Friday, September 30, 2011

Photo of the Week–Times Square

Times Square

Congrats to Mark Zukowski for capturing this funny, yet sexy shot of Times Square. This a place that is photographed tens of thousands of times a day, so it’s tough to get something unique and different. I think this qualifies as both unique and different. I laugh every time I see this shot, so bravo Mark for getting to the right place and nailing the exposure on this shot!

Be sure to click this photo above and leave some feedback on Flickr so this reader can get your feedback both good and bad (be gentle) and feel the love from our readers here!

Learn more about how you can participate in the Photo of the Week contest by clicking here.

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Thursday, September 29, 2011

At-A-Glance: Eight Photography Books from Amherst Media

One of the cool benefits of running a successful blog is that you get lots of opportunities to check out new products, books, etc… However, the downside of running a successful blog is that you end up with a to-do list of reviews that is a mile long!

My friends at Amherst Media have been kind enough to send me a review copy of their new books as they are released and I’ve ended up letting them stack up as high as my monitor on my desk.

Normally I like to read a book cover to cover before reviewing it on my blog, but that is becoming increasingly difficult. As a result, I’m calling this an “At-A-Glance” article to denote that I’ve at least skimmed these books. What this means is that I can’t give a strong recommendation for or against as I didn’t read these books in-depth. I will however share my at a glance opinion of what I think of these books based on the content inside. I felt this was more valuable than a simple press announcement or phony positive review as I see in large magazines.

100 Techniques for Professional Wedding Photographers is actually the only book in this list that I’ve read cover-to-cover – over a year ago. It’s probably the oldest item in my to-do list so I’m glad to finally scratch this off the list.

This is a book that I was very impressed with when I skimmed it initially because the tips seemed meaningful and the photos were good. Bill Hurter is a respected figure in the Photography industry so I figured it was going to be awesome so I saved it for last in the big batch of Amherst books I got that year.

After reading this book cover to cover I found that at a high level there was some good advice – much like you’d get if you were sitting across the table asking Bill to give you some tips about how to shoot a wedding. That part was good, but what I didn’t like was that some of the advice seemed dated or in some cases I’d call it bad advice. This reality kept it from getting the high recommendation I thought it would earn when I first glanced it, but with that disclaimer this book is still not bad.

I’d say if you are amateur who has been asked to shoot a friends wedding (and for the love of God, if you are – please just be the secondary – not the primary photographer) then you’d probably find lots of the advice and photos in this book to be worthwhile.

Ron’s Advice: A decent book for the newbie preparing to shoot a wedding for the first time.

Engagement Portraiture: Master Techniques for Digital Photographers is a book that has some fun concepts but I was never super impressed with the execution of many of the shots. I also felt like many of the photos had a very low quality post-processing which I think is unfortunate in any book that is designed to help newcomers.

One interesting note about this book is that one of the featured photographers in it is Kelly Moore who is the same Kelly Moore of the the crazy popular stylish camera bag fame. Kelly’s not only a great bag designer, but she’s also a very good photographer which is exactly why she knows how to design a great bag that is both stylish AND functional. 

Ron’s Advice: Skim through it at the library or bookstore.

Lighting Essentials: A Subject-Centric Approach for Digital Photographers is a book filled with images processed in a way that I really don’t like As a result, when I did my first glance through this book I thought it sucked. When I forced myself to take a closer look I found that it was better than my first thoughts because Don Giannatti does go in depth on a handful of shots where you learn a little more about the “why” behind the configuration he used to get the shot. He has some good discussions of things like shoot-through versus bounce with an umbrella as well as hard light, beauty dish light and softbox light that will be helpful to the newcomer.

Ron’s Advice: Not a great book, but it doesn’t suck either. Newbies will find it to be helpful so it’s a good bedside book for the beginner to read.

When I saw the cover of The Digital Photographer's Guide to Natural-Light Family Portraits I wanted to just give it away to someone. I really hate photography books where the cover image sucks and honestly I felt this one sucked really bad. What’s more is that the image on the cover had the feeling of being shot with a head on on-camera flash with the wide angle flap down so it made me wonder – how is this natural light? I also really didn’t like the pose for this one so I just had a very negative opinion about this book right away.

After glancing through this book I was pleased to find a lot of images that were very nice – especially since they were indoor shots that had a studio feel yet were shot with natural light. That’s a pretty impressive accomplishment that made me wonder – of all the nice photos in this book – why in the hell did the author choose this photo for the cover? I just didn’t get it.

My final impression with this book was that text part of the content was pretty basic, but there were enough very good family portraits that it’s probably not a bad buy for those who are looking for more creative ideas. Despite the mug shot on the cover, there’s some really creative photos inside (like pages 32 & 33) that I think many will find useful. It’s tough to be creative sometimes when you are thinking about so many things for a shoot, so this book has enough good ideas that it can help you with that creative boost to make a nice family portrait rather than the mug shot shown on the cover.

Ron’s Advice: Despite the crappy cover, there’s some great shots inside that are sure to inspire creativity. It’s worth at least a library rental, but I’d say its worth picking up as you’ll want to refer to it over and over when doing group shots to get inspiration.

The Art of Off-Camera Flash Photography: Techniques and Images from Professional Digital Photographers (Pro Photo Workshop) is a book that is just a collection of very short chapters featuring advice from 10 photography gurus. The info and photos the gurus have to share is interesting, but lacks much depth. As a result I’d call this more of a coffee table story book rather than an instructional guide.

Ron’s Advice: Great photos from great names in photography, but lacks depth – much like The Moment It Clicks by Joe McNally. I find Joe’s books entertaining for pleasure reading so I’d put this in the same camp. You won’t be a better off-camera flash photographer after reading this book (see Off-Camera Flash Techniques for actual instruction), but you’ll be inspired and motivated by what these pros show is possible. It’s worth picking up for pleasure reading only.

Painting with a Lens: The Digital Photographer's Guide to Designing Artistic Images In-Camera is the book for the person who has no desire to make an investment in high quality lenses and lacks the skill or desire to post-process their photos. It offers techniques that are indeed creative and fun, but I think they would be much better communicated in a video rather than a book. With that said, it does seem to offer some decent advice on tricks that you can do to get some interesting in-camera effects. I think some will find the tips discussed to be very fun to practice and a refreshing breather from perfectly sharp and well processed shots you see all the time. In fact, some newbies may enjoy it simply because their own work exceeds the quality of many images featured in the book.

Ron’s Advice: An interesting read to pick up some new topics, but don’t let the authors fool you – getting a good shot in camera is the first step – not the last. Probably worth buying or at least picking it up from the library or used books rack.

Studio Lighting Anywhere: The Digital Photographer's Guide to Lighting on Location and in Small Spaces wins my prize for the worst cover in this stack of books. Once again I scratch my head as I find covers like this to be such a turn off that I literally have no desire to pick up the book. In this case that’d be a shame because Joe actually does a pretty decent job explaining quite a few lighting concepts and tools. In fact, some might even say it has a style very similar to my style on this blog.

This book is very useful in that it features many lighting diagrams and discussions of the tools used to get the shot. Male geeks will also enjoy some of the sexy shots of pretty girls, but some of those shots are a bit heavy on the cheese.

I’ll stuff this book aside for a more careful read if I ever find the time, but given my current to-do list that may be years from now when we talk about the old days when people shot with digital sensor cameras! :-)

Ron’s Advice: Seems good and worth picking up – definitely worth a library rental at a minimum.

Christopher Grey's Vintage Lighting: The Digital Photographer's Guide to Portrait Lighting Techniques from 1910 to 1970 is an example of how the cover of a photography book should look! There are gorgeous tones, a fun/whimsical photo with complex lighting and fantastic post-processing. I’m pleased to say that inside the book seems to be as equally well done.

This book covers each decade from the 1910’s to the 1970’s and features both costume and photo processing that give the photos the look of that given era. In short, this is a really cool book that I can’t wait to read but just haven’t found the time yet. It features nice lighting diagrams, seemingly helpful Photoshop instruction and a lot of era appropriate photos that seem true to the period to which they are supposed to belong.

I think Christopher Grey did a great job on this book and I think it would be a great book for anyone who is interested in doing photos from any of the decades covered by this book.

Ron’s Advice: If the idea of doing period shots in any of the decades from 1910 to 1970 appeals do you then buy this book. It seems very well done and informative. It also seems like a heck of a lot of fun too!

Conclusion

I feel like I should apologize to you and Amherst Media for not being able to do more in-depth reviews of these books, but the reality is that the market is oversaturated with Photography books. I realize you can’t afford to buy every book that comes on the market and my “Which Books Should I Read? and What Photoshop Books Should I Read? articles are enough to keep most people busy for years.

Ironically, the last three books listed above seem to be the strongest ones of the bunch. They all seem to offer something new and interesting that I think those in a creative rut will enjoy. I also think that some will enjoy the 100 Techniques book will really appeal to some as well.

Naturally I want you to buy the books from Amazon because it helps to support this blog, but the truth is that you can just as easily rent them from the library as well. Either way, if you’ve got an upcoming long flight or some time to escape the world and read then you might find some enjoyment out of reading some of these books. Keep in mind though that if you do buy you may be able to save by shopping online with Amazon over your local bookstore.

If you’ve already read them then please share your feedback on the books you read below in the comments section. It would be useful to offer ronmartblog.com readers an alternative perspective from a real-world testimonial.

Disclosure

I may get a commission if you purchase using the links in this article. Please support this blog by using my links.

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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Color Efex Pro 4 for $84.96–Save 15%

Coupon Code RMARTINSEN saves 15% off Nik Software products including Nik Software’s all new Color Efex Pro 4 (preview) which I HIGHLY RECOMMEND (see my review)! Here’s a snapshot of the cart with the coupon code applied for the upgrade (previous product ID from 2 or 3 required):

Color Efex Pro for only $84.96 with coupon code RMARTINSEN

If you don’t don’t qualify for the upgrade then save $29.99 with my RMARTINSEN code for one of the best plug-ins on the market (see my Which Plug-In Should I Buy? article):

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What’s New?

Learn what’s new here on this cool page that shows off all 55 filters:

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and see my Color Efex review with videos!

Disclaimer

We both get a great deal when you use my code – you save 15% and I may get a commission. Thanks for supporting this blog by using my code!

If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by donating a dollar or saving several dollars by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

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Postmortem: Seattle Workshop–August 27th, 2011

On Saturday August 27th, 2011 I held a sold out workshop in Seattle. This article talks about what we did and shows off some of the photos that my students managed to get that day. If you would like to attend a workshop with me in the future, please send me an email and I’ll notify you the next time I offer a workshop. Please include the city where you’d like to have a workshop in your mail.

Location I – Great Photos Are Easier With Great Models

Raia - Copyright Ron Martinsen - All Rights Reserved
Raia
Brettlin - Copyright Ron Martinsen - All Rights Reserved
Brettlin

If you saw my Color Efex Pro 4 preview article, then you’ve already seen some of my shots from the workshop. We were very lucky to have one of my favorite models, Raia (above left), as well as a new model to the area – Brettlin (above right). Both models were excellent and really helped the students to get some great portrait shots that they had never got before.

Copyright Luc Schoonjans - All Rights Reserved

The feedback from the workshop was nearly unanimous – I could do a whole workshop just using these two models and the students in attendance would have been very pleased. I’ll keep that feedback in mind and possibly do that at some point in the future.

Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II

Another popular part of this session was that I demonstrated the great shots you can get with the new 70-200mm lenses by Canon and Nikon. Those who didn’t have this lens already were pretty impressed to see what it could do (especially those who borrowed mine).  I’ve since heard that there are some lighter wallets after the workshop for those who decided that they couldn’t live without these great lenses any longer.

What Went Well: Great models and lots of help from the assistants led to everyone getting one of their favorite shots of the day here.

How I’ll Improve Next Time: We shot for 2 hours, but given the number of students at least 4 was needed. Next time I may just do a whole day with the models or do 4 hours with a much smaller group.

Location II – Pike Place Market & The Gum Wall


Getting the Shot

Gum Wall Swirls

Nasty, but Fun

Colors Galore

Fun with Flowers & Signs (X100 Shot)

Flower Lady Models

For this session we all met at the market and due to the crowds we decided to start at the Gum Wall. During this session I had fun teaching students how to do motion swirls and practice with depth of field using different objects on the wall. This also ended up being a fun impromptu place to get street walker shots (including some pretty girls – see below). After we had enough fun shooting gum, we made our way to the market to practice macro, shallow depth of field and environment shots.

What Went Well: Lots of interesting subjects to shoot and everybody came away with at least one great shot.

How I’ll Improve Next Time: We spent too much time at the gum wall and the massive crowd led to chaos at the market. Next time I will spend less time at the gum wall and create a more structured method for going through he market. I’ll also have a better cell phone list for everyone in case we get separated.

Location III – University of Washington Campus


Handheld Long Exposure Shot with a FujiFilm FinePix X100 

The night before the workshop I got news from our café contact that the location we planned to visit near Pioneer Square was closed – WTF? So despite weeks of advanced planning, I found myself scrambling for a plan b. The result was a visit to their University District location, so this coupled with a sports game in the stadium near Pioneer Square meant I needed a new location. Not wanting to waste time driving, I decided to go for the scenic University of Washington Campus.

The weather was great so we set up our tripods for a great opportunities to get the fountain, but cranes in the background (erased above) made it tricky. In addition, there were no cherry blossoms in bloom, so the chance to get your typical great UW shots just weren’t there.

What Went Well: Postcard view of the fountain.

How I’ll Improve Next Time: I tried to do too much in one day – we didn’t need this location so I’d drop it from future workshops.

Location IV – Trabant Café

X-Rite i1Profiler
X-Rite i1Profiler

Thanks to X-Rite, I was able to let the students calibrate their displays with the all new i1Display Pro and the ColorMunki Display. This was great, but downloading images and calibration took a lot of time. As a result, I had very little time to do the photo editing portion of the workshop.

To compensate for the uncovered portion of the workshop, I made it up to everyone by doing a private one hour session with each student after the workshop. Everyone left my office with lots of smiles, so in the end I think this was a much better plan.

What Went Well: Everyone got a chance to see the new X-Rite calibration devices and get their displays showing accurate color. Everyone also got a chance to work with me 1:1 on the topic of their choice for an hour.

How I’ll Improve Next Time: This portion can be its own workshop on a separate day, so I won’t be including this portion during a full day photo workshop anymore.

Location V – Kerry Park at Sunset

Kerry Park - Seattle - Copyright Ron Martinsen - All Rights Reserved
Kerry Park Sunset
Click to View Processing Video

I’ve never been a fan of early sunset shots of Kerry Park, so I timed our arrival here at the start of sunset. Some students felt I cut it too close, so I’d probably allow for more time in the future. The good news is that my observations of everyone’s photos was that the early twilight shots they had were the best so I still agree with my timing decision.

During this session everyone got a chance to use their tripods and see what a difference a good tripod really makes (see my tripod recommendations). With exposures coming up on 30 seconds by the end of the evening, everyone learned what it takes to get a nice shot during and after the twilight hour.

What Went Well: I think everyone got a decent long-exposure shot of Seattle which was the goal of this session.

How I’ll Improve Next Time: This was a nice ending to the day. I needed to spend more time with some students than I was able to do, so next time I’ll work better with my assistants to make sure everyone gets the attention they deserve (i.e., no shooting for me and the assistants).

Students Photos & Comments

I really enjoy teaching and had a blast with my students and assistants on this workshop. However, the real proof of the success of a workshop are the photos the students share afterwards and what they have to say. What follows below is each student’s name, their photography skill level, a photo of them in action, their shots and optionally their thoughts about the workshop.

Christian – Just Started Beginner

Christian - Copyright Luc Schoonjans - All Rights Reserved
Christian gets the shot
Copyright Luc Schoonjans - All Rights Reserved

Christian’s goal for the workshop was “I would like to be able to take photos that I or others look at and can't believe that I took them. Whether that's incredible candid moments of my family, staged shots, landscapes, architecture, whatever. I want someone to look at my photos and be blown away, and most importantly I want to be proud of what I was able to accomplish artistically & technically. To the point where eventually I would like to frame photos and hang in my house as art.

Here’s a few cool photos he took during the workshop with his D7000:

Copyright Christian Wylde - All Rights Reserved

Copyright Christian Wylde - All Rights Reserved

Copyright Christian Wylde - All Rights Reserved

Here’s what Christian had to say about the workshop:

... I learned a ton, made a number of great connections with other attendees and think I have a solid number of great (by my standards) images to work with and learn from. Unfortunately though, I’m now completely obsessed with the [Nikon] 70-200 f2.8

Colby – Intermediate

Colby  - Copyright Luc Schoonjans - All Rights Reserved
Colby Gets Low To Get The Shot
Copyright Luc Schoonjans - All Rights Reserved

Colby’s goal for the workshop was “To get a better grasp on composition … have more focus (within my mind) with photography, [and to] take away useful tips with post-processing “.

Here’s a few of his cool photos from the workshop:

Raia - Copyright - Colby Perry - All Rights Reserved

Gum Wall - Copyright - Colby Perry - All Rights Reserved

University of Washington - Copyright - Colby Perry - All Rights Reserved

Here’s what Colby had to say in his own words:

I had a great time

Dora – Newbie (Just Bought a DSLR)

Dora - Copyright Luc Schoonjans - All Rights Reserved
Dora Discovers the Joy of the my Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM
Copyright Luc Schoonjans

Dora was the least experienced shooter at the workshop. She came along with her 60D and kit lens, but I loaned her my EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM to get the shot below. She was the lucky winner of the free Think Tank Photo bag for owning the worst camera bag when she arrived to the workshop. This was a time where having the worst bag paid off!

Here’s one of her shots from the workshop (with a little skin soften, curves and sharpen post-processing help from me):

Copyright Dora Chan - All Rights Reserved
Brettlin by Dora Chan

Pete – Intermediate

Copyright Luc Schoonjans
Ron (left), Andrew (middle) and Pete (right)
Unprocessed Image Courtesy of Luc Schoonjans

Pete is a car enthusiast like me who loves photography. He joined this workshop for a “kick in the ass” to get his juices flowing again. He especially wanted to practice photographing people, so I was pleased to see the shots he came up with below:

Copyright Pete Harris
Ron Teaching — Copyright Pete Harris

Copyright Pete Harris
Raia — Copyright Pete Harris

Here’s what Pete had to say about the workshop:

Ron’s workshop was fun and informative. Getting experience shooting one of Ron’s incredible models was worth the workshop fee alone. It was also terrific experience to get his real-time guidance, and to network with the other folks that attend the day. His care and follow-up post-workshop has also been more than I expected. Looking forward to the next one.

Riki – Intermediate Point and Shoot Photographer


Riki has a little camera, but he can hang with the big boys

Riki took great pride in his Olympus E-PL1 as the only attendee who didn’t have a DSLR (although I shot with the X100 for part of the workshop). His goal for the workshop was to “…push myself forward both Composition wise, and editing wise. And hopefully shoot around some creative people.

Here’s some amazing shots he got and processed very well:

Brettlin - St Tropez - Copyright Riki June - All Rights Reserved
Click this to see Riki’s entertaining photo comments

WU fountain - Copyright Riki June - All Rights Reserved

Kerry Panorama - Copyright Riki June - All Rights Reserved
Largest Pano of the Workshop

Riki swore he wasn’t under the influence of anything when he shared his thoughts on the workshop:

"Ron organized a packed day covering lots of different shooting subjects. Personally I found his feedback on processing my photos, getting them to 'pop', to be huge for my day to day flows. When I had some 1:1 time I found him to be fire hose of helpful information covering so many processing topics, B&Ws, cropping & composition, future reading, computer hardware, Psychology of a photo viewing eye and how to process my photos to appeal to this. I went into the workshop happy with the level of photo I was taking but the shots didn't pop as much as others I'd seen, but came out with a clear path on how to really push my shots to the next level”

Tim – Beginner

Here’s what Tim had to say about why he took this workshop and what he hoped to get out of it:

“There are two main reasons I'm taking this class.  The first, is to reduce the number of occurrences of "Wow!  That would make a great shot... if I just knew the right technique to capture it."  Sometimes, it's because I just don't know how to set up the camera to best capture the scene (Do I use evaluative or spot metering?  Is it better as monochrome, or color?)  Other times, it's because I can't visualize how to best compose the scene.  Second, is to better understand the fineries of post processing.”

While everyone who participated in the workshop came away with a healthy selection of great shots, I think Tim ended up with the largest number of shots that made me say “that rocks”. In fact, I was jealous of a few of Tim’s shots because I was too busy teaching and didn’t have much time to shoot. Here’s a sample of some of his best shots of the day:

Copyright Tim Sendgikoski - All Rights ReservedCopyright Tim Sendgikoski - All Rights Reserved

Copyright Tim Sendgikoski - All Rights Reserved

Copyright Tim Sendgikoski - All Rights Reserved

Here’s some of what Tim had to say about the workshop:

"Ron's workshop made me aware of the most consistent weaknesses in my photography, and gave me direction in overcoming them."

"If you've ever thought to teach yourself photography through guide books, do yourself a favor and sign up for this workshop.  It's one thing to read about techniques, and another thing to have someone with years of experience walking you through them, and helping you adapt them to your vision."

"The best thing about this workshop is that it got me outside of my comfort zone; it changed the way I think about the photos I take and what's possible.  Oh, and it was fun, too."

That’s what I like to hear!

Thanks to Assistants Luc & Andrew

Here’s a couple photos taken by my busy assistants when they had a short break for themselves:

Copyright Luc Schoonjans - All Rights Reserved
Copyright Luc Schoonjans
Copyright Andrew Pecherskyy - All Rights Reserved
Copyright Andrew Pecherskyy

I was blessed to have two great assistants on this workshop. This meant that the six students always had three possible people to talk to about any given issue. I thank Luc and Andrew for donating their time to help me out because I couldn’t have done it without them.

Check Out The Erly.Com Collection

I’m trying to experiment with a cool new image collection service by Erly.com to hold photos and links. Hopefully the students featured in this article will add more content when they get a chance.

Conclusion


Woohoo by Ron

Five of the six students for this workshop replied to my survey and stated that they thought the workshop was useful and that they’d recommend it to others. To me that’s a successful workshop! When I compare some of the images above to those students pre-workshop photos I see a tremendous growth. This makes me even more happy as my true passion is sharing my love of all things photography with others.

I hope you will consider signing up for one of my future workshops after reading this article. Contact me if you are interested in a workshop, private lessons or for a seminar. You can also see my gear talk in New York at B&H on October 26th.

Disclaimer

I may get a commission if you make a purchase using links found in this article.

If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by donating a dollar or saving several dollars by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

Click here to learn more about how this blog is funded.