Today is World Backup Day

Today is the second annual world backup day.  It’s a reminder of the importance of backing up the data on your computer.

It’s easy to forget that computers don’t last forever.  They’re electrical and mechanical devices that fail.  Sometimes they provide warning, a noise coming from your hard drive or computer case, but sometimes they just stop working.  If you have a computer savvy friend or take it to a repair shop, sometimes they can resurrect you information, but if not then it’s lost.  The most common component to fail in a computer is the one that holds all the data you’ve stored on it, your hard drive.  If the hard drive fails, getting the data back can be expensive or time consuming.

Think about what’s on your computer right now and nowhere else.  Are there photos?  Financial data?  The only copy of your Master’s thesis?  If your hard drive failed or someone stole your laptop and you never recovered it, what on there could you never replace?

My system is complicated, but leaves me feeling quite secure on my data.  Most of my data, including my photos, is stored on a server that spreads it across multiple disks to ensure a single failed drive doesn’t destroy my data.  My Windows computers all back up nightly to that same server.  My MacBook backs up using the built in time machine to an external hard drive that’s encrypted.  The server backs up all the data automatically to a cloud storage service and to an external hard drive on a regular basis.  All the other computers also back up to a cloud storage service to also backup any critical data stored locally.  A good backup system should protect again something happening to your computer and something happening to the place you keep your computer.

If you’re not backing up now, start.  Use a cloud backup service such as Carbonite (my favorite for just one computer) or Crashplan (my currently used and suggested for those with multiple computers).  Or buy an external hard drive and use Time Machine (for Macs) or Windows Backup (for Windows) and back up to it.  If nothing else, just take the important files on your computer and copy them over to an external drive.

Paper Masks–From Idea to Photos

Where do ideas come from?  In my book I discuss this some, but overall I find my ideas come from combining other elements in (what I hope are) new and interesting ways.  This shoot began when I decided to go out on a cold night in early January.  I was sitting in a bar and the video for “Du Hast” by Rammstein came on the TVs across the room.  I hadn’t seen the video or heard the song in several years, but in spite of barely being able to hear the song over the crowd it pulled me in.  In the video several members of the band greet a man while wearing masks cut off below the nose.  From the camera’s view these mask wearers get menacing later in the video.  I’ve seen the video a number of times, a friend loved the band and played them a lot, but something about those masks stuck with me this time.  They reminded me of Venetian masks, but aren’t quite those. 

I’d recently had being honest with someone backfire.  This left my mental state primed to think about masks and the way we often hide parts of ourselves from others and why we do so.  Being surrounded by couples enjoying a night out, people looking for love, people looking for lust, and people just looking to forget had the ideas of the various social faces we put on in mind.  The ideas of social masks came together with seeing those actual masks in the video and the idea came to me.  I excitedly described the idea to someone a few minutes later.  She didn’t share my excitement.  The idea I had was to take a photo of someone and use it as a mask.  In effect to mask someone using their own photo.

I first experimented with the idea a couple days later at the end of a shoot with Sarah.  I started basic here by taking a photo of the model’s face and then making a life sized print.  Then I had her wear the photo while taking other photos.  The results showed the idea worth playing with.


So in a mid January shoot with Hannah Perez I worked on the idea more fully.  Instead of just using her face, I decided to take photos of much of her upper body and mix and match the photos on her to get different effects.  I photographed several body parts in different levels of zooms.  The difficult part came from trying to get the photos close to life size.  I didn’t want them exactly right as I wanted the body parts to be a bit smaller or larger than reality, but wanted them close to the real size.  It took some trial and error (and even getting out a tape measure to measure sizes) to get what I wanted.  We tried a few different combinations including taping the photos to Hannah while she knelt along with resting then on her as she laid down.


Overall I’m happy with the results and have some ideas to explore this concept some more later on.

Sample Chapter from my eBook

Below is a sample chapter from my eBook Working with a Naked Lady coming out December 14.  You can find out more information about the eBook at



Let me begin by stating that equipment doesn’t matter as much as you think.  I don’t mean that equipment is unimportant.  I can be a tech head as much as anyone and spend hours discussing the differences between megapixels, sensor sensitivity, and lens specs.  I will spend hours researching any technology related purchase to make sure I find the one that is just a little better.

The truth is that you can have the best equipment and still take crappy photographs.  Great images are being taken every day with camera phones and simple point-and-shoots.  Equipment is a necessity, but knowing how to use your equipment is far more important than the brand or model of your equipment.  To take the photos you have in your mind’s eye, you will rarely find your equipment to be the most important tool.  Knowing what you want to capture and having a plan to do this are more important.

You generally get what you pay for when buying photographic equipment.  I suggest frugality when starting out.  In most cases lenses, cameras, and lights that cost more do so because they have better quality, more capability, faster recovery time, or more features (though there are always exceptions).  As a beginner you probably don’t need many of these more advanced features.  Starting with a beginner DSLR will be adequate.  The key is to buy solid equipment when starting out that you can expand and grow as your needs increase.  Be smart about spending money to get the best bang for your buck.

There are many brands of good cameras and other equipment out there and I’m not going to get into what brand is better because ultimately it doesn’t matter.  You can go out and buy the same guitar and amplifier as Eddie Van Halen or Stevie Ray Vaughn, but when you play it’s still going to sound like you playing the guitar. Likewise you can buy the exact same camera gear as another photographer, but you will be the one taking the photos. You need to know and learn how to get the most out of your equipment. Technical ability is the start, not the end of producing work that you’re proud to show others.


We’ll begin with the most basic, and most necessary, of the photographer’s tools, the camera.

I divide cameras in three types.  The first type is the point-and-shoot camera that is usually small and self-contained.  These cameras are generally designed to be simple to operate and compact enough to take everywhere.  They are targeted at casual shooters and work great for the types of photos that most people want to capture – memories of time spent with friends and family.  These cameras will make most of the decisions for you and get decent shots most of the time. 

The second type of camera is the camera built into most new cell phones.  Many cell phones now contain a camera nearly as capable as a point-and-shoot camera.  They also have the advantage of being almost always with you without carrying a second device.

The third type of camera, and the one we’re most concerned with, is the SLR or single lens reflex camera.  These are named for the mirror system that directs light from the lens to either the viewfinder or image sensor/film.  When the camera uses an image sensor instead of film, they are usually referred to as digital SLR or DSLR cameras.  I will largely reference DSLR cameras in this eBook for the times that I reference a camera.  Most of the concepts here are just as appropriate for a film SLR and many even will be relevant to a point and shoot camera or camera phone.

The first obvious difference of the DSLR from the other types is that the DSLR camera will feature lenses that can be changed.  This allows you to choose a lens depending on the type of photos being taken, a feature referred to as interchangeable lenses.  The greatest advantage of the SLR and DSLR comes from this ability to change lenses to match the needs of your shoot.  While many better point-and-shoot cameras will let you tweak exposure settings, a SLR will give you more options and a greater range of settings that give you more control and flexibility.  Most SLR and DSLR cameras also offer a mode that works similar to the point and shoot and makes most of the decisions for you.

You’ll want the extra functionality that a DSLR offers, but don’t feel that you need to buy the top of the line pro model and a dozen different lenses before you take a single photo. Start small and keep things affordable.  Buy a good, basic DSLR to start with and look for a kit that will includes a basic lens in one package.  If you want to splurge, spend the extra money on a better lens.  Be aware you can easily spend more on your second or third lens than you did for your camera body.  By starting small you can learn your equipment.  When you start to hit the limitations of the equipment you have, you’ll know it’s time look at an upgrade.

New cameras and lenses come out everyday.  Any advice that I give here will be outdated by the time you make it to this page of the eBook.  I suggest looking at reviews of the current equipment.  Some resources for sites that I currently like and use when considering new purchases are listed on the web site for this eBook under Book Resources.  Reading a number of sites to get a variety of opinions will serve you well as every reviewer will have biases and preferences that influence reviews.  Before you buy a camera you should definitely hold it in your hands to make sure you like how it feels and can work the buttons and controls easily.  Cameras are one of the items that you really need to touch and try before you buy.

I suggest that you ignore film when starting.  That may seem sacrilege to many, but the truth is that learning with digital will be a simpler process.  As a photographer of the nude you can’t just drop your photos off at the local pharmacy to develop.  You will likely need to find a specialty developer willing to work with nudes or learn to develop your own photos.  Developing your own photos will require a darkroom space, chemicals, and equipment.  I primarily work in digital, but do own and occasionally use a film SLR.  If you feel the desire to move in that direction, by all means follow that interest at some point.  Starting with digital will still make things easier while learning.

And just for the record, I use a Canon camera.


Without a lens, your DSLR is just a camera body.  As mentioned under cameras, you will often find kits offered that pair a camera body with a basic lens.  The job of the lens is to collect light and bring it to the sensor in the camera.  As a photographer there are two primary aspects of a lens you should be concerned about: focal length and aperture.

Focal length, usually measured in millimeters (mm), notes the distance from the center of the lens to the sensor when focusing at a point an infinite distance away.  Because of the way lenses are manufactured this might not be the physical center of the lens.  Think of it as a measure of the field of view or how much of what’s in front of you the camera will capture.  A lens with a low focal length will capture a wide field of view or a wide angle of the scene in front of you.  The scene will also appear further away.  In fact you can capture a wider angle than you can see with the unaided eye.  A lens with a high focal length will zoom in to a scene and show you a narrow field of view.  The scene will also appear closer to the viewer.  A lens with a low focal length will also be called a short lens and one with a high focal length will also be called a long lens.


Photo 3 – In both these images the model and I remained at same location, but I changed the focal length.  I shot the photo on the left at 40mm and the photo on the left at 51mm.  Notice that the objects in the photo taken with a larger focal length appear larger and that background objects in that photo appear closer to the model.

If you wanted to take a picture of an entire valley from a mountain, you would use a short lens and therefore a wide angle.  If you wanted to take a picture of just a cabin in that valley you would use a long lens.  Generally a focal length of around 50mm is considered to record a scene the way the naked eye sees it.

There is a complication on focal length specific to digital cameras.  The focal length of a lens generally is given relative to the traditional 35mm film size.  To reduce cost, many digital cameras use a sensor smaller than this 35mm size.  The smaller sensor results in what is called a crop factor.  This is the ratio that the smaller sensor changes the focal length of the lens.  For my Canon T2i this ratio is about 1.6 which means that a lens showing a focal length of 50mm will actually function as 50mm x 1.6 or 80mm would on a 35mm sensor.  The result is that I get a tighter field of view than I otherwise expect for the focal length of the lens with this camera.  Therefore if I want a result of a 50mm lens on a cropped sensor, I must use a lens showing a smaller focal length.  On my 1.6 ratio camera, this means I’d need to use a 50 mm / 1.6 or about a 30mm lens.

Using a lens with a small zoom will make objects appear further apart in distance from the camera than a long zoom of the same scene.  Think of a wide angle as stretching the distance between objects in the scene while a zoomed lens compresses this distance and makes objects appear closer together.  You can use this to either shrink or stretch the apparent depth of your scene.

Some lenses have a fixed focal length that cannot be varied.  These lenses are referred to as prime lenses.  Other lenses will transition through a range of focal lengths and are known as zoom lenses.  Zoom lenses are popular because of the flexibility, but this flexibility comes with some loss of clarity since the lens must work through a larger range of settings.  You also will usually find a smaller widest aperture in a zoom lens compared to a fixed lens of similar cost.

We will discuss aperture later, but for now know that a lens will usually be marked with the largest aperture it will support.  A fixed lens will have a single number, while a zoom lens will usually state the largest aperture the lens supports at each end of the lens’s zoom range.  You will hear the terms fast and slow to describe a lens.  This is in reference to the maximum aperture of the lens.  A lens with a maximum aperture of f/5.6 is slower than one with a maximum aperture of f/4.5.  A greater maximum aperture produces a faster lens.

For most work I use a zoom lens with a range of 18mm to 135mm. In addition I often use 24mm and 50mm fixed lenses.  Those fixed lenses have a larger maximum aperture than the zoom lenses allowing use in darker conditions or to produce a smaller depth of field.

Each camera brand usually has a specific mount and only lenses made for that mount will work with the camera.  Camera manufacturers generally only produce lenses for their specific camera and these usually work across models.  Many third party lens makers produce their lenses with a mount compatible with each of the major camera brands.  You can also find adapters that will let you use some lenses, especially older film SLR lenses, with older mounts on newer cameras.  These adapters usually do not support the automatic features the lens offers such as automatic focusing.

A better lens will provide more improvement in the quality of your photos more than a better camera body.  You will be better served upgrading your camera lenses before buying a new camera body.  In fact when you start running into limitations in your equipment you likely will find it in the kit lens before the camera that you bought with the lens.  As long as you stay with cameras with the same mount (generally the same brand) then your lens investment will come with you as you buy new camera bodies in the future.  The one exception will be if you buy a lens specifically designed for cameras with a cropped sensor and you later purchase a camera with a full size sensor.  In this case the lens may no longer work.

Memory Cards

Each photo that you take will require an amount of memory to store on the camera.  The device that the photo is stored onto is known as a memory card.  A few cameras include a small amount of built in memory to store images, but you will want or need a memory card to store the images taken by your DSLR camera.  There are two common types of memory cards you’ll find in digital cameras.  The first is the small, thin SD card and the second the larger Compact Flash card.  They are not interchangeable.  You should make sure which type your camera uses before buying a memory card.

The camera sensor size is measured in megapixels.  While many photo formats use compression to reduce the size of the photo, you can assume that the megapixel gives a good indication of the size of each photo captured by your camera.  Most memory cards will state on the packaging the approximate number of images they hold for a given megapixel camera.  I suggest buying at least two memory cards as it will give you a spare to use if you fill up one during a shoot or one malfunctions during a shoot.  Swapping cards only takes a few seconds while copying images off a card can take several minutes.

Memory cards will be rated with a maximum speed they can transfer data.  A faster card allows data to be written more quickly and therefore clears the camera buffer more quickly for new data.  You will want a higher speed card if shooting images in fast succession with your camera often called “burst mode.”  If shooting video on your DSLR, you will likely find it requires a minimum card speed.  The manual for your camera will provide this information.  On my Canon T2i a class 10 card or better must be used for video.

I’ve known photographers who use a different card for each set and then let the photos copy off the card while they begin the next set of images.  This minimizes the risk of losing photos if a card goes bad.  I do believe it’s a good idea to get the images off a card as quickly as possible and I never erase the images off a card until I’ve verified they copied correctly.

Other Equipment

You can conduct successful shoots with those three pieces of equipment.  After you have worked for a while you will likely find two items that you may want look to add to your equipment.  One will be artificial light sources and the second will be a light meter.  Both of these we will discuss in the section of this eBook on light.

Know Your Equipment

No matter what equipment you own you must learn to use it.  As boring as it may be, read the manual that came with your camera, flash, or other equipment.  If you don’t like the manual (or as happens too often happens the manual was badly written or translated) most popular brands of cameras have books that delve into the operation of your specific model of camera.  There may be features that would be valuable, but not obvious from the controls.  Ultimately equipment is your tool in photography.  You would learn to properly work your new chainsaw before trying to cut down a tree, and you need to learn your camera equipment properly.  While you are less likely to cut off your leg if you don’t read your camera manual, you are just as likely to not get the results you want.

Announcing the eBook Working with a Naked Lady

Last year I started a series on this blog that I’d hoped to turn into a how to series. Basically I wanted to go through the things that I’d learned since starting to photograph the nude and share the lessons and experiences.  I quickly realized that I couldn’t keep posting at the rate I’d hoped and I ended up setting the project to the side. I didn’t give up on the idea though and after a little encouragement this spring started looking at the notes I’d made and what I’d written with the idea of turning it into an eBook.

This summer I began working on that eBook. I wanted to cover the things I wish I’d known when I first picked up a camera and asked someone to pose nude for me. Too many photographers focus on just the technical side of photograph.  While it is important to get lighting correct and I think too many photographers and books for new photographers overlook the even more important aspects of working with models and moving from just snapping pictures of a pretty woman to trying to create something deeper.

Many hours later I’ve almost completed the eBook and am ready to announce it. How to Work with a Naked Lady be available for purchase beginning on December 14, 2011. The book is right now at 119 pages (that may vary a page or two as I finish editing) and contains forty photographs (that will probably increase a bit as I finish editing). I plan to have it available as a PDF file and also on the Amazon Kindle and it will be priced at $9.99.

I also interviewed and discussed what I cover in the book with several experienced and talented models.  Many of them have appeared on this blog before and include Melissa Troutt, Katlyn Lacoste, Bree Addams, Hannah Perez, Keira Grant, and Nyxon. Their input and feedback directly influenced the contents of the book. I address the problems they’ve seen, the things they wish photographers did, and what they need from during a shoot to get the best work. This isn’t just me providing advice, but also advice and suggestions from models about what you should and shouldn’t do.

More info about the book can be found at  I should have a sample chapter up in a few days along with some sample content from.  You can sign up to be notified as updates are published to the site and when the book is available.  There will be a special discount for everyone who signs up before December 14.

Learning from Mistakes

We’re generally taught from a young age to avoid mistakes.  In early school you learn information and feed it back the same way you heard it.  For all the comments by parents about trying your best being the important thing, few people or places reward making mistakes no matter how much you tried or why the mistake happened.  Even fewer will ask what you learned from the mistake and treat that as valuable information.

In spite of this there is a long and storied list of inventions and discoveries that were the result of a mistake, error, or accident such as post-it-notes and penicillin.  In most of these case the mistake was met with someone working on a problem and instead of tossing the mistake out, they investigated it and found a use for it.

What does this have to do with photography?  I was reminded of this when processing some images a few weeks ago.  I’ve developed into a person who has little fear of making mistakes. It’s not that I don’t get embarrassed or frustrated at them or that I don’t want to do things as well as I can. What I’ve learned is that to progress in any skill from business to photography you have to push the edges of your abilities and in doing so you will make mistakes.

I think the key is that when you make a mistake, try to figure out what went wrong.  An example for me occurred in one of my early shoots with a model.  It was a disaster. We didn’t connect, the model’s poses came out looking stiff, and we had different expectations going in about what content we’d be shooting.  As frustrating and wasteful as that shoot seemed at this time, I learned the importance of establishing rapport and connection with the model and the need to ensure that we both had the same expectations before the shoot. That shoot didn’t work well at all, but from that experience I learned lessons that have improved every shoot that followed.

A mistake doesn’t have to be that dramatic to teach you something. It can be something that your initial reaction is to shrug off and just delete off the back of the camera.

At a recent shoot as part of the outdoor project that I’ve worked on most of the year I had two models posed on a waterfall. While zooming in to change the composition of the image my finger accidently hit the trigger. It was completely unplanned and the resulting image was a terrible jumble of blurring from lack of focus and bad exposure.

Except one thing about it appealed to me, a warping effect that had been created from the movement of the zoom while the shutter was open. I decided to try that effect intentionally a couple of times before moving on with the rest of the shoot. One didn’t come out well, but the other image was exactly what I wanted. When I showed it to the models on the back of the camera once they were back on level ground both liked the image and after I processed it, both loved the result.

If I hadn’t paid attention to my mistake, then I’d never saw the interesting effect and tried to replicate it resulting in an amazing image.

Pay attention to your mistakes, they may just create some of your best work.

Wacom Intuos Tablet Fix

Ran into an issue tonight where Windows 7 did not recognize that my Wacom Intuos4 tablet was attached.  In fact the tablet didn’t seem to notice it was attached either.  The power LED lit, but nothing else showed.  I tried updating to the newest driver with no effect.  When I went into the Control Panel and tried to open the Wacom Tablet Properties I got a message “Tablet Driver was not Found”

After reading a number of forums that seemed similar issues, I finally found something that fixed it for me.  I went into the Devices and Printers and right clicked on the tablet device there.  I clicked on Tablet Preference File Utility and then under All User Preferences selected Remove.  Immediately the tablet returned to life and I was able to get back to photo editing.

Hope that helps anyone running into a similar issue (or myself if it happens again).