Photo Tips & Tricks

Some Will, Some Won't, So What?

One of the most frequently asked questions I get when I teach is how do you photograph people on the street? I'm always surprised by this question because I find it an easy thing to do; but then again, I photograph strangers for a living!

If you're shooting on the sly, just grab your shot and go; no need to interact with the person at all. Whether you use a telephoto lens or a wide angle, there is no need to ask permission. But if you want to shoot a portrait that requires compliance from your subject, you have to talk to them. Most photographers are afraid to put themselves in a risky situation and approaching a stranger on the street is risky--they might say no to your request!

But there is definitely a secret to getting strangers to help you...you just ask!  That's right, you ask. Sure, some people will say no, but there will always be another person right behind them. Here's my mantra when shooting random strangers on the street--"Some will, some won't, so what, someone's waiting". Yep, it's that simple; you know some people will help you, others will say no but why care about the "no"s, there is always another person to ask.

I recently started a new project that speaks directly to this dilemma. I call this series "Corner Portraits" because they're shot on the corner near my apartment. I love the light and the background and it's fun to ask random strangers passing by on the sidewalk if they'll help with my project. So far I've shot 40 different portraits and I'd say 3 out of 5 people agree to pose for me, that means I get a good number of "no"s.  So what?

For my  Corner Portraits  series, I shoot one frame on film using my Hasselblad and a 150mm lens, I then shoot 6 or 7 frames with a digital camera so I have immediate access to the images and can send a picture to my subjects.  85mm lens, 1/125 sec at f4.0, ISO 200.  You can see all of my  Corner Portraits  on my website and follow the series on Instagram, @jautzphoto.

For my Corner Portraits series, I shoot one frame on film using my Hasselblad and a 150mm lens, I then shoot 6 or 7 frames with a digital camera so I have immediate access to the images and can send a picture to my subjects.  85mm lens, 1/125 sec at f4.0, ISO 200.  You can see all of my Corner Portraits on my website and follow the series on Instagram, @jautzphoto.

Keep Your Eyes Peeled

Part of my job as a "people on location photographer" (as I like to bill myself), is to be aware of my surroundings when I'm shooting. But as you can imagine, it's hard to turn that awareness off and I find myself constantly seeing photo opportunities, whether on the job or not. This is a good thing, as I get to experience the world in a constant state of discovery or unfolding--I never know what I'll see next and I like that.

For example, I was in Washington, DC last month, talking to Congressmen on Capitol Hill about copyright reform; it's one of the roles I play as Co-Chairman of APA/NY, a trade organization that supports photographers and the business of photography (Google it, then join--you really should join if you're a photographer). As I was walking between floors in the Rayburn House Office Building, I noticed how beautiful the stairway was. I walked all the way to the top floor of the stairwell and snapped a few shots, but I needed a focal point; I needed a person.

As would happen, a Capitol Hill Police officer saw me and stopped to question why I was loitering in the stairwell. I'm glad I had a digital camera so I could show him on the screen what I was doing and why I was waiting for the right person wearing the right clothes to walk in the right spot. Officer Patrick (he asked me not to use his last name) was suspicious--that's his job--but he was also curious and willing to see the same old thing in a fresh way. As he left me he said, "I've been working in this building for 5 years and I've never noticed how beautiful the stairs were". His comment made my day and reminded me of what a gift photographers are; we see the world in unique ways and get to share our vision and our passion with others every day. So keep your eyes peeled, you never know when or where you'll see your next photo op--or whose way of seeing the world around them you may change.

Lumix LX-100, 16mm lens, 1/125th sec at f2.8 ISO 800

Lumix LX-100, 16mm lens, 1/125th sec at f2.8 ISO 800

Simplicity

Sometimes--most times--simplicity is key.  This portrait was shot in the side courtyard between two buildings; it was an overcast day and I thought the light was even enough for a nice shot.  But the sun came out and created bothersome shadows and highlights.  Geez, it was supposed to be a quick and easy shot.

Final image, 85mm lens, f2.8 at 1/100th sec. ISO 400

Final image, 85mm lens, f2.8 at 1/100th sec. ISO 400

I could have pulled out a strobe and popped a nice soft umbrella light in this gentleman's face, but that would diminish the natural feel of the shot and location.  As simplicity is my first go-to in most situations, I opted for a simple white diffuser panel placed just out of frame over his head. The light is natural, believable and soft enough to even out the shadows and remove the hot spot on his forehead.  This simple fix helped me keep the shoot on schedule with a quick, easy, and beautiful image.

The Cornerstone of Business

"What's it really take to run a photography business"?  The question came from a student in one of my recent classes that I teach for NYC Digital Photography Workshops; a young man wanting to make a living doing what is currently his hobby and passion.

My mind instantly flooded with answers: it's about being creative on demand, being able to reproduce a look, follow a storyboard, communicating your client's message; it's more about business than photography and it's most certainly a juggling act. That you take good--if not great--pictures is a given. I started down this line of explanation but stopped myself. Yes, all of those things are true, but what is the real cornerstone of being in the photography business--or any business for that matter?

 The number one overriding principle for my 30 years in business has been this, "Business is an excuse to have relationships". Yep, simple and straight-forward; everything else builds from that credo. Sure, you have to be super creative, a technical master, a marketing fool and a production pro, but none of that matters if you can't (or don't) form relationships. Think about it, you need other people to help you accomplish your goals and the best way to reach your goals is to help others reach their goals. By forming relationships you are in essence building a team that will help all of you succeed; and as the saying goes, "there is no “I” in Team".

 As a "people photographer", I have placed even more emphasis on building relationships, be they life-long, or for the 10 minutes I might have with a subject for a magazine assignment. That instant rapport is crucial to getting a great shot when time is short and it's a skill I've worked hard to master.

 My greatest successes have come directly from building relationships and I'm proud to say that I have more than a few clients that have been working with me for 20 years or more; others have become good friends and even if the work flow has stopped, they have remained in my inner circle of trusted critics and advisors.

 Ultimately, building great relationships leads directly to shooting better work because trust is involved. My clients trust me and know that I'll do everything possible to get great shots; they are often willing to listen to my ideas and creative input because they know my main focus is to serve them in the best way possible. With that trust, magic happens.

 So master your craft, find your style, market like a madman, but remember, business is an excuse to have relationships.

Everyone Needs One

Portraits are as important today as ever, whether it's a selfie for Facebook, a casual shot for Match.com, a business portrait for LinkedIn or something more formal for your company's Annual Report, a good portrait helps show the world who you are.  My key to a great portrait--after getting the lighting just right, of course--is  to help the person relax and be natural in front of the camera.  Sometimes it's easier to do than others but it's always worth the effort.

CEO Executive headshot portrait on location.jpg

Rain, Rain, Go Away...

I'm no Gene Kelly, singing and dancing in the rain, but I do like shooting in the rain.  The world looks different when wet and with a little awareness and creativity, the inclement weather can provide outstanding photo possibilities.  I like how light reflects off of wet surfaces and often shoot in ways to use color and light to enhance a scene.  Sure, you have to be careful with your gear when it's raining and be particularly aware of raindrops on your lens, but simple precautions and a clean, dry cloth are all you need unless it's a downpour.  Like the cold weather I talked about last month, most people don't like to go out in the rain; if you get out there and explore you'll be ahead of the game from the get go!

The Waverly Diner  is a classic New York City diner and has colorful neon signs that reflect beautifully on the wet pavement.   ISO 1000, 1/30 sec. f2.8, 28mm lens.

The Waverly Diner is a classic New York City diner and has colorful neon signs that reflect beautifully on the wet pavement.   ISO 1000, 1/30 sec. f2.8, 28mm lens.

Keep It Simple

Ahhh, the old K.I.S.S. rule; we all know it and we all forget it.  But simple is one of the secrets to powerful photos.  Keep simplicity in mind when you're shooting, have a simple subject, simple lighting and simple composition. By keeping your images simple you leave little to distract your viewer and your images will stand out from the rest.

In this shot, actress/dancer Laura Volpaccio takes a simple, relaxed pose near a big row of windows, a 4'x8' white foam core reflector bounces light back onto the shadow side of her body.  ISO 320, 1/125 sec. at f5.6, 50mm lens.

In this shot, actress/dancer Laura Volpaccio takes a simple, relaxed pose near a big row of windows, a 4'x8' white foam core reflector bounces light back onto the shadow side of her body.  ISO 320, 1/125 sec. at f5.6, 50mm lens.

Cool Tool

Here's a fascinating tool from our world-wide overseers at Google.  www.Sightsmap.com is a graphic representation of all the photos taken in the world and uploaded to the Google photo sharing site Panoramio.

How cool to see where in the world the most photos are taken!  Now, these are only the photos uploaded to Google, but still it's an interesting representation of all the photos taken.  You can also zoom in on specific areas, like New York City; this is where I think Sightsmap might be a useful tool and not just an interesting time waster.

You can zoom tighter, all the way down to specific areas and even see some of the photos that have been taken. The ability to zoom in and explore may be helpful to travel photographers looking for ideas of what to shoot when visiting new places. Doing research about your travel destination in advance will help you get better shots while traveling.

This shows that Bethesda Terrace, in Central Park, is one of the hottest areas in New York City for taking photos.

This shows that Bethesda Terrace, in Central Park, is one of the hottest areas in New York City for taking photos.

Cold & Crisp, Clean & Clear

The weather rarely bothers me; in fact, I love shooting on cold, crisp nights.  When most people would rather be bundled up inside, you'll find me out in the clean, clear air searching for beautiful scenic photos.  When it's cold and crisp, the air is generally clean and clear, which makes for images that "snap".  When there is humidity in the air or that haze that comes with summer heat, your photos can look fuzzy or even out of focus.  Certainly, you can take beautiful images in any conditions, but I really love the clarity that comes from shooting in the cold and I never mind throwing on another layer to prepare for the elements.

Lower Manhattan photographed from Brooklyn Heights.  ISO 200, 15 sec. at f16, 35mm lens

Lower Manhattan photographed from Brooklyn Heights.  ISO 200, 15 sec. at f16, 35mm lens

Be Prepared

The Boy Scout motto serves photographers well.  By always having a camera with you and always being ready to shoot whatever strikes your fancy, you will inevitably capture some gems.  I was walking down lower Broadway when I saw these tourists "holding up" the Red Cube, a sculpture created in 1968 by artist Isamu Noguchi.  It's a fun picture and it was gone in a moment.  The best camera is the one that is with you, just be prepared to use it.

The "Red Cube" is located on the plaza at 140 Broadway.  ISO 400, 1/60th sec. at f5.6, 20mm lens.

The "Red Cube" is located on the plaza at 140 Broadway.  ISO 400, 1/60th sec. at f5.6, 20mm lens.

Inspiration is Everywhere

One of the great things about living in New York is that there is so much here that serves as inspiration.  I live in Chelsea and there are literally hundreds of art galleries within a three block radius of my home; great museums are nearby and the streets themselves constantly inspire me.  Some of the greatest creative talent in the world live and work here and if that doesn't inspire you to be on top of your game, nothing will!  When I first moved to the city 15 years ago, Annie Leibovitz lived across the street from me and I'd see her all the time; just having her so close inspired me to push harder and shoot the best work I've ever done and since you're only as good as your latest work, I continue to push hard.

So what's my latest work, you ask?  Well, two weeks ago I shot some fantastic portraits, images I'm really proud of, but because I always let clients publish the images first, I won't show them just yet (don't worry, you'll see them in the future).  But I can share a photo I did just yesterday of actor Andy Mizerek.  I like this shot and I'm sure he'll be pleased when I send it to him tonight.

This photo of actor Andy Mizerek is exactly what I like, simple and beautiful. I have Andy standing near a window with sheer white curtains; the light was amazing and his expression is timeless.  Fujifilm X-T1, ISO 3200, 1/30th sec at f4.0, 50mm lens.

This photo of actor Andy Mizerek is exactly what I like, simple and beautiful. I have Andy standing near a window with sheer white curtains; the light was amazing and his expression is timeless.  Fujifilm X-T1, ISO 3200, 1/30th sec at f4.0, 50mm lens.

Rocky Mountain High

With the legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado, "Rocky Mountain High" probably means something different today then it did to John Denver back in his prime.  But I understand his reverence and was recently reminded of how majestic the high mountains can be as I did some hiking in the Maroon Bells Scenic Area outside of Aspen.

Pyramid Peak and the Maroon Bells are reflected in Maroon Lake.  Even if all of the elements are less than perfect, take the shot anyway as the weather may deteriorate later, or worse, you may never get to that spot again.

Pyramid Peak and the Maroon Bells are reflected in Maroon Lake.  Even if all of the elements are less than perfect, take the shot anyway as the weather may deteriorate later, or worse, you may never get to that spot again.

This was not a serious landscape shoot, but I couldn't pass up taking this shot anyway; yes, I would have loved to have a blue-sky day, but Mother Nature doesn't always cooperate.  And even if you're taking a simple "snapshot" while on vacation, put in the effort to find a nice composition. 

Fall Favorites

I love the Fall, it's my favorite time of year.  The air is crisp and clean, which makes shooting scenic photos nicer.  And of course, the fall colors come out.  We all love seeing the grand scenic in beautiful colors, but don't forget to photograph the details, too.  Look for individual leaves or even patterns of leaves on the ground; the already fallen leaves can be beautiful, too.      

Back lighting colorful Fall leaves can make a beautiful shot and creating a "sunburst" in the background adds an interesting element.        ISO 320, 1/500 sec at f11, 18mm lens.

Back lighting colorful Fall leaves can make a beautiful shot and creating a "sunburst" in the background adds an interesting element.        ISO 320, 1/500 sec at f11, 18mm lens.

I like looking for interesting patterns made by fallen leaves.  There was something about these dead oak leaves laying on the moss that grabbed my attention; Fall is not only about vibrant colors!   

I like looking for interesting patterns made by fallen leaves.  There was something about these dead oak leaves laying on the moss that grabbed my attention; Fall is not only about vibrant colors!   

Street Portraits

Street portraits differ from street photography; in one you are capturing a "decisive moment" and in the other you stop the moment, take charge and get the shot you want.  As a portrait photographer I like to take control; I want the light a certain way, the pose a certain way, the look a certain way.  To keep things natural and realistic, I will often leave things pretty much as they are, especially with street portraits, but I always like the light to be nice.  Whether using natural light only or adding a reflector or fill flash, the light has to be nice.

These tourists from Germany were taking a pedi-cab ride near Bethesda Plaza in Central Park and I asked to take their picture; this was for an assignment to capture "typical" tourist things to do in New York City.  Filtered sunlight was coming through the trees and I popped an off-camera flash into their faces to clean up any shadows.      ISO 125, 1/160 sec. at f6.3. 18mm lens.

These tourists from Germany were taking a pedi-cab ride near Bethesda Plaza in Central Park and I asked to take their picture; this was for an assignment to capture "typical" tourist things to do in New York City.  Filtered sunlight was coming through the trees and I popped an off-camera flash into their faces to clean up any shadows.      ISO 125, 1/160 sec. at f6.3. 18mm lens.

Live Wide

In younger days, I tried reading the Roman philosopher Seneca but lacked patience and understanding.  Tonight, a facebook friend posted a link to some of Seneca's writings which left me pondering my photographic life and life in general.   ( http://www.brainpickings.org/2014/09/01/seneca-on-the-shortness-of-life/)

In a way, my creative life has grown along the lines of what Seneca is speaking to; I've balanced toiling with actual living.  Look, we all need to "earn our keep", "pay the rent", "crack the monthly nut", it's a necessity in our world, but at the very least, the toiling needs to be balanced with being present in the moment, valuing our time and appreciating life.  Part of my creative philosophy is to consciously remind myself to be "in the moment".  Yes, being "in the moment" sounds very new-age, but the practice has been around for thousands of years.  And it does take practice.  My highest levels of creativity are reached when I am totally present, or "in the moment", that's when I see things that are largely overlooked or have thoughts and ideas that would otherwise be passed over in busier, more stressful moments.  In the quiet moment, my best work evolves.

This shot of a Biology student collecting samples in a pond was for a University brochure. Being consciously aware of the moment and not merely occupied with photographing the student, I was able to capture something beyond the client's--and my own--expectations.

This shot of a Biology student collecting samples in a pond was for a University brochure. Being consciously aware of the moment and not merely occupied with photographing the student, I was able to capture something beyond the client's--and my own--expectations.

I understand how short our time here can be, but if you live life wide, experiencing life to the fullest and being consciously aware of what's going on around you, the span of time doesn't matter much; there is a big difference between living long and merely existing long.

I'll be honest with you; I'm writing this to remind myself to live and not just exist.  I hope you'll consider doing the same.  The fact that we, as artists--as photographers--have the ability to visually share the results of living a conscious, creative life with the rest of the world is indeed an honor and a privilege.  Let's make the most of it.

Speed Light / Speed Portrait

I love shooting portraits on location and get hired a lot to photograph people for corporations or magazines.  While I like being able to set up multiple strobes and spend the time really getting my lighting perfect, I'm more often under some extremely small time limit.  For those "speed portraits", I'll often use an on-camera flash but move it off camera.  The speed light becomes my key light source and I can use a second light as a background fill light.  Couple this two-light setup with the ambient light and it makes for a nice portrait.

I had about 5 minutes to shoot with this busy pharmacist; using a simple speed light setup allowed me to get the shot.      ISO 320, 1/50 sec. at f4, 50mm lens.

I had about 5 minutes to shoot with this busy pharmacist; using a simple speed light setup allowed me to get the shot.      ISO 320, 1/50 sec. at f4, 50mm lens.

Where to Start with Lighting?

 When I'm on assignment it's important to capture the ambiance of a place; I never want to overpower the scene or the "feel" of the location with my lighting.  I start by testing the available light, then decide on how best to supplement what's there with additional lighting to highlight what we most want to show in the final image.

Some situations are harder than others to light.  This Situation Room at an internet security company in Boston is a case in point.  It was important that we see the people but the room itself was kept dark so the workers could more easily read their screens; we also needed to make sure we could see the screens of each computer.  Multiple lights and lots of tricks were used to keep this scene looking natural; leaving the desk lamps on added that soft, warm glow of the ambient light.         ISO 400, 1/50 sec at f6.3, 18mm lens.

Some situations are harder than others to light.  This Situation Room at an internet security company in Boston is a case in point.  It was important that we see the people but the room itself was kept dark so the workers could more easily read their screens; we also needed to make sure we could see the screens of each computer.  Multiple lights and lots of tricks were used to keep this scene looking natural; leaving the desk lamps on added that soft, warm glow of the ambient light.         ISO 400, 1/50 sec at f6.3, 18mm lens.

 

 

 

Seize the Moment

I was headed home, walking down 8th Avenue at 39th Street when I noticed the light changing.  It's hard to see the horizon in New York City, but at the next cross street I could see to New Jersey and see that the sunset might be nice.  I was late for getting home but I just knew something good was about to happen; the problem was, in that part of the city there really isn't much to shoot.  Forgetting that I told my wife I'd be home in ten minutes, I cut west on 39th Street looking for possibilities.  At 10th Avenue I saw my subject:  the high rise luxury condos that have sprung up along far west 42nd Street, they would make a good foreground to the intensifying sunset.  It was a race against a quickly setting sun, but I finally found my angle in the middle of the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel; I literally had to shoot between all the buses heading into the tunnel at rush hour.  Once you find the right angle and time the sunset perfectly, it doesn't take long to get the shot; I was done before the cops rousted me. 

As an added bonus, I noticed this plane heading south out of LaGuardia and waited for it to be in the right spot; to my eye it's the added point of interest that makes the photo even better.

As an added bonus, I noticed this plane heading south out of LaGuardia and waited for it to be in the right spot; to my eye it's the added point of interest that makes the photo even better.

Deconstructing Helen

I lead a class on Composition this weekend and thought of this image of Professor Helen Solterer from Duke University as an example.  At this time the professor was researching Medieval Theatrical Revivals in Modern Day France and she had reconstructed a number of masks similar to those used in the original productions.  I was struck by the possibility of using the masks when assigned to photograph her.  I positioned the mask on the left specifically because it looked like its eyes were looking in her direction; she held another mask which was also looking at her.  The added bonus was that the pointy nose of the 2nd mask pointed right at Helen.  I like the repetition of the three faces and the diagonal line created by Helen and the two masks.  Overall, I think this is a strong image made stronger by the composition and the use of black & white.

All About the Eyes

As Shakespeare said, "The eyes are the window to your soul".  Not all portraits include a persons eyes, but when they are in the shot, you generally want them in sharp focus; in fact, you generally want both eyes in focus...and then you get creative!

This model, Leah, has gorgeous eyes and I wanted to really draw attention to them in this shot, by using selective focus and holding the sharpness too one eye only, there is no question where the viewer will look.                                                    ISO 100, 1/100 sec at f2.8, 70-200mm lens.

This model, Leah, has gorgeous eyes and I wanted to really draw attention to them in this shot, by using selective focus and holding the sharpness too one eye only, there is no question where the viewer will look.                                                    ISO 100, 1/100 sec at f2.8, 70-200mm lens.