Six-and-a-half years ago on a cold, snowy January afternoon, my husband and I found ourselves sitting and staring at each other across the kitchen table. Unfortunately, we weren’t staring at each other with stars in our eyes. Instead, we were filled with anxiety about how we’d ever create a sustainable, livable balance in our photography business.
We’d taken the business from a part-time hobby to a full-time, sole income business about year prior to this moment; those twelve months had been, hands-down, the most trying and exhausting years we’d ever experienced. Low session prices led to long weekends of shooting and late nights of editing; any family or free time we’d previously had disappeared into the black hole of the photography hustle.
That cold January afternoon, Jonathan and I decided that somehow, someway, we would turn the tide. Seventy hour work weeks were not going to be the norm for our family. Though raising session prices seemed like the most logical answer, we had a reasonable fear that doubling our prices would put us in danger of losing too many clients in too little time… a risk our family couldn’t afford to take in that season of life.
I brought up the idea of teaching DSLR classes to parents, an idea we’d entertained a number of times before but dismissed for a long list of reasons. We decided to list out all the risks and benefits of teaching these kinds of classes to our clients.
We felt there were to big risks to offering classes. First… what if our clients stopped coming to us because they knew how to take their own beautiful pictures? Second… would our class participants learn enough to become photographers themselves and create local competition?
There were also quite a few benefits that we could foresee, the biggest of which was an opportunity to bring in some extra income and lessen my session load.
We decided to go for it.
I put my first “Sweet Shots” curriculum together and announced the class on my blog and Facebook page. It filled up within an hour. We quickly opened up a second class, which was full by the end of that night. We limited the class sizes to 12 participants and charged $99 for each 2 hour class.
It was such a great experience that we decided to keep offering them… first quarterly, then monthly, then every other week! As the classes grew in popularity, we saw quite a few unexpected results that gave our business the boost it had been needing.
The demand for photo sessions skyrocketed because I was able to connect personally with so many parents in our area through our classes. Surprisingly, we found that the classes led to more, not fewer, bookings! The increase in demand led to (you guessed it) an opportunity to raise our session prices to be more sustainable.
The classes themselves brought in a fair amount of extra income, but they brought so much more than that! Paired with raised session prices, my schedule eased up considerably… and suddenly I was down to the 40 hour work week I dreamed of. The classes led to a number of other fun avenues in our business as well, including one-on-one mentoring, photographer workshops, and opportunities to partner with local fundraising efforts by offering classes pro-bono.
Six years later, I’m amazed by the fact that we’ve taught our Sweet Shots classes to nearly 2,000 students, and I love teaching more than ever! And yes, a good handful of parents have become photographers after taking our classes, but they have become both friends and allies in the industry, and our bookings never suffered as a result.
As someone who’s been down the road already, I love to encourage other photographers to give teaching parent DSLR classes a try! Remember… you’re the expert. Your clients are dying to know about photography… and they’re just waiting to learn it from you!
“In a day of instant, film brings with it the anticipation and wait and the beauty in reliving those moments weeks later. There is a forgiveness with film, a little blur and softness adds to the beauty where with digital the expectation is super sharp & crisp. Life is soft and blurry so i think that is why people tend to be drawn to the film images, they just don’t really know why!”
I first started photography, like most of us did, by picking up our parents’ cameras and snapping images. The first camera I remember was one of those old Instamatic cameras with the flash cube. I moved on and began using my dad’s Pentax 35 mm camera when I was in high school, and that is also when I learned to develop my own film in the darkroom. Time moved on, as time is apt to do, and my parents bought me my own 35mm, a Nikon N65. I dragged that camera around everywhere with me. When I first began my professional career, the industry was still shooting film so my life involved a lot of time with a scanner. I invested in my first digital camera in 2002, a Nikon D100 with “ an incredible, film-rivaling 6.1 megapixels”. It was heaven. No more scanning, just these cute little cards that went straight into my computer. Bye bye, film!
Now it seems that everything old is new again, from vinyl to Pokemon. I was drawn to some of the work I was seeing on Instagram, and after a little research, determined that the much sought after look many photographers were going for was actually based on FILM. Hold on, I remember that stuff myself. I dug out the Nikon N65 and starting remembering how to photograph with it. Here are some of the things that I discovered about working with film again — and a great little preset that emulates film pretty nicely as well.
So, what is the draw? To me, film is so perfectly imperfect. It’s soft, dreamy and romantic and, as photographers, it can really help you relearn the basics of what we all love.
What is film?
Film is essentially a plastic with a light sensitive coating either in rolled paper (medium format – in various sizes) or a metal canister (35mm). It reacts to the light and creates what we call a negative.
Film is a little different from digital in how the light affects the negative. With our digital cameras, if we over expose and lose highlight detail, we usually cannot get those highlights back. With film, it is much more challenging to blow out the details but it is very easy to lose the shadow detail. A properly developed negative will retain plenty of shadow detail. When we measure the settings we need to properly expose the negative, we take our meter readings from the shadows and not the highlights. If we use a light meter with our digital cameras, we would take the same reading from the highlights.
Because exposure is so important to a great image, I have really tried to force myself to meter, meter, meter. And still, my lovely editor, Alex Legget, at The Find Lab, sends me my scans with notes that they had to lift my exposures a half-stop or so!
A light meter is a handheld device that measures the available light. Different photographers meter differently, but the Mastin website suggests the following: “With the bulb on your meter in the retracted position (not popping out) meter your subject’s face. If there is a shadow side of the face meter that side. Use the shutter speed your meter tells you to use for your f stop.”
How do I change my ISO?
When we work with digital, we are accustomed to working with our Exposure triangle. This gives us control over:
With film, it is a set ISO per roll. Some films, like Portra 400, are very versatile and can support a variety of ISO settings from ISO 200-800.
Focus is a particular challenge for me! I find myself missing my 51-point auto focusing system. My Pentax medium format is definitely the harder of the two and my favorite lens is manual.
The good news is that you can get started with film, probably today, and for very little initial startup cost. The bad news is that you will start spending some of that savings to develop your images! Almost everyone has a 35 mm film camera lying around they are hoping to give a good home, and Facebook has some fabulous support groups for everyone getting started.
I know there are several film emulation presets out there but my favorite, by far, are those produced by Kirk Mastin over at Mastin Labs. They were developed by film users for film users, and I find them to be easy and accurate to use.
Mastin offers 3 presets: Kodak, Portra and Ilford and they match these film stocks with very few clicks. The nice thing is that when you match one, you can copy your Lightroom settings over to the others of the set and you are good to go.
According to Jeremy Chou’s “Mastin Labs Presets: A Complete User Guide for the Hybrid Photographers”, to get started with the light airy look that Mastin is known for:
a. Shoot wide open
b. Use good light, avoid extreme and jarring light, and choose open shade and softer light instead.
c. Rate your film at ½ box speed when metering
d. Use a custom white balance between 5200-5700
Portra 160: I love the way that skin tones look on Porta 160 with perfect light which I have only managed once. I rate this one at 100.
Portra 400: The most versatile and forgiving film I use, and my go to for pretty much all situations. According to The Find Lab, it should be rated at ½ box speed or ISO 200.
Portra 800: While it seems that this should be double the speed, it is really not. It is a warm, bright light-hungry film and I rate it at 320.
Fuji 400 h: This is the light, airy film made famous by wedding photographers around the globe. It needs LOTS of light and gets rated at 200. Rumor has it you can expose up to a full 6 stops before you have any issues, but I haven’t tried it.
If you live by a great film lab, you are in luck. If not, you will be shipping your film out to one like the rest of us. Here are some very popular labs, with different looks and feels. They also all offer differing degrees of services. I work with The Find Lab because I enjoy learning from my editor, Alex, and I like to receive the fully edited premium scans they offer.
Here are a few others you might like to check out as well!
“I kinda love everything about it, the sound of the film moving, the texture and depth it brings allows you to feel something more in the image. I love the modern advantages of digital for a lot of reasons, too, but with film it is a must to slow down, really breathe and think about what you are looking at and feeling with your client.”
We’ve all heard it before. One of the “best ways to improve your photography” is to enter a print competition because of how it can help you learn, grow and see minor details you may miss without an extra set of expert eyes. Strong composition, emotional impact, and technical excellence are universal regardless of whether your specialty is portraits, landscapes or perhaps fine art photography. As judges we are looking to see it in practice and reward you on your execution.
My personal belief is that there is a big difference between a print competition and a photo contest. As a professional photographer, my personal motivation in entering is to get better. A score alone provides feedback, but the value of it is limited. A competition that offers written or audio critiques brings additional value through the judges commentary. I’d strongly encourage everyone to take advantage of the optional written remarks if you are serious about being the best you can be.
Print Competition Isn’t About Opinions
A good judge doesn’t voice an opinion. They perform an evaluation and speak to the print. As a judge, it shouldn’t matter if the subject matter or style isn’t my preference or style, it’s about evaluating the execution from concept to completion (often a finished print). It’s common to hear photographers discuss among themselves things for which “the judges will count off.”
I’m an advocate of the approach where as judges we “award points” rather than subtract. A perfect 100 scoring print happens because it earned 100 points. An entry in the “Standard Practice” range attains the points necessary to qualify as the type of work we all should do on a daily basis but is short of an above average skill in most areas distinction.
Looking at the NAPCP Scoring Criteria
Let’s look at the NAPCP scoring criteria. There are three main areas as judges and competitors to consider.
Each entry is evaluated to determine how it falls on a scale of 1 to 10 in the respective areas.
Here is the scoring key definition again, to make it easy to follow.
1-2 Poor Quality
3-4 Below Average
7 Above Average
10 Exemplary, Exceptional, Best of Show
Understanding Scores in a Conversational Way
I’d like to explore these ranges and provide them some general commentary.
To earn 10 points, the judge is saying that this is a benchmark or landmark image. Not only is it the best possible use of skills, creativity, and technique, it is unique. It’s the type of photo that once it’s seen people stand in awe of and it pushes everyone’s imagination forward.
9-7 points mean the entry is somewhere in the outstanding range. It is possible to score this high if you enter a concept that has been seen before and done many times. However, keep in mind that since it’s not unique, it then must be one of the best versions of that idea ever done. Where it falls within that range depends on the degree of execution in above average skill in most areas.
5-6 is often hard to digest as it means you are producing good salable work that professional photographers should provide every day. Often, it may feel like it’s not up to par but the judges are only telling you to push yourself further. Often, it’s about refining the elements you are currently using ranging from lighting, posing, emotion/expression, composition and beyond.
Anything scoring 1-4 is not considered up to professional standards and requires improvement in technique. While it’s easy to become discouraged, embrace it as an opportunity to focus on your weak areas and grow them.
Our Journey to be Better Photographers
As a judge, I’ve been fortunate to sit on panels with photographers incredibly more gifted, talented and experienced than myself. As a competitor, I’ve watched prints that I loved come up short. Over the years and throughout the process, I’ve been able to learn and grow and discover the amount of effort required to take something from ordinary to extraordinary. I’ve also watched photographers marginalize the judges by saying that “they are hard,” “they don’t get or like me,” or myriad other excuses.
In 2016, my father David Edmonson scored a perfect 100 on a print he entered in an overseas competition. It didn’t start out that way, although he had an excellent initial score the first time it was judged.
For those who may not have had an opportunity to watch live judging, look at this 5-minute screen recording of the live stream and listen to the judges commentary. It’s a treasure trove of insights and critiques about what works, how the judges reacted and how it can be improved.
Breaking Down the Judges’ Commentary
The first judge gave it a very high score and did an incredible job speaking to the print. It’s portrait judged in the Family category. One of her favorite qualities about the print is lighting and composition as well as originality. It’s something that she has never seen before, which is one of the qualities of a high scoring print.
The total time the judges discussed the image was 15 minutes. I’ve edited the conversation for the sake of brevity. The second judge addresses some of the commentaries from the other judges and provides her counterpoints. One of the topics often discussed in Impact in a photo and rather than just show you a picture and tell you that it has it, her voice shows how much she feels it. Impact resonates and is typically audible.
Finally, the first judge sums up the comments and concludes the statements. What tips her over the edge in her scoring is how innovative it is for the Family category. Notice that she is not worried about “that halo around the purple suited gent at the back.” One of the judges we didn’t hear from pointed out that “flaw” as a weakness in the post-production, printing or lighting. The excitement in her voice is tangible, and that’s what we are all hoping.
In the end, the print scored a 95 after review. To stop there might miss the best lesson of all.
Learning Through Critiques
When we first start competing, there are a variety of motivations. Perhaps you’d like to measure yourself against your peers; conceivably you are looking for feedback to grow and get better. There is no greater feeling than the first time you achieve a high score or win your first award.
However, there is a fundamental question we must all ask ourselves. Is simply being good enough our goal? Or are you in a relentless pursuit of perfection, regardless of whether you ever achieve it? My father listened to all of the judges comments including the judge who pointed out refinements still needed in the post-production and lighting around one of the family members.
He took the critique to heart and reworked the print before entering it in another major overseas print competition. The result? A perfect 100, the first he earned in 40+ years as a professional photographer. If you’d like to see the picture in more detail, head over to our gallery on our website.
Print competition is a journey, full of ups and downs. It’s not about what’s you’ve done in the past, and it’s not about what you are doing now. I’m not saying that you have to chase perfection. I am saying that you can make that your goal. I’d remind all of us that no award or accolade is going typically going to turn you into a success. True success is achieved by how hard you work, how deep you love and how much you care for your clients, family and friends.
As judges, we want to reward you with as many points as possible. Nevertheless, we also strive to be accurate in our observations. Simply be willing to do the work, submit yourself to the process, listen with an open heart and finally take action.
Good luck to everyone in the NAPCP Image Competition!
About the Author
Together with my father David, our business is based in Dallas, TX, and we specialize in the fields of wedding photography, portrait photography and fine art photography. One of our passions is to help aspiring and seasoned photographers become the best they can be and one way we do that is as global speakers, educators, and print competition judges. On a personal level, I’m a limit pusher, family man and, to my wife and daughter’s delight, a purveyor of endless laughter.
The 2016 Nikon AIPP Event in Melbourne, Australia from August 27th – 31st, ImagingUSA in San Antonio on January 8th, 2017, SWPP Convention in London from January 13th-15th and WPPI 2017 with the exact dates for programs to be announced.
I recently got into this, and it is so fun and addictive! I feel like a lot of us dry land photographers are overwhelmed by the thought of this but it doesn’t have to be scary! Here is a step by step guide to getting started, from gear to editing.
There are a lot of options here. And you can drop a lot of dough. But you don’t have to. When I started researching underwater houses for my Nikon D800, the one that came up most often and seemed like the best reviewed is the Ikelite. They make housings for Nikon, Canon and more, and this is what I would have gotten:
This is an obviously expensive option. When you are talking about protecting your “baby”, expensive is probably a good thing. Based on my research …
PROS: Least cumbersome of underwater housing models and easy to use. Easy access to your camera’s settings buttons. TTL or “Through-The-Lens” flash metering for proper exposure. Easy viewing and metering. Easy grip and handling. Easy lens zooming. Amazing quality images.
CONS: Really just the price here.
The price for me was a non-starter. I had no idea if I would even enjoy underwater photography! Another popular and well reviewed option was this one:
This is the one I went with after extensive research. THE MOST IMPORTANT thing for me was that it didn’t leak and this one passed with flying colors in that regard. There are lots of cons though:
PROS: Low cost, no leakage, lightweight and easy to travel with, fits most larger DSLR cameras. It is very functional and does what it says. It’s easy to load and unload once you know what you are doing, and the images are unaffected by the plastic and pretty amazing.
CONS: Cumbersome to use – it’s really just a plastic bag, so it’s difficult to access and adjust camera settings. There is a groove for your finger to adjust camera functions, but it is not easy to use. Again, it’s plastic, so it’s not as durable. The lens must be flush up against the lens house, so you need to make sure you have the correct adapter. It is difficult to see through the view finder. It is difficult to zoom within the housing. It is buoyant, so it is difficult to hold underwater. It’s best for shallow photography.
Yet another option, the cheapest and most safe, is to buy an underwater digital camera like this one:
PROS: Pre-designated underwater settings. This is a biggie! Your images don’t come out with blue skinned smurfs! No cumbersome housings. No worries about leaking or ruining an expensive camera. Easy to travel with, light, small.
CONS: It’s not a DSLR. The images are not as spectacular and you lose control over many DSLR functions that would be helpful underwater, such as continuous shooting mode (this is a huge CON for me).
So there you have it. I went with the EWA housing and couldn’t be happier. It’s not the easiest to use, but the images are still amazing. So now what?
– I recommend shooting in continuous shooting mode, particularly if you are capturing an action shot. Underwater, most subjects are moving, so this is your best bet.
– Try to get pretty close to your subject. Water tends to dull the contrast and sharpness of your image.
– If you are using natural light (like I do!) try to shoot closer to mid-day than you typically would, so the light filters into the water and to your subject. You can get some nice light rays diffusing through the water in the right conditions.
– Use a high shutter speed for high contrast/sharpness and to capture action.
– Get creative! Some of my favorite shots are split captures, with the camera half in the water and half out. This is a very simple trick to master.
– This is a no-brainer, but the clearer the water, the better for image quality.
– Don’t forget about composition. Negative space can look beautiful underwater and add a sense of depth. Look for where light is reflecting – maybe in interesting patterns off the bottom of a pool, or if you have bubbles you can get some pretty cool bubble bokeh.
– Shoot in RAW. It will make post processing white balance and color temperature corrections so much easier.
– Get your settings as accurate as possible for underwater shooting. You want the lowest ISO possible for a reasonable shooting speed (fast is good here) and you also want to adjust your white balance/color temperature for underwater conditions. A good starting point is 9,000 K (kelvin) but will depend on your conditions and the sun. Your best bet is to use a grey card underwater.
This is an example of how much setting your white balance can help your image. 5,000 K is the temperature you would use during the daytime for proper exposure of subjects (out of the water!):
Probably the most daunting aspect of underwater photography is editing. The images have a blue tint that takes some work to correct on skin. So here are some tips to help. If you get your settings right, the less you will have to correct in post-processing, but I have “fixed” the most atrocious images, so it can be done! Some basic steps:
– Try to shoot in RAW so that you have more control with post fixes.
– Your first step is to correct skin as much as possible in Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw before importing to Photoshop. I use Adobe Camera Raw, but the same principles apply to Lightroom. You’re going to want to take the blue and green down significantly.
– Run any presets here. I typically use a VSCO preset.
– Up your contrast and clarity.
– Import image into Photoshop.
– The first thing I do in Photoshop is fix the skin. I use brushes with masks and layers to selectively correct the skin tone and brighten up the exposure. Some rules of thumb using CMYK curves (these are starting points, and will vary):
African American skin:
Cyan = 1/3 – 1/2+ Yellow
Magenta + (0-10) = Yellow
Black (K) values higher than 0
– After I fix the skin, I up the contrast more and A LOT. I also play around with tone curves to get the most out of contrast adjustments (try upping whites and reducing blacks). This adds more depth that is often lost underwater.
– I start with my creative edits. I might deepen the color of the water by increasing saturation of blues or greens, or selectively bringing down the exposure around the subject. I sometimes enhance any light sources that are there with brushes and masks. If I have a split image, I might enhance the curve of a wave using the Liquify tool. Have fun with it!
July 4th is a great time to take photographs of your family. It is a fun day, people are together, the weather is (generally) good and your photos will reflect this. Photographing sparklers, with the right knowledge, is easy. Here are a few tips.
1. Let your children have a few in the early evening, right before the sun goes down.
The light from the sun as the sun sets is truly beautiful, plus the ambient light provided by the sparklers enables you to capture the joy on your child’s face as they swirl their sparkler around. Make sure that your flash is off, and, if shooting in manual, make sure your settings don’t blow out all the highlights of the sparkler. I like to take photos of my children’s faces, as well as a couple that focus on the sparklers themselves. To achieve the blur (bokeh) the aperture should be as wide open as your lens will allow (the f-number should be as low as it can go, with most kit lenses that is 3.5 when the lens is completely zoomed out).
2. Photographing your children with sparklers after the sun goes down:
If you shoot your child after dark with a sparkler, the results are generally less than inspiring. Either your camera’s flash will pop up and wash all the ambient light away, or it will focus on the sparkler and expose for that, leaving a tiny dot of light in the darkness because the light from the sparkler by itself is generally not bright enough by itself to light your child’s face, even with cameras that work well at a high ISO. You have two choices at this point: photograph using a long exposure with the intention of capturing sparkler writing (see below for tips on how to achieve that), or use another source of ambient light, such as ground fireworks from a safe distance nearby. In the photograph I use as an example, the ambient light was from a camp fire about 10 feet away from my daughter.
Even with the ambient light source, such as ground fireworks like roman candles, or even light from a nearby window, you will be shooting in very low light and need to use a very high ISO and wide aperture (small f-number) to allow as much light in the camera as you can. Do not let your shutter speed drop below 200, otherwise you run the risk of blurring your child or the photograph due to camera shake.
If you use fireworks as your ambient light source, your child’s face will likely be a similar color to the fireworks, which can be either adjusted in post processing, or the cast reduced by waiting to use white fireworks as your ambient light.
3. Writing with sparklers:
To capture sparkler writing, a few things need to be in place. Firstly, it needs to be dark, with no dusk lingering in the sky. Secondly, your camera needs to either be on a tripod, or another hard surface, such as a table, as a long shutter speed is needed. Without this hard surface, the image will be blurry. Take a moment to send someone out with their camera to the spot you want your letters to be written. Have the person writing take note of that spot. Focus your camera on the light, and then switch the focus to manual on the lens. This will help save you time when you begin to write, as your camera does not have to search around for focus as the clock is ticking down on both the sparkler and the long exposure. Make sure that the area you are going to write in is big enough for the word you are writing, and that your camera lens is wide enough to capture it all. The settings that I typically use are: shutter speed: 8-15 seconds, aperture: 3.5, ISO 100. The key is to allow the shutter speed to be the setting that allows the light in. Keep the ISO at 100, because as it is so dark, the slow shutter speed is what captures the light, and motion, from the sparklers.
Writing with sparklers is more difficult than you might think (unless you are a teacher that is used to writing on whiteboards). Have the person writing to have their back to the camera and write out to the side so their body does not block the letter they are working on, otherwise if they face the camera, they will need to write the letters as if they were reflected in a mirror (not fun!). You might also want to use the timer on your camera to make sure it does not have any shake, which will result in blur, from you taking the picture. If you have a child that is too young to write a word, have them do their first initial or just wave the sparkler around in a pattern, the results are sweet because, hey, it’s your child!
4. A Quick Tip About Your Pets
My husband is a veterinarian and this time of year has a number of recommendations to keep pets safe. A lot of pets have anxiety related to the loud noises of fireworks. In some cases it may be appropriate for them to be prescribed medication for the anxiety that will help keep them calm through the fireworks. Unless you know that you dog is not sensitive to the sounds or sights of fireworks the safest thing to do is to keep them inside. If they have any anxiety keep them in a crate or kennel, with medication where necessary, to help them as that anxiety, if untreated, generally leads to destruction inside the house. If your dog is left outside and has anxiety, they may run off, and it’s not fun trying to find them after so it is so important to keep them inside, or kenneled. So many dogs get lost on July 4th due to running away scared from the fireworks, so please keep them safe too!
5. Have fun and stay safe!
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Click here to read our September magazine featuring K.C. Crow! Don’t forget, Inspired is now printable! Print your copy straight from MagCloud, and share your favorite pieces with friends, family and clients. Save Save Save
Hello friends! After much excitement and anticipation, we are absolutely thrilled to announce the winners of our Second Half 2017 NAPCP International Image Competition. Uniquely focused on child photography, the NAPCP International Image Competition features a range of image categories, including Babies, Newborn, Children, Family, Maternity, Siblings, Toddlers, and Seniors. Thank you to our amazing […]
Click here to read our August magazine featuring Amy Tripple! Don’t forget, Inspired is now printable! Print your copy straight from MagCloud, and share your favorite pieces with friends, family and clients. Save Save
Free Custom Wallpaper — Competition season is here and today we want to share this free custom wallpaper with you, to download! Download and use this wallpaper for your own personal use. Set it as your device wallpaper or share it via social media. Scroll down for clickable download buttons at the bottom of this […]