White Seamless Doesn’t Have to Be Plain or Boring


Morton Visuals photographs fashion models on white seamlessOf all the photography commercial photographers shoot, the white seamless background is the most common. It’s definitely a fashion photography mainstay. A white cove, or “cyc” (short for cyclorama) in a larger studio, is booked at our north Dallas rental photo studio 20 times more often than any other studio, and provided seamless papers in varying colors are only used about 10% of the time. Why is this so popular? Quite simply because it’s easier to drop out the background in your images if you are dropping the subject into a print layout. Catalogs and the like will often feature text wrapped around a subject, and current design trends favor a subject blending in with the page rather than being constrained by a box. Likewise a baseboard on a background wall would be distracting when the focus of an image is on a model or clothing.

Carolina Guanabara by William Morton. Makeup/Hair/Styling by Mary Erickson.Since fashion and catalogs often show an expressionless model “just standing there,” as some describe it, some feel that a white seamless background looks plain. There’s no color, no texture, and essentially nothingness. If the photographer doesn’t light the white background it can look like a shade of gray (as pictured here). This example shows the model “in a box,” which a designer may not want in the layout as compared to the example above. But either way you still have a subject. And a subject doesn’t have to “just stand there.” You can always concentrate on bringing out the model’s personality and featuring it.

Below are a few examples of images we’ve captured on a plain, boring white seamless background. The background of these samples have been adjusted so as to not “float in midair,” so that you can see the image frames. Adjusting for the effect of the top image (of the two young models) in this post is easily achieved in processing. As you can see, once the photographer has built rapport with the subject or subjects, they can collaborate to create some fun, interesting images.

 

Cassie Kociemba jumps for joy (on white seamless)  The St Johns get interactive
Tony Mandarich shows a little humor with his girlfriend on a white seamless background

What can you think of doing with a “plain white background?” Anything that ties in with your job, activities, or interests – or anything that is “you” – can help make your images much more dynamic. And dynamic images sell!

Have some ideas? Leave a comment! Want to talk about how Morton Visuals can help you look dynamic? Give us a call! We’d love to show you what we can do.

Are The Profoto B1s Really That Good?

Having worked with the new Profoto B1 strobes for a short while, I’ve finally challenged myself to ask this question. The B1 brings a lot to the table – self-contained monolights, remote control, 500 watt-seconds of power, and TTL control. Not to mention the expansive Profoto lighting modification capabilities. But how well do they work in the real world?

Being somewhat “old school,” I still prefer to meter my lighting to place my light sources in desired ratios. I’ve been doing this with the B1 lights as well, but recently decided to test the TTL accuracy of the equipment in which I’ve invested. The below portrait of a patient and accommodating Nancy Grab is an example.

Executive portrait of Nancy Grab for Five Star Professionals' feature
Nancy Grab, Union Bank mortgage banker

After placing my main light in a 45” white umbrella I added my hair light with a 20-degree grid. I set the Profoto Air Remote to TTL and fired my first test shot. To my amazement this is the result I saw. I was able to start working with my subject and concentrate on expressions and angles that would flatter her rather than fussing with lighting and interfering with her workday.

TIP: With the Air Remote and the B1 lights, you can take your first shot in TTL mode. Then when you switch the remote to Manual mode, the Profoto system remembers the power setting of the lights it just fired. So you can easily adjust individual groups up or down to tweak the balance to your liking from your initial TTL exposure. In the above example I didn’t make any further adjustments, and merely switched to MAN and left it there for the remainder of the shoot.

How important is this? In my world, I photograph executives and groups of business people and time is of the essence. I don’t want to keep a CEO or a $400/hour attorney waiting for me to get my lights right. So this system has helped me greatly reduce my setup time, and being able to adjust the lighting from the camera (while I’m shooting) helps me get the busy executive in and out so that they can get back to doing what they do best. Not having to look for electrical outlets (and then tape down extension cords and power cords) is another huge time saver.

On that note, and in the spirit of the season, this final image was a portrait of a man who is quite busy right now. I had the opportunity to photograph him with the employees of the Omni San Diego and a hundred very excited children. He definitely appreciates efficiency!

Two Profoto B1s set up to light Santa
Lighting setup for Santa — no wires!

Santa is ready to greet children at the Omni San Diego
Santa is ready

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and best wishes for a joyous holiday season!

Does Your Image Represent Your Company Culture?

I’ve recently had an opportunity to work with a client photographing a number of different companies for a magazine awards feature. As I met and interacted with the executives and their staff I noticed significant differences in their personalities. Of course the executives and the staff had different personas, but the collective “vibe” is what struck me in particular. Since the companies were all financial planners and wealth managers they all had a sense of seriousness and professionalism. But a few stood out, which led me to the question: does your image represent your company culture?

Below are two different companies and their group portraits. Aside from the differences in offices and demographics, each group definitely had its own style.

office group portrait of Labrum Wealth Management
Jason Labrum and staff

executive group portrait of Epstein and White Retirement Income Solutions
The office of Epstein and White

On the left is Jason Labrum of Labrum Wealth Management, a Carlsbad-based firm. His team exemplifies modern, hip, casual and comfortable. Their single-story open office space reinforces this progressive style, and they project a team environment. On the right is David Epstein and Bradley White’s La Jolla-based office of Epstein and White Retirement Income Solutions. Their individual offices are located in a high-rise opposite University Town Center, and they exude an independent, professional and traditional environment. Their more formal style is apparent in their boardroom portrait.

As you think about your own company’s culture, does your office image match the personalities of your staff? Do you have individual portraits that showcase each valuable member of your team? What’s your style? If you aren’t projecting the image that you want for your company, find out how Morton Visuals can help you! Comments are welcome.

The Most Important Thing to Show at Your Conference

As a professional event photographer, I have opportunities to see (and photograph) a wide range of conventions, conferences, awards banquets, and other corporate events. Over the years I’ve noticed distinct differences in each event – what’s featured and emphasized, what’s offered in terms of entertainment and activities, and what attendees do during the event. When a convention or conference includes a trade show you see your normal assortment of booths featuring products and services, and attendees all browse. Conferences see speakers presenting informational or motivational speeches. With awards banquets you have presentations and congratulations abound. One thing they all have in common is a desire to engage – for speakers to connect to the audience, vendors to “put a face to the name” and build personal relationships with customers, and companies to acknowledge awards-winners.

Former First Lady Rosalyn Carter greets VIPs at the American Psychological Association (APA) conference in San Diego, CA.
Former First Lady Rosalyn Carter greets APA guests

A vendor at the Johnstone Supply tradeshow greets a potential customer
A vendor greets a customer

A UoA rep greets a NACE member at the BP Career Fair
Career Fair networking

A HR representative from Shell Oil greets job-seekers at the NACE convention
HR rep meets career-seeker

I look for moments. From my perspective that is best illustrated when people meet. Before they start highlighting their goods or talking business there is an initial smile and greeting, usually with a handshake. To me this encapsulates the interaction of networking, and the engagement that sponsors, vendors, and organizations seek. Connecting people – whether for sales or camaraderie – makes events great, and in my humble opinion, successful. I capture this by watching for those smiles and handshakes.

What aspect of a corporate event do you feel is the most important goal? Tell us in the comments below!

The Ground-breaking Profoto B1

Yesterday was a very interesting day. I had an opportunity to work with the great people of Right Hand Events and Kaiser Permanente San Diego covering the groundbreaking of a new hospital here in San Diego. Aside from a terrific event with local business and political leaders, I was tasked with capturing a very challenging scene. The actual “shovels in the dirt ground breaking” happened a few minutes before noon – I know, every photographer’s favorite time of day to shoot outside – with backlit subjects and a highly reflective facade above and behind them.

Now in older days I would have brought out an Alien Bee and powered it with a Vagabond battery pack. Unfortunately this setting was the middle of a large parking lot, and I would be unable to ground the battery pack. And 640 watt-seconds was not going to match the harsh sunlight. So I brought out my trusty old Dynalite 800ws pack along with a Dynalite inverter (which doesn’t need to be grounded) and powered a single 4040 head with all 800ws blasting directly from the 7″ reflector. That’s a lot of power, but it was approximately 20′ from my subjects. And did I mention it was almost noon? Knowing the importance of these shots to Kaiser Permanente, I opted for photographic redundancy. I decided to photograph these key moments using two cameras and two lighting setups.

Profoto B1 and Dynalite lighting
Profoto B1 strobes flank a Dynalight pack and head

I added a PocketWizard to my new Nikon Df to trigger my Dynalite pack. A PocketWizard TT5n fired my Nikon D3 mounted on a tripod at a slightly lower angle. Atop the D3 was the Profoto Air Remote, which fired a pair of new Profoto B1s. Their combined 1000 watt-seconds was almost enough to match the sun, even at that distance. With a little adjusting in Lightroom I was able to produce a pretty good image – in the middle of a parking lot in midday sun, with no wires. The example below is from the D3, showing the hard-working ladies of Right Hand Events after successfully executing the groundbreaking. (The key images of the Kaiser Permanente team will need to be approved by their Public Affairs office before they can be shared.)

Right Hand Events' ladies break ground for the new Kaiser Permanente hospital in San Diego
Right Hand Events breaks ground for Kaiser Permanente

The B1s are impressive. Two lights with remotes and chargers fit neatly in a backpack. Their batteries are mounted “in to” the head, so nothing is left dangling and there are truly no cords whatsoever. These units are able to work in TTL mode – although currently only with Canon DSLRs. The Nikon version of their remote won’t be available until late this year. (Note that the strobes themselves are identical, only the remote differs. So even though you can’t purchase a Nikon version of the remote now, you can purchase the B1 strobes – and they will work with the Nikon remote as soon as that is available.) The TTL was impressively accurate in a studio demo with Canon cameras last week. The B1 also has an incredible recycle rate, able to keep up with the Canon shooting at high fps in the studio. Granted that wasn’t full power, but it was impressive nonetheless – and should be of tremendous benefit for anyone shooting action. If you have used these units please feel free to share your experience in the comments below.

If you’re interested, these are now on my birthday list and my Christmas list… ;-)

Social Media Revolution

There’s no question that social media rules marketing in today’s world. A few good articles have recently emphasized the importance – the critical importance – of visuals (such as photography or graphics) in social media:

Check this video for some impressive facts, and feel free to add your thoughts in the Comments below.

Online Image Theft Video

My friend and colleague Kevin Lock stumbled across this YouTube video recently and shared it with me. It’s a great analogy of online image theft, created by DontScrewUs.org. Check it out, and please feel free to share it with your friends if you like it!

Testing PocketWizard™ Flex Radios

As part of my research for a writing position with the fine folks at LPA Design, Inc., I had an opportunity to test the new PocketWizard™ Flex radios for Nikon – the diminutive MiniTT1 and the FlexTT5 transceiver. Without a doubt, these units are game-changers!

For my first test I enlisted the aid of fitness model Stephen Harvey. (Great model – very focused and relentless energy!) I had an idea to test a shot with my Nikon Speedlights in bright sun, so we headed off to the San Diego Convention Center and set up a shot with Stephen running up the stairs and leaping over the camera. (See images below)  I mounted two SB-800 flashes on FlexTT5 transceivers, both set to full power and facing the model head-on as he leapt over the top step. I set the D3 to Aperture Priority mode at f/4, positioned the camera on the ground, and shot up in to the afternoon sun. Without Speedlights I would be expecting a near total silhouette. What I got was eye-opening — the PocketWizard™ units fired with my D3 all the way up to 1/6400 second!

PocketWizard setup
PocketWizard Setup

Fitness model Stephen Harvey leaps up the stairs
1/2500 sec

Next we set up for some running shots before the sun set. Our positioning for these shots didn’t require as high of a shutter speed even at f/2.8, but I’m accustomed to seeing a big black bar when I exceed the 1/250 sync speed of my D3. Here I was synching with the PocketWizard radios at 1/640 sec without the black banding!

PocketWizard FlexTT5 setup
PocketWizard Setup

1/640 sec

So that brings up a valid point about Speedlights. The Nikon CLS system is capable of doing high-speed sync up to 1/8000 with their infrared signals. Two problems arise though. The IR does not function well at all in bright sunlight, as the receiving sensor can’t detect the signal when it’s overwhelmed with sunlight. When it does work, the remote Speedlight must be pretty close to the transmitting Speedlight. Secondly, when CLS needs to sync at faster shutter speeds (where the shutter is never fully open, but rather an open “slit” passes over the camera’s sensor), the Speedlight must fire a series of “mini-pulses” to illuminate each area of the sensor as the shutter exposes it. This uses the lower power “tail” of the flash pulse — resulting in a greatly reduced effective range.

In my first series you see a shot taken at 1/2500 second. This was accomplished using the High Speed Sync feature of the PocketWizard™ radios. Yes, power was reduced and the Speedlights used the pulsed technique — but for the first time I was able to sync this action with my camera in bright sunlight by using the radio signal rather than the invisible IR signal!

In my second series you see a shot taken at 1/640 second. This took advantage of the Hypersync™ feature of the PocketWizard™ radios. With Hypersync™ the MiniTT1 signals the FlexTT5 to start firing the flash just before the shutter opens. The happy result is a full power flash even at a faster shutter speed. This is huge, as it negates the problem previously mentioned with having to rely on the low-power “tail” of the flash pulse.

I tested this by taking a (very unexciting) image of the wall above my desk. I noted that there was a little bit of light falloff or unevenness when I exceeded 1/250 second, but surprisingly my full power flashes showed no black band until a whopping 1/1000 second with the D3. (Other camera models will perform slightly differently.) There was a faint edge of shadowing at 1/800 second, but that would likely not impact a typical image.

Can you think of photographic opportunities to shoot with flash in bright sunlight at f/2.8? I can! And I will be doing more of it soon, now that I don’t have the burdensome 1/250 X-sync limitation. Stay tuned!

Lost or Stolen Camera – Now What Do I Do?

Losing a camera, or worse yet having one stolen, is one of a photographer’s greatest fears. When you depend on your cameras for your livelihood, it can cripple your business. Granted, most professional photographers have (or should have) business insurance which can replace the lost equipment — but it takes time to go through that process. And if you have jobs imminent, or are on a job when it happens, you will have other challenges to face. Rentals can get you through the original crisis, but what then?

First off, file a Police report ASAP. This will be necessary for your insurance claim as well.

Once the Police and insurance companies have been notified, try the resources below to try to track down your missing equipment.

Hopefully this will give you a good start on reuniting you with your beloved photography gear. If you have other resources or suggestions, please include them in the comments below!

Models/Talent – How To Prepare For Your Photo Shoot

Preparing yourself for an important photo shoot can be a daunting task. Many models or actors try to crash diet before the shoot, spray tan, or try any number of other “quickie” fixes at the last minute. Below are some great suggestions from renowned Makeup Artist Mary Erickson.

Most professional model knows by experience about what needs to be done before a photo shoot. If you do not have a lot of modeling experience I suggest you look over the following list of things that will help you for this shoot and in the future. The more of these guidelines you follow the better your shots will turn out.

  1. 72 hours before your photo shoot, avoid the following items (these items can give you oily skin and swelling):
    • Red meat
    • Alcohol
    • Caffeine
    • Spicy foods
    • Retin A and Alpha Hydroxy creams (causes skin peeling that will show with photo makeup)
  2. Drink lots of water, carry it with you everywhere you go, and keep sipping.
  3. Exfoliate your skin at least once a week and also the morning of the shoot.
  4. Have your brows professionally shaped and then keep them up by plucking the strays every few days. I will Pluck strays the day of the shoot but may not have time to shape your brows.
  5. It is a good idea to carry your own mascara to the shoot with you. Some make-up artists use mascara with the same wand on several people. This can spread infection very quickly. Unless you know the artist and know that she only uses disposable wands, it’s best not to take your chances. I do use disposable wands!
  6. Dark roots will look even worse in photos. Refresh your hair color a few days before your shoot. If you do not color your hair, try “shades” or a toner just a shade lighter then your hair to make it shine. If you need a trim, do it before the shoot.
  7. Fingernails and toenails should be one length, well manicured, and the polish should be colorless or French, unless this shoot calls for color.
  8. All traces of makeup should be gone from your skin. All eyeliner and mascara should be gone. Your face should be clean and product free when you arrive.
  9. Do not over condition your hair before a shoot. Do use your regular styling products to make your hair behave, as chances are the hair stylist will not be wetting your hair and not be able to use gels, etc. Your hair must be dry before you arrive at the shoot.
  10. Avoid dry lips by putting Vaseline on your lips before bed and the morning of your shoot.
  11. For body (lots of skin showing) shots, be sure you get rid of tan lines by visiting a tanning booth a few times. Also get rid of unsightly body hair.

If you are paying the artist, feel free to give advice on how you want to look. The photos are yours and you will have to live with them. If it is a commercial shoot or a shoot that someone else is paying for its best to keep quiet on makeup and hair. Chances are the artist knows what the photographer and art director want. It may not be what you prefer but normally the person paying for the shoot likes to make ALL the decisions. If you are new at modeling is a good idea to go ahead and let the artist make the decisions, even if you are paying her or him. In most cases they will know what will look better in the photos – they are dealing with lights, backgrounds and lens filters that you probably are not familiar with.

Mary’s website is full of useful information, especially for the aspiring or “up & coming” makeup artists – check out her Q&A page! And if you want to gauge whether or not she knows what she’s talking about, check out her resumé!

San Diego makeup artist Mary Erickson