Editing

Impromptu Belly Dancer Shoot and Terrible Lighting.

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Stop me if you have heard this one before, a photographer, his girlfriend and some buddies walk into a bar… Okay so there is no actual joke there just a description of your run of the mill Friday night. What was different about this Friday night was that my buddy had a friend named Shannon, who was in a belly dancing performance at a Tractor Brewery in down town Albuquerque. I just happened to have my camera on me like that stereotypical photographer I am and so I offered to take some photos of his friend’s performance and have a couple beers… because why not.

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I have seen belly dancing performances before in the past and they haven’t particularly been something that has caught my interest but this one was a bit different. It had more a burlesque sort of vibe to it which was complimentary to the scene that the show was taking place in. It turned an event for which I had low expectations for  into a rather gratifying experience that was well worth having my camera out for.

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Now of course like in any impromptu photo situation there is a certain amount of factors that you can’t really account for. In this case it was the lighting set up that the bar was using. Now bars normally have terrible lighting to begin with but in all fairness I pretty sure they didn’t design them with photographers in mind. The stage had a single light set up that had more blue gelling in it than anything I’ve ever experienced in my career. The light definitely went with the vibe of the activities and worked really well for the shows atmosphere  but like most performance situations the lighting was not intended for photography purposes and I just have to accept that.

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From the back of my cameras LCD screen there was very little to complain about when looking at the images. Even though I’m shooting in raw the camera is still presenting an internally processed image based on what ever profile settings I have punched in. I keep it on a neutral setting with contrast and saturation turned down for video purposes (It helps with color grading.)  It wasn’t until I got home and brought the images into Lightroom that I notice just how drastically the lighting affected the images. The amount of saturation that the blue light casted on to the images was nothing short of insane. The only real solution I had was to bring down the saturation all together. Little did I realize that most of the exposure was coming from that blue light and as I brought down the saturation the exposure went with it. This called for a very nuanced balancing act when it came to post processing

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After spending a lot of time toying with the images and figuring out what was going to work and what wasn’t I ended up with these very stylized images that almost have a black and white feel with a blue ting to them. Almost like a stylized noir type image. Normally my images aren’t too over the top with how stylized they are but given the situation I think I should be given some slack for going the direction that I did.

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Now the perfectionist in me is frustrated by how these images turned out because I didn’t get the freedom to do what I wanted with the images. But the creative part of me is quite satisfied with how everything turned out because I think photography and art in general is best when you are given limitations to work in. A lot of time artist want to ignore convention and style and just create whatever they want and while that may give them artistic fulfillment the work ends up suffering from being difficult to understand or even look at. I like to work within a box and create things based on what I’ve been given and not with what I wish I have. I’m not nearly as much of a control freak when it comes to my art but at the same time I’m not just throwing buckets of paint on a wall and calling it a master piece

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The impromptu nature of this shoot really did bring out the things I love about photography. The way that everything is just constantly moving and the limitations that I had to work around has a way of igniting that part of my brain that is about problem solving and wanting to do things differently than what i’m accustomed to. AJA_0084

 

So I guess what i’m trying to say is that it was a very good Friday night out.

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Denver Comic Con 2015: Lessons From a Large Convention

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Denver Comic Con 2015  by a landslide was the largest pop culture convention that I have ever attended. With over 100,000 people in attendance over the Memorial weekend, the challenges that I thought I knew about candid photography in a convention environment couldn’t have been more frustrating.

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At any kind of comic convention crowds are a given. No matter how large the space is, no matter how well designed the flooring is, there is always going to be an issue with crowding. What I wasn’t expecting with how dense the crowding was going to be at just about every turn. Many of the shots I had taken were lost or ruined by the amount of people blocking  subjects or intruding in parts of the frame. The only real solution to this problem goes back to the age old saying- if the shots not good enough, you’re not close enough.

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I found myself being uncharacteristically timid during my time in Denver. Maybe it’s because I hadn’t been in one of these candid environments in a long while but I found myself being further away from my subjects and not being in the scene that I was shooting. As time went on I got better about it and just needed to kick off the rust but a lot of my work suffered because of it.

 

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Another tenant I forgot when shooting in Denver was patience. While going through my edits when I finally got home to Albuquerque I noticed that large sum of my photos were severely out of focus. I had forgotten that when shooting in continuous auto focus you need to give the camera time to lock focus and not just start shooting the moment you point the camera. Even when I was on the floor shooting I knew that I had hit the shutter too early. Some photos had more obvious flaws then others but none the less many were lost because of a itchy trigger finger.

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A big thing that could have helped me in my photos would have been to slow down. Today’s camera technology has conditioned many to adopt a spray and pray technique that may yield some lucky grabs but it doesn’t replace good technique when it comes to getting a high percentage of keepers. Often I set myself up with gear like Prime lenses to make sure I take my time but I noticed on many of my snap shots that I had issues with composition and camera shack that wouldn’t have been there if I had just slowed down a bit.

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One thing that could have helped me was actually bring my desktop to edit at the hotel every night so I could see my work from the past day and see what I was getting. Having the opportunity to reflect on my work and see what was working and what wasn’t could have helped improve my shooting that weekend. It’s like going back and watching tape the day after the game. But of course hindsight is 20/20 and you can’t don’t get any extra lives.

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Though there are plenty of frustration that came out of shooting this convention there are still some stellar diamonds in the rough in this take. Any photo outing you can be expected to take hundreds of images expecting that maybe only 10% of them survive the gauntlet of editing. I left Denver Comic Con with almost 900 images on an hard drive and by the time I had it widdeled down there were about 268 left on the block that got toned and exported. So over all I can’t say the entire outing was a failure. I just believe I could have done better.

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Once I had made it down from Albuquerque, kicked a stomach bug, and found time between errands and my day job, I got to editing the photos and the trend began… So much black and white. I’ve recently had complaints that I do it too much but quite frankly photography and photo editing like any art form is subjective. My decision to make photos colored or black and white comes out of a feel for the images and if I feel like that image works better in black and white that’s what I’m going to do to it. If a client was paying me for a shoot and specifically asked for all photos in color I would, but in my own creative freedom I’m going to do what works best for me and my sensibilities.

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There are certain set of instances where black and white has advantages over color; such as low light situations using higher ISO’s. The noise looks more like film grain in black and white and you don’t have to worry about lost color detail because you’ve thrown the color out the window; also busier backgrounds aren’t as distracting which befits candid shots well. Color can still work in these situations but you never really know how it’s going to work out until you spend some time toning the images.

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Cosplayers put a lot of work into their outfits (some more than others) and they want the pictures taken of them to show of as much of the costume and details as possible. My shooting style doesn’t really do that very well. I am much more concerned with getting a good image than I am showing off a good cosplay. Elements like interaction, juxtaposition, action, and raw emotion are more of what I’m looking for in a shot. Not how well made the costume is. A good costume can go a long way in catching my eye and dragging my lens to it but if that photo doesn’t come out that way I want it to I’m not going to share it with the world.

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What I love about these conventions is their diversity. People from all walks of life, backgrounds and mentalities come to these things for one purpose and that is to just have a good time and celebrate the things they are unironically enthusiastic about. It can be done in almost a million different ways, dressing up, meeting people who have worked on some of your favorite pieces of entertainment, or just buying new things to add to their nerd collections. You definitely run into some interesting characters at these things.

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However after several years of attending these events and shooting them the way I do, I seem to be developing a since of Convention Fatigue. I maybe end up attending 3-5 different conventions a year and the more and more I attend them the more I feel like I’m just going through the motions. Last year Denver Comic Con was my favorite convention I had ever gone to. This year it just felt like another convention just this time with 100,000 people crowding around.

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Denver Comic Con didn’t particularly do anything wrong this year. They just didn’t offer anything new for me. Perhaps I just need to take a hiatus from conventions for a while. Albuquerque doesn’t have a Summer con this year so that gives me an opportunity to get some distance from the nerd circus and be able to come back to it with a fresh take.

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But who knows, maybe that’s just the nerd flu talking. Knowing me I’ll end up caving and submitting for another press pass for the closest convention before anyone knows it. But for now I think I deserve a rest.

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Girls of Geek at Geekon: Personality in Portraits.

Photojournalism is my passion. It’s photography in its purest form in that you are capturing moments while you yourself are in the moment. Portraiture, which I also enjoy, doesn’t capture a moment. It’s more or less a staged moment for the sake of creating a photograph. This doesn’t make Portraiture a lesser form of photography it just means that instead of capturing a moment you are trying to capture a personality. My most recent outing of shooting with Girls of Geek is a prime example of this.

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The group had invited me out to a morning of shooting on location with a couple other photographers at the headquarters of Geekon; A locally owned company out in Albuquerque that restores and sells classic arcade and pinball machines right out of their garage. When you have a pitch for that kind of location it’s hard to say no, so I packed up my gear and went out to shoot like any sensible photographer would.

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Once again I was working with many different models all of whom I’ve had the luxury of working with before (most of them at the Gotham Shoot). This at least gave me a level of comfort when it came to shooting with the models and being able to communicate with them. The real challanges came when I changed who I was shooting with.

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One thing I really do love about this group of ladies is that they have such a mixed bag of personalities and characters. There is no shortage of the amount of things you can get out of them. However that means that as a photographer I have to shift the way I interact with my subjects as they change out. Some models I would just give a slight direction to and they would adjust immediately (and just about perfectly,) while some needed almost no direction at all (which is the most desirable feature in a model) and others who I worked with to find what was right for them.

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Normally with One-on-One portrait sessions this process is a lot more streamlined because you can work with that individual as long as you need to and eventually you get into a rhythm where the photos practically take themselves. As challenging as this problem may sound, just adjusting your style to fit the model is easy as long as you try to show their personality instead of trying to make them be somebody that they are not.

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More often than not I see people post portraits where their subject almost look like dolls or props just to show off their knowledge of the technical working of photography or their skills in Photoshop. When it comes to Portraiture it’s important to remember that there is a person who is the centerpiece of your photograph and it’s your best interest to give your audience an idea of who your subject is.

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Photography like any other art form is of course subjective. There a million and one decisions that can be made and each one will change the dynamic one way or another and different photographers are going to make different dicisions. Lighting, toning, posing, ect, all go into the process of portraiture and these decisions dictate heavily what your final product will be.

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This shoot had a lot of physical limitations, the big one being space. There was really only so much room that I had to work with in this shoot which really influenced how I shot the whole thing. For starters most of this shoot was done shooting with my 50mm 1.8g. Normally I’d be shooting with my 85mm 1.8g for portraits but the amount of space I had was keeping me from getting the compositions I wanted on the 85mm. The 28mm made some appearances but mostly for group shots.

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Another big challenge was lighting. Being that it was indoors with not a lot in terms of natural lighting, I brought with me my DIY lighting set up that consisted of a 1K florescent light with a soft box and several different clamp lights. Some of the other photographers had their strobe set ups with them. I haven’t gotten a whole lot of experience with strobes but it’s something that I’ve been wanting to look into, however coming from a video background it has made more since to have a continuous lighting set up as opposed to strobes that really only help in photography and not so much in video.

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Once I got into post production I was upset to find that some of the photos didn’t have perfect focus. In portraiture you always aim for the eyes to be in sharp focus and some just weren’t there. Not all was lost but it’s annoying when you lose a great photo to something that many people will nitpick (which I do a lot).

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In post I never really do anything fancy, just some adjustments in lightroom to the contrast, recovering some shadow and highlight detail and correcting some color and clarity. Editing the full take will take me more or less a couple of hours. Being from a journalism background has conditioned me to try and have fast turnaround times when it comes to editing. Some times I will come back for re-edits to bring fresh eyes to the images, but that mostly comes from boredom. You’ll notice that a lot of my photos ended up in black and whites. This decisions usually just comes down to a decision of feel. Some photos just end up looking better in black and white than they do in color. This is more common when as photo was taken in low light and I had to use a high ISO. The noise looks more like classic grain and then you don’t really have to worry about color detail because there is none. But for this photo it just felt right to have them in black and white. Some might find it annoying but they are my photos so sue me.

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If there is anything that can be said about this set of images and the models of Girls of Geek it’s that they have quite a lot of range. As a photographer I love the different things that I can get of my subjects and when it comes to working with this group I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface. Here’s to more working with them in the future.

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Live Music Photo Editing

By request of a close friend of mine I went to shoot a live performance of his band. Concert photography can be complicated and difficult because it backs you into corners and the lighting is usually sub par. So with careful edits you can make or break these photos. Watch my Lightroom editing process in the video.

Lightroom Editing: The Tara Portraits.

I’ve recently decided to start doing some editing videos using light room to show my editing process. What I like to do, what I don’t like to do and just goof around with the differen’t things I can do with photos.

I’m probably going to start being less formal in these just so I can bring out more of my personality out. There are so many tutorials out there these days that I don’t necessarily want to do what everyone else does.

This is also a part of an Adobe Student Rep program that I’m doing this semester so if you want to get a month free trial of Adobe Creative Cloud you can click this link http://adobe.ly/1jr9L5U and you’ll get access to all of adobe’s creative software to take for a test drive.