Tips & Techniques

I thought I'd write a quick post on ways to improve photo editing, as I'll be spending the next day or two editing myself. Above is a live view of my screen, starting the editing process with a senior photo shoot I captured the other day. Cameras are everywhere, and more and more people are finding themselves tweaking photos on the computer. So this post isn't just for hardcore photographers. The every day, just for fun photographer can really benefit from this post as well. Some of the tips are simple and some are for the more advanced photographer. This isn't the de facto "How to Become an Amazing Photo Editor." They are just some quick tips to help you along your journey. Either way, I think you'll all pickup a little something.

Use a white balance tool at time of capture

Out of all of the edits I make to my photos in post, finding proper white balance is the one of the most important. Finding proper white balance will ensure optimal separation and vibrant color. To make this way easier on yourself, purchase a white balance card or another like color checker tool. I use the X-Rite ColorChecker Passport. Hold this up in front of your subject for the first frame of every new lighting environment, and all your work is done. In post, you can simply use these test captures to calibrate your white balance with one click.

Rate photos, sort with smart collections

Most, if not all, legit photo editing software provides users with a photo rating system, and typically is a 0-5 rating range. Use this, always. The first thing I do is toss all of the photos from a single shoot into a folder or collection so they can be isolated from the remaining bulk of your photo library. I then run through a photo shoot and rate all the photos I like with "1" or a "1 star." This eliminates all the bad frames, photos with people blinking, etc. Now categorize the 1 star photos in a collection or smart collection (further isolating just 1 star photos from the pack), so all of the dud photos are not visible. Now go through all of the 1 stars and elevate the ones out of that group with a "2 star" rating. Repeat this process up to 5 times until you have a tight group of solid photos. I find the more photos I shoot the more rating stages of this process I have to go through. A standard shoot usually runs about 200 photos, and I can usually narrow them down to the top picks with two rounds of rating. A wedding event of 2000 photos on the other hand may take me all the way to 4 or 5 stars of rating to narrow it down. Do this BEFORE you even start to make any edits to your photos. Say you shot 200 photos for a family photo session. Are you going to edit and deliver all 200 photos? No, you probably will deliver around 50 max. So narrow your selection to those top 50 THEN edit, and save yourself a bunch of otherwise waisted time. Rating your photos has a few benefits. It not only saves you editing time, but every time you narrow down the photos to a smaller group you get a clearer perspective on what the collection of photos contains (rather than sorting through the whole group, making random edits, and trying to figure out which ones are the top selections). 

A pixel is a pixel is a pixel... right? What is a pixel on my camera is a pixel on my computer which is a pixel of a digital or print file that I present to a photo client. True, there is no denying it, digital photographs are composed of pixels, lots of them, millions upon millions, each a single dot with a specific color representation, combining to make a final photograph. Since the birth of digital photography, photographers have been ever evolving to leverage post processing software to edit digital images. Every photographer uses these tools differently, some rely on them more than others, and I'd argue that some photographers are more graphic designers than photographers. But we are not going to get into those details today, a book could be written on those personal thoughts alone. Today I want to talk about something that has been eating at me for months, and it's bugged me so much that I felt that I finally needed to share it with you. I'm sure this post will upset some who are just as upset as I am about the topic I'm about to discuss. That's good! The people who are losing out are the ones who don't feel or say anything at all. This is my blog, it's been home to my personal and professional visual works, adventures, advice, and personal photographic thoughts for years. There are almost 300 blog posts. I try to be as real as I can with genuine thought. This blog isn't a marketing gimmick, it serves many purposes, ranging from visual entertainment to educational. I try not to speak out of line, and if I'm providing advice to my readership I do my best to ensure that information has integrity behind it. The one thing you will not experience reading here on my blog are lies and me feeding you, my clients and fellow photographers, a bunch of shit. I'm a photographer, I'm paid to take photographs of people. I've photographed just about every age a person could be and in a dizzying array of situations. I do edit my photos in a post processing application. I'm asked to do very normal things to photographs in post, and I'm asked by some clients to do some very disturbing things in editing their images. However, contrary to many photographers out there, my job is 95% done after I've taken the picture. I've put in the time and effort required to make the photograph great at time of capture, so my editing load is minimal. For other photographers, taking the picture is only 25% of the completion. They spend countless hours in post. But this isn't the "shit" that I'm talking about, the subject that has my feathers a bit ruffled.

PocketWizard radio triggers... I love 'em. 95% of the time I have zero issues and they are worth every penny spent on them. That's saying something too, because I own 7 of them. My current PocketWizard arsenal consists of: 4 - FlexTT5's, 1 - MiniTT1, 2 - PowerMC2's, 1 - AC3, and 3 - AC9's. There is one flaw I've found in the PocketWizard FlexTT5's hot shoe mount (the part that tightens to the camera end) is not built out of the strongest material. It performs just fine when mounted by itself to a camera to trigger other radios, however, if you slide a speedlite onto the Flex (it's intended use), the added weight and torque that the speedlite can apply to the Flex's mount can become too much and... it breaks, rendering that hot shoe mount useless. It's kind of shocking that PW didn't think this one through, or even make a change in future production of the product after what I'm guessing is a very large number of photographers having this issue. A speedlite/Flex rig can easily put a couple pounds of force on this single small piece of plastic (and especially stressful on the mount when the speedlite is situated sideways), and it's only a matter of time before each and every Flex hot shoe mount will fail. Why it's not metal to begin with is beyond me. Good news is that you can call PocketWizard up, tell them your problem, and they will send you a new mount to replace the broken one. The bad news is that it'll cost you $20 per replacement mount. The repair process is simple enough to do yourself in under 5 minutes, but frustrating that you have to do this to begin with.

There has been a few flareups in the news over the past six months or so where people have gotten the short end of the stick when it comes to their rights as photographers. In most cases, it seems that the photographers actually knew their rights, however the law enforcement who wrongfully acted upon the photographers did not. Ironic? You bet. Us photographers are breeding like rabbits, we're everywhere, all the time. Anyone with a phone now has a camera in their pocket, ready for snapping at any time. This is all fine and dandy and everyone is happy, that is, until some kind of unexpected or uncontrolled event takes place. Photographers snap into action, doing what they do, taking photographs. Ignorant law enforcement wrongfully impede on the photographers rights in a multitude of wrongs - threatening, seizing photo gear, and in extreme cases, the damaging of gear or the abuse of the photographer. It seems that photographers are welcome until someone decides it's not ok and act unlawfully (most likely the offended/concerned person is in the wrong and doesn't want to be caught with their hand in the cookie jar). Photography and it's lawful boundaries seem to be a hot and reoccurring topic these days, ya know... since one out of every three people claim to be a photographer. Knowing your rights as a photographer is very important, and so important that I cover the topic in my beginner workshop, whether a student asks about it or not. There is a lot of grey area when it comes to the topic of rights, who has them,who doesn't, why, and when. To keep things simple, I'll just be talking about where you do and do not have rights to be taking photographs. It can easily be broken down into two sections - public and private property.

I don't know about you other photographers, but the vast majority of my photo shoot time is spent setting up and configuring lighting. There is a reason for that, right? Good lighting = good photograph. Carelessness = crappy light = crappy photo. It's simple math, really, but that math adds up fast in the form of a lot of pacing back and forth from shooting position to light. Unfortunately, this back and forth dance is necessary in order to get all the lights and their powers set correctly. It seems with the addition of each extra light that the overall setup time increases exponentially. What if there was a device that could control your speedlites and your studio strobes right from your camera? Good news for the PocketWizard shooters, there is. It's called the PocketWizard AC3 ZoneController. It works with MiniTT1 and FlexTT5 radio trigger system. Below is a video that goes into detail about the system and briefly discusses the power and convenience the AC3 will bring by adding it to the existing PocketWizard system. I'm sure after watching the video, you'll have all kinds of ideas on how this could improve your photo shoots. From my own experience I can tell you that the AC3 has doubled my shooting efficiency. If you shoot with the MiniTT1/FlexTT5 system, you are out of your mind if you don't integrate the AC3 into gear set... like now. It will make that big of a difference, I promise. [jwplayer mediaid="5161" width=700 height=418]

I don't want to get too McGyver-ie on you guys, 'cause I'm sure we've all seen the countless disasters of DIY (Do It Yourself) projects, especially in the photography field. People making soft boxes out of cardboard and tinfoil, for example. Some of these contraptions make sense, some don't come close, some require just as much money making your own crappy version of the original item (not to mention a week's worth of hours constructing it), and even in the end, if the duct taped frankenstein of a project actually does what it's supposed to, it will never scream "professional" and you would have to be an idiot use it on a professional photo shoot in front of a paying client. However, every once in a while, a little savvy with mods to existing and legitimate photo gear can workout in your favor, save some money, and produce great results. My off-camera lighting journey started in overdrive. It was go big or go home when it came to integrating lights in my shoots, meaning I started out and exclusively used larger studio strobes for my work (as opposed to using speedlites, also called hot shoes). Not that it was a regrettable choice, I love the big lights and I still use them for 75% of my work, but I invested heavily and exclusively into those lights and light modifiers. When it came to that other 25% of the time, when I'm not shooting commercial work or I don't need the horsepower from big lights, I wanted to use the way more convenient, smaller, and lighter speedlites. So I bought a handful of speedlites a couple years back for just those occasions. Aside from the initial expense of the speedlites, I also had to take into account all of the light modifiers. If I wanted the same type of control that I have with my strobe lighting set, would I have to go all out and purchase the speedlite variation of all the strobe medication gear to accomplish this? I owned like... 12+ light modifiers specifically to fit my studio strobes. I initially had no problem shelling out money for the strobe light modifiers, as big lights and big modifiers gave me awesome light, and I was willing to pay for it. Once I started researching speedlite specific light modifiers, my jaw dropped to find they cost just as much, if not more, money for them! I couldn't believe it. I knew that speedlites were very popular, but man, the photo market is all to wise to that fact, and all of us photogs are paying for it. Markup on small light gear for those tiny little speedlites is out of control.

It's easy to forget about. You use it for just about everything in life, you rely on it more than you know, but might not even know how inaccurately you are viewing and editing the digital world. Out of all of the gear photographers lust over, camera bodies, lenses, and the thousands of dollars spent to acquire these light capturing tools, most forget about one of the cheapest and most important pieces of gear they need. If you are a photographer and have not properly calibrated your computer monitor, you need to stop editing photos and get on this. I repeat, do not edit another photo before taking the steps to ensure proper monitor calibration.

Reflectors and diffusers are typically the first modifiers photographers buy when they start experimenting with light manipulation. It's a great thing... you've taken the step to start playing with light, rather than just throwing your arms up in defeat when you can't seem to achieve favorable light conditions in a given shooting situation. A reflector/diffuser combo is a very wise choice, regardless of your existing gear status, as they are useful all the time and in combination with other lighting tools. I think that at times people feel that "controlling light" translates to blasting a flash in someone's face and calling it a day. Adding flash lighting or redirecting ambient light with a reflector is a way more delicate process than you might think. It doesn't have to be a huge, dramatic change in the overall exposure. Just adding a little of spark to your main light, or filling-in shadows to bring some more detail into the composition can make a night and day difference. It's not a game of miles or even feet, we are talking about inches. Small increments of addition/subtraction of light to make all the world of difference in your portrait work. Here are a couple thoughts, more of a checklist, to keep in-mind when you go out to make this purchase.

Every photo gig has it's own requirements when it comes to clothing. Sometimes the choice on what to wear boils down to simple logistics. No-brainers like warm clothes for shooting wildlife, night, or winter photography. Maybe swimsuits and sandals for beach and water shooting so you don't have to worry about soaking nice clothes and shoes. But most of us photographers spend our time photographing people. Those people hold events they need captured by us, and that is where the major gray area is, as far as selecting attire for these events. So, this article will focus on portrait photographers and my perspective on what makes sense for a few different situations you may find yourself in while working for various clients. That is key... "what makes sense." Dress to impress, dress to perform, or somewhere in the middle. Does the event even call for you to fret over this? What's the weather like? What's your gear situation? What's expect of you? Know your client. It always helps asking the client some details about the event just to get your head wrapped around the basics, get the feel for things, and you can more confidently make a call. There are a lot of other questions that you need to ask yourself from the perspective of your job tasks which will drive your attire as well.

It's a topic photographers start to tackle as they continue to develop their skills, continue to tackle new subject matter, and continue to tackle the processes in order to capture better photographs. Of course, all of these photographic avenues we try to improve ultimately trickle down to the same solution, much like the branches of a tree to the trunk, and that is - the betterment of capturing light. Each photograph - a simple exposure to light. There are literally an infinite number of situations in which a camera can be asked to best capture that pesky stuff we call "light." Some of these situations can best be captured by simply fully understanding how to use a camera and how to spin the dials, some may call for the use of a reflector, diffuser, or even an addition of a light source, and some require the introduction of a filter to best capture the moment. In this article, we'll be taking a look at the latter, an in-depth look at the various filters available to photographers, which ones to avoid, correct and incorrect uses, and when to best use them. The importance of using filters in your work will largely depend on the type of photography you capture. They can have a very dramatic or very little effect on your image, depending on your knowledge of how and when to use them.

A question I posed to Facebook users back in October - How many lights were used in the photograph above? Extra bonus points for taking a stab at light modifiers used on said number of lights. I created this photo strictly as a visual aid for an article I wrote back in October as well (click here for that post). Taking the little side project further, I was curious to see if anyone following me on Facebook would get close to the light setup used to make the photo. I would have to say Justin was the closest guess, as he went into some pretty good detail on lighting position. Reproduction of the "real" world is a funny thing in the photo and video field. I guess we have commercial photography and the movie industry to thank for our completely unrealistic view on reality nowadays. What I mean by that, is that artificially lighting most setups as if it were 100% replicating a natural occurrence flat-out looks bad in a final photograph. Walking around in real life, we see things, accept them as beautiful, and we appreciate them and go on with life. However... when it comes to looking at a photograph that was done well, in respect to holding true to artificially re-creating only natural forms of light found in the world, we get REALLY picky. "Oh, I don't like how that person's head isn't edged-out by backlighting and cannot be made-out from the background, " or "the shadows are not filled-in enough for me." We don't know what "natural" even looks like anymore. It's true, and a comment on the Facebook photo proves it, with a user guessing that only light from the computer screen is lighting this entire photo (not their fault, this is the general public's view of light and what they are exposed to with every photo and video professional produced). And with today's overstimulating, commercialized, uber marketing online world, we demand to see the "real world" in a not-so-real situation with perfect beauty lighting on faces, proper rim lighting, and fans blowing a models hair back... now that's REAL life (I kid)! Every once in a while, we photographers can get away with a "natural" lighting approach, and get away with a people pleasing photo, but not often. We usually have to cleverly light it to ensure all of the visuals in a composition are well-lit for proper attention and detail.

Here is a video Q & A for those of you photogs who want to start flirting with off-camera flash. This isn't a video about how to use lighting and everything that goes with it. It's a simple recommendation on the starting block gear to acquire to start your lighting journey. The good news is that TTL will help you ease into this journey (if you are using hot shoe lights), so you don't have to be an absolute lighting wizard to pull of simple lighting execution.

You have to admit, it's a guilty pleasure buying new stuff. Sure, it sucks having to shell-out moola for the really good stuff, but if you are a legit working professional in your field, it's a necessity. BUT... as much as you hate seeing a series of zeros in the price tag of pro-level equipment, there is a part of you that is super happy about clicking that "buy" button. Photographers are notorious gear freaks, always lusting after the next biggest, faster, meaner piece of equipment, whether it is a lens, camera body, general accessory, lighting, or computer equipment. We live in a world that is now obsessed with efficient, lean business workflows. On top of that, society in general is always looking at how they can get services and products cheaper, faster, and easier. The same applies to the career field of photography. If photographers are expected to keep their prices lower to stay competitive, they have to find ways to make the price they are charging economical to keep their dollars per hour up at a desirable range. Ex. if you charge $200 for a photo shoot, is your total time invested into that project 3 hours or 30? If this (photography) is what you wake up and do every day, it is a prime example of a high output workflow. By that, I mean it's not like you are dealing with something on a small scale, like selling cars. You are most likely pumping out photos in the thousands every month if you have a healthy business. So, we are dealing with units in the thousands per month. Don't you think that is something that is worth evaluating, in terms of process workflow and where bottlenecks might be? Just like any other profession, the longer you keep at it, the quicker you are capable of doing a job, managing the juggling of processes, etc, and hopefully the lack of efficiency in certain spots will become more evident. You'll most likely continue to reach new levels in your knowledge and experience, and your current gear and approach may begin to keep you from breaking through to the next step. That's your cue to do something about it.

archivingScreenShot Ok, so here we go, the first video Q & A segment. I hope this kind of catches on and people use me to help "fill in the gaps" of all the standard information they can't seem to find on the web. It's just one of those things - you can have a really good grasp on a piece of software, while also having a really solid plan for the business end of things, however, there is the cross-section, where the creative/making side intersects the business side. There is this murky middle area where a lot of things are left-up to interpretation and personal preference. Essentially this gray area cannot be spelled out by software makers, and a business teacher definitely doesn't have any input on these kinds of specifics. You know there are a practices that need to be done in your business to ensure efficiency, redundancy, and so on, but I (and as it seems many others) are left to figure out all the gray area stuff themselves. Sometimes self-discovery of these processes are the best course of action, other times you are left thinking "it'd save me a bunch of time and a handful of headaches if I got a little nugget of knowledge from someone who has been doing this gray area stuff for awhile in my same career field." This gray area are the things I would like to focus on in these sessions, because I feel it's worth my time to address them. The simple, easy stuff that software vendors spell out on countless websites where you can get a lot of information doesn't need to be beaten to death one more time by me in a video. Rarely, it also seems that tutorials spell out the BIG things and leave these little gaps that desperately need explanation. You also do not need me giving you a lecture on how important is it to ensure you have backups of every inch of your business, how to interact with your clients, etc. It's that middle part, and how they come together. So let's piece this stuff together.

aliceLaptop Is this post a little late to the game? For those who already use applications like Aperture and Lightroom (more about these later in the post), yes, this post is about the biggest "duh!" article you'll have read in a couple years. However... for those photographers who have not had their eyes opened to these savior-like applications, the people who make a living making piles and piles of photos yet still rely on single image editing applications, this post is for you. Why do I STILL have a sense that this post is necessary? 'Cause I hear of people struggling with photo management on a regular basis, and I feel compelled to write it for them. Most likely, this post is going to help that group of photographers who are at the level where they are just starting to get paying gigs, they are flirting with the idea of taking on photography seriously, or maybe they've been doing it for a while and can't figure out how other working photogs are staying afloat with all of the editing, 'cause they are spending an unimaginable number of hours in post production with a steady stream of clients. In today's fast-paced world, it's all about getting the job done better, faster, and cheaper. Streamlining your biz is key, and post production is a giant arena which can be tweaked to really get more time back to invest in other areas.