Find simple backgrounds

This tip from Toronto’s fabulous PodCamp which was held at Ryerson University last week is all about backgrounds.

Messy or busy backgrounds can be fixed simply by shooting closer which was the last tip I posted.

In the photo below taken at the Toronto Zombie Walk there are 5,000 other zombies in the background but through tight cropping and vignetting (darkening the edges of the image forcing the viewer’s eye to the brighter subjects in the centre) we only see these two frightening participants.Peter West Photo-1-222-XL

Think about moving the camera to hide stuff that distract from your main subject. Shooting from a higher angle than your subject is a quick way of getting rid of the normal background clutter.

In the photo below shot during a modelling session, this lovely model was placed in front of a black background to highlight her blond hair and pale skin tones. Of course a studio light was used to illuminate her but you could use a cheap LED movie light that’s powered by batteries and super portable.PW Photo-20

If you’re doing outdoor environmental portraits, which are easy to do using any camera including a smartphone, consider picking brick walls for your background. Often the alleyways between buildings can provide really nice indirect light that is warmed by the colour of the bricks. This warming light also falls on the subject’s face.

Avoid using a flash and let the natural light take over and you’ll be amazed at how professional these portraits will appear.

Look For The Garbage Can

One of the issues of not shooting in close is many photographers leave too much space in the background of their images. If they’re not really careful, in pops a garbage can.

This garbage can idea came from one of the other photography instructors who worked with me at Henry’s Camera’s School of Imaging. He said every photo has a garbage can somewhere and for the most part he was right.


In the photo above I used a white vignette affect to minimize a ton of distracting stuff that I couldn’t get rid of in the background. I think it worked out but there was a lot of “garbage cans” in this image.

Have a look at your own images. Were you so engaged with your subject that you missed the messy stuff in the background?

I do it all the time. I’m especially vulnerable to wall fixtures in hotel rooms which seem to magically grow out of the side of my subject’s head. Sure a trip to PhotoShop can fix this but if I had been a more observant photographer, I could avoid the post production work.

Problems With Canon Repairs?

Several weeks ago I found one of my Canon camcorders wasn’t recharging its internal batteries. Fortunately I had a second Canon camcorder which took the same batteries so I swapped out power supplies and suddenly both my Canon camcorders weren’t charging their batteries.41hTjI41eKL._SY300_

A closer inspection showed the Canon power supply has shorted out on the low voltage side of the power supply. Why a short in the power supply should damage both camcorders seemed a little strange but it is what it is.

Both camcorders work with charged batteries and both work with an 8.4-volt power supply (which isn’t shorting out) but the units should be charging batteries using the Canon suppled power supplies so I returned the units to Canon Canada’s authorized repair depot in Mississauga.

I was told on the first visit that the standard repair costs of $170/hour would apply and as the cameras (HF200 and HF M30) both of which are several years old and out of warranty don’t warrant this kind of expensive repair, I took the cameras home and emailed Canon.

The email reply I got suggested I return the units for an inspection.

Hoping this was an opportunity for Canon Canada to do the right thing I returned both units and two weeks later I got two emailed PDFs that each camera would cost $202.27 to repair.

I called Canon Repair and got essentially the same message. There was some accusation that as, according to Canon, the repair folks couldn’t determine whether or not the actual wall plug caused the issue. Of course this is nonsense as the wall plug works perfectly well with my other sensitive charging equipment. Can’t say I appreciated this approach by Canon.

Right now I’ve got a phone call into Canon Canada’s director of corporate communications and brand marketing Rajani Kamath to see is she can direct me to someone senior enough to make a valuable corporate decision and do the right thing by their customer (me).

As a former vice president of a national public relations firm I know I always wanted to hear from my client’s customers so we could get an opportunity to avoid unpleasant future issues with a customer’s complaint which could be easily resolved by someone with customer care at the forefront of their approach.

Shoot Closer

This is the number one way to shoot photos just like the pros and to get radically better images.

Almost every amateur photographer I see shoots from too far back from their subjects.

Here’s what happens:

  • Your subject doesn’t dominate the image
  • It or they don’t fill the frame
  • There’s more chance for distracting stuff in the background to compete for your viewer’s attention
  • You can’t direct your subjects as easily when you’re too far back
  • At weddings and outdoor events more aggressive photographers can get in front of you

Now as to how close you should be I’d recommend getting within touching distance. ┬áThen step back one step and shoot another shot.

You’re going to be amazed at how much better your images look just by getting in closer


How To Look Like A Pro

Online nobody can tell if you’re a dog went an old joke about the Internet.

The something applies to your photography.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

At PodCamp Toronto I told the campers who took my “101 Tips To Get Radically Better Photos” that the easiest way to be seen by others to be a good photographer is to only show your good shots online.

So I recommended they only post their good images on Facebook or Twitter or their blog or website.

By doing this one thing, people who come to your site will think you’re a pretty good photographer. Trust me folks, nobody sees my bad shots.

But what if you want to garner a reputation as top-notch photographer. Maybe you’re thinking of going professional or at the least want people to think you’re as good a shooter as a pro.

Then the tip I offered to the campers was this: If you want to be seen as a pro, only show your very best images online.

Most professionals who have online galleries only show photos which enhance their reputations and they only show photos which are in their form of photography. For example, portrait photographers only show portrait images on their professional site. Sure they can upload party shots or the vacation shots to their non-pro Flickr account for their family and friends but their pro shots only go to their pro-level gallery.

Even if you’re just adding shots to your Facebook page only post your best shots that reflect what you do. For example, if you’re a yoga instructor post images of you instructing students. Yes you can add images of healthy topics but avoid firing up the shots of the kids on vacation. Yes those shots are cute but they don’t necessarily enhance your reputation as a yoga instructor.Peter West Photo-1-578-X3

I shoot mainly special events and my galleries scream “Special Event Photographer” but a buddy of mine is talking about shooting weddings and if we go ahead with this plan then I will be creating a wedding-only professional website and blog to promote myself as a wedding photographer.

My wedding clients are never going to see my Toronto Zombie Walk shots on the wedding site or on my company Facebook page. Although maybe it might create a new trend……

I Did It Again!

Lying that is.

I’ve been getting a lot of unsolicited emails thanking me for the Lightroom Advanced (for beginners) presentation i gave on Monday night on one of the coldest nights of the year when over 70 folks showed up at the Oakville Camera Club.

This is very gratifying and welcomed feedback and thanks so much everybody. I had a great time too.

But one of the more advanced members caught me in another error where I said I don’t use Adobe’s DNG format and he pointed out that Smart Previews (which I already screwed up the information about…see below) are actually DNG raw files.

This is so funny. LMAO!

This is how to really learn your stuff. Go teach it. And anything you don’t know (or worse guess at) will come back to bite you. And trust me I will never forget that Smart Previews are DNG raw files.

Thanks to Brian at the Oakville Club. I would never have known this and appreciate the feedback.

I Lied

I want to thank everyone in the Oakville Camera Club who turned out last night in -25 C cold to listen to Advanced Lightroom.cropped-pb180070-edit1.jpg

The students liked my images from the recent boudoir workshop I attended in Toronto.

This morning I was very gratified to receive so many emails this morning expressing how much you enjoyed the workshop. That’s really great as presenters often never hear a thing from their audience and last night’s workshop seems to have hit a chord.

But, I lied!

It’s true. I’ve been watching as this is Photoshop Week with two simultaneous streaming online channels of classes. It was Jared Platt’s class on Lightroom where he said that Lightroom creates small raw files when you’re using Smart Previews.

I said last night that Smart Previews were large JPG images but it seems I was wrong – they’re small raw files. Smart Previews allow you to edit these small raw preview images off line on your laptop.

Smart Preview are also used in Lightroom Mobile which allows Lightroom to share images for editing on mobile devices. Very cool.