Photographing Senior Musicians and Artists with Melanie Anderson

September 2nd, 2016

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Photographing Senior Musicians and Artists with Melanie Anderson

 

Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the September issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.

 

This week, I’m in Nashville filming and teaching. As I was deciding on my topic for this month’s article, I couldn’t help but think about the musicians and that this town is just flowing with creatives. Over the years, I have had the opportunity to photograph many musicians and artists. This month, I dive into marketing and selling, locations and lighting.

 

Locations

 

My studio is located in the Arts and Entertainment District of Hagerstown, Maryland. I am surrounded by brick walls, alleyways and stairwells. My studio is directly across from the Maryland Theatre and a performing arts high school. Due to the location, we photograph with an urban flare. When not traveling, you will see me around town all day long photographing. Due to my relationship with the Maryland Theatre, we are able to photograph inside pretty much anytime. Many of the seniors I photograph are musicians who love being photographed onstage. You will also see that I use the theater as a background occasionally, most recently for prom pictures.

 

Lighting and Equipment

 

I use a Nikon D4 with either an 85 1.4 or 24–70 2.8 lens. When photographing outside, I typically use a reflector along with the ambient light. When I photograph on the stage of the theater, I use an AlienBees strobe and softbox with a 24–70 or wider lens. The theater is very dark, and I need the power of the strobe to give the effect I am looking for. I like photographing them with the theater seats and lights in the background, with me onstage in the far back to give an artistic feel, instead of them onstage in front of the theater curtain. You can view a few behind-the-scenes videos of the making of the portraits on our YouTube channel.

 

Sales and Marketing

 

We are known in our community for our extreme sports images, and we use a similar setup when we shoot the high school band. It’s pretty much the same options, but instead of sporting equipment, they are photographed with their instruments. I have a wall in my studio with about a dozen samples of extreme montages and collages. We sell these as 16×24 and typically on metal. The metal finish gives the artwork an added effect that is like none other.

 

Before I begin the senior session, I take the senior and parents to this wall and discuss the fees that are involved. I want to know if this creation is within their budget before I shoot. We review all the options and make a plan from there. If the extreme piece is not within their budget, I show them images of seniors photographed along the brick walls, in the alcoves and on stairways. Whatever their budget is, I want to spend it wisely. I do not want to spend time photographing and creating an epic piece only to find they are unable to or not interested in buying. Educate and sell before the photographing starts. It’s vital to your in-person sales. Be sure to print samples for your business; remember, you sell what you show and you show what you want to sell.

 

Not only do we photograph athletes and musicians, but creatives too. Two years ago, we photographed a senior girl who wanted to become a makeup artist. She was heavily into The Walking Dead, and asked if we would create an extreme piece for her. I photographed her yearbook and casual photos one day, and then a few days later, we took her and her friends to a vacant warehouse. I had her prepare all of them ahead of time so that our time together was seamless. I photographed them individually and as a group. You can find our behind-the-scenes of this on our YouTube page.

 

Creativity

 

When photographing musicians and artists, think about the unique angles, ways that you can add sunrays and bokeh effects. Including quotes, verses and music lines is another way to personalize their creation. We don’t create just a standard senior with an instrument shot; we still photograph in an urban, artsy or musical setting. We often sell these in metal, but wrapped canvas can add a classy feel for classical instruments and metal for guitar, drums, etc.

 

The performing arts high school across from me showcases a new production every year. Last year, they asked us to create headshots of all their students, approximately 80. We created tight black-and-white headshots for the playbill and posted them on social media for all to enjoy. I used three ringlights with a background and my 24–70 lens set at F4, 1/160 and 200 ISO. We moved through these headshots very quickly. You can find a live video from this day showing the setup on our Facebook page.

 

Volume

 

Within our volume business, we photograph the high school band for group and senior banners. We line them up either before or after the fall sports teams, and create a unique product for them to showcase at games and events, both at home and away. The seniors get to keep their individual banner at the end of the year as a thank-you for their time and talent. We are able to donate these as a result of sponsors that offset our expenses. These banners are a huge part of the word-of-mouth at my studio. Whenever I ask how a new client heard about us, the number-one response is, “You are everywhere” These banners play a huge part in that.

 

Action Plans:

  • Find a theater and offer to take their headshots.
  • Post a call to action for musicians and create something epic.
  • Educate your clients on pricing and creation.
  • Contact the band director at a high school and offer to take their extreme pictures.
  • Print samples to showcase.

 

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Turning the Ordinary Into Extraordinary: Night Photography with Michael Anthony

September 2nd, 2016

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Turning the Ordinary Into Extraordinary: Night Photography with Michael Anthony

 

Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the September issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.

 

I open most of my articles for Shutter Magazine by reminding readers that wedding photography is the most difficult genre to shoot. You are expected to know how to be a portrait, product, event and fashion photographer all rolled into one, not to mention a counselor, psychiatrist and coordinator.

 

In addition, your clients expect you to be able to do this under what is often the worst set of lighting circumstances possible, with minimal equipment. It’s no wonder I’ve heard prominent portrait photographers say they would rather stick needles in their eyes than become a wedding photographer. Nonetheless, if it is in your blood, as it is mine, you can’t see yourself doing any other type of work.

 

When we get late into a wedding day, we often face terrible lighting for the reception, and lighting an indoor event is a whole different challenge than dealing with harsh light throughout the day. That can be your opportunity to stand out. One of the ways we do that is to take our couple out right before we leave for a night portrait.
Doing a small session at night with your couple accomplishes a few things. First, it gives the couple a much-needed break from the commotion of the reception. It also gives you the opportunity to create more dazzling work for their walls. It gives you a minute before you leave to verify with the couple that you got every picture they want. Most importantly, it gives me the ability to close out their wedding album with an amazing photo and end the night with an incredible experience.

 

Plan Out Your Time

 

The first step in making sure you are able to create these images for your couples is to plan the timeline. Nobody has learned the importance of properly planning a timeline better than me in the past year—not doing so last year almost caused chaos with our 100-plus wedding schedule.

 

You don’t want to be fighting coordinators for 15 minutes of portrait time with your clients. Talk to them early and remind them of their investment in remarkable imagery with you. Since this usually takes place at the end of the night, it is imperative that you plan out your timeline so your night session doesn’t interfere with the cake cutting, bouquet/garter toss, etc.

 

Plan your timeline before the coordinator does, and make sure the coordinator has the timeline before their first meeting with the couple. It’s best to have a phone conversation with the coordinator so they don’t feel like you are infringing on their responsibilities.

 

Get Comfortable With Lighting and Gear

 

If you’ve read my articles, you know I am a big proponent of creative light. In order to do this correctly, you will need a variety of tools. While you can use natural light even at nighttime, which I will show you later in this article, you cannot rely on it as a keylight source because you don’t know where it will be available. Here are some of the tools I recommend having on the wedding day.

 

Video Lights

 

Icelight or Yongnuo Light Wand

 

I have invested in multiple Ice Lights, an incredible tool. I love that they can be modified with barn doors to create beautiful images. The Ice Light is sold as a portable window because it creates softer light than a traditional video light. I recently picked up the Yongnuo Light Wand. I usually stay away from Yongnuo reverse-engineered products because of their terrible build quality. The Light Wand, however, is not reverse-engineered, and has features that are completely unique to it. I have found the build quality to be acceptable and, for $75, you can buy six of them for the price of a single Ice Light.

 

Rotolight NEO

 

I bought the Rotolight NEO, my newest tool, for our video work. I fell in love with these lights right away because they offer adjustable color temperature without the need for attachments. The light quality is more specular, creating shine on oily faces, which you get after a long night of dancing. In a wider shot, this isn’t noticeable. The lights are AA-battery powered, so you will be able to quickly change out a set.

 

Flash Systems: Speedlights

 

We are Canon shooters, and have been using the 600EX-RT system since its inception a long time ago. If you are shooting Nikon, Sony or another system, I have heard good things about the Phottix Mitros system. It’s important to use a radio system rather than the optical slaves built into your flash, which can cause havoc during a reception because of all the lights used by the DJ and guests’ cameras. We modify these lights with the MagMod system as well as the Westcott Duo Rapid Box.

 

Find Your Background

 

Think of shooting at night the same way as shooting in the studio. You are essentially creating the entire scene yourself. Find locations with ambient lighting. Maybe you can incorporate a building into your image that has ambient light coming from windows or porch lights. Light a fountain with a speedlight or video light. The trick here is to create some dynamic lighting so that you are able show off the scene—otherwise, you may as well have photographed the couple in a closet. If there is no other background available, buy a $10 set of string lights on Amazon to shoot through.

 

Light Your Couple

 

When lighting your couple at nighttime, the contrast and shadows will be very prominent because of the lack of ambient light. It is important to use a modifier if you can to soften the shadows—otherwise, the harsh light on your couple will be unflattering. Also, because the subject will fade into darkness, I always use a backlight on our couple to separate them from the background. I often use only a backlight if I cannot find any ambient light to use as a background. A simple backlit shot is very easy to use as the final spread in an album. Just make sure you shoot a variety of vertical and horizontal images so you have a variety to choose from.

 

Long Exposures

 

You can make a dynamic image with a long exposure. While it’s not always my cup of tea, it can be helpful when shooting at night to have ambient light available. These techniques take a long time to master, and you will not nail it if you do it for the first time at a wedding. When shooting a long exposure, your couple has to remain still, so I recommend having them sit down and embrace in order to keep them from moving while you take your shot. Limit the shutter to less than 1.5 seconds to avoid motion blur, and then you can use techniques like light painting to get a great final shot. In addition, you can shoot two images and create a composite if you have a tripod and a few extra minutes with your couple. Remember, flash will freeze motion, so use that to your advantage if you want a shot of the couple standing up.

 

Putting It All Together

 

When you do this consistently, you are able to sell it as another unique service to your clients. They likely won’t see many similar examples in your competitors’ portfolios.

 

Remember, the law of supply and demand dictates that originality is concurrent with a higher price point. In a landscape of ever-improving competition, you have to look to the things that will make your work stand out. Post-production, lighting and your creative landscape all make you stand out from the crowd. Keep sharpening your skills so you are never left in the dust.

 

Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the September issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.

Creative Subjectivity: Rules to Follow Before You Break Them with Vanessa Joy

September 2nd, 2016

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Creative Subjectivity: Rules to Follow Before You Break Them with Vanessa Joy

Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the September issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.

 

“Art is subjective” is one of the most irritating cliché’s I know. It doesn’t help anyone. It doesn’t help beginner artists grow. It can be an excuse for artists refusing to take creative criticism. Art is a finely tuned combination of rules and broken rules that come together in a perfect harmony to create something beautiful. In order to break the rules, you need to know them first.

Rules of Composition

The rule of thirds is often the first composition rule a photographer learns. It comes out when a teacher or mentor is trying to get the student to stop putting the subject in the middle of the frame on every frame. The rule of thirds tells us that placing the subject of our photo in one of the thirds (right, left, upper or lower) of the picture is more pleasing to the eye than having it go straight through the middle. The picture below follows the rule of thirds because the rings are place in the lower right third of the image.

Sometimes you can break this rule, like in the photo below, and place the subject in the center. This usually works nicely with square images, which we see so much of now thanks to Instagram.

When you do this, it helps to have leading lines that tell viewers’ eyes where they should travel. In this case, the pews make for a good leading line up into the chuppah.

 

Rules of Exposure

Understanding exposure is another concept we learn early on, and we often learn it by looking at a histogram. A histogram shows us, on a graph, what our exposure looks like with the lights all the way to the right and the darks to the left.

Ideally, you’ll want to make sure that nothing is completely black and nothing is completely white, especially a sky or a bride’s dress, for example. An image like the one below would be considered to have correct exposure.

Sometimes you’ll want to break this rule to hide ugly backgrounds or just for aesthetic purposes, like in the picture below. I wanted a lot of negative space and a high key look, so I put the bride and her mother in front of the window and blew out the background by upping my exposure.

 

Rules of Color

One of the most difficult things to master is consistent color. If you’re a wedding photographer, especially, you’re taking pictures in every lighting scenario possible and somehow are expected to pull them all together to sit cohesively in a wedding album.

The first part of color you’ll probably want to tackle is white balance. White balance is ideally not too cold (blue, like the picture on the left), or too warm (yellow, like the picture on the right). It should be in the Goldilocks Zone of “just right” in the middle, like in the center picture below.

I wish I could tell you that blue and yellow are the only colors you have to worry about, but we have the rest of the rainbow to contend with. I’ll summarize this section by saying this: If you’re going to break this rule by straying from the “just right” true-to-color middle ground, do so by giving all of your pictures the same color shift “error” so they’re consistent. I’ve seen photography brands do this very well, and, even though it’s “incorrect” from a photography standpoint, it does a heck of a good job attracting clientele.

 

Rules of Focus

This may seem like a no-brainer: Pictures should be in focus and not blurry. However, there are varying degrees of just how much should be in focus, if anything at all. Some people like to shoot wide open because they like a very fine point of focus. Some say that everything should be in focus. I tend to fall between the two, and believe it depends on the situation.

When I’m photographing groups or landscapes, I want a larger plane of focus, so I often shoot above 4.0, as in the image below.

If I’m photographing a single subject, I have a little more creative freedom in my focus, and typically set my aperture to 3.2 or lower. In the picture below, I’m focusing solely on the bride’s eyelashes, and shot at f/2.

And then, of course, you can take creative license from there and decide if you want anything to be in focus at all. One of my favorite pictures is one that has absolutely nothing in focus, as you can see below.

If I’m going to apply any rule to focusing, I would say that all of your subjects that are looking at the camera should be in focus (unless they are intentionally background for your true subjects). And when you blow up a picture for print, it had better be in focus.

 

Rules of Posing

There are endless rules to posing. I could write a whole book on it. If we’re going to stick to one of the basics, let’s go with group posing (which I’ll be teaching extensively at Lunacy in November). One of the basic rules is to pose “eyes to mouth” with a couple, and in triangle formations with three or more subjects.

In this picture, you can see that the groom’s mouth is almost lined up with the bride’s eyes, fulfilling the “eyes to mouth” rule.

In this image, I’ve placed the bridesmaids so that their heights vary, going up and down, and their heads make triangles. The three girls on the left make a sort of triangle, as do the three on the right, and the bride with each girl on either side of her as well.

Depending on people’s height, this may be difficult, but I’ll talk more about how to overcome that at Lunacy.

Breaking this rule can be done awkwardly, like when you have a group of people placed with all the tall people on one side and all the short people on the other—almost like they’re falling down a hill, as in the picture below.

This rule is harder to break artistically, but is sometimes broken for logistics. In the picture above, the bride needed to be in the middle of her parents, so there was no way around the slanted pose.

 

Once you know the rules and can recognize photos that keep or break them, you’ll break them with intention and the outcome will hopefully be creative and unique. If you break them without knowing them first, the outcome will tend to be sloppy and look more like a mistake (especially if combined!) than creativity.

Art can be subjective in many ways, but the best artists know the rules and break them with an objective for doing so.

 

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Sustaining Growth and Freedom With a Hybrid Studio with Blair Phillips

September 2nd, 2016

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Sustaining Growth and Freedom With a Hybrid Studio with Blair Phillips

 

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When we started building our photography business 12 years ago, the market was completely different. I remember assuming that once you were established, you never had to worry about making a living. That was then and this is now. With this industry changing daily, you embrace change, continue to find your niche or hang the camera on the wall. The toughest part of this business is not really knowing what the next year has in store. I have found photography to be more enjoyable now that I have learned to forecast revenue, giving me more of a financial guarantee from year to year.

 

Just a few short years ago, we accidentally stumbled into a whole new market. This market is not for the unmotivated or lazy. It began with a few high school athletes who were fed up with their sports pictures. A few of the guys who came in wanted a more current-style picture to commemorate all their hard work on the field. I met them at the school, took a second to add some really good lighting and created an image that their parents can be proud of.

 

Seeing how they reacted sparked an idea that I should do the whole team. The parents got onboard and went to bat for us. The rest is history. That led to us photographing all of the sports for the school, then all the high school sports in two counties. The signed contracts gave my business the confidence in knowing there was a guaranteed range of money coming in next year.

 

We formed a whole different division within our company to handle the volume business. We already had a very good name in our community. Our reputation comes with a price tag in my market. To be competitive in volume photography, I knew I was going to need similar prices as the other volume companies. This is the main reason we formed the division. We did not want to damage our brand at the studio by offering the same quality in the studio that we do at schools. We did not want a big disconnect in differentiating the two. We used our existing company name but added “Schools Division” to it.

 

In studio portraiture, you’re unlikely to see all your clients year after year. This leaves you with the feeling of having to dig for business month after month. We have no problems having two businesses and brands under one roof.

 

Even though the prices of our volume work versus our portrait work are vastly different, the quality of the images is exactly the same. Most volume photographers shoot their images with entry-level cameras and equipment. I am probably one of the few who uses full-frame sensor cameras. Some may consider that overkill, but I consider it an absolute necessity.

 

When it comes to printing, I spare no expense either. All of my sports and school volume goes through my normal professional printing lab. For lighting, volume photography is generally flat and lacks appeal. We’re all used to seeing a couple of umbrellas in front of the subject and a hair light. We always create a ratio of lighting on our subjects. Flat lighting is never welcomed or executed under our business and brand. These types of images fall under something of an obligatory sale during a child’s life. Volume photographers have come to understand this, and the lack of effort shows. Adding a higher quality of printing, posing and customer service will raise your averages. This will also get parents on your side, and they must be happy.

 

Once we got a taste of volume photography by photographing sports, we wanted more. I never imagined having the desire or ability to photograph underclass and seniors for the yearbook. That would mean I would have to photograph 1,000 students in a very short time at the school. The earning potential outweighed the fear of being able to execute all of those images. The thought of several hundred students bringing me an order form with payment enclosed was a great motivator.

 

The first step is to have dynamite customer service. It has to be phenomenal, or they will move on with someone else. You need access to skilled customer service people you can train to be  button pushers. You can train nearly anyone to push a button, but it is much harder to train someone to have great people skills. All of the lights and equipment are already set up and never change throughout a shoot.

 

Our volume business is only as good as the employees we grow. A sure way to maintain great employees and a rock-solid work environment is to pay your staff really well. You cannot do it all by yourself. You will hit some bumps along the way. You will make mistakes. It is how you handle and learn from those mistakes that determines if you will make it in the volume world.

 

Volume photography is a repeatable business model, but it can be taken away in the blink of an eye. There are always other companies trying to snatch it away from you. For this reason, communication with all of your jobs must remain open and constant. Tell clients that if things are not going perfectly, they should give you the opportunity to correct it. The office staff are the gateway to securing and maintaining these jobs. Swing by from time to time with a small gift or treat to show your continued appreciation. They will remember this and continue wanting to help you, should you need anything.

 

With online tutorials, classes and camera clubs, nearly anyone can buy a camera and create a decent-looking outdoor portrait. The volume business is the exact opposite. Not everyone has the ability, aptitude, equipment or ability to do it. There’s way less competition than in the custom portrait world.

 

Schools provide you access to hundreds of paying students in front of your cameras. Sometimes this may happen multiple times a year. These are students you really did not have to do a ton of marketing for. The school provides you the footprint, electricity and often people to help manage a crowd.

 

The least you can do is share some of your profits. The area you live in determines the commission rate you will be expected to pay to the school. Survey the competition and ask what the school has received in the past. I never get involved in a commission rate war with other companies. This does nothing but mess up the market. One of the most important things you can do to retain a school is to deliver its commission check as soon as you are finished processing everything. They do not like to wait for their money. Picture commission may be the only extra revenue a school receives.

 

Another key is not to drag your feet on processing everything and getting the finished product back to the school. Turnaround times need to be expressed up front with a very attainable time frame. You would much rather deliver early than late. Express your promise and make good on that promise, with no excuses. The school will have to answer to lots of parents when something is not right with their pictures, and schools desperately want to avoid that.

 

I never imagined having a hybrid studio that mixes two totally different ends of the spectrum, but we are living proof that it can be done. It is allowing us much more freedom than we have ever had. Sustaining growth is very appealing to me these days, so we will continue the climb with both business models.

 

Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the September issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.

Fight Night: Lighting Athletes with Michael Corsentino

September 2nd, 2016

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Fight Night: Lighting Athletes with Michael Corsentino

 

Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the September issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.

 

You can’t underestimate the power of planning. Being deliberate with your ideas, concepts and shoot plans pays massive dividends every time. Take time before your shoots to think about what you want to accomplish with your lighting. Make a detailed plan for the tools, techniques and logistics you’ll need to realize your vision. If you don’t, I guarantee the results will not be as strong was they could be.

 

If you want to take your photography to the next level, you need to understand that there are no one-size-fits-all lighting solutions. Each decision you make, each tool you use, each technique you employ results in a different end product and tells a different story. My first step is always research. What does the client want? What look is called for? What’s been done before? What tools and techniques will I need to pull it off? Next, it’s simply a matter of creating a roadmap to get there.

 

These fighter portraits are no different. Clearly they required a completely different visual treatment than a corporate headshot, beauty image or fashion editorial would. After deciding on a visual approach, I figure out which tools I need, which ones I have on hand and which I might need to rent or borrow. I formulate a logistics plan about how many assistants I’ll need, how they’ll be getting to the location and back, who’ll be helping with load in, set up and load out, and which assistants have the skills that match the tasks I need. This way, I know how to delegate so the shoot runs smoothly.

 

Expectations

 

Planning for your locations is equally important. Will you need a permit? Is your liability insurance current, and has your carrier been alerted about the shoot location and date? Are you planning to forgo a permit and shoot guerilla style? If so, what’s your backup plan in case that doesn’t work out? If there’s a point person in charge of the location—like the gym owner, in this case—have you set realistic expectations for them? Do they understand how long it will take to set up and break down, or how much time the shoot will take and how things will progress during the shoot? Do you have a clear understanding of what their expectations of you are?

 

If you’ve made promises, such as files and prints for access, follow through. This way, the next photographer is treated as well as you’ve been treated. If you’re shooting for your book and it’s not a job or assignment, don’t worry. You’d be surprised how many places will grant you access if you simply ask. Things like files and prints or the promise of a free shoot go a long way toward greasing the wheels.

 

The goal of this series of fighter portraits, shot on location at Gym Rat Boxing in Orlando, Florida, was to create images for the fighters and their promoters to use for promotions. I wanted to create lighting that accentuated how fierce these fighters are, a dramatic overall mood and feeling. This goal dictated the choices I made for the design of the portraits and the lighting plan.

 

Light, Gear, Techniques

 

I decided on a classic three-point light sports look, used frequently for athletes, combined with a reflector to open up the shadows from the keylight; a black background for drama; and color grading based on an image I found during my research and fell in love with.

 

For the key, I used a 1200WS head modified with a Mola Softlights silver interior Demi beauty dish. The choice of the silver interior beauty dish was made to boost contrast, produce a cold-toned light and create harder-edged transitions between the shadows and highlights than a white reflector could. To reduce light spill, produce a faster fall-off of light and confine that keylight to a very tight pool of light, I added a Mola 20-degree black grid spot to the front of the beauty dish. I placed the keylight in front of the subject (at the 12 o’clock position), angled down approximately 45 degrees and 5 feet away. It was essentially a classic Paramount lighting pattern. Below the keylight and just above the subject’s torso, I placed a Sunbounce Micro Mini reflector with silver fabric. This helped open up shadows cast from the key below the fighter’s chins and eye sockets.

 

To create the rim light on the left and right side of each of the fighters, I used two 500WS strobes, each fitted with an Elinchrom Rotalux 14×35-inch softbox and a Lighttools ez[Pop] 30-degree soft egg crate grid. This combination created a narrow shaft of light on each side of the subject. All lights were triggered using Pocket Wizard Plus III transmitters. Lights were measured using a Sekonic L-758 DR flash meter.

 

For the black background, I chose something easy to transport, set up and breakdown: a Lastolite white/black 5×6-foot collapsible backdrop and its companion magnetic stand.

 

Light stands were all Kupo Grip. I used one High Overhead Roller Stand and Baby Boom Arm for the keylight and two Master C-Stands for the kicker lights. For my tethering platform, I used a Runway Stand Base, a 20-inch C-Stand Riser Column and a Nine-Volt DigiPlate laptop platform. I captured the session using my Phase One DF+, IQ250 digital back and Schneider Kreuznach 80mmLS f/2.8 lens mounted on a Gitzo Series 5 Systematic 6X Carbon Fiber Tripod, with a Manfrotto MHXPRO-3W 3-Way Pan/Tilt Head (my absolute favorite tripod head).

 

I’m a big believer in making lists, assembling all your gear beforehand and testing everything to make sure all systems are go. I call this “pre-flighting your gear.” The last thing you want is to show up for your shoot and realize you’re missing one essential component or that one link in the technical chain of command is broken. The smallest technical hiccup can prevent your shoot from even getting started.

 

Light Metering

 

You’ll more than likely be tight on time, especially on location, where you’ll either be chasing the light or watching the clock. So having mechanisms in place that get you up and shooting in a hurry are key. First and foremost, learn how to use a light meter. I covered this topic extensively in previous columns and their companion videos. There’s no faster way to ensure your first exposure will be perfect than using a handheld meter. That means no endless chimping and wasted time fiddling with lights. Get your reading, make your first capture, season to taste, and boom—you’re off to the races. That’s how I roll.

 

Leave equipment assembled as much as possible. Setup time was limited for this shoot, so I left both softboxes assembled and fitted with their grids instead of packing for travel and unpacking them during setup.

 

Stand-ins, Tethering and Settings

 

Another key time saver is to use one of your assistants (whoever most closely matches the height and skin tone of your subjects) to stand in and help you get your lighting dialed in. This way, when your subjects step in front of your camera, you’re ready to go and at ease, a confident leader more focused on getting what you need from them than trying to solve lighting issues. Shooting tethered is another must, so find a way. It helps you see exactly what’s going on, and provides instant feedback for your subjects and clients. Subjects are excited to see proof they’re in the steady hands of a pro.

 

Dialing in the lights for this look takes time, so don’t get frustrated. The kickers take extra finessing to find the sweet spot where there’s a slash of rim light but no unwanted light on the tip of the nose. Again, this is where using an assistant as a stand-in is invaluable. It’s all about the placement, height and angle of the kickers. You’ll have to play with this to get it just right, so expect it.

 

Likewise, the keylight and fill reflector height will each need adjusting based on different subject heights and poses. You’ll need to have an assistant on hand to anticipate and make these changes on the fly so everything runs as smoothly as possible.

 

By following all of these guidelines, you’ll be able to concentrate on getting the expressions you want out of your subjects. They aren’t used to being in front of a camera. It’s your job to put them at ease and elicit the mood and feeling you’re after. If they’re fighters, it’s a good bet they want to look like badasses. As crazy as it sounds, they’ll probably need help figuring out how to do that. I coached each fighter to assume the stance they use for their leading hand and to look at me as though I were their opponent. Boom—enter fierce fighters! The change was instantaneous.

 

The settings for the finals were as follows: f/11, 1/125 sec, 100 ISO. Color grading was done in Capture One Pro 9, and each image was retouched in Photoshop CC2015.5 using Retouching Academy’s Beauty Retouch Panel. I took special care not to overdue the retouching and make these tough guys look too pretty.

 

Don’t be intimidated by the gear used to produce this shoot. I could have come pretty close using speedlights. Use what you have and shoot as much as you can. I can’t wait to see what you come up with.

 

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From Capture to Black and White with Dustin Lucas

September 2nd, 2016

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From Capture to Black and White with Dustin Lucas

 

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When I began doing photography in school, I was using a manual 35mm camera with black-and-white film. Nothing out of the ordinary for most students taking their first photography class: You are fixed focus with a 50mm lens and have to process your own film.

Over the past decade, the transition from analog to digital has made a significant impact. It made perfect sense to buy a digital SLR, and I did not resist the change. I loved shooting black-and-white film, and have always been interested in recreating that grainy, rich-toned print in my digital images. With Lightroom CC and the Nik Silver Efex Pro 2 plugin, I can get back some of that analog black and white.

Making a great black-and-white image isn’t always about post-processing. You need to shoot for it. Most DSLR cameras allow users to shoot in Raw + JPEG mode, and you can set the JPEG file to record in black and white so you can review in camera how the tonality compares.

If you have a spare DSLR lying around, you can always send it off to get the image sensor converted to infrared. IR conversions are popular with low-end backup cameras. It allows you to get in-camera monochromatic or hyper-stylized color imagery. Otherwise, you can always wish for a Leica monochromatic camera, though most of us don’t have 7K to blow. For now, we can stick with a color Raw file and import it into Lightroom CC to see what Adobe has to offer.

Converting to Black and White

After opening the image in the Develop module, we can convert to black and white a few different ways. My first instinct is to strike the “V” key to instantly convert the image and start working in the Basic Panel for exposure, contrast and recovery.

When converting your image, you can use the black-and-white mixing adjustments in the HSL panel. (Image 1) You are basically narrowing down this panel to Luminance or Black and White Mix. This tool gives you a lot of flexibility in customizing the color tones in the image and adjusting the light and darkness for these values. (Image 2) It’s a much better option than dropping your Saturation slider to –100; you can see the difference. (Image 3) It also allows you to choose parts of the image to affect with the target adjustment tool. It is as easy as clicking on a specific area and dragging your cursor up or down to adjust. (Image 4)

Another quick way to convert your images to black and white is to change your camera profile to Camera Monochrome. (Image 5) Typically, this is set to Adobe Standard, and changing it can alter the appearance of your image. For color portraits, I use Camera Neutral and build up my contrast. Applying Camera Monochrome turns off the Black and White Mix panel, so if you are interested in a quicker global option to convert your images, this is a great option. This profile mimics how your camera would photograph in monochrome in camera. As you can see, this is camera-manufacturer specific. Canon does not offer this profile, so we will stick with the other methods.

To make converting even more efficient, and to develop settings custom-adjusted per image, we can build a preset to apply before we even start editing this image. When saving a Develop Preset, check the Auto Black and White Mix option and Auto Tone to convert; this gets the image already looking pretty good. (Image 6) In order to view these options in the New Develop Preset dialog box, you must be working on an image that was already converted to black and white. Once the preset is saved, you can apply it globally to any color or black-and-white images. (Image 7)

Black-and-White Density and Toning

In black-and-white photography, it’s all about the toning. As we have seen with just simply converting our digital color images to monochrome, they are in need of some work. Let’s start by talking about density of your images’ tonal range. This relates to film in that the more density in your negative the better, meaning good contrast from the blackest point to the dark and light midtones as well as clean whites. The term flat negative means a more limited range of density, requiring a lot of additional work in the darkroom with contrast filters.

So what does this have to do with Lightroom and making black-and-white images? Well, the wider range of contrast is directly related to your histogram and applies the same way. (Image 8) Density can be measured by where the edges of your histogram end. The left side is absolute black and the right is for white tones. You can quickly adjust this by holding Shift while double-clicking “whites” and “blacks” in the Basic panel. (Image 9) Remember that when making this adjustment, it accounts for the total image, not just your subject’s skin tones. The best practice for using these sliders in determining your tonal range is to first adjust exposure for your subject, then apply the black-and-white point slider for density. That is pretty simple. (Image 10)

Lightroom has other great settings to choose from. Clarity is a fantastic tool to add contrast to your midtones. (Image 11) This is huge for black-and-white photography. Take into account the effect it will have on your subject; adding this may make your landscape look epic, but it will darken the contours on the face and can look unflattering for the skin. A good rule of thumb is to leave the black-and-white point sliders at zero while adjusting things like clarity, contrast and tone curve. (Image 12)

The Contrast slider is a simple tool but is not very flexible in how it adjusts the image tonally. What I mean by tonally is that you have four areas of tone in Lightroom: highlights, lights, darks and shadows. These can all be adjusted in the Tone Curve panel—take advantage of this. (Image 13) You have the ability to apply the default S-curve contrast effect in two forms: mediums and strong. Click on Point Curve, and the dropdown options appear. (Image 14) Custom Point Curve is an option that’s quite popular with film presets, allowing black-and-white point adjustments to be combined with the tonal sliders mentioned above. (Image 15)

A great process to start with is desaturating your image by pulling the Saturation slider to –100 and applying the Strong Contrast Point Curve in the Tone Curves panel. (Image 16ab) Adding some grain in the Effects panel can start to make the image look more like a conventional black-and-white image. (Image 17) To go further in this direction, use the Nik plugin Silver Efex Pro 2 to take a great shot to the next level.

Silver Efex Pro 2 Plugin

For those of you who have not ventured into Lightroom CC plugins, I highly recommend doing so. This integration of Lightroom and the Nik software is a great option for users, especially now that Nik offers its full suite completely free. (Image 18)

Let’s open our edited image in Silver EP2. Select you image in Develop mode, navigate to the menu bar and choose Photo < Edit in < Silver EP2. You immediately get a dialog box asking you to save a copy. Keep the image at default settings, but change Resolution to 300. If you plan to edit this image further in Photoshop, you can choose Color Space: Adobe 1998, but it’s just as easy to edit entirely in Photoshop if you want to go that route. Bit Depth can be changed to 8 bits if your computer is lacking in hardware to speed up the process. (Image 19)

Click Edit. Immediately your image is converted to black and white and looks pretty neutral. (Image 20) In my March 2016 article, “Google That Sh*t – Working With Nik Collection in Photoshop,” I go more in depth into how this program is laid out. Check it out to get a better understanding of how to use Silver EP2. For now, I am going to use my custom preset Dustin B&W I to quickly show off the abilities of this software. (Image 21)

I spend the majority of my time fine-tuning in the Global Adjustments panel with Brightness, Contrast and Structure. Brightness allows you to adjust for highlights, midtones and shadows. It helps to have the histogram preset for adjusting this and contrast. As you can see, there is a gap between the right edge showing the white point is not to the edge of the clipping, meaning the image is slightly dull in the whites. Take some time to dial in these adjustments, and then let’s move on to Structure. (Image 22)

Similar to Clarity in Lightroom, Structure can have a negative impact on your subject’s skin. Zoom in to review before saving your image. Unfortunately, this is a destructive edit, so no going back after it’s done. As we slide the Structure slider into the positives, you can see the sharpening and midtone contrast boost, similar to Clarity. The contours of the couple become well-defined, and removing this effect makes our image softer. (Image 22ab) This adjustment can add a crisp look to your overall midtones and provide some tonal definition to your subject. Just be aware of the grittiness of your subject’s skin—brides don’t enjoy looking at the highly defined flaws in their skin.

For the rest of the adjustments, I tend not to add any film emulation or color filters. On occasion, I add some lens fall-off to create a quick vignette effect. This is for quick proofing, and for when I am not custom dodging and burning later. (Image 23)

The Results

We have converted our color image to black and white, and now have numerous options to dial in our toning and overall style. It all starts with a great shot, preferably one with high contrast. Then we can convert the image, and it won’t need as much work tonally. However, density is key, and dialing this in can make your black-and-white images pop.

Remember that a lot of these tools look great for the scene, but don’t always favor the subject. It’s all about their skin. Whether you are using automated presets or editing each image in Silver EP2, play around with the tools and develop your own style.

 

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When is Black and White Not So Black and White? with Craig LaMere

September 2nd, 2016

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When is Black and White Not So Black and White? with Craig LaMere

 

Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the September issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.

 

When is black and white not black and white? Answer: Always. A lot of shooters oversimplify the black-and-white imagery they create. Because of this, a lot of black-and-white images are pretty average in quality.

 

When I say “oversimplify,” I guess a better way to put it is a lot of shooters are very lazy in their approach to black and white. Most new shooters think of black-and-white images as nothing more than desaturated color images, which is not the case.

 

For me to create a killer black and white, there are a number of factors I take into consideration that help me create a by-design black and white rather than just desaturating a color image. This month, I show you how to create even better black-and-white images.

 

Most of the time when people are shooting for black-and-white in studio, that is the order they think in: black, then white. That is fine, but there is a better way to think depending on the end result you want. If my final image is going to be predominantly white, then I think in terms of white as the main with black as the secondary. If black is going to be predominant, then I think in terms of black as the main, white as the secondary and the variety of gray tones as the filler on both. When white is the main, I watch out for the highlights since it is easy to let them get away from you and start to blow stuff out. When black is the main, I watch the shadows like mad so I don’t start to clip or, worse, start to blend into the background.

 

White and Black and Not Black and White

 

Let’s say I’m going to shoot an image on one of the white walls in my studio. I have a couple of decisions to make that will affect my image greatly. Some of the decisions are what I consider to be my universal decisions. These universal decisions are ones I make with every image. One way to think of these choices is that they are the main ingredients in a dish: focal length, crop (is the image a full length? half? tight headshot?) and f-stop. Once I have the fundamentals of the image worked out, I begin to think in terms of the final look. If I want a bright white image, there are three shooting options I typically use.

 

High Key

 

My least favorite option—and the most boring one—is to light the wall up and then shoot my subject. This method is traditional high key. You take a couple of lights, one on each side of your background, and try to evenly light the drop, which is a pain in the ass. You have to get the perfect spread of light. The only way I know to get even f-stop across the drop is to meter. You have to meter all over the drop to make sure you do not have hot spots. If you are not a light meter user, this is not good for you at all. Another downside is that you need at least three heads to shoot this way.

 

Using a Softbox as a Drop

 

My next option I have used only for creating silhouettes, and it works really good. For this you need at least a 3×4 softbox; a 4×6 softbox works best. This is super simple and gives you killer results.

 

Put your subject in front of the softbox and shoot. Because your subject is so close to the light source, the light softly wraps and fills in any spaces on your client. You can regulate the amount of detail in your subject by adjusting the f-stop relative to the power of the strobe. To get the best idea of what your final product will look like, turn your camera to mono mode so you are seeing black and white on the back of your camera. Moving to mono lets you see what your highlights are doing.

 

In white and black, you have to watch your highlights. It’s easy to blow stuff out. The most important thing to know when shooting in mono is you have to shoot in Raw. If you shoot in JPEG, your image has no color information. When you shoot in mono and Raw, it displays only in mono. When you open the files later, all the color information will be there. I’m sure you could use this method in conjunction with a keylight and get sweet results.

 

Distance to Create Light

 

The third option is the one I use the most because it is the most versatile. I place my subject very close to my drop and use either a wide light source or a narrow harder light source. My two go-to modifiers when shooting strobes for white and black are my 28-inch Mola Setti and my barn doors.

 

The key to getting a white background using one light is distance. The closer your subject and your light are to the drop, the whiter it is going to be. The farther away you get, the more gray your image will be. What I like about this method is I have a ton of control. If I put the mod straight on, I get more flat high key, and if I move the mod, I get nice directional light, and can use the shadow as part of my image. The difference in the two modifiers is that the beauty dish gives more even soft light and the barn doors give more directional, harder light.

 

Black and White

 

Shooting for black and white is a little simpler to me because it is way easier to manage shadows and the darkness of the background than it is to manage the white scenario. When shooting primarily black in the studio, I use one of three setups. Each is easy, and each gives you very different looks.

 

Distance to Control Light

 

All the walls in my studio are white, so it’s easy to get the spill from any lights I shoot to get to the wall and boost the ambient. So when I want a very dark image but I want more of a dark gray background, I don’t use any drops. I use distance from the wall to determine the light and darkness in the image. When shooting like this, I use strip lights or small softboxes to control the amount of light reaching the walls. I bring the light across instead of shooting at the subject to try to control the amount of light that becomes your ambient. I never use a second light with the setup, but if I need a little more detail, I use a white or silver reflector.

 

Muslin Better Than Seamless

 

If I want a pure black background, I shoot using a black drop. A lot of people like to shoot on black seamless paper. I’m not a huge fan of seamless. The main reason is I don’t have a backdrop system, so I have to take the paper up and down every time I shoot. I’m pretty much a one-man show, so that is a big pain in the butt; most of the time I tear it or put a crease in it, and then have to cut it and start over.

 

My solution is to use unpainted black muslin, which I also used for my hand-painted drops. It is light because it has not been painted. You can fold and store it easily, and you just hang it, spray it with water and boom—a wrinkle-free drop in less than five minutes.

 

Another reason I like muslin is because of its ability to suck up light. Unless you are right next to the fabric, you are not going to get any reflection or hot spot from the drop; this allows you to be creative and shoot multiple lights a lot easier than on other drops.

 

Thinking in terms of black and white and white and black has helped me create better images. Separating the two has helped me identify issues faster and see the final image in my head better. I hope some of these tips will help you take your black and white or white and black images to another level.

 

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Creating Black-and-White Landscapes in Adobe Lightroom with Kristina Sherk

September 2nd, 2016

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Creating Black-and-White Landscapes in Adobe Lightroom with Kristina Sherk

 

Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the September issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.

 

I’ve always loved black-and-white photography. It’s such a beautiful medium, ranging from bold and full of contrast to quiet and soft. Most things look good in black and white, especially landscapes. I love the calm I feel when looking at a black-and-white image. This month, I share with you how to create stunning B&W landscapes in Adobe Lightroom.

 

Creating a black-and-white landscape lets you get artistic with all the control you have over every facet of the photograph. That’s why we have all chosen this profession—the artistic fun side. It’s always good to take a step out of our routines and photograph things we love. It’s a great reboot for the creative eye. I love to travel and photograph landscapes, urban and rural. The world has so much to offer, and every environment is unique.

 

A lot of vibrant colors can be distracting in an image. Have you ever found yourself photographing the landscape in front of you because you absolutely love the texture of the rocks and movement of the water, but when you look at the image on your monitor, they feel like afterthoughts to all of the color in the shot? Convert your image to black and white and make a few minor tweaks, and suddenly the most important part of your image isn’t the colors in it, but the shapes and textures.

 

Here is an image where, in the color version, your eyes are drawn to the blue sky and water in the background, then to the moss on the rocks. Then, when you look at the B&W version, your eyes are drawn to the water’s movement between the rocks, the texture of the rocks and shapes of the mountains against the dark of the sky. The photo has become about the texture, shapes and forms, and not about the colors at all.

 

When you are creating a black-and-white image in Lightroom, it’s important to make the transition using the Black & White color mode and not just drag the Saturation slider to –100. You can do this in the Basic Tab by choosing Black & White as the Treatment, or you can use the HSL/Color/B&W Tab and choose B&W. The reason behind this is that you want to have control of how light or dark a specific color in your image is after you turn it black and white. When you convert to black and white using the Treatment or Black & White Mix, you still have complete control over the luminance of each of the colors within the original file.

 

Once you are familiar with converting the image to B&W, you can start to play around with the luminance sliders. Here is where it gets fun. The possibilities are never-ending. You can create limitless versions of one image, and each one will look different. You can adjust the luminosity of the colors within the image and take it to a light and bright place or give it a dark and moody appearance. Below, you’ll see the original shot plus the two black-and-white versions with their different luminance color value settings.

 

The versatility of B&W and B&W-toned images is wonderful. What do we mean by toned? Those are images that have colored overlay, such as sepia and cyanotype. Sometimes I find that I love an image that I have taken, but the colors are too distracting.

 

I know what you’re thinking: Convert the image to B&W to remove the distraction of the colors. That usually gets me started in the right direction. But sometimes you come across an image that, even after being converted to B&W, still doesn’t have that certain flavor. The colors are no longer distracting, but the image is missing that pizzazz I’m looking for. In that case, I might use a color overlay to get the image to sing.

 

In this image of the adult zebra and foal, the colors were a bit distracting, so I turned it black and white. It was still missing the right mood, so I added some warmth to the shot, and that’s when the image began to shine. I created the warming effect by adding the same color to both the highlights and the shadows in the Split Toning tab, and used the settings below.

 

Not every image will look good in black and white. An image that is monochromatic or doesn’t have a lot of contrast may not look as good as an image with a lot of different colors, especially complementary colors (colors on opposing sides of the color wheel, like blue and orange or red and green).

 

If you find yourself in a predicament with a monochromatic image that you really love, there are tools you can use in Lightroom to spruce it up. Say you have a photograph with a bright sky—using a graduated filter, you can darken the sky and add contrast to bring out details in the clouds.

 

Split toning is a great tool. Some images look marvelous with a bit of subtle color added to create color contrast between the image’s brighter and darker tones. In your Split Toning tab, you can quickly add two colors over your image to “colorize” it. You choose a color to add to the highlights, and another color to add to the shadows. Split toning usually uses two complementary colors, but you should play around with it and see what you can come up with. This is why split toning works well for black-and-white photography.

 

This shot of a lone giraffe has great potential for black and white, but the sky is a little bright. My solution was to use one of my Sharkpixel Globe Trotter Presets (www.sharkpixel.com/store). The nice thing about these travel presets is they incorporate graduated filters that can take your landscape imagery to incredible new places.

 

I went through the presets and applied them to the color version of the image until I found one with the right look, then switched it from color to B&W. The split toning from my preset stayed on the shot, giving it just the right amount of color. The last thing I did was go to my HSL/Color/B&W tab to tweak the luminance, and customize the preset to the shot. I decreased the red and yellow values to darken the sky, and increased the orange values to lighten the grass. Then I was left with a great shot that showed off the stark contrast between the sky and earth.

 

As you can see, B&W landscapes are extremely versatile. You can have fun playing with the settings to tweak the image and get the look you are going for.

 

The masters of B&W photography, like Ansel Adams, have taught us that B&W photography is all about tone, contrast and shape. It’s important to think in those terms when photographing a landscape, whether or not you are thinking about converting to B&W.

 

“You don’t take a photograph, you make it,” Adams once said. That was true in his day, and will continue to be true as long as photographers are photographing.

 

There is beauty to be captured everywhere in the world, and B&W photography is making its comeback as photographers remember the value and artistic side of B&W imagery. I hope next time you’re looking at a landscape in your Lightroom Catalog, you convert to B&W. You never know what you might come up with. The possibilities are endless.

 

Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the September issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.

 

How to Black and White Your Photos for Higher Profits with Phillip Blume

September 2nd, 2016

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How to Black and White Your Photos for Higher Profits with Phillip Blume

 

Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the September issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.

 

Do you see the world in black and white? No one does. So why does black-and-white photography stir up such an emotional response? No other technique or trend is its equal. Is our obsession purely nostalgic? Sure, the early history of photography was written in black and white due to technological constraints. Yet, even today, a century since we learned to capture color and decades since the advent of digital color spaces (CMYK, sRGB, AdobeRGB, ICC), black and white remains timeless. How can you use this to your advantage?

 

For any photographer who wants to create more impactful work, understanding black and white’s appeal is important: When and how should you use it? But for a professional photographer like myself, harnessing this genre’s appeal can also mean a significant increase in annual revenue.

 

So if you want to convert your black-and-white photography to green (or whatever color your national currency may be), read on. The first step is to shift our syntax. Let’s make black-and-white a verb.

 

Black-and-white is a verb.

 

It seems odd that simply draining the color from an image creates a new experience for the viewer. Yet it’s undeniable. It’s one thing to desaturate an image. It’s quite another to black-and-white it. When I use black-and-white as a verb, I have in mind a strategic, three-step process that communicates something to my client. The something I ultimately communicate is value.

 

Artists are communicators first and foremost. Let’s utilize this skill more in our businesses. An artist’s personal message is often provocative and must not be compromised. But as professionals as well, we have another important goal: to communicate something our clients will actually value and pay for. With that in mind, my process of black-and-whiting involves the following:

 

  1. Identify images whose value will increase in black and white.
  2. Convert images to black and white by a method that reflects our brand.
  3. Deliver black-and-white images via a method that protects our brand.

 

#1 Identify black-and-white images that define your brand.

 

To identify images whose value will increase in black and white, we first consider a shortlist of criteria that help reinforce our brand message. I’ll list those criteria below, but your criteria may be different because your brand is unique. Use our list as a model, but plan to adapt it.

 

In addition to our best-known signature brand, Blume Photography, my wife and I own a distinct associate brand, Eve & Ever Photography, which differs from our studio in several ways. I’ll mention a few of those differences later. But with Blume Photography, we’ve chosen to communicate a consistent brand message defined by certain words: luxury, fresh, fun and real.

 

So here’s our selection process. As soon as we receive our outsourced, color-corrected images from Evolve Edits, we scroll through the images in Adobe Lightroom looking for strong black-and-white candidates. We then apply our favorite black-and-white preset (visit blumephotography.com/blog to download our free custom “Blume B/W” preset) to approximately 5 percent of our images, but only to images that meet these criteria:

 

  1. Expresses a strong emotion. This usually relates to our subjects’ facial expressions—whether the expression is a bride’s wild laughter or her father’s contorted attempt to hold back tears before he walks her down the aisle. Because our brand highlights both “fun” and “real” emotions in a photojournalistic style, black and white allows us to intensify the viewer’s focus on these “brand values,” blocking out even the distractions of color and environment to clarify our message.
  2. Feels nostalgic. Like any skilled photographer, we’re constantly “chasing the light” during photo shoots and wedding days. Beyond natural light, though, our brand is built on the use of shapely off-camera lighting as well. The result for our brand is a portfolio of images that display the high-contrast feel of Old Hollywood. Because we want to communicate “luxury,” images lit this way are great candidates for black and white. The images stand out from the competition, and our clientele naturally make the association between this look and the historic value of old cinema. Basically, it visually reinforces the same message we speak to them again and again: Your images will be as important to your grandchildren as they are to you.
  3. Fails to meet our color quality controls. Sometimes black-and-whiting just comes down to hiding mistakes. We would never deliver an image that is out of focus, poorly lit or without meaning. But often you create great images in environments where you couldn’t control the ugly, mixed lighting. (You can gel only so many conflicting light sources on a run-and-gun wedding day.) In cases like these—even though our brand highlights “fresh” bright colors—black and white allows us to “mask” these mixed-tone messes that threaten to undermine the otherwise carefully curated, consistent tone of our brand.

 

In all, our black-and-white selection process takes only 15 minutes or so. But it plays a crucial role as one of many personal touches that give our finished work a recognizable style. Ultimately, it gives our couples the benefit of consistency and originality they expect when they invest in a higher-end photography experience.

 

#2 Convert images to reflect your brand.

 

Like every facet of your personal style, your method for converting images to black and white will develop with experience. I define “personal style,” which contributes to your overall brand, as habits you settle into after you experiment a lot and find what you like. At the same time, you want to be thoughtful about your techniques, not settle into poor habits out of laziness, which is a real temptation.

 

We developed our custom black-and-white conversion with minor tweaks over several years. It’s nothing magical, but it does enhance our brand by giving our images a beautiful film-like look that far surpasses a basic desaturation effect.

 

Instead of detailing our editing techniques here, we’ve decided to let you download our Blume Black-and-White preset as a free gift. If you use Lightroom, enjoy this. Use it “as is” if you like, but also take time to investigate our included edits—reverse-engineer how we create our signature mood and film-like look.

 

Download it now while it’s available at www.blumephotography.com/blog.

 

#3 Deliver black-and-white images to protect your brand.

 

Contrary to popular belief, the quality of one’s photography is not usually the determining factor behind a successful photography businesses. Customer service and experience is. The way you present and deliver black-and-white images can add value to your service just as much as the steps you took to create them.

 

The options for presenting your finished images are countless. So, again, make certain your chosen method protects your brand. Consider these possibilities.

 

  1. Provide black-and-white originals only. By educating our clients early on (through literature and carefully scripted consultations), we earn a good deal of trust from them. Our couples view us as experts and have faith in our creative choices. This pays dividends when we ask couples to hike to a strange portrait location on their wedding day. It also helps in post-processing. For our Blume Photography brand, the black-and-white selections we make are delivered to the couple as black and white only. We do not include color versions of these photos; we believed these images to be better in black and white. So this is how they’re presented, both during our in-person ordering sessions and on the custom USB drive our couples receive.A knee-jerk reaction to business strategies like this—which limit options for clients—is to consider them drawbacks. In reality, high-end clients perceive higher value when they are served by an expert who asks them to make only the most necessary choice. Remember this: The more choices you leave to a customer, the more likely she is to retreat from a purchasing decision.

 

  1. Both color and black-and-white options. A more common option for delivering black and white is to provide your client both color and black-and-white versions of every photo. This assures your client does not convert your images on her own, in a style that may misrepresent your brand. On the other hand, it may create the impression that you simply pasted a common black-and-white filter to your images, that your black-and-white images are nothing special. So this may undermine your ability to educate your client about the time and care you put into editing, affecting the client experience. Still, this option isn’t a nonstarter. If your business plan is geared more toward speed and ease than luxury, it may be a successful option. Just pitch it right: that you go above and beyond to make sure your client has everything she needs to suit her preferences.

 

  1. Allow your client to choose. As mentioned above, our associate brand, Eve & Ever, is geared toward a slightly different clientele than Blume Photography. We seek to meet different needs and expectations. We’ve found the best way to deliver images to our associate clients is via ShootProof galleries, whose settings give us the option to put black-and-white editing in clients’ hands. This option essentially marries photo editing technology with our best online sales tool—and it guarantees our clients get black-and-white versions that look classy, while we remain hands-off.

I imagine a visitor to our planet would be shocked to learn that humanity sees beauty in photos stripped of their beautiful colors. But it’s for good reason that formal art programs initiate new photographers with an intro to black-and-white photography. Simplicity is foundational to art. It allows your artwork to say what you want it to say without distraction. Run your business the way you make your art (without distraction and true to brand), and success will follow.

 

Learn more and download the Blume Black-and-White preset as a free gift at www.blumephotography.com.

 

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