Why do we take photos?
This has got be one of the most simplest questions to answer and it boils down to one word: memories.
We take photos to capture moments in time, so that we can look back at some point in the future and remember things like what people looked like, places we had been or feats we had accomplished. There is a joke that I often say (and I am sure that many other people have said the same thing) that if you don't have a photo then it didn't happen. Photos are our validation of "look, I did that, I've been there".
Photos can document a life. For parents, they can capture their babies first smile all the way up to when they are grown and ready to leave the house. I envy the children of this generation in a way - these days almost everyone has a camera on hand in the form of their smart phone, ready to capture a memorable moment, so when these children grow up they will be able to look back and see so much of their life before their eyes (if they ever get printed off instead of hidden away on a hard drive that is - the down side of the digital age).
"...photos capture moments in time, but most important of all our relationships with our loved ones..."
But most important of all, photos capture the special relationships we hold with our loved ones. Like I said before, whether it be your babies first smile or a groom's first look at the bride on his wedding day, photos taken at the right moment can not only capture a moment in time but the FEELINGS of that moment. And that is a beautiful thing - to look at a photo and remember the joy you felt at that time and to feel it again, or the love you feel for someone. And lastly, these same photos of our loved ones can, in the end, be one of the few things left that we have to remember them by once they are gone, something that I have discovered very recently.
Last year I lost my Nanna. She was the last of my grandparents still living and we used to joke that she would live forever as she always seemed so strong. But it turns out that the cancer she had had a few years ago returned and before we knew it we were being told that she was gone. The last few months have been spent organising her things - keeping anything of significance to us or selling what we don't need. And while the pain of her loss has lessened, these little reminders of her as we deal with her effects still bring a twinge of sadness.
One of the things that we discovered as we went through her things were her photos. These precious memories of those who were important to her. Going through them I found one of the two of us - when I was about 7 years old. And this is what was heartbreaking - as far as I know, this is the last time a photo was taken of the two of us. Over 25 years ago was the last time my Nanna and I had a photo together. Oh I have more recent photos of her - the last one I ever took of her was her with her beloved great granddaughter, my niece, but none of the two of us together. And this is the down side of being the one behind the camera: I have plenty of photos of my loved ones - very few of myself.
And this is why I firmly believe that GETTING photos - not taking them, but having ones taken of you - are not just a luxury. It's great having photos of all your loved ones, but you are a part of their lives too, and if you have children, or grandchildren or even close friends, you want them to be able to look over these old photos and remember not only these moments but remember YOU. Make yourself put down the camera sometimes, and either ask someone else to take a photo of you or, if you don't want any one to be excluded, hire a professional every once in a while to, as I always say, capture the connection between you and your loved ones. You may wonder if it's worth splurging on getting a professional, but it is certainly something you will cherish in the future making it money well spent.
Photos will never be a substitute for the real thing - not in a life time. A photo won't tell me what my Nanna's hugs felt like, the way she smelt or the way she sounded when she would great me with "hello lovey" in that strong Yorkshire accent of hers. However I know that over time these memories will fade, but as long as I have a photo of her I can remember not only what she looked like but be reminded by seeing the way she looked at me in those photos and the joy in her face how much she loved me.
THAT is why photos are so important.
A couple of months back I was approached by representatives from Sleeklens and asked if I could test out some of their lightroom presets and leave a review. It has taken me quite a while to get around to writing this as I have had a lot of jobs keeping me busy, but it did give me ample opportunity to try out these workflows. So if anyone is interested in purchasing some presets to help make touching up their portraits a little easier then keep on reading.
To begin with the Sleeklens Strike a Pose collection for lightroom comes not only with a whole bunch of presets but a ton of different brushes - 69 presets and 62 brushes to be exact. While I won't cover all of them in depth, I shall give a brief run down on both as well as show you a few examples where I have used them. Let's get started shall we?
The presets: the All-In-One's
The Strike a Pose Workflow comes with 69 presets and just under half of these are what they call the "All-In'One" presets, where a simple click of the button completely transforms your photo. These presets range from monochromes to soft, fantasy like presets but the vast majority are natural looking presets for a variety of situations - golden sunsets, cool dawns and soft settings perfect for newborns. For a photographer like myself who specialises in natural photos, these presets are just what I'm looking for. As you can see in the photos below, the camera couldn't quite capture the colours from this portrait taken at the beach at sunset - adding one of the sunset presets allowed the photo to really pop.
Like I said there are also some presets that are a little less natural such as high contrast or ones with a colour cast to give it almost a fantasy look. While I do predominantly prefer a natural look for my photos, I do provide the odd artsy photo in case my clients would like something different. The preset that I used for the photo below is called Violet Mazes, and I love using it for a soft fairy tale look for little kids - as you can see it has really transformed this photo from something fairly plain into something quite special.
The presets: the stackables
There is one thing that I like about the Sleeklens collection that I haven't seen in other preset collections I have purchased - the fact that you can pile presets on top of each other as they provide you with stackable presets. Generally speaking, when you use a preset, if you try to use another, the settings from the new one override the previous, so if you like certain aspects of one that you wanted to add to another you would have to try and figure out a way to do it manually. And as I mentioned previously, while roughly half of the presets provided are the "do it all" kind, the remaining half are what I like to call "building block" presets in that you can combine a whole bunch together to create the look you would like for you photo.
There are six different categories that Sleeklens have created in these stackable presets: a Base set, Exposure, Colour Correction, Tone/Tint, Polish and Vignette, each providing a minor tweak in each of these areas. One of my favourites is the Red Skin Removal preset, and for anyone interested in newborn photography this is definitely a preset that gets used a lot. You can use these presets to add minor touches to the All-In-One presets that are provided (because let's face it, everyone has their own style and no preset is perfect) or if none of these suit your style and you want to build a photo up from scratch, you can use nothing BUT these presets to create whatever look you are going for. This is what I did with the photo below - besides a few manual touchups to get the exact look I was going for, this entire photo was touched up using these layered presets.
As I mentioned at the beginning, this package also comes with a set of brushes (62 in fact) for that last little 5% to make your photos perfect. Because the presets are designed for portraits, they are of course portrait based, with bushes to enhance eyes, whiten teeth, reduce wrinkles or shadows under eyes - the list goes on. All of these brushes are subtle effects, which is especially perfect for someone like myself who likes to keep my photos as natural as possible. As you can see in the two adjacent photos, there isn't a huge difference between the two photos, but it's the little things that really help to make a photo have that extra bit of pop - some minor teeth whitening, brightening of the eyes and a slight reduction of the shadows under the eyes to really finish off the photo.
So after playing around with a lot of these workflows that Sleeklens have provided, and observing some of the examples that I have provided, I am sure anyone interested in these presets are probably asking two simple questions: What is the price and are they worth it?
At the moment of writing this, you can buy the Strike a Pose package for $31 (AUD). Do I think it is worth spending the money? Considering that in this bundle you recieve 69 presets and 62 brushes I think that is certainly value for money, especially for a photographer who specialises in natural looking photos. Since obtaining this workflow for trial I have found that, despite owning other presets that I have purchased over the years, when it comes to touching up these ones are my go to. Sure I may end up tweaking them a little bit, but it certainly helps to cut down the amount of time I spend touching up when I have a base to start with.
If you have been in the photography business for a while, you have probably accumulated and created a variety of presets that suits your style, but if you are a photographer who hasn't quite mastered the art of lightroom just yet and would like to cut down on the time you spend touching up, then purchasing a few presets certainly helps you to find your feet. And if you are interested in buying a set of presets, then I would definitely recommend giving the Sleeklens Strike a Pose workflow a go. If you would like to give it a try, then you can purchase the workflow from the Sleeklens website here: https://sleeklens.com/product/strike-a-pose-portrait-workflow/
And if anyone has used these before and would like to share their thoughts (or thoughts on any other preset bundles you might have tried that you think are top notch) then please feel free to leave a comment below and share your opinions with others!
"Why do photographers charge so much for a few photos? That seems awfully high for one hours work."
Over the years I have heard variations of this sentence uttered (and I'm sure I've said it myself before I became a photographer) and I can understand why - at first glance, the price of a photography package from a decent photographer can seem a bit excessive. Several hundred dollars for a one hour shoot and a handful of photos? Get out of here! Unless you are high powered executive or a world famous actor, most people don't get paid a hundred dollars or more an hour to do their job, so what makes photographers so special? However, what I think a lot of people don't realise is that a) photographers aren't getting paid the full amount from the packages they offer - we have to pay for resources such as the prints, cds, etc and b) while the shoot may last for only an hour, a photographer works for a lot longer than that behind the scenes.
In order for clients to understand what it is exactly they are paying for when they purchase a photography package off a professional, I thought it would break it down, using my own business as an example.
Let us start with the expenses side of a photography business. My portrait packages all include prints as well as digitals, so I have to pay the photo lab I use to print and deliver the photos that my clients have chosen. From there I then add them to my client's cd of digitals (the cds which I also have to purchase) and then mail the whole lot off to my client (which means I have to pay for postage). If you have chosen a wedding package that includes an album - well let's just say that those things are not cheap, and is a large
expense that we have to pass onto our clients. And these are just the costs directly involved with a photography package - there are also the indirect costs, such as the electricity I use at home when I am constantly on my laptop editing photos, internet usage for when I upload my photos onto my site for my clients to view, the costs to license my business name, run my website etc... the list goes on.
The second point that I raised is that, in the case of a typical portrait shoot, what you are paying for is more than just one hours work. For starters, when one of my clients pay for a "one hour" portrait shoot, while they may only experience a single hour, my work doesn't stop there once the shoot is over. I go home, transfer the photos onto my computer, then onto my editing program (which can take quite a while as an hour long shoot can produce upwards of 150 photos). From there I have to go through the photos and cull any which aren't worth the cut before the editing process begins - and all photos require some level of editing. So the "one hours worth of work" has now extended out to at least a week (of several hours in a day, usually from straight after I get home from my day job). So if you decided to charge a relatively inexpensive price of say $150 for a portrait package, that price has gone from $150 an hour to less than $15 an hour once you include editing time - less once you take away the price of the expenses that I mentioned earlier. That is minimum wage or less. I am sure that everyone, given the choice, would want to work for more than minimum wage - we all have to make a living.
Now sure, it is possible to get cheap photos done - if you explore the buy and sell pages on Facebook, you can find people offering photos for as little as $50. But as the saying goes, you get what you pay for - some of these dirt cheap offers are either from people who are just starting out and want to build their portfolio (fair enough) or people who have a decent camera and think that that is all that is required to earn a little extra pocket money, and honestly, in a lot of these cases you really are better off getting a friend to take some photos for you for free because you will more than likely get photos of the same quality. Despite what people think good photography requires more than just a good camera (how many times have photographers heard that their photos are good because "they must have a decent camera"); we have spent a lot of time learning how to use light to our advantage, how to work with people to get the poses we want, how to utilise photoshop successfully and a whole host of other tips and tricks to produce high quality photos.
"...photographers don't work 9 to 5 like most regular jobs - work can be irregular so we have to be able to earn enough to make our effort worth while..."
Compared to a lot of other professional photographers, my packages are quite affordable, partly because I have always believed that photos shouldn't just be for the rich and partly because I can afford to do so for two reasons. Firstly, I don't use a studio (I work strictly on location or from my client's houses) so I don't have to pay for any rent, additional elecricity costs, land rates etc; and secondly I have another full time job as my main source of income (for the time being anyway) so I don't need to charge a lot of money to... well to live really. One thing that people need to remember is that photographers don't work 9 to 5 like most regular jobs - work can be irregular so we have to be able to earn enough from the jobs that we do get to make all our effort worth while.
I love being a photographer. I love capturing the connection between people and producing work that my clients would be proud to display on a wall. But at the end of the day I want this job to be a career, and not just a hobby, and to do that I have to charge an appropriate amount.
So all that I ask is the next time you glance over my prices and you're initial reaction might be to ask "why so much?" maybe take a peek at this blog post and see that when you purchase a photography package, whether through me or anyone else, you are paying for more than just an hour's work.