• Archives
  • Dec30

    Joe's Heart

    Taken at Joe’s Crabshack in Myrtle Beach, SC. 35mm, 1/10 of a sec, f/1.8, ISO 200

    As I go about my research and plans to formulate my photography career (which, by the way, I’m including y’all each step of the way because I don’t know if something like this has been done before and I think it would be cool to follow someone like myself on this journey), I’m reading a book by photog/writer Dane Sanders called, “Fast Track Photographer“. The book is full of self exploration exorcises to try and determine the type of photography business you should run. This is the hardest part about getting started when you decide to go professional. As Dane states, it’s not a good idea to be an all-around generic photographer in today’s market of saturated photographers because anybody (and seemingly everybody) can get a nice camera and take decent photos. The idea is to find a niche that captures your essence and creates value by doing something that is unique to you. You need to be something that nobody else can be and nobody can be you. It boils down to determining what it is that you are good at, what you love, what makes you you, and marrying those ideas into a brand that you can market yourself as.

    Some of this I had already started doing before I even began reading this book. In this article I defined what I’m currently a fan of doing in photography. It is important because given my background as a professional musician who was signed to a recording contract and toured the world years ago, I do have a rather unique insight into the performance world. I also have an obsession with reaching the creative zone and would love to capture people in that zone. To me that would be the decisive moment I’m after in these types of shots. It’s not just music either – I want to capture the moment when people are acting on pure instinct. It could be anything from a guy working on a telephone pole to a dancer practicing alone in a studio. We all have things we do and we do them so well that we get lost in them. That’s the zone I’m interested in. Now that I’ve gotten off on a tangent, let’s get back to the point I wanted to make at the start of this.

    Grandpa & Grandma

    My grandparents from back in the day – photographer unkown

    One of the things that Mr. Sanders brushes on in his tips for branding your photography business is your name. He uses the beautiful Jasmine Star as an example. She uses her middle name instead of her last name because it just works perfectly for her. When I was deciding on what to call my website a few months ago, I made a very conscious decision to avoid my own last name because “Nienstedt” is just a pain in the ass to explain how to spell to people. I also toyed with the idea of using my own middle name which is Walter, named from my beloved grandfather who raised me. I would be Joseph Walter – photographer of [insert type of photography here]. The more I thought of how nice it would be to drop my Germanic last name, the more I realized that I shouldn’t do it.

    Why continue to suffer with a complicated name to spell and pronounce when I have the opportunity to make my life easier? It’s who I am. I came into this world as Joseph Walter Nienstedt and I should be able to succeed regardless of my currently un-marketable name. In fact, in an effort to define my uniqueness, what better way to start than using my real name? So I would like to thank Dane Sanders for the suggestion, but I think his overall theme of defining yourself works in spite of doing what is conventionally accepted or expected by the marketeers of the world. I’d love to know what you think of my decision and the general practice of making your name easier for the general public to consume. Let it be known that I do like nicknames because I find those endearing since we rarely choose them ourselves, they are (hopefully) given to us by loved ones.

  • Dec27

    Snowy Leaf

    I’ve only been living in the south for six years, and I’ve witnessed two snowstorms within the last year. Prior to that, it was ten years ago that snow stuck to the ground in Charleston. I’m not sure what’s going on, but I’m glad I kept one of my snow shovels from New York.

    Snowy Wood

    The snow froze overnight into an icy, dry, & powdery mixture which created a great texture to photograph. As I was waiting for my car to defrost, I grabbed my camera and shot these pictures with an emphasis on the texture and contrast.

    Snowy Leaves

  • Dec25

    Charleston Holiday Festival of Lights 2010

    I’d like to say a hearty Merry Christmas to all of you who are reading this on the blog, through Facebook, or Twitter. We’ll be busy watching the 24 hours of “Christmas Story” on TBS, eating Raclette cheese, and sipping eggnog.

    The shot above was taken at the Charleston Holiday Festival of Lights.

  • Dec24

    Kegan Playing With Presents

    Just a quick post to say an official happy seventh birthday to my son Kegan. Here he is playing with a “Paper Jamz” guitar he got from his Nanny.

    Shot with a 35mm f/1.8 prime lens and lit with a SB-400 speedlight bounced off the wall to camera left.

  • Dec24

    Well, not really a fight at all, but I did win. Today was a strange one indeed. I was tied up with a client and had to break out to take some real estate photos for this wonderful listing in Goose Creek, SC. I was in quite the pissy mood because it’s difficult to keep appointments on time when you work in the service business. You are constantly being asked to do “one more thing”, which usually means that everyone else has to wait. Sure, I could do what the big name service companies do and charge them an arm and a leg for deviating from the scheduled service, but that’s exactly why I don’t work for them. That’s a whole other can of worms that don’t need to be covered here, the point I’m getting to is that I was stressed out and the world must have known it.

    When I first arrived in the neighborhood, I pulled up to the wrong house. Luckily I didn’t get out of my car, so no harm was done, but another few minutes was wasted while I tried to figure out where I was supposed to be. It really does seem like the world likes to spit back what you put out there. When you’re not in the best of spirits, it likes to rain down on you hard – every little mistake feels like a giant life-altering deal. I figured out the correct location of the house and pulled up across the street as I normally do when shooting a home (nobody wants to see my car in the shots – especially the sellers). I started shooting immediately because the sun was positioned just behind the tip of the roof and if I waited any longer it might move into a spot that would make it difficult to work with.

    116 Old Jackson Road

    After I shot a few frames, a police cruiser pulled up. The officer asked what I was doing and then asked for my ID. I really thought this was strange. I had a quick choice to make. Either I could cry out in my mind and curse the world for taking a giant stinky dump on me two days before Christmas, or I could laugh it off. Well, I chose the latter and smiled for the police man when he was done checking up on me. I even ended up giving him a business card for which he smiled and thanked me for. He apologized for keeping me up and then drove off. I went inside and had to explain what happened to the baffled home owner who was weirded out by meeting me just after I was interrogated by the cops. Once again I laughed about it and went on to take my photographs of her home.

    116 Old Jackson Road

    116 Old Jackson Road

    The moral of the story is that when you’re having a crappy day and you start letting life take control of you while it kicks you when you’re down, you always have a choice to turn it all around. It starts with a smile. You recognize that the shit’s going down and you smile about it. The next thing you know, you start to feel better and you’re able to grab the steering wheel and get back on the road. It’s easier said than done, but if you find yourself in that red zone state of mind, try it. Some things can’t be controlled, but your outlook always can be.

  • Dec23

    Charleston Holiday Festival of Lights 2010

    It took two attempts to get in, but we made it to the Charleston Holiday Festival of Lights at James Island County Park this evening. As usual, we listened to classic holiday music while driving though the park checking out the grand light displays. Nothing has changed about it in the six Christmases I’ve spent here in Charleston, but it’s always a fun time with the kids and it really makes the season feel complete.

    Charleston Holiday Festival of Lights 2010

    Charleston Holiday Festival of Lights 2010

    Here’s a piece of the giant sand sculpture for this year, which was an underwater theme.

    Charleston Holiday Festival of Lights 2010

    The line to get in earlier this evening was so long that we left and went to my brother-in-law’s home and hung out for an hour or so to wait out the crowd. The second time was a charm and we got to enjoy hot chocolate and roasted marshmallows.

    Charleston Holiday Festival of Lights 2010

    The picture up top was just hand-held with no flash. I have a similar shot here that utilized a wireless flash being held by my daughter, but I lost the whole background with it (and I had it dialed down to 1/100th power). Sometimes the blurry shot captures the feel much better anyway. The second and third shots were taken with the camera held out of the sunroof in our mini-van. The sand sculpture was shot using the railing around the sculpture to steady the camera. The last shot of my son chowing down on a marshmallow was made with a wireless flash held in my left hand pretty much right over the fire pit – I had to be quick on that one!

  • Dec21

    Day 195 - Low End Curve

    As we approach the coming Christmas holiday, we rapidly run right into the new year almost as an afterthought. It usually feels like the wrap-up party of the holiday season. I’m taking this time between now and the day the ball drops as a time to focus on reinventing myself. I have nothing scheduled as of yet for 2011, but I plan on doing just that as soon as possible. If I’m going to keep myself sane I need to obey the voices that are not only in my head, but also coming from the people who really know and are close to me.

    So, the biggest thing early on will be to increase my volume of artistic photographic work. I will begin with defined personal projects. I will also invite and include anyone who wants to join or help me on these as they will be huge learning experiences. I want to network myself to find good contacts who are photographers, make-up artists, models, designers, agents – anybody in the business that is working for the love of the art.

    In order to facilitate that, I will need to hire people for my other business to lighten my own personal load as well as grow it and support its growing customer base. It’s no longer a passing thought that I will get to at some point – it is a need that must be fulfilled in 2011. I don’t need to talk about the details of that here because it isn’t within the scope of this blog, but it’s something that will help my artistic work in the long run, so it must be addressed.

    Finally, I am determined to open my own creative doors to photographic assignments by the year’s end. What I mean is I want to get hired to do something really cool. I want my personal projects to be a foundation for other work – work that an art director will sit down and say, “We want to achieve this and you’re the person who can deliver it”. Once that starts to happen, I can use all of the skills I’ve acquired through my diverse lifetime of creativity and technical skill and do work that is meaningful to me (and hopefully to others as well).

    That’s it in a nutshell. Now I’ve got a business plan to revise and another one to create. 2011 is going to be the best year ever!

  • Dec20

    Lucky Man

    Posted in: Inspiration

    The more I read photography and gadget blogs to keep up with the latest technology, the more I dream about the ultimate rig of camera bodies and lenses, or the most eclectic lighting system, or how I would load up a computer to do the things I do at breakneck speeds. I admire how far we advance technologically with each passing year and pine over the newest of the shiniest electronics. Who hasn’t wondered what a 65″ TV that’s less than an inch thick would look like over their fireplace?

    I often will price out the ultimate photography setup – from lighting modifiers down to the fastest glass money can buy. The number isn’t pretty either, so I usually end up pricing out the budget versions of the same equipment just to see what it would cost. I know I will eventually move to a full frame camera and get the Nikon 70-200 F/2.8 VR II as well as the 24-70mm f/2.8. In fact Adorama has a great kit of a D700 with those two lenses, but I just can’t justify that price (yet).

    For now, I’m more than happy to use the tools that I’ve got. In fact, I’ve played with a 70-200 f/2.8 and compared the shots with my much more affordable 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G and the results are identical when shooting with adequate light. My Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 is the DX equivalent to the 24-70mm, and it performs perfectly well. Ever since I got that lens it’s been the one that stays on my camera the most – it’s a versatile workhorse. Sure I’d like a 50mm f/1.4 AFS lens, but my classic Nikon 50mm f/1.8 that my wife bought me for Christmas a couple of years ago works like a champ. I could go on an on – don’t even get me started about lighting gear!

    The point is that I really want this stuff but I don’t really need it. I’ve never found myself thinking that I couldn’t create something because my equipment wasn’t the top of the line stuff. Prestige is a very slick thing. It makes you desire the stuff you think you need, but you really only desire it because of it’s forbidding price or scarcity. Sure that full frame camera that shoots clean files at ISO 6400 coupled with that fast zoom lens that lets in a whole stop of light more will let you get shots you just can’t get with the cheap stuff, but the masters of years before got the job done with much less gear and relied on their skills to make things happen – not their wallets.

    This all comes down to a simple fact about life. If you’re in a position where the things you dream about are not critical to your survival, then you are in a really good place. My mind goes back to our most recent event at the children’s hospital. I asked a mother if she would like to get her picture taken with her child and she said, “I don’t know if I can – it’s been a really rough week”. Well, little did I know at the time that her precious child had been diagnosed with the big C just four days earlier. This was all fresh to her and here she was, trying to cope and be strong for a child who was still all smiles and as sweet as can be, wishing that she could have a healthy child again. That’s a dream worth pining over. It’s moments like that that make me realize that I’m a lucky man ’cause I just don’t need what I want.

  • Dec19

    Christmas Party 2010 Family Photo

    Last night we hosted our annual family Christmas party. I was surprisingly able to convince everybody to do a family portrait, which doesn’t happen too often in this clan. I quickly pulled out 2 umbrellas and set them up as shoot-through with my SB-600’s at full power. I dialed in a shutter speed of 1/125th and an aperture of f/7.1 which would get everyone relatively sharp. I used my ML-L3 wireless remote to trigger it, which in this shot you can see me doing so (I wasn’t making much of an effort to hide it).

    Of course, once we got a good shot I had to get everyone to do the traditional “goofy face” shot.

    Christmas Party 2010 Family Photo

    Which was then followed by “OK, everyone in the back jump on the people up front” which resulted in this shot:

    Christmas Party 2010 Family Photo

    The only real editing that had to be done was cropping to 8×10 and the removal of a power cord that was plugged into the floor outlet to the left of the couch. I used Photoshop CS5’s new Spot Healing tool with Content Aware to remove the cable and then used the Clone Stamp tool to clean up the lines in the wood flooring. I actually left the plug itself in the socket just because I could. It’s amazing how efficient Content Aware is, but it still needs to be finessed a bit to look right in busy photos such as these.

    Just so you can see where the annoying cable was, here’s a zoomed in crop of it:

    If I was really on my game, I would have spotted that while I was setting up the shot and not have had to rely on Photoshop, but I’ll blame Mr. Heineken for clouding my judgment as I wrangled everyone together – It was a party after all 😉

  • Dec17


    Yesterday the Help-Portrait group that I started that is serving the MUSC Children’s Hospital held it’s second event of the holiday season (we did two because we could). This time it was a whole new group of photogs who volunteered for the event – Eugene Mah (who also has shared a set of photos from the event on his site), Kristi Heupel, Drew Anderson, and my lovely wife Amy Nienstedt joined my big bald self in taking shots of the awesome kids, families, nurses, and staff members at MUSC.

    Everything started smoothly, we had a brief scare when they tested the fire alarm (last week we had to endure an actual alarm that was pretty frightening), but we were able to get set up quickly and started shooting right away. The biggest scare was when I forgot to instruct one adorable little girl to stay on the panel board floor I had put down on the white seamless backdrop. The poor thing walked right into the seamless paper and nearly brought the whole thing down on herself! Luckily we were able to swiftly get her out of there and we patched things up quickly – another reason why having a group of photogs on hand is great! Other than that things went very smoothly – we learned from last week’s event and brought more laptops so we could wrap up the editing and delivery of the photos much more efficiently. We also had the wherewithal to grab some shots of ourselves as well as the staff at the Children’s Hospital, who are an awesome group of people who give their hearts to these kids every single day.


    I don’t need to go into too much about how this makes me feel, you can read this post about it, but I just wanted to say that we’re all here now on this planet together and no matter what cards life has handed you, we all need to look at the gifts we have and celebrate them.