Category Archives: Dennis Kelly Customers

Get to Know What “Good” Is

 

This is the time of year when we start to get lots of calls from parents of seniors who just received the proofs from their school senior pictures, or who went to another studio, and were disappointed with the results. Happens every year, like clockwork.

I remember there used to be an ad campaign (although I have to admit I don’t recall what company it was) that’s theme was “Get to Know What Good is…”

This struck home for me recently when an out-of-state friend asked my opinion on some “professional” photos he had a photographer take of his kids. They weren’t very good, at all… but of course, as a fellow professional, I hesitate to knock another photographer’s work. But a friend was asking, so I gave him my honest opinion.

“I thought so.” he said.  “I knew something was bad about them, I just didn’t know what….”

“I just didn’t know what…” That statement kind of resonated with me.  With Facebook and Twitter and all the rest, I’m seeing a lot of really poor quality work getting passed off these days as professional photography. It occurred to me that many people simply don’t know what a professional image should be.

I mean, if you hire a contractor or carpenter that doesn’t do a good job, it’s usually obvious. Things aren’t level, corners don’t meet, the job looks shoddy.

A fancy camera doesn’t make you a photographer.

But other things often aren’t so obvious. If your accountant does a poor job, you might pay more in taxes than you owe, but you may not know it unless you had some clues as to what to look for. These days, with almost anyone who buys a digital SLR camera calling themselves a pro photographer, it may be hard to know the difference without a little education.

Remember the local clothing store that’s motto was, “An educated consumer is our BEST customer.”? Having customers who understand the difference between good and bad photography is good for my studio, so I decided to write this blog article about it.

Now, I understand that beauty is ultimately in the eye of the beholder. And when it comes to something as personal as a photograph of your loved one, all that really matters is that they are appreciated by YOU. But still, if you are trusting someone to do a job that you are paying them to do, you really should have some idea of what you are paying for.

So, here is a short list of things I see as “problems” that get passed off as professional photography frequently today. This is by no means a complete list, but may give you some idea of things to look for before you spend your hard earned money with someone simply masquerading as a professional photographer.

Correct color is always noticeable in skin tones, and in neutral areas, like grays, blacks, and whites.

#1. Poor Color.

This is a tricky one to uncover, especially if your only exposure is on the internet. Did you ever go into an electronics store where they have all the TV sets on display playing the same program?

The color and picture quality varies tremendously (actually, this is a sales technique to steer you into the sets they want you to buy!) But, the same holds true for your computer monitor. The color and quality of the image you are viewing has a LOT to do with how your monitor is adjusted. But, there are “standards” for monitor calibration that  pro’s should use to make sure the color is good. (Hint: If in doubt… look at the image on an ipad or smartphone. Most of those displays are pretty darn close to “correct” right out of the box.)

Professional photographers use high end graphics monitors and hardware devices called colorimeters to calibrate and profile their monitors so they display “correct” color.  These cost some bucks, but there is no substitute.

Professional graphics monitor with colorimeter.

Without proper color management, a photographer has no chance of matching his or her display to the prints they will get back from the lab.

Cyan, or blue green skin is never a good idea!

So, the proof is in the print, and the easiest way to decide if the photographer has a clue about color is to look at the prints.

If your skin color looks like a cheap spray tan… that’s NOT GOOD!

Skin tones should look like… well, skin. If the face looks like a really bad spray-tan (orange or yellow) or even worse, blue or green… it’s a sure bet the photographer doesn’t know how to correctly set and adjust color. Neutral areas (grays, whites and blacks) should be free from color casts. If your black shirt looks kind of red, or your white sweater is pink or blue, or your brown haired teen looks like a redhead, that means the photographer didn’t do a good job.

 

Most amateurs (and sadly, many professionals too) set their camera’s color setting on “auto” and think that’s all they need to do. Seasoned professionals know that the “A” on the white balance setting stands for “awful” and never, ever, use it!

Now, sometimes a photographer will use a special technique or style, like a candle-light look, or an intentional off-color effect to accent a mood or style. That’s intentional and different from someone who’s entire portfolio is filled with funny, weird skin colors.

  #2 Bad Lighting

Most people tend to think of “lighting” as simply whether a picture is too light or too dark, but in reality, lighting is way, way more than that.

 

Light is what gives the appearance of depth and dimension in a photo, it focuses attention where you want it to go, (and away from areas you don’t want it to go), it makes the eyes sparkle with life, and it makes the photo “pop off the page”.
Poor lighting can result in things like the eyes being in dark shadows (raccoon eyes), overhead light hitting the nose (clown nose) and even making the overall color, contrast, and look of the image appear flat and “muddy”.

Pro location lighting can be complex

Lighting on location can be especially tricky. If a “photographer” shows up at the shoot with just a camera and proclaims he or she is a “natural light shooter”, that’s usually an indication that they aren’t well versed in light control.

Good lighting makes the eyes look alive and the subject look great!

Experienced photographers have the ability to bring back professional quality images in ANY lighting situation… and that usually means equipment… lots of it. Reflectors, lighting equipment, flashes, scrims, gobos, shades… all are things a true professional spends years learning how to use to best advantage. Look at the photographer’s pictures… if the images seem flat (lacking a 3 dimensional look), if the colors and contrast and weak and muddy, or if the images have flare (a kind of ghostly, halo effect around the edges of the subject) chances are that photographer doesn’t understand lighting. Yes, a very skilled and experienced photographer can frequently “find” good lighting without the use of a lot of extra equipment, but these rare talents are few and far between. If you are shooting with one, the quality of their images will leave absolutely no doubt in your mind that they know what they are doing.

#3 Overused or poorly executed “gimmicks.”

When a trendsetter photographer starts showing a new style or technique, the copycats are usually quick to try and capitalize on it, but often do the technique poorly, or use it in situations where it just looks silly. For example, several years ago, I started incorporating the use of a fan in the studio with senior girls to gently lift and blow their hair. I “borrowed” this idea from the fashion photography industry, where it is a common technique, but we were the first studio around here to use it in senior portrait photography. The idea, of course, is to very gently lift and fluff the hair to give it that “fashion model” look.

 

 

Other area photographers soon took my idea, and now everywhere I see pictures of senior girls that look like they’re standing in a wind tunnel or are facing an approaching tornado! Sorry, it just looks dumb.

 

We also pioneered an “edgy” look to sports pictures in our senior sessions, giving them a gritty, “Sports Illustrated” type look in the style of Joel Grimes or Joey Lawrence.

 

Now the competition is copying our poses, but without the extreme lighting, gritty feel, and dramatic power we do. Well, they look kind of… lame.

 

When famous photographer Anne Geddes started photographing babies in flower pots, photographers everywhere started sticking babies in flowerpot with silly hats.

 

 

While Geddes’ work was breathtaking, the knock offs were hideous.

So, when looking at a pro’s work, ask if their style seems to be their own, or a lame attempt at copying a style without a real feeling for what works, and what even makes sense. Sitting on a fancy couch on railroad tracks?  Fire coming out of a saxophone? Seriously?

 

#4 Bad Posing.

The way a photographer directs the pose can make a picture look great… or ridiculous.

“Posing” is a dirty word with consumers. Everyone wants their photos to look “un-posed” and “natural”. What they really mean is they don’t want their pictures looking stiff and un-natural.

When you see a photographer shooting a supermodel on TV… the model is hitting all these incredible poses, and the photographer is shooting away, saying “yes! Yes! YES!!!”. Well, those supermodels get paid BIG bucks because they KNOW how to do that. Most people, like Uncle Rico here, don’t. And a quick look through your family photo albums will show you that completely unposed photos are often completely unflattering!

“Natural” posing mimics good body language in a flattering way.

The key is being able to direct people into “poses” that not only look comfortable and natural, but make them look good at the same time.

Learning “good posing” takes a long time. It involves not only learning about anatomy and facial structure, it involves understanding body language, angles, and a ton of other “tricks” to make sure people look their best. Is clothing properly adjusted, or are there wrinkles and bulges that are making the person look heavier? Do the arms, hands, or legs look “awkward”? Does the body position make the person look uncomfortable? Is the weight distribution on the correct foot for the subject and angle? Does the pose work with the light? Does the pose “make sense”? Is it believable?

Posing also has a lot to do with “body language”. Humans are very adept at interpreting body language, but inexperienced photographers often don’t “get it”. For example, there is a distinct difference between “masculine” and “feminine” body language. How men and women tilt their heads, use their hands, walk, lean… everything. Directing a male into a feminine body position is a mistake that most males will recognize immediately, yet I see boys and men with feminine head tilts and eye positions on photographer’s pages all the time. It’s a rookie mistake, and I’m sorry… it looks awful!

#5 Over Retouching

Today’s cameras and lenses are way too sharp for portrait photography. Let’s face it, no one looks good when you can see every pore, wrinkle, blemish and blotch. That’s why pro photographer judiciously retouch their images. When you meet a person in real life, you don’t stand there scrutinizing every pore and zit… but when looking at a photo, you are forced to do just that.

Retouching is an art, and must be done with skill and restraint, so the person still looks real. But many studios take a short cut and use some automated photoshop filters that result in what I call the “Barbie and Ken Plastic Skin Syndrome”.

No Retouching – Good Retouching – Overdone Retouching
Too much retouching makes your skin look fake and plastic… like a Barbie.

Over-retouching is a sign of a photographer who hasn’t learned good technique.

#6 The Ghost Syndrome

Looking a little pale???

This last pet peeve I have is actually a “style” that a lot of newbie photographers are imitating. I suspect because it is easy to do in photoshop and hides a multitude of mistakes. It involves tweaking the density and color saturation, using very flat, blah lighting, and making the subject look “ghostly”… although the photographers prefer to call it “porcelain”. I suppose for a very specialized look, it’s ok once in a while, but so many “faux-tographers” make EVERYTHING they shoot look like this.

Don’t have to worry about not getting the color right… it’s hardly there anyway. I know a lot of newbie children’s photographer use this style, but lets call it what it is, a fad, and not a good one!

Well, I hope that gives you some insight into things to look for. This is hardly a complete list, but hopefully, it will give you some things to consider when deciding to hire a professional photographer. There are many fine photographers around who have spent years learning and perfecting their craft, and who work hard to produce beautiful, timeless images for their clients. Once you start to “Get to Know What Good Is”, it will be easier to recognize them so YOU don’t have to say, “I knew something was bad about them, I just didn’t know what….”

D

 

 

 

 

Also posted in News and Happenings, Senior Portraits, Tips Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , |

Do You Know Your “Why”?

I have to admit. I’m a skeptic. I’m not really much into new age self-help gurus. Not impressed by psycho-babble. Don’t buy into the trend of the week. Not an Oprah fan, sorry.

But, a while ago someone sent me a TED video by Simon Sinek, a writer and sort of  modern day philosopher. It really struck a chord. In the video, Sinek speaks about why some people or companies are always the artists, the trendsetters, the innovators, that command unbelievable loyalty. One of the examples he used was Apple. Apple has an unbelievably loyal customer base. But why?

The answer is actually the question. It’s the Why? Apple is always the innovator because they do not focus on the “what” (computers and electronic gadgets) or on the “how” (cool designs and innovative products) even though they do both of those exceedingly well. But Sintek observes that people embrace not the how, or even the what, but the WHY.  In Apple’s case, the “Why?” is that Apple, at its core, believes that technology should enrich and make our lives easier, not more complicated. (Ironically perhaps, I’m typing this on an iPad… so there you go.)

It made me think about the “Why” for my studio. Everyone knows “what” we do. We sell photography. Some people even understand the “how” of what we do. That we create beautiful portraits that not only flatter our subjects, but that capture personality and spirit. That we provide unparalleled service so that our clients can fully appreciate and enjoy the images we create, usually by displaying them proudly as something beautiful for their homes.

But, is that it? That’s the “what and how”, but WHY are we in business? The obvious answer for any business, it may seem at first, is to make money. But let me tell you honestly… there are far easier ways to make a living than photography, and I’m not rich, that’s for certain.

Yet, I wouldn’t want to do anything else… Why?

It seems many studios I see focus only on the “how” and “what” of photography. How many sheets of paper you get for $xx dollars. How many different poses or outfits you can fit in a session. I have  always been known as the innovator and trend setter in portrait photography in my market. I have always been the studio that the others try to emulate. Perhaps the reason for this is not the “how and what”. Perhaps the reason is actually the “WHY”.

The “WHY” is the reason I do what I do, and is the reason we are in business:

•    I believe everyone is beautiful, and everyone’s beauty and inner spirit should be captured and recorded, because every life is precious.
•    I believe our children and our families are our greatest achievements.
•    I believe that the art of photography has the unique ability to give us joy and happiness in celebrating LIFE.
•    I believe portraits of our loved ones should be family heirlooms to be treasured for generations, not disposable pieces of paper sold by the square inch.
•    I believe strongly in the value of professional photography to “Celebrate the Story of Life”.

We had a tragedy in our community a few years ago. A young girl whom I had photographed, was tragically killed in a car wreck, just weeks before her high school graduation. Being in business for 30 years, this sadly wasn’t the first time this kind of thing has happened. It’s always difficult, but this time it hit me particularly hard.

I don’t know if it was because we had worked more closely with this young woman and her wonderful family than a “typical” client (she was a member of our “Senior Model Team”… seniors that act as ambassadors for our studio to their class). Or maybe it was because I’m just getting older and starting to appreciate just how short life actually is. Whatever the reason, this time, it was different.

Kellenyi-2402When we went to her viewing, her family had many photographs of her on display. Many of them I had taken. Her too short life on display for everyone to share, and remember. My heart broke for that family.

When we stopped to pay our respects to her parents, they hugged me and thanked me for the beautiful images of their daughter that they would have forever. I gotta tell you… I wasn’t expecting that, and it  really kind of knocked the wind out of me. I’m not typically at a loss for words, but I was speechless and couldn’t really do anything but try (uselessly) to fight back the tears.

But, in a sad way it made my choice of career, and the years I have devoted to my art, all seem worth it. Worth it for that moment anyway. Worth it for whatever small comfort my work could offer that family at the worst time of their lives.

My “why”, I think, is maybe a pretty good one.

I celebrate life.

Do you know what your “why” is?  If not, I hope you find it.

Please feel free to leave a comment, and tell me about your “why”.

Dennis

 

 

 

Also posted in News and Happenings, Tips, Uncategorized

Will You Be Sorry?

The Importance of the Print…

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

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

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

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

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

Also posted in News and Happenings, Tips

Semi-Pro or Do It Yourself?

There is an explosion of “new” photographers entering the profession these days. I see their work often on Facebook and social media. Many of these newer professional photographers have little more than a digital camera and a very basic understanding of photography. Many of them offer a low cost session and “all the files” on a disk for a very low price so you can “print them out yourself.”

We can understand the appeal to many consumers who are attracted to the low prices these “new professionals” can offer. After all, they aren’t burdened with the overhead of a studio, insurance, education etc.  And the appeal of having “all the files” on a disk to print out yourself or share online sounds better than paying for individual prints from a studio, doesn’t it?

But, what are you really getting for your money? A fancy digital camera does not make you a good photographer any more than a stethoscope makes you a doctor. But, the sad thing is, many people do not understand or appreciate what a professional, with years of training and experience, really brings to the table. If you went to a fine restaurant and ordered a meal and they brought you out a bag full of ingredients for you to prepare yourself, do you think it would taste the same as if a 5 star chef cooked it for you?

Here is an image of a lovely young lady I had the honor of photographing lately. I thought it would be interesting to talk about some of the steps that go into making a professional portrait, and perhaps why you would want to hire someone skilled to create it, rather than just a friend with a nice camera.

Shot one is typical of what I see on Facebook and other social media sites more and more. This is an outdoor portrait in a lovely location, and is what you would get out of a modern digital camera set on “A” for automatic or “P” for program mode. It is sharp and well exposed. Today’s cameras are really a marvel of engineering. Even someone who knows nothing about photography could pick up a camera and get an image this good.

But let’s take a closer look… is it really good? There are deep shadows in her eyes, and the light, coming mostly from overhead, is making the pockets under her eyes and cheeks look very dark and strong. “Seeing” light is one of the most difficult things an aspiring photographer needs to learn. Some never learn to do it. Once I discovered how to “see” the light, my world changed. I now am constantly “aware” of light… all the time, everywhere I go, everything I look at, I am conscious of the direction, character, and quality of light all around me. It’s who I am.

So, the first thing I did here was to modify the poor light. The key to this is to make the light flattering, without looking artificial. In this particular case, I added some flash, off camera, to mimic what would have been ideal “natural” light, had it been there. I carefully adjusted the flash output to closely match the ambient lighting so as to keep the image looking balanced and natural. In other instances I may have chosen to use reflectors, scrims (to block the overhead light) or perhaps a combination of all 3. The key here for the photographer is 1st, to realize the light needs to be modified, and 2nd, to be able to control it accurately and quickly.

So, much better. Let’s zoom in and see how modifying the lighting on the subject has opened the deep shadows in her eyes and let us see her beautiful facial features.

But, we still have some problems. The color, while accurate, (she is standing under a tree that is filtering greenish light down from the sky) is hardly flattering. We don’t think of healthy people having bluish-green skin. The camera, on auto setting, will only record what is there. But by carefully adjusting the color settings, we can compensate for the unflattering color cast and produce a beautiful, warm appealing skin tone.

Much, much better… right? Hold on, we’re just getting started. Let’s take a closer look at our new and improved portrait.

Our addition of quality lighting to the subject has had some unintended consequences. Notice the somewhat unflattering shadow from her nose onto her cheek and from her hair onto her neck? Just because these are “natural” doesn’t mean they are good! There are also some messy looking fly away hairs around her head. And, while our subject in this case has a flawless completion, this would now be the time to fix any blemishes and perhaps soften the slight lines under her eyes.

Ok, now we’re getting somewhere!! Are you beginning to see that there should be a LOT more going into a professional photograph than just taking a sharp, clear picture?

Here’s what we’ve got now. Beautiful, right? But we’re still not done.

Our client really wanted to have her outdoor portraits done with some beautiful fall colors. Unfortunately, the area we had to work in hadn’t really started to show the brilliant oranges and yellows we typically think of when we think “Fall”. So, into Adobe Photoshop we go, where with some advanced masking and color manipulations, we can selectively change the green foliage to a more suitable color palette, without altering the skin tone or other colors. Also, our subject here is not in the least bit heavy or overweight. But notice how the loose fitting shirt is blooming out around her waistline and adding some pounds that aren’t there? That won’t do! A little bit of “tucking” of her shirt will give her back her truthful waistline.

Next, I used a technique photographers and painters have been using for centuries, called a “vignette.” Simply put, we often will selectively darken the edges or certain areas of the image in order to focus the viewer’s attention on the subject. Notice how, by slightly darkening the edges of this image, the feeling of depth and dimension is increased and your eye is drawn into the subject? It’s subtle, but important.

Lastly, there are a few distracting elements that were kind of bugging me a little. Minor things, but why not take care of them and make the image “picture perfect”?

So, here we go. Before and after. Most people will see a pretty obvious difference when shown side by side. But most people also would not see much wrong with the “before” image without the “after” image to compare. This is the level of technique and attention to detail that should be the mark of a true professional.

I hope you found this article informative and helpful.

Dennis Kelly

Also posted in News and Happenings, Senior Portraits, Tips, Uncategorized Tagged , , , |

Sometimes it Pays to use a Professional

Of course we may be biased because we are a professional photography studio, but sometimes using a professional saves time, money – and always yields better quality. With last year almost a thing of the past, I can’t imagine having to get all of our accounting in order alone, so I turn to a professional. Same thing for medical advice, automobile issues, or basically anything that I don’t have the time or skills to do myself.

We recently received this message from a past client of ours and thought we’d share. Over the years we’ve heard many horror stories like this – feel free to comment here if you’ve experienced something like this!

My fiance, two girls, and I went to Sears to have our family Christmas portrait done. Big mistake. We had a 12:00 appointment but weren’t even checked in until 12:45. The photographer was terrible with getting my 5 month old to smile and when she finally did the camera wasn’t even in focus. By the time she got herself together the baby was no longer smiling. After an hour of trying to get a good photograph we ended up simply settling on the best of the pictures, which was in no way up to the standards I had hoped for. They did try and make up for the extremely long wait by giving us a free portrait sheet. However, it wasn’t one of the sheets we actually ordered. They gave us a free 8×10 of a photo we didn’t like. We will NEVER go to anyone other than Dennis again!

 

 

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