15 November 2014

Location

Art Model and Performer, Mercy ©2011 Terrell Neasley. Men's Room.
Sometimes you just have to get off your ass and go. I'm still harping on the Bringing Back the Passion that I started earlier this month. I followed that post up with a post on Flash and then again with Ambient (light) as some easy alternatives to help you blow on those embers that could ignite your photo passions again. So LOCATION is what I wanna cover at the moment. Why? Cuz its easy. You simply get your ass up out of the house and go someplace with the explicit and direct intent to photograph something.

Urban
Sometimes people will tell you to start in your own back yard. Nah. Not good enough. You are still too comfortable in your own house and yard. I don't see that as "blowing on any embers". To fan the flame, you have to go beyond, but you still need a place to start. Downtown is good enough as a beginning point if you like. I live in Vegas, so downtown here is the Las Vegas strip. Or so you might believe. Actually, downtown is FREEMONT STREET! Its a little different but yet similar to the Strip. A different kind of folk walk those streets and a many of characters will present themselves for your photographic pleasure.

Art Model and Blogger, Wonderhussy ©2008 Terrell Neasley
Erotic Heritage Museum
But there are still other urban areas in Vegas and you have them where you live too. Well, unless you're living out in the sticks, in which case you might have a further drive than most. But Street Photography can be the thing you need to rejuvenate and get a fresh start in photo again. Look up some examples of popular street photo work. Not to necessarily copy or emulate, but rather to just see what the possibilities are. Walk around first before you even pull your camera out. Observe. Listen. Smell. See the potential scenes that lie before you. In the Army, as we'd begin our patrols, we would stop a few hundred meters in, take a knee and become familiar with the sights, sound, and smells, of the environment we were about to immerse ourselves in. We called it SLLS, or sills. Its the same thing here. In this case, it can help you see and anticipate events that might be developing and thus better prepare you to capture that decisive moment. This can make the difference between THAT shot and JUST ANY OLD shot.

You can pick a theme to help you focus and look for something. Shooting the homeless has been very popular, but I find that to be a tough one sometimes, personally. You may want to concentrate on signs or door knobs. I've done newspaper wracks and stands. Shooting bus stops might be an option as well as photographing street vendors. You can also change your perspective a little. Everything doesn't have to be done from an eye level perspective! Get down! I mean it. Get low to the ground and see the world how a dog might view it. Or change it up and shoot from above and get a bird's eye view of things. Just change it up so things don't get predictable or boring. You may do photo for yourself, but you still want others to see it. Show them something fresh.

Out and About in Nature
I can dig some urban, but now we're getting into my scene! The woods! The desert! The mountains! As well as the BEACH! Natural surroundings appeal to me most. Especially spots where I have to get off the beaten path a bit. Seeing new things in God's creation can heat up the coldest of passions and make it blaze. I've been to spots that make you want to put down the camera and just keep it to yourself. If you can, bring a friend along whose company you enjoy OR somebody who knows the area and can be a guide of sorts. Its not always fun to get lost ( though sometimes it can be!). I can't tell you how many people I've taken out into the boonies...who have lived nearby all their lives...and yet had never previously seen the beauties that Red Rock has to offer. Or Lake Mead, Valley of Fire, or either of the hot springs near Hoover Dam at Goldstrike and Arizona. All these areas are within a hour of Vegas.

Art Model, Covenant ©2014 Terrell Neasley. Nevada desert
You'll have to find out what appeals to you in these natural settings. For me, I can say a good, unique landscape vista is what I find most captivating. On the other hand, you may be more interested in the wildlife or birds. Photographing big horn sheep will be vastly different than photographing humming birds or egrets, mainly in the lens choices. You'll need some telephoto action, but you don't have to have as fast of a lens as you might with hummingbirds. Flowers are highly popular to shoot. Again, lens choices come into play. If you like to shoot a field of wild flowers, a normal zoom or better yet a wide-angle lens would work. However if you're wanting to get close enough to depict the petals and stamen of the Angel Trumpet flower, then a macro lens is your best business. You may also need to be on a tripod in many cases using a remote switch/cable release.

Book a Flight
Now this requires just a bit more dedication than most people have the stomach for, but hear me out. It doesn't take as much as you think to hop on a plane and go somewhere. You can sign up on some of these websites such as Hitlist (an app, actually) or OneTravel and get updates on cheap flights for places you have let them know you're interested in. I routinely get limited time offers for $100 flights. A flight to San Pedro Sula in Honduras will only run you $350. You can use these opportunities to head to Seattle for the weekend. I already hear what you're saying..."But then you have to find a place to stay!" True. Which is where CouchSurfing.org comes into play. There are people out there that offer their homes to travelers for free. I've meet some great people doing this. Sign up, check it out. Sometimes its short notice. Other times its planned months in advance. So you may have to rent a car, but if you're going to bitch about how expensive that is, then photo may not be for you. I mean, there are deals left and right. YES, you will spend money.

Anonymous Art Model, ©2014 Terrell Neasley San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
You're not gonna do photo without spending money. So either come to terms with that notion or take up treasure hunting with a metal detector on the beach. Some people find that very soothing and quite rewarding. Ain't no shame in that. Photo may not be the thing for you. Me...? I just want you to be happy. Get a camera, take some pics. If it's not for you, take up dance lessons. But my purpose is to holla at you about photo, so that's what I'm about. Its all about choices and what you choose to prioritize. You can make getting that new car stereo for $600 your priority if you so choose. You can also get a new wide-angle lens for your crop-sensor camera for even less than that. Book at trip to El Salvador for that same $600. Whichever will be the more rewarding experience...that's what I want you to go for. Now get to it.

12 November 2014

Ambient

Art Model, Covenant ©2014 Terrell Neasley Lit by small outdoor lamp and laptop computer. Handheld high ISO

“Wherever there is light, one can photograph.”
~ Alfred Stieglitz

Ambient light or constant light is light that's not turning off. It just stays on. It doesn't have to be daylight from the sun. It can be the light on in your house or the light that comes on to illuminate your licence plate when it gets dark. By definition, ambient light is simply the light in your immediate surroundings whether it be artificial or natural. If you are in a dark room lit by a candle, that flicker on the wicker is your ambient light. And that's the cool stuff that I'll be discussing in this post. The natural light photogs can get a little something out of this. Anyone can take a photo in the daylight when all the settings are done in Full Auto or "P"-mode. Just let the camera do all the work and you're good to go. So in bringing back that passion, try this: work with ambient light in the darker settings and use any available light that you can come up with. I've used light from a cell phone held close to a model's face. I've used the moon on a 8 second exposure. Or better yet, work with a Neutral Density filter (which I'll be talking about in another upcoming blog post in more detail).

Art Model, Covenant ©2014 Terrell Neasley
Lit by small outdoor lamp and laptop computer. Handheld high ISO
But here are a few things you're gonna need in order to get busy with this concept. In the last post, I set you up with flash and triggers for under $200. In this case, I'm gonna stay in that same neighborhood. I'll begin with a good tripod. I've worked with several new and aspiring photogs who make a dubious mistake in my opinion. And when I say, "in my opinion", it's just that. I'm not quoting law and regulations. Its my perspective that when I see someone spend a grand or more on a good camera and then come into the camera shop looking for a $25 tripod, I'm just gonna say no. And usually the cheapest I get them out of the door with is a $170 Promaster system that will take care of their support and stabilization needs. You simply don't trust a thousand dollars on twenty dollar legs. Just don't do it.

Art Model, Covenant ©2014 Terrell Neasley
Lit by moonlight about 8 seconds (which blurred clouds) on Tripod
Now you can definitely go way more than what Promaster has to offer. I use a carbon fiber Promaster tripod system for my quick travel work here around the country. Its strong, but smaller and more compact to travel with. But for my main work, I use a bigger, but medium sized Manfrotto 190CXPRO4 Tripod with Ball Head Q2 carbon fiber unit that is the most beautiful system out there. Aesthetics usually don't count, but I fell in love with this thing and its gorgeous as well as strong. However, before I venture off to Central America again, I'm picking up another Promaster that's tough, but even smaller than the carbon fiber one I have now. Good sturdy legs are key. Next is having a ball head that can support the weight of your camera when its tilted vertical. I like mine to be extra strong in this regard. When a camera is tilted vertically, its actually off of the tripod's center of gravity. I never use the extended neck on these tripods for that very reason, but sometimes the vertical perspective is necessary.

"What makes photography a strange invention is that its primary raw materials are light and time."
~ John Berger

You can definitely pick up a used tripod system somewhere. There are super easy to test out and confirm it's serviceability prior to you trusting it with your camera out in the field. If you can get a good one for cheap, go for it. I like mine new and simply won't go for a used support system. That's just me. Every manufacturer will make tripods of various qualities, sizes, max weights, and different price points. Carbon fiber will usually run you double what an aluminum will cost. I like carbon fiber a lot. Find what suits you best in the budget you choose.

Art Model, Covenant ©2014 Terrell Neasley
Lit by flashlight 2 seconds. Tripod,
but high ISO exposing for stars
The next most important item is going to be a cable release or remote shutter release system that plugs into your camera and allows you to actuate the shutter release without having to touch the camera itself and thus causing camera shake. For my Nikon D800E I have the MC-36A Multifuction Remote Cord, which is basically an intervalometer and a shutter release cable in one. But for my Fujifilm XE-2, I use an old style plunger-type threaded cable release. Promaster makes several for just about every camera system and when I do my one-on-one trainings, I'll generally have my students pick up one for $20 to $30, depending on what cameras system they have.

Next all you need is a still subject and the proficiency to shoot them giving the lighting challenges and the uniqueness or limitations of your camera. If you have a Sony A7s (stay tuned), then you don't really have any camera limitations. If you're working with a camera with ISO deficiencies, then yes, you'll have to work within that. But generally speaking, you'll be on a tripod so ISO 100 will usually be the best bet. I say generally, because if you're doing astro work, then max ISO is where you'll be. In either case doing a portrait in single-sourced low light can be both fun and challenging, but its sure to pay off with some good work.

Art Model, Covenant ©2014 Terrell Neasley Lit by small outdoor lamp and laptop computer. Handheld high ISO
You can easily get started by using the obvious sources of light around you. The lamp on your light stand; the light coming off the TV or computer monitor, an overhead patio light. Get creative with it a bit. Try using the refrigerator light, a match, a headlamp, a night light. You can even play with different LED lights you might find in the toy section or automotive departments. Experiment! That's the main aim here. Experimentation and just play. Use a lowest ISO setting on your camera unless you are NOT using a tripod. In which case you want to use the lowest ISO you can get away with. Target an ISO that will allow for a shutter speed of at least 1/60th of a second, but cheat a little if you can. Go to 1/30th or even 1/15th and boost the Exposure Value Compensation up by a stop or two. Have your model be as still as possible. If you are not using a model and are doing night time/low light landscape, well, look to see if the wind is blowing the trees or tall grass and let that determine what your shutter should be. Just go out there and shoot and see what happens.

09 November 2014

Flash

Art Model, Covenant ©2014 Terrell Neasley
Studio lighting - Einstein E640 mono-light mounted with a soft box to model's right and Nikon SB-700 with Gary Fong Lightsphere diffuser to the left rear
"In photography there are no shadows that cannot be illuminated."
~ August Sander

In my last post, I mentioned one way to expand your efforts to get excited about photo again was to start using flash in your work. Now, granted...this post won't be necessarily for everybody. Some of you togs already have a great grip on this thing and its not your weakness by any stretch of the imagination. If that's the case, then just enjoy the pictures. However, if you do NOT have an acute aptitude for the ambient and artificial arts, then lets start small and follow me a little ways down the rabbit hole.

Art Model, Covenant ©2014 Terrell Neasley
Lit with a Maglight for 2 seconds
First things first. Can't be scared of light. As I mentioned in previously, most photog won't use it cuz they're scared of it. Ignorance of a thing is not a reason to fear a thing. Also, light is cheap. Yes, you can go pick up the high end flash by Nikon or Canon and pay skyward of $500 if you want to but come on, its a pop of light. Now speaking mainstream, I like either the Canon 430EX II, which I used for years (along with the 580EX II). With Nikon being my main system, I blast with the Nikon SB-700. Both of these are in the $300 range and that's a good start. These flashes give you lots of latitude and features that eliminate most every possible excuse you may have. You won't outgrow them and they will probably wear out from use long before they become obsolete.

But even if you can't or don't want to swing $300 at the moment, you still have options. First, you can find something used for a hundred or so. Second, you can rent for a weekend for $20 bucks. Third, you can go off-brand with several makers, most notably Yongnuo brands that will be under a $100. Second, you're gonna need some radio triggers. This gives you the ability to take the flash off of the camera, which brings me to my third thing which is a light stand, for something to put the flash on. I'll also add in there to pick up an umbrella holder so the flash can be mounted on something that can allow it to bend and point in any direction. But back to the triggers. This is also too easy. Phottix makes a set for $55, that are great and can be used with any flash system because its manual. There's no TTL setting. All it does is pop when you tell it too. At B&C Camera, you can go to either of the store's two locations in Las Vegas and get a quick run down on how to use them. Easy-Peasy.

Art Model, Covenant ©2014 Terrell Neasley
Lit with flash from model's right side
"Essentially what photography is is life lit up."
~ Sam Abell

I could throw in one more accessory, which is a flash diffuser of some kind. Is it necessary? Yeah, kinda. I don't really use a flash without something diffusing the light a bit, but I've seen plenty and have done it bare bulb too. Its kind of like a saddle on a horse. You don't HAVE to use one, but if you don't, just know its gonna be a hard ride. Okay, screw it...pick up an umbrella while you're at the camera shop. Now, back to my main thing. For about $200 you can practice and get a better grip on flash and really step up your work. Flash is cool because its lightweight and portable. All you need is some double-A's and you're off and running. Keep in mind. Flash isn't just used for night time shots! The question I get most often is, "Why would you use flash during the day?" Simple... Cuz the sun can cause harsh shadows. Using flash as some fill light is an excellent solution. No your model doesn't have to squint because the sun is in her/his eyes. And you can face the model away from the sun without their faces going into shadow. Oh yeah. Try exposing for that beautiful sunset AND your model without using flash and you'd better be good at composite work. Flash isn't just for studio. I take it with me just about everywhere.

Art Model, Covenant ©2014 Terrell Neasley
Lit with Einstein E640 mono-light with mounted soft box from front

Do yourself a huge favor and just run through the manual. It may look thick but that's just cuz its also in several different languages. Know how to turn it on and set power levels for starters and then go shoot. I'm not often shooting at 1/1, which is the full power setting. I'm usually at 1/8th power or below. Set the flash up about 45 degrees left or right of your subject. Now chances are, you'll have to manually adjust the power settings, but even with that, once you get it within a tolerable range, you can adjust your aperture to control the flash. Big Tip: Shutter Speed controls ambient/constant light (daylight or lighting that stays on). Aperture controls Flash. Opening up the aperture increases the flash's intensity, while closing down does the opposite. So within a certain range of exposure, you can use the aperture settings (shooting in Manual or Aperture Priority Mode) to control the flash output.

Play with this in varying degrees of light as well in different locations. Trust me. It will bring the fun back. If you're going to be in the Las Vegas area or live here, get with me. I do one-on-one training for this stuff. Give me at least a week and you'll be up and running in no time with an excellent understanding of exposure control and flash. And when I talk to you next, we'll get a little bit more into locations.

08 November 2014

Bringing Back the Passion


Art Model, Kristi C. ©2014 Terrell Neasley 
"If you are not passionately devoted to an idea, you can make very pleasant pictures but they won't make you cry." 

Art Model, Kristi C. ©2014 Terrell Neasley 
I get to teach, learn from, socialize with, and mentor several local photographers, both professional and amateur, here in the Las Vegas area. I come across various skill levels most every week. I try to either impart or take away some knowledge at each encounter. And sometimes, its just great to be in good company. Some of those I come into contact with for the first time may find my perspective and demeanor somewhat... let's just say impassioned. If you can't tell that I am a little "off" when it comes to the talk, discussion, or debate on photo matters, then you clearly are not listening. I understand that not everyone will be inflamed or such as I. And that's cool (did you note that pun...inflamed/cool?). In either case, all wish to become better. I like the above quote by Ruth Bernhard. Everybody wants their photography to be moving. But I have heard few that desire to make their viewers cry. 

And here is the difference. Being moving can be slightly ambiguous. There is no real level or degree to be attached to being moved. No clear intensity can be quantified by simply being moved. I can be moved slightly as well as spurred into action. I can be moved by your work for a second and then forget about it upon seeing the work of another who's images can also be moving. So what is the measure for success when the objective is to simply move your audience? With no clear objective, the attempt can be lacking, misguided, and totally miss the mark. The only moving affect you have on your audience is that they are compelled to move-on to something more interesting. But there is only one connotation when you wish to make someone cry over your work. To cry is to remember. To cry is to have an emotion that becomes attached to your work and there-by giving your work life in someone's mind. 

Art Model, Kristi C. ©2014 Terrell Neasley 
However as the quote states, "...you can make pleasant pictures, but they won't make YOU cry." Now that's an very interesting part to question. Do tears go into your own work? That should be the first measure of how well your audience might receive your images. Now if you shoot like me, you'll tax your tear ducts too much on a yearly basis. But the idea is rather a question of your passion to what you do. Maybe not specifically toward a particular photo, or even a project. But for sure, it begs to ask whether or not you are passionate toward your craft. I'm not talking about the business of your craft as it speaks to what efforts are involved to generate profit. I speak more towards the devotion to the spirit of the craft itself and the devotion and commitment toward producing better images. Its hard to expect the sort of moving reaction you desire from your public when no such reactions are elicited from you in the capture, design, and presentation of said composition. 

Art Model, Kristi C. ©2014 Terrell Neasley 
Step up your game. Get out of your comfort zone. I'll even give you a hint. Lighting. Lighting is often one aspect of photography that is many times overlooked, especially artificial light or flash. You'll often hear, "I'm a natural light photographer". No disrespect, but in more cases than not, most of those who utter that phrase simply do not know how to use flash. But with some simple practice, you can make good with it after understanding a few principles and with steady practice. Then there are some who have a good understanding of lighting, yet never deviate from their signature look/style. Never going beyond a key light and a fill. Here is a thought. Rent some new equipment such as monolights instead of working with your speedlights. Try using radio triggers for you flash. Check out some new diffusers or a beauty dish...maybe a ring light. Just try something new. I recently went back to studio work instead of my on-location work and will do so again soon (once I get this friggin' boom fixed!). 

Art Model, Kristi C. ©2014 Terrell Neasley 
Devote some time to you work. Change it up a bit. Shoot what interests you most and let the embers of your passions awake there! You can't move anyone else unless you are moved by your own work. Appreciate yourself by getting out and putting out something extraordinary. And if you can't find the extraordinary, then by Odin's Beard, shoot the ordinary, extra well! Many, many thanks to art model extraordinaire, Kristi C for coming out of her modeling hiatus to help me out with this project.