Our youngest turned one year old recently and on her birthday I wanted to capture a “good” portrait. It would be her “official” one-year picture. Of course I decided to try something I hadn’t done before — a high-key portrait with a white background — which ensured it would take three times as long as something I’m already comfortable doing. I don’t have white seamless paper and I don’t have a proper background stand. So…I have a huge (12′ x 20′ I think) white polyester background that I picked up on clearance for $20-ish. I draped this over the back of a couple of chairs (with my subject being only a couple feet tall I didn’t have to worry about the height). My main light was a speedlight into a reflective umbrella at high camera left, triggered by an Elinchrom Skyport. I placed a large white reflector on camera right and used a speedlight behind the subject to light the background.
My first issue was to decide how I wanted the background to actually look. Blown out? Super smooth (problematic with the deep creases in the freshly unpackaged cloth and being draped over uneven chair backs)? Don’t worry about it and fix in post? From a quick internet search I learned that I couldn’t simply iron that polyester cloth and get rid of the creases in a few minutes. In the end I went with an aperture that blurred the background somewhat but provided a safe depth-of-field for the shots. My daughter was far enough from the background so it would be reasonably out-of-focus and I could reasonably edit it in post for a few shots if desired. The background light was adjusted “to taste”. I had planned to shoot with a much brighter background but the light was too uneven (no surprise when trying to light with a single speedlight in the center).
The shot above was taken as a test during setup. The hair and clothes are a mess (hadn’t prepped her yet) — but it’s cute and I decided that this is actually one of my favorites. The only edits were crop, slight WB adjustment, sharpening around the eyes, vignette, and the removal of a small scratch on the skin. I really like the way it turned out overall even if the background isn’t ideal.
For the second year in a row I’ve taken pictures for my daughters’ volleyball team. The individual shots were pretty much a piece of cake and they turned out great. The set up for those involved spreading a neutral-colored paint tarp on the floor to eliminate the red glow on the girls’ skin, standing the girls on a stool, setting up one speedlight (triggered with Elinchrom Skyports) shooting through a white umbrella for the key light, a strobe flashing the gym behind the girls to add light to the background, posing them with a volleyball, and firing away. These went very quickly as there was no change in setup between each girl. The gym is horrible for pictures but was workable for these individual shots.
We also goofed with some dramatic shots with the girls looking serious and got the shot above. The main light is the same speedlight-thru-umbrella held nearly on axis with the camera (slightly toward high camera left). The back light is simply a speedlight plopped on the floor. These took longer to get the girls set and posed, and as you see above, we never got the posing or the spacing quite right. We didn’t have all day so I had to take what I could get as they say. There are lots of photographic flaws but the girls and parents are plenty happy with the pic, which is what really counts.
I did some basic processing in Lightroom then headed to Photoshop to grunge out and darken the background (mostly with curves), do some very minor edits and retouching, noise reduction, and add the text.
I’ve been very delinquent in taking the picture above — my youngest girls in their matching winter dresses. Between the baby’s sleeping schedule, weather, and that general “don’t feel like doing it now” feeling that we all get (wasn’t just me) we haven’t gotten these done. I took the day off today and I made it a definite to-do item for this morning when our infant (“Dolly” as we often call her) is usually happiest. We ended up pushing it a little — Dolly was ready for bed by the time we were done.
The usual caveats apply: I don’t like this or that, I’m not happy with the light (we waited too late in the morning), I don’t like the setting/background, and I’d change/fix/tweak many things. There wasn’t so much posing as there was “Hold her and look at the camera quick before she gets fussy”. However, my wife says: “I don’t care about the professional photo — I just want a picture of them together with their dresses so get it done”. It’s hard for me not to try to make everything as professional looking as I can, however meager my attempts may be.
Exposure was a bit tricky. The dark skin, light skin combination was challenging to balance (always takes some effort in our family pictures since we have four races and a wide range of skin tones). I chose to use no additional lighting — we just wanted to get this done and not fiddle with triggers, umbrella, and adjusting flash power. The sun was in and out of the clouds which affected the exposure dramatically. Ultimately I determined my exposure by metering Dolly’s light skin to avoid blowing it out (I shot in manual mode). For my taste we couldn’t go any brighter than you see above and we got sufficient exposure in the dark skin so we could make do. There were of course the usual difficulties in getting two children to look good at the same time. The littlest didn’t cooperate very well — she wasn’t a complete crank but wasn’t her usually smily self. In the end I ended up swapping a head to get them both looking good. I lightened the dark skin a bit more and tweaked the image with several curves, exposure, and saturation adjustment layers.
My son leaping out of the water pretending to be a monster. I love how the motion makes his hands look like claws. And the mask? Well, nothing needs to be said.
It was in the middle of a bright sunny afternoon — terrible time for photographs. I used a flash so that I could dial down the ambient a bit. We took several shots like this, using a fast-ish shutter speed but not so fast that it froze all motion. In post I processed things pretty heavily in Lightroom — lots of contrast and clarity.
While we’ve gotten much more rain this year than in past years, we could use more. I’d love to see the sky go black, hear some good thunder, and feel the rain coming down again. During one of our spring rains my daughter and I had lunch at the Whole Foods mother ship (as we sometimes call the headquarters) and walked around downtown Austin in the rain. I went monochrome, super contrasty, and dark/moody with this shot of my daughter walking along Lamar Blvd. For most of our walk I had to keep the camera put away — too much rain — but we had a lull here.
A recent picture of two of my girls strolling in Seattle’s Pike Place Market. Looking forward to getting back to Seattle soon.
I loved the contrast between the blues in the windows and the oranges/yellows in the flowers in the next shot.
I liked the possibilities in the next shot but didn’t execute it very well. The water and buildings made a cool backdrop through the windows IMO. I used manual mode and stopped down to f/14 to get a lot of depth of field and used a shutter speed fast enough for my shaky handholding yet slow enough for flash. It was a dark place relative to all the light streaming in the windows so flash was a must if I was going to keep the rainy mood in the background. I had no way to get the flash off-camera and bouncing didn’t work well so it’s not a lot better than a point-and-shoot. I’m sure I could have improved it with some effort but I didn’t want to stretch the girls’ patience too thin.
Most of our family’s favorite pictures are candids like these. While at the dinner table our daughter was being cute as usual and the 50D was just sitting out from having been used for these pictures of a fawn. My 70-200mm lens was attached and while I was tempted to open all the way up to f/2.8 (love the bokeh) I stopped down to f/4.5 to keep a little more depth of field in the portraits. The toughest part, as always with a wriggling baby, was focusing on the eye and taking the shot before she moved out of the plane of focus — which was 2″ at the wide end of the lens with this body/lens combo @ f/4.5. I had mixed success but the shots we ended up with are fun. Exposure, contrast, vignette, and noise reduction in Lightroom…
My mother lives close to Bradley Bourbonnais Community High School in Bradley, IL. Their band performed in a parade we watched last year and I caught this shot. I don’t know what this guy’s title is though — I just call him Big Red. The kids enjoyed the fire trucks and candy most of all of course.
When I sat down at the dinner table this evening I found this grin staring at me. How could I not get the camera out? I used my Canon 5D mkii with the 70-200mm f/2.8 — shooting wide open to blur the window frames and scenery outside as much as possible. I bounced a flash off the wall behind me. There was no posing, very little attention to what was in the frame, and only minimal attention to composition. I spent most of my efforts on catching my daughter’s eyes in focus. With the shallow DOF and my daughter’s constant motion it was tough and I missed it a lot. How could I not love the pictures anyway? I took 60-70 shots and ended up with quite a few keepers.
Editing was all done in Lightroom — white balance, slight crops, exposure, contrast, vignette, and a tad bit of noise reduction. I did none of the typical overdone baby skin stuff. In fact, I did no “retouching” at all (it would have been a lot of work to fix all those healing chicken pox marks anyway). No skin edits, no eye enhancements. They are cute enough the way they are
We played in the snow today — quite a change from the warm, Texas weather. While I have no interest in living in a snowy climate again I do enjoy getting in the snow every once in a while. I took five of my children up to Stevens Pass in Washington for the express purpose of playing in the snow. There has been all sorts of snow up there in the past few days so we knew it would be fun. Things looked even better when it began snowing in the Seattle area before we even left the house.
After getting all wet and cold we headed back down the mountain and explored some side roads to enjoy the scenery. At one spot my daughter (the one in the picture above) pointed out a spot she thought would be nice for a group photo (below). At another nearby spot she asked me to take a few pictures of her in front of a bridge and the snow-covered trees (no one else wanted to get out of the car again).
Photo stuff…In the group photo below you can see the snow falling in front of our faces — we wanted to show the extent of the falling snow. However, in the individual shots we wanted to avoid the snow in the face and found a space under some trees which allowed that. However, it was so dark that we had to add some flash into the mix (no gels used). With the others waiting in the car I didn’t spend much time perfecting things but we like what we got.
The odd composition above came from just moving around trying different things out. I don’t like it…but my daughter does so I’m posting that one.
I recently posted this on Google+ but thought I’d share it here too.
It seems like the piano goes 24/7 in the house, which is a good thing when the music is Debussy, Beethoven Sonatas, incredible arrangements of the Pirates theme, beautifully improvised hymns, etc. Sometimes “The Little Indian Song” can wear on you though (a couple young ones are just starting out)
Having our own regrets about quitting music lessons and hearing so many others express those same regrets, we’ve always “made” our kids take piano lessons until they were 18 under pain of death and all that (for the record it’s never been a real problem to keep them going). They could learn other instruments too but piano was a must. Without exception our children (age 24 and down) have expressed great gratitude for our rigidness in this. I don’t believe any child actually kept up with lessons until age 18 but that was because proficiency, rather than an arbitrary timeframe, was our goal. All were quite good before age 18 and a couple even played in UT’s Bates Recital Hall. The daughter pictured here requested on her own to start lessons again even after we said she could be done — she enjoys it.
Last Friday I walked past our kitchen window and was blinded by the light of the setting sun reflecting off the trampoline as my daughter was jumping. The backlighting also made for great highlights on my daughter’s nearly black hair (it’s that beautiful American Indian super-duper dark brown — and the brown really comes out when it’s backlit). I grabbed the camera and told her to keep jumping. I picked an exposure in manual mode and fired off 50 shots or so with the intention of posting something for #weareparents on google+. My son ended up in the g+ post (see here) last week so I decided to post the trampoline pics this week.
I wanted to include several “poses” in my image and set about to do that via clipping masks. I’ve played with clipping masks in the past — they’re easy — but I use them so infrequently that I always have to refresh my memory on how they work. I’ve posted some pictures below to illustrate a simple clipping mask. I started with a white background layer and a layer with a random image from my desktop (which happens to be a variation of HDR Tennis #18 which I modified via inverted curves to look rather nuclear:
Between those layers I inserted some text that said “Clipping Mask”:
My layers then look like this:
To use the text as a clipping mask, simply hold press option (alt on windows) and click on the line between the text and image layers. The result is this:
And the layers now appear like this:
A few weeks ago our family and some friends camped at the Vineyard Campground in Grapevine, TX (while attending the Alliance Air Show). Snapped this shot of the girls watching the sunset from the dock behind our campsite.
Did some basic adjustments in Lightroom (mainly crop, contrast, clarity and some desaturation) then pulled it into Photoshop and combined it with a couple of subtle textures from Jerry Jones at Shadowhouse Creations.
Our family was supposed to spend last weekend in Rockport, TX but were unable to go to at the last minute due to medical reasons. As a consolation I’m taking a few of the kids to the beach this weekend. The shot above was taken on our last trip. We had just watched the sunrise and my daughter shed her shoes and went wading. On a whim I got down low and took a variety of shots. I wanted bokeh for the artsy look, yet enough detail to still see my daughter and the pattern in her dress. Turns out that the widest aperture on my Canon 17-40mm (f/4) just did the trick. I made a quick attempt at cloning the letters out of the shoes but it was soon clear that it would take a lot of work to make it look realistic…above my skill level.
This was the second shot I took (out of maybe 50). In the subsequent images I framed the shot in all manner of ways — no sun or reflection from the sun, put the sun at the 1/3 point in the frame, showed my daughter completely, etc. I like this one best. In particular, I like the leaning subject (partially due to taking a step and partially due to the distorted perspective of the wide-angle lens) and the motion implied here. I also like the extreme highlight in the left corner fading into the darker sky on the right.
My daughter and I watched the birds and the sunrise last Saturday on the beach in Port Aransas, TX. The weather was perfect and the Gulf was the calmest I’ve ever seen it. While I was playing around with photo stuff, my daughter waded out. I told her to freeze for some silhouettes and captured many photos like the one above. I underexposed a bit to be sure to produce a dark silhouette — the goal being to avoid any detail in the subject of course. Processing consisted of basic adjustments in Lightroom, including some purposely heavy contrast/clarity. I debated whether to clone out the birds streaking across the frame…I obviously elected to leave them in. There were a lot of interesting looks I could have gone for in this image and I had trouble deciding what I liked best.
One consideration in shots like this is the height of the camera. Low to the ground results in a lot more sky as opposed to beach and water. It also places the silhouette mostly against the sky which is generally nice IMO. Camera placement high off the ground — say standing height — gives more water and beach, plus a longer reflection/shadow of the subject on the water. There’s no “right” choice. In a beach situation I prefer to show more water in the shot but you have to be careful about having the horizon cut through the subject’s head and things like that if you place the camera too high (see image below — it’s OK, but not my preference). I think the shot above strikes a reasonable balance.
Later I played around with flash in the mid-day sun while taking pictures of the kids playing on the beach. I’ll post some of those soon.
As I progress in the development of my photography skills I’ve found myself becoming more of a perfectionist. Now, that doesn’t mean that I never keep or show something that I is imperfect — I’d have no images left if I were so picky. What it does mean is that I take more care when framing and setting up a shot, more care with the light, and more care in post-processing. I also find myself asking people, “Don’t tell anyone I took that picture” because I know I could’ve done better on many shots.
My children are painfully aware of this because I’m never happy with the family shots we take and often want to spend a bunch of time getting things “right”. For example, even when the light is reasonable, I want to get the strobe out just in case I need to tweak the shot and add some fill…and so it goes.
So, this past Sunday my girls wanted some pictures taken with a friend who was visiting for the week. They were in their Sunday best and thought it would be a good opportunity to get some pictures before they changed clothes. They were very clear that they didn’t want a “photoshoot” and frankly would have been content to use the point-and-shoot to snap some quickies.
In the end we compromised. I didn’t get the strobe and umbrella out but I did get them to allow some test shots and tweaks before taking the final shots. I wanted to explore backgrounds around the yard but I let them pick the spot as long as they weren’t in the sun. They got to pose themselves and I just tweaked them here and there.
Above is one of the resulting images. If I were constrained to that background but had my way otherwise, I would have stopped down a hair to darken the background in-camera. Then I would have added just enough strobe and/or reflectors to bring the exposure of the faces back to normal and provide some fill/catchlights in the eyes. In reality though, this image already exceeded the expectations of the girls and that’s what really counts. I don’t even mind telling people that I took these pictures.