Best Graffiti Walls in NYC to Photograph

Inspiration, photography tips

When my cousin asked me if I’d shoot some fun engagement photos for her and her fiancee, I was immediately excited. They’re a super fun couple who hate the traditional cheesy engagement shots, so I knew our shoot would be fun and totally out of the box–something I’m always down to try with photography.

We immediately started scouring Instagram for the best spots in NYC with the coolest graffiti. I’d walked by a lot of cool spots in passing, but I had never really put together a definitive list on the best spots to keep track of. So, after we ran around shooting all day–and I do mean the entire day–we had tons of good spots that I would recommend for you guys to try if you’re looking for good shooting spots. Here they are:

  1. Freeman Alley

This spot was perfect for them because they don’t love having to take pictures while an audience of people watches. Freeman Alley is pretty hard to find if you don’t know that it’s there, so there’s never a ton of people hanging around, which makes pictures easier. The graffiti in the alley is always changing, but theres a diverse selection to choose from. Also, while you’re there, grabbing a bite at Freeman’s is never a bad idea!

2. Houston Bowery Mural

This is one of the more known spots downtown, but that doesn’t make it any less photogenic! The mural gets changed every few months, so there’s always something new to shoot with. Queen Andrea is the most recent artists selected to decorate the wall, and it’s filled with vibrant colors and a massive “Believe” script over the top. It’s massive, so you’ll have plenty of room to get your shots for The ‘Gram. Just be careful though, because it’s right next to the busy street.

3. NOMO SOHO Graffiti Wall

We saw this wall in our inspiration pics, but didn’t know exactly where it was, so it was a huge surprise as we were strolling down Crosby Street and came across this piece and the ivy archway. It’s definitely a great spot for pictures, and the pastel tones on the brick come across beautifully in camera. Just note that this is an entrance to a hotel, so people will probably be walking back and forth, but don’t let that stop you from getting your shot!

4. Dumbo Love Wall

I told you we went everywhere–we even made it to Brooklyn before the sun set! If you’ve walked around NYC, chances are you’ve probably seen some heart murals. Those belong to JGoldcrown, a British graffiti artist based in NY and LA. We shot at the Dumbo one, but he has murals up in Freeman Alley, Mott Street, St. Marks, and Williamsburg. This is such an iconic NYC graffiti stop, and I think it’s a must for your graffiti photo list.

5. Wandering!

My last tip for you: wander around. Here’s just a few other places we went that ended up having super cool or cute graffiti. The coolest part about NYC is that it’s constantly changing, and a piece you love might be replaced next week with a totally new one. Definitely pick out your spots, but make sure you plan in some time to wander around and see what you can find in the city. If you do happen to stumble onto some great spots, let me know and I’ll add them to the list!

Special thanks to A and Ty for such a fun day in NYC and trusting me with their pictures. And if you like these, make sure to have a look at my website and follow me on Instagram! Feel free to drop me an email at gdeimz@gmail.com for any shoot requests, questions, or just to chat! If you’re in the NYC area, let’s grab coffee and talk lenses and shoot locations 🙂

Success Tips For Emerging Creatives

Inspiration, photography tips

I know what you’re thinking: here we go, another one of those vague articles about how to be successful that doesn’t actually explain anything at all, except ending with some inspirational quote like, “the world is yours, so get out there and do something!” They’re kind of inspiring, but also never really say what you’re actually supposed to do. Well, this week is my one year anniversary of being a college graduate, and so far the real world has taught me a lot more about failure than success. So I thought I’d write about what I’ve learned thus far, in hopes that other young creatives might find it helpful.

Stop Comparing Yourself. First of all, in creative careers especially, your definition of success will most likely be wildly different from someone else’s, even in the same field. As a creative, you can’t compare yourself to other people. My graphic designer and illustrator friends are amazing, but they do a totally different job than me, a photographer. You should appreciate the value of the other people in your team, but you do a highly specialized and individualized job, too, and that’s worth a lot. And just because you have less experience doesn’t mean you’re any less of a professional. That’s something I had to learn to accept. When I’m bidding jobs against other photographers who have ten or twenty years more experience than me, I have to be confident in my craft (that, or fake it ’til you make it).

Identify What You’re Trying to Achieve. As a freelancer first starting out, it can be especially difficult and confusing to determine where to even begin. Should you make connections? Advertise yourself? Do a few free jobs to get your name out there? The most important thing you need to do is figure out what you’re trying to achieve. What’s your end goal? Analyze your objectives and determine what quantifiable steps you can take to move toward them.

For me right now, as an emerging photographer, success means networking, making connections, promoting myself and getting new opportunities. Once you have that outlined, you can make an action plan. Sometimes small steps make the biggest difference. For example, to get my name out there, I made some flyers of my images and my Instagram username and posted them in areas around London that I knew models and makeup artists would see them. It took an hour of my time, and around $15 to get color prints, and I’m still getting emails from designers to shoot their lookbooks and new collections.

Say Yes, and Keep Saying Yes. Since I’ve been in London, I made a little deal with myself. I agreed that I would accept all the shoots that I’m offered, even if it’s not my specific niche of fashion portraiture. In the past few months, I have shot concerts, a designer handbag collection, street style for a fashion blogger, red carpet events, and even the London Fashion Week runway. It totally pushed me out of my comfort zone, and every single one of those shoots taught me something new. 

My point is this: while new opportunities can be terrifying, they are are important, if not crucial to expanding your knowledge and skill set. Those shoots made me think outside the box and determine creative solutions that I had never dealt with before. Besides cultivating a deeper understanding of your craft, those kinds of skills will be useful in any potential future job. That’s why I think it’s highly important to say yes, even if that particular job isn’t specifically part of your end goal.

Put In the Work, and Work Hard. This one might seem obvious, but from observing my peers in the industry, I think it’s a pretty underrated and necessary step. You have to put in the work. You will have long shoot days and late nights editing. You’ll have to carry a reflector and sometimes get coffee for people, but it’s not for nothing. It’s propelling you closer to that end goal, even if you can’t see it just yet. For example, I assisted for a photographer in London on a one-day shoot, and it wasn’t a big deal, but I made sure to be as helpful and cheerful as possible on set. A few months later, he came back to London to do a cover shoot with a big magazine, and he asked me to assist again. Because of that, I met the entire creative team of that magazine and was able to make connections with them.

Every opportunity leads to another one, if you let it. You just have to be paying attention. You can have all the talent in the world, but if you aren’t putting effort into actively promoting yourself and trying to get clients and make contacts, they won’t come to you. You have to go to them. You have to be a little pushy sometimes. Make calls to agencies, send a lot of emails, and accept that you’re going to get a lot of rejection replies. They will still sting a little, but it hurts less each time. Send more.

So, while I can’t tell you that adding all the editors of Vogue on LinkedIn will be a guaranteed way for you to make new connections in the fashion industry, I can tell you from personal experience that if you try these tips, you will be pushing yourself and making tangible strides toward the success you want to achieve. And the most rewarding part is that you’ll meet some really talented and likeminded people along the way.

How to Properly Store Your Digital Files

photography tips

Moving into the digital age, film isn’t the dominate photography medium anymore. We don’t have physical negatives that can be kept in a filing cabinet for when we need to make copies. Instead, we have thousands of digital files that don’t even exist outside of pixels and file extensions. Just like in life, it’s good to have a back up plan. And with photography, it’s not just a good idea, it’s entirely necessary.

Think of all the money invested in your gear, your time, and your photo shoots. But more than that, think about the images that are simply irreplaceable. The big production beach shoot with six models that cost a fortune. The bride and groom’s first kiss right as the sun was setting. You can never recreate those moments. And you can’t take the risk of losing them, either.

Backing up and storing your digital files is definitely not the fun, flashy part of photography. But it will save you if anything were to happen. You know that horrific moment when you realize that you just formatted your SD card without checking to see if all of those files were backed up? When you are searching for that one edit and you can’t find it anywhere? What do you do when your memory card becomes corrupt, as they occasionally do? Your Mac crashes, your laptop gets stolen? This is to protect you from all of that.

My philosophy is that it’s way better to be safe than sorry. So, here’s my photo file storage workflow. To start, every year, I get two matching 2 Terabyte hard drives and label them with my name and the year. Then I make a folder for every month. Then, after each shoot, I make a folder with the name of the shoot and the date and copy the files over. No matter if they still have a lot of space left or not, come December, a final copy gets made onto a separate (third) drive. Then, one copy stays with me, and the other drives get archived into storage in the safest place in my house: a fire proof room.

So let’s start right after the photoshoot. You have memory cards full of huge files, all waiting to be sorted, processed, and adjusted in post. First, before going through any images, I copy all the raw files onto both of the external drives. They are identical back ups. If I dropped one on accident, the other one would have my back.

Then, I edit. Lightroom, Photoshop, Bridge, whatever your workflow is. After the white balance is correct and the curves layers are adjusted to perfection, it’s time to back up the final shots. I upload those to my website, which functions as an online backup, as well. The client gets the files, too, depending on the contract we have agreed on. And then, the final images are copied within the folder of the raw images on each external drive. That’s a minimum of four places that the files are stored.

I also make sure to do a Time Machine backup of my laptop every week, because I’m constantly keeping my current projects on my desktop. Last year, my Macbook Pro died after living a long(ish) six years of life with me. But when the screen went black for the final time, my contents were backed up and everything was saved once I restored the new computer as a Time Machine back up. This will be a lifesaver one day, I promise.

The external drives work best for me as a backup system because they are small and portable, and don’t need to be plugged in, so I can take them on set or throw them in my backpack when I’m editing. Lots of people do more online backup, or a second computer drive, or flash drives, or CD’s, or memory cards. It doesn’t matter how you back up your files, as long as you aren’t leaving them in just once place (you’re making me nervous). Because technology will inevitably fail, or crash, or die, and along with it will go your files.

Some people keep their images randomly, one on a drive, some on Dropbox, others online, just the final edits here, the raw images there, etc. Don’t do that. It’s crucial to your workflow to be organized and dedicated to backing up files. No matter if it’s a bride you photographed five years ago that’s calling to ask for a canvas print of one of their wedding photos, or a magazine that wants to include one of your old shots in high res for their new issue, you have to have the files stored and you have to know precisely where they are. No exceptions.

In this digital age of photography, having a backup AND a backup of the backup is essential. Technology is amazing, but it can also delete all your years of hard work in a matter of seconds. It might sound like I’m being a bit meticulous with all the backups, but I promise you that you will exhale with relief when just one of these backups saves you just one time. It’s worth it, for the peace of mind when you are formatting your memory cards. For when you power down your laptop at the end of the day and know that the images you care about, that you are working so hard to make, are safe and secure.

PS: It takes time to keep everything organized and backed up, and it’s part of the job. So don’t feel bad about including an archival fee when sending an estimate to your clients.

Finding Inspiration In New Places

Inspiration

I’ve been in London almost a month, and I’ve barely unpacked my camera. I’ve settled into my flat, successfully navigated the Underground to make it to my fashion photography courses, and even managed to make some friends and go out with them. But I haven’t been taking any photos.

At first, I was getting a bit exasperated with myself. I’m a photographer in London and I can’t find anything to photograph? What’s wrong with me? But sometimes when you are in a brand new place, it can be overwhelming. I haven’t had any big ideas for conceptual shoots yet, and at first, that freaked me out. I wondered, where had the inspiration gone?

It’s not that I wasn’t interested or inspired; actually, it was quite the opposite. I’ve been going to art galleries–Tate Modern, The Royal Academy, Bjork Digital at Sommerset House. I was being inspired, I was just overwhelmed. Sometimes your headspace can get so full of absorbing what’s around you or being busy with routine tasks that it can feel like there isn’t any room for creativity or inspiration.

I often find that when I’m in need of an inspiration increase, it’s because I haven’t been giving enough attention to working on creative projects. While some things just have to be done during the day–work, cooking dinner, answering emails, binge watching Stranger Things— I think it’s important to carve out some time to focus on your creativity. It doesn’t even have to be a lot of time. Take ten minutes before bed and sketch or write. Allow yourself one hour in a coffeeshop to sip tea and brainstorm. Use a lunch break to collaborate with coworkers. Share and discuss ideas. Take a walk with no distractions. Leave your phone at home and look at the amazing world around you.

Dream, ponder, create. Let yourself think of ideas, even if they are terrible. Especially if they are terrible. Start somewhere, because you can build off that to find better and more cohesive ideas. See a play, or take a yoga class to clear your head. It’s all about your mindset. You are uniquely you, and you have the imagination to do it. You just need to refocus and revitalize your creative energy and vision.

Other ways I combat the creativity gap: organize. Keep a list of ideas, mood boards, photo samples, drawings and snippets of inspiration from anywhere. I take pictures of spaces in restaurants, billboards, even just people walking down the street. Cut out visually interesting pieces from magazines or newspapers. Designspiration is a great website that I use to get the wheels turning in my head.

Most importantly, give yourself a break, and realize that mental inspiration blocks are pretty common with creatives. Inspiration can be found all around us; it just takes time to process and interpret. Just be patient, keep going, and be open to letting yourself absorb the world around you. If you are mindful in those ways, I promise that inspiration will follow.

Making the Most of the Golden Hour

photography tips

What is this sorcery that some of us call the Golden Hour? It’s the time of day right after sunrise or before sunset where the light is warmer and softer because of how low in the sky the sun is. Cool and science-y, right? Well, it’s a dream for photographers because of how appealing the lighting is during that short time!

Any professional photographer will tell you that golden hour light is pure magic. It has a cast that’s warm and seems to caress the face like a bright hug from the sky. Golden hour light feels like love formed into rays of light. It’s literally light from heaven that’s the most gorgeous thing ever. So how can we use this amazingness for better results in photography?

Time it Just Right. Since the golden hour only happens for a short period of time each day, make sure to come early and prepared. Get set up and be ready for when the sun sinks lower and the magic starts happening.

Shoot Shallow. If you shoot with an open aperture, not only will it make your subject pop, but the glorious light streaming through the trees will create the most amazing bokeh you will ever see. Here’s an example of that:

Some other things to consider: fill light, contrast, and color balance. Color balance is crucial because you want to create a balance of warm but also don’t go overboard with warm tones. That’s really up to artistic merit, so just work with the images in Photoshop to get a balance you like. Same with contrast. It can be easy to overdo it, so really focus on a nice medium. And you can always try a speedlight to create some drama and to add a little pop of fill light to the images during the golden hour! The key is to experiment and see what you like.

Lens flare, shadows, and silhouettes. The golden hour can be a great time to play with silhouetting objects since the sun is so low. Lens flares can also be fun. Here’s another example of a golden hour silhouette. Feel free to play with shadows and use the lighting to create the emotion you are going for!

Overall, there is no better time than the golden hour to get outside and experiment with natural light photography. It’s a great time for me to gain some inspiration and shoot some personal work when I’m feeling like I need some photo creativity. Grab some friends, a speedlight, a reflector, and have fun! 

Why It’s Important to Invite Your Wedding Photographer to the Meal

photography tips

Brides magazine recently published a truly terribly misinformed article advising brides not to feed their wedding photographers, stating that photographers should pack a lunch themselves or make sure it’s in the contract. As a professional wedding photographer, I can tell you from personal experience that not feeding your photographer is a huge mistake. Wedding photographers are there from the very beginning of the day, usually starting with the bride’s hair and makeup early in the morning. A typical day is anywhere from 6-12 hours, and we are on our feet shooting and working our hardest the entire day to make sure we get everything. We don’t get breaks. Most of the time, we don’t even get lunch. So, brides, not only should you feed your wedding photographer, but you should save a spot for them at your reception to eat dinner.

A lot of brides choose to give a vendor meal to the wedding photographer along with the DJ and other people who are working on the wedding day because it is less expensive than the meal that the guests will be eating. That vendor meal typically consists of a cold sandwich and a side, like chips. I am here to tell you that a vendor meal and ushering the photographer out to sit in a small room outside of the reception area to eat will not lead to a happy photographer. And brides, the last thing you want on your wedding day is a disgruntled photographer.

Your wedding photographer is the person who will be with you the entire day. We are working hard and taking literally thousands of photos to document this special day of your life. We are the only ones who are there the entire time, following you from getting ready to the first look through the “I do’s” and late into the night, usually until you leave. It’s more than just a business agreement. We are experiencing some of the most previous and intimate moments of your life, and we are capturing it. Giving us a hot meal and a place to sit for a few minutes at the reception is a small, well deserved token of appreciation that you can do for your photographer, and I promise that it will go a long way.

Too often, wedding photographers are treated like they are just another an employee. But we have a unique position on the day of the wedding. We are artists, creating images that will document this important day for you, and that you will treasure for years to come. We want you to have photographs that capture great memories from the day. You are letting us into your life, and in exchange, we are putting our heart and soul into these images.

The cost of a few more dollars and a seat at a table will have a huge impact: getting a short break from all day of standing, getting some hot food for nourishment and a cold glass of water for hydration will leave us energized and ready to photograph all of the dancing that is sure to follow dinner. Not to mention the appreciation we will have for the bride and groom. The extra effort you give will be reciprocated by the extra effort we will put into your photographs, guaranteed.

Why I Shoot My Portraits Outdoors

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Imagine a dreamy outdoor portrait, with the sun streaming in and warm tones making the face glow. Doesn’t that sound just lovely? Now, I’m not saying to leave the studio and never come back. I just think we need to take a moment to appreciate my favorite thing ever: Natural Light.

Natural light has a lot of advantages against studio light. It’s warm, gorgeous, and you can try to replicate it, but it will never quite look the same. I personally think that you can achieve more depth and will have a more vibrant image rather than just a solid white or black background. Don’t get me wrong, a formal studio portrait is necessary skill for every photographer to know, but I much prefer to get moving and head outside for environmental portraits (and that doesn’t mean you can’t add some fill light or strobes!). You have so many options to experiment with outdoors, like sunrise, shadows, shade, sunset, and even nighttime! Think of the world as a huge studio for you to work with. The options are practically endless!

The next thing that separates indoor from outdoor: Depth of Field. And my favorite thing ever, Bokeh. The greater distance that the model stands from the background will create a more shallow depth of field, creating pleasing images that really focus in and make the model pop from the background. I also like the background variety that can be achieved with outdoor shoots. Yesterday, we went on a little walking adventure and found an abandoned building to shoot in. It turned out to be so cool. I find that a quick 180 degree turn can lend itself to totally new backgrounds, colors, and textures to add the scene. The best advice I ever got was to always move around and don’t be afraid to try new angles, framing, and scenes. 

I love shooting my portraits outdoors because it gives a whole new feel to the images. However, shooting outdoors does come with it’s own set of problems. Like (just this week), snow and rain. And as tough as it might be, you, the models, and the crew just have to work around that. I find that it’s definitely worth the extra effort to mix things up and have an outdoor adventure with your camera. So head out, find some cool locations, and start shooting. The warm, bright natural light and new space to shoot will be a breath of fresh air for you, literally.

How to Talk Camera in 5 Minutes or Less

photography tips

Going to a photo gallery opening? Want to impress your new art major girlfriend? Or just want to sound cool when conversing with friends? Check out my quick guide for camera terms!

Lens: This one is easy. It’s that piece of glass that is attached to your camera. A Zoom Lensis simply one that zooms in and out so you can crop how much of the scene that you want to be in the frame. A Prime Lens just means that it cannot zoom because the focal length is fixed and unmoving. How to use it in a sentence: “Wow, nice prime lens! I bet that shoots so sharp!” 

Exposure: This word means how much light is being exposed in a photograph. How do you know when a photo is overexposed (too much light is being let in the camera, so it’s too dark), underexposed (not enough light is being let in, so it’s too bright) or the correct exposure? Well, it’s a good exposure when you can still make out details in the shadow areas and in the highlight areas.

But please note that photographers use the word “exposure” interchangeably. Some variations: “I just took an exposure of that tree, and boy does it look great!” “Ugh, I’m so annoyed because my camera keeps overexposing the sky. I’ll have to bring up the shadows in Photoshop.”

Focus: What can be clearly and sharply seen in the photo. The out of focus area is affectionately called bokeh and can deliver some beautiful results (see my other post about bokeh here). How to use it in a sentence: “Just got some great bokeh from shooting really shallow!”

Shutter Speed: To take a photograph, the camera opens its shutter and then closes it again. The term shutter speed refers to how quickly or slowly the camera does that (and modern cameras can do it really fast—up to 4,000th of a second!) Common shutter speeds could be anywhere from 1/250th of a second or all the way up to 15 seconds for a photo taken at night!

Aperture: It can also be called an F-stop. The aperture works together with the shutter speed to create a photo. How big or small of aperture you use to execute a photograph will determine two things: 1) how much light is let into the photo and 2) how much is in focus.

An aperture such as f/16 or f/22 is a very small opening, so not much light would be let in (called underexposing). You would need to leave the shutter open for a lot longer so enough light would enter into the camera. The reverse (having an aperture of, say, f/2.8) would be a big opening and much more light would be let in, so the shutter would be faster because the camera would not need to be open nearly as long to let in enough light. Use it in a sentence: “Looks like I need to adjust my shutter speed to a bit slower so I can capture the detail in those shadow areas.”

Making sense yet? There’s just a few more to go, and you’ll be a camera expert!

Depth of Field: It sounds crazy, but actually how open your aperture is will determine how much depth is in focus. If you want everything in focus, use an aperture of f/16 or f/22. If you want just a little bit in focus (creating bokeh!) use, say, f/2.8 or f/1.4.

ISO: It determines how sensitive your camera is to light. How to use it in a sentence: “I better turn my ISO down before my shot gets too grainy!”

White balance: It determines how warm or cold your photo is. Now, I know what you’re thinking: How can a photo have a temperature?! But it does! Warm means it is a bit too yellow, and cold is too blue. This can be easily adjusted in Photoshop. Use it in a sentence: “Wow, the sun is so bright today that all of my shots are turning out really warm!”

I hope that helped you with some camera terminology! If all else fails, just say, “Are you Nikon or Cannon?” and the photographer will talk for at least fifteen minutes about their preference, so just nod along and you’ll be in the clear.

So, What’s Bokeh, Anyway?

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Bokeh is a camera term and a Japanese word that translates to “blur.” It’s the quality of being out of focus rendered by the camera’s lens in an image. Bokeh is visually appealing to the eye because it forces us to focus on the subject and blurs out everything else in the image, creating a shallow depth of field.

Why am I bringing this up? Because bokeh is what changes everything. Bokeh takes the casual amateur photographer shooting pictures of their family and makes them a high-quality portrait photographer. I know, because that’s how I got started.

People always ask me how they can take better pictures. This will always be my first answer: Get a lens that can create bokeh. The problem with kit lenses that come as a standard with the DSLR camera body is that they create virtually no shallow depth of field.

To have a shallow depth of field, the aperture on the lens must go to somewhere in the gorgeous range of 2.8-1.4, but kit lenses only go to 5.6, on average. So, all the pretty little blurry circles that make the subject pop out in a sharp image just blend in with the subject, and therefore there is no bokeh. What a shame.

There are other benefits of shooting shallow, too! The aperture is open much wider and therefore more light gets let in the camera, so you need a faster shutter speed. This can be really helpful when wanting to capture motion, or if you are in a low lighting situation.

For those looking to try it out, I recommend a 50mm f/1.4 lens of any brand. It’s prime, which means that you can’t zoom in with the lens, but it’s a great way to get an inexpensive lens that you can practice with.

If you don’t feel comfortable shooting on manual, try aperture priority! It will let you set the aperture that you want (anywhere in that nice bokeh range—f/1.4-2.8!) and then the camera will do the rest! And remember, when in doubt, just shoot shallow and see what happens!