Sunday, May 3, 2015

DVD Favorites: Handling People and Situations


This photo of my friends Lee and Evelina was taken in 2005 during my first digital wedding. This has always been my favorite wedding image, not just as a testament to a long-standing friendship, but an example of when almost everything went right. It was also taken in my pre-DSLR days, using Vivitar speedlights mounted on flash brackets triggered using Wein Safe-Syncs for protection from high triggering voltages. This is the exact image that hangs in their home, made long before I learned about reducing glare on my subjects' noses.

With the exception of the digital camera (a Sony V3, if I remember correctly), this was completely "old school" photograph. I set up a mini-studio in an ante room of the church, complete with portable background and lit with a Norman flash shot through a Westcott softbox. The setup was right out of Monte Zucker's playbook, and the results were both classic and pleasing. 

Immediately after that wedding, I set about looking for ways to improve on what my first digital wedding experience taught me. My first stop was the book section of my local stocking dealer. 

I soon discovered that most books covered equipment essentials in such detail that one might come to believe that equipment was the most important factor, a misconception that fueled my personal buying habits. It wasn't until I was able to actually see master wedding photographers at work that I re-directed my emphasis on how great shots were made, instead of what equipment was used.
Photo Vision.  Photo Vision was probably the single most influential resource for improving my photography. It is a bi-monthly subscription DVD magazine that has been a real eye-opener for me, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. While the series' emphasis is on high school senior, wedding, and portrait photographic techniques, equal time is spent on the marketing, sales, and the customer service aspects of the industry. I own all of the wedding and portrait packages, and I believe they are some some the best investments a "people photographer" can make. Just a reminder, fellow photographer - what you do isn't only about cameras and equipment. It goes far beyond the camera models, fancy lenses, ISO settings and F-Stops. It's about making connections and working with your subjects, and gaining their trust as you do your best to present them at their absolute best.

The Photo Vision series' strength is the "ride along" approach to wedding photography. You'll get to see an actual wedding being photographed by several giants in the industry, and you can see exactly how they arrange shots, how they work with their subjects to get exactly what they want. This eventually translates into a look that identifies the photographer and strengthens his/her brand recognition.

I didn't realize it at first, but the wedding photography embodies most of what I find interesting about editorial photography: Working with people, facing lighting and location challenges, and an often exciting environment that forces you to think on your feet. But at this stage of my life, I'm not willing to commit the time to the post-production aspects of the sale, and have found the editorial photography provides nearly all of the challenges without the post production commitments of time and energy. 

David Ziser has probably influenced my technique more than any single photographer. I attended several of his wedding photography seminars, and found him the perfect Southern gentleman with a direct, no-nonsense approach to wedding work. His clientele tends to be more high-end traditional wedding work, and is proud of the number of new clients whose parents were old clients years ago.

What impressed me about David is his practical approach to equipment and technique. One key takeaway is how much he depends on his assistant to "know" how to properly position a minimal amount of off-camera lighting to produce dramatic, yet timeless, bridal photographs. If you have a limited budget and could only afford one DVD, this would be my choice, in spite of its age (He was using Nikon D1X cameras, which were introduced in 2001 and sold for over $5,000 at the time. That was a LONG time ago!)

In 2010 David authored Captured By The Light which coincided with his national tour, which I attended. The tour DVD does include something very special: A tutorial for Photo Fusion, a relatively simple album editing program. This was the program I used to create Rene and Brad's album, which was the high water mark of my wedding photographer exploits. If memory serves, there is no mention the program in the book, which Mr. Ziser sold as a bundle during his tours at a very attractive price. 

One quick note: (May 5, 2015) I visited David's on-line store and found that his instructional DVDs were VERY DEEPLY DISCOUNTED. I suggest that you check out his DVD sets now and save big.  Pick up a Zumbrella (or two) while you're at it.

Just a reminder to the younger readers: There are fewer and fewer practitioners of the "classic" wedding photographic package. At these bargain prices, you would do well to observe an old school approach. Remember that a client wishing a 30" X 40" wall portrait may well want a more traditional photo, taken in the classic style that David is so well known for.

Sandy "Sam" Puc (rhymes with "butch", really!) is a Denver family photographer specializing in families and kids of all ages. She definitely has a sure-fire approach to getting, and keeping, her subject's attention when she works. On her last visit, she (literally!) had a member of the audience, complete with three kids, come on stage for a demonstration of her rapid fire working style. Her video is full of tips on how to keep a child's attention, along with a variety of marketing programs to boost sales and maintaining customer loyalty.

This video set would be more suitable for a photographer working with children and families both in studio and on location. She once told the story during a live presentation of the time she was photographing on location, and discovered she had posed her subjects right on top of a nest of hatching spiders.

I'm going to pretend that Sam and I a great buddies (I wish we were, and it's not for a lack of trying on my part!). She has always been in incredible philanthropic force in Denver. To me, her most notable contribution was creating Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep, an organization the enlists the services of volunteer photographers to provide loving portraits of terminally ill children, so many of them newborns and infants. She is a wonderful example of a photographer involved in her community, using her photography to help a variety of charitable causes.

Summary: These DVD packages can do wonders to expand a working photographer's experience. Actually seeing how these photographers handle the challenges of the profession will serve you well, especially when you pose YOUR subjects on a nest of spiders!