A Portrait of My Own

Every year or so, I take a new portrait of myself for my business. It's partly to keep things updated, and partly because I never have any photographs of myself, since I'm the photographer in the family. Let's be honest, how many moms are EVER in the photographs they take of their families?

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The Author

The job of a poet is to feel deeply, and the magic of a poet is to put thoughts, images, and feelings into the minds of others irrespective of distance or time. 

Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum is an award winning author. He's a lecturer, editor, and writing coach. But what immediately stood out to me when I met Andrew, on the windswept shores of Great Sand Dunes National Park in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado on a sunny March morning, wasn't his accomplishments, it was his almost instant ability to connect to the people around him and make them feel not only welcome in his presence, but as if they'd become a trusted confidant.

When I first spoke to Andrew about becoming part of my personal project, The True Magicians, I suggested photographing him in his workspace at home, surrounded by his books and papers. An important part of the project is to photograph the "magicians" in their proverbial towers, after all. What I hadn't realized, was that Andrew's "tower" wasn't an office. He immediately suggested we step out of doors.

"My work space is certainly in my home and on my front porch, but, more so, it's in the world. What if we went out into nature somewhere in the US (sand dunes national park, glacier national park, Santa Monica beach) and you took photos there and we talked there? That's where most of my work gets done."

It was clear from the beginning that Andrew enjoyed the out of doors with rare sincerity. During our interview, he escaped more than once to put inspiration on paper, sitting in the sand amongst the trees with a well worn notepad on his lap, oblivious to the wind-blown sand.

Unlike those who fall into writing later in life, Andrew had always known that he wanted to be a writer. Writing, for him, is a way to take the thoughts and feelings out of his head and release them into the world; a way to make sense of the world and of his place in it.
He pursued that dream through college to earn his Master of Fine Arts Degree, and went on to build a career for himself that allows him to marry two of his passions; writing and travel.  

To read Andrew's work, to speak with him in person, is to be treated frankly and warmly, but also to be given the gift of seeing the world as something far bigger, far deeper, and far more inspiring that you had imagined it to be, and to see people as more complex and more worthy of understanding, empathy, and praise. 

That is why Andrew is a True Magician.

Nicole York Photography_The True Magicians_The Author_3

 

 


To learn more about Andrew, go check out his website, HERE.

If you'd like to follow the crew who made this project possible, you can find Kevin Davis, cinematographer, HERE, and Kim Clay, makeup artist, HERE

The True Magicians

I got my love of science fiction and fantasy from my dad. While my mom would rather have watched or read something based in the real world, my dad told me about reading Tarzan and Conan the Barbarian. He introduced me to movies with completely improbable plot lines, crazy action flicks where people literally soared through the air, and my much beloved Star Wars.

Both of us loved anything improbable, as long as it was cool. Many of my favorite books and movies centered around some kind of magic because I was always intrigued with the notion that people were so much more, capable of so much more, than our appearances would lead others to believe; that magic was the real world, and our mundane experiences were just a cloak for things much more meaningful than we could ever know, things beyond our understanding.

I've been writing about, drawing and photographing fantastical things since I was little, (unicorns and fairies, anyone?) and the belief that there is something magical inside of us has never gone away, but it's only been in the last month or so, while thinking about this personal project, that I truly understood where that love came from. Thanks, Daddy.

While brainstorming and planning my upcoming personal project, I stumbled upon the realization all of a sudden and the way everything fit so perfectly together did, indeed, feel like magic.
My goal was to photograph artists who make a living by creating things, and to photograph them in the places that facilitate their creations. I didn't realize what I was really planning to do...to photograph the wizards in their own proverbial towers.

After all, what are artists except sorcerers who take their own will and their two hands and create something where there was nothing, Alchemists who combine different elements until they create something startling, magicians who use countless hours of practice (and lots of cursing...see what I did there?) to pull something incomprehensible out of the ether and SHAZAM! leave you with a real thing that can be touched and used, that can create joy out of thin air or inspire rebellions. 

In my desire to photograph artists like myself, I've discovered that what I'm really doing is taking portraits of The True Magicians, and that is a magical undertaking, indeed.

I'd love it if you would follow along on this journey. I'll be creating portraits, with a little bit of magic, of a range of artists from writers, bakers, makeup artists, designers, painters, digital artists, photographers and others. 

If you know of someone who makes their living creating and you think they would be a perfect person for me to photograph for my project, The True Magicians, please leave me a comment, share this blog post with them, and pass along my email address. I want as many people as possible on this journey with me as I show the world that there really is magic out there...something my Dad knew all along.

 

 

The Magic of Family
The Magic of Family
The Magic of Family

Film on the Rise

TIME recently released an article on the resurgence of film in the photography industry called, "This Is Why Film Photography Is Making a Comeback" by Olivier Laurent.
I find this really interesting for a few reasons, but the one that stuck out to me the most in the article was this:

"Film, meanwhile, pushes photographers to rethink how they shoot. 'You can't just shoot a hundred shots of your subject and review them immediately,' says Olbrich. 'Film forces you to think about the image, plan the image and really create the image mentally before you actually do the shoot. Film photographers believe that this process results in much more artistic and, in some cases, much more spectacular images.' "

I find this interesting because it falls right into something I always teach my students about shooting with intention.

Sometimes my peers are surprised by the number of photos I walk away from a shoot with, because it's often much lower than they've come to expect. The reason is that I walk into a shoot with finished images already in my head, and I spend more time pulling a shot together (posing, finessing lighting, etc) than I do pressing the shutter.
The photo is created in a photographer's mind before the shutter button is ever pressed. That's why we are always telling people that it's not our equipment that creates images, it's minds trained to see light, to find and/or create compositions, knowing how to wait for the decisive moment, recognize expression, and all the little details that a good photographer knows how to harness to create a stunning image.

Whether a photographer uses film or digital, this ability, the ability to purposefully create an image using learned skills, is still one of the qualities that separates good images from phenomenal images, and good photographers from world class photographers. 

What do you think? Has digital technology created lazy photographers? Will this resurgence of film shooters bring back more purposeful image taking that will result in more "artistic" and "spectacular" iamges? Or have good photographers been doing this all along? Give me your opinions below!

Light is Light

One thing I always tell my students is this, “Light is Light.”

Having a very specific lighting style is certainly one of the ways to develop a visual signature, but I find that too often many photographers get stuck in a rut because they’re afraid to try lighting styles that they aren’t familiar with. Natural light photographers shun the flash, and strobists look down their nose at natural light shooters. Neither is wrong, but both are neglecting the important truth; light is light, and the rules that apply to light don’t change. Therefore, if you understand light and how it behaves, you can use and manipulate any light source to give you the results you want.

This lesson was reaffirmed to me when I was shooting in studio last weekend. We had a fantastic hair stylist who was creating some visually stunning styles on our models, and I had already tested my set up and determined the light setup that would highlight the detail in the hair styles. The flash was popping, I was getting some lovely shots, but I started to notice something as I checked the laptop screen between shots; the ambient light I saw on my model before I pressed the shutter button was more intriguing to me than the shots taken with my carefully placed and modified strobes.

I asked my assistants to turn off the strobes, took a test shot with the ambient light, and was immediately enchanted. There was unexpected shape and depth to the light than lent an almost otherworldly quality to the images, which enhanced the unique hairstyles beyond my expectations. I was so excited that I danced a jig. No, really, I did. There’s video proof.

As I was culling the images, I realized that I’d just experienced the fruits of learning to pay attention to light and not being afraid to take chances and use the light that worked best, rather than the light I assumed I’d need.

So, to my fellow photographers, I’d say this: don’t be afraid to try new things, because you never know what you’ll learn, not only about the way you see and use light, but also about what you might be missing.

You Are a Photographer, but You Might Not be a Good One

I know the title sounds a bit like clickbait, but stick with me for a bit and I’ll explain.

Along with Christmas comes the inevitable gifts of fancy new cameras and a whole slew of brand new photographers who will eagerly be trying to take their own highly polished photographs. I was one, too.

Now that I've got a bit of experience under my belt, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say some variation of “your camera takes such nice pictures!” It’s so common, in fact, that it’s practically proverbial amongst seasoned photographers. Somehow people got the idea that, because cameras have advanced so far, the nicer the camera is, the better the photo will be. Even cell phone companies like Apple and Samsung make the quality of their cameras one of the biggest selling points; what they’re doing is taking advantage of a common misconception. Let me explain.

If you met Leondardo DiVinci, would you compliment him on the quality of his pencils and brushes? Would you applaud Michelangelo for buying the most expensive chisel? Can you even imagine that? I can. The conversation goes something like this:

“Oh Mikey, that Sistine Chapel is absolutely amazing, I can’t say enough about it!”

“Why, thank you. It took me years to…”

“I’d like to paint something similar on my bedroom wall. What kind of brushes did you use?”

Yes, if you are taking photographs, that makes you a photographer…but it doesn’t make you a good one. Not yet. It takes work.

That is one of the biggest hurdles new photographers face when they begin trying to make purposeful photographs. One of two things happen: either they think ‘damn, I’m good!’ or they think ‘wait, why doesn’t it look like the picture I had in my head?’

The photographers who never recognize their need to improve most often don’t develop very far artistically. Those photographers who have better taste than skill are now recognizing that age-old truth…the chisel doesn’t carve the sculpture, and the brush doesn’t paint the painting.

If you’ve ever seen photographs that you idolize, I can easily tell you the secret to how they were made. Are you ready?

The person pushing the shutter had a deep understanding of light, form, composition, color theory, etc. and how all of those things work in together to touch viewers in a visceral way.

Professional Photographers used to be valuable in part because using a camera properly was hard, and they knew the technical aspects of creating properly exposed photographs. Todays cameras have taken much of the technical aspects of out of the photographer’s hands, though. No more memorizing formulas to calculate exposure values. Point a brand-new camera at a scene and it will give you a decently exposed photo almost every time.

Unfortunately for the person who bought a $700 phone simply for the quality of the camera, they likely missed the OTHER aspect of what makes professional photographers valuable: the creative mind and well trained eye.

Just like Leonardo and Michelangelo, a photographer only relies on their equipment as the tool used to breathe life into what is inside their imaginations. Without their creativity, their understanding of light, form, composition, color theory, and so on, the finished work will be no more than a snapshot.

I can’t play the violin, and not even if you put a Stradivarius in my hands will I make any kind of music. I would need someone to train me, not just on how to pull and push the bow across the strings, but how to hear and interpret and bring the music to life.

I don’t say any of this to discourage any of those new photographers out there, because we all started out not knowing and we are, all of us, on a constant journey of learning. I say it because I want you to understand that it is not your gear that creates images. True photographers don’t take photographs, they make them. It wouldn’t matter if you had a point and shoot or a Hasselblad, without understanding the aspects of what makes a well taken photograph, you’ll still just be taking snapshots.

As proof, I’ve asked a few friends of mine to donate some of the first photos they took with their “fancy” new cameras, and I’m going to juxtapose them against photographs taken with much simpler gear but a more experienced eye. One of the biggest things you’ll notice in the “new fancy gear” category is a lack of purposeful use of light and composition. Most of them are technically fine, in the that they’re well exposed and mostly sharp, but they all have an almost complete lack of purpose and finesse.

To be fair to these brave photographers, go have a look at their latest work and see how far they’ve grown in skill. They deserve a hand for being brave enough to share their first attempts.

 

Photograph courtesy of Katie from Captured By Katie

Photograph courtesy of Katie from Captured By Katie

To see how far Katie has grown since she snapped this shot, go to
www.capturedbyktphoto.com

 
Photograph courtesy of Katherine Axion

Photograph courtesy of Katherine Axion

To see how far Katherine has grown, head to  www.kataxonphotography.com

 

Photo courtesy of Kathy Rogers

Photo courtesy of Kathy Rogers

To see how far Kathy has grown, go visit www.kathyrogersphotography.com

 

Have a look now at the camera phone work of Michal Koralewski. Notice that these are not the snapshots of an inexperienced eye, but that he’s carefully using shape, rhythm, contrast, and repetition in his work.

 

http://www.michalkoralewski.pl/

http://www.michalkoralewski.pl/

To see more of his work, follow the link to www.michalkoralewski.pl

Finally, even if you don’t know his name, chances are you’ve seen the work of Henri Cartier-Besson. He used a Leica Rangefinder, a film camera, during the early to mid 1900’s, to capture what he called “the decisive moment.”
 Comparing the capabilities of an old film camera to the new, high-end DSLRs is like comparing the Flintstone mobile to the Starship Enterprise. And yet…look at the beauty of the images he created. He  was a classically trained painter before he became a photographer, and it’s easy to see where his well-trained eye and creative mind have taken what he knew about great art and used those principles to make captivating images.

 

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It's clear that even high-tech equipment can't replace the mind of a creative artist, and that the lack of high-tech equipment doesn't limit it.

Yes, if you have a camera and you’re taking photographs, you are a photographer. But it takes much more than gear, and it goes much deeper than the ability to program a good exposure, to be a good photographer.

There is light at the end of the tunnel: if you’re a beginning photographer, you can shorten this long journey by training you eye. Cultivate what art you take in, find only the good stuff, and start picking it apart. Look at the light, the quality of it and where it comes from. Pay attention to the composition, find out where elements are positioned inside the frame of the image, and how they relate to each other.
If you aren’t sure what constitutes good art, Google that shit and study it. Don’t get stuck on the biggest social media stars because the art isn’t always as good as the marketing skills.

And please, please, please, don’t get stuck on asking “what gear did you use,” “what were your settings,” when looking at work you like. The answers to those questions won’t make much of a difference to you until you get to the point where you don’t need to ask them anymore. 

You wont understand the reasons a photographer chose certain settings unless you understand the principles behind why they wanted that artistic result. You have to understand the WHY before you can implement the HOW. One of the very popular aspects of portraiture at the moment is a shallow depth of field. But, if you want to use a shallow depth of field in your own portraits, you need to be able to answer the question “why does this work” before you can use it to the fullest extent. In a similar way, there are portraits that are strongest when the depth of field is deep and the surroundings are vividly captured. Why is that? It all comes back to the creative mind behind the camera and the creative decisions they’re making in order to say something about the subject they’re photographing. Those creative decisions influence what numbers they plug into their cameras.

Start training your eye to see and your mind to create, and you’ll find that choosing the gear and settings will become a natural extension of your artistic choices. Learn to use your technical knowledge and your gear in the service of your artistic vision, and you’ll be on the right road to ‘great photographer.’

The Top 3 Reasons You Won't Hire A Professional Photographer

The Top 3 Reasons You Won’t Hire A Professional Photographer

 

Photo taken for Spear and Arrow Apparel 2016 Spring Campaign

Photo taken for Spear and Arrow Apparel 2016 Spring Campaign

 

Our lives are completely dominated by imagery. As visual creatures we react to what we see on a completely visceral level that goes beyond our conscious minds and advertisers are experts of taking advantage of this fact. What we think, our shopping habits, even how we feel about certain kinds of people, situations, products or ideas, is so strongly influenced by imagery and particularly photography, that multimillion and billion dollar companies spend insane amounts of money to create imagery specifically designed to take advantage of your subconscious reaction to visual stimuli. For what reason, aside from using sex to sell product, would anyone need to see a busty gal in a bikini making a mess of herself with a cheeseburger from Carl’s Junior?

Photographs are uniquely powerful because people instinctually see a photograph as a representation of reality.

If images, and photographs in particular, are so powerful, why do so many entrepreneurs and small business owners forgo hiring professional photographers to help them promote their businesses or products?

I asked myself this question but since I am a photographer it’s hard for me to answer objectively, so I took advantage of social media and asked business owners what was stopping them. I’m going to share with you what they told me, because the valid concerns that they shared with me deserve to be addressed.

 

1.       Stock Photography was easy to acquire and filled the needs of my business just fine, and/or I didn’t have time to wait for a professional to produce comparable images.

This is actually far more common than I first realized, and reaches across business borders from family dentistry to book cover design. Take, as an example, this quote from author and book reviewer Naomi Blackburn from the Huffington Post article "Yes, We Really Do Judge Books by Their Cover's," 


“If the cover seems to be nothing more than a catalog photograph with block lettering, I bypass it,” she says. “If the author didn’t care enough to dedicate time/effort to their cover, I wonder how much time they put into the book itself.”


Stock photography makes professionally taken photos easily accessible to anyone with a computer and a bit of money, and there are millions of photos to choose from. The problem is that the photos are easily accessible and there are millions to choose from. That means that the smiling woman on a white background that you chose for the billboard promoting your family dentistry office may also be promoting hemorrhoid cream across town. It means that the images available to you aren’t specific to your company and don’t represent the spirit of your business, it’s values, or what makes your product stand out in a sea of competitors. The mere size of stock photography libraries also means that it can take hours and even days to search through and find images that will suit your needs, which is time that could be spent making your business more profitable.
If you hire a photographer to create images specific to your business, you will have the license and usage rights to insure that your business is the only business using that image to promote your product or service for the duration of the license. Exclusivity is a hallmark of luxury.

 

2.       Clients often can’t tell the difference, so I’ll just have an employee take the photos with a nice camera.

 

This is an interesting argument that has a lot of basis in fact, but stems from a misunderstanding of what cameras are capable of and what actually goes on when a photographer designs a set of images to promote a business or product.
Today’s digital cameras really are amazing pieces of machinery. They are capable of finding correct exposures, capturing insane amounts of detail, and have enough buttons and whistles to put the Starship Enterprise to shame. All that means taking a nice photo is easily within reach for the average person. But a professional photographer does much more than decide which settings are needed for a properly exposed photograph; they’re in the business of storytelling. Not only will a professional deliver usable images, but images specifically crafted to convey the message you need to get to your clients about your service or product. They understand how to use composition, color, expression, light quality, and mood to tell every bearded man in the land that your razors are absolute best choice for the kind of close shave that will make their face irresistibly touchable.

They also have the post processing skill, or will hire a retoucher who does, to turn a well taken photograph into a perfectly finished advertisement.

 

3.       It costs too much

 

This is the most common and most understandable reason why many business owners don’t hire a professional photographer to help them promote their business; but again, this stems from a misunderstanding of the cost to value ratio, and of another important fact: money isn’t the only way to exchange services.

When business owners are writing their business plans, one of the most important aspects to consider is marketing: how am I going to tell people about my business, and what will I say to them? You might have the greatest product or service in the world, but if no one knows about it, no one can buy it. Marketing is something that should be very carefully figured into the costs of doing business for one simple reason: it’s costs a lot more to lose your business. You’ve spent incredible amounts of time, money, and effort making something amazing, and losing it because you weren’t properly getting the word out could cost you everything.
With social media taking over the world and image heavy markets like Instagram (which now has over 400 million users, talk about a market!) becoming hotspots for consumers, there’s a good chance that skipping over professional  photographers and sharing sub-par images that aren’t driving traffic or growing your reach, is costing you more money in the long run than hiring a professional would have cost out of pocket.

 

 


The other aspect often either misunderstood or simply forgotten is one that may not make me very popular with my peers, but still deserves to be mentioned, and that is this: money isn’t the only thing of value you have to offer as a business person. You should always, always, ALWAYS pay anyone who is helping your business grow and profit, but the exchange of currency isn’t always the only way to accomplish this.
As a business you have something of value to offer, and for businesses that are just starting out and have very limited budgets, trading with a photographer for goods or services of equal value is an option that may work for both parties.


If you’re a mechanic and can offer tune ups or oil changes, a hair dresser who could provide style services, a lawyer who can offer valuable advice, a piano teacher who’d trade lessons for little Billie, or one of a thousand other professions with goods and services to offer, then you may have what a photographer would consider valuable enough to trade services with you.
The caveat to this is two-fold. One, remember that the trick to making an exchange of service work is EQUAL VALUE. Your photographer still has bills to pay and if you’re trying to exchange a $2500 photography job for $1000 worth of product, you’re devaluing your photographer and wasting valuable time they could have been spending earning enough money to pay their car payment.
Two, professional photographers are earning their living through their craft, and the more skilled and sought after a photographer is, the less likely it is that they will be willing to trade. Why take money out of their own pockets? If this is a route you try to take, make sure to remember that they are a business person trying to make it in a competitive industry, just like you are. If they turn you down, don’t take it personally, but remember this: chances are that a part-time pro photographer will turn over better images than Susie the Intern with her iPhone.

 

For some final thoughts, I want you to consider something: would Coca Cola, Guess, or Old Navy continue to invest millions of dollars in professional photography of every kind, from lifestyle to product, if they saw only minimal value in it? The answer to that is no, they wouldn’t. Even McDonald’s, the mecca for a low-cost burger, has high quality images on their menus. A selfie, no matter how well taken, will never say “I’m a professional, trust me,” in the same way that an expertly taken headshot will, as you could see in the example below that contrasted my bathroom selfie (in good light, at least) with a professional headshot taken by Jason of Lavender Bouquet Photography.

 

 


The level of quality with which you present your brand and product says something to consumers about the quality of what you’re offering and quality is a value proposition that can’t easily be turned down.



 

 

Skin Smoothing

There are many reasons why a photographer or retoucher might need to use a "skin smoothing," technique; reasons that range from a breakout in the days before a wedding, to shooting a beauty image for a cosmetics company. 

Skin smoothing is a huge topic, and there are countless different approaches with different reasons behind why people choose a certain approach, but for the purpose of this blog post I'm going to start at the very beginning, and the explain the most popular/currently well known techniques and why a photographer might choose to use them.

Great looking skin on camera starts with the right light. The most flattering light for skin is even, diffuse light. 
Why?
Because shadow gives shape and directional light will show both the highlight and a shadow  of each pore, blemish, scar or wrinkle, thereby making the texture apparent. Since flat light has little to no shadow, the texture of pores or blemishes in the skin can't be seen.
So: soft, diffuse, flat light (filled in shadows) = great looking skin.

Where photographers start running into problems with distracting skin texture on camera is when they use light that isn't for the sole purpose of making skin look great; light is also used to flatter someone's bone structure, create mood, depth or interest in an image. Flat light kills face shape and so most of the time, the light that makes someone's bone structure look ah-mazing (those cheekbones, that jawline!) will also make skin texture and blemishes more evident. 
That's where "skin smoothing" comes in.

There are 3 main methods I'm going to demonstrate the results of: Filters, Frequency Separation, and Dodge and Burn.

Each of these popular methods attacks the problem in a slightly different way. Filters blur the skin to remove texture and then add some false, more even texture in it's place, often with some kind of noise or grain. Frequency separation splits the skin information into two layers, a color layer and a texture layer, so that the retoucher can deal with color issues and texture issues each on their own layer without compromising the other information. Dodge and burn is aimed at finessing the light itself by evening out the transitions between the highlights, midtones and shadows that show texture; much like shading does when drawing.

Which method each photographer choses to edit skin has several factors but I'm only going to give the major 3:

1. Personal style


2. How much time there is to work on each shot

3. The purpose/use of the final image

Filters are a valid choice for people who have a heavy workload or need to move quickly through post production and aren't concerned with maintaining accurate or natural skin texture. Time intensive edits aren't always possible for wedding photographers or high-volume shooters who need a quick turn around and decent results, especially if they're getting it mostly right in camera. Clicking an action and masking in a skin effect can take less than a matter of minutes, while de-emphasizing or even completely removing blemishes. Filters can be bought from sites that create Photoshop actions, like Florabella, or in programs that stand alone, like Portriature. The con to this method is that it always destroys skin texture and the three dimensionality of the light, and so can damage the appearance of the subject's bone structure if not used carefully and selectively; so it isn't the kind of technique that can be used for images that need to look natural. You'll never see it used in high-end commercial beauty or editorial work.

Frequency Separation was all the rage for a while, and is now popular among portraitists, too. It's a powerful tool that can make big changes quickly, and is an option for people who have a bit more time to spend per image than high-volume shooters might, or who are working with serious problem skin but don't have a lot of time to edit it. It can make more dramatic, specialized changes than a press-button filter can make, but also requires more time. The problem with Frequency Separation is that is can be over-used very easily and quickly and, as a result, damages skin texture and bone structure, which can make skin look like plastic as well as changing the appearance of someone's face and damaging light quality. Used heavily, it makes the skin texture appear to float above the skin color, and leaves a kind of glow. If it is used selectively and carefully, it can be a serious help to people who need big changes or want a very specific look in a minimal amount of time. This technique can be very handy for glamour or boudoir photographers with a bit of time on their hands to retouch each image, but isn't something you'll see in the high-end commercial or editorial market.

The hard truth is that the most natural looking skin edits also take the most time. This consists of methods the high-end pros have been using for ages: healing/cloning and dodge and burn. It has the most natural results, but also requires the biggest time investment. Dodging and burning a photo to beauty standards, say for a cosmetics campaign, can take hours while dodge and burn for a portrait will only take as long as practice and the area you're working on allow. Dodge and Burn really shines amongst skin editing techniques because it focuses on the root of our ability to see skin texture in the first place: light. It works by evening out the transitions between highlight and shadow, and also has the added benefit of being able to add volume and depth to the image, as well as to emphasize or deemphasize certain areas in the photograph because it focuses on the single element that makes a photograph possible in the first place; light.  

There's really no technically right or wrong answer since what technique is chosen depends on the genre, the final use of the image, print size, visual style of the photographer, and so on; but the ultimate, most important thing to know about great looking skin is: it all begins with THE RIGHT LIGHT.

In the gallery below, you'll see examples of each editing technique, followed by close ups for skin texture comparison. I used a beauty image because the results will be the most apparent up close.  Be sure to hover over each image and see what technique was used to achieve each effect. Please note: only the actions native to each technique were used to edit, which means that I followed only the steps usual to completing each, so; healing/cloning is a normal part of the dodge and burn retouch process so it was included, yet retouching texture issues when using a filter or action must be done SEPARATE from the action, so isn't included in the example.

***for the best results, click on the image to see the changes in the lightbox***

 

For my own personal taste, as well as industry standards, Dodge and Burn will always be the way to go. It has the most natural results, the widest application, and keeps the integrity of the skin texture and bone structure of the subject, as well as the light quality.

If you're trying to decide what skin editing technique to use ask yourself: how much time to I have each image? Does the result of this technique fit with my visual style? Does this technique fit within the standards of my chosen genre? 

Whichever technique you choose, my advice would be to start off with great light, and then practice, practice, practice, and use a light hand. No one wants to look like a mannequin. 
Unless you do...in which case, have at it!

Models: This One is for You

As a photographer focusing on the commercial and fashion genres, working with models is part of the territory. I've looked through countless portfolios and comp cards everywhere from agency websites to Facebook, Instagram, and Model Mayhem. 

I get requests from models regularly who are interested in working with me or are looking to break into the industry and need work for their books, and I also do a lot of local searching for models who might fit projects I'm working on. Over the years, I've noticed a few things that I think might really help non-agency models get more work.

While Agency models have the assistance of professionals in curating their books, finding jobs and shaping their look, freelance models who aren't signed have to rely on themselves. Because I've got great respect for models (let's face it, it's a lot of work!) I wanted to let you awesome people know what I look for when I'm scoping out portfolios, and also what might be stopping you from getting work. 

First, let's address the MUST HAVES

1. I want to see your face. Close up. I need to know what your bone structure looks like and how light strikes your face free of any contouring or light-mimicking makeup.

What do you  need to do? Have a clean headshot, head and shoulders at most, with little to no makeup in fairly even light.   

Want to go above and beyond? Try to have a few photos in different types of directional light; hard light, soft light, diffused light, etc.

2. I need to know what your body looks like. As an example; If I'm going to shoot a fitness ad, I need a model who has a body that represents that. 

What do you need to do? Have a clean shot, not overly posed or edited, of you in a bikini or underwear, in fairly even light, from the front and the side. *note* this should not be a sexualized image; it's descriptive not provocative. 

These are the common kinds of shots you'll see in a model's polaroids. It's important to have these because they give potential photographers a clear vision of what you will bring to the table, and whether you have the right look for the project they're working on. PLEASE, for the love of all things holy, get these done by someone who knows what they're doing, even if you have to pay.

 

Now, let's talk about the NICE TO HAVES:

It's nice to look at a portfolio and be able to see the following things;

1. Posing
2. Expression
3. Style

It's helpful to see that you can pose, that you can give expression, and what genre you'd like to focus on. If you're looking to trade with a photographer who needs boudoir work, but you want to focus on editorial, you may not want to include that kind of work in your portfolio. Show what you want to shoot.

 

Finally, let's get down to the things that will make me pass right by your profile without giving you a second look.

1. Your profile photo is a body shot from really far away or in bad light.
If I can't see your face, you get skipped. I don't have the time to search through all of your photos just to find out what you look like.

2. The photos in your port aren't quality work.
I can't stress this one enough. Trade work is great, and everyone does it (myself included!), but if you can't get a photographer who is producing quality work to trade with you and you want to make a serious go of modeling, PAY a good photographer. Sub-par work, without purposeful lighting, lens choice, etc. can distort your features and prohibit photographers and employers from seeing what you truly look like.

3. Everything is so heavily edited that I can't tell what your skin or body actually looks like.
Having a retoucher paint in abs might make you feel like a bad ass, but it gives potential employers a false idea of what they're working with. If I need to work with a model for a clean beauty shoot, I need to know what their skin quality is, and if the photos are retouched into plasticity, then it doesn't only destroy your skin texture but can also damage the appearance of your bone structure.


You should be doing everything you can to fill your book with the kind of work you want to be doing, whether through trade or by hiring a great photog. If you're interested in fitness modeling, get shots in your port that show you are believable as a fitness model. If you want to do beauty work, get it into your port, whether through trade or hire.
Photographers each have their own aesthetic, certain things that inspire them about certain models, whether it's widely spaced eyes, a down turned mouth, epic cheekbones, an aquiline nose, or all or none of those. If a photographer passes you by, it may just be that you don't have a look that works for the project they're working on. But if you have a strong book, with the examples I mentioned above and quality work, then you'll have done everything you can to attract the RIGHT kind of photographer for the work you want to do.

Just to round things out, I've asked a couple of amazing photographer friends what kind of things they look for when checking out a model's portfolio. They're both amazing, with totally different styles, so this should help keep everything in perspective. GOOD LUCK!

Olga Tenyanin: Boudoir and Portrait
photolga.co

"At first I look to see the quality of the images, then I look to see how the light falls on their face and if their personal look goes with my aesthetic and matches the look I'm going for in that particular shoot."

 

Kate Woodman: Commercial and Fashion
katewoodmanphoto.com

I need to see your face! Polaroids (or the digital equivalent these days) are definitely important. They may not look super polished compared to the rest of your book but they are super important to a photographer. Because I particularly like to work with more natural makeup, less is more for me.
If you are going to include more editorial makeup looks, it is SO important to work with quality makeup artists, in addition to quality photographers. Even the best photographers & retouchers can’t fix bad makeup!
I also want to see your angles—don’t just show me that one side of your face; you can trust me as the photographer to find your best angles, but I want to know what I’m working with before we start shooting. Seeing your face (and body) shot at different focal lengths is also a plus for me, since I tend to shoot a bigger range of focal lengths—a lot of times you’ll see the iPhone selfie which approximates a 35mm and tends to elongate your face and exaggerate certain features, but when shot at 100mm your features can look VERY different!
What do you look like NOW? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve booked with a model and I’ve planned for long curly hair and she’s cut it, straightened it and dyed it blonde! If you’ve changed your hair, make sure you have an image with your current look; if you have been vacationing in Bora Bora and have a deep tan, I need to know.
Versatility is important! When I am looking for a model, I already have a preconceived notion of what I want that model to look like in my mind. I generally already know what I want my lighting, makeup and styling to look like. So when I go through a model’s book, if I can see them in a similar setup that I’m already planning on using, it makes my decision that much easier.
You may want to be that model that only does swimwear or lifestyle, but even the Karlis and the Caras go from shooting avante garde one day to shooting fitness the next. You aren’t going to be appeal to everyone but you are more likely to appeal to a wider range if you can SHOW range.

This Photohop Nonsense Has Got to Stop

Every time a new "The Evils of Photoshop" article or video gets published, retouchers everywhere shake their heads, then get back to work knowing that there is no way for the average person to realize the full extent of what they do, what they don't do, and why.
I've got the luck of both photographing and retouching my own work, so I know what this process looks like from beginning to end, and I feel there are a few things that need to be said.

First, let's just get something straight; people who earn a living using editing software to perfect images before they're used in advertisements are called Retouchers; not Photoshoppers. It's their job to take the raw material that the photographer and their team have used to create imagery and tweak it until it fits what their client needs to sell product. The bulk of retouching, what makes the biggest difference to the viewer of an image, has nothing to do with making a model appear thinner or rounder or to have more perfect skin because, to be frank, most of the working models who appear in advertisements truly are gorgeous creatures blessed with great genetics and who work hard to maintain their appearance.

Retouchers approach their work in much the same way that a painter does. They look at composition, color density, light quality, and mood. They're responsible for making sure that the color palette suits the intention of the advertisement, that the focus is where it's intended to be by carefully adjusting the light, that little details that could distract from the purpose of the image, such as flying hairs in a models eye, are removed.

As a photographer, I can tell you that the cameras and lenses photographers use both distort reality and capture insane amounts of detail that you do not see with the naked eye. When standing before the subject of a photograph in person, you're connected to their expression, tone of voice and body language...not their pores or whether their bra gives them a side bulge. Most of us don't see the tiny blackheads in someone's nose while we're talking to them but a 40 megapixel camera does. That's not exactly the kind of thing that viewers want to see when they're curious about how a certain makeup color looks on hazel eyes.

Many times, photographers will import photos after a shoot and see things they missed while pressing the shutter. Why? Because eight million things were happening at once during the shoot and there is only so much time to get the images they need. Since clients have allocated a fixed amount of money to spend on a project, reshooting is out of the question and it becomes a Retoucher's job to pick up the slack. Maybe the palette has changed because of new packaging and now the nail polish in an image needs to be purple instead of blue. Maybe a stray wind pulled hair the wrong way, or the bathing suit was tighter than expected and pinched skin at the model's hips. Maybe the light that made the clothing look amazing showed too much texture in the model's skin , or the lens choice and angle made the windows look like they curved outward at the top of the frame. Was it a winter shoot but not enough snow in the air? This is the realm of the Retoucher and these are only a few examples of the kinds of things Retouchers handle regularly.

Are there abuses of power in this profession? Yes. Just as in every profession there are those who take their work too far, or are asked to do something they'd rather not do at a client's request. However, the majority of retouching goes unnoticed and unremarked upon. The photographer will get all the credit for taking amazing photographs because there is some skilled retoucher out there finessing colors, straightening lines, removing distractions, perfecting light, and working hard to bring a vision fully to life.

The next time you see a salacious, clickbait article about how Photoshop is evil and creating unrealistic standards, please know that the bulk of retouching is not about making models thinner because, let's face it, most of them are in great shape; it's about perfecting an image in an artistic way that makes viewers stop and catch their breath.