Simple Soultions

I had a customer, SafepathProducts, ask me to photograph a specialized material that they developed for decks.  We chose a new senior housing development in downtown San Francisco, because this product can be installed at high rise apartments.

Sounds kind of like a simple product shot.  Pick the right time of day, go up and shoot the deck.  Not so fast.

First off,  the deck was pretty small.  I couldn't stand on the deck and get much in the frame even with my ultra wide Nikon lenses. The second problem was that the apartment we wanted to shoot was yet to be occupied, so there was nothing in the apartment to see through the glass nor any lights I could turn on to make it look lived in. Also, getting a lift to raise me up to shoot from outside the deck was out of the question as the one we had wouldn't go high enough. The main shot needed so show that the deck was outside an apartment building, showing other floors below.

Luckily, I came prepared for the unexpected.

To solve the puzzel, I shot from the deck above, attached my camera to a monopod and held it over the edge.  I also had a ProView viewfinder camera attached to my regular camera to send back the view what I was seeing though the viewfinder, to a monitor I held in my hand.

Lastly, I hooked up a couple of portable strobes in the apartment below, reflected off a wall, and fired it by a remote wireless slave (Pocket Wizard) also attached to my camera.

Gotta love when a plan comes together.

"...Cue the models with the dog."

Yosemite in Winter


My most recent wall print from my winter trip to Yosemite has been completed.  It's a 50 x 28 Museum Grade Canvas Print on stretcher bars with surface print protection.  The print sets off the wall 1 3/4 inches.


I was very lucky to capture a moment along the Merced River just west of El Capitan this winter.  While I started out the shoot, planning on capturing El Capitan's granite face against the valley floor,  I think I did much better.

Fellow photographer, Dave Courtney and I, set out on one of coldest days of January to photograph Yosemite in the winter. The park was a frigid 25 degrees when we arrived so everything was cast in a frosty covering of ice. We stopped several places to shoot and finally ended up in a spot I have photographed many times along the Merced river and got ready for the sunset.

The plan was to shoot images as the sun dropped in the sky, capturing the stately El Capitan granite monolith standing guard over the valley floor.

You never really know what the sunset is going to be like in Yosemite Valley.  Clouds and  smog particles in the west play a huge roll as to whether your photographs are special or not. Many times, cold clear skies  yeild a vibrant deep cobalt color but without clouds, there can be too much blue in the photograph.  A day with white puffy clouds is preferred, taking second only to the gray and black storm clouds that can be quite dramatic. This particular day had little in the way of clouds.

We did get lucky though. Unbeknown to us, a temperature inversion was happening along the coast of California as warm air started to drift over the state, trapping smog particles against the cold air from the earth's surface.  In the San Francisco Bay Area, it can turn into a "spare the air day", where we try to restrict more particles from being sent into the air by eliminating the use of fireplaces and such.  The bottom line for the photographer, is that all those trapped particles can result in some spectacular colored skies.

Along with this temperature inversion, we had a small amount of wispy clouds to the West, that "softened" the sunlight as it fell upon El Capitan.

The extreme cold conditions in the valley during that week served a few purposes for out photography.  One, it helped fog develop in the valley but not so much that it obliterated the view.  Second, it helped preserve the snow from a couple of days earlier by staying so cold, the temperature didn't allow the snow to melt and fall off rocks and trees.  The outcome, was it looked like fresh snow had just fallen everywhere.  Lastly, the extreme cold froze the edges of the Merced river allowing me to safely move a tripod farther out on the ice, to capture the composition I was looking for.

As the sun dropped in the sky, El Capitan became more and more yellow and orange. Those colors started to reflect off the river creating a fabulous display of color across the water. I also noticed a cooler, teal color coming in from the right as this was a reflection of sky and cold granite South wall of the valley, that hadn't seen the sun because of the low winter sun pattern.

I had a decision to make.  Capture El Capitan as it changed color before our eyes as the sun set, or, tilt the camera down and capture just the water and the effect of the reflecting sun. Since there were almost no clouds behind El Capitan to break up the sky texture, I went for the river shot.

I love the way this turned out.

This print is available for purchase in a limited release (without watermark).  It is being sold as a 50 x 28  Museum Grade Canvas Stretched Print ready to hang.  For $1,150 plus tax and shipping.  Please contact me directly at for orders. The image is also available in other sizes both larger and smaller and float frame options are available at cost.

Ano Neuvo Photography

I just spent a few days last week photographing the elephant seals at Ano Neuvo State Park in California. While this is a fun photographic opportunity to photograph the Elephant seals as the come back to this state beach every winter. These seals can be engaged in bloody battles for territory and mating rights.  This is also the time of year the females come ashore to deliver and ween their pups. So you can see it all during this short window of time. There are few things to look for, before you plan your trip - the most important - you have to have a ticket.


Be sure to get tickets to go on the tour well in advance. The prime months to see the seals are January and February (thats when all the seal activity happens) and tours book up rather fast. You can buy tickets (about $7 for adults) for a tour up to about 60 days in advance. Remember, you can't see the seals without being on a tour at this time of the year, so plan ahead.



When you are choosing a tour time slot, definitely  go as early as you can in the morning. The light is much better on the seals early in the morning and since there are so many limitations as to where you can stop and shoot photographs on on your tour - the morning is the only way to go. These animals are highly protected at this time of year so you will moved in small groups by docents and rangers and you will only get to spend limited time with the seals.

While I hiked with a 600mm lens and a specialized tripod, you may want to bring gear that weighs a lot less.  The hike to see the seals is about two miles and part of it is in sand dunes, so lightweight gear might be what you want to bring. On the flip side,  since the seals are protected, you wont be allowed to get very close for both your safety and for the safety of the seals. That means you may want to bring the longest lens you have.  So you have to make a decision on the weight of your equipment vs. how close you want to photograph your subjects.

The seals should only be part of your trip to Ano Neuvo State beach.  Since the tour only lasts a couple of hours you will have plenty of time to photograph other wildlife in the area as well as scenic coastal landscapes. Ano Neuvo is a 25 minute drive down from Half Moon Bay along highway 1 so there are all kinds of views to stop for.


How to Prepare for Your Headshot

Most people fall into to two different camps when it comes to preparing themselves for a photo session. Either they look forward to it with anticipation or for a smaller percentage, they dread it. I had one client  years ago,  who compared getting his photograph taken with going to the dentist.  No matter what your anxiety level is when you are getting your portrait created, if you are prepared, it should be a fun experience.

A Few Days Before Your Session

  • Make a point to get plenty of rest starting a few days before your session.
Rest is the most important preparation that a person can do to prepare for their session. Fatigue is mostly seen in and around the eyes with redness and dark circles underneath the eyes. Get extra sleep, certainly the day before your session but starting at least two days before, for best results.
  • Drink extra water a couple of days in advance.

Proper hydration for the human body is extremely important in all aspects of life.  When preparing to have your portrait created, take in some extra water, more than normal, to replenish your skin and help keep it from drying out.

  • Get your hair cut or trimmed.
Don't do this the day before or the morning of your shoot. Always give your hair a few days to settle back in after a cut.
  • Schedule your teeth cleaning at your dentist a week or so before your shoot.
This can remove tarter build up that will show up in the photograph.  While it's not always practical, if you have a cleaning coming up - that's a good time to schedule a portrait in the following weeks.
  • Have a manicure.
If you normally have your nails done, then plan on having this service a few days in advance of your session. While many shots you create will not have your hands in the photograph, there may be a few images that will, so get those nails in top shape. Guys, if have never had a manicure, this would be the time try it.  If nothing else, make sure your nails are clean.  Well trimmed, smooth nails can make a big difference in a shot that has hands in the image.
  • Prepare your clothing.
Some blouses and dress shirts require dry cleaning, so get this taken care of in advance. Choose clothing that is flattering to your face, not just comfortable. Women - wear collars! Many women will wear scoop necklines that can make their shoulders look rounded and heavy. Collars will make the neck appear longer and more slender.  Remember to bring your jacket when posing for business  portraits.  Choose colors that are solids.  When doing a head shot, there is almost never a need for a pattern on the clothing. Men, make sure your suit jacket or sport coat does not live in a closet where the pets have access. Be careful on the transportation of your clothes if you are going to a location or a studio.  Lots of pet hair can be picked up in the car.
  • Avoid the sun.
Some people think that they will get a little sun to help their color a few days before a shoot.  Try to take care of this many weeks before your scheduled shoot.  If you should go into the sun a few days before your shoot, you could end up drying out your skin or worse, burning it.  The red blotchiness of of sunburn or wind burn is very difficult to hide with makeup or retouching.  It's best to avoid it and stay covered up just before your shoot.
I once photographed a women in her 40s and her skin was remarkable.  I commented on it, since I had never seen such flawless skin.  She told me that she never goes into the sun, or outside for that matter, without being covered somehow, hat, scarf, something.  While this may be an extreme lifestyle, I can tell you it worked to keep her skin in fabulous condition.
Day of your Portrait Session
Allow plenty of time, don't rush.  The stress of getting lost, or showing up late can take a toll on your eyes and add lines to your face.
Men, remember to shave.  Use a new blade to cut hair, not your face.
  • Makeup
If you wear makeup and want to do your makeup yourself, put your makeup on as if you are going to work.  Don't get too heavy like you might if you were going to the club at night.  Use the "less is more" adage when it comes to make up.  If you hire a professional makeup artist, use someone who does makeup for photography. Look for samples of their work to make sure their style fits your look.
Do a last minute check in the mirror.  Is the session after lunch? Do a quick teeth brushing to make sure there isn't any food caught in your teeth. Check your hair.  Bring a blow dryer set on cool to give your hair a little added body just before the shoot.  Check your face for shine. Blot perspiration with a tissue, do not rub as it may brighten your skin in that area.
Take the time during your photo session to turn off your phone for a few minutes.  Make this time, YOUR time. Treat is as if you are going to the spa for some pampering.

Creating A Professional LinkedIn Portrait

Many people these days are planning to get a new job or advance their career. From a social networking standpoint, LinkedIn is the cornerstone of networking for a new career or career advancement. With over a 175 million members, it's a fantastic online destination to brand yourself. When you are considering how to brand yourself - the first thing that comes to mind, as well as the first thing that people see, is your profile photograph. It has to look professional.

Ted Prodromou of the Entrepreneur suggests, "Post a professional photo". "First impressions are very important and people will judge you within a few seconds when they see your LinkedIn profile."

From the viewer's standpoint, your first impression is your profile photograph.  Here is a before and after example:

Robert's actual profile image was shot with the parking lot as a background.  We scheduled a professional portrait session, where we brought the focus back to the face and not to the glare in the background.

First we used a long lens to create a shallow depth of field to isolate him from the walls of his family room in his home. Using a combination of available light and flash fill light, we created several images.  We had Robert change his shirt a few times to experiment with colors and to give us some variety in the choices.  As well, we changed expressions, and the position of the upper body.  The session took about 40 minutes.

Once his favorite image was selected from an online image gallery, we opened the original image and started the enhancement process.

Image enhancements can be anything from removing blemishes to brighting the eyes.  I often reduce wrinkles and soften skin as well when I am retouching a head shot. The key is to not over do the enhancements. You must leave some remnants of wrinkles or the face can start to become too flat looking.  However, this level of retouching is in the eye of the beholder and I try to complete whatever level the client would like.

Alyson Shontell of the Business Insider wrote. "Studies have shown that profiles with pictures are much more likely to get clicked on LinkedIn than those without."

While the overriding thought is that any picture is better than "no picture", when planing to create or update your LinkedIn profile, strongly consider going to a professional photographer that knows how to pose, how to use the light, and how to retouch an image without making it look obvious.

Here is another example:

Heather used her own cell phone, at arm's length to create this profile photograph.  While this is a nice photo and could very well be used on Facebook, it's not appropriate for the likes of LinkedIn.

In this portrait, we didn't have any available light that was usable, so we lit the subject and the background entirely by strobes. A slight warming gel was used on the hair to give it a little more warmth and to separate her dark hair from the background. While this image looks casual and comfortable it takes more time than you might think to create the right image that portrays that individual in a professional manner.

William Arruda of The Ladders writes, "When I refer to your headshot, I am talking about a professionally taken photo that reflects your personal brand — not a picture your mother took of you at last year’s family picnic! "

Here is yet another example of an active professional on the LinkedIn network that was using a substandard profile photograph:

Michael is not in real estate, nor is he in satellite TV sales. There is no reason he should have homes or a satellite dish distracting the background of his professional profile photograph. He's a salesman, one that travels nationally for his clients. Even though at this time, LinkedIn does not feature huge photographs, you don't want to show one that is pixelated in any way.

In the portrait we just created, Michael is a professional. He is wearing the type of clothing that is expected in his line of work.  The eyes are bright and the face is not distracted by any background elements. In fact, the background subliminally speaks to the viewer that he travels and he would travel for them. He is friendly, but not overly so.  This portrait communicates a professional image.

This session took about 45 minutes. We explored different backgrounds in the home, while still keeping the lighting to bring out the face as the main feature.

Vivian Giang, Business Insiders wrote: "In a study conducted by TheLadders, an eye tracking heatmap shows that recruiters spend 19 percent of the total time they spend on your profile looking at your picture. Then, your current  job position and education are glanced at, but not so much time is spent on your skills, specialties or older work experiences."

If so much time is spent by the viewer on your profile photograph - then make it a professional portrait. After all, LinkedIn is a professional network.



Copyright 2015, Terry VanderHeiden