Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Old Dog Learning New Tricks

OK, so you know I spent Tuesday through Friday at Photoshop World Orlando and you know I had as good a time as any human being should be allowed to have. After the reality of being back in my crib has set in and the euphoria of the conference has started to pass, I have sat down to analyze what I did, what I saw and most importantly what I learned. I've already shared what I did and what I saw in yesterday's Blog post, here's what I learned....

1. My web site bites.
Where do I start? I have way too many images and way too much stuff on my site. As much as I preach that one should only have the very best of the very best images on a web site, after the Conference I have gone back and really scrutinized my web site. And the verdict is ... I am the biggest violator of this rule. There are many images on my site which have no business being there. They're only there because for some goofy reason I arbitrarily decided that I wanted to have 30 images representing each of the portfolio categories I chose to feature. Many of the images just don't cut it in order for them to be included on the site.

Like many, I was not as critical in evaluating my images as I must be if I am going to really feature my best work. That's all going to change. I am going to revamp the site and force myself to exclude a lot of the crap. I will limit the number of images for any given genre to 10, maybe 12 if an image merits inclusion. If I don't have 10 "wow" images, the number might be 8 or maybe I need to remove the genre from the site until I have enough images to warrant its inclusion.

Some of the portfolio categories may be gone regardless, either merged with others or just plain gone. I'm also going to change the overall design of the site and give it a new look. In the end, I hope to live up to the standard set by those who practice what they preach and show off only my best stuff. Thank you, +Moose Peterson for reminding me that we are judged by what we show.

2. Identify and pursue photography projects.
During one of the sessions I attended, +Joe McNally asked an attendee if she was currently working on any projects. She replied that she was - her project was photographing strip club dancers behind the scenes. I was floored. What an amazing concept. My mind began to race through all the bazillions of possible images that might be generated through embarking on a project like that.

All this time, I've had blinders on when it comes to photography. As primarily a sports photographer, I've been content to go from one football game to the next, one basketball game to the next, etc., doing nothing but memorializing the games with game shots and a few shots of the pageantry. I've never really identified a theme or a concept and forced myself to really depict it through images, either in sports or in other genres I like to shoot. There are so many stories to tell and until now I never thought to tell them through images.

Now, I can only imagine what my spousal unit would say if I came home tonight and told her, "Honey, I'm going to be hanging out at a strip club for the next few weeks shooting the strippers in their dressing rooms and maybe going home with them to really show what their lives are like behind the scenes. It's a new project I've created for myself." It's a safe bet that ain't gonna fly. But just because strippers are off limits doesn't mean I can't explore other photographic projects.

I gave it some thought and I've come up with three projects that I intend to pursue - firemen, antique/classic cars and musical instruments. I'm going to light and shoot images using the knowledge and techniques I gained at Photoshop World. Oh, yeah, I can already feel the juices flowing.

3. The very best photographers are secure in their abilities.
One of the biggest realizations that dawned on me while I was at Photoshop World is that the real giants of photography know what they can do and more importantly that no one else can do it like them. We all have unique life experiences, instincts and abilities that make us different from everybody else. Thus, two photographers can shoot the very same scene, model or still life and walk away with completely different images.

That is why the true giants are never fearful of sharing their knowledge with others. They are not afraid to walk others through what they do, how they do it, or why they do it and are magnanimously generous in sharing what they've learned. It's only the insecure who fear that sharing knowledge may make someone else "better" than them.

+Joe McNally walked me through how he lights a model outdoors with a 7' parabolic umbrella and three hot shoe strobes. Do you think Joe is scared that I'm going to take food off his plate because I learned his technique? Hah.

The more we share knowledge, the better people we are. The giants aren't afraid to do so and neither should those of us who will never be giants.

4. Photoshop is not the devil.
Purists say that a Photoshop processed image is not really an accurate photograph because it was artificially manipulated. So? +Joel Grimes told me that he struggled with criticism that by altering his images in Photoshop he was committing a sacrilege. It then dawned on him that he was an artist, not a photojournalist, and that altering images in Photoshop to suit his artistic vision was no different than Michelangelo painting something different than how it actually existed.

If a final version of an image fits one's artistic vision, then the mission has been accomplished. Your vision or mine may not be to someone elses' liking, but if it spins one's wheels, who cares?

5. My photography studio needs work.
I'm a self taught studio photographer since I stumbled across this aspect of photography after years of shooting nothing but outdoor stuff. I accumulated equipment that I thought would light subjects and set it up as best I could through watching videos, reading and trial/error. I've gained basic understanding of lighting, light modifiers and techniques and I've produced some decent stuff as time has passed but the classes I attended at the Conference showed me that I can do a lot better.

There's no substitute for experience and just plain old doing something yourself but it sure helps if you have the right equipment and use it properly. The way I had my studio set up was workable and functional but there are many things I can do to maximize the use of the equipment through simple things like placement, set up and changing how I've been using it. I've already started moving things around and changing things up to maximize my space and the equipment I have.

+Joel Grimes and +Glyn Dewis showed me that strip softboxes with grids produce some seriously cool side lighting. +Joe McNally  introduced me to the world of 7' parabolic umbrella lighting. +Frank Doorhof rocked my world with his demonstration of glamour photography using a fog machine and colored gels.

I currently have two large strip softboxes without grids that I use to light up my white background so I'll either find some grids for them or pick up a couple of smaller strip softboxes with grids. I bought a Westcott 7' shoot through parabolic umbrella at the Expo and I already own a fog machine and colored gels. I can't wait to finish up the work in the studio and give stuff a go once I'm done.

6. Hot shoe lighting is the bomb.
I've always shied away from using hot shoe strobes unless absolutely necessary, using them only when lighting conditions made it necessary to light something up. I now know that hot shoe strobes can take images to the next level. Using strobes will require having to spend time and effort learning more about how to control them but it will open up a whole new world for me.

I'm going to start by pouring through a book I bought a while back (but never read) which goes into great detail on how to use Nikon's Creative Light System. It walks you through all aspects of TTL lighting and will serve as a good starting point. Kelby Training and other YouTube videos should add to my knowledge base.

Currently, I own a Nikon SB900, an SB800, two SB-R200's (the small guys that are used in macro photography) and an older SB28 that is a great strobe but won't work with my SB 800 or 900 in the Creative Light System. I am going to add one or two more used SB800's since I can trigger them with my SU Commander on top of my camera bodies as part of the Creative Light System. I may also pick up a few used SB28's since they're inexpensive and have a Guide Number that rocks but I will have to trigger them with Pocket Wizards and use them in manual mode. No big deal as that's why God made flash meters.

These are some of the things that come to mind in the aftermath of Photoshop World. I'm sure more will come to mind after all the dust settles. I'd say in the end, it was a very worthwhile week.


Pincince said...

very generous of you to share this and so very useful and encouraging. thank you

Garen T said...

Great to see the learning and analysis of even an accomplished pro like you goes through! Thanks for sharing Mike!

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