Over the summer I decided to make a few renovations to my editing setup. My Retina Display MacBook is a thing of beauty and it’s been awesome to finally use a computer that keeps up with me. The crystal clear display makes it easy to spot imperfections in my images but there’s only so much you can comfortably fit on a 15 inch screen at the same time. So as a business expense I purchased a 27 inch Dell IPS monitor.

There is no right or wrong way to go about editing images, some people enjoy two monitors, I enjoy using one. However I do sort of have the best of both worlds by having my monitor connected as an external display through my laptop. Technically it’s a dual display setup, but rarely do I find the need to use both at the same time other than to run down my laptop battery.

Dual Display

From time to time I find myself leaving iTunes open on one display and Photoshop on the other. This is more of a lazy man’s setup than anything else. If I was editing video and needed to look at images and an editing timeline, then I would certainly prefer two monitors.

Initially I thought a larger display would serve no purpose and would be inferior to the Retina Display, not the case at all. There is a slight difference between the two, but I greatly prefer having a big 27 inch display over a 15 inch any day. Everything is nice and in your face and editing has become a lot easier on the eyes. My laptop gets a lot of wear and tear from heading back and forth to school and traveling to and from photo shoots. My desktop monitor has stayed in pristine conditions since I bought it in June because I’m not picking it up and moving it all the time.

Of course I would recommend buying a big monitor if you’re planning on doing any long term editing but this type of gear is mainly just a personal preference. Find what works for you.



I’ve shot a lot of 35mm for my school projects over the past year or two, and while it was fun, it was also very time consuming. Trying to fit time to shoot, develop and print within one week’s time span is no small task. Shooting and printing film are two processes that could take an almost unmeasurable amount of time if you don’t have an aggressive deadline. In the shuffle of trying to get assignments done and not knowing if I’ve even got anything to print while my film is in the can developing often just becomes a giant source of stress for me. Somewhere in between all the shooting and developing for assignments the novelty of 35mm gets lost.

Every time I was under the gun in the darkroom printing I realized that I would already be done if I had been able to shoot my DSLR for the assignment. 35mm film just feels so inferior to me because I’m giving up so much control over how my final image actually looks. There’s film purists, of course, that would strongly disagree with me, “but you can dodge and burn” that’s great, but I feel so much fluidity within a computer, within Photoshop and Lightroom, that I just get frustrated at how long it sometimes takes to nail a simple dodge or burn in a darkroom. I do however, thoroughly enjoy the metallic texture and heavy solidness of my Nikon FM2 film camera. I like the process of shooting film, holding the negatives, holding the final prints, and feeling like I’ve created something tangible and real. For me though, 35mm film will never be able to release itself from the inferior stranglehold that a digital workflow has on it in my eyes.

This past week I was able to photograph with the Mamiya M645 medium format camera. While I’ve never been a huge fan of shooting film, medium format holds its own. Unlike 35mm, medium format doesn’t have a digital comparison for me yet. There are digital medium format cameras, but not in the average consumer or even semi-pro market. Digital medium format cameras are sort of the odd man out, since they are only going to be more and more megapixels added to standard full-frame DSLRs, eventually there will be no recognizable difference between the two if there isn’t already. Medium format film cameras, like the Mamiya I shot this past week, are special because it’s a completely different experience from 35mm.

The Mamiya M645 w/80mm prime lens attached, photographed on the mouse pad in front of my dorm room window.

The Mamiya is a little larger, a little more mechanical and different than any 35mm I’ve shot. For a guy with big hands it’s a lot easier to handle in every aspect, I don’t feel like I’m going to break anything or drop negatives, and the prints look a little nicer, a little more detailed.


I can’t quite describe what it is about medium format but if I had to build a darkroom, it wouldn’t be for 35mm it would be for medium format. If I want shoot 35, I’ll use a DSLR, if I want to shoot film, I’m going to go with the types of cameras that give me a completely different photographic experience than digital does. That’s one of the only things film has going for it, it’s different, I might not have as much control over the end product, but damn if I didn’t have more fun shooting a medium format camera than any other camera.

I also shot a Hasselblad 500CM which is the real reason behind this blog post I just didn’t have time to take a few photographs of it when I was in the studio. I’m glad we didn’t make a semester out of shooting medium format though. At the end of two different assignments on medium format, I still find it interesting, at the end of a semester of assignments I don’t know if I could say the same. At least I can leave a little bit of mystery for the next time I shoot medium format, leave a few stones unturned for next time.


Tracking progress is one of my favorite things and it’s honestly a little bit addicting. Crossing things off a to-do list is a very satisfying feeling. At the end of the day I can say most of the time, “Well, I did this, this and this” three things usually. Having a smartphone makes tracking progress extremely fun and easy.

I’ve found a couple apps that take my to-do lists to the next level. If I have a book I’m reading it’s probably written down in a to-do list, that works fine until all the things on the list are done, then the list usually gets thrown out. How do I track what I’m reading over a long period of time? Well there’s an app for that.


This is an app for the iPhone that allows you to scan the barcodes of all the books in your library and keep them cataloged and up to date in your phone. This is great because it gets somewhat difficult to remember what books you’ve read and what ones you haven’t if you have a lot of books. With this app you can rate books, and mark them as read, unread, or in progress. Now I know exactly what I’ve read and what I haven’t. This is a very niche application but it’s extremely useful.

My Movies for Iphone Pro

I liked iBookshelf so much I decided to see what the appstore had for DVD cataloging applications. Turns out there’s just the thing. My Movies for iPhone Pro basically does the same things as iBookshelf but with movies. You can scan the barcodes of DVDs and Blu-Rays very quickly although the app did crash on me twice while I was scanning our staggering movie collection, it was expected.

The beauty of this app is that not only do I know what movies I own which makes buying more of them easier, but I can filter the list by actor and rating, search each film on IMDB directly from the catalog, and track when I last saw each film. It’s another niche program but it is very useful, not entirely necessary, but nice to have if you have a lot of movies. Millions of people use iTunes to catalog their CD and digital music libraries, it seems fitting to have applications for books and movies as well.


My home studio is still in its first steps. I love my space but for a studio workspace it is somewhat small. It’s really not much bigger than that of my college dorm, no height, no width, somewhere there has to be a compromise.

The trade-off in such a small setup is that I cannot easily separate lighting on my backdrops from the lighting that hits the model. This has always been a friendly reminder to keep it simple, don’t use too many lights, or at least, don’t use more than you really need. Since there isn’t much space to move away from the backdrops we have to account for backdrop spillage from the key lights. The main light, whether I want it to or not will ultimately end up lighting part of the backdrop while also lighting the model.

For both white and grey seamless backdrop papers, the backdrop will be lit fairly well from the key light but you will have to account for shadows from the model. There is one work around that I entertain and that is the use of the black seamless backdrop.


Normally, a black seamless backdrop would not have any place in a regular studio if space was not an issue. Simply move the subject and all lights backward away from your seamless backdrop, any color, any size, after a few more feet the light will fall off before it is able to reflect off of the backdrop. Voila, a black backdrop, anytime, anywhere. But, with the use of a black seamless, all light hitting it is absorbed and the same effect is created.

The science behind this lies in the use of the Zone System. The Zone System at its core explains that there is a scale a tonal values from black to white, 0-X, that account for all the different light levels, including those represented in photographs. It would appear that the Zone System has no place and should be disregarded until you also notice that the reflective light meter that is built into a camera measures for an exposure at an 18% Zone V middle gray, the same as the gray seamless paper. A black seamless is exactly five stops less than the middle gray seamless, meaning that it will handle five stops more light spilling onto it before it looks like the gray seamless. This is excellent for a small working area.

Sounds complicated but it’s really not, every light meter in every camera has always measured for a middle gray. Photograph a white wall and it doesn’t look quite as bright as it should be, because white sits a few zones above zone V and the exposure must be changed accordingly based on the reading. Photographing a white wall without changing exposure up a couple stops will leave the wall rendering closer to a middle gray tone, the light meter is just doing its job.

In short, the black seamless in a small workspace will give me more options with lighting because I don’t have to worry about lighting the background when I don’t mean to. At the same time, a completely black backdrop makes it easier to change out to something else in post production.


If you’re late on doing your Christmas shopping for your family’s own aspiring photographer, step aside, I’ve got you covered.

Accurate color is something that is often assumed in a digital workflow. It’s easy to think that the colors you are seeing on your computer screen are true, because after all, it is a computer screen and it’s purpose is to display color. However, this is quite seldom the case with a factory default setup.

For example, if you’ve ever gone to purchase a new TV, there’s usually a whole lineup of the store’s televisions in a row for customer viewing. From here, the customer can look at each system and divine which one they think looks the best. Of course, most people will pick the one where the colors are vivid. Everything on the screen looks so real because it pops out at you from the rest of the televisions which seem to look flat or muted. In truth, all of these televisions can look just as good as their competitors but most fall short because they just don’t seem to have that “out of the box” pop that yours does.

This happens because most TV settings are eyeballed until the viewer deems them “good”. A factory preset can also get colors “in the ballpark” but since it is a preset it most likely is not perfect across all the TVs created. If you’ve ever ordered something that was “dead on arrival” or had dead pixels, you know that not all TVs are perfectly identical out of the box even if they are all made to be the same.

The same is true for computer screens. If you edit pictures, this is a big deal because the only information you have to base your adjustments on is what the screen is showing you. If the screen is not accurate, you could make adjustments that negatively affect the aesthetic of your photographs and result in something that will only look right on your monitor and “wrong” on any other monitor or in any other format such as a print.

The solution comes in the form of a colorimeter. A colorimeter measures color. Using a colorimeter  with its accompanying software can create a set of colors on a display that complies with an industry standard. The picture below shows how a colorimeter works, it hangs over the front of a computer’s display and measures the colors displayed by the software. The software then takes the data read by the colorimeter and makes a color profile for display based on the similarities and differences between the readings from the hardware and the industry standard values used for reference in the software.

Screen Shot 2013-12-19 at 10.22.15 PM

Sounds complicated but it’s not. It takes about ten minutes using the included software’s step by step instructions and the hard parts are completely automated by the computer. The resulting, now calibrated display, will be very very close to a “what you see is what you get” level of accuracy.

At the same time though it’s important to note that you cannot do this type of calibration by quote unquote “eyeballing it”. This is because the brain and the human eye work together to compensate for changing colors so that different types of ambient light can look very similar, like a continuous AUTOWB in a camera.

Next week’s post is going to be about color, flash and white balance so I will go into more detail on eyes and how they interpret color later. For now, we can just chalk it up to evolution and the importance of not get eaten as opposed to seeing accurate color all the time.

If you have the money and you edit your pictures in any way then I would highly recommend getting a monitor calibration system as soon as you can. There are so many available it may be difficult to choose which one to purchase. I am a personal advocate and user of Datacolor’s SpyderPro line of colorimeters, the newest of which is available here. It is best to own your own colorimeter as the colors on a monitor can change as it ages so a recalibration should be in order about every week or two.

I love colorimeters, the level of accuracy and professionalism they bring to a digital workflow is amazing and I only wish I had known about their existence sooner.

You know what the best part of all of this is? There are even colorimeters for TVs.

See you next week!


A few years back I came across a website with a handy tool called Virtual Lighting Studio. I didn’t really have much use for it at the time, but I have since found it very fun to play around with.

As the name suggests, Virtual Lighting Studio is just that. It’s a web browser application in which you can use a few different types of studio lights and modifiers to test on a 3D computer generated head.

3D Head - Virtual Lighting Studio

On top of this, after creating a portrait using at least one light, you can switch from the head to a lighting diagram that changes as you change position of your lights. Just click the square above the four available 3D model heads and you can see your lighting setup from a bird’s eye view.

Lighting Diagram - Virtual Lighting Studio

In this application you can have up to six studio lights available to you at all times with four possible modifiers.

Lighting Mods - Virtual Lighting Studio

Each light can be placed between 1/2 a meter and 2-3 meters away from the subject and the 3D model updates with each mouse click. Lights can be moved around and colored with gels making things very realistic although not perfect. Lights can only be used on the model, not the background, which will stay a solid black or white depending on the use of the Ambient exposure buttons.

Lights - Virtual Lighting Studio

What I think is most helpful with this application is the ability to save out the model and diagram. Just click on one of the aperture symbols on the right-hand side of the page to capture your setup and right click to save.

Saving Your Setup - Virtual Lighting Studio

Save the image wherever you like and you’ll be able to come back to one of your setups whenever you like. here’s this setup saved into a file on my desktop. The model and diagram are not cropped together, this is straight off the “save as” command on the website.

Final Output Image - Virtual Lighting Studio

While there are a few drawbacks to this gadget, like having only a handful of 3D model heads to light facing front, and not being able to control or light the background, overall it seems pretty slick for just quickly roughing out a lighting setup. With this you can at least get a basic handle on portrait lighting and go to the studio with a rough idea in mind. So often it’s easy to become sidetracked or not stick to an original idea and having something tangible like this to bring with you smooths things out a bit.

New images in the works


A few days ago a Kickstarter project called MagMod came into being. I’ll save the down and dirty details for the related article down below, I’d just like to point a few things out about this killer project.

What’s strange to me is how brutally innovative this Kickstarter project is, when I saw the funding pass 100K, I thought, “Why has it taken this long for someone to make a product like this?” I still have no answers to my own question.

The reason MagMod is getting so much attention is because the invention seems so simple, obviously magnets should be used to attach modifiers to a speedlite. Obviously the modifiers should be able to stack on top of each other. It seems so clear that this is the way flash modifiers should have been from the beginning. I’ll be keeping an eye on the progress of this project as will many many other photographers who would like to bring their flash modifiers to the next level.

This is a classic example of a man seeing something that could be done better and doing it much better in every single way.


On any shoot where I’m not just running and gunning, I tend to have my laptop setup for tethered capturing. Tethered capture is when you have your camera connected to your computer during a photo shoot and the files transfer directly onto the hard drive. Initially I thought this would be more of a hassle with cables and setting up a connection with the computer, but Lightroom 4 makes it easy.
Before I explain exactly how to go about tethered capture, I’ll explain some of the benefits:

-Instant image review, once a photograph is taken it is transferred directly to your computer where you can make all the same adjustments that would after transferring from a memory card.

-Better in-camera adjustments because of the larger screen size. Let’s face it, the LCD on the back of the camera is nice, but having a computer monitor is also nice.

-Two backups of files on-location. The photos save to the memory card and also copy through the tethered USB cable to your hard drive. When you leave the shoot you’ll already have redundancy for everything you shot while tethered. Sweet!

-Looks professional but it’s not that difficult to setup. Every time I have setup my laptop to do some tethered shooting there’s always someone who comments with something like, “Wow the picture is already on the computer?” and that alone alleviates a lot of stress. It relaxes me too because both the client and myself can see exactly what type of shots I’m getting right out of the camera.

Before I did this I either had to show my photos to the client from the back of the LCD which is hard to see for a lot of people or just convince the client that I got the shot I wanted. Both of those scenarios are iffy at best and if you have the option of shooting tethered into Lightroom I’d say go for it.

You can find USB cables to use with your camera HERE. Other than that setting up LR is very simple as long as you do things in the right order. I’ve found that if you turn on the camera while connected to the computer via USB and THEN start the capture it won’t transfer the files.

The best way to setup tethered shooting in LR4 is to

  1. Open LR on computer
  2. Make sure camera is OFF
  3. Connect USB cable + any extension cables to the camera and computer
  4. Go to LR
    • Go to File
    • Tethered Capture
    • Start Tethered Capture
    • Choose your file structure/naming structures/Hard Drive locations/keywords
  5. Now go turn the camera ON and you should be good to go! 


I have been using a Wacom Tablet for a little less than a year now and it has made editing so much easier. This is one of those bits of gear where, if you do a lot of photo editing, you might think, “Nah I don’t need one I don’t draw or paint or do graphic design” I said the same thing and I was proven wrong.

The tablet pictured above is a Wacom Intuous 4 small, recommended by Phlearn. A lot of the tools in applications like Photoshop and Illustrator have brushes. Brushes for healing, patching, cloning, etc. If you use a mouse these tools only have the ability to be “on” when you click down on your mouse and “off” when you unclick.

After you have used a tablet, using a mouse is basically the biggest hassle in photo editing. You constantly have to change brush sizes and opacities and still something won’t look right. When you switch to a tablet however, you gain well over a thousand levels of pressure sensitivity whereas you used to just have the “on” and “off” of a typical desktop mouse. It feels really funky and disorienting at first but once you’re past the learning curve, it is brilliant.

Now with the tablet you can finally take full advantage of all the brushes in Photoshop and really be able to fluidly blend colors together or clone something out and not make it look blotchy. It’s funny really, just how intuitive it is to use something that feels like pen and paper to edit photographs.

I used to think, “But I can’t draw, I can never use one of those to edit pictures” but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Editing photos with the tablet has so much give on pictures because all you really do is make brush strokes and outlines. There’s never any really detailed drawing involved but it’s nice to have that option if I feel like doing that at a later date.

What’s great is that the tablet has saved me so much time than using a mouse. I was just sitting. watching a movie and editing pictures with my laptop’s track pad before writing this and it was insanely difficult. Not impossible by any means, but definitely much harder than it needed to be.

The tablet has also replaced some instances in editing where I would normally have turned to the pen tool. Instead of spending thirty minutes cutting out an object, depending on what it is, I can just paint in what I need or paint out what I don’t want with the tablet and save tons of time.

Bottom line: Get a Wacom Tablet if you’re always using Photoshop and if you’re just editing pictures then get the Intuous 4 small. The bigger tablets are a matter of preference but I find I’m not even using the entire surface area of mine as it is. For around a hundred bucks you cannot go wrong. I can’t imagine editing for long periods of time without one now.

This is a picture of the blackboard in my room/studio. It spans one section of the back wall and makes it easy for me to write down ideas, diagrams, reminders, and to-do lists. What I love about it is that it’s just a wallpaper-type material that applies right onto a clean surface. This paper has been on my wall for months now and has helped me tremendously. 
What used to happen to me was every few nights just before climbing into bed I would think of an idea for a picture or something that I needed to get done. I thought, “well I’ll just do it in the morning” and not write it down. I would wake up and wonder what it was I had thought of eight hours earlier and eventually give up in order to carry out my morning rituals. So many of my thoughts had been lost in the void of sleep and it was so annoying. Not anymore.
Now that I’ve setup a section of my wall for use with special chalk-ink markers, I have remembered and accomplished way more things than just a few months previous. It’s ridiculous really. It took me a while to notice that I seem to think up the most stuff late at night or just before going to bed. I write it down. I wake up and there is my idea, still intact. 
It’s made me so much more productive during the day as well. Each night I like to write down my goals for the next day, no more than maybe five important things. That way, when I wake up I already know my schedule. I used to wake up and try to think of what I was going to do that day right there while I was still in bed. But I’m not a morning person so all I would really end up doing was draw a blank. The result of this being that I wouldn’t get anything done that day. Writing down my to-do list for the next day has been amazing. You also get the satisfaction of being able to sit down at the end of the day and say, “Yes I did that, I did that, I did that.” Crossing things off of the list you made.
This idea of making outlines before bed is one of my methods of pre-production for a photograph. After a week or so of writing thoughts down on my wall, I copy them into a Word document on my computer. I’ve started building up lists of ideas for pictures that I can pull from when I want to do a shoot. How many times has someone asked you to brainstorm ideas on a topic and you’ve only thought of five or six things? Now, because of the blackboard wallpaper, I have many more ideas now than I would have if I had tried to think up a photo right before shooting. On the whole, I think pulling from a list assembled over months and months of catching my naturally occurring ideas each night gives me so much more potential towards creating something I’m excited about. I hate having to force out a photograph because I don’t have any new ideas. My own bedroom wall solves this problem.
You can buy the contact paper and markers on Amazon for a very good price. I’m a man of simple pleasures but even I was shocked to find so much use for a thing like this.