Benkis Photography: Blog en-us (C) Benkis Photography (Benkis Photography) Tue, 04 Apr 2023 18:12:00 GMT Tue, 04 Apr 2023 18:12:00 GMT Benkis Photography: Blog 90 120 Unbound Unbound

It is with great pride that today I announce the release of my newest Gallery titled Unbound.  This gallery is dedicated to my father's memory, and I picked today to release it because April 4th is his birthday.  My father was always one of my biggest supporters and it brought me great joy showing him my work during the final years of his life while he lived in a nursing home.  While he wasn't mobile or able to leave the home much, my images were able to bring the world to him.

The title 'Unbound' was picked for a few reasons.  One of the main reasons was that for the past few years I have felt like I was bound and tethered.  I didn't shoot much wildlife because a lot of my favorite spots were now crawling with photographers and were no longer peaceful to me.  We also shot a lot of fashion photography and took on portrait clients.  I was bound to client timelines and keeping relevant in the local fashion industry.  Unfortunately the local fashion industry has brought Amy and I nothing but heart ache and drama.  Late last year we had our fill of it all and we doubled down on wildlife photography.  I purchased a 500mm F4 to replace my tired Tamron 150-600 and made it a goal of mine to get out and see the world again.  I was no longer bound by clients, fashion, and people.  We were free.  We no longer had to worry about the local industry, or any of the toxic influences that came with it.  We are Unbound.

This gallery focuses on true wildlife, and will not feature anything captive from the zoo.

Link to our gallery show on youtube

Link to the gallery on our website

(Benkis Photography) art gallery mike benkis nebraska photography unbound Tue, 04 Apr 2023 17:53:11 GMT
Prelude Prelude

Today I am publishing on my website a gallery that I featured last year at the Lee Simmons Wildlife Safari park.  Throughout the last year I have put a lot of thought into this gallery and what it means to me.  This was my first real gallery show and it was what I felt my introduction to the world as an artist.  Since it was my first gallery, I have named it Prelude.  This gallery is an accumulation of that I learned and built over the past several years of doing photography.  As a few of you may know, I started photography back in 2014.  At the time I was strictly a wildlife photographer.  Wildlife photography is often considered the most difficult niche of photography because you have absolutely no control over your subject.  This means you have to quickly get to the point of becoming one with your camera.  Settings have to become second nature.  You have to learn how to read the light and adjust accordingly, whether that means adjusting your settings or adjusting the angle and position you're shooting from.  As much as I'd love to claim that I was a natural at photography, I would only be kidding myself and lying to you.  The reality is that I had drive and obsession.  At the time I worked the night shift at work and spent all my time before work out in the field shooting.  After work I would come home and put in 2 hours of editing.  That was my life for several years.  It wasn't a natural talent, it was hard work and time.  After a couple of years, my wife and I got into fashion photography.  In some ways it was like learning photography all over again.  I went from an environment where I controlled only the camera, to an environment where I controlled every single aspect of the shot I was taking.  Even the post processing was different.  Everything had to be refined and polished.  Where wildlife photography taught me how to use my camera efficiently, fashion taught me how to master post processing tools and how to create drama with light.  Meshing the skills I learned from both, I was able to create a style that I felt reflected who I was.  This gallery represents my journey so far and is a prelude to the artist I will become. 

Below is a link to the gallery show.

(Benkis Photography) art gallery Mike Benkis Nebraska Omaha wildlife photography Mon, 03 Apr 2023 00:38:37 GMT
Penguin Day class

  • Conservation
    • January 20th is National Penguin day
    • There are 17 species of penguin and they all live in the southern hemisphere
    • Climate change remains the biggest threat to the penguin population
  • Photography
    • Special considerations
      • Low light inside the aquarium.  There is no natural light
      • Utilize a faster shutter speed to freeze the motion of them swimming
      • A fast wide angle lens will be more useful than a telephoto lens
        • As focal length decreases, depth of field increases
      • Seeing the visual clutter
        • Checking foregrounds and backgrounds
      • Shooting through the glass (avoiding glare)
        • Get close
        • Utilize a circular polarizing filter
      • Post Processing
        • Check your highlights
        • You will most likely need to lift your shadows
        • Noise reduction
        • Color balance/Color grading
(Benkis Photography) Thu, 20 Jan 2022 04:10:59 GMT
Do you really want to improve? This is a topic that's been on my mind for about a year now and right now feels like the right time to collect my thoughts on this.  I have taught countless classes and spent numerous hours doing one on one mentoring with people who are wanting to improve their photography.  I also get loads of questions on social media from people wanting advice.  I am normally happy to answer some questions here and there even though teaching is one of the ways I make money with photography. 

So here we go.. This applies to brand new photographers and those that may feel stuck with their current skill level, so if you think this is directed specifically to you, please don't take offense.  I'm only trying to help.  The typical photographer that reaches out to me directly through social media has less than 2 years experience with their camera and the people that pay me for mentoring have 3 or more years experience.  The people who pay for private mentoring understand that creating art requires refinement and a good understanding of the basic skills that go into photography.  They are so motivated to improve their photography that they are willing to spend money for one on one sessions.  These photographers experience exponential growth over the course of their time with us.  The average student reports feeling that they found their style and feel comfortable enough executing that style consistently enough without the need to have us there as a safety net.  They stay on as students even beyond this point because they know that their education and growth hasn't stopped.  The mentoring sessions aren't all fun and games either.  They regularly have homework and submit images to us for harsh critique.  The images are critiqued harshly only because it points out where there is room for improvement.  Feedback on how to address those items is also provided and if necessary we try again until we achieve success. 

This brings me to the other group of people.  It is great that they have a lot of passion right now, and if they focus that passion and take the time to learn the very basics that are out there, they can start to focus on the things that really matter.  The 3 most common questions I get are what lens should I get, how much should I charge, and do you sell presets.  I will address these in order.

If you need to ask me what lens to get, then you are still so new to photography that you absolutely need to spend more time doing basic research on photography and understand why photographers use specific lenses.  Just because a lens works for me and the work I do, doesn't mean it will be the right one for you.  Research what other professionals are using to accomplish the shots you like.  I've used a wide variety of lenses, but as far as owning lenses goes, I am a minimalist, and only have 3 lenses in my bag.  So asking what lens I recommend will probably get you an answer that is not that helpful.  The better question to ask instead should be on the topic of lighting.  No amount of camera gear and lenses will make an image shot in crap light good.

The question I will be least helpful with is regarding how much someone should charge.  My answer, or lack of one, isn't because I want to keep my price sheet secret or anything.  The simple truth is the moment someone tells me they charge, and that they want me to tell them how much they should charge is the moment I look at their work at the same standards I hold myself to.  Chances are if you are newer to photography and you've asked me this question, I have looked at your work, and I have advised you to take 1-2 years to find yourself as an artist and develop some base skills.  In my opinion a photographer needs to be consistent with their work, and if you are new or are still trying to figure things out chances are good that your work is not consistent enough across things like sharpness, color grading, and lighting.  The reason why you need to be consistent is because potential clients will have no idea which style of work you will be shooting for them.

Presets.... I really don't even want to talk about this topic.  99% of my editing takes place in Photoshop because I feel like I have more control over my image in photoshop and I can layer adjustments to create the end result I want.  I will not now or ever create a Lightroom preset.  If I mentor someone that decides to buy a preset I make them figure out how it was put together.  Photographers that buy presets from a different photographer and doesn't take the time to tear it apart and figure it out are stopping their growth as a photographer.  It is a lazy shortcut that will catch up to you.  Over the course of time styles change and things evolve.  Once the color grading method of the preset you bought fades in popularity you will be left with a portfolio that is uninspiring and date, and you will be lacking the skill to stay current until the next popular style of preset goes on sale.  Stop depending on other people to create your style for you.

If you are newer to photography or are in a rut trying to push yourself to new levels, it is absolutely vital that you not only look at and study the work of other photographers, but also the work of other artists like painters.  There is a lot that be learned while looking at one of the paintings of an Old Master.  The thought of an artist not taking in the work of other artists insane.  Can you imagine a musician saying that they don't listen to music?  If you really want to improve your photography, the answer is simple... Put in the hard work, and be honest with yourself.

(Benkis Photography) Tue, 27 Oct 2020 00:24:20 GMT
March 15th Class Some of the challenges we will face with doing photography inside the Jungle is the humidity.  To tackle this issue we are providing everyone with large storage bags to put their gear in.  We will keep our gear in the bags for several minutes after we enter the jungle to let the temp of our gear rise and acclimate to the humidity.  This will hopefully prevent our lenses and view finders from fogging up.

The next challenge is that the lighting inside the jungle is poor even on the best day.  So we will utilize a few different techniques to overcome poor light.  The easiest is to utilize a tripod.  This works well but may require your subject to be very still.  So capturing motion becomes very difficult.  So this leaves us with the option of raising the camera's ISO.  Most photographers try to keep their ISO as low as possible to cut down on the noise in the image.  Often times photographers will only raise it enough to get minimal detail which will result in an under exposed image with the photographer intending to raise the exposure in post.  This is going to leave you with a lot of noise that will be tough to deal with, especially in the shadows of the image.  So the technique I utilize is called Expose to the Right.  This will provide you with an image that will have some easier to deal with noise, and sufficient detail in the shadows.  It is much easier to lower the exposure on an image than it is to brighten it.  Remember, if you do end up having to lower the exposure in post, that you may need to lower the saturation a little bit to compensate.  Colors will saturate more when the exposure becomes darker.  There are a few areas in the jungle where there are interesting subjects behind glass.

Another technique to deal with the lighting is something I will be messing around with today, and that is to use a powerful flash/strobe.  The flash that is built into the camera is often not a very good flash as the bulb is very small and its high enough off camera.  This flash is also not very powerful.  I will be utilizing a Flashpoint Evolv 200 in a 7 inch reflector dish covered with a diffusion sock to soften the light as much as possible.  If you chose to attempt to use off camera flash in the future, please take into consideration the subject and be responsible with it.  Using a flash on an owl at night is viewed as highly unethical to the American Birding Association and the National Audubon Society.

  We will get the lens close as we can to the glass while still being able to focus on the subject and check the frame for unwanted reflections.  Water spots are easy to remove in post using the spot removal tool in Light room, or the various other tools in Photoshop

Omaha Wildlife Photographer Mike Benkis












This image was taken at the Safari park at ISO 10,000 using the ETTR technique



Omaha Wildlife Photographer Mike Benkis











This image was taken inside the jungle with the lens braced on the railing.

(Benkis Photography) Sun, 15 Mar 2020 02:29:29 GMT
Want to learn retouching? I know this has been a question that has not only popped up for me, but for several photographer friends of mine.  A newer photographer will send them a link to an image or an ad promising to make them a top notch retoucher if they only buy their product, and ask "can you teach me how to do this"?  The simple answer is yes we can teach you how to retouch, but the question is how much time do you have, and are you willing to dedicate the time, effort, and resources into learning how to do it well?  To break it down, nearly everyone that has reached out has had zero experience using photoshop.










This means they will need to spend 5 hours(on the low end) to learn the very basics of photoshop, and about 20 on becoming proficient at those basics.  After that they will need to spend even more time learning some more advanced things like color theory.  A base knowledge of color theory will not only help you with retouching (knowing that adding cyan will reduce reds in the skin) but will also help you learn about color grading which many consider to be part of the retouching process.  To really understand color theory to the point where you can recall the knowledge will take more practice, lets call it another 5-10 hours.  So at this point, you should at the very least know how to create an adjustment layer, how to reduce the opacity of an adjustment layer, how to apply a layer mask, as well as inverting the mask, a basic knowledge of the different blending modes, and of some basic retouching tools like the laso tool and clone stamp. 










From here there are 2 popular methods of retouch that high end retouchers use.  One is dodge and burn, and the other is Frequency Separation.  The most popular is Frequency Separation, which is a process in photoshop where you split your image into just the texture on one layer and just the color on another layer, which allows you to make adjustments to just the color or just the texture without affecting the other as happens with using the healing brush.  Sounds complicated right?  So maybe dodge and burn might be more up your thing. Dodge and Burn requires you to create 2 copies of your image on top of each other and using layer masking.  Once layer is a darker image and the other is a brighter image with the layer masks inverted on both.  Then zoomed in close to the pixel level you brighten or darken areas so the skin blends together  and smooths out, while keeping all the texture intact.  Dodge and Burn retouching can often times take 30 minutes or longer to complete a single image. 













One does not just jump into being an expert retoucher just because they can set up frequency separation or because they can set up dodge and burn. The skill itself to see what needs to be retouched and developing the skill and often times restraint to do it well can take another 100+ hours of practice.  So for those doing the math, you are looking at about 130+ hours to develop the skill in order to become good at retouching.  So to answer the question again.  Yes we can teach it, but are you dedicated enough to learn?

(Benkis Photography) end glamour high omaha photography photoshop retouching Sun, 19 Jan 2020 03:40:07 GMT
Scouting Locations Today's topic comes from a reader named David.  Thanks for the topic David!

There are a few things I look for when I scout a location, one being the availability of shade, and interesting backgrounds.  For city photography you look for buildings that provide shade that have an interesting skyline or neat buildings behind them.  If there are no available shaded spots but the background is interesting, I check for the position of the sun for the time of day I shoot.  You will generally have an easier time photographing your subject if you place the sun to their back.  This creates even lighting on their face, they wont have to squint because the light isn't directly hitting their face, and creates a natural hair light, which will give their hair a pleasing glow. 

 Finding a location also requires some leg work.  I've was recently part of an online discussion about photographers giving out their locations to people and I am of the opinion that there are locations that I just don't share.  It's not to be mean or not to try and prevent another photographer from one upping me.  It's simply because that photographer did nothing to find that location no matter how public it is.  Some of the excuses I read from people saying they don't have time to scout working a full time job.  Well I can tell you all that I work a full time job that provides me with benefits and 401k, but I also do photography full time.  I still make time for my family and make time to scout locations for shoots.  Scouting is a very vital part of doing photography.  To me it says that the photography lacks the motivation to do their profession well, if they don't make time to scout locations.  Scouting for me begins with a simple question.  What scene am I looking for?  Most of the time it is something natural, so I pull up google map and look at the places around me on satellite.  This way I can see on the map which way I would need to face in order to get that nice golden light of sunset, or what direction the model would need to face depending on the time of day.  Nebraska specifically has a number of other resources like our Games and Parks website.  They list out every park in the state by county, and they have a map feature that shows where the parks are.  Take an hour (depending on the drive) out of your day and just explore what ever park you pull up and look for a few spots that look interesting.  Bring your camera along, just to get an idea of what framing would look like through your lens.  Using this method, I've found a wide variety of spots in Nebraska from sunflower fields to a beaches, and they are all on public land.  Once you have scouted out a few locations, don't be afraid to take different angles once you start shooting.  Shooting low can create some unique looking shots, as can shooting high.


(Benkis Photography) glamour location models omaha photography scouting Sun, 12 Aug 2018 18:48:12 GMT
Evolution As a photographer and artist, you must always strive to evolve your skill and push yourself to continued growth.  The moment you stand still to take a breath or admire the view, you will instantly fall behind.  Don't get comfortable with your workflow. Stop using the same lighting set up you always use and try something completely different.  Try a different editing technique, and play with features in Photoshop that you have always been curious about.  Look up all the videos on editing and lighting you can.  Do not stop even for a second.  Your craft depends on your ability to evolve and change.  I've learned a lot over the past year and a half that I have done portrait work, and none of that was learned by being content with my work or celebrating mediocre work.  It is extremely frustrating when I see photographers that have been doing this for several years longer than I have celebrate their work that is full of technical errors, poor retouching, and bad color toning.  You owe it to not only yourself, but the models you work with to evolve.  Below is an showing the difference between one of my first model shoots to one I did last month. 


(Benkis Photography) evolution glamour growth models photography skill Mon, 16 Jul 2018 02:40:28 GMT
Planning a shoot We frequently have people come and shadow us in the studio or out on location, and a question we get asked often is how we plan for our shoots.  Today I am gonna give you all the steps we use when planning out our shoot.

1. The Concept: Be sure you have a well thought out concept.  The example I will be using is a shoot we did with a model named Taylor.  She wanted to recreate some Audrey Hepburn shots.  Both she and her boyfriend are huge fans of Audrey and a tribute shoot sounded fun.  One of the most Iconic shots is the Breakfast at Tiffany's shot.  So our concept started to become clear. 

2. Styling: You must absolutely plan out hair, makeup, wardrobe, and accessories.  failure to plan out these details will leave you quickly trying to toss things together the day of the shoot and will leave you with a half complete look.  Luckily for us Taylor had the make up, dress, and some accessories.  We had the gloves and some pearls.  Amy was up for the challenge of doing Taylor's hair.  Our look was complete

3. Location: We looked for a location that would work.  The shot would look out of place in a modern establishment, so we wanted to go somewhere that had an older look that was still accessible to photographers.  For this we went downtown to the Old Market and found an empty table that was in the shade.  Since I was shooting at F2, the background would be mostly blurred.

4. Lighting:  A shaded location provided half of the lighting we needed.  Now I wanted to set up my camera to expose for a bright, but not blown out background.  After I locked in those settings, we powered up our Flashpoint Xplor600 with a 22 inch beauty dish and added the fill light needed to get the correct exposure on the model.

5. Editing:  Because the original shot was done on film and looks kind of faded, we wanted to go with more of a vintage edit.  We desaturated our edit slightly, adjusted contrast levels, and did some color grading to get the final look we wanted.

The other shots from this set were done in the studio using a basic high key set up using a 7 foot umbrella with our Xplor 600, and a Ringlight, again using more vintage toning or black and white.   Hopefully providing you all with the 5 main points we plan out before a shoot helps you the next time you set up a shoot.

(Benkis Photography) and Audrey black glamour Hepburn models omaha photography Taylor vintage white Sun, 01 Jul 2018 20:32:26 GMT
Gear Over the past week since I've started this blog, I've been asked several questions about gear.  So I wanted to take some time today to cover some of the most asked questions I've been asked this week.  I will cover photography gear, and what models should pack in their model bag.

To start I will go over my current gear and talk about some of the past gear I've owned. 
Mike's Gear
Canon 5d MKIV
Canon 24-70 F2.8L ii
Canon 135 F2L
Tamron 150-600 F5.6-6.3
Flashpoint eVolv 200 (I have 2 of these lights)
Flashpoint Xplor 600
Neewer 18inch Ringlight
I use a 22inch beauty dish, 2 strip boxes, 7 foot Umbrella, a Snoot, and a 32 inch Octobox for light modifiers.

I started with a Canon t2i, and for a while I used a Canon 70d.  Lenses I no longer own are the Canon 50mm 1.8, Canon 18-55, Canon 75-300, Sigma 18-35 1.8 art, and 2 Yongnou speedlights.

In my opinion you only upgrade or add a lens out of necessity.  The order of importance to upgrade once you have a base kit in my opinion is, Lens, Light, Camera body.  Most photographers I know really don't know the importance of using off camera flash.  Off camera flash allowed me to create amazing images on a crop sensor using the $100 canon 50mm.  I only upgraded to the full frame because I hit the limitations of my Canon 70D, and wanted some of the conveniences that the 5d MKIV offered.

I built my current kit knowing that I would need it to be flexible to handle any kind of photography that I want to do.  The 24-70 for example is wide enough for me to photograph fireworks and landscapes, but I can still zoom in to 50mm if my 135mm is too much zoom for studio work.  For studio work, and any kind of portrait work, I prefer to be at 85mm of longer.  On the canon side of things there are a lot of affordable options new, used, and refurbished.  One of my favorite lenses to borrow from friends is the 100mm 2.8 macro.  The lens can be bought used for around $350, and it focuses fast, accurately, and is incredibly sharp.  The compression from that lens and the bokeh produces some amazing images.  When shooting, I wont go wider than 35mm.  For me it has the potential to distort the model's features too much, and I hate seeing images where the subjects shoe is 2x the size of their head.  So figure out what you shoot or what you want to shoot and from there its pretty easy to find out what the top professionals of that niche use.  I also like to use DXO mark to research which specific lenses test out to my camera body.

As for models, it is important to put together a good model bag/kit.  Most new models have no idea what they should bring to a photoshoot so below is a list of items that every model should include in their bag.

Your book/portfolio.  You never know when you may need to have your portfolio handy so its best to always bring it
Basic Makeup kit.  You may need to touch up your make up during a shoot.
Skin toned, and black undergarments.  It is good to bring a variety of the 2, and include at least one strapless bra.
Flats, Sneakers, and Heels.  You will need to switch up footwear during a shoot.  Even if you are wearing heels in all the shots, its good to have some flats to walk in after the shoot is done or while you're taking a break.
Hair products.  Gel, hairspray, combs, and brushes.  You may need to fix your hair during a shoot.
Beauty products.  This is up to each model what to include, but some things models often include, is make up remover, lotion, deodorant, and a travel toothbrush.
A Small sewing kit, with some double sided tape.
Snacks and Water.  Depending on the shoot, or even runway event, you could be there for hours without a break to grab lunch. 
Phone Charger.


Hopefully this list has been helpful.

(Benkis Photography) bag gear model models omaha photography Sun, 24 Jun 2018 19:43:25 GMT
Photographing Models Over the past couple of years Amy and I have worked with a lot of models, and we have trained a lot of models on some of the basics of modeling to set them up for success.  We feel that one of the most important things we as photographers can do is to make our sessions valuable, whether the model pays or if it is a trade shoot.  There are a few things we want to pass onto other photographers regarding photographing models.

Pro VS. Hobby
One of the very first questions we ask new models we work with is are they pursuing a professional career with modeling, or is modeling a hobby for them.  This is important because it determines the kind of work we do with them.  Professional models require the very upmost quality from any photographer they work with.  Their career depends on it.  If you as a photographer cannot deliver portfolio quality images, then please do the model a favor and either pay her for her time, or find a model that is modeling as a hobby.  A model's portfolio is only as strong as their weakest image.  On the flip side, Models that are doing it as a hobby are free from portfolio restrictions and can do some high artistic shots without the risk of an angry agent.  Just because it is a hobby doesn't mean they are any less skilled or any less stunning.

The Model's Niche
The second question we ask new models is what kind of model they want to be.  This can range from Fashion, Editorial, Swim Suit, Athletic, Runway, etc...  This also helps Amy and I figure out what kind of work we will be doing with them.  We don't want to waste a models time doing a high fashion shoot with them if their primary interest is athletic modeling.  That high fashion shot will do absolutely nothing for their portfolio.  Always shoot with the intent of helping their portfolio, unless you are paying them.  If the model is paying you, then do what ever you can to help them out.

Content Control
Content control is especially important when you do a trade shoot or if the model is paying you.  Our policy is that we do not post any images without the model's consent.  If you do a trade shoot with a model(often referred to as TFP), it is a common courtesy to check with the model first before posting the images to your portfolio.  While the photographer does own the copyright, if the shot doesn't meet the model's expectation or doesn't fit into their portfolio then refrain from posting it.  Again this is how we operate and so far we have not had anyone reject any of our images.  Content control is also very important if you do a lingerie shoot, or an implied nude shoot with a model.  Most models have day jobs and may not want their employer to potentially see those images.

Hopefully this has been helpful to the photographers reading this.

(Benkis Photography) models omaha photography Wed, 20 Jun 2018 01:14:55 GMT