A quick lesson for newbies..

A poster named Jon over on he DPS Forums made a recent post that I wanted to share with readers here. It is a great bit of advice and something to get your mind in the right place as a new photographer.

The original post can be found here but this is the text from it:

I do an awful lot of event photography. I’ve got the contract for two of the local Circus’s for their promotional shots next season. (Which I’m really excited about by the way) and one of the things that strikes me about event photography is that I never really get to see the show.. This may sound strange but it’s actually quite true, and it’s true of Portraiture, true of Landscape, true of fine art,true of street, in fact, I can’t really think of any genre in which it isn’t true.


Well, I realized this the weekend before last, when I was shooting yet another circus performance, at the local circus school, when I’m with my camera, I don’t JUST think about the performance in front of me.. Actually, I RARELY think about the performance in front of me. I think about what the performer is about to do, I think about composition, about obstacles and whether they can be used to enhance the shot or whether I should move because they detract. I relaxed a little and took some time on Saturday last week to enjoy the show.. Then I remembered “I’m here to take photos, if I wasn’t, I wouldn’t be invited.” So I reluctantly picked up my camera.. The show was good, the kids talented, and for a little while I felt like I was missing out…

Now today, looking back through my shots, I can really see where my brain clicked from “photographer” to “spectator” .. and back again. There’s a distinct difference between the two..

But when I look at these photos, I realize, I wasn’t missing out at all.. I’ve produced some images that show the skills and abilities of these young people at their best, something that the parents love, and show off to their friends, even though they took their own photos that night.. Sure, someone with more experience than me might have made it even better, but they weren’t there, I was, and when I miss a show, people ask after me..

What I’m trying to say, is that if you want to be a photogr
apher, instead of just improving your snapshots, you need to turn your head on. You need to think like a photographer.
You know, when I was learning French, I couldn’t get the pronunciation right.. Someone said to me “You know how the French accent sounds in English?” I said “Yes.” And started doing an impression of a Frenchman. “Great.. Now do the same thing, only saying French words instead of English ones” they were right.. It worked, it was a lot easier.

What I’m saying is, even if you don’t get how to take photos yet.. You know how pro photographers stand and hold their cameras, how they move around to get the right composition.. Imitate them.. You’ll feel a bit self conscious at first. That’s only because you’re thinking about yourself, not your subject.. Stoppit.. Think about what you’re doing, and why, not about what others think about you, that’s totally irrelevant.

What you’re doing, by imitating pros, is training your muscles into good habits, you’re also making it far easier to take good photos.. Maybe you feel a bit silly.. Well, that’s just tough.. If you want to be a good photography, then believe me, you’re going to be doing these things eventually..

Make it easy on yourself and start how you mean to go on.. Move like a photographer and think like a photographer, stop making it difficult by trying to be a casual observer, the two can’t happen at the same time.. If you want to be a casual observer, put your camera down for a short while and enjoy.. But if you’re there to take photos, be a photographer.

Sorry, this is as much a self-learning exercise as anything else..

If you like his advice you can also see his great photography work at these locations:

Thanks for reading,


Ideas for Future Photo projects.

Here are a list of photo projects that I eventually want to do. This list will also be found on the menu bar above as well so that I can update it and show progress on them easier.

The list so far:

365 Random Shots – No specific subject just to take and post a picture once a day.

52 Self Shots – Take and post a shot of myself once a week. Can use reflective surface and mirrors but not an actual mirror in my own home.

100 Strangers @ 50mm – Shoot a portrait of 100 people I have never met with my 50mm lens. Also if possible get their First Name or Nickname, Occupation, and have them answer one of five predetermined questions. Couples are allowed but not groups (except families but they only count as a couple).

Complete 10 Challenges Project from Her View Photography

One subject per month challenge – Pick one subject and focus on it for one month.

  • Lines & Curves
  • Lights
  • Flowers
  • Macro
  • Mornings
  • Evenings
  • Family Fun
  • Animals
  • Leaves
  • Music
  • Home
  • Color Focus
  • Faceless Portraits
  • Body Parts
  • Pick a Letter
  • Night Photography
  • Black & White
  • Doors & Windows
  • Inspired by the written word 
  • Juxtaposition 
  • Landmarks in a new perspective
  • Live performances
  • Landscape
  • Street Photography/Street scape
  • Food
  • Elders
  • History
  • Fears
  • Shapes
  • Movement
  • Unusual perspective
  • Water

Alphabet in a Light Box – Photograph 26 objects based on a letter of the alphabet in a light box to learn lighting and macro photography.

Feel free to suggest others you think are interesting or have done yourself for me to add to the list in the comments section below!

Thanks for reading

Basic Sharpening Settings (Post Process)

I’m sure you have read either in books or online that there are several ways to get your images “tack sharp”. This post is not to rehash about how to do that or point you places to read about it.

This post is to give another place to find some basic Photoshop image sharpening settings for the Unsharp Mask Tool.

Here are the setting I tend to use as a starting guide:

Subject:                              Amount, Radius, Threshold
Soft Subject:                      150,1,10
Portraits:                            75,2,3
Moderate Sharpening:        225,0.5,0
All-Purpose:                      85,1,4
Web Images*:                   400,0.3,0
City Scapes:                      65,3,2

*If you use Lightroom and export your images before uploading them you can just check the “Sharpen For:” box and select “Screen” from the drop down list.

If you are using Full Photoshop:
After you use the above go into the Edit Menu–> Fade Unsharp Mask. Set Mode to Luminosity and Adjust the Opacity lower until hallows in image go away (50% Usually)

If you are using Photoshop Elements it is a bit more complicated:

1. Duplicate the layer you want to apply the
    filter to (unsharp mask in this case).
2. Apply one of the setting above as the filter settings to the duplicated layer.
3. Go to the top of the layers palette (panel)
    and change the layer blending mode of the
    duplicated layer to luminosity.
4. If the sharping is too strong, you can adjust
    strength by using the opacity slider (also on top
    in the layers panel).
5. If you have a bunch of layers underneath those two
    layers, click on the duplicated layer to select it.
    Then go to Layer-Group with Previous (Create Clipping
6. This groups the two layers together so the sharping doesn’t
    affect the layers below.

Note that these are not “be all end all” settings. These are just guides to help you through post process a bit quicker. You will have to tweak them as needed for each image.

Thanks for reading

Need to get more shooting practice? Volunteer!

As any established photographer will tell you then best way to improve your skills is to always take pictures. You do this by take your camera with you everywhere and just shoot everything. However just taking random pictures of things isn’t always conducive to learning.

Sometimes you need a specific subject to focus on as I stated in a previous post on doing Weekly Assignments over at DPS. However this is only a once a week thing and it will not take all your free time to complete the assignment.

To fill up some of that time and give you experience with working for a client one option is to Volunteer.

So how do you volunteer your skills? There are several ways.

First you could do a Google Search for “volunteer photography work” which will give a huge list of links with information on volunteering your skills. If those results give you information overload and want to be more focused you can do look at your local community or work place.

My full time work has a whole department dedicated to something called the “Community Involvement Program”. Where I work they are very big on doing volunteer and charity work so much so they plan large events around things such and UNCF and United Way. Additionally they have a system in place where you can log your volunteer hours so that when you have your yearly reviews you can show how much you volunteer. There is even an event calendar where you can sign up to volunteer at events if you don’t know what you want to volunteer for.

This is how I volunteer my time and skill as a photographer. Different people will have an events scheduled and I go to them and photograph the event and share my pictures with our Community Involvement Office and the Organization the event was at. This way they can use the images for their own promotions and at the same time I get to shoot at different locations and in different environments as well as get my name out there and network.

You can also ask you local charity or not for profit establishments if they need any photography done for promotional items or just for record keeping purposes for their events.

I will warn you however, some places may say you can take photos for them but when you get there you are told you can’t! This happened to me for a charity event where a local Symphony was playing. I was not allowed to take any pictures because the Symphony brought their own “In House” photographer. When I asked why it was because the Symphony sells images of all it’s concerts it does for money so if I took pictures it would hurt their ability to do so. If something like that happens to you just shrug it off and find something else to shoot. There will be other opportunities out there for you.

Either way, I do highly suggest that you volunteer your time in taking photos for organizations that are out there. This way you can not only get practice in you also get your name out there and network with people.

Thanks for reading


Good News!

Got a nice email today to make my weekend. Here are the first lines:

Dear Jason,Welcome! We’re sending you this email to let you know that we have processed your enrollment. You are officially a student at the New York Institute of Photography.

Now for the waiting game as they said it will take 1-2 weeks for the first assignment to arrive.

I’m excited and can’t wait for the material to arrive!

Thanks for reading


YouTube Channels for Learning Photography

In a previous post I talked about a few website to go online to learn more about photography. This week I wanted to give you a list of a few YouTube channels that I and others feel are ones you may want to subscribe to for free learning.

As it’s YouTube description says, “The most subscribed and viewed photography show on the interweb, presented by an Asian dude with British accent.”

This channel is one of the funniest and yet informative photography channels on YouTube  I will warn you right away if you are or have any prudishness in you then skip this channel. Kai Wong, Lok C and Alamby  their team do a great job at keeping each episode informative without stuffing your head full of tech jargon. They have gear reviews, photography ideas and shooting techniques done often with a lot of humor to the point they may seem to get off track from time to time but it’s normal for them and it does keep their videos form getting stale over time.

Adorama TV
Being one of the largest consumer electronics retailers for camera gear they have made this channel to help you the consumer with how-to articles, buying guides and gear reviews. They cover not just shooting but also post processing techniques as well.

B&H Photo Video
Just ask any serious Pro and they will tell you about the “Disney Land of Photo” that the B&H store in NYC is. To extend their support of the photographer they have this channel that show photography and post processing tips, gear reviews, and workshop lectures from guest speakers at their NYC store.

Great Photography Tips
Karl Taylor brings his 15 years of professional photography skills into his videos. I find his photography tips informative for new photographers.

There are many others out there as well. Just do a search for “Learn photography” and you will see loads of videos. I just happen to watch these channels more regularly than others.

Thank you for stopping by to read this!


Dollhopf Wedding

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Dollhopf Wedding, a set on Flickr.

Via Flickr:
This was a wedding shoot I did for a Friend of the Family. They just wanted someone to come in and take better than average pictures of the event.

It was fun to do and learned a lot while doing it and it was also great to try and use techniques I have been reading up on and trying out at home.

Unfortunately 3 pictures did not turn out very well and I think what happened is I forgot to turn off the auto-focus and went to take the shot it went slightly out of focus on them. The other thing I might have done is just nudged the focus ring or moved it slightly.

I am happy that the other shots turned out well though!

I honestly feel that it will be a long while though before I agree to do another very small wedding. I want to get more practice with single flash portraiture before I try this again.

Thanks for reading

I want to thank Jill for allowing me to do this for her on her wedding day and giving me the opportunity to learn though the experience of shooting something like this.

Also I want to thank my wife Andrea for being there to make sure I got all shots on the shot list and others that where not.

Update: 2013.06.23 – I recently went through the images and did some touching up to make them a bit better. I didn’t rework all of them I originally posted here in January 2013 just about half of them. This is reflected in the set count of images being only 52 compared to the original 123 i put up previously.

Challenging yourself with Weekly Assignments

Sometimes it is best when learning to not just take pictures at random of different subjects but to have predetermined subjects to shoot. This allows you to focus on one thing at one time in order to better learn.

If you are like me and sometime have difficulty thinking of things to practice your skills on you should find a place that does online photo assignments. One place that I do is at the Digital Photography School. They have a forum with a Weekly Assignment Section. I will admit that I do not always submit every week but I do try to do each assignment.

The assignments run from Wednesday to Wednesday each week. However you actually have a week before  the start of that specific assignment where you can take the photo so that you are not rushing to plan out what you will shoot for the subject of the assignment. They do have rules you must follow for what and how you post images for review by members of their staff. There are a lot of people that do these challenges so it really makes you think about what you submit if you really want to “win”.

There is no real prize other than bragging rights but with all the substitutions and feed back you sometimes get from people on your photo it really does help to boost your confidence in your skills even if you do not win.

Thanks for reading

Learning Flash (Low Key) Off Camera Flash


Via Flickr:
Trying to get a black background with out actually having a black back drop behind the subject.

I couldn’t get my 430EX II to a low enough setting 1/64 was still too bright as you can see by some of the photos.

I then tried to use my manual Neewer TT560 flash with remote flash triggers and got better results.

(The pictures have a tag of which flash was used in them.)

My wife Andrea was a very good sport for being my model… although she will probably kill me for posting these pictures!!

I love you honey!

UPDATE: This is the Youtube video that promted me to try it out:

Great Photography Books To Get Started With

When visiting photography forums the question always comes up “Hi, I’m new. Where do I begin?”. Often alongside many varied answers pointing to other websites and tutorial I often see a number of books listed that seem to be the “industry standard” of the best to read as a new photographer.

You may ask why tell people to read books when the information is already available for free on the internet?

Well as a beginning photographer you should learn from more than just what the internet offers. You should interact with other photographers and if possible attend workshops or classes to improve as well. However this is not always available depending on your personal and/or financial situation.

Books are the next best thing to learning from very knowledgeable photographers and professionals without paying them a lot to teach you directly. You can learn a lot from these books and if you have questions when reading them you can go online line to ask them at places like The Digital Photography School or any other photography discussion forum you choose.

Here are the books I see often mentioned that I agree with others in saying they are the “must haves” for getting started in learning photography. I have ordered them in the order it was suggested to me to read them in as well:

BetterPhoto Basics: The Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Taking Photos Like a Pro” by Jim Miotke
OK, right off the bat I fibbed a little…. I do not see this book come up often in discussions but I was recommended to read this book. I’m glad I did. You can find his advice in other places all over the internet but this small book brings it together in an easy to understand and read format. I highly suggest reading this book at the same time you take pictures while practicing the advice given. Lot of pictures.

The Digital Photography Book” Boxed Set, Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4 by Scott Kelby
Scott Kelby is one name you will hear a lot as a photographer. Many many people will tell you to read his books. Scott has numerous tutorials, books and advice out there for anyone to learn from. Just Google his name and see. These books will cover the same things as the first one but in a different perspective and more in depth. Also there are four parts and each part get slightly more advanced in technique with out overwhelming you.

Understanding Exposure, 3rd Edition: How to Shoot Great Photographs with Any Camera” by Bryan Peterson
After reading the above books (at least part one of of Kelby’s set) and you will want to start reading this one. It really explains exposure and how to take not only technically correct photographs but also creatively correct ones as well. There is a lot of knowledge in this short book and no matter what you level is I’ve seen this book recommended as must read to anyone who has never read it.

Speedliter’s Handbook: Learning to Craft Light with Canon Speedlites” by Syl Arena
You won’t always take pictures where there is perfect light. As a beginner I suggest you look at Chapter 0 and some of Part 1 (Chapters 1 & 2) right away. Then play with your flash while you read the other books then come back to read the rest of the book along side the others. Yes this is more Canon specific, but the techniques talked about are not and can be used with most any flash make or model.

Thanks for reading!