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Today I added a new skill set to my life. Let me tell you about it.

This winter, as the annual doldrums of February returned I looked at my career of 35 years in the photography business with affection and analysis. I have done almost everything I have wanted in this wonderful field. There is more I want to do and I will, but I have had a blessed career with great customers, and wonderful friends and a success level I could not have imagined at the beginning. Oh, my I was young and green! I was so enthusiastic! The possibility that I could photograph people for a living barely entered my mind because the larger elephant in the room was that people would let me photograph them! I had a start that could only be described as a jump-start. When I returned from art School in San Francisco, I was offered a studio by Marlis Jensen, who was an art director in Minneapolis in the Wyman building. Offered, as in given. For free!! I took it, and the first three businesses that I showed my book to hired me. One of them hired me for 18 years of continuous employment until they went out of business. Over the years, I have had studios in Mpls, St. Paul, Maplewood, and now for the last 17 years Stillwater. Each location has been wonderful, but Stillwater has been the best, and I have made this valley my home. Something more is needed now, though. I am 57, and while I still jump off the ground with excitement when I take a great image,(though not as high as I once did, knees!) I am looking for opportunities outside of these doors. A decade ago I bought the building my studio occupies and I began to see the world of a property owner. Tenants, leases, paying off a mortgage, the balance sheet; I had began another business, and it was interesting and fun. Well, not always fun. I had some very interesting tenants!

So I began to read about real estate. I talked to people, investors and salespersons. I looked up web sites and journals, and in my learning I saw the possibilities more clearly. Photography is a solo pursuit. It isn’t lonely but it is solitary. I have often wished for a more collaborative engagement. I wanted more activity in the public world. I wanted to see what the real estate industry was like from the inside and so… In February, I began to take the real estate salesperson training at Kaplan, in Roseville. Last week I passed the test, and this morning I handed in my certificates and results to the good people at Keller Williams. I am going to become a real estate agent and a photographer. Woohoo! I’m excited! I have a new and exciting direction that I can dig into. Moreover, I can do my photography as well.

I remember my high school interest in Architecture. I loved it. I still do. It is amazing what a talented architect can do with materials and space. But we all need a place to live and work, and for me, it is not just the lofty dreams of the architect that matters, but the equally lofty dreams of a young family seeking to shelter their loved ones in a home. I can now participate in that world as well. Stay tuned for  the exciting updates. I have a house to sell!

My sister Caragh O’Brien is an author of young adult novels. Her newest book The Vault of Dreamers published by Roaring Brook Press is the first installment of a trilogy that hit the shelves earlier this year. This summer she called me to mention that she needed a new author photo and could I do it at the family reunion in July.

“Of course!”, I said. Here is the result;

Caragh O'Brien by Tomy O'Brien Photography

Caragh O’Brien

Oh my goodness…how time flies. I have not posted a bit since June 7th, 2012. And that suggests a lot of possibilities; empty thoughts, nothing to say, a lack of heart for this form of communication, genetic flaws or just too much good old fashioned fun in the rest of my life.  Summer, fall, winter, Christmas, skiing, hugs, adventures, THUNDERSTORMS!, squash, biking, children, great food, music, laughter, great books, family, presents! and so much more.

Thank you studio! You have sustained me in busy and slow times with your good humor and happy shape. I think of you like an old friend. Faithful, reliable, trustworthy, fun, warm and full of good thoughts and intentions. Hi! Chocolate chip cookies anyone? Come on over and I’ll look for one with you. I know I have a Tootsie-Roll around here someplace. It’s yours for the asking.

The photography business has never been more interesting. There are so many voices in the choir these days. How do you as a customer know what you should buy? Well, lets begin with the word; photography. Everyone knows it. Photography is what you do with your camera and what you show your friends on Facebook and what gets put in albums and on walls and now a days, stored in the dark of your computer bits and bytes. Yet, photography means the writing of light. We write with light. We control light. We capture and display it. Here is the difference.

I will show you two photographs here.Emily for blog 9019

This beautiful image was taken of Emily during her senior picture session. Nice location, good colors and a pleasing relaxed expression. Look at the nice blur behind her and the happy glance of light on her hair. We were in shade so her eyes were relaxed and she was sitting on a chair. Most photographers could sell this image to Emily. She looks great. I have retouched the photo exactly as I have this next one.

Always use light!

Almost everything is the same except I used flash fill. I wrote with light! I was a photographer. Her eyes have a spark, her skin is bright and clear, her hair has strong color and her shirt is clean and smooth.  Almost everyone I show this to picks the second one as their favorite one. And yet, if I did an entire photo shoot without adding my own light many many people would accept the first one.  They would think I was a good photographer. They would buy the image. They would have never known how much better it is with a professional deploying his skill and equipment.  What bothers me is there are a lot of photographers who do not use lighting in their photography. They sacrifice quality because it is easier. It is quicker and less expensive to walk around with a long impressive lens and use natural light. It is! I know it is. But like so many things in life, it is not better. If you come to my studio I will take great pictures of you and I will go the extra mile and bring the lighting you need and deserve. I am not more expensive than those photographers who do not use lighting but sell it as good enough.

There are two great restaurants in the world. One is called McDonald’s and the other is called Noma. Noma is in Copenhagen and has won the best restaurant prize for two or three year in a row. McDonald’s has served all of us a billion hamburgers. Noma does not serve hamburgers. We can eat at McDonald’s for a few bucks. A flight to Noma will set you back $1500 and up. Noma serves 40-50 people per day. Lunch is about $500 for two. Clearly, we can eat at both in theory. I’d like to try!

In no way are my services as expensive as Noma’s food. Noma is a once in a lifetime experience for a few people. Your senior pictures are a once in a lifetime experience for you! Here is a real reason to chose to have them taken by me.

In case you are wondering if this was a fluke example. Here is another one. Cheers!small with out light_3960 copy

And the second image;
Quite a difference isn’t there!
Small with light3961 copy

Hey All~

Just wanted to take a few minutes to introduce myself. My name is Erin Dahlin & I’m the new studio manager here at Tomy O’Brien Photography. I’ll be running around helping Tomy out with production, photo shoots and all the odds & ends that make a studio run smoothly. I’m originally from Plymouth, MN but moved out to CA when I was 18 to attend the Academy of Art University in San Francisco where I graduated with a BA in Fine Art Photography. From there I moved to San Diego to enjoy some sunshine & surf before moving back to Minneapolis almost two years ago. I currently reside in north east Minneapolis where I love riding my bike, checking out local bands and hanging out down by the river. I’m super excited to be working here & can’t wait to meet you all.

The Giver is a dystopian novel by Lois Lowry that presents a society that is first seen as utopian but is gradually revealed as a deeply flawed dystopian world. Pain and strife have been eliminated by the “sameness’ plan that eradicates emotional depth. Jonas, a 12 year old boy, is selected to inherit the memories of time and the emotional cornucopia of mankind. As knowledge and emotion is revealed to Jonas, he faces a dilemma inherent to this new world of wisdom and emotion; should he stay with his family, or run away to live a complicated life full of great beauty and love, but also pain and death; to stay and suffer in the shadow world where his family lives – a world without love, color, choices and knowledge, or to breath the free air of his new revelations?

The Giver was chosen by the Minnesota Opera Company as the first commissioned work for it’s Project Opera youth talent program. The Minnesota Opera commissioned Susan Kander to write the music and libretto for the new work. I was given the opportunity to photograph the two dress rehearsals on April 25th and 26th. It is with tremendous pleasure that I present a few images from the two wonderful performances. I would also like to thank the talented young singers for their musicianship and performance. The Giver, truly gave.

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I received a call from Joe Cutts, editor of Ski Magazine, in February, wondering if I had time to join him and two friends for a week of skiing in the American and Canadian Rockies. Joe and I have been friends for 20 years and though I have skied in his home state of Vermont, we have never been able to arrange a time to ski together out west. He needed to put together a ‘powder package’ for the magazine and thought that a ‘boys trip’ could also make an interesting story.  “I’m in!”, I responded before the email even cooled in front of my eyes. Naturally, I began to check the forecast for snow every day. I love to ski and I had never been to Schweitzer, Red Mountain and Whitewater ski resorts.

We landed in Spokane and drove through the towering mountains and rain forest forests of Idaho to Schweizter Mountain Resort, in Sand Point, Idaho. Book Your Family Ski Resort Vacation to Schweitzer Mountain – Idaho  Schweitzer has 3000 acres and 2400′ of vertical drop but what stood out was the hospitality and the unbelievable views of Lake Pend Oreille. 

We skied two days here, and the highlight was a half day of Cat skiing with Selkirk Powder Skiing. Back country access to untracked powder skiing is the mecca of ski bums and we were not denied. We were treated to a wonderful day and fantastic snow. Check out our video! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4FGr4r-VoAM&feature=share It doesn’t get any better than this! Thank you, Schweitzer Mountain and Selkirk Powder Company!

We then went into Canada to visit Red Mountain Resort in Rossland, B.C. for two days of skiing the mountain and the back country with Big Red Cats. Red Mountain is huge,steep and and gorgeous. With a vertical drop of 2900 feet and 1700 acres Red Mountain Resort is compact and impressive. The double black diamond runs take your breath away while the quick lift service and no lines keeps you skiing all day long. Day one had us joining Big Red Cats for a day in the their 19,000+ acres of back country for another day of cat skiing. It was unbelievable. So much terrain. So much snow. We even had a half day of sunny skies after the night of snowfall. It was epic.

Our final destination was the town of Nelson,B.C. and  Whitewater Ski Resort. Whitewater Ski Resort Whitewater is old school. Big mountain, lodge at the foot of the hill and the best scenery of the trip.

The skiing? Fantastic. Whitewater has just recently expanded into what was their back country. They have 1200 acres, 2044 vertical feet and 40 feet of snow each year. Its a treasure. They also have the best breakfast of any ski lodge I have ever eaten at.

The week was over after  six days of great skiing, ever-laughing companionship, and a feast for our eyes and palates.  I was sorry to go but I know I will be back. Powder Alley is what skiing is all about!

Today I am going to walk you through a before and after tutorial with a female subject. My original photo was a raw file exposure with a color temperature of 5400; F/4 at 160s with a 70-200mm lens at 125mm. The subject is in a dark alley with a fair amount of summer north light. I often use a light reflector in this situation. I did not this day. This is my original exposure. This young woman has very fine skin;peachy in color and creamy in luminescence. By placing her in a dark area, I planned to take advantage of the natural contrast that would occur, and in further selecting an area with brick texture, I have an additional contrast to her soft skin. Now to bring it out.

My first step was to open up curves and raise the facial values a small amount. I wanted her skin to be about 90% of pure white. Then, using the brush tool I selected a sample of her skin that was a highlight and with a brush value of  22% I air-brushed her entire face except for eyes,hair, or lips. I went over certain sections twice if it was still too dark. This gave her a bit of a washed out appearance but it took away the dark areas of her face that had not received enough light.  Next, I made a duplicate layer and applied Soft Light. After that, I burned the dark areas of the photograph several times to create a visual pathway to her face. I flattened the layer,bumped up the contrast in Curves  and used the History brush to return the face(only) to the state before the additional contrast. The next step was to to retouch any acne or bumps on her face, and then to apply Imagenomic’s Portraiture filter.  This filter is a wonderful retouching device for creating flawless skin but you have to be selective with it. It is easy to go overboard.  Women love it because it looks like a professional make-up artist was employed. For men, it can rob them of their strength and character but it is still useful when used fractionally. After this was done I was distracted by the tendrils of hair falling from her neck so I retouched them out. Here

is the final result. Her father loved this image and he now has it hanging in his home. I am somewhat distracted by the strong color of the brick wall and my burning was intended to reduce its influence. In a large print it is less distracting because the woman’s eyes draw you in. This serious expression was much more interesting than the ones of her smiling in this same location.

In this post I am going to show you a before and after image and show you how I got there. I photographed a young man last summer for his senior pictures.  This image is exactly what I took, warts and all.  Its a daylight balanced exposure at 400 ISO, the exposure was F 5.6 at 1/250 of a second.  We were in full shade on a sunny day. I shot it raw and I did not use a light meter. I overexposed the image by about one stop. It doesn’t look too bad, but there were a number of things I could have done to make it better in camera; flash, bounced light, tripod, etc. but I didn’t and this is what the result was.  I really like the wall and the young man’s concentrated expression.  We took a few more here and then moved on.

Back at the studio a day later I chose this image as one of the ones I wanted to show him. But I didn’t want to show him a plain vanilla shot. Why? Well I had an exposure problem, but in my talks with him I had learned that the young man liked “cool” magazine photographs, and I wanted to create a few of them. So I went back to the raw data. First I changed the index down 1.25 stops. This is a lot! I kept going because his shirt was very reflective and the light from the sky was pretty hot on his chest. I would have been better off shading him but that didn’t happen.  I dialed in a color temperature of 3200 and a tint of +16. I also did a lens correction of -100. These steps gave me an image that was pretty well exposed for tungsten film which is what we used in the film days for indoor events lit by incandescent lights. This was the result.

Ok. Thats fun, but it needs a few things. It needs to be lightened up in levels, to be retouched, and to have some more happy put back in the photo. Happy? Whats that? Hey,it’s what ever you want. It’s my photo and I get to decide what the end result is going to be! When you work on your own images you need to end up with the results YOU  want.  I wanted it to be lighter and more contrasty, his face retouched for some acne, and the edges to be burned in.  I increased the saturation in the blues. Here is the result.This all took 3 minutes at most.  Was it worth it? Yes, the client loved the image and bought an 8×10 and a 5×7. Is it better? Is it perfect? Well, neither and both. I can take sweet, technically correct photographs all day, and lots of the time that is what I HAVE to do. Here, I took a chance to add some value to my experience as a photographer and to give a possibility to another human being. For me, thats what its all about! Next week I will show you an example of what I did to a woman’s photo. Thanks for watching!

#1 Henri Cartier-Bresson – The father of modern photojournalism, he coined the phrase – “The defining moment.”

#2 Sebastian Salgado – Famous for his photography of the mines of Serra Palada in Brazil.

#3 W. Eugene Smith – If only for his story about the Minemata disease he would be on this list.Tomoko Uemura in Her Bath

#4 Richard Avedon – Dovima with the Elephants « Iconic Photos

#5 Ansel Adams Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico

#6 Irving Penn- Known for his portraiture and his fashion photography.Irving Penn Photographs – The International Photography Index.

#7 Robert Frank – The Americans

#8 Annie Liebowitz – For her reinvention of the portrait.

#9 David Muench – The best landscape photographer working in color.

#10 Jerry Uelsman – Uelsman’s magical darkroom skills put him on this list.

I expect that everyone could come up with a top ten list. Here are some names that would easily fit on this one if you wished. Weegee, Steichen, Evans, Parks, Lange, Allard, Capa, Brady, O’Sullivan, Jackson, Ritz, Newton, Strand, White, Karsh, Weston, La Chappel, Hill, Daguerre, Lik.

Many of us have some anxiety about what a photo shoot will be like for us. Will it be awkward? Will I like the pictures? Will the photographer get it? Get me? Will he or she produce images that I love? These are legitimate questions. Its not often that we have pictures taken by a professional photographer. We have them taken in school, and we have them taken at weddings and lots of us have them taken as professionals for our work. So it’s going to happen, and we might as well know a bit about the the process  and how to make the best of it. We do want the images to turn out well so that we are proud of them. I firmly believe that  a wonderful photograph can be taken of everyone. How?

Hopefully, you have an idea of what you want and can communicate that to the photographer. Photographers have very different styles and abilities. You should look at several to find one that takes pictures that you like. Having a portrait taken can be a wonderful and deeply revealing process. The great painter John Singer Sargent said, ” Every time I paint a portrait, I lose a friend.”  He probably meant this in relation to the hullabaloo that accompanied his painting of Madame X (Madame Pierre Gatreau). She was a famous beauty and when the portrait was exibited at the  1884 Paris Salon the reaction caused a scandal. Sargent left Paris and moved to England. So goes the story of the most famous  portrait setting of the 19th century. The moral of the story; he believed it was the best thing he had ever done, and the painting now hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Eventually, the portrait came to be known as one of the most valuable of the ages. Good for him. Unfortunately, you and I probably  don’t have 128 years to wait for opinion to come around!

I think that people come to me with the expectation that I will magically make them beautiful. I think that all people are beautiful. It is my job to provide an interpretation of their beauty that is pleasing. I am fortunate these days. People who come to me often know beforehand what sort of photographs I am going to create. They already like my style, and know that I am going to produce a large body of  attractive images of themselves. They trust me to do a good job. What do I do? When someone comes into my studio I greet them  warmly and show them the dressing room. Then they return to my office and begin to look through a body of my work.  I say to them, ” Please look through these images and find perhaps a dozen that look like a photograph you would like to be in”. The work I show them is of a very broad variety. I show them black and white work, color work, indoor, outdoor,and even some slightly odd images. One image I regularly show is of a man staring at a wall and laughing. It gets picked. We are all so different and what is interesting to one of us might not interest another at all. In general, I put you in a lovely location and light you well, and ask you to smile, or perform and then capture a clean, mathematically rigorous exposure. Ta dah! DONE!!! ….maybe…  OK… Lets go to another location, change clothes, the lighting, fix the makeup and  repeat until dinner time! You will then have lots of good images. In addition, I have some wonderful programs like Photoshop to manipulate the images, retouch the faces and add strength to the photograpgh. Success arrives to the prepared team. We are a team, the subject and I. The old saying about shopping is that the customer is always right. Its not true. To be completely honest sometimes I have not been right as the customer. I bought some skinny jeans as a teen that were so darn tight I couldn’t get into them. $40 down the drain because I was so embarrassed or obstinate or lazy that I couldn’t return them – or something.  In my studio, I complete the team. We are working together to achieve something  and that is the adventure and the success. The team has a much better chance to be right than the individual.

Here is the  way of getting to great pictures.   Its a little four letter word: WORK! Yes! Work. Prepare,plan,produce. The three P’s that rule 90% of our life. You wouldn’t cook a meal with out planning so why would you go to a photographer’s studio or location without a bit of planning! Just the same, why would a photographer achieve much at all with you if he doesn’t do any work. I have seen countless results of photography where the photographer does not work. School photography grades 1-6 comes to mind. Every child has 30 seconds in front of the same set up with the same lighting and backdrop. It shouldn’t work as well as it does so often, but then again,our expectations have been formed by experience, and a lot of parents and teachers try pretty hard to get their child dressed well, with clean, neat hair. We understand this. As a photographer my job is to WORK hard to get  a great result. Here is a little know secret about me. You probably couldn’t tell by looking at me but I am a little nervous before every shoot. Why? Well, because if I don’t do a great job on the one and only time that I ever have to photograph this person, I might fail. I don’t want to fail. He or she will have a failure on their hands and the word will spread far and wide. It seems that a good job is expected and a few people will learn about it, but a bad job! Wow. Remember the new Coke-a-Cola! Ouch. Even this week, McDonalds asked people to Tweet in their stories about McDonalds’ experiences and they started talking about the negative ones. It went global.  People talked about how they hate McD’s and got sick and how unhealthy the food was , etc. Opps. I never want to have that sort of experience here.  I am working hard every day and year to improve my craft and the experience you all will have here. This last year I redecorated the studio, added a new dressing room for your privacy and comfort, upgraded my computer and software, did some continuing education seminars and invested in the best lens in the world. This year, I am taking more classes, (I’m in college, too!) buying a new camera, and tackling my personal demon – bad window displays. I will always work hard on every photo shoot and if it takes something special I want to do it. I’m not here for the lunch. I’m here for the whole wonderful year!