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Expensive is not always the best

My head shots were courtesy of Lucent Creations, edited by me.

I am a predominately "out of the studio" type of photographer at the moment. This isn't because I don't like studio work or I don't do it, it's because I don't have the room for a studio right now. I'm in the middle of a move to Atlanta and almost all of my possessions (except for my computer, bed, and cameras) are in a storage unit awaiting my return. So most of my work is out in the field.

Strangely, I've noticed a lot of photographers in this area just don't do studio work at all. I think this is because most people seem to believe that studios are immensely expensive or perhaps over their head in the technical proficiency required in assembly. While it is definitely true a lot of studio equipment is almost criminally expensive, there are much cheaper and just as effective ways of getting your own studio. You don't need to spend hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars in assembling a "professional" studio set up.

The misconception is that the most expensive way is the best way, and this simply isn't true. You can build your own studio in a weekend for a couple hundred dollars. There's this guy on YouTube who makes how-to videos for this type of stuff. His name is Joe Edelman. He outlines how to make a fluorescent lighting studio for under $200 dollars. $200!! I mean, that's nothing as far as camera equipment goes. Here's the link:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mtsKPaLMP7o

You don’t need to spend hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars in assembling a ‘professional’ studio set up.

Zoolander head shot courtesy of Lucent Creations, editing by me.

The guy's kind of a goober, but the information is there and the studio he builds is pretty dynamic. In fact, the pictures in this article were taken in a studio set up very similar to Edelman's.

My friend, fellow photographer, and frequent collaborator Trevette Brown took my head shots. Like Edelman, he also built his own studio in his garage for a couple hundred dollars. He runs Lucent Creations, a production company him and I co-founded early in 2014. The quality of the photos he gets from the studio set up he built is truly phenomenal considering it costs a fraction of what a "professional" set up costs. So naturally, when I needed head shots taken for my resume I gave him a call.

Just remember: expensive is not always the best.
All it takes is gumption and a camera to charge people for photos; to become a good photographer it takes drive and a desire to constantly improve.

Expensive equipment investments and learning curves on said equipment are some of the reasons that photography services can be so pricey. Just remember: expensive is not always the best. This goes for everything. Sometimes it's worth the money, sometimes it's not. Just look at Beats By Dre. They didn't do anything but give a pair of headphones a popular spokesman and overcharge people for them. As far as marketing and sales goes, Beats control something like 70 percent of the headphone market at the time of writing this, which is awesome for them. Objectively, their products are overpriced and just not as good as the rest, like any audiophile will let you know. Don't be afraid to question things. Don't be that "avant garde" guy/girl spending all their money on Vibram's, Beats, and bad photographersThey aren't running any better and their headphones are mediocre, not to mention they've been taken for ride.

So do your research and always check photographer portfolios before hiring. How many of their photos are actually good? Is it the rule or the exception? Say you see someone running around holding their flash above their head, facing directly in their client's face, casting all kinds of unflattering shadows everywhere. They probably don't know how to bounce their flash and it's safe to assume that your potential photographer has a lot to learn, even if they are expensive. The problem would be if you hired that photographer and a year later saw them making the same mistakes. They probably aren't worth your money. All it takes is gumption and a camera to charge people for photos; to become a good photographer it takes drive and a desire to constantly improve.

My goal here is not to get people to go for the cheapest option (that's not always the best either), but to think about what they are paying for, whether it be studio lighting, hiring a photographer, or even buying headphones. Are there better options? Hiring a photographer can be a daunting task, especially since for the layman photography is totally subjective. Always do a little research to make sure you aren't being taken advantage of. In the end, if the client is happy with the photos then that's all that matters.

If you like the quality of my head shots, get in touch with Lucent Creations on Facebook, and Trevette will take care of you. And if you're interested in what photographers I would recommend based in the Montgomery area, here's a list of the companies or individuals I've worked with or follow that know their craft:

High 5 Productions

Lucent Creations

Thomas Lucas

Alan Barrington Evans

Indie Film Lab

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An awesome 1 light setup for professional photos

This shot was taken with one off-camera flash and natural lighting.

It was a really nice day outside, the temperature was comfortable, and the family was really nice and relaxed in front of the camera. There were a lot of group shots to do and with several young children involved sometimes this can be a challenge keeping everyone corralled, but the kids were great, patient, and just silly enough to where my photoshopping of faces was kept to a minimum. Children are always interesting subjects because they can't help but be genuine characters.

These are test shots, but they illustrate the lighting technique well. This is with improper placement of camera and kicker light without a fill light.

This is an untouched photo with the fill light and the camera and subject properly positioned. It still would require post editing, but the lighting situation has improved from the image above.

My assistant and I arrived at Dr. Allen's land in Shorter, AL about an hour and a half before sunset so that gave me plenty of time to walk around and scout the location. After we found a great spot about a quarter of a mile from the cabin, we got everyone in place and I positioned the subjects comfortably in front of a large area of golden, wheat-like grass. Behind the grass field there was a heavily wooded area and behind that the sun was setting, which I used as a kicker, or hair light. This gave the subjects a great glow and cut them out nicely from the surroundings. (Due to the position of the sun at sunset and the awesome lighting during the "golden hour" this is best done in the afternoon.) I then had my assistant to my left hold the fill light (an SB800 flash speedlight on a stand with a shoot-through umbrella) at a slight downward angle a few feet above and toward the subjects' faces.

If I was to expose my camera for the background without using a fill light, I might get something like the first underexposed photo of the girl and her brother above. Notice that there is also a lens flare from the sun. If that's what you're going for then that's fine, but for this shoot I didn't need that so I positioned the sun directly behind the subjects' heads or bodies to avoid flares.

Here's a top down diagram of what the lighting setup looks like for those interested. It's simple and easy, and it makes fantastic, professional-looking images very easily. Just remember to shoot during the "golden hour" (shortly after sunrise or before sunset) and make sure the sun is located behind your subject(s) to provide the hair light. Also, you will need to expose for the bright sun lit background. After that, set your fill light up at a slight downward angle to the subjects' faces but not so much that it casts unwanted and unflattering shadows. 

I forgot my transmitters so I had to trigger the flash with a cable, which was a hassle but worked nonetheless. I shot entirely with my Nikon D7000 and my trusty Nikkor 50mm 1.8 (stopped down to about f8), but I also got a few shots with my 28-85mm for the large group portraits. 

Look how ridiculously personable the infant looks in this composite shot.

Some of the shots required a little more editing than usual (this is to be expected from large groups, especially involving children). People make faces sometimes, they blink, maybe someone was in a shadow or moved behind someone else's head; this is why you take at least two shots of these kinds of images. These photos then become composite photos by necessity (clients certainly wouldn't like a photo of themselves blinking or not visible). So then it's the photographer's job to combine certain aspects of different images to create the best shot for the client (of course it's always ideal to get the best shot in camera, but sometimes things just happen). For instance, in the shot to the right, the infant looked very uncomfortable and was blinking in the first shot that I took, but everyone else looked fine. So I simply copied the child's face from another photo in Photoshop and edited it onto this photo (which happens to show the baby looking ridiculously personable). It's still a photo of the same child, just improved. The 4 shots below are the same child from that photo and also became a composite shot for a different reason.

 

For this shot I had to make a composite image from three different shots because the infant was too young to sit up safely without assistance.

I took different shots with the mother's hands in separate places assisting the infant in a seated position.

I had to use a third image to complete the background where the mother's hands blocked it in the previous images.

For the final product I had to paint in any missing areas in Photoshop with the stamp and paintbrush tool.

Afterwards we all went back to the cabin and watched some football and Dr. Allen and his family treated us to a gigantic dinner (he also owns a shrimping boat so we had fresh Gulf shrimp and oysters to shuck). Even through all of the hours spent sitting at a computer desk editing, hauling equipment around, standing on my feet for 12 hours on a wedding day, the good days and bad days, I can still honestly say that I love my job.

If you have any questions about the lighting setup used here, the edited process, or about anything to do with photography in general, feel free to comment in the box below.

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