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Sunday, March 8, 2015

Pros and cons of becoming a wedding photographer . . .

Should you become a professional wedding photographer? What are the good and bad things to consider?
As a child, I took disposable cameras everywhere, documenting every important moment with family and friends. When I dropped a camera off to be developed, I couldn’t wait to get the pictures back a few days later. It was always a treat to see what I had captured — I kept scrapbooks and boxes with images of every person in my life. Photography was my passion.

When it came time to find a career, my initial priority was financial stability, doing something I loved and cared about. But it never crossed my mind that photography was an option.
I tried marine biology — nope! I tried marketing — nope!

It wasn’t until I took my first photojournalism class at UNC-Chapel Hill that I was hooked and never looked back. My professor helped me to see photography as a way to make a difference in the world while doing something that I loved. Somehow, the financial aspect wasn’t as important as it used to be. In fact, studies proved (and these were definitely pointed out to me!) that the odds were against me, especially as a woman. But I knew I was a hard worker, and I felt that I was supposed to follow this path.

Since college, my photography career has led me to adventures around the world for online documentaries, to an esteemed internship in NYC with National Geographic Adventure magazine, to several fabulous newspapers in Colorado and Georgia, and to where I am now: working for myself as a business owner.

The flipside to that? I am ultimately responsible for the happiness of my clients. That’s a big responsibility — especially on somebody’s wedding day!

If you’re thinking of going pro with your passion, carefully consider the positives and negatives.

8 Pros

Here are eight aspects of the job that will make you smile every day:
  1. You get to be creative. Your clients will choose you based on your own personal style of photography, so don’t try to be like anyone else. Trust who you are and your ability to produce great work that others will relate to and connect with.
  2. You will meet and interact with interesting people that you otherwise may have never come across. Each door that opens leads to another, and your horizons are expanded with each new client.
  3. You will never be bored and will constantly multi-task. Whether you’re learning how to adapt to and please a new personality type or you’re faced with where to shoot in the rain, expect to face new challenges on a daily basis.
  4. As an industry professional, you will likely rent or purchase the most up-to-date gear, assuring that your images — best professional and hobbyist — will be the best that they can possibly be. Plus, your gear expenses become a tax write-off.
  5. If you enjoy traveling, you can seek out shoots and gigs in far-flung locales. Photography is a very portable profession!
  6. You will constantly be learning, from adapting to new technologies and styles to improving your own ‘eye.’
  7. If you are self-employed, you get to choose your own clients. When your business takes off, rather than taking every gig or assignment that comes your way, you will need to be choosey about what you accept so that you save time for editing and free time. Remember, you are interviewing your potential clients as much as they are interviewing you. You also get to choose your own work days. You have the power to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to a potential shoot, depending on your schedule.
  8. On most days, you’ll be working with happy people. If you’re shooting weddings and portraits, you will be surrounded by people who are in good moods, who want you around and are very appreciative of your talent

7 Cons

It’s said that when you love what you do, you never work a day in your life. That is true to some degree, but taking pictures is actually a pretty small percentage of what makes my business tick. It’s the business end of things that feels like work.

Here are seven of the little daily struggles that come with being a professional photographer:
  1. Gear is expensive. You may need to save up for the right equipment or take out a loan that you feel confident your business will be able to pay back.
  2. It’s a high pressure job. If you’re photographing weddings, you only have one chance to get it right. The weight of the world is on your shoulders and yours alone.
  3. Post processing takes a lot of time. Most photographers don’t realize this before getting into the business, and what’s worse is that your clients won’t either. You’ll need to educate your anxious clients on why their images aren’t ready immediately. You’ll spend hours upon hours in front of the computer culling, toning and perfecting the images. The longer the shoot, the more images to edit and the more time spent in front of the screen.
  4. It can be confusing to figure out taxes and the business end of things. I hire professional bookkeepers for the peace of mind that I’m doing everything correctly, and to allow me more time to do what I’m best at: taking pictures.
  5. You won’t always be perfect. Once in a while, you’ll disappoint someone or have to deal with a client who isn’t happy. That is never fun and will usually hurt your feelings because you care so much. Be strong, trust that you’ve done the best you can possibly do for your client and work hard to find a solution to restore their faith in your ability.
  6. Not everything you shoot will be happy. If you’re a photojournalist, you’ll be faced with difficult situations and decisions. You’ll need to document the negative realities of life to educate the world. That can be hard on the soul.
  7. Your work and vision is no longer just “yours.” A lot of people get into photography because it’s their passion or hobby, but once you become a professional, your job is to satisfy the person paying you. You may have to prioritize your client’s wishes over your own artistic eye.


It’s up to you whether you should turn your passion for photography into profit. Hopefully my pros and cons can help you with your decision. Most importantly, even if you go pro, don’t give up hobby photography. Keep shooting and maintain your love for the art!


Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Ten Tips for Great Animal Photos

Stephen Oachs has composed 10 tips for taking great animal photos. Very good tips if you’re new to wildlife photography, or just want to improve your shots taken at your local zoo;

white tiger
Jaguar by Onrie (Profile)

Tip 1: Miss the eyes and you’ve missed the shot. Getting the eyes in focus is key to capturing a photo of an animal. It’s human nature to look at the eyes. It’s how we determine emotion and how we connect. When I was in Homer, Alaska, I came across a moose on the move. Given it was early morning and the light was low I knew getting a fast shutter speed to freeze his movement would be tough, so I quickly adjusted my camera to lock the focus on his eyes, and took the shot. The majority of the picture was a bit blurry, but because the eyes are in focus, the shot was saved.

Tip 2: Use a telephoto lens. Getting closer to the action, yet staying a safe distance, is the key to photographing wildlife. By keeping your distance you allow the animal to be in their comfort zone and are more likely to get natural behavior. Safety is also a factor when photographing in the wild. Always keep at least 100 yards distance from wildlife, for your safety and for the well being of the animals. Another good use for a telephoto lens is a trick not many people know, which comes in very handy when photographing animals in the zoo that are behind fencing. If you move close to the fence (keep a safe distance) and use at least 100mm of your telephoto lens, focusing beyond the fence, with a wide aperture, you can “focus out” the fencing and take a photo of the subject with no wires! Now, there are some exceptions, such as, if the fencing is black you’ll have a much better chance of pulling this off. Regular chain link fence is gray and semi-reflective, which in the sunlight can cause a glare and is often too bright to focus out. I’ve also had some successes at trying different angles, so experiment for your best results. I often shoot with a Canon 100-400mm IS USM and a Canon 28-300mm IS USM. If you’re new to telephoto lenses, on a budget and not sure what to get, I suggest the Tamron 28-300mm or a Sigma 70-300mm. I’ve also had great results with the Sigma 50-500 which, as of this writing, I consider to be the best bang for the buck. These lenses all work with teleconverters of 1.4x and 2.0x so you can easily extend your reach even further, often while keeping auto-focus (with Canon L lenses, a minimum aperture of 4.0 or less will support auto-focus. Above that a manual focus is your only option.)

Tip 3: Shoot with two eyes. This is a tip I’m sharing here, but often have a hard time remembering myself. I can’t tell you how many shots I’ve missed because I didn’t see the action coming. By keeping both eyes open you’ll see the subject in the viewfinder and you’ll also see what’s going to happen next.

Tip 4: Adjust your shutter speed to stop/show the action. When animals are on the move you need to decide quickly on the type of shot you want to take. If you want to freeze the action, you’ll need to shoot at 1/500 or faster and depending on light, that can be tricky. One option, if you’re shooting digital, is to adjust up your ISO, which will make your sensor more sensitive to light and give you that needed boost in shutter speed. Now, if you want to give a sense of motion to your image, try shooting with a shutter speed of 1/4 to 1/8 and pan your camera with the animal. Pan steady and remember, keep the eye in focus if you can! For best results, pick backgrounds that are uncluttered and simple, as this will make the subject standout in the image.

Tip 5: Anticipate behavior. This tip goes well with Tip 3, shoot with both eyes, because anticipating behavior is often key to capturing a rare moment, action and unique situations. Panning the camera to follow an animal can be a tiring process, so often I’ll study the animal’s behaviors watching for a pattern and then use some anticipatory shooting, and a little luck, to hopefully capture that perfect moment.


Tip 6: Use a tripod. Using a tripod is one of the best things you can do to improve your photography, and wildlife is no different. By mounting your camera to a tripod you reduce camera shake, which is usually the cause of blurry photos. To take this a step further, I use a shutter release cable, which eliminates the need to touch the camera while snapping shots and thus removes almost all potential for camera shake.

Tip 7: Composition – Framing your shots. Some simple framing advise can go a long way toward improving an image, and for those who are computer savvy, a little trick called cropping (software technique to cut a photo) can help improve composition that wasn’t quite right at the time the photo was taken. The best way to think about composition is to picture a tic-tac-toe grid in the view finder of your camera (I’ve seen some new cameras that come with this as a feature you can turn on!) and use that grid to organize your shots. There is no hard rule, but the general theory behind good composition is that your subject lies in one of the crosshairs of the grid. Setting up your shot to lead the eye is also a good example of composition.

Tip 8: Use a wide aperture. Learning the effects of adjusting your camera’s aperture will go a long way toward improving your photographs, especially in portrait style shooting. In a photo of a grazing elk I shot in Yellowstone, I chose a very wide aperture to blur out a potentially busy background and bring attention to the subject instead. As you learn to control your camera you’ll also find that adjusting your aperture will have a direct effect on your shutter speed. This will prove especially helpful when shooting in the early mornings and late evenings, when animals are typically most active and the light is warm and muted.

Tip 9: Plan for the best light. There’s nothing like a cloudy day to provide soft, even light for wildlife photography. Clouds act like a giant diffuser to the sun, spreading the light out evenly and taking away harsh shadows that are created by a bright, sunny day. Of course, a cloudy day has its challenges as well, such as lower light, which will force you to adjust ISO and shutter speed settings for stopping action and getting sharp, in focus images.

Tip 10: Use a flash to fill in shadows. It may sound odd, but using a flash outside on a bright sunny day actually makes a lot of sense. In this situation, you’re not using the flash to illuminate the subject, as you would in a dark setting, but rather to fill in the shadows and provide detail where harsh shadows would otherwise be heavy and dark. It’s important to use flash wisely and here are a couple of other suggestions:

1. Be conscious of the animal and whether flash will scare them and,

2. There are times where your only shoot is through glass — using a flash behind glass will ruin your shot. The glass will reflect the light back at the camera and you shouldn’t be surprised if all you get is a big white picture!

Bonus Tip: Shoot. Shoot. Shoot. This tip is a no-brainer for those of us who shoot digital. Shooting digital is cheap — technology is advancing so quickly that, as of this writing, a 4 gigabyte memory card is selling for less than $100 and you can get A LOT of photos on a 4 gig memory card. The bottom line of this tip is take photos….a lot of photos. Don’t be shy. I often take multiple photos of the same scene or subject and then later choose the best from the group. This is also a great way to learn; by adjusting your camera between shots you can experiment and see the results of different settings of your camera. And, don’t sweat the details of trying to remember which photo had which settings…another great thing about shooting digital is something called EXIF (Exchangeable Image File Format). EXIF data is written to every photo so that later, upon review, you can see every setting your camera used to take that image.

About the author
Stephen Oachs spends every chance he gets looking through the viewfinder of his cameras. He is an accomplished nature photographer with an impressive gallery of stunning wildlife shots. Visit his photo journal at http://www.stephenoachs.com/. Read more about him at his blog, stephenoachsphotography.blogspot.com. When not taking photographs, Stephen’s day job is spent as technical director of VisiStat.com, a leading next generation Web Analytics service that specializes in real-time Website Performance Management.