Measuring UP!

I have to think that all photographers suffer some form of esteem issue. Some kind of self doubt, the pounding question “am I good enough?”

I also have to assume that this is most prevalent in emerging or aspiring photographers who want to take their craft to a higher level and one day make it their sole source of income.

Gawd knows that this is definitely the case in my mind.In todays photo climate where Dslrs are cheaply available it seems that every third person is a photographer, we all know that is truly not the case but still we look and compare our work to theirs, and hopefully we can reaffirm our own talent and skill through these comparisons. Often times we discover that we are in fact grossly inferior to what seems like an infinite number of shooters. But sometimes we see that no, in fact I am good , I can deliver the goods consistently and to a standard that rises above the crowd.

It’s the same old adage , practice makes perfect,  you need to have the work to get better at the skill, and that can be the difference you see between yourself and other photographers.Perhaps they have a standby make-up artist or access to a full studio and professional models at their beck and call, and how do you measure up when your shooting someone responding to a free headshot posting from craigslist?

Well quite simply maybe you don’t, but that doesn’t mean you can’t deliver well thought out frames, perfectly exposed, wonderfully composed featuring a subject that is reacting to the photographer in a compelling and interesting way. We work within our means  and we cant always be comparing ourselves to the big dogs. I feel that by always trying to live up to the David Lachapelles , Joe Mcnally’s and Jeremy Cowarts of the world we do ourselves a disservice and need to look close to home in order to give a more valid assessment of our skills. Those guys are magnificent and by studying their effort we can begin to grow and attempt to also deliver images of that caliber.

Be honest with yourself, don’t settle for mediocre images if you know that with more effort you can make it better.The first frame is hardly ever the best one.

What is spurring this post is a recent critique I watched on Zach Arias‘ site. Now Zach gathers together, his wife, and on this particular critique a few other photographers, and  together they peruse several portfolio sites of photographers that want some input on their work.

I admire these people, because to submit their work to the scrutiny of Zach and his band of merry Newcastle drinkers is brave indeed. He is brutally honest, something we all need in order to properly move forward in our career. I have watched all his critiques and find I agree with most of his assessments. On occasion he can be crushing, and probably the site in question necessitates such grades but all the same it makes me empathetic with the submitted photographer and begin to doubt my own work as well.

I have yet to submit my site for critique, but with each one I watch I re-examine my own work and try to honestly assess what it is I am looking at, and if it’s not something I would want critiqued  I remove it, and make a mental note to reapproach the subject with higher expectations

Im not sure if we as artists will ever truly be satisfied with our own work, but we do need to be honest with ourselves, and in our efforts to improve perhaps we can develop a thicker skin in the face of comparison and in the eyes of our own worst critic, ourselves.

thanks for stopping  by



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Shooting Show Homes in HDR

Recently the wonderful world of Home Lotteries has given me the opportunity to expand my skill set and provided some incredible locations to shoot.I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to shoot these magnificent homes completely furnished and staged. Starting with great subject matter helps tremendously. Check out these sites for complete virtual tours of the properties featured in this post. Foothills Hospital Home lottery. Kinsmen Home Lottery.

Often in our career as photographers we’ll be approached to shoot a home or some other residential or commercial building. Sometimes it’ll be for a friend or a realtor looking to market a potential listing. Now shooting real estate or architectural images sounds like a pretty easy and straightforward thing to accomplish and that is often how most people approach it. Simple – show up point and click , post and await sale or accolades for such fine effort and artistic interpretation of the scene.

What many people don’t realize , like so many other aspects of photography is that there are certain rules to consider and perhaps special gear to utilize in order to best deliver the required result.

First off we need a nice wide angle lens, the wider the better , I like to use  the nikon 14 -24 mm lens , this gives me ample range to allow a wide perspective  without a whole lot of distortion.  Tilt and shift lenses are also really popular with career architectural and  landscape photogs as it allows you to shift perspective to remove distortion and keep vertical lines , well vertical.

Also lighting is something that is of huge consideration, you can accomplish this with a tonne of studio lights and a busload of assistants or you can follow in the footsteps of renowned  real estate photographer Scott Hargis and use speedlights.

What I want to blog on about today is the use of subtle HDR techniques to accomplish a very pleasing result without having a bunch of lights and assistants. I know there are a tonne of haters out there willing to weigh in the the HDR subject, and I agree with them for the most part, but I believe this technique has a place in the world of photography and is here to stay. For some great tutorials on how to shoot HDR check out Trey Ratcliff’s site .

As always we need to think compositionally when approaching these real estate or architectural projects. We want nice verticals, leading lines  to direct our viewers eye to interesting subjects and perhaps some symmetry thrown in for good measure. I also like to shot through doorways and include a piece of the doorframe ,  I find it adds some depth and perspective to the scene. Before you settle in to start shooting have a look around, perhaps the table could use a wipe or this plant would work better 2 feet to the left or maybe this whole chair should be removed entirely. It all changes from room to room and  generally gets easier the more you shoot.

Still with me? Good, now for the HDR stuff. For the HDR newbie we need a tripod and we need to bracket some exposures. I like to shoot from 5 -7 exposures and then select 3-5 exposures for blending purposes. I typically use my “normal” exposure plus  the -2,+2, -4,+4 brackets depending on the scenario. I flip flop in which software I use to merge and tonemap the image, swapping from Photomatix to Photoshop seemingly depending on the wind. But for today’s purposes we’ll be referring to Photomatix. I know that CS5 has a great new HDR feature but I haven’t used it yet so we’ll just pretend it doesn’t exist at this point.

So we have photos merged and brought into Photomatix  and  I want to go for a subtle look not some garish , over saturated, grunge version that is very popular , and has its place but definitely not in the world of Luxury show homes. We click the tonemap button and are presented with a set of sliders I like to begin with  a compression of 100, color saturation around 70 or so,Adjust the luminosity  to taste usually +1-5. in the Microcontrast in the 4-6 range as well.

Smoothing is where we control the grungyness or natural feel of the photo so I either keep it in the mid or high setting. The rest of the sliders vary depending on how bright or dark you want you photo so experiment and see what you like . I find the microsmoothing slider useful for adding texture and a 3d feel but be careful as you can bring a lot of noise into your image.

Alright we now have a tonemapped image and it looks great! Just kidding often we have a flat kinda meh looking image at this point, so now we go into Photoshop to bring some pop to out image.

I like to use a lot of adjustment layers , in particular curves  to add contrast to certain areas and lighten or darken others. I always over do the adjustment I’m trying to accomplish (it helps me fine tune) then invert the mask and paint in the area that I want affected, and then further control the effect using my opacity slider. Some filters and options may not be available to you at this point so we want to convert our image to an 8 bit  by going image<mode<8bit.

Nik software has some truly wonderful filters out there that  go along way to helping add some additional texture without going over the top . Be sure check them out.

Sharpening can also have a profound effect on your image , and often I like to use a high-pass filter combined with a softlight blend mode to add some zing. Always utilizing a mask and my opacity slider to contain anything I feel is going a little extreme. For other  issues such as noisy shadows, strange color aberrations, or ghosting  I will often place one of my original brackets over the image in a new layer and using a mask paint out the offending region.

Thats pretty much it! I realize that this doesn’t have a complete a-z breakdown but in text form it seems like I’ll be writing something of biblical proportions and how many of you actually want to suffer through my writing for that long. Perhaps video tutorials will be forthcoming but no promises yet.

Thanks for stopping by


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shooting wine bottles on a budget

We’ve all seen the photos, you know the bottle centre stage , not looking too complicated but something about it just lets the image sing.

Often times the little something that provides the impact is the long highlight running the length of the bottle , giving it shape , dimension and  maybe even a little distinction. This highlight is usually delivered  using a strobe in a stripbank, or some other form of strip light that gives a nice specular highlight. The problem is that these wonderful light accessories cost money, and the price varies from actually not bad $150 to the garish $600. You typically get what you pay for , but what I want to do is demonstrate a way to cheat the stripbank gods and thumb my nose at the cost of it all by delivering a classic wine bottle shot for nothing. Providing of course that we have 2 speedlights and  a way to trigger them off camera.

So we begin by picking a wine bottle, its best if the labels line up nicely and there are no tears or wear on the label or cork wrap. But for our purposes whatever wine bottle is handy will do, but the intent of shooting the perfect bottle  begins with a nice unblemished bottle so give a cleaning using windex or other glass cleaner to get rid of ny fingerprints, that being said I probably could have used my own advice as I see a blemish on the accompanying photo, but enough  of that.

So we have a pristine (ahem) bottle and we are ready to begin setting up. In this shot i pulled a painting off my wall and leaned up against a chair. I put 1 sb6oo on another chair about 1 foot away , placed a homemade cardboard snoot on it, power level around 1/8 and aimed it to hit somewhere in the middle of the painting.

Next I placed the bottle on my table about 5 feet in front of the bg. I then bring in my ultra fancy strip light, which is a box about the same height as the bottle with a piece of  regular ole printing paper taped to it. Nothing miraculous here.  I place my second flash a sb900 in front of the bottle camera right aimed to hit the box and paper . Power level set to 1/8 ,as well I flag the light from hitting the camera right side of my bottle using a  piece of black coreplast that I found lying around, feel free to use better suited gear if available to you but the point of this post is to get good results with no extra investment.

I found the right side of the bottle to be a little too dark for my liking so I brought in a second high end stripbank, this time in the form of a book (dictionary actually) and proceeded to tape more white paper to it. I placed this close to the bottle, probably 5 inches or so just out of frame.  This is bringing me pretty close to what I had in mind when I began the process, but the top right side of the bottle still lack the detail I was hoping to get. Sooo in comes another piece of paper folded in half and placed on top of the dictionary…  err… stripbank.

Now we are really getting close to my original vision, the only problem is the table in front of the bottle is too bright so I placed another book in front of the camera right flash keeping the light of the foreground table. Unfortunately my set up shot doesn’t have this final touch in the frame but I believe you  get the jist.

I suppose having the camera settings might be helpful in recreating this shot, and they were as such:

manual mode

1/200 shutter

3.5 f stop

both flashes set 1/8th power.

Here is the setup in all its glory.

Now we have a nicely presented wine bottle, shot with a minimal amount of gear. Using our knowledge of light and how it works to get around the roadblocks (expense) of creativity.  This basic application can be used for all sorts of reflective objects, try backlighting or placing the bottle on a glass table and shooting up through it, keep experimenting and researching and your photographs will be all the better for it.

Thanks for stopping by


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Aerial panos!

Last Friday I had he opportunity to join a friend on a flight as he completed his training for his helicopter pilots license. Now this was a chance that we’ve been waiting along time for.  I have been making spherical panos for  a couple of years  now, and together with my partner Ryan we dreamed up a tool that would enable us to get  these wonderful images from  1000feet in the air! I included a picture of our rig on the left

Now I have to give a big shout out to Dj at Photoship One down in arizona for the actual manufacturing of the tool. It is a great device , and is a welcome compliment to rest of our tools in the panoramic  creation arsenal.It is essentially a telescoping pole with a rotating  head on it that triggers the camera at  several intervals throughout it’s rotation. It is compact, and sturdy enough to hold a d3 with a 10.5 mm lens (shaved ). Although some parallax errors are inevitable due to the handheld nature of the tool, I have had great results with only a minimal of effort required in photoshop to repair any glitches in the stitching.As far as stitching goes I use Pt gui  i find it to be as accommodating a stitching program as there is and have yet to find its equal.

We have done other aerial spherical panos in the past using a draganfly rc heli and have had great results but this post is about the big heli and the results obtained from that venture. So a big thanks to Mike for taking us up and  another shout out to Chinook heli school, great facility out there in abbotsford bc .

Well here are a few samples of this weekends work, hope you enjoy it as much as I do! Check back later for a post regarding UAV panos and the fun that goes into creating those.

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Inspiration, and Motivation

I want to discuss an issue that seems to pop up alot with photographers and other creative types. Inspiration and its close relative motivation. Often  we find ourselves wanting to go and make a photo or experiment with a new technique but still wind up sitting on the couch or huddled in front of the computer. I don’t know if its because of whatever phase the moon i in but to some extent it effects us all.

Zack Arias has a great video on these kind of creative blahs here .. Lately I have been doing a lot of stuff that hasn’t really captured my imagination,it pays the bills and allows me to employ myself using a camera  but hasn’t really excited me. It’s the excitement that really draws me towards the camera, the ability to create dynamic images that capture the moment or captivate an audience. Even if it’s only me that stands back and says wow that looks awesome, the satisfaction is the same.

Recently my cousin has taken an interest in the world of photography. His enthusiasm for learning, and vigor for getting out there and attempting everything he wants to learn is really quite impressive. And I’ve found a lot of inspiration and motivation by having nearly daily conversations with him on all subjects photographic.  If he goes out and shoots something for his portfolio, I will often look at it , and be both impressed by his GOYA attitude, ( another zarias term meaning get off your ass) and growing skill level and go out to  shoot something for myself.

Last week my cousin sends me a file, I open it and go.. wow! good work. painting with light why don’t I do that sometimes? The image to the  left is my cousins work and I truly find the quality of his efforts to be phenomenal  especially when you consider the short time period he has has to develop his skills.

That brings me full circle to the inspiration and motivation  point of this entry. There is no surefire answer to finding either  but by surrounding yourself with people of similar interests, seeking out appealing websites and blogs will help us to shake off any resistance to go out there and create. I like to hit 7 or 8 of the same websites daily, just to see what these individuals I look up to are accomplishing. If for whatever reason that fails to do the job, twitter will invariably deliver something to get the wheels turning.

So to honor the inspiration my cousin provided me with, I went out last night, pulled my brother in law along and did some  painting with light. Now while my cousin did a wonderful job painting using a flashlight  I  wanted to give it a go using speedlights.

I am not entirely sure if there are a set of rules regarding painting with light but i figured  since it was over a  long exposure and the use of on light in many areas to giver the illusion of more lights I figured my effort still counts.

How it was shot,

  • grab brother in law and go into back yard
  • set camera up on tripod  and attempt to frame up image in near total blackness
  • place  sb900  at  1/2 power camera right about 30 degress from axis into a shoot thru umbrella
  • convince bro in law to give us a pose of sorts
  • get bro in law to step out of frame and then hop in frame and hit and hold pose seconds before shutters closes
  • use a 15 sec exposure
  • hit button, blast ground twice with sb 600 at 1/16 power
  • run like a madman and pepper the 2 palm trees in bg  about 5 or 6 times each
  • have bro in law hit his mark
  • turn and pop  flash towards cam for cool(?) flare and back light
  • leap out of frame while  hitting his camera left side with 2 more pops to edge him out against blackness
  • the shutter closes as the sb-900 goes off freezing(?) our subject in place.

So there you have it with 2 little speed lights, a classic photoschool exercise, and a whole lot of takes  we get a fairly dramatic image that looks like it has up to 6 different lights!   6 you say? well lets see, 1 for each tree, 1 for the foreground grass, one for the flare and backlight , another for the side kicker light and a key light!

Inspiration and motivation  can be huge roadblocks  if they are in an short supply,  but can catapult you to new highs once tapped into. So for this recent goya motivation I have to thank my cousin for his recent  and completely unintentional inspiration.  Thanks  Brett!

Hope you enjoyed this post and in parting I’ll leave you with one more  painting with light photo of your ‘s truly.

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Simple Single Light Headshot

Having a go-to set of tools is a great way to take the confusion and stress out of a photographers workflow.

Today we’ll be arming you with a simple yet effective tool that you can put in your back pocket and pull out whenever you need. A nice one light  headshot setup.

Now this works for all kinds of  portrait work, just plug in the formula make a few adjustments as necessary and voila beautiful and classic softly lit photo!

In order to make this work we need to move our light off camera, by way of speedlight and push it through an umbrella or softbox,you can also use a reflective umbrella but my personal preference is the shoot thru variety.

You can pick up these items at any photo store or even london drugs , of course the rule of you get what you pay for applies but I have done well with the cheap versions pictured. I would prefer to have a taller stand in the 9 ft range as the 6 footers often leave me needing to raise the light.

We also need a way to trigger this light either wirelessly or with a sync cord. Canon and nikon both offer a built in wireless system  to support their flashes and they work wonderfully as long as your remote flash can see the commander from the camera. I  use pocket wizards as they are very reliable , don’t require line of sight to fire and have huge range. but before we can continue you will have to figure out how you are going to trigger your off camera flash, fairly straight forward stuff available in your owners manual.

So we have our light mounted on our stand and aiming thru the umbrella, and  we can sync our flash with our camera via wireless trigger sync cord or otherwise, we now want to place our subject and  get on with the show. A preferred lens for a typical headshot would be around an 85mm or longer.

Scout around for  an appropriate location hopefully something with a clean background as to avoid any unnecessary  distractions.  a plain wall will work fine in a pinch.

Place your subject so that they are comfortable and relaxed as an uncomfortable subject will look just like that in the photos.This also where you call upon your innate charm and sense of humour to help lessen any stress your subject may be experiencing and put both of you at ease, developing a friendly rapport only helps to add to the finished product.

Now we have our subject situated and comfy hopefully relaxed and generally enjoying the whole experience so far.

Lets bring in our light, we want to place it slightly above the subjects eye level and at approx 45 degree angle from the “camera to subject axis”.

Now you have to excuse the attempt at drawing a lighting diagram as my artistic abilities still have a long way to go before they reach the polished refinement of a cave drawing. 

We want to move the light in very close to our subject , so close that it will be just outside of our frame, so close that it is borderline intrusive. i say borderline  cuz if its intrusive we are probably going to have a shot that suffers for it. Basically just explain a little of your method to your subject  and that will usually go along way towards making them feel comfortable with the proximity  of the light.This closeness enables us to get an apparent large light source which provides  really soft light and fantastic catch lights in the eyes.

Ok for the all important camera and flash settings. The flash being so close to the subject doesn’t need a lot of power to deliver the kind of light we’re looking for , so I like to start out at about 1/16 power, and have the flash zoomed out to its widest setting probably around 20 mm or so , this enables us to fill the umbrella with light which then further diffuses and softens the light.

I like to control the ambient light ( basically all light that doesn’t come from our flash) by using  the highest shutter speed possible , most cameras will allow a shutter sync at 1/250 or at least 1/200. That essentially gives us blessed darkness everywhere but what our flash is hitting. My aperture (f-stop) is going to be as large (small number) as possible. This gives us a nice shallow depth of field ( the area of the photo that is in focus) and really aids in making the subject stand out from the background. So in exact numbers I aim to use:

a 2.8 aperture or  the smallest number available to me on the particular lens I’m shooting with. In the case of the two photos in this post a 70-300 mm at about 105 mm and the largest aperture available to me was 3.5.  2.8 would have been preferable but like  I said  “use the largest aperture(smallest # )available”

shutter set to max sync  1/250 or 1/200

flash set to 1/16 power  shooting thru a translucent umbrella

light placed slightly above eye level pointed approx 45 degrees from the camera to subject axis perhaps 2 feet from                                                                                     subject

That’s basically it, with our light in place our subject comfortable and enjoying themselves we can start firing away, keep an eye on your lcd to make  sure your exposure is correct, if it looks over exposed just bring your flash down to 1/32 power  and so on until you have an appropriately  exposed photo. It helps if you have “highlights” turned on in your lcd menu.  Any flashing portions of the picture are overexposed and  certainly not ideal. If you are seeing a black bar across a portion of your preview on the lcd that means you do not have  shutter and flash sync and will have to dial in a slower shutter.

You can play around with shutter speeds to let more or less of your ambient light burn into the photo, adjust flash power output and placement to give yourself different looks.

Put this technique in your pocket play around with it, when your comfortable add another light to the mix and the possibilities are endless. For another couple of one light techniques check out Mr One light himself Zack Arias, or David Hobby the strobist. these guys are great and  much more in-depth  that my meager offerings.

Thanks for reading and more to come….

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So blog we must!

hey guys,

and by guys i really mean me, as i am quite sure that for the immediate future i’ll be the only one actually viewing this blog.

If your not me then I welcome you earnestly and invite you to grab a coffee or some other form of libation and read on as we are about to delve into the world of my choosing …..  photography in its many forms and the post processing that goes with it.  oh ya and the occasional rant that in some form relates to photography.

I’ve been doing a tonne of reading, watching and  listening about the importance of self promotion through the act of sharing info with complete transparency. I have to say it is extremely compelling, all we have to do is look at the likes of  atlanta based photog  Zack Arias ( Seattle shooter Chase jarvis ( or the ubiquitous david hobby( )to see the success of a well applied formula .

All of these guys not too mention countless others have brought their profiles to such high standards that they are like catch phrases in the photograhic community . And they do it by basically giving away theier aquired knowledge for free! All of them have hugely successful blogs that list countless techniques in all categories relating to  making picrtures as well as insights into what roads they have traveled to get to this point in their respective careers.

So it is with these guys as as my navigational point i head off into the wonderful world of the blog! It seems appropriate to begin with some fashion of a bio so if you were to follow this blog into the future you have an image of what the dude who writes this suff is all about.

Sooooo. I am canadian ( nova scotian born, prairie raised, vancouver settled)

I started photography in high school but forgot about it for a good couple of years

I have worked in the camera dept of the film industry for 8 yrs or so

I have worked in some capacity as a pro photographer for 3-4 yrs moving into it as a fulltime enterprise about a year and half ago

Feel weird calling myself pro as i dont have  a huge studio, 3 assistants  or   a mass of  clients falling over themselves to book me.

I  shoot nikon, why? cuz when i bought my first camera (d70s) it felt the best in my hand. and subsequently upgraded to the d3, d300s

Have a fantastic family, wife and 4 yr old son who have supported me in this the shakiest of ventures (as far as stability goes)

Prefer to shoot portraits but often find myself pointing the lens at landscapes and architectural type stuff

Work closely with a good friend to start an exciting new biz. we specialize in interactive 360 tours both on the ground and aerial check us out @ ( new site should be up soon as we are going through a bit of a rebrand)

And if your done pretending to be interested in all that, perhaps  i can direct you to  a few places of much greater interest. this being my first entry I will begin the transparent sharing by directing you to the resources which i hold in such high regard:

As mentioned before Strobist is huge for me its as his banner says learn how to light!

Zack Arias rules and his candid approach to teaching (also check his photocritiques….its how we need to hear it) is so genuine i hit his blog twice a

Scott kelby , Matt kloskowski and Dave Cross of photoshop user tv and such  were cornerstone in my education of photoshop, they can be found  here Also kelby training and photoshop user magazine are indisposable resources.

If you have a dollar or 2 lynda training  is a great way to save on going to photo school and get an as good ( or better imho) education.

the blogroll continues: Joe Mcnally the godfather of the speed light

neil turner a uk based photog thats been sharing techniques since the times when others would not

of course Chase Jarvis this guy stepped it up for everyone and makes it look easy

the list can  almost literally go on forever but im gonna round it out with one that both humbles and inspires me , his talent at such a young age is astounding  and the height to which he’s taken it  is even more impressive.  I can only wish that i had this kind of self direction at his age. Joey Lawrence of ontario canada, now he calls brooklyn home, check him out at

I also think that twitter among all the social networking sites has been so incredibly helpful in finding techniques , tutorials , ideas and even clients, and believe me i was one of the anti twits, i renounce such thinking now, and reach out to any limb that holds some hope of connecting me with the rest of the world . I recommend you do too its the fastest way to grow both your profile and your own intellectual property.

oh Ya and follow me on twitter @ashcroftian for more updates , techniques and whatever will follow.

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