Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Website Redux!

This Monday was a great day for us at the studio. We officially launched our new website. It is not that we didn’t like our old one but felt like it was time for something fresh. Not only did we have many new images and new ideas for the site, with technology being as ever-changing as it is, making the switch from a flash site to a HTML5 based site was just the incentive we needed to take the plunge. I say plunge because anyone that has ever redone a site can attest that it can feel like starting over. We are excited about the way our new site handles video files and look forward to further exploring the potential this offers.

As we keep evolving as image-makers, so should the way we deliver or present our work. Certainly our creative sensibilities evolve, our delivery medium can also be a reflection of where we are at creatively, not to mention essential in presenting ourselves and connecting with clients that may share our outlook and aesthetic taste.

We incorporated several new galleries, one of which was the before and after. For a long time we had felt the need to have a way to showcase and exemplify to our clients what it is that we do once all the gear has been packed up and find ourselves behind the computer. This way, enabling our clients to become more of an active participant in the creative process.

Another aspect of the site we are really excited about is the Create a PDF feature. It enables our clients or potential clients to download their selection of images in a PDF form. Further extending the tools they have at their reach in order to get everyone involved in a project on the same page.

One thing that did not really change was the basic building blocks of our graphic identity. Such as our logo and basic color scheme. This is where for us, it paid off to take our time and spend the energy the first time around. We hired our friends at north40creative to develop the logo and invested on a site that had the right features to suit our needs, not to mention one that keeps up with technology.

As many things we do, building the site was a labor of love and hope you enjoy it as much as we did creating it.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Erik Almas: On Aspects of Image Making - REVIEWED

Shortly after hearing that Erik Almas had released his instructional DVD set "Erik Almas: On Aspects of Image Making" we were offered the opportunity to provide a review for Weekly Photo Tips. The review went live yesterday and we are very excited about it. I have re-posted our review on our blog though I also encourage you to visit weeklyphototips.com for this and other great photo related reviews and information.

Most of us who are deeply interested in photography or want to make a living creating images have certainly heard of Erik Almas. If you haven’t then I highly recommend that you take the time check out his website to see what you have been missing. The images he creates are thought provoking, beautifully envisioned and expertly executed. Technically and aesthetically they are sure to intrigue fellow photographers. Luckily, for those of us who are fans of his work, (and those who will soon become fans) he has recently released his instructional DVD set “Erik Almas – On aspects of image making”.

 I must admit that when I first heard Erik Almas was producing a DVD, my interest was peaked. I had been looking forward to picking it up for more than a year when rumors of it first appeared on the web. As it turns out, shortly after it was released, I was fortunate to be asked if I would be interested in reviewing it for Weekly Photo Tips. Of course I leapt at the opportunity.

 In my opinion the greatest merit to Erik’s DVD is the fact that it is presented by someone who has a proven track record and is currently working at a very high level in the industry. His clients are the top advertising agencies, high-end magazines and Fortune 500 companies. That makes a world of difference when it comes to trusting the integrity of the information shared in these DVD’s. As a working photographer I find it refreshing that he is so open with his insights, from his early career to how he approaches his vision, Erik holds nothing back. In fact he gives the viewer step by step instructions that empowers them to very quickly accomplish what took him more than 10 years to figure out on his own. Through out the DVD Erik’s demeanor is like that of a Zen master, completely at peace and at ease with himself. (This is exemplified during the Interview with Chris Orwig as he brushes at a fly buzzing around his head with such a serene motion as to not harm the fly but to merely coax it safely along.) There is no pretense here, no ego, just a humble and talented guy offering you his take on creating images honestly.

 The DVD’s are full of valuable information regardless of what stage of photography development that you might find yourself in. The seasoned professional may find some of themes familiar, yet will likely be infused with inspiration and be given plenty of food for thought. Perhaps you are a professional that has fallen into a rut, your looking for a jump-start, then this could be just what the Doctor ordered. However, I think the main target audience are those who are students, serious amateurs or young professionals looking for an edge to get them over the hump and into a solid career as a successful professional photographer. Beyond some of his photographic techniques, are exercises that will help the viewer get in touch with themselves, by recognizing and then developing your own visual identity. I will caution you though, if you are looking for the secret “Erik Almas Photoshop recipe” you will likely be disappointed and you will have missed the point completely. The true strength of Erik’s instruction isn’t in the how’s, it is the why’s. The how’s can only serve to teach you "how" to re-create an Erik Almas image, the why’s have the potential to teach you to successfully create your own voice. To get the most out of this you have to become an active participant. You can’t simply watch his instruction you have to engage your mind, do the hard work (which he guides you through) and invest the time in your craft.

 There are three DVD’s included, broken down into two sections. The first section is “Photography tutorials” the second is “Photoshop tutorials”. In the Photography tutorials there is the assumption that you already have a basic understanding of photography so if you are not familiar with aperture, shutter speeds, ISO etc. then you will need to learn about those on your own. Although it’s obvious that these fundamentals are critical to know, you can certainly gain a great deal from Erik’s insights even without having that knowledge to begin with. Just make sure you do learn them eventually. Although this section is called “Photography Tutorials” there is more information included than just that. I think the section can be distilled down to three principle concepts, finding your vision, technical aspects and case studies. The chapters that I would put under finding your vision are what I would consider the core concepts of Erik’s instruction. Everything else is there to support this fundamental principle. There is a strong emphasis through out all of his instruction on finding out who you are so that you can make images that speak to that with a sense of honesty. In the chapter “Finding your photographic voice” Erik guides you through a process of self discovery. He also talks about his visual heritage, the themes and the visual aesthetics that he is drawn to that formed his sense of visual identity. He then lays out a path for you to discover your own "path". Technical aspects cover subjects like “Photography Equipment”, “Composition”, “Light” and an excellent chapter on “Marketing”. Finally he has six chapters of “Case Studies” where he takes you on location and then walks you through his process. From concept to execution you get to be a fly on the wall with the inside track to how he created five of his signature images. I can’t over emphasize the values of hearing Erik’s thought process as he crafts these iconic images. Also included on the first DVD are some great bonus features, DO NOT miss out (or skim through) his Interview with Chris Orwig.

 The next two DVD’s are dedicated to his “Photoshop Tutorials”. Here you get to look over his shoulder as he takes the raw files of the five images in the case studies, out of Capture One and edit’s them in Adobe Photoshop. He also takes the time to explain why he chooses to composite images in the first place. (also included on the first DVD) If you are even moderately proficient in Photoshop then the techniques that Erik uses will be nothing new, in fact surprisingly so. Using layer masks, combined with adjustment layers, cloning and a meticulous attention to detail are the keys to compositing any image. If you know these techniques already then you may feel a bit deflated, and I have to be honest, at first I wanted more. I wanted that new Photoshop trick I didn’t already know. I thought there must be something else, something he left out. Then it dawned on me. What truly makes Erik’s work so special happens well before those raw files ever make it into Photoshop. The fact that there isn’t some secret “Photoshop trick” was actually liberating, besides he has already given you his “secret” if you pay attention. The greatest value of watching him edit these images wasn’t how he edited the files but listening to why he made the editing decisions along the way.

 The beauty of Erik’s work and his instruction is truly in the fundamentals. It can be said that the artist who doesn’t understand or know their medium intimately will certainly find limitations. Just like the pure technician will find his limits of expression if he has yet to identify what moves him beyond technique. Erik in my opinion recognizes this and is able to combine both vision and technique in an informative and an intuitive way. Here at Irvin Serrano Photography, we are going to commit to working through the exercises that Erik suggests and will follow later this year to see what they have produced. I would challenge you all to do the same and share your results on the Weekly Photo Tips Flickr page.

 Here is a quick video preview of the over 9 hours of video in which Erik will walk you through the creation of 5 of his images.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Gregory Crewdson's "Brief Encounters"

A week ago Irvin and I took a trip to the Portland Museum of Art to see a showing of Gregory Crewdson's "Brief Encounters" co-presented by the Space Gallery. "Brief Encounters" is a documentary that takes you along as Gregory creates some of his haunting images of small-town America for a series called "Beneath the Roses". All I can say is wow!

©Gregory Crewdson

These images are elaborately staged and executed on a grand "cinematic" scale. Sometimes entire sets are built on sound stages (including the image shown above) though most are shot on location in some of the old industrial towns of Western Massachusetts like Pittsfield and Lee. The scale of the production of a single image is mind boggling and crazy to see first hand. Gregory points out that the budget for a single image can cost as much as a small independent film. Shot with an 8x10 camera the images are produced on a very large scale, some as large as 48"x60" and the results are breath taking. He is a self admitted control freak and it shows as he takes over every aspect of crafting the image, refining it until it is flawless. It was interesting however to note that although most of the work is done in camera ultimately the film is scanned and edited in Adobe Photoshop, allowing him to tweak them to a dizzying level of perfection.

It was such a pleasure to get a behind the scenes perspective on these shoots from an artist of his caliber. His interviews are insightful not only for his thought processes but also how his experiences when he was a child affect his photography today. Irvin and I came away inspired and with the sense that sometimes, maybe we think too small......

Even if his style doesn't appeal to you, I would still recommend checking this movie out. It will soon be available through Netflix, although there is no specific release date listed on their website. (DVD only) See the trailer below and a link to its site.


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