Reflecting on first corporate photoshoot

Highstreet team

In my previous post on this topic I discussed the preparation of my first corporate photoshoot. Now, a couple of days after the photoshoot, I want to reflect on it.

When I arrived we discussed again the pictures they had in mind. Right after that the team had a discussion about the status of a new product. I took some pictures to capture the atmosphere: commitment, involvement, teamwork.

Later we took a small tour outside in the park to decide about the group picture and the picture of the owners. We decided to take the group picture on a metal bridge in the park (28-300mm lens). So, it would be the group, some bushes, and the bridge, expressing a man-made industrial product in a natural environment. 

For the owners of Highstreet Mobile, we decided to shoot them in front of red bricks of an old building (their company is located in this building), standing informally on a slope with a handrail, expressing “joyful climbing to the top through innovation”.

Back in the office I set up the three lighting stands and decided about the location in the office to take the head-shoulders pictures (70-200mm lens). In the background you could see the office as it is, expressing an informal setup of the office of a startup.

Photographer in action

Looking  back, for me there were two main challenges:

  • Lightening of office First, the team members often used blinds to avoid outside light on their computer screens, so I had to use flashes to get high quality pictures. Second,  the ceiling was low which made it difficult to use it as reflector; you could see the white spots of the flashes in the pictures (14-35mm lens). I was not able to get enough diffuse light in the whole area where the group was sitting. I have not found a solution for that.
  • Getting the right atmosphere The atmosphere I encountered was one of serious commitment to their new products and one of team effort to address challenges. My pictures express that. The question is whether these pictures help in recruiting new people. I have learnt from this photoshoot that my style of photography, especially for a group of people, comes closer to capturing the atmosphere and not of creating one. 

I also enjoyed the postprocessing to further improve the high quality pictures that came out of my camera (D800). It took a bit more effort than usual, because there was a feedback loop to select the right pictures and to crop them for the intended usage.

On the whole, I can say that it was quite a challenge for me, and I enjoyed it. Especially, the interaction with the youngsters that never experienced a photoshoot before. 

Photoshoot for Crocheting Webshop

Last week my daughter asked me to take some pictures of crocheting she makes and sells via her Etsy webshop, DC crochet Design. She was facing some shortcomings of smartphones to do product photography. So, yesterday I grabbed my equipment and turned one of our bedrooms into a small photo studio. I have done something similar before so the first steps were easy.

  • To put all the focus on the crocheting I used white paper as a background. I used the same equipment as for model shooting, only I used a more narrow roll of paper.
  • To avoid sharp shadows I used two compact flashes flashing from two different sides through white umbrellas (TTL-mode). 
  • To avoid incoming daylight I set the Exposure Time to 1/160th of a second.

This is the way it looked like.

Studio for product photography

As a camera I used my Nikon D800 and the Nikkor 28-300mm as a lens. I set the Commander Mode such that the two compact flashes on the side flashed and that the built-in flash did not.
During the shoot my daughter and I checked the pictures to make sure that things were working out the way we wanted it. Here are some of the challenges I was facing:

  • The white background is not white at all Compact flashes are of course not as powerful as studio flashes. I have only one studio flash, so I decided to use two almost identical compact flashes. In Lightroom it is very simple with the adjustment brush to increase the exposure to make sure that the white background is really white.
    White background puts focus on crocheting
  • Not the whole embroidery is sharp In most of the pictures the whole crocheting had the same distance from the camera. In this case f/8 suffices. However, I did not realise that the Depth of Field was pretty small. Afterwards, I calculated that at 115 mm and with f/8 or f/10 the DoF is only a few centimeters. Too small as you can see here. The bottom of the iPhone is not sharp.
    Too small DoF to get the whole crocheting sharp

    From this I learned that I have to shoot a bit further away, with a wider angle than 115mm (for example, 50mm, and crop later), and at least f/16 or f/22 (all increase DoF).
  • Colours are not identical to original I fiddled around a bit with the  temperature to match the colours of the original.
    Slightly lower temperature to get the right colour

So, next time I am better prepared.

Use Face Recognition for searching

Face Recognition

In whatever way we store our pictures we are always faced with a very troublesome search if we are looking for a pictures of a particular person, or of several persons combined in one picture. In the past we had to tag all the pictures by hand to indicate which relevant persons were in the picture. In practice, this was too cumbersome. So, especially when we are busy, this is often not done.
However, a couple of years ago Face Recognition (FR) became feasible; it is becoming more and more popular, with many different applications. Also, the quality is improving although it is still far from perfect. FR software extracts special features from a picture or part of a picture. Based on these features it decided whether the picture contains a face and it can also distinguish different faces. 
The algorithms that are used are very good to distinguish the various faces in the pictures. And at the same time they have to be very fast, to process a lot of pictures in a short time. On the surface, you might think that these algorithms are very intelligent, however, they just do mathematical computations on the pixels. Human beings use their intelligence to design these algorithms. Also, giving the faces the name of the corresponding person has to be done by hand. 
Only one face is recognized

If I look at the results, on the one hand, I am very impressed. With sometimes little information FR recognizes faces and is even able to identify that faces belong to the same person at different ages. On the other hand, there are also quite a bit of false hits: wrong person,  no face detection when there is a person, or face detection when there is no face. 
There are no faces

For picture handling I use Photo Mechanic and for image processing I use Adobe Lightroom. In Photo Mechanic I want to be able to search for persons, however, it does not have FR. Lightroom, on the other hand, has this facility. So, in practice, when processing images I let Lightroom identify the faces. It does this very fast. When exporting the pictures to DNG, the persons recognized are included in the DNG files. Allowing Photo Mechanic to search for persons. They are listed under Persons shown). 
So, now I can search for a person or persons appearing together in a picture.  I am very pleased with this set up. It saves me a lot of time.
Stock Images

Rotterdam Central Station

The Dutch Railways realises that railway stations form an important part of the center of cities. I guess that is one of the reasons that the architecture of the railway stations is regarded as extremely important. Rotterdam Central Station is no exception. It was officially opened in March 2014. A year later I took this picture.

Central Station Rotterdam
© Peter Apers | Dreamstime Stock Photos

It is one of my best selling pictures, especially in 2015. The most recent sales was this week. Below the original picture, it was taken with my Nikkor 16-35mm lens (settings: 16mm, f/4, 1/400sec, ISO 100). Especially, the wide-angle setting gives the pointy shape of the building special attention. 
Rotterdam Central Station: original picture

As you can see, I did quite a bit of post-processing:

  • The diagonal roof line is an essential characteristic of the building, so I cropped the picture to map the roof line close to the diagonal line of the picture. It makes the picture a lot stronger. The additional advantage was that I got rid of the glass building on the right (it distracts).
  • As you can imagine, I took a lot of pictures of this building. In the end, I chose the one with the person in front. It gives depth and it leads your eyes to switch between the shape of the station and him.
  • Last, I made the picture more lively: blue sky and yellow in the building. Especially the diagonal roof lost its color because of various shadows. 

Also inside it is a nice building, definitely worthwhile to pay a visit.

Central Station Rotterdam
© Peter Apers | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Rotterdam is famous for its architectural innovations. Here you will find more pictures of Rotterdam and here a post about it. Enjoy!
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Sunset at Noordwijk aan Zee

The colourful sky is one of the most fascinating scenes to take a picture of. Quite often people start to shoot too early, resulting in a very dominating orange ball called the sun. I prefer to start when the sun is almost disappearing behind the horizon. Then the sky and the sun are in balance and the clouds in the sky get an orange backlight.

Sunset North Sea, the Netherlands
© Peter Apers | Dreamstime Stock Photos

The above picture was taken at roughly 22:00 hours at the end of May along the coast of Noordwijk aan Zee, the Netherlands. Right at the time of the sunset. Just a few minutes later the sun had completely disappeared. 
What makes this picture special is of course the shape of the clouds and the way they are lighted. Some are dark and others are orange backlighted. Also the texture of the clouds adds to the special atmosphere of the evening. Furthermore, there is a subtle orange glow on the water. 
The picture was taken with the zoomlens set at 28mm, shutter speed 1/80th of a second, aperture f/5, and ISO 100. Below you see the unprocessed NEF version. It is not very appealing.

NEF version of sunset

In Adobe Lightroom 6 I did the following:

  • Lightroom automatically set the  temperature to 4900 (I did not change it)
  • set the correction profile for the lens I used (Nikkor 28-300mm)
  • set liveliness to +68
  • set saturation to +2
  • set the horizon straight
  • decreased locally the highlight caused by the sun.

The rest remained the same. This makes the picture much more appealing without overdoing is. It is important to only make subtle changes.
Here you will find more of my photo albums. If you are interested in having this picture on canvas, please click here.
The picture got accepted by Dreamstime within 2 days. 
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My Workflow: an update

In the previous blog on my workflow, I mentioned that I was not too enthusiastic about View NX2, because it sometimes freezes. So, since half a year I use Lightroom 6. Here is an update of my workflow.
Ingest  For managing the pictures I use Photomechanic 5. With its IPTC Stationary I fill in the Photographer’s field including copyright,  and I give a short description of the topic and the location. Furthermore,  I change the name of the picture into yyyymmdd_xxxx. The xxxx stand for a four digit counter. I expect not to make more than 9999 pictures per day. They are temporarily stored in the map Workspace with a submap with the date of the ingest.
Backup The next step is to make a copy of the NEF files to an external harddisk using Photomechanic 5. Sync Pro copies all of pictures (NEF and jpg) that are changed the last hour to my NAS.  Once a week a backup of this year’s NEFs from my Synology NAS to Amazon Glacier in Ireland is made. After the initial backup everything is automated. Once a month I make an incremental backup on an external harddisk that I take to my office at the university.
GPS If the location of the pictures is important I use my own GPS. Before using it I check the time of the GPS and of the camera (especially in another time zone this is important and saves a lot of time). I then use Photomechanic 5 to determine the location based on time matching between the exposure time and the times of the track. This is done in one command for a whole set of pictures.
5-star scan Depending on the number of pictures and the goal I use different strategies. For a photoshoot or a special trip abroad (a lot of pictures) I tried to identify as quickly as possible the 5-star pictures to submit to Dreamstime. For an album of myself of less important trips the storyline might me more important so I also include some pictures that did not make it to the 5-star category. Sometimes I do this before importing in Lightroom, sometimes after exporting DNG.
Importing in LR After the import in Lightroom 6 I set — in Library mode — the White Balance to the right WB, and some presets (LR or user defined) dependent on the kind of pictures. I do this for all pictures at once.
Processing in LR Then I look at the individual pictures and adjust, for example, Exposure, Contrast etc. In Lightroom 6 I can also do some more advanced processing such as: remove dust spots, brighten or darken specific parts of the picture, crop etc. It has many more tools to finetune the picture. Except for the import I am quite happy with Lightroom 6. After going through all the pictures, I export them as DNG. Lightroom 6 is a very powerful tool, so I hardly use Photoshop anymore.
Photoshop For very advanced processing, like for pictures of a photoshoot, I use Photoshop to do some magic with layers. It is a perfect tool that can do everything in often too many ways. Most of the time I search Youtube for finding the right tutorial, for example, for brightening the white of the eyes.
Producing JPG With Photomechanic 5 I produce the final JPG files. For pictures that are submitted to Dreamstime I use its FTP-facility for immediate upload.
Galleries For galeries I use jAlbum. It is a very convenient tool for making simple or very advanced galeries. Many skins are available.
Final storage Most recent pictures are on the internal harddisk of my Apple iMac (others are on an external G-drive). Within the map Pictures I make submaps like Trips, Photoshoots, Happenings, Family etc. Within those maps I make submaps with a name and a date (in that order; I like pictures on the same topic to be grouped). Knowing from experience there is no best way to store files, therefore I very much rely on the search facility of Photomechanic 5. A very fast software tool.
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Be selective

City of Amersfoort, the Netherlands
City of Amersfoort, the Netherlands

Nowadays it is quite easy to make hundreds of pictures and put them on the internet. You can find these type of pictures everywhere and of course they have their purpose, however, with a little bit more effort it is quite easy to improve them.
When I started submitting pictures to Dreamstime I found out that half of my pictures were not good enough. Besides that some of them were of no interest as commercial stock, most of the refusals had some issues:

  • Poor composition Eyes are drawn to specific parts of a picture. There is the Rule of Thirds saying that the important objects in your pictures should be at the grid point of a 3-by-3 grid. From a visual point of view it makes the picture more pleasing and interesting. It has a lot to do with the way eyes wonder over the picture. For example, bright or dark spots on the edge will pull your eyes off the picture. Rule of Thirds is a good way to get started, however, there are also approaches based on visual mass and (circular) flow of your eyes. In a future blog I will come back to this (see also this blog).
  • Out of focus  This may be caused by several reasons. One is that if you are in a hurry you do not correctly focus on the object. Another one is that the depth-of-field (DOF) is too small causing some parts of important objects to be out of focus. If there is not enough light, do not open the lens, instead increase the ISO.
  • Incorrect lightning Parts of the picture might be over- or underexposed. For example, dark buildings and a very bright sky. This means that details have disappeared in the lighter or darker parts. If the dynamic range of your camera is large enough you may still correct this by lowering the Highlights and getting more lights in the Shadows. Otherwise, avoid these kind of situations.
  • Distorted pixels This term is used quite often in the Dreamstime community. The definition is given by examples. Distorted pixels do not exist in your camera, either a pixels works or not. Looking at the examples, the main reason is overprocessing the picture: too much sharpening., too much contrast. The algorithms are not always able to handle this resulting in blurred pixels in your pictures, or outliers as far as color is concerned.
  • Lens fringing When you enlarge the picture to 100% you may see purple or green lines on lines with high contrast. This is caused by the lens, which is sometimes not able to project light of different wave lengths to the right position. Lightroom has a simple way to remove this. Please always check at 100%.
  • Logos For Royalty Free pictures all logos and brand names have to be removed. It is also possible to submit as Editorial picture, the question is of course whether it is of any value as Editorial picture. Again, check at 100% because small logo on somebody’s watch is overseen quite easily.
  • Identifiable persons For Royalty Free pictures for all identifiable persons you need a Model Release Document, which provides information about the model and the fact that the model agrees that the pictures are sold.

Sacred grounds of Yungay and snow-capped Huascar‡n during sunset, Peru
Sacred grounds of Yungay and snow-capped Huascar‡n during sunset, Peru

Nowadays I am more aware of the above issues. I have learnt quite a lot from the refusals. I hope you will do the same.  At the same time, I do not always agree with the editors. Above and on the left two of my recent refusals (poor composition). Dreamstime has the advantage to ask for a second opinion. This past year my acceptance rate is well above 90%. Please enjoy all my pictures at Dreamstime.
Stock Images

Post-processing: quite a difference

Before

Above you see  the original NEF and the processed JPG of a picture taken in Peru that is submitted to Dreamstime.
After coming home of a very inspiring trip to Peru I was really looking forward to seeing the results on my 27″ iMAC. Of course, I had a first glimp during the trip with the HyperDrive ColorSpace UDMA2, however, this was just to make sure that the backup worked.
Seeing the NEFs, I was quite disappointed. They lacked vibrance, I missed all the nice colors I remembered. Apparently, the very strong, unfiltered sun makes the colors bleak. Luckily, Adobe LightRoom can help.
Here are the steps I used to post-process the picture in Adobe LightRoom 6.1.1 (apologies for the Dutch):
Schermafbeelding 2015-08-23 om 11.36.58

  • Set the White Balance to Daytime
  • Sharpen the picture a bit
  • Set the Lens Correction for the specific lens I used (Nikon 28-300mm); this removes the dark corners which are mainly visible in the blue sky.
  • Reduce Highlights to get more balance between the highlights and the shadows
  • Increase Shadows to open up the dark areas
  • Get more colors by increasing Vibrance and Saturation
  • Increase Contrast to make the picture more vivid
  • Highlight the snow on the mountains by increasing Whites
  • Increase or decrease the Lightning to finalize the picture

Of course, for most of them there is no specific order. You change the settings a bit to get the result you have in mind. Below you see the result.

After

For more pictures of Peru accepted by Dreamstime, click here. Enjoy!
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Sacsayhuamán puzzles me

Sacsayhuaman, archeological Inca site
© Peter Apers | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Despite the advice to take a rest when arriving at Cuzco by airplane because of the altitude (3400 meter), we immediatly went to Sacsayhuamán. It is an impressive archeological Inca site, a little bit above Cuzco. Although I have been there several times, the big carved stone walls remain a puzzle. How were these stones transported, how were they carved (they have many dimensions and there is no space to stick something between them), and how did they survive earthquakes?
While being puzzled I was thinking about taking pictures of a site that has been photographed so often. Here are some of the challenges. At this altitude the sun is really burning also in winter. Wearing a hat to keep your head cool is essential. Also take a lot of water. Walking around on these sites with heavy equipment in a burning sun takes a lot of energy. Furthermore, taking pictures during a tour with family and friends surrounded by other tourists limits the opportunities to extensively explore the sites. And, finally, at 18:00 hours the light goes out rather abruptly. At the same time, all these limitations stimulate creativity.
I was happy I had taken my 28-300mm zoomlens. Without changing lenses (I do not like to change lenses because of the dust in Peru), I could easily change from wide-angle to telezoom. During most of the time there was more than enough light to have a large depth of field without sacrificing the ISO.
Back home, while processing the pictures, I realized that the burning sun made the pictures look a bit bleak. With Lightroom I had to bring the colors I remembered back by adding some contrast,  vibrance, and saturation. Here are the results.

My Workflow: trying to structure the process

Every photographer has his own way of handling pictures and using his own software tools to do so. Here I will describe my workflow.
Ingest  For managing the pictures I use Photomechanic 5. With its IPTC Stationary I fill in the Photographer’s field including copyright,  and I give a short description of the topic and the location. Furthermore,  I change the name of the picture into yyyymmdd_xxxx. The xxxx stand for a four digit counter. I expect not to make more than 9999 pictures per day. They are temporarily stored in the map Workspace with a submap with the date of the ingest.
Backup The next step is to make a copy of the NEF files to an external harddisk using Photomechanic 5. Sync Pro copies all of pictures (NEF and jpg) that are changed the last hour to my NAS.  Once a week a backup from my Synology NAS to Amazon Glacier in Ireland is made.   After the initial backup everything is automated.
GPS If the location of the pictures is important I use my own GPS. Before using it I check the time of the GPS and of the camera (especially in another time zone this is important and saves a lot of time). I then use View NX 2 to determine the location based on time matching between the exposure time and the times of the track. This is done in one command for a whole set of pictures.
5-star scan Depending on the number of pictures and the goal I use different strategies. For a photoshoot or a special trip abroad (a lot of pictures) I tried to identify as quickly as possible the 5-star pictures to submit to Dreamstime. For an album of myself of less important trips the storyline might me more important so I also include some pictures that did not make it to the 5-star category.
First processing scan The first processing is done with View NX 2. For the selected pictures I set  White Balance to the right WB, Sharpening to 3, Color Enhancement to a low value that is appropriate. Although I regularly use this tool, I am not overly enthusiastic because it sometimes freezes while processing a whole batch of pictures.
Second processing scan In the second scan I look at the individual pictures and adjust, for example, Exposure, Contrast etc. For more advanced processing I open Capture NX2, to remove dust spots, brightening/darkening specific parts of the picture, cropping etc. It has many more tools to finetune the picture. Although it does not have the most user-friendly interface, it is a very helpful tool.
Photoshop For very advanced processing, like for pictures of a photoshoot, I use Photoshop to do some magic with layers. It is a perfect tool that can do everything in often too many ways. Most of the time I search Youtube for finding the right tutorial, for example, for brightening the white of the eyes. In this case I use View NX 2 to produce TIFF files, which I then process with Photoshop and let it produce JPG.
Producing JPG With Photomechanic 5 I produce the final jpg files. For pictures that are submitted to Dreamstime I use its FTP-facility for immediately upload.
Galleries For galeries I use jAlbum. It is a very convenient tool for making simple or very advanced galeries. Many skins are available.
Final storage Most pictures are on the internal harddisk of my Apple iMac. Within the map Pictures I make submaps like Trips, Photoshoots, Happenings, Family etc. Within those maps I make submaps with a name and a date (in that order; I like pictures on the same topic to be grouped). Knowing from experience there is no best way to store files, therefore I very much rely on the search facility of Photomechanic 5. A very fast software tool.
Here is an update on this blog.