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Preset Photo Adjustment Follow Up — Debate is Split, Scott Chimes In

lift-and-stampIt’s been gratifying to see that the great preset debate from my earlier post is not isolated to this office, instead there seems to be a lot of interest in this topic and a fairly even split in favor of and against using adjustment presets.  The majority of comments landed somewhere in the neighborhood of “I use them in moderation in order to get initial settings or ideas, then custom tweak from there.”

This is not a bad place to be.  And yet, my presets sit to the side of my toolbar gathering dust 99% of the time.

Why?  I’m constantly amazed at the extent to which each and every photograph is an individual.  A small wiggle of the lights, camera, clouds, sun, model; any of it can change an image materially.  This doesn’t just apply to the technical values of the image, it also applies to the mood and aesthetic essence.

It is this aesthetic essence that I try to ‘read’ when I start post production on an image.  Does this feel like a dark or light image?  Is it punchy and loud, or quiet and subtle?  Does the color add value or create a distraction?  I find that the images have some capacity to direct me in my approach.

How does this ‘approach’ translate to real action?  Here are the steps with which I approach a new collection of images that come across my desk:

  1. Edit.  I don’t want to be distracted by volume when retouching.  I only want to spend cycles working on images that are fundamentally good.  To that end, I complete an edit before any retouching begins.  For more on this topic, take a peek at this post on my editing process.
  2. Start Playing.  After the edit I spin through the selects, somewhat aimlessly at first.  I might select a certain image that grabs my fancy, pull the exposure or white balance around a bit, yank another couple of sliders around.  Maybe I get engaged at this point and start a full process with this image, maybe I leave it totally unfinished and move along to play with another select.  Eventually I stumble upon an image that starts to take shape and piques my interest.
  3. Dig Deeper.  This is where a sort of conversation takes place between me and the image.  At the risk of sounding like a total dork, it’s kind of like the first dance with a new partner.  There is a give and take – a push and pull.  On one hand I’m controlling the look of the image, on the other hand it’s letting me know what it wants to look like.  I’ve seen images that look horrible in color and brilliant in black and white, I’ve seen images that are noisy and cluttered when properly exposed, but simple and refined when blown out.  Definition and clarity can make an image crisp, or can produce devastating halos that scream ‘overprocessed’.  I’ve found that the only way to really understand an image’s potential and limitations is to experiment and follow your gut.  It is my firm belief that using presets at this stage has the unintended side effect of actually limiting creativity and experimentation when they’re intended to do the opposite.
  4. Spread the Love.  Once the image that has grabbed me initially has had a significant initial work up, it’s time to see if the aesthetic works with it’s neighbors.  While I avoid presets like the plague during my initial experimentations, I have no problem applying the adjustments I’ve made to the first image to the rest of the collection.  This is sort of a hail mary play.  Sometimes it’s an acute failure; the image I worked up initially is  an anomaly and it’s optimal settings are pure poison on the next frame in the edit.  On the other hand, sometimes there is enough similarity between the images that this Lift/Stamp move across the whole shoot delivers ‘instant gold’.  Usually, it’s somewhere in between, i.e. the few surrounding images from the exact same scenario sync well, where the ones that are a few hours apart need to be reworked entirely.
  5. Rebuild or Fine Tune.  Depending on how well the Lift/Stamp worked, it’s time to either undo the Stamp and start fresh on a second image, or in the best case scenario all that’s required is some tweaking to the individual images.
  6. Export.  At this point there are a pile of selected images that share a similar look and feel and that have each received some individual love in the RAW processing.  If there is a client review to be done, we’ll create a web gallery or send over preview files.  If we’ve got to go crazy on a small volume of advertising images it’s time to get into Photoshop and make magic.

Lest this all be too simple, I should share two exceptions to this workflow.

Ongoing Projects.  Chase shot for almost three years to complete the Seattle 100 project.  By the second month of shooting we had perfected the shooting and retouching.  The lights were set up the exact same way each time we shot.  The camera settings were always the same.  The high contrast black and white aesthetic was established and fine tuned.  All we had to do was repeat until we had shot all 100 subjects.  In this instance we relied heavily on our custom preset during the initial broad retouch of images for the web.  The images that went in the book were each custom retouched in Photoshop.

Shooting Tethered.  Almost all of our tethered shooting sessions are set up for the benefit of the client or subject.  It’s a way to instantly share what’s being captured so that tweaks can be made to the shoot in real time.  While Chase and I are both able to envision what a RAW image can look like of with some post work, often the clients or subjects are not trained to do the same.  To this end, Chase and I will generally collaborate on a rough post production aesthetic at the same time we’re setting up the lighting and getting test shots at the beginning of the shoot.  We’ll then use Aperture’s ability to apply  presets while importing tethered shots.  That way, the images already look close to what we’re trying to achieve the second they show up on the monitor.  This makes the clients and talent happy.


The important takeaway is that each shoot is approached with a fresh set of tools.  Just as it’s often more effective to build a house from the ground up than to do a full remodel, I find that it’s more effective to invest more time on the front end of the post production process in order to generate a custom look tailored to the collection than it is to drop presets on the images, and then have to dig around to figure out what’s doing good and what’s doing harm.

If these methods makes sense for you, feel free to adopt them.  If you have developed a workflow that utilizes presets more heavily than ours, by all means, do your thing.  The true beauty of the proliferation of digital imaging technology is that it gives people an ever increasing set of tools for creative expression.  Heck, a couple months down the road you just might find me extolling the virtues of a great Aperture preset I just found online.  The only constant in this landscape is change.  Experiment, have fun, and make things that you find to be beautiful.

Preset Photo Adjustments: Instant Gold or Drab Repetition?

Adjustment_PresetsScott here. Many of you know that I’m the primary retoucher here around the Chase Jarvis studio. I was surprised to get into a fairly spirited debate the other day with some of my co-workers. The topic? Adjustment presets and plug-ins in Aperture or Lightroom or Photoshop.

I’ve got a strong opinion on this, but this experience has once again reminded me that there are a thousand ways to skin a cat and that my way is just that, my way.

Instead of letting a debate rage inside the office and then fade out, I figured, why not make it public? I want to hear from you.

Do you use presets for the post production of your images?
Do you make your own, or download them from other users online?
Do you use them for initial inspiration, or to create your final files?
What are your favorites and why?

I’m interested to hear your thoughts in the comments below. Don’t be shy. For those of you who give a rip, I’ll follow up this post with my personal take and we’ll all be a little more informed.

Gear Details: How We Shot “Dasein: Art of Being” Documentary

NYC street doc setupHey friends.  Erik the video guy here. We’ve had a bunch of YOUR questions come in about what gear/process/technique we used to make the Dasein docu-short we posted a couple days ago so I thought I’d chime in with a quick gear- and technique-specific follow up on how this film was made. 

First, Chase was the director on the project but wanted to remain focused simply on the overall look and feel. Plus, since he was in front of the camera most of the time, he specifically did NOT want to get sucked into all the details to get the look he wanted, so that put me squarely in the Director of Photography (DP) role, in charge of all the details he wanted to avoid. This worked out great – we collaborate really well in this capacity.

Since I knew heading to New York that we’d be working at all hours, around Chase’s crazy schedule and with no permits, no location assistance, and (in the best way) no solid plan on when and where we would be shooting, I made the call that one of our main objectives was to stay light and quick with our gear selection.

Given that an important part of this short film is about time–creating time in your life for creativity–Chase wanted the film shot in a way that arrested time visually…that is, he wanted it shot in slow motion. This was a part of the initial treatment he’d written for the piece. And while we originally discussed shooting with a RED One or Epic, I ultimately thought this might not mesh well with the “light/fast” motto I’d already decreed above. I wanted everything, minus the tripod and dolly, to fit in one bag – something I could manage by myself — in this case, one of our fav bags, the Lowepro Classified 250 shoulder bag. And it’s small…

So here’s what I lugged around:

NYC street doc setup

Let’s start with the CAMERA/LENS SELECTION. Factoring that Chase wanted the high frame rate, that he’d not be shooting at all–only directing–, PLUS the limited budget he’d allocated to make this film happen (not enough to bring in a RED and a bunch of primes for a month), I made the call that I would simply use my own personal camera/lens gear. So I shot the piece with my Canon 7D. I’m good with a range of cameras, but the 7D made sense because it gave the film 60p slow motion that Chase required, plus it was small, very light, and since I own it personally, it was free. I also carried 3 of my own lenses; the Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 VC, the Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8, and an old Nikon manual 85mm f/1.8 with a Nikon-EOS adapter.  They’re nothing fancy, but I was sure they’d do the job. The Tamron is a great all-purpose lens and the vibration compensation is fantastic for shooting handheld.  Most of the footage was captured with that lens.  I used the Tokina the least, but was great when Chase wanted a dramatically wide shot, and the Nikon 85mm was for when we needed that extra bit of focal length and space compression.

  We captured Chase’s interviews with a Sennheiser Evolution G3 wireless lavalier set and a Zoom H4n Handy Recorder.  Pretty straight forward, not too exciting, so let’s move on to the really fun stuff…

CAMERA SUPPORT:  For this project we acquired two of my new favorite toys; the Zacuto EVF Pro and the Kessler Pocket Dolly.  These two products are brilliant on their own, but when their powers combine they create a silky smooth shooting experience.

Zacuto EVF and Kessler Pocket Dolly

The Zacuto EVF is an amazingly powerful LCD monitor packed into a compact and lightweight package.  It’s powered by the same battery that the Canon 5D/7D use and offers a plethora of helpful functions such as monochrome viewing (very helpful when you’re filming a documentary that will be black and white in the end), zebra stripes and false color for checking exposure, focus peaking assist (my personal favorite), frame lines, and a lot more.  The monitor works with or without a Z-Finder snapped onto it, and on the Pro and Flip models the Z-Finder mounting frame swings up to get out of your way when you don’t need it while keeping the Z-Finder close by so you can quickly snap it back into action.

Zacuto EVF Pro on Canon 7D

The ultra portable Kessler Pocket Dolly was great for getting some much needed movement into our shots.  We got ours with the optional outrigger feet for shooting low to the ground, and the feet are adjustable so you can maintain a level dolly move on uneven surfaces.  The dolly also has various screw threads on the base so you can quickly secure it to a tripod.  It becomes a bit of a beast when it’s setup like that, but it breaks down pretty quickly when you need to move.  I’m always amazed at what a difference a little camera movement makes in video shots, even with just a little more than three feet of track.  I highly highly recommend it.

Kessler Pocket Dolly and Zacuto EVF

Like I said earlier, these two products make a great combination.  All of us on the CJ crew consider a dolly or some sort of moving camera support mandatory for capturing dynamic footage, and the addition of the Zacuto monitor is a great way to keep from having to lay down on the ground to see what you’re shooting from your worm’s eye view camera angle.

We cut the piece together using Apple Final Cut Pro. And we did all the color (B+W) grading in FCP as well.

So there ya go.  That was my setup, front to back. Hope you can dig into this stuff in more detail this weekend. And hopefully this post has showed you how–with some good artistic vision–a fairly minimalist video kit can produce dynamic results like this:

5 Crucial Tips To Get Your Photo Busine$$ Books in Order

I learned over time that as photographers, filmmakers and independent artists, we’re also entrepreneurs running our own small businesses. Since I’m not all that business minded I’ve had learn as much as I can while surrounding myself with smart biz-oriented people who can help. Enter stage left Mara, our on-staff accountant. Going forward, I’ve got a goal that she will be able to shed a lot of light on the $$ and business side of things that so many photogs need help with… She’ll be tag-teaming on these business posts with our Executive Producer Kate. Feel free to ask them questions and suggest new topics… In the meantime, take it away here Mara on some crucial bookkeeping tips…

By now you should have long ago finalized any financial reporting for the prior year and sent your taxes to the IRS. This time of year is usually an accounting calm, but don’t be fooled (or lazy). I‘m consistently reminded of how much easier the year-end process is when you plan ahead and keep good records. Now’s the time to… Continue Reading →

Chase Jarvis TECH: Scott’s personal Olympus Pen E-P2 Camera Kit

Is it bigger than a breadbox?  No.  It’s my new Olympus Pen E-P2 camera kit, and it’s awesome.

As the guy who manages the inventory of equipment here at Chase Jarvis Inc., it’s fair to say that I know a thing or two about what it takes to pull off a photo shoot.  Every time we roll down the street or fly around the world, I pack and move cases of gear.  No matter how light we’re packing, we tip the scales at at least 100 lbs.

In my free time I have access to any and all of this equipment.  A dream come true for any photographer.  Unless you spend your free time deep in the mountains or on travel adventures where an itinerary is unheard of and solitude is the end goal.  In that case, there’s no place for hundred pound cases.  Hell, an extra 20 pounds in the backpack can have a major impact.

This fact has always put me at a loss, oscillating between DSLR kits that feel bloated and obtrusive, and high end point and shoots like the Canon G series that while impressive for their size, just don’t have the gusto when you’re in the trenches.  What to do, what to do.

Well, like many, I took notice when Panasonic and Olympus came out with offerings in the new and exciting Micro Four Thirds format…. Continue Reading →

Open Discussion: Why Go Retro?

Nikon D3s PolaroidHey all, Erik here with a quick guest post about a subject that’s raised a lively debate in our studio. Everyone on our crew has long been shooting with Polaroids, rangefinders, micro 4/3 cameras adapted to accept vintage lenses…even processing digital images to look like they came out of an old dusty camera. Surveying the landscape, it’s clear this tide has been rising for a while now and we’re not the only ones attached to this stuff. So the question I present to you is this:

Why is retro or faux-retro photography so popular these days?

Why, when we have such capable and inexpensive cameras at our disposal, are we reverting to old technology and old aesthetics? Is it pure nostalgia? Is it a palette cleanser from the ease and accuracy of said capable and inexpensive cameras?  Is it a passing trend? We have opinions–especially Chase does as you might expect–but we’d like to hear from you.

The Passage of Time [60 Second Landscape Results]

Hey friends, Erik here with the results from the 60 Second Landscape challenge I issued a two weeks ago today. We were blown away by the volume and quality of your entries, and we’re excited to show you our 4 favorites. Chase’s personal fav is above, 3 other freshies after the jump. Hit ‘continue reading’ Continue Reading →

60 Second Landscape Challenge

Erik here with a quick little weekend video challenge for y’all.  In the spirit of Chase’s 60 Second Portraits, we’ve been toying with AND wanna see some of YOUR… 60 Second Landscapes. 

So here’s a challenge from us to you: Grab your video-capable capturing device and hit the streets/mountains/beaches/what-have-you’s and roll a quick one minute on the best landscape you can find. Perhaps shoot a bunch and then select your favorite. Then, post your results to YouTube with a “Chase Jarvis Weekend Challenge” tag and post a link in the comments section of this post so we can see ‘em and share ‘em.  If you feel like following some rules, we’ve got a few guidelines to follow:

  • Keep your landscapes to 60 seconds (obviously).
  • No cuts.  Keep it to one shot.
  • No timelapses, just a straight up realtime view of the world in front of you.
  • Include music if you want, but we dig hearing the ambient sounds of the view.

That’s it.  Short and simple, but sorta beautiful.  Our take is that this is easy and fresh – but we want to see your take. I’ll see if I can shake Chase down for some gifts if some cool videos are posted. Here’s my entry:

Now you go and make some stuff. Have a great weekend.

Zen & the Art of Production: 12 Tips for a Smooth Photoshoot

Hi friends.  Kate here again.  I’ve been reading your questions lately, I’ve noticed that many are about production. It’s no doubt that shooting days can be stressful:  you have a set of objectives that need to be accomplished, time is limited, the client is present, weather, travel, lodging and permits may be a factor, you’re coordinating people and there are always little surprises that crop up.  Plain and simple, there are just lots of moving parts to a shoot. It follows that the more you can reduce your unknowns and possible stressors, the smoother your day will run. So, whether you are running the show yourself or you hire a producer, here are a few simple tips that may help you run a smoother production.

  • Have a plan. And a backup plan.  Production is all about planning.  The more organized you are ahead of time, the better and more smoothly your shoot will run.  A great production is very front-loaded to allow time on set for you to focus on the shoot and deal with any surprises.  Do your homework:  think hard ahead time, anticipate possible challenges, run through the day in your head and preempt problems before stepping on set.
  • Prioritize. Work to get the most bang for you buck.  After you’ve made your to-do list, prioritize the most impactful tasks and the most time sensitive items.
  • Clearly set expectations. Good communication with everyone involved is essential.  Schedule a pre production meeting early on to get everyone on the same page.  Follow up in an email for clarity.  We all remember different parts of conversations that affect us.  Summarizing is a great way to make sure that nothing is omitted.
  • [for 9 more tips, hit continue reading below...] Continue Reading →

Public Service Announcement: May is Bike to Work Month

The Bike Fleet
\\\\\ UPDATE the mystery bike match game has been solved. Deb got them all right on this comment. /////

Howdy y’all, Dartanyon here. We normally don’t post much on the weekend, but I wanted to take a moment for an off-topic Sunday morning Public Service Announcement. May is bike to work [and school] month.  Around the studio we’re environmentally conscious, and have turned BTWM into sorta a big deal.  We join in on the ride challenge put on by our local bike club, and get a little competitive when it comes to who can rack up the most miles. 

Consider this little PSA post my personal invitation to you, to hop on a bike an go for a ride.  You don’t need to commit to riding to work everyday in May [although that would be awesome].  You could just ride on National Bike to Work day on the 20th of May, or whatever works for you.

I got a laugh from our April Fools Day post where we all had switched out face parts. So in this spirit, I’ve whipped up a little “match game”, but this time it’s going to be a game of Match-The-Bike-To-The-Rider.  So, to see portraits of our lovely commuter steeds and match ‘em to their riders, hit ‘continue reading’ below… Continue Reading →

That DAM Travel Gear for Photo & Video

Travelling MacBookPro Kit

Howdy Y’all, Dartanyon again responding to an important gear question we get asked all the time. We spend a great deal of time out on location, and as Chase’s last series of blog posts clearly shows that it’s not all hotel rooms and poolside locations. Sometimes we’re at 12,000 feet above sea level snowshoeing to location, and carrying “extra” stuff is not practical. Over the last 4 years I have refined my traveling gear considerably, and it is not very often that I find myself wishing I had something I didn’t bring, or carrying stuff I didn’t use [or have a very good reason for carrying]. I’m going to take you through my traveling kit of DAM (Digital Asset Management) goodies and explain why I do certain things, but as I have said before this is MY way and certainly not the only or best way.

COMPUTER_ I bring a 17″ Mac Book Pro to almost all location shoots, it’s sole purpose is digital asset management, it doesn’t get used by a producer or intern back at the studio, it just sits and patiently waits to be needed in the gear closet. It’s loaded up with… Continue Reading →

Tax Prep for Photographers & Filmmakers

Kate stepping in here to give you a bit of info from the business side of photography & filmmaking, this time about taxes.

Yes, it is that time of year again. If you’re in the ol’ USA and didn’t already know it, the due date for 2010 US Federal taxes has been extended to April 18, 2011.  That may be really great news to anyone scurrying around to finish up taxes at the last minute.  Now, you’ll have all weekend to wrap them up.

As you finalize your return, make sure that you’ve taken advantage of all possible tax deductible expenses, especially those that are a bit esoteric.  Since I am no tax professional, please do not consider this tax advice and check with a tax professional to learn about specific rules and exceptions that will affect your eligibility. However, this list may be a good way to start that conversation:

Tax deductible expenses specific to photographers and filmmakers:

Some deductions are very standard for all small businesses, including business insurance, office supplies, software costs, and even tax preparation fees.  In the world of photography and filmmaking, there are some expenses that are more specific to the industry.  To name a few…. Continue Reading →

Models Know Best: What It Takes to Be A Great Photographer


Hi everyone. Scott here. Ever wonder what the models and athletes you’re shooting are thinking?  No, the answer is not: nothing.  Contrary to popular stereotype, most of these people are bright and driven and are working hard on their end of the camera.  I know, it looks easy, but that’s the trick, the good ones always make it look easy.  Well, I’m no fashion model, but I have spent enough time on the sharp end of the camera to drop a little knowledge of what it takes to be a great photographer.

Before I ever got a gig in the photography industry, and long before I was Chase’s right hand man, I had already spent hundreds of hours working with Chase.  Early in his career Chase was heavily involved in action sports photography.  At the same time I was an up-and-coming skier looking to make a name for myself in the sport.  Inevitably our paths crossed and we packed the car and headed for the mountains, this was the first of many adventures.  I am proud to say that our collaborations resulted in the publication of images in every major ski magazine in North America, several others in worldwide publications, and countless ads.  I picked up sponsors, and Chase became one of the premier photographers in the industry.  I wanted to see if there was a formula for this success from my point of view as an athlete working with Chase.  After some head scratching, I’ve distilled it down to these six factors which, when combined, make a photographer an unstoppable force… Continue Reading →

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