Monthly Archives: May 2010

Why not a photo walk?

Photography is often a rather solitary activity; standing behind the camera trying to best utilize or manipulate the scene to produce great pictures. Unless we speak to a model (or indeed there is a model), there is very little communication that transpires at any given “session”. And while many enjoy solitude, photography doesn’t always have to be a socially closed activity, it can be a “team sport”. One popular means is to mix a love of photography with a good dose of socializing is an event known as a photo walk.

The premise is simple; you, and at least one other person, grabs a camera, meet at a specified location and walk around shooting pictures. It can be at any location and it doesn’t even have to be somewhere exciting. Small towns, large cities, parks all provide opportunities for this photographic social experiment. What benefits are gained through said activity?:

  • An opportunity to use your camera. Many people have cameras (and often expensive ones at that) that are nothing but dust collectors. Often the problem is that people do not know what to shoot and they feel awkward going about in public with a camera around their necks. Photo walks cure both problems since the subject is already decided (alleys of Chicago, carnival at Eureka, etc) and there will be at least one other person looking just as silly.
  • Gain friends. Spending time walking and talking invariably leads to a better understanding of the people you are with. Since all the other people are doing the same thing, you now have at least one thing in common with every person in the group. Remember, these events are not just about taking pictures and if you come away from an event without having participated in some meaningful conversation, you missed the point.
  • Learn the basics of photography. I find that photographers are, by and large, a knowledge sharing community. We are all in this hobby because we love it and generally we all love to help other with the craft. As you walk around, ask questions about the specific shooting situations you find yourself.
  • Become a better photographer. No matter your skill level, spending time walking around with people and seeing what they shoot and how they shoot is bound to provide you with ideas that you otherwise would have missed. Notice the postures people take when shooting. Notice the subjects that others shoot and how they approach those subjects. Try to see the world momentarily through their eyes.
  • Develop your eyes. Too often we are in a hurry to shoot. The photo walks forces us to slow down and take a deeper look at the world. Often the things we miss by driving by an area, will scream out at us while walking. Up close, what is often mundane can become spectacular. Shoot things you normally wouldn’t: garbage cans, sidewalks or even sides of buildings. Who knows what wonderful things you appear when you look at the pictures on the computer.

Photo walks are simple to organize; simply pick a destination, a time and contact some people to see if they are interested. It is that simple. IF you are fortunate enough to live in a large city, there are probably camera clubs and meetup groups ( that have walks that you can join. If nothing else, find just one person to go shooting with.
So, break out of your shell and enjoy the combination of two great things people and photography. And even if you don’t come away with a good picture you will have come away with a good time.

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Posted by on May 30, 2010 in Musings


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Why Aren’t YOU Blogging?


Currently, there are approximately 113 MILLION different blogs on the Internet with 175 THOUSAND new ones created every day. Given that some many people are blogging may make one wonder why she should even bother starting her own. After all, does the world need yet another blog? Can anyone produce something that hasn’t been done before? 

Well, maybe the world needs another blog like it needs another book, or movie or music cd. While it is difficult to state that such an endeavor will shake the foundation of the earth there are good reasons to blog. Below I give some reasons why I think blogging is important. I will divide this into personal and professional reasons since there are different ends for performing this exercise. 

Personal Reasons: 

Keeping in contact. The popularity of Facebook demonstrates how important we feel it is to keep in touch with friends and family. We don’t have the time (or care) to make a phone call, but we do like to know life is going for the people we know. This is nothing new. While writing letters is perhaps a dying “art” there are still some people that send lengthy letters at Christmas time detailing the family events of the year. Reading those letters gives us a nice feeling of connectivity. But instead do doing one large letter at year’s end, why not just do smaller ones on a more frequent basis? This removes the burden of trying to recalling all the year’s events. You just simply do updates on a regular basis (say every two weeks) OR as big events transpire. Blogging makes this very easy. 

Improve writing skills. Most of us are not great writers and we may never achieve that status but we can improve. The problem is that we often don’t improve and we actually get worse. Once out of school almost all of us stop writing papers and essays. Yes we do write emails and do a lot of texting but that does not demand the same amount of skill that more formal and creative writing does. 

Reflection.  Someone once said that an unreflected life is not worth living. Whether or not you completely agree with that statement, there is something to be said about taking the time away from our hectic schedule to reflect and to ponder. So much of out time is taken up absorbing information (listening to music, reading books, watching movies) that we seldom take the time to make sense of it all. And if we try to communicate to others in a meaningful way, that necessitates that we take the time to properly understand. It is of no surprise that those who learn the most are those who teach. Start communicating and see what you learn. You may learn for the first time those things you already knew. 


Improving Web traffic. Blogging is a very cost effective way to drive internet traffic to your site. With a basic understanding of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) one can generate a form of online marketing that cost very little money (like free). 

Advertising products and services. When companies have specials or want to highlight a new product they often advertise by way of a newsletter. These are sent out on a somewhat regular frequency and often in the form of an email. Blogging give as way for companies to highlight those special items without having to wait until the newsletter is sent.  This is especially true if customers subscribe to the blog. 

Connect with the customers. Just blogging is not enough, you need to give your readers/customers some value. Seeing fresh posts make customers realize that there is life within a company. That means that your company is not some lifeless entity which robotically fills orders but rather is populated with real people who actually giving information they want/need and the author(s) is somebody that is somewhat tangible.  A chance to connect on a more personal way with current and future customers is priceless.

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Posted by on May 27, 2010 in Musings


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The Tools I Love

In case you are wondering what tools I use to produce my pictures and why I use those tools, the following article is for you…

1. Photoshop CS4 – This is the daddy of them all and for good reason. Without question it is standard. For years I used Nikon’s NX2 as well as Paint Shop Pro X and was generally happy with the results I got. Then one fateful day I picked up a copy of CS4 relatively cheap (around $200). Without going into all the reasons/features, lets just say that the ability to handle RAW files, the ability for many 3rd party programs to hook into it, and the **FREE** inclusion of Adobe Bridge were enough of a reason to make me switch. Actually, Bridge alone was an ENOURMOUS boost to my productivity and made file management much simpler.

2. Topaz Adjust – A wonderful program that produces some very cool effects that you will not find elsewhere AND it hooks right into CS4. It takes a simple shot and gives it some serious pop. It does not add to what exists but rather it accentuates what is there. I really enjoy using this for portraits but often the effect is too strong and needs to be tone down. To address this issue I normally I take the original photo and copy it to another layer. Then I make the adjustment to the top layer. When I am finished I simply decreasing the opacity of the top layer until I get only the amount of effect I want. It is unbelievable how much time and effort this one program saves

3. Photomatix Pro – If you want to produce High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography, this is the program for you. Multiple options and sliders makes it possible to customize how crazy you want to go with the effect. The program hooks into Lightroom in a very sweet way. While program does take a bit of playing around with to get used to, it is VERY rewarding in its results. Often I will further modify these pictures in Lighroom or CS4. Most often the modification is only curve adjustments.

4. Lightroom 3 – the program is currently in beta and will be released in the near future. When I first started playing around with the beta, I wasn’t impressed. The lack of speed was the main concern, plus I didn’t see the benefit over using Adobe Bridge. Well, after the last update to the beta my opinion completely changed. Completely. If you are serious about your photography and deal with lots and lots of photos, this program is for you.. Most of the important functions that once were reserved for Photoshop are available in this easy to use package reducing the need to go to an outside program, like CS4.

This was just a quick overview. At some later date I will go into more details on each tool separately.

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Posted by on May 26, 2010 in Reviews


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Networking – What is it good for?

Networking is one of those buzz words that seems to be flying about. We have all heard the adage “it isn’t what you know but who you know” so often that it is cliché. But how important is it to network? How big of a role should it play in the development and marketing of your business?

Starting a business is always difficult, but finding customers is even harder. In the beginning of my portrait business I selected a market and worked hard to promote it. This was done mainly through my photography booth at art fairs and farmers markets. The first year I handed out a lot of fliers but did not get much business and the second year I went even further by taking down names of interested people and put them on a mailing list. Sadly, all that extra effort has not generated any increase of business. This was really discouraging because every week people expressed a need for portraits  AND they liked my work and prices. Yet with all their excitement at the time those intentions never materialized into later sales.

After some reflection, the realization hit that almost all of my portraiture work was commissioned by people I personally know. At first that was discouraging since I felt like this indicated a failure to market myself to an audience larger than my group of friends and acquaintances. But then it hit me. Instead of thinking of this as a failure, it really was a success. People who know me and like my work will hire me. In competition with all the other photographers and voices in the world people like to deal with people they know and trust. By increasing the number of people I know, and making them aware of my quality services, should increase the amount of commissions that I receive.

I still plan to “advertise” as I have in the past, but with some changes. I will attend fewer of those events than I did in the past and instead start working on cultivating relationships. Not the false kind of “I want to be your friend so I can use you” but rather one of sincerity and, hopefully, of mutual benefit. But even if this method still doesn’t generate the amount of business that I hope, there is one blessing I will receive – new friendships.

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Posted by on May 25, 2010 in Business Advice


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Review – Photography DVD

Picture of the productRecently I picked up the Digital Photography: Available Light and Flash DVD, a product of ALAS Media. I heard about this through one of  podcasts I regularly listen  called  The Candid Frame.

Ibarionex Perello  quickly, but methodically, goes through the various aspects of digital photography (ISO, aperture, shutter speed) . He does not get into the deep details of photography but provides the listener with a framework with which to build his photography skills.

Ibarionex sets up multiple scenarios and works through them logically. The scenarios are the types of situations that anybody can reproduce since they do not require special models or require travel to special locations.

As the title suggests, he seeks, if possible, to utilize the light that is available.  Sometimes that means simply shooting in the shade and other times using reflective panels to bounce light. The  techniques are never complex but rather solid examples of using tried but true measures.

As any photographer comes to realize that available light isn’t always enough. At that point, artificial light sources are needed. Since his style is more street than studio, Ibarionex strictly uses a speedlight rather than a studio strobe. While the techniques do apply to whatever environment you plan to shoot, a street or location shooter will get more out of the DVD than one who shoots mainly in studio.

For around $25 this is a great purchase. Ibarionex Perello took the same commitment to quality with the instructional DVD as he does with his podcast. There are enough nuggets that one can watch this several times and still find wisdom. Also, given the low price one doesn’t feel remiss about loaning it out to photography friends.

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Posted by on May 24, 2010 in Reviews


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The Brass Horn

Photo of The Brass Horn staff

The-Brass-Horn-DSC_3881-Edit.jpg, originally uploaded by ecfman.

Interior Shot of The Brass Horn

Interior Shot of The Brass Horn

Portrait of one of the owners of The Brass Horn

Portrait of one of the owners of The Brass Horn

This morning I shot some photos at The Brass Horn, a men’s clothing store in Decatur Illinois. They were gracious enough to let me experiment in their store. The lighting was a bit interesting for it contained natural light, florescent and incandescent. Luckily I did not have coloration issues as I expected I would. I think since most of the overall lighting tended to be more white. Now, The Decanter, had very heavy incandescent lighting and the color was definitely shifted toward the orange.

I was hoping to bounce some light off the ceiling but given that it was dark (and would absorb much of the light) and green (turning the light into and awful color) I gave it a pass.

The portraits turned out good even though I was a bit disappointed that I didn’t do better job “in camera”. The dark suits against a dark background was a bit of a challenge. To do it “right” I should have gotten my Alien Bee AB800 out to pump out more light instead of shooting with only my speed light (sb600). The advantage of just using the speed light is the mobility it allows and  minimizing my presence in case customers showed up. If this were a more specific assignment, rather than me shooting everything under the sun for practice, pulling out the AB would make more sense. The AB800 would require a stand and power cords strung along the floor thus making a tip and trip hazard. Not a good way to win customers.


Posted by on May 22, 2010 in About a Picture


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The Decanter Shoot in Decatur

The-Decanter-Decatur-3679_80_81.jpg, originally uploaded by ecfman.

Thursday night I photographed the interior of The Decanter, a store on Main Street in Decatur, Illinois. The owners were gracious enough to allow me to practice on them. This picture is a High Dynamic Range (HDR) photograph wherein I took three different exposures and merged them into one. This not only give the photography a wider range of “seeing”, but it can also produce some interesting visual effects.

I am mostly pleased with the photographs taken, but since I was mainly experimenting and was not intensely focused on a particular task I made some mistakes which I did not notice  until I got back home to process the pictures. The issue with this photo is that for this type of shot my focus is on the wrong point and my aperture is too open.  Notice that the bottles to the left are in focus but once we get to the island the subjects start to go soft. Once we reach the bottles on right wall the bottles are too soft. Instead I should have focused on the island instead (which is what I thought I had done) and closed  the aperture a few stops to make this a more professional looking picture.

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Posted by on May 21, 2010 in About a Picture


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