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Category: Useful Stuff   |   View all recent posts

How I Did It ~ Lighting Set-Up
WHAT: For Photographers, Useful Stuff, Tips, Tricks & Tutorials   |   WHEN: May 1, 2009
I had several people ask how I did the lighting for the fitness portfolio images of Jen, so I just decided to post a little visual since we all know what a picture's worth.

This set-up was for most of the images of Jen in her workout clothes. The image of her in street clothes was a little bit different set-up using just a Nikon SB-800 with a 20x20 softbox attachment, a silver reflector and ambient light.

Note: If I did the set-up below again, I would bump up the power of the Nikon SB-800 flash providing back light to 1/8th power or so to get a little stronger highlight from behind.


Day 105 ~ D-I-Y-ness
WHAT: Fun, Project 365 (2009), Useful Stuff   |   WHEN: April 20, 2009

I love behind the scenes documentaries. Gimme a show about how something's made, and I'll give you 30 minutes of my life to watch it. Sometimes 60 if it's really cool.

Well, here's my behind-the-scenes mockumentary. Recently, I announced some new textures from Italy, and I created a video tutorial to show how I use them. After take 12, I had a pretty good video ready to go... until I listened to the audio. Sounded like I was in a windstorm, and every time I said the letter "p" or "t", the puff air created in the enunciation sounded like a tornado was camped outside my window. Zoinks, Shaggy.

Thanks to my buddy, Robin, who's got a background in AV equipment and basically all things electronic, I managed to create a DIY solution to fix the problem based on his instructions. Tools required? A wire hanger, some duct tape (of course), and a pair of panty hose. I felt like a MacGyver, and it worked like a champ to get me out of a jam. The audio sound soooo much better with this little contraption. BTW, the Nikon 70-200mm lens box served only as a stand to elevate the microphone closer to my mouth during recording.

I bet Paul Harvey didn't have such humble microphone beginnings.


Firenze ~ Italian Texture Collection
WHAT: News, Useful Stuff, Tools for Photographers   |   WHEN: April 16, 2009

I'm ridiculously excited to announce the new Firenze Italian Texture Collection is available for purchase. Of the hundreds of textures I photographed in breath-taking Italy, I included in this set the 38 that I use most frequently in creating my fine art images. Now they are available for you to use as your own.

Each texture is a 300dpi jpg that can be customized in terms of size, color, contrast, etc and can be layered with other textures to create endless variations of looks that will give any image a rich, intricate fine art feel.

I’ve tested the templates with Photoshop CS, CS2 and CS3, and everything works fine. It may work for earlier versions before CS, I just haven’t tested for those. I believe the textures will work flawlessly in Photoshop Elements as well. In addition, when you purchase the textures, you will receive a link to a video tutorial I created to show you how I use the textures and how - in only a couple minutes - you can layer these textures to create stunning works of art.

If you are interested, please send payment ($75) via PayPal to, and I will email you a download link for the textures as quickly as possible, and certainly within 24 hours of receiving your payment. Please be sure to include your correct email address with your PayPal payment.

Cost: $75 (includes 37 of my most popular Italian textures and a video tutorial showing you how to use them)
Sorry, no individual texture purchases at this time, only the set.

Due to the nature of the product, exchanges and refunds are not possible. However, if you change your mind before I send out the links - I am happy to offer you credit.

Please let me know if you have any questions at all.

Here's a couple samples showing only a handful of the endless possibilities you can create by combining & blending these textures.


The Cost of Custom Photography
WHAT: News, Useful Stuff, News   |   WHEN: March 17, 2009
Occasionally potential clients, friends, or even people I just met will ask about the costs of custom photography, and generally they're curious about the investment involved when they can buy an 8x10 print for less than $2 at many discount retail stores and pharmacies.

Marianne Drenthe has created a fantastic Consumer Guide for Custom Photography over at that talks specifically to this subject. She has graciously made this info available for custom photographers to help educate people on both what custom photography is and what it costs. Here is her explanation on the investment involved for both the client and the photographer.

"Why Does Custom Photography Cost More?

Digital technology is brilliant. The digital revolution has brought amazing flexibility and amazing amounts of control for the photographer, the hobbyist, the professional, the amateur. With flexibility comes a price though. Camera equipment is still considerably more expensive when you factor in its’ lifespan, the need for additional resources for processing those images, the time it takes to get a usable image and the effort that goes into all of this.

Even though you pay $1.99 for a print at your local drugstore and paying for film is pretty much a thing of the past (although you still pay for memory) you may be wondering why you may pay upwards of $40, 50, 70, 90 for a custom photography print. Some photographers hear this statement every once in awhile:

"How in the world can you charge $60 for an 8×10 if it costs me less than $2 to print at the local drug store?"

The answer is multifaceted and has a lot to do with the time, aforementioned equipment costs, artistic vision and reputation of the photographer, expertise and the usual costs of running a legitimate business.


Approaching it from a time standpoint, for instance let’s imagine if you will that you have hired a photographer who has work that you love and that is travelling an hour to your on location session. TIme break down:

* session prep time (30 mins - 1 hour, includes equipment and back up equipment checks + vehicle checks)
* one hour travel time TO session
* 15-30 minutes prep time at client’s home
* 90 minutes-2 hours with client photographing subject
* one hour travel time FROM session
* 30-45 minutes uploading time from digital cards from camera to computer
* 30-45 minutes time spent backing up the original images
* 2-5 hours editing time to present you with a diverse gallery of edited images
* 1 hour prep time getting ready for ordering
* 2-3 hours time with client for ordering images
* 1 hour sorting through and checking order
* 30 minutes-1 hour prep time for delivery
* 30 minutes-1 hour getting order shipped
* any additional phone time or time needed for add on ordering, shipment issues, quality issues

As you can see, average client time for a session ranges from just under 13 hours to 19 hours dependent on the photographer’s level of service. This is time dedicated only to your session. When the photographer charges $150-$300 for the photo shoot you are not just paying for the two hours of session time, you are paying the photographer for 12-19 hours complete time for your session.


Regarding equipment costs, a good quality professional camera with a selection of good optical quality lenses and digital storage mediums and computer set up can run from $10,000-$30,000 costs dependent on the photographer. Even though you can purchase a really good quality digital SLR for about $2100 there are still other costs related to photography. A good lens for portrait photography can run up $900 to $2500. A dependable computer system with software loaded for business and creative usage can run $2500 to $8000 dependent on the photographer.

Then come lab costs for specialty products. A good photographer knows the lab is integral to their success. Photography labs dedicated to the professional photographer often cost more and offer a range of products that allows the custom photographer to continually offer new, innovative products for you, the discerning client.

Discussion other costs of running a photography business could take awhile so we’ll skip the intricate details. There is of course much more: including costs of running the business, taxes, studio rental/mortgage if the photographer has ownership of a dedicated studio, vehicular costs, costs of advertising/marketing, costs of sample pieces that the photographer will likely bring to your session, etc.


Often times clients will mention to their photographer that X studio in the mall/department store only charges $25 for an 8×10 or they may mention other things related to discount photography chains. The fact is those discount chains make their money on volume, not on customized 1:1 service. According to several articles at the time, did you know that in February 2007 a rather well known discount department store that started in Arkansas closed down 500 of their portrait studios across the nation? The reason is simple, you cannot make money on 99¢ "professional" prints if you do not sell enough of them. Interestingly enough - those same studios that offer the loss leader packages often charge much much more for their a la carte pricing (as high as $40-50 for an 8×10). The whole reason the big department stores began offering portrait studios in the first place was to get you, the savvy consumer, in through their door so that you could spend more money with them in other departments. Your "PORTRAITS" are considered the true "loss leader".

Going to a chain studio, as a consumer, you don’t have the benefit of 1:1 attention for 2 hours at your home where your child is allowed to explore, play and be comfortable in their home environment, nor do you get the experience that many custom photographers are known for or the lovely captures of natural expressions. You simply get a bare bones, "SAY CHEESE" experience. Keep this in mind when selecting a photographer.


Being in demand, being well known for quality work, having a good reputation often costs time on the photographer’s part. Their expertise comes at a cost, their time learning their craft and learning the intricacies of lighting and the commitment put forth on their end to create a persona about their business that oozes professionalism. A great number of photographers go a very long time from the time that they purchase their first good camera to making money at the business of photography. Many photographers, when first starting out, rush in thinking that the business will be easily profitable in no time, how expensive could it be to get a camera and use it to create their dream? They often neglect to factor in the cost of business, the cost of equipment, software, back ups, etc..

Being of sound reputation, a better professional photographer knows that they must always reinvest in their business to create the reputation of being top notch. To create good work good equipment, reliable equipment, back up equipment is a necessity. The photographer who desires to be known as better/best/unparalelled reputation-wise knows that the most important thing they can do for their business is reliability and dependability. This is how reputations get built. Good work often is a wonderful side product of building that good reputation.

I hope this (lengthy) article helps shed some light on WHY a custom photographer is a better choice for your family’s memories. The photographs that are produced as a result of the professionalism and dedication that your photographer has will be cherished for a lifetime (or more) and great thought and consideration should be placed into hiring who is right for your family’s most precious investment."

You can also click on the following links for more helpful information regarding custom photography:

What is Custom Photography?
Why Choose Custom Photography?


Common Questions ~ Custom White Balance & Exposure
WHAT: Useful Stuff, Tips, Tricks & Tutorials   |   WHEN: January 3, 2009
Often I get questions about how I set my exposure and white balance, and I wish I could respond to each person's inquiry, but every once in a while I'll try and tackle a few birds with one stone by posting what I do here on the blog. Please note, this is what I do, and it works for me, but it's not the only way to do these things. By the same token, if you've got a way that works for you that you think is better, I'd love to hear how you do it if it will make my photographic life easier. Also, I know a lot of people have the philosophy that if they shoot RAW they don't need to worry about setting their WB. It's true that you can easily change this in post work, but for me I don't always shoot RAW and even when I do, it's one more step I have to do in post processing that takes a little more time. By just taking a few extra seconds before I start photographing, I save myself time on the back end. Again, just the way I do it.

Also, I should note that I don't do this for every session because, well, trying to use the method below while quickly moving around in different lighting environments (i.e. chasing quickly moving kids around during a session where they're in shade then bright sun, etc...). I do a modified version of the approach below for those types of sessions. The approach I'm going to explain works great when the subjects you're shooting have a longer attention span and you've got a little more time to set up the shot. For me, that's engagement, bridal, senior, and some family sessions in addition to any commercial/headshot work. So, on with the explanation.

I use a PhotoVision Digital Calibration Target to set my exposure and custom white balance for my images. I have my client or - in the case of the image below - my lovely assistant hold the calibration target with the white stripe closest to the light source. The reason you need to have the white strip closest to the light source is because in some situations you'll have rapid light fall-off (if your light source is close to the subject) and you want to make sure you don't blow out your highlights. If you had a noticeable change in the lighting as it goes across the target while the white strip was in the darkest lighting, you're more likely to end up with blown out highlights in your image which I'll talk about more below.

In the image below, there was big open sky to Kylie's left with the house blocking light on her right which is why I had her hold the calibration target with the white strip on her left.

I get close enough or zoom in to take a quick image of just the calibration target making sure to include at least a little bit of all three sections to make sure I'm setting my exposure for shadows, mid-tones, and highlights. I shoot in manual mode and I start with my first exposure by setting my aperture and shutter speed and spot meter on the gray mid-tone strip. If my in-camera meter tells me I'm a little overexposed (again, when spot metering the gray section only), I adjust my shutter speed until it tells me I (in theory) have a perfect exposure. Then I fire one off and look at the histogram and see if any highlights or shadows are blown out. In the histogram, you'll see 3 distinct spikes (one for each section of the calibration target). Remember, you're spot metering the gray section only but your framing of the image needs to include a little of all three sections.

Generally, I like my images to have a little more contrast, so I like to see my histogram with the right side spike (representing the highlights) as close to the edge as I can get it without touching the edge. For me and my particular Nikon D3 camera, that usually means I have to over expose a third of a stop or two from what my camera's spot meter is telling me when I meter the gray mid-tone section.

The image below represents my final adjusted exposure test image of the calibration target and the inset shows the display on the back of my D3. Notice the histogram with my exposure adjusted slightly to overexpose from what the camera was telling me but still without any blown out highlights. Also, at this point, my white balance is still set on "auto".

Next, I want to quickly set a custom white balance. I shoot with Nikon, and so the process may be a little different for Canon and other shooters and even some Nikon users with different models.

I simply zoom in to fill the frame with the calibration target, set my white balance to take a custom reading (in my case I set the WB to "pre" for preset and then hold the WB button on the camera for a couple seconds until the "pre" symbol starts flashing on my camera's LCD. Then I quickly take a shot of the calibration target (you don't need to be focused on anything for Nikon users to take a custom white balance image).

The image below represents the adjusted custom WB setting. Note: I think I took a couple test shots of Kylie and and felt like I had gone a little too far in my exposure compensation as you'll notice the shutter speed was 1/2500 in the above image and is 1/3200 in the image below. This is also why the 3 spikes in my histogram have shifted slightly back to the left.

Once I have my exposure and white balance set, if I'm shooting in manual mode I can now just fire away without having to mess with any settings, and I'll get consistent exposures as long as the lighting doesn't change.

Below is a comparison of 3 different WB settings of the same exposure - auto, shade, and custom. While auto's not bad, it looks a little cool to me. Cloudy actually looks pretty good which isn't surprising since Kylie was standing in shade from the house even though it was bright and sunny out when we took these test images today. Finally I like the warmth of the custom WB image. For me personally, I like my clients to look warm and lively in my images. Just a personal preference, though. In the images below, you can also see the brick in the house behind Kylie warming up in each image as well which is also not surprising since it's close to a skin tone color.

I know in reading this it can sound complicated and like it takes too much time, but after you do it once, it becomes 2nd nature and literally only takes about 15 seconds to do the whole thing... and you'll save yourself some work on the back end.

Anyway, hope that helps a little. Happy shooting!


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