Wednesday, November 28, 2012

6 Reflections on Reflections

This portrait was shot on a cloudy, overcast day 
minutes before the rain started. See the image
below for how the reflector was used.
Controlling light is a vital part of creating commercial photographs. This article discusses three types of photography accessories used for controlling or bouncing light. Collapsible reflectors come in white, silver, gold and zebra, and are great for location portraits and studio work. Smaller silver or white cardboard or mirror reflectors are used for table top product or food photography, and finally cocoon shooting cubes are used when no reflections are wanted. See for more portraits.

I taught a portrait seminar in Denver, Colorado mid-summer. I was hoping for a sunny afternoon, but heavy clouds rolled in as we took out models outside, and day became overcast and shadow less. The workshop students were surprised when we started using reflectors to redirect the skylight into the model’s faces, bringing direction to the low contrast lighting. The reflectors created catch lights in the model’s eyes, and much better directional lighting than the students expected.

On overcast, cloudy days, I will often have my model hold a reflector at their waist level for a head and shoulder portrait. I take care that their arms look natural, and are not too wide from holding the reflector. The light from the sky bounces up in their face, creating catch lights and  filling shadows under their eyes. As the color temperature of light on overcast days or in shadow can be two or three thousand degrees Kelvin bluer than light in direct sunlight, I often use gold or zebra reflectors in shadow. Zebra reflectors alternate between gold and silver stripes. The warmth of the golden light tones down the blue from the skylight and makes the model’s skin look tan instead of blue / grey.

On sunny days I often like to place the model with the sun behind them, hitting the top of their head and shoulders. Then I hold a large reflector in front of the model, picking up the sunlight coming from behind and bouncing it into their face. This creates much more directional and natural looking light then fill flash from right above the camera lens.

The highlights on the meat are created by the key light behind the plate.
Notice the shadow in the front below the chicken. However, the detail in the 
foreground shadow is lit by the small reflector I put in front of
the plate. See for more examples.
Many food photographers put the key light behind the food, shining across it. This causes wet or oily food to reflect the light with beautiful highlights. I personally usually use a ProPhoto head with a 7 inch reflector and a 10 degree grid as the key light for much of my food photography. The key light is positioned behind the food and just over the top of the background, where it will create shiny highlights on the meat on the plate.

However, with the strongest light coming from behind the food, dark shadows are created at the front of the plate, where the eye will go first. I place small, silver mylar-covered cardboard reflectors in front of the plate, to pick up the key light and bounce it into the front of the plate where the shadows are. A reflector works better than adding another light, as it can be positioned and controlled better than a light on a stand could be.

At times I use white cardboard reflectors or small mirrors for still life photography, but the silver mylar cardboard reflectors are my favorite. You may make your own reflectors from “mirror paper” sold at art supply stores, or purchase them from Light Right, at

The wood behind the desk reflected my softboxes until
I bounced the light off of the wall. 
Reflections caused by studio lighting as well as from windows or room lights must be controlled or eliminated in many location shoots and still life shoots, or the final image will be unacceptable. I remember shooting an executive portrait in a legal firm office that had beautiful polished wood cabinets behind the subject’s desk. Every position I tried for my lights resulted in glaring reflections off the shiny wood, and it looked horrible. Larger softboxes resulted in larger reflections. I finally bounced the lights off of one wall and the ceiling, and changed my camera angle until all the reflections were gone. A great portrait and happy client was the result.

The plastic film on the outside of these bottles reflected
every light I put on them, until I put them in a cocoon.
I tried the same technique with a still life product photography shoot last month, and it wasn’t good enough. I was shooting soft drinks that were packaged in bottles, and then wrapped with plastic film printed with the logo, flavor and ingredients. The top of the bottle was like a curved mirror, and I had glaring reflections right where the logo and name of the drink was printed. Bouncing the light off of walls or ceiling only made bigger reflections. I switched to a totally different approach that I normally reserve for chrome, glass or stainless steel products. I put the bottles in a cocoon shooting tent cube made by Redwing. Shooting cubes are much like dome tents. They have metal or plastic frames covered with white cloth.

I cut background paper to fit into the inside of the cube, then placed the client’s drink bottle inside. I put three softbox lights around the cube, left, right and overhead. The camera lens goes through an opening cut in the front of the cocoon. With reflective products made of chrome or stainless steel, your lights, stands, tripod and you will reflect in the product if you don’t use a cocoon. By sticking the lens through an opening in the front of the cube there are fewer things to reflect in the shiny product. My drink bottles now had well lit logos and flavor names, with no reflections. The client was happy, and I got paid, which was the whole purpose of the exercise anyway. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

8 Ways for an Art Director to Get More from a Photographer

Your client has a product or service that needs some really great art to sell it. The first job of that art is to get the attention of your client’s potential customers. As they are clicking on web pages or turning pages in a magazine, the photograph has to make the customer stop clicking or turning pages and go “wow” long enough to think they might want the product or service. It is your job to come up with great ideas for that artwork.

However, in the case of photography, it is not enough that the idea is in your head. You have to pick the correct photographer that has the skill set to execute the photography. They have to have the style, skill, vision and taste to make the photography work for you, your client, and ultimately, your client’s customers. Then you have to get your ideas out of your head, and get them into the photographer’s head. Not an easy task.
1. Draw your idea. You took enough drawing classes in design school to at least draw stick figures. So if you want the male model to be opening the car door while standing on the left, and the female model to be taking his hand , draw it that way. The biggest thing that you and your photographer have in common is that you both think visually. Words are great, but drawings communicate faster. Take the time to show camera angle and height, wide angle distortion, cropping and composition. Then use the drawings to talk through the shoot with your photographer. If they are in another city, scan the drawings and talk about them over the phone.

2. Give them a shot list. Often for the sake of economy, several shots have to be done in one day. Prioritize. Tell your photographer which shots should take the most of their time and attention. Point out anything unusual or difficult. Make sure you have drawings for the most critical shots, and review the shot list and drawings together with your photographer.

3. Quote me. After you get your shot list and drawings complete, you will normally ask several photographers to give you an estimate of what the shoot will cost. Photographers hate this step, as they are totally guessing what your budget is, and what competing photographers will quote.  In addition to the fee for the photographer’s time, this will often include costs such as stylists, hair and makeup artists, models, locations, props, studio rentals, lighting rentals and so forth.
Dennis Davis Photography
The shot list needs to have enough detail so that the photographer can quickly determine what is needed for the shoot so that they can make an accurate quote.

Some art directors will have photographers spend hours or even days preparing a quote, only to tell them “we decided to go with our regular photographer, we just wanted to make sure they were giving us a good price.” Don’t expect to do this more than once to a photographer, using people like that hurts you in the long run. If you want a quote you can take to a client, give your photographer a budget range if you can. It will save time for everyone.
Dennis Davis Photography
4. Show me the money. An art director needs to help the photographer understand everything that’s needed to make the shot work, including locations, models, stylists, props, clothing, cars, and so forth. The photographer has to figure out how to get everything needed, and still stay within the budget the client requires. You photographer will need help from you in two areas regarding finances; first to understand how the money needs to be spent, and second, to get the deposits and final payments in a timely fashion as you promised them. Often art directors make financial promises to photographers without first checking with their accounting department to confirm that they can deliver on those promises. The photographer suffers as a result, and in some cases, the photo shoot doesn’t deliver good pictures because the money didn’t arrive in time.
5. Inspiration. Creativity comes through the best when a photographer gets excited about the idea behind a photograph. Make the shoot fun, but help them understand the concept, feeling, mood, and thought the photograph has to communicate. A photographer is under a huge amount of pressure to produce great art in a limited amount of time. Help them work past the limitations to reach the goal.

Dennis Davis Photography
6. Protection. Everybody has an opinion, and it seems that everyone thinks they should share their opinion with the photographer while they are trying to focus on getting the ultimate shot. The client company’s marketing director; vice president, vice president’s girlfriend, and sales manager all want to put their two cents in. Your job is to protect the photographer from these people and their opinions. Before the shoot starts, make it clear to everyone watching the shoot that all photo direction has to come through you. If someone has an opinion, they need to talk to you about it, and you have to decide if it is worth passing on to the photographer, or if it conflicts with the “big idea” of the picture. Photographers getting conflicting directions from various people at the shoot will get frustrated, and the final artwork will suffer if they cannot stay on track.

7. Watch the details, but don’t micro-manage. Your photographer has a thousand things to think about during a shoot. Lighting, exposure, composition, reflections, colors, angles – so many details. You can watch for details that the photographer might miss. A model’s dress is wrinkled, the product needs a fresh spray of water, or the product is crooked in the shot. During the shoot, it is the photographer’s job to produce the final image, so leave them alone and let them do their job. However, if there is something they clearly missed, point it out. Just not every 3 minutes.
8. Look early, and look often. Before the day of the shoot, discuss with your photographer how you will be reviewing the images as they shoot. You do not want to make final decisions about a high budget shoot by looking at the back of the camera. A few minutes after the first few test shots have been taken, download the images to a computer and review the first shots with the photographer, and perhaps the client if you think it will help. Now is the time to make major changes. A camera tethered to a TV monitor during a shoot viewing easier, however often the shots don’t stay on the screen long enough to be truly critical of them. Stop shooting and discuss the shot, and don’t move on to the next shot until you see a large version of the current shot that you can live with.

Most photographers are hoping with each shoot to work with an art director who will be their friend, guide, mentor, inspiration during the shoot, and then help them get paid quickly. They are hoping for someone who can help them shoot their finest work, and will not settle for second best. All good photographers are hoping for a final photograph that they would be proud to put in their portfolio, to help them get more work. If you do your job correctly, you will have a superb piece of art for your own portfolio as well. 

Monday, August 6, 2012

10 Things an Art Director Looks for in a Photographer

And What Keeps Them Coming Back for More

You may create amazing images, but if you work with others you have to be enjoyable to be around, personable, fun and respectful. Your personality is your most important asset. If you are shooting portraits, it’s your personality that gets the model to smile, so you’ve got to be fun. Your honesty has to come through when asked a serious question, because a lot of people are counting on you bringing home the winning shot.

I don’t care if you think you might need another memory card for the shoot, if your call time is 9:00 am, then 8:45 am is not a good time to start looking online for a camera store. The shoot won’t start without you there, so cut back on the late night parties when you have a shoot the next day, and set TWO alarms if you want to keep your art director as your best friend.

When you give your creative director or art director your word, you must follow it up with actions. Make to-do lists every day, and if you can’t keep track of the preparation that it takes to make a big shoot happen, get a production manager that can. Photographer’s often have to hire food stylists, location scouts, models, clothing stylists, makeup artists, hair stylists, and at times, a fleet of RVs. How are your management skills? What can you do in addition to handling a camera?

Can you take an idea from an art director, give them exactly what they ask for, and then make it even better? Can you visualize what the client is selling, and help them sell it?  Can you imagine what changing something small that will make a huge change in the final image? Can you make a one bedroom apartment in Kansas City look like a beach house in Malibu? What do you bring to the table that no one else could bring?

Problem Solving
With a studio shoot, a photographer has at least some control over their environment, and years of experience would have taught them what tools are most important to have at hand. But on a location shoot, the number of tools available is limited to what you bring with you. Do you need a bigger truck? In fact, learning to do more with less is a gift that the best photographers learn to cultivate.

Do you need to hide the fact that your set is missing two walls? That’s what shadows are for. Do you need 6 lights and only have two? That’s what reflectors are for. Don’t have reflectors? Look for aluminum foil. Fix the problem, make it work, now. Everyone is waiting, counting on you.

Lighting Genius
Lighting the single most important thing you bring to the table to give an image your “look”. Other than composition, lighting is it. Read about light, study it, love it and control it. Your art director will look to you, the lighting guru, to create glamour, excitement, mood and atmosphere where there is none. Are you up to the task?

In Control
There are 1,004 things that can go wrong on a shoot at any time. However, there are some things you can be in control of. Do you have an extra set of batteries for everything you own? Do you have extra cables for everything that needs them? Have you prepared any assistants, stylists or makeup artists with emails in advance, followed up by phone calls, preparing them for the shoot? Do you have your art director’s cell phone on speed dial? Can you communicate effectively with vendors, teammates, clients, models, and still be on top of what your camera and lights are doing?

In Command
Your judgment is final. You are the only one that can say “yes, we have the shot”. You are responsible for getting everyone else involved in making the shot happen the way that you and your art director envision it. Can you get people to smile when you need them to? You can if you are funny, playful and fun. The client’s girlfriend says “I think it would look better if we changed the background color to green” If you don’t agree with that opinion, you better be prepared with a logical reason why not. You are the artist. People are counting on your sense of style to make a great image. Take charge.

Technically Skilled
Photography is a crazy marriage of technology and art, and you need to be in control of your tools. The morning of the shoot is not the best time to test out a new toy from the camera store. Your art director is counting on you to know your gear, understand your tools, and give them an accurately exposed, well composed, and in-focus image.

If you are getting into photography for the money, try a different career. I am a photographer because I love beauty, I love creating and capturing gorgeous light, and I love making things pretty. You have to learn to love the simplest things, like a bottle of shampoo, and turn it into a hero, a knight in shining armor, answer to every head of hair’s needs. Do you really, really love making great images? Then follow your heart, and the money will come.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Four Portrait Setups for Available Light

Light is all around you, bathing you with energy you can almost feel. Light has color, intensity, direction, strength, “softness” or “hardness. Light is beautiful.

Learning to love light, to embrace it in its ever changing splendor, is the key to excellent photography. Learning to control light, to redirect it, to manipulate it, is the key to making money in photography.

The inverse is also true. To appreciate the light, you have to know and understand darkness. Dark areas in a photograph create contrast with the light areas; otherwise the picture would be boring. Darkness in a picture adds mystery, interest and glamour.

Today, everybody has a camera on their phone, so any picture that was taken with even a point and shoot camera looks better than much of what we see on Facebook. However, a picture that has amazing lighting with always capture the viewer’s attention, and people are willing to pay for that attention if it is directed at their portrait, product or service.

There is only one sun. Two light sources of equal strength look stupid and unnatural in a portrait, so the light coming from the second source must be weaker in most cases. Portraits taken in direct sunlight without a reflector or fill flash are usually harsh and have high contrast, with big black shadows or over exposed areas. This is because of the nature of digital light sensors, as well as film. Digital sensors in cameras are not anywhere near as light sensitive as your eyes. Where human eyes see details in the shadows, digital sensors see only solid black or very dark areas with no detail.
Direct sunlight, as beautiful as it is on trees and mountains can be very harsh on human skin, particularly human skin with defects; all the bumps show! Makeup can help, but filling the harsh sunlight with a reflector or two can make the difference between a throw away photograph and a great one.

Portrait setup 1, outdoors

One of the best places to put your portrait subject is with the sun to their back, or behind their head with a little light touching their cheek. This lighting setup is best when the sun is low in the sky, within a few hours of sunset or sunrise. With the sun to their back, take a reflector and bounce the sunlight into their darkly shadowed face, and behold! A halo of light is outlining the person, and soft, directional light is defining their features. Just make sure the reflector is either big enough or close enough to their face to light it evenly. I prefer to do this lighting setup with the portrait subject in sunlight, but with dark trees or buildings in shade in the background behind the subject. Try this setup with the following camera settings: ISO 100, shutter speed 1/125 of a second, and aperture at f11 or even f8.

This type of lighting is very tricky for the auto exposure settings on most cameras. Often the auto setting on the camera will expose for the sun lit area behind your subject, and not for the lower light levels coming from your bounced light. So you will get your best results setting your camera on manual, and adjusting the settings until the faces are properly exposed.

There is an old fashion rule that dates back to film days, but it still works. It is the “sunny 16” rule, and it works like this. If your subject is in direct sunlight with no clouds or shade, then the correct exposure is f16 with the shutter speed matching the ISO. For example, if your shutter speed is 1/100 of a second and your ISO is 100, f16 will be the correct exposure if your subject has direct sunlight on their front. If your ISO is 400 use the closest shutter speed, which may be 1/400 or 1/500 of a second.

Use the sunny 16 rule as a starting point in your photographs, then adjust and bracket your exposures from there. I always press the “info” button on my Canon 5D Mark II, which brings up a histogram. If you don’t know how to find the histogram screen on your camera, take out the manual or camera and find it at once! The kind of histogram graph you want to see most of the time will look like a mountain or hill, with all of the data picking in the middle of the chart. If there are large peaks of data on the left side of your histogram, your picture is very dark. If there are peaks touching the right side of your histogram, you will have over exposed areas in your picture.

In the case of the portrait lighting setup one I described earlier, you should see some very high peaks in your histogram touching the right side of the chart. That’s because the halo or outline effect you want using the sun as a back light or “rim light” should be over exposed. On blond models, the highlights of the hair may look pure white.

Portrait setup 2, outdoors

Dennis Davis Photography
Place your portrait subject under the overhang a porch or a large tree, just inside the shaded area.  One side of their face should be lit by the skylight coming in under the porch or tree, and the other side of their face will be darker, as it is further from the skylight. This setup can be done almost any time of day, even if the sun is directly overhead. You do not want any direct sunlight to fall on your subject, only skylight. Add a reflector on the darker side of their face if there is too much contrast with only skylight.

Portrait setup 3, outdoors

With the sun low in the sky, place your subject so that direct sunlight falls on only one side of their face, and the other side is in shadow. Place a reflector on the shaded side of their face for one effect, or have the subject hold a reflector at waist height, bouncing the light from below back up in their face. If you have two reflectors, try placing them at both positions as well.

Portrait setup 4, indoors

Find a large window that has skylight coming through it, with no direct sunlight. A window on the north side of the building will often be the best. Have your subject lean against the window frame, with one side of their face almost touching the glass. Make sure the background behind the subject is simple and uncluttered, and if not, bring in a plant or remove items to make the background more attractive. The soft light coming through the window should highlight the side of their face closest to the window, and fall off naturally on the side away from the window. Add a reflector next to the shaded side of their face, and see which lighting you prefer.

The light level for indoor light is much lower than the outdoor setups. You may need to use a tripod due to using a lower shutter speed. I will often use an ISO of 400 for portrait setup 4, a shutter speed of 1/60 and an aperture of around f8 or f5.6. Make sure to focus on the subject’s eyes, as your depth of field is very shallow at that aperture.

For all of the portrait setups, I prefer to use a medium telephoto, at around 100 mm. This longer lens will cause the background to blur behind the subject, and keep the focus of the picture on the person in your portrait.

Photography is painting and writing with light. You must learn to understand and control light, to make the kind of portraits people will love.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Los Angeles California Architectural Photography

Architectural Photography by Dennis Ray Davis, of , featuring architecture interiors and exteriors of commercial buildings, real estate and business photography. We shoot architecture photography in Los Angeles, Long Beach, Huntington Beach, Torrance, Burbank, Glendale, Sherman Oaks, Hollywood, Irvine, Anaheim, Santa Ana, Costa Mesa and other Southern California locations.

Dennis Ray Davis is a famous architecture photographer, shooting for clients like Panda Express, U.P.S., AutoNation, NASA and others. 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Controlling Natural Light for Better Portraits
A free photography workshop titled “Controlling Natural Light for Better Portraits” will be held Saturday, July 28, from 2:00 – 4:30 p.m. in downtown Denver. The workshop is for intermediate level photographers who want to learn to make better pictures of people by using reflectors, continuous lights and on-camera flash. The workshop will be taught by Denver corporate photographer Dennis Ray Davis, recently of Los Angeles. His photography website displays portraits shot for companies like Google, Hewlett Packard, Columbus Life, Wells Fargo and FedEx.

The workshop will be held at The Block Building, 2990 Larimer Street, Denver, CO 80205, and outdoors in Curtis Park two blocks from The Block Building. The workshop will cover how to use reflectors to control and redirect light from the sun, continuous indoor lights and flash. Local Denver fashion models will be available as portrait subjects throughout the workshop.

Workshop attendees should bring a digital camera with interchangeable lenses, and a reflector if they have one. A shiny silver or white poster board from a drug store makes an excellent reflector. Plenty of free street parking is available on Saturdays at the workshop location. Seating is limited to the first 60 attendees. The workshop is sponsored by LAF Downtown, a Christian fellowship promoting the arts in Denver. Phone 720-999-0494 for additional information, or email

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Los Angeles California Food Photographer

Los Angeles food photographer Dennis Davis displays a video portfolio featuring images used for food packaging, restaurant menus, frozen food packages, posters, websites and food product advertising. Food stylists were used for each of the images. Images were created with a Canon 5D Mark II, and video was produced in Adobe Premiere CS5. All images copyright Dennis Davis Photography. We shoot food in Los Angeles, Long Beach, Torrance, Glendale, Huntington Beach, Burbank, Sherman Oaks, Costa Mesa, Anaheim, Santa Ana, Irvine, and throughout Southern California.

See for additional images and information, or call 213-434-3344

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Ten Tips for Starting a Successful Photography Business
Starting a professional photography business is a dream that many creative people have, but the reality is not as easy as it looks. Working with top fashion models, glamorous movie stars and famous celebrities looks exciting and easy. All you have to do is push the shutter button, right? No, there is a little more to it than that. Competition for a staff photography position is fierce, and starting your own business requires marketing, business and networking abilities as well as creative and technical skills. So what steps can you take to make this career your own?


If you work for yourself, no degree is required, but you will still need lots of skills. If you work for a company, a two or four year degree from a college or accredited art school will put you ahead of the crowd. If you are in a photography school or program, there are several things that you will want to know in order to succeed. Study marketing, website design, business, accounting and social media if you want to have your business in front of enough customers to get noticed. Otherwise you could be a great photographer who is flipping hamburgers because nobody has seen your work.

You can teach yourself about the technical aspects of lighting subjects and editing pictures by reading books, magazine articles and websites about photography, or attending seminars held by working photographers. You can practice what you have studied by getting some lights and reflectors to practice with, and shooting still life arrangements, interiors or friends and family members.

Many photography studios have openings for interns, divided almost equally between paid and unpaid positions. Many photography schools require an internship in a working studio, and paid positions usually require a student that is nearing the end of their education. Unpaid positions are easier to find, but photographers tend to not trust unpaid interns until they have proven a willingness be reliable and to show up on time.

Working with a busy photographer is an excellent way to learn the photography business. Be aware that photographers specialize in various subjects, and if you want to learn product photography don’t expect to get that from a wedding and portrait photographer. However, photographers in smaller towns tend to be generalists, and in major markets like Los Angeles and New York they tend to specialize in narrow area, such as fashion or corporate.

Portfolio Samples

No one is going to believe in you if you don’t, and no one is going to invest their money in your photography if you don’t invest time and money into creating great portfolio pieces. For every category you want to offer, you will need 10-15 AMAZING samples in your portfolio. For example, if you want to shoot fashion, you will want to work with an excellent hair stylist, a makeup artist, and a clothing stylist, or you will have to do those functions at a professional level yourself. Many student and startup photographers work with models and makeup artist who want to “test”, and are willing to shoot for free in exchange for pictures for their own portfolios. Food photographers will want to create portfolio images with experienced food stylists, and product photographers will benefit from prop stylists. People with these skills cannot be found in abundance in small towns, so you may have to work in a major market to create these portfolio images effectively.

Website / Online Portfolio

Your photography website is how most people will discover how wonderful you are. Make it a good one. Websites that have slide shows and moving images are often built with Adobe Flash, which is like a brick wall for search engines. You will want a website created with HTML, and perhaps with a plug-in or widget that displays your portfolio pictures in a smooth and elegant fashion. WordPress websites are gaining popularity, and there are a number of WordPress themes that include photo galleries. Adobe DreamWeaver has photo gallery “widgets” that are easier for search engines to read than Flash based websites.

Competing with other photographers to be on the first page of major search engines is a constant battle. You will need to spend several hours every week promoting your website. In a search engine, type in keywords such as “photographer’s directories, business directories, photographer’s listing, city business directories, etc. Some of these directories are free, many require a payment. You will want to list your website with as many directories as you can, as the more links you have to your website, the higher your website will rank.

If you want to get immediate traffic to your website, you will want to explore “Pay-Per-Click” programs with major search engines such as Bing, Yahoo and Google. Facebook and other social media also have pay-per-click programs. In a major market such as New York or Los Angeles, a photographer might pay as much as $5-10 for a single person clicking on a link for keywords like Annual Report Photographer or Fashion Catalog Photographer. However, an annual report photo shoot could pay $6,000 or more, and it is unusual for a client to consider more than three to six photographers for any one job, so the return on the investment for pay-per-click advertising can be very high if done correctly.

Do What You Love
If you shoot a subject that you really enjoy, your love will show in your images. I love nature, particularly flowers and waterfalls. When I was first developing my skills as a young photographer, I would spend weekends at a huge resort and garden in Georgia. I learned to use a macro lens, reflectors and hand held strobes to capture the details of flowers like azaleas and rhododendrons. I loved the subtle colors and delicate stamens, and I could see every piece of pollen on the stamen tips in my close-up shots. I showed my flower portfolio to the marketing director of the gardens, and she hired me to shoot the images for one of their nature trails. They paid me $400 for sticking my nose in flowers for half a day, and when I brought my friends to the gardens, I showed them my images on the trail signs. I felt like the king of the world, because someone had appreciated my eye for beauty enough to pay me for it.

Many male photographers want to shoot fashion so they can be around hot chicks all day. Why do you think fashion photography is so competitive? This is not a new thing; I am sure that many of the artists that did paintings of nude women during the last thousand years felt the same way. I love to eat, and have developed skill for food photography that has been used on frozen food packaging, restaurant menus, catering brochures, the sides of trucks, outdoor billboards and on flat screen displays in fast food restaurants. Specialize in a subject that you love to photograph, and you will be happier for it.

Locate in a market with a need for your strengths

If you are shooting weddings and family portraits, your research can focus on cities with a low ratio of photographer compared to the population. You can work in almost any state, as people get married everywhere. However, if you want to be at the top of your game, Hawaii is the wedding capitol of the US. Fashion photography requires top models, hair and makeup artist, and clothing stylists. Much of this work is in south Florida, Southern California and New York. Food Photography is done mostly in major markets, such as Chicago, Dallas, New York, Los Angeles, as that’s where the food stylists and the advertising agencies hiring food photographers are located. Architectural photography can be done successfully in any city with a population of over 2 million. Where do you want to live, and what kind of weather and lifestyle will you need to be happy? If your photography is mostly outdoors, will there be enough sunny days to work more than 50% of the time?


You will need own at least some of your photography gear, but in larger cities you can rent what you need for a special shoot. See my blog article on buying lights and equipping a home studio from several years ago. I recommend a digital camera body with a minimum of 12 megapixels, more is better. You will want at least 3 lenses, and an on-camera flash. Buy the best quality you can afford, and then stick with it. Most professionals use Canon or Nikon cameras for the bulk of their work.

I started my second photography business with only one strobe and a camera that had a sticky shutter. I landed a cookbook project, got a $5,000 deposit, and used the money to buy a second mono light strobe and a digital camera body. I really needed a third strobe, but I learned to use reflectors where the third light should be, and didn’t buy a third strobe until half-way through the project when I got a second deposit. Many of my shots for the cookbook used available light coming through skylights in the restaurant ceiling, which I picked up and reflected back into the shadows with 3 or 4 silver or white reflectors.

When I have a large shoot that requires more gear than I own, I rent from camera stores or photography rental places. Most rental stores will require that you have insurance to cover their gear, or will require a deposit in the full amount of the cost of the equipment. The insurance is cheaper. I carry 2 million in liability insurance, as well as full coverage on my own equipment, and $40,000 in rental equipment insurance. That way, if I need to rent a high end medium format camera, several lenses and a light or two, I have it covered.

The future of professional photography

With digital cameras on every cell phone, and free photo editing software on the web, many people that used to use professional photography are now doing it themselves. However, people are still willing to pay for photography for important events or for selling services or products. Very few people will trust their wedding photos to the best man using his iPhone. Few marketing directors of fast food chains will try to shoot the company’s hamburgers themselves.

Newspapers are losing popularity rapidly, and many magazines sell more advertising online then in the printed magazine. However the web has created a huge demand for images and video that will only increase. Stock photography for web use is on the rise, so investigate making money in stock stills or video. I see more still photographers shooting video now that many still cameras can shoot HD footage, and many of them bundle stills and video together as a package. Video is becoming more popular on the web as a selling tool, and most companies want a video on their website as well as stills. However, many still photographers forget that half of a good video is the sound, and they fail to provide quality microphones and sound mixing with their footage.

Invest in Yourself

If you don’t believe in yourself, who will? If you are considering a career, or have already started one in photography, invest in your training, skills and equipment, as well as time in promoting your business. Never stop learning. Read photography books and articles. Go to meetings with other professional photographers in groups like ASMP, PPA or APA. This field changes constantly, and if you don’t keep up you will fall behind.

The most important thing to understand about photography is light. Learn to love it, embrace it, and marvel in its beauty. Photography is writing and painting with light. Light has direction, color, softness or hardness, and you must learn to control and redirect the light to illuminate your subject so that it can be seen and fully appreciated. If you become a master of controlling light, you will be a master photographer. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Annual Report Photography - Three Styles

Columbus Life Art Director wanted powerful outdoor portraits
Change is a part of life, and keeping up with the changes in our industry requires studying recent work by our peers and competitors. Although changes in taste in annual report photography is slower than say, fashion or food, there are still trends. Compare the shots for Columbus Life made last month with those of Hewlett Packard and Quantas made 5 years ago.

Columbus Life

In April 2011, I shot portraits for an annual report for Columbus Life, a dba for the Western and Southern Life Insurance Company. The setting was a Japanese Garden at California State University Long Beach. A featured employee was Asian, and the Art Director wanted to speak to his culture without being overpowering. The first suggestion was to shoot in an Asian market or shopping area, but I think the garden shots turned out much better than that idea would have. Note the use of wide angle lenses on both shots, this indoor image shot in March 2012, also for Columbus Life.

Many books on portraits teach photographers to use telephoto (long) lenses for portraits, and never use wide angle lenses due to the distortion they can cause to the subjects. However, I like this look, and find it interesting and unusual. Note how different the Columbus Life portraits look from the Hewlett Packard portraits shown next - do you spot a trend?

Hewlett Packard 

In March 2006 I photographed Hewlett Packard's annual stockholder's meeting in Los Angeles. What would normally have been a straight-forward corporate event photo shoot was made much more challenging by the request that the photographs be taken without flash. I knew that I would be shooting at a high ISO and was concerned about grain in my digital images. However, I shot most of the meeting at 800 ISO, and my Canon 5D sensor performed amazingly well, with no noticeable noise.

The V.P. of Communications at HP wanted to get the images out on the wire with AP within minutes of completing the meeting, so I had to give my compact flash cards to a graphic designer during the meeting. The stage was lit with tungsten spotlights, half were gelled blue, and half were the basic 3200 Kelvin color spots.Everything was shot on-tripod, and shutter speeds ranged from 1/30 to 1/90 of a second at f4-f8. With a few of the slower shutter speed shots I got some hand movement blur, but overall the images were sharp and crisp with no problems. Hewlett Packard's V.P. of Communications told me that the images were much better than he expected, and better than those most of those taken without flash at previous events.

Patricia Dunn, chairman of the board of directors at HP, and Mark Hurd, chief executive officer and president, are the speakers shown, and I was able to speak to them after the meeting. On October 4, 2006 Bill Lockyer, the California attorney general, charged Dunn with four felonies for her role in the in the HP spying scandal. On March 14, 2007, California Superior Court judge Ray Cunningham dropped criminal charges against her in the "interest of justice." It was interesting to watch someone I had photographed go through this process.


One month after shooting Hewlett Packard's annual stockholder's meeting, I was hired to shoot images for the travel division of Quantas' Annual Report in April 2006. The Art Director was looking for “classic, but fun corporate portraits”. We shot in the conference room, in offices, and at cubes. She wanted to include subtle hints about the travel business, so we included model airplanes, travel brochures and posters, and stuffed kangaroos and koala bears in some of the images. I find it interesting how each different Art Director took a unique approach to planning the portraits, and how very different they look. The trend I spotted in comparing these images from those made 5 years ago is the art director showed a willingness to take more risks and be more daring with composition.

You can learn something about the culture and feel of each company by looking at their approach towards Annual Report Photography.