Patrick L. Pfister/ Blog 2012-11-06T23:15:00Z (C) Patrick L. Pfister Patrick L. Pfister/ Photographing at the Opera: Making the Fat Lady look beautiful!

The Fairy Godmother prepares to change Cinderella’s life forever.

One of the things that is very gratifying about being a freelance photographer is the diversity of work. One day one may be shooting a portrait for a annual report and the next day photographing for a news publication. The past two months, I have returned to shooting live theater in the form of opera.

Photographing in a theater environment is always a challenge. Unlike shooting available light outdoors, the lighting director is constantly changing the look on stage to evoke different moods and messages. The only real constant in the photography is the source of the light. Tungsten!
In an attempt to get correct colors in my photographs, I set the white balance to the tungsten icon. If I were to use the daylight setting, all the photos would be too warm. Additionally, if I were to use the Auto setting, there is no guarantee the camera could match the color correctly. Tungsten lights are the source of most of the light that falls upon the stage.
Metering the stage and it’s actors is a trick to do also. When you point your lens at the stage, the meter is taking in a lot of background that is often black. One could set the meter sensitivity on the camera to “Spot” and take a reading just of the performer’s clothing in the center of his or her chest. The clothing should be fairly neutral in tone and the setting should be transferred to the shutter speed and lens opening in “Manual Mode” If this meter reading is say, 1/160 @ f2.8, I assure you when you pull back and compose the photo, the meter will tell you that you are underexposing the shot because of all the dark background area.
Shoot the photo at the settings made from the close in metering and evaluate the image on the back of the camera. If it is too light, increase your shutter speed (1/160-1/200). To dark, slow your shutter down a bit (1/160-1/100).
Be aware also, that, as you view and shoot different parts of the stage, the light level often changes. One’s eye goes to the lightest in any scene, hence, the center of the stage may be 50-100% lighter that the sides of the stage.
One thing I seldom do when shooting theater is to go to the balcony. From that point of view, you see too much of the markings on the floor for the actors and the scenery. An 80mm-200mm f 2.8 lens about 10 rows back on the floor is a very useful tool. Dress rehearsal is really the only time to get your photos done. Come opening night, a photographer is a distraction to everyone, talent & audience. Folks have paid to see a show and not the kind a photographer puts on.

Once you get the hang of it, theatrical photography really makes one look good as a shooter. You have a paid professional lighting person that tees the ball up very nicely for you. All you have to do is get quality exposures at the right moment and you now have a new dimension to your portfolio.

Cinderella and her Prince make beautiful music together.

Every Fairy Godmother needs a court to spread romance in the world.

Patrick L. Pfister/ © Patrick L. Pfister 2012-11-05T07:00:07Z 2012-11-05T07:00:07Z Oh Art!! Where art thou?

A privacy screen that separates the orchestra pit from the public transforms a photo of a violin into the art of an impressionistic painter.

Perhaps I take it for granted too often that I am very fortunate to make my living as a photographer.  I bring a skill set to the workplace whereby people pay me to bring their vision to reality.  They trust me to listen to them and understand that the image that is created will be the visual message for their idea.

Recently, I was photographing once again for the Kentucky Opera Association.  I enjoyed KOA as a client in my youth, shooting for them for nearly 20 years.  After a hiatus of nearly a decade, I returned to the opera house, no longer shooting film, but digital images of their production of Tosca. The assignment was to capture images during the dress rehearsal that could be used for archive and promotion.  No set ups, just shoot as the action unfolds.  With down time on my hands between set changes, I looked around for “art shots”.  Detail photos that add color and texture to the overall experience.   The accompanying photo was shot through the silk that divides the orchestra pit from the public.  I like the impressionistic feel of how the violin might appear to one in a dream.

My second example of found art was from a child’s birthday party.  Accompanying my two grandsons to the festivity, I saw a bubble machine that all the little ones enjoyed immensely.  True, little kids playing with the special activity made for cute photos, however, I began to watch the bubbles as they escaped the grasp of the guests of the party.  The bubbles went aloft and floated between myself and a dark background.  The contrast between the globs of soap and water mixture and the dark out of focus tree canopy made for interesting visuals.  My mood that morning was for black and white film and a rangefinder camera to shoot the event.  A 90 millimeter lens was just the tool to isolate one bubble among many for it’s portrait. Because the machine was belching out bubbles at a furious rate, I set my focus for about ten feet and watched as the orbs drifted through the area of sharpness.  Out of a roll of 36 frames, I had one or two that pleased me.

Many people set out to shoot a sunset, a cat in a window, or dozens of other, may I say “trite” art photos armed with their favorite camera.  My suggestion is to ignore the obvious and REALLY LOOK at what is going on around you.  I am continually amazed, as my vision matures, how many visually wonderful things occur right in front of me.

A bubble flees the bonds of gravity only to yield it’s life to air pressure.

Patrick L. Pfister/ © Patrick L. Pfister 2012-09-25T08:24:38Z 2012-09-25T08:24:38Z Viewing the world from 2000 feet.

Downtown Louisville Kentucky with the Ohio River and Jeffersonville Indiana.

Aerial photography can be a fun adventure.  Google Earth is often used by planners and engineers for images, however, there are times when specific angles of view can only be seen from a low flying aircraft.

Recently, I had a client contact me wanting photos of downtown Louisville, Kentucky for the pending new bridge that is to be built between Louisville and Jeffersonville, Indiana.  The angle of view was critical because the photo would be used to develop a three-dimensional illustration of the additional bridge to the metropolitan area.  Google Earth just wasn’t offering the client what they needed.  What complicated the situation  was the fact the site needed to be photographed during the day and at night.

Often, aerial images can be made from a small fixed wing airplane on a bright sunny day.  Easy task.  Flip the window open, direct the pilot where you need to be, shoot with a high shutter speed, and you are pretty much guaranteed success.  Shooting that same image shortly after the sun has set requires a different skill set and equipment.

Since I had to replicate the photo as close as possible with and without the sun, I decided to use a helicopter for the shoot.  Choppers are a much more stable platform to shoot from, especially when you have a good pilot. They are also quite expensive to rent, around $900.00 per hour.  The pilot and I did a good deal of planning before climbing in to the big bird.  We discussed the exact location and altitude and the time of day to execute both shots over the Ohio River.

The first flight was in the early afternoon with full sun on the city of Louisville and the Ohio River.  I used a Nikon DSLR with a 50mm. lens to frame and photograph the proposed bridge route.  Since the airport is close to the river, this only took about 20 minutes.  I preserved the balance of my one hour budget for the evening photo.  The pilot and I began our second flight about 15 minutes after sunset.  At this hour, there is enough light to see the river and the buildings, but it looks “dark” for all practical purposes.  Don Jeffries, a very accomplished helicopter pilot, positioned us again over previous landmarks and at the same altitude to pull off the duplicate photo.  Using the same camera and lens, I boosted the light sensitivity of the camera (ISO) to 2000 and shot the image with the aperture set on f2.0.  This allowed me to select a shutter speed of 1/640 of a second.  This shutter speed allowed me to hand hold the camera and shoot multiple images.  I only needed one sharp image to match  the daytime shot.

True, the daytime photo has better image quality because of using a low ISO earlier, however, the high ISO image of the evening allowed me to make the photo that my client needed.

The following day, I sent several “select” photos to the out-of-town client by way of a FTP site.  Within 24 hours of the aerial shoot, the client was putting the images to use for the 3D drawing.

Oh, the technology that we have today!!

Downtown Louisville Kentucky and the Ohio River with Jeffersonville Indiana in the foreground, night view.

Patrick L. Pfister/ © Patrick L. Pfister 2012-09-06T10:39:48Z 2012-09-06T10:39:48Z Portrait Photography: Keep it simple

Many people think that to make good portraits it requires a great deal of lighting equipment and exotic lenses.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  I find that if you simplify the photographic process, you can concentrate on the interaction with the subject and bring out the best in them.

Equipment needed:  Any decent digital or film single lens reflex camera will work fine for your portrait session.  If the camera has lens interchangeability, it is preferred to shoot with a lens that has a focal length of at least 60 mm. Lenses with a shorter focal length will give an unflattering perspective of your subject.   A tripod is very handy if you are shooting with available light, as this assures a sharper image at slower shutter speeds.  A reflector of some sort (white poster board, 30″x40″) will help in “filling in” the shadow side of the subject.

The process:  Place your subject near an open window that has soft, non direct sunlight entering the room.  One to two feet from the window is a good distance.  After attaching the camera to the tripod, set your white balance on the “cloudy” setting and turn the camera so it is in a vertical or “portrait” position.  Overcast days or indirect window light tends to look blue, hence, the cloudy setting will add some warmth back into the image.  Frame up the photo so that the window does not show in the image, only the illuminated subject.  A pleasant head and shoulder framing works best for most portraits.  Shooting a little loose on the subject allows for cropping in for the final print.  Ask the subject to sit with their shoulder directed more toward the window than toward the camera.  This positioning gives a sense of a third dimension (depth) in a media that has only two dimensions.  The subject should turn their head so that they have eye contact with the camera and you can see both of their ears.  Select an ISO of about 400-600 for the photo.  Use a fairly wide open aperture, say f 2.8-4 if, the lens will allow it.  With the camera in manual mode, select the aperture and adjust the shutter speed until you have a proper exposure.  This arrangement allows the highest possible shutter speed (no camera shake, no subject movement) and very shallow depth of field.  Human beings tend to look into the eyes of others, so, focus carefully on your subjects eyes. With all this accomplished, have a helper hold the white poster board on the shadow side of your subject without it showing in your viewfinder.  This bounce effect will fill in the darker side of the face and give more even lighting.

As you photograph your subject, chat with them to elicit smiling and pleasant expressions.  Shoot a lot of frames!  I repeat, SHOOT A LOT OF FRAMES!  You can always edit to “the” shot and discard the rest.  Everyone will now think you only shoot great portraits.

Patrick L. Pfister/ © Patrick L. Pfister 2012-08-28T01:42:56Z 2012-08-28T01:42:56Z Travel Photography 101

Centuries old column that greets visitors at St. Peter’s Basilica.

There are few things in life that excite me more than traveling. The thought of flying for hours on end to arrive in a country where everything is different makes it worth saving up for a year to do it. That said, photographing while traveling is a difficult labor of love.

The times I have been on overseas trips have always been organized to see a great deal in a short period of time with groups of people. Seldom is it the right time of day to photograph subjects in their best light. Here are two things that you can do if you find yourself in that situation.

1. Get away from the crowds!
The square in front of Saint Peter’s in Rome is constantly crowded with visitors from the four corners of the earth. While in Rome last fall, I made it my business to arrive at the Vatican at seven o’clock in the morning. At this hour, all of the tourists are still eating their Italian breakfasts and not yet on the go. You can see by the accompanying photo, the light was absolutely breathtaking as the sun rose in the east and bathed the front of the basilica. Within two hours, the square would be filled with people that would have distracted from the structure that was my subject. The light would have been totally different also.

2. Shoot detail shots.
I normally carry three zoom lenses to accompany my DSLR. A 12-24mm, 28-70mm, and an 80-200mm. Most of the time, I will try to make an establishing photo with the appropriate short focal length zoom lens, i.e., 28-70 for the Vatican shot. While waiting for admission to the church, I made the accompanying detail shot of the column on the front of the building. By using a long piece of glass, you can isolate subjects of interest and avoid the crowds that are all about you.

One of these days I will plan a trip overseas that is strictly a personal photo assignment. When that happens, I will take all the time in the world to record the places that excite me.

The quiet early morning hour at St. Peter’s Square.

Patrick L. Pfister/ © Patrick L. Pfister 2012-08-21T07:30:03Z 2012-08-21T07:30:03Z Behind the scenes…

U of L Health Care Team Member and patient.

In advertising, perhaps the most compelling message one can convey is a true story with a positive outcome. A subject giving an honest and accurate testimony has more validity than anything written by a paid copy writer.

Over the last several months, I have been involved with a media team that is telling the story about patients from the University of Louisville Health Care program. Some have had cancer, others have suffered strokes, and, on the positive side, some have brought new life into the world. All of them have been under the care of a particular health care team at the university. In the series of ads, each patient has the opportunity to tell their story about their experience with their health care team member and how they are doing today. It has been my job to show who these folks are, in their best light, of course.

The typical shoot is to photograph the person in a way that they have direct eye contact with the viewer with no distractions. To accomplish this, I photograph them on a white background with their gaze directly into my lens. Once I have set the lighting and made several tests shots, the work really begins. Images of the shoot can be viewed at

I am confident that the technical side of the shoot is now set and my concentration shifts to my subject. I engage them in conversation mostly about their daily lives. When I feel as though I have an “insurance shot” in the can, I then begin to query them about some personal aspect of their illness or their recovery. Sometimes, I ask about the impact of all of this on their family and future. What I am seeking is that look in their eye that conveys the depth of where they have been and or where they see themselves in the future.

This is a regional advertising campaign that is appearing on the web, television, print ads, and outdoor billboards. The main goal is to raise awareness of U of L Healthcare and the services that it offers.

A newborn baby, mother, and U of L Health Care team member grace a billboard that is seen in the Louisville, KY area.

Patrick L. Pfister/ © Patrick L. Pfister 2012-08-14T07:51:01Z 2012-08-14T07:51:01Z Recycled Saris Change Lives

Anchal scarf made from recycled saris.

As a commercial photographer, I generally loathe the numerous requests I get for “freetography”. I can’t count the times that someone wants me to shoot images for free because it is for the benefit of “their” good cause and no real benefit for me. On the other hand, I hope I can make a difference and lend my skills to something I deem worthy.

I was asked by a personal friend to do some studio work photographing quilts and scarves that were made out of recycled Indian saris. It seems that there is a group of commercial sex workers in Delhi that through little fault of their own, have ended up as prostitutes in order to eat and care for their children. The Anchal Project helps these women to create a revenue stream for themselves by buying used saris and turning them into handmade quilts and scarves. The proceeds of the sale of these items also contributes to the education of these women’s children. Hopefully, this new found money will allow the workers to leave the prostitution business and offer their offspring an education that will make a difference in their lives.

The founder of the program, Colleen Clines, and I spent a day in the studio making photos of these unique items. Her sister, Maggie, was the art director for the shoot and is the web mistress for the project. The shoot was quite simple and fun. All of the fabric pieces are quite beautiful and one of a kind items. By the end of the day, we had photographed 71 items that will appear on the website,, for sale.

I know we all have pet projects and charities that are dear to us. If you have the inclination, please take a look at the web site and consider buying an item. Your purchase just may change a life a half a world away.

Anchal quilt made from recycled saris.

Patrick L. Pfister/ © Patrick L. Pfister 2012-08-07T06:33:45Z 2012-08-07T06:33:45Z