How to succeed as a photographer – Part III

This is part three on succeeding as a professional photographer.  The question that I am always getting asked is what equipment and tools should I buy.   “Canon, Nikon or Sony is coming out with a new whiz-bang gizmo, should I buy it?”  In short, probably not.  I am not going to recommend brands,  because as long as you stick to the major manufacturers it doesn’t make a whole lot of difference in the long run.

First lets look at cameras.  The body you choose depends a lot  on what you will actually be shooting.  If you are shooting action sports a camera with decent frame rate should be considered.  Also read up on focus speed and focus tracking.   Portraits are your primary business, then low light might be important, so look at noise levels for these images.  In the end a lot of photographers choose a camera which does well in both areas, but isn’t the best at any.  Another option is two cameras, one suited for each style.

Eventually you are going to need to have two cameras.  As a professional you need to have a back-up available for emergency.  In the beginning it may make sense to  rent your back-up camera until revenues justify owning a second.  Also remember your back-up does not need to be the same model as your primary.   A lower end camera can work fine.  Typically I rotate cameras from primary to back-up to sold.  Last year’s model is often a great way to save.

Which brand of camera should you be using?  If you know other photographers, using the same brand may be beneficial.  You may have the ability to borrow a lens for flash in an emergency if you use the same gear.  Also you will have someone to ask questions. 

Lenses are another area of debate among photographers.  A prime vs. a zoom is the one of the biggest questions.   Primes will almost always give better results than zooms.  But in the real world, it can be very difficult to tell the difference in a final print if you have good zooms.  The most important thing is to buy good lenses.  You will have them for a long time, whereas camera bodies in the digital world have become consumables unfortunately.  Again, rent the specialty lenses as you need them.  Owning a seldom used lens is a waste of precious money.

Lighting is the last key piece of equipment.  Reflectors and bounce cards are your friend.  Learn to use them and you will need fewer lights, saving money.  If you are shooting outside the studio you need a good on camera flash.  Lots of modifiers are available read reviews and get one you like, or make one.  The ability to use your flash off of the camera will come in handy, so consider this as a future upgrade – brackets with cords or wireless remotes for longer distances.

In studio you can do a lot with as few as two lights, especially with the use of reflectors and a few good modifiers.   Umbrellas are the lowest cost modifier, but softboxes tend to be the favorites among the pros.  Get some decent stands and some sandbags to keep the lights from falling over.  Once again look at wireless remotes, you can use cords to save some dollars, just be careful about tripping.  Some lights have them built-in.  This equipment can be rented too as needed when you are starting out. 

Renting a whole studio for your shoots is a good idea when starting.  A studio is a huge overhead with rent, utilities, alarms, insurance…   Many studios rent to other photographers, and some cities have studios that only exist for rental purposes.  Some rent equipment too making it every easier, albeit a bit more expensive.

Insurance is probably one of the most important areas that photographers will overlook.  You need to not only insure all your equipment, but also have liability insurance protection.  You may be able to add onto your home owner’s policy when you start out.   Check as if you use your equipment for business, it is often excluded or requires a special rider.

The biggest equipment area to watch is spending.  Don’t buy until you can justify with revenue.  It is so easy to want the latest and greatest.  Manufactures love to push this, but buy with caution.  If you don’t manage your money, there will be no money to manage. 

Next week I will continue this discussion and talk about computers, software and organizations.

Orcatek Photography – Phoenix

Studio Rental in Phoenix

Digital in the Studio

This week I had the chance to work with a wide variety of clients, with all different needs.   They all had one thing in common though; they wanted to look great and were nervous about getting their picture done.


The advantage of using a digital camera quickly becomes obvious.  There are several major benefits to using a digital camera.  It becomes a valuable tool in putting a client at ease.


First with the instant feed back you can show them instant feedback from the rear of the camera as to what the shots are looking like.  Clients what to know that they are “doing it right” when giving them direction.  By showing how good the photography looks, they can relax and make the pictures even better.


Second it allows for proofing during a shoot.  When shooting a head shot I will shoot in batches.   Shoot a batch review on a computer to either select a shot, or use as a point of discussion to discover what they like and tune the shoot to get the shot they desire.  Very often when the client sees the shots on the computer they find that they like a pose that they had never considered.


And of course digital allows for quick deletion of those really bad shots where clients blink or anything else.   This gives the client a much better set of proofs from which to select their photographs.


Lastly digital allows the photographer to capture more frames.  The cost per frame is much lower than film.  I find photographers in the digital age more willing to experiment, knowing that it is very cheap to do so. 


I know digital has made my clients happier, and it has made me more productive.   


Orcatek Photography – Phoenix

Canon 50D does Barrett-Jackson

I love January in Phoenix as it is the time of year when all the car auctions come to town.  I enjoy the opportunity to see so many wonderful cars all gathered in one location.  Last week I spent some time at Barrett-Jackson with my Canon 50D.


The lighting is all over the board at these auctions – full sun, open shade, tungsten, and mixed.  I knew this would give the 50D a good chance to be tested.  I had done some shooting with it outdoors and in studio, so I knew it worked well in these environments, but the indoor shots with random lighting seemed like it would be a challenge.


With prior cameras I would just crank up the ISO and shoot in AV mode keeping an eye on the shutter speed vs the focal length, tweaking the ISO where I could get away with it.  The 50D now has an auto mode for ISO that I decided to get a test shooting the stage.  As the cars move across the stage the lighting varies dramatically, and I wanted to get the cars in the clear, so I there was no one spot that they could be shot.


And not being a bidder, this meant I had to shoot from the cheap seats, so flash was out of the question.  So I decided to switch the ISO to auto and see how the camera behaved.  The ISO swung from 400 to 1250 depending on where I had the camera pointed and what aperture I selected.  It kept the shutter speed within acceptable hand holding for the focal and length and never seemed to falter.


Upon reviewing the shots I was quite pleased with the results.  Even though the noise level is acceptable for this type of work at the highest range the camera selected, it was nice to have even cleaner shots available when the light was better.   I can really see where this feature can come in handy and why the Nikon users have always spoken so highly about the usefulness of this setting.

Auto ISO put to the test





Auto-focus is also something I got a chance to test under the poor lighting and the 50D did great.  I was very happy to see that it locked quickly and accurately under some tough conditions.  The images were focused correctly and the camera only hunted when it faced the toughest targets where there was no contract to be seen.  Experience has taught me to just focus on an edge and then recompose to the low contrast area as needed.


I will feel quite comfortable using the Canon 50D for this type of event in the future.  Next week I hope to spend some time with my 5DII in the studio.


Orcatek Photograrphy – Phoenix

Imaging USA in Phoenix

Once again it was time for the Professional Photographers Association (PPA) to have their annual conference Imagine USA.  The event was held here in Phoenix this year and it gave me a chance to try out our no light rail system from Valley Metro.


The light rail was easy to use and full, but not crowded during the times I traveled.  They did check my ticket on two occasions during the convention.  If I had to travel to Phoenix on a daily basis I could easily see using this.  Wish the voters had approved it back in the ‘80s.  Now we would have a great system instead of the limited line we have now.


The convention was great as usual.  For those who haven’t been before it consists of a tradeshow where you can see all the latest and greatest products.  And a series of seminars/classes were you can learn from the best in the industry.


The tradeshow was very helpful for me as I was looking for some new providers for some of the products I use.  I was able see the products to make educated decisions on which vendors to choose.  Sometimes it was a very difficult choice as several vendors had very high quality products at similar price points.  In this case I am going to order studio samples from each to see how there service performs.


I also saw several products I had wondered about after seeing them in magazines.  Some were better than I expected, and others were good but had something I found that kept me from buying.


The seminars and classes were overall pretty good, but there were a few that were bad and I left part way through and switch subjects.  The classes covered business, techniques, Photoshop and trends.   Several of the speakers I wish I could see in a smaller venue to really pick their brains as their knowledge was so incredible on the topics they discussed.


I ran into lots of other photographers that I know and it was good to get caught up on what each of them was doing.  Since it was here in Phoenix I skipped the parties where a lot of the networking takes place.


Orcatek Photography – Phoenix

The quest for the perfect camera to make you great

Every few months a new camera hits the market.  The Canon fans are all going on about how the new super duper camera is the best thing.  Then Nikon comes out with their new camera and “one ups” Canon.  Back and forth it goes.  The wonders of the digital age create new “must have” cameras constantly.


More pixels, gotta have more pixels, at least 50 megapixels.   No you fool, the only thing that counts is sensor size.  Must be full frame.  Are you kidding, noise is what counts.  You have to have no visible noise at ISO 53200.   Wrong again, its dynamic range that counts, you have to have 24-bits.  You know your eyes can’t see that well, but it helps it post processing. 


Hey wait, let us do video too.  Video at full resolution, not this crappy HD stuff they are pushing now.  You must have 30fps at full resolution and you will have the ultimate sports camera.  You will never miss a shot and leave your competition in the dust.


The cure for bad photographer is a better camera.  The reason you don’t get those great shots is your camera.  It must be the problem.  If you had a better camera you could have gotten that shot, but your camera just couldn’t cut it.  Next year you will get a new camera and your photographs will get so good.


But what about those other photographers using their 4+ year old camera bodies that keep winning awards.  How do they do it?   I’ve even seen award winning photographs taken with a camera phone.  It must all be Photoshop.  They are using all kinds of expensive plug-ins and fancy techniques that take thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours to create those photographs.  You know, you’ve seen them in magazines.  They do magic. 


So do you really need a new camera to be a better photographer?  Is that the solution?  Nikon, Canon, Sony and the rest want you to think so.  After all, that’s how they make their money.  How do you make yours?  I make mine taking photographs.


Orcatek Photography – Phoenix