3 Questions You Should Be Asking Your Potential Photographer

While this is not meant as a comprehensive guide for choosing a photographer, there are a few things every potential client should be asking.  You are hiring a professional to provide a service.  It’s no different than hiring a plumber when your pipes break or a contractor when your roof needs replaced.  You wouldn’t just hire the first guy that showed up with a wrench or a hammer, you would check them out.  Get some quotes.  Ask questions!  Hopefully these examples will point you in the right direction.

1.       What will you be delivering to me and when will I be receiving it?

This is a big one.  You and your photographer should be perfectly clear about this long before the day of the event.  In fact, if your photographer doesn’t present to you some sort of Client Agreement Form, you should be wary.  A Client Agreement Form is a type of contract but it isn’t quite as formal.  It doesn’t have to be prepared by attorneys or get notarized or anything like that.  But it should spell out exactly what both parties are expecting.  If you want prints or a book, that should be in the Agreement.  If you are expecting low-resolution files on a thumb drive, then that should be spelled out as well.  There should also be a time frame written in to the Agreement.    I always let my clients know when they can expect delivery and put it in writing.  Naturally, any discussion of payment needs to go in there as well.  The bottom line is this, if the photographer you are considering does not present you with a Client Agreement Form, or worse, has no idea what you’re talking about.  You should think twice before giving them money.

2. What am I getting for my money?

You wouldn't think this would be a mystery, but photography isn't like other tangible goods. It's a service, so you probably want to make sure you know exactly what you're getting. There are many valid pricing models commonly used by photographers. Some charge by the hour, some charge a flat rate and both are perfectly acceptable. Personally, I essentially charge by the photo. Photos are tangible items and it's a little easier to wrap your mind around what you're getting. To simplify things, I put together packages but I make it clear what the client is going to get in return and how much it's going to cost. Again, they're all valid methods, the important thing is to make sure there is a clear understanding between you and your photographer.

3. What sets you apart from other photographers?

Let's face it, there are a lot of photographers out there. Some good, some bad, but none of us are the same. Each photographer brings their own style and vision to the equation and they should be able to communicate that to prospective clients. If the only thing they can offer you as an answer to that question is that they have this cool camera, then you might want to keep looking. It's not about the equipment, it never has been and never will be. It's about professionalism, conducting business honestly, delivering photos in a timely manner and showing up on time. 

So let me know what you think...what else should you be asking your photographer?

 

 

 

Proper Exposure for Winterscapes

The weather geeks are predicting some wintry precipitation for the overnight.  I thought this might be a good time to talk a little about how to take those snowy landscape pictures!  

Just point and shoot right?  I mean, my camera/phone knows what it's doing, so what else do I need to know?

While this is often true, snow presents a classic problem for our modern electronic gizmos...they don't know that you're aiming them at something that's supposed to be white! You see, a camera's light meter doesn't know what it's metering, it's just measuring the amount of light and telling the camera's computer (yes, it has computer inside!) what f/stop, shutter speed and ISO values to shoot at.  It then sets the camera at that exposure setting automatically when you release the shutter.  Even if you're using a manual mode where you change those settings yourself (and of course, you should!) the camera's meter will indicate a "correct" exposure based on the amount of light it's measuring.  

Problem: Snow is shiny and reflects a lot of light.  Therefore you're camera will want to underexpose the photo and leave you with snow that's closer to middle gray than a nice, pure white.  Ooops!

Interestingly, your camera will do the same thing, but in reverse, in lower light situations or when taking pictures of subjects that are dark.  It will want to overexpose the scene in this scenario.

So what do we do?  The answer is actually fairly simple, the only difficulty is recognizing these sorts of situations when we shoot (hint: this is one of them!). Most cameras have some way of overriding what your camera's meter is telling you.  This is usually called exposure compensationcheck your camera's manual to find out how to adjust this.  For my camera, if I'm shooting in Aperture Priority (which I often am) I simply dial in exposure compensation by dialing the rear command dial up or down (this adjusts the shutter speed).  But for some cameras, you have to hold down a dedicated button to do this.  

This is not meant to be instructions on how to dial in this compensation, but rather why.  So again, read your manual.  

But which way?  Do I add "positive" or "negative" compensation...and how much?  What do these numbers mean?

Exposure Compensation is usually written or displayed in terms of "+" or "-" Stops over or under the Exposure Value (EV).  In other words, a "+1 EV" would mean overexposing the scene by 1 full stop.  Whereas "-1 EV" would mean underexposing my 1 full stop.  

Confusing?  Probably a little, but here's an easier way to think about it using the example of our upcoming snow storm.  If I wake up in the morning to a scene right out of a Jack London short story, point my camera and take a shot, it will likely be underexposed. In other words, it's too dark!  Therefore, I need to dial in a "+" exposure compensation. Need brighter picture = need positive compensation.  

Naturally, the opposite is true.  Picture is too bright, dial in negative compensation.  Pretty simple right?

But how much?!  Well, basically, it depends.  It depends on how over or underexposed your camera is making the scene.  The short answer is, look at your LCD display on the camera or even better, your histogram and adjust to taste.  I know, I know, you want simple, concrete, one-size-fits-all answers...to bad! Get another hobby!  I will say that in my experience, with my camera, when I'm shooting snow, I start out with +2 exposure compensation and go from there...as they say, your mileage may vary.

So get out there and shoot some snowy scenery tomorrow...or whenever the weather gets nasty.  Here are just a couple of extra tips to get you started.

  • Learn to use your camera or phone's exposure compensation (yes, a lot of phones have this feature).
  • Look for subjects that are different in the snow.  The snow and ice can bring an entirely new dimension to the otherwise familiar.
  • Keep your camera warm and take extra batteries!  Your camera will operate just fine in most chilly environments, but your batteries will be drained much, much faster!
  • Consider converting images to black and white.  The general lack of color in a snowy scene emphasizes form, texture and tonal contrast.
  • Most importantly...be careful, stay warm and recover with a nice cup of hot chocolate.

Ambient Light

I recently had a fun shoot with Kristie and Andy.  This was really a mini-shoot, we didn't change locations or have multiple wardrobe changes, but despite it's laid-back approach I still arrived prepared for any circumstances (meaning, I had lots of lights with me).  

We chose to shoot outside as it was a lovely, warm spring day and the late afternoon sun wouldn't be too overpowering.  There were plenty of natural backgrounds from which to choose and the only thing left to decide was how I was going to light them.  From the various online forums, books, website and actual people I've talked to, I feel confident in grouping a lot of photographers into two main groups when it comes to lighting.  Those that consider themselves "natural light" photographers (or the ever so more pretentious "found light" photographers) and those who feel that if one light is good, then twenty lights are even better.  As you dig deeper, you often find that those "natural light" guys are secretly scared to death of flashes and the other camp is just showing off!  As with most things in photographer (and the older I get, the more I realize life in general) the truth is somewhere in between.  As a photographer, you learn how to use your tools and adapt to the situation at hand.

My usual approach to lighting is to start simple and use ambient light when appropriate, necessary, or in rare instances, when the natural ambient light is doing amazing things and the only logical choice is to hold on and shoot as fast as possible before it disappears.  This was not one of those cases.  The biggest limiting factor of the day was not the light, but the wind!  Even a light breeze can catch hold of your lights send them to the ground.  Not to mention the fact that you usually have some sort of modifier (sail) attached which can not only knock over your light, but also send it on a quick trip down the street.  Hasn't happened to me yet, but I've heard the horror stories!

So ambient light it is, but not without a little help.  The biggest problem with direct sunlight is it's relatively small size.  The smaller the light source (from the perspective of the subject) the harder the shadows.  Yes, the sun is quite large, but being 93 million miles away turns it into a relative dot of a light source.  So how do we fix that?  Simple, use your superpowers to generate clouds and cover that thing up.  Or, just use a $15 diffuser as I did hear.  There are some pretty cool ones with handles and such that allow you to hold it with one hand while shooting with the other.  You can also attach it to a light stand and forget about it...except for the darn wind, I highly recommend having a girlfriend who is awesome enough to hold it for you without complaining which is my chosen method for this first shot.

 

Harsh, almost direct, afternoon sun, turned into a kinder, gentler wash of light.  I didn't do a "with" and "without" shot to show the difference, but check out the shadows underneath the top rail of the fence in the background, that's what would be under their eyes without the diffuser.

Don't have a diffuser you say?  No problem, your next best bet is to find a place in the shade.  Preferably somewhere that is still getting some light, but isn't in direct aim of the sun.  This second shot is a perfect example.  

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This is on their front porch, still well lit, but not directly.  

So there you have it.  Sure, I could have brought out the lights, sand-bagged them, or just gone inside, but there are always options.  Fortunately, this time it was simple and cheap.

 

Websites, Domains and Facebook...oh my.

As tech savvy as I might think I am, making everything work together in the cyberworld requires a lot more thought and pre-planning than one might expect.  Getting a site up and running is one thing...making it work with a new domain name, setting up an email account and getting it all playing nicely with your established web presence is another.  In addition, there are just so many social media outlets out there, it's tough to decide which ones are worth my while.  I'd much rather be out shooting than futzing around on half a dozen social media sites.  Not to mention the possibility that some of them may not be around 6 months from now or may just become irrelevant (I'm looking at you MySpace!)  

So for now, bear with me.  Don't get used to things because I might change it all tomorrow.   

There will definitely be more to come on this blog.  Hopefully, it can become a place for me to share not just photos, but the stories behind the people, places and things in those photos.  Photography is nothing if not a way in which to tell a story and it is those stories that get me excited about what I do.

So stay tuned for more!