Author Archives: denk

Shooting small items for online selling.

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!

Posted in Tips

Meet Our Models

We are so excited to introduce the members of our 2018 Senior Model Team for Dennis Kelly Photography!

 

Be sure to leave them some love in the comments below.

Nicolette
Washington Township High School Class of 2018

“I am involved in lots of clubs in school including student council, junior achievement, freshman transition, and the dance company. I also dance outside of school! One of my greatest accomplishments are being on the honor roll all of high school!
I decided to become a senior model for Dennis Kelly because I love the cameras ability to capture a moment in time. Dennis does an amazing job at this, he has the ability to capture the story behind the photo, such as your personality!
When I’m not at dance I enjoy shopping with my friends and cooking. My best memory growing up was my tea party birthday that my mom gave me when I was 6. My friends and I All dressed up in white dresses and had an all out tea party, it was the best!
My goals for the future are to own a dance studio where I can teach kids all types of dance and to have a wonderful family, after I go to college of course!”

 

 


Dion

Lindenwold High School Class of 2018

“I play soccer and do track and field. I have received a gold watch at Woodbury and a silver medal in Haddonfield.
I decided to apply to be a senior model because I wanted to try something out of my comfort zone.
For fun I like to play video games and work out. Probably my best memory growing up was winning my first silver medal in track and field.
I plan to attend college after I graduate high school and try to major in computers.”

 

 

 


Devon

Williamstown High School Class of 2018


“I enjoy sports. I pitched for my softball team for 6 or so years before I found dance. I feel I have come a long way in dance, very quickly thanks to my teachers. Now I don’t have time for much else but I don’t mind; it’s what I love!

I knew a few people that were Senior Models in the past for Dennis Kelly. The pictures were so beautiful and different that I wanted to go there for my own photos. When I saw that they were taking applications for models I thought I had to try. I was surprised and excited to be chosen!
For fun, I like to be with friends and family as much as possible. My family is very competitive so we like to go to the paintball field or race go karts whenever possible. I also enjoy listening to music and working out.
I love to go on vacations with my family, but one trip in particular stood out the most. We rented a cabin in Tennessee and all my sisters were there together. We had a lot of memories from that trip alone. We rode horses and went whitewater rafting. We even had a raccoon visitor every night as we ate! After college I hope to dance professionally. Of course a back up dancer in a show would be my dream. But long term I plan to open my own dance studio. I love working children and I want to provide a family environment to help them feel like it is their second home.”

 

 


Madi

Washington Township High School Class of 2018

“My activities include dancing and doing community service. I dance at Chez Dance studio and I also take dance at school and after school. I am dancing 24/7. I also am a part of Interact which is a volunteer club. Where I participate in events such as the Buddy Walk for people with Down Syndrome, Monzo Madness for people who have ALS. I also volunteer at the hoagie sale and the Thanksgiving food drive. I love giving back to the community.
I wanted to become a senior model for Dennis Kelly because I love looking at photography and getting my pictures taken. Also I know Dennis always takes the best pictures!!
For fun I like to hang out with my friends and go shopping or go out to eat!  My best memory growing up would probably be going on family vacations to Disney, Aruba, California,Cancun and Aspen. My goals for the future are to go to college and major in Dance Education and open my own studio one day.”

 

 

 


Alexa

Paul VI High School Class of 2018

“I play soccer for PVI and am in so many clubs! One of my accomplishments was scoring my first varsity soccer goal this year for PVI. I decided to become a Senior Model for Dennis Kelly because it was different from my normal activities I usually do. I wanted to try something new and I’m so glad I did! For fun I really just love hanging out with my friends! I love going to the beach in the summer and I love to travel. My best memory growing up is hosting a Spanish foreign exchange student for the summer. My primary goal for the future right now is to get accepted to my #1 school for college.

 

 

 


Courtney

Kingsway Regional High School Class of 2018

“I love film and photography. Being in front of the camera as well as behind, directing is super exciting. I love listening to music and hanging out with friends.
I decided to become a Senior Model for Dennis Kelly photography to get experience in modeling and further pursue that dream. For fun I hang out with friends, watch movies, and eat sushi! My best memory growing up was probably Christmas dinners with my whole family! I love being with family and having everyone around and smiling. My future goals consist of becoming an advertising marketer & driving a Range Rover!”

 

 

 


Skylar
Schalick High School Class of 2018

“I love to dance, play guitar, draw, and hang out with friends. I have studied German for three years and I went to Germany on a student exchange program. I am in dance academy at my school and get to learn new styles of dance every day. I was a pre-Olympic gymnast for 8 years and I was state champion one year. I have been trained by past Olympians who have helped me achieve many goals. I perform as a leader in school and get good grades.
I wanted to model for Dennis Kelly because his photography is so beautiful and inspires me! Having past experiences with modeling, I saw his senior model team as a great opportunity. For fun, I spend my time with dance, acrobatics, playing guitar, painting my nails, doing makeup, spending time with friends, exploring new places with my family, and drawing. Growing up, my best memories are of  traveling and competing with my old gymnastics teammates and creating such a strong bond with them; they are like my second family! Also being able to grow up with them and experiencing so many new things together, going to new places, and meeting new people whom we looked up to, was one of the best things that I will always remember and keep in my heart. I hope to get into the University of the Arts summer dance early college program this year, also explore other colleges and the different majors I am interested in such as dance, biomedical engineering, and dance therapy. One day I hope to have my own dance studio or company or make a big, helpful discovery in science and medicine. Also I wish to travel again, going back to Germany, and seeing other places around the world.”


 

Rita

Paul VI High School Class of 2018

“I am a very fun and sociable person! I love to meet new people and I make friends easily. I am in a few clubs in my school and my grades are good. I care about others as well as myself and my future. I saw that a few people in my school had been senior models for Dennis in prior years and it looked so fun! The pictures were extremely beautiful and extraordinary. I wanted to be involved with it in any way I could! For fun, I like to hang out with my friends and family, who are a huge part of my life and make me who I am today. I enjoy spending time with them and going on little adventures with my friends!  My best memory growing up would have to be going overseas to Jordan to visit my mom’s side of the family. It is such a beautiful country over there and I enjoy traveling more than anything. I have also gone to Hawaii recently which was definitely one of my favorites as well. The different cultures and lifestyles are so amazing to experience and learn about while you’re young. I have many goals for the future! As my career, I hope to pursue my dream of becoming a physician assistant in pediatrics. I love kids and I am very interested in the medical field. I hope to do all that I can to get to where I want to be as well as being very happy while doing it.”

 

 

 


Natalie

Williamstown High School Class of 2018

“Some of my favorite are activities are Drama, DECA, and Senate! I enjoy participating in school and community theatres, as this has always been one of my passions. I also love to dance-especially tap! One of my newer activities is DECA. This year I was lucky enough to place first in both of my events and now I have the opportunity to go to California this April! I also love participating in my class senate, where I help plan prom, trips, and events as my class president. I’ve seen all of the Dennis’s photos over the past year and I fell in love with his senior portraits. I’ve always wanted to get nice, professional pictures done, and I felt senior pictures was the perfect opportunity! I love hanging out with my friends and getting to do theater with all of them! My favorite memory growing up is playing the piano with my dad in our family room. We always sang and had great times together at the piano, and that’s how I learned to start playing. I’m looking to attend a four year university and double major in Business Administration and Musical Theatre. Then I hope to go back to school and get my MBA. I hope to one day incorporate the two degrees and be able to run the business aspects of a theater like marketing!”

 

 

 


Brianna

Washington Township Class of 2018

“I participate in is field hockey for my high school team and a winter league I play for fun! I also baby sit and working at Wendy’s is also a hobby to me because I love my coworkers and going to work is always fun. I play softball for my town and absolutely adore it. I participate in club activities like interact where I do volunteer work and help in the community .
Both my sister and brother went to Dennis Kelly for their own senior portraits. I really loved the photos he took and creativity and wanted to experience some of his work myself. My mom recommended to me I try to apply to be a model and to see what happens!
For fun, sometimes it’s sitting in my room with my sister laughing and messing around to just long car rides because I and my friends missed our exit trying to go to Krispy Creme. Spending time with my close group of girl friends is one of my favorite things because we are so close and know each other so well it’s always a good time. I love going out on the field with my stick and just messing around with team mates.  I always look to field hockey as my escape and a place I can always let loose and have fun.
One of my best memories growing up is any memory with my family. My mom, dad, brother and sister are the reason I am who I am. We have talks and will literally laugh for hours together. My brother and my sister are my toughest critics but best motivation. my mom and dad are my inspiration and they are the reason for some of my best memories
My goal for my future is to be a nurse of some kind. No matter where I go or what I do I want to help people. I adore working with anyone and my goal is to help anyone in need of a helping hand.”

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Posted in Dennis Kelly Customers, Senior Portraits, Uncategorized

My Favorite Images 2016

Every year, as we close out our files for the year and prepare for the next, I like to look through the images I created and share of my favorites, along with a little story on each of them.

At the risk of sounding self indulgent, I do try to think of myself as an artist, and artists need to grow, or quit. Stagnation is just not an option. This exercise is helpful to me because it allows me to review how my work has grown, where I need to improve, and where I’ve had some success.

It is also interesting to me that at times my favorite images, and the ones that seem to win awards and recognition, are often not the same images my clients choose to own. This year that seems to be improving. So, either I am getting more in tune with what my clients are looking for, or more clients are seeking me out who appreciate what I do!

Anyway, here in no particular order, are some of my personal favorite images from 2016!  Please feel free to leave me some comments. I do read them all and they are important to me. Be nice. Spammy or inappropriate comments will be removed.


Capturing peak action is much more difficult than it seems. Often times I have to ask my subject to do something energetic and physically demanding over and over and over again. I was lucky this time to have a girl really up to the task. So naturally, I had to make it even more difficult by adding an avalanche of silk rose petals to the mix.

I remember ordering 5,000 silk rose petals online, only to have them show up in a small 6×9 envelope, all squished together like a stack of Pringels.  It took my wife and I three nights watching TV and pealing apart flower petals to get enough for this shot. And yes, I did fill in a couple empty spots here and there with flowers in Photoshop, but this image is pretty much how it was shot straight in camera.


Even though we do a lot of promotional headshots for actors and performers, this stunning image was actually created as part of this young lady’s senior portrait session. She is a gifted vocalist and wanted an image that would reflect that. I borrowed the vintage microphone from a friend who has a recording studio (yes, it’s real) and added strong backlighting to her hair to give it a theatrical look. Using my signature ringlight gives her eyes a magical sparkle and really made for an image that forces you to look, and look again.


Sometimes, the fleeting unguarded moments between shots when you are adjusting lights or camera settings can give you a glimpse into someone’s soul. There is a reason that the Old Master painters rarely portrayed their subjects with big smiles. I wish more people could appreciate that, because a quiet, introspective expression can say so much more. This was photographed in my studio with nothing more than window light, a pretty girl, and my camera.


I don’t always do portraits strictly for people to hang in their homes. Photography plays a vital part in helping businesses establish their brand and reach their clients as well.

This fun crew of young women run a fitness website that helps make fitness fun and enjoyable. I worked with them to create a series of images for their website that conveys exactly that message. These were shot on green screen, so the web designers could drop in any type of background that would work best for their design. But I love the energy of this shot. Almost makes me want to go to the gym! I said almost.


Scholar, athlete, musician. This kid has it all. He had been in the studio earlier in the day for more traditional shots and I convinced him to bring his cello with him to the football field that evening for something different. I actually had him playing something and still can hear the haunting melody when viewing this image. I love the way the halo flare from the field lights looks like a cloud shrouded moon in the upper right corner. Completely accidental, but I’ll gladly take credit for it!


Portraits are all about capturing emotion, and I don’t think there were many images I did in 2016 that do that better than this one.

We got lost on the way to this shoot at the stables where this girl boards her horse. By the time we found it, we had only about 15 minutes of sunlight left. I powered through a bunch of regular “poses” that I knew the clients would love, and then after doing the smiling at the camera shot, told the girl to give the horse a kiss almost as an afterthought. I added a slight texture overlay to give it a little more of a “painted” look. Beautiful!


My granddaughter turned 3 in 2016 and her favorite color is yellow.

I had stopped on the way to shoot her birthday portrait at the party store and bought a whole bundle of yellow balloons. My camera room has very high ceilings, so when I got inside I let the balloons go up to the ceiling until I was ready for them, not realizing that because heat rises, the temperature near the top was probably 20 degrees hotter than the rest of the room. The balloons quickly started bursting in rapid succession and by the time I realized what was happening, we were down to just 3 balloons. So now I pretend we intentionally choose just three because it was her 3rd birthday.

So I’m coming clean. It was purely an accident.


Because of how we choose to shoot many of our senior sessions, we get to go to a lot of cool locations.

This is the boathouse on Cooper River, and this girl is coxswain of her school’s crew team, and wanted portraits that showed that aspect of her life. The inside of the boathouse was big, and dark, and required a lot of additional lighting to capture. This image  took a total of 4 off camera speedlights to illuminate, but I think it was well worth the extra effort.


Speaking of lighting challenges, nothing is more difficult to light than a sexy sports car.

For this image, I used a technique called “light painting”. It involves actually moving all around, inside, and even under the vehicle with lights, making as many as 100 different exposures. I combine them later in Photoshop to create an image with details that simply could not be done in one shot.

This was shot in my studio parking lot, and I decided at the last minute to wet down the pavement with a garden hose to give it that super sexy look.


I sometimes work with models who are looking to add a particular look or style to their portfolios. This young woman, with her bright red hair and tattoos, was looking for something with a “Steampunk” vibe. If you don’t know what it is, Google it. It’s a whole subculture.

I used an area in my camera room often used for executive portraits. I found an old gas lantern in the basement (the previous owners where antique buffs and left us a lot of cool stuff). I lit it from inside by putting a small flash with a colored gel inside it.  Then I gave the whole image a kind of muted color, punched up detail look.

But the model’s attitude and pose is really what makes it work. I love starting with a picture in my head and then working to make it come to life. Its the closest we get to actual magic.


Speaking of redheads, this woman is an amazingly talented photographer herself, and a friend of mine. She has very striking features and stunning natural red hair and I’ve been trying to get her to model for me for several years. 2016 the stars aligned and this is from my first, and only session with her.

I added a texture overlay to the image to give it a more ethereal look than a conventional photographic print. After the shoot she told me that this was one of the only pictures of her that her mother actually fell in love with! So that should be my new tag line, “Making Mom’s Fall in Love Since 1981.”


This is my friend Annie, who survived breast cancer in 2015. Like me, she is a diver and we have shared many exciting underwater adventures.

Annie is being inducted into the Atlantic County Women’s Hall of Fame in 2017 for her many philanthropic works. She needed an updated portrait, but I knew that a typical grinning mugshot wouldn’t do her justice. Windowlight, two reflectors and eyes that tell a story of bravery and compassion.


This senior’s mom had a very specific request for his senior portraits.

Something that really spoke to the transition from boy to man, and to high school graduation as the beginning of the journey, and not the end of one. Oh, and she wanted pretty fall colors too.

No sweat.


Speaking of milestones, a child’s First Communion should certainly qualify.

I swear though, if I see one more picture of a kid standing next to white Grecian columns or holding their hands together pretending to pray with Jesus smiling down on them, I think I’m going to loose it. LOL

Portraits can be beautiful and timeless without a lot of “STUFF”. Simplicity.


I had found these beautiful antique mirrors in a thrift shop a few years ago, and I think I scored them for like $30 or $40! They were broken and had to be glued back together, but they are just sooooo beautiful and I knew that would be the perfect counterpoint to this stunning girl and her elegant dress. Yes, this is the same girl leaping with the flower petals in the first picture. Beautiful and talented!

I decided to add the single candle in the right corner just to break the darkness in that corner… but the beautiful expression is what makes this portrait one I will always be proud of.

I currently have this as a 36″ print above my fireplace in the studio lobby, where it kind of makes the whole room sing with beauty and elegance.


As a working pro, I don’t often get to shoot “just for me” and sometimes we tend to overlook the simple beauty that surrounds us.

I noticed this simple scene in my studio yard one day and decided to shoot it. Something I probably walked by 30 times without ever really “seeing” it. Stop and smell the roses. Or, whatever those blue flowers are. Smell that too. Its all good.


We will go on location almost anywhere to get “the shot”. This senior wanted to do some shots where he wrestles. This is actually the spot where his team practices, and it was literally about 100 degrees in there the day we went to shoot. No air conditioning, or at least it wasn’t turned on for us.

The sweat actually looked kind of good on him, so it wan’t a problem, but I’m sure I was a sight as a dripping sweaty disheveled mess. Not to mention, the camera lenses kept fogging up coming from the air conditioned car, and I had all kinds of problems getting my accent lights to fire consistently.

It all worked out, and I love the intensity of the shot and the splash of bright red on the mat.


Another “Peak Action” shot that is way harder than it looks.

We have to carefully light the subjects here with strobes that can “freeze” the action, while keeping the shutter speed set so that we keep the background subdued, but not completely black. Then time the shutter release just a fraction before you anticipate the peak moment will be, because it takes a fraction of a second for the focus to lock, the mirror to get out of the way, the shutter to open and fire the remote lights. Hundredths of a second maybe, but if you try to push the shutter button at the exact moment you see the shot, you will miss it every time.

This one worked. I always tell my kids when doing this type of shot… it’s a lot like hitting a baseball. If you can do it 3 times out of 10 you’re doing pretty damn good.


We were supposed to do an awesome fashion shoot with our Senior Model Team at this amazing junkyard last year. Actually it’s more like a museum than a junkyard.

On the way to the shoot a driver involved in a road rage incident with another car crossed the median and hit Bonnie’s car with her and 3 of our Model Team members in it. The car was totaled, and the girls were all taken to the hospital  to get checked out, so naturally, the shoot didn’t happen.

I did have these awesome images I had taken a few weeks prior when we went to scout the place. I’d love to get back there again soon.


My niece got married this summer in Florida. I don’t actually do weddings, but it was my niece, so….

Florida in July is, well lets just say it’s pretty hot. We had about 15 minutes outside before people starting wilting. And did I mention it rains every afternoon? It did give me a great appreciation for what wedding photographers do. In fact, I wrote a blog post about it. You can read about it here.


We do photograph a lot of dancers and this one wanted something totally different.

She suggest wrapping herself in Christmas lights. This was about a week after the car wreck on the way to our fashion shoot and with the way our luck was running I wasn’t too keen on wrapping a kid in 120 volt wires for a photoshoot. Luckily, I found these LED fairy lights that were 12 volts and much more safe.

I had to shoot using just the modeling lights from my studio lights in order to have the little led lamps register, which means my subject had to hold pretty still and couldn’t really “move” through the pose. Still I love the way it turned out… magical and dreamlike.


It is so sad to me that classical portraiture is becoming a lost art form. There is something so timeless and pure about an impeccably lit, well posed classic portrait.

Today all you see is people in parks, on railroad tracks, and standing by dilapidated buildings with bad lighting and sun flare. I love this image because it is timeless and elegant. Not to mention, there are not many photographers left who can do it.


I have often said that you could take away all of my fancy studio lights and just give me a window and a simple background and I’d be happy creating gorgeous portraits all day long.

I love the higher than normal angle of this which forces you to connect with her eyes, and the out of focus “bokeh” in the foreground (which is really just a glass vase held in front of the lens) gives this beautiful portrait a sense of mystical sparkle.


Cutting into the top of the head is a technique used a lot in fashion photography. It imparts a feeling of energy to the image and places the eyes and face in a part of the frame where it is hard not to look at them.

I love using contemporary techniques in photography so the image not only looks like it came right out of  a magazine, but it captures both the beauty and personality of my subject.


This one will finish off my collection for 2016. A pretty simple shot really, but the addition of the 3 dimensional lighting, plus exposing the background and ice to bring out a “grittier” tone, I thinks adds a lot to the edgier feel of an otherwise “typical” portrait of a hockey player.

We usually think of ice as smooth and glossy. But a hockey player sees it as a field of battle… ripped and torn.


So, there you have some of my favorites for 2016. There were many more, it was hard to choose, but I hope you enjoyed seeing them and reading a little about either the thought process, techniques, or back story behind them. Now, to get pumped for 2017…..

Posted in Dennis Kelly Customers, News and Happenings, Uncategorized Tagged |

I Shot a Wedding!

Last weekend I shot a wedding!

037KellyDean-9381-2Why is this news for a photographer?

Because I hadn’t shot a wedding since 1995.

I used to shoot lots and lots of weddings. In fact, I shot my very first professional wedding solo when I was just 17 years old. I had been assisting my first mentor in photography at weddings for over a year, but I had to wait until I got my driver’s license to shoot on my own. So, I think like 3 weeks after my 17th birthday… I was shooting solo.

002KellyDean-9270Back in those days we used to go to a wedding with 10 rolls of 120 film. That’s 12 exposures per roll, 120 pictures maximum. But, you were expected to bring 2 rolls back… they were for “emergencies”. So… 96 pictures is what you were expected to shoot. So you had to make each shot count. 96 pictures over a typical 10 hour day… do the math, there was a lot of waiting around for things to happen.

After the wedding, you would drop the film in a bag and wait for a professional lab to process it and make proofs. Then you stick the proofs in a little book, or tie them up with a nice ribbon and put them in a fancy box… and you were done until the bride and groom had time to make their selections. Those days are long gone.

After that, I shot weddings for a number of area studios, and later for my own studio, often shooting 2 or 3 weddings on a given weekend.

By the time I decided to retire from wedding photography, a typical wedding had expanded to around 200-250 shots.

Why did I quit?

A couple reasons… I had young children and I was tired of missing them growing up because I had to work every single weekend.

Also, I came to realize that even though I was one of the most expensive photographers in the area, when I factored in all the hours that go into the production of photographic wedding coverage, plus all the direct expenses involved, I wasn’t really making any money. In fact, unless I managed to get a significant additional sale in the way of extra parent albums, wall portraits, and additional print sales, I was barely making minimum wage.

So I quit. Just like that.

But last weekend, my niece got married in Florida, and we agreed that the best wedding gift we could give her would be her wedding photos. So I packed up all my gear, stuffed it into a bulging carry-on and headed for Southwest Florida.

024KellyDean-9453I learned some stuff.

First, I learned that Southwest Florida in July in not the most comfortable environment to hold a wedding.

It was hot. Like 3 shirts hot. Like car air-conditioning can’t keep up hot.

Next, I learned that weddings themselves haven’t changed much. There is still the normal confusion, last minute changes, mis-communications and overall stress that there has always been. Photographers still need to be 1 part technician, 1 part psychologist, and 2 parts diplomat. And did I mention the heat?

I learned that it rains in SW Florida in the summer almost every afternoon. Not just a shower… violent thunder and lightning downpours. You can almost set your watch by them. 4:00, every day… deluge. Like build an Ark rainfall.

We had arranged to shoot formal pictures outdoors at a beautiful park on the way to the reception and hoped the rain would hold off. It did, but not for long.

049KellyDean-9452-2We arrived to the sound of thunder in the distance, and I barreled through a set of formal and family photos in about 20 minutes…. and ended up running to the car with rain starting to fall. Without my wonderful wife acting as people wrangler, we would never have gotten them done. So, don’t try this alone.

Time for another shirt.

051KellyDean-9475-2Next, I learned that wedding photographers today have no lives. Because, instead of 100-200 pictures, with digital it is very easy to shoot 10 times that much. You aren’t going to run out of film and it doesn’t cost you $2 in film and processing cost every time you drop the shutter.

So, you bang bang bang… but every one of those pictures has to be downloaded, culled, inspected, cropped, color corrected, exposure compensated, and processed. Nothing is insignificant enough not to be recorded.

All that work that used to be handled by the lab… processing, color correcting, cropping, is now back on the shoulders of the photographer. And, handling 200 exposures has now blossomed into handling 1000-2000 exposures on any given event.

Needless to say, the hours that I was unable to justify putting into a job 20 years ago have increased exponentially for today’s photographers. But, amazingly, it doesn’t seem like the average price charged by wedding photographer has kept pace. Makes me scratch my head when I see photographers offering full day wedding coverage for only a few hundred dollars! I guess that’s why so many burn out so fast. It’s insane.

If you are one of those folks that thinks wedding photographers are ridiculously overpriced… I have news for you. They earn every cent in ways about which you have no idea.

017KellyDean-9293I learned that equipment problems have no respect, even for experienced photographers.

Two (or more) of everything is mandatory. And the backup gear does you no good in the trunk… you have to carry it with you so it is at arms length at any given moment. I suffered through a corrupt memory card, a lens that decided to die 30 seconds before the bride and her dad walked down the isle, and a flash that decided to quit in the middle of formal pictures. Not to mention a lens that fogged up instantly going from the air conditioned reception to the outdoors for the newlywed’s sparkler sendoff.

I can’t remember the last time I had an equipment malfunction during a portrait shoot. The worst you ever seem to get is an occasional flash misfire. For some reason, the fact of a time limited un-repeatable event of magnanimous importance seems to throw Murphy’s Law in overdrive. I have no idea why.

And the newest headache in the lives of today’s wedding shooters that I never had to deal with… well meaning friends and relatives taking cell phone pictures and getting in …   every…   single…   shot.

So, I pulled it off, although I’m still editing the photos. My niece and her family have been thrilled with the sneak peeks so far.

I got all the important shots, as my first mentor taught me, “always bring home the bacon.” I kept the mood light and airy. I dealt with problems and situations without anyone really knowing… fix it or deal with it and move on. Because that’s what wedding photographs have to do.

I came away with a new found appreciation for those of our profession that do this week in and week out. Hats off to you, wedding professionals. You are under appreciated, and underpaid.

056KellyDean-9539Oh, and I learned that the gasps, giggles, oohs and ahhs of a young bride and her family when they see the work you have done for them makes it all worth while.

So, there’s that.

D

 

Posted in Dennis Kelly Customers, News and Happenings

Your Senior Photos are Important… here’s what you need to know

Senior Portraits are a Rite of Passage.

Sadly for most, it means a 15 minute trip to the school gym or cafeteria for a series of rather boring and awkward poses that a “photographer” has been trained to crank out like a robot.

But, like it or not, your senior pictures are going to stay in your family FOREVER! It’s kind of a big deal.

fusco-6012-2It’s a cultural thing. It’s what we do.

So, why not have something better than what you can get from the school picture company, the mall baby photographer, or a friend of a friend who’s cousin is a “photographer”?

Statistically, your senior pictures will likely be the last time you will be professionally photographed until you get MARRIED… and your senior portrait marks the transition from childhood to adulthood. They ARE important.

Most people don’t really even know what to look for in a good senior portrait, so they settle for something they may hate, simply because they don’t know any better. It’s a shame, because in many cases it really doesn’t cost much more to have something you will actually LOVE, and be proud to share with your family and friends as your permanent remembrance of your journey through high school.

Unfortunately, we see an awful lot of not so great photography these days. It seems like everyone with a digital camera is a “photographer” and the time honored tradition of studying with a master photographer to learn the craft, which takes years, is disappearing.

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Even something as seemingly simple as the traditional “yearbook pose” is suffering from this lack of skill and professionalism.

Here are some things to look for before deciding where to spend your money on Senior Portrait Photography:

  • Your senior yearbook portrait is determined to a large extent by your school’s yearbook requirements.
  • Most schools in our area still require a traditional head and shoulders formal portrait on a simple background with girls in black drape and boys in tuxedo jackets. Some schools have more relaxed policies and will allow regular everyday clothing, but most do not.
  • If you are considering a photographer that only shoots “on location”, like at a local park or something, and does not have a studio, they most likely will not have the ability to provide what your school requires.

Some things to look for in the traditional yearbook portrait:

Is the color realistic?

Skin tones should look like skin, but poor color is so common in many portraits created today. Why? Because since the advent of digital photography, the color of the finished images is 100% in the hands of the photographer, rather than in the hands of a professional finishing lab where color experts would color correct each image during the printing stage.

Balmores-9701bIf you see skin tones that look orange, like a bad spray tan, or blue or greenish like an anemic person, that’s not good!

Seems like an obvious thing, but I see professional pictures that look like this on social media every single day… you do too.

Is the retouching believable?

Nobody wants to have a zit showing in their senior portraits, so photographers routinely apply retouching to remove skin blemishes and fix little things like stray hairs and stuff.

Balmores-9701cBut many photographers today get carried away with all the stuff they can do in Photoshop, or they rely on a one click filter that removes all the lines, pores, and contours of your face, that the pictures no longer resemble a human. Here’s a hint… real people have pores.

Why are you falling over??

petrongoloaOk, there is a principal in photography that says the center of interest in a photo is more compelling when the subject is off center. This is true. But there are limits. If you unconsciously want to tip your head when you look at the picture, or feel like the subject is about to fall over… that’s not a good thing.

IMG_2906Does your cap and gown picture look professional?

If you are doing cap and gown pictures (many kids these days don’t) how do they look? Here is the truth, the cap and gown garments that the school provides you on graduation day are throw away items that frankly do not photograph well. The material is cheap, they wrinkle, have a shiny look that doesn’t photograph well, and the caps look like you slept in them the day before.

Unfortunately,  these are the same garments that most photographers use to photograph you in, because they are cheap and widely available. Yuk.

Ours are made specifically for photography. They are manufactured with great quality, heavy weight material that holds a pressing and photographs beautifully. They are expensive! You get what you pay for! Our graduation caps are made from a hard shell construction that looks good AND doesn’t crush your hair.

We know, we know… cap and gown photos are dorky… but if your folks insist that they absolutely NEED one, wouldn’t you at least want it to look decent?

Sports or Activity Portraits.

Most kids today choose to show something unique about themselves in their senior portraits. If they play a sport, do an activity, play an instrument… you want that to be part of your “story” that you can tell your kids and grandkids about later. But is a dude hugging a football on a studio backdrop really what you want?  Our sports and activities portraits look like they are right out of the pages of Sports Illustrated. Compare our work to what you see elsewhere. There IS a difference… a BIG difference!

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There are many other things to consider as well:

  • Will the studio allow you to split your session up over several days so you can do different hairstyles?
  • Do they give you the option of having your hair and makeup done professionally by someone who knows how to do makeup for photography?
  • Do they meet with you before your shoot, and before you have paid a dime, to find out about you, what you are interested in doing, what your personality is like?
  • Do they know how posing, lighting, and composition all have to work together to produce flattering photos… and that this is different for each and every person?
  • Do they help you with suggestions for clothing, hair, makeup and tell you about things to avoid that could wreck your photos… like the one article of clothing that can make you appear 20 pounds heavier in your pictures?
  • Do they only offer standard sessions and poses, and everyone gets basically the same thing, or will they customize your session to exactly what you want? Do all their pictures look pretty much the same?
  • Do they update their props, backgrounds, and settings or do you see the same looks over and over, year after year?
  • Do they help you with making your selections, meet with you personally to answer your questions, and make suggestions on products that will fit your needs? Or, do they just send you to a website of proofs and make you fend for yourself?
  • Do they offer an unconditional guarantee?
  • Do their images and reputation really compare to Dennis Kelly?

For more information about how to get the very best senior portraits, including complete information on session options, pricing and package information, and more on what makes Dennis Kelly Photography different than all the others, visit our Senior Portrait Information Page. Or, pick up the phone and schedule a no cost, no obligation, one on one consultation. 856-228-4399

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized

Top 5 Tips for Photographing Kids

Top 5 Tips for Making a Photo Session with Kids Easier

Colin-4895sKids are always a favorite subject to photograph. They are so cute, change so quickly, and have a way of making us smile. Every parent should make a point of creating a complete photographic record of their child from birth. These images are important for us, and for future generations!

Photographing children is not without pitfalls and difficulties though! It can be a challenge to get them to cooperate and do what you want. Here is some advice that I’ve learned from my career as a professional photographer and having photographed literally tens of thousands of children over the years!

If you’re preparing for a professional photo session with your children, or if you enjoy photographing your kids yourself, you may be feeling a bit apprehensive. Children aren’t always easy to deal with, which is why the below tips will definitely come in handy before your upcoming photo session.

1. Don’t make a huge deal out of it. If you’re stressed out and cranky, your kids will usually pick up on it and act accordingly. Their behavior will usually be better if you are relaxed and having fun. You may have to make some compromises to keep the peace such as letting your energetic daughter’s hair stay straight instead of curling it because she won’t sit still. Focus on the big picture and don’t sweat the small stuff.

2. Make it fun. Let the kids have a couple “fun pictures” where they get to pick their own pose or props. You get to keep the more serious photos while they get to keep their silly photos. This way everyone wins.  If you are struggling to get your kids to sit still, turn the photo session into a game. Simon Says usually works like a charm.

Robbin-12003. Be prepared.  Prior to the shoot, ensure that your children are well rested and have had their nap. Bringing some snacks and activities along is also a great idea. If you are having your own photos taken too then you might want to bring a babysitter or family member along to help watch the kids. If you happen to be shooting in a remote location, you never know when you might need something like bug spray, tissues or a first aid kit so bring that along too.

4. Be patient, and be ready to compromise. Save your sanity by trying not to control the photo session too much. Sometimes the best photos come from kids just doing their own thing. Work with your photographer and your photos will look fantastic. Be flexible, you may have wanted a picture with all the grandkids, 3 dogs and 4 cats together. But, you may have to settle for individual photos of the kids instead.

5.  Have a chat. Get your children talking to both you and the photographer about topics such as school or their favorite songs. This allows them to feel more comfortable around your photographer and will also give your photographer a chance to capture a more natural and cute expressions.

After you have gotten those great images of your child, take the MOST IMPORTANT STEP and HAVE THEM PRINTED!  Printed photographs are still far and away the easiest and most secure way to view photos. Your family’s legacy stored on cell phones, computer drives, or even in “the cloud” can completely vanish in heartbeat. For another Blog post explaining the importance of the printed photograph check out “Will You Be Sorry”

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Posted in Uncategorized

My Favorite Images From 2015

DPKelly-2519sSo, another year has gone by. As part of the year end housekeeping of archiving old files and making room for new images, I like to review the work I’ve done in the recent past and remind myself of what I love about my job.

Shooting as a professional can be frustrating at times, especially when clients sometimes don’t “get it”. I once did a slide show of images to a class of professional photographers and received a standing ovation. Then I told them “All these images have one thing in common… the client did not purchase any of them.” So yeah, it can be frustrating.

Anyway… I thought it would be fun to share some of MY favorite images from last year. Some of these I may have shared on social media already, some may never have been seen before… but they all resonated with me for one reason or another. Maybe a special technique, maybe an emotional backstory, maybe just something that is out of the ordinary. Some are not even client jobs, but personal photos that have meaning for me.

In no particular order, here are just some of my personal favorites from last year. I’d love to hear your comments, so feel free to add them below.

I visited the 9-11 memorial in NYC this year. It was very emotional for me.

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A remembrance, I assume, of a loved one lost. Maybe it was his birthday, anniversary, or maybe someone came every day. There are thousands of stories here.

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They call this “The Survivor’s Staircase” many people made their way out of the towers on this very section of staircase, which was somehow spared destruction when the towers fell, now preserved as a monument to the will to survive.

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This is the remnants of Ladder 3. Her entire crew perished that day.

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This is a section of the last steel column that was removed from ground zero. The firefighters and other first responders posted tributes to fallen comrades as it was unearthed.


My friend Annie was diagnosed, treated, and recovered from breast cancer last year. I helped document her journey. Thankfully it had a happy ending.

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Getting fitted for a wig with Dawn Gorman from Friends Are By Your Side.

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I love this shot. Despite the smile, if you look close you can see tears in her eyes.

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Post treatment, Annie decided to share the story of her fight to give hope to other women facing the same fight. She asked me to shoot some images and I was glad she did.

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Here is Annie all recovered. She helped us photograph a Night of Wigs and Wishes this year, the same foundation that provided her wig when she started chemo.


This was one of my favorite families from this year. These guys are crazy fun, and you can feel the love they have for one another. It had been a while since their last portrait, and their dog was ill and not doing well. So we went to the beach and photographed the family with their puppy.  As of the time we delivered the portrait a couple months after it was taken, the dog was still doing well… let’s hope he still is, but I’m not sure.

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I LOVE creating portraits that tell a story about my subjects, like this one I did of a little girl and her horse. I can picture people 100 years from now looking at this image and getting a sense of pride this young girl feels in learning to ride, and the love she has for her horse. It’s all about legacies, right?

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My friend Martino is known as a “celebrity stylist”. I think of him more as a larger than life persona. I was really flattered when he asked me to do  portraits of him in conjunction with the launch of his new product line, and I wanted images that were as intense as he is.

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That jacket had to weigh 30 pounds! Must be a workout just walking around in it.

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Don’t know how appropriate the use of flames is in a photo used to sell hairspray, but I liked it. We’ll call it artistic license.


Speaking of Martino, his charity, Friends are By Your Side, does an amazing fundraising gala each year to raise money to provide free wigs to women battling cancer and to grant wishes to sick children. Here is an iconic image from the event. A tribute to Kiki, who receive the first “wish” from the foundation when Martino took her to meet Justin Beiber. She passed away a few days later.

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Also got to photograph Paula Abdul, who is as kind and gracious as she is beautiful.

517WW15-4545


I had a really fun project to do last year for the Washington Township High School Football team. They wanted to do something different for their game schedule this year, so I proposed photographing the senior members of the team to use on the poster, but with a “Dennis Kelly” twist. So we talked to the kids, decided on a theme, and photographed the seniors in groups of 4 at a time on green screen and came up with this.

Poster rev 02

They were so thrilled with it the booster club ended up ordering several huge outdoor banners to hang at the athletic fields, which was kind of cool.

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For the last few years I had been itching to do a shoot in the snow, but was never able to make it work. Last year the stars aligned and I was able to shoot some incredible images of model Ashley. Here is one of my favorites.

Ashley-9678


I first photographed Brianna as a member of our senior model team several years ago. I remember asking quite innocently about some scars I noticed on her neck and if she wanted them removed. She told me I better not dare remove them as she was proud of the fight they represented. Brianna has quite an amazing story, you can read about it HERE.  When she was older, I asked her if she would let me photograph her scars, and she graciously complied. They were some of the most powerful images I have ever done. Recently she told me she had gotten a tattoo which read “These scars remind me of how strong I am… ” So that prompted a reshoot…

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Brianna is in college now and doing very well. I often ask her Mom to please make her stop growing up.


I had the opportunity to shoot at Eastern State Penitentiary this past year. It is only open to photographers to work with models a few times a year… what an amazing location. I went with my friend Tina, and while it is really hard to pick just one favorite shot… there must be 20… I think this one is representative and one of the stronger images.

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Speaking of Tina, she is an amazing and versatile model, and generally up for any crazy idea I might throw at her. I had the opportunity to shoot some outdoor fashion style images. I was particularly pleased with how they turned out. Even more notable is that these were shot the week before Christmas, and it was still shirt sleeve weather down at the waterfront, even at sunset.

lights


I worked a lot this year on perfecting and refining a lighting technique called “light painting”. It involves, well, “painting” a still life subject with light using different exposures and combining the different elements into one image which basically could not be done in one exposure. It is particularly suited for architecture…. and hot cars!

Viit 01c_1

I actually devoted an entire blog post to this shoot with the ’72 Vette that shows how I did it. You can find it here.


And, speaking of light painting, I used the same techniques to create these stunning images of the remodel of Martino Cartier’s beautiful Washington Township Salon.

Interior02a

Martino called me on a Sunday morning and he needed the pictures by the next day. He is about the only person in the world I wouldn’t hang up on… LOL. The images were use in a feature story in South Jersey Magazine.

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Sometimes the simplest portraits have the most impact. I love this mother and daughter portrait I did for Mother’s Day.

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I work at the beach a lot over the summer months, so sometimes I get a little jaded by the natural beauty that we tend to take for granted. Once in a while though, conditions are just magical and we get really breathtaking images, like these.

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Washington Township’s Fire Chief of 17 years, E. John Hoffman, was retiring, and I got a call to do his official portrait which will hang at Fire Department headquarters. I thought it has a quiet dignity and sense of power. There aren’t a lot of photographers who are good at photographing men these days. That’s a shame.

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One of my favorite lighting techniques for beauty portraits is something called a ring light, which has an almost shadowless look and makes eyes look amazing. Here are two of my favorite from last year using this lighting technique. I’ll admit to being a bit of a lighting weenie. Shoot me.

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One of the things I especially enjoy is capturing the power and energy of athletes. Luckily I get the opportunity to do it often in our senior portraits, where we see all kinds of athletes.  I don’t really get photographers that photograph athletes in the studio, lovingly cradling a football next to their face while smiling at the camera.  I like my way better!
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And I’ll end this up with a picture of my granddaughter, just because she’s so damn cute.

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Posted in Charities, Dennis Kelly Customers, News and Happenings, Uncategorized

Behind the Scenes – Classic Car Shoot

This was a fun shoot I did recently. If you know a car enthusiast, wouldn’t one of these look great in their office or garage?

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I thought it would make an interesting post to explain how I go about creating one of these. I use a technique called “Light Painting” which is the only way to really properly bring out all the details, curves, and reflections that make a car guy (or girl) swoon!

Let me start by saying that these take a LOT of work and skill to put together. But for anyone who may be interested in learning how it’s done, here goes.

First, here is a “before” shot… which is how the scene actually looked. Found a nice, but simple location and started the shoot about 15 minutes before sunset and established a “base” shot. Using a moderately wide angle lens allows us to accentuate the lines of the car, in this case a classic ’72 Corvette, AND make it stand out from the background.

Vitt-2287

Not a bad picture… but we want that bad boy to jump off the page, so with the camera on a sturdy, rock solid tripod so that it does not move even a millimeter during multiple exposures, we start to take individual photos lighting each of the cars features:

Here, I’m lighting the front wheel:

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Here, I’m illuminating under the wheel well and grill.

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Next, the back wheel and side pipes.

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Here, I’m lighting the car’s far profile and edge of the right fender and windshield.

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Adding some reflections to highlight the hood.

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And the top part of the hood and roof.

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Can’t forget the interior, which would be black without some illumination.

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And then, the grass under the car to help separate it.

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And, of course, the grill.

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Then, we begin the painstaking task of layering the individual highlighted parts over the base image. Then, using a technique called “masking”, we hide the parts of each individual image that we do not want to show. So, we end up with a picture where all the individual elements are combined into one image that we could never actually create in one shot. Enhance the sky behind the car, and done!

Beautiful, isn’t it?

Viit 01a

Here’s a before and after to see the transformation you can do with light painting:

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If you know someone who has a hot or classic car that they love, this makes an absolutely awesome gift!!  Call me at 856-228-4399 and I can create a one of a kind look for you too!

Posted in Dennis Kelly Customers, News and Happenings, Tips

How to Get Great Color

or… why I never use auto white balance, and neither should you…..

I have a vivid memory etched in my brain. I was in Las Vegas, standing in front of a room of about 450 of the best professional photographers in the country…. and I was about to be humiliated.

11"x17" French Fold TemplateWe had all gathered for a week long workshop on marketing. One of my marketing pieces was being displayed for critique on three giant projected displays positioned around the ballroom. It was a Jumbotron of scrutiny and shame.  I stood alone at a microphone at the foot of the stage, while the speaker, an internationally recognized expert in marketing and a damn good photographer to boot, peered down on me from above. I felt like the 2nd grader called into the principal’s office, and I braced for the humiliation I was certain was coming.

His voice thundered through the microphone and went straight to my spinal cord.

“Man, you really got this color thing nailed… Wanna tell us how you do it?”

BAM!… I was instantly everybody’s best friend, and I didn’t have to buy a lunch for the rest of the week. It was… well, it was cool.

This was in the beginning days of the photography industry’s transition to digital imaging, and photographers were struggling with this new technology called “color management”.

02eSee, in the old days, all photographers had to do was drop their film off at a professional lab and somebody ELSE took care of the color for them.

An expert, or someone who at least kinda knew what they were doing, just handled it. We, as shooters, didn’t need to think about it much, unless we weren’t getting good color. Then the solution was to send the order back for reprints, or find a different lab.

But Not For Me.

You see, I began my career in photography in the darkroom. I WAS “the guy” the other photographers trusted with their color! I was “the expert.” So, when digital flipped the responsibility for good color from the lab onto the photographer, it was no big deal for me. I just had to learn the nuances of the new technology, but what good color looked like, and how to get it, was second nature to me.

I Know Color.

These days though, I see a LOT of bad color, from both amateurs and professionals.

It’s particularly troublesome when it’s a professional, because they are supposed to know better. But I see a lot of professional portraits with yellow, orange, or even greenish skin. You have too. I’m sure you’ve seen photos with skin tones that look like the image on the left, and no, it’s not good. The background here is actually blue, not green, and her hair… well, nobody’s hair is that color, at least not on purpose.

Scarduzio-4577Its a shame, because it isn’t rocket science. Whenever I teach a class to professionals, one of the most frequent questions I get is about how to get good color consistently.  The techniques are applicable to both pros and amateurs alike, so I though it would make a valuable blog post.

So, Here Goes.

The color from typical household bulbs is very yellow-red, and ACTUALLY looks like this.

The color from typical household bulbs is very yellow-red, and ACTUALLY looks like this.

The first thing you need to understand is that light that we see as white, can actually be many different colors. Our brains do an amazing job of compensating for us, but “white” light comes in many different shades. For example, sunlight on a cloudy, overcast day is very bluish… or as we say, “cold”, while sunlight just before sunset, when the light filters through much more of the atmosphere, is very reddish, or as we say “warm”. Light from typical household light bulbs is very yellow, and fluorescent light bulbs are typically very green.

The relative color of light is defined by something called “color temperature” and to get correct color, you have to match your camera’s settings to the color of light you are photographing under. This is set under something called “white balance”.

 

 

“But wait a minute, Dennis… my super wiz bang hyper doodle fancy digital camera has an “auto white balance” setting. Why do I need anything else?”

Matching our camera's while balance setting to the color of the light we are shooting under let's us correct the color to something that looks more natural. Our brains do this for us. Our cameras, well, they try....

Matching our camera’s while balance setting to the color of the light we are shooting under let’s us correct the color to something that looks more natural. Our brains do this for us. Our cameras, well, they try….

Here is why. Your camera determines how to set the white balance by looking at the colors in the image, and trying to figure out what colors are present in excess. So, if you are photographing under very yellow light, your camera will see an excess of yellow and adjust the settings for the photo to be more blue… the opposite of yellow on the color wheel. If your camera sees an excess of blue… like on an overcast day, it will shift the color to be more yellow to compensate.

So, whats the problem?

Well, the problem is the camera doesn’t really KNOW what it is looking at. It can’t tell the difference between a scene that is blue because the color of the light is filtering through clouds, or if the subject is standing in front of a blue wall wearing a blue sweater. In other words, there is an abundance of blue because there is SUPPOSED to be an abundance of blue. This is referred to as a “subject failure”.

 

 

Tina's skin should look like the image on the left. But the camera sees an abundance of blue in the background and fabric, so it adds a bunch of yellow to try and "fix" it. YUK.

Tina’s skin should look like the image on the left. But the camera sees an abundance of blue in the background and fabric, so it adds a bunch of yellow to try and “fix” it. YUK.

Likewise, when Tina is wearing red, the camera will try to compensate by adding cyan to the image, trying to "correct" what isn't actually wrong.

Likewise, when Tina is wearing red, the camera will try to compensate by adding cyan to the image, trying to “correct” what isn’t actually wrong.

I once knew a professional photographer who shot a prom with the camera set on “auto”. Every photo was a different color… if the girl had a blue dress, her face was yellow, if the dress was red, her face was cyan (a kind of blue-green that is the opposite of red), a green dress would yield a magenta skin tone. About the only pictures where the color was right was where the girl’s dress was white, gray, or black. In other words, where the dress wasn’t introducing a FALSE color bias that was throwing off the camera’s auto color feature.

If the colors in the image are basically neutral.. an even mix, auto wb will work ok. But you never really KNOW.

If the colors in the image are basically neutral.. an even mix, auto wb will work ok. But you never really KNOW.

It was a mess. Even if she had photographed the whole job on the WRONG color setting, it would have been better… because they all would have at least been consistent. It would have been relatively simple to make one color correction and apply it to ALL the images in post processing. But, because every one was different, she had to try and manually fix the color one at a time on hundreds of pictures.

This is why professionals in the know refer to the “A” white balance setting as “Awful White Balance” and almost never use it!

So, how SHOULD you set your camera to get best color?

Well, there are other settings on your camera… they are named, or marked by icons for situations like “daylight” “cloudy” “flash” “tungsten” (light bulbs) “fluorescent” and even a “custom” setting.

Untitled-1(1)Setting your camera to the setting that most closely matches the conditions you are actually shooting under will usually get you much better results! Even if the color of your pictures is a little off, you can apply a color correction to all your images at once in your photo editing software, because if they are nothing else, all the photos taken under those same lighting conditions will be the SAME. But, if getting great color is really important to you, there is an even better way….

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Bad Photoshop…

By now everyone is no doubt aware that there is a serious backlash in the media and on social networking against the use of Photoshop in the altering or “airbrushing” of images. The sentiment is that the use of image editing software presents an unrealistic and unattainable  standard of beauty that is unhealthy and harmful. This was highlighted by a couple recent stories that have gone viral decrying the evils of Photoshop. In one, a journalist sent an un-photoshopped image of her self to a number of freelance Photoshop “artists” from all over the world. The idea was to demonstrate the cultural differences in the perception of beauty.  The story is linked here: o-ESTHERHONGORIG-900 In my opinion, all this project REALLY demonstrated is how many absolutely horrible “photoshop artists” there are out there. The author even freely admits that she found all her “artists” on the website “Fiverr” which she utilized after her boss “asked me to use the site in order to contract cheap work for whatever projects I might be assigned.” So, we are comparing work done by freelance “professionals”  competing with each other over who is the cheapest. Further, the author freely admits that the process was purposely manipulated. “…one person would add a filter and a little airbrush while others really went all out. I’ve chosen the images that were more manipulated to publish for my collection.”

But, should we blame the process of being able to fix and enhance our photos when the real problem is people who just have no sense of taste? I think perhaps not!

In another recent viral video, singer “Colbie Caillat Snubs Photoshop & Goes All Natural In New Video“.

o-COLBIE-CAILLAT-PHOTOSHOP-facebook

Curiously, if you actually watch the video, it deals entirely with MAKEUP and has nothing at all to do with Photoshop… but of course, no one is vilifying makeup companies, and I’ll bet good money on Colbie’s next album cover and at her next concert, she’ll be wearing makeup. But it is easier to pin the blame on the evils of Photoshop.

Let’s back up and get a little history and get some perspective before throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Often mistakenly referred to as “editing”, “retouching and enhancement” is the process of correcting flaws in a photograph not able to be addressed when shooting. Only the methods have changed.

“Editing” as most photographers actually use the term, refers to the process of selecting which photos to keep, and which hit the trash can. A culling process, in or out, yes or no. That is editing.

Photographers have been doing “retouching and enhancement” on photographs since the invention of photography. In the old days, photographers would learn to remove dust spots from prints using dyes applied to the print with a brush. Temporary facial blemishes and such could be removed from an image by blending the blemish on the negative to the surrounding skin tone using pencils sharpened to a needle point or dyes with very fine brushes. This usually needed to be done with the aid of a powerful magnifying glass or even a microscope. Needless to say, this level of artistry required a great deal of skill and talent, took years to master, and there were limits to what could be done.

More extreme corrections would be done by applying colored pencils, chalks, or airbrushing actual paint onto the surface of the photograph. The more work that was done, the more apparent it became and the more the image took on the look of an illustration or painting rather than a photograph. This is where the erroneous use of the word “airbrushing” comes from. No one today actually uses airbrushing as a tool to enhance photographs.

Enter Adobe Photoshop. A natural extension of the way photographers have always “polished” their images, Photoshop has simply, and perhaps sadly, made it easier for almost anyone to go crazy and alter images badly. Just as Karaoke brought forth an entire universe of awful singers, Photoshop enabled countless “photographers” to do retouching and enhancement, really, really poorly.

But why do we even need retouching? I mean, why can’t we just accept that people have pimples and blotchy skin and bags under their eyes and crow’s feet? Why do we have to aspire to some level of unrealistic perfection?

Fair question, but I think there is actually an answer. And the answer lies in what a photograph actually represents to most people… a slice of time… a MEMORY. Here is the reality about memories. When we meet with or recall someone, a loved one or relative, we do not spend time staring at and scrutinizing every pimple, blackhead, stray hair and wrinkle. We engage the person, talk to them, smell them, touch them. We do not have these additional distractions when viewing a photograph. All we can do is look at it, and with that, we scrutinize it. We see things, in razor sharp detail, that we would simply not see in reality. THAT is the purpose of retouching and enhancement. It brings our photograph more into alignment with our actual memory. Is that wrong?

Here is an image of my lovely friend, Tina. Yes, Tina is wearing makeup… shoot me. Let’s be real, modern sentiments aside, it is the rare woman who is going to sit in front of my camera without any makeup on. Is that really so horrible?  Anyway, right away we can see one of the first problems… today’s cameras and lenses are WAY TOO SHARP for portrait photography. I can promise you, if you had been there when this photo was taken, this would NOT be an accurate representation of your MEMORY of what Tina looked like. You will notice things in the photo that you simply would not be aware of in person.

Tina-5493 So, for me, the first step would be a slight amount of general softening and contrast adjustment to help compensate for the ability of the camera to record every pore and line in  harsh crispness. Step one, for me would look like this:

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OK, better… and for many, this may be all that is really needed… but to me, I see a few things going on that I don’t think would stick in my mind as my impression of how Tina actually looked that day.

Tina-5493a

Is it “wrong” to remove these tiny flaws and allow the viewer to focus on Tina’s actual beauty and expression? Some of those blemishes are transitory and will not be there in 2 days. Why should her photo be eternally fixed with a temporary blemish? Other things are shadows and lines caused by the way the light is falling on her. Sure, they are real… but are they necessarily a part of her actual appearance? I don’t think so. Let’s retouch then reasonably and see if our resulting image is really a gross distortion of reality.

Tina-5493c

I’d bet money that most people would gladly choose this image over the 100% “realistic” one. Is that presenting a false ideal? I don’t think so. I think it is presenting an artistic representation of what we actually see, with our eyes AND our hearts.

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So, what’s all the backlash over? Well, sadly, many photographers have taken the ease of making corrections in photoshop to the extreme. They haven’t taken the time to learn the proper use of the tools of retouching and enhancement to improve an image without making it look cartoonish and fake. This is what we often see on photographers portfolios these days:

Tina-5493d

The skin is retouched so that all texture and contouring is gone. The colors are blasted so that they look like a bad spray tan job. The whites of the eyes are enhanced to the point they look like doll eyes, and in the process, often fine details in things with texture, like hair and even clothing, turn to mush. Yeah, I agree, it makes you want to throw up, right? But it isn’t Photoshops’s fault. It is 100% operator error.

But what about those magazine covers that shrink women to impossibly thin proportions and give them skin that looks like polished porcelain? Well, that is a fantasy, and everyone knows it. Is it really any different than portraying a model wearing a dress of fire or water droplets, or a fashion model wearing 12 inch platform shoes and purple hair?

Yes, I agree that it send the wrong message to take a normal person of healthy weight and manipulate them to look anorexic. But does doing so really give young people an unrealistic standard of beauty? Only if we don’t educate them to the difference between fantasy and reality!

Tucking in a wrinkle in clothing that is making someone look a little heavier, or even, god forbid, helping someone out by removing a little love handle  now and then isn’t really the end of the world is it? As before, we just don’t focus on those things in real life as we do in a photo, so why not use our skills as professionals to help the subject look their best? It’s how the world actually sees them, and if done with skill and restraint, I just don’t see anything wrong with it.

Sadly though, I see many, many newer photographers in my own field of portrait photography who have never learned the “art” of retouching and enhancement, and the importance of restraint. Photoshop does make it way too easy to do way too much, way too easily. When you see this plastic, overretouched, “Barbie Doll” look, consumers need to learn to just say “No.”

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