Advertising Photography

Making great advertising photographs for products is not an easy task. A client brings you an object – a jar of face cream, a toaster, a hair brush – and wants you to make it look like a space ship or 10 million dollars. This picture has to stop people from turning the page or hitting the next button when they are browsing magazines or the web.

Props and backgrounds

One way to make to make your $5 wallet look like more is to put a set of expensive car keys next to it. Putting your product in an expensive looking setting is one way of making it look like it is worth more. A trip to an arts and craft store will land you lots more props that are useful for product photography. Glass beads, pebbles, crystals, flowers and plants, marbles, paint, art paper and so on can be used as props and textures. I keep a collection of 30 or so pieces of fabric in the studio to use as backgrounds or to add to a set.

The most commonly used background for product photography is black or white Plexiglas. Usually reflective or glossy finishes are used, but satin or matte finish can work as well. Black Plexiglas creates a dramatic surface with no distractions, and the reflection of the product can be as interesting as the product itself. The problem with reflective backgrounds is they reflect your lights as well. Remember this principal: angle of incidence equals angle of reflection. If you bounce a ball at a 45 degree angle off of a wall, it will bounce away from you at an equal 45 degree angle. If you stand in front of a wall, and throw the ball straight at the wall, it will bounce back and hit you in the stomach. The same applies when lighting a product on a shiny background. You cannot place lights directly overhead, or directly opposite the camera behind the product as these locations will result in reflections.

Shooting shiny products

Glass, metal, plastic – many products are made of reflective materials, and your lights, light stands, camera, tripod and face can reflect in the product, making your image useless or require extensive retouching. I have a client that makes a soft drink with printed shiny plastic film covering the bottle. It does not reflect the objects in the studio, just the shape of the lights themselves. To avoid these reflections, I shoot the bottles in a cocoon. Cocoons are tent-like boxes made of white fabric and metal rods. The fold up for storage, but can be lined with background paper and used to reduce reflections in shiny products. I normally put three softboxes above and to the left and right of the cocoon. The cocoon defuses the light, and reduces the number of reflections seen in the product.

Mirror Paper

I like using colored mirror papers, sometimes called Mylar paper, as a background surface for a product that could benefit from a reflection. These papers come in silver, gold, red, blue and green in my art store. These colors can add fun and excitement to a product, but they are a photographer’s challenge. You cannot place a light overhead or behind the product, or the mirror-like surface will create ugly reflections from each of your light sources. If the paper is curled or curved, it will reflect every light facing that curve. The paper scratches with ease, so be careful when you buy them in the store that you are not buying a scratched up piece.

Reflectors

At times I use white cardboard reflectors or small mirrors for still life photography, but the silver Mylar cardboard reflectors are my favorite. You may make your own reflectors from “mirror paper” sold at art supply stores, or purchase them from Light Right, at http://www.lightrightreflector.com/ The advantage of Light Right reflectors is that they have a magnet on the back of the reflector, and a piece of metal on the other flap. This magnet setup allows the photographer to change the angle that the reflective surface picks up the light and bounces it back.

Using light subtraction to create shadows and mystery

Where light is not in a picture is just as important as where it is. The whitest area of a picture is what draws your eye to it first, however, without the contrast of the dark; an all white picture would be boring. Put rich, saturated colors up against dark backgrounds and they pop! There are several useful tools for controlling where the light is not in your pictures.

Softbox grids are cloth square web that attach to the front of the softbox by Velcro. The grid directs the light all in the same direction, rather than being scattered and defused everywhere. If you use the edge of the softbox to light your subject it is called feathering, the effect is even stronger when a softbox grid is in place, lighting one area of the subject softly with a rapid fall off to darkness.
Reflector grids are round metal honeycomb disks that come in 10, 20, 30 and 40 degree ratings. The number reflects the size of the honeycomb holes in the grid, letting out more or less light 10 degrees being narrow and 40 being wide and lighter. These reflector grids allow you to direct the light from your reflector head to a particular product or area of the set to spotlight it, leaving the rest of the set in darkness.

Flags are cloth stretched around metal frames, and are available in black, white, silver, gold and zebra. All the colors except black are for reflecting or softening light, but the black flags are for blocking light. If you want to keep reflections off of a background or product, a flag is often the perfect solution. My flags come from Mathews, the company that makes century light stands used in the movie industry.

Cinefoil by Rosco is a thick black aluminum foil that can be wrapped around light heads or reflectors to create custom openings to put light only where you want it, and keep it from where you don’t. This product is also available in generic versions, but make sure you get thick foil that is heat resistant, or you could melt foil on your light heads.

Light control is the key to good product photography. Putting light where you want it and keeping it off where you don’t is what the lighting tools are built for. Learn to love light, embrace it, control it and make it do what you want. Products are for the most part, boring. With your impressive lighting, backgrounds and props you can make them into magical objects of desire, which will get you paid.

Dennis Ray Davis is a Long Beach, California based photographer specializing in photography for business. Call 213-434-3344

keywords: Los Angeles Product Photographer, Long Beach Product Photography, Los Angeles Product Photography, Los Angeles Jewelry Photographer, Product photography, Los Angeles shoe photographer, shoe photography, tabletop photography, small product photographer, California product photographer, how to do product photography, product photography lighting, learn about product photography, Torrance product photography, San Pedro product photographer, Orange County product photographer, Costa Mesa Product photography, Anaheim product photography, Irvine product photographer, Hollywood product photographer, Hollywood product photography, Burbank product photographer, Glendale product photography, Beverly Hills product photographer

Shooting Food

By Dennis Davis

Food photography is considered one of the most difficult specialties for professional photographers. There is a saying in the industry, “if you can shoot food, you can shoot anything.” The primary reason for this difficulty is how little time you have to shoot before the food looks like garbage. Within 1-3 minutes after putting a beautiful plate on a table to shoot, whip cream runs, wet food dries, fried food becomes greasy, ice cream melts, and steaming food doesn’t. Sometimes you only have time to get off 2-3 shots before the food is no longer at its photographic best.

So how do you achieve perfect composition and lighting with food that only looks good for a few moments? You use a stand-in. Set up all the real props on the table that are stable, such as napkins, glasses, silverware, flowers, etc. Then put in a substitute for the real food that looks as much like it as practical. If possible, place the stand-in food on the same color and style plate or bowl as the “hero” or real food item will be on. This way you can finalize your lighting, place your reflectors and check your exposure. If you are shooting digital you can look at test images with the stand-in, and make adjustments to the arrangement and lighting then get approval from your client. When everything is perfect, bring in the hero dish and place it exactly where the stand-in dish was and shoot.

Food Styling Tips

My larger food clients always have a budget for a professional food stylist, and I have learned a lot from these food artists over the years. The food stylist creates the “hero” plate and often helps arrange props on the table, so that I can concentrate on my photography. However, many cookbook, magazine and smaller corporate clients do not have the budget for a stylist, and so the photographer’s skills are called upon.

One thing I always take to a food shoot is a bottle of glycerin and several sizes of artist’s paintbrushes, maybe several of different sizes depending on whether you want drops or a complete surface. Glycerin can be purchased from larger pharmacies. Food dries out quickly sitting on a table under 500-1000 watts of modeling lights, and the glycerin makes it look wet, shiny and fresh. I use glycerin on meat, fish, fresh and cooked cut fruit, and cooked vegetables – almost anything that should look wet and have lots of highlights. I have also seen stylists use vegetable oil or corn syrup for the same purpose, but neither of them last as long. Glycerin mixed with water and put in a spray bottle is also good for salads, salsas and other large areas where you would like long-lasting water droplets.

Steam and smoke make food look hot and appetizing, and can be created in a variety of ways. Cotton balls soaked in water and micro waved will give you up to one minute of steam. Dry ice placed behind the food item works well, but gives off more vapors if you place the dry ice in water. A cigarette or piece of incense is another option, but you must blow on the smoke to make it look natural like steam and not smoke. Some photographers have an assistant blow cigarette smoke through a straw placed behind the food. Movie prop and special effects supply houses sell smoke pellets that some food stylists use, but once again you must blow on it so that it is not so strongly directional. I have used all of these options, but have found dry ice and smoke pellets the most useful.

A small propane blow torch can be used for quickly melting butter on waffles, creating grill marks on meat, or reheating a skillet or wok without returning it to the stove. I requested a turkey prepared for a photo shoot once, and the food stylist painted the turkey with kitchen bouquet – a brown gravy base sold in grocery stores – and brown shoe polish, then browned the legs with a blow torch, and varnished it. It was photographed raw, but looked beautifully cooked and glossy, ready for Thanksgiving dinner!

Other tools;

Tweezers are used for moving and placing small food items.

Cotton tipped swabs are used for picking up crumbs and small liquid spills on plates.

Epoxy glue and super glue are used for assembling stubborn food items that won’t stay in place.

Fun tack is a type of sticky modeling clay that is used for placing under small items to keep them from moving.

Dulling spray is used on chrome or reflective items like silverware, to create a soft, even reflection without showing your soft boxes or umbrellas in the reflection. It can be found in larger photography stores.

Sandwiches, pastries and pies are often held together with toothpicks. The toothpicks may actually be photographed, and later removed in PhotoShop.

Fake Food

There is a law in the USA regarding truth in advertising that requires that advertisements about food show the actual food item that a consumer would be able to buy and eat. However, the food surrounding the item being advertised can be artificial, and food used to illustrate cookbooks or magazine articles can be bogus as well. It is often easier to work with imitation food that with the real thing.

For example, ice cream base is often made with mash potatoes, or with Crisco and powdered sugar plus food coloring that looks VERY real. Fruit pieces, chocolate chips or and food coloring are added to make various flavors. Cereal can be photographed with white glue instead of milk, because the cereal does not get soggy quickly, and the flakes stay where they are placed. Whipped cream might have thickener added, pies have glue holding them together, and vegetables that appear to be cooked are raw and touched with a blow torch and coated with glycerin to make them appear cooked.

Most of the ice cubes you see in drink shots are hand-carved acrylic, and almost all of the splashes in drink shots are free form acrylic made by a model maker. Yes, the photographer blasts the drink with compressed air or additional liquid to make droplets fly, but the primary splash above the glass is acrylic. Most alcoholic beverage shots have water added to them to make them more transparent so the back lighting will work better. Other drink shots are diluted tea or coffee, or just water with food coloring added.

Early in my career as a food photographer I decided to make an ice cream shot for my portfolio. I had read about using fake ice cream, but I wanted to find a way to use the real thing. So I bought 20 lbs of dry ice, called a food stylist friend, and we went to work. The food stylist took out a perfect scoop of ice cream and left it in the scoop. I hollowed out an area in the center of the flat side of the ice cream scoop, and placed a chunk of dry ice in the hollowed opening. Then I placed the ice cream on a plate, and stuck the plate on a slab of dry ice in an ice chest and left it there for an hour. While I got my lights set up, the stylist decorated a plate with yogurt swirls, and we were ready. I took the ice cream scoop out of the chest using gloved hands, and slid it onto the hero plate on the table and photographed it. I was using a Hassleblad CM 500, and shot two rolls of 120 film in about 10 minutes. The ice cream didn’t drip, melt, or move for the next half hour. It was so hard I think you could have thrown it at somebody’s head, and knocked them out with it!

Shooting Style

If you are shooting for a client, or shooting for your portfolio hoping to get a client someday, you should shoot the “safe, expected” images first, and get them out of your system. Maybe capture the overall shot from above, then standing height, then table height. After you are comfortable that you have captured what the client expects, start exploring. Look at the food arrangement like a landscape and you are a part of the Lewis & Clark team exploring the Pacific Northwest. You are looking for the most beautiful angle and the part of the arrangement that is the most appetizing. Get in tight with a macro lens, then shoot with a wide angle both up-close and then from further back. Shoot with a small aperture and everything tack sharp, then reduce your lighting power, open up your aperture and shoot with the background items out of focus. Find an image that you love, that makes you feel something. Make a shot that makes your mouth water, and makes you hungry. Shoot what you feel, and you are developing a style – people will pay you for your eye. Only shoot what the client asks for and expects, and you are a camera operator .

Lighting Tips

Food photography is generally done with studio strobe lighting, rather than tungsten or incandescent. The reasons food photographers use strobes is that they are cool, and do not affect the temperature of the food. Some digital food photographers use HMI or daylight balanced florescent lights, but strobe is still the most common light source. I shot about 85% of a recent cookbook project with strobe, and ten percent with daylight coming through defused skylights or windows, and controlled by reflectors or defused by tracing paper. The final five percent was with the tungsten modeling lights built into my strobes. I used tungsten when I wanted to show movement with a long exposure, or when I wanted to match the warmth and color a fire.

Light that is defused, directionless and shadow less is flat and lackluster. That’s one reason that overcast, cloudy days are not as cheerful as bright, sunny days. Light needs to have direction and cast shadows to be interesting. Many uncreative photographers place one large softbox directly over their subject, and shoot. Although this certainly cuts down on hot spots and specular highlights, it is also boring.

Most of my work is done with at least two and as many as eight lights. If you count the reflectors, there are sometimes as many as twelve light sources in my images. However, there is always one main or “key” light that has more power than any other light source. I always want to see the shadow cast by this light, regardless of how many lights fill those shadows. The correct placement of the key light can be determined by asking yourself the question “what is the most important feature of my subject, and what do I want to make sure people see? What is the main selling point I want to emphasize? Is it texture, shape or color?” Once you have answered that question for yourself, place your key light following the guidelines below.

The different lights I use as a key light are as follows:

A small softbox 2 foot by 3 foot
The same softbox with the front diffusion panel removed
A large softbox
A lamp head with a 7 or 9 inch reflector with a grid (a grid attaches to the front of a reflector and has holes in it to makes the light more directional and focused.)
A lamp head with reflector and barn doors
A lamp head with reflector pointed through a panel of tracing paper or diffusion cloth.
A lamp head with a snoot ( a device that fits on the front of the lamp head or reflector and creates a spotlight effect)
The sun low in the sky – usually defused through cloth or tracing paper
The sun coming through a skylight or window

If the texture on the top of the item is the most important, or if you want to show steam rising from the subject, put the key light low and behind the item and light from the rear. The light will rake across the textured top of the subject, and the shadows cast will emphasize the texture. In the case of steam or smoke, light from the rear shines light through the steam, making it bright white and draws the eye to it. Drinks are also usually lit from the rear, to bring out the translucent character and color of the liquid. I have used rear lighting for shooting pie with a crumb topping, steam rising from grilled chicken or coffee, and for water splashes.

If you are shooting soup or something wet and glossy, top lighting will create nice reflections and highlights. I have used top lighting for grilled meat, fruit salad, soups, cobbler and salsa. Softboxes usually work the best for top lighting. You will want a second light source with top lighting, usually coming from the front left or right. This could be a reflector or a second softbox.

Side lighting is useful when you want to show the shape of something, or to emphasize texture. I have used side lighting for a display of bread or pastry, and for raw fruit or vegetable arrangements.

I use lighting from the front and to one side or the other if I want to create bright highlights on the front of the dish, or to show its wetness or texture. I usually use side/front lighting for extreme close-ups or food macro images. I never put my key light directly in front of the subject at the same angle as the camera, as this creates flat, boring light shadows falling behind the subject. Besides, you want to make the food look like you just sat down to eat it, and light from directly in front of the food would be blocked by your body if you were sitting at a table.

Bottom lighting is used when I want to show light coming through my subject. I did a shot of a bottle of beer sitting in ice with bottom light. I had two wooden apple boxes set about two feet apart, with a piece of glass sitting on top of them. There was a clear refrigerator storage box full of ice on top of the sheet of glass. The beer was laid in the plastic box, and the ice placed around it. A lamp head with a snoot attached was on the end of a boom, and was underneath the set up pointed up towards the sheet of glass. The bottom light showed through the ice and the bottle, making the beer look cold, wet and refreshing. Without bottom light the ice looked dark and dirty, and the beer could not be seen.

Reflectors are vital to food photography. Beginning professional or amateur photographers with a budget for only one or two lights can create photographs with dozens of light sources by using reflectors. In addition to the large round reflectors sold in photography stores and large flat white foamcore sheets from art supply stores, tabletop photographers need many small reflectors. Small shaving mirrors can be used to pick up light and put it exactly where you want it; however, they are very bright and can create odd looking rectangular pools of light if not used carefully. Small pieces of aluminum foil can be shaped into reflectors and placed around the table, with either its shiny side or dull side out as needed.

The most useful small reflectors I have are those I have made from silver cardstock from my local art store. (See the side bar for construction details.) Place the tabletop reflectors where they pick up your key light, and bounce the light into the shadow areas of the food. Angle the reflectors so that they create glossy highlights in the wet areas of food. Use white reflectors for softer fill, silver for bright fill, mirrors for strong fill and gold for warm fill.

Table Top Reflectors

Indispensably useful reflectors can be made from cardstock found at your local art store. The paper that I use is a light 12 point card stock, shiny silver on one side, and white on the other. It is called “mirror silver” in my store. They also have mirror gold, which can be used for warming up an area of your photo.

You want to cut the paper up into strips of about 6 inches, 10 inches and 14 inches wide. You will want some tall strips and some short ones. You will then put three folds in the paper so that it forms a tall triangle, with a 1-3 inch flap at the bottom that can be taped to the inside of the triangle.

The reflector has to sit on a table by itself, so the base of the triangle needs to be large enough to support it. Changing where the flap is taped on the inside changes the angle of the front surface of the reflector. You can create white or silver reflectors by changing which side of the cardstock faces out.

Author Biography

Dennis Davis Photography is based in Long Beach, California and we shoot food photography anywhere in Los Angeles county, Orange County or Riverside County. Dennis Davis has shot cookbooks, restaurant menus, food packaging, retail posters and food advertising photography. Call 213-434-3344

Professional Photographer

Photography tips, training, lessons and examples by famous Los Angeles Commercial photographer Dennis Ray Davis. Life lessons from corporate and advertising shoots, and “how to” articles about photography. Los Angeles, California commercial photography clients keep Mr. Davis on industrial, corporate and advertising shoots for restaurants, catalogs, advertising agencies and magazines.

Getting Started as a Professional Photographer

Glamour, excitement, fame, fortune, hanging around sexy models and famous actors – this is why you want to become a photographer, right? Reality and the public perception of what a photographer’s life is like are not necessarily in alignment, but yes, I have seen some of the above. It is the fortune part that most photographers seem to miss out on. There are huge amounts of money to be made, however there are also huge expenses in keeping up with the latest digital cameras, computers, lights, etc, as well the monthly expense of a studio.

The most common route to becoming a photographer today is to go to college and study photography, then work for someone in the field you want until you go out on your own. You will need a photography degree if you want to get a job working for most newspapers or companies, and a 4 year degree is better than a 2 year degree; however you can still get good jobs with a 2 year degree.

Some photographers who work for themselves are self-taught. They read books, practice, shoot for friends, and eventually hire their services out. Other photographers work first as a photographer’s assistant, and later launch their business.

There are several routes you can take in working as a photographer. You can work for a company, such as a newspaper, magazine, portrait / wedding studio or catalog company as a full-time staff photographer. Working for someone else seems safe, secure, and dependable – until you get laid off or fired. Then you will be scrambling for a new position, and let me assure you there are very few staff photography jobs out there, and there are 10 or 15 photographers for every one job. However, being a staff photographer is an excellent training for working on your own, and many great photographers worked first in someone else’s studio or in editorial photography before they went out on their own.

Portrait / wedding studios work directly with the public, and make their money selling prints and CDs. There are studios that specialize in children’s portraits, families, glamour, high school seniors, weddings, parties so forth. You could get a job working for a studio such as this, and then later launch your own similar studio. Some of these studio are run be someone really good at marketing, and they can make hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. Most of them are run by a “creative type” person not very good at business and marketing, and the photographer makes a lower middle class wage. The difference between the successful studio and the not so successful has more to do with marketing then photographic skill.

 

There are photographers that make some or all of their money shooting stock photography. Stock photography is images that are used for advertisements, brochures, websites and other published works that was not shot specifically shot for that company. Regular selling images might be couples having fun on the beach, families interacting, people working on computers and so forth. Most stock photographers have to invest their own time and money in coming up with ideas, models, locations, costumes, etc, and hope that the stock-buying public likes their images. Stock is a rapidly changing and many believe shrinking market, so investigate well before you go that direction.

Editorial photographers are not paid that well, but often get perks and benefits that make up for the lower pay. Travel photographers for magazines can be sent on all expenses paid trips to exotic locations, and given a budget to hire local models, guides, hotels, cars, etc. However, they have a very short time, usually 2-4 days, to come up with a full article’s 6-10 images and a cover photograph, so these are not vacations. Photographers for magazines that focus on celebrities, fashion models, musicians or politicians mainly travel domestically, but still get to meet the rich and famous and photograph them. Most of these photographers are freelance; very few magazines still have a staff. However the good freelance photographers work very regularly.

Regardless of what kind of photographer you become, you will need a great portfolio. Do not think that the images that you shot in school or while working for a client will do. You have to decide what kind of photography you want to do, then shoot images that will land those types of jobs or clients. For example, if you want to become a product photographer, you need to go to department, shoe, gift or cosmetic stores, and buy the products. Then you need to buy or pick out props and backgrounds to go with the products you are shooting. Don’t bother shooting catalog style photographs – products with flat, shadow-less lighting on a plan white background. Shoot beauty shots – dramatic images with amazing, mysterious lighting and exotic props and backgrounds.

If you are not working for a company full time, but rather working freelance for yourself, your portfolio is the only thing that matters. No one will ask what school you went to, or what your GPA was. Plan to shoot just for your portfolio at least 4 times a year if you are established, or 8-12 times a year if you are just starting out. This may mean planning a day with models, hair and makeup artists, scouting locations for your shoot, finding great costumes, etc. You can do this on the cheap by using models trying to break into the field, and makeup artists that need to expand their portfolio and will work for free – but it is still lots of work.

The rest of this article will discuss commercial photographers, as that is what I am and what I know the best. Commercial photographers mostly produce images to sell a product or service. Their clients include advertising agencies, graphic design studios, web designers and corporations. Some of the images sold might be for annual reports or events like sales meetings, and this might be called public relations, but it is still selling the idea of the company’s brand if not directly selling a product. Commercial photographers work for themselves, and their income goes up and down as the economy rises and falls. Corporations tend to cut back on advertising during a bad economy, and use last year’s pictures again instead of shooting new ones.

 

If you are going to go to school to become any kind of photographer working for yourself, I recommend that you study the following subjects in addition to photography:

· Marketing
· Advertising
· Website design
· Search Engine Optimization
· Sales
· Business
· Accounting (optional, but very useful)
· Public Relations

Yes, I know that many photography programs offer one class in marketing, but trust me; there are thousands of would-be photographers flipping hamburgers and parking cars that didn’t study their marketing well enough. It doesn’t matter how great, how amazing, how talented you are as a photographer, if your potential clients don’t have your work in front of them, they can’t hire you. If your photography business fails, it will be from poor marketing in more cases than from poor photography.

The single most important tool in marketing a commercial photography business is the photographer’s website. This is your window to the world, your opportunity to show the world your skills and how you think. How you present your portfolio online will determine how many clients you will get 9 times out of 10. This is why I recommend that you learn to build websites yourself. Do you really want to trust something this important to someone else?

Also, it doesn’t matter if you have an awesome website, if when a potential client types in the keywords “New York Commercial Photographer” and your website is listed as number 224,016 on the 84 page. If your site is not on the first page, you will miss most of your potential clients, and nobody has the time or patience to look beyond the second page of listings. This is why you need to learn about Search Engine Optimization, at least to read a book and a few articles on the topic.

There are many ways to reach your potential clients – advertising agencies, graphic design studios, web designers and corporations – but direct mail, telemarketing, magazine advertisements and email blasts are the most common. All of these methods usually invite the potential client to visit the photographer’s website. Some photographers mail out “mini portfolios” or small books of sample photographs. This gets more attention than a postcard with a single image. Many top advertising photographers have an agent who takes care of the marketing part of the business for them in exchange for a percentage of the fees. However, for every good agent that will get the photographer lots of jobs, there are three lazy ones that will do nothing and expect to get paid for it. Beware! Note that agents usually are not willing to represent photographers’ fresh out of school without an existing client base, so you still need to know the marketing stuff just to get an agent.

 

Commercial photographers need lots of gear, and none of it is cheap. A professional quality digital camera and three lenses will cost from $6,000 to $45,000, and most photographers have several cameras. Also note that like computers, digital cameras get outdated quickly, and the latest, higher mega pixel, better color digital camera is just a few months away. You will have to update your camera body every two or three years if the current trend continues.

Lighting gear can be just as costly. I own 5 lighting kits, two of them ProFoto kits with 4 heads each. One kit is the power pack type which I use in the studio; the other kit is made up of 4 mono lights which I travel with. I have a backup power pack, and a backup set of mono lights, and a battery powered lighting kit. All this lighting gear is worth more than $50,000, and has to be upgraded, maintained, insured, repaired and kept up. I usually spend several thousand a year just on repair of lights.

I had an assistant that graduated from one of America’s top photography schools, and paid close to $100,000 for her degree. She had a good digital camera body, but could only afford one lens, and had no lights several years after graduating, but still had to pay student loans. She is a great photographer, but needed to learn more about marketing and business – the school didn’t teach her enough on that topic even with a 3 year degree. She cannot shoot most of the jobs that come her way because she has no lights. So if you are planning to spend a bundle on photography school, maybe you should spend half that much and spend the rest of the money on photography gear.

I am a self-taught photographer; I read books and experimented with lights until I learned how to shoot. Three months after getting my first camera I was shooting for brochures for a nonprofit organization. I didn’t train with another photographer; I just read books and tried what I read. However, I think the traditional route of going to school and then working in a studio is a better and faster way to learn the trade. I think the definition of success in commercial photography is to be able to be in control of your own schedule, your own career, your own life and the direction you are taking. To be able to do what you love and get paid for it is a great gift, as most people hate or tolerate their jobs, and dread going to work each day. Even if you are only able to just get by, pay your bills, and have a small home, being your own boss is worth the lower salary.

Call 213-434-3344 for more information.

Buy a Digital Camera

How to Buy a Digital Camera

Cameras used to be long term investments before the digital age, now people change them as rapidly as they replace last year’s computer. New features, more mega pixels, better color, smaller size – there are many reasons to upgrade. Film is mostly used for fine art or disposable cameras now in the USA, most purchases today are digital. What kind of camera is right for you, and will help you take the pictures that meet your vision? We will discuss point and shoot, entry level DSLRs with interchangeable lenses, and professional cameras. At the end of this article are links to websites reviewing specific camera brands and models. My personal favorite brand of camera is Canon, followed by Nikon then Sony.

Point and Shoot

This is the type of camera that does most of the thinking and decision making for you. If you want your pictures taking to be easy, with little fuss, choose this type of camera. However, don’t be surprised if about 20% of your pictures look like crap. Some picture taking situations are complex and too difficult for the computer in the point and shoot camera to understand. So if you want your more difficult pictures to turn out well, you will need to read books or magazines about photography, or take a class, and learn how to use a DSLR (digital single lens reflex, one that has interchangeable lenses) camera that allows you to make more decisions.

Features to look for in a point and shoot camera include:

Small enough to take with you
Allows you to turn off automatic functions, and take some control. Specifically allows you to take camera off of program mode, and use shutter priority, aperture priority, and / or manual mode.
High quality glass optics, not plastic lens
Wide optical zoom range
Fast auto focus
Allows you to use flash or turn it off at will, even outdoors
Strong flash
Red eye reduction
Tripod mount
10 or more mega pixels
Rechargeable battery, long battery life

Many point and shoot cameras advertise wide zoom ranges, but in reality they are talking about “digital zoom”. This means that the camera just takes the center portion of the image and crops it to make it appear closer. Results? The resolution of your image will go down, and your picture will be less sharp and more noisy and grainy. Make sure when you read about the zoom range of a point and shoot camera that they are talking about optical zoom – the actual lens – and not digital zoom.

Higher end point and shoot cameras have several shooting modes, program mode, shutter priority, aperture priority, and / or manual mode. These modes allow you to make some or all of the decisions about your picture’s exposure, and using them will help you learn how cameras work. Buying a point and shoot camera that has various shooting modes is a good way to make the transition to a more professional SLR system.

You want to be able to turn on or turn off your flash at will. Why? Let’s say you want to take a picture of fireworks over a lake at night, with your camera on a tripod. Your camera in program mode will check the light level, see that it is dark, and turn on the flash for the exposure. However, this will cause the area within 15 or 20 feet of the camera to be brightly lit, and the rest of the picture dark! With the flash on, the shutter will close before the fireworks finish their display. With the flash turned off and the camera in shutter priority or manual mode, you can set your camera on a tripod, leave the shutter open for 3-10 seconds, and capture the fireworks and their reflection in the lake.

Entry Level Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) Cameras

Entry level SLR cameras all have a smaller than “full frame” sensor. This means that the sensor that captures the image is not as large as a 35mm negative frame, so the picture is cropped. How much smaller the sensor is compared to full frame is called the “lens factor” and it is described as a number such as 1.5. It also means that wide angle lenses are not as wide as they would be on a full frame camera. For example, a 28 mm lens that would take in a wide angle view on a film camera or a full frame digital body would act like a slightly wider than normal lens on an entry level camera. Camera manufacturers have a solution available, making lenses that are “ultra wide” and only work with cameras with a lens factor. These might be 12mm or 14mm lenses that would show darkness around the edges of the picture with a full frame camera. Be careful how much money you invest in the ultra wide lenses, because if you upgrade to a full frame DSLR these lenses will not work.

Features to Look For In an Entry Level DSLR

Lens or sensor stabilization or vibration reduction method available (reduces blur in hand held pictures)
Largest, brightest LCD screen on the back of the camera
Highest mega pixels you can afford
Good sensor cleaning method
Widest ISO range (the sensitivity of the sensor to light)
Standard user modes program mode, shutter priority, aperture priority, and manual mode, as well as Bulb (aperture stays open as long as the shutter button is depressed)
Timed shutter will stay open up to at least 30 seconds
Fastest shutter speed of at least 1/2000 of a second
Ability to shoot in RAW and JPEG capture or both at the same time
Accurate light metering system
Fast, wide area auto focus sensors
Shoots at least 3 frames per second
clear, bright viewfinder
Rugged body

Fuzzy, blurred pictures are always a disappointment, unless that is what you are trying to get! These most often are the result of using hand held telephoto lenses at slow shutter speeds, or normal lenses in low light or close up situations. No matter how hard you try to remain motionless, your body is in constant motion from your breathing, heartbeat, the wind, etc. Canon makes optical image stabilizer lenses to reduce camera shake. Nikon calls their lenses vibration reduction or VR lenses. Other camera makers put shake reduction in the sensor or camera body. Make sure the camera system you are buying has a good method of reducing camera shake or vibration. Read the reviews in photography magazines or on the websites listed below, and find a camera system that meets your needs.
The LCD screen on the back of the camera is how you know that you “got it” before you move on to a new photographic situation. If you are outdoors in bright sunlight, a small, dim LCD won’t tell you anything. Get the brightest, largest LCD screen you can find.

Every time you change lenses, there is an opportunity for dust to get on your camera sensor, causing spots to appear on your images. Changing lenses at the beach, outdoors with high winds, or in industrial settings will increase the risk of dirt and dust, and you may have to clean your sensor daily if you change lenses in these environments. Older DSLRs require that you clean the sensor by removing the lens, popping the mirror up, and blowing on the sensor with an air bulb. Every third or fourth time you need to clean the sensor with a special sensor cleaning liquid and flat swabs made for the purpose. Many newer camera bodies have sensors that are self-cleaning. Some camera bodies vibrate the sensor to remove dust. Make sure your camera body has a sensor cleaning method that you are comfortable with, and that will make your pictures clean and spot-free.
ISO is the measurement used to determine how sensitive your camera’s sensor is to light. It is the replacement term for film’s ASA rating. Usually this number ranges from 100 to 1600, with the lower number being less light sensitive. The higher ISO numbers should be used in low light situations, or with fast shutter speeds when shooting something moving at high speed, such as racing cars or humming bird wings. The higher the ISO number used, the more noisy or grainy looking your images will be, and the color will be flatter and less saturated. Some new entry level DSLRs have higher ISO numbers then 1600, such as 3200. Other camera makers brag that images from their cameras have good color and little noise at ISO settings of 400 or 800.

I once had to shoot Hewlett Packard’s annual stockholder’s meeting with no flash, because they felt that flash disturbs their stockholders. Although there were spotlights on the stage, I still was shooting at ISO ratings of 400, 800 and 1,600, depending on the lens I was using. I was shooting with a Canon 5D with a 70-200 f2.8 lens with the optical image stabilizer feature. At times I was shooting wide open at shutter speeds of 1/60 or 1/125 hand held, which would not have been possible without the optical image stabilizer in the lens and higher ISO settings. The images were sent world-wide while the meeting was still in session, and were published globally in newspapers, magazines and online. Thankfully the Canon 5D has very little noise at high ISO settings, and the pictures were not required for 2 page tabloid size magazine spreads!

Buying a Professional DSLR

The average DSLR camera body will only last a professional for 2-3 years, for the same reason that people upgrade computers every 2-3 years. The technology improves, the cameras have higher resolution, and the cost drops. The Canon 1DS 11 mega pixel camera that sold for $8,000 about three years ago was the best DSLR available. Now the new Canon 1DS Mark III sells for the same $8,000, but is 22 mega pixels, captures millions more colors because it is 14-bit instead of 12-bit, and has better auto focus and other features.

Although that is true, the technology for lenses does not change nearly as rapidly. Sure, there are developments in auto focus and things like optical image stabilizer features, but good glass is good glass. So make sure your investment in a camera brand is one that you can live with through most of your career. I was a Nikon man for the first 20 years of my film-based photography career, and of course when I bought my first digital camera I wanted to take advantage of my investment in Nikon Lenses. However, all of my camera gear was stolen just after the first Canon 1DS full frame camera came out. Nikon would not offer a full frame camera until several years later. After doing my research, I switched to Canon, as I knew that professionals would not be happy with their wide angle lenses having a 1.5 or 1.6 lens factor.

Features to look for in a Professional DSLR

Everything listed above under “Features to Look For In an Entry Level DSLR”
Wide range of lenses, with a full line of wide angles, macros, telephotos, super-telephotos, zooms and specialty lenses such as tilt lenses
The best quality glass in the lenses
Durability – you will drop it from time to time on the job
If you shoot sports, action or fashion, you will need fast auto focus and a fast drive with a high number of frames per second available – 6 or 7 frames per second
You will need to shoot RAW format, make sure that it can, and that you have the software that can read the RAW files. You may need to upgrade your version of PhotoShop
Full frame sensors are best for most professional applications
The most mega pixels you can afford. Do not consider anything less than 12 mega pixels if you plan to shoot for publications or need prints 16 x 20 or larger
A number of on-camera flash options – including TTL options that can use more than one flash
Rechargeable battery, long battery life

The Canon and Nikon camera lines were built with professionals in mind, and have cameras that will meet your needs. No other brands have the depth in lens selection that these two camera vendors do. If you are considering any other brand, look over the features list carefully to make sure you won’t be sorry five years from now.
Camera Reviews

Reviews about specific brands and models of cameras can be found at:

http://www.steves-digicams.com/
http://www.dpreview.com/
http://www.photographyreview.com/
http://www.cnet.com/topics/cameras/

Art Director

10 Things an Art Director Looks for in a Photographer

. . . And What Keeps Them Coming Back for More

Responsibility

When you give your creative director or art director your word, you must follow it up with actions. Make to-do lists every day, and if you can’t keep track of the preparation that it takes to make a big shoot happen, get a production manager that can. Photographer’s often have to hire food stylists, location scouts, models, clothing stylists, makeup artists, hair stylists, and at times, a fleet of RVs. How are your management skills? What can you do in addition to handling a camera? Are you reliable?

Punctuality

I don’t care if you think you might need another memory card for the shoot, if your call time is 9:00 am, then 8:45 am is not a good time to start looking online for a camera store. The shoot won’t start without you there, so cut back on the late night parties when you have a shoot the next day, and set TWO alarms if you want to keep your art director as your best friend.

Personality

You may create amazing images, but if you work with others you have to be enjoyable to be around, personable, fun and respectful. Your personality is your most important asset. If you are shooting portraits, it’s your personality that gets the model to smile, so you’ve got to be fun because a lot of people are counting on you bringing home the winning shot.

Creativity

Can you take an idea from an art director, give them exactly what they ask for, and then make it even better? Can you visualize what the client is selling, and help them sell it?  Can you imagine what changing something small that will make a huge change in the final image? Can you make a one bedroom apartment in Kansas City look like a beach house in Malibu? What do you bring to the table that no one else could bring?

Problem Solving

With a studio shoot, a photographer has at least some control over their environment, and years of experience would have taught them what tools are most important to have at hand. But on a location shoot, the number of tools available is limited to what you bring with you. Do you need a bigger truck? In fact, learning to do more with less is a gift that the best photographers learn to cultivate.

Do you need to hide the fact that your set is missing two walls? That’s what shadows are for. Do you need 6 lights and only have two? That’s what reflectors are for. Don’t have reflectors? Look for aluminum foil. Fix the problem, make it work, now. Everyone is waiting, counting on you.

Lighting Genius

Lighting the single most important thing you bring to the table to give an image your “look”. Other than composition, lighting is it. Read about light, study it, love it and control it. Your art director will look to you, the lighting guru, to create glamour, excitement, mood and atmosphere where there is none. Are you up to the task?

In Control

There are 1,004 things that can go wrong on a shoot at any time. However, there are some things you can be in control of. Do you have an extra set of batteries for everything you own? Do you have extra cables for everything that needs them? Have you prepared any assistants, stylists or makeup artists with emails in advance, followed up by phone calls, preparing them for the shoot? Do you have your art director’s cell phone on speed dial? Can you communicate effectively with vendors, teammates, clients, models, and still be on top of what your camera and lights are doing? Finally, can you do all this and still deliver the project on time and on budget?

In Command

Your judgment is final. You are the only one that can say “yes, we have the shot”. You are responsible for getting everyone else involved in making the shot happen the way that you and your art director envision it. Can you get people to smile when you need them to? You can if you are funny, playful and fun. The client’s girlfriend says “I think it would look better if we changed the background color to green” If you don’t agree with that opinion, you better be prepared with a logical reason why not. You are the artist. People are counting on your sense of style to make a great image. Take charge.

Technically Skilled

Photography is a crazy marriage of technology and art, and you need to be in control of your tools. The morning of the shoot is not the best time to test out a new toy from the camera store. Your art director is counting on you to know your gear, understand your tools, and give them an accurately exposed, well composed, and in-focus image.

Love

If you are getting into photography for the money, try a different career. I am a photographer because I love beauty, I love creating and capturing gorgeous light, and I love making things look pretty. You have to learn to love the simplest things, like a bottle of shampoo, and turn it into a hero, a knight in shining armor, answer to every head of hair’s needs. Do you really, really love making great images?

Then follow your heart, and the money will come.