Getting Started on a Portfolio

About 6 months ago now, when I was getting started on creating a new portfolio from scratch I found it pretty difficult to know where to start. I had trouble finding helpful information and resources and relied heavily on word of mouth to figure out what approach I would take. I thought it may be useful to other photographers to do a little series of blog posts on portfolio production.


So we'll start today with purpose.

It may sound silly, but before you get started you'll need to decide what the purpose of this portfolio will be. Sure, the goal is to get a job, show your work, and sell your services. But what kind of work do you want? What do you actually want to be doing? Your portfolio should showcase this kind of work. You don't want to select several photos of editorial fashion and lifestyle images if all you want to do is food photography. Focus your subject matter to the types of jobs you'd like you get. If you want to apply to multiple industries, you should consider making a book for each industry you'd like to be considered in.

But why? Shouldn't I show off all my skills?

Yes and no. You want to show that you're a skilled photographer, certainly; you also want to show off an artistic style of some sort. After all, we're artists and when clients hire a photographer they expect to be able to anticipate what kind of pictures will be produced. If you're book is too varied it's hard for a client to predict what the outcome will be. This should also showcase your best skills, not just the ones you can get away with.

In the end, the goal is to showcase your skills while portraying a certain style and subject matter. If you start your portfolio with a narrow purpose it will be easier to create a more tailored and cohesive look.

If you're having trouble deciding how to narrow this down, ask yourself these questions to help decide:

1.  What kinds of projects have you most enjoyed working on? Do you find it more enjoyable to photograph people or products?

2.  Is there a certain industry you prefer to work within? Mechanics, food, toys, fashion, beauty?

3.  Do you prefer to work on location or in the studio?

4.  Take a step back and assess your work from an unbiased and critical stand point. What types of photos or subjects do you have the most success with? If this is hard, you can ask a friend (or some friends) you trust to help you critique your work.

Nail down a topic and direction first. Once you decide, you can narrow down your work to just what fits that purpose. You should have a more narrow body of work that represents both your best work and what you most enjoy. The next step is to start identifying gaps, but we will get to that another time.

Have you built a portfolio before? Do you have other tips? Leave a comment below and let me know how you decided what direct to take your portfolio and what tips you have for beginners!

Collaboration Complete

A few months ago, you may remember a post discussing the importance of collaboration. Today, I'd like to share with you the final product of the stop motion video on which I collaborated with a friend, Sarah Blankenship. Her design work is pretty cool. She came to me with this idea and needed some assistance getting the photos for the project. I photographed the pictures in studio with Sarah. She provided direction as we went along and I would trouble shoot lighting and technical things as we went. Then she used the photos we created together to make the beautiful video you see below. I am so excited to finally share this with you all. The final product is pretty cool and it's always rewarding to see your work in a final piece.

Like what you see? You find more of her work here.

3 Things to Remember at Your Next Composite Shoot...

I have a nasty habit – or not so nasty habit, I’ll let you decide – of solving all my lighting problems by compositing separate frames in post. It’s super easy because you can just set up your shot, place your camera on the tripod. and move the light around to get different highlights and shadows until you have every part exactly how you want it. If you plan on trying this tactic, there’s a few important things to keep in mind while you’re on set.

1. Go into it with a plan.
You don’t want to go into this kind of project blind. It can be easy to say “oh I’ll just wing it on set,” but that can get you into a lot of trouble with something that has this much work in post. You’ll want to know exactly the frames you want to shoot so you can go in, set up, and start lighting everything how you need it. My advice? Sketch it out. Most photographers go into their shoot with at least some idea of what they want. It will really help you here if you know exactly what frames you want and will save you a ton of time! You’ll spend a good chunk of time getting the lighting right and you don’t want to waste any time of set trying to figure out the next step. Plan as much as you can ahead of time. The time you save on set you can use to capture those few sparks of inspiration in the moment. You’ll thank me later.

2. DO NOT move anything, this is not a drill.
It’s extremely important to not move the product, your camera, or any other aspect of the shot once you start shooting. You strictly want to move the light and nothing else. This will make things about 1,000 times easier once you get into Photoshop to start putting everything together. The closer everything lines up, the less work you’ll need to do with transformations, masking, and other tricks to make each part of the frame fit in the right spot.

3. Try more than you think you’ll need.
With the checklist you made in the planning stage, it’s easy to only shoot the bare minimum. This can be a problem when you’re in Photoshop and looking for a different shaped smudge to fit behind your foundation brush. If you have a bunch of shapes, shadow directions, etc. you’ll have more to work with later when you’re compositing. It will also save you the hassle of creating a fake shadow after the fact. (Check out this video to see what I’m talking about)

Try this out for your next still life shoot. You’ll be surprised with how much you can achieve.

Stay Creative.

–KS

Getting Started with Tethering...

Shooting tethered is the decision to shoot directly from your camera to your laptop. This allows you to see your photos on a larger screen and with much greater detail than the back of your camera, giving you time to make changes while you’re still on set. You can check focus, overlay type, put photos in a layout, and even start processing them.

You’ll need only a few things to get started:

1. The Software

Before you start planning your shoot, you’ll need some sort of software to view the photos as they come in. Capture One and Lightroom both of tethering capabilities. Each program has their own benefits. I personally prefer working with Capture One for its advanced color correction and editing capabilities. However, Lightroom has the added benefit of tethering straight into your catalog. It may be beneficial to try both programs and see which works best with your shooting and processing style. Both offer free trials and can be bought on a subscription-based service to keep the program up to date.

2. A Cable

You’ll need a way to get the photos from your camera body to your computer. Different cameras require different cables for tethering. I really like TetherPro high visibility cables by TetherTools. The orange color of the cables makes it really easy to see on set and differentiate from all the other cables on the ground.

3. A Table or Flat Surface

You’ll want some place to keep your computer or laptop safe during the shoot. With a long enough cable, you can set up on a rolling cart or table for easy mobility. Make sure whatever you choose is sturdy and safe. You’ll be connected to the computer like a dog on a leash, so you don’t want to start dragging the computer off the surface by accident.

4. A Tripod

Think about how important consistency is for your shoot as well. If you’re looking for the same angle or composition in a series of photos, you’ll want to keep your camera on a tripod. This will be especially helpful wth still life. By tethering, you can make small changes as you go pretty easily, so you’ll want to eliminate other variables as much as you can (or need to). It can be helpful with fashion and models, too, especially if you’re doing something more product or catalog oriented. However, I find it easier to shoot anything more editorially fashion-based without a tripod.

And that’s it! Get familiar with your new tools and software before heading on location or to the studio to make things as seamless as you can. Know how to snap a photo from the program, how to make exposure adjustments, setting white balance, and any other specifics for the shoot.

Get out there and create.

-KS

4 Video Editing Tips From Someone Who's Done it Twice...

 
 

And Voila! I have created a behind the scenes video. My second video of all time. It's by no means perfect, but I'm pretty proud of the work I've done. I worked in Premier to keep that in mind for the following tips. Press that play button above for a behind the scenes look at one of our Thread shoots. It's pretty cool.

1. Organization
The biggest thing I found while editing this, is that it's super important to stay organized. The way I managed everything was by creating a folder titled by the project name (on my desktop for easy access, I'll be backing it up and storing it away later). Within that folder, I saved my project, created a folder for my video files, and a separate folder for my audio. Then, I imported all that into my project.

2. Shorter is Better
Most of the original clips I had were way too long and I shortened them significantly. True, it's better to have a clip that's too long than too short. However, it would be better to focus in on smaller actions and accentuate those by getting closer to the action. Having those kinds of clips mixed in with wider shots would have mixed in some more variety. Not every clip needs to be 10 seconds long. It's probably best that they are all not more than 10 seconds long!

3. Good Editing Takes Time
I'm no expert, but even the very basic editing I did on this short video took me quite a while. Each clip needs cut down individually and edited. The sound is a separate entity that needs its own attention, then it needs to be matched to the video you're using. It was a lot to take in at first. Luckily, I was working with a pretty even color balance and exposure.

4. Think Before You Film
The biggest thing I wish I would have done differently was film a larger variety of angles, head sizes, and content. Most of the clips are of our photographer working (Justin Gamble). The video would be stronger with more variety – including detail shots of the clothing, different angles of the photographer, etc.

Carly Matson, Thread's video editor, was a huge part in helping me along in this project and finalized it for promotion of the magazine. You can see Thread's video channel here to see more of our super cool videos.

-KS

Three Things I Learned about Filming...

Video is the way of the future. The newest cameras all feature the coolest new video settings. Videos are all over social media. More and more often as new graduates we are expected to know video, because this is what clients are asking for. When the industry changes, we have to change with it. This is great because it allows for creative growth and exploration!

“But – I’m a photographer,” I found myself saying. “I take still pictures.”

Well I found it’s not all that different to record movement! Here are the most important things I found out doing my first independent video assignment:

Number 1: The Settings
So I actually found this part to be the most intimidating. I had only done video one other time before, and I had a lot of help with it. A friend of mine sent me this article on Nikon’s website which gave me all the information I needed. There’s five main settings to worry about: Frame Rate, Resolution, Shutter Speed, Aperture, and ISO. The Frame Rate is how quickly your camera is recording the images, or how many frames per second. Typically you’ll want to shoot at 30FPS unless you’re going for a specific look. Resolution is the quality at which your’e shooting. To get full HD, you’ll want to set your camera to 1920 x 1080. Shutter speed orgs a little differently with video than when you’re shooting stills. With video, you’ll want to work with a fixed shutter speed. To calculate what you should shoot at you’ll double your frame rate. So if we’re shooting at 30FPS, our shutter speed should be set to 1/60th. Since you’re working at a fixed shutter speed, you’ll need to control exposure with the aperture and ISO settings, both of which work pretty similar to when you’re shooting stills. The aperture will still control how much light you let into the camera. How wide your aperture is will give the same visual effects as it does in stills – the wider the aperture the thinner the focal plane. ISO will have the same effects too – the higher the ISO the more noise you’ll see.

Number 2: The Technical Aspects Are About the Same
Once you get the settings figured out, the technical stuff works pretty much the same. The rules about composition, light, and angles, all work as you would expect! What makes a good composition is no different in video than it is in photography. Same with exposure. OS keeps doing what you’re doing to get those interesting perspectives.

Number 3: There Are So Many More Possibilities
With photography you can’t move your camera for the picture because everything you capture is stopped in motion. That’s the nature of taking still photos. With video, you can creation motion in so many different ways – you can move the camera, change focus in and out, move objects, or capture actions. This gives you so many more avenues to tell your story. What’s more interesting is when you add video to your toolbox, you aren’t just limited to one or the other. With Cinemagraphs, you have the capability to add movement to still photos. Lindsey Adler has some cool examples if you’re looking for inspiration!

Next week I’ll have the behind the scenes video compiled to show you, and some cool tips about editing. So stay tuned for some cool videography exploration.

– KS

The Top 5 Things You Need in Your Camera Bag– Besides A Camera...

As a student working in a shared space, I can’t leave everything that I need at the studio, and it can be hard to decide what I need to bring and when. My first assignment in the studio, I was underprepared. Since then, I’ve come up with a pretty good kit of things I keep with me at all times, and I just add to it for special projects.

First of all– being on campus makes it really hard to get everything to and from whereever it is that you’ll be shooting, so let’s start with finding a good bag. You’ll want something big enough to carry the equipment you have now with a little room to grow. Camera bags can be a big investment (specially working with a college student’s budget). You won’t want to buy a new one right away. I like the Tamrac Anvil series. It has plenty of space, great support, and lots of areas to add on attachments when you get new gear.

So you’ve got a bag, but now what should you put in it? Your camera and some lenses to start, memory cards, a sync cable, maybe a tether cable too, but here is a list of some things you may not think to keep on hand.

Pocket Wizards
Many students prefer to use sync cables because they are inexpensive and accomplish the same task as a wireless transmitter. However, by using wireless transceivers, I get a wider range of motion on set and have fewer cables to step over. You’ll need one for your camera and one for each battery pack or strobe you’re using. I have two Pocket Wizard Plus III and one Pocket Wizard Plus X. The models are compatible with each other so I could afford to save some money when I got a third one. You can buy these new or used from camera supply stores or direct from the manufacturer.

Rechargeable Batteries and Chargers
One of the worst things that can happen on set is running out of juice! You’ll want to keep extra batteries on hand for your camera, transceivers, and any other accessories that take power. I like to use rechargeable batteries because I tend to go through a lot and it saves me some money in the long run. You’ll want to keep chargers for everything in your bag too, if you have the space. You don’t want to miss your deadline because you ran out of power! You can buy spare camera batteries from the camera manufacturer or a camera store. They make inexpensive off-brand versions if you’re shopping on a budget (I know I am). Rechargeable double and triple A batteries can be bought most places batteries are sold. The first time you buy, make sure you get the one with the charger.

Box Cutter, Scissors, Tape, and Fishing Line
This is particularly important if you do still life, but can also come in handy at any shoot. I can’t count the number of times I’ve had to use my room key and some strategical ripping to open things in the studio. From opening new seamless rolls to cutting tags of clothes to cutting foam core for bounce cards – the possibilities are endless! The tape and fishing line can help hold items in place on a still life set or hold clothes in place on a model. Each of these are pretty inexpensive and can be bought at any superstore.

Multitool
You can spend about as much as you’d like on one of these. They’re like a swiss army knife but with pliers, screw drives, and even scissors! The pliers come particularly handy when you’re tightening acres on set. There are a lot of different sizes and types, so look around and find one that can do what you need it to. The prices range a lot too, but I chose to invest in a Leatherman. They hold up pretty well and are really easy to use.

A-Clamps
If the space you’re using doesn’t already have some of these stocked you should keep some in your bag too! These are great for rigging bounce cards and flags. You can use them to hold foam core on a light stand with an arm to help move the light where you need it to be. In the past, I’ve even used small ones to clamp a shirt tighter on my model. They also work to prop up smaller bounce cards on a still life set. A-Clamps are multifaceted, inexpensive and can be purchased at your local hardware store!

With these items in your pack, you’ll be prepared to take on everything your shoot throws at you. So load up your camera bag and get on set!

Stop. Collaborate. and Listen...

When I was beginning my venture into photography, I wanted everything I did to be a one-woman show. I got my start in artistically driven black and white film photography. I liked to take pictures of my surroundings and nature. Nothing I did required much planning. I went on a lot of photo walks and just tried to silently document what I saw in the most beautiful way I could. This was clear in my portfolio when I applied to OHIO. Everything I submitted were drawings and photographs of nature. Things I could do alone. I had just a few portraits of my closest friends and family, but they were definitely outnumbered by what I could do without help.

My experience with collaboration only began when I came to OU. It began my first year with a portrait assignment. I needed to find someone to photograph and a location. I had to work with my model to find a location and pose that best represented her. It ended up being very basic, but I got some good critique on it. As I’ve continued my education the level of collaboration I’ve done has increased exponentially.

In Thread we really emphasize communicating with photographers, designers, and writers. It’s important that everyone working on the story has the same goals. If everyone has different goals for the project, it won’t be cohesive. In these situations the group needs to work together to come to a consensus to decide what direction to take the story.

I was in these situations often. Sometimes the people I worked with had trouble communicating what they would like to see in the photos to be paired with the story. When there is a disconnect, the story falls flat. The photos need to accurately represent what is discussed in the story. From a design perspective if the photographer doesn’t shoot enough variety, the spread can turn out flat. Without these three elements working together, the project isn’t as successful.

It’s easy to forget, as a student, what the end goal is for our photos. We hope that one day our skills will reach a point where our photos are being used in publications and advertisements. The fact is our photos don’t stand alone when they are published. Almost always they are paired with story, text, and design for their final presentation (unless they’re in a gallery, but that’s another conversation). For the project to have the best final presentation all parts of the presentation need to be cohesive.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have several opportunities to collaborate in my own classes and with my colleagues for their projects. Most recently, a designer I’ve worked with in the past approached me to assist with a stop motion project. I was so excited because this was the first time I had the opportunity to work on something like this. We scheduled an entire Sunday afternoon, recruited an assistant, and made some homemade cinnamon rolls. When we met, we started by making some sketches and a plan of action. We needed to know exactly what the end product would be so the pictures would have a specific purpose.

I was responsible for getting the camera, lighting, and Capture One all set up (of course). We knew we wanted a background as white as we could get it (to be enhanced in post) and a pretty even light on the subjects. The designer will composite the images (as needed), add plenty of text and other design elements, as well as create the video. Our assistant helped keep surfaces clean and moving smoothly.

We made a mess of the studio (which we cleaned up of course) but the photos turned out better than I could have expected. Here is a sneak peak! I’ll keep you posted on how the final product turns out.

-KS

Kate, you're pretty attached to that tablet...

A few years ago now, as I sat in my photography class, I listened to my professor go on about these tablets that were available in our student check-out room. Wacom Tablets. He said they were becoming more and more of an industry standard and we should all learn to use them before we graduate. I had used the check-out room many times and had never heard of these tablets. I went back to my dorm room after class and looked them up.

I have always been very interested in new technologies. I spent an hour or more looking at all the different models and their uses. I had to learn how to use these!

I’m pretty interested in post processing, retouching, and digital compositing, making my Wacom tablet my best friend. Before I found my way to photography, I was very involved in drawing. My love for the arts in general came from drawing as a young girl, and it’s a skill I’ve pursued throughout my life. Using these tablets is the best way to combine my drawing skills and my love for photography. The possibilities seemed endless.

I use a Wacom Intuos Pro tablet. The surface is both touch and pressure sensitive. This makes using the pen on the tablet feel very natural. There are eight function keys on the left and a touch ring. The function keys and touch ring can be customized to any function you like and can vary based on the program you’re using with the tablet. They’re extremely convenient to use with your most commonly used hot keys.

Using a tablet has always been second nature to me because of past experiences with drawing and painting. It’s faster, easier, and more organic than using a mouse ever was.

To Begin...

I am a person of many passions, all of which all of which are creative. One of which, is photography.

By beginning this blog I hope to push myself creatively and intellectually. I want to learn new skills find new inspirations.

This blog will be a place for me to showcase both my successes and failures. I'll log what I've learned each step and maybe it will help other young photographers.

As I begin this blog I will also begin to increase my social media presence. These two channels will help me set goals with my work and motivate me to challenge myself.

If you're along for the journey. I'll see you soon.

-KS