Portraits with Maggie: Quick Advise for Photographers

My friend Maggie and I decided to take advantage of the extra long weekend, caused by snow days, by taking some outdoor portraits. While the weather was rough, I think the photos came out looking beautiful.


For you camera buffs out there, I was shooting with my Canon T3i at ISO 100. Even though it started getting darker, I did my best to lower the shutter speed rather than increasing my senor’s sensitivity. I know the limitations of my camera, and even RAW won’t save my shots from digital noise once I crank that ISO past 400.

In terms of shutter speed, I started the day off shooting at 1/500 then worked my way down to about 1/80 once the sun started to set. Occasionally I’d boost the ISO to 200 or 400, but 100 was the goal.


In terms of lenses, I wanted to travel light. Carrying only a 50mm f1.8 Yongnuo in my pocket, I did a majority of my shooting using a 85mm f1.8 Vivitar lens. A large majority of my shooting was done wide open at f1.8 with the occasional stop down to f3.5 the max. I was really aiming for a shallow depth of field that tailored itself to the snowy landscape.

The Vivitar is manual focus only with no confirmation chip. Since my viewfinder was so small, the cold was fogging my lens, and the snow would occasionally get in my viewfinder, focusing felt like a coin flip at times.

Using the technique I learned for manual focus, where you focus past the subject then slowly bring the focus back, made locking it down easier and less of a limitation. I had a background of shooting basketball games in manual focus for my high school, so shooting a patient model was not a worry. That allowed me to lock in the compositions I wanted and really take my time.


In terms of editing – and I am not afraid to say that I edit my photos – I added things like contrast, more saturation, more exposure, and sharpening to compensate for the slightly off focus in some shots. I do my best to get the shot right in camera so that there is little to no work that needs to be done in post. But, at the same time I am an artist and Photoshop is my canvas! I find the fun in taking these photos and making them look better than my camera can capture.

In terms of color grading the photos, I did my best to avoid doing a full on Instagrammy job on them. I stuck to the the natural colors the environment gave me and just added or subtracted things as I saw fit. The trees are the same color that the trees were in real life. The snow is the same color that my camera saw. Things like sharpening her scarf to get fine detail and adding a slight amount of saturation in the cheeks to make them more “rosy” are the types of effects I wanted in the final product. In other words, I didn’t make the snow in the tree pink in the picture below. That’s how the world gave it to me!


Here is a tip: when you are doing portraits and have time to take about 20 – 50 shots, shoot RAW.

There are many debates on the internet about what is better to use in different situations, JPEG or RAW. My general rule is that if I am taking a picture of something that I can never capture again, (i.e. sports, live events, parties, everyday life, etc) I’ll shoot in JPEG large. That way my camera has less loading to do between shots, I have more space on my SD card for a later day, and I can do quick edits in Photoshop if needed.

If I am shooting something for artistic purposes and want to have more breathing room in Photoshop or Lightroom (i.e. fine art, portraits, staged or planned events, etc) then I’ll shoot RAW with the lowest ISO necessary. With that file, I can crank up the exposure in post production without worrying about too much noise getting into the photo.

Again though, don’t get carried away! Just because RAW gives you more room to fix mistakes in post, doesn’t mean you should go around shooting pitch black photos and extremely over exposed highlights. Certain things are not fixable in Photoshop. The more you practice, the more you will realize what just can’t be recovered. Think of RAW as you’re final sketch for a painting that you want to do. You want it to be as close to the final product as possible, then you will add the visually appealing elements in afterwards.


At the end of the day, I would like to thank my beautiful model Maggie for her wonderful cooperation. It was a pleasure shooting with someone else who already has an eye for photography, as it makes giving directions and explaining compositions 10x easier!

Stay tuned for more photos that I will be posting to my blog in the upcoming weeks. Comment below if you have any questions in regards to photography or Photoshop, I would be delighted to answer them. Until next time, have a great day!

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Graffiti in the South Bronx: Art or a Crime?


Graffiti is not a new phenomenon in the United States. At one point, New York City’s subway system was a hot spot for large amounts of vandalism on trains, pillars, and walls. After a five year initiative beginning in 1984 to clean up graffiti around the city, the culture began to die out as security was increased and the act began to be considered a criminal offense. Today, most graffiti found in the city are tags left by gang members, parkour enthusiasts, and ordinary people with a sharpie or can of spray paint on hand.



Traditionally, graffiti is done on open spaces to clearly show off the “artists” work in the best possible manner. A white wall is always ideal, but any space can do. Before the 1980s, graffiti was done on the exteriors and interiors of trains; that way, the artwork was on the move wherever the train went. This mentality transitioned into today as people place full scale artworks and tags on delivery trucks and large vans. Because paint jobs are expensive to do, many of these trucks are forced to drive through the city showing off beautiful pictures or disgusting markings without a culprit to blame.



Not all graffiti is illegal, however. Many establishments in “low income neighborhoods” enjoy graffiti and see it as a type of advertisement opportunity. Whether people enjoy it or not, a picture or marking on the side of a building can catch your attention. If the vibrant characters in the artwork relates to what the establishment is offering, it adds to the atmosphere of the company. Here is a picture of Kennedy’s in the South Bronx located next to a laundry mat. While the laundry mat has stood the test of time, the fast food spot has gone through many different owners and re-branding. The artwork of the chef is a work leftover from years of business.



And it isn’t just the hood that loves graffiti. Because it used to be a staple part of the Bronx’s culture, graffiti has coincided with the New York Yankees brand. When people look at the different sides of the Grand Concourse, they are quick to scream “gentrification.” While it is true that gentrification is sweeping through the South Bronx at a very fast pace, certain traditions have just been adapted to fit in with the changes, rather than being completely deleted. Bars and restaurants around Yankee Stadium have hired artists to create works that commemorate legendary Yankees players like “Yogi” Berra and Elton Howard – the first African American to join the team.


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Whether you believe graffiti is artwork or vandalism is a matter of opinion. According to police officers in the city, you must call 311 for information about acquiring a permit to do graffiti on a building. This pizzeria on Morris Avenue in the South Bronx has changed hands many times since the 2008 recession. Originally known as “Unicorns,” the side wall had my favorite piece of artwork that I saw everyday growing up.

The picture showed a mountain range with a giant Coca-Cola bottle pouring soda down the path in the background. As the soda came closer to the foreground, it turns into a sea of people from different cultures. At the very front was a row of detailed characters, with distinct faces, all wearing different clothes, and representing a variety of races.

By 2007, the image began to fade and other graffiti “artists” decided to add their own tags over the image. In 2008, when “Andy’s Pizza” took over the building, they repainted the entire exterior white. If there is one thing I know about graffiti “artists” in the hood, it’s that they can not resist white walls. Shortly after the repainting, people would come by and add a tag to the wall. Every now and then, the wall is repainted white and someone else comes along to add another tag over the spot that a memorable piece of artwork used to stand.