Nathan Cool Photo: Blog en-us (C) Nathan Cool (Nathan Cool Photo) Fri, 02 Jul 2021 16:11:00 GMT Fri, 02 Jul 2021 16:11:00 GMT Nathan Cool Photo: Blog 120 112 Video Tours  

I take your property video to the next level with cinematic walk-through video and optional drone video in high-definition format. Here are some recent examples:












]]> (Nathan Cool Photo) real estate virtual tour Tue, 07 Jul 2020 14:39:34 GMT
Where's My Virtual Tour? After you post your listing to the MLS with the link to your unbranded virtual tour, each listing site varies where they place your virtual tour link. Here I'll show where you can find it on Zillow, Redfin, Realtor, and Trulia. On all of these pages, clicking the virtual tour link would pop up a new window with the virtual tour we made for this property, which you can see here if you'd like.



On Zillow, this is buried under the section "Interior Details", which is collapsed by default:




Redfin has a section for "Virtual Tour, Parking/Garage" that has the link:

Realtor is more straightforward with a "VR Tour" button on their image viewer:




Trulia has a link under the "Home Details" section:

While some of these websites don't make it easy to find the virtual tours, you can share your virtual tour link with prospective buyers and other agents, post the link on social media, and it is also embedded in the property websites I offer. And as always, if you have any questions or need any help, just give me a shout any time.








]]> (Nathan Cool Photo) Mon, 08 Jun 2020 14:37:06 GMT
360 Virtual Tours With 360 Virtual Tours you can move through a property by dragging your mouse (or finger on a phone) in all directions (up, down, side to side), and click on arrows to move to other areas and rooms. Below is a recent tour, (click here to see full screen):


Along with the basic virtual tour, I also offer a high-def add-on where interiors are photographed with high resolution cameras and studio lighting, and exteriors are photographed with high-resolution cameras in gigapixel formats. Here are some samples:



]]> (Nathan Cool Photo) real estate virtual tour Mon, 06 Apr 2020 15:21:43 GMT
Property Video Tours

I take your property video to the next level with cinematic drone video, walk-through video, and Ken Burns-effect photography in high-def format,wrapped in a custom website with gallery, map, and your contact info. You can see an example website here.


Here are recent examples:











]]> (Nathan Cool Photo) real estate virtual tour Fri, 28 Jun 2019 22:34:32 GMT
Real Estate Photography Report August 2018

I want to give a big thanks to everyone who participated in this latest survey! Your input will help other photogs in this industry, and you've helped to shed light on how our industry is evolving.


If you haven't seen the results yet, you can play the video above, or go to this link to watch it on YouTube.


Thanks again everyone! Your input has been invaluable, and much appreciated!





]]> (Nathan Cool Photo) architecture photography real estate Fri, 24 Aug 2018 16:57:16 GMT
Twilight Shots, Dusk to Day While I offer twilight shoots, another cost-effective alternative is "Day to Dusk" edits where I take footage from a daytime shoot and convert it to a twilight shot. Here are some examples:



Day to Dusk twilight conversions require no extra time on site and are a cost-effective alternative to twilight photoshoots. Want to know more? Give me a shout!

]]> (Nathan Cool Photo) architecture photography property real estate twilight Sun, 30 Jul 2017 22:25:37 GMT
Drone and Aerial Stills I provide drone photography through my FAA licensed drone partner, as well as a lower-elevation alternative for flight-restricted areas known as aerial stills. Below are a few drone examples, followed by the lower-elevation, aerial still option:

Drone Examples


Aerial Stills

While I provide full drone services through my drone partner, I also provide an optional low cost alternative known as "Aerial Stills", where I hoist high-res cameras up to 25 feet. Here are a few examples, and how it's done:

The setup is shown below: a hefty-duty pod that can support gear up to 25 pounds. This allows me to raise a high-res camera to drone heights and control it remotely.

And here are some more examples:


If you'd like to learn more about my Aerial Stills and Drone options, give me a shout and let's talk about the various ways I can help you showcase your property.





]]> (Nathan Cool Photo) architecture drone photography property real estate Tue, 02 May 2017 16:56:14 GMT
Shooting Lemon Drops Drop lemon wedges into a tank of water, and what do you get? Lemon Drops! Here are some of my favorites from this new, sour splashy series, with some behind-the-scenes at the bottom of this blog showing how this was shot. Each photo was mirrored to give it a Rorschach kind of feel. Faces often emerge in these images, as do other designs, turning a simple splash into something special. Enjoy, and try not to pucker!


Citrus Waves

Citrus WavesCitrus WavesCitrus Waves



Darth Lemon

Darth LemonDarth Lemon



Pucker Suckers

Pucker SuckersPucker Suckers



The Citrus Wizard

The Citrus WizardThe Citrus Wizard



Laid Back Lemon

Laid Back LemonLaid Back Lemon



The Angry Kings

Angry KingsAngry Kings



The Wide-Eared Cat




Seedy Dive Bomber




Lemon Tailed Butterfly

Lemon Tailed ButterflyLemon Tailed Butterfly







Citrus Yogi

Buddha and the DogBuddha and the Dog



Behind the Scenes

Here's how it's done. First, the setup, and then the drop:

I like to use an old fish tank filled about half way with water. Under the tank is shiny paper with complementary colors. In this case, yellow and green. The rest is fairly self explanatory, although I should mention that I triggered the shutter remotely when I'd see a drop was about the make contact with the water, like so:

I made a cameo appearance in this shot :) Then the rest is all in the post processing. It's just a matter of making duplicate layers in Photoshop, mirror, and then editing to make it pop. This splash shot, btw, is the "Seedy Dive Bomber" image:



And there you have it, Lemon Drops! You can check out these and more splashy shots in my Splash! gallery. Enjoy!



]]> (Nathan Cool Photo) macro photography Sat, 24 Sep 2016 17:22:39 GMT
Twilight Shoots To add a wow-factor to your real estate listing, you may want to consider adding a twilight shoot, where a few pictures are taken at dusk to showcase a property's exterior. Here are some examples:












Interested in having some twilight shots of your property? Give me a shout.



]]> (Nathan Cool Photo) architecture photography property real estate Tue, 23 Aug 2016 17:08:56 GMT
Sky Replacements Sometimes nature doesn't work in our favor and we have to shoot on overcast days, or on days where the sky won't cooperate. In these cases I do a quick sky replacement. There are many ways to do a sky replacement, but I've found the technique here to be my favorite, since it gives a very natural look, and doesn't require any special plugins or other software besides just Photoshop.


Before and After

Here are shots before and after sky replacement. Click on either picture to see full size. I could possibly deliver the before shot, but it's bland and the sky has excessive glare (photo was taken as fog was burning off behind the house that morning). I could darken the sky in Lightroom or Photoshop, but in this case a quick sky replacement really pumps it up and adds a wow-factor.



Step 1: Select a sky

I keep a folder filled with various skies I've shot in the area, and for this case I'm using the one below. Note the lighting angle also matches the before shot as well (lighter on the right). This sky also looks a bit flat, but that's because it's RAW -- we'll adjust that later -- but starting with RAW on these skies lets me have full control on how it will blend with the original shot.


Step 2: Place sky over photo

I then place the sky photo as a new layer over the original (background layer), and scale/position until I get just the sky where I want it. For example, I show this with a lower opacity, but once placed, turn the opacity of the sky layer back up to 100%.


Step 3: Make Layer Mask

Place a layer mask on the sky. There are tons of ways to do this, I do it with keyboard shortcuts to the menu items Layer->Layer Mask->Hide All.


Step 4: Select Color Range

With the background layer selected, go to Select->Color Range and you will see this pop-up dialog. Click on the sky, then move the Fuzziness slider until the sky is white and the trees and roof are black, and then click OK. Note this works best when the sky is one color, so blown-out skies work best.


Step 5: Feather Selection

Go to Select->Modify->Feather and feather the selection by 2 pixels. Note the marching ants showing the selection.


Step 6: Apply Gradient

The next step may look tricky if you've never done this before, but it really is simple and only takes a few seconds. Select the sky's layer mask, then select the gradient tool, and make sure your colors and the tool settings are the same as shown here. Then just drag/apply the gradient from just below the roof to just above the roof. You may have to play around with the gradient to get the correct blending. Also, the reason for this kind of blending is that skies are lighter the lower they are on the horizon (due to a greater volume of air for sunlight to travel through); thus, this gradient, besides blending nicely with the roof, gives a more natural look.


Step 7: Cleanup & Adjust

The last step is to use a low flow soft eraser to cleanup any of the sky left on other parts of the roof (and in this case the flag also). Make sure the eraser is soft, and that the flow is NOT 100%...flow should be around 10% -- you don't want to cut-out the leftover sky, just blend it away. I then add quick adjustment layers above the sky layer, with a clipping mask applied to each (so they only affect the sky, not the background/original layer). In this particular shot, I used a saturation layer and a levels layer, each with a clipping mask affecting the sky. Do these adjustments until you get the results you want.


Step 8: Done!

That's it. I realize it may seem like a lot of work, but once you get this down it takes only 1 to 2 minutes to process. Here is the final shot:



I suggest taking tons of photos of skies in your area, keeping these in your own sky replacement library (as RAW files). Then, practice practice practice! The more often you try this under various conditions (and roof lines), the more skilled you'll become, and the faster you'll be able to process these kind of shots.


If you want to see more, checkout my sky replacement page for some other examples.





]]> (Nathan Cool Photo) architecture photography property real estate Fri, 12 Aug 2016 17:16:10 GMT
Lightroom Presets for Real Estate Photography To help automate the post processing of real estate photos, I have a few Lightroom Presets I've made to quickly get a "base" processed photo, which is usually very close to the finished product. If you're not familiar with how to use Lightroom Presets, you might want to watch this video first.


Bear in mind that these presets are only starting points; apply these presets, then tweak as needed. These also assume that you are shooting in RAW.


Exterior Preset, under exposed.

This works well on a slightly underexposed exterior shot (sky is exposed ok, but house is underexposed). Below are before and after shots, and then the presets used:

Exterior Preset, under exposed


  • Exposure: +0.78
  • Highlights: -25
  • Shadows: +50
  • Whites: +10
  • Blacks: -19
  • Clarity: +17
  • Vibrance: +4
  • Saturation: +5

Tone & Curve:

  • Lights: +5

HSL Luminance:

  • Green: +12
  • Aqua: -4
  • Blue: -26

HSL Saturation:

  • Green: +8
  • Aqua: +5
  • Blue: +51


  • Sharpening: 40
  • Radius: 1.0
  • Detail: 25
  • Mask: 30

Lens Correction:

  • Enable Profile Corrections
  • Remove Chromatic Aberration
  • Vertical



Exterior Preset, over exposed.

This works well on a slightly overexposed exterior shot. Below are before and after shots, and then the presets used:

Exterior Preset, over exposed


  • Exposure: 0
  • Contrast: +6
  • Highlights: -35
  • Shadows: +45
  • Whites: +10
  • Blacks: -19
  • Clarity: +17
  • Vibrance: +4
  • Saturation: +5

Tone & Curve:

  • Lights: +5

HSL Luminance:

  • Green: +12
  • Aqua: -4
  • Blue: -42

HSL Saturation:

  • Green: +8
  • Aqua: +5
  • Blue: +35


  • Sharpening: 40
  • Radius: 1.0
  • Detail: 25
  • Mask: 30

Lens Correction:

  • Enable Profile Corrections
  • Remove Chromatic Aberration
  • Vertical



Interior Preset, after PS blending.

This preset is applied after all of the layer blending in Photoshop (blending ambient and flash shots along with window pulls). btw, I have to give a shout out to Rich Baum, who shared the preset I started with to make this one. Below are before and after shots, and then the presets used:

Interior Preset, applied after layer blending in PS


  • Exposure: +0.10
  • Contrast: +15
  • Highlights: -90
  • Shadows: +80
  • Whites: +25
  • Blacks: -45
  • Clarity: +20
  • Vibrance: 0
  • Saturation: 0

Tone & Curve:

  • Lights: +5
  • Blacks: -3

Lens Correction:

  • Enable Profile Corrections
  • Remove Chromatic Aberration
  • Vertical




]]> (Nathan Cool Photo) architecture photography property real estate Thu, 11 Aug 2016 19:11:58 GMT
Sky Replacements for Real Estate Packages Most of my real estate packages include sky replacements, where a problematic sky is replaced with a better one. Mother Nature doesn't always cooperate on our schedules, so if I shoot on an overcast day, or on a day with a glaring sun, the sky replacements pump up the wow factor for potential buyers. Here are some examples of before and after:

















After (subtle sky)



After (dramatic clouds)







Would you like to see the difference for yourself? Give me a shout and I'd be happy to show you first hand how a small cost for higher quality photography can result in better listings.



]]> (Nathan Cool Photo) architecture photography property real estate Mon, 01 Aug 2016 21:17:00 GMT
Showcase Windows Most of my real estate packages include Showcase Window shots, where I use special lighting and editing to bring the view from the outside indoors. This is done at no cost in most of my packages, and here are some examples.


Would you like to see the difference for yourself? Give me a shout and I'd be happy to sh ow you first hand how a small cost for higher quality photography can result in better listings.



]]> (Nathan Cool Photo) architecture photography property real estate Sat, 30 Jul 2016 16:46:09 GMT
TV Replacements Most of my real estate packages include TV replacements, where instead of a blank TV screen I edit in a view of the outside of the house or local landscape. This is done at no cost in most of my packages, and here are some examples.

Would you like to see the difference for yourself? Give me a shout and I'd be happy to show you first hand how a small cost for higher quality photography can result in better listings.



]]> (Nathan Cool Photo) architecture photography property real estate Sat, 30 Jul 2016 16:36:50 GMT
The Invisible Camera Shooting bathrooms can sometimes be a pain as it's not always possible to show its features without being caught in the mirror. I fix that problem using what I call "The Invisible Camera" trick. Here are a few examples and some how-to on how it's done.


Here's a finished shot using "The Invisible Camera" technique:

Look Ma! No reflection! The trick is actually super easy. Here's how it's done:


1. Take a picture right at the mirror. You'll notice I'm not in the shot as I'm shooting this remotely (I was outside the door). But you can see my camera and tripod, along with a hefty amount of worries, that'll all get fixed shortly.


2. Turn around, get as close to the sink as possible, and then fire another shot.


3. BAM! You got all the footage. Now just mirror that second shot in Photoshop and blend it into the mirror...TADA!


Here's another example:


1. Straight on shot at the mirror.


2. Turn around and take another shot.


3. Mirror the second shot and blend it in the mirror...TADA!

Extra credit...note that I also fixed the burned out light bulb in this shot.


And here's a more in-depth example:

1. Here's an "ambient" shot of the bathroom. This is used as a basis for lighting (used in post process later). Say hello to my little trusty high res camera and sturdy as heck tripod.


2. Here's a flash shot using my "Human Lightstand" technique. This is used to get the color correctly, and to sharpen the image.


3. And here's the shot turned around (a flash was in the other room to the left bouncing off the ceiling).


4. Blend it all together and what do you have! BAM! No camera!

Extra, extra, credit...note that I fixed the burned out light bulb in this shot too.


But anywhoooo...that's how it's done. Super simple, ho holds barred, and camera reflections be damned! It's just another of many techniques I like to do for my clients to help showcase their listings and wow their buyers. Besides, I get a kick out of doing this stuff :)


Would you like to see the difference for yourself? Give me a shout and I'd be happy to show you first hand how a small cost for higher quality photography can result in better listings.



]]> (Nathan Cool Photo) architecture photography property real estate reflections Fri, 22 Jul 2016 20:43:02 GMT
Real Estate Shots, Before and After This video shows examples of professionally shot photos from some of my recent work, and how they compared before from basic shots.




This high-impact photography is designed to "WOW" buyers and bring them to your listing. All of my work uses these techniques, and at affordable prices.




Would you like to see the difference for yourself? Give me a shout and I'd be happy to show you first hand how a small cost for higher quality photography can result in better listings.





]]> (Nathan Cool Photo) architecture photography property real estate Sat, 18 Jun 2016 19:16:02 GMT
Do Better Pictures Sell Homes Quicker?

It's hard to justify cost unless you can show a return. Real estate photography is one such case. We know that paying more for photography can result in better photos, but will it benefit an agent?


I decided to tackle that question by analyzing a dozen similar homes in my working area. All homes are in the Rancho Conejo community, selling in the last year. All homes in this community are similar: all are built in the past 15 years, are in high demand with low inventory, there is a strict HOA to ensure upkeep, and all are priced mostly between $700k to $900k. Having an apples-to-apples sampling, I analyzed three different things:


1. Time on market. A comparison on a scale of 1-10 on how quickly each property sold. The quicker the home sold, the lower the number (10 took the longest to sell, and 1 sold the fastest).

2. Photo quality on the MLS. This is subjective, so I used simple things like if photos were tilted, had a fish-eye effect, were blurry, dark, or overexposed. A higher number means higher quality photos.

3. Price point: How well this home was priced for the market. A home priced below market value got a higher score, and those priced above the market got a lower score.


The data was then sorted by time-on-market to show how photo-quality and price-point compared to how quickly homes sold.


The graph at the top of the page shows the results from all 3 of these factors, but the "trend" is what tells the story. Below is a trend, for instance, of time-on-market versus how well the house was priced (its price-point):

As you'd expect, houses that were priced better sold more quickly (higher price-point means "priced better than market" ...priced to sell).


The next graph is where we start to get into the meat of the photography issue, comparing time-on-market versus photo-quality:

At first glance, it looks like higher quality photos sell homes more quickly. However, one could argue that photo quality is just a side-effect since it follows a similar line as price-point, as shown in this next graph when comparing the trends of all 3:

But there is more to this graph than meets the eye:


First, since both price-point and photo-quality follow a similar trend, they both seem to have an effect on selling homes quicker. If photo-quality was more erratic than price-point, then photo-quality would be a non-factor. But that's not the case; instead, there is some correlation to higher photo-quality and reduced time-on-market.


Second, there is a slightly more rapid increase in photo-quality compared to price-point, providing also a quicker break-even point on time-on-market. And, although both price-point and photo-quality level off at some point, photo-quality continues to increase, suggesting that photo-quality is more of a factor than price-point.


Thirdly, although this data shows it took both price-point AND photo-quality to sell homes more quickly, there were cases where higher photo-quality was the key factor, not price-point. For instance, look at properties G and I in the original graph below:

In the case of properties G and I, price-point was low yet photo-quality was high. Since the time-on-market was declining, this suggests that photo-quality was critical: even though some properties were not priced to sell, their photo quality was high, and they did sell quickly. This could be the case, for instance, of high quality photos bringing in more prospective buyers, giving the property a better chance of being sold to someone.


More important to this though is that photo-quality has a vastly lower cost to an agent than price-point. For instance, increasing photo-quality is in the hundreds of dollars (sometimes less), but reducing the price-point can result in many thousands of dollars lost in commissions. For example, if an agent gets 1% of the commission from selling a $700,000 home ($7000), and if that agent can sell one more home a year (due to their listings having less time-on-market), then that agent can net an additional $7000 per year. So if that agent sells one home a month, and for each home they list they spend an extra $100 for higher quality photos, then that agent only spent $1200 to get an extra $7000 in commissions. That comes out to an extra profit of $5800 for that agent, and for just 1% commission, and for just selling one extra home. If that agent were selling more homes per month, that agent's profits become exponentially higher, especially if that agent nets more than 1% on the commission...then we're talking magnitudes of profit for that agent.


Many factors determine how fast a house can sell, and a dozen homes may not be enough to prove it. However, with an obvious trend showing how quickly homes sell compared to a known factor (how well a house is priced) to an unknown factor (photo quality), it's safe to say that there is a benefit in paying a little more for real estate photography to get much higher return on home sales. It shouldn't come as a surprise when you think about it: all high-priced commodities have high quality marketing material, which includes high quality photographs. If you were going to buy a $100,000 car, you'd expect to see top-notch photos of the car, so why expect to spend less in advertising for something that sells for five to ten times as much?


Bottom Line: Quality counts. Will homes with bad photos sell? Sure. Will they sell for as much or as quickly as those with higher quality photos? According to this data, not likely. Higher quality photos can turn houses faster, resulting in higher profits for agents.


Would you like to see the difference for yourself? Give me a shout and I'd be happy to show you first hand how a small cost for higher quality photography can result in higher returns.



]]> (Nathan Cool Photo) architecture photography property real estate Tue, 24 May 2016 17:32:49 GMT
From Gray to Yay!

May-Gray and June-Gloom in California can seem like awful days to shoot a property, but actually, these can be fantastic times for real estate photography.


After all, I have to work on clients' schedules, which don't always align with nature. If a property needs to be shot, there's no waiting weeks until the overcast skies clear. Instead, I like to take advantage of the cloudy days, and work in a couple techniques.



Let me show you some examples. The house below was actually shot on an overcast day. But, this is the AFTER shot, the before shot is below it:






Thank you Photoshop! This technique is known as "Sky Replacement". It's a way to accurately replace grey sky with something better. I've shot tons of sky footage and I break them out on cloudy days. The clouds also provide a soft look to the picture, something known as "diffusion" in photo speak, which means more details will show up in the shot.


Here's another example:







Of all the photo processing I do, sky replacements are one of my favorites. I even use it sometimes on non-cloudy days. Take this next shot for example:








The "before" shot wasn't bad, but the "after" shot has a more dramatic appeal to it. It's a simple edit, and one that helps make a property standout even more.


Would you like to see your gray skies turn blue? Give me a shout and I'd be happy to show you first hand the difference a few clouds can make.



]]> (Nathan Cool Photo) architecture photography property real estate Fri, 20 May 2016 14:45:36 GMT
Fabric Dancing, Take 2 Since my last blog on Fabric Dancing I've been trying some new techniques, in particular, using masculine poses and actions. It may seem like an impossibility, since fabric dancing has traditionally always been associated with female photoshoots. But when you think about it, fabric dancing is much like ballet, which is dominated not by women, but men and women equally.


I've gotten great feedback and I'm now scheduling fitness and dance-inspired shoots using fabric to accentuate the motion of men and women in the balletto form. Below are some of the latest from a shoot with Zach Castro, Sarah Parker, and myself as well.


In all cases, there are three themes that are working very well:


1. Balletto: Combining dance, especially ballet type movements, while turning or waving the fabric mid motion.


2. Freedom: To show how one can be freed from the lightest of bonds. Jumps work well with this.


3. Wings: Flapping the fabric gives great likeness to wings, alluding to flight and freedom


The light setup has been the same, shown here. It's a very simple setup shot in my home studio using a continuous roll of backdrop paper, one softbox with a high-speed Einstein light up high, and opposite that a large silver reflector.


Here's a raw, behind-the-scenes test shot. Note how high the softbox is on the right, which makes for the nice shadowy effect, softened by the reflector on the left.


And here is the collection so far. Click on any picture to view full screen:


















Look like something you'd like to try? I'm offering this at no extra cost, so give me a holler if you want to schedule a shoot using this new technique.


To see more of these and other stuff I've been working on, you can follow me on Facebook where you can also stay updated on offers, tips, tricks, and other fun photo stuff.



]]> (Nathan Cool Photo) Fabric ballet dancing fantasy fitness lighting maternity photography photoshop portrait processing Tue, 01 Mar 2016 01:13:55 GMT
Shooting High Res Panoramas Painted ValleyPainted ValleyA view from the trail heading up to Montcleff Ridge, but facing Thousand Oaks. Taken 2 hours before rain came through the area.

I love shooting panoramas! In fact, I have an entire gallery (here) of nothing but high res panoramas. Although you can use a smart phone to capture a pano, it won't be high-res, and can't be enlarged very much. At home, I have some of these mounted and hung at 4' wide, and if I had room I'd print them bigger since most of these super wide photos are up to 8' wide. These panos are not one photo, but instead are composites of multiple images, in many cases 3 to 4 frames wide. The detail is from light HDR processing as well, so when I have a pano of 3 frames wide, it actually consists of 9 images (3 exposures for each photo). It's something that you can do with most modern DSLRs, provided you have the usual Adobe software complement these days (Lightroom and Photoshop). I've been refining the process of capturing and developing these panos over the past few years, and here I'd like to show you an example of the primary steps involved with making one of these monster photos.


First, below is a pano that I'll use as an example, it's just a simple pano of Thousand Oaks, taken in terrible lighting, but saved to an acceptable version thanks to the processing involved. You can also download the full size image so you can zoom in to see the detail.

T.O. Mall to Tarantula HillT.O. Mall to Tarantula Hill

And, here's a picture of me taking a shot like this (it wasn't this shot, but it gives you an idea of the gear). My brother took this of me one day while out on a pano hike, if I knew he was going to take this I wouldn't have posed so dorkily. Anywho...I find it easiest to use a monopod instead of a tripod: it's lighter weight to pack, and I get quick control of my movement. I tend to always shoot during the day, so I use a fast enough shutter speed not to worry about a little movement from the pod.


I also use a prime lens, in most cases either Nikon's 28mm or 50mm prime f/1.4. Then, set all your adjustments manually: set white balance to 5600 Kelvin (or at least something consistent), ISO 100, and then shutter and aperture to your liking. Set your camera to shoot in brackets of 3 at 1-stop each, and to shoot in continuous mode. And, most importantly, make sure you are shooting in'll thank yourself later in post processing.


Next, focus on a distance object and lock your focus. Then pan to your first frame, and click off 3 continuous shots. Pan enough to overlap the last shot by 30%, and then click off the next 3 shots, etc., until you've completed your pan.


Once you download your photos, you'll see why we shot in brackets of 3. Here is a screen shot of two of those 3-shot brackets. Shooting this bracket at 1-stop each has the original exposure, then a darker exposure, and a lighter exposure. This allows you to now blend a perfectly lit exposure that compensates for both the sky and the ground: something you can't do in broad daylight.


Note that I only bracket at 1-stop, although I could do 2 stops or more. This has worked as a sweet spot for me to get a nice even tone of exposures for daylight, even on cloudy days.


Next, I use Lightroom to process my RAWs to TIFFs. You can click on the image to the right to see the settings. All I do is check a couple of boxes under "Lens Correction", and also sharpen things up to right under 50, with a slight mask (if you don't know about using the sharpening mask in Lightroom, you may want to Google's an invaluable way to sharpen only the ground, not the sky).


Then, in Library mode in Lightroom, I copy the develop settings for this one picture, select all the photos, and paste those settings. Lastly, I export all of these photos as 16-bit TIFFs.


Now that I have all of my TIFFs, I then use Photomatix to blend my brackets into HDRs. A copy of Photomatix Essentials runs about $40 and is WELL worth it for making HDRs. You can though use Photoshop's HDR feature if you so desire, but I've found Photomatix to ROCK!


The picture on the right shows the settings I used. You can tweak as you like, but I want to merely blend the exposures and not get surreal halos that many photogs do with HDR effects. In the hold days, we'd have to use split neutral density filters on a lens to make an even exposure. But shooting digitally now, this method of blending brackets via HDR is much, much more accurate (simpler, and lower cost). The important thing here, just like in the camera settings and Lightroom as well, is to processes each 3-bracket HDR the same. So after making these adjustments on the first HDR you'll process, leave them that way for the remaining HDRs. When you save them, save them as TIFFs also.


Now you should have a collection of the HDR TIFFs. This is where it gets really easy. All you need to do is open Photoshop, then Files, Automate, Photomerge, which will give you this dialog. There are tons of tutorials on-line on how to use this Photomerge feature, so I won't get into it in too much detail here. I will though note that I use the "Cylindrical" Layout, which just seems to work best on most everything I shoot. 


After Photoshop's Photomerge is done, it's just a matter of cropping, content filling, and then adding adjustment layers to enhance colors, tone, saturation, levels, filters, etc. This is all left to your artistic license, so Photoshop away!


The key in putting together a pano is to use Photoshop's Photomerge feature. The key to getting consistent photos to work with is to shoot and process everything consistently. And to get optimal exposure, shoot in brackets and consistently process lightly-blended HDRs. It takes a heck of a lot longer than shooting a pano with a smart phone, but the results will be stunning, with massive pictures you'll be proud to hang on your walls.


To see more articles like this you can follow me on Facebook where you can also stay updated on offers, tips, tricks, and other fun photo stuff.



]]> (Nathan Cool Photo) Panorama lightroom nature photoshop Fri, 05 Feb 2016 02:31:14 GMT
Fabric Dancing I've been working on a new technique using fabric to add fluidity to photos. This is a popular technique used by many photographers today, and I'm now working this into a variety of photo genres, including fitness, dance, and fine art, and this also works well with maternity and intimate genres as well.


Through experimenting over a number of fabrics and textures, I've found chiffon to work great, and I found a supplier where I can buy this material inexpensively enough to keep plenty of it on-hand. I'll be working on more "Fabric Dancing" shots over the coming months, but I wanted to show you some of the results to show you how it's done, and how I can work this into shoots you may like to do.


First, here is the lighting diagram. It's a very simple setup shot in my home studio using a continuous roll of backdrop paper, one softbox with a high-speed Einstein light up high, and opposite that a large silver reflector.


From there the rest is fairly easy. I set the camera on a tripod to get a consistent composition, and when I watch the fabric move, I snap away at opportune times. The trick is to use the fabric as both a diffuser and reflector, which allows this fairly simple light setup. And, using a high speed strobe, action is frozen without any blur, which is why I use Einstein monolights, allowing me to shoot at about 1/8000 second. Lastly there is just the post processing to make black-and-white fine art or modify the backgrounds.


Here are a few takes from the recent test shoots, click on any to see the full-size image:


Look like something you'd like to try? I'm offering this at no extra cost, so give me a holler if you want to schedule a shoot using this new technique.


To see more of these and other works of mine, you can follow me on Facebook where you can also stay updated on offers, tips, tricks, and other fun photo stuff.



]]> (Nathan Cool Photo) Fabric dancing fantasy fitness lighting maternity Mon, 01 Feb 2016 16:24:27 GMT
The Making of the Mathematica Series I was always impressed with how math imitates not just art, but also the human form. Photographic composition works on certain mathematical laws, like the rule of thirds and the golden spiral. But the human form goes far beyond these guidelines for composition, and can be seen through simple and advanced mathematics.


I admit that I am no mathematical genius, merely a numeric enthusiast with a smidgen of engineering background. But with some research and planning, I was able to work with Zach Castro (and other local models) to capture the human form in a formulaic way.


Here I'd like to explain how I took these shots, as well as a description of the math that they represent. Click on any of these pictures to see a larger size.


Basic Trig. One of the first shots I took in this series shows the angular relationships of the human form using basic trigonometry. Here the formula for the Pythagorean Theorem is used to show the relationship of right triangles.


This picture was the first one created for the Mathematica series, and I wanted to add some notation for the Da Vinci kind of feel. The Latin in the top right roughly reads:


"For in the circle are angles. I am also in the circle. And therefore I am one with the Earth."


This and other shots for this series were shot using a tripod...something I rarely do for portraiture. In this case though, the trick was to move the model slowly through the poses, shooting multiple times until one of the shots had the angles and alignment I was after.



Newton's First Law. I was on a role with not just math, but also a Latin translator, so more Latin was added to this shot as well.


This series would just not be complete if it didn't include some kind of motion formulas, so Newton's First Law it is. This is that law that roughly states that, "...a body in motion remains in motion..." although that's not exactly how the Latin translates. Instead, the Latin for Newton's First Law (Lex 1) is:


"Every body persists in its state of being at rest or of moving uniformly straight forward, except insofar as it is compelled to change its state by force impressed"


Close enough :) Luckily, Newton wrote that in Latin, so I just had to copy his original text and pasted into this shot. The arc isn't related to this Law, but does show formulas for calculating the area within an arc. The arc also represents the motion of the subject's legs, and we took multiple shots of his right leg in motion. Those, from other shots, were composited in during post processing.



The Four Elements. This was one area that I was more familiar with, using the 4 quadrant Cartesian Plane many moons ago. Using these four quadrants I was able to represent not just the 4 human limbs, but the four basic elements of life.


In this case, the four elements are:

Ventus = Wind

Ignis = Fire

Aqua = Water

Terra = Earth


This shot also elaborates on the 4 quadrants to display squares. There are actually two squares, with one rotated 45 degrees. By placing datum marks on the corners of the two squares, I was able to show symmetrical relationship to the limb joints, between elbows and knees. There is also an implied circle in the shape of the arms, representing the 4 elements as being whole.



The Theory of Everything. Einstein's general relativity meets quantum mechanics. This was been the bane of physicists for decades, and still, to this day, the two schools of though cannot converge, leaving our universe a mystery in so many ways.


In this picture I show my concept of what happens at a point in the universe where these two conflicting theories collide. On the left is Einstein's familiar formula. On the right is the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. That's the familiar h in the formula. I could have grabbed a variety of formulas to represent quantum physics, but I had recently watched Breaking Bad, and just couldn't resist! The multiplicity of the model was to represent rips in space time, and the eyes a view from each theory. The shining light is where it all comes together, both schools of thought in perfect harmony; hence, the yoga pose to represent peace, and a state of rest.



Chaos Theory. I love doing dispersion technique (where the subject falls apart) and I couldn't think of a better place to do that than this picture, showing a principle of chaos theory, also known as The Butterfly Effect; hence, the butterfly in the upper right of the picture.


In this picture, the formula is known as The Lyapunov Exponent, which I admit I know absolutely nothing about :) I just saw this formula while researching chaos theory, and thought it looked cool. If you look closely though, you'll notice the formula in two places, first on the ground, in its stable state, and also colliding with the model, which throws the formula and the subject into a state of chaos. By displaying the formula in two places, I wanted to portray that there are multiple states of existence, and that order and chaos can coexist.



Principles of Flight. I love using my high speed action strobes (Einsteins by Paul C. Buff), and in this shot I used an equivalent of 1/5000 sec to capture the model in frozen motion.


In this picture there are two formulas used for basic flight: the lift coefficient (shown on the left) and the drag coefficient (shown on the right). Both are opposing forces, so I used them to show a dichotomy, and the irony that humankind was not meant to fly; instead, humans only dream of flight, and have to create machines to do it for them.


This was a tiring shoot for the model where I had the model jump a bazillion times, each time coaching the next jump with a tweak: raise the arm a tad next time, make sure you point your left toes, bend at the hip slightly next time...etc. Lucky for me, this model (Zach Castro) thrives on perfection, and is an extremely hard working and patient model to work with.



The Moment of Inertia. This time using a different model, I was able to work in formulas using rotation as a guide. His physique is more Atlas-esque, making anything that implies a globe resonate with historic images. If you take a second look, you may notice how this looks like Atlas holding the world on his back.


In this picture, I used the formula for the moment of inertia, in particular, around an axis (think of momentum of this subject as he tilts and rotates, with the implied weight of the world on his back).


Similar to the Principles of Flight, I wanted to show a 3-dimensional space around a sphere, thus depicting how these laws of nature work not just on 2-dimensional paper, but in our world and universe.


Lining up a model for this kind of shot is fairly easy, since unlike Principles of Flight, there isn't a lot of jumping around. Instead, it was a matter of merely coaching arm and hand placement. The other dimensions are natural to the human form, so the circles and other bisecting lines were just fell into place.



There's a whole world of math out there, and so many photos that can represent it. To see more of these and other works of mine, you can follow me on Facebook where you can also stay updated on offers, tips, tricks, and other fun photo stuff.



]]> (Nathan Cool Photo) Mathematics form human yoga Thu, 25 Jun 2015 21:26:50 GMT
Which Camera Is Right for Me?

Summer is here, you'll be outside, perhaps vacationing, taking trips, spending time with family, and doing all kinds of fun stuff. This may get you thinking that maybe it would be a good idea to take pictures with something more than your cellphone. Heck, after all, you want to capture memories, and a cellphone, while OK, only goes so far. I've seen good pictures taken with a cellphone, and if all you're doing is sharing on Facebook or Instagram and anyone viewing the pictures will only use a cellphone to see your pictures, then the phone may be the way to go. But you will miss out on capturing quality memories for generations to come.


Today the market is saturated with great cameras at price points that are well within reach of most consumers. The bad news though is, well, the market is saturated with great cameras. It's both a blessing and a curse. But not to worry, it boils down to just a few simple choices from my perspective.


I get asked often what kind of camera is the best. My answer: It depends on what you'll use it for. But to make it easy, I see cameras (not phones) falling into three categories for most shutter bugs. Bearing in mind that I'm a Nikon kind of guy (Canon has similar models too), below are my recommendations. Can you find a cheaper camera? Sure, but don't waste your money, as anything cheaper than these are likely just as good as your cellphone's camera. And what about all those other brands like Sony, Pentax, etc.? Nikon and Canon rule the market. If you ever want to expand, you can find tons more lenses and gear for these two titans compared to the others on the market.


With this in mind, here are my recommendations that will get you to the next level from your old point and shoot and/or cellphone cam:


Low Cost, $500:

The D3300 is the lowest priced DSLR I'd recommend. It comes with a simple but OK lens and runs about $500. This camera has what's known as a 3/4 sized sensor, a format Nikon calls DX. When you see cameras under $2000 that come with a lens, you can pretty much count on them being this 3/4 sized format. It's an inexpensive way to enter into the DSLR world with enough quality to shoot most of what many consumers need (good enough to enlarge pictures to 11x14 at decent quality, and good for smaller sized prints).


Note that DSLRs don't normally come with a lens, but this one usually does, like this one on Amazon. In this case, your camera comes with what's known as a "kit" lens. It's a good bargain, and if you don't know anything about lenses and didn't even know about kit lenses, then this is the camera (and lens) for you. You still get the flexibility to change lenses (if you ever buy better or different lenses), but this comes ready to use right out of the box.



Mid Range, $750

The D5300 is, in my opinion, the next step up. When purchased with the 18-55mm kit lens (like I mentioned above for the D3300), this will run you about $750. Both the D5300 and D3300 have 24 megapixels, and they have most of the same features and picture quality. There are though more video options with the D5300, which also has a better and bigger viewing monitor on its back, which is also nice when shooting video. The D5300 also has more in-camera effects. And the D5300 has more focus points as well.


If you didn't quite understand all of those extra features, then don't bother with this; instead opt for the D3300. You won't sacrifice quality, just bells and whistles.


Below is a shot taken with the D5300's predecessor (the D5100):

These are my two recommendations for the 3/4 sized sensor cameras (what Nikon calls DX). The next step up brings you into the realm of pro cameras, but at an affordable cost point for what you get. The next step up is the full-frame sensor category, what Nikon calls FX. To simplify the difference between shooting with a 3/4 size or full-frame camera, think about what size you'll enlarge your pictures to. If you are going for something bigger than say an 11x14, then you should really consider my next recommendation.



Upper End, $2000

The D610 is when things start to get serious. I actually use a couple of these in many of my photoshoots. The jump in price may have you a bit wide-eyed, but the quality and features go way beyond the 3/4 sized sensor cameras I talked about above. At $2000, you can get this with a similar kit lens like the other cameras above, but since this is a full-frame camera, the lens is bigger, more rugged, and like the camera itself, higher quality as well.


Moving into the full-frame world of DSLRs you will have a world of possibilities open to you. The D610, like the other cameras above, has 24 megapixels. The difference though is its sensor is much larger, and thus captures much, much, much more detail. In fact, you'll be able to easily blow-up prints to 3' wide at high resolution with this camera. The amount of detail is stunning, as is the quality of the pictures.


This camera is riddled with features, far too many to mention here. But if you want to capture amazing landscapes, sunsets, and high quality portraits you want to enlarge, then step on over to the full-frame world. I love this camera, and use it a ton in so much of my work. BUT...I don't use the kit lens that comes with this camera. Instead, I have about $5000 in other lenses I use, but of course people are paying me to shoot them, so I can justify the cost.


I will recommend though one more alternative for the full-frame camera, a D610 body with the 24-120mm f/4 Nikon lens. Combined, it will run about $2700, but you will have a highly versatile camera and lens that you can use for many years to come. I've actually used this setup for some photoshoots where I need a do-all lens. Here is a shot using this setup:

This photo, shot at a high ISO (which would normally degrade quality) is sharp and vibrant, rich with color. Best of all though, this can easily be enlarged to about 3' with no loss in quality. This setup, too, can get you started on the road to being a pro, or taking pro-like pictures. If you ever thought that you'd like to have a camera for something more than simple family pics or hobby photos, then I'd recommend the D610. You can always buy higher end lenses later if you decide to up your photog skill-level.


For instance, when paired with Nikon's 50mm f/1.8 prime lens, which runs less than $300, you can get stunning photos like this one I shot using the D610 and that 50mm lens:

Granted, I also used another $800 in lighting gear for this shot, but you get the idea...tack sharp, extremely vibrant, tons of detail, and easily enlarged to 3' wide.


The camera market is so highly saturated that selecting a camera can be daunting, and a task riddled with choice-anxiety. I find though that there are just a few simple choices that can help you narrow down a DSLR that may be good for you. I hope you find this information useful, and that you start capturing more than just pictures, but images, art, and memories that last a lifetime...and beyond.


And don't forget to follow me on Facebook to stay updated on offers, tips, tricks, and other fun photo stuff.







]]> (Nathan Cool Photo) DSLR Nikon cameras lenses Mon, 08 Jun 2015 01:17:55 GMT
Headshot Heyday One day each month,discount headshots

Each month I set aside one day with one headshot setup so that anyone needing headshots can get them at a discount. Since there's just one set, I can optimize the time, and processing as well, hence the discount.


My normal rate for an hour-long headshot shoot is $150, but on Headshot Heyday it's just $100. 


This month's Headshot Heyday is set for June 17th. Here's what you get:

  • One hour headshot session
  • 2 looks
  • 5 edited high-res images
  • $100 (regularly $150)
  • Location: Newbury Park, in my home studio

This month's theme is shot against Thunder Grey (blueish-grey backdrop), works great for everything from actors to executives. Below are some samples using this month's background. Give me a shout to reserve your slot:

Slots are limited, so contact me ASAP to reserve yours!


And don't forget to follow me on Facebook to stay updated on offers, tips, tricks, and other fun photo stuff.







]]> (Nathan Cool Photo) headshots photography portraits Mon, 01 Jun 2015 21:32:44 GMT
Styles of Fitness What's your style? When someone mentions "Fitness Photography" various images may come to mind. Similar to other genres, fitness photography is rich with variety. Here I'd like to quickly show a few of the more popular styles of fitness photography that I shoot, to show that no matter who you are or what shape you're in, there is a style that can capture your accomplishments. These basic styles are:


Below are some examples and a brief explanation of each.



Artistic, Dramatic

This style is very popular with many of my clients as it is one of the best ways to highlight muscle tone. Usually shot against a dark background, this style places you in dim light with shadows emphasizing the shape of your physique and the depth of muscle tone. This is a great style to use for artwork, perhaps printed and mounted on a wall, or framed, or in a photobook or portfolio. 

Here are a few other examples of the Artistic style (see my fitness portfolio for more):



Impact, Commercial

Typically shot against a white background, this style is commonly used for magazine covers and other publications, so it's often called "commercial". This style emphasizes high energy, laughter, and brightness (like the light used to shoot it). This style is commonly used for model and actor portfolios and corporate photos but is versatile enough to work anywhere a theme of positive energy is conveyed.

Here are a few other examples of the Energetic/Commercial style (see my fitness portfolio for more):



Fantasy, Fine Art

This style is a cross-over into the Artistic style, where surrealism meets human form. Similar to the Artistic style, Fantasy emphasizes muscle definition and tone, but is taken a step further with special effects, some simple (like geometric overlays) and others more complicated, like adding wings and scenery. As with the Artistic style, this also works great for printed artwork mounted or framed, or in a photobook or portfolio. 

Here are a few other examples of the Fantasy Fitness style (see my fitness portfolio and my fantasy portfolio for more):




Stylized Portraiture

Unlike other styles of fitness photography, Stylized Portraiture is usually less revealing, with an implied accentuation of the physique, where clothing complements the human form. This is a cross-over style between artistic fitness and standard portraiture.

Here are a few other examples of the Stylized Portrait style (see my fitness portfolio and my portrait portfolio to see more):



Photography is a boundless art with unlimited possibilities. While I've been able to cover a few basic styles of fitness photography there are more, such as anatomical (for human-form studies) on-location (typically shot in gyms) and journalistic as well (coverage of events and competitions). To see more examples of the styles I've discussed here, you can check out my fitness portfolio, fantasy portfolio, and portrait portfolio as well. And always feel free to contact me anytime if you want to discuss how I can help you capture your accomplishments.


And don't forget to follow me on Facebook to stay updated on shots like these and blogs of how they were done.







]]> (Nathan Cool Photo) art fantasy fitness gym health lighting photogr photography physique portrait workout Mon, 27 Apr 2015 18:48:18 GMT
20% Off Fitness Shoots Through April 20% Off Fitness Shoots Through April

You've worked hard this year to burn off the spoils of last year's holiday fare and get your body into a shape you can be proud of. Whether you're in competition shape, have toned up, or just now feel better about fitting into your jeans without exhaling first, then...


It's time to Capture Your Accomplishments!


Now through the end of April I'm offering 20% off all of my fitness packages. Just mention this ad when you book your shoot with me.


Selfies don't last, but professional fitness portraiture is art you can hang on your wall, share with your friends, and hold onto for ages to come. And for the remainder of this month you can get top-notch fitness photos at discounted rates.


Never been photographed before? No worries. I shoot in the privacy of my home studio away from the prying eyes of looky-loos at gyms or other public places. It's just you, a friend (if you want to bring someone along), and my cameras. I walk you through the process, poses, and keep you engaged throughout the shoot reviewing your progress and collaborating the entire time.


Got questions? Thinking about booking a shoot? Feel free to contact me at your convenience.

]]> (Nathan Cool Photo) Fri, 10 Apr 2015 03:40:10 GMT
Why Photographers Wear Black

Have you ever wondered why so many photographers wear black? Sure, it looks fabulous, as in this double-the-fun selfie I shot wearing one of my favorite black, long-sleeve Ts. And of course our ebony attire can make us photogs look all artsy, deep, and mysterious (hiding my more often-revealed goofy side). But there are technical reasons why we camera clickers don the dark: catchlights and reflections.


In this blog, I'd like to show you some examples of why raven-wear fashion is necessary in the photo world, and why we lean toward the dark side (yes, photographers use "the force"). And, at the same time, I'll reveal secrets using this illuminating technique to one's advantage, enabling the reverse engineering of work by other photogs. In both cases, it's all about the catchlights (sure, sometimes the treble, and maybe about the bass). And believe it or not, there is a mix of human psychology surrounding the method for all this catchlight madness.


Catchlights are those little reflections of light that get caught in a subject's eyes. It can't be helped, and it would actually look rather spooky and unnatural NOT to have reflections in a subject's eyes. In fact, I'll often use a particular light modifier just to get a certain type and shape of catchlight in a subject's eye. That's the psychology part of catchlights: without some kind of reflection in a person's eyes, a mental trigger fires a warning that something is not right. So to make sure your subject's look their best, catchlights are necessary, but they must be the right catchlight.


Sometimes there are catchlight fails. Take for instance the photo below, which I shot many, many, many moons ago. The pet's owner is interacting with the dog to grab its attention. Notice anything fishy in the dog's eye?


Let's take a closer look, and I think you'll see what I mean:

Not only did I photograph this playful pooch, but I also inadvertently shot the owner, who was wearing a yellow shirt. If however she were wearing black, then the catchlight would be hardly noticeable. This was just one of many mistakes I made way back when (including the JPEG artifacts/coloring on the dog's fur that would not make my cut today). But every fail is a chance to pick oneself up, and try, try, try again. Which I did...for instance...


Here's a shot taken a couple years ago where catchlights worked well. Here I shot fitness model Sarah Parker with a beauty-light setup.


There's a whole lot I love about this shot, but what really makes it sparkle (literally) are the catchlight's in Sarah's eyes. Here's a shot zoomed in at 100%:

Much better! In her right eye we can clearly see a nice, round catchlight. This is a more natural looking catchlight, and is from using a beauty dish. I can tell it's a beauty dish (and not an umbrella) because of the tell-tale dead spot in the center (which makes for a soft light with no hard center). In Sarah's left eye I can see another catchlight from a rectangular softobox, which I used as fill.


From these catchlights I can reverse engineer the lighting setup...well, most of it anyway. I can see a beauty dish was used to camera left at about eye-level with the subject, angled about 15 degrees from her. I can also see the softbox for fill was angled almost 90 degrees from her as well.


Let's take a look at another, somewhat more mysterious example. This is a shot I took of actress/model Marissa Alnas, which shows a very flattering light setup for doing a headshot:


Here is the 100% zoom on her eyes...notice something different?


For this setup, I did use a beauty dish, shown by the round reflection in both her eyes. But notice also a faint oval of white in the lower part of her eyes. This was from a round, white reflector that was being held at her elbow level. This reflector is the trick to getting a soft skin look where shadows are filled in from light falling from the top (from the beauty dish). btw, there is also a softbox used slightly behind her to camera left, used for fill and hair/rim, but it is behind the subject's eyes, so is not shown in any catchlights.


Note that although you can clearly see the light modifiers used in these shots, you can't find me! My black garb (and black camera) are non reflective, so I'm hidden from view. I'm a ghost, in a good way :)


Although I've shown portrait examples here, the same rules apply to other kinds of photography. For instance, many car photographers wear all black, from head to toe, so that they won't show up as a reflection in a shiny car. And product photography often requires a photo tent to hide any exterior reflections, and as much of the camera as well.


So next time you see me shoot and I'm dressed like Johnny Cash, you'll know I'm out for more than a fashion statement; I'm doing my darndest to hide from the light.


And don't forget to follow me on Facebook to stay updated on shots like these and blogs of how they were done.




]]> (Nathan Cool Photo) catchlight photography reflectors Fri, 09 Jan 2015 22:30:18 GMT
Quick Tips for Holiday Pics

Whether you're using a cellphone or high end gear, there are some simple tricks to help get some great pictures this holiday season. This is also an extremely busy time of year, so I'll get right to it:


1. Get the picture

If you wait too long, moods will change. The best holiday picture is always the one where everyone is smiling "naturally" and having a great time. Snap fast, and remember tip number 2...


2. Take LOTS of pictures

I doubt you'll be using film, so memory is cheap and there is no cost for development. Take tons of shots. Don't wait for everyone to be perfectly lined up, and as you're taking the shots, remember tip number 3...


3. Keep them laughing

As you're setting up the shot and while you're clicking away, keep the mood high, joke with everyone, laugh, keep the spirits bright.


4. Shoot just above eye level

If you shoot too low, you'll get double chins. If you shoot too high, the perspective will be off. If you shoot directly at eye level, you can get a nice effect of the subject interacting with those viewing the pictures later. But if you position just a smidge above eye level, you'll get that same interacting effect, but also stretch out necks a tad to avoid overdoing double chins. Remember that when people laugh or smile, they tend to tuck their chins...don't tell them not to, just shoot slightly higher than their eyes and it will help to even it out.


5. Shade is your friend

As are clouds. Don't shoot in direct sunlight, just move people into the shade if shooting outside. And, if nature cooperates, don't fret a cloudy day, that's when light will be exceptionally soft.


6. If possible, use a tripod  indoors

If you're shooting indoors and you don't have studio lighting, you just have to worry about your shutter being open too long, which isn't a problem if your camera is steady.


7. Or, bounce your flash indoors

Another simple trick if you're shooting indoors, and you do have a flash (with a swivel head), bounce the light against a wall or ceiling, or something else that is white. No swivel head flash, just an on-camera one? No problem...tip #8...


8. Diffuse your flash

If you're using a flash, try to diffuse it. If you're using a swivel head flash, then use the white diffuser dome that came with it. No swivel head flash or diffuser dome? No problem, place a piece or two of tissue paper over the flash, but remember your light will be a tad weaker. On-camera flashes are harsh, so anything you can do to soften the light will help immensely (bouncing the light off a wall, or diffusing it).


9. Be creative

Everyone's spirits will be higher if you can let them be themselves, and especially if they're allowed to be goofy. Get creative, and take TONS of never know which one will turn out incredibly awesome!


10. For children, prep the set

Kids can't sit still for long, so it's best to just setup your shot before hand, and then have them move into the picture for a few quick snaps. Think about the shots before you engage them, and think about having some Christmas toys for them to play with. Also, when working with kids, have someone stand behind you and when you're ready to take the shot, have that person grab the kids' attention and get them to laugh (make funny faces and sounds, shake a toy, and just be a big ole goofball).


So what are you waiting for? Grab your camera and capture some holiday memories!


And don't forget to follow me on Facebook to stay updated on shots like these and blogs of how they were done.




]]> (Nathan Cool Photo) christmas group holidays photoshop pictures Wed, 24 Dec 2014 19:03:18 GMT
Shooting Ultra-Wide on a Budget

Shooting landscapes, architecture, or other subjects at an ultra-wide angle can be an expensive endeavor, but it doesn't need to be if you know a few tricks. In this blog, I'll show you how I shot a variety of ultra-wide angled shots that go beyond what some of the most top of the line (and super expensive) lenses can capture.


Top of the line, ultra-wide angle lenses that are NOT fish-eye can cost a king's ransom. A true ultra-wide lens (something in the 12mm range) is expensive to manufacture to ensure low distortion. A cheap fish-eye can be fun, but if you want to capture an ultra-wide scene that won't be warped into something resembling a bad acid trip, you could opt for something like Nikon's 14-24mm f/2.8, which has a sticker shock of around $2000, or you could opt for a low quality ultra-wide lens like the Rokinon 14mm, which runs only $325 but has intense distortion (enough that straight lines turn into mustache-like waves, something that just won't cut it if you want to shoot anything with straight lines in it like a road, building, bridge, etc.).


Luckily, there is a cheaper, and more versatile option: Photomerge in Photoshop. In Photoshop, simply go to File -> Automate -> Photomerge. You'll see a dialog like this:

In this dialog you select multiple photos that you want to "merge", and Photoshop will create a large picture of all photos combined. Each photo needs to overlap the last for a clean merge.


This feature is typically used for creating panoramas, such as this one below, which consists of 10 separate photos:

Fall HorizonFall HorizonShot at Wildwood Park from the Stagecoach Bluff Trail looking south onto the border of Thousand Oaks (left) and Newbury Park (right).

In this pano, 10 separate shots were taken, each overlapping each other by about 30%. This resulted in a huge picture, one that I now have hanging above my desk, 4' wide at 300 dpi (printed on metallic paper btw...but that's a topic for another time). All I did was hold a camera on a monopod, shoot, turn a little, shoot, turn a little, etc. until I captured 10 shots encompassing about 180 degrees of view. Using the Photomerge feature, I used the Auto layout option and checked "Blend Images Together". Once you click OK, it can take a while for Photoshop to do its work, but the wait is worth it.


Photomerge also combines pictures horizontally AND vertically. This allows you to shoot not just a row of pictures, but also rows of "columns" of pictures. This picture, for instance, comprises 80 separate shots: 16 rows of 5 photo "columns":

Conejo Community ParkConejo Community ParkThis is a massive pano comprising over 60 shots to show all of Conejo Community Park.

For this picture, I used a tripod and would start out shooting a column by tilting the camera down (click) tilt up a bit (click), etc., 5 times to shoot an overlapping column of pictures. Then I'd tilt the camera down to the starting position again, rotate it a bit, and shoot another "column" of pictures. The original picture is huge at over 20,000 pixels wide! This allows you to enlarge a picture like this into practically any size imaginable, and not lose quality (at 300 dpi this photo would be over 5' wide, and at 250 dpi nearly 7' wide).


Note though that when Photomerge is done, you'll end up with something that looks like this:

Not exactly the prettiest picture, although there is a selfie-shadow of me there :) Once Photomerge is done, you will need to flatten the image (right click on the layers, which will all be selected, and select "Flatten Image"), then crop the shot, maybe do some rotation and any of your favorite post processing techniques (compare it to the picture above it and you'll see all kinds of stuff I did to make it pop). But none of this would have been possible if not for the Photomerge feature.


What's also interesting with this technique is that there is little to no distortion (barrelling at the edges or otherwise, once you crop the picture, which has an illusion of being warped), which allowed me to take a nice, even architecture pic like this one, which has about 20 shots merged together:

If I had taken this with a wide angle lens, even at say 12mm, I might have gotten the piano and chair in the frame, but this shot shows a full 360-degree view of my downstairs. Although it appears to be one flat, continuous room, it is actually a 360° circle of the entire downstairs. So even if I had a high-end ultra-wide lens, there is no way I could have captured everything I did in this picture.


So what are you waiting for? Get out there and take some pictures and try this out! And don't forget to follow me on Facebook to stay updated on shots like these and blogs of how they were done.




]]> (Nathan Cool Photo) landscapes nature photography photoshop post processing Wed, 10 Dec 2014 15:55:10 GMT
Hidden Secrets in "Return to Paradise"

Back in September I shot fitness model Kim Houghton for a series called Levitation (see video here). In that series I captured Kim in a variety of motion poses to use in gallery art over time. One of those pieces, Return to Paradise, may look like a story of transition, but this piece also contains a number of subtle, hidden messages, which I'll share with you in this blog. (You can click the picture for a larger view.)


The first, more obvious meaning, was to convey the duality of human nature, from where we are, to where we wish we were. As a species, we never seem satisfied with the present, and continually concentrate on the future. This picture set out to defy that defect in human nature, and derail that train of thought with these hidden messages:


The Light: Defying the perception that things could be better, the light that is shining on Paradise (the right side of the wall) is actually coming from the darkness, from the "evil" or left side of the wall. I felt that it is our worst times that shed light on the best things in life; without sadness or heartache we'd have no reference point on happiness. Peace, happiness, and joy are merely relative emotions, and their origins lie in the darkness in life. Light thus shines from our darkest hours.


The Oak: Paradise Kim's left arm parallels a trunk of an oak tree, hidden in the background. The oak tree symbolizes strength, and its parallel position to Kim is literal: she too has strength, and is steadfast. I was originally going to place an oak paralleling her body, but thought the angle on this trunk, paralleling her arm, added drama to this piece.


The Birds: The birds in Paradise simply symbolize freedom, with their escape to remain as far away from darkness as possible. The birds are smart :)


The Hair: If you study this picture closely, you may realize that Paradise Kim's hair is being "pulled" toward the vortex/wall. Although she is in Paradise, there is a constant and strong temptation to return to the darkness. I used this shot of Kim in this position to symbolize addiction, and the human ability to overcome it. Whether it be drugs, alcohol, toxic relationships, bad habits, laziness, etc., we all are victims of temptations from our past; it is our strength that keeps us from returning to them. Paradise Kim is moving farther away from darkness (note the left bent knee), but there is a part of her being pulled to her past.


The Wall: The hole in the way serves as a vortex and transition between good and evil. The wall though is not continuous, and although seems to extend into oblivion, does not. This was to show the irony of how sometimes simple things keep us constrained, where in reality, escape and/or change are easier than we sometimes make them out to be: Evil Kim could just pass around the wall a few feet on either side of her, but instead is drawn to what she immediately sees.


The Scarf: The scarves were used in many shots from the shoot with Kim. I wanted to use this particular shot to show Evil Kim reaching for something Paradise Kim possesses and willing to share -- as Paradise Kim reaches for her evil doppelganger on the other side of the wall, willing to help, she remains steadfast (see The Oak above) while overcoming temptation (see The Hair above).


The Skin: The skin on Evil Kim is yellowed, aged, cracked, and breaking apart (and her hair is disheveled). This was to accentuate the difficulty of living in the darkness, and the physical toll that stress can have.


And there you have it, the subtle, hidden meanings in "Return to Paradise". I hope you enjoyed this piece, and that it can bring light into your darkest day.


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]]> (Nathan Cool Photo) fantasy photography photoshop portrait post processing Mon, 24 Nov 2014 16:01:10 GMT
Winged Defender, the making of How I shot the Winged Defender fantasy photo



I absolutely love shooting fantasy photos, being able to expose a person's inner self through the art of photography and Photoshop. But I also love the challenge, requiring careful planning up front, ensuring the right lighting and set are used so that backgrounds, props, and other features can be added seamlessly in post-processing. After all, a fantasy photo has to look real to convey its story, otherwise, with just one simple mistake, hours of work can turn into a horrible hack job.


The Winged Defender, with Dina Enggaard, was a fantasy shot I'm proud of. Dina is in great shape, and can hold poses for extended periods, over, and over again for countless takes without tiring. With a desire to do some cosplay, Dina had a great idea of wearing this dress that looked modern yet Medieval with the bottom fringe and decorative patterns, posing with a sword in an angular form. To light this became a challenge, requiring 4 separate strobes to make sure the important details weren't overlooked, and ensuring that proper blending could be accomplished in post processing. It took many takes and trial-and-error to get the lighting right, but that is the most important element of making a shot like this: Patience. Don't settle for the first shot, strive for perfection, and keep trying. It took about 30 minutes of trying various lights, as well as minor tweaks in the placement of each light to get the effects we wanted. NEVER GIVE UP! Be patient.


Below is an original, unedited take from this shoot showing the 4 lights that were used:

If you look closely you'll notice four lights:

  1. Key light to camera left, an Einstein strobe in a softbox. This was angled perpendicular to Dina inline with her leading arm and leg.
  2. A fill light at the very top on the right, which is another Einstein strobe in a softbox (you can see only a small portion of this in the top right corner). This was facing the key light, sandwiching Dina in the middle, used just to soften shadows cast from the key light (#1).
  3. A small strobe, also an Einstein, with a 30-degree grid about 2' off the ground, almost out of frame on the bottom right. This worked as a rim light to separate Dina (from the waist up) from the background. I used a grid on this strobe to make it more of a spotlight and avoid spill onto the backdrop. I could have used barndoors, but popping in a grid is a simple "one and done", no fiddling with the paddles/doors (there was enough tweaking to do for this shot).
  4. A small speedlight (an inexpensive Yongnuo) at the bottom right of the backdrop. This was used to get some shadows in front of Dina of that cool fringe on the bottom of her skirt. The rim light (#3) just wasn't quite enough, and the speedlight added a bit more angled shadow.


All lights were trigger with Cactus wireless radio triggers (I live on these puppies!).


Unlike the old days of green-screening, I like to use a backdrop that can easily blend with other digital images. In this case I used my favorite, the Thunder Gray by Savage. This paper, which comes in a 12-yard roll, has hints of blue, and is minimally reflective. I then like to layer images in Photoshop using Soft Light or Overlay blending, which allows me to easily blend edges of the subject without having to cut them out (as would be the case when using a green screen), and allow shadows to remain. The background image, btw, was from the Grunge Collection by I added other layers, including a gradient fill overlay centered on the window to create light ray effects, another layer for wispy smoke, another with a lens flare effect on the sword, and various adjustment layers (contrast, brightness and levels, each using masks so as to highlight only certain portions of the picture). And of course I used a layer for each wing as well, but the trick is in having a front layer portion of Dina, allowing the wings to be behind her (literally, in the layer ordering), and not look like hacked cut-outs.


Below is the final shot after post processing:

And here's another shot from this same shoot, same lighting, just different backgrounds:


In this second shot, I used a variety of background images, but the main one is from the Goth Collection by Photo Coach.


And there you have it! It took a variety of lights, modifiers, and time with Photoshop. But the biggest and most important thing that made this shot happen is patience. No matter what you are shooting, try to always make it better, don't settle for the first shot, be critical of your work, and realize it may take a while with many takes to get the right shot.


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]]> (Nathan Cool Photo) fantasy photography photoshop portrait post processing wings Wed, 05 Nov 2014 19:20:01 GMT
The Patriot Shoot Behind the scenes of the Independence Day shoot with Sarah Parker


I'd been wanting to do something for the 4th of July this year, so I ordered a couple flags and planned some shots to take with a female model. Sarah Parker was up for the challenge (and available that week), and although she was exhausted from a recent fitness competition, she brought her A-game to the shoot and pulled it off like a pro. Setup was minimal, but it took over 2 hours to get the few shots we were after. Here's how we did it.


If you want to jump ahead, check out the BTS video here.


By the way, if you're wondering about the flag touching the ground (as I was for this shoot) it actually is an urban legend that the flag be burned if it does. The U.S. Code states that "while displaying the flag" it shouldn't touch the ground beneath it. I felt it respectful, in this shoot, to show the freedom and beauty of America, and how our rights and freedoms extend beyond repressed societies. Instead, we can express ourselves to the extent where beauty is not restrained. I'm grateful to those who've fought for these freedoms.


With that said, let's get down to business...


For this first shot, props go out to Marcella, another model who sent me this idea. Marci wasn't available in time for the 4th shoot, but we'll be shooting shortly...stay tuned for that! You may though have seen similar shots where it looks like the person is flying, but in reality they are laying on the floor. I did the same for this shot, and here is the behind the scenes, and finished shot:

(click images to enlarge)

At first, it sounded easy: just have Sarah lie on the floor, and shoot her from above. Easier said than done. I shot this (like I do most of my work) in my house, and luckily I have tall ceilings. But I only had a 6' ladder, which meant I had to use a focal length of about 28mm for this. Right after this shot, I went out and bought the Nikon 28mm f1.8 prime (I live on primes...high quality, lightweight, and not as expensive as the same all-in-ones). In any case, I had Sarah lay on thunder-gray background paper (which we used for the entire shoot), and getting high on my ladder I reached out and fired a ton of shots on auto-focus at f8, moving the camera slightly each time in hopes that at least one shot would be composed well enough to edit. For lighting, one softbox was to camera left pointed towards her head, another weaker fill in a softbox near her feet, and then one with a grid for spot pointing at her hair (look closely at the before shot and follow the power cords to where the lightstands are).


The next shot was less hazardous from my part, but required a ton of trial and error:

(click images to enlarge)

My cameo appearance in the before-shot on the left pretty much gives it away. I had Sarah pose and use slight variations in each shot. I then would grab the end of the flag, throw it up, and then click a remote shutter (the camera was on a tripod). It took tons of tries to get the flag flowing the way we liked it, while having a nice pose to work with. I used Nikon's 50mm f1.4 prime on this, a great lens for color and clarity (did I mention I looooooove prime lenses?). For lighting, two softboxes were used, a key facing Sarah, and a fill on the flag but almost perpendicular to the backdrop. BUT...what really was important for this shot (besides patience) was to use fast lights. I used Paul Buff Einsteins, which, when fired at this power (for f8), fired at about 1/5000 second, freezing the flag in midair, sharp as a tack.


The next one is pretty much a no-brainer, but I wanted to do more than just a plain background, so I setup mood lighting and changed the background in post:

(click images to enlarge)

The key to this shot was to use the thunder gray background paper. As with most of my fantasy shots, I don't "cut" the subjects from one picture to another, but instead, in Photoshop, use Overlay or Soft-Light layer blending. Using a picture of peeling wall paint as an overlay layer allowed the thunder gray blue tones to come through, keeping the colors as I had imagined, and making the blending a piece of cake. For instance, click on the finished pic on the right above, and see how Sarah's hair is preserved...that's the difference of using overlays versus cut-outs.


Lastly, if you haven't had a chance to see the video from this shoot, now's your chance:


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]]> (Nathan Cool Photo) patriotic photography photoshop portrait post processing Thu, 10 Jul 2014 01:25:11 GMT
Rain on Me How to shoot raindrop refraction portraits.


Eye of the StormEye of the Storm I love shooting anything with water, and raindrop refraction is one of my favorite projects. In particular, I've been inspired by portraits involving raindrops, and so I went on a quest to shoot a series called Rain on Me, a collection of self-portraits using a raindrop refraction technique. In this blog, I'll show you how it's done.


This technique is not very difficult, requires little equipment, and very little knowledge of Photoshop or Lightroom (or whatever editing software you prefer to use). This kind of shoot does require patience and time, but clean-up is minimal (compared to other wet shoots).


So first, below are some of the shots from the Rain on Me series, and following that is a diagram and quick instructions on how it was done.




The Void

The Void


Army of OneArmy of One

Army of One








I had a great time with this project. It was simple to put together, took very little time to setup, and the finished products were often quite surprising. To shoot this, I used the setup shown below:

All that was needed was one light, sitting up at a standard portrait height, slightly above the subject (which was me). This was just an inexpensive speedlight inside a cheap softbox triggered remotely. The camera was a Nikon D600 with a Tokina Macro lens. I used a black backdrop, which could be anything you want (black cloth, paper, etc.)


The only prop used was a thin sheet of plexiglass that I picked up at Home Depot for about $15. I hung the plexiglass from a backdrop stand so that the bottom edge was at my eye height. I then used a spritzer bottle to spray water drops on the plexiglass so that some of the drops hung from the bottom.


Using a tripod, I then focused on the water drops, which act as a lens, turning the subject behind it upside down. I set the depth of field shallow enough (about f/5.6 on the 100mm lens focused about 20" away) and then stepped behind the plexi. With a wireless shutter remote I would fire a series of shots with me standing at various distances from the plexi.


I then used Photoshop to rotate the images to ensure the horizon line was even (using guides). I would also tweek things a bit, like sharpening, toning, saturation (or desaturate), etc. This was the fun part as these shots didn't require hours of special effects editing, and instead just let me have fun with colors and such.


And that's all there is to it! So what are you waiting for? Grab your gear, and go get wet!


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]]> (Nathan Cool Photo) fantasy photography photoshop portrait post processing Sat, 31 May 2014 17:13:34 GMT
Before and After What Fantasy Photos look like before and after they get Photoshopped.


Ever wonder what my Fantasy shots looked like before they got edited? Then I think you'll like this short video I put together, as well as a short discussion about the techniques below:



The main ingredient in the making of each Fantasy shot is to get lots of footage, and to use a plain background. In the old days, a green-screen was often used, but I prefer using a plain colored backdrop when possible. This serves dual purposes:

  1. I get lots of usable shots that don't have to be fantasy. If shooting against bright white, the client has commercial shots they can use, if the background is greyed, with or without shadow, or even plain black, all of these can be used as great, artistic shots that don't have to be fantasized into something else.
  2. Editing in backgrounds and other objects during post processing is easier with a plain background. And, without using a green screen, I don't get "green spill" (where green can reflect back on the subject's skin).


Fantasy shots have a variety of techniques applied to them: cutouts, adding wings or other objects, adding abs or increasing muscle, and more. All of these though have two things in common:

  1. Many layers are used. A JPG image is just one layer, but in Photoshop you can add many layers. This allows me to add just abs to one layer, or perhaps wings to another,.
  2. All layers use layer masks. If you're not familiar with this, it's simply a way to say that I don't want to show all of a layer (say part of the wings), and I can brush-in just certain amounts of something from a particular layer.


Layers can also be adjusted in many ways. In particular, I concentrate on the blending mode and opacity. This allows me to use say a piece of meat as a layer, but blend it onto skin as an overlay, like in the picture below.


So grabbing a shot of a steak, I can use it as a layer above the main subject as an overlay, and using a layer mask I can paint it on where I'd like it.


The cutouts, deeper meat, and pipes are all different layers as well. But notice the 3-D effect -- that's also from other layers. Between the skin and deep meat there is a layer where I painted some black, then set the opacity to about 50% to add the shadow. Also, the depth of the meat is a series of layers with similar techniques.


In all, the picture above was comprised of 12 layers, which also included some adjustment layers (for levels, colors, and saturation).


Lastly, a big help in all of this is something to help me paint. Working on shots like these using a mouse can drive you batty (hmmm...almost made a funny there...something about winged mice...but I digress). Instead of using a mouse, I use a Wacom Pen Tablet. This allows me to sit back and draw as though I had a paintbrush or pen in my hand. Also, these kinds of drawing tablets are pressure sensitive, making brushes in Photoshop react as though I were lightly or heavily brushing an object.


Have a fantasy that you'd like to make into reality? Give me a shout, let's shoot, and turn your dreams into art.





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]]> (Nathan Cool Photo) fantasy photography photoshop portrait post processing Wed, 30 Apr 2014 21:38:03 GMT
Macro Done Easy  

By: Nathan Cool.

How to shoot macro without breaking the bank


I absolutely love macro photography. I especially like shooting macro indoors. While it can be nice to get outside and soak up some natural vitamin D from time to time, macro indoors, like other types of studio work, gives full control of my lighting, and I never have to worry about wind. But unlike portraiture, high speed action or special fantasy photography, macro can be much simpler, with far less room needed for studio gear, and much lower equipment cost as well.


Don't get me wrong, you can spend a bundle on any kind of photo gear, including macro. But, I wanted to share with you my simple setup, which costs a fraction of what others run, as well as some tips and shortcuts, while get stunning shots you'll be proud of.


The Red Wax Begonia above is just one of a few shots I did this past week using a simple setup. Below are some other shots from that series, as well as the gear and setup used, which I'll discuss in more detail:

Pretty, huh? :) That little bagonia is not even an inch across. Its leaves (in the background) are bigger than the flower itself. I absolutely LOVE macro!


Macro photography though does pose some challenges: you need to focus very close so you'll need a lens (or attachments) to get within a foot or so of the subject, which then poses other issues for lighting, exposure, etc. But, working with a still subject, you can take your time with setup, not worry about a schedule, or being on location. There are many advantages to shooting macro, once you can get the right setup to make your pictures pop!


So without further ado, here is the setup I used:

Here's a breakdown of the equipment I used, as well as some inexpensive alternatives and shortcuts:

  1. Camera: Nikon D600. It's a full-frame sensor camera, 24 megapixels. This is discontinued, replaced by the D610, which I also have, but find each to be equally as good. Any decent DSLR camera though will do nicely. But, like with any photography, the better the camera, chances are the better your pictures will be. The D610/600s are at a low enough price point to make having a high res camera affordable, but there are many 3/4 frame, APS-C sized sensor cameras (like the D5100) that can do a very good job as well, so don't be afraid to use what you have on hand.
  2. Lens: Tokina 100mm f/2.8 macro. This lens is just half the price of its Nikon equivalent, and the picture quality is just as good. The autofocus on the Tokina is a little slow, but when you're doing a setup like this, who cares? If you're on a tight budget and you can sacrifice a little quality, you can try some inexpensive close-up filters like these from Vivitar. Using those filters, you're in for just $15 versus $400 for a Tokina lens, or $800 for a Nikon or Canon lens. With the filters, you have to get close, and the quality won't be as high as with a macro lens, but it is a great way to get started.
  3. Speedlight: Yongnuo YN-560. For nearly all my studio work I use my trusty Einsteins for power and speed. But no need to bring a bulldozer when a simple garden shovel will do -- the light will be just inches from the subject when shooting macro, so I can get plenty of exposure from just a simple speedlight. The Yongnuo is a fraction of the price of my monolights or TTL speedlights. In this setup I show 2 Yongnuo speedlights, but I mostly used just the one.
  4. Flash triggers: Cactus Wireless Triggers. I love these puppies and own 8 of them to date. They are less than half the price of the more popular flash triggers, and have been extremely reliable. I could have though just used a simple sync cord, like this one for less than $10. But, I also use another trigger to fire the flash when I'm metering, so using wireless remotes gives me a bit more flexibility.
  5. Meter: Polaris SPD. I have this meter for doing other work (studio, product, etc.), so I just used it here. There are less expensive ones out there (like this Sekonic), but considering I'm using cheap, non-TTL speedlights, having the Polaris meter is worth the added cost. As a shortcut, if you're shooting macro at f/22, and you have a speedlight about 1' away from the subject using a diffuser, figure on about 1/2 power on the speedlight, then check your histogram on the picture to see how you're doing. Metering is best, but if you're on a tight budget, you can fiddle with the flash power between 1/2 and 1/4.
  6. Snoot: Rogue Flash Bender. This little puppy is the Swiss Army Knife of modifiers. I use it a lot as a bounce card with speedlights, but it also bends nicely to use as a snoot, giving me a nice spotlight that won't leak light towards the camera. You can make your own snoot though by just rolling up a magazine with a sheet of white paper on the inside and use tape to keep it in place.
  7. Diffuser: Strobo Sock. For less then $10 you get a set of two. These things fit over speedlights, snoots, and small modifiers. You can also use any white material that will diffuse light, like tissue paper, a baby's sock, etc.
  8. Shutter Release: Nikon ML-L3 Wireless Remote. This is a must-have item, and costs less than $20. I like to keep the camera steady, so also make sure to have any vibration reduction settings on your lens shut off.


And of course there are lightstands, tripod, and a black backdrop, but I won't bother wasting your time with that. But, I will recommend looking at this 3-light setup with stands and umbrellas by Cowboy Studio. This is an extremely inexpensive setup which will give you 3 light stands you can use for this and a lot of other setups.


There are also some other advantages to use the Cowboy Studio setup:

  • You use the lights and umbrellas as your light source for macro, cutting cost even further.
  • You won't need to meter the light as you can shoot in aperture priority mode and do time exposures: Set aperture to f/22 and let the shutter stay open as long as it needs to. A wireless remote is crucial though, as you will not want to have any camera movement -- which also means shutting off vibration reduction on the lens (if it has it).
  • You don't need speedlights, you can likely get by without a snoot, and you won't need a diffuser since the umbrellas will be the diffusers. Without a snoot though you may not get a spotlighted effect, but you can correct that with some vignetting in Lightroom.


If you do opt for the Cowboy Studio stands but you also want to use speedlights, you'll need to get a couple of these mounts. These can also hold an umbrella, so you can use the Cowboy Studio stands and umbrellas for a speedlight setup.


No matter what you use for gear, the rest is fairly easy. After setting everything up, I spray the flower with a spritzer bottle (note the handy towel), then move the camera into position, about one foot away from the subject. I meter the speedlight so that I get f/22 at ISO 100. I use autofocus on the camera, then shut it off on the camera -- shutting it off on the Tokina lens is a pain and could move the camera, so I opt for just shutting it off on the camera. I dial in the aperture (f/22) and set shutter speed to 1/200. Even in broad daylight, this is enough to completely block out other ambient light.


Remember though that if you're not using speedlights and using the natural light-type of setup from something like the Cowboy Studio setup mentioned above, you will need to shoot in a dark room so as not to get ambient light during time exposures.


Lastly, I just use the wireless remote to fire away. Move the camera and the subject, recompose, meter, and fire. Experiment with different camera angles and with the light in various heights and positions as well. Just remember to spritz water on the subject only when the camera is far one likes a wet camera :)




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]]> (Nathan Cool Photo) flowers lens macro micro photography pictures Wed, 16 Apr 2014 01:02:12 GMT
Natural Looking Skin Touch-ups  

By: Nathan Cool.

How to touch-up skin with a natural look.


Every magazine cover, every ad, every billboard, and just about every photo you'll ever see published has been edited. It's a controversial subject, since with the right software anyone can look like a completely different person, building false images of reality. I, like 99.99% of all photographers, use software to touch-up and make modifications to clients' photos. While I can take this to extremes, like in my Fantasy Portfolio, when it comes to standard work I like to keep things as real as possible while still showing clients in their best light. Case in point is this headshot of fitness model Sarah Parker, where just a few simple edits enhanced her picture while keeping her looking natural. In this article I'll reveal the edits used in post processing shots like this.


There are a number of tutorials on the web today that show myriad methods to apply skin softening, blemish correction, and more. Most though, I've found, will make the subject look surreal -- plastic skin with no texture, eyes with attractive but unnatural colors, and faces distorted to achieve the perfect look. Unless I'm working on surreal art, I (and my clients) prefer to keep things looking natural -- how the subject looks in the best possible light.


Below is a close-up of a before and after of the headshot I posted above. You can click on the image below for a bigger view. Here, I'll describe the steps I took in post processing to make this subject look their best. There are a number of steps involved, but I've found that if you want to make someone look their best, and not distort the entire photo, then taking many but small changes will make all the difference.


The first, obvious step in shooting this subject is to use good lighting, which in turn makes the post processing much simpler. Bad lighting can result in many more hours of editing, so a few extra minutes to get the light ideal can make my life a lot easier later. For this shot I used a 22" beauty dish with a diffuser for key lighting (camera left), and a double-diffused softbox for fill (camera right, angled low and almost 90 degrees from the subject). You can see the lighting angles by the catch-lights in her eyes. The combination of these two lights gave enough light to highlight the subject, but also to blow out many shadows in the face, which is a major step in softening skin and reducing the appearance of blemishes. But even with super soft light like this there are some things I wanted to correct:

  • Shine: the skin has just a bit too much glow/shinyness to it in some spots. This was near the end of a shoot and everyone was getting a bit warm, and subsequently oily. Tons of makeup could have solved this, but this can be easily fixed in Photoshop.

  • Soften: I'd like to add just a touch of softening. One drawback of using a high resolution camera is that you will get more details than the human eye can often perceive. I don't want to make her skin look like plastic, just a little softer in some spots.

  • Wrinkle around eyes: I want the eyes to look natural, but I want to reduce the harshness of the wrinkles around her eyes. Much of this was taken care of with the soft, diffused lighting, but I want to take it a slight step further.

  • Smooth the laugh lines: I want to lower the harshness of the laugh lines around her mouth. Much of the shadows that would be visible were corrected with having the lower softbox, filling in the shadows. Still, there is just a tad more I want to smooth out.

  • Enhance eye color: The eye color is just a tad flat, so I'd like to adjust that slightly. And I mean slightly. I always sharpen the irises, but in this case her eye color seemed just a tad off, likely from wearing grey, which didn't help bring out the green in her eyes.

  • Remove shine flaw on lower lip: the lower lip caught a bit too much light and it looks like there is an indent.

  • Slightly lighten jaw: her left upper jaw bone shows a tad too much shadow. Since her hair covered up some of her jaw, it was tough to get the fill light to brighten that up. It's a simple fix though in Photoshop.


None of these changes are anything all that out of the ordinary when the subject would be in their best possible light. In fact, when you think about it, these changes could have been done either with makeup and lighting tweaks, or in post processing. Nothing though should be any more unnatural. Here's how I did it:


The Basics

The basic principle for all the steps, no matter what you do, is to use multiple layers in Photoshop with each layer having a layer mask. This allows you to paint in only the areas that need adjusting in each step. Also, each layer can then have its opacity adjusted, allowing you to adjust how much of the correction you want to apply. So layer masking allows you to apply the correction where you want it, and opacity of the layer allows you to control to what extent the correction will be applied.


Also, before starting any work in Photoshop, make sure you duplicate the original layer so you can save it as a backup for later.


The Yellow Channel Step

One of the most common post processing steps in Photoshop is using the Yellow Channel. Google it and you'll find over 8 million results -- it's very popular and very effective. Here's a top-level overview:

  • With the original layer selected, go to Image->Mode->CMYK.

  • Then on the "Channels" tab on the Layers panel select the Yellow channel.

  • CTRL-A to select all, then CTRL-C to copy it.

  • In your history, go back to before you selected CMYK mode.

  • Now paste (CTRL-V), and you'll have a new layer (which should be above the original), which you can label as Yellow Corrections, or something similar.

  • Invert this layer (CTRL-I)

  • And change the blending mode of this layer to Soft Light.

  • Now just reduce the opacity of this layer until it looks natural.

  • And now, as in all other methods described here, add a layer mask that hides all, and then paint where you want the corrections to be (i.e., over rough skin areas only, not lips, not eyes, not hair, just rougher skin that you want to soften).

Additional Skin Softening

If the Yellow Channel method of skin softening wasn't enough or just didn't do it well enough, there is another trick which I do often. In fact, I sometimes use both.

  • Duplicate the original layer and place it above the Yellow Channel layer if you created one.

  • Change the layer's blending mode to Overlay.

  • Invert the layer (CTRL-I).

  • Go to Filter->Other->High Pass and set the radius to between 4-7, until the skin looks soft but not fake (you want to see pores).

  • Now add a layer mask, hide all, and then paint where the corrections should be.

  • You can also adjust the opacity of the layer itself if you need to.


Wrinkles and Blemishes

The next step is to correct wrinkles and blemishes. I used these steps to correct the crows feet near her eyes, the harsh laugh lines around her mouth, and that added reflection on her lower lip that looks like an indent.

  • Duplicate the original layer and place it between the Yellow Channel layer you created above, and the original.

  • In this layer you can use the clone or healing brush to correct any wrinkles or blemishes. Don't worry about overdoing it, because...

  • As in all other steps, add a layer mask, hide all, and then paint where the corrections should be.

  • And also adjust the opacity of this layer so that it shows only improvement, not replacement of the original (and only in the places you've painted in the layer mask).


Reduce Shine

A simple way to reduce the glare or shine on skin is to use a low opacity brush, once again in another layer, and using a mask.

  • Duplicate the original layer, and place it above the last one.

  • Select the brush tool, and set the opacity of the brush to about 15%.

  • Now paint on that layer, but also by selecting colors using the dropper tool (press ALT while using the brush to select a color) of a nearby color. By slowly painting on this color you can control how much shine you reduce.

  • Now add a layer mask, hide all, and then paint where the corrections should be.

  • You can also adjust the opacity of the layer itself if you need to.


Enhance the Eyes

There are a number of ways to enhance the eyes. For this shot I just enhanced the irises a tad, and here's how:

  • Duplicate the original layer an put it at the top.

  • Adjust sharpening (Filter->Sharpen->Unsharp Mask)

  • Adjust saturation.

  • Now add a layer mask, hide all, and then paint over just the irises.

  • You can also adjust the opacity of the layer itself if you need to.


Dodge and Burn

The last step is to just lighten the jaw a tad where there is some burning on her upper left jaw bone. You simply use the dodge tool to do this, but the trick is to what layer. You may want, at this point, to group the other layers together, or you could have also done this on your original layer (remember, you also have a backup layer in case you make a mistake). For this shot, I just used the dodge tool and hit her upper left jaw bone ever so lightly.


Also, experiment with various layers; for instance, I could have also added a layer called Hair, upped the sharpening a bit and maybe saturation, and then mask off just her hair. Or, I could have made another layer for levels, or curves, or other color adjustments, and once again (by now I'm sure you'll know what I'm gonna say) mask it off.


I realize all these steps may feel laborious for such small changes, but that's exactly the point: changes should not be extreme if you want your subject to look natural. Making broad sweeping changes to a photo is easy, but it likely won't look real. Making a subject look natural in post processing may be difficult, but if it was easy, then everyone would be doing it :) 





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]]> (Nathan Cool Photo) beauty editing makeup photoshop touch up Thu, 30 Jan 2014 05:04:30 GMT
2013, Portraiture and Retrospect Highlights from last year.


Taking a look over last year's work I feel fortunate to have been trusted by all of my clients who allowed me to capture their moments, accomplishments, and emotions. Here is a tribute to all of you, and me deepest, sincerest thanks.


Portraiture and Retrospect, 2013 on Vimeo.






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]]> (Nathan Cool Photo) photography portrait Mon, 20 Jan 2014 19:31:04 GMT
Making the Holiday Card, 2013 Outtakes from the making of this year's Holiday card.


I love making our goofy holiday card each year, and this year Christine and I had a blast putting it together. What you may not realize though is just how many takes were shot to get just the right images to merge together. Below is a video showing the outtakes, some notes on how it was done, as well as the final product.


So without further adieu, crank up your volume, sit back, click, and enjoy! Note, after the video starts you can adjust the video quality using the options at the lower right (best viewed at 1080).


For this card, Photoshop was a must...really, I'm taller than that :) The mantle/fireplace I shot in  natural light, and then for Christine and myself, I setup two Paul Buff Einsteins: one was setup with a 43" bounce umbrella for key lighting, and the other was using a beauty dish pointed at the white background (which you can see off to the left in some of the outtake shots). Normally, I would have used a green screen, but since I wanted to wear a green sweater, I used white. In Photoshop you can easily delete the white background if you mask off the protected area (me, or Christine), then adjust levels or replace color so that the background is more pure white. Then just select with the white background with the magic wand and hit delete. Afterwards, I usually go over the edges with a fine eraser, and then, to make it blend more, I mask our outlines and set a gausian blur to about 1.5 so that we don't look like we were pasted on the picture.


The shots of the kids were merely cloned onto bulbs I shot earlier, which were also cloned in as new layers. And, the opening shot in the video of the splashy bulbs I shot last year in my splash tank, similar to other shots I've done in my Water Wonders Collection (for more on how I do the splash shots, click here).


And here is the final product:


Happy Holidays Everyone!




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]]> (Nathan Cool Photo) cards christmas holidays Wed, 18 Dec 2013 19:36:58 GMT
Behind The Scenes, Shooting Sarah Behind the scenes photo shoot with fitness model Sarah Parker, with details on how it was done.


On my last shoot with fitness model Sarah Parker, we captured some behind the scenes footage showing one of my more common setups, how some of the shots were taken, and the final results as well.  Along with the high def footage, I also included some notes (at the bottom of this blog) on some of the geeky photo stuff for those interested in the equipment and such that was used.


So without further adieu, crank up your volume, sit back, click, and enjoy!


On this shoot, the two main lights (key and fill) were Paul Buff Einsteins, with key lighting using an Impact 22" beauty dish and fill using a Flashpoint 2'x3' softbox. Back-light/rim was just a simple Yangnuo speedlight with a mini softbox diffuser.


On shoots like this, to get dramatic shadows but with just a touch of fill, I tend to put the fill at about a 90-degree angle from the model, which also provides just a hint of rim and can help put a light flair on the background as well. Note that I often point that fill down, to either reflect off the white backdrop, or to help fill in the lower half of the body by separation from the background (via rim lighting, but lower than normal).


And, you may be asking, why use a speedlight for the other rim light? I can zoom with speedlights, making them work like a spot light, especially with a tiny softbox on them to help concentrate the light in one area. In many shots, I used this to give just a touch of rim lighting on Sarah's boots, which tended to get lost on the black-on-black shots.


For cameras, I used two: a Nikon D600 and a Nikon D610. Each had a different prime lens, one with a Nikkor 50mm f1.4 and the other with a Nikkor 85mm f1.8. I am a true believer of putting glass over cameras. Although the D60x series are good quality cameras (full frame sensor, 24 megapixels), it's the lenses that really make the difference. Also, cameras wear out, so I'd rather only spend just $2000 a body and then spend money on really good glass that will last through a lifetime of cameras.


Cactus triggers were used for wireless flash remotes. I also used a Polaris flash meter in-between takes to try and get between f/8 and f/11. I know many may wonder why I'd shoot a single subject at f/11, but as you'll see in many cases, I wanted to get TONS of detail, especially with the hair flippy stuff we did. Also, those Einsteins can emit 640 Ws of power, and at f/11 using ISO 100, I wasn't even at half power on the strobes...plenty of light to spare.


For backdrop, I like to use Savage's seamless backdrop paper. It's durable, with a slight bit of reflection to it, which gives the black just a bit of kick (with sometimes a little lower Kelvin) when I need it.


Special thanks goes out to Heather Donahue for makeup, Ben Musser for video, and of course Sarah Parker for being so patient, and working it like a BOSS!



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]]> (Nathan Cool Photo) bts fashion modeling Sat, 23 Nov 2013 22:53:33 GMT
Freeze Frame  

By: Nathan Cool.

Stopping action with super fast strobes.


Way back in the early days of photography, in the late 1800s, shutter speeds were so slow and lighting so limited that people had to hold their poses for sometimes seconds. This resulted in those super serious expressions in old time pictures, making our ancestors look like angry, unhappy folk. If they had the chance, I bet most folks would have smiled; after all, they must have had some good times, otherwise none of us would be here today (ahem). But alas, in the good-ole-days, technology just wasn't up to snuff enough to let the folks of yore show their true selves. Boy, have times change.


Photography is much speedier than it used to be, but a quick shutter is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. In my last blog (here) I talked about the importance of flash duration, especially if you need to stop the action of a moving subject. As a follow-up, in this blog I'll talk about one of the speed demons of strobes that can not only freeze most fast-paced action, but also emit enough light to overpower the sun, allowing your subjects to be as expressive as they want to be with no fear of blur.


Just this last week I bought my first Einstein monolight from Paul Buff Inc., the makers of the popular Alien Bees line of lights. This light is a powerhouse for the price (about $500), and can generate 640 Ws of light (a heck of a lot more than other lights I talked about in a previous blog). While the quantity of light is more than sufficient for most needs, I bought it for the speed AND the amount of light it can generate.


When shooting indoor portraits, a flash duration of 1/300 second (t0.1) is more than sufficient nowadays, faster than the common 1/200 second sync speed of many digital cameras. But when I'm blowing hair on a model, jumping around the studio to catch fast action, splashing water, or capturing fidgety pets (or kids), I need all the speed I can get. As I mentioned in my last blog, if I'm shooting at a relatively shallow depth of field and only needing an f-stop of say f/5.6, then speedlights can most often do the trick (using a nice modifier to soften the light). But if I want to shoot with a small aperture, say f/11 or f/14 (or even f/16), then I need a lot of light. While many monolights can give me that kind of light, when I also need speed, then things get more difficult. That's where the Einstein comes in.


The Einstein shoots at about 1/600 second at full power, but it can get much, much faster. Unlike other monolights, The Einstein uses similar technology as speedlights, which results in the flash duration becoming shorter as the power is decreased. For instance, when you dial back the Einstein to 1/2 power, flash duration is a super fast 1/2000 of a second. And, when at 1/8 power, it is a blazingly quick 1/10,000 second. So in essence, when shooting an otherwise dark scene, no matter what you set your shutter speed to, if you use an Einstein at 1/8 power, you're shooting at 1/10,000 second -- that's fast...really, really fast!


To test this lightening fast strobe I setup just one Einstein in a softbox shooting at a deck of cards being thrown in the air. I shot at f/11 and 1/200 second at ISO 100 using about 1/4 power on the Einstein (about 1/5000 second flash duration). Below are the results:

Action was definitely stopped, thanks to the quick flash duration. In fact, besides some cards being out of the focal depth of field (due to shooting at 85mm and cards being within a couple feet in depth of each other in some cases), the results are tack-sharp. For instance, notice the second picture, and how some cards are turned sideways, showing only a thin white line, but no blur whatsoever. If this had been shot in ambient light (or with hot lights) without a strobe, a shutter speed of 1/200 second would have resulted in trails and blur. But shooting in virtual darkness with a flash duration of about 1/5000 second, time stood still.


Spending $500 for a light may seem a little steep when considering that you can pick up monolights for around $200. But, when you compare the Einstein to comparable strobes with this speed, the price can jump up easily over $1000 (similar to this Elinchrom).


So, all things considered: if you're looking for lots of light, but you still need a heck of a lot of speed, then one well-priced option comes to mind: The Einstein, built for speed, but at a price that won't burn you out...literally.




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]]> (Nathan Cool Photo) flash lighting monolight photography speedlight wireless Mon, 28 Oct 2013 20:42:37 GMT
Blurred Lines, and Speedy Strobes  

By: Nathan Cool.

Picking the right light for tack-sharp shots.


Lights are the primary paint used in photography. Light illuminates the subject, and shadows tell their story. I LOVE using lights. Sure, it may be easier to shoot outside, but you're at the mercy of the sun and its schedule, as well as other forces of nature. Setting up studio gear though (no matter how simple) can give you much more control, putting light where it should be, dispersing the right amount of it, and having no fear of earth wind nor fire...unless of course you include hair fans and funky props. Nevertheless, studio lighting rocks, allowing you, an artist with a pallet comprising tech of all types, to photograph subjects as you see fit, on your own terms. But just like a painter who may select certain grades of brushes, or a sculptor with varying sharpness of blades and chisels, the lights you select for your photography work will set the stage for the story you tell in your product.


There are a number of lights to choose from, and I have my preferences. More importantly though is what they do. Sure, they emit light, and there are some issues like color temperature and what-not. But what I find to be of THE utmost importance are two things:

  1. The amount of light (something I talk about in another blog here). And...
  2. Flash duration: the length of time light is emitted.


All too often, #2 is overlooked, but it's crucial. Depending on what you're shooting, flash duration can mean the difference between motion blur and tack-sharp images. In this blog. I'll briefly touch on this topic, showing tests I've run on 4 different types of lights, and how an inexpensive alternative can get you amazingly sharp shots.


First, the geeky science part of it (in brief). When shooting inside, if you have a low enough ISO (say, 100), and you use a high enough shutter speed and f-stop (say, 1/100 sec and f/5.6 or higher), if you didn't have a flash you'll shoot a picture of darkness. This is because there is not enough ambient light to be picked up by the camera, which is why we all use strobes indoors. Taking this simple concept now one step further, you could leave the shutter open for quite some time (especially in a dark room), and only the duration of the flash will determine how fast the shot is taken. For instance, if I were to shoot in total darkness and kept my shutter open for a few seconds, and during that time I fired a flash, that brief flash of light would capture the subject at the point in time that the flash fired. If the flash fired and only illuminated for 1/10000 of a second, it would be like using a shutter speed of 1/10000 of a second. If though the flash was illuminated for 1/300 or a second, then it would be like shooting at a slower shutter speed of 1/300 of a second. In other words, when not using any ambient light (only strobes), the duration of the flash determines the speed of the capture.


Thus, it becomes highly important to choose a strobe that has a short flash duration if you want to shoot fast. If you're using a tripod, have a steady hand, or have no movement in your subjects, flash duration is not such a big deal. For me though, I move around my clients very quickly, and my subjects are not always still -- I like to capture them laughing, or with hair blown, or in mid flex when doing fitness -- time is of the essence. So for what I typically shoot, I need a flash duration in the 1/500 to 1/1000 second range (at least), to make sure I freeze the subject and not get any motion blur (neither from my movements or my clients'). Consider also that after shooting for an hour, two, or three hours even, it's common to get a bit shaky as well. So for me, it's important that I use strobes that have very short flash durations to eliminate any chance of motion blur.


Almost every strobe out there -- monolights or speedlights -- specify their flash durations. If they don't, beware...they are likely embarrassingly slow. Also, the spec most often shown is what's known as a t0.5 rating, which is really just a nice way to fluff their results. The TRUE rating is what's known as t0.1. The t0.5 rating is how long it takes for the light to reach 50% decay after it flashes. But the t0.1 is how long it takes to decay all the way to 90%. For all intents and purposes, a t0.1 rating is the actual flash duration. For that reason I refer to the t0.1 rating, which is a more TRUE measure of flash duration. If a spec you're looking at doesn't say whether it's t0.5 or t0.1, then I'll bet you dollars-to-donuts it's a t0.5 rating. In this case, just divide by 3 and you'll get the t0.1. For instance, If you see a t0.5 (or unspecified) flash duration of 1/600 of a second, you can count on a flash duration of 1/200 of a second...way too slow for me, and most shooters I know.


Side bar: if you want to dig into more of the ins and outs of t0.5 and t0.1, click here for a great explanation by Paul Buff.


Another boring bit of light science before getting on with my test results: The flash duration varies by how much power is set on your strobe. For most monolights, the flash duration gets longer (slower) as you decrease power. If you use a speedlight though, it's just the opposite: the lower the power the shorter (faster) the flash duration. This is also the case with very few monolights, like the lightening fast Paul Buff Einsteins. These things are speed demons, and get way faster as you tone-down the power.


Moving past the science stuff and on with the test results: For my test of flash duration, I used a super simple setup shown below....yup, it's super simple and not too scientific, but it will work enough to prove the point of power, and duration of a flash:

In my super simple setup above, I had a Nikon D600 with 85mm lens on a tripod firing a remote flash in manual mode. Using four different models of strobes, I would pull the white foam-core board to the right and fire the camera with a remote. I fired numerous shots to get at least an average amount of blur while trying to keep the motion at the same speed on each shot.


I used four different strobes in this test:


Below are the motion-blurry results, with each strobe set for f/8. Following that is another test I'll show ya that got sharper shots, and with results that may surprise you. First though, the motion blur at f/8:


All of these shots have motion blur, but notice how there is less blur using the speedlights (Nikon and Yongnuo). But that's only 1/2 the story (literally). To get f/8, the speedlights had to be set to full power, and as you may recall from what I mentioned earlier, when it comes to speedlights, their longest durations are at the higher powers, meaning I can drop the power a stop and get faster flash duration for sharper shots -- here's proof:


This is the second test. The shots below used the same test technique (sliding that white foam core to the right to move the mug and induce motion), but the speedlights were each set to 1/2 power, thus speeding up their flash durations:


Notice that at half power on the speedlights these shots are way, way sharper. Since I halved the power, I opened the aperture one stop to f5.6, which is common in my portrait work (when going for semi-shallow depth of field). I could do the same thing though at f/8 by simply either moving the light closer, or bump up the ISO to 200 (going from ISO 100 to 200 is one stop of light). On a high ISO camera like the Nikon D600, going up to even 400 ISO would be no biggy, allowing me to take similar shots at f/11 (or better). If I had toned-down the monolights to f/5.6 though, it would have slowed their flash duration further, resulting in more blur. With the speedlights though, I got a super speedy flash duration.


Also bear in mind that this was with just one light. When I do portrait work, shooting at f/8 (or sometimes f/11), I'll still use ISO 100, but use multiple lights (usually just key, fill, hair, and background...1 each). And, if I'm shooting against a continuous white, there is so much light being bounced around that it's quite easy to use speedlights in softboxes and have plenty of light to spare (easily use 1/2 power and f/8). Either way, by using just inexpensive speedlights, I can stop action, making it less likely I'll get motion blur from hopping around the studio firing quick shots -- I can capture emotion with no worry of motion. As an example, the following shot used just two Nikon SB-700 speedlights at half power, shooting at ISO 100, f/8, and 1/100 sec, using these softboxes:


If you look closely, you can see the illuminated areas, like the abs, are super duper sharp, but the darkness near the bottom of the chains has a little motion blur -- proof once again how a fast speedlight can stop motion.


Speedlights though are not the end-all, be-all light. Monolights have huge advantages, including no need for tons of AA batteries, fast recycle times, and more variety in light modifiers. But speedlights, with their ease of portability, low price, and short flash duration, remain a strong contender in the land of photo lighting.


But what if you want a TON of light, AND a small aperture...say shooting at f/11 or greater on more than one person? Either you'd have to bring along a plethora of speedlights, or purchase a monolight with a fast flash duration. The Einstein I mentioned earlier is a great candidate for such a situation. But in many cases this may be overkill -- a Yangnou speedlight costs about $60, so you could by about 9 of those for the price of one Einstein. If you did though use a swarm of speedlights, you'd need to get creative with modifiers to diffuse all those lights, and of course bring along a bulk of AA batteries as well. Still, with all of these options, based on budget, need, and want, there are many choices available.


Like most technology choices, it really boils down to what kind of photography you need the lights for, and weigh all the choices for your particular needs. Hopefully my two cents can help with those decisions.




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]]> (Nathan Cool Photo) flash lighting monolight photography speedlight wireless Sat, 19 Oct 2013 01:32:32 GMT
Light Wars  

By: Nathan Cool.

The battle over Monolights versus Speedlights.


There's been a long, on-going, and often heated debate -- and sometimes personal struggle -- over which kind of flash works best: speedlights (like the ones I talked about in another blog post), or monolights, those bulky studio strobes, like the big mother sunner pictured with me to the right. There are definitely pros and cons to both, and each has their place and time. Today I'd like to call a truce on the battlefield of light wars by showing not just benefits of both options, but also reveal something that is dang-near difficult to find on the web or from manufacturers like Nikon and Canon: how much light difference is there between a studio strobe and a speedlight? The answer may surprise you.


Speedlights have come a long way over the years. Back in the old days of film (and delayed gratification), most speedlights were just called strobes, or simply on-camera flash. Sure, you could hook up a sync cable to the speedlight and your camera to take it off camera, but things really took off when speedlights became intelligent. When the automated, TTL features of speedlights came into being, shoots became quicker using speedlights: you just point, focus, and shoot...the camera and speedlight would work out all the nitty gritty details and flash the appropriate amount of light on your subject. And, with the advent of wireless remotes (both radio and infrared), and with tons of speedlight light-modifiers coming on the market (like softboxes, umbrellas, beauty dishes and more), speedlights started to take off as a great way to light things up, and burn through a shoot with less technical effort, and far few wires and weight.


But, no matter how far speedlights have come, they still have a few drawbacks:

  1. Batteries. Speedlights take 4 AA batteries each. If you shoot with 3 lights, then you use a dozen batteries for a typical photoshoot. And forget about rechargeables...those things are just too darn weak to refresh fast enough (even Nikon spec's the refresh rate slower with rechargeables).
  2. The amount of light. Speedlights do emit a ton of light, but with most monolights (note I didn't say all) you can flash much stronger than a speedlight.
  3. Refresh rate. This is really along the lines of drawback #2, where most monolights, because of their strength, will refresh faster.


So, by now you're probably asking yourself, "Why in the heck would anyone use speedlights?" There are a few good reasons I've found:

  1. Speedlights are lightweight
  2. They are easier to setup then monolights
  3. Using Nikon speedlights I can control light output from a commander on my camera
  4. They can zoom
  5. And speedlights (in some cases) can be cheaper than monolights.


For me, the decision to use a monolight or speedlight boils down to the amount of light, and nothing else. If I can get enough light out of my speedlights, I'm all over it. If not, then I start to consider the monolight alternative. My go-to light is the speedlight. I buy batteries in bulk and they can be recycled safely; they are so lightweight that I can quickly move around light stands holding them on a shoot; there are just as many light modifiers as there are for monolights; and using a commander (like the SU-800), I can quickly control output. But when I need to pump out a lot of light, monolight is the way to go...but, only with the right monolight. Allow me to elaborate:


Many photogs getting into using monolights for the first time will tend to buy the budget friendly monolights rated at about 100-150 Ws (Watt Seconds, or simply put, the amount of light energy emitted). But are these more powerful than a speedlight? After all, that is my deciding factor on light of choice. The answer is: not always.


In my goofy light attack picture above, I'm holding a Flashpoint 620M monolight, which is rated at 300 Ws -- 2 to 3 times more powerful as the budget photo studio kits. This though is still just greasy kids stuff as other monolights easily go to 900 Ws, but they come at a cost. The 300 Ws Flashpoint 620M has a pretty good price point for the amount of light it can generate. To see how this 300 Ws monolight stacks up against speedlights, I ran some tests using a Nikon SB-700, the cheaper Yongnuo alernative and the Flashpoint 620M. Using a light meter, I set all three strobes to full power, without light modifiers, and wirelessly triggered each one separately to get a reading from about 8 feet away. Both speedlights ranked the same: at ISO 100 and 1/60 second, they metered at f/8. When firing the 300 Ws monolight though, it metered at f/16.


The difference between f/8 and f/16 is a HECK OF A LOT of light! In technical terms, that is 2 stops of light, or 4 times the amount of light. To put it in real-world terms, it would take 4 speedlights to give me the same light as one Flashpoint 620M. Now, you may be thinking, why then bother with speedlights? Aren't they too wimpy? My answer: no, it depends on what you're shooting. The conveniences of speedlights often outweigh the use of bulky monolights. And since so much of my work is done indoors on one or two subjects where I often go for a shallow depth of field, I'm totally fine at f8 or below; in fact, I shoot most of the time at f5.6 when doing portraits, sometimes just f4.


And, there is something else to consider: hybrid approaches. It's common to need a powerful monolight as your key light (primary light), but then use speedlights for fill. If I want to add splashes of light to backgrounds, hair, products, etc., then the use of one monolight with a few speedlights makes the setup for the shoot fairly painless: just one bulky monolight for the main light, and tons of simple, easier to maneuver speedlights to do the rest.


Lastly, consider also that my test was done using a fairly strong monolight, rated at 300 Ws.  But if you're buying the cheaper 100 Ws monolights, then for me at least, it'd be a waste of time (and money). Once again, my decision to not use speedlights is simply the amount of light -- so it's a Go Big or Go Speedlight kind of decision.


So there really is no battle over which kind of light to use (speedlight OR monolight). Instead, if you have both, then you merely open up more possibilities, having a more versatile set of tools to broaden your creativity.


Now get out there and shoot! ...with whatever light you find will illuminate your subject the best.




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]]> (Nathan Cool Photo) lighting monolight photography speedlight wireless Wed, 31 Jul 2013 22:31:03 GMT
Budget-Friendly Flash  

By: Nathan Cool.

An inexpensive, high quality setup for off-camera flash photography.


There comes a time in every photo addicts life when you realize that the pop-up flash on your camera just won't pass muster. Sure, you'll get a lot of light, but it's like spraying a fire hose at a petunia...sure, it got wet...but... You can always get an on-camera strobe to slide onto your hot shoe, and maybe bounce its light off the ceiling or wall. But you never really get that realistic look to your shots until you can imitate the natural world and the light around it by placing flashes away from your camera, angling light at your subject. When you control the light, you not just illuminate the subject but add depth and character.


I often say that "Light shows the subject, but shadows tell the story." For this reason, I, 99.99999% of the time (or somewhere thereabouts) use off-camera flash. This historically has been a cost-prohibitive thing to do for many, but not any can though take a little more work on your part, but the effort is well worth it, and the price quite pleasingly low.


As you may know, I'm a Nikon shooter, and I love using Nikon's "speedlights", those portable strobes you can place on a camera, or mount high above in light stands with modifiers like softboxes. In the Nikon world of Nikon only things, you'd end up spending a chest grabbing, breathtaking $320 (or more) for each of your speedlights, like the SB-700. Sure, those powerful little puppies are my first lights of choice, and I tend to use two or three of them on most portrait shoots, along with an SU-800 that runs another $250...if opting for the Nikon route. I use this setup most of the time for various reasons, but there is a much cheaper alternative using simpler speedlights and radio controlled remotes.


The picture above shows the budget friendly alternative setup I'll discuss in this blog: a simple Yongnuo YN-560 speedlight, which runs less than $70, and a pair of Cactus Wireless Triggers, which run about another $70 for a set of two (one for transmitting from the camera, and one for receiving at the speedlight). For the price of just one Nikon speedlight and one commander ($320 + $250), you can buy 4 Yongnuo speedlights, plenty of wireless triggers, and still have plenty of dough left over to spend on other gear like lightstands, umbrellas, reflectors, and more. So, why, you might ask, do I even bother with the Nikon setup with its exorbitantly high price? Each setup has their place, and one sometimes outdoes the other for the specific need at hand.


First, let me point out that the pictures above and to the left (showing the Yongnuos and Cactus triggers), were actually shot with two Yongnuo's using three Cactus triggers (one on the camera to transmit and the other two on the speedlights). I shot these pictures just like I showed in this blog, but instead of Nikon speedlights, I used this less expensive setup. I opted for this cheaper alternative for a good reason:


Nikon speedlights and commanders use Nikon's Creative Lighting System, CLS. With this, each device (camera, speedlight, or commander) uses an automation technology known as TTL: Through The Lens...what you see is what gets developed (most of the time) as all these devices talk to each other to figure out how best to light the subject you're focusing on, and the settings you've selected for exposure, aperture, ISO, etc. from your camera. So when shooting people, unless for a simple headshot where the subject is only posed once or twice, I tend to move things around a lot. If you've ever shot with me, you know my light stands are constantly on the go, putting subjects through multiple poses and lighting angles. In those cases, especially when the clock is ticking in a client's session, time is of the essence, and I need all the automation I can get. So for that reason, I opt for the higher price and high convenience of using the Nikon setup.


But when I'm shooting a product, still-life, or something similar that can be effortlessly shot with a simpler light setup, there is very little reason to waste the wear and tear on the more expensive gear. Bear in mind though that when opting for this less expensive route, TTL is gone. Instead, you gotta live in the world of manual lighting, requiring a bit more work on your end...forget about auto-pilot, you gotta grab the wheel and drive, but that can be a good thing.


So, using manual everything, how do I get the Goldilocks light, where it's not too dark, not too bright, but lit just right? Simple: I use a light meter, like this Polaris light meter. OK, I can hear the screams...OMG! that's another $170 bucks!!! And I understand. Yes, but it's money well spent, and still cheaper than a Nikon setup. Consider this:

Nikon 2-light setup:

  • 2 Nikon Speedlights at $320 each = $640
  • 1 Commander at $250
  • Total = $890

Now consider the alternative:

  • 2 Yangnuo speedlights at $70 each = $140
  • 2 Cactus triggers at $70 = $140
  • 1 Light meter at $170
  • Total = $450

So even when throwing in a light meter (a really, really good light meter btw), you're still at about half the cost of what it would take for a simple two-light setup in the Nikon world. Also, when you use a light meter with your strobes in manual mode, you have full control of your lighting setup. I've found more than once that TTL can turn things a bit flat, trying to outsmart a complex light setup I'm working with, which means I have to fiddle with flash compensation on the speedlights through the commander. In a sense, I'm still doing some manual work, even when using the fancy dancy TTL. With the manual setup, I am the photo god of light! ...well...maybe that's going a bit overboard...but you get the picture...or should I say, see the light...or other dry humored photo pun.


There is something else to consider about this less expensive setup as well: radio transmitter remotes (like the Cactus ones) can trigger your flashes no matter what the line of sight is. When using a commander with the Nikon speedlights, you're at the mercy of infrared beams doing all the talking. Step outside into sunlight, and good luck with that. Or, how about wanting to light something where your flash would work better around the corner, or outside a room, flashing light into a room? No line of sight there, so radio transmitters are the way to go. With radio triggers like the Cactus, you can place your speedlights anywhere you want and they'll go off, within range of a 100 feet or so, of course.


Ok, so by now I'm sure I've convinced you to click over to Amazon and buy those Yangnuo speedlights and Cactus triggers! (I'm making an assumption that I have this amazingly magical power or persuasion, so allow me this little fantasy). But now that you have saved copious coin on this cheaper setup, you are now faced with a wonderful problem: How are you going to spend your savings? Allow me to suggest getting a couple light stands with umbrellas that'll make this simple lighting setup complete, or perhaps also a couple softboxes. And of course, there is a whole world of backdrops and stands or reflectors that you can get dirt cheap as well. Or, maybe another lens?....all topics for another time in this never-ending obsession with photography and the gear that comes with it.


And once again, here's that Yangnuo with Cactus trigger, shot using 2 Yangnuos speedlights and 3 Cactus triggers:

Happy shooting!!!



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]]> (Nathan Cool Photo) lighting photography product speedlight wireless Fri, 28 Jun 2013 20:10:36 GMT
Product Shots and Photo Tents  

By: Nathan Cool.

How to get clean shots of any product.

Products can sometimes be the hardest subjects to work with: they just stand there,  refuse to take direction, don't do their own makeup, and worst of all, tend to reflect dang-near anything around them. Many a photog before me has encountered the same problem, and there are secrets to getting these shots pristine, figured out long ago by many who have struggled with these inanimate objects and the chaotic lighting that comes with them. Here, I'll show you how I got this particular shot, and how I shoot similar products as well.


Glass can be a real pain to work with. Think of a mirror and prism all wrapped up into one curvy subject that will bounce light all over the freakin' place. Try shooting through an umbrella, and you'll see a bicycle wheel with spokes and a bright white tire in the subject...or an alien space ship, depending on how that Rorschach test pans out for ya. And, don't forget about light stands, reflectors, or even you showing up in the catchlights, forever captured in glass...a hidden subliminal message perhaps, or a nice way to hide your logo, but not really ideal for a client or anyone else admiring your work -- and not necessarily your equipment reflected in the subject being shot.


The biggest secret (well, not really sooo secret) to avoiding these reflective pitfalls is to use what's known as a product tent. I used a monster one shown here (which you can purchase here). Although called a product or photo tent, it's really just a big cube of translucent mylar material that you can set products inside of, and shoot strobes into from the outside. Like an umbrella or softbox, the product tent/cube is surrounded in not just diffuser material, but the mylar also acts as a reflector, bouncing diffused light softly around the subject inside.


Most product tents have various backdrops you can drape inside them, allowing for a continuous background. In this setup, I just clamped some white background paper to the inside top of the tent, and draped it down and out. In this case, I wanted to use a standard white paper, not bright white, thereby getting some grey and blue in the final product. Had I wanted to completely separate the subjects from the backdrop, I might have opted for just the plain white. Here though I can play more with shadows...and I love shadows.


The product tent not only did a great job with the lighting, it also avoided most reflections from the room -- no light stands or me in the glass subjects. The tent also gave me free reign on how to position the lights around the tent. To get the shot lit just the way I wanted, I first hit the subjects with a light meter, shown in this shot to the right. Why use a light meter in today's day-and-age of TTL and other super fancy automation found in feature-rich DSLRs today? Simple: consistency...just set up once and forget about it, and keep shooting all day long. It might take 20 takes or more to get a shot lit the way you want, with the shadows, catchlights, and reflections just so, and often times you may shoot more than one product for an entire product line (think a bottle of Pinot, Zin, and Merlot for one winery during one shoot). Each time you shoot a frame and rely on TTL/automation, you leave it up the camera to compensate for what it thinks are shortcomings when you move a light to another location (which I'll show in a sec, to see more of what I mean). 


So, for this setup, I placed my handy dandy Polaris meter right up against the bottle to read how much light would hit it. At a shutter speed of 1/60 at ISO 100 (yes, use a low ISO, don't mess with grain!), I metered until I got the aperture I was after, around f8, for the depth of field I was after. For this shot, I wanted just a tad bit of fill light (on the right), so I dialed in that light to really low (1/64th power on the strobe), and dropped my aperture to f9, thus getting just about the right amount of light across the entire scene, but with a slight bit of darkness to speak a story of red wine..something dark and evening-esque, perhaps on a table in a restaurant.


Anywhoooo...the point of the matter is that it's important to get consistency in the light settings: set up manual aperture, shutter speed, and ISO, and gauge it off a light meter. Make those settings, and stick with it from shot to shot. Once you have the lighting all dialed in, start playing around with moving the strobes to different locations; by using a product tent, it's now anything-goes with angling the lights (with maybe a few tweaks in power here and there). The magic now comes into the picture (pun well intended), as you can paint shadows anywhere on your scene while not worrying about tearing down and setting up all kinds of stands, clamps, and gear...or change settings. Instead, just move the strobes around the subject for various effects. For instance...


...In this shot of the sunglasses and wine glass, I used identical lighting from the wine bottle shots. The key light is angled from the left side with just a slight bit of fill on the right. This has some neato shadows to the right, and has placed some weird (but I think cool) flash catchlights in the wine glass.








But now take a look at the picture to the right. In this shot, the key light was placed above the product tent, shooting down (like shown in the picture above showing the product tent and my lighting setup). This reduced some shadow, but more importantly, it changed the background to be a purer white color.


Shooting against a "white" background can give that grey-ish look to the picture, as was the case with the setups I used in this blog post. But the photo tents can also be really useful for shooting bright white as well, which can really separate the subjects.


This image to the left is from a recent product shoot for PUPaTOP, showing their cool dog-tag-bottle-opener combo product (man's best friend, so to speak). In this kind of shot, there is very little need for deep shadows since it's just the product, and not a  story about it, that needs to be shown -- for catalog purchase purposes on their web site. And, since I'm not shooting glass, I'm not worried about getting greys and blues added to the subject and its surroundings. So in this case bright white backdrop paper was used, and the strobes were both positioned from up top, shooting down into the product tent. There is still some shadow, and the colors of the product are not glarey, as would be the case if this was shot straight on, and not diffused and softened from the tent/cube.


So there you have it: the secret to product picture success. All from a cube of translucent mylar for soft, even lighting, using consistent settings based on metering and not TTL, and experimenting with endless possibilities of light placements without fear of reflections or ghostly apparitions in your catchlights.


One thing though to emphasize, is that shadows always, in some form, are necessary for realism, and these tents can nearly eliminate them. Don't be afraid to let your shadows show. Remember that light shows the subject, but shadows tell its story.






: 80 mm
: 1/60 at f/9
: 0 EV
: Manual
: 100




]]> (Nathan Cool Photo) glass lighting photography product wine Wed, 19 Jun 2013 17:25:42 GMT
Dragging That Shutter  

By: Nathan Cool.

A simple trick to get blurry trails.

Doing a fair share of effects work, I sometimes get asked, "Is it Real, or is it Photoshopped?". Today there is a fine line between what the lens captures and what gets fiddled in the pixels. But with this particular shot of Zach Castro punishing that speed-bag, the answer is, "Yes, it's real". It's done using a trick called Shutter Drag that I'll share with you today.


Shutter Drag is something you can do with any kind of DSLR, even just using the built-in flash. In this picture, I used a single off-camera strobe triggered with a remote, but the effect can happen on any type of flash, as long as on your camera you can control shutter speed and aperture.


The effect from doing this Shutter Drag is the result of capturing two types of light: the first is obviously from the flash, but the second is simply just the ambient light in the room. The subjects in the photo (Zach and the bag) are captured from the flash, and the blur is from the ambient light. The secret to making this happen is to set your shutter and aperture to a setting that is just slightly above what is needed if you were to use just the ambient light, but most importantly, to make sure your shutter speed is slow...draggingly slow.


For instance: In this shot, I was shooting at about 200 ISO against a portable black backdrop that my lovely assistant, Christine, was holding in place for me (she's a wonderful woman and a great backdrop stand too:)). Some light was coming in from a window, and when using an aperture of f5.6, I needed about 1/15 sec. of shutter speed if I didn't use a flash. I then set the shutter speed to about 1/30 second, which forced the flash (in TTL mode) to expose the subjects, yet be slow enough of an exposure that some ambient light would be let in. After setting this up and Zach getting punchy, I started firing like mad. After about a dozen or so shots in continuous mode with Zach goin' nuts on that speed-bag, I got a few keepers, including this one.


What makes this work is the timing of events, which goes something like this:


1. I pressed the shutter, which opened it to let in surprise there, that's what cameras do when you press the shutter. So far, so good.

2. The flash then went off...POOF...but the shutter is still open. It's at this moment that the subjects are lit up, and captured, but now the magic happens.

3. After some time, the shutter finally closes. The time between the flash going off and the shutter closing is when the ambient light comes in (the blurry trails of the speed-bag and Zach's left fist).


And then, viola! You have a picture of both flash AND ambient light.


Remember that a flash bursts its light at about 1/1000 of a second. That's fast enough to stop just about any motion. Shooting this shot at just 1/30 of a second allowed the shutter to remain open even after that fast burst of flash light went off...that's when the blur came into the picture.


This particular kind of shutter drag used what's also known as Front Curtain Synch, which means the flash went off right after the shutter opened. If you want the opposite trail effect, many cameras have what is known as Rear Curtain Synch, which means the flash goes off right before the shutter closes. Looking at this picture of Zach v. speed-bag, it looks as though the bag was going up and away from Zach; however, this was shot using Front Curtain Synch, so the trail/blur occurred AFTER the flash went off. So we have an additional illusion here, in that the speed-bag's trail is actually action that happened after the fact. Why did I do that instead of Rear Curtain Sycnh? I was just lazy and didn't want to change my flash settings :)

Zya Fire 1


The shot of this fiery Zya mug used the similar technique, also using Front Curtain Synch (default in most DSLRs). In this shot I balanced the ambient and flash lighting, and shot the mug. I then dropped the camera to get the trails in the upper portion of the frame, which look like flames. Nope, the mug is not on fire, and nope, it's not Photoshopped. It's just another draggy shutter kind of shot.


Something else worth mentioning here, is that in both of the shots shown here I used a black background. Since the shutter speed was so slow to allow in ambient light, anything lit from ambient light would also be in the shot, like things in the background. That can be a cool thing too, since anything lit from ambient light will blur, but I wanted to go for that clean basic black look.


So go give it a try! There's a world of possibilities out there. Remember, the flash will freeze the subjects and ambient light will catch the rest, just use a slow shutter speed and let light do the rest.




]]> (Nathan Cool Photo) action boxing fighter shutter drag speed trails trick photography Sat, 18 May 2013 15:41:07 GMT
Feathering and Falloff  

By: Nathan Cool.

Simple light techniques to accentuate shadows.

In my last blog (here), I talked about a way to add artistic punch to any picture using selective saturation. But while all of the black and white classes of photos show depth and character, it's really the spaces in-between that make the BIG difference; it's the shadows that make for mystery, placing a subject in a three dimensional display to reveal a subject's physique, character, place in time, feelings, emotions, and expressions. We as humans have learned to read the nuances that come with the three dimensions of space, but when a subject is flattened onto a 2D image, we need to fool the mind's eye into seeing what we naturally would have if that person would be right here with us. Shadows are key to making this happen, and I find there is almost no better way to accentuate these shadows than to use two special, yet easy to use, lighting techniques known as Feathering and Falloff.


I love shooting against a plain black background when doing fitness or other edgy kinds of shots. The black empty space acts as a void, leaving only the subject as a point of reference. All eyes are then drawn to the subject instead of a possibly distracting background feature or long cast shadows behind the subject. Don't get me wrong, there are times when background is paramount and the cast of a shadow tells a story as well. But if you want to draw 100% of the attention onto a single subject, then a black background does the trick. Using a black background also helps when working with shadowing the subject, as nothing else will be viewed: only the subject, molded into a three dimensional figure by areas of light and the shadowed void around and through them. Feathering and Falloff can make this happen, but shooting against black will really drive home deep meaning shown from the shadows.


Feathering is a simple technique of hitting the subject with only a portion of light. Take for instance the picture below:

This diagram shows a common lighting setup using a softbox, which I use often to help provide a very soft, diffused yet amplified light when doing most portrait work. The setup shown in this diagram is often called loop lighting where the light source is projected directly at a subject at about a 45 degree angle from the camera. Although this is a commonly used technique, it only provides minimal shadows since light is blasted directly at the subject. In this setup, the subject, although turned slightly, is being hit with the bulk of the light.


Now let's take a look at the same setup slightly modified for feathered lighting, which is shown in the diagram below:

In this case, the light is turned away from the subject slightly, so only a portion of the light is hitting the subject. In other words, the light is being softly feathered off the subject, versus blasting the subject with a full on spotlight. With only a portion of the light hitting the subject, there are fewer rays of light to shine on the subject. Also, and most importantly here to note, is that most light projected from a source (like a softbox) is from its center. Light then falls off the more we are angled away from the light, so in this case, we hit the subject with only a portion of the center "cone" of light (the strongest of the light rays), but we're hitting most of the subject with weaker rays (more towards the edge of the light's "cone"). This brings me to the other effect I wanted to mention: Falloff.


Light can travel immense distance s (like from our sun), but as it does it loses intensity. This weakening though is not a steady loss; instead, light loses intensity by magnitudes over distance. This is known as The Inverse Square Law, which basically says that for every increment of distance (say, for every foot or inch), the light will weaken massively more than the previous increment of distance. Light is powerful coming out of its source, but weakens a whole heck of a lot as it travels away from its source. In other words, light falls off rapidly as it leaves its source.


You can use this property of light to your advantage by simply placing the light very close to your subject. Doing so will hit your subject with light that falls off quickly, placing only the part of the subject nearest to the light well lit, and the rest gradiating into darkness. In the shot taken to the left, I placed the subject only about a foot or so away from the light which was angled above her. As you can see, her left elbow is well lit, but the rest of her slides into shadows. Notice how this also affects muscle tone, especially in her abs.


So, by turning the light source slightly away from the subject (feathering), and then placing the light source very close to the subject (for falloff), we get two types of shadowing:

1. Feathering: Only a section of the weakest light will feather across the subject, ensuring that strong light illuminates a section of the subject, but then much weaker light (from the edge of the light "cone") falls behind and around the subject.

2. Falloff: Areas of the subject close to the light are far more illuminated than those slightly farther away from the light.


So you wanna have some shadowy shots? Here then is the formula that I've found works well:

1. Shoot against a black background, and keep the subject about 3 feet from the background.

2. Angle your light source slightly away from the subject, and angle it from above.

3. Get your light source very close to the subject, ensuring the proper exposure for the part of the subject closest to the light.


Getting the shadows just right can be tricky. Anybody can point strobes directly at a subject and flood them with light. Whoop dee freakin' doo... To me, that's boring :) To me, a photograph is not a fraction of time captured in an image; instead, a photograph needs to tell a story, and shadows help make this happen. Getting shadows just right though takes time and patience, both for the photographer and the subject, especially when using multiple lights. If you've ever shot with me you know I tend to use a few different lights and reflectors as well.  I'll discuss the multi light setup at another time, but basically, no matter how many lights are used, the principles are the same for feathering and falloff: we simply want shadows, it just depends where, how deep, and what parts of the subject should be more visible than others, and where the spaces in-between will tell a story from a single click of the shutter.




]]> (Nathan Cool Photo) black and white black background falloff fine art photography portrait shadows Thu, 02 May 2013 03:35:31 GMT
Selective Saturation  

By: Nathan Cool

Breaking the black and white barrier.


Black and white photography has been used to portray the mysterious; a way of using shadows to capture depth, dimension, and purity. Today it's become popular to take this one step further, like I did in this "Night Rose" shot, using selective saturation. The extra hints of color enhance the beauty of the original black and white in a way that adding a simple sepia just can't's like sepia on to speak. Here, I'll share some tips I've used to process this kind of shot, which takes just a few minutes.


About 90% of the processing for this photo was done in Adobe's Lightroom software, and about 10% was done in Photoshop. The selective saturation effect though was entirely done using Lightroom, which brought the processing time down to a mere 15 minutes for this effect...which included sips of wine while listening to dark metal music while pondering my next effect. Oh, I should mention, that it is imperative to listen to the appropriate music to prepare yourself for this kind of me, it helps :) For this shot, I suggest a light Pinot Noir with this sound track by Dark Moor cranked to 3/4 volume (or higher...yes, it's OK if your ears bleed a little).


If you've never used Lightroom, I can tell you it's money well spent, giving you some of the easiest tools to process most of what you'll ever need for enhancing (and organizing) your photos. With Lightroom, you merely use a series of sliders and brushes to quickly adjust aspects of your pics. Using just a few sliders and brushes you can apply selective saturation effortlessly, where using Photoshop would take much more time.


After getting the mood set right and being inspired to break the black-and-white barrier into photographic oblivion, the trick is, using Lightrooom, to NOT convert this to black and white. Instead, use the saturation sliders (under HSL in Lightroom). Now start moving each color slider to the left to desaturate each color. In Night Rose above, I didn't desaturate the blues. I did though desaturate everything else. To bring out the reds, I created a new Saturation Brush at 100% saturation and painted over the parts I wanted to bring into color (the rose, lips, and left iris). For that streak of purple in her hair, I used another Saturation Brush, but this time I also added Color to it.


The same trick was done with Sarah Parker's BADDASS shot shown here as well. But, Sarah already had purple streaks in her hair, making my job easy by just using a simple Saturation Brush.


But that's not the end of the story. So far, we've only brought out some color (saturation) in selective places of the photo. To make any black and white a killer pic, we need to consider contrast. When it comes to black and white, my style is to go big or leave it in color, so I go for deep shadows and heavy contrast. This though can take just another two minutes (and a sip or two of that Pinot) to process.


To now bring up the contrast and make this  monochromatic hybrid picture pop like it's hot, increase the exposure slider (to the right) in Lightroom until the histogram shows you're clipping highlights. Then slide the recovery slider to the right until the highlights are no longer clipped.


Next comes Clarity, and a lot of it. Move the Clarity slider to the right, upping it to about 50 or more. Then in the Levels adjustments, select Medium Contrast. You should have a very shadowy photo. But we're not done yet.


A certain amount of grain can be useful. To make this "sharp", use the Sharpening slider, moving it to about 50 or so. You can also use the Sharpening Mask by holding down Alt and moving the slider until you see just outlines of the subject selected, that way the background remains smooth.


At this point you should now have a cool looking photo with a mysterious pop of color...and high adrenaline from listening to heavy dark music, and possibly a slight buzz from all the wine you've been sipping.


Now it's time to continue with the rest of the processing, perhaps some vignetting, or edge blur, etc.


I should note though that before I start into the selective saturation process, I usually do all the usual touch-ups, removing blemishes, distractions, skin softening, etc.


Note that not all photos will look good with this effect. A quick way to see if they will is to just quickly convert a pic to black and white in Lightroom, and see if it looks better. If it does, adding this color effect will no doubt enhance the picture further.





]]> (Nathan Cool Photo) and art black fine monochrome rose white Sat, 16 Mar 2013 02:12:22 GMT
Splash Shots Revealed  

By: Nathan Cool

A how-to guide for getting those curious splash shots


Fine Art Photography is a passion of mine. I love to take an idea, work on props, lighting, and post process editing to formulate a photo that will capture the imagination. Being a water lover, you may have noticed a bias of mine towards anything that splashes, like "Attack and Defend", shown here to the right. This, and other similar works are in my Fine Art Portfolio. I'm often asked how I did these kind of shots, and today I'd like to tell you how it's done.


The first thing, to capture this kind of shot, is to use an empty fish tank, or other clear, water-proof enclosure. Then, you setup a black background, and focus lighting into the tank, using some reflectors to help balance the shadows. You don't want to shoot a flash at the front of the tank; instead, you want to shoot from the side, facing down.


This is shown in the following picture:


The setup, once revealed, is far less sexy than the photos that were taken. But, this shows everything with the lights on...that's the other part of the trick to this kind of photography: the lights must be off.


Flashes shed their light at about 1/1000 of a second. The fastest shutter speed you can get out of a DSLR when using a flash is about 1/200 to maybe 1/250 of a second. By having the lights off and only using the flash, the shutter speed almost doesn't matter; instead, action is frozen at the moment light hits the this case, the water, and anything thrown (or punched) into it.


The rest requires post processing...a necessary step when doing almost any kind of fine art. I use a combination of Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop to get the effects I want. The main things to consider in post is to:

  1. Cleanup the water. Use a brush matching the blackest color and wipe away all the tons of debris that will inevitably collect in the tank while shooting.
  2. Create an overlay layer of the original, which will add strong contrasts. I usually use an opacity of about 85% in Photoshop.
  3. To add a bit more punch, I often also use a Levels Adjustment layer, but with a mask. I'll erase where the main subject is, especially if it will be too dark or too light. But, I will darken the blacks and bring up the whites just a tad in this's all about trial and error, depending on the subject being shot.
  4. Lastly, I'll do touch ups in Lightroom. Mainly, I'll use a blue color brush on the water to bring out the blues there. Make sure though it is just a hint of blue to make it look natural.


So there you have it. I suppose I gave away the recipe to Grandma's secret cookies, but I don't mind, and hope this helps if you want to try and do some of these fun shots as well.




]]> (Nathan Cool Photo) art fine splash water Mon, 21 Jan 2013 22:16:16 GMT
Rewards of Pro Bono  

By: Nathan Cool

How helping others pays more than money can buy.


Artistic endeavors rarely pad a person's payroll, but that's not why I got into photography. I love what I do: the art of capturing a moment, the technical challenges of equipment and software, and most of all, experiencing the gratitude of my clients, thankful for the work I've done for them. It's because of this passion that I dedicate some of my time each year to doing pro bono work, where I feel a small investment of my time and resources will have a large return of investment: not just in my satisfaction, but in the aid of others as well.


This summer I was honored to be asked to do a photoshoot for the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation (NDSDF), a non-profit based in Ventura County that rescues dogs from animal shelters, then trains them to be search and rescue dogs that are used by law-enforcement and other first-responders in the aftermath of disasters such as earthquakes, floods, terrorist attacks, and more. This organization's goals touched me deeply; not only do they rescue dogs from the pound, they also save humans lives as well as these dogs rifle through rubble to find those buried and facing death.


The photoshoot for NDSDF was at their new, still under construction training facility outside Santa Paula, CA. A handful of donors came for a tour of the facility, getting a first-hand look of how some of their donated dollars are being put to good use. At a very touching memorial, a bridge was constructed, thanks to the donor pictured here, posing with the star of the show that day, Stetson, a hyperactive Labrador that, if not for NDSDF, may not be with us today.


I love shooting pets, and Stetson was no different. But what was even more thrilling, was seeing how this dog was not just loved by all the people at the event that day, but the depth of appreciation everyone had for the work he and his handlers had invested in his training. Stetson could sit still on command, not moving a muscle, but you could see the overabundance of joy in this dog's eyes when his handler, dressed in the blue jumpsuit, would command Stetson into action.

There were plenty of photography challenges that day, making this one tough shoot. The sun was in high gear with no cloud cover, making for pictures that could be overexposed in some areas and dark shadows in others. Stetson, being a yellow lab, blended into the background of dry grasses around the facility. The heat was on as well, and it was rather warm to be moving around quickly while keeping concentration on all the subjects that day. And, as is the case with any kind of animal shoot, it takes quick thinking, a fast shutter, continuous mode shooting, and a little bit of luck to snap some quality keepers.


Stetson was the star that day, and I did what I could to make sure he shined. To overcome the lighting problems, and not startle the dog with flash (which really wouldn't have affected this highly trained dog that much, actually), I shot in manual mode most of the time, with a shutter speed that ensured I wouldn't blow-out any highlights (TIP: meter using aperture mode, set up in manual, shoot one shot, then check the histogram for over and under exposure).


With using this "safe" approach to the lighting, I could then fine-tune the contrast and shadows in Lightroom using selective brushes. While I could have used a fill-flash in many shots, even if it wouldn't have bothered Stetson, I couldn't have shot nearly as fast. Shooting without a fill-flash allowed me to shoot at 4 frames per second -- quick enough to capture special moments from a subject that can change expression and action in the blink of an eye.

Unlike other, traditional pet shoots, I gave no direction during the shoot, except for some pictures of the donors with Stetson at the very end. I wanted to be a bystander, capturing what happens naturally. It paid off, as I got to see the magic between rescue dog and handler, and how their synergistic symbiosis saves lives.


At the end of the event, I was wiped out. I was sweaty, dusty, and feeling as though I just finished one heck of a workout. But I couldn't have been happier.

After a few hours of shooting, I was able to provide NDSDF with variety of photos of the event, Stetson, and the goings-on that day. The cost to NDSDF was no charge, financially. They though paid me with something that money can't buy: a feeling that will stay with me forever, knowing that my work will help to promote the efforts of this wonderful non-profit, which will in-turn save the lives of many dogs like Stetson, as well as people who would otherwise perish in the aftermath of an earthquake, flood, or other disaster, if it not for the wonderful skills of such a highly trained animal.


Watch a slideshow of the NDSDF photoshoot.


If you feel my photography services would benefit a worthwhile cause, please let me know.





]]> (Nathan Cool Photo) charity disasters dog pets pro bono rescue Sun, 19 Aug 2012 19:23:12 GMT
Retouch Rescue By: Nathan Cool

Tips on fixing some (inevitable) photo mistakes.


In today's day and age of digital photography, the darkroom is just a click away. Back in the day, photo retouching was left to those who could afford the real estate for a darkroom, along with all the equipment and chemicals required to develop one's work to a level of perfection. Boy, how things have changed.

Tat Highlight 1


All photographers today do some level of touch-up work. If they tell you otherwise, they're either lying, or the quality of their work is in question. Heck, even Ansel Adams touched up his shots in the darkroom, and was well known for changing the contrast of his work with dodge and burn (lightening and darkening areas of the photo).


Sure, sometimes there's very little to be done, like this sample from a tattoo shoot done this past year. Everything came together on this shot: the model posed natural, the lighting, simple and Rembrandt (high angle down on the model's right), lit up her body art while casting just the right shadow across her face to give an edgy kind of look. The background wasn't lit, giving a nighttime kind of feel. But even with this shot I did some minor touch-ups, enhancing the eyes just a tad to draw attention to the personality of the subject (something I commonly do in all portrait shots).


But sometimes things don't always work out quite so well. All of us are prone to mistakes from time to time. Perhaps we didn't have the white balance set just right, maybe there was too much light on the subject or background, or perhaps there were some posing problems. It happens to the best of us, and no one is immune from a photographic mishap at least every once in a while.

For instance, take a look at this shot of Marci, who had it all going on during her shoot: the sun was low on the horizon, wind was blowing her hair, and a reflector held nearly in front of her helped to light her face nicely. Great! But, there was one problem during this shoot: Marci took great direction from me...too great though, and I flubbed up some photos. Luckily, not all was lost.


People will often say, "I don't look good in pictures", feeling that every photo snapped of them has Quasimodo written all over it. That, believe it or not, is also the case for any model...ANY MODEL! None of us look 100% at all angles, which requires nuances in posing techniques that can bring out a person's best features, hide others, and reveal their best light. Marci, as gorgeous as she is, fell victim to a few photo faux pas of her shooter: me.


While it can be painful to admit mistakes, I'll be the first to step up to the plate, bow my head, and show my shame. Heck, if I tried to argue my point (Yeah, that's what I intended! No, really, that shot is supposed to look like crap!), my clients would think I settle for the mundane, or worse, mistakes. Below is a prime example, showing my mistakes, and how I corrected them:

Before After

Marci took my direction when I told her to cross her arm over her body. Unfortunately, she laid it flat, and after I snapped this shot, I realized I forgot to tell her to raise her elbow slightly (arms should ALWAYS be away from the body to enhance slenderness). The result, a larger arm, flattened against her body, looking too large. Also, with Marci being slightly taller than me from where she was standing, she had to look down at me, thus widening her face as she smiled (faces turn slender when looking up slightly). And, to make matters worse, I had slightly underexposed the shot with not enough emphasis on the mask of the face (ARG! What was I thinking!). Still, as shown by the shot on the right, it was all fixable.


For the touch-up done above, I first used Adobe's Lightroom software to get the lighting right: upping the exposure a tad and enhancing the blacks and contrast. I use an IPS monitor, that is color calibrated, so I what I see is what will print. That's the easy part: I corrected the exposure, and placed a slight exposure (with a brush in Lightroom) on Marci's face, while adding slight vignetting around the photo edges to enhance a spotlight effect further. So far, so good. But what does one do about that bulgy arm and widened cheeks? That got a little trickier.


To fix the arms and wide face, I exported the photo from Lightroom into Photoshop. From there, I simply used the Liquify filter. This allows me to stretch, pinch, or bulge areas of the photo. It has to be done softly, and accurately. Overdoing it will make any subject look unnatural. And, in the case of portrait photography, most everyone wants to look their best, but still themselves.


Below is yet another example of first using Lightoom to set the exposure, then using the Liquify filter in Photoshop to thin things up:

Before After

Working against a quickly setting sun, I was racing to get in the last few shots of the shoot (we were already an hour in, tons of shots, but I just couldn't stop...and Marci was still rarin' to go!). I didn't bother to grab a flash and throw some light on Marci's face; instead, I just kept shooting. This shot was tack sharp for focus, great composition, and a nice look for Marci as well. But, the face is slightly underexposed, and I once again had her arms too close to her body. And, with Marci angled in this particular pose, her cheeks were just a tad on the wide side (her shoulders were shrugged slightly, squashing her face to her neck). I decided to go for broke and turn this into a full-blown glamour shot. I used the same techniques as in the other shot above, but here I used a bit more high-key lighting on her face, and went to town with the Liquify filter in Photoshop to really thin out her face. I even went nuts and pinched her nose a bit with the Liquify filter, and widened her eyes a tad with the bulge brush in the Liquify filter as well.


Sometimes things all come together, the planets align and things are picture perfect (literally). Sometimes though a little help from software can save what would have been a throw-away pic. The best advice for any photog is to get your shots as perfect as possible when you're shooting, and don't rely on post processing to fix laziness or ineptitude. After all, no one wants to sit around for hours fixing pictures; instead, it's far more profitable to get photos through your workflow as quickly as possible. But, when things don't go quite as planned, there is a back-up solution, when all else fails.



]]> (Nathan Cool Photo) Lightroom Photoshop airbrush portraits touch up Mon, 04 Jun 2012 18:30:07 GMT
Cat Capture By: Nathan Cool

How to capture a special moment of your furry feline friend.


There's a method to the madness known as "herding cats". Unlike dogs, most cats don't take commands. For this reason, some people think of cats as being snobbish, standoffish, or just plain rude or hateful. This though isn't altogether true.

Cats, unlike dogs, are more self-sufficient. For millenia, dogs have stayed by their masters' side, taking commands in exchange for rewards. Cats, meanwhile, were allowed to run free, doing their tasks of rodent elimination all on their own. It's been the breeding that's to blame, where dogs have learned to listen, yet cats were encouraged to be independent. Think of this: people never let their dogs out to roam free at night, but until recently, it was common to do so with a cat.

Cat's also have a unique language. Since they are smaller and tend to be solitary ambush predators, they've learned to remain silent. But, their language speaks loud and clear when you get to know them. For instance, when their tails twitch/wag, it usually means they are annoyed -- the opposite of when a dog does this. When a cat's ears are flat, they are likely pissed off, or are readying for an attack. Tails up on a cat means happy, and when they lightly rub you, then they like you. Light "love" bites and licking are also signs of affection. And, rolling over to show you their belly, or bending forward slightly to show you their backside are also signs they are comfortable around you.

Knowing these simple signs can help to plan a photo shoot with your pet. But, it takes more than knowledge to garner a pose for a purring portrait. Patience, instead, is the key.

I've found it useful to first introduce myself slowly, not making eye contact with a cat. Doing so can be construed as a sign of aggression. Instead, I tend to ignore the cat, and let it come to me to sniff me out. When I finally do look at the cat, it's good to speak softly in a "baby" like voice, and, most importantly, close my eyes. Long blinks with a soothing voice communicates to the cat that you are not a threat. Once the cat also blinks, I'm in! But the shooting doesn't start there.

Cats are curious, not just for play, but for their safety as well. New elements brought into their environment could be threats. I'll slowly bring out my cameras, keeping lens caps on and screens shut to allow the cat to smell it if they want, but with no threat of getting fur or paw prints on the equipment. Then, the initial shooting can begin.

As with dogs, the first part of any pet shoot starts with me being an innocent bystander, just slowly moseying around, using a telephoto with high ISO to avoid flash, allowing me to stay at a distance but capture the cat in its natural environment. I may make slight tweaks to the furniture, props, and the owners as well, to work well with the available light on the scene. After about 30 minutes or more of this, I then work on backdrops.

Cats love to lay on things (more so than dogs, which love to lay on fabric as well). Now that I've won that cat over and they feel comfortable with me, I'll set up a backdrop stand, and then layout a large backdrop. I carry 10'x20' muslins, which allow me to drape tons of fabric over the floor, a bed, furniture, or what have you. Then, the trick: just walk away.

Once you turn your back on the cat, their curiosity instinct takes over, as they can now prowl and explore with no threat of intervention on your part. Almost every time, without fail, after waiting for five minutes, I'll turn around to see that furry feline having a heyday on the backdrop. Now it's shooting time.

During the wait time though, when the cat is exploring the backdrop fabric, it's time for me to prep. I'll hook up some lighting and reflectors, gauge my depth of field, shutter speeds and more, and then slowly have everything in position to swoop in unexpected, but prepared. I tend to use bounce flash off reflectors and flags (sometimes flash benders, depending on the room), which sometimes takes an assistant. Either way, the shot is planned without the cat knowing it, the cat goes naturally into posing position, and then the magic begins.

First, staying a distance away, I'll lay down on the floor, softly speaking all the while so the cat knows I'm not crouching into a pounce position (which would seem threatening). I have any assistants (which sometimes includes the pet owner) move into position with any equipment I've given them the task to hold. As I softly speak to the cat, they tend to look right at me, curious as to what in the heck I'm doing, and why I seem like such a nut-job lying on the floor with this funny looking giant eyeball placed in front of my face. It's now go-time: snap, snap, snap. Make sure all your flashes have fresh batteries so refresh is rapid.

And, another trick: use a slightly higher ISO than you normally would for a flash, and don't overdo the shutter speed. This way, your flashes don't have to work as hard and refresh is quicker.

There's a reason why people portrait shoots typically last an hour, but pets can run two hours easily. Patience, lots of pictures, and working with the personality of a cautious subject has its challenges. All can be easily overcome, and the results are always well worth it.





]]> (Nathan Cool Photo) cat cat pictures felines pet photography Thu, 17 May 2012 17:26:46 GMT
50mm Magic From

A good portrait lens is a must for any portrait photographer (makes sense, huh?) The idea is to get a shallow depth of field, allowing the background to be offset from the subject. I recently opted for another Nikkor 50mm lens, this time though going for broke, and getting the Nikon 50mm f/1.4. It costs twice as much as the f/1.8, but boy, what a difference an f-stop can make (besides, the f/1.8 is out of stock most everywhere, and I just had to have it!).

Here's an example using this new lens from a recent shoot:

Sure, the depth of field is extremely shallow, providing incredible bokeh, but the true test of this awesome lens from Nikon is its clarity, sharpness, vibrance, lack of distortion and nearly no aberrations to worry about. Take for instance this next shot, and notice the amount of sharpness, not just from focus, but in the natural color ranges of the skin tones:

And best of all, this shot was done using nothing but natural light (look Ma, no Flash!). Using f/1.8 on this shot, and 500 ISO, shutter speeds were high enough to not even think about using a speed light. I did though use a monopod, just to make sure I could get this as tack sharp as possible (it was near the end of a 2-hour shoot, and I was a bit shakey by then).

I love this lens! Being a prime lens, the manufacturing of the glass is much simpler and concentrated on one focal length, thus providing the best you can get for that 50mm (the zooms tend to have some soft's hard to be everything for all focal lengths). Also, by using this on a DX format camera (this was on a D5100), the actual focal length was 75mm...dang near the sweet spot for portrait photography (which typically runs at 85mm+).

A couple drawbacks though:

  1. Being a prime lens, there is no zoom. The old shoe-leather express took care of that though...merely stepping closer or farther away to get proper composition. If I had been doing pets, children, or any kind of action, this would have been unnerving (and tiring).
  2. This particular lens does not have any kind of image stabilizer; hence, all the more need to use that monopod for that last shot.

These issues though are easy to work around. In any case though, shallow depth of field means you need to get focus dead-nuts, and also with the subjects in the same plane. For this shot, I was about 8' away, which means I only had a depth of field (total) of 6". That means only 3" either way (front or back of focus) to be acceptably sharp (click here for a neato DOF calculator).

In all though, I really love this lens, and will be using this on many more shoots to come.



]]> (Nathan Cool Photo) bokeh depth of field lens nikon photography portraits Thu, 10 May 2012 23:37:11 GMT
Hand Held HDR From

The bar has been raised, thanks to a plethora of software utilities that can quickly enhance any picture. Heck, even pics from an iPhone can use Instagram to modify simple point and shoot pictures. I'm a strong proponent of Adobe's Lightroom and do use Photoshop for some touchups. While purists will argue that it's cheating, I disagree, since even Ansel Adams was known to dodge and burn his pics...he just had a more difficult job of doing it in the darkroom.

Nowadays, outdoor photography (in particular) has taken another turn -- that, towards High Dynamic Range, or HDR. Below is one such example, which I took the other morning outside my bedroom window:

So I wake up, open the blinds, and see this beautiful sunrise over the hills around Thousand Oaks, CA. My eyes can pretty much see the full spectrum of all the shades of green on the hills, and oranges, blues, greys, and blacks in the sky. Unfortunately, a camera is not as smart and wants to either expose for the hills or the sky. In the old days, I'd fix the problem (to some degree) by using a split neutral density filter, with the dark half of the filter on the top so that the bottom of the picture (the hills) had a chance to have some kind of exposure. Today though, there is a much better solution: HDR.

For this sunrise shot, I used a simple Nikon D5000 and set up the bracketing to be Exposure. I then set the bracketing to +/-1.0 EV, and shot three frames (in continuous mode). Later, I then used HDRSoft's utility to combine these three images. That slick utility takes the best of all three images and combines them together: 1 image is exposed normally, 1 is overexposed, and 1 is under exposed. Thus, I get a final product of three combined exposures -- the best of all worlds (or exposures, actually).

Afterwards, I popped the HDR-produced JPG into Lightroom to pump up a bit of vibrance and reduce some of the noise (luminance) to smooth things up a bit (also sharpened the hillsides using a mask).

Without having to find my filters, screw one on my lens, carefully expose the hillside, and hope for the best, this simple HDR process produced a much more shocking photo than I could have in the past, and easier to boot. But, what's more important, is that I only hand-held the camera -- I didn't use a tripod. HDRSoft's utility was smart enough to align everything for me. It just keeps getting easier and easier.

Is HDR cheating? IMHO: no. It is yet another tool to master...just another arrow in your photog quiver to pull out and make a bland shot look killer.






]]> (Nathan Cool Photo) hdr nature outdoors photography sunrise Fri, 27 Apr 2012 18:04:46 GMT
Fine Art Available for Purchase Guitar Dreams 1

Some of my more popular fine art shots are now available for purchase! Click here to browse and purchase.

]]> (Nathan Cool Photo) Thu, 05 Apr 2012 20:56:18 GMT