Category Archives: Photography

Everything You Need to Know When Buying Your First DSLR

Hey all! So the past few weeks, I’ve had a lot of friends and acquaintances hit me up asking me what a good SLR and lens is for someone who’s just starting out and wants to shoot with an SLR. After the first couple emails, I decided it might be easier to put it all in blog form (though I’m sure there are already dozens out there already).

Obviously, if you just want me to tell you a camera and lens, this is going to be a bit more in depth. If that’s the case, just go to Canon or Nikon, find something in your price range, and click the buy button.

But if you want advice on something more customized to your needs, then this is for you!

So first off, a couple basics:

DSLRs vs. Mirrorless Cameras

DSLR means Digital Single Lens Reflex. Popularly, this has been relatively synonymous with any camera with a changeable lens. But lately, that’s not so universal. The D is easy — it’s a digital camera and doesn’t take film. But the Lens Reflex part refers to the mirrors inside the camera body. When you look through the viewfinder, you see the light coming through the lens, hitting an angled mirror, and bouncing the image into your eye. When you take the photo, the lens is pulled back, and the light strikes the digital sensor behind it.

Nowadays though, you have the option to go Mirrorless. These are smaller cameras that also have changeable lenses, but they have no viewfinder. The light goes directly through the lens to the digital sensor and your only preview is on the back screen of the camera. This is very much the future of digital photography, but for the beginner, most of these are very expensive, but do often boast features many of the DSLRs are fighting to keep up with.

Camera Bodies

Now, it should be stated right off the bat that I’m a Canon guy, so it’s all I know. Nikon also produces excellent cameras and lenses, and what’s nice about the Canon vs. Nikon Debate is that they’re in many ways neck and neck with each other in terms of quality and features. So if you feel you want to buy Nikon, you can still read through this blog, but should I recommend something specific for Canon, just run a quick Google search for comparable Nikon products, and you’ll likely find the parallel model.

Beginner grade camera bodies are constantly changing. What I started with back in 2010 was a Canon XTi. Good luck finding one of those these days, almost seven years later! My second camera was a Canon T3i Rebel. I think the new starter level of the Rebel series has gotten up to T6i, and boasts far better quality.

The point being, with starter bodies, it’s tough to go wrong. Megapixels are fine and dandy and as a starter, you’re not needing a lot. For the most part, Megapixels refers to how many pixels are in one image (think the pixel-length of one side multiplied by the pixel length on the other). It’s just the total. The higher the Megapixel-count, the larger you can print off your photos without quality-loss, and the closer you can crop an image in post. Not important stuff for beginners.

The only other big factor that I look for in camera bodies is Low-Light Quality. There are three main ways light is used to make an image: the shutter speed (how long the light is allowed to hit your sensor), the Aperture (how wide the opening is in your lens to allow light in), and ISO (the digital sensor extrapolating the light — the fancy in-camera version of brightening up your  photo in post). This is called the exposure triangle.

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The best exposure triangle chart you’ll ever see.

Shutter speed doesn’t change much, and Aperture is a lens feature we’ll discuss later). ISO, then, is what we want to consider here. 50  or 100 is the normal baseline. Cameras these days can go up to 256,000! (The ISO typically doubles each time you bump it up, so you go from 100 to 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200, 6400, 128,000, 256,000). Now, the thing with ISO is that the further you bump it up, the more noise and grain is added to your image as the camera tries to brighten up light that isn’t there. It’s why your front-facing camera on your phone, in a dark room, looks grainy and pixelly as hell. Even the  best cameras when cranked to too high an ISO will get this way. It’s a limitation of tech.

Low-light capabilities will be one of the first things you start to notice being a limitation with your beginner-level camera. Taking photos at Christmastime, indoors, for example, will quickly teach you the limits of your gear. The best part about limits? That’s how you learn to shoot — you workaround what you have. When I reached the limits of my low-light abilities on my t3i? I bought a flash. Boom! My skills had to skyrocket!

So, do you have some extra money to spend on a camera body beyond the cheapest model offered? I’d advise you to do some research into “Low Light Quality for Entry Level Canon DSLRs” and see which one the reviews recommend.

At the moment, I’ve been hearing some of the best stuff about the Canon SL1, but that’s constantly in flux.

Lenses

Now, lenses are where the real meat and potatoes hit. There’s a LOT to talk about when it comes to lenses.

Let’s first take a look at a typical lens on Amazon and begin to dissect just what the hell all these numbers mean.

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First of all, your Focal Length. Focal length is “the distance between the center of a lens or curved mirror and its focus.” It’s what people are referring to when they talk about their “24mm” or their “35mm” or what have you. Is it important to know all about the mirror and center and all that? Not really.

What you need to know in relation to this number is how the photos look. 10-24mm is the ultra-wide range. You get shots like this, which is shot at 24mm:

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Portland Waterfall at 24mm

You get a nice, wide shot, that fits a lot into the frame. Of course, the wider you go, you get distortion. It starts to make stuff in the center of the frame smaller, and the edges of the frame stretched wider.

Think of a fisheye lens as the most exaggerated of this.

24mm is still considered wide, but isn’t as extreme as a lens in the 10-24mm range.

35mm is relatively standard as a way to get a wider shot without much distortion.

50mm is very little distortion and gives a nice look for portraits. Standing in roughly the same spot, this is what a 50mm looks like:

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Portland Waterfall at 50mm

While this is a horizontal image where the other is shot vertical, you can see it’s a bit closer in than the other. We call this “telephoto” as opposed to “wide” or “ultrawide”. Telephoto lenses mean you’re getting an image closer to your subject while standing the same distance away.

The 50 is a lovely focal length, particularly for shooting people (the human eye is said to see somewhere between 30-50mm itself). However, most beginners will quickly learn that the 50 is a bit annoying to shoot with because you can’t, say, take a selfie with it, or get a good shot sitting beside someone. It’s a bit too close. Cellphones are typically in the 24-35mm range these days. And since we shoot with cellphone cameras the most, that’s a good point of reference.

Anything upwards of 50 is only going to exaggerate the effect. 85mm? 135mm? 400mm? You’re going to be shooting people’s nosehairs from 20 feet back.

Meanwhile, if you’re shooting portraits of people with a wide lens, you’re going to distort their face in an unnatural way that doesn’t look genuine. Maybe that’s your goal! Maybe a bit of wacky distortion is fun! But maybe not just starting out.

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10mm (crop lens). See how the center of the image is smaller, and the ends are stretched? Often fun! But not always flattering. 

So which focal length do you buy?

Depends on what you’re shooting!

Is your goal landscapes? Go wide! You can capture those wide mountains and get all the scope and majesty into your frame! The drawback? If you’re not very close to the mountain range you’re ogling, you might find it to be quite small in your photo (think of trying to get that full moon shot on your phone).

Is your goal portraiture? Go ahead and start around 50mm or 85mm. You might have to stand back from your subject a bit, but if you plan to specifically shoot planned out images, 50 and 85 are very workable lengths.

But what if I want something normal? It works as a day to day lens, but maybe also for landscapes and people?

Zooms vs. Primes

This might be where you want to get a zoom! So in the Photography World, “zoom” doesn’t mean “close up” — that’s “telephoto” remember? “Zoom” means that it can change focal length, and isn’t fixed on one length all the time.

So, a “10-22mm” lens? Zoom! You can adjust it to any focal length within that range! Most Kit Lenses (the lens that comes standard with the camera body you buy) are zoom lenses, to allow the beginner to find the range they prefer.

The drawback to zooms? Though the quality of zooms is getting really good these days, Prime lenses are typically sharper and cleaner lenses. So if you really love that INSANELY sharp detail, you’re going to have better luck with a prime.

The other drawback to entry-level zooms? Well, first we have to talk about Aperture.

Aperture

Aperture is the size of the opening of your lens. Think of it like the Iris of your eye. When it’s bright out and there’s a lot of light, that iris shrinks to allow less light in. When you’re in a dim room, that iris opens up. Lenses are the same!

The aperture is written as a number called an “F-Stop”. This is because the aperture, rather than being a universal fixed size that produces the same results in every lens, is thought of as a ratio between the focal length and the size of the opening. Why? Not important. What’s important to you is what it does.

Apertures typically cover a range of f/1.2 to f/22 or so. 1.2 is the brightest, widest opening. 22 is the smallest.

When shooting wide open, at something like f/1.2, you get a bright image, but also a TON of what’s called Bokeh. Bokeh is that creamy, super-blurry background that you likely relate to high quality photos.

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24mm, f/1.2. Wide lens, wide open. That blurry background.

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24mm, f/10. Wide lens, small aperture. The background stays much clearer. 

Typically, the lower that aperture number, the better the quality lens.

So as a beginner, you likely can’t afford a 1500 dollar lens that’s an f/1.4.

Something more in your price range is going to start around f/4.0. Is that bad? No, but it doesn’t  let in as much light in low-lighting conditions. So you could find yourself in a dim room, unable to get decent images without leaving your shutter open for too long and getting something blurry (or using a flash).

The drawbacks to a lot of entry-level zooms? As you zoom in, the aperture will often get smaller. This is presented as a range on your amazon listing.

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What it means is that at 10mm, your camera can shoot at f/3.5. But at 22mm, you can only go down to f/4.5. So as you zoom in, if you don’t change your settings and you’re shooting wide-open, your photo will get darker.

Is it the end of the world? No way! If you’re outside shooting landscapes, you’ve got enough light to just bump your shutter open a bit more. If you’re already in a dim area? You might find you can only shoot as wide as you can zoom.

Crop Lenses and Bodies

Another important thing to consider is Crop Lenses and Crop bodies!

There are two sensor sizes on most DSLRs. One is called a “crop sensor” and the other is a “full-frame sensor”.

A crop sensor is smaller than full frame (think “cropped down”). Just about every beginner DSLR is a crop sensor. Full frame gives bigger images at a better quality.

Curious if the camera body you’re looking at is a full-frame or crop sensor? Check the specs. It’ll tell you.

Why does it matter? For camera bodies? It doesn’t matter much. You’re gonna get a nice image regardless.

For lenses though? Lenses it matters.

There are two different types of lenses: Lenses built for crop cameras. And lenses built for Full-Frame AND crop cameras.

Canon’s EF lenses are built for full frame sensors. You slap that 24mm EF lens on a full frame camera, you’re ready to go. The picture you get back is a 24mm wide photo that shows you everything.

If you put that 24mm EF lens on a CROP sensor camera, the sensor is smaller and your image? Well. It’s cropped down. Think of the sensor automatically cropping your photos down before you even put them on your computer.

Is this bad? No. It’s just not totally a 24mm shot. It’s a cropped 24mm shot. The ratio being that your 24mm lens is going to look more like what a 35mm would show you. Your 50mm? More like an 85mm.

But! They make lenses specifically for crop sensors! These  lenses are true to size! Canon uses the EF-S indicator for their crop lenses. A 24mm EF-S lens on a crop camera gives you a 24mm photo!

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EF-S? That means it’s a crop lens.

A 10mm EF-S lens on a full frame camera? It gives you this:

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10mm Crop Lens on a Full Frame Camera

Because the lens narrows the view down to the same size as the crop sensor. The full-frame camera is just too big of a sensor! It reveals all the black around the narrow, crop lens.

Can you put a crop lens on a full-frame camera and then crop it down in post? Sure. But it’s a smaller photo and takes more work.

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10mm Crop Lens on a Full Frame Camera Cropped Down (to simulate a Crop Sensor).

Why do I tell you this? Because crop-lenses are WAY cheaper than full frame lenses. But, if you get super hooked on this Photo Hobby of yours, your lens won’t be able to go up with your camera, and then you’ve got lenses sitting around.

So what do you do? You can go either way. If you don’t expect to upgrade your camera body, sure, go for the crop lens. It’s better quality than a full-frame lens at the same price (typically). But paying for quality lenses is also in many ways more important than the body you buy. So figure out what you want and go for it!

The second lens I ever bought was a crop lens. Does it just sit around and gather dust now? Sure. (Except for when I need photos for blogs like this!). Was it still worth the money even though I only used it for a year and a half? I think so!

Off-Brands

Off brands are something you also want to look at! Will a Nikon lens work on a Canon camera? No, not without adapters and headaches. But companies like Sigma, Rokinon, or Tamron make fantastic lenses that work across the board (just make sure it says “For Canon” or “For Nikon” in the header!).

I’m a big fan of Sigma. They made the second lens I ever used and the quality was fantastic. Now that they’re rolling out their Art series of lenses (cheaper than Canon’s fancy L-Glass, but still a bit much for a beginner), I’m dying to buy a couple. They’re fantastic.

If you have a focal range in mind, feel free to put that into Amazon or Google and see what off-brands might be offering, then read the reviews. There’s a lot of quality stuff out there that doesn’t have to be the same brand as your camera body.

The designator for Canon and other brands crop sensors and full frame:

  • Canon: EF-S (EF for full frame)
  • Nikon: DX (FX for full frame)
  • Pentax: DA (FA or D FA for full frame)
  • Sigma: DC (DG for full frame)
  • Sony/Minolta: DT
  • Tamron: Di II (Di for full frame)

What I recommend:

If you’ve got some money, you’ve got a couple options. Full-Frame cameras run upwards of $1500.00. That’s probably out of your budget.

So you start with the crop body. I recommend the Canon SL1. I’ve heard lots of good stuff.

As far as lenses? You CANNOT go wrong with the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8. It’s $100.

Study that for a second. EF — it’s a full frame lens (works with both crop bodies and full frame bodies AND it upgrades if you upgrade your camera — It’s the first lens I bought and I still use it to this day). It’s widest aperture is 1.8. That’s unheard of for lenses at this price. You get great photos in low light and that artistic bokeh in the background. All for a hundred bucks. It’s called the nifty fifty and it’s KILLER.

But that’s a 50mm prime. Maybe you want something wider. Maybe you want something that you don’t have to stand six feet from someone to get a medium-shot.

Well shoot, grab the 50mm anyway and learn it. It’s a gem to keep in your bag for those moments when you want it. But then I’d recommend also adding a wide or ultra-wide crop lens to your bag as well. Do some research into what’s cheap and what’s in the focal range you want.

I started with the Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6. It was around $400 back then  but it was SUCH a fun lens. Ultra-wide for portraits always cracked me up, and it was gorgeous for steadycam video and nature shots.

Even today, as I pulled it out and slapped it on my 6D, I was impressed at the sharpness of the image! It’s fun as hell.

Or you can just go with the SL1 and the kit lens package, slap on a nifty fifty, and then you’ll be off to the races!

Feel free to leave any questions in the comments, or reach out via email. I’m always happy to clarify!

Karl Pfeiffer is a novelist, photographer, and ghost hunter. He’s the author of the novel Hallowtide, the short story collection Into a Sky Below, Forever, and the forthcoming Amarricages. He won the first season of Ghost Hunters Academy, went on to work with the GHI team, and now lectures across America. For five years he led the weekend ghost hunts at the Stanley Hotel. He’s also a portrait photographer and conceputal artist based in Northern Colorado. Follow him on Twitter: @KarlPfeiffer

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Aiden Sinclair Photoshoot

 

 

 

Aiden-For-Web-4I met Aiden Sinclair in April of 2014 at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado during a Strange Escapes event. Aiden was not only the kind of guy that I instantly wanted to make friends with, but he was the kind of guy I immediately wanted to photograph as well.

Even while he took over the lobby of the hotel for a twenty minute demonstration of his paranormal illusions act, it was his manner and style that struck me as much as the quality of his act. He was dressed in a black vest with red tie, crucifix chain hanging from a button, with round glasses, and his act was a compelling mixture of illusion and allusion — drawing on the history of the hotel, spiritualism, and spirits themselves — in a way I’d never seen before. As someone intensely interested in the play between ghosts, entertainment, performance, and the suspension of an audience’s disbelief, I was quickly curious to get to know this stranger and see what he was all about.

He made many fans that day, as well as significant connections. He returned the following year to the Strange Escapes event as an official entertainer for those groups on their off-nights, and he’s established a recurring show at the Stanley each month called “Illusions of the Passed.” Turns out that, during his second stint at the Stanley, he was also in-between rounds on America’s Got Talent, where he wowed judges and the audience with his not only his act, but also his story.

After a few good conversations over beers that second year at the Stanley,  I began to pester him regularly for a photoshoot, knowing his style and mine would be a match I’d wanted to shoot for my whole career to that point. We finally managed to make time this October for him to visit my home studio in Loveland to make a few portraits.

This is the behind the scenes video:

The images were shot on a Canon 6D with both the 24mm 1.4L and the 50mm 1.8 (still working up to that Sigma Art!) with an Einstein E640, a 47″ Paul C. Buff Octobox, and a Canon 430EX II speedlite with a MagMod kit in front of a black fabric backdrop.

We were going for a variety of shots, from headshot portraits to images with a few of his more iconic props, and a handful of composites. The composite backgrounds are plates of various locations around Germany that I had the opportunity to shoot back in January while traveling with my brother.

October was a crazy month for me, running from photoshoot to photoshoot around both the state of Colorado and the country itself. Early November was crunch time to get these shoots edited, and Aiden’s name was high on the list! A few of my favorite images can be seen below.

 

Aiden-For-Web-21It was truly a blast to work with Aiden, and I’m happy to call him a friend. He’s a class act and has very big things in his future. I’m excited to watch them come together for him as smoothly as these images came together for me!

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Karl Pfeiffer is a novelist, photographer, and ghost hunter. He’s the author of the novel Hallowtide, the short story collection Into a Sky Below, Forever, and the forthcoming Amarricages. He won the first season of Ghost Hunters Academy, went on to work with the GHI team, and now lectures across America and leads the weekend ghost hunts at the Stanley Hotel. He’s also a portrait photographer and conceputal artist based in Northern Colorado. Follow him on Twitter: @KarlPfeiffer

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Justin and Meghan Wedding

Excited to share some of my favorite photos from Justin and Meghan’s wedding that I shot in late June. It was a crazy weekend — I’d finished a week of moving out of my apartment the day before, wrapped that day with a ghost hunt at the Stanley, and then woke up to run up to Fort Collins and hang out with this crazy fun couple! Happy to say that I got my head in the mindset the moment I walked in the door, stole an amazing couple portraits of the bride in front of a window in the venue, and was in it for the rest of the evening. And then, as is my habit, the newlyweds were as happy as I was to be stolen from the reception for a couple sunset pictures when I noticed the setting sun falling between the trees just the way I like it.

Justin and Meghan, I hope your life together is as beautiful and laid back as your wedding day!
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Sick World

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Back in May of this last year, I got an email from an Art Director named Florian Mihr at a pretty big record company, Fearless Records, out of LA. He’d found one of my old 365-Photos that I’d done over a year before, with a creepy arm coming out of my mouth, and wanted to do something along those lines for the album art for a band they’d recently signed called My Enemies & I. They thought my background and style fit with the band’s, and I had to agree! I loved the band’s sound immediately and jumped on the opportunity.

ME&I had a music video out for one of their songs that featured a creepy, oily black hand, and I knew I wanted to match that stylistically. What would I use for the goop? My first thought was chocolate syrup. Though messy and a bit gross, my old days working at a summer camp that features messy activities (which includes kids covering themselves in the likes of chocolate syrup) prepared me to take a dip into the stuff.

I also knew we’d be relatively close-up on the face for this shoot, and so I wanted to make the model anonymous and with a feeling of something eerie, and so I went with a gauze wrap over the upper half of the face. The gauze also called to mind echoes of illness, which would match the album title, Sick World.

A bit of test work and photoshopping later, and I got two mockup images.

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The images quickly reassured me that my photo abilities had definitely improved in a year and half to where they needed to be, and I jumped on finalizing the idea, getting two of my friends together to do an only slightly awkward shoot, with syrup everywhere, handprints, and of course, my buddy CJ’s corgi running around trying to figure out just what the hell we were up to.
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The lighting was simple. I wanted to go with high contrast and drama because we were going for that horror movie feel, so I lit it with one canon speedlite on camera left with a soft white umbrella modifier against a plain white wall.
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I did some quick edits in photoshop to put it all together and color grade the way I wanted before sending them off to Florian. He and the band loved them (here, we took a break to work on the new BlessTheFall art, which came up suddenly and needed all of our attention). From there, we made small tweaks to hand placements and which base image they preferred. I sent the file along so that Flo could work on the title design, and we had our finished product. 12032854_1231629103529278_3119624340908748732_oThe EP dropped yesterday on iTunes, which you can check out here.

It’s a badass blend of different hard rock and metal genres, and I dig the shit out of it. If Metal is your jam, give it a listen! I think these guys could seriously be big.

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First Forays into Fashion

So back in January, a hairstylist friend asked if I’d mind helping her organize a photoshoot with her for her entry into the North American Hairstylist Awards (NAHA) for 2015. I hadn’t yet done any fashion photography. Growing up the way I did, the fashion world was an alien one to me. All I knew of it was strange outfits and frighteningly thin models on runways. But the world of fashion photography, I quickly found, is a very compelling one. It’s a place where artists play with extremes in look and theme and style. And the photography often matches the extremes in look. At its heart, too, are damn good portraits. My work as a photographer plays in very similar sandboxes. While I love a striking portrait, I also love to play in the surreal, the places of extremes, where the world starts to break down. Where I can introduce some horror elements, sometimes a much more dreary mood, sometimes in places mildly disturbing, which don’t generally work in the traditional photoshoot for families and seniors! And so I happily signed up for the job, hoping to get my feet wet and learn a thing or two about this fashion world.

We shot with five models in five days, Jesi often spending an entire afternoon in her studio, working on the hair and makeup. I’d rendezvous with the team in the evening and drive up the mountain to an empty semi-industrial once-garage that a family member of Jesi’s was about to flip for a 4-wheeling company. I used my 6D and 50mm lens, along with my speedlite, a diffusion umbrella, and an LED continuous light. I love the results. The bright varieties of color, changing from shot to shot, are one of the more popping elements, and they developed purely in post-processing, the way that photos often will come alive with a life of their own, totally unplanned, in ways that surprise me. Depending on the project, I like to leave room for this to bubble up. Sometimes, you have a specific mood, a specific color grading, theme, and style that you need to capture both in camera and as the team imagined. But shoots that allow room for creativity, for play, for the photos to go an unexpected direction… that’s fun. It was a great shoot, and I’m already working ideas for upcoming shoots.

We didn’t hit the finals this year, which was okay. I think it was a necessary learning experience for everyone involved. But a killer one. I’m very thrilled with the final portraits, and I know it wouldn’t have been possible – at all – without everyone else involved behind and in front of the lens.

I’m always looking for more work, and I’m very excited about future forays into this fashion world. If you need any photos done, or would like to work with me on a portrait session in the future. You know where to find me, www.KarlPfeiffer.com.

And of course, I want to thank Jesi for having me out on the shoot! If you’re in the Loveland, Colorado area, and you want to visit her, check out their website here: www.generationsalonandspa.com/

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Kids and Dreams and Superheroes

When I was about seven years old, my world revolved around one thing; Batman. To this day, I can’t tell you what it is that spoke to me so early on about my hero, but I was obsessed. I wanted to be Batman when I grew up. I crawled around my basement playing with action figures and jumping off boxes in a black cape. I lived in Maryland, and once in a while, winter would dump blizzard-amounts of snow on my neighborhood. On one such occasion, as the neighborhood came together, shoveling each others’ driveways in a big group, I decided it was the perfect night to don my cape and cowl and look out over my own microcosmic gotham. In my mind, I was atop a building, cape billowing in the wind, scowling. In reality, I was standing on a four foot snow mound, glaring at my obviously bemused neighbors. And, I have photo evidence.

At 26, Karl is still single.

Striking fear into the heart of criminals everywhere.

I’m older now, and while my love for Batman is still strong as ever. I’ve come around to the realization that society, lack of billionaire resources, and a crippling fear of heights have terminated my childhood career aspirations. I’ve moved on to other things. Photography, writing.

Enter my good friend Mandy. She has two kids, Joseph and Emily. Joseph is seven, and he adores Captain America. In a way that reminded me of when I was his age running around in my mask. Mandy posts statuses on Facebook to the tune of “Told the kids to get ready to go to the grocery store. Joseph comes downstairs in his Captain America mask and his shield on his arm.”

This is Joseph.

This is Joseph.

I read these posts and I think, I know this kid. Because I was this kid.

And so my thinking percolated for a while. Then in January, a recent fascination with movie posters and television key art mixed with another Captain America sighting in my news feed, and an idea formed. What if I put my photography and Photoshop skills to use, and enlist Joseph for a photoshoot in which we specifically match Marvel’s Captain America posters from the ground up, but featuring Joseph?

What a dream come true, right? Many kids imagine being their comic book heroes, but it’s rare that they have an opportunity to step into the role in such an immersive way. Without going into details, Joseph and his family have had a tough time of it the past few years, dealing with stuff that no kid should have to deal with. The heavy stuff of the adult world seeping down to a kid not yet in elementary school. And the fear that stays for years after. Yet, as his mom tells me, it’s his love for Captain America that helps him get through the hard days, identifying with a character once weak, who became heroic, noble, and strong against huge obstacles.

And so I knew I had to make it happen.

I got Mandy and Joseph on board (they loved the idea), and brought them to my studio for the shoot last week. We worked for a bit over an hour, making sure the lights were consistent to the posters, and that Joseph could emulate the poses. Then, in the following week, I got down to business in Photoshop.

I’ve been serious about photography for a year and a half now, and there was no way I was just going to cut out Joseph’s face and paste it onto the posters already done by amazing photo artists like Michael Muller. I wanted to give him something completely original. As many photos from my own computer as possible, a handful of stock photos when absolutely necessary, and a matching color scheme, lighting, and dodging and burning (not only because I’m learning a lot yet by imitation, but) because I wanted these to be that much more immersive for Joseph, to have him inside a world he was already familiar with.

These are the original posters I was specifically intending to mimic:

Posters 4 Side by Side

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And here are the final products with Joseph:

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It was when I got an email response from Joseph’s mom telling me of his reaction, that he said, “That’s actually me. That’s the real me,” that I knew I’d hit something special. Joseph was over the moon. His mom was over the moon. And my inner Bruce Wayne, still dressed up in cape and cowl on that skyscraper in snowy Gotham, was for a time totally satisfied. Karl and Captain-1Gear Geek info: Canon 6D, Canon EF 50mm f/1.8, 430EXII Speedlite, one two foot ring light, a constant LED light, an umbrella modifier, three light stands, and my trusty Photoshop CC. And a couple times, an open window.

Karl Pfeiffer is a writer, photographer, and ghost hunter. He won the first season of Ghost Hunters Academy on Syfy, went on to work briefly with the Ghost Hunters International Team, and now leads the weekend ghost hunts at the Stanley Hotel. He’s the author of the novel Hallowtide and the collection Into a Sky Below, Forever. He’s also a conceptual and portrait photographer in Colorado, and he loves key art and great television. You can find more at www.KarlPfeiffer.com or on Twitter, @KarlPfeiffer.

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Ed and Ryan Wedding

Wedding-Title-CardBeautiful wedding with Ed and Ryan from back in July. I’ve been doing photos for a year now, but this was my first wedding. And I have to say I have way too many favorites. From the prep to the sheer joy that carried Ed and Ryan through the day, I couldn’t be happier with the experience. Eide-Wedding-For-Web-100 Wedding-2-For-WebEide-Wedding-For-Web-316 Eide-Wedding-For-Web-254 Eide-Wedding-For-Web-177 Eide-Wedding-For-Web-424 Eide-Wedding-For-Web-307 Eide-Wedding-For-Web-163 Eide-Wedding-For-Web-137 Eide-Wedding-For-Web-131 Eide-Wedding-For-Web-167 Eide-Wedding-For-Web-185 Eide-Wedding-For-Web-189 Eide-Wedding-For-Web-562 Eide-Wedding-For-Web-50 Eide-Wedding-For-Web-76 Eide-Wedding-For-Web-78 Eide-Wedding-For-Web-97 Eide-Wedding-For-Web-118 Eide-Wedding-For-Web-120 Eide-Wedding-For-Web-123 Eide-Wedding-For-Web-412
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Ian and Kate Engagement Shoot

Ian-Kate-8BA barista at the coffeeshop I attend all too often asked me the other day if I enjoyed doing engagement photos. She asked it with the kind of wariness much of my generation shares about sentimentality and the hollowness of tradition. Even this couple, who I just did these engagement photos for, were reluctant, after perusing Pinterest for days, to wind up forced into dumb sappy engagement photos. At the coffeeshop, I shrugged and said, “yeah, I guess.” I’m not sure I want to exclude all others, but I like it okay.

But then I’ll sit down for a few hours and I’ll work on my coffee after it’s gone cold and I’ll turn out a batch from a session like this one and I fall in love with the work all over again. No matter how many headaches or stresses, capturing a real moment, whether that’s between two people or just one person and the camera lens, translating an emotion through the lighting and the small ways faces move, that’s what I love. There’s a kind of sublimity in that, and it appeals to the inner Romantic in me, who’s always searching for the transcendent in the details.

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American Horror Story: Freak Show (Conjoined Twins)

Just realized that we put this poster/art together two months ago, but that I never tossed it up on the blog (and hence, it’s not showing up on Google), and now has missed the big conjoined casting announcement revealing that Sarah Paulson would play a two-headed/conjoined twin this season, that went out last week. Balls. But here you guys go if you haven’t seen it over on my Facebook page.

American Horror Story Freakshow Conjoined Twins

American Horror Story Freakshow Conjoined Twins

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