Kyle’s 40th Birthday Party Rocks the Cova

Last weekend I had the honor to shoot one of the best birthday parties I’ve ever experienced.  My friend Kyle was turning 40 and his lovely wife Radhika pulled out all of the stops and created an amazing event on the roof of the Cova Hotel in San Francisco.  I had not been to the Cova before and was delighted to see how nice the roof deck was!  The views are amazing and the event people over there are great to work with.  If you want to do an event there, be sure to ask for Mohi.

The Cova Hotel in San Francisco

The party theme was casino formal and everyone really came out in their best.  There were blackjack tables, roulette, a giant champagne bottle and a very large ice sculpture which we discovered will eventually topple over when it melts just enough.

The birthday boy and his goodies.

This birthday party was kind of like a reunion for many of us there.  I saw friends I had not seen in years and everyone had a smashing time – including the ice sculpture.

One of the highlights of the evening was a surprise performance by Radhika and her lady posse when they appeared on the dance floor to do a fully choreographed number which closed with Radhika materializing as the devilangel to seduce Kyle.  (I think it worked.)

The Birthday Devilangel Seduction

What a fantastic night for a fantastic guy.  Happy Birthday Kyle!

Classic Bridal Stylings

I had been kicking around the idea of doing a wedding shoot for the past several months. I wanted a lot from this shoot and I’m proud to say that the final outcome exceeded my expectations!

The actual wedding day is nearly always very rushed and affords the photographer little control over the location, time of day, wardrobe, hair or makeup.  So, getting portfolio worthy images isn’t a sure thing with any wedding.  For this reason, I wanted to work with several other professionals to create a gorgeous set of images of which we had complete creative control.  And that’s just what we did.

I had been wanting to work with Lana at Style by Lana for many months and this was finally my opportunity.  Her hair designs are exquisite and I knew that she’d make the brides look amazing.

Earlier this year, Lana and I tried to plan this shoot but the bridal gowns fell through and we had to cancel it.  But then I discovered Amy-Jo Tatum Bride and fell in love with her gowns.  Her classic designs are so sweet and elegant – I had to bring her into the project.  Her gowns were then a primary influence on the vision that took shape for the shoot.

My vision for this shoot was to create an intimate and demure mood that reflects my style of wedding portraiture.  I chose a beautiful location north of San Francisco in Marin county where I could create and old world feel among stone walls and brick pathways through intimate gardens.  It was the perfect setting.

Lana then introduced me to JuAn Li of Elite Stylist who came on as our Makeup Artist.   JuAn was awesome at creating the clean, yet glamorous look that I was after.  The bouquets were provided by Victoria’s Floral and Event Design – beautiful, yes?`

We were so fortunate to find our brides, Joy Mann and Rocio Flores.  Their sweet faces and demeanor were just what I was looking for and the dresses worked so well on them.  Our grooms, Curtis and Keith were excellent as well.  Many thanks for the models’ patience on a long day of shooting!

Finally, I want to thank all of my collaborators for your generous contributions and fabulous company!

In Love on Baker Beach: Barbara & Rod

One of my favorite things about being a Bay Area photographer is the incredible variety of locations at which to shoot.  Baker Beach is one of my favorites.  It is seldom crowded, it has views of the Golden Gate Bridge and is very accessible.  I had the pleasure to shoot there again recently and the even greater pleasure of getting to know Barbara and Rod.

Barbara was one of my earliest Facebook fans.  She would often comment on my posts and was always very sweet to me (thank you, Barbara!).  A couple of months ago, she reached out to me asking about a portrait session.  I love to shoot for my fans when I can so I was delighted to have them as a client.

They drove more than two hours to get to the city and were so excited for their weekend away.  The weather that day was as good as it gets at the beach in San Francisco.  The sun was warm and painted the world in the most beautiful golden light.

I was fortunate enough to not only make pictures with them but I also hung out with them all evening for an amazing dinner at Gitane on Claud Lane in the city.  I was really struck by how sweet Barbara and Rod are together.  They’ve been married for ten years and they still behave like newlyweds.

It is always an honor to get to know awesome people like Barbara and Rod.

I love my job and it sure beats working!

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A Boy and his Mother

The reason that I choose to make photographs primarily of people is because I derive great joy from the interactions with all of the fabulous people I photograph.  My most recent shoot was with an adorable, dynamic little 2-year-old boy and his very lovely mother.

We had planned to shoot a full month earlier but the poor little guy did a face plant at daycare two days before the session so we pushed it out to this past weekend.  The evidence of his crash had nearly disappeared from his face by the day we shot.

When I arrived at their house, he was already wound up and ready to hit the park!  After chasing him around the neighborhood for several minutes we got him into the car and off we went.  He couldn’t wait!

Sometimes when I shoot with kids, I direct them.  There was none of that last weekend!  We let him run loose throughout the large park and I made these photos by doing my very best to stay in front of him so I could actually get photos of his face.  He was fast!

After an hour of chasing ducks and throwing rocks into the lake, Mommy remembered that she had bubbles in her purse so we had the distraction we needed to keep him in one place for a few minutes.  This gave me the opportunity to capture the beautiful interactions between mother and son.  Could these two be any cuter?

We had such a great time running and playing in the park that afternoon.  The weather was perfect.  It was partly cloudy and overcast so we didn’t have harsh shadows but we did have some blue sky to give some contrast to our backdrops.

Then, wouldn’t you know it, the poor little fellow did another face dive two hours into the shoot.  You see him below pondering whether or not he should cry.  Well, he didn’t.  He was ready for more.  However, Mommy and me were exhausted and we called it a day.

This is the greatest job in the world!

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7 Steps to Great iPhone Photography

Bay Area Photographer, Jim Vetter (that’s me) thinks its very groovy to make killer images with the best camera he usually has with him.  I don’t always carry the D3s but I do ALWAYS have my iPhone in my pocket.  If I leave the house without my phone, I feel as naked as if I forgot my pants – and I know what that feels like.  It happened once but I’ll save that for a later post.

Throughout this post, I’ve included some of my iPhone photos that were captured and edited ONLY with the iPhone and the apps I have in it.  No Photoshopping here.

As I mentioned in my earlier post, iPhone – Sometimes it’s the best camera, I was at first reluctant to use my iPhone camera for various reasons related to my ignorance of it’s capabilities and my arrogance about ‘serious’ photography.  Anyway, I overcame those faults enough to really appreciate this little camera that I carry around in my pocket every day.

This post is about actually using the iPhone to make pictures – not just taking pictures – making pictures.  I’ve explained my creative process from concept to publishing.  I hope you like it!

My 7 Steps to Great iPhone Photography

Step 1 – Open Your Eyes

We are all out and about quite a bit.  Our phones are in our pocket, our purse (or satchel if you’re a dude) or in our hand as we’re obliviously crossing the street while we text our buddy about drinks after work.  In any event, we have them all the time and if we just open our eyes to what’s around us, there are remarkable photos to be made anywhere we look.

Step 2 – Look for the Light

Light is the language of photography and it’s not so hard to learn.  The learning process begins with simple awareness.  Just be aware of the light that is hitting the things around you.  Where is it coming from – what direction?  Where are the shadows falling?  Are the shadows sharp or soft?  What color is the light?  You might be inclined to assume that natural light is white – but it actually ranges from orange to yellow to blue.

Anyway, the point is that you want to be aware of the light and how it paints the scene.  Then you can make artistic choices about where to position the camer or the subject.  Start Looking for the Light and you’ll start seeing beautiful images to make.

Have you ever noticed how good everyone looks in late afternoon or sunset light?  The skin looks smooth and warm and everyone is beautiful.  This is because the light is a warm yellow/orange color which makes people look healthy and the light is low in the sky so it fills in all the shadows in the face so people don’t look like raccoons as they do at high noon.   But regardless of the time of day, just pay attention to the light around you and beautiful images will present themselves to you.

Step 3 – Reach for the iPhone

You can’t make a photo unless you have the phone in your hand.  If it’s in your pocket, the most is can do is dial the last person you spoke to so they can hear your change clank around while you play pocket pool.  So have the thing (iPhone) in your hand when you’re on the go.

Step 4 – Launch Your Favorite Camera App

If you’d like to read about lots of iPhone camera apps, look at some of these links below.  I’m going to talk about the ones that I use and there are many others that I have not even tried and still more that are arriving in the AppStore every day.

About half of the time, I just use the camera app that came with the iPhone.  However, sometimes I know I want to do some tweaking of the image and share it right away to Facebook, Twitter, etc.  At these times, I’ll choose a camera app that has the editing/filtering and sharing features built in.  My favorite camera apps are Best Camera, Camera+ and Instagram.  Each has the ability to take the picture, edit it in some way and then share it via email and social network sites.

Step 5 – Compose Your Shot

This is where you get to make the artistic choice about what is in your photograph.  Consider the entire frame – not just your main subject.  What is behind the subject?  What is in front of the subject?  Do you want those things in the shot?  If not, recompose.

Really look at the frame holistically.  Nothing in the frame is completely insignificant. Does it all make sense together?  Is it cluttered?  Generally speaking, less is more and the less you have in the frame, the easier it is to create compelling images.  It is easier to create powerful and compelling images when you simplify the composition.

So how can you simplify the composition and isolate your subject?  Try getting down low and shoot up to remove the ground clutter from the shot.  Try getting in close so the subject fills the frame.  Try shooting down on your subject so the background is only the ground itself.  Try tilting the camera to include the most interesting elements of the scene while eliminating the junk you don’t want in the frame.

Most importantly – look at the entire frame before you press the button.

Step 6 – Press and HOLD the shutter button DOWN – Don’t release it yet!

This is an awesome technique I learned from Chase Jarvis.  The iPhone does NOT take the picture until you RELEASE the shutter button.  You can hold it down as long as you like.  It takes the photo when you lift your finger.

When you think about it, lifting your finger from the iPhone screen is going to cause a lot less shake and jiggle than hitting the screen with your finger.  When I learned this, my iPhone photos went from crap to incredible.  This may be the most valuable thing you take away from this blog entry.

Step 7 – Take a Deep Breath – Exhale – Relax – NOW let go of the button

Getting sharp images on any camera requires a steady hand.  This is even more important on the little iPhone which easily gets bumped around while we’re making pictures.  This causes the photo to blur and causes us to curse @#$%^&@#!!

Before you release the button, anchor yourself on both feet, take a deep breath, exhale and relax. Then, gently lift your finger from the button and you will get sharper images every time.  Every single time.

If you follow these 7 simple steps, you are sure to make more interesting, more compelling, sharper, better images with your iPhone – or any other camera phone for that matter.  In fact, these concepts apply to all cameras.

When I shoot professionally, I am keeping all of this in mind with every shot.  After some time it will come naturally and you won’t even thing about it.

Pimping Your Images

The iPhone camera Apps I mention above, along with many others, allow you to edit and filter your images in an endless variety of ways.  You can crop to change the aspect ratio or to recompose your shot, you can adjust brightness and contrast, add special effects and much, much more.  Go get a bunch of these apps and try them out.  Play with all of the filters, knobs and sliders and find out what you like.

I personally believe that every image has a life of its own and deserves post processing that is unique to that image.  Some images will lend themselves to black and white while others look better with over-saturated color.  Some will look great with a crazy pencil sketch effect.  You’ll know what works by playing around and trying different effects until you hear yourself saying “WOW!  That rocks!”

So sum up my pimping advice in a word – EXPERIMENT.   You are the artist.  There is no right way or wrong way to process your images.  Do what feels right to you and then proudly share it with the world.  If someone doesn’t like it, screw ’em.  It’s your art, buddy!

Sharing your Art

One of the coolest things about camera phones is that they allow you to instantly share your art with a friend, your family or the entire world.  Don’t be stingy with your images – share them on Facebook, Twitter, your blog, wherever.  Most any iPhone camera App will allow for sharing to multiple social networks as well as by email or blog.  Make use of that feature to show your stuff.   There is always someone out there who wants to see any image you create.  Share your Art!

Thanks for reading my blog!  If you’d like to see more of my work, please click the Like button on my Facebook Fanpage.

8 Tips for Making Awesome Beach Pictures of Kids

Bay Area Photographer, Jim Vetter (that’s me) loves to catch kids being themselves.  One of the best places for kids to be kids is the beach.  Think about it – they can be as loud as they want, they can run as fast as they want, they can fall on their face and not get hurt, they can play in the water, build sand castles… the beach is a kids paradise.

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Now, certainly one of the best times to photograph kids is when they are being themselves – and enjoying it.  So, if you want to get great photos of kids, get them down to the beach.  The weather does not matter unless its actually raining.  I made the shots below this past weekend and it was about 49 degrees and very windy – thus the heavy coat.

The challenges with shooting at the beach come from the very high contrast lighting situations.  The sun is obviously crazy bright, the sand and water reflect a lot of bright light and the overhead sun causes dark shadows on faces and causes people to squint.

So how do you get great photos on the beach?  Here are my 8 tips for making awesome pictures of kids (or anyone) at the beach.

1.  Let the kids be themselves.

Don’t tell them to smile or pose.  Just encourage them to enjoy the beach and do whatever they like (within safety boundaries, of course).  To get great shots you just need to put yourself in the right position relative to the light.

2.  Put the sun BEHIND your subject.  (this one tip is worth a thousand bucks – email me for my paypal ID 😉

Sun in anyone’s face makes them squint and look ridiculous.  It also puts very hard shadows on the face that are not at all flattering.  Put the sun behind your subject and you’ll get gorgeous rim light on their hair and shoulders.  This rim light separates them from the background and makes them pop right out of the photo.

3.  Use a fill flash to fill in shadows and add a catch light to the eyes.

Just because it is day time does NOT mean you shouldn’t use a flash.  This is especially true at sunset when you probably want to take photos of your child with the beautiful setting sun behind them.   Their body will be a black silhouette without the fill flash.

In the photo below, I used a fill flash which lit her face and allowed me to capture a nice saturated sky in the background – even though the sky was very bright.  The fill flash also gave me that little sparkle in the eyes that really brings the subject to life.

4.  Look at the entire frame before you press the button.

How you compose the photograph is more important than anything else you can do when making pictures.  Be careful not to have trees growing out of your subjects head or other people’s arms growing out of your subject’s body.  Look at the entire scene and frame the image so that your subject is balanced with everything else in the photo.

In the image below, your eye is drawn down the tire path in the sand to the little girl.  This leading line is a nice compositional element that enhances the image.  Also note that there are few distractions from the main subject.  The more you can isolate your subject, the more compelling your images can be.

5.  Watch for the quiet moments as well as the energetic ones.

Playing in the sand and watching the waves is a mesmerizing activity and what do we love more than a quiet, content child??  If you have kids you’ll agree that there are few things in life sweeter than seeing your child blissfully asleep.  So watch for the quiet moments on the beach and bring them home in your camera.

6.  LATE afternoon sun IS good on the face!

The closer the sun gets to the horizon, the softer and warmer the light.  Wait until your shadow is at least twice as long as your body before you photograph with the sun in the face of your subject.  This ensures that the light fills their eyes and warms their skin.  We call this the golden hour and you can’t really miss a good shot at this time.

7.  Don’t be afraid to EXPERIMENT!

Get your camera out of automatic and try very low and very hight aperture settings to very your depth of field.  Try slower shutter speeds and pan with your child as she runs down the beach and you could get a cool motion blur.  Jack up the ISO and shoot at your highest shutter speed to freeze the water droplets and grains of sand as the child runs by.

Finally, have fun yourself.  Let your kid take your picture being silly.  Go splash in the waves.  Kids know something about how to have fun.  Follow their lead.

iPhone – Sometimes it’s the best camera

Jim Vetter, Bay Area People Photographer (as I like to call myself) says “I love to have a camera with me ALL the time.”  And, so I do.  But before I get to the subject matter of the title of this post, a little back story…

Several years ago when I was getting a little bored with the corporate thing but was still in denial about it, my creative urge was increasing again and I wanted to do more shooting.  At the time, my Nikon D300 was my only “real” camera so I thought that I should be carrying it around all the time.  Now, a Nikon D300 with an 18-200mm zoom lens is not a compact camera.  It’s not a point and shoot.  Its a commitment!  So, I got myself a big sling bag that held my camera, an extra lens PLUS everything that was already in my briefcase like files, random crap and a laptop computer!  It was HEAVY and it was a sling bag which means that it hangs over one shoulder allowing me to quickly swing it around and pull out the camera to capture any awesome photo opp that presented itself.

Fast forward to December 2010 and I’m on my back with a surgeon grinding bone out of my shoulder to fix the problem caused by carrying a too-heavy bag over that shoulder for too-long.

So….enter the iPhone.  That cute little device that I carried around and started at too-many hours a day and never used as a camera because I was “serious” about photography and serious photographers types don’t shoot with cell phones.  Well, after my shoulder refused to continue carrying the heavy-assed sling bag and I got myself a rolling briefcase, I relaxed my position on the iPhone camera issue.  And I don’t think I would have made this leap of faith without the inspiration of Chase Jarvis.  If you’re not familiar with him and you think photography is cool, go check him out.  If Justin Timberlake brought sexy back to music, Chase Jarvis brought cool back to photography.

Anyway, Chase wrote a book called The Best Camera is the One that’s With You.  He simultaneously published the book and an awesome iPhone app to enable iPhone users to capture and easily pimp out and share photos across all of their social media channels.  This book amazed me because he published stunning photographs all captured and processed with his iPhone – no Photoshop!  I figured if he can do this with an iPhone, I can too dammit!

I soon was shoot with my iPhone all the time and getting photos that I never thought would be possible.  And even better – I was getting images that I NEVER would get with me “real” camera because I had in-cameraphone picture pimping options that would require a LOT of effort in post production if I shot them with the big camera.  It was incredibly liberating to suddenly realize that I had this sweet creative tool in my pocket and I wasn’t afraid to use it!

OK – so that’s the back story.  Now, here are some of my favorite images from the best camera that was with me at the time.

City Sights

Surge of the creative urge

About two years ago when I found myself single again, I began to crave a creative outlet and started picking up the camera to photograph things other than my adorable daughter.  I was still deep in my corporate sales job at this point so photographic creativity usually happened after hours – which meant I was shooting parties again 🙂  I did a bunch of that as well as a few model shoots in my spare time throughout 2009 and 2010.

The Beats for Boobs breast cancer charity organization throws a killer fund raiser party and local designer fashion show every year in San Francisco and I had shot a couple of their events in the early part of the decade.  This organization is made up of some of the finest people I know and I’m proud to work with them.  So when they asked me to shoot the 2009 event, I jumped at the opportunity to participate.  This really is a great party!  The shot above is from the fashion show.

The 2009 Beats for Boobs event was where I met Katie briefly when I took her picture backstage.  Katie would soon get engaged and ask me to shoot her wedding.  At that point, I had turned down offers to shoot weddings because I was terrified of the huge responsibility of getting it right the first and only time the bride walks down the isle! However, I knew that I was ready now and accepted her request to shoot the wedding.  I had a great time shooting both the engagement and the wedding.  Katie and Bryan are awesome and their wedding was beautiful and so touching.  (More about the wedding in a future post)

By the end of 2009, I was really ramping up my photography by learning as much as I could online and from books and anywhere else I could find nourishment.  I bought a new camera at the end of 2009 after the unspeakable loss of my Nikon D700.  I like to blame it on a cab driver but I think I may have left it on the roof of my car!   (I haven’t drank while carrying my camera since.)  I also went on a camera gear shopping spree at the end of 2009 and beginning of 2010.  I knew I was going to shoot the wedding in August and that gave me all the excuse I needed to gear up like a pro!

By the beginning of 2010, I had little interest in anything other than my daughter and photography.  My day job was becoming a grind and lived my real life at night with the camera.  I shot more events and more portrait sessions to feed my creative appetite.

The Best Camera

After reading an inspiring book by Chase Jarvis called “The Best Camera is the One that’s with You“, I started taking a lot of photos with my iPhone.  I was blown away at what I could do with my phone.  There are amazing apps that will shoot and edit photos in a few seconds.  It really can release your creativity!  I’ll do a later post about iPhone photography but here are a couple of my favorites from 2009/2010.

While all of this creative energy was beginning to rise, I was becoming more and more disillusioned with the corporate world where growth for the sake of investors is king.  I wasn’t doing anything in my day job that brought joy to anyone – especially me.  I was dying to do more of what brought smiles to people’s faces and even moved them to tears.  I wanted to do photography!  So, I started to silently – almost subconsciously – plan my escape…