Homemade Soft Boxes

5 completed softboxes

I recently decided that I wanted to take my food photography up to another level, and in order to really make that work, I needed some soft boxes to better diffuse light.

The problem was that all of the available soft boxes I could find cost upwards of $100 apiece (and I would certainly need at least two soft boxes to make my setup work). Since this was just a project for sharing amongst my friends, rather than for paying work, I couldn’t justify the expense. [Read more…]


Always Get the Window Seat

The following post is by Atlanta based photographer and writer Zach Matthews, who explains why it’s worthwhile to photographers to get the window seat when flying. Learn more about him at the end of this post.

Back in 2006, I went on my first assignment as a magazine writer. The Cloudveil company had just come into the fly fishing market (my area of specialty) and American Angler wanted me to cover the event. As the proud owner of a (then) new Nikon D70, I took every opportunity to take pictures, including candids of myself in my new role as a fancy journalist.

As we gained altitude on the Salt Lake City to Jackson, Wyoming leg of our flight, I snapped a shot or two out of the airliner’s window. Your modern airliner, say a Boeing 767, has double-paned window glass. The exterior skin has a thick glass plate, while the interior is a thin piece of Plexiglas, with an inch or two of space between. Generally, the interior pane will be very scratched, possibly distorted by oilslick defects, and in some cases flaking to pieces. That doesn’t mean you can’t take a picture through it, though—just as when shooting through chain link fencing, if your point of focus is far enough out, the glass will blur to a misty gray fog. [Read more…]

How To: Single-Image HDR

The following post on HDR photography is by Atlanta based photographer Zach Matthews. Learn more about him at the end of this post.

Over on The Itinerant Angler forums, we’ve spent some time bad-mouthing HDR, and to some extent that is fair. When HDR is over done, it can result in a jacked up, unnatural image.

However, the fact remains that the human eye can see a lot broader dynamic range (meaning brights and darks) at the same time than a camera can. This is because the human eye can vary its “ISO” or exposure sensitivity locally in just one area rather than only across the whole image. This is what allows you to see the inside of a darkened room as well as the brightly lit world out the window at the same time. A camera could only see one or the other.

We have a number of situations in streamside photography (the area most of us work in – but don’t think this technique is limited to that) where we need a broader dynamic range than the equipment allows. The classic situation is one of side light, where light from beside the subject is lighting it (usually a person casting) beautifully, but the background is dark. At times, this can look unnatural. [Read more…]

10 Tips for Breaking into Commercial Magazine Photography

The following post on commercial magazine photography is by Atlanta based photographer Zach Matthews. Learn more about him at the end of this post.

Every amateur photographer who’s ever flipped through a magazine has shared the same fleeting thought:  I could do this.  I am this good.  And who’s to say that’s wrong?  With the advent of digital image-making, cameras have become not just tools to record and describe, but tools that teach. The mean of photographic quality has skyrocketed in recent years, as a casual perusal of Flickr or a photography hobbyists’ board will immediately illustrate.  What, then, is holding amateur photographers back?  Why aren’t they selling images to magazines and commercial clients?  Why aren’t you?

The difference between a working professional and a dedicated amateur is fairly minimal these days, and it has a lot more to do with business decision-making than talent or equipment.  A number of important differences jump immediately to mind, however.  The way I see it, there are two types of professionals: full time, and everyone else (and by that, I mean you, too).  The full-time professional starves his way to the top.  Typically a full-time pro goes to photography school, where he learns darkroom techniques, film chemistry, light physics, and the hard, cold reality of living paycheck to paycheck for decades.  Most full-time pro photographers share one thing in common: they’re broke.  But not all.  A sizable population of working professionals make a living at photography, and they do it with the same business acumen necessary to operate as any entrepreneur.  They set up a shop, build a client list, hire employees, and above all, they shoot their tails off.

Full-time pros of my acquaintance in the outdoor photography world spend as much as 40 weeks a year in the field.  In my business, that’s in far-flung locations, involving international travel, injections, passports, broken gear, and hard deadlines.  It isn’t an easy job, and it’s a long climb to the top, but eventually these pros tend to top out and make a respectable living.

There’s only one problem: chances are, this isn’t you.  Full-time professional photographers won’t be reading this article; they know the route to success, they are logging their hours as we speak, and they’re aware of the rules of the game.  But here’s the question: would you really want to be a full-time pro?  What if you could have all the benefits, including international travel (for money), access to the best locations (for money) and the respect and praise of your peers, sometimes even for money, all while keeping your day job?  It’s not a bad option, is it? [Read more…]