Posts Published in July 2009

13 Tips for Staying Motivated in Photography

Here’s a common story: one day you become enthusiastic about photography, and find yourself jumping at every opportunity to take photos and to improve your work. You keep this up for a while, but slowly the enthusiasm you once had starts to fade. You start feeling like you’ve stagnated in your growth, and that you’re just doing the same old thing, over and over again.

How can you rekindle the passion you once had for photography? If you haven’t hit the wall yet, how can you avoid running into it?

Here are 13 tips for keeping yourself motivated in photography:

1. Carry Your Camera at All Times


You’ve probably heard this before, but nothing could help you more. Have at least one camera with you at every waking moment so that whenever you feel inspired or see a photo opportunity you’ll be ready to photograph.

This tip is much easier these days with how ubiquitous camera phones have gotten, but it helps to carry something that will give you more flexibility in what and how you shoot.

Also, make sure ‘everywhere’ really means everywhere. This means taking your camera along to the dentist’s office, the grocery store, or even a short car ride. Seeing the perfect photo opportunity but not having a camera with you is a horrible feeling.

2. Start Your Own 365 Project


You’ve probably heard of it or seen it by now, but Project 365 is a term coined by Amit and Kara over at Photojojo.

Basically, it involves taking one or more photographs per day, every day of the year. The benefits of this are two-fold:

  1. At the end of the year, you’ll have a photographic documentation from every single day that year. What better way to remember your days than through pictures?
  2. After 365 days of photography, you will have grown in ways you never would have imagined in the beginning, and will have tried countless new things that helped you learn and improve.

If you’re looking for a place to host this project, I would recommend either Flickr (the 800-pound gorilla of photo services), Blogger (if you plan on writing as well), or Photoblog (a service geared towards this type of project that I founded).

3. Get Critiqued


Receiving feedback from other photographers can help to both encourage you, and open your eyes to ways you can improve or approach things differently.

I took two photography classes while I was an undergrad at Cal, and one of the main things I learned from them was the value of listening to what other photographers have to say about your work. After each assignment or phase of our projects, we would have in-class critiques where we spent five minutes on each students’ work. These short but meaningful times were instrumental in helping each of us broaden our horizons and improve our craft.

If you don’t have the opportunity to take part in a class or club, thinking about publishing your work on the web and hearing what visitors have to say about your photos. A great way to do this is to publish your work in an online photographic community (check out the PetaPixel Flickr Group!), which brings us to our next tip:

4. Join a Community

There’s a billion different services on the web that allow you to both store your photographs and share them with family, friends, and random strangers from around the world.


Pick one you like, and dive into the community. Build relationships with other people whose work you respect, and give them the type of feedback you’d like them to give you. These other photographers can both inspire you through their work and educate you with their critique.

5. Give Yourself Assignments

A great way to broaden your horizons is to narrow your focus.

Set a goal or pick a theme, and stick to it. For example, you could decide to shoot only shadows or reflections, and walk around your neighborhood with that goal in mind. You’ll probably notice many more shadows and reflections when you’re actively looking for them.

Can you tell what my theme was for the following series of photographs?


I was walking around the house looking for things that were in sets of certain numbers, increasing the number by one after finding each one. One thermostat, two stuffed animals, three post-it notes, four legs of a chair, etc…

Here are some other examples of assignments you could try:

  • Patterns and textures
  • Unconventional angles
  • Creative framing
  • Choose an object that you find everywhere (i.e. fire hydrants, bicycles, doorknobs)
  • Portraits (could be family, friends, or even complete strangers on the street)

If you want a completely original idea, try to think of something you’ve never seen in a photograph, or some way of taking pictures that has never occurred to you before.

6. Change Your Location


If you find yourself in the same places day after day, maybe what you need is a change of scenery. This could be something as simple as taking a different path to work or school. Finding yourself indoors all the time? Go out and take a photo walk.

Traveling is another way to change your location, and a surefire way to make your photos more interesting. Take a vacation, bring your camera, and keep your eyes open.

7. Learn Something New

If you feel like you haven’t improved in your technique or post-processing skills in a long time, then it’s probably time to learn something new. If you really know all there is to know about photography, then wow… maybe it really is time for you to take a break. For the rest of us, there’s always something to learn or improve on.

Figure out something you don’t know, and learn it!

This could be as basic as a button or setting on your camera. Do you know every little feature your camera has to offer? Have you explored all the menus? When’s the last time you took a look at the instruction manual? Take a look, and you might come across some fundamental camera feature that you’ve been ignorant of all this time!

If you’ve mastered the basics of photography and know your camera like the back of your hand, then perhaps it’s time to dive deeper into the technical aspects of photography. Cambridge in Color has an awesome set of tutorials that can help you really understand all the terms you commonly throw around but don’t know the boring details of. Do you know the difference between sRGB and Adobe RGB 1998?

If you’re looking for a regular stream of interesting photo links, start following PetaPixel on Twitter. We find all sorts of neat things to inspire and educate you, and post the links every few hours via Twitter.

8. Experiment

In addition to learning new things, you should also be trying new things. Experiment.


Here at PetaPixel there’s an entire category of posts dedicated to ideas and experimentation. Here’s a sampling of things you could try (examples above):

9. Follow Other Photographers

A great way to motivate yourself is to be inspired by the work other photographers are producing. There are obviously many different ways you could go about doing this.

If you have some time and money, make a trip to a gallery or museum near you and check out the exhibitions. If it’s good enough to be shown in a gallery, then it’s probably good enough to inspire you, even if it’s in weird or random ways (some exhibitions I’ve seen have been pretty darn random).

Another way to get inspired is to keep up with photographers online through their websites. Whenever you need a dose of inspiration, just flip through your RSS reader or bookmarks.

10. Get New Gear


Obsessing over gear is futile and foolish, but getting your hands on a new body or lens can give your passion for photography a jump start.

If you always shoot with a wide-angle or normal lens, maybe it’s time to try a telephoto. If you’ve only shot digital, maybe it’s time to try your hand at shooting film, developing it yourself, and making prints in a darkroom. Obviously this isn’t a way to regularly stay motivated, but it can definitely help make photography interesting again.

11. Redesign Your Website

If you have a personalized page where you publish your photographs, redesign it every year or two. A new environment can breathe life into old photographs, and your loyal visitors might appreciate the change in scenery. This will also motivate you to start posting new photos again if you’ve slowed down or stopped, since you won’t want to show the same old photos on a redesigned webpage.

If you don’t have the technical know-how to do the redesign yourself, see if you can find a free template for whatever service or application you’re using.

12. Find Beauty in the Commonplace


You don’t need the world around you to change to have your photographs change. All you need is a sharp eye coupled with the right mindset. How often do you actually look at what’s around you carefully enough to notice new things about ordinary objects? Do you pay attention to things like angles, lines, and light in seemingly ordinary locations?

Take time to stop, study, and actually see things.

13. Make Prints of Your Photographs

If you’ve never made prints of your work, then now is the time to start. Whether it’s making prints of your negatives using an enlarger in a darkroom, or sending your digital files to a photo printer, printing is a huge part of photography that most people underestimate.

If you think printing is as easy as uploading your images to the website of your local drug store’s photo center, then you’re missing out on all sorts of exciting and painful things. Things like:

  • Color management
  • Choosing what kind of paper to print on
  • Matting, mounting, and framing

In addition to all the things you’ll learn through the process, you’ll end up with tangible photographs that you can proudly hang on your wall, or give to family and friends.

I hope you found (or will one day find) these tips helpful. If you have anything to add, feel free to share it with us in the comments!

A special thanks to @EricBooth, @andiesmith, @jessyel, @kionee, @friskygeek, @edwinmah, @Michandphoto, @dayreiner, and @4strinbass for the tips they provided when I tweeted a request, and thanks to everyone who responded!

Interview with Bill Wadman of 365 Portraits

Bill Wadman is the New York-based portrait photographer behind the 365 Portraits project. You can also visit his blog and online portfolio.


PetaPixel: Could you tell me a little about yourself and what you do?

Bill Wadman: My name is Bill Wadman and I’m a portrait photographer in New York City. I shoot a fair amount of editorial portraits for magazines like TIME and BusinessWeek with some advertising thrown in for good measure. In 2007 I completed a project at which got me some attention. That said, I really only picked up a camera about 5 years ago, my education is in music of all things.

PP: How did you first get into photography?

BW: I’m one of those people who gets bored fairly easily, and I can’t draw, so I figured photography was a good visual art for me to dabble in. When I was a kid, I used to play with my dad’s Canon AE-1, but he yelled at me for it most of the time, so I had to wait until I was older before I rediscovered the fun.

PP: How did you go from only picking up a camera five years ago to have your work published in TIME and BusinessWeek?

BW: So I picked up a Digital Rebel 5 years ago and started shooting more as a hobby. Then I did a couple art projects where I was shooting more and more, so when I wanted a new one at the beginning of 2007 I decided to only do photography and thus began 365 portraits. It took off and I had tens of thousands of people a day watching the progress, which was nice because then I had an audience which made me feel the need to top yesterday’s shot each time.

When I finished I started putting my work up on paid portfolio sites like photoserve and such.. and people started calling me. My first big job was for The Improper Bostonian early last year where i shot author Jhumpa Lahiri. They liked the photos and apparently so did her PR people because they had TIME call me when they needed portraits, and so I started doing work for TIME. Other people seemingly cold call me, for example I’ve got no idea how BusinessWeek got a hold of me, but I’ve ended up shooting for them once or twice a month too.

By the way, that one call from The Improper was the one time that those paid sites help me. Otherwise I think they’re a rip-off.


PP: What was your first camera?

BW: When I was really little I had one of those 110 instamatics, but I’m sure you mean my first REAL camera, which was a Pentax K1000 that I bought at Adorama for $199 used in 2000.

PP: What equipment do you use for your work now?

BW: Right now I do most of my work with a canon 5DII. 28/1.8, 35/1.4, 50/1.2, and 85/1.2 lenses. I sold all my L zooms last year in deference to primes, but kept the 24-70L just in case.

Besides the digital Canon, I’ve got a Leica M4, Hasselblad 500c/m, and a Cambo 4×5, but those are relagated to special circumstances nowadays. Film is too expensive and time consuming for me.

As far as lights go, I’ve got a couple of speedlights and a few alien bees, and a Profoto AcuteB for on-site shoots when a Speedlight just won’t do.

Most of the time though, if I have my 5D with the 28 and 50mm lenses (love that 28mm), and a diffuser/reflector, I’m happy. I like to use available light or incredibly simple light setups whenever I can. Also, people often yell at me for using wide-angle lenses for portraits, but it works for me. I like having some of their environment in there as well.


PP: What’s on your wishlist in terms of gear?

BW: I wouldn’t mind getting a nice medium format back if someone wanted to buy me a P65. I think I’ll wait until they’re full frame 6×6 though. But honestly, at this point, I’ve got or have used all the toys I wanted to try and decided that if my photographs don’t look the way I want, it’s my fault not my gear’s.

PP: How did the 365 Portraits project come about, and what was shooting the project like?

BW: 365 Portraits came about because I wanted to do a year long project that forced me to shoot all the time. As I was looking to become a full-time portrait photographer, I figured I might as well take portraits. So on January 1st, I just started, with my sister.

In the beginning is was friends and family but then a couple weeks into it I started to get volunteers. This became something of an avalanche, because by the end I was getting 6-8 people a day volunteering. This of course gave me a lot of choice in the people I wanted as time went by. I was also able to snag some people who I asked to participate. Musicians, and authors, and scientists and the like who I respected.

I would make plans with each of them via email to meet at a specific time and place. Usually it was just me and the subject and minimal or no extra lighting unless we were working on a studio shot. Mostly it was about finding an interesting setting and workable light and practicing my skills.

PP: What are some interesting things you learned through the project?

BW: Well, of course my photography skills improved a lot. Shooting that much, I’m not sure how they couldn’t have… I came upon different techniques and things as I went along, many of which are still in my mental bag of tricks. But probably the most useful thing I learned is knowing when I’ve got the shot, and being able to cull 200 photos down to that one in just a few minutes.


PP: What were the biggest challenges you faced in completing it?

BW: There were daily challenges… scheduling screw-ups, travel, sickness, etc. But mostly it was a mental thing of just getting the motivation to keep going. Very much a marathon. I spent anywhere from 4-8 hours or more each day on the pictures. It was a full time job.

PP: Is there anything you wish you had done differently?

BW: Not really. I may have started after some more of my wishlist earlier in the year as it took some time to track and wear a few of them down. And there are pictures in there that I cringe at now, but that’s all part of the process.

PP: What advice would you give an aspiring photographer who wants to get where you currently are?

BW: Turn and run in the other direction as fast as possible. Well, no that’s not fair. But I will say that even in the past few years that I’ve been active, things have changed a lot. EVERYONE is a photographer now and many magazines are going out of business and most projects pay less. So you’ve got more people fighting for less work that pays less.

Now, if that little rant didn’t discourage you, I’d say go and shoot. Shoot a lot, shoot all the time. There is no substitute for good images in your portfolio and competence at what you do. Some people would argue that you’ve got to network and blog and such (yes I know I’ve got a blog, but it’s not really about getting me work), but having the images ready to show when you meet the right people and get the big break is the right idea.


PP: Can you briefly describe your workflow?

BW: First comes the shooting. I’m not that anal about getting the exposure perfect in camera, though I probably should be. Then again, with the small dynamic range of these sensors, I don’t know that there is such a thing as perfect exposure, you’re always losing something the highlights or the shadows. In any case, I shoot RAW and if I’m within half of a stop from where I should be, I’m usually ok.

In my mind, my shoot is like raw footage for further editing, so I tend to worry more about the subject than the camera. Then when I get home I copy everything over to a raid 1 array. A folder for each shoot inside a folder for each subject, just to keep it straight. Then I import them from the disk into lightroom, convert to DNG, rename and sort.

I go through a multiple-step process. The ones worth anything get 1 star, then I go through those and the best get two stars, then I go through those until I end up with the 5 or 6 I want to retouch. WB and exposure and fill light etc are done in lightroom, then I export a 16bit PSD into Photoshop and add lots of masked curves to make the image look like something. When I’m done I backup the project to an external drive and export a full-res jpg which I upload to jungle disk as a last ditch backup in case my house gets fire bombed in an election fraud riot.


PP: How do you go about doing portraiture?

BW: Usually what goes through my mind is, “How the hell am I going to pull THIS one off?” by which I mean, I look at the setting and the light and the subject and I try to think of ways they could intersect well. That said, I’m very much the kind of photographer who will start shooting and ask questions later. I’d rather naturally flow into something good instead of standing back and piecing it together in my mind for 15 minutes before I pick up my camera. I’m much more worried about the subject. This might be indicative of some deep psychological problem I undoubtedly have, but I’m always concerned with keeping the subjects attention and chatting with them. Hopefully it gets to the point where they open up and forget that they’re getting their picture taken. Usually that’s when the good stuff happens.

I shoot anywhere from 2 to 500 pictures in a sitting. On average though I can get what I need in 125 or so, that’s usually where the numbers come out. I had two shoots the other day though that couldn’t have been more different. First shoot I shot 450 images and got about 2 pics I was at all happy with. That night I did a studio shoot where I ended up with 200 images, 40 of which were better than the best of the afternoon shoot. There are a lot of variables.

The difficult thing is knowing what you’re looking for, and for me it’s an emotional thing more than anything. I’ll take a picture and I’ll chimp it on the screen and I’ll get all giddy and say “yes, yes, yes, yes, yes” like I’ve just cracked the vault in a bank heist. It’s a combination of things, but my ideal portrait is one where the the subject looks right and that can be anywhere from vulnerable to invulnerable depending on my goals. I’m also looking for good light, something I can work with later in post production. But then there’s that pictorial quality that’s hard to put your finger on with words. I want my pictures to look like paintings if I can. Like something more than just a snapshot.

The scariest moments are where none of this is clicking and you’ve tried the experimental stuff which didn’t pan out, and so you go back to your bag of tricks and setups you’ve used the the past and THAT doesn’t work.. that’s where I panic. You can’t guarantee that you’re going to get good pictures out of a shoot. Sometimes it just doesn’t happen. I shot Physicist Brian Greene a couple years ago and said that it must be like working on a theory for 3 hours at the blackboard and in the end coming up with 1=2. Game over, try again. But that’s ok, it happens to everybody. You go but an Annie Leibovitz book and there are 50 pictures in there from 20 years of shooting. You don’t think there were a ton of shoots that she’d rather forget about? Imagine if you could take only the best 3-4 images per year. I’m guessing yours would look pretty good too. Don’t forget that or get discouraged.


PP: Is there anything you wish you had known when you first started out on your photographic journey?

BW: Hmm… I’m having a hard time with this one… There are things that I knew would be tough, but I went anyway. Everything in life is messy, so it’s no surprise. Looking back at earlier photos of mine, I wish I had done things differently, but then that’s always the case.

PP: Can you remember any specific things you learned that caused the largest leaps in the quality of your photography?

BW: I think the biggest leaps in my work have come in post-production. I can remember the day I started playing with curves to really bring out the contrast in different areas of my images and make them into something more than they were in camera. I like my images best when they look like paintings, and this is a big ingredient in that.

PP: Would you advise a new photographer to start out in film or digital? Why?

BW: Definitely digital. For a number of reasons. The main reason is the instant feedback. You can shoot and see what you’ve done. That plus the fact that you can shoot as much as you like without it costing you money are huge advantages. On top of all that, digital keeps getting better while film has peaked. I wouldn’t bet that you’ll even be able to get film in 5 years. Maybe there will be botique companies selling b/w 35mm film for rich guys who own an antique Leica, but that’s about it.


PP: Say a friend comes to you asking for advice on how to improve their portraiture. What are some things you would tell him?

BW: I think that a lot of people lately spend too much time on really fancy lighting setups so that their pictures look like comic books. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a very cool look and makes for very some interesting pictures, hell I’ve experimented with it myself, but I don’t think it makes for true portraits most of the time.

For me, the trick to portraits is to engage the subject and get them involved. You can’t take a good portrait unless someone lets you. You can’t ‘steal’ it without their permission. So you’ve got to get through to them and make them comfortable enough to let you in. So, I guess my advice is to talk to your subject and get the technical stuff down so that you’re not thinking lighting ratios and f/stops while you’re shooting.

PP: Who are some photographers whose work you follow online?

BW: This changes constantly. Lately Eric Ogden, Brigitte Lacombe, Stephane Lavoue, Joey Lawrence, Chase Jarvis, and Dan Winters are making me ill. And that’s the highest form of compliment from me. It means that I feel like I’ll never do stuff as cool as them.

PP: If you could see one person interviewed by PetaPixel, who would you choose?

BW: I’d love to hear from Stephane Lavoue, is use of light just kills me. His images look like paintings and it would be great to figure out how he does it.

PP: Any final thoughts you would like to share with PetaPixel readers?

BW: Just that there’s no substitute for shooting and shooting and more shooting. Push yourself and good things will come.

Swinging Your Point and Shoot Camera

In this post I’ll briefly explain how to take photographs like this one.


Just like my previous post on shooting sprinklers, this isn’t exactly the most practical of tutorials. Sorry.

All you need is a small point and shoot camera with an attached wrist-strap. For the examples in this post, I used a Sony DSC-P200:


You’ll need to be able to control the shutter speed of the camera. Most point-and-shoots should have some way for you to do this. Take a look at your instruction manual if you’re not sure how to. For my point-and-shoot, I can control the shutter speed by shooting in manual mode:


Choose how long you want the shutter to stay open for. I set shutter speed at 30 seconds for the examples in this post, which is the maximum the camera allows.


Once you’ve chosen your shutter speed, find a dark place (you’ll probably want to do this at night), press the shutter, hold the camera by the strap, and start swinging your camera around like a madman. Make sure your strap is sturdy so that your camera won’t accidentally fly off of it.


Afterwards, you might have overexposed your image if you kept the shutter open too long with too much light.


A little Photoshopping can help you get the look you want:


Things to experiment with for interesting results:

  • Location
  • Shutter speed
  • Color of the lights around you
  • How you swing the camera

Good luck!

Interview with Sam Javanrouh of daily dose of imagery

Sam Javanrouh is the photographer behind daily dose of imagery, a photoblog that has won Best Photoblog and Photoblog of the Year in numerous publications.


PetaPixel: Could you tell us a little about yourself?

Sam Javanrouh: My name is Sam Javanrouh. I was born in Tehran, Iran and lived most of my life there. I finished university in Tehran in French Literature, but was always fascinated by movies and cameras since I was a kid. My father is a cinematographer so I’ve been around cameras from 8mm to 35mm Arri film cameras as well as many types of SLRs. My first camera as a kid was one of those Kodak cartridge 110 film cameras that I loved. But I didn’t own a serious camera until I came to Canada. My first one was a Nikon CP950 Digital Camera in 2000.

I moved to Toronto, Canada in 1999 when I was 26 years old. In Iran I worked as graphic designer and started doing 3D animation and Motion Graphics a few years before moving to Canada. I continued in that field in Canada and currently work as Creative Director at Optix Digital Pictures, a post production and visual effects company.


PP: How strong is the Toronto photoblogging community right now? Can you tell us about it?

SJ: Toronto has one of the strongest photoblogging communities out there. There are many great photographers here and blogging is very strong as well. There might be a few reasons for it. First Toronto is a very online city. The cold winters could play a part in that! Also the fact that Toronto is a very multi-cultural city, maybe the leader in the world, means that there is a very diverse range of point of views in the city. The leads to many interesting neighborhoods and varied urban sceneries that are not very apparent if you’re just a visitor in Toronto. It’s a city of hidden treasures and not a city of big landmarks. Another reason might be the extreme weather. You shoot a scene in July and you shoot the same scene in February and they look completely different. The beach in winter looks like a scene from Antarctica and in summer looks like a scene from a Fellini movie. Whatever the reason, Toronto’s photoblogging community started very early and has been going strong ever since.


PP: How did you first get into photography?

SJ: My father is a cinematographer and he took to the set of his movies and later on I worked as his assistant so I was exposed early to world of cameras. I used to take behind the scenes photos for movies and TV shows I worked on, but it wasn’t until I came to Canada that I took photography a little more seriously.

PP: Can you tell us about your first camera?

SJ: My first camera was a Kodak Pocket 110 cartridge camera, I think it was Kodak Tele – Ektralite 40.

My mother bought it for me when I was 8 or something I loved it. But then after that I didn’t own a camera up until 1999 when I got my first digital Camera a Nikon Coolpix 950. Between those times though, I used my father Minolta SLR or my friend’s Canon AE-1 occasionally.


PP: What’s in your gear bag now?

SJ: I have a few gear bags now! I have one that is mostly for when I’m on the bike which included a Canon 5D Mark II with a wide zoom, either a 17-40L or a Sigma 10-24 plus the Canon EF50mm f1.4 lens and sometimes a EF100 f2.8 Macro. I also always carry a point & shoot camera on me, even when I’m just going to the grocery store. At the moment my favorite P&S cam is Panasonic LX3.

When I’m going out for walking around and shooting photos, I carry my bigger bag which can fit a telephoto zoom which in my case is EF70-200 f4L plus one of my favorite lenses which is EF 200mm f2.8L. I also carry a PCLIX, which is an intervalometer and shutter release unit at all times. If I have room I carry my fisheye lens with panorama head to shoot some 360 panoramas.

PP: What’s your favorite body and lens?

SJ: Currently my favorite body is 5D Mark II and for lens I like many to point only one. I do love the pics shot with the EF200 f2.8 and I also love the super wide results of the Sigma 12-24.

PP: What’s on your wishlist?

SJ: That’s the problem with photography, there is always something you want, it’s never ending! I really like fast prime lenses, which are generally very expensive so it’s no wonder they’d be in my wish list, like the Canon EF85 L f1.2, EF24 L 1.4 and EF14 L f2.8. I also really enjoy tilt/shift photography so the four Canon TS-E lenses are very attractive. And now with the addition of video to the new DSLR cameras, I feel the need for a video rig for 5D Mark II like the ones from Redrock or Zacuto. Oh, and a Litepanels Micro Pro wouldn’t hurt either.


PP: Has it been hard posting a quality photo a day for so many years? How do you keep it up?

SJ: It’s been definitely challenging. I sometimes can’t believe it myself that I’ve been doing this for almost 6 years. Sometimes I feel really lost and don’t know what to post and it gets really hard to find something worth posting. It’s interesting though that when I look back many photos on the site reflect how I felt in that day or at that time. And then there are days that I sit down and process ten images that I’m happy with and I can breathe for a few days. But when you’re talking about posting photos daily for years, there are definitely posts that are, for the lack of a better word, fillers, and then there some that are winners. It’s pretty much impossible to produce something amazing everyday, and sometimes it gets frustrating when people have very high expectation from you. But overall it’s very rewarding, when you push yourself on a daily basis you’ll have to come up with new ideas and try new things that you might not normally try otherwise. For example I’ve experimented with adobe flash to add a level of interactivity and also posted interactive panoramas and time-lapse photography to vary my posts.

PP: How many fan emails do you get on a regular basis?

SJ: It varies, depending on what I post and the day of the week. I get somewhere from 10 to 50 emails a day. Some email with questions regarding my site and photos, some are very kind and thank me for the daily photos and some are professional inquiries.


PP: What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced since you started your photoblog?

SJ: My photoblog started in 2003 as a fun side project. I had only a handful of visitors daily for the first month, but suddenly my number of visitors skyrocketed to thousands a day which slowly transformed my photoblog into something bigger than a small side hobby. My biggest challenges are: Keeping the site interesting for my visitors on a daily basis over the years, and with that balancing my time between my full time job, having a family and keeping up with all the daily feedback from the site. I work in an animation company which in itself is not a 9 to 5 job and I have to work many long hours, and my site requires at least a few hours a day so you can imagine how challenging everyday can be. And I have a three-month daughter now, so you do the math! But at the end of the day my blog has been and continues to be an amazing experience.

PP: After so many years of shooting, how much disk space have you used? How do you archive all of your photographs?

SJ: Right now my photos archive is around 3TB on 1TB drives. I have mirrors of those drives as backups. But after upgrading to 5D Mark II the size of RAW files got much bigger which means the size of the backup drives increase faster. My processing drives are two 1.5TB internal SATA drives. I save my PSD files and my current archive on these drives since they’re faster than external USB drives.


PP: Can you tell me about your workflow?

SJ: I shoot RAW exclusively. After shooting, the first thing I do is ingesting the photos using Camerabits Photo Mechanic. I use Photo Mechanic to attach my copyright info and all IPTC metadata including keywords to files. I set PM to also rename my photos to add the sort-able date and time before the filename. Then I use PM to browse through shots and tag and rate and select my shots and delete files (which is rare, I keep almost all my photos).

Next I import all photos in Adobe Lightroom, which reads all the info attached by PM. You might ask why I don’t LR to ingest and attach IPTC. It’s a valid question since LR can do all that too, but the short and simple answer is speed. Photo Mechanic is many times faster than any other software I’ve ever tested when it comes to browsing RAW files. The JPG extraction from RAW files is also lightning fast in PM.

I do most of my processing in Lightroom. I still however use Phase One occasionally, since I find the speed and final quality is superior but I absolutely love the workflow in Lightroom. If I need to create an HTML photo gallery for clients I use Lightroom but if I want it to happen really fast I use Photo Mechanic.

After processing in Lightroom I continue editing the file in Photoshop, where I finalize my processing and then resizing for web and sharpening.

For catalogue and indexing of my final JPG files I use Microsoft Expression Media (formerly i-view media). That’s where I attach the GPS info to photos as well. I use to use RoboGeo, but after the addition of location tagging in the new version of MS Expression Media I don’t need to anymore.

Surprisingly I get this question more than anything else: “Why do you use Windows and not Mac?” The short answer is I use applications so it doesn’t matter what OS. And I’ve been comfortable with Windows for many years and also I use many apps on it that don’t exist on Mac.

As for video workflow, I import the video files with photos using PM and then convert the files to Cineform Avi files with NeoScene. This produces larger files, but they are much faster to work with in Adobe After Effects and Premiere. MS Expression Media also supports video files so it fits in greatly in my workflow.

I have a brief video of my workflow here.


PP: If you had the opportunity to shoot anything, what would you most like to photograph?

SJ: I love cityscapes, urban and street scenes, architecture and landscapes. My dream is to travel to all corners of the world and photograph places and people. One of my regrets is that I didn’t take photography seriously when I was in Iran and I’d love to go back and only travel the country exclusively to take photos.

I also love to shoot in abandoned places and decaying factories, building, etc.

PP: Who are your favorite photographers and photobloggers?

This is one of those questions that are very hard to answer since there are too many to count. I always remember afterwards that I missed many people. But here goes.

Probably two people that influenced me most are Horst Hamann and Raymond Depardon. Hamann’s book Vertical New York was probably the main reason I went out and bought my first digital camera. I discovered Depardon years later and his book Errance is one my favourite photo books of all time. Joe McNally is another photographer that hugely inspires me. In my opinion he’s the perfect photographer, he shoots practically any subject anywhere in the world and he’s not afraid to try new things and continues to challenge himself. And the fact that he’s very active online (his blog is one of my favorite photography sites) makes him even better. I’d love to attend one of his workshops one day. When people ask me why I shoot so many different subjects and don’t stick to one style of photography, my answer is what’s wrong with that? Look at Joe McNally!

Other photographers I love include Steve McCurry, Reza, Gregory Crewdson, Andreas Gursky, many Magnum photographers like Martin Parr, and the list goes on. Classic photographers like Henri Cartier Bresson, Walker Evans, Andreas Kertesz and Robert Frank might seem too obvious to name but they never cease to inspire.

Then there are the new generation of photographers which I found through flickr and other photography sites that are immense sources of inspiration like Chase Jarvis, Jeremy Cowart, David Hobby and so many more.

Same goes for photobloggers, there are so many amazing photobloggers out there that is almost overwhelming. To name a few, I hugely admire the works of Miles Storey (mute), David Nightingale (chromasia), Jessyel Gonzales (dailysnap), Jonathan Day Reiner (18% grey), Tanja Tiziana (double crossed), Kathleen Connaly (Durham Township), Jonathan Greenwald (Shrued), Istoica and many more.


PP: If you could see one person interviewed on PetaPixel, who would it be?

SJ: I would love to read an interview with Joe McNally or Chase Jarvis. Great photographers, great people. Always an inspiration.

onOne Plug-In Suite Winner Announced


Our giveaway for a free license to onOne Software’s Plug-In Suite 4.5 is now over. We received 93 entries total, with 59 through the comments and 34 through twitter. This is less than our previous ones, but is probably due to the fact that it was only open for four days instead of seven.

We were also intending to have all the tweet entries show up in the Reactions section below the comments, but we had a little trouble having all the tweets appear. We’ll have to iron this out for our next giveaway, but for this one we simply used a Twitter search to find all the tweet entries.

Anyhow… enough with the boring stuff. The randomly chosen winner of this giveaway is:

#61: vandymcnew (@vandymcnew)

Here’s his favorite experience:

My favorite photo experience was when I was in Australia. 2007 was a good year! :) Sydney, Cairns, Brisbane

Congratulations! Thanks for participating and sharing your favorite and most memorable photographic experiences with us! We’ll be posting another giveaway very soon, so stay tuned for more chances to win awesome photo stuff.

Here are some responses submitted by our readers:

Luc (twitter):

The top experience in my photographic adventures was the first time I taught pinhole photography to a class of children who lived under poverty. The spark in the kids’s eyes when they first saw the images come out of powdered milk cans with such a tiny hole on the walls, and the realization that beauty was present in the shanty towns they were living in, even though they had never noticed it was totally awesome. :D

olasis (flickr):

My most memorable photographic experience was hearing my first SLR’s shutter. I heard it and i was hooked to photos.


It certainly wasn’t my favorite experience, but my most memorable was photographing our stillborn son. It was awful doing it, but I’m very thankful now that I did. It’s one of the few things we have to remember him by.

Adrian Park (twitter):

My most memorable photographic experience was a solo shoot on the Welsh Coast in December 2008. Personal tragedy earlier in the year had sent me into a spiral of depression I was desperate to escape. The weather that day matched my mood. I decided to go out and force myself to ‘see’ beauty. I was really happy with the results and that was a turning point in rebuilding my life. Photography is a great therapy!

This is what I found that day.

Chendur Venkatraman (twitter):

My most memorable moment was shooting for a school for Mentally Challenged Children in Hyderabad, India… Surrounded by 50 children who were in their own world…I was left wondering initially how i am going to shoot as spending time with those beautiful children brought tears to my eyes… The first visit inspired me to work with the school and raise few thousand dollars highlighting the school through photography….Now I visit the school few times a month and it has become a part of my life as i continue to work with them ….
Yamini Foundation for Mentally Challenged

janetmhug (twitter):

My most memorable photographic experiences was when I was getting ready for bed one evening in the winter and had to let my dog out, when I noticed a big “puff” sitting on one of the branches of my pine tree in the backyard. Being a birder, I grabbed my binoculars and found I had an Eastern Screech Owl hunting in my backyard. I retrieved my camera, put on a coat over my pajamas, barefeet in my boots trudging through deep snow and managed to spend 20 minutes photographing the owl on the backyard tree branch. An awesome experience due to the circumstances. The owl was extremely cooperative the entire time I was within 6 feet of the bird.

Eastern Screech Owl – Gray Phase, #9

Spider Webs and Galaxies

This is another post geared towards ideas and experimentation, rather than practicality and general photography.

Here are two (kind of abstract) photographs I took recently. The first one is of some webs that I came across:


Canon 40D + 16-35mm f/2.8 at 35mm. f/10, 1/50s, and ISO 200.

The second photo was of the night sky packed with stars:


Canon 40D + 16-35mm f/2.8 at 26mm. f/2.8, 1/800s, and ISO 200.

Actually, neither of the photos were of what I claimed they were.

Can you guess what I shot to make these two photographs?

They were actually both taken in my backyard. My sprinklers were going off and I was curious about what the scene would look like photographed.

In fact, both photos are nearly identical in location and framing. What was different was shutter speed. Notice how the water drops in the first photograph appear as lines. The relatively slow shutter speed (1/50th of a second) is what did that. The faster shutter speed (1/800ths of a second) in the second one rendered the drops almost as points.

Here are the original, uncropped photos. You can hover your mouse over them to see what they looked like straight out of the camera, prior to post-processing:



For photos like these, the sprinklers should be between you and the sun. If the sun is behind you, then you probably won’t catch the water drops very well on camera. It also helps around if there’s a shadow or dark background behind the sprinklers.

Try experimenting with abstract photographs of ordinary things, using camera settings to give the photos different looks and textures. If you come up with some interesting ideas or find interesting results on your hands, please do share them with us!

Interview with Gayla Trail of Making Happy

Gayla Trail is photographer behind Making Happy. She is also the founder of Fluffco and You Grow Girl.


PetaPixel: Can you tell me a little about yourself?

Gayla Trail: I’m 35, I’m a garden communicator, which means that I write and speak about gardening for a living. I also take photos of gardens and plants. I used to do graphic design for a living but most design work is now done primarily in conjunction with the gardening work.

I live in Toronto, Canada with my partner Davin who is also a photographer and graphic designer.

PP: How did you first become interested in photography?

GT: I bought a Polaroid One-Step from a thrift shop when I was 18, but sadly could not afford to buy much film for it. I went on to take a couple of photography classes while doing a Fine Art Degree, including non-silver photography which I really enjoyed.

Despite that and some dabbling with digital cameras after university, I would say that my interest only really took off sometime in 2003, shortly after starting Making Happy.


PP: Do you exclusively work with film?

GT: No. Although I have a hierarchy in my head with film at the top. I consider the film photos to be the “real” photos. I use digital primarily for work. It is used out of necessity but I would use film all of the time if I could.

PP: What is it that you love about medium format? Why do you shoot medium rather than 35mm?

GT: I have an affinity for squares and prefer to compose within that shape. I think this is because square photos allow you to get more height into the shot without making a very long rectangular, which is what you get when you turn 35mm sideways.


PP: Why did you end Making Happy after five years?

GT: There were a number of reasons. One was that I felt I was becoming too locked into that format (photoblogging) and wanted to push myself to try something different. That required making some space. The great thing about websites like that is that in some ways there is no definitive beginning or end. This can allow you to go where you don’t expect to go and build something one day at a time with less pressure or intimidation. The problem is that it can go on forever.

I wanted to get back to making art with a defined beginning and end. I needed to force myself to edit in a way that went beyond, “I like this today.” When I started the site I needed that open-ended freedom. Over time I felt that the space and time dedicated to it was keeping me from challenging myself in other ways.

PP: Any chance Making Happy will make a comeback anytime soon?

GT: I don’t think so. I’ve had another online photo project in mind for a while but it has been shelved due to a new book and an enormous workload over the last year. That project will not be a blog but will definitely have a beginning and end in a defined number of parts. the62steps.


PP: Can you give an estimate as to how much money your photography hobby costs?

GT: Ha! No idea. I keep myself in a safe little bubble of denial about that. I try to keep it in check and allow myself to splash out on film in exceptional circumstances. Since the digital stuff is primarily work I keep that separate.

PP: What do you consider the most important technical element of photography that aspiring photographers should focus on mastering?

GT: I have got to be the worst person to ask about technical stuff. Bring up the word technical and my eyes immediately start to glaze over. I feel like a fraud offering any advice in that regard.

I think this is why box cameras were what got me back into photography. Going back to the basics and understanding light without worrying about f-stops. All you have to worry about is distance, composition, and holding the camera steady. I learned more from exploring box cameras than I did in school. From there I was able to move back up into the technical stuff with ease.

Mastering? I’d say work on figuring out what you want to photograph and composition. The technical stuff is secondary.


PP: Can you briefly explain what a box camera is and how it differs from other cameras?

GT: The box cameras I am talking about are older model cameras that often held 616, 620, or 120 film. It’s literally just a box that holds film and has a lens, a shutter, and a viewfinder. Often times that doesn’t work very well. No focus or aperture, although I have seen a few with a version of both. In general they are really simple cameras. And yet there is still a lot of room for experimentation. A pinhole camera is a box camera without the lens.

PP: How do you go about taking a photo? Can you walk us through your mental process?

GT: I don’t know how to answer this question. Not as a process. Here’s all I’ve managed to work out:

This is very different depending on the photo I am taking. The work photos are much more conscious. I did a lot of set up shots for work in the last year, which involved styling the shots. That involved another step in itself because I often had to prepare all of the aspects of the “sets” beforehand. If I am taking a portrait of someone it is also much more conscious because I am really concerned about not making those pictures so much about me. The other photos, the ones I call the “real” photos are much more unconscious. I would describe that process as meditation in motion. And while I can’t meditate sitting still, my experiences here function in the same way, clearing my mind. All of the same steps are going on in my head, but I have no idea how I would lay that out as a process.


PP: What equipment do you use these days?

GT: My favourite camera is a Hasselblad 500 C/M. I have two lenses for this: a 120mm and a 60mm. I bought the camera as a kit from someone I know and that’s what came with it. I still regularly use my crappy, falling to pieces, has exploded several times Great Wall DF-. How that thing is still working is a small miracle and the product of much taping and jigging with coat hangers, etc. I love my SX-70 Alpha 1 camera to bits but haven’t had any film to take pictures in about 6 months.

I still take my Horizon 202 panoramic out now and again and just bought an older, metal model too. There are lots of others but those are my go-to cameras.

PP: How often do you shoot?

GT: I take photos everyday or very nearly everyday.


PP: What advice do you have for an aspiring photographer?

GT: Not to get too hung up about gear. You can take a good picture with any old piece of shit. Yes, the equipment does matter when you’ve got a specific idea in mind, but it’s by no means the be all and end all. A lot of people seem to think that the can’t be a photographer without the “right equipment.”

I am also often asked about taking a class. I can’t answer that question for everyone, but I will say that I learned TONS more by just experimenting on my own than I ever did taking classes.

PP: Do you follow any photographers online? If so, who?

GT: Shannon Richardson, Zoe Strauss, Miles, Therese Brown, and Andrew Newson.

PP: If you could see one person interviewed on PetaPixel, who would it be?

GT: Of the photobloggers, Shannon Richardson.


PP: Anything else you’d like to say to PetaPixel readers?

GT: It sounds so silly but really to just get out there and take pictures and try not to get hung up on having the right equipment or doing things the right way. I don’t think there is any one right way to do anything. And some of the best results come from totally screwing up and doing things wrong.

Take chances. Photography is very subjective and personal in a lot of ways. The photographs I like best both from myself and other photographers are emotional and individual. Try not to worry about what other people think about your photos too much and instead trust your intuition.

It’s All About the Eyes

Here’s an unprocessed portrait I took a couple days ago.


Canon 40D + 16-35mm f/2.8 at 21mm. f/5.6, 1/125s and ISO 1600

I’m going to show you how I would go about post-processing this particular portrait of a child.

First, a little about the shot: it was taken at ISO 1600. Big mistake. I was constantly moving between indoors and outdoors, so dropping the ISO slipped my mind. If I had gone down to something like 800 or 400, I could have reduced a lot of noise and obtained stronger colors.

I was also being lazy and shooting in Program mode. If I had shot it wide open at f/2.8, the background could have been thrown out of focus more.

The sun was somewhere overhead behind the child, and there was a wall directly behind me, which was bouncing a good amount of light into his eyes. Eyes that lack any sparkle often appear dull, two-dimensional, and lifeless.

Anyhow, the portrait was very candid and wasn’t set up at all. Now, onto post-processing:

pope1First, I open up the photograph in Adobe Camera Raw, and make the following adjustments:

White Balance: Upped the temperature from 4200 to 4700 to bring a little warmth back into the shot. The As Shot looked too cool.
Exposure: +50 to expose the shot a little more. If the background was completely blown out, I would have left this untouched to avoid too much clipping back there.
Recovery: +50 to recover many of the clipped areas in the background and a few areas in the foreground. (tip: toggle clipping indication with the U and O keys).
Fill Light: +10. This adds a little more “light” to the shadow areas of the shot, but also reduces contrast, since it turned many of the darkest areas into gray.
Blacks: +15 to set the darkest of the gray areas into true black, recovering a good amount of the black we lost through the Fill Light slider.
Brightness: Left unchanged.
Contrast: Upped this to +50 to make the photograph more contrasty. The original was pretty flat.
Clarity: +30. For photos with slightly blown out backgrounds like this one, I like to increase clarity a little to add a little more contrast to areas like the tree leaves.
Vibrance: Left untouched. After the previous steps, the photograph seemed saturated enough.

Also sharpened the photo a little and added some vignetting (about -50 for amount with midpoint at 25).

This is the resulting JPEG that Adobe Camera Raw spit out after making the above modifications (hover over it to compare it to the unprocessed version):


Finally, I give the kid’s eyes a little boost in brightness. There’s lots of ways to go about doing this, but usually I like to use the masked curves adjustment layer technique I learned from David over at chromasia.

Here’s the resulting photo after I boost the eyes (hover over it to see what the eyes boost did):


Pretty subtle, but a little extra glow in the eyes does help a lot. Hover over this link to see the mask that I used to apply a curve only to the eyes. You can also hover over this link to compare the final photograph with the original, unprocessed photo.

onOne Software Plug-In Suite Giveaway

Update: This giveaway is now over. The winner was randomly selected and posted here. Thank you to everyone who participated!

It’s time for another PetaPixel giveaway! Huzzah!

Today I’m giving away a copy of onOne Software’s Plug-In Suite 4.5, a package that retails for $499.95.


This is a package of six award-winning plugins for Photoshop, and four of the plugins can be used with Lightroom and Aperture. Here are the plugins:

Genuine Fractals: The industry standard for resizing images
PhotoTools: Instantly give your photographs a professional look
PhotoFrame: Add edge effects, backgrounds, and adornments
FocalPoint: Easily add selective focus
Mask Pro: Remove unwanted backgrounds
PhotoTune: Quick and easy color correction

If you purchase all six of them separately, they would cost about $1,300. One lucky PetaPixel reader is going to get all of them for free.

Entering this contest is easy, but please pay attention to detail to ensure that your entry counts.

To enter, all you need to do is answer the following question:

What is your favorite or most memorable photographic experience?

Just like most of our previous giveaways, there are two (2) ways to send your answer to us. You can use both ways to double your chances of winning, but please don’t use either of them more than once:

  1. Leave a comment on this entry with your response
  2. Tweet your response (it doesn’t even need to be @petapixel), but be sure to link to this post ( at the end of your tweet. Here’s an example tweet:

    My fav photo experience was when I went to the grand canyon in 2006!

Linking to this page in your tweet will automatically add your tweet to the “Social Media Reactions” list under the comments. This makes it easier for us to manage entries and randomly select a winner.

In our previous giveaways, you could simply tweet the answer to us without a link, but I had to record each of the tweets by hand. As the number of entries has gone up, it has gotten harder and harder to do by hand, so I’m asking that it be a little more automated now.

The deadline for entering this contest is the evening of Saturday, July 25th, 2009. We will randomly select the winner and post the results at that time.

Good luck!

Oh, and also — if you submit a really unique or interesting answer (feel free to include links to photographs!) that catches our attention, we might include some of them in the results post.

Update: Don’t worry if your response doesn’t show up in the Social Media Reactions immediately after you tweet it. It’ll show up eventually.

Update: Just to clarify, adding a link to this post is only required for tweet entries. If you respond via a comment, there’s no need to do anything else aside from respond. We just need the link in the tweets to track them.

Keep the favorite experiences coming. They’ve been extremely interesting to read so far!

Update: Looks like the Social Media Reactions aren’t showing up as they should. We’ll try to get it sorted out and working for our next giveaway. For this giveaway, I’ll include the tweet entries by searching for our link (

Shooting Rainbows


Here’s a quick idea for you to try if you’re looking for some photo inspiration (after all, we have a whole section devoted to this kind of thing). I haven’t spent much time hashing out this idea, so it’s pretty undeveloped compared to some of the other walkthroughs I’ve written. Maybe one of these days I’ll go out with my assistant (AKA my brother) and really shoot this concept.

What You’ll Need

In addition to your camera, this will require:

  • A nice outdoor location
  • A garden hose
  • Something that can generate mist (i.e. garden hose spray gun)
  • An assistant

What To Do

Be sure it’s a pretty sunny day outside. Rainbows might be hard to catch if there’s too little direct sunlight (kind of the opposite of fish?).

You’ll want to stand somewhere between the sun and the mist. Otherwise, you’ll end up with photos that look like these:


Even though they might be interesting, you won’t end up with any rainbows shooting out of the spray gun.

Have your assistant spray mist in your general direction, and try to move around to see if you can catch a glimpse of any rainbow that may result. If you locate this rainbow, reposition your assistant’s spray and your own location until the rainbow matches up with the spray nozzle in your assistant’s hand.

I haven’t experimented much with the location or background, but try to keep the background dark to have the rainbow stand out more in the photo. Also, try shooting wide open (largest aperture) if possible, to throw the background out of focus and further bring out the rainbow.

That’s about it! If any of you try your hand at this idea and have interesting results, please do share it with us by linking to your photograph in the comments!