Wednesday, September 28, 2011


So I know that those who read this blog may be expecting a post about wedding photography, but I am not going to be writing that up quite yet. Instead, today I am going to write about a website that I have made use of quite a bit in the recent months. That website is

I heard about 500px a couple of months ago on one of the photography blogs that I follow. At the time, Google Plus had just come out, and this particular blogger (Scott Bourne) was unimpressed with their copyright policy in terms of photography. I have read a number of blogs on the subject and am still not sure where I stand on the matter, but this is not the point. The point is that Scott pointed out a photography site whose copyright policy he did approve of, and that site was 500px.

I was never one to get into the Flickr thing. I posted a few pics, but couldn't be bothered with coming back regularly to post and look up photographs of others. With 500px, on the other hand, I have been a lot more active. The theory behind the site is that people should only post their best photos. It is not a photo dump site. It is a site that allows you to display your best work, to build a portfolio and something that you can be proud of rather than just putting up photographs and never returning. You cannot save photographs from the site (which I suspect is why Scott recommended it), and while I know that there are ways around this, it is still a serious deterrent. You can also have a look at the latest pics, the best rated pics, follow specific photographers and like, dislike or fave their pics. Each picture is given a rating according to how many people have liked and disliked it, which I think is pretty handy, and any activity on your pics comes up on a feed on your own personal wall.

Reading over what I just said, I realise that this sounds all too familiar. It sounds like there is nothing that sets this site apart from Facebook or Flickr. But if you take a look at the site, you will quickly find just how different it is. This site is designed to be smart and professional. The way that photographs are displayed is clean and clear, uncomplicated and just showing the necessary basics. Even the wall is a lot cleaner and clearer than any other that I have used. Most walls on social networking sites are cluttered, and this is not the case with 500px.

In addition to a personal wall, there is also a space for each photographer to write a blog and to create a portfolio for themselves. As a regular (unpaying) member, you can create a single portfolio and are limited to about four themes for it. However, even the free themes are of impeccable quality and are perfect for creating a classy, professional looking portfolio that you can be proud of.

I should probably mention at this point that I am actually not one of the regular members. Shortly after creating my profile on the site, I found that another of the blogs that I follow was having a giveaway where the prize was an upgrade to an "Awesome" account on 500px. I entered and was one of the three winners. This means that I have access to a number of portfolio themes that were not there before and have no limit as to how many photographs I can upload in a week, in addition to other advantages that I haven't checked out quite yet. However, even before I had my Awesome account, I was incredibly pleased with the site. I am still using one of the free themes that had been available to me before the upgrade and, while I have recently been uploading a large number of photographs trying to get my portfolios off the ground, I am only doing so because I have an Awesome account and would have been happy to keep going with the regular one had I not been given this opportunity.

If there are photographers out there wanting to find a place to show their work and wanting to be professional about it, I would recommend skipping the Flickr route, forgetting Facebook and Google Plus (though possibly still posting on all of the above as well, since they are still the most popular way of having your photos noticed), but getting a 500px account. If you want to check out mine, you can find me at

Thursday, September 22, 2011


Hello guys and gals

It has been awhile since I last wrote a photography post, but that doesn't mean that I haven't been busy! So what have I been busy with in terms of photography? Mostly betting on lenses on (I lost) and preparing for a wedding shoot. While I could easily write a blog about bidding on lenses and how to go about it (or, more specifically, how not to) I thought that I would take this opportunity to let you know how I have been preparing for the wedding shoot.

The shoot that I am doing is quite an interesting one. The couple are already married and have been for three years. I was in fact with them when they went to the Home Affairs office to tie the knot, and am really happy to be with them to celebrate their three year anniversary by having a wedding. Because they are already married, it takes a lot of stress off the situation. There is no chance of either of them saying no now, no running back down the aisle and no surprises.

While having the wedding after the marriage does take away some of the stress, however, it doesn't take away all of it. There are still guests cancelling at the last minute and family members to juggle, and of course the photographer's job is no less important. This is, all things considered, still a wedding, regardless of whether the couple are married or not, and they are still expecting photographs of amazing quality capturing the special moments of the day. As a photographer who is only just starting out, this leads to a lot of stress. So how have I been coping with it?

I have been writing lists, studying up and borrowing bits and bobs from anyone I can find.

The first thing that I did was sit down with a piece of paper and write down some of the ideas that I had for the happy couple, which shots I wanted to take, where I wanted to take them, and any questions that popped up in my mind while I was doing it. Once I had a preliminary list, I started scouring the net for more ideas. I went onto each of the photography blogs that I follow and looked back into their archives for any wedding photography advice, and I found a ton of it. It gave me further ideas, which I added to my list, and made a number of suggestions that I kept at the top of my mind. One of the suggestions that I came across over and over again was that I should go and check out the venue beforehand.

So, last weekend I made my way to Port Alfred and went to a farm 14km outside of the town to check out the venue and what I could expect. I was glad that I did! If I had pitched up on the day, I would have been far from prepared, and it would likely have been a small disaster. The wedding is outdoors, and the area where the ceremony will take place is hidden under trees. Which means lots and lots of shade - enough of it that a wide open lens would not suffice. Add to that the reception area and the low lighting that it boasted, and I was left with no choice but to give into my most feared form of photography - flash.

I do not have a happy relationship with flash. I learned very early on that flash at night is never a good plan if you want good lighting. At least, not on-camera flash. All that it leads to is unflatteringly over-exposed faces and black backgrounds. Not a good plan for a wedding at all. What I really needed was a hotshoe flash, and I went scouring Grahamstown to find one. It took awhile, but I eventually managed to borrow a Speedlite 580EX, which I have been experimenting with and am now feeling a little more confident about using, even if I am not completely comfortable with my abilities as a photographer.

One I had the flash, I had to learn how to use it - how to bounce light, how to adjust exposure and how to make sure that the backgrounds come out as clear as possible without being hidden in shadow. There was more reading to be done and there was not much time to do it. I felt like I was back in University again, staring at pages that made little sense to me for hours on end until the information was bored into my mind and there was no getting it out. But it wasn't all study. I tried to take my own advice and get a little of the theory and a little of the practice, and have ended up with a knowledge that I am happy with.

So now I am left with a list of photographs that I want to take, a flash that I am feeling a little more confident about using and a day to become comfortable with the fact that tomorrow decides me future. Am I going to be a wedding photographer or am I going to flop on my face? Are my photos going to make the cut, or are the bride and groom going to be in tears (of horror, not joy.) We'll have to see. Wish me luck!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Picking and Choosing

Last week, I promised that I would take a look at building a portfolio. As this is something that I am doing myself at the moment, I am learning as I go along, but I thought that I would share in some of the wisdom that I have found.

Your portfolio is one of the most important aspects of being a professional photographer. It is the sole embodiment of your work. Your prospective clients will not really care about how much you have grown from your humble beginnings, learning to play with your camera and getting to know the ins and outs of the trade. What they will care about is the polished professional before them, and your portfolio will show them the professional that you are.

Your portfolio will show what kind of photographer you are and where your artistic vision lies. No two photographers are the same, the same way that no two people are the same. Two photographers will look at the same scene and take the same photograph, but from a different angle, a different perspective. You want to show your angle and perspective towards life in your portfolio. This means that, while you should value the opinions of those around you and which photographs they think are your best and should be included, you should also value your own opinion. It is you who will be taking the photographs, and it is your slant on life that will come out in the photographs that you take for these prospective clients. They should know what it is that they are getting. This may lead to clients not agreeing with the way that you take photographs - your clients will have a specific idea in mind for what they want, and if you do not meet that criteria, do not try to change yourself to suit their needs. Other clients will come along, and they will often be a better fit. rather wait for the clients who will appreciate your work than attempt to change your style for those who don't. What you will likely find if you try to change is that your photographs will be an uncomfortable mixture of your artistic vision and your client's, leading to something that neither of you is particularly happy with.

So, which photographs should you include and how many should you include in your portfolio? I have taken thousands of photos in the course of the last year alone! I have taken photos of every kind of situation, of every event that I have attended, of each of my friends, of every place that I have travelled, and I have favourites from each of the sessions that I have taken. How can I wittle these down to a few that will show off my depth and my range? Well, most likely you won't want to. You will likely want to decide on a specialisation and stick with it. Are you going to be an events photographer, taking pictures at weddings and parties? Then pick a few of your best from those kinds of events. Are you going to be a photo journalist? Pick some pics of the rallies and gatherings that  you have attended. A shot of a couple in love is not going to convince an editor to hire you, and a photo of a riot is not going to convince an engaged couple to hire you either. If you intend to dabble in the different areas, you may want to consider having a variety of portfolios to show for specific meetings.

In terms of how many  photos to whittle your portfolio down to, there is no guaranteed formula. How many photos you have will depend on how many great photos you have taken, to be honest. You obviously don't want to have your clients sifting through your pics for hours on end, but you also don't want them to be finished in a minute. Pick a couple of photographs from different sessions. I limit myself to having no more than 5 from each session, and try to cut it down to less than that even. Choose photographs that show variety and skill - choose photographs that show different poses, different lighting, different situations and different settings. You don't want to pick photographs that look exactly the same in each session, otherwise it tends to be too repetitive. Choose only your best photographs, and ask around to see which photos others think are your best as well. As I said earlier, you will want to have some photographs that you choose yourself to show your own unique style, but you will also want public opinion on  your side, so while there can be a couple of  your own favourites thrown in, having some photos that others think are your best will also help you along.

A final piece of advice that I read from blogger and photographer, Scott Bourne, is that when you create your  portfolio, you should be sure not to put what  you consider to be your best images in the front. Many people think that prospective clients will only look at the first few pages and decide from there whether they will hire the photographer or not, but this is often not the case. Often, people will turn to the middle of the book and flip through from there, taking note of only a few photos that catch their eye from time to time. You therefore want to spread the best of your work throughout your portfolio,  keeping some at the front, some in the middle and some at the end to ensure that your clients see the best of your work no matter where they start.

I hope this helps someone out there in the process of putting their portfolio together. I know that the advice that I have learned has certainly help me put mine together and I look forward to showing it off once my site is up and running and my first wedding shoot has been done! Let me know if you have any further advice for people trying to build up their own portfolios.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Spring Fever

Earlier this week, I came home from work in a not-so-great mood. You know that saying: "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting to get different results"? Yeah. That was me. Anyway, I came home from work feeling more than a little down, and opened my car door, and something wafted in with the breeze. Something that lifted my spirits completely. Something that made not only my day, but my week. Do you know what that something was? Jasmine. The epitome of Spring. And it is certainly here. So this afternoon, when I came home from work, I decided to go hunting for the source of the wondrous scent. And sadly, I did not find it. But I did manage to get some great pics of the Spring flowers in my garden while I was searching, so I thought that I would share some of them :)

To make this a little more educational and not so focussed on just my gloating about the weather taking an upturn when most of my Northern-hemisphere friends are about to take a turn for the worse, I thought that I would explain how I go about taking flower shots

I like to get up close and personal when shooting flowers. I like to be able to see the details on the leaves, to see the curves of the petals and the interesting shapes that they make. I like the asymmetry of the placement and I like to take from interesting angles. I tried to shoot with a number of different lenses today, actually trying every single one in my bag to see which I liked most. I think that I ended up liking my 50mm and my 28-80mm most actually, my two first lenses. I found that the 50mm was a good length to shoot at, while my 28-80 allowed me to get a little closer when need be. Sunset is, of course, a good time to be shooting since it casts good light over the flowers, even when you are hidden from most of the sunlight by a on one side, a house on the other and a giant fence on a third, all of which are trying to block your light.

In any case, it's not all about me. Let me know what you think!!

*Edit: The pictures are coming up funny in the blog post. I don't have time to fix it right now, but will try to have it fixed tomorrow.