Monday, December 31, 2012

A Digital SLR Camera For Christmas!!

A Digital SLR For Christmas!!

Your very first DSLR! (Digital Single Lens Reflex) This is a big step up from a “Point-and-Shoot” or an iPhone camera. Whether the camera is for taking pictures of the kids, landscapes, or food, learning how to use a DSLR can be intimidating. All of the buttons and settings come together to make either an artistic photograph, or a complete mess. But relax, with a few simple pointers, you'll be taking pictures like a pro in no time.

Get out and shoot

The good news is that most DSLR's have very similar controls and settings, so it doesn't take long to get the basics down so you can get out and start shooting. It doesn't matter if your camera is made by Nikon, Canon, Fuji, or whatever. Read the Quick Start booklet that came with your camera. Put in the battery, and the memory card and let's take some pictures!

Attach the Kit Lens

Your camera probably came with a “Kit Lens”, which is usually a standard zoom lens 18-55mm. To attach the lens, most cameras have a small dot that lines up with a similar dot on the lens. Put the dots together and turn the lens until it clicks into place. Don't force it! Don't forget to take the lens cap off! When you look through the camera's eyepiece you can see through the lens. If you rotate the lens barrel, it makes the picture zoom in or out.

Stay in AUTO Mode

Most cameras will have a dial on the top or back of the camera to set the mode. I always recommend beginners to put the camera on AUTO and keep it there. This let's the camera's brain computer figure out the settings for a proper exposure. What about all those other buttons and settings? For now, “forget about it...” Too often, beginners obsess about learning all the manual settings for aperture, shutter speed and ISO (pronounced “Eye-Ess-Oh”) and they get frustrated. Instead of getting frustrated, get out and take a few thousand pictures.

Picture Format (RAW or JPEG)

The only setting I would give some thought to and check would be the picture format, or sometimes referred to as picture quality (although quality doesn't have much to do with it). As a beginner, you'll want to shoot pictures in JPEG (pronounced “jay-peg”). Raw format gives you more flexibility in editing (or correcting) the pictures on your computer, but that comes later.

Memory Card

If your camera didn't come with a memory card, you'll need one. The most common types of memory cards are the SDHC. They come in all different capacities. An 8GB memory card can hold over a thousand JPEG images. The cards also have speed ratings. Get a good brand, with a high speed transfer rate. You've got a good camera, don't buy the cheapest memory card!


Once you have your battery, and memory card in the camera, settings on AUTO, and shooting JPEG, it's time to take this baby on a test drive. Look through the viewfinder. When you press the shutter button half way, it will adjust the focus. When you press it all the way, you'll hear the shutter click, and the image will appear on the LCD screen of the computer. If you're indoors, and the light is dim, your camera may activate the on-camera flash. Not all camera models have a built-in flash, but most of the entry level DSLR's do. It will use the flash when it thinks it needs it. Take pictures of the dog, the cat, your family, the Christmas tree, your garden, the mailman, and everything else. I challenge you to try and drain the battery or fill up your memory card with pictures.


When you have finished shooting, it's time to download the images to your computer. Check your user manual, but generally, you can do this two ways: connect a USB cable from your camera to the computer, or remove the memory card from the camera and put it in a card reader or SD slot on your computer. (A lot of newer computers have card readers built into them) Your PC or Mac can read the JPEG format, and you can view your work. As you become more advanced, you'll want to be able to edit and correct some of the photographs. You'll need a software program like Adobe Lightroom or Google's Picasa to edit.

Gear Lust

One of the worst traps to fall into once you enter the world of DSLR's is “gear lust”. This is where you convince yourself that you'll be able to take better pictures if you have a better camera or better lens. I don't know how many times, I've had someone contact me and tell me that the reason their images are blurry is because they don't have the right kind of lens. While it is true that some equipment is better than others in low light, or fast moving sports action, the problem is usually six inches behind the camera. If this is a hobby that you are going to get into, take baby steps. Use your entry level camera and kit lens for a year before you start adding or upgrading equipment. During that year, learn everything you can about your camera. Learn about exposure. Learn about light. If you think you can't produce quality photographs with a kit lens, check out some of the Flickr groups that only post images from a kit lens.

Useful Gear

There are a few items that are extremely useful to beginners. There will come a time when you'll need a flash unit, sometimes called a “Speedlight”. These flashes are more powerful than the on-camera flash and can be used very creatively. Although there are many brands that probably work with your camera, your first flash should be the same brand as your camera. This is important because the flash needs to “talk” to your camera. Many times, with off brand flash equipment, you have to set up the flash power settings manually. When I put my Nikon Flash on my Nikon camera, it always gives me a perfect exposure flash because the flash gets all of its settings from the camera.

The next item that you'll need is a tripod. A tripod is essential for things like shooting at night. Tripods come in a variety of styles and brands. As a beginner, I always recommend just a cheap basic one. You'll be amazed at how much sharper the image is when you use a tripod.
When the time comes that you'll want to add a lens to your system, the one I always recommend is the 50mm prime. A prime lens is one that does not zoom in or out. It stays at a constant focal length. A 50mm (sometimes called the “nifty fifty”) is a beautiful portrait lens, and great for walking around the city doing street photography. The best part about the 50mm is that you can usually pick one up for less than $200. They are great in low light, and fast to focus.


Some people seem to learn by reading books, others prefer to watch videos. There are literally millions of books and videos available to the novice photographer. Just the selection of material can be overwhelming.


The “Digital Photography” series of books by Scott Kelby are some of the best. Kelby's style of writing makes it easy to understand, and he throws in a lot of humor too.
Eventually, you'll want to take the camera off the “AUTO” mode, and learn about aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. When that time comes, the best book for learning about manual settings is “Understanding Exposure” by Bryan Peterson. I've had this book for over two years, and I keep going back to it as a reference. It's well written, and under $20, it's a bargain.
I admit that I'm not a big fan of the “Dummies” series of books, but a lot of people love them. “Digital SLR Cameras and Photography for Dummies” by David Busch looks interesting, and again for less than $20 at Amazon.


One of the biggest ways that the internet has changed our life, is with streaming video on the net. The amount of video tutorials available online is mind boggling. Do a YouTube search on the phrase “Photography Tutorial” and I got 285,000 results. Even though the videos are free, you'll question whether some are worth that. Here's a video that I found some time ago, and it explains the basics of exposure in a way that's easy to understand. Here's another one by the same kid, that explains metering and exposure stops.
If you're looking for quality video instruction, I'd recommend (No, I'm not on Scott Kelby's payroll, he just does good work!) For a low subscription fee, you can watch all the videos you want. The one's I've seen are all good. You'll get video instruction by some of the top photographers in the country. From basics to advanced techniques.


Congratulations on your new camera, and the world of DSLR's. It's a money pit that is second only to golf and Harley Davidson motorcycles. The best way to get over the intimidation of the camera is to get out and take pictures. Then take a few thousand more. Don't buy any more gear until you wear out the basic kit. You don't need more gear to take better pictures. Photography is an art. Art cannot be achieved in a few days. You'll need to study. You'll need to learn. What are you doing reading this on your computer? Grab your camera and go shoot!

Richard Spears is a photographer and free lance writer in San Antonio Texas. photographs courtesy of Kelly Janetsky. No part of this article may be re-printed without consent of the author.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

An Engineer's Perspective On Santa Claus

*NOTE* I'm not the author of this, however I'm just geeky enough that I did check the math.  Okay,... well most of it.
  1. There are approximately two billion children (persons under 18) in the world. However, since Santa does not visit children of Muslim, Hindu, Jewish or Buddhist religions, this reduces the workload for Christmas night to 15% of the total, or 378 million (according to the Population Reference Bureau). At an average (census) rate of 3.5 children per house hold, that comes to 108 million homes, presuming that there is at least one good child in each.
  2. Santa has about 31 hours of Christmas to work with, thanks to the different time zones and the rotation of the earth, assuming he travels east to west (which seems logical). This works out to 967.7 visits per second. This is to say that for each Christian household with a good child, Santa has around 1/1000th of a second to park the sleigh, hop out, jump down the chimney, fill the stockings, distribute the remaining presents under the tree, eat whatever snacks have been left for him, get back up the chimney, jump into the sleigh and get on to the next house. Assuming that each of these 108 million stops is evenly distributed around the earth (which, of course, we know to be false, but will accept for the purposes of our calculations), we are now talking about 0.78 miles per household; a total trip of 75.5 million miles, not counting bathroom stops or breaks. This means Santa's sleigh is moving at 650 miles per second --- 3,000 times the speed of sound. For purposes of comparison, the fastest man-made vehicle, the Ulysses space probe, moves at a poky 27.4 miles per second, and a conventional reindeer can run (at best) 15 miles per hour.
  3. The payload of the sleigh adds another interesting element. Assuming that each child gets nothing more than a medium sized Lego set (two pounds), the sleigh is carrying over 500 thousand tons, not counting Santa himself. On land, a conventional reindeer can pull no more than 300 pounds. Even granting that the "flying" reindeer could pull ten times the normal amount, the job can't be done with eight or even nine of them--- Santa would need 360,000 of them. This increases the payload, not counting the weight of the sleigh, another 54,000 tons, or roughly seven times the weight of the Queen Elizabeth (the ship, not the monarch).
  4. 600,000 tons traveling at 650 miles per second creates enormous air resistance --- this would heat up the reindeer in the same fashion as a spacecraft re-entering the earth's atmosphere. The lead pair of reindeer would absorb 14.3 quintillion joules of energy per second each. In short, they would burst into flames almost instantaneously, exposing the reindeer behind them and creating deafening sonic booms in their wake. The entire reindeer team would be vaporized within 4.26 thousandths of a second, or right about the time Santa reached the fifth house on his trip. Not that it matters, however, since Santa, as a result of accellerating from a dead stop to 650 m.p.s. in .001 seconds, would be subjected to centrifugal forces of 17,500 g's. A 250 pound Santa (which seems ludicrously slim) would be pinned to the back of the sleigh by 4,315,015 pounds of force, instantly crushing his bones and organs and reducing him to a quivering blob of pink goo. Therefore, if Santa did exist, he's dead now.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Romance and Chivalry and Cops

It was a hot afternoon, filled with Romance, Chivalry, and getting hassled by a security guard... But clearly, it was a fun afternoon..

I had been to Commanche Lookout Park before.. it has lots of trails, and is one of the highest points in Bexar County.  Some of my friends dragged me there years ago at night.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Accidental Ghost Car

10 second exposure at F5, ISO 800

I had so much fun last weekend.  One of my client couples, Janelle and Mike were in San Antonio from Houston taking care of some last minute details on their upcoming wedding.  We wanted to take some engagement pictures on the Riverwalk.  

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Personalizing Your Engagement Session

There are a lot of different aspects to think about when planning your engagement session. Where to go, what to wear, how not to look mad in serious photos, etc… What we find is the more we can personalize the engagement session, the better it goes. Below are a few ways to help the session have a more personal touch.

1.) Locations: Locations that have some kind of meaning, ex: First date, Common Interests, etc.. are a great place to start. You might of had your first date at a library, and although that might not sound like a great location, a good photographer will make it fun.

2.) Props : Books, Popcorn, Helmets? Much like locations, you want to think about things you do together: how you met, the proposal, and any other key hallmarks of your relationship.

3.) Relax: The most personalized aspect of your session is of course, your personalities. The more you are able to relax and have fun, the more your personalities will shine though.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Nikon D600

Oh Boy!  We like... we definately LIKE.

After months of rumors, Nikon finally announced their "entry level" professional grade full frame camera, the D600.  (For those of you who are not into photography or Nikon, you can skip this blog...)>

Monday, August 27, 2012

Firefighter Portraits

Over the years, I've worked with and known a lot of firefighters.  I have a lot of respect for these guys.  They answer a lot of different calls (most of them are NOT fire-related) they see things that would turn most people's stomach inside out, get very little sleep, and not much paycheck.  I admire them a lot.  I wanted to do some portraits of firefighters. Here are two.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Joel Grimes is My Hero

Some of you in the non-Photography world have never heard of Joel Grimes.  Until about a year ago, neither had I.  He's a celebrity portrait photographer who does a lot of commercial work for athletic companies (Nike, Reebok, etc).  He does a lot of portraits for music artists too.  Check out his amazing website at and you'll see what I mean.  The first time I saw his work, I was just awestruck.  

So I started experimenting with pictures that were similar to his style... in similar lighting, and similar post processing with Photoshop.  I've also been studying a book on doing composites by Matt Kloskowski.  I've been having fun, and I love the images that I've been creating.  I think this is a path I want to stay on.    Here is the first composite I've done.  I'm pretty happy with it, and I'll be entering it in a portrait competition.  I'm putting together a series of portraits of people in uniform.  I hope you like it too.

Friday, August 10, 2012


This is an example of HDR (High Dynamic Range). The picture is St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Spring Branch. An HDR image is actually a composite of several images over a span of exposure values. 

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Crystal and Andres

Good evening Mr. Phelps.  Your mission, should you decide to accept it...  Photograph a wedding... in a dimly lit Catholic church... where the only lights beam down on people like little spotlights causing funky shadows around the eyes and nose, and here's the best part... You CAN NOT use a FLASH.

That was my assignment.  I chose to accept it.  I went to the wedding rehearsal on Friday, and met with Crystal again.  Crystal is a super sweet girl who works hard and has some incredibly cute kids.  When I walked around the church, I'm always in awe... but this time especially.  The light was dim to say the least.  I met the "Church Lady"... she was the church representative who gave me the rules.  No flash photography during the ceremony.  Cool.  I can do this.  I have a good camera and several lenses that are good in low light.
I got my camera out of my case to take a few test shots.  Oh my God.  I looked up at the huge statue of Jesus on the cross and asked him for help.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Cropping Explained

When you go shopping for a picture frame, what's the most "common" size you'll find?  8" x 10".  It's been like that for... well, longer than I've been around.  I remember when I first got into photography, (the film years) and took my film to the drugstore to get processed.  I had 4"x6" prints made, and one of them looked GREAT!  I thought.."hmm... I'm going to blow this up and put it on my wall" so I ordered an 8x10.  When I got the print back from the lab, part of the person's head was cut off!!  

Thursday, July 12, 2012

JD and Doris Hahn

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of shooting one of the nicest, down to earth couples ever. JD and Doris Hahn. I had a great time doing their engagement session at Hemisfair park, and this was no different. We were at the Embassy Suites Hotel on I-10. (Note to self: San Antonio traffic will always be bad, even on Saturday!) Yes, it was crazy getting there since I-35 had turned into a parking lot.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Photography Advice for Brides

Things your Photographer wished you would do...   no really... seriously.  I can dream, right?

Over the years, I've worked with more than a few brides.  Some were easy to work with, and some didn't want to make the photography aspect any easier.  I can't and shouldn't complain... it's not their job to make my job any easier or better.  But there are things they can do to help me out that will make their wedding pictures better.  A happy photographer is a good photographer!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Baby Photography Made Easy By Al Borrelli

Reprinted with Permission - Original blog article by Al Borrelli
This awesome post (more like gathering of suggestions!) is going to help all you parents (often stay at home ones) be better photographers with the limited kit and time at your disposal. This is NOT about achieving professional results, but of making the most out of simple techniques and basic kit.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Sandra and Jason

I knew it was going to be a fun wedding.  Sandy told me that she liked my ideas, and wanted to do some "fun" pictures.  You see... this is the second wedding they've had.  The first wedding wasn't quite the dream wedding they had planned.  Sandy was involved in a horrible accident just days before the wedding.  She spent months without being able to walk.  She said that Jason carried her... everywhere.  She had horrific injuries, and she is still dealing with the pain, and the surgeries.  She has another surgery scheduled in the next few months.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Watermarks - By Jason Lanier

Reprinted from famous California photographer Jason Lanier:

Photographer Q&A about Watermarks:

QUESTION- Can I ask - has anyone ever said anything regarding the way you watermark your images? I for one believe it's beyond smart to watermark, but when I watermark people complain it takes away from the photos - and I use a 5% opacity... in the back of my mind I feel people that whine about watermarks either don't understand WHY we do it, or wanted to "steal" the image in the first place... thoughts?

ANSWER- People seem to ask me about my watermarks several times a week recently. On mine, the opacity is at 25% with a drop shadow, spread three times across the image. I built a watermark that made the image still palatable for viewing in my opinion, yet protected my image from unauthorized use. I built it thinking of what would be hard for me to Photoshop out if I was trying to get rid of it. So far, I'm very happy with my watermark.

I agree with your assessment that the majority of people who "whine" about it as you say either have desires to steal it or just don't get it. People like to insult the the photographer by saying, "Really, who wants to steal YOUR images?" That's just complete baloney.

Le's stop being naive about what we do. These days the vast majority of clients don't even print much at all anymore. Virtually all packages are based on getting digital files in some way/shape/form. Clients want to be able to use their images on their iPhone, iPad, Facebook etc. They want to show them digitally. I can't tell you how many times I see my images used for people's profile pics, banner pics, etc. As long as my watermark is on that image it doesn't bother me as much because I know that I am getting the proper photo credit for that shot. Once someone yanks out my watermark...then it's on. I work too hard at my craft to have someone just steal my shot and I get zero credit. IT'S NOT JUST A PICTURE, IT'S A PIECE OF ART. Stop trying to downgrade our work to "just snapshots", because if that was all they were, you wouldn't want them so badly.

One more note....many "Big Name" photographers or truly Professional Full Time Photographers don't post their images on Facebook because they don't want the drama and don't want their images being used without authorization. They only use images on their websites, no where else. So I figure that sharing my images with a 25% opacity watermark is a lot better than not sharing them at all. As you know I post all my settings and explain my shots which 99% of the others don't as well, so I feel very comfortable doing it the way I'm doing it.

Last Note...Please keep in mind that I shoot and share images from my weddings, children shoots, pin ups, landscapes, and wildlife. I'm certainly not going to do different watermarks for each different genre of picture that I post. While one person may look at a wedding shot of mine and say, "Who's gonna steal that?" what they don't realize is that I might post a landscape shot of Africa the next day and plenty of people will steal that. Also, wedding photographers steal other people's shots all the time to learn posing...I've seen it in person at my workshops where people are showing me a posing book they've compiled and forgot that about 5 shots of mine were in there. When I immediately recognized the shots and told them, they were mortified...this is before I had a strong watermark....Worst case scenario someone photoshops your watermark out and claims it as their work. It's a reality folks. If you're good, people will steal your work. Get educated.

So, from this point forward when I get questions about watermarks I will post this article. There's no right or wrong way to do or do not do watermarks...there's just the way that works for you. Based on the response of Facebook to the shots that I post, people can still see the beauty of my shot while I'm able to have some peace of mind that my hard work isn't being used without my permission or at least me getting credit for what I did....
If you've read all of this and are still whining, you either want to steal my shot or just don't get it...hope this helps!!!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The MegaPixel Myth

When Nikon announced the new D800 with 36 megapixels, the camera community collectively peed themselves like an over-excited chihuahua.  I would have liked to have been inside the boardrooms at Canon to hear them barking (in Japanese, which I imagined sounded like a cool old Kung Fu movie) to the engineers that Canon must now roll out a camera with more pixels than the D800.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Beating Myself Up

The last few days, I took a trip down memory lane, picture speaking, and browsed some pictures I took at a wedding about a year ago.  I'm still bloodied and bruised from the beating that I gave myself.  I found myself slapping my head and saying "how could you under-expose that shot?"  I took a few more punches for the wrong lens selection, and when it was all said and done... I felt terrible.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Thomas Wedding

I had the most incredible wedding on Saturday. Rod and Lorna are nursing teachers at one of the local vocational nursing schools. They also ride a Harley, so I already felt as if we were related!  They are two of the nicest and sweetest people you could ever meet.  They asked me if I could do some special shots before or after the wedding ceremony... they wanted to make sure they got some pictures with their kids.  Not of themselves... the grown kids.  I did my best on the family portraits.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Love is in the Air... Tiffany and Travis

I had an incredible engagement session with Tiffany and Travis on Sunday.  Since I had other commitments, it was a fast session, but we got some really beautiful pictures of two people who just radiate love for each other.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Uncle Bob

There's a joke among photographers, specifically wedding photographers about "Uncle Bob".  Everyone has an  Uncle Bob... he's the expert on just about everything.  He'll show up to the wedding, and get in every shot the professional photographer is trying to take.  Most photographers even have an "Uncle Bob Clause" in the wedding contract about anyone interfering with the photography at the wedding.  Tonight, on a forum, I found the perfect example of the Uncle Bob shot.  The photographer was lined up for the "First Look" shot where the groom sees her for the first time in her wedding dress... and up pops Uncle Bob with a camera, ruining the shot for the photographer.  Don't be an Uncle Bob.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Choosing a Camera

People know me as a photographer/camera/computer geek kind of guy.  I've had a lot of people tell me that they would like to buy a camera, but the choices and the options available are a little overwhelming.  I thought I would create a blog article to give you my thoughts on cameras and that maybe it will help someone getting into photography.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Choosing a Wedding Photographer

10 Tips you won't hear anywhere else!
By Richard Spears © 2012

Okay, I lied. You might hear some of these in other places. I think that one person wrote a list of tips for planning a wedding years ago, and the list has been reprinted ad nauseum by every magazine and wedding site. So you're thinking “this guy has never been a bride” (very true) so what could he possibly know? I've been in the wedding business for a few years, and went through a few weddings of my own. For an event that is supposed to be one of the happiest of a woman's life, I know about the stress that planning a wedding can create. Take a deep breath, pour a glass of wine and relax. This is going to be fun.

Stock Photography, Here I come!

I'm branching out... I'm going to try stock photography. For those of you who don't know the 'lingo'... stock photography is a business that let's people (usually web designers) buy stock images to use in advertising.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Gone for the Summer

This morning was bittersweet. Judi and I took her daughter Kelly to the airport. She spends her summers in Michigan with her father. I understand how that works. I divorced when my son was very young, so I was only a part-time dad as he was growing up. It was painful at times. I guess it's a situation that affects so many families. I was never close to my father for the same reason. The only time I saw my father growing up were the short visits.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

How Photographers Make your Double Chin Disappear!

Famous headshot photographer Peter Hurley gives tips to photographers on how important the jaw line is in creating attractive portraits.

Evil Kids and Bad Parents

Let me climb up on my "Old Fart" soapbox.  There... A few days ago, I worked a big party at one of the resorts near New Braunfels.  It was a real nice party.  They had a live band, a caterer that grilled some incredibly thick ribeye steaks, shrimp and other goodies. 

Why Cops Love Donuts

To those of you who know me, you get the joke. I hear it all the time... it's always funny to poke fun at fat cops and donuts. But this topic always made me want to go two places: to talk about the origin of the joke, and to talk about stereotypes.

What is Boudoir Photography?

The word "Boudoir" is French. It is literally translated as "bedroom" but is used when referring to a 'Lady's Bedroom'. Boudoir photography is not new, although the popularity and public acceptance is on the rise.

Hating On WordPress

I added Wordpress to my website because my webhost (GoDaddy) made it easy. One click to install a blog. I'm not new to blogging, I was an addict to the old Yahoo 360 blog tool. I used to blog all the time.