Corporate Portraiture

For all of you advancing amateurs and emerging pros here’s an assignment.

Look at the copy of Distinctive Women that was delivered with your morning national newspaper today. I can’t even imagine how much this promotion piece cost (a lot) and while I don’t know the publisher’s funding model I’m guessing the ladies who are featured are the ladies who are paying the freight.

But that’s not the assignment.

What I want you to do is look at the portraits of the women featured inside the pages. What do you see? What do you think? Hw do you feel about them?

A few of the portraits are exceptional.

The shot of Michelle Valberg and her shooting crew of women makes a very positive statement. These are four serious photographers and whether or not they can shoot a decent photo (and I’m betting they can), they sure look like the type of no-nonsense photographers you’d want to shoot your next job or wedding. Doesn’t hurt that Michelle is a Nikon Ambassador either. Very powerful statement by an expert photographer. (Wonder if she shot this herself using a remote?)

My other pick of the bunch is the shot of 93-year-old Martha Zener of Oakville. First the shot makes her look 80 (and that’s a good thing) as it’s a young, vibrant 80 at that. Martha’s portrait is professionally lit and shot. I might have done something else with her left hand but that’s just me being picky. This is how you shoot people who are older than 25! Very nice job.

Now as for the rest….well, you decide.

Is the face brighter than the background? Does the subject standout from the rest of the shot? Is the shot flattering? After all, this is a promo piece and not photojournalism. Does the shot look natural or contrived? Nothing growing out of their heads from the background?

Now there’s contrived and there’s posed. All of the portraits here are what are called environmental portraits. That is the subject is placed in their environment. This can be good or bad depending on the photographer.

For example, the shot of Anna Maria Graziano holding a glass of red wine makes sense as she runs an Italian restaurant. It’s a pretty shot and well exposed. The shots of others holding similar wine glasses for no other reason that I can see expect to suggest success aren’t as strong in my opinion.

And somebody should have wrestled the Photoshop portrait softener brush out of the hands of most of the photographers. A little is okay but a lot especially in a closeup isn’t doing your client any favours. Totally featureless faces don’t fool the viewer and look fake.

My number one favourite shot and this is out of four I thought outstanding is the great photo of Komal Minhas. Exposure, lighting, focus and framing are all spot-on but it’s Komal’s expression and interaction with the camera that sells this image big time. It’s a blessing for the photographer when they can shoot someone who is so relaxed in their own body. Everything comes together here.

Now you may wonder why I’ve decided not to feature any of the images. First it’s not likely the publisher would release any one-time rights especially as I’m not swooning over every image. Second, I don’t need to embarrass any of the fine photographers who shot these images. My comments are just my own opinions and everybody I know can testify that I can be wrong on occasion.

So go get the magazine out of your newspaper and see if you agree with my thoughts and above all, use these shots to improve your own. Look at how the photographer used lights or didn’t use artificial lights. Look at the use of props and environment. Is the subject looking relaxed or stressed?

There’s a lot more I could say about the individual shots and overall they’re very good. All of them are typical of what you’ll see shot for this kind of assignment. And we can learn from them all.

Now get out there and shoot someone!

Best $85 Ever

That’s what it cost to attend STANDOUT! Photographic Forums yesterday in downtown Toronto.

Held at the HangLoose Media studio (cool place) on Logan, the all-day workshops were sponsored by a host of sponsors including PhaseOne and MamiyaLeaf and organized by B3K Digital.


There’s nothing like somebody handing you a $30,000 camera to make your hands shake :)

The pro-level workshops included American Photography Association president Tony Gale who talked about how to break into the US photo market followed by Douglas Sonders’s workshop on how to bullet-proof you location shooting, pre-production and digital tech-ing (his word). Both talks were excellent and filled with great info.

Next up was Walter Borchenko, founding partner at B3K Digital who did an overview of the Capture One photo editing software.

Now I’ve heard a lot about Capture One. If you Google Capture One you’ll see there’s a whole bunch of online tutorials and lots of very happy photographers raving about it.

Now as many of you know I used to teach for Henry’s Cameras here in Ontario and I teach (and use) Lightroom along with just about anything else to do with photography. (I’m working this week on a workshop about shooting street photography for a couple of camera clubs in the GTA.)

So let’s be clear here. I love Lightroom. Once I figured out how to setup my image files and bought a bunch of presets my ability to process thousands of images very, very quickly went way up. Everything in Lightroom works perfectly (okay I’m still struggling with some weirdness in printing to the Epson 3800 and usually use Photoshop to print.) and I’ve got the Adobe Lightroom/Photoshop subscription.

So while I was interested in Capture One, I wasn’t highly motivated to check it out.

Ah, well, ah…I hate to say it but after seeing Walter’s overview I’m sold on a couple of things. Capture One creates a better raw image to work on than Lightroom.

Okay! There I’ve said it.

When Walter projected two identical images on the screen we could clearly see the Capture One was sharper and clearer. And it was sharper and clearer by enough to make my jaw drop!

Second and really neat is Capture One works a little like my old favourite processor Nikon’s super and now unavailable NX Capture 2. I wonder if there’s not a hint here in the name? Doesn’t matter but what does matter is Capture One will allow you to change both global and local settings in really simple and elegant ways.

For example, Walter showed us a contact sheet of images with similar issues which could be fixed simultaneously in Capture One.

On one contact sheet he changed an over-exposure skin situation on all images at once. He did the same thing to a colour of a sweater changing all colours at the same time. But more importantly when one parameter in the images was changed, other parameters were left alone. Other software editors don’t do this.20121009032354-thumbnail-mark-seliger

I’m going to see if I can get my hands on a copy of Capture One and do an in-depth review at a future date.

The afternoon sessions at STANDOUT! where all equally useful and well presented but the highlight of the night was a 30-year retrospective of the work of Mark Seliger.

Mark is famous for his shooting for Rolling Stone magazine among others. A gracious and funny presenter, he’s a serious photographer who is at the top of his game right now. It was an honour and pleasure to be in the front row to hear the man and see his images.

All in all a great day of photography.

Class Acts

So I volunteer to help my dear friend Donna Papacosta by shooting some images at a social media workshop she gave in the offices of the Toronto Board of Trade.

Donna and I exchange favours whenever possible as she is a world-class podcaster and owner of Trafalgar Communications and an expert all things to do with social media and I am a wandering old press photographer and magazine and community newspaper editor who is always looking for opportunities to shoot photos.

(BTW I’ve got a new gig of creating blog copy for corporations, small businesses and non-profits.)

Shooting in the Toronto BoT boardroom was pretty tough with a variety of different lighting, small space and no way to use a proper lighting setup or even a flash. So I set the Olympus OM-D to shoot raw images at ISO 800 with the 12mm wide open at f/2 and then to capture the fleeting expression’s on Donna’s face I was firing at 11 frames per second on silent mode in available light.Intro

Three hours of shooting and I’ve filled a 32 gig memory card with 2,000 images. Because of the tough shooting situation paralleled with the need to get Donna looking her best I quickly cut the number down to 200 of which I did post production on just under 100.

Trying to colour match the images took sometime as did working to getting the skin tones consistent but after a couple of happy hours the job was done and I sent Donna a link to a private folder in my SmugMug gallery. I was hoping she liked the images which were suitable for social media posting but wouldn’t hold up as big prints for the wall.

As I was attending an all-day pro-level photo workshop yesterday (more to come about this) I started to see Donna was posting the images on Facebook. Lots of positive comments followed and I was a pretty happy photographer sitting there with a bunch of my peers and other pros.

But I hadn’t seen anything yet.

When I got up this morning and started to check my social media feeds I found this cartoon page that looked like Donna. I looked at it closely and it was Donna and it was my images of Donna. LOL. Wayne MacPhail a friend of Donna’s posted the page.

Now this is creative ! Wished I had thought of it. Nice job Wayne!


Why We Shoot Photos

“It saved my life.”

That’s a quote from Canadian pro-shooter Renee Robyn who found a reason to live in photography following a near-death motorcycle accident.

Watch this video (Thanks to SmugMug) and some of the others that SmugMug has shot if you’re needing a little inspiration. (BTW I’ve been a SmugMug customer for years.)

Ask yourself: Why do I shoot?

Is it to create a living memory of past events or portraits of family and friends? Perhaps like  Robyn it’s one of the things you can do really, really well no matter what life throws at you.


Marion and I were talking about photography and I think we might book two days and shoot the fall leaves in Algonquin Park again.

TIP: Absolutely go mid week to avoid the massive number of tour busses. Take a tripod and pre-plan your day. Don’t let a little rainy weather deter you (rain and overcast make the colours pop) but skip continuous downpours (not good for cameras or spouses). Stay overnight and get up before dawn to shoot the sunrise. You can shoot everything (just about) from Hwy. 60. Pack a lunch.

I’ve shot in Algonquin a few times and each time it’s different…and when I leave so am I.

Shoot With The Pros

I’ve had a really good summer of shooting photos for myself and for my clients.

It’s always very gratifying when people give unsolicited positive comments on your work and the last few weeks have been pretty good for me :)

So how do you shoot to get better?

If you’re like me (and I’ve been shooting professionally since the mid-70s) you (a) shoot a lot and (b) you take lessons from people who are better than you are. _DSC0967

Perhaps strangely I’ve taken more lessons from more pros in the last 10 years of my shooting than the previous 30 years. (The shot here was done in HDR at the Rick Sammon workshop held at a wreaking yard near Guelph. Never done HDR before. Great workshop!)

Why? Because I wanted to get better! And not better at shooting for clients so much (so long as the cheque cashed I was happy) but for myself._DSC8668-1-Edit-2-1

Care in point was the boudoir workshop held here in Toronto a couple of years ago which was sponsored by Henry’s Cameras and featured New York shooter Jennifer Rosenbaum.

Jennifer is a young, talented professional who can actually teach what she knows. Not every pro who offers lessons can teach.

Here’s a link to a recent interview with Jennifer. Have a look at her interpretation of the shot of the girl on the couch. It’s the third shot down. Notice Jen has chosen to adjust the white balance towards a cooler, brighter and more neutral setting where I went warm and darker and added a frame. Jen picked the shot where the model looked at the camera and I like mine where she’s looking away. (That’s mine above.) This girl has enormous eyes and was a terrific model.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A side note about boudoir photography! I’m not going to become a boudoir photographer. I’m two to three times older than the typical subject and it’s not where my main interest lies but I can’t complain when a workshop leader can help me shoot the shot above.

But having said that, boudoir photography will teach you more about posing the human body (especially bodies which are scantly clad to say the least) than you can get anywhere else. There’s some tips you need to know to help slim down even the slimmest body when it comes to photography sessions.

It’s not all about shooting skinny girls who suck their gut in. Some of the best boudoir photography features real women (and men) who the photography poses in flattering and provocative ways no matter what their body type. It’s a real art form and tough to get right.

At the Toronto workshop, once the girls (and at 20-ish they’re girls) got used to the fact that the 30 shooters or so (broken up into two groups) were way more interested in getting their camera exposure right and finding the right white balance than what the girls looked liked (this took about an hour) everybody got into having a great time.

BTW if you’re in the Oakville, Ontario area, the Oakville Camera Club is featuring Ren Bostelaar speaking about Urban Photography on Sept. 21 at 7 p.m. Ren helped organize the Jennifer Rosenbaum workshop here in Toronto.

Oakville Jazz Festival Photos

The organizers of this year’s Oakville Jazz Festival knocked this one out of the park. While other jazz festivals I’ve attended recently, including the Beaches Jazz Festival, have relied on the old try-and-true acts (some of dubious talent), the Oakville festival featured lots and lots of young new performers and the performances were excellent.P8080089-1

Jazz festivals offer you an opportunity to try out your street photography skills.

The performers love having their photos taken (and may even buy some great shots from you so remember to bring business cards) and the crowds are pretty agreeable to you stepping in front of them to shoot and then move on at least early in the evening.P8080201-1

Most of the best times to shoot jazz festivals is the hour before and after sunset. That golden glow of the sun low on the horizon can really be helpful in making colours pop so long as the stage is in front of you and the sun is over your shoulder and the crowds haven’t grown so large as to make walking around tough to do.P8080066-1

It’s a lot harder if the sun is setting behind the stage and you’re getting sun flaring across the screen. Of course every so often the flare makes the photo and you can all it talent or art! By 9pm at most street festivals the crowds are too large to easily step in front of the stage.P8080211-1

This fall I will be teaching a couple of one-night workshops on street photography for a couple of local camera clubs but here are a couple of tips.

First dress in black. I didn’t get this from Johnny Cash, the singer who was known as the “the man in black” but from Jay Maisel who is one of the best street photographers of all time. Jay shoots the streets of New York City and his candid artistic renditions of street life are amazingly great photos.P8080170-1-2

Jay says by dressing all in black he just disappears into the background when he’s shooting. His subjects rarely even know they’ve had their photo taken so Jay’s images always have this fresh look to them.

Another tip I give at every workshop: Shoot lots. Digital shooting costs nothing more than the price of the memory card. Getting a candid portrait is easier if you’re shooting lots of images especially when you’re shooting singers or bands in action. P8080021-1

Yes I look for the “special moment” shot but especially as the light is fading and I’m squatting down in front of the crowd (and at 66 thanks to yoga I can still squat and better yet I can still get up unassisted) and there’s kids running in and out of the shot and I’m getting hungry and tired then it’s easier to shoot a bunch of frames and look for genius on the Lightroom screen than trying for the one-off perfect shot.

For more photos from the Oakville Jazz Festival checkout my online gallery at Peter West Photography.

Beaches Jazz Festival Photos

Is it me or were the Thursday night crowds at the 2015 Beaches Jazz Festival huge? P7230282-1

Most photographers shoot the Jazz Festival on the Thursday night as Friday and Saturday crowds often are so large that it gets just about impossible to politely slip in front and shoot a few frames before moving on.

This Thursday the crowds really packed in around 9 p.m. on one of the hottest July evenings I can remember at the festival.

Photos are up at Peter West Photography and are available for free download and on my Flickr gallery Peter West Photo.