I'm Teaching Stuff at the Expo This Year!

The Photo & Film Expo is always a great time of the year for me. When I was just starting out, I loved listening to the speakers, and I always hope that "one day" I would be a speaker. Last year's expo was my first "One Day". I had a great time, and I've got the opportunity to teach and speak again this year. 

This year, I'll be doing 5 completely different talks. Below is a little video about what I'll be doing:

Below are all the details for each of the talks:

Post Processing Workflow - How to Edit a Full Wedding in No Time

Thursday, 10:00-10:45

Once I had shot about 50 weddings, I realised that I was slowly losing my mind from how long it was taking to edit a set of these images. Spending a week on a single wedding felt like a nightmare. I started working hard on figuring out a workflow that help me get stuff done faster, and helped me keep a super high standard of work. Now, I can edit a wedding in a morning/afternoon, and I want to teach you how. 


Balancing Ambient and Flash

Thursday, 1:00-1:45 - Fujifilm Live Demo Area

Balancing ambient and flash is a fundamental piece of knowledge that every photographer needs to have, if they plan on using any kind of artificial light. But learning how to find this balance can be a tricky process. In this talk, I'll teach you how to balance ambient and flash, and I'll teach you how to do it in no more than 30 seconds. This skill will become an invaluable tool in your skill set as a photographer. 


Creating Amazing Light Without An Amazing Budget

Firday, 2:30-3:15 - Tamron Main Stage

I’ve always loved the amazing light created by high-end photographers, but I’ve always seen them creating the light with incredibly expensive equipment. In this talk, I’ll be teaching you what “interesting light”, how to create that light, and as a bonus, I’ll teach you how to do it without spending a fortune. In this talk, I'll be doing the exact same shoot twice. First with high-end lighting gear, and then again with lighting modifiers made from stuff I found around the house.

Creating Super Realistic Sunsets From Scratch

Sunday, 10:00-10:45 - DDS Editing Stage

Sometimes a beautiful background sunset can take your images to the next level.
But creating a beautiful, realistic looking sunset from scratch is far more complicated than simply rendering a flare in Photoshop. In this tutorial, I'll teach you how to create the effects necessary to blend a sunset into the background of your portraits naturally, and in a way that looks 100% authentic


Introduction to Off-Camera Flash

Sunday, 11:30-12:15 - Fujifilm Live Demo Area

Sooner or later, most photographers get interested in getting a more interesting quality of light, and they try to feed that with off-camera light. But more often than not, they get completely overwhelmed by it, because it seems way more complicated than it is. This talk is just the beginning, and it's the primer to your future with off-camera flash. I'll show you the basics, and run through any gear you might need. 

That's it! I'm really excited to share all of this with you. See you there!

A billboard about Love

"Hi Ett. We need you to shoot an image for a billboard, and it needs to be ready to print in 2 days"

On a Wednesday afternoon I got a call from a guy who had been commissioned by the folks at BrandIQ, a company that owns loads of billboards here in South Africa. BrandIQ wants to use some of their billboards for more than advertising products - their vision is to use their billboards as a way to encourage, inspire, and motivate people in our city.  So the call I received was about making one of those images, and this post is the way it all came together.

My brief was to make an image that conveyed unconditional love. The kind of love that can change the world. My brief was "Our Courage and Strength Lies In Our Love For One Another". I was also encouraged to speak into the racism that is such a big part of us and our history.

From the very first moment I had heard the brief, I had a really specific idea in mind. I wanted a photo of a young black girl giving something to a white, homeless man begging on the street. That image immediately came to mind, and I'm an impulsive guy, so I went with it. 

I refined it by putting a toy in the little girl's one hand, and a sandwich in the other. 

There were a couple of hurdles between the concept and the final image.  It usually looks something like this. 

This is what planning a shoot usually feels like...

This is what planning a shoot usually feels like...

So here's what needed to happen. I needed to source models, find a location, props, styling, and wardrobe. I also needed to find assistants for the shoot. Along with that, the billboard is huge - 48x12m - so I wanted to shoot this on a medium format camera. Fortunately, the folks over at Sunshine Company were generous enough to hook me up with the Hasselblad H5D-50C, along with a couple of lenses. This monster would allow me to create the resolution I wanted for such a huge image.

I managed to find great models - the "homeless white guy" was a guy someone on Facebook pointed me to. He had a great beard and the exact look I wanted. The little black girl was actually the daughter of one of my mom's colleagues. Our homeless man was dressed in an old, weathered, torn wool blanket that my dogs sleep on - filthy and covered in dog hair. 

So here's what the final image speaks of: This little girl sees a homeless man begging on the street. She sees he's poor and hungry. To her, that sandwich and toy will solve many of his problems, but in reality, the toy means nothing, and the sandwich will only carry him for an hour. She also doesn't see skin colour the way we do. With the history we have here in South Aftica, skin colour is visible to us all - both racists and non-racists. So ultimately, she sees a problem, and she feels she has the solution in her hands. She's got no criteria for him, no agenda, nothing - she just has unconditional love for this man. I personally believe that if we could all love each other like this, we could change the world in a special way. Sometimes it takes a hell of a lot of courage to love this way, but we should have that courage and do it. 

Anyway, the location I chose was a great spot right in the heart of Pretoria Central - a market in a busy street. 

So, we showed up on the Friday set up, and got shooting. This is the final image. Click it for a bigger version:

Final Shot

You can view a BTS video about the shoot here:

Huge thanks to my buddy Alon Cohen for the fantastic video. 

Here's the photo on the billboard. If you look closely, you can see me underneath the print:

That's me at the bottom...

That's me at the bottom...

The lighting was pretty straightforward - I had a 5' octa with a speed light on camera right creating the light on the girl and the rim on the guy. Along with that, I had an assistant bounce some of the light into the girl's face. This assistant was actually standing in the frame, and she was masked out in post. Here's a diagram:

Really simple lighting setup.

Really simple lighting setup.

I'd like to thank everyone who helped on this job again. I couldn't have done it without you guys!

Assistants: Adele Nqeto, Alon Cohen, Bernard Brand
BTS Video: Alon Cohen
Models: Jo Engelbrecht, Little girl's name kept for obvious reasons
Gear: Sunshine Company
Photography/Retouching: Ett Venter

Let me know what you think!



Wedding Workshop - Winter 2015

On June 13th-14th, I'll be hosting a wedding workshop right between Pretoria and Johannesburg.

The video below is a quick breakdown:

The workshop will be a two day workshop. 

Day 1: Shooting

Day 1 will be all about the actual photographic aspect of wedding photography. We'll have everything we need to give you an idea of what a wedding day feels like, from the makeup while the bride gets ready, to the speeches at the reception. I'll teach you how to keep everyone around you as relaxed as possible, and how to get the couple you're photographing to feel comfortable and relaxed as you take photos of them.


Artificial Light

Flash is a very big part of how I shoot weddings. 99% of the images I produce at a wedding have some form of artificial light. We'll go over flash, why it's so important, and how to use it at a wedding. I'll teach you when and how to use your flash(es), and how to balance them perfectly with the natural light around you. I'll also teach you how to do that balancing in a matter of 30 seconds.

You'll also learn to light rooms in a way that makes sense. Dark reception halls are a common thing, and you'll learn how to light those with ease. If you're still scared of your flash, that's going to change at this workshop.

Creating Work with a Photojournalistic Feel

I'm not a fan of wedding photos that feel posed, rigid, and forced. I've never been. Creating natural looking work can be a challenge, especially if your subjects are somewhat aware of your presence. We're going to spend time talking about how to shoot the wedding day with more of a documentary approach.



I have no idea how to pose couples. I'm awful at it. I always have been. My solution to that problem was to find another way to get couples to give me the feeling I wanted in the images, but for the couple to do so themselves. The way I do this is by leading the couple into a mindset that will naturally create these beautiful moments between them. When these moments come naturally, it's instantly visible in the photographs. I'll teach you all the little tricks I've learned on doing this.

MTWed_0773 Pano.jpg



We'll go over the gear that you need at a wedding. This won't be a workshop that you'll leave worried about the future condition of your credit card. I'll show you how you can shoot weddings perfectly on far less than what you expect. 


Day 2

Day 2 will be all about editing, business, and life.

Dealing with Clients

As a photographer, people skills are probably just as important as actual photographic skill. Your entire relationship with a potential client is riding on whether or not they like you as a person. If they don't, you won't get the job. Simple as that. If they enjoy your company, you're far more likely to get that booking. 

First Meeting

After all the emails back and forth, you'll likely get a chance to have a meeting with a couple before they book you. This meeting is the most significant point of contact with a potential client. If they're willing to sit down with you for a meeting, they're usually pretty sure that they'll be booking you. If a client doesn't book you after this meeting, it's probably because you've done something wrong. Your client needs to leave this meeting informed, with no question, and with full confidence that you're the right person for them. In fact, if a client chooses to have a meeting with you, even though they're not sure about you, this meeting is the meeting where they should realise that you're the right photographer. I can't stress how important this meeting is. 

I'll teach you how to turn that meeting into a booking, 99% of the time.


Building a Portfolio That Makes Sense to Clients

Your portfolio is the first thing a potential client will see. Screw this step up, and you don't stand a chance. Your portfolio needs to answer a client's questions. It doesn't matter if the portfolio doesn't make sense to other photographers - they're not hiring you. Your portfolio needs to speak to your clients.



Booking the Weddings You Want to Shoot

Working with a couple that's got a different vision for their wedding photos to you, if a difficult, unpleasant experience. It's an awful experience for both the client, and for you. You have a taste, a style, and you only want to shoot for couples who share that vision, otherwise there will be disappointment for everyone. I'll teach you how to ensure that every wedding you shoot will be one that allows you your own creative freedom to shoot the wedding as you please.

_DSF9988 Pano.jpg


Post processing is a key aspect of what we do. I can remember spending entire days, a few of them, working on just a single set of wedding images. Over time, I've build a workflow that allows me to edit an entire set of wedding images, from start to finish, in 5 hours. And 5 hours is generous. I'll be teaching you exactly how I do that, and how I do that while keeping the high standard I have for my images. 

DSC_5788 Pano.jpg


Marketing is an important part of your business. If people aren't seeing your work, you won't be making any bookings. Beyond that - if people aren't telling their friends about your work, you're missing out on the most powerful advertising of all - word of mouth. 


Actual Grown-Up Business Stuff

Tax, Receipts, mileage tracking, etc. You need to know this stuff.

Efficient Admin

Getting stuff done as quickly and efficiently as possible is the difference between you having a life besides your business, and you spending 18 hours a day behind your computer. Do you like the idea of running a successful business and still having time every day to have coffee with your friends/family? I've learned how to manage this, and I'm going to show you how.

The workshop might leave you with a couple of questions that'll show up a week or two later. So I'll include a 1 hour, 1-on-1 hang out, where we can talk over any final questions you might have about wedding photography. 


That's a breakdown of the workshop. In a nutshell:

  • A chance to learn and grow with other photographers
  • This will all be taking place at a beautiful location between JHB and PTA
  • How to shoot the wedding day beautifully
  • How to edit that wedding in no time
  • How to treat your clients
  • How to run your photo business
  • ow to have a personal life outside of your business

The cost of the workshop is only R3500. 

Should you feel that this workshop is something you'd like to get involved in, please follow the link below:

Click here to make your booking.

Please not that there are only 12 spaces, so once they're gone, they're gone. 

If the weekend of the 13th and the 14th doesn't work for you, I'm considering hosting a second workshop the following week, on the 17th-18th of June. If I get 12 people wanting to attend that workshop as well, I'll host it. 

Click here to book for the weekday workshop.

I've got to tell you - this has been a long process. I wanted this workshop to be something special for the attendees, and I believe it will be. 


You want to be a wedding photographer? This one's for you.

Before I get going - let me just say that I'm well aware that I'm not the be-all and end-all of wedding photography. There are many photographers out there that are far better than I am, and far more experienced than I am. However - I've shot a million weddings, and I've learned stuff I can help you with. That's what's important here.  


I got an email this morning from a starting out photographer. Let's call him John Smith. His email below:

Hi Ett

I'm shooting my first wedding next month. What Setting is best for weddings?

Now, I'm not even sure what setting he's talking about, but if he's asking this question about any setting on his camera, he's not ready to shoot a wedding. I'm assuming he's referring to the mode (A, S, P, M). We'll get back to John Smith in a moment. 

There are 15 824 208 173 people out there who want to be wedding photographers. I personally think that that's great, and I hope they make it some day. However, my concern is that 99% of those people have a good camera, but don't know what to do with it, and they're going to leave many couples feeling cheated. A decent camera makes up 5% of a good wedding photographer.  

I want this post to serve as a checklist and as an eye opener for anyone that's considering shooting weddings. I'm not going to tell you that you can't shoot a wedding. You can do it better than I can, for all I know. What I am here to tell you is that it's not something to take lightly. There's no room for error. None.

Let's quickly take a look at what shooting weddings involves. A wedding day is all different kinds of photography, not just portrait photography. On the day, you'll be doing a whole lot of all of the following:

  1. Some documentary style work. Photos of the makeup being done, the vows being said, the speeches being made, etc.
  2. Some Beauty work. Good, solid, well lit shots of the bride's hair and makeup.
  3. Some product work. The spent a small fortune on the rings, jewellery, perfume, etc. You need to shoot that stuff.
  4. Of course, you'll need to do some really, really good portrait work.
Detail shots like this are important to the bride. The groom? Not so much. 

Detail shots like this are important to the bride. The groom? Not so much. 

You don't need to be the best photographer in those four genres, but you sure as hell need to be able to shoot those four genres well. Furthermore, you need to be able to create beautiful images within those four genres on very tight time constraints, in constantly changing light, while being under the pressure that "I only have one shot" brings. Screwing up is not an option at a wedding. There's no room for you to miss the shot. You have to nail it, and it has to be a good shot. 

He knows about this piece of paper. Most of his guests don't. This is a good memory for him to see in 20 years.

He knows about this piece of paper. Most of his guests don't. This is a good memory for him to see in 20 years.

Due to all of this, your technique needs to be second nature. There's no time to be figuring settings and exposure optimizations on the day. If you ever, EVER have to think for more than a fraction of a second about how to expose correctly, you're not ready. You need to just know that at a wedding reception, shooting at F2 1/200 ISO1600 makes more sense than shooting at F2 1/13 ISO100, and you need to be able to figure that out without thinking about it (If you're looking at that, trying to figure it out, that's a red flag). You also need to know which lenses will be right for the job, and you need to know your lenses inside out as well. Shooting your lens wide open and thinking that your shots are sharp without KNOWING it for sure is going to have you panicking later on while you're editing, and realising that maybe, just maybe, you should've avoided f/1.2 and stuck to f/2.2.

You also need to have a pretty solid handle on light, how it works, and how you can control it. Trust me - you don't always get good light. In fact, more often than not, you're facing pretty shocking light situations and it's your job to make sure you can handle it. If you don't know how to use a flash, you can go ahead and email your cousin/sister/brother/friend that's nagging you to shoot their wedding and tell them to find someone else. You might be able to shoot a wedding without a flash, but you might get to a wedding that's very, very dark, and then even your fancy Nikon Df will struggle in the low light.

If you think all the problems in the world can be solved by bouncing a flash off the ceiling, you're in for a bumpy ride as well - many wedding venues have dark ceilings. Or, better yet, no ceiling.


So if you're planning on shooting weddings, here's my advice:

  1. Don't even consider it until you know how to use your camera properly. If you can't comfortably shoot everything in Manual mode, you're not ready. I'm not saying you have to shoot weddings in Manual mode, but you need to know how to, so that if you set it to Aperture Priority, for example, you know how/why it's doing what it's doing (For the record, I only shoot in Manual). Know your camera, know which settings are best for which situations, and know your lenses. 
  2. Assist another wedding photographer. Trust me on this one. You'll learn so much, you won't be able to remember it all. Assist as much as you can. I've heard of wedding photographers that assisted for years before they started on their own.
  3. Light. Man, if you're struggling to manage the light in any situation, ever, you should reconsider shooting weddings until you're more comfortable with that. 
  4. Get an assistant. Don't even try to do this on your own. You can't do as good a job as what you can as a photographer if you're spending all that time carrying your bags and lights and stuff.
  5. Come equipped for the worst. You need to have 2 of everything at a wedding. 2 bodies, a handful of extra cards, millions of extra batteries, extra lenses, extra flashes, etc. When I show up to a wedding, I've got 2 bodies, 3/4 lenses, 12 memory cards, 3 camera batteries, 32 Rechargable AA Batteries for my 7 speedlights that I take along as well, 5 light stands, 4 softboxes (various sizes), 2 different sets of triggers for my lights, and a sandwich (hey, don't judge. Photographers need to eat as well). I seldom, seldom need all of that gear, but when I need it, it's there. Yeah, it's expensive to have all that stuff, but that's also where rentals come in. I didn't own all this gear to start off with. Do NOT show up to a wedding if you only have one camera body. Not having a backup camera body is absolutely not an option, on any level. Not having the sandwich probably isn't a good idea either. 
  6. Full Frame isn't necessary. It's nice to have, but definitely not necessary. The first camera I shot weddings on was a D7000, which starts making me uncomfortable around ISO800, and that camera made beautiful shots. In fact, I've still got a number of shots in my portfolio that I shot on the D7000. So this idea that you have in your mind about how important Full Frame is, is something you should start ignoring.
  7. It's really, really important that the photography isn't what you're thinking about on the day. You need to not be thinking about this or that composition, or this or that technique. As I said, that stuff needs to be part of how your brain naturally works. You need to be present on the day, you need to experience the wedding for what it is, so that you can shoot it in a way that's true to the day. An AMAZING photo of an ice bucket doesn't mean anything to anyone except you, because it's just a freaking ice bucket. If the ice bucket is relevant to the couple and the wedding - good job. So if this stuff isn't second nature to you, it's because you're not shooting enough. So go out and shoot. Today. Go out and shoot again tomorrow. Practice practice practice.
  8. Don't go there looking to make the day something it isn't. Go there and capture it for what it is. As far as I'm concerned, you shouldn't ever tell anyone to look at the camera, or to smile. Not ever. Putting on a smile that isn't authentic or looking at the camera isn't natural. Why wedding photographers are telling people to do stuff that's not natural, and then photographing it, is beyond my understanding. People can look and smile at you for the group/family shots. But that's it. If you want a photo of a specific person smiling, point your camera at them and wait for them to legitimately smile about something, and get that shot when they don't know you're taking it. The fake smiles are horrible - don't do it.
Makin' sure I got what I see in my mind. Photo Credit - Sheldon Evans

Makin' sure I got what I see in my mind. Photo Credit - Sheldon Evans

Guys, don't take this lightly. Your clients must have good photos when you're done. They must. You can't give them "Not too bad" shots. You need to make sure that they're happy. If you're not certain that you can give them fantastic photos, don't take the job. There's no second chance. If you miss the first kiss, it's gone. If you miss the moment the groom sees the bride for the first time, it's gone. Be ready. If you're wondering "What aperture or ISO will be best for the wedding", you're not even ALMOST ready to shoot that wedding. 

Also, understand that it's not always stressful. I've shot more weddings than I can remember, and I don't ever stress for a moment when I shoot weddings now. Once you get into it, it's a piece of cake. Getting to this point is a process, though, and I hope that this post helps you get there.

Now, if you're ready, go shoot it and have a cracking time.

I spend so much time on the ground. Geez.  Photo Credit - Sheldon Evans

I spend so much time on the ground. Geez. 

Photo Credit - Sheldon Evans