Category Archives: Featured

Rob’s Famous 30-Second Modeling Lesson

I work with quite a few inexperienced models or people who are trying modeling for the first time and I frequently have to give them some basic instructions.  There are even times when I’m working with experienced models and find they need to be reminded of a few things from time to time.

Over time this has grown more than 30 seconds, but there are the major points I like to cover to help people with posing.  Even photographers who are wanting to photograph people in posed settings can benefit from these pointers, so I thought I would put them down in e-print for everyone to have available.

Arms and legs bent.

This is primarily a rule for posing women, but it’s useful for circumstances with men.  The idea is that straight lines tend to form hard edges which produces a more masculine look.  Women generally are better represented as soft, smooth and curvaceous.   Every joint should be bent if even just slightly.   Straight legs, arms and in particular fingers need to be avoided.

Our bodies are designed to generally form a straight line with our shoulders balanced above  our hips.  Rule #1 above though says bend it if we should and putting a gentile to strong S curve in the subject’s body makes for a more interesting pose.  Generally the hips and shoulders should be offset from each other and if they can be kept parallel even the better.  It’s are to tell someone how to do this, but generally starts with shifting the hips from having one leg bent a bit more than the other.  Studying other photos and practicing before your shoot will help you master this skill before you show up for the shoot.

Notice the curve drawn from her head to her feet with her shoulders and hips offset

While Tyra Banks does come up with some really whacky things from time to time, she has the experience of a super-model and frequently her ideas are important ones.  Smize is one of her whacky terms that is critical for the success of fashion and glamor photography.   Smize means “Smile with your Eyes”.  As you’ve probably no doubt heard in your life:  “The Eyes are the Keys to the Soul”.  In people photography, eyes are everything.  And even if you’re giving a fierce expression you must still “Smile with your Eyes”.  That is your single biggest connection to the camera and one that you need to nail down.

If you are tired, hung-over, bored or for any other reason not into the shoot, your eyes are going to sell you out.  Your photographer should notice this and do what they can to re-engage you in the shoot.  But it’s not the photographer’s job to make your eyes smile, it’s yours, the model.   This also can be practiced.

Related to Smizing, is finding your light.  Lighting isn’t just the business of the photographer.  The model doesn’t have to know lighting ratios or the difference between a barn-door or a snoot, but a model does need to know where the main light source is.  In photography terms we call this the “Key Light” or simply the main light.  It’s the model’s responsibility to know where the main light is coming from and try and orient the poses toward that light.  In many settings, there will be a brighter light on one side than the other.

If you pose away from the brighter light, you get shadows and more importantly you don’t get enough light in your eye sockets to bring out the beauty of your eyes.  You get bags, dark areas and other un-pleasantries.  Now of course the photographer may ask you to pose away from the main light if they are going to effect, but a majority of your photos you should pose toward the key light.

If you don’t know, ask.  Photographer’s are happy to let you know that.  Even if you’re shooting outdoors and even if the photographer has put the sun behind you, you can tell which side of your body is better illuminated and pose in that direction.

This is another Tyra-ism.  Even if the photographer is photographing you from the shoulders up, how you hold the rest of your body is important.  If your arms are just dangling, or your back is slouching it’s going to carry through your facial expressions.  Every shot regardless of what’s going on, you need ot assume the photographer is shooting full length unless they tell you otherwise.  Even if they do, its a good idea to pose head-to-toe.

Notice how her arms are offset to avoid being too symmetrical.

If you’re holding your hand’s above your head for instance try to have the hands and elbows at different heights and angles.  If your hands are lower, have them at different heights.

Dangling arms and hands are bad bad bad.  You’re photographer, may not always know how to tell you to deal with it.  You should always do something with your hands.  Studying other photos and practicing in front of a mirror will help you make this second nature.  It gets a little frustrating to always be reminding the model to do this.

Do this every shot unless the photographer asks you not to.  Along with this, if you’re leaning back on your arms, don’t put too much weight on the arm facing the camera because your tricep (the muscle in the back of your arm) will produce an unsightly bulge and the photographer will be fixing that along with your tummy roll because you didn’t suck in your tummy.

This is hard to do when you’re putting your arms over your head which can be good poses.  But you need to angle your body so that your armpit isn’t aimed straight at the camera.  Oh yea, make sure to clean them.  Stubble, bits of fuzz from cloth caught on the stubble and deodorant flakes put more post-processing work on the photographer.

Barbie Toe: Standing on your tippy-toes, elongates and tones your legs and makes them look longer. Along with this point your toes if you’re in a laying down pose. Curled toes don’t work. Avoid the duck face. It IS NOT pretty.

Photographing your best friend’s wedding — 10 Reasons to say NO!

I saw a tweet fly about twitter that read:

Photographing Your Best Friend’s Wedding – 10 Tips #photography #photo

There was no URL with it to go read the 10 tips, but with the help of our friend Google I was lead pretty quickly to this site, which seems to be the origin of the tweet:

a website called Photography 101.

In full disclosure, I make a majority of my photo income photographing weddings.

The article’s advice is aimed apparently at amateurs who have been lured in by their BFF to do a for free, er. Pro Bono job because they have a nice camera. My advice: Just say “No!”

Just say No!

And here are the 10 reasons why!

1. Photographically speaking a couple’s wedding should be the most important day to them. It is not a time to be breaking a new photographer in to do the job. Couples will look back on these photos for years and not having a professional do the job is just a mistake. Quality wedding photographers don’t have to cost $4,000 depending on what is being delivered. Depending on the local market, its possible to find talented photographers who will do the job for under $1,000.

Its very very important for you and your BFF asking you to do this to realize the average wedding photography isn’t just the 8 hours on site for the wedding and reception, but considerably more. If albums are involved, a pro photographer can easily spend 50 hours of work to make that 8 hour wedding a possibility.

2. You need backup gear. Murphy’s Law is a frequent guests of weddings and having just one camera body, one lens and one flash is an invitation for Murphy to apply his law. Even pro’s loose gear at weddings but we are smart enough to have backup’s packed away so we can keep shooting.

3. Weddings are stressful, even for an experienced photographer. They are hectic and high paced. As a guest or even as the couple themselves, you don’t realize all the different photos that have to be taken. It takes planning and choreography and coordination to pull it all off. You have to spend time with the planner, the DJ, and the couple while they are stressed to the max. Which leads to #4.

4. You won’t enjoy the day. This is your BFF. If you’re behind the camera, you’re not enjoying the wedding. Your friend may not realize what they are asking of you. There is no time to socialize. No time to hang with your family and friends.

5. You cannot (should not) drink if you’re working. So no partying for you. No cocktail hour either because your busy trying to make sure Auntie Em and Uncle Joe get in the right photo.

6. No champagne for you to toast with. You have to get that photo!

7. No cake for you. You will be busy shooting the dance floor.

8. This one may be a positive! It’s an excuse to skip the Electric Slide… but you still have to take photos of it.

9. Its time for the garter/bouquet toss. Wait a minute, you’re still single and you want to catch it. Guess what! It’s not your time to catch the flowers, you have to take photos of it.

10. Now you have to deliver all of your goods and well a lot of the photos are blurry (did someone miss reason #4 above?) and the exposures and color balance is all over the place and you give them to your friend and they are disappointed with them and it costs you your friendship. Is it really worth the risk of loosing your BFF because your quality just wasn’t there? You’re friendship is way too important.

Want to be a true BFF? Take your wedding gift money and contribute it to the fee to hire a professional photographer. Wedding vendors are becoming more popular additions to the Bridal registry and a young couple will appreciate better photos in the long run than a toaster.

They will appreciate having you party with them and be there to help them get through their stressful day. If you are interested in the photography aspect, why not volunteer to be the liaison between the photographer and the family. Photographers appreciate having someone who knows the family and can help out. Just don’t neglect the fact that you are there to be with the bride and groom, not work the wedding as a vendor.

Just say no!

Photographing a future Super-Model

As many people may have noticed on my various social network sites (, Facebook, etc.) that I recently photographed a model named Laura. Laura is not just any model that many of us here in the Raleigh-Durham area, but a celebrity model.

Laura was the runner-up on . Several people have asked how I got this opportunity. Well, Laura is my great-niece. Her grandmother Wanda Sue is my sister.

My family has been suggesting that I get a chance to shoot her before she heads off to the to pursue her career. I had a very narrow window of time to do that. It had to be after the show finished and before her time demands make her unavailable to even family. That time was this past weekend.

I knew I wanted to accomplish several things while shooting her. Those included a beauty session, a couple of editorial sessions showing up some Wanda Sue’s Fashions. Wanda Sue (we just call her Sue) had made several of Laura’s outfits that she wore to the judging panel and Wanda Sue became kind of her own celebrity. Then I wanted to do a couple of high fashion looks.

To do this, I would need a styling team. I wanted someone excellent with hair and someone with a lot of creative makeup ideas. It would have been easy to pack up some limited gear, fly to Kentucky and shoot on her schedule. I would struggle to find the talent needed and even then, I wouldn’t have a working relationship with them. I also wanted to shoot the editorial shots in an urban setting, so it seemed logical that shooting here in Raleigh-Durham would be perfect. Stylists I trust are here and my location looks are here.

I contacted Jennifer at D’Jin Salon in Durham to see if she would be interested and she jumped at the opportunity. Her salon would serve as a perfect base of operation, doing studio shots in the salon and the editorial looks around downtown Durham.

For makeup, I had recently worked with Daniel from Libra Looks. He had a book of makeup ideas that he had been working on and was a fan of the show. Though Daniel and Jenn had not worked together, I got them emailing back and forth and let them have creative control over all styling related issues. Hey, I’m not a stylist.

They make Laura look good. She poses well. I make sure the photos are sharp and lit well and surely magic would happen.

While dodging interview after interview and local shoots, Laura and I worked out a plan to get her here. 37,500 frequent flyer miles and some taxes and fees later, she had a flight from Lexington to RDU.

To add an interesting twist to this, my youngest son’s Junior Ice Hockey team was playing two games in Wake Forest this same weekend and we had arranged to feed the team before their Saturday game. My wife’s parents drove in from Kentucky to see Chris play and help with the team meal.

My MIL has been watching ANTM all season and cheering for Laura so my wife and I decided to make this a surprise that Laura was coming in. In retrospect perhaps I should have had them pick her up on the way!

The surprise would have to be delayed 12 hours as filming for the Tyra Banks show caused Laura to miss her fight. The next flight wouldn’t get her to RDU until 8:30am the next day instead of 9pm the night before.

We also caught a break. Tropical Storm turned noreaster Ida damaged the fleet of vans Chris’s team was planning to use to get to Wake Forest. So they had to bring a bus and the driver limits prevented the team meal from becoming a reality.

The night before the shoot, the stylists hinted they were nervous about the shoot. We had no idea what wardrobe was coming and they saw an opportunity with a celebrity model as too important and didn’t want to blow it. I was worried too because other than the vague outline of what to shoot, I had no idea what “looks” to do. I don’t get chances with models of Laura’s calibre very often either and I didn’t want to blow it. But I had faith in the styling team so I knew it would be okay.

I also invited Tom Winstead to come shoot with us. Tom and I shoot a lot together and he has always helped me out and this was a good way to repay him for everything.

With the team set, we now only had to dodge the two hockey games because I don’t get to see Chris play often and with the in-laws in town, they were not to be missed. We also wanted to have at least one meal with him.

Saturday, 8:30am
Laura arrives at RDU. A quick trip back to my house for breakfast and then off to the salon.
We arrive in Durham and the stylists start looking over the wardrobe and talk with Laura about the ideas. We start setting up lights, backgrounds and such while the styling beings. Visitors arrive in the form of my wife and in-laws to watch the beauty shoot portion. By 2pm, they depart.
We start the first of two editorial shoots. In between, we keep the the styling, but add a little additional makeup and Laura becomes a marionette puppet. A quick studio session with that look, then we style for the 2nd editorial look. Then back inside for the final two fashion looks.
Leave for Wake Forest and the hockey game. Luckily my wife brought the computer to the rink, so I was able to download and get some photos up quickly from the WiFi at the rink.
Leave the game for home. We arrive a little after midnight and its back to editing for a bit and we probably get to sleep after 1am.
Sunday, 8:30am
Time to start day 2. The hockey game was in the middle of the day, so after a breakfast, it was time to drive to the game. I got a little more editing and posting done before we departed. Its a 45 minute drive from home to the rink.
The 2nd game commences with more photoshop work in between periods. The game ends and we head to the local mall food court with the team.
We leave Wake Forest for Durham to start the second day’s photography. Its a 45 minute trip to the Salon. The stylists planned to get as many looks in as they could before we had to call it a wrap. Several of them were complex and required considerable styling time. Before we had to quit at 11pm, we got in four complex high fashion looks.
Finally home, a quick edit to get some shots from Sunday up and then call it a night
Monday 6:30am
The alarm goes off. Time to get Laura to the airport to send her home.

Through out this whole process, we all were in pure awe of how talented Laura is. I’ve never had this many keepers from a shoot. All of her poses are strong. Her facial expressions are spot on. Clearly she took Tyra Banks’ advice about “Smizing” (smiling with your eyes).

Laura is also incredibly versatile. Each look was different. Even within the same look, one angle would be completely different than another. Jenn describe her hair as perfect. She was a wonderful canvas for her and Daniel’s ideas. Laura hit it off well with the stylists which I now realize may be some of the most chemistry needed at a set. When sitting in a chair for over an hour being poked, prodded, glued and tugged, having a good report with them is important.

Then the camera turns to her and and infinite number of poses appear beautifully before the camera. It was the most incredible shoot I’ve been part of. Enjoy the photos.

Raleigh’s Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure


Finding a Cure

Breast Cancer strikes way too many people. It’s always traumatic. Too frequently it is fatal. Each year, many communities organize a 5K “Race for the Cure” in support of the Susan G. Koman for the Cure Foundation.

The Komen NC Triangle’s event, in its 13th year has raised over $10 million. This year over 22,000 people ran or walked the 5 kilometer event (3 miles) as the racers departed Meredith College on Hillsborough Street and wound past NC State University in their path to return to Meredith.

Finding a Needle in a Haystack

My wife’s boss has been raising money for this event for several months including holding bake sales at her office and my wife has gotten involved as well. Well today was the day for the walk and my wife wanted to go to the race to support the team walking from her office, which included her boss and several co-workers. She wanted me to photograph them as they were walking.

The two people I needed to find, Hope and Marie
The two people I needed to find, Hope and Marie

We found a great place to park just off of Dan Allen Drive a half a block from Hillsborough just past the 1K marker. It was a great place to shoot. The light was good, we were in the cool shade while we waited. A wonderful police officer with the City of Raleigh was telling us what to expect as we waited on the group of recreational walkers and runners. The competitive division ran earlier in the day.

“This won’t be too bad” we thought. By the 1K mark, the group would be spread out and it would be easy to find people. Then came the “Sea of Humanity” as a group of nearly 20,000 people filled the street. I had to find two people in a pack of 20K and try to get their photo. Twenty thousand came and went and I didn’t have my quarry.

We did meet up with the parents and sister of one of my son’s ex-hockey teammates. They stopped their walk long enough to catch up with us. It was truly nice to see them.

But I didn’t have the photos I needed. So with the help of the police officer we learned where the return to campus turn back on to Hillsborough street would be. We hopped in our car, wound our way back towards Meredith and found another great parking spot, pretty much right on Hillsboro, less than 100 yards away from the finish line.

So we went right up to the yellow “Do Not Cross” tape, standing in the middle of Hillsborough street, waiting for the now narrower and more spread out crowd to find my wife’s co-workers.

While we waited, our next door neighbor passed us as she finished the race. Another hockey mom passed by waving. Then to surprise, a couple who we used to work with, and good friends that we have not seen in a couple of years found us as they finished their walk. I’m finding everyone but who I need. Another wonderful conversation later and they were on the way to the finish line.

Then “bam” out of no where, there was Hope and Marie. They spotted us about the same time and started waving to us before I could get some photos pre-wave. Shots in the can. We had found our two needles and several more.

It was good to see so many in our community coming out to support a great cause.

Welcome to the Redesigned

Louisville, Kentucky SkylineWell I’ve done it again. I’ve changed the look of

This is too easy to do if you use a content management system like WordPress. For those who haven’t experienced WordPress as a tool, it was primarily designed for blogging, so many of the themes have a blog feel to them, but some creative people have created other themes that are a bit more content based, called magazine type themes. We are in the progress of learning the ins and outs of this type of theme.

As such you may not see photos on each article’s deal page. The photos are there, WordPress just isn’t finding them. This theme needs to have photos uploaded. However I will add in the HTML code or use Flickr’s “blog” button and theme doesn’t detect photos added that way.

The new site has my new branding, much like what you would see if you visited my Twitter Account.

It also lets me pick several posts to “feature” so that you can have access to recent tutorials in addition to stories and other features of the site.

I hope you enjoy the changes.


Our Kentucky Derby Festival Vacation Comes to an End.


Nine days ago we packed our bags and loaded up our Expedition for the long ten-hour drive from our home in North Carolina to our native home of Kentucky. It was a trip we had not made in several years. We picked this week specifically because it was the main week of the Kentucky Derby Festival. For my wife, a native of Louisville, Derby Week is ingrained into the soul and its been hard for her over the 15 years we have been gone and hopefully we satisfied her yearnings for a while.

The week will go down as her most memorable vacation in a long time. I wanted this week to be all about Sherry. If she wanted to do it, we did it and if I got to take photos, all the better. She had a very packed and aggressive schedule planned and we made most of the events and made all the key events.

Spring time in Kentucky means unpredictable weather. It has been known to snow this week and rain is always a problem. Temperatures can soar into the low ’90’s or can require the heat to be on all week. When attending festival events the weather can make or break a trip. Winds and rain threatened almost every outdoor event this week. The rains came during off hours, the winds delayed but didn’t cancel any events and even for those attending the Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby were granted dry conditions making it almost a near perfect week.

This website’s blog posts have been a daily diary of our exploration. We hope you have enjoyed reading the stories and viewing the photos as we got to experience the events first hand.

The week was full of favorite moments and very few forgettable ones. The highs include:

And the two low points, besides the weather concerns included:

  • Not getting all the Carolina Hurricanes playoff hockey games
  • Not having a DVR. We didn’t have a clue how much we use the rewind live TV feature.

As tradition before each running of the Kentucky Derby, just after the “Call to the Post” and the National Anthem, Stephen Foster’s song “My Old Kentucky Home” is played. Never has the song meant as much to me as it did when it was played Saturday as the final lyrics struck me:

Weep no more my Lady. Oh weep no more today.
We will sing one song for my Old Kentucky Home,
For my Old Kentucky home, far away.

…”Far away”…

Kentucky is my home, not North Carolina, though thats were I live. Staying away all these years from family and friends is not good. We should not be bound by distance, gas costs, schedules, or the other excuses of life. Being away from your home is not healthy for the mind, body or soul. We must work harder to make sure that our old Kentucky home isn’t as far away.

But for now, its back to work on Monday. Time to hit the ground running and act like we never missed a beat during our nine-day excursion.

I thank you for following along.
Rob & Sherry!syndey

Understanding “The Rule of Thirds”

One of the first things almost every photographer is taught early on is the “Rule of Thirds”. This is a very simple rule that will transform your snapshots into works of

Basically put, a piece of art, in this case a photo is more interesting when the subject is not centered, but instead off centered 1/3 of the way into the photo.

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Rule of Thirds Grid

This is a typical 4×6 photo divided into a “Tic-Tac-Toe” grid. In this case the vertical and horizontal lines divide the photo into “Thirds”. One set, is a left, middle and right thirds, another set is top, middle and bottom. We will refer to these as the Rule of Third’s Lines. The for points where the lines cross each other, we will refer to the Rule of Third’s Points.

So as a rule, your photo will be more interesting if your subject appears at one of the 4 points or uses the lines to divide the photo.

Now, lets examine this photo. This is clearly a snap-shot. I took it and I admit, composing this wasn’t high on my list. I put my center AF point on the subjects eye’s and fired.

Moving the subject left to the cross point of the top and left lines would have minimized background distractions and waisted space above the subject.

Our subject’s head is dead centered in the frame. There is waisted space on either side of him and over top of his head. A simple move to bring his eyes to the top rule of third line would have done wonders for this photo. It would have been even better had I moved his head to the top-left point with him telling his story into the frame. This wasted space, be it empty space, or a busy background is called “Negative Space”. Negative Space simply put is space that doesn’t contribute to the photo.

Now lets look at another example, this time a Landscape.

A landscape using the Rule of Thirds

This time, I chose to use the Rule of Thirds to divide the frame into three horizontal bands. The snowy foreground, the lake and trees and the sky are balanced across the frame. None of the three main areas dominate the photo keeping negative space to a minimum. The position of the tree’s prevented me from putting them on the Rule of Thirds vertical lines but the photo is still kind of broken into thirds horizontally.

As with any rule, they are more like guidelines than “thou must” hard fast rules. There are times where the Rule of Thirds simply doesn’t work. Some notable exceptions include shooting a sunrise over an ocean. If you put the horizon on the bottom 3rd, the sky better be very interesting or it will begin to degrade the photo. Put the horizon at the top third and the ocean will dominate and pull down the interestingess of the photo. In this case centering the horizon may be a better choice.

In this example:


The subject is centered vertically, but I’ve used the grate to split the frame into 3rds. I did not do a good job balancing the model vertically and as a result there is a little too much space at the top and her feet are a bit cramped along the bottom.

Had I spent a little more time with the composition, I could have placed the Rule of Thirds line at her knees and the top of her dress and made this killer.

Now this can be salvaged by cropping the photo. In this case, instead of it being a 4×6, a 5×7 would let me trim probably enough off the top to fix the photo.


In this case, I’m a touch off, but by putting the eyes on the top rule of thirds line. Even so, her eyes are close to the points. You don’t have to be precise with being exactly on the lines or points, but use it as a guideline to avoid centering your subject.

Most head shot portraits will fit well within the Rule of Thirds. You are probably using it and not knowing it.

Use the “Rule of Thirds” as a starting point to your creative compositions. Other compositions can be even more dramatic and of course there will be times where centering makes the best since.