September 2012

Why hire a Professional Photographer

During a recent shoot for a advertising campaign I was asked by one of the models what makes a professional photographer different from any other person who can purchase a good dSLR camera from a retail store. Without getting into any kind of immediate discussion I switched off the wireless flash transmitter on my camera and clicked another shot of another model I was currently photographing using the on camera flash. I showed the model the difference between the two shots and they we astounded. I was immediately asked an array of questions why it looks so different

Professional vs Standard Photographer

Though you get great camera in retail store these days it is only a tool. A camera alone cannot produce professional results, that is the job of the person using the tool. Similarly the flash built into the camera is a tool, but it is fixed to the camera so it is limited. Getting an off camera flash is just adding another tool, and attaching it to your camera gives you the same limits as the pop-up flash built into the camera (just bigger and bulkier with more range [usually] ).

If I buy a fantastic set up brushes and oil painting colours and the best canvasses and easels I can call myself a professional artist, but do these tools make me a professional? The way you use your tools makes you an artist, not the tools. A professional photographer is someone who works hard every day of their lives to achieve great looking results with their tools. A professional photographer has a profession called photography and they dedicate their lives to it. Professional photographers do not do spare-time or weekend photography and they spend every waking moment thinking about photography and ways they can make the next photo look better.

So why should you hire a professional photographer?

I am often asked this question and I rather show people my photos rather than try and explain why they should hire a professional. It is up to the person hiring the photographer what grade of quality they will be happy with or what will fall into their budget. If I have a leaky tap I can hire uncle Joe to fix it for me very cheap since he is a pretty good handy man. I may still solve the problem of the leaky tap and save a load of money, but when I walk into my home and it is flooded I call a professional plumber. In the above photo example any person with a camera will be able to produce similar results to the picture on the right, but if you want a photo to look like the one on the left then you need to hire a professional.

How do you know if someone is a professional photographer?

Ask questions and examine the answers.

Ask a photographer if they have another job besides photography. Though there are great weekend photographers out there a passionate professional dedicates their time to photography and day jobs get in the way of this.

Ask to see their portfolio. A portfolio will usually contain just their best work, but can sometimes be misleading. There are photographers out there who will build a portfolio over years using lucky shots. Using a mobile phone camera every person out there has gotten a couple of amazing shots, but not every photo is great. Ask to see a set from a specific shoot such as a complete wedding set or studio shoot with specific model in portfolio. When a photographer is unwilling to show a set they rely too much on lucky shots rather than good photography practices.

Ask to see examples of photos shot under low light condition where flashes would be required. Check the backgrounds on such photos and note if there are harsh shadows indicating use of direct flash (refer to example image on right above above). WARNING: When a photographer says they never use flash or are “natural light” photographers you should be careful. Every professional photographer owns 1 or more flash units for their cameras as any kind of portraiture work, and especially weddings, will requires the use of flash at some point. Many professional photographers will use flashes even during daylight to balance out shadows and create light effects as we see them in magazines.

Though standard photography is not all bad it is unfair for a photographer to sell themselves to a customer as a professional when their true work does not match up to the standard. In the end it is up to you as a customer to decide what level of quality you will be happy with which also falls within your budget.

Lastly; Why are professional photographers expensive?

The answer is simple: Professional photographers have to make a living from their profession and they do not have day jobs to subsidize their photography. A cheap professional photographer soon finds themselves looking for a day job to survive and then their photography dream dies as they become weekend warriors.

A professional photographer uses professional grade equipment which is very expensive. The camera is just the start as you needed flashes, transmitters for flashes, stands for lighting and flashes, backdrops, soft boxes, grids, reflectors and array of other small pieces of equipment which is expensive. Equipment does not last forever either and camera need to be replaced from time to time as they age. There is also insurance which, for professional photographers, is not cheap (home insurance does NOT cover professional camera equipment or use).

Outdoor Bridal Make-Up

Carla having make-up done outdoors

As a wedding photographer I get to see make-up artists of all kinds using their own techniques to achieve great results in bridal make-up. Most make-up artists will do the make-up in the bridal suite under the existing lights, but a few prefer different light, such as outdoors. I recently again experienced a wedding photo shoot where the make-up artist did the brides’ make-up outdoors, and the results were fantastic.

I got to thinking about this and dug through some older photos to confirm my theory that outdoor make-up gives better results. The make-up artist picks a spot with some shade and goes to work in an open and comfortable environment where they can move all around the bride and check the colours and shades of the make-up under real daylight conditions. The bride will be spending quite some time outdoors and especially during the couple shoot the bridal couple will often be outdoors, so the colour and shading of the make-up becomes fairly important. This is not only because there is more light outside but also has to do with the colour temperature of light (see: Color Temperature on Wikipedia) and a make-up artist who can work outdoors or under lighting which provides the same colour temperature and intensity will achieve better results.

I am not saying that all brides should insist on outdoor make-up, but it is something to consider when having your make-up done.

Carla Wedding Make-up

Fitness Zone Photoshoot

Fitness Zone Shoot - Sony A77

On 20 September 2012 I was hired to do a photo shoot at Fitness Zone in Klerksdorp for advertising purposes. One of the photos would also be selected as the cover for the October edition of WOW Magazine. I had consulted with management of Fitness Zone earlier in the week to get an idea of what they were looking for. During the consultation I was shown a few photos from various fitness magazines and I quickly found the look and feel they were after.

The gym has good lighting, but they wanted the background to appear darkened while having a good light focus on the subjects. We would be shooting during normal, though quieter, working hours so members of the gym may appear in the background, but had to be darkened out. To achieve the look they required I realized I would have to use rim and kicker lighting on small aperture and low ISO values and then use strong but diffused key lighting from a softbox.

Since I would be shooting amongst normal gym equipment I opted for a smaller 45cm X 60cm Single Softbox as key light and 2 bare flashes for kicker and rim lighting effects to the background.

I shot with the Sony A77 fitted with a Sony SAM 28-75 f/2.8 lens at f/8, Shutter 1/125 and ISO200 (full manual mode). Shots at these settings with existing lighting (no flash) would be quite dark, which is what I needed. I then went about setting up the key light first till I got the exposure I wanted and then did the rim and kickers individually till the effect resembled what they had shown me in the magazines. When I showed the customer the first test shots they were immediately happy with the look and we continued shooting. We did some group shots to create a shot for the cover of the WOW Magazine and then proceeded with some individual shots with various pieces of gym equipment which would be used in their advertising campaign.

The models were all great and the resulting shots showed great form. Placing the key light at various angles and raised slightly above the models creates softened shadows which really brings out the toning in muscles and the body. Posing gym photos was also much easier than I expected as the models simply need to use equipment as they normally would in any gym. It is up to you as photographer to find the angle from which the model would look their best while using any of the gym equipment.

Details for the gym:

Fitness Zone
General Manager: Chris van Niekerk
Corner of Austin & Williams Street
South Africa
Telephone: 018 468 7744
Fax: 086 665 4140

A lesson for Photographers

It is rare that I publicly rant about something, but I came across a comment by a professional photographer on Facebook which got me a little upset. I am not going to link to the comment or reveal other sources to identify the photographer, but rather give you my personal opinion on how I believe some professional photographers need to rethink how they approach their photography.

But first, the comment.

The comment was made on a photo of some friends enjoying themselves which someone posted to Facebook. The person who shot the photo is not a professional photographer, but they do own a decent dSLR camera. One of the comments (made by a professional photographer) on the photo said: “You really need to learn how to use that camera of yours. Learn to frame and get your camera serviced, there is dirt on the sensor.”

Perhaps the comment was meant as good advice, but that comment stuck with me and really got me thinking.

Why do we take photos?

The Dance

We, and I don’t mean just professional photographers, take photos to remember things. We record moments with our mobile phones, iPads, point and shoot cameras or fancy dSLR’s so we can remember those moments. Though we sometimes try to get good looking shots we sometimes just snap the shot to capture the moment and never really care what the quality is like or if the image is perfectly framed, focused or follows the rule of thirds. We want a picture of that moment, nothing more, nothing less.

Why do we hire a professional photographer?

When someone hires a professional photographer it is more often than not to capture memories and moments beautifully. People do not just want a stunning looking image, they want a memory of that moment so it can live on. Yes, there are times when a beautiful image alone is great to have, but the most looked at photos are those that bring back memories.

Weddings are a prime example of a moment, that one day in a person’s lifetime, that needs to be captured. Have you ever heard someone say: “My family got better pictures than my wedding photographer.” I am sure everyone has heard this comment before. Yet, when you look at the work of the photographer they hired you find great looking images. The problem is usually that the images look stiff, posed without life or character and do not capture any of those important moments. To see the “moment” captured in a photo, look at the picture and ask yourself if you can determine at what point in those people lives the image was taken.

The Moment

Seeing a wedding couple standing in a row with parents or groomsmen and brides to their sides tells you that the images was shot in a formal pose, stiff and unnatural. Though one or two of these shots are important as keepsakes, they could be augmented by shots of the group getting ready for the pose and/or the group breaking up as they leave the pose. Look at how situations develop. keep and eye on people and learn to see moments develop. Be ready to capture small things and do not only try to get those posed shots. One of my all time favorite photos, and also a favorite of the bride, is one where the groom was assisting his bride to remove some leaves which had gotten stuck to the bottom of her dress. The softness, tenderness, togetherness and feeling of the whole wedding day was captured in that one photo. Another is the image to the left where the bride and groom were waiting for the groomsmen and bridesmaids to gather for the formal shots and she just looked at her new husband and they shared a moment.

The lesson to Professional Photographers

You know how to frame a shot and you know how to set up your camera to capture light; now look for more and capture the moments. Even if your shot is not perfect, if the moment is there the shot makes itself.