Shooting at Eastern State

Shooting at unique locations often has the effect of jump starting one’s creativity.

As such, I try to take every opportunity I can to push myself outside my comfort zone and challenge myself to work in new environments.

Such was the case a while back when I got the opportunity to do a photoshoot with one of my favorite models and frequent muse, Tina, at the Eastern State Penitentiary.

From the ES website:

“Eastern State Penitentiary was once the most famous and expensive prison in the world, but stands today in ruin, a haunting world of crumbling cellblocks and empty guard towers. Its vaulted, sky-lit cells once held many of America’s most notorious criminals, including “Slick Willie” Sutton and “Scarface” Al Capone…”

Normally closed to professional photographers and models without special permitting and fees, I got the opportunity to shoot there on a hot summer night a couple years ago.

The conventional wisdom among photographers is that juxtaposing beauty with decay is a powerful way to create captivating imagery. There is certainly an abundance of beautiful decay at this haunting (and some say haunted) location.

There was a lot of ground to cover, and I wanted to be able to move fast and make maximum use of the limited time I had, so I opted for  minimum equipment. I chose a hand held DSLR and only 2 lenses, a 24-105 and my 70-200. I brought along 3 off camera speedlights, but mostly only used 1 or 2 on most images. My wife Bonnie served as my voice activated light stand… hand holding my main or accent light for 90% of my shots.

Working with an experienced model like Tina made shooting so much faster, as she required little direction. I could just explain my vision for the shot and she would nail it in just a few tries, then we could move on to the next series.

Below, please enjoy some of the many fun and awesome images we created that evening.

I can’t wait for another opportunity to photograph there. Unfortunately, Eastern State has discontinued their practice of opening the site to professionals one or two evenings per month. Hopefully, they will reconsider at some point in the future.

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Thought About Modeling?

As a well known senior portrait photographer, I get asked very often about how to break into modeling.

What girl hasn’t dreamed at some point about strutting the runway in a NY Fashion show or being on the cover of Sports Illustrated?  While that seems like a long shot, look at it this way, someone is going to walk that runway, and be on that cover… right?

There are lots of great articles on the web about how to break into modeling and how to get started, like this one from the Scouting Director for the Ford Agency.

Many top agencies now scour social media looking for new talent, so in some ways it’s easier than ever to get discovered. Here is a great article that describes how to get scouted by various agencies that may notice you.

But, being a photographer, the most common question I get asked is what kinds of photos to submit to break into modeling. So, I thought I’d write a blog post to answer those questions directly.

First, you really don’t need to spend money on professional photos when just starting out. In fact, most agencies will prefer that you NOT send professional photos. What ever you do, do NOT send your senior pictures, portraits taken at the mall, or mirror selfies, no matter how much you like them. Modeling images have a different look and style and submitting “portraits” will not get you taken seriously!

Initially, all you will need is what the industry refers to as “polaroids”. Real polaroids are a throwback to film days when they would actually use an instant film camera… nowadays everyone uses digital (and some agencies will call them that) . What they refer to is simple shots taken with a plain, light background that clearly show your face and body without any retouching, styling, or special effects. Do NOT use any filters or retouching software. 

Simple Modeling Polaroids

You can certainly take these yourself, or have a professional create them for you, but a couple of things are important. No, or very little makeup, no props, jewelry, or hats, scarves etc. Don’t wear a padded or push up bra or anything that is going to alter your actual figure. Find a spot with soft, even lighting so you can get a sharp, clear image without shadows, and pick a background that is plain and uncluttered. A plain white wall next to a window is a good choice.

Wear an outfit that shows your figure… a swimsuit or  workout clothes is a good choice. Don’t wear anything baggy. The exception is heels. Wear heels! Take a few full length  pictures front, side and back with a plain, relaxed expression. Then move in and take some closeup shots showing your face, both smiling and not. Stand straight, but not stiff. Relax your shoulders, take a deep breath in and let it out.. Shoot lots of pictures so you have a variety to pick from. You want to look comfortable and relaxed. If you don’t feel comfortable in front of a camera wearing a swimsuit or workout clothes, perhaps now would be a good time to rethink your desire to model!

If you’re not good at photography, don’t have anyone to shoot them for you, or want to make sure your pictures are a good enough quality, you can hire a professional photographer to take them for you. Since these don’t require a lot of time, creative energy, or retouching, they should be relatively inexpensive. At Dennis Kelly, we offer a modeling “Polaroid” shoot for under $75 that will give you everything you will need to start.

Many top agencies have online applications on their websites where you can fill out a form and upload your pictures, so you won’t really need to go to NY and knock on doors. Read through the instructions carefully and FOLLOW THEM. Don’t send 8 pictures if they ask for 3. Don’t send a professional headshot if they ask for polaroids. Don’t apply to their fashion division if they say minimum height is 5’8″ and you are 5’6″. You won’t impress them, except with the fact that you can’t follow instructions. Make a list of agencies in your market area and check their websites for specific information on what they require before you take your pictures. This way you can make sure you will have everything you need before you start to apply. Many agencies now have petite and fitness divisions that are not as restrictive as far as height and weight as fashion divisions typically are.  Some agencies may require a short video showing you talking. You can shoot this with your phone, just keep it short and to the point, and record it in a quiet room without noise in the background.

If you don’t hear back right away, don’t get discouraged. Wait a few weeks and try again, Sometimes you just need to get to the right person, or wait for a time when they may be looking specifically for someone with your look.

Once you start to get some exposure, you may be asked to send a headshot. This is where you will need some professional images.  Your headshot is very important, and it is a place where you will definitely want to hire a pro. A good quality headshot will show your face and some of your shoulders. It is not unusual to crop into the top of your head. This brings attention to your eyes and keeps them in the upper 1/3rd of the picture, where they belong.

This is called a “Hollywood Crop” and it is not a mistake. More common today is something called a “Cinematic” headshot, which is composed in a landscape format… like a movie would be. The subject is usually placed a little off center in the composition. This adds the the dynamic look of the composition and is often used in ads where they need to leave “negative space” for ad copy and things. Again, not a mistake! Remember, modeling and commercial shots have a very different look than traditional portraits. It is important you find a photographer who is versed in current styles. Most important is that your eyes sparkle and your facial features are plainly visible.

The next type of shot you may want to hire a professional for is a classic glamour or beauty headshot. These typically have a more dramatic lighting style, and are often done with bare shoulders to really bring attention to your face, eyes and hair. These are often done in black and white, but that’s not a necessity.

It’s always a good idea to talk with some agencies who might be interested in you to get their input on what kinds of photos they think you need to have in order to market yourself.

If they are very interested and think you are marketable, they may even offer to pay for your photographs. Don’t expect this unless you are signing an exclusive contract with them though. They aren’t going to invest money in you unless they think they will have a chance to earn it back!

Only after you have been scouted, should you think about building your “book”. Your portfolio should ideally be more a collection of actual work you have done, rather than photos you have commissioned yourself. It is always a work in progress.

An agency may suggest you have some different shots done to show some variety in your look, and may suggest you have some “comp cards” created. These are kind of like your business card that you will leave behind whenever you audition for a job. Typically, they will feature your headshot, and 3-4 other images that show your body type, as well as the range of looks you can portray. It will have your basic stats and contact info on it.

Like your headshots, your comp cards will need to be constantly updated to show your current look.

I’d be neglectful not to mention that there are unscrupulous, and potentially dangerous people who may attempt to take advantage of you if you are not careful. Especially when promoting yourself online, be wary of predators who will try and scam you for money, or worse. Use your head. Never agree to meet someone you do not know for a photoshoot, or to be scouted without checking their credentials first. Never go to a photoshoot or audition alone. Unless you are trying to get scouted by Playboy, no reputable agency will ever ask you to send nude photos. No reputable agency will ask you to pay money up front for them to represent you.

There are a number of online networking sites, like and, and these may be a good place to network, especially if you want to book jobs yourself and bypass an agency all together. Just be careful that there are also trolls who use these sites to find people to prey on. Use your head and if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Of course, if you need photos to get you started, or just want to see how you’d look being photographed by a real professional photographer who knows how to bring out your best… give us a call!  856-228-4399

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How to Shoot Small Items for Online Sales.

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!

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The Incredible Importance of Prints

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.

With 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.

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Preserve Your Family Legacy!

Family History is So Important.

I was going though some old files and came across some old negatives I had from years ago.
These images of my Father-in-Law as Santa Claus, were taken over 25 years ago. A large framed print of “Sleeping Santa” still adorns my home every Holiday Season. And the one of  “Grandpop Santa” reading to my two boys always warms my heart.

My Father-in Law is now deceased, and these images serve to remind me of the awesome power of photography.

I had these, and a bunch of other old negatives, scanned and digitized, so that I can be sure they can be passed down to future generations.

It has been said that this generation’s visual legacy is at risk of being completely lost on a bunch of broken and discarded cell phones and failed hard drives. That would be too sad. Take some time to preserve and protect your family’s legacy… before it’s too late.
-Dennis Kelly

When it comes to preserving and restoring those special family memories, Dennis Kelly can help. We can scan, digitize, and even retore old, faded, and damaged photos to better than new condition. And it costs far less than you might think. Call us at 856-228-4399 and let us help you preserve your family’s legacy!

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