BTS Appa the Dog Photoshoot

A behind-the-scenes look at how I photographed and composed the following photograph of our daughters’ wonderful dog, Appa!

07 Photoshop Layers

The studio setup:

  1. Key light – 22″ beauty dish with grid, Einstein 640, mounted to a super boom on a C-stand.
  2. Kicker – Einstein 640, on a back light stand.
  3. The softbox seen on the left side was not used.

01 Appa - Studio Setup

Camer settings:

  1. Canon 5DIII
  2. 1/125 second @ f/18
  3. ISO 100
  4. 24-70 mm f/2.8 L @ 35mm

The Raw file was processed in Photoshop Lightroom CC, and edited in Photoshop CC for the silhouette.

02 Appa-Studio-Shoot

To silhouette, I used the quick selection tool and dragged across Appa to make a rough selection. Since the background was smooth and contrasty, the rough selection was a decent start.

The area that did not work well was her shadow on the floor due to similar tones. Since this area will be covered with a foreground image, I was not concerned about an accurate selection there, so I let it go.

Next, I used the “Refine Edge” mode in Photoshop to fine tune the selection edges, so Appa’s fur along the edges, would look realistic when cut out and placed in a new scene.

Here’s a look at the “Refine Edge” screen:

03 Refine-Edge

You’ll notice, it did a pretty good job with “smart radius” selected. I played with the amount and may have increased it slightly, to what you see above.

Next, I searched my collection of background photos, for something interesting and found this shot taken with my Fuji X100s mirrorless camera:

04 DSCF0270-Trees-sharp

The challenge with adding an image into a different background scene is making it look realistic enough to fool the eye into believing it was photographed that way.

The foreground would look odd with Appa floating in the scene, so to make it look realistic, I softened the background using a lens blur filter in OnOne software’s Perfect Effects 8.

See here:

05 DSCF0270-Edit-Trees-Blur

I don’t recall the specific settings for the lens blur effect, but you will need to experiment and adjust as each image is unique. I wanted enough of the trees be recognizable so there would be no mistake it was a forest, yet have them appear blurry, to help solve the difference in camera angles from Appa and the scene behind her.

To solve the difference in colors of lighting, I created a layer in photoshop on top. I sampled an average green color from the background trees, filled the layer. I created a mask and on the mask, I loaded the silhouette of Appa as a selection, then deleted it to reveal only the green color over Appa.

The color cast was too heavy, so I reduced the opacity of the layer to 25%.

06 Color-Overlay

The photo was taking shape but needed a foreground of grasses, to portray the forest ground. I found this shot in my archives taken at the NJ shore:09 Appa-Grassy Forground

All I needed was the grass, so I added the photo to the layer stack at the top, above the silo of Appa, but just below the green overlay layer. I added a layer mask and used a graduated fill to eliminate the sky and fade the grass into the scene. I used a soft paint brush using white to reveal some of the strands of grass, so they didn’t look cut off abruptly, and used black to paint away some of the grasses over Appa, to make it look more realistic.

I lowered the opacity of the foreground grass slightly, to 70%, to blend into the scene.

Here’s the finished image:

10 Appa-FINISH


I ordered an 11 x 14  print on metallic paper from Bay Photo, framed with walnut wood and a simple white mat with clear acrylic on top.

The image on metallic paper is stunning and adds a unique 3-dimensional quality to the composition.

It has been well received, and no one knew it was a composition until I spilled the beans!

It was great fun and I hope this inspires others.

Cheers, Ivan

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Reasons for hiring a professional photographer

  1. A pro knows his gear, inside and out.
  2. A pro has invested thousands of hours to master his craft.
  3. A pro understands proper exposure and creative exposure.
  4. A pro knows the rules of composition.
  5. A pro has invested thousands of dollars in the best tools to do the best work.
  6. A pro knows how to use the industry’s best software tools.
  7. A pro uses web hosting and safe backup and storage systems.
  8. A pro knows retouching and color correction.
  9. A pro knows how to use and shape light, both natural and artificial.
  10. A pro knows how to pose subjects to get the most natural look.

Why you pay a pro



Pictured above are the base tools and their approximate costs that a pro photographer needs. Yes, a pro photographer needs two camera bodies, just in case one fails on the job, there’s a backup.

There are much more accessories not pictured such as tripods, monopods, camera straps, camera bags, flash accessories, light stands, reflectors, telephoto lens extenders, lens filters, portable hard drives, ink-jet photo printers, paper, inks, and dozens of software additions that are needed.

And, there’s additional costs for insurance, transportation expenses, assistants, stylists, props, backdrops, seminars and training expenses.

What you get when you hire a professional photographer is all of the above. It’s a valuable investment in his/her time, energy and expense to get to the level of competency that is required to be competitive and excellent.

Next time you think you can shoot it yourself, re-read this blog post!

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Introducing Dog Mush Photography!










I am excited to announce the launching of a new venture.

Finely crafted pet photography.

I am combining my passions for photography and love of dogs. I can’t wait to get to work and meet new people and their pets. The sky’s the limit to the creative photography I have planned.

I’m excited to bring my many years of experience from behind the lens and in the digital darkroom with compositing and retouching, to create keepsakes that will last forever.

Inspiration for the logo came from our very own puggle, Molly! Here’s the photo used to create the logo. I could not resist that mush. :-)










Join me in celebrating this new venture and better yet, call me for a photo session, in time for the holiday gift-giving season.










I can’t wait to get started!

Email me here to inquire:


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It slips away fast and before you know it, the face you see in the mirror is not the same.  A few more lines, a little more gray. One thing is guaranteed, nothing stays the same. I always had a tough time with that. I love new experiences, but I like some things to never change. Feeling nostalgic!


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Automotive Details – Jeep Liberty

This is my first in a series, featuring detailed automotive photography.

Behind the scenes of the Jeep Liberty shoot
Behind the scenes of the Jeep Liberty shoot








I used a Jeep for my first shoot because I own it. Owning your own car for a shoot makes it a heck of lot easier to work into your schedule.

There were several challenges, but most of them were in the prep work.

First of which, my car is not new. It’s a 2010 Jeep Liberty with approximately 30,000 miles.

It has it’s share of wear, with dings and scratches, and worn tires.

I needed to clean the car thoroughly with a good car wash, and detailing. Yeesh! That was hard work! The dark metallic gray color took a lot of hours to wax and polish. Getting all the streaks out was a challenge, and I was not completely successful.

I knew if I didn’t do a careful job, all the wax and spots would show up in my shots, so I did my best to do a good job.

All of this work was done during a heat wave, so you can imagine how uncomfortable it was in the garage. I used a fan to help take the edge off, and planned the shoot to take place in the evening, when it was a little cooler.

In preparing the space in the garage, the floor was too dirty for the shoot. So, I decided to give the floor a fresh coat of paint!

Ugh, more work!

I spent the next few hours power-washing the floor and when it dried, I gave it a fresh coat of paint. Not the entire floor, for that would have involved moving everything out, which I didn’t have time for. So, I pushed all the stuff we’ve accumulated as far to the side as possible.

So far, that’s two days of prep invested in this project!

Finally, time to shoot the car!

I setup a single Einstein 640 strobe with a 10″ x 26″ strip box. In addition to the small strip, I used a huge Fotodiox 12″ x 80″ strip box for the wide shots of the car’s front end, and side of the car, but I much preferred the small strip box for most of the detailed shots.

I sandbagged an Avenger stand with a boom arm, to be sure it wouldn’t tip over.

It took the usual trial an error to see where the light fell, but eventually I figured it out.

Here’s the shots (click photo to enlarge):

This was a tough shoot, but fun to do, despite the challenges and the heat and humidity!

Canon 5DIII
24-105mm L f/4.5
85mm, f/22 @ 1/200

(1) Einstein E640 @ 3/4 power,  w/sync cord
10″ x 28″ PCB strip box
12″ x 80″ Fotodiox strip box

Avenger A5043 stand with extension boom and grip head
Giottos sand bags

Cheers, Ivan

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Bike Details

It’s been a long while since I posted so I thought I’d start off with a quick behind the scenes photoshoot. Inspired by Scott Kelby and Mark Wallace’s photography of exotic and expensive sports cars, so I decided to give it a try myself. To begin with, I don’t own an exotic car, nor do I have access to one. And, I certainly can’t afford one myself. However, I knew I could use their lighting principles on any shiny object. So, I decided to shoot my daughters bike!

Click images to see larger.

I purchased the bike for my daughter as a gift many years ago. I don’t know how old she was, but I found the bike at a Toys Are Us  nearby.

As things go, my daughter never got into mountain biking, and the bike sat in the garage for years, hardly used.

After being inspired by Scott Kelby’s detailed photographs of an Acura sports car, and Tim Wallace’s amazing work and tutorials, I thought I’d try shooting the bike!

First, I had to clean the bike. It was filthy and it took several hours to scrub it clean.

I don’t own a studio, and my basement is tiny, but that’s where I setup the shoot because I wanted to control the ambient light and get it as dark as possible. My home is an old stone colonial, built in 1780, and is on the historic registry in New Jersey, so you can imagine how limited the space is in my basement.

The last photo above shows the strip bank in relationship to the bike. The modeling light helped me figure out the lighting, and  I moved the front wheel many times, to get the angle just right. I switched from a prime 24mm lens to a 24-70mm zoom and found it much better for getting in tight and composing.

Canon 5DIII
24-70mm f/2.8 L
24mm f/1.4 L
f/20 @ 1/100
Some shots were @ f/22
ISO 100, and auto white balance

Einstein 640 @ approx. 1/3 power
10 x 26 Strip bank
Triggered with sync cord
Avenger A5043 Stand with extension boom

I hope to get the opportunity to do this again on an exotic car, or motorcycle. I love what some people have done to customize their Harley Davidson motorcycles, and I’d love to shoot one someday. It’s always fun using big studio strobes, and learning. I feel I can do better, but I’m pleased with these shots as start. I hope to do many more. 😉


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Russian Self Portraits



Remembering David Attie

When I was thirteen, my father thought I might enjoy spending part of my summer, working as an intern for David Attie, a commercial photographer. Dad was an art director for IBM, and hired David many times for his projects. He loved David’s creativity, both behind the lens and in the dark room and David and his wife Dotty, became close friends of our family.

My father wanted me to experience working in a photo studio, and to work with someone he considered one of the best would be great and perhaps the beginning of a career for me.

As a thirteen year old, I had not formulated what I wanted to do. I liked the arts, and enjoyed sketching, and photography, but I was young and uncertain like many my age.

I remember my time at the Attie’s brownstone, in Chelsea, New York City. Coming from the suburbs of New Jersey, I had trouble sleeping. I was not used to the loud sirens and horns throughout the night. I woke up each morning groggy, and struggled to make it through the days.

During the day, I helped David in the studio. Unfortunately for me, it was a slow period and there was little going on in the studio. I spent most of my time organizing files of slides, contact sheets, and model tear sheets. The studio was not the neatest, with stuff everywhere. I did deliveries to a few nearby clients, then back to the studio. After a long day, we had dinner then to bed, with no TV.

Some work came in, and we did a shoot. Nothing memorable, and all the films were developed in the studio by David. I remember the distinct smell of dektol and photographic paper, always in the air. I worked in the dark room, did some developing, but mostly clean up work.

Work slowed again, and so my time at the studio ended only after about a week.

Little did I realize how much of an impression that brief time spent would have on me today. David had passed away from cancer a dozen-plus years ago and how I wish I could speak with him today. I admired his work in those early days, and over time realized how great his work really was. If he were alive today, I’m convinced without question, his name would be up there with all of the greats. I know there are still people who knew of him that will attest to his genius.

A Legacy
David Attie, along with his corporate, commercial stuff, did work for many major publications of the time, including Vogue, and Esquire. He was published several times in interviews and produced a few books. Most notably, Russian Self Portraits, and Portrait Theory.

Russian self portraits was produced as a cultural exchange program with the Soviet Union. We were at the height of the cold war with Russia, and to go there, I’m sure, must have been dangerous. David traveled to the city of Kiev, no in the Ukraine, for the shoot.

The book was simple. David setup his view camera equipment and invited ordinary Russians to come in snap their own picture. He wanted them to play an active role in their portrait.

They were given an instant Polaroid print, and David retained the negatives. The interesting thing is, he was not permitted to keep the negatives per agreement with the authorities. Perhaps due to disorganization or confusion, he was able to retain the negatives. The book was produced and published in the U.S. in 1977. It’s filled with wonderful, full-length self-portraits by each subject, and a wonderful account of the experience by David.

A snapshot of time in the lives of individual, now indelible in print. The expressions, most of them melancholy, one or two dared to smile, some playful, one or two flirtatious. And my favorite (and David’s), the little girl on the cover who dared to curtsey.

It’s a wonderful, must-have rare book for photographers, long out of publication. But you can find it used on Alibris, or click here

A second book, confirms David’s talent as amongst the best in photography, is a series of essays and photographs on Portrait Theory. Contributing writers/photographers include: David Attie, Chuck Close, Robert Maplethorpe, Jan Groover, Evelyn Hofer, Lottie Jacobi, James Van Der Zee, and Gerard Malanga. The essays and photographs are fascinating and must have for any serious photographer.

Portrait Theory – Click Here

I have fond memories of David Attie, and appreciate his work now more than ever. I wish he were still with us today.


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Sun Rays – Before/After

When I’m photographing into the sun, I often do so with the intent on silhouetting or purposefully adding lens flare.

When it doesn’t happen, I can add the effects in post processing. By adding sun rays and lens flare, it can add mood to the scene. Here’s the before and after on a shot I took a few years ago while hiking in the Ramapo Reservation Park, in New Jersey.

Sun Rays BeforeSun Rays - After

Here are the abbreviated steps in Photoshop (Substitute CTRL for CMD if you are using a PC):

1) CMD -> Click on the RGB channel to load the luminosity. Create a new alpha channel and fill the loaded selection with white.

2) Boost contrast of the new alpha channel with levels. Use the black eyedropper and click on a dark area. Use the white dropper and click on a bright area.

3) Load the new alpha channel as a selection in a new layer and fill the selection with white.

5) Go to filter menu -> Blur -> Radial Blur -> set amount to 100%. In the preview window, move the center of the radial blur to the relative brightest spot in your photo.

6) Hit CMD-F to Re-apply the filter to soften the blur.

7) In filter effects, add an outer glow with a yellow-to-whte gradient, if you want to enhance it further.

8) To add more contrast and drama, add a new layer above the bottom-most layer. Load the alpha channel, invert the selection, and fill with black. Use the opacity slider to lessen the effect if it’s too dark. Use the Output Sliders (Know as the “Blend-If” sliders) and drag the black and the white sliders in towards the center to add more contrast.

9) Add lens flare – Create a new layer on top and fill it with black. Go to Filter -> Render -> Lens Flare. I chose the 50-300mm zoom and left it at 100 %. Choose Screen from the blending mode.

Your done!

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Virtual Machine

A new addition to our Smiles Are Free bag of tricks, courtesy of Mike Abshier, is a virtual background system. I was put in charge of the equipment, and asked to test it out. Being the skeptic I was doubtful this would work, and be a viable piece of equipment. Although I have to admit, I was intrigued with the concept.

How it works — you place a 2.25″ slide transparency in the machine and it projects the image onto a special screen. The lamp works like a strobe, so you never see the image until it’s exposed. There is a modeling lamp, but the only way to preview it through the lens. This allows you to alter a pose or reposition your model. The screen is about the same size as an 9′ backdrop. Your subjects stand a few feet in front of the screen. Miraculously, the background appears in your shot. There are some issues. Your strobes must be feathered away from the background. Any spill will wash out the background image.

Here’s the setup:

Virtual Background Machine
The setup is involved and requires a lot of calibration to align all of the components.

Test 2, I finally got the image to appear. And yes, this has got to be the ugliest room I’ve ever seen.:

Test 2
Test shot of a projected “virtual background” scene

Test 3, with me in the scene. One beauty dish with strobe, on low power. f/4 at 1/160, ISO 100.

Moi Boudoir
Ok, I know, I could have at least smiled for the picture! :-}

Here’s my quick review:
The system works. Do I love it? Uh, not so much. Does it have possiblities? It might. I don’t like locking my camera into a machine that can’t move easily. This can be solved with more expense, but you are still limited in movement. I’m not a tripod shooter when I do portraiture. I like to move around and be spontaneous. This system locks you in. The backgrounds they offer are cheesy-wiz schmaltzy. It comes with about 22 backgrounds. You can buy more and they sell hundreds, or you can shoot your own film. This opens up some possibilities. I’ll shoot some more and post soon. There may be one or two they provided that might have some merit, but most of them I don’t like very much.

It’s a very controlled system. Your lighting needs to be spot on and gelled to match the lighting in the projected image, otherwise, you look cut-and-pasted into the scene, as I do in the un-gelled example above. This takes some doing and a lot of experimentation.

Portability – the screen weighs a ton. It’s actually two screens, sandwiched together. A silvery backing and black mesh in front. It rolls up into it’s own holder and mounts to standard background stands. The projector mounts to heavy gear-head tripod. This thing also weighs a ton and has a fragile glass – beam-splitter mounted to it. It will need to be broken down and packed in an optional hard case, to be portable. It’s a big deal to move it, set it up and transport. Not very practical.

If you are looking for a way to minimize Photoshop collage work (I happen to love Photoshop colgaging!), and like the idea of instantly changing a background scene, and providing a customer a quick, on-the-spot instant photo, there is a business model here. It reminds me of a mall photo studio where moms bring their babies. Ugh. In reality, you could actually make a business out of this thing. Is it creative? it could be, if you shoot your own backgrounds, have a wardrobe of accessories, makeup artists, costumes… whatever. Will I use it? Hmmmmm. For Smiles Are Free…, I might, since we now own it. For my own work or anything else… no.

THESE ARE TEST SHOTS ONLY and NOT indicative of my photography, creativity or skill. The background scene of a velour couch in the ugliest room I’ve ever seen, came with the system. It is absolutely awful. The shot is tilted…because i’m still figuring out how to align… and the color is off… no correction gels were used yet.

Check back again for more test shots.


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Julia & Julia

Before and After
I recalled a scene from the movie “Julia & Julia”, a story about Julia Childs starring Meryl Streep and Amy Adams, where Julia, played by the incomparable Meryl Streep was sitting on a bench in a Paris train station.

In reality, the scene was shot in the historic Hoboken NJ train station, because it resembled the early stations in Paris around 1949 when Julia Childs lived there early in her career. I pass through the Hoboken train station twice each day for my commute to work.

So, I thought I’d bring a small point-and-shoot camera to be discreet, and take some shots of the station. I Processed this shot in Lightroom 4 and OnOne’s Perfect Effects, and here is the before-after of the very same bench Meryl Streep sat on in the movie.

If curious, you can read more about it here.

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