I get called a professional photographer often. Funny thing is, I don’t consider myself one. Like most, I have those in the photography world I consider professionals and look up to their work. They amaze me and inspire. True masters of which I wish I had the capability to absorb their knowledge. They are pros. They create photographic art for a living. They don’t have another job.
I on the other hand, consider myself a hobbyist, perhaps a hobbyist plus. I do have my work published often and do have clients and some income from my “hobby” but in the end, I have a day job. Photography is not my primary income. To me, photography is fun, something I have been doing for many years but decided several years ago to see if it could be something more. Turns out, it did.
The key thing for me is the fun part. I have this fear that if I push too hard to reach some magical level of success, the fun will fade as the workload and business aspects increase. I’m scratching on that precipice now. As in the movie, “The Matrix”, which pill do I take? My decision right now is to place myself in a holding pattern. The fun will continue! I scrutinize potential jobs that may be work, not fun. When it’s fun, I experiment, can be artistic and enjoy the experience. Customers benefit from this. It translates and inserts itself in the prints they buy. When its work, you have a job to do, costs to consider, no time for creativity, just do what works, the standards, no fun. I don’t want my HR department telling me to push the bigger packages, “Would you like to supersize your order”. I’m content in the profession that I have been in for so many years. Aviation related work has been my life, pays the mortgage, puts food on the table.
What does this mean to you? From my perspective, you as a potential customer, should I accept the job, get someone unhindered by external forces that suck the life out creativity. You get what you want and perhaps a bit more. Why,,,, I’m having fun!
Did you notice the inherent contradiction I inserted from the first paragraph? “They create photographic art for a living”. At some point, when you’re so good that you have customers begging for your products, you can have fun again. That’s life at the top. That’s one big mountain to climb just to enjoy again. Perhaps I’ll hang out here in my holding pattern a little longer. What a fun hobby this is!
Disclaimer: Like most, I’m attracted to shiny objects and wads of cash so I reserve the right to change my mind at any time.
I get frequent requests for tips and settings I use on my camera. Well here is what I do for 99% of my work. Your mileage will vary.
I never use the built in scene modes or the green auto mode. Wish they weren't even there. The modes I use are P,S,A, and M (Nikon) for different reasons which I'll try to explain.
P, or Program Auto mode. I use this all the time. It is similar to full auto but allows me to change settings in camera to meet my needs. Look, the camera is smart, sometimes smarter than me. In the heat of action, I may not be fast enough to keep up with changes but the camera on P mode can do it for me. Along with P mode, I constantly am adjusting the bias, (rear dial) and exposure compensation for the ever changing environment. I mostly use this for Action, Portraits, Landscapes, and general "Snapshots".
S mode or shutter priority. Probably 90% of my action shots are done with this. I pick a shutter speed and the camera does the rest and figures out an aperture setting for me. I still use the exposure compensation heavily. I pretty much only use this for action shots. Occasionally for Portraits.
A or Aperture priority. I set this when I'm concerned about a depth of focus. Blurred background or sharper background. The camera figures out the best shutter speed for me. I still use the exposure compensation button heavily on this. A mode is great for HDR or any photos I plan on stitching together. That way they are all in the same focus plane. Also great for portraits and Landscapes.
M mode or Manual. This one scares folks but it shouldn't. I use this exclusively for my night work or for situations when one of the other modes just won't do what I want. I have full control and must select all the settings. Really though, only purists do everything in Manual. Any of the other modes can accomplish 97% of what can be done in manual. Like I said, modern cameras are very smart. However, my night work must be done in manual. The camera can't read my mind and know how long of an exposure I'll need or what aperture will work for the effect I'm looking for.
Of course there is more detail to what I do but these are the basics. I never use auto ISO. I like to set the ISO for what I'm doing. I try to use the lowest that gives me what I want. Higher ISO equals more digital noise to deal with.
In the most controversial area, Raw or Jpg, I use Jpg for action and most everything else. Raw for night work and some portraits. My goal is to get the shot right the first time and not have to fix it later. Yes there is more flexibility post editing but not so much as to tell a huge difference unless the original shot really sucked out of camera and you are going to save the shot no matter what. Here is the rub though, after all the work in Raw editing, the final shot gets uploaded in,,, drum roll please,,,, JPG. Case closed. Please, no hate mail on Raw vrs JPG, use what you want. I make money with JPG's, not much argument.
Sorry for a lack of updates, I'll be back real soon with some!
I’m going to pat myself on the back for a moment. It’s still hard to believe that the only wedding I have ever done as a photographer has made it into the pages of a national magazine, Sand Sports. When I originally started this project, the groom had invited the editor of Sand Sports, Mike, to the wedding. He had forwarded me the email knowing that I was working this wedding (I do freelance work for Sand Sports). Since it was to be held in the dunes, I proposed an article on it. At first he wasn’t too keen on the idea. Seems he gets many requests yearly for magazine coverage of weddings and since this is a “gear head” mag, the subject is not really suited to the audience. He explained to me his criteria on these things and admitted they have covered weddings sporadically in the past but not necessarily as a dedicated feature. Then he left a small window open for me. Basically, I had to present photos and an article that would make him want to run the story. Ahh, a challenge! I knew the photos were good. Got plenty of action shots of the bride, white dress and all in a sandrail. The hard part was the article. I knew it would have to relate to the duning audience. So I sat down and decided to attack this from a pure gear head perspective. Basically, insert myself as the struggling motorsport photographer that has been transported to a wedding chapel. Which in a way, is the truth. I told the story in that perspective. Making it humorous as I went to keep the audience interested. Describing the wedding as well as their Sandrail in the article kept the gear head aspect alive. I think the hook to it all was describing the brides preparation, dress, and the cake as if they were assembled at a race shop. To me, that was the touch it needed. Lucky for me, the Bride and Groom loved the idea. And best of all, so did the editor. It is in the March/April 2012 issue. BTW, the photo below was not photoshopped, it was a mirror and I positioned the couple for it. I get asked about it a lot.
Table of Contents page courtesy of sandsports.net
I took a lot of photos while I was deployed to Nellis Air Force Base for a recent Red Flag exercise. I was able to get a photo pass as a representative of my squadron to document the exercise for “historical purposes”. That just means I have to give my squadron a copy of the photos. This one particular photo was a last minute idea and has become viral here at Edwards AFB. I’m getting great comments everyday about it. I was walking out of the building just before sunset and the sky was just starting to change color. I knew this was going to be a great sunset so I ran to my car to grab my camera equipment and head out to the flightline. With limited time, I searched for a good vantage point to get a shot of the aircraft at the right angle. This was proving difficult. A building, light pole, and ground equipment were all in the way. I wasn’t going to lose this natural light. I setup my camera on the tripod and took a shot of the aircraft. I didn’t have enough flash power with me to get a good even low noise shot and the distracting items on and around the jet were just too much. I re-composed to the back of the jet and changed settings to go with a three exposure HDR (High Dynamic Range) shot. The lighting for the aircraft was good for HDR since the whole area was lit up by a large stadium style lights. But, that same lighting was washing out the sky. I took my camera and changed the lens to my 10-24mm wide angle. Knowing that the distortion effect of going wide would enhance the overall shot later, I walked away from the large lights and buildings and shot the sky. I took several shots of different exposures until I got the one I wanted. Later that night I created the HDR shot of the aircraft on my computer and removed the aircraft from the photo. I then placed the aircraft into the wide sunset shot and blended the edges a little to merge it all together. This is the first time that I have merged different photos taken with different type of lenses. The aircraft is normal shaped and the background sunset is showing the awesome diverging effect in the clouds. It’s as if the clouds are all emanating from a single point behind the aircraft. In a nutshell, I used four different photos to make this one. This particular one is the third version. Numbers one and two just didn’t look right. I hope you all enjoy this photo as much as I did creating it. Comments are welcome!