Photography – Technical & Reviews

Fine art – my perspective (Part1)

The human form

I’ll start by clearing up the basics.  Fine art nudes is an art form.  It has nothing to do with sex, exhibitionism, or voyeurism.  It does not degrade, sensationalize, or prey upon any gender.  The confusion comes from those that use the term ‘fine art’ as a gateway to shoot what is very obviously not art at all.  I’ve met people who can ramble on for a while about the fine lines and subtle tones of an art piece and I’ve met people who look at the same piece, tilt their head and say ‘cute’.  Everyone sees art differently and in my experience it’s not something you learn.  You either like it, love it, or don’t see it.  I have never seen a ‘face palm’ with a shocked expression and exclamation of “NOW I SEE IT!”



Model: Marcela Zuniga

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always loved the graceful clean lines formed by the human body.  Whether it is that of a soft beautiful female or a muscle filled shot of a male.  All shapes, sizes, and ages.  More recently very fit females have come to have the best of both soft lines as well as shadow from evident muscles.  All beautiful, especially in the right light.

I’m sure there was a time in my life that I was taught to consider any form of nakedness as inappropriate.  That is not a natural reaction, we are taught that nakedness is a sin somehow.  Later in life, as we start to rebel, question, and venture out with our minds, and especially when we discover art, we then discover the beauty of the human body.  And that it is not inappropriate to view them as the forms of art that they are.

I’m fortunate to have a very understanding and loving wife who understands my need to create.  She trusts that models will be treated with respect and that the only goal is the finished project.  That trust, from a partner, is important yet rare.  I will discuss that in another installment of this series.

The introduction


Model: Marcela Zuniga

When a model contacts me about creating some art I, of course, browse through  his or her images.  My mind immediately starts considering the options of what poses and lighting would work best for their body shape and attributes.  I begin to imagine what the end result may be based on past experience as well as my ever present checklist of images I’d like to create.

I’ll chat a bit to make sure the model understands the art we will create will involve nudity.  I always feel a little creepy in that part of the conversation because of that early teaching that nudity is inappropriate and here I am talking to someone I’ve likely never met about shedding their clothes for my camera.

It is ultimately important that they are fully comfortable with what we will be doing.  Most often I’ve found the promise of what may be created is a strong motivation to many to push themselves beyond their normal boundaries.  And, to date, everyone has been very pleased with our results.

Parts 2 and 3
In the next installments I will cover the trust issues of significant others in your life if you want to shoot fine art and just how a professional shoot works with nudity.


Style is the key to success

In any profession that has a creative element, the only road to success is having a style of your own.  Without it, you are like the 98% that have no style and compete strictly on price and quantity. Although this is true with many professions we’ll talk about photography…naturally.

IMG_0520-EditFirst let me qualify the term success.  To some it’s a comfortable living (or lavish) from the income of selling your art or services.  To some it’s the feeling of being creative.  Where money isn’t the driving force.  Of course, both are admirable excuses to getting out of bed and making things happen today.

Those with no style will tell you things like, “I like to get it perfect in the camera.”, or “I never retouch my photos”.  What they are really saying is, “I don’t want a unique style, that takes work and a lot of learning.”   They are usually the same people who compete at the low end of the pricing scale because their work looks exactly like everyone else’s.  The only reason they sell their product is because it’s cheaper than the next guys.

So, what is this thing called STYLE and were can I buy some.

Yeah, sorry, that’s just not going to happen.  First, you really do need to get away from thinking your camera has the ability to make a perfect picture.  I do know a few unique wedding photographers who have some amazing glass and know exactly how to get a fairly perfect shot pretty often.  But, they take those same shots day after day.  And they still warm them up, crop them, or do some other things to make them ‘theirs’.

Figure it’s going to take a year or more for your style to develop.  That will include a lot of ‘out of box’ experiences.  You need to venture into the world of Lightroom and Photoshop and have a good computer system to let you work without a lot of updates and delays.  And a comfortable chair.  Some good music.  Turn off your Facebook and be ready to focus.  There are plenty of great videos on how to do pretty much everything with any program.  In Adobe’s case their site has plenty and you can subscribe to for very well made and detailed videos on everything.  Creative Live is also a wonderful source for learning.

With all this learning you’ll be doing you might be asking yourself, how does THIS give me a style of my own.  If I’m learning all the same things as everyone else how does that make me unique and give me…my style?  This is the interesting part.  It’s a bit like walking into a kitchen full of every kind of food.  If you go to make a meat loaf the chances are very good that your meat loaf will taste very different than the last 10 people who made one.  Same ingredients.  But different results.  Here is where the YOU comes into the mix and creates a style.

Once you learn dodge and burn, layers, masking, building your own actions, and probably hundreds of other little nuances of Photoshop and Lightroom, you will start mixing them and applying them the way YOU love the look.  You will learn just how much contrast or blend of color you like and after a while you will do the same thing to the next and the next and the next.  Without specifically working on building your style you are doing just that.  No two people will do exactly the same things to any given picture and the results may or may not look close in the end.  They will never look identical.  Ever.

Don’t think you are done.  Once you have a style and if it’s one that sells, you may even build that into an action so it’s one button to adjust that shot the way you love it.  And for many, that is the end.  They won’t go farther because, well, they have found their success in the popularity of THAT style that is uniquely theirs.  From a business stand point this is fine.  Some famous greeting card artists and photographers like Andy Silvers and Ansel Adams have very specific styles that I can point to and tell you who did it.  That made them a nice living.

Those of us who see the success as what we can create art wise will probably never stop tweaking with our style by learning more all the time.  Just like how every friend and experience changes our personality just a bit and how we see life, every new thing you learn on your camera, or a software package will change, ever so slightly, your style.

Style is good.  Style is something you can’t buy.  Style takes a long time to create.  Style will be who you are and no one can take that away from you.  If you want people to point at your work and that, ‘Hey, that’s a shot by (insert name here)!’ then you’ll be glad you took the time to develop your style.

Enjoy life…even that will reflect in your style!





After over four years of various photographic ventures into everything from weddings to babies to families to fashion I’ve come to the cross roads on just exactly how I want my photography, and hence, the rest of my life, to play out.  And it’s not any of those.

I am totally in love with the fine art aspect of what photography can be.  There are plenty of photographers out there that shoot all those other things and a few that devote their craft to the fine arts.  I have the pleasure of going in whatever direction my heart and mind want to go.  I should add that I have the most beautiful and understanding wife any artist could have.  She wants me to be as happy as possible in my pursuits in the fall of my life.  I love her so.  Thank you Linda!

So, to make it more clear as to my direction I have changed the name of my ‘business’ from Dave Kelley Photography to Dave Kelley Artistics.  The second being far less likely to be asked to shoot babies, puppies, or kids.  I love them all, I just don’t find any satisfaction in photographing them.

If you are looking for a great photographer for more common work check out these folks.



That leaves me with time to continue to learn about all of the tools I use to create my art.  I’m a geek, so learning what I can about cameras and lighting makes my mouth water of course, and learning more about Photoshop, Lightroom, and now Final Cut Pro for artistic videos, I’m pretty much in geek heaven.  My shooting schedule will go from ‘hey, let’s shoot’ to a far more idea based approach.  As I come up with ideas that intrigue me I’ll plan them out and find models that fit the look and make it happen.

I don’t really consider what I do a business.  I am open for hire but only if I’m in control of the art created.  Otherwise I will make available my art for purchase as I create it.  Luckily I’ve had a lot of interest in people wanting my art on their walls.

So there you have it.  A new name to signify the new direction.

My work will be edgier, probably a bit darker, and all over the board from vintage, to nudes, to cosplay, and even some short videos with either music or editorial or documentary feels to them.  Whatever interests me.

If you want to model for one of my projects feel free to let me know.  Understand that artistic work may very well include nude or semi nude poses.  The finished product is always classy and edgy and rarely actually shows more than a basic bikini, but when I’m creating it’s important that the model is 100% comfortable with whatever we come up with.

I want to thank those who have encouraged me, and worked with me as a model, makeup artist, or hair stylist.  Your art is most certainly main ingredients in anything I’ve done or will do.


What’s the point to a point and shoot?

I visited a wonderful photographer in California a few months ago. Gregory Moore. We had a nice dinner and as we walked along the evening streets chatting about photography (imagine that) he kept pulling out his little point and shoot and clicked off shots of walls, town streets, store fronts, and anything that caught his eye.

I’ve loved his work because of his subdued lighting.  Especially when it’s obviously a location shot.  Well, not really a location shot.  I think he often does a shot in the studio and lights it impeccably.  Then in post he adds one or more backgrounds in and then uses yet another set of amazing skills to blend them so perfectly that I can’t really tell that it might not be on location.  Then again, I’ve been with him on a location shoot where he used even more of the same background to add more flavor and emotion to a shot.


Canon Powershot S120

So, there is still a good reason to have a good P&S in your pocket at all times when wondering around.  Just the other day I was walking the mall and there was a wall between stores that was seemingly out of place.  Beautiful wood or different colors.  Now I have it as a possible backdrop in a future shot.  And it’s mine, I don’t have to pay anyone for the right to use it.

Speaking of rights, I always make sure there isn’t any ‘prior art’ in a shot.  There was a photographer that took a picture that was published and in the background, blurred out by the DOF, was some graffitti.  Now, the graffitti wasn’t legal but the tagger who created it sued the photographer for $10,000 and won.

The first thought is, why not just use my cell phone?  And I have before.  But, having a camera that has enough lens to capture some good light, has a nice ISO range, and in the case of the camera I’m looking at, the Canon S120, the low fStop of f1.8 will make evening pictures rock.  But, most important, is to get one with at least 12mp and RAW so the image can be manipulated a LOT after the fact.  This is also the difference between the $100 camera and the $450 camera.  But, worth it.  Pick whatever you like but so some serious research to make sure you find what you like and it has good reviews.  Sony seems to lead the pack but it’s a close call these days.  Canon is hot on their heels and I didn’t see anyone talking about Nikon at all.  Which is odd because Nikon was hyping their P&S cameras in ads not long ago claiming that if you had their P&S you didn’t need a photographer.  Yeah, that impressed me too…really?

So, work on those masking skills in Photoshop and start building up that background library.


Tight depth of field in the studio

After getting the Canon 85mm f1.2 lens for my 6D I found it hard to use in the studio.  Of course, outdoors I have more control over the camera because I can increase the speed enough to cut the light back and use the beautiful narrow depth of field that the lens affords me.  But in the studio the modeling lights were not bright enough and the flash was ALMOST to much light with the flashes set at their lowest settings.

To get that same beautiful DOF in the studio I needed to cut the light back.  So, I added a Tiffen 72mm Variable Neutral Density filter in front of the lens.  This is a 2-8 fStop filter so I can adjust it for just about anything in the studio.  At f2 it gave me the example shot below.  Notice how fast the DOF dropped off because I was at f1.2 on the lens but blocked the light by 2 fStops balancing it all out well with a flash.  The flash was still low but not at the lowest setting.  This allows me the options to have multipal flashes at different levels to create the moods I want yet still go to f1.2 if I so desire.


Of course, the first 30 shots were pretty much out of focus because I was getting a feel for it.  I’ve found that I can’t use the center focus point on the eyes and then re-frame each shot like I normally do.  I actually have to move the focus point in the camera to be about where the eyes are in whatever frame I want to have.  One at the far end for a full body shot for example and then i can still focus on the eyes.  This, of course, is only important under f2 or so.

If I needed to do autofocus but wanted to crank the filter to a much darker setting I would hold the filter ring and turn it to wide open so I could focus and then just before taking the shot I’d rotate the filter to the darker setting.  The results were a very warm and creamy set of shots.  These examples came from a 2 hour shoot with Michelle were I never changed the camera from f1.2 the whole night and we caught some wonderful shots.

Here is a second example of the beauty of using lower fStops in the studio.


I doubt I’m the first photographer to come to the conclusion that the ND filter can be handy this way…heck, I may be the last one to figure it out.  But, I’d never seen anyone talk about using one in studio so I wanted to share my experiance.  I’m not sure my ND filter will be coming off my 85mm f1.2 anytime soon.



Canon 6D wifi feature…

I’ve used the 6D for studio shooting a few times now and it’s light, simple to use, and I’m very happy with the quality.  The 7D now feels like a tank.

Up until yesterday I had the 6D connecting through the studio wifi router as an infrastructure connection.  That meant no direct connection between it and the iPad I wanted to use to show the pictures.  I found later that this added a delay between a quick unfocused version of the preview and a clear version to replace it.  Sometimes up to 20 seconds.  Not good.  And, this doesn’t allow for location viewing on the iPad since I’d be away from the router.


So, I changed to the peer-to-peer option that set up the 6D as an access point that the iPad could directly connect to.  This eliminated any delay of the preview image.  And, as we shot on location I could hand the iPad to the model to look them over to get an idea of how her posing was and what I was getting.

Other than forgetting the iPad on the ground and walking off leaving this bright pink (don’t ask) fully loaded iPad in a busy park, we got some good use from this feature.  Oh, and there are plenty of honest people around.  I figure 100 people walked right past it and left it sitting right there.  Good heart workout without having to run!

On the drive home the model went through the whole shoot and deleted some obviously bad shots.  That also removes them from the card in the camera so be careful letting people use that feature.  It can be turned off.  She also stared the ones she liked and this is very handy since those stars are added to the meta data on the camera because when I imported those shots into Lightroom they had the stars set.  I can see myself looking through shoots this way and trimming the fat before an import.

One thing to note is that I found it was easier to have the camera and iPad set to stay on all the time…or at least the camera since it’s the access point.  If the camera isn’t on, the iPad or iPhone can’t see the pictures.  The battery in the 6D seems to handle that just fine.  It last as long as my 5D or 7D, even with wifi turned on.

This wifi feature has turned out to be as useful as I’d hoped.  It’s certainly becoming a standard way of shooting for me already.