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Thursday, 11 June 2015


Dear ladies and gentlemen, after much thinking I am now switching over to wordpress for my blog.

Blogger sounded great but it lacks a few really important features that wordpress has.

I tried to ignore that for the longest time but slowly it really ate away on my blogging motivation and here we are with me almost never posting anything any more.

So if you are a loyal blog reader (yes, I am talking to you, mom) then please find more of my stuff here:

I will give you the (empty/overly optimistic) promise that I will post more often than before.

Take care, stay awesome

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Japan gallery

As I mentioned I was on a trip to Japan recently and here are some impressions from this wonderful vacation. Me and my girlfriend went to Tokyo for 6 days and then Osaka for another 7 days (with a day trip to Kyoto). Here is a map:

The flight was quite long so you get through a lot of blockbuster movies and have plenty of opportunity to listen to music or audiobooks. I actually tried to catch up on the game of thrones audiobooks.. those give you plenty of hours to work through.

Tokyo, much to my surprise, is quite similar to a western country in some parts. You wouldn't even know you traveled halfway around the world if it were not for the japanese characters on the billboards and signs - well, in the city center at least. It's very easy to nativigate since about everything you need as a foreign traveller is very well organized. Most signs are in english as well as japanese, korean and chinese.

Different than most western cities though, shopping districts are quite strictly separated. There is a district for electronics, one for fashion etc. and it's fairly hard to find, for example, an electronics shop elsewhere than in it's designated district.

It definitely pays out to prepare a bit in advance what you want to see because the possibilities are endless and Tokyo (and Osaka) are both really big cities with lots of things to see.

We were right there around cherry blossom season (which is a quite nice plus I have to say.. the trees looked beautiful in contrast to the old architecture).

Here are some impressions.

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Off to japan

I am packing for a trip to japan.. Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto and I think today is the first day I seriously consider looking into mirrorless cameras.

Even though I packed very light for my trip I can already see how taking all of my photography gear out every day will cost me some effort.

I took my Nikon D610 and 50mm f1.8 lens, an 85mm f1.8 and a 24mm f2.8. That plus a super-light tripod. I considered taking a flash with me as well but then I decided otherwise.

If I should go strobist over there I would want at least two flashes and the trigger gear and carrying that weight around all day and still enjoying the trip is probably not going to happen.

I recently had a fairly large corporate shoot where I moved all my equipment, lighting gear, camera, laptop etc. to shoot on location and, I have to say, lugging around all this stuff made me wish I had an assistant - or a pack mule. Although the pack mule, arguably, would not be allowed to enter the building.. plus it would be useless during the shoot. No mule then.

In order to prepare for my japan trip I took some steps to brush up my (almost non-existant) japanese. I am sure you know it already but if you don't check out Rosetta Stone (the software).. it's awesome! I am not somebody who can learn a language like a complicated boardgame with all the rules up front and Rosetta Stone is perfect for that. You basically learn like children learn their native language.. with images and by comparing things. But I digress.

I will post some nice japan-images here as soon as I am done dealing with the 18-hour travel jetlag :)

Take care!

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Fun with layer masks (video)

Here is a little behind the scences video showing a layer mask trick that was used in the making of this image:

It's all very simple and, if you understand my austrian accent which seems much stronger than usual in this video, you'll grasp the concept very quickly.

Here is the video:

Have a great week!

Friday, 20 February 2015

Working with models (without having to spend money)

I have been working with models I contacted online for about 1.5 years now.

Working with a model can be fun - it's a collaboration between you and someone else and, akin to a jam session in music, you can get very interesting results by having someone else's input.
As in music however, there will be great players and there will be ones that are just starting out. Talented ones and ones and less gifted ones. Ones that have high-tech guitars and amplifiers and ones that just have a 5$ beat up guitar and a loaned vintage amp. Ones that like jimmi hendrix and ones that love coldplay.. Ones that.. OK kidding - I think you got the drift :)

Since my memories of the first few times I had a collaboration like this are still rather fresh in my mind I'd like to share what I have learned so far with you.

Preparations on how to get a model to work with you for free

Having this kind of deal is usually called "TFP" in the photography world. TFP stands for "Time for Pictures". Basically the model lends her time to the photographer and gets images of what was shot in return.

In order to get a model to agree to shoot TFP with you, you already usually need to have images to show what you can do or what kind of photographs you produce.

source: Belovodchenko Anton
Now you see the catch 22 there right? But there is a solution. Ask friends, family or colleagues to model for you! I know.. sounds scary at first.. but you might find a way in to make it work. I should say, if you are not the very social type, taking pictures with people you don't know is kind of scary. But on the other hand - if you don't expose yourself to new challenges, you don't grow as a person (or photographer)! People photography can be very rewarding and it's worth the try, trust me.

Ok, so first step: get images of people to use in your first portfolio. If you are really good at being sneaky you can take images of random people on the street.. but this is both more difficult (as you have little control over the lighting and posing situation) and you will still have to do the challenge of taking images of someone you don't know at some point. My recommendation therefore: ask people you already know to model for you.

Now before you call that person at work who needs an updated facebook profile picture or your sister who needs an image for tinder: make sure you have some basics of portrait photography down! Otherwise you waste time and opportunity.

Here are three videos to get you started. Click on each of these videos and ideally make some notes for yourself on what you'd like to remember.

All these videos are geared towards using natural light first. That's just easier for you, easier for an amateur model (no weird flashes) and not bound to a lot of equipment. People do amazing things without flash. Check for instance Brooke Shaden's gallery..almost all of it is shot in natural light!

Sunset/rise portrait outdoors

Notes to this video: at the beginning, using a 50mm 1.8 is a great start. This is a very cheap lens on almost all systems and allows you to take images at a small aperture which separates the subject (focused on) much better from the background. If you want to improve, get an 85mm 1.8 (as recommended in the video) or, if you have a lot of bucks to spend, a 70-200 2.8. However: be sure to remember that the lens has actually very little influence on the overall impression that the image will make to someone who wants to judge your work.

windowlight portrait indoors

Notes to this video: Scott Kelby has a lot of great videos - this is one of them. The diffuser can be completely replaced (without any noticeable difference) with an ordinary white shower curtain. Seriously - shower curtains are great diffusers! Also: if there is an overcast day outside you don't need any diffusers. Clouds cast very diffused light.

retouching your portrait in photoshop

Notes to this video: This is a basic retouch from beginning to end on such a natural light portrait. Very in-depth, very sophisticated. Sometimes you don't need to do any of this, but if you want to get the most out of your images you can give this a shot.

Here I might also add that I have a youtube channel particularly geared towards retouching tutorials. You can check it out here.

Ok, so now you should have all you need to take nice portraits of your friends or colleagues, retouch them and build a small portfolio. For starters you don't need more than 3 or 4 images.

Making an online profile with a model community platform

Now that you have a basic portfolio you can get in touch with other people to model for you.

I recommend doing this by joining a website. Depending on the country that you are in you might have several options available to you. In most countries ModelMayhem is an option ( free, no limitations except for a maximum of 15 portfolio images).

In german speaking countries: (free, no limitations I know of)

There are several others - try searching google for "modeling community" in your local language and you should find something viable.

source: Mikhail Popov
I recommend having a look through other photographer's and several model profiles before you make your own. It helps to know what kind of people are registered to the platform and how you can stand out or separate yourself from some of them.

A common problem on such platforms is the "creepy photographer guy" who wants to shoot naked people. There usually is a whole industry built around that archetype. Be aware that some models will immediately put you in that category unless proven otherwise.

It is therefore good to point out a few things on your profile if you start out:

* You shoot outdoor ortraits
If you have a studio, no problem - but usually people are more willing to meet you in public than to meet you at home or in the studio... and they are perfectly right in doing so.
Most (especially female) models are constantly pestered by creepy photographer guys to allow them to shoot nudes. If you want to start out, please avoid being put into that category by excluding nudes on your profile. There is nothing wrong with shooting them, but it's not a great way to start out working with models in my opinion.

* You are OK with models bringing somebody along for the shoot
Remember: this is not online dating! Make sure to keep it professional and keep the model comfortable! The condition here is that the person does not interfere in the shoot.

* You inform the model about what will be shot and what your plans are
Do not change plans mid-shoot. It does not look professional if you do so and it can creep somebody out if you suddenly decide that this portrait would look much better with the shirt off if that was not agreed beforehand.

* You deliver your images after the shoot quickly
Nobody likes to wait for weeks to see the result of a collaboration project. Models are as excited as you are to see the outcome of the shoot - don't ignore that.

* Make a friendly, sociable and positive impression
Nobody likes to work with an unpleasant person. If you can, never say anything negative on a profile - even if you feel you want to. (Example: don't write "I hate it when people come late! I don't like blondes!")

Messaging a model

The next step is to browse through the list of available models and start contacting them for a shoot. Make sure you have a very clear idea of what kind of photos you would like to take.
Collect some links of photos that look like what you want to do and attach them to the message. The clearer you make it, the more likely people will agree to shoot with you.

Make messages personal. No blanket default messages. The recipients are people like you and you should treat them as individuals, not as a resource to be tapped into.
Example message:
Dear (model's name), I just found your profile by chance and I really like your images, particularly the one with (point out one image in the portfolio you like most).
I am currently starting out in portrait photography and would like to take a couple of images like this (link given to a photo you like - not necessarily one of yours)
Would you be interested in collaborating with me on a time for pictures (TFP) basis?
I would like to shoot outdoors at (location given.. preferably a public location and not too remote), the shoot would take about 1-2 hours. 
You are welcome to bring someone along with you on the shoot too if you would like to. Looking forward to hearing from you, have a great day, 
(your Name)
Send a couple of these messages to models you would like to work with and wait for an answer.

Sometimes you get no answer, sometimes you get a no. Sometimes you get insults (people have bad days..). All of these you ignore and don't send another message.

Sometimes you get a yes or a maybe.

If a yes: arrange a time to meet up for half an hour to talk about the shoot over coffee. No camera. This is to get an idea if the model is on time, reliable, you agree on what to shoot, he/she has additional ideas or other ideas etc. Meet up, chat, be friendly and then decide if you want to shoot or not and when.

If a maybe: clear up remaining questions or reservations and then proceed with yes or no (above).

Here are a few more tips on communicating with models.

The meeting

So why meet up and not shoot right away?

First: it allows you both to get a bit more comfortable before you have to shoot. Portraits are about expression and if you don't feel comfortable because you have never met the person on the other side of the camera this shows in the images.

Second: it gives you the opportunity to see if the model takes this arrangement seriously. A lot of models just don't turn up to shoots or come very late. If they can't make the coffee meeting in time you saved yourself a lot of time (and maybe money later on if you rely on make-up artists, transportation and rent equipment for a shoot). 

Third: it allows you to very clearly communicate what you want to get out of this and if the model is happy with that or not. If you want to do a shoot with, say, flour all over his/her face the model should agree first.

Make sure to be on time at the pre-arranged location. I recommend a local coffee-house, starbucks or something along these lines. Make it business-y.

Be friendly and positive but stay out of the flirt zone (just in case your usual mode to communicate with the other sex - or the one you are attracted to - is a bit flirtatious). If you have a significant other, you can casually mention that too, to make it clear that this is about photography and nothing else. Believe me, I have heard a lot of strange stories from models on photographers mistaking TFP shooting for online dating.

Ask the model what she ideally would like to get out of the session with you and see if you can make that work. Think of it like this: the model is something of a client (that does not pay you in money). If your client is happy she might want to work with you again or might recommend you to someone else.

It's also a good idea to try to find out which images of the model are his or her favourites. Let the model show you her/his favourite shot of all times. This way you can find out what features somebody likes or dislikes on his/her face or body or what to go for to make the model happy.

You should also bring up the topic of a model release form. This is a contract between you and the model that documents your agreement (the model gets images for his/her time etc.). This is also to ensure that the model was happy with how the shoot went. You basically want to avoid that, in hindsight, someone decides to say they actually never wanted to shoot this or that or were forced to do this or that (not likely in a portrait shoot but you never know).

Here is a resource where you can download an example model release form. Adapt it to your needs as you see fit.

The shoot

The most important rule: Don't be afraid to fail!

Don't panic if something does not work right away. Keep calm, stay in the zone.
Make it your priority to create a nice, pleasant, polite atmosphere between you and the model while keeping in mind what you want to achieve in terms of images.

You have taken pictures before, this is no different. If people stare at you two while taking pictures in a park (unlikely) just ignore it, relax and shoot.

Check on your camera display every now and then.. make sure your images are what you want them to be while shooting. You can always take another shot.

Make sure the model knows what you want to do, take charge of the shoot and direct the model (in a friendly way) if required. "Could you now turn this way please?", "This looks nice, now let's try something like this.".

Many TFP models are new to this and you need to know what you want them to do. Do not expect the model to do the best posing for you at this point.

If you are finished, let the model know until when he/she can approximately expect the images and that you enjoyed the session.

Finally, now is a good time to ask the model to sign the model release contract. It may seem like a bit of a downer after a day of shooting but it can help keep things professional and in order.

Post processing and wrap up

Now that you have all the images on your computer you can have a look and see how you did.
This is a learning opportunity for you. If some images are too dark or too bright - make a note on that to remember next time to check exposure settings more often. (get familiar with exposure compensation)

If images are too shaky make sure to check you have a faster shutter speed as you take images. You might also consider to set the ISO to Auto instead of forgetting about it (yes, you don't get coolness points for that, but it might save a picture for you!).

Your ultimate training goal should be to be able to take images that need no corrections and that could be used as is (in theory).

If you post-process images of a TFP model - make sure the result still looks like her or him. Retouching can enhance a photo - but it can also insult or hurt someone if you make them look something they are not (removing defining facial features like moles or excessive body "corrections" using the liquify tool in photoshop comes to mind).

It's important to send images in a timely fashion. Usually JPEGs, 1000 pixels on the longest edge is an appropriate resolution to send to a model.

Addendum: Notes from the battlefield

Sometimes models try to screw you over. Not often but it happens. Look out for these things:

Do not agree to transfer copyright to the model.
Copyright is yours if you took the image. If the model insists, don't agree to work together.

Do not send out RAW/max resolution files.
Requesting this is unusual and basically hints towards something fishy (somebody trying to steal your images or trying to make money off of them without your knowlege).

Do not agree for other people to retouch your photos after you took them.
This would bite you in the rearside later.. Imagine somebody does a horrible job re-retouching your image and then it has your watermark on it. Everybody will think you did it.

Do not give in to drama, strange demands or obnoxious behaviour.
Some few models are used to get whatever they want just because they are attractive people. They might make unreasonable demands of you or treat you disrespectful. In such cases I would weight if the shoot is worth it.

OK I hope this helps you get started in model photography! If you have any further questions or comments don't hesitate to let me know.

Take care and good light!

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Recent Photoshoot: Anne

A couple of days ago I had a photoshoot with Anne (we did a Time For Pictures collaboration) and I really liked how the images turned out. This time most of the shoot was natural light. I just used a simple reflector and window light on an overcast day.

On some images I had to correct a bit more than I am used to to get good fill light (the reflector was sometimes not enough to brighten up the side of the face opposite the lightsource) but in the end it worked out nicely.

Here are the images:

This is a regular windowlight shot with a reflector on the opposing side of her face. The reflector was mounted on a lightstand (something like this one).

Here Anne actually had the idea to draw the heart and then we shot through one half of an opened window that I had sprayed with some water. I liked how her expression makes you wonder what the story is that's going on here.

In this case the window was straight behind Anne and I had her looking straight at the reflector.

Shot on black fabric (black cotton backdrop) and this time I used a smoke machine to generate some atmospherics. The deal with these smoke generators is that you can use them indoors (unlike smoke bombs) but you have to cool the smoke down to make it stick to the floor more. Otherwise it will just rise and make your room foggy. I DIYed a styrofoam box with two holes, one to feed the smoke into and one to use as an outlet. I then added some crumpled cardboard into the box so the smoke could not just pass straight through the box and then added some ice to that. Closed the box and everything was ready to rock. Worked quite well.

This is a shot we took out of the studio on a walk close to the river. Also natural light but late in the day, meaning I had to up the ISO quite dramatically to freeze the hair motion.

Have a great week and happy shooting!

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Is a 50mm a portrait lens?

As you might know, camera sensors come in different sizes and, unfortunately, the larger they get, the more expensive they usually are.

Larger Sensors have some advantages over smaller ones, especially performance at higher ISO numbers (less noise) and the ability to pack more pixels into the same area without loosing too much performance.

In the DSLR range, you are usually confronted with either an APS-C sensor (also called "crop sensor") or a Full Frame sensor (it's called Full Frame because it is of the same size as 35mm film was in the early days).

And here is where things become confusing. Traditionally, focal lengths are given for the good old 35mm (film camera) format. Meaning that they are given as "35mm equivalent" values.

If you put a 50mm lens on a APS-C camera and then, the same lens, on a Full Frame camera however, you get a very different result. This is because the sensor size is much smaller and therefore it acts as if you just cut out part of the image.

So the problem here is, whenever you hear people tell you "a 50 is a must have" or "you should use a 50mm lens for this or that" what they mean is: a 50mm on a full frame camera!
Now this is something that I found incredibly confusing and somewhat annoying at the beginning.. why doesn't anybody tell you the frame of reference if it's so important?

The reason people liked 50mm lenses from the early days of film on, is that this lens gives you an approximate view that is close to what your eye sees. That's why some people also refer to it as a "normal" lens. To be exact, normal lens is a bit of a range and roughly covers everything from 35mm to about 50mm.

Ok, so now that we've got this confusing bit out of the way let's talk about "focal length eqivalent".
As you can see from the image above, the APS-C photo looks as if we zoomed in with the camera (even though we did not, it's just a smaller sensor that only records part of the image). Given that Full Frame is what everything is related to, we can give a focal length that would look the same as the APS-C image if taken on a full frame camera. In other words, if I wanted to take the same image (50mm APS-C) with the full frame camera, what would I need to zoom in to.

The anwer is: if you use an 85mm lens on a full frame camera, you get about the image you get with a 50mm on an APS-C (meaning: a close up).

Still with me here? I know this is a bit confusing if you never heard of the whole issue.

Now here's the thing. People use 85mm (on full frame, remember) lenses preferably for shooting portraits. That's why many also call them "portrait lenses". And if I say portrait here, I mean something close to a headshot (the head is the main feature in the frame).

Now a 50mm on APS-C gives you the equivalent of a 85mm so you might be tempted to use it for shooting portraits. HOWEVER, a 50mm lens is not the same as an 85mm lens on full frame, it only gives you the same zoom, not the same look! In the image above with the wine bottle i tried to tweak the aperture setting of the camera to make it look close to the 50mm. In reality they have different bokeh and the 50mm has more barrel distortion (which, by the way, you can not completely correct for in post-processing - even though this is a feature of lens correction modules of, say, lightroom).

This is one of the reasons why using a 50mm is not so great for portraits, it bloats the faces due to that barrel distortion the lens inherently has (due to the focal length). The shorter you go with the focal length, the more this becomes apparent until you arrive at the noticeable fisheye effect at very short focal lengths.

Here is a demonstration. I took 3 images of Mr. Foamhead here using the same settings. Once with a 50mm lens on APS-C, once with an 85mm lens on Full Frame and once with a 50mm on Full Frame. I changed the distance of Mr. Foamhead to the camera by moving the camera closer or further away to get the same framing. Can you tell which one is which one?

Now at first you might think there is no difference here. But look closely at the distance between nose and cheekbones, the roundness of the face, the contours and also the out of focus look of the lightstand with the flash on it behind the head.

All were shot at an aperture of 1.8 and I tried to match the lighting as close as I could. Doing this with a model, which I initially wanted to do by the way, is almost impossible. Minute movements of the head, a slight tilt of the jaw and you already have a hard time interpreting the differences between the images. In this case the head did not move an inch and angles are exactly the same (well, as close as possible).

OK, if you're done guessing: here is the solution.
#1 50mm on Full Frame camera. #2 50mm on APS-C camera, #3 85mm on Full Frame camera.

The 50mm on Full Frame really distorts the face and makes it look very rounded (in human terms the person would look heavier than he/she really is). The 50mm on APS-C looks close but you can still see that the face is much more round pretty clearly. Lastly the 85mm gives a rendition that looks much closer to what the head looks like in real life. You can also see that a 85mm 1.8 on full frame has more bokeh as the 50mm 1.8 on APS-C (look at the lightstand with the flash).

Here are some measurements if you are into data:

Here I measured the distance from the middle of the face to the cheekbone and the tip of the nose to the top of the head to judge roundedness of the face. From the ratios you can also see that the face is less rounded and therefore less distorted than with the 50mm lenses.

Does this make 50mm unuseable for portraits? No.. I would definitely not use them on a full frame sensor, it gets better on an APS-C camera but my recommendation is definitely getting a longer focal length for portraits, also on APS-C.