Today we are doing a different formula from the usual blog posts we are doing here at Photograph IO. Following numerous reader requests, we have decided to conduct interviews with fellow photographers 🙂 Eric Dye, a semi-pro portrait photographer, is going to give some solid, concrete advice for beginners wishing to improve their photography, specifically portrait photography!
All photographs © Eric Dye. Used kindly with permission.
Photograph IO : Hello, Eric! Glad to be with you.
Eric Dye : Greetings! Glad to be with you too!
Photograph IO : To begin, can you introduce yourself a little bit?
Eric Dye : I’m a student at Penn State Behrend where I study journalism and communications. I’ve been shooting for about eight years now on the side doing everything from senior portraits and concerts to weddings. I’m the Creative Director and Opinion Editor for The Behrend Beacon, my school’s newspaper. There I do everything from designing ads and page layouts to teaching new writers basic photography techniques.
Photograph IO : How did you discover your interest and your motivation in photography and how has it changed your life since then?
Eric Dye : It really started after I had messed around with a borrowed point and shoot. I took it everywhere with me and snapped random photos. After a while I acquired my own camera and bought how-to books here and there. That was when the magic happened. There was something that excited me about learning how to do something myself and then seeing improvements over time, I felt liberated. Everything up till then was taught to me, I learned math in school from a teacher and how to tie knots in boy scouts. But photography, I learned that on my own. That has rippled into everything else that I do. It was empowering, really, to discover what you could do with some of your own effort. Now my motivation comes from incredible photographers like Steve McCurry and Lewis Hine. They have created an amazing body of work over their lifetimes and I hope to do the same.
Photograph IO : Great to hear that you’re an autodidact! What is your current photography style and how does your role models influence you in that matter?
Eric Dye : I think you could largely describe my style as big apertures and tight composition. I love having smooth clean backgrounds (with lots of bokeh!) behind subjects. Steve McCurry does this a lot and I think he is largely where I picked up the style from. Sometimes I specifically set out to take photos using elements from famous photographs. It’s a great way to challenge yourself.
Photograph IO : That sure is a great style! And you specialize in portrait photography, right?
Eric Dye : Correct, I dabble in a little of everything but my main focus is portraiture.
Photograph IO : Although gear is generally speaking overrated, our readers sure would like to know what equipment you use. Mind sharing?
Eric Dye : Of course not! I use a Nikon D750 and a D5100 as backup. Lenses include Nikon 35mm, 50mm, and 85mm f/1.8 G’s , Rokinon 14mm f/2.8, and a Pentax K1000 and Yashica 35 rangefinder when I feel like shooting film.
Photograph IO : So you not only shoot digital, but also dabble in film? That sounds great!
Eric Dye : Yeah!
Photograph IO : Also, we often say that shooting itself only makes half of a picture, the other half being in editing. What about your post-processing workflow, both digital and analog?
Eric Dye : I have little analog post-processing beyond getting the film developed. However I use several tools for digital editing. Lightroom and Photoshop are my most frequently used tools. I also love the Nix software plugins, they are loads of fun to mess around with.
Photograph IO : Mind you go a bit more into detail on your Lightroom/PS workflow?
Eric Dye : Sure, I use Lightroom to organize all of my photos after I shoot, add keywords, and quick mass edits like white balance and sometimes presharpening. Then I use Lightroom’s comparison tools to pick my best shots, and then work on the keepers. As a portrait photographer, I adjust contrast, lens corrections, color, and small blemish removal in Lightroom. If I need to do something more involved or convert to black and white I jump over to Photoshop. After that I either use the Nix software to stylize or export through Lightroom. After that, the photos go to Facebook, my website, or Dropbox to send to clients.
Photograph IO : Great and efficient workflow. On a unrelated note, since you are doing photography part-time, do you have any plans to becoming a full-time pro photographer?
Eric Dye : The thought is always in my mind. I think it is most likely I will integrate photography into my job some way regardless of where I end up. That could be photojournalism if I keep working at a newspaper, or perhaps creating stock photos for a creative project a job might have. Either way I plan to make it an active part of my life both as work and as creative expression.
Photograph IO : Thanks! Do you have any advice for our readers wishing to improve their photography in general?
Eric Dye : I’d say take time to review your work once in a while. Note what has changed or where you think you can do better. It’s hard to truly appreciate where you’re at if you don’t remember where you came from.
Photograph IO : Anything else you’d recommend or would like to add?
Eric Dye : I do have some quick gear advice, if you are comfortable using manual lenses, I reccomend checking out Rokinon/Samyang lenses. They are really great quality for surprisingly low cost.
Photograph IO : Indeed, they represent excellent value for their price! What about accessories? Tripods, flashes, etc. what do you use or would recomment?
Eric Dye : Tripods I don’t really have a reccomendation for, there are so many different particular needs. Just avoid the cheap plastic ones from retail stores, they are just going to keep breaking on you until you get something substantial. As for flashes I’m a big fan of the Yongnuo brand. Well-featured for their price. If you are looking for a myriad of budget friendly accessories or bags I’ve had good experiences with the Amazon Basics brand as well.
Photograph IO : Yes. Youngnuo. They are so great! Our editor-in-cheif has the YN 560 III, and he totally crazes over it.
Eric Dye : Haha, I wouldn’t be surprised!
Photograph IO : Of course, flash use is mostly for portraiture, your specialization. Is there any specific tips or advice you would give a newbie wishing to improve their portrait photography?
Eric Dye : Portraits are all about how good the light is! If you are noticing harsh and contrast-y shadows across your subject’s face, find some way to soften the light up a bit. You can do this with a softbox, a scrim, or even a thin bed sheet or shower curtain. If you’re all out of that, wait for a cloudy day to go shoot. Clouds work great for nice soft shadows when it comes to portrait photography.
Photograph IO : Some very insightful advice in here. What about posing and angle? It surely is a major thing to consider that many beginner portrait photographers overlook, right?
Eric Dye : I think posing is an advanced skill that can be difficult to get right, not necessarily because poses are hard to learn, but because they can be difficult to communicate. If you want to get good at posing, find a friend who will let you try things out for an hour or so. When you do this, don’t focus on just what poses you find look good, but how you communicate with the model to get those poses. Mastering both is a key to having stress-free and fun portrait sessions.
Photograph IO : Practice makes things perfect, eh?
Eric Dye : Exactly!
Photograph IO : Anything you would like to say before we wrap up this interview?
Eric Dye : Thank you guys at Photograph IO for the opportunity of interviewing me! It’s always a joy to share something you love to do.
Photograph IO : No, it should be us that thanks you! You gave some solid advice out there! See you soon!
Eric Dye is a photographer, graphics designer, journalist, and a tech geek. While pursuing liberal studies at Penn State Behrend he also works at The Behrend Beacon as the Creative Director, Opinion Editor, and editor-mental-stabilizer. He has spent over 8 years independently studying photography and will take wedding photos, portraits, and dog photos for food. In a pursuit of expanding knowledge Eric also blogs about photography techniques, gear reviews, and photo news, and has a website which you can find here. You can also follow him on Facebook, DeviantArt and Twitter!
Like Eric said, avoid cheap tripods like the plague (here at Photograph IO we can never stress this more). – Editor’s note
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