Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Day 76, Learning 76: Optimizing Images for Search

Images are the life blood of every business.  This is true not just for the photographers than create them, but the individuals (profile pics) and businesses (websites) that put them into play.  For many individuals and business, the purpose is to both generate excitement about the product, and to increase their visibility.  The ability of images to appear in search results is key in the latter, and it's a ken that many photographers don't possess.

In short, you can make your images appear more readily on Google, Bing, Yahoo, Duckduckgo (my favorite), and other search engines.

As everything becomes more dependent on the internet and digital expression, our visual language becomes more and more important.  This is a good thing for photographers, by the way.  The advent of cheap, high-quality cameras may have made every Uncle Bob a photographer, but it's also increased the importance of truly professional work.  Your clients want their work seen.  They want their websites found.  This starts with the image file you give them.

Google/Yahoo/Bing/Duckduckco cannot "see" your images.  They have to read them from their properties information.  Here are some tips for "searchable" images:

Ever right-click your images and check out their properties?  Now is the time to do so.  To increase their visibility--

1.  Create an accurate, short descriptive title.  Search engines recognize these
2.  Give it appropriate tags.  These are also searchable.
3.  In the comments section, but your website address
4.  Reduce your image size to the smallest possible without sacrificing quality.  Search engines often take into account the time it takes to load an image/web page.  300KB is too big.

If you want key word ideas for your tags, go to Duckduckgo or Google and start typing the key words you've already chosen.  Both of those sites will "auto complete" your search for you, based upon the most popular searches in their system.  Type "wedding photography" and you might see "wedding photography tips" as the auto fill.  That's a great tag.  At Hurricane Images Inc. I use "Powerful Intimate Portraits."  Including your location can be helpful, but remember Google and others already tailor results to the searcher's location, so that only makes a difference if their from out of town.

The image in this post is from a recent shoot from a lovely (and would you believe it, grandma) client.  It's titled from my company with portraits included; it's tagged for San Francisco, and has my website in the comments section.  The session itself was great.  She was a new "empty-nester" with time and creativity on her hands.  We had a ton of fun in our session.  I set up three photographic areas and we moved through them in multiple outfits.  A great shoot.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Day 75, Learning 75: Light as Time Travel

"Wait a minute, Doc.  Are yo telling me you built a time machine... out of a DeLorean?" ~ Marty McFly, Back to the Future.

We think of light in many ways: sheer illumination, texture, drama, and artistry.  We first learn to light the subject, and later the environment.  Then we return to lighting the subject with greater nuance.  Today I'd like to think of light as time travel.  By that I mean  light can place a moment in any time of day (or night).

Our minds are so accustomed to interpreting light that it's completely unconscious now.  We see long, sideways shadows and immediately understand the time to be early morning or late afternoon.  Short shadows indicate noon time.

Hurricane Images Inc time travel photography

Even though we can't see these women's shadows on the ground, there's no question that the sun is either rising or setting in this image.  Which do you think it is?  If you guessed sunset, you'd be right.  But how did you know?

We can re-create that time of day using flashes or continuous lights.  The well-advised adage is "when the sun is high, place your subject in shade."  When that shade is too dark (say, beneath a large building) the resulting image can lack contrast.  Adding a flash can give your images vibrancy, depth, and also a place in time.

The image below looks natural, but there's a Nikon SB800 in a 24" soft box camera right to give it a little more oomph.  Notice the soft shadow under her chin and camera left.   For this portrait, I wasn't concerned with time (though from the bright spot on the wall immediately behind her we might guess that it's late afternoon).  I was focused on depth and texture.  Our minds, however, are seeing time in the picture.  The light is imitating mid day under a light shadow; only the rectangle of sunlight on the wall behind her head (camera right) says otherwise.

Hurricane Images individual portrait session for N

Time of day isn't just shadows, though.  Long shadows without the corresponding change in color temperature will look fake.  Mismatched light temperatures are an annoyingly common mistake when photographers combine flash portraits with sunsets.  The color temperature on the model is 5200K, while the sunset light is closer to 2000K (the solution: gel your flash-- you can correct this problem in post but it's a pain).

Once you've created your shadows, adjust your color temperature.  Flash is a daylight temperature of 5200K.  Warm it up to 3500K with an orange gel and see how much more natural your sunset portraits are. The difference in light temperature between sunset (roughly 2000K) and your gelled flash (3500K) will make your subject stand out without appearing unnatural.

Now that you're attuned to time-cues in images, browse Flickr, Instagram, or your favorite photographer's website and practice identifying the elements that create time of day, and the mood it evokes.  Check out mine,, and let me know what you find.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Day 74, Learning 74: Playing with Shadows

There are a number of techniques for isolating and manipulating just the shadow-- or under exposed-- areas of your image. This one is a favorite, because it you have complete control over the area and the ability to work with any number of tools.

I like the low-key quality of the image above, but her black hair disappears against the black drop.  I could have added more rim light, but that wouldn't have teased out the texture very well.  Or I could have increased the front light, but then I would have lost the moodiness of the low-key.  If I had really wanted to be finicky during the shoot, I could have added a front hair light, and lowered the more general light on her face to compensate.  If you remember your light theory, you'll recall that light is additive.  But this wasn't an advertising shoot-- I didn't have half an hour to fiddle with one shot. So what can I do in post?

First-- as always-- duplicate your layer.
Second-- you need to select just the shadow areas.  If you press Ctrl + alt + 2 on your keyboard, you'll select just the bright areas.  On older versions of Photoshop I believe it's Ctrl + alt + ~ but they changed this shortcut more than once.  If neither of those work for you, google that command with your version of Photoshop.  This will select the highlights as shown below.

 The great thing about this command is that the brighter the pixel, the more it's selected.  In other words, it's a gradation.

Third-- reverse (or inverse) the selection:

Fourth:  Hit "Q" and you'll see your selection mask in red.  The great thing about this tool is that you can use your paint brush to modify the selection.  Because I'm removing areas from the selection, I'll use the brush with Black paint.

 I want to make sure her skin tones and the richness of the black background remain unaffected, so I painted over them, turning the masked (unaffected) area dark red.

 Hit "Q" again (I often forget this step) and you'll see the new selected area; the selected portion is still a gradation: the darker the pixel, the more it will affected by our next adjustment.

Fifth:  Duplicate the layer using Ctrl J.  Now you have a new layer of just the shadow area you want to manipulate.  You can use Levels, or any other approach.  Here I did something even simpler: I changed the Blend Mode to Screen, brightening everything dramatically.

 Now you can compare the original image to the final.  Suddenly we can see texture in the front  of her hair.  We haven't lost the tonal quality of the shadow on her cheek, which was the goal.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Day 73, Learning 73: Sharpen Your Directing Skills

I describe myself as a "people photographer."  That covers a lot of ground-- portraits of all types (business, personal, theatrical, editorial), but also fashion, boudoir, wedding, and commercial. I enjoy photographing people because, quite frankly, it unnerves me.  I'm naturally introverted and not especially articulate on the fly. I photograph people because I'm both fascinated by them, and because it challenges me.  But I am good at putting people at ease and listening.  Twenty years as a theatre director has taught me quite a bit about communication.

I've written before about how to pose models, and hands, and how to coach them in a session.  Dig through the blog and you'll probably find some other advice on working with models. One of the more difficult aspects of posing, however, is communicating to the model in the moment, and being clear and assured so the subject is at ease.  That really only comes with practice, but practicing on paying clients is never a great idea.  So here's an approach to practicing your communication skills.

First, you have to know what pose you want them to be in.  I take screen shot clippings of interesting poses and put them into folder categories; I find it's the only way I'll remember what I saw a month ago.  Typically before a session I spend time reviewing my folders, or looking for new material. The next challenge is remembering those poses during a session.  In the past, I've tried writing notes to myself (and found I never looked at them); and I've seen an interesting tip whereby you transfer pictures onto the camera's card so you can check them on the back of your camera; if you've newly formatted your card, your references images will be at the top, always one click away.   Some pro's are more upfront, printing images and bringing them to the session to share with their clients.  Any of these approaches is fine, just so long as you have ideas.

Next comes the harder part:  communicating your vision to your client efficiently.  Like most portrait photographers, I advocate mirroring the pose for your client and using your hands to align and tilt the head.  If you want them to turn their chin to the right and up, you use your hand almost as if you were physically moving their face-- gesturing to the right and then up-- as you tell them what you want.  Of course, it's more challenging in a real session.  You've got a camera in one hand, a thousand things on your mind, and their right is your left.  So here's the exercise to improve your directing skills.  Pick a dozen posing images.  They can be one's you've shot or something you grabbed off the internet.  Put one on your computer screen.  Stand up.  And physically "direct" your computer-- out loud and with gestures-- into the pose.  Practice verbalizing, mirroring, and gesturing at the same time.  Aloud. An additional bonus with this technique is that it makes you deconstruct the pose, making it easier to remember.

In posing a client, start from the feet and work up to the eyes.  If you position the torso before the feet, people often twist themselves up.  Go through a dozen images and I guarantee you'll feel more comfortable working with a live model.  Go through a hundred and you'll be communicating like a pro.  You can try these to start:

In most real life situations you only need 5 or 6 poses.  The skill is in working in the moment to create small variations.  The talent is when those variations are based on strengthening something you see through your viewfinder-- their emotion, physical attributes, or the lighting-- and not just for the sake of variety.

Go out and shoot or go out and practice.

Special thanks to Chrystal Wing, NP Walker, and Underground Runway

Monday, June 2, 2014

Day 72, Learning 72: An Adaptive Alternative for Light Stands and Tripods

I try to stay clear of gear talk.  Really, there's too much stuff to buy-- cameras, lenses, flashes, strobes, modifiers, stands, filters, software, clamps, backdrops... by the time you own a full set your camera is quote, "out of date," and you have to start the buying cycle all over again: new camera, better lenses, improved flashes, sexier strobes... etc., etc., etc.  And the bottom line is that all of that equipment makes only minor improvements to your photography, which depends on perception, concept, expertise, inspiration, interpersonal skills, and patience.  But every now and then an unusual piece of equipment-- unheralded by trendy photography sites-- slithers quietly across my path and I have share it.  Because it is greater than a piece of equipment:  it is a learning; it facilitates an approach.

I am constantly struggling to travel light and trust my ability to adapt to my environment and circumstances.  In some respects, lighting equipment (flashes, strobes, soft boxes, etc.) are a crutch.  They reveal that you are not skilled enough to shape and manipulate the available light, so you have to generate your own light.  After all, we walk through a gorgeously lit world on a daily basis without aide of a Nikon SB-800.

The crutch has its costs:  not only do you need the flash/strobe, you need a modifier to soften the light. Travel-wise, the light stand is the biggest pain.  But what if you had a stand that was only 5 inches tall, but could raise to any height?  And what if it could fit into the craziest of spaces, like inside a car or telephone booth without getting under foot?  Not only that, you could set it up and tear it down in 3 seconds?  Wait there's more: I've used it as both a backdrop stand, and as a "tripod" for my camera.  Impossible I hear you say; I'm living in a fantasy world.  But I found one:

This little fellow is now a constant companion in my bag.  Only 4.5 inches in diameter, it can support up to 40 pounds and can attached itself not only to glass, but to painted drywall, doors, metal, and other surfaces as long as they are relatively flat and non-porous.  The weight load diminishes the farther it is from the suction cup, but the clamp also issues a warning before it loses suction:  the red line on the suction pump that lets you know it's losing power well before the cup releases.  On glass it can hang out for hours; on other surfaces the time may diminish to as short as 10 minutes before the red line appears.  I wouldn't use this on exterior surfaces like stucco and concrete, but on glass and wood it works well when the surface is clean.  At $40 it's about the same price as a mid-range light stand.  As you can see from this picture, when I've added a small ball head in order to attach a flash.

And even my camera.

In addition to supporting flashes and cameras, I've also used it to support a light backdrop.  That's right-- the work of two light stands.  Simply attach your monopod (okay, you must have a $20 monopod lying around somewhere) and then clamp or thread your backdrop through the monopod.  If you own a 6x9 fabric backdrop, it's simply awesome. Much easier and quicker to set up than a backdrop stand.  I've also clamped a large reflector to it for a white/black background.

Some suction clamps come with a 1/4 inch or 3/8 inch bolt for attachment; others with a 1/4 female receptor.  I chose the latter, and purchased a male to male bolt adaptor so I could attach my flash or camera.  Which you choose is dependent on how you will primarily use it.  There is a 6 inch version, and a 3 inch version.  I do not recommend the smaller one because it cannot carry a sufficient weight; the latter is great for more security and bigger cameras.