Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Tropical Storm Sunset Session

We always have a wee bit of wind here on Maui, but nothing compared to the gusts of Tropical Storm Flossie.  This family braved the pre-storm wind the evening before it hit.  You can see their great sense of humor in the way they engage with each other.  It really helped me as the photographer that they were calm and went with the flow (no pun intended).  This carefree attitude plus some gorgeous scenery made for some pretty excellent photos.  

© Katherine Agurcia 2013 - All Rights Reserved, Reproduction Prohibited

© Katherine Agurcia 2013 - All Rights Reserved, Reproduction Prohibited

© Katherine Agurcia 2013 - All Rights Reserved, Reproduction Prohibited

© Katherine Agurcia 2013 - All Rights Reserved, Reproduction Prohibited

I was telling you about their sense of humor?  Look at these, the guys are a trip.  The one on the bottom is my favorite!

© Katherine Agurcia 2013 - All Rights Reserved, Reproduction Prohibited

© Katherine Agurcia 2013 - All Rights Reserved, Reproduction Prohibited

© Katherine Agurcia 2013 - All Rights Reserved, Reproduction Prohibited


Monday, July 22, 2013

iPhoneography and the Best iPhone Photo Apps to Date

A while ago, I discussed the validity of iPhone photos, and it has since gone on to be my most-read entry by far.  This highlights the fact that "iPhoneography" is real and it is here to stay.  There is a consistent and intense argument over the staying power of the iPhone itself, but in the many years since it was introduced, its popularity has hardly seen a dent, so it seems safe to say that the technology will be around for a while.  Every day, new apps are made to increase the ease of use and its range of capabilities, and it sees no greater development than in regards to its camera.  Cell phone cameras are no joke these days, with all the available software out there, as well as all the adjustable lenses and filters!

And don't forget all the great things you can do after you have taken an image and played around with it.  For example, you can upload directly to a number of printers, like Walgreens, and have your photos ready to go within an hour.  Shoot, design and print, all from your phone...? I love technology!

I would like to especially thank Mr. Edward Baldwin of the Maui Camera Club for introducing me to some of these wonderful apps and letting me share some of his fabulous suggestions.  Mahalo!

* designates my favorite apps/hardware.

© Manfrotto

*The All-in-One

Looking for the best Christmas present ever for your favorite iPhoneographer?  Look no further than the Manfrotto Klyp.  Besides looking cool, it is cool.  Case, app, light, hardware, tripod, oh my.  Be warned: once seen, it cannot be unseen (have credit card ready in hand). 

Camera Manager/Interface

Camera+: a suite of basic camera controls; functions that stand out are "photo flashlight," which allows you to use the flash as continuous fill light for your photos, and digital zoom with a stabilizer function, for those super-crisp macros.

ProCamera: a favorite for many users.  It has a timer!

Apple iPhoto: an in-house gem, particularly nice for the iPad.  It has great slideshow and photo journal functions.  A good bet, because they will often update to keep up with the competition.

*645 Pro: a comprehensive camera interface, looks like the real deal.  It shoots in (unprocessed image data) "dRAW," and you can save to .tiff for high-fidelity files. Or, use PureShot for a simpler process.

Adjustment Software and Editing

*Olloclip (lenses and software): consistently the highest-rated add-on iPhone lenses.  There are many options, like macro, fish-eye, wide-angle, telephoto, and even polarizing filters to get those lovely skies and reflection-free photos.  Use the case and the add-ons for even further fun.  The software helps to correct distortions and to sharpen macro photos.

SnapSeed: this is another fan-favorite.  It has some fantastic filters, and for those view-camera fans, it does tilt-shift blur.  It sports a great interface with nifty effects all in one.

Photoshop Touch: not the best yet, but considering its big brother, one day it will be, so learning to use it early may have its rewards.  You can use some of the core Photoshop tools, and in a familiar "layer" format.  Export to the Creative Cloud to use later with additional editing software.  You can also try Photoshop Express for a speedier, easier version, sort of like Photoshop Elements for your iPhone.  My favorite tool from both of these is the dodge and burn, something I've been wanting to be able to do to iPhone photos for ages!

FX Photo Studio: another fan favorite.  Some cool filters and effects, for a very cheap price.

After Light: nothing fancy about this one except for the fact that they have the best algorithm for adding light to your photos and lightening up dark images.  Worth it even if just for this one function.

Slow Shutter Cam: slow down the shutter speed to create slowed-down effects or to capture more in low light.

*TouchRetouch: content-aware removal of unwanted items from your iPhone photos? No problem!  This app is really, really, really good.  

Add Text and Graphics

*Shapely: frame your photos into different shapes for a unique look, and add color, textures, patterns, and graphics to any shape.  The sharing function is easy to use.  

Word Swag: adds text in a variety of fonts and designs.

Path On: add text to a photo using a path (similar to Illustrator).  Use a wide variety of fonts or designs.

FxCamera: most of it is kind of generic, but its cool feature is called Voice Picture, where you can add sound (sort of like a caption), to any photo.  Cool!

Color Apps for Designers

Adobe Kuler: generate color palettes.  Sync your images with their palettes to the Adobe Creative Cloud for further use in other applications.  

ColorSnap by Sherwin Williams: I raved about this app just last week.  I still can't get enough of it.  Use your images on-the-go to get RGB numbers for use in editing applications.  

Create Shapes

Kaleido Lens: a camera add-on that lets you turn photos into kaleidoscopes.  You can rotate your camera to create images that have different colors or patterns.

PicStitch: take a collection of images and turn them into a collage.  Many designs available.  

Black and White

Camera Noir: deep, dense and contrasty photos.  The best quick app for black and white conversion.  
Shutter Cam: slow down the shutter speed to create slowed-down effects or to capture more in low light.


Here's a few products to take your iPhoneography even higher:

Gorillapod: the best "tripod" product for iPhone out there.  Check out all the different varieties.

Pocket Spotlight: an LED fill-light for your iPhone!  (!!!) Easy to charge using USB.

Shutter Remote: for triggering exposures with no camera shake, or for when you want to be in the photo.

Camalapse: a rotating stand for time-lapse photos.

Glif: a classic product, and always useful.  Helps for impromptu propping up of iPhone for shooting or for viewing.

iPhone as Supplementary Hardware

Developers out there are also recognizing the innate ability of the iPhone to function as support technology for larger, more complex systems.  They have made it more accessible and cheaper for serious photographers to get their hands on technology and processes that raises the bar on their level of photography.  A few of the more outstanding examples:

CamRanger: allows you to wirelessly control Canon and Nikon DSLRs with your iPhone or iPad.  It requires an additional piece of hardware, but it is remarkable for a variety of uses such as HDR, time-lapse, focus stacking, and more.

*ioShutter:  I have raved about this product before.  It hardwires your iPhone to your DSLR; think of it as an advanced shutter release for your camera.  You have a variety of controls, including the ability to "clap to snap," or have the iPhone direct your camera to take a photo using sound as the trigger.  It is a popular pick for photogs who want to do star trails.  Speaking of star trails, check out the Star Chart for a real-time locator (and identifier) of celestial objects, and Star Walk, another favorite.

The Photographer's Ephemeris (TPE): this app allows you to plan shoots outside in natural light; it's a "map-centric sun and moon coordinator," for every place on earth at any time during the day.

Additional Sites to Check Out

Favorite these sites so that you can always know when new, fabulous apps and products are released.


Adorama iPhone Toolshed



The best part of iPhoneography is that new stuff is coming out all the time, so you never know what else might pop up next.  Keep an eye out, exciting!


Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Best Color App You're Not Using Yet

I can't quite remember when I discovered the ChipIt! web app by Sherwin-Williams, but I was hooked. It's a simple idea: upload an image (or direct the app to a web page or web image) and it samples the colors, rendering a list of tones from the image with their corresponding S-W names.  I then open this image in Photoshop and sample the colors to get an RGB value to use in some of my design ideas. 

I absolutely LOVE the palette it created here

I was showing a colleague how to use this app today when I discovered that they had come out with an even better application, called the ColorSnap for smartphones and tablets.  Seriously, I cannot get enough of this app, I'm so hooked.  

Picking up color tones from random flowers during an outing

Just plug in the RGB colors and you're ready to go

Ever been out and about and seen a fabulous color and tried to take a picture of it so you can use it later in design?  Well, now this app does just that, and provides you with RGB and LRV values.  I find that it also works insanely well for color-balancing an image, when I am trying to remember exactly what shade the color was in situ.  The app is free, you should download it.  You're welcome.


Saturday, July 13, 2013

Faking Photos Since the Beginning of Photography

There is some (deserved?) hostility towards Photoshop in regards to photography in this modern age; certainly there seem to be more negative feelings towards it rather than positive, cuddly feelings.  Its use has been blamed on causing a variety of catastrophes such as raising the incidence of eating disorders in young females to even increasing hostile tensions between unfriendly countries.  It has gotten people fired; ruined promising careers.  For photojournalists, its an inexcusable form of "artistic cheating."

However we feel about it, the truth is that photo alteration has been around since the beginning of photography, way before the digital age was even imagined.  A variety of tricks have been employed over the ages to alter original images.  For some of these images, like Dorothea Lange's iconic "Migrant Mother," their sincerity and "purity" are forever asterisked, sort of like Barry Bonds baseball records.  

I have many complex feelings about Photoshop, but that is not going to stop me from using it in my personal or commercial work, nor do I feel that photographers should "disclaim" their work when it is being used.  People get to have their own opinions: is the camera a "documentary tool" only, or is it an extension of the creative mind of an artist? Can there possibly be a gray area?  Check out this great BBC video on the history of photo alteration over the last one-hundred and fifty years:


Sunday, July 7, 2013

Dramatic Sunset Portraits

The sun is the most powerful lighting tool in our arsenal.  It is also one that we have no control over, yet it is also our most predictable one.  Learning how to work with the sun is an outdoor photographer's top responsibility.  

Back when I was in grad school, I faced a significant timing problem due to the fact that I worked full-time while going to school full-time.  In case this doesn't already sound ridiculous to you, take into consideration the fact that my only real "free" hours in the day were around eleven a.m. to one p.m., at the height of the day, and this was in the Deep South.  I didn't have time to hit the studio, so I often had no choice but to shoot during this time frame, and outdoors.  I bravely fought with the sun for while, using all sorts of shade-producing devices and implements, but to no avail.  And, assistants to hold stuff are virtually non-existent when you are a student.  So, what I did instead was to learn as much about the sun as I possibly could ("know thy enemy"), and figure out how to work with it, instead of against it.  I walked away from the lesson with some of the most beautiful images I have ever created.  Ever since then, I have been a fan of utilizing the sun to create dramatic lighting presence in my photos.

The sunset sun can be as harsh as noon-time sun, especially if you are shooting directly into it.  It can drown out all of your surroundings, create despicable shadows, and totally break apart your scene.  Angling the sun, making use of its unique quirks can produce unusual yet appealing results.  Here are a couple of shots from a session I had last week, when the sun felt particularly powerful:

© Katherine Agurcia 2013 - All Rights Reserved, Reproduction Prohibited

In this above photo, I let the sun make a little jewel of itself, really heightening the sweetness and emotion in this photo.  Exploring the different ways the sun can be used aesthetically can render some intriguing results.

In terms of background skies, clouds are a good thing, because they can act like giant diffusers.  When the horizon is clean and devoid of clouds, the sun comes in too brightly, blowing out the delicate blues and shining harshly on the foreground.  Using this to my advantage creates a strong counter-focal point for my portrait below, where the glare actually acts as a "bounce card," sending your eyes to her face instead of letting you linger too long on the background.  I absolutely love all the flares; I know some people hate them, but they are just such a natural part of photography and part of the process of working with glass lenses that I embrace them wholeheartedly.  Not to diverge from the topic at hand, but even multi-gagillionaire animated feature studios painstakingly add lens flare to their movies by hand, so why in the world would we photographers want to remove it? 

© Katherine Agurcia 2013 - All Rights Reserved, Reproduction Prohibited
While making small talk with this family during the session, I learned that the mom and dad had always been disappointed by the terrible wedding pictures they'd had taken many years ago.  To remedy that, I gave them an ultimate and romantic Maui "honeymoon" shot to celebrate their fifteen years together (and check out that flare!):

© Katherine Agurcia 2013 - All Rights Reserved, Reproduction Prohibited
Lastly, the magic keeps happening even after the sun sets.  From far beyond the horizon, its light shines just enough to create fantastic natural silhouettes that no artificial flash will ever replicate.

© Katherine Agurcia 2013 - All Rights Reserved, Reproduction Prohibited

Monday, July 1, 2013

Smiling Pretty for the Camera

Posing is a big challenge for both the photographer and for the client.  The clients are dressed and ready to go, and generally they are just waiting for the command of the photographer.  Photographers have long known that they the are not only the "button pushers" in the session, they must also sometimes function as hair and make-up artists, wardrobe stylists, psychologists, marriage counselors, nannies, and confidantes, amongst other roles.  Besides "pushing the button," we must be aware of the dynamics occurring between the people in our photograph: is there tension, is there awkwardness, what about physical contact between family members?  A successful photograph relies not only on an appropriate exposure, but also in the photographer making sure that the subject is relaxed, confident, and looking attractive (no loose bra straps, for example, or spinach in the teeth).  I posted a video late last week about ├╝ber portrait photographer Annie Leibovitz talking about the role of the "modern photographer."  Basically, it is up to us to prove ourselves worthier than Uncle Bob with the new-fangled DSLR he just bought at Costco.  And here's the deal: does Uncle Bob know how to photograph you in a way that diminishes that double chin you're sensitive about?  Or give you tips on how to make that beer gut look smaller in the photo?  Perhaps let you know that your skirt is see-through (and know how to fix it)? 

We've all seen the huff-and-puff articles written by angry photographers wanting to educate their clients on what they are actually paying for (other than the photos).  I believe, though, that what clients are really paying for is the fact that you are making them look good, in fact, making them look GREAT.  Isn't that what we all want, really?  Uncle Bob's not going to do that.  He's going to set his camera on "P" and let 'er roll.  Clients will pay a photographer to make them look better in photos than they usually do.  So, when clients ask you why you charge what you do, you can look them in the eye and tell them, "because you'll never look better than I'll make you look, and there's no price you can put on that."   

If they disagree, I hear Uncle Bob's got an ad on Craigslist offering free portrait services (he's putting his portfolio together)..

© Katherine Agurcia 2013 - All Rights Reserved, Reproduction Prohibited
Different clients will have different levels of posing prowess.  I always mimic the pose for clients before setting them in front of the camera, giving them a visual of the look that I am looking to create.  The minute this young lady hit the pose I was looking for, I knew she was classically trained in either music or performance art.  She laughed and told me, "both, I do ballet and violin."  Talk about some stage presence! 

© Katherine Agurcia 2013 - All Rights Reserved, Reproduction Prohibited

© Katherine Agurcia 2013 - All Rights Reserved, Reproduction Prohibited

Teenagers often have long, gawky arms and legs, so I find it important to give them a strong pose to work with that helps tackle the awkwardness of feeling so exposed.  Having them tuck in their legs and settle their arms loosely helps tremendously with posture and making it easy for them to smile.

© Katherine Agurcia 2013 - All Rights Reserved, Reproduction Prohibited
This pose here above is pretty standard in my repertoire.  Right off the bat, I always give families one definitive pose to follow and to remember as we move through different locations.  Everyone can fall in quickly when I call it out.

© Katherine Agurcia 2013 - All Rights Reserved, Reproduction Prohibited
Magic happens when you least expect it.  This one was a between-take that was powerful in its form.  I have discovered many outstanding poses this way, and added them to my repertoire for when I'm looking for a more casual or unusual look. 

© Katherine Agurcia 2013 - All Rights Reserved, Reproduction Prohibited
Don't forget the head! A slight tilt goes a long way.  For a stronger effect, have the subject hold the head steady and look straight at the camera, without a smile.  When shooting pairs, like in this photo below, a slight head tilt really helps to make the pose more graceful and fluid.

© Katherine Agurcia 2013 - All Rights Reserved, Reproduction Prohibited

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Ohana Means Family

Taking family photos is a great thing to do while on vacation.  You're relaxed, tanned, and have plenty of time to just take it easy and let the photographer do all the work.  Besides, a beach background beats a studio interior any day.  Many families take advantage of their family photo op to some alternative shots, like senior photos.  This fantastic family from the midwest came ready and prepared for a fabulous shoot, including some fun props.  We had such a great time!

© Katherine Agurcia 2013 - All Rights Reserved, Reproduction Prohibited

© Katherine Agurcia 2013 - All Rights Reserved, Reproduction Prohibited

© Katherine Agurcia 2013 - All Rights Reserved, Reproduction Prohibited

© Katherine Agurcia 2013 - All Rights Reserved, Reproduction Prohibited

© Katherine Agurcia 2013 - All Rights Reserved, Reproduction Prohibited

© Katherine Agurcia 2013 - All Rights Reserved, Reproduction Prohibited

© Katherine Agurcia 2013 - All Rights Reserved, Reproduction Prohibited

© Katherine Agurcia 2013 - All Rights Reserved, Reproduction Prohibited

© Katherine Agurcia 2013 - All Rights Reserved, Reproduction Prohibited