Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Buying Used Gear on Craiglist

In the past months I've discovered the wondrous cess-pool that is Craigslist. I've seen scammy postings, advertisements by hookers, and cheap-ass wannabe photographers promising to shoot your 8 hour wedding for just $50 and provide incredible images at the end.

However! There are some gems to be had on Craiglist if you can just avoid the herpes.

I've managed to get the following in the three months from good old CL:

Canon 5D, less than a year old in like-new condition w/ two batteries and a charger: $1500
75-300mm Series III USM Canon Lens: $75
Backdrop support system that is higher than all ceilings I have encountered thus far + 10x20ft black muslin: $100

By my estimates I have saved roughly $1k from buying used equipment. $1000! So how can you get in on this money saving action?

1) Check early, check often. I try to cruise by the listings on CL at least once a day. I got the great deal on the lens because I saw the ad for it and immediately contact the person, and set up a meeting to buy it that afternoon.

2) Do your homework and don't be afraid to haggle. If they're selling used equipment and you know you can get a better deal somewhere, see if you can haggle the price down. The worst they'll say is no, and you might just find a way better deal elsewhere (just make sure to check before buying from online stores!)

Another big issue is making sure you don't get scammed. My first purchase via Craigslist was spending $1500 on a used 5D body from a complete stranger out of state. I was nervous, but I took precautions to keep myself safe.

-Always ask why they are selling the equipment, and in some cases ask for photos of it. They should be able to give a good answer, and if they can't -beware-. If they can't give you a solid believable answer then it could be stolen equipment, which if traced to you could land you in some hot water. The 5D was being sold because the woman liked film better and just didn't use it enough. The lens was being sold because the person was simplifying their gear. The backdrop was being sold due to the owner moving cross-country and no t needing to take it with him.

-Buy locally, and sell locally. Nigerian email scams anyone? Variations of that happen on CL as well. I posted some equipment for sale and had someone contact me who apparently was in Texas, but needed the equipment shipped to Africa... but it had to be soon since the person was about to leave for London. Uhhh yeah, right! Buying locally also means that you can keep shipping costs to a minimum or just meet in person.

-Use paypal for large transactions! It will keep you safe; you won't be robbed while carrying it around, it won't get lost in the mail, and the seller won't get your personal information. And if the whole deal suddenly takes a turn for the worst you can dispute the transaction as fraud and get your money back.

-For smaller transactions in person, I pay cash. I also prefer to get paid in cash unless I know the person or can track them down easily. Paying someone in a check could result in stolen identify and fraud, and getting paid with a check could end up with you at the bank finding out that it's bounced and you've just been scammed out of your gear for free!

-If you're meeting in person, bring a friend along. It might sound distrusting or cynical, but you owe it to yourself to look out for you. I bring along my boyfriend Dylan, he's got a big scary beard to scare away creeps. Also meet in a public place; I've met at a hospital and a dunkin donuts to do transactions and both were fine. Just be sure that the place you go won't get mad if you're hanging around without buying food or doing business there.

With some careful scouting and common sense you can some great deals on used equipment. Just make sure to keep yourself safe, and if it seems too good to be true, it usually is.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

A Working Studio For Less $$$

So you've been taking photos outdoors or near windows to make use of natural available light. But now you're wanting to explore other kinds of portraits with backdrops and controllable lighting - after all, it's not always sunny or nice out!

The problem is that, like most photography equipment, back drops, stands, and lights are very expensive, and can take up a lot of space. If you're like me with only a dorm room to work in most of the time, space is a luxury.

These two factors combined are enough to make a person just give up entirely, but wait! There are a few great ways to make your own studio gear on a budget.

Lighting is a doozy - it's expensive and it takes up a lot of room. A "standard" softbox can run you anywhere from $60 to over $150. I've seen them range to $200 all the way up to over $5k!
Then you need a good power source, and a place to store it when you aren't using it. All in all for a student or anyone without a dedicated studio space, having full on pro lighting equipment can be a huge headache and just not a workable idea.

The wonderful thing is that you can still get great lighting that is much lighter, portable, and best of all CHEAP! Same for backdrops.

The above was taken using just one small clip desk light placed behind the subject, , the kind that you might find at wal*mart. There was also normal light from the ceiling fixture lighting the subjects front. When you shoot using normal indoor lights you generally will need to tweak things in photoshop to get rid of the orange tone that the lights give off.

This photo was taken using just two clip lights from walmart that cost $6 each. I used energy saving lightbulbs in them - they last for a long time, don't heat up, and give off a pretty clean (non-orange) light compared to normal bulbs. I clipped them to a chair and a bureau to position them and had them plugged into normal outlets. The background is a blank off-white wall.

That photo was taken using one clip light, and a white blanket as a background (photoshop was used to make the background smoother). Blankets and thick or doubled up sheets can be good background if you have no blank walls, but if they wrinkle they can look very tacky, so be careful and iron them beforehand if at all possible.

For more powerful lights you can get floodlights from a hardware store, and set them far back from the subject or hang something in front (not on or over, always be careful of fire hazards) of it to diffuse it. The good thing about floodlights is that you can get them for cheaper than 'real' lights, and they can take a bit more of a beating if you have to move them around a lot or store them. You can also use white pieces of foam core board or silver baking sheets as reflectors to bounce light onto your subject.

With back drops I would suggest trying to get a real back drop if you can... it will be a lot easier to take full length photos, as regular sheets won't be long enough. I found a used backdrop with a 10x20 foot black piece of muslin on craigslist for $100 - to put this in perspective, the cloth alone can retail for about $75, and the support system can sell for $200. I've also bought my camera for hundreds less than I would have normally paid, as well as a telephoto lens that I didn't think I could ever get. Craigslist is a great place to get cheap equipment if you know how to look for deals, what questions to ask, and how to avoid being scammed or taken advantage of. Next time I'll go over ways to get the most out of craigslist to expand your collection of camera gear.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Taking Better Self-portraits

Photography is an expensive hobby. A good camera can run in the thousands of dollars, and pro equipment for a studio racks up cost very quickly. I've run into people who think they can't ever take a good photo because they just can't afford it, so in this entry I'm going to give some tips and tricks for taking better pictures with the camera you have. I've also included some of my earliest photos that were taken with a small samsung point and shoot.

Attack of the myspace photos! (or: why aren't my photos getting attention?)

You need a photo for your [insert social network site here] or decide that you just want to take some self-portaits. You grab your digital camera and start snapping. You upload all 500 photos you take, and are rather upset that no one comments on them or pays attention. Why is this happening?

We all know what a myspace photo is - someone grabs their camera or cell phone and starts snapping away at a 45 degree angle to their head. This is not good photography. You can argue all you want but I am here to tell you that those photos are a dime a dozen and generally suck. If you are trying to take a good quality self-portrait and actually express something about yourself other than the fact that you can rotate your shoulders and raise your arms above your head, you have to move beyond them.
Variations of this include pictures taken above your head to let everyone see down your shirt. Don't be a slut, no one wants to buy the cow when they can get the milk for free. There are ways to be sexy in photographs without being cheap and trashy.

Other common mistakes are:
-Close ups of a body part (generally eyes) that turn out blurry. What is the point of sharing these? If you have beautiful eyes, turn on the macro function of your camera, stand next to a light source, and have someone else take the photo.

-Shots very close to your face with the flash on. Yes, this will wash out (over expose) your face and make your skin look flawless, but it also erases your nose and most of your features. If you feel self conscious about your face then get creative and find ways to cover it, or take this is a great way to work on your self-esteem and acceptance of your body (which is what you should be working on in the first place).

-The trout.
Pushing your lips out, pouting, and sucking in your cheeks. This doesn't extenuate your lips or make your face look slimmer... it makes you look like you've eaten a lemon and it's not attractive in the slightest. Try a gentle close mouthed smile for a classic and attractive portrait. Practice in the mirror, and you'll get it down.
You can also use the mirror to see what angles flatter your features (not the 45 degree above the head angle) and use this knowledge to your advantage. A good full body pose is to stand with your hips point slightly to the left or right of the camera and twisting your torso at the waist to face the camera more head on. It generally takes weight off your tummy and minimizes any extra jiggle you might have.

-Mirror picture with flash
Using a mirror isn't always a bad way to take a self portrait, you can get some very interested effects with them. However - TURN YOUR FLASH OFF. What would have been an otherwise good photo can be ruined by a huge white splotch over your face from the flash firing. If the room is dark, turn on lights, use a lamp nearby, and open shades to let natural light in (bonus: natural light makes your skin look better).

-Abusing photoshop
Photoshop is a very powerful tool, and a lot of fun to play with. That being said, don't go crazy with filters. They can turn a perfectly fine portrait into something that looks very unskilled and juvenile. Polarizing filter and sharpening are two drugs of choice I've seen people overusing.

-Sensory overload.
I generally upload one picture per day or one picture every two days to deviantART
Uploading two or more photos, let alone twenty, is a great way to make people ignore you. Uploading just one or two give people time to look at them and appreciate them instead of being bombarded with image after image. And restricting yourself to just a few also makes you more critical of your photos so you only chose the very best ones to share.

I hope this has shed some light on ways to improve your photos! Next time I'll talk about ways to DIY your own studio equipment to take great photos without spending lots of cash.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

need a helping hand

I've entered a contest on brickfish, it's a photography contest with the theme of "beautiful places in the world". I have to two photos entered. The winners are decided based on rank which is a combination of votes and "viralness" - meaning how far and wide you can spread your entries.
So I am asking, as my friends, to help me with this. Click the two links below to see my two entries:

You don't sign up for anything, you don't give your email, your name, nothing. You just click the vote button. You can vote once every 8 hours. It takes maybe half a minute to do, and you would be helping me so much - $1000 is a lot for a college student. If I win it that's $1000 less off my bills that I need to worry about, $1000 less in loans I take out.

I also ask that you post the links wherever you can, to try to reach as many people as possible. Those of you that know me know I am extremely serious about my photography and it would be amazing (and my first time) to win something from it.

<333 thank you!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Model wanted for shoot, spring semester

I'm am going to begin casting for a shoot that will take place on a weekend in February or March (it's dependent on the availability of the location, which I have not confirmed yet. I want to cast someone and then work with their schedule to find a good time).

Theme/Concept: Mixing dance (ballet) with fashion. The wardrobe will be a semi-formal dress, most likely black, that I will provide unless you have something you prefer that will work for the shoot.
I am looking for someone who has a dance background and knows how to safely work in ballet pointe shoes and can provide their own.**
Flexibility, strength, stamina, and patience will be needed for this very active shoot.

Location: University of Southern Maine, Gorham Campus

MUA will be provided, and possibly hair stylist as well.

Non-USM Students: I will provide print-ready digital negs and web-ready versions of the final images in exchange for your time. A meal on campus will be provided if you wish, and depending on how far away you come from I can cover a portion of the gas cost or have a few images printed in 8x11 for your portfolio.

USM Students: Digital files for you to print at your leisure as well as ready to upload versions for the web. Possibly a few 8x11 prints.

Please message me with any questions or to let me know you're interested.

** If you have experience with other forms of dance other than ballet let me know, I might not be able to use you for this particular project but I have a few other ideas cooking that could use your skills.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

9th Annual USM Royal Majesty Drag Competition and Show

Competitors and performers who I have taken photos of: please feel free to use them, but link back to me at

The lovely hostess, Crystal Ball

one of the non-competing queens putting on their act while a woman interprets for the deaf

Bunny Wonderland, a prominent Portland drag queen judging the event, does a number that included sound clips from the original Willy Wonka mashed up with Britney Spears

The Competitors

Sound techs actually played the wrong song for this competitor, but he was given a chance to perform again to the correct one.

The winning Queen performing as a naughty nurse with a non-competing partner (not shown)

Winning Kings, the Dynamic Dicktaphones, perform their number.

Non-competing "Kings of the Hill" perform YMCA as the Village People while the judges deliberated.

The winners doing a victory walk down the runway.

Competitors and performers who I have taken photos of: please feel free to use them, but link back to me at

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Published & New Camera

Look familiar? Yup, that's my photo, published for the first time! Click it for a full view. And as you might notice Dylan wrote the article it accompanies.

After some hurdles and roadblocks, my new camera, the Canon 5D, is in my possession and working beautifully. I can already see the improvement from the D40. It'll take me a little while to get a handle on this beast of a camera because it is quite larger than the D40 and set up very differently (just about reversed in some ways). But with Thanksgiving break coming up I'll have time to spend with it and the manual and you should start seeing a steady stream of photos coming through. If you're going to the drag show (which you absolutely should - this Friday November 21st, 8-11pm , more info on facebook) then you'll see me flitting about with it.

To get an idea of the 5D's power and capabilities, check out these photos which were all taken with it.

Here's what I've snapped so far today -

Nothing terribly impressive because my head still feels half dead from being sick, but I'm excited. In the bottom one you can see my reflection in the bottom left corner :P

I'll be organizing shoots after thanksgiving break, so keep your eyes peeled if you want to model.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Coffee House

Just got back from the coffee house in burnham lounge... it was a smaller turnout than expected but still a fun time. Dylan will be running an article in the free press covering it in more detail and (hopefully) featuring some of my photos. Here are my personal favorites from the evening:

performers, please feel free to use the photos of yourselves, but a link back to here or my deviantART page under the photos would be great.

paypal woes

I've been verified by paypal, but now I have to wait for my echeck to clear because I didn't realize the difference between drawing directly from a bank account versus a debit card T_T

Although verifying was supposed to take 3-5 days and it took just a few hours. So hopefully the check will clear fast so the camera can be sent to me!

I'm on myspace now, woo
we should be friends :P

I'm building my team right now... I have someone to assist me with holding reflectors and keeping track of equipment, and I also have a MUA (make-up artist). What I need is someone who is good, REALLY good, at doing hair (as in, I can show you a photo of a style and you could replicate it to a good degree), and then of course the issue of finding a good place to supply nice clothes. I've been checking out goodwill since you can find some gems there, but I think I'll have to hit some consignment boutiques since they tend to have higher quality more stylish clothes on the cheap. But if anyone fancies themself as a designer or stylist I'd more than welcome you to help out with shoots :)

The reason I'm putting together a team is because I've started reaching out more into the Portland modeling community to find models, and I've got a reply back from a serious model who wants to do a shoot at some point. You can find her on myspace @
I also contacted a modeling agency who said that they aren't currently hiring photographers but to check back in four months. So basically four months to create a kickass portfolio... it can be done!


And I was going to post photos but now I need to run to class...

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

sun and lighting

Those will probably be the last photos I take with my current camera... hopefully I'll be getting the 5D soon!

Also thinking of advertising cheap head shots in the theater building here on campus... I had a look at the photographers advertising and they all seemed a bit steep, plus not on campus. I figure someone on campus who's charging a fraction of the cost might be a welcome change. If anyone has had their head shots done let me know how much you paid if you don't mind.

my brain is dead... blah.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

An Evening with the Cambiata

If you missed the show last at the student center then you missed a great concert. The USM student body seems to be rather notorious for just not giving a fuck about what's going on on campus... whether it be because everyone is partying in the dorms or just oblivious that things actually happen here (a recent poll in the Free Press showed that a large percentage of students wished more concerts happen on campus, seemingly unaware that we usually have one every one or two weeks!).
Last night was a very big exception though, with a crowd of around 80 flocking to the Brooks Student Center to see The Cambiata. I saw them last spring at Space Gallery and was a little put off by the loudness, but last night the music seemed more controlled, more mature, and overall much more enjoyable.

The Cambiata performing at USM, Fall 2008

The Student Center isn't the most technologically advanced, super trendy venue, however the band overcame any issues with the tiny stage and gave a really great performance. For someone who doesn't really listen to that kind of music I even found myself getting into it and enjoying their sound.

the stage at the student center is thin and long, forcing the band to spread out in a line

I do hope that someday USM has a better concert set-up than we currently have. The small stage, limited equipment, and sub-par lighting make it very hard to put on the amazing shows that other colleges pull off. However the crowd last night didn't seem to mind at all.

three students seated facing the right side of the stage

I did notice that the 'no mans land' effect was in strong force that night, leaving a large area empty. In the future chairs will probably be set up directly in front of the stage to help solve this problem.

concert-goers formed a ring around the stage with an empty half circle space between them and the performers

Despite the empty area everyone still had a great time, listening to the music and having fun. Hopefully this is a trend that can keep going in the future!

friend The Cambiata on myspace

Upcoming USM Events:
Thursday 11/13 - Disco Night [Brooks Student Center, 9pm]
Saturday 11/15 - The Dark Knight [Brooks Student Center, 8pm]
Thursday 11/20 - Coffee House [Burnham Lounge, 7pm]

Thursday 12/4 - Husky Film Fest (deadline for entries is November 20th, Film Fest will start 12/4 @ 9pm)
Thursday 12/11 - Stress Relief Night [Brooks Student Center, 9pm]

FMI on the Gorham Events Board or Thirsty Thursday events, email daniella.nevells[nospam]