash cloth and towel in a bag. I even packed a hair brush.

I supposed I should touch on what I wore too. I wore khaki’s and a black short sleeve button down shirt. Most of the photographers I see online usually seem to be dressed in all black. I figured, we’d be shooting in direct sunlight very rarely so I risked the black. I wore soft soled shoes on purpose too. I didn’t want to be clacking around the tiled floor in the church during the service.

About an hour before I left, I ate something and spent some time in “the reading room” (if you know what I mean). I didn’t know if I’d have time later to eat or catch up on my Entertainment Weekly. That might seem silly to write about, but I think it’s a valid point.

So my gear was ready. I was ready. I strapped my two lenses, my flash, and a water bottle to my belt, loaded the car,  and hit the road for the church.

Ben

Missy and Maddy

27 Jun
2009

My good friend Seth’s girlfriend Missy allowed me to shoot her and her daughter, Maddy, last night. It went well, but I think it could have gone better.

Seth is house sitting at a great little place so we decided to meet there. I arrived about an hour early to scout it and take a few test shots:

20090625-Misc-13401 20090625-Misc-13398

20090625-Misc-13395 20090625-Misc-13394

20090625-Misc-13392

It’s really a beautiful house. Missy and Maddy were to get there at 7PM. The light was awesome and it was starting to cool off (a little bit) from the 95+ degree heat.

When Missy and Maddy got there, my plan was to just to talk to them, particularly Maddy, for a little bit before I started shooting. I think Maddy is around 10 years old, I’m not sure.  Maddy has been making some videos with her dolls, so I asked her some questions about that. A small lizard was on the porch and when Maddy started following it, that’s when I started shooting. I didn’t really get any good shots from that, but she got used to me taking her picture a bit.

As I’ve said before, my favorite shots are of people just being themselves. However, I do need to learn posing. For the first shot I set them down on the porch swing.

The photos on the left are the unedited versions. The ones on the right are touched up. I made all the adjustments in Lightroom 2 and added the water mark in CS4.  I’ve got to find a more streamlined approach to adding the water mark.

I started out with my 50mm f1.8 lens. I kept the aperture at 1.8 because I wanted a shallow depth of field. But at times, it was too shallow. I needed a little more depth to keep them both in focus. (I’ll have to figure out how to included the exif data in these posts soon. I don’t have the time right now to transcribe all if it.

20090625-Misc-13433-2 20090625-Misc-13433

Yes, I posed them this way. I know, it’s not very good.

I initially put Maddy on the left. I only took one picture before I realized that wasn’t a good idea. She was almost hidden behind Missy. So I switched them and told them to hold hands. While I was shooting this, I knew I didn’t like they way Maddy was sitting. But I did not know how to tell her to sit differently. After looking at the shots in the computer, one of the things I should have tried was to tell Maddy to sit up. Her butt was forward on the swing. If she had scooched back a bit, she would have been sitting up straighter.

20090625-Misc-13446-2 20090625-Misc-13446

Since I didn’t like my posing in the wider shot, I got in a little closer. Missy started out smiling at the camera, but I asked her just to look at Maddy a few times. I like this shot but it’ll only work in a 4×6 aspect ratio. If she wants a 5×7 or 8×10 it’ll crop out Missy’s face or need to have white borders.

20090625-Misc-13476-2 20090625-Misc-13476

(You can see what I mean about figuring out a better water marking system)

I like this one and it has a little more flexibility in print sizes. I didn’t ask them to cuddle up like this, they just did on their own.

I quickly realized that my time with Maddy was limited. She wanted to make one of her videos and wasn’t interested in taking pictures. Instead of moving to another one of my scouted locations, I asked them to just walk down the sidewalk towards mt.

The rest of the shots where taken with my 105mm f2.8. I kept the aperture wide open.

20090625-Misc-13493-2 20090625-Misc-13493

This was the first pass. Maddy had a very serious, catwalk look to her. At the last second, I dutched the camera a bit to try to make it more fun. This is also good example of the power of RAW. The original was underexposed but I was able to pull out a good exposure from the file.

The next couple of passes I asked Maddy to skip. Again, keeping it fun.

20090625-Misc-13532-2 20090625-Misc-13532

I think I used a fill flash in this shot. Another reason to figure out the exif data here. I have an SB-600 Speedlight. It was on the camera and pointed straight at them. I did lower it’s power, but I can’t remember how much. I’m still learning what the different settings mean. I need to spend some time with Strobist.  The intention was just add just a little fill since they were so back lit. But after only one pass, I decided there was enough ambient light that I really didn’t need a flash. I prefer not to use the flash unless I have too.

20090625-Misc-13556-2 20090625-Misc-13556

This is one of my favorites. I haven’t tired it at a 5×7 or 8×10 yet, but it’s great as a 4×6. It was still pretty hot so after only 3 or 4 passes of walking and skipping down the side walk, they were getting pretty warm.

20090625-Misc-13570-2 20090625-Misc-13570

I asked them to sit down on the front steps. I didn’t pose them at all and just let them take their natural positions. I think I may have asked Missy to sit on the left. If she hadn’t, I would have for this composition. At this point, Maddy was done. Hot and wanting to maker her video, she wouldn’t smile. I just let them sit for a minute and at one point Missy gave her a kiss.

As I said earlier, I did all my post processing in Lightroom 2. I kept almost all of my adjustments to the Basic Panel (White Balance, Exposure, Fill Light, Black Levels, Contrast, Vibrance, and Clarity). I did do some graduated filters and spot lightening on most of them. I also used the post crop vignettes as well.

I have a lot to learn about noise reduction and sharpening. Not sure how and when to apply it.

To sum it up: I think it was a good shoot session. Missy was thrilled with the CD I gave her and gladly gave me permission to use the photos in my portfolio and this blog. (I don’t have a model release yet. It’s very high on my list of things to get.) I’m glad I scouted it out but I think it’s okay to forget the plan and just do what feels right. I definitely need to work on posing and am going to do some reading on that.

Larger versions of these images are in the portfolio pages of my website under Portraits (you can get the exif data there!).

Okay. That’s it for now. I’ve been blogging for a few hours and it’s time to stop.

Ben

As I said in a previous post, I’m planning to go to St. Louis  on Sunday (I’ll tell you why it’s not today a little later) . Earlier this week I sent out some emails to St. Louis wedding and portrait photographers I found listed with St. Louis Bride Magazine. I visited each website on that list. I read their Bio pages, and if they had blogs, I checked those out too. I looked for philosophies I agree with and how current their blogs are. The design of the website was important. If the website looked crappy, I moved on. I also looked for something I might have in common with: what school they went to, what neighborhood is their studio in, what locations do they shoot their engagement photos and portraits at… I even found a woman who’s bio page says her son works in the film industry (would I could certainly use to get her attention). And on top of all that, I looked at their pictures.

After many hours of surfing I had a list of about 20 studios and photographers I liked. I starred the ones I really liked or had something in common with. One of the things I noticed is, out of the 20 photographers I liked, only about 5 or 6 seemed different… I’d say the photos on 15 of the websites I picked pretty much looked the same. I couldn’t tell one photographer’s portfolio from the next. Don’t get me wrong, they are all excellent wedding photographers and I’m sure every couple that hires them is thrilled with their work.

Only about 5 or 6 had a portfolio that seemed unique to me. Every photographer has the same shots, but these few people made those same shots special. I like these 5 or 6 better… but what I like might not be what most couples like. Time will tell.

(One quick thing I’ve found helpful: Google Reader. I’ve subscribed to all the photographer’s blogs I like with it. It’s awesome.)

Anyway, I wrote to six photographers. I wrote a basic cut-n-paste template, but I took a few minutes to tell the photographer what it was specifically about their work I liked. I think it’s important to do that and it helped me understand what it was I liked better about their work. Two wrote me back.

Laura Siebert of Eye Smiles Photography responded almost immediately but she has relocated to Denver (though she still does work in St. Louis and I missed her by a week).

Megan Thiele of Megan Theile Studios also responded. We’ve emailed with each other a few times and we have scheduled to meet for coffee next week.

As for the people I didn’t hear back from, I’m going to make some follow up phone calls next week in St. Louis.

I’m also meeting with Alicia Hottle of AHotPhoto and Tracy Lee of Six Eighty Three Photography. I know both Alicia and Tracy through mutual friends… fortunately for me, I would have starred them twice on my list!

I think that’s a good piece of advice actually. If you’re trying to find a photographer to help you out, ask your friends and family if they know anyone. Ask them, who shot their wedding. Friends can be a great way to get your foot in the door.

I did the same thing with Shreveport photographers a few months ago, but at the time my cover letter was less personal and geared more toward looking for paid work. I didn’t get many responses. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I met with one of them, Neil Johnson, but I neglected to mention Kathryn Gaiennie.

Kathryn was the first to write me back and was very kind and helpful over a series of emails. I didn’t mention her before because I hadn’t heard from her in over a month. There is a fine line between being persistant and being a pest, so after getting no response after a couple of emails I backed off a bit. One of two things was probably going on: she was eather too busy or not interested. Either way, it would have done me little good to keep emailing her.

Well, she emailed me last night. She was a wedding tomorrow and has offered to let me be a 2nd shooter!

So I’m going to be taking pictures at a wedding for the first time!That’s why I’m not on my way to St. Louis today. (Special thanks to Tracy Lee for rescheduling our lunch on Sunday!)

It does pay off to write emails to photographers you don’t know looking for help and experience. It took a little time (six weeks in the case), but it did work!

Ben

On my way home from dinner at my girlfriend’s house I listened to another one of Camera Dojo’s podcasts, well most it (it’s only a 25 minute drive).

It’s Podcast #45 and they talk with LA wedding photographer Candice Cunningham.

Before I get started, this blog is not only for other people in my situation, it’s for me too. It’s a great place for me to keep a journal of ideas, tools, techniques, and resources. If I wasn’t keeping this blog, many of these ideas would be strewn around in about 5 different note books, 126 post-its, and 57 pieces of junk mail.

Moving on:

I get excited when I learn something new, but I also get excited when I hear pro photographers doing something that I already thought of. It makes me think I’m on the right path. I got excited listening to Candice for both reasons.

First of all, even though I haven’t shot a wedding yet, I decided that I want to become more than “just the photographer” with my clients. The philosophy that the best pictures come when people are comfortable, relaxed, and just being themselves would be more effortless if they are comfortable with me.

I have wondered what I would ask a couple when meeting them for the first time to discuss their wedding and engagement shoot. How long have you been together? Where did you first meet? Where was the first date? Did you kiss? Did you get breakfast the next morning (ha!)?  Where do you like to hang out? What’s your favorite coffee shop, restaurant, or bar? Do you like sports? What do you do together? Who proposed? How did the proposal go down? Do you have pet names for each other? And on and on. I want to get to know the couple and the dynamic of their relationship.

I think there are many advantages to establishing this kind of relationship with my couples, but three are specific:

1) Photo ideas – maybe I might learn they went to Kaldi’s coffee shop for their first date, how cool would it be to take some engagement photos there? Or maybe I found out they had a photo taken on their first date,  it would be cool to recreate that photo in their engagement session.

2) Getting Reactions – By listening to who they are, how they met, I can talk to them more personally during a shoot to get more real emotion from them. Instead of saying, look at your fiance and think about when you first met, I could say, “Look at David. Remember how you felt when he kissed you at Ted Drewes after the Cardinals game?” Or maybe I learn he gave her Peanut M&M’s for her birthday, I might bring some along as a surprise prop! If I know real moments and real inside jokes… I’m sure the experience and pictures will be better.

3) A Lifetime Time Of Work – I’m no expert, but a common practice in the years after a couple gets married is to have kids. When couples have kids, they want pictures of those kids. See where I’m going with this? If I have a connection with a couple, they will call me when they want more pictures of their family. When I was growing up, it was Richard Benkoff… I don’t know if he shot my parents wedding, but he was the only pro photographer who ever shot my family.

So! I was really excited listening to Candice because she has a very similar philosophy when working with her clients. I then got excited because I learned a few ways to expand on this:

1) She finds them on Facebook. Excellent idea! Great way to research the relationship of the couple! Heck, you can learn a lot of things about me and my girlfriend from my Facebook page. For example, I’ve got several shots of her jumping on the bed in hotel rooms… how cool would it be to get one of those for an engagement shot?

2) After the initial consultation and doing a little Facebook research, she puts together a individually tailored packet to give to the couple when they come in for a second meeting. For example, she incorporates the weddings colors into it.

Lastly, and this is what I got most excited about, I have very similar reasons for getting into wedding photography as she does.

All the way back to high school, my favorite images were of real, personal, and fleeting emotional moments. Recently when shooting some sports, my favorite shots weren’t of scoring the winning goal, it was the moments between the action that I liked. A few weeks ago I shot my friends dog, I got a lot of great shots but my favorite is the one when he wouldn’t sit still.

Weddings are a constant and never ending stream of these moments. I have a very successful career in movies, but being able to document these moments for people is what I want to do. I want to do this. I want to see the faces of couples that are thrilled that one of the best days of their lives was captured in an elegant, honest and personal way.

Candice put it best when she said (and I’m paraphrasing), “Artists strive to have their work viewed and cherished for years, wedding photographers never loose.”

I want to do this. I choose to do this.

Thank you Candice for inspiring me to focus my philosophy a little bit.

Ben

Photography Mentor has a few cool things to offer.

The first is free. The have a collection of photography podcast feeds that I’ve found really helpful. I think that’s where I first found Camera Dojo.

The second costs some money, but I think it’s REALLY cool! For $175 you can sign up for the Photography Mentor “School” and get 12 months of access to some great instructional videos. From shooting, to post processing, to business; they cover a lot of topics.  My favorites are when the camera just follows a photographer on location for various shoots.  The shooters have microphones and are usually pretty good at talking to us through what they are doing. I think it is the next best thing to shadowing a photographer in person. They have some demo videos posted at photographymentor.smugmug.com. I highly recommend you watch the free demos and, if you can afford it, sign up for the “school.”

Some of the photographers I’ve seen so far are: Robert Evans, Sara France, and Dane Sanders (of Fast Track Photographer fame). They are all very talented photographers. I greatly admire their photography, and it’s exciting to watch them work.

That being said, Photography Mentor has a few down sides:

I’ve found the website itself to be very cluttered. It’s hard to navigate and find what you want. It doesn’t seem like there is much action in the forums or groups (many posts are months old or go without any replies) . Of course, it looks like it only has a little over 3000 members. It sort of feels like the “Friendstar” of photography sites.

Maybe I haven’t given the site enough of my time to really understand and take advantage of all the resources it has available, but I also don’t want to spend too much time just learning how to use the site.

Despite the website itself, the podcasts section and videos really are cool, and I think you should check them out.

Ben

top