How to Prepare for WPPI – Q&A by Skip Cohen

So, who better to give advice to Erin and other photographers who are wanting to know how to get the most out of the best show in the industry?

The interview below is the product of Erin’s questions and Skip’s answers and advice. This is the first of a series between Skip’s blog and ours featuring Skip and Erin as they go through the WPPI process together.

Don’t forget to comment below with any questions or advice. Enjoy! We look forward to seeing you at WPPI.

Erin Saldana: What sort of atmosphere, characteristics (and really anything else) can I expect from an experience at WPPI this year?

Skip Cohen: Year after year WPPI is about energy and that’s probably what will hit you first. It sounds almost hokey, but it’s like the biggest family reunion you’ve ever been to…on steroids.  Even last year, in one of the worst economies in history, people were simply …

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Photoshop Tutorial – Part 1 – Levels by Tim Edwards

Hey Pictagers!  My name is Tim Edwards and I’m the Pre QA Supervisor here at Pictage which is just a fancy name for Retouching Supervisor.  As part of our new revamped blog, I’ll be taking you through some lessons on the basics of Photoshop.

For many of you with Photoshop experience, some of these lessons will be nothing new.  But for those of you who aren’t Photoshop wizards yet, I’ll be guiding you through some tips and tricks to help you get the most from your photography.

This week let’s talk about LEVELS.

Levels adjustment is the foundation of all image enhancements.  It can’t make your bad images great (ie: blown out or badly underexposed shots)  but it can definitely make your good images better.  Let’s start with this shot I took on my last trip to Chicago.  It’s not the most scenic shot in the world, but it is a good example of a dull looking photo.

FYI: the steps that I give for this specific photo may not be exactly the same for the photos that you are editing. I will do my best to explain WHY I am performing steps in order to help you make the decisions you need to edit your photos effectively.

Step1 - Open the image in Photoshop and then open the levels adjustment by hitting Ctrl+L.

In the histogram above (the black squiggly mountains that represent the tones and levels in your image) we see in red the black point level, in yellow is the white point level and in blue is the mid-tone slider.

Step 2 - Move the black point to the right in order to maintain rich sturdy blacks.

Black point level: Move the black point level to the left to lighten your black colors and to the right to darken them.

Step 3- Bring the white point up to the right to raise the brightness point of your image.

White point level: Move the white point level to the left to brighten your highlights and to the right to dull them out. (NOTE:  If your image is blown out, this will not bring back the detail in your whites…it will just make your image dull and flat.)

Step 4- Last we boost our mid-tones by moving the slider to the left.

Mid-tone slider: Move the mid-tone slider to the left to lighten your mid-tones and to the right to darken them.

PRO TIP: When adjusting your white and black points, try holding down the ALT key while moving the sliders.  It will show you where your respective black or white points are coming in and help keep you from losing detail!

Here is the before and after photo.

Do you have questions or lesson ideas?  Let me know in the comment section!

If you have a problem image that is giving you headaches, send the image and your issue to

Be sure to let me know if it’s okay to use the image on the Pictage blog as I may want to use it as a teaching tool.

Written By Tim Edwards

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Pictage Podcast with Tasra Dawson

This weeks podcast features Tasra Dawson as she talks about how her life has changed in the last year with the start of her new company, Teen Identity and the development of 

Tasra also talks about how she has been challenged and inspired to create a movement, tasra365.  Tasra and Sara also discuss how to prepare for WPPI and what can help make it successful and manageable.  Get all of this great insight as well as hear about all the inspiration that is spreading though the industry on this weeks podcast.


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Check out Tasra in the Pictage Community here.

WPPI: Women’s Panel

Inspire.Pictage.Com: Transform Your Vision and Outlook

Pictage Blog: Don’t Stop Believing

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Running Your Photography Business & Having a Day Job by Jessica Del Vecchio

Running my own photography business is a dream job.  But it’s not the only one I have.  I have a regular, 40+ hour/week job in a completely unrelated field.  Sound familiar?  At some point, many photographers find themselves working 2 jobs – either they are building up their photography business (and bank account) for the day when they can leave the day job behind or they’ve chosen to do both simultaneously for a variety of reasons.  The trick is not being able to do both – the trick is being able to do both, stay sane, get a normal amount of sleep each night, and enjoy yourself (that includes having a personal life!).

I started out like a lot of photographers – working my day job while building my photography business on evenings and weekends.  For me, when my photography business grew to the point where financially I could leave my …

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5 Tips to Becoming a Successful Photographer (Tip #4) by Sean McLellan

4. Consistency is Key

Make sure you are striving to deliver a complete high quality body of work for each and every one of your clients; not just shooting for one or two “money shots.” Think about it from the bride’s perspective; chances are that your clients have looked through featured galleries on your website of your favorite work; maybe they’ve met you in person and have seen a couple of albums that are the best ones you’ve put together. This is how they view you and your work and this is what they hired you for. They probably aren’t thinking about the 99% of your work they haven’t seen, and how that might not measure up to what you’ve featured.

What happens when you share the images with your clients from their wedding day, and there are one or two shots that match the quality of what you presented before they …

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How to Set Up for Corporate Headshots (Video) by Thomas Lester

Corporate portrait photography isn’t the most glamorous aspect of photography.  The backgrounds are typical, the posing is reserved, and the lighting techniques are far from creative.  However, it can be a very nice income stream for a professional photographer and for a wedding photographer like me, it’s typically a week day shoot so rarely does it conflict with my main income stream.

All it takes is a little bit of gear, a little knowledge of lighting, and a professional attitude.  In my very first video podcast, I’ll be demonstrating my portable corporate head shot set up.  If you have any questions or comments, I’d love to hear them.  Just post them in the comments section below.

Oh, and please excuse my tennis ball obsessed Border Collie, Murphy, who makes several guest appearances during the making of this video.

My Corporate Headshot Setup from Thomas Lester on Vimeo.

Here’s the list of gear used in this video (not including cameras):

2 x Alien Bee’s AB-800

2 x Canon 580 EX II’s

2 x Pocket Wizard Plus II’s

2 x Pocket Wizard FlexTT5′s

1 x Pocket Wizard MiniTT1

1 x Manfroto Tripod (not shown)

1 x Paul Buff Medium Stand

1 x Paul Buff small stand (background light)

1 x Manfroto stand w/ Umbrella and Hotshoe

1 x Manfroto background holder stand

2 x Lastolite backgrounds

1 x 5-in-1 pop out reflector

1 x 24″ x 36″ Paul Buff softbox

1 x 43″ Westcott shoot through umbrella

1 x Sekonic L-358 w/ Pocket Wizard Transmitter

1 x Publix bag with extension cords, power strips, Home Depot clamps, and Duct Tape.

2 x 1/8″ mono audio cables to connect PW’s  to AB-800′s (not shown)

1 x Pork Pie drum throne





By Thomas Lester

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Guess that ISO – A Lesson in Film and Digital Grain Structures by Jared Platt

So I have a little game I first played with Elizabeth Pratt from Canon. The game is called “Guess that ISO”. We are going to play it here today. For those of you who are not professional photographers, ISO is the sensitivity rating of the film or chip in the camera. Lower ISOs are best in bright lighting conditions and higher ISOs allow for proper exposure in low light situations.

Here is the image we are going to work with. It was shot with a Canon 1D Mark IV. This is the final image with various adjustments and increased noise reduction etc. I just wanted you to get a feel for the image we are working with.

The Fine Print:

The zoomed in detail images below have only one adjustment applied. I have to be upfront here, I am not going to show you the original image with no noise reduction because that is not practical, no image is used without a default noise reduction. So, what I am showing you below is the image with absolute “normal” noise reduction in Adobe Lightroom. I have the NR set at 25, witch is the default for Lightroom for basically every camera on the market.

With the fine print out of the way, let’s play.


Look at the grain structure and noise levels and tell me what ISO did I use?

Now for a little lesson on color noise and grain.

In the beginning, was film. Film is made up of millions and millions of floating silver halides (little flex of “want-to-be silvers). These silver halides float in a gelatin emulsion (like jello but harder – made mostly of cow hooves etc…). So, no film image is ever a continuous tone. Even the best film image has a grain structure to it. The image is made up of tiny little randomized dots that, when seen from a distance create the illusion of an image. George Seurat made paintings in this manner, which is known as pointillism. His paintings were constructed from random specks of paint placed in proximity to each other. Colors were mixed, not by blending pigment, rather, several dots of yellow and blue were mixed by the eye to create the illusion of green. As the dots got closer together, the tones became more dense and vice versa as they grew further apart. The further back you stand from a Seurat painting the better and more continuous the tones and colors in the painting appear. If you have ever seen a color newspaper or magazine up close, you have seen a very large and pattern based version of pointillism. Photographic grain (color and black and white) exhibits with the same principles.

Film’s inherent grain structure was a necessary part of the photographic image making from the the 19th through the 20th centuries. We accepted it and grew to love it, because it was the only option available. Slower films, which required brighter light, had less grain and more continuous tones; faster films, which could be shot in lower light situations had more grain and created a more pointillistic effect. We came to see grain as part of the art form. Larger, more prominent grain structures felt gritty and press like. They insinuated “documentary” and “reality”, while tighter, smother grain structures presented a cleaner, cleaner view of the world, so we saw them as more controlled. Landscape photographers and commercial photographers shot this way, so naturally the images were typically more perfect and therefore a little less believable than the gritty “documentary” style images with all that grain.

Originally, photographic emulsions were mixed in only one variety: the grainy, gritty kind. But, with the advancement of the science and the introduction of finer grain structures and faster emulsions, photographers began choosing film speeds, not just to deal with different lighting conditions, but also to create a different mood or feeling in their images. Selecting a 1600 ISO press film for a commercial fashion shoot was a choice specifically made by the photographer to suggest reality, documentary or art! Films were chosen based on their color bias and for their grain structures. Some photographers loved large grain, others loved fine grain. But grain was always a part of the photographic life and we all accepted its existence and learned to manipulate it to our advantage.

With the advent of digital photography as a viable photographic medium, photographers no longer had to accept grain. Unlike film, digital captures are made up of a grid of pixels, and those pixels are so close together that from one point of color or tone to the next there are no gaps. This means it is a truly continuous tone. Digital presented us with a grain-less option that was so clean and so flawless that the visual language began to change. Photographers expected more out or their image making tools and started seeing grain as a flaw in the image as opposed to a beautiful part of it and, to some degree, some clients have rejected that gain as well. Seurat would be agog at our negative reaction to grain in a continuous tone digital age. He went through great pains to create paintings completely out of this grain-like effect and here we come in 1010 thinking that grain is an eye sore? Strange indeed.

While it is great to know that I have the option for grain-less images, the fact still exists, that grain has a purpose in image making and when used well, enhances the photograph. But, one thing digital has not done well, in the past, is grain.

Our love affair with the cleanliness of the digital capture, only lasted in the lower ISOs of the camera. Digital cameras had a problem of color and luminance noise in the higher ISOs. I remember shooting with a Nikon D1x and then a Canon 10D. Both cameras were absolutely worthless at 800 ISO. Even if you could stand the blocky and offensive grain structure, the color noise was so atrocious, you could only keep the file if you were willing to turn it to black and white. Even just 3 years ago, when comparing film to digital, one would have to admit that while the digital capture did a better job at creating a continuous tone in the lower ISOs, films were far superior to digital in the higher ISOs with its beautiful grain structures. If a digital photographer wanted beautiful grain, he would have to shoot his image in a lower ISO and then digitally manipulate the image and render the grain into the image. This is no longer the case…

Recently, camera technology and image software technology together have reduced the color noise and randomized the grain structure in the higher ISOs to the point that a side by side film and digital grain comparison at 800, 1600, 3200 ISO will leave film in the dust for continuous tone and fine grain structure. Our little guess the ISO game proves this point. In a dimly lit room, the Canon 1D Mark IV can record details, brighter than the eye can see them, at a 100th of a second and yet the grain structure is tight and beautiful. It seems that with each new generation of cameras, film looses another unique feature. Beautiful grain in the higher ISOs is the just the latest.

I have never bought into the notion that grain is a negative thing. When I shot film, I loved the grain of 400 TMAX. I loved shooting with Fuji 1600 or Ilford 3200. Now, digital has matched the beauty of those grain structures without any heroic manipulations in photoshop. Say it with me again and again, “grain is beautiful!” And now, in digital we have every option before us: heavy grain, light grain or absolutely no grain. And we don’t even have to change film!

Thanks Canon!

Jared Platt

And the ISO is…

So now, are you ready to know the ISO? 12,800 ISO. I am still astounded. The Mark IV, together with Adobe Lightroom’s standard noise reduction creates a beautiful, tight grain structure with no offending color noise whatsoever. You can not beat that. It this point, every ISO from 50-12,800 is usable in digital without a second thought.

PS. Don’t get on me about Nikon v Canon, or Film v Digital. I’m not judging you if you shoot Nikon or Film. I used to shoot Nikon film cameras. To date, my favorite body I have ever shot with is a the Nikon F5. Film still has its place and still beats the pants off digital when there is no electrical outlets to charge your camera or when it comes to latitude of capture. I’m just talking about where we’ve been and how far we’ve come with respect to grain in photography. Think about it. We’ve come a long way.

Written by Jared Platt

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5 Tips to Becoming A Successful Photographer (Tip #3) by Sean McLellan

3. Networking with Other Vendors

The truth is that ads no longer work like they used to. We’re inundated with them. For real success, you need to be building relationships. And the best part is, the more you help other people, the more they will help you.

I realize that everyone is saying “network” right now, and I feel like the word “networking” has gotten somewhat of a bad feeling attached to it. I think that one of the reasons for this is people are just going through the motions because someone told them to. Often times they don’t really care about making real connections or really helping someone, it’s just about passing out as many business cards as you possibly can. Have you been to a corporate sponsored “networking event” where someone rushes up to you and says “Hi, my name is John, here’s my card, will you refer me?Thanks!” and …

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Photography 101 by Kevin Rubin Pictage CFO

When I joined Pictage last year, I had little knowledge of photography.  Sure, I have had point-and-shoot cameras and played around with Photoshop, but never truly understood the fundamental elements that make good – if not – great images.  Since joining, I have been indoctrinating into the world of photography, spent time with many of our customers, and have developed a strong interest in photography.  So, at PartnerCon in New Orleans – DSLR in hand – I got my first real opportunity to wander the French Quarter and attempt to capture the environment and moments with a greater appreciation for the craft.  While a few of my pictures turned out OK (if I may say so myself), it was solely due to the sheer number of pictures I took.  Sure, I got pointers here and there from extraordinarily-talented photographers, but I realized quickly that I had a ton to learn.

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend Jules Bianchi’s Photography 101 workshop.  The workshop was designed to provide a hands-on introduction to the technical aspects of photography – lighting, composition, aperture, shutter speed, and ISO.  I was able to spend the evening in a small group setting, learning about these elements, how they interact with each other, and ultimately come together to create great images.  While this is elementary to existing photographers, it was an amazing experience for me.  I was captivated quizzing Jules on the images she presented, why she took them in the way she did, what was it about the moment that captivated her, the settings she used, and on and on.  I am fascinated by the details behind the images, so I can learn how to apply the concepts.

I left the workshop with some fun projects to help reinforce the different elements of photography.  The first project that I am really excited to try is the alphabet project – trying to capture the letters of the alphabet in everyday places.  For instance, finding the letter “M” in archways or the letter “I” from a lamp post.  The other project I will explore relates to color and finding objects within a color family, or finding colors that naturally lead to other colors.  A farmers market, with the wide variety of colors in the fruits and vegetables, is a great place to run wild.

So, armed with these projects, I am focusing on the basics…But no matter where you are in your photography, what are you doing to perfect your craft?

Photos courtesy of Jules Bianchi Photography

Written by Kevin Rubin Pictage CFO

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Be the Photographer You Want To Be by Micaela Bensko

Our friends and family love us, they want us to succeed, and they are the first to tell a little white lie to make us feel good about our passion. This may be hard to hear, it’s even difficult to type, because it’s a lesson I had to learn in the beginning and wish I’d had someone to tell me otherwise. The truth is, we all do certain types of photography well in the beginning, but not everything we do is brilliant. If I were you, the first thing I’d do is get away from your family and get new friends…just kidding…

When I first started shooting professionally, my friends had given me a little too much positive feedback that, in a way, worked against me. The problem was that I was only showing my work to friends, and not to seasoned professionals from whom I could learn. I was not very good. Yes I had instinct, but technically I was worlds away from being as good as my friends said I was. I was blind to the reality of the work I had in front of me. It wasn’t until one of my dearest friends, who happened to work in the entertainment industry, sat me down after a headshot shoot of hundreds of images and she said, “these are acceptable, one of them is great, but where is the brilliance?” This was extremely difficult to hear. I believe a glass of wine followed as I wallowed in what I felt was criticism. In reality, it was a wake-up call. If I wanted to not only be successful, but respected as well, I needed to step it up. Every single image I posted had to be pretty darned close to perfection in all of its potential or I shouldn’t put it up at all. So, there began my quest for artistic vision.

What was going to make me stand out from the rest?

In order to have a photography business that constantly moves forward, accumulates income, and enhances your quality of life, you need to absolutely accept that photography is not simply a hobby any longer. It must be the primary focus above anything else in your life except for family. All day, every day, every waking moment should find you curious about the world in which you live and how you can capture those moments in a unique way. You need to not only think, but live outside of the box of normalcy. When others are going to lunch, you are developing your website, your blog, watching Photoshop tutorials, creating your own actions, learning Lightroom, playing in Bridge, mastering images, shooting friends for free, marketing complimentary services to elementary schools, and shooting your children’s teachers’ families as holiday gifts for all they do. When you have done these things a hundred times, do them again, like a mantra.

Your life is about creating imagery, figuring out the market you wish to target, and discovering what you are truly gifted at whether it’s studio photography, portrait, weddings, editorial. This, by the way can take years to sort out. The only way to truly know where your gift lies, is to do any and every job that comes along whether it seems interesting or not. Say yes to all and work your tail off to do it right. Keep your pricing reasonable, and as soon as you have that “Aha” moment, of where you know you really are that good, that’s when you focus on a field, put on your seat belt, and get ready for a wild ride. They say it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become a star at anything. With that in mind, don’t look at this as a sprint. You are in the marathon of your creative psyche and this is a journey which will hopefully last a lifetime (or until you are ready to retire.) Pace yourself, but understand that no-matter how much you love photography, there is somebody around the corner who loves it more, who is fresher and more willing to pay their dues.

The greatest gift you can give yourself, is to find a mentor. Locate a successful photographer through a friend in your area. Most people can offer a personal referral to someone they know who has made a go of their photography business. If they seem successful, there are various reasons why, but one of the most common threads is that they’ve learned the art of the edit, the market, and customer service. They’ve learned the practice of sorting through images after a shoot and listening to their gut reaction as to whether an image is good or not, what stirred them upon viewing it. They’ve learned through the reactions of other professionals what is truly a brilliant image, or solid photograph, and what is a smart image to post as it will provide revenue (as these can be two completely different things).

The bottom line is, whether or not you can build a career as a photographer is solely up to you and your actions. If you keep moving forward, if people continue to be attracted to your work, if you open yourself to the mentorship of those who have gone before, and have the willingness to embrace your flaws and give them the ultimate extreme makeover, then yes, you can become the person on the street who is “the photographer”.

To be quite frank, it wasn’t until not too long ago, when I looked down at my beaten, toughened, sore, achy knuckles…when I realized the inner cradle of my right thumb is now chronically black from the camera body, my skin callused like a dancer’s foot, and my hands showing the labors of my love, when I realized that yes, now, I can finally and wholeheartedly say to myself, “I am a photographer”.



Written by Micaela Bensko

Photos courtesy of Micaela Bensko Photography

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