black and white

Black and White With The Fuji X100f (Photos) and Nikon D600 (Video)

If you have spent any time looking at my work you know I enjoy shooting portraits. You may have also noticed that I often process my photos in black and white. It’s typically not something that I elect to do on purpose the photos just end up that way. In the case of my most recent shoot with Haven Hudson I ended up making the entire section black and white.

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Why Make Photos Black and White?

The most common reason that I choose to make photos black and white is because they were shot in low light. Because I’m compensating with a higher ISO and to a lesser extent larger Apertures the photos I shoot in low light tend to have a shallow depth of field along with a noticeable amount of “noise” (Grain, Static, artifacts and discoloration). While noise is a common byproduct of increasing the sensitivity of your camera’s sensor it is typically something many photographers would like to avoid. It’s why camera manufactures will invest a respectable amount of research and development into getting cameras to shoot at higher ISOs with less Noise. However even the best cameras shooting at 6400 ISO are going to show some noise but that doesn’t mean an image is ruined.

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In my opinion a humble amount of noise can give photos a film like quality. In an era where Photoshop can polish an image down to the point where it looks more like a life like painting it can be a bit refreshing to keep some of the old rough edges to images as opposed to scrubbing the photos of their soul and leaving them as nothing more than images. The issue is though is that Digital Noise isn’t film grain. It has completely different qualities, the most significant being the way it effects color tones; They can become muddy and difficult to grade colors the way you want. It is especially difficult when it comes to skin tone which tend to be a pain in the ass to change anyways. However if you are okay with less color and a bit of grain you can get some very vintage/filmic looking images.

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This is what makes black and white such an effective method of editing. You’re not worried about what the colors look like you’re more focused on what your exposure, Contrast, whites, blacks, shadows and highlights are doing without having to stress about color balance or saturation as well.

Technical justifications aside the main reason to process in black and white is purely a aesthetic choice. I have always loved the way black and white photography looks especially when it comes to my more candid and improvisational photography. I like having photos that look like you could find them in the attic of you grandparents house and it’s a big reason I frequently order 4×6 prints on some of my favorite photos. One day someone is going to be going through my old stuff and that photos I have taken throughout my life.

Shooting with the Fuji X100f.

cr-35The Fuji X100f is a relatively new addition to my camera bag. I have had it for the last 6 months and in my time shooting with it there are some certain qualities that I have grown to appreciate and other that I have learned to loath and this Black and White series is a good illustrations of the good the bad and the ugly when it

comes to this camera.

The Good:

The image quality off the sensor of this camera is excellent. I have grown so spoiled by shooting with a full frame Nikon DSLR that I have grown pessimistic when it comes to smaller sensors but the APS-C sized chip on the X100f Renders details and colors so well that in the right lighting conditions you would think that you were shooting with a full 35mm sensor.
cr-32I personally believe the sensor benefits from having a well paired lens attached to the front of it. The 23mm f2 lens that is fixed on the Fuji is roughly a 35mm equivalent on the APS-C Sensor and the combination of the f2 wide open aperture and being fixed focal length allows for very precise rendering that takes some very breathtaking images.

The final thing that I love about the camera is how fast it is. The auto focus, the shutter response (along with being incredibly quite) allows me to shoot very quickly and the responsiveness of the camera to my adjustments happen at such a pace that I can focus on shooting more than constantly making minor adjustments.

The Bad:

The X100f is not well suited for portraits, Not going to lie about that. While I am super pleased with the image quality coming out of the camera there are some things that makes it hard to get portraits to look the way portraits to should look (at least for my personal prefrence.

cr-2 Because the lens is a 23mm it has a lot of the qualities and drawbacks of a wide angle lens. Noticeable distortion, the bokeh (blurred Background) never quite gets the subject isolation you want and getting the right composition  becomes a bit more of a challenge.

Most of these things can be overcome with some editing. Adobe Lightroom (Which I almost exclusively edit with)  has profile corrections built right in for this camera and the you can add more blur the background if you’re into that kind of thing but ideally you want to minimized editing by getting as much in camera as I can and having my processing for implementing the style I want. Not so much for fixing issues.

The Ugly:

The high ISO performance on this camera is sketchy at best. The noise after 3200 ISO is Pretty noticeable but the thing that I constantly notice is how muddy the mid-tones become as you raise the sensitivity.  It is especially rough on the color quality. after 1600 ISO the color starts to fall apart on the RAW files to the point that you almost feel like you have to go to black and white which I why I elected to edit all of these photos in black and white. I’ve noticed in time that people are really committed to color photography and I will often deliver black and white photos and have people ask me to convert them back to color. So for me I’m okay with living with a camera I know I’m going to get some color issues but I think there a lot of photographers and clients out there who color quality is non-negotiable.

Video in Black and White:

I want to get back to shooting video more often. Typically I don’t mix a lot of my video work with my portrait work but it has been something that I have wanted to do. After Editing the whole set in Black and White I decided I wanted the video I captured to match.

I shot the Video on my Nikon D600 with the Nikon 24-120 f4g lens. This Camera is a bit on the old side when it comes to video performance. It shoots at 1080p at 30fps (I shoot in 24fps) on a H.264 codec which is respectable but there are a lot of 4k 60fps options hitting the market with better codecs and more video centric features. But the footage from the 35mm sensor looks great and 1080p is still respectable in the online space. (But I still am tempted to upgrade.) The real drawback of doing video on this camera is the focus. The back screen makes it really hard to tell when things are in focus and nikon photography lenses really aren’t suited for manual focusing. Another thing that some of the more latest and greatest cameras have are better video auto focus features that the D600 just doesn’t have. All complaints aside, the best camera is the one you have on you and the D600 has been a work horse since I bought it and part of working in the creative space is being able to work within the limitations of your equipment and to a greater extent yourself to realize your creative vision.

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I was actually really happy with how the video came out but I do want to improve a few things going forward. First I need to get a better stabilization setup. Not necessarily something fancy like a DJI RONIN or a Glide Cam but possibly a shoulder rig to give me more steady movements going forward. Also I need to get back on my music game because it’s very hard to get quality music that you can use in videos. Luckily Brain Altano has encouraged people to use the music he is now making for his new creative project Weird Heat on their own projects so I have decided to take advantage of his generosity.

The Set:

I feel fortunate to have been able to shoot with how busy I have been lately but I’m finding it important to continue with my own creative endeavors. A lot of what my day (and night) job have me do is beneficial to my professional growth, but being able to do things like this black and white series makes me feel like still have the ability to flex my creative muscles.

Getting back into the swing of Modeling with Crystal Sedillo

Sometimes we get away from doing certain hobbies or activities for one reason or another. Heavy work scheduled, lack of motivation/inspiration and sometimes just lack of opportunity all contribute to this. In Crystal Sedillo’s case having a Kid is a pretty legit excuse to getting away from modeling for a little while. I’ve known Crystal for years now and her husband Orlando has done a lot of my tattoo work so when she wanted to get back into modeling I reached out to help get her back into the swing of it. Crystal brings with her a list of Features that compliment my style of photography specifically her tattoo work and her Alt Model Style. Those things works well with the way I like to process my photos, especially the way I use contrast and colors it allow all of her tattoos to really pop. Over all I really loved this shoot and I hope that  I get to work with Crystal again on something a bit more high concept in the future.

Desert Darlings Belly Dance Take On Nightmare Before Christmas: Performance Shooting.

Shooting performances is one of the biggest challenges any photographer has to face. Low light, moving subjects, limited mobility to adjust your shooting angles. Everything is against you and it is probably the best opportunity  to test your skills as a photographer. The stage is set for the viewing experience, not to be convenient for photography. Lights are dim and jelled heavily and  you’re shooting  from where ever you can be out ever you can be out of the performers and audiences way (if you’re a polite photographer.) Over coming these challenges takes know how, creativity and a little luck. All these things come together to put together wonderful images.

All of this was on display for the Desert Darlings Belly Dance performance of Nightmare Before Christmas. While the Performance was amazing the conditions for shooting were less than desirable. I would have to move between scenes, Bump my ISO, stay close to wide open on my aperture and just hope I can pull what I wanted out of the Raws. Over all I’m happy with the images that I got. and even more pleased with being able to capture a wonderful performance

Behind The Scenes: Desert Darlings Belly Dance Take on Nightmare Before Christmas

My favorite way to shoot is in a candid fashion and try to capture moment. Posed portraits are great, and performances are chaotic in some of the best ways but being able to capture the world around you in your own personal vision allows for some of the most striking visuals. Thankfully The Desert Darlings Belly Dance gave me the opportunity to do some Behind The Scenes Shots of them getting ready before their big Nightmare Before Christmas Show in  Santa Fe.

My Love Affair With Black and White Images. feat: Samantha Arellano

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I don’t always edit my images in black and white… but some times I just can’t help myself. I never go into a shoot automatically knowing what I’m going to do in post processing. But once I’m sitting down playing around in Lightroom, the decision comes down to feel. This is most defiantly the case of my most recent Cafe shoot with Samantha Arellano.

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When I make the decision to edit the images in black and white itnormally comes down to one question: is it working better than the color version? I have a particular style that involves having very detailed images with high levels of contrast. Some times this will results in vibrant colors but often they can also become very muddy. If I don’t feel like the image has good color I’ll switch it to black and white and a lot of the problems I was having will go away.

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Another reason I will switch to black and white is if I had to shoot at a high ISO. This wan’t so much the case in this photo shoot but often when I have to shoot in conditions where I need to be at something like 3200-6400 I’ll opt into black and white 99.99% percent of the time. This is mostly because when you shoot at the higher ISOs you start to introduce noise and the color detail begins to fall apart. When you’re in black and white that color detail is irrelevant and the noise begins to look more like film grain than it does digital artifacts.

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Another thing going to black and white helps with is removing distractions from the background. With on location shoots gaining control over a background is practically impossible. Busy color schemes, bright highlights and distracting elements all become less of an issue with black and white images, so it’s not hard for me to opt into a black and white photo.AJA_0066

Now black and white is clearly a style that is as old as photography itself and clearly can’t be considered original. A common thing I’ll hear from models after handing in images is that they’ll say “I love this photo, can get it in color.” It’s taken a while for me not to get offended by those kinds of statements but It’s a common thing for artist to hear people to ask for changes especially when they don’t understand reasoning behind your decisions.

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Sometimes it doesn’t hurt to have both a color and black and white version everyone is allowed to have different taste when it comes to photos. If the job requires me to stay in color and forsake black and white images I will do so, and make the color work as best I can. However, if I get the option I’m going to go with the one I think works best. Black and white just worked better on this rounds of photos.

Get Your Geekon: Pinball, Beer and Charity

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If I recall correctly I believe I was alive at the tail end of the arcade generation. A time where you would exchange all of your allowance into quarters and play games while your parent were out doing whatever at the mall. I remember dumping a lot of those quarters into the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade game and Time  Crisis when I was a kid. While today arcades have become very obsolete with modern gaming platforms being the way they are there’s still something satisfying about setting up at a cabinet dumping all your quarters into it. That’s what made Get Your Geekon such a great event and you didn’t have to get a role of quarters.

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Geekon, the company hosting the event at Sister Bar in Down Town Albuquerque, specializes in restoring, repairing and selling these old arcade cabinets and pinball machines. The endevor started as a simple pet project of restoring an old Ms. Pacman machine and it turned into a business that they are able to operate from their own home. It could almost be described as inspiring.

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The event it’s self was put on to benefit Project Pinball which is a Charity group that raises money to put pinball machines in children’s hospitals. Proceeds from the event’s pinball and street fighter tournament went to Project Pinball as well as vendors that were selling prints and raffling off prizes.

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The best thing about Get you Geekon without a doubt was the people. Not just the patrons who came out for a drink and a round of pinball but everyone who came out to contribute; Jon Sakura of Gamers Anonymous came out with his usual classic and fun loving flair and the Girls of Geek also came to sell prints and mingle with the crowd. It was easy to feel in place when you have people who you’ve gotten to know over the years be present at these sorts of events and want to just help out with a good cause and friends.

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Daniel Reinhard. COO of Geekon LLC.

Desert Darlings Belly Dancing Performs at Burts Tiki Lounge.

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Almost any craft should be approached with some level of confidence. For many people confidence comes from years of training and repetition , other lucky individuals just spew confidence naturally. But the confidence that is necessary to perform in front of a crowd is possibly the rarest and most admirable forms to witness.

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The Desert Dalings Belly Dancing group had this confidence on full display on Saturday night when they performed in front of the crowd at Burt’s Tiki Lounge in downtown Albuquerque. Their unique blend of traditional belly dancing mixed with modern sensibilities provided lasting entertainment for friends of the performers and unsuspecting patrons alike.

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Burt’s is a very familiar venue. It bares the attributes for what you’d expect from any other dive bar; Almost non existent lighting, colorful cast of Patrons scattered throughout the place, a sound check and PA systems woefully out of date and a grittiness that only creatures of the night can really appreciate. The main hook that Burt’s offers as a venue is their communal charm that the bar brings. I’ve never seen them have a cover charge for an event and everyone there seems to be having a good time when there is a performance.

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When I’m in photo mode I’m always looking for one thing out of my subjects, and that thing is personality, and there was no shortage of that on display with each performance. Each dancer had a different quality that they brought with them when on stage. Some were more more reserved and methodical with their movements and others had attitude and improvisation flowing through them giving the show a sense of verity.

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The key thing to look for in performance photography is moment, which can be difficult especially with the fast paced motion that you get from a performance art like belly dancing. Their entire body is always in play when they dance and it’s easy to miss something incredible and capture something that is unflattering. If you can just nail down timing and framing of your images you can get incredible results but you also have to account for a bit of luck when shooting.

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Now let’s not tip toe around the subject, performance lighting generally speaking is terrible. I have yet to shoot a performance where the lighting was perfect and I could do what ever I wanted. Live performance lighting is designed to give things atmosphere and provide a certain tone to patrons, but it’s less kind to the sensors in cameras. If you’re shooting stills at a live performance you’re stuck with high ISO grain, shallow depth of field apertures and motion bluing shutter speeds. None of these things are bad qualities in any ways shape or form (except maybe the grainy ISOs) but it’s unfortunate that you’re stuck with such  limiting conditions.

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If anything can be said about the Desert Darlings’ Performance it’s that there was no lack of confidence that night. Those ladies got on that stage and owned it and that is something to be admired. It takes a lot to take something you work hard on put it out there for people to see and it takes a significant amount of courage to do so.AJA_0359

Denver Comic Con 2015: Lessons From a Large Convention

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Denver Comic Con 2015  by a landslide was the largest pop culture convention that I have ever attended. With over 100,000 people in attendance over the Memorial weekend, the challenges that I thought I knew about candid photography in a convention environment couldn’t have been more frustrating.

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At any kind of comic convention crowds are a given. No matter how large the space is, no matter how well designed the flooring is, there is always going to be an issue with crowding. What I wasn’t expecting with how dense the crowding was going to be at just about every turn. Many of the shots I had taken were lost or ruined by the amount of people blocking  subjects or intruding in parts of the frame. The only real solution to this problem goes back to the age old saying- if the shots not good enough, you’re not close enough.

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I found myself being uncharacteristically timid during my time in Denver. Maybe it’s because I hadn’t been in one of these candid environments in a long while but I found myself being further away from my subjects and not being in the scene that I was shooting. As time went on I got better about it and just needed to kick off the rust but a lot of my work suffered because of it.

 

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Another tenant I forgot when shooting in Denver was patience. While going through my edits when I finally got home to Albuquerque I noticed that large sum of my photos were severely out of focus. I had forgotten that when shooting in continuous auto focus you need to give the camera time to lock focus and not just start shooting the moment you point the camera. Even when I was on the floor shooting I knew that I had hit the shutter too early. Some photos had more obvious flaws then others but none the less many were lost because of a itchy trigger finger.

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A big thing that could have helped me in my photos would have been to slow down. Today’s camera technology has conditioned many to adopt a spray and pray technique that may yield some lucky grabs but it doesn’t replace good technique when it comes to getting a high percentage of keepers. Often I set myself up with gear like Prime lenses to make sure I take my time but I noticed on many of my snap shots that I had issues with composition and camera shack that wouldn’t have been there if I had just slowed down a bit.

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One thing that could have helped me was actually bring my desktop to edit at the hotel every night so I could see my work from the past day and see what I was getting. Having the opportunity to reflect on my work and see what was working and what wasn’t could have helped improve my shooting that weekend. It’s like going back and watching tape the day after the game. But of course hindsight is 20/20 and you can’t don’t get any extra lives.

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Though there are plenty of frustration that came out of shooting this convention there are still some stellar diamonds in the rough in this take. Any photo outing you can be expected to take hundreds of images expecting that maybe only 10% of them survive the gauntlet of editing. I left Denver Comic Con with almost 900 images on an hard drive and by the time I had it widdeled down there were about 268 left on the block that got toned and exported. So over all I can’t say the entire outing was a failure. I just believe I could have done better.

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Once I had made it down from Albuquerque, kicked a stomach bug, and found time between errands and my day job, I got to editing the photos and the trend began… So much black and white. I’ve recently had complaints that I do it too much but quite frankly photography and photo editing like any art form is subjective. My decision to make photos colored or black and white comes out of a feel for the images and if I feel like that image works better in black and white that’s what I’m going to do to it. If a client was paying me for a shoot and specifically asked for all photos in color I would, but in my own creative freedom I’m going to do what works best for me and my sensibilities.

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There are certain set of instances where black and white has advantages over color; such as low light situations using higher ISO’s. The noise looks more like film grain in black and white and you don’t have to worry about lost color detail because you’ve thrown the color out the window; also busier backgrounds aren’t as distracting which befits candid shots well. Color can still work in these situations but you never really know how it’s going to work out until you spend some time toning the images.

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Cosplayers put a lot of work into their outfits (some more than others) and they want the pictures taken of them to show of as much of the costume and details as possible. My shooting style doesn’t really do that very well. I am much more concerned with getting a good image than I am showing off a good cosplay. Elements like interaction, juxtaposition, action, and raw emotion are more of what I’m looking for in a shot. Not how well made the costume is. A good costume can go a long way in catching my eye and dragging my lens to it but if that photo doesn’t come out that way I want it to I’m not going to share it with the world.

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What I love about these conventions is their diversity. People from all walks of life, backgrounds and mentalities come to these things for one purpose and that is to just have a good time and celebrate the things they are unironically enthusiastic about. It can be done in almost a million different ways, dressing up, meeting people who have worked on some of your favorite pieces of entertainment, or just buying new things to add to their nerd collections. You definitely run into some interesting characters at these things.

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However after several years of attending these events and shooting them the way I do, I seem to be developing a since of Convention Fatigue. I maybe end up attending 3-5 different conventions a year and the more and more I attend them the more I feel like I’m just going through the motions. Last year Denver Comic Con was my favorite convention I had ever gone to. This year it just felt like another convention just this time with 100,000 people crowding around.

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Denver Comic Con didn’t particularly do anything wrong this year. They just didn’t offer anything new for me. Perhaps I just need to take a hiatus from conventions for a while. Albuquerque doesn’t have a Summer con this year so that gives me an opportunity to get some distance from the nerd circus and be able to come back to it with a fresh take.

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But who knows, maybe that’s just the nerd flu talking. Knowing me I’ll end up caving and submitting for another press pass for the closest convention before anyone knows it. But for now I think I deserve a rest.

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Girls of Geek at Geekon: Personality in Portraits.

Photojournalism is my passion. It’s photography in its purest form in that you are capturing moments while you yourself are in the moment. Portraiture, which I also enjoy, doesn’t capture a moment. It’s more or less a staged moment for the sake of creating a photograph. This doesn’t make Portraiture a lesser form of photography it just means that instead of capturing a moment you are trying to capture a personality. My most recent outing of shooting with Girls of Geek is a prime example of this.

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The group had invited me out to a morning of shooting on location with a couple other photographers at the headquarters of Geekon; A locally owned company out in Albuquerque that restores and sells classic arcade and pinball machines right out of their garage. When you have a pitch for that kind of location it’s hard to say no, so I packed up my gear and went out to shoot like any sensible photographer would.

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Once again I was working with many different models all of whom I’ve had the luxury of working with before (most of them at the Gotham Shoot). This at least gave me a level of comfort when it came to shooting with the models and being able to communicate with them. The real challanges came when I changed who I was shooting with.

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One thing I really do love about this group of ladies is that they have such a mixed bag of personalities and characters. There is no shortage of the amount of things you can get out of them. However that means that as a photographer I have to shift the way I interact with my subjects as they change out. Some models I would just give a slight direction to and they would adjust immediately (and just about perfectly,) while some needed almost no direction at all (which is the most desirable feature in a model) and others who I worked with to find what was right for them.

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Normally with One-on-One portrait sessions this process is a lot more streamlined because you can work with that individual as long as you need to and eventually you get into a rhythm where the photos practically take themselves. As challenging as this problem may sound, just adjusting your style to fit the model is easy as long as you try to show their personality instead of trying to make them be somebody that they are not.

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More often than not I see people post portraits where their subject almost look like dolls or props just to show off their knowledge of the technical working of photography or their skills in Photoshop. When it comes to Portraiture it’s important to remember that there is a person who is the centerpiece of your photograph and it’s your best interest to give your audience an idea of who your subject is.

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Photography like any other art form is of course subjective. There a million and one decisions that can be made and each one will change the dynamic one way or another and different photographers are going to make different dicisions. Lighting, toning, posing, ect, all go into the process of portraiture and these decisions dictate heavily what your final product will be.

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This shoot had a lot of physical limitations, the big one being space. There was really only so much room that I had to work with in this shoot which really influenced how I shot the whole thing. For starters most of this shoot was done shooting with my 50mm 1.8g. Normally I’d be shooting with my 85mm 1.8g for portraits but the amount of space I had was keeping me from getting the compositions I wanted on the 85mm. The 28mm made some appearances but mostly for group shots.

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Another big challenge was lighting. Being that it was indoors with not a lot in terms of natural lighting, I brought with me my DIY lighting set up that consisted of a 1K florescent light with a soft box and several different clamp lights. Some of the other photographers had their strobe set ups with them. I haven’t gotten a whole lot of experience with strobes but it’s something that I’ve been wanting to look into, however coming from a video background it has made more since to have a continuous lighting set up as opposed to strobes that really only help in photography and not so much in video.

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Once I got into post production I was upset to find that some of the photos didn’t have perfect focus. In portraiture you always aim for the eyes to be in sharp focus and some just weren’t there. Not all was lost but it’s annoying when you lose a great photo to something that many people will nitpick (which I do a lot).

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In post I never really do anything fancy, just some adjustments in lightroom to the contrast, recovering some shadow and highlight detail and correcting some color and clarity. Editing the full take will take me more or less a couple of hours. Being from a journalism background has conditioned me to try and have fast turnaround times when it comes to editing. Some times I will come back for re-edits to bring fresh eyes to the images, but that mostly comes from boredom. You’ll notice that a lot of my photos ended up in black and whites. This decisions usually just comes down to a decision of feel. Some photos just end up looking better in black and white than they do in color. This is more common when as photo was taken in low light and I had to use a high ISO. The noise looks more like classic grain and then you don’t really have to worry about color detail because there is none. But for this photo it just felt right to have them in black and white. Some might find it annoying but they are my photos so sue me.

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If there is anything that can be said about this set of images and the models of Girls of Geek it’s that they have quite a lot of range. As a photographer I love the different things that I can get of my subjects and when it comes to working with this group I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface. Here’s to more working with them in the future.

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