A flash, a reflector and a window

A flash, a reflector and a window

In my last post, I wrote about preserving memories, under the influence of sadness, since Floca, my sister’s beloved cat, had a few more days to live. Floca is now in cat’s heaven and while I will never see her again, I like to think of her by the window, where she liked to stay, as she was a light lover like me.

I took time to reflect on her absence and turned that into a creative outlet. I wanted to create a beautiful picture. Not any picture. I wanted to create something I was really proud of, something elaborated, artistic, creative, the kind I would imagine in a museum or fine art gallery. What did I do? I went on a field trip.

I looked for a place where I had never been and took me on a date on creativity. I went alone. I visited an old beautiful building looking for inspiration and refreshness. I came back with much more than that. It was better than water in the desert.

I fell in love with a chandelier, a beautiful light, with artful design and old style. I thought I would have liked to photograph Floca under that light, but it was no longer possible. Then I had the next better idea: I called the place I visited. I explained I was on a self assignment for inspiration, where I try to photograph a portrait a week under different light and challenges and blog about it, to help to educate my photography community. Could I possibly take some pictures there using my flash? I was honest about my intentions and they were nice with me. What could be better?

It got better. They let me in.

I rented a dress from the 1800′s and looked into European portrait paintings in the museum. It all added up to my idea. I found a cooperative, beautiful model. I asked help from two fellow photography friends to go with me as assistants. I had a final image in my head.

The goal: to create an artistic portrait of a young woman in a setting of the 1800′s. It needed to be believable and to have an old look.

The idea: the portrait would be of the woman, head to toe, in a beautiful room. It was supposed to be black and white, but I changed my mind in the developing process.

The challenge: I had seen the location only once, in afternoon light, and my session was going to happen under a different light, morning light, and I was not quite sure how I was going to like the light in a different time of the day.

In between arriving at the place, carrying up the gear -  (one light with a big softbox), lightstand, reflector, makeup, rented dress, accessories – taking the pictures and packing up to leave the building we took 2 hours and 15 minutes.

The challenge was a good one. I liked the light better in the afternoon. But I had my own portable sunshine in the shape of my flash with softbox. I shot in higher ISO than I intended, which did not compromise the quality of the image I had in mind.

While one of my friends helped the model with the makeup, the other helped me to set up and meter the light. I will be forever grateful.

This was the beginning, when we got there:

setup room

Once the model was ready, we did another test for bouncing light:

testing light

Then, of course, I could concentrate on the composition I was looking for. The image below was made with ISO 800, shutter speed 1/125 and aperture f/5.6.

Classy portrait

I changed the light a couple of times to compose differently. In the image below the model went to the window, and I did a post processing adjustment to increase the yellows and show more details in the shadows. This is only one image. No cropping, no HDR. I wanted her face looking out passing the point of profile.  As her face went more towards away from me, she became unrecognizable, adding to the mistery I wanted to create. ISO 320, shutter speed 1/125, aperture f/5.6.

under a new light

And in the next one, the light comes from her right side. I decrease contrast on the wall paper. ISO 320, shutter speed 1/125, aperture f/6.3.

old style

After all the hard work, a few comments:

It was hard to control the light. Not the flash light, but the ambient light. I did not want much of the outside showing, so I had to increase my ISO to almost blow out the window light, but that made the light in the old couch super bright. In a few images it was unrecoverable. In the ones I picked I was able to tone down the light and recover the pattern.

It made me tired, but a good tired. Thinking almost hurts when you are in creative mode.

It made me think hard and push myself because my time frame to photograph there was limited.

It made me extremely grateful for my kind nature: I have a huge appreciation for the people who allowed me to photograph in this beautiful location and for the model and friends who helped me to make it real.

I came up with images I am proud of showing. I would do it again in a heartbeat.

This session was made to my sister Lisiane, in honor of Floca, who loved the light.

by Simone Severo.

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Reflections on the cloud and my memories


I just read an interesting article about the “cloud” and online storage…it got me thinking. Actually, it got me thinking a lot.

I have been thinking about using the cloud to store some of my images or data from the external laptops as a backup. I take a lot of pictures and I am always concerned about their future. I still know where my old negatives are and I have them organized as a librarian would. I can’t say with the same precision that I could find my digital life as fast, if in need of a specific photo for tomorrow…

With software such as Lightroom and online cloud we can organize, catalog, and find images faster, which is nice when you know the keyword, or the month an image was taken. But what if whomever thought of the cloud did not have my structural thinking? What if they failed in the planning phase to consider that not all humans think alike when trying to find something? Or worse, what if nobody thought about how do we structure our minds when we forget something?

There is just a lot more information, a lot more images to go through and an overwhelming amount of time to catalog, store, backup, and who knows what else is coming…

My sister and I are very sad today, because she found out Floca, our 16 year old cat, has cancer, and the kitty has about 15 days to live without pain. It really got me thinking about the importance of those memories to be alive and safe. We want to be able to see them fast, how many times we want and whenever we want. We don’t want to think we can’t see them anymore because the cloud fail, a tsunami hit some island or the stockmarket bankupted.

I have a lot of cds and dvds as a backup system, and I want to believe that as more digital life comes to everybody’s lives, I can update the system that starts to become obsolete with something else that will keep my memories for the future. I am all up for embracing technology, just not blindly.

As I am typing this, googling about the cloud and its options, and editing another picture of Floca, I am in deep thoughts about how important are those memories we can really never re-live, and how permanent memories were created for such important moments of my life. Memories, indeed, are priceless and I ought to pay more attention to them, whether they live in my heart, on in the cloud above my head.

Simone Severo

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Fresnel studio lights

Fresnel Studio Lights

Fresnel Studio lights

For quite a long time, I have been wanting to teach a class about Hollywood lighting and I think time has come for starting to plan for real. I knew I needed more equipment so my Christmas gift, a book about George Hurrell’s Hollywood portraits, put me on the edge…I bought more lights.

The new Fresnel Studio lights arrived in the beginning of January: I got one Arri 650 watts Fresnel light , a beauty in person and a “clone” version to compare. I will finally have enough of them to teach the workshop the way I imagine. They will help the dream come true.

Together with the famous Arri light, I decided to order a Chinese version with the same power. I have not found many reviews online, although I did find a few, so I took the risk to make my own comparison down the road. I figure that I will probably see differences in quality for sure, but I could live with the “clone” version of the real deal and use it for backlight if the light worked.

The clone version of the ARRI Fresnel Studio Lights is from a company in china known in Ebay.com as steven.studio

I got the real Fresnel Studio Lights ARRI 650 version from BHVideo.com

Powerful at 650 watts, the new Arri light give me this beautiful light quality, with the option of making the light “blurry” as I can zoom the light in and out, making the shadows behind my subject sharp or blurry. In fact, last month I was teaching a workshop “How to set up a home studio” and one of my students was amazed with the feature of zooming the light in or out as you would with a zoom lens. The beauty of the shadows transforming before your eyes, I have to admit, is impressive.

You will sweat if in a small studio. Those lights are not made for small spaces. They are ok in the basement studio in winter though, since it is always cold in the basement.

You can’t use too many of them in the same circuit. You would pull too much power. That would trip the breaker. I used two of them for about 3 hours and had no problem, but I would not recommend for longer periods. Turning them on and off every now and then would be safer. They get really hot. You don’t want to burn down the house. Play safe.

I have been using the lights for almost a month now, and I really love them both. I know it is too soon for comparing them, but eventually, I will. For now, I am just testing them before all the ducks are ready for the workshop.

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Project 365: still going


On January 1st, I decided to take the boat of Project 365 as my personal photography journey, the commitment of taking at least one picture a day for an entire year. We are now in day 6 and I have photographed every day. I also have created new photography workshops and posted in my photography group, The Colorado Springs Creative Photography Group.

I took a time in my calendar to actually plan my photography, execute photo projects, and develop classes. Did I mention I still have a full time job?

I am taking under my wings a couple of mentorees, people I trust ad believe, people who I think will have fun and be able to develop interesting portfolios in this year ahead.

The studio has now more props and more function, classes on the calendar, meetings on the calendar, projects to be done…a good start I would say

This first week of the year has been cold, making me read more and review my photography. It made me remember when I did my first Project 365, in 2010. Back then, I took my images in RAW and I needed to develop them in lightroom. For Project 365 2014 I decided to concentrate more in my composition and thinking (besides the commitment), so I made things a little easier and started thinking like film: you get what you get, or close to it.

My in camera settings for Project 365 are now changed to each picture I take for this project. I look through my viewfinder to compose what I want. Then I decide if I want this to be black and white or color. And once again, I will go to my camera to make the final settings: LARGE JPG, black and white,  pick the filter, adjust the sharpness and contrast, take the picture. If I decide I want a colorful picture, I pick my angle, set my own personal preferences for saturated colors (or not), contrast and sharpness and take the picture.

Once back to the computer, I still open them in lightroom to crop and make really minor adjustments, with the advantage that I don’t go through presets thinking of what do I want done with the picture, because that was my first decision BEFORE  I took the picture. Less work, more happiness.

If later down the road I see something I think may have an extra potential for development under Project 365, , I can always change my settings for RAW + JPG. Of course, I immediately change my settings to RAW again after the pictures for this project, so I don’t forget about it.

I like the freedom it has given me so far: less time in the computer, more time reading, spending with my beloved one or socializing. Other projects will come, I know. For now, I am trying to come back to Flickr, deciding if I will post my Projects there, or not. Decisions, decisions.  Project 365: almost a week and still going…I think I am winning.

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Happy New Year!


I love the first day of the year, something I inherited from my father, who has always loved the energy of January 1st.The happiness, the energy, the plans…it is like making a list for Santa, a full, detailed list, with all the things you want (to happen).

2013 had a lot of challenges and difficulties, but it ended on a very high note. I moved in with my boyfriend, got a new job, took more pictures, had vacation time, saw loved ones, bought a new camera, mentored a friend who has vision and taught many workshops. A year of growth and hope.

Now I sit down to make plans for 2014, or refine the list I wrote in December 2013.

Sleep more, anything my body needs, to start with. Focus. Start and finish everything that is important to me. Take more pictures. Challenge me to a new open mind of the state of things. Believe. “Weather you believe you are wrong or you are right…you are right”

I read a lot of books in 2013. After Kindle came to my life, I read 3 to 4 times more, and much faster, and some stayed with me for now, because I believe I attracted them to my life. “Believe”, being a key word. The better things I read, the more I believed, and the more good things happened to me. And I don’t believe in coincidences…

I am excited to have a brand new year to make plans, to re-write my story and how I want to live it. It is like the rite of passage of welcoming a new year ignites the candle from within, and a reset button has been pressed. Start over, let go of the past. Believe.

One good choice is almost always followed by another good choice: something that people who work out regularly usually talk about it: after you made a nice effort in working out you tend to keep doing good, and make another good choice. Under that thought, I made my first good choice of 2014: started the year with a 5K walk at Commitment Day. My boyfriend Mike did it with me. In a beautiful Colorado day, under a blue sky and high winds, 4 layers of coats, hat, gloves, sunscreen and sunglasses, we walked 5K in one hour with wind chill temperature of 17 degrees Farenheit. Cold, but we made it. Happy beginning. My first 5K walk.

Now to a new year of more apples over chocolate, more salmon, more bananas. More soups and more bike rides. Happy New Year!

Simone Severo

January 1, 2014.

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Photographing families: a few tips to have in mind

Photographing families: a few tips to have in mind

By Simone Severo

family3There may be no more important image than the family portrait; it’s that one image that will be on display front-and-center to be appreciated for years to come. When photographing families, your digital SLR camera is doing more than just capturing a staged photograph—you’re capturing a moment in a family’s life. When photographing families with digital SLR cameras, follow these simple tips to take your images to the next level:

Capture the Relationship

One of the most important things to keep in mind when photographing families is to remember that they have a very strong relationship with each other; it’s not a random collection of people who just met on the day of the photograph.

By having subjects get close to each other you can show these strong relationships and transform family portraits into something special. Have members of the family hug each other and get close. If there are small children, let them climb on their parents’ shoulders. Let your photograph capture the loving relationship within the family.

Dress Appropriately

A great way to show unity in the image is to make sure family members match in some way. This doesn’t necessarily mean that every member needs to wear the exact same clothes and look like clones, but some thought should be put into what everyone wears. Making sure members wear colors that are different styles but similar shades (or the reverse: the same style but different shades) can allow everyone to remain unique but cohesive at the same time.

A few things you don’t want: make sure one family member doesn’t show up in shorts and flip-flops and another comes wearing his formal work attire. Another thing to avoid is extremely vibrant red clothes; this can be on digital SLR cameras and put too much attention on the clothes and not enough on the family.

Get Up Close and Personal

A great technique to use while photographing families is to take up the entire frame with the subjects’ faces. A mother holding her toddler’s face close to hers, almost nose-to-nose can present very dynamic, emotional portraits if you maintain a shallow depth of field on your digital SLR camera (forcing the subjects to be very sharp and detailed and the background to remain blurry). These macro type images can be cropped closely to capture stunning moments of emotion that may otherwise be missed in a wide, distant shot.

Ultimately for the family, choosing a professional photographer to capture special moments is the best way to ensure timeless quality; whether you’re a photographer or looking for your next shoot, keeping these tips in mind should make for a great session full of amazing memories.

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