Monday, January 31, 2011

Guest Blogger: Photographer Melissa Mann Bean

Today I am pleased to have guest blogger, Melissa Mann Bean. I know Melissa from our days at Union University in Jackson, TN. I recently reconnected with Melissa on Facebook to find out that in addition to being a mom, she is also a working photographer and photography teacher. I hope you enjoy what Melissa has to share with us today:

Hello all you photography equipment owners and users!

Well, I just had a funny experience just as I was reading this email from Leslie to see if I would be a guest blogger. My best friend owns a catering business and this week she was asked by the local “hip and trendy” part of the newspaper to run a print ad in their bridal issue. She was very excited because the price was right for a decent sized ad. She gave the ad salesperson some ideas, then to meet the deadline, they had a person design an ad. Since I have both design and photography experience (and was trained in both), she emailed it to me. IT WAS REALLY BAD. And not only was it one of the worst designs I’ve seen from someone calling themselves a professional, there were misspelled words.

I quickly called my friend and told her I would design something that potential clients would not only see, but read and then call her for catering services. How does this relate to photography?

What I’m getting at is:
1.  If you have experience at what you do, and if you are classically trained, your work should SHINE. If you don’t have the expertise or time to get the work done with excellence, then either hand the client over to someone else or ask for an extension.
2.   Say you want to try something new. Use your friends or family first. You can even intern with a professional, or pick a photographer’s brain that lives in another city. Maybe you have been photographing portraits of children and want to get into wedding photography. By all means, you should try new things, but don’t go solo on such a big venture if you don’t have expertise with groups, emotional days or women. Let’s face it, if you are a woman, you know how emotional a group of women can be. Just imagine a room full of these ladies getting ready, trying to beat the clock. And, if you are a man, do you know how to handle when all these ladies seem a little on edge? Does your work show it, or does the work make it seem that this moment was a piece of cake? And the bride should look back and have pleasant memories, not one of angst – no matter how nutty those moments are before her wedding.
3.  When you say you will do something, you should do it right the first time. Yes, we all make mistakes, and early on I know I made a plethora of them. But, you have to learn from them and not keep making the same mistakes. For instance, I never charged enough for my work. I kept being told I should charge more. Not by just my family and friends, but from clients! Clients can set the pace for your business to grow, my friends. And, they can also give you helpful insight, but make sure you have met their needs first. The first time, because you may not get a second chance.
4.  Build a network. Like my catering friend, she knew that I would know how to word the changes that needed to be made to that ad. So, by building your network, and not just of other photographers, you’ll build your business. Go to meetings with people other than clients. Go to block parties. Hang out in cool little shops. Join in the chat with others about taxes, business ideas, art, design, photography... you never know who you’ll meet. You may just meet the next person who will build the best ad for you, not just for their portfolio, but to help you succeed.

For more information and helpful tips, feel free to email me. I would love to hear feedback. I can be found most days hanging out on a college campus teaching both photo and business for visual artists, playing with our one-year old son or taking photographs at weddings, of children, events or just photographing weird stuff around my house.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

How To Get More Accurate Color in Your Images

Note about the absence of recent blog posts: I took a bit of a blog hiatus over the past month and a half. We had an family emergency that warranted a very long holiday trip so I just put things on hold for a time. Never fear...I'm back! 

This is going to be a two part post. The first part is geared towards anyone who owns a digital camera, amateur photographers, or anyone who is a consumer of photography. I think that about covers it...

Have you ever ordered anything online and when you received the item, the color looked nothing like it did on your screen? This often prompts people to return the item since it wasn't what they expected. However, what I'm going to share with you today will explain how the issue could possibly be on your end, in a way that the company has no control over.  

As a photographer, it's extremely important for me to have control over the color management in the image-making process from the moment of capture all the way to the final output, whether that's a screen or a print. For the image I've captured to become reality, the colors captured by my camera and eventually represented in a print need to be as close as possible to the reality in front of my camera. I continually stress this to my clients and in this post I'm going to demonstrate this and I'll also explain how you can get more realistic colors in your own images with one tiny step.

I recently needed to submit a new headshot to a company for which I freelance. I have a good bit of experience in making self-portraits so I decided to just set it up myself. After I had my location set up with the lighting and background I wanted to use, I set the exposure settings on my camera and then began to think about my color management workflow. What's the first thing anyone with a camera should do in order to get the best color for the lighting conditions?

1. Set the WHITE BALANCE on your camera.

If you're thinking, "What's the white balance????", you should probably pull out that camera manual and check it out. There are settings on pretty much every digital camera that allow you to set the white balance to things like cloudy, sunny, shade, fluorescent, flash, etc. Maybe you already know about white balance and you're just like, "Oh, I just set it to Auto-WB" and let the camera figure it out. Here's point #2:


Here's the reason: when your camera is set on auto white balance, it remeasures and adjusts the white balance for every single frame. If there are even slight changes in the light (such as outside on a partly sunny day), you are going to get variations in the color on all of your images.

Back to my headshot (and why you might want to rely on a professional for the absolute best quality color prints)....

I set my camera to the "flash" white balance setting since I used studio strobes. However, I also have some other tools to help me get the best color. One of those is the X-Rite Color Checker Passport. This thing is so very cool. Before I get to that, though, let me show you an image from my camera, with the white balance set at flash, but before the rest of my color management workflow:

The color is not so bad, but I know that the purple color of my dress and the turquoise color of my necklace are just not popping like they did in real life. So, I photographed my Color Checker Passport...

...then I imported that image into my editing program (I'm using Lightroom 3) and by a wave of my magic wand (read: a quick button click in Lightroom), the true colors of that palette and everything else in the image show up...

If you click on each image to enlarge, you'll see a dramatic difference in the purples, blues, and reds, not to mention a difference in the background and my skin and clothes. 

Of the various poses and outfits I photographed that day, here is the final image I chose as my headshot, originally white balanced with my camera set to flash, but then processed in Lightroom 3 with the corrected color palette:

Side-by-side comparison of the two images:

White balance set to flash, no further color correction
White balance set to flash + color correction

Check out the color of my clothes and background, and even the color of my skin from the first image to the last one. Now, I cannot guarantee that you are seeing what I see on my screen for one last reason. I have a color calibrated monitor that accurately displays color (I use the X-Rite ColorMunki). THIS is why that thing you ordered that I mentioned at the beginning of this post looks nothing like what it looked like on your screen. This is one more piece of my color management workflow that is not available to the average friend, brother, father, or cousin who has a good camera and takes good pictures. I have specifically invested in these tools because of the importance of getting the correct color in my color photographs. Finally, there are a few more pieces of that puzzle that affect the color of the final print that I can control if it's part of my own color management workflow. If my work is taken to Costco or somewhere else to be printed, it's more than likely that the color in my photograph will not look like it should.

In closing, set your camera's white balance to start getting more accurate colors, and then be sure to rely on your professional photographer to get the very BEST color images and prints.