April 5, 2013

Text by Martha Blanchfield
Images by Bruce Boyajian


With all the turmoil and upset in the photo industry, you’d be hard pressed to name a single photographer who has been on the job for as many years as Bruce Boyajian. He’s photographed every year of the Miss American competition since 1976.


How Can You Not Make a Beautiful Photo?
How can a photo turn out bad if you’re photographing incredibly beautiful, dynamic and vivacious young ladies? Well, while Boyajian does have a leg up on a gorgeous face, he’s had to work in some darn challenging environments—not unlike many aspiring photographers snapping family reunions, graduation ceremonies, a son’s home run or a daughter’s recital.


Crowded rooms, poor lighting, subjects who are far away, fast moving subjects—name the challenge and Boyajian has experienced it!


Runway Best Tips–Help Them Look Good
On the job, Boyajian captures posed shots, candids, group shots and on-stage moments. “Among the many nice things about photographing this competition is that the ladies are all very camera-aware!” he shares. “They have been educated on how to pose. They know their best angles, what their best features are, which colors to wear.”


As a photographer you may have to help your subjects a little with posing and best angles–the beauty of digital is that you can snap a few shots, then show subjects how they look. Encourage them to try a few different poses. Fire a shot at the count of two instead of three. Get them to NOT pose in the expected way.


Take a Look
Look over what you have shot on the spot. Make adjustments. This is a first step to taking a better photo. “If the image is blurred, too dark or there’s a pole coming out of a subject’s head you will realize that right away. Don’t just take a quick look in the LCD panel—zoom in on the image and pan around,” he adds.


Learn the Bells and Whistles
Much of the guess work is gone with today’s digital cameras. You have face recognition, image stabilization and all sorts of shoot modes to pair to the conditions. Make the most of settings. Yes there’s a little learning curve, but it will pay off.

Set It, Don’t Forget It
Once you determine the best setting or mode, don’t forget to change it if your environment changes. This is a common mistake photographers make, even experienced shooters.

White Balance = Color Balance
You’ve probably seen those Facebook photos of what someone is about to eat. The food may look great in real life, but the photo shows a color cast. This is a white balance problem. Photos taken indoors usually look a little yellow or blue.

Boyajian deals with color cast from rehearsal rooms and stage lighting. “Over the course of the day my environments change often. If you forget to make lighting changes (in-camera temperature setting) before you take a pic, some cameras allow you to change files in-camera. My last resort is retouch software.”


“As a general rule, when working with indoor everyday lighting I’ll set the temp range for 2200-2900K,” says Boyajian. “If I have the privilege to work with studio lights, I boost to about 4600-5400K. This is about the temperature as an average midday sunny day. Overcast days can run anywhere from 6000- 7000K. Don’t fret. If you get it wrong you can tweak the colors during edit if you shoot in RAW mode (full image file information).”


Dealing with Crowds
Rise above it all. If you are in a crowd hop up to a higher level. Or try raising the camera overhead and firing a few shots; do this often enough and you’ll become adept at the higher-up angle! If it’s nuts-crowded, consider going artsy and put the crowd into the picture and drag the shutter a little (hold down the shutter) as you move the camera slightly left, right, up or down. Can you mount the camera on a monopod, pole or use a tripod and lift it up?

Of course you can also use the camera’s zoom to bring a subject closer, or swap lenses. Know that you can crop to focus-in on a subject but you may sacrifice pixel clarity doing this. In general, cameras with optical zoom yield better close up results than digital zoom cameras.


Bouncing the Light
Light bounces and reflects from surfaces. The lighter the surface, the more light it reflects. Try this experiment next time you are snapping two beauties (such as Miss California aside Miss New York). Position them so any available light touches their faces, not backsides. If the light is from overhead, look for under eye shadows. See any? A first remedy is to have them raise their chins a little bit.

Still see shadows? Grab a light color large object and have someone hold it out of frame, but near their faces; even a t-shirt may work. No shirt? How about a table or other surface to stand near? The light will bounce up to help fill in shadow areas.


Beauty on the Beat
What’s an average day look like at the Miss America event? For starters, Boyajian is responsible for photographing each and every one of the contestants from the day they arrive (all 53 of them). From the opening ceremonies to the final crowning moment, he has to keep names and states straight!

Rising at 6am, he checks to be sure anything emailed the night prior has gotten to where it needed to go. If there are image requests he locates the files and sends—with all caption and information needed. He preps camera gear after looking over the day’s agenda, has breakfast, then dashes to the rehearsal area. If the ladies have an appearance, such as meeting with VIPs, he’ll travel with them to capture images.

Boyajian’s photos are used by the Miss America Organization, reporters, news outlets, for state program books, in next year’s program book, on parents’ walls and more.


End of Day Perfection
At the end of each day, if there is not a special event to photograph, Boyajian heads to his hotel room to retouch and sort. “I produce between 800-2,000 images in a day. I used to spend hours each night improving the photos using software, adjusting color, sharpening focus and identifying each lady. Technology has made this part so much easier—from the facial recognition software that sorts for me, to auto red-eye removal to image stabilization that helps prevent camera shake!”

Another aspect of his job is to create contestant folders and upload to each folder. These folders are accessed by the contestants, their families and fans. “End of competition I have about 11,000 photo files. The best way for me to archive so many files (and be able to find the again easily) is to use a portable storage media. CRU ToughTech® Duo is a favorite that comes with me every time. I also use to store all my family photos.”

Other must-have tools and gadgets any shooter will adore include extra batteries, loads of memory cards (Boyajian recommends Kingston® brand), a small tripod that fits in a purse or small camera bag and a good lens cloth.

Regarding camera and lenses, he’s in love with his new Canon 5D Mark III camera. “It works extremely well in low-light situations giving me the ability to shoot without a flash and still get vibrant colors with very little noise (grain) in the images.” He favors Canon’s new 70-200mm f/2.8 lens. “It’s one of the sharpest lenses I have ever owned.”

Bruce Boyajian

Martha Blanchfield provides marketing, public relations, writing and stunt planning for ‘renegade’ companies. A Napa Valley native, Martha loves prepping photography education programs in Napa-Sonoma and San Francisco. Her articles have appeared in Rangefinder, AfterCapture and Studio Photography magazines. She has worked for clients such as Nikon, Lexar Media, SanDisk and GoPro.

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