Fitness Shoot with Chrisi

One of the really fun things I love about my job is the fact that I usually get to do something different almost every day.

One day I might be called on to photograph a senior hockey player on the ice, the next a pretty girl on the beach at sunset, and the next the exterior of a restaurant at twilight.

Being presented with these types of creative challenges keeps me on my toes, and forces me to think about each subject and situation I am faced with and how I can best employ my skills and knowledge to create something extraordinary.

Recently I had the opportunity to photograph a young woman, a nurse by trade, who is a real fitness buff.  Follow her social media and you will usually find her at the gym, working out. I’ve photographed her before, and I can attest to the amazing transformation she has accomplished with her body, all through hard work and dedication.

So, I was excited when I got the chance to showcase the results of her hard work.

In order to really accent her muscle definition and tone, I chose to photograph her with what we call “edge light” and a high ratio (meaning a strong contrast between highlight and shadow.) This type of lighting is challenging because it requires precision both in metering and placement.

Some tips I utilized to add impact to the lighting: I asked he model to lightly apply and rub in some baby oil on her exposed skin to add specularity. On some shots I lightly misted her skin with water to give it even more glisten. I added low lying fog from my chilled smoke machine for a gritty effect. And lastly, in processing my RAW files in Adobe Lightroom I gave my images a pretty strong boost in contrast and clarity.

Enjoy some of the images from our shoot.

Shooting at Eastern State

Shooting at unique locations often has the effect of jump starting one’s creativity.

As such, I try to take every opportunity I can to push myself outside my comfort zone and challenge myself to work in new environments.

Such was the case a while back when I got the opportunity to do a photoshoot with one of my favorite models and frequent muse, Tina, at the Eastern State Penitentiary.

From the ES website:

“Eastern State Penitentiary was once the most famous and expensive prison in the world, but stands today in ruin, a haunting world of crumbling cellblocks and empty guard towers. Its vaulted, sky-lit cells once held many of America’s most notorious criminals, including “Slick Willie” Sutton and “Scarface” Al Capone…”

Normally closed to professional photographers and models without special permitting and fees, I got the opportunity to shoot there on a hot summer night a couple years ago.

The conventional wisdom among photographers is that juxtaposing beauty with decay is a powerful way to create captivating imagery. There is certainly an abundance of beautiful decay at this haunting (and some say haunted) location.

There was a lot of ground to cover, and I wanted to be able to move fast and make maximum use of the limited time I had, so I opted for  minimum equipment. I chose a hand held DSLR and only 2 lenses, a 24-105 and my 70-200. I brought along 3 off camera speedlights, but mostly only used 1 or 2 on most images. My wife Bonnie served as my voice activated light stand… hand holding my main or accent light for 90% of my shots.

Working with an experienced model like Tina made shooting so much faster, as she required little direction. I could just explain my vision for the shot and she would nail it in just a few tries, then we could move on to the next series.

Below, please enjoy some of the many fun and awesome images we created that evening.

I can’t wait for another opportunity to photograph there. Unfortunately, Eastern State has discontinued their practice of opening the site to professionals one or two evenings per month. Hopefully, they will reconsider at some point in the future.

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Tips From a Pro for Better Snapshots

The holidays are the perfect time to capture those precious moments with family and friends in photos. But blurry photos, red eye, and poor lighting can put a damper on an otherwise beautiful photograph. Even spending a small fortune on a digital camera won’t guarantee a great shot. Follow these tips to take better photos this holiday season.

It’s Not the Camera.

You can take great pictures with even a simple camera by working within the limitations of the camera. Follow these simple tips to get better pictures with any camera or cell phone.

Move in Closer.

Most pictures can be drastically improved by simply using the “sneaker zoom” and moving in closer. Learn to look all around the frame and eliminate anything that is not important to the picture. Most snapshots are taken from too far away. Don’t depend on cropping your pictures later – because you are throwing away quality and all of those mega pixels you paid for. If you have a 12 mega pixel camera and you routinely crop out 2/3rds of the image….you really only have a 4 mega pixel camera.

Crop, Don’t Zoom.

Never depend on the zoom function in your cell phone as it require your camera to “make up” data on the fly. If you can’t get close enough, it is way better to crop the picture later than to zoom in when taking the photo. This only applies to cell phones with fixed lenses. If you have an actual camera with an optical zoom lens, then zoom away!

Watch the Background.

Distracting elements in the background can often be eliminated by simply moving a bit or changing the camera’s position.

Watch the Composition

Try to avoid always putting the subject dead center in the frame. Move the subject off center to add to the dynamic of the composition and make the image more interesting. Don’t forget that you can turn the camera vertically too, as well as tilt it for more interesting looks.

Vary the Angle

Most people just take pictures from eye level out of habit. Make a conscious effort to take pictures from higher or lower angles than normal just for a better perspective. With children especially, get down on their level and into their world.

Hold Steady and Squeeze

The vast majority of blurry pictures are caused by camera shake, not poor focus. This is especially true with modern cameras with auto focus and the ability to shoot in low light without flash. Shooting in low light requires the shutter on the camera to be open longer, referred to as a slow shutter speed, which allows more light to record on the film or sensor. This can lead to vibrations or camera shake being recorded. Brace your body or lean against something. Hold the camera steady and squeeze the shutter. Don’t jab it.

Look for the Light

When possible, turn the flash off for indoor shots to get a more natural, realistic light. Look for large, soft light sources from windows and doors. Avoid overhead lighting. Outdoors, look for shade. Turn on the flash when shooting with backlighting or in direct sunlight.

Shoot Lots

Especially with digital, shoot lots and lots and lots. It is easy to edit them later, especially when you don’t have to pay for film and developing. The more you shoot, the better you will become, and the more chance you have of capturing the right moment. Get comfortable with your camera and be ready to shoot at a moments notice.


Most of your family’s photographic history is going to be completely lost to future generations if you don’t have actual prints made to share and hand down to future generations. Even today, remember floppy disks and zip drives? They were the norm for storing photos just a few short years ago, and now data stored on them is about as accessible as your old betamax videos. CD’s and DVD’s are on their way out to, and many computers are no longer even being manufactured with them. Remember MySpace?  Facebook won’t be around forever either. Hard drives fail… and the only question is when, not if. Laptops and cell phones too. The printed photograph is still the easiest way to view and store photos, and they won’t be lost to history in the blink of an eye. Do a favor for future generations… print your family photos!

Use a Professional when Appropriate.

There are some occasions when snap shots just won’t do, and you want to work with a professional to capture and preserve those special moments. Choose one that has skill, artistic ability and a style that you like. And don’t let a “professional” convince you that you want a bunch of photos on a cd, because they will get put in a drawer and forgotten about. Insist on quality prints to display in your home, so that you can enjoy them and preserve your family’s legacy for your children and grandkids.



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How to Shoot Small Items for Online Sales.

My wife Bonnie recently started on the task of cleaning out many years of collectibles that both she and her mom had accumulated. No small task, and she needed photos of all her items to post online.

If you sell or trade items online, like on Ebay, Esty or Facebook,  you know that having a good photo of your item or craft is so important.

Fortunately, this is something most everyone can do themselves using some common household items and your camera phone. Today’s smartphone cameras are plenty good enough to produce great quality images of small to medium items. You don’t need to hire a pro, like me, in order to get good quality photos!

Producing a sharp, clear photo without distractions takes just a little bit of knowledge and some common household materials you probably already have.

First, you will want to create a background that provides minimal distraction. What I did was create what photographers call a “sweep” out of a tablecloth.

This is done by draping an ironed sheet or tablecloth over a box or something tall enough to create a background that flows into a foreground without a crease or seam.

White is very common in professional photos, but be aware that if you are using your phone, a white background may cause your items to record too dark, so something of a medium color and mid-tone will be a better choice. Likewise, a solid black background will cause your items to record too light. A DSLR camera gives you the ability to adjust the exposure to compensate, but this is more tedious to do with your cell phone camera and you want to avoid having to do more adjustments than necessary, Avoid anything with a busy pattern or print as this will distract from your item. A solid, mid-tone cloth or bed-sheet will be perfect.

Next, locate a window, or even better, a bank of windows in your home that will provide soft, even lighting. Be careful that direct sunlight isn’t falling on your windows during the time you want to shoot your pictures, as this will cause harsh shadows and streaks of sunlight on your items that will be very distracting. Shoot on an overcast day or pick a window that doesn’t have harsh, direct sun hitting it while you are shooting,

Position your table top setup so that your window is about 45 degrees left or right of where your camera will be. If you put the window directly behind you, you will cast your own shadow on your items when you take the photos.

Having the window to one side gives some direction to the light which provides what photographers call “modeling” or dimension to your items.

If your window is small, you may find that you get too harsh a shadow from your items on the background. If that’s the case, prop a large piece of white cardboard, or even newspaper on the opposite side of the window will reflect some light back and lessen any too-dark shadows. In our case, we had a bank of windows running the whole length of our breakfast room, so the light was soft and perfect.

Position your items several inches to a foot out away from the background. This will help avoid shadows from your items falling on the background, and will also allow your background to fall gently out of focus, minimizing any wrinkles or textures in your fabric and focusing attention on your item.

Play with the positioning of your item to show it to its best advantage. If you get any glare or reflection on shiny surfaces, they can usually be eliminated by angling your item slightly left or right until they disappear. It’s important to make these adjustments while looking through your camera or at the screen on your phone as they may appear very different from what you see through the lens.

For most items that can stand up, it is also important to keep your camera or phone down perpendicular to your item. Shooting from too high an angle will introduce distortion that will be a problem. 

If your item can’s stand or be propped, you can always lay it flat and shoot directly down from over top.

In my case, I shot these pictures with a DSLR on a tripod, because.. duh… I’m a professional photographer. But if you doubt your phone can’t take just as good a shot, I shot this one with both my Canon and my iphone… can you tell which is which?

BTW, one item well worth the investment is a tripod on which to put your camera or phone. It will allow for sharper photos, make centering and composing your photos much easier, and free your hands for making minor adjustments to your items. Small light weight tripods can be found for around $20-$30 online and are well worth the investment if you do a lot of this stuff.

I found this handy bracket that holds your smartphone securely and allows it to be attached to any tripod for about $7. Definitely nice to have, but not essential.

Hope these tips help you to present your items or crafts in their best light!

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The Incredible Importance of Prints

The Importance of the Print…

A big issue facing our children’s future is the lack of the printed image as a family legacy and heirloom. Years from now, your grandchildren will be going through the history of their parent’s (your children’s) past. Will they find neat looking round silver disks containing all the image of their parent’s childhood, only to find they no longer have the technology to open and view them? Think about how hard it is even now to view or convert old movie film from your parent’s past. Or, will all the photos from your child’s past be lost on discarded or non-functioning cell phones and computer drives?

Fortunately for us, our parents made prints from our childhood. These prints last longer and are the easiest media to view. They are the best way to preserve our history and heritage. The will not become instantly un-viewable if a few disk sectors become corrupt. Even if they begin to fade or age, you will have years to have them them restored and reprinted. They will not become lost to history in the blink of an eye.

Recently a friend told me he and his wife had all of the pictures of their child growing up on their laptop. The unthinkable happened, The laptop was stolen, and along with it, went all their baby photos and many other priceless memories. All they had left were the few prints they had made. Another family member told me about having all his children’s photos stored “safely” on an external hard drive. Well, one day when he went to add some more photos he found the drive had failed, and all the photos were, well, just gone.

With photography playing a larger part in our lives today, some people may think that the immediacy of Facebook somehow will take the place of an album of family photos, or the family portrait on the wall. What they fail to realize is that it is highly unlikely Facebook will even be around 20 years from now. We will have moved onto something else, and all those images and memories stored in the cyber world of Facebook will be long gone. As we progress in our lives, our photos and other memories of our past play a more significant role than we realized in our youth. It’s important that you help your children to understand this, and encourage them to “make those memories” or they will be lost forever.

Don’t let a “photographer” convince you that you want a disc of your images from your family or child’s portrait session. Insist on high quality prints, from a reputable studio, with a guarantee! Otherwise, your family’s heritage may consist of some pretty silver disks hanging over your sofa.

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