Tuesday, March 8, 2011

How many cameras do you have?

Update: I've been mentioned on a friend's blog:

Nikon D50, my workhorse camera
I have heard that question every once in a while, but I think the more important question is this: how many cameras do you need and if you have more than one, why? I have 4 cameras that everyone would call a camera plus a video camera plus all 3 cell phones in the house have cameras on board. Now I know most people discount a cell phone camera, but back in the day my very first digital camera was only 2 Mega pixels and I thought it was the most awesome invention I had ever seen. It was even a major reason I became interested instead of tolerant towards computers. All of these cameras are digital, and I have found that the lack of film encourages everyone in the house to shoot pictures without feeling like they shouldn't because they aren't artists.
Point and Shoot Cameras in my household
As you can see from the photos, there is quite a selection of makers too. The video camera and the top silver camera are both Canon. The silver camera in the bottom of the photo is a Samsung, and the red camera is a Vivitar. I don't have any strong brand loyalty towards my cameras and more than I do towards the maker of my wrench set. They are tools and they have different uses, fundamentally their use is to allow me to make the images I want when I want to make them. The Canon point and shoot went with me daily to the construction site to record our progress on building the house. It has paint and drywall mud on the case and it help up brilliantly to the abuse of the work site. The Vivitar I purchased when I had lost the Canon on the job site for a few days and I needed a camera to record our progress. The Samsung is the camera that goes in the car's glove box on our adventures geocaching, and the video camera is used only for shooting video. And then there is my big camera, the Nikon with the telephoto lens.

Now that I am not working on a construction site daily, I tend to carry my camera bag with me most of the time. Now that I have my camera bag with me, I most frequently shoot with the Nikon. But this is the key, I am an artist before I ever pick up a camera. The camera is only a tool I use to make my art, and the tool I use is the tool I have on hand. There have been photos that I took with a cell phone camera, because it was the only tool I had with me. It might not have been the same as using a different camera, but I still have some beautiful images that I deliberately designed as art for that format.

So I have access to 8 cameras, and I don't feel like I have too many. When we go on a family trip somewhere, everyone has a camera to record whatever catches their attention. When I am out and about, I nearly always have a camera available and that is a good thing. None of these cameras gathers dust, so I would say that I don't have too many cameras. I do have my favorites, and there are a couple of these cameras that I wouldn't buy if I had to do it over again, but it is the same way I have my favorite paintbrushes. I don't throw out the brushes I don't like, I just use them differently.

How many cameras do you have? And how many do you use?

Friday, March 4, 2011

Business Decisions

Update: I have been featured on Creative Artists Blog! 

Hi All,
First off, let me say I am sorry for  the time stretching so long between posts. It hasn't been because I can't think of anything to write, but rather because I have been busy working on my business. In addition to the nature and wildlife photos I have in archive, (and still shoot every opportunity), I am going to offer portrait and wedding photography and I have been working on that aspect of my business.

Setting prices is a bit difficult, especially since it feels like working in a vacuum if you don't know why your prices are where they are. I found this website http://www.served-up-fresh.com/easy-as-pie/ that specifically addresses this whole issue, and gives a comparison to what other professionals charge for their photography. It is a wonderful read, offers great insights, and I will be purchasing the whole package as I can afford it. Even the free pointers have been useful, and how often can that be said about free advice?

The next project I will be working on is finishing a website dedicated to the aforesaid portraiture and weddings.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Wild Life Photos

I love photographing wildlife. I posted over a Squidoo about this topic which you can read at http://www.squidoo.com/photographing-wildlife-with-tangledwood

On this page I am just going to display some of my animal photos. Enjoy!

These photos and many, many more can be purchased on any of these websites. ;-D

Thursday, February 10, 2011

A Level Playing Field


     There is so much neat camera gear! While it is true that I do own more camera gear than I like to carry with me, (or could even physically carry with me) at any one time, I don’t think I will ever get tired of looking at photography items to make my life easier. I have filters to adjust color, polarizing filters, and neutral density filters. I have specialty lenses to capture macro shots, fisheye shots, and a zoom lens to bring ‘dot animals’ into range for identification. I have camera bags and backpacks to shlep it all out to the field and back. I have lens cloths, and a mini survival pack in my camera bag too, with a small first aid kit. I have tripods, a monopod, bean bags to support the camera…. Well, you get the picture, AND my collection of equipment is very modest compared to most photographers.

      My latest discovery is a spirit level that fits into the hot shoe atop of my camera. I was on a photography forum lately, and someone referred to a level on their camera, not one on a tripod. Now I realize that this is not a new idea, in fact, I have a small bubble level mounted on my tripod. I don’t always shoot from a tripod; especially when I turn the camera on its side, I tend to take fast, slightly crooked pictures.  With this little device, I am more likely to shoot straight.

     So I went to that site’s online store, where levels that slipped into a hot shoe mount were listed for $35USD. I was astounded. I didn’t even check on shipping because that seemed so outrageous a price. I looked it up on Amazon and found it there for $3.95, plus $3.11 shipping.  For 20% of the price, I had it in my hand in three days. The company on Amazon was fotodiox. I have never bought from them before, but I am pleased and I will look in their online shop first when I want something photography related again.

     The level slides securely into the mount, and while it can be removed easily, I have no fear that it will fall off as I use my camera. If I am photographing wildlife I might not take the time to check the level carefully, but having it will make me more mindful of keeping my camera level. And if I am shooting landscapes, I will be certain the camera is level even if the ground is not. While many things can be fixed in post processing, it is far simpler to avoid the problem in the first place.

Now, you will have to excuse me. I have to go and check my new level playing field.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Time-Life Photography Series

My good friend Zeba is hosting a giveaway for my artwork on her blog. Please checkout her blog, and I look forward to seeing you all have the opportunity to win.

I have just re found my copy of The time-Life photography series. I have 12 of the books, I don't know how many were in the series. The Camera was published they year I was born, (look it up if you're curious) and of course only refers to the old 35mm film cameras. Since I have decided I need to polish my photography skills, I am going to go back and re-read the series. If I could find my photography text book form college, I would do all the exercises from that again too, but that has been lost to the mists of time. So from time to time, I will be posting about what I am learning.  
Without Editing
And my reason for wanting to do this? I have to confess it is the appeal of HDR photos. High Dynamic Range photography can be overdone, but what technique hasn't been used poorly and made to look cheap? Without knowing what I was doing, I was trying to create HRD photos in Photoshop. I would try to bring out detail from over exposed or underexposed photos all the time. I am very excited to find that other people have been doing this and have much to teach me. And the first requirement for creating the HDR photos I've admired it to shoot bracketed shots with a tripod. When I first read about HDR, I wasn't even sure my Nikon D50 would do bracketed exposures, so I had to look it up. Then I realized I had been relying on the camera far too much and not enough on my own skills. 
Edited with Levels

I also want to begin working on becoming a certified photographer, and have the confidence that comes from knowing that I know the basics of my trade, rather than be the gal who kinda sorta remembers how to do this thingy.... Since I frequently am shooting wildlife, I use Auto quite a bit, and I just don't practice enough with the manual settings. Nothing is wrong with using Auto, but if I want to shoot manual mode, I should be able to do it from my head and not have to pull out the manual. That just doesn't look professional.
And now for something completely different: Why you might ask, am I wearing a veil in this photo? I was at the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Reserve, near Alamosa, Colorado, and the wind was blowing the sand. These veils are far more practical than I would have ever guessed until I spent time in the sand. 

These dunes are the tallest in North America, and formed during the Pleistocene, concurrent with mammoths in the last great Ice Age. This is not the largest dune field in North America, but it looks surprisingly out of place when visitors first find the park.

This is the same photo I use for the blog's background.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Shrine of Art: How We Squash Our Creative Spark

When I first began my art career, before I ever entered school, I had learned about the Shrine of Art. I had learned to think in terms like Great Art, and folk art, and crafts. And I had my biases about each. Great Art adorned churches and palaces, it inspired awe and was beyond my reach. Folk art was within reach, surrounded me, and made life more pleasant, but wasn't awe inspiring. Crafts were what we did in preschool, heck the macaroni  we glued to the paper was called "Kraft". The Shrine of Art said I had to struggle to make art, that it had to be nearly miraculous in the creation of art. And from a young age, I (of course) rebelled against this idea. Or I thought I rebelled. I didn't need to follow instructions, I needed to follow my muse. That was merely embracing the idea of the Shrine of Art more firmly.

My art teachers said I had to follow steps to make art, but I always felt that following steps got in the way of the Creative Spark. I would have a great idea form as they described an assignment, "You will draw a cow skull......" and I was done listening, off looking for a pencil while they droned on and on about doing a series of sketches, then a series of exercises shading the skull with different light sources, then draw the skull upside down........ All I could see was how doing a drawing over and over and over was going to slow me down getting to the drawing I wanted to do, maybe even make me forget the original drawing. So often I would do my drawing, my way and be rudely surprised by the grade. What do you mean I failed the assignment just because I didn't do it your way? Can't you tell Great Art when you see it?

As I've done more in my life, I let go of the idea of the Shrine of Art. I've learned the value in doing a series of sketches before I pull out the big paper. I'm too busy to waste my time doing a wonderful drawing to then stand back and say, "I wish I had positioned it differently on the page before I started." I've learned the value of having a plan. I've even learned that sometimes art has to step back and make room for the mundane. And if I have a series of sketches on an idea, I might just remember the creative spark better when I can get back to it after cooking supper, cleaning house, doing the bills...... the Shrine of Art doesn't leave any room for living a normal life.

I've also learned to keep a portfolio. In school I hated being required to keep a portfolio. I was never satisfied with my own work, and a portfolio reminded me of my failures. I felt like on each work, I had failed to achieve the cool idea I had been inspired by, that my poor muddy attempts had not reached the glory of the vision brought to me by the creative spark. I threw away work, gave it away, or occasionally sold it for a song if someone was so kind as to insist on paying me for a piece. The Shrine said my past work was an indictment of failure. It wasn't as good  as So-and-So's, it wasn't as colorful as His, it wasn't as graceful as Hers, it wasn't as original as Theirs..... Well, you get the drift. And if you are an artist, you might have your own little goblin telling you the same things. The goblin comes from the Shrine of Art, even if you don't know it by that name.

It was digital photography that really helped me get past that mentality. Film photography was Art, and man did it ever have steps to follow, especially in the darkroom. But digital photography was Fun. The film was free, right? And if I didn't get the photo I was looking for, press the button six more times, I might find it yet. Digital photography gave me the gratification of making the image, but it made the sketching process fun, not drudgery. Looking at my pictures on the computer, I could see what had worked, what almost worked and what should be deleted. And I could see where sometimes, I had needed planning if I had wanted the magnificent photo I was looking for. Did I need more light? Planning could have fixed that. Did I need a tripod? Planning could have fixed that. Planning wasn't getting in the way of creativity, it could have, well, enhanced the creativity.

So as I've learned more about art, and learned to let go of the Shrine of Art. I've come to see that my teachers were right. Planning for art allows for better outcomes. But what I was try to rebel against and embracing more and more firmly in my struggles, is this: The Shrine of Art is serious stuff. It is thoughtful, and insightful, it is a stuffed shirt, and it sucks all the fun out of Art, leaving only the struggle. The art I do is fun, I am not driven to do it, I want to do it, I feel good doing it. And I've learned that planning doesn't destroy the ideas.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

    It is terribly cold for Colorado's Front Range, so today I am drinking coffee and doing more business work.
On my list of things to get done is:
Get all the way through doing my business plan workbook, even if I don't finish every item in the workbook. That is why I buy sticky notes.

I need to set up my light box do some product photography.  Then I need to add my photos to my products to enhance my listings.

I need to make sure that I have products listed in all of my storefronts.

I found Etsy first, so it has the most products but they charge me to list each product and take a percentage of the sales. ArtFire and Artistwebsites do not charge me to list, but they take a higher percentage of the sales.

I need to work on Search Engine Optimization on all my listings.

I need to add a sales button to this blog. I need to learn how to add code to a website to do that. So probably need a book.

I need to research free advertising for my sites. I am my only employer, and I don't have even a shoestring budget for advertising.

I need to update my will. If I am squashed by a beaver cutting down a tree on me tomorrow, my family needs to be able to access all my accounts and shut them down in an orderly fashion. That means I need more organization than the wallpapering of sticky notes on my computer hutch with cryptic scribbles that might be passwords or might be usernames, or heck, might be a grocery list.

I need to continue to sort my 45,000 photos to add to my portfolio. I need to tag the photos and make any edits that are needed so they are ready to use when I need them, not after messing with them for half an hour when I really wanted to upload them and go.

And finally, to make it all worthwhile, I need to go out into the cold and mail a package to a nice lady who bought something from me overnight. Waking up to a sale soothes the artist trapped by the mountains of paperwork. Mmmm....

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Small Business Owner - The Starving Artist

     That's what my business card says. "Starving Artist". A phrase that brings joy to the heart of the art collector, and shrivels the bowels of the artist. The story of Picasso having only enough money to buy one tube of blue paint, so he entered his 'blue period' is interesting to anyone who is not an artist. To the artist, it is a cautionary tale of someone who failed to plan and was caught up in the madness of creativity. It is a reason to set aside passion and do something safe. After all, who wants to live in a cardboard box under a bridge, painting with ketchup and mustard packets? Not that there is anything wrong with that life choice, if that's what you want. But that is definitely not the path I want.

     I want to NOT be the 'Starving Artist'. I want to be able to live in a house, pay my bills on time, and sell my art. I want to be payed what my work is worth. I am taking all the steps to be successful, doing the business part of being a small business owner correctly. I am filling out paperwork, creating forms, doing research and running my own business. This is taking time away from the creative side, yes. But it is also assuring me that I can afford to continue being creative. As my business grows, I will have to supplement it with other income and work other jobs. But the goal remains the same. I want to grow up to be an artist who is able to support themselves with their art. I want to be one of the rare ones.

     And my business cards? As soon as I am able to pay myself what I make at my day job, I will order new ones.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Shooting off Model Rockets

We shot off model rockets today. I took about 100 photos of the rockets, and I got these 5.
Rockets move a lot faster than landscapes, flowers, or even animals!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Product Photography for Beginners

     Product photography seems like a very simple process doesn't it? After all, people photograph things everyday. But the difference between a good product photo and a bad one can be the difference in a buyer wanting your product and purchasing, or deciding to move to another seller because your photo doesn't answer their questions.

When you go have your portrait made, what does the photographer have? There is a set for you, the product, to enter. There is a carefully selected backdrop that will compliment but not compete with you as the subject. It has lights set up at very specific points around the room. Any light that is a flash will have a diffuser in front of it, to avoid creating harsh shadows on, or behind you. There is a camera on a rolling tripod, with a remote shutter release to make sure the picture taken is as sharp as possible. This setup costs thousands of dollars.


You don’t need to spend thousands of dollars to get great photos. You don’t need to buy a fancy light box set up to photograph products. Think of photographing small objects as doing a controlled portrait of them in a miniature studio. This is something that can be done in almost any space you have.  My “studio” is also my office, my craft room, and what visually looks like chaos really does have organization.

The lessons we want to take away from the professional portrait studio photographer can be implemented with far less expensive field expedients and good old Yankee engineering.

Light Sources

First of all, my work room has 3 light sources for everyday use. I have an overhead light, a desk light, and the light of the computer screen. When I am doing product photography, I turn off all of those. None of them are daylight bulbs, and they all affect the colors of photography.

I also have 3 lights that I use solely for photography. They are 2 small clamp lamps with daylight bulbs, ($7 each from Walmart) and I replaced the top light in my hutch with a daylight bulb.  You notice in this picture my hutch has a mirror. This has to be covered, because otherwise you have created another light source, one you didn’t mean to and it will affect your photography.

My Studio
                  (You can see where the light is circled in red on the mirror in this picture.)

                  Of course, clear off the work area to put the product in the center of the lights.  

We will construct a very simple stage to showcase the product. (This is a modified light box.) Place your foam board at the back of the area. This is just a single piece, but the tri fold pieces children use for science projects work wonderfully too. They will even stand up by themselves if you don’t have a wall to lean up against.

At this point, depending on the angle you are shooting, you could set up your product, but there could be a harsh line in your photo. Here it would be especially harsh since have contrasting colors of the table and the foam board. It is easier to cover the foam board and the table with a single seamless piece of cloth than trying to avoid photographing the join of wall to table. 

Here I used a sheet to cover up the foam board. I normally prefer to use black, grey, or white velvet, but it is easier to see the sheet in these photos. Using a sheet is perfectly fine as a backdrop, but I have made a mistake already, and I didn’t tumble it in the dryer to remove the wrinkles. If you choose to use a sheet, tumble it. ;-D We want people looking at your products, not the wrinkles.

So now we are ready to start turning off and on lights. This is what you get if you go ahead and photograph using the normal room lights and using the flash on your camera.

This isn’t a bad product photo. But it isn’t great, and would never pass for professional. You can see a very sharp and distinct shadow behind each figure and you want to avoid that. With this harsh light, you can also see each wrinkle, and that is also very distracting. The light is uncontrolled here. The room lights are not enough to light it without using the flash, but the flash is overwhelming the subject.
If we turn off the room lights, then we are in the dark, so in this next picture I have turned on the top light and turned off the flash on my camera. Already we have completely changed the shadows and made the figures look softer and rounder. 

                                          We have also highlighted a different set of wrinkles.
Top light on figure

Think about directing light like painting an object with spray paint. You can control what you see by what gets covered in the spray of the light.

This image has only one light from the left of the photograph.

This image has only one light from the right of the photograph.

     In all these photos, we still have some shadows that are deeper than we want on a product where people need to see detail in order to buy.  Each of these lights reveals a different side of the object, so if we combine these three light sources, we have an evenly lit subject.

Self Timers

Every point and shoot that is not meant to be disposable that I have ever seen comes with a self timer. Even some of the disposables have a self timer since it is the best way to get a self portrait when you are out with friends.
Some self timers are programmable, and you can choose to have them go off after 2, 5, or 10 seconds. No matter what time delay you choose, use the self timer feature. It keeps your hand from shaking the camera as you press the shutter release.

If you are shooting film, some of the older cameras come with a shutter release cable. It screws onto the shutter button and has a remote plunger you press to trigger the shutter. That is another good way to remove the shaking of your hand from the camera.

Tripods and Other Means of Support

So the photos above are looking pretty good. Why do we need a tripod? No matter how still you are, when you push the button on the shutter release, your arm will move slightly. In most photography, it isn’t noticeable, especially if the subject is brightly lit and the camera shutter moves fast to take the picture. (Controlling shutter speeds and aperture settings are a subject for another essay and we are not concerned about them here.) In low light photography, the shutter shake is very noticeable and causes the picture to be less sharp than it was when you looked thru the view finder.
With tripod and self timer

Without tripod, without self timer
 For these two photos, I used two different cameras, one on a tripod and one hand held. You can see the sharpness of the second photo compared to the first photos. (You can also see the difference of the color sensors between the two cameras, but again, that is a topic for another essay.)

Most cameras will accept a tripod, no matter how inexpensive they are. This is my Canon Power Shot A490, and I got it for $60 at Christmas.
These screw threads are the same thread that the professional cameras use.

On a small camera like this, even the cheapest tripod from the Dollar Store or Walmart fits the screw threads and works well to hold the camera.

Tabletop Tripod from Dollar Store  
 $20 Walmart Tripod with extendable legs and
  camera shoe

The tabletop tripod screws directly into the bottom of the camera and is moderately adjustable as to the angle that it holds the camera.  They are prone to falling over, so use with caution.

Attaching shoe to camera
      The larger tripod from Walmart (or comparable big box store) has extendable legs so it is more stable. It also has what is called a “shoe” and that is what screws into the bottom of the camera. The shoe is removable, so you can easily snap the camera on and off the tripod as you want. Don’t loose the shoe. It is unique to each model of tripod, and they don’t sell replacements unless you have a very expensive tripod. If you loose the shoe, you will probably have to buy another tripod. I get around this problem by always leaving the shoe screwed on to the bottom of my camera.

Other Support

     What if you don’t have a tripod? What if you forgot it, or didn’t want to carry it with you?

A beanbag works to hold your camera. It can be as simple as this,

 or you can be fancier and sew a bag for the beans. If you plan on placing the beanbag on something slick like the hood of a car, it would be ideal if the bean bag had a leather patch to keep it from sliding, but it is not necessary. In a pinch, a purse could be used to support the camera, or a coat bunched up. Anything that takes the camera out of your hand the critical fraction of a second that the shutter moves will improve your photos.

            Using these inexpensive techniques, you can produce excellent quality photos of your products. You do not need to invest in expensive cameras, or a professionally made light box, or expensive lights. If you are creative with these basic ideas, photography can be inexpensive. It is rewarding to see your photos come out as you want them to, and to see your products attributes highlighted by the photos.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


Hi there,

I am Colleen Coppock, and this is my first blog. I am sure that is a total cliche, but it is true, so I will leave it there.

My company is TangledWood LLC. I am a photographer and painter in Colorado Springs CO, and my goal is to support myself as a  artist. This blog may or may not have much to do with that goal, but since that is a large part of my self identity, it will feature prominently in these pages. My work is available for purchase at http://www.etsy.com/shop/TangledWood and at http://colleen-coppock.artistwebsites.com/, as well as at http://www.artfire.com/users/TangledWood . Please feel free to leave me comments about the artwork. Feedback is manna from heaven!

I expect to post to this blog two or three times a week, sometimes more. Stop by and check out my updates.