Model citizen

Professional photographers often work with models in order to create photographs that they can sell or that will help build their portfolio. But what of amateur photographers who can’t afford the services of a professional model?

If you’re an amateur photographer then it makes sense to photograph an amateur model. You can pick anybody you like to be the subject of your photographs as long as they’re willing to work with you.

People who are part of your everyday life are great candidates to model for your photographs, foremost because they are already comfortable with you. A friend or family member can make a great subject for a series of photographs.

Remember that in the end it’s your own creativity that makes a good photo, so don’t be afraid to give creative suggestions and direction to your model. Perhaps suggest an interesting pose that they could perform or photograph them in an interesting setting. Try taking a soft, close-up portrait of your model for a more intimate feeling photograph.

If you’re trying to take photographs for artistic purposes or to try and build up a portfolio, think of all your human subjects in this manner. Give them some direction if they’re game and let them help you make the photo that you want to make.

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Flash vs. no flash

Most digital cameras have built-in flashes nowadays. And while it’s really easy in dim lighting to just set your camera to auto mode and let it flash away, ultimately your photos will exhibit the symptoms of flash-itis (I made that word up just now).

So how can you tell if your photo is suffering from flash-itis? The lighting on the subject will often appear harsh and you may see glare coming off shiny objects or peoples’ foreheads. The subject of the photo may cast weird or distracting shadows.  Also, if you had a nice background behind your subject, the background will now appear so dim that you can’t really see its details anymore.

With flash

Okay, so joking aside, using a built in flash is often not ideal for taking good photos because of the reasons I mentioned above. Flash photography does have its place when done correctly, but most of the time photos taken with a built-in flash just don’t look good. Natural lighting is almost always preferable and there are a number of things you can do to try and capture your subject in dim lighting without using flash.

Without flash

First switch to manual mode on your camera (provided you have a manual mode). Next, adjust the aperture on your camera to it’s widest setting. This will let in as much of the natural light as possible when you take the photo. After that, change you shutter speed to a slower setting. Usually you can take it as low as 1/50s without getting too much motion blur. If after those steps your photo is still too dark, turn up the ISO on your camera. Anything higher than ISO 1000 will probably look too grainy to be any good. Trying all these options will most likely get you a better photo than you could ever get using a flash.

So as you can see, using a built-in flash is not ideal. Of course if your goal is to capture an action or moment that is happening very quickly, without worrying about the photo quality, use your flash by all means. But if you’re taking a posed photo that you think you’d like to frame someday, take an extra few seconds and go without the flash.

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Shooting video with a DSLR

Not only are today’s digital SLR cameras the best way to get high quality photographs, they also work a treat for capturing video as well. While DSLRs are not designed primarily for video and are perhaps less convenient than a camcorder, they allow for better control when filming.

What the heck am I talking about? Let me explain.

This video I shot is not extremely riveting, but you can see that with the manual controls I chose a very shallow depth of field, and had complete control over the point of focus as well.

The nature of a DSLR is such that it lets you control things like shutter speed and aperture and ISO with manual settings so that your photo can have bokeh in it, or less grain, or whatever it is you want in your photo. Many point-and-shoot cameras have all automatic settings, so the camera’s tiny brain decides the best way to take the photo even if you disagree.

In this analogy I am making, the point-and-shoot would be a camcorder and the DSLR would be, well, a DSLR.

The manual settings of a DSLR let you adjust the depth of field, exposure, and most importantly the focus. Manual focus is probably the most important thing when it comes to filming because more than half the time, the cameras auto focus will be focusing on the wrong thing.

I shoot video with my Canon T2i, which does make great videos, but it didn’t right out of the box. I ended having to buy a couple of add-ons before it really worked well.

First I bought a better lens, the 50mm f1.4, which is useful for so many things. The big aperture lets you film in low light conditions and lets you get that awesome bokeh effect like in the movies.

Second–and this was a must–I bought a  memory card with a faster write speed. With the stock memory card, the camera would stop my recordings automatically because the card could not process all the information fast enough. With the old memory card, the video function was essentially useless. I’m not super technical, but the new memory card I bought has a speed of 45mb/s and has “300x” written on the box (which I guess is really fast). All I know is that it works, so any card with those specs or better should be able to handle video.

So if you have a DSLR with a video function, don’t let it go to waste. Experiment with video and you might find a new medium for your creativity.

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Canon EF 70-200mm f2.8 L

It’s not often that I get to play around with ridiculously expensive camera equipment, so I was excited when I found out that the Skyline College Journalism Department had a fancy Canon telephoto lens. And for a while now, I’ve been meaning to do a little review on it, so here it is.

This is the Canon EF 70-200mm f2.8 L, and a lens like this is pretty much a must have for any professional photo journalist. The extra zoom this lens provides is great for getting up-close shots of action while not physically being too close. Like most Canon L lenses, this one is a winner.

Build Quality

First off, I really liked the build of this lens. It felt sturdy. Not dinky and plasticky like many lower end lenses. The zoom ring is nice and big, and I like that the focus ring has some weight to it while still having a very smooth action.


This lens is pretty good when shot wide open at f2.8, but if you stop it down you will get some excellent clarity. At f5.6 it is sharp as a tac (given that the lighting conditions are correct).

Low light

One of the only areas I had some trouble with was low lighting situations. f2.8 is often not as wide as you think, so at certain times I really had to slow down my shutter speed. It was at times like this that I wished the lens had an Image Stabilization system, but alas it does not. It’s not a very big issue at all, but when you become so accustomed to shooting with a lens that has an IS system, it can be annoying to go back.

So very minor issues aside, I really like this lens. Now if only I had the dough to buy one for myself.

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Rooky Ricardo’s Records audio slideshow

So for any of you who were anxiously awaiting my audio slideshow (Haha. As if.), here it is. It really was fun to make, especially about a subject with the charm and character of Rooky Ricardo’s and its owner Dick Vivian.

I’ve never done a project quite like this before, so it was an interesting experience for me. There are a few elements involved in making the slideshow work, and the trick is making sure they all line up in an effective way.

For instance, when the subject of the interview is introducing himself, it makes sense to show a photo of him at that moment, so that the viewer can put a face to the voice.

Also, for this slideshow I added a little soundtrack which I thought was appropriate, being that the slideshow is about a record store and all. But I can’t very well have the music at full volume because it would drown out the interview. So I start the music at full volume and then turn it down so we can hear Dick talk about his shop. And then there are little moments of transition where I bring the music back up and then turn it down when the interview comes back in.

I know this process may not sound super riveting, but it’s all stuff I had never considered before making the project and that I find interesting now that it’s finished.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the slideshow. Or at the very least, I hope it makes you want to pay a visit to the Rooky Ricardo’s.

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Rooky Ricardo’s Records and Glass Key Photo

A while ago I wrote a post on some of the best photography shops in the Bay Area. Among the ones I listed was a shop called Rooky Ricardo’s Records, which I know may sound confusing. Let me first say that it is a fabulous record shop. The owner Dick Vivian has a vast knowledge of old Soul and R&B music, plus he’s one of the nicest and most interesting guys you’ll ever meet.

But in the back left-hand corner of the shop is another man named Matt Osborne who runs a small but very useful business selling film-based photography equipment called Glass Key Photo. This is the place to go for film. Matt’s film knowledge is astounding and he probably stocks just about any kind of film you could ever want.

Needless to say, this place is a very niche and quite interesting shop. Small businesses like Rooky Ricardo’s Records and Glass Key Photo are local treasure troves that provide people with products that are unavailable elsewhere. So naturally I decided to use Rooky Ricardo’s as a subject for another class project.

This time the assignment was to create an audio slideshow, which I did using some great interviews I got with Dick and Matt. The store was small but provided a lot of good photographic material. It’s a great store and I encourage anyone who likes vinyl or photography to stop by and check it out.

Matt Osborne runs Glass Key Photo out of Rooky Ricardo’s Records in San Francisco.

The store is decorated with items that really add to the 60’s throwback ambiance.

Although a niche record store dealing mostly in Soul and Oldies, Rooky Ricardo’s has a very loyal customer base. At least ten people were there mid-day on a Tuesday.

Rooky Ricardo’s provides a few listening stations for customers to sample the merchandise.

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Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market

This post is a combination of two of my favorite things: photography and food. The photos below are actually the by-product of an assignment for my journalism class. The assignment was to take a ton of photos of an action-oriented event with a focus on photographic diversity. It doesn’t get more action-packed than a bustling farmer’s market.

Unfortunately it was raining the day I went, so the turnout wasn’t as good as it could have been, but I still had fun with the project. I took a lot of wide shots, medium range ones, close-ups, shots from above, below, and so on. I also tried my best to pay attention to composition. The photos below don’t showcase a very broad photographic variety, but they are four of my favorite photos from my farmer’s market outing. Enjoy the photos and check out the Ferry Plaza farmer’s market on a sunny Saturday morning if you live in the Bay Area.

This photo was taken in front of a stand that was serving pizza made in a portable wood-fired oven. I like the way the detail came out in the man’s leather jacket. I tried to follow the rule of thirds in this photo, with the man in the jacket occupying roughly 1/3 of the frame. Also, the out of focus bits are such that you can still see the action.

This photo is of the Cowgirl Creamery, which sells cheese (as if you couldn’t tell). Mostly I just like how all the different variety of cheeses make a colorful, almost mosaic effect. 

The employee here is obviously the anchor of this particular photo. Regretfully you can’t actually see what he’s doing with that block of cheese. Probably just putting it in plastic wrap.

This last photo is all about the subject. These carrots were just so colorful and had so much detail about them that I had to get a close-up photo.

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