Thursday, July 31, 2008

Photography tips: 5 tips for better holiday pics

Dear tourist,

I am sorry I insulted you by calling your pictures crappy (last weeks’ article). That wasn’t very nice of me. Let me make it up to you by giving you five tips to improve your holiday pictures. You may already know one or two of them, but that still leaves the other ones to improve your shooting.

Un-center your composition
Whatever it is, you are photographing, try not to put it in the middle of the picture. It yields boring pictures. Instead, use the rule of thirds: put your main object @1/3 or 2/3 of the width or height of your picture. This gives a natural feel to your pictures. Act likewise with landscapes: the horizon should be at 1/3 (for spectacular skies) or 2/3 (if there is a lot to see in the landscape) of your picture, not exactly halfway.

Shallow dof for famous shapes
So, you’re visiting the Eiffel Tower / Acropolis / Coliseum / Golden Gate Bridge / whatever famous landmark you can think of. We’ve seen zillions of pictures of these landmarks, how will yours be better? Well, since you are going to photograph your fellow travelers in front of the landmark anyway (that’s what tourists do, they seem to need some proof that they were actually there), photograph them using a shallow depth of field (dof). How? Make sure you are fairly close to John / Mary / whoever you are photographing and set a large aperture (low f-number, or use the camera's portraiture mode). Then focus on John / Mary / whoever and shoot. The landmark will now be slightly vague in the background, but still recognizable because of its famous features.

Use a polarizer
If you are going anywhere sunny and want to capture those clear blue skies, invest in a polarizer. See the earlier article on how to use it and what to expect.

Avoid crowds
This one is a real challenge. Since you’re a tourist at a tourist attraction, you are part of the problem. If you’re at a top attraction during the top season, there will always be crowds. But you can limit the effect. Check for camera positions where crowds are less visible. Wait for big crowds to pass. If you just have a little patience, you’ll note that crowds tend to come in waves. Shoot between these waves. Zooming in on the subject may also help, and shooting at a slightly higher angle (especially for buildings) can be useful too. Don’t forget to picture the crowds as well, to show the folks at home just how packed the place was.

Time your visit
You may also avoid crowds by timing your visit at not-so-popular times, e.g. in the early morning or around dinner time (check the opening hours though). Timing will also help you get better light. Generally, and especially in sunny conditions, the light is much softer in the early morning or late afternoon. The hour before sunset provides the best light, and is therefore also known as ‘the golden hour’.

I sincerely hope you are not mad anymore and I wish you a great holiday.

Kind regards,


Friday, July 25, 2008

Camabs: A truly global blog

When I started this blog, I considered writing it in my own language, Dutch. It is of course somewhat easier for me to write in my mother tongue and it would have saved me a couple of awkward phrases. But then again, the internet is a world wide web, and Dutch is such a small language (spoken in Holland, Surinam, The Netherlands Antilles and the Northern part of Belgium. Minorities in South Africa and Indonesia use languages that are fairly similar to Dutch) and the world is so big.

I was right. Ooh, that sounds good, let's do that again:

I was right. My blog has become a truly gobal blog, with visitors from 27 countries, from every single continent. The Netherlands and the US together provide 75% of my readers, so the distribution is a bit out of balance. But hey, how can I complain when I have readers all over the world?

Thanks y'all and do keep reading.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

modeling tips: Get an agent (how?)

Finding an agent is much like finding a job: you check out what jobs are available, check on the companies you consider working for, make contact, have an interview, receive an offer and make a selection. It’s as simple as 1-2-3. Not convinced? Check the steps below.

Google is your friend
It seems ages ago that we had to bring out the printed yellow pages if we wanted to look up a company. Of course, you can still use this book, most firms keep updating their presence in the yellow pages. But you can also type ‘modeling agency’ and the name of your city or region in Google and you’ll find a large amount of firms to choose from. Note that not all these firms are actual modeling agencies. Some are, but some others offer ‘other services’ involving pretty ladies and some are just scams. You’ll pick out the first type pretty easily, the second is a little harder to recognize. If you’re in the US or Canada, check the BBB (see link below). Next week’s blog article will tell you more about things to look for and not to look for in an agency.

Contact them
This is very basic knowledge, but so many models don’t get it. Don’t wait at home (or in the mall) for some talent scout to find you. Go find them! Pick up the phone and tell them you want to meet them. Once you have the interview, make sure you are in time, bring a couple of good pictures and a Z-card (provided you have sufficient usable pics). You don’t need a completed portfolio yet, these guys know how to base their opinion on a couple of pictures, provided they are not shaken holiday snapshots of course.

During the interview, be you. There is no need to act as if you are someone else. They’re interested in you, not in someone else. More important, make it a two-way interview. This is not only about what you can offer them, you’re also there to find out what they can offer. How are their (former) models doing in the business? Can they show samples of the work of their photographers? Does the type of work they provide fit your wishes and character? Obviously, you will also want to know about payment and such practical stuff.

Be selective

Visit several agencies and await their propositions. Compare what they have to offer, and be critical about extremely positive promises. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Next week’s article will also give you a couple of things in mind when choosing an agency.

More resources:
do’s and don’ts
why get an agent? (last weeks' article)

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Photography tips: See your hometown through the eyes of a tourist

Ever wondered why most tourists take crappy pictures? There’s loads of reasons, like lack of experience, lack of photographic talent and so on. One reason in particular I would like to address here, and that is timing.

Tourists are bad timers. They arrive at a location in the holiday season, when the location is packed with tourists and the harsh light blows out the skies on many holiday pictures. Why can’t they just wait ‘till the light is better and all the tourists are gone? Simple, they are the tourists, and when the tourists go, they go. By definition. Period.

Sure, some tourists are lucky enough to catch a day with a nice sky, and some are even wise enough to visit hotspots on not-so-hot times of day. But most of them get there on a guided tour, and bring their own obstacles (i.e. their fellow travelers) with them.

You won’t do that, you’re a local, right? You will probably not even visit the hotspots. At least I didn’t. I visited all the hotspots in the cities I once lived in after or before I lived in that city. Not while I lived there. I even passed some of these hotspots dozens of times without even noticing them.

Silly isn’t it? People coming from over the planet to gaze at the beauty of your city, while you don’t even notice. Even sillier when you realize you take better pictures than they do. You probably feel where I’m going by now? Right, go out there, and be a tourist in your hometown. Shoot the pictures they would liked to have shot but couldn’t because of the light or the crowds. You can go there anytime, right? You can wait for months to get that landmark against the background of a spectacular sunset or with the moon behind it on a cloudless night. You can take your pictures when no one else is around. And you are a better photographer, remember? So you are the one to make (and sell?) the top shot of that hotspot.

All you need to do, is go out there. Go by foot or by bike. And see your hometown through different eyes. Don’t look at your place like a local heading for the shops. Be amazed by the beauty of it, like the tourists are. And picture the beauty. With your better skills and better conditions, you will very likely end up with gorgeous pictures.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

I'm on the menu

Photographers that sell their pics on microstock sites know that their pics are being used. Most of the time, we do not know how and where though. At iStock, they have the so-called designer spotlight. Designers can show how they used pictures they bought from iStock. I think designer spotlights are pretty cool. Not only do they tell the photographer how the pic was used, they also tell you in a more general way how stock photos are used and give a clue of what designers want.

One of my pictures recently made it into the Design Spotlight. Designer Ruth Cepero from Publicus Integrated Marketing used my bell pepper slices in a menu for Flamers Charbroiled. Click on the picture to see the Menu. The bell pepper slices only play a minor role in the rich decoration of the border, but that's fine with me. It's always nice to know how my pics are being used.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Photography tips: shooting in RAW

Not too long ago, memory capacity shortage was a big issue on consumer cameras. The following quote is less than two years old: “The easiest way to sound like a professional when you talk about photography these days is to grumble about the deficiencies of RAW file converters. The ability to save pictures in RAW format rather than JPEG or TIFF is what distinguishes a "pro level" camera from a consumer device.” Consumers used the JPEG file-format, since it is much more efficient and requires a lot less space. These days are gone however (and I even wonder if they were still there in 2006), as all dSLRs and an increasing number of smaller cameras have the ability to store whatever their sensor picks up in the RAW-format.

RAW means just that, raw. It is not an abbreviation; it refers to the uncooked nature of the data. For those interested in all the technical stuff that can be said about RAW-files, please refer to the wiki link provided below. I am not into technicalities, I care only for practical use.

Oh no! What have I done?
Recognize that? Post processing a large number of pics, getting into routine mode and finding out a little too late that that single precious picture should have been processed a tad different? No problem if your workflow is right, but what if you do this while taking the picture? Still had your white balance set to ‘cloudy’? Was your exposure correction still set to –1? No problem if you shoot in RAW. The great thing about using RAW is that it stores all the data that the sensor picks up. It does have its limits –a burnt highlight is a burnt highlight, detail that is not there, can not be stored- but its limits are much wider than that of a jpeg-file, leaving you far more room to compensate for your own stupidity during shooting.

Once you use RAW, you’ll start counting on it. I never bother to check the white balance on my camera, as it can simply be restored. I mostly use a grey card while shooting, but I have to say that Photoshop often does a great job at automatic conversions from RAW. True, white balance can be altered in any file type, but it works better with RAW-files, since all the data are there. This way, the quality loss is smaller (or even zero) than in the case of, say, a jpeg file.

If a pic is underexposed, you can save it in post processing at the cost of substantial noise. The same thing can be done in RAW, but at lower noise levels and with greater recovered detail in the dark areas. No wonder RAW files are far more suited for High Dynamic Range (HDR) applications. Most modern HDR-software even allows for HDR files from one single RAW-file. Try that with a jpeg-file!

The bottom line is that RAW files can help you save some of your result if you made a mistake or if the situation did not allow you to take a perfect picture. If your camera allows you to shoot RAW-files, start doing it now. If your camera doesn’t, take that ability into account when deciding on your next camera.

More resources

Wiki on RAW


Correcting your white balance using a grey card

Tutorial for a HDR-picture from 1 RAW-file

Thursday, July 17, 2008

modeling tips: Get an agent (why?)

Some models simply make it on their own. Some models simply have the business skills an talents to make it as a freelance model. Other models need an agency to get their things done. But even if you have the talent to be a great freelance model, you might want to consider signing up with an agency. Here’s why.

No hassle
Let me guess. You want to focus on modeling, not on paperwork, sending bills, calling photographers to send your TFP-pictures, finding clients and so on and so on. That’s where the agent comes in. He (more often: they) takes care of this stuff you don’t want to loose your time on. The employees of the agency are your employees; they support you, allowing you to focus on what you do best: modeling.

But there is more. A good agent will not only take care of the hassle, they will do things you can not do yourself. They will help you build a portfolio, a reputation and even your skills. The bottom line is that they will earn money if you earn money, so they turn their efforts toward you earning money. It is in their interest that you have a great portfolio, that you get loads of exposure and that you get to work with photographers that you can learn from.

Let’s pretend you’re a client, looking for a model. Where would you go? Would you spend your precious time searching the web for someone specific or rather pay a modeling agency to do it for you? Clients go to modeling agencies. So if you want clients, go there too.

Better still, agencies work as a selection mechanism. Clients that go to booking agencies are the ones that are willing to pay for quality. So these are most likely to be professional clients; they will probably hire a good photographer as well, and a good make-up artist. They are also likely to be safe clients (check my earlier article on safety).

More resources:
Whats the big deal about being a signed model?

how to get an agent
choosing an agent

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Silly rules

I made a trip to Athens recently to visit a conference. On my way back, at Athens airport, a security lady asked me whether I had any liquids in my hand luggage. Yes I did. On short trips, I only carry hand luggage to avoid having to wait for my luggage (or worse), so everything was in my hand luggage. And since I tend to shave myself, brush my teeth and use deodorant, yes, I had liquids in my hand luggage.

That in itself is not the problem, carrying liquids on an airplane is not forbidden. You have to put them in a sealed bag and each item must not exceed 100 ml. All my items did. Here’s a list of my liquids: Toothpaste (125ml), shaving cream (150ml) and deodorant (150ml). A grand total of 425ml, which would have fitted easily into the sealed bag (maximum content 1 liter).

The security lady confiscated all three items, since every single container could hold more than 100ml. I am not mad at the lady, she was just doing her job. It is her job to make people obey the rules, not to think about these rules. Should she have thought about them, she might have realized that I could bring the exact same stuff on board the plane if only I had used more containers, each 100ml or smaller.

Suppose I was a terrorist planning to blow up a plane. And suppose I would need 425ml of fluids to do so. Would I be so stupid as to hide them in three large containers? No way! I would have used 5 smaller ones, each containing 100ml or less. I would have put those in a single plastic bag and sealed it. Once in the air, would you think that the seal on the plastic bag would have stopped me from blowing the plane? Think again.

Here’s the bottom line: it is okay to try to stop terrorists. It is however not okay to come up with silly rules that do nothing to stop terrorists, but that are a nuisance to travelers. And it makes you think. If this is how smart our terrorist-fighters are, how in the world will they stop even one terrorist that had taken a minute to think?

Friday, July 11, 2008

Photography tips: Don't wait for full frame

Digital SLRs come in two types, full frames and crop cameras. The distinction between the two is that the full frame has a sensor the same size as 35mm film, whereas crop cameras have a smaller (cropped) sensor, also labeled APS-C. Since picture quality (at least the part that the camera can influence) is positively related to sensor size, full frame sensors deliver better pics. Moreover, manufacturers tend to put full frame sensors in better cameras, hence full frame cameras are likely to produce better results. No wonder full frame cameras are major wannahaves

Some lenses out on the market are designed specifically for APS-C cameras. They won’t fit on full frames and if they fit, they’ll cause heavy vignetting. Someone who owns a full frame camera will not buy such a lens. That makes sense. People who plan to buy a full frame camera in the future don’t buy these lenses either, which makes a whole lot less sense.

Let’s face it, most people who plan on going full frame one day, in fact only dream of going full frame one day. Even if they do buy one, ‘one day’ might be months or even years from now. All this time, they’re missing out on the good lens. Some people even buy the wrong focal length, since they are going to switch ‘one day’. Why not just have all the fun you can have with the right lens on your APS-C and resell it once you switch to full frame? The second hand market for lenses is pretty good.

And then there is technical progress. Every new generation camera is better than the previous one. If the APS-C camera is a couple of generations newer than a full frame one (as is the case with Canon’s 40D versus 5D), it might be as good and in some respects even better. Of course, you can wait for the next generation full frame. And put up with the wrong lens even longer.

More resources
Advantages of ful frame

A comparison between full frame and APS-C

Friday, July 4, 2008

What's in a name?

The world of photography contains all kinds of cameras, and even if we limit the 'world' to amateur photography, the variety is still huge. Sometimes, I get the impression that people are afraid of diversity and feel the urge to tame diversity through classification. There is nothing against classification. In fact, classification can be very useful. If you do it right, that is. And that's where the shit hits the fan.

Some people seem to think that they can divide cameras into the cattegory of Single Lens Reflex cameras (SLR's) and 'point-and-shoots'. I think this is a silly distinction. 'Point-and-shoot' refers to the way one uses the camera rather than the type of camera.

In the very early days of digital photography, point and shoot was all that you could do with a non-slr camera. But times have changed. Many of the non-slr type cameras have a range of possibillities and their use can go way beyond pointing and shooting. Sure, you can still point and shoot with these cameras, but you can do that with an SLR as well.

But wait. There is more. The people that use the term 'point-and-shoot' often use it in a condescending fashion. They seem to think that people using those cameras are low quality photographers. They make the classic mistake of thinking that it's the camera that makes a picture. It's not, it's the photographer. In fact, pointing and shooting are the two things that the photographer can not leave to the camera. Exposure and focus can be automated pretty easilly, but picking a subject, composing a picture and timinig the shot can not. Those (and not the price of the camera) are the core elements that make a great photo. Pointing and shooting form the shere essence of photography.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Modeling tips: Photographer types (6)

Photographers, you need them for the pictures. Most of them are nice people, but they also have some peculiarities. If you know how to cope with these peculiarities, you’ll get the optimal results from your photo shoots. To help you with this, this blog publishes a series of articles devoted to photographer types. Every single photographer is a unique person. Nevertheless, knowing the type could be useful for models. None of the observations in this article imply that a certain type of photographer delivers higher quality. Each category contains both good and bad photographers. The mere fact that a photographer is shy, arrogant or flamboyant tells us nothing about the quality of his or her work. It does tell us something about the way they work though.

Some models may think that there is no need to adjust to the photographer. ‘Let them adjust to me.’ If that’s you, let me ask you whether you care about the result of a photo shoot. If you don’t, stop reading (and you might as well stop modeling too). If you do, why not take all the factors into account that you can influence?

The artist
Photography is art. That is, some photographers use the reproduction technique ‘photography’ as a means of artistic expression. What was that again? Art. Uh, right, mmm’kay. Artist photographers have a very clear view of what they want. They work from a concept and stick to it. It is a petty that some artist photographers have trouble communicating their very clear view. They know exactly what picture they are looking for, but their main mean of communication is through images, not words. And of course, the things they are trying to put in the picture may seem a bit weird sometimes. But hey, that’s why it’s art.

Dos and don’ts
You really should work with one or two photographers of this type. It broadens your portfolio without taking the direction out of it. Working with art photographers is a great way to show your posing, acting and expression skills. These guys are typically beyond the everyday pics that anyone has in their portfolio. When I say one or two, take that literally. These pics tend to be pretty visible in your portfolio; don’t let them become too dominant. Unless you’re totally into this type of photography of course.

Since some of these artists have a hard time expressing themselves in words, make sure you study their work. This may help you understand their twisted minds and predict what it might be they are aiming at. Don’t be too sure though, artists tend to be pretty unpredictable. Like in finance, results from the past do not hold any guarantee for future outcomes.

Keep in mind that artistic photos sometimes derive a value from shocking viewers. Or from deviating from expectations. So if you think the shoot is weird, don´t worry, it is supposed to be weird. Although you obviously have to be clear about your limits well ahead of the shoot.

Other types
The intuitive type
The ex-model
The arrogant type
The shy type
The flamboyant type
The technical type